Where Does Faith Come From?

Ken was from Connecticut, blind, raised in a foster home with a foster dad who abused his wife. He has lived in poverty most of his life. He always wanted to go to Oklahoma, be a social worker and work with native Americans. He was accepted at a junior college in Oklahoma and one day, in the lunch room, the lunch lady who usually helped Ken get to a table was unable to assist him, so she asked a couple of students to help Ken and they gladly did. They were friendly and a part of a Christian campus ministry. They invited Ken to a pizza party and he agreed to attend.

Ken admits that the only reason he went to the party was for free pizza (he believes it is one of the foods on the basic food group). He made some friends, he played volleyballible, pretty good for a blind guy (you should see him play basketball), and agreed to return for their regular Bible studies. After attending several Bible studies and events with the campus ministry, Ken was invited to a weekend retreat and accepted Christ and was baptized.

Where did Ken’s faith come from? Where does your faith come from? Where does faith come from?

I have read and heard countless stories and every one of them has one element that is the same, the word of God. Ken, and you and I and every person encountered God’s word and it effected our hearts and mind and we believed in and obeyed Jesus.

I found an interesting blog relating many stories of people coming to faith in Jesus, http://tony-tate.com/whats-your-story/. The stories with enough detail show God’s word at work.

The word of God is the common denominator in every conversion. Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” God’s word produces faith.

Remember the Gideon Bibles you were given in fourth grade at school, or were in the drawer in a motel room. A lot of people picked up the Bible and read some of God’s word for the first time and were brought to faith. Remember the campus ministry Ken encountered. Their goodness and kindness was God’s word in action and coupled to some Bible studies, Ken, like many others came to faith through the word he witnesses in their lives.

God’s word is related in so many ways, reading, hearing, and seeing faith in action.

There are times I want a particular food or flavor and only certain foods provide the taste I desire. God’s word is like that too. When a person that actually wants that taste, and is looking for it, the only thing that fulfills the desire is God’s word, and many times, it ultimately leads to that person’s salvation.

The faith that is produced comes from God’s word being read, spoken, shared, exhibited, felt, experienced etc. That is one of the ways that God’s word is living and active Hebrews 4:12). It is not just words on a page. It is truth that is lived.

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Prayer and the Church (from the book of Acts)

I am a minister for a small, make that micro sized church. We are now running 15. That’s after months of averaging 10. we are growing slowing. We have had group of believers join us and that is what we need right now, Christians. In order to function, we need believers who will exercise their gifts for the Lord in the church.

ford_model_tWe looking for the Lord’s way, but it has been slow and that may be a good thing. Most of our folks are seniors and limited by health and energy. It’s like the difference between a Model T Ford and a Shelby Mustang. The Model and Shelby are both cars that offer transportation, but just try to make a Model T go fast and it will probably shake apart. A Model T cannot go anywhere near as fast as a Shelby Mustang. Our congregation has been a Model T and God is taking us along as fast as we are capable of moving.

We have been praying and being patient and waiting on the Lord at times is hard. Cruising images (1)along at 28 mph can be frustrating when you want to reach people with Jesus. But we are running as fast as the Lord allows at the moment. But how do we proceed. What plan of action do we need to move forward?

We need to pray. Oh, wait, we have been. We have been praying. But are we asking for the right things? How should we pray? It struck me this morning that the prayers in the book of Acts may be the Biblical source to inform our prayers. I am going to study this out. I intend to share what I learn and how our church goes.

We are the Linn Creek Christian Church of Linn Creek, Missouri. Please join us by praying for our congregation.

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Where Are We Going?

With the advent of the affordable Health Care Act in a week or so, we, as a nation, will quit asking, “Are we there yet?” and begin to ask, “Where are we going?” The whole thing seems to be very confusing and most of us just don’t know what to expect. Please note that I am not endorsing or condemning the new government health care, just noting for the sake of illustration we that we are confused about it.

The books of prophecy in the Bible give us the same uneasiness. Are the prophecies for the people who heard them, or for us today to look forward too. We might ask, “Where are we going?” based upon our lack of knowledge and understanding and doubts.

The books of Daniel and Revelation are probably the most relevant to this question. What do they mean? Who do they affect? How do I understand them? How should I react to what they reveal?

God questions and questions that we can answer. I say that knowing full well that a lot of people believe we cannot understand them completely, that the meaning of their message is hidden to us. But, the fact is, that God gave us his word so that we can understand, so that we will know the truth and ways of God.

There are essentially three views about the books of eschatology. If you don’t know, eschatology is about end times, the final days of the earth. Though the word carries a more present meaning then the future, that is the current definition.

