Sunday, March 11, 2018

Anticipation. Motivation. Inspiration. (pt. 7)

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... Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us... By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. ~ Hebrews 11:1; 12;1, 11

Waiting...

Waiting may be one of the most difficult parts of following God. I mean, the very word follow suggests movement. Waiting means standing still. Or does it? Sarah and Abraham waited as they followed. Together, they journeyed toward that physical place God would one day make the home of their progeny. Though Abraham and Sarah wandered they were not lost. Their stout hearts and the plodding feet proved them to be faithful to the limited information God gave them. Though Abraham and Sarah were promised descendants that would fill the land God had promised them, they themselves would never see the actual fulfillment. Offspring as numerable as the stars of heaven and the grains of sands that ring the seas would only be possible if God gave them a son. Impossible, unless God gave them a son.

They waited. Years passed, then decades. At some point the ancient couple came to grips with the realization their biological clock had struck midnight--a child was a physical impossibility. Momentarily their faith staggered at the promises of Heaven's God to the frailty of their human bodies. Sarah pondered the quandary, and she and her husband came up with a solution devoid of faith (another story entirely). But in the end, Sarah considered the source of the promised heir and received power to conceive. Isaac was born. The beginnings of a nation was underway. In embryonic form the world a blessing to every future generation was birthed.

Every Christ-follower experiences moments when their trust in divine promises flag. Like Abraham and Sarah, when things don't happen, we try to make them happen. And let's face it, we can make a lot of things happen! But also like Abraham and Sarah, we find that those things are not God-things. satisfaction has a brief shelf life. We come to realize there are promises God alone possesses the power to provide. Waiting is difficult, but not impossible. Waiting is part of following God.


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Anticipation. Motivation. Inspiration. (pt. 6)

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... Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us... By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out not knowing where he was going...
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8; 12:1

"Not all who wander are lost." Said J. R. R. Tolkien. An appropriate mantra for Christians to embrace, and a reflection of a biblical truth. Abraham is case in point. He wandered, but was never lost. God initiated his journey of faith into the unknown to an inheritance God alone could deliver. With faith in God's Word, Abraham began his adventure--one obedient decision at a time.

Exactly how the wandering call settled on the heart and soul of the patriarch of faith is unknown. But however God communicated, Abraham knew it was God and he responded faithfully. Abraham's story is recorded in Genesis 12, read it, and you will see from the very beginning he was required to be all in. Abraham was to leave his country, leave his kindred, leave his father's house, and sojourn to a place God could show him. A place he would never peacefully occupy, but his descendants would. Faith opened Abraham's eyes to see the invisible, and he plodded on knowing he would arrive at God's predetermined destination. Anticipation and motivation and inspiration generated a sustained trust in God.

Today's Christ-follower is familiar with the Biblical metaphor of "walking by faith and not by sight." That's what Abraham did. It is what we must do. At the basis of our faith is the same wandering call Abraham received. Like Abraham, Jesus calls the believer to follow him even if that requires a willingness to leave family, house and home. Everything. Christ's call to all is to be all in. Actions of the will are where faith becomes observable and experiential. Not a single believer has ever lived knowing exactly where God's Son may take them moment by moment--it's a journey of faith. Yet, one step at a time, Believers can live with the assurance of knowing wherever they arrive it will be at the predetermined destiny God in his sovereignty promised. God leads--we follow.



Friday, February 23, 2018

Anticipation. Inspiration. Motivation. (pt. 5)

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... Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us... by faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 
~Hebrews 11:1-2; 12:1, 7

Abel was separated from God by sin, but God initiated the way for the relationship to be restored; sin could be covered by the sacrifice God instructed. By faith Abel responded, not grudgingly, but worshipfully. Cain, on the other hand, would have none of it. Abel died once and now lives forever. His testimony continues to speak. Cain died.

Enoch lived separated from God for 65 years, but God initiated an encounter when Enoch's son was born. From that point on Enoch turned his back on his former life and walked with God. Without faith it would have been impossible.

Now we see Noah. His epic task, also initiated by God, was to build a never-before-seen boat. Keep this ever present in your mind: faith in God's instruction preceded Noah felling a single tree. In reverent fear Noah did as God commanded. His obedience effected not only himself. Noah's labor of love required a marathon of obedience. For 120 years he cut timbers, pitched gaps, and rehearsed to all who would listen the message of God's coming judgment and gracious provision of salvation. Noah's visible work of faith brought condemnation to the world around him. He believed God, and they did not. We do not know the full content of Noah's preaching, but we do know he was clear: God's judgment was coming against sin and God had made only one way of escape--the ark.

One hundred twenty years of building and preaching came to an end. Noah, along with his family entered the ark. The patience of God's grace expired, and the door was closed. A deluge of rain fell from the heavens and water erupted from the ground. Floods, like nothing before witnessed, rose higher and higher. Not one person outside God's provision of salvation survived. Every person in the ark was safe.

Faithful obedience to God's revelation is never barren of action, and faithful response never goes unrewarded. Never. Rejection of God's provision will always bear an horrendous cost. Always. There was a distinct difference between Abel's worship, Enoch's walk, and Noah's work, and the difference is simple yet profound, their's was by faith, faithfulness to a God-delivered message.

It is impossible to show faith without works. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Anticipation. Inspiration. Motivation (pt. 4)

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... Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us... By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 
~Hebrews 11:1; 12:1, 5-6

Abel worshipped by faith.

Enoch walked by faith (Genesis chapter 5). We are told: When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years... Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.

