Archive for October, 2012


I have had those moments when I have viewed an incredible rainbow

or a stunning sunset; I have been overwhelmed by music or in awe of the

fantastic colors of a damselfish.

 

And you know what I DID NOT ask? “Who did this?”

 

“Who’s responsible?”

 

I’m guessing you never have either.

 

I am sure you never said that we have this Enemy who is working overtime to paint the rainbow; you never once thought that it was the Devil who composed that piece which moved you to tears. Have you ever seen a healthy, happy person, and blamed Satan?

 

Such actions are absurd. And we know it. Yet…

 

We have already talked about the damage done by the INCORRECT use of the phrase “the will of God.”

When there is an earthquake, tornado, or hurricane, insurance may call it an  “Act of God.” But it is not.

 

When a child dies, someone may say, “It is the will of God.” But it is not.

 

War, famine, illness, and evil may strike, and some will lay the responsibility at God’s feet with the words “Thy will be done.”

 

But, those are not, never have been, and never will be God’s will.

 

So, what IS the will of God?

 

How do we make sense of the confusing, painful reality we so often see?

 

Let’s turn to the oldest story of all, in the most ancient of times, about the One who is the Ancient of Days…

 

 

Gen 1: 31 God saw all that he had made, and it was VERY (my emphasis) good. And there was evening, and there was morning —the sixth day. 

 

2 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 

 

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. 

 

Chapter 1 describes the work of God creating the world with the same evaluation, over and over again until it gets to verse 31: Good…good…good…VERY good.

In other words, it is completely perfect.

Perfect in purpose & beauty.

There is no evil in God’s creation.

On top of all that, the Sabbath is given as a gift so we do not experience exhaustion, toil, drudgery.

God wants to ensure that we have times of refreshing for body and soul.

We need time with God as well as time away from work.

 

 

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

 

10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 

 

 

God builds a park (In ancient times, great Kings created great parks).

This one was pleasing to eye; and it was good for food.

God waters his park with a river (Rivers were the basis for all life in the ancient mid-East).

Here is a gift to Humanity from caring, providing God.

 

 

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of EDEN (which can mean BLISS in Hebrew) to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 BUT (CUE ominous music) you must not eat from the tree (music grows LOUDER) of the knowledge of good and evil (and louder), for when you eat from it (almost deafening) you will certainly die.” 

 

BLISS is a synonym for Paradise.

God gives meaningful work (and, no, that is not a 4-letter word.

If so, either you are doing it wrong; or you are doing the wrong thing;

Or, you still live in a fallen world.)

 

 

 

If we are not careful, it is so easy to miss the point.

It is subtle. But, here it is:

 

God saw ALL that he had made, and it was VERY GOOD.

It was “completely perfect” (in purpose and form)

The whole of creation was beautiful and fruitful.

The Garden is a park.

It is lush, verdant, laden with fruit.

The grass is manicured, the trees are trimmed and nourished.

 

Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, in his book The Will of God calls it the INTENTIONAL or ideal will of God.

 

One more time: “God saw ALL that he had made, and it was VERY GOOD.”

 

Show me anywhere here where God creates anything less than good!

(Go ahead, I’m waiting. I’m even looking at my watch.)

 

That is, I believe, the point.

 

Reserve the phrase ‘willof God’ for 2 young people declaring their intent to marry.

 

Let’s talk about the will of God when people are in good health, or have significant work.

 

The Will of God is laughter and song, poem and music, art, and beauty and color.

 

But, to talk about ‘the will of God’ as anything other is to take God’s name in vain.

 

(In the King James Version, it reads “to take 0’s name in vain.”

The New International Version translates it as “misuse.”)

We misuse God’s name when we blame God for evil, suffering, the  brokenness of our world.

 

When we look at the story, we know that something goes terribly wrong.

We will talk about that in the next post.

 

But, not now. Not here in the original moments in the story.

 

Here: God saw ALL that he had made and it was VERY GOOD.

The Creator-God of the Bible: creates beauty, wonder, and variety.

God is the author not of death, but life;

Not of brokenness, but wholeness;

Not of evil, but good.

 

I hope that we would never again blame God for evil, suffering, brokenness.

 

Could we, instead, think right about the God of Creation?

Could we understand correctly what God does?

Could we be clear about exactly who God is?

