Tag Archives: god

A story about what happens after people die

6 Aug

Photo by Ashim d’Silva on Unsplash

What happens after a person dies?  My uncle recently sent me this story, author unknown, that tries to answer that question.

On the outskirts of a small town, there was a big old pecan tree just inside the cemetery fence. One day, two boys filled up a bucketful of nuts and sat down by the tree, out of sight, and began dividing the nuts.

‘One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me,’ said one boy.  Several dropped and rolled down toward the fence.

Another boy came riding along the road on his bicycle. As he passed, he thought he heard voices from inside the cemetery, so he slowed down to investigate. Sure enough, he heard, ‘One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me…’

He just knew what it was. He jumped back on his bike and rode off. Just around the bend he met an old man with a cane, hobbling along.

‘Come here quick,’ said the boy, ‘you won’t believe what I heard! Satan and the Lord are down at the cemetery dividing up the souls!’

The man said, ‘Beat it kid, can’t you see it’s hard for me to walk?’ When the boy insisted though, the man hobbled slowly to the cemetery.

Standing by the fence they heard, ‘One for you, one for me.  One for you, one for me.’

The old man whispered, ‘Boy, you’ve been tellin’ me the truth.  Let’s see if we can see the Lord!

Shaking with fear, they peered through the fence, yet were still unable to see anything. The old man and the boy gripped the wrought iron bars of the fence tighter and tighter as they tried to get a glimpse of the Lord.

At last they heard, ‘One for you, one for me. That’s all.  Now let’s go get those nuts by the fence and we’ll be done.’

They say the old man had the lead for a good half-mile before the kid on the bike passed him.

That boy and the old man had a very interesting view of God and what happens after people die!

While we might take issue with their theology, we can agree with them that something does after to people after they die.  We believe that there is an eternal destiny for all.

Therefore, a significant element of the mission of God’s Kingdom has been that Christians tell the story of hope that we have because of what Jesus has done for us.  We don’t have to look at life beyond the grave with fear because we have hope in Christ.  Additionally, Jesus said that the hope we have in him matters before we die.  We believe that becoming a disciple, a follower of Jesus, gives us hope for eternal life after death, and gives us hope for best possible way to live now.  We believe that God is preparing a place for us in heaven, and he is seeking to transform society now!  Eternal life in heaven, abundant life on earth.  That’s how we summarize this amazing Kingdom of God.

As Peter continues teaching the Christians in the Roman Empire around the year 65 AD, he now teaches them about how to live out this mission of God’s Kingdom among people who might be antagonistic or atheistic, agnostic or apathetic.

So please read 1 Peter 3:13-17.  This week we’re going to see how Peter instructs Christians to talk about this hope they have.

The one thing you need (to make it as a stranger in the world)

12 Jun

In a world of partiality and discrimination and bias, where is the one place that still considers everyone impartially?

The church?  Nope.  Martin Luther King Jr. said years ago that Sunday morning is one of the most racially segregated places in America, and it is still true today.

I read an article this week that posed the question I started with. The one place in our society that still considers everyone impartially is the field of medicine.  The author, Atul Gawande, tells a story about how he had to treat a scary prisoner who was making threatening comments.  How would you feel if you were supposed to treat that patient? You’d have to be impartial.

Today as we continue our study in 1st Peter, Peter mentions the concept of partiality as foundational to the concept I mentioned yesterday, strangers.

I mentioned how off-kilter we can feel when we are placed in the position of being a stranger.  Today Peter addresses his readers as “strangers”, and he connects strangerhood with partiality.

Read 1 Peter 1:17-21 and 2:11-12.  (Then glance back at 1 Peter 1:1-2 where Peter started his letter by calling his readers “strangers in the world.”)  Did you see how Peter repeats this description of his audience?  In 1:17, he calls them “strangers”, and 2:11 he calls them “aliens and strangers”.  The Christians Peter was writing to were more than likely refugees in their lands.  Some of them had to flee to new areas to avoid religious persecution.  Some of them were ethnically different from the people around them.  But Peter has another deeper reason for calling them strangers and aliens.  He seems to hint that their status as aliens and strangers is as it should be.  Why?  We’ll get to that tomorrow.

Before he delves in the importance of them living as strangers and aliens, Peter reminds them that God is impartial. He says “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”  Why does he bring God’s impartiality into this discussion?

