January 5 2015

More Faith? Or less Unbelief? 05:05 pm

If I asked you if you wanted more faith, I’ll bet most of us would say “yes”. But in 2nd Peter 1 it states that God’s divine power has (already) given us everything we need for life and godliness.

Jesus said that faith the size of a mustard seed would grow up and become a great tree – and that nothing would be impossible to us. Romans 13 verse 3 in Young’s Literal Translation says “to each God did deal a measure of faith”.

It seems clear that we DO have faith – scripture says we do. Take just a moment and say to yourself mentally, “I have faith. I DO have faith.”
So then why do we think we need more faith? For me personally it’s because I don’t see as many of my prayers answered as I’d like.

But maybe more faith isn’t the complete answer. In Matthew 17 we see the story of the man with a lunatic son. While Jesus was gone for a time, the disciples could not cast out the evil spirit that caused the boy to convulse.

When Jesus returned he rebuked the spirit and it left the boy. When the disciples asked “why?” it reminds me of ME asking God why – why isn’t my prayer answered?
Jesus responded “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Jesus contrasts faith with unbelief or doubt. The point we need to focus on here is not that we need more faith but that we need a littler unbelief. James covers this as well. In James chapter 1:6 – 8 in the Amplified it says about asking God: Only it must be in faith that he asks with no wavering (no hesitating, no doubting). For the one who wavers (hesitates, doubts) is like the billowing surge out at sea that is blown hither and thither and tossed by the wind. 8[For being as he is] a man of two minds (hesitating, dubious, irresolute), [he is] unstable and unreliable and uncertain about everything [he thinks, feels, decides].

The one mind is in faith and the other doubts – this is a double-minded person and we’ve got to get rid of one of them!   What we need here is to put our doubts on a diet. We need to starve our unbelief so that our faith can work.

Paul wrote that we walk by faith and not by sight so it seems fair to say that seeing has something to do with doubt and unbelief. It is much easier to look around at fearful things than it is to believe God. In Matthew 14 we see Jesus walking on the water. Peter responds in faith by stepping out of the boat onto the water. In verse 30 we can see the results of “seeing” –

30 But seeing the wind, he [Peter] became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “(1) You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

In Young’s Literal Translation Jesus says to Peter, “Little Faith! For what didst thou waver?”

So what are some ways to starve your unbelief into submission? Well just like with a diet it’s not always easy. Paul calls it warfare in 2 Corinthians 4: for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

Unbelief smothers faith. Unbelief makes faith ineffective and unbelief causes faith not to produce. When we’ve prayed in faith for something we may begin questioning ourselves internally, producing doubt, unbelief and skepticism. This may lead to fear on our part and fear is the opposite of faith or another way of saying it is fear is faith in reverse.

Notice that when Jesus came up against his biggest challenges he did not allow himself to be moved or affected by crowds, questions, or what he could see with his physical eyes. What can we learn from this? When going home with Jairus (Luke 8:41 -56), the servants told him his daughter was dead. Jesus response? Do not be afraid, only believe.
What else can we do to reduce unbelief? Unbelief feeds off the things that surround our lives on a daily basis. There is nothing wrong with television or the radio or newspapers or magazines in themselves but only when they cause us to believe more in what we see than in what God says.

On the other hand faith feeds on the Word of God in scripture – so then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. (Romans 10:17) God says in Isaiah that His Word will not return to him without accomplishing what it is sent for – and in the Gospel of John it says that God and his Word are the same thing.

So in closing let’s compare removing doubt to a successful diet. (I have a note here to wait for laughter to die down.) In a successful diet you must reduce your total calories – to remove unbelief you must reduce what causes you to fear or disbelieve. This could include less television news, less listening to all the bad in the world today or your complaining co-workers.

In a successful diet you must increase your overall activity level to burn more calories – to successfully remove doubt and fear you must increase the time you spend in the scriptures and in prayer.
And finally as we’ve already said – this is warfare. WE must cast down reasonings, WE must take every thought captive – and this requires discipline.

So this isn’t an easy lesson but the results can be as satisfying as weight loss is on a diet. Discipline yourself to reduce your doubt, fear and unbelief and, in just 14 days, see the results of faith for your self.

