A summer night at Pine Lake Park on the Sammamish Plateau. The park has certainly been improved!
Monthly Archives: June 2009
The stretching portion of my children’s summer activities is fully underway now. Caitlin left on Friday to lead her first backpacking trip of the summer. She and another Sherpa will be leading a group of high school students on a nine-day trip for the La Vida Center for Outdoor Education in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Amanda left L.A. this morning for Africa where she will spend the next month in Nairobi, Kenya, and Pretoria, South Africa, on a business/missions internship with Enterprise International, an arm of CRM. Jonathan continues to grow as he spends the summer living in L.A. and working on campus at Biola University.
The stories they will tell of being stretched, discovering new strengths, facing weaknesses, learning to work with others, making new friends, gaining answers to prayer . . . I can hardly wait to hear about what God does in and through their lives over the next few weeks.
Would it make any difference if God didn’t know the future? What would we lose if God was not all-knowing? Would it really matter if God was as surprised as you and me by the events of tomorrow? Would it change how we pray? Would it change our convictions? Would it change our outlook on life? What difference would it make if God was not sovereignly in control?
This summer I am teaching a class at United Evangelical Free Church on what we believe as a church. It is a study of the EFCA Statement of Faith. This week, we are considering “Article 1: God.” In that article is a phrase that addresses my questions about the boundaries of God’s knowledge. As an association of churches, we believe that God has ”limitless knowledge and sovereign power.” In other words, his knowledge and power have no boundaries. There is nothing he does not know and nothing he cannot do.
The phrase is specifically written to counter the arguments of “open theism,” popularized by Pastor Greg Boyd in his book, God of the possible. If I understand the argument correctly (and this is an assumption on my part), open theology presents the idea that God is a personal God who is open to the prayers, decisions, and actions of people. Consequently, the future has not been determined. Since it has not been fully determined, it is not knowable. Therefore, God is limited in his knowledge of the future.
The EFCA has taken a clear stance that repudiates that position. We believe that God can and does know the future free choices of human beings and that nothing is outside his sovereign will.
I am grateful that phrase has been included in the Statement of Faith. If God is limited in his knowledge, how can you ask God to guide your life choices? How can you have confidence that he will lead you in the right direction if he does not know himself how it will turn out? How can you have confidence that he will cause all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28) if he does not know the final outcome?
I believe the sovereignty of God is one of the bedrock issues of faith. Knowing that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere present, and unchanging gives me a sense of security in an increasingly insecure and changing world.
20 years ago last month (May 1989), I completed my formal education. Two months later (July ’89), I found myself enrolled in a different type of graduate school. While I had finished my schooling, I was about to get an education. I was in for a crash course in character development that began with seven months of unemployment. God sent me into the desert to grow up. Being the slow learner that I am, it would only take me 12 years to learn the lessons.
In July 1989, I was asked to resign from my position at College Church in Wheaton, IL. While I had not done anything wrong, I had also not done enough right and the church wanted to make a change. As they explained it, I wasn’t a leader, though they could not define what that meant. That remark, while vague, caused me to become an intense student of the subject of leadership. As a result of my personal study, I learned that a leader’s primary tasks were to have a vision of where he wanted the organization to go and then to communicate that vision so that everyone was moving in the same direction. Based on that definition, I had been a good manager, but a poor leader. Since that time, I have worked hard to learn as much as I can about leadership and to place myself in situations which would help me develop as a leader. While it was a very painful time in my life, God used it as a catalyst for my greater growth. It was a painful and expensive education, yet well worth the price of tuition.
In April 2001, my wife and I attended L.E.A.D. (Leadership Evaluation and Development) at Dallas Theological Seminary’s Center for Christian Leadership. The workshop helped me to understand that the way I lead is through preaching and teaching. That realization helped me to understand that I failed at College Church because I was in a position which was primarily administrative. Consequently, it was not a good fit or match of my strengths.
I was reminded this week of this lesson as I prepared to preach on Exodus 2:15-25. As I studied the passage and prepared my message, I discovered that God often speaks to his people in the desert. In Deuteronomy 32:10-12, the passage describes how God took care of the nation of Israel in the desert.
10 “He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. 11 Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, 12 the Lord alone guided him, no foreign god was with him.
I learned that the Hebrew word for “desert” is also the same word for “mouth.” They both come from the root word, “to speak.” If it is not too much of a stretch, I think we can conclude that God speaks to his people in the desert. These verses also point our four things that God does for his people during those experiences. He encircles us . . . cares for us . . . keeps us . . . and guides us. During difficult, dry days of despair, we may feel alone, but we have never been abandoned. What a great comfort!
