Posts Tagged ‘faith’

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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When You Feel Tested

Comfortable Christianity

The devil is an interesting character. Many Christians believe that the devil is constantly out to get us, to show us things that will shake our faith in Christ. While it’s true that those kinds of things do happen, we often forget that Satan is a master of deceit. His best weapons against those who have already accepted Christ as Lord and Savior are not shocking things. No, as C.S. Lewis so eloquently captured in “The Screwtape Letters,” the easiest weapon to use against Christians is COMPLACENCY.

Think about it for a minute. The devil’s already lost the war for your soul. What does he have left? The truth is that the best thing he can do with you is keep you from leading others to the truth. This is a victory that the devil has had over me personally for a really long time. I was immersed in “comfortable Christianity,” where I know I’m saved and everything’s peachy. I go to church, pray to Him, read my Bible occasionally, and generally understand what it means to be a Christian. He’s doing the “sanctifying work” in my heart, so I’m on the straight and narrow path to an eternity in heaven. Sounds great, right?

Until recently. Things have been happening that have moved me at the core of who I thought I was. Scripture doesn’t call us to complacency; we’re to act on our knowledge! James 1:22 says, “But don’t just listen to God’s Word. You must do what it says. Otherwise you are only fooling yourselves.” Jesus Himself made an allusion to it when He said in Luke 8:16, “No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house.” While His direct reference is to the idea that everything we’ve done will be brought to light, it also is telling of what we will do with the light that we have found. Will we keep it under our bed, safe and secure but helping no one? Or will we let it shine? Will we go out and give it away so that others can see?

Jesus goes one step further. In Luke 14:34-35, He tells us what our faith is like if we don’t act on it: “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.” Faith without works is dead; it’s not even worth using on manure!

Doesn’t it feel like “comfortable Christianity” is losing its saltiness? Are we really any good when we’re reactive and not proactive? How often does the phrase, “Let me know what I can do,” escape from your lips? Too often from mine, that’s for sure. Imagine how we could change the world if instead of asking what we could do to help, we were the ones suggesting help or just picking up a shovel and doing the work without any mention.

The time has long passed in each of our lives to keep our Light hidden. He is out there working, and He’s leaving us in the dust. If we really want to emulate Christ, then lets be doers of the Word, and not just hearers. Let’s let go of our complacency, and not let Satan win any battles just because he lost the war. Let’s change our aim from “Well done, good and faithful believer” to “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The reward is infinitely great; give that reward to someone else today.

Ephesians – Beginning of a Bible Study

So I’ve decided to start going through the book of Ephesians and do a study, taking it slowly and really trying to digest what God’s Word says. So I may end up posting all of my learnings on here, or I might just post from time to time when I think something is really cool. I was impressed with God pointing me to this book by what my NIV Study Bible said regarding the theological message of Ephesians: “Unlike several of the other letters Paul wrote, Ephesians does not address any particular error or heresy. Paul wrote to expand the horizons of his readers, so that they might understand better the dimensions of God’s eternal purpose and grace and come to appreciate the high goals God has for the church.” While I know I definitely have sins in my life that need working on, this sounds right up my alley based on where I am spiritually.

I decided to take it super slow and start with just Ephesians 1:1, and I was amazed at how much I was able to get from this seemingly innocuous verse.

Ephesians 1:1 (NIV)
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.”

The first word that caught my attention was the word “apostle.” An apostle is to be one who not only follows, but also does the work of; there is not reason I can’t be an apostle of Christ in the same way that Paul was. However, in doing so I must admit great responsibility and great failures in sin, because I can’t be ready to do the work unless my own heart is prepared.

The phrase “of Christ Jesus” is also important. We, as apostles, must align ourselves with Christ. This is what separates us from everyone else, because plenty of other religions and cults, even worldviews, believe in some form of God. But it is our understanding that Jesus Christ is also God and worthy of the same type of honor as the Father that sets us apart. We are Christians because of Christ, so to talk about who God is to someone who doesn’t believe is too broad, because I can talk to someone about God and a Muslim can talk to someone about God, and that person will be confused because “how do you separate the two?” It is Christ, the mediator between the Father and man, that is the difference, so we must be firm in our alignment with our Savior.

