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Such Great Faith (the key to having great faith)

February 20, 2016 1 comment

faith

“Such Great Faith” (Luke 7:1-10)

Prayer: “We thank you, Lord, for Your Word and its eternal value. Every word of this Bible is breathed out by You and everything that is contained in it is exactly what You meant to say, exactly as it’s stated. So we pray that the ministry of the Holy Spirit might be real to our hearts and minds as we study this great incident from the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Compassion has been defined as “your pain in my heart.”

I love that definition! And in this chapter, Luke chapter 7, Jesus is confronted with much misery and He is compassionate in every case (reference from Pastor and Author Warren Wiersbe). There is the misery of the dying servant, the misery of a grieving widow who has lost her son; there were the difficulties of a perplexed prophet, and at the end of the chapter, the grief of a repentant sinner … imagine this, as she worshiped Jesus she had to face the scorn of the religious leaders. And Jesus helped all of them. He was (and is) a compassionate Savior.

Now the incident before us this morning occurred in the city of Capernaum. It’s important to remember that, and the fact that Jesus had been there before. In fact, Jesus had previously talked about the things He would do in this city of Capernaum, as He was being rejected by the people of Nazareth, which was His hometown, the place where He was raised.

He said to those people in Nazareth “You will surely say this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your own country.’” And then Jesus warned those people as He said, “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country.” (Luke 4:23-24)

What we’re going to focus this morning on is the first incident recorded in Luke 7. It’s a situation where Jesus marveled. There are only two times in the gospels are we told that Jesus marveled:

The first is recorded in Mark chapter 6, where He marveled at the unbelief of the people in His hometown of Nazareth. It was said that He could not do any mighty works there, because of their unbelief. Their unbelief hindered His ability to do anything much for them.

Two, Jesus marveled about a man who exercised such amazing faith that He would say, Jesus would say “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Luke 7:9). He was amazed by the faith of this centurion.

So our focus this morning will be upon the great faith of this man; why it was great, and what we can learn from it in relationship to our own lives.

  • The narrative reads like this from Luke 7:1-10:

Now when He concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. {2}  And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. {3}  So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. {4}  And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, {5}  “for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.” {6}  Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.  {7}  Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.  {8}  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.” {9}  When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” {10}  And those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.

Here we are told that Jesus, after He had finished teaching the things He’d taught in chapter 6 (the “sermon on the plain”), now enters Capernaum. He’s coming back into the city … the name of the city is Kfar Nahum, “Nahum’s village.” It was a fishing village on the north end of the Sea of Galilee, a place where Jesus often found Himself.

And it tells us in verse two that this centurion who is introduced to us, had a servant who was dear to him. This servant was sick, ready to die. So when this centurion heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Jesus, pleading with Jesus to come and heal his servant.

This certain centurion is mentioned here. He was a military servant of the powerful Roman Empire, and was there to keep the peace. They called this peace of Rome the Pax Romana (Latin for the peace of Rome). This period of peace lasted just a little longer than 200 years (approximately 206 years—27 BC to 180 AD, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica). The military strength of Rome was so formidable that they had been successful in conquering all of their enemies, the result being that there was peace and stability within the empire. During this time of peace they were able to build roads, able to further the Greek language as the lingua franca (the common language) of the people, and were able to govern each and every province. A relative peace existed under Roman rule.

This centurion was in Capernaum for that reason, to assist Rome in keeping the peace. Questions we have about this centurion: Had he ever experienced combat? Had he been part of other’s deaths? The scripture doesn’t tell us, nothing is said about that.

But what we do know is that he had a servant, which was very common in that day, to own slaves. Perhaps as many as 15% of the entire population of the Roman Empire was made up of slaves (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_ancient_Rome). But his servant was not merely an object to this centurion, the centurion cared about him. He was dear to him—valued by him, precious to him. This tells us that this centurion had a heart.

I had the privilege of pastoring for 27 years in Monterey … near the Defense Language Institute, near the Naval Postgraduate School, and near the former Fort Ord. Some of the greatest men I’ve ever met were in the military; Colonels, Generals, Captains, Commanders, Master Sergeants, and enlisted. I have great respect for them. This centurion was in their class. He was like them in many ways.

As a side note, a subject that has become interesting to me, is that in the original Greek text of this passage, Luke refers to this servant by the term doulos. You’ll recognize that term as it’s translated in the epistles by the word bondservant. But in v. 7, as the centurion refers to his servant, he refers to him as his pais (a Greek word a boy or a girl; a child or children, or a slave or servant; it’s used 24x in the New Testament).

For some reason, Jay Michaelson, in an article published by the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-michaelson/when-jesus-healed-a-same-sex-partner_b_1743947.html), states that pais does not mean “servant” here in this passage but rather it means homosexual lover. And so the argument is made by Michaelson that this servant was the centurion’s younger homosexual lover. It should be noted that his viewpoint comes without any supporting documentation from ancient Greek sources, and without regard to each and every time pais is used in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) and in the New Testament (see http://thebiblicalworld.blogspot.com/2012/08/did-jesus-heal-centurions-same-sex.html).

