Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dangerous Faith: “By Many or By Few”

One day Jonathan son of Saul said to the young man bearing his armor, "Come, let's go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side." But he did not tell his father… No one was aware that Jonathan had left. On each side of the pass that Jonathan intended to cross to reach the Philistine outpost was a cliff… Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, "Come, let's go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few." "Do all that you have in mind," his armor-bearer said. "Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul." Jonathan said, "Come, then; we will cross over toward the men and let them see us. If they say to us, 'Wait there until we come to you,' we will stay where we are and not go up to them. But if they say, 'Come up to us,' we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the LORD has given them into our hands."

So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. "Look!" said the Philistines. "The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in." The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armor-bearer, "Come up to us and we'll teach you a lesson." So Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, "Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel." Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.

Then panic struck the whole army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God…. So the LORD rescued Israel that day, and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven.
1 Samuel 14

What caused Jonathan do such a brash thing?

In case you missed it, Jonathan decided that it would be a good idea to attack this Philistine outpost with just himself and his armor bearer. Not only that but the outpost was on top of a pass, so he and his armor bearer would have to fight uphill severely out numbered. AND this pass was guarded by cliffs on both sides, meaning that their options for retreat were pretty limited. So, was Jonathan just stupid and foolhardy?

You might be thinking yes right now, but let me point you to a few passages of Scripture that I think Jonathan may have been familiar with. “You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.” (Leviticus 26:7-8) “The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.” (Deuteronomy 28:7)

Here’s the key. Jonathan knew God’s character and His promises. He knew what God wanted him to do, because he knew God. Jonathan knew that it was God’s will for Israel to defeat her enemies and fully possess the Promised Land. And Jonathan knew that God had promised them these victories. This is why Jonathan was able to act courageously and yes even dangerously. He didn’t need to sit around waiting for divine inspiration. He didn’t need a billboard from heaven. He knew what God’s will was; he just needed to act on it.

But there’s more to it than this. Not only did Jonathan know God’s character and His promises, he also knew that the battle belonged to the Lord. This could be seen all throughout Israel’s history—Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites with only 300 men and Joshua’s defeat of Jericho to name just a few. Jonathan knew that it didn’t matter how many soldiers Israel had or how skilled they were. Victory was dependent on God’s sovereignty and power not on their military strength. This is what led him to the conviction that God could save “by few or by many.”

Jonathan believed that if he stepped out in faith and courage acting in line with God’s will and His promises that he could trust God to bless what he was doing. And God was so pleased by Jonathan and his armor bearer’s actions that He joins in the fight with them. God sends an earthquake that throws the entire Philistine army into confusion. They start fighting each other and retreating. All of Israel was given a great victory that day because of Jonathan’s faith. Literally hours before, Israel’s army was down to 600 men because most of them had deserted and were hiding among the rocks. The Philistine’s had already set up an outpost in the area and were calling the Hebrews dogs for hiding in holes. Then, just like that, two men’s act of courageous faith turned the whole thing around. 

It is my hope that you and I would act with the same courageous faith that Jonathan had. But we can only do this if we know God and His promises like Jonathan. Do you know God well enough and do you trust Him enough to step out on faith like Jonathan did? If so, then how do you need to bring God’s character and His promises to bear on your own life? What strongholds do you need to charge with courage and faith in the Lord?

Don’t be brash, and don’t be stupid. But there are some things that we know God wants us to do. We know that God wants us to feed the starving and rescue the oppressed and defend the downtrodden. We can charge after these things wholeheartedly knowing that God will bless our efforts. But I’m sure that there is more as well. I’m sure that there are things that are specific to your life. What is it that is burning in your heart right now? I urge to draw your sword and step out on faith. The Lord will bless you for it.

For further reading this week…
  • Joshua 6: Check out how God helped Joshua defeat Jericho.
  • Judges 6-7: Gideon's men were outnumbered 450 to 1!
  • I Samuel 17: David & Goliath. A classic.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dangerous Faith: When God doesn’t make sense

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it."

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him...Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 
Acts 8:26-31, 35-39

We’re in the middle of looking at what it means to have a dangerous, living faith. Over the last few weeks we have talked about: taking up our crosses daily and following Christ; leaving boring, man-made religion behind and running toward a living relationship with God; and discovering our God given passions and pursuing them in the world. Now we turn to look at various Bible characters that exhibited this type of “Dangerous Faith,” and we are going to see what we can learn from their encounters with God. (This part of our series is heavily influenced by a book entitled When God says Jump: Biblical Stories that Inspire You to Risk Big by J.R. Briggs.)

We start by looking at an encounter that a guy named Philip had with the Lord. Philip was in Samaria and had just sparked a revival that brought many Samaritans to Christ. In fact, it was a significant enough revival for some of the apostles to come down from Jerusalem to check it out and take part (Acts 8:14). After the revival, the Lord speaks to Philip in the above passage and tells him to "Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza."  God tells him to go to the desert!

