Bible Study on God's Call, Choice, and Man

God calls all people, so our response starts with His call. Each one of us has been destined to be conformed to the image of his Son, but many of us fight against our destiny. God's destiny is never forced on us.
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.  John 12:32 (ESV)
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:2 (ESV)
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. Romans 8:29-30 (ESV)
We should never be prideful in our response to God or be haughty toward those who do not yet believe because our belief started with God.
We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19 (ESV)
For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Phil 2:13 (ESV)
But we must respond to that love. God chose us, but we also must choose Him. Are we willing to do what He has called us to do?
And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:21 (ESV)
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23 (ESV)
We now play a part in the redemption of the world. Our part is meaningless without the sacrifice of Jesus, but His sacrifice gains meaning to those around us by our faithfulness to his call on our lives:
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20 (ESV)
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matt 5:16 (ESV)
Finally, each one of us is perfect at birth yet born into a fallen world where we eventually choose to sin, which separates us from God. We are all in the Lamb's book of life. Some are, unfortunately, blotted out. Names written before the foundation of the world are blotted out. Tragic. We must become and remain faithful.
The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. Rev 3:5 (ESV)
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. Heb 6:4-6 (ESV)

On the Debt Crisis

A Facebook comment on a friend's conversation over the debt crisis said, " How sad that those voted to make the right and righteous decisions don't have the backbone of an amoeba." The right and righteous decision in the context was to cut spending or shut down the government.

Not defaulting seems pretty righteous to me. 

I still haven't heard who will make the decisions on what gets paid and what doesn't get paid when the expenditures are more than the money on hand. It sounds like those decisions would be Obama's as the executor of the legislatures decisions. In that situation, Obama will get to decide what is and isn't cut. It will really centralize power in the presidency if Congress does not work this out, and I don't want more power centralized on the President. 

The government won't shut down. They just won't have enough money coming in to pay all the commitments. It does appear that Obama will be the one to decide what commitments get paid. He probably won't default on our debt, so he will cut spending. I would much rather have the decisions on what spending cuts are to be implemented be made by the legislature in a calm, collective, and well-thought out process rather than on the spur of the moment by one person and his appointed people because we are in a self-inflicted crisis.

Congress should pass a balanced budget amendment and send it to the states for ratification. Then they should make it the responsibility of the legislature that if they add a spending increase, they have to figure out how it will be paid for. They can't just make "good for them politically" policies, whether it be war or health care programs, without making the tough decisions on how to afford those policies. Then they should balance the budget. Do that and we won't have this crisis.

Let's put our "crisis" into perspective.

Jeremiah wrote, "Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.  For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever" [Jer 7:4-7 (ESV)].

True biblical righteousness is to live justly with one another, to not oppress the immigrant, the orphans, or the widow, to not shed innocent blood, and to not go after other gods. Those are the big picture thoughts repeated throughout Scripture. To live that way is to truly live righteously.

In the end, if I want to live in a righteous nation, these things need to be taken care of. I would love to see it taken care of by the people without the government. But we, the people, need to step up. When was the last time that you did something to increase justice in your sphere of relationships? When was the last time you helped an immigrant, an orphan, or a widow? When was the last time you celebrated the shedding of innocent blood? When was the last time you chased after gods other than God? 

On the issue at hand, let me ask, "Do you have debt?" Yet you expect the government to have none?

We, the people, get the government we deserve. If we change ourselves, then the government will change.

An Article Worth Reading

In stark contrast to such hopelessness and fear, the Christians showed how their faith made this life, and even death, meaningful. Cyprian, for example, almost welcomed the great epidemic of his time, knowing that it was an opportunity for the church to give witness to the hope that was within them. He was so overwhelmed by a sense of confidence that the members of the Alexandrian church were accused of thinking of the plague as a time of festival.
Instead of fear and despondency, then, the earliest Christians expended themselves in works of mercy that simply dumbfounded the pagans. For them, God loved humanity; in order to love God back, one was to love others. God did not demand ritual sacrifices; he wanted his love expressed on earth in deeds of compassion.

Our time is not unlike the twilight years of the Roman empire. The god of materialism provides no hope, the structures and institutions of society that are meant to address social needs are indifferent and cold, and the current adversarial atmosphere of mistrust, suspicion, and violence breed fear and loneliness.

More Than A Drop

One drop of water does not reflect the sun all that much, but many drops together in a body of water like a lake or the ocean can cause the sun to reflect magnificently.

In order for the ocean to reflect the sun a lot has to happen. Each individual drop must work with each other drop and do its part. Some drops find themselves down in the depths, holding up all the water above it. There is great significance to doing the work that nobody sees them doing. Others are right there on the surface, with the light reflecting off of them. In the end, the beauty of the ocean isn’t the ocean in itself, it’s the ocean combined with the light reflecting off of it. It’s the culmination of perfect sunlight with many individual drops working together to bring about beauty.

Jesus taught, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” [Matt 5:14-16 (ESV)].

Reflecting the glory of God is the ultimate purpose of church, and Jesus said that people will give glory to our Father in heaven when they see our good works.

I recently heard Dave Ramsey tell a story that he said Zig Ziglar used to share.

Belgian plow horses are really strong. You can hook one up and it can pull 8,000 pounds. That’s around the weight that a Ford F-150 can pull.

The interesting thing is that if you put two Belgian plow horses together, they can then pull 24,000 pounds. Compare that to a Ford F-350 Superduty. It can only pull 19,500 pounds. Two Belgian plow horses can do more together, even when not trained to work together, than just doubling their individual strength. They feed off one another. They encourage one another.

