Tag Archives: faith

Mercy for those who doubt – Jude 17-25, Part 5

4 Oct
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“Be merciful to those who doubt.” 

Interesting phrase, isn’t it?  So often we conceive of doubt as a negative thing to be avoided, and the result can be that people who doubt are considered to be sinful or strange.  But is doubt wrong?

As we conclude our two-week study through the letter of Jude, we find that in verse 22, he writes that we should be merciful to people who doubt.  Why? Because doubt is not an indication of disbelief.  Doubt is normal.  Just about everyone doubts.  It doesn’t mean they have lost the faith.  They’re just questioning, investigating, wondering.  Their doubt is actually healthy, as doubt helps us go deeper in our beliefs, making them our own.  Let’s be merciful to those who doubt.  Instead of judging those who doubt, let’s listen to them share their concerns.

Someone recently said to me that where there is doubt there is hope.  In a society where there is growing doubt, this is instructive to us.  I’ve heard a stat reporting that only 30% of 18-30 year olds go to church.  We can choose to get upset about this, but Jude is wise to instruct us to be merciful to those who doubt.  Rather than dump on people for doubting, we should have an attitude of embracing them, even when they doubt.  Doubt means they are searching, and thus there is hope that they’ll find what they are looking for. 

Jude has more instructions for us in verse 23: “Snatch others from the fire and save them.”  Christians should be known as being active in outreach.  We can and should seek to help the ungodly impostors find God. But notice how Jude finishes verse 23, “To others show mercy mixed with fear, hating even the clothing stained with corrupted flesh.”  For people who are corrupted, meaning that they will not receive any help or guidance or word about Jesus, which seems to describe the ungodly impostors in Jude’s day, then it is time to part ways with them.  Remember our study in Titus when Paul said, “have nothing to do with them”?  That’s what Jude is getting at here.  

Jude then concludes his letter in verses 24-25 with an amazing flourish.  It is a prayer to God.  He starts his prayer, “To him who is able to keep you from falling.”  Falling is a word that refers to stumbling.  God is able to keep you from stumbling!  He doesn’t force us.  But we can depend on him, and rely on his strength and power through his Spirit within to help us remain faithful to him.

Next Jude says God is also able “to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” Combine that with how he finishes the prayer: “To the only God, our savior, be glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord before all ages, now and forevermore.”  When I think about that it strikes me how he focuses on giving glory to God.  He is placing God squarely in focus right in front of him, right in front of us, almost saying, “Look at God, he is real, he is alive, he is powerful, and we need to remember that.” 

These kinds of rich theological prayers are so important because they shake us out of a lull and help us focus on what is real, what is true, what is important about life. 

This, then, is what Jude is saying in his letter.  He is saying, “Wake up people, there are impostors in your church, and you are letting it happen.  You’ve let yourself fall asleep.  Wake up.  Focus on truth, on goodness; focus on God.  You’re probably going to need to repent of your lethargy and get down to the business of contending for the faith.  But remember that you are called, loved and kept. God is able to keep you from falling.  He is at work!  Focus on him.  Spend time with him.  Allow him to guide your life.” 

What’s more important: belief or action? – 3rd John, Part 4

19 Sep
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As we continue studying the ancient letter of 3rd John, we read at the end of verse 6 that John writes his friend Gaius encouraging him to send some fellow Christians on their way in a manner worthy of God.  In other words, he is saying to Gaius, “keep doing what you’re doing in supporting these guys.”  But who were they?

In verses 7-8 John says that they were people who went out for the sake of the Name, receiving no help from the pagans, and therefore Christians ought to be hospitable to them, showing that they are unified in the mission of God’s kingdom.

The people John is talking about were missionaries, essentially.  Traveling preachers who had gone on mission trips in the Name of Jesus, for the mission of God’s Kingdom.  Gaius had taken some of them in, supporting them, caring for them, probably providing food and shelter, while the missionaries proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom.  John describes what Gaius’ support of these missionaries as an example of “walking in the truth.”  So Gaius clearly has a gift of hospitality, and he used it to advance the mission of Jesus.  That is Gaius demonstrating how to walk in truth.

