Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

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.

How To Refute Christianity

I liked this blog post, so thought I would share the link for you all. Enjoy!

How To Refute Christianity

The Resurrection of Jesus: A Minimal Facts Argument

An atheist that came on this blog recently “challenged” me to present the case for the resurrection of Jesus based on this post I put up a couple of weeks ago. Luckily, this very topic was also a part of our SWAT Seminar that took place about a month ago, and Craig Hazen presented what we call a “minimal facts” argument that the best explanation of the knowledge we have is that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead.

It’s called a “minimal facts” argument because the facts used don’t say very much (in length), but the argument uses only statements that both religious and secular scholars will agree are true. Believing and unbelieving (perhaps also termed “skeptical”) historical scientists will stipulate to the veracity of each of these statements, so we don’t need to debate their merits. When put together, they actually say a great deal. The debate centers around which hypothesis best fits the historical information we all agree on.

Before I give these statements (of which there are 12), it’s important to note the method for discovery and explanation. The scientific method is not the preferred method when discussing history. Rather, the method of inference to the best explanation is more commonly used. To steal from another blog post of mine, let me explain.

…We must use the evidentiary method, which is rooted in abductive reasoning. The problem is that in abductive reasoning, the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent is possible. For example, no one doubts the existence of Napoleon. Yet we use abductive reasoning to infer Napoleon’s existence. That is, we must infer his past existence from present effects. But despite our dependence on abductive reasoning to make this inference, no sane or educated person would doubt that Napoleon Bonaparte actually lived. How could this be if the problem of affirming the consequent bedevils our attempts to reason abductively? Philosopher and logician C.S. Peirce: “Though we have not seen the man [Napoleon], yet we cannot explain what we have seen without” the hypothesis of his existence. Peirce’s words imply that a particular abductive hypothesis can be strengthened if it can be shown to explain a result in a way that other hypotheses do not, and that it can be reasonably believed (in practice) if it explains in a way that no other hypotheses do. In other words, an abductive inference can be enhanced if it can be shown that it represents the best or the only adequate explanation of the “manifest effects.”

In modern times, historical scientists have called this the method of inference to the best explanation. That is, when trying to explain the origin of an event in the past, historical scientists compare various hypotheses to see which would, if true, best explain it. They then select the hypothesis that best explains the data as the most likely to be true. But what constitutes the best explanation for the historical scientist? Among historical scientists it’s generally agreed that best doesn’t mean ideologically satisfying or mainstream; instead, best generally has been taken to mean, first and foremost, most causally adequate.

So let me give the 12 statements that historical scholars almost universally agree are true and valid, and then perhaps you can decide for yourself what the best explanation of these truths is. For my money (and soul, consequently) the best explanation is that Jesus rose from the dead.

1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. Jesus was buried.
3. Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that his life was ended.
4. The tomb was discovered to be empty just a few days later.
5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.
6. The disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of His death and resurrection.
7. This resurrection message was the center of preaching in the early church.
8. This message was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before.
9. As a result of this preaching, the church was born and grew.
10. Sunday became the primary day of worship.
11. James, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he believed he also saw the resurrected Jesus.
12. A few years later, Paul was also converted by an experience which he likewise believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.

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.

Suffering For Christ’s Sake

You know how many critics of the Bible talk about how dis-jointed or inconsistent it is? I wonder how many of these critics have turned to God’s Word when going through something in their lives. I mean when things get really tough, when you start to wonder if you’re doing things the right way, when you’re really beating yourself up over how you are living, where do you turn?

I have re-confirmed recently that the truth that is found in God’s Word is as potent today as it was to those reading in first-century AD (or CE, for you science lovers). When you need counsel or advice, the Bible is overflowing with encouragement, help, understanding and affirmation.

I commented to WIFE the other day that life seems to be getting harder and harder. I figured this was OK; I remember hearing the quote, “Life is hard, then you accept Jesus, then life gets harder and then you die.” So I assumed that suffering was a part of the Christian life, and I ought to learn to deal with it so that I could gain Christ. WIFE was not so easily convinced (in all sincerity, wives are awesome this way, aren’t they?).

She first asked how long I’ve felt this way, which upon realization has led me to some separate convictions that I’ll keep to myself for today. Then after the message we heard at church this week, she hit me with another conclusion that she gleaned from these verses. In Matthew 25 (the parable of the three servants, or the parable of the talents), the master responds to the good work from the first two servants this way, according to the NLT: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” Note what the reward is for being faithful. It’s not money, notoriety, success, comfort. It is more responsibility!

And it is this conclusion that is both interesting and challenging. God doesn’t reward our faithfulness with the easy path, as WIFE put it. He puts more things in front of you, expecting you to be faithful in those things as well. And He only places them there because He knows you are capable, given how you handled the few things you were given previously. In a position of leadership in some areas, this struck me as rather relevant.

But my wife went even one step further with the challenge, which I will now posit to you, the reader: knowing that the reward for faithfulness is more responsibility, more work, more suffering, do you still want to be faithful with what you are given? Think about this in some specific terms, like money for example. If you give to God a little, and He blesses you with an abundance, is this a reward for your good service, or a challenge to do even more with the extra money you’ve been given? And are you willing to answer that call?

To tie all of this up neatly, God pointed me to the podcast of Afshin Ziafat, a pastor from whom I heard a message while on vacation in Dallas, TX. Two weekends ago, the topic of the message was “Knowing God’s Will,” which I think we can all agree we would love to be able to do. I’m not even through with the podcast, but in listening and reading along I was so convicted that I stopped the recording and had to write this blog.

The verse he uses as a starting point for what I’m sure is going to be a great rest of the message is 1 Peter 4:1-2, which says, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” So the suffering that I feel like I’m going through is part of seeing the will of God fulfilled, and He wouldn’t have me do it if He didn’t subject Christ to the same types of suffering! What reason do I have to feel like MY life is hard, to focus inward on myself? Rather, I am to “arm myself with the same attitude” as Christ, so that I can be a conqueror of sin and the “evil human desires.”

So Lord, today I accept the responsibility You have tasked me with, and I thank You for showing me that my suffering is not needless but also pales in comparison to knowing You and fulfilling Your plan. Help me have a desire to not care how hard my life gets, as long as it serves You and Your people. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray this, amen.