Faith… ! ?

There are a lot of “definitions” of faith, a lot of thoughts about it.  I just saw one talking about a “leap of faith.”  “Faith” has become a synonym for “religion,” so that we hear of “people of faith,” regardless of what that “faith” might be.  There are “faith-based” organizations.  “Faith is the willingness to act upon your sense of what you think lies behind the external circumstances.”  This one from a well-known Christian artist whose paintings are indeed beautiful.  However, faith deals with what God says lies behind the external circumstances.  Our “understanding” of such things tends to be faulty, to say the least.  Then there are those who think faith is some sort of bell we can ding to get God to do something for us.

The world has its “definitions” of the word.  “Faith is believing what you know not to be true.”  “Faith is a leap in the dark.”  “Faith is believing in something despite the evidence.”  Now, there may be some truth in that, though not the way the world thinks of it.  “Faith” is irrational and unreasonable.  Faith is for the weak and ignorant.  Faith is for the gullible.

To  restate one of the “definitions” above, I prefer to think of faith as “a leap into the light.”  Or maybe, because of the light.

Faith is not some vague, nebulous, wishful thinking.  According to Hebrews 11, it is something based solidly and only and completely on the Word of God.  As you go through that list of Old Testament saints, you’ll find that their guiding light was what God had told them and promised.

The writer starts off with the idea that “faith” indeed deals with things not “in evidence.”  This is what I meant a moment ago in my comment about one of the world’s definitions.

The writer starts off with creation itself:  the worlds were framed by the word of God.  He refers to and corroborates Genesis 1 and 2.  God said.   God said.  God said.

By the way, how did the “ignorant goat herders” who are alleged to have written the Bible know that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible?  That is, they were not “in evidence”?

Abel offered the sacrifice God commanded.  Cain thought the best he could do would be good enough.

Enoch walked with God in a time of increasing ungodliness and wickedness, kind of like 2013.

Noah built an ark to escape a flood in a world where it never rained.

Abraham pulled up stakes and moved somewhere he didn’t know about simply because God told him to.

[Have you ever really thought about that?  Abraham comes home one day and says to Sarah, “Start packing.  We’re going to move.”

“Oh?  Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.”]

Abraham and Sarah both believed they would have the child God promised them, though they were well beyond the ages for such things.

Abraham believed God could raise Isaac from the dead when he was told to sacrifice that very same beloved son of promise.

On and on.  I leave you to read the rest of the chapter.  See how the Word of God guided and controlled what these “faith-worthies” did – and suffered.

So you see, “faith” is an active and obedient response to the Word of God.  It isn’t about what we think or can see, but about what God says.  It isn’t just some vague feeling.  It’s not about some momentary emotional response based on some “experience”.  It’s a solid, every-day commitment to what God says.  It isn’t  just about “doctrine,” though doctrine is very important, and should have much more attention paid to it than is usually done.  It does matter what you believe.  But what we believe must be based on what the Bible says, not just on what men say the Bible says.  This means that we have to read it ourselves.  One of the sad things about the church in our time is the fact that only a small percentage of “Christians” read the Bible and know what it really says.

Why do you think there are such attacks against the Bible?  Why are there such efforts to destroy its credibility?  Because it tells us things the enemy of our soul doesn’t want us to know.  It tells us to do things that we don’t want to do in and of ourselves.

Oh, let me encourage you.  Read the Bible.  Believe what it says.  Do what it says.  It’s God’s love letter to you.

[If you want some more on this, read my earlier posts of “Abraham and Isaac,” and “Look Now Toward Heaven”.]

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Do You Need To “Retire”?

I think the greatest joy when I retired was the realization on that first Sunday afterward that, for the first time in a very long time, “I don’t have to go to work tomorrow!!!”  I cannot tell you how happy that made me!  I had worked pretty much steadily since I was 19, but “I don’t have to go to work tomorrow!!!”  Sunday had always been kind of a downer for me, even though I went to church and was active in it, because there was always the thought in the background that I had to go to work tomorrow.

Though you’re probably not interested, I could give you my complete work history going back to 1961.  And time has passed since that joyous Sunday.  The thought of no work on Monday has diminished.  And I’m working part time now.  So I’m not as “foot-loose and fancy-free” (whatever that means) as I was on that weekend.

