Archive for the ‘Provocative Bible Verses’ Category

For years John 3:16 had a seemingly constant presence and American sporting events, especially in the end zones of football games. The ubiquitous man with the rainbow-colored Afro held up his sign for all the world to see, week after week, game after game. Clearly it is the most famous citation of any passage in the Bible.

 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16

My personal love for the passage extends to it being the verse that got me admitted back into The United States after a mission trip many years ago. I had taken a group of high school student into the mountains south of Mexico City for two weeks. By the time we returned and were coming immigration, my hair was even longer than normal and my full beard was well, full. It didn’t help that I was wearing old jeans and a rough cotton homespun hoodie when the immigration officer asked me what I did for a living. “I’m a pastor” I replied. Silence from the immigration officer as he looked at my hair, my beard, my hoodie and my jeans then my hoodie, my beard, and my hair again. At which point I heard, “quote John 3:16”. I did so flawlessly and with a sigh of relief that he didn’t ask for something like 2nd Chronicles 8:12. I rather enjoyed the puzzled look on his face so I let him know I was a youth pastor and all these teenagers behind me were the youth returning from a mission trip. His face lit up with a smile and he said, “that’s wonderful, welcome back kids” and he quickly stamped fourteen more passports and let us through.

But let’s not be lulled into a shallow view of this verse. It is far more than a cliché at sporting events or an easy ticket back into The United States. It is one of the most profound statements in the Bible. The first thing to notice about this verse, and something that most people miss, Jesus is the one who says this. These are not the words of a narrator telling us something about Jesus. These are the words of Jesus himself telling us something profound about himself, his mission, and his Father. Recognizing that little bit of information gives a much deeper and personal meaning to the words.

Think if it this way, in this short sentence Jesus is making it abundantly clear that he came into the world for one purpose. His mission was to come and die in order to open the door to eternal life for anyone who would put their trust in him. That is really what he means when he says “whoever believes in him”. Belief from a biblical point of view is all about trust. Putting your faith in Jesus is about trusting him, trusting that he is in fact God come in the flesh, that he is the savior, that he did rise from the dead, and that he will fulfill his promise to give eternal life to all who believe in him.

Certainly the message that God loves the world is a comforting one. But don’t stop there. Don’t breath a deep sigh of relief as if that somehow makes everything perfect and safe. That God loves the world is not a particularly provocative statement in our day. Most people only think of God in terms of his being loving. What is really provocative is the exclusionary nature of the second part of the verse. Jesus does not say that he came to give his life and the result would be that no one in the world would perish but that everyone would have eternal life. Rather he says that anyone who believes, trusts in him, would not perish but have eternal life. That is not something that most people find comforting in our day. Most people skip right passed that part of Jesus declaration. It is just too discomforting to ponder the implications. If eternal life is given only to those who trust Jesus, then it is not given to those who do not trust him. In the western world that is one of the worst possible things a person could say and believe. It is considered intolerant beyond measure. The theology of our day in the west is that all roads to God are equally valid. Pick whichever road feels best to you. It will eventually get you to God and be sure that along the way you never dare to tell someone else they are on the wrong road.

But it is Jesus himself who says that only those who trust and believe in him, who truly follow him, will have eternal life. He makes that clear in John 3:16 and in numerous other verses where he separates those who follow him and welcomes them to eternal life and those who don’t who he consigns to condemnation. Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, is also the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who will one day return to this world he died for and he will bring with him his judgment. Consider what Jesus says just two verses later in John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. Those are certainly words to shake us out of our spiritual doldrums and ask if we are truly trusting and following Jesus or if we are taking false hope in “For God so loved the world”.

The love God has for you must be combined with the reality that God is also just and that eventually, one way or another, sin must be judged and condemned. This is where the most provocative piece of this verse comes in. God so loved the world that he came into the world through the incarnation of Jesus and willingly went to the cross in order to pay the price for your sin. That is what is contained in the seemingly innocuous words “gave His only Son”.  The Father gave His only son over to the hands of wicked men so they would torture him to death. That death was the price to be paid for sin and rebellion against God. God made that clear to Adam and Eve from the start. Jesus paid the price of that death so that those who do believe would be assured that they will truly live for eternity. You and I have sinned against God and deserve whatever punishment comes our way. Yet in His love, the Father has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him. The resurrection of Jesus from the grave and his ascension to the Father’s right hand validate his death and vindicate him before his accusers. They are also part of the assurance his followers have that they too will be raised up on the last day.

One final thought for those who are already followers of Jesus. This verse should motivate you to love your neighbor with a reckless abandon. It should move you to sacrifice for them so that they would experience the love of God and turn to follow Jesus. It should motivate you with the realization that they may not be on the right road and the road they are on may lead to perdition. Do not rest in the comfort of knowing that God loves the world without owning the truth that not all the world loves God and that you are an ambassador on His behalf, calling people to their only true hope, to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

7“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! 8If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. Matthew 18:7-9

I remember preaching on this verse as a young pastor and during the sermon I noticed a man in the audience who I knew had some issues with mental illness. I thought to myself, “If he misunderstands what I am saying, this could get ugly, really fast”. What I didn’t need was for this young man to mistake a provocative illustration by Jesus as a command for extreme self-mutilation. Fortunately the young man did not rush out and cut off a hand or gouge out an eye. But then again, as far as we know, nobody in the entire history of Christianity has actually done this. Of course there was the church father Origen in the 4th century who apparently castrated himself, but that was all about wanting to be eunuch for God and a different issue all together.

The tragic fact is, most people go the other direction. Most people completely ignore this verse. It seems that once we decide that Jesus is not asking for us to donate our limbs, digits, or other body parts in the name of holiness, we take a collective sigh of relief and decide there is no need to ask further questions.  We decide what Jesus did not mean by these words, but we don’t bother to ask “What did he mean?” Okay, so now I am asking. What did Jesus mean when he said it is better to cut off a limb and enter eternal life minus a body part than to enter hell physically whole. The answer is simple. It is the application of the answer that is difficult.

