Friday, January 04, 2019

Profitability ≠ Probability

It would be good if you would lose a few pounds. It would be a good idea to exercise more. You should really spend more time talking with your wife and kids. What you really ought to do is slow down and stick to a plan.

These are all bits of advice aimed at no one in particular. Each may be advisable in a given situation - perhaps profitable. But what we will find throughout human history, and in our own individual experience, is that profitability ≠ probability. The fact that if would be good, or that you should, or ought - it doesn’t really matter, because just as profitability ≠ probability, so also should ≠ want. We do what we want.

It is hard to argue with the profitability of the Gospel. Accept this diagnosis (that we are all sinners) and receive this cure (believe and follow Jesus as the only hope for salvation) - and you will be saved. But do the majority of those who hear the Gospel accept and receive? No. Profitability ≠ probability. If a person at enmity with God really cannot save himself, and if Jesus really is the central figure in all of human history, then yes, you really should accept and receive him. But the matter stands and falls on his question: do you want to? Why that question? Because should ≠ want.

The prophet Isaiah says the reason for our reluctance is not in the offer, nor in the presentation. The reason is in our own persons. We are “a rebellious people, walking in a way that is not good, following (our) own thoughts.” Rebellious. Stubborn. Self-directing and wise-in-our-own-eyes. That’s us. And that is why we often do the dumbest things, like ignoring good advice, and clinging to the unprofitable path.

What might happen if we, just for this season, gave in and did things God’s way? Pick an area of life. Maybe it has to do with your thoughts, or words, or a relationship, or what you listen to - what if you just did the improbable? Maybe you would find it to be actually profitable. 

Thursday, December 27, 2018


We tend to get things backwards. In Christian and church circles, we begin to think that we are the hands and feet, the mouthpieces of God. It is an easy step, then, to believe that God needs us. Without our hands and feet, God cannot reach the lost. Without our words of witness, the world cannot understand the truth about God.

In addition, we get the other side backwards as well. We regard large swaths of our lives as manageable. We begin to think that we can handle this, and this, and this also, so much so that, in some areas, we don’t need God. 

Actually, the opposite, in both cases, is true. God is not dependent upon us. He is absolutely self-sufficient. If at times He chooses to use our hands and feet, or our mouths, He is free to do so. But He is not compelled to do so by any helplessness or need in Himself.

Further, it is we who are helpless. So much so, that every aspect of our lives should be brought to Him for advice and correction. Yes, we can easily follow the world ways and methods, following the teachings of psychology and marketing and business. But the result will be (surprise!) that we look and live like worldlings, and find ourselves lacking the influence and power of the Spirit of God in our lives. The truth is, we can only be useful as instruments of God when we submit to and are empowered by God’s Spirit. We need Him, always.

What I suggest as we approach a new year is that we purpose to slow down, to live more carefully, more prayerfully, and consider how it is that we should be dependent upon God, even as we worship Him in His expansive and absolute self-sufficiency. A popular term of late is “mindfulness.” But we must not resort to exploring our own thoughts. We need God's thoughts, also referred to as spiritual-mindedness (Romans 8:5-6).

Friday, December 21, 2018

Why is the Earth Tilted?

“Scientists are not entirely sure how this occurred, but they think that billions of years ago, as the solar system was taking shape, the Earth was subject to violent collisions that caused the axis to tilt.”

I didn’t really expect CNN to adopt a Biblical point of view, but it should have. This statement is pretty amazing. The fact that “scientists” are not “entirely sure” indicates that they are now not acting as scientists at all, but rather, speculators. Their speculations are founded in a system that will not, must not consider God at all, and so they are left to reach for other possible answers, which, it seems, are tilted.

It is not difficult, from a theistic (or, God-centered) point of view, to think that the earth is tilted because of God’s wisdom and goodness. We know that we cannot plumb the depths of God’s understanding, and that the wise and good reasons for the earth being tilted go way beyond what we observe. But, at a surface level, perhaps God “tilted” the earth so that much of the earth’s population could experience seasons; so that the varieties of nature could abound; and so that the cold regions might provide a balance to the hot regions; and maybe, very superficially, so that a person living in Michigan or New York could both ski on water and also ski on snow. The earth’s tilt is better than genius. It is divine.

More difficult is coming to terms with men and women, who, adopting an un-god-ly view, can present their “tilt’s” to the world in such a way that you fail the class if you do not agree with them. For them, according to the statement above, the tilt of the earth was just a really lucky break for us all. It seems reasonable to think that without this speculated, accidental collision, life would not be even possible on earth. This “accident” can be neither wise, nor good. This kind of tilt, concocting notions because you cannot bear the thought of God, is not genius, nor divine, but rather, demonic.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

What ‘They’ Say: “There is no God

Psalm 14 begins with the words: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” This company of people, whoever ‘they’ are, lives to themselves, considers themselves accountable only to themselves, and exalts themselves as cosmic experts. ‘They’ were evidently present and active in Bible times, and ‘they’ certainly are still present and active today.

Let’s consider this statement, “There is no God,” from two different angles. On the one side, what does this mean for the believer in “no god”? Then we will consider those who believe there is a God (but, who, according to this statement, are staking their lives on a fairy tale).

If there is no God, then the naturalists are correct. Everything that exists inexplicably arose from a cosmic event that occurred in the far distant past, with no clear cause. This ‘accident’ gave rise to a great many more ‘accidents,’ a very few of which allowed other accidents to take place. As we proceed in our imaginations from the cosmos to the earth, we find that this planet was formed ‘accidentally,’ and that it ‘accidentally’ is suited to support life. Further through time, the erupting of life on earth is one of the greatest ‘accidents’ of all.

We are all then, ‘accidents,’ you and I, and the significance of our being here is, well, meaningless. What you think, or believe, doesn’t matter. It doesn’t really matter that you showed up, and it won’t matter when you are gone. Of course, no one actually thinks or lives this way, because we simply cannot live with the statement, “There is no God.”

For believers in God, if this statement is true, we are wasting our time and energies and resources on things that do not matter. Our prayers are a fiction, as is our Bible, and our hopes, and our message. Now if there is any consolation (and, there is little), since everything in this universe is a waste anyway, …

But then we must come back to the verse that begins Psalm 14 and remember who ‘they’ is: “The fool has said in his heart …”

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Foundation and the Building Distinguished

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul introduces us to the illustration of the foundation and the building. He makes quite clear that Jesus Christ Himself is the foundation of the building, the new, spiritual temple. We may think of that building corporately (the whole church) or individually (our lives). In either case, Jesus is the only, true foundation.

Paul then goes on and urges Christians to be building with “gold, silver, and precious stones” as opposed to building with “wood, hay, and stubble.” It matters how we build.

