Warner's TheoBlog

Thoughts from a disciple who writes


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Why do we find it hard to live by faith?

I have really struggled over how to approach new set of blogs that is swishing and swashing around in my head. I want to address the idea of faith. To look at the deceptively simple idea that we need to have the faith to stand on the word of God. I find, however, that I am simply not sure how to get it out there in such a way that my readers might understand. I am not sure I get a full grip on it myself.

The truth that I want to put across is a simple one, yet it is deeply profound. It is something like this…

We must have a faith in God’s words that allows us to live in the truth of them. Not living in the world as it seems to be, but in the world as God says it is.

I am struggling even to convey what I mean in a sentence or two.

Let me try to explain what I am getting at with a series of lists that attempt to illustrate the progress of our thoughts.

First, how it should be…

a)     God speaks

b)    We hear

c)     We live by it

Let me fill it out a bit with an example from Jeremiah 31:3 of how it should work…

a)     God speaks – He says, “I love you with an everlasting love”.

b)    We hear – and think, “I am loved”.

c)     We live – as a person who is loved, in security and peace.

Most often, however, the following is the case…

a)     God speaks – He says, “I love you with an everlasting love”.

b)    We hear – and think, “I am loved”.

c)     We live – in exactly the same was as before.

Most of us live as if we are unloved and so are insecure, defensive and lonely. This is not how God wants us to live. When we hear about the deep and abiding love of God, it is a joyful revelation. What is missing most often, however, is a real acceptance of this revelation that allows us to live by the truth of it as secure, comfortable and blessed people.

It that something happens to us that causes us to hear God’s word and then not live by it. It is not that we ignore the word of God. Nearly all Christians would be able to say, “Jesus loves me”. Rather, it seems that reality as we perceive it hijacks the word of God so that we are unable to live by it. Thus, there are countless Christians who do as follows…

a)     God speaks – He says, “I love you with an everlasting love”.

b)    We hear – and think, “I am loved”.

c)     We live – as defensive people who feel insecure and unloved.

To give the process a bit more detail, I think that what happens is something like this…

a)     God speaks – We hear, “I love you with an everlasting love”.

b)    We hear – and think, “I am loved”.

c)     We live – in a world in which we have always felt unloved and insecure.

d)    We reassess God’s word – and think, “I do not feel loved by God. If I was better then I would be able to believe and live by God’s words. Therefore, it must be because I need to be a better person. How can God love me if I can’t even believe Him?”

e)     We then rewrite God’s words – He seems to say, “I would love to love you with an everlasting love, but you are not good enough”

f)     We hear – and think, “I am not good enough for God’s love”

g)     We live – in a way that does not feel loved and secure and so we set about ‘trying’ to live a better life and feel more loved by God, yet we feel guilty when it does not work.

Our experience of the world around us and our learned behavior seems to overwhelm our faith in what God says.

It is time for a change. We do not need grace to change… we already have that. The second that God declares His love for us we are offered the grace to experience that Love. What we need is faith. Faith in the word of God.

Faith is not simply hearing and believing. It is accepting and living as if it is true even when we find it hard to believe.

a)     God speaks – He says, “I love you with an everlasting love”.

b)    We hear – and think, “I am loved”.

c)     We live – as if we are loved by God’s everlasting love even if we don’t feel like it. We are secure, valued, loved, blessed and all the rest. How do we know? Because God tells us that we are. So we live in peace and faith.

It is so easy to ignore God’s word and promises. It is so easy to justify a life of insecurity and anxiety by saying, I am human. We are children of the living God… we do not need to justify our insecurity and unloved-ness because they are simply not true! WE ARE LOVED!

Where does this lead us? To a life of faith. A life lived in REALITY as it really is… As God says it is.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1)

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Good faith is good

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1)

I have spent a lot of time in the last week or so cogitating on this verse and the chapter that follows it. I hesitate to blog on it, because I am not entirely sure that I have a proper handle on it. I seem to have a lot of interesting ideas but I am struggling to put them into plain English. (What is the point of an idea if no one except I can understand what I mean?). So let me know if the following is clear.

