Understanding God (unabridged)

It is not a very nice thing to say, but just between you and me, does it seem that God is two-faced? A bundle of contradictions? When the subject of God’s identity comes up, conflicting traits are attributed to Him with straight faces, nods of consent, and few questions. But the issue remains: Is God merciful or is He just? Loving or wrathful? Forgiving or vengeful? Holy or understanding? Is He jealous or is He longsuffering?

Depending on whose opinion you consider, God exhibits somewhere between two and 300 characteristics. Regardless of the number, each is absolute and raises the question: Can God really be all of these without contradiction?

The answer is, yes! It has to be. God must be all that He claims without contradiction.

We tolerate inconsistencies in each other with little notice until some high ideal is compromised. But when it comes to God, we need and expect Him to be true to Himself. Exactly. True. To Himself!

But while we must hold a clear conviction that God is exactly who He says He is, and believe with all our hearts that He is true to each trait characterizing Him, this does not mean we fully understand Him. This is a critical point. Knowing God to be who He says He is and understanding Him are two different matters.

When it comes down to it, God’s ways are beyond our full understanding (Is. 55:8-9). In fact, were it not for the revelation of God in the Scriptures, and His dealings with those who came before us, we would find God totally incomprehensible. Perhaps the biggest mystery is why God wants us to know Him at all.

James describes God as the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (ref. Jm. 1:17). In other words, there is no inconsistency in God. He is exactly as He claims. And there is nothing occluding the light of His truthfulness such that a shadow is cast upon who He is.

As I wrote in my previous note to you, we must take the Scriptural message about God for what it says versus projecting onto it what we feel it should say. I confess that I am tempted to conclude based upon my experience that God is not everything He claims. There is much about Him and about my life in Him that makes no sense to me; much that I wish was different. For example, why do I suffer physical pain all the time? If He heals those folks on TV, why doesn’t He heal me?

If I go to the Scriptures from my perspective of pain, I must rationalize them and compromise God to gain an understanding that suits my experience. On the other hand, if I come from the Scriptures and let them speak to me concerning my pain and my Heavenly Father’s understanding, my perspective on pain changes.

The first approach changes the Scripture and God’s reputation. The second approach changes me. Sure, I’m left with questions about God as Healer, but I gain understanding of Him as Transcendent. But just because God’s ways don’t make sense to me doesn’t mean His ways are contradictory.

John said Jesus was the realization of grace and truth, the explanation of God Himself (1:17-18). Hebrews goes a step further and says that Jesus is the exact representation of God (1:3).

So, if you want to understand God, understand Jesus. If you want to understand all 300 of the characteristics of God, understand these two absolutes of Christ Jesus: grace and truth.

The father of a gravely ill boy said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief,” and that is my heart as well. Note: The dad’s prayer begins with belief in the Lord’s character. Then he asks Him to help his unbelief. We should follow suit. Otherwise, we are destined to be tossed like corks on the stormy seas of doubt.

Some say God is two-faced, a web of contradictions, and they turn away to seek meaning based upon circumstantial evidence. But I cannot help believing that the mysteries of God are not only an invitation to know Him but to understand Him. Not fully, mind you. Rather, to understand Him better now than we did a moment ago.

Understanding God (Part 3)

If I go to the Scriptures from my perspective of pain, I must rationalize them and compromise God to gain an understanding that suits my experience. On the other hand, if I come from the Scriptures and let them speak to me concerning my pain and my Heavenly Father’s understanding, my perspective on pain changes. The first approach changes the Scripture and God’s reputation. The second approach changes me. Sure, I’m left with questions about God as Healer, but I gain understanding of Him as Transcendent. But just because God’s ways don’t make sense to me doesn’t mean His ways are contradictory.

John said Jesus was the realization of grace and truth, the explanation of God Himself (1:17-18). Hebrews goes a step further and says that Jesus is the exact representation of God (1:3).

So, if you want to understand God, understand Jesus. If you want to understand all 300 of the characteristics of God, understand these two absolutes of Christ Jesus: grace and truth.

The father of a gravely ill boy said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief,” and that is my heart as well. Note: The dad’s prayer begins with belief in the Lord’s character. Then he asks Him to help his unbelief. We should follow suit. Otherwise, we are destined to be tossed like corks on the stormy seas of doubt.

Some say God is two-faced, a web of contradictions, and they turn away to seek meaning based upon circumstantial evidence. But I cannot help believing that the mysteries of God are not only an invitation to know Him but to understand Him. Not fully, mind you. Rather, to understand Him better now than we did a moment ago.

Understanding God (Part 2)

When it comes down to it, God’s ways are beyond our full understanding (Is. 55:8-9). In fact, were it not for the revelation of God in the Scriptures, and His dealings with those who came before us, we would find God totally incomprehensible. Perhaps the biggest mystery is why God wants us to know Him at all.

James describes God as the Father of Lights with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (ref. Jm. 1:17). In other words, there is no inconsistency in God. He is exactly as He claims. And there is nothing occluding the light of His truthfulness such that a shadow is cast upon who He is.

As I wrote in my previous note to you, we must take the Scriptural message about God for what it says versus projecting onto it what we feel it should say. I confess that I am tempted to conclude based upon my experience that God is not everything He claims.

There is much about Him and about my life in Him that makes no sense to me; much that I wish was different. For example, why do I suffer physical pain all the time? If He heals those folks on TV, why doesn’t He heal me?

In the Bible, the father of a sick child asked the same question, but that’s a discussion for next blog.

