Snapshots: Day 41

Snapshots: Day 41

The Snapshot: “The Lord said, “I have indeed seen…” (Ex 3:7) Foolish people say, “God doesn’t see.” Yes He does! Foolish people say, “God is powerless otherwise He would act.” No He’s not, He’s just waiting for the right time, for the circumstances to be right for action. Don’t worry about Moses, it’s not him, he’s just a plane caught in a holding pattern over the airport, waiting for the right time to land – only he doesn’t know it yet.  We get so caught up in our own little self-concerned worlds that we fail to realise that sometimes God is waiting for bigger things to come into line. Check out Eccles 3:1-8.  Easter came at ‘just the right time’ (Rom 5:6). The trouble is we probably don’t realise these things. That means we are just left with trust, and you can trust Him.

Further Consideration: Theologian, evangelist and writer, Michael Green in his well-known book, ‘Evangelism in the Early Church’, suggested that the Roman peace (pax Romana) meant that “the spread of Christianity would have been inconceivable had Jesus been born a half a century earlier.”  Not only that, the use of the Greek language “was so widely disseminated through the Mediterranean basin that it acted as an almost universal common tongue.” Add to this the existence of the Jewish religion that had spread so far afield, so that “The Christian faith grew best and fastest on Jewish soil, or at least, soil that had been prepared by Judaism,” and you have all the natural ingredients for the rapid spread of the Faith.

We so often, rightly, attribute the spread of the Gospel to the work of the Holy Spirit but that does not say that He doesn’t use the affairs of man in which to work. We would do well to observe that the narratives of the Bible do very clearly move on one from another in clear chronological or historical order with references made again and again to things that happened earlier, and on which current events depend. Unlike a fairy story or so-called ‘myths’ the ‘story line’ within the Bible is not a series of random events, but clearly interlinked events, bound together by common geographical history – and a divinely declared purpose, and it is within this that God moves.

So when the Lord says to Moses, “I have seen….”  that is but the prologue to Him explaining that all this was part of the covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex 6:2-8). It is clear that God holds back judgment but knows how long it will take foolish mankind to build up their sin to the point of no return, at which point He steps in. God’s times are not accidental. He sees and He knows how long He can hold back – and then He acts.  Never ever think that we can do things that we can hide from God. We can’t

50. More on Faith

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

50. More on Faith

Lk 16:10  One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much

Lk 17:5,6  The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Lk 18:8  when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Continuing on: This subject is too big to just leave there; it is at the heart of all that the church is. As I was thinking about this, I ran across this quote from the writings of Pastor-Teacher Jeff Lucas speaking about discipleship: “The gospel call is not to ask Jesus into our hearts – His coming to where we are, but rather that we become His followers and friends, who go with Him where He is going. And it’s not just that we travel through the scenery of changing circumstances, but into the personal metamorphosis that He brings. We’re called to be a people on the move, forward into change, onward into being changed.” I like that, that is faith!

An Imaginary Conversation: Some time back in an earlier series, I sought to imagine the conversation between Jesus and Levi (Mk 2:14) when Jesus called him. This is what I imagined:

“Hullo, I’m Jesus.”

“Yes, I know I’ve heard all about you.”

“OK, well I’m looking for a band of men to train up to take over my work when I’m gone so I want you to come with me.”

“But I’ve got a job.”

“This will be a better one. Come with me.”

“Where are you going?”

“You’ll find out as you follow me.”

“What are we going to do?

“You’ll find out as you follow me.”

“When will I be fit enough to take over your job?”

“You’ll find out when you follow me.”

A Life of Faith: Do you see the point? It is when we have once started following Jesus that he will then show us the way. As the apostle Paul said, “we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7) Yes, it may start with having a basic belief that God exists as we saw yesterday in Heb 11 but it also means that we take the Bible and we make that our anchor point and follow all the teaching we find there. But it doesn’t end there because, as we’ve reminded ourselves a number of times, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and we are led by Him, the Spirit of Jesus with us, on a daily basis. Sometimes the path will appear obvious but not always and it is those other times that will drive us to seek Him for wisdom and understanding. Sometimes we will get by with what we feel is ‘our’ natural strength, but sometimes we will need grace, His supernatural power to cope.

