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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Obedience

Matthew 6:1 states, "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven." Luke 18:1 says, "And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint." We need not make anyone around us aware of what we are doing when we are in communion with our God, praying in the Spirit, etc. Obedience to Scripture supersedes government policy. The first century church would not bow down and offer sacrifice to Caesar, neither will we bow down to the current antagonists of the gospel who, in their mindless fog of humanism, would rather worship the creature than acknowledge the creator.

Constantine's Conversion Part One

Just speculating here, but, I understand that Constantine had been a sun worshiper prior to his conversion to Christianity. I also read that Constantine was baptized by a man named Eusebius who was said to be a false teacher who believed many of the things that Jehovah's Witnesses believe today. The delay of his baptism was probably so as not to waste the "magic" of baptism, which he understood washes away sins. An emperor can hardly live a blameless life, right? And there are many charges on Constantine's sin tab - such as the unexplained execution of his eldest son and his second wife. I think Constantine's conversion was as sincere as possible, given his incomplete and immature understanding of what it means to know Christ and be converted by God's Word in order to receive God's gift of salvation. Only God knows the genes, heritage, experiences lived, thoughts, longings, hopes, etc. of a man or woman. Perhaps we shall see Constantine face to face in heaven and have a chance to ask him what his motives truly were.

Living Holy

At the risk of going on a tangent, I agree with those who say that among evangelicals the "hard work" of living holy is not communicated frequently enough. Yet, the modern church seems to be creating "half Bereans"; that is to say, the congregation receives the Word with all readiness of mind, however, they do not search the Scriptures daily for themselves whether those things be so (Acts 17:11). Weakness of the flesh is not glorified in Chapters seven and eight of Romans. Only the industrious Christian who understands the concept of collaborating with Christ in his or her own personal endeavor to "abide" in Him will truly have a successful faith and hope in the victory over sin in their daily walk. I would deem it my personal God given responsibility to help a new convert within the sphere of my influence understand what it means to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as stated in 2 Peter 3:18. Pomp and circumstance of Coptic or Catholic traditions aside, it is in the personal testimony and the heart of the individual where the rubber of Scripture, and thereby truth, meets the road.

The Medieval Church

I agree with the statement that illiterate worshipers in medieval times may have benefited more from the more temporal experience of icons, liturgy, and recitations. Did not the majority of popes basically outlaw or at least discourage personal Bible reading even for the literate, so that the priestly class could more readily control what common people considered to be truth?

Church Tradition or Stagnation?

Personally I would view handling tradition as somewhat like eating a fish. You have to savor the meat and safely and carefully discard the bones. Likewise I believe there is much to value in the traditions of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church traditions as well; I just do not swallow the whole kit and caboodle. Traditions don't emerge in a vacuum devoid of common sense and prayerful reflection. It is easy to stand on the outside of time and point fingers in judgment. If those in the east are considered ignorant for their traditional practices, how can we in the west, who built a nation by justifying the evil of slavery for centuries, consider ourselves so much spiritually superior? If I were allowed the pleasure of worshiping in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, I would have such a grand high time in the presence of God Almighty that I would probably write volumes about the experience. I can only imagine the splendor of the EOC sanctuaries and I would appreciate the icons without unscripturally venerating or worshiping them, just as I can today appreciate the sacrament of holy communion without believing in transubstantiation. We make mountains out of molehills and only hinder ourselves and the great holy commission of the church. God is not the author of confusion, but we sure can be. At Christ's return, my Bible says that every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that He is Lord. How shall we all bow and how shall we all confess? Will there be an eastern way and a western way? Will Jesus be pleased with those of us who cared more about traditional and doctrinal differences than we cared about his prayer in John 17 that we be one as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one?