Now the phrase “the will of God” is an all-encompassing phrase, but when I read it in this context it was just another affirmation that nothing can be done outside of God’s purpose and plan. God will only call apostles as He has intended to call them for all of eternity. What’s more sobering is that if we have that responsibility placed on us, there’s really no way of getting out of it. I guess that’s what I’ve been trying to do, and basically all I’ve done is run away from God. But if it’s like a game of tag, I can’t forever avoid being “it.” God will catch me, because He is so much greater than me. But if I let myself be tagged, or even run to God to let Him tag me, how much sooner can I start the work, and how much greater could the potential benefit be?

Those in Ephesus are called “saints.” The study notes in my Bible say that this word carries the idea of dedication to a deity. A cross reference to Romans 1:7 and I get this description: “The basic idea of the Greek for this word is ‘holiness.’ All Christians are saints in that they are positionally ‘set apart’ to God and are experientially being made increasingly ‘holy’ by the Holy Spirit.” It is interesting that all of this connotation of Christians happens before Paul explains sanctification, and it looks like the words “sanctification” and “saint” probably come from the same root in the Greek. So those in Ephesus were already on the journey down this process of being “set apart” for God’s purposes, and I can relate. It is living within the will of God and separating yourself for the relationship with Him. I guess it’s also this separation that allows us to clearly understand what it is we’re supposed to do, since we are focused on God and not on the world, so it’s easier to hear His voice.

These saints are “faithful” and also “in Christ Jesus.” We studied the word “faithful” in Bible study last week as it relates to God’s character, and it is a statement of keeping the promises made, or keeping the covenant. So in a sense, Paul is applauding the Ephesians for continuing to hold fast to God’s promises, although what’s interesting is that the covenant God makes with us doesn’t really get affected by us. God will keep His promises, whether we act or whether we rebel. But the Ephesians were demonstrating the “confident hope” laid out in Hebrews 11, and only in doing that does it seem like we can develop serious spiritual growth.

As part of being “in Christ Jesus,” they have the privilege of being included into the reward of His inheritance through the death of Christ. Notice the difference between “of Christ Jesus” and “in Christ Jesus.” The phrase “of Christ Jesus” means we are to be aligned with Him, just like President “of the United States” shows where the President’s allegiance lies. However, “in Christ Jesus” means that we are not just aligned with Him, but part of the family. It is an inclusive statement, meaning we share in His joy, His love, and all of the things that make Him God. This includes the holiness and graciousness that are a part of His nature, so it ties right back to the idea of the “saints” and a common theme that runs through this book.

My application: I really think God has called me to this position to discuss with atheists. While it is probably the most unenviable task, I feel like I am supposed to do this. In a way, I have been sort of frustrated with God, because I’m having to use arguments that have the potential to swell up my pride, and as I read last night in “Mere Christianity,” “Pride comes directly from Hell.” It is the devil’s sin, and it is my greatest weakness. From this all of the other sins I fail at daily arise. God, I need Jesus to lean on in these discussions. I need to make sure I see these people through His lens, and He loves these people so dearly that He has a deep desire to see them be exposed to His truth. I know that I’m supposed to be a part of that, but I feel so weak. But the verse God keeps reminding me of is that “Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness.” So I will answer the call, but God please grant me the humility I need to not stumble in the face of your work.

Hall of Faith – Jephthah???

Most people who either actively read their Bible or attend church on a regular basis have probably heard a reference to the “Hall of Faith.” For those who may not know, this points to Hebrews 11, where the author of Hebrews calls out by name some of the Old Testament believers who exemplified great faith, and in some cases specifically where this faith showed its nature.

I recall recently talking about Samson and how he continually let Delilah and the Philistines attempt to take him down, and how he never learned. A friend made a comment in the vein of, “Yeah, and yet he’s mentioned in the Hall of Faith. Strange, isn’t it?” So I went back to the Hall of Faith chapter to see what exactly it was that earned Samson a place of recognition among the greats. Unfortunately, he is just listed in a series of names, so there is no exact specification for his inclusion, but it was the name after his that got me thinking. Jephthah?!

For starters, WIFE and I just finished the book of Judges in our attempt to read through the entire Bible in a year. After actually reading through the whole book, it’s evident to me that Judges is a book filled with chaos. People attacking people and not listening to people and breaking promises and making promises they don’t really intend to keep. Indeed, the common phrase running through many of the verses of Judges is, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Which brings me to Jephthah. We find this man in the midst of all of the chaos of Judges, yet like Samson he is included in the Hall of Faith. Why? A little background on Jephthah might help.

