Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dangerous Faith: David

[God] testified concerning him: "I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do."
Acts 13:22

David has been called a man after God’s own heart.  Much has been made about this title. Many a preacher has ventured a guess as to what it means, but today I would like us to focus on the statement that directly follows that one. “…he will do everything I want him to do.” I don’t think there could be a truer definition of dangerous faith.

Dangerous faith is faith that has been put into action. It’s dangerous in the sense that it is bursting with the potential to impact the world in significant ways. What could be more dangerous than a person who is willing to do anything that God asks him/her to do? God’s divine power and wisdom working through a willing human instrument—what could be more effective or dangerous than that? The real question before us though, is how did David get faith like that and how can we get it? As always, we turn to Scripture for clues. 

Looking at the classic story of David's battle with Goliath we see how he responds when he first hears Goliath’s chant: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?"  Notice David isn’t filled with anger out of national pride that Goliath would dare defy Israel. He is filled with anger that Goliath would dare defy God. This is made even clearer later when David tells Goliath that, “Today…the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.”

David was passionate about God’s glory. He was jealous for the honor that was due God’s name. In fact, in the Psalms David often praises God’s name publicly. “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you” (Psalm 22:22). It is this passion for God’s glory that gives rise to the desire to obey God. He was energized and focused on bringing glory and honor to God’s name. But this desire to do God’s will wasn’t enough. He also had to be willing to act on that desire.   

Look at what David said to Goliath right before he killed him:
"You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied… All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give all of you into our hands."

David understood that the battle belonged to the Lord. You get the sense that David actually believed that God was fighting the battle with him. In Psalm 18:29 David says, “With your help I can advance against a troop.” This carries weight because David had actually experienced it. David stood on battle fields watching entire armies advance against him and his men and he knew militarily that he ought to be killed that day. But even in those moments when ten thousand men wanted to kill him, he trusted the Lord. The battle belonged to the Lord. He might have a sword in his hand, but his sword wasn’t going to win the battle. It was the Lord who fought on David’s behalf.

So David was willing to do anything God asked him to do because 1) he was passionate about bringing glory to God’s name and 2) he trusted in the Lord to fight his battles for him and to protect him.

Are you passionate about God’s glory? When was the last time you bragged on God? David says, “I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among throngs of people I will praise you” (Psalm 35:18). Are you passionate enough about bringing honor to God’s name that you are willing to praise him in front of other people? If not, pray and ask God to give you a heart for his glory. I believe that the entire purpose for our existence is to bring glory to God and that we will spend all of eternity doing just that.

Also, do you trust God to fight your battles for you? Do you believe that the battle is the Lord’s? When your spouse is diagnosed with cancer, or your mother dies, or you get laid off at work, or you feel like everyone you know is out to destroy you…do you believe that the battle belongs to the Lord? Are you willing to step out on faith to do what God has called you to do and trust God to take care of you? If not, ask God to help you trust Him with your life. This is the very foundation of the Christian faith. 

For further reading this week:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Granddaddy of Dangerous Faith: Tested by Fire

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!"

"Here I am," he replied.

Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."
Genesis 22:1-2

This passage can be rather disturbing. In many ways it seems completely out of character for the Christian God. We don’t serve a God who wants human sacrifices. That’s the sort of thing you see in movies. (You know, the village people have to throw a virgin into the volcano to appease the gods or the volcano will erupt.) But this isn’t how the true God of heaven and earth operates. So why does God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? And why, as the rest of the chapter bears out, does Abraham go along with it without any emotion whatsoever? He just walks up the mountain, ties his son to a pile of rocks, and is ready to slit his throat.
Certainly this is a difficult passage, but I believe that if we are willing to listen, the Lord will teach us something from this passage.  

First, we see that God did this to test Abraham. Now it’s interesting that we consider this passage just two weeks after having looked at the rich young ruler. He was put to the test, you will remember, after he approached Jesus to ask for eternal life. Jesus responded by telling him to sacrifice all his money and possessions for God. Unfortunately, the rich young ruler’s faith did not pass this test. Abraham's faith, on the other hand, was put to a far greater test and passed. In fact, according to James chapter two, Abraham’s faith was “made complete” by his obedience to God's strange command.

James points out for us that this strange request from God wasn’t an isolated incident in Abraham’s life. Many years earlier (several decades at least) God had promised Abraham that he would have a son in his old age and that it was through this son that he would be made into a great nation. His descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore and through his descendants all the nations of the earth would be blessed. When God told Abraham all of this, the Bible says that, “Abraham believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6).   

So James shows us that what God was really doing was testing Abraham’s belief in that promise He had made to him several decades earlier.  In a sense, God was telling Abraham that it was time to put his money where his mouth was…or I guess more appropriately that it was time to put his obedience where his faith was. Abraham had faith but his faith was not complete yet because he had not truly acted on it. 

