My Will Be Done?

 Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6)

The great Hebrew warriors were itching to fight their Philistine enemies.  They didn’t want to wait!

That’s why I was so struck by the word perhaps in reading this passage. Instead of rushing in, these bold warriors were being tentative!  Why?  They needed to find out whether God would be with them in their attack. Hence, they waited for further direction from the Lord.

And they got a “Yes” from God and went on to a big victory.

Today, few of us are planning military battles, and we are probably not facing anyone as violent as the Philistines.  So what, then, does God working on our behalf mean now? How can we ever be sure that God will act?

For starters, Scripture does say that there is one way in which we know the Lord will always act on our behalf: We know that God wants each of us to grow to be more like Christ and to show more of God’s glory.

But can we get the precise details and guidance on exactly how God will achieve that in our life? Not always!

Last year, I was excitedly waiting for my new age group in competitive running. I was sure I could show God’s glory by running strong and winning prizes as the youngest runner in my new group. But God had other plans — just months before my milestone birthday, I developed a heart rhythm issue that takes away much of my speed and power in running. And this probably won’t ever change.  Yet I know that God is with me in it. Indeed, I have seen him more closely in some ways that I would have if I were able to persist as a running fanatic!

Yes, it’s great to know by faith that God loves to act on my behalf, even though the way he does it can be quite different from how I told him I wanted it done!

Patient ? I Don’t Have the Time To Be Patient!

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Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.  Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:7-9)

We believe that Jesus is coming again. That’s been the hope of the Church since Bible times. But when we take our eyes off the hope, then it’s easy for crummy attitudes to slither in. Today’s opening passage warns that when we are indifferent to Jesus’ coming our grumbling increases.

That’s why Scripture often reminds us that the Kingdom is not far away — indeed, Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2 ESV).

It’s been 2000 years since today’s opening verses were written and Jesus is still standing at the door.  Does that seem like an overly long time to be waiting? Well, we need to think of God’s time scale: What is 2000 years compared to eternity?

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  (2 Peter 3:8-9)

Note that we have two passages today that use the word “patient,” but in two separate ways. The first passage is how we need to be patient and the second is how the Lord himself is patient.

God is patient because he wants to give us time to repent of crummy attitudes. And since God is so patient with us, he asks that we echo his patience by being patient with each other. But if we impatiently whine and complain about each other, we test God’s patience with us.

As we learn to be as patient with each other as God is with us, then our worry about the warning of judgment fades.  Instead, our love for each other increases as our grumbling about each other decreases. We flourish as a church and look forward to Christ’s return with hope and not fear.

Growing Like Wildfire?

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

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Paul urges abounding love. Growing in this is not quick and it is not easy. But trust God and praise God, it does happen!

Some people grow in Jesus like wildfire, and never really stop. You hear of someone who comes to believe in Jesus, a week later they know they are called to be a pastor, and for the rest of their life they walk strongly and keep growing.

But what about the rest of us who aren’t always growing like wildfire?

Over the years, I have hit some major rough spots.  God was gracious to rescue me from them, but overall growing in “depth of insight” has taken me decades. God sure has been patient and faithful during that time! It’s good to remember that this is what God is like — because the devil will mess with how long we have been Christians and twist it to be used against us: What? You still have doubts??  OR Look at how much growth brother so-and-so has. You are such a waste!

One way I love to counter the devil’s attacks is to be encouraged by honest stories, featuring lives of pilgrims who have both victories and defeats!

I’d like to put in a plug for my men’s group which is named Battleground ; here you have men who love Jesus but who have good stories about how patient God has been with their foul-ups ; and instead of scorn for  those weaknesses and flops, there is joy at how God has given repentance, forgiveness, and (steady if sometimes slow) growth over time!

I can’t get over how patient God is with us, when it takes so long to get what he’s saying through our thick heads.

Yes, I have fallen short of the glory of God. Maybe you have, too. But God calls us to a life of repentance and forgiveness, rejoicing that his kindnesses are new and fresh each morning and that he really does view us as pure and blameless because of what Jesus achieved for us.

