Tag Archives: faith

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!

An early church MMA match – Faith and Works: Paul versus James, Round 1

11 Oct

Image result for paul vs james

Did you know that the early church had an theology MMA match?  James vs. Paul.

Paul said Faith doesn’t work.

James said Faith does work.

Each was an important leader in the early church.  Paul its greatest missionary.  James the bishop of its biggest church (and brother of Jesus).  They really seem to conflict with each other.

I’ve mentioned that Ephesians 2:8-9 is a critical verse when considering Sola Gratia and Sola Fide.  There Paul puts these two Solas together, teaching that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works.

But right up against it, we have James 2 who says that faith without works is dead.

What gives?  Is faith just in our mind?  Just a set of beliefs that we think?  In other words is faith “not works”?

Or is faith without works dead?  Meaning, if faith is just a set of beliefs in our mind, is it an empty, worthless faith?

Is Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9 a contradiction of James 2:14-26?

I think we need to look at Abraham a bit more.  Turn to Romans 4, and let’s take a deeper look at Paul’s description of Abraham’s faith.

Read verses 1-3.  Paul says Abraham believed, and God credited righteousness to him.

Paul explains this in verses 4-5.  Read this. We employees understand what Paul is saying.  How many of you are hourly employees?  You work one hour, you earned one hours pay.  How many of you are salaried?  You work and do your job, and you receive your pay.  But when you believe in God, you haven’t done any work, you haven’t earned anything, you deserve no pay, no grace.  And this is where grace comes in.  Though you don’t deserve it, God credits you his righteousness anyway.  That is grace, received by faith, not by works.

Paul talks about this a bit more, but jump down to verse 18.  Here he really gets to the heart of the matter.  He explains that though Abraham was old, as good as dead, “he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith!”  He was fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised, and this is why it was credited to him as righteousness.  What is more, we can ALL have God’s righteousness credited to us the same way if we do what Paul says in verse 24-25.

“Believe in God who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”

Now jump down to Romans 5, and let’s keep reading.  Read verses 1-11.  This is the message of salvation in Christ that is the by grace through faith.

Praise God!  Though we are sinners, God loves us, and through faith in Christ, we can be forgiven!

Remember what Paul said Ephesians 2:8-9? We are saved by grace through faith, not by works.  There Paul is describing faith at the moment of salvation.  We might say this is where a relationship with God starts.  But note what Paul says, it is not by works.  Jesus had to do the work.  We cannot earn our salvation.  We have to place our faith in what Jesus did through his life, death and resurrection.

But how do we place our faith in God?  Let’s review what we have learned so far.

We have seen the intellectual side of faith:

  1. I believe that God exists.
  2. I believe that I am separated from God because of my sin.
  3. I believe that God graciously forgives my sin through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection.

But there is also a physical side of Faith:

  1. God, I give my life to you, and I want to know you, to serve you, to live for you. You are now my leader, you show me how to live.
  2. And then you actually make life choices based on God’s pattern of life, most clearly displayed by Jesus in the Gospel. A life of faith is a life that says “Jesus, teach me how to live.”

How to have faith that pleases God

10 Oct

Image result for what is faith

Do you know what faith is?  Do you know if your faith is pleasing to God?

Yesterday I mentioned a definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1.  After teaching that description of faith, the writer of Hebrews begins to describe some of the heroes of the Bible and how they demonstrated faith in God. First he mentions Abel and Enoch.

Then in verse 6 he says this: “Without faith it is impossible to please God…” 

That’s pretty serious.  If we want to please God, we have to have faith.  What kind of faith? How much faith? What will it look like or feel like?  Will we know if we have true faith that pleases God?

The writer goes on, still in verse 6: “…because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

It seems to me that the writer is mostly talking about the intellectual side of faith.  The New Testament often refers to it as “belief”.  It is saying, “I believe God exists.”  That alone is quite an astounding thing to say and believe in this day and age.  Statistics point to a rise in those who do not believe in God.  Belief in God can be construed as crazy.  “You believe in God?  How quaint.”  In our scientific world, belief in God can be ridiculed, or said to be a crutch for the weak minded.  So when we believe in the existence of God, we are stepping out in faith.

Faith, then, is a matter of my mind, what I believe.  But that’s not all the writer of Hebrews says about faith. Look at the last part of the verse.  He talks about “those who earnestly seek” God.

He describes an active faith, how we live our live. God rewards those who earnestly seek him.

As we continue along in Hebrews 11, this concept of an earnestly lived out faith is what the writer of Hebrews wants to illustrate for us through more heroes from Bible stories.  He has already mentioned Abel and Enoch.  Now he mentions Noah.

I want us to think about Noah’s faith.  Was it just a belief in his mind?