But just for discussion’s sake: (and I completely disagree with Michaelson’s conclusions) what if pais did mean homosexual lover? Would Jesus have healed the servant? There is no reason to think He would not have, because His mission was to heal the sick and the brokenhearted. He came to seek and save that which was lost. He came, not to destroy men’s lives but to save them. We have to remember that many, many people were healed in the days of Jesus’ ministry. Not all of them received eternal life, but each and every one of them received something of the goodness of God. Some theologians call this goodness of God to pre-believers or unbelievers prevenient grace (aka “common grace”). It’s the grace of God which precedes and is part of the Lord drawing people to Himself, whether or not they eventually believe and make a commitment to Christ. The Lord healed many people who came to Him, because His mission was to seek out lost people and reach them. The healings were indications of God’s love, and evidence that Jesus is indeed the Messiah … giving the people a choice to believe.

I write all that to write this: that our calling as believers is not to decide people’s worthiness or unworthiness to receive benefit and blessing from Jesus. Our calling is to love them. Our calling is to minister the good news, to be loving and gracious disciples. We are free to do that, because of Jesus in our lives and because of the gospel.

Going on, this servant of the centurion was near death due to some sort of illness. Notice that the centurion “sent” elders of the Jews to Jesus. This could have been a command to these elders, so that what they would do would be out of sheer obedience … after all, he was a man of great authority in that region. But instead we get the distinct impression that there was more to the relationship between the Jews and this soldier. In fact, it appears that they wanted to plead with Jesus on behalf of the centurion and his servant.

It tells us in verse 4 that when they came to Jesus they begged Jesus. They begged Him earnestly, and they even said that the one for whom He should do this was deserving. “For he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.”

It was sincere. They begged Him earnestly. They thought very highly of this centurion, because he did love their “nation” (their ethnos, their people, their nation). They meant the term ethos in the sense of people, not nation, because that would have been unlawful under Roman rule. To say it again, this centurion loved the Jewish people.

And, he’d also built them a synagogue. If one travels to Israel today, they can visit the ruins of the city of Capernaum. Among those ruins is a synagogue … dated at about the 4th century. That means that the present ruins are not of the same synagogue that had been built in Jesus’ day. However, archeologists have discovered that under the present ruins of the synagogue in Capernaum is the foundation of a 1st century synagogue … likely the very synagogue built by this centurion.

synagogue

Ruins of the ancient great Jewish synagogue at Capernaum or Kfar Nahum at the shore of Galilee lake northern Israel

 Notice that the Jewish elders told Jesus that the centurion was “worthy” — they said this because they operated under a system of works. In that system, in their minds, one deserved blessings, they earned them. A person’s deeds merited their blessings in their thinking. That was the way they thought … and their whole religious system was geared that way. 

This is contrary to the doctrine of the New Testament, by the way. This is what God’s word says about that approach.

Romans 4:4-5 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness…

See if I work for my blessing, then when blessing comes it’s really not a blessing—it’s really a wage that is paid for my works. But God is no man’s debtor … He doesn’t pay wages to people for their good works.

The one who doesn’t work for right standing before God and for blessing, and doesn’t believe that they can earn it or deserve it, but simply believes on the message of the gospel that came to us through Jesus Christ, that person’s faith is accounted for righteousness, and God is able to give salvation as His gift. Because it is by grace that we are saved through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God, notof works, lest anyone should boast.

So we see that the plea of the Jews stirred up the compassion within the heart of Jesus. The pain of the centurion and his servant went right into the heart of our Lord. Therefore, as it says in verse 6, Jesus went with them. It tells us that when He was not very far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him with his request: “Don’t bother Yourself to come. I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. And I didn’t even think myself worthy to come to You and to greet You face to face. But just say the word and my servant will be healed. So Jesus went with the elders and was near to the centurion’s house … the centurion sent some of his friends to Jesus, men who would represent his heart. And the centurion, through them, says that he is not worthy.

The centurion’s heart was to tell Jesus that he didn’t consider himself worthy. It’s vital that we notice the huge difference between the Jewish elders’ view of the man and his own view of himself. Their view of the centurion: he is worthy for Jesus to do this for him, because of the things he has done for us. But the man himself, the centurion, said “I am not worthy, that You should come under my roof, and I’m not worthy even to have come to You.” The centurion, Pastor David Guzik writes, was a remarkable man.

“The centurion was a remarkable man. The elders said he was worthy; he said he was not worthy. They praised him for building a house of worship; he felt unworthy that Jesus would come to his house. They said he was deserving; he felt himself undeserving. Strong faith and great humility are entirely compatible.” (Pastor David Guzik)

This was the one about whom Jesus said, “I’ve not seen faith like this, not even in Israel.”