Most religious activity in our world spends its time and energies trying to lay a foundation with building materials. But a foundation is no place for “gold, silver, and precious stones,” much less “wood, hay, and stubble.” Neither are suited for a foundation. But most people would rather lay their own foundation, using their best efforts, than to stand firmly on Christ alone. Let alone other religions, many Christians confuse this principle, and drift into an admixture of foundation and building, when they should be clearly separated.

The only suitable foundation material for church and person is Jesus Christ, our rock. In 2 Samuel 22, David comes back to that theme again and again, that God is his Rock. And yet, David was far from passive.

And this brings us to the other error we so often make - believing that we have the proper, the perfect foundation, we assume that there is nothing left for us to do. And yet as builders, we ought to be building. As servants, we ought to be serving. As disciples, we ought to be discipling. As Gospel-loving people, we ought to be sharing that Gospel. 

My friend who has built both foundation and building for us talks about “the bond.” If I understand correctly, it is the firm attachment of the building to the foundation. You don’t want the one floating around without the other. They are related. They are both necessary. But they are not the same. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Something Solid

G.K Chesterton said “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”

John Owen, the Puritan theologian, uses the phrase “finding the bottom” of the thing. In matters of faith, we need to “find the bottom.” We need something solid to stand on.
I’ve heard of lakes that are “bottomless.” Of course, that’s impossible. But it is possible that they have no “solid” bottom. That is, if you are sinking down to the bottom, hoping beyond hope that you can “find the bottom” and push upward to fresh air again, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

In matters of faith, we dare not base our approach to “life and godliness” on “suppositions,” on what we “like” to believe, but rather on the solid revelation given by God that tells us something sure about God and something accurate about ourselves.

My Awana student can be easily impressed with God. He is not used to hearing about God at a church, and so stories and descriptions carry a wonder that delights. Sin is a harder subject for him. He knows the concept, but not the difficulty. “What’s the big deal about telling a lie?” The penalty “seems” to outstrip the crime. But we must notice that the words “seem” and “suppose” are not solid words. They are soft and mushy. The certainly change over time, or with our moods. But when we discover the solid truths that this magnificent God is magnificently holy, and thus He cannot stand sin; and when we discover that our sins is not merely personal, momentary indiscretions, but an affront to the truthfulness of “God who does not lie,” that same God who made us to represent Him and His holiness in this world - well, it is then that we find something solid on which to bite down.

Why is this important? Because when we get past thinking about God in the abstract, and ourselves in isolation - it is then that we must think about how we can relate to God, or how He can relate to us. And it is in this divine-human contact that we must consider the outcomes of forgiveness, or condemnation. And we find, if we read the solid story of the Bible carefully, that God does both. He both forgives, and condemns. So how can we know how it will turn out for us? 

We find that the very real, High and Holy God, reached down to very real sinful and rebellious subjects by sending His very solid Son, Jesus, to die a real death, to really rise from the dead, never to die again, to give a real forgiveness to those who will solidly repent and find a ground of belief in the promises of God. Something solid.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Gates of Hell

There is a comic story in the book of Judges that makes me smile. Here is Samson, known for impulsiveness and impetuousness, and, when God’s Spirit enables him, is able to accomplish feats of great strength. He’s being watched in this city, and in defiance of his enemies, “at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron” (Judges 16:3). The gates spoke of his enemy’s defense. Samson, the lone man, made a mockery of the wicked city’s strength.

Gates are not offensive weapons, but defensive. You don’t gore the enemy with your gates. Rather, you rely on your gates to keep the enemy out. So when Peter makes his confession of faith about Jesus’s true identity, Jesus says, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18)

What does it mean that the gates of hell shall not prevail? Does it mean that the gates of hell won’t be used as a club to bludgeon Christians over the head? No, because gates are for defensive purposes. The gates of hell are intended to quell the advance of Christ’s Church against the forces of hell. That is, Christians are to be the grace-filled aggressors against sin and Satan’s hegemony. We are to be advancing, as in “Onward, Christian Soldiers!” 

But the posture of the Church today seems to be much more defensive than offensive. “Lord, please protect us from the world.” And there is a point to this. The helmet of salvation and breastplate of righteousness are prescribed for our defense. We are indeed called to be watchful, and to be wary. But offensively, we are to batter the gates of hell with our prayers, advancing with the sword of the Spirit, mobilized with those “Gospel shoes” that we wear. 

It seems, then, that the Church’s lack of offense should be regarded as offensive. It should be offensive to us, in that we are not being obedient to God’s commands; and offensive to God, because we are not fulfilling the Church’s calling, for which Christ died. 

Don’t be confused. This is not a call for Christian violence (an oxymoron, if there ever was one). But there is victory in faith, and strongholds are destroyed by truth, and with demonstrations of God’s amazing grace there is wonder and the winning of souls from the powers of darkness to the kingdom of light. Let’s emerge from our “holy huddles” to be “My witnesses.”

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Importunity: A Parable on Prayer

A man went to his spiritual advisor for some help. He was struggling with some problems, and felt far from God. The learned advisor suggested to him that he pray with “importunity.” Not knowing the word, but not wanting to admit ignorance, the questioner went away hoping to be able to put it into practice as best he could.

So he decided to pray as though he were “important.” After all, isn’t that what “importunity” means? It certainly sounds that way. So he puffed out his chest and wind-bagged a loud, flowery prayer that made him feel pretty good about himself and not think much about God at all. It was probably similar to the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18: “thank goodness I’m not like others.” But, alas (as they say in parables), this didn’t seem to help, and he felt further from God after praying, still surrounded by troubles.

So he decided to pray only when he had the “opportunity.” Maybe he had mis-heard the advisor, and “opportunity” was the word. So when it came to mind, he would pray, though his mind was not so good, and so he rarely prayed. It’s really what we need, isn’t it, to feel less guilt about prayer? Just pray when it feels right, or when you remember, when you get around to it. But alas, his life wore on, and his perceived distance from God only increased, and his troubles threatened to swallow him up.

And so he then prayed as one who was spiritually impotent (impotunity?). Not important, but impotent. Not opportunistic, but powerless. He confessed himself unable to rescue himself; powerless to stem the drift of his life. And so he prayed as an impotent man, helpless and desperate. He threw himself on God, admitting that he could do nothing else. And, as he adopted this approach to prayer, he found that he was compelled to do so time and time again; imploring God for help; begging God for mercy. He would pray as he lay awake at night, and as he was involved in the drudgeries of life during the day. His prayer was never from his heart or his lips.

And then, the clouds began to clear, and he was able to experience an escape from his troubles. God brought to mind pertinent passages of Scripture that would guide him on his path, and he began to rediscover the joy of the Lord. He decided to go and relate his experience to the rather obtuse, spiritual advisor, who, when he heard the story, said, “Exactly, importunity!

