a faith called unbelief — part 1

The Word for today:
Romans 1:18-32

mark this:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  (Romans 1:18-20)

We talk a lot about believing.

But for the next couple of days, in order to understand belief from another angle, we’re going to observe its opposite, unbelief…

The first thing that needs to be understood is that, everything being equal, it is far easier to believe in God than not to believe.

Mark this down somewhere; paint it on the side of your car or the front of your house:
It takes one hell of an act of faith to disbelieve in the Bible and Jesus Christ.

Faith knows no vacuum, so there is no one who has no faith. Some might say they have no faith, but everybody believes–in one thing or another–because faith is the motivating principle of every person’s life; for better or for worse, every person’s life is a by-product of his faith.

Faith is a word that we, wrongly, almost always identify with religion. That is the biggest mistake we make when trying to understand faith. Many people do place their faith in what we think of as religion. But billions of others have a faith which is as far from any notion of religion as it can get. Martin Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to and relies on is your god.” I point specifically to the word whatever in Luther’s statement. Faith can be whatever–it can be good, bad, true, false, religious, or irreligious. Whatever moves you to be who and what you are is your faith.

Another great mistake we make about faith is that we are always able to identify it! Many who claim to believe in one thing actually base their lives on something else. A person who claims his faith is in God might actually be living a life motivated by the almighty dollar. He will vehemently deny that the dollar is actually what he trusts, but his denials don’t change the fact that the buck is his god. (An irony of faith is that if a person hands me his checkbook and his day planner, I will tell him what he believes in–whether he acknowledges it or not.)

A person who says his faith is in the Christ of the Bible might actually believe not in Jesus but in belief itself: “If I just believe in something hard enough and sincerely enough, it will materialize.” There is no need for the personal hand of God in that equation because faith itself is what moves his world.

For some, their faith consists of the belief that everything will ultimately turn out good. They might even mix a little Jesus in there, and even a little cross and resurrection! But the resurrection for them is the proof–not the reason–that “Every gray sky will ultimately turn to blue!” Thus their positive faith has no foundation.

***

We’ve heard the phrase “blind faith.” There is a smidgen of truth in the phrase, since we believe in a God who, except in the incarnation of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago, we do not see. However, everything that we do see testifies to his reality. The beauty and order of creation cry out that there is a Creator. King David, in the Old Testament, said it this way:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge. (Psalms 19:1-2)

That’s what the stars are saying. Only a faith called unbelief can distort their unmistakable message.

***
Tomorrow, we’ll hear what a pocketful of pennies is proclaiming. See you then.

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the only way you’ll find yourself is to look for Him

The Word for today:
Romans 1:1-17

mark this:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. (Romans 1:16-17)

You probably never met me, but neither have I.

And I probably never met you, but neither have you…

Who and what you truly are is inextricably bound together with God, so that what was said of David and Jonathan is meant as a picture of Jesus and you:
The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. (1 Samuel 18:1)

What is said of David and God in 1 Samuel 25:29 is also meant to depict our inseparable identification with Jesus:
Your life shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the LORD your God. (1 Samuel 25:29)

In the Bible, we meet Jesus Christ. But the subtext of scripture is that as we meet him we meet ourselves. With that in mind, listen very carefully to these verses, as if you’ve never heard them before:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. (Romans 1:16-17)

***

When Jesus died, you became the righteousness of God in him (1). So as we are reading the Bible–the Revelation of Jesus Christ–there should be a sensation that we are also meeting our true selves for the first time.

As we get to know him, we will increasingly–from faith to faith–come to know ourselves, culminating with this astonishing scripture:
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)

***

When I was in my formative years, in the 1960’s, people were ceaselessly in search of themselves. But they were looking in all the wrong places,

because God has decreed that the only way you’ll find yourself is to look for Him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1)  2 Corinthians 5:21

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developing the negative

The Word for today:
Proverbs 31

In the old days, before digital everything, photographs were stored on film.

We still use the verb film, but to our younger readers the noun film may be unfamiliar. Film was a plastic strip which (chemically) held an image captured by a camera. We had to go to the store to buy film and then we would take the film back to the store to be developed.

On the film was a negative image; what was actually bright would be seen as dark; what was actually dark would be seen as bright. The developing process turned the negative (what the camera saw) back into a positive (what the eye sees.)

Q. And the point is?
A. The negative can reveal as much information as the positive.

***

We do well to know what’s in the Bible. But what about the things that aren’t in there? Would it be instructive to enter into a study of what’s not?

I think so. Some facets of God’s character are best discerned in absentia.

My favorite in this regard is the word “Thanks.” I was once attempting to convince a class that we presume things about Jesus that may not be there. For instance, I said, Jesus never said “Thank you” to any person, as far as we know. (If you think about it, why would he? He made every atom of our being and every molecule of air that we breathe, then died to give us eternal life–so exactly what is it that he would thank us for?)

Since many people see Jesus more as a Mister Manners than as the Resurrected Redeemer, this omission can be unsettling. I mean, if he didn’t do that, what else might he not have done?

The students were thankful (!) for that disorienting lesson and asked me to “develop the negative” in class more often. So I (contrarian by nature) was only too willing to oblige…

***

The trick is to type a word into your electronic concordance (1) to see what the Bible doesn’t say. (That’s how I first discovered Jesus’ scarce use of “Thanks.”)

One fine Mother’s Day, bored out of my mind as the wife in Proverbs 31 was extolled for the 8th Mother’s Day sermon out of the last 13, I decided to develop the negative in Proverbs 31. As the sermon droned on, I read and re-read Proverbs 31 for what wasn’t there.

