My zeal for God was at an all-time low when I started an ambitious project – read Alfred Edersheim’s 5,000 page The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Before I started this project, years of disappointment led me to cloak myself in Martha faith. Martha believed something were possible for today and some things were not. Her conversation with Jesus revealed the hopelessness in her faith that she would see her brother again before she died.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (John 11:21-27, NIV)
Martha gave Jesus a diplomatic answer. She was not willing to acknowledge her brother would rise from the dead today. Neither was she willing to make Jesus less than “the Christ, the Son of God”. She never gave the absolute answer Jesus sought.
I could not in good conscience limit the All Mighty, so I, like Martha, concluded all things are possible BUT it is impossible for some things to happen in my lifetime. If I truly have the kind of faith that pleases God, it should not matter that death will remove me from the earth before I see the fulfillment of things spoken to me and confirmed. I might be limited by death but God is not.
Swallowing the distasteful pill that things I counted precious would inevitable happen after I die is difficult. But Abraham, the Father of our faith, did it, so I gagged the unwelcome reality down. Then I wondered, what is the purpose of this life? If everything is for tomorrow, why am I here today? The blazing faith that engulfed me at my conversion had become smoking flax.
I was sailing through Edersheim when my boat ran aground on a fig tree.
When the disciples saw this [the fig tree Jesus had cursed withered], they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Matthew 21:20-22, NIV
The disciples were amazed at the speed the fig tree withered after Jesus cursed it. In addition to the quick fulfillment of Jesus words, Edersheim points out that moving mountains was a common saying in Jesus day that indicating doing the impossible. The message was clear. Prayer makes the impossible possible.
If we have faith and do not doubt we can see the impossible. NOW. TODAY. Not after we die and are resurrected. Martha had only requested healing for her brother. Jesus gave her above and beyond what she could have imagined. He raised her brother from the dead. It was interesting to note that her faith was not very strong. She never said that she believed Jesus could raise her brother from the dead today. She only acknowledged that he is the Christ, the Son of God. Her mustard seed faith was enough to see the impossible. The story put some oil into my lamp of faith with the smoking flax. I admit the flame is not burning very brightly, but it is burning with hope again.
I love cruising. I know there are hazards. Seasickness could leave your Christmas dinner spewed about the bathroom as happened on my first cruise. Instead of relaxing by the ship’s pool, bad weather could leave you stranded indoors playing cards with the free decks the ships staff handed out. That was my second cruise. Third cruise, you could offend a friend you are traveling with. There are hazards, but I still love cruising.
My husband and I decided to sail a different cruise line for our fourth cruise. The first thing I noticed on the ship was blue and white orbs everywhere I went. They stood like sentries by the elevators, guarded the entry to every restaurant and bathroom. If their siren call did not draw your hands to them for a squirt of germx, cruise employees armed with spray bottles of germx singing “Washy Washy, Happy Happy, eaty eaty” pointed the bottle at your hands and smiled. Clearly they understood the hazards created by unclean hands.
At first, I resisted, but then an angel appeared or maybe an employee wearing wings, with a spray bottle in hand. By the end of the cruise, I looked forward to being sprayed before I entered the buffet line. The constant cleansing of my hands reminded me of a verse in Psalms, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, … He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior” (Psalms 24:4-5).
The Jews took the concept of clean hands literally and applied it with a vengeance. They washed their hands after visiting the bathroom; after cutting one’s hair or nails; after participating in a funeral procession, upon leaving a cemetery, or coming within four cubits of a corpse; after touching a normally covered part of your body (private parts, back, arm pits, etc.); after touching inside of the nose and ear; after touching the scalp, but not if you just touched the hair.
Jesus considered the practice a “commandment of men” which made the worship of God vain. The Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus why his disciples failed to keep the tradition of the elders to wash their hands before they ate. Jesus responded by condemning traditions that voided the commands of God. Then he offended the Pharisees with a little common sense, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’” (Matthew 15:11, niv). Washing one’s hands with water may prevent the spread of disease, but it will never produce a clean heart.
The first man and the first woman were nudist. If you find that statement offensive consider Genesis Chapters 1-2 paying particular attention to 2:25. God created the heavens and the earth. Then he created flying creatures to inhabit the sky, swimming creatures to inhabit the sea, cattle and creeping things to dwell on the land. On the sixth day, he created man to be the steward of planet earth, but he did not clothe the man, who he called Adam.
