A Reluctant Writer

faithMost would agree with the familiar saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” If you really want to know the truth about someone, you need to consider what they DO, not just what they SAY! And I think we’d also agree that it’s foolish to put faith in someone you don’t know.

Before we learn how faith comes to us, and explore further how faith came to Abram, who became the Father of faith, let me make something very clear: I love the written and at times the preached word of God. Before you’ve finished reading the next few pages, you may be tempted to think I am speaking against the written and / or preached word of God. I am NOT. The written word of God gives us truth. The preached word confirms truth, but only if the vessel it’s pouring from is clean.

So, how does faith come? Most Christians immediately quote Romans 10:17: “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” I absolutely agree with that verse! But what did Paul mean when he wrote those words? Was Paul writing in that passage about the written and preached word of God? Did Paul mean reading the word of God enough or even hearing the preached word of God enough, will in some way impart great faith? That thought certainly sells lots of Bibles and preaching tapes, but I have some doubts as to its accuracy.

I think you know as well as I do that many people who have read the word of God and heard the preached word do not have faith in God; and I emphasize those two words, “in God,” for good reason. I have read the written word of God and listened to it preached since 1973. Shouldn’t I be some sort of “Super Christian” by now?

The truth is I still struggle, in my faith and my walk with the Lord. Sometimes believing God’s word and walking with him seem more like a dream than a reality — too good to be true. I read it. I hear it. It sounds so good, but how do I know it’s really true? Both the written word and the preached word have flowed to humanity through flawed human vessels. “Let God be true and every man a liar,” the Bible declares; so how do I know I can trust what mere men say and write?

CH09 preaching gospel2I’ll tell you how. By confirming what you read and hear preached with the voice of God that imparts faith. What Bible did Abraham read? Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible more than 400 years after Abraham died. The first English version like we use today of the entire Bible was published in the 1300’s by John Wycliffe — and that would be more than 2,000 years after Abraham died. I think it’s safe to say that the written word of God had no part in producing faith Abram, the Father of our Faith. Reading a Bible does not  guarantee that you acquire faith in God — the key words being in God.

Shortly after my salvation, I won a painting at a church function depicting a man bent over, dripping with sweat, carrying a huge sack labeled “burdens” on his back. The man walked down a road towards Jesus, whose arms were outstretched to receive him. The message of the painting was clear: if you come to Jesus, he will take and bear your burdens for you.

I was showing the painting to my mother when my Dad joined us. My Dad observed the painting for a moment then he placed his arm down the middle of the canvas blocking Jesus from view. And then, pointing to the man about to be crushed under the burdens of life, he said, “This is all God does for you.” I’d heard my Dad talk of having read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. He even talked about attending church and a minister he admired. Yet my Dad lived his life as an alcoholic who believed till the day he died that God made life a harsh burden. If faith comes by reading the Bible and listening to preaching, why didn’t faith come to my Dad? Is it possible he lacked faith because he didn’t understand what he read? Yes. But is it fair to be condemned by God because you didn’t understand the scriptures you read?

Here’s another question: Will the preached word impart faith in God if the written word does not? Sometimes, maybe; but in truth, not always. A certain lady was very good to me when I was a young Christian. The God she taught me about was a tyrant who “burdened” her and her family with one disease after another. Sadly, it was the preached word that taught my friend “God makes you sick so he can be glorified.” I can’t help but wonder why she believed that a loving, good God could be so bad. If I deliberately exposed my children to disease so they could learn some lessons, child welfare authorities would declare me an unfit mother and take my children away from me. This lady read the word and listened to preaching all her life — in fact, she was a pastor’s wife.

You may find my next statement shocking. I see little difference between my friend, my Dad and devils. They all believe God exists. My Dad believed God exists, but rejected him because he believed God “made life hard.” My friend believed CH09 devilGod existed, and she did her best to serve him even though she, too, believed God made life hard. And, as the Apostle James tells us, devils also believe God exists – and they tremble in fear of him, knowing that one day God will make their life hard. On the surface, my Dad and my friend appeared to have nothing in common. They lived very different lifestyles. But they did have one thing in common: neither one of them had faith in God. To both of them, God was a tyrant who made his creation miserable.

