Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Stunning Realization

I understand the faith that God looks for to be far beyond simply a belief that He is real. The Bible tells us even the demons believe that and tremble. When the Israelites chose fear instead of trusting God, and His promise of the Promised Land as well as His promise to be with them in the occupation of it, God said they despised Him and didn't believe in Him (Numbers 14:11). He also says that their failure was because they didn't have faith (Hebrews 4:2) and this was, in His eyes, disobedience (Hebrews 4:6).

Did the Israelites believe God existed? Absolutely. But they didn't believe in Him (as in His nature and character and goodness and love). When we say we believe in another person we aren't saying we believe they exist, we are saying we have confidence in them. The Israelites didn't commit themselves and their life choices into a relationship of trust with Him. And so often God calls us the same way. He points us in a direction, and says, "I'll be with you." Often we are acutely aware of the obstacles in front of us (as was Moses, Joshua, Gideon, etc.). Then He waits for our choice—sight, fear, etc., or a commitment into a trust relationship with Him and the promise of His presence . . . faith.

How important is this type of faith relationship to God, where we act in our life based on our trust in Him? Romans 14:13–23 is a stunning revelation of it—one that will rock our "religious roots" to their core. Paul is saying how he knows all food has been made clean, but that some brothers in Christ aren't convinced. He warns against grieving them in our choices, or to make them stumble (lead them into eating something they are convinced in their heart it is OK to eat). Please read the following verses and then I'll share what to me is an amazing thought about them . . .

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:20–23)

On the surface—the first read—what God is saying through Paul is simple enough. "You know that food is OK. I've made it OK. But don't cause them to stumble though, if they don't think it is OK." But then we realize what God is really saying, and it challenges everything in us that is still tied to works instead of relationship as a basis of our salvation and acceptance before God.

What is God really saying here? How about, "I would rather have a child theologically incorrect but living in a committed faith/trust/love relationship with Me that directs their life, then have a child be theologically 'perfect' and not be living in that faith relationship with Me." Wow! Our faith is more important to God than our getting every theological point perfect! And the true is same of love. He is going to far more bless something we do in love that may not be just right, than the perfect act or words we do/speak that aren't in love. This is a stunning insight into God's heart, and it makes sense. Trust and a commitment in love and trust to a person—a commitment that drives our life—is far more important than getting it all perfect (all the right words and theology and works) apart from love and trust. And, if we think about it, we'd value the same things in any human relationship we were involved in as well . . .

Saturday, June 18, 2016

We Must Decide . . .

I am reading in Jeremiah this week and it begins with God calling Jeremiah and telling him what He wants him to do regarding prophesying to the people of Judah (never a popular job). In fact, God tells him, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5). Very similar to Moses and Gideon (and others) when they were called, Jeremiah starts pointing out why he's not qualified for the job. And, just like the others, God tells him what He will do for him, and promises the most important promise of all—the one God expects to carry beyond all others and to make all the difference—when He says, "​Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you . . ." (Jeremiah 1:8a).

God then tells Jeremiah a little more about what's ahead, and then says these words that are so powerful—and such a statement of the choice we as Christians each face. He says to Jeremiah, regarding the people God is calling him to prophecy to, ". . . Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them" (Jeremiah 1:17b).

And therein lies the choice. The reality. We must decide: "Who will I trust, fear, and serve?" It can't be both God and man! That's it. God says, basically, "I've called you. I've addressed your fears. I've promised My provision and, even more, My presence. So now you must decide—who will you trust, fear, and serve? What will affect your attitude and your outlook—man, or My promise and presence? What will have the weight in your life?"

I've often made a sticker for my office or laptop that says, "Do it all for an audience of One." I don't always live up to that—I want to be liked, popular, fun to be around, thought well of, etc., but it is my goal. God has told us that we can't serve both Him and mammon (money), and it is also true that we can't serve (in the sense of allowing them to dictate our lives and hearts) both God and man. His call will put us in conflict with our flesh and with its desires for pleasure, acceptance, comfort, popularity. Jesus warns us, the world will hate us as it hated Him . . . and His life experience shows us that even "religious" people can come against us when we teach truth.

The Israelites at the Jordan River faced a similar decision. Ten spies spoke doom and gloom about the inhabitants of the land across the river God had promised them. Two spies spoke faith and trust in the God Who'd promised it and promised to go with them into it. In this case the people chose fear—to allow the fear of man to outweigh the promise and presence of God. And they missed the promise. It lay there, dormant, just across the river and they never watered it with faith. As such it continued to lay there, dormant, waiting for someone of faith to bring it to life, while the Israelites wandered in the wilderness until they died.

