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I find it interesting that Jesus lambasted his followers not for sinful living or breaking Commandments, but for not having enough FAITH. He didn’t even yell at Judas when he betrayed him, but he did frequently let loose on the disciples for their lack of faith.
If faith is that important to Jesus, then it should be that important to us.
But what is faith?
Paul calls it “evidence of things unseen”; I call it “the means to and measure of our relationship with God”. Faith is difficult to define (or at least to reach a definition consensus on) mainly because its very existence is opposed to fact and logic, the same fact and logic that is applied to creating definitions.
No matter how you define it (or choose not to define it), faith is central to being a follower of Jesus. With no faith, you will sink under the waves like Peter. Remember that he did walk on water for a few seconds, but when he thought about what he was doing (that is, when he tried to rationalize it), he started to drown.
Jesus never engaged in debate with people who tried to rationalize faith. He did not preach to unbelievers or to those who said they were believers but did not welcome his Word. He only preached to those who were open to hearing the gospel on faith.
Faith operates like that – it works only through those who welcome it and are open to receiving it. Uh, oh – did I say “receiving it”? Does that mean that faith is a two-way channel, not something that originates in us but something that flows to as well as from us?
Yes, I did say that. You have to be open to faith to have faith.
See? I warned you not to rationalize it. Faith doesn’t make any sense rationally, but for those who have faith, it’s self-evident.
I mention the importance of having faith because many of us tend to live by the witness of our eyes rather than of our faith. If you, as a believer, view the state of the world today using your physical and rational eyes, you would run into the deepest cave you could find and never come out again. But if you view the world through the “eyes of faith”, you would still see the horrors, but you would also see God’s righteousness moving through people and circumstances, and running and hiding would be the last thing on your mind.
Having faith means never giving up on God, no matter how bleak things look.
Having faith means believing in the expressed and potential goodness in people, regardless of the horrible things they might do and say.
Having faith means believing that God will keep his promises, and that we, as born-agains, live in the long-awaited Kingdom of God, where we are safe from our enemies and able to perform the same miracles Jesus did.
The disciples lacked sufficient faith not because they didn’t love God and didn’t want to follow Jesus, but because they were relying on their understanding rather than their belief.
When I was a little kid, I didn’t know anything about how the mortgage got paid or dinner appeared on the table; I just knew beyond a doubt I would have a roof over my head and food in my mouth, and I always did. In other words, I didn’t have to understand how they got there in order to believe that they would be there. I never doubted for a second.
Jesus tells us to be like little kids. A big part of being a little kid is believing not because we see or understand, but because we simply take it for granted as being self-evident.
There is no doubt in belief.
Doubt is what gets you in trouble. Doubt is the devil getting a toe-hold in you, just enough to keep you from having faith by questioning your belief, by trying to get you to apply fact and logic to something that has no place for fact and logic.
We say we believe in God, but do we really if we don’t have faith?
We say we have faith, but do we really if we don’t believe God’s Word?
We need to stop staring at the waves under our feet, telling ourselves there’s no way we can walk on water, and instead fix our eyes on Jesus and simply believe we can do it.
We walk on water not because we understand how, but because Jesus says we can, and we love and trust Jesus beyond a shadow of a doubt.
That is all.
That is faith.
Jesus had two distinct lives when he lived on Earth in a human body.
His first life centered on Nazareth, his blood relatives, and his work as a carpenter.
His second life centered on God, his followers, and preaching and teaching the gospel.
There was a clear separation between his first life and second life. It wasn’t the same life divided into “before and after” getting the call. No. It was two distinctly separate lives lived by the same person in the same body.
All who are called to follow Jesus and to preach and teach the gospel experience a similar progression from one life to the next. This is demonstrated in Peter, Andrew, James and John leaving their fishing business (and in Peter’s case, his wife and family) to follow Jesus. Matthew also dramatically quit his job to follow Jesus, as did Paul and many others.
Some of us try to sit on the fence between these two lives. We work day jobs and preach by night, dividing our energy between the world and God. This works for a while, the same way training wheels work for a while to get a wobbly young cyclist used to the “feel” of a two-wheeled bike. But if you leave the training wheels on too long, the child gets used to the feel of a three- or four-wheeler rather than a two-wheeler, and either fights against the removal of the training wheels or suffers a major crash when the wheels do eventually come off.
