Only Believe…What, Exactly?

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Only Believe…What, Exactly?

James R. Aist

But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be made well.”

Jesus told Jairus to not fear, only believe, that his daughter would be healed (Luke 8:49-50). Here, Jesus made it clear exactly what Jairus was to believe; namely, that God would heal his daughter. Not just that He could heal her or that He was just willing to heal her, but that He would actually heal her. In struggling to understand what a “prayer of faith” (James 5:16) looks like, I have found that there are three successive steps in our journey toward believing God fully for a miracle: 1) believing that God can do it; 2) believing that God is willing to do it; and 3) believing that God will do it. Having done that, the rest is up to God.

The first step should be relatively easy, for those of us who really believe that the Word of God is true. The Bible tells us that God created the entire universe in all of its vastness and complexity, and that He sustains it with His almighty power (Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 11:3). It goes on to say that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37) and that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are replete with accounts of miraculous works done by God. Moreover, there are countless testimonies by reliable witnesses of miracles that God is doing in our generation. So, we can rest assured, based on the biblical witness and contemporary witnesses, that God is able to work the miracle that we need Him to work for us. We believe that God can do it.

The second step may be more problematic, however; is God willing to do it? This question gets to the heart of God’s attitude, purpose and desire for mankind, His heart toward us. We can see a man with leprosy struggling with this issue: “A leper came to Him, pleading with Him and kneeling before Him, saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, extended His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I will. Be clean” (Mark 1:40-41). In fact, the New Testament has no record of Jesus refusing a miracle for anyone coming to Him believing He could do it.  And, the Bible clearly teaches that God’s attitude and desire toward us is to enable us to prosper (Deuteronomy 29:9; Psalm 1:3; Philippians 4:10). But, there are at least two well-known biblical accounts of God being unwilling to grant a prayer request: one is Jesus’s request for His Father to let the cup of suffering pass from Him (Matthew 26:39), and the other is Paul’s request for God to remove the tormenting messenger of Satan from him (2 Corinthians 12:7). God was surely grieved to see His Son and His servant suffering like this, but He had a reason for their suffering that far outweighed the gravity of their suffering: Jesus would save from hell all who would believe in Him (John 3:16-17), and Paul would be kept from becoming swell-headed by the torment inflicted by the messenger of Satan (2 Corinthians 12:7). God was able, but He was not willing, and for a good reason.

This brings us to the third step which is, for many, the most difficult, and, it is often the most complicated. Will God always do what He can do and is willing to do? The answer, I believe, is “No”, and I will tell you why I believe that. The following encounter with God occurred during the first week after I returned home from burying my 20-year-old daughter, Liesel, who had been struck and killed by a car (Click HERE). I was so stunned and emotionally numb from the events of that “week from hell” that I couldn’t even go to work. I just sat around in my recliner all day trying to process what had just happened. Now, I had never asked God why He had allowed anything bad that happened in my life, but this bad thing seemed too awful to cope with. So, one day as I sat in my recliner rehearsing the details of the past week, I began to wonder why God had not healed Liesel instead of calling her home. I was about to ask God “Why?” when suddenly the Holy Spirit stopped me from saying it. Then, God spoke into my mind saying, “You don’t need to know why, because you know Me well enough to know that I had a good reason.” To this day, I can only speculate as to why God did not heal my daughter. Jesus knew, and Paul learned, why God said no, but I was told to just trust that God had a good reason for telling me “No.” In all three of these situations, I believe that, in some way and at some level, God wanted to say yes, but at the same time He wanted even more to say “No”, for a good, a greater, reason.

That brings us now to the conclusion of the matter. I believe that we should always bring our cares, our concerns and our needs to God in prayer (1 Peter 5:7; Hebrews 4:16). And, I believe that we should always pray with the conviction that He can do it, that he is willing to do it, and that He will actually do it. Anything less, I believe, is an offense to the nature and the heart of God, an offense to who He is in relation to us. That way, God is always honored by the manner in which we present our request. And, if God says “No”, then we can rest assured He had a good reason for doing so, even if we never find out what the reason was. In truth, God does not owe us an explanation, regardless of how badly we want our answer to our “Why?” If we pray expecting God to hear our request and expecting that He will actually respond to it, then, I believe, we can expect the best possible outcome, whether or not it is the outcome we had in mind. The Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). And remember, God always has a good reason; our God is a good, good God (Luke 18:19)!

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE.)

