Bad Thoughts - Theology That Leads Us Astray

I hate the phrase, "Well, if it is God's will, it will happen." A phrase like that would mean that the growth of Islam was God's will. Mormonism, God's will. Constant war, God's will. The shootings in Connecticut, God's will. The list could go on and on. How asinine. Saying that what has happened and what is happening is God's will ignores the Bible, ignores our reality, and is really a device that will cause us to ignore God.

Two weeks ago, Tim Tebow, who was signed by the New York Jets in the offseason, was leapfrogged for the starting quarterback job. He had been waiting behind Mark Sanchez all year to get a start. The coach decided to not start Sanchez, but he also decided to start the third-stringer instead of Tebow. So Tebow is still the backup. Unfortunately for him, he became the backup to the guy who was his backup.

Tebow said, "I don't have regrets. I believe everything happens for a reason, and it's a learning opportunity for me and there's a lot I've learned, good and bad."

"Everything happens for a reason." That sounds all good and spiritual. It's nice that he has a good attitude, but the bad theology drives me nuts. True, everything happens for a reason, but when that is uttered in spiritual circles it usually implies that everything happens as a result of God. He's the "reason" they are implying. Lots of things happen due to reasons that are terrible. A kid gets killed in a drunk driving accident, not because God wanted that, but because we live in a fallen world and a person decided to be stupid, drink too much, and decide to drive. Kids get shot in a school, not because God wanted that, but, again, because we live in a fallen world and something went terribly wrong in a young man's head. God is not a puppet master, and we are not His puppets. God will use everything for His glory, but that does not mean that everything happens as a result of a God reason. Every day, things happen that are not what God wants to happen. Outside of His will. Outside of His plan.

I want to propose another phrase today. It's not as catchy as "everything happens for a reason" or "if it's God's will, it will happen," but it contains more truth than those two statements. "If God wills it, then we need to join in and make it happen. Or it won't." He is the solution. He has a plan for humanity and each one of our lives. But we, the church and His people, are the delivery method of that solution and are given the privilege to bring his plan into our reality.

We are free will beings. Just like the coach of the Jets could have chosen to start Tebow. Just like a drunk driver could have chosen to call a taxi. Just like the shooter could have chosen to not be a monster. They weren't being micromanaged by God. He's not in the micromanagement business. Well, at least not all of the time. He's in the prompting business.

We need to be careful to never let those words - that "everything happens for a reason" or " if it's God's will, it will happen" - ever exit our mouths or control the way we live. Try not to even think them. Those thoughts disempower. They belittle our importance as free will beings. They cripple our prayer lives. They stifle evangelism.

God doesn't need us to be puppets for Him to be great. He's already great. He's amazing in the way that He is patient and waits for faithful followers to bring about His will. And we don't need to be forced to be faithful. We need grace to be right with God; our own works cannot do that. But that grace is available to everyone. Each one of us needs to acknowledge that God knows the solution, the best plan for our lives, and He is waiting for us to be faithful. We have the choice to respond to His plan for our lives by surrendering to His will, loving Him, and loving others. God will use everything to bring about His will. But He is patient. If God wills it, then we need to join in and make it happen. Or it won't.

God knows our passions and our desires. He didn't create us to be a puppets, but to listen to Him and be a doer of His will. I once talked with a friend who is a talented artist and involved in church. I asked him, "So have you ever used your art skills for your church?" And he had never thought about it. That broke my heart. Somewhere we strayed off course and designed a church that didn't have room for each individual's creativity, passions, and dreams. Molded into bringing glory to God, of course. Every gift, every blessing, every talent is an opportunity to be used by God. Don't let the thought that you are a puppet prevent you from dreaming and doing what is on your heart from God. You aren't a puppet. You are a loved creation that has been blessed with passions and abilities.

If God wills it, then we need to join in and make it happen. Or it won't. And I don't want to live in a family, a community, a church, or a world where His will isn't happening. It starts with us. In the morning, when we rise, do we decide that we are going to live this day to bring about God's plan or are we going to spend investing in a plan that will eventually turn to dust, our plan. The choice is ours.

A Few Days Now

It's been a few days now.

Have we gone back to our same routine?

It's so easy to go back to our same routine. Some go to church on Christmas and Easter, think they are going to take their journey together with other Christians seriously, but the fact that everyone else is imperfect gets in the way. Some make New Years' Resolutions only to lack the discipline to keep it going more than a few weeks. We get baptized only to continue wallowing in the mud of our sin. We take the Lord's supper only to turn around and starve for holiness.

