following a dead god

Category : God, bible, faith, living a life of faith, sin

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Baal worship was a major problem in Israel.  It actually followed them for hundreds of years.  It was so indoctrinated into the culture that many Jews thought worshiping Baal was the same as worshiping God.  They didn’t even notice the difference!

How could that be?  It’s not as if the Bible is unclear on idolatry.  It’s not as if God didn’t send prophet after prophet delivering the same message, and I quote, “Hey!  Knock it off!”

But Israel was an agrarian society.  Farming was a major part of their life.  Is it any wonder that they kept getting caught up in worshiping a god that supposedly brought the rain?

We live in a country that is a financial society.  Is it any wonder that we get caught up in things like the prosperity gospel?  Is it any wonder that our priests fall into temptation of the “all mighty dollar?”

The situation may change, but apparently the human heart does not.

problems don’t last forever

Category : Daneil, God, choice, hope, sin, trust

“His successor will send out a tax collector to maintain the royal splendor.  In a few years, however, he will be destroyed, yet not in anger or in battle.” (Daniel 11:20)

Why is it that the weekend flies by, but the work week takes forever?  Why do we find sitting through a lecture painful, but watching a movie easy?  Why does vacation come and go when our daily commute takes so long?

Unless someone has mastered time travel (if so, please let me know) then all of these things can be explained by one simple word: perception.

Perception is that finicky thing that changes our reality.  It makes us believe something has happened when it hasn’t.  It makes us hot when we should be cold, and cold when we should be hot (this is why you say “boy it’s hot” when it’s 50 degrees outside in February, but not when it’s 50 in August).

Perception can be a major obstacle to our faith.

Perception may tell us that we can never change, that nothing good will ever happen, and we will be stuck “here” forever.

We are most vulnerable to these tricks when we are suffering.  We somehow know that “all good things must come to an end” and “it’s too good to last”.  We even have clichés devoted to them.  But when it comes to pain and suffering we often forget that those things don’t last either.

This was true in Israel’s case.

After centuries of not listening to God, Israel finally found themselves overwhelmed by a powerful enemy (Babylon).  As part of their punishment for losing the war, many of their most highly educated men were taken captive to become slaves (this is what happened to Daniel).  While most of the women and children were just outright murdered.

Many Jews simply couldn’t believe this was happening.  They were God’s chosen people.  They had been set free from captivity already.  How could they be going back?!  They never really thought God would let something like this happen to them.  Although if they had paid attention to prophets like Jeremiah, they would have figured it out.

But nothing lasts forever.  At least not in this world.

And I think God was reminding them of this.  In the story of Daniel, God simply slipped two sentences into the conversation.  Gently saying, “you will see tax collectors gathering money for a powerful kingdom, but even in the midst of that, their country will fall apart.”

Not even captivity lasts forever.

That was a lesson that the Jews needed to remember.  Because they were going to spend a long, long time in captivity.  They had to know that there was hope.  They had to remember who to hope in.  Those were things they had forgotten.

Bad things don’t last forever.  Maybe we need to remember that from time to time.

worshiping the high places

Category : God, bible, faith, sin, taking action

……….

Like us, ancient Israel struggled with finding their way into a relationship with God.   Many Israelites desperately wanted to have God in their life.  After all, he was the one who freed them from slavery, fed them in the desert, and protected them from their enemies.  But they couldn’t escape the prevailing culture of their day.

(Some things don’t change very much, do they?)

They found themselves surrounded by foreign gods and religious practices.  Instead of rejecting that, they saw those traditions as another way to connect to God.  They started to think, “well if you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em.”

And so Israel began to worship at “high places.”

Now “high places” were religious shrines built (primarily) by other religions.  They were a place where people who didn’t believe in God worshiped.  But somewhere along the way Israel got involved with worshiping at the high places.  While there were exceptions (such as Manasseh who instituted child sacrifice) most Israeli’s were trying to do “the right thing” even if they didn’t know what that was.

