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Faith That Transforms A Mustard Seed Into A Mustard Tree

Faith That Transforms Mustard Seed Into Mustard Trees

If you’ve been in or around church for any length of time you’ve probably heard someone quote the parable of the mustard seed in one context or another. Often it is used when speaking about faith, or prayer, or even the preaching of the gospel. It’s one of those parables and sayings of Jesus that we just seem to take for granted and believe that we already know all there is to know about having faith as a mustard seed. Just because you have a jar of mustard in your fridge doesn’t mean that you understand everything that Jesus was saying in Mark 4:30-32 (see also Matt 13:31-32, Luke 13:18-19), because there is so much more here than you could have ever imagined.

Throughout the gospels we have at least three instances where Jesus uses the humble mustard seed to make a point to the disciples. Since repetition is such a significant means by which God speaks to us through the scriptures (Gen 41:32) we need to pay extra attention to what Jesus is saying about these little seeds. But first let’s look at most recognizable place Jesus talks about mustard seeds:


Mark 4:30-32 “30 Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? 31 It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; 32 but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.” (NKJV)


 

What Is A Mustard Tree Anyway?

Through this parable Jesus is trying to explain to the disciples different pictures to describe to them what His Kingdom looks like and how it operates. In this case Jesus choose the smallest of the seeds in the region to show how something so unassuming can grow to be large and important. We look at this story and think that a mustard tree must grow to something large like a cedar, an oak, or even a pine. The thing is most of us have never actually seen a mustard tree, so we tend to imagine other trees we are familiar with when we read this story.

Jesus choose the smallest of the seeds to show how something so unassuming can grow to be large and important.

The reality is though is that it was less of a tree and more of a shrub. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (USA CANADA) speaks of how for the most part this tree was probably only four feet high, although some are able to reach over 12 feet in height. This is far from the picture that most of us think of when we read this story of a mighty tree filled with birds and fruit.

What is also interesting is that mustard trees are annual plants, so every year they die off and have to grow up all over again, it is not a plant which endlessly endures like the might cedar. This need to constantly regrow is probably why Jesus compared the mustard seed to our faith in Matthew 17:20, where he speaks about mustard seed sized faith being able to move mountains. The disciples had just failed to heal a demon oppressed child so they run to Jesus for help, and after healing the child He once again spoke to them about mustard seeds.

Mustard trees are annual plants, so every year they die off and have to grow up all over again

This idea of an annual tree and our faith are one in the same, both require constant regrowth, and both are unable to just sit back and relax while waiting for the next season. The mustard tree must grow and drop fresh seeds which will grow the next year. If it doesn’t grow there are no seeds for the next season and eventually there are no more trees in the area. Our faith must be constantly built up through prayer, scripture, relationship with God and going outside our homes and doing either the great commission or the discipling of believers. Faith must be constantly refreshed or one day we will find the garden of our hearts has become barren because we neglected our faith and relationship with God by relying on the cold hard stones of our natural ways.

We must resist the temptation to become complacent in our relationship with God, our prayer lives, our studying of the scriptures and the work we do to spread the gospel and build up the Kingdom. It is a hard thing to say but victories in life don’t produce faith, it is faith which produces victories in our life. When we realize that our faith is like this mustard seed and not a great cedar we can then begin realizing that what you did three years ago won’t benefit you today in what ever situation you may be in. You can’t draw water from a well once and expect that bucket to sustain you for months on end.

Victories in life don’t produce faith, it is faith which produces victories in our life

The Mustard Seed Is Only Doing Its Job

In Luke 17:5-10 Jesus puts an extra spin on his discourse on mustard seeds and trees, here the disciples are asking for their faith to be increased after hearing about their requirement to be forgiving. The disciples were asking for the ability to forgive according to Jesus’s standards and instead get a statement about faith as a mustard seed being able to throw mulberry trees miles away into the sea.