How can we live with the love we are intended to have, the discipline that is needed, in the freedom we are called to, and on the right path?

It seems hopeless.

And it is.

At least in our strength. God knew that it was hopeless, and that is why He gave us hope. He came in the form of a little baby boy. Vulnerable and relying on others. He grew up in the love of God, His mother, family, and faith community. Nourished and strong. He traveled and taught. Wise and ridiculed. He then hung, bled, and died for all of us. Loving and disgraced. He rose again and continued to teach His followers. Inspiring and challenging. And then He gave His Spirit and established His Church. You and me.

It culminates in the two things that we still have today: His Spirit and His Church. And it breaks through into our world, not through the waving of a magic wand, but through you and me being His followers, together, day after day, moment after moment, in tragedy, in joyous celebrations, and in every moment between.

Paul wrote to Timothy, "Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." 2 Timothy 1:6-7 (ESV).

Power, love, and self-control. Those are the attributes needed to respond to our challenges. Not fear. Never fear. His Spirit gives us the power to accomplish what we are called to, the guidance to love in relevant ways, and the self-control to be free from distractions.

Tragedies like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary remind us that things are still not right. God needs a generation of people who will step up, live for others, and build a better world than the one they were born in. And He did not send us on this mission without the tools to make it happen. 

Are we ready to heed the call? If there is anything that the last week has shown me, it's that this world needs more and more people to truly follow Jesus and strive to bring His kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. Our goal is not just some far off heavenly place; it's heaven here on earth, among us. And it can be realized through His Spirit and His Church.

I can't help but imagine Martin Luther King, Jr. staying awake on one of his many frustrating nights. He had a dream. And many nights that dream looked like it wasn't going to come about. I'm sure that he laid there and wondered whether the dream was just a fairytale that would never cross over into reality. But in his faithfulness to God, the dream laid on His heart by God became a reality. Not because of his perfection, for he was far from perfect. But because of His perfection working through him.

It's been a few days now. Have we given up?

Or have our eyes been open to a better reality? One that appears to be a dream covered over by the fog in the cold, damp morning. Remember that the Son removes the fog. The day will come. A new and better reality that can be lived among us through the strength, love, and self-control that His Spirit provides.

Let us work together for a better today.

God Knows Your Pain

Words of wisdom from a young boy. God understands your pain. Just run to Him.

Roger Simms had just left the military and was hitchhiking home when a shiny, black, luxury car pulled over and the passenger door opened. Sliding into the leather-covered front seat, he was greeted by a friendly distinguished older gentleman.

"Hello, son. Are you on leave?"

"Discharged," answered Roger, "and I'm going home."

"You're in luck if you're going to Chicago," smiled the man.

"My home is on the way," said Roger. "Do you live there, Mister?"

"Yes, I have a business there." And with that, they were on their way. After talking about everything under the sun, Roger felt a strong compulsion to witness to Mr. Hanover about Christ. But witnessing to a wealthy businessman who obviously had everything was a scary prospect. Witnessing to anyone, as you know, can be tough to work up the courage to do. Roger put it off, but as he neared his destination, he knew it was now or never. 

"Mr. Hanover," he began, "I'd like to talk to you about something very important." Then he explained the way of salvation and asked Mr. Hanover if he would like to receive Christ as his Savior. To Roger's astonishment, the big car pulled to the side of the road and the gentleman began to cry, affirming that he did in fact want to accept Christ. He thanked Roger for talking to him, then dropped him at his house and travelled on to Chicago.

Five years went by, and Roger Simms married and started a business of his own. One day, while on a business trip to Chicago, he sought out the offices of Hanover Enterprises. It would be impossible to see Mr. Hanover, the receptionist informed him, but he might speak with Mrs. Hanover. Roger was led into a poshly-decorated office where a woman sat at a huge oak desk.

She extended her hand. "You knew my husband?"

Roger explained how Mr. Hanover had been kind enough to give him a ride home.

A look of interest crossed her face. "Can you tell me what date that was?"

"It was May 7th five years ago," said Roger, "the day I was discharged from the army."

"And did anything unusual happen on your ride?"

Roger hesitated. Had his witness been a source of contention which resulted in a marital breakup? But he must be truthful. "Your husband accepted the Lord that day. I explained the gospel to him, and we pulled to the side of the road and prayed together."