Simply put, Jesus is saying that anything that causes you to sin and therefore negatively impacts your relationship with God should be removed from your life. This is such a serious issue that even if it is your own arm or eye you need to get rid of it. If we assume that Jesus was using hyperbole, which He often did, then what is the application? It shouldn’t take long for any of us to answer that. Just ask yourself, “what seems to regularly trip you up in your relationship with God?” Now there are some easy and obvious things. If sex in movies has a way of dragging you down then maybe you need to cancel your premium channel subscription. Sure you would have to do without the other movies offered but there are ways of seeing those without opening yourself or your family to something that would be harmful.

The traditional list of sex, drugs, and other vices is usually where people go with this. But let’s consider some non-traditional options that are far more insidious. For most people in western culture and in growing parts of the rest of the world, materialism is having a huge impact on our relationship with God. When it comes to your house for example, is it a source of pride for you? Has the desire to “move up” in the world by being in the right neighborhood with a house you really can’t afford, put you in a position of financial risk AND caused you to be further from the Lord? Maybe you are attached to your pride, or arrogance as much as you are attached to your eye or arm? Are you attached to your comfort and pleasure as much as to an ear or a leg?

The point is, anything that you love more than you love Jesus has the potential of destroying your relationship with God. It requires a great deal of honest reflection and inner searching of your attitudes and actions. This is not an easy thing to do. It means being willing to ask yourself some hard questions and facing the consequences. Those consequences can be difficult because we are facing the loss of something that is precious to us. What must happen is that Jesus and our relationship with Him must be more precious than anything, even and eye or an arm.

For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. 1st Chronicles 15:25

That verse from 1st Chronicles is one of more than fifty times in the Bible when fearing God is viewed as a virtue. Yet for all that frequency it may be one of the most ignored, even disputed concepts in all of Scripture. Why? Experience has taught me that anytime something so commonly found in the Bible is ignored or disputed it usually is because we don’t really understand what it means.

A friend of mine writes for http://www.probe.org. Her name is Sue Bohlin. Recently I read an article in which she talked about four questions that you should always ask when speaking with someone who disagrees with you. The first question is, “What do you mean by that?” followed by, “Where do you get your information, How do you know its true, and What if you’re wrong”. The first question needs to be asked when people say they don’t believe in the whole idea of being afraid of God. When it comes to fearing God, most people seem to think it means being terrorized by the thought that an angry and capricious deity may decide to smack you up side the head with a lightening bold for no good reason. As a result of that kind of thinking people decide that they don’t want to believe in a God like that so they give up on the God of the Bible all together. Well I don’t want to believe in a God like that and fortunately the Bible doesn’t want me to either. God is not some spiritual version of Freddie Kruger or Norman Bates. We are not to be terrorized by Him or the thought of Him. Jesus made that clear when he so often told the disciples, “Fear Not”.

Just by taking a look at the first half of 1st Chronicles 15:25 we can be sure that we are not talking about being terrorized by God. It says “great is the Lord and most worthy of praise”. God is amazing and should be adored and honored. That’s what it means when it says, “most worthy of praise”. The whole history of God’s relationship with His people is one of Him stepping in and caring for them, meeting their needs, protecting them, being their shield and defender, their Good Shepard. God is to be praised, not run from in fear. We are told that He loves His children to the point of coming into the world in Christ and giving Himself for them.

So what does it mean to fear God? I can’t help but make the analogy with my dad. He was 6’4″ and in many ways a disciplined and sometimes demanding father. I loved him, admired him, trusted him and in a certain way feared him. I was not terrorized by him, but I did have a very healthy respect for him. He was the boss, no doubt about it. There was just something about his presence that gave me a certain amount of awe for him. When the Bible speaks about fear of the Lord, that is what it means. The word for fear in the Hebrew is the word yare. It means to stand in awe of, to revere. When you stand in front of the Rocky Mountains for the first time, when you see the Sistine Chapel ceiling, when you hold your new born child, all these things can evoke a sense of awe, wonder and reverence. When we think of God, who He is and what He has done it should cause us to honor, worship and adore Him.

With that sense of awe and reverence comes a desire to follow and obey. The desire is not rooted in a need to avoid punishment but rather it is motivated by wanting to show respect. Far to often people approach God like He is some average Joe from down the street. Certainly we are invited into an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But that does not mean we treat Him like our golf partner or poker buddies. There needs to be a sense of being overwhelmed by the beauty, majesty, power, holiness and love of God. All of who God is should cause us to at times stand slack jawed before Him, speechless, overwhelmed, amazed. It should cause us to obey and follow Him because their is no other like Him. He is to be honored, respected, feared, above all gods. Nothing should demand our alliegance, worship or dedication like the Lord. That is at least in part what the Bible means by fearing God.

A recent post on the topic of submission in the Bible has received a fair amount of response in the way of readers and comments. A couple of those readers pointed out a missing piece in what I said. Put simply the question would be, is there ever a time when a Christian should refuse to submit? Is there a situation when submission to those in authority would be a bad thing? The answer is clearly yes. There are times when a Christian should refuse to submit to a human authority, but those times are few and specific and we must be prepared to face the consequences for our rebellion.

Shortly after Jesus ascended to heaven, Peter and John where arrested for preaching the name of Jesus and taken before the religious rulers. They were commanded to stop preaching in the name of Jesus and stop trying to convert people to him.  But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19 & 20

The decision was between obeying God or obeying man. Peter and John had received a clear and specific command from Jesus, “Go and preach the Gospel to all the world”. The religious leaders gave them a clear and specific command to not preach the gospel. The choice was clear, they had to obey God rather than man. So they continued to preach. The result was that they were arrested and beaten and the Apostle James was executed.

A similar event takes place in the Old Testament. The prophet Daniel was forbidden to pray to anyone accept King Darius. God had made it clear that only He was to be the object of our pray life and that we should never pray to a false god. Daniel had no choice but to continue to pray as he had always done. As a result he is arrested and thrown into the Lion’s Den. God in His mercy rescued Daniel from the lions.

