Are you reading a shortened Bible?

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 NIV)

God created the universe, made some rules for us to follow, and thumps us when we get it wrong.  Do you ever feel that way?  I do.  When I am in that frame of mind, the Bible could much shorter.  A few chapters are all you need to cover the creation and the 10 commandments.  This “shortened Bible” would also make it easier to read the Bible in a year.

But, if we spent our life with the shortened Bible, what would we miss?  We would miss that God made us so he could have a relationship with us.  He knows us better than we know ourselves and He wants us to know him.  The parts the fill in the rest of the Bible tell us about God pursuing us, chasing us, embracing us, and calling us as his children.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews knew this truth.  He tells us how God had tried to reach us through the ages.  How God took the form of a person, Jesus, so that he could talk to us as one of us.  God understands what it is to be us, because He has lived here.  Jesus experienced all the trials and troubles that we experience, including feeling rejected by God and abandoned by the people he loved.

In the passage our verse comes from, the writer reminds us about Jesus and our verse today is a great source of hope:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are —yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  Hebrews 4:14-16 (NIV)

We have access, through Jesus, to God’s throne of grace where we can receive grace and mercy.  Those are two important words.  The theological definition of God’s “grace” is God’s “unmerited favor.” God loves us, even though we have done nothing to earn it.  Merriam-Webster defines “mercy” as “compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power.”

If we limit ourselves to the shorted Bible I talked about at the beginning of the post, we will miss that God didn’t just make the rules and thump us when we get them wrong.  He loves us, even though we have done nothing to earn it and He forgives us, even though we don’t deserve it.

Bad things still happen, they are a part of life.  So, what do we do?  We approach the throne of grace with confidence.  In other words, we pray.  God wants us to tell Him with our worries and our joys.  Why? Doesn’t God know everything, including everything that is bother me right now?  Yes, but that’s not the point.  The point is God wants a relationship with us.  He wants us to talk to Him about what we need, what concerns us and what we are thankful for.  And, if we watch and listen, God will respond to us.  He will meet our needs, give us peace, and give us more reasons to be thankful.  Make prayer a part of your daily routine. Here are some ideas on how to get started: http://thedigitaldisciple.net/category/prayer/.

Take some now to approach Gods’ throne of grace and receive his grace and mercy.

 

Press On!

David

And the Government will be upon His Shoulders

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  (Isaiah 9:6 NIV)

We are in Isaiah for a second week, and again, the passage is also in Handel’s Messiah.  Last week’s reference was to the more pastoral Comfort Ye My People.  This week you should be standing and singing when you read this, which will get some attention if you are at Starbucks.

I will include some personal confessions this morning, the first is that I love to listen to Handel’s Messiah at full volume around Easter and Christmas and sing along.  It’s not pretty, but I am by myself in my “music room” in the basement.  This week, I have not listened to the recording, but instead thought and prayed about this verse.  It is a wonderful promise.  The phrase that I keep coming back to is “and the government will be on his shoulders.” The promised son, Jesus, will be the head of the government in God’s kingdom in the new heaven and new earth.  The cable news networks, if they exist there, will refer to him as: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.  Isaiah goes on to tell us there will be no end to the greatness of his government and peace.

Now, a second confession. When I think of our government and our elected leaders, I don’t use any of the terms Isaiah uses.  Instead, I think “swamp” and “dumpster fire.”  I understand that Isaiah is talking about a future time after Jesus has returned and God has established His eternal kingdom.  But, though Jesus is not here in bodily form, he is here and he works through those who follow him.  This has led me to think this week about how I, and other believers, can place our government on Jesus shoulders.  This is not a political rant, so please don’t stop reading.

There is controversy within political and Christian circles about whether our nation’s founders intended to establish a government based on Christian principles.  The “Truth Project” from Focus on the Family made a compelling argument that they did.  My constitutional law profession made a compelling argument that they didn’t.  The question may be interesting for someone who likes to talk about the law.  It is irrelevant for most believers.  Regardless of the founders’ intent, we live in a democratic system and Jesus can have an impact on the government through his followers.

A third confession, as a believer, I don’t think much about my role in the political process.  In fact, there are times I dread it and actively avoid it.  I am turned off by believers on both ends of the political spectrum who want to tell me what I should think and how I should vote.  I will add a voice to that discussion that I hope will be a voice of reason and faith.

Jesus’ followers are called to be salt and light in a dark and decaying world, including our political system.  That calling may lead some to run for elected office or lead efforts to reform parts of the system they perceive as broken.  But, it should lead all of us to pray for our political leaders and elected officials.  A final confession, when I was getting ready to write this post, I had to Google the names of the House majority and minority leaders.  I can’t pray for people when I don’t even know their names.

Would you join me this week to pray for our political leaders?  Pray that God will give them wisdom, that He will help them work together, and lead wisely.  These are the top six national political leaders, you should feel free to expand your list if you like:

President –  Donald Trump

Vice President – Mike Pence

Senate Majority Leader – Mitch McConnell

Senate Minority Leader – Chuck Schumer

House Majority Leader – Kevin McCarthy

House Minority Leader – Nancy Pelosi

There will be a day when Jesus leads the government.  It will be a theocratic monarchy and not a democratic republic.  Until that day, will we take up the calling to be salt and light and pray for our elected leaders?

