The Powerful Prayer of a Mother



"Saint Augustine did not start out that way [as a saint]. His mother, Monica, taught him about Christianity carefully and she prayed, but his incredible mind had always troubled her. One day, in his teenage years, he announced that he was throwing aside her faith in Christ to follow current heresies. He went on to live a life of immorality … Monica prayed through her son’s sin and she prayed through her son’s heresy. She prayed her son through his fight with God … Those years were not easy for Monica, as any mother of a child lost in darkness knows. Those years hurt. Finally, she went to the bishop, a devout man who knew the Scriptures inside and out, and asked him to talk to Augustine, to refute his errors. The bishop refused – Augustine had quite a reputation as an orator and debater by then. Instead, he wisely comforted Monica by saying that a mind so sharp would eventually see through the deception … Monica would not be consoled by those words. She continued to beg the bishop, and plead with him through rivers of tears. Finally, wearied by her tenacity but at the same time moved by the ache in her soul for her son, the bishop said, “Go, go! Leave me alone. Live on as you are living. It is not possible that the son of such tears should be lost.” Harshness was interwoven with kindness and compassion.

The son of such tears continued to run from his mother and from his God. He ran for many more years. Then, one day, Augustine listened to Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan and the most eminent churchman of the day. Exhausted by the years of running, convicted and broken, he turned to embrace Jesus … Not too long after her prodigal Augustine came home for good, she told him that she had nothing to live for. Her lifelong quest had been to see him come back to Jesus. Nine days later, she was dead.”

excerpt from Stories for the Heart, Multnomah Publishers, Sisters: Oregon, 1996, p. 185-187

Rethinking Halloween



Halloween may actually be the most Christian holiday of them all. Maybe my small rural town and its super friendly residents make it even more so.

When we trick or treat, everyone goes from house to house and strangers give them candy. Although in a town like mine, there are less strangers than in many other places. But love of neighbor and stranger is fully exhibited during trick or treat. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, you're treated the same.

And then I just don't get it. Churches hole themselves up, do trunk or treats, and avoid the activities because the holiday had pagan origins. I remember going to such activities as a kid. It seems to go completely contrary to the call on our lives as followers of Jesus.

Reacting against this was the reason I started a hot dog handout project years ago. We set up in the main trick or treating strip and give hot dogs and bottled waters away. This year, we gave away about 350 of each. The idea expressed is that we want to be the church in the midst of our community.

If the holiday was originally evil, then get out there and redeem it. We serve a savior who is in the business of taking things that were evil and making things better. True, we don't participate in evil in this process, but we also don't isolate ourselves. That's not how redemption happens. But there is nothing evil in giving away a hot dog, passing out candy, or going to a house and allowing them to bless you. Find out how God can use you to be a blessing in the midst of the community and do that.

Unchained - Breaking Free From Calvinism (or Fatalism) Into The Knowledge That God Changes His Mind









FEELING STUCK

When I was 30, I went through an early mid-life crisis. I liked my job. I liked my co-workers. I liked my boss. But I kept feeling that God wanted to do something else with me. Along with that feeling, I also felt like I was locked into a job and could not change. I had to be willing to change and overcome that sense of fatalism that held me back.

We are called to change, but there is an idea that keeps us chained down – preventing us from changing.

This idea is fatalism, and expresses itself in Christianity as a form of Calvinism. Fatalism is the idea "that all events are predetermined by fate and are therefore unalterable." Christians would morph it to say that all events are predestined by God and are therefore unalterable. Despite this view having some adamant believers within Christianity, this just isn’t the view of God we are shown in the Bible.

At a previous job, I had friends who were really into astrology. In astrology, your fate is locked in by the placement of the stars and your location on earth when you were born. My friends were enslaved by their astrological readings that they received from their astrologer. I don’t know what introducing a 13th star sign will do to those that base their lives on this line of thinking, but we can be assured that no fate can lock us into a future. We must be willing to toss those chains that try to ensnare us aside and go after who we know God wants us to be no matter what the cost.

