Monday, December 17, 2012

Faith in the face of tragedy

Proverbs 3:5  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;"

What happened in Connecticut last Friday is something everyone is grappling with and trying to make sense of.  The killing of 26 people, mostly first graders, is exactly the type of event we struggle to make some sense of so that we can understand why it happened and try to prevent something like this from every happening again.

This is also the type of event that can shake the faith of Christians and embolden those who are unbelievers.  We who believe will lean hard on God and recite the verse above to ourselves and others.  Those who don't believe will ask a question such as "What type of god would allow something like this to happen?"  Truth be told, in the deep recesses of a believer's heart and mind, we ask the same question.

Non-believers love to use events like this to pin a Christian in a corner and force them to explain this in light of their faith.  As Christians (whether spiritually mature or not), we are expected to have all of the answers for questions about how and why God does things or allows things to happen.  When an answer is not readily available and we have to fall back to a verse such as Proverbs 3:5, non-believers feel as if they have won the argument and presented the conclusive evidence as to whether our faith has basis.

Here is what I know, in this situation and all others:

1. God is who He says He is- He is all powerful, all knowing, and ever present.

2. God is in control- God is the authority over all things in the natural and spiritual world.

3. God was not caught off guard by this- we were (and still are) shocked by the events of Friday.  God was not.  God didn't rush to the scene in a panic, quickly assess the situation and go into damage control mode.  If He did, then points 1 and 2 above would not be true.

4. God's ways are higher than our own- we have no idea (even when we think we have something all figured out) what God's full purpose is in orchestrating events as He does.

5. The next most popular idol behind money that competes with God for our worship is logic- if we are unable to wrap our minds around something and understand it, then we tend to conclude that it must not be true.  We worship our brains and our own understanding to the exclusion of God.  He never promised us a clear, logical explanation to everything.  And to think that He owes us anything, much less an explanation of His ways, is arrogant and laughable.

6.  I ask a lot of the same questions non-believers ask- to think that the presence of God in my heart causes me to not struggle with things that I would like to understand and just don't is as wrong as saying that a Christian doesn't continue to sin.

7. I don't (and never will) have all of the answers- we encourage people all the time to be "lifelong learners".  To never lose that intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge that we had as a kid in school is seen as a positive virtue.  But somehow the concept of lifelong learning is not supposed to apply in our spiritual lives?  I, and everyone else who walks this earth, will go to our death beds not knowing all of the answers to life's questions.  There is a reason they call it "faith" and not "knowledge".

There are a lot of misconceptions about Christians among non-Christians.  One of those is that we think we have all the answers.  Another is that we think we are better than those who don't believe.  Tragedies and the ensuing questions that arise out of them can solidify those misconceptions or serve to break them down.  The divisions will grow wider if Christians dismiss the questions by robotically reciting Scripture and giving a "Sunday school answer" to a real question.  And we will look all the more self-righteous if we dismiss questions as coming from those who "just don't get it".    

If I get the question of how a God of love could allow something like this to happen, I hope I can acknowledge the question as legitimate.  I hope I can also admit that the same question has entered my mind.  Ultimately, I will have to admit that I don't have a complete answer for it.  If this causes a non-believer to claim some sort of victory in the argument for why God doesn't exist, then I guess that is how it will be.  But they might walk away with a slightly different perspective on how a Christian (or at least THIS Christian) views the world.

Just like I can't explain how quantum physics works or how an acorn turns into an oak tree, that doesn't cause me to say it isn't real and it doesn't exist.  If reality was limited to what I had straight in my own mind, most of this world would not exist.  And that is why I have faith.  I take it on faith that all of those things written in a history book that I didn't actually observe with my own eyes and ears did, in fact, occur.  Everyone has faith- it's just a matter of what you place your faith in.  I place mine in the God of the Universe, whether I understand and can explain His ways or not.


Friday, December 14, 2012

What Do I Covet?

Philippians 4:17  "Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that is increasing to your account."

