Do you believe God is good? But, what about when… ?

Today’s post is a guest post from my good friend and our UMR Regional Minister, Dr. Jim Renke. You can read all his insightful thoughts at


Its an interesting point to note that when Jesus was addressed as "Good Teacher," he said, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone (Lk. 18:19)."  Jesus was reminding his hearers that "goodness" is an essential characteristic of God.

When things are tough, one of the great questions we have is, “how can a good God allow all this?”  It’s a fair question.  But it presupposes that what we think is good, is actually good.  We have a perspective that is admittedly limited.  Many of us think cheeseburgers are good.  But they are not, if you want to actually nourish your body with your food.  Our definition of good has a lot to do with our value system and our over-arching purpose.

If our value system is wrapped up in the here and now, then suffering and struggling is a horrible violation of how we want to experience life now.  But if we value the eternal, growth, maturity, transformation, etc., our ideas of what is good, will be drastically changed.  Because it is in the hard times that we are formed into something new, especially when we grow through it under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.

Author and theologian, Peter Kreeft, wrote in his book, “Making Sense Out of Suffering”, these words, “If we love God, we will understand that everything is grace, that Job’s sores were grace, that Job’s abandonment was grace, that even Jesus’ abandonment (‘My god, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’) was grace.  Even the delay of grace is grace.  Suffering is grace.  The cross is grace.  The grave is grace.  Even hell is made of God’s love and grace, experienced as pain by those who hate it.  There is nothing but God’s love. ‘Everything is grace.’”

When you read the word grace in the paragraph above, replace it with the words “a good gift.”  This can be a tough exercise because it confronts our idea of what is good.  But doing this teaches us that all things God gives to us are good gifts, given to accomplish His good purposes.  He can only give what is good because He is good.

Rather than judging the goodness of God by our circumstances, let’s define our circumstances by the goodness of God.  No matter what we are going through, God is good and He is bringing about His good work in our lives.  To believe this is the beginning of experiencing the goodness of God in every area and every experience of our lives.

The Hypocrisy Gap


Do you ever feel like a fraud? For example: “If anyone knew the thoughts I was having right now they would realize what a hypocrite I am.” Or when we are all excited about loving our neighbor after a good worship on Sunday morning, until some “neighbor” cuts us off in traffic on the way home and we respond with something other than giving thanks in all circumstances!

If you have ever felt like that, you are not alone. When our thoughts and actions do not line up with what we believe is true or what we believe SHOULD be true for us, we call that our “hypocrisy gap.” The hypocrisy gap is the difference between what I know I should think and do and what I actually think and do. All of us have some hypocrisy gap in our lives, and we often respond to someone else pointing it out by responding in a dismissive manner. “Well I am not perfect!” “You were not there and do not know what it was like.”

James 1:22 tells us, Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” How do we close our hypocrisy gap? We need to go to the only One who has never suffered from the hypocrisy gap and let His Word become the guide for our thoughts and actions. And James tells us that means a lot more than just reading the Bible, it means letting the Words of God sink in and then do them. Put them into practice.

Did you know that every time we receive some sort of stimulus to respond to, there is a space before we respond where we can choose how we respond. In sports they call this reaction time, and often the goal is to shorten the reaction time through repeated practice so that responses seem almost automatic as the brain, nerves and muscles all respond along well-trained pathways.

As we follow Jesus, our goal is the opposite; we need to increase the reaction time from a stimulus that would cause us to react out of our hypocrisy gap so that we might interject a response that is more pleasing to Jesus and more beneficial to our own lives. In doing this it is extremely helpful to have God’s Word deeply ingrained within our hearts and minds. I have remarked often that memorizing James 1:20 (the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God) helped me turn a hot temper into a much cooler head.

Closing our hypocrisy gap is not only good for our souls (because all of us enjoy deeper internal peace when we live consistently) it is good for our witness. So while we can all agree we have one, we can also all agree that God has supplied the means to close it, so that we can live more consistently for Jesus’s sake, for our sake, and for the sake of the world.

Duct Tape Solutions


Like a lot of men, I have a large variety of tools. Some are very specialized (computer power supply tester, multi-meter). Many are pretty general (screwdrivers, box-end wrenches).