Not at all.  Noah did something totally bizarre.  He built a giant boat in preparation for a great flood.  And the only reason was because God told him a flood was coming, and he better build a boat.  For those of you that are woodworkers, carpenters and builders, what would you do if God came to you and said, “I want you to build the Titanic out of wood, because I’m sending a giant flood?”

If I heard God say that, my first thought would be, “Uh…what did you say? I don’t think I heard you right.”

But Noah?  He started building a giant boat.  It takes much more than just intellectual belief to choose to do what Noah did.

Next comes Abraham.  Abraham, an old man, gets a wild promise from God: “You and your old wife Sarah are going to be the parents of a great nation.”  In other words, “You are going to have a baby.”  Those of you who are in your 50s, 60s, 70s, what would you do if you had a dream, a vivid dream, and in it God says to you, “You are going to have a baby?”  Many of us would laugh, just like Sarah did.

But in the end, Abraham and Sarah believed and followed through, and God gave the a son.  It takes much more than just intellectual belief to choose to do what Abraham did.

Interestingly the Old Testament Hebrew does not have a strictly intellectual concept faith or belief. Instead the Hebrew is the word “faithfulness”, which is active.  Noah’s faith was pretty active wasn’t it?  And Abraham’s faith was too.

Our picture of faith is starting to fill out.  Faith is intellectual beliefs, and it is physical action.  How does your belief and life match up to this picture of faith?

Two things Christians should fight for

14 Feb

Image result for fight the good fightPaul tells Timothy to fight the good fight.  Generally Christians are not supposed to be fighting.  So what fight is Paul talking about?  He calls it a good fight.  Not too many fights could be described as good ones.

Life can feel like a fight.  Have you ever felt that way?  Life seems too hard sometimes doesn’t it?   Is that what Paul is referring to?

Actually, Paul is saying, the fight to stay faithful to the Lord is a good fight. And maybe that resonates with you.  If you are a following of Jesus, you might know the feeling of how difficult it can be to remain faithful to the Lord.  This life is full of temptations which, if we caved in, would lead us to be unfaithful to God.  Sometimes it is our own bodies that tempt us.  Sometimes it is an addiction.  We know that Satan loves to tempt us.  Sometimes it is other people.  Staying faithful to God can seem like a battle.  Paul says it is a good fight.

 

In our study of 1st Timothy, we have come to chapter 1, verses 18-20.  There Paul describes  what he wants Timothy to fight for: first, to hold on to faith, and, second, to hold on to a good conscience.

The image here of holding on is a person who is holding on to an object and not letting go.  It is an iron grip.  I know in life it can often feel like we are losing grip on our faith.  In the next verse Paul is going to refer to some guys that did just that.  Hymenaeus and Alexander, he says, lost their faith.  Part one of fighting the good fight is to hold on to faith.

The second thing Paul wants Timothy to hold on to is a good conscience.  What is the conscience?

One scholar says that it is “the psychological faculty which can distinguish between right and wrong”.  That same scholar goes on to say that “In some languages [this word] may [refer to] ‘the inner voice’ or ‘the voice in one’s heart’ or ‘how one knows right from wrong.’”

So Paul is referring to something that is inherently within us.  We believe that God created all humanity with this inner voice, this true psychological faculty to distinguish right from wrong.  That doesn’t mean that all people will do the right thing.  You can know the right and not do it.  I think we all are very aware of this in our lives.  How many times do we know what is right, but we do what is wrong?  What is worse, it seems that the more we do the wrong, the less we are aware of the right.

We can see why Paul would place such importance on fighting the good fight in the areas of faith and good conscience. Hold tightly on to them!

How do we hold on to a good conscience?

  1. Keep a sensitive ear to the voice of the Lord. The means we should practice prayer.
  2. Remain teachable.  Remember the story of Samson in the Old Testament?  He didn’t even realize that God had departed from him.  He wasn’t teachable.
  3. Read the Bible. It is our instruction.  We need to know who God is and what he wants us to do.
  4. Be doers of the word, which means that when you read the Bible, you then do what it says. This may require change.
  5. Have accountability. This means close fellowship with other Christians.

We have to intentionally work at being sensitive to God. If you let it go one day, it will be easier the next day to grow callous to God.  If you keep letting it go, you can find yourself quite distant from God.

In the physical world, the less food we get, the hungrier we get.  In the spiritual world, it is the opposite: the less food we get, the less spiritually hungry we get.  If you skip lunch, you’re crazy hungry by dinner, right?  If you skip out on spending time with God, though, you start to lose desire for it.  I wish the spiritual worked like the physical in this regard.  I wish I would get spiritually hungrier if I skipped time with God.  But I have found that when I distance myself from God, I only grow more apathetic about him.

It is more like relationships.  When distance is put between two people, they start to fall away.  So we need to fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience.

