Without Faith You Can’t…

The Bible states that without faith we cannot please God. This is the God-kind of faith He wants us to walk ion daily. 

Hebrews 11:6 states, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

This means you must take risks. Living by faith is stepping out into territory that you are not familiar with and trusting that God is leading and guiding you. Living by faith means that, at times, you will fail. But remember Proverbs 24:16 states that “though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” When we walk by faith we might fail but we get up again, dust ourselves off, and keep moving forward. To do this we need to remember that failure is not a person – it is an event. You are not and cannot be a failure because you are a believer and one of God’s chosen. 

During seasons of failure, God is shaping us. If we take a risk, step out in faith, we might not succeed. But, if we avoid all risk, we guarantee we won’t succeed, and we miss so much of what God wants us to learn. Failure is often the price you pay for progress. And when you fail, remember you are walking by faith. So, look at what God is teaching you. What’s happening to you is not as important as what God is doing in you through the failure. 

Walking by faith and not by sight is dangerous. Stepping out in faith is often difficult because it means moving forward without all the facts. But, without stepping out in faith you just cannot please God.

Faith is believing in what you can’t see, following a voice you con’t prove you heard, and living by principles that God stays are true but don’t make sense in this world. But, without this faith, you cannot please God. 

So a personal question: What big faith risk have you taken in the last two years?

Most believers will answer that they have not taken a ‘faith risk’ in that period of time. Why? Because most believers are sailing the tranquil sea of complacency. 

Do you remember the story about Jesus’ disciples riding in a boat during a storm? Jesus wasn’t with them, and they were freaking out. (Which is exactly what I’d be doing, riding in a small, rickety fishing boat during the Perfect Storm.) That’s when Jesus miraculously walked toward them on the water. Then the disciples really started to wig out, thinking Jesus was a ghost.

Trying to calm them, Jesus said, “Take courage, it is I” (Matthew 14:27) 

Then one disciple spoke up. Above the terrified shouts of the others, Peter said, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to You on the water” (Matthew 14:28).

Jesus responded with one word: “Come” (verse 29).

Is Jesus saying that to you?

Come. Follow Me.

Come. Let Me lead you.

Come. Leave your comfort behind.

Come. Trust Me.

The next line of Matthew’s telling of the story will always amaze me: “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus” (verse 29).

Would you have done what Peter did? Eleven other disciples didn’t. Even though they had seen the same miracles and spent time with the same Jesus, they stayed in the boat. I can’t tell you why they wouldn’t hop onto the choppy, icy water. But I know why I wouldn’t. I’d be afraid I’d sink. In other words, I’d cower in fear of failure. Again. And, in the process, fail to walk by faith and please God.

Why did Peter do it? Because he suddenly grasped — even if only for a moment — the basic principle of faith. That principle is: God never fails. If He says to do something you can trust Him and step out in faith because He will never fail you. You can trust Him!

How can you become firmly convinced of God’s absolute trustworthiness? Peter’s courageous move of faith shows us the only way: You have to step out to find out. You’ll never know what God can do — and wants to do — through you until you leap over the gunwale and get your feet wet. 

Don’t Fold Your Bold! – Part Three

Last time we were looking at the trial or Peter and John that was the result of them healing a lame man … and the resulting trial before the religious leadership of the day. In the trial Peter and John are literally seen as and called “idiots.” But the Bible translators were trying, it seems, to be a little more polite and used the work “unlearned” or “untrained.”

Sometimes I think the Bible translators are just too polite. A literal translation renders this verse as “these guys were amazed and couldn’t believe the boldness of these idiots.” There’s no mean-spirited, name-calling here; it just a fact that these guys had no special training or religious education that qualified them to heal a lame man. Here’s the deal: If you’re the best of the best, the brightest of the brightest, God obviously will use you in His Kingdom. It’s just that he specializes is using idiots — normal, everyday people like you and me. He loves, absolutely loves, using ordinary people. 

