Sunday, August 24, 2008

Defining Christian Faith (my first sermon)

“Defining Christian Faith”
My name is Scott Starr, I am a life long member of the Del City Church of Christ… some of you have known me my whole life and others of you might not know me yet. I was baptized right here at the age of ten – that would have been 1974 or 75.
. I lived for several years in Texas and prior to that I lived for several years here in town- but shall we say on the wide path- apart from the Lord…
. So, one might be able to say that for several years in my adult life I let my “faith” slip… At 10 , things were simple- I knew I wanted to be a good boy, I knew I believed in God and wanted to please him and I believed that the only way I could do that was to believe on Jesus Christ as the son of God and to follow in his ways…. When I got a little older, things seemed to get more complicated… and because my faith had never fully developed I lapsed… Now, it could be said that I have rediscovered my faith. As you might imagine, I have spent a great deal of time studying, considering and asking- what is faith anyways? How can faith help or save me- how can it fix my broken life? The ideas that follow are not necessarily my ideas- I’d like to take credit for them- but I am simply not smart enough to figure out some of these things on my own- but, I can read…
For most of my life I have had a sort of sketchy, unsure working definition of faith. Not only that, in my time walking the wide path of the world- and also since I started to fight my way back home to God- I have discovered that MANY people- not only the irreligious, the skeptics and unbelievers but also MANY of our fellow Christians have a sketchy, not well articulated definition of what faith is. There IS a distinction between worldly faith and Biblical faith…

Tonight we are going to nail down what biblical faith is… that is the title of this sermon, “Defining Biblical Faith”.

Brethren, we need to have a clear, functional, working definition of Biblical faith if we are to have any hope that living as a Christian is going to help us through the trials of this life and into the life eternal with God- also we need to be able to articulate our faith, our definition of faith to others if we have any hope of carrying out the great commission and evangelizing our fellow man.
Hebrews chapter 11 is known as the faith chapter of the Bible- we will spend some time looking at that chapter in a bit- Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God-
One of the things that made me aware of my own insufficient, sketchy ideas of what faith, Biblical faith, is was a documentary film I saw a couple of years ago. This film was made by some avowed atheists- worse still the creator of this film was a former Christian that had attended a private Christian school as a youth. He now considers himself a “recovering former Christian”. The film was entitled “The God Who Wasn’t There”. Many of you may not be aware of this but there is a social movement out there known as the New atheism- they are fiercely militaristic- as in aggressively evangelistic- this may not be a threat to a many of you as older mature believers- but they are coming after your children or grandchildren- there is no doubt.

