Monday, June 5, 2017

Got Faith?

We tend to put faith in the domain of the unknown and unseen. It has a mysterious, nebulous component. After all, how do you define faith? You can't see or feel it. Isn't faith something you hope for that hasn't even happened? Yes...and no.

When we view faith as something "out there" and distant, we are free to live life however we want. If it can't be measured or quantified, I say I have faith--or think I have faith--without obligation. In other words, I can believe (in my head). I can say I'm a Christian. I can say or think I have faith. And I can move on with my life.

I would argue that faith is real, it's a concrete doing, not just an empty set of words. For instance, when you visited your Facebook page, sent a text or made plans for this afternoon, what motivated you? Why did you do what you did? 

One of the most common reasons for doing or not doing something is because we "feel like it." We want to do something (or we don't) and the wanting motivates our decision. My grandmother used to talk about being "in the mood." If she was in the mood, it got done. If she wasn't, it had to wait. Fortunately, she was always in the mood for MacDonald's ice cream.

Here it is: Faith is doing what God says whether I feel like it or not. It's taking God at His Word and acting on it. Period. That's real. It's concrete. It's not wishy-washy. It's not nebulous or mysterious. It's actually straight-forward and obvious. Here are a couple of simple, but hard, ways to apply faith:

- God says marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman for life (Genesis 1-3, Ephesians 5). Faith not only assents it's true, faith does it. Faith says, "No matter how I feel about this person, I am committed to this relationship. God designed marriage and He wants me to work this out." Staying married and working through difficulties requires dependence on Him. seeking help, perseverance, forgiveness, and sacrifice. It's real, walking, talking faith that lies awake at night, prays, gives, serves, and loves. Faith real, concrete acts that reflect Jesus--that believe in Jesus' death and resurrection--in everyday life through our words, actions and choices.

- God says if we abide in Him, He will abide in us (John 15). Faith spends measureable time reading the Bible, studying, listening to, meditating on and memorizing God's Word because that's where we find Him. We must know Christ and His ways to abide in Him. Faith is evident in prayer (abiding). Faith is evident as I wait on God to provide and meet my needs.

- God says He will keep Him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Him because He trusts Him (Isaiah 26:3). Faith refuses to give in to worry or despair. Faith chooses, instead, to think on the character and works of God: His faithfulness, lovingkindness and goodness expressed in Scripture and past experience. Godly faith is demonstrated by peace and steadfastness.

The opposite of faith is my way-seeking relief, comfort, pleasure--in opposition to the revealed will of God in His Word. It happens as we justify, rationalize and excuse our behavior with circumstance instead of turning to God and holding fast. When I simply don't believe God's Word is true or will "work," when I think I have a better idea, or just don't feel like doing it His way, my unbelief and disobedience result in real consequences. God's way or my way? It's that simple.

Got faith?

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 NASB)

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26)

Friday, June 2, 2017

So What About "Hoarders?"

We sat in a hotel room, relaxing, eating pizza--and watching an episode of "Hoarders."

Maybe you've never seen it. Maybe you've started, but just can't stomach the clutter and decay. My guess is you're fascinated or repelled. How can people not SEE the problem? And when/if they do, how can they refuse help? And why would they choose to live that way?

If we dare to think about it long enough and truthfully enough, we realize we're all like that. We have habits, stuff, hobbies, jobs, people--even ministries--we're desperate to keep. We don't see the problem. And if/when we do, we don't want help. Whatever it is, it's become a necessity--our air and breath.

What starts as an interest or casual fancy becomes an obsession, consuming our thoughts, dreams, changing our plans, removing the future, despairing the present, regretting the past. Slowly, gradually, our vision narrows until that one thing is everything. Without it, my world collapses. And in that moment I am forced to ask, "How am I loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength?" Where is God in my reality? And I must admit He is not there.

God is not there. People are peripheral. If I were to answer the question, "In this activity/obsession, how am I loving others as myself?" I'm not. I have become both the source and receiver of need. As I face myself in the mirror of Truth, there is room for only one--me.

