Posts Tagged ‘Faithfulness’

Live Strong by Faith

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Hebrews 11:1–3 (NLT) Great Examples of Faith

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.  By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

Hebrews 11, called the “Hall of Faith,” is one of the most beloved chapters in the Bible.  In Heb. 10:37, 38, the author quotes from Hab. 2:3, 4 “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay.  And my righteous ones will live by faith…”

As he thinks about living by faith.  He begins with a definition of faith.  He says, “Faith is resolute confidence…”  The word translated confidence in the NLT is hupostasis.  Hupostasis is a noun meaning ‘resolute confidence,’ literally, standing under or understanding; assurance.  The word translated as “conviction” is elegchos, meaning certain persuasion.  In this case, “Faith is the resolute confidence of what we hope for, the conviction of things not seen.”  (v. 1) The author’s 2 fold definition suggests that if we can see it, then it is not faith.  Faith is acting on what God has revealed about God’s will and character.  “For by it the people in days of old gained a good reputation.”  (v. 2)

In v. 3, the author begins to repeat this phrase, “Pistei…” meaning “By faith…” “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.”  This is a fundamental belief of both Judaism and Christianity (Gen. 1:1-3).  God created everything in the universe that we can now see, and it was all created out of nothing.  A life of faith understands that, by analogy, God’s promises are real and will be called into reality by God, even if at present they are unseen.

The normal Christian life is a life lived by faith.  This is the main point of the text.  God is faithful and can be counted on to bring to completion all of God’s plans and promises.  The normal life of faith means living in the light of eternity.  All of the examples that follow (vv. 4-31) demonstrate this life of faith.

The remainder of the chapter can be divided up into 3 sections and a conclusion:  Introduction (vv. 1-3); I.  Examples of faith from Abel to Abraham (vv. 4-12); Interlude:  Faith of pilgrims (vv. 13-16); II.  More examples of faith from Abraham to Rahab (vv. 17-31); Conclusion:  Overview of the history of OT faith (vv. 32-40)

For example, Enoch was taken up into heaven and did not face a normal death.  (Gen. 5:24).  The author uses Enoch as an example to cite this principle in v. 6:  “And it is impossible to please God without faith.  Anyone who wants to come to God must believe that God exists and that God rewards those who sincerely seek God.”  The author alludes back to his theme verses from Hab. 2:3, 4 (Heb. 10:37-38).  The belief that God exists is a properly basic belief.  And the second belief follows it, that the God in whom we believe is able to fulfill all God’s promises.  God is faithful and trustworthy.  God will fulfill all God’s promises.  In all our difficulties and trials, we can trust in God and anticipate the fulfillment of God’s promises.

In the example of Abraham, the author cites 2 events in Abraham’s life:  the calling of Abraham (vv. 8-10; Gen. 12:1-2; 10:-13:18); and the birth of Isaac (vv. 11-12; Gen. 22:17)  The OT account tells us that Abraham obeyed God, and God counted his obedience as righteousness.  Abraham stepped out in faith, not knowing where he was going, but only obeying God as he understood that God promised him a land which not he, but his descendants would possess:  the promised land (a major theme in this text).  And the author identifies the Promised Land with “a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God” to which Abraham was confidently looking forward.  He takes the Promised Land to be, not the physical land of Canaan, but the heavenly Kingdom of God.  (v. 10)

In the interlude (vv. 13-16), the author says that “All these people died still believoing what God had promised them.  They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it.  They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth.”  (v. 13)  They were strangers (xenoi) and exiles (parepidemoi).  Xenos means a guest, stranger, meaning a friend although a stranger.  Parepidemos means a stranger, a sojourner; not simply one who is passing through, but a foreigner who has settled next to native people.  This points out a basic understanding of the nature of the Christian life.  This world is not our home, rather we are here as strangers and foreigners, immigrants if you will.  We are passing through this world until we get to our real heavenly home.

Living strong by faith involves resolute confidence in response to what God has made known (11:1-3).  As seen in the examples of faith in Hebrews 11, living strong by faith is the normal Christian life.  We live in the light of eternity.