My first thought is this. Faith is good. Actually, let me put it slightly differently. Good faith is good.

Faith is, according to the verse above, surety of what we hope for and certainty about the things that we do not see. From the perspective of the passage, this is a good thing. All of the people listed in Hebrews 11 stand in faith upon positive promises of God. They hold on to the things that God has said to them and they act in accordance with the future that God has promised, but that is not yet realised.

All of us need to take this on board. What are the promises of God for you? There are many that are clearly general promises in the Bible. That God will bring us into His Kingdom, that those have faith in Jesus will be saved, that the Holy Spirit empowers those who have faith in Jesus, and so on. There are also promises that are specific to us. God speaks to His children (another promise) through the power of the Holy Spirit. What has He said? How we live our lives and the choices that we make point clearly and honestly to where our faith lies.

A specific example of this from my own life is that God called me, 4 years ago now, to leave the church, stay in Braintree and He promised to provide for me and my family. The decision that my wife and I made as a result was to leave our denomination and stay in Braintree. Even though we had no work or home of our own in the town, we put into action the decisions that were in accordance with God’s word to stay in Braintree. We found that, after we had acted in faith, God provided work and, miraculously, the ability to buy a home. God is always faithful to His promises. I have faith in this.

My second thought is similar and, possibly, equally obvious. Bad faith is not good. Faith is the surety and certainty of what is as yet unseen. Therefore, if one is sure that things are going to turn out bad and fearful that the path that might lie ahead could lead to difficulty or pain, then that too is faith (just not a good sort). This kind of faith will also determine our actions and lead us on a path other than God’s.

Fear is not simply the opposite of faith, it is another kind of faith. How many of us who claim to believe in the word of God really, beneath the surface, worry that it is not real or true? Many, many Christians live by fear of what might go wrong rather than faith that God is REALLY all powerful.

For example, how many of us have a stronger belief in our own unworthiness than we have in the grace of God? If we believe, at the heart of things, that we are unworthy of God’s love more strongly than we believe that God offers His grace to us freely and without any need for us to earn it, then we will act accordingly. We will live in fear of God’s punishment rather than assurance of His love. It is so easy to believe that, really, after all is said and done, in the end, I need to be a better person in order to know God. All that this leads to is a guilty conscience and slavery to religious practices that are supposed to purify us for God. When we have faith that God offers free grace then things are very different. It is only after we come to God in Jesus that we change and are transformed into better people because we know God. When we come to God in faith, in humility and submission, then God’s plan unfolds in our lives and we are transformed by it. We are not changed in order to come to God, we are changed because we do come to God.

Fear is a faith that things might not turn out well and it dominates many Christian’s as they try to live in Jesus. Fear ruins the lives of disciples, because it is twisted faith.

I guess the question goes something like this… what do you have faith in most strongly – God or something else? If our faith is in God, then we will act in a way that opens the way for the power of God to move, because we will be in step with the Spirit. If our faith is in something else, then we will act to please or mollify that thing… or we might not act at all. Even then, we will probably try to justify what we do by saying we are doing it for God.

It is hard to think of examples that are simple to give. Yet we all know the competing voices that call for our attention in every area of our lives. The “What if…” question is always loud and it can cripple us as we seek to follow the will of God for our lives. If Noah had listened to what if… he would have drowned in the flood. Had Abraham listened to the what if voice… he would have died in Haran like his father before him.

There is only one voice that matters. The voice of God. When God speaks, there is no what if because we can be sure that He has the what if in hand. Our calling is to walk the path rather than plot the course.

The question I ask myself is this. “What has God said to me and am I acting upon it by faith? If I am not acting in accordance with it then why not?”

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1)


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Psalm 23 (rebooted)

(A Psalm of Nigel… taken from David)

I am the Lord’s sheep. He is my shepherd. He is there to guide me and I am there to be guided. Whilst I know that I shall lack nothing with Him as my shepherd, for some reason I still live in repetitive fear that I will go without something and be left alone. It is not true, but it still sneaks in to my head.