The author of the article I mentioned above wasn’t saying that all doctors and nurses and hospitals are perfectly impartial, but he was saying that impartiality should be their goal.  I thought it was also an argument that should be made for Christians and the church.  Why? Because Peter is right, our God is impartial! He treats everyone the same.  We are all equally loved and valued in his eyes.  We love to apply that thought to ourselves.  God loves me!  But when we start to apply God’s impartiality to the whole world, it can be hard to take.

ISIS people who chop the heads off captives?  Equally loved by God.

Registered sex offenders who live in our neighborhoods?  Equally loved by God.

Muslims celebrating Ramadan?  Equally loved by God.

The super annoying neighbor or family member or co-worker or Facebook-poster?  Equally loved by God.

Republicans and Democrats?  Equally loved by God.

Illegal aliens from Mexico who want to jump over a border wall?  Loved by God.

You are all loved by God.  The people you hate are loved by God.  The people who have hurt you are deeply loved by God.

And when you have that kind of love going for you, you can live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.  Our ability to live as strangers is rooted in the impartial love of God.  God is for us.  If we feel alone at a new job, if we are having a hard time making friends at a new school, if our neighbors are not speaking to us, and if we have a broken relationship in our family, all of these things can make us feel like strangers in the world.  But in the midst of any situation that leaves us feeling like strangers or aliens, we can always know that our impartial God loves us.  Other people may judge unfairly and make us feel like strangers, but God will always love us impartially.

The impartial love of God is foundational for living our lives as strangers here in reverent fear!  Do you need to be reminded of how much God loves you?  Do you need to spend time alone with God, just soaking up the passages of Scripture that affirm God’s love?  Do you need to reflect on the amazing self-giving love of Jesus, of his birth, life, death and resurrection?

One of my favorite reminders of God’s love is Romans 8:31-39.  Maybe read this a couple times, and let the truth of God’s love for you sink deep into your heart and mind:

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Check back in tomorrow as we hear what Peter says about how to live as strangers in the world!

How Distracted I Was From God (What I Learned on Sabbatical, Part 2)

19 Apr

Image result for distracted by screens

On January 1st, I started a sabbatical daily log.  On that day I wrote three paragraphs about what was happening in the life of the Kime Family, and mixed in there were these five words:

“I deactivated my Facebook account.”

For those of you who use Facebook, deactivating your account might feel like a big deal.  Especially if you use it a lot, like I did.

For those of you who don’t have Facebook, or rarely use it, you might be thinking, “no big deal.”

I urge you all to stay with me here.  Because there is more to the story.  The next part of the story happened this week.

I was at the pet store this week.  Buying dog food.  Row after row of choices…for my dog.  When we got him, he had been at the Humane League because his previous owners couldn’t care for him.  He was sick from drinking pond water on their property.  So the Humane League put him on special dog food for “Sensitive Digestion”.  In other words, my dog is a vegetarian, and there is dog food for that.

No surprise, though.  That is just like nearly any store, for nearly any product; we live in a society with so many choices.

We have been trained up from birth to be consumers.  We have been told by our society that we should have a lot of choices, that we should get to pick between 50 kinds of chips, or cars, or anything.  And so we have grown up under the influence of Consumerism, what Webster’s defines as “the theory that a greater progressive consumption of goods is beneficial.”

This applies to all of us: we are consumers in a consumerist society. We want our choices, we want to buy things, and when we use them up, we want more and better things.  Our approach to media is no different: we consume media.

We live in a media-soaked world.  I’m not just talking about social media, but also television, radio (especially talk radio), podcasts, sports, movies, publishing, music, and advertising.  Think about how much media you are exposed to in one day’s time.  Seriously, count it up.  How many hours of media do you consume every day?

In my own family, there can be some sort of screen/media, whether it is social media, Xbox, TV shows, Netflix, podcast, playing nearly all waking hours. There are times when we are watching TV on one big screen, working on our laptops with smaller screens, and checking our phones at the same time!

So when I think about the fact that I deactivated my Facebook account on January 1st, it is curious to me that in my sabbatical journal, all I said was those five words, “I deactivated my Facebook account.”

Why is that curious?  Because at the time, it felt like a bigger deal.  I thought there would be sirens or explosions or something.  But there was nothing.  I worried it would negatively affect my life.  But as far as I can tell, not having Facebook in my life, has not affected me negatively at all.  That surprised me.

Why?  Well, I had spent a lot of time on Facebook over the years.  I started in 2008, I think.  Over ten years, all the hours and hours reading posts, liking, sharing, and commenting.  Being in the know.  Posting, wanting people to like my posts, to share my posts.  Checking.  Updating.  Checking again.

