The Word of Relationship

Matthew 8:8-9 ( NKJV )
The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.

In yesterdays post we looked at this scripture from the standpoint that relationship is the basis for faith.  We trust those whom we know.  The better we know someone the easier it is to trust them.  This applies to the Lord as well.  The more we cultivate our relationship with Him the easier it is to have faith in Him.  If we never cultivate relationship with Him, we will find it difficult to trust Him.

How do we cultivate relationship with the Lord?  First let me say that you cannot cultivate what you do not have.  Jesus said in John 3 that we must be born again if we want to have relationship with God.  If we are not born again we do not have a relationship.  In Eph. 5:12 Paul tells us that if we are without Christ we are without God in the world.  If we do not have Christ, if we are not born again, we are without relationship with God.  So, to begin with, we must be born again.  That’s when we meet Jesus and when our relationship begins.

The beginning of any relationship, however, is not the end.  I met my wife when I was 13, but that was only the beginning.  It has been 43 years since that time and our relationship has grown every day since then.  How do any relationships grow?  There are two major factors, time in each other’s presence and communication.  Without those two things no relationship can grow.

As I spent more and more time with my wife I learned her attitudes, her likes and dislikes.  I learned what she would do and how she would react in any situation.  I learned to tailor some of my behavior to those things.  As we communicated I learned more and more about her.  I found out what her hopes and dreams were.  I found out how she felt about all kinds of things.  In both I discovered her character and integrity.  I liked her when I met her.  I fell in love with her as we spent time together and communicated.

The same is true in our relationship with the Lord.  I met Him when I was 14.  I will let you guess who introduced me to Him.  I grew up Catholic.  I had heard about Jesus all my life.  I believed in Him, but I didn’t know Him.  After I met Him in salvation there was a whole different dimension to my “religion”, but I didn’t know Jesus yet.  Not really.

I began to spend time with Him in prayer.  I have always believed that prayer, as communication with the Lord, is not limited to specific times when I get into a special place or posture.  Although I believe that is a necessary element of prayer, I also believe that prayer is all the time everywhere.  Once I met Jesus I just began to talk to him.  The more I talked to Him I found that he talked back to me.  How?  Often in impressions, circumstances, feelings or other things that I just knew were communication from the Lord.  The more time I spent with Him the better I began to know Him. 

Another important element of spending time with the Lord is spending time with His people.  Heb. 10:25 tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.  In knowing God’s people I come to know God in them.  As we gather there is a corporate relationship that develops.  1 John 1:3 gives us further insight.  

1 John 1:3 ( NKJV )
that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

John tells us that fellowship together promotes fellowship with the Lord.  To know Him we must spend time in His presence with his people.

Finally, the centurion in the story we are studying understood the most foundational element of our communication with God.  He understood the most important place we need to spend time with him.  The centurion understood that Jesus’ word was who and what Jesus was.  We need to spend time in the bible, the Word of God, in order to really know Him.  It is how He thinks and what He thinks about everything.  It is the clearest most direct communication between God and man that there is. 

We will look more closely at this as we continue this week, but let me ask you, “What place does the Word of God have in your Life?”  The answer to that question will go a long way to understanding the quality and quantity of your faith.

The Faith of Relationship

Matthew 8:8-9 ( NKJV )
The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.

In yesterday’s blog we cited this definition of faith from Easton’s bible dictionary: Faith is in general the persuasion of the mind that a certain statement is true. Its primary idea is trust.  There are many aspects of faith that we will discuss over the coming weeks, but this is where it starts.  Yesterday we ended with the thought that faith must rest on the foundation of salvation.  Paul had great faith even in the midst of difficulties because he was so appreciative of the salvation he received.  When we focus on the fact that we are not going to spend a moment of eternity in hell, it changes how we see the present.

That said, faith also must rest on relationship with the one in which you have faith.  In the story above it could be argued that this centurion had no relationship with Jesus.  That is not entirely true.  Although he may not have know him in a personal way, he understood him.  He knew Jesus was a man integrity.  He understood that Jesus was a man who operated under authority and therefore had real authority.  He knew him based on these things because the centurion was also such a man.  This provided him with a relational framework within which he could trust Jesus.

