Tag Archives: faith

The Cost of Mere, Dull Existence

I am reading Radical by David Platt again as a part of my morning reading and devotion time.  I finished the first chapter this morning.  In that chapter, he wrote a section about the cost of non-discipleship.  I think it could accurately be called the cost of mere, dull existence.

Honestly, I don’t know how one could live with the monotony of working toward goals of a bigger house, a nicer car and career promotion, only to reach those goals and make new goals that involve a bigger house, a nicer car and a career promotion. I can’t imagine the disappointment of stepping into eternity and looking about to see that none of those accomplishments came with me after I died.

Living for God with eternity in mind is so much more exciting.  For us it has meant living in different places in different parts of the world.  When I am in the USA, some react to our lifestyle by expressing regret that we have lost out on so much.  But we would have never have gained what we have by living merely for ourselves in the American rat race for bigger and better.  And what we have isn’t measured materially.  There is a certain happiness and adventure found simply in travel and being exposed to other cultures, but when God and His glory is the focus of doing it, the happiness becomes joy and the life of adventure becomes a life of meaning.

Not every follower of Jesus can or should do what we do.  Doing what we do is not a requirement for eternal significance. As long as the glory of God is the focus of your life, you can find joy and meaning in whatever place God has placed you.  And if you are a Christian and that joy and meaning is still missing, there are some things that you can do, and really, they aren’t very radical or at least shouldn’t be. One is be an active part a church that teaches the Bible as God’s Word and focuses on the needs of the world and not just the felt needs of the people nearby.  A church that is truly global in its concern to spread God’s glory will be local in that concern as well.  Second, truly get into God’s Word and learn how to read it and to study it to find God’s meaning behind it.  There are many resources out there to help you learn to do that.  Third, be a person of prayer, and disciplined prayer at that. If you pray only when the urge hits or ‘the Spirit leads’, you are likely not to have the urge and not to take time the hear the Spirit leading.  And finally, read books such as Radical by David Platt, Desiring God by John Piper and Heaven by Randy Alcorn to help you see further down the road and to encourage you to live with God’s glory and eternity in mind.

What Prayer Does

This morning, I read Psalm 13.  Written by David, it reflected a painfully trying time in his life.  Some scholars believe that he wrote while fleeing from Saul. Others put it at the time of his flight from Absalom.  No matter when he wrote, his words probably convey the way many believers have reacted to their circumstance.

“How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day?” (Psalm 13:2 HCSB)

It seems that David was imagining every conceivable worse outcome to his situation. He felt that God had forgotten him and that God was hiding from him.  His prayer request was simple in such circumstances.  “Consider me and answer me, Lord.”

That does not sound life much of a prayer.  One can’t even get half a blog out that. No one, except those most extravagant with words, could write a book about it.  It doesn’t seem like a power prayer, or something that will result in mountains being cast into the sea.  But, it moved David’s heart, and that was what mattered, because when you ask God to think about you and believe that he does, all the reasons you have to fear and to worry seem smaller.

No longer feeling abandoned, David trusted in God to deliver him.  He heart rejoiced because he had hope of deliverance. David sang because God had been generous to him.

What changed between verse one and the end of the short Psalm?  Nothing changed in David’s outward circumstances.  The only change came in his perspective.  He saw God for who God was. Prayer does that.

And about that son of hers…

Samson was both a man’s man and the stereotypical dumb male.  He had the strength of Captain America, the libido of Captain Kirk and the brain of Captain Caveman.  Dedicated to God since before birth, he seemed determined to work against God’s will.  He was not content with good Jewish girls.  No, he chased after Philistine women, much to the pain of his parents.  And he did not show common sense.  Delilah could tie him up, put his hair in loom, and do just about anything, and it seemed to never occur to him that she might be out to get him.  In the end, he broke every part of the Nazarite vow, lost his strength and got his eyes put out.

Yet, God used him.  He took all that rebellion, worked it into His plan and accomplished what had been his purpose in setting Samson apart.  He liberated the people of Israel from the Philistines.  The life and death of Samson shows God’s sovereignty despite the best efforts of humans to work against Him.

The story of Samson is found in The Book of Judges, chapters 13-16.

And for your viewing and listening pleasure:

(My writing has been sparse lately. With work and other projects, I will probably be very hit and miss, but when I have the time, I will try to write something.)