Understanding God (Part 1)

It is not a very nice thing to say, but just between you and me, does it seem that God is two-faced? A bundle of contradictions? When the subject of God’s identity comes up, conflicting traits are attributed to Him with straight faces, nods of consent, and few questions. But the issue remains: Is God merciful or is He just? Loving or wrathful? Forgiving or vengeful? Holy or understanding? Is He jealous or is He longsuffering?

Depending on whose opinion you consider, God exhibits somewhere between two and 300 characteristics. Regardless of the number, each is absolute and raises the question: Can God really be all of these without contradiction?

The answer is, yes! It has to be. God must be all that He claims without contradiction.

We tolerate inconsistencies in each other with little notice until some high ideal is compromised. But when it comes to God, we need and expect Him to be true to Himself. Exactly. True. To Himself!

But while we must hold a clear conviction that God is exactly who He says He is, and believe with all our hearts that He is true to each trait characterizing Him, this does not mean we fully understand Him. This is a critical point. Knowing God to be who He says He is and understanding Him are two different matters.

So, how do we keep these two views of God distinct? Mixing them is obviously a bad plan. This is my next-time blog.

Into or Out of? (unabridged)

Do you recall Paul exhorting Timothy to handle the word of truth accurately (ref. 2 Tm. 2:15)? I’m talking about Paul, the Apostle in the Bible, and Timothy his mentee. I am troubled about the mishandling of Scripture and want to discuss my concern with you. Then, as this week of thoughts progresses, offer a few guidelines.

More and more questions are coming my way that have their origin in poor biblical practice. Mishandling Scripture ultimately leaves us vulnerable and the Scripture compromised.

We are finite and fallible folks with limited perspective and skewed perception. Additionally, we are engaged in a dangerous and stressful battle.

In other words, we are ill-equipped to accurately determine what is true and then find proof-texts of our belief in the Scripture for documentation. To do so is what theologians call, eisogesis, or bringing meaning into Scripture.

We are in desperate need of outside counsel from someone who understands our situation. Jesus—the living Word—is one well-equipped for this task (ref. Heb. 4:15-16). Our Heavenly Father has a broad view of history, so broad that nothing catches Him by surprise. He sees and knows it all. Scripture is His view, His value system, and by letting His “word of truth” speak to us we mine His perspective. Through the counsel of His Spirit we line our perspective up with His. This is called, exegesis, or bringing meaning out of Scripture.

Have you ever been the victim of a sound bite, a short phrase lifted out of a broader conversation? Sure you have, and when it happened you moaned in frustration, “That’s not what I said!”

How would you feel if you were God, had penned an incredible manuscript of thousands of words, and then someone grabbed a bite of it and ran off in their own direction claiming you authorized it?

We owe it to our Father, and to ourselves, to listen closely when someone speaks for God. If the context is lacking, God may be saying, “That’s not what I said!”

Isolated verses, obscure passages, hidden meanings, new revelations. These are flags you should not let fly in your heart until you have examined them against their context, the clear word of truth, the simple message of Scripture, and the age-old story of God’s redeeming love. The Bible is cohesive, start to finish, and carries the scarlet thread of redemption throughout. Anything short of this is heretical.

While the Bible is inspired and infallible, it is also ancient. It is not fair to impose modern requirements upon it and judge it against those standards. To expect the writers of the Scripture to adhere to modern scientific or historical standards and thought is narrow and presumptuous. Yet, this occurs all the time in media, classrooms, and critiques where the Bible is referenced.

A small fraction of what ancient history has to reveal has been discovered—perhaps 10%-15%. Of the artifacts uncovered archaeologically, only a small fraction of these has been fully evaluated.

Bluntly, there is a lot of ancient history awaiting discovery. Before you adopt a perspective that disparages Scripture based upon some piece of evidence, ask yourself if there might be additional information available yet.

Centuries of critics have sought to discount the record of Scripture. Centuries of critics, many brilliant, articulate, and highly educated, who professed themselves wise are dead. Scripture stands.

Another wave of aspiring skeptics are charging the Bible’s ramparts as you read these lines. Having witnessed the futility of their predecessor’s charges, like the charge of the Light Brigade, or like Pickett’s Charge, they trudge forward upon their fallen predecessors. They fail to consider that Scripture is proven to hold the high ground and have the advantage. Its statement of resolution has been challenged, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever” (Is. 40:8), but remains undaunted.

Be shrewd and discerning. The next time you hear an authoritative voice claim trumpery over divine writ, or claim an intellectual/scientific/archaeological/literary insight just realized that casts aspersion on Scripture, you might think twice before putting your money on the newcomer.

Pay close attention to who you pay close attention to. I am not the fountainhead of all truth, neither is your pastor, and neither is the person on the TV. Know the Book and know the person who is speaking to you about the Book. You are looking for consistency and reliability.

Neither Scripture nor the character of God contradict themselves or each other in the final analysis (ref. Jm. 1:17). Again, the best teacher is one who does not bring meaning into Scripture but gets meaning from the Scripture.

Finally, if the interpretation of the Scripture you are considering will not apply to all people throughout the world, you have missed the message. Jesus did not come to save America. He came to make an offer of salvation to those lost and in need, and that is every one of us regardless of our address on the planet.

Don’t forget that Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus while tempting Him. While Satan is a liar, he is also a deceiver. That means many of his lies are half-truths that contain an element of truth in them. Even when someone references the Bible, make certain the take-away points align with the balance of Scripture’s message.

The larger the tree felled by the critic’s axe, the more powerful the critic feels. I think sometimes the biblical critics fancy themselves gods because they disparage God’s Word.