The three main views are:

  1. Post-millennialism (Jesus will return after the millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ).
  2. A-millennialism (Jesus will return during the millenium, the Christian age, the era of the church beginning on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2).
  3. Pre-millennialism (Jesus will return before the millennium begins).

The post-millennial view has almost completely been abandoned.  The pre-millennial view is the most common, and there are variations within the pre-millennial view. The a-millennial view makes the most sense to this author. But the point is, not what do the prophecies mean, but how are we take them? How are we to live?

Revelation is a book of encouragement and hope for Christians and the church in the crisis of persecution as the devil attacks it from a social, political, and religious standpoint. God is telling us in the time of eschatology not the events that are taking place and the things to look out for (though we learn a lot here), but that we are to remain faithful to him throughout the difficulty. He will overcome, he will defeat the devil and those the devil has deceived, the cultures we live in, the governments who govern our world, the religious leaders who buy into a gospel that does not honor the revealed word of God, especially the truth about Jesus Christ.

“Be faithful even to the point of death and I will give you life as the victor’s crown” Revelation 2:10.

Are we in the end times. I believe we have been since the church began. We have seen the events of Revelation play out in the 350 years after God gave Revelation to John. But, the reality of what happened with the Roman Empire and the church, is replayed again and again as Satan works to destroy the church, to stop its missionary influence and take as many of us with him to hell as he can destroy.

Be faithful to God and you will receive the reward he has in store for the faithful.  Read Revelation chapters 2 and 3 and see the many descriptions of eternal life God uses for those who remain faithful.

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Irrelevant Church

It is has always been a concern that the church may be irrelevant to contemporary culture and society. The questions: can the church realistically speak to the society in which it has been placed; can society understand the tenets of faith and the value of belief (in the Savior, Jesus Christ); will the church make a difference that saves the lives of sinners and benefit the world around it?

The church began in the mind of God, and was a part of the kingdom purpose of Jesus’ ministry on earth, and was established on the Day of Pentecost with the power of the Holy Spirit of God (see Acts 2).

Bill Gaither composed a song in the 1970’s called The Church Triumphant. “Let the church be the church; let the people rejoice; for we settled the question, we made our choice. Let the anthem ring out; songs of victory swell; for the church triumphant is alive and well.” Bill Gaither, like myself and many others love the church. We should because the church is the bride of Christ, reflecting his glory in the present world until he returns and we experience the Church Eternal.

The church is triumphant because of one fact: it is the church of Christ. He is the victor; our triumph is based on no other truth and reality than the death and resurrection of Christ to save the church. We are victorious over sin and death. We are freed from sin and live holy and righteous lives in gratefulness for our Savior. We are eternally hailing Jesus for the quality of life that is set in a permanent relationship of love and honor with Almighty God.

Our salvation makes us victorious over our culture, but are we, the church, irrelevant to our culture? Does our faith, our hope, and our Savior make sense to the society in which we live?

The group of churches which I have been associated with throughout my life seems to almost constantly continue to be mired in the past. Though the message does not change, God is Creator and loves us; Jesus is the Savior; salvation is offered to all people regardless of race, gender, status, or anything else, the message we share with the world gets lost in 1950’s rhetoric and 1970’s methodology. In other words, we tend to favor being old fashioned and if it was good enough for my grandpa, it is good enough for everyone. That may be true, but not always.

Then, there are the churches and church groups and denominations whose purpose is less about the message of the Gospel and almost completely about serving and helping others. They go out of their way to provide food and clothing for the needy, and help those who are behind on rent and utilities. They have a comprehensive social aspect to their focus. It is often called the “social gospel.” In a lot of cases, they ignore the Gospel of Christ to serve as Christ served by helping those in need, thereby making the gospel less about salvation and more about Christian service to the world.

Then there are churches who are very concerned with missions. One church I served focused almost 20% of their budget on missions, both foreign and domestic. That is substantial. I have heard of churches that intentionally increase their missions giving 1% at a time (maybe annually, or every five year). And I heard of one church whose missions giving was 70% (I suppose that includes both foreign and domestic missions). Most churches support missions either directly or through a mission organization like Christian Missionary Fellowship International (www.cmfi.org), Team Expansion (http://web.teamexpansion.org/) , Outreach International (http://oionline.org/)or any of a number of other mission organizations. Fortunately, with few exceptions, the churches that support missions at a level of 10% or more of the giving their church receives tend to be very evangelistic.

But the relevance of the church to our society; is it relevant?

How do we become relevant if in fact, we are not?

Let’s consider the three S’s; Send, Serve, Support.

The three types of churches described above tend to focus on one the three S’s, sometimes to the exclusion of the others.  Some churches are better at one than the others and some churches have more opportunity with one of the S’s than the others.

