When Jesus doesn’t fix it.

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How is your faith?  Is it strong?  Is it weak?  Do you doubt or question often?  Or are you rock solid, like a tree planted by a stream?  If you are a normal human being, chances are that you vacillate in between the two extremes regularly!  When Jesus was walking the Earth, He preformed many miracles.  And when the disciples were amazed at his to speak death over a fig tree, Jesus said to them:

“Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.”

– Mark 11.23

This is truly a phenomenal statement.  Jesus, as God of the universe, promises that whoever has faith without doubting can literally cast a mountain into the sea.  Have you ever seen that happen?  Such an occurrence has never been documented…  When Jesus had sent the disciples out to proclaim His coming, they encountered a demon that they were unable to cast out.  To this, Jesus said,

“And He said to them, ‘Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you’.”

– Matt 17.20

Jesus rebuked the disciples for having to little faith to cast out a demon.  They had enough faith to try, but the demon itself was more powerful than their faith.  Jesus’ answer was that even the smallest amount of faith – the size of  a mustard seed – would not only cast out demons but move entire mountains.  Exorcisms have been documented and noted around the world, but again – no mountains relocating.

This teaching of Jesus has been greatly distorted and abused.  There is no an entire sect of Christianity that essentially worships faith and chastises people for their situations – declaring it to be a result of nothing other than their lack of faith.  Are you sick?  You have too little faith.  Did you lose your job?  You do not believe enough!  Is your child straying form the Church?  You have to believe it for it to be fixed!

This teaching is not only dangerous, but heretical.  Why?  Firstly, because it idolizes faith and not the object of the faith.  Instead of pointing people to Scripture to claim the actual promises of God like Rom 8.28 – “All things work together for good for those who love God” – it points to the individual’s heart.  If you are in crisis, the onus is on you to muster up faith bigger than a mustard seed so that it will be made right.  Faith in what?  Faith that it will be fixed, of course!  Instead of glorifying God, instead of teaching people to depend on God, this worldview focuses on the individual, the problem, and neatly forces people into a corner.  You have no one to blame but yourself for your situation, and the only hope you have to is press in harder and force faith.  Bland, pointless, self-gratifying faith.

Secondly, this teaching is heretical because it is simply not the intention of Jesus.  When we take this teaching to its logical end, it necessarily fall apart.  Why?  Because everyone is going to die.  Scripture promises that not only will we all die, we will all subsequently stand judgment:

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…”

– Heb 9.27

Everyone is going to die, regardless of the amount of faith that we have.  Even if your life is posh, comfortable and without major crisis, you are going to die and then be judged for your actions while you were alive.  No amount of faith can alter this destiny because it is ordained by God as the result of sin.

What does this one single truth consequently teach us?  Blind faith and object-less faith is meaningless.  You might truly believe that you can fly.  But if you jump out of an airplane without a parachute, you will not fly.  You might concoct a suit that allows you to soar or float, but you do not have the innate ability to fly within your body.  You might truly believe and have faith that your bank account will suddenly be multiplied to millions of dollars overnight.  But unless you work hard, win the lottery or somehow have the money added to your name, your faith alone in a bigger bank account will not generate that money.

But more importantly, it is not “faith alone” that saves us.  Our souls are not saved simply because we have faith.  Scripture says,

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

– Eph 2.8-9

It is by faith alone that we are saved.  What is the difference?  We are saved by faith in something, and that something is the grace of God.  We cannot will our salvation by believing that we are good enough, that we have done enough, that we are simply OK.  Our faith must be in the promise and provision of God alone.

And do you know what else?  God never promises to heal all of our pains or satisfy all of our desires.  In fact, eleven of the twelve disciples were killed for their faith.  The early Church was scattered by the Roman Emperors persecuting and murdering them.  Christians throughout all generations have suffered great and terrible persecution, had their land plundered, their families killed and jobs lost.

