Monday, 09 December 2019 13:28
By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised.
- Hebrews 11:11, NRSV
Who, what, why, where, when, and how? We just discussed nones and dones last week and the fact that they really do need some answers, and that we need to answer them as authentically as possible.
There's a catch, though. The nones and dones aren't the only ones who want answers. We do, too. We sometimes ask, "What's this whole thing about?" For whatever reason, we may not ask it very loudly, but we do ask. I'll lay your mind at ease right off the bat. That's perfectly all right, perfectly normal, and 100% in accordance with how God built us. We can ask God why, and we can even yell at Him, plead with Him. Just look at the Psalms, they’re full of real, raw emotions. God doesn't want us putting on a mask. Masks are a way we lie to ourselves and telling Him that same lie isn't going to make Him happy. The reason He's unhappy isn't that you just hurt His feelings. It's because you're not dealing with yours, which never leads to the wholeness, abundance, or close community for which He created us.
Even further down this whole path lie our struggles with and questions about how it's all connected.
I follow the author and investigator, J. Warner Wallace, on Facebook. He's posted a lot of statistics on people leaving churches. By now, you know how much I love data. Data tells a story and the church needs to tell a more compelling one, so data is where we start.
Have you seen those 10-year challenges on social media? They compare 10-year differences via pictures.
There is one Pew Research Report posted by Wallace that replicates this. Pew stated that from 2009 to 2019 there has been an 8% drop in the protestant-identifying population of the United States. The number of overall dones is growing, too. In that same 10-year span, Americans who said they attended church at least once or twice a month dropped by 7 percent, while those who say they rarely or never go to church rose by the same 7 percent. On the graph, it looks like a big "X" of declines on one side and increases on the other.
They're not going to a different religion or a separate denomination in the Christian religion. They're just cutting themselves off, and with much more regularity as the age demographic gets younger. If you were born between 1946 and 1964, there's a 75% chance you call yourself a Christian. Women are more religious than men, although both sides are faltering. The thing is, the faithful are remaining faithful. Church attendance is staying steady if you come more than once a week. That means if you attend weekly or more, such as Bible studies, you're very likely to continue doing so.
By comparison, if you were born between 1981 and 1996, there's only a 49% chance of that. According to Champaign, Illinois organization Empty Tomb, Americans gave 3% of their disposable income in 1968 to churches as part of a tithe. That's not 3% of their total income, that's just their disposable income. In 2016, the “disposable income” tithe percentage is now 2.2%. So let's just be extremely real here for a second.
What we're seeing is people on the periphery leaving the church. They’re gone like a vapor, just a ghost that got up and vanished.
The people who are already steady are sticking around. They aren’t always keen on investing where their membership is, but they are solidly living into their membership with their presence, that is for certain.
Here’s the problem. The people who need to hear the Good News of Jesus are more likely to hear crickets than Colossians according to this report.
A Different Story
All the data I have shared with you to this point, it’s been pretty bleak. Now, let me flip the script for you. United Methodist Communications recently released a survey that found the willingness to visit a United Methodist Church had climbed to 42 percent in mid-2019. This survey included U.S. adults who were looking for more spirituality in their lives and who were aware of our denomination, which is why the United Methodist Church advertises. Two years prior in 2017, that number was only 28%. That's a substantial gain in interest.
Of that 42% group, half of them said they would visit within the next three months, or right about now. There's a higher likelihood that those who would be willing to walk through the door would be millennials than Generation Xers. So that’s 21% of the total who would come to a United Methodist Church, coming sooner rather than later.
Of the 79% who said that they weren't ready to visit, 10% of those said they would reconsider if someone they knew extended an invitation. Hint. Hint. Hint.
Among those people who are willing to attend, the number of respondents who rate the denomination favorably is climbing. They know who we are, 95% of seekers polled saying so, they know our logo, and they know our denomination's tagline, "Open minds, open hearts, open doors."
They overwhelmingly believe that the tagline is appealing and personally relevant to them. If this was a dating website, we'd call that a highly-favorable match.
