Faith is also a grace

Thoughts about grace…

God’s essence and character are love.

Love is expressed to the object of love.

Grace (gift, favor) is an expression of God’s love.

You can’t truly separate out just one aspect of God’s character from all the others.

Consider a red delicious apple – color, shape, aroma, texture, juiciness, flavor, peeling, seeds. It takes all those to make that particular type of apple.

When God extends his word, which contains his creative life, to me – an act of his grace – all his character is wrapped up in that word. (Does he believe his own word? Does he have faith in his own word?)

God’s own faith comes too.

Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” (NIV)

 

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Faith is substance

Plasma, stem cells, and faith.

plasmaBeam-plasmaSystemI had an hour-long conversation with the Lord one recent night, as I was wondering what I should read and/or study next.

“Faith,” he said. Faith? I had studied that subject at length several times, even written about it and taught about it.

And then he said, “Faith is a real substance.”  (See Hebrews 11:1)

“By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” (Hebrews 11:3 NASB)

Well, duh. I knew that already. Everything that is real was and is created with God’s faith. It’s contained and used in his words. Words that have no faith in them don’t do anything. I began to meditate on that.

Faith itself is invisible, but you can see the results, i.e. the evidence of it. Sometimes the result is instant; sometimes it takes quite a while to see the results. But actual, real, faith is creative and the results will be real.

This faith – God faith – is not the same as human faith. It has to be transmitted to us, since we don’t come with it already installed like a computer program. Jesus offered it to the disciples.

  • “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15 NIV)
  • “And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.” (Mark 11:22)

I visualize it sort of like this… you need a pen, I have a pen. I reach out my hand with a pen in it, and say, here, take my pen. You reach out your hand and take it. I offer, you receive.

The disciples accepted Jesus’ offer by believing what he said, receiving what he said as truth. But they didn’t always use their new-found faith.

“Where is your faith?” he asked them, when the storm came up. (Luke 8:25) They had to learn how to use it. He spent a lot of time teaching them with “show and tell.”

Here’s the key: this faith (God faith) has to stay connected to the source (God), otherwise it doesn’t do anything. If it does stay connected and we put it use as directed, it will do things. And it will grow.

After I meditated on that for a while, the Lord spoke again. “What do you know about plasma?” he asked.

Well, I knew it’s interesting stuff but that’s about all. I didn’t remember very much about it, so I did a little internet research. Fascinating reading! I actually understood a little of it from  basic physics back in high school.

The bottom line of my research was this: plasma is real. In itself it’s invisible, though – what you see is the result of it. Neon lights. Lasers. The sun.

It’s been interesting to read up on plasma. What kind of materials (gases, mostly) can become plasma? What does it take to get that material into the plasma state? What happens when plasma loses connection to its instigating power source? (Here’s a hint: it stops being plasma.)

Faith is not plasma, but just as plasma is a real thing although invisible in itself, faith is a real thing, although invisible in itself. It’s been an Interesting study, so far.

Here’s a little simplified article about plasma, What Is Plasma. It’s fascinating material. http://www.rfglobalsolutions.co.uk/what-is-plasma

A more recent day as I was still contemplating faith, the Lord asked me another question. “Stem cells… remember stem cells?”  So I read up a bit on stem cells. Some of what I found is way too complicated for me, scientifically – then I found a more user-friendly site to browse through.

“Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth. In addition, in many tissues they serve as a sort of internal repair system, dividing essentially without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell.” (From Stem Cell Basics, http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/pages/basics1.aspx)

Stem cells are even more fascinating than plasma! Faith is like God’s supernatural spiritual stem cells. Amazing. Truly amazing, and wonderful, and humbling.

 

Remember the donkey

DonkeysDiscouraged. Hurt. Angry at God. Disappointed. That’s how I was feeling one morning, after a lot of discouraging things had happened the day before.

And so I had a conversation with the Lord about faith (which I had been studying more about recently).

I told him that it seemed to me faith wasn’t real; that the scriptures about faith weren’t true. The things I had believed in faith when I prayed just were not happening.