Pastor Warren Wiersbe adds another comment. He said, Imagine a Roman officer telling a poor Jewish rabbi that he was unworthy to have Him enter his house! The Romans were not known for displaying humility, especially before their Jewish subjects.”

Yet this Roman centurion has this attitude of humility before this Jewish teacher, this itinerant preacher from the nondescript town of Nazareth.

The request was, just “say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

Now something we’ve passed over so far at this point in the story—was that this centurion had “heard about Jesus.” The things that Jesus had previously said and done in Capernaum (and possibly elsewhere) were known by him (Luke 4:31-43 records these things): things like teaching with the kind of authority no other Jewish religious leader had ever displayed. Perhaps he’d even heard excerpts of Jesus’ messages from the mouths of others. He had heard that Jesus was commanding unclean spirits to come out of people and they immediately obeyed. He had no doubt heard about Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law, and then later that same evening healing everyone who came to Him of any kind of disease. Demons had come out of many, and as they were driven out, they were crying out and saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!”

Something like 1,500 people lived at Capernaum at the time, and since news travels very quickly in a small community, these things came into the ears of the centurion. And the things that Jesus had said and done had been heard by him … and all of that led this man to come to certain conclusions about the Lord Jesus.

His understanding of who Jesus was and is was based upon the things that he had heard that Jesus had been doing and saying. And so he drew conclusions about Jesus. If He can do this, then He must be like ______. If He has this kind of power and authority, then He must be this kind of an individual. And that is how he thought it through. So we see in verse 8, 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.

And this is the statement that captured Jesus’ heart, and caused Him to be amazed. He marveled at this man’s faith. (23:15)

Notice that the centurion’s statement begins with the phrase “For I also am a man placed under authority…”

The word also is key here He recognized in Jesus something that was true of himself; he was under authority … he was a centurion (over 100 men), but he wasn’t a commander over other centurions. What he did was due to the fact that he was under authority. That’s where he received his own credentials and position, from the authority place over him, under which he operated.

The centurion recognized that Jesus Himself was under authority, that He received His authority from another.

Now if Jesus could do all the things this centurion had heard about Him doing, then how great must be the Authority above Him? You might say, “Now wait a minute here; I thought that Jesus is God; doesn’t the Bible teach that Jesus is God? What’s going on here? How could Jesus be God and be under authority.

To answer the question, let us not forget that Jesus was made for a time a little lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:7). It’s called the incarnation, He came in flesh, He was incarnated, He came to live with us, He humbled Himself to live His approximately 33 years as a human being, without ever ceasing to be God. At the same time not only has He always been God, in the incarnation He added a nature, He became one of us. Now He is God who is man, and man who is God. He is the God-man, to put it that way.

Jesus specifically said that the Father is the One who had sent Him. In John 5:36 He said “But I have a greater witness than John; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish; the very works that I do bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.”

These works that I have done tell a story, Jesus was intimating … they give witness to the fact that I have been sent by the Father, and what I am doing I am doing at His command, and by His authority and power.

And the centurion recognized something of that. “I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me,” he said. This centurion was saying of Jesus “I recognize that You are a man under authority but I also recognize the authority You have. And the authority You have is like my authority … whenever I command anything of anyone within my jurisdiction they always obey. They have to. They do what I say. ‘Soldiers, come here or go there’; ‘Servants, do this or do that.’ At my command all I have to do is say it, and they will do it. That’s the authority I have. And Lord, You have that same kind of authority. I’ve heard about You; I’ve heard about what You do, about Your power … Your authority over unclean spirits. I’ve heard about the fact that You can heal any kind of illness that exists. I’ve heard about Your authoritative teaching, which is completely different from the religious leaders that are common in Israel today. You speak as those these words and truths came directly from You, that when God speaks, they are actually Your words. And so I know that You have authority, just like I have authority. And whatever You say, in the spiritual realm or in the physical realm, that is what MUST happen, because You said it. And that is why I’m saying to You, all you need do is speak the word and my servant will be healed, because that is the kind of authority You have. Within my authority as a centurion, my orders are always obeyed. With Your authority, Your orders are always obeyed as well. I’m only asking of You, Jesus, that You exercise the authority that You have in relationship to My servant.”

And this is what Jesus reacted to. In verse 9 it says that when He heard these things, He marveled at the centurion’s faith. He’d never seen such great faith, not even in Israel. And Jesus felt it necessary that everyone know about this kind of faith. He turned around to the crowd, and it was to them that He announced that this faith was amazing … superior to any faith He’d seen. It became a teaching lesson for everyone that was there and listening. This is what faith looks like; this is what great faith look like. This is how the Son of God ought to be trusted, ought to be believed. This kind of faith is worthy of Him.

Nowhere in Israel had Jesus seen such faith, and this faith is coming from a Gentile. Verse 10 tells us that when those who had been sent to Jesus returned to the house, they found the servant well who had been sick. 