Then in verse 9, John introduces a problem.   He says that he wrote to the church, presumably to ask for them to also help the traveling missionaries, but there was a guy in the church named Diotrophes who blocked John’s attempt.  When you think about how John has already described Gaius as walking in the truth, now look at verses 9-10 and see how differently he describes Diotrophes.  Let’s just list out the words and phrases John uses:

Diotrophes loves to be first.  He will have nothing to do with John.  He is gossiping maliciously.  He refuses to welcome the brothers.  He even stops those who try to help, and he puts them out of the church.  

This is the exact opposite of walking in the truth!  Where Gaius was seeking to live like Jesus lived, Diotrophes is not.  Diotrophes is living an inconsistent life, in the church, but opposing the mission of the church.  Gaius, however, is walking in truth, and Diotrophes, even though he is part of a church, is walking in evil.

And that is why John says in verse 11, “Do not imitate what is evil, but what is good.”  In other words, walk in truth, imitate the way of Jesus, follow Jesus, let him be your example.  Do not imitate Diotrophes.  Keep Jesus as your focus. 

John’s conclusion is that those people who do what is good are from God, and those who do what is evil have not seen God.  In other words, Diotrophes is not a true Christian, and he shows that clearly by his behavior.  We have seen this time and time again in these short letters.  True Christianity is shown by how you live.  By what comes out of your mouth, by how you spend your money, by how you behave.  You show what is truly inside you by the choices you make.  What was inside Diotrophes was not God.  But the truth, Jesus, was truly within Gaius, as that was flowing out.  Gaius walked in truth.  Diotrophes walked in evil.

In verse 12 John then introduces us to another person, Demetrius, and John says that Demetrius is a great guy.  John is vouching for him.  Some scholars believe that Demetrius was one of the traveling missionaries that Diotrophes put out of the church, and John is saying to Gaius, “Please care for Demetrius like you did for the others.” 

So this letter is basically a reference letter.  John is writing Gaius, with a reference for Demetrius.  It’s like an interview process when candidates list references, and you call them up, asking basically, “Tell me honestly about this girl.  Is she a good worker?  Can I trust her?”  John is saying to Gaius, “You can trust Demetrius.” 

It could be that Diotrophes was really calling Demetrius into question, and John is saying, “Don’t believe Diotrophes.  He is not walking in the truth.  Just look at how he lives.  Don’t trust the word of a guy who shows by his actions that he clearly doesn’t know God.” In other words, John is saying to Gaius, and to all of us: your personal life matters.  Just being part of a church, and saying that you believe in Jesus is not what it means to be a Christian.  What matters is how you live.  Because Jesus is truth, that means we strive to live like Jesus lived.  That, of course, is a truthful life.  A truthful life is a consistent life. How you act shows what you truly believe.

Be a Refresher of Hearts! Philemon 1-7, Part 5

23 Aug

How do people come away from interacting with you? Think about some of the recent times that you have interacted with people. Maybe it was your family members. Perhaps it was co-workers. Or even social media posts. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the people who were with you, or who were reading your posts or viewing your videos. What impression did you give them? Were you complaining? Angry? Joyful? Hopeful?

We started this series of posts asking, “Are you able to see yourself for who you really are?” In this fifth part in our series on Philemon verses 1-7, if you read verse 7, you’ll see that Paul really encourages Philemon, helping Philemon see himself for who he truly is. It appears that Philemon was a really great guy. But how so?

Paul says that Philemon’s love has given Paul great joy and encouragement, because Philemon has refreshed the hearts of the saints.  I wish I knew what Paul meant by that, but it would appear that Philemon was a very loving, encouraging person.  He was full of faith, to the point that when people visited Paul in Rome on house arrest, they talked about Philemon. Paul was overjoyed to hear how Philemon was living out his faith.

It is amazing to consider that Paul would be able to say this while in prison!  Paul really wants Philemon to be happy to be holding that letter in his hands and reading it.  Why?  He’s getting there. Next week in the series on Philemon 8-25, we’ll get the answer to the question of “Why?”

