Wednesday, September 28, 2016

An Apology for Faith

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.
Hebrews 11:1-2


Do you remember that kid who believed in Santa way longer than everyone else did growing up? I do. At my school his name was Joshua. He was a firm believer. His confidence had been bolstered by the extraordinary lengths his parents had gone to in order to squeeze a few more good Christmases out of him. This young man continued writing letters to Santa I would say at least into 4th grade if not later. I remember with each passing year we really expected he would grow out of it, but instead he seemed to grow bolder in trying to convince us that Santa was real. The poor kid was a laughingstock every year.

I bring this up not to start a Santa war but simply to point out one of the many ways in which our world doesn't reward childlike faith. In the real world childlike faith is often equated with being gullible. If you aren't careful it will make you an easy target and leave you embarrassed you were ever so naive. Over time this world we live in has hardened me. I have had to learn to be more skeptical as I have been embarrassed by my own gullibility and have even almost fallen prey to con men multiple times. 

I have begun to realize that this has taken a toll on my relationship with God. I do not doubt His existence or the truth of Christianity. Those were settled in my heart, in my experience, and in my mind long ago. But I do find myself to be a terrible skeptic when it comes to viewing any particular situation or difficulty through the eyes of faith. I sometimes find it hard to believe that God is going to do some great work in a situation. I often feel like I am wasting my efforts. Instead of hoping for the best, or even looking to receive what God has promised, I often find myself expecting the worst. 

With this realization fresh in my heart I looked at Hebrews 11 with fresh eyes this week. I saw it for the first time not as a Hall of Faith- a list of all the great believers throughout history- but as an Apology for Faith- an argument for living in faith by showing what faith produces. As we read the chapter and the lives of those it references we find the following:

  • From Abel's life we learn that God remembers faith. 
  • From Enoch's life we learn that God is pleased with faith.
  • From Noah's life we learn that God is patient with those who have faith. (I extrapolate this from both the many years it took for Noah to build the ark and from Noah's failure after the flood.)
  • From Abraham's life we learn that God expects longsuffering faith and that he always rewards it, though on His own timetable.
  • From Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac we learn that God does test our faith.
  • From Joseph's life we learn that God wants us to make plans and preparations in accord with our faith.
  • From Moses' life we learn that God sets us free from fear by faith, that God gives us the faith to live for our future in Him and not for the present this world can offer us, that faith makes us bold, and that God does amazing things by our faith.
  • Lastly from Rahab's life we learn that God offers redemption to those who have faith.


So it turns out that when faith is placed in the right object it isn't shameful at all. In fact, faith in God is one of the most powerful forces for change our world has ever seen. So maybe it's time we all gave faith another try. Maybe we can learn to look at our circumstances through the eyes of faith again.

Father, give me the faith of a child towards You. Help me to be confident in You that You might be pleased in me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Futility

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
Hebrews 10:11


Does your life ever feel like an exercise in futility? Do you ever wonder why God allows you to stay stuck in your station in life with seemingly no hope of escape? Consider the Old Testament priests. Stunningly, the Bible tells us that a faithful priest under the old covenant was doomed to spend their life, day after day, offering the same sacrifices for sin over and over again that could never actually atone for sin. From a human standpoint this is the very definition of an exercise in futility. What a waste of time! But it wasn't. Even if the priests didn't know it, every single sacrifice offered in the Old Testament served a higher purpose than atoning for sin. Every sacrifice pointed forward to Jesus. So the priests didn't spend their lives offering pointless sacrifices, they spent their lives pointing forward to that more excellent sacrifice, Jesus. He offered a single sacrifice for sins by which we have been sanctified once for all (Hebrews 10:10, 12).

So what at first glance appears to be pointless is actually a beautiful reminder of what we are all supposed to do. We point to Jesus with our lives. Whatever circumstances you find yourself in, make sure your response points people to Jesus. You can be sure that no matter how great or how terrible your life is, God has allowed you to be in the exact place you are in so that you might point others to Him by your response. God appoints some to thrive that the world may see He is good. He appoints some to poverty so His goodness can be shown in providing for them. Some suffer that the world may see His tenderness and His power to rescue. Some are called to singleness so they can spend more time pointing others to Jesus. Others are called to families so they can raise up the next generation for Jesus.