When you encounter a biblical critic, ask yourself what is at stake. More often than not, it is the critic’s standing with those who are within reach of his voice. The critique isn’t about Scripture, per se, but about the critic’s perceived reputation. After all, God is not threatened. After centuries and decades of attack, He has yet to defend Himself, edit His Word, or adjust His message.

Those who are well-meaning, yet mishandle the Word of God, rarely do so deliberately. They simply make inadvertent errors, or ignorant judgments, like the ones we have been discussing. You don’t know what you don’t know. Thus Paul’s counsel to Timothy to study diligently (ref. 2 Tim. 2:15).

But whether deliberate misrepresentation or not, the consequences are the same, and I’m seeing the consequences of poor scholarship appear more frequently. This is why I am writing to you about this subject. Your view of Scripture, and Scripture’s veracity, hinges on “into” or “out of” when you consider God’s lines.

It should go without saying—but I won’t let it!—you must diligently call upon the Spirit of God to enlighten your examination of the Book. Many intellectuals have stumbled over the Scriptures while child-like faith is an invitation God cannot—will not—resist.

In a nutshell, all Scripture is inspired by God—who is without compromise—and it illuminates Jesus Christ who is unchanging (2 Tm. 3:16; Jm. 1:17; Heb. 13:8).

Before you conclude your reading of my blog, consider three words in the previous paragraph: “all,” “without compromise,” and “unchanging.” Remember that when you contemplate the biblical message, you are looking for consistency and reliability. There is a lot of these in “all,” “without compromise,” and “unchanging.”

Into or Out of? (Part 3)

The larger the tree felled by the critic’s axe, the more powerful the critic feels. I think sometimes the biblical critics fancy themselves gods because they disparage God’s Word. When you encounter a biblical critic, ask yourself what is at stake. More often than not, it is the critic’s standing with those who are within reach of his voice. The critique isn’t about Scripture, per se, but about the critic’s perceived reputation. After all, God is not threatened. After centuries and decades of attack, He has yet to defend Himself, edit His Word, or adjust His message.

Those who are well-meaning, yet mishandle the Word of God, rarely do so deliberately. They simply make inadvertent errors, or ignorant judgments, like the ones we have been discussing. You don’t know what you don’t know. Thus Paul’s counsel to Timothy to study diligently (ref. 2 Tim. 2:15).

But whether deliberate misrepresentation or not, the consequences are the same, and I’m seeing the consequences of poor scholarship appear more frequently. This is why I am writing to you about this subject. Your view of Scripture, and Scripture’s veracity, hinges on “into” or “out of” when you consider God’s lines.

It should go without saying—but I won’t let it!—you must diligently call upon the Spirit of God to enlighten your examination of the Book. Many intellectuals have stumbled over the Scriptures while child-like faith is an invitation God cannot—will not—resist.

In a nutshell, all Scripture is inspired by God—who is without compromise—and it illuminates Jesus Christ who is unchanging (2 Tm. 3:16; Jm. 1:17; Heb. 13:8).

Before you conclude your reading of my blog, consider three words in the previous paragraph: “all,” “without compromise,” and “unchanging.” Remember that when you contemplate the biblical message, you are looking for consistency and reliability. There is a lot of these in “all,” “without compromise,” and “unchanging.”

Into or Out of? (Part 2)

Have you ever been the victim of a sound bite, a short phrase lifted out of a broader conversation? Sure you have, and when it happened you moaned in frustration, “That’s not what I said!” How would you feel if you were God, had penned an incredible manuscript of thousands of words, and then someone grabbed a bite of it and ran off in their own direction claiming you authorized it?

We owe it to our Father, and to ourselves, to listen closely when someone speaks for God. If the context is lacking, God may be saying, “That’s not what I said!”

Isolated verses, obscure passages, hidden meanings, new revelations. These are flags you should not let fly in your heart until you have examined them against their context, the clear word of truth, the simple message of Scripture, and the age-old story of God’s redeeming love. The Bible is cohesive, start to finish, and carries the scarlet thread of redemption throughout. Anything short of this is heretical.

While the Bible is inspired and infallible, it is also ancient. It is not fair to impose modern requirements upon it and judge it against those standards. To expect the writers of the Scripture to adhere to modern scientific or historical standards and thought is narrow and presumptuous. Yet, this occurs all the time in media, classrooms, and critiques where the Bible is referenced.

A small fraction of what ancient history has to reveal has been discovered—perhaps 10%-15%. Of the artifacts uncovered archaeologically, only a small fraction of these has been fully evaluated.

Bluntly, there is a lot of ancient history awaiting discovery. Before you adopt a perspective that disparages Scripture based upon some piece of evidence, ask yourself if there might be additional information available yet.

Centuries of critics have sought to discount the record of Scripture. Centuries of critics, many brilliant, articulate, and highly educated, who professed themselves wise are dead. Scripture stands.

Another wave of aspiring skeptics are charging the Bible’s ramparts as you read these lines. Having witnessed the futility of their predecessor’s charges, like the charge of the Light Brigade, or like Pickett’s Charge, they trudge forward upon their fallen predecessors. They fail to consider that Scripture is proven to hold the high ground and have the advantage. Its statement of resolution has been challenged, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever” (Is. 40:8), but remains undaunted.

Be shrewd and discerning. The next time you hear an authoritative voice claim trumpery over divine writ, or claim an intellectual/scientific/archaeological/literary insight just realized that casts aspersion on Scripture, you might think twice before putting your money on the newcomer.

Pay close attention to who you pay close attention to. I am not the fountainhead of all truth, neither is your pastor, and neither is the person on the TV. Know the Book and know the person who is speaking to you about the Book. You are looking for consistency and reliability.