For now, let’s consider what we have heard in verses 1-7.  The character of Philemon is quite impressive. If you want, go back and read the previous parts of this series, starting here.

What we saw is that Philemon has qualities that are worth emulating: faith, love for all the saints, love that gave Paul great joy and encouragement, and finally, because Philemon was a giver of joy and encouragement, he refreshed the hearts of the saints

In other words, Paul sees Christ in Philemon. 

Therefore I have a question we all should ask: do others see Christ in me?

They will see Christ in you if you are like Philemon.  Full of faith, having a love for all the people in the church family, love that gives joy and encouragement, so that people’s hearts are refreshed after spending time with you.

Think about that.  How do people react to you?  Do they come away from their interaction with you encouraged, joyful, feeling loved?  What about your social media posts?  What about your interactions on the phone?  How do you handle yourself in meetings? Would people say that you refresh their hearts?

If not, what do you need to confess? How do you need to repent? And what do you need to change in order to become more like Philemon, who was a refresher of hearts?

How faith works – Philemon 1-7, Part 3

21 Aug
Photo by Rachel on Unsplash

Have you wondered how faith works? What is faith? I long ago heard that faith is like sitting in a chair. You sit down, believing and trusting that the chair will hold you up. Of course, the chair might be poorly built, and when you sit on it, the chair breaks apart and you fall to the ground! While I get the chair illustration, it can still seem difficult to know if I am truly placing my faith in God. What do I actually do?

As I said in the previous post, Jesus has numerous really important purposes for this letter Paul is writing to his friend Philemon, and one purpose that is to explain how faith works. If you haven’t started with Part 1 of this series on Philemon 1-7, I encourage you to pause reading this one and start with Part 1. Then continue with Part 2. Ok, all caught up?

Now look at Philemon, verses 4-7, which is Paul’s brief introduction to the main part of the letter.  In this intro, Paul will set the tone for what he has to say to Philemon.  So let’s look at it closely.

Verse 4 is pretty straightforward.  Paul often talks like this in his other letters.  He tells Philemon that he thanks God for Philemon, as he remembers Philemon in his prayers.  What a wonderful example Paul sets for Philemon and anyone who would read this letter, even 2000 years later.  We should pray for people, and thank God for them.  How often do you pray for the people in your life, thanking God for them?  What if that became a new habit for you?   

Also, imagine how Philemon would have felt reading that.  He would love it.  It’s so encouraging.  Paul, the guy who was one of the foremost Christians of his day, even when he is hundreds of miles away in Rome, on house arrest, is personally remembering Philemon, praying for him, and thanking God for him?  Who do you need to write a note of encouragement to, just saying, “I’m praying for you, and I’m grateful for you”?  And then actually pray for them.  I think the note itself is a prayer too.  This day and age with texting, it is so easy to send a note of thanks and prayer for people.  A few weeks ago, someone put a card on my desk in my office.  It simply said, “You are loved and being prayed for you!”  It was anonymous.  They made sure the focus was on God, not on them.  It was really encouraging!

But Paul is not nearly done with the encouragement for Philemon.  Look at verse 5. There he explains the reason that he thanks God for Philemon.  Two reasons, really.  First, he heard about Philemon’s faith in the Lord.  Second, he heard about his love for all the saints.  So word got out.  People who visited Paul were saying to Paul that Philemon is the real deal. 

I always get a little weirded out when I hear that people are talking about me.  Whether that is good or bad.  It can just feel uncomfortable.  How about you? Do you feel that way when you find out people are talking about you? 

But it sure does help, though, to hear that they have good things to say about you.  Paul has heard people say very good things about Philemon: about his faith in the Lord and love for all the saints.  Those are two really important aspects of being a disciple of Jesus, so think with me about how faith and love work together in the life of a disciple of Jesus. Faith in God that shows it is true faith by loving people. 