Then Jesus goes on and speaks about how servants are not praised or rewarded for what is expected of them to do. This is quite the contrast, in the same breath Jesus speaks about demonstrating supernatural power and being held responsible to do what the disciples as servants are expected to do; be forgiving in this context.

The mustard seed has one job and one job only, to grow into a shrub so other seeds can be developed and dropped into the ground around it. We as believers also have a singular job, to serve Jesus and see ourselves developed from seeds to trees which can reproduce and see the land around us transform from barren rock to a lush garden. It is our duty to live this way and to serve Jesus in whatever capacity He has called us in.

We can have all of the spiritual power there is but if we are not faithful in living out our lives as Jesus commanded us to then we are still in darkness, and often are doing more harm to the Kingdom than good. When we stand before Jesus we won’t gloat over the number of visions we have seen, or healings we have performed, or the number of books we have written.

If we are not faithful in living out our lives as Jesus commanded us to then we are still in darkness.

No our statement will be “we have done what was our duty to do.” That is how faith works, we serve Jesus and we go out and do what needs to be done so our master is glorified and others can see Him in His true light. Be it through preaching, compassion, miracles, prophecy, service, conversation, leadership, forgiveness, love or any other means.

To accomplish this we must be like mustard trees which must be continually refreshed and regrown so that our seeds never stop being produced. Our faith may begin small as a mustard seed but as Jesus has said it can have immense impact on this world.

But Wait There’s More!

This is where most people stop when they speak about the parable of the mustard seed, we focus just on what it means for us and how we can develop our faith. You see everything we have seen so far is only half of the story. The entire picture about mustard seeds and trees is not just about our faith or what we can do, but it paints a picture of who Jesus is. In all of the instances of the mustard seed Jesus was painting two very different but interconnected pictures. He was teaching us how our faith works but at the same time He was revealing not just the Kingdom but how He was the long-awaited King of the World.

Jesus was not revealing just the Kingdom but how He was the long-awaited King of the World.

We dedicate our lives to being like the servants in Matthew 17:20 not just because of the nice things Jesus has done for us but because He is our King. This isn’t just a theological idea it is reality, by confessing Jesus as your savior and Messiah you have declared Him to be King of Heaven and Earth. In the parable of the mustard seed Jesus was speaking to the disciples who He really was, but today we are oblivious to what Jesus was saying.

A Mustard Flavored Kingdom

Throughout the age of the Old Testament and into the time of Jesus it was a common metaphor to speak of a kingdom as a tree. We see this in scriptures such as Ezekiel 17:22-24, 31:6 Daniel 4:10-12 which use a picture of a tree to describe a nation or a kingdom. The Commentary on the New Testament Use of The Old Testament (USA CANADA) talks about how “Mark 4:30-32 is an ironic fulfillment of Ezekiel 17:23 the lowly annual shrub rather than a might cedar, lamb not a lion maybe. The people expected a mighty cedar, but God came as a lowly shrub which would be exalted over all else.”

The lost message of the Kingdom of God hidden here in the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus the great shrub has come to rule the world. Not a mighty cedar or acacia, or mulberry the humble mustard shrub despite its size and appearance had sprouted and would rule over all. Jesus didn’t come as a superpowered reincarnation of King David, He came as the suffering servant and laid hold of a greater kingdom then anyone of that time ever imagined.

The people and religious leaders were looking for a cedar but got a shrub, so they rejected Him. They were looking for a warrior but got a shepherd, so they persecuted Him. They were looking for an angel of death but got the forgiving Son of God, so they killed Him.

They forgot about Isaiah 11:1 and Jeremiah 23:5-6 where God spoke about a humble branch which was coming to rule and exercise judgment on the people. Jesus executed judgment on sin, He rules over His covenant people and one day He will judge those who rejected His Kingship.

We can’t have the benefits of mustard seed faith until we bow down before the mustard tree of Christ.

We can’t have the benefits of mustard seed faith until we bow down before the mustard tree of Christ. None of what we claim to believe matters at all if Jesus isn’t the King of not just the universe but our individual lives. Our faith doesn’t matter, the miracles we see doesn’t matter the lives we see changed doesn’t matter if Jesus isn’t our King and if we don’t act as grateful adopted servants.