Simply put, Facebook was a big part of my life.

That’s why deactivating it felt emotional.  Like I was cutting off something.  I would no longer be in the know.  But I had a sense that I needed to do this for sabbatical, so I did it.

I have been off Facebook for three and a half months, and I don’t think I’m going back.  Yeah, I miss out on things.  But if there is something important, Michelle lets me know. Just last week she told me about friends expecting a baby! She found out on Facebook. But since I deactivated my account, there have been surprisingly few important things that I missed. Instead I feel free.  More on that later in this post.

I feel free from Facebook, but there is more consumerism in my life than just Facebook.

As I looked over my sabbatical daily log, I found another trend. Last week I told you how the first trend in my sabbatical was the month of January as filled with comments about stress and anxiety.  The second thing that filled that first month was commentary about distraction.

I realized that I was a consumer of distraction.  Social media was only one way I was distracted.  How about you?  Are you a consumer of distraction?  And distraction from what?

A few days after I deactivated my Facebook account, I wrote this:

“I think right now, at this early phase of the sabbatical, I am realizing, painfully, how much distraction I have had in my life.  My life has been drowning in distraction. So as I think about sabbatical, what I have found thus far, in the brief moments I have removed distraction, is that I am alone with myself. And I can’t say that I like it.”

In those early days and weeks of sabbatical, once I had cleared away some distraction in my life, guess what I found?  I found a person with anxiety, a bit too cranky, a person looking for a distraction when I really needed to just be present for my family, or be alone with myself and my God.  All that anxiety I talked about last week?  I would use social media, TV, and phone games to try to distract myself from the anxiety.

I was surprised to learn that social media might have made it worse!

One report in the journal Depression and Anxiety, was the first nationally representative study exploring the link between social media use and depression. It looked at close to 2,000 people.

Each participant took an established depression assessment tool and answered questionnaires on social media use. This included the 11 most used platforms at the time: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, Google+, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Vine.

You know what the study found? The more time someone uses social media, the more likely that person is to be depressed.

Another study said that “all social media platforms use something called intermittent variable rewards.

“Imagine a slot machine. You pull the lever to win a prize, which is an intermittent action linked to a variable reward. Variable means you might win, or you might not. In the same way, you refresh your Facebook updates to see if you’ve won.

“What you are winning on social media?  A new follower, a comment, someone liking what you posted.  And what happens, the researchers found, is that you become more discouraged and depressed when people don’t give you the likes.  Just like slot machines, when it comes to getting rewards out of social media, you often lose more than you win.”

So, for me, what started out as a good way to connect with the kids in the youth group (that’s when I activated and started my FB account, when we were youth pastors here and interacting with the kids in youth group), became too much of a regular part of my day and world. I could scroll through the news feed endlessly. To justify that use of time, I would say that I was I was learning about how things are going with people.  But as I look back on it, I was mostly distracted.

I have no doubt that social media, screen time, talk radio, reading fiction books, or whatever is a distraction for you, is not all bad.  But it can become a major distraction.  What is a healthy balance to use of media?

That is a question each person needs to answer for themselves.  And it starts with simply admitting that you can be distracted.  For me, it was a battle in my mind.  I didn’t want to admit that I was so distracted by social media and phone games.

Ask yourself this: how distracted are you? If you are spending more time watching TV than you do with your family or with God, then perhaps that is a yellow flag for you.  Think about how much time you read books, listen to talk radio, watch movies and Netflix.  Are you giving loads of time to those things, but little to God?  That might be a yellow flag to investigate.

When we do a time study of our lives, will we find that we have been distracted from spending time with God and from spending time with the important people in our lives?

We are consumers who can very readily seek to satisfy the desires of our hearts, our longings, our need for satisfaction through distractions like social media, through sports, through television, through phone games, and we will find that those outlets do not satisfy.  There is one place to find the satisfaction we crave: in the presence of the Lord.

Do you ever feel that desire to be in the presence of the Lord, but it seems impossible or irrational? If we hear ourselves saying, or if we think to ourselves, that we feel distant from God, or that we don’t hear God speak, is it because we are so distracted?

