June 22 Esight, 2011

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” Matthew 8.10This week I want to conclude our two-part series on the idea of Biblical Faith, and I would like to begin by looking at Jesus’ amazement at the centurion’s faith in Matthew’s gospel quoted above. There are many insights we could extract from this story, but the one I want us to zero in on this week is that what Jesus was amazed at was not the greatness of this centurion’s faith quantitatively. Rather, Jesus was amazed at this centurion’s faith qualitatively. In other words, it was not the quantity of this man’s faith but the quality of this man’s faith that pleasantly surprised Jesus.

I think this point cannot be emphasized enough. I’m currently at the Mountain View Camp Meeting here in West Virginia. (If you have been praying for these meetings with me, God is blessing tremendously the hearts and lives of those who have been attending my presentations. I’ll share more about this with you in next week’s ministry update.) This week, I met a dear soul who is in a wheelchair and has fourth-stage bone cancer. Her husband shared with me that some well-meaning Christian had told him that if a person is not healed it is simply because they did not have enough faith. I have to admit, it took every ounce of self-control I have not to become livid when I heard this. This idea has caused more damage in the hearts of those who have experienced this life’s trauma than we have space to recount.

Jesus utterly and completely rejected this abuse of his own teaching on faith. Jesus explained what He meant by little versus great faith in His answer to His disciples in the wrestling with the “why” of their inability to cast out a certain demon in this father’s son. Jesus did say it was because their faith was little, but it was because of the littleness qualitatively not quantitatively. For He immediately, so as not to be misunderstood, added, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, [quantitatively small] you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17.20). This may sound strange in our post-modern naturalistic world view, but instead of the casting out of this certain kind of demon being dependent on the disciples’ mustering up enough faith quantitatively, this type of demon took a certain quality of faith to be cast out.

Now what does all this mean in light of what we shared last week? Faith is not something that simply takes place in our intellect alone. It’s something we do with our heart. And remember, faith—true heart-level faith—always has an object. Do you remember what we said that object was? It was God’s love! God’s character! God’s goodness! If you will go back through the Gospels and every where you see Jesus saying to someone, “Your faith has saved you,” substitute in the place of the word “faith” the phrase “your picture of God” (what you are believing about God), tremendous insights into Biblical faith will open up right before your very eyes. Tremendous insights!

Notice, Jesus was saying about the centurion, ‘I have not found so great a picture of God, an understanding of the character of God in relation to the subject of human suffering (the context was a dying servant). No, not in all Israel!’

Look at Jesus’ interaction with the woman and the issue of blood I wrote about a few weeks back:

Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment. (Matthew 9.22)

In other words, ‘Your understanding of the character of God—what you are believing God to be like—drove you to break every Levitical law regarding issues of bleeding and press through this crowd to touch me!’ The cultural belief about God’s character would have led her to despair. Remember, a gross misunderstanding of Deuteronomy 28 had led people to believe that if a person was suffering the way this lady was, it was because God was punishing her for something she did. This woman’s picture of God caused her to reject this way of viewing God, and Jesus affirmed her for it and even went so far as to say that it was her understanding of God’s character—her belief regarding what God is like in contrast to what everyone around her believed—that had drove her to this moment of healing!

Just try it this week. Go back through the gospels and everywhere you see Jesus saying, “Your faith has saved you” substitute the word faith for “your picture of God:” what you believe God is like!

Lastly, let’s close this week with Jesus’s words to the woman of Luke chapter 7.

I want you to try what I’m encouraging you to do with this story here.

Luke 7.44-50:

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith [your newly found understanding of God’s character of love that you grasped hold of through My revelation to you] has saved you; go in peace.”

I want to be clear. Faith is not meritorious, but to believe that God is as beautiful a being as Jesus revealed does have an intrinsic life-changing effect. This is what I believe Jesus was teaching us: Just as we were lost as a race by embracing a faith in the wrong picture of what God is like, we are restored by embracing a faith in the picture of our Heavenly Father that has its source in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the exact representation of what the Father is like. If you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father. Do you believe this? Then this is what Jesus referred to as faith. And this kind of faith, even though it is a mustard seed, moves mountains! It’s not about how much faith you have, but rather, it’s about what kind of faith you have. What kind of belief are you holding regarding God’s thoughts and feelings toward you? What kind of God are you believing Him to be?

I hope these last two weeks have opened to you a deeper understanding of what Jesus called faith, and I pray that we all together will be able to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of our Heavenly Father, to know this love that surpasses mere intellectual knowledge, that engages us on a heart level, that we too may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of what our God truly is.

Live by this kind of faith. Live in Love. Love like Christ. And keep building the kingdom!

I love you guys,

We’ll see you next week.

Herb

June 14 Esight, 2011

“Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.” Luke 8.12This week, I want to begin a two-part series on faith. I hope to flesh out my definition of Biblical faith a bit because there is so much confusion on this subject. Then, next week, I’d like to build on the points we make this week with three of Jesus’s revelations about the nature of faith. I believe that these two weeks will be paradigm shifting for many; for others, it will be good review.