Finding a Nest in His Branches

The last part of the parable has Jesus speaking about the birds of the air making nests in the branches of the fully-grown mustard tree. We take this statement for granted and don’t realize that to the disciples this was ridiculous. You see because the mustard tree regrows every year it can’t be developed enough to be ready for the time when birds make their nests. If one tried the branches would be too small or tender to support just a bird on it let alone a nest.

Here Jesus is again speaking in irony, just as the lowly shrub is King of the forest, so to is this tree which couldn’t before support dwelling places for the birds now be able to provide shelter and covering for them (Daniel 4:12).

That covering of grace and atonement is our constant reminder that we can trust Him and remain committed to Him despite the problems of the world.

We see then that Jesus has come to bring us a covering for our lives and that it is a foundational part of our faith. That covering of grace and atonement is our constant reminder that we can trust Him and remain committed to Him despite the problems of the world. Ezekiel used this same picture of birds finding rest in a tree to describe Egypt in Ezekiel 31:6, so how much grander and wonderous should that covering and shelter be for us who follow Christ our King.

Through faith we are able to go from mustard seeds to mustard trees and see great and mighty things happen in our lives. But we are only able to see such a transformation because Jesus the first seed which fell into the ground then died and came back as a King who has brought us under His covering of atonement. Now as redeemed, adopted servants we go out into the world and deposit new seeds into the ground so the whole world can be covered by the offspring of the great mustard tree.

Question: What can you do today to recognize Jesus as the King of your life?

 

Creative Commons LicenseFaith That Transforms A Mustard Seed Into A Mustard Tree Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

 

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The War Within Our Heart

the war within our heart

DOES IT EVER FEEL LIKE there’s a conflict that constantly takes place inside of yourself? As if there’s a “war” taking place in your heart between the part of you that wants to do the right thing and another part which wants to do the wrong or selfish thing? Right now there is constant battle inside over how we are to act, think and believe. When we have been wronged or even when people have done the right thing to us we can have many different thoughts on how to respond. Some thoughts are good, others bad, even if they appear good in our own eyes.

This is all important as we continue our growing understanding of not just the Holy Spirit but our daily life as believers of Jesus. When we declare that the Holy Spirit is a regular part of our lives we must accept that He is not just some abstract fragment of God far away somewhere. For Christians the Holy Spirit is the living part of God that is housed inside of us. When we learn to hear His voice over that of our own then we can truly have fellowship with Him and live among others as a good witness for Christ. When we learn to listen and trust His voices then we can have the advantage in this war for our hearts.

Where does this whole conflict come from?

In Galatians 5:16-17 Paul shows us the source of this struggle: it’s the war between our flesh, which is our fallen nature and our spirit, which is the part of us that has been made alive through Jesus.


Galatians 5:16-17 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. (NKJV)


We must first understand that we are a being of two realities, therefore we have two natures within us striving for control. One of these natures is the one that desires to please God and the other one that is in constant rebellion against God. This second nature is what was in control of us before we knew Christ, our old flesh/self focused sin nature. The nature that looks out for only me, myself and I, it is our physical needs, wants and desires. It takes the physical needs we require to survive and supercharges them and forces us to go above and beyond to satisfy every desire no matter the cost or consequences.

Our flesh takes the physical needs we require to survive and supercharges them.

However as Christians who have been made alive through the resurrection and have been adopted into the New Covenant we have both of these natures vying for control of our every thought and action. Now our spirit is alive and is trying to live according to God’s standards while the flesh is trying to lead us back to living according to our own standards.

A Heart Torn Between Two Masters

One of the best examples of this dual nature at work in the believer comes from Paul in Romans 7:14-24. Here Paul lays out one of the greatest struggles faced by a believer, that although we are saved, redeemed and made righteous
the flesh’s desire to sin and act selfishly does not automatically disappear. We see and know that we still have struggles to do the right thing at times and at others we have no will to do what we know God wants us to do in a given situation.

