Beyond & Belief

September 14, 2021

Beyond Belief

“Faith is believing the word of God and acting upon  it.”
-  James  MacDonald
Believing the bible to be true starts a relationship with Jesus Christ. We believe after hearing the Word of God, and we’re able to hear when someone teaches us the scriptures (see Romans 10:14). However, believing is only the surface level– the initial stage – of Christianity (see John 3:16 & 20:29). Faith is next-level. Faith takes belief and puts it into action.

Belief vs Faith

Belief is a simple acceptance of facts or information provided. For example, many people all over the world believe that Jesus was a historical figure who claimed to be the Son of God and is written about in the bible. Although believing in God is good, the demons are even accredited with that (see James 2:19). So what separates us from demons? Faith.

Faith is having complete confidence in something. Words like conviction and trust are associated with faith. Someone completely confident that God will do what he says he’ll do isn’t filled with anxiety but instead has a great sense of peace. This sounds similar to belief, but it’s deeper, stronger, requiring more discipline and purpose (see 1 Corinthians 4:2). Also, our beliefs are hidden; they stay in the mind. But faith can be observed. Being faithful means remaining loyal, dependable, and obedient. These are outward expressions of inward beliefs.

Faith requires both belief (in the mind) and behavior (in the body). It is what you do because of what you know, pairing something hidden (or internal) with something exposed (or external). You cannot live by faith without having both trust and obedience, both assurance and action.

A Moment, A Lifetime

Once you hear the gospel and accept it as truth, you are saved (see Romans 10:9), which can happen quickly. Consider the thief being crucified next to Jesus. He heard the Word and believed in Christ at the end of his life as he hung on a cross (see Luke 23:32-43 & Acts 2:46-47). Similarly, the church in Acts expanded rapidly, adding to its numbers daily. It only takes a moment to believe. Yet faith occurs all throughout your life.

Faith happens when a belief intersects with a corresponding action. If you believe flying is a safe way to travel, your faith is found as you confidently board the plane. If you believe education is important, your faith is found as you earn your degree. If you believe that Jesus Christ is your savior, faith can be found as you tithe your paycheck, help a neighbor in need, teach others the scriptures, or worship the Lord. Faith is alive when your hidden thoughts and your observable actions correspond and intersect (see James 2:22). But if you believe in something and do not live it out, your faith is dead (see James 2:14-17 & Hebrews 3:18-19). And a dead faith is no way to live.

Looking Back at What’s Ahead

Faith is fascinating in that it connects the past and the future. It looks to the future, hoping for things that haven’t happened yet (see Hebrews 11:1). However, one is proven faithful when looking back at their past actions (see Hebrews 11:13 & 11:39). A man is considered faithful when he doesn’t cheat on his wife (behavior in the past). A friend is considered faithful after spending quality time with another (behavior in the past). Hebrews 11 showcases many biblical characters who were proven faithful by their actions because of their convictions for future events.

Noah built an ark (past action) before God brought a flood (future belief). Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice (past action) before Isaac’s offspring continued his lineage (future belief). Joshua marched around Jericho seven times (past action) before the city wall crumbled to the ground (future belief). All these people lived out what was hidden in their hearts. Their faith was alive, and each was considered righteous because of their faith.

Live It Up

We, too, should live by faith (see Galatians 2:20 & Romans 1:17). If there is still breath in your body, be determined to have a living faith, where your actions match what you claim to believe. Pastor Tony Evans said that faith is in your feet. Therefore, walk in faith. Be an example to others, showing them what’s hidden in your heart. Take your relationship beyond belief to a faith that is very much alive.

August 26, 2021

Money Masters

“Your belief in the future creates your behavior in the present"
-    Jasen Hansen

The bible contains roughly 500 verses on faith and another 500 verses on prayer. But it holds over 2,000 verses about money and possessions. Second only to salvation, God’s Word discusses money more than any other subject. If sheer quantity is any indication of the importance and value of a subject, then handling money must be a very important topic for Christians to address.

Room for One

Jesus states that we cannot serve under the direction of both God and money. One pulls us toward a life of self-reliance and greed while the other encourages us to remain dependent and generous. Between God and money, there is only room for one master (see Matthew 6:22-24).