In both cases there was a clear command from God about what we are to do. When those in authority tried to require God’s people to violate God’s command, the only choice was to rebel against the human authority and obey God. But it must not be forgotten that refusing to obey the human authority and follow God does not come with a guarantee that you will not suffer for your rebellion. Daniel was thrown to the lions and God saved him, but James was beheaded for insisting on preaching the name of Jesus. We make a grave mistake when we think that obeying God rather than men should result in things being wonderful for us. Often that is not the case. If your boss wants you to do something illegal or unethical and you rightly refuse, he may still fire you. In that case the Bible would actually have us rejoice in the blessing of suffering for doing good. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 1 Peter 2:20.

It seems that in the past few weeks I have come across a number of people who claim to be Christians but do not think Jesus was God. The real question I suppose is, “Did Jesus think that he was God?”. The short answer to that question is clearly yes. In fact, that is the reason why the religious leaders wanted to have him crucified. Consider this encounter with the religious leaders in John 8:54-58

54Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. 55Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. 56Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57“You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

Jesus claimed that Abraham, who had died twenty centuries earlier had actually seen and been seen by Jesus. The religious leaders mock Jesus by pointing out that he is not even fifty years old so there is no way he and Abraham could have seen one another. They were convinced that Jesus was a demon possessed nut job. Jesus responds by saying, “Before Abraham was born, I AM”. What would have made sense from a word tense standpoint was for Jesus to say, before Abraham was born, I was. But he says, I AM. At that point they pick up stones in order to stone him to death. Why?

The reason they want to kill him right then and there is because in their minds, Jesus has just committed blasphemy. He has claimed an equality with God that in their eyes is as sinful a thing as there is. By using the term I AM, he is reminding them of the name God used for Himself when He spoke to Moses on Mt Sinai in Exodus 3

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”

That story and the name I AM was ingrained in the mind of every first century Jew. It was God’s name for Himself. By using that phrase in the way he did, Jesus was saying as clearly as he possibly could, “I am divine”. I am the same one who spoke to Moses on the mountain. That is why they wanted to kill him.

There are numerous other places where he makes the case for his divinity in other ways. The Gospel of Mark, chapter 2, is nearly as blatant as John 8. In that event Jesus tells a paralytic that his sins are forgiven. The religious leaders are shocked and murmur among themselves that no one can forgive sins except God. Jesus then shows them that he is God, can forgive sins, and the proof that he has forgiven this particular mans sins is that he then heals the man of his paralytic condition.

In addition to Jesus own understanding found in the Gospels, the rest of the New Testament is crystal clear that he is God in the flesh as well. The second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians makes the case that Jesus who was equal with the Father and in fact divine. He did not let his divine status keep him from also becoming a man. He did that in order to secure salvation for everyone who would believe in him.

Okay, so what? Jesus claimed to be God. What difference does that make for you and me? The so what is that you have to do something with Jesus and who he claimed to be. C.S. Lewis popularized the dilemma and the choices with his Lord, Liar, Lunatic options. Jesus claimed to be God. His claim is either true or it is not. If is is not true, then he either knew it was not true and thus he was a liar, or he thought it was true and thus he was a lunatic nut job with a divinity complex. The other option is that it is true that he is God, the Lord, and as such, we must devote ourselves to following Him, where ever He leads and no matter what. The command that He gave his followers right before He left them in Matthew 28:18-19 is that they were to make disciples, followers of Jesus who would obey everything He commanded. That is the implication for us. Jesus claimed to be the Lord and demonstrated that He is. We are then called to follow, love, and obey Him with everything we have and everything we are.

In an era that promotes tolerance as the highest of virtues and the idea that truth is relative, it is considered outrageous to claim that Jesus is the one and only, exclusive way, for people to attain eternal life. I have heard it more often than I can count; “What about all the people in the world who don’t believe in Jesus, who follow Buddha or Confucius or some other teacher?”. “How can you say that they won’t go to heaven?” Well there are a couple of reasons why I think we must say that. First and foremost among them is what Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Jesus made it very clear that the way to the Father and ultimately the way to eternal life in heaven is through a relationship of faith in Him. The rest of the New Testament affirms this over and over again. Just one example comes from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans: “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9 The only way to say that there are other ways to eternal life is to completely discount everything that the Bible teaches on the subject. In order to be certain of a place in eternity with God you must trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. You must believe that He died and rose again in order to pay the penalty for your sins and conquer death on your behalf.

Of course there are certainly some folks who would discount the Bible and decide that it only makes sense that if you are sincere in what you believe then you will live forever. The thought is that sincerity, not truth, is the higher of the two virtues. The supreme being who many believe is out there somewhere is seen as a being who is only gracious and compassionate and would never draw a line in the sand that has anything to do with truth or right and wrong. So the good, sincere Buddhist, or follower of Confucianism, or Taoist, or Hindu, will still go to Heaven.

The problem is, none of those faiths have as their ultimate goal, the kind of heaven and eternal life that most westerners have in mind. In fact, in most cases, they don’t even want to go to heaven. Take the Buddhist as an example. The Buddhist doctrine is that all of life is suffering and the goal is to end all suffering. That goal is something called Nirvana. It is a state of being absorbed, if you will, into the great nothingness of the cosmos. You no longer have an individual existence or awareness of yourself. For the Buddhist, the Christian idea of heaven and earth becoming one, and living forever in that state, would be seen as a step backwards. The Hindu faces a similar though slightly different path. For them, the cycle of death and reincarnation looks at life as being a giant wheel. It goes around and around every time you die and are reincarnated. The goal is to stop coming back, to stop the wheel of time from turning, and to become one with creation. It is another loss of self and identity. It is not heaven, but being absorbed into creation.

For the most part, it is only people raised in a western philosophical mindset who have a problem with the exclusivity of Jesus. It is only people raised in some sort of “Christian” culture who seem to be embarrassed by the claim of Jesus to be the only way to heaven. Oddly enough, most other religions try to incorporate this exclusive Jesus into their faith in some way. Muslims call him an honored prophet. Buddhists refer to him as a Bodhisattva, or an enlightened one who shows the path to other. Hindus think if him as an incarnation of Vishnu, one of their highest gods. I wonder if somewhere deep on our hearts, there isn’t that general revelation from God that points us to Jesus as in fact, The Way, The Truth, and The Life. As a result, even in religious systems that are opposed to what the Bible teaches, there is a need to honor Jesus.