It happens with good things: dieting, gardening, music, work, relationships. Sometimes it begins with hard things: loss, grief, failure, violation. It morphs into ugly things: eating disorders, workaholism, depression, substance abuse, hoarding. Suddenly the shore is lost, I'm overwhelmed by waves, and the shimmering shell in my hand has become a ball and chain.

"So what would a biblical counselor say about hoarders?" our daughter asked. I gave the Sunday School answer, "They need Jesus."

How does that solve the problem? Jesus fulfills us. He is the need that has been unmet. Sin no longer requires salving, ignoring, covering, or hiding. I have no debt to pay. I have no need to work for reward. "It is finished." And in taking Jesus at His Word I find freedom, forgiveness, acceptance, healing, belonging...being. And in Him I have life--a new, eternal life that starts now and never, ever ends.

NOTE: If you don't get it, or you're very lost in the ocean of self, please seek godly counsel. Talk to a pastor or friend who knows Jesus--and lives like it. Here is a list of organizations with individuals who know and use the Bible to help others: Biblical Counseling Coalition--Find a Counselor. In general, these individuals work within local churches to help, direct and connect you with God and His people who offer their services freely. "Freely you received, freely give." (Matthew 10:8)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. (John 1:1-4) many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:16-18)

His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. (1 Peter 1:3-4)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

You Know; Do They?

Tonight was a mark in time. Our public high is preparing to graduate another group of young people, and this evening we celebrated at their baccalaureate service. Since our family does not worship in our community, it was a unique time to gather in church with those we've lived with all these years. Pride swells as young men and women stride down the aisle in matching robes! I had just looked at their pre-kindergarten pictures--and look at them now! Having spent time with them in classrooms and extra-curricular activities, I have grown to love and admire them. They are not mine, but they are part of me, part of our family. We share a history, memories, people and places that no one else ever has or ever will.

And as the speaker shared the gospel, the centrality of Jesus, the cross, the wrath of God and the forgiveness Christ purchased with His blood, tears of gratitude, love...and loss seeped from my eyes. Some came tonight because of a devotion and love for Jesus. Some came because it's the thing you do when you're graduating from high school. Maybe some came for their parents. Whatever the reason, they heard, once again, the old, old story of Jesus and His love.

More than 11 years ago, when we started Good News Club at the elementary school, a woman asked what we were teaching. She had concerns and wanted to know before sending her son. Using a classic of  Child Evangelism Fellowship (that we still use today), I shared the Wordless Book:

  • The gold page reminds us of God who is perfect and holy, eternal and loving. He cannot sin or be in its presence. He lives in a place, called Heaven, that the Bible says has streets of gold. (1 John 1:5)
  • The black page represents our sin. We have all sinned and deserve God's wrath and punishment. We are separated from Him because of the things we think, say and do that are against His character. (Romans 3:23)
  • The red page reminds us of Jesus' death on the cross. He lived a perfect life and died in our place, taking our punishment, and rose again so we could be forgiven. (1 Peter 3:18)
  • White is for forgiveness. When we believe Jesus took our place and come to God asking forgiveness in Jesus' name, He will wash our hearts as white as snow. (Isaiah 1:18)
  • And green is for growth. When we have accepted Jesus' death and resurrection, we will grow in our relationship with Him by reading the Bible, praying, meeting with other believers, and telling others about Jesus. (2 Peter 3:18)

This friend asked why we would do that. Why did we even need Good News Club? I pointed to a man walking down the street. "If you knew that man was going to die before he reached home, what would you do? Would you stop him or let him keep going?" "I'd tell him," she said.

"That's what we do in Good News Club, tell children and families that Jesus is the only One who can save them from eternal punishment. That's all. We're not here to cram it down anyone's throat or push ourselves on anyone, but we love them too much to say nothing at all."

Do you love those who don't know? What are you doing--what are you willing to do--to save them?

Deliver those who are being taken away to death, And those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back. If you say, “See, we did not know this,” Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work? (Prov. 24:11-12)

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”
Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)