Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Faith Illusion

"Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for!" - Job 6:8 (KJV)

Quite frequently I come in contact with individuals possessing that which most kindly could be called a "lowness of spirit."  They are most often individuals who either presently or recently experienced disappointment or, at some point in the past, were let down in an extremely distinct and definitive way without finding recovery.  They are, in short, defeated and, in many cases, have given up on victory entirely choosing to accept simple existence over abundant living.

All too often, the process by which a Christian finds themselves slumping into this particular condition is the result of receiving, accepting and embracing incorrect teaching on the subject of faith.  The fault lies at the feet of those who perpetuate these bizarre ideas in regard to faith and, finally, with those who believe it.  At this stage, some are already ready to shoot the messenger because, quite frankly, this is not the paradigm we enjoy seeing when we look in the mirror.  We'd much rather lay blame elsewhere and, upon occasion, it is proper.  But one of the true tests of Christian maturity is the depth of honesty one is willing to have with oneself.  In issues of discouragement and eventual defeat, we must be willing to accept the fact that often we set ourselves up for these episodes due to our own tendency toward putting an inordinate amount of faith in what is nothing more than an illusion.

Christian are, by necessity, people of faith.  No one can come to God or please Him except they first believe that He is God and that He rewards the seeker (see Hebrews 11:6).  Furthermore, the faith of a Christian is one which finds the ability to believe what is otherwise unbelievable.  Christians accept by faith things like the miraculous creation of the material universe by the creative Word of God and the supernatural sustenance of a massive multitude of individuals over a span of four decades by a bread-like substance falling almost daily from the sky.  Most of all, they accept by faith the virgin birth of the Messiah, His life, suffering, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and eventual physical return.

On a personal level, a Christian accepts by faith that if the Gospel is believed and obeyed the righteousness of Christ will be imputed and salvation will be obtained.  Furthermore, it is believed that the same God who gives salvation will also give physical healing, provision and deliverance.  In this, a Christian's life is sustained by the institution of faith.  Faith is believing God for what is impossible but it is not insisting that the impossible is inevitable.  In this we see the fatal mistake that too many Christians make.

There has been far too much incorrect teaching on the subject of faith.  All too often we are taught that praying for God's will is, in some way, a lack of genuine faith.  This is peculiar considering 1 John 5:14 instructs us that God will only hear our prayers if we come to Him asking "according to His will."  Statements like, "it's always God's will to heal," create a caustic and unbiblical environment of pseudo-faith which, in reality, is no faith at all.  In a supercharged atmosphere of emotional appeal, we are led to believe that God has given us faith so that, in essence, we would use it in order to dictate the Divine response.  But this is not faith in God.  The Scriptures define faith as trusting God; not insisting upon a particular outcome from Him. "Name it and claim it" has never been a biblical model for faith.

In John 11 we find the account of the death of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha.  Word comes to Jesus of his ailment but Christ delays His coming.  Later, when Jesus is aware that Lazarus has died, the Lord springs to action, goes to the grave site and Lazarus is raised from the dead.  But within the story are various characters and their responses which give us great insight into human nature.  First there were the disciples who believed Jesus would prevent the death of Lazarus.  Then we encounter Mary and Martha both of whom believed that Jesus could have healed their brother had He arrived on time.  Then there was the crowd which, watching the scene, concurred with Lazarus' sisters and their analysis.

Now, it is incumbent upon us to remember that the narrative begins with the news of Lazarus' ailment and the answer of Christ that his sickness would not end in death but, rather, for the glory of the Son of God (John 11:4).  Nevertheless Lazarus died.  This development immediately negated the words of Christ in the minds of His hearers.  After all, how could the promise still be true if Lazarus was dead?  Neither the disciples nor the dead man's sisters could reconcile the death of Lazarus with Jesus' words concerning resurrection and life.  They had predetermined the limit of Jesus' ability and had settled in their hearts that, if He didn't answer a certain way, there was no answer at all.

Are we not often guilty of the same thing?  And do we not do so in the name of faith?

Consider this: A woman's son falls sick of an ailment. The woman believes God for his complete healing.  She decided that her son will make a full recovery and declares such very vocally to everyone she knows.  The child's condition grows worse and, eventually, he dies.  The woman is devastated not only at the loss of her son but at what she perceives as God's failure to respond.  She grows increasingly discouraged and is unable to reconcile that what she asked God for didn't come to pass.  There is a strong chance that the woman's faith was misguided.