I recently heard a talk about faith that was very helpful.  The speaker said that we so often think of faith as “assent,” meaning that faith is when we believe in or agree with certain ideas or concepts.  It is saying, “I agree or I believe that Jesus is God, that he died and rose again, and so on.”  But in the New Testament, when the writers, including Paul and Jesus himself, talked about faith, they were almost certainly not talking only about assent.  When they talked about faith, it included assent, but it went beyond assent to allegiance.  In other words, when we have faith in Jesus, we are saying, Jesus, you are the one true King, and I pledge my allegiance to you and you only.”  Paul says that is what Philemon was doing.  Philemon was showing that he was a true disciple of Jesus, by living out a faith that demonstrated love.

Paul is also setting a tone here.  He definitely wants Philemon to self-identify as a person who demonstrates faith in God by loving all Christians.  He has a reason for encouraging Philemon so much.  That reason will become very apparent in verse 8 when Paul says “therefore”.  We’ll get to that next week when we study the rest of the letter.  For now, observe what Paul is saying about Philemon, and ask yourself how that might apply to you.  How is your faith in the Lord?  How is your love for the people in the church?  Is your love and faith being talked about?  Are there ways you could improve? How so? What do you need to do differently?

God wants me to be happy, not angry, and never to doubt? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s desires for Christians. Part 4]

28 Mar
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In 1 Timothy 3:12 we read that “all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  Woah.  Maybe God doesn’t want us to be happy, and only cares about us becoming godly or holy, even if it takes us being persecuted? How are we to understand this?

Does God want us to be happy?  It sure seems like he would, right?

In this series of posts we’re fact-checking common phrases Christians believe, and in this post there are two phrase: “God isn’t interested in making you happy; he’s interested in making you holy.”  VERSUS “God always wants me to be happy.” Which is it? This takes some explaining.

First of all, God is most interested in our character, in our heart.  And sometimes going through trials is the way to get to our heart.  But as we have seen in previous posts in this series, the trials we go through are not necessarily from God.  The world is broken and fallen, and we will have troubles in this world.  God can redeem those struggles, though, as we strive to follow him in middle of our troubles.  And he promises that he will be with us always.  The result is that we do often grow in godliness during difficult times. 

But can we grow in holiness through joy and plenty and comfort?  Yes.  That’s why a life of spiritual practices and habits is so important.  God calls us to pursue practices like prayer, biblical meditation, silent listening, generosity, and disciple-making all the time, not matter if life is going great or if it is really difficult. 

So the phrase “God isn’t interested in making you happy” is wrong.  God DOES want us to be happy!

Remember the festivals in Deuteronomy?  God embedded happiness and celebration in the life of the nation of Israel.  Ecclesiastes talks about enjoying life.  Philippians says “Rejoice in the Lord always!”  And James 1:2-4, says “Consider it joy when you face trials of many kinds.”

It is very hard to feel joy in the middle of the pain. 

Is there a difference between happiness and joy?  Can we be joyful while being unhappy? 

Happiness is fleeting.  Joy is a choice.  It can be hard to distinguish the two.  Especially for those who struggle with anxiety.  “Consider it joy?”  This means that you can use your mind to control your emotions.   Happiness is an emotion, and emotions do not always tell you the truth.

So we need to remember verses like Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” 

The song “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns speaks to this when it envisions God saying to us, “if your eyes are on the storm, you’ll wonder if I love you still, but if your eyes on the cross, you’ll know I always have and always will.”   

Isn’t that so similar to the lamenters in Psalms?  In the pain they turned and ran to the Lord rather than running away from him.  And when they ran to him, they brought all their pain and doubt and anger to him.

And that is a great lead-in to the next phrase we’re fact-checking:God is not OK with doubt and anger.

We’ve referred to James 1 already.  Take a look at verse 6.   “When he asks he must believe and not doubt”?  Wait, is doubt wrong?  And later in verse 19, “be slow to anger, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.”  So doubt and anger are wrong?  Or are they?

Read the psalms, the laments.  In them you’ll find gut-wrenching doubt and anger.  Raw pain. 

That means we can also declare that this is a false idea.  God is absolutely okay with doubt and anger. 

Saying that God is not okay with doubt is potentially dangerous, making it seem like a good Christian should never struggle with doubt. There is a sense in which God doesn’t want us to doubt.  He wants us to trust in him.   We should have faith in him.  But even then, we have to remember the promise of 2 Timothy 2:13, “if we are faithless, he is faithful for he cannot disown himself.”

