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What Does God Want From Me?

Thursday, April 28, 2022

What Does God Want From Me?

By Paul Earnhart                                                                                       

In his little book, Jesus Rediscovered, Malcolm Muggeridge confided that his earliest memory was of walking down the road wearing someone else's hat and wondering who he was. In a real sense, the whole of humanity is walking down that same road, tormented by the same question.  The question is built in; the answer is not.

In order to be whole we need to know who we are and what is expected of us, but only God knows that.  Human beings, being creatures, cannot answer such questions.  American poet Theodore Roethke expresses in haunting words this profound human yearning:

            "I close my eyes to see,

            I bleed my bones their marrow to bestow

            Upon that God who knows what I would know.”

Denying the existence of God not only solves nothing but reduces us to utter meaninglessness.  Accepting by faith that God exists and wants us to seek Him (Hebrews 11:6), and that God has spoken to us in His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2) opens up all kinds of blessed possibilities.  It is wisdom to listen reverently and learn our duty well.

It is evident from the Bible's beginning that man, created in the image of God, was expected to honor his Creator with due reverence and worship Him in a divinely prescribed way.  Cain could tell you about that (Genesis 4:3-5).  Not everything goes.  The foundation of worship had to be faith and the proper expression of faith was obedience (Hebrews 11:4).  King Saul learned that lesson when he presumed to worship God in a way that violated His will.  Samuel's rebuke tells the story:  "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice..." (1 Samuel 15:22).

The Old Testament prophets speak to our question often.  When Israel sought to placate God with the multitude of their sacrifices, Micah told them straight out that God wanted more - "And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:6-8).  To the hypocritical shallowness of their worship Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah say the same (Isa. 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-24; Jer. 7:21-23).  Jesus echoes the prophets by His frequent quoting of Hosea:  "For I desire mercy and not sacrifice and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings" (Hos. 6:6; Matt. 9:13; 12:7).  What Jesus and the prophets were saying was not that the sacrificial offerings of the law (Leviticus) were unnecessary but that God's desire was for far more than that.

What is the lesson here?  Do not try to turn God away from getting what He wants from us by offering the part for the whole -- even actions that God has clearly required -- frequent attendance at church assemblies (Heb. 10:24,25), regular eating of the Lord's Supper (Matt. 26:26-29; Acts 2:42), communal prayers and spiritual singing (Acts 2:42; Eph. 5:19,20) et. al.  All these are to lead to a higher purpose -- our transformation into the image of God's Son (Rom. 8:29).  What God wants is you and me, that which is expressed in the first and greatest commandment:  "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:28-29).  In short, God wants all there is of us, given gladly and freely in the same measure that He has poured Himself out on us.

Trust and Faith in Hard Times

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Trust and Faith in Hard Times

By Mark McCrary

Hardships and problems come our way in life, and sometimes they are very severe hardships and problems—the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or health, financial problems. They are most confusing to us as Christians when we are trying to do everything we are supposed to do like serving God and others.  Then we begin to ask that oft asked question, “Why?”

The Psalmist struggled with the same question in Psalm 44.  In the first eight verses, he speaks of how he had been taught about God and His mighty power, how he saw God as his King and ruler, and how he trusted in Yahweh to deliver him in battle.

But, beginning in verse 9, the psalm takes a very dark turn.  The psalmist startles us with these words, “But You have cast us off and put us to shame, and You do not go out with our armies. You make us turn back from the enemy, and those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves. You have given us up like sheep intended for food, and have scattered us among the nations. You sell Your people for next to nothing, and are not enriched by selling them. You make us a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and a derision to those all around us. You make us a byword among the nation, a shaking of the head among the peoples. My dishonor is continually before me, and the shame of my face has covered me, because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles, because of the enemy and the avenger” (44:9-16). “Why” is not stated, but it is certainly implied.  And, he states very matter-of-factly that he and his people had been faithful to God. “All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You, nor have we dealt falsely with your covenant.  Our hearts have not turned back, nor have our steps departed from Your way… If we had forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a foreign got, would not God search this out?” (44:17-18, 20-21).