Reformation Ramifications

The Anabaptist groups of the Radical Reformation that began in Switzerland and matured into the generally pacifist Mennonites were admirable in their simple love focused understanding of the Gospel and shunning of church authority. At times I view the visible church as a hungry monster that greedily feeds itself at the expense of true disciples. I think Luther and subsequent Protestantism were heading in the right direction; however, he was led to militant action which may have sullied his heart a bit. I don't believe it was recorded that Luther ever spoke in tongues, experienced a healing miracle, or word of wisdom, etc. as charismatics do today. Nor would I feel particularly comfortable bellowing a heart-felt hallelujah in the middle of worship in a Lutheran Church service. Yet, holiness was central to Luther's ideals and I believe the Ten Commandments were placed first in his Small Catechism because it was important to him for us to understand that God is wrathful against sin. Proverbs points out that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Jesus told the Sadducees in Mathew 22:29, "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures or the power of God." I believe that, although heart faith can precede head faith, it can only be sustained and enriched by head faith. To know God is to trust in, lean on, and rely upon him. I don't equate head faith solely with theological or biblical knowledge either. I know some saints who cannot read, yet their experience has taught them that if it had not been for the Lord who was on their side, surely they would have perished. When people look at us, whom do they perceive we have been with? "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it (Acts 4:13, 14). And so, although creeds and course curriculum are important tools to aid in our ordering and understanding what God has revealed of himself to man, when it comes down to the measure of a disciple in the Reformation or any other era, we would do well to heed Matthew 7:16 and "know them by their fruits." The "fruits" are a result of the balance between head and heart faith that we seek as disciples of Christ.

Constantine's Conversion Part Two

Although Constantine may have been self serving in his conversion and benevolence towards the early Christian church, God is able to use even the selfishness of a man for his glorious purposes. 1 Corinthians 1:27 assures us that God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. Isn't it incredible how God guarantees that He alone is recognized to be faithful to and responsible for the fate of those who call upon His name?

With The Heart

Saving faith must include commitment, repentance, and consistency in obedience. My question would then be what motivates these things if not the study of God's Word? Jesus said, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed, and ye will know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31, 32). And yes, with the heart man believeth unto salvation, but should confessing with our mouths precede an understanding of the Gospel? Faith comes by hearing and how shall they hear? I would not even trust preaching alone. The Bereans' response to the preaching of Paul was to search the Scriptures daily whether those things were so (Acts 17:11). Where is the perfect balance between obedience to the Scriptures that admonish us to study, love, meditate upon, and memorize God's Word, the very foundation of faith - and the type of easy believism that may at the very least be leading some Christians to live less than fulfilling, holy, and temporally victorious lives, growing in grace and in the "knowledge" of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ? Salvation is a free gift of God received only by true repentance, faith in Jesus as the Messiah, and is a faith unmediated by the church according to Luther. I don't however; believe that it was Luther's intent to deny the importance of biblical scholarship or the responsibility of the individual believer to know (study) the Word of God. Why else would he deem it so important to translate the Bible into German? Luther believed we can learn about God only through divine revelation and Scripture therefore became increasingly important to him (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther). Your quotation of John 6:47 is apropos, and John 14:21 goes on to say, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him." I am convinced there are many individuals at the local bar who approached an altar at some pint and repeated the sinners prayer and are thus convinced they shall rule and reign with Christ upon his return and live in the presence of God throughout eternity. But the Apostle Paul was concerned bout us keeping, holding onto, and remaining in faith: "Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme" (1 Timothy 1:19, 20).

Head Faith & Heart Faith?

