Faith Possibilities

Read Matthew 17:14-20

Some years ago, I was given a gift from a dear friend which still hangs on my wall today. It is a wall hanging which reads, “Faith makes things possible…not easy.” We tend to be people who desire aspects of life to be easy. Many of the inventions from the 1920s to the present were designed to make our lives easier. Prior to that time, people labored in difficult situations and often at the mercy of creation to acquire those things which sustain life.

When it comes to our belief in Christ, we want following the Lord to be easy. The hope is that if we believe in Jesus Christ, our lives and our discipleship will require limited effort at most. We will follow Christ’s teachings and minister according to his example but hope it will not be too demanding. However, when we examine what Jesus tells his disciples, we find that a life of ease and ministering without sacrifice is never promised. (See Luke 9:23 and Matthew 19:23-30) The walk with Jesus is not an easy one. Like everyone in life, followers of Jesus will experience highs and lows, successes and failures.

The words on my wall hanging puts everything in perspective for us. Faith, as Jesus describes in our passage, makes all things possible, not easy. We will experience all types of obstacles which challenge our faith. There will be times when we struggle to understand why we cannot accomplish what we desire or what we think the Lord desires from us. These are exactly the moments when we rely less on ourselves and more on our belief in God. Jesus reminds us that there exist situations when for us it is impossible but with God all things are possible. Faith means seeing the possible in and through our Lord. Faith gives us a power beyond ourselves.

Your Longing

You, God, are my God,
    earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
    my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
    where there is no water.

Psalm 63:1 (NIV)

The psalmist here speaks of a longing for God that engulfs the whole being. A longing which finds its fulfillment only in God. Looking to God as the only way to fill an emptiness within a person’s spirit. Seeing God as the only One who can provide what the soul needs to be sustained.

Listen to this song by Michael W. Smith, Breathe

Does your soul long for the Lord?

How does the Lord provide what you need to sustain your soul?

What came to mind as you listened to the words of the song?

May you find what your soul longs for in the Lord.

Being A Member

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV)

Many organizations have rules or standards which they expect their members to follow. Some fraternal organizations, in addition to rules, have rituals and customs which they observe on a regular basis. The rules are intended to insure the members represent the organization in a positive light to others. Some of the rules may also guide the interactions between members so there is an attitude of respect. Being part of a group usually comes with expectations; or at the least common behaviors.

Paul writes to the Colossian believers that as people chosen by God, they need to exhibit certain behaviors and characteristics. They are members of a group which is seen as holy and dearly loved by the Father. He tells them to adopt characteristics which demonstrate love given by God. Paul continues by instructing them on how to interact with one another based upon what they have received from the Lord. In order to live out this guidance, Paul tells the people to rely upon the message of Christ and to assist one another in following that message. Then he concludes by challenging them to do and say all things in the name of the Lord.

Those of us who are followers of Christ are members of God’s chosen. We are not chosen as part of an elite group or at the exclusion of others. God has chosen to love and redeem us. This is the group of which we are members. The instructions and expectations Paul gives the Colossians then apply to us as well. They are intended to ensure we represent to the world the behaviors of people who are loved and redeemed by God. This can be a challenging set of membership expectations. Paul’s last instruction can benefit us as we strive to meet the expectations. This instruction requires us to pause and ask ourselves how Jesus would feel about his name being attached to our words or actions before we say or do them. Definitely would prevent us from doing anything which does not align with the group membership expectations.

Congratulations on being a member of God’s group. Strive each day to uphold the expectations.

Being Prepared

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

Matthew 25:1-13 (NIV)

Like many young boys in the 1970s, I joined Cub Scouts when I was in third grade. I remained a member of the scouting program through Webelos and into Boy Scouts. My freshman year of high school, I dropped out of scouts to pursue other interests. I am grateful for all that I learned during my tenure with the Boy Scouts of America. One of the key principles in scouting is to always be prepared. Many of the skills which a scout is taught have the purpose of guiding a young man in how to be prepared for a variety of life circumstances.

The passage which we are examining today speaks of preparedness, Jesus is talking about the fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven. He tells the story of ten bridesmaids who are awaiting the arrival of their bridegroom. Half of the bridesmaids were prepared for a late arrival of the bridegroom by having extra oil on hand for their lamps. The other half were not prepared so while they were going to get more oil, they missed out when the bridegroom arrived. Jesus uses this story to illustrate the importance of being prepared for the unknown time of the fulfillment of heaven’s kingdom.

