Faith That Makes A Difference

“‘The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!’”

Luke 17:5 (Common English Bible)

     This is a plea that has become increasingly uncommon today, “Lord, increase our faith!” Though it is unfair to claim to know the heart and soul of people we pass on the street there seems to be indicators that faith – or the pursuit of it – has fallen in recent years. Some ninety-percent of Christian churches in the United States today have stagnated or are in decline. One magazine, The Christian Century, recently said that, on average, nine churches close their doors for good each day. There simply seems to be little passionate quest for faith in the living God.

     Certainly these statistics are discouraging. Yet, careful attention to the words of our Lord seems to suggest that Jesus saw this current spiritual condition coming, “But when the Human One comes, will he find faithfulness on earth?” (Luke 18:8 CEB) Throughout the teaching and action of Jesus Christ this is the key word that defines and shapes his work; faith. In every encounter with women and men, whether they were sick or well, resistant or receptive, hostile or  gracious, faith was the issue. When the ministry of the disciples produced fruit Jesus commended their faith. When it did not, Jesus asked, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:25 CEB)

     It may be well that we pay closer attention to what Jesus actually asks. Jesus never asks that upon his return if he will find a flourishing church with attractive facilities and robust programing. The question is “faith.” Will Jesus find people whose hearts are moved with compassion and a deep longing to know God? Will Jesus encounter a movement of persons actively seeking to harness both energies and gifts for ministry to advance a new community of people defined by common concern and welfare? Jesus isn’t looking for massive church buildings. Jesus is looking for a massive engagement in what God is doing in the world.

     Here, in Luke’s Gospel, the apostles do not ask for faith. What they ask is that Jesus increase their faith; increase their capacity for doing what it is that God has already placed on their hearts. The subject isn’t the absence of faith. The subject is “equipping” them for doing more with the faith already present. Perhaps the present sad state of churches today is not the lack of faith. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is that churches are failing to adequately equip people for their God-sized desire to be a part of something larger than their own small lives.



Lack All Sense of Right and Wrong

“They are people who lack all sense of right and wrong.”
Ephesians 4:19 (Common English Bible)
     Imagine that most unfortunate condition! To be incapable of discerning what is right from what is wrong. It is a moral condition; a result when the capital of noble awareness and aspirations begins to shrink and a person is brought into a state of spiritual bankruptcy. The ability to distinguish between right and wrong is less mental discernment as it is a moral sense. It is the spiritual palate which tests and discriminates the moral qualities of thoughts and actions. Indeed, Job, from the pages of the Old Testament, used this very figure of speech when he asked, “Can my mouth not recognize disaster?”  (Job 6:30 CEB) Job knew wrong by its taste. He detected and found it distasteful, as the physical palate detects and rejects food that has spoiled.
     A fine palate can lose its power of discernment. Particularly when the body is ill, the power of taste is often diminished or lost altogether. Certain medications used to treat physical symptoms can also result in the loss of taste. The person finds that all foods taste similar or there is no taste at all. Such people find they are incompetent to appreciate the delicate flavors once enjoyed of excellent cuisine. So let that same person neglect their spiritual condition and there is a similar result of the moral palate. Good and bad, right and wrong become mingled into a common insensitivity.
     Attention to God is the oxygen of a vital, life-giving faith. Neglect the spiritual palate and the soul becomes drowsy. Then it becomes numb. After some time any feeling of God is suffocated. Unable to distinguish one value from another, such people are driven by impulse. The dangerous result is that people turn themselves over to doing whatever feels good and to practicing every sort of corruption along with greed. Sin does it. Prayerlessness does it. Neglecting to regularly read God’s Word and to meditate on it does it. God eventually seems absent.
     The glory of our Savior is that he has defeated death – the physical kind. Placed in a tomb for three days, Jesus rose again and drew fresh breath into his lungs. Similarly, Jesus can fill our spiritual lungs with new breath and vitalize our spiritual nature. Jesus can restore a faith that has withered from neglect and restore sensitivity to our spiritual palate. A person who has lost all moral discernment can – by turning again to God – recover all sense of right and wrong and know the pulse, and taste, of life as God intends.

Unconquerable Faith

“Didn’t we throw three men, bound, into the fire?
Look! I see four men, unbound, walking around inside the fire, and they aren’t hurt!
And the fourth one looks like one of the gods.”
Daniel 3:24, 25 (selected portions)
     Three Hebrew men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, are cast into a burning, fiery furnace at the command of Nebuchadnezzar, a dictator. Stalwart nonconformists, these men refused to bow to pressure that they worship at the pleasure of the king, refused to worship an idol raised in the town center for the people’s devotion. They stood up for their faith in the face of terrific pressure. There was a strength of character present in them that would not permit them to bend or bow to the pressure of the empire. Why? Because they had a robust faith. It is this faith that provided strength and stamina when they faced capital punishment. They drew on superhuman resources.
     Nebuchadnezzar is astonished to look into the furnace and see not the three he ordered placed there but four, “Didn’t we throw three men into the fire? “Look! I see four men, unbound, walking around inside the fire, and they aren’t hurt! And the fourth one looks like one of the gods!” This must rank as one of the best short stories in all the world’s literature.
     This story is a superb parable for today. It’s meaning is that life demands courage – often a courage that is uncommon except for the presence of the Holy. Safety may be a desired commodity but is something that life, with sin and death in it, does not offer. And playing it safe in life’s hard decisions only reveals a life that has not been strengthened by reliance upon another power – power borne from a relationship with God. Ultimate strength and security is spiritual, the deep understanding that we are not alone, that God is with us as an abiding presence. 
     A detail that should not be missed in this story is that there are three men, not one. They were to one another a church, a community of faith. A robust faith as theirs is often present in a community that shares testimony of God’s mighty acts and provides powerful support for one another. It is the strength we derive from our membership in the church. When doubts assail us and our own convictions fade, when the light in our own souls fails, we look to the community of the church to encourage us, to remind us of God’s presence and to strengthen us. It is the church that ultimately provides an unconquerable faith to face the tumult and hardships each one of us must face.