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July 2018
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Holding Firmly to the Faith We Profess

Hold firmly quote by Thomas-Aquinas“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). The New King James Version states it like this, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”

Not grow weary . . . . Folks, there are days when I have grown so weary from these past five plus years of unemployment that I can hardly stand it. And the weariness does not come from the fact that I’ve been unemployed all this time, not that it doesn’t have a huge and detrimental effect on how I can live my life. For example, just try renting an apartment as an unemployed person and see how far you can get. No, the weariness comes from people. And one of the hardest realizations I have had to face has not been from the futile search for a job but rather from the lack of genuine compassion from people including fellow believers that I have been around–folks who claim the name of Jesus Christ just as I do.

However, with that being said, on any given day if you were to run into me when I am out and about in the community, and that includes when I’m attending church every week, you would find a smile (genuine, not fake) on my face, and a willingness to engage folks of all ages and backgrounds in conversation. God shows no partiality when it comes to people, and neither should we (see Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11). Even when I grow weary from the duplicity that I find at times in others (but certainly not all others), my conversations and responses are genuine.

On the rare occasion when the weariness gets to be a bit too much, I’m reminded of the fact that as a believer in Jesus Christ, I can always “come boldly to the throne of grace, that I (we) may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16 NKJV). Taken in context, the passage reads as follows (from Hebrews 4:12-16):

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The word of God is the Bible. And it does, indeed, “discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.” And that includes every heart . . . even those who do not believe. “There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

We all are easily deceived at times–by others and by ourselves. If we want something bad enough, we’ll go to any length to create a deception to appease our own conscience in order to acquire what it is that we want. We can even convince ourselves that what we want–regardless of the deception we have created and believed–is from the hand of God (for those of us who believe in God), whether or not it is (and most often it is not). However, if it involves abusing another person or group of people for our own purposes, gain, or satisfaction, it certainly does have a source, but that source is not God.

The Thomas Acquinas quote in the photo at the top of this post–“Hold firmly that our faith is identical with that of the ancients. Deny this and you dissolve the unity of the Church”–makes for an interesting statement. What exactly does he mean when he said that our faith should be identical with that of the ancients? The faith of the ancients is not a faith we often experience here in America unless we fall on very hard times. And our faith doesn’t often appear to require much of us on a daily basis, either. In fact, if a “Noah” (who built the ark) showed up in our culture today we’d laugh and mock as hard as the folks did back in his day. And that is most likely true regarding many of the other Biblical characters who went against the mainstream of their culture (see list below from Hebrews 11).

We need to take a look at what the faith of the ancients entailed in order to see how our faith measures up to the faith that they exhibited, and the best place to look is in Hebrews 11, titled the “Faith in Action” chapter and also known as “Faith’s Hall of Fame”:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 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.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.

By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.

By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

That which we don't understandCan we say that our faith is identical to the faith of those mentioned above? That is the kind of faith that pleases God. If we spend any amount of time mocking others instead of believing what God has clearly stated about those who possessed genuine faith, we need to consider what believing faith really means and whether or not we who claim to have faith actually use it.

The opening verses (vv 14-16) in another classic reference regarding faith found in James 2:14-26 state the following:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

And further down in the passage, verse 24 states “a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” And it’s not about a specific list of things we have done that we can point to and say “see, I have faith.” No, it goes all the way to the heart of the issue and why we did it in the first place. Motives are key. Is what we do genuinely done to help others, or are we looking for some kind of “kick-back” from it without really caring about those “others” except on a surface or “looking good” level? And if “the crowd” doesn’t like someone, do we automatically not like them either? Do we judge them unfairly? Do we point fingers and mock?

When it comes to our motives God is not deceived, even if we think we can deceive everyone else including ourselves. We live in a culture that, over time, has become increasingly biblically illiterate while many claim to have faith. The question is, faith in exactly who or what? When was the last time our faith was put to a test of endurance, or tested when we didn’t get what we wanted (and we didn’t try to manipulate the outcome)? And when was the last time we just plain stopped judging others and gossiping about them? And when was the last time we tried helping someone outside of our own comfort zone? When?

If you’re a bit disgruntled at this point, stop being disgruntled. We can be a hard-headed and hard-hearted bunch. If we can’t stop judging and start loving, there is something seriously wrong with our faith. And confession is the only way to fix it by confessing it to God (I John 1:9). And by meaning it, too. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).

Genuine faith requires action . . .

Will we act, or just react?

The choice is ours . . . .

YouTube Video: “Walk by Faith” by Jeremy Camp:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here


For The Greater Good

Faith“Just as it was in the days of Noah . . .” (see Luke 17:26, Matthew 24:37-39). We human beings really haven’t changed much over the centuries, even with all of our technological and scientific advances. We may think we are more sophisticated and civilized then our ancestors, and knowledge has certainly increased over time, but basic human nature hasn’t changed since Adam and Eve walked around in the Garden of Eden (see Adam and Eve, Fact or Fiction?), or apes if you prefer (see the Evolutionary Theory of Charles Darwin) depending on which “theory” you choose to believe in as to the origin of the human race. I personally prefer the former to the latter, and that takes faith in God (see 2 Cor. 5:7, Romans 10:17, Hebrews 11), and not the type of “faith in the inferiority of having faith” as stated by the New Atheists, like Richard Dawkins (see source quote here).

