The Vision of Great Faith

Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

In 1 Kings 17, Elijah trusted God’s revelation and provision.  The exercise of his faith opened windows of understanding.  Faith is privileged to see the hand of God at work.  Great faith is privileged to see great things.  Elijah’s journey of faith was demanding, but it brought to him a profound vision of God.  By faith, he became eyewitness to God’s sovereignty and power.

Elijah witnessed God’s sovereign rule over nature.  Elijah’s weather report to Ahab was drought.  In the early days of drought, anyone could have said that they had seen droughts worse than this.  But day by day for three and a half years, the number of naysayers would dwindle.  Elijah saw God’s faithfulness to fulfill his word unfolding daily, an incremental wonder.

But for a time, Elijah witnessed a rather shocking wonder, twice a day!  1 Kings 17:6 And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.  I don’t know what the birds are like at your place, but at my place they bring songs and aggravation.  I have given them bread, but never once have they brought bread to me.  Not sure I’d be interested in the meat, but it would be something to see!  God’s sovereign rule of nature encompasses even nature doing the unnatural.

Elijah also witnessed God’s sovereign power to perform miracles for the care of his people.  1 Kings 17:16 The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.  That which Paul would later call “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19) was on full display in God’s care for his servant and, through him, a widow and her son.

As Hebrews 11:3 says, by faith we understand.  In John 6, some people asked Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  John 6:29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who he has sent.”  By faith alone comes the understanding of this great salvation God has provided in his Son.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

The Making of Great Faith

 1 Kings 17:2-4  And the word of the LORD came to him: “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.  You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”

Elijah the prophet looms large in the Old Testament pantheon of the faithful.  He was the prototype for the messenger of the Lord who would announce the arrival of the Messiah.  Along with Moses, he appeared on the mountain of transfiguration with Jesus.  Peter was so impressed that he offered to make a pavilion for all three.  His error was quickly corrected by an unassailable authority, but that does not diminish the stature of Elijah.  It exalts the stature of Jesus.

What made Elijah a man so greatly used by God?  1 Kings 17 suggests two things.

First, Elijah trusted the revelation of God above all the protests and powers of men.  1 Kings 17 opens with Elijah confronting King Ahab.   1 Kings 17:1  Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”  I know meteorologists who cannot predict the weather for this afternoon.  If you would make such a claim as this, you had better know for sure who you have been standing before and what he said.  If not, tomorrow or next week or soon, your folly will be revealed.

Ahab’s position meant that he could make life very uncomfortable for Elijah.  Ahab’s personality meant that he would very likely do so if given the chance.  God did not instruct Elijah about brooks and ravens until after the confrontation with the king.  This is great faith, doing the thing God has shown you without an itinerary, without a refrigerator, and without so much as a water bottle.  Elijah believed the declaration of God about the judgment now being released.  But he also trusted the character of God to be faithful toward those who are faithful to him.

Second, Elijah trusted the provision of God by whatever means or measure.  Elijah had not read Romans 8:28, but it is fair to say that he believed it.   And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.  Elijah’s path ran first to the brook here he was attended by ravens, and then outside Israel to a Gentile woman whose poverty made her the least likely source to maintain his welfare.  What possible conviction can keep a person on such a path if not this: a righteous God will not do me wrong!  Elijah must have been greatly pleased to be in the service of such a God, for he obediently received from God’s hand that which God was pleased to give.

There are few challenges that so cut against the grain of modern life as this last one.  The world is so driven by economic considerations that it is driving itself crazy.  We should read again Revelation 18 where Babylon the great is revealed to be not great enough.  In her sudden, calamitous fall, we are allowed to hear the weeping and mourning of the merchants and shippers and traders who lived only for her success.  As we hear them moan, we must ask ourselves if the thing we are counting on is really as great as we have believed.  As we see their tears, we must ask what thing, falling into ruin today, would break our hearts and bring forth our tears?

Then think what it means to see a person like Elijah, believing what God has said, trusting what God will do.  Think what it means to be such a person.  Before Babylon sinks, some may get a clue and look around to see if there is anything different at work in the world.  What will they see?  Where will they see it?

