Do you have to understand God to love and trust Him?

Do you have to understand God to love and trust Him?  Well, no, not fully understand anyways.  There are certainly some things we must come to know and understand about God.  Those things He makes known to us, in order that we may come to love and trust Him.  But there is so much about God, the world, and His dealings with us that we are just not given to know.

This may seem hard for us in the Information Age.  We have so much data at the tips of our fingers.  *take it from me, I just got my first smartphone a couple weeks ago*  But we must remember a few important things.  God is not obligated to tell us everything about Himself or the mystery of His will.  There are many things that we have not been given to know – or know clearly – and we must accept this as part of God’s plan.  But…  God has given to us everything we need to understand in order to love and trust Him.  Because that is ultimately what our role is.  To love and trust the Revealed One.  And now for an illustration from a smarter guy than me…

Look into those eyes.  He understands how little he understands.

Look into those eyes. He understands how little he understands.

“I live daily with the grateful joy of knowing and trusting God. But knowing and trusting does not necessarily add up to understanding. Even knowing somebody very well is not the same as understanding them fully, as the most happily married couples will readily testify. And in everyday life we often have to trust people without ever quite understanding how they operate, as I am obliged to do every year in my tax return to the Inland Revenue. Similarily, to know God, to love and trust him with all one’s heart and soul and strength, is not the same as understanding God in all his ways. For as God himself reminds us, ‘…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.'”
-Christopher Wright – The God I Don’t Understand

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Why Advent? Waiting for, and remembering glory.

The four weeks leading up to Christmas day are traditionally called Advent.  Why should Christians recognize this time as significant?  What should we contemplate during these days?  And why on earth is it important for us.

"Nativity at Night" by Geertgen tot Sint Jans (1490) See the glory coming off that Baby?  Better get sunglasses.

“Nativity at Night” by Geertgen tot Sint Jans (1490)
See the glory coming off that Baby? Better get sunglasses.

Why recognize Advent?  Didn’t Paul warn us about regarding days and seasons?  Well, yeah he did.  And if celebrating Jewish feast days in order to become acceptable to God was what we were doing, we’d have a big problem.  But that is not what Advent is about.  Advent is about waiting.  And it is about remembering.  Not that we can accomplish anything through our religious observance.  But remembering that God has done something for us.  That’s Good News!

What should we contemplate during these days?  We are invited to dwell on the indescribable gift that Jesus is to the world.  God has not left His creation alone – He has come into it.  He has not not rejected human beings – He has become one of us.  We can think about the humility of God, that He would not come “as a giant” like my 4 year old suspected He might.  He came as a Baby.  And when He did He was forever changed.  What He was (God), He remained.  What He was not (human), He took on forever.

Why it this so important to us?  This is the personal part.  Have you seen those malls?  The shopping lineups?  Are you super busy with family, meals, turkeys, and other concerns?  Then you need to remember the truth that has turned the world upside down.  That God has come – and is coming – and that all His glory can be known.  It’s not the glory of a great nation or army.  Not the glory of grand success or victory.  And not the glory that earns the praise of the world.  His glory came as a little Baby, who “put to shame the wise and strong.

Through Fire and Water – feeling God in our tough times

fire waterBless our God, O peoples;
    let the sound of his praise be heard,
 who has kept our soul among the living
    and has not let our feet slip.
 For you, O God, have tested us;
    you have tried us as silver is tried.
 You brought us into the net;
    you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
 you let men ride over our heads;
    we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.  Psalm 66:8-12

Hard seasons are normal.  My prayer life operates somewhat according to the principle “a psalm a day keeps the depression away”.  The 66th reveals some great truth today.  It describes a difficult time had by God’s people.  The section above is especially moving – and not only because “through fire and water” is how Gandalf describes his great trial in LOTR.  “Through fire and water” is shorthand for the Exodus, where God led His people out of bondage into promise.  But for awhile it seemed for them like it was getting worse before it was getting better.  We ought not to be surprised by difficult seasons that come in our lives.

It’s hard but not wrong.  Many times we react to difficult circumstances as though there is something wrong.  If we were successfully following God then things would be easy, right?  Wrong.  Difficult seasons of life are normal for everyone, not just Christians.  But many people view difficulty as an interruption to how life should be going.  God stops us when we begin to think this way.  Difficulty is not an interruption on the road to blessing.  It is often the road itself.  If we go through difficulty, there’s nothing wrong going on.

