faith

Tuesday Devotional: Luke 17

bibleRead Luke 17:4-10

The commands of Jesus are sweet but they must always bring us to cry out to God, “Increase our faith!”  The commands of Jesus are beyond what we are capable of achieving.  His ways are higher than our ways.  The commands of Jesus are not comfortable and they do not fit nicely and neatly with our way of life.  The way of Jesus is Holy and we are sinful.  These two natures are incompatible and contradictory to one another.  This is what we face when we read the words of Jesus and receive His proclamation over our lives.  We are called to enter the narrow gate.  We are called to count the cost.  We are commanded to die to self.  We are commanded to repent and submit our lives to the authority of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  We are commanded to be reborn and to be transformed in the likeness of Jesus Christ.  We are commanded to leave everything and to lose everything of this world in order to receive and possess the love of Jesus Christ in our lives.  We are instructed to believe that with faith in Jesus even the most daunting and impassable obstacle in your life can be moved.  Believing that we can live the life Jesus commands us to live requires a faith that can only be revealed through faith in Jesus and by receiving the power of the Holy Spirit.  Beware of living a life following Jesus where you never utter the words, “Increase our faith.”  We cannot follow Jesus without pleading every day for God to increase our faith in Jesus Christ.  Christians who are loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled require faith and more of it that in Jesus all things are possible.  Heavenly Father, increase our faith!

 

Tithing: Joyful Giving

coins

The Christian character amounts to nothing without love, and tithing amounts to nothing without joy. It’s not difficult to understand why or how tithing and joy are rarely seen in each other’s company today. As we discussed, giving what we believe belongs to us is an act that our sinful nature automatically opposes. Giving what we have means that what was once ours is now gone; we have less while someone else has more. We often find joy in receiving and possessing an abundance of one thing, and giving destroys that passion of ours, “to get.” But God is absolutely clear that giving in His name must never be done without joy. To give under a shadow of obligation, resentment or bitterness is a gift that he warns us not to give in the first place.

 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.      

 Isaiah 1:11-15

“The multitude of your sacrifices—
   what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
   of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
   in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
   who has asked this of you,
   this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
   Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
   I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
   I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
   I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
   I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
   I am not listening.  

 

Isaiah 43:22-24

“Yet you have not called on me, Jacob,
   you have not wearied yourselves for me, Israel.
You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings,
  nor honored me with your sacrifices.
I have not burdened you with grain offerings
   nor wearied you with demands for incense.
You have not bought any fragrant calamus for me,
   or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices.
But you have burdened me with your sins
   and wearied me with your offenses. 

Jeremiah 7:21-26

“‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. But they did not listen to me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their ancestors.’

 

Malachi 3:6-12

“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.

Joy is among the fruits of the Spirit Paul identifies in Galatians, a characteristic of the Christian spirit. This joy is not a joy that one talks themselves into or practices. Likewise, it is not a joy void of the reality that suffering continues to persist in the broken world we live in. The joy of a Christian goes much deeper than that. The joy of a Christian stems from its foundation, which is forever and always Jesus Christ. To know Jesus Christ is to have been saved by him. To be saved by him is to know that without his saving grace we were destined to die. Joy in tithing stems from that very same foundation. The joy of tithing contradicts our typical impulses or desires. Born out of the spirit of God, this giving defies the logic and rationale of the sinful human mind. The Christian character thrives when worshipping God, and to tithe is to lift others up by giving of ourselves. Ultimately, to sacrifice out of love for another is the most powerful emulation of the Father and his son Jesus Christ and thus, the truest form of worship.

Tuesday Devotional: 2 Kings 6

bibleRead 2 Kings 6.1-7

Grace is a concept easy to accept upon becoming a Christian but more difficult to believe as we begin our walk with Christ.  We know how much Jesus has done for us.  We know how our prior condition was not only harmful to ourselves but to others around us.  We know that the promise of eternal peace and joy in Heaven is real.  We know that the struggle with our sinful nature is ever-present and ongoing.  However, after “knowing” all of this, many Christians fail to move.  They feel like to move is to open the door to making the wrong decision or going in the wrong way or hearing the wrong thing from God.  We are paralyzed by fear, suffocated by hypotheticals and worst-case scenarios.  We don’t want to mess up.  We don’t want to make a mistake.  We don’t want to lose what God has offered us.