Although we are saved, redeemed and made righteous the flesh’s desire to sin and act selfishly does not automatically disappear.

The good news for us is found in Romans 7:25 where we see that there is a hope for us through Christ.

Through Christ we have the ability to receive forgiveness of sins when we do follow after the will of the flesh. With Jesus and the Holy Spirit living inside of us we have hope to prevail, as long as we are aware of the battle between the flesh and spirit taking place. That is why prayer and taking moments to stop and wait on God is so crucial in many instances. When we don’t stop for a moment and bring God into the picture we are exceedingly more prone to following the will of our flesh, because it seeks instant gratification and can’t stand playing the waiting game.

When we don’t stop for a moment and bring God into the picture we are exceedingly more prone to following the will of our flesh

Turning The Page

When we come to Romans 8 the secret of winning this war for our heart is revealed. It’s interesting to note that in the original Greek manuscripts there is not a division between the end of Romans 7 and the beginning of Romans 8, it is the same paragraph. Far to often we create and artificial divide between chapters 7 and 8 and tell both others and ourselves that we live in either one of the two chapters. But the reality is that it’s the same thought in action, here Paul is painting not a picture of condemnation in chapter 7 but of one of victory for the believer. That while we still struggle with these issues we also have access to our daily victories through Christ.


Romans 8:5-6 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.


In Romans 8:5-6 we find our first key: what we set our minds to will determine how we act and respond. If we are only concerned about ourselves, our will and our feelings then we will inevitably turn towards acting in a fleshly way. On the other hand, if we are mindful of the Spirit of God living inside of us and thinking about His will and feelings first then we will walk according to the ways of the Spirit. We begin by making willful choices on how we are to live and interact with others and how we follow God.

We see the same truths spoken of by Paul also in Galatians 5:19-21 and Ephesians 2:1-7, in Galatians Paul describes several examples of living according to the flesh. While in Ephesians Paul highlights the spiritual influences which lead many to follow after those selfish ways of the flesh along with the solution to the problem, Jesus and our hope for eternity.

The Soul is the Heart of Our Being

We have talked about how the flesh tries to lead us to sin and how our spirit (and the Holy Spirit living in us) tries to lead us closer to God but there is a third power at work among all of this turmoil, the soul.

The soul is the combination of our mind, will and emotions, in Hebrew it is also called our heart, it is the center of our being here on earth and it is the one which both the spirit and the flesh are trying to dominate. Our spirit is eternal, it is how we communicate with God and this is the point of contact between the natural and supernatural realms. The flesh represents our bodily needs such as food, drink, sleep, sex, self preservation and so on. In its current state these are the only things that the flesh cares for and it does what ever it can to get as much of these things as it can.

The soul is left in the middle to pick and choose which other parts of our being it will submit to and follow.

This leaves the soul in the middle to pick and choose which of these parts of our being it will submit to and follow. Our soul is not just mind, but also our desires, memories, intellect, it’s the captain of our choices and it’s the part of our being that made the choice to accept Christ and receive salvation and forgiveness. Let’s go back to Romans 8 to see how this plays out.


Romans 8:5-8 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.


Here in Romans 8 we see the interaction between the spirit, soul and flesh, Paul lays out how desires and urges begin in one place but are acted out in another.

It is the soul which casts the deciding vote on how and what we are to act upon.

Be it good thoughts, urges and desires from the spirit or from the flesh. It is the soul which casts the deciding vote on how and what we are to act upon. In Romans 8:6 we see clearly that a mind set on flesh will bring about death, be it spiritually, emotionally, intellectually or physically. On the other hand, the mind set on the spirit brings life and peace.

The Greek word for life here Zoe and doesn’t just mean natural life but also the kind of life which makes up the soul and the spirit. When we follow God’s will and ways and live a life under the control of our spirit it brings about life and peace not only in an intellectual sense but also in a spiritual and in a natural way.

