Category Archives: Faith

What You See is What You Get

It is important to use your eyes when you consider the miracles of Jesus.  You need “eyes to see” in order to get the full benefit.  Jesus’ miracles usually portrayed deeper truth in symbolic fashion.  For example, when He turned water into wine, the water came from pots used for ritual cleansing.  You have to “see” the difference between washing, done on the outside, and wine, which works from the inside, to see Jesus’ visual lesson.  Religious ritual would be supplanted by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In that same way, consider the raising of Lazarus.  In that miracle, clearly Jesus portrays the coming of new, abundant life for the spiritually dead.  But beyond that most obvious symbol, consider this:

The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  (John 11:44)

Can you “see?”  What is it that “binds” you?  What habit, personality trait, addiction, memory or fear prevents you from fully and gracefully blazing through life?  Jesus showed those with eyes to see He had power to unbind Lazarus.  Can you see He also has that power over what binds you?

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  (Matthew 7:7-8)

Condemned to Hell?

“Yes, I do!”

That is what Russell Vought should have answered.  But, he can be excused for trying to deflect the question, because it was outrageous and unconstitutional.  Bernie Sanders, asked the nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget if he believed non-Christians are condemned to Hell. When Vought replied that, as a Christian, he believed Jesus was central to salvation, Bernie said he therefore was unfit for the office, that he was “not someone this country was supposed to be about.”

Leaving aside the issue that the Constitution forbids such a religious test as a qualification for office, and the question of whether he would have asked a similar question of a Muslim, it is troubling that Sanders implied Christians would discriminate against those who are so condemned.  We are called, instead, to love, serve, sacrifice and possibly die for them.  Perhaps Bernie has seen the John 3:16 signs behind the goal posts, but he obviously has no understanding of the heart of Jesus, revealed in what He said.

Here are Jesus’ own words:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.   (John 3:16-18)

Jesus stood before a government official who grilled Him about His fitness – not to serve in government but to live.  In that setting, Jesus said this:

For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the worldto bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  (John 18:37)

Do you believe Jesus spoke the truth?  Bernie won’t be the last person to misunderstand or accuse.  How would you answer?

Wait for It

Suddenly and unexpectedly slammed with grief, I prayed for comfort. God’s response was specific, clear and effective.  But it was not immediate.  I had to wait. I felt like the guy who prayed, “Lord, give me patience and give it to me right now!”  For whatever His reasons, God let me wait a bit.  When His comfort came, it washed over me in a sustained way.

But why would God delay, why make me wait?  It’s not as though comfort was on back order.  The All Sovereign Lord of the Universe could have responded instantly.  Why wait? Perhaps it is to help us build faith.

Peter wrote about waiting for God’s promises, saying:

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  (`1 Peter 1:6-7) 
James wrote about waiting after praying for wisdom, saying:

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6)  
As we wait for God confidently and then have that trust vindicated, our “faith muscle” is developed.  As our faith grows, our relationship with God grows stronger.

Perhaps God also makes us wait to give us time to be spiritually strengthened and matured. Isaiah knew about waiting.  He wrote:

“…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strengththey shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”  (Isaiah 40:31)

Good comedians have a well developed sense of timing.  When one says, “Wait for it…” you know it’s worth the wait.  Better yet when God does.

What to Do

Yet another terrorist bomb.  More predictable responses from government and media.  Already, network art departments are designing background graphics to promote their newscasts and experts are deciding on a catchy name for the story.  Already, expressions of sorrow and determination have been issued, quoted and re-quoted.  Already, are first responders honored, makeshift memorials bedecked with flowers, funerals planned, security efforts tweaked.  It’s what we do.  The whole process has become stylized.  There is a ritual for it.  And people will become more accustomed to the tragedy, no longer able to fully feel the outrage and frustration.  We feel helpless to do anything that will truly make a difference.

Jesus told us what to expect and what to do.  Here’s what He said we could expect:

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, (Matthew 24:12)

Here’s what He taught us to do:

“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.  (Matthew 6:9-10)

Perhaps it seems strange to ask God, all sovereign and all powerful, to do what He has already willed to do.  I don’t know how prayer impacts the accomplishment of God’s will, only that Jesus taught us to do it.  So, let’s do.  Urgently – and paying full attention to the meaning of what we are asking.  Yearning for that day to come.

There was a church that broke ground for a new building with an old plow to which several hundred slender strings had been attached.  They invited everyone to take a string and, when the command was given, to pull.  No one of those people or strings would have been strong enough to move that plow.  But together, it jumped through the soil and chewed it up with ease.  When Jesus taught us to pray for the Kingdom to come, He handed each of us a string and gave us the command.

