Monday, 21 July 2014

How does faith grow?

We told our son that when he turned four he would be bigger.  Shortly after his birthday we saw him at the kitchen table flexing his arms and saying "Bigger.  Bigger.  Bigger."  He was pumping himself up - like a Reebok shoe. 

There are times we think of faith the same way.  We think that we are the ones that can increase our faith or make it stronger.  But this is man's idea.

Faith is a gift of God.  One given by Him, Exercised by Him, Kept alive by Him.  All these things happen in our heart and mind, but the Holy Spirit is the One who is active in this work.

Then how does faith grow?  The way God has revealed in His Word.

You can see it in the Psalms.  A pattern.  A cycle.  It is the cycle of faith growth, or spiritual development.  And it has three players.

The Holy Spirit

The Word (Christ the Son of God)


Nope - didn't guess it.

The Devil

WHAT!?  Are you sure?

Take a look at how it works.  In Latin its called oratio, meditatio, tentatio - or in English - prayer, meditation, temptation/trial.

Prayer - requests and supplications to God - lead us into His Word for His answer.  After having this seed (Word) sown, the devil comes to try and take it away.  He does this in a variety of ways, most of which make something miserable - whether it is "not having" that thing you shouldn't have (temptation to sin) - or taking away something that you liked (sacrifice). 

The incredible thing is that when we face trial, where are we to go?  To God in prayer.  Our plight pushes us back into prayer, back into God's Word.  The Devil's involvement serves God's purposes - not the Devil's.  But he can't help himself.  God is using him against himself - priceless.

Let's take a look at a specific psalm to see what I mean.

Psalm 13

How long, O LORD?  Will you forget me forever? (Obviously the psalmist is undergoing trial here)
How long will you hide your face from me?  (Yet he calls out to God in prayer)
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? (Sin is the issue)
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (The unrighteous have it good here - believers wait)
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God (I turn to you in prayer)
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death (I deserve death for my sin)
lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him," (The Accuser [Satan] is saying this already)
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. (They are already celebrating in my face - save me)
But I have trusted in your steadfast love (Enter the Word - God's Word of forgiveness has broken in)
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation (Your Word promises me salvation, and I know I can trust it)
I will sing to the LORD (The psalmist has gone from trial through prayer/meditation to thanks)
because He has dealt bountifully with me. (WOW!  The Word of the LORD stands forever - it is your defense - your fortress - your shield - and will always defeat your enemies - those who want to take you into greater sin and death.)

Neat right!  God knows what He is doing.  Just as a tree pushes its roots deeper after a windy day, the Christian pushes closer to God - His Spirit and Word - after trial and temptation.  God is not angry with you - He has open arms of grace, and He calls you into them when you are frightened by the devil, your sinful flesh and death - even when those things speak the truth to you - like you are a sinner, or you are going to die.  The Word of Christ is more powerful and it wins.

So you have no need to flex your arms and say "Bigger. Bigger. Bigger"  about your faith.  Get into God's Word, and pray that Word back to God.  He will sustain you in this life.

What is a celebration of life?

Have you ever been to a "funeral" that they call a "celebration of life"?  What did you hear there?  What did you see?  What follows is my own personal experience at a celebration of life.

It was not a celebration.
People were not happy, nor were they enjoying themselves.  They were all faking it, saying words that they knew weren't true.  Making up hope that they would never have believed only a few days prior.  I heard five different renditions of where the deceased person was.  They live on... "in our hearts" - "in our memories" - "when we do what they loved" - "in our love" and finally someone said -"No one can tell you where they are".

It was a disaster.  Everyone suddenly became an expert in the afterlife, yet none of the speakers agreed.  Everyone was grasping at straws, trying to say something that would give comfort to those still living.  But the more speakers that stood up the less comforting it became, because it was blatantly obvious that everyone was just making it up.  The hostess said at the end, "We are here so that you can make whatever meaning you can from this."  In other words - You are ON YOUR OWN.  It was the loneliest I have ever felt.

Because take a moment to consider some of these claims.  "They live on in our hearts."  Is this said because we know them?  We know what they were like?  What about when we die?  Where are they then?  What about when no one remembers them anymore?  Quickly, what was the name of your great, great, great grandfather?  What was he like?  Does he live in your heart?

"They live in our memories."  And when we forget?  What about when we don't think of them?  What about Alzheimer's?  This statement is fluff.

"They live on when we do what they loved."  The person has become our actions?  Their spirit is in all that we do?  So generations and generations of dead people live on in the behaviour of their descendants?  More fluff.

"They live on in our love."  I honestly, don't even know what this means - does this mean that when I love someone, it isn't just me loving them, it is all my ancestors, anyone I've known and all the people they knew, just piling up in the love of the next person who is alive?  Folly.

And finally, "No one can tell you where they are."  Why?  Because you can't speaker?  Has no one ever come back to life?  Are we all doomed to despair because the one speaking is hopeless?

It was not a celebration - and it was not "of life." 
As much as they tried to focus on life, we had only gathered because of death.  Why didn't we celebrate the life while the person was still alive?  So they could enjoy the celebration with us?  Isn't that what birthdays are?  Life is present.  This dead person was not.  It was not a celebration "of life".  It was a gathering for death.

And here was the real scare.  Every word that was spoken that day glorified the person.  They were "my inspiration."  They were "my savior."  They were "the reason I love."  It was a religious service alright - and the person being preached was the dead person.  I witnessed a large group of people try to make a dead person into a god.  No, this group of people had never been together before - not in one group - not when the deceased was alive - but now in death - god - the person was everything.  It was a praise service to the dead person who "lived in our hearts."

I suppose one of the most incredible things that crossed my mind as I walked away from that experience was that people do everything they can to avoid real religion, real faith, and real beliefs - but in the end everyone is religious.  It is only a question of which god. 

This is what I wanted to say that day.  This is what I had pent up within me, but knew was not the right time to come out:

This person had a Saviour, the same Saviour as the whole world, Jesus Christ.  He alone can tell you where this person is because He is the only One who died and rose again.  He came down from heaven to do this for you, and His death was a punishment for every evil of the whole world - those that you know of, and those in you that you don't know of or recognize.  God sent His Son, and having conquered death, this Son reigns over the enemies of mankind.  He is our King and our Lord, our Redeemer and our Saviour.  He calls you to trust in Him, to believe this message and you will receive every benefit of His gracious work on the cross.  Without such faith, you will remain in this lonely, empty, lostness that you are listening to, and it will result in your death.

Hear this Word.  Turn to God.  He forgives all your sin.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

How does the Church Year work?

The Church Year is alive, because it is all about Jesus.  His life.  His teachings. 

During the first half of the year, Christ’s earthly life long ago is made real for believers in the present.  It is delivered to them.  Experienced by them.  Imputed to them.  Christmas – new birth in Christ.  Easter – death to sin and new life to God in Christ.  Ascension – returning to God in Christ.

Then, the rest of the year focuses on discipleship – the new life in Christ in which we are living and growing on account of His life.
First - His life (Advent to Easter) - then His teachings (Pentecost).
God keeps believers in His Word (Jesus), and His Word in believers - through the Church Year.  It is how Christians celebrate God’s redemption, from beginning to end and back to beginning again.  All that Jesus did, and all that Jesus said form our new life.  They form our growing.  They form our year.

So when you head to church each week – take notice of where in Christ’s life and teachings you are – take notice of how God is keeping you in His Son.