Apparently, God did not plan to be around 24/7 to keep the nude steward of his creation company. He created a woman as a suitable companion. Then he brought the nude woman to the nude man, and they were content to rule God’s creation in the buff.
Adam and Eve were not ashamed of being naked. They lived in a simpler time. God alone was their conscious. He told them what was good. He told them what was evil. At this point in humanities existence, God had taught them one evil and its consequences – eat from the tree of knowledge, and they will die. They were naked and unashamed because God had not yet taught them its shameful to be naked.
Adam and Eve where hanging out by the one item in the garden that could bring evil into their lives when the serpent joined them. Erase from your mind the image if a snake slithering into the garden on his belly and climbing up the tree of knowledge, so he could have an eye level conversation. God had not yet condemned the serpent to eat dust. This serpent had the ability to communicate with the stewards of creation and it is possible he stood upright.
The serpent had a problem with his creator (Gen 3:1). He also had an agenda; prove to the rulers of God’s creation that God is evil. Adam and Eve were little more than a means to an end. The serpent may have sensed a weakness in Eve, therefore he addressed her first. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen 3:1).
Eve proceeded to instruct the serpent on what God “really” said. “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’” (Gen 3:2-3, emphasis added). God never told Adam and Eve they would die if they touched the fruit. Eve put her words in God’s mouth. Now you know humanities weakness and the definition of arrogance. We attempt to improve on what God has said and claim God himself said it.
The serpent responded to Eve’s explanation with a malicious accusation about God. “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4-5). In sum, the serpent said God is a liar. He has withheld something good from you.
God had already made Adam and Eve in his image and likeness. God rules the universe, and he gave Adam and Eve a planet to rule. God made humanity as much like himself as he could without bringing harm into their lives, and then gave them a choice about the attribute of a God that he withheld from them. The ability to know good and evil without anyone telling you what is evil. They were free to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge and become even more like God, but if they exercised their freedom, they would also bear the consequences – death.
Now Eve must decide who lied – God or the Serpent, the creator or his creation. If Eve had loved God, she would have believed the best of God and given him opportunity to defend himself before she condemned him as the liar. The serpent deceived Eve by appealing to something she desired – to be wise like God. In the end, it was her desire that deceived her not the serpent (James 1:14-15). The only way to fulfill her desire to be as wise as God was to believe God is a liar.
Why didn’t Adam stop her? He was standing next to her. He could have slapped the fruit out of her hand and demanded her to wait until God faced his accuser. Instead, he joined her. Their sin ran deeper than eating fruit God forbid them to eat. They failed to love the one who gave them authority over every good thing he had created.
Now, let us return to the naked issue. After they ate the forbidden fruit, neither one of them dropped dead, but God never said death would be immediate. The immediate result of acquiring the knowledge of good and evil was shame. Without anyone telling them Adam and Eve knew they were naked, and they were ashamed. Their effort to clothe their nakedness failed. When God looked for them, they were covered with leaves yet still hiding because they were ashamed of their nakedness.
Adam and Eve were not ashamed that they believed the worst of God. The blame game that followed proves it. God asked Adam, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” (Gen 3:11). Adam blamed his wife. Eve blamed the serpent. The serpent didn’t have anyone to blame. God didn’t let him speak. The serpent had already said enough.
God judged each guilty party beginning with the serpent. I wonder what judgments God would have decreed if Adam and Eve and admitted their sin rather than blame someone else. What would have happened if Adam had said, “What have I done? God, I have sinned against you. You entrusted to my care every good thing you created. I rewarded you by believing the worst of you. Please forgive me.” Would Eve have followed Adam’s example of repentance? Would the serpent be the only one suffering for his sin today?
We don’t know what God’s judgments would have been had they truly repented. We do know the serpent eats dust, women bring forth children in pain and men struggle to provide for their families. The serpent is exposed for the liar he is because everyone dies. We also know that God did not abandon his stewards. He promised a seed who would destroy the serpent’s wisdom and then an animal paid the price to cover Adam and Eve’s shame. God tossed the flimsy leaf clothing and covered them with leather (Gen. 3:21).
