Archive for the ‘Scriptural Lessons’ Category

The Faith of a Mustard Seed

It’s interesting when you read some passages in the Bible and you can actually see just how right Jesus is. I mean, if there was any doubt that Jesus knew the hearts of men, He makes it pretty clear in some instances. I think I just read one.

In Matthew 17, shortly after the Transfiguration of Jesus (the subject of my 2nd run at the identity of the two witnesses in Revelation), a man brings his son who “has seizures,” or as referenced in the King James Version, is a “lunatic.” The man originally brought the boy to the disciples and asked them to cast the demon out of him. Yet the disciples, who had been given by Jesus the power to heal and exorcise demons (Mark 6:7), could not cast this demon out of the boy.

So as Jesus comes down from the mountain (one pastor I heard recently believes this to be Mt. Hermon), the man asks Jesus to heal him because the disciples couldn’t. Jesus answers. “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus then casts the demon out of the boy.

The disciples, no doubt, were astonished. They had cast out demons of others before, yet were unable to. So of course they needed to know why they no longer had this power. Matthew 17:20 is Jesus’ reply: “He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Clearly, the faith that the disciples had in Jesus had suffered from a lapse. Jesus even suggests that perhaps it had not only waned, but dissipated, as he called the disciples part of an “unbelieving and perverse generation.”

Now this seems a little harsh, doesn’t it? Don’t you think God could have seen that the disciples largely had the best of intentions and let it slide, giving them the power to cast out demons? But God knew the disciples’ hearts. He knew that they at this point didn’t even have the “faith of a mustard seed.” Jesus explains how much God can do with a little bit of unassailed faith. I think throughout history He’s proven faithful Himself on this account. Look at some of the pillars of faith, not only from Hebrews 11 but from some of the early church fathers, and even these same disciples who received the power of the Holy Spirit.

But we can even see that the disciples didn’t have the necessary faith. It’s evident in the very next passage! Matthew 17:22-23: “When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.’ And the disciples were filled with grief.” Jesus predicted both His death and resurrection in the same sentence, and what is the disciples’ reaction? Were they excited about Him coming back to life and reigning once again? Nope, they were filled with grief because of His death! They didn’t understand the power of coming back to life. Why? Because they didn’t even have the faith of a mustard seed.

So why do we not believe that God can do great things with our belief? Even in this story, Mark 9 records that the father asks for Jesus to “help his unbelief.” As a result of his belief, Jesus casts the demon out of his son. So with our own belief, with the faith of a mustard seed, what could Jesus do for us, or through us? I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us (myself included) don’t even have the faith of a mustard seed right now. If we did, we would be moving mountains for God’s kingdom.

This is a personal challenge to me, and I’m extending it to you, the reader, as well. What can I do in examining my own life to determine how to get my heart to start acting in faith? What can I do to “help my unbelief?” I know the answer–I can’t do that myself–but I also know that God doesn’t call me to be inert. I need to move to where He is pushing me so that I can see His power and renew my faith. Hopefully, more of us can accept the call-to-action that our faith so desperately requires.

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Perceptions of God: Does He Really Listen?

On Thursday night, my wife and I were watching the latest episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.” In it, one of the characters, Dr. Kepner, had previously been a virgin for, say, 27 years or so. Last week in an adrenaline rush she gave up her virginity to her best friend Dr. Avery. This week, in a fit of panic as they both thought they were failing their boards, they slept together again. The thing that makes this all interesting to me is that after the first time Kepner tells Avery that she had kept her virginity because “she loved Jesus.” But she was afraid Jesus didn’t love her anymore.

Let’s stop there for a moment, because it’s an interesting perspective. As a Christian, this greatly confused me, until I thought about it from a secular perspective. Is the perception of God out there that He expects you to live a perfect life, and once you fail He’s done with you? It seems like it might be. Who knows, perhaps even some believers in Christ feel this way.

