Why, why, why…

In yesterday’s sermon at 9:30, I had reached the crescendo after talking about a Spiritual War taking place, which was basically this: God has chosen you, will you choose Him?  He chose you when Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and you choose Him when you believe that and accept that free, yet costly gift. (You can listen to the sermon here.)

whygodMost of us have heard that so many times that it doesn’t even spark the “why” questions anymore.  Why did God make people and then seem surprised when Adam and Eve chose to eat from the forbidden tree?  Especially when we believe that He knew what they were going to do, even though it was their choice.  Then again, if He already knew what they would do, He already knew what He would do in response.  AW Tozer wrote in the Knowledge of the Holy, “The question of why God created the universe still bothers thinking men…”  Why did He even create everything and everyone?

And then, if you can get past all that, why does He not do something about this crazy, evil world?  Or why does He allow such suffering?  CS Lewis, after his wife died, wrote in A Grief Observed about her death,

“Step by step we were led up the garden path. Time after time, when He seemed most gracious, He was preparing the next torture…”

“Not that I am …in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not, “So there’s no God after all,” but “So this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer.”

I often talk like it is so hard to be a Believer because it is too easy – just have faith and believe and you are saved.  The truth is, it is hard to be a Believer because of all the pain and horror in the world and in our own lives.  It’s almost easier to believe everything exists by chance and people are simply doing a poor job of managing it all than it is to have faith in a God you cannot see controlling of a world that seems to be living like hell.

And I sure hope you’ve hung in there to the end of today’s blog.  As depressing as all that could be, there is good news.  The good news is that when you shout your why questions to heaven and to God, that in itself is faith.  Non-believers never ask God why.

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To have a friend, be a friend

I talked to one of the people at the fire department one time about how they handle what they see when they run ambulance calls.  The person said sometimes they feel guilty because they have to deal with it by disengaging from the personal part of it and looking at it as their job (my words, not theirs), even though they are volunteers.  They see a lot and they are not designed to carry all of that.  They have to release it.  They are just people.

I can relate.  There are always people in the church who are going through trials and difficulties.  Any pastor who serves a congregation of 50 people or more continuously has people in the church (including the congregations’ families who do not go to church) who are walking through a valley or a crisis.  And it’s imperative that others in the church walk alongside those people.  Most pastors do not have the emotional strength to remain in the valleys.  There is not a pastor who has not come home from a long day thinking they do not have one more ounce of empathy or emotional energy only to be called out for one more emergency.

And the key to me writing this today is that I am not in that place at this moment.  After performing a wedding ceremony today I am going to my in-laws to wish my father-in-law happy birthday.  And tomorrow I might take a nap.  Which means I am writing this exclusively for you today.  Most of the people who read my blog do not go to our church, so I hope you do not see this as a self-serving post.  It is a post reminding people that to have a friend, one must be a friend.  If you are walking through a valley at the moment, I pray that God has provided someone to walk with you.  And if you feel like there is nobody there, remember that God is there.  But for most of you, you are like me, at an OK place in your life – things are not perfect, but also not in crisis mode.  This is the time for you to reach out to someone who is struggling, with a card (yes, a real hand written card), a call, or even a facebook message.  You might just be the answer to their prayers.

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Peace, not as the world gives

what-me-worrySomeone said to me once that they were sure hoping that someone who died was a Christian.  And they meant that they hoped the person had trusted in Jesus for salvation.  I said, “Well, at this point you may as well assume they were and they did.  What is done is done.”  There are enough things to worry about without worrying about things you cannot change from yesterday.

Sometimes I think I am weird because I rarely worry about anything any more.  That’s not to say my heart does not ache.  I know a married couple, friends of mine and Diane’s, one of whom is dying right now.  My heart aches for them.  This past Saturday I was part of a funeral for someone who died much too young and my heart aches for the family.  A grandmother in our church just lost a granddaughter to drugs.  My heart aches for her.  And to share something very personal:  We have a son who has applied to grad school and is in need of further schooling or a job where he can use his geology degree from Brown University (in case you know anyone who could help).  Sometimes my heart aches for him in this season of his life that must seem like a wilderness.  (And Diane is probably crying after reading that, because I am certain her heart aches for him, too.)  And I could easily go on about other things.  As a pastor, people often confide in me so many things I could worry about.  While I occasionally cry over things, I find I rarely worry about anything.  And I know that must sound crazy.

