Monday, October 28, 2013

What is mountain-moving faith?

A very difficult question with a hard answer. Jesus points out that if we have the faith of a mustard seed we can move mountains. To read only this verse on faith makes it seem as if we all ought to be busy naming and claiming it. But the simple sense of the verse may not be the best sense—a rarity in looking at scripture, but it does happen.
First, let me describe the dilemma posed by different verses on faith. In Mark 6:5 and 6, it says: “And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.” People, in reading this verse misunderstand unbelief. They think that their belief is something, which if somehow exerted forcefully enough, will cause even mountains to be moved. But a collection of the verses on faith and belief will show that this is not at all what Jesus is teaching.

I think the confusion comes in when they think their faith is what moves the mountains; rather it is always God who is the mountain-mover. There are different degrees of faith, however, and in Corinthians, there is even listed a special gift of faith. Here is a statement from Jesus that shows he notices faith which is larger: “When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Luke 7:9). There is a definite place for special faith, and here Jesus gave recognition to a Gentile, even when he was still presenting himself to Israel, offering himself as a king.

James has something to say about faith that goes with the theme of the above passage, namely special faith. He says: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” Notice that we are to ask in faith, nothing wavering. Again, the idea of faith being a sort of solid commodity is more than hinted at.

But I want to leave that idea of faith being a solid commodity for a bit. I want to talk a bit about the object of our faith. No matter whether we are talking about people of little faith, such as the man who exclaimed, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief” or we are talking about the example of the Gentile above, we are still talking about one object of faith—the Lord Jesus Christ being sent from God the Father to save and rescue a lost people. That faith is constant, and never changes, though the circumstances and, indeed, the amount of faith may vary from asking Jesus to help your unbelief to asking Jesus to just say it is so, and it will be so.

In any case, it is not self-generated. Rather it is actually spelled out in Corinthians as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:9), and is the gift of God. It may be (I think so) that this is an unusual or great gift of faith for special circumstances where the gifted person is given special trust for God to work through a desperate circumstance. It is a gift of God, and that is the main point. It is not, and was never meant to be, something that the believer is able to compel God with.

And that, I think, is where some do go astray—perhaps on two accounts. First, the doctrine is errant. If it is a gift of God, then it comes from him who is compelling the believer toward great faith, and not the other way around. Second, the idea that somehow there is a magic key within the person to be unlocked. This second way of thinking I judge to be the more common error, as the first is more easily dispelled by even a cursory study of scriptures. I think this is more the way the errant one may think: “possibly, if I just am able to muster a bit more confidence in my demeanor, a bit more assertiveness when I ask God, then he will listen and be moved this time.” You see it, don’t you? The focus of faith becomes on ourselves, on what we might be doing wrong, rather than upon the kind Father who bestows his good gifts toward his children. Rather than exercising greater faith, as we might delude ourselves into believing, we are actually moving away from trust in him toward a belief in our being able to save ourselves. In so doing, do we not make the mistake of Cain, bringing our own works to God in order to please him?

If faith can be looked at as sort of a commodity, which may increase or decrease in size, then it ought not to change our thinking about faith. In both cases, the faith, both large and small, emanates from our Father through the Spirit of God. In both cases the faith is in God, and not to be placed in man. Both cases bring glory to our God, and neither case should bring glory to man. Thanks be to God, who gives to men gifts abundantly and profusely!
I do want to end this question with a special prayer that I had long ago—special to me, though I doubt that it will amount to much in the annals of prayers throughout the centuries. This prayer, I think, demonstrates the kind of faith that sometimes seems to grow all by itself, though of course, it is God who is growing it in us. Over four decades ago, I met my future wife, Pam, and very quickly we became engaged. Together we went to Mr. Smith at the jewelry store, and picked out an engagement ring. My fiancée wore her ring with pride, and that made me glad that I had won her heart. The problem? After about three weeks, the ring went missing, and though my fiancée looked high and low, and near and far it could not be found.

She came to me, confessing its loss with bitter tears, and though I tried to console her, the loss was too grievous. She just seemed to be inconsolable. I went to God in prayer out of concern for her, and asked him directly to bring the ring back to Pam. I believe in that prayer that God gave me a special faith. I was able to come to him in confidence, with nothing wavering, and it was as if I was able to see the ring so clearly that I could hold it in my hand. I expected it to come back, and began proclaiming to her that I thought it would.
Two weeks passed and there was still no ring. I had a quiet confidence that God was not through, however, and one day her co-worker found it in her trunk where they had donned their work clothes. God had answered my prayer, giving me the faith to see the unseen. That, I think, is a good example of the kind of faith that God may impart to us on occasion. Mountain moving faith? Yes, there is mountain moving faith, but it comes from God to us in the times and manner that pleases him.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

What do I mean when I say the Word of God is inspired?