Friday, November 02, 2018

Images of Forgiveness

One of the key provisions of the New Covenant is the forgiveness of our sins. We are not able to balance out our moral liabilities by piling up moral excellencies. Righteousness is what is expected. Even if we were one day able to conduct ourselves perfectly, we would not have the resources to atone for past sins. So forgiveness of sins is worth thinking about, like a sweet morsel in one’s mouth. It’s worth savoring; worth tasting.

Let me acquaint you with three phrases that illustrate what God does with our sins as He forgives. 

The first is in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. Some people mistakenly associate the Old Testament with an “angry God,” while the New Testament with a “loving God.” But both Old and New Testaments comprise one Book, and they relate to the one, true God who does not change. And so we should not be surprised to find good news of God’s forgiveness in the Old Testament.

Isaiah 38:17 says that “You have cast all my sins behind Your back.” There we were, teetering on the edge of the pit of nothingness, deserving to perish due to our sins, but God set His love on us, and “cast all my sins behind (His) back.” God and I are then free to move forward, with any business pertaining to sins left in the dust.

Again in Isaiah, 43:25, God says “I am the One who wipes out your transgressions.” The image suggests a big white board, or, more properly, a dreadful black board, containing a record of all our sins. But God erases it. He wipes it clean. The record is gone, and we no longer have any charges against us.

And then, in Micah 7:19, in a double reference, we are assured that “He will tread our iniquities under foot,” and “will cast all (our) sins into the depths of the sea.” 

There is value on rolling these things around in our minds. But there is also value in applying them and thinking out the logical implications. Here is one to consider. If God has cast my sins behind His back, shouldn’t I also put their practice in my rearview mirror? If he has erased them from the record, then should I not erase them from my daily activities? If He treats my iniquities as waste and refuse, then shouldn’t I also?

So let’s be people who value forgiveness, and who then who live in the light of that forgiveness.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Wisdom’s Pain

Solomon, the world’s wisest person, admits to the pain of wisdom.( “Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.” Ecclesiastes 1:18 NAS95)  I don’t believe he is asking for sympathy, not that we would be willing to offer it. That would be a bit like feeling sorry for the rich guy because of the weight of responsibility that comes with great riches. We rarely say, “better to be a fool,” or, “better to be poor.”

But the weight of wisdom is indeed heavy. Deep thinkers wrestle with deep problems, and many of those problems are not exclusively abstract. They can be very personal. Wrestling with dilemmas can lead the soul on a very dark path, and can, in fact, be a wrestling not only with a dilemma, but with the devil himself.

Consider the task of a wise person who is charged with helping a fool. Of course, it has to be this way, for a fool will never consider how to help a wise person. The thought never crosses his foolish mind. But how to help a fool, who will not listen to correction, who rarely follows advice, and who repeats his mistakes over and over - how indeed? And so the wise man, with all of his wisdom, comes to the end of his knowledge and watches as the fool sinks into the consequences of his actions, knowing the whole of the situation, seeing how it could have been different, but can do nothing about it.

That rather practical application of “the pain of wisdom” can be followed by other questions that may be further removed from daily life. But those who wrestle with the problem of evil involve themselves, not only in mental struggle, but also spiritual. Some people struggle with this not at all. They say something penetrating, like “It is what it is,” and then go on as though they just solved something. But to live in a world where God is pure good, and yet to know that He tolerates, for a time, pure evil - how do we reconcile these things? And what does it mean to love this God and to submit to Him, and to glory in Him, and, to defend Him against human accusers and recommend Him to unbelievers?

Or consider the pursuit of seeking to honor God as God, and thus to affirm His absolute sovereignty, recognizing that the One, true God can be nothing less, and then to consider that humans, as creatures of God, created as moral agents, are responsible for our own actions, though all that we are and do falls within the scope of the divine drama, and to be sure that we are more resolute about honoring the glory of God than the glory of man, how does one do this without provoking the ire of those who prefer not to wrestle?

Friday, October 12, 2018

No Mere Human Institution

The company of people who find in Jesus their only hope of salvation is no mere human institution. It is not like WalMart. It is not like the Rotary Club. It is something unique in this world, precisely because it is not merely or primarily a human institution.

There are proven methods for running human institutions. Production; marketing and sales of products; those things have been studied and imitated over and over. But Jesus’ church does not operate primarily by what it produces or how it markets itself. The church cannot properly function without a conscious and practiced reliance on God’s help and enablement - to seek those primary and necessary things that only God can do - to penetrate cold and hard hearts; to change lives from the inside out.

Charles Finney led revivals during what is now called “The Second Great Awakening” during the first half of the 1800’s. He had drunk deeply of the American “can-do” spirit, and heartily embraced methods by which he could guarantee ‘spiritual’ results. He was convinced that if he did his thing, the Holy Spirit would then show up. I do not doubt his sincerity. But historical surveys conducted in the wake of his mass revivals show little remaining fruit due to the fact, in my view, that he conducted “revival” as though it were a “mere human institution.” And the current church culture seems to be following hard in the steps of Charles Finney.  

We have embraced the notion of “if we build it, they will come.” Programs and staff have become more important than prayer and witness. The hard edges of truth-telling have been shaved off by a desire to be attractive and non-offensive. In striving to be an asset to the community, we unwittingly become a liability to the Kingdom.

What practice is there that more clearly indicates a deep and true dependence upon God than any other? Where is the flag to which we look to see from which direction the wind is blowing, whether the power of the Spirit, directing our humble, human labors; or our own blowings, elevating our pride and pretensions, and expecting that God will be pleased to assist. I believe that the one practice more clear than any other is prayer, both of individual believers daily seeking the Lord’s direction and help; and the prayers of Christians together who dare not rush ahead and make God’s help an afterthought.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Above Reproach

Is the judge being considered for Justice of the Supreme Court “above reproach?” It depends on your definition. And, you will have to decide if it matters. Does doing his job require that he be “above reproach?” 

And, for the purposes of this newsletter, how does this issue help us understand our Bibles better? Because qualifications for Supreme Court Justice to not appear in Scripture. But the phrase, “without reproach,” is applied to pastors, and, somewhat similarly, to Christians in general.

We find in Titus 1:6 the words, “if anyone is above reproach,” referring to the appointment of elders. Likewise, 1Tim. 3:2 says, “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach,” referring to a pastor or elder. The Bible says that church leaders should be “above reproach.”  

The phrase means that they should be “above criticism or accusation.” That is, their deportment and conversation should not bring them into disrepute. 

What if you have a clean, white wall, and someone throws garbage against it and stains it? Is it “above reproach?” Is it “spotless?” Well, not really. The wall may not have soiled itself, but the actions of others smeared its appearance, or, damaged its reputation.

