Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Faith 201

November 2, 2000

Not long before his death, Henri Nouwen wrote a book called Sabbatical Journeys.  He writes about some friends of his who were trapeze artists, called the Flying Roudellas.

They told Nouwen there is a special relationship between flyer and catcher on the trapeze.  The flyer is the one that "lets go", and the catcher is the one that "catches".  As the flyer swings high above the crowd on the trapeze, the moment comes when he must let go.  He arcs out into the air.  His job is to remain as still as possible and wait for the strong hands of the catcher to pluck him from the air.

One of the Flying Roudellas told Nouwen, "The flyer must never try to catch the catcher.  The flyer must wait in absolute trust.  The catcher will catch him, but he must wait."

Are you ready to be caught?  Will it be in mid air with no solid ground close?  Will you wait or be grabbing?

I'm guessing that the most difficult thing to learn is the wait!  The catcher may have a great record of catches.  You may have plenty of confidence in his strength.  You may trust his willingness/desire to catch you - but the first time you are 50 feet in the air with your own trapeze long gone and gravity is starting to pull - the urge to panic would be very powerful as you "wait" for the catcher to swing near. 

That tension between panic and trust is part of life with Jesus.  When you become good at it, you can say with Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:7, "We live by faith, not by sight."  Frankly everyone, regardless of religious convictions, lives by faith, more than sight.  Faith in something has more to do with everyday life than all the facts and figures of science, even in this technological age.

The core of what we know for sure (without doubt) is only a small part of the full measure of what makes up our world.  We live our daily lives, to a significant degree, more by what we believe to be true than by what we know to be true.  Truth be told, if we are to be truly alive we need more in our lives than what we can explain or comprehend in scientific sense.  Think of all the people that you have to "trust" in a weeks time.  Outside your family, are all the food preparers, medical personnel, child care givers, legal advisers, mechanics (I have a great story about fixing my own master cylinder and then driving Hwy 49 - now there is some faith).  It would be impossible to live very long or very significantly if you eliminated trust from your life.

If every risk had to be scientifically calculated and answered, life would be too burdensome to live.  The Bible teaches that faith is a core issue of life.  Hebrews 11:1 states:  Faith is "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."  And what we do not see is, nine times out of ten, more important than what we do see.  Do you know how much of an alligator you see in the swamp?  This is an appropriate comparison because faith is for the struggle - the battle with alligators - mostly unseen.

God wants us to live in an atmosphere of faith and great expectations.  The Bible says, "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6).  If our confidence in God is growing, impossibilities start to become probabilities.  Impossibilities are the places of conflict and struggle . . . the battles.  And faith is for the battle.  The most intense battle is in the invisible realm.

Job, of the Old Testament, fought circumstances he could never lay a hand on.  How do you wrestle with grief?  It is an invisible enemy.  New believers trying to understand God's world wrestle with an enemy they can not touch.  Alcohol and drug addicts battle urges beyond the reach of their five senses.  Faith is for these battles.

What happens when we live outside a climate of faith in God?  Let's look at several passages in Mark. 

Read Mark 6:1-6, 9:14-50, 11:20-33

Why does God want us to live in an ambiance of trust and big expectations?  Trust is an expression of your will or voluntary submission.  God lives by the same moral code He asks of us.  One of the most important elements of that code is a proper respect for a person's free will.  In other words, God will not bless you against your will. 

The problem in Nazareth was lack of faith in Jesus.  The problem with the nine disciples at the bottom of the mountain was lack of an up-to-date faith in God.  Trust is essential for salvation.  If you choose not to trust Jesus and follow Him, God will not save you against your will.  Just as trust opens the door to salvation, faith would have opened the door to the possibilities of the miraculous in Nazareth.

The people of Nazareth chose to believe their doubts about Jesus.  These Nazarenes had built up a level of expectation based on information - in their case it was misinformation.  Expectations come from several sources.  One is personal observation.  For example, can I tell by the way you wear your hat that you are a druggie?  How reliable are my powers of observation?

Some of us rely on past history as an indicator.  We also depend on personal relationships to develop expectations.  These Nazarenes put their trust in their own "instincts" rather than the actual ministry of Jesus.

What is your typical mindset about God's daily involvement in your life?  Do you expect great things?  You do have a level of expectation that you cannot get away from.  It may be negative or positive, but you can't get away from the fact of your expectations of God.  The bad news is negative expectations close the door to God's involvement in your life. 