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
2 Timothy 3:16

“Without inspiration and inerrancy, the gospel of power becomes a suggestion of weakness.”1 Such a quote expresses our problem exactly! If we cannot trust the very word of God, what can we trust? Some of the churches say trust us, we have the ability to tell you which words are really from God and which are not. But I overstate the case somewhat. The churches merely lord it over you, and want you to give them the power to interpret. They assume the power of understanding the deeper things of God, the real meaning that lies behind the stated text. The danger lies in the fact that they themselves sometimes believe not in inerrancy, and we often observe moving goal posts of truth as such leaders are carried about by every wind of doctrine. If we start to follow such leaders, we are in danger of moving our posts until we find ourselves in a sand-lot football field, choked with worldly weeds, and instead of being a light to the world, we find ourselves carrying the ball toward the wrong goal post with the very sins that we are to repudiate. The roads of Christendom are filled with those who sought to follow good intentions, but in so doing, left behind the football of inspiration that would have kept their eyes on the right goal.

Some of the great meetings of Christians over the centuries have rightly stated the problem, and what ought to be the correct Christian response to it. I highly endorse such great statements of faith. Let me share one with you: “Holy Scripture, being God's own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God's instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God's command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God's pledge, in all that it promises.”2 Any study of Christian history reveals that as inerrancy is left behind so is the gospel, and God himself. This is a great statement of faith, reflecting accurately what the word of God itself attests. There are many other great statements of faith found in the historical annals of Christianity.

All such statements mirror the truth in scripture. At the best they are but reflections of the truth, and at the best, they remain simple, unambiguous restatements of what we find and agree upon in the scripture. If they seek to add anything in their statements, they are rapidly diminished in reliability, having been found to have subtracted rather more than they ever intended to add. All such statements must be examined through the focal lens of scripture. If they fail to mirror the scriptures, they must ruthlessly be set aside, no matter how esoteric we may find them. Grievous errors enter doctrine when we fail to keep the word of God as it is: a message of hope and redemption to a lost world.

I want to back up for a moment, and, if you will allow me the digression, to try to imagine how God may have tried to communicate to man. If man was totally lost and beyond hope, how would a God of love and mercy, yet also a God of perfect justice, want to communicate to them? You may say almost anyway besides the very way that he seems to have chosen, but I think you need to reflect a bit before giving that answer. Let’s follow the logic presented so clearly in the Bible. Man, an eternal being, is usurped from obedience to God, yet God is not willing to leave them lost in their sin. What might he do?

Might he choose to correct that lostness by becoming a sacrifice of death in our behalf? Might he want to let the world know about his sacrifice ahead of time, thousands of years, so that man might be both prepared, and able to look in faith toward that fullness of time? Might he realize that communication with men needed to be recorded, so that coming generations would anticipate his coming? Might he be so concerned with the utter errancy of man that he took a great deal of care to “breathe” into those words, that they might be utterly trustworthy?

That at least sounds plausible, you may admit. I believe the record of the Bible to be exactly what I said. God chose to communicate with man, and took perfect care to preserve the precise message to us that he desired. I think it appropriate to look at the record of scripture itself now, and see what God himself attests about his word. For those who would learn to follow God, inerrancy is not an option, something that they may or may not choose. Instead it becomes a mandate in the light of what both the writers and Jesus had to say about the words of Scripture. Notice the following passages.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God. Paul tells us this in his letter to Timothy (2 Tim. 3:16). It literally means that scripture is God-breathed. Human authors are used, but every word is wholly and completely inspired by God—not usually by dictation, but by God’s mysterious working in and through frail and faulty men to present the word exactly as God would will.

Peter tells us that no prophecy of scripture came about by the prophets themselves, but men spoke from God as they were moved by the Spirit (2 Peter 2:20,21). Peter’s words here are agreeing with Paul. Peter even suggests that the men and their personalities were somehow just exactly what God used to speak that which he would to us.

Jesus tells us that the scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). Sometimes men who do not believe in inerrancy will express doubt at this passage or that passage by stating, “now this passage is really inspired”, indicating that they consider some of the scriptures to have sort of a lessor inspiration. If you hear a comment like that, it ought to quickly sound the alarm bell of your conscience. You may be dealing with someone who is questioning the validity of the inerrancy doctrine. I sat under the tutelage of a man who mentioned from the pulpit that he thought the flood was probably just a local flood. Alarm bells clanged loudly in my mind, and, though it took several years, that same man began a radical departure from conservative doctrine. While such a departure might not have to happen, it is my experience that it too often does.