Press On!

David

 

 

Understanding No One Can Fathom

 

Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. (Isaiah 40:28 NIV)

This simple statement about the nature and character of God is one of those “plaque-worthy” verses.  You know what I mean, you’ll find the verse on a nice plaque you hang in your house or printed on a card you send to a friend going through hard times.  It is from the chapter of Isaiah that begins with “Comfort ye my people,” which I can’t read without hearing Handel’s Messiah in the background. If you have a Bible on your phone or tablet, take a minute to read Isaiah chapter 40 before you go on because it will put the verse and the rest of this post into context.

When you see the verse in context, you find that Isaiah’s statement above in verse 28 is made in response to the people of Israel complaining, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God.”  That sentiment may not be “plaque-worthy,” but we have all felt it.  We face trouble and we pray and plead and seek God’s intervention to fix the problem or make it go away.  Yet, the problem continues, and we feel like our prayers are unheard.  In those situations, verse 28 is not comforting at all, it is frustrating.  God, the everlasting creator of the universe knows exactly what I am going through and He is choosing not to fix it.   Why?  Because, He has understanding no one can fathom.  He knows what is best for me.

These times of testing are difficult to go through and difficult to understand.  For a long time, I thought of God as the great professor in the sky who would teach me a lesson and then test me, so He could see if I had learned it.  “OK, Dave, this week we learn about patience.  Here’s what the Bible says about patience.  Now, here is a totally frustrating situation so I can see if you have paid attention.”  Then it occurred to me one day that God knows how I will do on the test before it even begins.  He knows me better than I do.  So, who is the test for if it isn’t for God?  It is for me.  The tests and trials I face show me where I need to grow and where I need to change.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul said, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Rom 5:1-5 NIV). Just as precious metals are refined by fire, our faith is refined by testing.

This chapter ends with another plaque-worthy section that you have probably seen but may not have had the context:

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

(Is 40:29-31)

God may not sweep in and take away our problems.  But,  instead of stumbling and falling, He will give us strength to run and soar and, in doing so, we will learn about God’s character and develop our own.

I also want you to know that God does intervene in situations and deliver His people in times of trial.  If you have time to read a great book about God working miracles today, I recommend Miracles by Eric Metaxas.

Press On!

David

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make 2018 the Year of the “Do”

Genesis 1: 1 – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  

Our culture has fully bought in to the idea of moral relativity.  Which means that it is up to each person to decide what is morally right for them.  Usually it is subtle, “Well, I wouldn’t do that, but he needs to make his own choices and I can’t judge him.”  Like me, not everyone has bought into the idea of relative morality. They believe there are moral absolutes; things that are right and wrong regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.

Folks who believe in relative morality get along pretty well with all the other moral relativists, but they butt heads with the moral absolutists.  Because, the moral relativists hold back one absolute, which is, the people who believe in moral absolutes are always wrong. You don’t need to follow the argument very far before it begins to unravel.  If I don’t believe in moral absolutes, I cannot believe that moral absolutes are wrong. (The best I can say is that I have not chosen to accept moral absolutes.) To believe there are no moral absolutes is, itself, a moral absolute, and my position collapses.

What the moral relativists are really saying to the moral absolutists is, “In my universe, I have the moral authority to condemn you for holding moral absolutes that disagree with my moral decisions.  But, you don’t have the moral authority to disagree with my moral decisions.”

That’s where today’s verse comes in.  God’s response to the moral relativist is, “It’s not your universe. I made the universe and I included physical and moral laws.  You can’t change the moral laws any more that you can change the physical laws.” If we believe Genesis 1, one of the conclusions that follows is that God is the self-existent first cause of the universe.  Which means that a thing is good if God has made it and it is right is God has said it is right.

With the heady introduction invoking God’s moral authority, this is where you expect me to give you God’s big moral “don’t” list.   You can take the list into the morally relative world and club it into submission by pointing out the logical inconsistencies with its position.  The problem is, that doesn’t work.  Following a big “don’t” list may make us feel morally superior, but it won’t change the world.

Instead, let me kick off your week with a short moral “do” list.  The great thing about this list is that they will change the world and most moral relativists won’t condemn you for doing them.  Do these things and see how they change your life and the lives of those around you:

  1. Love God with everything you have;
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself;
  3. Feed and clothe the poor;
  4. Visit those in prison;
  5. Care for windows and orphans,
  6. Go into the world and make disciples.

OK, you’d feel better if I also gave you a couple “don’t” ideas:

  1. Don’t worry about what you will wear and what you will eat, God takes care of the birds and flowers and He will take care of you.
  2. Don’t grow weary of doing good.

As you read the Bible, you can develop your own moral “do” list.  Pick one or two at a time and focus on them until they become habits. Then move on to something else.

Make 2018 the year of the “do.”

Press On!

David