If so, we would not misunderstand as has so often been the case….

 

One Sunday, the Reverend Luke Wiseman, 86, preached twice, then went home. He sat down by the fireplace, fell asleep, and woke up in Heaven.

I would argue that that’s the will of God.

That’s the way it is designed to be.

That is God’s intention, ideal, plan.

Beauty in this life, glory in Heaven, peace on Earth.

Poem and song, art and music, humble service and lovely lives.

Happy homes, and healthy bodies, and meaningful work.

 

Maybe Paul put it best when he wrote:

 

Philippians 4:Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Next post: The ominous music in the background builds…

On May 31st, 2012, our daughter-in-law, Jennifer, was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

You hear people talk about getting bad news and not being able to breathe. I experienced that that afternoon, as we listened on speakerphone to the words from the surgeon.  It literally felt as if something had sucked all the air out of the room.

And I went through a range of emotions that many of you are familiar with –

“I can’t believe this.”

“Lord, after trying to be faithful to you all these years….”

At some level, each of those emotions had a question attached: “Why?”

“Why this? Why us? Why Jen?”

Now, there is a part of me that wants to kick myself – I KNOW that I don’t follow Jesus in order to be blessed. I KNOW that Christian faith is not a rabbit’s foot to ward off bad luck. I KNOW there is so much about life which I don’t know.

But, I still wrestle with the question – “WHY?”

I am not alone, am I?

I have heard that question from the side of a hospital bed, and I have heard it in my study. I have heard it in a surgical waiting room, and when I have run into someone in the grocery aisle. “Why?”

“Why me? Why him? Why her? Why this?”

We are all faced with suffering, and a dark and broken world.

In just such a world, 12 who were knew to this thing of faith in Jesus,

Asked the same question, “Why?”

Here is the answer they received…

John 9: As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Do you hear the “why?” in their question? This man is born into a dark world. He has never seen a sunrise or sunset. He has never seen the blue eyes of his niece. He has never seen the crocuses in bloom.

For many in that day, where there is suffering, there must be sin. The theology was bad, but it was common. It still is today. We live in a sin-infested universe. And we are well-acquainted with sin’s results.

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

While we often look for a culprit, someone to blame, and often choose the sufferer, Jesus does no such thing. NEITHER is to blame, he says. Our tendency would then be to say, “It must be the will of God.” In other words, since we can’t blame him, or his parents, let’s blame God! But, Jesus reminds us this is not of God. Jesus is the light of the world. He does the work of light. So, while God didn’t do this, God will certainly use this.

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

The man does not ask for help. Perhaps it is Jesus’ compassion that is the catalyst for the healing. Maybe it is the question of the disciples. We are not told which. But the miraculous change is obvious. The Light of the World has lit up the darkness of this man’s life.

So, what’s the point? How does Jesus answer the question:

“Is this the will of God?”

No phrase, in my opinion, has done more damage,

caused greater bitterness,

produced more confusion than this one: The Will of God.

Here is what I believe you and I need to know FIRST:

The will of God is NOT, never has been, and never will be,

the evil, illness, or brokenness of our world.

Dr. Leslie Weatherhead was a pastor in Great Britain during World War II. He wrote about his conversation with a Medical Doctor who was fighting to save his wife’s life.  The doctor’s wife finally died, and his comment was, “This must be the Will of God.” Weatherhead, who knew this man well, asked him, “Were you, then, fighting against the will of God by trying to save her life? “

At another time, a mother came to him whose son had recently been killed in air raid. She said, “It is the Will of God.”

Weatherhead refused to call such terrible events the will of God. He said you can call it the will of the enemy, or the will of Hitler, or even the will of evil. But it is NOT the will of God.

For me, his most memorable story was of a friend whose son died of cholera.

This friend, too, indicated, “It must be the will of God.”

Weatherhead could not allow that statement to stand. He responded, “Suppose a terrible person crept in to your home in the middle of the night, and placed a cholera-laced cloth over the mouth and nose of your sleeping child, would you call such a thing the will of God?”

His friend answered, “That’s absurd. I would instantly kill any person who tried to do such a thing. What kind of monster would commit so horrible an act?”

To that, Weatherhead gently asked, “Is that not what you have just accused God of doing to your daughter?”

