The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Monday, January 5, 2015

"That You May Believe"

" Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” - John 11:14-15


" Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” (John 11:14-15). Those are the words spoken by Jesus to His disciples about the death of Lazarus. Lazarus was dead, not merely asleep as His disciples wrongly assumed (John 11:13). And Jesus was glad for this. Not because it would cause pain or that He didn't like Lazarus, or Mary, or Martha. He loved them all (John 11:5). Jesus loves us too. Jesus was glad Lazarus had died because it was part of the Father's plan to build their faith. He wants to build our faith too.


How can our faith be built? Why should we put a priority on faith building? What do we learn from Jesus’ faith building tactics that can help us cooperate and be used in God’s faith building procedures? These are questions this teaching aims to address.


The Bible states, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Spiritually speaking, we can’t walk or get anywhere without doing so by faith. We progress and move on in our spiritual walk “not by sight,” or not merely by what we see around us or what we understand about what is going on around us. In fact, faith building utilizes the lack of sight; not knowing. The account of the resurrection of Lazarus is a good example of this. This is a chapter about the necessity of waiting in order to see Jesus’ resurrection work. But it is also about what is involved in building faith.


Building faith involves testing. Belief, faith, is like a muscle. To grow strong faith must be tested. Faith must be tested in order to be trusted and revealed as true. The Apostle Peter was inspired to write, “In this you greatly rejoice [i.e. the prospect of resurrection, our incorruptible inheritance in heaven, and “the power of God through faith for salvation”] , though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-9). This flies in the face of making decisions purely based on financial reasons. (Which is, in and out of the church today, one of the primary if not the primary determiners in decisions in our world today.) Our faith is “much more precious than gold that perishes.” According to God and His word, our faith is more valuable than the most precious commodity this world has to offer. Nothing in this world is as valuable as your faith. Do we really believe that? Do we make decisions from that world view? Would you pass that kind of test? Would you choose faith over fortune? Are your decisions made based on building your faith or finding financial “freedom”?


A faith untested cannot be trusted. This is why life is more making money. Life is more than financial comfort. It is a great mistake to run after comfort. Comfort makes faith flabby. Comfort atrophies faith. Faith dies when we live at ease. Christian, you are called to be more than a couch potato! Challenge, difficulty, and circumstances that require perseverance and hard work are the proving ground of faith. Faith is birthed by grace. Faith is built as we by grace go to work. We are what we are by God’s grace. But that does not excuse us from “labor” (Greek kopiao in 1 Corinthians 15:10); hard wearying, fatiguing, labor. It would have been relatively easy for Jesus to heal Lazarus before he died. But Jesus knew building faith involves testing. The faith of His disciples, Martha and Mary had to be tested strong. Jesus is looking to build believers with ram-tough faith. How tough is your faith when tested? The resurrection of Lazarus is a faith building experience.


Building faith involves God's planning. Jesus followed the Father's plan not man's plan (John 11:15). The people in this story are all in a hurry. Jesus isn’t in a hurry. Jesus is on a mission. He operates by His Father’s schedule not the schedule of those around Him. He moves about in a calm calculated way to fulfill His Father’s plan. Can you say that? Have you discerned God’s will for you in quiet waiting before Him with His open Word before you? Or do you rush around with no clue of God’s will for your life?


Faith is the assurance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1a). Faith invites that inner witness of the Spirit. The Spirit directs the faith-full to carry on, push forward and push through. Faith involves hope. Hope is the eye of faith for the future. Faith and hope are both guided and governed by God's plans, not our own. Faith asks, "What is God's plan for my life?" Faith waits on God for its marching orders. Then faith pursues God's plan with an assurance God will be faithful to fulfill His plan in and through us. Faith believes God’s calling is God’s enablement.


Building faith involves uncertainty. The question on everyone's mind and in everyone's heart was "Why?" Why did Jesus delay? Why did He let Lazarus die? Why did He act in such an apparently unloving way if He loved these people? (John 11:5, 21, 32). Why did Jesus wait? Faith is the belief in things not seen (Hebrews11:1b). It's in circumstances where you can't see how God is going to work things out that faith, in God, is worked out.


