Faith is believing and acting on what God has revealed.
Faith may result in victories in this life (see vv. 32-35a), but there is no guarantee of triumph (see vv. 35b-39). The faithful often experience hardships, rejection, and even death. Faith is not vindicated by what happens in this life. Faith is vindicated when God’s promises are fulfilled.
We have some advantages over the great men and women of faith in the ancient world. We have the New Testament that tells us about the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith. In other words, we know the grace of God and how God followed through on His promise to save.
We also have the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God, indwelling us, if we have trusted Christ. This is no small benefit.
Nonetheless, we are called to live by faith, just like the ancients. We may know a bit more than they do about God’s plan. However, like them, we also haven’t received the promise in all its fullness. We are waiting for King Jesus to return and establish his kingdom on this earth.
Unit then, in the victories and difficulties of life, we must exercise faith , not getting too attached to this world but rather keeping our eyes on Jesus and the City that really is our home.
When we do get home, like Dean Sandy did earlier this week, we’ll still need faith, although it will have a different feel. Noted evangelical scholar D.A. Carson wrote: “It is true that in one sense faith will be displaced by sight. But there is another sense in which faith is simply thankful trust in God, deep appreciation for him, committed subservience to him. Will there be any time in the next fifty billion years (if I may speak of eternity in the categories of time) during which the very basis of my presence in the celestial courts will be something other than faith in the grace of God?” (Showing the Spirit, 74-75).
Faith is one of the three things that Paul said will “remain” or “last.” The other two are hope and love. If faith is one of the few things that last, maybe we ought to be developing it in our lives and sharing it with others.
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Even though Abram/Abraham’s name is mentioned 301 times in the Bible (75 X in N.T.), his biography is recorded in Genesis 12-25. It was fascinating to read through these 14 chapters in one sitting and I noted several things that were often repeated and interspersed throughout the familiar stories.
First though, is the inference that only the providence of God could cause a wealthy idol-worshipper in Mesopotamia to know the voice of the true God the first time he (Abram) heard it. Then, I made note of all the subsequent times God approached the burgeoning patriarch, and I was impressed with Abram’s responsiveness. (He didn’t have 21st c. distractions – is that why he wasn’t too self-sufficient and busy to listen to God?)
Quite often God and Abe carried on intense conversations. They truly listened to each other like best friends do. Stop and think about that for a minute and make a personal application . . . .
Also, God reiterated the promises of His covenant with Abraham several times as if to reassure Abe that nothing would change in spite of the extremely difficult testing of Abe’s faith. Abraham could have felt like God was being unreasonable and needed his great ideas (ha!) to make sure everything would turn out okay. God did keep the covenant promises even when Abraham displayed times of weakness and sin. More often than not, however, Abraham displayed great faith.
In addition to today’s scripture passages, I suggest you also read Romans 4 where it’s clear that Abraham believed God during what appeared to be impossible situations, humanly speaking.
There are a number of decades-long impossible situations in my family. I haven’t been called to an Abrahamic-like covenant, but I do have faith in a sovereign God Who speaks to me through His Word and His Spirit. I can listen, believe, and respond by acting in faith. Even if my prayers for repentance and healing in my family aren’t answered, I have a rock solid belief that God is good. I’ve had to surrender what I want to God after too many years of cynicism and trying short-sighted, faulty solutions.
Faith is incredibly important to God. In fact, yesterday we read that it is impossible to please God without faith.
In the book of Romans Paul goes to great lengths to argue that right standing with God comes by faith alone. Paul reaches all the way back to Abraham to prove his point: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness,” (Genesis 15:6).
In our reading for today the author of Hebrews also returns to Abraham in order to make a statement about faith. The thread that runs through the stories is the ability to trust in that which one does not see. It’s really a matter of trusting God’s promise, which one can’t see, over against that which one does see with his physical eyes.
Noah followed God’s blueprint and built a boat, although he had never seen rain, a flood (even a little one), or an ark. He trusted God’s word over that which he could see.