Philippians 2:13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

John 3:16.  What a Savior!

When Wishes Come True

1 Samuel 8:4-5  Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.”

If anyone believes the sovereignty of God and the free will of man are mutually exclusive, he will have endless problems with the Bible.  For Scripture affirms both and the story of Israel’s demand for a king is a good example.  But I would rather think of this story under the heading “When Wishes Come True.”

Samuel took the request for a king personal.  It was indeed about him and about his family.  But the Lord explained to Samuel that it was about much more than that.   1 Samuel 8:7  And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.”  Samuel was to follow the people’s lead in this matter, but he was also required to explain the ramifications to the people.  1 Samuel 8:9  Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.  You may read the description of the ways of the king in 8:10f.  It is not encouraging, but it did nothing to stem the tide of the nation’s wishes.

When wishes come true, some obtain a temporal desire at great cost.  God, the very definition of goodness, always desires man’s highest good.  When men choose less of the goodness of God, by necessity they get more of something else.  Sometimes the cost is only temporal.  Thus Israel bought for herself many real time troubles.  But men who fail to repent of the fundamental choice of sin over God will find that there is an eternal cost to having some wishes come true.

When wishes come true that are contrary to God’s highest good, God’s purposes are nevertheless fulfilled.  God’s sovereign rule cannot be undone because one or many or all beg another way.  His sovereignty not only takes account of man’s errant choices, but often rides those choices to his greater glory.  The kingship of Israel became another tile in the Old Testament mosaic of the Messiah.

When wishes comes true, some learn to see deeper than their own feelings.  So it was with Samuel.  He took the rejection personal and so it was.  But it was much more.  Samuel was permitted, via the pain he experienced, to enter into the long-suffering of God.  There is no fellowship so deep as that of those who share a common hurt.  The New Testament brims with the invitation.  “Take up your cross and follow me.”  It is an invitation to join God in wishing everyone’s highest good, knowing that many of them will wish, and will be granted, something else. John 3:16.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Halfhearted Pursuit

1 Samuel 7:2 From the day that the ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim, a long time passed, some twenty years, and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD.

The Philistines captured the ark, enjoyed it for less than a day, endured it as long as they could, and sent it back to Israel with gifts.  It is rare that a thief returns the loot, rarer still that he does so accompanied by expensive gifts.  That humorous story, humorous because it was them and not us, is found in 1 Samuel 5 and 6.  But the return of the ark was not complete.  The ark was meant for the place of worship, not someone’s personal residence.  Yet for twenty years the ark remained in the house of Abinadab and Israel lamented after the Lord.

The picture behind the word ‘lament’ is in part like that of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28.  It is more than sorrow.  It is also a longing and a seeking.  The Canaanite woman needed and sought for the face of God’s blessing. In the same way, Israel knew that things were not right with God and there was much sorrow about the fact.  But that is where the comparison with the woman of faith ends.

At some point in this twenty year dearth of peace about Israel’s relationship to God, Samuel stood forth with a proposal.  1 Samuel 7:3  And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods…”  Samuel was asking what the sorrow meant.  Were these crocodile tears?  He put his finger on the sore spot.  Nothing had changed.  It was halfhearted pursuit of God that watched the ark go away.  The ark did not come back because of anything the people did, but because of the hand of God himself.  When it did come back, it came so far and no further, for the people were still mired in their idolatry.

Whether it was Eli making idols of his sons, or his sons making idols of meat and women, or the people’s growing collection of religious trinkets, the issue had not changed.  Samuel was reminding them that the promise had not changed either.  If this was real, they knew what to do.  They knew what must be released.  They knew what must be taken hold of.  Return to him and he will return to you.  Draw near to him and he will draw near to you.  They did and he did.

Sometimes God seems distant, not because of his wish, but because of ours.  Jeremiah 29:11-13  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

After the Storm Breaks

Acts 27:10 Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.

