Tapping Into Faith

It’s interesting how Facebook has been reminding me of my memories in such a well-timed manner of late. Either my phone’s spying on me (pshaw!), or God knew something one year ago that neither Facebook nor Apple did.

I am right now in the midst of replacing my kitchen tap — a multistep process in my world — and voila, here comes this notification:

What’s more interesting than the timing is that my new kitchen tap is similar to the one in this image, except that it is wall-mounted. (The American word is faucet, but I am using the Indian word so the title can have a little pun. Every now and then, the title must have a little pun.)

I remember spending a fair bit of time searching for an image to go with that post last year. In fact, it took longer to find the image than it did to write the post — and I don’t type fast even on my phone.

I was delighted when I finally found the right image, because I liked what I saw both inside and outside the window. What I didn’t realize then is that God was also giving me a vision of my new tap.

My kitchen tap dance — or should I call it a Facebook anniversary waltz? — reminds me of how God typically speaks to us and how we hear Him. Here are four principles I’ve learned:

1. God often speaks to us ahead of time, and usually in symbols rather than directly.
The Holy Spirit didn’t tell me, “One year from today you will have a kitchen tap like this.” He simply planted a picture of the kind of device He would lead me to pick when the time was right.

2. We must ask Him for what we need.
I did not get God’s communiqué about my kitchen tap automatically. I had a part to play as well — and that was to ask. I asked God to lead me to the right image last year and to the right tap this year, and both times He did. As Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7). And again, “Ask and you will receive” (John 16:24).

3. We must continue to walk by faith.
As we walk by faith, God gives us a vision of the things He has for us in the future. And as we continue to walk by faith, we reach the place of being able to receive the things He has promised. The faith chapter of the Bible makes this very point about Abraham, the man of faith: By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went” (Hebrews 11:8, emphasis added).

4. God knows our needs before we do, so we can trust Him with the future.
When I wrote that post last year, I didn’t know I would need a new tap — but God did. He knew before I knew, let alone before I asked. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8, emphasis added). And of course, this verse immediately precedes what we call the Lord’s Prayer.

My kitchen tap is a small thing compared to the Kingdom-related things God has for us — like sharing the good news with others and overcoming obstacles in our own lives. But we learn to have faith for the big things by having faith for the small things. As I say in The Blessing of Melchizedek Devotional, maturity is mastering the basics.

When Christians Walk Away – Part 3

When Christians walk away, they are walking away from Jesus Christ, not just from Christianity or a local church. After all, when they became a Christian, they had entered a relationship with a Person, not a religion or a church.

I’m talking about becoming a Christian in the true sense. There is such a thing as cultural Christianity, where one may celebrate Christmas and Easter, perhaps even attend church regularly and partake of the Lord’s Supper. I’m not talking about that. And netither were Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson, back when they called themselves Christians and wrote books and songs expressing their love for Jesus.

In the aftermath of these men’s very public walking away from Christ, here’s another question the rest of us must ask: Can a Christian who walks away from Christ walk back to Him? 

The short answer is yes, potentially. But the odds aren’t in their favor. In fact, the odds are completely against them, as we learn from one of the Bible’s most explicit passages on the topic.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Hebrews 6:4-6). 

This is the passage that convinced me that Paul is the author of Hebrews, because no one else in the early church could have written with such severity. Peter, perhaps, but he was not schooled enough to have written the rest of Hebrews.

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The heavenly gift referred to in Hebrews 6:4 is the gift of salvation. Paul describes salvation as a gift elsewhere too, as in these verses:

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).

And in one of my favorite scenes in the Gospels, Jesus Himself tells the woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10).

Salvation, as Webster so succinctly defines it, is deliverance from the power and effects of sin. And the good news, the gospel, is that it is free.

Like any gift, God’s free gift of salvation can be spurned, or received and then returned. Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson did not spurn God’s gift when it was offered to them at some point in their history. They received it, enjoyed its benefits for a season, and then returned it. Tragically, there are many thousands who treat the heavenly gift in this manner.

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According to Hebrews 6:4, those who walk away from Christ do so knowingly, because they had once been enlightened. Whatever their reasons for walking away, ignorance is not one of them.

Christians who walk away know what it is to have the darkness in their souls illumined by the light of Christ. They know what it is to fellowship with the Holy Spirit and to feed on the Word of God. They have experienced the Father’s love and at least some degree of a transformed life. This is a foretaste of the age to come, when we will see God face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12) and never again battle the sinful desires that wage war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11).

