Wednesday, July 4, 2012

When Faith Fails Us

  People who pursue a relationship of belief in God are often forced to revisit their understanding of ‘faith’ and what that concept means. If we are truly engaged in a relationship of believing in God, we must accept that it is dynamic, fluid, and continually changing: not because God changes, but because we do. The understanding and perception we possessed as children has matured and become fuller, we gain insights and grow stronger. Exercising the tenets of our beliefs makes us more resilient, more solid; we believe in God’s promises because we have seen them fulfilled in our own experience and in the lives of those we fellowship with. We are confident, self-assured, smiling……..and it happens.

 The bottom falls out, the world is upside down, we are wrecked. The diagnosis is grim and unexpected. The career is lost. Our surety and foundation lie in a disheveled heap like the remnants of a Midwestern town after a tornado. We profess that we are okay and we put on the brave face but inside we have questions and doubt. ‘How can this be happening?’, ‘Why has God allowed this?’ ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ If we are honest we can all remember a time or times when upheaval has put us on our heels and caused us to lament ‘Why, me?’ Thankfully, God anticipated our need for order and answers and assurance and he gave us Job: the gold standard for enduring loss and destitution while still clinging to the belief that we serve a God who loves and cares for us. The problem with Job is, the deeper you delve into the story, the less comforting it becomes. The element of God allowing Job to be placed in the crucible seems unjust and callous to us in our understanding of God and how He should operate. How is it that mature believers can get swept off their rock of faith by a sudden deluge of pain, discomfort, or change? What stirs indignation and self-righteousness in our hearts when we have been subjected to an event that challenges our understanding of faith and relationship with God?

 What has happened is that our faith has failed us. The problem is that ‘our faith’ has become misplaced. We have gotten away from believing in God and His promises, and we are believing in ‘our faith’. We have slipped into a comfortable place in which we have placed our confidence and trust in the fact that we believe. We have exchanged the infinite love of our Father who has redeemed us, for a very weak and devalued currency of ‘our faith’. If we consider God’s word and the instances where He speaks about ‘our faith’, we will realize we place much more value on it than we should. How many men had their faith attributed to them as righteousness? How often did Jesus declare, “I tell you the truth, I have never seen faith such as this in all of Israel!” See, when God determined that we needed a Savior, He did so because ‘our righteousness is as filthy rags’ and we cannot muster the minute faith of a mustard seed! We, in and of ourselves, are sheep. We bleat and stumble, fall off precipices, set ourselves on fire, and run looking for wolves to invite to dinner at every turn. But in ‘our faith’, we are rams with sure feet and steady eyes, capable of traversing the treacherous cliffs, leaping over the gaping chasms.We become insured in our salvation, and we become assured that somehow 'our faith' is sustaining us; that somehow we are playing a part in the relationship, that we have earned a box seat with benefits befitting someone of our proximity to God by 'our faith'. Satan has stood quietly beside us and whispered, "Did God really say?", only this time he has helped us to understand that 'our faith' has made us acceptable and right with God.

     In His Word, God is clear about our ability to 'be good enough', 'be righteous', ' be faithful'. We can't. What we can do, and do really well, is ascribe motives to circumstance, take pride in our minuscule attempts at faithfulness, and place entirely too much emphasis on our place in the equation, giving our 'faith' a value that is astronomically disproportionate to the value of Jesus love.  While it is incumbent upon us to believe, it is essential for us to always understand that the source of our salvation, provision, existence is the benevolence of God, without whom we would have no hope, no life, no joy.  Pride and lies are from the darkness; humility and truth come from the Light. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Deeper into Easter

In the rattle and hum that constitutes life today, it is easy to miss the magnitude of God's love and to have a surface level appreciation of why Easter is significant. The secularization of the church and culture's co-opting of faith based holidays work together to separate the hearts of  the casually religious from understanding the true  significance of the crucifixion and resurrection. Even diligent believer's can be challenged in grasping the implications of our God inserting himself into our lives to rescue us from sin and death; it is a gesture of love that is beyond our comprehension. Several years ago, Mel Gibson delivered a wrenching visualization of Christ's atoning love in 'The Passion of The Christ'. If you saw the film you were mortified by the brutality of Christ's final day as a man. It is possible that you wept uncontrollably as I did. Maybe you struggled to stand at the end, weakened by what you 'experienced' in participating in that portrayal of our Savior's condemnation and death. Easter might have changed for you after seeing that film but the real question is how have you changed for Easter's sake?