The woman began to sob. Finally she composed herself and explained: "I prayed for my husband for years, and I believed God would save him. But just after he let you out of his car, he passed away in a horrible head-on collision. I thought God had let me down, and I stopped living for the Lord five years ago because I blamed Him for not keeping His word."

I could not verify whether that story is true - it could just be a modern parable, but it illustrates the point that all too often, in our despair we give up on God. Yet we should not give up when we need Him most. I see it all too often. People give up on God just at that point when God is needed most. They will quit coming to church when the church would provide the help, encouragement, and healing needed to transition through the situation. We, humans, have an unhealthy tendency to cut off those who challenge the way we live. And yet when we despair and stray, we need to be challenged to live differently.

We cannot abandon the truth that God knows our pain. He knows our struggles. And through it all, we need to remind ourselves that God still loves us. Our suffering does not mean that God loves us any less. 

God knows your pain. Don't give up on Him. Don't despair. Run to Him. Find peace in Him. 

You will find the comfort He provides when you keep focused on Him. It cannot be found anywhere else. It can't be found at the bottom of a bottle. It can't be found in another movie. It can't be found on Facebook. God can get to you during all of those activities because He will pursue you where you are and wants you to know that He still loves you. But the solution to our despair can't be found anywhere except in Him and in His people.
As the little boy said, " God understands your pain. Just run to Him."

And that is just what the Israelites did in the book of Exodus.

I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” Exodus 3:9-10 (ESV).
God heard their cries. The Israelites were crying out to the Lord because of the oppression of their taskmasters. Instead of fleeing from God for allowing them to be tormented, they cried out to God in their anguish. They believed in an all-powerful God who could save them despite their situation saying otherwise. And we see that God heard their cries and delivered them out of Egypt.

The principle that God hears our cries, that he knows our pain, is something taught throughout Scripture. We do not serve a distant God, who doesn't understand what we are going through. We serve a close God, who dwells in our hearts. Even when we are suffering, we can rest assured that God knows our pain.
And He doesn't just know our pain, he knows what it's like to go through it.
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” John 11:33-37 (ESV).
I'm not one to say that Jesus causes our illnesses and pain. But He is one who sympathizes with us. 
He knew the great miracle that He was about to do in bringing Lazarus back from the dead, but He still wept when he saw the sorrow of those He loved. He's not a cold, distant, and heartless God; He's caring and close.
It's one of those mysteries. How does God sympathize with us in our pain if He is the one who could miraculously stop our pain?

The only answer that I can go to for comfort is the idea that God knows more than me. He knows that what I am going through, if it is allowed to persist, will shape me more into who He wants me to be. This physical body is passing, and the spiritual will remain. From His perspective, being spiritually who He wants us to be, who He designed us to be, is the most important thing. And from my perspective, it sometimes isn't. It is so difficult for me to overcome my physical impulses at times. That stubbed toe seems more significant than my spiritual self at that moment. That unending pain. That sexual desire. The materialism and pleasure. I want it all. The physical things of this world all seem more important than my spiritual self-development when I am not right with God. But that is because I fail to totally surrender everything to Jesus. 

But I can find peace in this. When things happen around me to cause me to despair, God knows what I'm going through. And He can stop it. But for some reason He often doesn't. When a deranged shooter marches into a kindergarten classroom and God doesn't stop it, I become confused. And I will just have to trust in his reasoning rather than mine, knowing that His ways are greater than my ways, that His plan is better than my plan, and that His knowledge of the situation is better than our knowledge of the situation.  If I keep focused on Him, I will find the comfort He provides, and I will find myself where He wants me to be, doing what He wants me to do, while being who He wants me to be.

Just the other day, I walked downstairs into the living room. Elsi scurried over to me to have me pick her up. I did. But I couldn't hold her long because I was working and had to get back to work. So I sat her back down, and she bawled. She felt rejected by me. She felt abandoned by me. And the truth of the matter is that she was. Not in a mean sense - I had my reasons -, but I had to leave her to do other work.

But God is different than me. He is there with us - in our pain, joy, triumphs, sadness. In our greatest moments and our darkest valleys - He never leaves us. He isn't like me - where he can only be at one place at one time doing only one thing. He's everywhere. He's there in your room, trying to give you comfort while you're weeping on the bed, at the same time he's with the parents in the emergency room whose child is dying, while at the same time he is with that teenager choosing to experiment with drugs for the first time because he's trying to find meaning. And he is even in a classroom where great man-made tragedy strikes.

