"God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him in the midst of loss, not prosperity." --John Piper

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Romans 2:4

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

When we presume, we make an assumption based upon our own thoughts, rather than taking in the sum of the evidence. For instance, we might presume that someone has good or bad intentions in an action, based on our previous experience with that person. Many times, if we do not have any previous experience with that person we might then base our presumptions on similar types of persons. This is called stereotyping, and while in some instances might be correct, it is unfair to judge someone by the acts of others.

In this verse, presumptions are being made about God. If I were God, I would not hold someone accountable for their mistakes, because I would be a kind and loving God. Or since God has shown me a kindness in this area, He will also show me kindness and grace in all areas.

I want to take a look at the word "forbearance." It carries the meaning of tolerance or self-restraint. So then God has shown us kindness and self-restraint and patience. If someone restrains themselves from doing something, can we expect that to continue no matter what? Even in turning the other cheek, do we believe that that is appropriate in every instance? When we restrain ourselves, we look past our desires so that we might help others for their ultimate good. I might restrain myself from telling someone what I really think in order not to hurt their feelings. But yet there are other times when it is appropriate to voice my feelings for their good. Or I might restrain myself in dealing with my children in some ways, but I will not restrain myself in dealing with them in every way.

God is kind, and He restrains Himself from punishing us when we deserve it. He does this because in His grace, He desires that we come to salvation in Christ where the price for that punishment has been paid. His purpose is not to condone or forget the offense, but rather that we repent and turn from that offense.

So don't make the presumption that God will continue to dismiss your sins, so you can just continue to live in them. That might be how we want it to work, but that is not how God works. God's kindness has a purpose.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Romans 1:16-17

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
  • For I am not ashamed of the gospel This might sound like a silly or obvious thing to say, but I wonder how well we realy understand what it means to not be ashamed of the Gospel. Because it is not the same thing as being ashamed that we go to church. In fact, it might just mean the opposite. Sometimes church is all about our works and righteousness and what we do. The Gospel is all about what God has already done. It is a state of humility rather than a state of pride. It is me saying that I want Jesus, not saying Jesus wants me. It is falling at God's feet and worshipping rather than worshipping and expecting him to take notice.
  • because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes This is just a continuation of the previous thought. To really get the Gospel we must understand that God brings salvation, he rescues us from the depths of sin and destruction. This gift is offered to all who will believe it.
  • first to the Jew, then to the Gentile I admit, I struggle with this. Does it mean that the Jews are His first choice, or is this simple stating the chronologically, salvation was first offered to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles? I like this understanding, because it shows that God is a God of providence and a God of order, and it makes it less about me and more about Him.
  • For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed It is not my righteousness, but Christ's righteousness that is imparted to me.
  • a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith So what does it mean that it is by faith? Another word for this is fidelity, so I immediately think of marriage and what it means to be "faithful." Again, I see it as a result of falling in love and making a pledge to another that no matter what, you will be true. In sickness and in health. In good times and in bad. My fidelity is not based on circumstance, but it is the foundation of the relationship.
Praise God for the Gospel, the good news. So now my life begins to revolve around this truth. This is the basis for how I respond in all circumstance. It is why I go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, why I carry my cross. It is because I will live by faith, I will maintain my fidelity no matter what.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Romans 1:5

Romans 1:5 "Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith."