It's in those times where all you have is God, where He is your only hope, that you discover faith and that He really is, your only hope. It is in the death of your plans, your resources, your efforts, abilities and strategies, where nothing works anymore and all seems lost, that is where faith is born and raised. That is where God can come through and faith is strengthened. Faith is built when our time runs out and God comes through. He reserves the right to come through with plans that may differ from our own. His coming through may not mean rescue, healing or resurrection. His coming through will in every way mean we will be closer to Him and know Him more intimately. Our faith will be made stronger.


Building Faith is challenging not comfortable. It would have been so much more comfortable to heal Lazarus before he died. Jesus could have come to heal Lazarus in the comfort of his home. It would have spared these people a lot of grief, sorrow, and pain. But it is the flesh, not faith that lusts after comfort. It is the flesh, the sinful nature, not faith, that lives in comfort and ease where everything is easy, no work is required, and God is easily forgotten. Without a challenge God can't come through. God is omnipresent (e.g. Psalm 139). But if there could ever be a place where God's presence is not, it would be the place of carnal comfort, easiness, and ease.


Faith building is the process that involves us coming to the point where we realize I can’t. . . but God can. Once Lazarus was dead, there was nothing anyone other than Jesus could do. They might have thought That’s it, he’s dead, we can’t do anything about it. Thankfully they didn’t stop there. They still went to Jesus. Only Jesus is Master over death.


If we stop and give up every time we can’t do something we miss out on the chance for God to use our circumstances to show us He can. Submit your circumstances to Jesus. Let Jesus tell you when to press on or when to give up. People who give up do so because they haven’t sought the Lord for His will. Without any awareness of God’s will or plan a person is driven only by circumstances, good or bad. Without an awareness of God’s will we become like the man tossed to and fro by the wind on the ocean (James 1:5-6). Lack of direction makes one easy prey for doubt. Untethered doubt wrecks faith.


The next time you have a big decision to make, ask first, “Father, what is Your will for my life here?” Then ask, “Father, which choice will best build my faith?” Then step out in faith. It will always be uncomfortable when God is building our faith. We don’t like to submit or surrender, even to God. We don’t like uncertainty. But discomfort and uncertainty is not something to run from. That is something to run too! These are tools God uses to build our faith.


Building faith involves risk. Risk is the possibility of loss. It is the flesh that settles for safety and no risk. Mary and Martha and the disciples wanted Jesus to come before Lazarus died (John 11:3). They didn't want to risk Lazarus’ death. But faith involves risk. Faith requires we trust God in the face of danger and threat of loss. Faith is brought to life through risk that leads to reward. Therefore life worth living involves risk. God's plans involve risk. I’m not talking about presumption. Presumption is prayerless risk taking. I’m talking about obeying God even when it is risky. There is no faith building without risk.


Building faith involves facing fears. Lazarus was dead. Death is permanent. Death is scary. It is scary if you face it without faith in God. Martha and Mary feared the death of their brother Lazarus. They had faith in Jesus, but they were human. As the days went by and their brother moved closer and closer to death, their fears must have increased. The longer it took for Jesus to arrive, the more fearful of death they became. They would have to face these fears with Jesus.


It is devilishly deceptive if your faith is presumptuous or based on anything or anyone other than Jesus. Faith involves facing fear by trusting in Jesus. Jesus alone is the resurrection and the life. It’s only through faith in Jesus that we can experience salvation, resurrection and eternal life (John 11:25-26). Fear is the foe of faith. Faith in Jesus can obliterate our fears.


Building faith involves submission and obedience. Martha and Mary and the disciples were surrendered and obedient to Jesus' plan even if it meant death was involved (John 11:16, 22). His disciples accompanied Jesus on this life threatening journey (John 11:16). Martha said, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:27). And it was Martha who obediently ordered the stone to her brothers tomb to be moved aside even though he had been dead for four days (John 11:39-41). Because of their submission and obedience they saw a resurrection. We have to learn to wait in faith. We have to learn to submit to Jesus and obey Him. We have to learn to trust and obey. And like the classic hymn says, “for there’s no other way.” There’s no other way for faith to be built.