But what happens when the expectations they have for that first date aren't met? What if no one answers their questions, or when the answer isn't what they expect, it also comes out of a place that lacks grace? What if they experience imperfect humanity when they're looking for perfect divinity? It’s a lot of what ifs, which is why I preach a great deal on the need for love, the need for spiritual disciplines, acts of mercy, acts of piety. They all point to relationship.
We don't and won't know everything, as I pointed out in last Sunday's sermon. But we do have a Holy Spirit to guide us. We have an example to follow in how God drew and guided Abraham and Sarah through their lives, through their mistakes, missteps, and mishaps into the completely unexpected love of the child Isaac. They hung their whole existence on God's in-birthed persuasion that they would someday see descendants as numerous as the stars. Two thousand years later, this chapter of Hebrews speaks powerfully. It opens our thoughts to the trust required to sustain and find God's unexpected love in the lives of two people who were desperate to find it. Four thousand years after these two people of faith, we have a mission field that is full of individuals cut from a similar cloth.
We have a very unique opportunity to spread the gospel to people, but it starts right here and right now in our own hearts. Put your hand on your chest right now. Do you feel that heartbeat? That heartbeat is ground zero for revival.
The thing I find so refreshing here in this text is that we realize we're not alone. I've repeated myself a lot, but I'll risk doing it again. All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again. People have been seeking "something" forever. Think about it. You were exploring something when you found God through Jesus. I’ve mentioned secular university studies that are saying our brains are wired for a relationship with a "higher power," and that's God. People have needed their relationship with God to be revived continually. Whether they stumble and fall isn't relevant, it's whether or not we help them get back up that counts.
Religion has become some sort of strange, dirty word in the modern age. It's not because of its definition, it's because of what it has come to represent to people outside of religion. The etymology of the word religion comes from the Latin word forms "re" and "ligare." Combined, they mean "to bind again." When we consider this binding, we need to understand what kind of binding it is precisely. It's not the same kind of binding that we use to bind criminals or pray for the binding of spiritually opposing evil forces. This isn't Satan binding the woman for "18 long years," as Jesus said in Luke 13. This is Jesus quoting Isaiah 61. "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners."
This is the healing of which Jeremiah asked after in chapter 8 verse 10. "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?" If we think of religion as a system of belief, we miss the point of the word staring us right in the face.
Religion is a re-binding of our hearts to God, the only healer we can ever have. The Bible often speaks of the power of God to reconcile, redeem, rejoin, reunite. Remember, when we went through the series "Re: The Elements of Our Faith?" Renew, rejoice, reveal, reaffirm, return, rebuild, re-emerge, reignite. At the heart of religion we find the pivotal element of our faith. It's the one concept that God will re-bind us to Him and to one another in a way so powerful we don't even have the scope of reference to understand it completely. It requires us living into the faith imparted to us by God.
The fact is most people we refer to as seekers are looking for that exact type of healing.
What we have to do is take back the definition of religion. Better yet, redefine it by a love so unexpected it leaves a deep impression in the lives of those who come in contact with the church. Love like that doesn't originate with you or me. It only exists flawlessly in our union with Jesus Christ. We call him the author and perfecter of our faith for that reason.
Look at the world around us. Take a good, long look. Polarized people, butting heads everywhere. Red state, blue state. Conservative, liberal. It's a mess, and it's not helping those who need help the most. We're talking about empty people, people without hope, just as barren in their hearts as Sarah was in her womb. They need to be filled with an unexpected love that arrives only through a persuasive communion with God directly. We call what that kind of communion builds "faith," and we light an advent candle for the peace that it brings. We find it here in a crucial word in this passage.
The Greek word is "katabolen." This word is most often used in conjunction with Christ's coming to earth in human form as the redemption that enables our relationship with God. I don't believe the writer of Hebrews used the word here by accident. I think the reason that word was selected was that the conception of Isaac was a symbol of God's overall plan. It's a plan He set in place and guaranteed before creation ever started. "But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself." Hebrews 9:26b. "He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake." 1 Peter 1:20.
