EVIDENCE OF FAITH

We need rain!  In East Tennessee we currently have multiple fires burning sending smoke into the air in a spreading blanket of contamination across the area.  While we have needed rain for several months, it was only of passing general interest.

I drafted this post before the air quality alerts went into effect and the need for significant rain became obvious on a daily basis.  The initial focus of the post is rain,  but its application relates to faith in all areas of our life.  May it be a blessing and a challenge to you, my dear Reader.

 

A friend sent me a modern parable that goes something like this:

It was especially dry, and the village needed water but no rain was in the offing.  In response to the situation, all the villagers decided to pray for rain.  On the day of prayer, all the people gathered and prayed, but only one boy came with an umbrella.  That’s FAITH.

This parable reminds me of an Old Testament story illustrating faith.  There had been no rain in the land as a judgment by God on the people and evil King Ahab, and this act of judgment was to be relieved only by Elijah’s word.  I Kings 17.  After winning the challenge between Baal and God on Mount Carmel, the people repented of their sin in going after other gods, and they said that the Lord would be their Lord.

Thus, the prophet prayed for relief from God’s judgment.  After petitioning God for rain, the following discourse occurred between Elijah and his servant.

And he [Elijah] said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he [the servant] went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he [Elijah] said, “Go again,” seven times.  And at the seventh time he [the servant] said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he [Elijah] said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.'”

1 Kings 18:43-44. 

rain-in-mississippi
A massive rain storm in Mississippi. Rain is visibly falling in several places as we were heading toward the storm.

Elijah sent his servant to look for the rain cloud … 7 times.  And, that 7th time the servant saw “a little cloud like a man’s hand”.  Although no rain had yet fallen, Elijah told the servant to go tell the king to get ready to run now, otherwise you will be stuck in the mud because of the rain.  That’s FAITH.

What is scriptural faith?  In the Bible, the writer of Hebrews describes faith as follows:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. … And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.

Hebrews 11:1, 6.

It is not faith in everything that comes along, nor is it a blind faith that has no foundation. Your faith is misplaced if you sit in a small plastic chair for it will collapse under the weight of a 250 pound person.  Clearly, the amount of your faith is not in question — you acted on your faith by physically sitting down.  The problem was that the object of your faith was seriously deficient. 

Faith in God, the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe, the Lover of our souls, and the foundation of our salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord is the faith that provides peace, support, and salvation.  Faith alone in God, through Christ Jesus, is the path to eternal life.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.

John 14:6.

Paul testified:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17.   Note, the King James Version of verse 17 uses the more familiar language “The just shall live by faith.”   The meaning of the two translations is the same – God justifies and declares us righteous through our faith in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 5:1-2.

Jesus repeatedly told persons during His ministry that the faith of those He healed had made them well.  For example:

Jesus turned, and seeing her He said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

Matthew 9:22

Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.”

Matthew 9:29

And He said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 17:19

These people had faith that Jesus could heal them, an event that had not occurred but was to be in the future.  Because of their faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, they were healed so that God would be glorified.  It was at that point that their faith became a reality.

So, when you pray, do you have faith that you will receive an answer to your prayer?  The answer may not come immediately, and it may not come in a form that you expect; but there will be an answer.  David understood that God would answer his prayer according to God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

But as for me, my prayer is to You, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of Your steadfast love answer me in Your saving faithfulness.

Psalm 69:13

Praise God that He is faithful, that He abounds in steadfast love.  He is in control, He is the Almighty God, and He will respond to the prayer of faith in His time and in His way.

By the way, do you know where your umbrella is?

Father, I pray that I would have more faith so that I would be the one who brings the umbrella when prayers are raised up for rain.  I pray that my prayers would not just take up my time but that they would come before you in your majesty and power.  And, I pray that I would not be faint when the answer seems to be so long in coming; may I trust in your unfailing love and mercy and may I rest in your grace, through Christ my Savior I pray.

THE BUTTERFLY AND THE REFORMATION

THE BUTTERFLY AND THE REFORMATION

A number of years ago, we visited the Butterfly Farm on Grand Cayman Island as an excursion from our cruise ship.  I saw the name “Butterfly Farm” and, being the literalist, saw long rows of planted butterflies.  At first I thought it was a joke, but finding out that it was a legitimate, informative place, we decided to go on the tour.

It was a wonderful time and we learned a great deal about these small animals.  Hurricane Ivan had passed across the island, causing severe destruction.  As we learned during our tour, one of the significant casualties was the butterfly population.  Essentially, the butterflies were blown out to sea by the force of the hurricane.  While this might not seem like a big deal at first, it is huge inasmuch as butterflies pollinate plants, just as bees do; therefore, we/humans need butterflies for food propagation.

