Perfection Through Faith

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This is Pilot Mountain in North Carolina.  It is a huge land mark and can be seen for many many miles.  Early settlers used this as a guide to tell them were they were in the state in relation to other places.  We should use God as a guide in our lives to show us who we are in relation to the world.

Hebrews 11: 39-40 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.  God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (NIV)

Read Hebrews 11:1-40  This is a list/summary of many of the main people in the old testament who were righteous before God for their faithful obedience to Him during their lives.  These people never saw the promised Messiah during their lifetime, but because God was faithful to them in their everyday life when they prayed for his help, and blessings, these people knew that even if they never saw the Messiah, that God would fulfill his promise to send the Messiah.  Their faith was built up over their lifetimes through consistent prayer and God’s consistent answers to their prayers.  Essentially these people acted in perfect faith to God, and through Jesus all of us who act in perfect faith will be made perfect.  Even these people who were dead before the coming of the Messiah have their salvation through the Messiah, Jesus.  Verse 39 and 40 state this, that we will all through faith be made perfect together.

These verses tell us an important thing that is really hard to understand about the difference between the old testament Jews and what God considered to be righteousness, and the new testament Christian.  In the old testament God considered the Jews to be justified by faith.  We are also justified by our faith in God’s plan for the remission of our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ due to the repentance and request for forgiveness through prayer.  In other words, we are justified by believing God when he says something is true, even when we cannot see for ourselves that it is true.  That is the basic definition of faith. God lays out this plan of salvation all through the Old Testament, and it comes to fruition in the New Testament with Jesus’ sacrifice. All we are required to do is to accept that this is true.

 I once had a Bible study mentor who told me that the Bible is God’s love letter to all of us. At the time, I had not really studied the Bible that much…my journey of discovery was just beginning.  As I have studied much over the years, those words have struck me over and over to be true.  The more I study the Bible, the more I find out how much God loves us.

If you have never taken Christ into your heart…I urge you to pray to God for the forgiveness of your sins, and thank him for the sacrifice of his son, and ask for Jesus to come and dwell with you in your heart, and help you to live your life the way that God would have you live it.   Sometimes the reason people don’t take Jesus into their hearts and lives is that they simply don’t know how.  I don’t want to neglect to tell anyone how to gain salvation.  I can testify to you that having God  with you (in the form of the Holy Spirit) as you go through your days is well worth it and can offer you a contentment that is surpassed by nothing else.

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His Ways are not our Ways

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The Mother (Phylonoe) who is the dead woman for this 4th century B.C. grave stele in Athens, Greece in the National Museum is handing her child over to the woman who will raise her baby.  I found this to be a very sad memorial, but very beautiful.

 

Isaiah 55:8:  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.

Read 2 Samuel 12:1-24  In this story of King David, we find that David who was blessed by God and given great authority over his kingdom misused his authority for his own pleasure.  In his misuse of authority, David gave other people cause to blaspheme God, and this caused God’s penalty to David to be harsher than one would expect of the the crime.  Though the crimes of adultery and murder are extremely bad in and of themselves because of David’s great gifts much more was expected of him than of the average person.  So a harsher penalty was enacted to him because of his betrayal of God.  Please note that once David realized that God’s answer was No, the first thing he did was clean himself up and go to worship God.

Note:  Blasphemy is defined as speaking evil of God, or attributing evil to God, or denying God’s goodness, or God’s good actions, or in a nutshell, doing anything against God.

Luke 12:48 …from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

I know that some of the details of this story are very tough to understand and swallow, but the fact is that God is God and nothing that he doesn’t allow to happen will happen on this earth.  The thing is that God does not see things in the same view that we do.  We have very limited information, and God’s information is limitless.  God knows what choices we are going to make, but we don’t know the choices that we will make…learning what choices we will make in life are part of our journey to knowing ourselves and also to becoming more familiar and closer to God. It is a fact that our sins cost us in very painful and personal ways.  Our sins also cost God…he gave his son for our sins…so God is well aware of how David feels in this instance.  It says a lot for David’s relationship and faith in God that he gets up and goes to worship God, even when the answer that he wanted from God was not the answer he received.   David is described by God as a man who is after his own heart. (Acts 13:22)  Even after David’s sin, God still treated David as a man after his own heart….so much so that King David is included in the lineage of Jesus Christ.  This tells us very truly how much God loves us, and how absolute his forgiveness is for us when we have repented of our sins.

