Faith Thoughts

Sometimes my mind gets locked into word-association games. Driving home from work, I listened to a song about faith, and began thinking of words related to its concept. I came up with belief, trust and confidence, and tried to relate them to faith, to discern their differences in meaning. First, they all flow from faith. The dictionary tells us belief is an idea or concept held to be true. It can be based on evidence, or not. Trust and confidence are closely related as the belief that something won’t let us down. That’s why we assume a rope won’t break when we’re dangling by it a thousand feet above jagged rocks.

After checking any number of dictionaries, the Biblical definition of faith is—wonder of wonders—far and away the best. “Now faith is the essence of things being hoped, the evidence of things not having been seen.” (Heb 11:1)

Faith is an abstract idea, rather like love. They both require actions to demonstrate their existence, and a source other than the person exercising them. Really, that’s not such a strange idea. Breathing uses muscles which require energy. That energy comes from the food we acquire, chew, swallow, digest and metabolize. And none of that will happen without the oxygen we breathe. It’s a “chicken or egg” conundrum, answerable only by attributing those actions to God’s special creation.

Jesus provided a prize example of faith’s purpose in Luke 17:5, when he and his students discussed forgiveness. They couldn’t see how it was possible to forgive someone 7 times a day, so they asked Jesus to increase their faith. They understood that Jesus was their source of faith, and they didn’t even have seminary diplomas.

But there’s another conundrum: To ask for faith, one must exercise faith. So where does one get that faith? The answer is in vs. 6: “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you.”

Okay, where do we get that mustard seed of faith? It’s part of our God-given, human nature, like our capacity for love and our human spirit, that God meant to give us spiritual vision. But we perverted all that when we sinned. Since we have warped spiritual vision, we search for tangible things in which to invest our faith, and find plenty of perversions to fill the bill. Only when God’s Spirit takes the scales from our eyes can we see the only worthy Object for our faith. At that point we must choose, whether to continue our quest for perverted substitutes, or to gaze at His beauty in wonderment, and place that mustard seed of faith in Him.

There begins a lifetime of choices between growing that faith, or killing it. Thanks to His Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples know which way to go … we just have to do it!

Encouragement From Psalm 119

They’s a whole lot of bowin’ goin’ on.

I normally think of Psalm 119 as the God’s Law-Psalm, as that’s pretty much what it’s all about. Today, however, BibleGateway dot com treated me to a surprise:

Psalm 119:165 Great peace have those who love your law;
    nothing can make them stumble.

For one thing, if you and I struggle against God’s Law—meaning his expressed will for your life—peace will be the last thing you experience. And if that’s the case, you won’t stumble because you’re already as low as you can go. Far better to find yourself on your face before God voluntarily.

Some religions require the faithful to prostrate themselves toward a holy city … or else! Or they might require you be circumcised. Or pray through a set of beads. Or any number of different religious mandates. Christ-followers have no such requirements. All we have to do is love our neighbors as ourselves, and bless those who curse us. Easy as pie, right?

Not right! Following the law of Christ is far more difficult than following all those religious formalities. You don’t have to do anything, other than keep your mind and motives pure and unstained by the world system. Oh, and the apostle James mentions religion in his New Testament book:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27)

And then there’s Apostle Paul:

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)

WOW! They said a mouthfull. But at least you don’t have to get on your knees and bow to Mecca three times a day.

Bringing Psalm 42 Home

Psalm 42 speaks to me today as balm to my depressed soul. It doesn’t counter this depression, but encourages me in it.

Depression always looks for a scapegoat, and as I refuse to allow my depression to place the blame on my faithful God and Savior, it falls on me by default. Why would I tend to blame God? Because for years I’ve begged him to motivate me, to grow me up into a true man, ie., a Christlike man, but I still wallow in my passive depression, unable to move against this mess I’ve created around me.

I’m talking about a literal mess, as interpersonal relationships evade me at present. I look around this apartment and see tons of stuff closing in on me, chores that I haven’t done, my body settling out of condition, and words not writing themselves (even though I now type away).

Is God not strong enough to overcome my lack of will? I know better than that! Does he not love me as his word leads me to believe? That cannot be, as I know his love experientially.

That leaves just one possible explanation; my loving, faithful, gracious Lord is working in the background, unseen and unfelt, and in his perfect timing this will all make sense to me.

