Dec 10

When faith isn’t enough

Have faith in your faith. Just believe. Do you feel God? Feel the Spirit. There is MORE to faith than these trite sayings…

Faith is the foundation of modern Christianity. It can seem shaky because we teach faith based on platitudes of goodness, love and on the testimony of men and women 2,000 years removed. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). What? I have a hard time getting my mind around this verse on faith.

Without faith it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to God must believe that He is (exists) and that He rewards those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:6

Faith is essential to the Christian walk. But, how do we have faith in someone we can’t see? I completely trust in the absolute authority of the Word of God. However, these verses on faith are difficult for me to understand and put into practice.

Say “NO” to emotional faith

Walking with a faith based on emotions and we are vulnerable to the least difficulty of life.

If I don’t feel God, is He there? Does He hear my prayers? The answer is YES. Even when we don’t feel God, He is there and will answer our prayers. He hasn’t left us. In the bad times, the sadness, the struggle, the depression, He is there.

This, again, sounds trite– it sounds like encouragement with false hope. But, this one is TRUE. We believe what God says because He doesn’t lie. It is not in His nature to lie. Jews daily remind themselves of God’s faithfulness. Several times a day they recite prayers to remind themselves of how God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. They recall the miracle allowing them to escape across a body of water on dry ground! We need to make remembrance a priority in our spiritual lives. God has done amazing things for His people and is able to make a way for us too. Truth is our foundation–absolute truth that does not shift or waiver. If we base our faith on truth instead of feelings, we will be rock solid!

Christ the solid rock

Base your faith on Christ, the solid rock. The Bible (and pastors) tell us He is truth, incapable of lying. His promises never fail us. If we build our lives on anything other than Jesus, we will be dissatisfied. Neither fame nor fortune, relationships nor things will ever be able to fill the void. Buried deep within the center of our being, we long for purpose and meaning. Put your faith, hope and trust in man (or woman) and you will be let down 100% of the time.

How do you fill this void? Become like King David. He loved God’s word; he loved God’s law. Study the Bible by yourself and especially with others. Talk about the passages. Understand how it all fits together. I highly recommend studying the Bible itself and not doing a teacher’s 10-week study. Dig into the Bible and use commentaries. My weekly group did this with the book of Jeremiah. This is a complicated book but very worthwhile to study! One of the members made a timeline to help us understand the history of kings. Some people used Wiersbe. I used J. Vernon McGee. We went chapter by chapter and taught each other. At the end of the study, I received an unexpected surprise… When you understand the book of Jeremiah, it helps you understand several other books of the Old Testament! I’m talking about books you might not otherwise read like 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Isaiah, Daniel, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. All of these books feed off of the story in Jeremiah.

Nuggets I received from the book of Jeremiah:

  • Jeremiah was considered successful in the eyes of God yet he had ZERO converts. Nobody listened to him.
  • The remnant taken to Babylon (the people in the story of Daniel) were the ones who were faithful to God. This capture was God’s provision and later blessing. This remnant later formed the group to go back and rebuild the Temple.

The secret to faith: a relationship with Jesus

I don’t have faith in my faith nor hope in my hope; I have faith in the Trinity, Father, Son, Spirit. Christians are not weak people walking through life leaning on the crutch of Jesus. We can have evidence, proof, legs to stand on our faith! Where do we get this proof? Judaism.

When you study Judaism you will see meaning and significance to the life, death and resurrection of our Savior. When you study the Temple and the sacrifices you will understand why Jesus was called the Lamb of God and the significance of events that took place in the Temple at the time of His death. The stories of the Old Testament, the rituals, the feasts all point to the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Example

Do you think Jesus died on some random day? Do you think the Jews or the Romans killed Him? NO! He laid down His life at precisely the right time.

Jesus died during the feast of Passover. It’s a holiday of travel–all males were required to go to Jerusalem to sacrifice a lamb at the Temple. These lambs were not just any lamb, they were perfect male lambs, killed in their prime, born in Bethlehem. This is also why Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem.

The very hour that Jesus died on the cross was exactly the same hour the lambs were sacrificed in the Temple. When Jesus finally passed away, the Bible says the giant curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was torn in two from top to bottom. A curtain over 12 feet tall and so heavy and large it took 100 men to carry it tore on its own!

Even more incredible was the fact that merely entering this inner sanctum was strictly prohibited. The Holy of Holies was the special place that could be entered only once a year and only after the priest was cleansed completely. If he didn’t cleanse himself to God’s specifications, death was imminent. The Holy of Holies was where the Spirit of God dwelt. Jesus died on the cross and got rid of the need for the blood of an animal to cleanse us from our sins. Instead of dwelling in a building, Jesus’ Spirit will live in us if we ask Him.

Why did Jesus stay buried?

A better question is why did Jesus rise from the dead on Sunday morning? The Sunday after Passover is a feast known as Firstfruits. Jesus is shouting to the world the promise of eternal life! Therefore, instead of focusing on Jesus being in the grave and where was He, focus on why He waited and what it means. Bodily rising from the dead, Jesus promises the same for us one day. The first of everything belongs to God: animals, crops, first born male, etc.

