Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ready for the storm

My favorite musician is Scottish folksinger Dougie MacLean, known for his song “Ready for the Storm.” It’s such a great song that I wrote an extra verse to it an gave it to Dougie the last time I saw him in concert. We’re being hit with the impact of Irene, not as bad as Jersey, yet enough to rattle us here in New England. I won’t be kayaking today!

When natural disasters hit we’re reminded that we live in a broken world that was once perfect. Paradise is gone, and we’re seeing the effects of the Fall, a world where we experience what seems like the absence of God. Sometimes God is absent because people choose to exclude Him from their lives. They aren’t seeking God and don’t want to be found. This too is an effect of the Fall.

God works even when it seems like He’s absent. Praying in a seemingly empty room, it is a temptation to think that God is indifferent to our needs. We don’t actually see Him, and when we pray, we wonder if and how our prayers may be answered. We struggle with doubt. Jesus told the patron saint of doubters, Thomas: “You have seen and believed; blessed are they who believe without seeing.” We yearn to hear our Lord’s voice, but have to be content with the record we’ve been given in Scripture.

We find ourselves much like the children of Israel who waited and endured 430 years of Egyptian slavery, hoping for deliverance. Where was God all that time? Why was He silent? The Jews began to wonder if God no longer knew His once-chosen people. They felt abandoned…and so do we during low periods of our lives.

There are vast stretches of time, even in the Bible, when nothing remotely like salvation seems to be happening. We feel this absence and don’t know what to make of it. We need to understand that the absence of God is part of the story.

The Psalms are full of impatient waiting. In Psalm 13, David doesn’t hesitate to express his frustration; he cries out, “How long, O Lord?” God understands, yet He is not obligated to come at our beck and call. When He is silent, He has a reason, which He is not required to share. And if He did, we still might not comprehend His answer. And so the greatest part of faith remains waiting.

When Jesus was born, a 400-year period of silence was going on in Israel. The last word Israel had from God came in the Book of Malachi. In our Bibles, one turn of a page separates Malachi from Matthew, but that single page turning took over 400 years. By the time of our Savior’s birth, many wondered if they were a forgotten people. Pagan Rome was occupying their land, and bad things were happening to good people. But another Moses was born in Bethlehem who would deliver His people from the bondage of sin.

A minister was hiking the Appalachian Trail; he was tired and cold and had no place to sleep. He found a place to lay down under the stars, and it started to rain. Deciding to be like a prophet of old, he cried out, “Lord, I rebuke the wind and the rain in Jesus’ Name: Stop in the name of Jesus!” Yet the rain continued, and the minister looked heavenward, confused and discouraged and prayed, “Lord, I love You anyway.”

The rains come and we wait. Nothing changes God’s commitment to us; not even time. If we’re sensitive to God’s ways, we may glean some insight. It’s been said that “coincidence is when God chooses to be anonymous.” We believe He is sovereign, which means He is doing things right now in our lives, whether we realize it or not. One day this will be clear. God doesn’t guarantee that life will make sense, but there’s a comfort in knowing He has a plan, a reason for everything.

Faith means stepping out with no clear end in sight, and perhaps even no clear view of the next step…all the while, trusting in God whom we do not see…and regardless of how we may feel, we accept that He is present, caring, active. We look around at what appears to be a God-forsaken world and we still trust and obey.

When God is silent, we’re reduced to patient waiting, anticipating, and trusting. A better, brighter day is coming.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Prayer of John Baillie

Let me use disappointment as material for patience.
Let me use success as material for thankfulness.
Let me use trouble as material for perseverance.
Let me use danger as material for courage.
Let me use reproach as material for long suffering.
Let me use praise as material for humility.
Let me use pleasures as material for temperance.
Let me use pain as material for endurance.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Belief in Science

A presidential candidate last week was asked by a child (who was being coached by his mother; more about that shortly), "How old is the earth?" -which the candidate recognized as a way of obtaining his view of the creation/evolution debate. He stated that both views were being taught in his home state out of fairness. You can hear on the video the mother then saying, "Ask him why he doesn't believe in science."

Wow. So if you believe a higher power had anything to do with the existence of this planet, you have rejected science outright. I guess that makes you an idiot. I'd like to ask this woman, "Tell me why you don't believe in God. And why you're sure this world is the result of a cosmic accident." The Bible states that God created the world; it doesn't say how, just Who, and why. Intelligent design merely states that life can be best explained by the intervention of a designer. And scientists like Michael Behe (author of Darwin's Black Box) do a good job of defending ID--which is not religion--but simply a statement that the complexity of life indicates a power purposely behind it all. To say that theists don't believe in science is an offensive, unfair, prejudicial accusation.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

God didn't make a mistake...

by Joni Eareckson-Tada

I sure hope I can bring my wheelchair to Heaven.

