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Devotional - "avoiding The Faith Cliff"

Discussion in 'Thoughts for Today' started by anthony wade, Dec 6, 2012.

  1. From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. – John 6: 66 (NIV)

    You cannot turn on the television these days without some political pundit expounding on the approaching “fiscal cliff.” This term was designed to strike fear and uncertainty into what is probably not as bad a situation was we are being led to believe. When facing the prospect of going over a cliff we are faced with two very distinct truths. The first is that there will be great danger; possibly even to our very lives. Secondly that once you have headed over the cliff – there is no turning back as there is a pick up in speed and acceleration until the bottom is reached. As Christians, we too must be wary of the cliff; the faith cliff that is. Realize that we have certain forces working against our development in Christ. We are in a spiritual war and the enemies we face, which we remain woefully ignorant of, strive to lead us towards the faith cliff. We must operate in a world that is completely opposed to the God we serve. We live within a flesh that is constantly seeking rebellion against everything we have placed our faith in.

    The key verse today is possibly one of the saddest verses in the Bible. In the midst of the ministry of Jesus, He begins to go deeper into the things of God and a great many of His followers fell away. A great many turned their backs and walked away. A great many went over the faith cliff. Within the verses of this story there are several clues we can look at today to better understand what drives us towards the cliff and thus, how we can avoid it. The first such clue is found in verse 60:

    On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” – John 6: 60 (NIV)

    Nothing will test our faith more than hard teaching. Listen beloved, not everything in the Word of God is welcomed in our soul with open arms. If we were honest with ourselves, there are always portions we question, we doubt, or we wonder about. The majority of the agnostic world simply re-writes those portions that make them uncomfortable or eliminate the verses that convict them of their sin. They essentially recreate God in their own image so they can feel better about their sin. Christians are no different at times. We too can excuse portions of the Bible away, try to create “culturally relevant” arguments, or find any rationalization that will allow us to continue in our sin while claiming the mantle of Christ. This thing called Christianity is not meant to be a part time venture. It isn’t a hobby or passing fad. In poker parlance, we are supposed to be “all in.” The truth is we have too many part time Christians. People who like to raise their hands on Sunday and raise hell the rest of the week. Realize, sometimes they may not even fancy themselves part time Christians! They may fancy themselves as being “all in” but in reality they are trying to fit Jesus into their lives instead of making their life about Christ.

    The Bible tells a story of a man who thought he was “all in” with God. He was a rich young ruler who came to Jesus to justify himself rather than to be saved. He asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life and Jesus instructs him back to the commandments. Here is where we see the mindset of the young man:

    “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” – Mark 10: 20 (NLT)

    The brashness of the rich young ruler is evident. Can you imagine believing that you have kept all of the commandments of God? Nobody could! That was why Jesus had to come to earth to begin with! Scripture however gives us no reason to doubt the sincerity of what the rich man believed. He believed he was “all in.” In his mind he was on the express bus to heaven and asking Jesus was merely verifying what he already knew. How often we can be like this as well in our own walks. We stop at some point to “work out” our salvation. We lose the fear of the Lord in our lives. Christianity becomes something we do instead of something we are. This is not an exercise in doubting your salvation beloved. If you are genuinely saved by the blood then the Bible says none can be plucked out of the hand of God. What it is about however is allowing something to arise in our life that pushes us towards the faith cliff. Pushes us towards a point of no return. For this man it was his money.

    Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Mark 10: 21 (NLT)

    Jesus looked at him. He actually looked into him. He saw that money was more important to this man than God. Comfort in this temporal life was more important than assurance of eternal life. God is not speaking against money here as much as He is speaking against allowing anything become more important than God. For some of us it could be lust or pride. For others it might be fame and worldly recognition. When anything becomes greater than the God we serve that we start inching towards that faith cliff. You see, what Jesus did here with the rich man is He imparted some hard teaching to him. The same type of hard teaching those who walked away from Him in the key verses could not deal with. Something that pushed the limits on how deep his faith is. This man had strived for his entire life to keep commandments all the while building a stronghold in his heart bigger than the God he kept trying to appease. “I love God, but don’t make me give away my money!” “I love God but don’t tell me He doesn’t want me to go to clubs!” “I love God but don’t tell me I can’t live with my girlfriend!” I am sure the rich young ruler did not see his money as blocking his way to God but it was. I am sure he had his rationalizations like we do. “I go to clubs to witness to people.” “I am living with my girlfriend because I love her, isn’t that more important?”