On Tithes, Offerings and Psalm 50

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On Tithes, Offerings and Psalm 50

James R. Aist

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

I don’t know if you are aware of it, but there is an ongoing debate as to whether or not the Old Testament practice of “tithing” applies to the New Testament church, that is, to you and me. I used to believe that it does, and, in the past, I have referenced Malachi 3:8-10 in support of that viewpoint while soliciting, as a Pastor, “tithes” and offerings during church services.

Later on, I began to question this practice and conducted my own research into the matter, starting with the Old Testament. Here are the most pertinent points from that investigation: 1) the “tithe” in the Old testament was God’s way of providing for the priests, who had no land inheritance from which to make their own living; 2) this “tithe” was one-tenth of the increase from the harvest; and 3) the “tithe” was not optional, but compulsory, both in the amount and the timing. In fact, it was so compulsory that God said that if one did not pay the full amount at the designated intervals, one was robbing God (Malachi 3:8-10)! That is a most serious and solemn indictment, and it was a non-negotiable requirement of the system of tithing before Jesus came on the scene.

Then I moved on to the New Testament, where I came to realize the following: 1) the “tithe” is mentioned in the New Testament (Matthew 23:23), but as a requirement for Jews, not Christians; 2) instead, we are told to give according to our means, whatever amount we purpose in our own hearts, and to do so cheerfully and without compulsion (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:10-12 and 9:7). Moreover, we are instructed, “On the first day of the week let every one of you lay in store, as God has prospered him, so that no collections be made when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:2). Here again, we see instruction to give according to our means, but also to set aside our “increase” so that it will actually be available to give freely when the time comes, without having to be asked for it! That is good stewardship of our finances.

These instructions for “giving” bear little resemblance to the Old Testament system of the “tithe.” In my opinion, if “tithing” was to be a carry-over from the Old Testament, then the New Testament would have made reference to it concerning Christians, especially gentile Christians. But, it does not. When Jesus came, He ushered in a new and a better system of giving, one based not on compulsion, but on willing, “thankful hearts” (cf. Psalm 50:14-15). Where hearts have been changed by Jesus, giving is not a duty, but a blessing (Acts 20:35) and a privilege, and a sign of faith in God’s provision (Philippians 4:19)! In my opinion, it is inappropriate to invoke the Old Testament tithing system to coerce, as it were, giving by Christians. That amounts to giving with, not without, compulsion. That said, giving one-tenth of your increase to the Lord is the only mathematical formula in the Bible as a target amount for giving, and that seems to me to be a reasonable, minimal target for the New Testament church.

While I’m on the topic, there are several other issues I have concerning how “tithes” and offerings may be wrongly solicited. First, it has become an occasional practice, in some Christian circles, to declare that “God doesn’t need your money”, just before asking you to give Him your money! That makes no sense at all to me, zero. Then, Psalm 50:7-13 may be cited to lend biblical support to the idea that God doesn’t need your money. The problem here is that there is not one word in these verses concerning the giving of “tithes and offerings”; it is only about “ritual sacrifices and burnt offerings”, which is a whole different matter. So, does God need your money? The answer to this question is both “No” and “Yes.” For God to exist and function as God, it is true that He does not need our money, as Psalm 50:9-13 clearly implies. But, for the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) to be accomplished, He does need our money, by His own design; enlisting us to get it done requires money, and lots of it. The second issue I have in this context has to do with trying to purchase the blessings of God with an offering. If you are admonished to “not come to the altar ’empty handed’ if you expect to receive a blessing from God”, then you may want to just keep your money and leave. God already wants to prosper us (Psalm 35:27), and He is not in the extortion business! And third, I believe it is a mistake to pronounce a “pass” on giving to those who are barely able to make ends meet just to break even at the end of the month. Why? Because God has promised to reward everyone who gives with more than they have given (Luke 6:38). So, when you excuse the poor from giving – even a small coin that they really can do without – you are getting in the way of a blessing of increase that God wants to provide for them also. After all, they are the very ones who need such an increase the most, are they not?

(To read more of my articles on biblical topics, click HERE)

The Faith of Demons Won’t Help You At All!

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The Faith of Demons Won’t Help You At All!

James R. Aist

“You believe in God. Believe also in Me.” – Jesus (John 14:1b)

There seems to be some lingering confusion among some who claim to be Christians about whom one has to believe in to be a genuine, born-again Christian. For example, some say of their conversion experience, “I found God.” Others may confess their Christian faith by saying “I believe in God.” And surely one must believe in God the Father to be saved. But, does belief in only God the Father really fulfill the requirements for salvation recorded to the Bible?

