It has had an amazing impact on my heart and brain. Re-igniting old memories that have lay dormant for years must do something within the cortex of that lobe of the brain where memories are stored. I have felt 'deep' or introspective, I have felt a strange peace that is a mixture of sadness and pure joy, I have slept a deeper sleep that I remember in a while, and I have had strange dreams.
I have laughed out loud and slipped out some silent, small tears- all of this part of Christmas.
I know we say in our words and prayer this time of year, 'the gift of God's Son, the helpless babe in the manger, born to set men free'- I recite these almost flippantly- but it has dawned on me that I am over flowing with many 'gifts'- things that can only be given by the Creator God who has manifested Himself as a loving Father!
I wanted to search out this morning one of these MANY gifts. I want to thank God for giving me the gift of 'saving faith'- a gift I would not have were it not for Him.
Here is a starter question. How do I know I have saving faith? And the answer is strange. Part of the initial evidence is that I dare even ask the question. I believe a big key in sorting out true faith is that a true believer wrestles with whether or not he has it in the first place. If you aren't willing to put it on the table for inspection, you might be face to face with reality of knowing it is not there.
So ask God to give you Holy Spirit eyes and place what faith you think you have, as weak and small as you think it may be- and do some comparison and investigation.
Before you enter this exercise- you need to make a declaration: "I am going to use God's Inspired Word as my only rule of faith." If any part of this analysis is conjecture based on my feelings or flawed logic, I pray that may be put away. This is not what I think, or how I feel- what does God's Word say? I will not be quoting exhaustive Scripture in this blog post (but I should)- but my hope is that it reflects the entire scope of Biblical counsel.
ANALYSIS A: COMPARISON TO FALSE FAITH
I need to run through my list of faiths that are not true, Biblical saving faith. I need to be willing to look at my heart/mind/will/emotions/experience/memory/word/deed and see if I fall into some of these categories.
1) COMPARTMENTALIZED FAITH: This is a big one. We live in a highly post everything culture where we shish-kabob our lives according to our fancies and whims. We have to understand that a multi-cultural, relativistic American society does corrupt our understanding of 'saving faith'. Add to that American roots of rugged individualism and powerful autonomy and we have a recipe for what the Bible labels "holding to a form of godliness, but denying the power within (2 Timothy 3:5)".
No- we have to fight this one. Saving faith is taken as a whole. As Paul Helseth powerfully defended in his book, Right Reason and the Princeton Mind, "They (Princeton Reformers) recognized that the operation of the intellect involves the 'whole soul'- mind,will, and emotions-rather than the rational faculty alone, and as a consequence they insisted the ability to reason 'rightly' i.e., the ability to see revealed truth more or less for what it objectively is, namely glorious- presupposes the regenerating activity of the Holy Spirit on the 'whole soul' of a moral agent."
How we compartmentalize faith: I tend to do it by making it merely a mental exercise. I can get fooled into believing if I learn more facts, I am increasing in saving faith. So my compartment is AN EDUCATIONAL FAITH- but others can trend into non-attached FORMS as well. I believe there is EMOTIONAL FAITH, getting revved up for Jesus and worked into a frenzy. There is a DO GOOD faith- where maybe the service or mission trip is the feel good event of the summer.
No- we need to guard ourselves from staying detached in these things. Saving faith connects all of the areas. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Shema, Deut. 6:5)".
2) LOGO FAITH: One of the icons of our 'post-everything' culture is the sloganeering of causes. Sometimes called the "Disneyfication of America" sociologists have written in mass about how mass communication technology has created a 'world of simulation' where high culture and low culture are combined and any sort of grand narrative is lost. I have always thought that Grant Lyon's book, Jesus in Disneyland: Religion in Postmodern Times, captured this idea very poignantly.
The overarching image that Lyon's attaches to is a Harvest Day Crusade day that was hosted by Disneyland in Anaheim, CA in 2000. This Christian festival seemed innocuous enough. One of the event organizers had a great quote: "We saw Disneyland as an opportunity to bring God's kingdom to the Magic Kingdom. We felt that, as they opened the door to us to share Christ, we wouldn't turn down the opportunity just because other things take place there. Jesus is the example for this."
I am not being critical of this at all. Christ needs to be going EVERYWHERE. But the symbolic image of Christian marketing in the Mecca of consumer marketing could not be ignored by Lyons.
"A bizarre sounding collaboration...an ancient, premodern religion is found... interacting with the epitome of post modern culture- the artificial, simulated, virtual, fantasy world of Disney."
I need to be careful here- there were huge parts of Lyon's book that were instructive and thought provoking. I do think the biggest flaw of Lyon's approach is confusing the visible and invisible Church.
The bigger point here is what the Disney culture influence has done to 'virtualize and simulate' faith by transforming it into slogans and fancy logos. Spy magazine defined it this way: "Disneyfication is the act of assuming, through the process of assimilation, the traits and characteristics more familiarly associated with a theme park....than with real life."
