What is 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. 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.
– Hebrews 11:1-3, ESV

This week, my wife and I were chatting about our faith… our relationship with our Lord and Savior. This subject has been a hot topic for me for a while now.

As a child, mom and dad drug me to church, but I didn’t see any reflection of God in their lives. As a teen, I walked away from a God I never knew, and, as far as I was concerned, wasn’t real. 17 years ago, He made Himself real to me.

But that was 17 years ago.

And life goes on.

And where is God now?

I confessed to my wife and preacher that there are days when what I claim as my faith doesn’t feel real to me. I confessed that, even though I have my doubts, I will continue to proclaim Him.

My preacher referred me to Mark 9:23-24.

And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
– Mark 9:23-24, ESV

My wife referred me to Hebrews 11:1ff.

And it hit me: having faith is what saves us and endears us to Christ. Having doubts doesn’t mean that we are not His.

And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
– Genesis 15:6, ESV

That realization brings me peace.

As I mentor the next generation of believers, God keeps His Living Word flowing through me. And it’s because of faith in things hoped for, a belief in things not yet seen.

Certifiable

I’ve been working on computers for thirty years.  I don’t know everything there is to know about the digital world, but I do know quite a bit (toot-toot!).

In my job search, though, my experience is meaningless without a piece of paper.  No, it’s not a college degree, it’s a certificate from some faceless authority that says I am certifiable.  The names sound like alphabet soup – CNA, CCNA, MCSE, SSCP, A+, Network+… the list goes on and on.

Yeah, I can pass the tests, but they are so darned expensive!  I have not had the luxury of working at a place that will reimburse me for the cost of these tests.  So, when times are tough and finances are tight, I have tried to do with just my experience.  It’s not getting me very far.

Recently, I interviewed with a company that said they would hire me if I got the certifications.  And, if I got the certs before I reported for duty, they would pay me back.  So, I’m gonna drop a few Benjamins on a certificate – a piece of paper that says I know what I know.

I guess our spiritual life is kinda like that.  People want to know under what authority we speak.  But we have a certificate.  In the Great Commission (Matthew 28), Jesus commanded us to carry His Name into the world.  That command is the authority we need – the certificate that says we are capable of doing His work.

I have to prove to the world that I know about computers through a piece of paper.  Jesus knows I am always learning His word, and is happy to hire me on His Word alone.

In Christ Alone

I don’t know why the song is stuck in my head.  I haven’t heard it on the radio for a while and we haven’t sung it in church.  But I’m glad it is stuck.

I can’t think of a better place to be than in Christ, alone.  Being in Christ is better than being in a church building.  Being in Christ is better than being in a fast car.  Being in Christ is, yes fellow Texans, I’m sayin’ it – being in Christ is even better than being in Texas – although not by much.

Seriously, though, when I’m pondering the meaning of life as I was today, I begin to ask what it’s all about.  I mean, in my head I know the meaning of life is to “Love the Lord your God with everything you are.”  But try something in me just don’t want to listen.

I can be easily distracted by the events of life.  While I bow my head and pray, I try to stay focused on the majesty of God.  But then my ear begins to itch.  Way down inside where only a key will get to it.  Or a dog will start panting by my feet, wanting attention.  Or I’ll suddenly start thinking about the person who was rude on the phone three weeks ago.  Suddenly, I’m distracted from my prayer.

Sing a song out loud, though.  Hum it, whistle it – whatever.  “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”  It will focus your entire body.  Your mind, your ears, your mouth, your voice, your lungs and your heart will all fall in line.

In Christ alone,
My hope is found,
He is my life, my strength, my song…

Peace begins to fill my head and the thoughts of the day are chased away.  Worries are now gone.  Life seems to be, once again, where it needs to be.

It is In Christ Alone.

