Monthly Archives: January 2013

Biblical Faith

I found this post by C. Michael Patton to be very helpful:

There are four different ways to define faith. It is incredibly important that we, as Christains, don’t go wrong here.

1. Blind Faith: Faith as a blind leap into the dark.

“Faith is a blind leap into the dark. The blinder the leap, the greater the faith.” Have you ever heard this? In the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, this mentality was put on the big screen. Indiana Jones was making his way through the caves through tests and trials as he attempted to retrieve the Holy Grail which would bring life back to his dying father. The last test was a “test of faith.” Here Jones was challenged by a great chasm which separated him from the grail. But when he looked, there was no way across the chasm. The solution? A step of faith. After much hesitation, he closed his eyes, held his breath and took the blind leap. His faith was rewarded as a bridge, unseen to the naked eye, suddenly appeared.

Take something as simple as a chair. God is the chair. He is asking you to sit down (rest) in the chair. If faith were a blind leap into the dark, this is what it might look like:

Faith1

2. Irrational Faith: Faith as an irrational leap

In this view, faith is something we have in spite of the evidence. While everything may militate against our faith, we are to make the most irrational choice of all. The more irrational the faith, the greater the faith. Here is what it looks like with the chair (notice all the rationality is behind you):

Faith2

3. Warranted Faith: Faith as a step according to the evidence

The next option is that faith is a step according to rational evidence and inquiry. In other words, we believe because it makes sense. Everything in life, according to this view, takes faith. Even getting in your car and driving to work takes faith. You have to have faith that your car’s brakes won’t go out, that other drivers will not cross the yellow line, and that you won’t fall asleep at the wheel. These are all steps of faith, but they don’t need to be irrational or blind steps. We can have warranted trust in ourselves, other drivers, and our car due to our knowledge of these things. This is called “warranted faith.” We make our decisions precisely because the evidence supports it, but this is still faith. This is what it might look like:

Faith3

4. Biblical Faith: Warranted faith brought about by the Holy Spirit

It might surprise you to know that while all of these are legitimate ways that the word “faith” is used today, none of them represent the faith expressed in the Bible. The faith that God calls on us to have is neither blind nor irrational. And while we believe our faith is the most rational choice that we can make given the evidence, rational alone is not enough. The Bible says that without outside intervention, we are antagonistic to spiritual truths. If we rely on naked intellect or personal effort alone, even as Christians, we will never truly be able to rest in God. The most important component to our faith has yet to be revealed. What is this element? It is the power of the Holy Spirit. The third member of the Trinity must ignite our faith. Yes, he uses rationale , inquiry, evidences, personal effort, and our minds to do so. But these things alone can only get us so far. In order to have true faith, the power of the Holy Spirit must move within us, releasing us from the bondage of our will. True biblical faith looks like this:

Faith4

It is our will that is the problem. We don’t have the will to trust in God alone. Listen to what Paul says to the Corinthians:

1 Cor. 2:12-14 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Any time we rely on ourselves to rest in God, we are acting as “natural” people. We have to act as spiritual people and call on God to increase our faith through the power of the Spirit as the Spirit energizes our will and intellect.

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The Humbling Hand of God

I read the following quote yesterday. I found it in a book written to pastors, but it is without a doubt applicable to each of us:

There is nothing that will put you in your place, nothing that will correct your distorted view of yourself, nothing that will yank you out of your functional arrogance, or nothing that will take the winds out of the sails of your self-righteousness like standing, without defense, before the awesome glory of God.

In the face of his glory I am left naked with no glory whatsoever to hold before myself or anyone else. As long as I am comparing myself to others, I can always find someone whose existence seems to be an argument for how righteous I am. But if I compare the filthy rags of my righteousness to the pure and forever unstained linen of God’s righteousness, I want to run and hide in heartbreaking shame.

This is exactly what happened to Isaiah, recorded in Isaiah 6. He stands before the awesome throne of God’s glory and says, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”(v.5) Isaiah is not speaking in formal religious hyperbole here. He is not trying to ingratiate himself with God by being oh so humble. No, it is only in light of the awesome glory and holiness of God that you come to have an accurate view of yourself and the depth of your need for the rescue that only a God of glorious grace can provide.

Tripp, Ted, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, p. 121


Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

On this, the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade court decision to legalize abortion, the well-known words of the Psalmist are in order: 

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand (Psalm 139:13–18a).

Long before you and I took our first breath, God knew us because he was busy forming us. His love had already been cast upon us. The life forming in his mother’s womb was already precious to the Heavenly Father. The gift of life is indeed to be treasured at all stages. May we seek to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

The Singing God

Sarah’s father had been a demanding tyrant. His so-called “love” for his daughter was cruelly and continually dangled in front of her like the proverbial carrot on a stick. His promise sounded tantalizing to Sarah but ultimately rung hollow: “If you look pretty, I’ll love you. If you make good grades, I’ll love you. If you are successful and helpful and don’t embarrass me in front of others, I’ll love you.”

