Category Archives: 20. Faith

Faith (Sunday) – John 4:43-54

After the two days He went forth from there into Galilee. For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast. (John4:43-45)

Dearest Child,

You were born into a place where not only was the Prophet without honor in his own country but the Creator is unwelcome in His own creation. It occasionally brings me to tears that this is the backstory of the world you were born into. With his writing, your Pop is trying to convert these tears into a little wisdom. Would you lend me your ear, better yet, your heart – for 1329 more words?

Many read the Bible, then look at all that is bad in the world and in others, and pray that Jesus will come quickly because this world is without hope; it is accursed and slated for judgement. Then there will be a few who will read it and recognize the problem is first with them, that there is something in them dishonoring and resistant to God. This is the you that gave herself to God and this is the you that He now inhabits.

I pray you will be among the growing few who can embrace the core idea that God is reconciling all things, including you, to Himself and, as far as it concerns you, the reconciliation must begin, and be sustained by His grace, in your own heart. My prayer is that you will be one of the growing few who learn to welcome, honor and love Him and see that, with Christ in you, there is exceedingly great hope.

I know you opened your heart and invited Jesus in when you were seven (the year of this writing). What a precious day in your life. What a powerful day in the Kingdom of God! I celebrated this day and then I prayed for you because of the potential in you, in Christ. However, many who read their Bibles and ask Jesus in, think of this event as the last thing they will have to do in their Christian life except to attend church and tithe. Here is a little mystery; this is true in one sense and false in another. It is true that salvation occurs when a person believes and places their trust in Jesus. In one sense this is an end, yet it is false that this event is the end of salvation. Salvation is not only an event, it is a moment by moment experience. God has saved you, in Christ and He is saving You, in Christ. My prayer is that you will be among the growing few who come to know Him as He is. He is your life, in the presence of all that happens and does not happen. My prayer is that you will be among the growing few who learn to..

Watch over their hearts with all diligence because that is where things begin. (my adaption of Proverbs 4:23)

Let’s look at the next passage of scripture together with our hearts in view…

Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.” The royal official said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son lives.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off. As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him“Your son lives.” and he himself believed and his whole household. This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee. (John 4:46-54)

You feel the tension don’t you? Jesus did miracles. Jesus does miracles, but not always. Why is this? Jesus could have had the Bible written with clear explanations; “When miracles do not occur, turn to this chapter and verse (and drink plenty of fluids).” He didn’t though, because He is looking for worshippers who will not only read the Bible but who will listen to His Spirit. At the salvation event a conversation began; in the flow of salvation, the conversation must continue. The Spirit invites the growing few into this place of security and intimacy.

For believers, there are two stock explanations why miracles do not happen. The first is, that the age of miracles expired in a dispensation of time when God entrusted them, for a while, to the Apostles. Many traditions claim that such things were put away when the the apostles died and a cannon of scripture was in place. The other explanation is that miracles are for today but they don’t happen because we don’t go about them right. There are bright, zealous believers in Jesus who are dead certain in their opposing views – death being the operative word. Dear child, you don’t want to die on either of these hills. On this matter, let the dead bury their own dead. I pray instead that you will live and grow accustomed to mystery (a great place for faith to grow) because God is not inclined to offer patent answers as to His ways and means.

The question is; how should a child of God relate to their Father? How should a citizen of God’s Kingdom watch over their heart (which is close akin to thinking) when miracles do not occur? I pray that you might read the scriptures and see that resurrection life has not been constrained by any dispensations. Even after the Apostles died, there were stewards of resurrection life. There has always been a remnant, walking in the Spirit – a growing few, whose God cannot be contained in dispensations or traditions.

To watch over your heart you will have to navigate among the certainties which many offer and clamor for. Certainty offers a guarantee that obviates faith. (That’s ok sweetheart. I had to look this word up too.) How can God grow faith in our hearts (without which we cannot please Him) with obviations? The many onlookers wanted guarantees, miracles preferably, to validate Jesus’ claim. Jesus felt the tensions too. You can hear it…

Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe. (John 4:48)

As the Word made flesh – the Creator which had come unrecognized into His Creation, Jesus was always between a rock and a hard place. Although I don’t believe He was driven to despair until Gethsemane, I do believe He felt the tension; “Do I heal everybody? Do I put on such a show that faith will be the inevitable outcome? One performance after another until the last man on earth concedes that I am the Christ? Do I really want concession? Or, is it better that I go away for a time and leave the Spirit to grow faith in their hearts?” It seems as though Jesus preferred the latter but His compassion often drove Him to the former, and as was often the case, with glorious outcomes…

“Your son lives”; and he himself believed and his whole household. (John 4:53)

The matter of diligently watching over our hearts requires that we learn to live in this tension. Even though certainty is tempting and tension is uncomfortable, I pray you will not fall into either religious ditch. One produces smug indifference, the other, guilt. Although it may seem narrow at times, I pray you stay on the main highway, embracing Jesus as the same healer He was when He walked the earth. I pray many will be healed when you pray for them. I also pray that when you find yourself in that mysterious place where you do not see miracles, you will hold out for them, being among the growing few whose hearts will remain steadfast and immovable in the ongoing experience of their salvation.