With regard to a Supreme Court Justice, I’m not sure how much it matters. If he grew up engaging in various levels of debauchery, does that disqualify him from interpreting the law (I am not speaking to the issue of sexual assault)? I’m pretty sure he can do his job, hearing complex arguments and deciding on how the Constitution applies. But once accused, whether rightly, or falsely, I’m not sure it matters.

But not so with pastors/elders. Certainly our actions that deserve criticism or accusation may disqualify us from our roles providing spiritual oversight to the flock. But so may also, not only such actions, but even the accusations - even false accusations. He may be innocent, and still disqualified from pastoral ministry, because of the importance of reputation. Unlike a Justice, a pastor’s ministry relies on the trust of the people of the local flock. Without trust, his usefulness is destroyed. And so we find that “without reproach” is a qualification not only to be earned, but also guarded.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Probabilities vs. Possibilities

We tend to tie our expectations to probabilities. Probabilities are extensions into the future based on what we have witnessed in the past. If there were wars in the past, it is probable that there will be wars in the future. If compound interest worked in the past, it is probable that it will work in the future.

But God is not merely the God of probabilities. He is also the God of possibilities. That is, He often works in patterns, so that what He has done before we may be able to expect Him to do again. But He is also the God who is able to do something brand new; something that we would not dream of Him doing. Not probable, but definitely possible. 

When we live as though God is absent, or when we live as though God does not matter, then we are confined to this world of probabilities. Peter quotes the “mockers” in his second letter, who say, “all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” God’s promises and God’s warnings can be treated lightly because we haven’t seen Him break into reality lately. With regard to the future, the godless “probability” thinkers say, “Tomorrow will be just like today, but even more so.” 
This kind of living is not according to faith. It is not according to promise. It is not according to God’s Word. It discounts both the plan and power of God, and discredits the truth that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” 

God, who existed from eternity past, created the heavens and earth. Probable? No. Possible? Definitely. God called Abraham out of all the worshippers of pagan gods to a worship of Himself. Probable? No. Possible? Yes. God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law. Probable? No. Possible? Well, yes, because it happened. And God’s Son, who came the first time to purchase salvation, will come a second time to reign over a new heavens and new earth. Probable? Well, it’s never happened before, so it is hard to imagine it happening now. But possible? Yes, according to God’s promise; according to God’s Word.

So how about you? Can you change from the way you are into the likeness of Jesus? Can you experience victory over that stubborn sin or selfish streak? Well, based on your past failures, it may not be probable. But based on the promise and power of God, it is definitely possible, not because of your own resources, but because of what He is able to do and because of what He wants to do.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Our God Both Big and Small

One aspect of God’s bigness is His smallness. That is, He is so great, His greatness must invade even the smallest of places. Using other terms, not only is God transcendent. He is also immanent. He is not either/or. He is both/and. 

Yes, God is big. As far as the universe stretches, He is bigger. The unit of measure, of course, is not the same. God is not measured by miles or light-years. He is unbounded. One mile or a million are both the same to Him. But we have to say, limited as we are by human language and human minds, that God is bigger. Likewise, God is older than the universe. He was and is before all things. But again, God is not measured in years. He is not old. It is just that all times are in His hands, as He is timeless. 

If these ideas about God’s transcendence are reality-rattling to us, then also are ideas about His immanence. To think that God has His fingerprints on every square inch of this world is an amazing thought.

Let’s think of it this way: God created all that there is with one, over-arching purpose: that all creation would glorify Him. That is, every bird that sings, and every frog that croaks, sings or croaks to the glory of God. The sun that shines does so to the glory of God. The flowers that beautify do so to the glory of God. All creation, though shadowed by sin, seeks to glorify God, or, is frustrated that it can’t.

And so, every piece of tissue in your body was designed to glorify God. Your mind was created to reflect and contribute to His glory. Right down to your molecules and cells and DNA, all designed and desiring to contribute to the song of the ages that glorifies His name. Or, frustrated that they do not.

You see, when God creates, it is not some distant project. If God has a serious design for creation that relates to His own glory, this whole “heaven and earth” project is not like that old shed you built in your back yard. God cares, and He cares deeply about the outer edges, and the inner workings, of this creation.

What should shake us about this is that we were built to glorify God in every aspect of our being, and we so scarcely acknowledge it. We so often suppose that we were built for ourselves, and for our own purposes. And then we find that this God is watching each thought, each reaction, each breath. And we are frustrated that we fall so far short.

Friday, September 07, 2018

The High Calling of Loving our Difficult God

Our Trinitarian God is big. He is complex. He is not easy.

If God were easy, then He would be easy to love. We could as easily wrap our minds and hearts around Him as we could wrap our arms. But our arms don’t reach, and neither do our minds or hearts. And so, we are tempted. 

We are tempted to take our big, complex God and make Him small and simple. We are tempted to refashion Him in our own image, so that He nicely aligns with our pleasures and preferences. We are tempted to shave off His “rough edges,” to make Him more comfortable, easier to live with. 

When we succumb to this temptation, we are no longer worshipping “the one, true God.” Instead, we are worshipping a false god of our own making, of our own imagination, and we become guilty of idolatry. God says in Psalm 50:21, “You thought I was just like you.” It is clear that what we thought was wrong. 

When we puzzle about God in our minds, it is easy to imagine God as we want Him to be. But then, when we read our Bibles carefully, as for the first time, we begin to see some things that don’t fit well with our god-formulas. 

The Bible shows God to be sovereign, and we want a sovereign God, just so long as He is not too sovereign. But a God cannot be “kind-of” sovereign. Either He is, or He is not. And so, when we take steps to limit God’s sovereignty, we are taking steps toward idolatry.

But on the other hand, the Bible also shows God to exhibit amazing flexibility in his dealings with men and women, so much so that it seems that our immutable, unchangeable God actually … changes. And so when we contradict what God has revealed about Himself, we are, again, guilty of idolatry. We must be careful.

And, we want a God who is universally honored. And, He is not. He is mocked, not universally, but widely. His existence is denied. His character impugned. And certainly, His worship is neglected. We want a God that we can look up to. And it would sure be a lot easier to look up to Him if everyone else did as well. And they don’t.

But not only is he not honored, but He actually humiliated Himself, in the death of His Son, according to His own purposes - part of His sovereignty; part of His flexibility; part of His mercy - and for all these reasons, and more, we should love Him - our difficult God.

Friday, August 31, 2018

It Started with a Kiss

I was referred to a news story from a daily blog post - a news story I probably would have missed otherwise: “Couple’s love story began with a CPR kiss.”Yes, it does have a bit of a tabloid sound to it, but it could be worse.

It’s the story of a man training for one of those endurance athletic contests - this one involved a paddle board. He had run 10+ miles the day before. Toward the end of this session, he had burning in his chest, and just hoped to make it back to the car, which he made, but not quite. He collapsed, and then had no heartbeat for 17 minutes. 

