October 31, 2016

Faith measured by its object . . .

Faith means believing God exists and believing that He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). The disciples had no problem with the first part, but they did have trouble with the second. They had been approached by a man whose child was afflicted by a demon. They tried to cast the demon out of him, but could not.

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:19–20)

In this instance, Jesus said that the reason their faith was not rewarded was because it was ‘little’ — and its deficiency showed up when they tried to move a mountain (a demon) and nothing happened.

This prompted me to search for other places where “little faith” is mentioned. The New Testament offers several instances where faith is insufficient. For instance, if I worry over what will I eat or wear (Matthew 6:30, Luke 12:28), or I am fearful in a dangerous situation (Matthew 8:26), or if going after Jesus becomes difficult and I give up (Matthew 14:31), or anytime I doubt God will take care of me (Matthew 16:8), then my faith is too small.

Yet faith is also believing in God even when He does not respond the way I want. For instance, I have prayed for years concerning the salvation of loved ones and it does not happen. Do I throw up my hands and stop trusting God to do His work in their hearts? Or do I realize that God’s will is perfect and He will do as He sees fit in their lives?

Faith in God is not about telling Him what to do and then believing He is going to do it. Faith means knowing He hears and that His answers to my prayers are always the right ‘reward’ — no matter what I think that answer should be. I have prayed for things that seemed such a great idea, but God said ‘no’ and I later realized that His ways are far better than mine. Had that ‘no’ been an ‘okay’ I would have suffered.

Faith is often blind to what God is doing, but faith keeps me holding His hand and willingly going with Him, even in darkness, fog, and confusion. Faith is not about events or situations but about the character of God and about my relationship with Him. I trust Him because I know who He is, not because I understand or even know what He is doing.

Faith also accepts that He does not always let me in on His plans or His secrets. Great faith shows up in being calm even in chaos, in being joyful even in sorrow. Faith also knows that His ways are higher than mine and as I rest my confidence in Him, He will do even more than I ever thought to ask Him.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20–21)

For me, little faith is revealed most when I am trusting myself instead of trusting God. Since great faith is about believing in a great God, then believing in me is certainly evidence of a very small faith!

October 30, 2016

God rewards those who seek in faith

When I pray, I’m aware that sometimes faith for the answers is there and sometimes it is not. I’m also aware that faith is a gift — given as I hear the Word of God . . .

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)

In this verse, the Greek term translated ‘word’ is ‘rhema’ — a special term different from ‘logos’ which is usually translated ‘word.’ Logos is the revelation of God through Scripture and Jesus Christ. Rhema is the voice of the Lord speaking personally, that still small voice that addresses the need of the moment.

When Luther said, “We have everything we need, except the faith to believe it” he must have understood how important God’s personal revelation is in relation to faith. How can I believe in and trust a God if I know nothing about Him? Hearing Him speak is vital, particularly in prayer . . .

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Believing He exists is a challenge for many who have been taught otherwise, or who look for ‘proof’ in things that can be seen. Faith becomes possible by looking at and listening to Jesus. He said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” All my questions and doubts fade away when I keep my eyes and thoughts on Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God.

Hearing Him is important too. He said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

In this verse, ‘word’ is again ‘rhema’ which implies that reading the Bible is not necessarily going to produce faith. There are scholars who have memorized great portions of it yet still do not have faith. It is hearing the voice of God through the Holy Spirit speaking right into our minds, usually as we read the Bible. However the Spirit can do it through other people or circumstances. I was saved when reading a verse of Scripture in a book about reincarnation (not a biblical teaching)! This personal ‘rhema’ gives God’s life to those who receive it.

The other part of faith is believing that God rewards those who seek Him. The major reward is of course forgiveness and eternal life, yet my search began by looking for a better life. For some, seeking God starts with a deep desire for him to heal, or to help is a dire situation.
God knows the heart and how far those seekers will go in the journey of faith. Consider Jesus and the many people He encountered. Some sought healing and were healed but did not even thank Him. Others trusted Him so much that they knew all He had to do was say the word and healing would happen. Jesus praised these seekers for their deep faith.

When I pray and wonder if God hears me or will reward me for seeking Him, I need to remember and think about Jesus. He existed. Even the most disbelieving historians do not doubt that.

As for rewarding my seeking, I also need to remember that the only people Jesus said ‘no’ to were those who came in skepticism looking for signs to prove that He was who He claimed to be. Everyone else was given exactly what they asked for. Jesus gives definite proof that God rewards those who seek Him.

October 29, 2016

Truth sparkles like a diamond

When I became a Christian, my first thoughts were that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh. My brother was saved when he realized that God created the world and all that is in it. My husband was saved when God made known to him that he was a sinner in need of forgiveness. My friend Donna was saved when she heard an illustration that showed her she could never be good enough to earn the grace of God; it was hers as a gift.

Whatever way anyone becomes a child of God and enters the kingdom of God, it is because the Lord speaks to people words that they specifically need to hear. It is only later that we begin to understand the gospel message in a fuller sense. This does not mean our initial understanding is an error, only that it is just part of the story.

For that reason, I hesitate to pick out one aspect of this good news and focus on it. The essential message is simple: God created humanity. We all fall short because of sin. God sent Jesus to die for our sin and redeem us for Himself. One day Jesus will return and reign. Even these truths can be expressed in different ways!

