Our friends’ dog went missing a few weeks ago. They searched all the places near their home, checked with neighbours, phoned friends, and posted pictures on social media. Several days later, one of their friends saw a ‘found dog’ notice at a shop and recognized the dog from the Facebook photo.
If you’re searching for faith, it helps if you know what you’re looking for. Would you like to know what kind of faith Jesus is looking for?
When Luther said we’re saved by faith alone, he did not mean we’d be alone in our faith.
No, it’s not just nostalgia; faith really has changed.
Long ago, people believed what their community did. If your culture was animist, Buddhist, or Christendom, that was your faith.
All that began to change when an Italian pointed his telescope to the planets and told his community he no longer believed we were the centre of the universe. The keepers of the faith told Galileo he wasn’t allowed to believe that. Their attempt to control him undermined the credibility of the Church’s faith. Galileo became a kind of unofficial saint of independent belief.
Losing faith is heart-breaking. Relationships rely on faith. When trust dissolves, relationship does too. That leaves us feeling isolated, and it’s hard to trust again.
That’s just as true of our relationship with God. Aussies are facing a crisis of faith. Most of us no longer identify as Christian. Many say they have “no faith.”
Crisis might not be the right word. This is no sudden disaster, like a bushfire or a flood. It’s more like a climate change: rising sea-levels of unbelief gradually eroding our faith. Europe experienced this last century. America has yet to feel the full impact.
Perhaps we don’t lose faith, so much as misplace it. “Believe it enough, and all your dreams will come true,” Disney sings. And then we grow up to discover that I am not the centre of the universe, and it wasn’t designed to fulfil my dreams. Disillusioned I feel when my illusions evaporate.
The Crusades were one of the most damaging misrepresentations of God in church history. How can we avoid making the same mistake?
Good interpretation matters, because God’s word is life-giving. When we don’t receive Scripture well, we don’t live well. We make choices that seem right to us without the wisdom of God.
The Crusades are a stark reminder of how we can misrepresent God. In 1095, Pope Urban II called European Christians to take up arms and fight for the Byzantine Emperor to retake Jerusalem, particularly the site of Jesus’ temporary grave (Holy Sepulchre). “God wills it,” cried the conference he addressed.
Jesus’ whole life is testimony to Habakkuk’s message, “The righteous one will live by faith(fulness).”
Jesus never mentioned Habakkuk 2:4, but his life embodied its message: the righteous one will live by faith(fulness). Faced with enemies who wanted to destroy the king of the Jews, Jesus did the right thing because he was trusting his Father to set everything right, to re-establish God’s kingdom.
How does God fulfil his promise that the righteous will live by faith?
Should good people stand up against the forces of evil in our world, so the whole thing doesn’t go down the drain? You’ve heard the proverb: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
If we were looking to good men to save us, that approach might make sense. Habakkuk wasn’t. He was looking for God to save. But he didn’t see God intervening. We could summarize his complaint as: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for a good God to do nothing.
God gave Habakkuk a lifeline. God does not act as we expect, but he is in charge of history and this is his promise: those who do right [even in the face of all the evil] will not die out; they will live by their faith(fulness).
The New Testament relates this promise to the gospel. In Romans and Galatians, Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 to support his teaching that God’s goodness saves those who trust him. Before we discuss faith from a Christian perspective (a future post), we need to hear Habakkuk’s message in his context.
Habakkuk’s book is a two-sided conversation: the prophet’s concern, and God’s response.
As a young pastor, I preached this text calling for an expectant faith that moves mountains. God does amazing things. But with the benefit of a few more years, I can also identify with the disciples who, on this occasion, failed to give the boy his healing.
I still have much to learn, so I’ll comment from just one angle — the kingdom perspective.
Seeing no alternative, Peter disowned his king. Jesus never gave up on him.
Why did Peter deny Jesus? Was he just sitting at the wrong fire, in a crowd where he didn’t have the gumption to admit he was Jesus’ follower? That isn’t how this story works in Matthew’s Gospel.
Peter was the first to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, God’s anointed leader (16:16). Jesus blessed him, but realized Peter had no idea of the conflict ahead. Peter’s denial began when he said, No Lord! This will never happen to you! Denying that Jesus would die at the hands of the Jerusalem leaders placed Peter on the enemy’s side (16:21-23). Peter could understand taking up his sword and kill to save his king (26:51-52), but he could not understand taking up his cross to follow the king into death to save his realm (16:24-28).