That seeking Him and receiving, that is an act of faith. It started the day we first turned to Christ and were saved. It continues right the way through this present life until it takes is through to the life beyond. As Paul said in his famous ‘love chapter’, For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face,” (1 Cor 13:12)  although I prefer the picture in the old KJV, For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.” Living this side of eternity is like looking through a smoky glass, it is often unclear, and that means we have to trust, we have to step out by faith, believing what we have heard even if we cannot ‘see’ it clearly.

Growing Faith: As I have already commented, it is possible to have different levels of faith. Faith is a gift: “think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Rom 12:3) That is the starting place but does that mean that that is all we can expect in life? Paul said to the Thessalonians, your faith is growing abundantly,” (2 Thess 1:3) and to the Corinthians he said, “But our hope is that as your faith increases….” (2 Cor 10:15). There are hints of this all over the place in the New Testament, for example, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” (2 Pet 3:18) could be taken to mean, let that source of faith, your knowledge of Christ, grow in you more and more which will result in your faith level growing.

Surely this was what Jesus meant when he was explaining to his disciples how parables worked and said, “to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance.” (Mt 13:12) The same thing was said at the conclusion of the Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30): “to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.” (v.29) That almost identical wording is linked there to the story that required followers of Jesus to use what they have been given. His expectation is that we will grow in our hearing and our responding – our faith!

How does it work? The thing is there is no set pattern because if there was we could rely on the pattern rather than on the Lord himself. But I have watched and observed various things. For example the person who steps out and shares their faith with a non-believing friend or family member, is more like to do it again and again than the person who never does. You need to step out of the boat and do it once and then it becomes easier and then natural. Or there is the person who wants to learn to hold their money lightly. Whether they decide to use the tithe as a means of stepping out, or whether they simply respond a first time to a perceived need, it’s a start and once they do it and are blessed, it becomes a path to be followed, that gets more exciting as you go along it.

Or suppose there is a person who catches Jesus’ heart to heal people. They often start by praying for something minor, may be theirs or an ailment of a loved one, and to their joy, the Lord answers and heals. They are now more confident and when He does it again they are then on the lookout for people to pray for! I’ve noticed it also with the prophetic gift; someone ‘hears’ the Lord and tentatively shares it with another person who is blessed by it. They start listening more attentively, even making time to wait on the Lord. They start hearing more clearly for themselves, and they become more confident. They start praying for others and start hearing words for them, simple to start with, more complex later. These are all just ways that faith grows when we give it the chance. The truth is that God wants our faith to grow, because it blesses Him, it will bless us, and it will certainly bless others.

A Heart-of-God People: When the Lord spoke through Samuel of His choice for a king, he said, “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart.” (1 Sam 13:14) This matter of growing faith is not to be a legalistic thing, but a heart thing and that means it starts with the way we view God. Many of us have grown up either in family situations or church situations that have left us suspicious of God.  To use an analogy I’ve used recently, we tend to be like the tropical fish in a tank who most of the time shy away when a human comes close – except when it is clear they are going to feed them. Many of us think God will chide us, tell us off, do us harm, and we shy away – except when we want something. I don’t know if you have a garden or back yard with birds. If you have, you’ll know the same is true of them – they fly away as you approach, they are suspicious of you, they can’t believe you won’t do them harm.

The starting place for faith is trusting in a loving heavenly Father. In that parable of the talents we referred to earlier, the one who held on to his one talent and did nothing with it, did it because, “I knew you to be a hard man.” (Mt 25:24) If that is how you view God you will constantly have trouble with faith. Start believing that, “God is love,” (1 Jn 4:8,16) and that He is for you (Rom 8:31), start believing that He wants good for you more than you want it for yourself, and you’ll be on the path to blessing, growing and of increasing faith. When we have a church full of people who believe this – world watch out!