There is no need for a follower of Jesus to be embarrassed by the the exclusive claims of Jesus. He is the Lord who rightly demands our allegiance. Our highest command is to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. It is Jesus who is the way to eternal life.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” Philippians 3:10

We met the first week of sixth grade. I was the new kid in the class and as it turned out we lived two streets apart. In one of those oddities of life a group of six of us in the neighborhood became friends and all of us had a first name that began with the letter D. So very quickly we all became known by our last name with a D in front. I became D’Lacich and he became D’Johnson. His real name is Dwight and he is my longest lasting friend and as such a most treasured friend.

When we were growing up it was all about sports and girls. I wont say anything about the girl part of things but sports is another matter. We spent lots of time together on the baseball field, the basketball court, golf course, and the football field. In every instance except football, Dwight far surpassed me in ability. The sheer brute force aspect of football served me better than the precision of the other sports. I never could beat him on the golf course for instance. But I noticed that my game always got better when I played with him. In fact the best round of golf I ever played was the day before Dwight and Debbie were married. I played out of my mind that day, and still he led the way with a better score.

Many memorable events in our lives were shared events. We woke up in my parent’s living room one New Years day to the news that our hero, Roberto Clemente had died in a plane crash while on a mercy mission to Puerto Rico. Dwight was in the room along with two other friends, the night I gave my life to Christ. We were in each other’s weddings. Like the deepest of friendships, no matter how long the time is between phone calls or dinners, the bond of friendship is still unbreakable.

A year ago I received the proverbial punch in the gut when I learned that Dwight had just been diagnosed with ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. There is no cure for ALS. The best they can do is manage the pain and the deterioration of the body. The first sign for Dwight that something was wrong was the difficulty he had holding a golf club. In just a year he has gone from that, to being in a wheel chair most of the time and needing a neck brace to hold his head up when he works on his computer.

Six months after the diagnoses we were together at a charity golf tournament for him and his family. The goal was to raise money for the remodeling of their house to accommodate the inevitable wheel chair. Just a few days ago we got together again, this time at Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa. For two die-hard Steelers fans it was a dream come true, especially since they won their sixth Lombardi Trophy. For me, getting a picture with Dwight at that game was more precious than I can describe. The Steelers winning was an ecstatic experience. Being with Dwight was deeper, more important by far, and will remain etched in my mind like few other events. It is another of those highly valued, shared events.

Whenever someone close to you has a tragedy strike, it must be a nearly universal response to at some point wonder how you would handle that in your own life. The way Dwight and Debbie have handled the illness that, barring a miracle, will end his life, has forced me to ask that question over and over again. You see, my friend Dwight loves Jesus with all his heart. It was out of love for Jesus that he and Debbie adopted two little boys with special needs, adding them to their very healthy biological daughter and son. It is out of love for Jesus that he has served in his local church. It is out of love for Jesus that he is approaching his suffering thinking only about others. I am forced to ask how I would handle such suffering because I see Dwight doing so with dignity and grace and for the glory of God.

Often times in the face of suffering we play the victim. “Why me?” we ask. “What did I do to deserve this?” We argue with the fairness of it all. In other cases we lapse into depression and give up. Dwight has been all about Jesus getting the glory. His attitude has been that of the Apostle Paul, whether I live or die let God be glorified. Also like Paul I think Dwight has an even deeper connection to Jesus because of the fellowship shared by those who suffer. Dwight wants Jesus to use his personal experience of suffering to point others to Jesus. I think his love for Jesus is actually growing as a result of that shared fellowship. Dwight understands that God never promised us a life free of suffering, at least not this side of eternity. What He did promise us was that He would be with us always, no matter what. We would be in fellowship with Him.

There is a sense in which suffering is the calling of the Christian. The health and wealth Gospel crowd that tries to show that God only wants you to be free of suffering and blessed by a huge bank account are totally out of touch with the true heart of God and the example of great saints from the past. The Apostles considered it a privilege to suffer for Jesus. In that suffering there was a renewed sense of being united with Him and of pointing people towards Him. Dwight Johnson is doing that every day. The more his body deteriorates the more glory he brings to Jesus by living a life that loves Jesus above all else.

The more I think about Dwight the more I am forced to smile. He was better than me at Baseball, Basketball, and Golf. Now it appears he is better than me at being a Christian as well. He is bringing glory to God in a situation that I don’t know how I would handle. However, I do know this, when the time comes when I must face that kind of suffering, I know that my game will be better because of Dwight. Some things never change.

UPDATE: Tuesday February 1st 2011. I visited Dwight for the last time today, in this life anyway. The breathing apparatus that he has been using is no longer helping. The next option is a tracheotomy to put him on a ventilator. Dwight and Deb decided long ago that when it reached this point, they would not take that option. There is no point. Dwight is ready to go. So on Thursday morning they will transition Dwight off the breathing mask, give him some medication to keep him comfortable, and wait until the CO2 levels rise to the point that he sleeps and slips away into the arms of Jesus. Dwight is ready to go. In fact he is so ready he decided to not wait to see the Steelers in the Super Bowl on Sunday. I told him I understand, for all the glory that is the Steelers and Super Bowls, the glory of Heaven outshines that in ways indescribable. I have to admit that my emotions bounce from moment to moment between joy at the picture of Dwight with Jesus, emptiness at the sense of a page turning in my own life and the resulting void, to wanting to break something, and back to joy. But this is not about me. It is about Dwight and Deb and the incredible way in which they have dealt with this. As Deb said today, she knows that God is real if only because of the otherwise unexplainable peace that washes over her when she pictures Dwight with Jesus. Enough said.

Think not that I came to send peace on the earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law” Matthew 10:34-35

There is a clear impression of Jesus as being very mild mannered, kind, caring, and a person who reconciles people to one another and to God. There is a certain sense in which that is true. He certainly came to reconcile us to God and one another. Yet in another sense the mission of Jesus is one of division. He says that he came to set men at variance with one another. In some way, because of Jesus, even close family members will be at odds with one another.