Don’t Cause Others to Fall

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Even if you enjoy a glass of wine on occasion, it is not right to invite someone who you know has a problem with alcohol to have a glass with you.  That is leading someone into sin, sometimes what is not sin for one person, can be sin to/for another.

Romans 14:21-23 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.  So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.  Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.  But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Read: Job 26:1-4 and Job 27: 1-6 Job talks about maintaining integrity before God, and God helping him to have wisdom.

Don’t make your actions cause someone else to fall as a Christian, no matter how you feel about something.  Be careful of what you say is okay to have in your life or do in your life.   In other words be discriminating about what movies you watch and what books you read and what activities you engage in.  Remember that once you are exposed to something, it is in your memory, and is hard to get rid of.

For example:  When I was a child I read any book that was on the shelf. That was my Dad’s rule, if it was on the shelf we could read it.  As a parent he didn’t want to limit us, but there wasn’t any discrimination on what books were available to us. I read a lot of novels about the Vietnam War which were very realistic in the descriptions of sick horrible torture, also books that had graphic sexual scenes in them.  Neither of those subjects were appropriate for children, but they were on the shelf.   My Dad had been in Vietnam during the War as a civilian working for a government contractor.

The thing about those books is that I have never, ever, been able to forget the mental images that they put into my head, or the information that they gave me.  Even though I have been a parent for a long time now myself.  I tried to tell my children about this problem when they learned to read…be careful what you read and what you watch because you cannot erase it from your brain.  For a long time I had the rule that until I read or saw it they couldn’t.  Many people would disagree with this, but that is my reasoning, to protect until they were old enough to really be able to decide for themselves.  This is not a criticism of my Dad.  I really enjoyed that freedom as a child, and I was very aware of things in the world.  It is just an example of how undesirable things can stay with you.

If you are a Christian, then you can be guaranteed that someone is watching your behavior and judging whether you are “really” a Christian.  They may have preconceived ideas about what Christians do and don’t do in their lives, just as we all know that Old Testament Jews “didn’t eat pork”. Some of the ideas people have are correct, but other ideas may be an incorrect assumption on their part.  Or it could be that you have never given it much thought in relation to your Christian walk.

I once had a friend who was raised as an Atheist.  She was much older than myself.  She was really a wonderful person, and as we lived too far apart to see each other all the time we had many long phone conversations.  She was a “tree hugger””pet lover””bleeding heart” type (if you can ever put a person into a stereotype), but it gives you an idea of her thinking processes.  She questioned me once (after the loss of one of her pets) on why dogs and cats had such short lives.   To that one I answered, that I thought it was God’s wisdom, because there were so many born at one time, and so that we could give more of them homes during our lifetimes.   She knew that my husband would go hunting occasionally, and that I enjoyed watching action flicks.  These things didn’t sit well with her, and she would question me about them and how I could be in a relationship with God and how these things would fit into that relationship.

I told her that I didn’t have a problem with hunting as long as it was being actually consumed, but don’t believe in trophy hunting. Also that deer are over populated because mankind have removed the animals that have them under control.  So if they are not thinned out population wise, then they will starve and that is an slow and awful death.  As for the action flicks, I do still enjoy them to a certain extent, but tend to pick less bloody ones than I used to.  I explained to her that my view on them was that it was the good guys conquering the bad guys, or good conquering evil…that was and still is the reason that I enjoy them.  There are so many bad things in the world that once in a while it is nice to see the good guys win a round.  I think that my answers must have been satisfactory to her, even if she disagreed with me…when she passed away there was an open Bible on the chair side table in her home with her name engraved on it.  She never in all our conversations said that she ever read the Bible…so it was surprising.  She did regularly question me (sometimes felt like I was being grilled, really) about my beliefs.  I just did my best to give her the answer that I myself found (at least somewhat) satisfactory.  Sometimes there is nothing wrong with an activity, and other times there is and we haven’t evaluated it from the perspective of another person watching us and thinking, “How can they do that…if they say that they are a Christian?…..”

