Tested Faith

“No faith is so precious as that which lives and triumphs through adversity. Tested faith brings experience. You would never have believed your own weakness had you not needed to pass through trials. And you would never have known God’s strength had His strength not been needed to carry you through” (Charles Spurgeon).

Leave it up to the old dead guys to speak some serious truth in a way that few now speak it. I’m not saying that everything old was great and everything new is crap, but there is a lot of wisdom out there that has been tested through the years and proven worthy, much in the same way that the purity remains after the gold has been refined by fire.

This quote spoke to me profoundly, even though I’m not currently in the midst of a crisis. Maybe you are. Maybe this will speak to you on a whole different level than it did to me.

Tested faith doesn’t come through prosperity and wealth, despite what some preachers might say. It only comes through hardship and poverty (sometimes material but more often being poor in spirit).

I keep thinking about how the apostles actually rejoiced because they were counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. Such language doesn’t fit the culture we live in that worships success and comfort. Sadly, you find little of it coming from pulpits on Sunday mornings.

But that’s the kind of faith that lasts and leads to Christlikeness. That’s still the kind of faith that changes the world.

 

Belonging

“That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

All of us have probably gone through times in our lives where we felt like we didn’t belong anywhere. Many of us have known what it’s like to feel unwanted and unloved (whether real or perceived).

Most of us have done and said stupid stuff- stuff we’d normally never even dream of saying or doing– in order to fit into a group. Nine out of ten times we found out that being in the group wasn’t worth the cost of wrecking our consciences.

Get this. In God’s Kingdom, you belong. I belong. We belong. Not because any of us are so great or special or wonderful, but because God wanted us to be there. Why? I can’t speak for any of you, but I have no idea why God wanted me, other than it gave Him pleasure for some mysterious reasons known only to Him.

That’s my motto for the evening. We belong. Of course, now I have that Pat Benatar song stuck in my head (one of the many perils of being a music nerd).

The best part of belonging in the kingdom of God is that there will never be a time where you and I no longer belong, where we are once again outcasts and misfits.

This belonging is forever.

 

Peter and Paul

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I remember watching a mini-series when I was a kid, probably 8 or 9. It was about the lives of the apostles Peter and Paul. It was titled, creatively enough, Peter and Paul.

I remember ever since then that whenever I read the words of Paul in one of his letters, I always hear Anthony Hopkins’ voice. I guess that means that the series had an impact on me.

I watched it again 30something years later. It’s not 100% accurate to the account of the Acts of the Apostles, as penned by Luke, but it gets the important stuff right. I’m reminded that the early believers paid a dear price for proclaiming their faith.

They were persecuted and belittled. Some were even tortured and killed. All for the name of Jesus. All for saying that Jesus, and not Caesar, is Lord.

I don’t have any reference to compare that to. I’ve never faced any real persecution for my beliefs. I’ve never face the choice of recanting or dying. I’ve never lost anything for professing what I believe.

I do think that at some foreseeable point in the future, we as American believers will have to sacrifice for our beliefs. It may cost us our jobs, our homes, our relationships. Even our lives and the lives of those we love.

I honestly hope I’d be brave enough to still profess Jesus as Lord, but I know me too well. Only by the grace of God given in that moment would I be able to hold fast to my faith in that hour. And no, I don’t think God gives me that strength to bear until the time when it is needed. Grace for the moment.

I do think that God asks us to be faithful in smaller matters so that when the big tests do come, we will be ready. If we’re faithful in the little things, God can entrust us with the larger matters.

Ultimately, it’s not about how strong my grip is to hold onto Jesus, but how strong His grip is to hold onto me. That’s what will get me though.

 

Being a Barnabas

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Do you have any Barnabas-type people in your life?

Barnabas was one of the first missionaries sent out by the early Church, commissioned by the Apostles themselves. His name meant “son of encouragement” and he was the one who believed in people when others couldn’t or wouldn’t. First it was Paul then later John-Mark.

When people were still afraid of Paul and wouldn’t touch him with a 10-foot pole after his murderous past, Barnabas was the one who stood up for him and helped him get his start. When that same Paul wanted to give up on John-Mark after he had a meltdown on the mission field and deserted them, Barnabas stood by the young believer, even though it meant the end of Paul and Barnabas as a missions team.

Barnabas was the one guy you wanted in your corner who wouldn’t give up on you. Although I’m fairly certain he preferred not to be called Barney, although that is strictly my own speculation.

How many times has someone been a Barnabas to you?

Maybe when you’d messed up and felt like no one should give you a second chance, someone did. Maybe that someone believed in you even when you doubted yourself and believed for you when you couldn’t find the faith to believe. Someone who encouraged and inspired and challenged you to do more than you ever thought you could.

Have you ever been Barnabas to someone else?

Maybe someone needs your encouragement right now. Maybe someone has run out of faith and doesn’t see how their circumstances will ever improve or how they will ever be useful to the Kingdom. It could be your words to inspire that person and it could be your faith that gets them through.

All I know is that no one gets through this life alone. All of us will be in need at some point and all of us will be in a position to fill a need at some point. Just remember it’s just as wrong to refuse someone’s help as it is to see someone else in need and do nothing. Either way, your robbing someone of the blessing of giving– either yourself or the other.

Remember Who stood up for you when no one else would. Remember Who took your place when you least deserved it.

Something to think about

When Jesus rose from the grave, one of the first things He did was to find His disciples and comfort them. Think about that! These are the same disciples who ran away and deserted Him in His greatest hour of need. Jesus would have been totally justified in giving up on the lot of them and starting over with 12 fresh new disciples. I probably would have. But He didn’t. He called them brothers and dined with them and gave them His mission to make disciples of all nations.

And there’s Peter. The one who betrayed Him. The one who denied that he knew Him. He singled Peter out and got Peter to affirm his love for Jesus for every time he had denied him. These 12 men went on to radically transform the entire world. No, wait. Jesus sent His Holy Spirit, who radically transformed the entire known world through the availability of 12 former traitors.

Can God use me after I have failed Him? Can God use you after you have royally messed up? The answer to the question is a resounding YES! God can take brokenness and make something beautiful out of it. God can take a disastrous mistake and turn into the start of something dynamic and revolutionary.

So what do I do with people who have failed me? What hopefully should people whom I have failed (God willing!) do? We should be like Jesus in this and forgive them. Forgiveness is a beautiful word to me because I see daily just how much I need it and how much I need to give it. While giving up on someone is sometimes the proper thing to do, giving second chances is the better thing to do (unless they are intentionally trying to do you harm, in which case you forgive but don’t give them the chance to hurt you again).

Jesus, give me the strength to live this out and by forgiving enable people to come out of shame and into Your glorious light. Help me to remember that as I forgive them, You will forgive me. I can’t do this on my own. I will need You every step of the way. Have Your way in me.

As always, I believe. Help my unbelief.