It takes faith to believe in God and in His Word (the Bible). And all the arguments in the world don’t hold a candle to faith in God. “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” (Hebrews 11:6). It’s not about trying to win any argument, but believing that God is who He says He is, and that the whole of human creation and existence is wrapped up in several key verses stated by Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John (John 3:16-21):

 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

The reference to Noah in the opening line to this post is a statement about just how much we human beings haven’t really improved or changed since his day and time in history. To give you some perspective on how far back we are going in time, Noah was the tenth generation from Adam, and Jesus Christ was the 66th generation from Adam. And regarding the fact that nothing much has changed from generation to generation, King Solomon, who was the son of King David, and was the 33rd generation from Adam, made the following statement in Ecclesiastes 1:4-11:

Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

So what exactly were the folks in Noah’s day doing way back then? Well, in his end times discourse in Matthew 24, Jesus describes what was occurring in Noah’s day that was, is, and will continue to be going on until the end of time as we know it in Matthew 24:37-39:

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man [referring to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ].

Faith Without ActionsThe folks in Noah’s day were doing the same things we do today–they were eating, drinking, marrying, and generally living life right up until the day of the great flood (see an excellent discussion on the flood and it’s meaning then and now at at this link). In fact, it was “business as usual,” much like our days are filled with today. And just like in the days of Noah, the issue at hand was that many folks (except the few who were on the ark with Noah) lived life as if God did not exist and that what they did was inconsequential in the total scheme of life. Much like today, many did whatever they wanted to do without any thought for God. And they were given 120 years while Noah was building the ark to consider their ways, but instead, they mocked and make jokes about Noah, right up until the rain started falling, the door to the ark was closed, and nobody else could get in.

The issue at hand, both then and now, is that we want to live life on our own terms and God gets pushed aside, either out of unbelief that He even exists, or in a pseudo-belief in a variety of ways to try to appease God while still having our own way. Even demons believe that God and Jesus Christ exist, so belief at that level is not enough for believing faith (see James 2:19). In fact, let’s look at that passage in James 2:14-26:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Believing faith isn’t just showing up for church on Sunday morning and singing a few songs and listening to a half hour sermon and then going back home and living anyway we want for the rest of the week. Believing faith is proved out on a daily, moment-by-moment basis in how we live our lives, how we interact with others (and yes, even the sales clerk who was nasty to us), how we talk to and treat others (and not gossiping about them or rolling our eyes when they walk by or giving them that self-righteous look that says we think we are better then they are if we disapprove of them in any way). It’s about our availability to help someone with no ulterior motive of our own attached to that assistance (as in the “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” mentality). And it’s about not going along with the crowd (Christian or otherwise) even if we are the only one not going along with them, especially if what they are doing is dead wrong (and even if they think it’s right).

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post titled, Risky Business,” regarding group mentality or “groupthink” (click here for post). As stated in the first paragraph of that post, Groupthink–a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972)–occurs when a group makes faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of ‘mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment.’ Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational actions that dehumanize other groups. A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when there are no clear rules for decision making” (source: Any church, organization, business or other group setting is vulnerable to “groupthink,” especially when it comes to shunning individuals or other groups whom they perceive to be “outside their box.”

On the same topic, in a post titled Top 10 Instances of Mob Mentality (July 28, 2013), the author, S. Grant, states the following:

While we all like to believe we have the fortitude to stand by our own convictions during any situation, most of us tend to follow the behaviors of others. But what’s particularly strange is that when enough of us get together, we end up doing some really bizarre, nonsensical, and downright violent things that we’d never consider on our own. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as herd or mob mentality, and when you consider the past and present, you realize it’s led to some major “What were they thinking?!” moments. (Quote source here which also includes 10 instances of this type of abuse.)

One doesn’t have to look very far to find examples of group/mob mentality as it occurs in every area of society and in all age ranges and ethnic groups and is not limited to any specific group of people or organizations–religious or otherwise. However, whether it is on a group/mob level or done on an individual basis, God doesn’t miss anything, and He sees through to the condition of our own individual heart attitude. Remember what James 2:19 says–even demons believe in God. We can say we “believe” but if our actions don’t bear it out in our interactions with others including those we don’t like, we really don’t believe at all.

“Just as it was in the days of Noah . . .” and it is still that same way today. While no man knows the day or the hour of Jesus Christ’s return (see Matthew 24:36-51), if we’re living rightly with other folks in this world of ours (and that includes those folks we don’t like on either a group level or individual basis), and looking out for them and not just looking out for ourselves, then we should have no fear of when that day or hour might show up.

We can’t just say we believe . . .

We have to prove it . . .

As faith without works is dead . . . .

YouTube Video: “We Believe” by the Newsboys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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