Even if the tragedy is a result of making stupid decisions, like Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent, who was scheduled to start last Sunday, yet Saturday morning he found himself wrapping up a night of partying and drinking on the town. He made the stupid decision of getting behind the wheel drunk. Followed that decision with another stupid one of speeding. This all led to him crashing and killing his passenger, teammate and friend since college. Josh had this to say from prison, where he is sitting on intoxication manslaughter chargers while his good friend is dead.
“I am devastated and filled with grief. Filled with grief for the loss of my close friend...I am also grief-stricken for his family, friends (who knew) him. I will live with this horrific and tragic loss every day.”
We have all done stupid things and paid consequences for them. Some of us more than others. But even when the tragedy is by our own doing, and we want to beat ourselves up because we think that we are only getting what we deserve, God is there, and He knows your pain. God's presence, unlike mine, is not finite. He is not limited to only being in one place at one time. He doesn't leave you because He needs to get back to "more important things." He stays with you during your deepest trials, even if they're self-inflicted.

God knows your pain. Don't give up on Him. Don't despair. Run to Him. Find comfort in Him.

Once we realize this, we can live out the tough teachings of Scripture.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:14-21 (ESV).
Unfortunately, most of our worst times in life are inflicted on us, not by ourselves, but by others. Sometimes it is just circumstances, but often there is an enemy involved. Someone who is not looking out for our best interests. Someone who actually might be trying to harm us.

Loving that person is contrary to our instincts. Paul teaches us to feed our hungry enemy. Give something to drink to our thirsty enemy. Overcome evil by doing good. Bless those who attack us and say bad things about us. We can only be empowered to do this when we truly believe that God will enact vengeance when it is needed. That everything is in God's hands. That He is even with us during our pain. Nothing goes unnoticed by God.

God knows your pain.
Don't give up on Him. Don't despair. Run to Him. Find comfort in Him.

Solomon Rosenberg, his wife and their 2 sons were arrested, together with Rosenburg's mother and father for the "terrible" crime of being Jews. They were placed in a Nazi concentration camp.

It was a labour camp, and the rules were simple.

"As long as you can do your work, you are permitted to live. When you become too weak to do your work, then you will be exterminated."

Rosenberg watched as his mother and father were marched off to their deaths. He knew that the next would be his youngest son, David - because David had always been a frail child.

Every evening, Rosenberg came back into the barracks after each day of hard labour and searched for the faces of his family. When he found them they would huddle together, embrace one another and thank God for another day of life.

One day Rosenberg came back and didn’t see those familiar faces.

He finally discovered his oldest son, Joshua, in a corner, huddled, weeping and praying. He said, "Josh, tell me it’s not true."

Joshua turned and said, "It is true, Dad. Today David was not strong enough to do his work. So they came for him."

"But where is your mother?" asked Mr. Rosenberg.

"Oh Dad," he said, "When they came for David, he was afraid and he cried. So Mum said, 'There is nothing to be afraid of, David,' and she took his hand and went with him."

That illustrates a mother’s love-- a love so strong that it chooses to give up life so her child can be comforted." (Story taken from Sermon Central).

Our hearts yell, "Why? Why did God allow this to happen?" And I don't have an answer.

But then our hearts also hear the echo of true love in this story. That love of the mother for her child. It's beautiful. It's like a shiny coin in the midst of a tarnished pile.

It's an echo of the love of Jesus on that cross.

Rick Stacy shared the following story:

A young preacher heard about a sudden and tragic death of a teenager in a car accident. He rushed to the home of the parents only to find them standing in the front yard next to their car. They had just arrived home from the hospital.

He didn’t know what to say so he said nothing. They hugged and cried together. After an hour he left… never uttering a word.

He felt he had failed until several weeks later he received a card from the couple thanking him for the comfort he gave them that day. They thanked him for not saying anything but for just being there and sharing their grief."

We wish pain and suffering didn't happen, but it does. I wish I could tell you that if you give your life over to Jesus, you would no longer have to experience any pain. But you will. I wish I could protect all of you from nights of despair and times of trouble. But I can't.

But I can tell you this promise. God is always there for you. God knows your pain. Don't give up on Him. Don't despair. Run to Him. Find comfort in Him. He is always there for you. Keep your eyes on Him.

As our friend Mitch McVicker and his mentor Rich Mullins wrote,

I will never doubt His promise
Though I doubt my heart
I doubt my eyes

My Deliverer is coming
My Deliverer is standing by

I want to leave you with this song. The lyrics are a little fuzzy as they were recorded on a cassette player in an old, abandoned country church, only nine days before Rich Mullins died in a car wreck that also nearly took Mitch's life. Just days before his sudden death, Rich recorded a demo tape of the next album he wanted to do. An album that would be all about the life of Jesus. The music was redone, but the vocals in this song are taken from that tape.