I wrote earlier this week on Jesus’ miracle at the pool of Bethesda.  You can read that here.   When Jesus approached the pool of Bethesda, there was a multitude – a huge crowd – of people who were sick, paralyzed, physically handicapped and waiting for a miracle.  Jesus went in and chose to heal one man.  Just one, out of a huge crowd.  He healed that man and then slipped out so no one saw Him.

Why?

Did Jesus not come to heal everyone?  We do see in some stories that Jesus occasionally invested much time to heal everyone who was around (Matt 4.23, 9.35), however that is not why Jesus came to the Earth the first time.  He declared that His purpose was to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Matt 18.10).  If you survey every time Jesus declared His purpose in coming, without fail He references salvation and/or dealing with sin.  He did not come to end suffering or bring about the New Earth.  He did not come to take everyone to Heaven, and when people believe in Him He leaves them on the Earth to continue to tell other people and does not sweep them away to Heaven.  Why?  Because He is giving us time to get to know Him and to tell others about Him.  While we suffer.  While we struggle.  While we are persecuted.  While things go badly.

He will come to take away suffering!  He is coming back, and when He comes the second time, it will be to free us from disease, sin, sickness, and pain.  But that was not His intention in His first appearance, and it is not His intention for us now.  Our faith in God is unto salvation, not unto pleasure or health.  This is why Paul consistently talks about his personal suffering and why he encourages the early church as they persevere through tribulations and trials.

Thus we cannot simply have blind faith in a mountain moving, or a sickness being healed, or a physical need being met.  Jesus promises acts of God when we have faith in God, and faith that aligns with His will.  We cannot have faith in God that we will be healed if the sickness we currently have is that sickness which will lead unto our death – because God has appointed a time for each of us to die.  We cannot thwart His will or decree by believing the opposite.  What we believe must be grounded in the promises of Scripture and consequently the will of God.  Jesus left many people unhealed, hungry and desolate.  Why?  Because His purpose was to bring salvation, not comfort.  Therefore if we believe that God will do mighty works to bring about salvation and Spiritual growth, then and only then are we guaranteed the mighty works of God.  Faith the size of a mustard seed in the promises and provision of God will save our souls eternally and move unimaginable mountains for the furthering of the Gospel.

So let us believe great things from God.  Let us attempt great things for God.  Let us continually allow God to grow, mold and strengthen our faith.  But let us remember that God’s primary concern in our faith is not our health, not our success, not our happines, but our holiness.  That one man Jesus healed at the pool of Bethesda was sternly warned by Jesus,

“Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

– John 5.14

Jesus did heal him physically – and He will heal us physically, most times, but He was primarily concerned about the man’s holiness.  This man had been paralyzed for 38 years, and Jesus warned him that if he continued sinning something worse would become of him, namely, eternal damnation.

So know the promises of God.  Claim the promises of God.  Enjoy Him and trust Him for eternal salvation.  And trust Him through the trials which He is currently allowing in your life which you do not particularly enjoy.  Because He is working those things together for your good and for His glory (Rom 8.28).

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Claiming the promises of God.

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Have you heard about the “name it and claim it” principle?  Some people live by the code while others think it is nonsense.  Some people have over-spiritualized a single proverb to give unwarranted power to the Devil and humanity:

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruit.”

– Prov 18.21

And while it is true that the tongue is a mighty force for which we will all give an account (Mat 12.36-37), and James calls it a fire set ablaze by Hell which no one can tame (James 3.5-8), Scripture never promises or warns us that the simple utterance of a statement will forever bring God’s or Satan’s power upon us.  Speaking ill of someone or something will not give Satan any extra incentive, insight or ability to malign a person or situation.  Speaking a promise of God will not guarantee that things will immediately turn to your liking.  This one proverb does not bestow upon us the power of life and death!  When we read the entirety of Scripture, we understand that Jesus alone holds the keys to death and Hades, that God is sovereign over every minute of our life and Satan only has the impact God allows on our lives (Job 1-2)