For Jesus, the switch from life as a carpenter to life as a preacher involved a great untethering. He had to completely untether himself from the commitments and bonds of his first life. This he did by walking away from them and staying gone. He didn’t go back and he didn’t look back. He simply lived as if his former life no longer existed.
Untethered, Jesus was then able to devote his entire life to God and to his ministry work. He was tied to no one location, no daily responsibilities, and no particular person. He didn’t command his followers to follow him; he invited them, and they were free to leave whenever they wanted. They, too, in following Jesus, progressed to their second lives, untied to any location, responsibilities, or persons. Untethered like Jesus, they could then wholly focus on God.
Untethering is a process. For some, it happens overnight, whereas for others it takes years. Remember that even Jesus – who was born with God’s Spirit — had to wait for the signal before untethering himself from Nazareth. Untethering is not a directive that comes from us but from God. The child doesn’t decide when it’s time for the training wheels to come off; the parents decide. We don’t decide when it’s time to untether from our first life; God decides.
But when God gives you that signal, let go.
Like Jesus and Peter and Paul, let it ALL go.
And never go back.
A gentle reminder not to be swayed by the false prophets of doom as we enter another year.
As always, Jesus says it best: “Take heed that no man deceive you, for many will come in my name… and deceive many.”
Why is it that so many who claim to love God focus only on the NEGATIVE? Why are all the so-called revelations by so-called Christian prophets almost always only about gloom and doom?
Part of the reason is that they’re not real prophets (that is, they’re not speaking God’s Truth), but the other part – and I believe the main one – is that they’re pandering to people’s desires. People WANT to hear about gloom and doom, they WANT to hear that we’re entering the Tribulation and that the “Antichrist” is waiting in the wings, and so these “prophets” give them what they want.
In an earlier blog, I called this attraction to doom an addiction to spiritual porn.
Yes, the Old Testament prophets spent a lot of time railing at the Hebrews and warning them what would come if they didn’t change their ways, but the ultimate message of each of those prophets was the good news of God’s mercy to those who willingly choose the good. The New Testament is all about the Good News (“gospel” literally means “good news”), as it is the long-awaited fulfillment of God’s promise of spiritual salvation. Even the book of Revelation, for all its dire warnings, ends with the victory of God’s people and their great reward of Heaven.
God does not want us to live in fear or spend our time digging through YouTube for bad news. He wants us to live in the joy and grace of his Holy Spirit, and to teach and preach his Good News. It doesn’t matter how bad things get around us, we can still live our lives in joy, looking for and highlighting the good rather than dwelling on the bad. Jesus was expert at that: Even as an outcast from society and with a bounty on his head, he healed the sick, cast out demons, calmed the storm, fed the famished, taught the illiterate, forgave sinners, blessed his enemies, and just generally lived his life as a bright light rather than a shadow, choosing to focus on the positive rather than the negative.
We all have that choice, to be either a bright light or a shadow. We can seek out gloom and doom and in the process become what we seek, or we can plainly see what is in front of us but choose to see the good in it rather than the bad, and in the process let God’s love and light shine through.
Every night before I go to sleep, I pray for unbelievers. Some of them I know personally and am in contact with nearly every day; some of them I know personally but haven’t spoken to for years; and some of them I know only by name and face. I pray for these people because they need prayers as much as anyone else, and God has put it in my heart to pray for them. As an unbeliever and atheist, I was prayed for for 36 years before I turned and saw the light. I don’t think anyone is beyond God’s mercy (other than those who have consciously and with full intent made a deal with the devil, but I’m not talking about those poor souls here), and I believe there is still time for people to turn. Not much time, mind you, but still enough time. Paul tells us that God is painstakingly patient with us because he wants as many as possible to come to his light.
The start of a new year is a good opportunity for us to realign ourselves to God’s will. If you’ve developed a tendency over the past year to seek out shadows rather than light – the bad news rather than the Good – maybe now you could make the effort to once again highlight the positive, whether in people or in situations. That doesn’t mean being blind to what’s going on around you (Jesus was always hyper-aware and one step ahead of everyone else in that regard), but making a conscious choice to see beyond “what man sees” to what God sees.
God doesn’t look at us and see only the negative; he sees our nearly limitless potential to do good, no matter how deep we are in our sins. I wasn’t born again because I fasted and prayed and purified myself; I was born again because I was in the deepest depths of despair I’d ever been in and cried out for help. Even in the blackness of my spiritual filth, God saw a faint glimmer of light, a tiny flicker that he knew he could work with, and that was enough for him.