According to Jesus, one must believe not only in God the Father, but also in Jesus, His only begotten Son (John 3:16, John 6:29 and John 14:1b) to fulfill God’s requirements for salvation. But its not that simple, because even the demons believe in God and that Jesus is His Son (James 2:19; Matthew 8:9), and yet they are condemned to hell. What, then, is missing from the faith of demons?

The answer lies in the fact that there are two kinds of “belief”: there is mere mental ascent to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, and there is mental ascent along with surrender to the lordship of the Son of God. The faith of Demons is the former kind, because Satan is their lord, whereas saving faith – the faith of true believers – is the latter kind, because Jesus is their Lord. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21), and “You believe in God. Believe also in Me” (John 14:1b). As James pointed out, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17); dead faith is the faith of demons and will not solve your sin problem.

So, if you have not yet surrendered yourself to the lordship of Jesus Christ, then you have the faith of demons, and you need to take care of that right away. Jesus is not your Savior if He is not your Lord!

(To read more of my articles on Bible topics, click HERE.)

Be the One!

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Be the One!

James R. Aist

“The King will answer, ‘Truly I say to you, as you have done it for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you have done it for Me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

Recently, I began to reflect on some of the instances when someone took the initiative to step up and be the one who blessed me by filling a need in my life that I couldn’t fill on my own. As a result, I felt a flush of gratitude and appreciation for these thoughtful and generous people and for what they did for me. I am writing this article to encourage you to be on the lookout for opportunities to “be the one” yourself. As you read on, keep in mind that my family had to move every 2-3 years, because Daddy was a Methodist minister. So, hold on, we’re going to move around a bit!

Let me begin by sharing with you three of the blessings that came quickly to my mind that day. The first of these happened when I was about 12 years old, we were living in Evening Shade, Arkansas, and Daddy didn’t have much time to spend with me at that time. Mr. Thomas was the Principal of the local school and a very avid and accomplished fisherman. He was firm with the students, but he also had a sweet, calming spirit about him. We knew that he had our best interests in mind. I greatly admired and respected Mr. Thomas. Well, one Friday afternoon, he approached me at school and asked if I would like to go fishing with him the next day! At first, I was taken aback that he would think of me, a 12 year old boy, as a fishing buddy. But I quickly agreed to go, and we had a great time together. He treated me as if I were his equal, at least for that one afternoon, and I learned some things about fishing from a real master.

The second blessing came to me about three years later. I had just been selected to be on the varsity basketball team at Batesville High School and was about to experience my first away game. I had some warm clothing to help keep me warm on the long, cold school bus rides from away games, but I hadn’t thought much about anything more substantial for the coldest nights. My family couldn’t afford anything warmer for me anyway. Then one day as I was passing by the old General Store in Bethesda on my way home from basketball practice, the store owner, Mr. Porter, caught my attention and asked me to come inside, because he had a surprise for me. So, I went inside, and he handed me a large, flat, cardboard box. When I opened the box, inside was a brand new, hooded, parka, perfect for long, cold bus rides late at night! He said to me, “I didn’t want you to get cold coming back from your away games, so I got you this.” Well, I was quick to thank him for the gift, and I was amazed that he would even think to do that for me, when I hadn’t even given it a thought myself until then.

The third blessing I will share with you came a couple of years later when I had made the basketball team at Springdale High School. We lived 6 miles away, in Elm Springs, I didn’t have a car, and my parents were unable to provide me a ride home after away games. So, it seemed to me that I would have to give up on playing basketball for my last two years of high school, which would be a major letdown, to say the least. So, I told  coach Sanders that I couldn’t play after all, and why, but he was not discouraged. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I will give you a ride home after the away games.” “But that’s six miles each way, it will be very late at night, and you have a family to go home to after the games!”, I countered. “Thats OK,” he said, “I want to do it.” Once again, I was amazed that he would make that kind of sacrifice for me. It hadn’t crossed my mind to ask him for a ride, and I wasn’t even his star player.

As you can see, the common element in all three of these stories is that someone saw a need in my life and just took care of it themselves. That is what “grace” looks like. Grace cannot be either earned or deserved; it can only be offered and received. And so it is with salvation: we are saved, not by works, but by the grace of God through the gift of faith in His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. So, as we continue our journey through life, let’s extend grace to those around us as the opportunities arise and as we are able. Let’s us “Be the One!” In doing so, we will not only be helping someone in need (that’s a good thing), but we will also be glorifying God by modeling His grace to others.

(To read more of my articles with biblical themes, click HERE)