Sunday, October 25, 2009

More thoughts on belief....

So I have been wrestling a lot with the concept of belief, and here are some of my latest thoughts...

At Cornerstone we have been reading through 1 Peter on our own, and a passage really stood out to me. Here is 1 Peter 1:3-9:

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

Please take a moment, or hopefully more than a moment, to really meditate on this passage. We really need to hear Peter. He speaks of "the salvation that is ready to be revealed", or the second coming of Christ and His ultimate salvation. He says we should rejoice in that greatly, or like he says in v.13, "fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." It is clear that he is imploring his readers to focus Heavenward, a future oriented hope.

He then goes on to say that "trials... come so that your faith... may be proved genuine." Wait, what? Why would faith need to be proved genuine? Well it seems that Peter is implying that some claims of faith are disingenuous, those that would not continue to hope in Christ's salvation in the midst of trials.

So then the question for you and I is this: how do we know that our faith is genuine? Just claiming to believe is not proof. And I'm not saying we need to prove it to anyone or to God, but I mean more so for ourselves to know if our faith is genuine, if we are really saved and will be in Heaven. It seems that is Peter's focus.

Well why would trials be the way that we see if our faith is genuine? I think the answer to that is within the context of the passage which we discussed already, Peter's imploring them to set their hope fully on the future salvation. Trials force us to let go of our hope in this world. Rejoicing in trials and suffering is predicated on a hope in something greater, something better to come. If I truly believe in Christ and His promises bought for me on the cross for the future salvation, then I will gladly endure trials because of what I know is coming. If I don't really believe in Christ and His promises, then I will continue to place my hope in this world and this life, and my so called "faith" will start to crumble and reveal itself as disingenuous during trials. As Peter alludes to, trials will "refine" and test what is really there, if anything.

Hebrews 11 gets at a very similar idea, as the writer speaks of faith and says that all of the great men and women of the faith in times past saw themselves as "strangers and aliens on earth" (v.13) and "were longing for a better country - a heavenly one" (v.16). The author implores us to do the same, to long for the heavenly Kingdom.

It is in this that we find faith to be genuine. Jesus speaks of it like this: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." The person who is willing to give up this life for the promise of a much greater one to come is a person who really believes in the promise. The person who is unwilling to give it up doesn't really believe. I think this is why Jesus makes the cost so high, so that faith would be proved either genuine or disingenuous.

We better be careful in our avoidance of trials and suffering. The culture in which we live trains us to avoid any type of suffering at all cost and instead seek comfort, which is quite possibly a big reason that the church is doing so poorly in America. We are a people who claim to believe in future glory and satisfaction, but so many self professing Christians in America are in direct contradiction of that claim by living for temporary glory and satisfaction. As Americans we are people who live for instant satisfaction, and it is just that which cripples our openness to the true gospel. Our avoidance of trials and suffering could very well be an indication that many (vast majority?) of the self-proclaimed belief in America is not real, and that so many of us are not really saved. At least we can say this: when are lives are filled with comfort and little suffering/trials, it is very hard for us to know if we are truly saved.

It is easy for me to say that my hope is fully "on the grace to be brought to (me) at the revelation of Jesus Christ" when my life is going great. It is another thing when I am called to suffer for this hope. I pray that my faith may be proved genuine in time... I don't think it has been yet... This doesn't mean that my faith isn't real, rather it means that it hasn't been fully proven yet. It could very well be real, and I feel strongly that it is, but I want it to be proved genuine as I undergo trials and suffering in this life. It will force me to see where my hope truly lies.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Have you ever played a good game of Monopoly with friends? You sit down with four other people who you are close with, and know that you will be spending the next 3+ hours with them competing for the coveted crown of best Monopoly player.

Now if you are anything like me, a competitive person, you start getting a little too much into the game. In your first few roles you land on "Chance", then "In Jail: Just Visiting", and then "Community Chest". You find yourself with $10 extra from finishing second place in a beauty contest, but meanwhile your competitors each have one or two properties. You can already see yourself falling behind, and even though you know it is just a game for fun, you start getting anxious and even maybe a bit frustrated.