As born-again believers, we must see as God sees and do what God does. Jesus says to be perfect even as our Heavenly Father is perfect. We must see in the darkest of nights the promise of dawn. We must hear in the curses of people who hate us the sound of wayward passion that can be set straight and one day sing God’s praises. Paul said that if there be any good in anyone, to dwell on that. This is not an easy task, as it is far easier to give way to spiritual gravity and fall for the negative, the siren call of gloom and doom.
But let this be a challenge to you for the coming year: that no matter what happens – no matter how bad things get – you choose to see the good, you choose to be the light, even if you’re the only one shining.
God’s justice is perfect. Everything about God is perfect. There is no imperfection in anything he is or does, so his justice must also be perfect.
God’s justice permeates Earth and everything and everyone on it. You cannot escape God’s justice; it is built into you and everyone around you. You may say that you don’t believe in God or don’t agree with his justice, but God’s justice will still prevail over your beliefs and opinions. It is inescapable and perfect.
I mention this because there is currently a pandemic of people in every nation complaining that the state of the world is unjust, and that the way to make the world just is to defund the police, tax the rich, replace politicians, topple statues, redistribute money and property, shorten the work week, and so on and so on. The gist is that the way things are is wrong and so it must be changed, and violently if necessary.
But this “the world is unjust” viewpoint clashes with the perfection of God’s justice. Those who are unhappy with the way things are are looking for scapegoats (history, politicians, police officers, pancake syrup, etc.), insisting that if these scapegoats were removed, erased or canceled, justice would reign and peace would finally be established (“no justice, no peace”). (more…)
The Bible is full of secrets. Some of the secrets are meant to be told and some are meant to remain hidden until another time. Scripture tells us that Jesus often kept things to himself, knowing peoples’ hearts and so knowing that some of his followers weren’t ready to hear God’s secrets. In John’s gospel, Jesus states openly that he has much to tell his followers, but they aren’t ready to hear it yet. He promises them that when the time is right and they’re ready, God’s Holy Spirit will tell them. (more…)
If you’re genuinely following Jesus, very few people want to hear what you say.
The first thing that all of Jesus’ disciples did was leave their jobs, their wives, their children, their homes, and their stuff. None of Jesus’ followers had property or spouses or children. THERE WERE NO CHILDREN LIVING AMONG THE FOLLOWERS. There were children who came to listen to Jesus as he taught (and he welcomed them with open arms and blessed them), but there were no children living among the followers, just as there were no people living with spouses. Jesus’ followers lived childless, celibate and without stuff, as Jesus did.
If you’re genuinely following Jesus, very few people want to hear what you say. (more…)
There’s a curious but pivotal scripture that “gentle Jesus, meek and mind” Christians tend to skip because it doesn’t fit their image of Jesus. You know the one I mean – where a hungry Jesus curses a fig tree to death and then goes on a hangry rampage in the temple, overturning tables and whipping the moneychangers for violating God’s law.
Ya gotta admit – when Jesus does hangry, he does it memorably. Most of us when we’re hangry just snap at people and then head to the corner store for a candy bar or a bag of Doritos, but Jesus let it all out. And when he did, he did it with such impact and such righteousness that we’re still talking about it today. (more…)
In his letters, Paul was very clear about one thing: No earthly suffering is too much if it leads to Heaven as the reward.
Heaven is our reward if God judges that we’ve earned it. Most Christians have lost sight of that. Instead of longing for Heaven, they do everything in their power to postpone death. They run to the doctor, they demand a cure, they beg for prayers so they won’t die. Why is that? (more…)
When Jesus was 12, he gave his parents the slip and snuck off to the temple in Jerusalem to talk scripture. The learned elders were amazed at his knowledge and perceived he was clearly a prodigy destined for great things. But his parents experienced this event somewhat differently. For three days and nights, they frantically searched for their son. When they eventually found him, instead of apologizing, Jesus simply stated that he needed to be about his Father’s business. His parents, however, discerned otherwise, and back under their wing Jesus went. We hear nothing further about him until his “coming out” miracle at the wedding at Cana 18 years later (prompted, tellingly, by his mother, who signaled to Jesus that yes, it is finally time to be about your Father’s business).
Like the precocious 12-year-old Jesus who reveled in his knowledge of scripture, fully-grown men and women today engage in the same type of display. But instead of using temples, they vie to one-up each other on blogs, online forums or YouTube videos. And in so doing, they completely miss the point of knowing scripture. (more…)