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Audacious Faith for Supernatural Solutions to Enormous Problems

If you are facing a seemingly insurmountable problem, then this is for you. I pray that it blesses and encourages you. 

1 Samuel 14:6

Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”

Nothing can hinder God…

1 Samuel 13 describes in detail the pickle that Israel had gotten themselves into. In the first place, their God-anointed leader, Saul, had disobeyed God’s direct instruction through Samuel bringing judgment both on him and on the nation that he represented before God. In the second, with an army of only three thousand fighting men, Israel had managed to provoke the Philistine army, which was now making preparations to annihilate them. This army, we are told, consisted of six thousand charioteers, two to a chariot, and soldiers on foot ‘as numerous as the sand on the seashore. But the equation only got worse. When Israel saw the position they were in, the army went into hiding in “caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns.” Most simply ran away in fear. In the end, there were only 600 men left facing a foe of tens of thousands. In the third place, only two men among those 600 carried with them weapons of war. The oppression of the Philistines was such that Israel had been prevented from amassing the necessary arms for the battle. Things could not have gotten much worse. Indeed their situation, had it not been so desperate would have been almost comical. It could only have ended with their doom, were it not for the miraculous power of God. And yet, not even those circumstances could hinder God from what he had chosen to do.

I challenge you today to line up your own circumstances with those Israel was facing. Let faith arise. Let hope arise. Let boldness arise. If God did it then, he can do it now. Nothing can prevent God from saving because saving is essential to his character. Its not about how big your circumstances are. Its not even about how much God loves you (though he loves you more than you can possibly imagine). When it comes to saving, its about God remaining true to his character.

…from saving…
God is into saving because he is a saviour. God is into delivering because he is a deliverer. God is into granting victory over impossible circumstances. Watch how he does it:

1. Audacious faith arises. 

Despite all that had happened to Israel, Jonathan still believed that Yahweh is a God who saves. So do we by the way. The very name of Jesus (Yeshua) upon which we call for our salvation literally means “Yahweh saves.” Indeed this was the purpose of the mission of Jesus to the earth: to reveal God as saviour by effecting our deliverance from the oppressive enemies of sin and death.

But notice that Jonathan’s faith, while audacious, is not presumptious. It does not manifest as a manipulative insistence on a particular outcome. Indeed, it begins only as a flicker of hope—”perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf”. Rather, his faith is manifest in a dogged refusal to allow the present circumstances to compromise the revelation of God as deliverer—”nothing can hinder the Lord from saving…”. This is the same kind of faith that his close friend David will show three chapters later when he confronts the giant Goliath. Like Jonathan, he has no way of knowing whether God would act in a particular way at that particular time. Like Jonathan, David takes what seems to be a reckless punt on God’s unchangeable character. And just as here with Jonathan, God responds, proving true to his character, and delivering not only David, delivering the nation through him.

2. Contagious boldness replaces fear.

Light is stronger than darkness. And in the same way that a little light dispels a lot of darkness, it only takes a little boldness to dispel a lot of fear. The few that were left of the army of Israel, were so afraid that they had taken to hiding in caves and pits and cisterns. And yet as Jonathan decares his faith in God’s character, boldness takes hold. It spreads first to his armour bearer who says in response “Do all that you have in mind…Go ahead. I am with you heart and soul.” It then spreads to the entire army who, emboldened by Jonathan’s success join in the pursuit. 

At any point the Philistines could have woken up to the situation and realised that logically they were the superior army. Their pursuers were far less in number and weaponless. But fear is a funny thing. A little boldness can turn the weapon of fear back on itself. Have you ever thought about that? Fear is one of our enemy’s most effective weapons. Have you ever stopped to consider why? Your enemy fears you. Because he knows that if you will but realise who you are—a son or daughter of the King of kings and thus invested with his full authority and resources; if you will but confess your faith in God’s unchangeable character—an all powerfull God of deliverance who cannot be hindered from delivering from our enemies; if you will but step out in obedient action, your enemy will be utterly defeated. All of the fear and intimidation that keeps you bound and keeps you from pursuing God’s purposes is nothing but a con. Its bluff. Powerful though he may wish you to think him, he knows well what we would do well to remember. He is a defeated foe. Let boldness arise! 

3. A supernatural strategy/solution emerges. 

The idea was so ridiculous that it just might have come from God. But he still wasn’t sure. Jonathan’s plan was to come out of hiding and show himself to an outpost of the Philistines. If the Philistines called out to them to “come up,” that would be the sign that God would give him victory over them. But notice that if they decided to come down to him, that would have meant destruction for him and his armour bearer since they had already given away their hiding place. In other words, once he had committed, there was no safe option. He and his armour bearer would fight for their lives either way.