Paul is giving thanks to the church at Philippi for their material support of him as a missionary.  Paul had given himself fully to preaching the Gospel and, in doing so, had chosen to be fully dependent and reliant upon the generosity and giving of others to support his material needs.

As with many missionaries who rely on others, the details of where Paul's earthly provision would come from was probably never far from the forefront of his mind.  When you do not have a steady, predictable stream of financial support, it is hard to not think about or worry where it will come from. 

But Paul makes an amazingly insightful statement about what he truly covets from the Philippians.  Rather than wanting the gift itself, which no doubt was vitally important for fulfilling his current needs, he covets the Spirit which is motivating them to provide those gifts and the fruit that displays itself as a result of being obedient to the Spirit.  Although money, food, clothing, shelter, etc. in times of need are great to have, he was able to see beyond his current circumstances and recognize that having the Spirit inside of us display Itself through generously supporting those who work to expand God's Kingdom is the real gift.

Paul didn't covet the Philippians' wealth, but rather their submission to the Spirit that motivated them to give their wealth away.  Ask yourself an honest, truthful, private question- would I rather have wealth or the Spirit that would motivate me to give all my wealth away?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Multi-dimensional God

Ephesians 4:2  "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love."

We are commanded to show different characteristics and different traits at different times in the Bible.  There are the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) we are to bear, and the characteristics of love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) that we are to take on.  But I think we have a tendency to latch onto certain verses or certain traits and act as if they are the only ones.

Most would naturally picture Jesus as meek and mild, gently teaching His followers and turning the other cheek to His enemies.  But what about the scene in the temple courts where an enraged Jesus goes on a rampage against those who are desecrating His Father's house?  What do you do with that side of Jesus if you only believe He was a peacemaker and His primary goal in life was to be nice?  Do you just quickly get through that part of the Bible and act like you didn't read it, because it makes you uncomfortable to think of Jesus that way?

Jesus was not one-dimensional, and neither is the Father.  Jesus showed patience and compassion when someone needed it, and He showed a fierce strength when other situations called for it.  To be clear, His expressions of anger and aggression never crossed the line of sin, which is so important for us to see.  Anger and aggression are not sin, by definition. If expressed appropriately in situations that call for it, and ultimately in love, anger and aggression (or any other traits that we don't associate with the stereotypical image of Jesus) can be exactly what is called for and what is needed.

I am not advocating some sort of physical or verbal abuse.  Again, when we cross the line into sin territory, we are in the wrong.  But in a situation where our families are in danger (physical or spiritual), is aggression not an appropriate response?  Would Jesus advise against it?  Not the real Jesus.

Jesus, just like God the Father, found Himself in different situations with different people and different issues.  He responded in multiple ways depending on what was needed in order to advance His ultimate message of love.  He didn't fall back to the same, one-dimensional response (turn the other creek, for example) in every situation.

The Bible shows us from cover to cover the multi-dimensional nature of God.  We bear the image of that multi-dimensional God.  Don't put Him (or ourselves) in a box as to "how a Christian should act" and expect it to fit for every situation.  Don't just read part of the Bible- read all of it.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cramped quarters

1 Kings 8:27  " 'But will God really dwell on earth?  The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You.  How much less this temple I have built?' "

The Lord's majesty is impossible for us to grasp.  He created all of the natural structures and elements of this world (the mountains, the oceans, the Grand Canyon) that make us feel small. 

To Him, though, these are impossibly tiny.  Our entire world is tiny to the One who created the solar system, galaxies, and the whole universe.  We cannot conceive of anything the size of God, because He created it all. 

Solomon recognized the physical limitations of the grand temple constructed for God to dwell in.  A temple that took seven years to build, had a Holy Place that was 45 feet tall, and a washing basin with a 12,000-gallon capacity- this was almost laughably small to contain the grandeur of God.

But God has found an even smaller place than this in which to dwell.  He has once again turned the logic and calculations of our human minds upside down.  He has chosen to live in our hearts.  Not a reduced version of Himself or only part of Himself, but all of Himself.  The Creator of everything we can conceive has chosen to live in complete fullness in the hearts of those who accept His call.

Who are we that He is mindful of us?