Friday, April 29, 2016

Unwitting, or Unwilling Disbelief

We know many of the stories of faith recorded in the Gospels: like the royal official who was willing to take Jesus at his word, and believe that his son, deathly sick at a distance, would be healed; or the beggar woman who argued with Jesus, that she might receive, like a dog, just the scraps from his table. We also know that these stories of faith are often accompanied by conflict, as the with the man who revealed the struggle of his own soul, crying out to the Lord, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”
But we may not so easily notice the stories of stubborn disbelief. We often see what we want to see, and dismiss what is uncomfortable. So let’s notice these verses from Mark 16, about Jesus’ disciples, following His resurrection from the dead:
11 When (the disciples ) heard that (Jesus) was alive and had been seen by (Mary Magdalene), they refused to believe it.
13 (Two disciples who encountered Jesus) went away and reported it to the others, but they did not believe them either.
14 Afterward (Jesus) appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen.
16 “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.
And then we have the well-known story of “doubting” Thomas, who said to the 10 disciples, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” “Doubt” is not a strong enough term for Thomas’ position. In opposition to the evidence; in opposition to the eye-witness testimony of his trusted companions - he refused to believe. Unwitting? or unwilling? Bewildered? or hard-hearted? In need of time and patience? or did he need to be warned, “he who has disbelieved will be condemned”?

There is such a thing as doubt. It is real, and it is common. When we doubt, we must come back to the testimony once again, and ask, “what does the Word of God say?” In accord with God’s gracious and authoritative Word, we have a responsibility to believe, and to obey. In this light, we see that faith is not some strange bird with fuzzy feathers. It is you grabbing hold of revealed truth with determination, and believing that God is real, and that Jesus is alive.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dreaming vs. Scheming

One of the key characters in the Old Testament story of Esther, opposed to the existence of the Jewish people, was Haman. He was involved in an elaborate scheme, not a dream. God, intervened, so that Haman’s scheme was foiled, and the dream of a people for God’s own possession continued toward its fulfillment.
On the other hand, another well-known story from Genesis recounts a young man who had not a scheme, but a dream - a real dream - but also a vision, of a glorious, though difficult future. It wasn’t his dream; it was God’s. And he could not have understood how it would all play out, nor would he have wanted to. It was Joseph. The dream indicated that his father and brothers would one day bow down before him. Now, that may sound like a scheme for self-promotion. But rather than being ginned up to benefit self, this dream looked forward to the salvation of a family - of a people - through the suffering, and elevation, of one. In this case, Joseph.
These stories, and more, come to rest in Jesus, who according to the Father’s good pleasure, suffered and died, and was raised from the dead in vindication, so that God might create a people for Himself, drawn not only from the family of Jacob (Israel), but also from “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.” It is the development of a dream; not the concoction of a scheme.
The verse referenced above indicates that the hearts and minds of these people are “zealous for good works.” The think about zeal is - it’s tough to be zealous for two things at once. We fancy ourselves as multi-taskers. But actually, we major in one area, and pretend in the others. If you are taken up with God’s dream, then you will have little energy for selfish schemes. And vice versa. 
And so, if you are a follower of Jesus, in what schemes are you involved? What flatteries and falsehoods? What hidden agendas and secret dealings? Because it is these to which we often resort when we are building the kingdom of self, at the expense of the kingdom of God. Schemes are not worthy of the kingdom of God. The Father builds His kingdom with the finest of materials - with people who are being purified, and with plans that are prayed-over; with motives that are un-mixed, and with methods that are honest and transparent. 
It is not only that God does not need your schemes to accomplish His purposes. They are, actually, prime indicators that you are not pursuing His dream at all.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Live Like a King

Do you live like a king? I am not talking about ego and extravagance. I’m talking about sphere of influence and responsibility.
There is a sense in which every one of us is called to live like a king, to exercise wisdom and justice in the ‘kingdom’ over which we have authority. The size of my kingdom may be quite small. But it does not relieve me of the responsibility to take responsibility over that realm,no matter its size. 
It might be as small as your own little life. But you are responsible for the choices that you make - for what you allow and disallow - for rules of engagement, and the pursuit of integrity. 
This may involve your role with your family. We must remember that others in our household are kings in their own right, and that we may be in the process of helping them learn to exercise wisdom and justice in their own spheres. But I remember many occasions when my dad would walk past the TV in front of which we were sitting, and turning it off because he deemed what was going on inappropriate. He was living like a king. He was guarding his realm.
Psalm 101, from which the verse above is taken, is David’s manifesto declaring how he would rule his kingdom with regard to moral integrity. It is rather brutal. It is not tolerant. But he was determined to be the king of his kingdom, and to rule accordingly. Further, David knew that he was accountable not merely to himself. He was accountable to God for how he ruled his kingdom, acknowledging that he was but an ‘under-king,’ and that God is the King of the Kingdom, of which all our little kingdoms are but subsets. And so will we. We will answer to God for how we live our lives, and how we rule our kingdoms.
Again, I am not saying that we are to arrogantly seek to extend our authority into the lives of people where it does not belong. I am not in charge of your beliefs, or your morals. But there certainly are lines of authority and responsibility that extend to family, and work, and community, according as we have been assigned or employed. 

A leadership author speaks of areas in which we are to be ‘ridiculously in charge.’ He allows no room for the abdication of responsibility, and the resulting excuse-making and blame-placing. Live like a king! Take charge of your kingdom!