But while all of these feelings are natural and justifiable, where is the heart of the Gospel?  Where is the cross?  Where is the resurrection?  Where is Jesus?

When you met Jesus, did you meet a savior who sought opportunities to punish wrongdoers, or who brought healing and forgiveness?  Did you meet a savior who set traps for people to fall into or who was the first to reach out and touch the unclean and unworthy?

The tragedy of the Christian is the fear of making mistakes.  While the Gospel of Jesus Christ MUST establish a new heart and a new way of life, must seek to honor God and His commands and must never tolerate sinful behavior, there is still grace.  There MUST be grace! There is still understanding.  There is still the authority of the living God to cover a multitude of sins by the righteousness and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

The mark of a Christian is how often and willing we are to allow God’s authority and glory to be revealed in us.  This often comes by the action of faith.  The faith of a Christian is believing that the living God is real and is with us.  The God of Creation commands us to move, to work, to live, all for His glory.  If we love God and choose to serve Him with all that we are and all that we have, mistakes no longer become a paralyzing fear.  Fear of making mistakes is predicated on an expectation of perfection.  Punishment is associated with fear, and if we believe in Jesus, we know the punishment was His and is not ours.  We will of course make mistakes. We will fall.  However, the God of Creation has never demanded perfection from us, but has desired for us to choose Him first.  Our salvation does not hinge upon our perfection.  Our salvation rests on if we believe in Jesus, who embodies perfection.  Faith in Jesus allows us to try and fail, to move and to fall and to reveal a Father who loves that we believe.

Reflection: The Virgin Birth

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. 

Support for belief in the Virgin Birth can be traced backwards through five important events in the history of the Christian Faith:

  1. The Ascension
  2. The Resurrection/The Crucifixion
  3. The Gospel
  4. The Virgin Birth

In our final week reflecting on the virgin birth of Christ, let’s consider what that event means for faith in Jesus.

 

After tracing the story backwards from the Ascension, to the Resurrection and Crucifixion, to the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels, we find ourselves at the place where the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus can be believed, where the Gospels and the writers of Gospels begin in the flesh.  Whereas Matthew and Luke both include the story of the Virgin Birth in their narratives of Jesus Christ, the prophecies that the Messiah would born to a Virgin in the specific town and from the exact line that God had guided and blessed since the first man of Eden no longer seem historically unbelievable. The impossible becomes not only possible but plausible, and the life of Jesus Christ stands as the one and only Savior of the world, born to direct us to the hand of God at work in the world we live in. “With God all things are possible,” as the angel Gabriel told Mary, and as one traces these landmark events in the Christian faith back, including the virgin birth, one finds that God does not require belief purely on blind-faith in the impossible, but rather we discover a greater faith in the impossible becoming possible through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Virgin Birth: the Gospel

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. 

Support for belief in the Virgin Birth can be traced backwards through five important events in the history of the Christian Faith:

  1. The Ascension
  2. The Resurrection/The Crucifixion
  3. The Gospel
  4. The Virgin Birth

This week, let’s consider how the Gospel and ministry of Jesus support our faith in the Virgin Birth.

For years the Gospels were viewed by many critics and unbelievers as works of fiction compiled by believers desperate to create a story worth believing, hell-bent on forcing others to believe in it. As history has come to validate the life and death of the man named Jesus, history has done the Gospels equal justice. The years in which the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were estimated to have been written have slowly worked their way closer and closer to the actual time of Jesus’ passing in roughly 33 C.E. In the presence of more research and study of the Palestine area, the information in the Gospel of Luke has slowly been legitimized piece by piece as fact, as opposed to fabrication or amateur scholarship. The Gospels as we find them now, of a man who clearly died and must have resurrected in order for the discussion of the virgin birth to be happening in the first place, are not only more evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but included within them are incidences of divine power unparalleled by any prophet, teacher or spiritual leader. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only time in history where the Creator God literally entered into human existence in order to display his unlimited power over creation in the man of Jesus Christ. The Gospels document these moments by those who witnessed the divine power firsthand, as John recounts:

 1 John 1-4:  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

Thus we find ourselves in a place where the Ascension, Resurrection and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ have been given solid footing in historical fact. Now we find ourselves in a place where the Gospels and the writers of them have been given historical validation as being the source of a life lived by the man Jesus Christ from a place of eyewitness testimony.