49. The Need for Faith

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

49. The Need for Faith

Heb 11:6 without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Lk 18:8  when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Rom 10:17  faith comes from hearing the message

 The Need: Back in Study No.13 – A People of Faith – I started out with these same verses above, and so you might wonder what we are doing rerunning this same subject. Well, I need to ask the all-important question, where in our daily individual lives and where in the corporate life of our church, do we see faith? It is there I am sure but one of the things I see Jesus doing more than once is reproving his disciples for their ‘little faith’ which implies that you can have little faith and big faith and faith in between, if I may put it like that. In this Part we are running those things that are unique ingredients to the church of the New Testament and, yes, they may be things we have touched on before but which need reiterating – and faith is a key ingredient to enable the church of the twenty-first century to survive and even flourish (I don’t accept that merely because there are millions upon millions around the world who go by the name ‘Christian’ it means they are real or part of the living vibrant church of the New Testament.)

Why the Importance? Well we have expounded these verses above before, but they bear repeating. Faith comes from ‘hearing the message’ is how we might find it put in at least one version of the Bible, but if you like we could say, faith comes from hearing the truth. (That doesn’t mean that everyone who hears the truth will respond to it, but it does mean that those with open hearts and who hear the truth, find it impacts them, lifts them etc.) Now I want to suggest to you that in the previous 48 studies I have presenting you with ‘the truth’. For the most part I have simply presented you with what the New Testament says. No doubt my own opinions are mixed in there as well, and if they are contrary to the truth, the wind will just blow them away. But what about all the myriad of verses I have presented to you over these days, did they stir faith in you, did you find a rising within you that says, “Yes, Lord!”  When the writer to the Hebrews says, “without faith it is impossible to please God,” don’t be limited by the one illustration that he gives – of believing that God exists, for although that is the starting place, accepting that He is there, faith is also believing all that He has said, and that is His word in the Bible. Now if we have hearts that are genuinely open to Him, then all of these truths of Scripture should impact us, challenge us, lift us, build us, excite us, for that is what faith does.

A Need for Wisdom: Sometimes faith has to say, “Yes, that is the truth, I agree wholeheartedly with it, yet I am not sure in my present circumstances that I can see how we can work out these practical issues.”  For instance, when I have spoken about plurality of elders, you may be someone ministering on your own and you look around and say, “But there is no one here who ‘fits’ the calibre of an elder and so as much as I would like to develop an eldership, it just not seem practical here in these circumstances.” I agree and I understand, but remaining inactive means a failure to respond in faith, and a perpetuating of a less-than-wise and less-than-scriptural pattern for church which will remain unfruitful or at least remain with limited fruit, less than the head of the church would like. The answer surely is to pray for wisdom which is the knowledge of ‘how to’.

Reviewing James’ teaching: Let’s look at one of the paraphrase version of James 1: “When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him.” (Jas 1:2-5)  First of all, don’t see your circumstances that we are addressing in this illustration as a trial. It is only such in as far as we are checking to see if you will pass the test of obeying Scripture. Don’t get down by this but simply see it as a problem to be overcome. (The problem? That we have allowed ‘church’ to become something so far from its origins that it is difficult to get back!) We overcome such problems by seeking the Lord for His wisdom, assured by scripture that He will give it. The only difficulty to be faced is, whether we will believe what He says – and then do it.

Wider Application: Now I am aware that I have been using plurality of elders as an example here (which may not be your particular issue) but the same thing can apply to any of the other issues I have covered – vision, learning, real life, power etc. – and we need to do the same thing if we cannot see how this particular ‘issue’ is to be worked our for us individually. Our great danger always, is that we read the things in ‘academic mode’ i.e. we see them, say yes, that seems right, but we leave it there, just head knowledge. I will later be touching on the subject of obedience but that is what Jesus looks for, not merely an academic acceptance that goes nowhere.  Seeking God for wisdom as to exactly how to work out these things in my own local circumstances must surely be the pathway through.