If at any time you cannot answer a person about why you are okay with doing what you are doing, then you should really evaluate if it is okay to do that in regards to your Christian walk.

I feel very blessed that God gave me the opportunity to know her and that he gave me the chance to interact with her about my faith and to also face myself because of having to answer the difficult questions she threw at me.  We don’t always get that chance with people.  Many times what they think of our Christianity is kept inside their minds, which is a shame.  There is nothing like hard questions from someone to spark a bit of self-evaluation, and self-evaluation can lead to a growth in your closeness to God.  So don’t get defensive when someone asks you….”How can you do that if you are a Christian?”  If it turns out that you are wrong in doing whatever they are questioning, then admit it to them. Christians are not perfect and we have no need to pretend that we are…we are simply aware of our sins, and sorry to God for them, and forgiven.  If we act like we can never do wrong, then we are actually leading people away from God.  Faith is a journey, and there are mistakes along the way, that is part of the journey. However,  we don’t want to lead others into making mistakes that cause them to fall into sin.

God knows you where ever you are

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This is a prison cell in the Doge’s Palace in Venice Italy.  I imagine that it is similar to the type of cell that Paul and Silas would have been imprisoned in, but without the electric lighting.  Probably without even torches to light it.  Truthfully, this cell is probably nicer as it wasn’t built until the 1400’s.

 

Revelation 2:13 I know where you live – where Satan has his throne.  Yet you remain true to my name.  You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city – where Satan lives.

God will recognize you by faith even when your surroundings are evil. 

Read Acts 16:25-40 This is the story of Paul and Silas’ in prison.

Paul and Silas were in prison when an earthquake struck and rather than leave, they stayed and witnessed to the jailer and the other prisoners, converting many; the next day, God arranged their release.  God knew them even in jail.   They remembered their Godly purpose even in their unpleasant surroundings.

Sometimes when bad things happen to us we will feel alone.  It is easy to think that there is no one who understands us, and that the world is against us.  At times like that it is more important than ever to remember that God is with you, and he can pick you out of a crowd, or find you lost in a forest, or on a lonely mountain top.  God is expecting you to remember him, and continue to act in faith even when you are unsure of it doing any visible good.  That is why it is called an “act” of faith because you don’t always “feel” faithful.  Steadfast faith is a decision to continue in your faith no matter how you feel.  In the story above we all ask, “Why didn’t Paul and Silas leave when they could?”  Most of us would have run as soon as the door opened.  Apparently, they believed that the jailer and the prisoners were an opportunity to share God’s word and they didn’t want to pass it up.  They were so in connection to the Holy Spirit through their faith that they knew that this was what they were supposed to do.  By this “act” of faith on the part of Paul and Silas the jailer and many prisoners were able to hear the message of salvation and embrace it to become true believers.  God for his part knew Paul and Silas’ situation, and also knew the situation of the jailer and the other prisoners.  It was all part of God’s plan for their salvation. He let Paul and Silas’ experience the joy that God himself feels when a sinner is saved, by letting them participate in the salvation of those people.  Once his plan was fulfilled he arranged for Paul and Silas’ release from the prison.

Sometimes in the midst of bad things that happen in life, there is an opportunity to serve God, but it requires an “act” of faith to recognize that opportunity.

Ephesians 6:16 (KJV) Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

The “Church” is not the building and “Faith” is not works

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A Dominican Church on the Island of Santorini, Greece  It was interesting to hear the gospel preached in the language it was originally written in, though I didn’t understand what was being said…it was still quite a spiritual moment as I thought of the Disciples going from one place to another spreading the gospel message.

