Archive for May, 2009
The fourth commandment is “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). The explanation for this rule is that God worked six days, then rested on the seventh day setting it apart as holy. God didn’t rest because he was tired. God rested to set an example for us. When we pause to rest and reflect, we are reminded that we are not “self made men.” We work in cooperation with God’s plans and purposes for us in life. But in rest we are reminded that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17).
In school we learned about setting margins and properly using margins when writing papers. A professor in one of my doctoral seminars had a reputation for using a ruler when grading papers to make sure that submissions had “legal margins.” Margins make the paper readable. They help the eye move easily along the page. But some people live their lives like papers written single space without margins. They fill their lives with so much activity that they have no room for rest and reflection. They forget that we are human BEings, not human DOings.
So take a break. Learn to say no. Prioritize according to your convictions. I believe it’s better to do nothing than to do something you don’t believe in. Rest and reflect. Creativity does not come from margin-less living. Time is the most precious commodity we possess. Plan how you will use it, or someone else will. Above all, make time for God. When you spend time with God you will be reminded of his greatness and his blessings. And you’ll become aware of his help every day.
When the Supreme Court of Iowa ruled 5-0 that same sex marriage was constitutional, many pastors like me were sent on a quest to understand the issue at hand. By the providence of God, Scot McKnight had reviewed a book titled Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin. One click later, I was in business.
Marin is a straight, conservative evangelical who began his quest years ago when three of his closest friends came out to him. That series of events led him down a path which would eventually lead him to live in the Boystown Neighborhood of North Chicago with his wife and children.
Marin does a superb job helping the reader understand something about same sex orientation. He offers some statistical insights that provide clarity. For example, Marin suggests that anywhere from 1% to 7% of the American population is gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender (GLBT). He goes on to report that according to his research only 7% to 15% of the GLBT community claim to have experienced some form of sexual abuse as a child. The average age of a person who becomes aware of same sex orientation in America is 13, and the average age of their going public with that information is 15.
An African American friend of mine says that prejudice is “being down on what you’re not up on.” As I read the book I couldn’t help but reflect on my own experiences ministering to the gay and lesbian community of urban St. Louis. As I think back, my pitiful offerings were gracious, but not helpful. The young men I remember in particular were deeply conflicted as the wrestled with their same sex attraction and their open Bibles.
The book reflects Marin’s ongoing conversation with the Gay and Lesbian community, including the formal and informal research he has conducted. His ministry has resulted in the establishment of a foundation as well as the publication of this book. Love is an Orientation serves its readers in several meaningful ways.
I appreciate that the author took time to help his readers understand the theology of those who claim to possess Christian faith and same sex attraction. Marin does so by dealing with the five major passages in the Bible: Genesis 19 (Sodom and Gomorrah); Leviticus 18:27, 20:13 (The Holiness Code); Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; and 1 Timothy 1:9-11. The GLBT community does not interpret these passages as being directed toward those in loving monogamous relationships. In the case of Paul, they interpret the prohibitions as condemnations of the practice of pederasty and prostitution. The silence of Jesus on the subject is also given significant consideration. While this is beneficial, Marin does not address Catholic theology regarding sexuality as it relates to procreation. Neither does he mention the bride and groom imagery in the New Testament between Christ and his Church.
The book is not an apologetic or a defense of same sex orientation. Rather, Marin’s goal is to provide guidance to the Christian community so that their response is appropriate and compassionate. Admittedly, the response of the “Church” has been anemic at best. For decades the “Church” has gripped the pew and closed her eyes tightly hoping that the issue would not come to their doorsteps.
In order to engage in meaningful conversation with the GLBT community, Marin challenges the Christian community to overcome two things. First, he invites the Church to step out of its entrenched position that same sex orientation is a choice and consider the possibility that natural same sex orientation does exist. He does not see this as the same as saying God created same sex orientated people.
The second challenge the church must overcome is to realize that it’s not their job to “fix” GLBT persons. He reminds us that we are to love all people, regardless of their orientation, and let God be God. Marin relates a story from the presidency of Bill Clinton. After the Monica Lewinksi story broke in the media, Billy Graham went to visit the President. After their conversation, Billy Graham was publicly criticized for going to visit and pray with President Clinton. Dr. Graham’s response was simple and to the point. Graham said, “It is God’s job to judge and the Holy Spirit’s job to convict. My job is to love.”