Sometimes these things can be very simple and very practical. For example in the case of plurality of eldership, our sole preacher/minister/pastor might start off a new teaching series with the words, “We tend to take for granted the way we do things in church, but I wonder how the church in the years following Jesus three years of ministry did it, and are there things we can learn from them? What were the characteristics of that first century church, how did they do things, and what might we learn from them?” This paves the way to gently open up the subject. At the same time the lonely minister prays for the Lord to raise up those in the congregation who will with humility show care and concern for the congregation, revealing a servant heart, some perhaps expressing more of a spiritual concern, others revealing a more practical concern. Patience and perseverance and a gentle approach – but a positive approach – are key here. Can I win my people over to see something that is different from what they have only known in the past?

And so? Put most simply, and this is as far as we will go for the moment, can we be those who, confronted with the teaching of the New Testament, will allow our hearts to be stirred and yearn to go forward, and who are willing to think through the issues and pray them out before the Lord. The theory is easy but applying it does need the wisdom and grace of God. Faith is responding to the word of God positively, making ourselves available to Him, seeking Him, crying out to Him to bring change that takes the church from being on the defense to stepping up and confronting the world with the truth that can be verified by life transformation, community and culture transformation. We desperately need this today in the West. Can we rise to that goal?

13. A People of Faith

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 2 – A Different People

13.  A People of Faith

Heb 11:6 without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Lk 18:8  when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Rom 10:17  faith comes from hearing the message

Faith? I have a feeling that as we come to this subject we come to the heart of the challenges that I find confront me as a leader and as I let my eyes wander over the congregation of whom I am a part today. But it is also at the heart of what it is to be a true Christian. It is this subject of ‘faith’, and it is vital that we distinguish belief from faith.

Faith & Belief:  Now we must not confuse faith with belief. The apostle James nailed this one. Listen: faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (Jas 2:17-19) We started this particular Part by considering that all Christians are believers (Study 9) but see what James says: (i) Faith has to be accompanied by action.  (ii) Deeds alone are not a substitute. (iii) Belief alone is not adequate. Faith is belief in action.

Belief, the Starting Point: In that previous study no.9 I noted that there has to be a body of belief which led us through into this new life, and we considered believing that Jesus is the unique Son of God who has to be our Lord and Saviour. It is that initial belief that motivates us and which the Holy Spirit uses to convict us so that we come to a point of surrender and repentance. That initial believing and that initial action is what theologians call ‘saving faith’, it is the belief plus action that opens the door for God to come and declare us justified (which we will go on to consider in the next study) and adopted (the subsequent study) and then indwelt by His Spirit. We tend to be a little casual in our language and so we often just call Christians ‘believers’ (as I have done previously) but the reality is that ‘belief’ is just the starting point and the ongoing life is – if there is to be any reality in it – a life of faith. So what does that mean?

Faith comes from hearing: One of our verses above from Romans 10 suggests that, not only is faith belief in action, it is action in response to God. God speaks, we hear and we respond. THAT is faith. Now if you are stuck in unbelief you will say, “But I can’t hear God.” Yes, you can. There are different levels of ‘hearing’. For instance Rom 10:17 that we only partly quoted, goes on, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” Where do you find that “word about Christ”? In the Gospels in the New Testament. The apostle Paul declared, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe,” (1 Thess 2:13) and thus put his own speech on the level as that of the prophets of old, and was therefore ‘the word of God’. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.” (Heb 13:7) Then of course there are Paul’s famous words, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Tim 3:16) If God breathes it, it is His word.