He went on to say that what happened may be the result of mass ignorance, or human sin, but it is not the will of God. You cannot identify something as will of God for which a man would be jailed or locked up in a mental hospital if they were to commit such an act.

In Aurora, Colorado, July 20, 2012, a man shot and killed 12 people and wounded another 58.  Whether such a person is mentally ill or purely evil, such an action, and the results of it, are not the will of God.

In my next post I will talk about what IS the will of God.

But, for now, here is why this matters:

Not understanding what is the will of God produces bitterness.

Not understanding what is the will of God leads to confusion.

Not understanding what is the will of God leaves us wounded.

Before the storm is raging is the time to put down the anchor of faith.

When the storm hits is too late.

On Palm Sunday, 1994, a tornado struck the town of Piedmont, Alabama and the Goshen United Methodist Church. The storm killed Hannah, the 4-year-old  daughter of  United Methodist pastors Dale and Kelli Clem. Kelli answers the question “why” with these words: “I don’t think we’ll ever have an answer,” said Clem. “I don’t think God chooses a child to die. It doesn’t work that way. Tornadoes happen.

“I don’t blame God.”

“If something like this ever happens to you — God forbid — God will help you through it,” Clem said.

“God is on the picking-up-the-pieces side of things.”

Sure, something in us asks: Is this the will of God?

The answer is: No, it is NOT the will of God.

I will show you what IS God’s will in the next post.

October 15, 2012

 

Acts 4:29-31 (NLT)
And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. [30] Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” [31] After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.

Observation:  There is something clearly different in the church then versus the church now. There was an incredible fruitfulness and power. What they did had impact, bore fruit, changed lives and circumstances. Today we can too seldom say the same. Our praying, our preaching, our Healing have little, if any, impact.
Application: I don’t pray, or preach, or heal like them. I feel like the comment: “the form of godliness with none of the power.” (2 Tim 3:5) I don’t want that anymore. I want mind-blowing, heart-warming, life-changing impact on my family, neighbors, church, community, state, nation, and world. But it isn’t happening. I can’t live with that. I want to see more David C——–s healed, more Ruth S—–s restored to Christ, more people coming from New Age gatherings to Jesus, more Professions of Faith, more disciples.
Prayer:  Lord, I feel like we look godly but are missing out on the mind-blowing, heart-warming, life-changing power of your Spirit at work in us, your church. Give us power. Make us different. Increase our fruitfulness. Help us change the world for you. Begin with me. In the powerful and loving name of Jesus.

October 4, 2012

 

Luke 17:15-16 (NLT)
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” [16] He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.

Observation:  10 were healed. 10 received their lives back. 10 were certainly excited. Were 9 of them Jews, with one lone Samaritan? Was he the lowest of the low? Among the dregs of society, was he the least of the caste members? Hard to know. But, only this man was truly grateful. Only this man recognized the source of his blessing, and acknowledged and thanked that One.
Application:  Am I one of them? Or, am I the one? 10 are blessed, but only one gives back thanks. Which one am I?
Prayer:  Lord, thank you. Thank you for saving me. Thank you for blessing me.  Thank you for calling and using me in your service.  May my thanks be more than lip service. May my life and actions and heart and attitude be the fruit of a grateful heart, deeply blessed and profoundly changed. Help me honor you with loyal friendship and faithful service, Lord, I pray.

October 2, 2012

 

Psalm 147:10-11 (NLT)
He takes no pleasure in the strength of a horse or in human might. [11] No, the Lord’s delight is in those who fear him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Observation:  We humans stand in awe of beauty and strength and money and power. God is delighted with those who are in awe of him, who trust in him, who love him. We chase after what glitters, or pleasures us, unaware (?) or uncaring of the damage it will do to our spirits.
Application:  I can look at the beauty, speed, strength, and majesty of an incredible like a horse, but miss the beauty, power, and majesty of God and his amazing love. I can be awestruck in the presence of a person of power by human stds, but nonchalant, or even flippant, in the presence of God. I can talk about yesterday’s Gators game in the sanctuary of Almighty God.
Prayer:  Lord, how often am I disrespectul of you? How often do I approach worship with my mind and heart on other things? Even in your sanctuary, I am so self-centered when I should be, need to be, centered on you. Why do I make it all about me when it is not about me? I want to be awed by you. I want to stand amazed in your presence. I want to fall on my knees in worship. But, I am so distracted, so scattered, so unfocused. Help me! Nudge me. Whisper to me. Get my attention. Help me fall on my knees before you on Sunday, and Tuesday, and Thursday, and….
In the strong and powerful name of Jesus.