Reflection: The Virgin Birth and the Ascension

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. 

Support for my belief in the virgin birth can be traced backwards through five important events in the history of the Christian Faith:

  1. The Ascension
  2. The Resurrection/The Crucifixion
  3. The Gospel
  4. The Virgin Birth

This week, let’s consider how the Ascension supports and fulfills our faith in the Virgin Birth.

Debate about the origins of Christianity and its various doctrines often dominate, and at times tend to hijack, opportunities to share and witness the Good News to believers and non-believers alike. While debate often arises over certain topics like the Virgin Birth, in some ways this becomes the classic example of putting the cart before the horse. Instead of arguing or debating the historicity of the virgin birth, we should be asking a much more important question: “Why are we discussing Christianity in the first place?” The mere fact that Christianity is being discussed is a much more important topic for discussion and inquiry.

The only reasonable explanation for the emergence and survival of the Christian faith is that a man named Jesus Christ actually lived, died, was buried, resurrected and then ultimately ascended into heaven, out of the sight and reach of his believers, only to then bless them with the power necessary to teach and physically heal the world through the power of his name. The mere fact that the Christian faith has survived persecution, outlasted empires, emperors, tyrants and wars is an almost unbelievable historical fact. The fact that men and women throughout history have affected the world the way they have, in the name of Jesus Christ, is evidence that they were touched, healed and gifted with extraordinary abilities that are inexplicable even to the persons who received them except by the one Name: Jesus. The fact that there is a debate about the virgin birth is proof that Christianity is a faith worth discussing.  Jesus did not live and die an old, wise man in the arms of his faithful followers, but, after a violent death, he resurrected and ascended as he promised, and is currently seated at the right hand of the Father.

Tuesday Devotional: 2 Thessalonians 2

bibleRead 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

When we are experiencing suffering or trials, the suffering itself is often not the cause of our pain.  The cause of our pain may be more related to our perspective of that suffering.  It is a question of size.  When we experience a setback or tragedy it becomes far too easy for our problem to balloon to an irrational size, overwhelming everything else in our lives.  As our problem grows in size, we shrink, and feel overpowered by it.  In this state, the comforting words of a friend to “stand firm” are typically received with thanks, but are of little practical use.  In this state of despair what we need is not necessarily a power to remove the suffering, but something powerful enough to restructure our perspective.  What we need in these moments is something bigger than our suffering.

For many, the primary purpose of the Bible is comfort in times of suffering and helpful hints in times of confusion.  This approach to the word of God is not only mistaken, but is a travesty when one understands the why we were given the Bible.  This misuse of the word of God is the equivalent of using a brand-new Porsche to haul firewood.  The purpose of the word of God is not to comfort us or instruct us.  The purpose of the word of God is to define us.  The word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, is that very thing that can restructure our perspective, providing us the hope and strength we require in order to persevere through and over our suffering.  The word of God is big.  It is not only big in the sense that God is big and if he is in control then we can have nothing to fear.  It is big in that from the beginning God has included us, along with billions of others, in his family, the family he has protected with his life.  The word of God not only gives us a starting point that validates the desires of our heart and the longings of our souls, it gives us the way that so many have walked before us— and prevailed.  The word of God is not stories and lessons to learn from.  The word of God is our story. It is our story because it is his, and he made us.  The word of God gives us hope in standing firm that goes beyond good advice.  It grants us the perspective of creation and transformation, which began with God and is continually brought about by God.  In the face of the suffering of this world, the magnitude of God and our place alongside him has the ability to reduce any and all trials we face.  If God is for us, then who can be against us?  If God is with us, what problem can ever overwhelm us?