Neither Scripture nor the character of God contradict themselves or each other in the final analysis (ref. Jm. 1:17). Again, the best teacher is one who does not bring meaning into Scripture but gets meaning from the Scripture.

Finally, if the interpretation of the Scripture you are considering will not apply to all people throughout the world, you have missed the message. Jesus did not come to save America. He came to make an offer of salvation to those lost and in need, and that is every one of us regardless of our address on the planet.

Don’t forget that Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus while tempting Him. While Satan is a liar, he is also a deceiver. That means many of his lies are half-truths that contain an element of truth in them. Even when someone references the Bible, make certain the take-away points align with the balance of Scripture’s message.

Into or Out of? (Part 1)

Do you recall Paul exhorting Timothy to handle the word of truth accurately (ref. 2 Tm. 2:15)? I’m talking about Paul, the Apostle in the Bible, and Timothy his mentee. I am troubled about the mishandling of Scripture and want to discuss my concern with you. Then, as this week of thoughts progresses, offer a few guidelines.

More and more questions are coming my way that have their origin in poor biblical practice. Mishandling Scripture ultimately leaves us vulnerable and the Scripture compromised.

We are finite and fallible folks with limited perspective and skewed perception. Additionally, we are engaged in a dangerous and stressful battle.

In other words, we are ill-equipped to accurately determine what is true and then find proof-texts of our belief in the Scripture for documentation. To do so is what theologians call, eisogesis, or bringing meaning into Scripture.

We are in desperate need of outside counsel from someone who understands our situation. Jesus—the living Word—is one well-equipped for this task (ref. Heb. 4:15-16). Our Heavenly Father has a broad view of history, so broad that nothing catches Him by surprise. He sees and knows it all. Scripture is His view, His value system, and by letting His “word of truth” speak to us we mine His perspective. Through the counsel of His Spirit we line our perspective up with His.

This is called, exegesis, or bringing meaning out of Scripture.

How Much is Jesus Worth? (unabridged)

Have you ever tried to conceptualize how wealthy Jesus Christ is? When you think of the wealthiest person you know, or know of, that is only a miniscule representation of Jesus’ net worth. After all, everything is His.

All the wealth of the world is His to disperse as He sees fit. He is God, owns all there is, and privileges us to manage portions of His holdings.

I was flipping through a celebrity magazine while waiting to catch a flight home the other day. There were several pages with pictures of this famous person on a yacht, that couple with their new $238,000 sports car, and an aerial photo of one celeb’s new $20,000,000 house.

Not only did Jesus make it all, He owns it all.

Gates, Slim, Buffet, Walton. These are not the richest people in the world even though reported to be such. Though the $75 billion fortune of Bill and Melinda Gates is a larger stash than the money in the coffers of many countries, it is a small fraction of Christ’s net worth.

This said, how long has it been since you read 2 Corinthians 8:9? “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

Christ expended everything in His quest to win our hearts.

As He sat in His glory, power, and opulence, considering the cost to invade the enemy’s stronghold and make a play to gain our allegiance, He determined that no cost was too great. Whatever His net worth was—even though well beyond our comprehension—He gambled it all in His invasion of this world, and in so doing became poor on our behalf.

As I consider this expenditure and place myself in His shoes, I doubt seriously that I would have made the same decision. Nevertheless, He spent it all. Though rich, He became poor. The Scripture defines this as grace, and as the recipients and beneficiaries of His wealth, we are reminded that we, “know the grace of our Lord Jesus.”

When Jesus announced His intention to the angels surrounding His throne, surely someone must have said, “What are you thinking?! This is lunacy. Why are you going to risk everything in a worthless investment? The folks down there don’t give a rip. Why would you condemn yourself to the poor house?”

I think His reply must have been, “I have a dream, a dream that one day my investment will fulfill my heart’s desire. I have a dream that I can live with people in celebration of a desperate redemption that paid off in grand fashion. I have a dream that if I make myself low enough, those I love will look down in their fallen condition, see me, and look up to my Father. I have a dream that my riches can be transferred to them, and that by my becoming poor, they will become rich. I have a dream that the wealth of my relationship with them will be the light illuminating all the moments of our eternity together. Yes, I have a dream. This is my dream.”

William Butler Yeats wrote in 1899, “Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths, / Enwrought with golden and silver light, / The blue and the dim and the dark cloths / Of night and light and the half-light, / I would spread the cloths under your feet: / But I, being poor, have only my dreams; / I have spread my dreams under your feet; / Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

You are Christ’s dream, the individual for whom He gambled everything. His broken heart healed your broken heart. His life laid down made your life possible. His poverty rendered you rich.

You are the embodiment of His dream.

The enemy of God, the devil, Lucifer the fallen archangel tempts you to discount the price paid on your behalf. Should you agree with his deception, live in bondage to your old ways, submit yourself to the flesh, and languish in the destitution of your former bankruptcy, you discount the dream of Christ.

Tread softly, my friend. As the redeemed heirs of God we tread upon the dreams of Jesus the Christ, God incarnate, who dared to dream, gave all in order that we might have all, and who made it possible for us to dream as well.

 

How Much is Jesus Worth? (Part 2)

When Jesus announced His intention to the angels surrounding His throne, surely someone must have said, “What are you thinking?! This is lunacy. Why are you going to risk everything in a worthless investment? The folks down there don’t give a rip. Why would you condemn yourself to the poor house?” I think His reply must have been, “I have a dream, a dream that one day my investment will fulfill my heart’s desire. I have a dream that I can live with people in celebration of a desperate redemption that paid off in grand fashion. I have a dream that if I make myself low enough, those I love will look down in their fallen condition, see me, and look up to my Father. I have a dream that my riches can be transferred to them, and that by my becoming poor, they will become rich. I have a dream that the wealth of my relationship with them will be the light illuminating all the moments of our eternity together. Yes, I have a dream. This is my dream.”