Abraham left everything he knew and ventured out into an unknown land he had never seen. He did this because he trusted God’s word over that which he could see.
The old, barren Sarah could see the birth of a baby boy, which flew in the face of all medical wisdom and experience. She trusted God’s word over what people said.
Noah ended up seeing rain and a flood. Abraham saw the Land of Canaan. Sarah saw her own baby. Nonetheless, the text tells us that they were still living by faith when they died because they had not yet received what God had promised. But they could see it with the eyes of faith.
Faith has something to do with trusting God’s word over that which we see with our physical eyes. It is the kind of sight which recognizes God’s promises as more real than the world we live in. The eyes of faith see that this is not our home, that there is something better waiting for us, and that heaven, though we can’t see it, is better and more real than this world with all of its alluring temptations.
One of the most poignant moments of my life occurred one Friday evening as the tour bus I was on crested the hill around Jerusalem, and I saw, for the first time, the city I had heard so much about since I was a baby. Although I had never been there before or seen Jerusalem with my own eyes, I was overwhelmed with emotion and an odd, satisfying sense that I was home…or near it, anyway.
Someday we will crest the hill of life and enter the city for which our hearts have always really longed. Although we haven’t seen it with our eyes, when we arrive we will know that we are truly home. Those who live in this world but for that city have faith that honors God. The will enjoy forever the city whose streets are eternally lit by the presence and joy of God.
Not too long ago we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which at its heart was a return to the Gospel. One of the main tenets of the Reformation was the Biblical idea of “faith alone,” and it (among a few other things) was something that they were willing to both live and die for.
But what is it about faith that’s so important? The easy answer to that might be: EVERYTHING! See, it is by faith alone that we are saved; put another way, the only way that we can be saved is by trusting in the work of Jesus for us.
That’s what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Jesus went to the cross and took the punishment for our sins, dying the death we deserved to die and then rising from the dead after three days victorious over sin and death. Our only hope of salvation is Jesus! That’s why, elsewhere, Paul makes it clear that there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, but all peoples need Jesus as Savior (see, for example, Romans 10:8-13). The Jewish person who is living according to the Law and the Greek who doesn’t regard the Law both need a Savior, and his name is Jesus. So the first question to ask is this: what are you ultimately placing your faith in? Some of us might place it in ourselves, thinking that we can be a good enough person. Some of us might place it in our work, thinking that it’s all about accomplishing enough. Some of us might place it in our relationships, thinking that the people we love give us our sense of value and worth. But the Bible is clear that those things – even good things – are not enough to save us. We are all sinners deserving of eternal punishment and in desperate need of a Savior. In his death and resurrection Jesus made possible a way of salvation for his people, so we come in faith understanding that there’s nothing we could do to earn this salvation but instead trusting solely in the person and work of Jesus.
So first, we want to ask ourselves who/what we’re placing our faith in, and the Bible makes it clear that the only right answer is Jesus. But trusting in him leads to a changed life, and in today’s reading I count at least four ways in which this happens:
Friday, November 10, 2017
According to an article in the New York Times (10/10/02), Fred and Agnes Schrock, a Mennonite couple, made an unexpected move. In their 60s and retired, they chose to leave their comfortable home in the Cumberland hills of Tennessee and move into a row house in the heart of Harlem in New York City.
The reason: They want needy people to learn about Jesus. But their strategy is simply to live the Gospel, not preach it. “We just try to make friends.” That entails putting themselves in places where they can do good works, and then wait . . . for people to ask about their faith.
Fred is pretty sure a neighbor is dealing drugs. “In fact I saw it in his hands. We could alert the authorities, but that’s not our mission here. I’ll try to give him a jar of Tennessee honey, to see whether I can break through a little better.”
Fred and Agnes spend many days in the emergency room of Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, taking blankets to patients or calming relatives by their quiet, steady presence. They help out in homeless shelters.
Are they comfortable in their new location? “It’s true, it goes against my nature on several things,” Fred said. “You look out at some of the buildings and they’re ugly. We’re used to nice green hills in Tennessee. It wants to get to you sometime.”