The subtitle of the book is “elevating the conversation with the gay community.” This is clearly the author’s goal. He points out that Jesus was asked 25 closed ended questions seeking a definite yes or no during his ministry, yet only responded to 1 question with a closed ended answer. If Christians are going to engage the GLBT community, they are going to have to shift from closed conversation to a more open dialogue. He challenges Christians to dialogue, discuss, learn, love, and ultimately leave the results to God. No one can experience transformation apart from God, and Marin suggests that believers have become obstacles by demanding transformation prior to engagement. Do we trust God enough to love as he loved, and leave the results to him?
I highly recommend Love is an Orientation. It could be one of the most important books published this year.
When God told the Israelites not to misuse his name, he was referring devaluing the holy name of God. The command was given in response to the practice that people had of taking oaths or swearing in the name of God to bolster their own character and integrity. Every time they used God’s name in vain, they caused the name of God to be depreciated. God’s holy name was and is to be reverenced. God’s name is not just a label. It’s an expression of his character.
When I was a kid, people would say things like “I swear on a stack of Bibles” or “I swear to God” to try to persuade others of their sincerity and honesty. Sometimes kids would say “I swear on my mother’s grave” or even “cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” The kids that said those things were usually the kids who were the biggest liars in school.
The lesson here is that we are to be persons of such high character that we need not to invoke the name of God in order to be believable. If you are a person of character, you’re believable. If you’re not a person of character, you may try to use God’s name to make you appear to be something you’re not.
When Jesus got to earth, he restated the command this way, “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). What a great goal! Have such good character that people take your words at face value.
The second command is found in Exodus 20:4. This one tells you that you are not to engage in idolatry. The Bible says, “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea.”
The Old Testament reports that the Israelites actually did make statues and images that they carried around, bowed before, and tangibly worshipped through sacrifices and offerings. That sounds weird, but it’s true. Our 21st century idols are a little more sophisticated and much more subtle. We may not bow before images, but think of the power of “image” in the world. Most everyone has an image they want to present. Image is expressed in what we wear, where we eat and the media we consume. What we drive and where we live also conveys our image. Our 21st century idols are celebrities, politicians, athletes, artists, and musicians. People look toward the pretty and the powerful and pattern their lives after them. Think of the power of their endorsements in advertising.
When we enthrone God as the supreme affection of our lives, we need to make sure we get worship right. Worship is our appropriate response to God’s self disclosure. When God is first, worship is the natural response. The problem with idols and images is they bring us to lower level living. The Bible warns that those who make idols become like the idols they make (Psalm 135:18). We become like whatever we worship.
For the last 25 years I’ve been offering advice to high school graduates. Those words seem a little shallow now that I have my very own high school senior preparing to cross the stage. I hope the words that I have shared over the past 18+ years have some way stuck in your mind. Nonetheless I feel compelled to offer some thoughts on your tomorrow and the tomorrows that will follow after that.
As I was thinking about words that I wanted to offer, my mind was drawn to the Ten Commandments. I know you know God’s Top Ten, but I want to give you a little different perspective on them. Hopefully, these words will encourage you in God-ward directions as long as you live.
Commandment 1: Establish God as Your Ultimate Priority in Life
“You must have no other God but me.” (Exodus 20:3, NLT)
This command is first for a reason. It’s not just first in a list, it’s first in importance. Unless God is first, the rest of the list is nothing more than a moral compass. What does it mean to make God first? It means that God must be the recipient of your ultimate devotion and service. The command clarifies that God is not the highest among competing affections, but the uncontested affection of your life.
Jesus talks about how our love for family, friends, and self should appear as hate when compared to the surpassing love we display to God (Luke 14:26). But the love we have for ourselves and our stuff is pretty strong.
Proverbs 1:7 says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” When the fear of God is absent from your life, you become a slave to lesser fears. But when God is the environment of your life (Col. 3:1-4), and when you establish him as supreme (Colossians 1:18), you’ll be surprised how much sense the rest of the list makes sense. And life too, for that matter.
