Evidence

It’s so easy for me to forget God sometimes. I get so caught up in life and ministry and work that I just sometimes push Him to the side and don’t think about Him. Even now as I write this blog this morning, my brain is going in a million different directions and staying focused on Him is difficult.

Why is that? I am so easily distracted, and it’s frustrating for me. I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for God.

It’s ironic, though, because if I just open my eyes and look around, God is everywhere. His fingerprints are all over creation. He’s in thunderstorms and gentle rains. He’s in gray, overcast skies. He’s in the startling green wheat fields that presently surround my house. He’s in the lilac bushes, the blossoming pear trees, and even the garlic chives that have taken over the garden plot. He’s in all these things because He made them. He created them for us and gave them to us for us to enjoy (although, I think the garlic chives may have come from Satan as a curse).

But nature is more than just something for us to take pleasure in. Nature is a sign. Everything around us is a sign, pointing with both hands to God as the Creator of everything.

I heard in a theology course I took once that there are two kinds of revelation, natural revelation and special revelation. The Bible is special revelation because God spoke through men specifically. Nature, however, is natural revelation because you can look at it and understand a lot about God just from what you see.

The verse this morning says it better than I can:

Romans 1:20

20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

 I don’t understand how people can look at the world and think it happened by accident. That everything we see here came about on its own, by chance. I don’t have a problem if people want to believe that, and I won’t try to change anyone’s mind (I can’t do that anyway). I’m just saying that I don’t understand it. It makes more logical sense to me that the Earth was created, but I’m not going to start on the Creation vs. Evolution soapbox this morning because that’s not what I thought when I read this verse.

I actually felt frustrated with myself. Because I know God. I know Him personally. He’s been my best friend for 21 years. The only other person I’ve been best friends with longer than that is my brother. I know God, and even though all of nature throws Him in my face, I still manage to forget about Him.

I still run into a problem that I can’t fix, and I stress out. I still reach the end of my power and worry. I still try to do everything in my life on my own. I still feel alone.

But all I have to do is watch the moth flying around in my upstairs office (I still don’t know how it got in here; I haven’t been able to swat it), and that is evidence of God’s creativity. A moth is an incredible creature. They fly; what’s not to like? All those tiny little wing feathers. The brilliant, muted colors (no, that’s not a contradiction). Their fuzzy little antennae. (It’s no wonder Arthur the accountant picked it as an alter-ego!)

God made moths, just like He made everything else. He designed them. He created them from nothing. And He gave them to us to study and watch and see and enjoy, and when we see it we can remember who God is. We can remember that He can do anything. We can remember that no matter what problem we’re facing, He is strong enough to overcome it. Because if He’s creative enough to stick fuzzy antennae on a bug and make it fly around a eat clothes, He can help you come up with a solution for any situation in your life.

Just as people have no excuse for not knowing God, I have no excuse for forgetting Him. And on this Good Friday, I want to remember.

Pecking order

Growing up on a farm, I learned pretty quickly that there is a hierarchy in nature. There are pack leaders and then there is the rest of the pack that follows, and nobody messes with the pack leader. I don’t think I ever saw this dominance in raising chickens or turkeys, though. Just saying.

But the one that really surprised me was the sheep. We had three 4-H market lambs that we raised one year (we named them Larry, Curly, and Moe). Curly was mine, she was the biggest. Moe was Andy’s, she was the calmest. Larry was the extra, backup sheep in case Curly and Moe died unexpectedly, and she (yes, she) was the smallest. But no matter how hard we trained them, no matter how we worked with them, we couldn’t get them to walk in that order. Larry, Curly, Moe. Instead, it was Curly in front, Moe in the middle, and Larry in the back. They wanted to be in height order, independent out front, Moe resignedly in the middle, and Larry bringing up the rear like an idiot. Come to think of it, the positions fit their personalities (because, even though they’re stupid, sheep still have personalities). And if we ever got them out of that order, they weren’t happy again until they got back into it. Moe refused to lead. Larry never knew where she was going. And Curly would prance and jerk and dash away from me trying to get into the lead again.

