Uncomplicating Faith

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    – Heb 11:1-2

What is faith? This simple one-syllable word (two syllables in Greek and Hebrew) spawns a nest of definitions and qualifications, which infest your mind with confusion. If faith simply means you believe something exists, then why isn’t the majority of the Western world saved, since most people believe in God? Okay. So there’s got to be more to it. In fact, I implied that faith meant believing in God, but is that really accurate? Well, according to Jesus we should believe in him and in God (John 14:1).

Let’s just make things simple and say that belief involves our faith in Jesus and the Father. But what sort of belief? We can’t merely believe in God and Jesus’ existence (see above). Additionally, we can’t only believe the brute fact that Jesus saves through the father. I believed that for years before I became a believer. It looks like faith has a tricky mind knot, which needs untying.
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We Complicate the Gospel

For the better part of a decade, I have served in evangelistic ministries. My range of activity has spanned from knocking on doors, going to college campuses, speaking at events, and street-preaching. With that background, you’d guess that I would have no trouble with evangelism or thinking through the Gospel. Actually, that’s about as true as saying the sun is dark. A back-pack full of stones has weighed me down throughout these years as I struggled to connect what I was doing with what the Bible teaches.

One weight that I burdened me was the meaning of faith. I wondered about what essential concepts Christians need to believe in to be saved. At first, I considered that we believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus? While that’s central (1 Cor 15), how does faith and repentance fit in, and why does the Bible talk so much about the kingdom of God. Actually, Jesus preaches the Gospel about the kingdom according to the Gospels (Matt 4:17, 23). But I never for a minute preached about a kingdom—I told people to believe and repent in the Gospel. Yet that was the problem, for I couldn’t quite grasp just what the Gospel was. Continue reading

Olympic Faith: Beliefs that Drive Action

Ryan Lochte is a top swimmer from the US and a favorite to win multiple medals at this London 2012 Olympic games. When he lost the 200M Freestyle event, the commentators tried to explain what went wrong. One concluded: “maybe his head just wasn’t in the game”.

Thought and Action: Christianity has been on the decline in the West recently. Several people have attempted to “right the ship” as it were. It has become very popular to argue that the issue is “dead orthodoxy”. The idea is we have all kinds of people who tow the party line and believe the right things, but it has no impact on their lives and the hypocrisy has been the driving force behind the decline of the faith. It is said that orthopraxy (right living) is more important than orthodoxy (right believing). This sort of statement presupposes that the two orthos can in fact be separated. But perhaps the Olympics can stimulate us to look at this issue once again.

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The Bible – Before and After Conversion

Maybe you’ve reflected on your faith before. You remember at a certain time in your life you turned to God from sin to serve the living and true God. These twin themes that intertwine the Scripture, repentance and faith, truly became yours. Ever since then you’ve considered yourself a person “of faith.” Now, when you read passages in the Bible that talk about repentance and faith, you remember fondly of your conversion and hope for others to experience the same. When Jesus calls out, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28), you think of your non-believing friend who needs to hear these words. This kind of thinking is right, nostalgic and perfectly flawed.

Scripture is God’s revelation to humanity no matter what side of the cross one is on. When God calls out for us to believe and repent, he expects us too! Just because we are now believers, we have no excuse to forgo seeing this passages as “for us.” Our entire life should be marked by trust and repentance. These are not one time acts that ‘get us into heaven’ but are a sustained characteristic that we manifest. We are called to a life of faith and confession. Continue reading

Grace, Gossip, Fear and Doubt

Do you need wisdom to navigate through some of life’s most common challenges? Each and every Christian faces challenges in their walk related to these four things; Grace, Gossip, Fear and Doubt. The word of God instructs: “Let your speech be always full of grace” (Col. 4:6). Have you ever failed on this challenge? We are told in Proverbs 11:12-13 that a gossip is an untrustworthy person, but one who keeps silent and keeps a secret is a man or woman of understanding! Can you fault yourself on saying too much from time to time?

Have you ever sat and listened to a debate about childrearing and wondered if you were going to scar your 6 month old (or 12 year old) for life with your decision? What parent hasn’t? Jesus rebuked his disciples several times saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”. Does that sort of passage bring pangs of guilt to your conscience? Continue reading

The Faith of a Fisherman

I know that Jesus said that one must have faith like a child to enter into the kingdom, but I submit one can also have faith like a fisherman to enter into the kingdom. I see this in Luke 5:1–11, where Jesus calls his first disciples.

Luke sets up the scene by inserting a large crowd, a few fisherman, two boats, and one preacher into the narrative. Luke 5:1–3 reads, “On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret,  and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat.” These verses serve to create the context in which Luke 5:4–10 occurred.

