Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

Joy is one of the most attractive fruits of the Spirit. After all, everyone wants joy. Or do they? Even joy can become a burden if it is taken wrongly. If we see joy as some perfect, unbroken happy feeling it can become impossible to fully maintain and a perpetual source of guilt. And it is easy to end up discouraged or faking it. But even Jesus, the perfect Man, is called the Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3), and He expressed that sorrow at appropriate times (Mark 14:32-42; Luke 19:41-44; John 11:35). Now there are Christians who seem to reflect only a brittle legalism and little in the way of joy, and this must be avoided. But we need to approach the question carefully. We can rejoice in God (Philippians 4:4; Romans 5:11; Psalms 100:1) and what He has done to save us (Luke 10:20; John 15:11; Romans 5:2). We can also rejoice in the good things God gives us (John 16:23,24; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; James 1:17). We can even, though it is difficult, rejoice in times of trouble, knowing we can trust God to bring us through (John 16:33; James 1:2-4; Psalms 30:5). But none of this should be seen as a kind of mindless happiness pill that will make us feel no pain. And real joy comes not from working it up, but from looking to God and what He has done for us. Then we can have a deep joy that persists even in the midst of sorrows. Rather than a superficial one that pretends sorrows do not exist.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mine and Not Mine

To live for God we need to trust in His power. The great enemy to this is depending on ourselves. It is not enough to recognize everything depends on the power of God. If we are not on guard against it, we find self-reliance continually trying to worm its way back into our life. Sometimes its greatest ally is our believing we have the thing settled, making us unprepared for the next attack.

We need to start by remembering that we are saved by Christ's work for us, accomplished without our aid (1 Peter 1:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). We are sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6) who receive this by putting our faith in Christ (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:9). Even this is the result of God's working in us to bring us to Himself (John 6:44; Acts 16:14; 1 Corinthians 2:14). Now I am convinced that God specifically chooses who will be saved (Acts 13:48; Ephesians 1:4; Romans 8:29,30), but no matter what you believe on that, it is important to realize that a work of God is necessary in our lives for us to come to Him. Scripture also says that we are changed by the power of God working in us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10). Again, we are required to respond (Romans 12:1,2; Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 5:18), but this response requires God's work, which is necessary for us to change (John 15:5; Romans 7:14; 8:8).

Now some take the attitude that God saves us and then leaves us on our own to live for Him. But we can also believe there is something we need to do to get God to start working in us. And that this thing, no matter how small, will depend entirely on us. We can end up on the treadmill of trying harder and harder to get it to work (I have been there). Also, it is important to remember that we are still in process and have not yet arrived in our quest to follow God (Philippians 3:12-16; Hebrews 12:1,2; 1 Timothy 4:7,8). For if we believe we have reached some plateau of holiness, even if we believe it is wholly God's work, we will begin to consider that it belongs to us. And whether we believe we have reached this level at salvation itself or as a second experience, we will have to continually convince ourselves that we have attained it; if not, our faith will take a nosedive. Therefore, while we need to be confident of God's working in us, we need to also realize that we are still imperfect people who have not yet arrived (2 Corinthians 3:5,6; 4:7; 1 John 1:8-10). But more than that, we need to turn away from ourselves and focus on Christ. I believe that C. S. Lewis was right in concluding that true humility is not a matter of putting ourselves down, but of focusing on something other than ourselves, on God and other people (1 Corinthians 4:3-5; Romans 12:3; 14:4).

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Touch of Humor - The Remainder

What should we do when the thing we thought was strong proves not to be? How can we prepare for this?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Anchor

When we hit the real storms of life, it makes a difference how firmly we are anchored beforehand in God and His truth.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Irenaeus

For the heavenly treasuries are indeed great: God cannot be measured in the heart, and incomprehensible is He in the mind; He who holds the earth in the hollow of His hand. Who perceives the measure of His right hand? Who knoweth His finger? Or who doth understand His hand,—that hand which measures immensity; that hand which, by its own measure, spreads out the measure of the heavens, and which comprises in its hollow the earth with the abysses; which contains in itself the breadth, and length, and the deep below, and the height above of the whole creation; which is seen, which is heard and understood, and which is invisible? And for this reason God is “above all principality, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named,” of all things which have been created and established. He it is who fills the heavens, and views the abysses,
who is also present with every one of us. For he says, “Am I a God at hand, and not a God afar off? If any man is hid in secret places, shall I not see him?” For His hand lays hold of all things, and that it is which illumines the heavens, and lightens also the things which are under the heavens, and trieth the reins and the hearts, is also present in hidden things, and in our secret [thoughts], and does openly nourish and preserve us.