All Scripture is God-Breathed

And useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16

Dedicated to Westboro Baptist Church

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. – Romans 13:1-2

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.  But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.  And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. – Romans 8:9-11

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,”
declares the LORD. – Jeremiah 9:23-24

Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth—
then my judgments go forth like the sun. For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. – Hosea 6:4-6

If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. – Matthew 12:7

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.  And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.  You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.  A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
– Matthew 12:30-37

Bless those who persecute you.  Bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. – Romans 12:14-15

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” – Luke 15:1-2

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him,“See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”  The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well. – John 5:14-15

If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely.  The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient.  Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. – 2 Corinthians 2:5-8

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4 Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. – 1 John 2:3-5

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40

“If you love me, keep my commands.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” – John 14:15-17

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. – 1 John 4:7-12

 

Eros

I can have a lot of fun with these Greek words.  Agape.  Eros.  🙂  No, I’m not even going there! You would only boo and hiss at my joke about bows and Eros…

Anyway, Eros was the Greek god of intimate love – between a husband and wife.  We know him better by his Roman name, Cupid.  It is from that description we get the second in this treatise on love.

When I met my wife, 20 years ago, I was struck by her beauty.  Some would say there was love at first sight, and I believe them.  She haunted me even as I pursued other relationships.  After all, why would someone as beautiful as her want to waste time with an overgrown beer-swillin’ sailor whose face could sink ships?  But she found something in me as well.  We’re very happily married, have two kids and a house with a cedar picket fence.

It was the initial attraction that brought us together.  Had I not seen something in her, I would likely have not remembered her from that history class in college in 1991.  Her smile, her hair – but most of all her laugh…  But, as I am wont to do, I digress.

I started to go somewhere with this that would have made a lot of people angry.  So, here goes again.

God created the attraction-based love that brings together a man and a woman.  He did so for one reason – kids.  He wants people to worship Him.  He wants lots of people to worship Him.  And, as the Sovereign Creator of the universe, He pretty much gets what He wants.  So he put a drive in each of us to get married and have kids.

How do we find the one with which to have kids and remain true to God?  Through prayer and attraction.

I’ll admit that I didn’t pray before I married my wife.  Yeah, I went through the motions, but none of it was real until we’d been married for 2 ½ years.  It’s taken me from then until now to figure out how this hot babe that I married was brought to me by a God that I refused to serve until after we were married.

It’s all part of His plan.

Now that I love to worship Him, my kids see that.  They want to be like Daddy, so they worship Him as well.  And, when they’re grown, hopefully their kids will worship Him too.  It’s a cycle that’s gone on for millenia – ever since Eve first whacked Adam upside the head for driving too fast.

Whether are married or not, keep that attraction in the marriage.  Don’t let it go outside.  There’s something special between two people who have saved themselves for each other – something special that I shall never know.  And that special something is exactly what God intended for all of us.

What is Agape?

As a kid, I’d heard this word in church and at home.  I never really knew what it meant.  I did know it was spelled agape but pronounced ah-gah-pay.  So when I saw it in print, as in “they stood there with their mouths agape,” I thought I knew what it meant.

But that’s not it at all.  Agape is love for humanity.  No strings, love simply because they are God’s creation.  We love others because God loves them.

Christianity has earned a reputation as a religion of hate.  Yet throughout God’s Holy Word, we are taught to love one another.  Nowhere in the book does it say to “Love your neighbor if they are good people.”  Nor are we commanded to “Have mercy only on those who believe just like you do.”

God tells us to love our neighbors as He loves us.  Have mercy as He does.  It’s like I tell the guys in prison – the only difference between them and me is that they’re in here and I’m not.  We’re all sinners in God’s eyes.  And sin separates us from Him.  A bridge to God has been built to us by Christ.  And if we are to cross that bridge, we need to follow His commands.

Love God.  Love each other.

Hosea admonished Israel to love others despite religious differences.  “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6, NIV.  Giving a meal to the homeless is more important than giving money to God.  Visiting the sick and imprisoned means more to God than showing up on Sunday morning.

And somehow we have missed out on all of this.  Somehow we have decided that we are to be the APF (Almighty Police Force), enforcing God’s laws on this earth.  If you sin, we will condemn you with all the power we think Jesus has given us.   This includes right worship, personal choices, sins of commission and omission…  We have appointed ourselves judge and jury.

