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Faith

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The Head & The Heart

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Someone once said the longest bridge the Christian must span is from his head to his heart. Those 18 inches may not seem like much but they make up the longest distance in the world and the most crucial spiritual journey we will ever make. The import of bridging that span is found in the difference between knowing in the mind and believing in the heart.


On one side is the intellect. What we believe in our heart must make sense in our mind. This is true. Biblical faith is based on the solid truth of God’s promises, what the Hebrew writer connects to our hope, calling it “an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast” (Heb. 6:19). This is why faith is described as the “substance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1) which offers a great word picture. Faith stands under, as a supporting structure, our hope. This is why hope based on faith in God’s promises will never put us to shame (Rom. 10:11). What we believe in our heart must make sense in our mind. The Creator made us intellectual creatures and so gives us assurance in His word.

 

For instance, we know intellectually certain things to be true. “By faith we understand that the world's were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible” (Heb. 11:3). We look around at the ordered, beautiful universe in which we live and God expects us to make that intellectual necessary inference: “I AM.” When confronted with creation the logical thinking mind will be driven to the only plausible explanation. This is precisely Paul’s point in Romans 1 in his indictment of the Gentile world. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes,  His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). He goes onto say that they refused to acknowledge what the evidence proved and received the due penalty for their error (Rom. 1:21-32).

 

But faith is not merely intellectual inasmuch as God has also created us as emotional beings. And so, many people struggle with the reverse: what I know in my mind must also make sense in my heart. Emotional intelligence and intellectual intelligence are both necessary parts in our turning to the Lord. Some people may have a tendency to amputate the emotion from the intellect and take a purely cerebral approach to faith in Jesus. But the resulting faith is weak because obedience to God springs only from a mind that knows. But obedience must also spring from a heart that loves.

 

So God doesn’t simply confront us with evidence on the front of intellectualism but just as convincing and of equal import in our turning to Him is His assault on our heart’s emotions. One of the most profound statements in Scripture is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This is an appeal to our heart. To plumb the depths of God’s love for sinners would take an eternity to comprehend with our minds but our hearts can be dominated by it without fully understanding it. Paul prayed that Christians would be able to “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19).

 

Knowledge influences affection and vise versa (Phil. 1:9). A person cannot be converted to the Lord with purely intellectual arguments any more than he can with purely emotional appeals. In Scripture the two come together to form a spear of love and logic that penetrates both heart and mind (Heb. 4:12). Until we learn to bridge that gap in our lives our devotion to God will suffer. God wants us to love Him with all our mind and with all our heart (Mt. 22:37).

 

The Amen

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only, how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen” at your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying?” (1 Cor. 14:16)

 

The word “amen” (Gr. αμεν) is a fascinating word. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who is unfamiliar with it. But what does “amen” mean? Is it a ritualistic way to end or validate our prayers? Or is it merely a way of signing off and telling God, “That’s it. My prayer is over now”? I suggest to you the meaning behind this word is far richer than we might realize.

 

The word “amen” was transliterated (the conversion of a text from one script to another where the original is copied phonetically as opposed to translation where a new word is provided that best fits the original’s meaning) directly from the Hebrew into the Greek New Testament. “Amen” continued to be transliterated into Latin and straight into English and many other languages. This means that the word “amen,” virtually unmolested through the ages, is practically a universal word. It has been called the best known word in human speech.

The word is directly related, in fact, almost identical, to the Hebrew word for “believe” (amam), or faithful. Thus, it came to mean "sure" or "truly," an expression of absolute trust and confidence. Therefore, when “amen” is used before a discourse it is testifying to the truthfulness of what is about to be said. For example, when Jesus said, “For truly (amen) I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished,” (Mt. 5:18) He was testifying to the absolute truth and trustworthiness of His declaration.

When the word is used at the end of a discourse, after a statement has been made, the “amen” is voiced as an affirmation of what has been said. In this case “amen” means “so it is,” “so be it,” or “may it be fulfilled.” It was a custom in the synagogues to voice the word “amen” after a prayer or reading of Scripture that passed on to Christian assemblies (1 Cor. 14:16). When the “amen” is voiced after a solemn prayer, reading, lesson, or prophecy the offerors made the substance of what was uttered their own. By way of affirmation, they were joining themselves to what was just said.

But “amen” is not a magic mantra that ensures God’s acceptance of a message. Instead, it is a reminder to us who utter the “amen” that the message must be brought into conformity with God’s will, not our own. “Amen” is a direct reference to Jesus who taught us to pray, “Your will be done” (Mt. 6:10). Jesus modeled His life after this concept of submitting to the will of the Father. His prayer in Gethsemane ended with, “yet not as I will, but as You will” (Mt. 26:39). Thus Jesus Himself is the ultimate “Amen” whose life was perfectly in accord with God’s will. Indeed this is how He refers to Himself to the church at Laodicea, “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness” (Rev. 3:14; cf. 2 Cor. 1:20).