Jesus did it; He simply spoke the word. We didn’t hear it, His exact words are not recorded for us here in the gospels; but presumably, He spoke the word. The same One who in Genesis 1:3 said “Light, be!” and light came into existence … that same One spoke healing into the body of this dying servant. He didn’t actually need to speak anything. His thought alone would have brought the same result. His will, on whatever level, became His command which had to be obeyed. And the healing of the servant proved that Jesus had the authority the centurion had said He had. 

So what was unique about the centurion’s faith? First of all, we see that he realized the kind of authority Jesus possesses over sickness and all things. That made his faith special, unique.

He had strong faith in Jesus because he had a good and proper concept of Him. When we have a proper concept of God in our minds, faith flows much more naturally. When we have an improper or inaccurate concept of God in our minds, faith is pretty much impossible. The real challenge for us, therefore, is that we gain a proper concept of God in our minds; a proper concept of Jesus and His authority. That’s the key.

It’s like the guy that’s standing on the edge of the cliff, and there’s a very deep chasm below him. On the other side of the chasm is another cliff. Strung across the chasm is a rickety old bridge. He knows he needs to get to the other side, but he looks at the bridge and sees that it has tattered ropes and broken planks. It doesn’t look stable or strong at all. He wonders whether or not he can make it across. So he psyches himself up, gives himself a pep talk, gets himself motivated and begins. He tries to keep his faith as strong as he can make it. But the bridge isn’t strong enough and he falls down into the chasm.

Contrast that man with another man who stands on the edge of that same cliff. He too must cross the divide, and is wondering whether he can make it. In front of him is a bridge designed and built by the same engineers and construction company which built the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. And he’s thinking, “Wow, that’s an awfully deep chasm, and I’m not sure about this. I’m really struggling; emotionally, I’m a mess … terrified, really. Logically, I can’t wrap my mind around it. Can this bridge truly support me?” In spite of his apprehension, he goes ahead, and makes it easily to the other side. Why was he able to make it across?

Because one can have strong faith in a weak bridge, but that will only put you into the chasm below. Or, you can have weak faith in a strong bridge and make it to the other side. In other words, it’s not the strength of the faith that is the important thing; it’s the strength of the bridge that matters!

The centurion had a concept of Jesus in his mind that made Jesus a very strong bridge. And his faith was great, not because he as a man was great, but simply because he’d allowed the truth of who Jesus actually is to enter into his mind and heart. He had strong faith in a strong bride. He had both.

Great faith comes from knowing a Great Savior. Knowing His attributes, thinking about who He is and what He is capable of.

I once had the privilege of teaching a Bible college course on the Attributes of God, describing His characteristics. The students loved the class, but it seemed like their favorite attribute of God was His infinitude … that is, God is infinite or without limit. The students learned how to connect God’s attribute of infinitude with every other thing that is true of Him. God is faithful, and is unlimited in His faithfulness. God is love, and is without limit in His lovingkindness toward us. God is merciful, and there are no limits to His great mercy. God is powerful, and is without limit in His power. There is nothing that is impossible for Him; with Him all things are possible. God is without limit in any characteristic that is true of Him. They also learned how God’s attributes work in complete harmony. Not only is He sovereign, He is also good. Not only is He just, He is also gracious.

This is where faith begins, this is how our faith is strengthened, by getting to know God accurately and well. One of our greatest spiritual errors is that we spend far too little time getting to know God, in just contemplating Him.

Warren Wiersbe adds this thought:

“If this Roman, with very little spiritual instruction, had that kind of faith in God’s Word, how much greater our faith ought to be! We have an entire Bible to read and study, as well as nearly two thousand years of church history to encourage us, and yet we are guilty of ‘no faith’ (Mark 4:40) or ‘little faith’ (Matt. 14:31). Our prayer ought to be, ‘Lord, increase our faith!’” (Weirsbe)

How then can we increase our faith? How can our weak faith become strong faith like this centurion?

I have two suggestions.

Number one, know the Bible; and get to know the God of the Bible. Read the Bible, read every book of the Bible. And constantly ask yourself the question, what does this teach me about God? What do I learn about Him by knowing this Bible story or reading about this Bible truth?

When I read about the children of Israel in Egypt for 400 plus years, and how they went from being a people of 70 souls to a nation of 2 million or more, what does that tell me about God and who He is? When I read the messages of the prophets, messages through Isaiah or Jeremiah or the others; what do their messages tell me about who God is? When I read the gospels and understand the profound gospel truth that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19), what does that tell me about the nature of God as being merciful and gracious? 

You see, we trust only those that we know. And we only trust implicitly those whom we know accurately. The wisdom is this: know God well, you’ll trust Him more. Remember that the Bible is God’s revelation to us, that we might know Him and His will. It’s impossible to know Him well without the Bible.

For example, we can acknowledge God as the Creator of the Universe. This is the most foundational, bottom line truth we can believe. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And Hebrews tells us that it is by faith that we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.