James 2:17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

(Read James 2:14-26)  James talks about how to demonstrate your faith to others.  The only way to demonstrate that you have faith, is through your deeds, or the way you act , in other words.  Saying that you have faith, is not enough.  Just as going to the alter and accepting Jesus is not enough by itself.  In order to stay on track with Jesus and build your faith, you must have faithful actions in your life.  The Great Commission that Jesus gave to his disciples was to go out to all the world and spread the word of the gospel (Matthew 28:16)

Read Matthew 14:22-31 Peter walks on water faithfully, which is his action of faith, by walking on water he is showing others his faith, when he starts to sink, this story demonstrates what happens when you start to lose faith, if you call on God for help, he will uphold your faith.  Your faith is built and demonstrated through your actions.  You cannot build faith or show others your faith, without doing anything.  As the saying goes,”Talk is cheap”.  

Don’t confuse works as faith.  Faith is a decision you have made to follow God and believe in him.  The works that you do are a demonstration to others of that faith, but they are not the faith itself.  They are part of building your own faith and strengthening it, and also can be thought of as a kind of “Thank you” to God for his grace, forgiveness and the Salvation that God offered to you through Jesus Christ.  This is the correct perception of how works relate to faith.  People frequently confuse works with faith, but remember that a person without any faith can be a kind, nice person.   We frequently hear someone say, “but they are a nice person…” whenever they are trying to excuse someone’s sin, or make the criticism of the sin be less harsh.  The truth is that “being nice” does not excuse sin.  Only repentance can get sin to be “excused” or forgiven by God…because only God can forgive sin.  Sin cannot be whitewashed by any actions that we can take here on earth besides asking God for forgiveness with a genuine repentant heart.  Works without faith are dead, and become like filthy rags in the sight of God.  (Isaiah 64:6)

There are many works based versions of Christianity…any church that puts the emphasis on your good works, and not on the salvation message of God, and trusting God is a works based church.  The reason for a church’s existence Biblically speaking** is simply to spread the gospel and bring people to God through the saving grace of the Christ, and to uphold each other in faith, and support the spiritual growth of fellow Christians.  It is not in existence to uphold the “building” or the “programs” of the church….those are nice when they are kept in perspective, but frequently the building itself and its expenses and the programs and their expenses and experiences become the “god” of the church.  At that point people are simply coming to church out of habit, and doing works in substitution of a seeking a closer relationship with God.  The only way that this can be prevented is to keep the focus on God and study his word, and pray for his will.  The idea of faith based works is that we are seeking to do God’s will and not our own.  Therefore, all of the works that we do should be done prayerfully to make sure that they are God’s will.  An amazing thing about doing God’s will is that things seem to fall into place with almost miraculous ease.   (Acts 11:22-24 Barnabas acted in faith, and many came to the Lord, Acts 2:47, Acts 5:14)  

James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  

Acts 6:1-7  And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.

**Biblically speaking the church is not a building, but a group of people who are saved by God’s grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ…in modern times we have become very confused because we and secular society refer to the building that we meet in as a church, but the Biblical reality is that the people following Christ are the church whether they ever meet in one of those buildings or not!

The sacred 7th year

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I had this thought today when studying with a friend, “why did God allow 70 years of captivity in Babylon for the Jews if all slaves were to be released and debts to be canceled every 49 years?”  The reason is all tied up to the year of Jubilee for sure, but first we have to understand what is the year of Jubilee exactly and when is it?  For our answer to what is the year of Jubilee we need to look at Leviticus 25.  We are told that every 7 years the Israelites were to have a year where they did not plant, prune, or harvest.  Now this makes you ask, “Well then what did God expect them to eat that year? After all, they didn’t have a canning process, right?” Well, God still gave them permission in Leviticus 25:12 to gather from the field that days worth of food as they needed to consume it and eat it that day, but not to put it away in storage for the coming winter, and he also told them in Leviticus 25:18-22 that he would cause enough to grow every 6th year to supply them for 3 years which they were allowed to put into storage bins.  This can be confusing reading though because it talks about every 50th year as the year of Jubilee, but says for six years grow and store, but in the 7th is an absolute rest, but every 7×7 years or every 49 years is a jubilee year.  So how can it be both the 49th year and the 50th year and still be correct?  Doesn’t one of them have to be wrong?  The answer is no, they are both correct…this is one of those strange, but true things that if you know a little something about the calendars of the time can be cleared up for you.  I was pretty excited when I was studying this today so I wanted to share it while it was fresh in my mind.

