When belief is not faith

Have you spent much time considering the terrifying statement of James in his short letter,

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

– James 2.19

Our Sunday School proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls people to belief.  If you believe that Jesus is God, that He lived a perfect life, that He died on the cross and rose from the dead, you can be saved.  There is nothing we can do to earn it, there is nothing we can do that would make God love us more or less.  Right?  Partially.  This is only half of the story.

“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…”

– Rom 10.9

Salvation is not credited to us by believing that Jesus raised from the dead.  Faith is not the historical acknowledgement of that occurrence.  Paul tells us that salvation is credited to us by believing God who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 4.20-25).  It is confessing Jesus as Lord.  It is the result of believing the promises of God that eternal salvation – the future – was purchased by the blood of Jesus on the cross.  It is looking back briefly and believing historically what happened, and then banking on the promises offered therein.

Faith is future oriented.

Abraham was counted righteous because he trusted the promises of God (Rom 4.3).

Do you bank on the promises of God?  If you do it will transform your life.  If you only believe historically what happened, you are in league with demons.  Demons have solid theology!  They saw Jesus walk the Earth.  They have known the Scripture since the moment it was written.  They have seen the power of God manifested in every miracle noted in Scripture and those not.  They believe.  But they have not confessed Jesus as Lord.  They are not trusting in the promise of forgiveness bought by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  They are not repenting and being transformed from death into life.

Do you trust God?  Does His faithfulness to keep His word mark every decision you make in your life?  Do you even know the promises of God?

Faith . . . honors him whom it trusts with the most reverent and highest regard since it considers him truthful and trustworthy. There is no other honor equal to the estimate of truthfulness and righteousness with which we honor him whom we trust . . . On the other hand, there is no way in which we can show greater contempt for a man than to regard him as false and wicked and to be suspicious of him, as we do when we do not trust him.

– Martin Luther

faith

Are you Spiritually hungry?

When I was in high school we used to sing a praise song with these lyrics:

Hungry I come to You
For I know You satisfy
I am empty but I know
Your love does not run dry

So I wait for You
So I wait for You

I’m falling on my knees
Offering all of me
Jesus You’re all
This heart is living for

Broken I run to You
For Your arms are open wide
I am weary but I know Your touch
Restores my life

So I wait for You
So I wait for You

I’m falling
I’m falling for You
Jesus You’re all
This heart is living for

I’m living for you

Sometimes our theology is so terrible in our music that we teach ourselves false concepts about God and stunt our Spiritual growth and development.  For instance, this song suggests that we can be living only for Jesus and yet be hungry, empty, broken and weary.

But what does the Bible say?

On Spiritual hunger and thirst:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.

– John 6.35

On direction and satisfaction:

“And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”

– Is 58.11

On fullness and brokenness:

“For I satisfy the weary ones and refresh everyone who languishes.”

– Jer 31.25

On weariness:

Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

– Is 40.31

Jesus declared that He Himself is the bread of life and the living water (John 6.48, 4.10-14).  He promises us that whoever abides in Him will never thirst or hunger again, Spiritually.  He is all satisfying.  He is sufficient.  He is enough.  God declares that everyone who comes to Him will have the strength and endurance to live life without growing weary and tired – but will be refreshed, guided, strengthened and Spiritually provided for.

Those are the promises of Scripture.  The words of Jesus.

So what then, when we are Spiritually dry or thirsty?  When we are empty?  This is no fault of our Lord but of our own.  We are living in our own strength, we are making our own decisions, we are lax in our prayer or study of God’s Word.  Jesus is most certainly not “all we’re living for”.

What about the beattitudes, one might ask.  Did not Jesus Himself say that the one who hungers is blessed?

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

– Matt 5.6

Yes, He did.  But He said that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed.  While we are in our physical bodies, we are at war with the flesh and our sinful dispositions.  Those sins that cause us to stumble are ever present.  Temptation is real.  Ability to fall is permanently attached to our physical existence.  And thus, by being given a new heart and being made a new creation, we abide in Christ.  And it is through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit that we can hunger and thirst for righteousness.