December 30 2014

The Centurian and the Hebrew 07:11 pm

A trend or fad in software a few years ago was the “mash up”. Basically this consisted of a basic web page that you could “drag and drop” additional smaller programs into and create your own “look and feel”. This might include a weather app or a news channel or your favorite TV program. In other words you would “mash together” several smaller programs into one larger program.

I find myself doing that with scripture – finding two or more complimentary verses and bringing them into a single statement or combination that helps me understand a principle of God’s Kingdom. Let’s look at one scripture “mash up”.

Jesus said many times that he was sent to the lost sheep of Isreal but there were notable times when he engaged with Gentiles. For example, we read of the SyroPhoenician woman who’s daughter was demon-possessed. Jesus ignored her at first but she persisted in seeking Him out until, in response to her visible faith, Jesus granted her request and the daughter was healed.

But I want to combine another encounter that Jesus had with a Gentile with teaching from Hebrews to show what it was that Jesus responded to.

A Centurion was a Roman military officer; the one in Luke Chapter 7 was stationed in Isreal as part of the occupation force. The Centurion had a servant whom he evidently cared for very much who was taken ill. Instead of praying to Roman gods, this man sent Jewish elders to Jesus to intercede for the servant. And Jesus starts back with them intending, it seems, to heal the servant.

But the Centurion, aware of his standing among the Jews, sends others to Jesus to give him these words, “Lord, do not trouble yourself further, for I am not worthy for you to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; I say to one ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and do my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it”.

This man understood how authority worked and he attibuted authority in matters of healing to Jesus because he had obviously heard of the healings that Jesus accomplished. Do we acknowledge that authority that Jesus has? In Matthew 28, after His resurrection, Jesus flatly states, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me“. Can you connect with that?

Jesus response was to the Centurion’s words was amazement; not many times does it show Jesus amazed by anything! What amazed Him? He says, “not even in the house of Isreal (where there SHOULD be faith) have I found such great faith.” And the Centurion’s servant was healed.

Now turn with me to the great faith chapter, Hebrews 11, and let’s find a more detailed description of what Faith is. In the New English Translation we read, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and convinced of what we do not not see.” Faith is assurance and conviction of unseen realities – this is what the Centurion had.

So let’s mash up this definition into Jesus words, “Not even in the house of Isreal have I found anyone so sure of what they hoped for and convinced of what they do not see.” That’s the faith the Centurion had and also the faith of the Syrophoenician woman. Persistent faith that says, I already can see the answer if Jesus will only speak the word.

Can you see the answer you need from Jesus? Are you sure of what you hope for and convinced that you have the answer even though you can’t yet see it? Tied in with this teaching is another on faith and doubt – a realization that you can have BOTH and that it can hinder your prayers. Read the post titled:

Zachariah and Peter – ‘Funny’ Bible Passages 07:05 pm

I’m not saying the bible is funny; it is the Word of God given to us for fellowship with God and with Jesus Christ. But there are a couple of places that made me laugh and I wanted to share them and the lessons they teach.

The first scene is in Luke 1:5-25 and 57-66. It’s the story of an old couple named Zachariah and Elizabeth. He was a temple priest and he and Elizabeth had no children. However Zachariah goes to work one day and encounters the angel Gabriel who tells him they will have a child. Now think with me – you are in your 70s or 80s and someone tells you you will have a baby – do not some questions arise? Zachariah finds that he doesn’t fully believe the angel because he asks “How can I be sure of this?” This, unsurprisingly, irritates Gabriel who proceeds to tell him that he is the angel that stands in the presence of God and that God sent him.

So Gabriel tells Zachariah that because of his unbelief he will be unable to speak during the time Elizabeth is pregnant. So Zachariah goes out and lets the people know he can’t speak probably like you or I would – by pointing at our throat and shaking our head “no”.

So Zachariah goes home – first funny point; how does he let Elizabeth know that they are going to conceive. I can visualize an interesting game of charades happening (2nd word, 3rd syallable?)

But God’s word come to pass and Elizabeth becomes pregnant which is when Mary the mother of Jesus comes to visit her. When it’s time to deliver, the baby born is none other than John the Baptist but obviously no one knows that at the time of birth so they are going to name him Zachariah after his father. But Elizabeth says, “no, his name is John”.