Simply put, the word refers to the foundational structure God put in place, by which all people can know and have a relationship with Him. All people. This supersedes everything that happened in Genesis 1. We're talking about John 1:1-5, and how "in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
If we don't strive to get a real hold on just how genuinely bound to one another we are, we will lack the motivation needed to go find those seekers. If we don't see how we can be re-bound to the relationship we were meant to enjoy with God, the ones who are so open to a relationship with Jesus Christ won't find Him. They lose, and we lose. And Jesus? Jesus weeps.
What we lose in the process is the opportunity to return to a more whole state, both individually and collectively. True wholeness in either sense only comes through God, but like everything that comes through Him, nothing is expected ever to sit still. Our faith is expected to be active. There was a great album by the Christian rock band Bride, and I loved its title. Kinetic Faith. Faith in motion. God's in-birthed persuasion was always designed to move out of us. In-birthed, but outbound. It's a transfer of the energy inherent in God's love, into our hearts, and out into the lives of other people. It erupts in an unexpected love, birthed inside the hearts of those who thought they would never see it happen. You know, I've told some people that this can happen for them and they laughed. They laughed just like Sarah laughed when she was told she would bear a son. Along came Isaac.
The thing I want to know is, will we laugh at this? I like to think that our little church has enough in-birthed persuasion from God just to smile knowingly and keep reassuring them that God will do as he has said he would do. At the very end of this verse, the writer tells us that Abraham considered God faithful to his promises. It's probably a better translation to say he was convinced of the promises by the in-birthed persuasion of God. The Greek word for "had promised" at the end of this verse is epangeilamenon, from epaggéllō. This word, when stated about God's promises, declares promises that are fitting and legitimately applicable. God never makes idle promises. He's specific with His word and crafts the details of His promises surgically.
Revival Starts Within
Our takeaway is to be a people who start at our own heart and allow God to surgically, deliberately and powerfully persuade us to trust in him, just as Sarah and Abraham trusted in God's persuasion. We have to be ground zero for the revival in our church. It's not revival that happens in a room, or a tent, or in a grand cathedral. It occurs alone, maybe in your car. It happens in your prayer closet. It overcomes you in a one-on-one encounter with God. It happens as you are filled with the Holy Spirit, and it keeps on happening when you put it into motion.
The day after Abraham and Sarah were visited by the Angels and told that Sarah would have a baby, life went on. Abraham kept on growing in his trust of God because God kept on persuading him and building his faith. God and Abraham had an extraordinarily close relationship. Like I said, God was careful and calculating about how He guided Abraham. He even wondered if he should hide the destruction of Sodom from him, knowing that Abraham's nephew Lot was among the people who would be killed. In the end, God decided to clue Abraham in.
If you read it, it even looks like Abraham is persuading God not to destroy Sodom. I'm sure it's no surprise to you that I have a slightly different take on this series of events. My take is simple.
All along, through love, God was guiding Abraham to intercede for his fellow humans. We learn that intercession is an integral part of a relationship through this example.
That only happens through a growing faith relationship with God. Abraham never acted as if he were God's equal, but he got to know God's heart enough to understand that God is just and fair, but also merciful. What Abraham didn't know is that in that close relationship with God, founded solidly on the faith God grew inside him, an unexpected love for others had grown.
It can be daunting to reach out and ask nones and dones about their faith, to talk to them about the savior they may be seeking. If you find yourself questioning whether or not you have it within you to intercede in the lives of other people, spend more time with Jesus and God. You'll find God can be undeniably persuasive. What grows out of that persuasion will be very unexpected.
Monday, 26 August 2019 18:35
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
- 1 Peter 5:10
First of all, let me say that the "little while" of suffering to which Peter was referring is not my sermon time, contrary to what my congregation may think.