There can be no discussion of faith in God without discussing the word of God, however I want to stress something today that will keep our understanding clear concerning the role of the Word of God where faith is concerned.  There are those who almost worship the Word instead of God himself.  That is not correct.  This centurion pointed to Jesus’ word as being very important in this process.  He told Jesus that all he needed was for Jesus to “speak a word” and his servant would be healed.  He knew that a word from Jesus would release the power necessary to bring about healing.  Why?

There was nothing magical about the Words Jesus would speak.  There is no power in the pattern used to put them together.  There is nothing special about the phrasing.  It has nothing to do with how beautiful they are or the tone of voice Jesus used when he spoke them.  There was nothing special about the words Jesus used at all.  Another person could have said the exact words in the exact way and nothing would have happened.  However the centurion knew that if Jesus said them his servant would, without a doubt, be healed.  Why?  Because Jesus said them.  It is not the words that are special, it is who they come from. 

The bible is the living Word of God.  It is not a book of spells.  It is not just a book of wisdom.  I have always found it interesting that the term “Word of God” is used to describe the bible.  It is not generally referred to as the “book” of God.  It is not usually called the wisdom of God.  It is the Word of God.  This makes it personal.  It is God’s word to us.  That is why it is alive.  That is why we can trust it.  That is why it is powerful.

I made this statement last week and will make it again.  The more you know the Lord the more you will trust Him.  That goes for His word as well.  Faith in anyone is built because we know them and therefore can trust them.  Faith in God is not just a principle, although it is that.  Faith in God is not just some “spiritual understanding” it is trust in a person.  It is believing that God is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Heb 11:6.)  It is trust in someone not something.  This is true even if the something is the Bible. 

We must know the Word to have faith.  The Word is the release point of faith, however the Word is only true because of who said it.  We don’t believe the bible alone, we believe the bible because we know and trust the one who said it.  He said He would meet our needs, therefore we can trust in the fact.  He said “by his stripes we were healed” therefore we can expect to be well again.  He said he would never leave us nor forsake us, so we are not alone nor are we forsaken.  All of this we believe because we know Him. 

We know dHe is a man under authority and therefore in authority, just as the centurion did.  We know He is a loving Father, a caring Lord and a powerful Holy Spirit.  The more we cultivate that knowledge the easier it will be to trust Him with all aspects of our lives.

What are we Fighting for

Jude 1:3 ( NKJV )
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

We have been involved in a long study of the Children of Israel and their failure to enter the promised land.  A whole generation did not partake of what God was trying to give them because they did not mix the promise of God with faith.  We need to be certain that we are not like that generation.  We need to enter in to what God has for us because it is not just for us personally.  God has a plan for the earth and we are a critical part of that plan.  We are the modern day body of Christ.  Just as he could not accomplish our salvation without a physical body in Israel at that time, He needs a functioning body in the world today to accomplish his purpose in our time.

We have looked at two verses in particular.  Hebrews 11:6 which says we must begin by acknowledging that God really does exist.  This is a statement that is almost ludicrous to think, but it is pivotal.  You see I am not talking about a general acknowledgement of the existence of a “higher power” but an acceptance that God exists in my life today.  That He is involved and active.  If I really believe that, it changes everything.

Second we looked at Luke 18:1-8 which asks the question, “will the son of man really find faith when he comes?”  I don’t believe this just means when Jesus comes again, but when He comes to me in my circumstance.  Will He find genuine faith or just a mental facsimile.  Will I, like the woman in these verses, be consistent and persistent until I see the promise come to pass.  The Father is not like the unjust judge.  He is willing to help us, but He moves by faith.  We need to have faith actively working if we are going to receive from God.

What, then, is this faith we are fighting for?  Faith in general is the persuasion of the mind that a certain statement is true. Its primary idea is trust (Easton’s Bible Dictionary.)  There is a natural component even to faith in God.  Paul made a statement in Roman’s 8:38-39.

Romans 8:38-39 ( NKJV )
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul was persuaded.  Something convinced him in his mind that nothing could separate him from God’s love.  Outward evidence could not change his persuasion.  There is a whole list of things in verses 35 and 36 that could have persuaded him that God did not love him, but none of them could turn him from what he believed to be true.  How could Paul look at the evidence of his own life and not change what he believed?  How could he endure nakedness, rejection, shipwreck, hunger and much more without becoming convinced that God did not love him?  He did not change because his mind was persuaded not from the outside in but from the inside out. 