Until you understand how God has been good to us, in a world that’s as bad as the one we live in, your faith will be anemic. Indeed, it’s hard to have faith in someone you can’t trust to be fair. How can you have faith in someone whom you perceive is set on making your life miserable, and who gives you no recourse but to endure it “for his glory?” Which brings up another thorny issue: What about all the people who’ve never heard or read the word? Will God unjustly throw them in hell for eternity simply because they never read a scripture or heard the gospel preached? Do we worship a God — or some kind of devil?

I do not believe God is a tyrant, nor do I believe God is cruel and unjust. Let me propose to you that the only voice you can truly trust is the voice of God’s witness. You’ll find good and bad people in every profession, including the ministry. Human beings, even ministers are not completely reliable witnesses. Next, let me also propose that faith has come to everyone  in a language we can understand because faith comes to every man the same way it came to Abram!

The Apostle Paul wrote, “there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11). So, to understand God’s ways, you must learn to think in the context that he treats us with equality, not only in the times we live in, but with equality that spans yesterday, today and tomorrow.

He (God) took him (Abram) outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars–if indeed you can count them.” Then he (God) said to him, (Abram) “So shall your offspring (descendants or seed or Jesus) be.” Abram believed the LORD, and he (God) credited it to him (Abram) as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6, NIV)

CH09 starsGod Invited Abram to go outside and asked him to look up at the stars and challenged him to count them. Then God assured Abraham that the offspring of Abram’s seed (Jesus) would be as many as the stars in the sky.

Abraham “…believed in Yahweh, and he credited HER to him righteousness”(Hebrew-English Interlinear).

The Interlinear’s Hebrew wording is most intriguing. Did you catch that gender change? He, God credited “HER” to, him, Abram. Who is this “HER,” or “it,” as some translations read? In truth, “her” is a more revealing word than “it.” Abram’s not a “her”; he’s a “him”. Likewise, God is always seen in Scripture as being a “him”, not a “her”. God is the Father; Jesus is the son. God couldn’t be “her,” could he, and at the same time be a “him,” too. So who is this “her” that was credited to him (Abram) when he believed in Yahweh (God)?

Here’s a clue: The New Jerusalem and (Godly) wisdom are always characterized by scripture as female. In Revelation, the New Jerusalem is the “bride.” Proverbs says, “Wisdom raises her voice in the streets.” She speaks her words. If you don’t listen to her, one day it will be too late. You will call out to God, but he won’t answer. As we learned in “What Is Faith?”, Faith is wisdom! Faith is the sum of all the good reasons we have to believe God can and will keep his word to us.

The word “righteousness” is a translation of the Hebrew nouns tesedeq and tesedaqah. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, these are difficult words to translate and understand.  Their meaning can be sensed based on older translations in which righteousness means “the legal relationship of humans… transferred to God in an absolute sense as the lawgiver with perfect justice.” To put it in plain English, God is responsible to keep things legal between God and his creation. The burden of the law is on God’s shoulders, not yours — If you belong to Jesus.

God defines righteousness in Leviticus 19:15 as not respecting the person of the poor, nor honoring the person of the mighty. Righteousness is a legal matter, not a behavioral matter. Jesus said, “I have come to fulfill the law.” Then he said, anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19, NIV)

We can break the law given to Moses that Jesus fulfilled, and teach others to break it without losing our place in heaven because righteousness is a legal, not a behavioral matter. Our behavior will give us a lesser place in God’s kingdom, but not necessarily keep us out of that kingdom (depending on how bad our behavior is). When some behavior, like theft, adultery and drunkenness, is so chronic as to define our whole identity as persons, that behavior will keep us out of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus goes on to say, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20, NIV).

The Pharisees and teachers of the law did their best to conduct their behavior according to the laws God gave to Moses. Jesus was born into a society where people (at least, the “good Jews”) did their best to obey the law given to Moses. So I can’t help but wonder why Jesus encountered so many devils in this law abiding society.

What the Pharisees and teachers of the law did was right or a form of righteousness because as Jesus said, “Whoever practices and teaches the commands given to Moses will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” BUT Jesus also made it clear that good behavior alone is not enough to gain citizenship in the kingdom. The righteousness that faith imparts surpasses the good behavior the teachers of Jesus day taught, and the teachers of our day teach.

