Tag Archives: trust

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?

When trusting in God is scary [Christians & War – Deuteronomy 20, part 5]

11 Jan

What will really change the heart of humanity?  Fighting wars?  No!  Only Jesus.

So what does trust in God look like when we are faced with strife in our world?  Christians should be known as a people who pray deeply for and strive for peace.  We should love our enemies.  We should seek to share the good news of Christ with all.  I think of missionaries who train young people to minister in what is called the 10/40 Window.  We have friends and family in Muslim countries.  At what point do we see Western Christians so trusting in God that they are willing to give up the comforts and ease of America to share the good news about Jesus, even in places that are opposed to Christianity?  We should serve locally as well!  Faith Church is near the city of Lancaster, and through refugee resettlement, the world has come to us. We could volunteer with an organization like Church World Service, caring and loving refugee families from many countries. 

But these ideas are scary, even risky. Thus I want to conclude with where the passage started.  The principle in the first four verses is that we must trust in God and depend on him about anything difficult or scary that we are going through.  But how do we do this? 

We follow his ways, even when people make fun of us. 

We allow God’s ways to define us, and not the way of the world.

And that means we need to learn God’s ways, and thus we spend time reading the stories of Jesus over and over, for it is there we most clearly see Jesus live out God’s ways.  Make 2019 a year where you commit to read through the four stories of Jesus in the Bible: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. 

Then we spend time in prayer, in God’s presence, listening for his voice, even when we feel like we don’t have time.  That means we have to open up time in our busy schedules to learn to hear his voice!

We start our day asking God to show us himself in those around us.

We trust him even when we don’t understand what he is telling us to do or why he is telling us to do it. And we are okay with not understanding all of his ways. We act on what we know to be truth and we act humbly and graciously as we interact with others, knowing that we don’t understand it all.

For me it is starting doctoral studies.  I have one semester of classes under my belt. I will be honest that while I got through that, and it went well, there is a part of me saying, “Drop out, drop out, it’s too hard. You can’t do it.”  But that’s not the whole story.  God is with me, and I believe he has opened the door to this, and he is for me.   What is God calling you to do that seems impossible?  Are you dragging your feet because you are scared, finding it difficult, thinking you aren’t ready or capable?  All those things are probably at least a little bit true, but they are also not the whole story, because God is with you, and he is for you, and he has called you to this!

4 pieces of advice to those who are suffering

30 May

Photo by David Beatz on Unsplash

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!

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.

Questioning Jesus – Luke 7:18-35

24 Jun

In our study of Luke’s Gospel, our next story reintroduces us to a guy who was feeling confused about who Jesus is.  He is doubting Jesus.  Jesus used to be very real to him.  But now it seems that Jesus has gone away.

That doubting guy?  You’ve met him before.  Maybe you know him quite well.  Maybe Jesus seems to have gone away from you too.  In the story from Luke 7, the doubter is John the Baptist.  He was Jesus’ relative, and he was the guy who ushered Jesus into the ministry.  He had a reputation for being bold, but John has changed. Maybe a year has gone by, John has been in prison probably for months, and his doubts about Jesus start growing.  John still has a couple disciples caring for his needs in prison, and he sends them to Jesus to ask if Jesus is really the One.

Questioning Jesus. Have you ever done that?

In response to John’s question, Jesus doesn’t say a word.  Instead he does what the One was supposed to do: miracles upon miracles.  Only after that Jesus tells John’s disciples, “What do you see with your own eyes? Just tell John what you see.” What did they see? They saw the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit working powerfully through Jesus to perform the miraculous deeds which would confirm that he was who he said he was. The Messiah. The Savior. The promised One. He was who months ago John said he was, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World.

John might be languishing in prison, and that would be terribly difficult, but Jesus’ miracles are a response to John to not give up. Jesus was doing what the Messiah was supposed to do. And as difficult as it would be to have to hear about that from a prison cell, John could still rejoice that the long awaited Messiah actually had come.

Is it possible that for those of us who don’t see God, don’t feel God, and feel distant from God, we need to see Jesus differently?

Jesus was right there. He was doing what he was supposed to be doing.   Perhaps prison had affected John’s viewpoint.  He couldn’t see Jesus anymore.  He felt very distant.

What about you?  Don’t see Jesus? Feel distant from him? Be assured that Jesus is right there. He is doing everything that he is supposed to be doing!   It is no different in our day. He is alive and well.

But perhaps our expectations are wrong!

So often in my own life I want Jesus to answer my prayer a very specific way. And when he doesn’t, I can get upset. I can think he betrayed me, that he didn’t show up when I wanted him, when I felt I needed him.

But he was there. He was doing what he was supposed to do. It was I who needed to see him differently.

I have heard this many times over the years when a loved one has passed away. We don’t want that person to be gone. We miss them. The passing is hard. In many cases we have prayed that God would heal them and prolong their lives. But our loved one dies, and we are left wondering why God didn’t answer our prayer the way we want. In those moments our faith in God can be rocked.

But know that Jesus is there. He never left. Most likely we need to change our perspective of who he is, what he does, and how he should act. Like my one seminary professor Ken Miller says “we try to fit Jesus in our back pocket, as if we own him, as if he could fit there.” We shouldn’t even try.

You might not be in prison for months like John, but there are plenty of other situations that have you feeling imprisoned, trapped, hopeless, and you wonder why Jesus isn’t rescuing you like you want him too. The longing and the waiting can be tiring and many times we can get to a point where we want to give up on Jesus. But he is there.  He just might fit in our pocket.

You might not be able to see his work in your life. You might have such a specific idea of what you want him to do, to be, to look like, how you want him to answer your prayer, get you out of a difficult situation, make life easy, peaceful, and because he isn’t doing what you want, you feel like giving up.

But he is there.   Right in front of you. Doing what a Messiah is supposed to do. He hasn’t left.

You just might need new eyes, a new heart, a new mind to see him.

So hang in there. Stay strong. Pursue him. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to him, to see things the way he does. He is the miracle working God. He brings new life. He wants to transform our hearts.