On the other hand if we continue to allow our flesh and carnal nature to rule over our lives and thoughts Romans 8 shows us clearly that our mind becomes hostile towards God and will not allow itself to be subjected to the love, power and expectations of God (also Romans 2:5-11). Which is why Paul says in Romans 8:8 “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God”. Paul can make a declaration like this because of what God spoke in Isaiah 55:8-9. Even Jesus eluded to this contrast between the ways of the spirit and the ways of flesh throughout His ministry when He spoke about the ways of the Kingdom, how He expected His followers to act and in nearly every parable.

The War Of Heart Choices

Seeing all of this we must accept that the ways of the flesh will never be in alignment with how God sees the world and how He wants us to live. If left unchecked our flesh  will always chose the exact opposite of what God would have us do (or at the very least corrupt our motives for doing the right thing), because the flesh is focused on itself, its true god.

Is our current situation hopeless? No for we have been given an unfair advantage in the war over the control of our heart. Our spirit is not alone for we are also in living communion with God and through the Baptism of the Holy Spirit we have the living God present in us to give strength to our spirit so that it can speak loud and clear to our soul (Romans 8:9-14, Galatians 2:20).

The spirit has the advantage over the flesh, but only if we allow it.

We must come at this war over the soul from a mindset that the spirit actually has the advantage over the flesh, but only if we allow it. Through patience we learn the ability to not act impulsively when situations arise, we must always give God opportunity to speak and intervene within our spirit and soul.

Walking in the spirit requires effort, while walking in the flesh only requires inactivity.

At every opportunity we should be in internal fellowship with God so that we will always be aware of how we are to act, speak and believe in any situation. Walking in the spirit requires effort, while walking in the flesh only requires inactivity. Our living everyday relationship with God and our ability to live out the call on our lives will not be decided by natural means but will be decided by the battle raging within ourselves.

Question: How would you act differently in your daily life if you were constantly aware of God’s presence all around you and how would that impact the war within you?

 

Creative Commons LicenseThe War Within Our Heart Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

 

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The Holy Spirit aka the Forgotten Part of God

The Holy Spirit aka the Forgotten Part of God

WHEN IT COMES TO UNDERSTANDING WHO GOD IS we tend to be comfortable in the identities of Jesus and the Father. Yet when it comes to the Holy Spirit He feel less like a familiar neighbor and more like some hermit in that creepy house at the end of town. Throughout the Old Testament we hear of God moving through the prophets and the nation of Israel. While in the New Testament we are focused on the works and words of Jesus, however what we usually don’t realize is that the Holy Spirit is working right there along side them.

On a technical level the Holy Spirit is the third member of the trinity and is an equal part of the godhead along with Jesus and the Father. The Holy Spirit is the part of God in which we can interact with on a daily basis. He is the personal part of God which we have not only living inside of us but is a part of the world around us, as the tangible presence of God on the Earth (2 Corinthians 13:14, John 5:6-8).

 

The Holy Spirit is Closer Than Your Trusty Smartphone

Some people tend to see God as being far off in Heaven and Jesus is right there beside Him, while the Holy Spirit is here on the earth and is never far away. Through salvation and baptisms the Holy Spirit not only becomes part of our lives but comes to live inside of us. We can’t just reduce that truth to a Christian phrase or a theological topic, but we must come to a living reality of that truth in our own lives.

The Holy Spirit wants to be known by us and we must be just as willing to know Him.

The Holy Spirit wants to be known by us and we must be just as willing to know Him. That is the purpose of this first section to better know the Holy Spirit and develop a living relationship with Him here and now. To take away any walls of separation between us and the trinity. To live in the fullest possible measure of God’s presence and purpose for our lives.

We see The Holy Spirit at work in many ways throughout the Bible all the way back at creation in Genesis 1:2, 26 we see the spirit hovering, waiting to create, waiting to bring life to the natural realm we live in. Fast forward to the baptism of Jesus and we see Him at work again as the one who empowers Jesus to fulfill His mission to redeem mankind (Matthew 3:16-17).