One tool is use frequently is very general but super useful. It can…

·         Temporarily fix small leaks

·         Put my daughter’s broken headlight lens back together

·         Hold down cords on stage so we don’t trip

·         Be “art” (A guy in our church even uses it to make flowers, wallets, and other things)

Of course I am talking about duct tape!

The problem for us is that we sometimes use duct tape solutions to solve spiritual issues in our lives. Most often this happens in relationships, both with other people and with the Lord. We even have a euphemism for when we try to repair a falling-out with someone; we say we are going to go "patch things up." But inevitably a patch is just that, it is not a permanent solution, just a temporary one!

In order to enjoy true relationships and true restoration when relationships are damaged, we need to be willing to do the real soul and relational work. This kind of work is often difficult, and sometimes painful, and so we just go for the “duct tape.”

For example, we rush through a quick Bible reading and short prayer time, and never spend deep quality soul time with the Lord. Then when we get struck with really deep struggles in this life, we don’t have the relationship with the Lord we really need to help us go through those times with joy and deep faith.

We do this with our spouses or kids or coworkers when they seek our attention and we just give a short nod of the head, or an "OK honey.” But what we really need is to spend focused time on that relationship, not just duct tape it in the short term.

I always find it sadly amusing when I get a couple in for counseling, and one person in the relationship says, "I had no idea we had this problem." It’s because you were not spending the time. You were just trying to duct tape things and now the duct tape has fallen off exposing a festering wound in the relationship!

The Bible repeatedly tells us things like "Love God with all our heart, mind, soul, strength." "Seek first the kingdom of God." "Delight yourself in the Lord." "Be still and know that I am God." Yet we so easily get distracted from these very basic things.

Let's stick to using duct tape for fixing things like a cracked headlight lens or making flowers, and let's all be willing to do the real work of digging in deep with the Lord and with other people.

What Do We Hunger For?


I have a sweet tooth. Ever since I was a kid I have loved all things sweet, especially chocolate chip cookies. Just the thought of tasty morsels in a warm, soft cookie gets my mouth watering. But, as Jocko Wilink would say, those are “sugar-coated lies.” They only thing they ultimately do for me is make me want more chocolate chip cookies! In fact some studies claim sugar is as addictive as heroin. I don’t know if that is true because I have never been involved with heroin, but I can for sure say sugar is addictive! And of course, the desire for sugar over the long term has a predetermined result, and that result shows on my waistline!

That desire for sugar reminds me of a quote from AW Tozer in The Root of the Righteous,” For every Christian will become at last what his desires have made him. We are all the sum total of our hungers.” (p.66). In other words, over time we become whatever our desires drive us to become. Desire too many sweets, and you pay the price later in life. Desire things contrary to the will of God, and we also will reap a certain kind of harvest.

I think one the most misunderstood verses of Scripture is that familiar verse from the Psalms, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).” Many people interpret this to mean that if I delight myself in the Lord, I will get what I want.

But in truth, it is a bit different than that. When I delight myself in the Lord, what happens is my desires are transformed to be like His desires. God never changes, but my heart can change. And when I spend more and more time with Jesus, pretty soon I find myself wanting the things Jesus wants. And what ultimately does Jesus want? For me to love Him and love others. And what could be better for any of us in the long run, than to love God and love others more than we do now?

So my question for us all to meditate upon is, “What am I becoming?” Because when we look to what our desires and hungers are, we can get a pretty good idea of what we will in the end become. We often say we want to be more like Jesus, but are desiring more of Him and less of us? More of Him and less of sin and self? When Jesus is our delight and desire, the only end result we should expect is that we will in fact become more like Him in every way. And in Jesus, there are definitely no “sugar-coated lies!”

Focus on Jesus


Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV) Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

You have likely heard the anecdote about training race car drivers. One of the first things they teach aspiring high-speed drivers who favor left turns is that at 180mph, where your focus goes your car goes. Look at the wall and hit the wall! I think anyone with some driving experience probably realizes it happens at 30mph, which is why distracted driving is so dangerous.