God loves to help us see what is best, so that we can lead a fruitful life for him. Then we can truly say, thank you for filling me with more of your love.

 

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:4)

Paul is addressing the Corinthian church here. If you read this verse out of context it seems like he is describing a thriving church.  And when you see the weaknesses and failings of today’s churches, not to mention our own shortcomings, you might ask “Why can’t our church be like one of those flourishing, victorious early New Testament churches where everyone is doing so well?”

But after his kind opening, we see that Paul was painfully aware of the imperfections of the Corinthian church. Paul’s opening thanks for these early believers in Christ is followed by a sharp reprimand.

After continuing in Chapter 1 for several more verses of thanks, Paul shifts hugely: by the time we get to 3:3, he is on an angry rant.  You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?  

Paul was not being self-righteous or holier-than-thou here. After all, he frequently referred to himself as the chief of sinners!  Yet, these believers were falling far short of what Christ was calling them to be and so they did need a rebuke.

And the purpose of this rebuke was to bring them to repentance, so they’d return to the path to maturity that Christ has for them:

 Brothers and sisters stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. (1 Corinthians 14:20)

Chapter 16 is the grand finale of this book. Hear Paul’s closing words: The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen. (1 Corinthians 16:23-24)

What a kind way to talk to his people after having given them such a thorough scolding! Here, love and mercy triumph over judgment. I am glad that happens when God deals with our own imperfect but loving churches today. He still uses rebukes and correction — not to fill us with shame and guilt but rather to grow us and our churches so we can have more of Christ!

Another Bogus Bill

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a spreading mold in a house in that land, the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, ‘I have seen something that looks like a defiling mold in my house.’ (Leviticus 14:33-35)

Putting a mold in a house? What is God up to? Is he is doing something evil?

We often hear “God is not the author of evil” as a blanket statement and ironclad rule. Today, let’s examine that.

We do know that Satan had to get God’s permission to afflict Job. So if the devil needs to ask permission, then obviously God could say “No.”  But then, why did God ever say “Yes”? Because doesn’t saying yes make God responsible for the evil?

Some try to solve this problem by backing off a bit and saying God “allows” evil…But that begs some additional questions ….

For example, does God “allow” stuff that is not part of his plan? If yes, then he is not omnipotent. But if no, then it means that evil is part of his plan. But if that’s true then, once again, it looks like God is the author of evil.

Here’s how I try to sort that out: God does ordain evil which can temporarily seem nothing but bad. But the key word is temporary. Because from a long term or eternal perspective God always uses that temporary evil to achieve something good in his long run plans. This means that God never ordains evil whose end result remains evil with nothing good coming out of it.

So God ordains evil as a passing step towards what will bring him even greater glory.

Now I can try to explain why God put the mold in the house. Because verse 35 says that the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, ‘I have seen something that looks like a defiling mold in my house.’ So, God has given a test for the owner —- he is tempted to cover it up because now the house is required to be torn down if the mold persists. Does the owner respond in obedience and report the mold?  Or disobey and keep quiet to nervously hold onto his property?

Now, an example from my own life. It’s when I receive a bill with a bogus charge on it. I have whined and whined when that happens. I am not proud of my history of being all ticked off about it and then yelling on the phone when the help desk refused to fix the error.

I had said I would never yell again, ever. But a few months ago it happened again! Why did I blow it? It’s because I did not see that somehow God did ordain it – allowing the phony charge to test me and to grow me. After all, God could have stopped the bill but he did not.

Reflecting on that, now I know ahead of time that I will again get a bogus bill and again get a help desk person who refuses to fix it. Will I yell or will I say OK Lord I know you have sent this evil as a test and this time I will pass the test to your glory?

Sure, getting fake charges on a bill is annoying. But just think of the biggest example of fake charges in history. God ordained that wicked people to crucify his only Son on fake charges!  But God ordained this wickedness to bring the greatest good in the history of the planet— a redeemed people called Christians who have eternal life and bring God’s good news to the world! And when he ordains that I get fake charges, God means it to shape me into being a better ambassador of his good news.

