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Friday, November 7, 2014

When God Weeps

    I just started reading a book by authors Jodi Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes called "When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty".  If you don't know who Jodi is she became wheelchair bound in 1967 due to an accident.  She has become a prolific author and speaker and often speaks about suffering.  In the first chapter of her book, she talks about those who her organization helped with bringing wheelchairs and crutches to those who needed them in Africa.  She talked about those who lived on the streets and yet appeared to have a joy that so many in America are missing.
     Jodi's story is one that I ran across early on in my christian life because one of the most puzzling and profound questions in my early christian life was the problem of evil.  What I mean is, that there are some godless, evil people in the world who appear to have it all and others who bear up under unbelieveable pain and misery quietly and with a confidence in God.  You see the rich person who is fat and happy and has all the money they need in the bank and never has a day of pain.  Then there is the faithful church attender whose husband leaves her or whose children abandon her in her time of need.  Life seems horribly unfair at times in case you haven't noticed. 
     I have to admit I don't think I would be one of the solid christian people who bear up under their pain without complaining.  The Lord knows I have it pretty good compared to most of the people of this world and I complain enough already.  The writings of the psalms are refreshing to me because they don't try to hide behind a false wall of piety and hypocrisy.  The psalmist complains loudly and with conviction.  If you look in Psalm 73 you see him complain about the very thing that I just mentioned.  The unfairness of the godless in prosperity while the righteous are hungry and thirsty and in need.  The psalmist writes
    "But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling; My steps had almost slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant, AS I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pains in their death and their body is fat. They are not in trouble as other men; . . . ."
     The psalmist goes on like this for a while and then we come to a pivotal section in  verse 17
     "Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end. Surely Thou dost cast them in slippery places; Thou doest cast them down to destruction." psalm 73: 17-18, NASV
     What I believe he was saying there is that his perspective changes on the situation when he entered the sanctuary.  He developed an eternal perspective.  He saw that the rich and prosperous in the world's eyes were getting all of their riches now.  While the righteous might lose out on those temporal riches, but their reward would come later and be eternal. 
      And so it goes.  The rich and famous are so often seen in magazines and movies, but in real life actually don't appear much happier than anyone else.  They seem to actually have just as many problems and have to deal with them in a much more public way than most of us.  They seem to have just as many divorces and family problems and other issues.  But, they are the ones who are getting all of their rewards now.  So, when this party is done then it is truly done forever for them.  It is all a matter of perspective.
     Of course, there are still many questions surrounding the problem of evil.  I can't wrap it all up for you in a small blog.  Life is messy and there are a great many questions that will cause us to ponder what God is up to at times.  Some situations that will cause us to have a crisis of faith at times and wonder if God is asleep at the wheel.  Perhaps a personal tragedy or problem in our life causes us to wonder where God is.  Again, I would repeat that the psalmist complained loudly and with passion to God.  It is right there in the Bible.  He didn't hide his complaint from God.  And God was big enough to take it.  I believe God appreciates a honest word of doubt and struggle given to him rather than a fake and false faith that has no depth.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The good shepherd

      Jesus gives us a number of what are called "I am" statements in the gospel of John.  Jesus says in John 11:25 "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies."  In John 14:6 he says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me."  John 15:1 says, "I am the true vine; and My Father is the vinedresser."  John 6:51 says, "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."  And then also the one I read in my devotions today, "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." John 10:11
       I thought about what that means that Jesus is the shepherd.  Shepherd are meant to protect and provide for the sheep.  They guide the sheep to known places of water and grass.  They protect the sheep from wolves and bears and other bigger predators.  Sheep need constant redirection because they can become lost.  All of these things Jesus is for the believer.  I need that firm hand to guide me. to correct me, to guide me, otherwise I will end up getting lost.  The Bible clearly says that if we rely on the flesh that we will not know the way.  That the way is actually Jesus himself and if anything else is guiding you whether it be your own sense of right and wrong or your own spirit then it will mislead you.
     As sheep, I may be prone to looking at the grass on the other hillside and think that looks better.  Or somehow think that I am missing out on something because I am not chasing after the world and its riches like other people. We live in what the Bible calls the "end times" and it is clear from what the Bible says that this time will be time when many will fall away from the faith and be misled.  Look in 1 Timothy 4:1-2
     "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared their own conscience as with a branding iron." 
    This is where we are today in many churches.  The pastors and churches of today in many cases are so worried about pleasing people and keeping the giving and attendance up that they pander to the crowds and tell them what they want to hear, instead of telling them what they need to hear.  Give them pop psychology and feel good messages instead of the truth, which may at times sting a little, but is meant to correct and guide the sheep back to flock.  We all need some correction at times.
     I like how it says in John 10:4-5 "When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. And a stronger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers,"   The Lord calls out his sheep by name vs3 knowing all of their unique characteristics and qualities and they know him.  I like especially how it says that he calls us by name.  The idea there being that by knowing our name he knows us intimately.  He knows where we are and he knows who we are.  He doesn't just call out a single command and say "let's go", but he singularly calls each one of us by name. 
      I need to remember to keep my eyes on the shepherd and not to wander off on some wild trail of my own.  I need to remember he knows best.  Jesus says in this same passage that "I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly." John 10:10.  Isn't that great.  As a believer, the true abundant life is the life where he is leading and I am following.  By following, I am missing out on nothing, but finding the real road to abundant life.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 1:3-4 "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all."