But it is my firm belief that there is a God who created the universe and created me.  I also believe He loves me, and I know I love Him.  And I believe anything that comes my way, He has allowed.  I trust Him, because He knows things I do not.

I’m like a kid watching a parade through a knot-hole in the fence, and He is like a drone seeing everything, including where they line up to begin the parade, the entire parade route, and the band dispersing and the floats being taken apart at the end of the parade.

I see worry in myself as a lack of trust in Him.  And even as my heart aches over things at times, I do not let that ache debilitate me and steal my peace.  And this is how I understand what Jesus meant when He said:

“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.  So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27, NLT)

I pray that you would find peace.

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Why we go to church

Something about attending church occurred to me this morning through one of my readings.  Some people go to church to be filled and some go to be fueled.  Let me explain in a parable.

When I go to Cici’s Pizza, my intention walking in the door is to be filled.  If I was going for the purpose of being fueled, I would stop after the salad and breadsticks and maybe a little side bowl of pasta.  That would be plenty to “fuel” me.  But I do not go to Cici’s to be fueled.  For my body to be properly fueled does not require four pieces of the fat crust pizza with the cheese baked into the edge of the crust, two pieces of classic crust pepperoni, two pieces of pizza with mac and cheese on top, a plate of the cheese bread sticks with alfredo sauce, and 6 cinnamon rolls, making sure to pick those with the most cinnamon sugar and icing.  (Don’t judge me and don’t act all innocent).  The truth of the matter is that eating all that works against my body.  Instead of fueling my body, it fills my body to the point of lethargy.  If you want to be filled, there are plenty of choices out there.  If you want to be fueled, you have to be more choosy.

If we would look at church as a re-fueling so that we can be ready to do God’s work in the world, church would be different.  And our lives would be different.  Instead, going to church to be filled is seen by too many as the point of our faith, instead of the means by which we live out our faith.  The point of following Jesus is not so we can go to church.  We should go to church so that we can more closely follow Jesus, so we can cast aside every weight, and so we can hear the plan God has for His people, fueling us to take the church into the world.

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You never know how God is going to work

The other night I shared a quote from Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church in Texas.  He said the preacher is not responsible for the response of the hearer, but only responsible to God for preaching the truth of the Gospel.  And to be honest, that’s a comforting thought for the average pastor because most Sunday mornings in most churches, there is not much of a visible response from the hearers.  And I’m not whining, complaining, or fishing for compliments.  I am thankful I often receive encouraging texts from people behind the scenes.  The prophet Jeremiah preached for 22 years, with nearly no positive results.  Yet Jeremiah was only responsible for his faithfulness in speaking God’s word, not the results.  In the Chinese Book of the Way, it says, “Care about peoples’ approval and you will be their prisoner.  Doing your work and then stepping back is the only path to serenity.”

I have a couple of dozen sermons that I’ve given over the years available here on my blog and a lot of people read them, finding them through Google, some even using Google Translator to translate them.  Once in a while, someone from a distant land will send me a message about one of them.  I remember one person from Ghana sent me a message that they were so touched by the sermon, and they would have loved to have been in the church when it was preached, just to see the moving of the Holy Spirit and the response of the congregation.  The person from Ghana would have been disappointed.