I said a lot more than that, of course, but basically I was deciding as I talked that it was pointless for me to pray for anyone or anything, or even go to church any more. What was the point, if what the Bible said would happen when we prayed really DIDN’T happen? If there were no results?

Then Jesus began quietly talking back to me. “Remember the donkey,” he said. “Remember the colt.”

The colt? I began to remember. The week before Passover, on what we call Palm Sunday, Jesus told the disciples to go to a specific place, find a specific donkey and colt, and bring them back to him. (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 20, John 12.)

I visualized that, could almost see the disciples looking at each other, shrugging their shoulders with unasked questions.

What did the disciples think Jesus was up to? Why did he want a donkey? He and they walked everywhere, didn’t they? We know now why he did it, Matthew 21:5-6 says it was so the prophecies would be fulfilled. But did the disciples know that? Whether or not they knew why, they obeyed him. They went and collected the colt.

“What were the results?” the Lord asked me. That required more thinking on my part. Well, there were several levels of results…

  • Jesus got to his destination. (The Temple in Jerusalem)
  • The crowds began praising Jesus. (Shouting Hosanna)
  • The religious leaders got upset. (Seriously plotting)
  • God kept his timetable. (Crucified on Passover)

This journey on the donkey’s back, the praise from the crowd and the upset Pharisees were necessary steps to instigating the crucifixion by the right date – Passover.

Okay, I said to the Lord. So what does that mean for me, for my prayers, my desire to see you DO something when I pray? What does all that have to do with faith at all? He recapped for me what I had just been thinking:

Immediate results – arrived at destination.
Intermediate results – stirred up opposition necessary to fulfill God’s plan.
Final results – God’s plan fulfilled.

So there are short term results, mid-term results, and long term results. Obviously some answers to prayer, God’s plans, may take a really long time to arrive. But they will arrive.

Then I began to consider that faith question, again.

Faith comes to everybody, but not everybody takes it. (Faith comes by hearing, according to Romans 10:17.) Children have to be told something first, in order to have faith, i.e. trust, just as adults do. A child learning to walk, for example.

“Walk to Mama,” we say. “Come on, you can do it!” We can show him how, help him stand up and get his balance, but we can’t walk for him. The child must obey our words and do something that requires trust in the person speaking. He must take that first, perhaps wobbly step, then another.

He can obey or refuse to obey. If he obeys and experiences positive results, i.e. takes a step or two without being hurt, he acquires trust that this will work. That trust leads to another few steps, i.e. more experience in walking, and more experience becomes stronger trust. Faith that yes, he can do it. He can walk. And pretty soon, he is walking, and running.

That process began with hearing words from someone speaking to him, him trusting the one speaking, accepting those words and obeying them. The faith was actually contained in the words of the trustworthy speaker, but it wasn’t forced on the hearer. The hearer was never forced to accept the words as true or trustworthy, he had to make a choice. Choose to believe the person speaking, or not believe the person speaking. And choose, sometimes really often, to keep on believing.

“Remember the donkey,” the Lord said. That was pretty much the end of my conversation with him that morning, but I’ve been thinking more about it since.

Getting answers to some prayers – certain long term results – seems like too much hard work for many of us. Too much painful trouble. Too much stress. Too much time, too much energy, too much disappointment, too much anguish. Too much waiting.

That’s what I was thinking when that familiar voice interrupted my thoughts with a whisper: “Long term results begin with short term results.” I thought some more.

I began to think about the Olympics. About Usain Bolt winning an Olympic gold medal in running… how did that begin? Well, it began with him hearing those first words, “Go for it, you can do it, you can do it.” It began with him believing those words and accepting them as true. Stepping out to obey, to try, to gain experience. To fail sometimes but not quit. To fail sometimes, and succeed sometimes, and eventually win the gold medal.

How long did that process take? How much experience? And how much reinforcement?

Faith comes by hearing, present tense, not having heard, past tense. How many times did a parent, a coach or a team-mate say those words of encouragement to Usain Bolt, “You can do this, you can do it!” And so he did.

The first thing I did after that conversation was to apologize to the Lord, to repent and ask forgiveness for my attitude, and to ask for his help in reinforcing my faith. What I asked him for is stubborn, determined, persistent, persevering, teeth-clenching, gutsy faith. I think that’s what he wants me to have. What he wants all his children to have.