Acts 27 is a vivid metaphor of life and of Christian witness.  The above words of Paul were made to the ship’s owner and captain as they contemplated making a late season run for Rome.  Paul’s words turned out to be prophetic, but when they were given they were simply logical.  The late autumn season was ripe for northeasters.  Paul was not telling them anything they didn’t know.

Paul’s faith shines in a different way before the storm than after the storm.  The evidence of his faith before the storm rests in the simple fact that his thinking is not governed by other interests.  The decision to sail almost certainly was a financial decision and we need no one to tell us how relevant that is to the present hour.  Perhaps we do not say enough about the Christian faith’s ability to give us clear heads in pressing situations.  But if we did say more, perhaps no one would listen.

Where Paul’s faith really shines is after the storm breaks.  Unfortunately, it sometimes requires a violent shaking to release us from the spider’s web of deceit that binds us.  Throughout the rest of this grand chapter, Paul is the person encouraging, warning, praying and promising.  Paul’s traveling companions came to realize that a lot of things they hoped for were never going to happen.  But they also gained a clear-headed moment in which to hear another voice.  It was a voice from God through Paul and it was saying that the storm doesn’t have the last word.

Paul sowed the seeds of a faithful witness long before the storm broke.  Those seeds bore fruit at a critical moment for 276 people.  Perhaps we will meet some of them in heaven.  So, when “the floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice,” remember “mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty.” (Psalm 93:3-4)

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Royal Baby

Luke 2:7   And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

What a contrast with the hoopla surrounding the birth of a royal baby this week!  How many would like to be the first to break the news of the baby’s name?  How many retweets and posts would that spawn and how fast would the news encompass the globe?

No paparazzi, no live broadcast, no crowd of any kind.  A few shepherds made it, but even they had to be roused by no less than a host from none other than heaven itself.  And if one shepherd had a smart phone, what would he tweet?  “Baby born in barn. Parents claim he is king.  Stinks in here.”

There was no waiting for the name of the royal baby whose first bed was a feed trough.  Both Mary and Joseph had been instructed.  Matthew 1:21  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.  All due respect to the third in line to the throne of England, none of the three can do what this king did.  He had to be man to die the death that I deserved.  He had to be God to undo the devastation of sin and bring eternal life.  All this he did, but the paparazzi are not interested.

As to his pedigree, no one comes close.  Luke 1:32-33  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.  Son of the Most High!  Lion of the tribe of Judah!  Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

What a Savior!

Superlatives

Like a man standing before a mountain, we are properly humbled by the greatness of God.  But while that man may not be able to express the sense of awe he experienced while standing there, he can describe the mountain to the best of his ability.  Perhaps in his superlatives someone will catch the vision and go to the mountain too.  Here are two superlatives from Paul in Ephesians.

Paul wants us to measure the immeasurable.  Ephesians 1:17-19  that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know… what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.  If his power is immeasurable how can I measure it?  In the same way that you could measure the room where you stand and still know that you have not measured the house, you could measure what is before you already.  Paul then reminds us of what is already before us.  This power of God is the very power “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” (1:20)  What we already know is that death has been turned on its head by the power of God!  If that is the measure of the room, what is the measure of the house?

Paul wants us to know the unknowable.  Ephesians 3:17-19  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you… may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.  How do you know what cannot be known?  What you cannot know you may yet be told.  The Bible has been called a treasure house for good reason.  Witness after witness came back from the encounter, each one adding a new measure of understanding.  Then the glory of God took on a face, the love of God took up a cross, and the grace of God gripped a man who could only reach for more superlatives…

Ephesians 3:20-21  Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Wow!  What a Savior!

Forgotten Things

I decided to make a list called “The Top 100 Most Forgettable Sermons I Have Ever Preached.”  I have been doing this for a while now.  “Top 10” just won’t cut it.  It turned out to be a very brief exercise since I can’t remember them.  Concerning forgotten things…

The saddest… the forgotten God.  Jeremiah 2:32 Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number.   An elephant in your living room would be hard to forget.  God is no less real, far greater, but unseen.  So men forget.  And the forgetfulness may be willful, for he doesn’t want your living room.  He wants you.