William Butler Yeats wrote in 1899, “Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths, / Enwrought with golden and silver light, / The blue and the dim and the dark cloths / Of night and light and the half-light, / I would spread the cloths under your feet: / But I, being poor, have only my dreams; / I have spread my dreams under your feet; / Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

You are Christ’s dream, the individual for whom He gambled everything. His broken heart healed your broken heart. His life laid down made your life possible. His poverty rendered you rich.

You are the embodiment of His dream.

The enemy of God, the devil, Lucifer the fallen archangel tempts you to discount the price paid on your behalf. Should you agree with his deception, live in bondage to your old ways, submit yourself to the flesh, and languish in the destitution of your former bankruptcy, you discount the dream of Christ.

Tread softly, my friend. As the redeemed heirs of God we tread upon the dreams of Jesus the Christ, God incarnate, who dared to dream, gave all in order that we might have all, and who made it possible for us to dream as well.

How Much is Jesus Worth? (Part 1)

Have you ever tried to conceptualize how wealthy Jesus Christ is? When you think of the wealthiest person you know, or know of, that is only a miniscule representation of Jesus’ net worth. After all, everything is His.

All the wealth of the world is His to disperse as He sees fit. He is God, owns all there is, and privileges us to manage portions of His holdings.

I was flipping through a celebrity magazine while waiting to catch a flight home the other day. There were several pages with pictures of this famous person on a yacht, that couple with their new $238,000 sports car, and an aerial photo of one celeb’s new $20,000,000 house.

Not only did Jesus make it all, He owns it all.

Gates, Slim, Buffet, Walton. These are not the richest people in the world even though reported to be such. Though the $75 billion fortune of Bill and Melinda Gates is a larger stash than the money in the coffers of many countries, it is a small fraction of Christ’s net worth.

This said, how long has it been since you read 2 Corinthians 8:9? “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”

Christ expended everything in His quest to win our hearts.

As He sat in His glory, power, and opulence, considering the cost to invade the enemy’s stronghold and make a play to gain our allegiance, He determined that no cost was too great. Whatever His net worth was—even though well beyond our comprehension—He gambled it all in His invasion of this world, and in so doing became poor on our behalf.

As I consider this expenditure and place myself in His shoes, I doubt seriously that I would have made the same decision. Nevertheless, He spent it all. Though rich, He became poor. The Scripture defines this as grace, and as the recipients and beneficiaries of His wealth, we are reminded that we, “know the grace of our Lord Jesus.”

When Jesus announced His intention to the angels surrounding His throne, surely someone must have said, “What are you thinking?! This is lunacy. Why are you going to risk everything in a worthless investment? The folks down there don’t give a rip. Why would you condemn yourself to the poor house?”

Next...my take on His thoughts.

Engaging (unabridged)

When was the last time you looked outside the window of your life to the world beyond? Why do I ask? Each of my blogs/letters to you over the last year or so have focused on the difficulties you are facing, how to keep your spiritual wits about you, and each has offered encouragement about the prospects for tomorrow. It is obvious you are hurting, especially financially, but personally as well. The majority of us are.

Each day my snail mail, email, and online mail is filled with prayer requests for a variety of needs. Cancer, death, fragmenting families, abuse, loneliness, loss of a job, a spouse, a chance; dashed hopes, faded dreams, and lives on the rocks.

These are challenging days.

Even though the economic indicators are portending a recovery from our economic woes, it will be at least two—maybe three—years before you feel the surge. Meanwhile, the rest of life will not relent.

You will get older. The status quo will change more rapidly next year than it did this year. People around you will continue to make poor choices that will affect you adversely. And…. I could go on, but you know what I’m talking about.

The things I have written to you over these months are true. I have not retracted anything in any of my blogs or letters to you.

The Scriptures still stand. Father remains on His throne. You are still an alien in a foreign land awaiting your summons to return home. Christ’s role in your life is unchanged: He remains the one called to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to set the captives free, and to proclaim a release from darkness to the prisoners.

Where do you fit within His mission statement?

Are you poor? Brokenhearted? Captive? A prisoner? The answer is, “Yes.” You are all of the above, and that is precisely why I have written focused encouragement to you.

But what about the world beyond you? Or as I asked at the top of my letter: What is happening in the world outside of your life?

I encourage you to take a look. But, do yourself a favor and ensure you take a candid look. Unless you are a member of an extraordinary Sunday School class, you will not see reality there. Sunday School classes are too unsafe for most people to be honest. The halls of your church do not lend themselves to heartfelt revelations. Neither do professional settings. There is too much posturing and positioning for power for people to let down their guard.

Rather—over a meal, during a mid-morning cup of coffee, while the daily action is in a lull, or stopping to debrief before beginning your evening commute. Snippets at the water cooler, the copier, in the elevator, and walking through the parking garage; phone calls to check in at odd—versus routine—times, talking over the back fence, or beside the car after dropping the kids at school.

Pray.

Ask Father to bring clear opportunities across your path. Believe that He will do as you ask, and then pay attention. Look for Father’s lead. Trust that you are in His place—all the places above are His—and then, engage with confidence.

Be yourself.

You are a new person, accepted and loved. Skip the contrived image of “witnessing” that is in your head. Follow your heart. After all, it is bonded to His heart. His wishes are written there. He has washed it clean and finds it a fine place for His dwelling. You are secure in Him, so be secure.

And what do you say? Sometimes—oftentimes—you say nothing. You simply “be” with the person you are with.

