Nov 05

Knowing vs Believing – on being Jesus’ disciple

Knowing vs Believing 

knowing vs. believing

Knowing vs Believing: What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? Let us look at the (sometimes dissimilar) terms: Knowing vs Believing. What is faith? (Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the KJV Bible.)

Sometimes I hear Christians talking about faith and they make statements like, “Faith is not just believing that God can do such and such but rather, knowing that God will do it.” This sounds pious but we should test whether it is a valid assumption. Is faith a matter of believing – or of knowing?

The speakers likely base that statement on their understanding of Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” However, the jump from “substance” to “knowing” is not an absolute. Could the word substance mean something different? Let us read the entire chapter for context and a better understanding.

Some thoughts from a further reading of Hebrews 11:

  • Faith allows us to understand the unseen: Verse 3, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”
  • Faith helps us make proper decisions: Verse 4, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain
  • Faith enables us to accept God’s grace – and to please Him: Verses 5,6 (and 16), “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
  • Faith puts us in God’s plan: Verse 7, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
  • Faith directs our path through the unknown: Verse 8, “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
  • Faith can make the impossible, possible: Verse 11, “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
  • Faith is not swayed when the answer or knowledge is not forthcoming in our time: Verse 13: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

Although this is a shortened list – there are many more in this chapter, and in everyday life – I will stop before the listing becomes too boring. But remember, always consider the entire context – not just a single verse when you want to establish God’s truth.

Faith is composed of many elements. Verse 13 lists some of those elements: People of faith see promises in the future, are persuaded of them, have embraced them, and have confessed them. But nowhere does it suggest that they KNEW them. Instead, verse 8 clearly states that Abraham did NOT know where he was going.  There are many other instances in the Bible where men and women of faith were blind of their future. In particular, verse 13 (above) states that ALL of those faithful people DIED before the object of their faith was fulfilled or their prayers answered!

The New International Version (NIV) translates Hebrews 11:1 as, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” This version places the concept of faith in a more appropriate light. “Faith is confidence” is a far more accurate definition than “faith is knowing.” In faith, we have the “assurance” of the things that we may never see.

Knowledge or “seeing” something diminishes true faith. Romans 8:24 (NIV), “For in this hope we were saved; but hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he can already see?” And even though Jesus’ half brothers (Joseph’s sons with Mary) lived with Jesus for over 30 years and KNEW him well, the Scripture declares that their knowledge did not translate to faith. “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (John 7:5 NIV)

Knowing vs Believing

Believing in Jesus is like trusting in Him. We trust (have faith) that what He said, He will do – even if we don’t see it in our own lifetime. That is clearly not the same as knowing. Disciples of Jesus follow Him in faith, trust, hope, and love – but often without seeing or knowing.

Allow me to close with the words of Peter (1 Peter 1:7,8):

[S]o that the authenticity of your faith—more precious than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

Oct 15

Praise or Worship – Why People Skip Church Services

Praise or Worship – Why People Skip Church Services

Praise or Worship - Why People Skip Church Services

Most churches today have a time during their services called Praise and Worship. Is that an appropriate phrase to describe what happens? What is the difference between the two? Can you have one without the other: Praise or Worship? All good questions that I want to explore in this article.

Worship is The Acknowledgment of God’s Existence and Worth

In order to deal with these issues properly, let us define the words. (All definitions thanks to Google Dictionary Search.)

Noun definitions of worship:
• the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity
• the acts or rites that make up a formal expression of reverence for a deity; a religious ceremony or ceremonies.
Verb definitions:
• show reverence and adoration for (a deity); honor with religious rites.
• ‎take part in a religious ceremony.
The word “worship” is taken from the Old English weorthscipe meaning ‘worthiness, acknowledgment of worth’.
Whether as a noun (describing a feeling or act) or as a verb (showing action), worship is all about our acknowledgment of the worth of God. It can be expressed internally as feelings or externally as actions but unless the purpose is to glorify and bless God, it is not worship.

Praise is To Set a Price Upon

as a verb: express one’s respect and gratitude toward (a deity), especially in song
• ‎as a noun: the expression of approval or admiration for someone or something.
The word “praise” comes from the Middle English (also in the sense ‘set a price on, attach value to’): from Old French preisier ‘to prize, praise,’ from late Latin pretiare, from Latin pretium ‘price.’ Compare with prize or appraise.

Again, whether as a noun or a verb, praise relates to our expression of God’s value – to us personally. Although the definitions of Biblical words are not always in agreement with present day dictionaries, these Old English definitions are similar to the King James English that many associate with the Bible.

Why People Attend Church Services

In the title, I mentioned church attendance. Let me now deal with that a bit:

Traditional churches used the fear of hell as a means to secure membership and to enforce attendance. Many people were intimidated and obeyed the leaders of the church solely out of fear. Church leaders felt justified in the use of such tactics because they saw common people as unlearned – and any means of their salvation was warranted.

Today, churches are dealing with people who (intentionally or unintentionally) compare the local church services with the high-intensity (and visually perfect) services broadcast from a few mega churches. These same people also have access to the written Word of God (in an almost unlimited number of versions), they are (in general) extremely well educated, and there are a multitude of teachers who (via brick and mortar churches, cable TV, and/or the internet) are more than willing to provide people with their interpretation of the Scriptures in return for their donations. Due to these – and many other factors – the fear of hell – indeed the fear of God – is no longer a compelling reason for many young people to attend church.

