A Morning Meditation

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

brokenchainsThis is an amazing passage, especially in light of the fact that Paul has just concluded chapter 7 by talking of the war that wages within us; of the struggle, as Christ-followers, to do what we want to do, all the while finding ourselves doing what we don’t want to do as it relates to sin.  His conclusion is that of wretchedness as he declares his imperfection before a holy God…but then immediately follows with an answer to the question of who will deliver him from this body of death with spontaneous praise to God through Christ!  Why?  Because he knows it is not based upon his own righteousness, which does not exist (Isaiah 64:6), but upon that of Christ.  Paul admits the continual struggle between serving Christ in his mind and with his will, desiring to always be faithful, but wrestling with the law of the flesh (sin) that is always close at hand.

That is a struggle with which I am familiar.  That is something that I can identify with.  I desire to follow Christ closely; desire to obey with my whole heart, but I find that I am often found horribly lacking.  I have wrestled with fear and doubt and depression over the condition of my life…why can’t I be a better dad or husband or pastor…a better follower of Jesus?  The enemy is always close at hand, seeking to devour me (1 Peter 5:8), to destroy me (John 10:10), to accuse me before the Father (Revelation 12:10).

What do I do?  I keep reading!  Because of what Christ has done in me, redeeming me from the penalty of the Law of sin and death, there is no condemnation!  NONE!  The Father does not look at me as the failure that I am, but the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), the child of the King that Christ has made me (Romans 8:15-17).  The Father looks at me and sees the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to me (2 Corinthians 5:21); credited to my account to such an extent that I shine righteously in the Father’s presence, the only way He can look upon me with pleasure…and He does!

I still struggle with sin and I am to always be at war with my sin nature, but I am not defeated by it.  I can never be defeated because the law of sin and death was destroyed by the means of a Roman cross (Colossians 2:13-15), never to have victory over me because in Christ, I stand redeemed!

Morning Encouragement

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[b]
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear
    the yoke in his youth.

28 Let him sit alone in silence
    when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
    there may yet be hope.

~Lamentations 3:19-29 (ESV)

Luck and The Providence of God

ImageAs you undoubtedly know, yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day (see, I’m here to help).  At The Gathering, we took the opportunity to deal with a very important theological concept: The Providence of God.  The following is essentially a transcript of that message altered a bit to make it a little more readable.  You can view it on demand here.

One of the things many think about on St. Patrick’s Day besides wearing green and pinching people who didn’t is this being a “lucky day.” “The luck of the Irish” is a term that most Americans have heard and think about the little Lucky Charms leprechaun on the cereal box and how if you are lucky enough to catch one, he’ll lead you to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Certainly, the idea of luck is not limited to the Irish (which, most will say, would historically be considered bad luck!). We use the term all the time: “Look at that, parking spot right up by the door. Must be my lucky day!” “I got lucky and picked the right raffle number.” “Dude, you’re lucky she is both beautiful and has bad taste or you wouldn’t have had a shot!”

Luck is a big part of our vocabulary. I wonder if it’s a part of our theology? Is there such a thing as luck? When we say we’re “fortunate,” are we saying the same thing, but in a less secular way?

Luck in the Bible

Actually, you won’t find luck talked about in Scripture…primarily because it is a term that flies in the face of the sovereignty of God. Luck refers mainly to happenstance; chance. A great example is playing a game like Blackjack and many other card or dice games where you will only win if you happen to have been dealt a good hand or a good roll of the dice. Often, there is very little, if any, skill involved. We would commonly refer to this as either having good luck or the opposite: David luck. I hardly ever win at anything.

At the other end of the spectrum is the opposite of blind chance which is control. This implies purpose and the power to bring the results of purpose about. Theologically, we refer to this as providence. Now, if you break open the concordance, you won’t find the word “providence” in there in reference to God’s sovereignty. Again, it is a theological word used to describe a biblical concept.

What is providence?

In his book, Bible Doctrines, Wayne Grudem defines providence as God’s continual involvement “with all created things in such a way that he (1) keeps them existing and maintaining the properties with which he created them; (2) cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do; and (3) directs them to fulfill his purposes.

