Faith Gone Wrong

I can’t get away from the book of Hebrews.  To be honest, I haven’t tried.  I read through it a couple of months ago, but found myself not ready to move on once I got to the end.  It continues to be a wonderful journey with Holy Spirit highlighting various verses, phrases, even individual words, and then helping me really see them.  One particular verse, and the insight He has revealed in it, is radically affecting my understanding of the rest of the book of Hebrews, the Bible, and my everyday life.  Please read on to join us in this part of the journey.

Hebrews 11:1 NIV (2012)  Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. . .

This is such a familiar verse, one we frequently quote in our preferred translation.  Perhaps it helped that I was reading it this time in an updated NIV, so a couple of different words jarred me out of rote recitation, forcing me to stop and consider it again.  As I did, the simplicity of faith became clearer than ever before.

Haven’t we used this verse primarily for things – even good things and promised-by-God things – and in so doing, made this thing called faith a hard work?  Think about it in some of the following familiar statements: “I’m believing God for _________  (fill in the blank), and ________ and ________.”  “I don’t have enough faith for _________,   only enough for _____________.”  “She only had enough faith for this part, not for the whole ________.”  “I must not even have a mustard seed of faith.”

We don’t find statements like these in the Bible, though we certainly hear and use them today. What’s the common denominator in all these modern-day so-called faith statements?  It’s an “I” focus.  Faith has become all about us, about our efforts to believe enough for whatever end result we seek.  What an endless and wearisome cycle!

But the Bible is good news!  The faith, confidence, and hope of Hebrews 11:1 are to be in Jesus Christ alone, not in our ability to believe for the desired change in situations or circumstances for ourselves or others.  Don’t believe me?  Look at the previous verse.

Hebrews 10:39 NIV (2012) But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

Since Hebrews is written to believers in Christ, we belong to those who have faith and are saved.  What faith is required to be saved?  Simply, faith in Christ Jesus alone – in what He fulfilled and finished completely in our place because we never could.  In Him all our needs are met.  Like the believing-while-in-unbelief man of Mark1, our focus (and our faith) is to be Jesus, not what He does or will do.  In Christ, all work (healing, too) is already complete and all provision is already made, though our natural eyes may not yet see.  He, Jesus Christ, is our answer.

No longer is our question, “What am I in faith for?”  Rather, it becomes, “In Whom is my faith, my confidence in what I hope for, and assurance about what I do not see?”  And the answer comes via two questions.  Is Jesus Who He says He is?  Does He always point to our Father?  Absolutely.  He can be fully trusted.  He cannot lie.  Whatever He has promised is for all time.  That’s where we fix our eyes, regardless of current circumstances.  Our faith is not even in what He has promised, though we can bank on it.  Our faith is in Jesus Christ, the totality of Who He is, the very Promise Himself.  Therein is His peace.  Therein is His rest.  Therein is our confidence and our assurance about what we do not see.

This major, radical, mind shift is causing a major “tilt” in my brain multiple times a day as the adjustment – the refocus – takes hold, forcing the old-and-gone-wrong to leave forever.  What a wonderful journey, though, this faith in Christ Jesus alone!

1 Mark 9:24 – “help my unbelief” – Jesus helped the man focus only on Who He was, no longer mixed with what his natural eyes saw – it was faith in Jesus alone

Only Because of Jesus

Following the recent devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami on the island nation of Japan, the backup systems at the oldest nuclear power plant failed when the power went out, resulting in a radioactive nightmare.  In the midst of it all is a story that must not be missed – that of the workers who continue feverishly in their attempts to stop the meltdown so that the lives of the people of their land might be saved from fallout.

Theirs is a powerful tale of heroism, yet it is so much more.  Those who agreed to remain on the premises, as well as firefighters, electrical workers, etc., are exposing themselves to what will probably be lethal amounts of radiation.  At the least, they can expect radiation sickness. Quite likely, though, it is certain death.  Yet they have chosen to give their lives for the lives of others.

John 15:13 NIV  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Pondering the ultimate sacrifices they are making, I wonder if I’d do the same.  Since the possibility I will be called to give my physical life is pretty small, I think about all the little choices I’m given every day to lay down my life for others.  How often I choose myself, even in unimportant things.  I guess I should try harder, do more, and think differently.  A resounding NO!

John 3:30 NIV  He must become greater; I must become less.

Because I am in Christ Jesus, my focus is not to be on me and my self-efforts.  It’s to be on Jesus Christ and what He has already done!  He has already paid the price for my failures and successes – past, present, and future.  It’s only because of His sacrificial love that I am not condemned.  It’s only because of the grace He gives that I am enabled to yield my “rights” and my preferences so others might see and know Him, too.

