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Pains that Come from God

Brother Lawrence, who wrote a marvelous book on Christian spirituality called The Practice of the Presence of God, suggested: “When pains come from God, he only can cure them. He often sends diseases of the body to cure those of the soul.”

To our ears, what a strange idea! God doesn’t send pains of any kind. To our thinking, the Lord is a good and wonderful being who wants nothing but the things that make us happy. Baloney! God wants what is best for us, and nothing less, ever. What is best is seldom painless.

Pain is part of every good thing we do. When we want to learn a new skill, language, or hobby, we go to great pains to study the subject thoroughly, and we enjoy every minute of the labor involved. We discover new aspects of the subject when we fail, and we repeat what broke down with modification until we master the knowledge we set out to acquire. A painful but necessary experience.

God sends us pain in other ways. When we discover in our devotional time that we’ve been far from patient, we set out to master this virtue. Learning to be patient is a pain! We have to put up with slipshod workmanship from others or ourselves. We have to tolerate accidents, delays, failures. We have to bear with so much that we don’t like or enjoy in order to be trained in patience.

Diseases are often part of God’s lessons in life. The reason you’re struggling with cancer is not that your body was invaded by a microbe or disturbed by an improper habit. You combat cancer and its pains so that you will learn the spiritual lesson you haven’t learned in less harsh ways. You’re finally still enough that God’s Spirit can teach you to surrender yourself wholeheartedly to him. Brother Lawrence was right. God frequently allows us to experience a disease so that our souls might benefit.

You see, we humans think that long living is good living, but this isn’t true. To live a long life means we must put up with agony of one sort or another for a lengthier time. Neither the quantity nor the quality of life makes life meaningful. The meaning in life comes from your relationship with God, and to develop the relationship the Lord wants with you may require him to inflict pain, just as a parent disciplines a child properly in order to create an adult who will always appreciate what he or she learned while growing up at home. Taking out the garbage or cleaning up your room may have been a bothersome chore, a pain, but it taught you habits of cleanliness that make life better.

Jesus Christ is the great physician, the one who will heal, but the healing is sometimes accompanied by pain. Don’t shy away from the agonies of life. Embrace them as gifts from God, and study them for the lessons God has for you. Pain is a scalpel in the healer’s hand, and he uses it skillfully to remove everything that harms your relationship with him.

 

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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in FaithLife

 

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God and Evil, and Human Beings

A blog I recently read made the point that evil is the absence of God. I responded to it, and I thought I’d also share my answer in this blog. So here it is…

Evil as an absence of God. This is certainly true. But the presence of God would also be the absence of evil. The two thoughts in tandem explain why human free will is so risky. By acting in an evil fashion, a human takes himself out of the presence of God. He is too holy to tolerate evil in his presence. However, does choosing good automatically bring a person into the presence of God? Perhaps not. It at least allows God an opportunity to admit the human being to his presence, but something more appears to be required: a cleansing. The evil that was chosen must be purged, because it has left a mark upon the human soul. Christ enters to provide this cleansing, along with the Holy Spirit to help maintain the purity and expand it throughout the whole human character. This is a signal of the sovereignty of God. By his trinitarian actions, he restores the human to relationship with himself and makes possible a consistent choosing of the good. Yet this work of deity is not completed until a period beyond human time-bound experience. Until then, we continue to struggle with good and evil.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in FaithLife

 

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But What’s in a Word?

You’ll hear it again, I’m sure. All the flap about saying, “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.” People seem to bring it up every year. So what’s the big deal? What’s in a word? Can’t you say either phrase and mean the same thing by it?

Well, I’m not so sure. Happy holidays focuses on everything from Halloween through New Years. That’s four holidays…holidays that are quite different from each other. But even the phrase Happy holidays betrays itself. The word holiday is a shortened form of an older English phrase: “Holy Day.” So whether you say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” you’re still referring primarily to a Christian holy day which celebrates Jesus Christ’s birth! Therefore, people who want to avoid reference to Christmas (a Christian holiday) should be consistent and invent a new phrase of their own. I suggest, “Have a happy day off work with your family,” because that’s all December 25 means to some people.

What’s in a word? A lot! Words convey meanings. They talk about what we want to say. When they don’t carry the significance of what we want to communicate, we should find a new way to phrase the point we’re making.

What does “Merry Christmas” mean? First, CHRISTmas is a reference to Jesus Christ, specifically the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem as narrated in the Bible. Also, ChristMAS expresses thoughts associated with worship on the day when Christians celebrate Christ’s birth. MAS refers to the Roman Catholic Mass as practiced in the Middle Ages…a worshipful celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth which included the offering of the Lord’s Supper to Christian believers. Also, the word MERRY means happy, joyous, cheerful. Merry Christmas is a wish that others will celebrate the birth of Jesus with feelings of pleasure and delight. Say it to someone, and you’re wishing—praying?—that God will give them great satisfaction and eagerness while worshiping his Son. There’s a lot in this phrase for me. So…

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Why did Jesus come anyway?