When we put our faith in the all-powerful, holy, truthful person of Jesus Christ, we can stand rock solid! Today is the day to begin a relationship with the God of the universe. Everything and everyone in this life will let you down. They cannot fill the emptiness inside no matter how hard you try. Only a relationship with Jesus can fill the empty space. Seek Him while He is found, call on Him while He is near…

 

Jun 01

How to Live as a Christian in 6 Easy Steps

live as a ChristianIf you ask the typical believer how to live as a Christian, you might get a perplexed look and a jumbled response. Are we taught how to live out our faith in a simple and methodical manner or have we made it too complicated? We are inundated with so many books, sermons, advice–it makes my head spin too! Learning how to live as a Christian in 6 easy steps sounds like an impossible task or some kind of gimmick. And why 6 steps? Why not 7 or 10? Believe it or not, these 6 steps are ancient, having been practiced for centuries. I’ll be honest with you, this list is not labeled how to live as a Christian but it might as well be!

Many of our churches and sermons are focused on getting people saved; we forget to help these new believers grow. I need step-by-step directions. What does it look like to live as a Christian once I become one?

Before I get into the list of how to live as a Christian in 6 easy steps, I want to tell you what this is NOT:

  • Magic. This new life takes work, study, dedication– changing old habits and ways of thinking.
  • Easy. While the steps are easy, doing them perfectly is not. We battle against an enemy who wants you to fail at every turn.
  • Popular. Remember the Purpose Driven Life or the Prayer of Jabez? At one point in time, everyone was doing those studies. This is not one of those studies or paths or lifestyles. While it might not be well-known, it is biblical. Like I said, this list has been practiced by the Hebrew people for centuries. We need to stop trying to re-invent the wheel!

This list is not mine and it’s not new–it’s very old, thousands of years, in fact. It comes from the Jews and can be found in the Jewish book of prayer known as the Siddur. Part of living within the Covenant of God includes following 613 Commandments.  Many of them deal with issues like cleanliness, family life, food, holidays, etc. Here is an excerpt from Orthodox Union on the subject:

“Mitzvos (good works) are generally classified into two categories, time-bound and not time-bound. Time-bound mitzvos can only be fulfilled at certain times, such as eating matzah on Pesach or shaking a lulav on Succos. Even most mitzvos that are not time-bound cannot be fulfilled all the time. For example, one cannot fulfill the mitzvah of mezuzah if one doesn’t have a door. There are, however, six mitzvos that Jews are instructed to fulfill at all times and in all places. Riding the bus? You can fulfill six mitzvos. Laid up in bed with a bad cold? You can do these. These are called the six Mitzvos Temidios or ‘Constant Mitzvos.’”

These 6 are the cornerstone of daily living, to be observed at all times of the day. By observing these commandments, one will be in a closer relationship to God–and I agree! Just because we live under the New Covenant doesn’t mean we need to throw off every Jewish teaching. In fact, some of these commandments embrace Christ without even knowing it!

The 6 Constant Mitzvos (moral deed performed with religious duty)

Yes, God gave the Hebrews 613 Commandments to observe but thankfully only 6 to perform at all times. Before you discount these commandments, know that none of them are undone by what Jesus did on the cross. Judaism has a lot to teach us if we are willing to open our minds and accept their ways. We will see that we serve the same God–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Why study the 6 constant mitzvos? The commentary in my Siddur, the Jewish book of prayer says our reward is boundless! Stop and think about this for a moment–boundless reward. Tapping into the True Vine at all times gives us boundless rewards. If we perform these 6 constantly, the reward is boundless. 

  1. Faith in God
  2. Don’t believe in other gods
  3. God’s oneness
  4. Love God
  5. Fear God
  6. Don’t stray after your heart and eyes

Faith in God. I am the Lord your God who has taken you out of Egypt. 

This concept is tied to the exodus from Egypt. Stop and think about the miracle that is the exodus of the Old Testament. Over 1 million people left slavery of Egypt and traveled a long distance to what is now Israel. But even before the exodus were the 10 signs, the plagues cast onto the Egyptian people and especially pharaoh. God didn’t need to do all of those incredible signs and wonders. He chose to do them to show the world His power and to provide us a shadow of the sacrifice and covering that was to come in Jesus, the Lamb of God. Several times a day, Jews commemorate this event in remembrance. For the Jew, it is the center of their faith, the miracles of the exodus, the deliverance from slavery.

This event shows that God has total and complete control of the world and universe. This first mitzvos shows that it is the obligation of every Jew, and I say every Christian, to believe in the God who brought about these miracles. Recall the story of Joseph and how God sent him ahead to Egypt. Through God’s favor and wisdom, Joseph collected food in the years of plenty so that the Hebrew people would have plenty to eat during the famine.Jacob and his family entered Egypt as a group of about 70. Four hundred years later they emerged as a nation of over a million! It solidifies the story of God calling out His nation, establishing them and delivering them into their promised land.

