Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What if it were here?

As more details come out about the school shooting which happened in Pakistan, the horror of the story increases.  I wonder, though, if it were to happen here what our reaction would be.  It was just over two years ago that America mourned the school shooting in Connecticut.  And we should have.  Children were needlessly slaughtered, and it was a tough time even for those living hundreds of miles away.  We hugged our kids a little harder that day, struggling to fight light in the midst of the darkness.

But is this really any different?  The only difference is that there were more children killed this time, not less.  Sure, they were a little further away, but children had to hear the cries of the killers screaming "God is great" as they maliciously went through the school, finding anyone they could and killing them.  The reason given for the killing was war.  It's a "you killed us, now we're going to kill you" story.

It's time for this evil to end, but it isn't going to end if we aren't willing to stand for what is right, even when the evil is happening far away.

So what can we do?  There are no easy answers to this question, but there are things we can do, even from a distance, which can make a difference.

We can pray.  We need to pray for the ones who have lost children and family members in this killing.  We need to pray for the ones who killed.  We need to pray for them, that God would have mercy on them, and turn their hearts toward Him.  We need to pray for those who are in authority, that they would seek God for guidance on how to deal with these types of situations.

We can mourn.  These children were created in God's image, just like my own children.  They were dearly loved by God.  We need to mourn their passing, and do as Jesus said; to mourn with those who mourn.

We can love our enemies.  This all started with people responded to hate with more hate.  I've been giving a lot of thought these days to the words of Jeremy Courtney, the founder of Preemptive Love Coalition: "We all know that violence unmakes the world.  But preemptive love unmakes violence.  Preemptive love remakes the world through healing."  We can't live like the ones who are hating and expect change.  We must love first, and ask questions later.

If we do these things, I believe it can not only help today, but our hope is that it will help future generations.  They need to learn what it means to love like Jesus.

"But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  To the one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do you withhold your tunic either." - Jesus

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Does God Really Mean It?

We were having a conversation at church the other day, and we were discussing a story in Exodus 32.  We find Moses on top of a mountain where God is giving him the 10 Commandments.  Meanwhile, at the bottom of the mountain, at the people's request Aaron is making a golden calf for them to worship.

God tells Moses what is going on, and then says this: "I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are.  Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them.  Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation."

We discussed the temptation we would likely face here to do just what God suggested.  I mean, if I were in Moses' shoes, wouldn't that have been a pretty good offer?

Moses was apparently a better man than me.  He prayed "Turn away from your fierce anger.  Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people!"  He cries out to God to remember His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Then it says this: "So the LORD changed His mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people."

It's a curious phrase, and a curious idea, and brought up an interesting question from one of the gentlemen there.  He asked, basically, "Was God just testing Moses?  Would he really have done it?"

I answered that I believed God would have done this, for this reason: when God says something, I believe God means it.  I'm just not sure that's the go-to thought for most people today, even good Christians, which this man certainly is.

I think this has real life implications for us today.  When we read that God will discipline us, do we believe Him?  Do we believe in Hell?  On the flip side, do we actually believe that God will answer our prayers, or help us when we try to share our faith?

Trying to find hidden meanings in the Bible, instead of simply reading it for what it is, is not unusual.  People have been doing it since the dawn of the Church.  While it isn't unusual, that doesn't make it correct.

So next time you're reading your Bible, instead of trying to find the hidden meaning, ask yourself this question: If God really means what's written here, how should I live in response?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Faith - Maybe not what we think it is

When I hear people talk about faith, it is often talked about in terms of "no fear" or "no worry".  While I think we should always strive to not fear or worry, I think faith is more than simply not fearing.

I read a book by Jim Cymbala a few years back, and there's a quote of his which continues to strike me.  In referencing the faith of David, he says this: “David doesn’t say, ‘I am never attacked by fear,’ but rather ‘when I am afraid, I will trust in you…I will not be afraid.’” – Jim Cymbala

In other words, faith isn't about not having anything to fear or worry about.  Faith is about our response to these things.  If we would be willing to treat the initial stages of fear and worry as if they are temptations, I think the approach would be different.

Let me give an example.  If I am tempted to lie, the temptation itself is not a sin.  We all know this.  No one would accuse someone who is tempted to lie, but who told the truth instead, of sinning.