But the New Testament Scriptures show us through teaching and example, that all three; send, serve, and support, are essential to the church not just reaching their society with Jesus Christ, but it keeps them relevant to the culture in which they are set.

First, we the church are sent. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel and make disciples of all people, immersing them in the name of the Father (God), the Son (Jesus the Christ), and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow everything I have commanded you (“you” being the apostles, “them” being the church)” (Matthew 28:19-20; my paraphrase). Jesus has sent his disciples, the church to preach the Good News of salvation in Christ to those we encounter. The church is to go into the whole world with the Gospel.

Second, we are to serve. The model of serving comes from Jesus. He met a lot of people’s needs, many times through healing. He got down on his hands and knees and washed his disciple’s feet like a servant. Paul informs us in Philippians 2 that Jesus came in human form and took on the capacity of a servant. And the early church followed Jesus’ example as they cared for the widows (Acts 6) and sources outside the Bible tell us they saved discarded babies and raised them as their own (no one did that in those days). James tells us that true religion involves not letting the evil of this world spoil our righteousness and to care for widows and orphans. The aspect of caring would be broader if James wrote his letter in the 21st Century.

Third, missions support. When a missionary takes the Gospel to another country: that is their one focus. They usually are unable to have an occupation wherever they are at, either practically or legally. They need support to enable them to preach the Good News in places that don’t have the Bible or haven’t ever heard of Christ. Supporting missions financially is significant and important. Paul received support from several churches (and individuals). There were times he couldn’t work to support himself (time constraints, imprisonment, lacking opportunity) and the church, especially Antioch, provided financial support to enable Paul and his companions to preach the Gospel.

When the church (and we mean both the world-wide church at large and the local church) as they study the Word and put their faith into practice by going with the Gospel to their area (Sent), and helping in big and small ways in their communities (Serve), and provide financial assistance to world-wide missions (Support) God provides a focus that allows them to know their culture and bring the message of Christ to the world in a relevant way.

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What Do You See?

thA man is pushing a stroller down the street. A sloppily dressed individual is bent over beside the road. A man is running through the neighborhood in street clothes. A woman  sits in her car on the shoulder of the road busily fumbling with something. What is it that you see?

Do you see a kidnapper who just swiped someone’s child? Do you see an annoying vagrant? Do you see a criminal on the run? Do you see a woman plotting to hurt someone else? Or do you see a father taking a stroll with his child; a person picking up a lost item; a man who is hurrying to help someone in need down the street; or a woman who is trying to encourage someone on the phone using the blue-tooth technology in her car?

In the movie “The Recruit” with Al Pacino and Collin Ferrell, Pacino’s character tells the CIA recruits that nothing is what it seems. What may look like one thing may be in fact something completely different. I am guessing that the emphasis was teach the recruits to be aware of and suspicious of everything. What appears innocent and harmless may be a potentially dangerous situation and what may appear dangerous may be innocent and harmless.

The Israelite people in New Testament times had the view that the Messiah would be a leader like King David 900 years before. Not just a king to rule, but a leader to overcome Israel’s enemies and bring greater prosperity than Israel had ever known.

Then Jesus comes on the scene around A.D. 29 and begins teaching and the people are amazed at his teaching. He hasn’t gone to the Jewish Seminary in Jerusalem and learned from the teachers of the Law, and he is about 30 years old is all; he teaches like he knows what he is talking about and he possesses wisdom for someone so young and untaught, not like the regular teachers. In Mark 6 when he returned to his hometown, Nazareth and taught in the synagogue the people were amazed but then were offended because he was a hometown boy who came from an insignificant and poor family and now he acts like a teacher. Either they were jealous of what he had become or upset that he thought himself a teacher though they knew his background (Mark 6:1-6).

To Nazareth, Jesus  wasn’t who they thought him to be. The rest of Israel believed that maybe he was the promised One, the Messiah to come.

When Jesus came into Jerusalem on the Sunday before the Passover and his arrest IconJesusMessiahAndKingand crucifixion, the people began to honor him as the coming Messiah. The popular Jewish Messianic expectations in place and what better time for the Messiah-King to assume the throne and reign in Jerusalem but at the biggest feast of the year.

But Jesus didn’t come to set up an “earthly kingdom.” In fact, as Pilate questioned Jesus, Jesus’ response to Pilate was, “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

Even Jesus’ apostles (and it appears most of the rest of his disciples) expected an earthly kingdom. The concept that he would die was out of the scope of their concept of the God’s Messiah-King. Death would ruin it all. If he died, he might not actually be the Messiah.

