Monday, September 23, 2019

“He’s got the whole wide world in His hands”

Text Size


God’s faith inspires trust
Sermon by Henk Moorman
 
 
 
Subject: Mark chapter 11  verse 22
       
First of all I want to read a passage with you from Mark chapter 11, starting at verse twenty two, where Jesus says: “have faith in God, Truly, I say unto you,  whoever says unto this mountain, Be taken up and cast into the sea; and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass; it will be done for him”.
 
This is a very well-known verse. I underlined it in my Bible years ago.
I am going to read it to you again, but this time from a different translation.
“And Jesus answered them: If you trust God. Verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea: and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall trust that those things which he saith shall come to pass: he shall have whatsoever he saith”.
 
Did you notice the difference? One translation talks about “believing”. Believe that you have received it, have faith in God and believe that what you say will happen. The other translation talks about trust. Trust that what you pray for will happen, trust that you have received it and it will happen, put your trust in God.
 
I’m sure that everyone would agree that it all begins with believing. You have to have faith. That’s what we’ve always been taught. And on the basis of this we have made a distinction between believers and unbelievers.  People are labelled according to what they do. If they believe then they are called believers. And the opposite of believers is unbelievers, and they are the people who don’t believe. You could say that the most fundamental characteristic of a christian is that he believes in God. Not that he goes to church, not that he has a Bible at home, but that he believes. It all starts with believing.
 
The question of course, is what do you believe. Well, at the very least, that there is a God, that God exists, and that Jesus is His son. But after that people’s ideas differ.
We believe that He exists, but what He is like? There can be many VERY different answers to this question, depending on who you ask. And the things that Jesus did, and what that means to you - there can also be very different answers to this too. It is all about what you believe.
 
Normally you take for granted the things you believe. You don’t even stop to think about it. You take it for granted that there is ground under your feet. You stand on it, it is there, it is the foundation of your existence, just as breathing is.
You don’t think about it, you just do it. That’s what believing is like too. I mean: you live your life day by day, and you don’t keep on thinking, o yes, I have to believe, I mustn’t forget that, and you don’t keep asking yourself: do I still believe? You do it without thinking. Automatically, is not quite the right word, but it is so much part of you that you do it without thinking about it.
Until………………….yes, until mountains rise up. And that’s what this verse is about.
 
Say to this mountain, Move!......Yes, so what happens when problems arise? When things don’t go so smoothly? Well, then you notice that people start thinking that they have to mobilise their faith. That’s really how we have been brought up spiritually. You know, problems are arising, and we are being confronted with the enemy, and things are getting seriously difficult, so we’ve go to do something about it.
 
And then you think: we have to prepare ourselves spiritually, we have to keep our faith, and remember the promises and the words of the Lord, and make sure we hold on to them. Something like that, is how we feel. Especially if it is really serious. If you are being confronted with high mountains. With a lot of problems or difficult things, for example an illness that is so serious that you wonder if the person will get better.
Then the general attitude is “we have to give our faith a boost by doing everything we possibly can, because otherwise things might go wrong.” And if they do go wrong then we wonder if it is  because we failed, if we didn’t have enough faith. And that is what people are often accused of, on top of all their worries. ‘You obviously didn’t have enough faith’, people will say. Or ‘you didn’t believe the right way’. Then their troubles are doubled, and that’s very sad.

What the problem really is, is that we don’t have enough of the faith that Jesus talks about. The sort of faith that you can call on to combat unbelief. You know the story of the boy with a dumb spirit (you can read it in Mark chapter 9 verse 14) where the disciples say: we don’t understand why we can’t heal the boy. Why is that? And then Jesus says to them: that is because of your small faith. So you could call the disciples a generation of small faith.
 
Jesus also speaks in this story about an unfaithful generation, and wonders how long He will have to put up with it. So there is also a faithless generation, and that has nothing to do with people. The faithless, are the powers in the unseen world of unbelief. Because unbelief is also a faith, a belief. It is not lack of faith, it is faith but then exactly the opposite, NON faith. NON belief. Like Unhappiness and, loved and unloved, seen and unseen. It has to do with everything that is NON or UN.
And Jesus says, this generation, this has to be cast out, but you can’t do it in by flexing your own spiritual muscles and trying harder. Because you aren’t that strong, your faith is not that strong. You only have a small faith.
 