Psalm 42 has two very similar verses that directly minister to me:

42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.

42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, my God.

God is who he is, and I shall yet praise him.

To The God of My Life

Psalms 42 blessed me this morning. And when I began a word-study on it the blessing multiplied. This psalm is a maschil (instruction) that King David designated for performance by the uber-talented sons of Korah. If that name sounds familiar, their father participated in a rebellion against Moses, God’s appointed leader.

This Psalm begins with, As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? 

We know King David was rich, both materially and spiritually; God considered David a man after his own heart, so if that lofty king hungered and thirsted after intimacy with God, should you or I do any less? As if to make sure we know that he sought only after the only true, living God, King David specified that fact.

We have all experienced something akin to unrequited love, so how must God feel when we take him for granted? If your soul doesn’t pant for intimacy with God, you just don’t know him.

My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say to me, “Where is your God?” If you think no one has ever challenged you with that question, think again. The popular entertainment and news media ask it when they shove worldly values and philosophies at you. And what about the government schools, especially secondary schools? Their atheistic professors openly challenge anyone who professes faith in God. Many church kids who attend secular colleges have no problem adopting naturalistic ideas, but for the few who have seriously committed their lives to God, their “tears have been (their) food day and night.”

Christ-following students and workers in a secular environment can deeply relate to verse four: When I remember these things (in the first three verses), I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, With the voice of joy and praise, With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast. The world has never catered to believers, and even less, now that most people subject themselves to a constant barrage of worldly influences. When speaking of faithful believers, the word “multitude” no longer applies. Even our churches are giving in to the world’s complacency; while worship-leaders often raise “The voice of joy and praise,” how many in the pews enthusiastically join them? You’ll find more joy and praise at sporting events and political rallies than in church.

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. Good question! This is the part of Psalm 42 that first cemented my attention. As King David reproved himself for entertaining discouragement in the face of God’s glorious might, I must follow suit. How often have David’s psalms opened my eyes to my pity-parties, and jerked me straight? Sure, the guy really knew how to praise God, but he also wasn’t afraid to reveal his weakness, which suggests to me Apostle Paul’s triumphant declaration in 2 Corinthians 12:9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

In verse six, the musician-king reiterates his discouragement, illustrating for my benefit the instability of his roller-coaster emotional ride: O my God, my soul is cast down within me; Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, And from the heights of Hermon, From the Hill Mizar. But immediately he runs back to his Source of victory: Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me. King David realized that God had allowed all his trials, his “waves and billows,” for his divine purpose. Now David cries out his triumphal statement: The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, And in the night His song shall be with me— A prayer to the God of my life.

In the daytime of God’s glory, and in the night of my discouragement, his song shall be with me, and so I utter my own prayer to the God of my life: Father, all praise and honor comes to you for your incomprehensible grace toward me through your Son’s blood and in his name.

Non-Swimmer’s Lament

Surf, but not for some
who dive in, get wet,
who know real surf,
and thrill to the threat.

Cold water, so refreshing,
life healing, and
soul cleansing, but
it may be messy.

I want to be bold,
to get soaking wet,
yet, I may catch cold,
so I play at the edge.

Spirit says, “Come to me!
Leap into my waters!
Refresh yourself,
nothing else matters.”

So I leap, in halting faith,
swim warm—
not cold,
soaked with infinite grace.

Why did I not leap sooner,
a coward to the core?
But he is always faithful,
that I might fear no more.

C.S. Lewis Asks, Do You Have Rats In Your Basement?

cartoon-rat

Honestly, this has little to do with rats or basements, as you’ve probably already guessed. But it has a lot to do with … well, I’ll let Uncle Jack clarify the issue:

We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case. When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.
From C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity

One concept that often confuses people is “sins” versus “sin.” Sins(plural form) are simply acts that are contrary to God’s expressed will, whether or not anybody sees you do them. Some clever preacher came up with a catchy phrase about the two kinds of sinful acts: “Sins of commission, and sins of omission,” but differentiating them isn’t always easy. Sins of omission often cause sins of commission because the sinner has neglected the necessary preparation to resist temptation. It’s the old “If I had done this, I wouldn’t have done that.”

