When Jesus doesn’t fix it.

question-mark

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).

The Danger of Prophecy

A woman riding a horse

A little over three years ago, my life fell apart.  Up until then, I had success in dreaming my dream, pursuing it, and living and working my dream job.  By-in-large, things went the way I wanted them to go, and I was happy, satisfied and fulfilled.  Suddenly and completely outside of my control, it all fell apart.  I found a new job and moved to Denver Colorado and started looking for and building community.  A friend took me to meet one of her friends, who was and elderly missionary who was highly influential in an inter-denominational mission board.  After eating lunch together and talking about common interests, he said, “Let me prophesy over you before you go”.

This was a new experience for me.  I was raised in more traditional belief systems, and while I was exposed to a level of charismatic variation in college being a part of Campus Crusade for Christ, this was the first time someone so boldly set out to speak God’s future intentions over me.  I have absolutely no recollection of what he said to my friend as I was busy praying, scanning through relevant Scriptures in my mind and wondering what was about to happen.  He turned to me, grabbed my hands, and closed his eyes.  Moments later he began speaking in that spiritual voice we all use when we pray, and he said, “I see you riding on a horse, at full canter.  Back where your heart desires.”  He opened his eyes, and said that I would certainly be back on path to my dream in just a short period of time.

Even in light of my upbringing and reformed beliefs, I am by no means a cessationist.  Many, if not most, in my circles of comfort have lived their entire lives in the Christian West which has come to believe God as sovereign over eternity and over salvation, but not involved in anything supernatural [in practice, at least].  We pray for healing but expect it to come through doctors or time.  We pray for intervention, but watch for it in explainable ways.  I, however, lived in a third world country for four years where people interact with the Spiritual world on an entirely different level.  And while I still wonder if I have the faith required to speak as the local Christians in these situations do, I have seen many miraculous events which directly led to the furthering of the Kingdom, which are inexplicable apart from God’s direct intervention.

In my circles of comfort, they would heartily agree that God continues to work miraculously in pioneering situations, where the Gospel has not yet gone, where there is not yet a Bible or Christian witness, but I do not see that taught in Scripture.  I think often times we simply do not have because we do not ask [or believe] (James 4.2-3).  If God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and if God is sovereign over all creation, then he is both capable and willing to work in ways we cannot understand (Heb 13.8, Ps 103.19).

We also see an interesting example of prophesy in the book of Acts.  Again, my background would seek define prophesy as “speaking the Word” or “speaking the authority of God – via the Scriptures”, but we all know – both from reading the Old Testament and from the normal use of the term – that prophecy usually implies telling of the future.  It is rare that someone gets up to proclaim Truth (as in the Gospel) and defines it as prophecy.

“On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him.  Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses.  As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”’  When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.  Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’  And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done’!”

– Acts 21.8-14

The book of Acts is an historical document that informs us of what happened, often without making a moral claim on the incident.  Luke assumes his readers to have a grasp of the Law and the will of God enough to determine God’s intention behind and the acceptability of those actions.  Thus, it is exceptionally dangerous to build doctrine based on the actions of a person in the book of Acts without weighing it against the rest of Scripture.  That being said, Luke openly names Philip’s daughters as prophetesses and when Agabus spoke by the authority of the Holy Spirit, Paul and his cohorts not only listened, but believed the prophecy to be true.  Those present begged Paul not to continue, and Paul had already made peace with that destiny, revealing later that the Holy Spirit had already told him the same thing:

“And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.”

– Acts 20.22-23

This is a direct foretelling of the future, that was not about Kingdom advancement (people coming to faith) and that was fulfilled, thus validating the prophet.  We are taught in the Old Testament to evaluate and test prophets by the occurrence of their prophecy:

“When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”

– Deut 18.22

Paul spoke clearly of the gift of prophecy in many of his letters throughout the New Testament, and we see him interacting with the prophet Agabus, and we also see that the Spirit directs, warns, and reveals things to come to him.  We also believe, as Christians, that Jesus and John in the book of Revelation prophesied about the End Times.  And we are left now, in the Church Age, with a wide spectrum of variations on the practice:  some completely ignoring it, and others grossly abusing it.

It is so distorted, in fact, that some churches hold prophesy classes and conferences, promising to teach people how to prophesy over one another and assigning people partners to practice.  They stand before God demanding that He give a word for another person that is extra-biblical.  This is extremely dangerous folks.  And many times we end up with a psychic-like vision of a girl, riding a horse at full canter, implying that she will soon be back where she wants to be.  What does that even mean?  The Holy Spirit told Paul not only that he would be bound, but how and where.  It was not a vision left for interpretation, it was cold, hard fact.  This man might have seen a bold and driven spirit in me, and thus it would be a normal assumption that I would work diligently to pursue my dream, and thus his “vision” would most likely be self-fulfilling.  But God has seen fit to teach me, through this season, to wait on Him and not force my way.  For three years, I have waited on Him and learned faith.  Quite the opposite of this man’s prophecy.