But I feel like this perception comes from a failure to read your Bible. The Bible is full of passages that attest to not only God’s enduring love but also His faithfulness. Consider this verse in Hebrews 13: “Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.'” Or perhaps Isaiah 41:13: “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” It seems like that perception is actually a bit borne out of pride. Why would I say that? Well, if you are aware of these verses, the only explanation for feeling like God stops loving us is that we think we know better how God feels toward us than He does, like we have some special knowledge He doesn’t.

So I don’t think there is any reason, if you study God’s Word, to think that one act like losing your virginity is enough for God to say, “That’s it. No more love for that one.” But in this week’s “Grey’s” episode, Dr. Kepner goes even further after her second escapade. She admits to her test administrators that she thinks God doesn’t even hear her anymore. Now she’s committed the same sin twice, and this is enough to push God over the edge, apparently.

But this, to me, is again a mis-perception of God, and even a mis-perception of Christianity to some extent. And yet many people really feel this way and many more perceive it to actually be this way. If God has ever listened to us or spoken to us, then He is always doing those things. How do we know? Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Or Psalm 102:27: “But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” Or James 1:17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

God doesn’t change! So if we think God isn’t listening, what has changed? It’s us! Think about it. We’re the ones that are sinning, so we’re the ones that are changing our tune with how we relate to God. God’s not changing His responsiveness; we’re changing our willingness to listen.

I think it’s important when you feel like this to realize that God is not a God who likes to confuse, trick, scheme or plot revenge. He’s a God that continues to pursue you even when you turn aside or even turn your back. But He’s always willing to listen, and not just to the “saved” or the “elect.” He’ll listen to anybody, and He’ll speak to those that are genuinely willing to listen. We just need to make sure we’ve got the radio dial tuned to the right station, or that we’re not trying to use our cell phone in the wilderness. The reception’s much better when you’re headed where you need to go.

The Two Witnesses, Part Deux

A year and a half ago, I posted this blog post about the two witnesses of Revelation 11. I posited that potentially these two would be Elijah and Enoch, since these are the two men that have never tasted death (Hebrews 9:27). But I heard a talk recently that makes me think that a more popular view is correct. Let me explain.

At the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17), two men appear with Jesus. One is Elijah, whom is prophesied as a forerunner of Christ’s kingdom in Malachi. Jesus even references this question from Peter in confirming that Elijah would come back. I think it’s safe to say that Elijah would be one of these witnesses.

The other is Moses. He’s more of an interesting character, because he died before entering the Promised Land, but we don’t know where he is buried. Why? The Lord Himself buried Moses. In fact, Jude 9 tells us that Michael was sent to contend with Satan for the body of Moses. Why would He do this for a dead body? Perhaps because He had plans for that body, and didn’t want it desecrated.

But there’s one other thing that in my laziness I never read until it was brought up in a message I heard today. In Revelation 11, these two witnesses are given two distinct powers: 1) “They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying,” and 2) “They have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.” (Revelation 11:6).

For those of you who know your Old Testament history, who was given the power to shut the heavens and keep it from raining in Israel. Answer: Elijah. Who was given the power to turn the waters into blood and cast plagues? Answer: Moses. Seems rather convenient that these guys have the same power, no?

So I think it’s safe to say I’ve amended my position a bit, and believe that the two witnesses of Revelation 11 are Elijah and Moses. It doesn’t mean this is for certain the way it’s going to happen, but the pieces of the puzzle fit rather nicely together if this is how it were to happen. Man, God is awesome. We ought to remind ourselves of that more often than we do.

Hanging By a Thread

This past weekend our church hosted our second annual SWAT Seminar. SWAT stands for Spiritual Warfare and Apologetics Training. This year we were fortunate enough to be able to bring out Craig Hazen and JP Moreland to speak to our group. These guys are two heavyweights in the apologetics world. They travel all over the country and the world, going into both hostile and friendly environments giving arguments in favor of the truth of Christianity.

In his introductory talk on Friday night, Hazen laid the foundation for his talk the next day on “Christianity Among the World’s Religions” by making a very interesting point. He said that Christianity is weird. Why? Because it is the only religion that is testable. Think about it. Most religions in the world are about inward experience and a personal journey toward some form of enlightenment. It doesn’t matter about what happens in the external world, because the religion is inward-focused and no one can prove you’re not having the experience you claim to have.