But you know, I could say that the suffering we encounter in life is divisively theodical in nature and I wouldn’t be wrong. Theodical comes from one of those fancy-pants pastor words, “theodicy.” Theodicy is not the story written by Homer (that’s The Odyssey). Theodicy is the study of and attempt to answer why God lets bad things happen to good people. Job, Joseph, Jeremiah, and even Jesus had some fairly terrible things happen to them. Even people without “J” as the first letter of their name suffered. Paul, Peter, and a host of others did, too. We all want to know one thing. Why? If God is the God of all grace and has called us to eternal glory, why does he sometimes do it by dragging the people in his church through 50 miles of mud bog and thorns? Why are we to live in the middle of Babylon if we have been made to be victorious overcomers as I pointed out last week? How is suffering supposed to leave us strong, firm and steadfast as promised?
God revealed to us through faith, which is his divine persuasion, that we could do amazing things. Then the road to those amazing things often takes a hard left turn and if we didn’t actually get thrown out of the vehicle by that, we darned near did. It challenges our trust, and certainly our faith. How do we reaffirm that God actually said what we heard Him say after something like that happens?
I’ll give you an example.
Authority of the Word
As a little boy, I was called at the age of 9. I recall opening the Bible that I received from Trinity Lutheran Church in my bedroom one day and, with no one in the room, I began preaching out of Isaiah 49. Really, all I was doing was reading, but I read with authority, and I’d never seen anyone preach like that so I didn’t know where it came from. Certainly not my pastors, who were very traditional pulpit preachers. I felt passionate and I had fire. I felt the power in those words moving inside me. I felt the power in what was said even though I didn’t understand it. I had absolutely no clue the impact that this chapter of Isaiah would have on my life. All I knew at that point was that the word made me feel safe and secure in a time in my life that was very insecure because everything around me was unsafe. I felt God saying, “This is what you will do for me.”
Life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds you down or polishes you up depends upon what you are made of.
But God had to have messed this up, right? I mean, it was His choice to place me in a family that was very broken that would eventually lead me to be a very broken man. In my family, it would be an understatement to say I experienced many not-so-good things. It was deeply broken because the people in my family were deeply broken going back quite some time. They call it a generational curse. So I ask you if God was going to really use me, why would He choose to place me there? Everywhere you look there are these expectations that pastors don’t actually have a past. You launch a rocket from a launchpad, not a quagmire of mud, right?
God had to have gotten this very wrong.
Why did He not place me somewhere that I could really be of use to Him, or in a place where I could be protected until needed? Isaiah 49 said that the servant of the Lord was a sharp sword hidden in God’s palm, and a polished arrow hidden in His quiver. What I experienced was hardly a polishing. It was more like a continual 30-grit grinding of mental, physical and emotional abuse. If I was so awesome and blessed with the destiny to be a vessel of so much power, then who got my travel orders screwed up? I want names and answers, as somebody made a big mistake because my path was a mess from the jump.
Stones in the Process
James S. Hewett said, “Life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds you down or polishes you up depends upon what you are made of.” There was honestly only one thing that got me through that time of grinding and moved me through it to polishing.
A lot of people in our midst have suffered injustices in this world, and while we will spend time talking about that someday, what I am breaking out here today is, how do you trust God when bad things are happening in your life? How can we reaffirm His great love for us when we see so little of that love around us? When things aren’t going your way? When your truck is forever at the mechanic? When the roof blows off your house during a storm? When you have problem after problem after problem after problem crop up?
It’s really not surprising when we start looking around for our own solutions because we don’t think God is answering us, or at least he’s not answering us as fast as we would like. There’s a catch, though.
If we put the problems we face into the context of the problems faced by the people of Peter's time, we’re actually getting off really easy. The vast majority of us are not persecuted like they were, or even like some churches are in our modern age. But still, our perception (there’s that word) is all too often our reality. Our context matters to us, and even if we can’t compare our issues to those of others, that still doesn’t make our issues go away. So WHAT will? WHAT gets us through the grindstone of life to come out on the other side. WHAT makes us polished and flawless arrows that will fly true and WHAT makes us swords that will cut surgically?