Regarding the sincere intentions of many Reformation leaders to balance head and heart faith, semantics aside, I believe the core issue here is the doctrine of justification by faith (alone). To splinter the tree by attempting to consider heart faith as opposed to head faith is like extolling the virtues of the bottom piece of bread in a Big Mac as discrete and completely unlike the top piece of bread. These two pieces are in fact one sesame seed bun, period. Faith alone - "Sola Fide," with our hearts and minds united in a single perfect sphere. There is a point of diminishing returns in the human tendency to over-analyze, super circumscribe, and subdivide any idea, even going "beyond Scripture." "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not OBEY the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3.36). "Obeying the Son is parallel to believing the Son. True faith involves moral commitment to Jesus, and persistent disobedience to Him signifies a lack of real belief" (Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible p. 1706). And so we can conclude that the mind (head) is instrumental in the act of obedience because we must first "know" what we must obey. It would follow that a moral commitment to Jesus requires a selfless engagement of the heart and that both agents are required to facilitate what we would consider to be saving faith. I am so glad that through synergism of head and heart we can be justified by one faith and therefore have peace with God. One God, one faith, one baptism. Sola, sola, sola. Please excuse my Latin. Lol!

Working

God is already doing something to restore his creation. Am I participating in that and thus following Jesus? My stuff looks like me, coincidentally. I need to spiritually discern where God is already working in my community and participate in that (His) work. I do not necessarily need to create a work. So many people are preoccupied now with establishing "their ministry" while unbeknownst to them they are dying inside and will most probably become a statistic, burn out and leave ministry behind altogether. We cannot do the work of the Lord by sheer will and determination anymore than we can manufacture love that is not in us. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. We pray, "Holy Spirit come!" Within each calling is God's desire to restore His creation in some way, to get us back to zero (Eden). To the extent that we will allow God to love us right now, such is our capacity to truly love and to serve others maturely according to what Scripture has revealed of God's perfect will. Hence, our restoration is intimately tied to the restoration of those around us. Faith without works is like the only type of apple tree which bears no apples; a dead apple tree. Yet we have been gifted with the ability to choose life, speak life, and allow our faith to blossom into the good works that were preordained by God for us to walk in.

Then & Now

I think the history of the church in its entirety illustrates that products of the Spirit's working through the proclamation of the gospel are apt to be corrupted by the prideful nature of sin in man. Therefore, I fear that such divinely inspired institutions as the Salvation Army are destined to fall short somewhere along the line because imperfection is what the reality of sin in the hearts of men guarantees. This is a perfect example of why the issue of church government is crucial to the mission of the church; because a system of checks and balances is the best defense against the evil nature of man when it comes to the success of a spiritual organism in remaining true to the divine authority of God while achieving its purpose within the context of an evil and perverse generation. In Matthew 26:41 Jesus instructed his disciples, "Watch and pray, so that you will not fall into temptation." I would say that we need to prayerfully watch one another a bit more closely than we have within the context of ecclesiastical organizations to foster a stronger spirit of accountability amongst the brethren as servants of Christ. Yo, Adrian; absolutely, power corrupts.

Works & Faith

In Ephesians 2 workmanship is understood in the Greek word Poeima, the root of our contemporary English word for poem. Paul illustrates that we are not redeemed simply in order to lounge about in heavenly sunshine and paradise as the ages roll. We are to be doers of deeds that have been foreordained from eternity past. Although we don't perform good works in order to earn or even maintain our redemption; good works are most definitely a side effect of that divine redemption. Paul calls the Philippians in chapter two of his epistle to them to live out their redemption with a sense of awe, wonder, and reverence, because the Almighty God is moving and working through their daily lives. To maintain a balance of good works and faith, I think it helps to think of works as fruit that is harvested from trees. When we see apples hanging from a tree, we rightly conclude that the tree in view is an apple tree and that it will not produce oranges. Men and women are capable of good works and we have all observed noble acts by people who were not part of the church. Yet spiritual fruit can only be produced in the lives of spiritual people and spiritual fruit is an after effect of salvation which cannot save in and of itself. The lost are watching Christians to determine what kind of tree we are. By our fruits they shall know us. Jesus said we need to abide in Him and let his Word abide in us. I believe that is the formula by which we can maintain a balance of good works and faith.

