Friday, June 28, 2013

Do you love God or just what He can do for you?

Psalm 22:1  "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?"

David was obviously going through a trial in his life.  It was a time where David could not feel God's presence, though he desperately needed it and wanted it. 

The reality is that God is always present, always aware of us and what we are going through.  Whether we feel His presence or not, He is there. 

This leads to a hard question to answer - if God is always present and He loves us, why does He allow us to go through trials and suffering?  There is a basic underlying assumption behind this question that we must identify and examine.  The assumption is that if He is present and loves us, that should translate into a nice, cushy, always peaceful existence for us.  To experience pain and trial, therefore, calls into question whether God is paying attention and/or whether He truly loves us. 

The fact is that God's love for us does not obligate Him to maintain constant peace and tranquility in our lives.  When we experience pain and trial, it is not because He has temporarily lost control or is busy elsewhere.

We need look no further than the life of Jesus, whom it is impossible to argue that God did not love.  If God was ever obligated to provide a peaceful, happy life 100% of the time to anyone, wouldn't it be His one and only Son?  But an examination of Jesus' life shows anything but a constantly tranquil existence.  Jesus suffered as much or more than anyone, causing Him to repeat this verse while dying on the cross. 

How can we expect (and feel as if we deserve) to be constantly happy and always provided for in this life simply because of our relationship with God?  Why are we caught off guard when God allows us to go through times of pain and suffering when the same thing happened to His own precious Son?

The problem is not the bad things we experience in this world - it is our false sense that we are entitled to and deserve something better than what we receive.  When we accept God's invitation, we gain Him.  Period.  A relationship with God, like a relationship with our spouse, entitles us to good times and bad, richer or poorer.  Thankfully, though, when hard times come, we know the One who is constantly with us whether or not we feel His presence.  We can also know that the times of greatest growth and learning are those times where we lean most heavily on Him and depend on His deliverance.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Past is not precedent

Philippians 3:13-14  "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

Paul's words above describe an important tenet of the Christian faith - progressive sanctification.  Sanctification is different but equally important as justification.  Justification is the full and complete forgiveness we receive when we place our faith in what Christ accomplished for us through His death and resurrection.  Sanctification describes what happens over the course of our lives after justification.

After we accept Christ's unmerited grace, we become His children and start a lifelong process of coming to know Him and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us to be more like Him.  Justification is more like an event that happens at a particular time, whereas sanctification is a process that does not end during our time on earth.

If we allow the process to work as it should, each successive day brings us closer to (and more knowledgeable of) God than we were the day before.  Our words, beliefs and actions at any particular point in our lives are constrained by what we know and where we are in the sanctification process at that time.  Later, we may look back on choices we have made and see a different path than we were able to see at the time.

Our past thoughts, choices and actions do not set a precedent for us that can never be changed in the future.  We don't continue to give someone an "F" in math all the way through high school because they answered a math problem incorrectly in 1st grade.

In the same way, we shouldn't label someone a hypocrite for holding different beliefs today and taking different actions today than they did in the past.  This is exactly what Paul means when he talks about forgetting what is behind and pressing on toward the goal.  How many times must he have had his past life and beliefs as a persecutor of Christians and a keeper of the law thrown in his face as he was preaching the Gospel of grace through faith and not by works?

Even those (no, especially those) who have made certain choices in the past (divorce, adultery, idol worship, etc.) and held certain beliefs in the past can forcefully argue against those same choices and beliefs at a later point.  Who could have more credibility to speak on an issue than someone who has walked in those shoes and has seen the fruit (good or bad) of certain choices and beliefs? 

To place someone in a permanent box and deny them the ability and freedom to change is to deny the sanctification process that is described in the Bible.  If our destinies were set by past actions and beliefs, no one would stand today as a believer and washed clean by the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.