A husband comes home from a late day at work expecting to see his smiling wife, but instead he is greeted with a house full of silence. As he makes his way through the house, he begins to hear the sobbing sounds of his wife in the bedroom. There is news, it is not good, and the next words she will utter will shatter the calm of the world he thought he knew.
All of us know stories of devastation. All of us know someone who has suffered greatly, and some of us have stories of our own that would sunder the hardest heart. In the moments of great despair, there is no greater problem in the world at that moment than the one we face, precisely because of its proximity and nearness to us, because its effects are immediate in our lives, and because for the rest of our lives we will always have an easy path to that moment and relive and feel everything all over again.
Whether we hear of such stories or live through them, the inevitable question comes: "Why?" In the case of children or innocent victims, we often ask "Why would a loving God allow such bad things to happen to good people?"
It is a tough question, and one worth considering. There are many who would point to these exact moments in life as though they were proof that God is not real, or that if God is real, then He is a heartless, careless God. While we as Christians with a firm faith in God do not accept such judgements, even I must admit that I have sometimes in the silence of my soul pondered why such things happen.
In another familiar story mentioned last week that makes a great example is the story of Cain and Abel. We are all familiar with the actual story, so I will not retell it here, but suffice it to say that we would all agree that God knows everything and therefore knew of Cain's murderous intent before the crime was committed. On the other hand we have Abel. Abel had done nothing wrong, in fact, God was pleased with Abel. The death of Abel was not a judgement of God regarding sin in his life. In the end, we also know that God could have easily prevented the murder, but did not.
With such knowledge we must go where the unbeliever goes . . . God knew, God could have prevented it, but God did nothing to stop it. Why?
One hard fact that we all must understand is that we are not physical beings. This is crucial, because this understanding opens up a larger picture of what is going on. With a word, God from the spiritual realm spoke and everything we take in with our senses was created. The world and universe we know is but a fraction of reality. Some few men in the Bible were privileged enough to see into this spiritual realm, but suffice it to say that the spiritual reality is far greater than the physical one, and things that happen in the spiritual realm affect the physical world we see.
Another hard fact, is that we are spiritual beings with the shroud of a physical body, and we are called to fight in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. II Corinthians 10:4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
As in battle, when there is victory, there are results, but also when there is no victory, there are consequences. The battlefield is in the hearts and minds of men, and there where we wage our war, God has given us free choice, thus God will not interfere.
Cain lost at least one spiritual battle before murdering his brother. God does not condemn Cain, but tries to encourage him to do better. Instead, Cain loses the spiritual battle of the heart and mind, and the consequences of that loss result in the murder of his own brother.
You see, when we lose the spiritual battle for our hearts and minds, there are consequences, but they need not all be so dire as murder. Bad attitudes, back-biting, resentment and anger, and a whole list of consequences can be found in Galatians 5:19-21. Read the list, and if you see any of these things true for you in your life, then rest assured, you are losing spiritual battles somewhere. If you are the victim of such things, then others around you have lost spiritual battles, and your proximity to them can mean that you endure some of the consequences of their failure on the battlefield.
Galatians also lists results of victory in spiritual warfare in 5:22-23. See, we often pray for the fruit of the Spirit as though it is a gift that God simply grants, but that is not how fruit is born. Fruit is a result of a process. Win the spiritual battles in your life, and the fruit of the Spirit will be yours, and not just for you. For as every victor celebrates a victory with others, so your life can become an inspiration for others around you with every spiritual battle you win.
You were given a sword, armor, and a shield for a reason. Defend yourself, my fellow warrior. You are called to fight.
Decisions, even small ones, can have vast and unintended consequences. Like a secret agent on a mission, one errant decision can cause the whole plan to unravel calling for everyone involved to "abort the mission" because circumstances have changed and success is no longer possible.