Agnes admits to feeling a certain lonesomeness, especially being far from family. But she quickly expresses her satisfaction with her new home in Harlem. “I miss community,” she said. “And then again I don’t, because I’m quite fulfilled here.”
Is this couple out of their minds . . . or in their right minds? The Gospels make clear that the new order and society that Jesus introduced has a very different set of values. Fred and Agnes might actually be doing the kind of thing Jesus wants from all of us.
Several passages in the New Testament reveal that God gives people different gifts. Some are evangelists, some are prophets, some are pastors. Those are special kinds of ministry. But all of us are called to the ministry of being salt and light and doing good works.
True disciples place themselves in the midst of needy people and give them cups of water (Mark 9:41), or maybe jars of honey. As Jesus said, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matt 25:45-46).
Suppose you were the pastor of a megachurch in Chicago during the gangster era, and Al Capone suddenly had a conversion experience. He decides to donate a large sum to your church. You know the money came from theft. It is pretty clear you can’t take that money. What if it was not so clear-cut: suppose it was money gotten through gambling, or even more grey, through lottery? I have heard of churches that have policies on whether to accept questionable gifts like that.
In Luke, we have the story of the conversion of Zaccheus the tax collector (probably tax extortionist). I find it VERY interesting that Matthew does not record this incident! Perhaps hitting too close to home? Perhaps Matthew did not make such a restitution move? Anyway, Zaccheus gives half (not all) of his ill-gotten gains to the poor, and also makes restitution (again from questionable sources) to those he specifically defrauded. Clearly his motives are good, and Jesus praises him for all of this. The people who knew him? Not so much praise. We need to be careful not to let our (perhaps proper) sense of propriety squelch someone’s good heart and motive. Jesus seems to be lenient with Zaccheus, as well as the woman who wiped His feet with her hair (Luke 7:36-45) based on their good heart/motives.
Similarly, James 5 speaks of those who are wealthy using their wealth for the Lord. Steve Miller, in his Financial Peace ABF last week, talked about the wealthy being employers, and paying a fair wage is a key part why God entrusted them with wealth. “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you. (v.4)” Don’t do that! Be like Zaccheus and as soon as you know you underpaid them, fix it right away. Over time, God may reveal that Zaccheus’ line of work may not be as honoring as it could, the woman with the hair should “go and sin no more,” and even you might honor God more in a less shady line of work. But for the moment, God honors your heart’s desire to do good.
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Have you seen the movie Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis? Set in the 1950s, it’s a sad story of how years of deep anguish takes its toll on the wife and children when the father resorts to hurtful ways of dealing with the problems and disappointments in his life. The movie made me uncomfortable because I was convicted that there are families living right next to us who are also struggling to make sense of life without Christ. Am I assuming they don’t want me meddling in their lives by talking about my trust in the Savior?
Ever since I read the familiar verse in Micah about walking humbly with God, I’ve been mulling over the root cause of not doing what Jesus told the man who had been delivered from a legion of demons to do, “. . . tell how much God has done for you.” I’ve inferred I have fear of breaking the sound barrier with unbelievers, but there’s also the fear people like the Gerasenes had when the presence and power of Jesus brought about radical change. Most people don’t want to be confronted with a message that is both unfamiliar and could cause them to see their guilt of not wanting to give up control.
To surrender to Jesus means that ol’ control factor has to die. Is our prideful control to blame for either our hectic schedules, or high value on relaxation? Do we desire acceptance from people no matter what setting we’re in? These values can lead to spiritual apathy. So if we Christians fail to incorporate a daily consciousness of the reality of the gospel, how can we have the excitement or urgency to tell others how wonderful it is to be a Christian?
I’m following a 30-day Gratitude Challenge this month and I was struck with this statement: “Gratitude for our salvation can reopen its wonder to us, throwing back the dingy curtains until the full light of His grace and glory come streaming through.”
Oh would it be true that our living testimony become so compelling that our unbelieving friends will know they too want a faith that will reach for the edge of Jesus’ garment.