When the Lord Jesus prayed in Mark 14 He reached a place of special agony where, in a reflection of His humanity, He says, "Father, I know you can do anything: take this cup from me, but, not my will but yours be done."  In this we see the model prayer for the Christian in times of suffering or distress.  The theme of paramount importance is that of God's role as Father.  As a Father, God knows how to give the best of all things to His children (Matthew 7:11).  There is nothing beyond His power to do (Mark 10:27).  As human beings, we have a will and a desire that must be submitted to the sovereign will of an all-knowing God.  This is faith in its purest form.

There should be no limit to what we would ask of God in prayer.  The flesh of the Son of God crying out to the indwelling eternal and Holy Spirit asked that the imminent suffering and death be dismissed.  Nevertheless, the faith of the Son of God reached beyond human will, suspending all selfish desire and yielding to the will of the Almighty.  This is faith: when we come to God with petitions expecting the impossible but parsing our prayers parenthetically to the will of God.  In other words, true faith is when we trust the answer of God regardless of whether or not that answer fits our desire.

In fact, we are sometimes guilty of masking intentional or unintentional selfishness and faithlessness behind the word "faith."  We come to God insisting that a certain end result is what God will or must do.  Then, when our request does not come to pass, we blame God or a lack of faith.  The reality is that the fault lies, not in God, but in our lack of properly constructed faith - faith which is willing to trust God to work what is ultimately best for us rather than what we think He ought to do.  We must not deceive ourselves into thinking that God is beholden to us in any way, shape or form.  Regardless of how many "positive confessions" we make or how boldly we declare what we want God to do, His will is for us to learn to trust Him even when the result looks vastly different from what we envisioned.

The Scriptures note that the love for Lazarus and his family that Jesus had was very great and that the delay of two days was intertwined with that love.  Yet we would not consider a delay in action by someone capable of helping to be a demonstration of love.  Nor would we look at the words of Christ in John 11:15 where He said, "Lazarus is dead and I am glad," and consider them the words of a loving figure.  Yet God is not only the all-knowing, He is the best-knowing and the best-loving.  Faith is trusting God to author the ending according to what He knows is best even when that is beyond our comprehension and outside of the boundaries of our own will.  It is accepting that His love for us might produce actions which seem contrary to our concept of love but that are, in all actuality, entirely perfect.

The desired result was that Lazarus would not die.  Since God did not prevent his death, the assumption was that God had allowed the event to pass without Divine intervention.  Yet, all the while, God had prepared an ending that was outside of the desired result of all parties concerned.  Yes, Lazarus was risen from the dead, but not before Mary and Martha had to suffer days of distress as their brother lay dying nor before experiencing the profound grief at the time of his death.  They had constructed an illusion in their minds that Jesus could only answer their need in one particular way.  When Lazarus died, they were disillusioned.  Their disillusionment lead to great discouragement which, in their hearts, had resulted in defeat.  This is reflected in the sad statements by Mary and Martha, "Lord, if you had been here, he wouldn't have died" as if to imply, "I'm sorry that you came so late and chose to do nothing because, now, there's nothing you can do."

Their disillusionment was very healthy for them.  An illusion is that which is not, in fact, reality.  God would have us rid ourselves of illusions while not limiting our ability to ask for the impossible.  This is only accomplished by framing our prayers with, "nevertheless, not my will but Your will be done in every situation of my life."  Discouragement often comes when we have put all our faith in a desired result which never comes rather than in the Lord God Himself to whom we have entrusted our life and eternity.  A faith based solely in what God does will receive a fatal injury the first time He fails to act in accordance with the dictum of human desire.  But a faith based entirely on who God is is unshakable even as He is unshakable.

In the case of the Disciples, Mary, Martha and the crowd of bystanders at Lazarus' graveside, a very important point had been lost: God had options they neither had nor were aware of.  In their minds, Christ was held to a limitation and their hearts were broken when this boundary was reached and surpassed.  Yet God, in teaching a beautiful lesson of genuine faith, showed not only His limitless power but His superior knowledge.  Faith in a desired outcome will never accomplish that which absolute trust in God will.

A prayer of true faith in God sounds very much like this:

Almighty God, your Word has said that you know my need even before I ask.  And yet you desire to hear my voice lifted up to You in prayer.  I believe that You are my only help and I lay my life completely in Your hands.  Father, here is my need and I ask You for this result.  Nevertheless, my utmost desire is that You have Your way in my life.  I ask You to give me grace to accept the answer, especially if it is one which I won't understand.  Ultimately, I trust You and am confident that You know what is best for me.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

May God give us all grace to trust Him entirely - not only for our desired results but for His perfect will which shall always provide the best outcome for our lives.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Disconnected

By Pastor Douglas Raynor, II

"And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God." - Colossians 2:19 (KJV)

"They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow." - Colossians 2:19 (NIV)

When I started my journey living for God, I made mistakes, lots of mistakes.  I would mess up at the drop of a hat, horribly.  I will spare you the details of the struggles, but they were real, nonetheless.