Faith has a starting point. No one is born faithful through natural birth. No one comes into this world believing in God for who he is. There is always a starting point, such was the case with Enoch. For 65 years Enoch lived apart from God. His starting point was after the birth of his son, Methuselah. It's very possible the evangelist who brought Enoch the redemptive message of God was his contemporary, Noah. If so, Enoch knew God would bring judgment, but also knew God offered a provision for salvation. Noah and his family, would be the only ones who in faith received God's means of grace among their generation. By faith, they believed both sides of the story--God's wrath and redemption. In faith, they entered God's means of salvation-the Ark. Enoch, from age 65 years forward, walked with God. Then one day before the great deluge he was gone.

This is conjecture, but within the realm of possibility. While here on earth part of Enoch's walk with God was to work with Noah in building the ark. We don't know for certain what the walk of this man of faith looked like, but we do know for certain Enoch was about God's purposes--the only way any person can walk with God.

Enoch lived in a world of people who disregarded God by doing what was right in their own eyes. But for Enoch, the birth of his son marked the starting point of his journey of faith. Many circumstances surround the conversion point of people in Scripture: some come to faith during crises; some during sickness, and others during times of blessing. But in every case of true conversion they come to God on his terms not theirs, and through faith in his Word. From that point on there is a distinct change in the way God-followers live out their daily life.

When was your starting point?




Saturday, February 17, 2018

Anticipation. Inspiration. Motivation. (pt. 3)

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... Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us...
~Hebrews 12:1

Let's look more closely at the metaphor of the cloud of witnesses. Here is where the word Therefore becomes important. Why? Because without the word Therefore we might separate the writer's intent and envision the cloud of witnesses as a gallery of holy fans in the bleachers of heaven cheering us on. Not so. Fans, like those who are spectators at a baseball, basketball, or football, can be nothing more than adoring observers.  Never having been active participants or competitors.

Looking at faith's impact on Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, and there are many more listed in chapter eleven, we get an understanding of the importance of the word Therefore.  Therefore is there for a good reason. We will start with Abel.

In Scripture, Abel is the first person identified as one who lived by faith. Unlike his parents, Adam and Eve, he didn't live in the Garden of Eden or walk with God in the cool of the day. But what Abel knew about God he believed and acted upon. Authentic worship was costly, he was also the first person of faith martyred. In Genesis 4 we find that Abel was bludgeoned to death by his own brother, Cain. Cain's inspiration and motivation for such a hideous act? Violent resentment of God's acceptance of Abel's faithful worship.

Abel's motivation and inspiration for faithful worship was his assurance his worship would be acceptable: Abel' spirit was right toward God; Abel believed God worthy to be worshipped the way God himself prescribed; Abel adored God at the soul level; Abel's actions honored God, and Abel worshipped in spirit and in truth and in faith. God commended Abel's faith.

Cain's motivation and inspiration for worship was his self-assurance. Cain insisted his worship be acceptable based on his own terms. What was Cain's spirit toward God--He didn't believe God was worthy of the worship God himself prescribed. Cain did not worship in spirit and truth and faith. Cain dishonored God. Cain did not receive commendation, he received condemnation.

Jesus spoke directly to true worship.

But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth. ~ John 4:23-24

It is obvious Jesus clearly taught that not all worship, Cain's being the first and oldest example in Scripture, is true worship. True worship comes from a spirit that exalts the worthiness of God to receive it as prescribed in Scripture. True worship sees God as He is. Those who worship in such a way worship in spirit and truth and faith. Jesus said his heavenly Father is acutely aware of the difference between true and false worshippers. God is not seeking false worshippers: worshippers whose spirit is self-assured in their own custom-fit, self-designed in their approach to God.

No doubt, we come to God just as we are. But we must also come to Him just as He is. We worship God in spirit and truth and faith.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Anticipation. Inspiration. Motivation (pt. 2)

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... Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us...
~Hebrews 12:1

Notice the word ThereforeAsk yourself this question: what is the word Therefore there for? You probably know, but if not...

Whenever Therefore transitions a dialogue or instruction, what follows is based on what preceded the word Therefore. Over-and-over again, Hebrews 11 gives us the basis of our hope. What is it; it is the promises of faith. Twenty-five times faith is used, and therefore signals a challenge or response by the reader. Anticipation (hope) is raised by the promises of faith. But not just any faith, it is faith as described by God's Word. The faith we speak of is taking God at his Word.

Faith in the lives of those who embraced it distinguished them. Their faith was visible, that is the distinction. This is important, because faith remains invisible if no works accompany it. Faith is unseen until it transforms those who possess it. The gallery of witnesses were a testament to faith that was observable, and in them we find motivation to action. The cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12 were instructed to look back to the flesh and blood examples of the outworking of faith, but the people themselves were not the main focus, faith was. They were radically affected by actively trusting the testimony of God's Word.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Meek and Mild

For the past 10 days it has either rained or threatened rain, but every so often the sun gave us a wink letting us know it was still up there above all the grey. In spite of that, the sprawling hay fields of Standing Boy Farms are turning green. Jonquils have poked their colorful heads through the winter compost of leaves and beige grass. Blue birds flit around preparing their nests. Next week the mercury will rise toward 80 degrees.

Compared to the snowy, frigid New England winters where I grew up, Old Man Winter's presence here in the southeast is meek and mild. Apart from a couple of cold-snaps, when temperatures drop into the teens and an occasional dusting of snow is little more than a nuisance, our heavy coats, woolen mittens, long scarfs, and insulated boots are lonesome.

And I'm grateful.