Here at WLGBC we talk about “worship as a way of life.” Unfortunately, it is way too easy to think of worship as something we do for an hour on Sunday mornings. We forget that the worship that really pleases God is when we act like Him; that is, when we do good, show mercy, and love others.
The Jewish religious leaders did not like it when Jesus healed on the Sabbath. They thought he was setting a bad example by working on the Sabbath, which they had tightly regulated. Jesus recites from the prophet Hosea, where the Lord says: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6a). The Pharisees would have known the rest of the verse without Jesus telling them: “and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” In this passage from Hosea, God rejects the empty rituals and sacrifices of a people who don’t demonstrate His heart of compassion for others. Our Sunday worship doesn’t mean much to God when we’ve been selfish, uncaring, and cruel to others during the week.
When Jesus says “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:12), he is not just saying that it is permissible to do good on the Sabbath. He is saying that doing good is at the very heart of worship. When we do good, we demonstrate that we really know God, because God is good. Doing good reflects who God is—it glorifies Him. This is the worship God desires.
I can’t help but think of the example Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount. He said that, if you’re on your way to make a sacrifice in the temple (i.e. worship) and you remember that someone has something against you, drop the sacrifice and first go make things right with your brother. Reconciliation is more important to God than sacrifice because God is a God of reconciliation. He delights when we live in unity with one another. This is the worship he delights in.
It is good to meet together and sing praises to God and listen to His Word. The scriptures actually command this. However, let us not forget that worship includes doing good to others who are in need around us.
This weekend we get to do both…in the same place. We worship God by doing good through We Care Warsaw, and then we get to gather on Sunday in the Gordon Rec Center again to sing praises to God. I believe our songs of praise on Sunday will genuinely delight God if we’ve genuinely reflected His goodness and grace to others on Saturday.
At WLGBC we have a saying that goes, “worship as a way of life.” What we mean is that our entire lives should be an act of worship, as we don’t just worship once a week on a Sunday morning but rather worship all week long! We live our lives in such a way to worship God.
There are many ways that this happens, but do you know one of the big ones? By loving other people. Micah 6:8, in today’s reading, reminds us: “[God] has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” In other words, what does God want us to do? To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk in humility with God. We stand against evils and injustices because we serve the righteous Judge; we treat others with love and kindness and grace and mercy and patience and service because we have an incredible Savior who treated us that way; we walk in humility because we realize how glorious our God is compared to ourselves – and this, in turn, motivates us also to love others.
The book of Isaiah gives us several more examples. In chapter 58, God describes what He views as true and false fasting, and here’s how He describes true fasting (v.6-14):
• Loose the bonds of wickedness – Stand for justice
• Undo the straps of the yoke / break every yoke – Combatting and seeking to do away with oppression
• Let the oppressed go free – Help and care for those who are mistreated
• Share your bread with the hungry – Provide nourishment, if necessary
• Bring the homeless poor into your home – Provide housing, if necessary
• Cover the naked – Provide clothing, if necessary
These are just a few of many ways that we serve our Lord and love others. And while our motivation isn’t to get something in return, the reality is that there’s a blessing that comes from blessing people – and that blessing is delight in the Lord. There’s a blessing that comes from following God and from knowing Him and walking in His ways, and we are commanded to love and care for those around us. We don’t have to go halfway across the world to do this, but rather we have opportunities each and every day in our various contexts, whether at work or at school or at the store or at the sporting event or… the list goes on and on. Point being: you have ample opportunities each and every day to love people. We need to be aware of how we can love and help and serve and care for others, seeing needs when they arise and, as far as we are able, helping out. We’re not going to be able to help with every need, but we are to be on mission all the time. We live our very lives as mission – or, since this mission is following God’s commands, we live our very lives as worship. We can love people where we’re at, we can serve people where we’re at, and we can be witnesses of our glorious God wherever we’re at.
We looked last week about the global scope of this mission, but we’re all on mission whether we go to another country or not. So let me ask you: how are you living for Christ and loving people right where you’re at today?