A woman friend who had also been training and was trained in CPR, immediately began administering air to his lungs, supplying oxygen until paramedics could get his heart going again. It took six defib shocks, and then he was on the road to recovery. But without CPR, without that first kiss, he wouldn’t have made it. 

Well, the man and woman are now a “thing,” and any future kisses are due to that first kiss.
The Gospel tells us that we were dead in trespasses and sins, and without that “first kiss,” that initiative from Jesus that was completely outside of our power or control; without his entry into this world and submission to the sacrifice which saved us from our sins; without our hearing of the Gospel and the Spirit opening “the eyes of our understanding” to see and receive the truth; without all this, there would have been no hope.

Another strange parallel to the story was that, in a way, Jesus was not the one who gave the first kiss, but rather the one who received it. But that kiss was not a kiss of mercy, or help, or rescue. It was a kiss of deception, administered by one of his disciples, who should have been for him, but proved rather to be against him. Our salvation started with that kiss, that Jesus knew was coming, and received it anyway, so that we could have life.

There are a few lessons here:
  1. there are different kinds of kisses: CPR kisses; kisses of betrayal; holy kisses, etc. Not all are the same.
  2. some of our best relationships are not planned out by us, especially our relationship with God through Jesus
  3. endurance training guarantees … nothing

Friday, August 24, 2018

Every Day Sweeter

We used to sing a chorus in Sunday School, “Every day with Jesus, is sweeter than the day before.” It’s poetic. But is it realistic? Can each subsequent day actually be better than the day before? Because that’s not how it normally happens in this world.

This world is subject to a number of downward forces - things like gravity, and frailty, and entropy. By nature, things fall. Old things fall .. apart. Energy evaporates, or leaks.
It happens in relationships. The burdens of life weigh heavily on a couple, and, though they once glided along with their hearts in the clouds and their feet scarcely touching the ground, now they are being ground down into the dirt. Their zest for life gives way to recliners placed far from each other across the room. There is scarcely energy to talk anymore. Maybe just grunt.

But a relationship with Jesus is different. For one, he is not from below, but from above, and so the relationship is not subject to the same gravity as that with another sinner (and, we are all sinners, save, of course, Jesus). He is not frail or fading, but eternal. He is our energy resource, a “spring of water welling up into eternal life.” It truly can be the kind of relationship in which “every day is sweeter than the day before.”

Two illustrations: Jesus turns the water into wine. But the story is not about whether you prefer water or wine. It is about the quality of the wine, better than the best wine that the proud papa had provided at the beginning of the wedding, because what Jesus supplies is always better than anything else you have experienced before. A relationship with Jesus will similarly outstrip the best of what this “passing away” world is able to offer.

The second illustration is Ezekiel’s stream - not exactly Ezekiel’s, but God’s, which streams from the holy city, and, as it flows, it becomes, not more shallow, but deeper, exactly what you would not expect. Further, as this water flows richer, fuller, deeper, it reaches the sea, and, instead of becoming salty when coming into contact with the salt sea, it has a freshness that makes even the sea waters fresh as well. If “the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul,” then the fresh water of the Lord is pure, converting the sea.

Perhaps those words are not merely poetic. Perhaps they are, in addition, prophetic - because, with Jesus, every day is sweeter than the day before. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Failure to Land

There is a phrase out there in popular culture called “failure to launch.” I suppose the stereotype would be the son who graduates from college, but lives at home, unable or unwilling to begin a career and form meaningful (family) relationships. But this story is not about “failure to launch.” It is about “failure to land.” 

Richard Russell, 29, a member fo the ground crew at Sea-Tac airport, without formal flying lessons, learned enough online to take a commercial plane for an unauthorized spin. He had studied to learn how to take off and to do some rather elaborate maneuvers given the size of the plane. It became clear in conversation with air traffic controllers that he was not prepared to land the plane safely, nor did he intend to. This was to be his only flight.

It’s a heartbreaking story, especially since he refers to himself as “just a broken guy.” But it strikes me that his flight is not all that much different from that lived by men and women all over the world. We learn how to engage in this flight called “life,” and perhaps to undertake some rather interesting projects, but as we approach the end, we have to admit that we have made no preparations whatsoever to land this thing. It’s a two-part story: live large; then, crash and burn.

We find such a man in Jesus’ parable of “the rich man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man lived large, until the end. And then he “failed to land.” He finds himself confined to Hades, in torment, and is informed that the preparations for avoiding that end should have been made before, not after the point of his passing.

There are a million books on “how to live well.” Not so many on “how to die well.” But there is a good one, called the Bible, and a Person, a Guide, Jesus, who, having died and rose again, never to die again, can prepare us through “the landing” so as to make sure that this flight is not your last; that this is not all there is; and that you are prepared to live and enjoy not only this brief life, but also life that is eternal.

The news report concludes with this line: “The flight lasted about 75 minutes before the plane crashed into the tiny Ketron Island, southwest of Tacoma, ..” And so many other “life stories may similarly read, “This life last about 75 years, before he/she crashed ..” due to “failure to land.” 

Friday, August 10, 2018

Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary

This is a bit of a book report, titled above, and written by J.D. Greear, a Southern Baptist pastor who was recently elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention (they often elect pastors as presidents). The church he pastors, Summit, in North Carolina, is in the “mega-“ category. He is 45 years old.

His thesis is that a clear, captivating understanding the Gospel is essential for Christianity to exercise its power in the lives of Christians and churches. Mere religiosity will not do. Theological convictions, while necessary, are not the vehicle of power. Rather it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not to grow up and go beyond the Gospel. Rather, we are to go deeper into it.

As a personal tool, Greear has developed and explained this “Gospel Prayer.” It is not magic. Rather, it is a tool that he uses to daily set his mind in a Gospel frame. It guides him in how he thinks about God and himself; what he really needs in order to be fulfilled and happy; what is his calling or mission; and what are the limits (or, lack of limits) of what he should expect God to do through his life and ministry.
“In Christ, there is nothing I can do 
that would make You love me more, and nothing 
I have done that makes You love me less.”

“Your presence and approval are all 
I need for everlasting joy.”

“As You have been to me, so I will be to others.”
“As I pray, I’ll measure Your compassion by the cross 
and Your power by the resurrection.”

If we were to sit and have some honest, deep-reaching discussions about how our Christianity works (or doesn’t work) in our lives, we would have to admit that we are at odds with this prayer at certain points. We sometimes fall into thinking that we have to “earn” God’s love. We often find that our desires are wrapped around lesser things than God’s presence or approval. We measure our obligations to others by how they have treated us, rather than how God has treated us. We think small, forgetting that God loves to blow out expectations and do the unthinkable.

Try praying this prayer for a few days. See if it changes how you view yourself and your world.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Christ crossed the World, and it Led to the Cross

Christ crossed the world. He did not show proper respect to the respectable. His true righteousness poked holes in their religiosity. He did not walk the party line. We are familiar with this story. But we forget that others besides Christ and Christians pay a price for crossing the world.