In stark contrast, the apostle Paul hangs Christianity by a thread that, if able to be snipped, would cause all of Christianity to come crashing to the ground. What is that thread? 1 Corinthians 15:12-17 tells us:

“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

If Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, Christianity is useless. This makes Christianity testable, because we can look at the evidence to determine whether or not Christ really was raised from the dead. We can create hypotheses that we can weigh against each other. Hazen did so on Saturday, giving 12 minimal facts that even secular historians agree are true by a large majority. We can then pit these hypotheses against each other using the inference to the best explanation and arrive at a reasonable conclusion. Perhaps I’ll post those later, but it’s easy to see why Christianity is so targeted among the world religions: because it can be objectively tested, and therefore Christians have sufficient belief that it can be defended. No wonder Peter told us to always be ready to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15). We need not have an answer if there isn’t a reasonable one available.

So Christians, we’re a bit strange. I think we already know this, but Paul’s distinction makes that more evident than ever. And yet we have strong reasons to believe that Christianity is true, and that we do not hope in vain. Your faith is hanging by a thread, but I have confidence it is one that can and will never be snipped, until Christ returns and makes plain the truth found in His Word.

Could Religion Really Not Exist?

I was discussing with an atheist friend on his blog the idea of supernaturalism vs. naturalism, and one of the arguments he brought up was surprising to me. His claim was that if you were to erase all memory of anything having to do with science, we would still get science roughly as we see it today. However, if you were to erase all memory of anything religious, it would be reasonable to expect that religion would be very different than we see it today, and quite possibly not even exist. Is this reasonable?

I would disagree for two reasons:

1) As an atheist, my friend would have to assume that there was initially a time period where neither science nor religion existed, because under atheism man was not present at the beginning, but later evolved over time. And yet under these conditions, both science and religion still arose in their current formats. So based on the evidence we have of a time where there was no presence of science or religion, we can safely assume that a similar state would produce both, since it has been done before.

2) General revelation seems to point men to an outside source for the creation of our world. As Aristotle said in his work “On Philosophy”:

When thus they would suddenly gain sight of the earth, seas, and the sky; when they should come to know the grandeur of the clouds and the might of the winds; when they should behold the sun and should learn its grandeur and beauty as well as its power to cause the day by shedding light over the sky; and again, when the night had darkened the lands and they should behold the whole of the sky spangled and adorned with stars; and when they should see the changing lights of the moon as it waxes and wanes, and the risings and settings of all these celestial bodies, their courses fixed and changeless throughout all eternity–when they should behold all these things, most certainly they would have judged both that there exist gods and that all these marvelous works are the handiwork of the gods.

This is a man who shaped much of medieval scholarship in areas like physics, logic, poetry, rhetoric, linguistics and biology. He also predated the coming of Jesus and the writings of the New Testament. And yet Aristotle did not see it possible to explain science without the supernatural. The things he could see in creation pointed him to the gods.

Is it any wonder that Paul would testify to this revelation in Romans? “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” — Romans 1:20

I think these are two powerful pieces of evidence that would lead us reasonably to assume that if memories of both science and religion were erased, science and religion would both be born anew.

It’s just one minor but still relevant argument pointing in the favor of God’s existence as more probable than improbable.

What Am I Doing, and Why Am I Doing It?

I had some prayer time with God today while I went for a walk, and I was confessing some things to God, among them an addiction (I have tried not to call it that, but it is what it is) to gambling. I used to love going to the casino and playing/watching poker, largely because I was decent at it, and so didn’t lose the money that most do at a casino. God put a question on my heart today in trying to help me realize some various points He needed to hammer home. The question is this: “If you had $100 to do whatever you wanted with, no repercussions, what would you spend it on?” I wrestled with this. Would I go gambling? Would I spend it on my wife or daughter?