That’s the irony.  Most Jews didn’t really understand why worshiping at the high places was such a problem.  They wanted to be closer to God.  After all, they were “good people”, what did it matter if they worshiped God at a temple or a high place?

Just like the Golden Calf incident, Israel didn’t mean to offend God.  They just didn’t want to wait.  They wanted a relationship with God, just not on his terms, but on theirs.   So they tried to encourage action by building a golden calf.  This same mentality led them to use the high places.

The sad fact is, in both cases, Israel missed the fundamental nature of who God is.  They wanted a relationship with God, but were willing to settle for much, much less.

How could God not be outraged?  To him, high places are an insult and blasphemy.  They were declarations that Israel didn’t trust him.  That they didn’t believe in him.  That they were sure they knew how to do it “better.”

Reading about their struggles, it’s easy to point the finger and say, “they should have known better!”  But do we live as if we know better?  Or do we build our own high places?  Do we build monuments that he finds offensive?

When we see a need do we act out of love?  Or do we act because we want to be seen as special?  Are our churches just another high place?  Built not to honor God, but to amuse our sense of pride, to entertain us, to make us feel cool and hip?  Or are our churches empty, stuck in tradition (with us unwilling to change), because we’ve convinced ourselves that God cares more about tradition than people?

Many of us are not going to like the answers to those questions.

We criticize Christians for failing to live a Christ-like life.  In many cases that criticism is justified.  But how many times are we like the Israelites – trying to do what we think is right, but missing the mark by a mile?  Maybe the reason we don’t look different from non-believers is not because we want to fit in, but because we don’t know what we’re supposed to look like?

In their book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Rob Bell and Don Golden say, “In Jesus’ day, people could read, study, and discuss the Scriptures their entire lives and still miss its central message.”

Is it any different today?

We all have built alters on high places thinking we are honoring God.  Instead we offend him.  The bigger our high places get, the more distant God becomes.  And slowly, over time, we just can’t see past the alter.

But there is hope.  God always encouraged Israel to tear down their high places.  He still wanted to be in relationship with them.  He still wants to be in relationship with you.

You still have time to tear down your high places.

does god answer prayers

Category : Matthew, different, faith, fear, living a life of faith, trust

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks,  the door will be open.  Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7: 7-11)

Sometimes I think that just because I ask God for something I should get it.  And when I don’t, I’m shocked.  “How can God not answer my prayers?!” I cry out.  But as I read the story of Israel, I have to wonder, is that what’s really happening?

I’ve talked about how the trip to the Promised Land was only an 11 day trek.  Yet it took the Israelites 40 years to make it.  Why?  Not because God hadn’t answered their prayers of salvation (he had, even though they constantly doubted).  But because God knew that if the Israelites went directly to the Promised Land they would have been destroyed by what they found.

As it turns out it was the struggle of the journey that allowed them to become strong enough to enter the Promised Land.  It was their suffering which strengthened them.  It was their growing relationship with God that allowed them to have the faith necessary.  And once they were ready, or perhaps I should say, only when they were ready, did God open that door.

If Israel had avoided the disaster of 40 years in the wilderness, they would have experienced complete destruction at the hands of their enemies.  We are so quick to assume that God has abandoned us, when we don’t know all the facts.

The band, Since October has a song called disaster that really drives this home:

thank God for disaster
disaster and tears
thank God for my reasons
my reasons to fear
every time that I’ve lost it all and death is calling me
i understand this is what saved my life again

It is hard for me to remember that God often says “yes”, but it takes time for that “yes” to become a reality.  Living in a world of “lose 6 pounds in 6 days” and Instant Ramen Noodles it is hard for me to be patient.  I don’t like to wait for things.  But as the Israelites learned, sometimes waiting is the only way to get where you want to go.