During sabbatical, I read the book Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom, and here is a quote that hit me between the eyes, “God could complain about us a great deal more than we about him.  We complain that he does not make himself present to us for the few minutes we reserve for him, but what about the twenty-three and a half hours during which God may be knocking at our door, and we answer, “I am busy, I am sorry.” Or we do not answer at all because we do not hear the knock at the door of our heart, of our minds, of our conscience, of our life. So there is a situation in which we have no right to complain about the absence of God, because we are a great deal more absent than he ever is.”

When I thought about my life, I knew Bloom was describing me.  The way I treated God would have been a relationship-killer if it was a human.  Imagine that was how you treated your spouse, or your best friend.  Imagine you gave them only 5, 10, or 15 minutes each day, and during that short time, all you did was spout off a list of things you wanted them to do.  When you were done with your list, you said goodbye, and you didn’t talk with them again until you read a new list again the next day, and the next, and the next.  During any of these brief daily meetings you did not ask how they were doing, or listen to what they had to say.  How would that work out for your relationship?  It will kill that relationship.  And yet, Bloom says, that is how we can treat God, and have the gall to blame him for not talking to us.  I don’t know if that describes you. It sure did me.

But hear this amazing good news: Because of what Jesus did, through his death and resurrection, we can have access to God our father.  The God of the universe wants to be with us!  Think of Adam and Eve in the Garden walking and talking with God.  Think of the Prodigal Son returning home and his father wrapping his arms around his son in a huge welcoming hug.  These are pictures of what God wants.  And we can avail ourselves of that. We can spend time with him!

In Hebrews we read that Jesus is our great high priest who opened the door for us to have access to God.  That is good news!

In James we read “draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” That is good news!

What do you need to do about the distraction in your life?  What do you need to do to spend time in God’s presence?  I invite you to take action.  For me, Facebook had to go.  Games on my phone had to go.  More distraction still might need to go.  I had to learn about listening prayer, and I had to open up space in my life to make room for it.

Another article I found described a recent experiment where people voluntarily opened space in their lives. “The idea was simple. During the month of January, 2018, participants would take a break from “optional technologies” in their lives, including, notably, social media. At the end of the 31-day period, the participants would then rebuild their digital lives starting from a blank slate — only allowing back in technologies for which they could provide a compelling motivation.

Conclusion: when freed from standard digital distractions, participants often overhauled their free time in massively positive ways.”

The author then shared numerous examples of how people’s lives, freed from distraction, improved:

–> An engineer realized how much of the information he used to consume though social media during the day was “unimportant or useless.” With this drain on his attention removed from his routine, he returned to his old hobby of playing chess, and became an enthusiast of architectural Lego kits (“a wonderful outlet”).

–> A writer and mother of three homeschooled kids, completed a draft of a book, while also reading “many books” written by others.  “I’m recapturing my creative spirit,” she told me.

–>  A retired stockbroker began to spend more time with his wife, going for walks, and “really listening.” He expanded this habit of trying to “listen more and talk less” to his friends and family more generally.

–> A PhD candidate described the experience of stepping away from distracting technologies as “liberating.” Her mind began “working all the time,” but on things that were important to her, and not just news about “celebrities and their diets and workouts.” Among other things, she told me: “I was more there for my girls,” I could focus on “keeping my marriage alive,” and at night “I would read research papers [in the time I used to spend scrolling feeds].”

–> A government worker replaced his online news habit with a daily subscription to the print edition of a newspaper. “I still feel perfectly up to date with the news, without getting caught up in the minute-to-minute clickbait headlines and sensationalism that is so typical of online news,” he told me.

Look at the amazing thing that happened when people removed distraction, and opened space in their lives!  Imagine what could happen if we do the same for God?

Maybe you’re not a social media person, will consider a break from TV?  Author Tim Willard gives the following advice:

First, you must be devoted to getting off your couch and turning the TV off. That’s step one. Stop trolling social media for people talking about the next new great show, ranting about how much they hate basically everything they don’t agree with.

It’s all digital noise, literally. Then shut off your TV for a year. See how that grabs you. One thing I switched up, I watercolor paint with my daughters every single night.

“But Tim, I don’t paint.” Excellent! Neither do I! Been afraid to my whole life. So, I got some good paints, good brushes, good paper, and I’m learning. I’ve missed maybe four days since the first of the year. The girls love it. We play classical music, light some incense, and laugh and compare paintings.

It’s the best parenting move I’ve done yet, I think.

I don’t watch television as it is. But this year, I’m not watching any programming. I stopped watching news channels and ordered a paper. It’s tough, and I’ve had to sacrifice, but it’s been so worth it. Ask my daughters.