That WHAT question is important to ask because it holds a promise (there’s THAT word again). We find the promise of peace in that “WHAT” question. Our anxiety levels could sure use a healthy helping of peace.
The whole focus of 1 Peter is talking about finding hope in hopeless situations. Finding God’s pattern in the past and understanding how that power plays into our persistently stepping into our faith. That's the same faith God gave us and the Holy Spirit's work happening in it to create that new “authority inside” of us.
What’s odd here, though, is Peter saying, “After you’ve suffered a little while,” … um, Pete, let’s talk about exactly what your definition of “a little while” is, shall we? This “little while” has been going on for what seems like forever. Suffering has been evident EVERYWHERE for much longer than just a “little while," Pete. In my own life, it's been over 40 years, Pete. Four-tee-years, Pete. That's a "four" and an "oh" as in "Oh my word, this has been going on forever, Pete." This is not a “little while!”
Or is it?
Peter is actually right. Our perception is that suffering has been happening for a long time, but if you look at God’s timeline from God's perspective, this actually is just a little while. When we start to look at God’s promise from God’s perspective, a funny thing happens. We begin to see things through God’s eyes, and that shift causes us to see that it really is just “a little while.”
The fact is, lifting ourselves out of our perceptions and into our purpose requires faith in the promise, just like we’ve been talking about. And today, I’m going to start unpacking how we go about doing precisely that.
The answer, as you may have guessed it, is to use our spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, bible study, worship and communion to let God build more faith in us. Remember, the growth of faith comes from practicing our spiritual disciplines in acts of piety and acts of mercy and over the next several Sundays we’re going to talk about each of them. Let’s launch this with the spiritual discipline of prayer.
Engine or Caboose?
Prayer was never meant to be a last resort, even though we sometimes use it that way after we've gone digging for our own solutions. Instead, it was always meant to be the most powerful first resort we could actually possess. It’s one of the ways we allow Jesus to perfect the faith his Holy Spirit placed inside us.
Think of prayer as our baseline communication with God through the Holy Spirit.
The Bible is chock full of people praying, otherwise, it would just be a history book with some nifty ideas thrown in. Jesus, for example, prayed deep and powerful prayers. In one instance, he told his disciples that some demons could not be exorcised except by prayer. It's no doubt that his disciples prayed, but did they pray as deeply and as widely as Christ prayed? We have evidence that they didn’t in the same way we have evidence that we don’t, either.
The Bible also tells us to pray anytime. Ephesians 6:18 says, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests; with this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
Psalm 116:1-2 says, “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me I will call on him as long as I live.”
So we see here that we are to pray all the time and for as long as we live. Why? Because we’re in a flesh suit all the time. We’re suffering all of the time. The answer is to go straight to God with it, all of the time. Why? Because he hears our voices when we need His mercy, when we need His peace and when we need His reaffirmation. This is where we find that guardianship of our hearts called peace. It comes from the same place the peace that passes all understanding mentioned in Philippians 4 comes from. Peace there is brought by the vehicle of prayer, petition, and thanksgiving. You get it? Prayer is a vehicle to peace, which comes solely from God.
A deep breath
That peace helps to alleviate a LOT of anxiety. Prayer enables us, through faith in the power of God, to have peace that will transcend the toughest times that we as Christians can face. In Peter’s time, they had it rough. They faced persecution at many turns and would for centuries to come. There was a spiritual war going on around them. There’s one going on around us as well.
“Really? What persecutions do Christians really face?” Many ask that. Maybe you ask that. I know I've asked that. The answer is spiritual persecutions. Be sure of that. The devil doesn’t like to lose, and he works double hard not to lose. So we have to pray doubly hard to win. What is essentially stopping us from doing that and making headway into God’s good and perfect will for us? Our own selves, mostly. But if we could discover that reaffirmation in prayer, there would be powerful forces unleashed for God’s glory that would outwork, outwit and outlast the devil.