I feel His firm hand on me as he lays me down in the lush green grass, besides quiet waters. The only thing that disturbs the peace is my bleating, as I keep trying to find out what the grass is like over there and there and whether I should have such peace. My soul needs restoring, but I wonder if I ever stop long enough to let it happen.

My shepherd guides my path in righteousness, but I am constantly wandering off without thinking. But my shepherd keeps on guiding, because he is my shepherd. That’s what he does.

At those times when I walk through the shadowy valleys, that suggest and feel like death, I don’t need to fear evil. I find that as I walk in the dark, I can sense the presence of my shepherd staff… even when I find it almost impossible to see the shepherd. I really don’t need to fear evil in those dark places… but often I still do. Until I stop. Then I notice that my shepherd is, in fact, right next to me and feel immense comfort from the presence of his staff and the knowledge that He is with me.

My shepherd prepares a table for me. My enemies might think I deserve to eat off of the floor, but my Lord sits me in His banqueting hall at His table to eat His food. Everyone can see that He loves me, even those who hate me. My Lord anoints my head with oil to show that I am not only a sheep of His flock, but a son of His family. If I can but notice it, my cup overflows because He gives me more than enough of everything that I need.

Because I am His sheep and His son, good things and His love will be with me and upon me for every minute of my life. Nothing can happen to me that will separate me from Him and so everything is good, for the rest of my life.

I am His and so I will live in His presence for ever. Nothing will change that. I just pray that I perceive it.


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Simon Schama’s ‘The Story of the Jews’

Whilst my blog is most often an opportunity for my theological thoughts and cogitations to be aired, there are times when I feel it necessary to make a comment on culture and the media. This week is one of those times.

I spent an interesting and enjoyable hour watching Simon Schama’s new BBC documentary, The Story of the Jews. As with all of his history programs, it was good TV and he is an engaging presenter. Since I am not an historian, I would not comment on the historical accuracy of his programmes, especially the ones that have focused purely on the history of Britain or America. Whilst I watched this one, however, I became increasingly uncomfortable.

I have a more than passing familiarity with the history of the Jews (through my theological studies) and as I watched him presented his understanding of the ancient history of the Jews I felt that it was almost unrecognizable. It took me a good half an hour to work out why.

When Simon Schama began the programme, he set out his reasons for doing so. Chief among them was his own need for identity as a Jew and his desire to belong through a shared story. Yet he very clearly avoided declaring a faith in the reality of God. In fact, he declared his solidarity with Sigmund Freud’s need for identity and conclusions as to his Jewish personhood. Freud was a secular Jew who believed that the concept of God was a projection of human need and could be reduced to an expression of the human psyche. Schama is, it seems, and Freud was, an atheist.

Schama went on to set out the ancient history of the Jewish people with only a passing reference to God and, when he did refer to God, only with the implication that God was a necessity of unenlightened, pre-enlightenment Jewry. Implying further, that a concept of God was not a necessary. Even when footage of he and his friends celebrating the Pesach (Passover) meal was shown, the impression was that the presence of God in the story of the Exodus was an incidental explanation for suffering and escape needed by an ancient people.

Simply put, his history of the Jews was God-less.

He went on to suggest in his thesis, with little or no explanation, several ideas that were very problematic. Among them were the ideas that Moses must have died at the point when the law of God was developed and that the law was simply an enactment of communal grief on behalf of the people, and that the Bible itself was changed in Babylon to make the law even more rigorous. Neither of which fit with the biblical account and both of which are only necessary if one does not have a concept of the need for God.

Simon Schama has produced a documentary, all be it an interesting one, that is not ‘THE story of the Jews’, but ‘AN INTERPRETATION of the story of the Jews’.

To leave God out of the history of the Jewish people is like leaving flour out of bread. You might still be able to cook something with the ingredients, but you are not going to get bread. Perhaps his reply to this point might be that God is only the leaven for the bread of Judaism, but I would simply say that without God there is no bread at all. The presence of the One True God is at the heart of Judaism and it is what lifts it to transcend national identity. God offers purpose and meaning to the existence of humanity in the universe, a truth that is made clearly evident in the People of God, the Jews.