Paul had experienced something in his heart that became the filter through which every natural experience was percieved.  He had experienced the love of God.  He was a murderer of the Christians.  He was, in his own words, the chief of sinners.  The worst of the worst, but God forgave him.  What is a little shipwreck compared to that?  He was persuaded that if God loved him enough to forgive him, He loved him enough to take care of him.

That is where faith must begin.  It is the foundation upon which it must rest.  God loved you enough to forgive you.  He loved you enough to touch your life.  Nothing can change that.  You may not have been a chief sinner like Paul, but you were a sinner.  You were bound for hell.  He came and rescued you.  That must become your “glasses” through which you see life.  When we remember that, faith becomes a less mysterious and complicated thing.

What Will Jesus Find

Luke 18:1-8 ( NKJV )
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’  And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’”
Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?
I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”

As we have studied the children of Israel in their quest to enter the promised land, we found that a key to their inability to succeed was their failure to mix the promise of God with faith.  We have also seen that we must correct this condition if we are going to enter our promised land.  From Hebrews 11:6 we saw the need to believe that God is involved with us on a personal level and that He is active in our daily lives.

Today I want to spend a moment looking at the above scripture.  I believe it gives us another insight that can help us in our quest for faith that receives the promise.  Here Jesus is telling a story.  In the story there is a woman who persistently approaches a Judge to get justice.  This judge is not a just man and is not inclined to help this insignificant woman.  In the end, however, her persistence pays off and the judge relents.

Some would use this as proof that we must continually badger God to get Him to meet our need.  The point of this story is just the opposite.  Jesus say’s the Lord is not like this unjust judge but will help us speedily.  So what is the lesson?  I believe it is the consistency of the woman that is highlighted here not the laxness of the judge.  Faith requires that we be consistent in our believing.  We need to continue in prayer, but not asking the way the woman asked the unjust judge.  We do, however need to ask and continue thanking God for the answer.  We need to keep the pressure of our faith on the problem.  God is moving.  Our job is to keep believing until we see the results.

Jesus makes a very interesting qualifying statement as he closes this parable.  He asks, “When I come, will I really find faith in the earth.  In a broad sense Jesus is speaking of His second coming.  I think there is another valid interpretation.  When Jesus comes to us in our circumstance will he find us really believing Him?  Will he find real faith in my life when He looks to meet my need.  That is the question.

You see there was a question as to whether the judge would meet the woman’s need.  There is no question that God will meet ours.  The question is whether we will have the vehicle He has established functioning to release His power in our lives.  Will we have real, honest to goodness, genuine bonafide faith at work in our lives or will He find a weak facsimile of faith. 

I believe we are in a time where we need the “real deal” if you will.  We need God to move in the earth.  I believe this is true in a historical sense for the nation and the world.  I believe we need His power in our personal lives.  I believe we need His power behind our witness for Jesus.  We need real faith today if we ever have.  Much is at stake.

What is real faith?  Hebrews 11:1-3 tells us it is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of what we cannot see.  I like to define it this way.  It is the ability to bridge the gap between God and our physical world.  There is a great deal to it, but for the moment let’s just say it is real trust that God will do what He said He would.  It is leaning on Him and His word above every other thing.  Above all else real faith is a matter of relationship.  If I know Him, I trust Him.  To the extent that I know Him that’s how much I will trust Him.

We need this kind of faith in the church today.  The world needs someone to have it.  There are those that express their faith by terrorism and killing.  We are exhorted to express ours by good deeds and projecting the love of God.  I believe that is what the world needs.  I believe that is what you need.  I believe the church needs you to have this kind of faith.  Let’s fight for it.  God is on our side.

We Must Believe that He Is

Hebrews 11:6 ( NKJV )
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

This week we are talking about “contending for the the faith” that was once delivered to us.  I believe that we have lost the edge of faith that we need to enter into the promises of God.  This involve both personal and corporate promises.  We need to contend, or fight, for the kind of faith that receives what God has provided for us in our covenant with him.  We also need to fight for the faith we need to receive the promised move of God in the earth.  The world needs a touch from Jesus, and it is only going to come through the body of Christ.