For many of us, our Christian lives are “distracted driving.” We are not so good at being focused. In a typical day I might receive 150 emails (80% advertisements) about 30-50 texts, and 10-15 calls. Plus, of course, sometimes my wife needs my attention or one of the kids. I have things that have to get done; I am sure every one of you reading this relates to that. I do not know anyone who thinks, “I sure wish I had MORE to do today!”

Yet, the writer of Hebrews reminds us this short life is also a race - a marathon type race - and we have no choice but to run it. All of us are going to go through the next number of unknown  days we are going to have. Hopefully many days are left for our individual races. But we are going to keep running. So, the issue is not the race of life, or even the pace of life (only some of which is directly in our control), it is HOW do we want to run.

The writer of Hebrews’ recommendation here is to lay aside whatever holds us down. It might be physical stuff or it could be some persistent sin, or worry, or anxiety, or greed, or lust, or anger or whatever. Some of what encumbers us is sin and some is not. But we are to take our focus off of those things and look toward the one who is both the finish line and the one who has run the race before us: Jesus.

When it says "looking to" here the word means literally "give undivided attention to." I think the writers point is that if we want to lay aside the stuff (sinful or not) that is slowing us down, that makes our race in this life burdensome, it is not so much we need to quit our job, or smash our TV with a hammer (that might help though), or go live in a cabin by the creek for a year by ourselves (that also has some appeal). What we do need is more Jesus in our lives, and that means giving Him more undivided attention in our lives.

I know for myself, the days that start with Bible and prayer and just thinking about Jesus and talking with Him and worshipping in my office are the days that I don’t feel like I am overwhelmed or full of anxiety or anger. Mostly because when things come around to stress me out, I can refocus on the author and finisher of my faith and leave those feelings with Him. And the days I don’t make an effort to focus on Christ first, I never manage to refocus on Him as the day winds on.

Here is a simple thought for this year: Let us all commit ourselves to more regularly giving Jesus our undivided attention. And if we do that first, we can easily take Him with us throughout the day, and right on through the race!

Why spend time with God?


You would not have to spend much time at Greenhill before you would, in some context…whether the Sunday morning worship, or a Bible study, or some other meeting, hear me make a remark about how the most important thing any of us can do is spend time in the Bible and prayer. Call it whatever you want: devotions, quiet time, Bible study, getting with Jesus. My point is that there is no substitute for our own personal time with God.

The next question that logically follows is “Why?” Or as some fledgling actor might say, “What is my motivation?”

Some possible answers:

Duty / command / being obedient

Learn more

Grow in faith

Keep from sin

Most of those are actually results of time with God, in my opinion. I would argue the best answer is "Because I love Jesus and want to connect with Him."

For some people, whatever you call it (devotions, quiet time, etc.) is like a duty or a chore or another thing on your to do list. How many chapters should I read? How many minutes in prayer? Now those are not horrible things by any means, but they are not the same as truly connecting with Jesus.

Imagine you run into an old friend you have not seen for years and decide to go out and catch up, and pretty soon two hours have gone by. Or you are talking with your husband or wife over morning coffee and you lose track of time and you say, "Where has the time gone?"

That happens because when we have a connection, relating is not a chore or duty.  It is a joy.

The ultimate purpose of devotions is to connect my heart and the heart of God. It is connection on far more than an intellectual level.  The Bible and prayer may be a means, but they are not the end. Time with God each day is not about academic study or getting through a certain amount of Scripture. It's about connecting with God.

Since it is vital to keep those lines of communication open, use whatever helps. Sometimes I'll listen to or sing worship music. Other times I'll read Scripture or a passage from a book. Sometimes I will journal. Some folks like to take a walk and talk with Jesus. The point is simply to do whatever brings me back to my heart and the heart of God. Try different things and find what connects you best to the heart of God.

As John Eldredge would say, “The discipline, by the way, is never the point. The whole point of a ‘devotional life’ is connecting with God.”

