Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is it Faith?

I was part of a lunch time Bible study on Wednesday at work. We were spending time in Mark 4:35 - 41, Jesus calms the storm. Every time I have a conversation around this passage, it seems something new is revealed to me. Today the conversation, in the end, came around to faith. This is an area, for my left-brained, logic-centered, engineering mind, has often befuddled me.

What I mean is that it is easy and hard, at the same time, to understand faith. In the room at the Bible study, 7 people had 7 different views on what it is, what it means, and how it works.

My take has been, for a while now, that you can't really have faith if it has never been tested. What I mean is that, if you haven't ever really been to the bottom where you can't do something your self and you have to rely on God, then how can you have put your faith in God.

I realized that I've got it all backwards.

What I had in my head was saying that true faith came after you trusted God and you saw Him come through. Basically, I was saying that when you are forced to trust God (because you really have no choice otherwise) and He PROVES that He will handle things, then you will have faith.

Well, if faith is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1 NIV) then me saying that God has to prove something first is just all backwards. It would seem, instead, that true faith is the belief even without the test.

I'm not real sure where I got the initial concept of testing faith to make it real. But it had become dogma for me. I could talk about it, repeat it, even use the sound bite "Is it really faith if you've never tested it", without ever thinking about what I was really saying.

In effect, I had done what many people do today. I had tried to reduce something to a simple label or sound bite that was short and easy. Then I went on to replace the actual concept with the label. That is, for simplicity's sake, I paid more attention to this 'label' than I did to the thing that was labeled.

It turns out my theories and labels about faith are not important unless they keep me from God. C. S. Lewis says, by way of example, in Mere Christianity,

All sensible people know that if you are tired and hungry a meal will do you good. But the modern theory of nourishment - all about the vitamins and proteins - is a different thing. People ate their dinners and felt better long before the theory of vitamins was ever heard of: and if the theory of vitamins is some day abandoned they will go on eating their dinners just the same.

And that is the truth about my theories and labeling of faith. People have had faith in God, been saved, talked with Him, and had personal relationships with Christ without ever thinking about how faith works. They just know that it works.
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22 - 24 NIV)

UPDATE: Professor David Opderbeck has a much more put together and well thought out discussion of this topic over at his site, Through a Glass Darkly. Please read his excellent writings.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Do you really want justice?

I was driving home from work the other day when the I heard a short clip from a fellow named Skip Heitzig. Unbeknownest to me, Skip is the Senior Pastor at Calvary of Albuquerque and has a daily radio show called The Connection. All I knew about Skip was that he sometimes was in short segments between songs on the local contemporary Christian music radio station I often listen to. I think these segments are called "Hot Spots."

Well the one that got my attention this day started out with Skip talking about the two relatives of Mercy:

Mercy has two relatives and you will find them in the Bible interacting with one another. Its first relative is Grace. The second relative is Justice.

Skip defines Justice as "getting what you deserve", Mercy as "not getting what you deserve", and Grace as "getting what you don't deserve." That's the kind of definition that I can get a hold of. It makes me think a lot about the concept of fairness.

He points out, "Mercy and Grace have nothing to do with fairness." And that turns out to be a good thing. Over the course of many years as an adult, I grew to dislike fairness. I once thought that if everything in life would be fair, then that would be a perfect world. Well, I grew older and, though some would probably disagree, I grew wiser. I realized that in this world corrupted by sin, that fairness only existed in two forms: Satan's devouring evil and God's judgement.

Satan, as Peter tells us, is after us all equally:

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. (1 Peter 5:8 - 9, NIV)

And we think of God as being fair in His judgements. But do we really want Him to be? I mean, if Justice is getting what you deserve, I definitely don't want it. As David says in Psalm 143:2

Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. (NIV)

Now we see where the relatives come in to interact with one another. In Psalm 143:1, David pleads with God
O LORD, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. (NIV)

There is Mercy right next to cousin Justice. And David is specifically asking to NOT get what he knows he deserves. He asks for Mercy instead of Justice for himself. I have prayed that same basic prayer my whole life...

