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
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.