Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lord, Help My Unbelief

A father with a demon possessed, or epileptic, son brings the boy to Jesus to have him healed; if Jesus is able to.  Jesus responds that everything is possible for the one who believes.  And the quote below is the father's response to Jesus.
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! - Mark 9:24b NIV
The father's words here really strike a chord with me and I find myself periodically echoing his cry.  I believe.  But oftentimes it seems that belief is pretty shallow and has little impact on my life.

There is no doubt in my mind that God exists and that he has a purpose for me.  I am convinced that the Bible is inspired by God and that faith in Jesus death and resurrection is necessary to enter into relationship with God.  I believe!  And yet I struggle with unbelief.

If I really and truly believed that this world and all that it contains is only temporary and that I was created for something much more than this, should it not have more of an impact on how I live here?  Would I not spend more time preparing for eternity than I do in enjoying the temporary?  Would not the work He has for me have a higher priority than other things I choose to do?

I believe; at least intellectually.  But unfortunately my belief does not always translate well into practical terms.  Lord, help me in my unbelief!


Friday, October 17, 2014

Honoring God

 Parts of the second and third chapters of Romans are easy for us Gentiles to take a little lightly because Paul is targeting the Jews.  And, since I'm not a Jew, then surely this section has little to say to me; right?  Try swapping out a couple of words in the passage below as shown and see if it might have more to say to you.
Now you, if you call yourself a Jew (Christian); if you rely on the law (Bible) and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law (Bible); if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law (Bible) the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?  You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  You who boast in the law (Bible), do you dishonor God by breaking the law (Bible)?  As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles (unbelievers) because of you.”
Romans 2:17-24 NIV (parenthetical comments added)
I have to admit that deep down there is a part of me that is guilty of the first part of this passage.  I have the Bible, and have spent a lot of time with it.  I believe I have an understanding of God's will and his purpose for me, as well as the rest of creation.  I am confident I can hold my own in most any doctrinal or apologetic discussion.  What more could God want from me (cough, cough).

But there is a big difference between knowing and doing God's will.  Between knowing and obeying his instruction for me.  I wonder sometimes just how different my life might be if I did not know God and did not have the Bible.  Would it be significantly different?  It should!  Unfortunately there is a vast difference between what should be and what actually is.  This world has way too much appeal for me, drawing my eyes away from the eternal.

More importantly, how do the people of this world judge God based on the way I live?  Does the witness of my life turn people away from God, draw them to him, or does it have no impact?  I would like to think that it is attractive, but I fear that more often it is neutral; good, but not necessiarily anything that would make people say "I want some of that".  It really should be a priority for me to ensure that God is honored by my life.  How tragic it would be to stand before him at the end of this life and discover that I have failed to do so.  And how much worse to find that my life has turned someone away from God.  I pray that is not the case.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why Parables?

One of Jesus most common teaching methods was the use of parables.  A parable is a simple true-to-life story that illustrates a spiritual truth.  They are generally simple and easy to understand, at least for those who belong to him.  But while they illustrate truth for believers, it appears they are also intended to obscure the truth for unbelievers.
When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.  He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,
        “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
        and ever hearing but never understanding;
        otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
Mark 4:10-12 NIV
When Jesus disciples ask him about a parable he had just told, the Sower and the Seed, he responded with the quote above.  He tells his disciples that he is telling parables to prevent those on the outside from being able to comprehend his teaching and turn to him.  And that seems pretty strange to me.  Why would he say that?  Does he not want everyone in the world to turn to him and be saved?  Is he trying to prevent some from knowing who he is?

I have struggled with this passage every time I have read it because it seems so contrary to what I understand God is doing.  But is it really?  What does God want from me?  The scripture clearly says that my response to him needs to be based upon faith.  When he comes to me, like he did the twelve in the gospels, and says "follow me", will I follow him wherever he goes?  Or will I expect him first to offer me rational argument and convincing proofs.

Those to whom the parables were explained were the one who had responded to Jesus call.  The ones on the outside were those who had gathered around because Jesus was feeding them and healing them; not bad motives necessarily, but not what is expected.  They had seen the miracles and had heard him teach, but they were still on the outside; they had not committed to him.  And Jesus was unwilling to give them any more in depth teaching.  He was not going to 'argue' them into the kingdom.  If they are going to see and hear without a faith based response, then they are not what he wants.

The spiritual truths, or secrets of the Kingdom, belong to those who are citizens of God's kingdom, not to outsiders.  And Jesus shares them in a way that enables Kingdom citizens to understand while also preventing understanding by outsiders.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Wrath of God

The wrath of God is not an uncommon expression or topic in the Bible and is used several times by Paul in his letter to the Romans.  It would seem important to have a clear understanding of it in order to be able to understand what Paul is trying to tell the Roman church.  Yet it seems to be something that is a bit challenging to come to grips with and most people seem to have a hard time trying to describe it.

The dictionary defines wrath as "strong, stern, or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire." For me at least, the word 'wrath' conjures up an image of vengeful anger being directed at one who has offended the person exhibiting wrath.  When used for myself or other humans, that seems to be an adequate description.  And it does seem to be descriptive of God as he is pictured in the Old Testament, destroying the world with a flood, pouring out fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah, zapping anyone who touches the Ark inappropriately and many other examples.  But I really see no support for that in the New Testament, and it is contrary to how I understand the nature and purpose of God.

I will be the first to admit that I have a tendency to view God through the lenses of my own nature; and I son't believe that I am not alone in doing that.  I know that is somewhat dangerous because it can produce an incorrect picture of God.  But I don't know that it is possible for me to separate how I see God from how I am.  I know that some of my more emotional friends can see God sitting on a mountain top hurling thunder bolts at those who offend him.  But I struggle with that; I have a hard time picturing God as being vindictive.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness - Romans 1:18 NIV
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.
Romans 2:5-11 NIV
Paul clearly teaches that the wrath of God is real and is directed at godlessness and wickedness.  But it seems just as clear that it is not something that is visited upon the offending party when their actions cross some threshold.  Rather, there is a day of judgement coming when we will receive either eternal life or experience God's wrath.

It seems better, at least to me, to think of God's wrath in terms of deserved punishment rather than anger directed at the offender; that removes the emotional component from the equation and leaves righteous judgement in its place.  Those who do good are rewarded, while those who do evil experience punishment.

What is that punishment?  While many will disagree, it seems clear to me from the scriptures that there is some period of torment for those being punished, but that period is followed by destruction.  In fact, that is the fate that Paul claims awaits those who experience God's wrath, rather than an eternal conscious torment.
What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?
Romans 9:22 - NIV
As I understand it, the wrath of God is the final judgement against unbelievers and evil doers; their complete and total destruction.  It is not the action of an offended, angry or vengeful God.  It is a reasonable and rational outcome for those who have failed to live up to God's purpose for their lives.