Evangelical Myth #1 – Faith And Prayer


1397392_mount_rainierI’ve been thinking a lot about the Pharisees and the traditions that they allowed to take over their belief system–to the point that their religious practice served their greed and their lust for power. Can the same thing happen today? In evangelical churches? Why not? It happened in Christianity before there ever was a Protestant/Catholic divide.

So what are some of the evangelical myths that could potentially start professing Christians on the road away from God and toward religious traditions that serve our greed and lust for power?

This first one author Morgan Busse addressed in her blog post today: “if I have enough faith, God will do it.” I’d even suggest we’ve taken this idea a step farther: if I have enough faith, God will HAVE to do it.

Certainly this idea of faith has its seeds in Scripture. In fact Jesus Himself said this to his disciples when they could not cast out a demon from a boy brought to them for that purpose:

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” (Matt. 17:19-20)

Later Jesus said much the same to His disciples:

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree [curse it so that it withered], but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matt. 21:21-22)

Certainly, from those passages, the issue seems to be the faith the disciples had. It was all up to them. If they believed, they could have sent the demon away or cursed the fig tree, but they didn’t have enough faith–not even the size of the smallest seed, or else they could move mountains.

The problem is, this passage is not the only one that addresses faith or asking things of God. So here’s an important principle: one way that myths become established is when believers take passages of Scripture in isolation and believe them “literally.” While I believe the Bible to be true–each word and in total–I do not believe each word alone communicates the intent of the whole.

My favorite example is the passage in Psalm 14: “There is no God.” Yes, that’s what verse one says . . . in part. The intro is, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” What a difference putting the line in context makes.

So too the teaching of Scripture about faith and prayer. What we need to do is look at the various passages on these subjects together–things like God promising to give good gifts to His children (necessitating an understanding of what He means by “good”); saying if we “abide in Him,” and His words abide in us, we can ask whatever we wish and it will be done (necessitating an understanding of this “abiding”); and promising if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us (necessitating an understanding of “His will”).
Vending Machine 2

In other words, these passages can’t be taken in isolation from their context or from one another. Prayer is NOT a vending machine–put in the appropriate amount of faith and out comes the answer; too little faith and the prayer machine gets stuck with nothing shooting into the retrieval slot.

In fact, one of the greatest passages about asking God for something comes from the man whose son had the demon the disciples couldn’t cast out:

But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” And Jesus said to him, ” ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes. “Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” (Mar 9:22b-24)

His great confession was that even belief comes from God–it’s not something he could generate on his own.

James adds a couple different pieces to the faith puzzle. First he said it was great for someone to say he believes in God, but the reality is, the demons also believe. So there’s obviously more to “belief” than a mental ascent.

Secondly, he addresses the issue of asking God for what we need: “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (see James 4:2b-3).

Certainly this look at faith and prayer is not exhaustive, but by reviewing the various promises, commands, and instruction in Scripture, I draw these conclusions: there is no prayer formula; God wishes to give His people good gifts, but we mistake what we think is good for what He thinks is good; believing God for the things we know to be His will should be our default prayer position.

Here’s my own personal conclusion: I don’t ask God for enough stuff or for big enough stuff–the things consistent with His will. I get wrapped up in “small ball,” the stuff that would make my life easier or more pleasant. And the myth is born.

Published in: on June 17, 2013 at 6:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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Spiritual Eyes


Black Holes - Monsters in Space

Black Holes – Monsters in Space


I’ve been lurking among a few atheist blogs of late, and one thing has me stumped. How is it that some people can’t see the nose on their face?

Serious. What seems so obvious and self-evident and true becomes a great puzzle to a group of people or a myth to be debunked or a superstition to be discounted.

Why is it that some people are so easily sucked into disbelief?

Children have no problem believing in what they cannot see. Monsters, Inc. was such a funny movie because we could all relate to the concept of believing in frightful creatures that popped out at night when we were alone in the dark.

Of course children stop believing in monsters because adults tell them they aren’t real and that they don’t need to be afraid. But how does the all wise adult know there are no monsters? He or she relies on what they can see.

They in turn crush something inside their child that recognizes the unseen world, teaching her to trust only in her physical senses, not her internal sense that this universe is greater and more complex than even science can know.

Am I saying there ARE monsters? Yes, there are. In religious terms we call them demons. Am I saying that every child afraid of a monster is seeing demons? No. I remember distinctly thinking something was in my room at night, only to realize it was the shadow of a tree moving with the wind or a pile of clothes I’d forgotten was on the chair.

Truly our imaginations can “make us” see things that aren’t there. But how foolish to use that as proof that spiritually evil creatures don’t exist.