Get some ideas, get devoted, and start doing things with real people, with your real hands. Make, create, mess up. It’s quite liberating.

Second, Willard says, Get radical and don’t look at your phone as soon as you roll out of bed. Let your first thirty minutes be making tea or coffee and reading something, like, I don’t know, a real Bible, or devotional, or something inspiring. Perhaps usually something by King David or that murderous chap, Paul.

I guarantee that if you attempt this, it will begin to rewire your brain. It will change your rhythm. And you’ll fight it at first. You’ll think you need to check the weather, or just hold your phone like “my precious.” But you don’t. Just be alive. Walk outside. And breathe deep the real analog world.

Third, Take a walk at lunch, and listen. What do you hear? Probably that’s the sounds of God rolling into your ears.

Fourth, listen to music.  Something quiet. Something that ministers to your frazzled spirit. I listen to Bach while I’m grabbing something to read. But most mornings, it’s just me, my tea, my Moleskine and the quiet blue morning.

You should read Tim’s whole article. There’s much more great advice.

What is one way you can remove distraction in your life today?  Then, and this is the exciting part, how will you use your freedom?  Be creative! Include God!

A Guided Lament you can use right now

21 Dec

Image result for lament

Do we lament when life is so rotten and dark that we have no where else to turn?  Yes.

Do we lament when there is still hope, but much work yet to be done?  Yes.

What we have seen this Advent as we’ve studied psalms of lament, is that lament is a faithful, clinging to God, an emotional plea asking him to intervene.

When we lament, we pray, “How long O Lord?” because we are waiting for him in the midst of our pain.

When we lament we are asking God to restore and revive us.

As you read this post, you may be at your wits’ end.  And you might not be.  No matter if you are going through a difficult time, or if things are relatively good, I encourage you to practice lament.  Include lament as a regular part of your prayer.  So what I’ve created below is a guide that you can use to help you lament.

Maybe even take the guide and use it to lament with your family or small group.  When we used this guide during our worship service at Faith Church, I read a section, then gave a few minutes for people to lament.  I invited our church family to lament out loud if the wanted.  Some did!  Most prayed quietly to themselves.

You’ll notice that the guided lament below starts broadly, lamenting for our world, and then gradually narrows, finishing with a lament for yourself.  Feel free to read over the brief description I’ve created ahead.  You might want to personalize, add to it, totally change it!  What I have listed below is just a guide.

So find a quiet place, away from distractions.  You might want to put your phone on airplane mode, light a candle, and take a few deep breaths.  Maybe read Psalm 126 again.  And then when you’re ready, address your lament to God.

Lament for our world

Lament for our world.  Lament for the refugees without a home, often scraping together an sparsee existence in a war-torn camp.  Lament for the families around the world who have lost loved ones because of terrorist attacks. Lament for fractures that run deep between people and nations in our world.

Lament for our country

Lament for our country.  Lament for the homeless who wonder how they’ll survive the winter.  Lament for damage that sexual predators have caused.  Lament for the pain caused by mass shootings.  Lament for communities devastated by flood and fire.

Lament for your community

Lament for your community.  Lament for the hungry coming to food banks for help.  Lament for the people living in motels.  Lament for broken families and how deeply it affects children. Lament for the many in our community who do not know Jesus.

Lament for your church

Lament for your church.  Lament for those in your church family who have been experiencing physical pain for many months and years.  Lament for the families that have dealt with a different kind of pain, the pain of loss and brokenness in its many forms.

Lament for your family

Lament for your family and all the difficulties you’re facing.

Lament for yourself

Lament for yourself.

Dealing with the harsh reality of God’s invisibility

21 Sep

Image result for why is god invisible

Do you ever wish God would show himself?  Ever feel jealous of the disciples who got to walk and talk with Jesus for three whole years?  I do.  I’m not always certain that God’s idea to be invisible was a good one.  Why not just manifest yourself and prove to everyone you’re alive and well?  It seems like that would help a lot.

As we continue in Deuteronomy 4, we come to verses 15-19.  Moses’ description of idols is very interesting.  Unlike our invisible God, the idols were physical objects that could be seen.  Statues of people or animals, and worship of the sun and moon.  The nations around Israel all had idol worship.