What to remember this weekend

Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
(Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53-54:1 ESV)
Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
(Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53 ESV)

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
(Matthew 27:1-61 ESV)

Failures in Leadership

We often look to Moses as the model of leadership in the Old Testament.  In fact, he was a great leader.  He led a people who had grown up in a polytheistic system and led them to belief in the one, true God.   He took them through perils and dealt with complaints and uprisings.  There is no doubt that he was a great man and a great leader.

Yet, in the end, he did not see the goal fulfilled.  He did not personally lead his people into the Promised Land.  God would not allow him to do so.  The story of why is in the following passage of Scripture:

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them, and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

(Numbers 20:2-12 ESV)

God’s order was to speak to the rock.  Tell it to give water.  Moses was not in the mood to speak to rocks.  He was angry.  After all the people had seen, they still demanded more.  They accused him of being a failure as a leader, and he had enough of it.  So, instead of speaking to the rock, he spoke to the people.  He called them rebels and struck the rock with his staff instead of following God’s directions.  It cost him the opportunity to see the Promised Land.  Why was God so ‘mean’ about what was such a small, understandable thing?

One idea is that the people were starting to become more impressed with Moses’s  staff than they were with God.  After all, Moses had parted a sea with it.  Now, God wanted to correct the misconception.  He wanted the rock to give water at the power of His word without any evidence of Moses’s strength being behind it.  Moses made a mess of it.  He got mad and showed his anger.  God had wanted to show Himself holy but Moses did not trust Him to do it.  Instead of God’s word, Moses used his staff and his own strength.  Interestingly, God gave water anyway.  He displayed his compassion and love for the people Moses had called rebels.  However, from Moses he took the privilege of seeing his task through to the end.

When we are in positions of spiritual leadership, whether that be in a church, small group or as a parent, we must have as our goal to display God’s holiness.  When it becomes all about us and how we feel, we are not likely to do that.  We will use our own strength and we may impress those around us with our ‘staff’–our intelligence, our plan and our hard work.  Interestingly, God may give us success anyway though not for our sakes.  It will be because He cares and loves those around us who need His touch.  But we will have missed something, a great opportunity to see the holiness of God on display in our lives, our ministries and our families.  So, let’s take care to let God be God and not stand His way.

Moses made another mistake related to this one.  That will be for another post.

 

 

Panic on the Journey

Our family is in the midst of packing and getting ready to move back overseas.  We have done this several times, and my wife has become an expert at packing.  If I fold a sheet, it takes up a large box.  If she folds a sheet, it fits inside my wallet.  Needless to say, I stay out-of-the-way until something heavy has to be moved or until it is down to those things that don’t fit.  Then, I try to find the space.  But up until those points, I usually just get in the way.

What I do is trying to take care of the other things such as calling airlines about baggage allowances  and the business details of making a move.  I should have an easy life during this time.  It shouldn’t be so difficult, but there is something about my character that makes this stressful.  I am a worrier.  If I don’t have something to worry about, I panic, because I must have forgotten something.  And if something happens to cause me to think that plans won’t work out, I almost go into a panic.  No one around me may realize it, but inside I foresee scenarios which have end results similar to a massive meteor striking the earth.

That is what happened to me this past week.  An e-mail came that made me wonder if the plan for travel was going to work out.  I panicked.  I worried.  I stayed up late at night so I could worry longer.  Within a couple of days, another e-mail came that indicated that I had misunderstood the other one.  All was well.  I had no reason to worry years off my life.

In the book of Exodus, the Israelites had just crossed the Red Sea and had seen God deliver them from Egyptian slavery.  Things seemed to be going well until they got to Marah.  There, they found water that they could not drink.  They complained and griped.  They began to have nostalgia about the good old days of Egyptian slavery.  God showed Moses a tree which Moses threw into the water to make it drinkable.  They all drank water and moved on to a wonderful place called Elim where they found 12 springs of water and 70 date palms. (This story is found in Exodus 15.)

They were on the path that God put them on, faced a set back and panicked.  That patterns sound familiar to me.  It sounds like me.  We often read these passages and think, “Silly Israelites.  They never learn.  If they had just waited on God, they would have water.”  But, they did not know that.  They had to learn to trust.  They had to learn to see set backs as a time to wait on God and not a time to panic.

And I have to learn that lesson also.