People also grossly distort prophecy with the prosperity Gospel:  “God is going to bless you greatly, good things are coming your way” and similar hogwash.  Yes, God has promised that all things will work out for the good of those who love Him, but He has also promised that all who desire to live a godly life will suffer (Rom 8.28, 2 Tim 3.12).  Jesus appointed twelve disciples, and eleven of them were murdered.  New Churches were established throughout the known world shortly after Jesus returned to Heaven, and the believers were scattered by persecution and murder.  Jesus Himself was hated and murdered, and He promised us that in the same way people hated Him, they will hate us (John 15.18-20).  Is that your God?  Does your lifestyle and expectation of God allow for people to plunder your property and imprison you, and you to respond in joy?

“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.  For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.”

– Heb 10.32-34

So what is the takeaway here?  It is simply this:  God is bigger than we expect.  He not only can, but does speak to us.  Often times it is directly through His Word, but He can also speak through His servants as prophets.  We cannot, however, force God’s hand to speak through us or to us through another.  Prophecy training and/or conferences will put people in a vulnerable situation in which they will get hurt and disappointed in God, expecting extra-Biblical blessings or promises.  Promises of vague blessings will be a self-fulfilling prophesy that we super impose on our situations.  And God will never promise or foretell anything that is against His nature.

Thus, if you believe that God has given you a word for someone else, test it against Scripture, and pray over it diligently.  If it is in any way contradictory to the Word, do not say it – it is not from God.  If it is in line with Scripture, then share it boldly – but know that your words will be proven with time.  If someone offers you a word from God, immediately examine it against Scripture, and pray over it diligently.  If I had taken this man’s word as truth, and pushed through to do what I wanted to do, my faith would be nowhere near where it is today, and I would have missed out on meeting my husband and being a part of wonderful things happening at my local church.

Prophecy played a role in testing Paul’s and the disciple’s faith.  Prophecy may play a role in maturing our faith as well.  But let us be passionately careful to never place our hope or expectation in the prophecy, but in the God who alone can fulfill it.  If the prophecy does not point you to Jesus and to greater faith, it is dangerous and takes our hope from Him and places it somewhere else.  Prophecy is extremely dangerous, because it can distract us from our only hope:  Jesus Christ.  Unless something is promised to us in Scripture, let us hold loosely any other promises or fore-tellings.  Let us know that we have been given everything that we need for life and godliness in the Scripture and in Jesus, and anything else is just icing on the cake (1 Peter 1.3).

Do you know how much you are worth?

love

Counseling and self-helpism today focuses highly on one thing:  Know and love yourself.  We are already culturally ingrained with our “rights” and personal justice, but depression, frustration and discontentment often set in to our hearts when things don’t go our way, when we fail to achieve a goal, or when life turns out to be different than we hoped or expected.  Our response is to give ourselves a pep talk, and try to force everyone around us to acknowledge our worth.  Suddenly, everyone and everything is beautiful.  We are all amazing.  We all deserve the best.  And the result is expending exuberant amounts of energy making sure everyone is happy, all of our statements are politically correct, and no criticism is offered – aside from pointing out how companies or individuals in power are offending us and our worth.

Christianity has fallen prey to this wicked mindset.  We see it grossly on the macro level, from teachings like “name it and claim it” in the prosperity gospel.  We take promises of Jesus out of context like, “In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.” (John 16.23).  We twist this and believe Jesus to be saying that He will give us a new car, He will give us a new house, He will give us children, He will make our lives easy and comfortable – the only requirement is that we have enough faith!  Therefore say it.  Claim it.  And it will come to pass.  This heresy takes the glory and focus off of Jesus and places is squarely on our shoulders.  If you are suffering, if you are not happy, if your life is not going how you desire – then change your thinking!  If you believe it, it will happen.  God has gone from our Lord to our personal genie.

But we also see it slipping in on the micro level, with less obvious alarms.  We sing songs like: “There could never be a more beautiful you”, we study devotionals about our personal worth: “If you were the only person on the world, Jesus would have still died for you”, we encourage one another when we sin: “Everyone struggles with that, it is just a small sin, don’t beat yourself up over that”.  In fact, we call those sins mistakes, not sin.  And while it is a glorious and unfathomable truth that God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to live a perfect life on the Earth and to take the weight of sin upon His shoulders, suffer and die, the glory and the focus is not on our worth.  The glory and the focus is on Jesus.

Everything happens to the glory of God.  
We exist for the glory of God.
God does not exist for our glory.

