What Are You Up To, God?

Once a man asked me: “So, you’ve done your doctoral work in Old Testament?” I said “yes.” “Wow, that means you know everything about the Bible.” I was stunned by such a statement and simply said “not quite” and smiled. I’ve had similar conversations on several occasions with people who were impressed with academic achievements.

For those of us who have preached and taught from the Bible for many years, there is the danger of thinking we know God. Some may begin to think they have God all figured out. Their knowledge of the scriptures may give them a sense of having a comprehensive understanding about God. But God has only revealed to us what our limited minds can understand. Only a fraction of the fullness has been given to us. But there is so much more.

Job recognized this reality and said “Behold, these are the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:14 ESV). God’s power and capabilities are much beyond what we can understand. He has only let us in on the “outskirts” of the full reality.

In the midst of Job’s tragic life situation, he was trying to make sense of everything. His attempts to try to understand God and his ways failed miserably. Nothing made sense, and certainly God’s response was far from his expectations. His friends came and made their attempt to grasp the reality of what they observed. But they couldn’t make sense of the situation either. It was at this point that he recognized that there is so much more to God and his ways.

So, has God been confusing you lately? Have you wondered what he is up to? Maybe he has gone much beyond your understanding of him and has you wondering. Maybe that confusion you are experiencing is the attempt to understand “the thunder of his power” and his ways. But as children completely trusts their parents, let’s trust our heavenly Father. He certainly has it all figured out.

Have you had any confusing “thunder” experiences lately?
You’re welcome to share it in the comments section of this blog post.

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Being Hunted Down

Just the other day I sat with a man who has been struggling with numerous vices in his life. He really wants to leave the life of sin, but he just can’t shake it off. He just can’t walk away from the things that have gripped his life for so long.
As we sat together to talk and to pray, he said something to me with lots of frustration in his face: “Pastor, God is after me. He won’t let me go. I feel like I am being hunted down by him. Why is he doing this? What does he want from me?”
The book of Job recognizes that God reaches out much further than we can imagine. His “light” shines and searches out much beyond anyone’s reach (Job 25:2 ESV). Thus no one is beyond God’s reach nor His sight.
The Holy Spirit indwells the believer and works as a “counselor.” It is his job to convict the world regarding sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment. So, as a child of God, no wonder we feel guilty as soon as we are about to sin. Yes, it is as if we are being hunted down by God.
It is all part of God’s massive plan of ongoing redemption in our lives. So, once he finds us guilty, what does he do? Does he condemn us? Or, is his plan to destroy us? Neither. He gently leads us to the right path by his mercy and love.
But some of us are more stubborn than others and continue in our own ways of sin. Then, God understands that the pain of remaining in sin is greater than the pain of correction. So he decides to correct us with his love and a strong hand. He continues this process of correction throughout our lives. It’s a process of fine-tuning our hearts to line up with his standards. I suppose that process takes an entire lifetime. Then by the time he takes us home, or as he takes us home, he completes that process.
Until then, we continue to feel like he is hunting us down. Yes he is. But not in anger to destroy us, but in love to re-align us according to his will and plan for us.
Do you feel like you’re being hunted down?
Share your experience in the comments section of this blog.

 

Photo by indi.ca, Creative Commons license.
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Making Sense of Evil

It was with a BBC news App on my phone that I read about the three women from Cleveland USA who were held captive for ten years. I read the story about Ariel Castro’s crimes in disbelief and disgust. For days, I felt within me a sense of repulsiveness as they were just teenagers when they were abducted. I thought of my own children and their friends. I kept thinking about all the evil present in this world. But I kept checking the news about the crime to see the outcome, especially to see whether this criminal would be brought to a quick trial. Surely no punishment will be great enough to cover the intensity of the emotional, physical, and social damage that has been inflicted.
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But what about all the evil and wickedness in this world? Why is there so much of it all around us? Why must innocent children suffer so much injustice? Why can’t God – or why won’t God intervene in such extreme cases? We hear of many stories of rescue at the nick of time. But why not at this time?
The Biblical prophets of long ago spoke of the day when God’s Messiah (savior) would come and put away all evil for ever. He would establish God’s kingdom on the earth. On that day, there would be no more tears, pain, or suffering. In due time, the Messiah (Jesus) came and inaugurated the kingdom of God. But that kingdom has not come in its fullness yet. The final consummation of God’s kingdom will only occur at the second coming of Jesus. On that day, all evil will be wiped out. The evil one (Satan) will be restrained and put away forever. Then there will not be anyone to tempt and prompt people towards sin and wickedness.
For now, we are in an interim period where two kingdoms co-exist. The kingdom of evil (of Satan) was given an opportunity to enter and be set up from the time Adam and Eve sinned. In the same way, the following generations (including us) continued to give opportunity for that kingdom to prevail in this world.
The kingdom of God, which was inaugurated by Jesus, continues to rule in the hearts of those who have put their faith in Christ. As people’s lives are transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, they become a part of this awesome kingdom that Jesus has established.
So as we read of the wickedness and evil in this society, we recognize that there are two kingdoms in conflict. Those who continue a lifestyle of sin continue to give way to the reign and authority of the kingdom of evil.
But those of us who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ have taken that important step into God’s kingdom. We live with a different set of values that defines who we are and how we live.
So as we see the evil and wickedness in this world, be reminded of the second coming of Jesus. On that day God’s kingdom will be consummated in its fullness. All evil will be put away as the Evil One is removed from the scene. That is the future we can look forward to.
How have you understood the evil and wickedness you see all around you?
Share it in the comments section of this blog post.