Now, if those were the only family members (Mercy and Justice) what would we have? Well, some folks would get devoured by the wolf (Justice) and some would not (Mercy). That seems like a pretty bleak existence. Always looking over your shoulder to see if it's your time and always trying to figure out what you can do to warrant some Mercy. I assume it would drive people nuts.

But God didn't leave it at that, did He? No, He introduced the other cousin, Grace. Grace is God's way of giving us what we DO NOT deserve. It's more than Mercy or escape from Justice. As Jesus says in John 10:10:

I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (King James Version)

If anyone doesn't deserve that, it is mankind.

Rob Bell, like him or not, gives an illustration of Grace in his book Velvet Elvis:

I was having breakfast with my dad and my younger son. As we were finishing our meal, I noticed that the waitress brought our check, then took it away, and then brought it back again. She placed it on the table, smiled, and said: "Somebody in the restaurant paid for your meal. You're all set." And then she walked away...

That is our invitation... To trust that grace pays the bill.

I trust that Jesus has paid the bill and it is my duty to live that way. To live for Him whose Grace AND Mercy AND Justice are perfect. And to give Him the only thing that I can even offer in return: my life as a living sacrifice to His Glory.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

What do you trust?

I like to read. A lot. So when I come across a theme in different things I read I often start to think about why it is there. No most of the time I need to have a hint applied with a 4 pound hammer (just ask my wife!) but I think I picked up on this one pretty quickly.

I came across two things on the same day that got me to thinking about faith again. The first was the daily email from Ransomed Heart Ministries. In the excerpt from his book "The Sacred Romance", Eldredge says

Sometimes the way God treats us feels like betrayal. We find ourselves in a dangerous world, unable to arrange for the water our thirsty souls so desperately need. Our rope won’t take the bucket to the bottom of the well. We know God has the ability to draw water for us, but oftentimes he won’t. We feel wronged. After all, doesn’t Scripture say that if we have the power to do someone good, we should do it (Prov. 3:27)? So why doesn’t God?
John sums the section up by remarking:

Indeed, how do we not only trust him, but love him in return? There’s only one possible answer: You could love him if you knew his heart was good.
So that got me thinking about trusting God without knowing what He is up to with my life, the world, the universe (you get the point). I mean, I don't know why the events and conditions in my life are the way they are. I don't know why God chooses to do (or not do) certain things. If only I knew his agenda...

Ok, so that was in the morning. That evening I opened up an issue of CCM magazine and they had a piece in their "The Proof Is In The Blogging" section from Nick Macneill's blog post Faith in Chairs. In his post, Nick talks about the spectacular failure of his new office chair and wonders "Is it not sad that people have more faith in the chair they are sitting in than the God of this universe?" The part that hit me like that 4 pound hammer I mentioned above was:

Hebrews 13:5 tells us, Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Why is it that we have such a hard time trusting Him if He is yet to ever disappoint?

Still, we find ourselves doubting God when He has called us to step out and do something out of faith. We want to look at the logistics of everything. To examine and analyze it to make sure it will truly work out. And yet, if God has called us to do something, then He is going to take care of all the details for us, the details are not for us to be worrying about. The only thing we really have to do is just be willing and always ready to answer His call.

Well that got me thinking about what I read in the morning and what I thought about knowing that God's heart is good. Why do I feel like I need to know what God has planned? Why do I think that I need to test it out as if I should decide whether I like it or not? Nick hit the nail on the head: "Just step out and go wherever He sends us."

So, following my instinct to read, I opened up my Bible and found a lot of verses on trusting God (actually I did a search at Psalms is chocked full of verse of trusting God (Ps 20, 25, 31, 40, 52, 55, 56, 62, 78, 86, 91). There are probably more, too. The one that stands out to me most is Psalm 25 where the psalmist writes:

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul;
in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.
Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths;
guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
(Psalm 25:1 - 5, NIV)

So I ask, what do you put your trust in, what do you test before trusting, and what do you truly have faith in?