Saturday, November 29, 2008

I Believe

Tom Zehnder of the band Zehnder recently sent me his latest CD, "Going Up?" One of the songs particularly resonated with me, and Tom has given me permission to share the lyrics with you:

                                           And oh the grief, to say goodbye,
                                          Sing out wailing through labored sigh.
                                          Swing white hot fury to black despair, 
                                      Dare you to find your God in there!

                                       I believe, help my unbelief. I belief, help my unbelief.

                                      ["I Believe" from "Going Up?" (2008) by Zehnder]

You can find the lyrics for all of Zehnder's song on their website.

What about you? Have you asked God to help you with your unbelief?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Good King Jotham

Think about the most famous Bible characters, men and women. Did any of them wander away from the faith? Did any overtly rebel against God? Sadly, yes.

What happened to mighty Judge Samson (Judges 14-16)? What happened to powerful King Saul (1 Samuel 15-31)? What happened to wise King Solomon (1 Kings 11)? They all fell away.

What about the good kings of Judah—Abijah (1 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 13), Asa (1 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 16), Jehoshaphat (2 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 18-20), Joash (2 Chronicles 24), Amaziah (2 Kings 14, 2 Chronicles 25), Uzziah (2 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 26), Hezekiah (2 Kings 18-20, 2 Chronicles 30-32), and Josiah (2 Kings 22-23, 2 Chronicles 34-35)?

They followed God for a number of years, then (with the exception of one king you’ve never heard of, good king Jotham) each one turned away, at least for a time. They didn’t lose their final reward, but they lost God’s blessings and reward for staying true to Him until the end. We see this throughout the Old Testament.

Only Jotham walked “steadfastly before the Lord his God” all the days of his life. Only Jotham. The most exemplary king in all Israelite history. And what do we do? We’ve all but forgotten him. Why? Because Jotham never rebelled against God or did something self-destructive or wicked against other people. Instead, Jotham was truly good. He loved God. He loved his family. He loved his people. He should be our hero. 

You can read more about good King Jotham in 2 Kings 15 and in 2 Chronicles 27.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

One day...

“None but the Lord himself can afford us any help from the awful workings of unbelief, doubtings, carnal fears, murmurings. Thank God one day we will be done forever with ‘unbelief.’”

                   —Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Folly of Being Double-Minded -- Part 3

Continued from yesterday….

St. James himself knew what it was like to be double-minded. Before Jesus appeared to James after his resurrection, James saw Jesus in purely human terms. For several decades James refused to recognize Jesus’ divinity.  But once James did believe, he became quick to tell the difference between true godliness and insincere religious talk. Later as an elder and leader of the church in Jerusalem, James’ own faith was plain for all to see.

After persecution broke out and Christianity spread throughout the Roman empire, James was the first to pen a letter to the Christians scattered abroad. In his book, James encourages us to demonstrate the reality of our faith through our perseverance in times of testing, through our dependence on God for wisdom, and through our heartfelt desire to grow stronger and stronger in both God’s Word and good deeds.

But we can’t do it alone. I have to submit myself to godly individuals I respect and know I can trust. I have to humble myself and admit when I’m struggling with Peter double-mindedness due to past wounds and present fears. I have to admit when I’m struggling with Jonah double-mindedness, too. You and I cannot do this life on our own. The waves will get us every time.

Where are you at today? What is the need of your heart? What do you need right now more than anything? Courage to keep persevering? Wisdom on how to live in these uncertain economic times? More faith in God’s heart, God’s power, and God’s love for you? Remember, God wants you to ask. He won’t chide you for having needs. He certainly won’t reprimand you. Instead, He will say, “I thought you would never ask. Yes.” Just don’t forget that God often answers us indirectly through the words of wisdom, courage, and faith of other believers.

Thank you, Lord, that you are maker of heaven and earth. All true wisdom comes down from heaven. Your Word. Your Son, Jesus Christ. Your Holy Spirit to fill and guide us. Thank you, Lord, that you offer us forgiveness, healing, courage, wisdom, and strength to persevere no matter what our circumstances are here on earth. Lord, please forgive us for all the times and all the ways we have been double-minded, torn in our allegiance to you. Wash us, cleanse us, fill us, renew us this day. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Folly of Being Double-Minded -- Part 2

Continued from yesterday….

To say the least, I can imagine just a bit of what the apostle Peter felt when he was out at sea with Jesus. Now Jesus had calmed the winds and seas before. Peter had seen it firsthand. But memories as a veteran fisherman die hard. Peter had been scared of drowning for years. So when he was caught in another storm with the disciples alone, he thought it was all over. And then what should he see, but a ghost walking toward them on the waves. The other disciples cry out in terror. But Peter recognizes it is Jesus. And he does the unthinkable: Instead of asking Jesus to calm the storm, he asks Jesus for the power to conquer drowning. “If it’s you, Lord, let me walk on the water too.”

It’s a surreal moment as Peter steps out of the boat and starts walking on the water. And then he drops into a big swell and sees a large wave crashing toward him. In an instant, Peter is double-minded. Fear of drowning. Believe in Jesus. Fear of drowning. Believe in Jesus. Fear of drowning.