Irenaeus, 125-202 AD,Against Heresies, Book VI, Chapter X1X, 2 (The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Philip Schaff, Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001, p. 705)

What are the implications of the greatness of God to our understanding of Him? How does this fit with His being close to us?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

There Should Be a Law

One of the common, knee-jerk reactions to social problems is to try to pass a law. Surely, if we just had the right law on the books, it would solve things. But this reflects a rather simplistic concept of what the civil law can and cannot do. Now law, as it comes from God, serves various functions. It shows us our sinfulness and that we are in need of a Redeemer (Romans 3:19,20; 5:20,21; Galatians 3:21-26). When we have come to Christ, it gives us guidelines for how we are to behave (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14; James 1:22-25), but we can only do this through the power of God working in us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). But the civil aspect of the law is much more limited. Its purpose is to limit blatant and overt evil (Romans 13:1-5; Deuteronomy 13:11; 21:21). Martin Luther likened it to a muzzle on a wild beast. It does not change the nature of the beast, but it keeps it from biting you.

Now some sort of civil law is necessary to protect society from anarchy. But we must not expect too much of it. We cannot simply pass a law and expect everyone to automatically obey it. Therefore, laws work best when the clear majority of the people are behind them. They then act to restrain the few who are in violation of the general consensus. But if too many people simply flaunt the law, it can be extremely difficult to enforce. This can put a Christian in something of a complicated dilemma. We may feel strongly that a particular practice is wrong and needs to be changed. But we may be out of step with those around us. Should we work to change the law even if we know the law is unenforceable? Or do we passively sit by and accept whatever the majority happens to endorse? Both courses are somewhat too simplistic.

God requires His people to stand up for what is right, even if it is not always well received (Matthew 14:3-12; 1 Kings 21:17-26; 2 Samuel 12:1-15). But we should be prepared to face a long process. We should also be prepared, not just to pass laws, but to convince people. We should not take the attitude that if we just pass the right laws, everything will be solved. And because of that, we need to pick our fights. We need to firmly and consistently stand against real injustice. But we should beware of getting into fights over trivia. For to do so is to use up effort and resources that should be used for the real fights that are worth fighting. We need to remember the limitations of laws, and if a law cannot do what we want, we need to take a different approach. For the law has its uses, but it cannot change the heart and mind.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Facing the Devil

How do we face the work of the devil and his minions in the world and in our lives? Now there are those who exaggerate the work of demons, seeing them everywhere, and those who minimize it, seeing it nowhere. But what do we do if, after careful consideration, we feel we or someone we know is facing a demonic attack? The first thing we need to do is submit ourselves to the power and care of God with genuine humility (James 4:6,7; 1 Peter 5:5-10; 2 Corinthians 10:3-6). Christ has already defeated the demonic powers on the cross, and He is our victory over them (Colossians 2:13-15; 1 John 4:4; John 16:11). Therefore, we need to face the devil's schemes trusting in God and His power (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; 37:3-6). But we should remember the fate of the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-17) and not trust in our own capabilities or use Jesus' name lightly as a magic talisman.  Now we should not see confronting the devil as the quick fix for all our problems and everything that ails us. But if we must face him, we should do so based on a trust firmly fixed in the power of God.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Silver Bullet

One of the implications of the grace of God being at work in His church is that we need to give up our search for a silver bullet. What the current church seems to be consumed with is the search for the right formula to restore Christianity to its rightful place of respectability and dominance in western culture. Rather than trusting God's promise that He will accomplish His purposes in His church (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7; Colossians 2:19), we want to take everything on our shoulders and try to find a quick, simple way to fix things. So we come up with all manner of plans and programs to accomplish this, rather than trusting in God (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5; Isaiah 31:1). Now I am not suggesting we sit passively by and do nothing. I am convinced that God calls us through His power to carry out His purposes in the world (Colossians 1:28,29; Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:11-16). What I do want to avoid is the panicked search for panaceas that results from feeling the whole thing depends on us.

