Sunday, August 24, 2008

Praying a Little Late

God is not bound by the constraints of time. That being said, if we pray about something after it has already happened, can God go back and change it? Or, could God act knowing that the prayers will be made in the future?

Of course, God can do whatever He wants. That's one of the perks of being God, after all. However, let's analyze this.

An incident occurs, leading to a believer praying that the incident not occur or that the incident occurs differently. God chooses to respond to the prayer, and He "goes back in time" (for a lack of better terminology) and creates a new time line, changing the initial incident to a more favorable outcome. The believer in the new time line then, taking this favorable outcome for granted, does not pray regarding the incident. Since the change to the time line was due to God responding to prayer, and that prayer has not occurred, God then chooses not to intervene regarding the incident, recreating the first time line. All things being the same as before, the believer will again pray that God intervene. This time, however, God looks at the vicious circle and says, "this is stupid" and chooses not to act.

Alternatively, God does this all the time. Before an incident even occurs, God knows how its outcome will affect us. Being a loving, gracious, and merciful God, He chooses to intervene on our behalf without anyone praying a single word about it--He just does it because it is who He is. Of course, being reactionary creatures as we are, when God spares us pain in our lives that we didn't even know was coming, we fail to recognize and appreciate this fact, depriving God of the praise He is due.

"Pray continually" - 1 Thessalonians 5:17

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Who am I?

And now for an entire blog without a single original thought:
I am not what I ought to be,
not what I want to be,
not what I am going to be,
But thankful that I am not what I used to be.
"If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:17-21)

"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:4-5)

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (Galatians 3:26-27)

"So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir." (Galatians 4:7)

"You, my brothers, were called to be free." (Galatians 5:13)

"May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Galatians 6:14)

"He (Christ) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." (Romans 4:25-5:5)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Who is this Jesus?

Who is this Jesus? Jesus told us exactly who he is.

"I am the bread of life." (John 6:35)
"I have come down from heaven." (John 6:38) When Jesus said this, he had just finished feeding the five thousand. But the deeper truth he refers to is when God provided the Israelites with manna and quail in the desert, telling Moses, "I will rain down bread from heaven for you." (Exodus 16:4) Meaning? "I am the only one who can provide for all your needs."

"I am the light of the world." (John 8:12)
Then he heals a man born blind. (John 9:1-13) The Pharisees he was speaking to must have been aware of God's statement to Moses: "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?" (Exodus 4:11) Meaning? "I am your creator."

"Before Abraham was born, I am!" (John 8:58)
For the Jewish audience Jesus was speaking to, this was a clear reference go God's statement to Moses: "I AM WHO I AM." (Exodus 3:14) Meaning? "I am the eternal God."

"I am the gate." (John 10:9)
"Whoever enters through me will be saved. (Another way to translate it is, "will be kept safe.") He will come in and go out and find pasture." Jesus is using a shepherding analogy. In those days, the sheep pen had no gate--the shepherd himself was the gate. The fence surrounded the sheep, except for the opening, and this is where the shepherd slept. Anything that wanted in or out had to go through him first. It's very reminiscent of David's statement, "The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer." (2 Samuel 22:2) Meaning? "I am your protector."

"I am the good shepherd." (John 10:11, 14)
"The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." As the gate, the shepherd must face whatever predators attack, whether they be animals or thieves. Although the shepherd's life is more valuable than that of the flock, he will not allow the sheep to be harmed so long as it is within his power to stop it. In the Old Testament, God required a lamb without blemish to be sacrificed as a punishment for sin. That is why Jesus is called "The Lamb of God"--he accepted the punishments for our sins, once and for all, saving us from the eternal consequences of our own behavior. Meaning? "I am your savior."

"I am the resurrection and the life." (John 11:25)
And he's not just talking here; he then proceeds to raise Lazarus from the dead! The meaning here is both physical and spiritual. On the physical side, we look to Genesis 2. Adam was not a living being until God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." (verse 7) Spiritually, we can look to Romans 8:10: "But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness." Meaning? "I am the one who gives you life, and life to the fullest."

"I am the way, the truth and the life." (John 14:6)
"No one comes to the Father, except through me." In the Old Testament, the Priests served as mediators between the people and God. The Priests would present the sacrifices of people, obtaining God's mercy and grace. Jesus becomes our "great high priest," (Hebrews 4:14-16) mediating on our behalf before the Father. Meaning? "I am the way to God's grace."