OK, that’s a good, thorough definition there. Let’s break it down. What is this talking about? In essence, the providence of God means that God is not simply some great cosmic clock-maker who created the world and then set it in motion and moved away hoping that everything works out. It’s not as one pastor I heard years ago say, “God did all He could when Jesus died, then He went back to heaven and left it up to us.” That is borderline heresy (and possibly, the other side of the border!). There is nothing in Scripture that says this. In fact, in the Great Commission, Jesus talks about all authority being given to Him and that He would be with us always to the end of the age. Further, He promised that when He returned to the Father, He would send the Comforter (John 16:7). Hebrews 1 tells us that He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” In Colossians 1:17, Paul says that “in [Christ], all things hold together.”

The providence of God means that He is constantly holding everything in the universe together, maintaining order, implying that if He removed Himself, even for an instance, cosmic chaos would result.

That’s the first part of the definition.

The second involves God’s intimate involvement in all that happen on the earth, including the actions of his creatures…that, of course, includes us. Ephesians 1:11 says, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…“. Isaiah 46:8-11 says,

“8 “Remember this and stand firm,    recall it to mind, you transgressors,9     remember the former things of old;for I am God, and there is no other;    I am God, and there is none like me,10 declaring the end from the beginning    and from ancient times things not yet done,saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,    and I will accomplish all my purpose,’11 calling a bird of prey from the east,    the man of my counsel from a far country.I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;    I have purposed, and I will do it.

God is the Great “I AM” who will do what He pleases, regardless of our approval. He is God…we are not. That’s a fact you really don’t want to forget.

The Extent of God’s Providence

Put simply, the sovereignty of God is universal, meaning that it extends to all of creation.  The following is just a small listing of some of the major areas of God’s control:

1. “Natural events”

These are events that have an immediate identifiable “scientific” cause like weather.  We can explain the processes of how the rainbow is made and clouds form and weather patterns and systems.  Scripture says, though, that God is the one who created the systems we see at work.  Check out Job 37:6-13

6 For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour.7 He seals up the hand of every man, that all men whom he made may know it.8 Then the beasts go into their lairs, and remain in their dens.9 From its chamber comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds.10 By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast.11 He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning.12 They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world.13 Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen.

2. The Animal Kingdom.

God is the Creator and Sustainer of all living creatures as we see in Psalm 104: 24-30:

24 O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.25 Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.26 There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.[b]27 These all look to you, to give them their food in due season.28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.30 When you send forth your Spirit,[c] they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.

3. The affairs and leaders of nations. 

This one might stretch your belief in the control of God in this area when you thing of the condition of the world.  Yet, nothing is going to happen outside of God’s oversight.  More about that a little further down.  Keep reading.
Job 12:23-25

23 He makes nations great, and he destroys them;
he enlarges nations, and leads them away.
24 He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth
and makes them wander in a trackless waste.
25 They grope in the dark without light,
and he makes them stagger like a drunken man.

Acts 17: 24-26

24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,[c] 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,

Proverbs 21:1 (love this one!)

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
he turns it wherever he will.

4. Extends even to the bad things that happen

Probably nothing illustrates this point more than the account of Joseph.  As a teenager, he is sold into slavery to some Egyptians due to jealousy.  After years in captivity and because of the blessing of God, he’s promoted to second in command of all of Egypt!  How’s that for climbing the corporate ladder?  Now, look at what happened when he comes face-to-face with his brothers for the first time as they have come to Egypt for food:

Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
Genesis 45:4-9

Don’t misinterpret this. This doesn’t mean that God caused the evil that led Joseph’s brothers to want to kill him or ultimately sell him into slavery, but because of His providential, sovereign control, it means He can use the most vile people (even the Devil, Himself, as He did in Job) to bring about His purpose.  This is the emphasis behind Romans 8:28:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[a] for those who are called according to his purpose.

5. God’s providence extends even to things that appear to be chance.

This deals with the question of “luck”.  I think Proverbs 16:33 is one of the coolest passages:

The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the Lord.