By itself, money is not inherently evil. Money is amoral, meaning that it is a morally neutral tool which can be used to either glorify God or to puff ourselves up. Since money remains neutral, what conflicts with God’s will is the idolization of financial independence. Such idolatry could be valuing a big bank account above charitable giving or obsessing over the stock market while avoiding the welfare of others – an attitude that financial stability is what “saves” you instead of an acknowledgment  that God provides.

Money being morally neutral also means that God is not anti-wealth. Oftentimes, he’ll greatly increase our income and possessions so that we can be a blessing to others (see 2 Corinthians 9:8-11). He is able to abundantly bless you and wants to enrich your life. The more your life is enriched, the more you can pass that generous abundance on to others. If money is not evil and God is not stingy, then it’s what we do with what we’re given that determines the moral outcome.

Transparent Heart

Jesus has a lot to say about treasure – literal treasure (income, assets, etc.) – and the impact it has on our lives. Bank statements today give us more information than just account balances. They act as windows to the heart. Where we put our treasure dictates what we care most about, thus revealing our transparent hearts (see Matthew 6:19-21). In other words, our money habits determine and expose the most important parts of our life.

You can only serve one master. When money is our master, the focus is financial security, outward appearances, having an abundance, living for today. This is reflected in our spending habits. Big house, fast car, gourmet meals, extravagant trips. These things are not inherently evil, but ultimately they only benefit life here on earth. With God as our master, the focus is honest earnings, supporting our family, helping others, growing God’s kingdom. This also is reflected in our spending habits. Paying taxes, food and shelter, charitable giving, tithe and offerings. These things are not God’s plan for our poor demise. Rather, the benefits of honest earnings and caring for the Body of Christ extend beyond this physical life.

Owner Carries

It starts with identifying who it all really belongs to. We are created beings, only here for a moment. The earth and everything in it existed before we were born, and it will continue to exist long after we’re gone. In Psalm 50, God claims to have no need for a sacrificed bull or goat because “every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (see Psalm 50:7-13). He goes on to say that the world and everything in it belongs to him. That’s the difference between the created and the Creator – the one that creates it owns it. And the one who owns everything needs nothing. But we… we are needy. We need the owner to carry the contract, taking the necessary risks on our behalf.

It is this dependence that God is looking for, the acknowledgment that we cannot save ourselves, even with a big bank account. Money is a resource – used for living, giving, and fun. But God is the source. Wealth and honor come from the ruler of all things (see 1 Chronicles 29:12). What we – created beings – utilize every day through income and assets is just a resource. Imagine how much more effective it would be if we called directly upon the source. God explicitly asks us to call on him in the day of trouble (see Psalm 50:14-15) so that he can be our source and our deliverer. And he hasn’t held anything back; if he is our master, we have access to it all.

Your Money Move

Money can grip us and direct our steps, or God can. The choice is yours. Take a look at your bank statement. Is your treasure going toward temporary thrills? Or are you investing in the development of God’s kingdom? You may need to change your financial habits. Remember: your heart follows the direction of your treasure, so spend it wisely.

August  5,  2021

Stumbling Block or Stepping Stone?

"Inconsistent professors are the greatest stumbling blocks to the spread of the cause of Christ.”
-     Charles Spurgeon
The Body of Christ is one body and yet many parts. Each believer is part of the entire whole. Faith grows and develops at differing speeds in each of us. This is done so that we might strengthen our faith, lift each other up, and build the kingdom of God.

Since God reveals himself through all kinds of circumstances and at various faith stages, living life together can be hard. We all hear the same sermon at church, so we expect to all be on the same page about the scriptures. But as we get together to talk things over, differences in biblical understanding surface. If we handle those surfaced differences poorly, it causes rifts between us, possibly hindering the faith of another. Avoid the stumbling block! Become the stone for believers to stand on, not to trip over.

Matters of Faith

Romans 14 and 15 give examples of disputable matters that may cause others to stumble and how we should handle them. These matters are neither right or wrong but express a difference of spiritual understanding and personal conviction between believers (see Romans 14:1-9). Perhaps the most obvious disputable matter today is alcohol. Some believers may be confident in having a glass of wine with dinner while others feel convicted to never put a drink to their lips.

Or consider the handling of money. Some will praise God for their high income and abundance of possessions – to both keep and give away; others feel called to a more modest living – taking care of their own household; still others believe that a life unencumbered by material things keeps the focus on Christ. These choices are neither right nor wrong (see 1 Samuel 2:7) and will be different for each member of the Body of Christ, based on their faith.