A Christmas carol, written in the 1800’s, isn’t sung often enough when we celebrate Jesus’ birth. We should learn it! The title is “See Amid the Winter’s Snow.” The first stanza and refrain are…

See amid the winter’s snow,
Born for us on earth below,
See, the gentle Lamb appears,
Promised from eternal years.

Hail that ever blessed morn,
Hail redemption’s happy dawn,
Sing through all Jerusalem:
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

The name of the tune to which this carol is sung is “Humility,” and I find this very appropriate for the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

In scripture, the image of the Lamb is applied to Jesus many times. John the Baptist called him, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In the Book of Revelation, Jesus is called “the Lamb that was slain,” a reference of his sacrifice on the cross for our sins. In popular understanding, a lamb is considered a mild, meek creature. This accords well with humility.

As we think about Jesus, God’s Son, who surrendered his heavenly glory and power to take on himself our human nature, we’re impressed with his humility. His surrender for our salvation began long before his death on the cross. It took its first earthly form when he was born of Mary and placed in Bethlehem’s manger. Humility is the essence of Jesus’ personality.

In part, I think, the intended message of Christmas is the need for humanity to become humble. Why did Jesus come anyway? Because you and I and every human being sins! Our root sin is pride, arrogance. We considered the things of God to be within our reach. Adam and Eve grabbed for the “apple” because it was good to the eye and would make them strong in the ways of God. Pride about themselves!

Human beings always chafe under the delusion that humility is beneath them, when humility is the very essence of a creature before his or her Creator. In part, this is what Jesus came into our world to teach us. Are we learning?

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2011 in FaithLife

 

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Have your read Micah lately?

Micah 1:1-7:20

Have you read Micah lately? He’s a minor prophet whose writings are good reading during Advent, because he foretold the birthplace of Christ. When King Herod the Great wanted to know where the Messiah was expected to be born, the chief priests and teachers of the law inspected scripture and answered by quoting Micah 5:2, 4, which cited Bethlehem. But Micah is also good to read during Advent because his prophecy raised the same issues as Jesus raised in his preaching. Both spoke of neglecting God and his ways in favor of greed and false religion. Both called for repentance and a genuine religious experience.

Micah was a native of the southern portion of God’s chosen nation. He came from the town of Moresheth in Judah, but he spoke to the northern kingdom, Israel, as well as Judah. He preached against dishonesty, idolatry, coveting, greediness, witchcraft, and treachery. He saw the elite of the nation as leading the way to moral corruption, kings and their families, prophets and priests. He complained, “Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say, “Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us” (Mic. 3:11, NIV). Announcing the nation’s sense of false security, he revealed how it fell away from God, and Micah called for repentance and a change of heart as well as behavior.

Yet Micah forecast a reformation among the people and their leaders. He proclaimed hope for the future: “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case and upholds my cause. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness” (Mic. 7:8-9, NIV). Micah was a prophet who saw both disaster and deliverance.

His hope extended to the righteousness of the nation and its citizens. They’d become the center of teaching about the Lord, and the world would stream to Jerusalem seeking peace, beating their swords into plowshares. Micah announced God’s rule: “I will make the lame my remnant, those driven away a strong nation. The Lord will rule over them in Mount Zion from that day and forever. As for you, watchtower of the flock, stronghold of Daughter Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem” (Mic. 4:7-8, NIV). Christians see this prophecy fulfilled in the coming of Christ, partially when he first arrived, fully at his second coming.

From Micah, we learn what religion is all about: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8, NIV).

If you haven’t read Micah lately, now is an excellent time to study his wisdom and proclamation.

 

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Behind the Bible...

 

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Have you read Amos lately?

Have you read Amos lately? It’s a good prophetic book because Amos was an average person who was called by God to proclaim a tough message to people who lived selfishly in prosperous times. Amos was a shepherd and dresser of sycamore-fig trees. He was a working man, a regular “Joe” whose conscience was moved by the Lord. He saw the selfish character of human beings in other countries and in his own. He was so moved that he spoke out against the “me-ism” of his day.

One by one, he indicted Israel and Judah’s neighboring nations for their self-centered conquests and horrible treatment of the peoples around them. Then he turned the tables of Israel, the northern half of God’s people, and Judah, the southern portion, indicting both for being led away from the Lord, for beating down the poor, for sexual sins, and other immorality.