In the same way, you and I can have all of the dangerous faith in the world, but if we never put that faith into action it is meaningless. It is not enough for us to simply confess and believe, we must also do. Indeed it is in the doing that our confessing and believing is made complete. James puts it this way:
 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead…

You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
James 2:14-17, 20-24

So here’s the challenge for you this week. We have been studying dangerous faith for about ten weeks now, but has that affected your actions at all? Are you living your faith out more dangerously? Are you willing to join Abraham in saying, “Here I am?” Will you get alone with the Lord right now and say “Here I am, Lord. In what ways am I not acting out my faith? How can I live more dangerously for You? What do You want me to do, Lord? Here I am, speak to me. I am ready and waiting.”   

For further reading this week:
  • Genesis 22:1-19: Read the entire story.
  •  Romans 4: Read how Paul understood this important Old Testament passage.
  • Hebrews 11:17-19: Abraham is remembered in the great chapter of faith for his unwavering belief in God's ability to keep His promises no matter the circumstances.
  • Genesis 12-22: If you really want some perspective, read all of Abraham's story leading up to this point.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dangerous Faith: What do you have to lose?

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'" "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth…
Mark 10:17-22

Last week we looked at this rich young ruler who walked away from a personal invitation to discipleship from Jesus. We only covered half of the story though. Mark, the gospel writer, has written this story to us in a certain context, and that context helps us to see what he is trying to teach us. A little later in the chapter Jesus sets a shocking standard for faith. He says: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:14-15).

What is it that Jesus saw in those first century children that  would make him say something so bold? In those kids Jesus saw exactly what the rich young ruler had lacked. They had nothing whatsoever to offer God. They were not especially holy or clean or righteous. I believe they were just regular, everyday, snot-nosed, play in the dirt kind of kids. They were wholly incapable of meeting the criteria of righteousness under the Mosaic laws. But, they had nothing to withhold from God either. Children aren't too proud to admit their need for God's love and forgiveness. They don't try to hide who they really are from God. They just want Him to love them. These children were completely incapable of dealing in the currency of the old covenant—keeping the Law, but they understood the currency of the new covenant—grace—better than most adults. 

What’s more, Mark juxtaposes the story of the rich young ruler (who did not have child-like faith) with the story of a blind man named Bartimaeus who did:
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called to the blind man, "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you." Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him. The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see." "Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
Mark 10:46-52

There is one crucial detail that I want to point out in this passage. Bartimaeus throws his cloak aside before running to Jesus. This cloak would have been very important to him. It would have protected Bartimaeus from the rain and sun. It probably would have served as his blanket at night. Most likely he set it on his lap to collect the coins that people gave him as they passed by. Very likely it was all that he owned in the world, yet Bartimaeus casts it aside at a moment's notice. Why?

Bartimaeus believed that Jesus was going to heal him. He believed the promises that Jesus had to offer were worth far more than even his most prized possession.  He didn’t have very much, so he did not find it difficult  to lay it all down in order to follow Christ. We should all seek to be more like blind Bartimaeus. He exemplifies what dangerous faith is all about—complete surrender. Like him we ought to throw off all that would hinder us from running to Christ. A call to discipleship entails taking up our crosses and laying not only our possessions but our very lives on the altar. “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). 

But the more we have to lose, the harder it is for us to live fully surrendered to God. I like the way Wesley put it, “Beware that you cleave not to the dust. ‘This earth is not your place’” (Wesley, 6). This world is passing away. It is but dust. We cannot cling to this world and live our lives for the kingdom of God at the same time. If our hope is placed firmly in the promises of God concerning the new world that is to come, then we must walk through this world “as aliens and strangers” (Hebrews 11:13, I Peter 2:11).

I challenge you today to surrender your whole life and all of your possessions to God. I am convinced that this is a necessary component of the call to faith. This is not optional. According to Romans 10:9, in order to become a Christian you must confess “Jesus is Lord.” This is, at its heart, a recognition of Christ’s sovereignty over all of creation. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Surely, this requires acknowledging Him as Lord of your own life as well. Has your heart been relinquished to His control? If not, then I urge you today to confess “Jesus is Lord.” Maybe you have confessed it in your own heart but not publicly. If so then I challenge you to consider being publicly baptized as a symbol of this declaration.

I leave you with this. Which of these two men are you most like? Are you willing to lift your life up to God with open hands and tell him that he can have total control? Are you willing to live fully surrendered?

For further reading this week:
  • Mark 10: Read the whole chapter.
  • Galatians 2:19-21: Dying so you might live?
  • Hebrews 11: Consider how the heroes of our faith had to let go of this world in order to grasp onto God's promises for their lives. What do you need to let go?
Wesley, John. “On Riches: Sermon 108.” ed. Thomas Jackson. 1872.