Father, my prayer is that Your salvation and Your kingdom will flourish as the remnant entrusts themselves to Your faithfulness, discovering not only the adequacy, but the supremacy of Your Life. Amen.

 

Faith (Saturday) – Luke 17:1-19

It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. (Matthew 17:2)

What I know of God’s heart tells me this statement is more about His fondness of sheep than His predisposition toward wrath. But the Bible police will disagree. They will tell you (with zeal) this is how God feels about heretics – those Catholics, mystics and charismatics (and the rest of them) who are not as well aligned with scripture as they. As one who fell in among charismatics 40 years ago and has also shared space with main line evangelicals, I have been in gatherings (as the undercover heretic) where my brethren had their guns drawn and were firing freely upon the family. The phrase shock-and-awe comes to me.

 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Matthew 17:3-4)

Even if my family pulls their Calvin-made 5 -shooters, I must forgive them each and every time. Neither they nor I have a clue what we are doing. I have thought about rebuking them for this nasty habit but I am sure I would learn a brand new definition of holiness if I did. And the still small voice whispers, “And Rob, in your imagination, have you not aimed a howitzer back in their direction?” My conscience replies (meekly), “Ugh, yes Lord. I see your point.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you. (Matthew 17:5-6)

As one exposed to what I think of as charismatic realities and excesses (I would never call them heresies), I have heard a good deal of commanding; “I command this spine to come into proper alignment!” “I command this business to come into proper alignment.” (Proper alignment is a big deal with charismatics.) Regrettably, my own experience has been that both the spines and the business’s have remained immune to the commands. Deficiency of faith? It all depends on who you ask. However, I do know of one business that seemed to prosper when one of its leaders asked God to allow them (himself and his coworkers) to find favor with Him and man – confirming the work of their hands. This leader thought aligning his heart with God’s word was the right move. (See Psalm 90:17 and Proverbs 3:4)

Jesus mission was to reveal the Father and make a way back to Him. The Spirit and the Word want men to see the Father. Jesus anticipated that we would continue His mission when He ascended.  However, if we move to some high ground and aim our doctrinally accurate sniper rifles at others who believe in Jesus as God’s Son we are thwarting God’s mission – we are at at cross-purposes with the Spirit of Reconciliation. How many who do not yet know Jesus have looked upon the Church (with some hunger for reality stirring in their hearts), seen our rigid and judgmental ways and said (stumbling), “No thank you.”

If there were something that we should hang a millstone around and cast into the sea, it is religion – that spirit that rejects Christ and sets itself above others as the truly aligned ones.  Certainty needs devalued. The best place for all those who name the name of Jesus is upon our knees, asking God to forgive us for the stumbling blocks we have been (or are) to the little ones around us. Humility is the only alignment that really makes sense to me.

Father, may patience, kindness and mercy have their way in our hearts. By way of Your Life in us, undo all that we have done (and are doing) in Jesus name that has misrepresented You. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faith (Friday) – Matthew 14:22-23

Even though I claim that God is at work, transforming me into the image of His Son (like it says in the Bible) I don’t feel that much like Jesus (especially in the evenings). This is what I mean…

It is 5:00 pm. By maintaining a near aerobic-mental pace, I have remained faithfully tethered to my electronic leash, I have done my level best to keep pace with emails, phone calls and texts. I’m smoked but I made it back to my castle (every man’s home don’t you know). For now, I have escaped my active-cooperation with my digital slave drivers. But, in turning on the TV, I’ve just handed the leash over to my passive masters. Meanwhile in Jesus’ life …

He has made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. (adapted from Matthew 14:22)

The influence of gravity (my arch nemesis), has been mostly illiminated as I plop down onto the couch. (I do not have an easy chair-throne – that belongs to the queen of the realm). Pressing down on the clutch I shift gears from 4th straight into neutral (Cabernet will do) .

After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; (Matthew 14:23)

The upstream creeks of advertising and the streams of entertainment have all merged into the Sudden Link River. (Perhaps your river is the Cox or the Dish River.) A virtual Niagra of digital flotsam is backed up just behind that 47 inch flat screen dam. With remote(s) in hand I will choose which channel I will open. (Yes, even without a throne, with scepter(s) in hand, I remain the Lord of this castle.)

Yes…let’s see…shall I go with our family-dam’s default setting – the Fox News Channel? No, I cannot endure the recycled soundbites of the painted talking heads and the dismal future they portend. Hmm…maybe The Walking Dead? No…that sounds creepy (and familiar) and anyway, we are approaching the theme of Holiness in the Blue Book here in a few weeks. It would be nice to arrive there with some semblance of a clear conscience.