That’s probably a poor example, but the verse this morning is partly about power. And whenever I think of power, I think of a chain of command. Because wherever you have power, someone has to have more of it than someone else. You can’t have two people with the same amount of power in an organization; they’ll tear each other apart unless one of them is humble enough to back off and let the other rule.

A good example of this is the year we had three directors for our church Passion Play. Three different directors for the same play. Oi, what a nightmare! And I love all three of these people. Incredible people. But none of them could make their own decisions because they had to balance their decisions with the decisions of the others. Having too many cooks in the kitchen is a very bad idea.

There has to be someone in charge. Someone has to have a final say, no matter what endeavor you’re undertaking in life, whether it’s getting your oil changed or seeking for a means to save your soul from eternal damnation.

Anyone who has power or authority in this life got it from someone else. Some positions of authority are inherited. Granted, some are earned, but even those positions of authority that people work for are still given to them, either by election or popular opinion. Power has to come from somewhere and usually it descends.

Look at the government. I know it’s not functioning well at the moment, but let’s look at it the way it was intended to be (the way the Founding Fathers set it up). The way the Founding Fathers looked at our government was that God had created people with a free will to make their own choices. So they set up a government that the people could run for themselves, electing officials and maintaining their freedoms independently. They looked at it this way: God gives power to the Federal Government to govern and rule as they see fit. The Federal Government gives authority to the State Government. The State Government gives authority to the County Government. The County Government gives authority to the City Government. The City Government empowers its people locally. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Power starts at the highest level and descends to the levels below it, and if one of the levels below has a problem, they can take it to the higher levels for help.

Think about the difference between city laws and federal laws, the vast difference in resources. People are far more likely to break city laws than they are federal laws, aren’t they? (It’s a bad example. Just run with it.) Because federal laws represent the federal government, and you don’t screw around with the federal government. Because the federal government is where the rest of the government gets their power from. They have more power than the rest of the governments because they are the source of that power.

So with that in mind, here’s the verse for today. John 10:28-30.

28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else.[a] No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

This is Jesus talking. The section of verses before this one, Jesus is telling people that He is the Good Shepherd and that His sheep know His voice and that He takes care of His sheep and that He will lay His life down for them willingly (because no one can take His life from Him without His consent). Here, Jesus is saying that He has given eternal life to His sheep (His followers, if you haven’t picked that up yet) and that no one can take them away from Him because God gave them to Him.

Did you get that?

God gave us to Jesus.

We’re not talking about animal hierarchies and government pecking orders anymore now. We’re talking about the Creator of the Universe. We’re talking about the One who made everything. Can you wrap your head around that? I know I can’t.

God made us, so He owns us. Some people may fight against that, but it’s true. If you make something, you look at it as something you own, don’t you? I’ve spent eleven years writing a manuscript, so I call it my manuscript. I don’t call it my brother’s manuscript or my friend’s manuscript. It was my idea. My work. So it’s mine, and I can do what I want with it. It’s the same with God. He made us, so He can do what He wants with us. He could have wiped us off the face of the earth for what we’ve done, but He didn’t. Instead, He killed His Son — Himself — to save us. He gave us to His Son to save, to protect, to keep.

And nobody can change that because He’s God. And there is no higher hierarchy above Him. There is no pecking order that He isn’t at the top of. As far above the normal citizen as the Federal Government is, God is higher even than the most powerful, most authoritative person in the world. All power comes from God. All authority comes from God.

Why do I obey the law? Because God established it. Why do I respect my parents? Because God put them in authority over me. Any power, any law, anything that has authority in my life gained that authority because God delegated it.

And who can take anything away from God?

Satan can’t even do that.

Here’s an interesting thought. Satan is our enemy. Not God’s. To be an enemy, usually you have to be on equal footing with the person or people you’re opposing. And Satan isn’t on equal footing with God. He’s just a problem that God will deal with in due time.