       So many times, when Paul wrote, he was responding to problems in churches.  The Corinthians had multiple problems and so did the Galatian church.  But, here in the epistle of Philippians Paul doesn't write due to a problem.  Rather, this is a church close to his heart and he wants to share news with them.  They are close to him and that is evident throughout this epistle.   He uses the word "joy" 19 times in just a few chapters.
       This word "joy" characterizes the feeling that Paul has when he thinks of this church.  It is a joy to pray for them.  Paul is so often characterized as harsh or demanding that we may lose sight of the fact that the bonds between him and the church are bonds of love and that joy is a primary element between them all. 
       This word "joy" is closely connected to the word "grace" and "peace" that Paul mentions in this epistle in verse 2.  He always starts with grace.  Because without the grace of God then peace and joy would not be possible.  But, because of that grace we have peace.  Just as it says in Romans 5:1 "therefore having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."   This is a real peace that exists because of the grace that was given to us in Christ.  Because that is a free gift offered to us then we can have joy.
        I imagine the jailer that Paul met in Philippi reading these words and telling the others, "Yes, I saw Paul and Silas put in stocks in the prison.  I still remember where his flesh had been torn away from the beating that he took.  I thought he would scream in pain.  I thought he would curse me.  But, an odd thing happened that night.  Around midnight, I heard those two singing praises to God.  Then there was this huge earthquake.  I thought they had run for it, but instead they were still there.  They told me about salvation and now I have peace with God." Acts 16-24-31.
        The jailer saw first hand that the joy of God is a fruit of the Spirit of God.  It isn't something that we can manufacture on our own.  It isn't something that is simply the result of circumstances around us.  Paul and Silas weren't happy about being in the stocks.  They were sore and broken and probably extremely uncomfortable.  But, the joy of God isn't the result of circumstances.  It is rather the result of the Spirit of God working in your spirit Galatians 5:22.  It is when the Spirit of God leads to your remembrance all that Christ has done and that he loves you and died for you and overcame the grave for you.  Again, it is not the result of circumstances.
         Later, in this epistle, Paul will tell the Philippians to "rejoice in the Lord".  I see the key words there are "in the Lord".  When nothing is going right in my day, I can remember that no matter how bad things get in this life that God is preparing for me more glory and joy and riches that I cannot even imagine.  For the believer, things simply get better once you pass from this life to the next.  We have a lot to look forward to know that our Lord and Savior could return at any time, but if he does not, then we will see him when we die and all those who went before us.  All of these trials that we go through and pains.  All of the discomforts and trials and trauma of this life is temporary.   But, the riches of the kingdom of God is eternal.  This is where our focus should be.  This is what should give us joy.

Verses about joy
John 15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete."
John 17:13 "But now I come to thee, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy made full in themselves."
James 1:2 "Consider it all you, my brethren, when you encounter various trials."
1 John 1:4  "And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete."
Philippians 2:2 "make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose."
Romans 14:17 "For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Would Jesus Have a Facebook and Twitter account?