After the teaching of the people, the scene focuses on the a fisherman and his boat. For the first time in this scene, we hear Jesus’ words as he commands Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (5:4). Recorded speech is always important in the Gospels. This is one reason that we can tell Luke 5:1–3 is a set up for 5:4–10. Actually, this entire story is framed by direct speech from Jesus (5:4 and 5:10). The account simply illustrates the words of Jesus; but it is not secondary. Story and speech wed together in the Gospels to communicate the Evangel. Continue reading

Christianity is a Team Game

Continuing my contemplation of a few key lessons learned from sport, which Paul seems to adapt as analogies for the Christian life, I have been thinking about my own sporting history.

During training camp, one of the more critical activities was “team building”. These were designed to help develop trust and relationships between players. When corporate groups adapt this concept, it is usually seen as annoying and blown off, athletes look at it differently. Teams travel together (we did overnight 12 hours on a bus every other weekend) and bunk together (sharing hotel rooms). The success or failure of a team often turns on how well they work together on the ice/field/court.

No one outside the team knows what is happening inside the team like the players. There is a locker room mentality, a code of conduct flows from it. You don’t talk publicly about issues on the inside. You back up your team. The game MVP rarely failed to mention that the win was “a team effort” and so on.

On and off the ice/field/court the team is a team. They have each others back. They are a family, as much as anything else. It is this sort of fellowship that Paul picks up on, when he writes to the Philippians:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. (Philippians 1:27-28).

This passage reads like a coaches “pep talk”: strive side by side, be on the same page, don’t get intimidated by your opponents, stand firm in defence. When a player tries to “do it all on their own”, they generally fail. But not only that, selfish play often leads beyond a missed opportunity to an advantage for the opposition.

Believers must learn to build up the team, and be a part of the fellowship of the gospel. Believers need to build relationships and trust in the church, to be unified and working together. How are you seeking to accomplish this? What efforts have you made to build chemistry with your line mates?

Next time: focus.

Distracted Faith

Today in Alberta the infamous “distracted driving law” comes into effect, with police promising drivers “no warnings” and “no mercy”. You may not use your cell phone, put on your make-up or eat a chinese dinner while driving any longer.

It turns out that all the business of life, inside the car, causes tragic incidents and fatalities.

It makes me think about the kinds of busyness I often bring to my faith. Tell me you have never done your Bible reading while listening to music and watching a football game.

The cares of so many things are packed and brought to church every Sunday. Yet, the life of faith is far more consequential than our driving habits.

Perhaps the Elders will have to begin passing out distracted faith tickets? But until then, let’s think about how we can get our spiritual life simplified. Pull over and pray. Take a break and read your Bible. Those are a good start.

CH Spurgeon notes: “To have a great many aims and objects is much the same thing as having no aim at all; for if a man shoots at many things he will hit none, or none worth the hitting.” (Spurgeon.us archive GS303).

Is the Dark Side Clouding our Vision?

Today, the gospel is at stake. As part of a denomination that is centered around the gospel, this concerns me. More concerning however, is how many of my gospel partners fail to see the threat.

The Apostle’s creed defines the God of historic Christianity as: “the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”

The opening line of the Bible is: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. Genesis Chapter one wraps up with the creation of “man” male and female, in the image of God.

The Old Testament is replete with further references to God as creator of humanity. And the New Testament is far from silent. Jesus identifies Adam and Eve from the Genesis account clearly: “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” (Mark 10:6).

Yet, this doctrine has been treated as optional, or ignored for over a century in many spheres of the church. Today it is under a greater assault then ever before.

My contention over the past decade has been that the Church is neglecting clear, straightforward teaching on this to her peril. The Gospel
Itself is at stake. Albert Mohler demonstrates why we had better wake up before it is too late: http://goo.gl/MOE6n

As you read Mohler, recall that Hebrews 11:3 gives Creation as an article of faith: “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

An Appeal to Christian Reason

Thinking about thinking, as thinking, I think I may be on to the key element missing from the evangelical church today– careful thinking.

THOUGHTLESSNESS

Reading an article this Morning in the Westminster Theological Journal reminded me of how uncritically we treat reports about church behavior from any source. One typically trusted is the Barna Group. We often frame our ministries, if not our very gospel presentations in response to what he has noted, yet in at least one case, there seems to be no basis for his assertions (http://goo.gl/U3zxf).

THOUGHTFULNESS

Ravi Zacharius calls his ministry, Let My People Think. He is calling Christians to have a thoughtful faith. Paul instructed the Ephesians to “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10). How does one do this? The Apostle instructs believers to walk, not as thoughtless fools, but as wise people. We are to: “understand what the will of the Lord is” (verse 17). The Greek word for understand means “to think about” and thus gain clear comprehension.

Proverbs 4:7 reminds us: “The beginning of wisdom is: acquire wisdom; and with all your acquiring get understanding”. Do we understand God’s will? That should be the first and only essential question we ask when it comes to life, godliness or ministry. Once we determine God’s will by careful thinking, then we might ask: “what is the most prudent way to accomlish this?” It is, to quote Luther, “by Scripture and plain reason” that the Christian life should be lived.

Let us think carefully about our faith and how we live it out.