I’d heard similar stories before. But that didn’t make her words any less difficult to endure.

“I was never quite pretty enough, slim enough, smart enough,” Sarah told me. She never did get a bite of that carrot. All she could remember was the bitter aftertaste of her father’s disdain and rejection. Sarah and I spent considerable time working through the destructive consequences of her lack of experience with a father’s love.

But we weren’t making much headway . . . until I asked the question, “What does God feel when he looks at you?”

“Pity,” she snapped back, never pausing to think about it.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I’m pitiful. I’m pathetic,” she said.

For the next hour or so I explained to Sarah how much God loves her. I labored at finding just the right words to convince her it was true. It was tough going. I explained the depth of his love as expressed in the cross of Christ. I used images, vivid metaphors, and countless word pictures. They all failed. The idea of a loving Father who enjoyed her was incomprehensible to Sarah. Nothing seemed to make sense.

GOD SINGS OVER YOU

Then I had her read Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

“That’s how God feels about you, Sarah!” I told her. “He looks at you, he thinks of you—and he sings for joy!”

She was stunned. “God sings? God sings? Over me?”

After a few moments of shocked silence, tears began to well up in her eyes and eventually streamed down her cheeks. “Sam, are you sure?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“But I’m so pathetic,” she protested. “I really am. I’m overweight, and I’d die if anyone saw the inside of my house right now. It’s almost as messy as I am! My husband is furious at me again. I can’t do anything right. And you say God sings over me with joy? I doubt it! More likely, he’s screaming in disgust. My dad used to do that.”

Again I asked her to read the passage: The Lord my God is in my midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over me with gladness; he will quiet me by his love; he will exult over me with loud singing.

The tears returned.

GOD ENJOYS YOU

Sarah’s reaction to Zephaniah 3:17 was dramatic but not unusual. I’ve seen it again and again. It has led me to a simple but startling conclusion: what makes life livable is enjoying the joy that comes from knowing that you are enjoyed by God.

This in no way minimizes our responsibility to love God. The greatest commandment in the Law is that we love the Lord with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind (Matt. 22:37). Not loving God is, therefore, the worst of all human sins. What I have in mind, though, is his love for us, his deep, emotional, loving movement toward people he created in his image. So let’s not reverse what the Bible sets in order: “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10, NKJV). Our love for God is a reflex of his love for us. He loved us first! We must be careful not to invert the sequence.

Tomorrow no longer terrifies when your soul knows God’s delight in you.

I’ve been a Christian for 51 years. I’ve been a pastor for 38 years. I guess that makes me “old” and somewhat experienced. In any case, I’ve seen more than I care to remember of human pain and predicaments. I’ve counseled rebellious teens and lonely senior citizens. I’ve spent hours with bitter wives and their passive husbands. I’ve cried with victims of sexual abuse and rejoiced with those set free from bondage. Their problems may be different. Some are men, others are women. Some are old, others young. But the one thing they share in common is the deeply felt need of the human soul to know and feel that God loves and enjoys them.

The one thing that gives us hope, the one thing that conquers despair and brings strength for the struggle is the assurance that no matter how bad the problem may be, God loves us. Pain becomes bearable and tomorrow no longer terrifies when your soul is touched with the reality of God’s delight in you. That is why I have written this book.


A Monday-Morning Prayer

Gracious Lord,
Your name is love,
in love receive my prayer.
My sins are more than the wide sea’s sand,
but where sin abounds,
there is grace more abundant.
Look to the cross of you beloved Son,
and view the preciousness of his atoning blood;
listen to his never-failing intercession,
and whisper to my heart, “Your sins are forgiven,
be of good cheer, lie down in peace.”
Grace cataracts from heaven adn flows for ever,
and mercy never wearies in bestowing benefits.
Grant me more and more
to prize the privilege of prayer,
to come to thee as a sin-soiled sinner,
to find parden in you,
to converse with you;
to know you in prayer as
the path in which my feet tread,
the latch upon the door of my lips,
the light that shines through my eyes,
the music of my ears,
the marrow of my understanding,
the strength of my will
the power of my affection,
the sweetness of my memory.
May the matter of my prayer be always
wise, humble, submissive,
obedient, scriptural, Christ-like.
Give me unwavering faith
that supplications are never in vain,
that if I seem not to obtain my petitions
I shall have larger, richer answers,
surpassing all that I ask or think.
Unsought, you have given me
the greatest gift, the person of your Son,
and in him you will give me all I need.