Is that a bad thing, that you don’t have a gigantic faith? Not at all. Jesus says somewhere: if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, that is enough. It is small, but within it, it has the potential to grow.
 
So that’s the secret. What is important, is the quality of your faith. It is important that you have something to use against that unfaithful generation, so that it can be cast out. And how does that happen?  Only by prayer and fasting Jesus says. So, to be able to cast out that unfaithful generation, you have to be able to put up a  faith that is rock solid, and you can do that by prayer and fasting, because that brings you close to God.
 
The notion thatbelieving means that you have to uphold all the truths of your faith, is based on an image of what God is like, an incorrect image. An image of a God who says to us: here you are, here is my gospel, here are my promises, here are all the truths of my kingdom, nowyou have got to have the faith to realise all these things, to make them happen. Then it’s as if God sits watching us from a distance, waiting to see how we manage.
And that he is pleased or disappointed depending on how well we do, on how much we can do throughour faith. And ifthat is the idea you have about what believing is, then it becomes a sort of test of strength for you. And then the next question is: do we have enough spiritual strength, can we summon up enough faith to do what God wants, to make his word true, and to conquer the enemy. This makes the gospel into a sort of competition. How strong is your faith?
 
And that’s why I have looked up this passage in other translations, where the word trust is used instead of faith.
I like that translation. There is nothing wrong with the word faith, let’s be clear on that, and for some people there is no difference between faith and trust. But for others that word faith has come to mean achievement. And that’s going in the wrong direction. And then, if you’re not careful, it becomes a burden, a worry: we have to believe and have faith, otherwise things will go wrong and we will disappoint God……..
 
I’d like to suggest a slightly different division of the roles.
You could also say: change the emphasis, so that GOD has faith and WE trust. If only we could believe THAT, because God does have faith in us. And He wants us to trust Him. So let’s put our trust in Him, and also entrust ourselves to Him. Then you turn the roles around.
I think that could give us some peace, some space, and that is exactly what the purpose of the gospel is: Come unto to me, all those who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest, says our Lord.
 
In the Dutch translation the word trust only occurs a few times in theNew Testament, whereas the word faith occurs many times. If you look at the Old Testament, then it is exactly the opposite, then the words faith and believe are hardly found at all, but the word trust all the more. And especially in the Psalms. There is no other book where the word trust occurs so many times, as in the Psalms. You know the examples well: “In God I have put my trust”, Trust in the Lord with all they heart and lean not to thine own understanding”. There are so many well known verses where the word trust appears. And it is all dependent on which words the translator chooses to use. In the New Testament there is just one Greek word. And one translator chooses to translate it with the word faith and the other chooses trust. So they are interchangeable. The one is just as good as the other And if you examine that original word carefully, then you see that the word that is translated as faith or trust, also means faithful, trustworthy, safe.
 
And the good thing is, that if you consider the word in this light, with all these meanings, then it tells us more about God than about ourselves.
If you assume that the meaning of the Greek word is “have faith or believe”, then people will say: that is something WE have to do, it is something that is expected of us,we have to believe and trust. But if you see it as meaning “trust and trustworthy” then that doesn’t refer to us, to those who have to believe, but to the One in whom you believe, the one in whom you place your trust. Trustworthy and safe, secure. That describes us but also God. It suggests stability, assurance and protection. It is connected to the word fortress. A solid fortress is our God. You know you are safe there.
 
And if you look at the adjective  that is derived from the Greek word, then you would expect the most important meaning to be something connected with believing; the noun is belief, faith, so the adjective would be believing or faithful. But that’s not the case. No, the first meaning is literally inspiring faith, inspiring confidence, so that doesn’t refer to us but to God. HE is the one who inspires our confidence, who inspires our faith.
 