Why Are You A Christian?

Why are you a Christian?

I ask that knowing that everyone who reads this article is not a Christian. For those of you who are reading this who do not claim to follow Jesus, I have this to propose. Christians are much better people when they are actually trying to be Christians. So if you could challenge your Christian friends to be better Christians, the world would be a better place. There is nothing worse than a lackadaisical or lukewarm Christian. Unfortunately, many Christians are lackadaisical and lukewarm in living out their faith. We all struggle with falling in that rut at times.

This happens when we forget why we are Christians.

So back to you, my Christian friends. Why are you a Christian?

Some might argue that there is a right answer to that question. We are Christians because Jesus died on the cross for our sins, rose from the grave, ascended into heaven, and established His church to bring about God's will here on earth. All true, but that's not enough. Something opened up that core teaching to you.

What made those truths real to you? Was it someone who showed you love when you felt undeserving? Was it a truth that just clicked? Have you just always grown up in a Christian family and have known no other way? Did you have an amazing roadside experience like the Apostle Paul? Whatever the case, one path doesn't make you better than others. What matters is that you're still heading down that path.

It's easy to cling to some rituals and traditions and think that we are a Christian because we participate in them. I go to church. I take the Lord's Supper. I give my tithe. I do this or I do that. The rituals of baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the like, although important, are not what God is after. He is after the changed life that both practices should instill.

In the Old Testament, the Israelite people used to offer up burnt sacrifices. Burnt sacrifices are crazy to us.  In sacrificing the best of our flock to the Lord, we would also lose all of the opportunities to breed him. That is a costly sacrifice. Why sacrifice something that would be beneficial?

If we don't have an element in our Christian walk where we give things up to God, even when they don't make sense like a burnt sacrifice, then we are not walking with God. If we don't have an element of stepping out of our comfort zone and doing illogical things for God, then we are not walking with Him like we claim to. We're just walking with a God that we have made in our image. A god of efficiency, practicality, and pragmatism. An American god for a powerless American religion.

Do you realize that the word Christian actually means "slave of Christ?" If you knew that you were to be Jesus' slave, would you still choose to be a Christian? The conversion message is typically watered down. Come forward and get baptized. Raise your hand and say a prayer. How about become a slave to Jesus? Would things in your life change if you took seriously the call to be a slave of Jesus?

Many believe that the label Christian, which was first given to followers of Jesus in Antioch, was given out of derision. They mockingly said, "You're slaves of Jesus!" But the Christians responded, "That's great! Yes, we are slaves of Jesus." Ever since, followers of Jesus have been known as slaves of Jesus. Except we've forgotten that slavery to Jesus is what being a Christian really means. We've lost the meaning of the word. We confuse following Jesus with being a good member of the PTA, helping out in the community, or doing some other good act of service. We mistakenly think Christianity is some moral code or a framework to make us good citizens rather than enslavement to Jesus.

We like to ask the question, "What do I need to give up to follow Jesus?" Instead, with the burnt offering concept in mind, we should ask, "What would it take for me to completely follow Him? What would it look like for me to be His slave?"

What would it look like if I changed my retirement plans into what Jesus would have them be? If instead of living for myself, my family, and the dreams I always had, I invested myself into a radical, crazy, commitment to follow God? What would it mean to my business if I decided to use it to completely follow God? What would it mean to my job, my family, my whole life, if I decided that we were going to be who God wants us to be in every circumstance?

The outward form of obedience to God is merely a sacrifice. The inner form is whole devotion from which outward sacrifice comes naturally. We can have sacrifice without whole devotion, but in doing that, we have ritual with Jesus.

Bob Dylan once wrote a song that said, "You’re gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody."

I think we forget that we have to serve somebody long after the routine of being a Christian sets in. Time begins to fog up the reason we went down this path to begin with. We forget the difference we chose to live for. We become complacent, beaten up, and disillusioned. We forget the dreams that God laid on our hearts. The hopes of restoration and blessings. In the midst of keeping the rituals, we miss out on God's plan in our life.

God has called each of us to something greater than just being routine Christians. He's called us to be His slaves. Slaves who will join in our bringing his kingdom on to this earth as it is in heaven.

When was the last time you did something for God that didn't make sense? When did you last follow Him?