As we fight for this kind of faith, there are a few things that I believe are places where the enemy has focused his attack.  It is important to remember that the greatest strength of the devil is deception and subtlety.  He is not opposed to a frontal assault against us, but far more often he would rather misdirect us and cause us to question what we know to be true.

The scripture above addresses one of these devices of the devil.  It speaks of the necessity of faith and then makes a somewhat curious statement.  He who comes to God must believe that He is.  One might ask, “Why would you come to God if you didn’t believe that He is?”  I think the writer here is pointing out one of Satan’s subtleties.  Of course we believe in God.  We believe in His existence, but do we believe that He is in our lives today.  The second part of the statement is that we must believe that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

You see it is not enough to believe in the existence of God.  We must believe that He is actively involved in our lives.  We must believe that He is moving on our behalf.  We must believe that He is here today.  Right now.  We must believe that He knows what we are dealing with.  We must believe that He is actively working out His will and purpose in our lives.  We must believe that this is true in every circumstance every day.

Most of you would say to me, “Of course I believe that.  I am a Christian.”  We believe that way in theory.  We must believe as this verse describes in reality not in theory.  We must believe it when the problems arise.  We must believe it when things don’t work out the way they should.  We must believe it when everything around us tells us He is not and that He does not reward those who seek Him.  That’s where the rubber meets the road.

Let me ask you a question.  How would your responses change if you knew without a shadow of a doubt that you were going to receive $1,000,000.00 6 months from now.  Would you be worried about the bills that are due?  Would you give a second thought to the condition of your old car?  Would there be anything the devil could do to intimidate you in the financial realm?  I doubt it.  You would know that a million dollars exists and that it exists for you.  You might have to wait a bit to see the manifestation, but you would know it was coming.  No problem that could be solved with money would bother you.  You have a million dollars.

We must begin to se Heb 11:6 in the same light.  God is!  He really does exist!  Not only does He exist but He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.  You are a child of God.  If you seek Him you will find Him.  You have a covenant with God.  He has promised to meet your needs according to His riches in glory.  (Phil 4:19)  He has promised life and life abundant.  (John 10:10)  He is involved in your life and He will help.  His help will not always take the form we expect, but it will be there.  We need to live life as though Hebrews 11:6 were actually true.  Why?  Because it is!

Contend for the Faith 2

Jude 1:3-5 ( NKJV )
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.

Yesterday we saw how the Israelites’ “slave” mentality contributed to their lack of faith when it came to entering the promised land.  We also discussed the idea that our own lifestyle, which is so dominated by ease and entertainment, has given us a slave mentality of sorts.  If something is difficult it is seen as not worth doing.  If we have to wait for something we feel deprived.  If a thing is not entertaining we don’t want to do it.

In all of this we hinder our ability to walk by faith.  The faith walk is not always easy.  The faith walk requires effort on our part.  The faith walk is rarely entertaining and usually involves waiting.  The faith walk also produces a life that is free of bondage as well as blessed in every way.  When we think like slaves to our culture we will tend to turn back to what is comfortable at the first sign of opposition instead of facing the “giants and walled cities” of our life.

In the above verse Jude is preparing to write what I think could have been a teaching letter about living the Christian life.  Instead he hears that those he is writing to have been drifting.  In this case it would seem that they have been drifting into sin and compromise.  They were accepting practices that seemed to be sinful and trying to justify them as legitimate parts of Christianity.  Although I don’t think  that our situation in the church is an exact parallel to theirs, I do believe that we have allowed sinful unbelief to become a part of our lifestyle and we need to fight for the vibrant active faith that we used to have.

We need to fight for a faith that believes God is capable of anything His word says He is.  We need to fight for that kind of faith, not just in theory, but in reality.  We need to fight for a faith that believes the promises of God are true for us today.  If it is not personal it is not faith.  This has been attacked by the devil and we need to take back what he has stolen from us.