In acknowledging our sin and the need for Christ to come and die for us, we necessarily have a perspective that is focused on our debt, our culpability, our guilt. We respond with sorrow, brokenness, and gratitude for the incredible love that allowed God's Son to bear our sentence and redeem our lives and for most of us that is it.
We have been saved, our record is expunged, eternity is assured...what's for lunch? We are barely capable of grasping the majesty and mystery of grace so we tend to rest right there, huddled amongst fellow believers, waiting. This Easter was different for me and to be transparent, it was well into the following week before the realization came to me. Some circumstances gave me pause, and in the reflection that followed I realized how one sided and single minded my perception of Easter has been.

In considering Christ's mistreatment, maiming, and death for our sins, we are aware of the physical agony that He endured. We are physical beings and we can understand the excruciating experience that His flogging and crucifixion surely was. We recoil at the violence and abuse that He was subjected to. If we would attempt to understand the mechanics of His atonement, we realize that there was another type of suffering when the most holy one, sinless and guiltless, was smeared with our corruption and vileness. The light has nothing in common with the dark, the east and west can never meet, yet his perfect righteousness was forced to accept the totality of the world's evil, bitterness, and venom. Without fully knowing how God made that transference we can still surmise that the pain of that burden would surpass the physical torment of the cross. The measure of God's love and that of his Son is difficult to understand but we can grasp that He died because He could not endure our separation and condemnation. We are able to understand that because being made in His image, we would die to save the life of a spouse, child, or friend. What we miss is that Jesus died for everyone, for all mankind and that means He willingly submitted to that suffering for people who would reject Him, revile Him, and resent Him. Consider the hurt when someone you love denounces your concern and compassion and realize that Jesus knew those people who would reject Him before their conception. What does the weight of loving people who will refuse your love feel like on the scale that our Lord experienced it? How big is God's hurt when the ones He created to have fellowship and relationship with, reject Him?

In the epistles we learn that the apostles counted it joy to be persecuted and suffer for Christ because they were 'found worthy' to have shared in His suffering. We should study their example and strive to be worthy as well. Our burden, our hurt, should be for the prodigal and the lost, for those who through ignorance or deceit have not found the Father. We should share in the pain of loving others, even if they will revile and despise us.

2 Peter1:2-6

 2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

I have been trying to discern what this verse meant for some time. The divine nature? I did not know what to do with that. I did not know how that looked or if I was supposed to figure it out or if that  applied to me?
Our redemption is huge and its scale and scope can take a lifetime to assimilate. Is that enough time?
Relationship is collaborative and conflicting, embracing and recoiling, losing ourselves and gaining another.
This is what Easter means for me now. Having a heart that hurts for those who need God, regardless of the cost, irrespective of their response. Caring enough to say something, instead of huddling up with other believers and waiting.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Means......

In spite of the acrimony and lies of our ruling class, in spite of the meanness and depravity of the media, in spite of the disparity between the haves and have nots, today is still and calm. The air is solemn. There is a reverent quietness running through all creation. The glory of God's gift penetrates the heart of  all things and reign's majestically, independent of the world's ability to receive or recognize it. Love has come to free the lost, the disenchanted, the disenfranchised. Jesus saw the broken condition of mankind and willingly became the atonement, the sacrifice, the lamb, the gift. We have been liberated from our sin, from our selfishness, from our desperate hearts. Today is the celebration of the victory over evil. The merciful heart of God inserted love into the battle that raged between what remained of His goodness in us and the cancerous decay of men without hope, purpose, faith. Christmas is the joy of compassionate intervention. Christmas is help for the helpless. Christmas is giving to those who cannot give in return. Christmas means measuring ourselves with a different scale, seeing ourselves in a different light. Christmas means the time of striving,  of suffering, of sadness, is finite. There is Joy for the world because the Lord is come and the earth has received its King! Christmas means living abundantly in the expectation that hope can replace despair, that sadness can give way to laughter, that love can rule our lives. My prayer is that in the stillness of this day, you would consider what it means to be free from sin and death; that your heart would be broken over your sinfulness and simultaneously overjoyed that our God saw fit to call us back to Him with the miracle of His Son coming as a child, that you would vow that this knowledge will color your living from this day forward. Selah!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Happiness and Joy

Happy and You Know It

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap clap)
If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands (clap clap)

If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. (clap clap)

If you're happy and you know it, stomp your feet (stomp stomp)

If you're happy and you know it, stomp your feet (stomp stomp)

If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it

If you're happy and you know it, stomp your feet. (stomp stomp)

If you're happy and you know it, shout "Hurray!" (hoo-ray!)

