As I said in my post yesterday, I visited two churches last Sunday. Today’s post will be about the second church that I visited.
I have visited this church three times so far. Sometime in the future, I may talk about what attracts me to this church, and what disturbs me about it, somewhat. Here, though, I would like to interact with features from last Sunday’s service.
The church had a guest speaker. This speaker was in seminary with the church’s pastor, and they have been long-time friends. The speaker was preaching about the Gospel passages in which Jesus tells his disciples that, if they have faith the size of a mustard seed, they will be able to move a mountain (Matthew 17:20; 21:21; Mark 11:23; see Luke 17:6, which talks about moving a sycamore tree by faith). In Matthew 21:22 and Mark 11:24, Jesus goes on to say that that they will receive whatever they ask in prayer, when they ask in faith.
The speaker was talking about how this relates to our mountains—-financial, spiritual, relational, etc.—-problems that seem so big and insurmountable to us. He said that God is bigger than our problems. He also encouraged us to speak to our problems words of faith. When people ask us how we are doing, we should speak out of faith, not out of discouragement about how things are.
This was a “Word of Faith” sort of sermon. The speaker actually praised Kenneth Hagin! Before this speaker preached, the pastor was encouraging people to speak words of faith in the midst of various problems, including layoffs.
The speaker himself was not immune to problems of his own. He told us about his year-long recovery from cancer, when he absent from church. He currently uses a cane.
The speaker was critical of commentators and theologians who try to qualify Jesus’ promises in those passages about faith moving mountains, by appealing to other Scriptures, or to what they consider the broader testimony of Scripture. The speaker said that Jesus does not qualify what he was saying.
At the same time, the speaker himself seemed to go on to qualify what Jesus was saying. The speaker was saying that life can limit whether we get what we ask for in prayer, which is why we do not always get what we request. Why did Jesus make such unqualified statements, then, in his opinion? The speaker said that Jesus was encouraging us to be bold in prayer, to pray as if the sky is the limit, for the sky is the limit for God.
The speaker was saying that words have power. As an example, the pastor referred to the sinner’s prayer, the acknowledgment of sin and reception of Jesus as Savior that people make to become saved, in many evangelical circles. Romans 10:9 states that, if one confesses that Jesus is Lord and believes in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, he will be saved. How can a mere prayer of confession save a person, or transform a person? I hear this question in various circles: Is that all one has to do to go to heaven—-pray a simple prayer? But the speaker was saying that praying that prayer is powerful: by speaking those words aloud, they get inside of the person speaking them, and they have a transformative effect.
I have been reading the Bible, at times, before I go to bed. I was going through the Gospel of Mark recently, and I noticed something else that Jesus said, right after Jesus had said that faith can move mountains and that whatever the disciples ask for in prayer, by faith, will be theirs. “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26, KJV). The speaker did not mention this, but it is apparently part of the equation. I have long struggled with this concept in the Bible, and, in this post, I do not want to get into whether I like this concept, or whether I feel that I have technically met this requirement according to God’s satisfaction. God knows my heart and where I am! What I would like to note, though, is that God does not just want us to have faith that moves mountains: God also wants us to think about other people, to regard them as people of value, and that entails forgiveness.
And, often, bitterness and unforgiveness can be a mountain that we need faith to move! Jesus in Luke 17:6 talks about faith moving a sycamore tree right after exhorting his disciples to forgive others seven times a day, if necessary! The disciples heard what Jesus said about forgiveness and asked Jesus to increase their faith! They apparently felt overwhelmed with the requirement to forgive so often, as if they by themselves lacked the power to do so. Jesus then told them that faith the size of a mustard seed can move a sycamore tree. (I attribute this insight to Derek Leman, whose Daily D’Var I receive.)
In this post, I do not want to get too deeply into the teachings of the Word of Faith movement. I am still rather skeptical that the sinner’s prayer by itself transforms people, since there are plenty who have said it who seem rather carnal, or just plain mean! Still, I did receive lessons of value from that church service last Sunday: about holding on to God in faith during storms, and about not letting storms have the last word in terms of one’s attitude and perspective. Joel Osteen calls it standing up on the inside. With God in the picture, there are possibilities.