I’m scouring the menu for something that would not defile me – something that would perhaps edify? Well…better go with the some British flavored mystery then. The Brits have maintained better taste than us as to what they dump into the river (and their accents are interesting aren’t they?). Foil’s War it is. Oh no…I’ve watched the last episode!

…and when it was evening, He was there alone. (Matthew 14:23)

Alone? That’s scary, but make no question about it, that is where our digital Lords are leading us. As a culture and as family members we are rarely fully present to each other. Those holding the leash are yanking our attention back to Face Book, Twitter and only God knows what other social media. (Social? What a joke.)

From whence shall our salvation come?

What did alone mean to Jesus? To even begin imagining what this looks like we will have to envision a human being completely untethered – one being fully present to another. In our text alone must mean; without the company of other people, because Jesus was never alone until that moment when He asked His Father why He had forsaken Him.

I believe there is a channel that is yet to be fully-opened between heaven and earth. I’m not speaking of a physical portal. (However, I did have a guy show me one in North Carolina. I privately hiked up there later but was not beamed up or into.) The channel I am referring to is our hearts – also known as the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit – God’s dwelling place on earth. Our salvation, which I think of as the flow of God’s life (not a one time event at an alter) is backed up behind the dam of our own hearts. It is fair to ask, “Why then have we seen such a tiny dribble of life compared to the Book of Acts? To be sure, this is a big part of the mystery. Is the reason dispensational? The time is not yet full? Perhaps. No doubt God controls the bigger valve. Isn’t it possible though, that none of our teachers were taught of this reservoir in seminary or in their traditions?

Within a mystery (a place where we do not have all the answers), it is also fair to ask if we have not overlooked what valves are accessible to us – the ones we are responsible for. If we did not have valves then it would have been unnecessary for Solomon to counsel us;

Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance…for out of it (the heart) flow the springs of life. (adapted from Proverbs 4:23 AMP)

I have come to think of this space of just being alone, present to God, as the wild frontier of the modern techno-tethered heart. Few are daring to go there. (I testify; there are valves and plumbing in this space.)

I sponsored a retreat a few years ago, inviting some friends and acquaintances from a local church to come to my safe-place in the country and simply be present to each other and to God. It was enlightening. I was told by most of the men afterward that the time was healing and empowering although they did not actually know why. However, one man could not (or would not – I don’t know), untether himself. The entire time others were speaking, his eyes were glued to his device. I love and revere this person but I believe he missed out on that “where two or three are gathered in His Name” flow-of-life that was present, yet which no one could quantify.

I have been using the mornings (often before the sun rises) since 2011, to explore this frontier of being alone – face-to-face with God. Don’t let me mislead you. This is the same smoked-soul that stumbled into his bed (due to time and gravity typically not Cabernet) the night before. My times with God are not what I would call (at least by outward experience) mystical happenings. However by charismatic standards, they are pedestrian to be sure. But something redemptive has been underway in my heart. MwM is essentially this story.

The word discipline is out of vogue in many branches of the family because of what is perceived as its inevitable intrusion upon grace. Some of us once practiced a spirituality that coopted discipline as a part of a formula: a saved person + discipline = holiness. False. Since the math on this did not work out, most backed away from discipline altogether. I found myself (for reasons, I explain elsewhere In The Middle With Mystery) moving back toward discipline, yet accompanied this time, I believe, by grace-Himself.

Without really intending it, my face-to-face meetings with God became a habit, which I pray will continue. (In the event they do do not; God remains the strength of my heart.) Discipline is no longer a part of someone else’s equation. It is simply my grace-empowered habit. It is one of the simple ways I watch over my heart. Whatever diligence I have applied here has been provided by God Himself and the thing that has emerged in this new frontier is the sweetest thing that I have known in 40 years (in spite of what a sad spectacle evening-Rob has become.)

Father, given Who You are, what You can do and where You live, I cannot help but pray that You would help us to access the grace within our own hearts, helping us to see that the truer meaning of salvation is not just awaiting us in the next life; it is dammed-up in our hearts, awaiting its release into the desolate (and smoked) places of this one. May You challenge and win the battle for our digitally-ensnared hearts, making room for Yourself and the others around us who need each other’s presence. May we rediscover the reality of Christ in us and the unstoppable power of two or three gathered in Your Name. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faith (Thursday)—II Corinthians 5:1-10

I remember not long ago thinking Paul was just speaking figuratively when he said, “indeed in this house we groan.” I assumed he was describing our spirit’s longing for God. Now, living in a deteriorating house, I understand that Paul also probably meant that we literally groan. I now find involuntary sighs and moans coming out of me when I have to move. So now I say with Paul, I too am groaning in this house.