Sin(singular form), however, isn’t just one sinful act. It’s the condition humans are born into ever since that fateful day when the first humans first tried to stick it to God. We’ve all seen “fails” videos, but that was the first, and the worst, fail of all. Can you imagine how Adam felt when he realized God wouldn’t accept his cop-out? I’d say it involved the world’s first, and worst, blush. Ever since then we’ve all tried to put one over on God, whether it’s trying to con him with our lame excuses, or simply ignoring him while alleging that he doesn’t exist.

Here’s a clue: your snubbing God doesn’t hurt his feelings. And you don’t have to be an atheist to snub God. Many who claim to be Christians routinely snub him, by refusing to take their feelings, their faults, and their failures to him in prayer.

And speaking—or writing—of prayer, there’s confusion about it, similar to the confusion about sin; prayer, and prayers, aren’t the same thing. “Saying ones prayers,” implies a deliberate, one-time or routine act of devotion to God. And that’s a great thing as far as it goes. But God said he wants us to “pray without ceasing.” Fortunately, he didn’t mean we have to constantly kneel beside our beds praying. It’s much more subtle than that. He meant we need to always see, think, and do things in a way that will allow us to go to him in prayer at any instant. It’s like walking with your loved one; you won’t always have things to say at any given moment, but just being with him or her comforts and affirms you. That’s what relationship is all about.

 

Peace Like a River

Horatio G. Spafford had ample reason to feel anything but peace that day in 1873 as his ship carried him over the spot where his four daughters perished in a shipwreck a few weeks earlier. Rather than sink into the slough of despond, however, he penned the following words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27) The world freely gives no peace at all, but occasionally it reluctantly grants temporary lapses in violence. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, had something entirely different in mind, something those invested in this world system cannot grasp.

This morning I awoke feeling awash in a river of peace. God has taught me—and continues teaching me—that feelings aren’t facts; a hard lesson for any natural human being to learn. But God’s peace is entirely unnatural, so when that is what we feel, it must be from him.

During that unnatural moment, I pictured the river of peace as like the Columbia River, carrying millions of gallons of water swiftly from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. If all that water just lay there with no circulation it would become brackish, a breeding place for mosquitoes and disease. But it moves, slowly enough to be safe for navigation, but swiftly enough to keep it fresh, washing all its organic matter out to meet the purifying sea water. Like the mighty Columbia, God’s peace washes all the potentially putrefying matter from our lives, refreshing us moment by moment as only his Prince of Peace can do.

Please, don’t fall for the world’s counterfeit peace, but hold out for the unconditional, sanctified peace that only Christ can give.

Words of Christ in Red

Opinion-time, everyone. The bug bit me while I was studying Proverbs chapter eighteen—rather odd, as it contains no “words of Christ.” But that’s where it gets interesting; Jesus Christ is God’s eternal Word in the flesh, and he authored the verbal (both the ancient, oral tradition, and the written) Word of God from start to finish (John 1:1-18, 2 Timothy 3:16). In view of these facts, can any part of God’s verbal Word not be Jesus’ words? Highlighting Jesus’ words in the gospels implies that they are somehow more reliable or have more authority than the balance of Scripture, which is theologically unsound.

That said, I understand how novices in Bible-study might prefer “Red-Word” Bible editions, but I would also caution them against assigning those red words undue significance. There is a heresy that says Jesus’ words carry divine authority, but the rest were written by (sexist) men, most especially that male-chauvinist-pig, Paul.

To deny any part of God’s Word is to deny its Author, and we wouldn’t want to do that, would we?

Brain Dead

Well, not brain dead in the literal sense, but I feel that way. Unlike Homer Simpson, though, I fully realize my current depth of stupidity. A couple of circumstances are conspiring against my creative thought processes: First, a case (not a half-case or a six-pack) of asthmatic bronchitis is keeping me planted in my chair; even though I’m on the mend I am anything but peppy. Second, my “stay-awake” medicine is awaiting my doctor’s prior approval, leaving me firing on half my mental cylinders. How can one lousy ream of red-tape take so long to be completed?

I have so much to be thankful for, however, that even mentioning these trivial trials seems ungrateful. That leaves me wondering how I would handle real hardship. But I know my loving heavenly Father will give me the grace to accept, and spiritually prosper under, whatever he allows to come my way. I love his promise through Apostle Paul’s words: And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:19-20)