Perhaps I should spend less time whining to God, and more time trusting and believing in God.  Perhaps I should spend less time avoiding problems, and more time thanking God for disaster.

the pope, nazis, and Israel

Category : Jesus, barbarian, bible, different, living a life of faith, sin

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This week the Pope is in Israel.  Surrounded by history, tension, politics and controversy.  But no lions and tigers and bears.

I rarely talk about current events for one reason – when you live a life of faith current events don’t matter.  This isn’t because current events aren’t important.  They are.  Or that current events can’t affect you.  They can.  It’s because living a life of faith is about following principles not trends.  If you stay true to what the Bible teaches you will be able to live a life of faith in any time, in any situation, under any circumstances.  The more you leave that path, the harder it becomes.  The more you will fall.

So while current events may be important, they aren’t always relevant to living out a life of faith.  But sometimes current events help to highlight themes.  They can show just how challenging Jesus’ teachings are because we have invested emotion in current events.  These topics become “very real” to us.

I think the Pope’s visit to Israel is one of those situations.  The primary controversy surrounding the Pope is the fact that he may (or may not have been) part of the Hitler Youth.  Because of this, some people are questioning his speech to the Jews in Israel.  And his support of a Palestinian state.

I have no idea if the current Pope was a member of the Hitler Youth.  I have no idea if he believed in the Nazi teachings when he was a kid or if he was forced into service.  In a dictatorship you hardly get to say “no”.  And before anyone starts saying, “he should have said ‘no’ anyway” think about your own life.  Do you have the courage to face the consequences like that?  Most of us, myself included, probably lack the courage.

God redeems each of us, no matter what horrible things we've done in the past.

But this isn’t the 1940’s.  It’s an entirely new situation, with presumably an entirely new person.  When you enter into a relationship with God, he transforms who you were into something new.  Even if that starting point was from the Hitler Youth.  That’s the whole point of baptisms and being “born again”.  This is why Paul said, there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.  God redeems each of us, no matter what horrible things we’ve done in the past.

I believe the Pope should own up to his involvement (or non involvement) in the Hitler Youth.  Doing so wouldn’t weaken his position – it would make it stronger.  It would show how a powerful God takes someone from the hate of Nazism to the love of Christ.  It would put him in the company of David (murderer and adulterer) and Paul (chief of all sinners).  Plus, as I mentioned, there is this whole “no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” thing.

Of course this isn’t the approach the Pope’s handlers are taking.

The Vatican has said he “had ‘never, never, never’ been in the Hitler Youth.”  Of course that “never, never, never” statement didn’t last long.  Because in a day of internet it’s easy to find out that the Pope had written about his time in the Hitler Youth.

Oops.

Now as I said, it’s entirely possible that the Pope was forced into the Hitler Youth.  Hitler wasn’t exactly a nice guy.  But every time the Vatican spokesman has to back off a quote it reeks of political maneuvering.  It makes it feel like the church is playing politics.  Something that should never happen.

I say, so what if the pope was associated with the Hitler Youth.  I say if the Pope has repented, then it doesn’t matter.  There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.  We all have dark sins.  We all have hatred toward someone.  If we didn’t we wouldn’t need Jesus.  But we are all fallen.  It’s time to forgive our enemies and move on.  Harder to do than say, I know.  But that’s the model Jesus left us, and the model we need to live out.

The world is looking to destroy the church.  It desperately wants to live in a secularized society, devoid of consequences and responsibility.  The world wants to push people of faith out of the way.  Why must we be so unChristian and give them easy opportunities to ignore our message of grace, love, and hope?  Why must we look more like politicians than Jesus?  Why can’t we just say we’re horribly fallen people in need of a merciful God?  Why can’t we say, “yes I was forced to be a Nazi, and I’m sorry.  Let me support you now.”?  Why can’t we let the fact there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus be enough?