I want to “Remember the donkey” today, and every day, as many days as it takes.

“Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be” — God’s will?

(From the Archives.)

Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe unto them who call evil, good, and good, evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

A couple of years ago, the Sunday School class I attended was studying the Bible account of Jesus and the disciples, the boat and the storm.

Jesus and the disciples were in a boat headed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee when a bad storm came up. Jesus was taking a nap and the panic-stricken disciples woke him up, saying “Lord, save us, we perish.” (Matthew 8:25) Mark puts it like this: “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38)

Jesus got up, rebuked the storm stopping it in its tracks, and then rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith. (They could have stopped the storm themselves, without waking him up.)

One of the class members said, “God was trying to kill Jesus with the storm. That’s why the storm arose in the first place, and then Jesus cancelled out God’s will by rebuking the storm.”

I asked her, “You don’t believe Jesus was God?” “Well, yes,” she said, “but everything that happens is God’s will, isn’t it?” She looked a little puzzled at my reaction when I strongly disagreed. The notion that everything bad and evil happening in the world is God’s will, his design, his doing — is calling evil, good, and good, evil.

God created man to have a will of his own, gave him authority to use it, and has never taken that authority back. God did not force Adam and Eve to disobey a direct command. He doesn’t force me, or you, or Hitler, or Jeffrey Dahmer, or a child rapist, or a terrorist, to commit evil.

It is not God’s will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9) Yet some people do perish.

We are instructed to pray for leaders and government authorities, because it’s God’s will for “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (II Timothy 2:4) But not all people will be saved.

People have a free will of their own — some use it to make the wrong choice. The devil didn’t make them do it, and God didn’t make them do it.

If everything that happened was God’s will, why bother to pray? Just let whatever will be, be. But then certain other scriptures would have to be torn out of the Bible…

Like Ephesians 6:2, “Honor thy father and mother which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.” That’s number Five of the Ten Commandments, quoted from Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16.

Well, maybe the Ten Commandments don’t apply any more. Or maybe they don’t apply to everybody, or they don’t apply in any real sense. Just in a wishy-washy sense that only applies to some group dynamic — not to individuals at all, just the whole of mankind which will survive while individuals are slaughtered at God’s whim. Hogwash.

Many “if” statements are found throughout the Bible. If you do this, that will happen. It’s the eternal law of sowing and reaping. Long life is one of those “ifs.” Deuteronomy 6:2, “… that thy days may be prolonged.” Deuteronomy 11:9, “And that ye may prolong your days in the land…” If they obeyed God’s Word, that is. But they didn’t, and their days weren’t prolonged.

What about bad things happening to good people? If God isn’t behind everything, then is he powerless? NOT omnipotent after all? Couldn’t he do something to stop it, if it wasn’t his will? Yes, if God wanted to change himself, become an Indian-giver and a liar, he could. But he gave control of some things over to people.

We have an enemy, Satan, who hates God and us. He’s real; a real liar and a real murderer. He will kill us if he can, steal from us whatever he can take and destroy anything he can’t take. (John 10:10.) He is the accuser and the leader-astray, but he can’t make us do anything against our will. He can certainly suggest sin, demonstrate how to do it and promise to reward it, but in the end he will be destroyed. Those who side with him will be destroyed, too.

God told us to do certain specific things. He made promises and provisions to those who are in Christ. The global, spiritual warfare is real, the devastation is real, the pain is real, but God’s power is even more real. He loves to demonstrate that power through the lives of his people. If they will let him…

If prayer was useless and “que sera, sera” was true, why would we be told to pray so many times? If faith was powerless, why did Jesus urge the disciples to have God’s faith? If death and disaster was God’s will, why did God send the Holy Spirit and gifts of healing and miracles?

The choice to believe is ours, and I choose to believe God is good, his mercy endures forever, and his Word is true. Mark 11:23-24 is true. Mark 9:23 is true. Matthew 17:20 is true.

The problem isn’t in God or in his Word. The problem is in those who fall for “que sera, sera” and won’t pay the price to believe. Faith is ours for the taking, but it comes with a responsibility and a job description.