The surest… the forgotten path.   Jeremiah 18:15 But my people have forgotten me; they make offerings to false gods; they made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient roads, and to walk into side roads, not the highway.  Men want morality without the Master and goodness without God.  They cry for justice but it is a justice of their own making.  True justice is founded upon righteousness.  When God is forgotten the paths of blessing are lost, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but always surely.

The sweetest… the forgotten sin.  Jeremiah 31:34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”  He is the God who restores.  The wanderer may return.  When he does, he discovers the sublime forgetfulness of God.  Colossians 2:12-14  having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God… you, who were dead in your trespasses.. God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Something hounding you from the past today?  If you belong to Christ, it isn’t God!  He can’t remember it.  Is it time to tell that voice to shut up?

What a Savior!  Don’t forget!

Just a Second

I have been thinking of all the things I intended to do in ‘just a second.’  As I remember it, I was going to turn the music down, change the light bulb in the bathroom, move my shoes out of the way, and on we go.  Apparently, I have very high opinion of the value of a second.  Maybe I’m right.

If the clock loses one second every minute, it means little.  Even at the end of an hour, it has only lost a minute.  Not worth stressing over.  Tomorrow at this time, however, it will have lost twenty-four minutes and, if uncorrected, you will be missing appointments by an embarrassing degree.  If you ignore this trouble and keep the attitude that it is, after all, only one second every minute,  then next week you will be nearly three hours off target and probably lose your job.  In a month you will lose half a day which doesn’t sound too bad.  But in a year you will have lost six days.  Now your payments are all late and your credit score is tanking.  This will become very significant in five years when you have lost an entire month.  You are already one month behind because of the incremental increase in lost days.  Now you are two months behind and the bank takes notice, not only of two months in arrears, but of how hard it has become for you to keep a job.  In the course of a seventy year life, an entire year and two months goes unaccounted for, lost to “just a second.”

As interesting as all that may be, the loss of a second each minute cannot compare with another time that is easily lost.  Romans 13:11-14  Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  The night is far gone; the day is at hand.  So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light… But put on the Lord Jesus Christ… The day is at hand and salvation is near!  The one who loses this moment loses all.  John 3:16.

What a wonderful Savior!

Awaiting a Savior

Philippians 3:20-21 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Paul was citizen on multiple levels.  He belonged to the Jewish community.  In the first half of this same third chapter, he went into great detail on that citizenship.  He also belonged to the Roman community.  He was not above using that citizenship as needed to advance the claims of his ultimate loyalty, the Lord Jesus Christ.

No matter how many or how extensive the claims of earthly citizenship, Christians have a loyalty to the kingdom of God that governs all such relationships.  Generally, this higher loyalty makes us better citizens of an earthly realm.  Occasionally, it bring us into conflict.  When the earthly power favors unrighteousness, the potential for conflict escalates. Then we must walk in the wisdom of the psalmist.  Psalm 125:3 For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous, lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong.  Finally, God brings all nations into judgment as history testifies so clearly.

Yet even where conflict of action is not evident, conflicting attitudes ought to be apparent.  Paul drew a sharp contrast to heavenly citizenship with this description in Philippians 3:19.  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.  That is a brutal description.  But we must hear it.  Perhaps you know someone who is not awaiting anything from heaven.  Their focus is this world, but you would not describe them with the scorching words of Paul.  The problem is this.  All roads eventually arrive at their destination.  If you turn neither to the right nor to the left, you will finally get there.  However small the sin may seem, given enough time it will grow into this monstrosity.

The citizen of heaven is looking up.  There the exalted Son sits at the Father’s right hand, interceding for his conflicted children.  Soon, the Father will move to the next item on the agenda, bringing all things into subjection to the Son.  Paul reminds us that the same power that is able to do this, is the power that will transform these lowly bodies into something we can hardly imagine now.  Therefore, we wait.  And as we await the Savior, the power that will change our bodies is already changing our minds.

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.

What a wonderful Savior he is!