Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I'm leaving on a jet plane (I hope) ...

Every time I get on an airplane to travel, whether for business or pleasure, I am placing my faith in the ability of that airplane to stay on the ground when it’s supposed to, to stay in the air when it’s supposed to, and to come back down to the ground when and how it’s supposed to.  That’s saying a lot given that I choose each time to sit inside a machine that weighs about 220,000 pounds, travels about 500 mph, and does that at about 35,000 feet above the ground.

Faith is an interesting thing … dare I say, we all have faith.  The question is, in what or who do we have that faith?  But there’s a more important question … that we’ll get to in a moment.

Reading this week through Hosea 8 – 14, Psalms 143 – 149, and Jeremiah 44 – 50, there were some recurring themes.  In one respect, one of those was encapsulated in a passage in Psalms 146 … verses 3 through 6 …

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there.  When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them.  But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God.  He made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them.  He keeps every promise forever.

So back to my earlier questions … one matters much more than the other in my estimation.

First is, in what or who do we have faith?  We all have faith in something … in our intellect, in science, in hard work, in our friends, in our family, in our professional experience, in our training, in horoscopes, in karma, in good luck.  No matter what, we have faith in something … perhaps multiple somethings.

The WAY more important question, however, is … is the something in which we have faith worthy of that faith?

My faith in the airplane stems from evidence of its faithfulness.  Not necessarily evidence I personally see or that I understand conclusively.   I won’t have reviewed the design documents, manufacturing records, maintenance logs or other evidentiary matter.  I can, though, rely on the fact that others have, and that the evidence has been personally experienced by others sufficiently to reliable pass that evidence along.  Now, if I were aware that all that evidence pointed to the unreliability of the airplane to do what it was designed and intended to do … and still exercise faith in it … that would be the pinnacle of foolishness.

That’s effectively what we have in the Psalms 146 passage.  It says, “don’t put your confidence [or faith] in powerful [or otherwise] people.”  Why?  Because not only is there a lack of evidence of worthiness of faith, but history and our personal experience would declare assuredly that there is incontrovertible evidence that people are not worthy of faith.  Not to disparage anyone reading this, but let’s face it, from the beginning of time (Adam and Eve) and ever since, one thing we’ve got conclusive evidence of is that people are not trustworthy.  Sinfulness (manifested in innumerable detrimental traits) translates quite clearly to unworthiness of faith.  In this sense, I’m talking just about relationally, let alone from the point of view of fulfillment or salvation.

On the flipside, God is the apex of faithfulness.  Among the innumerable reasons that validate this assertion are that, “He made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them.  He keeps every promise forever.”  The Bible gives us ample evidence to rely on putting our faith in God … much the same as trusting the airplane after reviewing design and manufacturing documents, etc.  Moreover, unlike most of us who won’t review the airplane documents, we have the ability to review all the verification documentation we could ever hope for in God’s inspired Word, the veracity of which (while not the topic of this message) is irrefutable for those who investigate it with an open mind and willing heart.

Putting our faith in powerful people … or just people in general … happens in a variety of ways.  Simply put, anytime we place anything in importance over God … whatever it is inherently has our faith.  Where we go or what we do when things get rough provides a good indicator as well.  How we spend our time when we have extra time can provide a look.  To what or whom we attribute credit when things go well (e.g., ourselves) is a good indicator.  I want to make sure that last point isn’t overlooked … even when we have faith in ourselves over God, that faith is poorly placed.  Huh???  That’s right folks … we can’t even trust ourselves and the evidence is conclusive on this fact. 

When we place our faith in anything but God, we are by definition NOT putting our faith in God.  It would be like walking up to board a plane that is missing its flaps and wings, and with a huge hole in the fuselage … and still boarding the plane.  All the evidence would point to doing anything but flying on the plane.

The question isn’t whether or not we have faith … the key question is in what is our faith placed, and is our faith placed in something worthy of that faith.  Our faith can be sincere, but sincerely wrong.  Whether we want to accept it or not, we need to acknowledge that we are sinful and not worthy of faith in ourselves … nor is any other person.  If we really look deeply we will see it … trust me, I have plenty of substantiation of being unworthy of my own faith … or yours for that matter.