When I gave my life to Christ things began to change very quickly in my life. It had a huge impact on my family relationships. The heart of the conflict was that by following Jesus I had adopted a new Lord and Master. My view of the world began to change. My values changed. My priorities changed. My ambitions changed. There was a growing gap that developed between me and my dad in particular. His hopes for my life, to be in business and make lots of money where no longer my hopes. When I had been a Christian for less than two years I sensed God calling me to a life of serving Him. My dad told me that when i came home from college and told him that, I cold not have hurt him more if I had kicked him in the groin. Clearly Jesus had put me at variance with my dad.

If we are going to follow Jesus and have Him truly be our Lord then there will be times when people who do not follow Him will not understand us. There will be times when they will angry with us, hurt by us, argue with us. We must realize that when we follow Jesus we become citizens of His Kingdom. We become exiles in our own communities. We just don’t exactly fit anymore. That misfit will divide us from others. But it need not make us people who lash out against those who are different from us. Paul tells us in Romans 12:18 “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men”. By it’s very nature our following of Jesus puts us at odds. But in spite of that reality, we are to do all that we possibly can to bridge the gap and be reconciled in Christ.

In the case of my dad it took years of my wife and I faithfully living out our relationship with Christ before anything changed. It meant that at times we put ourselves at odds with him. There were times when he just did not understand why we lived as we did. In fact he was certain that we were being irresponsible by not trying to get as rich as possible. But over time he began to see something. He saw that our children were happy even though they did not have all the stuff he thought they should. He saw that our family was content even though our cars were old and out house was the post child of the handyman special. He saw that Barbara and I deeply loved one another in a way that he felt he was missing in his relationships.

Eventually he contracted acute leukemia and within 9 months he died, but not before he came to the realization that he needed the Jesus that I knew. As my father was near death he reached out his hand to me in a sign that he wanted to pray. I took his hand fully expecting to pray in some way for my dad to finally give his life to Christ. Before I ever had a chance to say anything, my dad said these words, “Jesus I am trusting in You. I put my life in your hands and I want to go to be with you”. In that moment the sword between me and my dad was removed. He was reconciled to me but more importantly he was reconciled to Jesus. It was the last time we spoke. A few moments later he said he wanted to sleep. He went to be with the Lord a few hours later.

Yes, by the very nature of who Jesus is, people will be at odds with one another. But also by the very nature of His death on the Cross, his Resurrection, and Ascension, Jesus reconciles people to one another and to Himself. That reconciliation brings us closer to one another than we ever could be without Him. Out role in that is to live out the Gospel with as much passion and devotion as possible.

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48

Nobody is perfect is one of the few remaining truisms that has nearly universal agreement among people of every cultural milieu, philosophical system, or religious ideology. It is the standard way of accounting for our short comings both major and minor. We may want to do better and we may want others to do better but there is always the caveat that we know perfection is impossible.

Yet here comes Jesus again with one of his incredibly uncomfortable statements, “Be perfect just like God is perfect”. Talk about raising the bar to a ridiculous level! At least it certainly seems that way. How in the world are we supposed to be perfect like God the Father when we already know that as human beings we can’t be perfect. Jesus Himself seems to acknowledge that we will continue to sin when He teaches the disciples to pray and tells the to ask to be forgiven just as we forgive others. A prayer like that assumes that sin will be an ongoing reality even in the life of the most dedicated of Christ-followers. If that is the case, then how are we to be “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect”.

Well like all verses in the Bible, context is everything. We need to read the first 47 verses in Chapter 5, the beginning of what know of as The Sermon on the Mount. It is Jesus’ most complete teaching on what the life of a Christ-follower should look like. In what He has already said He has consistently raised the bar. Murder is not just physically killing someone, it is also hating them from the heart. Adultery follows a similar ideal. Retaliating against a person who slaps us, loving our enemies, and being a person who forgives are among the hard things Jesus calls us to in those verses. Each of those things follows on the heels of Jesus saying that He came not to abolish but to fulfill the law. So in some way, what He is teaching has always been the intent of God’s law. There is a sense that what Jesus is saying is that we have stopped short of understanding what the Father has always called for. We have restricted our definitions of what is right and wrong to what we can accomplish with a minimal of effort. What Jesus is saying is that we can not and must not sell ourselves or God short.

This idea of not coming up short is found in the word He uses for “perfect”. It is the Greek word, “telos”. Among other things it has the idea of reaching the goal or the end. A “tele-vision” is something that sends a picture to an end user, just as a tele-phone sends a voice to the end or goal. Telos also has the idea of something being complete. So when Jesus tells us to be perfect as the Father is perfect we need to understand that He is placing before us a goal. There is something that we are striving for. The goal is in fact to become complete in Christ. In order for that to happen there must be no halfway measures. We can’t say, “I never killed someone so I must be okay”. We must ask about our heart and our attitude towards others, not just the external appearance or action. We can’t be content with a little cleaning up of our lives that is better than most. We must always be looking to the Father for the model of how we live.

There are two dangers however that we must be aware of. One is pride. We can easily become spiritually proud thinking that we have accomplished perfection on our own. This was the sin of so many of the Pharisees in Jesus day. The second danger is despair and a feeling that we can’t be good enough to be perfect like God so we give up. I think in both cases that Philippians 1:6 guards us against both these errors, “He who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion at the Day of Christ Jesus”. The word for completion in that verse is the root word “telos”. God is working in you to bring you to complete perfection in Christ. So you need not despair because He WILL see it through and you can not be proud because HE will see it through.

Of course as in all things in our walk with Christ, we are required to put our whole self in. There are no halfway measure or efforts that are acceptable. We are to be radically, provocatively, sold out 100% for Jesus. Yet in being sold to Jesus, we will all the while know that when we fail, He forgives us and carries us on to the goal and that when we succeed, it is ultimately because of His grace and for His glory.