Chambers picks one verse to emphasize in most of his devotional readings. For today, he selected one that I call ‘the great exchange’ for it tells how Jesus took upon himself what was true about me and gave me what was true about Him . . .

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

This verse explains that my sin was removed because of Christ’s obedience, but not only my sin but the sin of the entire world. Jesus became sin for all so that all might have the righteousness of God, a great gift that must be received. Sinners do not have to live with guilt and shame for the Lord Jesus Christ bore it all. This is the good news.

Jesus came so we could know and understand God, but even more; so we could have a saving relationship with Him through faith. This also is the good news.

Jesus came so we could abide in Him and bear eternal fruit, all because He lives in us and changes our lives. This is the good news too.

Like a many faceted diamond, God is shining the good news into the hearts of those who are being saved. He gives His people the glorious task of sharing this good news in various ways, according to however the Holy Spirit prompts us to share it. He knows each heart. For that reason, I dare not get stuck on a ‘formula’ for telling others the truth from God without first listening to what He wants me to say.

October 28, 2016

How God saves . . .

Today’s devotional reading from Chambers’ book, “My Utmost for His Highest” is deep and profound. Some might respond to it by saying this is the notion of Calvinists, but it is true to the Scriptures and to the belief of millions. It leaves me with nothing more to say than ‘amen’ and to rewrite it slightly so it is personal, including those verses that Chambers used.

God shows his love for me in that while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me. Since, therefore, I have now been justified by his blood, much more shall I be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while I was an enemy I was reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that I am reconciled, shall I be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8–10)

Martin Luther said we have everything we need — except the faith to believe it. I thank God for what Chambers says, “I am not saved by believing; I realize I am saved by believing.”

Repentance did not save me; repentance is the sign that I realize what God has done in Christ Jesus. I cannot put the emphasis on the effect instead of on the cause. It is not my obedience that puts me right with God or my consecration, or anything else I have done.

I am put right with God because prior to even being born, Christ died. When I turned to God and by faith accepted what God revealed that I can accept, the stupendous Atonement of Jesus Christ instantly rushed me into a right relationship with God. Then, by the supernatural miracle of God’s grace, I stood justified.

This did not happen because of my sorrow for sin, or because I repented, but because of what Jesus has done. The spirit of God brought this reality into my mind and heart with light — literally. I know, though I do not know how, that I am saved. As a friend said, it takes an instant to become a child of God, and then you will spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what happened!

This amazing salvation of God does not stand on human logic or rationale. It stands on the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I was born again because of what He has done, changed into a new creation by the marvelous work of God in Christ Jesus, prior to all experience.

The impregnable safety of justification and sanctification is God Himself. I do not have to work out these things myself. For one thing, that is impossible. My salvation is worked out by the Atonement and in it the supernatural becomes natural by the miracle of God — who caused me to realize what Jesus Christ has already done — and filled my heart with the faith needed to believe that, “It is finished.”

As Luther said, I have everything in Christ — and because of God’s grace, I also have the faith to believe it!

October 27, 2016

Today, God says . . .

For those who follow this blog along with the readings of Oswald Chambers, I apologize. I jumped a day yesterday, and now am back with his devotional for yesterday. My excuse? I’m on holidays and have no calendar on the wall in front of me? Or my hand shook and I hit the wrong link? Or I’m thinking ahead to the plans for tomorrow? Whatever the reasons, God still speaks so that I might live each day under the guidance and grace of His Word.

For today, Chambers writes that the great danger in being called by God to go into a sin-filled world with the gospel is the enormity of human need. He says our sympathy for them can overwhelm the reason and purpose for which we are sent. “The needs are so enormous, the conditions so perplexing, that every power of mind falters and fails. We forget that the one great reason underneath all missionary enterprise is not first the elevation of the people, nor the education of the people, nor their needs; but first and foremost the command of Jesus Christ—‘Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.’”

In reversing these two days of devotional readings, I’m actually hearing the Word of the Lord with greater impact that I would have otherwise. We are in a large city. Going from my personal space where I spend most of my days to a metropolis filled with needs, plus listening to the news with even greater intensity, has me feeling that overwhelming sense of where does a person even start?

There is so much need, so many people, that I can barely pray for it all, never mind do anything. It is to this sense of urgent unrest that the Lord speaks to me this morning . . .

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. (John 20:21–22)

Jesus was sent by God. As the Father sent Him, He sends His disciples. I’m not to go anywhere or do anything motivated by what I see around me, but motivated only by the commands of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is my ‘inspiration’ rather than the needs or even any cries for help that I might hear.

Chambers says that most people operate under the leading of inspiration. That is, they see something that needs to be done, have ideas about how to do it, then move forward with hopes of accomplishing their task. This sounds good, but as this author says, the ideal is being true to Jesus, carrying out His enterprises. I’m to do the will of God His way, not in whatever way seems good to me.

This shows up in how I evaluate the lives of godly men and women. Do I praise their wisdom and understanding? Or do I recognize that they were led by the mind and leading of God, not human wisdom at all? Do I give credit to the people instead of attributing their success to God and how He is able to supernaturally equip His people to do His will in His way?

If God so leads, any of His children can become world-changers. He knows how to make it happen. Who He uses is up to Him. In the meantime, I am to be at peace, listening, and (in the power of the Holy Spirit) obeying whatever small role He desires from me.