When we are made a new creation, the Spirit abides in us.  We are made one with Jesus.  We cannot be made more one with Jesus.  The Spirit cannot abide in us more or less.  It either is or it is not.  We are either empty or full.  Dead or alive.  Satisfied or hungry.  And when we sin we grieve the Holy Spirit who resides within us.  We can break the heart of God by giving into our temptations and His manifest presence will be distant.  But that is because of our sin alone.  Not for seeking Him and He making Himself hard to find.

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 he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

– Matt 7.7-8

If you seek Him, you will find Him.  If you come to Him, you will be satisfied.  So please, at the moment that you come to salvation, sing that song.  And then live in His presence and soak in His provision, and stop singing that song.  Trust Him that He has a plan and approach Him with all of your thoughts and concerns, because if something does not go how you hoped it to go, that does not mean that He is not there.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

– Job 1.21

“Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?”

– Job 2.10

Hunger for righteousness.  But if you are hungry for God, then come to Him for salvation and let Him rock your world!

satisfaction

 

 

Are you ready?

welsh revival

Revival and outbreaks of new belief have looked dramatically different throughout the generations.  The music, the culture, the methodology of sharing, the outpouring of love for God has looked different across time and culture.  Yet while the appearance and characterizing themes of each revival are so different, the core remains the same.

Revival is a renewed conviction of sin and repentance, followed by an intense desire to live in obedience to God.  It is giving up one’s will to God in deep humility.

– Charles Finney

Revival always demonstrates itself by the conviction of sin.  It is dramatically followed by radical repentance and life-changing practices by the multitudes.  It is preceded by prayer and empowered by the Holy Spirit who transforms people’s lives in ways no one could imagine.

Unfortunately, people have their preferences and their own personal perspectives that often hinder further movements of God, and those who have experienced revival in the past are the most likely to squelch the next one, because the next one always looks different from the previous one.

Why?  Because we get comfortable.  We like the status quo.  Each generation thinks that it is new, edgy, on the front line and different.  And of course, their new way is the best way.  We forget that the reality of God grasping and transforming our lives was completely and totally of Him and nothing that we did.  We see the results of what God did and try to replicate it by doing the same things over and over.  We glorify the new and different in our twenties and continue in it until our eighties.  Did you know that the first “praise music” was shunned by the church at large?  Now most churches sing these choruses and even include some in their hymnals!

How then do we test ourselves and test the movement?  For the most part, we now know that drums are intrinsically not of the devil.  We also know that the musical spectrum of God-honoring music is more broad than a pipe organ accompanying hymns.

We test the heart.  Is the music written and/or preformed for the glory of God?  Or for the praise of the performer?  Is the preaching unto the fame of the orator or to the praise and honor of God by the transformation and repentance of sinners?

Most aspects of culture are morally neutral.  Art can be used for good or evil.  Music can be used for good or evil.  Even preaching can be done with the wrong motives (Phil 1)!  Therefore it is our responsibility as the Church to firstly be broken over our own sinfulness and continually pray and seek revival.  It is secondly our responsibility to love those around us and pray and care for their salvation.  The onus also is heavy on us to redeem the culture for Christ and allow God to use the characteristics of it which He chooses unto His glory!  In the seventies, God used long hair, big concerts and community to rock the nation.  In 1904 God drew the Welsh to revival so strongly that the bars went out of business and police were out of a job.  Newspapers and large town meetings aided the movement!

How can God redeem today’s culture for His glory?  What would a revival look like today?  It would certainly be marked by prayer, the powerful and unashamed preaching of the Word and marked, deep repentance.  People would repent and leave their sin behind.  But the cultural portrayal would most likely be new and different, as the world comes and is redeemed by Christ.

Are you ready?  Are you willing?  Will you put away your expectation of “Sunday best” or your personal disposition for music?  Will you move your Sunday School class to a mid-week gathering in your home?  Will you invite your neighbors to your home and to Church?  Will you die to yourself and let God dictate how He will be glorified through the redemption of this culture?

If you have seen God move before, let’s not hinder his future movement.  Let’s petition Him and be ready.  Let’s die to ourselves.