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26

What in the world are we supposed to make of these words from Jesus? It seems to be a pretty clear and simple statement but does Jesus really want us to hate our families? When I was a new Christian there was a group that made this verse one of the foundations of their ministry. They convinced thousands of young people to renounce their parents, family and friends and run off and join their group. Most people intuitively sensed that this was NOT was Jesus had in mind but at the same time they didn’t know how to respond to what seemed to be a pretty cut and dried understanding of some clear words from Jesus. As a result lots of folks simply dismissed these words as something we just don’t understand and they instead moved on to more familiar, safe verse about who much God loved them.

But we can’t just ignore what Jesus said. The enemy, Satan, would like nothing more than for us to blow off such provocative verses and refuse to get any deeper in our faith that having a some vague sense that God thinks we are okay. We need to wrestle with what Jesus meant. In order to do that we must first understand what He did not mean. Clearly Jesus would not teach that we are to hate anyone in the way that we normally think of hatred. After all, it was Jesus who commanded that we not even hate our enemies but instead love them. (See  https://provocativechristian.wordpress.com/2008/12/19/provocative-bible-verses-love-your-enemies/) It was also Jesus who said the two most important things you could do were to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Surely we are not expected to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and at the same time, detest our parent and siblings.

Some people try to use this as an example of a contradiction in the Bible and an excuse to ignore all of it. But there is no contradiction. When Jesus says to hate your parents He uses the Greek word,miseo. It is a word that has duel usage. It can in fact mean to despise or detest someone. But it is also used in the Bible and other ancient literature to mean “love less”. Numerous scholars of the Bible concur that in this an many other casesmiseo is used in to mean love one thing less than another. It is a matter of placing higher priority over one thing than another.

With that in mind the meaning of Jesus becomes easy to grasp but harder to live. What Jesus is saying is that there whould be nothing in this world that we love more than we love Him. We are not to love our parents more than we love Jesus. We are not to love our brothers and sisters more than we love Jesus. We are not to love our children, or spouse, or cousins, or next door neighbor more than we love Jesus. In fact He says that we are not to love our own life more than we love Jesus. That shouldn’t surprise us for two reasons. First, God said in the Ten Commandments that we are to have no other gods before Him. In other words, nothing in life is to have more devotion from us than the Lord our God. Secondly, Jesus said that we are to love God with ALL that we have and ALL that we are. The implication is simple, nothing and no one should have a greater place in our heart, and in our devotion, and in our love, than the Lord.

To emphasize the fact that we are to love nothing so much as we love the Lord, Jesus goes on in Luke 14:27 and says “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Those folks who heard those words come from His mouth had to have been stunned to the point of being frozen in their tracks. The image of carrying a cross was vivid to them. Anytime someone was carrying a cross they were on their way to their own execution. They were going to death, just as Jesus was when He carried His own cross. By saying that we are to love Jesus more than we love our parents and that we are to carry our cross for Him or else we are unworthy of being His disciples, Jesus is saying that when it comes to following Him, He wants your all. There is no halfway measure with Jesus. It is full and complete devotion or nothing. It is Jesus first or not at all. It is give Him your life even to the point of death, or not at all.

Sometimes your love for the Lord might mean that you have to say no to your family and yes to Jesus. Sometimes your love for the Lord might mean that you have to turn down a promotion because even though it will mean more money and prestige you know that it will have a negative impact on your relationship with Jesus. Sometimes your love for the Lord might mean that you must sacrifice your comfort and open your home to someone without a home. Sometimes your love for the Lord means you must live with rejection from people whom you care about, or face ridicule from others. You must love them and their acceptance and your comfort and your promotion and your prestige, less than you love Jesus.

So the right thing to say is not, mom and dad; I love Jesus but I hate you. Instead, it needs to be, mom and dad and anyone or anything else, I love you but I love Jesus most of all.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice” Philippians 4:4

How in the world does the Apostle Paul expect us to always be joyful? Does he really intend that we are to be like some Christians and walk around life as if we are on some spiritual cloud nine, totally oblivious to the things going on in the world around us? I have seen far too many people who seem like they are living on some spiritual drug, totally unaffected by events taking place around them. They seem to be joyful because they just don’t know how bad things really are. That kind of joy is not very attractive to most thinking people. It will certainly not provoke the kind of responses that we are hoping to get from people. Instead of wanting to find out how to have such “joy” most people flee from what they see as a mindless naiveté.

A mindless sense of well being that ignores what is going on around you is not what Paul has in mind when he tells the Philippians to Rejoice in the Lord always. The letter he writes to them is filled with recognition of difficult circumstances that they are all facing. In the opening words of the letter Paul acknowledges his own situation as a prisoner facing execution. A little later he encourages the Philippians to remain strong in the face of opposition that currently threatens them as well. Yet even in the face of execution, persecution, and suffering, Paul repeatedly calls on them to have joy, to rejoice in the Lord.

So how do we follow this command to rejoice in the Lord always, even when things are going horribly wrong? First we need to understand “joy” and then we need to understand how we live in it. I like the dictionary definition of joy found in Merriam-Websters online dictionary; “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires”. That is the first great clue to what Paul means by joy. So often our emotions are impacted both positively and negatively by what we are longing and hoping for. If we get it we celebrate and rejoice and even jump up and down getting all excited. Pittsburgh Steeler Super Bowl victories do that for me. When we don’t get what we hope for, what we desire, then we get all depressed and bummed out. A dozen or more straight loosing seasons by the Pittsburgh Pirates seems to bring that on. If what you desire is completely of this world then you will never be able to rejoice the way the Bible calls you to rejoice. One event in life will cause you to celebrate and rejoice and the next will cause you disappointment and heartache.