The second suggestion is, ask God to do things. It’s so simple, isn’t it? The centurion, upon learning of his servant’s illness, could have remained quiet about it. Had he remained quiet, there would have been nothing asked of Jesus. After if there had been no request of Jesus, perhaps his servant would have eventually died. But he asked. He asked Jesus to do something, and Jesus did something.

In Matthew 7:7-8 Jesus was very plain. He said “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Please ask! Jesus is begging us … ask, ask, ask. As James puts it, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). It’s so simple: ask a lot.

If you have someone you’re working with, and you find out they are sick, or someone in their family is sick, ask God for a healing. Ask them, “Can I pray for you?” Not many will refuse prayer! They may not even believe in God, but pray for them. Maybe pray for them right then if the situation calls for it and it’s fitting to do so; or maybe later. Then tell them, “I prayed for you.”  And watch what God will do. He’ll do stuff when we ask!

But we have not because we ask not; that’s one of our big problems, we just don’t ask enough.

How can we increase our faith? Get to know the Bible and the God of the Bible, and then ask Him to do things. Not just for our own personal lives, but for all kinds of situations everywhere around us. It’s amazing what God can do!

Pastor Chuck Smith used to say something like this: “the difficulty of any task is measured by the capacity of the one doing the work.” So we’re looking at an illness, and we’re thinking, this is way beyond doctors, this is way beyond the medical professionals, this is way beyond anything I know or understand. But who am I talking to when I ask? I’m asking the One who created the universe, the One who breathed into our nostrils the breath of life so that we became living beings … He is the One I’m asking. And the difficulty of any task is measured by the capacity of the one doing the work. I’m asking the Creator to do something that for Him, is not difficult at all.

“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)

Does God ever get tired, because He’s exercised so much of His power that day? No! God never gets tired or is ever weary. He never runs out of power, because He is limitless in His power. Therefore, He can be asked.

So here it is, Jesus was amazed at this centurion, He marveled at his faith. God, give us faith like that!

Amen.

 

Exegesis of a Great Hymn

greatisthyfaithfulnessplgI’ve never done this before, at least not in a blog. In my mind and in my worship, I do it frequently.

What I’m going to do is exegete (expound/interpret) a hymn. Not just any hymn, but one of the very greatest of hymns. The hymn I’m talking about is “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

What makes a hymn a great hymn? Or what makes a worship song a great worship song? My answer is that a hymn or worship song is great when it speaks loudly of God Himself … of His attributes and of His character. A great hymn is not about human beings—about what we want or need, or about what we think. A great hymn is about God. It’s about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, about His incomparable Being.

So here are the words of a very great hymn:

Great is Thy faithfulness, oh God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.
 

This verse speaks of God as Father. Jesus taught us to view God as our Father in heaven, One who cares about us, provides for us, watches over us, and One who loves and disciplines us.

He is faithful. He always acts consistently with His word, and with His own nature. He always acts like Himself

He doesn’t change. The theological term is that He is Immutable. James referred to the immutability of God as he wrote about the fact that perfect and good gifts come our way from the Father … and in Him is no variation. He “does not change like shifting shadows” (NIV). 

He is compassionate, which also means that He is merciful. True mercy is feeling the plight of the sufferer, and then doing something to alleviate that suffering. God is merciful and gracious (Exodus 34:6). 

Whatever He is, He is eternally that. Whatever He has been in the past is what He shall be in the future. The same God who sent His Son 2,000 years ago feels the same way about us today. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. 

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love. 
 

This verse is referenced in Genesis 8:22, where the LORD promised that He would maintain the consistency of seasons, daytime and nighttime, seedtime and harvest. 

It also speaks of the constancy of the cosmos, without which mankind could not live on the earth and life would not be sustainable. All of these so-called natural phenomena are not actually natural at all. They are, in fact, super-natural (above the natural). God does these things for us that we might rely upon a world of order, designed by Him. 

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! 
 

God forgives sins. He forgives a lifetime of sins for the new convert to Christ; He forgives the sins of believers who confess and walk in the light (1 John 1:9). He does these things because He is gracious, because He desires relationship with His creatures.  

He maintains His Presence in our lives because He is for us and nothing can separate us from His great love (Romans 8:31-39).  Our consciousness of His Presence is the source of our greatest joys and victories (Exodus 33:14-16; Ephesians 3:19). 

He gives us life and power as we need it, one day at a time (Lamentations 3:22,23; Isaiah 40:29; Matthew 6:34). 

He is a God of blessing, and infinitely so. He does exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or even think (Ephesians 3:20). 

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness,
Great is Thy faithfulness,
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me! 
 

His faithfulness is constant, it is regular, it is daily. It is doled out in 24-hour increments, that we might continue to come to Him in dependent trust. He is our Provider for all things physical, emotional, and spiritual. 

He is the One, the only, awe-inspiring God.