Repentance frees us from the guilt of sin in God’s eyes.  Maybe it should free us from the guilt in man’s eyes too.

suffering because of faith

1

Category : Exodus, God, faith, fear, trust


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”  (John 1: 1-4)

Sometimes I find myself thinking that as long as you believe in God, you won’t have to suffer.  Yet that’s not the story the Bible presents.  The people closest to God are often the people who suffer the most for their faith.  Despite knowing this, it never really occurred to me that God might intentionally bring challenges into my life.  That he might be an “active” gardener.

I suppose it was just wishful thinking.

We view gardeners as someone who helps plants become stronger, more beautiful, and healthier.  But do you really think the plant feels that way when it’s getting cut apart?  Do you think the plant believes in the good intentions of the gardener?  Makes you have second thoughts about cutting your grass, doesn’t it?

I believe we’re like that plant.  The minute we start feeling “pruned” we start wondering why things are so miserable.  “Does God really want me to be suffering?” we ask.  “Does my life need to be like this?  Do I need to go through all this pain?”

Sometimes the answer is “yes” we must suffer.  Not because God wants us to be in pain.  But because there is no other way to get to our destination.  There is no other way to become stronger and healthier.  There is no other way to move out of our pride, our complacency, or our self-centeredness.

In order to prune a plant, a gardener must “hurt” the plant by pulling off dead leaves or rotting branches.  Even in medicine we do this.  A doctor will amputate a severely injured limb.  This isn’t because they want you to suffer, it’s because the only way you will survive is to lose a limb.

I believe God is sometimes that doctor.  Not all the time.  Just sometimes.  I think a lot of our suffering is our own fault.  If you don’t believe me, ask yourself when the last time you did something you knew was wrong.  How did that turn out for you?  I’m betting you regret it.  But I suppose that’s all for another conversation.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not easy when God starts pruning.  When Israel left Egypt they had an 11 day hike to the Promise Land.  It took them 40 years.  Now it’s possible that Moses just didn’t stop to ask for directions.  But it’s more likely that God chose to take Israel on a route because they needed to be pruned.  In fact, that’s exactly what God says – “If they (Israel) face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”

God was allowing Israel to suffer  so they would be prepared to handle the challenges ahead of them.  He was making sure their faith was strong enough to overcome the challenges they would face.  Was it fun?  Not at all.  Was it necessary?  Absolutely.

My natural reaction is to run from pain.  I don’t like being uncomfortable.  So I certainly don’t like it when God is bringing obstacles into my life.  But I’m struck by the fact that I need to embrace these challenges.  How different would Israel’s journey have been if they had recognized what God was doing?  They never would have been tempted to build a golden calf, or complain for 40 years.  (And you think it’s bad with a kid sitting in the back seat saying “are we there yet?”  Imagine a 40 year car trip!)

Instead of running around looking for an exit strategy, I need to calm myself down and ask, “God what should I be learning?”  If I must suffer, then I want my suffering to be caused by my faith.  I want it to be brought about by a loving God who’s desire is to help me, not hurt me.

I am willing to sacrifice if it means knowing God better.

As spring approaches and the world starts turning green again, consider the hardship the plants go through each winter.  I challenge you to think about your own suffering as well – each time you see a budding bush or a blooming flower, ask God what needs to be pruned from your life to help you to bear more fruit.

living in faith

Category : Deuteronomy, God, taking action

 

Imagine what it must have been like for Israel on the verge of entering the Promised Land.  They had been wondering in the wilderness for 40 years, and now God was just about to fulfill his promise.  But before they could enter the land, Moses had some final thoughts for them.  In that speech Moses laid out where they had come from, why they were there, and where they were going.  He wanted them to understand just how important the next part of their history would be.  It would have been an exciting time to have been an Israelite.

And in that speech Moses told the Israelites was to “Observe [the laws] carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Deuteronomy 4: 6)

In that one sentence Moses really captures a lot about how to live a life of faith.