We ‘hear’ when we read the Bible, we hear when we hear a preacher or a prophetic word brought, we ‘hear’ when the Holy Spirit whispers truth into our hearts and minds – but it depends on the state of our heart.  You could listen to a preacher and say, “What rubbish!” despite the fact that he was anointed and spoke with God’s authority. You can open the Bible and randomly read and nothing happens. On the other hand you can feel spiritually hungry and pray, “Lord, please speak to me through your word,” and suddenly it goes alive and you are challenged and transformed. So faith is also a heart response – a right heart response – to what you hear. If you have set in your mind that God doesn’t speak then you won’t hear.

A Personal Story: Relationship with God, which is what faith is all about, can touch our hearts and minds and emotions. I was recently reminded of something that happened to my wife and I many years ago. We belonged to a little evangelical church. We knew little of the life of the Spirit, even less of gifts. One day we heard some news about someone in our family, someone not particularly close and also many miles away. I found myself strangely disturbed by this news and felt in real anguish for them. This feeling carried on and I shared it with my wife and said I had a feeling that I was feeling what God felt for this relative. She responded negatively, “That’s presumptuous, we can’t feel what God feels.” Well we had an ongoing conversation about this that went on and off for the next three days. It was three days later that we attended the church prayer meeting and during the course of it, the pastor’s wife brought this ‘prophecy’. It wasn’t directed so no one else knew it was for us but in it the Lord said very clearly that He had been listening to us and, yes, He had shared His heart with me so that what I had been feeling was from him. It then got scary, because the prophecy went on to literally quote things we had both said in this ongoing three-day conversation, giving point by point answers to what we had both said!  That woman spoke out in faith; we heard it as God speaking by faith. That was relationship, that was communication with God.

Belief then Faith: Consider for a moment the first of our starter verses from above: “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6) Do you see that? Belief in God comes first but it is clear that the writer means a belief that goes into action – seeking God – and that action is faith. Indeed, as Christians, everything we do is supposed to be by faith. My starting point is turning to God. I do that freshly every morning. For me, my personal practice is first thing in my ‘Quiet Listening Time’ to declare my submission to Him and reliance upon Him, for His salvation, His direction and His presence. I present me and my family to Him with thanksgiving. And I listen. That is just my practice. These days I have learnt to have a notebook beside me and I jot down the things that start flowing in my mind. I get guidance for the day or the days ahead. Look at the verse again. Do I hear complaints that “God never rewards me”? Is it because we don’t “earnestly seek him”?

Ready for Return: Finally, let’s pick up that verse we’ve mention before, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) I’ve said it before, but I find that a real challenge. The things I wrote about in study no.4, ‘Wondering about Fitness of Purpose’, make me feel we are rushing towards this Doomsday scenario and I wonder how much more the Lord will allow, and I wonder if He will use these things to bring the catastrophes that are spoken about in the book of Revelation. Godless mankind has brought into being – and is in the process of bringing into being – means of self-destruction in ways and magnitude never dreamt of a hundred years ago. Whether it is then, or simply when He calls us home, will He find in us a people of faith? Not a people who live by rules or rituals but a people who live out of a living relationship with the One True God, mediated by His Son who sits at His right-hand ruling in the midst of his enemies, and enabled by His Spirit who indwells all true believers. A people of faith? THAT is ‘church’.

Next we will go on to see what happens to us that make us different when we come to God through Christ and are born again.

(Here again at the end of this Part we provide an overview of the series)

Part 1 – Falling Short?