What then does it mean death and life are in the power of the tongue?  It simply means we can greatly encourage or greatly hurt someone by the things we say.  We can build others – and ourselves up, or we can break people down.  The tongue is definitely a fire set ablaze by Hell and it hurts people, but it also builds them up.  Just like other proverbs teach, in more direct language:

“There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

– Prov 12.18

Ok, so the tongue has no supernatural power to command the power of God or give opportunity to the Devil.  But did Jesus Himself not tell us that whatever we ask in His name He would give it?  If we name the promises of God, or claim our desires in His name, will He not grant them?

“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

– John 14.13

That sentence is so alluring.  It appeals to everything we Americans long for:  a powerful genie who will satisfy our desires and make us happy, healthy and wealthy, all without any commitment from or impact on our daily lives!  But let’s look at the greater context of this promise:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.  Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.  If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.  I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.”

John 14.12-17

Jesus came to the world to live a simple life – He had no home, He had minimal belongings, He was persecuted, murdered and raised back to life in order to bring salvation to all who believe.  He preformed miracles to proclaim the power of God so that people would believe.  These types of works, He promises, will be preformed by His followers to continue the effort, to the end that God is glorified and people are saved.  He has granted the Holy Spirit to guide and direct believers, and He promised to empower us to be vibrant witnesses to the glory and power of God.  This is why we are regularly hearing of miracles, dreams, and supernatural occurrences around the world where the Gospel is being pioneered.  Jesus by no means promised that we could ask Him for personal health, gain or pleasure and be guaranteed it.  He promised to validated our claims to His deity.

However, we absolutely should make it a daily habit to claim the promises of Jesus.  His promises are the key by which we will defeat sin in our lives.  His promises are the strength by which we will make it through trials and tribulations.  His promises are glorious and that by which we have our hope.  Let’s look at some of the promises of Jesus:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

– Matt 11.28

“…I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

– Matt 16.18

“…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.20

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

– Heb 13.5

“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

– John 8.31-32

Jesus promises to give us rest, to empower us to proclaim the Gospel, to remain with us until the end and He will never leave us.  If remain in His truth, we will be set free!  It is because of all of these glorious promises that Paul boldly says (and exemplifies):

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

– Phil 4.13

This, again, however is a verse that is regularly and grossly taken out of context.  Let’s look at a few more promises of Jesus:

“For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”

– Matt 10.35-36

“You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

– Mark 13.13

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”

– Matt 10.16

“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.”

– Matt 24.9

“But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues…”

– Matt 10.17

Paul summarizes these promises of Jesus, the example of His life and the expectation we should have when encountering the world thus:

“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

– 2 Tim 3.12

In this light, and in the context of the verse, we understand Paul to proclaim that He can indeed to anything through Christ:  he can suffer persecution, he can go hungry, he can be shipwrecked, and he can proclaim the Gospel:

“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

– Phil 4.11-13

It is of utmost importance that we always understand Scripture in its context, that we examine a particular promise and teaching against the rest of Scripture, and that we are true to the author’s original intention.  Jesus lived a life of poverty.  We are promised that God will provide everything we need (Phil 4.9), and also that everything will work out for our good and for God’s glory, if we love God (Rom 8.28).  Our needs and our good, however, might very well be poverty, persecution or even death.  Our family members may never come to salvation.  Our country may kill us.  But in the midst of that, it is always God who is at work to grow us to Spiritual maturity and work out our salvation – and this, friends, is the greatest promise we could ever have.

“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.13

Therefore, let us be mindful of the promises we claim.  Let us be respectful of the situations around us and always remember the path Jesus walked.  Let us consider that perhaps God knows what is best for us, better than we know ourselves.  Let us trust Him, as we pour out our hearts to Him and wait for the answer He gives us to our prayers.  Our tongues have no supernatural power by which we empower Satan or release the blessings of God.  We do not speak literal life and death into people.  God alone is sovereign and God alone provides, and He is faithful if He provides in the way we want – and He is faithful if He provides through suffering and tribulation.  Let’s trust Him.  Let’s claim His promise that He is working out our salvation to His glory.

