Dec 4 2014

Risk-Taking Faith (a “post-script”)

Risk-HopeInAction

This past Sunday we kicked off Advent 2014 by taking a slightly different perspective on the traditional theme of HOPE. We specifically spoke of RISK and how essential it is to having a growing faith, built on Matthew 14:22-33. We noted the significance of faith to abundant life in that faith is described at “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” Additionally, “without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is that which grounds us to HOPE; it helps us lay hold of that which we cannot see, like hope in the nature of God and hope for the promises of God. Risk, on the other hand, could be described as the action taken in light of faith/hope. This risk, taken at the prompting of Jesus, grows our faith. A risk-taking faith encounters the power and presence of God in mighty ways.

 

In the days following the sermon, I’ve had some great questions and conversations come up in regards to risk (from POINTgroup, from emails, and in person!). In light of these, here are some quick thoughts to prod you a few steps further:

 

  • If I had to define “risk” in terms of the spiritual truth that we are going after here (which I probably should have done in the sermon!), it would be this. “Risk is taking action, based on a perceived leading of the Holy Spirit, where the desired outcome is ONLY possible through the power of God.” This has three main parts. 1) Risk is action, not just attitude. 2) It’s based on God’s leading and/or His priorities, not simply on us having a “good idea”. 3) The outcome rests in God’s control, not ours, so that He gets the credit and the glory.
  • One way to evaluate whether you are taking risks, is a) whether you ever feel fear, and b) what you do about it. If you never notice yourself feeling fear, you probably need to ask Jesus why you don’t see Him and how he wants you to “get out of the boat”. Conversely, if you feel lots of fear, but it seems to shackle or control you, then you are probably still not taking healthy risks and finding Jesus faithful in the midst of your fear. Interestingly, in the story from Matthew 14, Jesus doesn’t condemn the disciples for their fear . . . He tells them to “take courage”. A healthy risk-taking faith desires to be with Jesus wherever He is, even when it’s scary. This opens the door for courage. Don’t feel guilty over fear or run from it. Look to Jesus and take courage!
  • We must self-analyze our risk-taking faith beyond what feels “difficult” or “challenging”. Perceived challenges can arise from too many sources to validate a risk-taking faith. In fact, challenges can arise because of sin, because our faith is being challenged (and we remain unyielding), because we are simply overextending ourselves in directions where the Lord isn’t leading, etc. I believe healthy risk will often be challenging, but in a profoundly hopeful way that is consistent with the promises of Scripture.
  • One of the absolute best ways to know whether you are employing a healthy risk-taking faith is simple. Are you growing in affection for Jesus? Can you point to ways that you’ve obeyed what He’s asked. I think this is why the “Hall of Faith” chapter in Hebrews is followed up by:

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

 

  • Here are a handful of examples of these sorts of risks from my life where I’ve seen God grow me, my faith, my relationships and ultimately my affection for Him . . . all of which have prompted me to desire to risk more!

    • Making time to read my Bible, whether I’m busy and/or tired
    • Go on short-term missions
    • Learn how to play the guitar (because I sensed God wanting me to do it)
    • Let someone hold me accountable to practical discipleship principles like time in the Word, Bible memorization, and overcoming sin
    • Giving tithes and offerings to the local church and other worthy causes
    • Asking a friend, “What is stopping you from following Jesus?”
    • Living within my means and saying “no” to certain wants, even if I could technically afford it
    • Having kids
    • Admit (to God and others) my limitations as a parent, husband, friend and leader, etc.
    • Prayerfully considering how to better lead and love my wife
    • Purposefully disciple another person
    • Be an invested member of a local church

 

I hope this goes a small way in continuing to grow a risk-taking, God-honouring, soul-satisfying faith! Here’s a parting thought from the Apostle Paul:

 “But Jesus said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2Corinthians 12:9-10)


Nov 23 2012

He Kept His Scars

Carrie and I wanted to do something new and fun together that was flexible, cheap, and didn’t involve the television.  So we decided to read a fiction book together — as in reading it to each other. About the same time that we were trying to pick a book, we watched the movie “The Hunger Games”.  Knowing that it was one of a trilogy, and figuring they’d likely make more movies we decided to read those books.  It’s been pretty fun.  Part of our nightly routine as the evening winds down has been to crawl up next to each other on the couch or in bed and ask, “Okay, should I read or do you want to?”, and we descend together into an interesting and entertaining world providing a fascinating criticism of modern culture — namely reality TV.

Anyway, let me stay focused on the point of this post: scars.

So at one point in the story one of the main characters receives a particular medical treatment that removes every imperfection from his/her skin (no spoilers here!).  During this scene, the author sort of alludes to the character lamenting the loss of some of the scars earned over the years, which is a legitimate thought, right?  Because scars tell stories.  Whatever the source of the scar, whether a good story or a bad one, our scars partially define who we are.   Scars are reminders.  Sometimes scars are conversation starters.  Some scars are on the outside and are obvious.  Some scars are on the inside and are carefully guarded.  Since that is the case, I wonder if you had the opportunity, would you erase your scars and help remove the memory, the story?  That’s exactly what happened in “The Hunger Games.”

But that’s not what happened with Jesus.

Think about it.  When Jesus paid for the sins of humanity and absorbed the wrath of God, it wounded Him deeply.  But because He didn’t deserve the payment of sin, He willingly bore it for us, by the power of God He rose from the dead, defeating death, sin and hell.  Jesus rose the Forever Perfect Victor, and soon ascended into the perfect heaven to be with our Perfect Father.  Jesus certainly had the power to also rise with perfect skin, showing no trace of the brutality and injustice that He bore to the cross.  However, He kept His scars.  He kept His scars.  Why?  He kept His scars because they tell a good story . . . more than that, they tell the greatest story that could ever be told!

