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Archive for the ‘Biblical thoughts’ Category

Is that all God does?  I mean, from some folks, like insurance agents or news anchors or legal people, it’s all we hear about.  There is an earthquake, a huge flood or fire, a drought, and we call it “an act of God.”  Some who attribute the Almighty with these catastrophes would not even acknowledge His existence any other time.

I was sitting in class this week when I heard this term again, and I welled up.  Really, I did.  Our world is not as it was originally intended to be, and we see disaster all around, on a global level as well as a personal one.  But to point the finger at God, well, I think He deserves better.

OK.  In the Bible we read that He caused famine and pestilence and all kinds of horrors on Egypt.  Why?  Because He wanted them to be good to His people.  Egypt had enslaved Israel and HE WANTED GOOD.  That’s what He always wants.  He said, essentially, “Don’t make Me do this.”

That’s all I’m saying.  When these things happened in the Bible, there was purpose.  They weren’t random acts of meanness from a celestial killjoy.  God was not displaying His power and killing people and causing grief “just because.”  He always had a point.

Which is exactly the point.  There was a warning, a prophet, a forerunner to tell people what would happen if… whatever.  It is unfair, unkind, and unbiblical for us, today, to say, for example (and this angers and saddens me greatly), that God is judging a particular region or people when they experience natural disaster.  Where was the warning?  Who predicted this in the name of God?  This is an afterthought said, mistakenly, in God’s name, in hate and disgust and fear.  He is not party to it.

Does God not do good?  YES!  YES!  I see it all the time, and so do you. Why is there goodness and beauty in the world?  Why do we understand justice and liberty?  Where did we get our standards?  Where do creativity and diversity come from?

I want to acknowledge His acts and thank Him.  And know that He is good!

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Did you ever wonder how it works that Jesus came to set us free, yet He seemed to add even more to what God had already said in the Law of the Old Testament?  Come on!

God says, “Thou shalt not murder,” and Jesus said that even if we hate someone we have already committed murder in our heart.  We’re all doomed!  And how about this one:  God says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” but Jesus said that if we even look at another with lustful thoughts, we have already violated this commandment.  Does this sound like freedom?

I find two principles in this idea which are very encouraging to me.  The first is that Jesus, though He did not come to negate even one letter of the law, is more interested in our motives than the fine legal points.  This is true of the positive stuff as well as these “shalt nots.”  Look at what He did on many Sabbath days:  He healed people, much to the horror of the religious folks of His day, and to His own demise.  This seemed to be a violation of God’s law, but He was, and is, more concerned with the intent of the law, and with compassion, than with keeping law for law’s sake.  The law is good, after all.

The other thing is that Jesus did not come to bring more law, but more grace.  I get chills when I think of this one!  Whereas it looks at first glance like He is telling us that no matter what we do or don’t do, we can never measure up (and yes, He is saying that), He’s saying that He offers forgiveness for not only the actions we commit or withhold, but also the intentions of our heart.  His ability to deal with our shortcomings and moral guilt are even greater than the scope of our offenses.

I can live with that.

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We’ve all seen the slogans on bumper stickers, billboards, t-shirts, and even from the lips of its advocates:  “Prayer Works,” or “Prayer Changes Things,” or any number of other catchy phrases designed to get our attention and prompt us toward this spiritual, contemplative lifestyle.

But does it really?  I mean, is it really prayer that works?

What I’m wondering is, shouldn’t it make a difference whether we pray to one god or another, or whether we “keep good thoughts” or chant a mantra or wait for karma to kick in?

I was reading this passage in the Book of John about Mary & Martha’s brother Lazarus dying.  They had gotten word to their friend Jesus while Lazarus was still just ill, asking Him to come take care of things.  Jesus decided to tarry awhile and didn’t arrive until four days after his death.  Not a big faith builder there.  Not the kind of thing you’d expect a friend to do.

Jesus intentionally delayed His arrival so there could be an object lesson for them.  (And by this time, some Jews from a neighboring city had arrived, too, to console the sisters, so there was an even larger crowd of disappointed people.)  Everyone said to Him, “If You’d been here, this would not have happened.”

Jesus talked to them about who He is and asked if they believed it.  They did.  So He commanded Lazarus to come out of the tomb, which he did, and he told some of the people standing around to unwrap him and let him go free, which they did.  After that, many of the Jews believed in Him and some told the Pharisees, which fueled their resolve to kill Him, which always happened.

So I think about prayer.  Was not their prayer, “Lord, please come heal our brother.  We know You can do it, and we know You love him”?  They were greatly disappointed that He had not done that.  Because they knew what Jesus could do, they had expectations about what He should do.