I have decided that I will get a little more devotional in writing for a while. No particular pattern, but I will attempt to stay on a "Gospel" theme.
I decided to start with Paul, and just 5 verses into Romans and what a verse. So much packed into one verse.
  • Through Him I did not do it, it was done through Christ. He did what not even Moses (the law) and Samuel (the priesthood, man) could do, He stood before God and God took notice. (Jeremiah 15:1-2) I must forever recognize my dependence on Christ alone.
  • and for his name's sake I am not at the center of God's world, He is at the center of His world, and for that I am so thankful. Imagine putting the imperfect and making it the cause of all that God does. That would make his actions imperfect. But He is at the center of all that He does, and all He does is right. And when I put Him at the center of all that I do, then I am right. This is not legalism, putting obedience or law at the center, but putting Him at the center, worshipping Him, loving Him, responding to Him.
  • we have received grace We have been gifted by God to know Him and to love him. Another word for grace is favor. The same word the angels spoke to Mary when they told her she would be the mother of the Christ. As Christians, we are also highly favored by God, that He has revealed Himself to us through His Son. This is an honor that we do not deserve, but one which we must respond to. When we see that the favor of God rests upons us, should we not also respond as Mary did, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." (Luke 2:38)
  • and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles With grace comes responsibility. When Mary saw the favor that God had given her, she also accepted the task He placed before her with a humble, obedient attitude. When Saul met the Lord on the road to Damascus, his life was forever changed by the recognition of God's grace and favor. God does not save us to a life of ease and comfort, He does not save us for our own sake, but does it for His sake. And the lives that we then must live should also be for His sake. (Isaiah 43:25) Perhaps this is the reason Jesus told His disciples the importance of counting the cost of discipleship. (Matthew 16:24) The thought of picking up a cross surely must have been vile and digusting to His audience. But what better way to get the message of humility and acceptance of a task across that to make it a task that is so burdensome one could not take it on without dependance on God?
  • to the obedience that comes from faith. Not just obedience, or not obedience for the sake of obedience, but the obedience from faith that God has placed his grace and favor upon us, and we respond out of reverence and awe rather than a sense of obligation and duty.
That is the message of the Gospel, that God's favor can once again rest on man, not because of what man has done to earn that favor, but because of Christ alone. He did it and we respond in faith. We respond to seeing His favor resting on us, we respond by accepting the call that He has laid out, a call to deny self, pick up our cross, and follow Christ.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Can you say that any louder?

At one time in my dark and dismal past, I was an over-the-road truck driver. For about 8 months I worked for a company that would send me just about anywhere. I hated staying at truck stops because of the stuff that sometimes goes on there, but did one some occasions, as some states don't have enough good places to stay, and some do not let you park in rest areas for long or on ramps. Some even frown on parking at delivery points for the night, if they are too close to residential areas.

So it was Sunday, and I was at a truck stop, can't recall where or what kind, but it was in hte south somewhere. They had signs up that there was a church service in the morning, so I made plans to attend, which I did. There were maybe about 4-5 drivers in the room when the "hosts" arrived, a family of about 5. They quickly got down to business, introducing themselves and we sang a song or two. Then came the sermon. It was given by the son, who seemed to be in his early teens. I don't recall the topic or a word that was said, but I do recall the volume. It was LOUD, from start to finish. Over-the-top, in-your-face loud, hell-fire and brimstone. I remember wanting to leave, but not being sure that was the right thing to do.

All I could wonder was, what were the other drivers thinking? Were they believers already, or was this a first church experience for one or more of them.

When it was over, the family left as quickly as they had come. I think the rest just sat there in shock for a few moments, and then left without saying a word.

As I look back at it today, it saddens me more now than it did then. How does it make you feel?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tough Questions 5

Found this here.

I think this is why people struggle with God. It is not God so much as it is those who say they are his children, we really are a terrible mirror. So my prayer is that they might be able to look past us, to see Jesus.

Tough Questions 4

Can you define an experiment to verify miracles?

I think this kinda defines the mentality of those who "look for signs." (Matthew 12:38-42)

I wonder if a sign were given, would they worship Him, or would they continue to argue? "Now that I know you are real, God, let's talk about starving children, the Middle East, racial discrimination, slavery, etc. I don't like the way you have arranged things here...

He is God. He is totally in charge. He is worthy of all praise. He is perfection. Why do we think we have better answers?

Proof or not, one day we will know, and on that day there will be no more questions. On that day he will answer it all in one moment when he reveals himself to us. On that day, every knee will bow in awe and fear. So I pray for those, who on that day will know, but it will be too late. I pray for those who demand a sign where none will be given.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tough Questions #3

Is empirical evidence the only reliable evidence?

First, what is empirical evidence?

Empirical evidence is that which is directly observable. If you were in a courtroom, it would be the highest level of evidence, such as footprints at the scene of the crime, or better yet, video at the scene of the crime.

Unfortunately, such evidence does not always exist. So in order for a jury to come to an informed decision, other types of evidence is given. To say that belief in God is unjustified because of a lack of empirical evidence is like saying a criminal should go free unless there is video evidence or other such proof positive.

In a courtroom, each juror is expected to determine guilt or innocence based on the "facts" presented. People on juries don't always agree. But I expect that in most cases, one side or the other is right. I am a bit put off when people say that evidence for God is "insufficient." Perhaps if one only considers empirical evidence, but not if one considers all evidence. I understand that not everyone might agree with each person's choice, but that does not mean that the evidence is insufficient.

