One thing we all are challenged to have is the ability to defend our faith. I have had a lot of opportunities to do so- trolls seem to know how to find me- but it doesn't mean I have taken those opportunities to do it right. Because, you see, a troll can be very set in their way- and that way eventually leads to worshipping the error. I have come to learn that for some, their "Church"- their belief set- passed on down the generations- is the very idol that prevents them from taking the next look forward at their religion and turning it into a true faith in Christ. Such people expound on how their "Church" is the right church, their pride in the faith of their fathers- but if you watch, they spend very little time on what Paul calls us to in 1 Corinthians 2:
2 And I, when I came to you, brothers,[a] did not come proclaiming to you the testimony[b] of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
And I challenge them on that,all the time wanting to believe that we are brothers in faith. But too many are wrapped up in the whole "Them vs Us " thing and refuse to see it. But am I truly projecting what I believe, or am I just in a debating contest?
I have recently been in a section of Psalms- 142 and 143- that I find really expresses my faith and its basis. Consider David, the King which God Eternal chose to have His Son descend from. When we look at his bio, we often say, "Well he was head and shoulders above me, except for the whole Bathsheba thing." We compartmentalize his grave sin off. But how many grave sins does a man have to have before he's no longer worthy of our respect? Think about it- he had two different sons who disrespected him enough that at two different times they came to the point of military revolt against him.
But the point I'm going for is, David didn't see himself as better than us either. He had a firm grasp on what this world is about. In 142, he says:
v6 Deliver me from my persecutors, FOR THEY ARE STRONGER THAN I.
No delusions of grandeur there. He realised the battle we face is against a sin nature we cannot overcome on our own. And even if we could, even if we could subdue all our personal daemons, that wouldn't be enough. In 143 he says:
v2 Do not enter into judgement with Your servant, for in Your sight NO ONE LIVING IS RIGHTEOUS.
Now he could have fallen back on the traditions and rituals of his people, for surely they had just as long-held procedures for "getting right with God." He could have said, like the Pharisees did, in Luke 18:
11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer[a]: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
Like the people I have debated with, the pharisee had a lot of layers he could put between himself and God's judgement: He obeyed the Ten Commandments (he thought), he had good works he did, he obeyed the rules. He relied on what we MIGHT call "sacraments." But note that he was the example Jesus gave of what NOT to do. Witness the way Jesus called us to follow:
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’
Even though he recognized, as david did, how far he was from God, a distance he himself could NEVER cover, he sought out a personal one on one with God, asking forgiveness. No, "Look, I went to confession and made it to Church 45 out of 52 weekends", no "I offered up the firstborn goat." He just came to God. Alone. A sinner.
But as a preacher said this morning, just relying on "Let go, let God..." isn't Biblical either- and David had an action plan to help him when his soul and strength were at low ebb. He spells it out in 143:5 and 6.
1- REMEMBER what God has done. The line in my Bible is, "I remember the days of old." This speaks powerfully to me, because my life verse comes from 1 Samuel 7:
v12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Eben-ezer (stone of help), saying, "Thus far the Lord has helped us."
I know Satan can never shake my faith because all I have to do is look over my shoulder at all the Eben-Ezers I have put up in remembrance.
2- Meditation. I meditate on all Your works; I muse on the works of Your hands. Now the words for Meditate and muse are one in the same- to ponder. the word "works" are different, though; the first is an action, the other is more like a transaction. Or to put it another way, the things God has done, against that which He WILL do. I have faith because not only of what God has done, but in what He WILL do, and IS DOING in me.
3- Reaching out to God. I spread out my hands to You; this is more than just anonymous prayer requests; it is taking all that he is and laying it out before God, so that NOTHING is in between him and God- not the High Priest, not the Pope, not any ritual. Rituals are fine for helping us with REMEMBRANCE; as long as the paramount thing is WHO we are remembering, not the act itself. Another pastor said this morning, "Jesus didn't say, 'Do this in remembrance of me AT CHURCH, or ON SUNDAY, but as often as you eat and drink." It's not the ritual, it's what the ritual represents- and that we should call to mind at EVERY meal, at every prayer time, at every moment we are grateful for what He has given us. Rituals are fine as a tool; but if ritual is all we have, then as it says in the Tao Te Ching, "Ritual is the dead husk of faith, and the beginning of chaos."
4- Truly longing for God's presence. My soul longs for You like a thirsty land. David goes on to describe his relationship with God in the next few lines. He depended on Him for the answers to his cries; he depended on Him for salvation; He wanted God's voice to be the first thing he heard in the morning; he placed all his trust in Him, and trusted Him to lead him in right paths, to teach him, to keep him safe.
David put nothing between himself and God. He never relied on the fatted calf to represent him; he came to God himself, recognizing his own lack of worth and that his only out was God's mercy. That is the faith I have, that I am working for. I don't need to look up ancient Church philosophers to tell me how to interpret what God so clearly expressed in His Word. I can rely on His guidance to show me what He wants me to know. Not because of my innate intelligence or my reading ability, but because I rely on Him to lead me in right paths. Am I gonna screw up every now and again? Of course. Even David did that. But God has the thing under control.