Don’t be a fool.

Are you a disciplined person?  Do you like structure and order or are you spontaneous and unpredictable?  Both personality dispositions are glorified in different situations and according to different value sets, but what about when it comes to taking advice?  Do you let others speak into your life?  Do you have people that you respect and to whom you will listen and from whom you will take instruction?

Part of the American Dream is pulling ourselves up by our boot straps.  It is having the personal and individual fortitude to understand our situation, make wise decisions, be financially successful (on our own) and have fun in the mean time.  But we learn from Scripture that it is the mark of wisdom to receive instruction, discipline and help.  It is a fool who will not heed advice:

“A fool rejects his father’s discipline, but he who regards reproof is sensible.”

– Prov 15.5

“A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise.”

– Prov 15.12

How often do you receive advice?  When was the last time you brought a decision before someone older, wiser, more mature or Spiritually sound to hear what they would have to say?  We do not even offer advice unless it is heavily solicited, and we typically frame it with the sentiment, “This is just my opinion” and “do what you want to do”.  But issues of right an wrong should not be diluted.  Warnings against error should not be moderated because the hearer might need to “learn the hard way”.  Sometimes people do need to learn the hard way, but we should seek their best by offering admonition to obedience.

“He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.  He who neglects discipline despises himself, but He who listens to reproof acquires understanding.  The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom, and before honor comes humility.”

– Prov 15.31-33

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  If you are offering or receiving advice, make sure it is settled squarely and firmly in the fear of the Lord.  In the teaching of His word.  In the humility of the Spirit.  Let’s grow up.  Let’s listen to those wiser.  Let’s stop being so independent and identifying ourselves by individuality and rely on those whom the Lord has put in our lives.

Don’t be a fool.

discipline

Do I have to go to church?

church

I’m a Christian.  I have been told all my life that God loves me and wants to have a personal relationship with me.  My spirituality is mine, it is between God and me.  Do I have to go to church?

This topic has come up a few times lately and it has pondering, yet again, if we – Christians as a whole – understand what Church is.  What it is meant to be.

Paul speaks directly to the topic.  We’ve all heard it before,

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

– Heb 10.23-25

Do not forsake the assembling of the brethren.  In layman’s terms, don’t skip church.

But why?  When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, He slowly revealed His identity to her.  When she realized that He was a prophet, she tested Him:

Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”

– John 4.20

The Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  When Israel split just after Solomon’s rule, the northern half of the kingdom was taken into captivity and intermarried with other nations.  Thus the Jews from the South considered the Samaritans cross-breeds and lesser of a people.  They were worshiping the same God, but the Samaritans only used the first five books of the Bible and split their traditions of worship to worship on “this mountain”, the mountain Gerizim.

The Samaritan woman wanted to test Jesus, because He was a Jew and because He was a prophet (who had just revealed to her that he knew her life story).  Where is the right place to worship?  Let’s look at0 His answer to her feeble attempt:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

– John 4.21-24

So out of Jesus’ own mouth, we see that location no longer matters.  We do not have to go to the temple or to the mountain.  We can worship God wherever we are.  Therefore, we do not need to go to Church, right?

Wrong.

The very fact that we would ask the question “Do I have to go to church?” reveals two things about us.  Primarily, we do not understand the purpose of church.  Secondly, we do not understand the nature of our faith – if we are saved at all.

The purpose of the church is to worship and glorify God.  To make much of Him.  To praise Him.  To learn about Him.  If you choose your church based on what you get out of it, you fundamentally misunderstand its purpose.  If you choose a church based on whether or not you like the music, whether or not it has a big youth group, whether or not you feel good when you come in, then your heart is in the wrong place.  Because church is not about me and it is not about you.  It is about God.

Does the music honor God?  Does the preaching make great His name and lead you to worship, honor, respect and adore Him more?  Does the youth group, or teaching component for children and families teach them how to know and love God?  Sometimes knowing God is going to hurt.  He calls us to die to our sin, to put to death the deeds of the flesh, and that is hard.  Sometimes it hurts.