When somebody gets sick and dies, it’s easier to say it must have been God’s will and excuse unbelief, than to take responsibility for failure. The disciples failed, after all — they tried to cast out a demon from a sick child and failed. (Mark 9:14-29) Jesus came along, took care of the problem, then explained to the disciples what they needed to do differently. Prayer with fasting. Do you suppose they ignored Jesus after that and simply quit praying for the sick? I don’t think so.

Jerry Savelle came to Florence years ago for a series of meetings about healing. He recalled an incident when a man complained to him, “Brother Jerry, you prayed for brother so and so, and he died!” Jerry answered, “Everybody I pray for dies sooner or later.” That didn’t excuse him from praying for the next fellow, and it doesn’t excuse us either.

Justice? I just don’t get it…

The Equalizer

“Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer!”

Leverage

“The rich and powerful take what they want. We steal it back for you.”

The Shadow

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”

Superman

“The never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.”

Underdog

“Never fear, Underdog is here!”

Even Underdog! Then there’s the Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Green Hornet, Red Rider, Zorro… not to mention my all-time favorite, the A-Team.

What do all these have in common? The demand for justice. Fairness. “What’s fair is fair.” Because people know what is right, what is fair, what is equitable.

From the very beginning, they knew that some things were wrong. Like killing, stealing, lying, destroying.

How did they know? They were created to know, and they were given to know. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8)

Along the way (beginning in the Garden), God’s definitions of right and wrong were questioned, then perverted by some. And people still cry out for justice, as they have from the beginning. God himself said that Abel’s blood cried out from the ground (Genesis 4:10). The perversion of justice demanded a penalty – death. (Genesis 2:17, Romans 6:23)

The oldest of civilizations devised codes of laws and systems of justice, attempting to get back to the beginning, to the Garden, perhaps.

Back in the 1980’s when Tim and I first got involved in politics, an irate woman shouted at us in a meeting, “You can’t legislate morality!” She was angry at our stances on various issues. Especially our pro-life stances. (We were actively, vocally opposed to removing the pro-life plank from the state and national Republican Party platforms.)

“Sure you can,” I answered, when I could get a word in. “That’s what legislation does.The question is, whose morality are you going to legislate?” I may not have persuaded her that day, but I hope she thought more about my question. Whose morality? Whose justice?

In the scriptures, the words justice and righteousness come from the same root word. Justice is a principle and a system of right and wrong as defined by the Creator. Righteousness is a state of being right in God’s eyes, in his opinion.

God gets to define “right,” and he gets to decide who is right. (When the word is translated justice, another word – judgment – is often found in that verse, meaning the decision and legal declaration of justice.)

Is justice always doing the right thing, never doing the wrong thing? But I couldn’t live up to that standard, no matter how hard I tried. So then, what is justice, to God? What is righteousness?

“Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” (Romans 4:3) Hebrews 11 lists the “Heroes of Faith,” men and women who believed what God said to them and thus were considered righteous by God.

Now, I believe, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (II Cor. 5:21). Jesus took the penalty of sin, instead of me.

Consider:

  • Having their conscience seared as with a hot iron – I Timothy 4:2
  • Having their senses exercised to discern good and evil – Hebrews 5:14
  • Let justice roll – Amos 5:24
  • There is none good but God – Matthew 19:17
  • There is none righteous – Romans 3:10
  • Vengeance is mine, I will repay, said the Lord – Romans 12:19.

And he did. Jesus got the penalty in my place, satisfied God’s requirements of justice, and I get his grace instead.

Jesus spoke to the dead girl as if her ears still worked

Gabriel Max (German, 1840-1915). 'The Raising of the Daughter of Jairus,' 1881. oil on canvas. Walters Art Museum (37.170): Acquired by Henry Walters, 1906.“Talitha cumi,” he said to her. Little girl, get up. So she did. Feed her, he said to her parents. So they did.

But where’s the beginning of this story? We find it in Mark Chapter 5.

Jesus and the disciples had been across the lake (Sea of Galilee) for a while, then came back to where they started. One of the religious leaders was in the crowd waiting for them with a very sad story. His daughter was dying.