Science is constantly changing its position based on changing evidence. So science must admit that even a decision based on empirical evidence cannot be completely trusted, as new, previously unknown facts become available. Yet science shudders when it is said that it takes things on faith.

I love science. I think we have gained a wealth of helpful knowledge from science. I just don't think that science is the only answer, or the only way to an answer.

By the way, has science ever figured out what makes a bumble bee fly? I was just wondering...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tough Questions 2

Continuing the last post, here is another of the questions that were asked.

"Why did God create the universe 13.72 billion years ago and wait to tell some desert people in some insignificant planet to tell the story?"

You say that I have blind faith? Were you here 13.72 billion years ago to know that is when the earth was created? Or have you done all of the tests yourself so that you can trust the empirical data? Or do you just take the word of those who have said that it is so? Seems like 13.72 billion years ago is a pretty specific number. Are you sure it wasn't 15.82, or 254.9, or maybe just 2 billion? I think we choose what we want to have faith in.

Let me ask this, how long was it supposed to take? I really don't see God as being in a hurry since he had all of eternity to get the job done. What if the earth were created 10,000 years ago? Would that have made a difference? Not to a God to whom time has no meaning. Personally, I love the idea that he could have taken such a long time to lovingly craft a universe so complex and amazing. But I also believe that because of his immense power, he could have just as easily done it in 7 literal days, including taking the last day to just rest and admire it.

I think we want to put God in a corner, so that he is forced to explain himself to us. But that isn't going to happen. You see, if you look for the center of the universe, we are not in it. I believe that is intentional. The sun does not revolve around the earth, although I am told that at one time man believed that it did. That is what the evidence led him to believe.

Hebrews 2:6 "But there is a place where someone has testified: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him?"

Do we really think that God owes us anything, even an explanation? Sure it might be nice, but he owes us nothing. Whatever he gives and whoever he gives it to is up to him. Some people don't want to worship a God like that. That is their choice. A choice given by that God. Or by the universe. Take your pick.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tough Questions

I was on a friend's blog, and happened upon a post written a while ago that I had not read, regarding comments made by an anonymous person in regard to a post on Stephen Hawking's Spontaneous Creation.

I enjoyed the banter that the post created, and thought I would tackle some of those issues for a few posts.

The first question asked is, "Who created God?"

In the tradition of Eastern teachers, let me respond with some questions of my own...

Which is easier to believe, that the universe has always been here, or that God has always been? Both take faith. If we say that the universe came into existence at some point, then we still have to answer the question, Where did it get its materials? Why can someone not accept that God did not have to be created, but can accept that the universe did not have to be created?

Many times when someone is debating such issues, they will say things like, "According to our current understanding of ..." So I will ask another question. How much understanding of the universe do we really have? 10%? I doubt it. Have you really considered the size of the universe? 1%? I still doubt it. We would probably like to think we know more than that, but how would we know? What if there are other substances on those planets, how would we know? Didn't we use to think that the universe was infinite, but know I hear people say that there are other universes out there. Have we just changed our definitions? We do like to shrink things to make us look bigger. Just ask God.

How does the finite understand the infinite? I believe the answer is that it can't. It can only understand within the limits of its own knowledge. And I am starting to guess that even with all of today's technological genius, that we haven't yet come close to even a 1% understanding the infinite, both God and the universe.

I will end with one last question. What do you want most out of life? I think if most people were honest, they would say "to know that this is not all there is."  If we knew, I think that would change things. And maybe that is exactly why we don't know. If there is a God, He gets to make the rules.

I know what my daughter wants for Christmas. It is a doll that used to belong to her grandma, my mom, who died before my daughter turned 1. She has begged, pleaded, and even took out her change purse and offered to buy the doll. I know that one day soon it will be hers. I look forward to the joy she finds when that gift is finally given to her. I think that the waiting maybe even will increase her joy when it is received. But for today, I get to make the rules. Not that I lord that over her, but I think there is prudence in waiting for the right time.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

There is a certain amount of humility in admitting that we don't know it all. I'm okay with that.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gospel wimps

I love how Jesus interacts with people. He handles each person in a unique and loving, yet often firm and challenging way.

Take the woman at the well. Jesus engages her. She thought this was inappropriate, for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. But Jesus was never one to worry about what people thought was appropriate. (I could talk for hours on that topic alone...why is it we try to talk people into becoming Christians by only highlighting the good parts? Nevermind...)

Then he baffles her by offering a water that is better than the water she has. He curiosity is piqued. She wants to know more.