Great is His faithfulness.

A Man Who Walked with God

Enoch-850x310Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. (Genesis 5:21-24)

By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. (Hebrews 11:5)

The rule during the antediluvian age was death, therefore “and he died” is the oft-repeated refrain in Genesis 5. The phrase confirms that God means what He says, and says what He means (see Genesis 2:16-17).

There was one very notable exception to this rule. His name was Enoch, who did not die a physical death. “And he was not, for God took him,” the text tells us.

For 300 years Enoch had walked with God. When it was God’s time, He brought him home. The Lord credits Enoch and his faith for having been caught up to the throne. The earth was growing more and more wicked prior to the flood … apparently Enoch had hope and confidence that he would not see the judgment of God. In that sense, Enoch was a picture of the bride of Christ, which will one day be taken out of the world prior to God’s wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9; Revelation 3:10). 

The life of Enoch was a life that pleased God, as was 100% true of our Blessed Lord Jesus (John 8:29). His life serves as a tremendous example for us in these last days—days in which we too must walk by faith. 

There is a cute story which dramatizes the beauty of Enoch’s life. A little girl was describing her Sunday school lesson about this man of God: 

“It seems that every day God would come by and say to Enoch, ‘Enoch, would you like to walk with Me?’ And Enoch would come out of his house and down to the gate, and he’d go walking with God. He got to the place that he enjoyed it so much that he’d be waiting at the gate of his house every day. And God would come along and say, ‘Enoch, let’s take a walk.’ Then one day God came by and said, “Enoch, let’s take a long walk. I have so much to tell you.’ So they were walking and walking, and finally Enoch said, ‘My it’s getting late in the afternoon, I’d better get back home!’ And God said to him, ‘Enoch, you’re closer to My home than you are to your home; so you come on home with Me.’ And so Enoch went home with God.”

 For Further Review 

1.  How does Enoch’s life speak to you? Encourage you? Challenge you?

2.  What does it mean to please God? How can we please Him? Consider Matthew 22:35-40, Romans 8:7-8, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7 and Hebrews 11:6 as you think through your response.

3.  Look up the words of the classic hymn “In the Garden” and think about how the words demonstrate the beauty of Enoch’s walk with God. Ask the Lord to strengthen you in your walk with Him.

Pastoral Ministry in a Non-Revival Age

September 25, 2012 3 comments

America has experienced significant revivals in her short history. Most notable among them are the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings (18th and 19th centuries)—revival scholars such as J. Edwin Orr name several others as well, including the Pentecostal and other significant moves of God in the early 20th century.

These revivals were characterized by large numbers of people repenting of their sins and confessing faith in Christ. Whole regions were radically affected by this turning to God. Taverns closed, divorce rates declined dramatically, violence and murder waned, drunkenness decreased. Churches filled up, with a notable hunger for prayer, Biblical preaching, and Christ centered evangelism. (For a brief history of revivals in America, readhttp://www.peacekey.com/1-1-a/OSAS/Revival_Prayer_1.HTM).

While not an American revival, the Welsh revival is famous for its sudden and dramatic impact. Evan Roberts was one of its main leaders. His message to believers or professing believers hit home with great power. Summing up his message in four parts, Roberts emphasized the following points:

1. Confess all known sin.

2. Deal with and get rid of anything ‘doubtful’ in your life.

3. Be ready to obey the Holy Spirit instantly.

4. Confess Christ publicly.

Let’s fast forward to our present day. In some parts of the world, revival-like conditions exist. Perhaps even in the U.S. there are pockets of revival in a few places. But overall, we who minister in the U.S. are ministering in non-revival conditions. Evan Roberts’ four points do not generally describe the way things are in our churches. When these things are seen today (in individuals or in small groups of individuals), they are viewed as exceptional … definitely not the norm for 21st century American Christianity. Confession of sin?  Sins are renamed and are viewed as mistakes. Getting rid of things that are doubtful?  Today’s believer wants his/her liberty, and wants it now. Instant obedience to the Holy Spirit?  Hardly. Confess Christ publicly?  Most believers never share their testimony or the gospel. With anyone.

I hope I’m not jaded, but that’s how it seems to be, at least to me. According to one author’s intriguing bookNot a Fan (Kyle Idleman), Jesus has lots of fans, but not too many followers. He writes about a guy who had been attending the church where he pastors. This fellow sent in an email asking to be removed from the church membership. His stated reason? “I don’t like Kyle’s sermons.” Curious, the pastor found this man’s phone number and called him. “Hey, this is Kyle Idleman. I understand you’re leaving the church because you don’t like my sermons.” After a brief silence and some rambling, bumbling words, the man complained like this: “Well … whenever I listen to one of the messages I feel like you are trying to interfere with my life.”  Bingo! As Idleman says (representing what we pastors are supposed to do),  “Yeah, umm, that’s kind of like my job description.”  This ex-church member was a fan of Jesus, but not a follower. Of course Jesus interferes with our lives! That’s the core and essence of discipleship.