God created everything including you, me, and everyone who’s ever existed.  He created the universe, the heavens and even our dinky little planet.  On top of all that, His Word proclaims that He keeps every promise forever.  In short, He is the ONLY person or thing worthy of our faith, and all the evidence confirms it.  Anything short of all of our faith is lack of faith.  Let’s ask Him in prayer to reveal to us anything or anyone that we are trusting rather than Him … and further ask Him to do whatever He must to help us redirect our full faith in Him.

Confidently trusting Him … and only Him,


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Take my advice (or else!)

Psalm 139:1-6 and 13-16 reads …

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.  You know when I sit down or stand up.  You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.  You see me when I travel and when I rest at home.  You know everything I do.  You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.  You go before me and follow me.  You place your hand of blessing on my head.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!    You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.  Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.  You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.  You saw me before I was born.  Every day of my life was recorded in your book.  Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

Strangely, my name is nowhere in that passage.  That is, it does NOT say, “O [Michael], you have examined my heart and know everything about me.”  It does NOT say, “[Michael] made all the delicate, inner part of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.”  It does NOT say, “[Michael] saw me before I was born.  Every day of my life was recorded in [Michael’s] book.”  For the record, it doesn’t say your name in there either.

The reason this struck me in my reading through Hosea 1 – 6, Psalms 136 – 142, and Jeremiah 37 – 43 is because I have a confession … I can’t stand when people don’t do what I think they should.  I hate it even worse when people ask my advice, I give it, and then they don’t do what my advice entailed.  I realize that sounds arrogant.  No … actually, it IS arrogant.  That’s the issue.  It’s been an issue for me for a lifetime.  It really bothers me when people don’t do what I think they should.  In reflection, it’s really as ridiculous as it sounds, but I don’t think I can say it’s unique.  Something tells me we all have a similar battle.  For some reason I … we … think my (our) advice is somehow either unique or accurate.  The passage I parked on this week, though, sheds light into what makes this thinking absurd.

Psalm 139 is a very familiar passage to many of us.  So much so, that I was actually not planning to write on it this week for fear that anything that I could come up with would be too cliché or unoriginal.  But as always, God helped me realize something through some real life circumstances that otherwise I would have looked past … and missed a critically important gem for me … something I really, really needed to realize.

Psalm 139 is amazing in its plainness and clarity.  God formed us from before we were born, in fact as we were molded in our mothers’ wombs.  More aptly, even before then, but you get the point.  God knows everything about us.  He knows what we’re thinking, even before we think it.  He knows everywhere we are, and everything we do.  He knows what we’re going to say and even put the words there.  He has laid out every day of our life, including those that haven’t even happened yet.  Not even every day, in fact … every moment.  And, that’s true of every single one of us.

But not me … I didn’t, don’t and won’t do any of those things that God did, does or will do.  I can’t.  I’ll never be able to because of my lack of omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence … oh, and preexistence.  Lots of strikes against me.

So why should my opinion matter, then?  Why is it that I get balled up when someone doesn’t do what I think they should or what I tell them to when they ask me?  Why do I think I have any remote semblance of context that might be helpful to someone?  And therein lies the preposterousness of my attitude.  Not so with God.  He knows everything about us including things that aren’t yet revealed about us.  So, who’s better to give advice and who’s opinion should matter?  Yup … His.

That doesn’t negate the fact that we should or could give our advice at times, particularly when asked.  God spoke through a donkey in the Bible, so no doubt He could also speak through us if He wants.  But we also need to realize that He might not choose to.  Or, He might speak through us something meant to be a counterpoint to something else someone else might bring up that is the real direction He intends.  Or, He might allow us to speak up simply because of His love that allows us free will, including the will to choose contrary to good advice, and thereby have the recipient learn or grow from it.

When we give advice, we should do so after prayer and listening for God’s voice.  We should do so without any preconception that our point of view is THE point of view.  We should recognize that we don’t have ANY of the attributes of God as articulated in Psalm 139 and therefore anything we suggest could be devoid of proper context or even proper intentionality.  We should give the advice lovingly, graciously and freely, without expectation of anything in return … including the return that comes from us seeing our “amazing” advice carried out so we can bask in it.  We need to realize that God can be using our advice precisely so that the receiver does NOT use it … which could be squarely in His will somehow in a way that He alone knows.