That little 9-year old me that I told you about grew to be a man (as evidenced by me writing this to you now, obviously). There were many times that life got really difficult. Not just challenging, but mercilessly difficult. It hurt too often, too hard, and too painfully to keep going. I’ve said before that a young boy should not go to bed praying God would spare him from waking up in the morning. In the end, though, I always woke up. I wondered why, but just kept going. I just kept praying. Through it all, I came to the conclusion that if God and Jesus loved me, well, that is enough to just be willing to try, just like Bob when he was asked to catch me in last week's message. That little boy prayed hard, and right now he’s standing before you preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as he was called to do.
Life still hurts. Life still isn’t easy. And I still pray.
The 49-year old man that was that 9-year-old boy would tell you to pray. Pray hard, pray often. Discover new ways to practice prayer. Pray with your family, pray with your friends, pray with and for people you don't even know and always pray that the Holy Spirit would open up opportunities for you to serve others in prayer. This guides us into the men and women God designed us to be. Prayer takes that grindstone of life and adds the polish to create a flawless finish to our faith.
That flawless, reaffirming finish on our faith is how we get really good at our purpose. It’s how the trials we go through are endured so that the promise of “joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness,” all due to the divine persuasion of faith, come to us and through us.
In her book, Shadow of the Almighty, Elisabeth Elliot wrote about her husband Jim Elliot. Jim was a missionary to Ecuador who was martyred in 1956 in the jungle by a tribe he and his missionary team was trying to reach.
Jim was a constant journal writer and one of his journal entries addressed his concern about the impact his life would have on others. He wrote a prayer that said, “Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.” Jim Elliot’s impact continues on even though he died so long ago after having prayed that at the young age of twenty-nine. Imagine how prayers like that could impact our lives and the lives of those around us.
One of Elliot’s comments echoed a nonconformist preacher named Philip Henry who was the father of Matthew Henry, the noted Bible commentator. Philip said, "He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep (like Jim did with his life) when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose (His glory in Christ after he was killed)." We undergo the suffering Peter talked about for “a little while” because we cannot lose the promise given us from God of being made strong, firm and steadfast, even if that means after our deaths.
The truth is, you cannot stay a stone all your life. It’s your choice whether or not you become ground down by the grindstone or polished up by the process. Among the other spiritual disciplines, prayer is the fork of faith in the road between your perception and your purpose. That fork of faith is where we find God’s reaffirming promise when we wake up in the morning just like that 9-year-old boy did.
You know which fork he took. Which one will you take?
Tuesday, 20 August 2019 00:01
“for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”
1 John 5:4 NIV
How many of us know the difference between faith and belief? That's a legitimate question with the way that we use the two terms interchangeably these days. And it begs questions like, "Can we believe and not be saved?" Throughout the Bible we see questions like this dealt with on a regular basis, but we still stumble over the exact difference between the two with regards to Christ and our salvation. For example, James 2:9 tells us that the demons believe, and shudder. So if belief is what is required for salvation, how is it that demons aren't saved?
That has to do with the fact that faith is how we are saved. And yes, you can believe and still not be saved. As I see it, Romans 10:10 breaks this out for us rather nicely.
"For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified" which means you are judicially appointed worthy by God. God judges you and justifies your heart. This means that with God's drawing grace, he has brought you along to an understanding that you are in need of saving, that you cannot save yourself, and that only Christ can through your repentance and acceptance of his free gift of grace. That belief in your heart is what God can only see and know and weigh. That's why no one but God can judge whether or not a profession of faith is sincere. Well, God and the person making the profession, that is. Which brings us to the second part. When God justifies us in that judgment, we are then forgiven our sins, and imparted faith. "and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved."
Heart belief pushes us into God’s righteousness and the impartation of faith to us - It is our mouth professing that faith that saves us. Simply put, it is relational interaction with God through Christ that imparts faith to us through our salvation.