My question has been (and still is) … how do we do pastoral ministry in a non-revival age?  I’ve some suggestions, maybe we can banter this around a bit.

  • We need to start praying for revival, begin a prayer movement.

Revival accounts that I have read all say the same thing: no revival ever occurred without what J. Edwin Orr calls extraordinary prayer. “What do we mean by extraordinary prayer? We share ordinary prayer in regular worship services, before meals, and the like. But when people are found getting up at six in the morning to pray, or having a half night of prayer until midnight, or giving up their lunch time to pray at noonday prayer meetings, that is extraordinary prayer. It must be united and concerted.”  (http://www.pastornet.net.au/renewal/journal1/orr.html)

  • Live for Christ myself.

Recently, I listened to the audio reading of David Platt’s radical book, Radical. It moved me. I need to be that guy. Not David Platt, but the radical disciple. I need to be an authentic Christian. I need to live in the new covenant. I need to confess sins, a lot. By living this way I’ll be more understanding, gracious, truthful, and intentional in my ministry to Christ’s people.

  • Preach and teach the whole Bible.

Only a whole Bible can produce a whole Christian. Teach and preach the Bible book by book, chapters and verses. Tough to dodge vital issues like sin, repentance, and confession when going through the entire Word.

  • Continue to emphasize the need for a focused, personal devotional life.

Those who are seeking to follow Christ need to learn to become self-feeders.

  • Go on short term missions trips to places where revival is happening.

There are such places in the 10/40 window, sub-Sahara Africa, and Central and South America. I frequently recall something G. Campbell Morgan one wrote, “The value of distance is perspective.”These trips help me to think on the way things ought to be, rather than on the way things are.

  • Make disciples.

Work with pockets of teachable, malleable people. Do 2 Timothy 2:1-2. Not everyone in our churches is cold toward Christ. Those that are hungry and truly thirsty—we should work with them. To do so, we have to drop our expectations of how they’ll fit into our church programs. Instead, we must point them towards reciprocally abiding relationship with Christ … the believer in Christ, Christ in the believer.

  • Aim high.

We must raise the bar, not lower it. No sermonettes for christianettes. If I’m raising the bar in my own life, I’ll know the difference between the heights of that bar. For example, I recently stopped listening to Sports Talk Radio while driving around. It’s not a law for me, just something I felt I needed to do. It was an unnecessary weight (Hebrews 12:1-2). I’m amazed at how much richer my walk is, now that I’m free to converse with and worship the Lord, and listen to His voice. So also, we need to challenge our people. Interfere with their lives a bit.

  • Get around peers in ministry that are en el fuego (Spanish for “on fire” … learned that on Sports Talk Radio).

Seriously, iron sharpens iron, we greatly encourage each other as we talk outreach, church matters, ministry challenges, and the rest.

  • Find ways to be healthy … spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

It’s easy to dive into depression, I know because I’ve been there. But if I go there, I’m of no use to anyone. I’ve got to be strong in the grace of God which is in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:1).

  • Remember that faithfulness is what Jesus requires of me, not results.

If I’m results oriented, I’ll get easily discouraged. If I focus on daily obedience in faith, I’ll be living as Jesus lived, in wholesale dependence upon His Father. Jesus was the faithful Son over His own house, listening daily for the Father’s instructions (Hebrews 3:1-6Isaiah 50:4-5). Just before Calvary, Jesus told His Father that He’d glorified Him on the earth and finished the work He’d given Him to do (John 17:4). Jesus didn’t do everything that was within the realm of the possible—that which could have been done, but He did do everything the Father directed Him to do. Faithfulness is the key.

Concluding thoughts…

Recently, we had a word of prophecy from a young woman … it was in an afterglow service during our recent Northern and Central California pastors and leaders conference at Mt. Hermon. The word had to do with revival … that it was coming. I sure hope so. If you have read and agree with Joel Rosenberg’s recent bookImplosion you believe that revival is the only hope for the United States. But imagine ministry in a revival atmosphere! It would be a completely different animal, on so many levels. I’m sure you can imagine…

Following that prophecy was a word of wisdom. The word went like this. I’m paraphrasing, and may not be exactly right: “Pray for revival. Prepare for revival. And when (if) revival comes, give God the glory for everything that happens in the revival.”

Amen.

Facebook Prayers

February 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Here’s the good side of social media … we can pray for each other!

Before I traveled last summer to minister in a potentially dangerous situation, I told my FB friends about the trip. Here are their responses to me. I found them in a document as I was cleaning out my desktop. I got blessed all over again.

___________________________

Janis D.: Praying.

Chris K.: Any specific requests?

K H G: may the lord protect u and keep u healthy!

R D Mc: Praying for your protection and success.

Amy P.: you got it! The Lord has already gone before you, now all you must do is follow and obey!

Melanie J.: Oh wow, praying!!