You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.  Giving advice … when done through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and through loving, pure intentions … is a loving thing to do.  Expecting the recipient to listen or do something in return is NOT love.  Let’s ask God to give us a heart of love for others and one another wherein we graciously allow others to have our advice whether they choose to follow it or not.  Then, let’s ask Him to change our hearts so that we are willing to accept the ultimate outcome.

Because He knows us, in every way there is to know …


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Where you are is NOT where you're gonna be

Perspective stinks.  That is, our perspective as humans, principally because of how limited it is.  We’re constrained in ways we can’t see.  Time, for example, limits us.  We can only live in now.  I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing.  The Bible itself, specifically tells us to live in today because that’s all we can handle and control (Matthew 6:33-34).  And you know me … if the Bible tells it, I believe it and try to follow it.

In other ways the living in the now hurts.  Especially when things aren’t going the way we want them to … now isn’t fun.  We can think about yesterday and hope for tomorrow … but we’re stuck living in today.  Stuck in the time of pain, disappointment, heartache, frustration, whatever.  Stuck.

But … in my reading this week, God helped me see hope in the midst of that stark reality.  As I covered Zechariah 12 – 14, Malachi 1 – 4, Psalms 129 – 135, and Jeremiah 30 – 36, I came across Jeremiah 31:2 – 5, which reads:

This is what the Lord says:  “Those who survive the coming destruction will find blessings even in the barren land, for I will give rest to the people of Israel.”  Long ago the Lord said to Israel:  “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love.  With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.  I will rebuild you, my virgin Israel.  You will again be happy and dance merrily with your tambourines.  Again you will plant your vineyards on the mountains of Samaria and eat from your own gardens there.

We are limited in our perspective to today.  God is not.  God deals with today, tomorrow and yesterday all at the same time.  More importantly, He allows us the ability to use His ability to supplant our inability to live with a perspective outside of today.

In this passage, God is speaking to Jeremiah and through Jeremiah to the Israelites to provide hope in the midst of a horrific time in their history.  They’ve been captured and exiled in a foreign land and in chapter 29, one of my favorite sections of the Bible, He tells Jeremiah to pass along the message to the Israelites to settle in … that they should not expect to be rescued just yet.  He planned to rescue them, sure, but there would be 70 years until He did.  In their here and now … their “today” … it was a tragic realization.  No doubt where they were was in a place of hysteria, regret, and agony.

However, in the midst of that “today” and that “here and now” there was a tomorrow that was born yesterday.  Again, to God it’s all the same, and it arises in His words to / through Jeremiah … some amazing and incongruous words at that … “those who survive the coming destruction will find blessings even in the barren land.”  Huh???  So, they were to grab hope in the promise of “surviving” destruction in order to get to a barren land?  How’s that possible?  Two ways … “for I will give rest” and “I have loved you … with an everlasting love.”  He will (in the future) give us rest because He has already loved us (past tense) with an everlasting (future / forever) love.

No matter where we’re at in what we’re going through … we’re stuck in today.  God is never limited to today.  He is always in the process of giving us rest and loving us everlastingly.  He is at the end of our today ready to receive us and deliver us into a blessed tomorrow.  That’s not to say that we all live happily ever after … in this life.  But if we’re His child by faith in Jesus, we have eternity to look forward to, and in that sense we have the 100 percent assurance of a happily ever after.

So, what do we take from this?

Maybe we’re in a troubling or confusing time.  Maybe it seems like it’s never gonna get better.  Maybe it just feels like we’re in a funk or relegated to the background.  Or, maybe our today feels cruddy … like it’s the same as yesterday and no different than tomorrow will be.  God lives outside our today and says, “don’t worry, I’m here yesterday, today AND tomorrow, and I am loving you in all of them.  Forget yesterday, in faith get through today, and let Me handle tomorrow.”

We might feel stuck, but God always has us in process … in process of growing us, teaching us, preparing us, and mostly, LOVING us.  He knows what He’s doing and He’s not doing it for nothing.  Somewhere down the road, our exile will end, and He will bring us home to our equivalent of Jerusalem.  Later … eventually, in eternity, He’ll bring us to our REAL Jerusalem.