After the death and resurrection of Jesus we see the power of the Holy Spirit at work through the apostles and the early church in the book of Acts.

The Holy Spirit isn’t a type of magic to be invoked He is the power and presence of the living God.

The Holy Spirit was moving in the same way He was during Jesus’s ministry because we have been given the same authority to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and the do the same. The Holy Spirit isn’t a type of magic to be invoked He is the power and presence of the living God who is looking for those willing to not only have a relationship but be willing to do was the Father calls them to do with their lives.

One With Jesus And One With Us

The Holy Spirit’s role can be seen clearest through Jesus’ words about His unity with the Father. (John 5:36-40, John 8:28-29). The same relationship that Jesus lays out concerning His relationship with the Father should be the same for us and the Father today. The Holy Spirit, aka God’s presence on the earth should be just as open and vivid to us as it was to Jesus during His earthly ministry. The Holy Spirit does not glorify Himself, but the Son. This does not speak of an inferiority in His standing in the Trinity but reveals the role of the Holy Spirit in the plan of redemption. That is why we must never forget that the Holy Spirit came to make real the things of Jesus, that through Him the same power that was at work through Jesus is available to us today (John 16:13-15).

The Holy Spirit came to make real the things of Jesus, that through Him the same power that was at work through Jesus is available to us today

Unlike in the Old Testament where people were kept a safe distance from the Spirit of God, in the Gospels, Jesus signaled a change in how the Holy Spirit would relate to men and women. No longer would there be a separation where only the high priest on one day a year could experience the presence of God but all people at all times could be that near to God. Before the people would fear and quake at the presence of the Father, now under the New Covenant  the barrier of sin is gone and God through Holy Spirit has deposited His presence into us. No longer are just the prophets and patriarchs privy to a special relationship with the Creator but everyone who have called Jesus their Messiah and Savior.

The Holy Spirit Reveals The Father

Another key role of the Holy Spirit is that He takes the all of the things we associate with the Father and reveals them to us (John 16:12-16)We see this modeled over and over with Jesus as He only said and did what He heard from the Father. That same relationship is available to us today, and not just for a select few such as prophets or leaders of large churches. All who are willing to listen and obey can hear the voice of the Father.

This leads to another one of the Holy Spirit’s roles, the one who would empower His church to do what God called it to do. He helps the church be an authentic witness to the world just as we saw in Acts 1:8.


Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”


 

The Holy Spirit wasn’t just sent to help the church metaphorically or emotionally, but He is here to help the church move in power. Be it power over sin, hopelessness, or the fallen state of the world. He also brings to us gifts of wisdom, knowledge and even (at times the most needed manifestation) miraculous power which sees the dead raised, people healed and testimonies which cannot be denied come to pass. You see as believers we are nothing more than living lightbulbs and the Holy Spirit is the electricity which generates light for people to see Jesus.

Starting with the apostles and carrying on to today we are all called to be proclaimers of the gospel. From the beginning God knew that Jesus’ physical presence would leave but He would send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ place to work through and with believers (John 16:7).

Believers we are living lightbulbs and the Holy Spirit is the electricity which generates light that radiates Jesus.

The Holy Spirit came in this “new way” when Jesus’ physical presence left the earth and now uses everyday believers such as you and me to continue the ministry of Jesus and to expand the Kingdom. Everyday people who are willing to follow the Holy Spirit and not just the elite few. We all have our own places of influence and people we can reach that others will never be able to. If we give Holy Spirit room to move in those areas imagine what could happen, with Jesus’s resurrection and ascension the promise of John 7:39 is NOW in effect.


John 7:38-39 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.


 

Living As If The Kingdom Is Already In Effect

When we begin to accept that the Holy Spirit is the living and active presence of God that lives within us then and only then can we have a true impact on this world. When we no longer look at Him as being some type of mystery or some genie certain denominations talk about we begin to understand. The God we read about in the Old Testament and the Christ we preach about from the New Testament lives inside of us and is looking to continue the work He began so long ago.