And so believing, or having faith, is removed completely from the idea of having to achieve something. Then it’s not about ME having to summon up enough faith to make something happen, but much more that I have to get to know the One, who inspires faith, better. 
Because the more I get to know Him, the more my trust and faith will be inspired. And I don’t need to find and uphold that faith myself, God inspires it in me.
 
I thought that was a wonderful thought. Inspiring trust, inspiring faith. And so it is much more important to get to know Him better, than to think: do I have enough faith? Oh, there is so much that we are expected to believe. Do I believe it all? And do I believe and have faith in the right way? Which way was that exactly? You can do away with all the books about the seven steps to believing, and the fifteen steps to healing, and even more steps to whatever else. Because then it becomes a system, where you keep having to ask yourself: am I doing it right, have I learned all the steps, and do I use the right words. And what if I don’t do that, will it still work?
 
That’s not how Jesus works. When the contemporaries of Jesus and Paul heard that word that we have translated as faith, then they heard first and foremost something that was said about God’s character. Their first impression was not a call to keep up their own faith, but a proclamation about how trustworthy God is, and how safe and secure you are with Him. Of course Jesus came to bring the truth, and of course it is up to us to believe what He said. But you believe what someone says more easily, if you know the person well, and have found Him to be someone you can trust. It’s that simple.
If you don’t trust the person who speaks the words, then you don’t trust his words either. And believing, or not believing, is all about having a relationship, a close and lasting relationship with the person who speaks the words. Getting to know the person who speaks the words well. And even more, to be able to confide in that person on the grounds of mutual trust.
 
And then you will understand why you can’t fight against that unfaithful generation, the opposing force, who wants you to believe in the negative direction, the “un”s of unfaithful and unloved, and unhappy. You can’t fight against them. They only go away through prayer and fasting.
 
Prayer and fasting is a way of building up your relationship with your Father. Praying is searching in quiet with God. Go into a quiet room in your house and search for God in the stillness of your room. And fasting is nothing more that letting go of anything that will keep you from doing this. That is what fasting is. For some people that may mean that you miss a meal, or don’t have that drink. That’s the right thing to do if you think that that will help, but not eating and drinking is not the essence of fasting, is not what it is really about. Fasting is letting go.Then you come closer to the Father, and that is why Jesus, and that is unique in history, why Jesus has shown us God as a Father. That was a revolutionary new idea: God is our Father! That was also the reason why they took up stones, the evil spirits, to throw at Him and kill Him. Not in the first instance because of the gospel that He preached. But why? Because He called God his Father. You can read about it in John chapter 5 verse 18. That was revolutionary. Because a father is not someone who says to his children, now listen children I want you to build up enough faith in me otherwise things will go wrong. A father is someone who says: you can put your trust in me. I am here for you. And even more important: a father is someone who doesn’t just say something but who does it as well.
 
And thus you can be freed from a way of thinking, from a way of believing that works as a burden. That doesn’t make you free, but which is an enormous burden.
 
And you also become free from all the discussions about how exactly you should believe and what you should believe. People sometimes  bombard each other with verses from the bible to prove that their interpretation of the Bible is the only correct one. But I think, that if you focus on God as a Father, then that will bring you together. Then there is more space to say: okay, we see things differently. But it doesn’t matter, you are my brother, or sister, and that is because we have the same father.
Of course, if you differ on essential points, then it may be the best thing to say with all respect: let’s go our different ways. And you bless each other and say: we are still spiritual brothers and sisters, children of the same father, and who knows, maybe we are climbing to the top on different sides of the mountain, and will see each other again at the top.
And leave the judging to God!
 
Then you become free of the distress of wondering if you are believing in the right way. Or worse still, what I once heard someone say: if you don’t believe that, then it is a slap in God’s face. And I thought: how awful, how awful to talk about God like that. Then I envisage a Moses striking a rock to make the water flow out of it. Because God had said something, and if necessary we will use force to make people believe it. Some preachers try to force faith to appear. They probably mean well, but I think what a terrible image you give of God then. That has nothing to do with how God really is: there is no trace of darkness in Him the Bible says, so not of force either.
 