Kingdom Priorities


On Monday nights, I have been attending a class called Perspectives on the World Christian Movement ( In this class we are learning not only about God’s mission to reconcile the world’s peoples to himself, but the history of missions as well as modern missions techniques. During the last class, we did a visual on how little of the average church’s money goes to missions and specifically to unreached people (5% and ½% of the average church budget respectively). When the comments time was opened up, people were bemoaning how their churches were not spending enough on missions and wondering why.

When it came time for me to speak, I threw out this: Every church is people, and our churches reflect the value of the people that are part of each community. So I challenged them to look at their own wallets and then ask why the church does not spend what it should on missions. In our day of people being consumers of religious goods and services, people want nice buildings and lots of programs and staff to meet their “needs.”

My question for us is simply this – what moves us? What are our real priorities? Are they in alignment with God’s priorities?

In Ecclesiastes 3 we learn there are seasons of life, and we also understand priorities can shift some when seasons change. I have a friend whose priorities right now have a lot to do with his wife’s health. I am in a busy season with my business—spring is when a lot of businesses do some computer and server upgrading.

Whatever season we are in, we can know our priorities by looking at two things: how we spend our time and how we spend our money. Time and money are the daily currencies of life. We all get the same 1,440 minutes per day. We all have differing financial means as God has granted. But for each of us we can evaluate priorities in our current season by how we are spending those currencies.

The tool to measure those priorities is given to us by Jesus.

Matthew 6:24-34 "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. 25 "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Notice the immediate context is how we are using our financial resources. But the principle could just as easily be used for time. Are not time and money the two things we constantly worry about? We never have enough time and the money runs out before the month.

How often have we heard Jesus’ words in verse 33 and thought, “Yes, that is the cure to my ills.” Yet within a day or two we are back to seeking our own Kingdom, not even thinking about how we spend our time and money, and wondering why we are so worked up!

As with so many things in the Kingdom economy, the solution is the opposite of what we think it is. The cure for our anxieties is not to make more money or somehow create more time margin in our lives. The cure is to re-orient those things toward Jesus and be willing to let Him guide our use of those resources. Only He has the unlimited abundance of both to share, but they are only shared in so far as they are used for the Kingdom and His glory.

4 New Life Resolutions (Part 2)

In the previous post, we looked at the first two of what I have referred to as “New Life Resolutions.” We learned that we are to live out the Golden Rule, and stay Christ-centered. I would like to jump right to resolution three.

Resolution #3: Be Humble

Romans 12:16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

Harmony and humility (“do not be haughty” is saying “be humble”) go hand in hand. The Bible repeatedly makes the point that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. Now we understand that “opposes” means “actively works against.” So my question for you then is do you really want the God of the universe actively working against you? I am betting not!

Here are some easy ways to live in harmonious humility:

Let other people get the credit (God knows anyway).

Don’t point out others’ faults, but guard their dignity. None of us like it when someone points out our faults.

Sincerely apologize and ask for forgiveness when you mess up.

Think the best of other’s intentions. Most people who hurt or offend us are probably not deliberately trying to hurt us (and if they are we have a resolution for that coming up).  We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions, but a better road to follow is simply don’t judge what we think are other people’s intentions.

Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Stop making excuses and just be honest with people. I used to make excuses when I did not want to go somewhere or do something. Now I just say no. If I tell you yes on something, it is a sincere yes and I am happy to do it. If I tell you no, you won’t get an excuse. I will just say no.

Such simple stuff, but so few people are doing it.

People seeking to be harmoniously humble are naturally going to carry out this last resolution.

Resolution #4: Pursue Peace Whenever Possible

Romans 12:17-20 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."

So here is a sincere question: do you want to be at peace with other people, or do you have to always be right? I promise you that most of the time you cannot have both!

People constantly argue about things they really do not have knowledge to argue about. Internet has made lots of information available, without any way to judge the quality of that information.

Now being at peace with others also means that we do not go after people when they offend or hurt us. If we believe God is just and that in the end He will bring justice on the earth (and He will Beloved, He will) then we do not need to take matters into our own hands. Love does not seek revenge, it forgives as best it can.