But if you take two Belgian plow horses and train them to work together, they can pull 32,000 pounds.  You need to get into tractors, semis, and other heavy machinery to pull that much. The International CXT has the largest towing capacity of any truck at 40,000 pounds.

We, like the Belgian plow horses, can do much more together, especially trained together, than we can do apart. You, like me, are just one tiny drop, and we need more drops to come alongside us if we are going to make significant steps in bringing about God’s will.

Mother Teresa is attributed as saying, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”

The idea that we each have different talents, abilities, and passions and that by using them together we can do greater things than we can do apart is the very foundation of society. We, Americans, have always struggled against working together because a frontier nature has been ingrained in us from our birth. We exalt the idea of the rugged, independent, individual. This individualism, when consistently expressed and lived out, prevents us from doing the great things that we can only do together.

Individually, we might be special and unique, but we are just a drop in the bucket. Together, we can provide life to the thirsty and reflect the glory of the Son.

There is a Good

Lately, I have been inundated with one of our society's newest fad beliefs, “Good does not exist.” This belief is not all that new in the history of mankind, but it seems to be gaining ground in our culture. Video games are being filled with decisions where all the options available to a player are either a bad choice or a very bad choice. There is no good option. This message is not confined to the video game culture, although being there is enough to influence a whole generation of minds in our nation.

This concept manifests itself in politics where we usually vote for the lesser of two evils. We settle on the church we attend because it is most in line with what we want to be part of despite its faults. One of my friends has expressed that people only do loving things for selfish reasons. We never seem to have a choice between that which is good and that which is evil.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and a frequent guest on NPR, was asked about war being a moral endeavor. He answered, "The world rarely offers us a choice between the moral and the immoral. It's usually a choice between the immoral and the more immoral. That's why moral decision making is so tough."

I wrestle with this concept. Do I always have to choose the lesser of two evils? Is there ever a choice for good? Our society screams that life is not a choice between good and evil. We must choose the lesser of two evils every day. Look at the world around us. It makes sense to say that there really is no good. Life does not appear black and white. But what if my intellectual struggle is just the result of having allowed myself to be absorbed into our culture rather than to stand as a witness for something greater in it?

This belief that there is no good and we must always choose between the lesser degrees of evil is going to be a prevailing thought that we are going to continue to wrestle with if we are going to be and help others become disciples of Christ. We must know in the core of our being and live in such a way that we testify that there is good.
Jesus taught, "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

The Apostle Matthew shared a story about a conversation Jesus had. “Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

"Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.' " "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” [
Matthew 19:16-26 9 (ESV)].

We must find the good path and walk in it, yet the only good we can do is reflect God's goodness through the lives we live. There is good, but it’s almost never easy to choose. The challenge to us is to be faithful enough that we are willing to sacrifice our own desires and live in the good rather than comfortably choose the lesser of two evils.

The Day of Small Things

We are in the middle of moving -- an experience most of have had and a process that none of us look forward to. 

When we move, we recognize just how much stuff we have. A successful move is just doing a bunch of small actions well. Get boxes. Pack boxes. Label boxes. Get a moving truck. Recruit friends. The list goes on and on. We cannot just say that we are moving, invite friends over, and be done with it (although some have tried this method much to their friends' chagrin).

Moving is days and days of small things. The boxes are packed one item at a time. Then they are unloaded one item at a time. It is amazing that all of the stuff that we own will be arranged in a different house in a few months time. It seems unimaginable with all of this stuff around me. Despite not seeing it yet, I know it can happen because I have seen it happen time and time again with friends when they move. It has happened in the past when we have moved.

When we do little things right, big things do happen.

Sometimes we do not do the little things because we do not like the little things we have to do. By not doing the little things, we will never be able to do the big things that would be the culmination of all those little things. Great things will come if we are faithful in doing the little things.

Jesus taught, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much” (Luke 16:10 ESV).  He later shared the idea that if we are faithful in the little things, then God will give us bigger things to do (Luke 19:11-27). Jesus wants us to know that our faithfulness is what matters, whether it is in great things or in the most minor things.

By doing the little things today, we will find ourselves where God wants us to be tomorrow. Often we would like to make a sweat free, giant leap, but most accomplishments in life do not come without a lot of hard work beforehand. One does not become a pro athlete without all of the sweat and hard work. Nor does one become a great musician without putting in hours upon hours of unrecognized practice. People who make things look easy can do that because they have put in a lot of hard work on small improvements behind the scenes.

In Zechariah, the prophet writes about people who despise the “day of small things.” We might find ourselves doing the same thing at times. Instead of doing the small things that would make our life better, we lose the battle of small things. Life is rarely wasted by a lack of desire for big things. Who doesn’t want a lot of money, a fulfilling career, an amazing family, an awesome community, or great friends? Unfortunately, those things are often not achieved because the effort is not put into the small things that are necessary to bring them about. We waste our time on the television or the internet when we could be doing small things that would improve our life. Those are just two obvious areas, but we can waste time on a myriad of activities. We all have good excuses to not do the things we should be doing or to do the things we should not be doing, but in ignoring the small things that we could do to improve ourselves, we miss out on being who we could be.

It’s never too late to get on track. Maybe God wants to do a small thing in you. It might be a reminder in the back of your head that you keep putting off. It could be a change that you know you need to make but you just keep avoiding. Whatever it is, God has more in store for you, but it has to start with that small change. If you don’t do the small thing, then the big thing that is in store for you down the road will never come your way.

We all know the familiar words of Neil Armstrong, when he became the first man to walk on the moon: “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.” Someday, if we keep faithful in the small things, we will notice that we have made a giant leap. In doing the small things, we can rest assured that we will find ourselves right where we are supposed to be.

May we all find the strength and patience to do the small things.