Beautiful butterfly
Beautiful butterfly

Therefore, a “butterfly farm” was established to repopulate the butterflies on the island.  The “building” was essentially a mesh wall with a mesh roof, into which were planted shrubs, flowers, trees and grasses that would provide the food and shelter.  Butterflies were brought in from other areas of the world and placed in this protected environment.  When they were ready and in sufficient numbers, the roof would come off and they could be released into the area.

Butterflies - getting to know you!
Butterflies – getting to know you!

Of course, the butterflies were more than willing to work toward repopulation.  While we were there we saw these two butterflies doing their part to assist in the growth of the island’s butterfly community.  The pictures in this post were taken by my husband, but most of the scientific information that is included came from the website for The Butterfly Farm on St. Maartin, found at: http://www.thebutterflyfarm.com.

Butterflies are a type of insect.  They belong to the order of insects called Lepidoptera, which means “scaly wings”.  The butterfly’s life cycle is made up of four stages, each of which are unique and very different from each other.  This process is called metamorphosis which means “change of form.”  First, the butterfly starts as an egg.  After about a week, the egg hatches and a tiny caterpillar emerges.  The caterpillar eats and gets bigger and bigger, ultimately shedding its skin 4 to 6 times.   Here is a picture of a leaf at the Butterfly Farm on which a caterpillar has attached itself.

Caterpillar on a leaf
Caterpillar on a leaf

After 2 to 4 weeks, the caterpillar will be full grown and it then transforms itself into a chrysalis/ or pupa.  It hangs from a tree or bush, appearing to be doing nothing, but inside the caterpillar’s body becomes the adult structure of the butterfly.  This stage takes 10 to 15 days.

Then, the former caterpillar emerges as a beautiful butterfly.

Butterfly - stained glass
Butterfly – stained glass

But that emergence did not come easily … the insect has to struggle inside the cocoon, pushing against the sides before ultimately breaking through into the sunlight.

Butterfly having some strawberry lunch
Butterfly having some strawberry lunch

If the cocoon is cut so that the butterfly can emerge without struggle, the butterfly is doomed to live on land, unable to fly.  Getting out of the cocoon the easy way costs the butterfly the opportunity to soar.  It is the struggle to escape the cocoon that allows its wings to strengthen so that, after the struggle, flight is possible.

In other words, it is in the struggle itself that strength is born.

This week is Reformation Week – a time of remembering October 31, 1517, the day that Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  The debate that arose out of this action culminated in what is now called the Protestant Reformation.

One of the primary teachings of the Reformation is that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  Good works do not constitute any basis for our right standing before God; rather, our good works are the result of and the witness to our faith in Christ.  Ephesians 2:8-10.

Justification, God’s declaration that we are not guilty, that we are forgiven of our sin, and that we have righteousness in His sight comes to us because through our faith alone the Father imputes to us, or reckons to our account, the perfect righteousness of Christ.  2 Corinthians 5:21.

In other words, the Reformation’s call is that the just shall live by faith alone, in Christ alone.

Being justified, however, is not the end of the question.  There is a responsibility to live a Christ-centered life when we are justified by His sacrifice.  Paul says we are new creatures when we have yielded our lives to Christ.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

2 Corinthians 5:17.

Elaborating on this statement, Paul says in Ephesians 4:22-24 that we are to:

“put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Even though we may not like hearing the message, we too are to put off the old self.  This is a struggle, but we need to recognize that it is in the struggle that we are strengthened. We may lose some of the battles but, even if we lose the round, at the end of the day we are stronger than we were before the struggle began.

I don’t know if I agree with the “No pain – No gain” mantra, but I do know that it has been through the painful times of life that I have gained new understanding of God’s grace, His mercy, His guidance and His love.

So, how do I view difficult times?   How do you?

Remember the butterfly.  Before the caterpillar can become the beautiful butterfly it is destined to be, it must go through all the stages and struggles.  Only then will it emerge as the new creature that can fly far above the ground to which it formerly was attached.

Then, praise God that He is with us, in both difficult and easy times.  Praise Him that his grace and mercy is always sufficient for our struggles as we seek to put the old self away so that we can be renewed in the likeness of our Lord. When struggles come, praise the Lord that the Holy Spirit is present with us to give us strength and clarity of mind and soul as we resist temptation and stand strong in the struggle. Praise Him too that so many years ago men were ready to stand up for the Gospel and to remind us that salvation comes through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Thank you, Father, for the provision and protection of your Word and for the work of Martin Luther and other saints of the church who suffered greatly for their proclamation that justification is a matter of faith in Christ alone, and for the resulting Reformation.  Thank you too for the times when I have struggled, even when I have lost my way; for during those times, you gently guided me back to you and the struggle itself strengthened me for the rest of the journey.  Thank you for the beautiful butterfly, who daily illustrates the concept that difficulties are for a time, that there are struggles and hardships, but that the end result is worth the struggle as we grow in the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ through your grace and mercy.