Now take a look at this in action in Acts 1:21-25

21So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

OK, we have to stop for a second and unpack this a little.  Notice they didn’t just flippantly throw the dice and say, “well, let’s see how this works out….”  Further, they didn’t handle it democratically.

They prayed.

They wanted God’s choice and they knew they didn’t know who that was.  They didn’t want this to be who the majority of them wanted, but, believing Proverbs 16:33, they asked God to choose by controlling the roll…and they cast the lots.

Implications

There are at least two important implications to the extensive providence of God in the world:

1. Nothing happens outside of either God’s prescriptive will (God directly causes or “prescribes” that something happens) or His permissive will (God allows or “permits” something to happen) will. If He doesn’t want it to happen, it WILL NOT happen.  However, due to the fallen condition of man as a result of our sinful fall, evil happens in the world and God often allows it to happen.  Through it, though, God has a purpose that will, in some way, ultimately glorify Himself.

2. Fate or luck does not exist. Nothing happens by chance.  Uh…period.

Responding to God’s Providence

1. Humbly
OK, one more time, in case we didn’t get a grip on this point earlier:  He is God and you are not. It really doesn’t matter if you like the idea of providence or not. As Paul said, in Romans 9, “Who are you, O Man, to answer back to God.” This does not mean we do not make willing choices, but if Scripture is true in light of a king’s heart being as a stream of water in the hand of the Lord so that He turns it any way He wishes as He did with Pharoah in dealing with the Children of Israel, then we have to ask, “Who formed our will to make those choices?

You do something because you want to. Does that eliminate God from giving you a particular “want to?” Can’t He convince you of your desires and even shape them…even if you don’t even realize it so that it is what you want to do more than anything?  I mean something shapes your desires, right?  Do you prefer some mindless force or blind circumstances, alone, to do it?  Would you not rather the good and gracious God influence you?  Are we really that naive as to think anything or anyone can do better than God?  Does He not have rightful control over those whom He has made? Again, Romans 9, verse 20, Paul argues, “Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay….?

This should not be something that we should want to fight against unless we are hell-bent on our own autonomy which is what led to the fall of man in the first place. God’s providence ensures us that God will bring about His good purpose, despite our most valiant efforts to the contrary!

Nothing illustrates this better than one of the two times Abraham tried to pass his wife, Sarah, off as his sister to the leaders of the land.  He did this because she was beautiful and he feared he would be killed in order to get to his wife.  Here’s a brief account of what happened from Genesis 20:

Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” 4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

Look at that.  God didn’t let the king sin.  He stepped in and kept the sin from happening even though the king wanted Sarah.  God was like, “No, you don’t. You just think you do. You’re not going to do it.”  Now, could the king still have gone through with it?  Seems clear he could have because God gave a pretty stern warning if he proceeded, but do you really think there was a practical option for the king?  Do you actually think the king wasn’t going to be convinced by that?  Yeah…not happening.

2. Thankfully
We’re not victims to some blind and uncaring fate or chance. God has a plan and will see that plan through completely. I’m thankful for that!  I go back to Isaiah 46:9-11:

I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
11 calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.

3. Boldly
God’s will is going to be done. This should remove fear from our lives.  Check out what Jesus said in Matthew 10: 28-31:

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.[g] 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?[h] And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

If God calls you to do something (which should be confirmed through His Word along with godly counsel according to His Word), then you can pursue it with confidence.

4. Worshipfully
God’s providence in the world is reason for God to be worshiped and adored (you’ve heard of prayers of adoration, right?).  He is worthy to be worshiped for being GOOD and IN CONTROL!  For either one of those two characteristics to be lacking would be catastrophic for us.

Read what Jonathan Edwards in his sermon, “God’s Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men”, said about worshiping God because of his sovereignty:

Our Lord Jesus Christ praised and glorified the Father for the exercise of his sovereignty in the salvation of men. Matt. 11:25,26. ‘I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.’ Let us therefore give God the glory of his sovereignty, as adoring him, whose sovereign will orders all things, beholding ourselves as nothing in comparison with him.

