Pride and Trust

March 30, 2010 at 8:59 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Here are two recent devotional thoughts on trust and pride:

            Cathy and I have found ourselves in a position of having to purchase two cars in two months.  We are thankful for God’s supply, but we are stretched financially.  For most of our 28 years of marriage, we were in faith ministry or in small churches that couldn’t pay us much, so we have never had reserves of any size and have always lived by faith in the matter of finances.  However, in the past few years, we have done better financially and have begun to build some reserves.  Currently those are depleted.  Strange how that has played on my mind; what was the norm for years is now very uncomfortable.  Even though our reserves were saved just for occasions like this, now that they’re gone, I am nervous about losing the fridge or hot water heater, or that some other emergency need may come along.  Where is the trust in God I had for so many years?  How come it’s harder now than it used to be?  One financial principle I’ve often taught is that “a luxury once experienced becomes a necessity.”  I have made myself comfortable with a small financial reserve, and now I think I must always have one.  Last week I read this prayer of Agur from Proverbs 30:7-9, “Give me neither poverty nor riches . . . that I be not full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or that I be not in want and steal and profane the name of my God.”  It’s easy to see, even on my small scale, how riches can lure one from trust in God.

            Yesterday I read on the Desiring God blog that John Piper will be taking an eight month personal leave from his ministry.  In his own words, he said “I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me.”  And later he commented, “In 30 years, I have never let go of the passion for public productivity.”  What a warning to all who are in ministry.  Whether one is an internationally recognized speaker and author like Piper, or preacher in a mid-size church like me, or a solo pastor in a small church like I was for years, pride can creep in and ruin the ministry, the minister and those close to him.  I know the pride of the last two all too well.  No matter what level of ministry one is called to, “public productivity” can easily become the goal over pleasing God and faithfulness to his word.  May God protect us all.  May John Piper’s great example serve to encourage many, myself included, to seek God’s glory, our humility, and faithfulness to our true calling.  You can read Piper’s article here.

Samson: Strength, Weakness, Grace

March 20, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Theology | 6 Comments

            The story of Samson is one of those Bible stories that, at times, has made me wonder why it’s even in the Bible.  Parts of it make a great kid’s Sunday School story, but parts of it are risqué enough for an adult-only film.  As I read his story again this week, I had some thoughts about it I wanted to write down.  This would make one of those three-part alliterated sermons, so I guess I’ll file it away for future use.

            First, Samson is a story of Tremendous Strength.  Of course, his strength is legendary and what makes him such a fascinating kid’s story.  He killed a lion with his bare hands; he killed thirty men at one time; he easily broke the ropes used to bind him; he killed 1,000 men with a donkey’s jawbone; he lifted the great city gates of Gaza off their hinges and carried them up the mountain; and, with his last ounce of strength, he knocked down the pillars of Dagon’s temple, killing 3,000 people.

            But unfortunately, Samson is also a story of Tragic Weakness.  All of Samson’s problems centered around one weakness.  He couldn’t say no to women.  In fact all his shows of tremendous strength were needed because he got himself in trouble through his weakness.  He had to kill the lion because he was taking his parents down to meet a woman he wanted to marry simply because “she looked good to him.”  He had to kill 30 men because he couldn’t keep a secret from his betrothed wife for even a few days.  She pushed him for the answer to his riddle, and he gave in.  He had to kill more men because he went down to find his “wife” whom he never really married.  He was trapped in Gaza and had to lift the gates because he had gone to a prostitute there.  Finally, he was caught and imprisoned, leading to his temple razing, because he couldn’t say no to his girlfriend Delilah.  Three times she said, “You’ve deceived me and lied to me.”  But all along she was the one deceiving and lying.  Of course, he knew it, because she constantly betrayed his confidence, but he gave into her anyway.  He couldn’t say no to a beautiful woman.  Interesting that the wisest man in the Bible, the strongest man in the Bible, and the “man after God’s own heart” all had this same weakness.  That should be a major lesson for us guys!

            Finally, Samson is a story of Triumphant Grace.  In spite of his weakness and failures, God used him anyway.  He ruled Israel for 20 years and defeated many of Israel’s enemies.  He was empowered by the Spirit of God.  He is even listed in God’s hall of faith in Hebrews 11.  In spite of his great and obvious weakness, God was able to use him.  That can only be explained as a work of God’s grace.  We too, in spite of our obvious weaknesses, can be used by God, through no good of our own, but through his grace.  We may not have great physical strength or great victories in battle, but we can each be used in God’s kingdom with the unique gifts he’s given us.

Gilead

March 12, 2010 at 9:39 am | Posted in Books and Movies | Leave a comment

            I recently finished reading Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel GileadGilead tells the story of John Ames, an aged and, presumably, dying Congregational pastor in the small Iowa town of Gilead.  He is the third generation pastor in this particular church, as his father and grandfather were also pastors there.  Getting used to the format of the novel was difficult for me, and I only persevered because of those, whose theological perspectives I like, who recommend it.  The entire novel is a random series of letters from Pastor Ames to his young son, whom he had very late in life, and whom he believes he won’t get to see grow up.  The disjoint nature of the letters, seemingly random topics and scattered thoughts, makes them hard to follow in the early going.  But as the book progresses, and more of John’s history comes to light, the story gets more interesting and more endearing.