Whatever circumstances God has put you in, He has put you there to point to Jesus. So worry less about why God has allowed certain things in your life. You'll probably never be able to answer that question anyway. Instead, focus on how you are pointing others to Jesus in your circumstances, through your circumstances or even in spite of your circumstances.

Father, whatever my situation, help me point to Jesus with my life!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Divine Interest Rates

Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor
  will himself call out and not be answered.
Proverbs 21:13

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord,
  and he will repay him for his deed.
Proverbs 19:17


Some time ago I saw a picture of a homeless child in India sitting on the side of the street begging. The child was very small, perhaps four or five. Far too young to be able to fend for himself in any situation, let alone on the street. The caption on the picture spoke of people walking past the boy and ignoring him. It impacted me deeply. I couldn't imagine walking past a small, hungry child who was alone on the streets and doing nothing to help him. I wanted to run over and scoop that child up and take him home with me. What could cause people to grow so cold and unempathizing as to offer no help?

Yet, as I read Proverbs 21:13 I feel a tinge of guilt. I haven't ignored street children sitting at my feet,but haven't I ignored the cries of the poor? In today's world we all have a front row seat to suffering. We've all seen the commercials. We've heard about the ministries and the need. There is desperate need and more good ministries meeting that need in the name of Jesus than you or I could ever provide for on our own. There are orphans, hungry families, the ill, those without the gospel, those without the Bible, those who are persecuted for their faith, those who are forced into slavery or sex-slavery, the homeless, the disabled, and many, many more. It's emotionally exhausting and overwhelming to think about. How should I go about determining which ministry to give to, or how much to give, or (even harder) how much I should keep for myself and my family? We must be careful to avoid allowing our hearts to become hardened to the cries of the poor. God promises to punish those who ignore the need around them. He promises to soften their demeanor by letting them experience need for themselves. Help me, Father, not to be guilty of this great sin. 

But perhaps a little motivation toward righteousness will help too. Consider Proverbs 19:17. In it God promises to bless those who help the poor. Far from being ashamed to associate with poor people, God equates Himself with them. He says that when we give to the poor it's like we are helping Him. In fact, we can give money to the poor in confidence that it's exactly what God wants to bless them with. He promises to view it as a loan and pay us back. Now what kind of interest do you think God pays on His loans? I don't know but I'd be willing to bet that He always repays His debts.

So check your ears today and make sure they are still wide open to hear the cry of the needy. We all have to keep some money back for our own family, but make sure you are giving sacrificially to the opportunities God has placed in your path. Trust me, He'll pay you back. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Psalm 73- Selected Reading

Only Scripture today. 

Psalm 73:2-5 & 12-28
But as for me, my feet almost slipped;
my steps nearly went astray.
For I envied the arrogant;
I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have an easy time until they die,
and their bodies are well fed.
They are not in trouble like others;
they are not afflicted like most people...
Look at them—the wicked!
They are always at ease,
and they increase their wealth.
Did I purify my heart
and wash my hands in innocence for nothing?
For I am afflicted all day long
and punished every morning.
If I had decided to say these things aloud,
I would have betrayed Your people.
When I tried to understand all this,
it seemed hopeless
until I entered God’s sanctuary.
Then I understood their destiny.
Indeed, You put them in slippery places;
You make them fall into ruin.
How suddenly they become a desolation!
They come to an end, swept away by terrors.
Like one waking from a dream,
Lord, when arising, You will despise their image.
When I became embittered
and my innermost being was wounded,
I was stupid and didn’t understand;
I was an unthinking animal toward You.
Yet I am always with You;
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
and afterward You will take me up in glory.
Who do I have in heaven but You?
And I desire nothing on earth but You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart,
my portion forever.
Those far from You will certainly perish;
You destroy all who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, God’s presence is my good.
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
so I can tell about all You do.