But when called upon to offer perspective, ask yourself very simply, “What is Father saying to me?” Whatever the answer is, that is what you should speak about. Recall that Paul said he had determined to know nothing except Christ. More than likely, just like Paul, your Heavenly Father will have been speaking to you about Jesus. When asked, talk about what Father is thinking about with you.

Engage. Invest. Open your heart. Discuss what Christ is doing in your life. Be secure. Be real. No façade, mask, or pose. Determine to speak about that which is personal, from the heart, and is the honest truth of Christ’s intervention in your life—the poor, the brokenhearted, the captive, the prisoner...

...whose heart is rich, fulfilled, released, and free.

Engaging (Part 2)

But what about the world beyond you? Or as I asked at the top of my letter: What is happening in the world outside of your life? I encourage you to take a look. But, do yourself a favor and ensure you take a candid look. Unless you are a member of an extraordinary Sunday School class, you will not see reality there. Sunday School classes are too unsafe for most people to be honest. The halls of your church do not lend themselves to heartfelt revelations. Neither do professional settings. There is too much posturing and positioning for power for people to let down their guard.

Rather—over a meal, during a mid-morning cup of coffee, while the daily action is in a lull, or stopping to debrief before beginning your evening commute. Snippets at the water cooler, the copier, in the elevator, and walking through the parking garage; phone calls to check in at odd—versus routine—times, talking over the back fence, or beside the car after dropping the kids at school.

Pray.

Ask Father to bring clear opportunities across your path. Believe that He will do as you ask, and then pay attention. Look for Father’s lead. Trust that you are in His place—all the places above are His—and then, engage with confidence.

Be yourself.

You are a new person, accepted and loved. Skip the contrived image of “witnessing” that is in your head. Follow your heart. After all, it is bonded to His heart. His wishes are written there. He has washed it clean and finds it a fine place for His dwelling. You are secure in Him, so be secure.

And what do you say? Sometimes—oftentimes—you say nothing. You simply “be” with the person you are with.

But when called upon to offer perspective, ask yourself very simply, “What is Father saying to me?” Whatever the answer is, that is what you should speak about. Recall that Paul said he had determined to know nothing except Christ. More than likely, just like Paul, your Heavenly Father will have been speaking to you about Jesus. When asked, talk about what Father is thinking about with you.

Engage. Invest. Open your heart. Discuss what Christ is doing in your life. Be secure. Be real. No façade, mask, or pose. Determine to speak about that which is personal, from the heart, and is the honest truth of Christ’s intervention in your life—the poor, the brokenhearted, the captive, the prisoner...

...whose heart is rich, fulfilled, released, and free.

 

Engaging (Part 1)

When was the last time you looked outside the window of your life to the world beyond? Why do I ask? Each of my blogs/letters to you over the last year or so have focused on the difficulties you are facing, how to keep your spiritual wits about you, and each has offered encouragement about the prospects for tomorrow. It is obvious you are hurting, especially financially, but personally as well. The majority of us are.

Each day my snail mail, email, and online mail is filled with prayer requests for a variety of needs. Cancer, death, fragmenting families, abuse, loneliness, loss of a job, a spouse, a chance; dashed hopes, faded dreams, and lives on the rocks.

These are challenging days.

Even though the economic indicators are portending a recovery from our economic woes, it will be at least two—maybe three—years before you feel the surge. Meanwhile, the rest of life will not relent.

You will get older. The status quo will change more rapidly next year than it did this year. People around you will continue to make poor choices that will affect you adversely. And…. I could go on, but you know what I’m talking about.

The things I have written to you over these months are true. I have not retracted anything in any of my blogs or letters to you.

The Scriptures still stand. Father remains on His throne. You are still an alien in a foreign land awaiting your summons to return home. Christ’s role in your life is unchanged: He remains the one called to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to set the captives free, and to proclaim a release from darkness to the prisoners.

Where do you fit within His mission statement?

Are you poor? Brokenhearted? Captive? A prisoner? The answer is, “Yes.” You are all of the above, and that is precisely why I have written focused encouragement to you.

But what about the world beyond you? Or as I asked at the top of my letter: What is happening in the world outside of your life?

Engaged Faith (unabridged)

How long has it been since you were engaged? I’m not talking about to your spouse. How long has it been since you were engaged in an intense contest, a big game, an all out battle?

Do you recall Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith it is impossible to please God?” The author of this great chapter on faith and its all-stars lets us know up front that faith is essential in the Christian life, and is much more important than simply believing.

Faith is confidence in God and in His ability. Therefore, faith that is tested intensely becomes trust if the test is passed.

In other words, if faith is confidence in God and His ability, then trust is confidence in God and His ability when it appears as though He is untrustworthy and incapable. Under tough conditions, faith and trust are ripped from the realm of religious terminology and placed alongside courage, determination, and perseverance.

I don’t subscribe to the concept of “blind faith.” Faith is not blind. Faith may find itself in a maze, or being buffeted with ferocity, but I disagree with the picture of helpless, meaningless, doubting, blind faith. Faith doesn’t look at circumstances to acquire a heading.  Faith looks at its object, the Lord Jesus Christ, and moves forward.

That sounds nice, religious, and unrealistic, doesn’t it?

What does faith, forged into trust, focused on its object, look like in real life?

Notice in verse 11:8 of Hebrews that Abraham believed God, packed his U-Haul ox cart, and left home “…not knowing where he was going.” We know the end of the story: He makes it to the promised land. But Abraham didn’t know the end of the story. He left home clueless but committed.

Ready for another dose?

After detailing a formidable list of faith all-stars, chapter eleven draws to a close (v.39) with this verse: “And all these [people of faith], having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised.”