In Mark 9:17, we read a fascinating story that relates to doubt.  The disciples were trying to cast a demon out of a boy, but to no avail.  The father of the boy brought him to Jesus to help.

Notice the father’s response to Jesus: “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” We all doubt, and we all get angry.  Remember that there is nothing that can separate us from the Love of God.  But God’s gracious love for us should also not be an excuse to just stay in our doubt or anger.  Instead, God’s grace should motivate us, make us grateful, to trust in him and allow our anger to subside.  If you have an anger problem that keeps popping up, and you can’t control it, I urge you to get professional help.  It’s not okay to be angry and damage people. 

4 pieces of advice to those who are suffering

30 May

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Have you ever suffered specifically because you are a Christian?  I don’t know that I have, at least not in ways that would be considered significant suffering, or suffering that led to bodily harm or loss of opportunity or privilege.  Yesterday, I related a story from author Scot McKnight who counseled a teenager who did face discrimination and suffering because that young man began to follow the way of Jesus.

But maybe you have faced suffering for being a Christian.

So how do we have the right perspective about this suffering for Christ?  That is a huge reason Peter is writing the letter of 1st Peter, which we have been studying for a few weeks now.  If the Christians don’t have the right perspective about their suffering, they could easily say “Forget this.  If this is what I get for following Jesus, I’m done.”  And they could give up. So Peter gives them numerous reasons for looking at their suffering. Let’s continue looking at 1 Peter 1:6-12 to see what Peter has to say.

First, Peter says that they need to remember that suffering is for, “a little while”, and contrast that with our inheritance in heaven, which is eternal.  For those that suffer for Christ, that is one way they can have a healthy perspective on their suffering.  Suffering won’t last forever.  But heaven will.

When you are in the midst of suffering for Christ, it can seem like it will last forever.  That’s how it is for anything difficult we go through, right?  Not just suffering for Christ, but any suffering.  There seems to be no end in sight.  I can think like that when I am struggling. It’s called worst-case scenario thinking.  Peter says, “Time out on that thinking.  Your trial is only for a little while.”

Second, he says greatly rejoice.  Greatly rejoice?  In what?  We greatly rejoice in the hope we have, Peter says. Remember that Peter talked about hope in verses 3-5 which we studied last week? Even though we are currently in the midst of trials, we have hope of our inheritance in heaven.

Because we have hope, we can rejoice in the midst of trials.

I don’t want to hear that.  I want God to take the trials away.  I don’t any of this business of rejoicing in the midst of trials.  I’ll rejoice after the trial is done.  Anyone else with me?

But that’s not what Peter says.  He say that because we have hope, we can rejoice while we are still in the middle of the trial.

Third, he says trials are the good stuff in life.  Ugh.  More words I don’t want to hear.  Trials are the good stuff?  I’m not sure I agree.  But let’s at least try.  Peter doesn’t use those actual words. “Trials are the good stuff” is my paraphrase.  Look at what he says in verses 7-9, “Trials have come so that faith may be proved genuine.”

Here he uses an analogy, a comparison to gold.  Faith is of greater worth than gold (because gold perishes in fire).  That might be a shocker.  Faith is greater worth than gold?  I can very, very easily want gold.  Money.  I can believe that money will take care of me.

My prayer often goes like this.  “Lord, if you just drop $10,000 in my lap…well…better make it $20 grand…then my life will be so much easier.  Now that I think of it, can it be $30 grand?  That would really do the trick.”

I think about how much we can be tempted to value huge sums of money.  We can be tempted to think that money is the solution to our problems in life.  And no doubt, we need to pay the bills and provide food and shelter.  Money is necessary.  But it is so tempting to think money can care for us in the hard times of life.

So when Peter teaches that faith is of greater worth than gold, we can wonder if Peter is nuts!

When the hard times come, especially the financial hard times, will we believe what Peter is teaching?