Which brings us to another problem. The Bible ought to drive our doctrine and not the other way around. I notice that the churches I have attended often will choose a latest bestseller for the church to read, and those bestsellers may be excellent choices that move people back towards a godly life in Christ Jesus. But honestly, in all of my life, I cannot remember a single church-wide movement to get people immersed in the word. I think that is a great mistake! I would that we have a Bible reading month each year, with special books of the Bible chosen for us to read and study. A people who are immersed in the scripture are going to be very difficult to be carried around by stray winds of doctrine; rather they have built in alarm bells that will sound as soon as they hear false doctrine.

We should not endorse any doctrine which is not explicitly taught in the scripture. Every idea ought to be tested and proven from the scripture, which is the bedrock of our faith, teaching us foundationally how we ought to be when we would have godly lives. The scripture is not to be added to, nor diminished, but taught, as the pure milk of God, nourishing and feeding his church to grow as it ought. Paul puts it this way, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14).

James tells us that not many of us should become teachers (James 3:1), because the teachers are to be judged more strictly. For this reason, Christians should strive mightily in prayer for their teachers, that those teachers should teach the unadulterated word of God. Those teachers are in a most awful position—God will judge them on the basis of how well they taught his message. It is our prayers, yours and mine, that will help to keep them on the right path.

My recommendation? That you fill your life with the passionate study of those same scriptures. As a measuring tool, I would suggest that you might weigh the time you are spending in the word of God, as compared to the time that you spend in other devotional books. Wouldn’t you be a bit closer to God if you were reading and reflecting on his word? Jesus himself said, “For I gave them the words you gave me, and they accepted them” (John 17:8, NIV). How are we to know those words which Jesus gave us, except that we begin reading them? Your word, O Lord, is a lamp unto our feet, a light unto our path.

1. White, James R. (2004-10-01). Scripture Alone: Exploring the Bible's Accuracy, Authority and Authenticity (Kindle Location 1177). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
2. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,, retrieved 10/15/2013.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

What does Jesus mean when he says he has all authority?

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Matthew 18:18-20

All power, or all authority, is quite a claim. Perhaps Alexander the Great imagined he had all authority; history certainly seems to indicate that the Caesars did. But of course, we look back at these rulers and realize that all authority was certainly limited even though it may have a wide expanse. Consider the claims the resurrected Christ was making. All power included authority over disease and death, over principalities and powers, and over earth and creation itself, much more than our worldly leaders have ever attained.

When the serpent presented himself to Eve, and beguiled her to sin, the serpent, Satan himself, took over ownership of both man and the earth itself. We know this because thousands of years later Satan tempts the Christ, and one of the things he offers Jesus is the rulership of the earth: “All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus did not dispute the power of Satan to give him the kingdoms of the world. Rather he pointed to Satan that worship was reserved for God alone.

Before the cross, it is written in Luke, Jesus sweat great drops of blood. Chafer suggests that, “. . .it would seem, Satan attempted to take that life before it could be offered for the sins of the world.”1 Was Satan attempting to destroy the life of Christ before he could go to the cross? No one is certain that this is the case, but we know that when Peter tried to dissuade his Lord from the cross verbally, the Lord turned to him and rebuked Satan himself. There is little doubt that Satan was trying everything he could to maintain his ownership of the earth.

Is it not interesting that Jesus claims all power (or all authority) when he has been resurrected from the dead? Many scholars think that this sacrifice of a righteous man for the world wrested the possession of the earth away from Satan. When Jesus cried out, “it is finished”, he really meant that it was finished. The work of God redeeming his lost world was done once for all. No more was man irredeemable; now it was possible for the grace of God to manifest himself to a lost world. Why then do we still see a world in the control of Satan? The New Testament makes it apparent that we are awaiting the carrying of the sentence out; it is like a courtroom where the death penalty is given by the judge, and yet, there is still sometimes many years before the penalty is exacted.

While we are waiting for that penalty to be exacted, Satan is alive and well on planet earth, to coin the title of a book. Paul tells us that he is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. He is referred to as the “prince of the power of the air”, suggesting that his dominion is everywhere upon the earth. Nonetheless his days are numbered, and the extension of time that we have now, is referred to as the age of grace, where the mercy of God is extended to mankind for but a brief time in the annals of eternity. We preach Christ to a lost world, in hope that some of them might hear, and receive mercy before that sentence falls.