 

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Live Generously

This week we have a guest post by Dr. Bob Logan . He focuses on incarnational missional ministry and multiplication. He is a church planter, coach, consultant, trainer, writer, mountain biker. He lives in Los Angeles, California USA, and blogs at loganleadership.com. You can follow him on Twitter @drboblogan
Living generously is more than a matter of specific actions. It’s an internal posture of openness that informs all of our decisions and the way we live our life. Are we willing to unclench our hands and recognize that all we have is from God? Our money, our home, our talents, our relationships – they’re not ours. We are entrusted with them for a little while with the charge to use them to benefit the world around us. We are stewards whose master will one day come home and ask us how we have invested what he left with us. If we can lay hold of this reality, we will be changed. We will live with open hands, blessing those around us with our words, our actions, our resources, and our time.
Ask each other these questions to help one another journey along the way in this area:
  • How can you bless people with your words?
  • When do you most sense a spirit of generosity in your life?
  • What do you have to give?
This blog post is part of a series of nine entries, each highlighting one of the nine Journey Guides. Each Journey Guide is a three-week discipleship study. They can be engaged in separately or as a series. If you want to take people through a 3-week journey on this topic, visit the Logan Leadership Store.
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Power and Gentleness

Several years ago we lived in a town that was adjacent to a community where they had a special place for elephants. At this place, elephants were bred, raised, and trained for various purposes. These elephants were used to carry heavy loads, and to carry people on their backs. They were also dressed up and displayed during festivals and celebrations.
The strength of these beasts is amazing. Once in a while, an elephant would go out of control. Seemingly in a sort of rage. At that time, they really display their true strength – much beyond what you could imagine. People get thrown around like dolls, trees get plucked from the ground like plants, and trucks get flipped over, and complete havoc is the result.
But when these animals deal with their young, they are amazingly gentle. Their great strength is set aside for a soft and gentle approach. Just to deal with their young, they are willing to come down to their level rather than expecting their young ones to come up to theirs.
In the midst of his greatest struggles, Job looked to God and had an inward confidence. The confidence was that God would pay attention to him and come down to his level. Job said “would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me. (Job 23:6 ESV) His friends had accused him of severe negligence and sin. They said that all his “righteous” acts were just a cover-up for his sinfulness, and that his sins finally caught up with him. Now God is dealing fiercely with him according to his sins.
But Job had a confidence that God would understand his weaknesses and limitations. He knew that God would come down to his level and would listen to him. Although his friends could not understand, he knew that God would.
I am reminded of the concept in proverbs: “…but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24b ESV) The best one to do that, is God himself. He is the one who knows us fully. He knows all our weaknesses and sins, but continues to love us and draw us closer to him.
So, in the midst of your greatest defeat or sin, remember the words of Job. “Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me.” (Job 23:6 ESV) Go to him. He will certainly pay attention to you.
Share your experience of God putting aside his great power to deal with you in gentleness.
Share it in the comments section of this blog post.
Photo by helga_ni Creative Commons license.
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The Mercy Gap