I also discovered that God often uses a wilderness experience to train his servants. It was in the wilderness that Jacob saw a stairway to heaven (Genesis 28) and Elijah heard the still, small voice of God (1 Kings 19). The wilderness is where John the Baptist began his ministry of preaching repentance (Matthew 3) and where Jesus won his first triumph over the devil (Matthew 4). It was also in the wilderness that Paul searched the Scriptures for the Christ of the Old Testament (Galatians 1:17). And as Exodus 2:15-25 points out, Moses went into the wilderness to meet the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
While I wouldn’t put myself in the category of the great heroes of the faith, I do share something in common. God trained us in the “howling waste of the wilderness.” Thank God that he did.
In a voyeuristic society where we want to know every juicy detail of the latest scandal, it has been interesting to read the commentary on South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s Argentinian affair. In a story entitled, “Hubris, remorse drove Sanford’s decisions,” the Associated Press writer asked the obvious question, “How did he think he could get away with it?”
One of the more telling statements in the article revealed the graphic results of sin. “But his emotional news conference Wednesday suggested something more: that months of remorse and heartbreak may have colored Sanford’s judgment, leaving him damaged, raw and alone.”
Talk about a case study revealing biblical principles! The headline trumpets the truth of Proverbs 16:18 while the article describes the reality of Galatians 6:7-8. Our pride deludes us into thinking that we are above the law and won’t get caught. That attitude greases the skids for our downward slide. Our foolish actions reveal that we have lost our minds. In the process, we destroy our careers, our loved ones, and our sense of self-respect. The result leaves us alienated, hurting,and consumed with guilt.
We would be wise to think twice before heading down that path.
In what seems like a former life, I was in the marching band during my high school years. Our band director was a Navy veteran and a stickler for marching with precision. Performing in halftime shows was fun and marching in parades was enjoyable, though exhausting. But what I enjoyed the least was marking time, simply marching in place while waiting for the signal to go forward.
To my own chagrin, I hate to admit that not much has changed. Though far removed from my high school years, I still don’t like to mark time. I don’t like standing still. Waiting is one of my least favorite things to do. I want to move forward and accomplish something. Rather than mark time, I want to make progress.
Perhaps that is why I identify with Moses in Exodus 2:11-15 (and in Acts 7:20-29). Moses has tremendous assets. He has brains, education, skills, heritage, and the power of position and prestige. He seems to have a sense of God’s call on his life. He is a man of action. He is persuasive. By the age of 40, he had accomplished much. He was groomed to be the next Pharaoh. He was on the fast track to success.
Yet with all the resources available to him, what he doesn’t have is patience. He runs ahead of God’s plan and seemingly sets everything back. Through one impatient, rash act, he murders someone in the heat of the moment. He runs for his life and spends the next 40 years in the desert as an exile. Due to his impatience and anger, Moses found himself “On the fast track to failure.” (My sermon title for June 21.)
It is altogether too easy to start relying on one’s own strength and resources rather than depending on God. It is far too easy to act independently of God’s timing. You can convince yourself you are doing what God wants and yet be completely out of his will. You can become impatient, antsy, and anxious. You can run ahead of God and try to force his hand. And yet, as Moses learned, God will not be bent to our will. He will be the one to bend us to his will. Even if it means letting us sit on the sidelines for 40 years.
“Boredom is like anthrax. It can kill. More people have been bored out of the Christian faith than have been reasoned out of it. Dull, insipid sermons not only cause drooping eyes and nodding heads, they destroy life and hope. What greater damage can we do to people’s faith than to make them feel like God and Jesus Christ and the Bible are as boring as the want ads in the Sunday paper?”
Haddon W. Robinson and Torrey W. Robinson, It’s all in how you tell it: Preaching first-person expository messages
With all the truly serious problems in the world today, there are some headlines that stand out as laughably ridiculous. Whether by design or pure coincidence, most involve PETA this week.
- PETA wishes Obama hadn’t swatted that fly.
- PETA vs. Pike Place fish throwers.
- Fish tossing gets outpouring of support, including mine.
- There’s something fishy about this PETA complaint.
- PETA’s fish toss fit is so silly, there’s got to be a catch.
“Who does not know that words carry greater conviction when spoken by men of good repute than when spoken by men who live under a cloud, and that the argument which is made by a man’s life is more weight than that which is furnished by words?”
Isocrates, the ancient rhetorician, cited in Preaching with variety: How to re-create the dynamics of biblical genres, by Jeffry D. Arthurs