To successfully fight the good fight, I’d like to talk a bit more about one of the suggestions I made above, remaining teachable.  I have found in the last 20 years or so, that a healthy self-awareness, humility and teachability are perhaps the most important foundation a disciple of Jesus must have.  If we want to fight the good fight, first we must be teachable and humble.

We should be Christians who are seeking out the truth about ourselves.   Think about yourself.  Are you actively seeking people to speak the blunt honest truth about yourself?  Or are you thinking “I’m scared of what people think about me…I want to avoid it.  I don’t want to hear what people think of me.”  Would you rather live in a fantasy world of your own making?

Many of us choose to live in a fantasy world because it is much easier.   In those fantasy worlds, we are generally pretty awesome people who don’t have to change.  In those fantasy worlds we can tell ourselves that we are good.  But a huge part of holding on the faith and a good conscience is being humble and teachable.

It means having a healthy self-awareness, and a willingness to speak openly and honestly about yourself, both your successes and your failings.   And that means that you invite the tough stuff into your world.

So let us fight the good fight, hold on to faith, and a good conscience.

Fighting the good fight implies that it will be tough.  Paul doesn’t say “sleep on a cozy bed.”  “Eat delicious desserts”  “Enjoy a stress-free walk.”

He says “fight the good fight.”  It is good.  And it is a fight.  It is good, worth it, fighting for the mission of the  Kingdom of God. It is a fight against evil, a fight against injustice, a fight against Satan, a fight against selfishness and pride.

But it is a fight, and fights are hard.  They require energy, time, and usually bring pain and hurt.  Disciples of Jesus are fighters.  But they fight the good fight.

Jesus said something about this fighting concept when he said, “take up your cross and follow me.”  He was referring to self-denial.  It is a fight. Often a fight against our inner inclination toward selfishness.

If you don’t want to shipwreck your faith, you’ve got to keep fighting.

How is your faith grip-strength?

11 Feb

Image result for grip strength

What is your grip strength?  Did you ever take a grip strength test?

Have you ever used grip strengthening handles?  You squeeze them over and over, hoping to strengthen your grip.

It is a good thing to strengthen your grip.

I bring this up, because I want you to think about your grip on your faith in God?

Do you ever feel like your grip on your faith is wearing thin?

Have you ever had a time in life when you lost your faith?  Turned your back on faith?  Or when you really felt distant from God?

Think about it right now.  How close are you to God?  You might feel like you have a strong grip on faith in God.  Maybe it could be stronger?  You might feel like your grip on faith is failing.  You might feel like you have no grip at all.

In our church like ours, I imagine that our church family is all over the spectrum.  It would be unwise and naïve to assume that every single one of us have a strong faith and feel really close to God.

So evaluate your faith.  Do you have a tight grip on faith, or is it weak, or no grip at all.

When we talk about having a grip on our faith, I am insinuating that we have to do something about our faith, that we have a responsibility to hold on to it.  And that we can lose hold of it.  I am saying that we have a responsibility to hold on to our faith.  We are involved in the process.

But am I right?  What is our involvement in holding on to our faith?  Maybe I’m wrong.  Christians have long debated this.  Is faith a work of God or a work of people?

Today as we continue studying Paul’s first letter to Timothy, we’re talking about grip strength, our faith grip strength.

We invite you to join us at Faith Church, 9am, as we look at what Paul says about faith grip strength.  To get a preview, read 1st Timothy 1:18-20.

Does Michael Phelps have an unfair advantage? (and why it matters for followers of Jesus!) Luke 17:1-19

15 Feb

Quick trivia question: which Olympian is the record holder for the most Olympic medals of all time?

Michael Phelps is the correct answer, which if you didn’t know already, you probably guessed by the title!

But this picture only shows his medals from one Olympics. Guess how many total medals he has won? Total of 22!  See the chart below.  (Update 8/13/16 – Phelps is adding to his record total in the Rio games!  So this info is out of date.  The guy just keeps winning!)

Olympic Medal Winners Top 10When I watched Phelps swim in previous summer Olympics, I thought, he has a freakishly long torso. And he’s not this huge body-builder type. Instead he seems like he has a God-given body for swimming superiority. Anyone else every notice that? Well, it has made the news.   And because he has done so well, scientists have taken notice.

Does Michael Phelps have an unfair advantage? Scientists studied Phelps, took measurements, and they found that he does have some unique physical characteristics. The long torso, double-jointed ankles, long arm span. The scientists noted all these things, and found that compared to the average human, these characteristics are really helpful for swimming

It got me thinking about how perfect it is for Phelps that he got into swimming then. How many other people with bodies suited for swimming or some other sport never got into swimming? Maybe there are people with better-suited bodies than Phelps? It is amazing that not only does he have an amazing body for swimming, but that he got into swimming!  It’s almost not fair for the other swimmers.

