He Preserves Us

The book of Philippians begins with “To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus.” I think of us being God’s people when our men’s Battleground group gathers on Saturdays. Philippians continues in 1:6 by saying being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, and reassures us by saying that it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (2: 13)

Last week our Battleground lesson was about control and many of us expressed how that idol shows up in our lives. I mentioned how I react when we receive a bogus bill and my wife says these five words: “Why are you so angry?”

Indeed, I need to confess what happened when we got a bogus bill early this year from our cable company. I ended up yelling at the representative on the phone. When I calmed down, I apologized for yelling at him, and he said, “No problem, that is what I get paid for.” Well I don’t think the yelling honored God but perhaps the apology did.

Scripture says that perseverance is especially important in our Christian life. But I have often failed in my perseverance. Does that mean I am doomed? That I might not carry on? Does it all depend on me? The Lord says no!

I am thankful that he gives us another word that starts with “P” that is even better than perseverance. It’s preservation. It’s Jesus who sustains me and preserves me.

Yes, God preserves us to allow us to take the next step after falling flat on our faces. And along that line, let me tell you how God has a sense of humor and timing.

After talking about my reaction to bogus bills at that Battleground meeting last week I got home and the postman rang our bell delivering a certified letter that said we were being fined by our homeowner’s association. It was punishment for something we did not do !

For a change, I wasn’t fuming and stewing over the unfairness of it all. My wife said I wasn’t handling this perfectly but I was handling it much better than I did with the cable company. Anyway this time I sent a polite but firm email to our association property manager protesting the fine and explaining why we did not owe it.

I said, “It’s in your hands, Lord.”

And early this past Monday an email came from the property manager apologizing for the misunderstanding and saying we did not owe the fine. Yes, God engineers circumstances to grow us and test us in our commitment and gives the grace to achieve it.

We really do spur each other on, broken vessels who nonetheless are growing in grace. I conclude with some words from Keith Getty and Stuart Townend’s song In Christ Alone which remind us how it does not depend on us:

Till He returns or calls me home-
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

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.