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

– Rom 11. 36

“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

– Phil 2.9-11

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

– 1 Cor 10.31

And the Bible is quite clear about our status apart from Jesus in regards to God’s glory:

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

– Rom 3.23

We have all fallen short of the glory of God.  Without Jesus, without His atoning work on the cross, without God’s merciful gift of salvation through allowing Jesus to pay the penalty for our sin, we deserve Hell.  We deserve separation from God.  We deserve nothing.  That is fair.  That is our worth.

God so loved us that He sent Jesus.  This is not a proclamation of our worth, this is a proclamation of the glory of God!  I am not worthy of Jesus dying for me.  The glory of the Gospel is that I am most assuredly not worthy of His death, but He suffered it anyway.

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

– Rom 5.6-8

Paul teaches us here that a good man, an honorable man might die in the place of someone who is righteous.  A body guard might offer his life for the president.  A father might offer his life for his child.  But none of us – of our own nature – would die for a wicked person.  But God did exactly that.  He saw a world full of people who deserve nothing but wrath, and chose to intervene by sending Jesus to die in our place.  We were sinners!  We were His enemies!  We were dead in wickedness and had no inclination towards Him, whatsoever.

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

– Rom 5.10

“And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach…”

– Col 1.21-22

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

– Rom 8.6-8

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”

– Eph 2.1-2

There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God, all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”

– Rom 3.10-12

Jesus did not die for us because we were worthy of it.  The Love of God, in offering us a method to be forgiven from and freed from our sin is not because of our value.  Jesus died because of His value.  The love of God is most highly glorious because it worked for our good in spite of us.  The glory of love is not its object.  The glory of love is the one giving it.

The reality is that there can, in fact, be a more beautiful me.  The reality is that I am not worthy of God’s love.  The reality is that life is not fair.  The reality is that God is working all things for my good (Rom 8.28), and for some of us that means He will withhold certain pleasures (2 Cor 12), He will allow temptations and trials (1 Cor 10.13), persecution will come (2 Tim 3.12), and some of us will even be killed for our faith (Matt 24.9).

We will find out greatest joy and our greatest pleasure when we stop looking at ourselves.  We will grow old.  We will get sick.  Our physical appearance will fade.  Telling ourselves we are beautiful and wonderful will not appease those needs and desires within our soul.  We will suffer, we will be persecuted, and we will be required to endure trials.  But if we turn our attention, our focus and our worship to God then we will find the utmost joy and pleasure.  He will mature us Spiritually through trials.  Let us no longer ask, “Do you know how much you are worth?” but rather consider God and how great His love is – who offered His son for our salvation when we did not deserve it.  He is of highest glory and all worth.  He loved us in spite of ourselves.

We are not worthy of God’s love.  We are not worthy of salvation.  And this reality amplifies the beauty and worth of God, and should lead us to love Him more, the be more thankful, to seek to honor Him and obey Him.  Let out lives be a response to the glory and magnitude of God’s love and value, not the value we try to convince ourselves we deserve.

Therefore Choose Life.

“I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give them.”

– Deuteronomy 30.19-20

I think it is so dynamic that God paints such a black and white picture here.  We can choose life or death.  We can choose to live under the blessing or the curse.  Who would knowingly choose death?  Or the curse?  But we do it everyday!  This is a direct quote from God.  And what does God say choosing life is?

  1. Loving the Lord your God
  2. Obeying His voice
  3. Holding fast to Him

The foundation is love.  We must know Him and enjoy Him!  Obedience without love is futility.  And we cannot hold fast to Him if we do not obey Him.  Choosing life is a progression.

Choosing life over death might sound good, but when we understand what it means exactly, perhaps it looses some of it’s appeal.  Less time living for ourselves, focusing on ourselves, pleasing ourselves and more time living for God, focusing on Him and pleasing Him.  But how do we come to the understanding that living for ourselves is death?  It is the curse?  For myself, it doesn’t take long to live for pleasure and realize that it is not satisfying.  Yes, I truly enjoy riding my motorcycle.  The road.  The solitude.  The scenery.  Working the bike.  But after a few hundred miles my rear end gets tired.  The sound of the pipes deafens me.  The hotels get expensive.  My dad likes to joke that he loves getting on his motorcycle, and he loves getting off.  Worldly pleasures are fleeting, but God does not disappoint.  His mercies are fresh and sustain for eternity.  If God is boring to you, the problem is not Him.  I guarantee it.

And once we know Him, obedience to Him deepens our connection because we need the power of the Spirit to obey.  And by relying on the Spirit to obey, we cherish and hold fast to Him.  Let us strive to know, obey and hold fast to God – and therefore have life and blessing!  This passage actually says that our obedience to God and our life are dependent on and determined by our love for Him!  Now, I in no way  am proclaiming a prosperity Gospel – God knows and determines our steps and he numbers our days.  But our days are full and established, according to this passage, by our love, obedience and clinging to Him.