My daughter has been given a few responsibilities around the house. For this she gets an allowance of $1.25 per week, and included in these responsibilities is the daily task of feeding the dogs and checking to make sure they have water. Should she fail to feed the dogs even once during the week, she forfeits her allowance for the entire week. Some may see this as a bit heavy handed, but I am trying to teach her consistency in self-discipline, and the idea that failure to hold up her responsibilities will have great consequences.
If she doesn't feed the dogs, then the dogs who depend on her, the dogs who have done nothing wrong, would go hungry. (To be sure, I'd feed them myself, but only after she has gone to bed.) She might forget, and in fact, even if she remembers I have told her that she does not have to feed the dogs if she does not want to, but the dogs will go hungry if she does not, and she will get nothing for an allowance at the end of a week. She will not be reminded of her responsibilities. The choice is hers.
So far, she has had a few close calls, and maybe one day she will slip up and forget, but the knowledge of leaving hungry dogs outside to suffer for her own actions has made an impact on her. What is more, the idea that she could do a whole weeks worth of work to lose it all at the end by forgetting has her leaving notes to herself, reminding herself to feed the dogs. She is learning a lot of lessons here.
It may not seem fair to some that she should lose her whole allowance if she misses feeding the dogs once at the end of a week, but consider this; we can go our whole lives building a reputation, and lose it all in a moment. I also believe we lose a lot more than just our reputation when we choose to do what is wrong.
I believe God has a plan for our lives, and His hand of providence is ever willing to bless us along that path. We can choose to stay on that path, or we can choose to stray. The choice is ours. God will not be there hovering over us to remind us that sin is going to have consequences, we simply must choose. Whether we like it or not, choosing to sin will abort God's hand of providence in our lives as we kick off a chain reaction of events that sends us off of God's plan for our lives.
A striking example of this exists early in Scripture where, in Genesis chapter four, Cain chooses to abort God's plan for his life. Notice how God never intervenes, even when it will cost Abel his life. Cain always has a choice in his actions. In the end, Abel is murdered, the parents suffer the loss of a child, and Cain is marked for life. Even today we think rather poorly of the first child born into this world, because he had a choice, and because he chose to abort providence the earth would never grow for him ever again. Genesis 4:12a "When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength;"
The good news is, you may choose to abort providence in your life, but God is not without mercy. Your life may have strayed far from God's plan, but God is in the reconciliation business as well. This is one aspect of God that many Christians I know love to embrace for themselves, but detest when God shows mercy on others who have wronged them.
If you are ever tempted to sin, take a moment to realize you have a choice here. You can choose to do what is wrong, and God will not come down from heaven to stop you. Regardless of how awful your sin might be, God will not intervene. You must fight that spiritual battle yourself, but know that if you lose that spiritual battle and give in to temptation, there will be vast and unintended consequences, and you will abort God's providence in your life.
If you are someone who realizes how far off God's plan for your life you have strayed, there is still hope. God is a God of judgement, but only against the unrepentant heart. God is also a God of mercy to those who would come before Him with a humble heart. James 4:6 "But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." Psalm 51:17 "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
Take a look at this video first . . .
After watching the video myself, all I could think of is how many people I personally know won't have a clue what to do with this video. I read a website where the writer respectfully picked it apart without understanding the perspective I believe Mr. Bethke comes from, which is one of "be" not "do" when it comes to our faith in Christ, and our relationship with God.
To really understand why people do not like the video "for reasons they cannot fully articulate" you need to understand their perspective. They are probably coming from a place in their life where all they have known as church has been a building they go to three times a week, including Sunday school, to learn about God. They are comfortable in the walls of the place they call church, and comfortable with the people they associate with and know as Christians.
For many of these people (not all), a person is only "right with God" when they conform to the standards of the Bible as they interpret them. Anyone who does not conform is "probably not really saved" otherwise they would have been "transformed by God" into someone who will fit in with their group. As well, they believe that you must "do" things to have a right relationship with God. It is a "works first" perspective, whereby we can continue to have a relationship with God after salvation because of what we do.