Most Americans, myself included, have rarely experienced what Israel dealt with every day, being influenced by idol worship.  Only a few times in my life, on mission trips, have I traveled through lands where there were idol statues.  Guyana, India, Nepal, and Cambodia.  In these countries there were Hindu and Buddhist statues all over the place.  Imagine what it would feel like trying to be a faithful Christian in Cambodia with Buddhist statues dominating the culture.  In Phnom Penh we walked to the famous Wat Phnom, an ancient Buddhist temple, and peered inside the sanctuary. It was a room crammed with idols big and small.  An eerie feeling came over me.  In fact, in all of those countries, I felt a spiritual pressure, a darkness, and I was only visiting for a few days or months.  That’s what Israel had to live with all the time.

You might think, “Statues are so basic.  What is the attraction?”  Because pervasive idol worship is not a part of our culture, it can be hard to fathom.  But in the Canaanite culture surrounding Israel, statues or the sun or moon were tangible things.  You could see them, touch them, feel them, and smell the smells around them.  It works that way still today in nations with religions that feature idol worship.  Adherents believe those idols are connected to a real being, a real god.  It might be hard for us to imagine, but for them it was and is real.  In some cases they are connected to a real being, a demonic power.

Now here’s the rub.  What did God say to Israel?  He said, “I don’t want you making any idols.”  So how is Israel supposed to compete religiously in a culture and society that was all about physical representation of gods, when Israel’s God was invisible?  Maybe that is why Israel was so enticed by other nation’s gods and their statues.

Before this sounds foreign and irrelevant to you, ask yourself if you might feel a tinge of this.  Let me explain.  How do you feel about worshiping an invisible God?  Do you ever think, “I wish you would just show yourself, God!”  When you never see God, do you ever doubt God’s existence?  I do.  Even if we have a strong faith, we still at times long for a physical manifestation of God.

Moses reminds us in verse 15 that Israel didn’t see their God, Yahweh.  He had no form. They knew he was real, though.  Why?  They heard him!  Yesterday, I mentioned the story of when he spoke to them. They had evidence that he was real.  Other idols they could see, but those idols could not talk because they were not alive.  Yahweh, though they couldn’t see him, was absolutely, clearly alive.

Even still, clearly for Israel and for us too, being in a relationship with an invisible God can be hard.  When you can’t see something, when you don’t have evidence, it is hard to stay faithful.  Imagine your spouse was invisible, and you only very rarely heard their voice.  They wrote a book long ago, however, and that is the primary way you continue to stay in relationship with them.  From time to time you see the evidence that they were around, but it is rare.  How do you think your marriage would be with that kind of invisible spouse? Most of us would say “Forget this.”

We long to people in relationship with real people.  We long to communicate, to look into each others’ eyes, to hear and to be heard, to touch one another.  I recently listened to an interview on NPR that featured a communication specialist.  She reported research into what happens in the human brain when we communicate with one another.  The electrical energy in our brains goes wild, reacting, anticipating.  We are built to communicate with one another, she said.  Remember Tom Hanks’ character in the movie Cast Away?  He survived an airplane crash that left him alone on a deserted island.  Among the wreckage, he found a Wilson volleyball.  As the days passed, feeling desperate, using his own blood, he painted a face on the ball, and started talking to it, as though it was a friend named Wilson.  Hanks’ masterful acting depicts his character in “conversation” with Wilson.  He was so alone, starved not only for food, but for communication, and he created a friend to connect with.

Therefore it is sometimes painfully hard to stay faithful to an invisible God.  You can see why people long for a god they can see, hear, and feel.  You can see why people worship idols.

We are people who love to hear about spiritual experiences breaking into in our everyday lives.  The dreams, the visions, the miracles, the answers to prayer.  Why?  Because those are evidences of God being alive.  If we are honest, many of us would admit that we question God’s existence or the truth of the Bible, and we feel guilty about it. So we long for God to show up.  We long for those experiences of God in our lives.

I have to ask you, though: can those experiences become idols?  Can we become too dependent on the physical manifestation of God?  I think we can.

One of my favorite CS Lewis quotes from The Screwtape Letters  is when Wormwood, the senior demon, remarks to Wormwood, the demon in training, that if a Christian sees no evidence of God in their lives, but still obeys, that Christian is not worth trying to tempt anymore.  They are a lost cause…to the demon.  Why?  Because that Christian has attained a high level of spiritual maturity.  They don’t need to see God to believe and follow him.  They don’t need physical manifestations of God at work to sustain their faith.  There is nothing wrong with God manifesting himself.  He can and does.  But maturity in Christ means that we do not allow ourselves to become addicted to spiritual manifestations; we do not allow ourselves to get to a place where our faith will crumble if those manifestations cease.