Fortunately Paul does not tell us to rejoice in our circumstances. He tells us to rejoice in the Lord and he tells us this repeatedly. He even acknowledges that he is repeating himself but says that it is good for us to be reminded again and again to rejoice always. But our rejoicing must be “in the Lord”. Why could Paul rejoice even in the face of his own pending execution? He could rejoice in the Lord because what he desired more than anything else in life was Jesus. What he desired above all things was to be in Christ, close to Christ, content in Christ, and ultimately to be with Christ forever, having run the race of his life in service to Jesus Christ. His rejoicing is not a blind, naive way of smiling at the tragedies of life. His rejoicing came because even as he looked at the chains on his ankles and wrists, as he heard about the persecution of the Philippians, as he was reminded of the fact that he had few to none of the comforts of life that most strove for, he knew that all of that was secondary at best? Why? Because he then thought of Jesus. Paul rejoiced because “in the Lord” he knew that he would in fact obtain eternal life with Christ. He knew that no matter what he suffered in life it would all be for God’s glory and Paul desired to glorify God far more than he desired avoiding hardship or living in comfort.

You see, rejoicing in the Lord is a matter of priority. What do you most desire? What is most important for you in life? What drives you to live and behave in certain ways? Is it recognition from others, or a comfortable lifestyle, or the perfect, healthy body with a lean sexy core and hard abs? Judging from television commercials that last one just might be tops on most peoples priority list. Whatever it is that you desire, that is the thing you are hoping will give you joy. But all of that is fleeting, temporary, and a cheap counterfeit for the true joy that only comes “in the Lord”. If you are striving to live a radical, provocative life for Jesus and want to bring glory to Him in all you do; if you are wanting above all else to be close to Him and serve Him; if your deepest longing from the bottom of your soul is to one day stand before Him and have Him declare, “well done my good and faithful servant, enter my rest”, then you can rejoice always because you will be living for your deepest desire. True joy is found not in the passing things of this world, but in the eternal relationship to be found “in the Lord”. Rejoice in that. Rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice that He loves you. Rejoice that He died for you. Rejoice that He rose from the grave for you. Rejoice that He promised to return one day and take you to be with Him in Glory. Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice!

Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
Hebrews 12:9

Any discussion about a life of submission in the 21st century has to take into account the growing popularity of Islam. The reason is simply this, the word Islam is derived from the Arabic word “salema”. The common meaning of the word is “submission”. Ultimately it is about submission to Allah who is the supreme deity in Islam. An oft-quoted phrase among Muslims is “insh’Allah”, which translates to “if God wills”. It is indicative of a mindset of submission to God in all things. If tragedy strikes, “insh’Allah”. If something wonderful happens, “insh’Allah”. If your plans are changed due to circumstances out of your control, “insh’Allah”. All of life is seen as being subject to the will of Allah.  

But, like any oft-repeated phrase, especially religious ones, insh’Allah can become a meaningless mantra. For Christians The Lord’s Prayer or even saying “God bless you” after a sneeze come to mind as common examples of phrases with powerful meaning that has been lost in the repetition. One only needs to hear a football team rush through the Lord’s Prayer after a victory, or a congregation say it in a mind-numbing monotone to know what I mean.

Yet in spite of the fact that there are times when such phrases are meaningless because of our human tendency to be shallow and glib, there is still power in such phrases. When they come from the heart, when they express our deepest longing or highest dreams, they become powerful symbols of reality. In some way they even serve to turn those dreams into reality. To pray with all your heart to the Lord that He “forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us” is to in some way bring reality to the prayer. You can’t pray that prayer from your heart and not be in some way changed by it into a more forgiving person. When the mouth speaks from the heart, the heart is in turn made more like the thing spoken.

So when a Muslim says, “If God wills” and does so from the heart, he is saying that he is completely and totally dependent on Allah for all things. It means that his own will as a human being is of no real consequence and the only path to peace in life is to submit to the will of Allah. It is an amazing statement when viewed alongside a western, post-enlightenment mindset, that holds individual freedom and self-determination to be among the most important of all human rights.

That Enlightenment mindset, that has so powerfully influenced Western Christianity, rejects any notion that we should submit ourselves to anyone or anything, even God. It is in part why I think so many are comfortable with a nebulous belief in some unknown supreme being who is out there somewhere. By holding to such a belief it is possible to still claim to believe in God but yet have no need to respond to or certainly not submit to Him. The Deists of the Enlightenment saw God as something of a great watch maker who made the world, wound it up, and then let it run on it’s own. That kind of philosophy has man at the pinnacle and the real power in the world, with no need to submit to God.

A Biblical worldview, certainly as it relates to submission to God, is far closer to the Muslim idea of insh’ Allah than it is to the philosophy of the Enlightenment. The previously mentioned Lord’s Prayer is probably the clearest example of this truth. Jesus said that we are to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven”. Jesus echoed this in His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was faced with his impending death on the cross and asked if possible that there be some other way, some other cup to drink from. But in true submission to the Father be prayed, “Never the less, not my will, but Thy will be done”.

For some this sounds like a defeatist’s path. It is the path of one who has given up and has no hope. It sounds like the choice of the weak and faint of heart and a choice in which one has resigned oneself to pain and suffering for no reason. If however, we truly understand that our God loves us enough to send Jesus to the Cross and we understand that our God is in fact all wise and the sovereign King of all Creation, then whatever He decrees is in fact the best for us. Instead of us resigning ourselves to His will in an attitude of defeat or depression, we need to embrace His will and the freedom it gives us.

That freedom may just be lure of Islam that Christians must understand. It is something we can have in reality and not in the false way of Islam. There is an amazing comfort that comes when we embrace the fact that our God is sovereign and that our path is to submit to Him. It means that when things are going well we can rejoice and delight in knowing that our God is blessing us by His grace. When things are going badly from our perspective, then it means that we can rest in the comfort of knowing that even though we cannot see or fully understand, we have a God who loves us beyond measure. He is a God who does not abandon us but orders our steps for His purposes and glory. That is true freedom.

When love is seen as nothing more than a fleeting emotion that we can’t control, that we fall in and out of, and that comes and goes in a completely arbitrary way, then it is impossible to obey the command of Jesus to love our enemies. So either something is seriously wrong with our understanding of love, or something is seriously wrong with Jesus. Hmmm, I wonder which one it is? So exactly what was it that Jesus said?

