Do you believe, I mean do you truly?

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Say we happened upon a rickety looking bridge over a deep canyon.  If I were to claim that the bridge was structurally sound, then urged you to test my claim and yet would not set foot on it, would you?

Many people claim to believe in God and say they believe what the Bible says is absolutely true, but few seem to live it.  It is one thing say faith makes all things possible (Mark 9:23) and quite another to live that as a reality.

I have heard all the excuses for those who claim faith while living a life that requires none.  Some accuse those who ask of making demands of God, they justify their own practical agnosticism as modesty and then hide behind God’s will as an excuse to live faithlessly.

Faith Means Investment and Action

When you do not believe that something can happen you will not act to make it a reality. Unbelief wears many disguises and one of them is a fear of God that results in inaction. It was not faith that condemned the man who did not invest his abilities and then blamed the harshness of his master:

“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”  (Matthew 25:24-25 NIV)

It is not faith that causes a person to bury their abilities to intervene, but it is slothfulness, a distorted idea about God and fear. Not asking for anything from God is not humility, it is an excuse to sit on our hands rather than be a fulfillment of God’s will and a lack of belief in the power of God.

In the Bible commitment is a first step towards an answer to prayer or need. Our commitment is often nothing more than a symbolic act like dipping in a river, touching a hem or giving what little we have, nevertheless it is necessary:

“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”  (John 6:9 NIV)

It did not take a rocket scientist to understand a few small loaves and a couple fish could not feed thousands of people.  The disciples, if they had calculators, would probably have whipped them out and tried to explain to Jesus why his plan was an impossibility. They were incredulous.

But, had the disciples refused to participate in the distribution of fishes and loaves, had they demanded a sign from heaven before starting, would they have seen a miracle that day? 

No. Probably not.

It does not require faith in God to participate in things we can completely understand.  It takes faith to invest fully in something that we do not understand and seems impossible from our own perspective.  Faith is believing and investing fully despite not understanding how our own contribution will help.

Faith Is Asking Boldly Without Fear

It is not faith that keeps us from asking boldly, it is fear.  It is not humility either, but is pride in our own ability to sustain ourselves and doubt of God’s ability to do the impossible.  We do not ask because we do not believe in a God who loves us enough to intervene on our behalf or we do not believe in God at all.  It is fear that the promises and assurances of Jesus are lies:

“Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.  If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”  (Matthew 21:21-22 NIV)

Promise #1 — God can do the impossible by our own logic or reasoning and will do the impossible for those who have faith.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  (Matthew 7:7-11 NIV)

Promise #2 — God gives to those who show persistence and trust in His goodness rather relying on their own understanding.

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.  And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’  “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think,  yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”  And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”  (Luke 18:1-8 NIV)

Will Jesus find the faith of that widow woman who refused to quit in you?

We can rationalize our lack of faith and even claim it is virtue.  We can claim that we do not believe God would want to be bothered and accept what is as faithless fatalists.  Or we can believe the words of Jesus are true, we can believe all things are truly possible with God and live with the confidence that God will bless our persistence:

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  (Hebrews 4:16 NIV)

Love Truly, Invest Big and Pray Bigger

With faith we invest.  When we invest fully, we love fully and act in love rather than hold back in doubt or fear.  There are many things that would not require a miracle to be possible if we were actually committed to a love that invests. Many more things that would be made possible if we loved as we ought.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”  (1 John 4:18 NIV)

A faithful life is an active and bold life.  A person who believes is not passive or ashamed to ask for what they need. Love is not fearful, love is faithful and bold.  Faith is not tentative, faith is tenacious and proactive.  We cannot expect God to answer if we aren’t willing to act ourselves and be an answer to prayer for those around us.

If you believe Scripture is trustworthy then live it.  If you believe God is big, then pray big, invest big and put your money where your mouth is. Do not hide behind a false notion of God’s sovereignty as a way to avoid having to invest and persist. God is not honored in our rationalizations or excuses.

Faith is taking the first step over the canyon and trusting the bridge to hold.

Literalism, Authority and the Promised Teacher

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Many Christians refer to the entire Bible as the “word of God” and often base this on a few proof texts in the Bible.  Two popular choices of proof of this view are found in two different books of the Bible and both attributed to Paul the Apostle.

Is the Bible the infallible word of God?

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)

To some the passage above settles the question.  There we have it in clear English that the Scripture is “God-breathed” and therefore if God said it then there is little more to say after that, right? 

But there is more to be said…

First off the Bible was not written in English and we rely on the work of translators to give us their best interpretation of the books of the Bible.  And, as far as translation, the popular King James Version renders the “God-breathed” of the Timothy passage above as “given by inspiration of God,” which is an interpretation that could give a profoundly different impression. 

Second, the most literal interpretation is not always the best for conveying intended meaning.  For example, the word ‘Kindergarten’ translated from the original German that it is borrowed from literally means “children’s garden,” yet that is certainly not what the term actually means in common usage and not the original intent of the term either.  So, when Paul coined “theopneustos” to describe Scripture, we need to understand what he meant by it and not just assume how it renders literally in English is the most correct interpretation.