Our God loves to take people that others overlook and give them boldness. You may be thinking, “Well, I’m a Christian, but I’m just not naturally bold. I’m kind of a quiet person. I’m not a seminary guy. I’m not a natural leader or teacher of the Bible. You know, I’m just a stay-at-home mom.” Or, “I’m just a student.” Or, “I’m just a dude, man!” Remember, there are so many different ways to be bold, so many unique, exceptional ways to be bold for Christ. 

When you become spiritually bold for the glory of God, your boldness will amaze the world. We’re told that the members of the Sanhedrin were amazed at the boldness of Peter and John. Why? Because they knew they could kill these guys, and these guys didn’t care. They were “wow, we don’t have a category for this” crazy amazed. Even if the council members didn’t believe what these two idiots were saying, it was clear that Peter and John had no doubt whatsoever about their faith in Christ.

Here’s what I want to ask you: When was the last time someone was amazed by your boldness? When was the last time you stopped someone in their tracks because they were undone by your bold speech and actions? Now, keep in mind, I’m not talking about a wacky, odd, cheesy, thirty-three-bumper-stickers-on-your-SUV kind of Christian drive-by witness. I’m not talking about being bold in a bad-Christian-television way to make people dislike you or ridicule you. I’m talking about being bold with integrity. The kind of boldness where you’re serving people faithfully in Jesus’ Name, where you’re encouraging them, where you’re living in a way that reflects Christ’s compassion and selflessness, where others look at you and say, “There’s something different about this person.” The kind of boldness where you’re so generous with your money and your heart and your time, where you’ve served your way into people’s lives, and therefore you’ve earned the right to say, “I really do love you; may I tell you about my God?” 

Here’s today’s point …

You may be reading this and cringing, thinking, “But I’m just not that kind of person. Does God really want me to act bold just to prove I’m a Christian?” Which leads us to a very important point. Spiritual boldness is not our goal; knowing Christ is our goal. Boldness is merely a byproduct of following Jesus and living as He lived, showing others the love of the Father. Spiritual boldness comes from knowing Jesus.

Remember our friends Peter and John and their bold stand before the Sanhedrin? We’re told that the council members were amazed because they were ordinary guys, but we’re also told that they recognized these guys as men who had been with Jesus. How in the world could Peter stand in the face of possible death and declare what he did? He knew Jesus. He could be bold because he had been with Jesus. Here’s the key: you have to remember this: boldness is not the point; knowing Jesus is the point,

When you live a life of faith, when you’re directed by the Spirit, you’re going to see opportunity after opportunity to be bold. Why? Because you’ve had time with Jesus. As your faith grows, so does your boldness. As your boldness grows, it leads to results. When you see spiritual results, guess what? You spend more time with Jesus, and when you spend more time with Jesus, guess what? You get more faith, and you start praying bigger prayers and you see God work, which leads to boldness which then leads to the Acts-type of results, which leads to more time with Jesus. And it goes on and on and on. 

Spiritual boldness is to be the norm for true disciples of Jesus. You aren’t called to “Fold Your Bold” but instead to stand tall and be a bold witness for Jesus where you live, work, and play. 

Don’t Fold Your Bold! – Part Two

Let’s continue our look at boldness…

He and John were walking the next day and came across a guy who had been lame for more than forty years, and they told him to get up and walk. Imagine in our context, someone who has been in a wheelchair for forth years, and then one day, these two guys come up and say, “In the Name of Jesus, take a walk.” And he does! That’s bold.

This miraculous healing stirred all kinds of controversy because everybody around knew this guy couldn’t walk. And so, some of the temple guards under the command of the Sanhedrin, the religious group in power at that time, sent some people to arrest Peter and John, and they were put on trial in front of the Sanhedrin.

When the Sanhedrin tried someone, all the members of the Sanhedrin, dressed in their official robes, would encircle the defendants to intimidate them. They would hurl questions from all directions and then decide on the defendants’ fate, typically saying, “We’re just going to beat you,” or “We’re going to imprison you,” or, “We’re going to kill you.” So it wasn’t looking good for these two followers of Jesus.

In the middle of this ominous gathering of 70 leaders, Peter and John were asked, “By what name and by what authority do you do these things?

Where they tongue-tied or intimidated?