With my focus readjusted, Jesus and His righteousness again become greater to me than all the wrong (and self-right) I see in myself.  When the focus is on Him, His life, and His love, He shines forth through me in whatever way is needed each moment.  Only because of Jesus!

Even as you consider this lesson for your life, please agree in prayer for all these workers – that they will receive the gift of eternal life Jesus has already provided for them, praying also for laborers to share this great gospel.

It’s About the People!

I am a giver.  I do not boast in saying this, for God, Who lives in me, is the Giver.  The more I let go of all those natural concerns about not having enough, or what about me, the more I give.  Amazingly, the more I give, the more I have to give.  This is definitely God at work!

Luke 6:38 “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full — pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”  (NLT)

The other day, though, I was faced with something else about me working against that growing nature of a giver.  God created me with a pretty strong administrative gift, which means, among other things, that I live by lists.  Lists help me stay focused more easily, making better use of time.  Besides that, a written list helps my brain stay de-cluttered by not having to remember everything.  In living this way, it follows that I also check off items once completed, which can lead to a get-the-task-done mentality.

As you can imagine, if this is out of balance, the list ends up driving me, rather than being a tool to help me stay focused.  While it is important to do what the Lord has given me to do every day, I must not let completion of the tasks be my only focus.  In God’s eyes, there’s a much more important reason for the tasks than the tasks themselves.  The people with whom I come into contact in the process of doing those tasks, and my character being developed because of interacting with those people are the real purpose.  Our Perfect example, Jesus, was never so involved in a task that He neglected the people – a lesson I needed to remember the other day!

I had gathered a few groceries to take to the local food pantry, which only receives donations during the same hours it serves the people.  Earlier in the day, I had made a mental note, nestled between other tasks on my written list, to deliver the groceries late in the afternoon.  As I parked, I saw several people standing outside, waiting their turns to be helped.  I also spotted a couple of women putting people’s names on a list.  Being focused on delivering my bag of help, I zeroed in on one of the women whom I recognized from a local business.  She ushered me inside the bustling food pantry, full of people helping and receiving help.  I quickly handed them my donation and returned home.

No sooner did I walk into my living room, than I was struck with the fact that I hadn’t acknowledged the very people to whom I had taken my groceries.   I was so focused on the task of delivering that I had missed the purpose of the delivery – to give to the people.  My heart wasn’t wrong in the giving.  I simply forgot the whole point of it – the people.  Perhaps all it would have taken was looking into their eyes with the love of God.  Maybe a smile would have conveyed that they still have worth and value to the wonderful God Who created them.  Just recognizing their presence in a very humbling time for them might have opened a door to share the good news of Jesus – the very reason I am able to give!

I share this with you not to give myself a way of cleansing my conscience, for Jesus Christ already paid the price with His blood, glory to His name.  No, I share it in hopes you will remember my story when you find yourselves so caught up in the tasks that you are forgetting the very reason for the tasks.  No matter what the task, it’s all about the people!

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (NIV)

Matchless, Unbroken Companionship

“And therefore the Lord [earnestly] waits [expecting, looking, and longing] to be gracious to you; and therefore He lifts Himself up, that He may have mercy on you and show loving-kindness to you. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) are all those who [earnestly] wait for Him, who expect and look and long for Him [for His victory, His favor, His love, His peace, His joy, and His matchless, unbroken companionship]!”  Isaiah 30:18 Amplified

I don’t know how many times I’ve read this verse, even in the Amplified version, yet I’ve not noticed the phrase: His matchless, unbroken companionship.  God, the Creator of the universe, wants for the two of us to have an unbroken companionship – as in never apart, never wondering where the other one is or what the other is thinking or doing.  The idea of this companionship is so lopsided, in my mind, because it includes the matchless One and me; but, He declares in His Holy Word, not mine, that this is just a part of what I will receive as I wait for Him.  As if that’s not enough, He longs to make this real in my life!

God has not been withholding Himself from me.  It’s just that I’ve been willing to settle for so much less of Him and His companionship.  I’ve been satisfied with coming and going, as I would with an earthly friend.  He is known as Friend, but He greatly desires for it to be so much more than I have allowed!  I have given other things the place that belongs to Him alone; yet, He has continued to wait, always expecting me to return to wait, look, and long for Him.  As I consider this, I realize that He is already pouring out His mercy on me – before I ever recognized my need for it.  How thankful I am for His ways!  Romans 11:33 in the NIV says what I can’t:

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

I don’t want to settle any longer for less than my Father’s matchless, unbroken companionship.  It’s time to make some adjustments in priorities and focus, so that my eyes and mind are fixed on His Word, and I am earnestly waiting for Him – expecting, looking, and longing for all He is and all He longs to be for me in my life!