In most Christian churches we have a thing called a Liturgical calendar, which generally starts the Christian year off with the Advent Season or the Coming of Christ and Christmas, and works through Easter, Pentecost and other such important days in the Christian Calendar.  Then as humans who live in the Non-Christian society and have to interact on an every day basis with people about things like work, and secular holidays, and summer vacations and things like that we have another calendar which is based on a Jan. through Dec. year.  As you know some businesses have another calendar they work off of which is the fiscal year, and that usually ends in October and it is based on finances and finishing up in time to have the paperwork for doing their taxes in order before the tax deadlines.  We have all kinds of calendars in our lives that we don’t actually give a lot of thought to…for instance there is a sports calendar too…in certain times of the year there are certain sports and in other times of the year you do not expect to see or hear about those sports too much, right?!!

Well, to get back on point, the Jews had a sacred year which began/begins March/April with Passover (see Exodus-Egypt), and ends in Feb/March with the Feast of Purim (see Book of Esther).  The first month of March/April is called the month of Nisan, and the last month is called Adar.  Now for both calendars the names of the months are the same, but the calling of the first month or the last month is different.  The second calendar was the civil calendar or we might think of it as an agricultural calendar…the first of the year on this calendar fell on the month of Tishri which is Sept/Oct.  This is also when the planting began as it was the early rain season.  I know that for us this seems really strange, as we all plow and plant in the Spring, but different area of the world, different crops so there are different planting seasons and harvest seasons.   All right, so if you think about this two calendar idea, then you can start to see how a person could have two years going on at once,  don’t you?

Okay, lets pretend we are the early Jews and we have planted our crop and it is year 6 and it is the month of Tishri.  Our next sacred year 7 would already have started back in Feb./March before the planting.  Since the sacred years were handed down to the Israelites before they ever planted a crop you know that the sacred calendar is 6 months or so ahead of the civil calendar.  This means that when I plant my crop in the year 6 of the civil calendar by the time I harvest that crop I am in year 8 of the sacred calendar, but still in year 6 of the civil calendar.  As you can see this can seem to be covering 3 years, but in fact is really only one to 1 1/2 of our modern calendar years.   God wanted his people to rely on him and to have a rest from their regular labors for one year out of 7.  This activity was to remind his people that they were to rely on him and not on themselves and their on labors. (Just like they did in the wilderness, they were only to gather manna for the day, and for two days on the day prior to the sabbath.)

Now this entry has gotten kind of long, but the idea of Jubilee is that every 49/50 years (depending on the calendar used) the Jews were to have a year of forgiveness of debts, and redemption of land, and also rest for the land.  It was every 7×7 years. If you think of it being dependent on the calendar they were looking at, then this was also a method of God’s grace to his people because that gave them a bit of leeway in what year they could keep Jubilee, just in case for some reason they missed it.

So we go back to my original thought…why did God who established the year of Jubilee in which all captives were released in the land of Israel, and all debts were considered repaid allow his people to be held captive 70 years in Babylon….well the answer is simple…70 years is the number of sabbath years that they did not keep while in the promised land.  They were supposed to rest the land every 7 years and they did not do this.   So God decided to do this for them. Leviticus 26:34-35 (punishment for disobeying God is outlined)  and punishment is given in 2Chronicle 36:20-21 with the  connection to the prophecy of the Babylonian exile in Jeremiah 25:11 and The sabbath rest of the land outlined for every 7 years.  This goes back to God means what he says, and he says what he means.  He gives us grace and forgiveness, but there are also consequences to not being repentant and continuing in disobedience.

In case you wish to read more on this subject I have included the two primary links which helped me in my study on this subject.

http://www.livius.org/articles/concept/calendar-jewish/

http://www.1260-1290-days-bible-prophecy.org/Jubilee-missing-Sabbaths.htm