Please come, he begged Jesus. Put your hand on her, and she will be healed and live!

And so Jesus did. Now, he could have just spoken a word or two and sent the fellow home. After all, that’s what he did with the Centurian and the sick servant. No need to travel, just say something short.

But in this case Jesus did what the father asked. Before they had gone far, some men met them and said, Don’t bother, your daughter’s dead. Sad news, fear-creating news, doubt-filled news.

Jesus ignored their words. Still, he knew the father probably couldn’t just ignore their words, so he countered them with faith-filled words — “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

The father had to choose which words to accept. Since they continued on to the house, he obviously chose Jesus’ words.

When they got to the house, there was a lot of noise – the mourners had already gathered. You’re wasting your time, she’s dead, they claimed. Again Jesus countered their words. “She’s not dead, she’s asleep.”

They laughed – and Jesus put them out. It wasn’t his house, but he still put them out. He got rid of the mournful, faithless folks and once they were gone, he took the faithful disciples and parents into the girl’s room.

Jesus again did what the father asked. He put his hand on the girl and spoke to her as if she could hear him. “Talitha cumi.” Little girl, get up. And she did!

She didn’t just get up, she walked around. Knowing she’d be hungry, Jesus told them to feed her, and I’m sure they did.

What happened here? Why did Jesus agree to the requests of this man? Jesus came, he put his hand on the dead girl, she was healed and she lived, just like the father had said.

How did the head of the synagogue, a religious leader, get this faith in Jesus? Enough that he ignored the men from his own household, ignored the grieving mourners come to offer sympathy to the family?

I think about the statement Jesus made to several other people. Your faith has done it. Your faith has healed you. Your faith has healed your servant. Your faith has healed your daughter.

Your trust, reliance, assurance, confidence, your knowing-that-you-know faith. Not just in who Jesus is and what he can do, but in his will, his desires, his compassion.

This man had to have received this faith from listening to Jesus’ own words and making a firm decision from his heart, a decision to believe him. He had to reaffirm that decision on the road to the house when Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing not just any words, Jesus’ words. Despite his religious training and position in the community, this man had made the decision to believe in Jesus. Jesus recognized it, acknowledged it and honored it.

These days as in those days, that kind of faith is a rare commodity. Churches are filled with people like those mourners, those so-called friends of the family. “It’s too late,” they say. “We can’t know God’s will for sure,” they say. Their words lack confidence, boldness and power.

“I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith,” Jesus said of the Centurian. (Matthew 8:10)  We might as well say “anyone in America,” or “anyone in Florence.”

My goal is to be one of the disciples Jesus will let into the room. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Jesus asked. (Luke 18:8) Yes! Oh yes! Is my prayer.

(Originally posted March 10, 2008.)

Seeds grow… it’s their nature

DaAndMuleIt’s the nature of seeds to grow (see Mark 4:27-28).

The farmer doesn’t really know how, but if he sows seed in the ground, the dirt makes the seed sprout and grow. Then the farmer takes advantage of that process and harvests the crop. That somewhat explains the earlier verses in Mark chapter 4.

Picture the planting season: The farmer takes a sack of seeds down to the field. Some seeds fall out along the roadway, not the designated place at all – hard, packed down dirt. Still, those seeds sprout!

Further along, the edges of the field are lined with stones, probably gathered out of the field to prepare it for planting. Some stray seeds fall into the stones, and they too sprout.

A bit further along, the farmer crosses the perimeter of the field where the thorns and weeds still exist. Here too, some seeds drop out and here too, they sprout.

Finally he gets to the plowed land. He sows the seeds where they are supposed to be, in the field where the ground has been cultivated. The stones, briers and weeds have been carefully removed so there’s nothing to prevent the seeds from getting plenty of nutrients and water.

Eventually the farmer harvests a good crop, even discounting the seeds that sprouted in all the wrong spots.

Why? Because it’s the nature of seeds to grow. No farmer can create seeds, or dirt – but the smart farmer knows how they work and he takes advantage of them.

Jesus relates the seed to his word. If we’re as smart as farmers we’ll take advantage of this principle.

(Originally posted February 17, 2008.)