My thoughts were dashed by the scientists. You know what they said? Sure his body might be better suited for swimming, but the actual advantage would be so minute as to be negligible. In fact, they suggested that his double-jointed ankles could be a disadvantage, when it comes to force and power in his kick.

You know what they said is Michael Phelps’ reason for success? Almost entirely his training. His insane training regimen is also the stuff of legends.

If you want to get your body operating at premium athletic levels, you have to fine-tune it with a commitment to daily habits.

Just like Olympic athletes, are there habits or practices that disciples of Jesus should be known for?

The answer is a resounding “Yes!”  Jesus gave us habits, practices that he wanted us, his disciples, to follow. Some of them we learn by just watching him. Then we do what he did. What did he do? In Luke we have seen him regularly getting away from the crowds, spending time alone in prayer. We have seen him make disciples. So prayer and making disciples are two things he did, and thus they are two practices that we must do.  How are you doing in those areas?

But there are other important practices that we disciples of Jesus should learn.  He specifically teaches a number of them.  In Luke 17:1-19 he teaches that disciples should have a regular habit of the following practices:

Don’t cause people to sin, Confront sin, be forgiving, have great faith, serve dutifully, be grateful.

One word for the hopeless – Luke 8:40-56

19 Aug

Do you feel hopeless, discouraged or powerless?

This past Sunday we looked at two people who seemed to be powerless and hopeless.  But with one word their lives changed radically.  What one word could make such a difference?

Jesus calmed the storm with a word. He defeated demons with a word.  In our next section studying through the Gospel of Luke, 8:40-56, we see that he has power over death…with just a word.

There is no one else like him. If that truth has become old hat for you, if you’ve heard it a million times since you were in Sunday School as a three year old, and the amazement of Jesus has become boring, please hear it again for the first time.

There is no one like him. He is unique and powerful. With Jesus the hopeless still have hope!

As you read the story, did you note the one word that is central for the two people who were healed by Jesus.  Know what that one word is?

Faith.

To the lady with bleeding, he said “Your faith has healed you.”

To Jairus whose daughter was dead, he said “Believe.”

It is the same word in the original language: faith.

There are two elements to faith, and this is why the NIV is correct to use both the word “faith” and “belief” when translating the word “faith”.  The faith element relates to actions of trusting in and depending on God. The belief element relates to what we know in our minds to be true about God. Both of these elements are present in the biblical concept of faith. And both must be present in our faith in God. We believe and we trust, and we show that by the choices we make.

Like the lady who touched his robe, she believed Jesus could heal, and she showed faith by reaching out to touch him. Like Jairus, he believed Jesus could heal, so he sought out Jesus.  Even after hearing that his daughter was dead, Jairus let Jesus guide the way to his house, into the room where the girl lay dead.

A full-fledged conception of faith starts with belief of heart and mind, but it does not stop there. It is not enough to say “I believe in Jesus”.  Full-fledged faith does something about it!

Faith is belief that results in faithful action. Belief in the God of hope, leads to faithful action that shows we have hope.

But what about the many times when full-fledged faith doesn’t make everything better?  Obviously Jesus didn’t heal every sick person or bring every dead person to life.  The lady with the bleeding problem would have other ailments.  Jairus’ 12-year old daughter, even if she grew up to have a long life, would one day die. The purpose of Jesus’ miracles was not so that he could become the star doctor of Capernaum General Hospital. Instead, his miracles were signposts pointing in the direction of the Kingdom of God. You see him calm a storm, you see him cast out demons, and you see him heal the sick and raise the dead. All are signposts saying “God’s Kingdom is here. There is hope in the world!”

But what is that hope?  Is it a hope that those who have the right kind of faith will be blessed by God with perfect, easy, comfortable lives with no pain or misfortune?  Not at all.  The Lord never promised that.  As the twelve disciples would find out in their own lives, and as many faithful Christians through the years have likewise found out, we are all prone to the many forms of brokenness in our world.

So what is the benefit of pursuing faithfulness as a disciple of Jesus?  First, there is the hope of eternal life.  The miracles of Jesus are signposts to another reality, the reality of his Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven.  By full-fledged faith in him, we can have hope that we are participants in his Kingdom, which includes life after death.  We will be with him in heaven.  Second, we can access what he called the abundant life.  The abundant life points to the reality that we can be participants in his Kingdom now!  It is his life flowing through and changing our lives so that we learn more and more to live now like he did.

A vital question, then, is what does it mean to live faithfully in God’s Kingdom now? Your situation might have similarities or many differences from the lady or from Jairus. But would you ask the question: “How do I show faith in Christ in the midst of my unique situation?” I would encourage you not to assume that you know how to answer that question. But instead ask that question to someone older and wiser, someone who shows faithfulness, who shows they know how to live in God’s Kingdom.