To guarantee that everyone who wants to be saved can be saved, God must give everyone the same opportunity to acquire faith irrespective of time and place, so he gave us a witness we can trust that has existed from creation. “No person has been alive since God created the earth” you scoff? God has. There are more ways to speak than words.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit added heavenly languages to the many diverse earthly languages by which we communicate. Hearing a language spoken means nothing if it’s not understood. The members of the Corinthian Church all spoke in tongues at the same time, and nobody knew what was being said. Their simultaneous speaking created confusion instead of order. Yet, Paul never discouraged them from speaking in tongues; he merely pointed out if you are speaking a language that is not understood your speaking is in vain.

CH09 Trumpet BattleThere are more ways to speak than just with words, earthly or heavenly. Even things that don’t have lives of their own can speak.

“Even things without life, whether flute or harp when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?” Paul also said, “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices or languages in the world, and none of them is without significance” (1 Corinthians 14:7-8, 10-11, NKJ).

There are many voices in the world, and all of them have importance, meaning or significance. Even inanimate objects can communicate. The trumpet doesn’t say with spoken words, “Get ready for battle!” Yet everybody in the camp knows what it’s sound means.

In Moses’ day, the world didn’t have television, telephones, fax machines and E-mail. Moses was able to communicate with a vast multitude with a trumpet. God commanded him to make two of them (Numbers 2:10). Then God taught Moses how to communicate with the multitude he led out of Egypt. If the trumpeters use both trumpets everybody comes; if one trumpet is used only the princes come, etc. etc.; It’s easier to communicate to a vast multitude with a loud sound than with the spoken or written word.

There is a reason I am stressing this point. The existence of hell cannot be justified unless every person, regardless of the language he speaks and the technology of his day, has the same opportunity to receive faith in God. How did God guarantee everyone would have the same opportunity? How can did God  communicate equally to a vast multitude over a long period of time, when languages and forms of communication are constantly changing? How? With a sound louder than words — the voice of HIS ACTIONS!!! From God’s words,  we get the truth. From his actions, faith comes for us to believe he speaks the truth. Faith is available to every person in a language they can understand, no matter what language they speak, no matter what culture they adhere to, no matter what technology is available, no matter what generation they lived in because faith comes to everyone the same way it came to Abram.

God told Abram, “Look up at the heavens.” He directed Abram’s attention to creation so Abram could hear a “voice” that would give him faith in God — the same voice from which every man on earth can receive faith. It is the only way it can be done without being partial to a specific time or specific people. Abram obtained faith the same way every man who has ever lived on this planet can get faith.

Now, don’t think this means if God appeared and spoke to me as he did Abram, I would have faith like Abram’s. But also, don’t think for one minute that God gave Abram something he hasn’t given you. It wouldn’t be righteous of him to have done that. Abram struggled to believe the things God said to him.  Abram acquired faith when he was outside looking at the stars listening to a voice louder than words.

Let’s consider a much misunderstood chapter in Romans.

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace who bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel for Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our report? So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world. (Romans 10:14-18, NKJ)

You can’t skip verse 16 or stop at verse 17 and understand what Paul is saying!!! This chapter is a condemnation of the nation of Israel for hearing the truth and refusing to obey. If you don’t consider verse 16, it sounds like people can’t have faith in God unless someone is sent to preach to them. “Well, why can’t they,” you may be saying, “since verse 17 clearly states ‘faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.’”

I know what you may be thinking: “We just read, ‘How shall they hear without a preacher and how shall they preach unless they are sent?’” Might I suggest to you that God is a preacher who sent himself? God speaks through ministers, but he does not need us to make a statement. It is his sheer grace to allow men and women, who can barely be trusted, to join him in proclaiming the good news.

I’m not arguing against sending people out to preach the gospel. God sent many to preach the gospel in Israel, yet only a very small remnant believed it. I am proving that God shows no partiality and gives everyone the same opportunities to receive faith. That is why faith we are “saved by faith”.

Look at the word “BUT” that starts Romans 10:16: “BUT they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord who has believed our report?” (Emphasis added). Paul is saying that God has sent preachers as he continues to do to this day. They were men with beauty because they preached peace with God and told of good things to come yet few believed them. The real question is: WHY HAVE NOT ALL WHO HEARD THESE PREACHERS OBEYED?

Romans 10:17 is the beginning of a new thought, not connected with people coming to preach the gospel.  Paul came to the conclusion that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Then Paul asked the reader a question: Have they not all heard? And what was Paul’s answer?

“YES, INDEED they’ve all heard!!!!”

“Ah,” you think, “Paul meant everybody in Israel has heard. No. Paul declared, “everyone has heard!”

