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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

There is probably a perfectly reasonable for everything that seems miraculous.  I mean, we may look at a sunrise in sheer awe at its splendor, maybe even congratulating God on a job well done, while another may consider the science that went into it and dismiss any attributes of faith altogether.  Or, in seeming answer to prayer, a cancer patient may be declared cancer-free while God’s people proclaim His faithfulness, and all the while we know that chemo therapy can do wonders.  And when the wandering child returns home after months or years of rebellion and familial aloofness, we say God is good and credit Him with the reunion.  Did the child just grow up and gain a new, adult perspective?

Are we naive?  Are we gullible?  Have we been so indoctrinated in the church that we have lost our senses?  Come on.  Think!

When I go to a movie, and I’m talking about a really well-done movie, the kind that takes you to another place and causes you to forget where you are and who you are…  When I go to that kind of movie, I come away thinking of all the creativity that went into it.  Writers, actors, directors, cinematographers, make-up artists, set decorators, costumers, foley artists – everyone executing their craft with excellence.  Where did that come from?  I come away thinking about that.  It’s amazing — the talent, the teamwork, the human capacity.

When a teacher is able to reach a child, to get her to understand a principle, to gain her trust and build confidence; when a businessman takes an unpopular stand, one that will cost his business and his colleagues profit, but one that will take care of their employees and customers; when a friend is able to forgive; when a father provides for his family despite the long hours and hard labor required, these are noteworthy.

All of these things, from the sunrise to the sacrificial life – all of these things are what God has put into creation, into humanity.  There are explanations.  There is chemo therapy, there is education, there is human decency.  But dig deeper.  Don’t stop there.  Look behind it all.  Where did it come from?  Who is behind it?

I think, by the very fact that things can be explained, that what some would attribute to God others would call natural phenomena – (how can I say this?) – to me, that is just another demonstration that God is in it.  He is so involved in all of life that we are accustomed to things as they are, things as He made them to be.  The very fact that some deny Him is the reason I believe.  He is behind everything, and we are so used to seeing Him that we no longer recognize Him.

May our eyes be opened.  May we all have eyes to see.

 

 

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Reasons for Hope

I’ve never posted a sermon before.  What I’ve always written were my own words, thoughts that were delivered to you through my keyboard to your screen, hoping to convey some of the ponderings of my heart to yours.  But as I sat in church two weeks ago and listened to this message being delivered, I thought of you.  This touched a very deep place in my soul, and I hope it may do the same for you.  (Thank you, Doug Bullock, for your skill, care, and honesty.)

I don’t mean to suggest that the music is not worth listening to, or even singing with, but if you want to scroll straight to the message, you can find it around the 37-minute mark.

I would love to hear your thoughts.  Please click on the link above, take your time, and enjoy!

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There are many things that could be attributed to chance.  Or circumstance.  Or the generosity of others.  Or our own wits.  I don’t doubt that these things play a part in the events of our lives (though I’m still wondering about the chance bit).  But what if I attribute a good thing to God?  Am I being naïve?  Am I simple-minded to call something an act of God when there is a perfectly rational explanation?

The way I see it, He is the originator of everything.  Whether directly or indirectly, it all comes from His hand.  Makes sense if He’s the creator, don’t you think?  I see spring bloom again after a long winter, and I thank Him.  I see someone recover from an illness and trace the medical community’s knowledge back to God’s design.  I’m grateful for the things that we have, knowing God provided the skill to perform the job which pays the bills.

But why?  Why not just let it be, live life, and trust in the explanations that are so evident?  I could do that.  I could study how the planets came to be, how weather patterns change, how different personalities conflict or harmonize.  And I do find those things very interesting.  But, to me, magnificent as they are, they seem a bit shallow if they end there.

I want more.  I want to go further, to see where all that came from.  There is a song by Ceili Rain that says, “I know that You’re out there because I long for You.”  I know that’s circular reasoning, but there’s truth in that.  We’re not thirsty for no reason.  We thirst because we need water, and that water is available.  We hunger for the same reason.  Food is necessary to life.  So is hunger.

And so we hunger for God, each in our own way, some more aware of it than others.  But I believe it’s true.  It’s simple, it’s mysterious, and it’s satisfying.  Call me naïve, but I’m going to continue to live this way.

 

 

 

 

 

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There are a few who would argue with my position that everyone loves life.  I hear them say, “I hate my life,” or, “Life sucks.”  That doesn’t sound like a love of life, does it?

But we all have a survival instinct.  We want to live.  And the fact that we know our circumstances are not good indicates that we know there is something better.  That something better is life.  And that’s what we’re after.  Real life.