There's another reason to submit and obey in God's Faith building plans. If we resist God's faith building plans it can be dangerous. Unlike Martha, Mary and the disciples an Old Testament prophet named Jonah fled west when God's will was east. He resisted God's call. He hated those God loved. He proudly and indignantly rejected God's desire to call sinners to repentance. He couldn't and wouldn't accept God's plan. He refused to go where God wanted him to go. So God let him go. Jonah may have responded better if he had taken time to get alone with God in prayer. God has a way of getting us alone with Him. God prefers one on one conversations. And so God sent Jonah a storm. God had him swallowed whole in a great giant fish. He shook him in the sea monster. He stopped him, spoke with him, and brought him to his senses. God persuaded Jonah. He taught him how to walk in faith. He did what was required to get him going back in the right direction; to minister to the lost, to see a resurrection, and to build his faith. God can be very persuasive. God is all knowing and always has what looks to us like a contingency plan. God is never surprised.


Building faith involves difficulty and challenge, even failure. Jesus appeared to have failed His friends. If He had been there earlier, He could have prevented Lazarus' death (John 11:21, 32). And after four days in the tomb to remove the stone would have made a smelly defiling failure! (John 11:39). But Jesus is a Master of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Jesus knows how to bring beauty from ashes (cf. Isaiah 61:3). Have you crashed and burned? Are you down and out? Are you perplexed by defeat? Are you running from difficulty? Are you fleeing from life's challenge? That very well may be God's will for you. Failure and falls are sometimes what are required for faith to be built. Difficulties and defeats are necessary for us to learn we can't, but God can. God steers us with these not with ease. Rise with Him in faith.


Building faith involves death.Lazarus is dead” (John 11:14).  Faith is built in despair; when there is no reasonable hope. Jesus was glad for the hopeless situation of Lazarus' death. Why? because it was the perfect environment for faith to be built. They had to be brought to the place where Jesus was their only hope. They had to trust Jesus if they wanted Lazarus back. They had to come to a point where they said, “Yes, Lord. I believe” (John 11:27). Jesus alone, builds faith.


Building faith involves fire. The fire of testing is where faith is proven. When a person dies decay sets in like a slow burning degenerating consuming fire (John 11:39). Eremacausis is the gradual oxidation of matter from exposure to air and moisture. Eremacausis is a fire of death that burns up the dead body with decay. When the fire of life leaves, the fire of death takes over. When your faith is tested will it burn you out, burn you up, or burn you bright?


Where are you going? Why are you going there? What are you doing? What do you want to do? What is your dream, your destination, your destiny? Life is more than ease and retirement. Are you walking by faith? Is faith building your priority? Or are you looking for an easy way out? Are you ready to retire? Some old preacher once told me, "I'm not retired, I'm re-fired!" Are you looking for an early retirement, or a refirement? Faith fires us up.


Building faith involves destiny. Lazarus' destiny seemed set. But Jesus wasn't finished with him. Lazarus' death was his destiny and would become his greatest means of telling about Jesus' life giving ways. For Lazarus to be mightily used for God's glory he had to die. Death is part of faith building; death to self; death to my ways, my expectations. If you would have asked Lazarus while still alive if he wanted to live, he probably would have said "Yes!" But if he could have seen how he would be used for the glory of God and Christ as a result of his death and resurrection, he would have said “For the glory of God and my Savior Jesus, let me die a thousand times over!” Lazarus had to die to truly live for the glory of God (John 11:4). So do we. Are you willing to die?


At the end of the road of life what will your story be? Will it be a story of boring comfort and ease void of challenge and victory; void of faith? Will it be a life of complaints over the challenges you faced and the hardships you surrendered to? Will you lament the lost opportunities to build your faith?  Will you have to admit you hated what God loved and  rebelled against His will? Or will you be able to say through the wise eyes of faith, "Yes, life was a challenge, but I accepted the challenge and pressed on with Him in faith. Yes, it was hard and high but I pressed on harder and higher by faith. My life has been a living sacrifice to God by faith. I went where He wanted by faith. I stayed where He wanted by faith. I lived by faith. I worked, pressed on and overcame, by faith. I have come to see why Jesus was glad that Lazarus was dead and why He has purposely allowed deaths in my life; dangers, doubts, defeats, and discouragements in my life. It was so I may believe. And because of that I am glad too." What will your life testimony be?


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