Guilt is a Chauffeur

Christians typically bounce off of two extremes:
  1. Undervaluing the work of Christ by clinging to our own merit
  2. Undervaluing the work of Christ by wallowing in our guilt

This is as dangerous as it is insane (and unbelieving).

Sometimes I find myself bouncing off of these opposing and perilous walls within the same day.

Typically the chariot that brings in and provokes these responses is guilt. Guilt roles in because we are sinners. We become aware of our sin. We realize our lack of conformity to God’s Word. We know of our spiritual laziness. We know of our failure to do what God requires. And so we feel the guilt.

Now, before we impugn guilt as the enemy, let’s realize what it has done. All guilt is as rationale response to sin. We become aware of our sin. This is fine. In fact, it is healthy.

But it is what we do from here that is critical.

It is spiritually deadly to assuage that guilt by quickly gathering together our own supposed merit. We become like one whose house is burning down and is scurrying to grab the valuables. So we quickly grab our morality, spiritual disciplines, and legacy of faithfulness. We then run out of the house set aflame by guilt but realize everything we are carrying is burned up. It has no value.

The other dangerous response is to stay in our guilt. It is sit and wallow in it. We are reminded that we have sinned by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit using the Word of God. The dangerous response is to sit there and give up. It is deadly to wallow in guilt. It saps joy as it eclipses Christ.

Then there is the right option. The gospel option. Listen to Hebrews 10. I was reading this today in my devotions and got a good and loving gospel-slap upside the head.

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Heb 10.14)

I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more (Heb. 10.17)

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin (Heb. 10.18)

Just let that soak in. Perfection, sanctification (holiness), atonement, sin removed, forgiveness. Do you hear that? This is such glorious news.

But it is not all.

Even in this passage we have the reminder of the basis for this acceptance and the remedy for post-conversion guilt:

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’ ” (Heb. 10.5-7)

Do you see this? Christ Jesus came to do the Father’s will. As the sinner’s substitute Jesus came to completely obey his Father’s will. He was always doing what was pleasing to his Father (John 8.29), it was his food to do God’s will (John 4.34), his whole life was about doing the work he was called to do (John 17).

And why is this? Because you and I are sinners. We sin before conversion and we sin after.

What this passage reminds us of is the fact that through the obedience of Christ’s perfect life he has fulfilled God’s obligations for righteousness. And by the death of Christ on the cross Jesus has fulfilled the penal (penalty) requirements of not being righteous. That is, he lived for us and he died for us.

Listen Christian, by the doing and dying of Jesus you are accepted. This is not just the day of conversion but throughout your Christian life. This is good news indeed.

Therefore, when the chariot of guilt rolls in (and it will), don’t run from it and don’t take orders from it. Instead, hop aboard and give it directions. Tell it to drive on over to that hill called Calvary where Jesus put an end to all of your guilt and shame. And then sit there for awhile, smiling and singing of the glory of Christ.


Humbled by God

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1–6, ESV)

Job’s story is timeless and captivating. Trouble rains down upon his life and all but his breath is stripped away. His friends told him that it was his sin that brought all this pain and agony and if he would simply repent, the clouds would break and the sun would shine once again. But Job was adamant: his suffering was not the result of his sin (which was true — see Job 1-2). However, as the book moves on and Job continues to defend himself against his friends’ accusations (“you must have done something, Job”), Job’s tone because to take a haughty and prideful air. One begins to get the sense that Job wants God to take a the stand.

But then in Job 38-41, God speaks. He tells Job to man up (38:3) and get ready to defend his foolish and haughty words (38:2). He ask Job if he knows where the snow is stored (38:22), if he knows how to stop waves (38:11) or move stars in the sky (38:31-33). He reminds Job of his position as created being and God’s own role as creator/sustainer of all things.

When the dust settles, Job is thoroughly humbled. No longer does he call God to account. No more does he shake his fist in defiant challenge. He admits he had no clue what he was talking about. God never tipped his hand to Job as to the reasons for Job’s pain and suffering. And he rarely does with us either. At times, our cluelessness about our predicament can give rise to anger, resentment and their air of spiritual pride that says, “Who are you to allow this into my life, God? I don’t deserve this. You’ve got the wrong guy!”

But right along with Job, we need to remember who’s God and who’s not (that’s us). We need to remember that God’s not obligated to give us answers. In reality he gives us something better: himself. He offers a deeper relationship with him and sustaining grace through the midst of our pain. It’s not easy to be humbled by God, but being fashioned into God’s image was never promised to be easy.

Be willing to let God humble you today. Take a few moments to ask him how your thinking about him or your circumstances might be wrong. Ask him to reveal the blind spots in your spiritual life. Be willing to admit when you’re wrong or when you’ve sinned. Repentance was the only balm that could bring healing to Job and it will do the same for you and I.