   I posted this question "Would Jesus have a facebook and twitter account if he were on earth today?" on my twitter account today.  In all fairness, I did not think it right to ask the question without answering it myself.  After thinking some about it, I thought that the way we respond to that question says both a lot about our view of God and what we believe his mission is. 
    What I mean by that is that for some people they seem to suggest by their words and actions that God is more like a great judge than a merciful heavenly father.  To be sure, he is both of these things, but some people take it to extremes.  They suggest that he has no compassion or mercy on us for our mistakes.  Maybe this is a reflection on their inability to forgive themselves or anyone else for their faults.  I wish this wasn't the case.  But, whole churches and denominations reflect more the judgment and severity of God than the love of God.  To them, he is the one with the biggest ruler, ready to thump our wrist if we reach for the cookies.  He is ready to condemn any joy, fun or heaven forbid laughter.   I guess this is what legalism does to people.
     Then there is the question of if Jesus did have an account what would he say and why would he have an account.  There is no real way to know for sure, but I think he probably would have one.  Some people might respond by saying, "Yes, he would have one and he would really be mad."  or something like that.  And to be sure, he did have some pointed things to say to people when he walked on the earth.  But, was it to the Romans who were at times barbaric in their actions?  Or was his most condemning words to the religious zealots who thought themselves self-righteous?
      Our view of God should be one that captures both the love and judgment of God together.  To not have both is to present a very distorted view of God.  God did condemn sin.  But, he also went to great lengths to reach out to others and to share himself with them.  He condemned the righteous, who were not really righteous, but self-righteous and challenged those like the rich young ruler who asked him honest questions.  Jesus engaged people in dialogue and asked his own questions in the temple.  He told stories to help people understand eternal truths.  He condemned the Pharisees, but did not condemn the woman caught in adultery because she knew that she had done wrong and was sorry.   
      Other people might respond by saying, "Yes, Jesus would have an account and he would tell us he loves us."  For sure, Jesus is full of love for the world while condemning many of people's actions.  I don't think we can rule out that Jesus would tell us he loves us because it does say that he came to seek and save the lost.  But, at the same time, we should remember that he did not deny the hard realities of the gospel like some name it and claim it preachers.  He talked just as much about hell as he did heaven.  He challenged people to repent and follow Him.  In fact, the words "repent" or to turn in another direction, were some of the first recorded.  I think that is something to keep in mind because Jesus didn't call for following him without sacrifice.
      I think whether or Jesus would use a twitter or facebook account also says something about what we believe his mission to be.  It should not be a question of whether or not Jesus would be willing to humble himeslf enough to use it.  For someone who was willing to wash his disciples feet and give up the glory of heaven to be born in a stable has already proven his humility.  Would Jesus use the technology of today to share his message?  If so, why doesn't every church in America do it?  You say your interested in reaching people and yet don't use media to reach people in your home town? Hu. . .
       I have noticed just in the few years that I have been doing this blogging that it has given me an opportunity to share my faith to people groups literally all over the world.  People from China, Iran, Russia, Canada, Pakistan, Great Britian and numerous other countries I've never even heard of have visited this site.  It has given me a chance to share thoughts about who I believe God is and thoughts about the Bible.  Depending on which counter you look at (none of which is as old as this blog page) I have reached somewhere near 25,000 or more people during that 3 years.  That's 25,000 people that Jesus loves and died for.  I think how we answer this question says a lot about who and what we believe about Jesus and his message.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A sermon about work

  This was the pastor's sermon text this last Sunday
23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
24 Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24, KJV
   The pastor talked about how much of our time as adults is spent at work and how important it is that we consider what our work says about our witness.  I know a lot of people simply try to get through the work and in essence live for the weekend.  But, how we do our work as christians really says a lot about us.  We have all probably worked with people who loved to gossip at work or were lazy and did as little as possible or had a horrible negative attitude.  A lot of people who have been like that in my life have also been professing christians.  I don't really think they realize how much of a bad witness they were being with their attitude.
   Even though the context of this passage is where Paul is talking to slaves, in essence, he is talking about how we do our work.  I think, for me, one of the things that stood out in the sermon I heard is that we are to be people of our word.  When we tell a client or coworker that we are going to do something then we should do it and do it well.  We should be able to be trusted to do things on time and to be dependable.  Doesn't it show a lack of respect to other people to waste their time with work half-heartedly done or not done at all?  Why should I really listen to a person's witness who can't do a simple thing like keep their word or keep their mouth shut and not gossip?  Hard to take someone like that seriously.
   I think how we do our work also says alot about whether or not we are people who care about others.  In the work that I do, there is a lot of paperwork.  It is the least favorite part of the job.  But, the old statement is true that if you did not write it down then it didn't happen.  And if it isn't in the chart and it should be then it could end up costing the company a lot of money.  Not being intentional about how you do your work and doing it in a lazy and half hearted way tells me that your not a person of integrity.  Because of a person of integrity can be counted on when nobody is looking.  In fact, I think integrity if being the person you say you are when nobody is looking. 
   It really makes me wonder why you hear so few sermons about this important subject.  Is it because pastor's are among some of the worst offenders in this area?