This fatalism can cause us to not evaluate whether we can do things better, but the honest truth is that we can always change and do things better than we currently are. There is always room for improvement. We never reach the place of perfection in this life. The relationships we are part of, the organizations we serve in, and the communities we live in can always be improved. Change is always an option to make things better, and it is the only option that can make things better than they currently are.

Do you ever struggle with the idea that you are locked into a situation? Don't. You can change. God prompts and waits for people to change to bring about the change He desires.

Our church found ourselves in that place when they hired me as the pastor. We were doing things the same way that we had done them for 48 years. And we were getting ineffective results. I just read a story about Cracker Barrel facing the same thing this morning. They have to change to attract a younger audience or they are going to go out of existence. Back to our church. A lot of good-hearted people were spending time in unfruitful service. We had to change to get different results. Yet change, especially in a church, is never easy. It’s tough to stop a program that someone has invested a lot in. It’s tough to start doing things differently than they have always been done. It’s tough to acknowledge that we may have been wrong on this or that point.

It is easy to find yourself in a similar trap in your personal life where you feel that you are doing all that you can and that your destiny is not yours to control.

Let me be clear. This is not an attack on God’s sovereignty. He does work things to His will. And He does promise that He will work all things for the good of those who love Him. We can be assured that whatever He wants to happen will happen. I actually think that is more of a testament to God’s sovereignty – the fact that He still brings about His will through people He has given free will to. I think it is more of He prompts and waits on people to be faithful to bring about His will. His prophecies are true because He makes them happen, not because he sees a future that has already happened.


GOD CHANGES HIS MIND 

But let's look at the Bible to get a clearer understanding.

The story we are going to look at today picks up with Moses on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments. While on the mountain, the people below, with Aaron's help, built a golden calf and began to worship it.

And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. Exodus 32:7-14 (ESV)

That last sentence is somewhat challenging if you come to the Bible with a fatalistic viewpoint. In response to Moses’ request, God relented from the thing that He said He was going to do. That doesn’t work well with the idea we have made of God who knows everything that will happen. This is God changing his actions based upon the actions of Moses.

Let’s read it in a few other translations:

 So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people. (NASB)

And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people. (KJV)

The word literally means repent. It means turning away from a course of action and doing another. The Bible says that God repented, that he changed His mind.

It wasn't like Moses presented a new idea to God that God had never thought of. We can't present God with a new idea; He has thought of all the ideas. He knew all the options and all the possibilities. It appears that God was waiting for a person to be faithful and willing to lead His people. Moses' courage and boldness showed God that Moses was that person, and God relented from the punishment that He said He would do. God changed His own mind. When Moses changed, God changed, and the people were unchained.

The story goes on:

Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the LORD’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. (Exodus 32:26 ESV)

Like Moses had a choice on that mountain, he is giving the people a choice. People have choices. They always have choices. Moses had a choice. The tribes of Israel had a choice. You and me, we have a choice. The question is how do we respond when it is asked, "Who is on the Lord's side?" Because if you listen carefully, God is still asking that very question to all of us here today.

When in a battle between church tradition and Scripture, Scripture should always win. We can develop all sorts of beliefs about God when we abandon Scripture and start thinking in the ways of the world around us. Fatalism is a consequence of that approach. It dominated the church during the Enlightenment. If you want a rational, reasonable god, then you would create a god who does not change his actions based upon our actions. This god would no longer directly interact with humanity except through providence. The Christian world became less vibrant and less committed to living out the works of God because they created a reasonable god who they imagined preordained their salvation and their lives. For nearly the last four hundred years, reason was king in our society and the church discarded Scripture for their well-thought out yet unscriptural fatalism. We were ensnared by the prevailing thoughts of our time. We must always come down on the side of Scripture when there is a battle between church tradition and Scripture or between society and Scripture.


