Saturday, September 01, 2007

More Thoughts on Faith (Or Lack Thereof)

As promised, here are some verses and some thoughts I've had about faith, in light of last week's post:

1) Jesus was amazed by profound faith.

The Roman Army Commander (
Matthew 8:5-13)

A Roman army commander went to Jesus because his servant was paralyzed. He asked Jesus to heal his servant. When Jesus told the army commander he would go heal the servant, the commander basically replied, "Jesus, all you have to do is say the word and my servant will be healed."

Matthew 8:10:
"When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, 'I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.' "

Holly sez: Sometimes, I assume my faith must be super strong and unwavering if I'm a "real" Christian. And when I don't trust God or question him, I start to think, "Hmm, maybe I don't have a legitimate relationship with God. Maybe I'm a phony." This verse is encouraging to me: It leads me to believe profound faith is indeed a rarity. Jesus--the son of God, who is deity--is astonished at the depth of this man's faith.

It also indicates my faith doesn't need to be the most profound in town to be real. Jesus compared the Roman commander's faith with all the people in Israel, but didn't condemn Israel. He didn't reply, "This Roman commander is the only one I'm going to favor--the rest of you suck." Like the Israelites Jesus encountered, I have a relationship with God even though my faith isn't equivalent to that Roman commander's.

The Israelites were supposed to be God's people, the ones who recognized God and worshipped only him. God was their God. Yet, Jesus observes that none of God's worshippers (including Jesus' closest followers: his disciples) had as much faith as this Roman army commander. The army commander wasn't one of God's people; he was an outsider who, amazingly, recognized God's power in a deeper sense than God's own people. Similarly, I may meet people who aren't Christians who deeply believe God is real and powerful, and are eagerly waiting to learn how to connect with him.

Great faith is a gift from God.

1 Corinthians 12:7-9:
"A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. ... "

Romans 12:3b:
"Use good sense and measure yourself by the amount of faith that God has given you."

Holly sez: Ouch--that second verse is an ego buster! I’m not so great when I think about my life in these terms.

The remarkable thing here is that great faith is deemed a gift from the Holy Spirit. It isn't something we earn after so many years clocked as a Christian, or for so many service hours doing good works.

I should obey God and serve him simply because I recognize he is deity, and I'm not. Then, if God chooses, maybe he will increase my faith in time. Or maybe I'm meant to continue depending on the great faith of others. Maybe my lack of faith is a constant reminder I must value each person's place in the
body of Christ.

3) Sometimes, those seemingly closest to Jesus lacked faith.

Jesus Goes to Nazareth (
Mark 6:1-6)
When Jesus visits his hometown, he couldn't do many miracles there because these people--who knew him as a neighborhood kid and had watched him grow up--couldn't believe he was deity.

Jesus Calms the Storm (
Mark 4:35-41)
The disciples are in a boat with Jesus when a fierce storm kicks up. They're freaked out, and they wake Jesus, telling him they're about to drown. Jesus tells the storm to be quiet, and instantly, it stops. the disciples are still afraid--even after Jesus calms the storm

Mark 4:39-41:
"[Jesus] got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Quiet! Be still!' Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, 'Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?' They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

Holly sez: Sometimes, I view God a little too much like a human buddy or confidante. That familiarity makes me forget he is deity, the Creator of the universe.

I love these stories because there have been moments when I knew God had done something amazing, yet I still had doubts about his role in it. Remember the "
box of faith" I wrote about? Even as I saw God fill that box with one CD after another, I still doubted he would do what he'd promised me.

A few years ago, an agnostic friend told me he'd believe in God if God would just do something miraculous in his life, like give him a vision or speak to him directly. I questioned my friend, "Would that really make you believe God was real? Or would you think the voice or vision was your mind playing tricks? Even if you got a physical miracle, would you pass it off as good fortune or coincidence?"

I do believe God uses miracles to draw people to him. But, as demonstrated by the disciples' behavior after watching Jesus calm the storm, seeing isn't necessarily believing. Rather than proclaiming, "Jesus really is the son of God!" they questioned, "Who is this guy?!?"

4) Faith isn't just a product of circumstances.

James 1:2-4:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance."

Hebrews 11:6:
"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

Holly sez: Prosperity and security don't necessarily build faith. Nor do adversity and trouble. Both, at times, caused the Israelites to turn away from God.

I see some great faith in churches in Africa, where food is scarce and life is brutal. And in the persecuted churches of countries like China and Iraq, where people are murdered because of their faith. But, lest we believe faith only grows in times of trouble, consider the rapidly growing churches of South Korea. The government is tolerant toward Christianity. The South Korean economy is booming, yet prosperity doesn't seem to have lured Christians there into a false sense of self-reliance like us Americans. And there is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work: divine healing, stories of miraculous protection, large numbers of church members speaking in tongues. (Not that Christian life there is all roses, as you may have gathered from the
kidnapping of South Korean missionaries in Afghanistan. The last of these missionaries are returning to their country tomorrow. Two had been killed.)

While God has used both good and bad events in my life to strengthen my faith, it isn't the event itself that's changing me. I think my faith is strengthened when I simply recognize God: "God, I know you're there, and I know you are good."

In either good or rotten circumstances, I'm tempted to say, "I can rely on myself. I don't need God." This is where I think both prosperity gospel and those who overemphasize poverty can get it wrong: They get too focused on circumstances. Our focus should be on our relationship with God. In marriage vows, the line about "for better or for worse" illustrates how the relationship is the focus. All types of events may occur in a couple's life together, but if they remain focused on the relationship, they will remain strong in spite of everything around them.


1 Thessalonians 3:10:
"Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith."

To ponder: How often do you look to others for strength when you lack faith? How often do you offer the comfort and support that comes from your faith (your belief and trust in God) when others falter?

Romans 14:1-3:
"Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.

To ponder: Does this verse mean we should "live and let live"? Read all of
Romans 14. Pray for discernment between "disputable matters" and important issues where God would have you speak up.

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