Church is also the place where we build community.  In fact, most semi-theologians will be quick to argue that the Church is the group of people, not the building.  Yes, that is correct.  God did not create us as lone rangers.  Our American individualism has distorted the Gospel message.  Two words that the Bible never says are “personal relationship”.  Now, the Bible also does not say the word, “trinity”, but all evangelicals believe in the doctrine.  But the Bible does not teach that Jesus came to die on the cross “just for me“.  No, He died for the sins of the world and all who would believe.

Jesus longs for us to abide in Him as He abides in the Father (John 15).  He offers us direct access to God through prayer by redeeming us (Heb 4.16).  Our salvation is based on our personal repentance and not the faith of another, i.e. our parents (Acts 2.38).  So in that sense we understand that salvation is personal.  And we make our daily decision if we will abide in Christ and become one with Him as He is with the Father (John 17).

But let’s take a closer look at what Jesus says when He says that we become one with Him:

“I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.”

– John 17.11

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.  The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”

– John 17.20-23

We are one in Christ with all other believers.  Our unity in Christ is not just me abiding in Christ.  It is me abiding and unifying with you – the church – in the same manner that Jesus abides and is unified with God the Father and the Spirit.  No, my salvation is not based on your faithfulness and I am not in danger of losing it if you abandon the faith.  But God is concerned about us glorifying Him by dying to ourselves, living unto Him, serving the Church (His body!), and reaching the lost.  These are the eternal things.  When we die, nothing else will remain.

So, do we have to go to church?  Is your salvation in limbo if you miss a Sunday here and there for vacation or work or illness?  No, of course not.  But we should examine our hearts on keeping the Sabbath – a day dedicated to God.  But in general, we must be a part of a local body.  God created the Church as His physical body and representation in the world.  We each have a specific role to play to worship Him, make disciples and reach the lost.

Let’s not get caught up in the legalism of it.  Let’s not abuse our freedom in grace.  Let’s give our lives over to the One who gave His life for us, and serve Him by serving the body:  The Church.

“If you love me you will love the Church.”

The Valley of Vision

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, You have brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see You in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Your glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Your stars shine; let me find Your light in my darkness, Your life in my death, Your joy in my sorrow, Your grace in my sin, Your riches in my poverty, Your glory in my valley.

– Valley of Vision

valley 1

The Danger of Compartmenalization

Have you ever gone on a mission trip, or a retreat or Church camp?  We find that we often experience God much in these settings.  Why does that happen?  Why does God reveal Himself and interact with us when we put ourselves in these situations?

The answer is simple.  We go in expecting to interact with Him.  When we go on a mission trip, we have our quiet time regularly.  We often have a daily devotion with the whole group.  We also pray about the things we are going to do, and we are intentional about our endeavors to talk about Jesus and the Gospel and to serve the lost.  Camp is the same!  We go in expecting something different and we set aside time for Jesus.

I am in a time of transition in my own life.  I am getting married in a few months and all of the big life decisions that come with that are staring us in the face.  One thing that has been particularly heavy is the discussion of where to live.  We would like to be overseas, but will spend at least the first year of marriage in the states.  Do we buy a house and have it available for missionaries to stay when we leave?  Do we build equity and rent it out when we go?  Do we just rent and try to save money?  The housing market in Denver is insane and discouraging, to say the least.  And I found myself quite discouraged last week.

Why?

Because I was trying to make the decision based on what I want.  In college, I intentionally lived in the international dorm to be amongst foreigners.  Overseas I walked and prayed over communities and asked God to provide the exact place He would have for me to live.  But for some reason in Denver, I have started down this path in my own “wisdom” (with my fiance, of course).

Thankfully He got my attention.  And the freedom that has come since Sunday in releasing my “wants” and asking for His direction and trusting that He has a place for us has given me deeper communion with Him and has released the stress of trying to figure it all out.

Is your faith compartmentalized?  What decisions are you trying to make on your own?  What habits are established in your life simply out of normalcy?  How often do you consider your daily decisions in prayer?

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

– Col 3.17

DecisionMaking1