Be encouraged!  Even though it seems as though this world is getting crazier and more out of control, it’s not out of God’s control.  Everything that He has purposed will come to be.  You can bet on it.

Plan B

I like a backup plan.  Sometimes I feel I need a backup plan.  OK, I always feel like I need a backup plan.  Maybe you do, too.  After all, who’s gonna jump from an airplane without at least two rip cords, right?  

The question I want to ponder a little bit is this: Is it bad to have a “Plan B”?  Is it good planning or is there something deeper, at least for the disciple of Christ?  Is it sin?  Hm, that seems a little harsh, at best.  Consider something I ran across while reading in Ezra (8:21-23):

I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. 22 For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

Let’s analyze that a little bit: Ezra proclaimed a fast for a specific reason…well, two, really, but one was primary (and it might not be the one you would think).  One reason was for their protection.  That’s important. It’s clearly not wrong to pray for protection on a trip, but that’s not the primary reason.  His greatest concern was his testimony before the king.  He had been declaring the importance of faith in God (notice the condition: “those who seek Him”), now if he calls for a plan B (“hey, just in case God doesn’t come through, could you give us a couple of escorts?”), it would totally undermine his testimony of faith in God.  In other words, Ezra saw the importance of practicing what he preached!

After fasting and praying (not just assuming God’s protection), he then declared that God heard their prayer…before they ever left! He demonstrated his faith in God at the onset, knowing he didn’t need a plan B.  Look at what he said again: “So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” (verse 23).  Then they headed out.  

Now, skip down to verse 31 and see Ezra’s testimony of what God did after the journey:

31 Then we departed from the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way. 

I have to admit, there are many times I start off the way Ezra did, asking for God’s protection, then work out my contingency plan just in case.  That is nothing short of a lack of faith in God’s protection and deliverance.  Think about it this way:  What if by my disobedience, my plan puts me out of the will of God?  After all, is my safety the utmost in God’s mind?  What if, in spite of my request for safety, God is most glorified (which is my highest desire) by me not being delivered?  There are certainly plenty of accounts in history that demonstrate that.  The most important thing for me should be to be in the center of His will, so that whatever happens to me, I’m OK in His eternal care and He’s glorified.

So, do you find yourself looking for “Plan B”?  Do you trust God enough to pray for protection, believing that He will come through, but OK with whatever He chooses to do in and with your life?  That takes a lot of faith, doesn’t it?  My encouragement to the Christ-followers is to realize that faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9) and that if you aren’t able to trust Him to that extent, start asking Him for it.

Planning isn’t a bad thing.  As a matter of fact, Proverbs teaches us repeatedly to do that very thing.  However, if our plans start undermining trust in the strong hand of the Lord, our trust in the “reserve chute” will lead us right into a deeper form of danger than anything we’ll ever face in our day-to-day lives.  That is living (and dying) outside the will and protection of God. It will be then that we find that pulling that second cord doesn’t work either.

A Little Halloween Surprise

Just discovered a little tidbit about one of the scariest “Halloween” movies of all time, The Exorcist.  Turns out it was never intended to be a horror story (Wha?! No, really.) but a story to encourage faith in God.  Seriously.  Here’s what the author, William Peter Blatty, said in his own words:

[T]he humiliating God’s-honest truth of the matter is that while I was working on “The Exorcist,” what I thought I was writing was a novel of faith in the popular dress of a thrilling and suspenseful detective story – in other words, a sermon that no one could possibly sleep through — and to this day I haven’t the faintest recollection of any intention to frighten the reader, which many will take, I suppose, as an admission of failure on an almost stupefying, scale. 

Yeah, well, intentional or not, he did scare the Linda Blair out of all of us…that is, if you saw it, which…of course…I never did. ahem.

Blatty went on to explain the motivation behind the madness by saying that, though he participates in the fun aspect of Halloween, he really wishes more people would get it.

Oh well, sure: every year on the date I put out the pumpkin with the cutout eyes and nose and face and the basket full of Snickers and Mars Bars beside it; but I do keep wishing – oh, ever so wistfully and – let’s face it, hopelessly – that “The Exorcist” be remembered at this time of the year for being not about shivers but rather about souls, for then it would indeed be in the real and true spirit of Halloween, which is short for the eve of All Hallows or All Saints Day. 