The same holiness, compassion and power Jesus walked in is available to us today through the Holy Spirit.

The same compassion and power Jesus walked in is available to us today, but with that the same standard of holiness spoken of by the Father in the Old Testament remains. The Holy Spirit has been unleashed to bring people to the cross, to work in power and to ensure that Christians live according to the standards which have been lovingly set by the Father.

 


John 16: 7-11 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.



 

Creative Commons LicenseThe Holy Spirit aka the Forgotten Part of God Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

 

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Trusting the God of Hope When You Have None Left

WITH ALL OF THE DIFFICULTIES, struggles, pains, losses, frustrations and general unjust craziness there is in this life it doesn’t take much to lose ones hope. We try our best to continue trusting the God of hope but so much in this world and in our individual lives tells us to give up the fight and settle into the lands of defeat. There is no fairy tale ending, so get a cozy chair and get yourself a nice view of the pit of despair.

We see bad things happen, or watch family members struggle with health issues, we struggle with finances, prayers don’t get answered so we are tempted to just give up trying to be optimistic or to cling to any sort of faith that God can change what is going on in our lives. Along with all of that we take the fallout from one unanswered prayer and use it to justify not having faith for God to do something next time. Or we allow one loss to cancel out dozens of previous victories, everything that God did years ago no longer matters because we feel that He wasn’t with us today.

These are difficult issues and hard questions to deal with and they can’t just be answered by telling someone that they just have to believer harder or that they should just read their Bible more. I’m not against faith or prayer or anything like that, I’ve personally witnessed the blind see, the deaf hear,  and the crippled walking out of wheel chairs. However, I have also watched people die from cancer, others struggle with issues from accidents, I’ve lost two friends to depression and suicide and I’ve had my own problems as well.

I have seen the greatness of God’s power in action and I’ve experienced the absence of it.

Hope in action vs. hope in the rear-view mirror

I have seen the greatness of God’s power in action and I’ve seen and experienced the absence of it, even with myself. For the past four years I have struggled with an ear issue that has left me with unending ringing in my ears, has cost me one third of my hearing ability and has made me unable to even worship along with the rest of the church I attend. Flashback ten years ago now and I was once in a market in Mexico City on a mission trip and we were praying for people. One day a woman came to get prayer for her ear. Me and another prayed for what we thought was an ear
infection and she was miraculously healed. What we found out after we prayed was that she didn’t have in infection but had actually ruptured her ear drum the day before and was totally deaf in the one side. After she said she could hear she pulled out the cotton ball from her no longer deaf ear that was stained with blood.

It’s not just a matter of going down to the Jesus store and picking up some joy with a side of milk.

This is where things get difficult when you know that God can and is able to move in power and He doesn’t. It’s not easy to keep hope alive, especially as the years go by, especially when those years bring more and more pain, frustration and loss. God is the God of hope according to Paul in Romans 15:13 and not only that but He is also supposed to be our source of joy and peace. The problem is though it’s not just a matter of going down to the Jesus store and picking up some joy with a side of milk. These are real matters of faith, not just superficial ones where we just try to whitewash what is going on inside of us.

What is real faith?

You see real faith is not yelling at the top of your lungs that you have faith; real faith involves being honest with what is in front of us. Faith is never absent from realty, it recognizes what is really going on and looks towards God to change that reality to something else. Pretending that there are no problems is not faith it is delusion. Does that mean we can’t pray for a change? Of course not. What I am saying is that our faith and hope are not dependant on our circumstances they are dependant on the nature and character of God.

It takes infinitely more faith to declare that God is good and loving when your world is upside down than it does when you’re sitting in an air-conditioned church and everything is rainbows and sunshine. Real faith is when you are able to honestly praise God even when you don’t get your prayers answered, not just when you do.

“It takes infinitely more faith to declare that God is good and loving when your world is upside down than it does when you’re sitting in an air-conditioned church and everything is rainbows and sunshine.”