Part of the problem here is expectations. The nominal, cultural Christianity that once dominated western civilization has led us to expect to have our views respected. But is this really something we can really count on as a matter of course? Scripture says we should not be surprised if the culture around is hostile toward Christianity (John 15:18-21; 16:1-4; Matthew 10:17-25). We are also told that conforming to the world around us is dangerous to our spiritual health (1 John 2:15-17; Romans 12:1,2; James 4:4). Now I do not want to advocate sitting in a corner, afraid to come out for fear of those who are not Christians. Christ is victorious over this world and has promised we will ultimately overcome with Him (John 16:33; Romans 8:35-39; 2 Corinthians 2:14). But I do want to suggest that we, as Christians, should not take for granted that we will always be comfortable in society, or feel we have a right to expect this. One of the results of this expectation is that we can react in anger when it is not met. Further, we can run around frantically looking for that silver bullet that will bring us back to where we used to be. Now I do not want to minimize the power of God, but I know of no promise that God will always cause us to honored by those around us. Rather, there are the statements mentioned above that say the opposite.

What I suggest then is that we let go of the past and, trusting in God's power, rebuild from there. That we put aside the gimmicks and quick fixes and, rather, engage in faithfully and persistently carrying out the basic things God requires of us (1 Corinthians 4:1,2; 2 Timothy 2:3,4; Hebrews 12:1,2). For the shortcuts will not really lead us to our destination.   

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Death and Taxes

Is it easy to trust in things that have no permanence. How should the impermanence of the things about us affect our perspective on life?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Rubber

When the rubber meets the road, what we think about the basic nature of the universe really does matter.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Lewis

The New Testament writers speak as if Christ's achievement in raising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the 'first-fruits', the 'pioneer of life'. He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so. This is the beginning of the New Creation: a new chapter in cosmic history has opened.

C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963, Miracles, 16: Miracles of the New Creation (HarperOne, 1996, pp. 236-237)

What are the implications of Christ's resurrection being a cosmic event? How does it impact our life today?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Power of the Resurrection

In dealing with how we should live for God, we need to start with what God did for us when He saved us. The Father sent His Son to pay the price for our sins (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). This results in our dying with Christ to sin, death, and the law (Romans 6:1-3; 7:1-4; Colossians 3:1-4). This not only means that, having died to these things we are no longer under condemnation (Romans 8:31-34; 14:4; John 3:16-18). But it means we are set free to live a new life in obedience to God (Romans 6:4-11; 7:5-6; Galatians 2:19-21). Not only does Christ's love for us motivate us to obey Him, though it clearly does (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Titus 2:11-14). But it also provides us with the power necessary to obey Him (2 Peter 1:3; Colossians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:18), because without Him we are helpless (John 15:5; Romans 7:14; 8:8). And He calls us to live based on that (Romans 6:12-14; 12:1,2; Matthew 16:24). This is not a life of perfection (Philippians 3:12-16; 1 John 1:8-10; Galatians 5:17), but one where God is at work in our lives to change us (Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29; Galatians 5:16).

Now this truth can be put forth as a gimmick to bring about instant sanctification. But we are not commanded to be crucified with Christ. We are told that, as believers in Jesus Christ, we already have been. Now this should give us a new perspective on life. And it should lead us to trust God for His power, rather than trusting in our own ability (Proverbs 3:5,6; Isaiah 40:31; Psalms 127:1,2). But that does not mean there is not a process of growth and discipline we need to go through (1 Timothy 4:7,8; Hebrews 5:14; 12:1,2) to grow in Christ.

What is involved here is not something we do or some mysterious secret we discover that puts us in the higher rank of Christians who have it all together. Rather, it is a power that every Christian can count on, even if the world around them seems to look bleak and desolate (2 Corinthians 4:7-18; 12:7-10; Romans 8:35-39). We can trust that, even though we are weak and struggling, God's power is at work in our lives. That does not mean it is irrelevant what choices we make. But it does mean we are not left on our own to desperately look for some way to obtain God's power. Nor is God's power not there just because we do not happen to feel it. And we are not left with the feeling that God has deserted us just when we needed Him most because of our own failure to find the right method to get Him to help us. Therefore, the power of God is not something we need to summon, but something we can count on. Even if we do not happen to feel it. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

All Laud Be to God - A Song

All Laud Be to God

By Mike Erich

To the tune of “How Firm a Foundation” (Foundation)

All laud be to God, enthroned ever above,
All perfect in wisdom with eternal love.
He is spotlessly holy with infinite grace,
With legions of angels beholding His face.