Last night, I got an email from someone in Texas about one of the sermons.  The person said their church was doing a lenten devotional book with many people in the church contributing a lesson for the lenten journey book.  Her Scripture John 6:16-27.  She blessed me by sharing her interpretation of the Scripture and her own experience based on the sermon from my blog.  Here are her words:

The story is that Jesus is getting into OUR boat and blessing us with His peace – no matter what the storm is doing.  When we welcome Him into our boat, our lives are changed forever.
When the thought came to me that I had NOT invited him into my boat, I wept. My thinking had been I’m doing OK…and I’ll just talk to Him while I steer my boat.  How wrong I was!  I Invited Him into my  boat!! Welcoming Jesus into the boat is just the first step. Once we welcome Him, we have to relinquish our role of Captain – and turn that responsibility over to Our Savior.  Although the storms will come and the water will be turbulent, our Captain will be at the helm.  There isn’t a guarantee that there will not be turbulence.  The guarantee is that Christ is in the boat with us and will never abandon us.

This is exactly why I do not get too excited or too disappointed based on the congregation’s immediate reaction to the sermon.  You never know how God is going to work.  And the same holds true for the average Christian about any good deed you do or kind word you share in Jesus’ name.  You never know how God is going to work.  Most of the time, you will never know what He did with what you did or said for His glory, but you can be sure that none of it is said or done in vain.

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The joy of salvation

I had an epiphany this morning.  I love the word epiphany and I do not get to use it often enough.  I explain the meaning of the word as having a “light bulb moment” when you suddenly understand or gain fresh insight to something.  I would love it if you could read today’s blog and have this fresh understanding yourself, but I do not know if that is how it works.

The immature Christian life often goes like this… on the one hand there’s a list of things you must do and on the other a list of things you must avoid, or not do.  And however you feel about either list is irrelevant.  Do this and don’t do that and you are able to check the box that says, “being obedient and following Jesus”.   And this same immature thought process leads you to believe that Jesus is pleased with you, even if part or most of your obedience is done begrudgingly.  I still have moments of this immature Christian life, doing things I would rather not do, but doing it/them because Jesus requires it, or more honestly, because my job as a pastor requires it.

In Psalm 51, King David writes to God, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation”.  I heard Pastor David Jeremiah explain this verse by saying King David had not spoken to God for a year (because of the king’s sin against Bathsheba) and wants that relationship restored.  Pastor Jeremiah may be right.  But this morning, I think King David was saying, “help me love following You and Your commands again.”  I am quite literally ready to cry right now, with tears welling up in my eyes.  Do you get what I got?  The joy of salvation is being able to call God’s requirements, expectations, or commands a joy.  It is not having God say, “you must give 10% of your income to me through the church”, it is wanting to.  It is not having God say, “you must love me with all your heart”, and then loving Him.  It is loving the fact that you love God with all your heart!!!  (As my brother in Christ, Don with Samaritan’s Purse says, “I’m gonna love you whether you like it or not”.)

The joy of salvation, and the goal of walking with Jesus is following God’s commands until His commands are no longer necessary.  It is akin to a child cleaning their room without being told or because there is a reward.  It is being kind to difficult neighbor (or family member or someone you go to church with), not because the Lord requires it and it pleases Him, but because it brings you joy to know that it pleases God and pleasing God pleases you – brings you joy.  The joy itself is the reward.

The best example of this I can think of is mission trips.  In the beginning, most people go on mission trips because they want to help someone.  But once they go on one, they want to go back.  And they do not want to go back because they think the Lord requires it.  They want to go back because of the joy it brings them.  So much so that I occasionally have people say on their second, third, or fourth mission trip, “I no longer know if I am going for me or for the Lord”.  That is talk of someone who knows “the joy of God’s salvation”.  And that is where I want to get to with everything in my walk with Jesus.  And I have a feeling it will take my whole life to get there.  But at least now I know what my goal is.

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A Sense of Enoughness

In her interpretation of The Rule of Benedict, Joan Chittister says we have lost a sense of “enoughness”.  We spend money chasing after the latest model phones that Apple tells us we need.  We go in debt for new vehicles when we have an older vehicle that is perfectly fine.  We consider ourselves failures because we compare our lives with all the perfect lives we see on Facebook.

And be reasonable.  This does not mean we settle for an abusive, unhealthy relationship.  It does not mean we do not have goals or dreams.  It means that we need to love life where we are with what we have.  God has given you what you need for this day.  His grace is sufficient.  He is enough.

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