Notice Paul writes, “as far as depends on you.” There are some people you cannot be a peace with because they won’t let you. God does not say “In that case, all bets are off – let them have it.” He says let Him deal with them when He decides it is time. In the meantime, we still have options. We can deflect their issue by loving them more. Or we can avoid these people if possible.

Most of our conflicts are avoidable, if we could just give up the idea that we have to win to save our pride. And let us also face the fact that some of our conflicts are of our own creation. Not that any of us would do that…

We all likely desire a 2017 that is better than 2016. Even if we had a year we define as pretty good, we certainly want this one to be even better. Live the life of love lived out in practical ways. It is one of the best resolutions any of us could make. No matter what else might happen this year, love, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, never fails.

4 New Life Resolutions

Every year people make New Year’s Resolutions.  Study after study has shown that very few people actually keep them beyond a few weeks. I don’t know what your particular plans are, but I think the Bible can give us some insight on what God might want all of us to resolve for this new year.

Many Bibles have a heading for Romans 12:9-21 that calls this section “Marks of the Christian” or something like that. I call them “New Life Resolutions.” We have new life in Christ, and new means God calls us, through His power, to live differently than the dark world around us. Romans 12:9-21 is a great summary of some of those things!

Overall we could call these four resolutions, “Live a Life of Love. “

Romans 12:9,21  Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good….21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

This section of Romans 12 begins and ends with exhortation toward love and goodness over evil. This may seem obvious, but we talk about this a lot, without many concrete actionable ways to love. Our New Life Resolutions are concrete, actionable ways to love God and love others.

Remember, love in the Bible is a VERB – it is something we do for others, not just warm fuzzies we might feel one day and not the next!

So what would God have us do??

Resolution #1: Live Out the Golden Rule

Romans 12:10, 13-15 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor… 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Golden Rule is shorthand for what Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:12 (and other places) So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Here Paul gives us some ways to do that:

“Showing honor” simply means putting other people; their needs, their feelings, their well-being, ahead of our own. I strongly believe that if every marriage put this principle into action, most would improve 200%! If each spouse put their partner first in everything, marriages would be radically better.

Now v.13 tells us to help others with their physical needs. This is not necessarily money. Two of my friends re-sided my garage (I supplied pizza and sandwiches). Another friend who is mechanically inclined rebuilt a truck for my oldest daughter. My friend, Rich, came over and replaced my water heater. I have let numerous people stay at our house. I snow blow my elderly neighbors’ sidewalks. Helping others with actual physical needs is love in action.

“Hospitality” in v.13 is the Greek word philoxenos which means “love of strangers.” When we extend our meeting of needs to people we do not even know, we are really living like Jesus! Give that guy at the corner by Target in old army jacket a fiver. Invite someone you barely know from your neighborhood over for dessert and coffee.

Then v.14 tells us to extend our loving to those who do not show us love, but may even seek to do us some harm, particularly if that harm is related to our faith in Jesus. I have a neighbor who is not too fond of me, but last year experienced a tragedy. I have taken every opportunity I can to do nice things for him….not out of spite, or gloating, but attempting to show love.

Finally in this section, v.15 tells us to identify with other people who are either celebrating something good or suffering from something bad. This is the opposite of gloating. When the person at your office who really irritates you gets promoted, love him or her and celebrate it! When that same person suffers a loss, extend sympathy and love.

None of these are difficult, but you have to decide to live and love like Jesus did.

Resolution #2: Stay Christ-Centered

Romans 12:11-12 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

In our dark world, where so many people are out for themselves, or just believe the worst about you, about God, or about everything no matter what, you have to stay centered on something or you will get dragged away with all the negativity!

Stay focused on Christ. Zeal in the Bible is the idea of having a strong desire for something. Fervent means taking strong action about something, and we should all be zealous and fervent about Jesus!

How might you ask? Well the next verse tells us:

We are to rejoice in hope. We find our joy not in stuff or even people, but in the eternal hope of Christ. Remember that hope in the Bible is a sure thing we count on receiving some day. We need to stop trying to get relief from our internal issues with new clothes, or hard liquor, or too much TV, or some other person. Instead, we need to be restored by putting our hope fully in Jesus.