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2.19)

First, I want to be very clear that Biblical Faith is much more than mere mental assent to facts. I don’t care how amazing those facts may be, simply having the right facts doesn’t equate with what the Bible calls faith. I mean, the Devil Himself is, on an intellectual level alone, doctrinally correct! But to experience Faith is much more than simply doctrinal correctness.

Yet another misconception is that Biblical Faith is simply “trust.” I want to affirm that a healthy relationship with God (or with anyone for that matter) involves trust; however, Biblical Faith is more than simple “trust.” I trust my insurance company, but I’m not necessarily experiencing what the Bible calls faith. I may believe in them to hold up their end of our arrangement if life should take a turn for the worse. But, this principle is not what the Bible calls real faith. Trust is, at its best, very egocentric. It’s all about me! I really don’t care about my insurance company so long as it follows through with the rules of the policy for which I paid.

Many have mistakenly confused faith and trust; therefore, their religious experience has been little more than fire insurance—if you know what I mean. The Biblical teaching of faith is not simply mental assent to fact, and it is much more than self-centered insecurity driven “trust,” too! What is Biblical faith?

The answer becomes clear when you compare the following four verses. Let’s begin by looking at the first three:

“And He said to them, ‘O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!’” (Luke 24.25)

“And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” (Acts 8.37)

“That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe with your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10.9)

Did you notice what all three of these verses have in common? Faith is something we do not with our heads, but with our hearts! Don’t get me wrong. My heart also has serious difficulty becoming passionate about something my head can’t get itself around. BUT, the intellectual aspect, although necessary for some, is not necessarily what the Bible calls faith. True saving belief is something that happens on a much deeper heart level!

Follow closely as the fourth verse explains this even further.

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” (Galatians 5.6)

This verse is exceptional! The Greek here is a little ambiguous. Paul could have been saying that faith always expresses itself through love, which is truth. He may be indicating how Jesus told us the distinguishing characteristics of His followers are the fruits that you see as a result—love. (I plan to write more on this topic two weeks from now. Look for it not next week but in the week to follow). But also, the way the Greek is written here could indicate that Paul was saying that Faith is always set in operation or activated by love, God’s love for us.

Both are true! When we believe in God’s love for us, that faith is activated, through the revelation of God’s love, to now go to work expressing that same love for others. This week, I want to especially focus on this “activated” aspect. Faith, although it involves the intellect, is not purely an intellectual experience. It involves that heart. It is that special experience when the intellect grasps God’s love in a way that deeply affects our hearts and moves us onto a meaningful “heart” level. It is more akin to deep life-changing heart appreciation and gratitude for the love we see in God’s heart for us, a love that makes us want to no longer live for ourselves but for Him who loves us so deeply, radically, and overwhelmingly self-sacrificially (2 Corinthians 5:14,15). If you’ve never experienced this kind of faith, it truly is hard to explain in words. But if you have seen God’s love, and you are familiar with what happens inside of you as a result, THAT is what the Bible calls FAITH. It’s the moment that you see how deeply you exist in the heart of God, which supernaturally places Him in your heart as well.

One last verse:

2 Corinthians 4.6

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

I find it interesting that, in the light of truth that God is love, He is aiming the light of this truth at a certain place in each of us. Did you catch it in that last verse? He is shining that light “in our hearts.” It “passes mere knowledge,” Paul said (Ephesians 3:19) and affects us at a much deeper level.

Would you like to encounter a deeper experience in what the Bible calls Faith? Remember, this heart-level faith is activated by encountering God’s love for you! But how do we experience His love for us more deeply? This is what next weeks e-Sight is all about.

Keep focusing on His Extravagant love for you this week. Keep choosing to believe it despite the other voices in your head! May your faith in this love deepen and overflow with desire to share this divine love with all who are around you!

Live in love and keep building the kingdom! See you next week.

Love you guys.

Herb

June 6 Esight, 2011

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12)This past week, while speaking at Lake Junaluska Camp Meeting, I had the privilege of meeting a certain young person who brought the above text to my attention with a question about its meaning that was causing him great distress. Before I share with you his question, let me also add to his text one other statement from Jesus that seems to say the same thing.

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Here was my young friend’s question: “Does God really withhold forgiveness from us until we forgive other people who have hurt us? And if so, how do I forgive those who have hurt me so deeply, so that I don’t run the risk of not being forgiven by God?”

This reminded me of an encounter I had years ago with a young mother. You see, her heart had been broken by a recent tragic event. Her six month old son had died. She had always wanted to be a mother, but death, like a gypsy, had stolen away her newfound joy and realization of this dream. She was devastated. Now, there are many details to her story that I addressed with her that I won’t share here. Well-meaning church folk had tried to comfort her by reminding her of the hope of resurrection, but this just came off as insensitive to her, and a belittling of her pain in the here and now. But worse than this, she had been sexually abused as a teenager and she genuinely struggled to find forgiveness for her abuser.