Through Amos, God called nature to witness his people’s sin. He summoned the Philistines from Ashdod and the Egyptians to observe their judgment. He  ordered, “Assemble yourselves on the mountains of Samaria; see the great unrest within her and the oppression among her people” (Am.3:9b, NIV). His people didn’t understand what was right; they amassed goods and weapons for protection, but their refuges would be plundered. God recounted how he sent famine and disaster, yet they hadn’t heeded his warnings. Israel was about to encounter their God, the Judge, and the meeting was to be calamitous.

In chapter 5 of his prophecy, Amos urged Israel to think and to repent with honesty. “Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is” (Am. 5:14, NIV). National confidence felt as if God would not forsake them. All was well. It was not, and the Lord would stand against them if the people did not mend their ways. The people felt the day of the Lord would vindicate them, but Amos did not think so. “Why do you long for the day of the Lord?” the prophet asked. “That day will be darkness, not light” (Am. 5:18b, NIV).

The complacent were warned, and Amos delivered a series of visionary episodes which were designed to announce God’s measurement of his people. A brief section of the book of Amos recounted how he was opposed by a priest at Bethel because his message opposed the king and called for repentance and change. Then he resumed his warnings, ending with an announcement of what later became a reality—the Dispersion. Israel was to go into exile! But she would be restored in time to come (see 9:9-15). Even in judgment, there was hope.

On one hand, Amos’ character shows how God can use an ordinary person to call for change in a society. On the other hand, Amos’ plea reveals the Lord’s lasting desire to redeem his wayward people, along with his willingness to discipline them for a greater good. The prophet Amos raises our view of God to a higher level. The Lord is both compassionate and a God of judgment. Amos prepares us to learn from Jesus Christ, who was also of humble origin yet showed us a God who was both our heavenly Father and a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29; cp. Mk. 9:47-49).

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in Behind the Bible...

 

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Where are the poor in spirit?

Many people look at the poor and see their inferiors, pitiful people, who seem to the observers to be disgraceful. Not only are the poor considered unfortunate, but they’re also thought to be worthy of contempt. Sneers and huffiness skip easily off the tongues of those who are not poor. But I’ve seen many people who are destitute of finances yet don’t live in deplorable conditions. Their living rooms are neat and smell fresher than the homes of some wealthy folks. Their children are bathed, dressed in well-mended clothing, and play with safe toys on clean floors. Poverty does not signal a lower quality of individual, only the amount of money available to take care of basic needs.

This isn’t to suggest that people who have few resources are always admirable. Grinding poverty chips away at your heart and soul, pulverizes your ambition, liquidates your vigor and leaves you without hope or desire. You might become lazy, flighty, shiftless. The stereotype of the poor is a genuine description of some people, and poverty does breed additional poverty, generations of it! When you live long without basic resources, your children have fewer privileges, and they have greater weaknesses to overcome. Not all poverty is a chosen condition, but when the only condition you’ve known is penury, you see yourself as destitute, disfavored, deprived. When you reach this mental, emotional and spiritual pit, you believe yourself to be inferior and act as if you’re insignificant.

 Yet Jesus used poverty as an illustration of happiness. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he declared, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:3, NIV). The verse is often explained by comments about the poor having no one but God to trust, so in humility and faith they focus on the Almighty. He’s the only hope they know.

 The poor I’ve known may have devout faith in the Lord, but their hope is only partially drawn from him. Few of them see God or Christ as their prospective route out of the grinding bowl called poverty. More often, their anticipation comes from self-confidence, pride, and a desire to experience a better life. This is exactly the opposite of what Jesus said in the beatitude. God is their best source of hope, but they don’t believe it. Like most human beings, the poor may be persuaded they themselves are the greatest defense against poverty, against all problems. Optimism rises from within the poor themselves. But self-confidence leads them away from trust in Christ. They aren’t poor in spirit, in attitude, in temperament.

 A needy man whose desire for happy days drives him to work hard and achieve more than his neighbors may rise from poverty to wealth. Success may come because he fashions a business out of the gravel he finds at the bottom of the human heap. When driven so far down, he could only look up and begin to climb. Along the way out of poverty, his soul grows stony. Self-confidence becomes arrogance, pride becomes inflexibility, desire becomes obsession. After his spirit is calloused, people turn into tools, and poverty is like a feared rat chasing him around the rooms of his life. He doesn’t become a better person, only a richer one.

 Where are the poor in spirit who possess the kingdom of heaven? Aren’t they people whose spirits have chosen humility? They’re the ones who elect not to scramble after position, prestige or power. They pour energy into compassion for others, gentleness of conduct, sincerity of relationship, into placing others’ needs above their own. The poor in spirit are people who understand the value of modesty, reserve, tenderness and calm living. They love others as they love themselves. No wonder they’re blessed! No wonder heaven rules over their lives!

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2011 in Behind the Bible...

 

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