But God desires mercy, not sacrifice.  He doesn’t care how we worship, as long as we worship.  How did Jesus convert sinners?  Other than the religious right of the day, He did not wave scrolls over their heads and tell them they were going to hell.  He smiled, healed their infirmities and said, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you!” (John 5:14, NIV)  Or, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11, KJV)

People don’t like Christians.  They don’t want to be associated with us because the world thinks we’re all psychotic.  And they have good reason for that.  It’s because we have forgotten how to love.

Love – What’s it All About

In the original Greek, the word translated love can be any of the following (Source: Wikipedia):

  • Agape love is Christian love – the love that encourages us to reach out to each other.
  • Eros is the desire, attraction between men and women.
  • Philia is friendship.  Pure and simple.
  • Storge is the love between a parent and a child.

All love fits into one of these categories.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about love lately.  Why are Christians branded as hatemongers?  Why does the world think Christians hate other people?  Why is it that we, as Christians, are viewed by the world as a bunch of bible-thumping, rule-pounding hypocrites?

1 John addresses Christian love.  He puts it very simply:  If we do not love, we are not of the Lord (1 John 3:10).  We are to love our brethren in the Lord.  We are to love the rest of the people in the world as well.  For some reason, many of us have lost sight of that fact.

We, as a body, have forgotten how to love.  Some want to abide by the rules under the auspices of the first Great Commandment, loving God.  Others want to open their arms to everybody under the second Great Commandment, loving each other.  In both cases, we lose sight of Christ altogether.

Love God with everything you are (my paraphrase of Deuteronomy 6:5).  Love your neighbor just like you love yourself (again, my paraphrase of Leviticus 19:18).  Jesus said these are the greatest commandments.  “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Join me as I dive deeper in love.

Not about Daniel

Tonight is Daddy night.  I spent several hours this weekend, playing with my daughters, as my wife stayed home and played on the Wii.  Tonight it’s my turn.  But I hate staying at home alone.  I’d rather sit alone at McDonald’s sippin’ Diet Coke and drool while staring at Hot Apple Pies.

So I sit in these chairs at a McCafe that is trying desperately to turn itself into Starbucks and failing.  Hard, upholstered plastic chairs around a table that doesn’t even come up to my knees.  At least it has an outlet so I can listen to the CD in my laptop…

But I digress.  See, I came in here reading Daniel after the weekend conversation with the Jehovah’s Witness missionary.  The one who loved to talk with me because I came out to talk with her.  She was talking about prophecy and how her church is the one true faith because they teach the bible from cover to cover.  And they cover prophecy exceptionally well.

I accepted The Watchtower and Awake, mostly out of courtesy.  She asked if I would like to learn more about her faith.  I said, “No.”  She asked why not.  I replied, “I don’t rightly know.  I know nothing of your church, what you believe, what you teach.”

As the conversation got deeper, she discovered that I knew the bible.  I was getting excited about the exchange, because we were sharing God’s Word.  I explained to her that my church, too, teaches from Genesis to Revelation.  Every jot and tittle of the law remains in force until Christ’s triumphant return.  She began to get excited.

Then I said it.  “Scripture says, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.'” (Acts 16:31).

She said, “That’s right!”

And I added, “Scripture also tells us of the great commandments.  To love God with everything we are, and to love our neighbor as ourself.  That is why I admire what you are doing – going door to door, sharing your faith.  Me, I carry the love with me and show my neighbors, but I could never do this sort of missionary work.”

She replied, “Your missionary work is every day, the people with whom you come into contact.  You share Christ’s love, and they see Him in you.  Do you ever speak of Him?”

“Sometimes I do.  I don’t want to come off preachy.  I just want people to see what He has done in me.”

She will return in two weeks with a copy of the Jehovah’s Witness statement of faith.   In the meantime, I’ve done some reading on my own.  I could never be a Jehovah’s Witness because I believe in the divinity of Christ – as the incarnation of the one, true God.  He was never the archangel Michael, and is not a lesser god.  Revelation says that the angels worship Christ.

I look forward to meeting with her again.  This time, I will have my sword (the Word of God) with me.  I hope our conversation will be as pleasant next time as it was this past time.