A.W. Tozer said “I do not see why the world has any attraction for anyone. Anybody who can read anything about history will understand that the world always destroys its own.”

I’ve mentioned in a couple of recent sermons songs by Seals and Crofts (1970’s era). I mentioned their song “We May Never Pass This Way Again,” and then “King of Nothing.” Much less known is a song called “Unborn Child.” In accordance with their Bahai faith, an eclectic religion that seeks to accept and integrate all religions, they sang for the value of life, and pitched a song which begged for this consideration among mothers. The lyrics are not subtle: 

Oh unborn child, if you only knew just what your momma was plannin’ to do. 
You’re still a-clingin’ to the tree of life, but soon you’ll be cut off before you get ripe. 
Oh unborn child, beginning to grow inside your momma, but you’ll never know. 
Oh tiny bud, that grows in the womb, only to be crushed before you can bloom.

You might remember that Roe v. Wade was handed down by the Supreme Court in 1973. “Unborn Child” was released in 1974. S&C’s “Summer Breeze” was at the top of the charts. But this new song was boycotted on radio stations. Their concerts were picketed. Why? Because it’s not profitable to cross the world.

Our value for human life is grounded in the Biblical teaching that humankind was made by God, in the image of God, to represent Him and bring Him glory. Though humankind’s fall into sin left that image marred and distorted, it is not erased. Humans have value as image-bearers. Further, this distorted image is restored by faith in Jesus, Himself the express image of God who faithfully fulfilled what it means to be a human in the image of God - by faith in this Jesus, we are being restored as we become more like Jesus. Our reverence for life is grounded in the fact that humans, in creation, and then in redemption, are image-bearers. 

The world, on the other hand, is fully committed to a radical expression of one’s individual freedom, more valuable than the life of another, and certainly more valuable than a life in the womb. If you want to sell records, don’t cross the world. And if you want to save the world from itself, realize that it involves bearing a cross.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Optimism is not the Same as Hope

Are you a “glass half-full” person rather than a “glass half-empty?” Are you a member of “the sunny-side-of-the-street” club? That’s great. But as good as optimism is, it’s not hope.

Optimism may have to do with a personality type. Some people, by makeup, are more optimistic. Or, optimism may have more to do with environment. You may have learned optimism (or pessimism) from your parents. With some learned skills, a person can probably train themselves to become more optimistic, or less. 

Optimism has benefits. Of course there are benefits for you. Who wants to be always down, expecting the worst, negative about the possibilities? Optimism may rub off on others. Your optimism may inspire others to try things they would not have otherwise. That’s good. But it’s not hope.

Optimism’s benefits are limited to life lived in this present world. If this world in its present form is heading for an ugly end, the reality of that end will not be mitigated by your rosy view of things. If the boat is sinking, optimism will not make it float.

Hope, on the other hand, is a personal attachment to a promise. Granted, the hope is only as reliable as the promise, and so there can be false hopes, in that there are empty promises. But when our hope is personally attached to the promises of God, “who cannot lie,” then we have a rock on which to stand, in contrast to either a bright and positive spirit, or a mere silly, sappy optimism.

Biblical hope is the conviction born of promise that God will ultimately be glorified. He will be glorified in the vindication and exaltation of Jesus Christ, who is coming again to be forever united with His body, peoples from all nations, from across the generations, who have placed their faith in the only Faithful One. Biblical hope confidently expects a new heavens and new earth, in which only righteousness dwells. Biblical hope looks forward to a society in which there is love without end; joy without diminishment. Biblical hope fuels an enduring faith and a self-giving love, because we have so much to look forward to, and the evidence for this new world is already apparent in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the presence of His Spirit in churches and believers in this present age.

Now, can a person be both full of hope and also optimistic? Of course. What would be more surprising would be a Christian who is pessimistic. But actually, what is most appropriate is the person who is hopeful, and realistic - who realizes that we live in a bent, sin-sick world, but that this is not all there is, and we hope for something better.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Showers of Blessing

A recent portion of our summer has been dry. Parts of Michigan are suffering “officially” under drought conditions (they have ways of measuring this sort of thing). The grass in the church yard is bright yellow.

And so as I write these words, the sounds of rain falling outside the window do indeed sound to me like “showers of blessing.” God is good.

I don’t understand a lot about meteorology. Sometimes I suspect that the meteorologists don’t either. But our faith informs our understanding of how things work. And yes, there are high and low pressure centers that affect the weather, fronts that carry along sweeping weather changes, jet streams that section off temperatures and storms, and ocean currents that steer larger weather patterns. But behind it all, above it all, there is the God who gives “showers of blessing.”

I do not believe that God is continually tweaking the weather, fiddling with this front or that current. He is bigger than that, older, in a sense. His purposes are not reactions to sudden situations, but rather eternal intentions that deeply shape our lives. We roil with the changes, but God is ever in control, never shocked or surprised.

But God does indeed give rain, or withhold, according to His mysterious purposes, that, at times, He reveals in His Word: “Who covers the heavens with clouds, Who provides rain for the earth, Who makes grass to grow on the mountains” (Psalm 147:8).

It seems that behind every physical and material thing, there is a spiritual truth as well. And while rain made of real water is really important, “showers of blessing” are certainly not restricted to water falling on thirsty fields. Just as “real,” and even more important, are the showers of blessing that fall on thirsty souls.

Are you dry inside? Is your soul shriveled? Has it been a long time since you have been refreshed by showers of blessing that produces endurance and resilience, that fosters growth and fruitfulness, that energizes in such as a way that you are glad to creatively serve? Has it been a long time since you have fallen in love with Jesus all over again, amazed at His kindness and grace, impressed with our triune God who, at the same time, is both majestic and merciful? May you experience showers of blessing today. 

Friday, July 13, 2018

There are Always More for Ministry

As a pastor waits weekly on a congregation to gather, we might be impressed with David’s ability to attract a crowd. Here he is, on the king’s hit list, running for his life, and he is joined by these, characterized as “distressed, indebted, and discontented.” You can always build a ministry if you don’t mind working with the three D’s: distressed, indebted, and discontented.

One of the praise songs goes:
All the poor and powerless, And the lost and lonely
And all the thieves will come confess
And know that you are holy.

Why is it this way? Well, perhaps because the rich are too busy building their bigger barns to enlist in ministry. Perhaps the powerful have empires to operate, and the weight of their responsibilities leaves precious little energy for worship and service. Perhaps those who are at ease have difficulty seriously considering difficult thoughts, and those who are comfortable and contented can hardly imagine the lives of those who aren’t.