Because I don’t see black holes when I look at space, am I going to say those scientists who acknowledge them are superstitious? that they are making things up? that they’re believing a myth? No. I’m going to acknowledge that they have equipment that allows them to see into space in a way I can’t see. I’m going to trust in their expertise, research, calculations, and conclusions.

Why don’t spiritual matters work the same way?

Well, they actually do. More than once the Bible records a person who is given spiritual sight so he can see what otherwise he could not. Elisha, for example, saw his master caught up by a whirlwind into heaven after a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated them.

We can poo poo such a thing, claim it never happened

But we can poo poo black holes too and say they don’t exist.

Oh, someone may counter, they do exist. You just have to infer its presence through its interaction with other matter and with electromagnetic radiation such as light.

But the same is true spiritually. God’s presence can be inferred through all kinds of evidences–Scripture, His miraculous work in the world, nature itself, the experiences of countless believers.

What about all the countless believers in a different god? Doesn’t that prove the myth aspect of the spiritual? No, actually not. All it proves is that there are counterfeits–that the spiritual world includes more than God, that as the Bible makes clear, there is a spiritual war going on between darkness and light.

Here’s what God told Paul when He revealed Himself and called the apostle to Him.

“For this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:16b-18 – emphasis mine).

Some things require spiritual eyes to see. I’m pretty sure a person who says, The supernatural does not exist, isn’t a candidate for spiritual eyes.

That would be like saying, Prove to me the existence of black holes but don’t use inference. Well, you’d be told, you need to infer their existence from their interaction with matter and with light. Hypothetical, the doubter says, nothing more than indirect observation from which you’re finding what you hoped to find. You have no proof.

Well, actually, if I were a scientist and saw what they saw, calculated what they calculated, tested what they tested, I could reach the same conclusion. But the doubter unwilling to accept inference as proof will discount it all.

How odd that we so easily accept as true the fallible research of humans struggling to know that which is so distant from us, so other, and yet we do not accept the infallible record of God revealing Himself so that He will no longer be distant from us, so that we can comprehend, at least in part, His very otherness.

I can only conclude that seeing the spiritual requires spiritual eyes.

Published in: on May 7, 2013 at 7:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Children Believe


427707_boy_and_his_grandpaAs I wrote yesterday about Jesus being God and Jesus being a man, I realized how such an apparent impossibility must sound to a rational mind. Or perhaps to a grown-up mind stripped of its creative wonder.

Children have that creative wonder and believe easily. I remember believing that the earth is round long before I saw a photograph of our round earth taken from space. I remember believing that one day my daddy would be President, and I remember believing that my brother could score a touchdown by dragging me across the goal line while I had the football.

When I learned that my dad had no interest in being President, I was disillusioned, I have to admit. And when I learned that my brother had figuratively, as well as literally, pulled my leg, I was disillusioned in another way. But the point for this post in recalling these childhood memories is to illustrate that I believed without requiring proof or explanation.

I believed the teacher who said the earth was round because she was the teacher! I believed my dad would be President because he was Dad. And I believed my brother’s version of the rules of football because he was my brother. Children believe easily.

Jesus said as much when His disciples tried to get people to stop bringing their children to Him.

“Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” (Mark 10:14b-15–emphasis mine)

Jesus was not saying we need to be childish, but childlike. Trusting. Not skeptical. That isn’t to say that skeptics can’t come to Christ.

Of His twelve chosen disciples, one was a skeptic. Thomas determined that he wouldn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he personally verified the fact with his own eyes. Can you blame him? I mean, he saw Jesus die. Most likely he saw them wrap his body for burial, put him in the tomb, and roll the stone in front of the entrance. Who wouldn’t be skeptical about this “He is risen” message?

Well, little children wouldn’t–not when they hear it from someone they trust. And adults wouldn’t if they are willing to hear what God says in the same way children hear–with wide-eyed wonder, with hope and expectation, with confident dependence.

The thing is, this kind of childlike faith does not replace reason. I believed my dad would become President up until the day when he told me why that wouldn’t happen. I didn’t keep believing in the face of contrary evidence. But here’s the important point–I learned from the very father I believed in. I went to him and asked him. The answer he gave me wasn’t the one I wanted to hear, but I knew he was telling me the truth. I knew I could still trust him.

Interestingly, God deals with us in a similar way. When we trust Him, we can ask Him all kinds of questions. We may not hear the answer we wanted, but we can be sure He won’t lie to us. We can be sure He’ll give us what we need when we need it.

I’m reminded of the story Corrie ten Boom told. She was struggling about whether or not she could handle some difficulty in the future. Her father helped her understand, by comparing the circumstance to when he gave her the train ticket she needed–not too soon but right when she needed it–that God would give her what she needed when she needed it.