My 9th Birthday

Won’t you join me in celebrating my 9th birthday on Sunday?  30 Jan 2002 is when I dedicated my life to the Lord.  The last nine years have been a roller coaster of spiritual emotions.

I knew I needed something more in my life.  I had been attending church, at my wife’s request, because she knew it was better for our daughter to be in church than not.  At the time, I had a fiery temper and a foul mouth.  So, I had taken my daughter to bible study on Wednesday night at the church we were considering joining.

On the way home, listening to Christian radio in an attempt to understand all of this, the preacher read a letter from a listener in the Middle East.  The letter writer said that he had become a Christian listening to the radio program.  He couldn’t tell anybody, though, because they would kill him.

“It’s a shame he has to be so afraid,” I thought.

Then I felt as if someone said to me, “Why are you so afraid?”

“My friends like me for who I am.  They like my stories and jokes.”

“Are they more important than me?”

I drove into a Wal-Mart parking lot and asked Him to change my life.  “Make me into the person You want me to be,” I prayed.

And He did.  He helped me with my rage problem.  He taught me to lean on him ‘cuz I’m not dependable.  He showed me His Providence – we never missed a meal, though some were kinda slim.  And through it all, our church family was beside us.  They supported us through the lean times, and we supported others when the tables had turned.

It is now nine years later.  My faith grows stronger every day.  I am learning to find God in everything, even secular heavy metal.  I am learning to treat my body as a temple rather than a garbage dump.  And He is holding my hand all the way.

Won’t you join me in celebrating my 9th birthday?  There won’t be any cake or presents.  No party games or Wii marathons.  Celebrate by giving God thanks for what He has done – and will do – in your life, just as He has for me.

Doing Something About It

Last week, I asked “Then Why Don’t I Do More About It?”  And I was going to title this one “Opportunities Abound” but realized it works better as a follow up to that one.  So I did.  And here it is.  And I’m going to keep using and until you’re bored and….

On with the show.

I am becoming passionate about bringing others to Christ.  That much is certain.  How to fulfill that passion, though, is another story.  How do I live my passion without appearing like a nutcase?  I don’t want to be the Used Car Evangelist (“your life will be so much better if you just turn it all over to God.”) ‘cuz it’s not true.  Nor do I want to come off as the Holy Roller Evangelist (“you are going to HELL if you don’t change from your evil ways!”) ‘cuz while it may be true it rarely works.  I also don’t want to be the frenzied psycho confronting everybody and their brother about religion.

So, how do I do it?

This weekend, I got a glimpse of how God takes care of that for us.  I was doing some work at an apartment complex, and met a couple of people.  The words that came out of my mouth did not come from my own mind.  I truly believe that God was speaking through me.  And I praise Him for it.

One was a stay-at-home dad who’s wife was in the army.  Finances are tight and the prospect of raising two toddler girls on his own was frightening.  He was pleased with the tax news I had for him.  But what hit his heart even more was when I told him “I’ve been there.  And it’s going to get better.  I don’t know how and I don’t know when.  But it will get better.  You and your family remain in my prayers.”  He relaxed and smiled.  Then he said, “I needed to hear that.”

Another person was chatting about her life of faith.  She does not go to church, but occasionally attends a bible study.  She likes it, but feels like a hypocrite when she goes to bible study one night and a bar the next.  “I know God wants me to be a good person, but I keep breaking the rules.  It just doesn’t make any sense to keep on trying.”
I am convinced that God does not want us to just be good people who follow rules.  He asked us to love Him and love others.  That’s it.  You commit your life to those two simple rules, the rest will fall into place.”  I continued about how our heavenly Father wants us to act with him as we do with our earthly parents.  He doesn’t want perfection, just our love.
“I’m not a bad person.”
I don’t believe you, or anyone else, is a bad person.  I have told inmates at prison that the only difference between them and me is that I’m not in here.  You are a good person.  You just need to find what God wants with your life.”

And she left.

Whether or not either of those people will be affected by my words, I may never know.  I don’t care if I ever find out.  I’m doing the work the King sent me to do.  Sometimes I plant.  Sometimes I water.  Sometimes I harvest.  But if I allow Him to speak through me, I can never go wrong.