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Category Archives: Theology

Honest questions about our struggle to trust God

Book Review: When God’s Ways Make No Sense, by Dr. Larry Crabb

How often do we soften Scripture to make it more pleasing? Are we more interested in a comfortable life than a Christian life? Have we not heard the call to radical discipleship? Have we reduced it to an easier call to follow?

These are among the many questions Dr. Larry Crabb wrestles with in his latest book, When God’s Ways Make No Sense. Using the stories of Jonah, Saul (before he became Paul), and Habakkuk, Dr. Crabb explains that we typically resort to one of three options when life is hard and we don’t receive the answers we want from God.

When God’s thoughts and ways make no sense to us, we Christians are confronted with three options.

  1. Resist and Run. Determine to follow God when we like the direction He leads. But when we don’t, when His thoughts and ways seem to be taking us away from the life we want for ourselves, then we feel justified in resisting His input and running off to do whatever better fits our ideas of a good way to live. Like Jonah. This option is illustrated in the life of a prophet who was enraged at God’s plan.
  2. Distort and Deny. Arrange our understanding both of how God thinks about our lives and of how He lovingly moves into them so that it matches our perception of how a loving God should think and move. Deny Scripture that contradicts what we want to believe about God. Revise our theology of God’s good news into principles for living that make obedience to God comfortable—comfortable obedience that we assume will bring satisfying blessings into our lives. Like Saul. Before he became Paul, he distorted the Old Testament’s message into what he wanted it to say and denied the value of passages that contradicted his distortion.
  3. Tremble and Trust. Sit under the Bible. Hear whatever God is saying. When we realize that God’s way of running the world and guiding our lives makes no sense, tremble. Tremble before a God whose thoughts and ways are far above our thoughts and ways about what the truly good life is and how to live it. Feel our confusion. Own our doubts. Embrace our fears. Face our disappointment. Experience our anguish.

Then trust. Trust the Judge of the earth to do right, to always advance purpose we will one day gladly agree were good. Accept that no one can fully unravel the mystery of prayer. Choose to live by faith in God’s goodness, to deny authority to what our dim eyes can see. With the eyes of faith, gaze on the unfolding story of God that with the eyes of sight we may not recognize as a story of love. Humble ourselves. Confess our pride. We think we know more than we do.

Tremble before the incomprehensible God and trust that He is good. Trust that His love is committed to our growing awareness of the deepest and happiest well-being that’s available to us now, that His love will lead us into an eternity where we will know every delight we were created to enjoy. Gaze on the cross. Remember Christ’s death. Nowhere is the love of the incomprehensible God more fully and clearly displayed.

But always remember: tastes now, the full banquet later. Tremble before what our eyes can see and our hearts can feel. Trust in what our faith can believe, that the longed-for satisfaction of our deepest thirst lies ahead. Like Habakkuk. Habakkuk’s story illustrates what it looks like to respond well when God’s ways make no sense.

Part 1 of the book lays out the stories of Jonah, Saul, and Habakkuk. Part 2 explores the concept of trembling and how it is the gateway to trust. Part 3 explains the necessity of trusting in God’s unthwarted sovereignty. Part 4 offers three parables of what a modern-day Jonah, Saul, and Habakkuk look like now.

The book is thoroughly biblical, challenging, and thought provoking. You may not agree with everything the author says or his concept of God’s sovereignty, but the book will cause you to reexamine your view of God. Well worth the read.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2018 in Books, Quotes, Scripture, Theology

 

The Majesty of Salvation

What difference does salvation make in our lives? Is salvation just a matter of a hope in heaven? Is it just pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by? What difference does salvation make in the boardroom? On the assembly line? How does salvation affect our ethics? Our marriage? Our family? Our time with our grandkids? What difference does salvation make when we face an uncertain future? How does it affect how we face persecution?

In 1 Peter 1:1-12, the apostle Peter presents the idea that understanding the nature of salvation provides encouragement for those facing an uncertain future threatened by persecution. The main idea of the passage is that because our salvation is secure, we have hope for the future and joy in the present.