So I suppose it’s really a question of evil and pain and where it all comes from.  The big answer is that we live in a spoiled universe, and that things are not as God intended.  They will be again someday, but we live in the here and now.  I heard of a question that a grieving mother posed to God in the height of her pain after the death of her young son.  She asked what any of us would ask:  “God, where were you when my son died?”  She believed God could have prevented it, and she was right.  But instead she was dealt the loss of one dear to her.  Then, in her heart of hearts, she heard an inaudible voice answer, “Right where I was when My Son died.”

You see, God doesn’t change, He doesn’t move, and His love and power don’t fluctuate.  He grieves with us.  He offers solace.  He offers a better life.  He challenges us, encourages us, and partners with us.

Sometimes the thing we aim for is not the thing we achieve.  Sometimes our target is wrong.  “I just want to be happy.”  So I try this or that, and strive to get people to do what I want to make me happy.  There!  That should do it.  Right?  Oh, wait.  That wasn’t it.    So I try something else.  It lasts for awhile…

But what if I forget about myself and aim for something entirely different?  What if I try to make someone else happy instead?  It’s kind of a “cast your bread upon the waters” thing.  Maybe that’s where I find life.  Perhaps I was looking in the wrong place.  (If you voted for this answer, you passed the course.  Well done!)

But back to the “He offers a better life” part.  If her son is still dead, how is that better?  The answer, I believe, is in the hope.  Not in the hope of his return to this earth, but in the hope that comes from trusting the One who holds all things, despite the rottenness that we live in.  We hope for better and it will happen, some of it later, but some of it now.

The Bible talks about the whole creation “groaning” for the restoration of all things.  All things.  That’s not just people, but this whole planet, at least.  God’s going to make it all better.  He’s going to return it to its original condition as when He first made it, the way it was before death and ugliness entered in.  And for now, the place where we live today, He really does walk through it with us.  That’s my hope, and it’s been my life.

 

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Our final words, when we know they are such, are the most profound, the ones we want to be remembered by, the things we want our loved ones to always know and hold on to.  No one ever reminds someone to brush their teeth or add something to the shopping list when they’re on their death bed.  “Oh, by the way, we’re out of bread.”  Doesn’t happen.

There are a few chapters devoted to Jesus’ last words to His disciples.  Among them is a curious little passage about the possibility of them falling away, of not continuing their life of faith and devotion to God.  Come on!  They had just witnessed miracles, heard Jesus’ revolutionary teachings, seen the unlovable loved, the hopeless satisfied.  Their world was rocked, and they were part of it.  Fall away?  Never!  Never.  Never?

Here’s the thing.  Jesus knew they had expectations of what God should do, of how the world should look now that Jesus had come and changed everything.  And He knew of the confusion and disappointment that was about to ensue when their expectations would be unmet.  And who could blame them?  The Man who came to save the world would be killed and things would go back to how they once were, or worse.  Where’s the sense and hope in that?  And so He told them to hang on, the story was not over.

I see this even today.  “If I pray hard enough God will do what I think He should.”  Or, “I will devote all my time/money/energy to charity and God will provide for my family.”  Oh, really?  Here’s how I see it:  He put a lot in His book about wisdom.  Yes, faith is involved, most definitely.  But faith is reliance and trust in Him, not our methods.  And if we trust Him, we will trust in what He says.  If He says we are to use wisdom, then that becomes an act of faith.

Back to the falling away.  Too many have expectations of God that are simply unfounded.  And so it’s no wonder there is a disconnect between their belief and their reality.  When they finally are willing to admit it, a decision must be made:  either continue in the frustration of unmet expectations, walk away from God altogether (wondering if there even is a God), or come to an understanding of who He really is and what living out our faith is really all about.  But let’s stop pretending.  Oh, and don’t forget wisdom.  Then see what God does.

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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 hear it from people of all faiths, from various worldviews and religious traditions.  We all seem to want God’s will, by whatever name we may call it.  Admittedly, some hold a more fatalistic outlook and say things like, “If it’s meant to be…”  (Do you ever wonder who it is that’s doing the “meaning?”)  Others see a more direct correlation between our actions, past or present, and what happens to us.  This is karma.

But what I want to consider is not what lies behind us, but what we’re seeking on the path ahead.  Like I said, we all seem to want God’s will.  We believe that’s best, don’t we, because we really do believe God is good.  And who wouldn’t want what’s best for ourselves?  We want to know who to marry, where to live, and what career to choose.