Living by faith as demonstrated in the example of ch. 11 shows how faith worked in the lives of Abraham, Moses, and the other OT saints.  The danger is that we might say, “I’m not like Abraham, or Moses, or David.  They are in the Bible.”  But when you examine the biblical record you find that Abraham was a liar as was Jacob. Sarah was a doubter.  Joseph was a tattle-tail.  Moses was a murderer.  David was an adulterer.  The account ends with Rahab the prostitute.  These were just ordinary people living ordinary lives, until they responded to the call of God.  And even after stepping out in faith they still struggled.  They never received the promises of God, they lived in the light of those promises, understanding that God is faithful.  And the faithful God who calls us to step out in faith, will also be faithful to fulfill his promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ.  So the author concludes:  “For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.”  (v. 39)

 

 

Christ’s Good Soldier

2 Tim 2_4-4

2 Timothy 2:3–7 (NLT)  Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules. And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things.

Paul is writing perhaps his final letter to his beloved son in the faith Timothy.  As he sat in prison, he was thinking about all the things that he wants Timothy to know.  The things he would tell him in person if he were present.  When I was activated for Operation Desert Storm, my son was only about 4 years old.  As we had no idea that the war would be so short (it was actually finished before we had finished our training), we were all thinking about what might happen to us.  I wrote in my journal many pages of what I wanted my son to know as he grew up in case I never returned.  Thankfully, the war was very short and I returned safely after only half a year.

Paul uses a couple of metaphors in this passage.  He compares the Christian life to that of a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer.  As a retired soldier, I am often reminded that the values of the US Army are deeply ingrained in me.  Many of these values are the same or similar to Christian values:  loyalty, duty, respect, self-less service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.

As Christians, Paul says we should be like soldiers.  Paul had in mind, perhaps, the Roman soldier who kept him captive and had charge over him in the Mamertine prison.  What Paul says is still true for soldiers today.  Soldiers don’t involve themselves in civilian affairs.  (v. 4)  Instead they endure suffering along with their comrades.  A study was conducted in WWII as to why soldiers fought.  The answer was not because they believed in the mission (even though most did), nor because their commander told them to, nor because of patriotism (although they were patriotic), but rather, they fought because they wanted to protect their friends, their comrades in arms, the man to the right and to the left of them in line.  They had endured the suffering of hard training together before they deployed, and endured the hard suffering of the war together.  So they fought not to let their friends down.  Paul is encouraging Timothy to endure suffering like a good soldier by having a mission focus.

Mission focus is a concept that the Army came up with maybe 30 years ago.  The overall mission of the Army “is to fight and win our Nation’s wars by providing prompt, sustained land dominance across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict in support of combatant commanders.”  Everything that the US Army does is to fulfill that mission.  Each combat mission has a military mission statement that falls under that mission statement.  The Army’s focus then is on fulfilling the mission.  They have mission focused training, and mission focused structure that enables the US Army to fulfill its mission.

Likewise the church has a mission.  Our mission statement is given in Matt. 28:19, 20:  “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.  And be sure of this:  I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Everything we do should be focused on fulfilling this mission.  Everything means everything:  how we live our lives, how we structure our church, how we conduct business in the church, our outreach to new people, what kinds of programs we have in the church, how we welcome and make places for new people in the church.

In the realm of all possible good things, there are many good things that the church can do.  But every church struggles with the same limitations, no matter how large or how small.  We all have limited resources of time, money, and volunteers.  Everything we do should maximize our mission accomplishment.

How do we do that?  In my ministry, I have tried to focus my time and energy on the 20% of activities that will accomplish 80% of the mission.  These are what we used to call mission essential tasks.  If we do these 20% of activities, then we will accomplish 80% of the activity.  What would our churches look like if our entire focus was on fulfilling the mission which Christ has given to us?

Many people think that the church in the US is declining, because of increased theological liberalism, others think it is because we are not liberal enough.  My research on church growth has indicated that theological bent (however we describe it) has little or no bearing on church health or vitality.  What makes the difference is whether a church is focused on the mission of reaching new people and making new disciples for Jesus Christ.  If a church is focused on reaching new people with the Gospel through evangelism and witness, and outreach and mission, then they will probably be a vital and healthy congregation, and they will grow, no matter where they are, or what circumstances they are in (the demographics of the area).