Third, if we are to be completely literal, we know writing is not accomplished by breathing and therefore “God-breathed” writing would be an absurdity.  I presume we all accept that “breathed” part isn’t completely literal; that Scripture was written by men who were in some way inspired (or led to write what God put on their hearts to share) and not literally air from divine lungs.

Forth, Paul did not consider all of what he wrote to be God’s own instruction.  Paul himself distinguishes in his own writing that some of what he says originates from “the Lord” while other portions he denotes are “not the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:10-12) and that alone proves at least some of the Bible also contains instructions or ideas of men.

Fifth, one must consider the question of why the Bible contains hundreds of expressions like “thus saith the Lord” and “God said” if it is all the transcribed thoughts of God.  If all Scripture were spoken directly from the mouth of God then why would it be necessary to denote what God said and use quotes?  At very least there seems to be a difference between what is literally spoken by God in Scripture and Scripture in general.

So, in light of the evidence above, perhaps “theopneustos” should be taken to mean something less than literal.  Because, although Peter does refer to some of what Paul wrote as being Scripture (2 Peter 3:16), it is even questionable if Paul considered all of his own writing in Timothy to be Scripture. 

I do not believe Paul intended his words to be taken as many do and as an argument for the supremacy of Scripture.  If anything it is proof that Scripture was of questionable importance to the Spirit-led church and needed his endorsement.  What he says, in more basic terms, is that Scripture is useful to a Godly person and is writing inspired by God.  To say more than that could be to assume too much.

Who gave us the Bible or has authority to interpret it?

“Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”  (2 Peter 1:20-21 NIV)

Note the passage above does not say all Scripture is prophecy.  It tells us that did not originate “in the human will” or “by the prophet’s own interpretation” but it doesn’t say all Scripture is prophecy.  We know the Scripture includes things spoken as prophecy and attributed to God, we also know Scripture contains the words of ungodly people and Satan.  In other words, there is a difference between prophecy of Scripture and other things written Scripture.

The Bible we hold today is actually a collection of books and letters that were decided to be authentic and then compiled into one canonical book.  It is perhaps ironic, but many of the same people who say the Bible is the ultimate moral authority reject the institution that decided the books belonged in the Bible and those that did not.  They use Peter above to defend their own idea that the Bible is reliable without acknowledging their reliance on the determination of a tradition they reject.

The passage above is simultaneously used also by those who put moral authority in an institution or their own group.  The King James Version renders “prophet’s own interpretation of things” as being “private interpretation.”  Some use that to say we cannot understand Scripture as individuals and that we need them to tell us what it means.  Oddly enough, some of these who claim this means we need them also rejected the institution that canonized Scripture and claims we need them.

I ascribe to the other view that the passage from Peter isn’t intended to put power in the hands of a group.  I agree with those who interpret it to be talking about those who wrote the prophecy of Scripture and that their prophecy was given to them by God rather than their own imagination.  I do not see this as speaking of our interpretation of Scripture but of inspiration and reliability the prophecy contained therein.

Furthermore, it is being used in the context of their own testimony as believers and those filled with the Holy Spirit.  If we look immediately before the passage in quotations in verses 12-19 this is speaking in conjunction with the reliability of their own testimony and basically putting their own testimony on par with Scriptural prophecy.  The earlier part of the chapter (verses 3-11) mentions promises and  describes attributes which are strikingly similar to what Paul lists elsewhere as fruit of the Spirit.

What were we promised by Jesus would teach us?

“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.  His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”  (2 Peter 1:2-4 NIV)

Before the book of second Peter mentions prophecy of Scripture and the authenticity their own testimony it alludes to something else.  It mentions “divine power” and a “knowledge” of God and Jesus that allow us to “participate in the divine nature.”  Those steeped in Biblical fundamentalism could assume these things are references to the Scripture, but I believe from examining Scripture that it is a reference to something bigger than Scripture and the actual source of Scriptural inspiration itself: The Holy Spirit.

Of the promises Jesus made, the one that most fits the description in 2 Peter is not a book knowledge.  Jesus promised believers something extraordinary:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be  in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”  (John 14:16-18 NIV)

Followers of Jesus weren’t promised a book of truth or an institution to guide them, but something much better.  Jesus promised them he will return, but not in physical form, and will provide help that will last forever: “the Spirit of truth.”  It is something that will neither seen nor known by those who do not believe.  It is an advocate, and advocate that will teach us all things, as Jesus explains:

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  (John 14:26 NIV)

This promise is further explained in more words, attributed to Jesus, in the Gospel of John:

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”  (John 16:13-15 NIV)

I believe this truth ‘known’ from the “Spirit of truth” is the same knowledge of what 2 Peter speaks about.  It is also what 1 John 2 says keeps us from being deceived by antichrists:

“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.  I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.”  (1 John 2:20-21 NIV)

It seems to be speaking about the same thing promised by Jesus in the Gospel of John:

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”  (1 John 26-27 NIV)