If you're happy and you know it, shout "Hurray!" (hoo-ray!)

If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it

If you're happy and you know it, shout "Hurray!" (hoo-ray!)

If you're happy and you know it, do all three (clap-clap, stomp-stomp, hoo-ray!)

If you're happy and you know it, do all three (clap-clap, stomp-stomp, hoo-ray!)

If you're happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it

If you're happy and you know it, do all three. (clap-clap, stomp-stomp, hoo-ray!)

I am grateful to God and a dear friend of mine for showing me something fundamental and absolute about the difference that exists between happiness and joy. These words are often used interchangeably and we assume that they are essentially synonyms. I want to explain why that is not true. I am proposing that happiness is an emotion that is dependent upon circumstance or incidental happenings while joy is more or less an element of our world view or our perception of our place in the kingdom of God. I know that is conflicting and seemingly contradictory but bear with me and I will try and resolve the confusion.

Having the blessing of existing in a western culture in the 21st century,
we are far removed from the hardship and struggle that marked life for most of the generations that preceded us. We enjoy an existence that would be unimaginable for anyone except royalty; we are relatively free from want, hunger, disease, war. We eat when we are hungry, we sleep when we are tired, we work 5 days a week, we vacation annually. We have doctors if we are sick, we have clean clothes and houses that are dry and safe. Our lives are very comfortable and filled with convenience and distraction. We have standards of living that would put us in the the top .05% of people who have ever walked the planet. That should be something worthy of happiness. A life worthy of joy.

We don't need to look very hard to realize how fleeting happiness can be.
Children give evidence to this in their reactions to events all the time. If they cannot have the candy, toy, etc. now, they are not happy and that fact is communicated instantly and with conviction. Because their frame of reference is narrow and necessarily self centered, they react to not being happy with howls and tears. Sadly, we often see adults who have the same reaction to circumstances that leave them less than happy. If we are fortunate enough to have had loving parents and good teachers, we realized through our formative years that it isn't always our day, we don't always win, sometimes life is not fair. We are incredibly fortunate if we have reached adulthood with a world view that acknowledges our tremendous blessing and favor with God in that we live where, when and how we do!

I want to suggest that happiness or being happy is a choice that we make in light of our circumstances; a decision that we must make continuously as we go through the day. Choosing to be happy is part of an outlook on life that takes responsibility for your reaction to events, disappointments, encounters.
If your world view is objective and you recognize how overflowing your abundance is, you can see the minor infringements, delays, hassles for what they are. Inconvenience does not warrant a tantrum, swearing, pounding on the counter or steering wheel. You will survive the moment and it need not color the rest of your day and every subsequent event that you encounter.
Perspective, experience, and maturity separate an adult happiness from a toddler happiness; we grow into a realization that there is rain, accidents, hurt, meanness in life. We can't control those things but we can manage our response and reception of them in our lives.

You may be thinking, "I know people who are always happy and they don't have a faith in God!” which brings us to the distinction or differentiation
between happiness and joy. The characteristic of joyousness or being filled with joy is distinct from happiness by its depth and source. This is where I will struggle to define the distinction that is so obvious yet defies explanation. In the same way that a happy adult is different from a happy 3 year old, a person that has joy is different from someone who is merely happy. Where 'happiness' is circumstantial, joy is 'constitutional'. Joy is a foundational element of a person who has been delivered from sin and death.
If you have a saving faith that God is who He says and that His Word is true,
you have a flame of hope in your core that is joy. You know that the 'happiness' of this world is only a rusty, dented hint of the 'joy' that exists in the presence of God. So while it is true that there are people who do not know God who are happy, only those who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ possess the joy that is indicative of salvation.

      For those who have joy, the burden remains; the knowledge that far too many around us are lost, seeking happiness in the moment, pursuing the
silver and gold that will melt in the end of this life. Sadly, there seems to be a window for us to learn the truth about happiness, joy, abundant living. Outside of that period, the willingness of our hearts to embrace truth diminishes, we become stiff and hard to accepting new life, new truth.
IF you know someone who needs joy, pray that our merciful God in His infinite love will heal their heart; that your Joy may serve as a light, that He will get glory because you were burdened for their salvation. Make sure that everyday you are happy about the right things, that the source of your joy is at the center of all you think, say, and do. Put away the things of childhood and embrace the joy that exists to be given away.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Matter of Degrees