I spent the day recently with a man who had been housed in an exceptional body for a half century. It had been graced with good proportions, strength and agility, yet it had been stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease. What had been an impressive residence was rapidly becoming a shambles. Medical science informs him that in spite of the best maintenance, his house was going to crash in on him in the near future.

The unique thing about this man was his eyes. They were bright, joyful eyes, betraying a gentleness of spirit that is rare in men. As its peaceful occupant, I believe he was looking out of the windows of the ruined home with the gleam of anticipation.

I thought this man was invited to the retreat I was hosting for encouragement in his illness. I didn’t know he was going to become my mentor who would display, as only he could, what Paul was trying to get across in this passage. I believe this brother knew (along with Paul):

 That when the earthly tent which had been his house is torn down, he would have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Indeed in his house he groaned, longing to be clothed with his dwelling from heaven. He was anticipating with increasing clarity that his mortality will be swallowed up by life. He knew that God was preparing him for this very purpose and had given him the Holy Spirit as a pledge. (adapted from 2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

Consequently this man was:

ogood courage, knowing that while he is at home in this body he is absent from the Lord. He was walking by faith, not by sight. It was his ambition, whether he was in this house or had moved out, to be pleasing to the Father. He knew he must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that he may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (adapted from 2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

This man did not fear a Judge. He was running full stride to meet his Savior. He was serving —fulfilling his call as never before, as the light of the world. Christ was shining brightly from him in what some might say was his darkest hour. Those eyes betrayed a hope (even a hunger) for things unseen yet eternal. No one needed to teach this man to number his days that he might present to God a heart of wisdom. His body was all the reminder he needed. This saint was aglow.

You can meet this man for yourself. Go to Kelvin Classen Profile – You Tube

Father, May your mercies flood his life. May joy in increasing measure be the strength of his life. Thank you that he is not wasting his sorrows and that he radiates an infectious hope to those nearest him. May this next chapter of his life be that of a man running full stride toward Christ – the finish line and his ultimate reward. Amen.

 

Faith (Wednesday)—Hebrews 11:29-40

In many pockets of Western Christendom, scripture seems to have taken a position of secondary importance. Our list of primary sources of inspiration are varied, but they include: personal prophetic words, corporate prophecies, music, books, DVD’s, counseling, conferences, and especially pastor’s sermons.

There is nothing wrong with any of these except that, in themselves, they are not immediately personal. They are someone else’s light gleaned in our behalf. How are we to have a personal relationship with God if we are dependent on mediators? What is our Lord saying to us? We are not told to give an account of the hope that is in them; we are told to give an account of the hope that is in us.

When I hear the Body of Christ at-large talking, I get the distinct impression our inspirational substitutes have elbowed out what scripture has to say about faith. On Monday, we read Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” The problem reveals itself in what we expect as our reward. Come, let us think together.

Should we calibrate our expectations to be swordwielders—those who:

By faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight?  (Hebrews 11:33-34)

Or, should we adjust our visions to include the possibility that we might be sword-victimsthose who may be:

 Tortured, experience mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment, those who may be stoned, sawn in two, tempted, put to death with the sword, who went about poorly clothed, destitute, afflicted and ill-treated? (Hebrews 11:36-37)

Do I need to tell you which of these two is the more prominent vision being cast by our contemporary sources of inspiration? But…let’s keep it personal. What do you think? Are we to wield the sword or become its victims?

The scriptures are clear; it has never been an either/or situation.  Either or both of these radically different experiences may be encountered as we walk by faith. In fact the scriptures tell us that all these (implying both groups) have gained approval through their faith, and that they did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better…”

It seems we should come to agreement about what is the better part – that something better that is foundational to both of these valid yet varied experiences with God. We need to come to agreement about what that better part actually is if without faith it is impossible to please Him. It would be wise for us to come to God as He actually is rather than how we have conveniently imagined Him. It would be wise to believe that He is as He has revealed Himself to us in scripture and that He rewards those who seek Him (not with one or the other guaranteed outcomes but rather with that better part).

None of the people listed in Hebrews 11 calibrated their expectations as we western Christians have. What then was the better part they were looking forward to? We can work toward that answer, but we have to keep in mind that the lens they were looking through did not allow for a clear and close view; rather:

 They saw it (i.e.; the better part) way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. They were homesick… They could have gone back (to reclaim some earthly predictability and securityany time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—a heaven country. (from Hebrews 11:13-16 MSG) (u mine)

Our heroes of faith do have a common denominator that transcends their earthly experience. It is a better plan because all the gains are stored in a place where moth and rust will not destroy—a place where no thief can break in. All of Hebrews’ mighty men of faith died having never seen their reward. We are more fortunate. We know from Paul (and hopefully our own experience) that the reward is Christ Himself. Even though Moses couldn’t quite make Him out, he had his eye on the One no eye can see, and kept right on going. Even though he couldn’t imagine what he would go through, as a result of walking by faith, Noah became intimate with God. What each of the heroes sought was restored union with God through Christ. Astonishing: Jesus Himself is our reward. Jesus is God’s better plan for us.