What I don't understand about their perspective is that many I know personally would admit that we are not saved by our works. That only by God's grace and through faith we are saved, but yet once saved they seem to believe that they can only continue to have a relationship with God based on what they do.
For those people who do not understand why people like the video, here is their perspective. Church is not a building, it is the saved people of God, and they do not understand why vast resources are spent on structures when there is greater need for those resources. The greatest message ever recorded in the Bible was not preached in the synagogue, but on a mount.
A person does not gain a stronger relationship with Christ because of what they do, they simply have a relationship with Christ because of who they are - children of God. As a child of God, they accept that they have a responsibility to be a witness in their actions, but those actions are not what gives them value in Christ. They already have value in Christ. They do not have to "do" anything to have value, however, because they have value and want to "be" a Christian, their actions will flow outward from there.
In the end, for what it is worth, I simply ask you to evaluate both perspectives on their results. Recently I have been witness to churches who are meeting in high school gymnasiums and in small groups in homes, growing enthusiastically, seeing people saved weekly, believers discipled, and reaching their community around them regardless of appearance, age, social class, or color. These churches are the ones coming from the perspective espoused in the video, the one of "be" a Christian.
I have also seen churches who are stagnant in growth. The people who come to church are pretty much the same people every week. They get curious visitors once in a while, but growth is limited to the people who "fit in" with their group. Their people work tirelessly within the walls of the church in great programs for the people who go to that church, but even they sense "something is missing" without understanding why their own church does not grow. These churches are the ones coming from the perspective of "do" in order to attain a "higher standard" of Christianity.
As for the video, I get it. I agree with it. I am a Christian not because of what I do, what I do flows out of who I am.
Today, I am married with two children, and God is a greater part of my life than He has ever been before, yet still the past haunted me. My father was verbally and physically abusive, and for years I have asked the questions many people ask about how God could allow such things to happen. Sometimes I come across some truth that helps, but for many years I simply held God at a distance without ever even realizing it. God was God - powerful, almighty, and omnipotent - that was it.
Up until recently though, I never could latch onto my part in the relationship I had with God. I had a great head knowledge of who God is, I started my prayers with the words "Dear Heavenly Father" and could even talk about being a child of God without ever understanding the relationship I possessed.
The other day, while reading "When God Whispers Your Name", I came across these words: "You may get your looks from your mother, but you get eternity from your Father, your heavenly Father." The words "heavenly father" struck out at me, challenging me, and my attention focused on the next words. "By the way, he's not blind to your problems. In fact, God is willing to give you what your family didn't. Didn't have a good father? He'll be your Father." The book then quoted Galatians 4:7 "Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ."
I am reminded by the prodigal son, who once he recognized he was not even worthy to be called a son any longer, came back home only desiring to be a servant in his father's house, only to have his father embrace him and reclaim him as a son. Then it dawned on me that for years now, I have been struggling with coming to God as a son, because of my own past.
My own father rejected me and rejected any attempts at reconciliation later in life. His refusal to be a father had spilled into my own perception as a child of God. I could serve God, but I could never seem to accept my relationship as a son of God. To that end, my life had been focused on serving God. Serve God in the choir, out on soul-winning, visitation, teaching a Sunday school class, in missions work, being an usher, working in the Children's ministry, oh I had the title of "servant of God" down pat. The problem is, that is where for so many years I had been taking my value.
As a worker in the secular world, you only have value to your employer if you produce. Stop producing on the job, and soon your boss will stop producing a paycheck. Your value is in your ability to serve the interests of your employer. However, in my family, my daughters' value is not tied up in what they do around the house. In fact, for the first few years of their life, productivity meant either cleaning vomit off of myself or changing a smelly diaper.
Because they are my children, they have value. Period. That's it. The only thing they need to do to realize that value is claim their title as my daughters, and accept my unconditional love. They do not need to earn my love. They are my daughters whether their performance is good or bad. I love them because of their relationship to me, not because they are productive or do well. In my mind, they will never lose value.
