Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Trusting God

Today's reading were from Psalms 17 - 20.

I love the 19th Psalm. It has a way of wrapping up trust, faith in both simplicity and awe.

"The instructions of the Lord are perfect,
reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The commandments of the Lord are right,
bringing joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are clear,
giving insight for living.
Reverence for the Lord is pure,
lasting forever.
The laws of the Lord are true;
each one is fair.
They are more desirable than gold,
even the finest gold.
They are sweeter than honey,
even honey dripping from the comb." (Psalm 19:7-10 NLT)

Here the Psalmist says what each of our souls say...there is something outside of ourselves to lean on. We are not alone, without a guide to life. God is life and truth. He revives, makes wise, brings joy, gives insight. He is pure in his motives, fair in his judgments, and sweet in his Spirit.

The beauty of the Lord is not found in trying to control him, or tell him what he is suppose to do or not do, but in a simple act of trust. The child selfishly wants what it wants; but the wise mother/father knows what is needed and that is what they end up getting.

I'm learning how to trust...I wished I knew it more. Selfishness is the easy way. Trusting requires surrender, a giving up of "my ways" for "the way" that represents God. Jesus is "the way"...a good question then is "In what way is Jesus the way?"; and perhaps another one is "In what way are my ways conformed to his ways?"

Peace

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Doubt & Faith, Part 2, "I Believe"

Today's readings were in Psalms 8 - 16.

Here's a good thing to do once in a while. Complete the sentence that begins "I believe..."
I've been continuing to think about what it means to press on through times confusion and doubt. What is it "I believe" when life turns in an ugly direction?
Let's be clear...sometimes it will. "When we wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are...your dreams come true..." Don't we wish it was always that way?
The clearest thing about each of us is our capacity for hope. It takes a lot of negative, a lot of despair, a lot of hurt and pain to diminish hope. Each of us is created with a God-oriented hope inside of us. That hope operates like a level, seeking to balance off the everyday junk that makes us sometimes sad, sometimes angry, often times wondering "where are you God?"

What do I/You believe?

Madeline L`Engle said:
"Those who believe in God, but without passion of heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, even at times without despair, only believe in the idea of God and not in God himself".

There's the challenge. I believe, now help me to come to the place where everything in my mind, heart, soul, leads me to walk that out in hope, certainty and faithfulness...even when the days are dark.

Peace


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Monday, June 27, 2011

Doubt and Faith, pt 1

Today's readings from Scripture were Psalms 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.

I am reading some material from John Ortberg who wrote "Faith and Doubt". I just noticed I reversed the order in my title...oh well. I find the read really good, mainly because of how "real" he is with a subject that can't help make many of us as Christians feel quite uncomfortable from time to time.

After all, who wants to say out loud, "sometimes I'm just not sure what to believe"? Let me clear, honest, and transparent...I have times of troubling doubt. I am like the little girl who asked, "If God loves us so much, why doesn't he make us happy all of the time?". And we know that part of the answer is in realizing that happiness is not necessarily a "God-goal".

Philip Yancey has written a lot on this subject...to the point that some Christians have wondered about his own faith...I'm not one of them. One thing Yancey pointed out in his book "Finding God in Unexpected Places", was that Jesus said nine times to people, "you're faith has made you well, or healed you..." But, almost all of those times were with people who were outside of Judaism. They were people like a Roman centurion and a Cannanite woman. I don't think he meant to dismiss the issue of faith with his own Jewish nation, but it doesn't come up with them nearly as often as with these who are outside of Judaism.

One of my favorite stories is in Mark 9, where Jesus comes down off of a mountain with Peter, James and John, and they meet the rest of the disciples and a father, with his boy, who is desperate for help. The son is demonically tormented and the disciples could not help. Besides that, a crowd has gathered to watch and they seem to be shaking their heads with that kind of "these guys aren't any different than we are, even though they claim to follow Jesus." I've been in that situation. As a Pastor, I would love to be able to access the power of healing, deliverance, wisdom at all times and in all places. The disciples are frustrated and they end up fighting among themselves when Jesus arrives. Jesus is exasperated: "How long shall I stay with you?" and asks for the boy. The boy acts out, and Jesus asks the father, "how long has he been like this?" The father says, "a long time...since childhood...now Jesus, IF you can do something..."

IF
IF is not a word that is spoken with absolute assurance and faith...and Jesus speaks to it immediately..."Everything is possible for him who believes".

What is it about "believing" that changes things? The father wisely answers, "I believe, help my unbelief".
There it is...I believe and I doubt. I hope and I fear. I pray and I wonder why. I believe, and don't believe.

Jesus' response is worth noting. He doesn't say, "What's wrong with you...or I'm insulted...or get your act together buddy if you hope to have God do something." Instead, he speaks to the son and the boy is healed. The story is great, because like all good stories there is drama, conflict, personalities, a great ending; but not all stories we live in come out like that.

Our good friends just lost their son to cancer...a nine month battle that now sees their son home with the Lord. They prayed, they believe, we prayed, we believe, and countless others also...We struggle to make sense of the desire for good to appear...the happy ending...that never comes. Sorry...faith is still real, and I believe...but sometimes I struggle with questions I can't answer.

Peace

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pressing through Doubt

I am still reading through the scriptures - or should I say "slugging" through it. Sometimes it's easy to read the scriptures. It seems so alive with story, hope, faith, love, grandeur, the glory of God. Sometimes it is not. Sometimes it is filled with questions. There are questions of "why would you include this in the scripture?", "what is the value of this?", "I don't understand any of what this is about."