A person as a plan? A person as a reward? Yes! The first part of Hebrews 12 elaborates…

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever… For consider Jesus who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3 MSG & NAS) 

Father, strip us of our vicarious Christian experience. Wean us from our dependencies on food gleaned by others. Kick us out of our comfortable nests of dependency and help us develop our own wings with which to fly. May we truly mount up with the wings of eagles so that it may be said of us as well, “These are those of which the world is not worthy and when they have died they will still go on speaking. Amen.

 

Faith (Tuesday) – Hebrews 11:7-28

As is always the case with MwM, today’s scripture passage takes precedence over my meditation on it, and failure to interface with the former will impoverish interaction with the latter.

Have you ever wondered how the Book of Life will read when it’s opened at the end of time? And, have you ever wondered why God placed those long genealogies in scripture? Perhaps He’ll have us all sit down in heaven in our first class, Eternity Orientation 101, and begin reading: “Since you found the genealogies in the Bible so boring and skipped over them, we will have to catch you up. Children, here is your genealogy. First of all, you are all here by faith.” And He might proceed: “By faith Noah (followed by an account of faith’s outcome in his life) then… By faith Abraham (his account)… By faith Sarah… By faith Abraham… By faith Isaac… By faith Jacob… By faith Joseph…By faith Moses, etc. Finally (a thousand years later) he will record the last saint’s faith in the Old Testament, and then conclude: “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, they confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”

What is the relevance of these ancient’s lives to our own? Much I believe, but answering this question honestly may require much faith for us moderns. As most of us understand it, the modern world we are living in is a material world. It is composed of elements that we’ve identified. We have measured their properties and labeled them. We have harnessed and arranged them in such ways as to serve us. Our technological prowess deceives us into thinking we are this earth’s masters. Consequently, we have forgotten God and, sadly, are systematically working to evict Him from His own world. Why?  Because in scripture, He makes a counter claim.

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. (Psalm 24:1)

The scriptures claim this earth belongs to God and that God will ultimately reveal himself as its owner: the landlord will return to his vineyard. He will deal with the poor stewards and put the accounts in order. The scriptures also claim that beyond this created world, the Creator has another superior and unending realm, which should cause the inhabitants of this one to bend their knees in humility. While living in this world (which, by faith, we acknowledge belongs to God) we steward our talents, knowing that we are even now inhabitants of the realm that knows no end. It requires faith to lay hold of the reality that, as His children, we are already citizens of the never-ending kingdom of God.

The world sees our position as insanity. The brokers of power in this earth (ultimately, Satan’s minions) see our position as insurrection because we claim that our God reigns with authority higher than theirs. We live in a world that is moving closer and closer to a showdown between them and God. By faith, we lay hold of these things, and, having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, we confess that we are strangers and exiles on the earth.

So in a very real sense we too have been called to go out to this place where we are to receive our inheritance even though we don’t know exactly where we’re going. When the book is opened and we hear our name finally read, we want to hear:

 Insert your name lived as an alien in the earth, as if it were a foreign land, dwelling as a sojourner, a fellow heirs of the promise; for insert your name was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Insert your name embraced this realm, unseen at the time, as the firmer reality. By faith

What will follow depends on our cooperation with the wind that blows in directions we can neither predict nor control. It will depend on our cooperation with the Holy Spirit who lives within us.

Father, having been warned about things not yet seen, may we embrace Jesus, the ark of our salvation. May the fullness of His life within us convict the world as they observe that we have become the heirs of righteousness by faith. May our lives make it clear that we were strangers and exiles on the earth, seeking that country which is our own. May we forgo every opportunity to return to this world. May our embrace of this city which You have prepared for us make it possible for you to not be ashamed to be called our God. As the battle intensifies may our hearts be content with the reproach of Christ as a greater treasure than anything this world had to offer. For You alone, Lord, are our reward.

 

 

 

 

Faith (Monday)—Hebrews 11:1-6

Faith —Hebrews 11:1-6

 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

The Amplified Bible says that God is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him [out]. When I first launched into the Christian life, whole-hearted discipleship was the norm. In light of who God is and what Christ had done to rescue me, seeking Him earnestly and diligently made perfect sense and seemed like a manageable cross to carry. Regardless of the actual meaning, in my youth and zeal, I interpreted it like this:

 God is pleased with those who earnestly and diligently seek Him. And, without this kind of faith, pleasing Him is impossible. (Rob’s Erroneous Version)

There was a serious and costly flaw in my interpretation. In the REV, God’s approval rests on the qualitative nature of my seeking. In other words, it is not “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (as the author has said); it is—without earnest and diligent effort, it is impossible to please Him. This is a serious error because it leaves out the full council of scripture, and it is costly because of what is lost in my translation. Allow me to explain and repent.