I still remember the words quite clearly: “Alexi, I don’t know what it is that I did to deserve this severe condition.” She was a precious child of God who had lived with pain for several decades. Now, for the last several years, she was bed-ridden most of the time. She had practically no visitors since her condition was so bad. For many hours of the day, she was alone in her room, silently experiencing the pain throughout her body.
In every area of her life, she had a positive influence. She was a good mother to her children. And in the churches she and her husband pastured  she remained active as long and as much as her body would allow. But the questions remained not only for her, but for me as well. Why did she have to suffer so much? I’ve known her since I was seventeen. I know that there is nothing that would warrant such pain for such an extended period of many years.
So there I was, standing by her bedside listening to some very difficult questions for which I had no answer. I am sure she had similar questions during these years that I’ve known her. But really, is God full of anger and violence? We see in the Old Testament that God had set some high standards for his people and expected them to live up to those standards. We also see him punishing those who do not live up to those standards. But between the high standards and the punishment, there is a lengthy time of waiting with patience. God wants his people to come to repentance, but his method is through showing mercy and kindness.
Job talked about rebellious people and their arrogant words against God. Then he acknowledged that God “filled their houses with good things.” (Job 22:17-18a ESV) Throughout Israel’s history, we see that “Mercy Gap” of time where God waits and expects to see repentance as a result of his mercy.
The writer of Romans also expresses the same idea with more direct words and says that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4b ESV). Thus God continues to extend his mercy to us in the midst of our sin, disobedience, and even rebellion. When we look at the history of the people of Israel, we realize that the “Mercy Gap” is quite an extensive gap where God stretches his patience beyond all limits. Then, when that limit runs out, it is still his mercy that drives him to punish. But that punishment is not meant to destroy but to build up and eventually bring us to repentance.
So, what about that lady who lived with pain for so many years? Since our God is a God of kindness with a large “Mercy Gap,” her problem was not due to the judgement of God. That we can safely rule out. She was a child of God who experienced much pain because of the brokenness of this fallen world we live in.
How have you experienced God’s mercy in your life? How large was that “Mercy Gap” for you?
You can share that in the comments section of this blog post.
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What’s In It For Me?

It was interesting to observe a transaction between a train passenger and a vendor  Such interactions are quite intriguing in a multilingual and multicultural setting like India. The passengers may know a language the vendor doesn’t and may use that to their advantage. The customers make a quick and thorough analysis of the product while speaking to one another in a language the vendor may not understand. But one must be careful since there are plenty of people with a working knowledge of four or more languages.

train vendor
So the item was passed around among the customers while they evaluated its quality, the price, the cost back in their own state. They may also consider the possible cost of manufacture, especially for a home made product. Then the bargaining begins with the customer suggesting a much lower price than the vendor’s original price. Normally a discussion follows with the possibility of an “argument” regarding the price and the actual value of the product. If the vocal exchange doesn’t turn into an explosion, several counter offers will finally bring both parties to an agreement in price.
The writer of Proverbs lived in a similar bargaining society. He describes a similar situation: “’Its no good, its no good!’ says the buyer – then goes off and boasts about the purchase.” (Proverbs 20:14 NIV) I suppose most eastern societies are similar. The whole bargaining process is developed into a well formulated art. The words spoken may have a variety of nuances. The buyer does everything possible to point out the negatives and to bring the price down. At the same time, the seller attempts to highlight its value and bring up the price.
It seems Job mentions a similar question, but regarding our faith in God: “What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?” (Job 21:15 ESV) This question was asked by those described by Job as “wicked.” For them, serving God was for the purpose of getting something from him, like some kind of financial transaction. But for Job, this was not the case. In the midst of his deepest struggle he said: “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” (Job 13:15 ESV) Such a firm statement of trust clarifies to us that his faith in God goes deeper than material gain.
So, what benefit was there for Job? All of Job’s sufferings were intended to test and prove this particular issue: Did Job serve God to gain material blessings? God was inviting Satan to test Job and see for himself. God was convinced that Job’s love for him went deeper than material things in life.
So, what’s in it for me? What if I, like Job, was stripped of everything I value? Will my faith endure? I’m afraid to even think such thoughts. But what if?
Have you had thoughts about the depth of your love for God? What were your greatest doubts?
Share it in the comments section of the blog.
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The Fine Art of Offense

I remember the discussions during my college days regarding what can be an offense and a “stumbling block” for others. It was in the early 1980’s and articles appeared in several Christian magazines regarding Christian rock music. Those writers opposed it heavily without any mercy. They opposed the idea of connecting the word “Christian” with rock music. They compared it with overt demonic manifestations in various countries. Somehow it was also connected with the worship of demons and Satan himself. Within the context of such arguments, we struggled with the concept of being an offense to others. We were trying to understand what our limits were. How far are we being a stumbling block to others?