See for yourself: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful Name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene,…” Then Peter delivered the perfect strike to make sure they got the point: “… the man you killed but whom God raised from the dead’” (Acts 4:8-190)

Now, I cannot overstate how bold that was. The Sanhedrin hated Jesus, were glad he was gone, and hoped never to hear from Him. And the foundation of their convictions was the belief that resurrecting the dead was impossible. So Peter pointed right at the people who used their power to kill Jesus and said, “Where did I get this kind of power to heal a guy who’s been crippled for forty years? You remember Jesus don’t you? The innocent man you set up and crucified. Well, He’s back from the dead.” Essentially Peter response was like a declaration of war, the last thing these Jewish religious leaders wanted to hear.

There is just something about that Name. The Name of Jesus carries supernatural authority that empowers us in ways we can’t even grasp. So when Peter and John cite Jesus as their power source, the religious leaders couldn’t believe what they were seeing: The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 NLT). 

The Jewish religious leaders were stunned to see such audacity from a couple of regular Joes like John and Peter. It’d be like you and me standing before the Supreme Court telling them that we know what’s best for the country’s judicial system. They’d look at us, aware we’re not attorneys or scholars trained in the courtroom, and wonder what makes us think we are so knowledgable and confident and bold.

But here’s the thing: God gives ordinary people extraordinary boldness. You don’t have to be an expert or a scholar, have a seminary degree or experience as a missionary to serve Christ with amazing power. Consider the language of the verse again: “[The leaders] could see that [Peter and John] were ordinary men with no special training on the Scriptures.” Now the Greek  word translated as “ordinary” is the word idiotas. This word can mean unlearned; it can mean unschooled; it can mean ordinary. But the literal translation for the word idiotas is — you guessed it — “idiot.! Don’t you love it?

More next time….

Don’t Fold Your Bold! – Part One

As I have matured in my faith, I’ve learned that God wants us to be bold, to take risks through His leading us out of our comfort zones. We, of course, prefer our comfort.

Most of the time we want to play it safe, to remain comfortable and pursue what is convenient for our busy schedules. But God is bold by His very nature, and as we follow Him and are led by His Spirit living within us, we find the strength and courage to take actions that we’d never take on our own.

We see this illustrated through the vivid descriptions of the struggles and triumphs of the very first group of Christians in the book of Acts. This account was written by Luke, a medical doctor by profession, who captured some of the highlights of the first community of people who believed in Jesus. One of the dominant themes of the Book of Acts is the boldness of believers. When you look at the story of the early church, you see miracle after miracle. Relying on nothing but the power of God’s Spirit made them undeniably bold in everything they did.

Now, whenever I read these accounts in Acts, I usually ask myself, “Why don’t we see these types of miracles in our world today? Or at least in our churches?” Perhaps I’m wrong, but I suspect the answer is because we don’t have the same bold faith to act in bold ways to bring about bold results like the early believers did.

Before we go any further, allow me to define what I mean by boldness. It’s not crazy, irrational, odd, illogical, subjective behaviour. No, boldness is simply behaviour born of belief. Because what you believe – about who you are in Christ and who God really is – determines how you behave. If you believe everyone is going to criticize you, you’ll behave cautiously. If you believe you’re probably going to fail, you’re going to venture out tentatively. If, however, you believe that the one true Lord God is calling you, empowering you, leading you, and equipping you,, then you will live boldly. Why? Because boldness is behaviour born of belief. 

The Greek word from Acts that’s translated as boldness is the word parrhesia, and this word means more than just skillful speaking. The original Greek word conveys the idea of outspokenness; it means “assurance, courage, and confidence to act without fear.” So often fear keeps “us” front and center and in need of reassurance from other people or from our possessions or titles. And thus we fear stepping our boldly in faith, trusting God. But when we have ‘died with Christ’ we find liberty and can then boldly live by faith and not by fear.