"I am the true vine." (John 15:1, 5)
"If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing." The pattern of the Old Testament is as follows: The Israelites follow God, and he blesses them; they depart from God, and tragedy follows. Here, Jesus reminds us that without God, we are nothing and have nothing, but with him all things are possible. Meaning? "I am your strength."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nobody Said You'd Like It

Everybody knows the story of Jonah and the big fish. God tells Jonah to go to the people of Nineveh. Jonah did not want to obey God, so he fled. Of course, God is in control as always, and Jonah ended up doing it anyway.

But this is the part that I love. Jonah goes, God moves in a powerful way, and the people of Nineveh repent. Jonah was thrilled to see God use him like that. Wait--no he wasn't. "But Jonah was greatly displeased (emphasis mine) and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, 'O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.'" (Jonah 4:1-3) Jonah didn't want to see the people of Nineveh saved. He wanted to see God's wrath come down on them. Apparently, they weren't his pals.

Nowhere does the Bible ever say that Jonah saw the light on this one. The last words we have recorded of Jonah speaking are, "I am angry enough to die." (Jonah 4:9) Too bad. God requires obedience whether we like it or not.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Proverbs 27:5-7

"Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. He who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet."

Psalm 14:1

"The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'"

Nobody Said It'd Make Sense

"Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the LORD said to Joshua, 'See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.'" (Joshua 6:1-5)

Can you imagine being Joshua at that very moment? I can. I would be questioning my sanity. Wait. So, I'm just supposed to walk around the city until the wall falls down? What!? That's the craziest thing I've ever heard! And, what do you suppose the reaction of the people was? The Bible doesn't tell us one way or the other, but I have to believe that at least some of them were thinking, "I can't believe Moses put this guy in charge. He's a lunatic!" Even if they didn't, I'm even more sure that they would have if the walls hadn't fallen. All of this would have gone through my mind.

Joshua obeyed the Lord, and it all worked out swimmingly.

It seems like God has made "not making sense" some sort of art form. What about when he told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? (Genesis 22) Or what about when God told Moses to tell Pharaoh, "Let my people go"--like that was ever gonna fly? (Exodus 3) And let's face it--things got a lot worse before they got better. And even when Pharaoh finally let them go--for a short while--God then leads them to where Pharaoh can trap them along the Red Sea. (Exodus 13) What about that whole wandering around the desert for forty years thing? Gideon? David and Goliath? It's crazy!

Well, it's not crazy. It's God, and we are simply incapable of grasping the plans he has for us. He doesn't require us to "get it." We must obey, even if it doesn't make sense.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Absolute Truth

I'm sure you've heard someone say, "There is no such thing as absolute truth." Think about that for a second.

If there were no such thing as absolute truth, then the statement itself would be absolute truth.

Wow. And people actually live with that kind of self-contradictory world view.

Nobody Said It'd Feel Good

"Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people." (Acts 6:8)

In my view, this is once of the most glossed-over verses in the Bible, right up there with the "beget" verses. Stephen only lasts a chapter and a half, but clearly he's a righteous man. How many of us have performed great wonders and miraculous signs? Only the true heroes of the Bible are described this way.

Then Stephen gives them a nice history of their people. It actually follows a popular method of persuasion: the first ninety percent of the speech, the audience was surely nodding their heads in agreement. Typically, once people start agreeing with you they will keep on agreeing with you. Well, no such luck for Stephen.

"At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him." (Acts 7:57-58)

Nice. Stephen was a righteous man, obeying God fully. He delivers a powerful message from God, and in response they stone him. Sometimes obedience hurts.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Streams of Living Water

Okay, so I read Streams of Living Water by Richard J. Foster. Again. (The first time was in college.) I'm super lazy and do not wish to read it again. So, here's the synopsis.

Foster identifies six dimensions of the Christian walk. I find this book genuinely helpful in that it helps the reader to recognize the areas which may have been neglected.

Add these six things to your "to do" list. It'll keep you busy for the rest of your life.
  1. The Contemplative Tradition: Discovering the Prayer-Filled Life

    Christianity is all about a personal relationship with Jesus. How can we have a relationship with someone we never talk with?

