Saturday, May 28, 2016

Finding Gold

Gold is one of the most commonly sought after precious metals in the history of the world.  Its rarity and beauty make it a highly prized treasure, and the standard of measurement of wealth.  It is diligently harvested from rivers, lakes, and mines by people who make it their life goal to “strike it rich” and find big money in the earth.

Sometimes reading and understanding the Bible is like a hunt for hidden treasure.  In fact, Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings to search things out.”  This might explain why it is occasionally hard to understand the Bible.  We read, and though we understand the words, we sometimes don’t understand the meaning or the application to our personal lives.  So, what can we do?  How do we “seek things out”, and find God in His word?  Here are some pointers to help you as you read your Bible:

  • Read every day.  Sometimes understanding increases with familiarity, and developing a habit of daily reading can help you become more familiar with the rhythm and flow of scripture.
  • See the big picture.  It is possible to lose the details of what you are reading if you don’t know the context in which it was written.  There are lots of different kinds of writing in the Bible.  There is a specific structure to the arc of the entire story of the Bible.  Knowing where in biblical history the passage you are reading is taking place may help your understanding.
  • Talk to the Author.  Scripture is inspired by God, and He is available to its readers through prayer.  When you sit down to read your Bible, take time to pray and ask God to help you understand.  God seems to greatly enjoy revealing Himself to those who want to know Him.  
  • Take God at His Word.  Sometimes our confusion and struggle with God’s word comes not from difficult words or concepts, but rather it comes from our unwillingness to believe what it says or comply with what it teaches.  This is a challenge, not of the mind, but of the heart as we are confronted with challenges to our self-will.  Just remember, God is God and you are not.
  • Take notes.  Highlight significant ideas or terms.  When you run into a question about a passage, write it down.  Perhaps some other time you will come across the answer to your question and you will be able to go back and jot that down as well.  Enjoy the glimpses of truth you find as you explore God’s word.  
  • Share with a friend.  It is always a good idea to pursue knowing God in community with others.  Share the blessing!

So why would it be the glory of God to conceal a matter in the first place?  Think of it as God’s way of drawing us in to an adventure that will ultimately reveal to us something about Him.  Seeking God in His word is how we get to know what kind of a God He really is, and how we might see His blessing in our lives.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

In Times Like These

I have a fond memory of something we used to do in church when I was growing up.  Every once-in-a-while, we would have a simple “hymn-sing” Sunday.  Our pastor or music leader would stand up and lead us through favorite hymns that people would call out from the congregation.  A lot of good singing, heads nodding ‘yes’, smiles, and the occasional tear of joy would be seen across the congregation as we sang of the promises of God, and His love for us.

On one occasion, when I must have been very young, a similar singalong was called for at the beginning of a midweek Bible study.  The pastor called out, “Are there any requests?”.  Wanting to get in on the action in youthful zeal, I opened the hymnal and called out the first song number I saw.  The pastor chuckled when he saw the title, and then let the rest of us know that he was not familiar with that song, but we might as well try to sing it anyway!  The song began like this:

In times like these you need a Savior
In times like these you need an anchor;
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

This Rock is Jesus, Yes, He's the One;
This Rock is Jesus, the only One!
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

I distantly remember Pastor looking over at me and smiling and saying something like, “We’ll have to remember that one…”.  I still do remember that song.  It was a bit of a surprise to us all that night, but it became one of those musical seeds that sits in the back of your mind, only coming to fruition just when it is needed.

In times like these, we do need Someone to rescue us from the political, social and spiritual struggle we face.  His name is Jesus.  In times like these, we do need an anchor to help us hold to unfailing, timeless truths, upon which we can build our lives.  That anchor is God’s word.  In Psalm 103 we read these words:

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Never forget where your salvation lies.  It is not in the promises of a political candidate, nor is it in the musings of a poet.  It is not in legislation, experimentation, or exploration.  The elusive fix for the spiritual woes of the world is not so far off, unseen and unheard, it is found in Jesus Christ, it is right here among us!  Be very sure your anchor holds, and grips the Solid Rock!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Job Questions God

If you had the opportunity to ask God a question, what would it be?  I am willing to guess you have a question or two you would like to ask, but when God is not immediately present, and we can’t see Him face to face, it is hard to formulate the question and feel like you are getting an answer straight from Him.  You are in good company, the Biblical character Job thought the same thing.

