Month: March 2017

Headwind or Tailwind ?

 If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good! But if you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors. (1 Samuel 12:14-15)

I ran on a local track before church on a cold February morning. On the northbound straightaway was a strong headwind from the northwest. The wind was so cold that it was physically painful and it held me back.

But on the southbound straightaway, by the home team’s stands, a strong tailwind pushed me—I started to gloat about how fast I was running, because I did not really feel how much the wind was helping me.

My cold run on the track gave me a picture of what it means to walk with God or resist God.

The headwind and tailwind reflect two different heart attitudes. To live in obedience to God is to live being pushed along by a grace-filled tailwind. But my experience on the track suggests a warning:  it’s easy to forget that God is pushing me, and to take the credit for myself for doing well.

To rebel against God is to run into a very strong headwind.  I wish that when we do this in real life, it would be as quick to be felt as I felt it on the track. But, since we can unfortunately be rather pig-headed, sometimes we start to get a hardened heart, and we begin running into the headwind, often without even realizing that we are doing it. I am thankful, though, that God shows us mercy.  He loves us enough to give us a shout of warning that we are running into the headwind. And…… That means we can stop and turn around and start to run with the tailwind— we call this repenting!

Running on the track, I was forced to run into the headwind half of the time. But, in our walk with the Lord, we can pray “Lord, I always want to run with the tailwind, and do warn me quickly if I start running into the headwind.”

 How are you doing? Are you running with God’s tailwind today? Or do you need to repent and do a quick turn around?

Does God run our world like a clock?

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  (Colossians 1:15-17)

As we move towards Spring, I have noticed the daily increase in daylight, enjoying both the brighter mornings and brighter evenings that occur in late winter each year.

public sunrise

In the 1700s, there was an explosion of interest in and discoveries in natural science. Scientists discovered that there are orderly “laws of nature”. It looked like the universe displays an intricate machine-like order—indeed, the exact times that the sun will rise and set as the seasons change, or when the next eclipse will be, can be charted out years in advance.

Coming out of this interest in natural science, some thinkers created a new view of God. Picture an old-fashioned Grandfather’s clock that has been carefully designed and crafted. You wind it up and set it running….it will run for many days with no further intervention required. This new view of God said that he is like a clockmaker who set the universe in motion, but who now has a hands-off attitude towards personal intervention in the creation. This new view changed God from being a powerful, intimate, supernatural-acting moment-by-moment sustainer, to being an impersonal Creator who never intervenes in supernatural ways.

But let’s push back against the clockmaker God. What if the laws of nature only keep working because of the second-by-second personal decree of God? Note the end of today’s passage: and in him all things hold together.   This implies that the laws of nature only continue the way they do because of Jesus’ good pleasure and grace.

Another amazing implication of today’s passage: God reserves the right to overrule the normal order of operation of anything at his good pleasure. There is no guarantee that the laws of nature will continue to run indefinitely as they do now. Indeed the Bible seems to say that they will not—-especially when you read passages about stunning celestial changes during the end times:

All the stars in the sky will be dissolved
     and the heavens rolled up like a scroll;
 all the starry host will fall
     like withered leaves from the vine,
     like shriveled figs from the fig tree. (Isaiah 34:4)

I don’t exactly know what’s going on in this passage, but somehow I don’t think your local TV weathercaster’s description of when sunrise will be will be on that day will be particularly valid!

How does this affect our daily lives? Well, it sure is easy for us to drift into a clockmaker mode of living, where thoughts of God go to the back of our minds. When that happens, we still know that he exists, but we lose the sense of his intense personal caring about what is going on in our lives, we lose sight of it being God and not scientific farming and our great economy, that provides our daily bread. We may even think our economy, our country, will go on pretty much the same and not change………..or even that we don’t need to change !

For now I am glad that when I am flying in an airplane, God is keeping the natural laws like the laws of aerodynamics working, so that the plane does not fall from the sky. But these laws come far from explaining everything, and I am glad that there are times when God overrules the normal ways that things work—look how often answered prayer defies the natural explanations for things.