So they go to Zachariah for confirmation and here’s the funny scene. Luke writes, “They made signs to his father to see what he would like to name the child”. Do you see it yet? The crowd is making hand motions and probably speaking real loud and Zachariah has to think, I can hear you dummies; I just can’t speak! So he asked for a tablet and wrote “His name is John” and his tongue was loosened and he gave praise to God!

So how is Zachariah different from Mary the mother of Jesus? The same angel visited her and gave her even more difficult to believe news – she would have a baby without having relations with a man! And she also asked a question – How shall this be since I am a virgin? Why didn’t Gabriel get mad at her? Because hers was a simple “how will this happen” question; NOT a “I don’t believe this!” question. Zachariah’s question was really a statement about his belief – “I don’t tend to believe this can happen so convince me”. Mary’s was a “How” question, not an “I don’t really believe” question. And after the angel’s explanation Mary responds, “May your word to me be fulfilled”. Mary had simple acceptance while Zachariah was conditioned by years and years of waiting and hoping and disapointments.

So while the scene is funny we have to ask, why did the angel take away Zachariah’s speech? Was that just to be mean or did it have a purpose? Everything God does is for a purpose so there must have been some meaning; it wasn’t simply a punishment.

Let’s take a short side trip and compare what happened to Zachairah to what happened to Paul when he was converted. We read in Acts 9:1-19 that Paul was highly religious and highly angry at these supposed blasphemers called Christians. He was on the way to Damascus to harass, arrest, imprison and probably torture these believers as he had already been doing in Jerusalem.

While on the road God blinded Saul by an extremely bright light which, after his conversion, left him blind for the rest of the trip until he was prayed for by Ananias. So why blindness? Why didn’t he strike Paul dumb like he did Zachariah?

God in each case did what He did for a definite purpose and here is where we can learn an important lesson. Paul was blinded because he depended almost entirely on what he could see and think – he was highly intelligent and educated and was offended by what he saw these “unbelievers” doing that went against what he was taught about God. God robbed Paul of his sight for a time to show him that what was unseen was more real than what was seen and caused Paul to have to be led around by others; having to rely on someone other than himself.

Do we believe that the unseen, supernatural world is more real than what we see around us? Our circumstances (which is the circle we stand in) often become more real than the promises of God.

Zachariah was robbed of his speech because OUR WORDS ARE IMPORTANT. If he had come out of the temple saying “wow, I can’t believe what I just saw and heard and, Elizabeth, you aren’t going to believe what is going to happen!” he would have stood in the way of what God was planning.

No matter how long it takes and no matter how big the walls seem; when God gives us a promise we just need to SHUT UP and accept God’s word. Zachariah had literally decades of hoping and being disappointed and that had become his way of thinking.

For those things you have been hoping and believing for for a LONG TIME, has it become easier to rationalize? Easier to say, well, evidently that wasn’t God’s will for me or I didn’t hear Him right. Sometimes we even make excuses for God saying, well, that wasn’t really a true desire I had anyway.

The next “funny story” happens to Peter in the book of Acts. In Acts 12:3-5 we read about Herod harrassing Christians. “When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”

Now God answered this prayer by miraculously freeing Peter. So Peter runs to John Mark’s house where all these believers are praying. Peter knocks and Rhoda comes to see who’s there. When she recognizes Peter’s voice she gets so excited that she runs back inside without even opening the door!

So here Peter standing humming to himself out in the street while all the great faith people are telling Rhoda that she’s crazy. The person they’ve been asking God for a miracle for has to keep knocking to be let in! Again if you visualize it you can see the humor.

But what’s the lesson for us in this? How often to we pray and pray and ask God for a miracle only to be astonished if the prayer is actually answered? Do we really pray believing that God will answer? Or do we praying kind of, sort of hoping something might happen someday?

Like the man who’s son was demon-possessed our cry should be, “I believe, help me in my unbelief!”

Lessons to learn – 1) Our words (our confessions) do matter and we should be aware  how often we voice doubts and unbelief. 2) God took away speech from the doubter and sight from the self-reliant, and we should learn to doubt our doubts and rely on His goodness and promises rather than what we think and see. 3) If we pray for something, first establish in your heart and mind that you will welcome and embrace God’s miraculous answer; pray wholeheartedly from the start.