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March 2016

Want to truly increase your faith? It will cost you your pride

By | Christianity | One Comment

In Luke 17, Jesus gave his apostles a pretty difficult task: if your brother sins against you seven times in a day and repents each time, forgive him. Maybe that’s the reason the apostles asked him in v. 5 to “increase our faith.” After all, it takes a lot of faith to continually forgive someone who just keeps making the same mistake over and over again, doesn’t it?

Jesus’ answer is interesting. He makes two points that I think are vital to Christians as we wrestle with our own weak faith.

How much faith do you need?

The first point is the response in v. 6: “ If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

I confess that I don’t fully understand the concept of having a “little faith”. How do you measure faith? In this case Jesus says it’s sufficient, but in other cases, he chastises the apostles for having “little faith” (Mtt. 17:20). Obviously context has a lot to do with it, and I suspect that the audience in this case was key as well. I think he’s telling his apostles that they don’t need to wait for the “perfect amount” of faith. Neither do we; it’s very few of us who are truly up to the task of serving God. But He has appointed “earthen vessels” to teach the gospel to the world, and earthen vessels are flawed. If we wait until we feel ready to serve God, we’ll probably never start.

We don’t need perfect faith or even outstanding faith to be pleasing to God. We just need enough faith to get started, and enough to not give up (Col. 1:22-23).

But I think the second thing he says may be even more vital – and something many of us struggle with.

Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’
(Luke 17:7-10 ESVST)

The message here seems pretty straight-forward. If I want stronger faith, I need to start by understanding my place in the relationship with God. I am a child of God, and heir with Christ to salvation, it’s true (Rom. 8:17). But our adoption is not on our terms. God redeemed us for a purpose, which was to do good works (Eph. 2:10), to become part of a priesthood ordained to offer sacrifices to God (I Peter 2:5) as His possession, to His glory (v. 9).

Serving God isn’t about what I want

People gravitate to “church” for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it’s to become part of a community. Sometimes it’s to receive some sort of emotional experience from a worship assembly. And sometime, as Solomon wrote, it’s that God has “set eternity into man’s heart” (Ecc. 3:11). But the reason is invariably about fulfilling a need.

That’s not selfishness in the sense of worldly self-interest. It’s a perfectly valid sentiment, as Peter pleaded with people in Acts 2:40 to “save yourselves from this crooked generation.” We know we need a savior, and so we come to Christ.

But just like with an infant, babes in Christ have to grow beyond that. As we mature in our faith, we learn more and more that it’s not about us. Jesus calls us to be great through our service to others (Matt. 20:26), by submitting and putting others ahead of ourselves (Phil. 2:3).

And above all, we start to learn that our lives are God’s, and that our service is His, on His terms, to His glory. And we do it not because we’re forced to, but because there’s no better way to live.

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this:that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 ESV)

That’s real faith – putting my own ego aside, not worrying about my own preferences and ideas of what life should be, what worship should be, what my role in the body of Christ should be. Stepping into the furnace just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, with the attitude that even if God doesn’t step in and save us, we’re still going to serve Him above everything else (Daniel 3:18).

God grant us all that level of faith. Because that’s when the Lord’s church will truly grow.

The lion behind the glass

By | Christianity | One Comment

I love going to zoos – and lions have been my favorite animals since as long as I can remember. So any time I can see a lion up close – particularly if he’s doing something other than sleeping – it’s a good trip.

The lion relaxing peacefully at the zoo always looks safe.

The lion relaxing peacefully at the zoo always looks safe.

But there’s a video I watched once of a trip like that, and maybe you’ve seen it, too. It was taken at one of the exhibits which allows you to walk into the enclosure behind a thick glass wall and see the animals up close. One of the families in attendance let their child wander over to the glass, and she ended up in a staring contest with a big male. It looked for all the world like a precious moment for everybody.

Then the lion started frantically pawing at the glass right where she was standing. Everyone laughed and smiled and got a great memory out of the experience. And whether they wanted to think about it or not, all of them probably knew what would have happened if that glass hadn’t been there.

Thick plate glass has a way of making us complacent about potential dangers. In the same way, the grace of God can make us complacent about very real dangers to our souls. Peter knew this as well as anyone, and he spent much of his epistle warning Christians about the need to remain vigilant.

Be sober- minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1Pe 5:8

Why would Peter warn us of the dangers of an enemy who is powerless to harm us? After all, Satan has been “declawed”, hasn’t he?

All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. – 1Jo 5:17-19

If the “sting of death” has been removed in Christ (I Cor. 15:48), and sin no longer has dominion over us (Rom. 6:14), then what can a guy in a red devil suit with a pitchfork do to us, all locked away and powerless?