Between You & God

God’s instruction is first to the one with the more developed faith (see Romans 14:1 and 15:1) and second to the one younger in Christ (see Romans 14:3). The one confident in drinking wine at dinner shouldn’t argue with the one not drinking, maintaining that it is God-approved. Similarly, those choosing to live a life near poverty shouldn’t judge those with an abundance of possessions, claiming that their greed condemns them.

Winning the battle doesn’t matter. Acceptance by others doesn’t matter. Whatever your personal conviction or approval, keep it between you and God (see Romans 14:22). His opinion is what matters.

Block of Sin

Exposing such confidence in your faith (instead of keeping it to yourself) may be used against you, causing you to become a stumbling block to another. This is serious business. This is sin (see Romans 14:23).

Paul describes being a stumbling block as both a sin against that brother or sister and a sin against Christ (see 1 Corinthians 8:9-13). This means it goes beyond petty arguments with people and lends itself toward the spiritual destruction of fellow believers, harming both the stumbling block and the one who stumbles. To put it more bluntly, Jesus said that you’d be better off dead than causing a believer to stumble (see Matthew 18:6-9). He intentionally used severe language here to emphasize the seriousness of such actions.

Jesus goes on to say that if part of the body goes down, the entire body goes down. Causing another to stumble – even just in one area of life, say, drinking alcohol – will inevitably sour your entire reputation as a believer to that individual. The validity you once had is gone. Therefore, if your foot (or drinking in this case) causes you to stumble, cut it off so that the rest of you may be saved. Removing this one sin saves multiple lives.

Step It Up

Rather than voicing our opinions on our differences – being stumbling blocks – we are called to be pleasing to one another, lifting each other up – to be stepping stones (see Romans 15:1-7). God’s people should be clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (see Colossians 3:12-13). Such garments raise us up and bind us together. We should also forgive of each other just as God has forgiven us. Remember, God’s opinion is the important one.

Stumbling blocks wound others and themselves. Stumbling blocks sin against Christ. Don’t cause another to stumble. Instead, live in harmony with each other, focusing on common bonds, loving one another in Christ. Be a platform to lift each other up.

Friends - Blog

July 20, 2021

True Friendship

“Your destiny will always include benefiting others outside of yourself.”
-   Tony Evans
Real friends are hard to identify in today’s abnormally nonsocial and personal-device-driven world. What does a true friend look like? Writing this article and studying the scriptures for examples of true friendship made me take a hard look at my relationships with others and how I treat them. Many of my relationships seem to lack what is necessary for true friendship to develop. The truth can be rather humbling.

In Your Neighborhood

First, recognize that friends and neighbors are not the same thing. Jesus makes a clear distinction between a friend and a neighbor. Neighbors are everywhere and can be anyone, believers and nonbelievers alike. Several commandments can be summed up as “loving your neighbor as yourself” (see Romans 13:9-10) or treating them like you want to be treated. Being a neighbor can be as simple as showing basic human decency, acknowledging someone exists.

Neighbors also help in times of need. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus told of three different people’s responses to a poor man in the streets, beaten and stripped of his clothing. Two people chose to walk right on by, ignoring the man and remaining uninvolved. The third person did the “neighborly” thing and provided clothing and shelter for the man (see Luke 10:25-37). Jesus identified that person as a neighbor. If the other two didn’t act as neighbors, they are no more than strangers.

Time Spent

Strangers ignore each other. Neighbors acknowledge and help each other. Friends spend time together. They are close by and frequently available to hang out. Jesus spent a lot of time with his disciples – talking, eating meals together, sharing commonalities, praying. The gospels are filled with examples of believers getting together. Spending time with each other is how we identify those who have chosen to follow Christ (see 1 John 2:5 & John 15:14).

Secrets Between Us

Friends also know each other intimately. They tell each other secrets. Jesus told his friends everything that was important to him (see John 15:15). In fact, he told them things he wouldn’t tell just anybody, including the very secret to the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 13:10-11, 36-43). True friends know who you are. For a friend to know me personally, they must ask me questions to learn about who I am. However, my friends are few – a consequence of people not knowing what separates me from others.