The only way Satan can hurt God is to hurt us, to drag us away from serving God, to keep us confused, to keep us focused on ourselves. But Satan can’t take anything away from God.

So where do we get off thinking that we can lose our salvation? Why do we fear that God will leave us when the Bible says clearly — unmistakably — that we belong to Him and nothing can separate us?

It’s a lie of Satan.

God made us. He owns us. He gave us to Jesus. He saved us. And on the days when it doesn’t feel like He’s near, that’s not His problem; it’s ours. He says He never leaves us. So it’s up to us to believe that.

Nothing’s certain but death and taxes

When I was a child, I never really understood what people meant when they told me that death and taxes were the only certainties in life. Now, as an adult, I get it, although it seems to me lately that the only certainties are death and raising taxes . . . but that’s a topic for another blog post . . . .

I find it very interesting that most people in the college age group don’t think about death. Even high schoolers think about it. And practically no children think about it. It find it fascinating because death was something I thought about a lot, even as a child. I’m pretty sure it started with the death of my great grandmother — we called her Grandma Great because she was so cool.

I remember very clearly the day that she died. She was in Wichita. My family and I still lived in Houston at the time. We got the phone call, and my mom told us that Grandma Great had passed away. And for the first time I remember feeling the odd paradox of sorrow mixed with joy, that strange unexplainable feeling a believer gets when someone who knows Christ has died.

I wasn’t very old, but I was old enough to comprehend the fact that Grandma Great was in heaven and that she wasn’t in pain anymore and that she was probably up there dancing the Charleston again, like she hadn’t been able to do in years.

From that moment on, I think I looked at death differently. For that reason, I think I was able to survive the deaths of friends in high school later on, knowing all of them had been believers, knowing I would see them again.

I’m not sure how many people in my age group now think about death. Probably more than people who are in college. Normal college and high school age kids tend to think that they’ll live forever. But I do know that a lot of people are scared of it.

I suppose, on one hand, it should be scary. I mean, it’s something unknown, and it’s not exactly something you can prepare yourself for. I suppose you can read books about it, but stories of near-death experiences vary a lot. Some people see lights. Other people hear voices. Some folks see angels. Others float through tunnels. I’m not discounting any of those stories, but to me that doesn’t sound like a lot of detail.

I guess I’ve just gotten to the point in life where I recognize that death will come sooner or later (if Christ doesn’t come back in the mean time), and that there’s no point in being afraid of it, even though I don’t understand it. Because, at the end of the day, what is death? I think I mentioned this yesterday. Death is one of those terms that people misunderstand and misuse a lot. On Earth, we get the idea that death is the end of something. Like the death of a dream. Or the death of a tree. Or the death of a salesman. No, wait. =)

But death isn’t the end of anything. Death is simply separation. When we die, the person we really are keeps on going, keeps on living, and simply relocates either to heaven or to hell. There’s no in between. There are no ghosts haunting the earth. There’s no purgatory. We die. We go to heaven or we go to hell. That’s it.

So as long as you know Christ, heaven is where you’re headed. And I guarantee that’s nothing to be afraid of. Do we really believe it, though? That’s the part that’s hard to get sometimes. But we, as Christians, have nothing to fear from death. We shouldn’t be afraid of it. Because death is powerless over us. It can’t control us and it can’t stop us.

The verse this morning is out of 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

55 O death, where is your victory?
      O death, where is your sting?[a]

 56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

According to this, death has power over people because of sin. And sin has power because people can’t obey the law.

And that’s true. God gave us the Law, the Ten Commandments, to show us that we can’t be good enough to get to heaven on our own merit. No one has kept the Ten Commandments. People have tried, but everyone has failed. No one on Earth is perfect enough to keep all ten of them every moment of every day for their entire lives. And if you wanted to get into heaven on your own, that’s what you would have to do.