Just look at what Jeremiah said after the darkest day in Judah’s history at that time in Lamentations 3:25-26 “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (NKJV). Jeremiah didn’t write this after the people repented and had a great party, no he wrote this after the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah. How could he speak of hope after so much death and destruction? He could do it because He understood who God is.

That is where we find out great weakness, far too often we take the supposed and actual failures, shortcomings, and losses of our lives and place the blame squarely on God and we lash out against him like overly emotional teenagers in response. Everything bad was God’s fault and everything good is the result of my own hard work – is the lie we tell ourselves. You see God is good but we are temporary travelers in a world that is not good.

We live in a fallen and broken world and there are times when we don’t get our way, a prayer doesn’t get answered, a person dies, a job is lost or a life loses its purpose. Then rather than praise God for who He is and what else he has done for us we abandon hope because we believe it is better not to hope than it is to hope and be disappointed. We respond that way because it is all part of the plan, not God’s plan but Satan’s.

Why Satan comes to steal our hope

In Satan’s eyes a mute, broken and depressed Christian is the best one there is because he knows they will never do anything to weaken his kingdom. It is a campaign of disarmament where he and his forces go out and convince Christians that it is better to have never hoped than to have hoped and lost. It is a strategy where he convinces us that the weapons of our belief and warfare are too heavy to carry and actually do more harm than good. So we should throw them away and settle for a life under spiritual house arrest.

It is a campaign of disarmament where Satan and his forces convince Christians that it’s better to have never hoped than to have hoped and lost.

In Rick Renner’s devotional Sparkling Gems From The Greek (USA Canada) he talks about John 10:10-11 and unpacks the meaning of what Jesus meant warning us that Satan comes to kill, steal and destroy. Renner speaks of how the word kill does not mean to murder but has the understanding of a religious sacrifice such as when a lamb was killed on the altar. If Satan can’t destroy our hopes, dreams, purpose, life or anything else he’ll convince us to do it ourselves out of devotion or another reason. The same applies to our hope if he can’t crush it from within he’ll convince us to lay it down either for moral, cultural, religious, or emotional reasons. Or it could be as simple as feeling as if God is calling us to lay something down when in reality God is trying to awaken that thing you are about to kill.

What do we have to look forward to?

Proverbs 13:12 tells us that “hope deferred makes the heart sick” this is both a spiritual and a medical truth as the loss of hope has a tangible impact on our spirit, mind and body. However the verse continues and says that a “longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

We need both hope for today and for the future because we live in two worlds one of earth and one of Heaven.

In our opening verse Romans 15:13 the hope Paul was looking towards was the culmination of both Jews and Gentiles coming into the Kingdom of God together through the New Covenant (Titus 2:13). This is what drove him from nation to nation and from prison to prison preaching the gospel despite the problems he encountered because he saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

We also need that long ranging hope to carry us to the end of our lives, but we also need hope for today. We need both hope for today and for the future because we live in two worlds one of earth and one of Heaven. So our hope must reflect that we can’t have a hope that is based only in the future, but we must also have a hope that sees its results today, although to a smaller degree.

It is just like opening a present on Christmas eve and getting the rest in the morning.  Or taking a long-awaited road trip but also taking time to make stops along the way. You don’t wait until you arrive to enjoy yourself even though your ultimate enjoyment is at the end of the trip (serendipity). At other times you may discover that you only enjoyed the final destination because of what happened along the way, so it is with our hope in God.

Are there times when God will answer our prayers, yes, and are there times when He won’t (at least as far as we can perceive) of course. What is important though is not how God answers but how we respond to God afterwards. If we can turn to God with the same love and hope no matter the outcome then we have passed the test of faith and our hope is not in God’s ability to please us but it is based on our love for Him.

If we can turn to God with the same love and hope no matter the outcome then we have passed the test of faith.


Romans 5:1-5 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (NKJV)



 

Creative Commons LicenseTrusting the God of Hope when You Have None Left by Cameron Conway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.