Things start to change for you as you snag St. James Place, Indiana Ave, Pacific Ave, and Boardwalk in your next four roles. You are now the envy of everyone sitting around the table, and you feel pretty good about yourself, as though you were more valuable of a person because two little squares dropped out of your hand and stopped in a certain way by mere chance. You start eyeing victory and thinking that you surely are headed towards victory.

Eventually your one friend Jack, who is not quite as competitive or competent, makes a trade with your savvy friend Chris. The trade was very one-sided in Chris' favor. Poor Jack is now probably going to lose, but you can't help but feel bitterness towards him because of his poor decision. You convince yourself that you are frustrated because you feel bad for Jack, but really it is because now Chris is more powerful than you. Chris playfully teases you about it, but you don't find it funny and tell him to hurry up and roll because it is his turn.

You start looking around the table looking for one of your friends that you could possibly take advantage of, giving them Water Works for a property that would give you another monopoly. Maybe if you are nice enough, or argue well enough, you can convince them to do it.

You look at the clock and it reads 12:36am. It is down to you, Chris, and Sarah. Chris has his head in his hand, and Sarah yawns real loud as she stretches her arms out wide. She then comments, "Hey, would you guys be OK with stopping here and going to bed?" Quickly you respond, "No way, we are so close to someone winning." Chris agrees with Sarah though saying, "Yea man, I'm tired too. It's just a game. I need sleep for work in the morning." But they don't get it. It isn't just a game. You put too much time into acquiring all of these properties and money; you can't just stop now when you are so close to winning!

You probably think this is silly, and are saying to yourself, "Sean, maybe you are this competitive and crazy, but there is no way I would get so consumed and involved with something that is so temporary and unimportant in the long run." But isn't that what you are doing with your life?

Your life is this monopoly game.

Can't we see that our lives are but a short game or scene in the whole big picture of eternity? Yet why are we so wrapped up in it? Why do we get so much identity in how much stuff we have, how much pleasure we can get from it, how many friends we can have, how many people we can get to like us?

All these things, these accomplishments, these things for you to boast in, are less to your credit than rolling an 11 to get on Boardwalk. You were GIVEN a body, the ability to breathe/talk/walk, parents who care for you, and so many other essentials and pre-requisits to any of your so called "accomplishments". You don't get any of the credit, and have no more reason for pride than you would in your Monopoly game for having the dice fall the right way. After all, why are you here in America with tons of opportunity and priviledge when so many are suffering and hopeless in India, Africa, and other places?

Pretend someone walked into your monopoly game and offered to match all of your money and properties with real money and property. The choice would be obvious to sell him everything you have in exchange for the real stuff, even though you know you wouldn't be able to use real money and property in the Monopoly game. At that point, you see the huge gain that you would receive for tomorrow when you step back into reality and out of the artifical circumstance created by the game.

So if we believe that in less than 80 years all of us will have to pack up the game and put our piece, our money, our properties, and our houses/hotels back into the box, why are we so consumed with winning (being happy, succesful, pleasured, popular, etc.) here? We must realize that eternity (or "real life") is approaching very quickly, and we would be wise to invest as much as we can in that rather than this silly, little game. We also owe it to those playing the game with us to help them see the same thing, that Jesus Christ has offered to buy their pathetic lives and give them new, eternal life.

But here is the key: We gotta take the deal. We gotta sell it all. Please friend, I implore you with tears, sell it.

Almost everyone is consumed with this game called life, but please see beyond the board and pieces; cash out. Then spend the rest of your time going around the board telling others to do the same, even if they throw you in jail or force you to pay rent when you don't have the money. They will think you are crazy because in Monopoly world you appear to have so little, but you know that once the game is over you are going to experience true prosperity and they will be beggars for all of eternity.