To follow the traditional route of “inquiring of the Lord” before the battle would have required alerting others to his plan, which would certainly have prevented its execution. Sometimes faith requires us to commit to a course of action and ask God to direct rather than just sitting around and asking God what to do next. And sometimes faith requires us to put ourselves in a position where God has to ‘show up’ or we’re done for.

4. God brings supernatural multiplication.

So Jonathan and his armour bearer did exactly what Jonathan had suggested. They stepped out of their hiding place and challenged the enemy. From this point there was no turning back. And their enemies called out to them to “come up”—the sign. And so, with growing boldness, that’s exactly what they did. They had to climb with hands and feet to reach the Philistine outpost, which in itself would have been exhausting, and as soon as they got to the top, they had to engage in a battle where they were outnumbered at least ten to one. And yet, as they simply spent the energy that they had, God brought a multiplication to their efforts. He supplied what they needed for the climb and for the assault—surely no small miracle in itself—but then God brought a panic on the Philistines. They were in total confusion and began killing each other. Another miracle. And then there was a great multiplication of the resources as the other Israelites came out of hiding and joined in the pursuit.

…by many or by few
And so God brought about a great deliverance for Israel. It was miraculous from start to finish, but in order to accomplish it, he needed somebody to respond to him in faith; to declare the truth of God’s unchanging character, and then to prove that truth by his faith filled action.

Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few. In other words, God always acts in a way that is consistent with God’s character. And he is not limited by what we perceive as limitations. If your enemy is debt and you only have a few dollars, if your enemy is stress and you only have a few hours, if your enemy is the godlessness of a city or region and you only have a few people, nothing can hinder God from bringing victory over your enemies. God will deliever by many or by few. The question is, will he do it by you?


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Asleep in the Storm

ImageI thought I might take a break from my grace series. This is a classic painting by Rembrandt of the account in the Matthew 8 (Mark 4) where Jesus calms the storm. As an introduction to my thoughts below, note where Jesus (our example) is in this picture and what he’s doing.

Following is an original poem  (my first!) which I hope will encourage you in any ‘storms’ you may be facing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asleep in the Storm

Clayton Coombs (February 26 2014)

“O you of little faith!” the sharp rebuke came.
I am the one who heals the blind and the lame.
Nothing at all is too difficult for me.
So what made you think you would drown in this sea?

“Let’s go to the other side.” Isn’t that what I said?
So what made you think this would end with you dead?
The Father has a plan for what we must do there.
And I want you with me, the experience to share.

My Father has not ordained that today I should die,
Though that day is coming, I feel it inside.
But today is the day for the King to confront legion
For a man to be freed; a seed sown in the region.
That is the reason for which we have come.
And we’re safe in His will ‘til His will has been done.

And so before I deal with the storm and the swell,
The storm within you is the one I must quell.

 Peace! Be still!

Suddenly all was completely becalmed.
How faithless we had been to think we’d be harmed.
For nothing, no nothing can resist God’s intention,
When its declared the circumstances don’t warrant a mention.

May I walk as Your son by faith not by sight,
In God’s spoken word not by power or might.
May my ear be attentive, and true to Christ’s form
May I sleep still and peaceful, whatever the storm.

(Feel free to share if this has encouraged you. For audio of a sermon I preached last year on this passage click here)


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Finish this sentence: “A real Christian could never…”

Would you be prepared to die for your faith?

Around the beginning of the 2nd century (112 AD), Pliny (the younger), the Roman governor of Bythinia-Pontus, sent a letter to the emperor Trajan asking him what was to be done about the spread of Christianity. At that time it was already a capital offense to be a Christian, and one of the problems that Pliny was experiencing was that some people would inform on Christians for no other reason than that they bore them a grudge. Pliny had already executed some Christians, thinking perhaps to eradicate the religion. However, it soon became evident to him that great numbers of people of both genders and at every echelon of the empire professed the new faith.

In his letter to the emperor, a translation of which can be found here, Pliny described his practice of interviewing those accused of being Christians. In order to test the veracity of the accusations, Pliny would ask the defendant to make a sacrifice to the emperor, and to curse Christ, because, as far as he had heard, nobody who was genuinely a Christian could be forced to do either of these things. Can you imagine it? At any time, you could be going about your business and and you could be dragged off and brought before a court. The charges? You are a Christian. The trial could be very short—if you capitulated. “Are you a Christian?” If you said “no”, all you had to do to prove it was to make a sacrifice to the emperor and say “Jesus be cursed.” That would be the end of it…

But the trial could also be mercilessly long. If you said “yes”, you would be tortured to see if they could induce you to curse Christ or to sacrifice. If at length they could not. You would be executed.