What’s my point?

Spiritually speaking, I wonder if some who read this post might not need to “retire.”  There’s a HUGE amount of thought in “Christendom” that one must “earn” salvation, or at least contribute something to its obtaining.  In effect, we’re asked to midwife at our own spiritual birth.  There’s a long list of things one “must” do in this regard.

We must belong to a certain church.  Pope Francis recently reasserted the dogma that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church, even for “Christians” who belong to other churches.  But believers belong to Christ; we are Christians, not “Churchians”.  There is no salvation in ANY “church”.  Babies don’t go to the nursery to be born, but because they have been born.  So it is with “church”.

Then there’s baptism, communion, “confession,” works, lists of “do” and “don’t”.  On and on.

If you have such a “list,” then you need to retire.

If you’re not experiencing “the joy of the Lord, then perhaps you need to retire.

You need to quit trying to “save yourself.”  You need to quit relying on things which cannot save.  You need to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ and trust Him for your salvation.  He lived the life you and I cannot live.  He died the death you and I dare not.  He said, “It is finished.”

The work has been done.  The price has been paid.  Redemption has been accomplished.

By works.

But not yours or mine.

The Lord Jesus Christ’s.

God’s Will, My Will, Whose Will?

As I wander along the highways and byways of blogtopia [not my term, but a great one!], I see a lot of questions and comments about God’s will and “free will.”  I don’t have all the answers, but perhaps I might have one or two thoughts that will help shed some light on this sometimes gritty subject.

[[Something I don’t normally do on a post, but this one is so important that I feel compelled to do this in print:

“Father, we are so foolish, fallible and finite that when we come to the idea of asking questions about how You do things…, we must have Your guidance to understand even the simplest things You have revealed about Yourself.  This is anything but ‘simple,’ but deals with things philosophers and thinkers have pondered and discussed for millennia.  Open our understanding so that we might know something of the wonder and greatness of Your dealings with us….

“In Jesus’ name, through Whom alone we come into Your presence.  Amen.”]]

Some are so focused on God’s sovereign will that they seem to make man little more than a puppet or robot.  I knew a brother who would always say, “I was caused to believe in Jesus.”  Never would he simply say, with Paul, “I know whom I have believed,…  2 Timothy 1:12 (NKJV).

Others are so focused on man’s will that, as it were, they put up a “no trespassing” sign and believe that God cannot do anything in their lives unless they give Him permission.  They put limitations on God that they would never dream of putting on themselves.

This latter viewpoint, though much more prevalent than the former, is no more Scriptural.

What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.

Actually, Scripture doesn’t address this issue as such at all.   It does say some things about the subject almost in passing, as if there should be no question about it.  So, let’s look at some examples of what I mean.

Genesis 50:20, “…as for you, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good….”

This, of course, is Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers, who, because of their hatred for him had sold him into slavery years earlier, then lied to their father about it.  In the providence of God, they and their families and father had come to Egypt where Joseph made himself known to them and took care of them for several years.  Now Jacob was dead, and the brothers thought they were [rightfully] in for it.  The verse above was part of Joseph’s response to them.

There was nothing “good” about what they did to Joseph or how they covered it up.  Jacob grieved for many years over the death, as he thought, of this son of his beloved Rachel.  Joseph suffered for about 13 years in Egypt, even though God put him in a place where he could save many people alive.

There is no attempt to “reconcile” these two disparate things: the evil that the brothers meant, the good that God meant.  They are just simply recorded.  The same word is used both times, that what the brothers purposed and willed to do to Joseph, God purposed and willed that they should do to Joseph.

Did God “do” something to the brothers in this?  Did His will “force” their wills?  No, they did freely to Joseph exactly what they wanted to do.  At the same time, without thought or knowledge on their part, they did exactly what God wanted them to do.

Exodus 4:21, speaking to Moses about Pharaoh, God said, “I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.”  This is indeed a difficult nut for people to crack.  What did God mean?  How could He do this to Pharaoh?

In order, perhaps, to understand this a little better, we need to look at Pharaoh.  Was “his heart” “neutral” in this matter?  Was he open to the things Moses said?  Was he a “seeker” after truth.  Did he want to know about the God of Israel?