Jason W.: praying.

Steve B.: Covered in prayer for you & Dan!

John R.: My squadron is on the way to provide humanitarian assistance. Blessings Pastor Bill!!!

Bill Holdridge: Thank you everyone, for your prayers. I believe a kingdom work will be done on this trip. I’m going with Pastor Dan F. to do inductive Bible study training and sermon preparation training. Hundreds of Pakistani pastors… you folks are wonderful!

Bill Holdridge: John: that’s amazing, John. Wouldn’t it be weird if we saw each other? Blessings to you as well. Say hello to Lisa!

Bill Holdridge: Chris: specific requests? Yes… protection, wisdom, health, anointing. That ought to just about do it. Thanks!

Celeste R.: We will be praying for you Bill! and I will be calling Sheri 🙂 God bless you!

Sandy H.: We will keep you in our prayers Pastor Bill! God Bless =)

Martha C.: okay, on our prayer list!

Mitzi L.: Love and prayers from Robert and Miitzi. Prayers for a successful, safe, trip, and victory for Jesus.

Keith J.: You’ll definitely be in our prayers! Be safe!

Antoniette S.: knee pads are out and ready for use! Will miss you … Pakistan is an ever FURTHER drive!

Lynn E.: please be safe bill. i’m praying for you

Bill Holdridge: Again, thank you all so much for your overwhelming interest and love and prayers! You are all such a blessing to me. Sheri and I are sitting here on our couch with our jaws dropping at your kindness!

Amy L.: Talked with Denny tonight about your trip and he too will be praying. God is good ♥

Isidoro M.: You got it Bill. We will be praying. Aloha from Kona Hawaii.

Kathleen M.: praying for you!

Veronica T.: Got it!

Missy A.: May the Lord be with you in all you do! May your will align with His with every step you take! You are dear to us, but so much dearer to Him. You are in the best of hands!

Joyce W.: Will be praying for your health, safety, wisdom & that the Lord will use you mightily. I know you will be a blessing to them as you are to so many.

Terry P.: Lord God of heaven and earth, be with Bill and any traveling companions. Bless him with your presence and protection. Use Bill to spread your rule and reign over all the earth. Amen

Chris K.: (August 8 at 1:19am) This is something I took away from GLDI (Pastor S.U.)– often people will promise to pray for someone, but not do it, so instead he writes his prayer into the emails when he promises to pray. So this is kind of my way of keeping myself accountable to my own promises:

Father, I lift up Pastor Bill as well as his coworker, Pastor Dan to you right now as they go to Pakistan to equip other pastors to do your work, feeding and taking care of your sheep in such a difficult place. Lord, I pray that You will be with them, guiding them and leading them to what You want them to do; let them constantly be filled with your Word and make them sensitive to your Spirit so that they may know what is Your Good and pleasing and perfect will. Protect them Lord, from anything that might hinder Your work in Pakistan and bring them back home, safe and sound with testimonies to further uplift and encourage those who are back at home. Anoint not only their lips and tongues, but also their hands and feet, let their service to the Pakistani pastors be the living testimony, and a mirror image of Your Words that come flowing from their mouths so that they will see Your Gospel lived out among them. Lord, the harvest is plenty but the workers are few, thank you for sending Pastors Bill and Dan to train and equip more workers for Your Kingdom Work. Bless the harvest and may all the glory be for you and you alone.

In your Son, Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen.

Have a safe trip Pastor Bill! I hope to hear some incredible stories about what God’s doing in Pakistan when you return!

Categories: Prayer, Random Thoughts

Praying Large

January 22, 2010 Leave a comment

“The king shall have joy in Your strength, O LORD; and in Your salvation how greatly shall he rejoice! You have given him his heart’s desire, and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah

“For You meet him with the blessings of goodness; You set a crown of pure gold upon his head. He asked life from You, and You gave it to him; length of days forever and ever.” (Psalms 21:1-4, NKJV)

Here we learn a great lesson from the life of David re: prayer. He asked large.

His desire became his prayer. He’d been longing for the LORD’s blessings upon his life, and for His favor while David served as king. He also asked for a long life, and knowing David, he wanted to live many days so he’d have more opportunities to glorify God.

God granted all of his requests. Our Father did for David what He later did for His Beloved Son.

Jesus requested: “Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You…” (John 17:1).

The Father responded in the cross, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by giving Him the name which is above every other name (Philippians 2:9).

God answers prayers that are aimed at glorifying Him.

This is important to me at this time in my own life. I want to ask large and live large for the glory of God.

How about you?

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Categories: Devotional, Prayer

How to Pray for the Saints

Prayer.

We all need to do it.

It’s the way in which the Lord works with and through His people.

Here’s a lesson on prayer from Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. This study will give you more confidence when you pray.

http://www.billholdridge.com/Ephesians/Ephesians_3.14-21.mp3

Blessings to you!

Categories: Bible Study, Devotional, Prayer