Give praise to the Father, who calls forth the stars,
And sent forth His Son to pay all our arrears.
The ultimate Ruler, o'er all things He reigns,
And none of the nations shall cast off His chains.

Give thanks to the Son, born as man us to save,
Who has borne all our sins and has conquered the grave.
He declar-ed us righteous ‘fore His judgment throne
And will come in the clouds to claim us for His own.

Sing out to the Spirit who dwells now within,
Guides us into truth, breaks the power of sin.
He seals us to God, is the Firstfruits of heaven,
To us power and gifts in Christ’s body has given.

Now let us exalt God, the great Three-in-One,
Co-equal in glory, comparable to none.
Now give Him our worship, our love, and our praise;
To Him may our heart and our voice ever raise.

(Should anyone wish to use this song, permission is granted, provided it is not altered or sold or performed for monetary gain without the author's prior agreement.)  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The One Who Is

When Moses asked God His name, He said, "I am that I am." The most probable meaning of the name of God, Yahweh (more commonly called Jehovah), is "He is." God is the one who simply is. He is eternal; there never was a time when He was not, nor will there be a time when He will not be (Psalms 90:2; 1 Timothy 1:17; Revelation 1:8). (While the Bible does not directly teach it, it makes sense to understand that God is outside time and sees things in terms of one eternal now.) He does not change (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8). He is the faithful One (Psalms 89:1-5; 36:5,6; Lamentations 3:22-26).

Now a difficulty that immediately confronts us is, what does it mean to say that God does not change? It does not mean that God does not react to the changes of others. God responds to the behavior of people (Jeremiah 18:7-10; Jonah 3:10; 2 Kings 20:1-7). Now God does not change in His nature, His purposes, or His promises. He does not lightly change His mind, without a real reason (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29; 2 Corinthians 1:20). But He does respond to the actions of people. Also, God can and does change His outer ways of working when the time comes that it is appropriate to make a change (Colossians 2:16-19; Galatians 4:1-7; Matthew 9:14-17). Therefore, when Christ came, it changed the external observances because He was the fulfillment of what these represented. But God in Himself does not change.

God is the rock bottom thing in the universe on which everything else is based. God is the rock bottom thing of our lives on which everything else is based. He makes the the universe make sense by being the the One that everything came from, rather than having something come out of nothing for no reason (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16,17). He is the source of the physical laws and the explanation of the physical world. He is also the basis of our life and the One who makes it make sense. Now that does not mean it will be easy. In fact, Scripture promises us troubles (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 1 Peter 4:12,13). But we can cling to the faithfulness of God in the midst of troubles (Psalms 46:1-11; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; Romans 8:35-37). For He is the faithful One who does not change. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Touch of Humor - A Higher Goal

Is there a tendency to refuse to believe there are things that cannot be purchased? Why? How do we avoid it?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Nothing

God making something out of nothing is more reasonable than nothing making something out of nothing.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Spurgeon

If a man means to hang himself, he is sure to find a piece of rope somewhere; and when a man means to live in sin, he can find an argument for it even in the infinite mercy of God; but we must not stop our preaching because of that.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1834-1892, Sermon 2446: "God, and Not Man," What Does It Mean?, X, Evening 3/17/1889, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit

Is this the correct attitude toward God's mercy? How should it affect our response to people?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Greatest Good

The chief modern way approaching morality is to look for the greatest good to the greatest number. This seems to make sense. And it avoids the need for God or any set of transcendent ethical principles. Now the original meaning of good here is pleasure. And this is necessary if they are to avoid adopting some transcendent idea of good. But will this work?

The first question is, how do you justify it? Now the idea has obvious attractions. To believe that what gives the most people the most pleasure is what is moral is a pleasant concept. Like the idea that a hot fudge sundae has no calories. But how do we prove this? And make no mistake, it requires proof. Most of the more traditional forms of morality question it. That does not prove the idea that what is morally right is equal to what brings pleasure is wrong. But it needs some justification. And I know of none other than we happen to find it attractive.