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:43-45

Jesus gives us a command that directs how we are to treat people with whom we have major conflicts. He does this in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount in which he has already told us that when we are sued for one thing, we should willingly give up even more. He also said that when someone forces us to do go a mile in order to serve them that we should volunteer to go an extra mile. It is a series of statements about the need to sacrifice our own comfort, position and avoid emotional knee jerk reactions in order to demonstrate a Christ-like character. The command to love our enemies is one more example in that chain.

Although love certainly has an emotional facet to it, it is also a verb, an action that we are to carry out. When Paul tells husbands to “love their wives as Christ loved the church by laying down His life for her” he doesn’t say to do that only when they have warm, fuzzy feelings for their wife. He is saying that we love someone by the way we treat them, no matter how we feel about them. One way of understanding what Jesus is saying when He tells us to love our enemies is that we are to “be loving” by showing them the kindness that we would want shown to us. Jesus is including even our enemies in the definition of who the neighbor is that we are to love. We are to love them as we love ourselves.

He goes on to tell us to pray for those who persecute us. Your first emotional reaction might be to pray that God strikes them down and vindicates you. But when Jesus tells us to pray for those enemies who persecute us, He is telling us to pray that God blesses them. He is telling us to pray that God pours His grace upon them and leads them to a relationship with Him. He is telling us to pray for them in a way that love demands.

In doing this Jesus says we will show that we are children of our heavenly Father. That is what this is all about. How we respond to our enemies should demonstrate who God is. Our own feelings of anger and revenge and hurt are inconsequential compared to the opportunity we have to show people who our Father is and bring Him glory. 

Several years ago I was faced with a person who said and did some things that unjustly caused incredible pain for me and my family. My desire was to strike back but somehow God’s grace kept me from doing that. When his own life started to spin out of control and fall apart I did all I could to show him grace and mercy whenever I ran into him in the community. After two years he got in touch with me to ask forgiveness. He was trying to get his life back in order and get right with God. He told me that the grace I showed him was crucial in causing him to admit his own sin and turn back to Jesus. It was the love of Christ that made the difference. I could have reacted out of my emotion of hurt and anger or I could have acted with the love of Christ. Letting the love of Christ come through saved me from a life of bitterness and him from a life of estrangement from God. 

What motivated me time and again in that situation was the realization that such grace was exactly how God treated me when I was His enemy. The Bible makes it clear that prior to coming to faith in Christ, I was God’s enemy. Yet Jesus prayed for me in John 17 and demonstrated ultimate love by going to the Cross. If that is what Jesus did for me when I was His enemy, how much more should I show His love to fellow human beings who are my enemies? To deny that love to them is to deny the Cross in my own life. To refuse to pray that God bless those who persecute me is to deny that I am a child of my Father, it is to deny God the glory due Him.

give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Does God really mean that in every circumstance that we are to be thankful? How can we possibly be thankful when things go horribly wrong? It’s easy to understand that we are to give thanks for all the blessings that come our way. Today is an entire holiday in the USA set aside for doing just that. People will gather with family and friends all over the country, have a big meal, and give thanks to whatever or whoever they think is the force behind their good fortune. But what do you do when it is hard to see the blessing in the midst of the tragedy?

I have noticed two approaches to the verse. One is hardly worth mentioning but the other is commonly thought to be the answer to the dilemma of being thankful in hard times. The first is to put on some almost other-worldly expression of thanks that totally ignores the reality of the situation. It is the person who is smiling in the midst of tragedy saying, “well praise God and give thanks in all things”. They come off as being on some sort of “spiritual ignore reality drug”. As to the second approach, often in the midst of tragedy there is some ray of hope that allows us to be thankful, like when you totally destroy your car in an accident but no one is seriously hurt. Certainly we can be thankful for that. But it still qualifies as an easily recognizable blessing that has come your way.

There is a great deal that is right and good in the second approach. In fact there is something that is very provocative about a faith that allows you to see the blessing in the midst of tragedy. It means that your focus is more on what God is doing for you than it is on what has gone wrong. It has a similar feel to Paul’s words to the Philippians when he said that he had learned to be content in all situations. He learned that because he kept his eyes on the sovereign Lord whom he served and not on his own expectations or desires or comfort.

But what do you do if the tragedy outweighs the blessing. It’s easy to give thanks when the car is wrecked but you are not. You and your passengers are worth far more than the car. What if two people died and you lived, then what? How do you give thanks then? How does a parent give thanks when a child dies? How does a young man give thanks when after just over a year of marriage his wife dies, having battled cancer the entire eighteen months? How does a city give thanks when airplanes crash into buildings and leave more than 2,000 dead? How do you give thanks when you are sitting on a bench in an African hospital praying with a 12 year old boy who is homeless, has AIDS, and is so malnourished that you can count his vertebrae through the thick jacket on his back as you place a hand on him while you pray. Does God really expect us to give thanks in situations like that? The short answer is yes.

Such situations may be the ultimate test of our ability to trust God no matter what. They bring us to the same place as Job when after the most unbelievable series of tragedies said, “Even though the Lord slay me, still I will trust Him”. There can come a point in our lives when we can’t find that bit of blessing in the hardship, when the pain far outweighs the good we can see. It is at that point that we must trust a sovereign God.

Whenever we gather for a time of corporate worship at Northland Church we remind people that we gather in order to worship God for who He is and for what He has done. We worship God for His character just as much as for the amazing things He does. Giving thanks in hard situations must follow that same wisdom. Even if we find it hard or impossible to thank God for some specific thing in our lives we can still give thanks for who He is. Paul did not say to thank God “for” every circumstance, but “in” every circumstance. The distinction is crucial. It means that even when you can’t find anything about the circumstance to be thankful for, you can and must still thank God that He is sovereign. You can still thank God for His love and mercy, even in a time when it feels so distant. You can still trust him as Job did. That trust will be evident in thanking God for who He is even when what He is doing makes no sense, is painful, and leaves you bewildered.

Today is a good day to begin to give thanks, not just for the good things in your life, but to give thanks to God for who He is. Ultimately that should be what we are most thankful for, that God is the kind of God we can trust no matter what our circumstances and not matter how limited our understanding of what He is doing in those circumstances.