Perhaps the boldness spotlight doesn’t shine more brightly anywhere in Acts than it does on a guy called Peter. One of Jesus’ original twelve disciples, Peter is someone most of us can relate to easily. He’s the one who’s often characterized by bold intentions followed by timid actions. One of the most glaring examples of his bold intentions came right before Jesus was arrested. Peter boldly declared, “If all of these other losers turn their backs on you, I’ll still be here. I would never leave you. I’m your guy. I’ve got your back. I’ll never deny you. I’ll boldly stand by you.”

Before the day ended, not just once but three different times Peter denied knowing Christ. His bold intentions folded under the pressure of having to act in faith. But Peter’s story didn’t end there; something happened in Peter, and I pray that same something will happen in us. When Jesus died and then rose three days later, Peter encountered his Master with unbounded  joy. And Jesus basically said to him, “Hey, you’re forgiven; it’s all good. Let it go. Shake it off. Be bold. Take care of My sheep. You’re my rock.” (my impressions of their conversation found in John 21).

A switch flipped inside of Peter after that encounter, and suddenly the guy who used to fold his bold under pressure could not be contained. Not long after, he stood before this huge group of people and preached one of the boldest messages in history (read: Acts 2). He didn’t hold back and spoke the whole truth boldly regardless of the consequences.

This was to become the norm in the early Christian Church as recorded in the Book of Acts and the letters (epistles) to the early Church.

More next time… 

Deal Or No Meal – Part Two

It seems absurd to imagine someone trading something so valuable for something so temporary. Why would Esau make sure a bad trade? Why do generation after generation of intelligent adults make similar decisions every day? It’s simple. We allow our out-of-control fleshly desires to overwhelm our better sense. We allow our egos, instead of our spirit guided by the holy Spirit, to drive our desires.

In the first letter of John, the apostle writes… “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:16). 

The world offers to fulfill all our cravings. “I’m hungry and I want it. I’m lonely, so I need that person., I’m empty, so maybe that thing will satisfy me.” The world offers substitutes for (or counterfeits of) real things: physical pleasure, material things, pride in what we have and what we do. Before long, our sinful desires for the counterfeits of this world lure us into short-term decisions with long-term consequences.

You unquestionably know lots of people whose lives have been ruined by unchecked and untamed desires. It could be the person who buys what she can’t afford, charging and borrowing her way into final fiscal destruction. Each purchase makes her feel good about herself for a fleeting moment; she can wear the latest styles and have the newest phone and iGadget. But one day she wakes up, buried alive under a mountain of debt.

If could be the guy who knows looking at pornography isn’t good for his spiritual life or relationships. But when he’s tempted with the opportunity, his immediate desire overwhelms his desire to obey God. Before long, what seemed harmless enough at first becomes deadly. He’s trapped and believes he can’t stop. He had no idea that taking one drink of porn poison would lead to an addiction that slowly kills his soul. 

You probably know a young woman who wanted to honour God and her future husband by saving herself for marriage. But since she thought she loved the guy she was dating, and because she didn’t want to lose him, she compromised her values by giving her body to him. After her “true love” got what he wanted, he eventually dumped her and moved on to other conquests. At first she felt horrible, but eventually she decided, “Since I’m not a virgin anymore, why shouldn’t I find some comfort wherever I can? And over the years, she accumulated sinful sexual memories, ones that still cloud her marriage and haunt her with regret. 

You might know the guy who told himself he’d provide a “better life” for his family., (Have you ever noticed how ‘better life’ never means more time, deeper relationships, or spiritual intimacy? A better life generally means giving them things that won’t last and don’t really matter). Armed with good intentions, he threw himself into his career and did whatever it took — sixty-hour weeks, travelling half the month, working at home on weekends. Then one day his company downsized and he found himself looking for a  new job. Worse still, he woke up to a failed marriage and children he still sees but doesn’t really know.

What have there people and millions of others like you and me done to ourselves? We’ve traded the ultimate (God’s blessings) for the immediate (our selfish desires). We’ve given away our birthright for a stupid bowl of stew. 

If  trading your birthright for a bowl of stew seems farfetched, then let me share another example. 