No, indeed!  At Moses’ first encounter with him, Pharaoh responded, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?  I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go,”  Exodus 5:2.  I imagine the emphasis was on the “I”: “…that I should obey…?”

There was no “harden” button on Pharaoh’s heart that God had to push.  His heart was already hard!  God just demonstrated that by bringing some things to Pharaoh’s attention that he didn’t want to deal with, namely, that he wasn’t a god himself, and that the God of the Hebrews was God, the only God, the true God, as opposed to the pantheon of gods Pharaoh worshiped.  All the plagues against Egypt were against the gods of Egypt, to show their impotence and falsehood.  And to show that the God of the Hebrews, as we said, was, indeed, the only true God.

Exodus 31:1-6; 35:6-36:2, With regard to the construction of the Tabernacle, God told Moses, “I have put wisdom in all the hearts of the gifted artisans, that they may make all I have commanded you.”  God gave some the artistic ability to craft and construct the Tabernacle, and just underline all the references to “hearts” and “willing,” etc.  There are at least 15 such references in the 16 verses of 35:6-36:2.  God willed and the people willed.  As for the “offerings” to supply the necessary materials, note 25:1 and 36:6, 7 as well.

One more from the Old Testament.

2 Kings 11:29-36; 12:15, 24, though you should read both chapters.

This has to do with the reason for the breakup of Israel into two camps:  the two tribes, who became known as Judah, and the other 10 tribes, who retained the name Israel and were also known as Ephraim or The Northern Kingdom.

King Solomon had been unfaithful to God and had introduced idolatry into Israel, probably at the instigation of his pagan wives.  In 2 Kings 11:9-13, God promised judgment on his line and on the nation for this sin.  He finally died and his son Rehoboam took over.

Solomon had heavily taxed the people in order to finance his lavish lifestyle.  The people understandably asked Rehoboam to lessen their load.  (And you thought complaints about taxation were something new!)  Rehoboam asked counsel of some who had served his father.  Their advice was to listen to the people.  Then he asked some of his friends what to do.  Their advice was to tell the people, in effect, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Rehoboam, being young and stupid (though he was 40 or so), followed the advice of his friends, who were also stupid and arrogant.  2 Kings 12:15 says, “So the king did not listen to the people; for the turn of events was from the LORD, that He might fulfill His word, which the LORD spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”

Naturally, the people didn’t care for this, so they said, “See ya’,” and went their way.  Rehoboam called out the army to go and bring them back by force.

In chapter 12, God forbade this.  Too bad Rehoboam didn’t seek God before.  Anyway, through another prophet, God told him, “You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel. …for this thing is from Me.”

Rehoboam’s arrogance and stupidity.  The anger and decision of the people.  All their own. Yet God’s will, as well.

Now to the New Testament.

When I was a young student at a Bible College, struggling with these concepts, I came across some verses.  My roommate and others were also struggling with these ideas.  The verses are

2 Corinthians 8:16, 17,  In the context of Paul’s instructions to the church at Corinth, he wrote, But thanks be to God who puts [or, “has put”] the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus.  For he not only accepted the exhortation, but being more diligent, he went to you of his own accord.

Once again, we see the interconnection of God’s will and man’s will.  God worked in Titus’ heart.  Of his own will, Titus did something.  This activity of God neither negates, diminishes nor undermines the choices and activity of man.

And there is also

Revelation 17:17, For God has put it into their hearts [the “ten kings” of vs. 12, 13] to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.  Here is a clear verse about the will and purpose of God and the will and purpose of man.

However, someone might say, “Well, yes, there are some verses like what you say.  But in salvation – ‘whosoever will.’  Christ is standing at the door of our heart, knocking for admission.”

That’s true.  “Whosoever will.”  At the same time, please read the rest of that verse.  How many people do you know in the world, or even in the church, for that matter, who “thirst” for the water of life?

As for Revelation 3:20, it’s in the context of the Lord’s words to His churches, especially the church at Laodicea.  This church was so filled with itself that it didn’t even realize that Christ was on the outside.  There are lots of churches like that, so filled with programs and personalities that they don’t even miss the Lord Jesus.

Two final verses, and they are about “salvation”.