Why would God ask him to do this? Why would God send poor Philip to the desert? There were so many new converts in Samaria that needed to be discipled. I mean Philip had just led a revival. Was he being punished for something? What’s going on?

Sometimes it’s hard for us to make sense out of what the Lord is asking us to do. There are even times when from our perspective it is easy to think that God has lost touch or that we know better than He does what we should be doing. But God hasn’t lost touch. We serve a God that is omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipresent (all-present). Our perspective is just too small for us to understand what He’s really up to.

How could Philip have known that the Lord was going to fulfill two Old Testament prophecies through him on that trip? He didn’t know, but that’s exactly what the Lord did! For years the Old Testament had prophesied that pagan nations in Africa (like Egypt for example) would sing the praises of God and be brought into the family of God (Psalm 68:30-32 & Isaiah 19). Many historians believe that this Ethiopian eunuch with whom Philip shared the gospel in the desert was primarily responsible for taking the good news of Christ to Africa in the 1st century after Christ’s death. If that is so, then through this one trip to the desert God provided a way for an entire unreached continent to be exposed to the good news of His Son.

What’s more, the Old Testament placed a restriction on eunuchs like this Ethiopian from entering into the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:1). This man had traveled all the way from Africa to participate in a feast in Jerusalem in which he was not even allowed to participate fully because he was a eunuch. Now he is on the way home, and God shows him (and all eunuchs once and for all) that they are no longer held at arm's length. They can enter into the very presence of the Lord. This special inclusion of eunuchs into the people of God had also been prophesied in the Old Testament. (In fact, it was prophesied in Isaiah 56: 3-5, just three chapters after the passage that the eunuch was reading.)

So through Philip’s obedience God provided a route for the gospel to be preached to an entire continent, extended an invitation to a marginalized people within the Jewish faith, and brought one very surprised Ethiopian eunuch to a saving knowledge of Jesus. How could Philip have known that this one little trip to the desert would accomplish all of that? He couldn’t, but his willingness to obey the Lord even when it didn’t make sense is what made it possible for God to do things through him that were bigger than he was.

It’s the same for me and you today. Sometimes, we won’t understand what God is asking us to do. But, if we are willing to take up our cross and follow Him,—if we are willing to obey even when it doesn’t make sense—then we allow God to do things through us that are bigger than we are. And that’s when we are truly dangerous as Christians.
For further reading this week…

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dangerous Faith: What’s Your Passion?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3

Zach Hunter is 17 years old, and he’s a modern day abolitionist. He began the Loose Change to Loosen Chains initiative (LC2LC) to help end slavery in our world. (By the way, more people were enslaved  in 2007 than were enslaved in all the years of the transatlantic slave trade combined!) He has also written a book on the subject entitled Be the Change. Check out this video about him from a few years ago. Or, for a more updated look at other books Zach has written and what he is up to these days, go to

Pretty cool huh? Zach seems like a great kid, and only seventeen, but there’s really nothing - and I repeat nothing - extraordinary about him. He just followed his heart and his passion. That’s all. Zach was a shy twelve year old when the Lord put this passion, or should I say compassion, on his heart. He was no different than any other kid, so why is Zach speaking to stadiums of people about ending slavery when most other kids his age are trying to perfect their "Halo" skills?

The difference is that Zach decided to act on the compassion that he felt for these people. He decided to follow that desire, that passion that he felt rising up inside him instead of stifling it like most of us do. Why do we do that anyway? We stifle it because passion and compassion are dangerous emotions. They push us outside of our comfort zone. They threaten to change not just other parts of the world but our little part of the world too. We see this in life of Jesus. Constantly in the gospels we read that Jesus was moved by compassion to act. He healed the sick and fed the multitudes. He restored sight to the blind and healed leprosy all because He had compassion on people. Ultimately His compassion moved Him to give up even His own life for you and for me.

This is the kind of life that you and I are called to live. We are called to enter into other people's suffering (like Christ did) and bring the joy and the freedom of the Lord along with us. We are called to run to the dark places of the world and shine the light of the Gospel into the hearts of those who have no hope. So like the author of Hebrews I implore you to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and… run with perseverance the race marked out for [you].” In order to do that, we have to beat our bodies into submission (I Corinthians 9:27) and take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). We have to have the courage to take a risk and act on our passion.

So I ask you, what’s your passion? There are many, many great needs in our world today, and certainly no single person can undertake to eradicate them all. And I don’t think that the Lord expects you to eradicate them all by yourself, but maybe you can help make a dent in a handful of them. Don't wait for God to drop a billboard sign on your head telling you to defend the widows, orphans, helpless and weak. He has already told you to do that (check out Psalm 82:3-4 and James 1:27). We don’t have to be “called” in some special and super personal sense. This burden belongs to all of us as Christians because the Bible tells us it does. All we need to do is follow our God-given compassion and passion. So I ask again, what’s your passion? What need in our world tugs at your heart? What need is tugging at your heart even now?
For further reading this week…

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dangerous Faith: Zeal

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will…Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Romans 12 1-2, 9b-18 (emphasis added)

Last week we looked at Paul’s life and realized that the first step toward dangerous faith is extreme love for God. Paul was willing to forsake everything in order to know his Lord more intimately. He had found that knowing God brought him more joy than anything else in life. That includes money, prominence, and comfort. None of them could compare to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. 