It seemed to all start for Blatty while in college at Georgetown, hearing about a real account of demon posession, decided that, “Someday, somebody’s got to write about this, because if an investigation were to prove that possession is real, what a help it would be to the struggling faith of possibly millions, for if there were demons, I reasoned, then why not angels? Why not God?”

I have to admit that there is a great deal of nobility in that desire, though, as Blatty himself has admitted, it didn’t seem to work. Nevertheless, for those of us who have an understanding that the greatest reality is the one we cannot see (yet!) with out eyes, we know that demons are, indeed, real, but that more powerful than even the strongest demonic spirit is the almighty God that Blatty was trying to encourage people to consider.  Even so, I am thankful that I can declare that “He that is in me is greater than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) What a great comfort whether I’m watching a movie about the reality of demons or experiencing the results of their work in the world around me, I need not fear…Christ is enough.

Happy Reformation Day! 😉

Full article here.

This is perhaps the most incredible video I have ever seen.  I cannot encourage you enough to watch it.  It’s well-worth the 33:03 you will invest…and watch it to the end!  You are encouraged to share this with as many people as possible.  There are some scenes that are graphic in nature so be advised.

Trusting When It Counts

Most of my married life has been one of uncertainty.  I’m not talking about my marriage, specifically, but rather the circumstances we have been in most of our life together.  Two years after Karen and I were married, we were called up to New England, uncertain of what we were to do, why specifically we were going or for how long we would be there.  I know that sounds strange, but it was a very Abrahamic experience: go and I will tell you later where and why.

As things turned out, it was the most incredible character-shaping and building eight-and-a-half years of either of our lives.  We were involved in so many different types of ministries and had opportunities to learn so many different things, that I can’t imagine life without that experience.  It’s where I finished my Master of Divinity degree and where, as a church-planter, I was specifically called as a pastor (though I was called into ministry at age 15).  New England is where I fell in love with cross-cultural missions and apologetics and worldview studies.  It’s where I began to understand what it means to be a real friend, investing in people for years in order to reach their hearts (New Englanders aren’t called the “Frozen Chosen” for nothing).

Our time in New England is also where we were the most financially challenged.  In spite of Karen and I working throughout these ministry years in the northeast, we were often wondering how we would make our next house payment, how the bills would be paid, and how God was going to see us through.  We didn’t always know…but He always did.  There were times when, literally, money would come through the mail the day before a bill was due to be sent (one with the exact amount plus the exact change for the stamp!).

The point I am making is this: Faith isn’t faith until it’s put to the test.  We never know, fully in our own hearts, that God can be trusted until we really need to trust Him.  That isn’t to say that we don’t believe God is faithful in our hearts and heads prior to experience, but it is still theoretical until we experience it.  Sometimes, we walk into those experiences knowing that God will have to deliver us if we’re going to make it while other times, God does the pushing and prodding until He gets us to a place where we have no choice, only to teach us what it means to trust and to allow us the blessing of experiencing His all-sufficiency.

Most of us are in a situation right now, where it seems hard to see where things are going, economically, in these downward times.  After years of plenty (which, ironically, was when Karen and I were experiencing the least we’ve ever had), the economy has taken a dive and it is affecting everyone.  The question is how is everyone responding?  More importantly, how will I respond and how will you?

Here is where the rubber of your faith meets the road of your experience.  Is God to be trusted?  Are you going to trust Him when there is no safety net?  Our we going to declare with the Psalmist, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (Ps 91:1-2)?  Is He still God when the 401K dries up and the stock market ebbs and flows, when the savings runs out and when the bills continue to increase?

Sorry...couldn't resist. dp

Like John Piper recently expressed, I’m not one who puts much (read: any!) stock in the prosperity Gospel.  I don’t believe that God simply wants to punch your financial ticket so that you never have to experience want.  It is exactly those experiences that God most often uses to shape us into what He wants us to be.  Why would He short-circuit the process of preparing you for eternity just so you can experience the lap of luxury in this temporal environment?