We also must learn to be patient. Everyone of us are going to have trials. Hope lived out during trials gives us patience to endure until the trial is over. No trial lasts forever! In the “worst” case scenario you die and go be with Jesus! And that is hardly a worst case. And most trials are not leading us to immediate death, even though at the time it may feel that way!

And we need to really get practical with our prayer. No one can maintain hope and be patient without staying connected to Christ by constantly talking to Him about all the stuff of life. If I have said it once I have said it 1000 times; prayer and time in the Scriptures is where we find the hope and strength to stay Christ-centered in a self-centered world.

Next post I will share with you the other two “New Life Resolutions” for living a life of love. For today, ask Jesus “How can I be more centered on YOU?” and “Who should I be on the lookout for to express love in action on YOUR behalf?”

Be Wary of the Unseen

What do bacteria, antibiotics, microwave ovens, cell phones, and wind turbines all have in common?  All are things that we really cannot see but can have major impacts on our lives. Bacteria very hard to see (unless you have a really nice microscope), but when you have too many, antibiotics (which while I can see the pill, I cannot see what actually goes on) sure are great.

I cannot see microwaves, but my food gets hot by agitation of the molecules of the food (which I also cannot see). I cannot see the cell phone signal (which technically is another type of microwaves on a narrow band) but I can talk to my wife or send my friend Delvin a text message or picture.

I cannot see the wind, but the effects are obvious and even better I can utilize the wind to do useful work - like generate electricity to power my microwave and charge my cell phone!

Yet despite the ubiquity of unseen forces utilized by technologies all around us, we struggle to realize how often other unseen forces might be at work all around us:

Job 1:1-19 (ESV) There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3 He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. 4 His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, "It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts." Thus Job did continually. 6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, "From where have you come?" Satan answered the LORD and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." 8 And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" 9 Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." 12 And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand." So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. 13 Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, 14 and there came a messenger to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you." 16 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you." 17 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you." 18 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, "Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, 19 and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you."

Luke 13:11-16 (ESV) And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, "Woman, you are freed from your disability." 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, "There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day." 15 Then the Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?

Acts 5:1-5 (ESV) But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God." 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.

Now here is something to think about: in each of those stories, the Enemy is active in causing grief. These are actual, tangible problems; death, mayhem, loss, physical pain, and attempts to deceive God and other people (I think we will get to Heaven and Ananias will be there, but he is an example of what not to do!).

Is it not possible, even likely, that many of not only our problems, but the increasing level of chaos in the world, are caused by the schemes, the lies, the deceptions and even the physical power Satan and His minions have in this created realm?

Paul says when talking about discord in the Corinthian church, he is not unaware of Satan's schemes (2 Cor 2:11). Yet so often we act as if there is no scheme. But since we are at war with spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places (Eph 6:12), we should be constantly alert that just as it was for the disciples, we must as Peter tells us, “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world (1 Peter 5:8-9 ESV).”

A Sign of Maturity

Let me begin by saying that I am neither a Trump nor Clinton supporter. I am using Mr. Trump here as an example, so please do not go saying “Pastor Orville is a Trump supporter.” OK, ‘nuff said.

When Mr. Trump began his campaign for president, he talked about a mass deportation of folks not here in the United States legally. Then a few weeks ago he espoused a more moderate position, it seems, saying “there is no amnesty, but we work with them.” ( Of course, some folks claim he was flip-flopping his position for votes and such. Maybe… maybe not…

I have long maintained that a sign of maturity is for a person to be able to examine a belief, a theory, a position on an issue, and when confronted with new information or better thinking, be able to change their mind about that belief, theory, or position. I do not believe this is flip-flopping, I believe it is growth. As we all mature, we must be willing to adjust our thinking on many things.

This is such a Biblical concept that we even have a word for it: repentance. In its most basic definition, repentance means “to change your mind.” Now the Bible (and thus in church) we often use this word to refer to repentance from sin. I change my mind about my behavior, from my viewpoint to God’s viewpoint. I repent of that sin.