I am not Jewish and can never truly understand the historic suffering of my Jewish brothers and sisters. But I am a believing, faith filled Christian and I believe that the God of the Bible (both Old and New Testament) is the meaning and purpose that lies behind the existence and life of humanity. I pray for those who believe in the God I follow, even those who do not yet know Jesus to be the Messiah, and I hope that, even as I watch and enjoy the rest of Schama’s TV series, the presence of the One True God will shine out of the story of the People of God for all to see.

As the Bible says,

Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’ (John 4:21-24)

That time has come in Jesus.


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Walking around in circles

Even I can see, as I read Joshua 6, that the strategy to take the fortified city of Jericho is a little bit alternative. It is not normal to walk in circles around a city and never fire a rock or stone at the walls, and then to expect the walls to come down.

“as the commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” (Josh. 5:14-15)

Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the Lord’s army reveals several things.

  • First, God’s power is present as the people of Israel start to take possession of the promised land. His army is already at the scene of the battle and preparations have been made.
  • Second,  the land around Jericho is already holy. God has set it apart for the people of Israel to see the power of His presence and activity. The land will not be made holy when the city is taken and the non-believers are destroyed. It is already holy because God says that it is. In the same way, I am acceptable to God; not because I am without sin, but because Jesus says that I am. It might seem an odd thing to say but; things are not made holy by our actions, but by God’s declaration. They become real to us as we walk in the faith that they are real.
  • Third, the city of Jericho is doomed by the word of God, but the actions are still to take place.
  • Fourth, the plan to take the city is not Joshua’s. Jericho will fall at the hand of God by the plan of God. Joshua 6 relates God’s plan to open a city that is heavily defended and tight shut… and it is crazy.

“March round the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Make seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march round the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, make the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.” (Josh. 6:3-5)

As we read on, this is what happens. The whole army of God marches around the walls a total of 13 times in a period of 7 days. The Ark of the Covenant, which holds the words of God and the proof of the wilderness experience, is given centre stage and the people walk with it around the whole city of Jericho. On the seventh day, they walk around the city seven times and at the last moment let out an enormous shout of praise for God and the walls come tumbling down. Then the huge column of the army charges from all directions at once into the now defenseless city and wins the battle.

There are several things that come to mind as I read this…

  • There is no doubt at all that God wins this battle. No matter what people might say or claim, there is no other possible explanation. And so, as the people of Israel enter the campaign to win the promised land they are building on an earthshattering, resounding victory that is entirely down to God.
  • The faith of the people needs to be strong. The army of the Israelites must have felt like a proper bunch of plonkas, walking in silence around the city walls. The people and army of Jericho would have shouted insults at them all the time they marched and, as day followed day, the army must have wondered what was going to happen and if Joshua had made a mistake. I wonder what the talk in the camp was after the first day of walking around the walls? I wonder what people were saying about Joshua after the 6th day of nothing happening? I wonder how enthusiastic they felt after the 6th circuit on the 7th day? By faith they marched and shouted.
  • Faith is not a feeling, it is a conscious decision. Whatever the feeling of the army of Israel, they went through with the entire plan. God said it would work, and it worked. There must have been occasions when the army thought it was a stupid idea… but they kept going out of a conscious decision to follow God’s words. We are no different. If we believe God has said something, we need to carry on until the end. If they had given up after 6 days, they would not have won.
  • God’s plans are not the same as our plans. No sane General would suggest this plan to take Jericho… but God did. How audacious is that? God has the power and authority to carry through His plans… even when we cannot see how they might actually work out. We need to submit to the plan and power of God, not expect him to take our advice.

This passage has so much to teach us. As disciples, individually and as a community, the will of God should be our primary focus and the glory of God our ultimate aim. No matter what the apparent evidence of our eyes might be or what the preference of our desires might suggest, God’s word is key. When we hear God speak we need to carry it through… however mad it seems.