Children are great question askers. They believe easily, but they also want to understand why. When Jesus said we are to become like little children, I’m confident He knew precisely what that entails, including their curious minds that want to know why. The great thing about God is that He satisfies the curious minds. In fact He authoritatively states that He is the Truth–the source for the answers to all our questions.

For people who want to make up their own truth, that’s not a satisfying statement. But like my brother who was quite inventive in coming up with his own football rules to benefit himself, there will come a day when those who live by their own truth will meet Truth. There will be no way to escape the fact that all those points they said they were scoring by using their own made up rules, count for nothing.

Published in: on April 16, 2013 at 5:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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Show, Don’t Tell


Mike Duran

The old fiction writing adage “Show, don’t tell,” applies to a lot more than crafting novels or short stories.

Experienced writers will tell you that actions paint a character better than any grocery list of description or any clever narrative. Readers will understand the list or the explanation, but they will see and feel the actions. They will also have to wrestle with the meaning and try to understand on their own. Consequently, they will internalize more about a character.

It dawned on me as I read Mike Duran’s recent post about church youth groups that we all behave in this way. Someone can tell us what to believe, for example, but it is more powerful to see another person living out their faith. It’s easier to internalize the truth.

For example, I’ve heard countless sermons about forgiveness, but reading Corrie ten Boom’s experience of forgiving one of her German concentration camp guards showed the truth and power of forgiveness in a way I’ll never forget.

George Muller

In the same way, Elisabeth Elliot showed what it meant not to return evil for evil but to give a blessing instead, and her husband Jim showed what it meant to love someone to the point of laying down your life.

George Müller, the 19th century evangelist who started a number of orphanages, caring for over 10,000 children, because he believed God would provide, showed what living by faith and trusting God for daily provision really looks like.

William Henry Harding said, ‘The world, dull of understanding, has even yet not really grasped the mighty principle upon which he [Müller] acted, but is inclined to think of him merely as a nice old gentleman who loved children, a sort of glorified guardian of the poor, who with the passing of the years may safely be spoken of, in the language of newspaper headlines, as a “prophet of philanthropy.” To describe him thus, however, is to degrade his memory, is to miss the high spiritual aim and the wonderful spiritual lesson of his life. It is because the carnal mind is incapable of apprehending spiritual truth that the world regards the orphan Houses only with the languid interest of mere humanitarianism, and remains oblivious of their extraordinary witness to the faithfulness of God.’[42]

I wonder, then, who the heroes of the faith are for this generation.

We have some good talkers. I mean that seriously. I’ve been blessed to sit under some great preaching. In SoCal Christian radio makes other great pastors or apologists available, so I have heard from time to time men like Alistair Begg, R. C. Sproul, Dr. David Jeremiah, Philip DeCourcy, and Ravi Zacharias.

Others write. My book shelf is crammed with non-fiction from which I’ve been taught. A. W. Tozier, John MacArthur, Philip Yancy, and on and on.

Yet … I can’t help but think none of those speakers or writers would have had much of an impact if I didn’t have people in my life living out the gospel. And heroes of the faith who showed more than they told.

Who today is doing the dramatic things like Corrie ten Boom, Elisabeth Elliot, or George Müller? I can think of one, but I’m sure there are more. I’d love to hear their stories.

Published in: on November 16, 2012 at 5:34 pm  Comments (2)  
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Who’s Doing The Work?


I overheard an interesting conversation at church yesterday. (I was dying to jump in and give my two cents but decided that would be rude. :oops: ) One older man was essentially giving his testimony.

In short, he came to Christ when he was ten, but then he got involved with friends who weren’t the best influence on him. Until he married his wife, he led a life that was far from God. He stated emphatically, though, that he believes he was a Christian. He’d made that profession of faith that was genuine. How can you undo being born again, he asked.

Some people call this “easy believe-ism” and don’t think such a person is saved.

Christians know that nobody is made right with God by what we do. No work of ours can erase the sin in our heart. Through Jesus alone can we be reconciled to God. What we must do is confess with our mouth and believe in our heart:

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Rom 10:9-10)

This believing issue is the one that gets a little sticky. James says the demons also believe (that God is One) and they shudder (James 2:19). They are, however, not saved. He uses them to illustrate that the person with genuine faith is the person who by his actions demonstrates what he believes.

A tangential issue has to do with how we can possibly do works of righteousness, which seem to be the evidence of faith.

Are the works ours? Or do they come from the Spirit within us?

Paul seems to indicate in Colossians 2 that, as we began in faith, we are to live by faith: “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord [by faith], so walk in Him [by faith] (Col. 2:6).”

Yet he also says we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord [action], to please Him in all respects” (Col. 1:10b).

So which is it?

The Holy Spirit gives gifts and He also supplies fruit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)

Yet the Christian is commanded not to quench the Spirit or to grieve Him, which seems to indicate we can stifle His influence in our life (and so not show His fruit or use His gifts). Are we then, not Christians?