Let me encourage you to take a moment to check out the new blog by Brent Clark. Brent and I have worked together for about four years in two different churches. He’s been a great blessing and I enjoy working with Brent each day. Brent is a thoughtful and committed brother in Christ, and I commend his random thinking to you! Check him out at www.brentaclark.com.
I had never really esteemed Grover to be a theologian, but this classic sketch from Sesame Street reminds me of how we perceive the presence of God. Sometimes he is near and sometimes he is far. Truth be known, the average Christ follower would consider God to be far more often than near. Our struggle in identifying the presence of God is compounded by the way we use language. For example, we talk about God on his throne, being filled with the Spirit, and Jesus living in our hearts.
There are no adequate illustrations for God and his attributes. But we can benefit from helpful analogies. For instance, I went to my daughter’s soccer game on Saturday. It was sunny and windy. As I watched the game, I was constantly aware of the presence of air through the wind. Generally I don’t spend a lot of time contemplating air. I know it’s continually there, but unless the air is moving I don’t think much about it. Just because I don’t feel the presence of air doesn’t mean it isn’t present at all times. We cannot go where God is not. God is totally above us, presiding. God is totally beneath us, sustaining. God is totally within us, filling. God is always present with all he is. He cannot be contained or confined.
David marveled at the infinite presence of God in the world. Even more, he was amazed at God’s presence in his life. David expressed his thoughts through poetry in Psalm 139:7-12. In that paragraph David affirmed the presence of God in the midst of three of our most fearful moments: death, distance, and darkness. Those three things in some way relate to the fears that grip our lives. In each of those moments, God is near.
Consider the following listing of Scriptures that affirm God’s presence in our lives. Whether it be a time of crisis or a time of discouragement, God is near. When we suffer, when we’re tempted, or when we wrestle with uncertainty and insecurity, God is near. The Bible affirms that God is present. He is near whether we recognize his presence or not.
When I was a kid, my parents purchased a set of World Book Encyclopedias from a door to door salesman so that I would have that particular advantage in my educational pursuits. I suspect that same set of encyclopedias is somewhere in my parents attic today. On more than one occasion they have offered those books to me for my kids use, but we have this little thing at home called internet access.
I was amazed to learn the there are presently over 25,000,000,000 web pages in existence. Everyday an additional 250,000 new web pages are being uploaded. I recently read that information is doubling every two years!
Much of this information is available at our fingertips, yet is nothing compared to God’s knowledge of all things. Omniscience is the teaching that God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple (simultaneous) and eternal (infinite) act.
In his book The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer writes, “God knows instantly and effortlessly all matter and all matters, all mind and every mind, all spirit and every spirit, all being and every being, all creation and every creature, every plurality and all pluralities, all law and every law, all relations, all causes, all thoughts, all mysteries, all emotions, all desires, every uttered secret, all thrones and dominions, all personalities, all things visible and invisible in heaven and earth. God knows every motion, space, time, life, death, good, evil, heaven, and hell.”
Tozer continues, “Because God knows all things perfectly, He knows nothing better than any other thing. He knows all things equally well. He never discovers anything. He is never surprised or amazed. He never wonders about anything nor does he seek information or ask questions for the sake of information. God possesses complete knowledge and has no need to learn. God has never learned and cannot learn. With God there is never any mix up or confusion. Nothing ever turns out differently than God expected. God knows everything. “
God knows everything material and immaterial, visible and invisible. His knowledge is not limited or restricted to time. He sees the past, present, and the future simultaneously.
God knows all things, including all things about you and me (Psalm 139:1-6). He knows how we are designed (Psalm 103:14; Psalm 139:13-14). He knows your secrets, your sins, and your scars. God knows everything you are facing in this present moment. He knows what you’re going through. He sees your pain, your suffering, your feelings, and your needs. God also sees the good stuff that is there, including every right decision and every appropriate choice. God knows your future. He sees your potential and your possibility.
We matter to God! Who else could love us perfectly and completely in spite of ourselves? Who better to guide us?
God is able to do all his holy will. The Scripture gives us several example of how God expressed his power and how he continues to express his power today.