But there is a bigger problem. How can we really determine what constitutes the greatest pleasure for the greatest number of people? Even with ourselves this is difficult to determine. Will we in the long run gain more pleasure if we use some restraint, or if we pursue self-indulgence? There is a continual choice between sophisticated and crude pleasures. And if you try to figure out what will give the largest amount of pleasure to the largest number of people, many of whom may have different opinions of what will give them pleasure, it becomes an impossible conundrum. But beyond that, there is the problem that what gives a person pleasure depends on their philosophy of life. That is not just that different people get pleasure from different things, though this is itself a complication, but that the same person with a different outlook on life would get pleasure from different things. So we end measuring how we should live by a flexible yardstick with an unreadable scale.

Also, there is the problem that if we live only for pleasure, there are a number of things that determine how much pleasure we get  from life which are simply out of our control. And particularly for a person who has serious struggles in their life, this becomes something of a mockery. To tell someone with a serious disability or who is trapped in poverty that the purpose of life is to accumulate as much pleasure as possible is a slap in the face. So we really have only two choices; we can throw out morality entirely (which most people are reluctant to do), or we can seek something higher than pleasure to base it on. But living simply for our own pleasure wears awfully thin in the end.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Line

George Oliver paced slowly along the rampart, his blaster slung over his shoulder. He gazed down upon the no-man's-land of electronic barriers that kept the enemy at bay. There were electronic surveillance devices to warn them of approaching attacks. But since the great drone offensive, when someone had found a way to hack in and temporarily bring the system down, George had not totally trusted the mechanics.

It did not help that they were hemmed in on two fronts. The western front was solid from Canada to Mexico, and they opposed anyone crossing their borders. The eastern front was open in the south, and some tried to escape past the shore patrol to safe places like China and Uganda. But George was not ready for that yet. This was his home, and he intended to stay and defend it.

What had gone wrong, and how had it gotten this bad? thought George. Neither side had been completely innocent; both had helped to escalate the war of words. Then had come the law suits, the arrests, and the imprisonments. Maybe it would have better if we had just been willing to suffer like Christians rather than fight back. But slowly a resistance movement had grown until it had ended in full-scale war. It had been fortunate for them that a good part of the military had proved to be on their side. And now here they were, cut off by walls on either side. And there seemed to be some who liked it that way. George hated it. He wanted to reach out to those on the other side of the line, to find a way to make peace, to tell them about the love of Christ. But he did not know how to do it.

His reverie was broken off by a sharp buzz. He went to the nearest surveillance panel to check it out. There was one, seemingly unarmed, drone hovering, just outside the perimeter. And it was broadcasting an offer to parley. Did he dare let it in? It could be a trap. But was he willing to pass up the possibility it might not be? He alerted his own drones to destroy it if it made a false move, but he told the surveillance system to let it through.

He took cover behind the corner of a tower, with his blaster leveled at the intruder. How useless this could be if the drone had a weapon that the scanners had not detected he knew very well. The drone came in slowly and hovered directly in front of him. On the cone of the device there was a large video screen. As it neared, there appeared on it a young man with a tense smile.

"We wanted to send you a message," began the young man, "but we are both too afraid of hackers and propagandists to let our systems interface. This has proved the only way to reach you. We have tried to eliminate religion, or at least what we thought was inappropriate religion. We have failed. The more we tried to suppress them, the more they multiplied. We have decided to find a way to make peace. And we also would like to explore making  peace with you. We want to become one people again. It will not be easy. But we believe it is worth doing. Will you join us in this?"

George was still not sure this whole thing was not a trap. But could he let the opportunity get away if it was not?    

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Ulterior Motive

Is there a temptation to love power just for the sake of power? How can we avoid it?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Recycling

There have been every few fundamentally new theological and philosophical systems in the history of the world, but the old ones get recycled on a regular basis.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Polycarp

And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always “providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man;” abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin.