We are expected to follow the example of “The Amen” in our prayers and in our lives. Those who “boast in their arrogance” were warned to pray instead, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that” (Jas. 4:15). We should have confidence that God will hear and answer our prayers when “we ask anything according to His will” (1 Jn. 5:14).

So the next time you voice the word “amen” understand that it is not a mere formality to be observed but an affirmation of your agreement and the truthfulness of a statement. The “amen” is a reminder of our Savior, “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness,” and how every aspect of our lives must come under His Lordship.

Integrity

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The word integrity or soundness comes from a Greek word that means indestructible, incorruptible, or immortal. The same word is used to describe our resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:42) that is made to withstand the glories of heaven and eternity. In a similar way, a ship’s hull is sometimes described by engineers as being sound or maintaining its structural integrity. I can’t help but think of Star Trek’s Scotty reporting to Captain Kirk on the Starship Enterprise’s integrity in the midst of some intense scene: “She can’t take much more of this Captain!” The idea is that the ship is beginning to break apart, it is losing integrity, much like the stern of the Alexandrian vessel Paul was aboard that was headed for Rome (Acts 26:41).


But the word can also be used figuratively to mean genuineness, soundness or even sincerity and can be applied to a person’s morality. Someone who has integrity adheres to a moral standard and is honest or true to himself. Like a ship’s structural integrity our moral integrity is tried every day. How are we bearing up under pressure?

 

We can lose our integrity when we compromise our beliefs and teachings to accommodate others. Paul urged the young men of Crete to be “sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified” (Titus 2:7). The word “purity” is the same word for “soundness” literally “uncorruptness” or “integrity.” In certain company do we have a tendency to corrupt the purity of our beliefs or do we maintain the gospel’s integrity?

 

When we are surrounded by unbelievers how does our moral integrity hold up? Peer pressure is the billowing wave that threatens the integrity of our faith. Ungodly influence is the powerful pressure of the atmosphere on an aircraft’s fuselage. Is it strong enough to bear up or will it be crushed like a tin can? Do we have enough moral integrity to bear up against the pressure of the world? Even though the word is not used here, Peter’s exhortation serves as an accurate picture of what it means to have integrity; “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:11-12).

 

Integrity is Christian virtue Peter calls “moral excellence” (2 Pet. 1:5) that must be increasing in our lives if we are to make our calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10). Can we pray with David, “Vindicate me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me” (Psa. 7:8; cf. 26:1)? When our life is crumbling around us and those closest to us accuse us do we maintain our integrity like Job (Job 2:3, 9)? Do we have the integrity of Daniel who would not defile himself with the king’s food (Dan. 1:8)? Do we have Daniel’s faithful resolve to continue to pray to God even when it was unlawful in man’s eyes to do so (Dan. 6:10)?

 

The gospel empowers us bear up under the pressure of the world. It can be done. It has been done. Hebrews chapter 11 is a list of those who maintained integrity in the face of danger. They act as a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) cheering us on to do the same. But there is no better example of integrity and moral character as “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus kept doing His Father’s will despite the most trying circumstances. When we walk in His footsteps we can too.

 

Falling Short

Sunday, May 15, 2016

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23)

Paul spent the better part of the first 2 chapters of Romans and most of the third proving that the Law says “no flesh will be justified in [God’s] sight” (3:19). All of humanity is in desperate need of salvation from the wrath of God that we have accrued through our sin. Paul summarizes his thought by stating that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We often focus on the first part of that statement while sometimes neglecting the second.

Most of us readily admit that we have “sinned” or transgressed God’s law in some way. Nevertheless, I met a young man in his twenties that told me he had never sinned or done anything wrong. Even after I gently pushed him to prove his position in light of what Scripture says about sin the young man maintained his conviction. I wondered to myself if this fellow had the mental capacity to be accountable before God. But he is probably the exception. Most of us know we have wronged someone at some time.

But the second part of Paul’s statement is not so readily accepted. We all have sinned “and fall short of the glory of God.” In the prophet Isaiah God speaks to His people in the language of redemption, “But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel…” (Isa. 43:1) The LORD calls attention to the fact that He designed and made His people. There is purpose behind His forming Israel just as a potter shapes his clay into a vessel of his design. The LORD goes onto say in verse 7, “Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.” We have the same thoughts echoed from verse 1 except the LORD elaborates on His design for His people here in verse 7. The vessel was designed or created for the LORD’s “glory.

That is humanity’s purpose. That is what you and I were designed for. Glorifying our Creator is what we were born to do. Here we come to the point of the second half of Romans 3:23. Falling short of God’s glory is not a simple matter of transgressing God’s law. We already know “all have sinned” and “sin is lawlessness” (1 Jn. 3:4). We’ve transgressed, we’ve walked over the line and gone too far. Again this is the easier pill to swallow. Worse than the sin itself is its consequence. In our rebellion against God we also “fall short of His glory.”

