Christianity 201

October 2, 2012

Unwavering Belief

While rummaging through the archives at Thinking Out Loud, I discovered a lengthy post for  Halloween I reblogged from writer Carole McDonnell.  I decided to see what she has been up to lately, and discovered this piece about belief. I strongly encourage you to click through to read this at source; you might find other articles of interest. For those of you here for the first time, scripture verses at C201 appear in green because God’s word is life. (There’s a lot of green in this excellent Bible study!)

There are many verses in the Bible which encourage the faithful believer to trust in God’s willingness to answer prayer.

John tells us that “we know we have what we pray for because we keep His commandments.” (1 John 3:22.) If we’re keeping God’s commandments, and are praying for the glory of God, and feeding our faith by studying God’s character and Jesus’ Great Finished Work on the cross, we should trust that our prayers have been answered. After all, Jesus Himself told us that when we pray we must believe that we HAVE received and we WILL receive whatever we ask for.

We are told to pray with thanksgiving. This means we must pray and give thanks for what we will receive as if we have already received it, seeing that which is invisible. Jesus gave us a wonderful example of this when he prayed for Lazarus to be brought back to life. Even before Lazarus came from the tomb, Jesus ended His prayer with the words, “I thank you, Lord, that you have heard my prayer.”

We pray every day using the word “Amen” which can be translated to mean as Surely, truthfully, verily, this is a true statement, or it’s done. Jesus told us to approach the throne of grace with boldness and courage. Our prayers end boldly, but although the world “Amen” is a bold ending to a prayer, we don’t really rise from prayer believing that our prayer has been answered. We tend to think that either God hasn’t heard our prayer or that He will spend the next few days mulling over a decision or that He wants to drag out the answer for a while in order to teach us a lesson. This is doublemindedness. We are not believing what God has said. As the apostle James said, “this kind of double-minded attitude is not going to get anything from the Lord.” Why? Because our unbelief vies with our faith.

If we use the sowing and reaping metaphors that Jesus and the apostles used to show how the kingdom of God works, we can readily see that we have more faith in the physical act of sowing and reaping than we do in the spiritual act. In the case of a physical seed, we actually believe there is a seed with the power within itself to germinate. Yet, even though Isaiah, Jesus, Paul and others told us that the word of God is active and alive and has power within it to germinate and flower, we hardly believe.

The Bible says, “Let God be true and every man a liar.” (Rom 3:4) And yet, unbelief is a wonderful theologian. If we aren’t careful, we –or a really intelligent minister– can convince ourselves that God will do the most heinous evil because he loves us. Some great religious writings can convince us that although Jesus came to heal those who were oppressed by the devil that somehow our particular oppression is not from the devil but from God.

St Paul tells us that “We are accepted in the Beloved.” Eph 1:6 This is the Greek word Charitoo which is translated as “full of grace” and “highly favoured” in Luke 1:28 when the angel spoke to Mary. It means freely bestowed overwhelming love. This means God loves us and has placed us in such a favored position that, like the loving Father He is, He wants to bless us more than we’re able to receive it. We’re adopted children who are His very special favorites. John says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has for us, that we should be called the Children of God.”

John states, “This is the confidence we have in God: that, if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us.” I John 5:14. He writes earlier in the same chapter, “whatsoever is born of God overcomes the world, even our faith.” Through Jesus’ name, and faith in that name, we are “more than conquerors.” And St Paul tells us that “God hasn’t given us the spirit of fear, but the spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.

Yet in the face of all this overwhelming evidence of God’s love towards us, the ancient inability to trust God remains. From the day our first parents hearkened to Satan’s “Did God say?” to today’s modern taunts, we humans have found it difficult to believe that God means us well. We forget that He who freely gave us His life will also freely give us all things. Plain and simple, we love God but like unworthy friends we often believe what others say about our Dear Friend more often than what He says about Himself. If it’s through faith in God’s Love and Power that we conquer the world, how can we conquer our own Promised Land if we allow rumors of giants to make us feel like grasshoppers. (Numbers 13)

The Bible tells us, “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” (Rom 3:4) And we know better than to come right out and say that God is a liar. But we work around that by making Him way more inscrutable than He really wants to be. This is not to say that we understand everything about God. We don’t. But the Bible has made His personality clear to us. He doesn’t have some hidden secret plan which prevents Him from answering our prayers. The Bible states that God does nothing without revealing His will to His people. (Amos 3:7)

We also make God unpredictable and flighty. Instead of saying that God’s promises and spiritual laws work all the time, we say that God does heavy micro-managing and sits on His throne deciding which spiritual law will work in every case. We say that whatsoever a man sows he will reap, yet we often think that in this particular case – our own problem– that particular spiritual law will not work. God’s word is sure. God does not change. His word abides forever and He honors His word. God is aware of all His children, but He does not micro-manage. Spiritual laws are as dependable as physical laws. Unfortunately, like many physical laws some spiritual laws need a faithful heart to set them in motion. The law of gravity, for instance, tends to work all the time…unless one understands how to override it. As powerful and universal as gravity is, it is routinely conquered by pilots and birds all over the world. Yet, although gravity has its weak moments, it’s not a good idea to defy it. Seeds will grow into plants if we continue to water them and so we know that we should not cast away our confidence when a physical plant seems to be weakening. We should not be weary with well-doing: God is not mocked. In due time, we will reap if we don’t faint. We depend on physical laws. This attitude should be the same when we rely on spiritual laws.

