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Getting to the Amen

“Now, to the one who has power to work far beyond all things which you can ask or comprehend according to the power that is at work in us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations to the ages of the ages, amen.”

(Ephesians 3:20-21)

And so Paul closes this section of his letter with one of the glorious doxologies of Scripture. It is to God that the glory belongs both in the church and in the work of Christ, and it is God who is working in us in ways that we cannot comprehend — even more wonderfully than we can ask. And so, to that, we say with Paul, “Amen!”

But, as with so many things, saying this or reading this, is often easier said than done. Truly, when all things are going our way, perhaps, but when we are struggling through fears, grief, loss, or other trials, that is an entirely different matter. Indeed, if God is able to work far beyond what we can ask or comprehend, why does he often do what we ask for and can comprehend? The answer is often a bitter pill to swallow, but it is precisely because God is able to do that for which we cannot ask and cannot understand that he does so. His ways, most ultimately, are good.

That is not always an easy position to get to…at least emotionally…but it is the only place we will find peace in the midst of turmoil. We are not the adults who have all things figured out — there is a great deal we cannot comprehend about God’s perfect plan. We are the children standing on the ledge of the swimming pool needing to learn to trust our Father who calls out to us from the deep end, “Follow me!” At first, the deep water looks frightful and intimidating, but we will never fully understand the ability of the strong hands of our Father to keep us afloat until we let go of our fears and trust him enough to jump. The saying is easy; the doing is often quite another thing. Yet, until the doing is done, we will not utter the hearty “Amen!” with the Apostle. 

A Sincere Trust

Remember those days when you were first learning to swim, perhaps with your father or mother standing beside the swimming pool, encouraging you to jump in and they would catch you? Perhaps it was learning to ride a two-wheeled bike for the first time and your parent (or maybe a trusted older sibling) was keeping you up, saying “trust me, I’ve got you.” Perhaps the thing to which you can relate is stepping out in a business venture and your partner or backers saying, “trust me, you got this!” 

We rely a great deal on trust…and to some extent, if you don’t place your trust in others you end up becoming a curmudgeon and a cynic and you isolate yourselves from relationships. But even though trust is a part of most of our relationships, often we do not spend much time thinking about what trust happens to be. 

The dictionary defines trust in terms of your “belief in the reliability” of another — in other words, it points to someone or something that is outside of you upon which you rely. In many ways, the word is almost synonymous with the word, “faith.” Trust is that recognition that if you rely upon another person, they will not let you down.

And so, when the Catechism, in Question 21, asks about true faith, it speaks of having a sincere trust that the Holy Spirit works in me through the Gospel. What is this all about? The Spirit has many roles in the life of the believer — he is counselor (John 16:7), teacher (John 14:26; 1 John 2:27), and giver of gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) amongst other things. But most basically, His role is to conform the life of the believer into the image of the Son. 

How does the Spirit do this? The most basic way he does this task is through the Gospel — through the word studied and preached and applied to the life of the Christian. We might even more simply speak of this in the context of the “ordinary means of grace” or in the context of the “keys of the kingdom,” both of which we will talk about more later in this catechism. 

And so, an aspect of True faith, or saving faith as some would put it, is the trust that the Spirit is at work in me, conforming me into the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29) — in other words, that tomorrow I might look more like Jesus than I did today. Trusting also implies that we act upon that trust — striving as empowered by the Holy Spirit toward this goal of honoring Christ, whether through applying the Ten Commandments to my life as a way to grow in my sanctification or in seeking to be obedient to the many other commands we would see Jesus, our Lord, set before us. In other words, genuine trust requires an action on my part — a response to that trust — jumping in the pool, riding the bike, entering that business venture. We act in faith in the confidence that the Spirit is acting in us through the Gospel. 

And note one more thing…it is the trust that the Spirit is acting in us through the Gospel — this does not require (or even speak of!) supernatural works (this I would argue, ended at the close of the first century with the close of the Canon). It is through the Gospel — the written revelation of God contained in the Bible. A humble and faithful life, rooted in the Word of God, is a far greater testimony than all the “miracles” that man might like to think he can produce.

Sight Unseen!

“So Rebekah and her young women got up and they mounted camels and followed after the man. In this way the servant took Rebekah and went on.”

(Genesis 24:61)

 

And thus Laban and the rest of the family are left behind … for the moment at least … and Rebekah travels on with Eliezer to meet Isaac and Abraham. One must commend Rebekah as well as Eliezer for their faith, but in different ways. For Eliezer, his faith is demonstrated in his willingness to follow his master; for Rebekah, faith is demonstrated in her willingness to follow the instructions of Abraham never having seen him or having known his character. She trusts in his authority and follows; Eliezer knows Abraham’s authority and follows. Jesus said blessed are those who believe without having to see (John 20:29). Eliezer has seen Abraham and has witnessed the mighty works that God has done through this man; Rebekah has not, yet she still follows. Eliezer reasonably knows what the outcome will be when he returns home to Abraham; Rebekah does not.

Miracles and magnificent works really are overrated. While they can perhaps confirm faith, they are impotent in producing faith and the faith that Jesus commends is a faith that does not rely on such works. How often, when we are called upon by God to follow his leading in big or even in small ways, we hesitate. We desire confirmation while God desires obedience. We are often more like the child that always asks his parents, “why,” rather than the child who follows in obedience. Loved ones, obedience is the call to which God has called us; may we follow into the unknown — even sight unseen! — along the pathway that God has laid before us and see what God will do through our lives.