Did Adam and Eve ever repent for treating God with contempt? We don’t know. The Bible is silent on that point. We do know Adam and Eve taught their sons how to bring offerings to God. Therefore, it is possible their broken relationship with God was healed. Is yours?
Today, God covers us with a better sacrifice than shedding the blood of an animal. Jesus shed his blood that God might cover us with his righteous deeds. Yet, many continue to flee from God’s presence for the same reason Adam and Eve did. We don’t want him to see our shame. Hiding is futile. Trying to cover our nakedness with a patchwork of leaves is vain. “… there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). If we come to God he will cover our shame and forgive us for our sins, but that is only half the battle. We must overcome our sin. Our tendency to believe the worst of God to justify the wrong we do. Then and only then will we find peace with our creator.
Faith is the essence of the Christian experience yet few grasp its true meaning. There is so much misinformation about faith one can easily be deluded into believing their faith is “God pleasing” faith and get lost in a maze of misinformation. I know. I’ve been there. I found my way out of the maze when I closed my ears to a myriad of well-intentioned voices and started listening to God’s voice. No, I don’t hear voices speaking in the night or day for that matter. I am referring to the words recorded in the Bible that are attributed to God.
Jesus defined great faith that amazes him when a Centurion sought his help for an ailing slave. Before we talk about “God pleasing” faith, let’s identify the characters in this encounter: Jesus, the Centurion and a servant. Jesus, of course, was the image of God in human flesh who said, “if you have seen me, you have seen the father.” Plebeians usually held the office of Centurion, a commander of one hundred men in the Roman army. Before the plebeian joined the army he may have shared a single room in a four story badly constructed wood apartment house with another family. The sewer system was a pot emptied out the window creating an unsanitary and putrid environment. Slaves serving a patrician family had better living conditions. The ailing slave, a child perhaps teenager who tended to the needs of the Centurion.
Jesus had just preached his most famous sermon and returned to Capernaum with large crowds in tow. On the way home, he amazed the crowds by healing a leper. At this time in his ministry, Jesus was famous with many demands on his time.
The Centurion, who lived in Capernaum, was no stranger to the Jews religion. He had financed the construction of a synagogue and the Jews, without doubt, had taught him is “Gentile place” in their religion. Jewish men began their day blessing “the eternal one, our God” for not making them a woman, gentile or a slave. Therefore, the Centurion did not consider himself worthy to bring a petition to Jesus. He sent the elders of the Jews to plead for the healing of a slave.
The elders considered the Centurion worthy of Jesus consideration because he “built them a synagogue”. According to Jewish beliefs (Acts 10:28), the elders had broken the law and defiled themselves when they had dealings with the Gentile. Insert sarcasm. Apparently, exceptions could be made when “religion” is advanced.
Jesus, the image of God, didn’t have a problem defiling himself in the home of a Gentile to relieve the suffering of a slave. Yep, Jesus got his hands dirty with the very lowest of his societies lowly. But Jesus never made it to the unclean home to pray for the suffering slave. On his way, the Centurion sent friends with a message: “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Luke 7:6-8,NKJV).
Jesus was amazed at “such great faith”. Before announcing the slave would be healed, he warned the Jews that this kind of faith would result in many gentiles taking the place of Jews who had no faith in God. Who your human father is will not give you citizenship in God’s kingdom with all of its benefits. God pleasing faith will.
I’ve often pondered what was so amazing about the Centurion’s faith. Society had given him a putrid slum to live in. Religious people used him to advance their agenda yet had no place for him as an equal among them. Life had not been kind to the Centurion. The unfairness of life has driven multitudes away from God but it did not drive the Centurion away. He recognized the immense power and authority of God to command everything and he still believed God cared about a slave.
Do you have great faith? Do you count yourself unworthy yet still believe God cares that the slaves to sin we love are suffering? Now that would take “great faith” – God pleasing faith.
This week I questioned God’s love. Let me be a little more specific. I questioned God’s love for me. Believing God loves others is easy. Believing God loves me is a bridge that I thought I’d crossed in a previous decade – a literal bridge.