It is a serious thing to inject effort as a qualifying attribute of faith. It does violence to the very essence of faith. The busy beavers will now rush to James so they can remind me, “But brother you know that faith without works is dead.” “Yes”, I respond, “That is absolutely true, but it is also true that faith based on works is even deader” (intentional bad grammar).

Think about this. How could God’s approval of us be based on even a tiny bit of our earnestness and diligence when we know that it was while we were yet sinners, Jesus died for us? When Paul caught the Galatians trafficking in performance-based religion, he called them foolish. In the Amplified Bible, Paul is even more expansive:

O you poor and silly and thoughtless and unreflecting and senseless Galatians! (3:1)

Paul lays into the Galatians with a barrage of redundant questions to emphasize his point. Here are the main two:

 Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

 Does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

Here is Paul’s point: “Christ (not our earnest and diligent efforts) redeemed us from the curse of the Law (performance-based religion), having become a curse for us…in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. 

There is also a great cost in thinking as I did—that God is pleased with those who earnestly and diligently seek Him and that without this kind of faith, pleasing Him is impossibleThat cost is rest, the truest indicator that one is living by faith. Rest and performance based works are like oil and water: utterly incompatible. Rest is the qualitative fruit of authentic faith, not the basis of it. Rest takes the whole council of scripture into account and says, “If I think of my works as qualifiers, my earnestness and diligence are as filthy rags to God; rest is trusting there is nothing I can do that will alter God’s acceptance of me as long as I am trusting that His life has become my own; rest is ceasing to work for approval because in Christ I am approved; rest acknowledges that in-Christ it is truly finished! My heart concurs with Paul when he says:

 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:24-25)

Repentance

As my youth and my zeal waned with age, so did my earnestness and diligence. Witnessing, scripture memory, serious bible study all dropped off. In fact, I ended up after years of what I thought of as authentic zeal, exhausted and feeling abandoned by God. I thought (with no small amount of bitterness), “So…this is my reward for diligently seeking you: strained relationships, failing health, financial problems, ministry and vocational disasters?”

So, how was the law (or performance based religion) my tutor? It allowed my earnestness and diligence to run their course. It allowed me to wear myself out. Exhaustion reduced me to a core awareness of my inner poverty—a place where I knew (with deepest conviction) that I could not go one step further in my own strength. There, in the epiphany of my spiritual bankruptcy, He once again found a more teachable me. Where, as a young prodigal, I was found wallowing in a debauchery-based deception, this time He found me wallowing in a religious-based deception.

Whether it is the delusion that joy can be obtained through sensual pleasure or whether it is the other delusion that our efforts can win God’s favor, it’s still darkness. In both cases, we and our fallen reasoning are at the center of our woes. What an absolute joy it has been on both occasions to find that God (while I was yet a lost son of one sort or another) had loved me all along and drawn me to Himself. How powerful it has been to accept by faith, that in His perfect life, He met all the standards of righteousness in my behalf. How healing and empowering it has been to rest in the fact that He became sin – my sin! What a stunning revelation that by enduring the shame and brutality of the cross, He has received the reward of His suffering—you and I, justified by faithqualified by His work to stand blamelessly with boldness and joy before Him now and forevermore.

Father, please break down the strongholds of deception in our hearts that reason falsely, maintaining that we can win your love and approval through our own efforts. Please let our performances exhaust us so that we can transfer all our dependence to You alone. May we enter into the rest You have purchased for us so that we can live out of the abundance of Your life before a world we have helped mislead in our own legalistic deception. Help us to grasp that being whole-hearted has first to do with Your heart, not our own. Amen.

 

Faith (Thursday) – 2 Corinthians 5:1-10

2 Corinthians 5:1-10

I remember not that long ago when I thought Paul was just speaking figuratively when he said that “indeed in this house we groan“. I just assumed he was describing our spirit’s longing for God. Now, living in a house that is becoming dated, I understand that Paul also probably meant that we literally groan. I now find involuntary sighs and moans coming out of me when I have to move. So now I am saying with Paul, I too am groaning in this house.

I spent the day recently with a man who had been housed in an exceptional body for a half century. It had been graced with good proportions, strength, looks and agility yet it had been stricken with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. What had been an impressive residence was rapidly becoming a shambles. Medical science informs him that in spite of the best applied maintenance, his house was going to crash in on him in the near future.

The unique thing about this man was his eyes. They were bright, joyful eyes betraying a gentleness of spirit that is rare in men. As its peaceful occupant, I believe he was looking out of the windows of the ruined home with the gleam of anticipation.

I thought this man was invited to the retreat I was hosting for encouragement in his illness. I didn’t know he was going to become my mentor who would display as only he could what Paul was trying to get across in this passage. I think my new friend and brother knew (along with Paul)….

that when the earthly tent which had been his house is torn down, he would have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Indeed in his house he groaned, longing to be clothed with his dwelling from heaven. He was anticipating with increasing clarity that his mortality will be swallowed up by life. He knew that God was preparing him for this very purpose and had given him the Holy Spirit as a pledge.