Once Jesus removed fight from the agenda, flight was the only option his followers could see. That’s why, All the disciples deserted him and fled (26:56).
Peter could make no sense of what was happening, but he couldn’t stay away either. Peter followed him from a distance … to see how it would end (26:58). That’s the reason Peter was there, trying to blend in with Jesus’ antagonists. That was never going to work, of course. A lumbering fisherman sprouting Galilean phrases was as inconspicuous as an Aston Martin in a spy movie.
Matthew 8:5–13 (NIV) 5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.
Some disasters are manmade. We hurt each other in our families, businesses, and communities. We’re harmed by war, racism, the injustices of power. We also face disasters beyond human control: cyclones, earthquakes, pandemics. Which kind does Jesus save us from?
Our survey of the apostle’s gospel in Acts summarized the good news like this: God has installed his anointed (Christ) as our leader (Lord) by raising him from the dead (resurrection), so the earth is under his governance (the kingdom of God).
What response does God expect to this good news?
God expects our allegiance to his Christ, reorienting our lives as the community that implements his leadership. This kingdom perspective provides a rich understanding of the terms that describe our response, words like faith and repentance. Continue reading “Responding to the good news”
Who do Aussies trust? The ABC asked us, and our answers are revealing:
We trust: doctors/nurses (97%), scientists (93%), police (84%), judges (80%).
We mistrust: celebrities (8%), politicians (19%), corporate executives (20%), religious leaders (29%).
Celebrities are fake, of course. Actors are somebody they’re not. When Jesus spoke of hypocrites, his word literally meant an actor, someone playing a role in a Greek play. He called the religious leaders actors. Aussies agree.
Forty-three years ago, a bulk ore carrier struck the pylons of a bridge in Hobart, and the central sections of the bridge fell into the Derwent. Some Tasmanians still refuse to drive over that bridge. You can show them the bridge is safe and they’ll believe you, but they can’t trust it with their lives. They want to believe, but after the trauma it’s not so easy. Continue reading “Finding it hard to believe? (John 3:16)”
The Red Sea event proclaimed a definitive message: God made a way where there was no way — literally through the sea (14:21-23).
Even there, Egypt’s military power pursued them: “all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen” (14:23). In ancient warfare, chariots were the equivalent of tanks: a protective, fast moving vehicle, able to outrun an enemy.
But the pathway God provided did not support chariots. They bogged down in the sandy sea floor. That’s when the Egyptians realized they were up against a foe they could not defeat: “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” (14:25).
When God’s people had passed through, Moses stretched out his hand again and the way through the sea closed. In this moment, the powerful chariots of Egypt’s mighty army become became junk on the sea floor.
Earth’s true ruler does have a way to release his world from the reign of evil and death. All the treacherous rulers and deadly weapons on earth cannot obstruct the purpose of the true sovereign, and his people.
The Red Sea event addresses the big justice question, “Can love defeat violence?” In YHWH versus Pharaoh, the power of love triumphs over the love of power.
The true ruler doesn’t need the power of an army to enforce his will. Nature itself responds to its true king. Even the sea. Even the uncontrolled places beyond human rule.
Last Sunday I was at a church where the speaker actually said, “I’m not trying to manipulate you.” Afterwards someone asked, “Why did he need to say that? Was he trying to manipulate us?” She was probably right: it was during “the invitation” where the speaker is after a response from the audience.
We live in a culture of mistrust. We don’t trust our politicians, and they don’t trust each other. We don’t trust banks. We don’t trust churches.
Did you notice this key moment in the exodus narrative?
Exodus 4:31 (my translation) The people believed when they heard YHWH’s response to Israel’s descendants, seeing their oppression. They knelt and honoured him.
Jacob’s descendants could not be free from their slavery to Pharaoh until they begin to trust God to be their new sovereign. To believe the promise God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — the promise that they would be his nation — they give their allegiance to YHWH instead of Pharaoh.
That’s why they knelt before YHWH and honoured him. That’s a declaration of their new loyalty, their change of allegiance.