July 30, 2017

Idols or God?

My computer has an app for news. In that app, I can type in my interests and receive news items from all over the world on those particular interests. Sometimes blogs are included. Since I quilt, I’ve put that in my list of interests and am surprised how much news comes to me about this activity.

Another one on my list is ‘Christian persecution’ — that list is much longer and more surprising. Most of it is not covered in regular newspapers or television, but many Christians are harassed, even losing their lives because of their faith. Included in this trend is a tendency to mock even those who believe in God, whether they believe in Christ or not. This is not a surprise. Since history began, people have doubted the existence of God and turned to idols.

“Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.” (Psalm 115:2–4)

The Bible says that God initially makes Himself know by the wonder of creation. If nothing else, the human mind can reason that God must be greater than anything that is made, including the stars, sun and moon, and including all that can be seen yet eventually perishes. However, some people refuse that knowledge, refuse to be thankful, and slide into idolatry and deeper sin. (See Romans 1)

On the other hand, those who acknowledge there is a God begin to realize there is more to know about Him and that He is far greater than any idols human beings can come up with or create.

“For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses. He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and of beast; who in your midst, O Egypt, sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants; who struck down many nations and killed mighty kings, Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan, and gave their land as a heritage, a heritage to his people Israel. Your name, O Lord, endures forever, your renown, O Lord, throughout all ages. For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants. The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.” (Psalm 135:5–18)

Most of the world I know has moved beyond idols made of silver and gold with mouths, eyes, and ears, yet idolatry abounds. Some have defined it as ‘whatever you think will solve all your problems.’ For many, it is money, or a ‘perfect’ leader or a change in the status quo.

For almost everyone, their idol is ‘me’ — ‘I can take care of myself.’ Even Christians can fall into this trap. We know of one dear lady who is in a senior’s facility, can no long get in her bed without help, but insists she can manage on her own. ‘I can take care of myself.’

One of the great delights of being a child of God is the opposite attitude, the one that knows ‘apart from Christ I can do nothing’ yet ‘through Christ I can do all things.’ Depending on Him gives me access to all that He is and all His resources.

My sister is at that stage where she knows she cannot care for herself, but instead of fighting it, she is joyfully embracing it. Each week, she calls to tell me the latest thing God has done for her. She laughs and giggles with delight at His thoughtful and usually surprising activities on her behalf. When I hang up the phone, I am usually laughing too. Our God may be in the heavens, but He is also right here with us, making a difference that no idol, money or ourselves included, could possibly do.

Jesus, what a delight You are. You think of our needs before we are even aware we are needy. You protect us from harm. You provide songs in the night and give joy that nothing can ruin or remove. We are so blessed to be Your children. Idols? None of the things we might turn to have the power to save and protect and care for us like You do. Thank You for being our Savior and friend, for meeting our needs and loving us. Thank You for forgiveness of sin and eternal life. No idol can give us peace with God and the certainty of living forever with You!

July 29, 2017

Curious? Or Devious?

Years ago, there was a television show with a panel of media people who discussed various issues. Whenever the conversation turned to religion, one of them always asked, “If there is a good God, why did he kill all those people, including babies, in a flood?” The details varied, but his questions focused on a god according to his logic, not the God described in the Bible.

This is not a new tactic. The religious people of Jesus’ time on earth also asked Him questions like that, not because they wanted answers, but because they wanted to trap Jesus.

“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’” (Matthew 22:34–40)

Unlike the others on the television show panel or the guest panelists, Jesus always had a strong, biblical answer. He knew the basics of Scripture and the problems in the heart of the Pharisees. They believed they were right with God because they supposedly kept God’s laws. They missed the fact that no one can or does, but also that the purpose of those laws was to show them how far short they fell and how much they needed a Savior. Jesus didn’t not explain that to them though; He just raised the bar. Sometimes He asked them a question, one that they could not answer:

“Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’”? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?’ And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” (Matthew 22:41–46)

Today’s devotional reading demeans those who do what the Pharisees did — ask questions about religious matters out of curiosity or even out of trying to stump the people they ask. While there are no biblical answers to foolish questions like: “How many angels can stand on the head of a pin?” there are answers to many of these questions. Rather than dismiss them as wasting my time, perhaps I can do what Jesus did — ask them a question to prompt deeper thought, even encourage them to get into the Bible and find out for themselves what it says.

On one episode of that television show, the guest was a pastor. When the panelist asked his usual question about a supposedly good God and the destruction of babies in the flood, the pastor said, “If there is no good God, what would be the matter with it?” For once, the contentious panelist was silenced.

Jesus, there are people who avoid the issues of life, yet still argue over religious matters. It is important to bring them to thoughts of deeper things and prompt them to consider You. It is also important to not disregard them as mockers, or foolish, or people who play games. Even if they are merely trying to trip me up, there is a reason behind their banter. Maybe they see something that bothers them and might be trying to dismiss it by proving I don’t know what I’m talking about. Whatever it is, give me the discernment to see deeper and to have a good response that comes from Your Word and Your heart — one that motivates them to think more deeply about life, themselves, and especially about You.

July 28, 2017

Speak up or shut up?

Tuesday evening in a parking lot, a woman told me that her adult children were not interested in God or going to church. They wanted nothing to do with any sort of religion. This was causing her great heartache and suffering. She was tearful, but also convinced that it was time to shut up and let God do His work in their hearts.

I understand her feelings and her conclusion. If our family members are saying NO to God, then my arguments and preaching is more likely to harden heats than soften them. The Holy Spirit needs to do His work.

Some would disagree and say that you must keep telling them about Jesus and what He has done. They might tell this woman that she should be bold not fearful, and press on, urging them to repent. They might cite passages such as this one:

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” (2 Timothy 1:7–12)

Timothy was young and timid in his role as pastor. Paul told him that this fear was not from God. Rather, God gives His servants power, love, and self-control. Power is “the ability to influence reality in a supernatural manner.” From experience, Christians learn that we either have it or we don’t. God can use our words to change lives, but we cannot assume it, particularly when our hearts are determined to have our way. Usually this power shows up when we do not expect it, not when we desperately want it!

The word for love in this verse is “a strong, non-sexual affection and regard for a person and their good as understood by God’s moral character; especially characterized by a willing forfeiture of rights or privileges in another person’s behalf.” While that often describes the heart of a concerned mother, it also describes a willingness to give up our ‘right’ to pressure our kids into living the way we want them to live. Love is sacrificial, but not manipulative.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, but the term in this verse is not the kind of control required to keep quiet when I want to talk. The word is about being given wisdom to know what God wants me to do. Self is always eager to do what I want to do, like persuade and convince someone to believe, but arguments and human logic are not the ways of God.

As the devotional reading for today says, salvation is of the Lord. Human merit has nothing to do with it, nor does human persuasion. If God chooses us in Christ, redeems us in Christ, regenerates us and calls us in Christ, He must also be the one who convinces us to follow His leading and yield to His grace. Humanly, our sinful nature will say NO to God because sin wants to go its own way, do its own thing. Unless God changes our hearts, we will not — and cannot — say YES to Him, no matter how much someone else may want us to.

Jesus, the devotional also says there is no doctrine more practical than this. I whole-heartedly agree. Grace and the failure of human effort to save or change lives, including my own, strips away my pride. Yet grace gives me a solid place to stand. You accomplished my salvation. You granted me the faith to believe. I did not earn or deserve it and nothing I do will destroy it. Instead, I can exalt and honor You. You are my Savior, and because I can trust You with my eternal destiny, I can trust You with the eternal destiny of others. Unless You give me a clear assignment to do something, their lives are entirely in Your wise and loving hands.