Does Jesus Want Me To Be Poor?

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We’ve all heard the popular teaching of Joel Osteen and the promises of the Health and Wealth Gospel.  Preachers on TV are promising us that God wants us to be happy, healthy and rich.  The level of faith that we have directly parallels our financial and personal success.  The Prayer of Jabez, after all, is an example of praying for our own personal prosperity and God blessed him and called him righteous, right?

The opposite extreme sprinkled throughout evangelicalism today looks at the Church in large.  They consider the Persecuted Church, they examine revivals, history, and the overall nature of the Church to say that no, Jesus is not concerned with making us rich, but that He wants us to give to the poor and to live a simple life.  Ultimately they become various levels of ascetics.

So.  Does Jesus want us to be rich?  Or does Jesus want us to be poor?

We are called to be stewards.  

“And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few.  From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”

– Luke 12.47-48

This passage is extremely familiar.  Surprisingly, however, it is speaking about actions and not finances.  It is a principle that applies over and onto finances, but God is concerned about our hearts.  Jesus Himself said that all of the Law was summed up in these two: love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22.37-39).  If we love God above all else, then our talents, our time and our finances will be spent to His glory and honor.  If we love our neighbor as ourselves, we help meet their needs, we put them above ourselves and glorify God with our time, energy and finances.

Paul makes the very clear assessment of our abilities (which again, applies to finances):

For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

– 1 Cor 4.7

But most fundamentally we all know that,

“The Earth is the Lord’s and everything it contains.”

– 1 Cor 10.26

It all belongs to God.  Everything.  Including money.  So whatever you have – gifts, talents, finances, freedom, slavery, jobs, family – it is all God’s.  And He has allowed us to use it for a season.  We are stewards of His belongings.

For my ascetic friends, I would like to point out the fact that many of our forefathers were among the richest men who ever lived.  Solomon was worth, in today’s dollar, approximately 100 billion dollars.  That is substantially more than Bill Gates’ worth.  David, Abraham, Joseph, Jacob and many others were granted physical and financial wealth in the roles that God gave them.

For my rich friends, I would like to point out the fact that the very humility exemplified by the creator of the universe was to leave the throne of glory and come to Earth, living without even a place to lay his head.  He kept minimal possessions and when He sent the disciples out to serve Him, they were to rely on the hospitality of others for their sustenance.

Our responsibility is stewardship of what God has given us.  When we consider our finances, let’s ask this simple question, “Is God glorified in this?”  When you stand before God on judgment day, will you be ashamed of how you spent your money?  Or your time?  Will you be proud of the toys, the clothes, the house, the comforts that you bought?  Or will you know that you gave sacrificially to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and put one another’s needs above your own?  Will you look back and find that your finances served God or you?

I used to wrestle with giving money to beggars.  I always wondered for what they would use the money.  But one day I realized that God would hold him accountable for how he used the help that he received.  He would only hold me accountable for my willingness to help.  I am confident that I will not stand before Him and He say, “You should not have given that money to that beggar.  You should have bought a new shirt with it instead.”  Now, if God has given you the mind and ability to help the homeless establish themselves in jobs and fight addictions such that they are able to feed themselves, and all you do is throw a twenty in their cup, there might be something to answer for.  But that is between you and God.

Jesus was comfortable with a woman pouring out extremely expensive perfume on his feet.  There are times for extravagance in the worship of Almighty God.  Jesus does not say that to follow Him we must be poor.  In fact, He says that we are to care for the poor.  So we must be stable enough to be able to give in order to care for the poor.

It’s about our heart.  We must be satisfied in God alone, and consider His provisions as tools to serve and glorify Him.

“…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

– Phil 4.11-13