I’ve asked God many, many times, in many situations.  Sometimes I’ve gotten clear answers.  Other times I’ve heard nothing and did what seemed best.  What I really want is a blueprint.  I want clear instructions so I can follow them.  Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it, Lord.  Lay out the plan for my life.

Lately I’ve been thinking, though, that God’s plan is not detected so much in the blueprint as in the footprints.  How often have I looked back and realized, “Oh, so that’s what You were doing!”  I was in His will all along and didn’t even know it.  But now, looking back, I can see where I’ve been, where He’s taken me.  And it makes sense.

Should I have known sooner?  Could I have?  I think faith realizes that.  After all, we’re not asked to believe in the plan; we’re asked to believe in Him.  If I trust that He loves me, even if the journey is unpleasant, I know He will bring about good things.  And that good includes me, but is not exclusive to my own interests.  That is better than good.

I like looking back every now and again.  It makes sense of the present, and I can see that God makes sense out of the senseless, and makes the pain worth it when we see its outcome.  And the best part?  It helps me trust Him for the future.

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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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Have you ever has seasons of doubt?  I mean, I know very smart people who don’t believe in God, or who believe in a “higher power” without getting specific about what to call it.  These are people I respect, and I’ll admit that sometimes they seem to have good arguments.  So, yes, I admit to doubt at times.

Let me first explain why I believe in the first place.  To me, it just makes sense that there would be a Creator who started all of this.  He doesn’t have to have a creator.  He just IS.  Somehow I don’t think I would need the Bible to tell me that, but I can’t say for sure because it already does.  I just believe it.  It makes sense to me.

During those times of wondering, though, I think maybe there is a more “reasonable” explanation for all of it.  Science has some stuff to say, and philosophy, and even the fatalistic “oh well” folks seem to have a level of satisfaction.  But then it doesn’t seem like all of these beliefs have to conflict with the biblical one.  It seems to me it can all still originate with God.

There’s another source of doubt for me, and that’s when my experience doesn’t line up with my expectation of how life should be.  At those times, I have to examine what God really said, like I mentioned in my last post, “And I Quote…”  I do believe the Bible is true, but there are times when my false interpretation of it has skewed my sense of justice or has not satisfied my immediate desires.

One day a thought, a mental image, flooded my soul, and it was not pretty.  It was a picture of what life would be like without God.  Let me tell you, it brought me to tears as I almost experienced the utter purposelessness and hopelessness that His absence produced.  Nothing made sense and I felt worse than empty.  I say “almost” because in the next moment I knew that none of what I just saw was true!  My doubt had turned to certainty and I once again knew what I’ve always known.

What is my point?  Don’t be afraid of doubts.  They help clarify what is real.  Don’t deny them.  Face them head on.  Ask questions.  Stubbornly pursue the answers.  I once raised my fist in one of those moments when God wasn’t doing what I thought He should.  I attempted something like a break up, telling Him I couldn’t hold on to Him anymore.  His response?  “You never were.  I’ve holding on to you, and I’m not letting go.”  That was 30 years ago.  He never has.

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Does God ever invade your thoughts in such a way that it stops you dead in your tracks?  It happens to me every now and then.  He mostly corrects me, but I don’t care because I’m just so glad to hear from Him.  And really, when you think about it, it shows He cares.  It also shows He believes I can do better.

Let me tell you about one particular day.  I was walking to my office, thinking about the day ahead of me, asking Him to do those things He does.  You know – fix some impossible situations, give hope where there is none, provide resources when there just aren’t any…  He’s good at those things.  I was praying in faith, I was.  I believed He could do those things, and I told Him so.  I told Him I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t believe in His power and His love.  Yessirree, I believed God for the big things.

And that was His point.  He stopped me in my tracks and said, “Your faith is not big.  Your faith is small.  You’re waiting to see Me do the big things, so you can revel in your big faith.  I want you to see Me in the little things.  That’s where the big faith is.”

So, I’m happy to say, I have faith looks smaller now.  I’m willing to stop waiting for big things and look at the small things He’s already doing.  And by small, I don’t mean insignificant; I mean ordinary.  They just seem natural.  We don’t think of God as having anything to do with them.  They very often have an explanation.  We learned about those things in school, or they’re just a coincidence, or they’re a natural occurrence.  Of course the sun rises.  Of course we’re going to eat dinner again today.  Of course, of course, of course.

What we need to do is back up.  Why does the sun rise?  Where does our food come from?  Who gave us the ability to earn a paycheck?  How do doctors know what they know?  It can all be traced back to God!  Big faith risks ridicule.  Big faith looks small.  Big faith is a place of rest.

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