Someone might ask, Why is salvation even necessary? Don’t all roads lead to the top? Isn’t God too big for one religion? Aren’t people basically good? Yes, we might have problems, but it’s a disease, weakness, bad habit, or victimization. It’s not sin, after all.

In the first chapter of his letter, the apostle Peter talks about the nature of salvation. Salvation is new birth (3) to a living hope (3). Salvation brings us a secure inheritance (4). Our future salvation is secure (5) in which we will be redeemed (18). However, salvation is only available to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ (2, 14, 21).

In verses 1-2, Peter presents a theology of salvation. As he explains it, each member of the Trinity is involved in our salvation. We are chosen by the Father. We are set apart by the Spirit. We are forgiven by the Son. We are saved in order to be obedient. Other passages of Scripture point out our role in the process and that God holds us accountable for our choices. But Peter focuses on what God does to secure our salvation.

After laying the foundation, Peter then describes the nature of salvation (3-12). These 10 verses are an English teacher’s nightmare. It is one long sentence in which Peter piles words upon words giving praise to God for our salvation.

Our salvation provides hope for the future (3-5). Salvation comes from the mercy of God where he demonstrates his kindness to us. Because Christ conquered sin and death through his death, burial, and resurrection, we can have a personal relationship with him. As a result, we now have a secure inheritance that is death-proof, sin-proof, and time-proof. Our inheritance won’t perish, spoil, or fade away. It is protected by the power of God for us.

Our confidence leads to joy in the present (6-9). In the midst of trouble and difficulty, it is easy to forget what God has done for us. Peter wants his readers to experience joy in their present circumstances. To do that, we need to understand that trials are temporary and short-lived compared to eternity. They are also necessary because uses trials to shape our character in the same way a goldsmith uses heat to purify gold. With this perspective, we can show our love for Jesus and rejoice with glorious joy.

Our salvation was revealed in the past (10-12). We enjoy something today that the prophets and angels only dreamed about understanding. If they spent so much time trying to decipher what God was going to do, how much more should we enjoy our salvation and tell others about it?

Praise God that our salvation is secure! Praise God that the trials we experience are not meaningless, but refine and purify our faith! Praise God that his promises about Christ have been fulfilled! Because our salvation is secure, we have hope for the future and joy in the present.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 11, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Is there a “fast pass” to heaven?

The world was horrified last week to learn of another school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In the midst of the tragedy, there were also acts of heroism as teachers shepherded students to safety. In particular, assistant football coach and security guard Aaron Feis used his own body as a shield to protect students. Taking a bullet and giving his life to save a student was a noble, heroic, sacrificial action.

Aaron’s action prompted one editorial cartoonist to suggest it was an automatic ticket into heaven.

 

It God grades on a curve, a sacrificial death would certainly rank higher than helping an elderly person cross the street. It would undoubtedly gain more points than donating blood, telling the truth, digging a well in Saharan Africa, curing malaria, or giving up your seat on a bus to someone with a broken leg.

But does God grade on a curve? Can one earn their way into heaven by performing good deeds? Do some actions guarantee one’s entrance into heaven?

In order to answer that question, we need to examine what Scripture says. Jesus told his own disciples that the path to God runs through himself.

John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In an interview with a Jewish leader, Jesus said that eternal life is directly related to one’s faith in Christ.

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The apostle John reiterated the same point years later when he wrote his first letter.

1 John 5:13 – I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

The apostle Paul explained that one needs to believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Only then can we be saved and enter heaven.

Romans 10:9–10 – because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

If there was any question about how to enter heaven, the apostle Paul explained that salvation is determined by what God does for us, not by what we do for ourselves.

Ephesians 2:8–9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Good works, selfless deeds, and sacrificial acts are certainly valuable. While they might result in greater rewards in heaven, they won’t guarantee one’s entrance into heaven. Only putting one’s faith in Jesus for salvation will lead to eternal life.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2018 in Heaven, News stories, Scripture, Theology

 

Is your God big enough to …?

Book Review: Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems, by J. D. Greear

To paraphrase A. W. Tozer, the most important thing about you is what you believe about God, because what you believe about God determines what you believe about everything else. That statement summarizes both the title and the theme of J. D. Greear’s book, Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems.