In the late 1990’s I had just taught a lesson about Israel’s scathing accusation that God didn’t love them. God was perplexed and downright irritated. He had destroyed a nation that refused to give them religious freedom. Then obligated himself to sacrifice his firstborn son to pay for their freedom. What made them think he didn’t love them?
I knew why Israel felt unloved. God promised to fulfill the promises he made to their ancestors if they followed him. Instead of receiving the fulfillment of those promises, they were stuck in a desert with supplies running dangerously low. Matters were complicated when ten of their leaders returned from scouting out the promise land and recommended they return to Egypt. Discouraged and afraid, the Israelites weep all night “God doesn’t love us!”
I know how Israel felt. At the time I taught that lesson twenty years had elapsed, and I thought I was at the boarder of the Jordan River about to cross over into the Promised Land. Instead of encouraging me, the words and deeds of leaders at my church had thoroughly discouraged me.
My husband and I were on our way home from church. When we reached the top of the Huey Long Bridge, the same scathing accusation made by Israel came out of my mouth, “God doesn’t love me.” That statement suddenly woke me to a frightening realization. I was guilty of the same sin that robbed Israel of the promises of God and kept them in a wilderness until they perished. As we exited the bridge, I repented and purposed never to doubt God’s love again.
Fast forward to the present and I found myself slipping in the same slop. “How does God love me when he didn’t do what he promised me.” I didn’t ask God for this thing. It wasn’t my idea. He initiated it. I’ve waited longer than Abraham and in two years I’ll have waited as long as Moses.
Waiting doesn’t disturb me. Patience is a foundation of the Christian faith. That my efforts to obey God have resulted in little more than a lifetime of waiting does. The things God said to me prevented me from doing other things with my life. Even more disturbing is the thought I could have done those other things while I waited on him. We are our own worst enemy.
The Sunday after my relapse into Israel’s error, I attended a Pentecostal church service. During the song service, the singing stopped and the congregation grew quiet. A woman standing in front of me spoke a prophesy*, “Don’t measure my love the way the world measures love. My love is pure like a gentle wind that flows in and out of your life, so gentle you often don’t perceive its presence.”
God rebukes whom he loves, and I consider myself rebuked. God loves me. Things did not happen the way I thought they would, but that is not an accurate measure of God’s love. It is an accurate measure that I did not understand the things God said to me. If you are weary of waiting, don’t question God’s love. His love is pure flowing in and out of our lives whether we perceive it or not.
*Pentecostal’s practice the gifts of the Spirit according to 1 Corinthians 12-14. The woman’s prophesy was a message from God to the church.
The phrase “good works” arrested my attention while reading Titus in the New King James Version of the Bible. Paul exhorted Titus to be zealous and ready to perform good works. Twice, he addressed the need to maintain good works. Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint elders and expected him to be a model of good works the elders could imitate.
The emphasis on good works made me wonder what Paul considered a good work? More importantly, what does God consider a good work? Instead of assuming that we know what is “good”, we should allow the Bible to define a “good work.”
A good work in the Biblical sense does not originate in human reasoning. God has already determined the good works he desires us to do (Ephesians 2:10). He decided the good Jesus would do and recorded those works in the Old Testament before Jesus was born. Had Jesus varied from the prophecies spoken about him, his works, no matter how charitable, would not have been good.
One way to know we are doing a good work is the response of the people. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). The last time you did a good work who was glorified? Did people walk away in awe of God or in awe of you?
Since only God is truly good, the only “good works” are the ones he leads us to do. Jesus told the Jews that he could do “nothing of himself but what he sees the Father do; for whatever he does the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19). If Jesus could do “nothing of himself”, how much more are you and I incapable of doing good works without the guidance of God’s Spirit?
Another test of a good work is the ability to perform it. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). In all things, at all times you should have all you need to fulfill the good work God has given you to do. If you don’t, you may not be doing God’s work.
It is a great disservice to God if you are begging for finances, or even asking God’s people to fund your good work. You have not because you are not asking God for the things you need. You ask God and receive not because your good work originated in your desire. God is not obligated to pay for something that he has not ordered.
Some Jews asked Jesus, “What shall we do, that we may do the works of God?” (John 6:28) I found Jesus answer surprising. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:29). In other words, if they believed in Jesus, they would do the works of God. If we master this good work, we will fulfill the good works God has already prepared for us to do.