The Greek term for “fall short” means 1) behind 1a) to come late or too tardily 1a1) to be left behind in the race and so fail to reach the goal, to fall short of the end 1a2) metaph. fail to become a partaker, fall back from 1b) to be inferior in power, influence and rank 1b1) of the person: to be inferior to 1c) to fail, be wanting 1d) to be in want of, lack 2) to suffer want, to be devoid of, to lack (be inferior) in excellence, worth. (Bible.net)

The same Greek word was used classically to describe the archer who pulled back his bow attempting to hit the target but the arrow fell short. It lacked sufficient power to reach its goal. So it is with us. Our only purpose was to glorify God and we have come woefully short of our goal. We lack sufficient power to be justified/right in God’s eyes.

This is the great news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Justification comes as a free gift of God’s grace to those who possess faith. When we are made righteous by the blood of Christ washing away our sin we can finally bring God the glory He deserves. In Christ we are empowered to no longer fall short of our purpose but to meet that purpose in its fullness. In Ephesians 1, Paul wrote about the manifold blessings of being redeemed in Christ. He wrote that the ultimate purpose of our being redeemed from sin was, “to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” (Eph. 1:12) Amen! And thank the Lord.

The Grace of Giving

Sunday, March 06, 2016

“Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7)

Throughout Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to bring their collection for needy saints in Jerusalem to completion (2 Cor. 8-9) the collection itself is called many things: “the grace of God” (8:1), “a gracious work” (8:6, 7), “this generous gift” (8:20), “ministry to the saints” (9:1), “a bountiful gift” (9:5). It is no wonder, then, that Paul likened the gracious act of giving to those in need to the work of grace performed by Jesus on the cross for sinful man (8:9). Both were works of grace, the condescending favor of one party bestowed on a less fortunate party.

Naturally, giving is much more difficult than receiving. In giving to others we feel like all the blessing has gone out feeling a little emptier than when we began. Yet Jesus has taught us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) because in the act of giving, especially when we expect “nothing in return,”  we are proving to be “sons of the Most High” (Lk. 6:25). We are taught by God’s grace (2 Cor. 8:9; Titus 2:11-14) to reflect His grace toward others.

We might expect the greatest blessing in giving to others graciously to be the positive effect it brings to the recipient. Yet, this is secondary to a greater good, namely, the glorification of God (Mt. 5:16). This is the ultimate aim of God’s children in their actions of love.

If God’s glory is at the center of our exercising grace then we are freed from the fleshly lust of giving selfishly (Lk. 6:34) to give both generously and cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:6-7). Paul explained this with the principle of sowing and reaping (v.6). What is true naturally is also true spiritually (Mk. 10:30; Gal. 6:8-10). God not only supplies the seed needed to cause the fruits of righteousness to grow but He also causes the growth as well! (1 Cor. 3:6-7).

Knowing these principles to be trustworthy, we are to be purposeful and cheerful givers. Therefore, we must make up our minds to give beforehand with deliberate purpose, not in a haphazard manner nor with any reluctance. It should not pain us to give to others because we do so “not under compulsion” or of necessity. This means we should never contribute to the needs of others because we feel it is our “duty,” as if God should have to cast some gloomy shadow of obligation upon us. Such a contribution would result in the opposite of cheerfulness or happiness: regret.

On the other hand, one who has learned by God’s grace to give with grace, that is, purposefully and cheerfully, is loved by God (2 Cor. 9:7). Those, then, who are eager to receive God’s love will be motivated to give in this way (Heb. 13:16). In fact, it ought to be our pleasure to give graciously to others.

Yet there are times we grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9) and may falter in our generosity. In those seasons of spiritual drought we are no longer serving “by the strength which God supplies” (1 Pet. 4:11) and have instead fallen back into thinking we can be gracious without God. We must have faith that as long as we are seeking “first His kingdom and His righteousness” God will take care of our needs (Mt. 6:25-33). The man of faith knows that God is powerful enough to equip him to be a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:8; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Eph. 2:10).

Who is the “one man [who] gives freely, yet gains even more” (Prov. 11:24)? This paradoxical proverb describes the man who believes that being gracious to others will not diminish his capacity to provide for his own or to continue in benevolence (Psa. 37:25). He understands that God both replenishes the blessing that has gone out and fills up to overflowing. He is the branch that is pruned to bear even more fruit (Jn. 15:2).

This truth was expressed beautifully by Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:10, “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” The harvest of the Corinthians’ righteousness was the collection for needy saints. The harvest for our righteousness is whatever work of gracious giving we are engaged in.

Just as God supplies the farmer’s seed that produces bread to eat, the same gracious God will supply us with all we need to be gracious to others. Through those who give freely, God will supply a bumper crop of blessing! “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15), His grace is truly all sufficient (12:9).

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