She had been told by a well-meaning preacher (but very misguided) that if she didn’t forgive this person, God wouldn’t forgive her (Sick! I know.). She had just lost her six month old child and the only hope she had was a resurrection she felt she would never have a part in. How could God forgive her for her sins if she could not forgive those who had sinned against her? The whole story is simply gut-wrenching, but based on the very same misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching that spawned the question I was asked last week by my young friend. How are we to make sense of Jesus’ statements? At the very least, his words should make us begin to ask questions. Is this really what God is like?

Insight (eSight) is found when we look beyond our limited English-based translations to the original statements in their original language. There are five words used in the Hebrew and Greek languages to express separate but related aspects of what we call “forgiveness” in English. (For more on this, please see the presentation on our Web site titled “Charizomai,” or see chapter 13 by the same title in my book, Finding The Father, published by Review & Herald Publishing in 2009.)

The two words I want to draw your attention to in this week’s eSight are the Greek words apheimi and charizomai. These words each have certain nuances. One refers to actual forgiveness in the heart of the party that has been wronged, and the other contains the nuance of what we would call “forgiven-ness” in the heart of the one who has committed the wrong. In order to really catch the subtleties of these two words, consider that in every violation there is a perpetrator and a victim. But both have very real intrinsic psychological and emotional responses to what has happened. For example, the perpetrator could feel shame, guilt, and condemnation in their heart over what they have done. The victim, on the other hand, could feel anger, disbelief, or the desire for revenge.

Charizomai is normally what we think of as forgiveness. It describes what happens in the heart of the victim if they should choose to let go of their anger, disbelief, and the desire for restitution or revenge.

Apheimi, on the other hand, refers to the perpetrator being set free from their sense of shame, guilt, and condemnation. (The Greek actually implies sending the shame and guilt away from the transgressor, a kind of setting the transgressor free from the intrinsic realities of what they set in motion in their own conscience.)

Now, let’s break down what Jesus is actually saying, but we’ll do so by adding Luke’s version to this mix:

“And forgive [apheimi] us [for] our sins, for we ourselves also forgive [apheimi] everyone who is indebted [obligated] to us” (Luke 11:4).

We aren’t praying for a change in God’s heart toward us as a result of our having a change of heart toward those who have wronged us. Rather, we are praying for a deeper experience in what we might call “forgiven-ness” as we extend “forgiven-ness” to those who have wronged us! Jesus illustrated this again in the following parable.

“Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:32-35).

You see, the lord of this story originally forgave the slave. But when the slave refused to offer the same forgiven to others, he was handed over to the “torturers.” For the sake of space and time, consider this: If a person who lives life with feelings of revenge, or a spirit of demanding restitution from everyone who has wronged them, embracing a spirit of un-forgiveness toward others, do you think that in the age to come, it will be difficult or easy for those people to believe God has forgiven them for what they have done against Him? It is as if we are burning the very bridge for others that we each will one day have to cross ourselves. Jesus was warning us here. Not that God is a quid pro quo, tit-for-tat, kind of God, but, rather, that a person can live in such a spirit of stubborn unforgiveness toward everyone around them that they actually become incapable of believing in even a remote possibility that God could be so forgiving of themselves. It is not that God doesn’t forgive them in His heart, but that these folks prevent God from being able to usher them into the experience of forgiven-ness.

So, do we forgive in order to be forgiven? Or, do we forgive because we have been forgiven?

Do you have folks in your life you need to forgive? Withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and expecting the other person to die from it. It’s madness. But let me be quick to add what this doesn’t mean, too. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you trust the people who have hurt you. It doesn’t’ mean you give them permission to hurt you again. You simply relinquish your right of restitution or revenge. You’re letting them off the hook for that which they have done to you in the past.

But how do we do this? This might sound odd, but you forgive others by forgetting about forgiving others, and instead, focus all of your heart on seeing and believing how deeply you, in the heart of God, have been forgiven. This will create, in you, a sense of forgiven-ness. This in turn awakens forgiveness toward those who have wronged you, which, being genuine, will motivate and inspire you to help usher those who have wronged you also into a sense of forgiven-ness. And this compounds your OWN sense of forgiven-ness for your own mistakes! This ushers you into a deeper experience of apheimi (forgiven-ness) concerning all the times you have missed the mark! It becomes a reciprocating cycle that is ever deepening our own understanding of the forgiveness that is in God’s heart toward us all. But where does it all begin? In believing, remember, how deeply we have first been forgiven.

Let me leave you with this. God’s forgiveness is not simply something we receive for our personal sins. To receive God’s forgiveness also means embracing a way of doing life with those around us. His forgiveness is not just a reality that gives us assurance or eternal security. It’s a principle we receive and submit to live by in all our relationships. But what is it that causes you to embrace this principle of forgiveness toward others as a way of life? We must see and believe how deeply God has already forgiven us! And as we submit to the power of that forgiveness, it will, in and of itself, awaken in our hearts forgiveness toward all who are in our lives.

I wish each of you much love and a deeper sense of Divine forgiveness AND forgiven-ness this week.

Live in love, live in God’s prevenient forgiveness, and in the light of His extravagant forgiveness for you, be imitators of God and go build the kingdom.

Love you guys,

Herb