What do you see? Are you aware of the truth and reality or do your preconceived ideas provide the basis of your understanding?

Many people want Jesus to only be a great teacher or a spiritual guru. Some want him to fulfill their self-help needs, or provide assistance like EMT in an emergency. Some want Jesus out of their lives and forgotten in this world. Some want Jesus to be everything to them.

What do you see? Who is Jesus to you? If he is not the Messiah of God, who saves and rules lives by his atoning death, well, read the Gospels and the book of Acts, and the letters of Peter, John, James, and Paul, read the book of Revelation and see that what some people see in Jesus is much less than he really is and their understanding and beliefs about Jesus are their own devices and not from God, or from Jesus, or his disciples, and not from the Bible.

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Asking the Hard Questions

A week ago, a teen girl came in a minute late to our Bible study and asked if I would answer her questions. She wanted me to answer them quickly so she could go. She didn’t want to stay and endure a Bible discussion. I looked at her questions which were very personal and full of struggle. Questions written as a letter to God in her diary. She asked why she was the size she is; why some people are successful at suicide but she hasn’t been; if God would let her die; and more like those.

I suggested that the Bible study hour was not the best to deal with these personal questions, and she asked if I would talk to her afterwards. I told her that I would.

I found her upstairs and we sat down and I looked at her questions again and told her that I might not be able to answer some of her questions. She was hurting deeply and wondering about whether she really believed in God and his goodness and justice.

I told her that maybe the best way to answer her concerns was to set the base for understanding God and what happened with creation. God created us with the capacity to make moral choices, choosing to receive God’s love or rejecting his love which also gives the capability to return God’s love or withhold it. God didn’t create beings that would love him without choice because forced love is not genuine love.

Understanding this truth settled some of the questions she had.

The 90 minutes I spent with this young lady was one fo the most important moments in my life. Not because I answered hard questions, but because I was given an opportunity to share God’s love and glory with someone who is searching for his love. Right now, I am certain that a seed has been planted and pray that she will come to faith in God and ultimately in God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

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He’s Important to Me

I volunteer at a teen residential facility, leading spiritual initiatives as a sort of a chaplain. Earlier this week I visited the thisismyprayerforyouedited-640x360students hoping to encourage them and inspire a walk with Christ in them. A father of one of the young ladies was visiting that day. She brought him to me and introduced us and told her dad that I was the spiritual guy. I explained to him what that meant so her father would understand the role of our Sunday Spiritual times. Then the young lady told here father that I was important to her and explained why. She self-harms and I encourage not too. I basically told her I don’t like it when she it hurt, even if she is the one hurting herself and asked about how long the last time went without harming herself. She told me and added it had been four days this time. I encouraged here to go for the goal of one more day than the last time and then we set the goal of one more day each after.

I am important to her because I don’t want her to hurt herself. honestly, it hurts my heart to know that she would purposely  hurt herself. She wants to have a relationship that builds and holds her up. One that she can trust and rely on for support and help. Knowing her background, she has the love and support she needs, but a couple of things have blocked her understanding (besides the confusing messages our world, media and her friends give). One is her understanding about herself which got sidetracked at some point and another is her parents, though they love her, haven’t learned how best to make that understood in her life.

I am not casting blame here, I am citing reality.

One of the things that provided an open dialog between this young lady and myself is that I told here I have prayed for her. She had been struggling one day when I was visiting about 6 months ago and it took her back. She asked in surprise, “You pray prayfor me?” She was shocked. I told here that I do. I told her I prayed for every one of the students there and especially when I know she is struggling, I pray for her more. Apparently, that touched her. She responded, “No one ever prayed for except my mom.”

What she doesn’t realize is that there are others who pray for her besides her mother (and father) and me. There are coaches, who are saints (ie Christians) who pray for her as well. I’ll bet there is other family and maybe family friends praying for her.

What she is realizing and God seems to be using me to help bring this realization into her life, is that she is important, even extraordinary (thank you Aaron Chambers*). God loves her and cares for her. People love her and care about her. She is learning that when she feels safe, it is with people who are people of God. She understands that this God-thing is real and it is reaching deep into her life and bringing here hope and even joy, when she remains in her understanding of God’s love. She is realizing, “For God so loved the world,” that God loves her.

Due to confidentiality, I cannot tell you anymore, but I ask that you pray for her. God will know who you are praying for even if you do not know her name or where she is. He knows because he cares, because he loves her too.

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*Remember Who You Are, Unleashing the Power of an Identity Driven Life, by Aaron Chambers, Standard Publishing, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2007, citing chapter 9; http://www.standardpub.com/Products/24324/remember-who-you-are.aspx

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