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, 25 November 2019 19:01
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Ephesians chapter 6, verses 12 and 13
Do you have a bucket list? Maybe it's something like running with the bulls or visiting someplace monumental. Going to a really great concert, or event. The Super Bowl, maybe? A Stanley Cup game for me would be great. Considering I'm both a Blackhawks fan and a Bears fan, neither of those seems terribly likely considering how the teams are playing. Going simpler, maybe it's experiencing the sunrise and sunset. Going more complex, maybe it’s experiencing that on every continent. I gotta say would be a pretty cool item in a bucket list. So here's a really great question, and it's not, "what's stopping you?" It's this.
What causes a person to love someone else so much they would die for them? Another one of those hard left turns, I know, but bear with me. Let's go straight for the jugular on this one, no dancing around it. What would it take for you to give up any future breath you might breathe, and give it up willingly? What would cut in line in front of any experience you might have always wanted to have? What would make you forfeit every day that you could have had, so that someone else might live past this current moment? What could possibly cause someone to give away "all he's got and all he's ever gonna have," as Clint Eastwood's character said in the movie Unforgiven?
The Depths of Love
You know, personally, I try to fathom how Jesus could possibly love me enough to die for me. You might even ask yourself this when I tell you that He didn't have to. He didn't, really. Read the accounts. No arm twisting. No leverage. No "or else" moments. God never forced Jesus to choose the cross, because that's the whole point of a choice. You can't choose what you are being forced to accept, so a real decision has to be based on something else. Then there's this something else. If God wanted to forgive our sins, as NT Wright posed in a question, why couldn't He just forgive them? Why did Jesus have to die for them?
In all seriousness, have you ever stopped to wonder why God had to send Jesus to die for us? After all, He's all-powerful and can do anything He wants? I suppose that should also include that He could snap His fingers and obliterate us as well. Thanos eat your heart out.
When we believe the only reason Jesus came to earth was for the expiation of our sins, we miss the very heart of John 3:16. And as we go sailing past that, we wave goodbye to any motivation to engage in the fight we're called to in Ephesians 6.
If you ever needed a reason to fight, a purpose behind taking your spiritual disciplines seriously, the motivation of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection is the catalyst for it. Not the actual event, but the reason behind the event.
Miss that and we miss the real reason he showed up on the scene entirely.
This scripture talks about opposing forces. Greek words such as "stenai" and "antistenai" are used. Stenai means to stand, and when you put anti in front of it, well, you’re all very clever, so I’m sure you know what that word means. There is also language here that talks about the armor of God. Panoplian from the words "pas" and "hoplon," which together express "every weapon, defensive and offensive." The hoplon was a type of shield.
I believe Paul used the Greek word for armor instead of the proper Latin name because, while he was surrounded by armored Roman guards which might have given him the idea, he wanted to appeal the Greekness of his audience. He was drawing on the understanding that would have been very quickly grasped and embraced among Greek-speaking new believers of Ephesus. The word hoplon is where we get Hoplite. For those who didn't geek on ancient Greek culture as I did as a kid, a hoplite was a Greek citizen-soldier. They fought primarily with a shield and a spear and other armor, forming the "panoply" where we get the concept of God's armor. The armor they wore weighed right around 70 pounds and was as state-of-the-art as you could get. It was often passed down from generation to generation, often being upgraded as it went along. As the developments of this armor got better and better, they started to use linen in overlaid layers, as it was actually more sturdy than bronze. The ancient equivalent of kevlar bulletproof vests. Pretty cool, eh?
The impressive thing here is, this generational passing down of armor mirrors how we pass on to our children the armor God gave to us. We pass on our understanding of faith, salvation, love, sanctification in the same way, to the same people, and for the exact same reasons as the hoplites passed on their armor. Their offspring had a fight ahead of them, and so do ours. What protected us can protect our children. Even the ancient kevlar they developed holds a deeper meaning for us. As we become savvier about the word of God, it becomes layer after layer of defense when we encounter those barbs Paul spoke about later in this chapter. In light of that, the word of God today could be described as a bulletproof vest. Now, if someone were to try to shoot me, I would want a really big, thick Bible between me and them, but we’re not talking about protection from someone firing a gun at our flesh and blood self.
We’re talking about something far more sinister firing something far deadlier at us than a bullet. When we're called to combat of a spiritual nature, we need to be as bulletproof as possible if we're going to survive. Whether you’re a man or a woman doesn’t matter, because this fight doesn’t have gender boundaries.
We're supposed to go "against" something, but the word here doesn't mean taking a defensive position and just staying there. It's not that kind of stand. It literally means to advance towards something actively. The dictionary in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance uses phrases like, "extension toward a goal, with implied interaction or reciprocity," "with presumed contact and reaction." We read that the term "naturally suggests the cycle of initiation and response," "where the context indicates an active exchange done in opposition." Those rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers, the spiritual forces of evil in this present darkness are coming with hostile intent and we need to meet them with the same hostility and intensity.
Ladies and gents, this ain't no tea party, and it's certainly not a tango. This is being in the trenches, getting the call to approach the ladder, willingly climb it and head out into No Man's Land.
I don't know if I will ever fully understand why anyone wants to go to war. I know there are good reasons, sure. Things like injustice, oppression, and tyranny jump to mind. But putting yourself into harm's way isn't a decision anyone makes lightly. Why would anyone go into No Man's Land? For crying out loud, the name alone should tell you something remarkably unpleasant awaits there. World War I poet Wilfred Owen describes No Man's Land as being 'like the face of the moon, chaotic, crater-ridden, uninhabitable, awful, the abode of madness.' And Owen would know, as he died in World War I leading a combat raid a week before the armistice was signed. His poetry told a different story than the heroic tales that were used to get men to sign up to be a soldier. War, as men like Owen knew it, was the closest thing you could get to hell on earth.