Not at all. Too many verses in Scripture indicate that God does not lose those who are His own. So either the wayward person was never a Christian or he will change his behavior in due time, like the mouthy brother who said he wouldn’t obey his father, only to end up doing what he was told after all (see Matt 21:28-29).

Still, there is the question about our works. My former pastor was constantly reminding us that we live by grace. Alistair Begg, who I listen to on the radio, is also diligent to explain that we don’t go to church to get a pep talk, to learn what it is we’re supposed to do, then go out, pull up our socks, and try harder.

Rather, “it is God Who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).

Do we have no responsibility, then?

Peter seems to say we do. “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior because it is written, ‘You shall be holy for I am holy’ ” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

This is one of those issues, I think, where a great case can be made for living by grace — a “let go and let God” approach when taken to the extreme. At the same time, an equally good case with supporting verses can be made for working out our salvation.

In such instances, I think the best approach is a both/and acceptance. Somehow God does work in the life of the Christian and at the same time expect the Christian to obey. Not by his own strength (“strengthened with all power according to His glorious might,” Paul says in Colossians). Nevertheless, somehow — volitionally, perhaps — we’re involved. We don’t (or ought not) sit around waiting for God to pull our wallet out of our pocket and give to our needy neighbor. We already have His command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

What about the flip side of the coin, those things like lust or greed or anger (the topics those in the pulpit at my church are tackling these next few weeks)? We have clear directions about those issues already, so are we to obey or are we to wait for God to make us obey?

Both.

It’s a both/and issue, remember? We first pray, confess our sin and our inability in our own flesh to deal with the issue. Then we thank God that we don’t have to, that He’s already given us the Holy Spirit to empower us to do the very thing He has asked us to do. Then we take a step in the right direction. One after another, trusting that God will give us the strength each time to lift our foot and keep going where He’s shown us we should go.

I think learning to live in God’s strength is harder than it sounds. It is for me anyway. But at the same time, I don’t feel so defeated as I once did. In case you missed my post at the beginning of the year, I’m the one who doesn’t make New Year’s resolutions because I was so tired of trying to do the same things over and over, year after year! It gets … discouraging. But God’s promise of strength and provision of His Spirit gives hope.

Published in: on March 5, 2012 at 7:10 pm  Comments (6)  
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God And Senseless Shootings


When something tragic happens—man’s willful, wanton violence on man—such as happened a few days ago in Tucson, Arizona, I can’t help but wonder why everyone doesn’t believe in a God of justice.

Atheists make sense in a situation like that, their reasoning being that if God existed, He wouldn’t allow such horrific events. They, at least, accept the idea that God should be just.

But there is a group of people who claim to believe in God, even claim to believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior, but who reject the idea that God is just. These people seem out of touch with reality when someone opens fire on a crowd, killing a nine-year-old, a number of senior citizens and others, and sending more than a dozen people to the hospital.

How can someone think God will overlook this?

No, these false teachers who reject God’s right to serve as Judge of the world He created, might say, God doesn’t overlook such acts. Jesus came to show a better way, and we’re simply slow learners. I’m not sure how this position helps the victims, or the criminals. Some might even say Jesus came to bear the penalty for all Mankind, so the nihilistic, chaos-seeking mass murderer is forgiven like everyone else.

The latter view overlooks the conditional aspects of forgiveness in Scripture. There is the belief requirement:

  • “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
    – Acts 16:30b-31
  • that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved
    – Rom. 10:9 [emphasis added]
  • But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
    – Gal. 3:22
  • This precious value, then, is for you who believe
    – I Peter 2:7a
  • But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name
    John 1:12
  • He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
    – John 3:18

There is also the forgiveness requirement:

  • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
    – Matt. 6:12
  • For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
    – Matt. 6:14
  • And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.
    – Matt. 18:34-35

In other words, a forgiven person forgives. He doesn’t go out and gun down a bunch of strangers.

Non-Christians understand and require justice, though their human efforts often turn into vengeance instead.

Finally, Christ’s death on the cross only makes sense in light of God’s justice. Unless the sinless Messiah was paying for the sins of those under condemnation of death, then He died senselessly. He would be a tragic figure—a great teacher cut down in his prime, a noble example turned victim, a caring mentor taken from those he discipled. The best anyone could say about him would be, He died well.

But the truth is that Jesus became the sin bearer who satisfied God’s just wrath. He is the substitute for everyone who believes.

Those who don’t—who reject God’s sovereign right to rule and to judge—will stand before Him one day and receive justice. Think of them as perpetrators of cold cases that will be solved.

Published in: on January 12, 2011 at 8:01 pm  Comments (3)  
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