GOD CHANGES HIS MIND AGAIN

Now, let's look go from the story of Moses, where God changed his mind based upon the actions of Moses to the story of Jonah. Jonah was told by God to go to Nineveh and preach that destruction was coming their way because of their evil ways. Jonah did not want to do it, but through a series of events, he found himself reluctantly prophesying to Nineveh and hoping for their destruction.

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. (Jonah 3:6-4:1 ESV)

This story carries a similar theme to Moses' story in Exodus. God tells the people of Nineveh that He is going to destroy them, but the king of Nineveh calls the nation to repent of their evil ways. God sees their repentance and changes His plans. People change, God changes his actions. Imagine if the Ninevites believed that they were predestined to be punished (because God actually said He was going to punish them) and that they could not change their fate from God's "plans."


GOD DOESN'T CHANGE BUT HE CHANGES HIS MIND AGAIN

Now, if you really know your Bible, you may be thinking to yourself, “But how do these stories line up with the passage where the Bible says that God does not change?” Let’s look at that passage.

The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.”

Saul said that he did it to offer sacrifices to the Lord, but Samuel stated, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king…And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” (Excerpts from 1 Samuel 15:10-35 ESV)

He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind. (1 Samuel 15:29 NIV)

This story takes place in the middle of the context of God removing Saul as king and appointing David. That's a change in case you missed that. Saul, who God anointed as king, was removed as king because of His disobedience. So God says that He does not change in the context of making a change in his actions. Now, we can either assume that God appointed the wrong person on purpose when He appointed Saul. This argument would hold that God wanted to teach the people a lesson in appointing a king over them who would fail to be faithful. Or we can conclude that God had hoped that Saul would be the king He destined Him to be. God had hopes, dreams, and plans for Saul, but Saul stumbled and failed to live in God's glory.

In light of all these passages, I conclude that Saul changed and became less fervent and faithful to God. As a result of these change, God brought about changes in HIs course of action. Saul lost his anointing, not because God wanted that to happen when he had appointed Saul as king, but because Saul changed.

God changed his course of action, but who God is never changes. That’s a distinction we have to make if we are going to allow these stories in the Bible to teach us the things about God that they are trying to teach. God is unchanging even when His course of action changes. His very nature stays the same. His goal for mankind stays the same. His love. His justice. His righteousness. Those are unwavering. This was emphasized in the story of Samuel because the people would begin to think that God is wishy-washy when He removed Saul, the king He appointed, for David. They would wonder, “Did God make a mistake?” But it’s not that God made a mistake. Unlike Moses and the people of Nineveh, Saul changed in the wrong direction. God’s actions will change based upon our faithfulness or lack of faithfulness. But God doesn’t change.


4 IMPROVEMENTS FROM BELIEVING GOD CHANGES HIS MIND

So we have this false yet prevalent idea that God forces His will to happen and that everything that happens is exactly what God wants to happen. This is a very dangerous belief though. It keeps un enslaved. However, there are benefits to throwing off this idea.


• Prayer Matters

Prayer not only changes us, but what we pray for influences the actions of God. Prayer matters. We see that clearly in the story of Moses. It's a meaningful conversation with the creator and controller of the universe, not some empty ritual that we must go through to become more of who He wants us to be.


• You Can Change

You are not stuck into some fatalistic, predestined future. God does have a plan for you, but you have to change (and you can change!) to reach it.


• The Evil Around Us Is Our Fault

If God is in complete control, then all the evil that happens around us is His fault. This would be the world He wanted. Shootings in schools and malls. Kids dying from dirty water. Tyrants killing innocents. But this is not God’s plan. If evil is the consequence of our fallen decisions that have created a fallen world that we live in, then when bad things happen it is our fault, not God's.

There is the story of a young man talking to Jesus. He asks, “So why do you allow things like famine, war, homelessness, crime, starvation, disease, suffering, despair, etc. to exist in our world?” And Jesus replies, “Interesting that you should bring that up as I was about to ask you the exact same question.”