Lord, help me to endure hardship like a good soldier.  Help me to have the same mission focus that you had, to always keep your mission in mind, that I will please you, my commanding officer.  Forgive me for the times when I forget my mission and lose my mission focus and get involved in trivial controversy and fighting over words.  Strengthen me to control my tongue.  In your name I pray.  Amen.

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith

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1 Timothy 6:11–16 (NLT) But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses. 13 And I charge you before God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good testimony before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you obey this command without wavering. Then no one can find fault with you from now until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 15 For, At just the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. 16 He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! Amen.

Before Paul closes his letter, he gives Timothy a charge to live a life beyond approach.  Paul calls Timothy “a man of God.” Oftentimes, we think of this book as a book for all who are in full-time ministry.  Certainly, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus have this application, as Timothy is serving as the pastor over the church in Ephesus at this time.

Yesterday was Father’s Day (Sunday, June 19, 2016), there can be no greater title for a human man, than that of father.  But with fatherhood comes great responsibility.  Earlier, Paul admonished fathers as to how to treat your children, “Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged.”  (Col. 3:21)  In the Roman Empire, fathers and male heads of households had supreme authority over their household even to the point of holding life and death over those under their authority:  their wives, children, and slaves.

Its not so in our culture today, yet, fathers remain an important part of the lives of children.  While the role of father has been somewhat diminished in our society, yet sociologists have demonstrated that when it comes to raising children, children need both father and mother to thrive.  W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project of the University of Virginia, wrote, “But the view that men are superfluous in today’s families is dead wrong.  While it is certainly true that some children raised without fathers turn out just fine (I did), on average, girls and boys are much more likely to thrive when they have the benefit of a father’s time, attention, discipline and especially affection.  Boys are more likely to steer clear of trouble with the law when they grow up with their fathers in the home…Another study foudn that girls whose fathers disappeared before the girls turned six were about five times more likely to end up pregnant as teenagers than were their peers raised with fathers in the home.  And we know that kids – especially boys – are more likely to excel in school, and to steer clear of the principal’s office, when they are raised in a home with a father who takes their homework and school conduct seriously.”  (“Children Are Better Off With a Father Than Without One”, NYT, Dec 16, 2013)  Christian parents have an obligation to raise their children in the faith.  How much more should Christian fathers be men of God.

So, as men of God, we should flee from all the things of this world.  (1 Tim. 6:11)  Oftentimes in our culture, it seems that we live our lives as if we are playing a game in which the one who accumulates the most stuff wins.  Many things are permitted, but not everything is beneficial.  (1 Cor. 10:23)  Neil Postman, an educator, wrote a book entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he says that the contemporary world is reflected by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, whose public was oppressed by their addiction to amusement.  Although the book was written in 1984, Postman’s premise has become even more true in our society with the rise of the internet.  We should flee from the things of this world as if we were fleeing from a snake.

Instead, we should “Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.”  Righteousness and godliness describe the right attitude toward God.  Righteousness is the essence of a person who is righteous.  Righteousness fulfills God’s claims of righteousness.  A person who is righteous adopts God’s law for oneself.  Godliness is devotion or piety toward God.  The godly person fulfills their obligations to God.

Faith and love are the fundamental principles of the Christian life.  Rowland has said, “Righteousness is the offspring of faith, and godliness is the offspring of love.”  Patience and meekness express the principles required of those who will successfully resist the temptations and trials of this world.

The Christian church has severely misrepresented the life of faith.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship, wrote about what he calls “cheap grace.” “Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner” (p.46).  “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (p.47).  We have sold people a bill of goods, as if the life of faith were not costly.  We only have to walk down an aisle and say a prayer, and we are in…a heavenly insurance policy.  But as Bonhoeffer states, discipleship is a following after Christ, which means taking up one’s cross daily and following Jesus.  The way of the cross is the way of suffering and denial.  This is why the church in the United States is so weak.

There is no crown without a cross and no victory without a fight.  So Paul suggests with the admonition, “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  Muhammed Ali just passed away, probably the greatest fighter of all time.  We think he was just super talented. But the article about his career in Sports Illustrated shows that he began his career as a youth practicing in the gym daily with disciplined struggle.  At the start of his career, he did not demonstrate any particular genius as a fighter.  It was only by learning literally in the school of hard knocks that he became a great fighter.

