Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Faith not fear

Hebrews 11 starts with this statement, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." The NLT states it this way: "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see."
Sometimes I feel this would be a more accurate statement about my faith: Now faith is something I hope to have, a conviction I do not seem to feel.
I just recovered from a moment of weeping before God as I recognize the fear I feel is stronger than my conviction to believe what God has promised.
Here are some of my observations from Hebrews 11:

  • These men and women were not righteous when they had faith nor did they become miraculously righteous at the moment they had faith (Check out Genesis 12 & 20 for big messes Abraham created in moments where he demonstrated a lack of trust in God after his initial momentous step of faith).
  • Abel, Noah, and others (Abraham in Romans 4 & Galatians) are mentioned to have received righteousness by faith or their actions were evidence of the righteousness they received by faith
  • These men and women are said to have earned a good reputation but did nothing to earn righteousness or God's favor
  • Many of them waited a lifetime to receive the promise God had given them; some died before receiving the promise
  • One thing sets these men and women apart from their counterparts (Abel from Cain, Noah from the rest of the world, Abraham from his father and brothers or his nephew Lot): They believed what God promised them and acted based on that conviction
They believed God's promise and their life was consistent, acting on that conviction, giving evidence to their belief. 
This truth harmonizes with what I've been learning in Paul's letter to the Galatians and the Romans.  Abraham believed God's promise that he would give the land of Canaan to his descendants, meaning he would have a son, an heir, through whom he would have descendants to inherit this land. Abraham waited for God to fulfill his promise. He had moments where he believed God without doubt and moments where he tried to help God along. He waited until having a legitimate son and heir was no longer difficult: it was impossible. He was nearly dead before God fulfilled his promise and a son was born to Abraham through his wife Sarah. 
Paul teaches that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. It was Abraham's faith in God's promise that gained him righteousness. This righteousness was not something Abraham worked to develop in his own character; it was not a natural characteristic of his life. Abraham did not have faith in God because he was a good person, nor did he have favor with God because of that reason. 
God gave Abraham righteousness that was not his own, righteousness he did not earn or deserve: Jesus Christ's righteousness. The same is true for every man or woman mentioned in Hebrews 11: they received righteousness as a gift from God because they believed him.
NOTE: There is a crucial distinction between believing God and believing "in God". James 2:19 says that even the demons believe in one God and tremble with horror. The difference is whether you believe what God has revealed about himself: who he is, how he acts, what he promises...
The demons know that there is only one God but they don't accept his authority, his plans for the future, his right to rule and command their allegiance. They are in rebellion to the truth about God.
What is my belief like? Do I believe "in God" but prefer autonomy, the freedom to choose to live, act, and believe how I want? Or do I take him at his Word and believe every piece of what he has revealed to be true about himself?
  1. Do I believe God when he states in his Word that he spoke all creation into being, that life and matter, existence, and science came from nothing through the power of his own words? Or do I believe in God and choose to search for answers to how life came about through scientific reason?
  2. Do I believe God when he claims to be three-in-one person, the Triune God, equal unity, holiness, authority, and deity but unique in roles and responsibility? Do I believe Jesus is who he claims to be, Son of God, Messiah, Savior? Or do I believe in the existence of a man named Jesus who was a good person, a great teacher, and I am hoping for a Messiah/Savior who has yet to come? 
  3. Do I believe God when he promises to discipline us for our "good" (Heb 12:10) and claims he can work all things (good, bad, horrible) together for our good (Rom 8:28) so that we will share in his holiness? Or do I believe in God but abandon any worship or obedience of him when life is painful, full of loss, and nothing like I wanted it to be?
  4. Do I believe Jesus when he says that "If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it" (Luke 9:24)? Do I believe God when he commands me to spend my life making disciples, baptizing and teaching in his name, and he promises to be with me always, wherever I go (Matt 28:19-20)? Or do I stay home where life is safe, comfortable, and familiar and I can grow in my faith while attending a church full of people who believe "in God" as well?
  5. Do I believe God's promise that anyone who trusts and believes in Jesus Christ will "live even though he dies" and be in God's presence forever? Or do I anxiously try to avoid illness and death, holding onto people and possessions on earth for as many years as doctors and medicine and careful, healthy living can make possible?
Here is where my faith has failed:
  • I dislike asking other people to partner financially with my family and give to support our needs. Do I not believe God has commanded I go?
  • I fear the discomfort and strangeness of foreign fields: bugs, snakes, new foods, new languages, new allergens and old allergies, malaria, typhoid, giardia, etc.
  • I fear the difficulty of finding foods I can safely eat without the availability of Vitamin Cottage, Whole Foods, and all the other stores that market towards the diet and vitamin supplements my immune system requires.
  • I fear making ends meet when vitamins, essential oils, and gluten, dairy, and egg free ingredients are so expensive.
  • I struggle with appearances, not appearing "worthy of my wages", pinching pennies and searching clearance racks to make it clear how much we need support or how well we are managing our finances-ultimately I fear people's opinions or approval more than God's. 
  • I fear having no room for generosity when my source of income is dependent on other people's generosity. Is it not God's generosity that provides for my needs?
  • I fear beautiful young foreigners throwing themselves at my husband, seeking his favor, tempting his pleasures.
  • I fear men taking advantage of myself and my daughters, or women fondling my sons. I fear the sexual abuse and immorality that is rampant in our world. 
  • I fear rape, torture, molestation, captivity, sickness, loneliness, barrenness, poor conditions, medical malpractice, and so much more...
Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, and all the others had equally as many trials and temptations to fear. It was not the absence of difficulty that made their faith evident. It was not their belief "in God" that sustained them or protected them as they waited for God's promise. It was their belief that God could and would do the impossible to keep his promise to them; this faith led them to act, to follow God's commands despite such difficulties.
Hebrews 11 concludes with some not-so comforting descriptions of men and women who received righteousness by faith. "By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death.
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.  Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons.  Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated.  They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. 
All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.  For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us." (vs. 33-40)

So I ask myself the question again, Do I believe God's promises are true and that he will keep his promise no matter how much time elapses or what happens in the meantime?
Only my actions will tell....