God’s hand is in it.  To those who will follow Him through hard times, God makes promises.  First, He promises that He will not allow them to be moved (vs 9).  Then He promises that in some way He is authoring these difficulties (vs 11-12).  This is not a discouragement because if God is in it, then He is working it for our good.  Thirdly, He promises that there is an end in His sight.  Through fire and through water, but You brought us out to rich fulfillment.  That means there is incredible abundance – and much more of the Lord – on the other side.  We are heading through something to something.  God is changing us for it.

Discipleship – going for coffee or life of obedience?

Kathy Keller: "I have something to teach you about discipleship.  Want to go for coffee?"

Kathy Keller: “I have something to teach you about discipleship. Want to go for coffee?”

This week I was re-reading for the third time Kathy Keller’s helpful little e-book, Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles.  It was in preparation for ongoing dialogue about broadening leadership in my congregation and all the related issues.  * for the record, I’m in agreement with Keller’s conclusions about gender and eldership but that’s not the point of today’s post  *

The point is that near the end of her little book, there is a wonderful little surprise.  After stating her case, she makes this profound statement:

So, there is something being commanded the church that we must find a way to obey.  Dismissing, ignoring, throwing up one’s hands in despair of finding clarity are not options.

In this simple almost off-hand statement, she reveals a powerful truth about the nature of Christian discipleship.  Did you catch it?  Let me paraphrase:  

If there is a command – we must find a way to obey.

"Hey, man.  Want to be discipled?  Pull up a stool."

“Hey, man. Want to be discipled? Pull up a stool.”

Discipleship is a funny thing in the Church today.  It is often thought of as an activity, whether programmed or informal.  The image is usually one of an older believer spending time with a younger Christian, in order to mentor them.  Small groups, Bible studies, having a mentor, going for coffee – all these things come to mind.  The noun discipleship is morphed into the verb, discipling.  Okay, absolutely nothing wrong with this.  Making disciples will involve some kind of activity.  Go for coffee.  Let’s all go for coffee.  The hipper the coffee shop, the better.

But discipleship (noun) is not mere activity, it is an orientation to life.  Jesus famously said to make disciples.  Let’s assume He meant it.  What did He mean?  This is one of those passages that has almost a built-in 3 point outline.  There is one central command – Make disciples – surrounded by three descriptions of what that will look like:

1)  Going (let’s assume this means telling too, so… missionary evangelism),

2)  Baptizing (into the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and

3)  Teaching to obey everything commanded

A disciple is one who has learned to obey everything – everything – that Christ has commanded.  Through His own words, through the writings of the apostles – everything.  A disciple is one who obeys.

Why is this so powerful?  Why is this so important?  What secret nugget about all Christian discipleship is nestled here in Kathy Keller’s little book about a very specific subject?

It is this:  If there is something to obey, we have to find a way to obey it.

But what about commands that are difficult?  Unpopular?  Counter-cultural?  What about them?

Find a way to obey.  Did Jesus say it would be easy to follow Him?

But what about all the commands in the Bible?  How can we know if/how/when they apply to my life?

Good question.  There’s lots of Biblical commands in the Old and New Testaments. There are context issues for some commands (usually OT ones).  You can eat shellfish in the New Covenant.  But are you using the complexity of some parts of the Bible to find a way out of obedience?  Learn, study, and find a way to obey.

If I try to live the way Christ wants, maybe I’ll look different than those around me?

Probably will.  Find a way to obey.

Discipleship is a description of an orientation to life.  It is one where we follow the Lord and look for what He asks of us.  We know that we are not approved of by God because of our works.  But the same Christ who saves us apart from works, calls us to pick up and follow Him in cruciform obedience.  Would you like to talk about what that means?  Maybe we should go for coffee.

Only God Can Judge Me?

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”  

Jesus said that and let’s assume He meant it.  But anyone with an ear to the ground of popular culture has probably come across the great misunderstanding we can have about this truth.  Maybe it’s due to how many times we hear on Maury Povich/Jerry Springer reruns “y’all can’t judge me!  Y’all don’t know me!”  *yeah, yeah, I know Springer isn’t good TV for a pastor to watch.  But it was always on in the mess when I was in the Navy.  True story.  Honest*  Or maybe it’s this guy’s fault.