Don’t believe or worship other gods. You shall not have other gods in my presence. 

Sounds easy for most of us since bowing to a statue of Hindu god or Buddha seems silly. But when you get down to the meat of this mitzvos, we will see how guilty we all have been. Anything we put above God is worshiping it: our children, significant other, our wants, money, stuff, prestige, etc.  Putting anything or any one above God is worshiping them. Our God is jealous and wants no others before Him! If we ever thought that God would delegate His role to an angel or some other entity, then we are breaking this mitzvos. This includes worship of saints or the Virgin Mary. God, alone, is to be worshiped.

God is ONE.

This concept is extremely important in the Jewish faith. It’s in the first part of the Shema, 

the daily pledge of devotion said twice a day, every day. Because God is our healer, deliverer, merciful, etc. it is easy to see Him as many when in reality it is all coming from one source. For us as Christians, we worship a tri-une God: Father, Son Holy Spirit.

Thousands of years before Jesus, the concept of the oneness of God was paramount. This oneness is so significant, it’s a message of utmost importance to God yet overlooked by the Christian church. I just told you earlier in this paragraph that Jews announce the oneness of God several times a day, every day. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE!” It’s such a significant concept that Muslim’s have a similar saying about their god, proclaiming his oneness. Islam is Satan mimicking the one true God. For both faiths, this oneness principle is key.  Muslims consider Christians to be polytheistic, worshiping more than one god. This could not be farther from the truth. I hope you are beginning to see the importance of this oneness characteristic of God. If it’s important to Him, it should be important to us. From the beginning of time, the Lord God has been telling us that though He appears as many, it all is part of the same God, the 3 in one.

Loving God. You shall love the Lord your God. 

The Shema says we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. Trust, adoration, praise, worship, giving, thankfulness, etc., are all ways we can express this love to Him. I like to think of it this way, loving God is our part. When we are faithful to do our part, God will be faithful to do His part: taking care of everything else in our lives. It’s a level of gratitude that says every good thing comes from the gracious hand of a loving Father, and we need to let Him know how grateful we are. The patriarch Jacob did just that in Genesis 46:29. His favorite son, Joseph was thought to be dead. It was 22 years later when the two were reunited.” As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father[h] and wept for a long time.” We think Jacob was hugging his son and weeping over him. If you study the original text, you’ll see that there is much more to this reunion than we think.

AND WEPT ON HIS NECK A GOOD WHILE — The phrase ויבך עוד signifies weeping copiously. So, too, עוד has the same meaning in (Job 34:23) “For He doth not place upon a man עוד” — which means something more than is proper: God does not place on him accusations additional to his sins (the sins he has really committed) Here, also, he wept greatly and continuously — more than is usual. Jacob, however, did not fall upon Joseph’s neck nor did he kiss him. Our Rabbis say: the reason was that he was reciting the Shema (renewing his allegiance to God immediately on settling in a new land).

This is a commentary from the sage, Rashi. For centuries, Jews recite the Shema over and over again–in times of joy and in times of sorrow. It is central to the faith–loving God with all we have. Whether in the good or in the bad, this principle of loving God transcends our joy and our sorrows. He is with us and is worthy of our love and devotion no matter what. This fourth mitzvos reminds us to love God at all times.

Fearing GodYou shall fear the Lord your God. 

Is this the trembling kind of fear or is it respect and awe? In my opinion, it should be a little of both. We live in an era where disrespecting authority is encouraged. Children don’t need to obey parents or teachers and adults are constantly pushing the limits of what’s deemed right and wrong. We forget the sheer awesomeness of God and what He is capable of doing. We do not tremble at His majesty and the power He wields over the very elements of this world. Fearing God is what guards us from sinning. God knows, God sees all that we do, whether in public or in secret. A better way to phrase this is to be in awe of God. We need to realize that our actions have consequences, both physical and spiritual. At the end of days, there will be a judgement of all the things we have done. Thankfully our eternal destination is not determined by our deeds done here on earth. But, our reward in heaven will be based off of what we did. Is your life centered around yourself or others? Are you a person of high moral character even if no one is watching?

Do not stray after your heart and eyes.

Who doesn’t love expensive things are lavish lifestyles? This used to be a real struggle for me. I would envy everyone around me who had newer and fancier everything. I would feel badly about myself and begin to covet. Little by little, the Lord has revealed to me that those things will never satisfy the inner longings of my soul like He does. They are like a mirage you might see while wandering in the desert. When you get to one area you realize there is something better just on the horizon. Stuff will never satisfy. You will never be rich enough, thin enough, successful enough, popular enough. You will always yearn for more and it will never satisfy. Look at Hollywood, stars who seem to have it all yet commit suicide. Jesus tells us that if our eye causes us to sin, pluck it out, our hand, cut it off. He is a jealous God who will not have us worshiping any other. Sounds like what we learned in the 2nd mitzvot.

There they are, how to live as a Christian in 6 easy steps.