As I am writing this little piece, I have running through my head the lyrics of Keith Green, “Well, I believe in Jesus and what he said he's gonna do
He'll put an apple in your lyin' mouth and cook you in a sulfur stew, ooh
One that'll never be through, is it soup yet? No!”2 I think Keith Green captured the idea of what is happening perfectly. We know from Job that Satan roams the earth, and has access to the Father, but we know from the New Testament that his days are numbered. He has been found wanting, and the judgment pronounced by God is inescapable. John tells us in Revelation that when he is finally cast down to the earth, his wrath will be great, for he will know that he has but a short time.

Which is part of what “all power” means, I think. In one way, Satan’s sentence is immutable, having been set from eternity past in the mind of God. But there is another part to the power of God, which I believe ought to be more meaningful. I rejoice to know that Satan, and much of the evil of the world will be judged. I dearly love to know that there is coming a time of, as the heralding angel cried, peace on earth and good will toward man. But I think all power, or all authority, means something far more to us, especially those of us who are facing decaying bones and multiplying wrinkles. There is no power anywhere in the universe to stop Christ from doing that which he intends. And he intends to save me. He intends to save you, if you have so believed him. We can even journey into that dark hall of death, knowing that death itself cannot conquer the intentions of Christ.

All of the saints of history will come together in the greatest reunion ever held, and like other reunions, they will have much to share with one another about their very different living experiences. We will be so ourselves, yet so unlike what we were. For the first time we will see ourselves as God sees us, and our reflections will shine like the face of God himself. We will be what we ought to be, what God intended from the beginning to make of us. And that ain’t bad!

But meanwhile, back on earth, and facing the world that is yet filled with darkness, we can know that nothing, NO THING, shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. If we truly knew what complete conquerors he made of us, would we not be filled with more boldness to speak of the unshakable love who has found us?

A final word? I was thinking about all the martyrs for Jesus, which must number in the hundreds of thousands now, if not the millions. The all-powerful God, Jesus has allowed these many dear saints to give their lives for daring to believe him. How the supremely powerful God must care for those who have given their all for the One who gave his all that we might live! What mercy he must have prepared for these martyrs, which Revelation reminds us, are to be given special love and attention throughout eternity as they stand before the Lamb of God, who will “wipe away every tear from their eyes.” It could not be better than that! That which we see as tragedy of the worst sort, as we see saints butchered for their faith, is turned into the sweetest melody of heaven, as God, the all-powerful, uses his authority not to undo their sacrifice, but rather to honor their sacrifice with all of his powerful mercy. And that is quite a lot of mercy!

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38, 39

1. Chafer, Lewis Sperry (2010-05-21). Satan: His Motive and Methods by Lewis Sperry Chafer (Unexpurgated Edition) (Halcyon Classics) (Kindle Locations 120-121). Halcyon Press Ltd.. Kindle Edition.
2. Green, Keith. Dear John Letter

Sunday, October 06, 2013

What of the Greatest Gift?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 3:16

Easy answer, you say. Why is it even a question? The reason I thought it might suffice as a question is that it might not be as easy to answer as you might think. I am well aware of the great sacrifice made by God himself when he died on the cross for you and me. I am well aware that that sacrifice took more effort and involved more power than was exhibited in all that God wrought in creation, when he created the heavens above and the starry host and even life itself. Chafer reminds us someplace that when God expended his all in giving his very self on the cross, there remained nothing more that could be done. When I consider his awesome gift, and reflect on his cry from the cross, “It is finished”, I cannot stop the deep shivers that go down my spine.

Having acknowledged that wonderful sacrifice, there remains something else to be considered. As I get older, I find myself looking toward that home promised to me. First, I will dwell with Christ in heaven, and then I will reign with Christ on earth, but for eternity, wherever I am, I shall be with Christ. My eyes have not gotten more spiritual as I have gotten older; rather I just think that I find myself reflecting more and more on what is to come instead of what is. I think that is because of my growing older; now at sixty-one, I have already outlived most of the people that I knew and was related to—I can already see the truth in my eighty-five year old father’s comment, after losing both his wife, and his best friend, bemoaned the fact that he had outlived everybody he knew. That has not yet happened with me, but there are many friends that have, as we Christians are so apt to say, gone on before me. It brings me up short when I reflect, as I do from time to time, on the friendships that I had and lost, and will one day renew.