Consequently this man was 

ogood courage, knowing that while he is at home in this body he is absent from the Lord. He was walking by faith, not by sight. It was his ambition, whether he was in this house or had moved out, to be pleasing to the Father. He knew he must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that he may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

This man was doing good – fulfilling his call as never before, as the light of the world. Christ was shining brightly from him in what some might say was his darkest hour. Those eyes betrayed a hope (even a hunger) for things unseen yet eternal. No one needed to teach this man to number his days that he might present to God a heart of wisdom. His body was all the reminder he needed. This saint is walking by faith.

Father, I pray in behalf of this man that you would guard everything that has been decreed and bestowed from heaven for him. May your mercies flood his life. May joy in increasing measure be the strength of his life. Thank you that he is not waisting his sorrows and is radiating an infectious hope to those nearest him.  May these next chapters of his life be those of a man who has reached his stride and is pressing on toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ. All to your glory Lord. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Faith (Wednesday) – Hebrews 11:29-40

Hebrews 11:29-40

We seem to have progressed in our spiritual lives where the scriptures are very much of secondary or tertiary importance. The list of primary sources of our inspiration are varied but they include, personal prophetic words, corporate prophecies, books by prophetically oriented authors, music,  more books, DVD’s, conferences and especially Pastor’s Sunday preaching. (Note: I am including myself here.)

There is nothing wrong with any of these except that, in themselves, they are not immediately personal. They are someone else’s light. They are someone else’s meal that they have chewed on and then regurgitated for our benefit. How are we to have a personal relationship with God if all we do is listen to others and quote what they have to say? What is our Lord saying to us? We are not told to give an account of the hope that is in them. We are told to give an account of the hope that is in us. I recommend you ask Pastor about this.

It was Hebrews 11 that prompted that mini-tirade. When I hear the Body of Christ at-large talk about faith, I get the distinct impression that the views of some of our inspirational substitutes have elbowed out what the scriptures have to say about it. On Monday we read Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” The problem reveals itself in what we expect as our reward. Come, let us think together.

Should we calibrate our expectations to be sword-wielders – those who, by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts ofrighteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight?  

Or, should we adjust our visions to include the possibility that we might be sword-victims – those who may be

tortured, experience mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment, those who may be stoned, sawn in two, tempted, put to death with the sword who went about poorly clothed, destitute, afflicted and ill-treated? 

Do I need to tell you which of these two is the more prominent vision being cast by our many and varied sources of inspiration? But… let’s keep it personal. What do you think? Are we to wield the sword or become its victims? 

The truth is that faith has never beed an either/or situation.  Either or both of these radically different experiences may be encountered as we walk by faith. In fact the scriptures tell us that all these,(implying “both” groups) have gained approval through their faith, and …they did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better…..”

It seems that we should come to agreement about what is the better part that something better that is foundational to both of these valid yet varied experiences with God. We need to come to agreement about what that better part actually is if without faith (which includes that  something without which) it is impossible to please Him. It would seem very wise to come to God as He actually is (rather than how we have reshaped Him to our fancy). It seems wise that we should believe that He is (as He has revealed Himself to us in scripture) and that He rewards those who seek Him (not with one or the other guaranteed outcomes but rather with that better part).

None of the people listed in Hebrews 11 calibrated their expectations as we western Christians have. What then was the better part they were looking forward to?  We can work toward that answer but we have to keep in mind that the lens they were looking through did not allow for a clear and closeup view, rather….

They saw it (i.e.; the better part) way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. They were homesick…… They could have gone back (to reclaim some earthly predictability and security) any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that— a heaven country. (MSG)

Our heroes of faith do have a common denominator that transcends their earthly experience. It is a better plan because all our gains are stored in a place where moth and rust will not destroy – a place where no thief can access. All of Hebrews mighty men of faith died having never seen their reward. We are more fortunate. We know from Paul (and hopefully our own experience) that the reward is Christ HImself.  Even though Moses couldn’t quite make Him out he had his eye on the One no eye can see, and kept right on going. Even though he couldn’t imagine what he would go through, as a result of walking by faith, Noah became intimate with God. What each of the heroes sought was restored union with God through Christ. Astonishing; Jesus Himself is our reward. Jesus is God’s better plan for us.