Jesus died a bloody, brutal, shameful, innocent death so we could enjoy these benefits. To walk away from Him is to deem His sacrifice worthless, which is to crucify Him all over again and drag His name through the mud. This is why Paul says it is impossible for those who walk away to be brought back to repentance.

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The phrase it is impossible in Hebrews 6:4 is one word in the Greek: adunatos. Apart from “that which is impossible,” adunatos also means to lack the ability or power (dunamis). From this we can infer that those who walk away are unable to repent and return.

By the same token, those who stay are able to do so because God gives them the power. In other words, it is possible for a Christian not to walk away!

It is possible, but it is not easy. The Christian life has rightly been described as a war, and war is never easy. Ask any vet.

We are in an all-out war with “the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12), but Jesus has won a comprehensive victory on our behalf. He “disarmed the [demonic] powers and … made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). And His resurrection sealed the deal.

If we are in Christ we are already on the winning side. But if we are to avoid becoming a casualty, we must do our part. That’s why the Bible urges every believer: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

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FLANDERS, AUGUST 1917. AP

(c) 2019 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved. 

When Christians Walk Away – Part 2

The walking away of Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson has raised a question that inevitably surfaces when such things happen: Can a Christian lose their faith?

Christians regularly sidestep this question by saying the person who walked away was not a real Christian in the first place. That’s essentially what Franklin Graham did when he told Fox News he doubted whether Harris and Sampson “even had a faith at all to begin with.” Maybe they don’t have a Christian faith now, but does that mean they never did?

Every serious believer must wrestle with this question, and it’s one for which we can have only one answer. Either we believe that Christians can lose their faith, or we believe they cannot and that those who do were never truly Christian to begin with.

Let me explain my own position through two illustrations. The first is drawn from contemporary American culture.

The #WalkAway movement is made up of people who have walked away from their former progressivism. Try telling one of these folks that they were never progressive to begin with. All their activism will rise to the fore as they convince you why they were indeed progressive and what has changed. 

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My second and more important example comes from the very beginnings of Christianity. It’s the chilling tale of the first disciple who walked away.

Judas Iscariot had walked with Jesus from the start of His public ministry. He had spent three years at close quarters with Jesus. He had heard Jesus teach. He had seen Him perform miracles. He had traveled in His company. He had even worshiped Him. And yet he walked away.

To say that Judas was “not a disciple to begin with” would be to contradict the Bible. Each of the Synoptic Gospels mentions him in the list of the twelve disciples (Matthew 10:4Mark 3:19Luke 6:16). And even though the Fourth Gospel does not include this list, John 12:4 refers to Jesus’ betrayer as “one of His disciples.”

It is sobering to remember that Jesus was not betrayed by a stranger but by a disciple who had walked with Him for the entire duration of His ministry, all the way to the Last Supper.

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Although I have never renounced my faith in Christ, I have experienced many faith crises over my four decades as a Christian. Some of them were severe enough to make me consider ending my life. Sadly, my mother knows this is true.

Having battled the temptation to walk away once and for all, I can say this one thing with certainty: We have an enemy who is fully committed to destroying our faith, and a Lord who is fully committed to saving it.

But here’s the rub. Neither God nor the devil can impose their will upon us against our will. Yes, they each try to convince us to believe or not to believe as the case may be, but neither can make us stay or walk away.

Back when I struggled with the temptation to walk away from life, my mother and a few others (including myself) prayed that God would give me the grace to make it one difficult day after another. But I still had the choice to receive that grace or to reject it.

Jesus has done all that is needed for our salvation, and prayer works wonders. But at the end of the day, we can choose to listen to God’s voice or the devil’s. Our actions are ultimately the consequences of our own decisions. That’s the terrifying power of choice.

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The decision of a longtime Christian to walk away from their faith does not happen overnight. Like any major decision it’s a process, a series of smaller choices leading up to the big one. If it were possible to examine each of the smaller choices Joshua Harris made in recent years, we would see the trend towards the big decision to kiss his faith goodbye.

The terrifying power of small choices is why we must constantly keep our lives under the searchlight of the Holy Spirit. As the psalmist prayed:

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

The good news about small choices is that it cuts both ways. Just as small wrong choices lead to bigger bad decisions, so also small right choices lead to bigger good decisions.

Yes, Judas walked away, but all of the other eleven followed Jesus to the very end. And so have millions of Christians down through twenty centuries. And so can we.