So, should we expect more difficulty?  Probably.  Is God still in control? Definitely.  Will we learn through it? Hopefully.  I am praying for myself, my family and my friends and my church, that we will trust God when there is plenty and when there is uncertainty, just the same as though there is no different.

Paul said in Philippians 4:19-20, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Look at what that says:

God will supply (HE is the source and the provider).

all your needs (with the exception of nothing that you NEED, not necessarily want).

– according to HIS riches in glory in Christ Jesus (He has all of the resources that flow through our relationship with Christ)

– God gets the glory!

– Amen…so be it.

Trust is not easy.  I don’t like to put my hope in what I cannot see, but I’ve seen that that which I can see cannot always be trusted and God has given us His glorious promises to reveal to us that He will not drop us.  He can be trusted.  The question is will He be?

The God of Manasseh

To read the account of King Manasseh of Judah is absolutely amazing in regards to the mercy of God. Manasseh literally did everything he could to provoke God to fury. Reading about his faithlessness and sin toward God is like watching a fatal train crash in slow motion. I found myself actually getting angry at him myself as it was told of him going so far as burning his own sons as sacrifices to idols. How could God ever forgive someone for something so vile?! Besides that, he “led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.”  Seriously??  God spoke to them and they refused to listen and “he did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.”

MercyAnd yet…

There’s that phrase…and yet. It often follows when talking about God. I can read about the horrible way God’s people act and of how faithless we can be, then follows, and yet.

Manasseh was entirely faithless…completely faithless, AND YET God was faithful. The following is a remarkable passage in light of Manasseh’s depth of depravity:

12 And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.13 He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God. (emphasis mine)

Look at that! God was moved by his entreaty and forgave him. Is there really no depths from which God cannot restore? Is there really no one too far gone that God cannot bring back. If God can bring Manasseh to restoration after such amazingly depraved actions, surely there is hope for anyone.  There is hope for us.

The Lord, my God, is an alarmingly merciful God. Yes, a God of justice and judgment, but of mercy and grace. Thank you, Father, for your abundant and sufficient loving-kindness. Your mercy endures forever!

Do, Do, Do, Do, Do, Do, Do, Do, Do

I am guilty. I didn’t know I was guilty until I stopped long enough to consider it and then it hit me. Yeah…I’m guilty. Of course, if I’d considered it earlier, I would have understood the depth of my guilt, but as it is, I was too busy to get it. I get it now.  I’m too busy.  That’s it.

I don’t think I’m the only one who is guilty.  You’re probably guilty, too.  Of course, you are taking the time to read this, though that can be just another sign that you’re guilty.  I guess it depends, doesn’t it?

There used to be a great exercise…a discipline, really, that great men and women used to engage in long ago.  Some still consider it a necessity, but on most, it is a lost art form; a craft long since abandoned as we have bowed to the ever-powerful god of the full schedule.  That great lost comodity is the ability and the practice of Thought.  Deep thought…extensive thought…meaningful thought.

Why have we given up on thinking?  Well, first, one might say that we haven’t; we think all the time.  If we didn’t think, we wouldn’t function.  True on the most shallow level of thought.  Real thinking, though, is taking time to consider, to contemplate, to roll things through our mind undisturbed by the outer world until we come to a conclusion.  It is considering the state of the world, the state of our souls or the state of Man.  It is wrestling with a problem until a solution is reached.  It is asking the greater and deeper questions about life and God and the human condition and staying with it until there has been progress made towards understanding (even if we never fully get it).  That is “Thinking,” and to answer my earlier question, we have given up on it for at least three reasons:  we’re too busy, it takes work, and it’s unproductive.

Now, I’m not going to tackle the first two in-depth for the sake of space, but I will a little on the last one because it goes to the state of our minds and, for lacking of a better word, our thinking. I’ll talk about it in the first person, because I am the one here who is guilty…not you (?).