Here’s what I’m thinking:  Prayer has got to be about more than putting faith in our words, or in our noble desires, or even in God’s ability to answer.  Prayer has got to be about putting our trust in God’s character, His intentions, and His good purposes.  It’s never just about His power.

Too often we trust our prayers and not God Himself.

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I’ve been thinking about the second of the Ten Commandments about not taking the name of the Lord in vain.  Does it seem strange to you that this should be there among the Top Ten, one of the worst things we can do?  I mean, it’s right in there with murdering and thievery and adultery and not telling the truth.  But, OMG, what if it means something more than just thoughtlessly using His name to emphasize our extreme emotion?

I’ve heard it said that this commandment is talking about calling Him Lord and not living like He is.  That is hypocrisy, another thing that we agree with God is not OK.  I mean, hypocrisy is right up there with injustice.  It’s not right.  Things don’t match up.  It’s an imbalance between what we say and what we do, just as injustice is an inequality, an imbalance in what is right.

But let’s take it further.  I was reading in Ezekiel and noticed all the references God made to His people being to Him as a bride.  Jesus even refers to this in calling His followers His bride for whom He will return one day.  But in the book of Ezekiel, He calls His bride a whore.  Yes, He actually used that word, and many times over.  He went into detail about what that looked like, but the upshot was that she (His people) had entered into covenant with Him, like a marriage, but then went after other gods.  He became jealous, like any husband would, and would do anything to gain His bride’s affection and devotion once again.

Then I thought about how in marriage, a woman takes on her husband’s name.  And in that name is a reputation.  Everywhere she goes, she takes her husband, so to speak.  “Oh, you’re so-and-so’s wife.”  There are implications there.  His reputation is hers, and hers is his.  It’s quite the deal.  (This goes for children and parents, as well, and is vice-versa for husbands and wives, but let’s go with this analogy for the purpose of this article.)  So for me to “take the name of the Lord” is not just to speak it, but to take it for myself, like in matrimony.  It is my identity.  I have entered into covenant with Him, and that covenant holds promises on both sides.

Ezekiel goes on.  God actually told him to tell His people that if they are going to continue to act like a whore, He would rather they go after these other gods whole-heartedly.  That’s called integrity, living what you say.  He called what they were doing profanity, claiming to be His but giving themselves to other gods.  He wanted them to make a decision and stick to it.  Jesus said a similar thing in the first part of Revelation, when He told this one church to either be hot or cold and stop being just lukewarm.  I’m getting the idea that God really likes people who are real.

So I have a whole new take on what is in a name.  I carry mine, my family’s, and my Lord’s.  I will not use them lightly, nor live them unworthily.  And I do not say this in vain.

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I was reading in the book of James in the Bible this week and came across something very curious.  I was in the first chapter, and he was going on about how we are to be good people, and not just say we believe in God and think that is enough.  There are rules we need to follow, but he talked about more than that.  He was also addressing issues of the heart, things that cannot be anticipated and made into law.  Then he called this whole thing “the law of liberty” (verse 25).

Does that sound right?  Does it make sense that we can be expected to go beyond even what the law dictates and consider ourselves “free”?

It took some pondering, but it was time well spent.  You see, there is this biblical principle of not aiming directly at the target, or perhaps it should be better described as redefining the target.  Here’s an example:  “Seek God and His righteousness and all these things [food, clothing, general provision] will be added to your life” (Matthew 5:33).   Oftentimes we aim directly at those things and are frustrated that we never quite have enough.  He is telling us to aim at Him and let Him take care of it.

Or consider what Jesus said in Matthew 10:39: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  He’s saying that if it’s life you want, let go of the one you’ve got and find the real thing in Him.

So in considering this law issue in James, I’ve come to realize that if we aim at keeping the law, the law becomes our focus.  We try and we try, and we may succeed at some things and fail at others, either intentionally or ignorantly, or because we’re just unable to for one reason or another.  But if we let love be our aim, as he goes on to detail in verse 27, then the law is naturally fulfilled.  It is not our focus, but it is the result.  We are free!  We have kept the law without being slaves to it.  And the intent of the law all along, as Jesus said, was summed up in these two commands:  1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself.

Legalism seeks to keep the law, the whole law, and nothing but the law. We carry out the law for law’s sake without understanding its intent.  In this newfound freedom, we gain an understanding of it and can apply that insight to our actions.  We then become entrusted with the law, not enslaved to it.  Turns out this “new” law is a law of liberty after all.  And it’s not until we give up our legalism that we have any hope of fulfilling it.

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If you’re like me, you try to make decisions, especially the big ones, according to what you think God would like.  That, we reason, is where the safety is.  After all, He loves us, has a wonderful plan for us, and everything will be OK in the end.