This is why we spent so much time this past summer learning about the spiritual disciplines.  Scroll back through the blog and you’ll see those posts.  Why are spiritual disciplines so important?  When we develop habitual patterns of following God, we can have strength to get through the dry times.  The regular practice of spiritual disciplines is vital.

I recently heard the story about one of our local cross country runners who was nervous to start practice.  Remember those weeks in mid-August?  It was hot!  And humid.  Can you imagine running in that?  This particular young lady had never been on the cross country team before, and she was nervous she would do poorly in the heat.  You know what happened that first day of practice?  She was fine.  But another boy, not so much.  He ended up almost passing out due to heat stroke.  You know the difference?  She trained over the summer, and the other boy did not.  She logged the personal miles, and so her body was ready for practice, even in the heat.

Likewise we practice a disciplined faith so that we can become mature followers of Jesus.  Not following idols.  But following the way of Jesus, even when we see little evidence of God around us.

Are you working on growing your faith?  Practicing spiritual disciplines?  We might not see God, Moses reminds us.  But we can know that he is alive and well.

How parents and grandparents can bring revival to our land

20 Sep

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There’s a scary reality we need to bring up.

Though we are studying Deuteronomy, jump ahead to Judges 2:10, which takes place maybe 40-50 years after Deuteronomy.  By this time Joshua has taken over for Moses as leader of Israel, guiding Israel as  they take possession of the Promised Land and settle down.  Then Joshua dies.  What happened to Israel, then, one generation removed?  We read in Judges 2:10 that they totally forgot the Lord.

That freaks me out a bit.  Can this happen to us?  Can we totally forget the Lord?  Let us never think, “No way, that will never happen.” It sure can happen.  But how?  Just like it did for Israel in Judges 2. One generation that knows the Lord does not pass on the faith to the next generation.

Now let’s travel back to Deuteronomy 4, and I’ll explain why we took this little trip into Israel’s future.  Yesterday I mentioned that God is odd.  He really is, but in a good way!

Look at Deuteronomy 4, verses 10-14. Moses is reminding the people of Israel of a famous story in their history, a time the previous generation heard the voice of the Lord, and God gave them the Ten Commandments.  Moses is about to review those Ten Commandments next in chapter 5.  For now, he has a different purpose. He wants the people to remember their odd God.  Their God wasn’t like the Canaanite gods which were mute idol statues made of stone or wood.  No, Israel’s God, Yahweh, could speak!  Moses then tells the story of when God dramatically spoke in an audible voice to the people many years before, a story you can read in Exodus chapters 19 and 20.

What is the significance of this?  Why does Moses bring this up?  He knows how quickly we forget.  He knows that one generation can have an amazing connection to God, but sadly that generation is unable to pass on that connection to their kids and grandkids.  So Moses describes what the parents and grandparents are to do.  He says, “Teach your children and their children who God is, how he works, and what is Word is all about.”

How many of us are teaching our kids and grandkids what God is like? Are you teaching your kids the story of God?  It is crucial that we parents and grandparents take an active role in passing on the faith to our kids and grandkids.

Tell them God is so different from other gods.  Definitely this practice of teaching the next generation should include teaching them Bible stories.  But what about also telling them stories of how God has shown himself to be alive and well to you personally, to your family? Do you remember?  How has God been faithful, how he has answered prayer?

You know what the Psalmist says in Psalm 71:18? This is a great reminder for older people who have kids and grandkids:“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.

So parents and grandparents, invest in the spiritual welfare of your kids. Disciple them to be true followers of Jesus.  Don’t depend on the church to do this for you.  Have dinner together, and talk about the Lord.  Have family devotions.  Memorize Scripture together.  Then tell the stories of God at work in your lives.  Go on mission trips together, serve together.

Keep faith alive in the next generation.  Help the next generation learn what discipleship is all about.  Teach them how to advance in the unending cycle of being disciples who make disciples.

Was God being manipulative when he said, “If you obey me, you will live”?

18 Sep

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Is God being manipulative when he says, “If you obey me, you will live”?

Is he being threatening?  Why in the world would God say that?  If you remove the Christian filter from your mind, you can read God as sounding an awful lot like an abusive boyfriend.

As we continue our study through Deuteronomy, we come to a passage where God says that.  Jesus says it too.  Let’s take a look.  What are we to make of this?