I know there are some people who claim they never struggle with scripture - that it is only light and life - but I cannot say that. As I've read over the Prophets - today's reading was in Zechariah 7 - 14 - I am struck by the harsh tone, the predictive judgments, the language and lack of faith, hope and love. It is a reason why some people simply avoid this section of scripture. It's almost a passive form of saying, "I don't believe God wrote this section."

There are also people who want to make the Bible not only Old and New Testaments, but also Old and New God. The temptation to do that is understood, even if foolish. No, what we struggle with is doubt. How can we understand God in the midst of this language?

It's the same story of the little girl who asked her father one day: "If God loves us so much why doesn't he make us happy all of the time?" It's a good question; but then the realization is that we might lose sight of what real happiness is if all we experienced was happiness. As important as being happy is, if that becomes our object, then God will not. We go through the valleys of doubt because - perhaps - God's goal isn't for us to be happy, but to be good, godly, willing to slug it out in our valleys of doubt and learn to trust when all is not well...when all is not happy.

Peace


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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Navigating the Storms

Today I've been reading Nahum and Habakkuk. Both of these prophets have short letters written. Nahum is strong and positive in his outlook. Yes, Israel and Judah have suffered, been invaded, exiled and scourged, but those who did this (Assyria) will get their due and Israel will be restored. If we were living during this time we'd be tempted to salute and applaud Nahum's words.
Habakkuk is more troubled. He is asking God the questions we all ask - WHY? Why is this all happening? Why is God allowing the troubles and even (seemingly) ignoring the pain?
Most of us have had times where we found ourselves in the "storm" and didn't know whether or not we'd make it out. That storm can be physical pain, disease, financial problems, even political confusion, but the nature of each is the confusion, the endless thinking about what to do next, the sense of lostness - can't find the way out.
Navigating storms is an art. Habakkuk leads us through this and comes to a conclusion that is worth our remembering when our own storms occur. In the final chapter, he states:

"Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread upon the heights.
(Habakkuk 3:17-19 NLT)

Our prayers are not unnoticed and our faith is not in vain. We pray and we hope because of the character of our God. We cannot stop the storms but we can take shelter where it is safe to ride it out.

Peace

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Easy Believism

Hi friends,

I've been "off-line" for a few days...the result of some rather busy things in life...some very enjoyable, like our 40th wedding anniversary, and some just plain busy in work - like pastoring a church and teaching a college class.

I'm still reading through the scriptures...but I am in the prophets - today it was Micah 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. One has to have perseverance to continue to read the Prophets. There's not much good news, and when you find one (like today's Micah 5:2) you find it as a gem in the midst of a lot of weeds. I admit, it's not a section of scripture that I "just love to read".

I'm reading a couple of books right now: "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" is a well written biography of his life, and as well, his thoughts on Christ in life. The other book is some collected works of Bonhoeffer's writings - "A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer" - which I decided to get because the biographer refers to a number of his writings, but doesn't always get deeply into what he had to say.

What I appreciate about Dietrich Bonhoeffer was his capacity for honesty and faithfulness to Christ, no matter what the cost. It is counter the "easy believism" that pervades much of christian culture today.
All of us face this difficulty. We are people surrounded by the temptation to relegate Jesus to a 2 hour slot on Sundays. Then we go on the rest of the time being pragmatic and doing what works - which regardless if it is good or not, is not for the sake of Christ, but just because it works for each of us in our own way. I'm no different than anyone else in this, and yet I deplore a spirituality that is "easy", as if to say, there really isn't a cost for following Jesus afterall.

There is...if for no other person than Christ...there is.

Peace

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Law of Love

Today I read from Exodus 18, 19, 20 and 1 Cor. 13:1-7

The relationship God had with the children of Israel was based on a God-Visioned purpose:

"Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”

A Kingdom of Priests
God's holy nation

This was no paltry vision of people being "good people", "nice to others". There's nothing wrong with being good and nice, but God's vision is much bigger than that. He sees in Israel a nation of people who function as priests - "come boldly to the throne of grace" the book of Hebrew says. Priests come to God - first for their own sins, and then for the sins of others. Priests come to God to ask, intercede, share, pray, love and worship.
Priests come to God to learn. The law is a picture of God's character, his plans for humanity and his heart to protect all.

When Jesus is asked about the greatest aspect of the law, he simply replies quoting from Deuteronomy: "You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself".

The law is God's love displayed.

Peace




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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Problem and the Promise

Today's reading is from Ezekiel 9, 10, 11, 12

The nation went into exile, taken captive by the Babylonians because of their persistent Idolatry. God sent prophets over and over again to tell them what the problem was:
""Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people."

Rebellion is simply choosing to ignore and choosing to not see. Ask Coach Tressel of Ohio State if that works. We usually think of rebellion as outrageous actions, or radicalized behavior; but it need not be demonstrative to be so. All we need to do is choose to ignore and not see.

In rebellion, God is still seeking. He comes to the captives and speaks words of promise in order to encourage them and call them to faithfulness even though they are dispersed from the land.
""Therefore say: 'This is what the Sovereign lord says: Although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.' "Therefore say: 'This is what the Sovereign lord says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.'"

So there we have it: problems and promise. We need to do all we can to check the rebelliousness of ignoring and not seeing, and we need to hold on to the promises of God that come to a people who are truly seeking and desiring to live in Him.

Peace






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