The good news is that faith opens the door to the possibilities of God's positive involvement in your life.  Jesus told the beat up father of the demonized boy, "Every thing is possible for him who believes" (9:23).  He told the disciples, "Have faith in God . . . believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

However, The key is not faith itself.  Remember:  Everyone has faith.  Some of you have faith in your doubts.  Some of you have faith in your intellect.  Some of you have faith in your lucky charms.  Some have faith in God.  The object of your faith makes all the difference.

Eve trusted the lie of Satan that she would be like God.  The nine disciples trusted their successful history of victory over demons (Mark 6:13).  They thought they had the gift in themselves.  But miracles happen when we put our faith in God.  Part of faith is an expression of dependence.  The nine were depending on their past success.  This is why Jesus chastised them for not praying.  They did not fail because they forgot the magic words.  There are no magic words or formulas.  They failed because they trusted in someone other than God.

Listen to Jesus' testimony:  "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can only do what He sees the Father doing. . ." (5:19).  Later, "By myself I can do nothing . . ." (v30).  Later, ". . . I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me" (8:28).  Jesus depended on the Father and submitted to Him.

What if the nine had started the exorcism by telling the Father, "'By ourselves we can do nothing,' let's open our hearts to God's active will and see what He will do."

Gladys Aylward, missionary to China more than fifty years ago, was forced to flee when the Japanese invaded Yangcheng.  But she could not leave her work behind.  With only one assistant, she led more than a hundred orphans over the mountains toward Free China.  In the book The Hidden Price of Greatness, the authors tell what happened:  "During Gladys' harrowing journey out of war torn Yangcheng . . . she grappled with despair as never before.  After passing a sleepless night, she faced the morning with no hope of reaching safety.  A thirteen year old girl in the group reminded her of their much loved story of Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea.

"But I am not Moses" Gladys cried in desperation.

"Of course you aren't" the girl said, "But Jehovah is still God!"

Who you are trusting makes all the difference.  The first step in creating a climate of faith is to make sure your confidence is in God, not yourself or a homemade belief system that conflicts with the Bible, nor an expectation that God no longer gets involved.  Put your confidence in Jesus.

The second step is especially important for the person with doubts.  Do an honest evaluation of your doubts.  Some folks prefer their doubts because of moral issues.  Frequently, unbelief and disobedience are the same word in the original text.  You may have to admit to an emotional involvement with sin that gives you pleasure.  This makes unbelief more attractive for you.  You do not believe because you would rather not believe.

When doubts challenge your faith consider the alternative.  Extreme example:  Atheism is a commitment to a belief that there is no God.  Consider what the salesman for atheism has to prove, how many doubts they have to overcome.  Agnosticism:  Even if there is a God it is impossible to know for sure.  What are the foundations of this belief system?  Are there reasonable assumptions to make?  Is the truth source consistently reliable?  You must realize that both faith and unbelief involve a commitment.  Belief involves trust.  Unbelief has a conviction that the Biblical record and evidence of God and the person of Jesus are irreparably wrong.  Are you more comfortable trusting your unbelief or your belief? 

Third, keep the climate of faith and expectation alive through prayer.  Jesus said, ". . . whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours."  Prayer is the channel of relationship.  It is where confidence is developed.  It is were you tune in to the voice of God.

Frankly, faith involves a risk.  So does unbelief, but people don't seem to realize it.  Consider the risk that an unbeliever takes as they plan on purpose (or maybe just carelessly) to not think about eternity.  We all want a sure thing.  Faith realizes that many situations look improbable, but the confidence is present to say, "With God the possibilities are endless."

Risk is at the very core of the Christian life.  No Christian has received a call to be safe from all life's dangers.  It may be that the greatest danger for a Christian is to never take a risk, to never let go of the trapeze.  In tough situations you can face the facts or trust God.  Every advance for the Kingdom of God has come when someone saw the facts (dangers) but risked their confidence in God anyway.  God seems to relish that kind of faith.

Our District Superintendent has challenged us to plant 25 churches in five years:  That is humanly impossible.  I told one of you about this vision and you wrote out a check for $100.  Others might be thinking all kinds of nice to not very nice thoughts concerning this dream.  One thing God and real Christian leaders know is that life is not meant to be a spectator sport.  The sidelines look safer and more comfortable.  Trusting God isn't much of an issue on the sidelines!  But if you will ever know what it means to see God involved in your life personally, to experience the powerful presence of God in your acts of service - then you will have to involve yourself to the degree that you will reject your doubts and choose to believe and act on your confidence in God.  As you do that you will begin to live in an atmosphere of faith.  The thicker that atmosphere becomes the more joy you will have and the more risks you will accept.

Are you trying to build a risk free life or a life filled with God-sized expectations?

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