For instance, Jesus commands us not to worry and in Mark 7:14-15, He gives us some insight into spiritual law when he tells us that evils within the heart are what defile the body. As American Christians we half believe Jesus was right about this. After all, the medical world has taught us all about the dangers of being a type A personality. But do we believe what Jesus says simply because Jesus said it? For instance, do we believe that adulterous thoughts can also affect our health? Other spiritual laws or insights include: the law of giving and receiving, the power of the tongue to steer a life towards good or ill, the evil that comes upon those who hate Israel or Jewish people.

In Mark 9:23-24, when the father of the demon-possessed boy asked Jesus to help him, Jesus said, “if you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes.” To which the distraught father replied, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” This, unfortunately, is the state most western Bible-believing Christians have found themselves in. We believe greatly, and we doubt greatly. At the exact same time. Let us search the Scriptures and learn to understand and love our God. John warns us that many antiChrists are out in the world and we should test every word we hear. And Jesus tells us that if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit. (Luke 6:39) But Jesus warns us to “take heed how we hear.” (Luke 8:18) Let us learn to love our Father. As Jesus said, He who hath seen Me hath seen the Father. (John 14:6-20) If we know the love of Jesus, we cannot help but trust Him with our lives.

We have a great and high calling with many doors of opportunity opened to us and there are many adversaries who – wittingly or unwittingly– have set out to steal the word of truth from us or to mingle it with worldly philosophers. Let us not be removed from the simplicity of the gospel. (Gal 1:6; Rom 6:19; 2 Co 11:3 ) Let us arise and dream great dreams, let us hold onto the promises of God. Let us do great exploits and not cast away our confidence. Let us arise and shine, because our light has come. Is 60:1

~Carole McDonnell

July 1, 2011

When Your Mind’s On Other Things

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.  But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.   Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

James 1:5-8 (NLT)

The last sentence above, verse eight, is the one many of you know as “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.

I often think of double-mindedness as meaning a person who is doing one thing one minute, and something quite different or contrary the next minute.  In other words alternating between two distinctly different purposes, such as we see in this verse:

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

I King 18:21 (NIV)

But double-mindedness can also exist when we are actually wavering while we are on task.  I discovered years ago that I could be reading my kids a Bible story, and my lips were moving and I was saying all the right words, but I was thinking about something completely different; occasionally something not all that wholesome or encouraging.

I thought of this when I read the note someone had left with one of those confessionals where you write your comment on a postcard and mail it in, and then some are selected and posted.  Trust me, I don’t revisit this site anywhere  as often as I once did and especially since elsewhere I’ve commented how some seemingly innocuous things — like reading advice columns in the newspaper — can be a gateway to more problematic things. However, it does provide a window into the lives of many broken people.

The writer describing reading this website — and who knows what others — while sitting in the choir loft of a worship service is bad enough, but the parenthetic remark at the end suggests that sometimes the images constitute what we would call soft porn.  And so, there we are sitting in church, and we see the pastor and the choir is sitting there, and it never occurs to us that one of the choir members might be…  I mean, why would you want to sing in the choir if that’s where your mind is at?  Does the one activity somehow cancel out the other?

A more accurate scripture — not that the two already mentioned don’t apply — would be

  “These people make a big show of saying the right thing,
   but their hearts aren’t in it.
…[T]hey act like they’re worshiping me
   but don’t mean it…

Isaiah 29:13 (The Message)

Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me

Isaiah 29:13 (NKJV)

This verse is referenced by Jesus as well, and may be found at Matthew 15:8 and Mark 7:6. 

Because it’s possible to be spiritually multi-tasking; or multi-tasking on one thing that is outwardly pious or spiritual, but one other thing that is far from God, we need to guard ourselves from this letting this situation happen. When it does, we are guilty of the “spiritual acting” or hypocrisy that Jesus so often addressed, in fact the scripture actually takes this one step further:

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!

Revelation 3:15 (NLT)

Finally, I think it’s necessary for those of us who see someone committing an act of blatant hypocrisy to call them on it.  Someone was sitting next to that choir member and would have had occasion to glance at their mobile device; especially given that they would have to hold it a good distance away to avoid it being seen by the congregation. It’s a time for reaching out to help, not a time for condemnation.

If you see a Christian brother or sister sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life.

I John 5:16a NIV

~Paul Wilkinson