  1. Wonderings about Church
  2. Concern for People
  3. Challenged by Scripture
  4. Wondering about ‘Fitness for Purpose’
  5. Problems with Religion and Revival
  6. Appearance & Performance (1)
  7. Appearance & Performance (2)

Part 2 – A Different People

  1. Different
  2. Believers
  3. Supernatural
  4. Repentance and Conviction
  5. Needing to be ‘Saved’?
  6. A People of Faith

Part 3 – Making of Believers

  1. A Guilt-Free People
  2. No Longer Orphans
  3. Growing in Sonship
  4. The Yeast of Humility
  5. Getting on a Learning Curve
  6. The Reality of Sacrifice
  7. No Add-ons
  8. Servant-hearted (1)
  9. Servant-hearted (2)

Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

  1. The Significance of Vision
  2. More on ‘Why Vision?’
  3. The God Focus
  4. Spiritual Expressions
  5. Building People

Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

  1. Clear your Mind
  2. A New Creation
  3. Life (1)
  4. Life (2)
  5. Being Together
  6. Fellowship

Part 6 – thinking about Leaders

  1. Led
  2. Local leaders – overseers
  3. Local leaders – shepherds
  4. Local leaders – elders
  5. Local Leaders – The Nature of the Church (1)
  6. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction
  7. Gifts of Ministries – to plant
  8. Gifts of Ministries – to build up
  9. The Servants – Deacons
  10. The Nature of the Church (2)

Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

  1. Uniqueness
  2. Another quick look at ‘Vision’
  3. Power – for Life Transformation
  4. Power – for Life Service
  5. Power – for Living
  6. The Need for Faith
  7. More on Faith.
  8. Obedience
  9. Finale – the Church on God’s heart

43. Stop Grumbling

Short Meditations in John 6:  43. Stop Grumbling!

Jn 6:43   Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered  

So in v.41 we saw the crowd grumbling because of Jesus speaking about coming down from heaven and then in v.42 the fuller explanation, that they thought they knew his background so the whole thing didn’t make sense. Now we have Jesus telling them off for this grumbling.

We noted in v.41 that grumbling is an irritable or grumpy response, a negative response that looks to blame the communicator, but Jesus is going to give a completely different reason from the one we might give for their grumbling, but we’ll have to wait until the next verse for that.

We did consider previously how grumbling is the evidence of a bad attitude which we often see or hear about at the end of Sunday morning’s when the preacher doesn’t live up to expectations, but here we face something different: the challenging Jesus.

We are living in a period where we so often try to focus on God’s love but the trouble with that (and I started placing this emphasis over twenty years ago) is that it can almost sound like God tolerates whatever we do. I know I have said many times in the past, “God loves you exactly like you are, but He also loves you so much that He has something better for you than you have at present.” Very often we have tended to major on the first half of that mantra about God loving you exactly as you are, particularly to help those with low self-esteem or those who feel beaten up by their failures or the hard knocks of life. And it is true. We see it in the way Jesus took on board the disciples, the way he treated Zacchaeus and the way he accepted tax collectors and ‘sinners’.

But the second part of that mantra is equally important, that God desires more for each of us, so that we are able to receive yet more of His love, but that comes not by staying as we are, immature and childish with little understanding, but by Him changing us and it is at this point that we encounter the challenging or correcting Jesus.  To the woman caught in adultery it was, “Go, leave your life of sin.” (Jn 8:11) To Zacchaeus it was ‘come and invite me into your life’. (Lk 19:5). With Nicodemus he challenged his inability to understand (Jn 3:10).  Again and again we find Jesus challenging belief, looking for faith in the people before him and what he did then he does with us today. Remember the apostle Paul said the Scriptures are useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting,” (2 Tim 3:16). Teaching sounds fine but ‘rebuking’ means reprimanding, censoring, scolding, while ‘correcting’ means putting right, changing to get it right, changing from wrong to right.  Jesus does all this with us. Are you OK with that?

8. Different Faith Levels

Short Meditations in John 6:  8. Different faith levels

Jn 6:8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up,  

One thing I have observed over the years is that each Christian has different faith levels.  This may be in general terms, i.e. someone has a generally low level of faith, or the opposite, or it may be to do with a specific area. For example, one person may have a high level of faith for praying but perhaps little faith for giving, while another person my have great faith for giving but little when it comes to praying. Thus we should never take each other for granted and in the event of faith being needed, check around to see faith levels in individuals.