Now, I know that’s not theologically correct.

But I hope to bring it and put it in a little corner of Heaven, and then in my new, perfect, glorified body, standing on grateful glorified legs, I’ll stand next to my Savior, holding His nail-pierced hands.

I’ll say, “Thank you, Jesus,” and He will know that I mean it, because He knows me.

He’ll recognize me from the fellowship we’re now sharing in His sufferings.

And I will say,

“Jesus, do you see that wheelchair? You were right when you said that in this world we would have trouble, because that thing was a lot of trouble. But the weaker I was in that thing, the harder I leaned on You. And the harder I leaned on You, the stronger I discovered You to be. It never would have happened had You not given me the bruising of the blessing of that wheelchair.”

Then the real ticker-tape parade of praise will begin. And all of earth will join in the party.

And at that point Christ will open up our eyes to the great fountain of joy in His heart for us beyond all that we ever experienced on earth.

And when we’re able to stop laughing and crying, the Lord Jesus really will wipe away our tears.

I find it so poignant that finally at the point when I do have the use of my arms to wipe away my own tears, I won’t have to, because God will.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A king with a fatal flaw

Book Review: King Solomon-the temptations of money, sex, and power; by Philip Graham Ryken, President of Wheaton College

The sober reality that even the wise can fall prey to the temptations of the world is the thesis of this study of Solomon. I'd easily say that pastors preparing a sermon series on the life of Solomon would find this an essential resource. It is both substantive and devotional.

I've avoided Solomon because his life seems such a contradiction--a wise/foolish king who knew better. How can that be? If our beliefs truly affect our behavior, and if God makes us wise, how can we fall into such phenomenal sin? Those who trust in God are hardly perfect, but Solomon out did most of us with his polygamy and polytheism. So why did he act so foolishly? Did he reject his own God-given wisdom? When considering Solomon, we may worry whether we too might come to a tragic end. If Solomon could fail, is there any hope for us?

Ryken resolves the dilemma in chapter 12. Like King Lear, King Solomon had a tragic flaw: he did not continue to choose godliness and live out that choice. "The more he loved other things, the less he loved God, until one day he was not living for God at all." Solomon lost his first love and ended up where he had no business being. Ryken points out that even "our spiritual gifts will not prevent us from falling into grievous sin." Yet God's love did not depart from Solomon, though he suffered natural consequences of his sinful choices.

The only thing lacking is an overview of Solomon's writings--Song of Songs, parts of Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. I'd like to know if Ryken considers Ecclesiastes a sorrowful king looking back on a less-than-admirable life.

Bible study groups will appreciate the study guide in the back. And individuals looking for an inspiring read to help them in their spiritual journey will not be disappointed. There are many light-weight "popular books" in the Christian book market. This one has appeal for the average reader, yet is substantive. I suspect the chapters were originally sermons that have been expanded, which is in no way a criticism. This should be in every church library and in the pastor's study as well.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Freedom from religion

An atheist group objected to a Christian concert at Fort Bragg NC, but now the Commanding General is allowing an atheist-themed concert for early next year. Why is it "unconstitutional" for one ideology but OK for another? It is come to this: only atheists have rights to spread their ideology. Militant atheist stands in sharp contrast to Christians who simply want to share the Good News of God's love.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Faith sharing

We have to go outside our comfortable Christian environment to encounter people who need Christ. As we listen to them, and learn of their concerns, we can offer the answers found in God’s word and introduce them to our Savior. What kind of openings for the Gospel message might we find? At work, someone may be concerned about the pressures of their job or home life. At school, students may be stressed about their future, social pressures, and self-acceptance. At the neighborhood gym, civic or social club, we may meet someone worried about their health or world events--all these people we encounter may be wondering what God has to do with all these issues. When we become compassionate listeners, God will give us opportunities to share our faith.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Debt Ceiling debate

In church Sunday someone asked that we pray about the debt debate in Congress, and not wanting to take sides, I remarked how LBJ liked to quote Isaiah during times of congressional conflict: "Come, let us reason together." I hope our leaders in Washington will take Isaiah's advice...also that we follow the advice on our currency: "In God we trust."