I get so busy (sometimes for busynesses sake) with life and ministry and all of the other stuff in life that I fail to build in time to just think.  I always have to have noise.  There needs to be something going on.  I feel as though if I’m not doing something, I am being unproductive.  I need to produce something…results! We are a results-driven culture and if we do not produce those results, we have wasted time…been un-productive, the greatest sin of all in our society.

I counter that thinking first pragmatically.  Quite simply, great thoughts produce great ideas, which in turn, produce great results.  Without great thoughts there will be bad ideas, and substandard results.  Perhaps there would be better production if we valued “think-time” enough to actually build it into our schedule!

Secondly, on a more holistic level, we become better people when we value the time of contemplation.  Constant noise leads to inner chaos and emaciated souls.  When we fail to cultivate the mind, we are shallow, weak-minded and under-developed.  The great leaders throughout history have always been great thinkers…men and women who valued the inner life and actively shut out the noise of the world to consider the drama being played out in their own souls.

These are things that I know; I understand deeply.  Yet I’m guilty.  I know that I will be a better husband, father, pastor…person if I will simply but intentionally build in time every day…every single day for contemplation.  On some days, it needs to be extensive.  On other days, it may just be ten minutes (and I’m talking here about in addition to any devotional time).  This is not a waste of time if I am truly contemplating life; if I’m asking tough questions about myself or the world at large; about life and relationship and suffering and solutions.  Great thoughts lead to great solutions, and I want to be a “solver.”  I want to be a great leader.  Maybe I will be or maybe I won’t be, but I bet the answer to that question is certain if I fail to be a Thinker!

the_thinker1

On The Election

For the last two weeks at church, we’ve been discussing both the will of God and the Kingdom of God. This week we have a new president. Some are happy about that while others, well, not so much. The question I want to ask is, “Did the will of God occur?” I think the way you answer that will affect what your attitude will be in light of the results. There are basically two possibilities:

If you believe the will of God can be thwarted by man and you were not an Obama supporter, you’re likely to spend the next four years (at least) with a generally bad attitude, over-looking accomplishments and rejoicing with every mistake. The question we then must ask is whether or not that brings honor to Christ.

If, on the other hand, you believe that either God’s prescriptive will (that He ordained Obama’s election for His purpose) or His permissive will (that God allowed it to happen for His purpose) was done, then you will respond very differently, most likely spending time sincerely praying for this president and asking God to fulfill all that He wants to see happen with our Country through this leader.

It seems clear there is a different outcome, depending on your view of God’s will. Now, I understand that there are some who hold that God simply steps out of the way and permits us to do anything we want through a total freedom of our will. Though there is some biblical merit to the ability to disobey God’s directive through our freedom, clearly there are limits and it is a dangerous thing to make Man sovereign and reject both God’s right and ability to over-rule that will when He chooses. To get there, one must ignore a great deal of Scripture that speaks to the contrary. We must remember that “in his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9, NIV). I take great comfort in that! The greatest thing I can offer my children is not absolute freedom, but the assurance that I am in control and will protect them and guide them. I’m glad I have an omnipotent Dad who feels the same way.

I believe in and glory in what Paul said: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1, italics added). Interestingly, Paul made no exceptions and was clear that God holds absolute authority and raises up power according to His purpose (and Paul was speaking within the context and setting of the Roman Empire!). Remember how many times God raised up powers to rule over His people throughout biblical history? Though they may have been ungodly rulers, God had ordained it for His purpose and His people were to respect that authority (because of who they were rather than who the leaders were). Usually, through those rulers, God was determining His people’s steps, driving them back to Himself in spite of their rebellious will . He is a loving, caring, and sovereign Lord. You must decide if you believe that or not, but it will give you great peace and comfort if you do.

Finally, the Kingdom of God comes into play because of our citizenship. Because you are ambassadors for Christ in a world in which you do not belong, I want to encourage you to look at this from a Kingdom perspective. Determine that you are going to be “strangers in a strange land” whose mission is to bring glory to Christ and to reach out in love and compassion to all people, regardless of which side of the political “aisle” they support and pray for this Country, respecting and pray for this President. For some, it may be a difficult assignment, but I believe Christ will be honored.

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