Do we dare to take up the challenge and reverse the roles a little, and let God be the One who believes,  and letus be the ones who trust . He believes in us, and we trust Him. If we dare to take up that challenge, then that will give peace.
And so we come to the word grace. Because that means peace. Grace is the translation of the Latin word gratia. Also to be translated as a pardon. A general pardon when your punishment is taken away and you go free.
 
When the Irish monks went to the continent of North West Europe in the seventh century to preach the gospel they used the word ‘gratie’, because the language used in the church at that time was Latin. It has remained in the English language as grace. The word also means ease, support, refuge, help. That’s wonderful isn’t it. The problem with words that have been used for centuries, is that the meaning often changes or gets a different emphasis. And grace has come to mean: you may count yourself lucky that God has forgiven you and accepted you, and for the rest, you must keep quiet and not get any big ideas, because it is all grace, brother, you didn’t deserve it. And the emphasis is on that you didn’t deserve it. As if God would ever think you are not worth it, as if God wouldn’t do anything to keep you close to Him.
 
Grace is peace. At last a God who is like a Father, and who can give me peace. Grace is also ease. At last a Father with whom I can feel at ease, because I can just be myself with Him. That’s what it’s all about.
 
Grace is a help, a refuge, a support. Someone who shows me grace is someone with whom I don’t have to try and be strong, someone with whom I can show my weakness. With whom I can say: I don’t know what to do, it’s all too much. Lord I look to you for help. May I just lean on you and find a refuge in You. And your heavenly Father will say: I would like that. That’s what I’m here for.
 
The original meaning of the word gratia is favour. With two meanings: Firstly God does you a favour, he gives you good things, unearned, that is without us having to achieve something to be deserving of it. We share in His favours, because He likes to share. And secondly He favours us: we are in his good books. He likes to see you. “Hey, there you are again” God will say when He sees you, and His face will light up. Glad to see you. We have a share of His favours.
It also means generosity and affection. And they are all things that you can’t earn, you simply have to accept them, and enjoy them.
 
So, undeserving, yes, but that is exactly what the christian faith is all about. God doesn’t give you what you deserve, He gives you what you need. And that is so much more that what you can earn. I am convinced that if there is one thing that distinguishes the christian faith from all other faiths, then that is grace. Really. Because you don’t come across anything like it in any other religion.
In all other religions you have to manage somehow or other to achieve your goal yourself, whatever that goal may be. Sometimes that’s by fulfilling all sorts of obligations, or by trying to change or empty yourself, to the extent that you lose your own identity.
 
I read an interview with a girl that had converted from Islam to Christianity. She spoke about how desperate she felt. Because the essence of her faith was that she always had to succeed in keeping rules and regulations. And that wasn’t just five times a day praying with her face in the direction of Mecca, but a whole lot more. And she couldn’t do it all, she said, I never succeeded. And that is the essence of many religions: if you keep all the laws, then you are okay.
And a lot of christians think that that is the essence of their faith too. It is not just Muslims who think like that. But the gospel of Jesus says: here you are, here is my gospel. You don’t need to do anything to earn it. Here is your forgiveness, here is righteousness, here is Gods joy about you. And I am convinced that that is the strength and power and essence of the christian faith. Let us please hold on to that.
 
I recently read a report about a mission somewhere in South America. And that report highlighted what they were focussed on, what they were doing, and what they were putting their energy in.
“We have three big problems” they said. ‘poverty, drug abuse and pregnancies among teenagers. And that is where our team is trying to help”. And of course there is nothing wrong with trying to help other people with their problems. But if we focus all our attention and energy on these things, then we are forgetting the most important: grace. We are really no better than the rest of the world in combating poverty, drug abuse and teenage pregnancies. And I am not saying that you must ignore these problems when preaching the gospel. Of course you must try to help people with their physical needs as well. But what we have to offer the world is not how to combat drugs and poverty. What we have to offer is grace.
 