Well, I’m happy to report that while developing the negative, I came upon one of the most positive remarks ever encountered in the Bible. The remark is so positive because it’s so rare. Here it is:

“He praises her.”  (Proverbs 31:28)

What’s so rare about that? Well, it is one of a just a few times in scripture where the word praise is applied to a person. All other praise is reserved for God.

***

“He praises her.” Notice the ‘s’ on the end of the word praise. That ‘s’ puts praise in the constant present. His praise for her is not in the past or in the future, but in the everlasting now.

So I want you guys to go and praise her (whoever she might be) in the everlasting now. That doesn’t mean wait for Mother’s Day or Sweetheart’s Day or your anniversary or the next full moon; it means now.

Which means stop reading, turn off the computer, and go fulfill the Word of God: He praises her.

There. You’ve proved God’s Word to be prophetic. But don’t wait around expecting Jesus to thank you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(1) An excellent free Bible/concordance program can be downloaded here.

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churning lessons

(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Proverbs 30

mark this: Proverbs 30:33
“For as churning the milk produces butter,
and as twisting the nose produces blood,
so stirring up anger produces strife.”

Tomorrow I am off to the farm with my family. There will be barns and crops, cows and hay. But my favorite part of the whole operation is the chance we get to make our own butter. (No , not with the old fashioned butter churn depicted above.) You see, I have a thing for butter. There is no meal, no dish, no side, no dessert where the addition of butter would be unwelcome, at least for me. Even things that may not normally need additional butter (i.e. muffins, croissants, pastries, donuts, Twinkies etc.), are that much better when complimented with buttery goodness.

And so I cannot wait until tomorrow, when we are given whipping cream in little Tupperware jars. We’ll then shake to our heart’s content, slowly transforming the liquid into a solid. Then, we get to spread that brand new butter over saltine crackers and enjoy. (That’s the only way I ever eat saltines!)

In today’s reading, our good friend Agur uses two examples, one pleasant, one not so much, to compare with the inevitable consequences of anger. It is the nature of cream, when shaken or churned, to turn into butter. It is the nature of a nose, when twisted and jostled enough, to produce blood. And it is also the nature of mankind, when stirred up by anger, to produce strife.

Strife is defined as a “vigorous or bitter conflict, discord, or antagonism; a quarrel, struggle, or clash.” Not exactly fun stuff, yet it is the exact issue we experience everyday. In our streets, in our courts, in our businesses and political spheres, and even in our homes, strife rears her ugly head. (And yes it is a she, named from the Greek goddess Eris.) Strife is misery. So why in the world would we allow it?

The answer is, we don’t particularly like strife, but better her than controlling our anger. But our country, and many of us are officially addicted to anger. We know nothing else. And all that anger, wrongly expressed and dealt with, accounts for a huge percentage of our world’s woes.

I needn’t bring up any examples, because each of us have hundreds of our own.
Certainly, not all anger is bad, after all God Himself gets angry at certain things (1). But I will be the first to admit that my bad/good anger ration is 90%/10%, at best. The bottom line is that either you control your anger or your anger controls you. There is no getting around that fact. That is why the Bible in general and Proverbs in particular warn us about the dangers of ungodly anger. We see negative example after negative example, from Cain, to Moses, to Saul, to Haman, to Herod, to the Pharisees, to Satan (2).

But what good is it to tell myself and others not to get too angry? Any such words, apart from God’s power, can become what Job described as “proverbs of ashes (3).”

Ultimately, this book of Proverbs, just like the Old Covenant Law, is a mirror. It can reveal the truth of our sorry condition to us, it can tell us where we are dirty; but it does not give us any power, it cannot make us clean. We need something more than a reminder not to sin, we need the actually ability to do so. And here is exactly where the message of Jesus Christ fits in:
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (4).”

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(1) See Psalm 78 for an OT summary, or Mark 3:5
(2) Genesis 4:5, Numbers 20:11, 1 Samuel 18:8, Esther 3:5, Matthew 2:16, John 7:23 & Revelation 12:17
(3) Job 13:12
(4) Titus 2:11-14

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Ouch! (I resemble those remarks.)

The Word for today:
Proverbs 28, 29

“Proverbs” hurts. It makes me wince when I realize that the face in that mirror is me.

Proverbs is the “James” of the Old Testament. The book of James casts a pitiless eye at our hypocrisies, foibles, and indiscretions. It forces us to look in the mirror, and it’s not a pretty sight. James hurts.

The Sermon on the Mount (1) hurts the worst of all. That’s where the gentle Jesus pins us to the wall, still wriggling.

The Bible hurts. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that if it hurts, you’re reading it right. If Proverbs, James, and Jesus make you wince, you get a C+ for reading comprehension. If they make you regret and even grieve your sin, then you get a B+.  And if they cause you to repent, to turn from self to God, then you get an A+.

***

I love bumper stickers. They make the wait at a red light seem shorter. We don’t see nearly as many as we used to, but lately I’ve seen this one a lot:

The snooty assumption, of course, is that the people in that car are the solution, whereas they’re not quite sure about those in my/your car.

What the Bible teaches is this:

That’s the truth. But this truth trumps it:

***

If you’re not part of the problem, then you will find Jesus to be poor indeed. He has nothing for you.

But if you see yourself (Ouch!) as part of the problem, then you are just the person God is looking for:
“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)

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(1) Matthew chapters 5-7

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