In 1894, the US mint in San Francisco produced only twenty-four coins, relatively few for its time but certainly staggering when we consider the millions of coins produced by the American mints now. The superintendent of the San Francisco mint then was a man named John Dagget. Knowing the rarity of the few coins produced that year, Dagget acquired several and gave three of the dimes to his daughter, Hallie. “Hold on to these, my dear, and they’ll be worth much more than ten cents someday,” he told her.

On her way home from her father’s office, young Hallie did what many kids would do. She stopped in her favourite soda shop and exchanged what would become one of the world’s rarest coins for a scoop of her favourite ice cream. Almost a century later, in 1981, the coin surfaced and sold for $34,100. Today only ten 1894-S Barber dimes are known to exist, and they’re considered one of the most sought after and valuable coins in the world. Poor Hallie’s scoop of vanilla ended up costing her much more than she could ever imagine.

We would be wise to embrace the principle of delayed gratification when to comes to our finances, not just our dimes. Because of a spirit of entitlement, it’s common for teenagers (and adults still in adolescence) to believe they really need to latest iPhone, iPod, or iPad. (If their iPad doesn’t have 5G, they need counselling to overcome their childhood abuse.) Some teens actually believe they need (or deserve) a thirty-thousand dollar car. Or a debt-ridden twenty-year-old believes a spring break to Cancun is a necessity. Or the young couple just out of college feels it is their right to live in a house as nice as their parent’s home. 

Like Esau and Hallie we often trade the ultimate (our birthright as believers) for the immediate. We would do well to remind ourselves … “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2:16-17). 

Deal Or No Meal – Part One

In pursuit of immediate pleasure, people trade the ultimate for the expendable. Andy Stanley (pastor and Bible teacher) describe this phenomenon in the biblical story of Jacob and Esau. If you are not familiar with the story, Jacob and Esau were twin brothers. Esau was the oldest, born minutes before his younger brother, Jacob. I’ve been told that the younger brothers are often jealous of their older siblings, which was certainly the case in this story. Esau was a man’s man, while younger Jacob was more a mama’s boy.

During this time in history, the firstborn son had extreme advantages. He had what’s known as the birthright. Upon the father’s death, the firstborn received twice the inheritance of any of his siblings. He also became the judge (or executor) of the father’s estate. Throughout his life, the older brother lived with advantages and favour simply because he was born first. You can imagine how this could get under the skin of the younger brother.

Well, with these two guys, the scene went down something like this … “One day when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau arrived home from the wilderness exhausted and hungry. Esau said to Jacob, “I’m starved! Give me some of that stew!” “All right,” Jacob replied, “but trade me your rights as the firstborn son.” “Look, I’m dying of starvation!” said Esau. “What good is my birthright to me now?”  (Genesis 25:29-32 NLT)

The conflict seems very basic, a temporary physical appetite battling an eternal familial blessing. Esau, the older brother, has been out hunting and works up a huge appetite. Perhaps his journey home took longer than he expected and his stomach is long past growling. He’s not just hungry. He’s HUNGRY. When he sees Jacob cooking some stew, Esau demands some lunch. 

Suddenly, the younger brother has the advantage, perhaps for the first time ever. I can imagine Jacob, sensing he has the upper hand, thinking, “I’ve got you now. All those years that you picked on me, all those times you don’t let me play with your friends, all those times you outshined me … now you’re going to get yours.”

Esau said something that’s funny to me. He whined, “Look,, I’m going to die if I don’t get something to eat.” Just in case you’re tempted to believe him. Let’s tell it like it is. He was being a big baby, a drama king, an entitled brat. Esau wasn’t about to die. He was just hungry and was used to having food the moment he wanted something to eat.

Jacob corners his brother and strikes a deal. “You want some of this delicious, hot beef stew, with your favourite carrots and tomatoes? Then it’s going to cost you. If you give me your birthright, I’ll give you some stew.”

And that’s when Esau makes the worst trade of his life. Esau trades the ultimate (his birthright) for the immediate (a bowl of stew). In the end, he will not be able to put a price on what he pays for a simple meal.

You might ask, “Who in the world would do something as stupid as trade their birthright for a bowl of stew?

If you think about it, you already know the answer.

We, as believers, do it every single day.

More next time – Part Two