Those scars tell the story of redemption and of hope.  That story enables us to realize the purpose for which we were created — giving all glory to God because we, who have been saved through what those scars represent, have seen both the Justice and Grace of God perfected.  That story couldn’t be hidden . . . it can’t be erased.  That story is meant to be proclaimed from the rooftops as well as in prayer closets.  It is to be repeated in every generation and to every nation, tribe and tongue.  Jesus showed His scars to His disciples to confirm the story in their hearts.  He commissioned them to go be witnesses of the story behind the scars.  The scars bear witness to our hearts of Jesus’ sacrifice to save us from the penalty and power of sin.  And the fact that Jesus kept His scars ought to remind, even compel us to tell the story, the greatest story ever told.

I’m so glad Jesus paid my debt, even though it gave Him scars.  And I’m so glad that He kept His scars.  Scars tell great stories.  I have scars, too, and I want my scars to echo of His, making my story bear witness of His story.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

Fix your eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  (Hebrews 12:2-3)

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
it satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.

I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory,
to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.
( Hymn: I Love to Tell the Story, Katherine Hankey, 1834-1911)


Oct 1 2011

Some of My Surrender

The tenor of this past week’s sermon application was that of surrender.  Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s news of her being chosen to be filled with the Spirit to bear the Messiah was one of surrender—sure, she had some logistical questions, but her heart was trusting, believing, desiring to see God’s work accomplished in her life.  On the heels of that message, I thought I’d candidly express a few personal reflections on surrender in my life currently.

When I think about the issue of surrender before the Lord, I think of related topics like faith in God’s plans over me, trust that He’ll get me through hard times, and hope in the big-picture-plan-of-God of which I know I’m just a part.  Some verses that encourage me in this are:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anythingJames 1:2-4

As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered.  You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.  The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. James 5:11

 

Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Therefore, make every effort to confirm your calling and election.  For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ2Peter 1:5-11

As Christ followers, our journey on this earth is wrought with the need for faith, surrender, perseverance, and godly action based thereon.  Lately for me this calling has taken two primary forms which I must repeatedly put on the altar of surrender.

The first is the coming of Baby Byers #3.  As I’m sure any mom or dad can attest, parenting is a unique tool of God to expose areas that need refining in holiness.  Little else in life can simultaneously expose our self-centeredness, our lack of patience (esp. when tired), our shortsightedness, our lack of relying wholly on the Spirit, etc.  I often find myself struck by the mystery of how this raging battle can open us up to the painful refining fire of sanctification and at the same time fill us with such joy and pleasure at seeing what God is growing in these little lives.  I don’t know how having a third child (two in diapers) will affect things like my relationship with Carrie, my productivity at work, and numerous other things.  But one thing that I keep coming to . . . I KNOW that if I can remain surrendered in faith to the Lord, one way or another, “all these things will be added” to me.

The second big area of surrender is the work and fruit at C!C.  As Carrie and I await the approval of our renewed work permits, I am often faced with the difficulty of evaluating questions like: “What are the next steps for C!C?” “Where is the fruit of our labour?” “What would happen if You called us somewhere else?” I love being a part of C!C, and I have such an excitement and a desire to see God grow our community and ministry.  And so all I can do to answer some of the looming questions that don’t always have answers is offer them up to the Lord in surrender.  In faith I place my trust in the fact that He has promised good over me and over His church.  So I strive to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithfulHebrews 10:23.

What is an acute area of surrender for you?  Let us hold on, for He is faithful.

 


Aug 19 2011

Silence Speaks

In reading through Hebrews chapter 11 earlier this week, I was struck by something peculiar.  I was surprised by what the text didn’t say.

Most of the first 29 verses of the chapter detail significant faith-related events from Israel’s early history.  Verse 29 itself gives us the faith-full declaration that when stuck in an impossible scenario between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army, faith led the people to walk through the sea to safety.

Now here’s the surprise.

The next verse, 30, jumps more than 40 years of Biblical history and states, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after being encircled for seven days.”  Consider what was skipped over:

  • Giving of the Law
  • Instituting the priesthood
  • Moses talking “face to face” with God
  • Manna from heaven
  • Spying on the Promised Land
  • Moses passing leadership to Joshua
  • Crossing the Jordan
  • and more!

And yet there is no mention of any of this in the Hebrew’s “Hall of Faith.”  Now while we should be VERY careful when drawing interpretation from what the Bible doesn’t say, a fair question to entertain is “Why is all of this skipped over?”

To be honest, I don’t feel qualified to speculate too far.  But what I have reflected on is that much of the time in those 40+ years of history was spent with the people NOT exhibiting proper faith.  They complained about almost everything.  They doubted Moses’ leadership.  They questioned God’s ability and desire to provide for their needs.  They usurped God’s authority in worship.  When they finally reached the Promised Land, they fearfully set aside His power to deliver the Land.  There was no consistent faith in “the reality of things hoped for, the evidence of what is not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

This makes me pause and take a “birds-eye” look at my season in life, my general attitude, the general attitude of my family . . . and also that of my faith-family (C!C).  Are my life and relationships characterized by facing impossible scenarios by putting a foot in the Red Sea or marching around the fortified city with a ridiculous military strategy . . . because God said so?!?  Or are my life and relationships characterized by complaining, second guessing, and waiting for my options to open up while ignoring God’s call to trust and obey?

History is being written, friends.  Consider the attitudes you have and the decisions you make.  Do your life and relationships reflect the kind of faith that we see God rewarding time after time after time?

Maybe it’s time for us to consider the history and the “great cloud of witnesses” and get serious about running “with endurance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (see Heb. 12:1-2).