            John Ames struggles with his own legacy and significance, especially his father’s and grandfather’s differences and interpersonal conflicts.  He wonders how to pass the good parts of that legacy on to his young son.  He ponders the practical implications of his reformed theology and wrestles with forgiveness, especially concerning his best friend’s son, who bears his name, but was a disgrace to his father.

            In spite of the fact that I found the book hard to get into, over all it was a great read.  Marilynne Robinson’s character faces real life struggles, and the reader is touched by his honesty in dealing with them.  She understands our depravity and our sometimes sense of emptiness in life, even while holding on to eternal truths.  In this sense, Gilead doesn’t read like a novel at all.  I found myself relating to John Ames more and more the closer I got to the end of the book.  I hope to read the sequel, the same story from his best friend’s perspective, sometime in the future.

            One great quote to give you the flavor of the book.  While thinking about the Ten Commandments, John Ames comments to his son:

There is a pattern in these Commandments of setting things apart so their holiness will be perceived.  Every day is holy, but the Sabbath is set apart so the holiness of time can be experienced.  Every human being is worthy of honor, but the conscious discipline of honor is learned from this setting apart of the mother and father, who usually labor and are heavy laden, and may be cranky or stingy or ignorant or overbearing.  Believe me, I know this can be a hard Commandment to keep.  But I believe also that the rewards of obedience are great, because at the root of real honor is always the sense of the sacredness of the person who is its object.  (p. 239)

            And one thought to which every preaching pastor can relate:  “It’s Sunday again.  When you do this sort of work, it seems to be Sunday all the time, or Saturday night.  You just finish preparing for one week and it’s already the next week.”  (p.232)

            If you start this book and have the patience to get through it, it will grow on you, and it will touch your heart.

Two Examples of Old-Age Faith

March 9, 2010 at 9:07 am | Posted in Grace and Faith, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Within the passage of scripture I read today (Joshua 12-17), which is mostly boring lists of borders and towns, is a great tale of two faiths.  When Caleb finally arrived in the holy land, a place he’d spied out 45 years before, he was ready, in spite of his age, to go in and take the land which God had promised him.  No matter that the land was filled with fortified cities and the Anakim (giant people), Caleb believed God would grant him victory. (14:6-15)  This is the same faith Caleb and Joshua had 45 years before, when the other ten spies were afraid because of the Anakim and their fortified cities.  At that time, they said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of the land. . . .  the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” (See Numbers 13:27-14:10)

Then, just three chapters later we see the tribes of Joseph complain that their allotment of land is not big enough for them.  Joshua replied, “If you are so numerous, go and clear a place in the forest.”  But the forest land was inhabited by people who had chariots of iron – the latest technology in warfare – and the people were afraid.  Joshua encouraged them, with that same faith he’d demonstrated 45 years earlier, “the hill country shall be yours  . . .  You shall drive out the Canaanites even though they have chariots of iron.” (17:14-18)

O that I might have the same bold faith at 85 that I had at 40, that old age would not lessen my confidence in God or my memory of his great promises, that I would trust God no matter what new power or technology seems to come against me.  I don’t want to check out as I get older, nor do I want to rest on the past.  I hope to continue with bold faith in God.

Following Jesus with Selfish Motives

March 1, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, False teaching | 1 Comment

            Many people are Jesus’ followers because of what they might get out of it.  I complain about the “prosperity preachers,” and the false gospel they teach, but it is no wonder they can have such huge followings: simply put, people like the prosperity gospel; it is what itching ears want to hear.  Of course, there have been people hanging around Jesus with self-centered motives since the very beginning.  These two chapters (John 6-7) cite three examples:  First, Jesus’ brothers, the sons of Joseph and Mary who grew up with Jesus, did not believe in him, so they challenged him to be more public about what they’d heard he could do.  “Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do.  No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret.  Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.’”  (7:3-4)  Their words could be understood to say, “Why don’t you do one of those reported miracles for us to see?”  The reason they said this is given in the next verse: “Even his own brothers did not believe in him.”  Second, some of those whom Jesus fed with the loaves and fish wanted to make him king by force, they were following him only “because they ate the loaves and had their fill.” (6:26)  In other words, they wanted another free meal.  Jesus told them to work for another kind of meal, the kind that “endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (6:27)  It’s not about what’s in it for you, Jesus would tell them, it’s about who I am.  Finally, in the end of chapter 7, the Pharisees, who couldn’t deny what Jesus had done, were threatened by him; they were self-centeredly thinking they could lose their special positions of authority or prestige.  Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle and you’re all astonished” (v.21), yet they had to argue over whether the timing of that miracle was proper!  They wanted to assert that, in spite of the fact they couldn’t do the things Jesus did, they were still in charge.  They sent the temple guards to arrest him (32), and they reminded people of their authority and wisdom (48) – all reactions to Jesus possibly having a better following than they had.  All self-centered things.

            The people in all three of these examples didn’t want to hear the real cost of following Jesus or know who he really was.  They couldn’t give up their self-centered motives, and the truth conflicted with those motives.  May I always teach a Christianity that is Christ-centered and God-exalting, not one that is me-centered and self-exalting!

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