 

Candles, Cakes, and Prayers: the Unspoken Answer

We previously discussed the idea that people lose faith in prayer due to the absence of answers to their prayers.  For some people the lack of change in a given situation is proof that the entire process is unreliable.  However, this approach to prayer limits and confines God and the way he responds, only leaving room for answers that satisfy us personally.  To approach a limitless God with limitation is to ascribe to God characteristics more like our own than like his.  And if God is more like us and less like who he claims to be, belief is altogether hopeless.  If he is like us, he is incapable of achieving the impossible, and offers us nothing at all.  The mere act of prayer is built upon the assumption that God is, in fact, not like us, but is something more.

For many, the absence of change after fervent and committed prayer seems to make the case that God has not responded at all and will not in the future.  The problem with this approach is that by limiting the time in which and the method by which God can produce a result likewise limits the growth which, perhaps, God has intended for us to experience during this painful waiting period.

When we find ourselves facing a seemingly impossible situation, that appears to be without solution or cure, we have two options.  The first is to quit and close down.  By following this option one might become bitter, resentful and angry.  The result of a shutdown is isolation from people who care, and from the things in which they once found joy and hope.  The second option is to keep going and to open outward.  Pressing onward in the face of a challenge is always the tougher option.  It requires intense endurance, strength and patience.  While it is harder, those who persevere and endure through difficulty do not often regret that choice.

We learn the most about ourselves and about life when we proceed through setbacks and find greater lessons and development beyond.  The absence of immediate rescue does not imply a God who does not answer.  Intense sufferings is loud and disruptive, but when we are waiting on an answer to prayer we often expect the answer to be just as loud. As we wait in silence, God speaks with a still, small voice.” There are times when God allows the silence so that we are able to hear His voice.

There are several instances in the Gospels where Jesus explains to his disciples that if they believe in him completely, anything they ask for will be given to them.  This is an amazing promise, but it creates a dangerous trap for some Christians if they leave their understanding of Jesus’ teaching at this incomplete stage.  Jesus’ desire to provide for his disciples is taught repeatedly during his ministry.  But to assume that anything we ask for, no matter what, will be given to us, is to leave this promise incomplete, to relegate Jesus to the level of the “Genie in the Lamp.”  Jesus did make this promise to answer prayers. However, he also said that he would not give to us as the world gives.

In other words, the solution we see to our troubles might not be the solution that God sees.  For example, a person might think that getting a sought-after job will bring them joy and confidence. So, they proceed to pray to God to get the job.  Perhaps God knows that this job will ultimately create more stress, and leave the thirst for true joy and confidence unsatisfied.  If this person believes that God promised to give them everything he or she asked for, they may well resent God when they fail to get the job. Such a person fundamentally misunderstands God’s will and desire.  The promises of God are not to give us the things we most desire or the relationship we most long for.  While those things might bring us temporary joy and happiness, the desire of God is to heal us at our deepest level, to fulfill our longing for joy and happiness in Him.

As children, we wanted everything we saw in the toy store, but most likely did not get everything we asked for.  While this created tension between our parents and us at the time, not getting everything we asked for taught us more than we could have foreseen at the time, and nurtured a more complete growth in us as healthy individuals who would have become very different people had we been given everything.

Prayer is a vital and permanent part of the life of a Christian.  It is found throughout the entire Bible, and attempting to avoid it while trying to follow the Bible is impossible.  To be a Christian is to inherently be associated with prayer at all times, as Jesus demonstrated.  Jesus made a clear priority of prayer in his daily life, spoke often about prayer and insisted that his followers share his need for prayer in their lives as well.  But praying is not simply to be done out of reflexive obedience.  Prayer is a dialogue that is both powerfully real and powerfully effective.  Prayer is not simply hoping for the best or wishing for the miraculous.  Prayer is a conversation. It is the expression of a heart’s desire to someone who, though already possessing perfect knowledge, cares to listen and desires to help.  It is not confined to a schedule, or limited by superstition, like a birthday party, a shooting star, or a bedside.  Prayer is ongoing.  Prayer is ever-present.  Jesus was constantly in prayer and he called his disciples to be as well.