Perhaps it may be more meaningful to share my reflections, and thus share a bit of the road that led to this wondering about the greatest gift. I find myself thinking lots about heaven and being with Christ these days, but any serious reflection on the numbers of Christians throughout the ages will pretty easily lead me to realize that there are simply going to be billions of Christians with me in heaven. How many billions is not at all certain to me, but I am not the Judge of hearts; instead I am just an observer of the world around me, and through history, of the world which has gone on before. Unnumbered multitudes have availed themselves of the free grace that has been made by the sacrifice of Jesus.
Yet, in my life, the salvation experience of knowing Christ, with him knowing me, is the most deeply personal event that ever happened to me. I know God, and God knows me. Profound. Life changing. But also personal. I do suspect that many Christians would also readily confess that there is nothing quite like becoming one of God’s children. For the first time I had come through the nighttime and darkness was passing, even as I was moved into the Eternal Dawn. Night had changed into Day, and it was all the more remarkable because I knew not that I had been in darkness, and the day was all the brighter in its freshness.

And here is where I get off track, I think. Abraham waited patiently for the promises of God, and eventually received what was promised. My reflections and wonderings about the place that Christ is preparing for me perhaps go too far; I would be much better off if I just waited patiently. At any rate, my musings about heaven make me reflect on the sheer vast number of people that will be there, and most of them will probably be far better saints that I am. Will they not be closer to Jesus? Randy Alcorn, in his book, Heaven, suggests that one day all of us might have a time when Jesus himself literally knocks of our front door of our abode, and comes in and sups with him. It is after all eternity that we are in, and time, while not ceasing to have meaning for us, will at least not mean aging. I cannot comprehend eternity, and Jesus, if he so desired has all the time in eternity to visit each one of us.

But in my reflections, I envision a multitude surrounding Jesus, and at the very outskirts of the multitude, in the very back, there I am. On my lucky days, rare, I might be able to spot the Lord through a pair of high-powered binoculars. As to reigning with Christ? Here are my musings. Well, someone is going to have to clean up after all those people, with possibly the most gigantic sewer system ever envisioned. So, hand me my shovel, and in heaven, I will gladly spend eternity shoveling and cleaning up after my brothers. This absurd reflection is sort of Biblical in that Jesus told us when we are bid to the feast, that we are to choose a seat of lessor honor, that the chief of the feast might tell us to move up to a place of more honor and dignity. That much of the reflection is at least good; I am trying to choose humility as my proper attire.

But the things missing from such a musing are uncountable! I have no idea what is ahead of me, other than God’s promise of good things, and in that promise I need to abide. This much at least I forgot, and I think it leads to what may well be God’s greatest gift. I forgot that each one of us has been filled with God himself. We do not have just a piece of God, as I sometimes think, but we have the very fullness of the godhead dwelling within us. The Holy Spirit does not break himself into a billion pieces, with that small portion of God filling us. Rather the Holy Spirit himself comes into our life, and dwells in each of us singularly, sort of giving the doctrine of omnipresence a new meaning.

We are told somewhere that God gives his gifts without reproach, and thus the Holy Spirit comes into us not just for the duration of our lives here on earth, but for all time. When I first became a Christian, I used to think that if God were ever to forget someone, that someone would be me, forgotten at his coming, and overlooked somehow. Now, as soon as I recognized this musing, I knew it was wrong, for God has not and will not ever make a mistake. But there is something singularly special in the knowledge that he plants his Spirit within us. How could he possibly ever forget a piece of himself? The multiple passages of scripture that herald his coming, and the resurrection of each saint since the beginning of mankind will surely come to pass. God has marked you, he has marked me, he has marked every one of his saints with his own presence. He will never make a mistake in the first place; he will surely not forget himself, and that is assurance for us that, indeed, we are forever in the plan of God. He thinks specially on you and me, and his thoughts are as David muses, as many as the sands on the seashore.

So now you probably suspect what I am proposing. Is there any evidence to support that the Holy Spirit is the greatest gift? There is some, but I think we should always remember that the very gift of the Holy Spirit only came to us because of the gift of Jesus Christ himself. Listen to the words of our Lord. “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16:7). Here is proof at least that we benefited from Christ’s ascension. We received the promise of the Holy Spirit. It is a magnificent gift of God!

When we go to heaven, we will not wonder what God is thinking, for he will be all the time within us, and we will know his thoughts. We will abide in him, and he will abide in us. We will not have to wait for that visit from Jesus, though it may come, for we will have him within us. We will know the good pleasure of our Father, for all the time the Comforter will let us know that will. He will keep us in perfect peace, for our mind will be ever stayed on him. It just does not get better than that!