In Deuteronomy chapter 4, verse 1, and we read the word “Hear”.  “Hear” is the Hebrew word “Shema,” and Moses uses it many times in the next few chapters, the most famous occurrence is in chapter 6:4-9, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”  That Shema is known as THE Shema, a kind of credal statement uttered by the people of Israel regularly still to this day.  For them it is like the Apostles Creed or the Lord’s Prayer.

Shema means, “Hear, Listen, understand.”  Moses is saying, “Pay attention, people! Important information is about to arrive. Listen up! You don’t want to miss this.”

And what is the important info Moses has for them?  Well, there is a lot.  Look at what he says in verses 1-5.  They absolutely must get this because their lives literally depend on it.  They need to hear the Law, and then follow and obey the law, he says, to live.  To live!

And why?  Because of verse 3.  Moses basically says to the people, “You remember that situation at Baal Peor, right?”  You can read all about what happened at Baal Peor in Numbers 25.  It was a fairly recent event in the life of the nation, so Moses doesn’t need to retell it here in Deuteronomy 4.  He just has to say, “You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor.”  What they saw would have been hard to forget.

The place was called Baal Peor because an idol to the Canaanite god Baal was there.  Some of the people of Israel were enticed to worship it, probably because there was temple prostitution there.  Some of the men indulged, which was bad enough, but they also participated in worship rituals, which included bowing down to the idol of Baal.  Imagine God watching them.  It was like a one-two punch to him.  First punch in the gut when they participated in sinful things, second punch right across the face when they bowed down to Baal.  How would you feel if you were God?

Betrayed.  Angry.  Jealous.   Maybe all that, maybe more.  God is a relational, emotional God, and Israel had really hurt him.  We learn that thousands of the Israelites died that day as a result of their severe disobedience.  Fast-forward to Deuteronomy 4, and the people Moses was talking to remembered that day.  The lesson God taught on that horrible day in the life of their nation was one they wouldn’t forget anytime soon.  Follow God’s Law and live.  Disobey and die.  It couldn’t have been more clear to them.

Moses also connects the obedience of the people to their ability to remain in the land. If the people obey, not only will they live, but they will also live in the Land.  In chapters 1-3 we learned that some of the tribes, 2 ½ of them, had just received their allotment of land on the east side of the Jordan River.  The rest had yet to cross the Jordan where they would receive their land.

They had come all this way from Egypt. Did they want to live in the Land?  Yes, they absolutely did.  So Moses reminds them that the promise of life and land was conditional.  God’s love for them was unconditional, meaning it would never change.  But life in the land was conditional; they could lose it.  If they followed God’s law, and held fast to them, they had nothing to worry about.

This is an instructive word for us too.  Jesus once said in John 14:15, “if you love me, obey my commands.”  In our modern sensibilities, we bristle at the suggestion that we are to obey another person.  It sounds demeaning or authoritarian.  Parental.  And to tie it to the idea of love sounds really manipulative.  “If you love, you’ll do what I say.”  If our friend was in a relationship with a person who said that, we’d tell them to break it off.  So why does God say this to the Israelites, and why does Jesus say it to his followers?  Are they manipulative?  Are they being demanding?

Maybe. Some people sure think so. But I don’t.  Instead, I believe God had the Israelites’ best interest in mind.  Just like Jesus does for his followers.  They know the best possible way to live.  They are not just trying to twist people’s arms into praising them and following them.  Instead they love us and want what the true good life for us.  That good life is found in obeying them.

God’s call for obedience from his people is a wonderful balance of what is best for them, and what he desires most.  Obey and live, rather than turning out to be manipulative, is actually life-giving, not just in the eternal sense, but in a well-rounded human way.  Paul would go on to talk about the Fruit of the Spirit, and I believe that teaching is an example of why it is so important and amazing to follow the way of Jesus.  Paul said in Galatians 5 that we walk in step with God’s Spirit, following his way, what will flow out of our lives are the best qualities of life: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Jesus often talked about how following his way leads to eternal life, but it also leads to a new kind of life in the here and now.  Israel could access that life, God said, if they obeyed him.  We can access that life, if we learn to follow the way of Jesus.  What is that way?  Read the stories of Jesus in four accounts of his life, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  What do you see?

If you want to learn to be his follower, comment below.  I’d love to talk with you further. Take a look at what Paul says about following Jesus in the teaching right after the Fruit of the Spirit: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  Let’s talk about how to do that!  Let’s talk about how to really live.