The answer is simply that Satan is not powerless, and even in I John, we read that he still controls this world. For now at least, Satan holds influence over anyone and anything that submits to his will. And all of those things are tools that he uses to try to lure us into his realm – not in some spooky, supernatural way as we might see in movies. I’m convinced Satan is thrilled when we spend all our time coming up with conspiracy theories about how this or that politician is a tool of evil bringing about some apocalyptic world event, when in reality, Satan is that friend who convinces you that there’s more to life than Christian morality. Or even that brother or sister in Christ that tells you that you really need to lighten up a little – “you’re forgiven! Don’t take sin so seriously. God will understand if you give in every now and then.”

Or maybe it’s the charismatic evangelist or spiritual leader who seems so sure of himself, so comfortable with the word of God, and even if what he says doesn’t completely match up with what you read in scripture, he just seems so convincing! And he’s such a nice man. Paul described that in II Corinthians 11:13-15.

Satan has one power left to him: the power to deceive us into thinking he’s not the roaring lion looking to devour you. He just wants you to have a good life, to enjoy yourself and to just leave the whole “Bible” thing to the preachers and the “goodie-goodies”. It reminds me of how Satan led Jesus up to the top of the temple and told him “If you’re the son of God, jump off the temple. God won’t let you hurt yourself.” He even had scripture to justify himself. (Mtt. 4:5-6)

But Satan selectively quotes the scripture, leaving out passages such as Hebrews 10:26-31, or I Corinthians 10:11-12, and numerous others which warn us very clearly that God’s grace is there for us – a wall of glass holding Satan at bay, as long as we don’t willfully decide to dangle our feet over the edge.

When we do that, we miss the advice of the apostles, as Paul wrote, “we are not ignorant of his designs.” (2 Co 2:11)

We ought not be ignorant, either.

 

 

Seeing the real Jesus

By | Christianity | 2 Comments

It must have been an interesting spectacle, to say the least, when the two “kings” met.

Herod was essentially the king of the Jews in the eyes of the Roman government, having been appointed the Tetrarch of Galilee by Caesar. He was at least nominally Jewish, although his lineage as an Idumean made him a child of Esau rather than Jacob, and therefore his ties to Judaism would probably have been superficial at best. He certainly had no use for following the law of Moses – a fact that Jesus’ cousin John learned first-hand when Herod had John killed for condemning the adulterous affair between Herod and the wife of his half-brother, Philip.

Although he seemed to fear Jesus’ teaching and influence enough to want him dead (Luke 13:31), the Bible doesn’t say how seriously he took that effort. But one day he finally had the chance to meet the “other” king in person. I suspect “bloodied and in chains” was how he liked his prophets – unlikely to do a lot of preaching about morality, and maybe in a pliable state of mind to satisfy the curiosity Herod had about Jesus’ alleged ability to perform miracles.

He was apparently not pleased with the outcome of the interview:

 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. Luke 23:8-11

The Jesus he wanted to see

Herod brought Jesus to his court because he wanted a show. Instead he got silence, very likely interpreted as contempt from his prisoner. He didn’t get the Jesus that he was hoping to see. But that happened to a lot of people. And not much has changed in 2,000 years.

The reality is that throughout Jesus’ ministry, people had an idea of what they wanted from him or what they believed him to be long before they ever heard him speak. Some didn’t really even care what he had to say, so long as he fed them (John 6:26). Some had decided he was a troublemaker and an instigator, a threat to what little sovereignty the Jewish nation possessed under Rome (John 11:48). Some went to him and asked questions hoping to be reassured of their own righteousness (Luke 10:29).

But when it came down to actually listening to him speak, they tended to be less interested in applying and understanding than they were arguing and justifying. Have you ever noticed that despite being taught at times only in parables and riddles, the only people who ever seemed to ask Jesus what he meant were his disciples (Mark 4:33-34)? All those people gathered on the hillsides and seashores, and for the most part, they never really seemed to get the message Jesus was trying to deliver.

Are we really listening to Jesus?

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do the things that I say?” he asked in Luke 6:44. The answer was pretty simple. They were healed, they were fed, they heard some really interesting ideas, and then they left. Even the throngs that greeted him in Jerusalem during his triumphal entrance had apparently disappeared by the time he walked the last steps to Calvary. The main reason was that they finally got tired of the message Jesus was delivering (John 6:66), along with his continual refusal to conform to the image of the “savior” they wanted him to be (v. 15).

Every time I read a blogger write how Jesus wants nothing from us but to believe in him… Every time Jesus’ name is invoked to condemn the concept of religion (however that’s defined today)… Every time we stand and sing “Oh How I Love Jesus” and then go on out and live just like everyone else in the world”, we ought to remind ourselves that Jesus came and died on the cross because he loved us. But he also wanted to change us because he knew we were lost and dead in sin without God.

Do we take that seriously enough to listen to everything he has to say? Do we love Jesus enough that we embrace him for all that he is, not just the parts we like or the parts that fit our own theology? The Jesus that preached love and repentance; promised salvation and condemnation; offered rest and  hardship?

Or are we like those to whom Jesus said: “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your heart.”

Let’s not conform Jesus to whatever cause or theology or doctrine fits our sensibilities best. Let’s love him enough to listen to his every word for what they are: the Bread of Life.

 

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