Speak Life

So, you have a knack for disappointing people? Do not lose heart. God’s arm is still not short that it cannot save. Do not allow the self righteous and the theologically misinformed to kill the faith upon which your very eternal life depends. So you have lied, cheated, fornicated, smoked crack and come back, etc. There are those in Christendom who are more interested in your confession of failure than in the ability of our mighty God to save the truly repentant. I sometimes conclude that forgiveness is less likely in the church than in the world and this should not be the case. “When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17). Such condemnation of the saints by the saints (leadership in particular) is the very reason Christianity has lost its ability to effectively evangelize the way Jesus himself did in the first five chapters of John’s Gospel. The English word “gospel” is a derivative of the Old English “godspel” (good tidings), which is merely a rendering of the Greek word “evangelion” (good news). So go ahead Reverend Righteous and Suzy So Saved. Continue to cast that first stone, the one that never leaves your readied hand. Point your quick and sinless finger to ridicule and belittle with shame those whom God has called and predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son. You have not read the eighth chapter of Romans and apparently you walk by sight and not by faith (very scriptural of you). You seem to trust in man’s nine volts of power rather than the infinitely continual supernatural power of Jehova God. You are like the Sadducees whom Jesus scolded by saying, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). You sit in judgment of those who fall (fail) as if God is powerless and as if God has not chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, nor chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong (Paraphrase 1 Corinthians 1:27). “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:19). Brethren, let us step out of the way and lead the lost sheep to the care of The Good Shepherd. Are we not to be ministers of grace? Why then are we so often progenitors of condemnation in the hearts of those who I am convinced will finish well despite us? Therefore I say, whatever you say; speak life!

What God Desires for You

“God is more interested in your holiness than your happiness. He is more interested in your faithfulness than in your financial success. He is more interested in your purity than in your power. He is more interested in your endurance than in your reputation. He is more interested in your self control than in your sexual prowess He is more interested in your eternal life than in your external wealth. He is more interested in your long term joy than in your short term fun” (Dr. D.A. Carson 9/12/1999) We know what we want. But, what about what God wants for us? Yes we have suffered pain and been hurt. Do we consider that God the Father gave his only begotten Son to die for us? Do we consider the agony that Jesus suffered as a man on the cross, dying in our place, taking upon himself the beating and the bloody, cruel act of crucifixion with spikes being driven through his hands and his feet, with a spear piercing his side? Do we think about that? Is ignorance bliss or is it a death sentence? What are the eternal rewards of what we do and the choices we make today? If we can't love Jesus, can we truly love anyone?

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

In the 80s Janet Jackson released a song that was an apt anthem for the “new” gospel. “What Have You Done For Me Lately” is what many worldly saints are asking today. They love you so long as you are playing in their band or serving their needs in some way. Their love is conditional and though they busy themselves with self directed “service” to others, what they do and the way they do it is often really all about them and their own ego. In their position, they have a monopoly on truth though blind to the light, the true light of Jesus in others. They have more faith in the parlor tricks of the enemy than in the power of Almighty God. They will drop you like a hot potato the moment your reputation is sullied, even if based upon speculation, treacherous lies, and slander. They will prove that they never were your friends, but rather tolerated you as long as you were useful to their own purposes. Furthermore, do not expect forgiveness in churches today, for in them you will more often find only disappointment, ridicule, and condemnation. Super-Christians cannot forgive. You have not paid the Pope his penance. If you have not done anything for them lately, then there is no grace there to be extended in your direction. In fact, some today even glory in the news or hint that someone else may have fallen. Ye who are spiritual… (Galations 6:1)? And, what of 1 Timothy 5:1-2? Have we become now like the Sadducees in Matthew 22:29 to whom Jesus said, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God?” I encourage you, even if you have been caught with your hand in the cookie jar in the middle of a crack-house with your pants down, to seek only the Lord’s face. No flesh can dwell within His presence and He is an all consuming fire. If the Lord sends a friendly face or comforter in the flesh, that counselor will understand both the scriptures and the power of God. Oh yes, many have been ordained and carry large Bibles. Just beware that all that glitters is not gold and not all who profess to be sent are Godly. “Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits if they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (John 4:1). However, if you find yourself alone with God and His Word, be encouraged and remember that He is faithful who promised and we should hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (Hebrews 10:23). Jesus was despised and rejected among men and the servant is not greater than his Lord (John 13:16). Satan is the accuser. May the Lord God rebuke the spirit of depression and failure in you now, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Whosoever Will