Nor, then, should we accuse those who are attacked by things which cause worry and despair to necessarily be lacking faith.  Certainly if they give in to these things, their faith needs to be examined.

If you struggle with faith, having fear and worry is not the problem.  It is when you give in to these things that it becomes a real problem.

On the other hand, if you will respond like David, who says that "when I am afraid, I will trust in you" (Psalm 56:3), then we are responding to these situations in a much better way.

So if you are one of those people who struggles with faith, let me encourage you.  Don't consider yourself defeated every time fear and worry comes into your life.  Instead, take the opportunity during those times to rest in God, whether through prayer, music, nature, Scripture reading or calling a Christian brother or sister for encouragement.

Be encouraged.  You are not alone.  The "man after God's own heart" (David), went through these same struggles.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Is that it?

We expect far too little from God.

I know this might be something you've heard a lot.  I know I have.  Sermons, conferences, leadership books, the list goes on and on.  We expect too little from God!

As I was reading John's gospel this morning, I came to the passage early on where Jesus calls Nathanael to be his disciple.  This passage gets a bit of attention from time to time because of Nathanael's question, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"  While that is certainly a good place to pause, there was something else which struck me about this passage.

There is a fascinating interaction between Jesus and Nathanael.  It goes something like this.

Jesus: Here is a true Israelite; no deceit is in him.

Nathanael: How do you know me?

Jesus: Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.

Nathanael: Rabbi, you are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!

Jesus: Do you believe only because I told you I saw you under the fig tree?  You will see greater things than this.

Jesus is letting Nathanael know that he shouldn't be too impressed.  Sure, Jesus did a "little" miracle, but there was much more which Nathanael was going to see in the next few years.

As I read this interchange, I was considering my life, and even the life of my church.  Are we expecting too little from God?  Am I?  I mean, sure, I hope I have a good day, and when I lose something, God will help me find it.  We want good church services, and to be able to pay our bills and do good things for people outside of our congregation.

But is that enough?  Shouldn't we be looking for more?  After all, Jesus said we would do greater things than Him, so isn't that what we should look for?

In my personal life, shouldn't I expect God to not just save me from my sins, but to also give me the power to overcome temptation?  Shouldn't I expect God to not just help me "be a good Christian", but to also impact the lives of people around me?

What about our churches?  Instead of looking to have our congregations happy and our seats full, shouldn't we expect God to actually bless us and bless others through us?  Instead of being satisfied with a handful of people coming to our church, shouldn't we extend our hopes to the place where we are reaching the lost with the gospel, and actually impacting people, families and communities beyond us?

I have come to expect far too little today, and it needs to stop.  Not tomorrow, but today.  So I ask myself this question: what can only God do today that I can be part of?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Religion or Relationship?

There is a lot of talk these days surrounding the idea of religion.  There are books with titles like "God without religion", churches which say they aren't about religion, but about relationship, etc, etc.  The problem with this is simple.  God created religion.

Now, don't misunderstand.  Religion itself is neutral.  It is neither good nor bad.  It is what you do with religion which makes it good or bad, true or false.  James, (you know, the brother of Jesus?) said that religion which is pure is that which "visits orphans and widows in their affliction."

The religion of Christianity is a tool.  That's really it.  It's meant to point us to God, aid us in our worship of Him, and give us a greater ability to serve Him in the world.  It can certainly become bad and corrupt, and we can end up worshiping religion.

So the question is not "Religion or relationship?"  The proper question is "True of false religion?"

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Walking in the Right Direction

"No man can walk in two directions at once.  No man can go hopping along on one foot 'after the Spirit' toward life and at the same time hop along on the other foot 'after the flesh' toward destruction.  He can walk but one direction.  If he walks after the Spirit, however imperfectly, he is a Christian.  His steps may be halting.  He may stub his toe now and then, and occasionally he may even turn his ankle and limp rather badly.  But still, as he walks after the Spirit, he walks but one direction.  God is patient and understanding.  He is not looking for perfection in men.  But He is profoundly concerned about their direction.  To those whose direction is toward Him through obedient faith in Jesus Christ, He imparts the perfection of His sinless Son and shares with them His own divine nature.  But this He can only do for men whose direction is toward Him.  And men can walk but one direction at a time.  Whether a man walks 'after the Spirit,' or 'after the flesh,' he walks with both feet as the whole man."