So we believers must learn to fight the good fight of the faith, like Paul did.  We should not yield at any point.  And so we will win the prize.  We don’t fight for a belt, like Ali did, or any earthly prize, but the prize that we fight for is “the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses.”  Paul is asking Timothy to recall his testimony that he shared with the church.

Each of us has a testimony of how we came to the Lord.  In our church, we are learning how to be a witness by answering three questions:  Why God?  Why church?  Why this church?  The goal is to be able to answer those three questions in about 3 min., an elevator speech, so to speak.  One of the most powerful witnesses to the truth of the Gospel is your testimony.  Many people can resist clever and intelligent arguments about the truth of the Gospel, but no one can deny the truth of one’s own experience with the risen Lord.  So we should live into our baptism on a daily basis.

Father, God, help me to live into the covenant of my baptism.  Help me to live into the witness of the eternal life I professed before many witnesses.  Strengthen me to fight the good fight of the faith day by day.  “That being  born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”  (UMH 42) Amen.

 

 

The Return of Christ

Matthew 24:36–51 (NLT)
36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.* Only the Father knows.
37 “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38 In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39 People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.
40 “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.
42 “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 43 Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. 44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.
45 “A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. 46 If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. 47 I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. 48 But what if the servant is evil and thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ 49 and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? 50 The master will return unannounced and unexpected, 51 and he will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In Matt. 24 & 25, Jesus is speaking about the end times.  The teachings are prompted by Jesus leaving the Temple grounds.  As they leave the Temple, the disciples are awed by the beautiful structure of the Temple.  But Jesus replies to them with a prophecy concerning the destruction of the Temple.  (Matt. 24:1-2)  In response, the disciples ask him, “When will all this happen?  What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?”  (v. 3) This discourse is the final block of teaching material in Matthew.  The following narrative describes the final events leading to Jesus’ death and resurrection (Matt. 26:1-18:20)
In v. 36, Jesus clearly states that no onw will know the time when these things will happen.  In vv. 36-51, Jesus emphasizes the unexpectedness of the return of Christ.  Now Jesus deals with his final coming and the end times more consistently, while vv. 1-35 deals mostly with the timing of the destruction of Jerusalem.
If Jesus does not know the day or the hour, then his followers should not seek to determine it.  Human efforts to determine the day of Christ’s return have all failed to this day.  Every generation of Christians up to today has believed itself to be the last, especially those groups of Christians who were undergoing persecution for their faith.
The entire Book of Revelation must be read in this context.  The church in Ephesus, to whom John the apostle wrote, was suffering persecution.  The purpose of Revelation was to comfort the church that in the midst of persecution, God was still in control, and God would judge those who had been persecuting them (namely Rome, Caesar, and his servants).
Much of what passes for interpretation of the end times only serves to confirm our own expectations in a strictly American religion.  It doesn’t translate to other cultures or times.  America is seen sometimes as the new Israel.  This kind of triumphalism has led to the prevalence of Rapture theology.  It expresses the desire that Christians will escape persecution.  But if Jesus was persecuted and even killed, how much more will his followers.  Further, Jesus never hints that his followers will escape persecution.  In fact, he argues the opposite.
The point that Jesus is making in this chapter is “Keep watch!  For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.”  To illustrate his point he gives two examples from life.  If you knew when the burglar would come to steal, then you would stay awake.  If the faithful servant knew when his master would return, then he or she would stay awake and be ready for the return of the master.  The master will put the faithful servant in charge of all his possessions.
God forbid that we are like the evil servant.  The evil servant is not ready and treats his fellow servants badly.  So the master will return when he least expects him.  (by the way, Jesus hints that his return might be a long time in coming, v. 48) Jesus suggests divine judgment will fall upon the servant who is not faithful.  The point is that just as the servant should have been ready, so Jesus’ followers should be ready for his coming, whenever that may be.  Jesus calls us to be like the faithful servant.  We must be ready at any moment for the return of our Lord.  We must demonstrate faithful obedience until the day of his returning, whenever that may be.
Lord, I want to be ready.  Help me, O Lord, to be ready for your return every day.  Help me to live each day in the light of your return, so that I will be found to be a faithful servant.  In the name of Jesus my Lord.  Amen.