That’s what the world is anxiously waiting for. Because all the principles in theworld are based on ‘un’grace, (my own invention, that word, to illustrate the opposite to grace.) The essence of grace is the fulfilled work of Jesus Christ. And that is also the essence of our gospel. Don’t let that be taken away from you. That offer, the sacrifice that He made, so that we wouldn’t have to make it. So that I don’t have to try to achieve all sorts of things, or prove myself, or earn my own righteousness. Yes, grace gives peace, and faith in God’s goodness. Assurance that He will give me what I need. That blessed assurance. We may take it for granted. That’s how much assurance grace gives.
 
And what is the role of God then? Let God have the role of the one who believes. Because God believes in people. He has believed in people for thousands of years. That’s why he gave them a free will.
I could put it the other way round: the fact that he gave the people a free will, the opportunity to choose for themselves, shows that he has faith in them. Because if He didn’t have faith in them, then He would say: I’m not going to chance it, it’s probably doomed to failure, so I won’t give the people freedom of choice. I’m going to program them so that they can only do the things that I approve of. God didn’t do that, because He has faith in us. And He longs for the people to say, from their own free will: I choose for God, I choose for a Father like God.
 
God believes in us. God believes in you. And I think that is wonderful. Whenever I let that sink in, then it gives me a warm feeling and enough energy to carry on. The realisation that God believes in ME. Not in what I can achieve, but in who I am, and how I am and what  I’m like.
 
In sociology there is a theory, the mirror theory, which says: a person becomes what the most important person in his life believes of him. That’s what he will become. The person becomes what the most important person or persons in his life seem to believe about him. You see it happen too. In negative and in positive situations.
A well-known example is of course the boy or girl that only gets to hear that that they are no good. That nothing will become of them. It becomes a sort of self fulfilling prophecy. People start to act accordingly.
 
And the most important person or persons, are usually the people who bring you up. Or your husband, or wife, a teacher, a mentor or maybe even a grandmother orgrandfather. Everybody has someone in their life who is very important to him, or maybe several people, and they all determine the way you think about yourself, the image that you have of yourself. Because you base that on what others say about you. And that doesn’t always have to be as a result of something that is said. It can also be a result of the way things are done, or how they go.
 
I once heard someone say: ‘my parents used to have a business of their own. They had to work hard, make long hours, and so there was no time to spend with us. So I grew up with the feeling that I wasn’t worth the attention. I wasn’t important enough”.
That was the message thathe had got, not because anyone told him that, but that was how things went in that family. As a child he didn’t realise that the parents couldn’t do it any differently, because they had to work so hard.
All he noticed was that there was no time to spend with him, and that they didn’t listen to what he said, and he thought that meant that they didn’t want to, that they didn’t think he was worth making time for.  Someone like that grows up thinking ‘I’m not worth spending time with, or having someone’s attention’. And then they start to act accordingly. They become a bit shy, withdrawn, and have very little self-confidence.
 
That doesn’t mean you have to feel guilty about something that didn’t go right, or blame your parents for things they didn’t do. It’s not a question of blame. That’s just how things go sometimes. It is just an example. There are many other variations of course, on how someone starts to think about themselves in a certain way, a sort of code they start to live by. The unloved, the unseen.
 
Another example is that people grow up trying to live up to extremely high expectations. That parents or someone else says: I didn’t get the chance to study and to get on in life, but you do have the opportunity, and we expect you to take it. That can become a burden too. And again people start to live their life accordingly. They are always trying to prove that they come up to the expectations. And this too becomes a burden for them.
 
A while ago I was at a reception given for someone in a high position who was retiring. A large room full of people, lots of speeches, and then at last it was his turn to speak. I have known him well for years, and never see him show any emotion. He was always strong. It seemed as if nothing bothered him. He could cope with anything. So at the end he gave his speech. And he spoke of his father, who had died a few years before, and so couldn’t be there at the reception. ‘I wish my father could have been here’, he said. And then his voice broke. I saw emotion in him for the first time. I thought: all these years you have been putting up a front to conform to the image of the ideal son that you were brought up with, to conform to the expectations of your father. What a pity. What a great pity. Trying not to be weak. Not to show emotion. Always trying to conform to the image of an stoical personality.
 