There are even times in Scripture when God changes His mind about something. Not in the sense He was wrong, but in the sense that He decided to do something different than originally planned. The greatest story I think of this is Jonah. Jonah is sent to Nineveh to tell the Assyrians “Yet 40 days and Nineveh will be overthrown (Jonah 3:4).” And guess what? The very next verse says “The Ninevites believed God.” And so they fasted and repented, and verse 10 tells us, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” He changed His mind, because they repented of their sin, and thus He extended mercy.

Does this make God a flip-flopper? Hardly – in fact inherent in sending a prophet to them is the possibility that they could repent and thus God could relent of judging them. Why else warn them?

As we grow in our relationship with the Lord Jesus, as we study the Scriptures, we need to keep two very important things in tension: conviction about the truth, and the possibility that new information, more study, or the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit may cause us to change our minds about some things. That is not flip-flopping, that is a sign of maturity.

Living Like Jesus

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with a small group of other pastors together with our denomination’s Vice President for Leadership Transformation, Dr. Kent Carlson. One of the things he reminded us of, which is something I first heard from Dr. Dallas Willard is that we need to learn to live as Jesus would if He were us.

We often hear preachers exhorting us to live like Jesus. We even had the craze some years back of the W.W.J.D. bracelets and T-shirts; “What would Jesus do?” All of which sounds (and probably is) great and Biblical.

The problem with that idea is, however, is that I am not Jesus! Trust me, while I am sure I am more Christ-like than I was five years ago (just ask my wife, it’s true!!) in the end I am not Jesus, and lack certain things Jesus had even in His incarnation; perfect knowledge of the Scriptures, a perfect connection with His Father in Heaven, perfect assurance of who He was and is and what His mission was in coming to earth.

And Jesus did not have some of the things I have as part of my life. A wife with a likely permanent medical condition. Three wonderful daughters and a cool son-in-law. A mortgage and car payment and a host of other things to manage. A cell phone and an endless stream of communication by voice, text and email.

I think this is why Dr. Willard’s advice is so profound. I cannot really live like Jesus, what I have to do is figure out how Jesus would live if He were in my life situation. How would He love my wife and kids if He were me? How would He lead Greenhill Baptist if He were me, here in this place at this time? I cannot (nor am I called to) wander the countryside preaching the good news of the Kingdom life breaking into this world. I can (and must) seek to use my Scripture and Spirit guided imagination to figure out what Jesus would do if He were me in each of the roles and situations I find myself in in each day.

In fact, in some way, even Jesus had to live this way. He says in John 5:19 "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” Jesus Himself was in some way living as the Father would if the Father were there physically as He was.

That is part of kingdom living – studying how Jesus lived; how He dealt with people who were friends, people who were enemies, and people who needed Him (sometimes in desperate situations). Learning to carefully listen to His guiding voice through the Spirit just as He listened to His Father in Heaven.

So how would Jesus live if He was you? How would He live if He was you as a husband or wife or father or mother? As a co-worker with the people you work with? As a son or daughter with the parents you have? Or don’t have? With the grief you have experienced or the crisis you face? With the life experiences you have had and maybe have not even allowed Him into yet? This is a starting place to a whole different life of wonder and joy if we are willing to enter into it!

Trust in Deed, Not Just In Words…

This year I have been going through Dallas Willard’s (and if you are not acquainted with Dr. Willard you need to be!) Hearing God: Through the Year. It takes his book Hearing God and converts it into a daily devotional with reflections. This was the reflection I read today, as Dr. Willard talked about the story of Jesus healing the Centurion’s servant in Luke 7:

“Whom have you known whose word you have trusted implicitly? If they said they would show up, you knew they would – even if it looked as if they wouldn’t. Imagine having such trust in God, believing that he will show up, no matter what. If you trusted God that much, how would your life be different? What would you stop doing? Start doing differently?” (Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Through the Year, reading 161, c.2004 InterVaristy Press, Downer’s Grove, IL)

You can possibly imagine the internal discord questions like this might stir up in my soul! Do I trust God to show up no matter what? Well of course I do! I am a pastor after all!

If this were a text message, we could all follow that up with “LOL!”

I am sure that most of you feel my pain here – we often claim to trust God, but when we examine how we actually live day to day, it tells another story.