Ultimately I came to the realization that I wouldn’t gamble, which helped me draw the conclusion that God has helped me overcome that addiction. But what was worse was that God made it clear that in trying to choose between a small handful of things, I neglected to ask, “What would You have me do with that?” See, while I might have overcome my addiction, what I have yet to overcome is the selfish attitude that the casino touts as glorious and the word deifies as success. Not once until God made it clear to me did I think that maybe buying food for the homeless or donating it to missions might be a better use of that money than on myself. I didn’t think about what would bring Him the most glory.

Why does God ask us to do these things? It’s a question that I had to ask myself when an atheist recently asked me to put myself into Abraham’s shoes when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac. Though I tried to make myself appear humble by quoting Isaiah 55:9, it made me stop and ask myself what the purpose of going through these things is. I came to a couple of conclusions:

1) God’s ways are not our ways. In the Abraham/Isaac situation, we tend to base the morality of the situation on the action being performed. God’s morality is based on how we treat the request. Our way goes on the physical nature of the act; God’s way goes on the heart’s intent behind the act.

2) God would not ask anything of us that He’s not willing to do Himself. God asks for our sacrifice because He has sacrificed. God asks for us to set ourselves apart because He has set Himself apart. God asks us to go and pursue men because He has pursued us. God asks us to be obedient because He is always obedient to His own nature, since He is clear that He will never change.

I cannot possibly hope to understand everything God does in this world, and why He does it. I only know that He asks something of me, and I do it because there is no reason not to. God has demonstrated why He asks, what He is looking for. When I study, when I listen, He is clear. Perhaps there is so much moral ambiguity because we spend all of our time deciding what we think is right instead of listening for why His way is right.

My verse for this week I think sort of fits in this jumbled mess of a post, because it is about letting self go and understanding that God’s ways are not my ways, but His power is greater than any way I can possibly fathom to get it done:

    “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” — 1 Peter 4:11

Desperate

Many folks in our church are reading the book “Radical” by David Platt. In going through it, one thing stuck out to me in the chapter we read this week about relying on the power of the Holy Spirit. It was a simple question posed right at the end. Platt asks the reader, “Is your life characterized by a desperation for the Holy Spirit to come and take control of your life? Is your church characterized by this desperation?”

This is a really powerful question. When we think about the work of the Holy Spirit, typically it is either in a sort of behind-the-scenes, “all works together for the good” type of way, or it is in the “when I really need the Spirit, then I’ll ask for it” kind of way. Neither way is Biblical!

God has never outlined in Scripture any context where it is perfectly acceptable to go it alone. The Holy Spirit isn’t a failsafe, something that will catch you when you can’t catch yourself. The Holy Spirit is supposed to be a Guide, the Instigator of the work in your life. God is not a background character, resigned to a bit part in the play that is your life. Rather, God should be the co-star, someone that you work alongside of, or maybe even shrink back and let Him get the curtain call. Isn’t that our purpose anyway? To make Him known and to bring Him glory?

So why don’t we do this? Is it forgetfulness? Is it laziness? Or is it a conscious decision not to surrender complete control to the One who made every rock that goes into every patch of asphalt you walk or drive across? Have we deliberately chosen not to give over our steps to the One that designed the feet that make them? Any person, Christian or not, who reads this paragraph and says, “You know, I really think I’ve given over everything to God. I can’t give any more or do any better,” has failed to grasp the nature of true holiness. There is but one Spirit that requires no extra work in order to be spotless and without need to be directed.

So why aren’t we more desperate, as churches and as people, to see this power envelop our lives? Is it because we’re afraid of what we’ll be asked to do and where we’ll be asked to go if His power is pre-eminent? Is it so we’d rather someone else be imbued with such power so we can remain comfortable? If we don’t understand what it means to be under God’s power, we cannot possibly wield it in our own defense, and we can too often take the credit for things that we cannot do without it.

So today, take the challenge to begin to be desperate for the power of the Holy Spirit. Doing so may not be comfortable, but it is respectable, and your Heavenly Father is glorified when you do so. Fulfill to the best of your ability the purpose for your creation, but never do it on your own strength. When you do that, you are not desperate in vain.