Robert Shank, Life in the Son

Friday, March 7, 2014

God's Judgment in the Old Testament

I'm currently preaching through Amos, which is interesting, to say the least.  When you begin to talk about the Old Testament, there is one thing which is often brought up; God's judgement on other nations.  You get questions like, "Why did God command the destruction of so many innocent people?"  This is an important and difficult question that I'm sure I can't answer fully.  However, there is one thing which I've been thinking about lately that might help some.

As we read through Amos 4, my chapter for this coming Sunday, we read of the way God has sent warning after warning to the people of Israel.  He has sent "cleanness of teeth", and then "drought".  Following this there is blight and mildew on the plants, the death of young men, and the destruction of cities.

This is the natural pattern we find in Scripture.  God never comes to the people of Israel and wipes them out without first issuing warnings, sending prophets, and then plagues.  These plagues ramp up in intensity as they go along.  Only after they have effectively ignored God for hundreds of years does God finally bring judgment on them.

If you were to ask if this is right, most Christians would say yes.  Certainly, after so many warnings, and the mercy of God being extended that far, God had the right to bring judgment on the people of Israel.

This idea is very consistent with what we read and know of God from all over the Bible.  He is merciful and just, desires holiness and relationship, and is willing to do just about anything to get those.

So here is the important questions when it comes to the other nations.  Why do we assume that God treated them any differently?  Certainly there was something unique about Israel.  They were, after all, chosen among all the nations of the world to have a special relationship with God which would culminate in the Savior of the world coming from among them.

But throughout the Old Testament we find people like Melchizedek, who wasn't a descendant of Abraham, but was a "priest of God Most High".  He is the man to whom Abraham, the father of the Jews, tithed.  That's not insignificant.  We read about Jonah, the prophet sent to Nineveh, and other prophets, including Amos, who prophesied to other nations from out of Israel.

In fact, it's important to note that the reason Abraham wasn't allowed to take the Promised Land, but was made to wander, was because the "iniquity of the Amorites [was] not yet complete".  In other words, God was going to extend his mercy to that nation for another 400 years.

This is more in line with what we know about God.  He sends his messengers, gives warnings, and extends His mercy far more than we deserve.  He did it for the Jews, which we read of time and again.  He has done it for me, and for you as well.  Doesn't it make sense that God would also do this for the other nations?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Reflections on Sunday, February 23, 2014

It was a good day yesterday.  I thought I would share some thoughts on the day while they are still fresh.

We looked at the subject of the Security of the Believer in Sunday School.  Looking through I John, it was interesting to see how much different John is than your average Christian today.  In my experience, most Christians today very much default to sin.  They say "when we sin", God will forgive us.  This is not what John says.  He says "if we sin."  

I commented that I think the big difference is that we talk about our tendency to sin because of our sinful nature.  John, though, points to the life which lives in light, abides in Christ, and avoids the love of the world.  These things, then, lead to a life of inward righteousness, where sin no longer is our default, but instead holiness.  This is true security in Christ!

As for my sermons, I'm preaching through Amos right now.  I'll just say this; preaching the prophets can be very difficult.  It's a wonderful book for our time, but that doesn't make it any less hard!  

The progression in the first oracle against Israel (Amos 2:4-16) is quite interesting, though.  We see Israel's sin against the poor and afflicted, and then see how God treated Israel when they were poor and afflicted, by defeating their enemies and providing for them during their time in the desert.  

Anyway, it's a good passage, and I'm glad God is teaching me a lot through it.  

Sunday evening I'm looking at the Psalms with our small prayer group.  Psalm 4 was where we landed last night.  It's interesting to see how David is reaching out to those who are accusing him.  It's a bit of an evangelistic psalm, which I think is a bit more rare than some other types of psalms.  David tells them how to deal with their need for God.

-          Care for their heart – don’t sin in anger
-          Care for their mouth – be silent
-          Care for their actions – offer sacrifices to God
-          Care for their mind – put their trust in God

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Society Can't Decide What's Right

If I could argue that abortion is good for society, would that make it right?  