Paul reminds the uppity church in Corinth of something similar. “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” 1Cor. 1:26-29

If ministries were to follow Hollywood’s advice, we might recall that all we need are “a few good men.” The Bible seems to indicate that God would rather employ a mess of not-so-good men and women; men and women who are a mess. Why? So that the glory produced from the required redemption and restoration of such characters would not go to heroic, human figures, but to God. 

Oh, and those distressed, indebted and discontented characters that surrounded David. It appears that they were the raw materials developed into those of whom stories were told and songs were sung - into David’s mighty men, who lived, not for their own glory, but for the glory of their King. As we share ministry with those who need mercy, we pray to see lives so changed and God so glorified.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Table Manners

Jesus uses three stories to teach us about life in and around His kingdom. I call it “Table Manners,” since all three stories have to do with a formal dinner.

I recall an old poem that went something like this: “Mabel, Mabel, bred and able, get your elbows off the table.” “Bred” refers to training. A “well-bred” person has been taught manners and decorum. An “ill-bred” person has not. Those who will fill the kingdom are being fitted for the kingdom. Am I? Are you?

The first story has to do with the behavior of those invited (Luke 14:7-11). They come into the room, prepared and beautiful, and they must decide how to situate themselves. Which table will get their food first? Can we go and sneak something off the dessert table before the best stuff is gone? Where are the best seats? Jesus would train us to attend such a dinner, not as a collection of barnyard animals, but as a company of the redeemed, willing to honor others, even at the risk of sacrifice to ourselves.

The second story (Luke 14:12-14) has to do with making up the guest list. Hey, this is going to be a classy event. We need to invite classy people. Plus, it is going to cost us a great deal. Let’s invite people who can at least bring a nice gift, or who may one day throw a party to which  they will no doubt invite us. But no, in the kingdom, we find that it is often the lowly who are invited, and entrance is not based on what a potential guest can contribute. 

The final dinner story in this trilogy (Luke 14:15-24) features unheeded invitations. Many are invited. Few show interest. Those who are first invited come up with a bushel of excuses. They are willing to trade common experiences for the high honor of attending the king’s banquet. Others are invited, and yet there is room. The king orders his servant to “compel” others to come. He wants his house to be full. 

Perhaps you have received an invitation to which you were to respond with your intention to attend. Perhaps you forgot. You showed up, and your name wasn’t on the list. Or worse, perhaps you said you would attend, but then, with place reserved and dinner provided, you didn’t show up. There sat your name on the table, but no participation, a loss of honor for you, but also a bit of a smear on the host. 

Too bad your mother didn’t teach you any table manners.

Friday, June 22, 2018

We Need Each Other

Our culture celebrates individuality. We are drawn to the guy or girl who pulls him/herself up by their own bootstraps. But there is usually more to the story, and God designed for us to work together. He created us in such a way that we need each other.

Psalm 145 demonstrates this need. I have been reflecting on psalms, looking for patterns of how we (individuals) engage with God. This psalm says that we don’t do it alone. We need each other. 

We need generations. The younger need to learn from the older, and the older certainly need the freshness and inspiration of the younger. Churches that continually segment the congregation by age work against this biblical principle.

We need testimony. We need to hear the stories that people tell, of how they got in trouble, and then how God them out of trouble. We need to hear what they learned about God during trials, that God always comes through, oftentimes just in the nick of time. 

We need to hear Scripture from one another, quoting those foundational verses that anchor our faith in something deeper and wiser than our own intuitions or trendy notions. All of these things happen in planned and unplanned settings, as believers fellowship and relate on a spiritual level with one another.

We need to challenge one another to share God’s glory and grace, not only in our own circle, but outside that circle as well, with those who do not know God or the Gospel. We are not called to judge them or to correct them, but to”make know to the sons of men Your mighty acts and the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom. They need to know.

We need each other to remind each other that this is not a human operation, but a divine one, and that any growth in grace, any victory, is due to Him, not us.
We need to pray with each other, to bend knee and bow head in this most counter-cultural of activities in which we “call upon” the Lord. As we see in the verses, it is the common activity of those who fear Him; of all who love Him. Our goal, as we all work together, all of us, is that “all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever.”

We need each other. Let’s work together.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Early Check-Out

We’ve stayed in hotel/motels a number of times. On several occasions we have asked for a late checkout. I don’t recall ever asking for an early one. 

You might want to stay late for any number of reasons. Maybe you have somewhere to go in the morning, and then want to come back and clean up or change clothes before checking out. Maybe you just want to sleep in a bit and avoid the long line at the waffle maker. 

I have a harder time justifying an early checkout. If the room (or the neighbors) are objectionable, one might choose to leave the hotel, but with a full refund in hand - not an early checkout. In fact, even if you have to leave for the airport and 3 a.m., you just get up and go (no waffle). There’s no early checkout. 

But in the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen a number of early checkouts, not from motels, but from life. We prayed for the family for whom I conducted a funeral for their 26-year-old son. We have read about the fashion accessories lady whose name will now outlive her life. And there is the chef/world traveler, who by all accounts, was the nicest guy you could hope to meet - he also took an early checkout. In fact, all of these, and so many more that we remember, were delightful people in so many ways. With some, there may have been indications of trouble, but with others, this was a surprise.

Early checkouts seem to indicate that, for the individual involved, they believe that the darkness of the night will only get darker, and that morning will never come. The pain of the moment will persist, and the hope of peace is too faint to, well, hope for. Those who would help have been found to be not near enough helpful, and the loneliness of this decision is made alone, solely for oneself, as though others were unaffected. 

What is lost in the early checkout is the chance to see a sunrise so beautiful that it would make the darkness worth it; to meet a person so gracious that it would make one almost forget the pain; to meet one so fascinating that you are more taken up with that person than with self. “Well, that’s unlikely to happen,” you might say. In response, consider that it is rendered impossible by the early checkout. 

And further, many have come to know Jesus, and have found in Him that darkness-destroying sunrise; the One with grace so contagious that it penetrates and heals; that One so interesting that you would not want to waste a single day of getting to know Him better.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

He Waits

On a plane of equals, one expects consideration. One expects courtesy. It is not one’s place to put to the test; to try one’s patience; to prolong one’s suffering. 

But we operate not on a plane of equals. We engage with God, and with His Son, Jesus. And that engagement is not between mere mortals. As God, His wisdom is of a different order. He has designs that are lost on us, though they may be designed for us. Our judgments concerning considerations and courtesies carry no weight. And so we should not be surprised, when He waits. 

John 20 shows Mary to be the first to arrive at the tomb where Jesus had been buried on that Sunday morn. This Mary, the one from whom Jesus had cast out the demons. This Mary, who loved Jesus much, for she had been forgiven much, from much delivered. And so she was first, to honor the life of Jesus by honoring him in his burial. It was early, still dark. But she had not slept all night, or the night before, fearful and fitful at the departure of her Lord. He, the holder of her hopes and dreams, her forgiveness and freedom - now dead, stolen away by hatred and unbelief. 