The more we experience how much our loving God is no clockmaker, how he sustains us by His loving grace moment by moment, the more we can grow to better express who he is, and through the grace of Jesus, love those he brings into our lives.

What are your credentials?

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus replied. …..If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew19:16-22)

Do you remember when you first went to Motor Vehicles to replace your old license and get a super-duper TSA-approved photo ID license? There was a list of documents that you needed to present to get it.  I was sure I had brought enough of them along. But then the DMV worker said, “Sorry, these credentials are insufficient.” I asked, “What do I still lack?” After hearing what I was missing, I went away sad. I had to go home and start all over again.

Now let’s talk about the eternal credentials we need.

Jesus spoke today’s verses right after he talked with the rich young ruler. This ruler presented his credentials to Jesus: He viewed himself as a fine upstanding young man, a good and moral person. He thought he had all his credentials in order, and Jesus would give him a hearty welcome into eternal life.  But he walked away when Jesus told him to sell his possessions. Being good and moral were not sufficient credentials.

Jesus knew that this young man’s issue was money, but we can extend that and see that really, Jesus is talking about anything that keeps us from loving God with all our heart and soul and mind. And we all have obstacles that prevent us from doing that.

Indeed, Jesus tells us that we are Klingons. We might cling on to material goods. Or cling on to a phony idea of what the good life is. We need to stop being Klingons. For myself, what I was clinging onto was how much smarter I was than those cretins who believed the Bible.

But how can we possibly stop clinging on? The disciples had the same question. These astonished guys asked “Who then can be saved?”  Then, Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26)

It is God who gives us the genuine credentials.  First, by grace, he has drawn us in to believe and to be adopted into Jesus’ family.  As this happened to me, I discovered that people who believed the Bible were not cretins after all! Next, grace gives us the heart to stop clinging on to substitutes for Jesus. This allows us to have even more of him—-I know this process is far from done but I am thankful it is continuing!

Light in the Darkest Night

You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
 darkness is my closest friend (Psalm 88:18)

Did you know that there is only one Psalm that does not have a happy ending ? It’s Psalm 88.

The sad ending in verse 18 is why this Psalm is often called the darkest in the whole Psalter.

But I want to show you that the message of this Psalm is not bleak despair.  Looking at it closely, there is more hope than you might notice at first glance.

If the Psalm were totally pessimistic then the photo below would be totally black. But it’s not. You see the bare beginnings of light and daybreak. So, what are the signs of hope in the Psalm?

First hint of light over a foreboding forest

Right off in the first verse, the Psalmist acknowledges God as the God who saves: Lord, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you.

He keeps seeking God’s face throughout in prayer:

May my prayer come before you;
 turn your ear to my cry. (Psalm 88:2)
But I cry to you for help, LORD;
 in the morning my prayer comes before you. (Psalm 88:13)

What if the  Psalmist had said, “I give up. I’m not going to bother to pray anymore”? Then you would have a bleak Psalm indeed! But that is not what the Psalmist does ; he does not give up despite feeling and experiencing a desperate situation.

Even when the Psalmist asks, in verse 14, Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me? you sense that he has not given up—in his darkest despair he is still talking to God! And an implied hope is that this is only a temporary feeling.

When we feel that  God is hiding his face from us when we are faced with tragedy or disappointment, we can take heart that as the Psalmist cries out, he is not compelled to pretty up his laments or pretend to be more cheery than he is. That’s a good example for us—we don’t need to pretend to feel that we are closer to God or more sure about God’s answer than we really are.

It’s unclear what the exact source of the grief, trouble and feeling near death is for the Psalmist.

I think that’s a deliberate vagueness that allows us to fit ourselves into the Psalm. We can fill in the blank with our own discouragement. But also, we fill the blank in with our own persistence in calling out to the Lord and praying to the Lord. We don’t give up.