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Job, you should know that throughout the entire book, Job endures some intense suffering and loss.  This is due to the fact that Satan is afflicting Job, effectively ripping away every earthly blessing God had given him.  Job’s cattle, crops, family, and social reputation were all decimated by these trials.

For the first five chapters in his book, Job holds true under all of the persecution he is enduring.  He worships God in spite of His loss.  He honors God in spite of his wife’s despairing call to “curse God and die”.  In Job chapter 6, he begins to ask questions, wondering how he can possibly endure all that is going on.  After all, he says, he does not have the strength of stones and he is made of flesh, not bronze.

I am sure that Job had many questions for God, but he did his best to hold true and honor God through it all.  Job’s friends weighed in to share what they thought his problem was.  Despite his friends uninformed counsel, Job continued to assert that he was righteous before God and had no need to apologize.

In chapter 38, God finally breaks His silence to Job, and surprises him with a series of questions His own.  For the next four chapters, God asks a  series of more than sixty questions like, “Where were you when I formed the mountains”.  In asking these questions, God does not appear to give any kind of answer to Job’s questions at all.  God’s questions put Job in a place of humility before His almighty power and wisdom.  Woven into His questions are scientific, philosophical, and theological truths, so profound Job finally replies in chapter 42 verses three and five:

“…Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you…therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

I wonder, if you could ask God any question in the world, what would it be?  Would you ask Him why, or how He had done something in your life; perhaps ‘why not’ would pass through your mind.  More importantly, I wonder what question do you think God would have for you?  Were you there when He formed the mountains or measured out the depth of the sea?  Do you direct the creatures of the earth on how to live and where they will find food?  Can you truly control anything about anything in life?

God is glorious and worthy of being praised in the best of times and the worst of times.  We would be wise to learn from Job and simply stand in awe of God, and worship Him.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Fish Bait

The guys are getting their boats ready again, and talk of finding that great fishing spot on the lake is firing up! I have a couple of friends that absolutely get each other rolling on talk of getting out to Devil’s Lake to find some walleye. It’s fun going with them and learning various setups and the bait or lures necessary to catch the big fish.

On one occasion, I walked into a bait shop and was dazzled by all of the lures and their packaging; spinners, spoons, live bait, hooks, beads, buzz bait, crank bait, and more! I chuckled to myself, thinking "I’ll bet they catch more fishermen than they do fish with all of this!” There are some pretty ingenious lures that have been concocted, but out of the great variety there are some common traits about the bait…

A fishing lure is designed to trick the fish by a variety of methods. Some lures are shiny to attract attention, others feature life-like movements, while others are made to exploit a fish’s watery sense of smell. Lures imitate the “real thing” but they have a nasty bite. They are equipped with hooks that bite into the flesh of their unsuspecting victim with a hold that will not let go. That which appeared to be a tasty treat becomes a means to their capture and eventual death.

The book of 1 John warns of worldly lures that seek to grab our attention by imitating the real thing. In chapter two, verses 16 and 17, the Apostle John writes, “For all that is in the world- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions- is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” A worldly system of philosophy and endeavor finds it necessary to replace the reality of God’s glory and worthiness with a lure of its own making. These lures are also known as temptation.

We are daily tempted to pursue the "desires of the flesh"- those things that claim to satisfy our search for physical pleasure. We are daily drawn by the "desires of the eyes”- the constant search for bigger, better, faster, more… and social media, television, radio and advertising call out to tell us that the elusive mother lode is just around the corner. We regularly face temptation from “pride in possessions”- which is a very subtle self-satisfaction we derive when we place our confidence in the things we own.

All of these lures come with a significant hook. Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but the ends thereof is death”. Things that are temporary cannot satisfy eternally. Things that are corrupt in nature cannot please our holy Creator. Our hope, the “real thing” that will eternally satisfy our souls, can be found in the God who gives us every good thing as a gift. Author and pastor, John Piper, is famously quoted as saying, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

Victory over temptation comes when we value and cherish God, and everything He is, more than the imitations that beckon us to distraction, destruction and death. Drugs, alcohol abuse, illicit relationships, gambling, acquisitions, bank accounts, and the rest will never be able to eternally satisfy. But, by God’s grace and by the power of His Spirit, we can overcome the false hope of temptation, and pursue the reality of new life in Christ.