As we daily choose to receive Christ’s enabling grace, as we rely on the Holy Spirit’s power and remain in the Father’s love, we will finish our race without falling by the wayside. And finishing well is what the faith marathon is all about. That’s why the Bible urges, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).

To be concluded. 

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PHOTO VIA UNSPLASH

(c) 2019 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.

When Christians Walk Away – Part 1

As an intercessor I am privy to all sorts of secrets, and I thought I had lost my capacity to be shocked. And then along comes a brilliant writer and shocks me in a way that brilliant writers are expected to do in their books. But I wish I’d read what he had to say in a novel and not on Instagram.

I’m referring of course to Joshua Harris.

I was living in Mumbai when Harris’s extraordinary first book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, was released in early 1997. A friend introduced me to it that summer, while I was visiting the US for an RZIM conference in Atlanta. I was overawed, by the quality of the writing and especially by the content.

A few years later, now in Los Angeles with a failed marriage behind me, I read Harris’s second book, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship. Once again I was overawed, and for the same reasons.

After keeping the books in my possession for well over a decade, I gave them to a young man with this facetious remark, “Thy need is greater than mine.” He promised to read them and pass them on.

Cut to three weeks ago.

I was searching the internet for something when a headline about Joshua Harris caught my eye. I read the Instagram post where he announces, in so many words, that he is walking away from his marriage, his views on sexuality, and his faith in Christ. And to my shock I realized that I have not lost my capacity to be shocked.

I was not shocked that a Christian could walk away from Christ, from their marriage, and from the views for which they are best known. Christians do it all the time, regrettably. I was just shocked that the Christian in question was the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

Close on the heels of Harris’s revelation, another influential Christian went public with his doubts: Marty Sampson, a songwriter and worship leader at Hillsong, Australia. “I’m genuinely losing my faith,” wrote Sampson (also on Instagram), “and it doesn’t bother me.”

Sampson’s announcement was less shocking to me personally, because I had never heard of him until I heard of his loss of faith. Unlike Harris’s announcement, it did not conjure bittersweet memories of a younger, better looking version of myself from two decades ago. Still, it is no less disturbing. Sampson is a worship leader who lost his faith, and there once was a worship leader in heaven who lost his faith.

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Harris and Sampson’s announcements have sent shockwaves across the Christian world. The reactions veer between two extremes. On the one end, there is nothing but gooey sympathy. Thanks for being so brave, honest, and authentic, say these softies, many of whom don’t mention the person this is really all about: Jesus Christ.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who roundly castigate the Christians who have walked away. One such reaction comes from Franklin Graham, CEO of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

In an interview with Fox News, the late great evangelist’s son said, “These are very young people, and I doubt whether they even have a very strong faith, or if they even had a faith at all to begin with.” He added: “Why are they making it so public? I think they just want publicity.”

I appreciate Franklin Graham’s passion for the gospel and I admire his boldness to speak out about controversial issues that other Christian leaders won’t touch with a barge pole. But his assessment in this instance comes across as simplistic.

For one thing, these two men are not “very young.” Sure, they are younger than both Graham and myself, but they’re in their forties. That’s not the same as having a crisis of faith in your teens and twenties. And when they made these announcements, the men were not young believers either.

Harris had almost a lifetime of Christian faith under his belt. That’s no safeguard, of course, but it’s more difficult to walk away from something you’ve believed all your life — especially when you’ve written books and preached sermons about it, as Harris had. And although I don’t know much about Marty Sampson’s story, I doubt he’d have made it as a worship leader had he been a new believer.

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Another thing I find disconcerting about Franklin Graham’s statement is that he says these men “just want publicity.” Only God and these men know whether they did it for publicity. While it is necessary at times to judge people’s actions, especially when they are public figures, we cannot judge other people’s motives. In fact, we are in no position to judge even our own motives!

Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that our heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. It’s only the Lord who can “search the heart and examine the mind” (v. 10). And as Proverbs 21:2 says, “A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

Perhaps Joshua Harris felt he owed it to his readers to tell them that he has kissed Christianity goodbye, so they had it straight from his lips. Whatever his motives, publicity was an inevitable byproduct. When the author of two bestsellers on Christian courtship and romance announces that he is leaving his marriage and his faith, it is bound to garner publicity. Franklin Graham has lived most of his life under the glare of the public eye. He of all people should understand that publicity often comes unsolicited.

To be continued. 

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(c) 2019 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.