October 1, 2012

 

Scripture: Luke 14:16-20 (NLT)
Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. [17] When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ [18] But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ [19] Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ [20] Another said, ‘I now have a wife, so I can’t come.’

Observation:  The story seems to imply that these people have already said they would come to the party, but are now backing out. What would have been legit reasons to not come are now lies of convenience for motives known only to them.
Application:  I have said yes to Jesus’ party. But, how often do I back out, make excuses, lie for convenience to avoid the hard actions of discipleship? It is easier to sleep in than to rise early for prayer and study. It is easier to avoid dealing with messy conflict, so I don’t make the phone call or see the person to have the conversation. I FB first rather than read that chapter, write that letter, post that blog.
Prayer:  Lord Jesus, I have become way too good at putting you off, making excellent excuses (the skin of a reason wrapped around a lie), re-arranging the priorities on my to-do list. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to miss your party. Remind me just how wonderful, how life-giving, how beautiful the party is. Help me keep nothing of lesser importance from getting in the way (and it is ALL of lesser import) of time spent with you and your Kingdom’s cause. No more excuses. Just do it. Help me, in the strong and loving name of Jesus.
September 28, 2012
Scripture:  Luke 11:5-8 (NLT)

Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, [6] ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ [7] And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ [8] But I tell you this-though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.

Observations:  I can’t read this and not come away with the sense that I am to “pray long.” If I just am obnoxious and annoying and demanding and never, ever quit, God will finally do what I want. Is that what this means? Prayer is simply annoying the hell out of God (so to speak)?
Application:  I suspect not. Prayer is more like exercise, where long-term action produces amazing results, while being a weekend warrior may be fun but sometimes painful. Eugene Peterson uses the phrase, “long obedience in the same direction.” Doing the right thing over and over and over again must produce positive results. So, prayer changes me, at the very least. Something about the knocking and asking and shameless persistence makes me more like Jesus.
     Yet, it also produces bread. God is the friend who answers and gives in response to our request for help. Why does he wait? Why do some answers take so long? Why do some answers (at least the ones I want) never come? In part, our world is broken by sin and some things will never work right until God finally makes all things new. At the same time, some things are shrouded in the mystery of God’s ultimate will. (see my post on The Will of God which I haven’t written yet, but will.  Soon.) while I can’t claim to be completely comfortable with that, I turn to see Jesus at the stern of the boat, even while it rocks in the violent storm, and I know that it is in Him that my trust lies.
Prayer:  Lord, I am not completely comfortable with what I see – my little boat rocking violently in the storm, while you lie asleep in the stern. But, I know that my trust lies in you. You, who stilled the storm before, will, I trust, do it again. Help me knock on your door when midnight comes. Help me knock long and hard, for I need Bread. In the name of Jesus I pray.

Duty

September 26, 2012

 

Luke 9:60 (NLT)
But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”

Observation:  Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem. He is on his way to death. Could that be the reason these are all hesitant to immediately leave their lives, and follow him? Career, family, custom, manners all dictate to do what is right by the standards of the world. Jesus has a different standard, a divine standard, and it is not to be put off, not to be ignored, not to be fought against.
Application:  In a way, this is an issue of core values. Like SouthWest Airline’s focus on their anchor values, to the point of declaring “We will miss you” to a customer who doesn’t agree with them, Jesus calls me to put the proclamation of God’s kingdom above everything else. No moderate radical here. It is full on, all out, extreme commitment to the Cause and the Leader of the Cause. But, family and pride and status and comfort and laziness all creep in. Different ones at different times, but they sneak in and attach their tentacles to my soul, and begin to squeeze. And, once again, I need a Savior.
Prayer:  Lord, I need your reminder, your call, to radical commitment to you and your kingdom. I hear your voice saying “Seek first the Kingdom of God and then (and only then) all these things will be added to you.” But like the call of the Sirens, other voices lure me away, tempt me to my own destruction. I want to know you. I need to hear your voice so I don’t stray. Keep always before me that my duty is to preach your kingdom by word and deed, and to call others to do the same. Help me, I pray in Jesus’ loving and powerful name.