At any rate, what it means to not judge the Jesus way has been greatly misunderstood.  That’s why it’s refreshing to hear from Trip Lee, famous Christian rapper and all around decent guy.  It would do you good to check out what he says:

Only God Can Judge Me?  

If you don’t have 5 minutes to spare, here’s a run down:

1)  Jesus doesn’t mean that we’re not to make moral judgments.  We all do so and must do so.

2)  Jesus is condemning self-righteous, hypocritical judgments.

3)  It is unloving (in the extreme I would add) to notice something harmful in another’s life and ignore it.

Not judging others in the way Jesus meant is so important.  It is what makes disciples smell good to those out in the world.  But being clear on what Jesus means on not judging is important.  We need to obey Jesus in the Jesus-way not in the Povich/Springer-way

 

Mocking the Bible

How often do we meet someone who mocks the Bible? They may know just enough of the Old Testament so as to make it seem ridiculous. Here’s some brief wisdom from Steve Cornell (another fine Steve!) about how to look at strange OT passages and address those who would mock:

Wisdomforlife

Have you ever heard someone ridicule the Bible based on strange laws from the Old Testament? How should you respond?

The mocker who does this belittles those who look to Scripture by pointing to such “obviously ridiculous requirements” found in it. But the mocker also discredits the Bible to avoid what it says against a way of life or particular behavior he or she desires.

Consistent with the way mockers are described it the book of Proverbs, these people speak and act as if they know better than others and as if they are superior. 

Mockers typically belittle laws from Old Testament books like Leviticus or Deuteronomy. They wrongly suggest that those who follow the God of Scripture today are obligated to obey these laws along with everything else in Scripture. 

Leviticus 19 is a common portion mockers use. Since they are looking at Scripture with an agenda, they overlook…

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How To Ask A Question (or how not to) Part IV

Question asking is absolutely necessary for vital faith and understanding.  Questions are a bit en vogue these days.  Just recently, I was chatting with someone who said they were an agnostic but shared that “they had questions”.  The fact that someone has questions should be music to a Gospel-sharer’s ears.

But questions are not always vehicles for truth-seeking.  Previously, I have written about how Satan’s questions to Eve were not seeking truth but instead trying to confuse the truth.  Questions need to enlighten not darken.  The rich young ruler asked questions to Jesus but not in order to find out how he must follow, but in order to justify the way his life already was.  Questions need to be ready for tough answers.  Job, Scripture’s great sufferer, asked many questions of God but he wasn’t entitled to the answers he may have wanted.  Some questions don’t get answered the way we want.  There may be no such thing as a stupid question but there are ways not to ask them.  We must ask them wanting truth, ready to act, and ready to accept a different kind of answer.

"Lord, turn down the lights!"  Why do so many paintings of Paul on the Damascus Road have horses in them?

“Lord, turn down the lights!” Why do so many paintings of Paul on the Damascus Road have horses in them?

Today (and finally) I’m turning to one of my favourite question-askers in the entire Bible – the Apostle Paul.  Of course, some of the best questions he asked were before he was known by that name.  Saul the Pharisee was on the warpath in Acts 9.  Breathing threats and murder he travelled to Damascus in order to persecute the Christians there.  Christ appeared to him and blinded him with light (this wasn’t merely a metaphor but just think about it a minute).  As he lay there on the road, he asked two of the most amazing questions ever:

Who are you, Lord?

What do you want me to do?

What was so great about those questions.  Well, firstly they seem to really information.  Paul didn’t ask:  are you really the Lord?  Second, the answers coming were ones that would change Paul forever – they smashed his pride and turned his life upside down.  Third, they were questions that were asked out of humility.

Paul had been brought low by Jesus and he really wanted to know about Him.  Many questions about God don’t really want any answers.  It is easier in a lot of respects to live with questions because then we don’t need to rearrange the furniture of our lives.  Paul wanted to know who Jesus was and then how his life needed to change in light of that truth.

Questions are a necessary part of discipleship.  We need to ask them of people wiser than us.  We need to ask them of the Bible.  We need to ask them of God Himself.  May all our questions seek truth and that truth fuel obedience.