Now, the opening sequences of this film, “The God Who Wasn’t There”, shows some impromptu questions posed at Christians or believers in God who were coming out of Christian concerts or movies like “The Passion of Christ” or even out of a megachurch. Undoubtedly the footage was carefully selected and edited to make the believers look as silly as possible. The end product was a success on that score.
Most of these Christians, these “shiny, happy people’” as they were described in the film when asked why do you believe in this God character this omniscient, omni benevolent God that micromanages everything on earth at once including our own personal affairs- stammer like deer in the headlights and say in one way or another, “well, it’s faith- I believe in God because I have faith.”
The questioners push one or two people further than that, saying, “I don’t understand, what does that mean? It doesn’t make sense to say you believe because you have faith- aren’t you saying essentially that you believe because you believe….what evidence do you really have that the universe works this way
There is no reason that mature Christian believers should not be able to deal with questions like this…When I saw this I was offended
Typically, the world will use the old straw man tactic
C.S. Lewis made point in his writings that unbelievers like to construct this sort of imaginary “straw man” version of Christianity that is suitable for a six year old- and hack away but then do not do nearly as well when facing a well instructed adult of mature faith. After watching this travesty of a movie- I decided that I wanted to be the well-instructed, faithful adult if I ever had a confrontation like this
Let me say that the only reason I even watched a movie like this is because I have never been afraid of questions- of even the toughest questions to the things I believe whether its opinions, politics, the way I do things in my personal or work life or ESPECIALLY with regards to my faith or religious beliefs- Ether real faith or a belief in something, if it is real, it can withstand the most rigorous of Questioning and challenges-
questions are opportunities to learn
One of the things I learned is that the notion that Christianity is based on a “leap of faith”, a suspension of disbelief like you put on when you go to see a movie like Star Wars or Batman, rather than an intellectual commitment of mind and soul to God is widespread in today’s culture.
One of the other problems with the concept of faith, as it is conceived of by many, is there is no clear distinction between attitude management techniques and what is purely Biblical faith or supernatural thinking if you will. Managing our attitudes is in fact very important- even essential to be an effective Christian, spiritual warrior or even just a good person. "Be positive" motivational techniques, however, are not in themselves keys to releasing the supernatural power of God. The supernatural peace of God which comes from his tangible presence is able to do FAR more than a peace that comes from attitude management.
The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 3, a prayer: 14For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
So according to what is said here starting in verse 17 that Christ comes to dwell in your heart which in turn is they key is through which we come to know the love that passes all understanding and the fullness of God.
Let’s think about that for a second: “love that passes all understanding and the fullness of God.”
This is a pretty mature audience so I am going to assume that all or most of you know that love- true love- is much more than just a feeling
“The fullness of God” is much more than just a feeling too… and so then, Faith is not just a feeling either.
Again- WHAT IS faith then?
Alexander Campbell, one of Christianity’s great thinkers and also one of the founder’s of the Christian restoration movement that led to what we know as The Church of Christ defines it this way:
“ An act of judgment, induced by evidence that can be weighed by universal reason and involving the active cooperation of the will of persons with the free grace of God.”
That sounds like a
HALLMARK CARD OR PLAQUE doesn’t it? I can read it and understand it but it’s not necessarily something you’d walk around with on the tip of your tongue…
Lets break it down precisely. The good news is that we don’t have to re-invent the wheel here. These questions about the definitions have been worked out for centuries if we can only find the time to study them…
The Christian Reformers sought to distinguish true faith from false faith. The saying sola fide (justification by faith alone) demanded that they define faith in a precise manner.
Starting with Luther and developed further by others, the understanding of faith was expressed in three separate yet vitally connected aspects: notitia, assensus, and fiducia.
1. Notitia: This is the basic informational foundation of our faith. It is best expressed by the word content. Faith, according to the Reformers must have content. You cannot have faith in nothing. There must be some referential propositional truth to which the faith points. The proposition “Christ rose from the grave” for example, is a necessary information base that Christians must have.
2. Assensus: This is the assent or confidence that we have that the notitia is correct. Here we assent to the information affirming it to be true. This involves evidence which leads to the conviction of the truthfulness of the proposition. According to the Reformers, to have knowledge of the proposition is not enough. We must, to some degree, be convicted that it is indeed true. This involves intellectual assent and persuasion based upon critical thought. While notitia claims “Christ rose from the grave,” assensus takes the next step and says, “I am persuaded to believe that Christ rose from the grave.”
But these two alone are not enough according to the Reformers. As one person has said, these two only qualify you to be a demon for the demons both have the right information (Jesus rose from the grave) and are convicted of its truthfulness. One aspect still remains.
3. Fiducia: This is the “resting”in the information based upon a conviction of its truthfulness. Fiducia is best expressed by the English word “trust.” We have the information, we are persuaded of its truthfulness, now we have to trust in it. Christ died for our sins (notitia). I believe that Christ died for my sins (notitia + assensus). I place my trust in Christ to save me (fiducia). Fiducia is the personal subjective act of the will to take the final step. It is important to note that while fiducia goes beyond or transcends the intellect, it is built upon its foundation.
NOW when I read this- all the talk about faith started to make some sense-
NOW let’s look at Hebrews 11- the chapter that is called the faith chapter;
Hebrews 11:1-3 (Amplified)
1 NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, [a]the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].
2 For by [faith--[b]trust and holy fervor born of faith] the men of old had divine testimony borne to them and obtained a good report.
3 By faith we understand that the worlds [during the successive ages] were framed (fashioned, put in order, and equipped for their intended purpose) by the word of God, so that what we see was not made out of things which are visible.
Without going into a long rant about Christian apologetics- let us just say that us faithful believers have a solid case concerning the existence of God and the life and times and resurrection of Jesus Christ- and we need not just say- I believe it because I want to believe it- our faith is based on concrete reasoning and evidence.
I once heard Paul Harvey say… If a person can look at all the beauty and harmony and complexity and interdependence and calibration in the world or the cosmos and rule out the possibility of a Creator- a God- then they really have to come up with an unbelievable explanation.
We understand now what faith is- but how do we practice it?
1. Know God- you must be convicted that he is real and then commit to a relationship with him as guided by scripture
2. Seek God’s will
3. Surrender to God’s will
4. Abandon self will
5. Actively pursue “supernatural thinking”
To be humble or meek means to accept what God ordains or commands and to seek help and or guidance from Him rather than trusting in one’s own intelligence or abilities. This does not mean a passive tolerance of injustice (especially towards others), but a reliance on God for vindication and a refusal to retaliate when insulted. The humble and/or meek person is convinced that God’s ways are good, so he neither disputes nor resists what God sends. The humble person does not have a low opinion of themselves- they are not occupied with self at all. Because they trust God’s goodness and control over situations, the meek person does not have to worry about their self interests or about self preservation or self improvement because they have turned over the lordship of their lives to God thru Christ.
Full reliance on God for strength to overcome our unrighteous character is the only way we can become the excellent kind of people God desires.
Examples of faith that include complete trust;
Luke 7 about the centurion who was willing to believe that Jesus could heal a loyal and trusted servant who was near death. The centurion told Jesus, “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”3
In response to the centurion, Jesus turned to the crowd that was following Him and said, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.”4 Jesus seemed to be saying that “great faith” was simply taking Him at His word.
Taking God at His Word
After reading and rereading the passage, with all its references to the phrase “by faith,” I began to see that all the people mentioned had one thing in common: No matter whom the writer of Hebrews was talking about, each person had simply taken God at His word and obeyed His command. And they were remembered for their faith.
Regardless of circumstances, despite arguments of logic and reason, and regardless of how he or she felt, each person mentioned in Hebrews 11 believed God and His word and chose to be obedient.
Hebrews 11 closes out with these verses:
32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half,[d] and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.
If Luke 7 and Hebrews 11 illustrate great faith, is there a passage that illustrates a lack of faith?
In Mark 4 Initially, the Apostles took Jesus at His word, got into a boat with Him, and headed across the sea. But when a storm arose, they grew fearful. When Jesus asked them, “How is it that you have no faith?”8 He could just as easily have said, “Why are you not taking Me at My word?”
I have always loved the first verse of Mark 5: “And they came to the other side of the sea.” Jesus’ word proved to be true.
Faith is taking God at His word.
Unfaithfulness is not taking him at his word.
We have also established that it is really beyond human capacity to live life faithfully- we can really only be faithful by totally surrendering to God and allowing his spirit, The holy Spirit, to work in us- we cannot will ourselves to be faithful- we surrender to god and he cultivates faithfulness in our spirits.
Having said that- there are ways we can detect God's unction in our lives. We have what is called "twofold assurance":