That fact has forced churches to rethink what worship is all about and to factor in the concept of praise. In case you are considerably younger than me, I will inject some perspective. As a child in the ’50s, I sometimes attended a nominal church. “Worship” services were very regulated. No one in the congregation was allowed to speak (or even whisper) unless it was included in the “program” (a printed copy of the order of events). The only musical instruments allowed were an organ and a piano. Raising your hand was not acceptable – even if you needed to go to the restroom. Praying for someone who was sick or needy was something you would do in private – if at all, since many churches did not believe praying for the sick to be appropriate in any venue. And, the only people who had the audacity to “lay hands” on those sick folk were those “outlandish pentecostal preachers.”

My, have things changed in the church! It is a rare church that does not endorse – and practice – most or all of those “outlandish” actions today. And consequently, most of those churches are also having to deal with the “music wars” (trying to define which style of music is acceptable) and how to keep up attendance when all the numbers are declining. Church “splits” and closed doors are sometimes the norm, rather than the exception.

So, what about “worship OR praise”?

How is this related to worship and praise? Are worship and praise different, exclusive, are they co-dependent, or what? The answer is “yes, depending upon the individual case.”

Worship can be a simple ritualistic ceremony. This is inferred in the statement “they worshipped quietly.” In which case, you might have “acknowledged God’s existence and general worth” in your heart, but your feelings of reverence for God likely produced no outward praise.

Worship is more internal (concerned with one’s motives and feelings) while praise is more external (concerned with one’s actions).

Praise is giving God the glory for something. Someone on Facebook may write a post thanking God for sparing them or their loved ones from some tragic event. Technically, that is praise. But depending upon their internal motivation, there may – or may not – have been worship involved. It could be hollow and lacking in sincerity. (Imagine: a post on Facebook that is not true!)

In each of the previous illustrations, worship and praise could have been exclusive of the other. But the kind of worship and praise that God approves is such that the two are co-dependent on each other. Our internal feelings of the existence and worth of God are expressed in our external acts of gratitude for Jesus’ death in ransom for our eternal soul.

To summarize and answer the question about church attendance: 

There are times when – even though our love of God is real – our worship may stem from a sense of duty or obligation (similar to the old “fear”). This translates into accepting relatively minor problems as valid excuses for skipping church services. (Is that insightful, or what?) On the other hand, when churches experience true worship expressed in real joy and praise, people look for opportunities to return – rather than excuses to skip.

Which is true in your church?

P.S. A little extra about Psalms 150:

Six elements of praise from Psalms 150:
• True praise is not restricted to church (in the sanctuary and throughout the heavens)
• ‎Praise results from what God has done (acts of power)
• ‎Praise results from who God is (surpassing greatness)
• ‎Praise can take many forms (dancing, singing, instruments)
• ‎Praise is generally loud (cymbals)
• ‎Praise should be universal (all that have breath)
Sep 24

Too much stress – How to survive overwhelming stress

Too much stressToo much stress

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 2 Corinthians 1:8‭-‬10 NIV

Most of us complain about having too much stress in our job, family, and even church. And much of the complaining is warranted. However, we have managed to get through it – so far. But how much stress does it take to really qualify as “too much stress?”

In this portion of Scripture, Paul explained that his imprisonment in Asia was such that he had pretty much determined that they were going to kill him. That is surely too much stress. He even said that the pressure was “far beyond (his) ability to endure.”

So what is the takeaway from Paul’s experience?

First, that God has a purpose for each trial that we face.  Paul had experienced some tremendous results while ministering in the name of Christ (2 Corinthians 12:17) but God wanted to keep Paul focused on Christ – and not become proud and possibly stop depending on God. So, this trial was to show Paul that he was not self sufficient. Self-sufficiency is a malignant problem in our society.

The second takeaway is that regardless how difficult our situation is (even if we “despair of life”), when we put our trust in God, He will continue to deliver us! And He will do it again and again.

So, when we feel that we “just can’t take it anymore,” remember – we are not alone. And what is overwhelming to us does not even cause our Heavenly Father to break into a sweat! In fact, He was aware of your situation before it occurred. He is just waiting for you (and me) to stop relying on ourselves and start putting our hope in His loving care and strength.

Sep 17

Do everything in love – cost and benefit

Do everything in love

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.
1 Corinthians 16:13‭-‬14 NIV

Do everything in love

Difficulty brings out the best and the worst in people. It is so sad to see reports of looters stealing from the victims of the recent hurricanes. But a more powerful image is that of the thousands volunteers who – out of love – left jobs and families to give their time and money to help strangers. They don’t check race, religion, or any other demographic – they just help! That is the definition of “Do everything in love.”

There have been two unimaginable tragedies in the past couple of weeks. Hurricane Harvey flooded much of Texas and Hurricane Irma destroyed a large segment of the Caribbean and Florida – and even up the Atlantic coast. Thousands of families were forced to evacuate their homes. Some estimates place the total cost of these two storms at nearly $300 billion! It is impossible to comprehend the cost to the victims.

I do not have the financial solution to such a problem. The individual costs to the volunteers will also be substantial. But love (of any type) costs you something. Love without personal sacrifice is not true love.

What I do know is that true love is worth the cost. Matthew 19:29 NIV says, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”

In acts of human compassion and love, the result is that we will receive love and compassion on a far greater level. And when Christians obey the command to do everything in love, we are simply paying forward the love that Christ first showed us when He – in love – sacrificed his life for us.