We aren’t promised a book or an institution to teach us, we are promised “a Spirit of truth” that will teach, guide and remind us of what we need to know to keep from being deceived.  Paul speaks extensively about this in his letters to the Corinthian church, he contrasts “human wisdom” and that which is derived by the Spirit:

“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.  The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”  (1 Corinthians 2:13-14 NIV)

Paul continues in that chapter to describe a wisdom of a different origin and having the “mind of Christ” which allows us to transcend mere human judgment.  He quotes Scripture “it is written” as evidence and yet says that the was not known except as it was revealed by the Spirit.  In his second letter to the Corinthian church he speaks of a different type of book better than the Scripture that gives life rather than condemnation, is a source of competency and confidence:

“Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious?”  (2 Corinthians 3:4-8 NIV)

Have you been baptized in the Spirit?

Many Christians today seem to be living in the old rather than new covenant and are under the law of death rather than Spirit.  Many prioritize their own knowledge or understanding of a book, still wait for a second coming of Christ and live spiritually powerless.  It reminds me of those whom Paul encounters in Acts 19 who he acknowledges as disciples, who were baptized in repentance by water and still had not received baptism in Jesus or the Spirit.  If you are unsure, consider what Jesus is recorded to have gave as final instruction:

“On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  (Acts 1:4-5 NIV)

Maybe you are one of those who are baptized in water and repentance.  Perhaps you are sincerely trying to use the Bible as an instruction manual or guide book.  It could be you read diligently, you might even speak the name of Jesus and travel the world on a mission to prove yourself before God or others.  You can be doing all those things without God’s word alive in you, the Pharisees did those things (Matthew 23) and we are told some who shared the name of Jesus are not known to him (Matthew 7:21-23) despite their works. 

Read John 5:16-47.  There is no salvation found in diligent study of Scripture.  One can have vast knowledge of Scripture and still not have ever known God’s word.  That was the case with those who rejected Jesus despite knowing the Scripture and it is the case for those who still believe a book knowledge can save them.  It is not the Bible that Christianity should center on, it is something else bigger, better and more unifying than a book:

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  (Ephesians 4:3-6 NIV)

Note that one of the one things not listed above is Scripture.  If Scripture were central to our oneness with God and unity together it seems something that should be mentioned.  We have mention of Spirit twice, mention of one Lord, one God and Father, one body, one faith, one hope, one baptism, but not a mention of a one book and Scripture.  It is Spirit emphasized throughout Scripture.

So what is the “word of God” mentioned in Scripture?

Stay tuned…

Promises of better things to come…

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It has been an interesting year and a year of many firsts.  I suffered my first torn anterior cruciate ligament (and hopefully my last) in May and spent most of the year rehabbing it.

I am the proud owner of my first brand new car.  It is a handsome black 2014 Ford Fusion sedan with a five speed manual transmission and represents a vast improvement over my prior every day vehicles.

I have started my first real blog (unless a Xanga foray counts) and you are reading it.

Besides that, I have a first chapter to a book in rough draft form which is also a first for me.  I hope that effort will eventually lead to a first of writing a book if I can find the time to research for the second chapter.

It has been a year of intense feeling, both trials and triumphs, both of deep doubt and deeper faith, with many prayers answered with one that still waits.  Because the work is not finished, my theme from this past year will continue into the next year: With God (or faith) all things are possible.

I have faith God will continue to answer my prayers in amazing ways.  Apparently fortune favors the bold, so I will be bold in faith and boldly predict next year to be my best ever.  I do not expect all sunshine and roses, because bad days happen even in the best of circumstances, but I hope big regardless.

For next year I plan to continue doing what I am doing and improve at it.  I want to continue writing with a goal of improving my ability to communicate ideas.  I want to offer solutions where I can, to help encourage other people and strengthen the good side of things.

I want to continue to exercise regularly and remain physically fit despite a demanding schedule.  I realize good health can’t be taken for granted.  I know fitness, like all good things, isn’t something that happens accidentally, it is a result of initiative, work and God’s grace.

Speaking of work, I plan to continue driving, but will continue exploring options and hope to find something else by next year.  I am still unclear where, what or when I will find the next opportunity.  I have ruled nothing out.  I pray for God’s guidance.

I also want to be more meditative and prayerful.  I hope to read more, stay involved in spiritual development and active in the lives of others.  I pray to be a voice for faith, hope and love.  I want to grow stronger in all areas of life, be confident and live without excuses.

It is our bigger fights of faith that we have the most opportunity to grow and that is what I take into next year.  And, you can be a part of that, I do invite your input and about this blog in particular.  I would love feedback about the content and clarity of my writing.

Are there any topics you prefer of those I have posted on or suggestions of things I should discuss less or more?

Anyways, my work is nearly done for this year, a new year (even if just an arbitrary boundary) is a few hours away, and it is definitely an opportunity to reflect.  So, as I sit here with my tuna fritters and miracle whip ready to eat, anticipating a night full of activity, let me first thank you all for being a part of my life in 2014 and wish a happy new year…

God bless!