  • Wisdom is not simply knowledge but action – the Israelites not only had to know the law, but live it.
  • Talking about living a life of faith is entirely different than living a life of faith.
  • Following God is the surest way of “proving” that he exists – when our lives are filled with God, people can’t help but wonder why we’re so different!

People respond to God when they can see him in our lives.  It was true 4,000 years ago, and it’s still true today.

the good news

Category : God, bible, faith, hope

 

Sometimes I think about how easy it should have been for the Israelites to follow God.  They had the benefit of all these miracles, and people like Moses and David.  Yet they could never get their act together.  They could never manage to follow the basic rules God laid out. 

To be honest, it frustrates me.  Especially because when I imagine myself in their shoes, it seems so easy to follow God.  ”He doesn’t need to tell me the same thing twice!” I tell myself.  “After all, how many times do you need to see a miracle to believe?!”

But it’s not that easy.

At least not when I start looking a little more closely at how I live my own life.  How many things have I started with the best intentions but they fell through in the end?  Anyone who has ever tried to stick to a diet can relate to this, I think.  Just because there are specific rules involved doesn’t mean it’s easier.  Just because we know we should do something, doesn’t mean we will.  Sometimes the chocolate cake just looks too good to pass up.

That’s what makes the “good news” of the gospel so amazing.  We no longer have to live under the law, because Jesus fulfilled that law.  We aren’t judged by how many rules we’ve broken, but by our relationship with God.  And there can’t be better news than that! 

The more I look at my own life, the more I realize I can’t do this on my own.  Especially since I can barely stay away from McDonald’s when I’m on a workout schedule.  How much harder when my soul’s fate rests on a law?

 

why does God take so long?

Category : Exodus, God, faith, hope, trust

  

Why can’t God just answer my prayers?

I wonder that all the time. 

I mean he is all powerful.  How hard can it be to snap his fingers and just make something happen?  I don’t see what the issue is.

And that, I think, is the answer.  No matter how much we know, there are simply some things that we can never know.  For instance, we can never know what would happen if we went to a different college, married a different person, or slept through our alarm.  Well that last one might get you fired.  But in general we will never know the road not taken.  

The interesting thing is, God does know.  He’s fully aware of what would happen if things went differently.  When God promised Israel their own land, I’m sure some of them thought, “well why can’t we have it all at once.”  To me that doesn’t seem like an unreasonable question.  God did, after all, promise it to them.  

Yet there were things that Israel couldn’t know.  There were things they probably never even thought of.  Fortunately God had, “But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.” (Exodus 23: 29-30)

God knew their lives would be harder, not easier if he simply gave them everything they wanted.  I wonder what I am impatient for, and God is saying “Be patient, trust me, you aren’t ready for this yet.  But you will be.”

 

proof of God

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Category : Exodus, God, faith, miracles

  

“You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him.” (Exodus 16: 8)

I’ve often heard people say, “if only God would do something to prove he was real, I’d believe him.”  If I’m honest I have to admit that I’ve said that exact thing.  Sometimes I still do.  But is that really what makes you believe in God?

The Israelites had all the proof they could ever want.  They had just been delivered from years of slavery.  They had seen their families and livestock spared while Egypt’s were destroyed. They had seen miracle after miracle, and yet, they still couldn’t simply believe in God.

Doesn’t this hold true to our experiences as well?  When God gives us exactly what we want, don’t we find a way to discredit the miracle?  We find ourselves saying it was coincidence or “a lucky break.”  Sometimes we even take credit for it ourselves.  After all, it was only your determination that got you that job interview, right?

God is always giving us evidence for his existence.  He was no different with the Israelites.  That’s the amazing thing about God – when Israel doubted him, he simply gave them more reason to believe.   “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’” (Exodus 16: 12)

I would have told Israel they could eat when they found the next Quick-E-Mart.

For some of us no amount of evidence seems to be enough.  But maybe, just maybe, the issue isn’t really about God.  Maybe it’s more about how we respond to what God does show us.