The centurion in Luke 7 did not trust Jesus with just lip service, but his whole demeanor toward Jesus indicates to us that he had no doubts Jesus could heal the dying servant just by speaking the word. “"Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed.” (Luke 7:6b-7).

How often do we, by comparison, live like practical atheists? Now please do not get offended – because I can assure you that when I am pointing one finger, three more point back at me. It is easy to do, because our de facto modus operandi is to simply trust in ourselves. Most of us have not been trained to listen for and obey God’s voice throughout the moments of our day. We don’t think of Him being present or even interested as we go through our day, and thus we go along until all of sudden we REALLY need Him, and then of course we are on our knees in desperation, which of course does not offend God, because Hebrews refers to His throne (with regard to prayer) not as the throne of judgment, but the throne of grace (Heb 4:16)!

But I am sure there is a better way to go about the day. And it involves trusting Him moment by moment. I wonder do we trust His word implicitly? Because when I examine my day to day life, I do not always act in ways that indicate I trust Him more than I trust me. When the bank account seems a little low, do I trust Him to show up, or do I suddenly fret about how much work on computers I can bring in (for those of you who may read this and not know me personally I also own a small computer and networking business)? When one of my children is making some bad choices, do I turn to my own ways of dealing with it, or do I seek God’s wisdom on how to handle the situation (hint: my way also seems to default toward anger and control, and His way always seems to move toward grace and love)?

Let me challenge us all with a rephrasing of Dr. Willard’s question: “If we trusted God as much as He can be trusted (which is completely), how would our lives be different? What would we stop doing? Start doing differently?”

The Heart Wants What it Wants

Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “The heart wants what it wants.” It was recently popularized in a song by Selena Gomez (don’t judge me – I have teenage daughters) but comes originally from a quote by Emily Dickinson, which in its entirety is, “The heart wants what it wants - or else it does not care.”

I bring this up because recently I found out a couple whose wedding I had officiated were getting divorced – her heart had changed. The next morning, I found out about another couple I know; his heart had changed. I could easily name 10 couples over the last 20 years that this is the exact scenario. Almost all of them were what anyone would describe as committed believers; involved in various things at church, some even in full time ministry. These were not casual “One-of-four Sundays a month” sort of people. 

Most of us have heard statistics about how the divorce rate within the Evangelical church is no different than outside the church, and that may or may not be true. But whatever the statistics are, my anecdotal evidence from the last 23 years of ministry is that marriages are falling apart at an ever increasing rate, for a myriad of reasons, and that is deeply disturbing (or should be anyway). What is worse is that it is another evidence to the broader culture that American Christians can talk the talk, but often do not really want to walk the walk.

While I am sure there are many factors creating this tsunami of marriage collapse, let me throw one thing I think is near the root of the problem: the heart wants what it wants, or so we are led to believe.

What I mean there is that both in the teaching of the church and even more so in the broader culture we are bombarded with messages that at their core say something to the effect of, “You need to be happy, your heart needs to be satisfied, and your life should be great and what you want it to be. If it is not, then you need to make whatever change you think you need to make so you can be happy.”

Whether as simple as Burger King’s old slogan. “Your way right away,” or as insidious as the prosperity gospel preached in many churches, or something in the middle where we teach young teens to “follow their heart,” the message is about the same – go with whatever you feel at the time and let your heart be your guide.

The problem here is that we all have a heart problem: Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the heart (apart from Christ) is deceitful and desperately wicked. But even once a person comes to Christ, repents of sin and puts their faith in His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin, we still have a heart condition. Now the promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 is that our hearts of stone would be replaced by hearts of flesh, and 2 Corinthians 5:17 clearly tells us that in Christ we become new creations, but yet our hearts are now caught in the tug of war between the old desires and the new desires (Romans 7). The heart, the seat of who we are in our will and emotions, must still be daily submitted to Jesus lest we be led off into all sorts of things that are in the end painful for us and hurtful for others. 

The heart may want what it wants, but only if what it wants is in conformity with the revealed will of God in Scripture should we let it have its way! Anything else is to let the heart lead us to disaster.

Proverbs 4:23 (NLT) Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.