1. God expressed his power through his creative acts.
“The Lord merely spoke and the heavens were created.” (Psalm 33:6)
“I am the Lord, who made all things. I alone stretched out the heavens. Who was with me when I made the Earth?” (Isaiah 44:24)
2. God expressed his power through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again.” (John 10:17-18)
3. God expressed his power through his provision of our salvation.
“Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault.” (Jude 24)
4. God expressed and continues to express his power through life transformation.
“Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone and a new life has begun.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
5. God also expresses his power through his ability to enact judgment with fairness and equity.
“I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his kingdom;” (2 Timothy 4:1)
So then, what does God’s power do for us? God doesn’t hoard his power. He bestows it upon us to enable us to do several things.
1. His power enables us to overcome obstacles in life.
“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, and not from ourselves.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)
“…My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in weaknesses, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
2. His power helps us to overcome sin and temptation.
“If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)
3. His power strengthens us in our weakness.
“He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall into exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31)
God is strangely attracted to weakness. Weakness is the superhighway that brings God’s power into our lives. C.S. Lewis once commented that “Our problem is not that we are too weak. Our problem is that we are too strong.”
4. His power enables us to do the right thing in life.
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)
5. Finally, his power enables us to become like Christ.
“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.” (2 Peter 1:3)
If you look at the troubleshooting guide to any appliance, the first thing it will instruct you to do is to check the power source. How do we access the power of God in our lives?
The first way is through worship. When we worship, we are reminded of how great God is. Our lives and our circumstances are brought into proper perspective when we pause to focus on his surpassing greatness. In addition to seeing the greatness of God, in worship we are reminded of God’s great deeds and acts of the past. If you’ve read the Old Testament, perhaps you’ve noticed that many prayers are offered to the “God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.” This was their way of recalling the faithfulness and strength that God displayed in the lives of those from previous generations.
The second way is through prayer. In prayer we humble ourselves, acknowledging God as our source for all things, and confessing our limitation. Nothing quite ushers humility into our lives like admitting that we have needs that only God can meet.
Finally, we respond to God’s power through acts of faith. The Bible is filled with stories of people who weren’t always certain how God would come through. But they responded to him in faith nonetheless.
What if God wants to be powerful in your life? What if God wants to be powerful through your life? 2 Chronicles 16:9 states, “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”
The word omnipotence is derived from Latin: omni, meaning “all,” and potens, meaning “power(ful).” As a child, I learned to describe omnipotence by saying things like “God can do anything,” or that “God is all powerful.”
But to say that God can do anything is incomplete. It invites silly questions like “If God is almighty, then can he make a rock so big that even he can’t pick it up?” It invites illogical questions like, “Is yellow square or round?” or “How many hours are in a mile?” It also invites misguided questions, like “If God can do anything, why doesn’t he eliminate evil, injustice, suffering, illness, poverty, homelessness, etc.?”
A fuller definition of omnipotence would say that “God is able to do all his holy will.” This definition adds a moral dimension to the power of God. God is able to do all that he wills or purposes to do. He has complete freedom within his own purpose, and he always behaves in ways that are consistent with his character.
For example, Titus 1:2 says that “God cannot lie.” It doesn’t say God doesn’t lie. He cannot lie because it would be inconsistent with his character. Take another example. Suppose you had $20 and were also 21 years old. You have the power and freedom to purchase alcohol. But would you buy alcohol for a minor? If you wouldn’t, it would be because that action would be inconsistent with your character. Your personal power and freedom is governed by a moral compass.
So what is the extent of God’s power? God’s power is best understood in two dimensions.
The first dimension is evidenced in his strength or might. God acts without effort. He expends energy without needing replenishment. Isaiah 40:28 reads, “Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary.” A.W. Tozer describes it this way, “God gives power without giving away power.” God is self sufficient. He does not need to look outside of himself for anything. He is unlimited and infinite. Stephen Charnock writes, “His power is such that he can do whatever he pleases without difficulty or resistance; he cannot be checked, restrained, or frustrated.”
The second dimension of God’s power is seen in his absolute freedom. God never needs permission. He is totally unrestrained and knows no restrictions. One of the reasons we possess physical bodies is to limit our will. Imagine what you would do or could do if your will was unrestrained by a body that needed rest, sleep, and food? As American citizens we experience more freedom than most people in the world, but our freedom appears as bondage compared to the complete freedom that God enjoys.