This can all influence the character-forming in people’s lives. What the important people in your life said about you, thought about you, ideas they gave you. And you can carry that image around with you for a long time, and that can determine how you live your life.
 
Fortunately that also has a positive side. That reminds me of the story of the evangelist David Wilkerson and Nicky Cruz. It is written in a book called The Cross and the Switchblade. You may have heard of it.
One day, in the suburbs of New York, where the street gangs threaten each other’s lives daily, David Wilkerson organised a big meeting in a tent, a church service to preach the gospel, and Nicky Cruz and his gang members were there too. And when it was time for the collection David Wilkerson asked Nicky Cruz if he and his friends would go round and take the collection. Everyone in the meeting starting jeering: they expected the boys to take off with the money. Nicky Cruz and his friends went round with the little buckets and baskets collecting the money.
 
Now David Wilkerson was standing on the platform at the front of the tent, and in order to get to the platform to give the money to him they had to go outside. So for a while they were out of sight. So you can imagine what most people thought. They thought they would make off with the money, and the collection money would never be seen again. But after a few minutes all the boys came onto the platform and handed over the baskets and buckets of money to David Wilkerson. What faith can do!
 
I can imagine the boys thinking ‘everyone thinks we boys are not to be trusted, so the last thing you should do is to ask them to take the collection’! And then there is a man who says: boys will you go and take the collection? He has faith in us.
He believes that he can trust us to collect the money and he believes that we will come up onto the platform and give the collection money to him’. And the realisation that there was someone who believed in him made such an impression on Nicky Cruz, that he did something that no one had thought possible. He told his friends, his fellow gang members, and they were a real rough lot, he told them to go up onto the platform and say: Here you are, here is the money.
 
I think that is a wonderful example. It shows what can happen if someone believes in you, believes something positive about you. Lets focus on that. On what your heavenly Father believes about you, on what my heavenly Father believes about me. Because otherwise you will become bitter about those who had wrong ideas about you, or you will feel you have to keep on fighting against these ideas by saying ‘you’re wrong about me, and I’ll prove it to you’. Then you will always be fighting against shadows from your past, while you have a gospel which says: here is something better instead.  A gospel that makes all the things that have been said about you in the past invalid, and the ideas that people had about you, null and void. A gospel that says that they are not true. So forget them. You have been given something better instead. The old images fade because the new truths grow and become stronger. You don’t have to prove that they were wrong to think negative things about you. Your heavenly Father knows that. He has long since spoken much better things about you. You don’t need to prove that you have good intentions. The heavenly Father knows that. He believes in you. And what does He believe about you? Well, I think that He looks at you and says: What I see is that you will show others what I am like. In and through you, I can manifest myself. My will, will be carried out in you.“ It happened in those days”, the Bible says. And it continues on: it happens in these days too. What happens? God happens in you, in us and thus appears in our lives. And the more we are able to accept that He believes in us the more He will be seen in us, in what we do and how we are.
 
So as far as I am concerned we should turn the roles around a bit and live accordingly. So thatGod says:I believe in you. So start living like a ? like a what?  We don’t even have a word for this, I realised. If there is someone who loves you, then you are a loved one, but if someone believes in you, then you are a ………? What? We don’t have a word to describe it. Strange, isn’t it? Well it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you live your life as someone who knows that there is Someone who believes in you. As a………..  Well, you can invent your own word for it.
 
Amen
 
 
 
Shall we pray?
 
Lord Jesus, thank you for this precious gospel. I am so very glad Lord that you came. That you actually gave up everything for us. Your own life, so that we can live from grace.
And Lord I am also glad that we are gradually coming to see and understand the truth that you came to bring. That we are beginning to see more clearly how the Father really is, just as You have shown us. Thank you Lord that we may find peace in this. Thank you that you inspire faith in us. That it is not something we have to achieve, but a living reality in our life. And Lord, how wonderful to know that You believe in each one of us. That gives us energy and strength to live our life. This really is a gospel of good tidings. Thank your for bringing it to us.
 
Amen