Accepted or rejected? I agree wholeheartedly that this is the issue made so clear in these chapters in John.“The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone” (Psalm 118:22) (Matthew 21:42) and again in (Acts 4:11). Salvation is a work of divine monergism – God does the work. Narrow is the gate, despite my good intent and desire that everyone respond favorably and be saved. I need only present Jesus as He has already proclaimed in his Word. God speaks and we either take heed or we chose not to. “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice” (Rush “Free Will”). If my presentation is biblical, God’s Word is life transforming truth and shall not return unto him void. “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Why should we heed 2 Timothy 2:15? So that we don’t risk leading others astray with improvised imaginations of the gospel message, that’s why. “And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?” (Luke 6:39). We think more highly of ourselves than we ought if we see our own role in the process of salvation as any greater than this, to preach Christ and Him crucified. You stated, “Jesus' presentation was flawless, as He is God incarnate. If some chose to reject the perfect presentation, how could interest be attributed to presentation?” Your statement is precisely the central truth, the real core, of what we are discussing and I wish I could have said it as eloquently. "The mind of the flesh (carnal mind) is enmity (at war) against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be" (Romans 8:7). I expect the lost to be angry when they hear the Word of God. Sin exposes itself by its reaction to God's Word. Demons always cry out at the name of Jesus because they fear and tremble. Neither God nor His humble servants are intimidated by the angry alpha dog tough guy routine that immature persons are apt to put on in order to act hard and self important. However, if the scared and angry children would only drop the self-centered fa├žade for just a moment, just for a single heartbeat; their fear would be replaced by a Father’s love so magnanimous that Satan himself could not deny the extent and perfection of it. “Whosoever will, let him come” Jesus says. Yet some are so angry that He is speaking. What other reaction could darkness have to the true light? Scripture tells us that this reaction of anger and hatred is to be expected. Yet, still we say “whosoever will, let him come and receive living water and the bread of life, the Great I AM! Can you be angry and sin not? Who am I talking to? God knows who you are…

Keep Coming

I'm not afraid to tell you I’ve been right where you are; in the church on Sunday and then right back into the dreadful pit of shame on Monday. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t let the condemnation of the misguided self righteous keep you away from the only cure for your disease, hearing the Word of God. Forget theology just now and come to the alter quickly and as often as you feel the need. Because we have free will, God’s perfection in us does not always work in an instant like the proponents of today’s microwave Christianity would have you believe. Don’t be deceived by these angels of light who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. God’s grace is indeed sufficient, no matter how many times you need to fight your way to the altar. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful… (Hebrews 4:12). Don’ let Satan keep you away from the Word who was made flesh (John 1:14). There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus… (Romans 8:1). Why let anyone, no matter how holy they think they are, try to separate you from the love of God? Do not allow it. Come to Jesus. Come and drink living water that is fresh and waiting for you whenever you come.

Doubting Thomas?

