Volcano in the Philippines
Last week, the Taal volcano erupted about 40 miles south of Manila. Nearly one million people live within 10 miles of the explosion. We had just concluded our ministerial training conference in Manila on December 27. Everyone we know in the ministry and Church is safe, to our knowledge. Senior pastor David Dobson and his wife, Denise, stayed on in the Philippines after the conference for their annual National Council meeting on January 5. They were not able to return home right away because the Manila airport was closed, but it reopened for a short time and they were able to get out just before the airport was once again shut down.
South Central Ministerial Conference
Starting this Sunday evening, we will hold a ministerial conference in Pottsboro, Texas, and it will include ministers and wives from our South Central region: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana. I thoroughly appreciate these conferences to speak publicly and privately with our ministry.
BT Daily, Interviews and Podcasts
We regularly produce short video and audio segments that can conveniently be listened to from our website or from podcast apps. They contain timely content of interest to the public and the Church.
- Beyond Today Interviews: https://www.ucg.org/beyond-today/beyond-today-television-program
- BT Daily: https://www.ucg.org/beyond-today/beyond-today-daily
- Inside United Podcast: https://www.ucg.org/inside-united-podcast
We produce podcasts weekly. The last two were recorded remotely in Manila and Hong Kong.
Exercise living faith
A few months ago, I taught the Book of James to our Ambassador Bible College class. The overriding theme of James is faith. James gives various examples of faith in belief and action starting with faith under trial (James 1:3 James 1:3Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience.
American King James Version×) to when "the prayer of faith shall save the sick" when one is anointed (James 5:15 James 5:15And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.
American King James Version×).
In our study of the fruit of the spirit, we come now to faith, or faithfulness. This represents a critical point where our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ pivot and turn. Indeed, as Paul told the Corinthians and us today, "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7 2 Corinthians 5:7(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
American King James Version×, emphasis added throughout). We are reminded in the book of Hebrews that without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Hebrews 11:6 Hebrews 11:6But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
American King James Version×).
That can be a major challenge. A thousand distractions can consume us in our daily lives. Left unrestrained, our minds can wander from spiritual reality, seeing and experiencing in the physical world seemingly dozens of reasons to mistrust God and doubt. We hit hard times or see troubling news and we become discouraged. Where is our faith?
While there is such a thing as human faith or human belief, the powerful faith spoken of here in Galatians by the apostle Paul represents a spiritual gift. This faith is the very faith of Jesus Christ Himself, who will freely give us this priceless gift if we but ask.
The Greek word translated faith here is pistis. It speaks of belief, trust and confidence. It is the word used in Luke's account where a woman is healed after touching the garment of Jesus. In this account, Jesus turns around to say: "Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith [pistis] has made you well" (Matthew 9:22 Matthew 9:22But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; your faith has made you whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.
American King James Version×).
We all would like to receive more of that faith, that pistis, wouldn't we? The good news is that we can!
Here is the vital point of this column: faith is a dynamic spiritual gift that must be asked for, strengthened and used! There is a way to tell whether one has living faith or faith that is dead.
Dead faith is deceptive. Dead faith does not produce trust. Dead faith can masquerade as good intentions expressed with no intent of being acted upon, by acquiring biblical knowledge that is not applied or acted upon, or in the form of talking the talk, but never walking the walk. Jesus Himself warned of this dead faith, which is sometimes manifested in those who only desire to "appear" righteous (Matthew 6:1 Matthew 6:1Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
American King James Version×), calling them "hypocrites."
James, the brother of Jesus, offers a great deal of positive direction concerning faith and the application of trust. Concerning living faith, he thundered the famous statement, "faith without works is dead" (James 2:26 James 2:26For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
American King James Version×). (Of course, what James did not say here is that one can somehow earn his or her salvation by works or acts of human righteousness.) Some other English translations make the intent plain: "faith apart from works is dead" reads the English Standard Version, relating the fact that living faith is accompanied by deeds. Living faith in action is visible, where people take the step of trusting in God to do what He says!
James tells us: "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?" (James 2:14 James 2:14What does it profit, my brothers, though a man say he has faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
American King James Version×, ESV). To illustrate, James asks an important question: "If a brother or a sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?" (verse 16). His point? "faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (verse 17).
I find that the book of James marvelously integrates true faith with practical applications. Human-generated faith or belief can get us started in the right direction, but in the long run it is insufficient. It must be replaced by the living faith of Jesus Christ given to us. The exercise of living faith enables us to trust in God. Once we can trust, we can have peace. "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD" (Jeremiah 17:7 Jeremiah 17:7Blessed is the man that trusts in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.
American King James Version×).
We will all face trials. But James shows that a strong spiritual faith not only enables us to endure a painful trial, but to become conquerors! Strong faith gives us the ability to face trials head on. Powerful faith gives the ability to move forward when things are uncomfortable. Through the application of living faith, we can choose to place our trust in God (as opposed to ourselves or others), confidently believing He will do what He says.
By exercising living faith, James tells us that when we read the Bible and see that we need a course correction, we get busy! We obey God because we want to and we know and trust that God knows what we need. We trust and act. As he writes: "don't just listen to God's word. You must do what it says" (James 1:22 James 1:22But be you doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
American King James Version×, New Living Translation).
Exercising living faith, the faith of Jesus Christ Himself, is more than just reading the Bible (although that is, of course, very important). It is more than studying and acquiring knowledge (although, again, that is very important). Exercising living faith is demonstrated by internally and spiritually motivated obedience to God, where we seek to obey because we want to (not because of perceived external threats), cheerfully putting into action what we read and understand.
The entire 11th chapter of Hebrews is an exciting and encouraging account of faithful people through the ages who did just that. They obeyed, even when they didn't totally understand. They stood firm, even when promises didn't seem to be fulfilled. They suffered on occasion, even as it seemed contrary to what they knew would be their wonderful future. Simply put, they trusted in God and in His unbreakable promises. Spiritual faith, powerfully exercised, led them to victory!
This was all living life by faith, not by sight.
As we commit to exercising and using the living faith that we are given, we must also fully read and embrace the second half of the famous "faith" verse of Hebrews 11:6 Hebrews 11:6But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
American King James Version×. Sometimes we can read the first half, correctly noting that without faith it is impossible to please God. When we are discouraged and our faith is being tested, even strained, only reading the first half can be inadvertently discouraging.
Here's the second important part of that verse. Read it slowly, drinking in its meaning: "whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Hebrews 11:6 Hebrews 11:6But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
American King James Version×, ESV).
As James notes, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father" (James 1:17 James 1:17Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no ficklenss, neither shadow of turning.
American King James Version×, ESV). Those who seek God, believing that He exists, asking for and exercising living faith through active trust, will be rewarded with good and perfect gifts--now and in the life to come!
Today, when you ask that God would pour out His Spirit into you, ask also for the gift of faith and how to exercise it. If your life is uncomfortable, living spiritual faith will sustain you. Remember that you walk by faith, not by sight. And believe fully in the promise that as you seek God and exercise the faith that you receive, the promise of your reward will be fulfilled!