The ministry and teachings of Jesus were offensive to some prominent religious leaders of his day. This was quite obvious and the disciples even responded and said to Jesus: “Do you know that the pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (Matthew 15:12) In fact, the “offense” was so fierce that they labeled Jesus as a drunkard, glutton, and a friend of sinners. That’s quite a damper for a young rabbi starting out in the ministry at a young age. Jesus was offensive to those who were self-righteous. But to those who were weak and struggling, he was completely merciful.
While dealing with the issue of eating food and how one should choose what to eat, Paul urged them to be considerate of the weak (Romans 14). Paul’s admonition was that they should be directed by love and consideration for the weak. If their faith is weak, we must be considerate and loving towards them.
So, is the perspective of Paul different from that of Jesus? Rather than being different, the two views are complementary. To those who are mature, and to the hypocritical ones, be firm. Know what you believe and stand for it with all your heart. But to the weak, be kind and do your best to explain your actions and intentions. Most of all, be motivated by love and selflessness.
How have you handled the fine art of offense?
Share it in the comments section of the blog.
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When Life Ends Before Mercy Ends

Tom* was a man who really wanted his life to be different. He had always wanted a peaceful life. As a hard working man, he believed in making an honest living. As a skilled, qualified diesel mechanic, he always found work wherever he went. His employers sought him out for his uncanny ability to trouble-shoot the most complicated issues at work. He was their “go to” man for their difficult tasks.

But somewhere, his life began to make all the wrong turns. Everything he hoped for in life turned sour. Then he had no where else to turn but to the bottle. When he finally showed up in church one day, I looked into his blood-shot eyes and somehow we connected. I had him sit next to me during worship, but he just couldn’t sit for long. Periodically he would go out for a smoke then come stand in the back of the church until I called him back to the seat next to me.
The alcohol, tobacco, and life itself had taken a toll on his body. Now estranged from his wife and children, he had a very lonely life. No one wanted to spend but a few minutes with him. That was enough for most people.
Sometimes he would come to our home and we would spend time together while he told me his story. He had tried all other avenues of help such as rehabilitation centers, counseling and other government programs, but no change. I strongly believed the only answer for Tom was Jesus. So during the hours we spent together I tried my best to turn his focus on to Jesus. But his brokenness was so severe that he just could not see through the thick fog.
I knew that I had to compassionately show mercy to him. There were so many others in the church with problems, but I put that extra effort and time on Tom because of the depth of his brokenness. The only way I know is to show mercy and compassion and to keep turning him to Jesus.
Prayer was a key factor in my attempt to minister to this person. I tried every prayer I knew from my last thirty years of ministry. Something had to work to break through this thick fog. It worked for many others, and it certainly should work for Tom. I had to turn him to Jesus.
Then one day I heard the sad news. Tom died. My heart sank. Even now, I simply don’t understand. I often ask why the Lord just wouldn’t break through all those barriers into his heart. I suppose his life just ended before mercy ended. In my mind I have put this experience in my “Mysteries” file. I’ll figure it out one day.
I know that God’s kingdom has come through not in its fullness yet. But I wish it was in its fullness. It would have surely broken through the fog and into Tom’s heart. Although I don’t understand, I continue to show mercy and expect the power of God’s kingdom. It continues to impact so many lives – but I always remember Tom.
Have you experienced loss in the midst of mercy?
Share it in the comments section of this blog.
*Name changed
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Creating Space

While preaching last Sunday, I looked across the audience and scanned the faces. Each one has a story. They are all stories of God’s mercy in the midst of shattered human lives. One by one they experienced God’s power to save and restore them. They are all at different levels in that process of healing and restoration. All are a work in progress, just like me.

But what have I to do with all this? I don’t have any of those flamboyant and popular giftings capable of making one popular. No special oratory skills to be impressive enough to draw crowds. Ultimately all we have done is to provide space and an opportunity for people to connect with God. By creating an environment of love, acceptance, and forgiveness, we make the place suitable for those who are broken and suffering.
So, providing space is much more than providing the physical location where the people meet together to worship. It includes space for them to be accepted. It’s an acceptance of their person-hood. Once we create such an environment where the majority of the people in our church have adopted this perspective, we are on the right track. People with numerous needs will flock to us, because space has been created for them to be accepted.
Now, acceptance is fine, but love is a different story all together. You can simply tolerate people, and that could be misunderstood as acceptance. But you simply can’t fake love. If love is not genuine, it can easily be detected. It’s not love unless it comes from the heart. And when it comes from within, people will certainly know it.
Finally, forgiveness is a must. But it is surely complicated. We accept them and genuinely love them, but how often and how long should we continue to forgive? As people struggle with the complex issues of their lives, lots of rough edges show up on the surface. These rough edges show up as relational problems within the family and among church members. So, how many times and how long must we forgive? Jesus’ answer would be: limitless.
So, these are three important ingredients for creating space: Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness. As more space is created, more people can come close to Jesus.
In what ways have you tried to create space?
Share it in the comments section of this blog.
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