Screaming about the Bible

It’s easy to find people on the Internet screaming that the Bible is full of falsehoods. They’ll claim that the logic of science and modern critical scholarship makes it clear that the Bible is bogus.

But I think the skeptics’ objections to the Bible are less objective than they claim. Why? Consider this…. if the Bible is full of falsehoods about the events that it says really happened in history, then it must be full of falsehoods when it talks about what we are supposed to believe and to do. If the Bible is bogus then I can disregard the Bible any time it contradicts what I think and want.

Before the modern revolution in thinking took hold, people acknowledged that the decrees and details in the Bible were true, but they simply often just did not feel like obeying them. In the 21st century, though, when we hear the same question that Pilate uttered, “What is truth?” the modern answer is “The Bible does not matter. The only truth is what is true for me.”

So that brings me to my presupposition:

A presupposition is something I assume is true without proving it. My presupposition is that the Bible is true. I don’t claim that I can prove to you that the Bible is true. But I can argue that it is reasonable to believe the Bible is true. I am not making a blind leap of faith. Rather, you might call it a sighted step of faith.

Once I thought only lamebrains believed the Bible was true—but that all changed when, while I was at UConn, I met professors with PhDs who believed in the Bible’s truthfulness. They showed me that believing in Scripture’s truth does not freeze our mind — it renews it!

Before I came to believe that the Bible is true, I gave myself an excuse to do what I wanted. Hearing a Bible teacher who propounded a conservative sexual ethic, my attitude was, “How dare anyone say that what I am doing sexually is wrong !!” (Looking back I see I was so angered because I knew that the guy was speaking truth.)

If the Bible is true, then, its truth authority stands outside of me. Thus, Scripture can overrule or contradict my own feelings and thoughts and desires. The Bible has the power to say that some of what I believe and think and do is false.

You might think that coming under the authority of Scripture is restrictive and harsh. Quite the contrary! Instead, it leads to what Jesus calls the abundant life. Living under Scripture’s authority guides us to turn back from dead ends and to move forward to having life in the fullest.

Replacing the Slop

As I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah
    along with their neighboring towns,”
declares the Lord,
“so no one will live there;
    no people will dwell in it. (Jeremiah 50:40)

This verse in Jeremiah was part of my  recent daily Bible study. The context : the Jews had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians, but now not only were they going to be allowed to return to their homeland, but their captors  were going to suffer retribution. The destruction that’s awaiting the Babylonians is like the judgment and disaster that already befell Sodom and Gomorrah.

This prophetic word was great news for the original Jewish readers. But how does it connect for us in 2019 ?

God still does overthrows today.

Today’s example : Smoking.

Using my own best efforts, I had quit smoking (and relapsed!) many, many times before. But  God engineered my final successful quitting. Was it a mystical deliverance ? Not quite. Here’s what happened : we were washing the smoke stained walls in the kitchen of 2 heavy smokers. Filling bucket after bucket as each turned black ! I had a vivid picture of my own lungs turning black. God used this incident plus being around some supportive non-smokers to free me, after 13 years of smoking bondage.  So there was not a sudden supernatural miracle, but God was in control of each of the steps that set me free,  starting with how it was no coincidence that I was assigned to visit the kitchen of the heavy smokers.

The main reason that quitting was finally successful was that it no longer depended only on my own willpower. Sure, my will was involved, but what God did was far more important. And it’s by God’s grace that there has been no relapse since I was set free of smokes over 30 years ago.

God is still freeing me from bondages. Now he is working on some stinky, self-centered attitudes in my heart —-which are less visible than having smoke pour out of me like a human chimney.  But changing these crummy attitudes is at least as important.

But why even bother ?

Because we are putting off slop and putting on more of Jesus.

Jesus says that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Are you troubled by an area of your life that is in captivity ?  God wants to set you free from bondage and give more of Christ’s abundant life to you.