So because we can’t keep the Ten Commandments, our sin keeps us separated from God, and if we die physically our broken souls with our dead (separated) spirits can’t be in the presence of God as He is holy and perfect and we aren’t. Death has power over people because we sin.

But what is the Bible about? What is the story of Jesus about?

People who believe in Jesus aren’t subject to the Ten Commandments. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “I am not under law but under grace.” Christ came to Earth and lived a perfect life. He never broke one of the Ten Commandments. His life was flawless. He was innocent. And because He was innocent, He had the capability to sacrifice Himself for us. Because He had never sinned, He could pay for those of us who had.

So those who believe in Jesus are freed from our subjection to the law, freed from the power that sin has over us. And since we are no longer controlled by sin, believers are no longer controlled by death.

It comes down to how much you love your Earthly life, I guess. If you love your family more than God, I suppose death is a frightening prospect. I struggle with that one. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m afraid to leave my family and friends behind . . . even though most of them know Christ. I feel like my presence in their lives keeps them safe. But that’s silly. What can I do to protect anyone? God is the one who is in control. And when He says it’s my time to go, I will go, and I have no say in it. And we just have to trust that God knows what He’s doing, that He’s got a plan, and that He really can take care of everything after we leave this Earth.

Death can’t control me. It can’t control you. And we shouldn’t be afraid of it because when the time comes for us to die, we will be with God if we believe in Jesus.

The second Adam

I’m so thankful God gives us second chances. And third chances. And fourth chances. And 100th chances. No matter how hard I try, I still end up doing what I know is wrong. So knowing that He will always be there for me is comforting, especially when I’m struggling with guilt in the aftermath.

I get so frustrated with myself because it’s so easy to think any sin I commit isn’t as big a deal as other people (there’s my pride issue creeping back in again). But Jesus said even thinking about committing a sin is just as bad as if you had done it. If you look down on murderers, have you ever hated someone? If you look down on adulterers, have you ever had an innappropriate thought? Just thinking about it is tantamount to doing it.

We’re all the same. And all our sin is the same. Just because some of us think about it instead of doing it doesn’t make us any different. Or any better.

Many people curse Adam, the first Man, for the sin he committed in Eden — eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil when he knew he wasn’t supposed to. And even when I was little, I wondered why he had done it. Why he had sacrificed all of us for a piece of fruit. But the truth is, folks, Adam didn’t know about us. He didn’t know that there would be uncountable billions of people who descended from him thousands and thousands of years later. He was human. He had no clue about the consequences of his sin. Just like us.

We stumble along in life doing what we want to do because we want to do it, and we have no idea how our actions are going to affect our children and our children’s children and our children’s children’s children. But we don’t think about that because it’s too big for us to wrap our heads around.

And we curse Adam for failing us in the garden? Adam did the best he could. He was the best shot we had. Otherwise, God would have made someone else instead of Adam.

Our sin deserved death. People think death means something it doesn’t most of the time. In our normal human connotation, death means the end of life as we see it. But death in the Bible just means separation. Physical death is separation of the Soul and Spirit from the body. Spiritual death is separation of the spirit from God. With Adam’s sin, because all of us are descended from Adam, we were all born spiritually dead, doomed to spend the rest of eternity separated from God when our bodies die.

That’s why God sent Jesus to die for us. Jesus was the second Adam, the second chance for the human race to have a relationship with God.

1 Corinthians 15:20-22

20But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

 21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.

Adam was the best hope we had, and he blew it. Not because he was a bad person. On the contrary, I’m sure he was a great guy. I’m excited to meet him someday soon. But he was still human.

Jesus was human, but He was also God. Able to feel everything a human feels, to struggle with everything a human struggles with. But God enough to overcome all of it. And Jesus didn’t fail. He triumphed victoriously, and because of His sacrifice on the cross, anyone who believes in Him can be restored to a one-on-one relationship with God.

Does that mean that those who believe are automatically perfect?

Yeah, right. I wish.

Believing makes us right with God, but it doesn’t get rid of our smelly old sin nature. We’ll still struggle with that until the day Jesus comes back to take us home.