    "Pray continually." (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

  2. The Holiness Tradition: Discovering the Virtuous Life

    "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." (Ephesians 4:22-24)

  3. The Charismatic Tradition: Discovering the Spirit-Empowered Life

    Foster defines the Charismatic Tradition as "A life immersed in, empowered by, and under the direction of the Spirit of God." Basically, it is using our gifts to build one another up.

    1 Corintians 12:
    "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." (verse 7)
    "All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines." (verse 11)
    "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." (verse 27)

  4. The Social Justice Tradition: Discovering the Compassionate Life

    I'd recommend the entire book of Amos on this one. Throughout, God (through Amos) tells the Israelites that he despises their injustice towards the weaker members of society. He tells them that their religion--their worship, their sacrifices, everything--is worthless to him when they neglect justice.

    "But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" (Amos 5:24)

  5. The Evangelical Tradition: Discovering the Word-Centered Life

    The Evangelical stream is not only about spreading the Word, it is also about studying the word to develop our understanding of God (which will in turn, help us to spread the Word), as modeled by Paul.

    "As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead." (Acts 17:2-3)

  6. The Incarnational Tradition: Discovering the Sacramental Life

    This "stream" is all about living every moment for God; it's being Jesus to the world.

    "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." (Romans 12:1)

    "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (Colossians 3:23-24)

Nobody Said You Were Ready

God very clearly called Moses from the burning bush. It's not too many of us who experience an audible call from God. And, God was very clear with Moses what he wanted him to do. "So now, go. I am sending you..." (Exodus 3:10)

Moses was unsure. "Who am I, that I should go...?" (Exodus 3:11) I can relate to that.

"And God said, 'I will be with you.'" (Exodus 3:12). God assured Moses that he would be with him. After all, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)

Still, Moses was unsure. "Suppose I go... Then what...?" (Exodus 3:13) He wants a detailed response to all the what-ifs before he even commits to obeying. I can totally relate to that.

God's response? I suppose people who are better educated would say that God answers Moses' question. I'm ignorant enough to disagree. What I hear God saying in this passage (Exodus 3:14-22) is, "I am God, and I told you to go. If they ask, tell them so. I will be with you, and I will work through you. I know the future, and I am in charge." Or, more succinctly, "Man up, Moses."

Moses is such a wuss. "What if they do not believe me or listen to me..." (Exodus 4:1) He's still not sure.

God's response? In a nutshell, it's "Don't you worry about that. I will make them believe."(Exodus 4:2-9)

And Moses is still freaking out. "I am slow of speech and tongue." (Exodus 4:10) I would, too.

God: "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say." (Exodus 4:11-12)

Finally, Moses gets to the heart of it. "O Lord, please send someone else to do it." (Exodus 4:13) You see, deep down inside, Moses' problem is that he doesn't really want to do the job. Now we're in my universe. This is where most of us live every day; we want God to work, but we'd rather not have to do anything. We almost insist that we not have to do anything.

Again, this is where I disagree with the educated folks. Every person I've ever heard discuss this passage of scripture skips straight to God's answer, "What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well." They point out that God will provide us with the tools we need to accomplish his work. That's all fine and good, but I think the crux of the passage is the first part of the verse. "Then the LORD's anger burned against Moses..."(Exodus 4:14) (Emphasis mine.) Dare I say it? God was pissed off at Moses.

God is fully aware of our limitations and our fears. He was exceedingly patient with Moses' fears. But when Moses tried to wiggle out of obedience and action, God became angry with him. God doesn't require us to understand his plans for us. He doesn't require us to feel ready. He requires obedience.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Hebrews 13:11-14 (With Minimal Commentary)

Hebrews 13:11-14:

"The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most High Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
(What Jesus Endured)

Let us, then go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.
(What We Are to Experience)

"For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come."
(What We Can Expect)

I suppose if we aren't willing to "go to him...bearing the disgrace he bore" we can't really expect to see "the city that is to come." Hrm.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


It turns out this world is a matter of perspective. Your problems are like your hands--if you hold them an inch in front of your face, it's pretty difficult to see anything else. So, here's a moment of perspective:

"It's impossible."
All things are possible.
"Jesus replied, 'What is impossible with men is possible with God.'" (Luke 18:27)

"I'm too tired."
I will give you rest.
"'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.'" (Matthew 11:28-30)

"Nobody really loves me."
I love you.