But it would be a difficult task, seeking to anoint his body through tear-filled eyes and grief-stricken soul. We do not know for sure, but even as she arrived, we suspect that the gardener watched. 

Mary enters the tomb and finds it empty. She runs, tells the disciples, and they come running. They stoop to enter the empty tomb, and then off they go, to tell the others that Jesus is missing. It seems quite possible that the gardener, unnoticed, stands and observes. 

Mary remains. She came as the undertaker. She has departed as a messenger. She now returns, and she is at a loss, heartbroken. She looks in the tomb and speaks with .. angels? But does she even know that they are angels? “Why are you weeping?” She cannot comprehend. 

Then she notices the gardener. Perhaps he knows. “If you have carried him away ...” And then he says, “Mary.” He reveals himself. Her eyes are opened. 

Why did Jesus wait so long? Why not reveal himself early, right away, and spare her the grief, the confusion? We do not know. But he waited until just the right time, that her discovery might be mature, complete. And perhaps that is why he waits in your case as well. 

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Lonely Bird

Our world is filled with troubled souls. The troubles come with many shapes and names, but certainly you know a number who are tormented. Psalm 102 is the testimony of one of these.

The personal lament of this psalmist extends, beginning at verse three, through nine verses. He uses vivid language, speaking of “a pelican of the wilderness,” far from his watery home; “an owl in waste places,” away from his forested home; and then this, “like a lonely bird on a housetop,” isolated and alone.

One mistake that troubled souls tend to make is that they do not read far enough. While the lament is long, the psalm goes on for another sixteen verses, offering perspective and hope. Paul Harvey had that radio spot in which he would recall a familiar story, and then provide more information, ending it all with, “and now you know “The Rest of the Story.” We need to see the whole picture, the rest of the story, rather than thinking that what we sense in the moment is all that there is, and all that is going to be. 

You may also notice that I began with verse three. Troubled souls are in trouble if they neglect the first two verses: “Hear my prayer, O LORD! .. Do not hide Your face from me in the day of my distress; .. answer me quickly.” Perhaps we skip these verses because we do not believe anyone is listening. We do not know that God is there, and that He cares. Perhaps there is just some deep-rooted stubbornness in us that keeps us from reaching out to the One whose mercy is deep enough to reach us in the depths, and wide enough to grab hold of that lonely bird on a housetop.

Over in the New Testament, Hebrews 12:2 we are invited to consider “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” See, he knew the rest of the story. That the present was dreadful, but the future would be glorious. And so we are later encouraged to “not grow weary and lose heart.” We are to follow him on that path, in that pattern.

Some troubled souls are difficult to deal with. They may be up and then down, pleasant and then perturbed. They may feel like we don’t understand, and, we probably don’t. Most of us are like drivers on the freeway, where we want the other drivers to be predictable. And troubled souls can be erratic. We regard them as dangerous. But Jesus, the one who knows both the Beginning and the End, is able to hold on to us and bring us home, safely; able to save us from our own troubled souls.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Robotic Repentance

This post is part 2 of what I began earlier, called “An Automated Apology.” This is intended to be a reminder that true religion can never be robotic; that faith is more than intellectual assent and that repentance is more than saying “sorry.” The heart of God has been shown to have moved us-ward, and the only proper response is that our hearts are to be found to moved God-ward.

Let me start with a story, from a different time and a different place. I was serving as a youth pastor, being pretty much a youth myself, and I found myself naively caught in a power play at the church board level. A deacon who ran the church and the pastor decimated me in a board meeting when I presented an idea that the pastor and I had discussed and agreed upon. We were coming to the board for approval, but this board member didn’t like it that he wasn’t given opportunity to veto the idea before the rest of the board heard it. I slunk away that night from that meeting to our apartment, licking my wounds. It was apparent that the offense toward me was real by the fact that another deacon stopped by the apartment that night, and I received a couple of phone calls from others. There was internal discussion, and it was agreed that I should meet with a small group in order for this man to apologize. This never happens. And, this never really happened. Because what he said to me that night was simply this: “I hope I didn’t say anything that you can’t get over.” That was it. No apology. No repentance.

The point of hearing about robotic repentance is that we might consider what true repentance is. It is certainly not a pious act by which we gain God’s favor. It is rather a grace (free gift) that can only be expressed as a grace - a sorriness for our own sin based on a God-given regard for Himself, and a discovery of how hateful that sin is to this holy God. True repentance is the grace by which we find ourselves more in love with Christ than with our sin. It is the side of faith associated with broken-heartedness and contrition. It is the condition by which we are properly humbled even as God, in our hearts and minds, is properly exalted.

Repentance is not merely saying ‘sorry.’ Any robot can be programmed to do that. Any graceless, guile-filled Pharisee can do that. Any 3-year old who wants to make the unpleasantness disappear can do that. We can all do that, and we all have done exactly that - treated our sin like it doesn’t matter, and we sincerely desire that we haven’t done anything that God can’t get over. But we are not to live like robots. Rather, like children of God.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

An Automated Apology

We have all had the experience of being on the phone with “someone” called “customer service.” A common experience would be for the person on the line to apologize for the wait which you are about to endure. In these days when we are becoming increasingly aware that machines are rapidly replacing people, we may come to the realization, as I did, that the apology you just received was automated. It very well have been a digitally produced sound spoken by “no one,” addressed to any old person on the other end of the line (that, by the way, is you), and there is absolutely nothing personal at all in the exchange. It is an automated apology, and the only person who is sorry is you.

We don’t know yet all of which robots may eventually be capable. I read that they are now being desired to provide company for elderly and lonely people. They are coded to respond properly with words of affection, care, and concern. They can offer a loving touch. Oh, except for one thing. They are incapable of affection, care, and concern. And their touch cannot be loving. They are designed to mimic was is truly human. But be sure of this. They are not truly human, and true humanity cannot be mimicked.

But the question that begs asking is this: Do you respond in less than human ways when you apologize? Do you fake your expressions of affection, care, and concern? Is your “loving touch” really something else, something less? In such a case, you are more like an automated machine than a human. But don’t miss this point: While that machine, as machine, is not morally responsible for its actions, you, as a human created in the image of God and thus accountable ultimately to Him, - you are morally responsible.

There may be many things at stake as we progress into our “Brave, New World” (a reference that Albert Mohler makes regularly on this podcast, and an important book to read as its prophetic viewpoint becomes reality in our own day). Even more prophetic would be these words from 2 Timothy: “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.” Automated apologies, and the like, are not the product of a powerful Spirit.

And one other note: Is it possible as we begin the act and talk and think like robots (mimicking the very machines that were designed to mimic us), that we think of God in that way as well? Note these verses, and notice the correction that we need: