Proof and Faith What does evidence have to do with believing in Jesus?

“I want proof.”

So many of us say these words when confronted with the idea of God, much less the idea of following Jesus.  In order to make the existential jump of faith, most of us want some evidence.  At least a little.

But it doesn’t end with the beginning of a faith journey though, does it?  Nope.  Those of us who follow Jesus often want proof before we trust God with a new area of our lives, an important decision, etc.  We want an inkling of what God is up to before we fully hand over the reins.

Is this normal?  And is this okay?

Our Need for Proof

Not much needs to be said here.  The bald truth is that most of us humans are an un-trusting lot, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  And un-examined faith is pretty boring.

But sometimes we can take our desire to hold definitive proof in our hands too far.  We can demand evidence that is so clear that it can’t be controverted.  This level of scrutiny is just silly.  We don’t ask for this kind of proof when we fall in love, flip the light switch, or buy food from a local grocery store.

But we often demand proof in this way when it comes to faith.  And I honestly think that’s okay.  It’s okay to need some level of confidence before going all in.  To do otherwise would be irresponsible after all!

In John 4.43-54 we read about an official who needs some proof for his faith too.  We see this in three stages, and these three stages I believe will sound familiar to many of us.

Faith in Jesus’ Potential

I’ve written a little bit about this official before, specifically about how even though he was privileged, Jesus cared for him.  But how did their interaction begin?  What was its genesis?

The story starts with this man having a sick child.  He’s probably at the end of his proverbial rope.  I imagine that he’s sought out the best care that a government official could afford.

Then he catches wind of the fact that Jesus was back in Galilee.  This is the same Jesus who had dome miraculous things in the area already.  So, based only on this potential, the official makes the trek from Capernaum to Cana to visit Jesus.  When he arrives, the official begs and pleads with Jesus to heal his son (v. 47).

I think this kind of faith is the kind of faith that helped many of us begin our journeys with Jesus.  We probably saw the difference that Jesus made in the life of someone we loved and we wanted some of that for ourselves.  That’s faith in Jesus’ potential.

The proof that we’re looking at is in the lives of the followers of Jesus, the transformations that they’ve experienced, etc.  But this faith in Jesus’ potential is only really the first step.  It’s believing in what Jesus did for someone else.  It’s the kind of faith that leads us to Jesus.

(As a quick aside, this is the attractional life idea that I talk about quite a bit on my blog and podcast.  If we live the human life of Jesus in our human lives, then our very lives will serve as proof of Jesus’ potential for others.  Our lives can be the catalysts that first lead people to Jesus!)

Faith in Jesus’ Words

Once the man’s faith in Jesus’ potential led him to Jesus, the official then was privileged to hear Jesus’ words with his own ears.  Jesus says to him “Go, your son will live” (v. 50).

And the official has faith in these words which he demonstrates be obeying Jesus’ command to go.  John puts it interestingly in v. 50: “The man took Jesus at his word and departed.”

Where was the proof though? you may ask.  And I don’t have a solid answer.  Once this official met Jesus, based on his potential, he must have experienced something of the force of Jesus’ personality.  He must have felt his love.  He must have caught the vibe of his wisdom.

How do we know this? Because even though Jesus’ first response to this man was cryptic and a bit odd (“Unless y’all see signs and wonders, y’all won’t believe” [v. 49]), the man still obeyed Jesus.

As followers of Jesus we must move beyond faith in Jesus’ potential to having faith in Jesus’ words.  And how do we demonstrate this faith?  Despite however unclear we think God may be most of the time, when we do have a clear call from him, we’ll take him at his word and obey.  That’s the kind of faith that trusts in Jesus’ words.

(As a quick aside, if we follow through on this step, we’ll start living the kind of lives that serve as proof of Jesus’ potential for others.  Think about it: Jesus clearly calls us to do some very appealing things: love our neighbors, love and pray for our enemies and those who oppose us, care for the outcast and under-resourced, etc.  If we did these things as followers of Jesus, people would be drawn to us instead of being repelled by us!  God doesn’t want us to obey because he needs us to as if he were some desperate autocrat!  He wants us to obey because in so doing we will further his will to reconcile all things to himself through Christ Jesus!)

Faith in Jesus’ Fulfilled Promises

Lastly, as this official is on his way home, in obedience to Jesus’ words, his servants meet him and tell him that his son has been healed.  Upon further investigation of the evidence, the official learns that the child was healed at the exact time Jesus said that he would live.

This promise of Jesus was fulfilled.  And people witnessed it.  Firstly, the child witnessed it.  Then the servants.  The rest of the family.  The rest of the household, including all those who worked with and for this official.  And John tells us that, based on the fact that Jesus’ promise was fulfilled, the entirety of this man’s household believed (v. 53).

This is amazing!  Jesus’ fulfilled promised served as proof for those of this man’s household.  They probably then heard the story about how the official obeyed, perhaps also inspiring them to learn to obey as well.  And as they obey, they’ll experience Jesus coming through on his promises, which, in turn, will inspire others.

That’s a cycle that I want to be a part of of!

(As a quick aside, let’s do this!  Let’s get turned on to Jesus, obey him, and then celebrate when his word comes to pass.  In so doing, we’ll serve as testimonies and proof of the potential of Jesus to change the lives of others!)

 

What do you think?  What role does proof play in having faith?  And how does our faith and obedience influence those who may be far from God?  Let me know in the comments below!

Ash Wednesday

What is Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and Lent is an ancient Christian tradition of having a season of fasting and meditation prior to Easter.

Ash Wednesday

By: Tim

Since the Church is made up of such a diverse set of people, some of us will be very familiar with Ash Wednesday and others won’t be familiar with it much at all.

Some of us grew up in faith contexts where Ash Wednesday was highly emphasized, even ritualized. And because of this we may have very strong associations with it from our past, whether positive or negative.

And others of us, like me, grew up in contexts where Ash Wednesday was hardly mentioned and never observed. And because of this we may very drawn toward or repelled away from it.

Either way, we observe Ash Wednesday as Christians, not out of obligation or tradition. Nor do we observe it to show others how holy and amazing we are as we go about our days after having received ashes.

No, there’s is a deeper reason why we commemorate Ash Wednesday – it is a reminder to us that the brilliant joy of Easter doesn’t come without a great cost.

That cost is that the sinless one, Jesus Christ, had to become sin for us. There could be no greater cost than that.

So Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the time where we examine why Jesus had to pay that cost. And the “Ash” in Ash Wednesday gives us a good clue as to why Jesus had to pay that cost.

In the Bible ashes have two primary associations: 1) one who is repentant would apply ashes to him or herself as a sign of repentance; and 2) the other is that we are mortal: From dust we came and to dust we will return.

So during Lent, and especially on Ash Wednesday, we remember that Jesus paid a great cost to deal with our twin problems of sin and death.

Let’s take an honest look at ourselves, our mortality and sinfulness, and let’s remember the hope found in Jesus that he is making all things new!


Honesty

Friends, Ash Wednesday is all about honesty…and let’s get real for a minute: being honest can be hard. Let me give you two examples from my life:

When I was probably in second grade I wanted to get a toy that was on the top shelf of my book shelf. So I would climb up the book shelf in order to reach it. When my parents would see me doing this they would tell me to stop because they didn’t want me to fall and get hurt. Well, as you probably have guessed already, I continued to go for that toy on the top shelf anyway. On one particular occasion I climbed up and reached for the toy…grabbed it…and the whole shelf and all of its contents fell on top of me! I cried for help, “Daddy help me! Help me!” And when my Dad came in the room he asked me what happened. I thought for a second and said, “I don’t know…the shelf just fell on me, Dad!”

Another time that being honest was hard was when I had just begun learning to cook after my wife and I were married. The first thing I ever made was a pasta dish that was really yummy! The next day I decided to go big and tried to make stuffed pork loin. I plated the meal and sat it out on the table and it looked great! But when we bit into it was dry as a bleached bone in the sun! After a minute or two my wife looked up at me and lied, saying, “Honey, this is really good!” even though it was more like ten-year old piece of beef jerky than a stuffed pork loin!

Being honest can be tough. And being honest about ourselves and our failings can be especially difficult. So as we observe Ash Wednesday, we might have a hard time being honest about our sinfulness and our mortality. We might not really want to take a long, hard look in the proverbial mirror because we know who will be looking back at us.

But that’s what Ash Wednesday is all about, an honest appraisal of our human condition. And it was this human condition that necessitated that Jesus pay the staggering price he paid for us at Calvary.

In Mark 1.15 we find the basic message of Jesus’ teaching, his mission statement if you will. The following words are found there: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

For the rest of this blog I simply want to look at three parts of this verse in light of Ash Wednesday: the kingdom of God, repentance, and believing the good news.

Kingdom of God

Let’s start with the kingdom of God. This phrase does not refer solely to heaven or the afterlife. Nor does it refer to a physical location with borders and a castle. No. Instead it refers to the reality of the rule of God that Jesus inaugurated when he was alive and that he will bring to fruition when he returns.

The kingdom of God is something that those of us who follow Jesus as king demonstrate with our lives. Those of us who live as subjects of King Jesus are called to live our lives like he really is our king – lives of worship, lives of community, and lives of service; lives of love for God and others.

When viewed in light of Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of the way in which we were allowed to be subjects of King Jesus – he died for us, paving the way for us to become citizens of his kingdom.

So in light of this great grace that has been offered to us, what should we do? We should repent and believe the good news. That’s what Jesus said in Mark 1.15.

And, if you’re like me, then you may be thinking something like this: I repented and believed a long time ago when I first accepted Jesus as my lord and savior. And while that first confession is very important, our repentance and believing doesn’t stop there!

Repent

So in light of Ash Wednesday, let’s repent, which means to turn from our ways and toward God’s ways. Let’s repent of the bad things we’ve done, the good we’ve left undone, and the systemic injustices we’ve let slide. Let’s repent of our broken, sinful natures and begin to become more like Jesus through the work and power of the Spirit!

And let’s repent of all the ways we’ve not been honest about our sinfulness and mortality. Let’s repent of pretending to be perfect. Let’s repent of letting our fear of death consume us.

As I was writing this I found this beautiful prayer, which is adapted from Isaiah 58:

We have chosen to fast, not with ashes but with actions, not with sackcloth but in sharing, not in thoughts but in deeds. We will give up our abundance to share our food, home, and friendship. We will share where others hoard. We will free where others oppress. We will heal where others harm. Then God’s light will break out. God’s healing will come. We will find our joy in the Lord. We will be like a well-watered garden. We will be called repairers of broken walls. Together we will feast at God’s banquet table. (From Godspace; slightly altered)

That’s the kind of repentance that Ash Wednesday brings to my mind – turning from our selfish ways and turning toward God’s giving ways.

Believe the Good News

But we’re still left with “believing the good news” in Mark 1.15. In light of Ash Wednesday, what does it mean to believe the good news?

For starters, “believe” isn’t the best translation of the word that Jesus used. In Greek one word stands behind the three English verbs: believe, have faith, and trust. And in most cases, the best translation of this one Greek verb is “trust.”

So what does it mean to trust the good news, especially in light of Ash Wednesday? Well, trust is an active word; it’s not something that I can just do only in my head. Trust requires action.

Living a life that demonstrates that we trust the good news will look like more and more like the life that Jesus lived when he was here on earth. One of my favorite authors, Hugh Halter, says it best: A disciple of Jesus is someone who lives the human life of Jesus in his or her human life.

How do we do that? It’s much simpler than we’ve made it over the years.

Lenten Challenge

In fact, to prove my point I want give you a challenge…

During Lent this year make this your fast: Fall in love with Jesus anew. Each and every day read through half a chapter of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Jot down things that you see Jesus doing. How is he treating others? What does he talk about? What actions does he take? What does he seem care about? Then pray for the Holy Spirit to help you become more like Jesus today than you were yesterday. Ask God to create opportunities for you to demonstrate your trust in the good news where you live, where you work, and where you play.

Treat people like you see Jesus treating people in the Scriptures.

Talk about the things you see Jesus talking about.

Do the things you see Jesus doing.

Care about the stuff you see Jesus caring about.

So on this Ash Wednesday it’s time we were honest with ourselves. We need to live like Jesus is our king by repenting and trusting in the good news! As we look back into our lives and see pain, sin, death, and brokenness, let’s not forget that Jesus died for us so that we could live for him!

Let’s do that brothers and sisters – Let’s live for him!

 

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