1. Our hearts assure us (conscience)

2. The Holy Spirit within us- God’s Spirit working in our own Spirit
In the New Testament there are 30 references to conscience. The Greek word for conscience is suneidesis which is defined as an abiding consciousness whose nature it is to bear inner witness to one's own conduct in a moral sense. It is self awareness and God awareness.
Often people think of conscience as an afterthought, a twinge of guilt or remorse after the fact. However, conscience is a moral compass that is designed primarily for PREVENTION. As stated, in this sense, being out of touch with conscience and/or God can be disastrous for people, people groups or entire societies or civilizations.
The goal then is to harmonize, inasmuch as we are able, our consciences according to what God ordains as right and/or wrong.
There are three ways in which this is accomplished:

1. reproof and correction- we have to learn to receive correction from trusted, spiritual, strategic relationships.

2. sincere repentance- we must embrace a re calibrated, redefined consciousness and lifestyle of repentance.

3. Faith and comprehension- in the saving power of Christ and the raw power and genius of modeling our lives on his example. This includes understanding the aforementioned distinction between attitude management and or psychological crutches and the supernatural peace and tangible presence of God in one's life and/or mind.
Finally, There are six ways for a person to find or tap into supernatural inner strength and wisdom by FINE TUNING THE CONSCIENCE:

1. Fight your way out of a siege- don't lose heart.

2. Find the joy of camaraderie- cultivate strategic relationships.

3. Maintain ranks in the face of battle- in the midst of trials and triumphs alike, continue to keep the commandments of God.

4. Remember the BIG picture- focus on the glory of God even during hardships and always remember that the real enemy is not flesh but the forces of darkness in the spiritual realm.

5. Use the power of consistent focus- always remember the goal... to maintain righteousness and make it to the Heavenly Kingdom of God.

6. Stay connected to the source of joy- maintain an intense prayer life and communion with God... without this the vision and all the rest begins to fade.
if you are questioning your faith – struggling with issues of faith or if you have people in your life are struggling with it or dampening your own faith…
Or if you have not yet begun your journey of faith or made a commitment to God but right now feel the urge to do so come up and share your heart or your woes with us and we’ll pray on it together- come on down as we stand and sing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Barack Obama's Brother

This story is unfortunate.

The political partisans will use this man & his condition as a tool to hurt his brother. However, Obama is not without culpability in the matter either. He should know that this young man will be spiritually flogged as an advertisement, and yet he has not sought to give his brother any means of defense.

Truth is not fact.
The fact may very well be, that Barack Obama has no interest in his brother's condition. We can't know this, but we do presume. But, this is certainly not unique. Most people, myself included, tend toward self-interested blindness. But, the truth is, that "breaking the story" doesn't help the young man any more than the wealthy brother's ignoring of his destitute condition.

It was financially useful and exploitively fun to drag the young man through the world with a placard stuck to his back that reads "Barack Obama's Brother"
I read this story and I felt far greater respect for George Hussein Onyango Obama than I do for the democrat nominee for US president or the many others who see him as a means to an end.

Just maybe, this young man's continuing penurious condition could have been cited to Dr. Rick Warrens question:
"What is your greatest moral failure?"
Or maybe not..., after all who am I to judge?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Dangerous Dispensationalism and Zionism

Unfortunately, many who see this kind of thing think that this very vocal minority is a clear picture of what the Gospel, the Bible and discipleship to Christ is all about. This form of dispensationalism and zionism is as dangerous to world peace as it is damaging to the true mission of the Church and the Great Commission. Hank Hanegraaff did a wonderful job dissecting the belief system of this movement in his book "The Apocalypse Code". I recommend it highly. Now, if you can stomach it, watch the video.

Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour from huffpost on Vimeo.