Jesus’s warning speaks to us today. As we continue to await the ushering in of the kingdom fulfilled by Christ, we must consider our preparedness for such an event. Peter writes in 2 Peter 3 that God’s time is not our time and when God chooses, the fulfillment will take place.

How does one prepare? There is no  specific right or wrong way. The key element of our preparedness is to believe in the love, grace, and forgiveness of the Lord. We continue to work at understanding how these elements impact our perspectives on life, relationships, and our connectedness with the Lord. We strive to respond to God’s love by following Christ’s example of service and the embracing of others. We await with anticipation the promises of our Lord.

Reflecting God

In the account of God creating humanity, it states…

So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

Often this is misinterpreted in a way which leads people to believe that we have the same physical appearance as God. Since we all look different from one another, I am not sure how this could ever have been viewed as an accurate interpretation. I think that a more accurate interpretation is that we reflect God’s love, attitude, and actions.

Last week I was sitting beside some water. As I looked at the water, I was entranced by the various objects which I saw reflected in the water. In addition to the sky and the clouds moving across the sky, I saw birds as they flew overhead. I even watched a leaf as it floated down across the water. These observations lead me to consider how I reflect God.

Jesus tells us of the importance of our actions pointing others to God when he says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Here Jesus is telling those who listen that our love, actions, and attitude reflect on who God is and lead them to praise God.

We reflect the image of God, the image in which we are created, when we express love to one another. The image of God is seen in us when we show compassion by assisting those who are struggling, are alone, are rejected. God’s image shines out of us when we offer grace to those who have wronged us in some way and extend forgiveness even when the person does not see a need to be forgiven. We reflect God’s image when we reach out to the lonely, the abandoned, the ignored, the abused.

When we do not show others love through our actions and attitudes, we hide the image of God inside ourselves. It is as if we place a veil or a cover over that image, just as Jesus refers to in the passage from Matthew 5 which I mentioned previously. Instead of reflecting God, we put forth our own self-centered image with all its flaws and brokenness. God’s image of love, grace, and compassion is not allowed to positively impact others through us.

How have you reflected God today? In what ways can you reflect God tomorrow? Why wait?

Describe the Devil

Recently I was watching the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” which is one of my favorite movies. During one scene in the movie, Ulysses Everett McGill, who is played by George Clooney, gives a description of the devil. Ulysses responds to a question by Pete, played by John Turturro:

Well, there are all manner of lesser imps and demons, Pete, but the great Satan hisself is red and scaly with a bifurcated tail, and he carries a hay fork.

Ulysses Evertt McGill

Clooney’s character gives a description that is part of folklore and often presented in art. The problem is that nowhere in the Bible does such a description exists. The only comparable passage where the image could have been generated from is found in Revelation 12.

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.

Revelation 12:3

Caution must be used here since we know that the book of Revelation is attributed to a man whose name is listed as John and at the start of the book it indicates that this is a vision. This would mean that a lot of imagery is used in this portion of Scripture so a literal interpretation is very unwise.

Another perception of the devil is that it is a fallen angel. This concept can be attributed first to the Book of Enoch which presents the idea there are fallen angels. While the Book of Enoch was rejected by both Judaism and Christianity in the early centuries, the idea that fallen angels exist did not go away. Add to this two passages from the Gospels, first Luke 10:18 where Jesus is speaking and says, “He replied ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.'” Along with Matthew 25:41 which is part of Jesus explaining the separation of sheep and goats on judgment day, “Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”. All these combine to create a description of the devil as a fallen angel and the leader of the other fallen angels.

The imagery and perceptions from this imagery has led to a lot of confusion concerning the devil. Confusion with a limit of certainty. Much like the difficulty of describing God, creating a description of the devil, Satan, Lucifer, or any other name assigned is fraught with difficulty. There are only fragments of insight contained in Scripture. Yet I am willing to provide a little speculation here.

The image which is the strongest for me is that of a tempter. We find this presented in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John. In the Gospel accounts of Jesus being tempted by Satan, we see that a figure comes to Jesus and attempts to take him off his planned ministry course by the trappings of success as described by humans. Three different attempts are recorded, and Jesus successfully avoids the temptations of humanity’s definition of success. The image of the tempter also occurs at the start of the Bible in Genesis 3. Although this account does not state it is Satan tempting Eve but instead says it is a serpent which has come to be thought of as Satan.