Then he informs her. The water he speaks of is eternal. What an awesome picture. Imagine, never thirsting again. I want that!

Now he confronts her. If you want this, go get your husband. What is that you say? You have no husband? What about that guy you are sleeping with?

Then he informs her again. True worshippers must worship in spirit and truth.

What? No slide shows? No powerpoints? No invitiation to just give him her life? No altar call? No drama? Just confrontation and information? Just truth and authority? That would never work today...

I fear that we have become a generation of Gospel wimps, believing that we must "sell" Jesus to the masses, so we package him up in the prettiest paper with a nice shiny bow on top. Give your life to Jesus and all will be well, you will be on the track to paradise.

FINE PRINT: Giving your life to Jesus might require you to surrender all. Just shaking the pastors hand and getting baptized in no guarentee of salvation. God is the final judge in all matters eternal, and the decision of the judge is final. If you are not satisfied with his judgment, no refund of offerings will be given, and no compensation for time spent volunteering. The invitation is not intended to be a complete explanation of what salvation entails. For further instructions regarding all things regarding God and salvation, read the Bible. Batteries not included.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Kids believe the darndest things

I teach in an elementary school.

One thing that always amazes me is how kids think about God. Kids that I think have no church exposure or relationship at all know about God. And if you question their belief they are quick to show you their offense. No guilt, no second guessing. They believe.

John 3:36 "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but hte wrath of God remains on him."

Why did Jesus make the switch? At first he says we must believe. I am okay with that. I made a confession in front of the church, so I am in, right?

But then he says that "whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life." Why add obedience. I was okay at believe. Sure, I don't act like those school kids, sometimes I get a little embarrassed when it comes t omy faith. I don't always get offended or come to your defense. Maybe I even second guess sometimes.

Just how far do you want me to take this?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Come to the Happy Place!

I have been listening to some Francis Chan lately. For such a mild tone, he speaks powerful words.

One of the things that struck me most was the church as a "Happy Place." A place where we invite people in, make them feel comfortable, and tell them how much God will bless them if they give their life to him.

Or to put it bluntly, we lie.

It is not that God won't bless them, but it is the perception of HOW He will bless them that is missleading.

Jesus spent a lot of his ministry shooing people away. Saying things like, "If you want to follow me you have to pick up your cross" surely did not appeal to the masses. Or walking the extra mile, or turning the other cheek...

Why do we seem to preach from the same verses over and over to the neglect of the cost and the cross?

We offer an invitiation to the Happy Place, smile and extend a hand and tell them they are now "one of us." But what if I don't want to be one of them?

To quote Keith Green, "I want to, I need to, be more like Jesus." I don't want to go to the Happy Place, take me to the cross. The cross is where I can worship Him, where I can cry over His death and my sin. The cross is where I am broken in to pieces and healed by the Master. The cross is my redemption, and it is not a happy place.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Always look on the bright side of life...

I have had this song ringing in my head lately, the Monty Python tune, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

I know that some might find the following video clip sacreligious. It is from an old movie, "Life of Brian." As I remember it, it is about a man named Brian whose life parallels Christ's, only he is just a mere human. The song comes into play as several people are hung on crosses, and one starts telling Brian that he should not be so down.

Is that not a parable of the church?

We live in the midst of a world that is literally going to hell, and we fool ourselves into thinking that God is interested in our comfort. Do we really believe that a few dollars in an offering plate (or any amount for that matter) and a few hours devoted to God is our ticket to heaven?

Perhaps that is what we look like to the rest of the world, a bunch of people on crosses telling others to look on the bright side, while we smile and whistle happy tunes.

Here's a look at the video if you are interested...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How do you interpret this?

John 3:27 To this John replied, "A person can receive only what is given them from heaven."

John had been called to prepare the way for the Messiah. He had gained quite a following, and had ticked off quite a few as well. I imagine John as loving what he was called to do, a real outdoors kinda guy, full of fire and passion for God. Now things were changing. People were going over to listen to and follow Jesus. John understood this. He understood that this is why he came. He understood that God was in charge. Maybe most importantly, John knew he was not the Messiah.

The Scripture goes on to say that John was even full of joy.

What? How could he be? Didn't he fear the unemployment line? His flock was leaving him. What did his future hold? (I doubt he really understood the full impact of what his future held at this point.)

I believe John understood that God was in control. I think he understood that we get what God gives us, and therefore we live in the moment, and leave the future to God. He understood that it was Jesus who gets the glory.

I need to understand this.