 

Good Eats

“Open your mouth and close your eyes and I’ll give you something to make you wise.”  Ever hear that as a kid?  Did you do it?  If so, what did they put in your mouth?  It could have been anything from a chocolate chip cookie to a worm.  Unless this was your first time out at this game, you’d only open your mouth and close your eyes if you really trusted the person who gave you the challenge.  I can remember the names and faces of lots of childhood chums with whom I would never play that game.

That kids’ game illustrates the answer to a puzzling question.  Look at these two quotes from Jesus, taken from the same passage:

Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.  (John 6:47)

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  (John 6:51a)

The first question most people ask is “What does Jesus mean by eats this bread, especially since He identified Himself as that Living Bread?”   He wasn’t suggesting an act of cannibalism.  But what?  The first and second quote are talking about the same thing: what it takes to gain eternal life.  The second one says you have to “eat this bread;” the first says you have to “believe.”  Apparently, Jesus was using eating as a metaphor for believing.

But does such an analogy work?  It actually is perfect.  Eating is an act of believing, an act of faith.  When you eat, you take something external to yourself and ingest it, making it a part of who you are (Remember: You are what you eat?).  You only chew and swallow because you believe eating that thing will make you better in some way.  If you don’t believe, you don’t eat, right?  This is why most kids won’t eat Lima beans.  To believe in Jesus is to willingly receive Him into your innermost being, allowing Him to become the Source of your new life.  To believe in Him is to “swallow Him, hook, line and sinker.”

Jesus comes to each of us and presents an invitation:  He says, “Open your mouth and close your eyes and I’ll give you something to make you truly alive.”

It’s no game.  What’s your response?

 

Junkyard Beauty

Next time you are at a craft fair, take a close and thoughtful look at the paintings done on old saw blades and other rusty pieces of junk.  The artist took something shabby and transformed it.  Reminds me of what Jesus did for the blind guy :

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.  (John 9:1-3)

God used the canvas of that man’s disability to display His power and grace. As Jesus healed him, in his transformation, he glorified God.  That word, glorified, sounds a bit churchy but simply means demonstrating or calling attention to how wonderful someone else is.  A spotlight operator, shining his light on the star of the show, draws our eyes to that person and glorifies them.  When someone comes to faith in Jesus, the changes produced are evidence of God’s glory.  God uses those changes to attract others to Himself.

He doesn’t limit Himself to people with physical disabilities.  The town drunk becomes known for a complete 180 and becomes known for his works of charity.  The greedy miser becomes generous.  Even your seemingly ordinary circumstances and generally good reputation are a suitable canvases upon which God can paint beautiful images of His grace.  A simple change that allows one to live with joy and hope in the midst of all the sniping and complaining – it shows.  People notice.  They see glimpses of God, reflected on you.  That’s why Peter encouraged his fellow believers to:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.  (1 Peter 2:12)

What God did for the man who was physically blind, He does in an more significant and powerful way for those who are spiritually blind.  Like John Newton, whose song you know:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

Full Advantage

If you live in my town, you have been given the right to use the library.  Far more than simply being allowed to check out books, you can take full advantage of a whole bunch of pretty cool extra services.  For example, recently, on a long trip through Texas, I connected to the library with my cell phone and was soon listening to an audio book as the hours and miles flew by.  Everyone who lives here has been given all those wonderful opportunities.  Not everyone uses them.

Peter wrote about a similar situation for those who follow Jesus:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.  (2 Peter 1:3-4)

If you sign up for a library card, you are given free access to a long list of amazing opportunities.  But they are worthless unless you use them.  When you enter into a relationship of trust with Jesus, which Peter refers to as “the knowledge of Him,” you are given free access to everything necessary for the fullest and most satisfying good life.  Amazingly, you are promised the ability to partake of the very nature of God!  Those gifts and promises are yours.  But they lie dormant and of little value unless you put them to use.  So then, how do we do that?

Peter explains:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  (2 Peter 1:5-7)

You don’t earn the gifts and promises by doing these things; you already have been given them. But, by doing these things, you gradually learn to use what you have been given more fully.  Peter’s words might sound a bit stuffy.  Here’s my paraphrase:

Because you have these great promises, as you come to Jesus by faith, make a practice of getting in step with His good way of living (virtue).  Intentionally get to know Him better (knowledge).  Let the influence of His Spirit control you from the inside out, particularly when you are tempted to mess up (self-control).  Keep at it – practice makes a real difference (steadfastness).  Adjust your thinking and attitude in life to really appreciate and enjoy your interaction with God (“godliness” is a word whose component parts means enjoyable worship!)  Let the joy of enjoying fellowship with God spill over into genuine love for others (brotherly affection).

Living like that, Peter says, helps us take full advantage of all we have been given in Jesus.

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (2 Peter 1:8)