Often we don’t see things happen as we think they should.  However we need to understand that we can’t set the parameters for how God meets our needs.  In my life, when I look back I can see so many answers that came in ways I didn’t initially see them.  They may have been in the form of protection, the right relationship or some other means that didn’t seem to apply at the time but in retrospect the hand of God was all over the circumstance. 

Sometimes we have asked for the wrong thing or for something for which we were not ready.  Sometimes we have misinterpreted the Word or not met the conditions of a promise.  None of these are reasons to back off our faith.  They are reasons to press in to faith in God, learn the Word better and keep fighting the “good fight of faith” until we see more clearly and have a fuller understanding of how faith works. 

It may take time.  It may take some hard work and discipline.  It will require we study and meditate in the Word of God.  It will require some patience.  Things may not come when we want them to.  God may work in us before He works in the circumstance, however in the end I believe it will be worth it.  I have experienced the fruit of this lifestyle.  Not as fully as I believe I can, but I have experienced it.  The benefits are not just in our outward circumstances but in our inward life.  They are not just in what we have but the effectiveness and impact of the life we live. 

I urge you to contend for the faith with me.  In the end our victory is assured. 

Contend for the Faith

Jude 1:3-5 ( NKJV )
Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.

(No blog entry on Monday the 21st of June as I took the day off.  It was the first day of summer after all!)

In our study of the journey of the children of Israel from Egypt to the Canaan, the promised land, we have discovered some things about our journey into God’s promises as well.  Israel came to the very edge of the promise that God had given them and could not go in.  They had developed a lifestyle of unbelief that produced a hardness of heart.  When it came time for them to step out in faith and possess the promise they simply did not have it within them to do so. 

We often find ourselves in the same condition.  We know the promise.  We know that God is able to meet our need, but we just can’t seem to cross over that line into true faith and action on the Word of God.  We trust God in theory but in actual practice is seems we can’t quite pull the trigger.  We need  to break through that condition.

In Israel’s case, the solution was the removal of one generation and the establishment of a second generation who had the capacity for faith required to enter the promised land.  This second generation didn’t have the slave mentality that their parents had.  The older ones had lived a limited life characterized by a lack of a need to trust.  They had a terrible life, but it was consistent and provided for.  They didn’t have to believe for their food or shelter, it was provided. 

They didn’t expect better things as their condition was not going to change.  At least not for the better.  They made no decisions for themselves as all decisions were made for them.  They did not plan for the future because their future was already decided.  They were slaves.

When they were confronted with the possibility of a better life they could not even fathom what that could mean.  They had been slaves for nearly 400 years.  They had no recollection of a time when they could choose for themselves.  Faith must involve such a choice and they didn’t know how to make it.  When the pressure was on they simply reverted back to what was comfortable to them.  Slavery. 

In many ways, I think we have come to a similar place.  We have so many things we can turn to to meet our needs that we have no need to trust God.  Our lives are provided for by our technology and the machinery of our society.  We are kept passive by entertainment.  We don’t really dream anymore because our dreams are lived out on the TV screen.  We expect better, but only in terms of better “stuff” not better life.  We don’t strive for better because what we have is so good.  Most of what we have and what we comes to us without hard work or real faith.  We are, in some ways, slaves just as Israel was.

What do we need to do.  I believe Jude tells us.  We need to contend for the faith that was once delivered to us.  We need to stretch our spiritual muscles and begin again to believe that there is a life beyond what we have today.  We need to contend for a faith that believes we can be part of something extraordinary.  We need to contend for a faith that believes there is a promised land where God still does miracles and where we can see a move of the Spirit that will change our world. 

I believe it is time for us to rise up once again.  My generation has seen some good things, but not what we could see.  I believe God is moving right now to press us into a place where we will cry out to God as Israel once did.  They didn’t know how not to be slaves and it took a second generation to really rise above the slavery, but they did come to the place where they were tired enough of the bondage that they cried out to God for a solution.

I believe we need to come to that place and I believe God is taking us there.  My question to you is, “Will you be part of a generation that, in the end, can’t go in?  Will we lead our children in, or will we need to die off so the can go in.”  I intend it to be the former, but if it is the latter, I am going to be a Joshua that goes into the promised land with the kids.

What are you willing to fight for.  I hope you will contend with me for the faith that was once delivered to us.