Give It Up

True friends give of themselves. They suffer for your benefit. This can go beyond simply helping someone in need, an example of “I have two, take one.” Instead, it’s more like “I’ll give you my one and I’ll keep none.” It’s about losing yourself so that someone else can win, understanding that what is “lost” is less important than what another gains (see John 15:12-13). Jesus, being the ultimate friend, laid down his life for the benefit of those who spend time with him, know him intimately, and do what he teaches.

Over The Edge

If Jesus is the best example of a true friend, how far will you go? Take a good look at your relationships with others. Do people acknowledge you and help you in times of need? Or do they go deeper, spending time with you and learn who you are? What about your actions? Do you see yourself simply being “neighborly” to those you call friends? Or do you frequently hang out with others and get to know them intimately?

Here’s the big kicker: what about your relationship with Jesus Christ? Do you spend time with him? Know his secrets? Are you willing to suffer for his name’s sake? Remember the story of the Good Samaritan. Those who ignore and remain uninvolved are strangers at best. Is your response to Jesus that of a stranger… or a friend?

April 6, 2021

And When You Pray…

“Pray fervently, like a nagging cough.”
Alistair Begg
Prayer. It can be redundant, confusing, even intimidating. I get it. Especially when today’s culture seems to flatter those who make a production out of what should be kept secret and criticize any who refuse to join the showboat. But prayer doesn’t have to be daunting. In many ways, it’s the simplest of conversations because, if it’s honest, the One who hears it will accept whatever you have to say.
The way I pray has most definitely morphed and evolved over the years. The bible contains certain passages dedicated to best prayer practices – Matthew 6:5-13, for example, where Jesus explicitly teaches his disciples how to pray. These are good. But what impacted my prayer life the most were smaller nuggets hidden all throughout the scriptures. And these little prayer nuggets all seem to reiterate Jesus’ words.

The Immediate

Nehemiah is one of those hidden gems. He was cup bearer for King Artaxerxes. One day, Nehemiah appeared sick and the king inquired of his health. Mid-conversation, Nehemiah immediately sends up a short, silent prayer. No doubt he prayed for the right way to humbly and confidently ask the king for a favor (see Nehemiah 2:1-5). But he did not get on his knees, bow his head, close his eyes, or recite a lengthy psalm. No, Nehemiah’s prayer must have only taken a moment in length as it was right in the middle of a conversation with somebody else. And yet it was heard by God and accepted as good.

The Mistaken

In 1 Samuel, we find Hannah overwhelmed with sadness because she didn’t have children. Through tears, she soundlessly prayed over her situation, pleading with God to give her a son. Hannah’s lips were moving as she prayed, but no sound could be heard. Eli, the priest, saw her lips moving and thought she was drunk since she wasn’t saying anything (see 1 Samuel 1:10-17). To an onlooker, her behavior seemed sketchy. But in fact it was genuine. Hannah’s prayer was mistaken for drunkenness. And yet it was heard by God and accepted as good.

 The Thankful

Paul’s letters throughout the new testament – addressed to fellow believers from all over – start with some sort of greeting. Oftentimes, he shares how he thanks God for them in his prayers (see Colossians 1:3-4). He is thankful to hear their faith in Christ is growing and see their love stretching out toward others. Not only is he thankful, but Paul specifically thanks God for other believers maturing in their faith. His prayers were heard by God and accepted as good.

 The Constant

Paul also encouraged other believers to pray all the time, in everything (see 1 Timothy 2:1-4 and Ephesians 6:18). He acknowledges that prayers should be of all kinds including requests, petitions, intercessions, of thanksgiving, for believers, nonbelievers, those in authority, asking for peace, godliness, and holiness.
 Alistair Begg, senior pastor of Parkside Church, related a healthy prayer life to a nagging cough. By this, he meant that a Christian’s prayer life should never really go away. Like a persistent cough, it should always be there, in your face, a multiple-times-daily need. When believers pray persistently – in all ways at all times – our prayers are heard by God and accepted as good.

 The Point

Prayer doesn’t have to be a big production. In fact, it probably shouldn’t. Do it silently – what is done in secret pleases the Lord. Do it anywhere – despite what others think, no situation is beyond the reach of God. Do it often – when you only have a minute or all day, when you’re thankful or in need, concerning yourself or others. These small prayer nuggets are in the scriptures for instruction and demonstration. Reflect on them. Go deeper in prayer. He’ll hear you.