A good conversation is not easily had but always cherished.  It escapes the bonds of time and creates communication that could go on forever.  Many people never experience the beauty of prayer as a conversation between God and us due to the silence at the other end of the line.

While the silence is unavoidable and we will never literally hear the voice of God, it is from within the stillness of the soul and the silence of the heart that God promises to speak.  He promised not to give to us as the world does, and this relates to the way we are meant to hear his voice.  A friend telling us to “take it easy” will sound comforting in the moment, but as we part ways and the conversation comes to a close, our soul remains restless and our mind uneasy.  Perhaps, while God’s words remain unheard in prayer, the true answer of peace is in what we feel that validates his response and not what we hear with our physical ears.  A prayer left without audible or visible response does not necessarily mean a conversation left unheard.  God promises to listen and promises healing for our pain.

The question we must ask is, “Do we really believe?”  Or, when we sit down to pray, is the façade simply the physical act of praying?  In which things do we place more confidence, birthday candles or God?  Perhaps the analogy seems silly or childish, but just as our entire approach to God and the Gospels of Jesus is grounded in faith, we must ask ourselves honestly if there is faith in our prayers, or mere fantasy, ritual and superstition.

Candles, Cakes, and Prayers: Spoken but Not Heard

man-praying-dark

source

Here’s Part 1 of the first half of our ‘Candles, Cakes and Prayers’ reflection series. The intro to the series is here!

When wishing on birthday candles it is clear to all, although perhaps not to the innocent child doing the wishing, that the wishes are falling on deaf ears.  Adults understand that although wishes are being made, no one is listening in, to set the wish granting process in motion.  Wishes are being made to candles atop a cake. The story ends there, without debate.  One of the reasons why some people relegate their prayer life to the same fate as those old birthday wishes is that the number of wishes made compared to the number of wishes fulfilled is lopsided at best in favor of silence. Many feel that this wishing with our eyes shut over newly lit birthday candles, or kneeling at the bedside, is nothing more than wishful superstition that has no place in the “real world.”  As we outgrew the birthday candle tradition, we soon realized that we possessed much more power to affect real change in our lives by our own effort. No need to place any hopes whatsoever in silly “childish superstition.”  These hopes were grounded in fantasy and to actually count on them was to set oneself up for certain disappointment.  We came to the realization that no one was listening; therefore, there was no need to do any more talking.

Many people have put such hopes in God, only to see their wishes left at the stage of simply a wish or a dream.  There are countless cases where people have prayed for a miracle, only to find that the answer was never revealed.  One such example was Jesus himself who, while desperately praying for deliverance from his suffering, heard nothing in return, leaving him feeling entirely “forsaken.”

When our trust in God is merely at the level of the “Genie in the Lamp,” or the magic of a candle wish, we find that such a “God-Genie” is ineffective.  This idea of God even sneaks in with those who truly feel as though they understand and believe in the “will of God,” and they can be likewise disappointed by the “failure” of God to respond.  This level of disappointment and lack of response brings many to the state of wishing to candles when they bring their hands together, kneel, and close their eyes.

Tuesday Devotional: Deuteronomy 32

bibleDeuteronomy 32:48-52

48 On that same day the Lord told Moses, 49 “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. 50 There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people.51 This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. 52 Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”

The true value in walking with God ultimately has nothing to do with what we have received or will receive in return for our walk.  The true value of walking with God is simply that: the walk.  As we walk we receive insight into his character and are welcomed into a relationship with him that is close, personal.  This walk only reveals truth and is grounded in love.

A true relationship is “being” and not “getting.”  Being with that person is the only reward you seek.  From this understanding of God and our experience with him, we are then prepared to face the confrontation between God’s will and our own with complete understanding.  If our walk is based on the expectation that our efforts will reward us, we will be left bitter.  However, if our walk is anchored in the walk itself, the experience of walking with God as his beloved child will remove any preconceived notions of what we will receive or what he is supposed to provide.  The walk with God cannot survive disappointment if avoiding disappointment was the motivating factor for walking in the first place.  A genuine walk with God results in heartfelt thanksgiving of blessings received along with “blessings” withheld.  It is never about the getting or the giving.  It is simply walking.