 

 

Mark Richt, Tim Tebow and God

Mark Richt and Tim Tebow have much in common.  Both are admired by evangelical Christians. Both have had great success. And now, the ability of both is under question.  After a complete and total loss by the Georgia Bulldogs to Boise State, even fans who have been long loyal to Mark Richt are questioning if he can turn the team around.  Tim Tebow is struggling to adjust to being a NFL quarterback. Evangelicals enjoyed the success that the two men  have had and the platform it has given them for sharing their faith. However, as their careers have stumbled, how should we as Christians look at it?

Personally, I think both men could turn things around. With a win over South Carolina this weekend, the same sports columnist from the Atlanta Journal Constitution who wrote that it looks like the end for Richt will write how great a turnaround it is and how far the dawgs can go.  Sports columnists are not great at analysis, but they are pretty good at telling us which way the wind blows.  Tim Tebow could still adjust and make it in the NFL. So, I am not saying that they are washed up. But, they have hit what is more than a bump in the road.

For some evangelicals, this is too much with which to deal. Sports writers who have criticized Tebow often get angry letters from people talking about how good Tebow is, both morally and athletically.  He has a strong following that doesn’t want to see him fail or be criticized.

How we look at the success of failure of these two men says a great deal about our priorities and our understanding of how God works in the lives of believers. That leads me to some things that I want to say about how our faith and sports intersect.

The things I have to say may shock the very core of many of you.  Before you read further, I suggests that you sit down.  Are you ready? Sure about that? OK, here it is.  The success of your favorite team or athlete is not very important to God.  Your team is not the cosmic embodiment of good and their rival is not the embodiment of evil.  The New York Yankees are not demonic minions of Satan, and Steve Spurrier is not the antichrist.  God isn’t really paying more attention to the Dallas Cowboys, and I am pretty sure while He watches over all His saints, it doesn’t mean the New Orleans Saints have a privileged position.  The success or failure of your team is not near as important to God as what is revealed in your character when you respond to their success or failure.

Believers are not guaranteed success by God in sports.  If they succeed, He wants Mark Richt and Tim Tebow to glorify Him.  If they fail, He wants them to glorify Him.  The same applies to all Christians in all endeavors.  God is not obligated to make sure that Mark Richt remains the head coach at Georgia.  He is not obligated to see that Tebow gets playing time in the NFL.  They have to do the work to prove their capabilities, just like any of us.  Yet, we can have faith that whatever happens, God is shaping their character.

Through their success and failure, we also see how those outside our evangelical sub-culture view our faith.  While winning, they tolerate our faith, even admire it. In losing, they blast it or at best, misunderstand it.  The common criticism of Christian athletes is that they don’t care if they win or lose or how poorly they performed.  They will just say, “It was God’s will.”  I would like it if someone can actually point me to a Christian athlete that ever said anything like that.

However, what a Christian says or does in the face of defeat is often misconstrued.  If Tim Tebow says, “I’ve prayed about being a quarterback in the NFL, and I believe God is going to help me,” there will be some sportscaster somewhere who will construe it to mean that Tim Tebow thinks God wants him to be the starting quarterback no matter how poorly he plays.  If after a loss, Mark Richt doesn’t say something like, “It was the greatest tragedy since Pearl Harbor,” fans will think that he just doesn’t care.

And that brings me to my last point.  It could be that men who have been overseas, seen utter poverty, walked through orphanages in Eastern Europe, and worked in health clinics where good health care does not exist may have a better understanding of what tragedy is than the person who knows nothing unless he saw it on ESPN.  What appeals to me about Richt and Tebow is that in success or loss, they have modeled what godly men should be and have acted with godly priorities.  That is the lesson we as Christians can learn from sports.  Have fun, but keep things in their perspective.  Learn to succeed and fail in a way that honors and glorifies Him.

A couple of last words: Go Dawgs!

Fear is…

…a failure to trust God. There are two fears that paralyze disciples. One is a fear of the future and the other is a fear of people. In this post, I want to talk about fear regarding the future. Another word for such fear is worry. I must confess that I used to be a chronic worrier. If I wasn’t worrying, I worried that I had forgotten something. Why are worry and fear wrong?

Fear believes that God either is not good or is not in control. Faith is the cure to fear and worry. Even when the worse is happening, we need not fear, but rather we need to have faith. Peter wrote in his first epistle, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious that gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7) Dealing with tough circumstances with faith instead of worry or fear is an act of worship that results in Jesus being glorified. When we look past the circumstance to see God’s loving hand shaping our lives to be more like Christ or bringing a greater good for more people, we glorify our Lord.

So no matter what we face or will face, we must choose faith over fear.