Bad ending to the story, huh?

All these great folks, listed over the space of thirty-eight verses and hundreds of years, died without receiving what God had promised them. It’s under these circumstances that superficial, self-serving faith withers and true faith is forged into trust.

These dear folks demonstrated obedient faith that was tempered through their personal histories into trust, trust that remained faithful. Each one reached the terminus of life, facing martyrdom, without realizing the fulfillment of God’s promise. As the enemy screamed indictments against God, while dying torturous deaths, deep in their hearts they must have heard the Lord saying, “TrustMe.”

And they did! Their names are in the chapter.

You and I have the benefit of looking backward over hundreds of years and seeing that God was faithful to them. The promises were fulfilled.

But their roles do not end with their testimonies. Chapter twelve informs us that these great men and women of faith are now gathered in the grandstands of heaven surrounding the playing field of earth. They are cheering for us! And, these folks are not armchair quarterbacks. They have been where we are.

We’re in a big game. The crowd is into it. The angels and others offer encouragement, but the all-stars offer timely exhortations. They have run the race, scaled the cliffs, forded the torrents, and faced the barriers that impede us, imposing and dominant.

Engage! Stand encouraged! Our older brothers’ and sisters’ lives are a megaphone calling out the next cheer for the visiting team, and that’s us. This place is not our home. We’re only visiting this planet. Soon, we too will be in heaven’s grandstands where a faith all-star has a seat reserved next to him.

The movie Braveheart, attributes to William Wallace the statement, “Every man dies, but not every man truly lives.”

This is our chance! We are engaged in a great battle over an extraordinary cause, and you play an integral part in the outcome.

Are you fully engaged?

Engaged Faith (Part 2)

Ready for another dose? After detailing a formidable list of faith all-stars, chapter eleven draws to a close (v.39) with this verse: “And all these [people of faith], having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised.”

Bad ending to the story, huh?

All these great folks, listed over the space of thirty-eight verses and hundreds of years, died without receiving what God had promised them. It’s under these circumstances that superficial, self-serving faith withers and true faith is forged into trust.

These dear folks demonstrated obedient faith that was tempered through their personal histories into trust, trust that remained faithful. Each one reached the terminus of life, facing martyrdom, without realizing the fulfillment of God’s promise. As the enemy screamed indictments against God, while dying torturous deaths, deep in their hearts they must have heard the Lord saying, “TrustMe.”

And they did! Their names are in the chapter.

You and I have the benefit of looking backward over hundreds of years and seeing that God was faithful to them. The promises were fulfilled.

But their roles do not end with their testimonies. Chapter twelve informs us that these great men and women of faith are now gathered in the grandstands of heaven surrounding the playing field of earth. They are cheering for us! And, these folks are not armchair quarterbacks. They have been where we are.

We’re in a big game. The crowd is into it. The angels and others offer encouragement, but the all-stars offer timely exhortations. They have run the race, scaled the cliffs, forded the torrents, and faced the barriers that impede us, imposing and dominant.

Engage! Stand encouraged! Our older brothers’ and sisters’ lives are a megaphone calling out the next cheer for the visiting team, and that’s us. This place is not our home. We’re only visiting this planet. Soon, we too will be in heaven’s grandstands where a faith all-star has a seat reserved next to him.

The movie Braveheart, attributes to William Wallace the statement, “Every man dies, but not every man truly lives.”

This is our chance! We are engaged in a great battle over an extraordinary cause, and you play an integral part in the outcome.

Are you fully engaged?

Engaged Faith (Part 1)

How long has it been since you were engaged? I’m not talking about to your spouse. How long has it been since you were engaged in an intense contest, a big game, an all out battle?

Do you recall Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith it is impossible to please God?” The author of this great chapter on faith and its all-stars lets us know up front that faith is essential in the Christian life, and is much more important than simply believing.

Faith is confidence in God and in His ability. Therefore, faith that is tested intensely becomes trust if the test is passed.

In other words, if faith is confidence in God and His ability, then trust is confidence in God and His ability when it appears as though He is untrustworthy and incapable. Under tough conditions, faith and trust are ripped from the realm of religious terminology and placed alongside courage, determination, and perseverance.

I don’t subscribe to the concept of “blind faith.” Faith is not blind. Faith may find itself in a maze, or being buffeted with ferocity, but I disagree with the picture of helpless, meaningless, doubting, blind faith. Faith doesn’t look at circumstances to acquire a heading.  Faith looks at its object, the Lord Jesus Christ, and moves forward.

That sounds nice, religious, and unrealistic, doesn’t it?

What does faith, forged into trust, focused on its object, look like in real life?

Notice in verse 11:8 of Hebrews that Abraham believed God, packed his U-Haul ox cart, and left home “…not knowing where he was going.” We know the end of the story: He makes it to the promised land. But Abraham didn’t know the end of the story. He left home clueless but committed.

And what do we understand about engaged faith from others who lived by it?

Is God Fair? (unabridged)

Have you noticed that life is not fair? Sure you have. But even more troubling than this, have you realized that God is not fair either?

Many turn to the Old Testament book of Job for inspiration when they are facing struggles and trials. No doubt, Job suffered mightily, and he made many grand declarations that are often quoted during tribulation.

But Job believed two things that are revisited chapter after chapter in his book. First, he believed that he was righteous because of all the noble activity he engaged in, and second, he believed God would reward him fairly based upon the right standards by which he lived his life. Up until the final chapter, this story is about Job coming to the end of these two false assumptions.

Do you remember the oft quoted, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15a)? Or do you recall the inspirational statement, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (23:10b)?