Jephthah was born the son of a prostitute (which isn’t terrible; after all, Rahab –called out by the author of Hebrews as a prostitute– is also mentioned in the Hall of Faith), and his brothers basically ostracized him from the family, saying he was not one of the real brothers. After the people of Gilead (Jephthah’s father) were attacked by the Ammonites, they called on Jephthah (referred to first as “a mighty warrior”) to lead them.

After scorning them for their treatment of him and making sure he would be their leader if he helped, he sent a message to the leader of the Ammonites, asking why they were attacking and after a couple of back-and-forths, is basically ignored by the Ammonite king. So Jephthah leads his men and defeats the Ammonites.

Here’s where it gets interesting, and may be the reason for his name in the Hall of Faith. Jephthah made a vow to God that if God would grant him the victory, He would sacrifice (as a burnt offering; Judges 11:31) the first thing that came out of his house when he returned in triumph. As luck would have it, the first thing out of the house was his only daughter. Jephthah, as any father would be, is distraught and tears his clothes. However, here’s the test of the man–he informs his daughter of the vow, she understands and agrees and after two months to spend with her friends, he goes through with the sacrifice!!!

Wow. As a new father, I know that if I made such a vow, I would probably say, “Um, OK Lord, what else can I give you instead, because You’re not getting my daughter.” Even Abraham, when told to sacrifice Isaac, didn’t actually have to go through with it. How strong a man of faith was Jephthah, not only in trusting the Lord to deliver the Ammonites into his hand but following through on a vow that cost him the life of his only daughter.

I’m sure Jephthah is rejoicing with his daughter in heaven now, but it is such faith that people today should strive to achieve. That no matter what happens, what we promise to the Lord is sacred, and we need to treat it as such, because He knows better than we do why He gives us the things he does, be it possessions, wealth, suffering or anything else.

Jephthah might not have been the smartest cookie in the jar, but he without a doubt was one of the most faithful and God-honoring, so I not only support but now understand why his name is mentioned in Hebrews. No doubt the recipients of the original letter of Hebrews did also. Hopefully modern-day recipients will observe and take note.

God’s Amazing – Especially When You’re Faithful

So my wife and I have been struggling with a decision recently. She has been feeling like God has told her that she needs to quit her job. The obvious reason we’ve been holding back from doing it is the financial one. We’ve been afraid that with our new mortgage and a new baby that we couldn’t survive on one income.

However, it seems like recently there have been more and more circumstances recently have been re-affirming God’s position. We bought a new computer and new software so that my wife could do her job from home once the baby was born, and in order to do that she needed to be able to use Windows and connect to a VPN. Well, the Windows has been slow and the VPN is broken, so it seems like God has been putting obstacles in the way.

This past week we prayed about it and made the decision that with her pending meeting with her boss, that she should tell him that she wanted to quit. I mentioned that I felt that if he said something specifically, then that meant that God was right and it was time for her to get out of the job.

Doing a proposed new budget was scary. We have to cut out a lot of things, such as spending money, a lot of the dining out we’ve been doing, and my personal demon, cable TV. Eliminating all of these things, we’re pretty sure we can do just fine, but still it’s been sort of a compromising process with God, trying to hang on to things and realizing that they need to go.

Well, in short, my wife’s boss said the thing that I referenced specifically, and we typed up a formal resignation letter and she submitted that last week. They, of course, tried to get her to stay, but we stood firm and she’s completing her two weeks and then shifting her energies to taking care of our daughter and trying to be more active in getting involved in Bible studies, both individual and (possibly) church-led.

All of that information brings me to this. I’ve been worried all week about the money, and when we actually need to put these budget cuts into effect. Besides the mortgage, we still owe on some credit cards, and we both feel like it’s imperative for us to get out of debt as soon as we can. We have a tax refund coming, but we’ve started to speak for a lot of that money in terms of paying off debt. Not a whole lot left to pad the account if we slip up.

This is where God stepped in. I’m positive it was because we were faithful to His command to leave the job behind. I got an E-mail from my dad yesterday saying that he was going through his safety-deposit box and he had a bunch of savings bonds for me that I had gotten as gifts from grandparents for years as a kid. He said the face value totals up to over $3,000! I just know that God is taking care of us, and I’ve never been more sure of being obedient to God.

My prayer for myself is that I won’t forget this special thing He’s done for us, and that it will teach me that obedience to God yields fruit, not necessarily financially but in some type of provision for us as His children. My prayer for any of you reading this is that this will cause you to call into question your own obedience to God and make a decision today to start doing your due diligence in following God’s will to every dotted I and crossed T.