But even though we still sin, it doesn’t mean that we forfeit the new life we’ve been given through Christ. He paid for all our sins with His one sacrifice. I don’t know about some of you, but all my sins were in the future when Christ died for me. So any sin I commit tomorrow is already paid for. Nothing I do or say or think is enough to separate me from God again now. It’s out of my hands. And I’m glad. After all, my hands don’t really accomplish a lot when left to their own devices.

So if you’re creeping back before the throne of God today like I am, asking for your 490th chance, remember that the price has already been paid. No matter the sin, no matter the severity, no matter how many other chances you’ve already had, it’s taken care of.

Talking the talk is harder than it seems

Believing in Jesus is easy. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find it difficult to believe in Jesus. I don’t find it difficult to believe in the Bible. I’ve witnessed too many miracles, too many supernatural things not to believe in God. And I can sit and talk to other believers about God all day long. But what I find the most challenging is talking to people who don’t believe.

Most of it is fear, and it’s irrational.

I’m a shameless people pleaser, after all, though I’m certainly a lot better than I used to be. And it’s my first response to hold conversations with people that won’t upset them. That will maintain our friendship. That won’t make them angry with me. And I get so afraid that people will get angry with me that most of the time I neglect to bring up my faith, even when I have a good opportunity.

Is that the right thing to do?

The verse for today made me think of this.

Romans 10:9-10

9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.

I don’t know if churches still do this, but they used to have this time after a message called an altar call. Anyone who needed to pray could come to the front and pray at the altar at the front of the church. Anyone who needed to talk to the Pastor could come and talk to the Pastor. Anyone who had decided to accept Christ could walk forward and Pastor would have them pray with a deacon. Usually, everyone would sing all the verses to “Just As I Am” while they were waiting.

On Palm Sunday in 1990, I responded to the altar call at our church in Houston. I was 7 years old. And I might have been young, but I understood the concept that I was a sinner and that I needed someone to save me. But I’m here to tell you as a kid who sought to please everyone, stepping out in front of my parents and my friends and my teachers (they all went to the same church) and exclaiming to them that I wasn’t already saved was hard to do.

As an adult now, I understand how they felt. Happy. Joyful. Excited that I had made a decision. But at the time, I was afraid that letting everyone know that I wasn’t a Christian from an even younger age was really hard for me. It was silly, I know, an example of the unrealistic expectations I’ve always placed on myself.

Part of me misses the altar calls. I understand why we had to stop doing them, though, but I miss them. Because putting action behind what you believe is what Christianity is all about. Don’t misunderstand, of course. Christianity isn’t a works-based faith. It’s more like faith-based works. Because in James, the Bible tells us that faith without good works is dead. You can claim to be a Christian all day long, but if your life and your works don’t back it up, are you really? Becuase you’re not living like you believe.

Believing is easy. Making the decision to believe isn’t hard. It’s telling everyone that’s hard. It’s changing your life that’s hard. But if you decide to believe and you don’t tell anyone and your life doesn’t change, do you really believe?

I think that’s why I liked the altar calls, because they gave people the opportunity to act, to do something, to follow through with the internal decision they had made and tell the whole congregation that they had decided to believe in Jesus.

If someone comes out and asks me if I’m a Christian, I tell them yes. But that’s an easy answer to respond to because everyone calls themself a Christian anymore, and very few people know what it means. And refusing to explain what I believe because I’m afraid is wrong. Now, I do think there are times when we as believers need to back off and let God do the talking. Many times, God will speak through our silence more effectively than He will through our words.

But being afraid of people and what they think is foolish. And refusing to give an account of my faith just because I’m worried about how I will be perceived is damaging, not only to me but to the people around me. I’m still working on this. And I know the verse for today is generally used in leading people to faith in Christ, but I think it’s relevant for the rest of our lives too.

You can believe in Christ all day long, but until you start telling people what you believe, how else will anyone know?