We speak of Thomas’ doubt in chapter 20 of John as though no other disciple (including us) has ever experienced doubt in the face of all that we yet do not know and understand about God. Despite doubt and spiritual immaturity, the twelve forsook all else and followed Jesus. Personally, there are some things I have yet to forsake completely in order to more perfectly follow Christ. Just how perfectly can our finite minds understand how Father, Son, and The Holy Spirit can be one God? The disciples’ response to the good news is all that matters, not their level of understanding. They are merely representative of our own limitations of mind and will in contrast to the perfection of Christ who was, after all, not merely a man. Yet, if we will just follow Him, Jesus is able to perfect that which concerns us. “His strength is made perfect in our weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Concerning Thomas’ doubt in chapter 20 I would ask the question; do we, Brian and Timothy, do all things without murmurings and disputings? (Philippians 2:14). In his response to Jesus, Thomas was ready and willing to go, regardless of the destination or consequences. He was just beginning to learn that Jesus was God, that Jesus was thus omnipotent, that death could not hold Him, and that He was perfect in all of His ways. How ironic is it that these same imperfect and "unlearned men" (as they were called in Acts after Pentecost) would together propagate Christianity beyond the confines of Judaism to blossom and thrive in Rome, the capital of the gentile world at that time, just a few centuries later, despite zealous murderous persecution by powerful Roman emperors? The Pharisees rejected Jesus and thus the stone that the builders rejected, after His resurrection, became the head of the corner (Mark 12:10, Acts 4:11, Psalm 118:22). Bless that wonderful name of Jesus! Thomas shows extreme loyalty to Jesus. He knew Jesus was going to Bethany with or without the twelve and Thomas wanted to be by His side even if it meant going to his death. We don’t do justice to Thomas’ character when we define him by his moment of doubt upon hearing the first news that Jesus’ resurrection. Let’s remember that everyone scattered and left Jesus’ side on his way to the cross. Discipleship is not an easy road to travel. Men, know matter how godly, can never match the perfection of God. I can only hope and pray that I would not deny Christ if I were in that position under the circumstances which the twelve faced as Jesus determined to go back to Bethany. Clearly neither Thomas nor any of the disciples understood Jesus’ power over death. I think Thomas had realized at that point that a life without Jesus would not be worth living. If all future hope of a resurrection was based upon the coming of the Messiah, and Jesus was this Messiah, then certainly I could entrust my life to Him and follow Him wherever he would go, whether it be to life or death. I don’t know how familiar Thomas was with the OT Scriptures, specifically the prophecies that were references to the resurrection of the body, such as Psalm 16, Isaiah 26, Daniel 12, and Hosea 6. Jesus prophesied many times that he would be killed and on the third day be raised from the dead, and yet, the disciples never seemed to catch on to what Jesus was really saying. In John 10:17-18 Jesus said, "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." Why didn’t the disciples, Thomas included, simply ask more questions in order to get an understanding of what Jesus was saying? In John 14:19 Jesus told his disciples, "Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live." I would have asked Jesus, “Master, what sayest thou?” What was so difficult about just admitting, “Lord, we do not understand what you mean?” I certainly would expect that Peter would ask, especially when he was rebuked in Matthew 16. I think what some have referred to as blind faith is absolutely necessary, born of love and obedience. When we are four years of age and our cognitive ability has not yet developed enough to understand why we shouldn't touch the hot stove, we can either have blind faith in the benevolent wisdom of our parents' instructions, or we can suffer the consequences. At age four, we have to just trust and obey that our parents know what's best for us. "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3) As adults, however, our own reasoning often short circuits the type of intimacy with Jesus that makes trust and obedience effortless, even in the midst of adversity or imminent death. This makes me think of Martyrs like Polycarp. "Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me" (Psalm 23 Amp). The Good Shepherd, The True Vine, The Husbandman, The Lion of Judah - God Almighty is sovereign and perfect in all His ways! "Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). I am praying that the Lord help me to believe more perfectly. I want a greater gift of faith than I currently possess. I think belief is more of a progressive rather than a gestalt experience, and, it is none other than trials and tribulations than trials and tribulations that exercise and develop our ability to believe more maturely (James 1:2). Consider when Jesus told Peter, And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" (Luke 22:32). I think of the process I've attempted to describe as the type of conversion Jesus is referring to in this passage, though I could be mistaken.