What about slavery?  If I could definitively prove that slavery is good for society, would that make it okay?   

I don't know about anywhere else, but in the Western part of the world, we often decide what is right and wrong based on the good or bad it does to society.  Christians have, unfortunately, gone down this road far too often.  

We say abortion is wrong because it hurts society.  But is that true?  I would certainly argue that abortion hurts society, but that is not what makes it wrong.  

We say slavery is wrong, because it hurts society.  Is that true?  I would again agree that slavery is wrong, but not because of it's impact on the world.  

We say pornography is wrong because it hurts society.  Again, while I believe pornography is wrong, it is ultimately not about what impact it has on the family, society or anything else.  

Instead, as Christians we say that right and wrong are determined instead by the nature of God.  Abortion is wrong because it destroys the life of a human created in God's image.  Slavery is wrong for the same reason.

These things certainly hurt society, and I believe that is part of the reason God wants them out of our lives.  

As I've been thinking about this lately, I've come to realize that in my part of the world, Christians are embarrassed to say something is wrong because "God says so."  But isn't that ultimately what it comes down to?  God has created us in such a way that the best way for us to live is in line with His nature and will.  It's really that simple.  

But we don't want to seem judgmental or legalistic, so we argue our points from the view of consequences rather than right and wrong.  

Looking at it from the other side of things, there are those in the world who suggest that a healthy marriage is built often on a couple having sex before marriage, or living together in order to make sure they are "compatible."  I've even heard people argue that pornography in the marriage is a good thing, in order to "spice up" marriage a little.  

I could argue against this, going to statistic after statistic, showing you that couples who live together first don't stay married longer, and that the porn industry has destroyed far more marriages than it could help.  

I could show you that abortion has hurt women, and that they are scarred for a long time.

I could talk about how slavery affects not only the individuals being enslaved, but all the people connected, and therefore destroys a community, hurts a nation, and ultimately, somehow, affects us all.

But in the end, none of these things matter, and they could all be argued against.  You could present your facts, saying that sometimes women are just find.  You could talk about how healthy some marriages are that allow pornography in the bedroom, and even worse things, and are better because of it.  I would disagree with your stats, but in reality it's my stats against yours.

In the end, though, it doesn't matter what the stats say.  My stance on abortion, slavery, pornography, euthanasia, genocide, homosexuality, lying, and so many other things don't come from statistics and the difference they make in society.  I believe what I believe about these things because of how I see God and what I read in His Word.  That, ultimately, is all that matters.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sinner saved by grace???

You've perhaps heard the phrase "I'm just a sinner saved by grace."

It's not true.

Either you are a sinner, or you have been saved by grace.  It's not both/and here, it is either/or.

Scripture is full of passages which talk about the need to live in freedom from sin.  It's not that we aren't tempted, or that we don't fall on occasion, but there is a big difference between a saint who falls and a sinner.

There are many people today who want to say that we will never really be free from the power of sin.  And while sin is certainly powerful, and was a real part of my life before Christ, that is no longer the case.  Sin is in the past.  It has been forgiven and cleansed.

John tells us that one of the ways we will know whether or not we're a Christian is by our relationship to sin.  Interesting, right?  We love to talk about how we treat people (very important), and how much time we spend sharing the good news (also important), but John writes his first letter with this in mind.

"I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life."  (I John 5:13)

Did you catch this?  John is telling us how we can know we are Christians.  That's important, right?  Shouldn't we all want to know for sure if we're walking with Christ?  John tells us.

"If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." (1:6)

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1:9)

"And by this we know what we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.  Whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him." (2:3-4)

"Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (2:15)

"You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him." (3:5-6)

"Little children, let no one deceive you.  Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.  The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil."  (3:7-8)

It goes on and on.  I means, just read it.  And that's only one book.  But this lesson is found all through the Bible.

I don't write these things to discourage those who are struggling with sin.  Actually, I think that's why we avoid this line of thinking so much in the church today.  We're afraid of discouraging people.

But isn't that looking at it backwards?  We encourage people to do hard things all the time.  Achieve something!  We say things like "If you aim low, you'll always reach your goal", and other such 'inspirational' things.

The same is true with Christianity.  My goal, day in and day out, is to be more like Jesus.

I have set my aim high.