So, it is interesting when we observe the disciples being gently put under pressure by Jesus over the matter of providing food for the crowd, to see different responses. Philip, we’ve just seen, basically shut down the conversation, writing the problem off because of the size of it, but now Andrew joins in. His faith is only slightly greater as we’ll see tomorrow, but at least he does contribute a slight possibility, even though, we’ll see, he also virtually writes it off.

Rom 12:3 talks about faith as a gift given to us by God and 12:6 speaks of grace given as a gift from God. Now faith, of course comes from hearing (Rom 10:7) and therefore it would appear that our faith level depends a) on what grace God gives and b) how we hear and then respond. Responding is, of course, down to our will.

You might have expected that the faith levels of the disciples would be very high, seeing Jesus healing people or performing miracles on a fairly regular basis, but it obviously doesn’t work like that because there are times when Jesus chides them for their little faith and again and again throughout their time with Jesus, it seems that their growing faith or absence of it, is a key issue.

When they went out in pairs, sent by Jesus they seem to have come back full of joy because of the things they had seen and done and so they had clearly moved in significant faith on that occasion.

I believe there are some basics about how to grow faith, what are probably fairly obvious things so, for example, when we regularly read and study God’s word, and when we are regularly praying and listening to God, these are times when we are in His presence and this, perhaps more than most things, helps establish faith. The more we respond to what we believe we are hearing the more our confidence and our faith will rise to enable us to step out more in other areas perhaps – but it is always a new experience and new faith is needed for every new encounter. It is a constantly new learning encounter and requires fresh faith to step out. Faith is the risky side of being a Christian.

63. In and Out (The End)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 63. In and Out (The End)

Heb 11:13-16   All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.

Possibilities:  The thrust of these studies throughout is that God delivers us out of the bad into the good; that is what redemption is all about, but as I come to the end I am aware that the fact that we have been saying it is an ongoing process and that we are ‘works in progress’, means that for many things in our lives, there is still a sense of incompleteness, of not having been fully delivered out and fully delivered in. I am always aware of what the writer to the Hebrews says about the people of faith from the Old Testament in our starter verses above. There are some crucial things to be noted that impinge very much on this idea that we have been pursuing of ongoing redemption.

Unfulfilled Promises: “They did not receive the things promised.” That is a pretty honest statement, and one which can both be misunderstood and used by critics of God and faith – “See, you say God does this and that, but as I watch your life, so much of it doesn’t seem to be so wonderful in the way you talk about!”   Ah, but read on, “they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” The Message version paraphrase puts it, “They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world.” I like that.

An Illustration: Those people realized that this world was purely an entrance foyer to eternity and they were simply passing through it. I like that picture I’ve just touched on. Imagine a cold, rough, harsh street in which you have lived, and in front of you is a great building and you hear a voice calling, inviting you to come in. As you peer in through the open doors you see an interior that is so different to this street outside. You realize you have tolerated this awful street for too long and you long to experience the wonder of what you glimpse inside. Yet you feel unworthy and so simply kneel on the steps, but a voice calls again and bids you enter. In humility you timidly pass through the entrance doors. Inside it is full of light and beauty. A servant comes up and offers you new clothing and you realise all you had worn previously was threadbare, torn and dirty. In a vestibule to the side you are able to change, and you emerge in splendor.

The area inside the entrance doors is enormous and glorious and splendid and there is so much to see. There are so many things to which your attention is drawn, and time passes rapidly as you enjoy and enter in to so much of what is before you. But then the voice comes yet again and invites you to ascend the stairs that lead out of this area, but you hesitate. There is so much here in this room that has become so familiar, there is so much that is good, and you feel there is still so much yet to explore, and so you hesitate.  But the voice is persistent, and you know it is a command which you cannot refuse and so you ascend the stairs and pass through the door at the top. Suddenly your breath leaves you because what is before you cannot be described as a room, it is a world, and you gasp at its beauty, and as you glance back through the door behind you, all that you had been experiencing simply looked grey by comparison to the wonder, the color, the brightness before you and, suddenly, you realize that the room below where you had spent so much time, yes, so much more wonderful than the street outside, was but the entrance foyer to this new world.