When push comes to shove, fear kicks in, old wounds grip our hearts, and we’re tempted to doubt God’s heart, God’s power, God’s love. It can happen to any of us. Believe me.

Was Peter sinning in those fleeting seconds torn between faith and fear? No, I don’t think so. Instead, I think Peter’s double-mindedness simply revealed some of the wounds in his heart, wounds that faith in Jesus Christ would but hadn’t yet healed. Only after spending six weeks with Jesus after his resurrection, and then being filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, were Peter’s fears healed and his faith made fully alive.

            I wonder if you can relate at all to Peter’s struggles? Do you know what it’s like to be torn between faith and fear? Did you feel any of that struggle September 11, 2001? Have you felt any of that struggle the past 50 days in the midst of the global economic shockwaves that have hit us all?

If you’ve been tempted to doubt God’s heart, God’s power, God’s love, I urge you to ask God to heal the old wounds gripping your heart. Take each wound, each fear, to God. Lay them at his feet. Only then can you pray for heavenly wisdom to know what to do — and have the sheer, utter confidence that God will answer your prayers.

Of course, Peter isn’t the only story about a double-minded mind caught in a violent storm at sea. Jonah’s story, however, is completely different. In Jonah’s case, he preferred drowning to obeying God. Why in the world was this God-fearing Jewish man so double-minded? Because he preferred the Judeo Holy Land Dream over the idea that God could have any other plan for his life.

What about us? Is it possible we’ve intertwined the American Dream with our Christianity? If so, we’re double-minded and most likely ill-prepared for what’s happening right now economically.

Recently the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Oregonian newspaper confirmed what many of us knew anecdotally the past few weeks —that suicide rates are up here in Oregon. Why? Satan does his best to intertwine our hearts’ allegiance. When our American Dreams all fall apart, he pulls out the suicide trump card and whispers it’s the ultimate escape. What a pack of lies.

Do you see the utter danger of Jonah’s kind of double-mindedness? If you’ve been caught in the same trap, thank God there’s hope—lots of hope. Whatever you do, confess the error of your ways to God. As well, I urge you to confess the error of your ways to someone you know you can trust.

Believe me, I’ve had to confess my Peter kind of double-mindedness to the elders of my church and other respected friends. And I’ve had to confess my Jonah kind of double-mindedness as well. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it is and I would be lying if I pretended otherwise.

Continued tomorrow.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Folly of Being Double-Minded -- Part 1

Yesterday I talked about specific individuals I know I can trust through thick and thin. Why? Because when it comes to interacting with me, they’re not double-minded. It’s not, “Hey, David, great to see you!” one week and “Oh, no, not David again” the next week. And the same is true of my heart’s responses to them.

But is it possible that you and I sometimes act double-minded toward the Lord? Listen to what James says in chapter 1, verses 6 through 8:

But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

So, what does it mean to be double-minded? It means to be torn in one’s allegiance between God’s wisdom from heaven above and Satan’s so-called “worldly wisdom” from hell below.

Who were the most double-minded people in biblical history — “respected” men who grew more double-minded until the day they died? Personally, I would say the three worst were Balaam the double-crossing greedy and treacherous false prophet, Solomon the two-timer who pretended to still worship the Lord while becoming deeply engrossed in idolatry, and Judas the betrayer who sold Jesus to His enemies for the price of a slave. In the end, their evil hypocrisy was obvious for all to see.

But the reality is, being double-minded isn’t always obvious. Often, it’s quite subtle, actually. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked back over the past three years and lamented the times I thought, talked, and acted in a double-minded manner.

James says that a double-minded man is like a storm-tossed wave. Because ancient Jewish men feared drowning above all else, James is using a powerful word picture. Two biblical stories can help us see the differences between subtle and outright double-mindedness. But first, let me share a personal story.

This past year my son Jonathan and I decided to go sea kayaking along a stretch of the California coastline about 15 minutes south of San Luis Obispo. The trick with sea kayaking, of course, is to get past all the waves so you’re in the open ocean and can turn and follow the coastline without getting hit by a wall of water. At least, that’s the theory. Jon was in the back of our two-man open sea kayak and I was in the front, taking wave after wave in the face as we pushed further and further out into the ocean.

Unbeknownst to us, a storm we couldn’t see further out in the ocean was churning up more and bigger waves with every passing minute. Jon and I grew increasingly frustrated. When are we ever going to break past the waves? we both wondered out loud.

At one point one of us started arguing that the waves would never end so we might as well turn left and head down the coast. The other person argued that we still needed to push further out to sea. Otherwise the waves, which were only getting higher, would toss us like so much driftwood. We couldn’t agree on a course of action. We were double-minded.

So Jon and I kept paddling harder and harder. Any idea I had about staying dry was long gone. Taking the brunt of each wave, I was soaking wet and chilled to the bone. On and on we paddled.