As I search the farthest memories of my early days living for God, without over sensationalizing it, I recall that when I fell, I always fell TOWARDS the House of God.  What I mean by that is, I would mess up but I wasn’t looking for an excuse to leave the church, I fell knowing that I had issues and I wanted to get them right.  Something in my spirit caused me to run TO the place I knew I could find help.

I remember having to do an assignment for a college course that required me to go an observe a playground full of children.  Since that assignment, I enjoy watching people in their environments and watching patterns (Humans are funny).  It transposes into the church as well.

Living in the Bible belt and having lived in Texas for almost 9 years, I’ve been able to visit a lot of churches.  I’m not sure how many church services I’ve been able to attend (I once drove over 2 hours one way to hear the owner of this blog preach), but I know it’s been several.

The pattern I’ve noticed is, there seems to be those in every church that are “disconnected.”

Hear me out before this is labeled “doom and gloom.”

I have been in services where the power of God was so strong and there were those that sat in their seats seemingly never touched by the presence of God. I’ve also witnessed those that would dance, shout, run the aisles and never darken the church door again because they fell and instead of falling towards the church, they fell in the opposite direction, away from church. What is it that causes both?

I’ve sensed a lack of passion in our church world today.  The attitude of some is, “Be glad I’m here at church.”   Or, “I’m here but I could easily be somewhere else.”  There are those that are definitely disconnected.

Merriam-Webster says the definition of disconnected is “not connected to something (such as a power source).”

If a stove is not connected to a power source, it’s of no use. It still looks like a stove, but it will not boil water. If my computer isn’t plugged into an outlet, I wouldn’t be writing this article.  It still looks like a computer, but it’s only an expensive paper weight without being connected to the power source.

 In 2 Timothy 3:5, Paul looked ahead and anticipated the things we are experiencing today. He said there would be those that “will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!” (NLT)

Do you notice this in yourself or those around you?

My job as a minister is to help people get connected to the power source.  It’s my desire to see the Body operating to its full ability.

Is it that we are too burdened down with the cares of this life?  Do we come to church with what happened yesterday on our mind, thinking about problems on the job, worried about having too much month at the end of the money?  Yes, we are human.

We are worried about the election. We are worried about relationship problems.  We are worried about things that we have no control over.

However, in the midst of all of those things we have to reconnect to the power source.

“…they have lost connection with the head…”

I recently observed a snake being decapitated.  While the snake was headless, it could still move.  Not only was it still able to move, it would maneuver its body to strike…even without a head.  Be that as it may, the snake was powerless.  It had no direction.

As the head of my home I am responsible for its wellbeing and direction.

Somewhere there has to be a return of passion.

I learned that during a child’s Faith Formation, they view their parents as God because it’s all they know.  As they grow from early childhood into an early adolescent, their view of God constantly changes.  They become spiritually sensitive, then onto an awareness that their parent/guardian is not God and the world is much bigger.  Most would refer to this process as a child coming to the “age of accountability.”

If somewhere in God’s grand design, I wonder if there is a parallel in the spiritual realm.  Just as a child grows and their view of God and the world changes, could it be possible that the new convert goes through the same changes?  As our faith grows, does our view of God change?  Can it be somewhat oxymoronic that as we grow in our faith, our faith in God actually shrinks? Has it become that the more we understand God the less we have the ability to trust Him and what He’s able to do?  Do we outgrow God?

Why?

I constantly ask myself the question, “Is it me that is disconnected? Am I the only one that feels this way?”  The question is asked because of the desire to be right with God. If something isn’t right in my spirit, I want to correct it and draw close to God.

HOW DO WE CONNECT?

Don’t try to live for God if you’re disconnected, you’ll only be miserable.  Find a way to reconnect. Find a way to plug into the Power Source.  Find a way to spend more time in devotion, prayer and meditation.  Purpose in your mind to seek God with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (ESV)

Tune out all the distractions.  Turn off the T.V.  Log out of Facebook.  Turn off the radio.  Pick up the Word of God.  Develop a personal prayer life.  Fall in love with the House of God.  Push your plate back.

When we get connected the passion will return.  When we push aside everything that brings us down, then we will find direction.

I’ve heard it said that anything with TWO heads is beast.  On the other hand, anything without a head, or disconnected, is lifeless.

My purpose in this article is to draw concern to being disconnected.  Once we get connected to the Head, we will grow as God causes us to grow.

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Douglas Raynor II serves as Pastor of Soul's Harbor Apostolic Church in Scott's Hill, Tennessee.  He is also the current District Elder of the Tennessee District Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ Incorporated.