"'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.'" (John 3:16) "'For the one who God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.'" (John 3:34)

"I can't go on."
My grace is sufficient.
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." (2 Corinthians 12:9)
"He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him." (Psalm 91:15)

"I can't figure things out."
I will direct your steps.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)

"I can't do it."
You can do all things.
"I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:13)

"I'm not able."
I am able.

"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." (2 Corinthians 9:8)

"It's not worth it."
It will be worth it.
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)

"I can't forgive myself."
I forgive you.
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1)

"I can't manage."
I will supply all your needs.
"And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19)

"I'm afraid."
I have not given you a spirit of fear.
"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." (2 Timothy 1:7)

"I'm always worried and frustrated."
Cast all your cares on me.
"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)

"I'm not smart enough."
I give you wisdom.
"It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption." (1 Corinthians 1:30)

"I feel all alone."
I will never leave you or forsake you.

"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'" (Hebrews 13:5)

To the Church in Laodicea

"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
    These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
    Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
    To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
What can we learn from this message to the church in Laodicea?
  1. We must beware of losing the flame. "You are neither hot nor cold."
    The joy of the Lord is the strength of his people. (Are you half-hearted and/or mechanical in your Christian walk, or are you enthusiastic, passionate, and full of zeal?)
  2. We must beware of living in a fiction. "You say, 'I am rich...'" but "you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked."
    Did you know that sixty per cent of high school graduates believe they are at or above the ninetieth percentile? It's easy to create our own false reality. Do you want the truth, or a comfortable preacher telling comfortable people how to be more comfortable?
  3. We must beware of leaving Jesus out of the Fellowship. "I stand at the door and knock."
    The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
    It's easy to get so caught up in our churchy activities (did you know that this blog was originally called "Mike Gets Churchy"?) to the point where the activities become diversions. The spiritual mission of the church is to present and proclaim Christ; this must preempt all else.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Visitor

A pastor decides to make an unannounced visit to a parishioner. When no one answered the door, he left his business card. On the back he wrote Revelations 3:20:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

The following Sunday, the pastor was surprised when the parishioner presented him with his own business card. On his card, the parishioner had written Genesis 3:10:

He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

Saturday, August 9, 2008

31 Biblical Virtues

Pray these for your kids. (Just a suggestion.) I totally stole these from Bob Hostetler, whoever that is.
  1. Salvation. (Isaiah 45:8, 2 Timothy 2:10)
  2. Growth in grace. (2 Peter 3:18)
  3. Love. (Galatians 5:25, Ephesians 5:2)
  4. Honesty & integrity. (Psalms 25:21)
  5. Self-control. (1 Thessalonians 5:6)
  6. Love for God's Word. (Psalms 19:10)
  7. Justice. (Psalms 11:7, Micah 6:8)
  8. Mercy. (Luke 6:36)
  9. Respect (for self, others, authority). (1 Peter 2:17)
  10. Biblical self-esteem. (Ephesians 2:10)
  11. Faithfulness. (Proverbs 3:3)
  12. Courage. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
  13. Purity. (Psalms 51:10)
  14. Kindness. (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
  15. Generosity. (1 Timothy 6:18-19)
  16. Peace-loving. (Romans 14:19)
  17. Joy. (1 Thessalonians 1:6)
  18. Perseverance. (Hebrews 12:1)
  19. Humility. (Titus 3:2)
  20. Compassion. (Colossians 3:12)
  21. Responsibility. (Galatians 6:5)
  22. Contentment. (Philippians 4:12-13)
  23. Faith. (Luke 17:5-6, Hebrews 11:1-40)
  24. A servant's heart. (Ephesians 6:7)
  25. Hope. (Romans 15:13)
  26. Willingness and ability to work. (Colossians 3:23)
  27. Passion for God. (Psalms 63:8)
  28. Self-discipline. (Proverbs 1:3)
  29. Prayerfulness. (Ephesians 6:18)
  30. Gratitude. (Ephesians 5:20, Colossians 2:7)
  31. A heart for missions. (Psalms 96:3)