In Act 4 Peter and John are called before the religious leaders and threatened and ordered to stop teaching or speaking in the name of Jesus the two men replied, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19–20). The early church. The prophets of the Old Testament. Christians in persecuted countries today. All of us seeking to love and follow God in a world of people we want to be liked by, and comfortable in, must decide—"Who will I trust, fear, and serve?" It can't be both God and man. And all of us Christians have the same promise given to Moses and Gideon and Jeremiah and Joshua. We have God's promise that He will be with us, that He will never leave us or forsake us, that He will be with us even unto the end of the ages. Not only "will" He be with us in the trials ahead when we must choose who we will serve, but He is IN us now, and He will be IN us then. No wonder they say our covenant with God on this side of the cross is even better than the Old Covenant!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Feeling Crabby

One thing about having to be on the road a lot lately is that it gives us a chance to stop now and then and check out some road cuts for fossils. On Monday Mary Ann and Abigail and I were blessed to do a little fossil hunting, and then Mary Ann and I did some more in a different location yesterday. I thought you might enjoy seeing the treasures we found. God is so good, and the Bible so trustworthy. He told us how He created the world. He told us how He flooded it. And He put the evidence of it all around us to just find. Enjoy a slice of our life with us. God bless you.
It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. Proverbs 25:2
Crabs found after we split open an "innocent" looking rock.

Probably a sea urchin. Still in rock matrix.

Huntin' together.

Clam like shell still in rock matrix.

Missing God in the Midst of God Things

I was blessed last evening to be able to sit in on the final chapel session of high school LIFE Camp when we went to pick up our oldest daughter. The speaker, as a part of his teaching, talked about Peter in Acts 10. In preparing Peter to minister the gospel to the Gentiles, God gave him a dream of all kinds of animals and then told him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat."

Peter's reply? "By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." God goes on to let Peter know that he shouldn't call "common" what God has made clean, and then to lead him to a Gentile home to share the news of the Jew's messiah (Jesus) with people Jews would have never thought could have been "eligible" for their God's salvation.

The way the speaker (a pastor from, I believe, Vintage Community Church in Templeton) put it really struck me. He said something to the effect of, "Peter told God 'no' because Peter was being religiously proper." Basically Peter called God "Lord" which means, basically, "You are Lord and I'll do whatever You want," and then told Him "no" in the same breath. It gave me pause . . .

How many times do we miss God in the midst of doing "religious" stuff? I have often taught and reminded others (and needed reminding myself) that church services, worship, teachings, Bible studies, and even the Bible, are not the end. They are all to point us to the One who is the end—Jesus, the living Word, the Truth. He is the end, not stuff about Him, and we can, if we aren't careful, replace Him with stuff about Him and never even realize we've done it because we are so immersed in "God stuff."

Think of the Jews. They crucified Jesus because He didn't match their religious expectations and ways. Think of John the Baptist, the one who baptized "the One who sets the captives free" and is sitting in jail, wondering if Jesus is the One. Jesus tells him, "And blessed is the one who is not offended by me" (Matthew 11:6). Basically, I believe, "Don't be offended or made to stumble in your faith because I am not doing what you expected Me to do, or being how you expected Me to look." This is John the Baptist! The one who leaped in his mother's womb with the baby Jesus, still in Mary's womb, entered the room! "Are You the One?"

I am reminded of Acts 12 when Peter is in prison and the disciples are gathered in a home, praying (you have to believe they are praying, at least in part, for Peter's release!). An angel comes, frees Peter, and he goes and knocks on the gate of the house. Rhoda, a servant girl, heard Peter's voice and in her joy forgot to let him in but ran and told the others. Their response to her news that Peter was outside, free? Acts 12:15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!”

So caught up in praying, they missed the answer to their prayer right outside the gate. It is ironic, but a warning to us as well. God is alive, in believers, and at work. Everything must make Him the end, the ultimate goal and purpose of our life. He is the living water, the breath and bread of life. He alone. We can be so caught up in religious "stuff" about Him that we miss Him, what He is doing, what He is trying to lead us into, what He is trying to tell us, and then wonder why we are so burned out and spiritually parched when we've been doing all this religious stuff!

He is the end. Him alone. This isn't against church, Bible study, etc.—those are all important, and Biblical. But He is our end. Intimate, personal. Him. That is why, I believe, Jesus asked Peter why he doubted on the water and said he was of little faith. If faith was just some religious "thing" then Peter had a lot more than the others who stayed in the boat. They should have been rebuked. But if faith is deeply personal and relational and at the core of what we believe is true about God, His love, His nature and character, then Jesus' question to Peter is one of a deep and personal nature. And it has to be. Because it isn't about religious stuff. It's about Jesus.


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