So what does this mean? Here is how Disney has impacted church ministry and caused some to hold to a faith more characterized with logos and slogans than saving faith.
Theming: Everything relates to an overall 'theme'. The problem is that the theme is always a sanitized and organized abstraction and not reality. In themes, everything fits. But we all know that real life carries conundrums and problems.
Merchandizing and Consumption: It doesn't take long to realize that the theme can sell. I still get shudders sometimes when I walk through Christian bookstores. What are we selling? Why are we selling? I am not against selling books and books have ministered to me in so many amazing ways- but the packaging and theming should make us wary of what is missing.
Prescriptive Empathy: This is a tough one to define. Disney employees are taught to smile and interact in such a way that park attendees think they are having fun and not working. A logo faith teaches us all the proper terms of endearment- but it is an act. I say, "I will pray for you"... do I actually do it?
Self-adulation: The toughest consequence of a logo faith is that I buy into the ultimate consumer mindset- all of this is for ME and my pleasure.
So here are my questions about LOGO faith. Do I just recite the Jesus answers? Have I learned all the themes, present a clean put together life of faith, but in the end.... there is little or no connection to the Holy God of the Universe. Do I measure my growth in how I feel? Do I evaluate worship based on what I get?
3) INSTITUTIONAL FAITH: It is hard to sperate a LOGO faith from an INSTITUTIONAL faith because they are bred in the same petri-dish. An institutional faith is where I have allowed ny daily work in a Christian environment to substitute for personal, saving faith. Do I read my Bible? Yes, in faculty devotions, writing blogs, teaching Sunday School, preparing lessons. Do I pray? Yes, weekly prayer meetings. Staff meetings. Opening and closing events. Do I worship? Yes. We have a chapel every week.
This is one I have to fight. And when I leave the institution for vacation or the weekend. Does my faith follow me? Do I have a personal pryer life, Bible study, or worship? Do I share my faith?
4) BIBLE BELT FAITH: Oh boy! Another tough impostor! This is one where we are all good people and acknowledge the good Lord. We attend church and don't rob banks. We give money and sing Amazing grace. But there is no real spiritual recognition of our depravity. There is no real hatred of sin. There is no felt desperation of the reality of hell. God is warm and furry, a cosmic Santa Claus ready to dish out good gifts but absent in times of distress. It will all just work out, let it be.
There are other types of false faith: religion, liberalism, status, in fact all idols are held to by a type of 'faith'.
ANALYSIS B: PRACTICES TO EXPLORE SAVING FAITH:
A SIMPLE GOSPEL:
I JOHN 5:11And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
1) SIMPLE TRUST: It is so important to remember that faith has an object- faith is not a work. The power of our faith is not faith- the power of our faith is the power in what our faith is in. In Matthew 17 Jesus says:
Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”I have always applied this as it is not the amount of faith applied- but the source. A great comfort in your fight of faith is a quiet voice that says, 'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus- just to take Him at His word."
2) FITFUL FIGHTING: Jacob wrestled with God until daybreak. We must be willing to engage Him the same way. God, I will not let you go until you show me. I think He enjoys that. A willingness to wrestle is actually evidence of the Spirit.
3) DEEP ROOTED DOCTRINE: If you want to dissect whether you have a saving faith versus a merely speculative one- you have to be willing to dive into the roots of God's Word. If you haven't done so in a while- you may need to freshen up on Romans or find balance in I John. You may need to let Jesus's commands in the gospels hurt and heal.
Again, I turn to Helseth here:
The Princeton theologians approached the task of theology not as arrogant rationalists would have done, but as Biblically faithful Christians have always done. Indeed, they sought to discern the difference between truth and error not by appealing to magisterial conclusions of the rational faculty alone, but by hearing the text with 'right reason', which for them was a biblically informed kind of theological aesthetic that presupposes the work of the Spirit on the whole soul of the believing theologian.
Finally, saving faith is a gift that we receive by saving faith.
Heb 12:12 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.Want to be blessed the Christmas?
Here you are, presented once again with the Christ in the manger. Even as Christmases past have slipped by..... here is that offer once again.
You and I have messed it up again and again- over and over- falling short of all that God intends us to be.
Even as you feel your pride wanting to justify and excuse away- even as you feel the deadness of rejecting it- please review these beautiful doctrines of salvation by God's grace.
Reach out to Him right now- Your sins have been cancelled and removed. Do you trust that?
Simply trust. "God I cannot do this. You have to do this. I am a rebel and you have not been my King. Is it too late to come home?" You know the answer.
Fight for it. There are those who will tell you you are too bad. You think in your heart you are too good. Don't let it go. Capture the childlike magic of new birth! Don't let Him go!
Dig Deep. Spend time this holiday break searching the Scriptures.
Thank God for the gift of saving faith.
Tell someone else what you have done.
It will be the best gift they get this year as well!
John 5:39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me,