It is this type of extreme love for God that I want to take a closer look at this week, and I want to suggest that it is related to what the Bible calls 'zeal.' Now ‘zeal’ is kind of an Old Testament word so let’s see if we can update it to a 21st century context. We’ll start by looking at a most excellent definition for the word I came across recently:
Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way…A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing… He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives, or whether he dies,—whether he has health, or whether he has sickness,—whether he is rich, or whether he is poor,—whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offense,—whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish… for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it,—he is content… he has but done the work for which God appointed him… This is what I mean when I speak of “zeal” in religion.
(Bishop J.C. Ryle. Practical Religion, 1959 ed., p.130)

I love that definition! Something about it speaks to me deep down in my soul. It stirs me. It challenges me and convicts me. And this is what I want each of us to move toward, to run after with all our might.

If we “draw near to God, He will draw near to us” (James 4:8)! And while we are in His presence we will be “transformed into His likeness” (II Corinthians 3:18). We will become passionate about the things that He is passionate about. We will become zealous for His glory. We will be moved to defend the cause of the fatherless, the widow, the downtrodden and the outcast (Jeremiah 22:16).

If you are tired of pretending to know God, if you are tired of boring religion and are ready to actually know Him, then try this. Seek Him! The Bible promises that if you seek Him you will find Him. Instead of relying on your pastor to tell you what the Bible says, pick it up, dust it off and read it yourself. Don’t live your relationship with God through your pastor or anyone else. Enter into relationship with God yourself. Pray to Him. Read your Bible. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Going to church is important and your pastor can really help you understand the Bible but that is just the beginning of your relationship with your Savior. Like in any relationship the most special moments with our Lord are those that we share with no one else but Him.

For further reading this week...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dangerous Faith: Running Toward Relationship

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:7-11

Jesus is calling. He is calling out for disciples who are willing to take up their crosses everyday and follow him. He is calling for those who are willing to live dangerously for the Lord. Over the next few months, we are going to study what it means to have a “Dangerous Faith.” My hope is that we would accomplish two things: First, I want us to leave boring religion and dead rules behind and run after a living relationship with God. Second, I want us to be moved to a place of great passion in our Christian walk. I want us to love God and to show that love by obeying Him with reckless abandon.

In the above passage, we find that Paul accomplished both of these objectives. He was fully surrendered. He tells us that he was willing to give up EVERYTHING for the sake of Christ. Why? He was willing to give everything up because he considered everything to be of no more value than trash when compared to knowing Christ. Don’t miss that! That’s big. For Paul nothing compared to the immeasurable joy he found in his relationship with God. So, if we hope to attain this level of full surrender to God, then we have to begin by running toward relationship with Him.

But you might ask, “Didn’t Paul have a little bit of an upper hand on us ordinary Christians? I mean he did see Jesus in divine form on the road to Damascus...” NO! The joy of knowing God is a promise that is open to and expected of all God’s children. We may not have a vision like Paul did, but we can know God just as intimately (see Hebrews 10:19-22 and Ephesians 3:12).

But for many of us the idea of knowing God intimately and hearing His voice is surrounded with a lot of confusion. We don’t know what it means to know God intimately, and we aren’t sure what it is supposed to feel like. We hear stories about people’s super-spiritual visions or dream-like trances and we feel embarrassed or ashamed that we haven’t experienced the same. We may even wonder if we know God at all.

Somewhere along the way we have gotten distracted. We have moved away from relationship with God and have moved into religion and duties, to the point that now most of us doubt whether or not the kind of relationship Paul talked about is really even available. If you want to know God and are surrounded by confusion on what it means to be in relationship with Him, then here’s the solution. Are you ready?

Just ask! The Lord has promised us intimacy with Him, IF we seek it (Deuteronomy 4:29, Jeremiah 29:13, Luke 11:9). Jesus died to secure this intimacy for us. God will not withhold it from you. You may have to persevere to get it. God doesn’t always work on our timetables. You may have to seek after it and sacrifice your time and priorities to receive it, but the Lord will not withhold it from His children for long. In fact, He longs for us to have intimacy with Him, it is His heart. 
The problem isn't that God withholds this intimacy from us; it is that we expect the wrong things. We expect some sort of spiritually induced acid trip to heaven. Although Scripture bears witness to visions and even trips to heaven, most often the Spirit of God works much more consistently and quietly in our hearts. He works when we read the Bible, when we pray, when we worship Him, and when we spend time with His people. In those times He fills our hearts with love, joy, and peace (Galatians 5:22-23).

I challenge you this week… ask the Lord to draw you closer into relationship with Him and then seek after Him. Forsake other things for the pursuit of Him. He will not keep you at arm’s length for long. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).

For further reading this week…