That still doesn't exactly answer the question of what is faith. Very simply put, faith is the enabling power of God in the life of an individual. Faith comes from God alone and is the exclusive possession of the believer. So, while faith only comes from God, it is resident in ourselves as our possession. Nevertheless, you still can't boast on yourself as to your faith because you didn't make it available, and you cannot add to it on your own. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that it is by grace alone through faith alone that we are saved, and this not by ourselves, it is from God. When you read that passage, the "it" isn't salvation or grace, but rather faith.
Difficult to wrap your head around
If you're not still asking, "Which came first? Belief or faith?" then you might be asking, "What do we do when we have it?"
Or, "Are we acting on our faith?"
Or "If we’ve overcome the whole world with faith, why don’t we act like it?"
If we get past the chicken or the egg aspect of belief and faith, there's a minefield of other questions to ask. There's a massive amount of uncertainty that surrounds faith inside a community of faith and the irony is so thick you need a commercial-grade chainsaw with which to cut it.
Let me ask you something. Have you ever had a decision that was difficult? I mean a real head-scratcher of a question. I'm not talking about where to eat lunch after church, I'm talking about questions with life-changing ramifications. Wouldn't it be great to get a cheat code for life when those come up? Something that could just get you past the issue with a little hint? Or for some of us older folks, it'd be like flipping the crossword puzzle upside down and taking a fast glance at the answer key to get around that one line we're stuck on.
Faith is that cheat code. Faith is that peek at the answer key, and the difference is, it's God giving it to us freely instead of us just taking it on the sly.
God’s perfect will is found in faith because faith is God's enabling power in our lives. Power to hear, see and act far beyond what we can do physically. What's more, if we don’t seek his will through faith, we won’t find it his will because through faith is the only way it is given to us. Look at it this way, without faith, we miss God’s will because we can’t hear it, we miss God’s blessing because we can’t see it and we have no communion because we can’t converse with him. We're literally deaf, dumb and blind without faith.
Faith is how God's purpose for our life is revealed because faith is the ability to hear God's word, communicate with Him, and act upon our instructions. Faith is about divine persuasion and revelation we receive by trusting God. The only way this comes about is via the Holy Spirit.
The primary difference between faith and belief
Belief or confidence comes from man and our fleshly nature, founded on tangible, non-spiritual experiences and facts. Faith is the spiritual side of that coin, and while faith is distinctly different from belief, belief is a component involved in faith. Hence all the confusion.
The Greek word for faith that is used outside a religious context means, "warranty" or "guarantee." When we apply it to our experience in sanctifying grace, faith can be described as God's warranty, certifying what He reveals to us will happen, because it’s actually already done. This is why it can be hard to step into God’s will because it relies on God's persuasion after a lifetime of our tactile sense of belief. For a believer, though, if we don’t step into his will through that gift of faith, we will continue to languish here in the belief side.
Languishing is not God’s plan. It never was. His plan was always to establish faith in us, and then grow it, expanding our reach among the mission field to which God assigned us. 2 Corinthians 10:15 specifically addresses this pattern of growth and purpose of existence, and it is only through the indwelling work of God's Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, the author, and perfecter of our faith. We are to be overcomers. Warriors. Victorious in power over the principalities of a dark authority coming to destroy and devastate God's children.
In short, we weren't called to stand still.
Catching in faith
We move in belief towards the cross, but once we’re past it, we’re running on faith. I recently gave an example of this in my church on Sunday morning. Before service, I asked an older member of our church to come up and to cup his hands together. That's it. Well, that and he had to trust me. He agreed, smiled and sat down. When the time came during my message for Bob to come up, I filled the whole congregation in on what I was going to do.
I said, "I will jump in the air, Bob will hold out his hands and catch me."
Needless to say, a lot of people looked at me like I had six heads and three were on fire. I asked Bob if he trusted me, and his response was priceless. "I'm willing to try."
That is powerful right there. Hold on to that a moment.