CH09 heavens 2“But I say, have they not heard? Yes Indeed: Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world” (Romans 10:18, NKJ).

All the earth to the ends of the world has heard “their” sound, “their” words.

The question that needs to be answered is this. Who is making this sound that goes out to all the earth even to the ends of the world, condemning everyone who fails to have faith IN GOD? Everybody – past, present and future — has been given the same opportunity to receive faith in God. Paul was quoting from Psalm 19. Let’s see if we can find out who is making this faith-giving sound that all the earth, even to the ends of the world, has heard:

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth. And their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4, NKJ)

Even things without life can speak when they’re in the hands of one who possesses life. Creation is God’s trumpet calling every man to wake up. As a man picks up a trumpet to make a sound every man understands, even so creation is in God’s hand, making a clear and distinct sound heard by every man in his own language. Can you hear what God is saying in a voice louder than words? If you can hear this voice, you will have faith in God. If you can’t, listen to Paul clarify what the voice is saying as he tears his clothes and runs in among the multitude of Lycaonian’s who were preparing to worship less than God:

…Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, (God has not left himself without a reliable witness that we can trust. Look carefully now. Who is God’s witness?) in that he (God)  did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:15-17, NKJ).

God’s witness that God is good is God himself. Actions speak louder than words, so listen to the voice of his actions. Even though humanity forsook God to walk in their own ways, he has never turned off the sun. He’s never stopped the rain from falling. Never forbid the earth from producing the food we need to live. God does not need the apples that fall off the apple tree. The apple tree does not need the apple it produces. Why does the tree produce what it doesn’t need — especially when it doesn’t even want to?

According to Romans 8, humanity makes creation sick. Creation has been subjected to vanity by God. Creation is forced to produce what sinful men need to live just so they can die. How vain is that! Creation can’t wait to be delivered from the bondage of man’s corruption. Creation groans and labors with birth pains. She can hardly wait to give birth to the true sons of God whose bodies sleep within her. One day, everyone  will have the same birthday. Resurrection day, for if there is no resurrection, our faith is vain!

Can any of us deny it? Did we put food on the earth? Did we hang the sun in the sky? Do we make the rain fall? Did we supply things on earth that we need to live here? I know I didn’t; it was all here when I got here. It was all here before we were born and will be here when we’re gone. Who put what I needed to live in my reach but someone good. And all that good could have only come from someone who wants me to live.

Jesus taught us not to worry about our lives. God has been feeding mankind from the creation of Adam and Eve, with little thanks from us. He could barely save any of us in Noah’s day. Humanity had become so violent only one drunk, and his family survived. Most of humanity has no time for God, or they worship everything but him. Yet, God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” because it is right to treat people with equality (Matthew 5:45, NKJ). God is good to everyone because God is for everyone.

The gospel does not prove God exists or that he is good. God is his own witness; he makes his existence and goodness evident by a sound louder than words that everyone has been able to hear and understand from the creation of Adam to this day. The gospel is an announcement that God no longer allows us to walk in their own ways. It is time to repent — you are without excuse! Faith has come to all men. You can hear the trumpet blowing wisdom in the streets. Every man has heard the voice of God in his own language, from God himself.

Why have we not ALL obeyed? How can we sleep when the trumpet has been blowing so loud for so long?  Why have you pulled the pillow over your head trying to drown out the trumpet voice of God? I’ll tell you one reason why! “The lazy man says, There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!” (Proverbs 22:13). Why do we believe the lion of the tribe of Judah will slay us in the streets, when he has never withheld the things we need to live?

CH09 Sleeping 2God’s words are louder than your words. Fear is unjustified, and we know it because we have all heard. We all know. God is good. God is for us. God wants us to live. If we are too lazy to get up and fight the good fight of faith one day we will regret it,

Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep so shall thy poverty come as a robber… (Proverbs 24:33-34, NAS)

…for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:2, NIV)

“Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.” (Revelation 16:15, NIV)

But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6, NIV)

One of these days the “lazy people” will roll over in bed, scratch, open one eye and bolt upright in bed, rubbing both eyes in disbelief, wondering where everything went. They believed the voice of men crying, “Peace and safety” when humanity deserved condemnation. Suddenly destruction came, and they were not prepared. Whom will they have to blame but themselves? To them, God will say, “Faith came in a voice louder than words, but you did not obey me!” And in the words of the Apostle Paul they will indeed be “without excuse”. (Romans 2:1)

 

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