He’s always at work, He’s always bringing us through what it feels like we’re stuck in.   Our job is just to prayerfully trust Him, taking Him at His word, and knowing that wherever we are today is NOT where we’ll be tomorrow.  Either because He’s going to rescue us, or because He’s using today to better prepare us for tomorrow.  He doesn’t do accidents, so He must have a purpose.  The more we lean on Him and trust He’s got tomorrow, the more we can brave the perils of today.

What areas of your life feel like you’re stuck in today?  What pains feel like they’ll never abate?  Ask Him to reassure you that it’s only today and that He has tomorrow covered.  Remember that He “will give rest” and that His love for you (even in the struggle) is an “everlasting love.”  Everlasting.  Love.

Handling today, trusting for tomorrow …


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

He doesn't move

We often hear the tragic report from folks who divorce … “we just grew apart.”  It always sounds like something happened as a consequence of inaction.  But when two people start together, to become apart, something active needs to happen.  That is, movement away from one another.  There is no other way to create distance.  In most cases that I’m aware of, it always seems that both people move in different directions.  Rarely is it one person moving.  No matter how you slice it, though, it’s tragic, destructive, and sad.

The same holds true when we feel like become distant from God … that is, it’s tragic, destructive, and sad.  It’s not the same, however, in the sense of how that distance comes to be.  My reading this week as I continue through the Old Testament this year, gave me a strong reminder of this.  Reading through Zechariah 5 – 11, Psalms 122 – 128, and Jeremiah 23 – 29, I came across a very familiar section in Jeremiah 29 that got my attention.  In Jeremiah 29:12 – 14, we’re told …

In those days when you pray, I will listen.  If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.  I will be found by you,” says the Lord.  “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes.  I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

I don’t know about you, but there have been a number of times in my life when I’ve felt distant from God, like we’d grown apart.   Certainly, before I accepted Christ as my Savior … I was, by definition, apart from Him.  But even since that 13th day of December 1999, there have been times when I’ve felt distant from God.  What does that mean?  Well, much the same as it can mean in human relationships.  The sense that you’re not on the same page.  The lack of communication.  The feeling of closeness.  Being in sync with one another.  Absence of enjoyment even when in contact with one another.  Behaving in ways contrary to what we know the other person prefers or desires.  Of course, these are all symptoms to a greater problem.

Finding symptoms isn’t helpful unless we can also determine the cause of the issue.  So, what makes us feel distant from God?  It’s clear from scripture, particularly the scripture cited above from Jeremiah … when we feel distant from God, it’s because WE MOVED.  How do I know that?  Because God’s Word tells us that He doesn’t move away from us.  He doesn’t leave us or neglect us (Deuteronomy 31:6).  He is with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9).

When we start off close and together, distance can only be created when someone moves.  If God doesn’t move away from us, then we must have moved away from Him.  We create the distance.  We walk away.  How do we do this?  It’s a good question, because I’m not sure that we necessarily intentionally walk away and create distance between God and us.  But clearly, something had to happen … or not happen.  What?

What God most desires from us is simple.  It’s a relationship.  Closeness.  That relationship comes from interaction … closeness comes from contact.   Intimacy comes from getting to know about someone in a deep and meaningful way.  With God, interaction comes from prayer and listening to His voice; contact comes from fellowship with other believers and growing together in faith; getting to know God comes from reading and studying His Word.  Of course, then, the absence of those creates distance and aloneness. 

Jeremiah reminds us of something crucial though.  Our natures as humans often creates in us a false self-sufficiency that pulls us away from God.  To some extent, it’s inevitable.  Jeremiah’s conveyance of God’s words, however, gives us hope in an indelible promise from God … “when you pray, I will listen.  If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.  I will be found by you …”  We don’t have to do anything but pray … and wholeheartedly seek Him.  In other words, move back to Him.  He’s still there … where He was when we walked away.  God never, ever moves away from us.  Ever. 

If there’s any part of our lives that feels distant from God, move closer to Him.  Go back to Him.  He’s right where we left Him.  He wants closeness, intimacy, friendship with us.

Let’s start by asking God this week in prayer to show us any areas ... if not our self in its entirety … that need us to move back to Him.  He’s there, just waiting.  He hasn’t budged an inch.  Can we grasp the gravity of that … even if we’ve left Him jilted standing in the same place where He was … He is faithfully, lovingly, dutifully, graciously still there.  Just waiting.  He hasn’t flinched in the least.  That is how much He loves you and me.

Standing right here with Him,