Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Christian Believer: Week Sixteen {Faith}

I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.
("I Know Whom I Have Believed", Daniel W. Whittle)

Last week's lesson was "Faith" (The Reach Toward God). I enjoyed it, but not quite as much as the previous week.  Thank goodness I'm finally caught up!

We watched the video first and it compared our faith experience with falling in love.  It's beyond logic, not reducible to emotion and affection, and there is an element of faith and trust that is involved.  Also, faith is a relational dynamic.  Faith in God, for Christians, is faith revealed in Jesus Christ. It's like love in several other ways- one surrenders oneself to it and one is grasped by God and so experiences freedom and joy.  God is our ultimate concern because we love Him with all our heart, mind and soul. Faith predisposes love and love leads to faithfulness.  Mature faith includes assent, obedience, pledge, loyalty and active commitment.  Faith is an act- a decision, a leap, which is subjective.  But it is also the content of belief- what is believed, which is objective.  Faith is a reception of the divine revelation.  Also, faith that embraces doubt is not against reason but rather helps reason to be in touch with its own limit.  The video wrapped up with these lines, "Through faithful prayer life believers become intimately webbed to the spirit and will of God.  They become obedient instruments of the divine will increasingly attuned to the desires of God which drives them to lives of service and love for others.  They stand where God stands and sit where Jesus sits- with the poor, the alienated, the estranged, the oppressed, the hungry, the ostracized, the sick, and the marginalized".

The workbook begin by talking about how we show some version of faith whenever we board a plane, ride an elevator or pour cereal from a box.  However, Biblical faith is different- "our disposition is to believe after delivery, or to expect delivery very quickly after believing, and possibly as a reward for our believing.  The Biblical record suggests that faith may not get delivery at all, and that it will prove itself by the posture it maintains when delivery is postponed or even, apparently, denied".  We are to believe in God's character and that He rewards those who seek him.  However, the reward isn't always readily apparent.  The book then talked about the Biblical examples of Abraham and Noah.  It then moved to the three young Israelites who were spared form the fiery furnace- "their faith was demonstrating itself not simply in their expectation that God would work a miracle on their behalf but also in their resolve to be true even if no miracle happened".  The belief that God exists and rewards our seeking must be so strong that we leave the "particular working out of God's reward entirely in divine hands".

The book then stated that "faith trusts in the character of God and acts upon that trust, while works rely upon their own merit".  It then discussed Cain and Abel and how Cain's sacrifice was possibly rejected because he might have been trusting in the merit of the offering itself and how faith directed anywhere but to God himself is an act of rebellion against Him.  It talked about how the New Testament shifts the view on faith as a communal expience in the Old Testament to a much more individual thing. 

The book talked about something very interesting to me next.  Some people, if asked what a Christian is, will say "Someone who believes in God".  However, not only is that imprecise, it really misses the point almost entirely, because a Christian believes in God revealed in Jesus Christ and in faith in Christ as God's way to salvation. This belief was both "the theme and the stigma of the early church".  Had they been willing to accept a broader definition, and include Jesus along with the Pantheon gods, there would have been no martyrs.  It was neat to realize this is not a new thing.  The book said that all this sounds judgmental, but the truth is if we truly love Him and believe this we will want to share this extraordinary knowledge.  Finally, it talked about the errant view of placing faith in faith, rather than placing faith in God.

In our group we discussed how Abraham, though lauded for his faith, actually had huge moments of lacking faith.  We also discussed situations where people we knew took the "long view" on faith, meaning they saw the big picture.  One person mentioned a friend who endured the death of a child and then I talked about a story that has brought such conviction to my life about a mother who watched her child be martyred.  Now THAT is the long view- only with a true grasp on eternity could someone endure that.  I realized, though, that we had gotten so focused on death. There are tons of situations in LIFE that require the long view.  I shared about some dear friends of ours who are prayerfully entering into the process of adopting a special needs child.  To me, that again, is the long view on faith.  We also talked breifly on prayer and how it works and if we can "change God's mind". 

Here were my favorite Scriptures and readings from the text:
"If you do what is right will you not be accepted?" -Genesis 4:7

"I sought the Lord and He answered me, He delivered me from all my fears." - Psalm 34:4

"If we are thrown into the blazing furnace the God we serve is able to save us from it; and he will rescue us from your hand, O King.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O King, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." -Daniel 3:17-18

"Yet he (Abraham) did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised." -Romans 4:20-21

"It [faith] does not stop to ask whether good works have to be done; before there is time even to ask the question, it has already performed the good works." -Martin Luther

"We see the spiritual world, which is all round about us, and yet no more discerned by our natural faculties than if it had no being; and we see the eternal world, piercing through the veil which hangs between time and eternity. Clouds and darkness then rest upon it no more, but we already see the floor which shall be revealed." -John Wesley

"In order to know we must always rely on something we do not know; in order to walk by sight we need to rely on what we do not see.  The most evident example of that truth is to be found in science, which conducts its massive campaign against obscurity and error on the basis of a great faith in the intelligibility of things; when it does not know and finds hindrances in the path of knowledge, it asserts with stubborn faith that knowledge nevertheless is possible, that there is pattern and intelligibility in the things which are not yet intelligible...Our social life, also, proceeds from moment to moment on the ground of a confidence we have in each other which is distinct from our belief in each other's existence and distinct also from knowledge of each other's character...How much we live by faith in this area becomes apparent to us when we are deceived or betrayed by those on whom we have relied...This is the faith that life is worth living, or better, the reliance on certain centers of value as able to bestow significance and worth on our existence. It is a curious and inescapable fact about our lives, of which I think we all become aware at some time or another, that we cannot live without a cause, without some object of devotion, some center of worth, something on which we rely for our meaning...For no man lives without living for some purpose, for the glorification of some god, for the advancement of some cause.  If w do not wish to call this faith religion, there is no need to contend about the word...When we believe that life is worth living by the same act we refer to some being which makes our life worth living.  We never merely believe that life is worth living, but always thing of it as made worth living by something on which we rely. And this being, whatever it be, is properly termed our god." -Richard Niebuhr

"His grace creates our faith. so that when we come to Him, it is really our faith, and we come willingly.  In order to bring about this end He uses means- words, smiles, gestures, symbolic gifts, which we call sacraments...All such are 'means of grace', methods employed by the graciousness of God to express and develop a gracious personal relationship between Him and us." -Donald M. Baillie

"In orthodox theologies of the seventeenth century, faith was affirmed by emphasizing the initiative of God apart from the reception of God; that is, God was the all-determining One, and a person's appropriation of God's initiative was secondary.  In Protestant liberalism and sometimes Pietist traditions, the other side of the equation was emphasized.  In contrast to faith as a fit, liberals emphasized faith as an individual act of will or as a decision of moral reason." -John Dillenberge

Because we the church believe faith is essential to our salvation and to godly living, I will pursue faith in all of my thinking, speaking, and doing.

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