I would argue that this “tempter” is not really a being at all. Instead, I believe that the temptation to get off course is from within our very selves. This is the aspect of our humanness which we allow to lead us to make unhealthy decisions. Decisions which have a negative impact on our lives and the lives of all around us. It is the part of us which feels that our ways are better than the ones God presents before us. This is the aspect of our free will which creates negative instead of positive.

This leads me to state that I believe a description of the devil is only obtainable in imagery. This imagery is our attempt to describe the aspect of our thoughts which led us to be tempted to act irresponsibly or in a manner counter to God’s nature.  

Doubting Allowed

I really want to believe it is true but where is the proof? What about the contradictions? Why does it seem like nothing changes or gets better? Is it okay to even have questions? Am I allowed to doubt?

These are all the thoughts that go through most people’s minds when it comes to believing in God. We were created to have questions and to explore. For some reason though, some people came to think that it was wrong to have questions about one’s faith. Doubt was not considered to be acceptable among certain Christian groups. If someone has doubt, it must mean that they do not believe enough or pray enough. How absolutely wrong is this way of thinking.

Through my study of Scripture, I find doubt woven throughout every major Biblical story. Doubt was found in the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David, Ruth, Jonah, Joseph, Mary, every one of the apostles, and Paul to name a few. The chosen people of the ancient world, the Hebrews, had doubt almost all the time. Some doubt was in their individual abilities but most of it was directed toward God. Nowhere in Scripture did I see God strike anyone dead for having doubt.

I think that doubt is natural. When I worked with youth, I actually encouraged doubt. I see the benefit of doubt as being like a refining fire of our faith. Working through our doubts helps us to determine what we truly believe. This work should be done in a combination of time with trusted friends and alone. Having a spiritual guide is very beneficial. Whichever method works best for you, do not be afraid of your doubts. Do not accept anyone telling you that you lack faith if you doubt. Even some of the best known theologians throughout the ages have had doubt.

I encourage you to embrace your doubt when it comes to what you believe. I have found in my own life that when I wrestle with my doubts, I usually come out with a much stronger faith.

Purpose of the Church – Part 1

Why does the Church exist?

This is a question that has been asked by numerous people over an endless number of years. It is a question which challenges church leaders, worship attenders, church members, and those who do not wish affiliation with any type of church. Yet, I find this to be a very fundamental question to understanding life as a Christian who has spent a majority of his life associated with the Church. So where to begin?

I have chosen to begin with a list of what the Church is not. Before I give you this list though, I wish to explain why I capitalize the word “church” at times and at other times I do not. The generally accepted rule of thumb is that if the word is being used regarding the name of a specific congregation, you capitalize the word since it is part of the formal name. If you are using the word to reference the entire body of Christ on earth, then you capitalize the word. If you are using the word as a generic term then you do not capitalize the word. Now on with the list.

What the Church is not:

  • A place to go to be “saved”
  • A place for only perfect people
  • A place to be “fixed”
  • A place to be part of the in-crowd
  • A place to be noticed
  • A place at all

You may have other items to add to the list but I wish to spend some time on the last item which I have on my list. I think it is a mistake to view the Church as a building or a location. While church buildings have specific locations, this is not how I see the Church. There is a song which I learned as a younger person, “We Are the Church,” written by Richard K Avery and Donald S Marsh. In this song, Avery wrote this line of lyrics: “The church is not a building place, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.” This stanza from the song is at the core of how I understand the Church.

Beginning with an understanding that the Church is a people, gives us a launching point to discuss the question of why the Church exists in the first place. This also helps us to see why it is so difficult to understand the Church and how imperfect the Church really can be at times. People are not always the easiest to understand and definitely lack full perfection. Yet, for me, this actually allows me to breathe a sigh of relief. I can cross perfection off my list of requirements if I am going to be associated with the Church. I also have the freedom to experience the Church in a multitude of ways.

Now that I have laid out for you what the Church is not, we can move on to examine what the Church truly might be and what is its purpose. I invite you to join me on this exploration. In my next post I will be giving my definition of the Church. I would also like to hear your thoughts and opinions on this subject so please leave comments and questions as we journey this path together. Hint: the thought of a journey together will come into view again.