Notice the references for these two verses. They are partial quotes.

They actually read in full, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways to His face.” And the second quote concludes a passage where Job is lamenting that he has diligently searched for God, looking for the opportunity to “present his case” to God and challenge Him to a debate concerning his (i.e., Job’s) righteousness and the injustice of his suffering. Finally, Job declares self-righteously, “But He knows where to find me, and when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (ref. Job 23:1-12).

Bluntly stated, Job believed that because he lived a good life and did the right things he should be exempt from suffering, hardship, and heartbreak. In fact, he adhered so strongly to this philosophy of life that he was anxious to stand face-to-face with God and argue that he was a just person who was not being treated fairly. When God fails to adopt Job’s perspective, he has a crisis of faith that lasts forty-one chapters through bankruptcy, invasion, offense, the loss of children and friends, disillusionment, and lost confidence.

Job lived a godly life in order to convince himself and God that he was holy in order to gain God’s favor as a reasonable and fair judge of his sincere effort. While Job accomplishes many laudable achievements, there are two problems with his approach:  First, good standing with God is not determined by what a man does. Second, God is not fair in the way we judge fairness.

Job’s philosophy of life garnered great respect among his peers and earned him a lavish lifestyle. But when tested, his philosophy was found deficient for the demands of life in the dock.

How tempting it is to measure ourselves against others and draw conclusions about our value and standing with God upon that basis. It is equally enticing to quantify our worth by measuring our money and possessions. This is especially true when we are stressed and believe we deserve better.

When life is unraveling and we are not happy, it is tempting to declare, “This is not fair,” and directly or indirectly accuse God of not being honorable. Once this conclusion is drawn, we become vulnerable to disillusionment, dissatisfaction, and demoralization in the face of strenuous circumstances.

Friend, God’s opinion of you is neither enhanced nor devalued by what you do. Your right-standing with Him is based solely upon the finished work of your older brother, Jesus Christ, on the cross. Your task is to believe what He accomplished on your behalf and trust Him as your life whether in hard times or prosperity.

And in all candor, it is a good thing that God is not fair. If He were fair we would all be in hell. Neither is God safe and predictable, but He is just and good.

What is the lesson to be learned from Job’s testimony?

He concludes, “I have heard of You (i.e., God) with my ears, but now my eyes see You” (42:5 paraphrased). Maybe we should forget what we have heard about God and look full into the face of our Heavenly Father and ask that He reveal His heart to us as He truly is.

Is God Fair? (Part 2)

Job lived a godly life in order to convince himself and God that he was holy--in order to gain God’s favor as a reasonable and fair judge of his sincere effort. While Job accomplishes many laudable achievements, there are two problems with his approach:  First, good standing with God is not determined by what a man does. Second, God is not fair in the way we judge fairness. Job’s philosophy of life garnered great respect among his peers and earned him a lavish lifestyle. But when tested, his philosophy was found deficient for the demands of life in the dock.

How tempting it is to measure ourselves against others and draw conclusions about our value and standing with God upon that basis. It is equally enticing to quantify our worth by measuring our money and possessions. This is especially true when we are stressed and believe we deserve better.

When life is unraveling and we are not happy, it is tempting to declare, “This is not fair,” and directly or indirectly accuse God of not being honorable. Once this conclusion is drawn, we become vulnerable to disillusionment, dissatisfaction, and demoralization in the face of strenuous circumstances.

Friend, God’s opinion of you is neither enhanced nor devalued by what you do. Your right-standing with Him is based solely upon the finished work of your older brother, Jesus Christ, on the cross. Your task is to believe what He accomplished on your behalf and trust Him as your life whether in hard times or prosperity.

And in all candor, it is a good thing that God is not fair. If He were fair we would all be in hell. Neither is God safe and predictable, but He is just and good.

What is the lesson to be learned from Job’s testimony?

He concludes, “I have heard of You (i.e., God) with my ears, but now my eyes see You” (42:5 paraphrased). Maybe we should forget what we have heard about God and look full into the face of our Heavenly Father and ask that He reveal His heart to us as He truly is.

Is God Fair? (Part 1)

Have you noticed that life is not fair? Sure you have. But even more troubling than this, have you realized that God is not fair either?

Many turn to the Old Testament book of Job for inspiration when they are facing struggles and trials. No doubt, Job suffered mightily, and he made many grand declarations that are often quoted during tribulation.

But Job believed two things that are revisited chapter after chapter in his book. First, he believed that he was righteous because of all the noble activity he engaged in, and second, he believed God would reward him fairly based upon the right standards by which he lived his life. Up until the final chapter, this story is about Job coming to the end of these two false assumptions.

Do you remember the oft quoted, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15a)? Or do you recall the inspirational statement, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (23:10b)?

Notice the references for these two verses. They are partial quotes.

They actually read in full, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways to His face.” And the second quote concludes a passage where Job is lamenting that he has diligently searched for God, looking for the opportunity to “present his case” to God and challenge Him to a debate concerning his (i.e., Job’s) righteousness and the injustice of his suffering. Finally, Job declares self-righteously, “But He knows where to find me, and when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (ref. Job 23:1-12).

Bluntly stated, Job believed that because he lived a good life and did the right things he should be exempt from suffering, hardship, and heartbreak. In fact, he adhered so strongly to this philosophy of life that he was anxious to stand face-to-face with God and argue that he was a just person who was not being treated fairly. When God fails to adopt Job’s perspective, he has a crisis of faith that lasts forty-one chapters through bankruptcy, invasion, offense, the loss of children and friends, disillusionment, and lost confidence.

Next: What went wrong with Job’s approach to life and godliness?