Finally, we started debating again about whether to turn left and head down the coastline or keep going further out to sea. One of us argued, “We can ride out the waves. Look, I’d lean the opposite way you do. We can do it.” The other one of us insisted that we’d never make it more than three or four waves before a big one would catch us and fling us in the air. But in the end one of us quickly swung the kayak from due west to due south. Like it or not, the argument was over and we both started paddling for all we were worth.

No sooner were we deep within the swell of the second big wave when Jon yelled “Oh no” and a huge wave scooped us up — and then tossed us like pencils in the air.

That’s a picture of what James is talking about when he warns us against being double-minded. Of course, flying through the air right before slamming into the freezing cold Pacific ocean, I was quite willing to agree with James. He’s right: Double-mindedness doesn’t work.

To say the least, I can imagine just a bit of what the apostle Peter felt….

Continued tomorrow.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Looking for Wisdom

When it comes to seeking true wisdom, we have three valid options.

First, we can open the Bible and ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse our hearts and help us to hear what God has to say to us.

Second, we can give priority to the words and deeds of Jesus Christ, again asking the Holy Spirit to apply the Gospels to our hearts and lives.

Third, we can talk with godly individuals who we know have feared the Lord for many years, know God’s Word very well, live exemplary lives, listen to our questions and concerns, and then look to God to give them the words to speak to us.

Such individuals hear the whole story, weigh what is said, ask lots of good questions, consider the whole counsel of God in this book, and then apply biblical principles to life.

Furthermore, such individuals aren’t quick to answer, aren’t 100% certain they know all the answers, aren’t quick to offer pat answers, and are willing to join us for the journey.

Do you have one or more such individuals in your life right now? If so, who are they? What name or names come to mind?

Personally, the names that come to mind include Jim Hislop, Mike Fox, Mike Fajen, Gil Woo, Paul Goodrich, Paul Schroth, Rex Koivisto, Bob McNicol, Jon Marks, Joe DiCarlo, Steve Burg, Kevin McKinney, and Paul Govert. I’ve had the privilege of serving as an elder with each of these men. They know me well. More importantly, they know God well. They know the Bible well. Yes, sometimes I’ve let them down. I’ve disappointed them. I’ve hurt some of them. But we’re in this Christian life together. And they know I love and respect them, and I know I can count on them through thick and thin.

Why can I count on these individuals? Because when it comes to interacting with me, they’re not double minded. It’s not, “Hey, David, great to see you!” one week and “Oh, no, not David again” the next week. And the same is true of my heart’s responses to them. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What Does It Mean to Be Wise?

Down through the ages, the followers of Jesus Christ have affirmed that He is the personification of all true wisdom. This was true not just when Jesus was an adult, but even in his early youth.

In Luke 2:41-52, for instance, we read that Jesus listened and observed what others said, asked questions, demonstrated profound understanding of God’s Word, and answered the questions of the leading rabbis gathered at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Remember, this wasn’t a bar mitzvah Sabbath School class. Instead, Jesus was in the temple courts sitting among the greatest teachers of His day. Even at 12 years of age, Jesus demonstrated the characteristics of a godly, wise person.

Perhaps the question for this generation isn’t simply “What Would Jesus Do?” but perhaps more accurately: “Where Would Jesus Listen, Ask Questions, Demonstrate Profound Understanding of God’s Word, and Answer the Toughest Questions of His Day?”

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

St. James, Life’s Trials, and God’s Wisdom

One of my all-time favorite verses is familiar to many:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5 NIV)

“If any of you…” addresses anyone reading this blog with the possible exception of my oldest friends Emma, Bob, Leonard, and Katherine.

“If any of you lacks wisdom” is interesting. Why did James decide to talk about wisdom? Well, in many ways, this whole letter of James is the New Testament counterpart to the Old Testament’s wisdom literature found in the middle of our Bibles in books like Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. So, actually, James is tipping his hand. Not only has James packed a lot of practical, everyday, godly wisdom into this book, but James talks a lot about wisdom itself. It’s something all of us should long to have in abundance. We should long for it more than anything that Hollywood, Madison Avenue, or Wall Street has to offer. 

Of course, that begs the question, why does one need wisdom? We urgently, desperately, consistently, without ceasingly need wisdom to face the tests of faith, to preserve through trials, and to become mature in faith. So we should ask for wisdom instead of living by old assumptions or trying to figure things out on our own power. Instead, God wants us to ask, seek, and knock until we get wisdom.

The next question is, where does one go to get wisdom? Half a dozen times in the Old Testament wisdom literature we read that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Simply put, that means that the more we have a correct, accurate, well-rounded, complete understanding of who the Lord is—and respond appropriately to God with reverence, awe and fear—the wiser we will be.

We’ll be wiser first of all because we will take very seriously whatever the Lord says. After all, God speaks to us today by His awesome person, His abiding presence, and His eternal words found in this book. Talk about generous!

God doesn’t judge or condemn us when we ask for wisdom. Instead, He generously has given us 1,000 pages of eternal wisdom. Do we read it? Do we heed it? Do we long to know more? I hope we do. I trust we will. After all, God promises to give us wisdom in abundance. It’s ours for the asking and taking.