In the book, the author seeks to explain that many of us have created god in our own image and made him a slightly smaller version of ourselves that we can control. However, this inadequate view of God holds us back from experiencing a life-altering, world-transforming faith.

When we have a bigger, more accurate understanding of who God is, we discover that he is big enough to handle our questions, fears, and doubts. God is both a God of love and a God of wrath. He is not silent and is speaking to us today. God is worthy of our dedication and our worship. He has a purpose and mission for us to accomplish during our lives on earth. All of this and more can transform our faith from boring to bold.

The author combines sound biblical teaching, humorous illustrations, and personal stories in laying out his argument for having a bigger view of God. Much of his explanations come from a study of the life of Moses. The book is encouraging and enlightening.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2018 in Books, Theology

 

There will be a day

Suffering on earth makes you long for heaven. I pondered that thought as I woke up in my reclining chair and hobbled to the bathroom to get cleaned up for another day.

I long for the day when I will no longer need a walker to get around or crutches to get up the stairs. I look forward to when I will not need pain killers, blood thinners, vitamins, or allergy meds. Rather than avoid the stairs, I will be able to run up and down all the many flights of stairs in my heavenly mansion.

There will be a day when there will be no more pain, no more aches, no more tears, no more need for physical therapy. I long for the day when I will be transformed, when this frail body puts on immortality.

While I am not ready to leave this life quite yet, my current challenges makes me long for the next one. There will be a day … and it brings great hope.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2017 in Personal growth, Theology

 

The Statute of Limitations on Sin

With each passing day, more and more accusations come out about past indiscretions. Sexual misconduct. Terrorism. Conspiracy. Bribery. Doping accusations. PEDs. Fake news.

The headlines prompted me to wonder, What is the statute of limitations on sin? Is there anything in my background I need to be afraid of? Any skeletons in my closet that I should fear coming to light?

I am not perfect by any means. Never was. Never will be. There are certainly things in my past that might cause me to be embarrassed, but nothing that would bring an indictment. That being said, that doesn’t mean I don’t experience false guilt at times. At times like this, I need to be reminded of what Scripture tells me about forgiveness.

If I confess my sins, God promises to forgive me (1 John 1:9). He buries my sin in the deepest part of the sea (Micah 7:19). He removes my sin from his presence, as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). God chooses to forget my sins and will not remember them (Isaiah 43:25). I am totally and completely forgiven.

Even though I know this to be true, the enemy still accuses me and heaps false guilt on me. He whispers, “Who do you think you are? Don’t you remember that you did _______?” He stands before God and condemns me for my sins. But when that happens, Jesus comes before the Father as my defense lawyer and says, “Father, I died for those sins, and Mark has already confessed them.” (1 John 2:1-2).

While the world may have a long memory and bring up my past failures, God has a short memory when it comes to confessed sin. He chooses to no longer remember what Christ has forgiven. Jesus reminds the Father that his death covered my sins.

Thank you Lord for dismissing the statute of limitations on confessed sin.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2017 in 1 John, Scripture, Theology

 

Heaven is for good people

Heaven is for good people, or so we want to believe.

We see this belief portrayed in comic strips like Broom-Hilda. God lets the good people in but closes the gates to the really bad people.

We see it in our own attitudes. We believe that God grades on a scale. If your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, you get into heaven. But if your bad deeds are greater, well, then you go to that other place (that is, of course, if you believe in hell.) We are skeptical of a deathbed, jailhouse conversion. Could God really save _______?

We even see this attitude in some of God’s servants. The book of Jonah in the Old Testament tells the story of a prophet of God who did not want to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh precisely because he knew God was gracious and would forgive them if they repented. He thought they did not deserve God’s grace.

Contrary to popular belief, heaven is not for good people. Heaven is for sinners who have been forgiven. Romans 5:8 explains that Christ died for us while we were his enemies. “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that salvation is not earned or deserved. It is a free gift of God’s grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Heaven is not for good people. Heaven is for those who acknowledge their sins, seek God’s forgiveness, and enjoy the free gift of his grace.

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2017 in Heaven, Scripture, Theology