John 6:39, 40, The Lord Jesus says, This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.  And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Our Lord has no difficulty with divine sovereignty and human activity.  He never sought to “reconcile” them; they’re not enemies.  He never tried to “explain” them or make them palatable to fallen human nature.  He just simply taught that they are both true.  So does the rest of the Bible.

In John 6:39, 40, there are on the one hand, those indeed whom the Father chose and gave to the Son to redeem.  (By the way, in a nutshell, the biblical doctrine of election is that had God not chosen some to be saved, nobody at all would be saved.)  On the other hand, the door to salvation stands wide open.  There isn’t a single verse in the more than 30,000 – if memory serves me – verses  of Scripture  preventing the salvation of the worst sinner who ever lived.  The difficulty lies with us, not with God.  Those who believe in the Son have eternal life; those who do not, do not.  It’s as simple as that.

Conclusion:  There is SO MUCH more that could be said on this subject.  I’ve just barely scratched the surface.  And I’ve probably raised questions, as well as trying to answer some of them.  I’m sorry.

Whether you agree with what I’ve written or not, remember that we’re “discussing” God.  Do you really want a God you can get your mind around?  One that little?

Oh, if we can’t “understand” what God has told us about Himself, can we at least “trust” Him?  After all, isn’t that what “faith” boils down to, trusting Him and His Word?

God bless this study, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Something to Think About ~ Things Excellent and Worthy of Praise

Great “heavenly rain drops” from a sister in Christ. Enjoy.

Heavenly Raindrops

If ever there were a picture of something excellent and praiseworthy, it is majestic mountains.  There is nothing much more beautiful than snow-covered hills against a brilliant blue sky.  In Colorado, where I lived for several years, scenes like the one above were commonplace.  God’s glory was daily on display.  It wasn’t hard to find excellence.

Although I understand the principle of keeping my mind fixed on things praiseworthy and excellent, I struggle by straying into:

frustration

distractions

bitterness

worry

doubt
fear

and the list goes on. 

Do any of you struggle, too?

God offers a better way, though.  What He proposes is not positive thinking, but instead excellent thinking.  When we focus on the glorious aspects about God and His creation, then add to that all the many blessings and promises He bestows, our minds need not fixate earthbound.  As the mountains tower above the valleys below, we can…

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“…others were tortured,” Hebrews 11:35b.

I just finished reading Hebrews (NKJV).  This time, chapter 11 really seemed  to stand out.  I’ll admit, writing this blog has me looking for ideas, but there was more to it than that as I read.  As I went down through the catalog of faithful ones, each one seemed to be alive.  Then I got to v. 32, where the writer seems to have run into a common difficulty of writers:  having more to say than he could really put down.  So he summarizes, as it were:  who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  Women received their dead raised to life again. 

Wonderful.  Examples of great blessings.  Incredible deliverance.  Brave actions.  Courage.  Victory.

Things worthy of those who believe in and serve God.

But he didn’t stop there:

Others were tortured,…

What!  How can this be?  How could God let this happen – to His faithful people!?  Why would people go through such things?

Since I have started writing this blog, I have met, via the Internet, people who are suffering incredibly.  Terrible illnesses,  stressful home situations, personal grief and familial sorrow.  People whose testimonies and praise of God shine like a searchlight at midnight.  Incredible testimonies.  Wonderful faith.  Simple trust in God.  Not perfect, no, but their focus is on God.

The writer didn’t stop with the suffering of these Old Testament brothers and sisters of ours.  He continues: not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.

Ah!

There is the answer:

they knew this life wasn’t all there is to it.

The world looks at all this and says, “Well, if God is so all-powerful, loving and good, why doesn’t He do something?”  They fail to realize that He is.  He is showing His power, not in making everything rosy for all His people, but by demonstrating that even in the worst of times, He is there, strengthening them and giving them grace to go on with life.  He’s showing that there are people, like Job, who love and serve Him for Himself, not just for what they can get out of Him.

The world wants nothing to do with and scoffs at such thinking.

But this life isn’t all there is.  The grave isn’t the finish line.  In some ways, it’s the starting line, because then all these terrible things will be gone for the believer, and only good is left.  As Paul put it, Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  For the things that are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal,  2 Corinthians 4:16-18.