A person as a plan? A person as a reward? Yes! The first part of Hebrews 12 elaborates…

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. …… For consider Jesus who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (MSG)

Father, strip our visions of Christianity bare of notions that perpetuate our vicarious Christian experience. Wean us from our dependencies on food gleaned by others. Kick us out of our comfortable nests of dependency and teach us to find our own wings to fly with. May we truly mount up with the wings of eagles so that it may be said of us as well, “These are those of which the world is not worthy and when they have died they will still go on speaking. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faith (Monday) – Hebrews 11:1-6

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:6

The Amplified Bible says that God is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him [out]. When I first launched out into the Christian life it was into a context where nothing but whole-hearted discipleship was the norm. In light of who God is and what Christ had done to rescue me, seeking Him earnestly and diligently made perfect sense and seemed a manageable cross to carry.  Just how I managed I can only speculate but in spite of how this verse actually reads, I, in my youth and zeal, interpreted it like this;

God is pleased with those who earnestly and diligently seek Him. And, without this kind of faith, pleasing Him is impossible. (REV – Rob’s Erroneous Version)

There was a serious and costly flaw in my interpretation. In the REV, God’s approval rests on the qualitative nature of my seeking. In other words it is not; without faith it is impossible to please Him (as the author has said) it is; without earnest and diligent effort that it is impossible to please Him.  This is a serious error because it leaves out the full-council of scripture and it is costly because of what is lost in my translation. Allow me to explain and repent.

It is a serious thing to inject effort as a qualifying attribute to faith. It does violence to the very essence of the concept of faith. I know some busy beavers who will rush to James now so they can remind me, “But brother you know that faith without works is dead.” “Yes”, I respond, “That is absolutely true but it is also true that faith based on works is even deader.” (intentional bad grammar)

Think about this. How could God’s approval of us be based on even a tiny bit of our earnestness and diligence when we know that while we were yet sinners Jesus died for us? When Paul caught the Galatians trafficking in this kind of compliance / performance- based religion, he called them foolish. Actually (if you read the Amplified Bible) Paul is a bit more descriptive….

           O you poor and unreflecting and thoughtless and silly and senseless Galatians!  

A useful acronym to recall this serious state of the heart is (PUTSS). Sorry. I am being silly now but this was serious business to Paul. He lays into the Galatian PUTSS with a barrage of redundant questions to emphasize his point. Here are the main two;

Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

Does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

Here is Paul’s point; Christ (not our earnest and diligent efforts) redeemed us from the curse of the Law (compliance / performance-based religion), having become a curse for us…..in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith

There is also a great cost in thinking as I did – that God is pleased with those who earnestly and diligently seek Him and that without this kind of faith, pleasing Him is impossible. That cost is rest, the truest indicator, far above works, (sorry James) that one is living by faith. Rest and works are like oil and water; they are utterly incompatible. Rest is the qualitative fruit of authentic faith not the basis of it. Rest takes the whole council of scripture into account and says, “If I think of my works as qualifiers, my earnestness and diligence are as filthy rags to God. Rest is trusting that there is nothing I can do that will alter God’s acceptance of me as long as I am trusting that His life has become my own. Rest is ceasing to work for approval because in Christ I am approved. Rest acknowledges that in-Christ IT IS (truly) FINISHED!

I can only concur with Paul when he says….

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatans 3:24-25)

Repentance

As my youth and my zeal waned with age, I so did my earnestness and diligence. Witnessing, scripture memory, serious bible study all dropped off. In fact, I ended up after years of what I thought of as authentic zeal, feeling somewhat abandoned by God. I thought (with no small amount of bitterness), “So…THIS is my reward for diligently seeking you; strained relationships, failing health, financial problems, ministry and vocational disasters?!

So, how was the law (or performance / compliance – based religion) my tutor? It allowed my earnestness and diligence to run their course. It allowed me to wear myself out. Exhaustion reduced me to a core awareness of my inner poverty – a place where I knew (with deepest conviction) that I cannot go one step further in my own strength. There in the epiphany of my spiritual bankruptcy He once again found a more teachable me. Where, as a young prodigal, I was found wallowing in a debauchery-based deception; this time He found me wallowing in a religious-based deception.

Whether it is the delusion that joy can be obtained through sensual pleasure or whether it is the other delusion that our efforts can win God’s favor, it’s still darkness; where we and our fallen reasoning are at the center of our woes. What an absolute joy it has been on both occasions to find that God (while I was yet a lost son of one sort or another) had been loving me all along and drawing me to Himself. How powerful it has been to accept by faith, resting in the fact, that He became sin (my sin) and that in His perfect life He met all the standards of righteous compliance. What a stunning revelation that by enduring the shame and brutality of the Cross He has received the reward of His suffering – Rob (and hopefully you) who are now justified by faith – qualified by His work (not our own) to stand blamelessly with boldness and joy before Him now and forevermore.

Father, please break down the strongholds of deception in our hearts that reason falsely, maintaining that we can win your love and approval through our own efforts. Please let our performances exhaust us so that we can transfer all our dependencies to You alone. May we enter into the rest You have purchased for us so that we can live out of the abundance of Your life before a world we have helped mislead in our own deception. Help us to grasp that being whole-hearted has first to do with Your heart, not our own. Amen.