So we pray, we ask others we trust, and we do what seems right to us.  Of course, we’re sure wisdom is in there somewhere, because after all, we’re pretty smart and God wouldn’t let us make a mistake now, would He?

So we venture into this big decision.  Maybe it’s a new job, or a move, or school, or marriage.  These, after all, are the biggies.  Things are often rocky in the beginning because it’s new, there’s a learning curve, relational adjustments must be made, we’re living in the unfamiliar, and schedules are completely different.  Things get better after the initial transition settles down, and we feel at peace.  Yes, indeed, God is good.

But if our view of God is contingent upon the outcome of our situation, we are in serious trouble indeed.  Difficult times will come in anything, some temporary, some final.  People die.  Marriages end.  Careers end.  Regret can be crippling.

So where is God in all of this?  What does this say about faith?

Here’s what I want us to consider:  We were never meant to trust in the outcome; we are asked only to trust in the God who loves, leads, and sustains.  I may make the decision He had in mind, or I may not.  I may be following Him every step of the way, or I may get off course at some point.  But He is the one who deserves my trust, not my prayer.

Do we make mistakes?  You bet.  Do we choose wrongly?  Often times, yes.  Will God give up on us, accuse of not listening?  No.  He will make adjustments.  There is always a Plan B.  Don’t we see it all around us?  You can’t tell me this world or the people in it were as God originally intended.  But He loves us.  He is still working.  And following Him is something that we learn.  We get better with practice.

So put your faith in God alone.  That means to trust Him, to lean on Him, to rely on His good intentions.  No matter what, He’ll be there to catch you – or to cheer you on.

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We’ve heard all our lives, “It’s the thought that counts.”  When a child gives a bouquet of weeds to a grateful mother, that’s exactly right.  The gift is not valuable on the open market, but it’s priceless when it comes from the heart.  So it seems that the value of a gift is measured by the love of the one giving.

Then there are the gifts given which, if we did not love the one giving them, they would be mundane.  I could see the same sweater or book or picture frame in the mall and pass it by without another thought, but if someone I love gives it to me, it is treasured and given a place of prominence.

Other times I think the value of a gift is weighed by the sacrifice of the one from whom it came.  That doesn’t necessarily mean cost in dollars, but in time spent hunting for just the right thing, or in creating it, or maybe even letting go of one’s own prized possession.  When there is great sacrifice involved, it’s hard to even find the words to say in grateful response.

For me, this is true of Jesus’ sacrifice.  I want to say Thank You, and I often do, but it seems odd to thank Him for living here and dying for us.  It sounds like I’m glad He died, like maybe I don’t understand what it cost Him.  In this case, thanks is both necessary and insufficient.

I was reading about Jesus’ prayer just before He was arrested and executed, when He asked His Father if there was any other way this thing could be accomplished.  He was quite willing to do whatever it took to do it, but it was not going to be a pretty picture.  And then I realized something I never had before:  Jesus didn’t die because He loved us; He died because He loved His Father. He wanted to please and obey Him above all.  It’s the Father who loved us and sacrificed His Son for us.  And He loved His Son, too; that’s why the gift is so costly.

So that’s what the most famous verse in the Bible is all about:  God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son… This is God’s gift to us.  He is buying us back, you might say.  He wants to adopt us into His family and care for us as a parent cares for his dear children.  He is rescuing us from the mess we’re in.  Jesus is that gift, given to us by God.  I am grateful.

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I’ve heard Christianity maligned as being narrow-minded for saying that just because someone doesn’t believe like we do, that we Christians think they are going to hell.  I got to thinking about this and talking to other folks about it.  The question inevitably arose:  Why DOES hell exist?

It’s a complicated issue, and I don’t pretend to know it all or to be able to adequately explain even what I believe about it, but here’s what I’ve come up with:  Hell is a result of the wrong that we all do.  It’s a result of the undeniable human condition that some call sin, others call moral guilt, and that we all experience both as culprits and as victims.

So, here’s an eye-opener:  If it’s sin that sends us there, then it’s not any belief or denial of it that lands us in the place of doom.  I can’t say that anyone is going to hell because of unbelief in Jesus.  We were all going there already.

So now it sounds like that is to be the destination for all of us, doesn’t it.  Am I now denying the existence of heaven?  Not at all.  The reason we know evil is that we know good.  The reason we feel pain is that we know what it is like to be comfortable.  Ugliness is a perversion of beauty.  And so hell must also have its counterpart.