He is convinced, and he wants us to agree, that our faith in Christ is worth more than gold.  Therefore he wants our faith to be proved genuine.  Peter knows that when we are persecuted for our faith, we can turn back on our faith.  During those hard times, it is our faith that is causing hardship to enter our lives.  Get rid of the faith, and hardship goes away.  That is tempting.

But Peter says, don’t do that.  Keep the faith, pursue your faith, grow your faith.  And what you will find is that keeping your faith in the midst of trials will bring you joy and maturity that you will value far more than gold.

Finally your faithfulness will result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus is revealed some day in the future, either when you pass on or when he returns.

The point that Peter is trying to make here is that Christians view and respond to suffering differently from the rest of the world.  When we are persecuted, we respond with joy because God has not left us.  We are not alone.  We can keep the faith and actually grow in him!

How to grow your faith

12 Oct

 

Image result for how to grow your faith

In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus tells what I think is one of the scariest stories in the Bible.  It is a story of people who thought they had faith.  But their faith was primarily intellectual, belief.  Jesus says to them that something important is missing.  They did not have the kind of faith that he said mattered.  They didn’t having saving faith.  Their intellectual faith was not matched with physical faith.  Saving faith has both!  How does Jesus describe saving faith in Matthew 7:21-23?  People who do what the Father says.

If you say that you have faith, but you do not do what the Father says, you only have an intellectual faith, not a life of faith.

This is why James says “faith without works is dead.”  And dead faith will not gain you entrance into the Kingdom of heaven.

And it is in James 2 starting in verse 14 where we learn about this important element of faith.  Notice how different James’ conception of faith is.  It is not just intellectual belief.  James says, even the demons believe.  The demons know that Jesus is Lord; they know in their minds what is true.  But clearly that doesn’t mean that the demons are a part of the Kingdom of heaven.

The point that James is trying to make is that faith must go beyond belief.

Faith goes beyond belief when we keep pursuing Jesus, when we learn from him how to live.  When we place our faith in Jesus, we are saying to him, “Jesus I want you to change me.  I am not just believing things in my mind about you.  I want my faith in you to be the impetus, the spark of a total life change.”

That change might be over night. But it could also, and I think should also, last a lifetime.

This past week our Faith Church Nominating Committee had the privilege of interviewing candidates for our Leadership Team.  We’ve been doing these interviews for three-four years now, and each year during the interviews I am reminded of how they are one of the favorite things I get to do as a pastor.  Why?  Because we hear the stories of how faith in God has transformed people.

Sometimes the candidates tell a dramatic story of how God radically changed their lives in a moment.  Sometimes they tell an equally powerful story of how they were raised in faith from a young age, and they gradually slowly placed their faith in the Lord.  When we place our faith in God, there are many ways he works transformation in our lives!

I want to ask you, therefore, to evaluate your faith.

Have you ever really, truly placed your faith in Christ?  Can you say that you really believe in Jesus, that he is God, that he died for our sins, that he was raised to life victorious over death?  Maybe you’re reading this now, and you’d like to accept the gift of God’s grace by faith. I would love to talk with you about how to do that.

But maybe you’ve already placed your intellectual faith in Christ.  You would say that you believe in him.  I also ask you to evaluate your faith.  Is it just intellectual?  Just in your mind?  That is not saving faith.

Faith learns from Jesus how to live.  As I said last week, and now again, study Jesus’ life, watching for how he demonstrated faith.

Seek out someone whom you would say has great faith.  Ask them to teach you how to grow your faith.

Read those stories in the Bible in Hebrews 11 about people who had great faith.  Search out the original telling of those stories in the Old Testament, and see if you can learn why the author of Hebrews included them.

Finally, take a step of faith. You can grow your faith by doing something that stretches your faith, your trust in God.  Maybe serving in a position in your church, a position you might feel iffy about.  Maybe starting up a conversation with a neighbor who you’ve always wanted to talk with about faith, but you’ve been shy.  Maybe give a financial gift of faith to the Lord.

Get a faith accountability partner.  Each of you make one faith goal, and hold each other to accomplishing that goal.

Know this. Faith is not faith if it only resides in the mind. Faith without works is dead. But you can grow your faith!