Hope in the Name of God

“I will praise you forever, because of your work;

I will hope in your name, because it is good in the presence of your saints.”

(Psalm 52:11 [verse 9 in English translations])

 

And here, David, in the midst of the grief and sorrow of loss turns his heart to praise. What a remarkable statement and model for our lives we have in the character in this great king over Israel. How often we find ourselves stuck or absorbed by our grief that we can never find ourselves being pulled out of it; David says that even in the midst of this sorrow, he will give God praise because God has preserved his life and has promised to judge the wicked who have done these horrible things. Loved ones, God will avenge and will make right every wicked act that is done against the lives of his people; may we always follow David’s example and model that in our lives as we praise God in the midst of our crises.

A note should be made here in terms of the word “saints” in translation. Literally, the word that David uses is dyIsDj (chasiyd), which is derived from the word, dRsRj (chesed). The word dRsRj (chesed), as we have discussed above, refers to God’s covenant faithfulness to us despite our lack of faithfulness in return. Similarly, then dyIsDj (chasiyd) refers to those who are the object or recipients of God’s dRsRj (chesed). In the New Testament, the term a¡gioß (hagios —  literally, “holy ones”) is rendered as “saints,” yet it seems that the sentiment being communicated is rather similar, for indeed, just as there are none of us who are deserving of God’s faithfulness apart from His divine grace, so too, there are none of us who are holy, but instead we are made holy by God’s divine grace through the completed work of his Son, Jesus Christ.

And it is we, the saints, who have faith in the name of God almighty. Notice that the language referring to “the name” of God is singular. God has many names that are applied to him in scripture, but in a very real sense, these names are just aspects of his one true and Triune name: Yahweh — “I am.” When Jesus gives the disciples what we now know as the “Great Commission,” we find him using the same language once again in the context of baptism: “you shall baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19b). Notice that it does not say, “in the names” (plural), but “in the name” (singular). God may be three persons, but he is one in name. And hope is one of those funny little things. It does not exist in and of its own right, but hope must rest on something (a promise, a coming reality, the character of another, etc…). For the believer, we hope in the name of God for we know that he will not forsake his character or his promises to those who are his holy ones.

Beloved, it is in that hope that we can draw confidence and know that God is our fortress and our protector. He will allow us to grow up strong within his gates. He will defend us against our foes. And he will be the one who will avenge us of the wickedness that the ungodly do against us because of His name. Trust Him to that end.

What to do when We Cannot See Our Way out of a Mess

“Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the waterskin and gave a drink to the lad.”

(Genesis 21:19)

 

Sometimes people look at this passage and wonder at how Hagar could not have seen a well nearby. There are two elements we need to keep in mind when we begin to ask this question. The first is that God is sovereign and sometimes he deliberately blinds us to the reality around us to humble us and to teach us of his abundant grace. Essentially, God uses instances like this to get our attention focused on what is important. Sometimes we allow ourselves to get into a “funk” where we just cannot see past the dilemma that is before us; we get frustrated and we get tired and when this happens we just don’t think straight. The solution to our problem might be standing practically in our midst, but we just don’t look because we are selfishly focused on our problem. And here, in cases like these, God keeps our eyes shut. It is only when he can get our attention back upon himself, that he allows us to see the means by which he will lift the problem from our midst.

Hagar is in as great a time of distress as one could imagine. She has been kicked out of her home with her young son, has been given relatively little in the way of provision, and has wandered aimlessly into the wilderness with no plan and no way out. She collapses and just gives up, ready to die and hoping that she will not have to watch her son die as well. And here God comes to her. He reminds her of his promise and then opens her eyes. How little faith Hagar showed, but how often we too, who know the risen Christ, show a faith that is just as paltry.

The second thing that ought to be pointed out is that sometimes wells or springs are not as obvious as others. In the wilderness, wells are essential for maintaining your herds as they grazed and sometimes wars were fought over the “water-rights” to the wells…things haven’t changed much even today. Water is a precious commodity. We don’t want too much of it, but we need enough of it to survive. Sometimes, in the ancient world, wells were larger and more pronounced, but out in the wilderness, they were typically smaller and not always designed to stand out. The term that is used here is rEaV;b (be-er), which can refer to a small well or to a small underground water source. All that might have been there is a small spring trickling up to just below the surface, something that would not have been readily noticed lest it were pointed out. Either way, God’s hand of grace is directing Hagar to the spot where she get renew her strength with some water before they push on.

Again, how often we allow the difficulty of our immediate situation to cloud our vision of what God has promised to us in our lives. How often we throw up our hands in defeat rather than engaging the situation for the glory of God. And how often God shows himself to be faithful even though we fail to trust in his never-failing faithfulness. Beloved, do not fall into the trap of Hagar. God is faithful and he is faithful all of the time. He will work things through in his own timing and for his own glory and it will be far better than we could have designed were we able to design life ourselves. Do not doubt, but press forward in the design that God has for your life trusting him to provide that which you need physically and spiritually—trusting in his ever-flowing grace.