Polycarp, 69-115 AD,  Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, Chapter IV, (The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Philip Schaff, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001, p. 53)

What kind of qualities should we look for in a leader? How should we go about producing them?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Polycarp - The Disciple

Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was a disciple of the Apostle John. We have this from Irenaeus, who studied under Polycarp in Polycarp's later life. We have only one letter from Polycarp, though we have a letter to him by Ignatius (Lord willing, the subject of a future post). Polycarp's letter is steeped in Scripture, particularly the New Testament. In fact, one of the frustrating things about Polycarp is that he alludes to Scripture so frequently that it is hard to get a good feel for his own personality. His letter is to the Philippians and is a general encouragement to live as we should as Christians. But it also clearly mentions Jesus as the One who came in the flesh to save us from sin and rise again from the dead and who will one day resurrect those who believe in Him. He mentions Paul and his letter to the Philippians and the letters of Ignatius, his contemporary. Even more than Clement, he has no particular axe to grind and makes sense as a real witness to his time. According to Irenaeus, he argued for charity and acceptance in the dispute over the day of Easter. He also passed on to Irenaeus some stories of the Apostle John in later life. There is an early account of his martyrdom at an old age and how he stood firm until death.

The thing Polycarp exemplifies is faithfulness. He is important because of his early relation to the apostles. He does not seem to have introduced any new or unusual idea. But he was a faithful servant of God, faithful even to death. He was an early witness to what Christianity was from the very beginning. And he is an example for us of a faithful pastor who did his job well and, as a result of that, left us a legacy. Such  men are the backbone of the church in any age, the faithful, though, in many cases, unnoticed pastors who faithfully shepherd the flock of God.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Finding Our Way Through the Maze

Finding God's will for your life is complicated. Often, things do not come together as we originally thought they would. There are times when we do not know where we are going and what to do next. There are times when we need to make hard decisions. At these times, it is a comfort to know that God is in control of the world and in control of our lives (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; Isaiah 43:13). We see God at work in the story of Jonah, who deliberately disobeyed God, but God brought Him back to the right track. We see Paul, wandering around Asia Minor until God finally showed him where He wanted him to go (Acts 16:6-10). I am convinced that if we are willing or even, like Jonah, can be made willing, God will lead us to where He wants us to be. But people have been given the idea that there is one clear will of God for their lives and they must be diligent not to miss it. And if they miss it, they are relegated to second best for the rest of their lives. But I am convinced that, apart for blatant, continual refusal to deal with clear sin in our lives, God will lead us to where He wants us to be. And we can trust Him for that (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 37:3-6; 127:1,2).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Grace and The Body of Christ

Christians have been taught that we need God's grace. We need God's grace to be saved (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 3:23-28; Titus 3:4-6). We also need it to live for God (2 Peter 1:3; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:18). But sometimes we get the idea that when we come together with other Christians to do God's work, we are on our own, and everything depends on our ability and hard work. Christ said He would build His church (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:7,8; 1 Peter 2:4,5). It is described as a body that grows and develops together (Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 2:19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). And the work of those building one another up is rooted in God's power (Colossians 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9; Ephesians 3:7,8). Now God does call us to faithfulness and diligence (1 Corinthians 4:2; Colossians 1:28; 2 Timothy 4:1-4). But this is not the same as seeing the fate of the church as dependent on our labors.

This is important because if we trust in ourselves, we end up trying to convince ourselves that we are successful.  And we can try to measure this by external criteria, such as numbers, size of buildings, and impressiveness of programs, rather than real spiritual growth in the lives of people. If we convince ourselves we are successful, we can become proud, which is a dangerous spiritual state (Proverbs 16:18). We can start to believe we can do no wrong and end up being blindsided by our own weaknesses. We can start to believe anything is acceptable as long as it brings or maintains success. But if we do not succeed, we can become discouraged. If we are not leaders, we can blame whoever is in charge. While those in charge can blame the people for not being behind them. And we end up dividing the body of Christ into those who are successful and those who are not.

Now I am not saying we should never evaluate what we are doing. But I am convinced the basic thing we need to do is trust God (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Isaiah 31:1). And we need to be very careful about judging ourselves or others, especially based on superficial criteria (1 Corinthians 4:3-5; James 4:11,12; Romans 14:4). This means also avoiding the opposite reaction of concluding that everyone with external success must be compromised in their walk with God and only trying to please other people. There may be those who are like that (2 Timothy 4:3,4; Matthew 23:5-7; Galatians 1:10). Each case must be decided on its own merits. But there are others who God has called to a particular prominent ministry that fits our criteria for success. Rather, we should try to ask, how can we encourage and build up one another in whatever situation we are in (Hebrew 10:24,25; 12:12,13; Romans 12:15,16)? So that we might work together to accomplish what God wants to accomplish through us. And might start by trusting in Him rather than ourselves.