The basis of our belief – Part 2 – Christ’s promise to Nathanael

This is an exciting post. Considering the spiritual struggle going inside of me today, this is just wonderful news. I won’t dilly-dally, I’d like to get right to the point:

John 1:48-50

Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”

Nathanael declared Christ to be the son of God simply because Christ gave a simple supernatural statement in verse 48 (He saw Nathanael, though he wasn’t physically present to do so). Look at verse 50 though:

Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”

How easy it is to get spiritual amnesia, focusing so much on our small problems (compared to our huge God), not realizing that not only does God answer the prayers in our individual puzzle piece needs, but He also is the grand designer of the puzzle!

Basically, Christ was telling Nathanael, “You haven’t seen anything yet!” You think it was amazing, Nathanael, that Christ saw you under a fig tree? Have you yet contemplated that He will also save you from your sins?

Verse 51:

And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

In a visual reminder of the story of Jacob in Genesis 28, Christ reveals that He isn’t just a need-meeter, He isn’t just a “Dr. Feel-good,” He isn’t just a supernatural physician. He CAN be those things, but to relegate Christ to a divine bellhop is to rob ourselves of the opportunity to see who HE really is!

He is King, He is Lord, He is Sovereign! He will be a greater way to access God the Father than the ladder in which the angels traversed in Jacob’s dream. He, being the only possible solution, BECAME the only possible solution to our condition of sin. The miracle which has granted us access to God the Father and the ability to be righteous through Him far outweighs any of our present circumstances, troubles and blessings included!

So whether or not we are troubled, or whether we are blessed – we all have something greater to thank Him for than the circumstances surrounding our own loves. Where would we be without Him?

Image

The basis of our belief – Part 1 – Nathanael’s Condition

Have you ever had God do something wonderful and amazing in your life? An answer to prayer? An unexpected blessing? Has he given you comfort during your grief? Has he protected you during your storms? Has he provided to you when provision was needed?

God has answered many prayers for us. I could go on and on about the prayers God has answered. We have a prayer in our life right now we are emphatically praying that God will answer. Perhaps one of the bigger “requests” we have ever made known to God. The fact is, God knows what is best for us. His perfect plan exceeds our best plan, as I’ve mentioned before. Whether or whether not we understand His ways, they are greater than our ways.

Isaiah 55:8-9:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

In the first chapter of John, Jesus Christ begins the calling of the disciples. I stopped at the calling of Nathanael near the end of the chapter, in verses 45-51:

45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

As Nathanael is not mentioned by name in the other Gospels, scholars have mostly landed that this is in fact the disciple Bartholomew.  Jesus refers to him as “an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.” This is in contrast to the first “Israel,” that is, Jacob, who was indeed deceitful (Genesis 27:35-36). Jesus here is commenting that Nathanael is ready to consider whether or not Jesus is the Christ, and is operating without duplicity or deceit, motive or agenda.

Are we ready to consider whether or not He is Lord? Specifically, Lord of our lives? We have to come to a place in which we are able to make this determination. We cannot acknowledge Jesus as Lord while still maintaining citizenship in the world. James 4:3 says, “friendship with the world is enmity with God.” Dual citizenship cannot occur within the kingdom of Heaven. For example, concerning finances, Christ himself says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

A commitment for and a live lived for Christ should not and cannot be simultaneously committed to things contrary to the kingdom (what we refer to exhaustively as “the world”). It is not a convenient lifestyle. It is “all in.” We can know about Christ, and even believe He exists, all without having a personal walk and intimacy with Him.

So, what does your life look like? Is it a life lived in acknowledgment that a “big guy” might exist out there in heaven for you to tip your hat to every now and then, or is it lived as a full-fledged act of worship to God, whom has orchestrated your life from the very beginning?

I’m respectful that my friends believe there is a God, but I’m also obliged to tell them that such a simple belief statement isn’t enough. Read on…

It’s either a complete yes, or a complete no. I think “halfway” answers are even worse – maybe this is what is being talked about to the church of Laodicea in the 15th chapter of Revelation (v 15-16):

“’I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Live for Him! Completely! Without keeping any of “you” to yourself!

-Pastor Harvey – Part 2 coming soon – “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

 

Are you a Friend of God?

There’s a song entitled “Friend of God” that goes like this:

Who am I that You are mindful of me

That You hear me

When I call

Is it true that You are thinking of me

How You love me

It’s amazing

 

I am a friend of God

I am a friend of God

I am a friend of God

He calls me friend

 

God Almighty

Lord of glory

You have called me friend

 

I am a friend of God

I am a friend of God

I am a friend of God

You call me friend

Now there’s a good bit of scripture being quoted here:

Hebrews 2:6 – It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him?”

 

Psalm 8:3-4 – “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

 

And most noticeably to me, Abraham is called a “Friend of God” in James 2:23 – “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness–and he was called a friend of God.”

The song is a rather catchy song but I fear the concept is sometimes difficult to grasp. Considering who God is (sovereign, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Everlasting, Eternal), and what He has done (create, sacrifice, send, redeem, call), doesn’t it seem a bit ludicrous to think that I or you, individuals as we are, can adapt such a cozy title as “friend of God?”

I’m reminded of a Point of Grace song from 15 or 20 years ago entitled “God Forbid” that goes like this:

The more I know Your power

Lord the more I’m mindful

How casually we speak and

And sing Your name

How often we have come to You

With no fear or wonder

And called upon You only

For what we stand to gain

 

God forbid that I

Find You so familiar

That I think of You

As less than who You are

God forbid that I should

Speak of You at all

Without a humble

Rev’rence in my heart

God forbid

 

Lord I often talk about

Your love and mercy

How it seems to me

Your goodness has no end

It frightens me to think

That I could take You for granted

Though You’re closer than a brother

You are more than just my friend

 

God forbid that I

Find You so familiar

That I think of You

As less than who You are

God forbid that I should

Speak of You at all

Without a humble

Rev’rence in my heart

God forbid

 

You are Father God Almighty

Lord of lords

You’re King of kings

Beyond my understanding

No less than ev’rything

How can we contrast these two songs, these two thoughts, these two apparent differences on whether we can say we have a “friendship” with God or not?

Well, of course, we can quibble over wording and perception. After all, I have a much more rigid definition of what I consider a friend than many do. There are people in my life that claim having dozens if not hundreds of friends. Going by my facebook account alone, I must have hundreds as well! But that is not the case. I count my friends as less than 10. But, that’s a different post (and if I recall, I’ve ranted on it in past posts as well!).

But let’s take an examination of Abraham’s title in James, “Friend of God.” Is there a qualifier? A pre-existing condition? A reason that Abraham was called a Friend of God? And is that something we can achieve?

James 2:14-23

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God.

You see, Abraham being called a “friend of God” is inseperably linked to the scriptural passage, “faith without works is dead.”

Abraham had faith – he believed in God. But it didn’t stop there. His faith gave birth to works – he didn’t just believe God. Need a reminder? Put yourself in Abraham’s shoes:

Hebrews 11:8-10

 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

Abraham, living near modern day Kuwait, obeyed and began a long journey, not knowing where he was even going. He took his family, servants, herds, and belongings. By contrast, I hesitate to drive a few hours because of all the preparation. Abraham’s journey wasn’t just a short vacation – it was a complete relocation, without a destination. Wow!

Then there’s the issue with Isaac. Some of you know the story. Abraham is called to sacrifice his son on top of the mountain. He obeys. At the last moment, an angel stays his hand, and a ram appears to be the sacrifice. Abraham passes the test. God’s call to Abraham was the call of obedience.

“Lord, the answer is yes, now what’s the question?” Do we have that attitude?

So the last part of the passage in James reads,

You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God.”

You see, we all have various degrees of faith. Many Americans claim to believe in God. We may have a couple of visible reminders of our faith – a bumper sticker, a gold chain, a picture in our living room. I have reminders as well. These aren’t bad things. But our faith cannot stop with a convenient demonstration.

A particularly mis-used scripture of the Bible is Romans 10:9, which is a wonderful verse – it reads as such –

“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

This scripture is NOT saying that if we believe that God exists, then we will have good standing with him, and it will all pan out in the end.

A convenient, occasional confession or demonstration that we believe in God simply won’t do. Our faith must be accompanied by works. Our belief must be accompanied by fruits. Our salvation doesn’t depend on our works and is not work centered. But our salvation WILL result in a changed life that will not resemble the life we once lived – and in that sense, our belief and our faith will result in a visible quantifiable change. If a believing state of mind was the only entrance for Christianity, then we’d all be in a theological boat without a paddle because,

James 2:19b – “Even the demons believe–and shudder!”

“Believing” isn’t enough if we’re just referring to a state of mind that doesn’t require action. Our belief should be a life-permeating belief with results at the end – not simply a “Yes Lord, I believe in You,” but maybe more like Abraham’s response – “Yes Lord, I believe in You, and I’m willing to move my family, possessions, herds, and belongings from Ur to wherever the promised land is, no matter the pain, sacrifice, or persecution that may occur – can I start now?”

I’d like to end this post with a quote that I put in a recent newsletter from Kyle Idleman’s book, “Not a Fan.”

““My concern is that many of our churches in America have gone from being sanctuaries to becoming stadiums. And every week all the fans come to the stadium where they cheer for Jesus but have no interest in truly following him. The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.”

Friends, please don’t engage in that kind of “Christianity.” It isn’t what we’re called to do, where we’re called to go, or who we’re called to be.

-Pastor Harvey

Our Christian Pilgrimage

There’s a pretty decent documentary on Netflix on the pilgrimages that muslims make. It’s a pretty huge thing. The documentary followed several people, one from the U.S., as they traveled to Mecca and participated in the occasion and formality of what is the “Hajj,” one of the largest pilgrimages in the world. There are entire companies set up to take care of pilgrims as they travel to Saudi Arabia, and house them, feed them, give them traveling arrangements, and help them stay within the laws and customs of Islam as they are on the pilgrimage.

The Hajj

It really is a pretty fascinating documentary, providing an insight into the mind of the Muslim, explaining in part why they do some of the things they do, and act in certain ways.

In contrast, Christians have no prescribed physical pilgrimage. We don’t have to travel to London, or to Rome, or to Jerusalem (though all three would make fascinating and spiritually enriching journeys!). However, the scripture says that we do have trials and tests, and gives us directions, wisdom, and insight not only to recognize the trials, but to pass them joyfully, with the result being that our spiritual maturity and faith increases. We are even promised the “crown of life.”

James 1:2-4 tells us to:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

It is conceivable that on a pilgrimage, the life of comfort is forsaken and trials occur. Take one of the most famous (even if fictional) Christian pilgrims, “Christian” in “Pilgrim’s Progress.” As he is journeying from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, his way is interspersed with grave trials and conditions. He is captured in the city of Vanity. He is diverted by deceivers. He is captured by a giant in Doubting Castle. They have all sorts of trouble on their pilgrimage.

Christian in “Pilgrim’s Progress”

Dictionary.com defines a pilgrimage as “a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.”

It is safe to say we cannot make such a pilgrimage without acting, and moving. We will experience opposition, trials, and troubles. If we do not, then there is no sacrifice, there is no process of refining, there is no growth, and there is no need to exhibit faith.

I’m amazed at how we Christians sometimes avoid and attempt to avert trials, when James clearly points out that these are a good thing. We would sooner rebuke trouble from ever occurring than grow as a result of experiencing it. The storm on the boat in the Sea of Galilee was not a bad thing! It produced faith in the disciples as they observed Jesus’ command of the storm. And storms in our life aren’t necessarily bad either. They provide unique opportunities in our life to see God glorified. They provide circumstances in which we cannot rely upon ourselves, our goodness, or our ability to cope and move on. We have to reach outside of ourselves to find resolution and redemption. If my life is made controllable by my own efforts, then what need do I have to reach outside of it for help? If the disciples could’ve calmed the storm, then what need would there have been to call upon Jesus?

We are all born into a condition in which none of us can do anything about…the condition of sin, thrust upon us by our humanity, absolved only by the sacrifice of an unblemished Lamb, which was provided by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, on behalf of all who would receive.

Brothers and sisters, let us be wise enough to recognize the benefit of storms. James 1 continues in verses 5-6:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

As we are on the pilgrimage of the Christian life, encountering obstacles in our life just as “Christian” did in “Pilgrim’s Progress,” let us not get boggled down by every single obstacle. How easy it is for me to default to the lowest common denominator and react as “Harvey” would react instead of being the person God has intended for me to be and to become. God has intended that as we walk, we grow, and as we grow, we remain steadfast in the storm, displaying faith in Him.

James 1:12 –

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.