However, if they ever refuse to accept my unconditional love, because of some personal shame or guilt they feel, then in their own mind they would lose that value. Just like the prodigal son, their only recourse in their own mind may be to try to earn value once again by being a servant. This is where I found myself, and it was at this point I began to realize my value to God is not in being a servant, my value to God is in being a son.
If you have come to a point in your life where God does not feel so much like a heavenly Father anymore, maybe you need to take a step back and ask yourself, are you trying to be His servant or His son?
I heard last night on the news that 2012 brings with it a lot of hope, if only because it isn't 2011. It was a reminder of what the future always seems to represent - hope. Hope for what exactly though? Hope for change? Most people don't like change. Hope for something better? We'd do well to be careful in what we wish for. No, the kind of new hope I'm talking about comes from an understanding of who you are as a born again warrior of God.
My wife and I have been having some very serious discussions about some die-hard beliefs we have held to for a long time without any real understanding about why we feel that way. For some of those long-held beliefs, we have discarded them simply because they were not Biblical and more preferential, for other long-held beliefs, we needed more insight either to continue to hold to them, or let them go entirely.
One of those die-hard beliefs comes from an oft repeated verse in the Bible from Fundamental Independent Baptist pulpits. Let me be clear, I have a strong Baptist background, and this post is in no way meant to be derogatory, however, there are a lot of religions, churches and groups out there (including the Fundamental Independent Baptists) who could stand a large dose of intense Bible study by the individuals who claim those titles.
The verse in question comes from Jeremiah 17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" The premise taught for so long being we are sinful wicked creatures with a heart bent toward evil deeds. Whether saved or unsaved, you are degenerate and only by the grace of God does anything good ever come into or out of your life. This is what I had been taught and believed for pretty much my entire life. Then a book came across my path over the past few months: "Waking the Dead", by John Edlridge, which put forth a counter claim. In the book Edlridge claims that the verse in Jeremiah only holds true to a person who has never accepted Christ as Savior, and that once a person accepts the blood of Jesus for payment for sins, they get a new heart. The process of being "born again" is the awakening of the Holy Spirit of God in you wherby God now lives in you, in your heart, and as such, your heart is no longer "desperately wicked" but rather your heart is good!
I immediately recognized and latched on to the truth of that statement. How can anyone possibly operate from a core that is pure evil and hope to influence anyone in a positive way?! However, if my heart is good, then from that central core where Christ lives, I can begin from a positive stance to begin to influence the world around me in a positive way. My wife, however, needed more than a book to tell her this. She needed something from the Bible.
To her credit, during an intense Bible study not related to the heart, she came across another verse in the New Testament. Hebrews 10:22 "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." Here, in this verse she actually stumbled upon while conducting an unrelated Bible study, we see the words and process by which our "desperately wicked" heart is made good.
The whole passage actually starts at verse 19 and goes through verse 25, and having it in its proper context only lends greater strength to the truth she realized. The Old Testament required a process of purification by which the High Priest could enter the presence of God in the Holiest place of the tabernacle or temple. That process included the ritualistic purification by water and the sprinkling of blood upon the horns of the altar - a picture of what was to come.
Verse 22 is the full realization in the life of the believer of that ancient practice, when, as born again believers we are encouraged to "draw near with a true heart." What kind of heart? A heart that is deceitful and desperately wicked? No, but rather "hearts sprinkled" with the blood of Jesus Christ (see verse 19 of the same passage). Sprinkled to what purpose? The purpose of purification, to have our hearts washed "from an evil conscience" so that we no longer have to bear the guilt and weight of sin. Finally, we are "washed with pure water" so that we can appear unblemished before God.
This verse completely counters the claim made by so many that the verse in Jeremiah is describing the hearts of all men. For the heart of a man who has laid his faith in the blood of Jesus Christ is no longer wicked, his heart is good. Your heart, my fellow warrior in Christ, is good. This is great cause for celebration indeed, for it gives a new hope not just for today, nor only for the next year, but for every future endeavor of your life.