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Whose side is HE on?

I don’t know about you, but there is something odd about the number of times that we assume that God is on our side. Isn’t it suspicious, how often God agrees with us? I think that often we assume that we are doing the right thing and, therefore, God must be on our side. It is also interesting, at least to me, how often we find ourselves doing things that are other than that which the Bible teaches, whilst still adamantly assuming that God agrees with us.

The truth is, most of us do not set out to move in the wrong direction and so we assume that we are moving in God’s direction. It is not that, when we stop and assess the things we are doing, we think that God agrees with us. It is simply that we assume that we are right and rarely take the time to truly assess what God says or might be saying.

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’

‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so. (Josh. 5:13-15)

This passage surprised me and spoke to me afresh when I read it this week.

Joshua and the people of God are moving away from the River Jordon, having crossed the river in flood and committed themselves to taking the Promised Land. As they march towards Jericho’s walls, they meet a powerful warrior who stands in the way of their huge army. He must have been powerful, since standing alone he makes so much impression that Joshua, the leader, confronts him.

‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ (Josh. 5:13)

The man’s reply would not be strange or surprising if he is just a man out for a walk with his sword. It might be expected that he would want to remain neutral in that case. Yet, he is not a man out for a walk. This warrior is the commander of the heavenly army of God.

‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ (Josh 5:14)

What surprises me in his reply is that Joshua and the people of God were themselves acting on the instructions of God. They are seeking to invade and take the promised land as a result of God’s command. Yet, the Warrior says he is neither on the side of the People of Israel nor the People of Canaan. Instead, he asserts that he is in the army of the Lord and, by implication, that he is on the Lord’s side.

I think that there is a really important issue at play here. Joshua asks whether the warrior is on the side of the People of Israel or of their enemies. The warrior’s reply is that neither party leads him or defines his actions. Instead, he is on the Lord’s side and the actions of the army of the Lord will be decided wholly according to the will of God for the glory of God, not by any group of people.

The truth is that Joshua’s question places the people of Israel at the heart of the situation, when it is God who is ALWAYS at the heart of ANY situation. Everything in Creation is created solely for the Glory of God. Therefore, if the will of God leads to another 40 years in the wilderness or defeat at Jericho, that is up to God. The people who claim to be God’s people must simply walk the path that He lays out for them knowing that whatever happens, God is Lord of All.

Joshua realises his error and falls down in front of the warrior. He understands that here is a commander who really knows what it is to follow God rather than people and politics.

Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’

The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so. (Josh. 5:14-15)

Joshua immediately understands that the key issue in the journey of the people of Israel into possession of the promised land is not the comfort of the people of Israel. It is the glory and honour of God. God was Lord whilst Abram lived in Ur and Jacob looked after his uncle’s sheep. God was Lord whist the people were in Egypt and whilst they wondered in the wilderness. He will be Lord whether the Promised Land is populated by Canaanites, Philistines or Israelites. God is Lord! The key issue is always God. It is all about Him. So Joshua bows down and worships.

The warrior then places God at the centre by saying, “take off your shoes and remember that you are on Holy Land.” Why? Because the people of God are ALWAYS on holy land whilst they are walking with God. They walk with God so He is present.

The question that every one of us who are disciples need to ask is NOT, “is God on my side?” but, “am I walking with the Lord? Am I on God’s side?”

If we follow God’s will for our life, it does not matter if we win a battle or lose a battle, nor if we are in the wilderness or the land of promise. God is with us and that is all that really matters.

All that matter is that we walk with God. I commit myself again to follow God.

Father, I choose to follow you wherever you lead. If it is where I prefer or fear, I will follow. If it leads to pain or pleasure, I will follow. If it leads to prosperity or suffering, I will follow. If you lead to the wilderness or the promise, I will follow. Jesus, I am your man. Tell me where to walk and I will follow. Where else can I go? With you are the words of eternal life. I will follow. Amen. (My prayer)