I circled back to the congregation and asked them if they believed Bob could catch me after I jumped in the air. They sized up the 180 lb. pastor in front of them and the 90-year-old congregant next to him and all but one said they didn't believe me.
So I got Bob ready, and then I jumped in the air ... and landed straight back where I was standing. Immediately I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small, wadded up piece of paper and dropped it into Bob's waiting hands. I asked Bob to unfold the paper and read what it said on it.
"Me," he read.
So, you see, I jumped in the air, and Bob caught, "me." There are two takeaways here. Three if you count the pastor who is a master of dad jokes. The first is this. Anything God asks us to trust him over will almost NEVER look like we expect it to look. God’s ways are higher than ours, and that is the very difference between our perceptions and His purpose. As John Eldredge once elaborated, we were never meant to understand God's ways, anyway. If we understood them, it would be because God explained them, and then we would be functioning on belief. We'd still be living in the flesh. We would still be living under death.
Re-read that and let it sink in, we would still be living under death.
But God's ways are higher. They are ways that provide grace for us as His people, faith for us as His children, co-heirs with Christ. We aren't called to live under the belief of our flesh, but to overcome the world through the faith that God imparts and perfects in our lives.
In our lives, we are or we know someone who needs Christ. We/they can be reached. We/they can be healed. We/they can have life more abundant. None of that happens through belief, and all of it happens only through the work of faith-building done by the Holy Spirit inside of us. That's how a new "authority inside" of us is created and our lives are truly renewed and a world is overcome.
If you are born again, you are past the point of belief. We are to move in faith, hearing God, being in communication with Him, being faith-perfected by Christ. With the Holy Spirit to guide us, we don’t have to mark the path for ourselves. We have a guide, a comforter, and we are never alone.
I told Bob ahead of time what was going to happen. If the church knew what I was going to do, they'd have believed he could do it, but that belief instead of faith would have placed them on the opposite side of where they needed to be. Because of their perceived circumstance most didn’t believe. Bob could believe just enough to have faith in me because I'd been persuasive enough during my request. That's how this works.
This is a map of the path to purpose. God’s preferred will is found in faith because faith allows us to hear God speak in us if we are actively listening like in Habbakuk 2:1. As a church, we’ve been missing the tremendous depth and power of this point of active listening in our faith. How long have we labored? How long have we hoped? How long have we struggled under our own power and belief? We need to stop laboring in the field of belief and go into the field of faith so we can hear God’s orders and do the work He has set aside for us. It’s there that we will find our work bears fruit because when we are there, it’s actually God’s work and God’s glory.
Done. Not underway, but actually already done and completed because God has always faithfully delivered on His promises. Anything He tells us via divine persuasion, that is to say, faith, will be revealed in due time as done. What is more, we will store up rewards for ourselves in heaven in the entire process.
Jumping, trusting and not seeing
When I asked Bob if he would do the sermon illustration Bob had a little understanding of what it was about, but not the whole. His comment was brilliant. "I'm willing to try." As believers, we're often living in the "try" much more than in the "do," and that is OK. This is God growing our faith, Christ perfecting it, the Holy Spirit molding and shaping it into a new authority inside us. Bob trusted what I had told him, but had to go on faith for the rest. He had to have faith that I had the plan all worked out from the jump.
That's us, ladies and gents. That is us.
The congregation didn't have faith because they weren't a believer from the beginning of this illustration. They hadn't been imparted faith/divine persuasion because they hadn't been part of the drawing aside, the convincing and the request for trust. They hadn't experienced what Bob had experienced, so they didn't they trust as he trusted, nor were they willing to try. That’s much like the world sees us, but still doesn't see God. They can't because faith is for those whose belief has been justified by God, and that gift is exclusive.
On the other hand, all Bob had to do was to rely on his faith in me, hold out his hands and receive what I had worked out ahead of time. That’s what God asks us to do. Rely on faith, hold out our hands, and receive what God has worked out ahead of time.
That’s the revelation that we find in our faith, and it is the path to our purpose.