What makes anyone willingly go there? One simple answer.
In our case, a Christ-modeled love.
A little secret
I'm going to let you in on a little secret here, and it's a secret I hope none of you keep. I want you to get as blabbermouthed as you can about this. You see, the real reason Jesus came isn't based on our not going to hell. The real reason wasn't transactional. It was relational. Salvation was a sidebar to the relationship Jesus modeled for us with God. Granted, it's a very important sidebar, but it's a sidebar nonetheless.
I read recently that we always focus on the answer to questions, even simple ones like 1+1=2. We focus on the two. The writer pointed out that in doing this, we often miss the beauty of the 1+1.
When we focus on the salvation of Jesus dying on the cross as his reason for being here, we blow past the real reason he came, which was to show us who God is in relation to who we are. We have a whole book that tells us, and we have experiences inside our church that can reveal even more of what that relationship looks like. But still, we have to go deeper or we won't see those things. Understanding what happened at the cross, the grave, and resurrection has to journey farther than the transaction of salvation.
If we start and stop our witness at just a transaction, we risk turning God into a monster to those who don’t know Him. One of the most significant objections I have heard to a witness of salvation was from someone that broke it down like this. "Who kills their son in such a horrific way? All He had to do was say 'I forgive you' and move on?" We're talking about God killing His own son, something He didn't even require Abraham to do. We're talking about saddling His only son with all the sins of the world thrown on his scourged, bloody, torn back. When we look at the situation and only see our benefit, we say God nailed an innocent man to a tree for no justifiable reason. He asphyxiated him on a cross for a gain we never requested, and that Jesus honestly wished he could avoid.
If salvation was the only reason, let alone the primary reason that happened, then that God is a monster, not a genuinely divine being we should follow.
But because we know that’s not the character of God, we need to widen the scope of our understanding here.
Salvation is never the start or the stop, the opening scene or the final curtain. It's the middle of the story. It comes after God loving us as He brought the house lights up on creation before we even existed. And it comes before God loving us into the men and women He meant for us to be all along. It's part of the story of God creating a better world for us here on this earth. Not with wings and harps and little diapers, but as fellow image-bearers of God. With us loving other fellow image-bearers of God. That's where the witness starts, and it can only end there. Stopping short doesn't get it done. The curtain isn’t even close to coming down.
Reread John 3:16. “For God so loved the world … “ Not Himself, not the plants, not the world as He created it to be, or how it could be in an infinite number of scenarios only He could fathom. He loved the world as it WAS, and right now as it IS. We are His creation, and He loves us. Salvation at the cross was His making a point of just how much He loved us, and Jesus telling us to love one another as he loves us.
Pay attention here. Love was what God sent Jesus to show to us. Love was the reason behind everything God ever did, the intention behind everything that He ever will do. Sometimes you have to look really closely for it, but you will always find it there. God’s love for us was the reason Jesus went into No Man's Land.
Over the top
Jesus was the first one out of the trench. He was the first one to charge into the desolate landscape of hell, go up to the enemy's door, kick it down and demand the keys to death, hell and the grave - and they gave them to him. On the very day Jesus died, the devil figured he had victory over God. But the story doesn't hinge on the fact that the devil got beat. It balances on the devil's discovery that the love Jesus carried in his heart for others overpowered the measly resistance he could muster.
Jesus was the first one to make the stand Paul speaks of matter. But he didn't make it matter just for our salvation, because he was sent on a suicide mission to appease his Father's unwillingness to forgive us any other way. He made it matter so that we could see definitively, down to the last penny of our repaid debt, just how much God truly loves us.
We also have to make this stand matter, and we have to do it for the exact same reasons. It's a shift of focus off shaming and back to where it should have been all along.
Take the mission of our church seriously. Love others powerfully by emptying your old self and letting God refill you with His love. Put on the armor we are called to put on. Pray hard. Fast often. Study the word and build it up inside you like scriptural kevlar. Worship regularly. Encounter God as often as you can in as many ways as you can. Just like that rabbi, the one I mentioned a while back, be as accident-prone as possible in your work to encounter God through your spiritual disciplines. Unlike wars on this earth, we need everyone fighting regardless of your age, gender or anything else. This fight has come to all of our doorsteps. The enemy is very real.
This is a reminder for you to believe in demons and principalities outside this flesh suit we wear. They are every bit as real as the God we serve and the son who came to show Him to us. Do not take this lightly; they want the housekeys back that Jesus took from them.
This isn't something we get to shrug off, staying in a cocoon. This is a fight we are called to fight in a place where we will be chewed up and spit out if we're not armed to the teeth. Remember those who took up this fight before us, who gave us the armor we wear, the weapons we use, who taught us how to use them. They provided their legacy for us to live into, armor for us to wear, weapons for this fight we face. Make the love that drove them, the love that was God's motivation behind the cross, the thing that inspires you.
Of them who running on that last high place
Leapt to swift unseen bullets, or went up
On the hot blast and fury of hell's upsurge,
Or plunged and fell away past this world's verge,
Some say God caught them even before they fell.
But what say such as from existence' brink
Ventured but drave too swift to sink.
The few who rushed in the body to enter hell,
And there out-fiending all its fiends and flames
With superhuman inhumanities,
Long-famous glories, immemorial shames—
And crawling slowly back, have by degrees
Regained cool peaceful air in wonder—
Why speak they not of comrades that went under?
From Wilfred Owen's poem, "Spring Offensive"
In this fight, we have to remember those who went into No Man's Land ahead of us. More importantly, we remember why they went and why it mattered, because that's the same reason why we're here. Then and only then, can we take up our crosses and follow Jesus over the top and into No Man's Land.
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.