It is but an illustration, but an accurate one I believe. The street outside was our old life. Entering the doors was our conversion. The time spent in the entrance foyer was simply to start to prepare us for the reality to come. Accurate? But incomplete, for it is but a parable, and parables never tell the whole story. So back to our experience of this ‘entrance foyer’, a place of promises where some are fulfilled and experienced, and some are simply glimpsed at a distance as we gaze up the staircase and catch just a glimmer of what is beyond.

Past, present and future:If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” Do you see the three periods within this verse? The past – the country they had left. Surely this refers to Abram, delivered ‘out of’ his old life in Ur. The present – implied, the land where he now lived, Canaan, learning to experience God’s presence. The future – a better country, a heavenly one. His encounters with the Creator-God of the world left him with a yearning, for something better, but for years he had to live out his life on this earth, struggling with childlessness, struggling to believe the promise of God, struggling with trying circumstances, struggling with a wife who wanted to speed faith up, struggling with apparently impossible commands of God to give up the fruit of the promise, struggling to remain true to God’s calling and find a wife for the fruit of the promise, a woman who would not absorb the fruit of the promise (yes, Isaac!) into the life and the ways of Canaan. Yes, the life of this man of faith was so often a struggle, but that is how life is in this fallen world.

In and Out: But here is the thing, and let’s continue with Abraham as our example, having been delivered out of Ur (by the calling of God), as we watch his life portrayed in those many chapters of Genesis, the Lord is with him and is delivering him IN the land, IN his present life. The Lord is delivering him from himself and from his wife’s wrong notions, He is delivering him from enemies in the land and from the outworkings of the folly of his nephew, He is delivering him IN Canaan. But he, like the other faith-filled saints of Hebrews 11, catches a view of something better, something more, and so, like them, has now been delivered OUT of this present world into the land of promise, not Canaan but eternity in God’s presence, heaven.

And Us? We are just the same, for we too experience being delivered out of our old life, are being delivered IN this present life and will one day be delivered OUT of it into eternity. In this present world, we have to accept it is often a world of struggles, of trials and even tribulations and God will deliver us IN the midst of these things and then OUT of them. A crisis arises in life, and it causes us great anguish. We cry out to the Lord, but the circumstances don’t change, they cannot, they have happened – but peace comes, and we are delivered OUT of the anguish, even in the midst of the unchanging circumstances. “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) There are also times when the circumstances change as we pray, and we are delivered OUT of them; it is that simple. As we noted with Peter and James, we can never guarantee the outcome. James was executed by Herod (Acts 12:2) while Peter was imprisoned prior to a similar death but then was delivered out of the prison by an angel. James was delivered into eternity, while Peter was delivered into freedom, only later to also face martyrdom, being prematurely delivered into eternity.

Living in the incomplete and imperfect: So here we are in this present world. Satan’s greatest temptation is to try to get us to believe that this is all there is, and thus live a totally self-centred and godless life. All the while the Spirit of God reaches out to us to remind us of the truths we have been considering here today; we are living in the redemptive process of God. This world is but the ‘entrance foyer’ to eternity. However, within it, because it is a fallen world where sin prevails, it is often a struggle, and yet all the resources of God are there and are being employed by heaven to deliver you IN this world so that at the right time – His time – you can be delivered OUT of it and INTO your inheritance waiting for you in eternity.

This is the ‘big picture’ that we are called to live by, all because of God’s incredible love for us, manifested through the amazing work of the Son of God on the Cross at Calvary, and the ongoing working of His Holy Spirit.  See it, live it, rejoice in the wonder of the present and at tiny glimpses of the even more wonderful future that is still to come on this earth and then into an even more incredible dimension in heaven. Hallelujah and Amen!