     Imagine that you are standing at the center of a clock and you are facing the twelve. You are facing that direction because beyond the twelve, beyond the edge of the clock is truth. Beyond the horizon is the source of goodness, love and holiness. God is beyond your sight calling you. Behind you, at six o'clock is the darkness. The evil one whispers from the void. Insistent. Incessant. His lies and deception continuously directed at your weakness. His subtlety and craft derailing your attempts to live intentionally for God.
     The call he issues is not blatant. He doesn't attempt to spin you around from the twelve to the six. He knows  that would be too much. His strategy is to move our eyes from God only slightly, say to 11:58 or maybe 12:01.
If he can achieve that, a slight distraction from having our focus singularly on God, then he can move us incrementally to say 9:00  or 3:00 o'clock. Then you are facing neither the light or the darkness. You are looking at the gray area; the in between, where the lines are fuzzy and distorted. Where choices and decisions are difficult  because the consequences may not be clear.The reason he doesn't need to move you 180 degrees is because he only needs  to move you 1 degree. When we take our eyes off God, when we are not living intentionally focused on Him, we have compromised with evil and a single degree is the same as 15 or 45 or 90 degrees. To not be God focused is to be focused on the other, the world, ourselves, the darkness.
     The deception of Eve in Genesis illustrates for us the subtlety and slight of hand that makes satan such a dangerous adversary. In asking "Did God really say?", he plants doubt in Eve's mind about her understanding of God's words. He suggests that she has misunderstood the intent of God's instruction. That degree of doubt, that compromise of the truth equals death. When we trust ourselves to navigate in the gray areas, when we decide things without the moral compass that is God's love, we have moved a degree and we are choosing sin. Only a focused pursuit of God, seeking His truth, allowing it to live in our hearts and control our minds can deliver us from the enemy. A degree of doubt and we are vulnerable. A small compromise and we are susceptible to destruction and ruin.
     Because he is relentless, we must never stop seeking God's truth and our redemption through His Word.
The deceitful nature of our hearts requires that we be continually washing them with the truth. If we are not cleansing ourselves and remembering God's truths into our minds, we have no defense for the whisper that slithers from the darkness; that incessant hiss of falseness that calls to our pride, our vanity, our self esteem.
When we are satisfied with our goodness, when we are self-sufficient, when we take God for granted because we are not focused on Him, we have have moved a degree, and we die.
     The deceiver is tireless in his pursuit of those who cling to the promise of the light. Those who pursue God and His kingdom are subject to the his full attention and are assaulted with doubt, fear, insecurity and angst. He sows discontent and disruption to distract the faithful from delivering what God has ordained for them to achieve. We have heard it argued that satan knows the end he faces and that he attempts to strip away as many believers as he can in a last gasp attempt to defy God. I am increasingly convinced that the opposite is true; the insistent ferocity, the determined energy of his activities are indicative of an individual
 who believes he can win. His efforts are those of someone who is confident of success. He craves the worship that rightfully belongs to the one true God, but he will settle for the vague affirmation that he gets from the lost, who knowingly or not are separated from God. Because he is the father of lies, he believes his own lies. He believes that the anguish and agony of the lost is equivalent to the adoration and awe of the saved; his pride and vanity convince him that an individual's rejection of God's love is an endorsement of his
evil, lies and deceit.
     The root of satan's fall is selfishness and pride. His self-delusion is that somehow he is more worthy of glory and honor than his creator, the maker and author of all things. He believes that his value and his worth is somehow his doing and not an imparted or reflected good that comes from God. When we choose ourselves over God, we align ourselves with satan. Rebellion, choosing ourselves or our own course rather than submitting to God's, is sin. We deceive ourselves when we believe that we are self-sufficient, self-empowered, or self-contained. We were created to reflect God's glory; in and of ourselves we have nothing that is commendable or worthy of recognition. We are reflective of His goodness and if we believe that we are good, we have swallowed the lie of satan.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