Tonight in class, I was reminded of this correspondence and it got me thinking. What if the same were true today? What if it were a crime to be a Christian and the authorities needed some way of proving who was and who was not. We don’t have an emperor today, and we are not in the habit of making sacrifices (at least in the culture I am most familiar with) to idols or political leaders. So I wonder what the test would be. Obviously the ‘cursing Christ’ test would stand the test of time. A true Christian could never curse Christ. But what of the other test?

I’d like to conduct a poll of sorts. Please post your feedback as a comment below.

What is one thing that:

a) the culture around us routinely does and,

b) a Christian could never do?

One more consideration before you comment. Sacrificing to the emperor was not a grey area. It was not an issue of contention between fellow Christians. It was very clear cut. A true Christian could never do it, and if one could, that alone was sufficient proof that they were not a real Christian. I’m looking for a universally shared conviction here, not an opportunity to be judgmental of other Christians.

So here goes. Finish this sentence: “A real Christian could never…”


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Faith, Faithfulness and Reward

Faith and Faithfulness:

Hebrews 11:6 tells us that ‘without faith it is impossible to please God because the one who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek him.” Interestingly, the word which is translated faith here (pistis), can equally be translated faithfulness. And though the two words faith and faithfulness are obviously related in English (as in Greek), we often tend to think of the notion of ‘faith’ as mere intellectual assent to a set of propositions, which is divorced from ‘action’ consistent with that belief (faithfulness).

The Bible speaks of God himself as being faithful (pistos). When we say that God is faithful, we mean that we can trust God because God always acts according to his word. He is not capricious. But when the bible speaks of humans being faithful, it does so (apparently to us at least) in two distinct ways. It speaks of ‘the faithful’ to refer to people who believe, but it also speaks of individuals being faithful in the sense of being trustworthy, loyal or dependable. I would like to suggest that these two senses, distinct though they may be are not as separate as they seem. Jesus was faithful (dependable, loyal etc) because of what he believed (pisteueo, the verbal form of pistis) about his father. Likewise the things that we truly believe are the things that we live out in our daily lives whether we like it or not.

Integrated Faith

If we are to live lives that are pleasing to God then, we need an integrated faith that encompasses both sides of the Heb 11:6 coin, as it were. James speaks of a type of faith that is disintegrated; where belief is divorced from action. The demons believe in God, but do not please him. In order to please God one must believe first that God exists, but also secondly that God is the type of person who rewards the pursuit of himself. The implication is clear. It is possible to believe in God but not be pleasing to him because we do not seek him. This is the type of faith that James says the demons have, dead disintegrated impotent passive, in a word faithless (as opposed to faithful) belief. If one does not actively, diligently, earnestly seek God, then it is clear that one does not really believe God. One has no faith.

Faith and Reward

To truly believe (in this holistic sense) that there is a God (one side of the ‘coin’ if you will) changes everything! Nothing is necessarily what it seems to the human senses and perceptions. If there is a God, then there is also an unseen Spiritual world, more real than the physical one and more important, to which the physical world itself may be said only to roughly and incompletely correspond. If there is a God, there is an eternity and we may live for things beyond this present life. Stuff does not have to make sense in this life. If there is a God, then there is a judgment, and sin matters. If there is a God, people created in his image matter. Compassion matters. Mercy has meaning. If there is one who rewards (the other side of the coin), and rewards what is done in secret (which we learn from the sermon on the mount), then what is done in secret matters—and matters more in fact that what is done in the open. God sees what is done in secret and rewards accordingly. If God is a rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek him, then it is surely worthwhile to earnestly and diligently seek him. And yet we cannot be said to truly believe this unless we act accordingly—that is unless we actually do earnestly and diligently seek him. Because if we truly have faith in that proposition; if we truly believe it, this faith will be evidenced in our faithfulness to it, this belief evidenced in our daily life.

The Rewarder and the Reward

I say all this for two reasons. The first is to make the point that faith matters. What we believe about God matters. That is to say, theology matters. The second is this. Faithfulness matters. My point here is not to search for yet another excuse to condemn ourselves for not having the type of devotional life that we feel we ought to—most Christians think that they ought to pray more, or study the bible more; in short lead a more consistent Christian life—rather I hope to fundamentally reorient this feeling of ought. The point is not that I ought to pray more, but rather that the God that exists is a God that can be known, and hence that prayer is real. Here is the compelling truth about the God we serve. He wants to be sought. He yearns to be found. He desires to reveal himself. This is surely the reward for those who seek—nothing less than intimate access to God’s own heart.