    The Bible says the rich man went away sad. Pushed to the edge of his faith cliff – he went over the edge. Likewise, when we come up against hard teaching, teaching that pushes the edges of our sin, we too can say – “who can accept it?” The second clue from the story of the key verse is found in verse 61:

    Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? – John 6: 61 (NIV)

    Sometimes we can allow offense to push us right over the faith cliff. I know so many people who walked away from the faith because someone offended them. In their minds they only walked away from the church but in reality it is the faith they are straying from. Churches are made up of imperfect people – just like you and me. Sometimes it seems that the more offensive people are actually in church! Satan will use this to wedge you out. He employs this strategy for a reason beloved. As imperfect as churches may be, they are the bride of Christ and the devil knows how much more vulnerable we are when we are alone:

    A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. – Ecclesiastes 4: 12 (NLT)

    I have written extensively on the abuses in the modern church but I have no illusions. We must find ourselves around people of like faith or we will find ourselves around people who do not share our beliefs. Sometimes we can be the agent for positive change within the church and if not, then we can always seek to find another church where God can use us. Just as our salvation is something that is being worked out; our faith is something that is in flux as well. It is strengthened with each victory in Christ and can be weakened with each step towards the cliff. To illustrate this we turn back to the Gospel of Mark, where we find the father of a demon possessed boy. Right away we see the faith problem in action:

    And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid.So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.” – Mark 9: 18 (NLT)

    There is no replacement for God Himself. Sometimes we can get to places in our walk where our one on one relationship with God is suffering. We tend at these times to seek out the people of God before taking it to the King Himself! Here the father tries to have the disciples cast out the demon but they could not. I am sure this made perfect sense to the father, after all these men walked with Jesus! Similarly, we can attend every healing service and be anointed with oil so many times that we can slide right of our pews - but to no avail. Our faith can suffer at each apparent failure. Like the father soon found out he needed to take it to God, not just the people of God.

    Jesus said to them, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” – Mark 9: 19 (NLT)

    That is what God is saying to us today as we stare over the faith cliffs in our lives. Bring the boy to me. Bring that sin to me. Bring that addiction to me. Whatever it is that is keeping us apart – bring it to me! The father brings Jesus the boy and offers the last shred of his faith up to Him. We can see how weak it is as the father asks, “help us – if you can.” You can almost hear the incredulity in the voice of Jesus as He responds:

    “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” – Mark 9: 23 (NLT)

    If a person believes. If a person stares down the cliff and turns around back to Jesus. Anything is possible. The response from the father is a prayer we all need to incorporate into our daily lives – “I do believe, but help me with my unbelief.” God does not expect perfection beloved. If you read the 11th chapter of Hebrews you will read the list of the heroes of faith throughout Scripture. Do you think these were all plaster saints? That nothing ever caused them to stray in their walk; in their faith? Abraham doubted and slept with Hagar. David doubted and took a census resulting in a plague wiping out his people. Moses was a murderer. They all had their cliffs to stare down and through the failures and successes; they came out stronger in their faith. We can believe in general and still struggle with an area in our life. We can believe in general and have an area we need more help with in dealing with our unbelief. God is not disappointed when we doubt as much as when we fail to seek Him in the midst of that doubt. We seek the world so easily today. We seek the counsel of godly and ungodly people. We seek self-help and motivational help. We seek therapy and medication. God wants to be sought. Bring the boy to me!

    The rich young ruler was done seeking when he heard he had to give up his money and he walked off the faith cliff. The people from our key verse today also stared down that the cliff and jumped when the teaching got too hard. The last clue for us today however deals with keeping the right perspective when it comes to challenges to our faith and is found when Jesus turns to Peter and asks him if the disciples will also leave him at this point…

    Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6: 68-69 (NIV)

    To whom shall we go? Jump off the cliff? That doesn’t make any sense! The secret is hidden in the perspective. Those that had turned and left Jesus were focusing on the teaching and not the teacher. Peter and the disciples get it right. Once you believe that Jesus is God – to whom else will you go? The world? The devil? Dear Lord, why? If we focus on our circumstances when we approach the faith cliff we may indeed find ourselves jumping. If we focus on whom it is that we serve however, we will turn around and go back to Him. Only He has the words of eternal life. Only He is the Holy One of God. The father of the demon possessed boy had dealt with his problem for so long that he was focusing on it when he offers up his weak “if you can” prayer. Once Jesus brings him back to the reality of who God is however he cries out for help with his unbelief. Here are the words of the Psalmist for us today:

    God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in seastorm and earthquake, Before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us. – psalm 46: 1-3 (Message)

    When we stand facing the cliff edge of doom we must do so fearlessly. Not the fake bravado of the rich ruler but the humble fearlessness in knowing who we serve. Our courage comes not from the seastorm but from He who made the sea and walks above it! Our courage comes not from the earthquake but He who spoke the entire earth into existence! It does not matter what the circumstance. It does not matter what the situation. All that matters is we serve a God above all of the conditions we can find in this life. We serve a God of the mountaintop and the valley. We serve a God of both the flatlands and the cliff. I do not know where this writing finds you today but know this. God does not expect perfection from you – only that you seek Him in your imperfection. Leave the cliff behind you and walk with your God today.

    Reverend Anthony Wade – December 5, 2012

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