Now, if fatalism was the view that Scripture taught, then God is big enough to live with the responsibility of all the wrongs committed in the world. But fatalism is not the view of Scripture, so there is no reason that we have to go around and defend it. God actually wants us to join in with Him in bringing about His kingdom plan here on earth as it is in heaven.


• Your Actions Matter

Your actions matter. God is waiting for faithful people to bring about His will. There is a great disdain for good works in fatalism, but Paul wrote in Ephesians that we are saved by grace through faith for works. We are saved for works. We need to never get that confused with being saved by works, but, in this context, we are talking about how we can be total disciples and who God wants us to be. We can choose to do more for the Lord than we are already doing. And when we are in that position of being right with the Lord, we will want to do His works.

What do you think of when you hear the name "Nobel?" More than likely, you think of the Nobel Peace Prize.

We probably wouldn't even know the name Nobel if Alfred Nobel did not read his own obituary while he still had time to change his life. He was a real life Tony Stark, who saw what He was doing and decided to change course.


THE STORY OF ALFRED NOBEL

If you're like me, some days, we ponder what people will think of us after we will die. What will they remember? What will they say? Who will they think we were? This question was answered for Alfred Nobel.

When Alfred's brother died, the newspaper mistakenly thought Alfred had died and ran the obituary they had prepared ahead of time to be used at his passing. Nobel had a unique experience of opening up the morning paper and reading what people actually thought of him. He was not happy with the impression.

What will people say about you at your funeral? Will it be about the eternal things of God or the passing, yet alluring, things of this world?

Nobel's obituary showed that he would be remembered for inventing dynamite and being a weapons dealer. And that is not how he wanted to be remembered. So he set up a trust to promote world peace. Every year, we have the cause of peace promoted around the world through the Nobel Peace Prize because Alfred Nobel changed his actions after seeing what he would be remembered for when he would die.

Most of us will not be fortunate enough to read our obituary and have time to change our lives. We won’t have Jonah coming as a prophet of God to our town telling us that God’s judgement is coming. Death can come in the blinking of an eye. But we don't need that wake-up call. We just need to respond in faithfulness to God and do whatever He wants us to do. Now. It is never too late to be Jesus'. We are never too broken to be mended. We are never too fallen to be healed. He calls us to love God and love our neighbor. He is in the restoration business. He wants to mend the broken relationships in our lives, but it starts with mending the broken relationship we have with Him. He wants us to forgive those who have wronged us, but it starts with accepting the forgiveness he freely gives to us. He wants us to love others, and it comes through his love overflowing in us. God doesn’t need perfect people; He just want faithful and willing people.


YOU CAN CHANGE

That broken relationship that you are in, you can love the other person. You can change. It may not change them, but it will change you and put you in the place where God wants you to be.

That co-worker who needs to know Jesus, you can impact their life if you focus on investing in them. You can change. They may or may not come to Jesus – that’s their choice, but you can make sure that they see Jesus in you.

The community that we live in where we are praying and trying to be a group of people to bring about God's will. It's not living in the plan God wants because God lacks power. God has all the power and can make His will happen, but He has chosen to work through us. Our community is not where God wants it to be because His people lack faithfulness. May we be the people who are willing to change to bring about the will of the Lord.

Despite pop culture sentiments, the truth is that God doesn't love you the way you are; He loves you despite the way you are. That's grace. But God loves us too much to not guide us away from the fallen way we are. God is all about change. And we can change, through the strength He provides. We can be more faithful and grow in Him so that we can become more of who He wants us to be.

You can change. Your church can change. Your family can change. Your town can change. Your nation can change. This world, it too can change. But it starts with you changing. Everything is actually always changing. The question is whether we are working with God to change it for the better.

God has called us to change and become something better. If we change, God's course of action will change and we will be in His blessings. But there is an idea - fatalism - that prevents us from really changing. Let us throw off the concepts of this world and live in the power of God. Let's change!