Category: Theology

What a Hope and Future Really Means

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

fired

As a new Christian, did you have a rosy view of your new Christian life? I know I did. And Jeremiah 29:11 was one of the first verses I heard as a new Christian. It was easy to think that meant that from now on I would always prosper and never get harmed.

It took a while to realize I was misunderstanding God’s promises. God’s promises did not mean I was magically protected from broken relationships and being fired from a job.

Today’s verse comes from a letter that Jeremiah wrote to the Jews who were carried away into exile, away from their home in the promised land. These Jews longed to go back home, and many despaired, thinking they never could go back. So, the context of this verse is Jeremiah preaching during calamity. Deep in exile they are told that God will take care of them to give them hope and a future.

So, the promise gives us encouragement of God’s sustaining presence during life’s trials rather than a promise that we will avoid all trials.

How easy it is to overestimate how much God will perfect now, and underestimate how much he will do later. Even when we have been Christians for quite a few years, it is still easy to grow impatient and want the change now.

So, broken relationships, being fired from a job, and having loved ones die are inevitable parts of this life. But today’s verse is an antidote to entering despair or escapism. We have something in common with those Jews. Like them, we Christians now are living in exile from our true home.

The book of Hebrews expresses that truth beautifully, as Christians going through tough times were encouraged to keep persevering and holding on to their faith.  They too were encouraged to look to a future hope:

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come (Hebrews 13 :14)

What an encouragement for us today, anytime we struggle with the gap between what’s going on now and the fullness of all that God has promised will happen !

You talking to me?

Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. (Luke 12:1b-3)

talking 1

It’s easy for me to read today’s verses and say “Ha! Jesus is talking about the Pharisees. I am no Pharisee! But, I can sure think of some other people that do need to hear this!”

However, a good rule of Bible interpretation is that rarely, if ever, does scripture give us the luxury of relaxing with a self-satisfied smirk as we bask in the feeling of security that our own moral superiority gives us!

So, I need to back off and ask the question that Travis Bickle did in Taxi Driver “You talking to me?” And to that question I might add: “You mean my secret stuff?”

Yes, there is no thought, action or attitude I have that God does not hear or know about.

Now, that truth used to seem rather ominous to me: that one day I would be confronted with a videotape of all I thought I could get away with! But there’s been a change in how I look at it. I no longer want to push the edge of what I can get away with before it gets recorded on the tape.  This is partly due to fear and awe of God, but even more from sensing something wonderful about how God’s love works.

Psalm 139 sums this up beautifully:

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.     (verses23-24)

This Psalm shows that God is highly benevolent and loving, not a gotcha judge. Indeed, he loves us too much to let us stay where we are at, so he wants to lovingly correct when we have thoughts, feelings and actions that don’t match his will.

So, while it can be painful, I am learning to welcome it when God disciplines and corrects me.

From Fog to Sunshine

For  God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

On a recent morning, my home in the valley was enveloped in thick fog. I planned to go for a run in Mountain Lakes. Its elevation is several hundred feet higher than where I live. To get there, I first drove  uphill through the town of Boonton. As I climbed in altitude, suddenly I left the fog and burst into bright sunshine. All the scenery that was hidden from my view suddenly became bright and clear and filled with color!

My climbing out of the fog illustrates two different things about how we relate to Christ. First, before we knew Christ in the first place, we were walking around with scales in our eyes.  God unblinded us and had the scales fall from our eyes to invite us in to believe in Christ. Before the apostle Paul got baptized, when he was still called Saul, he was temporarily blinded after his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus—and then:

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized. (Acts 9:18)

Second, once we have decided for Christ, we still have remaining sin and deception in our lives. Often, this kind of deceptive sin is something we are not even aware of. (Even if it is obvious to everyone else!)  I am praying for someone who has an attitude that subtly puts people down.  No one even dares to mention it any longer, knowing how defensive this person is: “What gives you the right to say that and judge me!” But at the right time, God will bring them out of their fog and they will say, “Yes, Lord, you are right.” Then, they will have the beautiful experience of seeing how God’s sunlight replaces the fog as the scales fall from their eyes.

Just as it was for Paul, scales in our eyes are only temporary. It is wonderful when God causes them to fall! I know I have plenty of them left and most likely you have some too. Let’s pray that we both get freed from them.  Then, like when I climbed the hill into Boonton, something that was hidden from our view suddenly becomes bright and clear and filled with the light of the knowledge of God’s glory.

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.

Mind Boggling God

What do you think about the attributes of God? Some people think they are abstract and overly theological. But today I want to show you how God’s attributes reveal that he is a mind-boggling God: He overwhelms our thoughts and emotions.

attributes

Today’s photo makes me think of the most majestic features of God. The creation of the universe!  Innumerable galaxies, billions of stars. And the book of Psalms is a great place to see the attributes of God come alive.  In Psalms, we see God’s goodness, might, lovingkindness, and even his anger.

In Psalm 86, we first get a taste of the awesome side of God:

For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
     you alone are God. (Psalm 86:10)

Later in the Psalm, we get a taste of how personally  his attributes touch us.

 But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
     slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86:15)

I do not claim that I have the following experience every time I pray, not by a long shot:

But, during this recent prayer time, I started by admiring God as the almighty creator of the universe, so transcendent that he is even above time. And then that marveling segued to experiencing a God who has condescended to walk with me, I got a most intense awareness that Almighty God was personally living with me and walking with me in each thought or feeling that I had as I prayed……this sense of entering personal communion with the Lord in such a deep way lasted for a few minutes.

This God who is both majestic and personal is the same God who sent his Son to die for us and give us new life. As we study God’s attributes and begin to experience them, we enter what Jesus said about getting to worship God in Spirit and in truth.  God’s attributes are not dry abstractions, but rather engines that get us more fired up for experiencing him and his love and passing it on.

Two pictures of Jesus

I’ve been thinking of two seemingly different pictures of Jesus in the scriptures. First is Jesus in the Gospels walking on earth, talking to the disciples, teaching people, healing people, calling them his friend.

Second is the raised and exalted Jesus who we see in the book of Revelation with “eyes of flashing fire, feet like burnished bronze.”

At first glance these two pictures of Jesus are so different that we wonder how to connect them!

It’s easy to think of Jesus walking on earth as a warm, friendly, easy going buddy, but there is more than just a sentimental feeling of closeness in Jesus’ idea of friendship. One of the keys to connecting the two pictures of Jesus is what He says about friendship in John 15:14 “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

In Revelation in John’s vision of Jesus he “fell at His feet as a dead man.” But then Jesus “laid His right hand upon me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One”.

So these pictures of Jesus are both true at the same time : Jesus is my friend but not my easygoing buddy AND Jesus is exalted and glorified and almost terrifying ; yet at the same time he puts his hand on me and urges me to follow his commands.

Jesus’ shining brightness in John’s vision makes me think of how the Lord has a refiner’s fire—wanting to burn off and purify any slop and sin in my life that would be an obstacle to doing what He commands.

The same Jesus who is my friend is the exalted Jesus who wants to purify me.

So the two views of Jesus are not contradictory at all! The Jesus who walked the earth in the gospels is the same as the Jesus who rules in heavenly places in Revelation, and He intensely desires that we each respond to his touch and follow him well!