We tend to be a very polite society.  I’ve heard that we say please and thank-you and excuse me more than other cultures.  We also tend to downplay apologies by saying that’s OK, when perhaps I forgive you might be more appropriate.  After all, if it were “OK,” there would be no need for an apology, now would there.  Do you think we tend to project this attitude on God?  I mean, do we think He will also downplay our wrong-doing and overlook our sin?  And will He do it for the wrongs of our enemies as well as for ours?

What a dilemma!  He loves us dearly, and yet here we are in this mess.  He can’t forgive one without forgiving all, yet how can He just turn a blind eye to our guilt?  Or should He rate our sins?  Actually, I might think that the one who stole my wallet is worthy of judgment, while you might say the one who betrayed you is more guilty.  Where should the line be drawn?

So let’s say we’re all in the same boat.  We’re all guilty of something – many somethings.  We have to admit the boat is sinking!  We’re in trouble and we know it.  But on the horizon we see a Rescuer.  We hear a loudspeaker:  “Climb on board my rescue craft and let me help you.  It’s the only way you’ll escape the storm!”

Some will accept the offer, maybe a bit skeptically at first.  Others will scoff and look for another way out.  Still others may deny their fate, believing if they just row fast enough they’ll make it to safety.  It is not my intention to get into all the theological implications, explaining biblical covenants or the substitutionary death of Christ here.  It was just a huge awakening for me to realize that it’s not unbelief that leaves us in our sinking boat – it’s simply failure to accept the rescue.  And I wanted to share my thoughts with you.

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Twice this week I’ve heard two statements which resembled truth.  The first one was, “Fear is the beginning of wisdom.”  Sound true?  Sound like something you heard in the Bible?  Think again.  Solomon told his son, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…”  Just a bit different.  Jesus Himself, the Prince of Peace, said not to fear.  Paul the Apostle said that “perfect love casts our fear.”  So it seems to me that the only one we are to fear is God, and to fear anything else leads to neither wisdom nor faith.

Then I heard that God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.  Is that really what the Bible says?  Don’t we all feel like our load is too heavy at times?  Where do we get this?  It could be just Christian folklore, or it could be a misquote of this verse in 1 Corinthians:  “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  Is there a difference?  Is He talking about stress and difficulties or is He specifically referring to temptations?

Don’t get me wrong.  If our problems are not related to temptations, I don’t mean to imply that He abandons us.  Not at all.  He provides, He directs, He corrects, He comforts…  Sometimes He points us in a different direction and uses difficulties to fine -tune our situation.

I’m increasingly saddened by these misquotes.  I hear them way too often.  God is discounted because of misunderstandings.  Has that ever happened to you?  Have people believed lies about you and abandoned you?  Have they misunderstood something you said, or were you misrepresented by others, only to have them turn their backs on you?  Think about it.  God is maligned continually, and mostly be well-meaning people.  They don’t know they’re doing it.  I’ve done it.

This is a call to clarity.  This is a plea to check the facts.  Jesus often said to His disciples, “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you…”  It happened even then.  Let’s believe what’s true and learn to trust what He really said.

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I heard someone say recently that she thought people who don’t sing in church are just wasting their time and God’s.  Why are they even there?  Don’t they know they’re supposed to be worshiping?  I mean, it’s time.  Everyone else is doing it.  So sing already!

She sees things differently now, which I’m thankful for, because now I don’t have to have a talk with her.  I don’t have to tell her that worship is about more than singing, and sometimes it’s not about singing at all.  I don’t have to tell her that while she can sing without worshiping, others can worship without singing.

So what is worship, anyway?  It’s a good question, and we do well to ponder it.  It’s true that we can worship any number of things, but for the sake of this conversation, let’s put it in the context of God.

To worship God is to acknowledge that He is greater then we are, and that He is good.  We don’t tend to worship what we don’t respect or admire.  There is a sense of awe, a sense of wonder.  There is mystery, and although I’m not saying God can’t be known, I’m saying the more we know about Him, the more we wonder.  As our questions get answered, those answers beget more questions.  Sometimes the only proper response is to just stand in amazement.  Worship.

When I make requests of God, I’m worshiping.  I’m saying that I know He is the One who can come to my rescue, who can provide for my needs, who hears my cries.  It’s an expression of humility.  When I use my resources to help others, I’m worshiping.  I’m saying that His causes are worthy, that the time and money I have is worth giving up for Him and His people.  When I treat others with respect, I’m worshiping, treating those He loves in a manner that pleases Him.  And when I live according to what He wants and not according to my own desires, that’s worship.  I’m saying He knows best and I trust Him.

You get the picture.  He wants our worship.  He wants our life and all it contains.  It is said that we become like that which we worship.  I certainly hope so.  We were created in the image of God, but we lost some of that along the way.  There is something about following Him that restores that in us.

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