God's Holiness continued

      We have covered the fact that people who lived in cultures before technology and the worship of distraction, had a very different perspective on God and the consequences of not respecting His holiness.
Men feared encounters with God because to actually look upon Him would result in death; His purity and goodness are that strong. God instructed men he interacted with to turn away from him, to hide in clefts in the rocks, to remove their shoes because they were encountering His holiness in a proximity that was dangerous if not fatal. When God spoke to the people from Mt Sinai, His thunderous voice terrified them and they asked Moses to let God speak through him because they could not endure the voice of God and feared they would die. The Hebrew people revered God's name so much that they would eliminate the vowels in pronouncing it as an acknowledgement of their being unworthy to pronounce His name. How far removed we have become as we hear His name defiled in cursing, His relevance denied with ignorance and indifference, His Son rejected as an impostor or 'just another prophet". Disrespecting God's holiness is a grave offense and we must continually be on guard to insure that we have a humble and consistent appreciation for the holiness of our God and what befalls us when we are careless.
     What are the dangers of living without a proper appreciation of the holiness of God? The most damaging
thing we do when we debase God's holiness is we negate the magnitude of Christ's sacrifice. If God is not
"separate or apart from" us, if we could have relationship without the law being fulfilled, without atonement;
then God is not who He claims to be and His word is not true. When we view God as a grandfather who loves us regardless of our behavior, shrugs off disobedience, tolerates willful sin, we have compromised His holiness and insulted His true character and nature. When we think of God as just a really complete version of man, we insult Him. We have misinterpreted His word and we are deceived because we are clearly told that God is holy and we should be holy. We are to separate ourselves from the world and its depravity, not lower God so He more resembles us. Compromise is a slippery slope that we are ill-equipped to navigate.
When we compromise God's word , His character, and our relationship to Him ,we are back to religion, searching for God on our terms. When we impugn God's holiness, out of ignorance or disobedience, we diminish the magnitude of His love, power, and majesty. His Word tells us that a reverent fear (respect) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We should always endeavor to remember the source of that fear among His chosen people; His Holiness.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

God's Holiness

     We have all had the experience of learning of some horrific violence against children or equally helpless adults and hearing or even uttering ourselves "Is nothing sacred?" We live in a time when depravity and senseless violence so dominate the news that it is no stretch to believe that there is an element of the world's population for whom quite literally, 'nothing is sacred'. They have no fear of  answering for their actions, be it to man or to God and it is an indication of the extent of their 'lostness' or separation from God and everything that is pure, good, right, and holy. We can and should pray for the lost and we should be broken over their separation. I want to set that aside for now though and consider the implications when believers are soft or unclear in their reverence for God's holiness. What does it mean to serve a Holy God whose name is sacred,
whose essence is truth, whose core is righteousness? What can we do to insure that our perception and respect for God's holiness is as he intends?
     While most of us have little problem acknowledging our sinfulness and the struggle to be 'good ',
we really are unequipped to comprehend or process the holiness of God. The primary meaning of holy is separate or apart from. Being the source of light, truth, purity and love, God is outside of our ability to comprehend or perceive. We know that He is good and we are not but that is not really an adequate understanding of what it means that our God is a holy God. If we search the Old Testament we can find abundant evidence that indicates that respecting God's Holiness is crucially important to our understanding of
who God is and what He desires from us. Individuals, cities, and entire cultures were extinguished by God as justice for their refusal to acknowledge right living or 'righteousness', for being unaware of the consequences of their living in defiance of God's Holiness. The book of Jonah is an exemplary account of a people who knew that they were living 'out of bounds' relative to God's standards and showed contrition and repentence
when the prophet appears and declares the coming judgement.
      As believers, we are challenged daily to keep perspective and focus on our response to the call our God has placed upon our hearts. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to misunderstand or in some way diminish or subjugate God's holiness and the crucial role it plays in the makeup of His character. The
Lutheran theologian Dieterich Bonhoeffer sounded the alarm on this hazard in the term "cheap grace";
we cheapen 'grace' when we take sin lightly, when we give ourselves a pass on obedience, when we pretend
The Word is not saying what it says. Our enemy works tirelessly to convince us we are 'good', we are acceptable, we have arrived, when in reality nothing could be further from God's truth. If we are honest we acknowledge everyday our unworthiness before God without the atonement for our wretchedness that was purchased through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot approach God in His holiness without being shielded with the intercession that His Son died for; His truth, His justice, His righteousness would
incinerate us. We must continually remind ourselves that God is separate and apart from us. He loves us and He died for us, but His holiness cannot tolerate us until we have been clensed and sanctified by His Son.
As part of the creation, we are broken and defiled and waiting for restoration. As we attempt to grasp the fullness of God's love and surrender to His redemptive healing, we must remain diligent in defending His holilness: from a culture that declares Him to be irrelevant and from our own hearts which are deceptive, weak, and willing to compromise with sin without considering the consequences. It is no small task and we are charged with being faithful and obedient in revering and upholding it, to each other and to the world as well.