Have you ever felt that way in hard times? Have you ever thought, “If I wasn’t obeying God, these problems would be understandable.” What is the answer? What is remarkable about this psalm is that there is no answer given as to why God was not there… because in the end no answer would satisfy. What answer could be given to the person eaten up with cancer as to why they are suffering that would cause them to say, “Oh, I get it! Now I understand! Everything is alright now”? There is no answer that immediately removes the pain of a heart broken by the loss of a loved one or a broken or troubled marriage.

There is no answer.  There is only trust and faith. 

Though overcome with questions and doubts, the psalmist persevered with these words of power, “Arise for our help, and redeem us for your mercies sake” (44:26).  Our comfort in hard times does not come from an “answer,” but from continued confidence in our God we have believed in and submitted to.  It comes from having faith that “farther along we’ll know all about it, farther along we’ll understand why. Cheer up my brother, live in the sunshine; we’ll understand it all by and by.” Then we will know that, though we didn’t understand our problems at the moment, God got us through—and that will be enough.

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part II

Friday, December 10, 2021

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part II

By Tom Rose

Author, Philip Yancey, describes a friend who was battling with his fifteen-year-old daughter.  He knew she was using birth control, and several nights she had not bothered to come home at all.  The parents had tried various forms of punishment, to no avail.  The daughter lied to them, deceived them, and found a way to turn the tables on them saying, “It’s your fault for being so strict!”

Yancey recalls his friend telling him, “I remember standing before the plate-glass window in my living room, staring out into the darkness, waiting for her to come home.  I felt such rage, I wanted to be like the father of the Prodigal Son, yet I was furious with my daughter for the way she would manipulate her mother and me and twist the knife to hurt us.  And, of course, she was hurting herself more than anyone.  I understood the passages in the prophets expressing God’s anger.  The people knew how to wound Him, and God cried out in pain.”

“And yet I must tell you,” said my friend, “When my daughter came home that night, or rather the next morning, I wanted nothing in the world so much as to take her in my arms, to love her, and to tell her I wanted the best for her.  I was a helpless, lovesick father.”

When I think about God, I hold up that image of the lovesick father, which is miles away from the stern monarch I used to envision.  I think of my friend standing in front of the plate-glass window gazing achingly into the darkness.  I think of Jesus’ depiction of the Waiting Father of the Prodigal, heartsick, abused, yet wanting above all else to forgive, to begin anew, and to announce with joy, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

Compassionate forgiveness is at the heart of extending grace.  C. S. Lewis exclaimed, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”  Indeed, ‘forgive and forget’ are easy words to say, but can be difficult to do!  Yet, if we fail to do so, bitterness, rather than the Lord, will rule our hearts.  For a moment, let us look at what it means to forgive.  Forgiveness is not ignoring those who wrong us, ignoring the sin, nor putting the offender on probation – promising to “forget” if no other offenses occur.  Rather, genuine forgiveness means halting the cycle of blame and pain; breaking the cycle of ungrace. 

What blocks forgiveness; it’s not God’s reticence – but ours.  It may be our attitude toward the offender always wanting to put “conditions” on our efforts such as: 1) I am unable to forgive you – at this time; 2) I’m going to forgive you, but in the future I’m not going to have anything to do with you; 3) I’ll do it, but consider it a favor from me to you; and 4) I’m going to forgive you, but I’ll never forget it!  However, none of these actions are supported by the scriptures.  Mt. 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  On the other hand, it may be our attitude toward our own sins that contribute to our inability to accept forgiveness. Weighted down by repeated failures, lost hope, and a sense of unworthiness, we pull a shell around ourselves that makes us almost impervious to grace.  Like the friend’s  daughter’s refusal to listen to wide and loving admonitions of grace, so we stubbornly turn away as well.  And like a spiritual defect encoded in the family DNA, ungrace is easily passed on in an unbroken chain to others.

We as humans also struggle with two types of hoarding.  First, we are often unable to forgive ourselves as old memories clog our lives and Satan reminds us of our failures by bringing that junk that was once tossed to the curb back inside.  Secondly, we fail to forgive others as sometimes we feel we have a right to carry a grudge and thereby not only stack up our own junk, we haul in someone else’s too!  If the cycle of ungrace goes uninterrupted, in time it will lead to resentment – a word that literally conveys the idea of “to feel again.”  Resentment clings to the past, relives it over and over just as one would pick each fresh scab off a wound so that it never heals.

In our everyday interactions, ungrace behavior can cause cracks to fissure open between parents, parent and child, siblings, brethren, best friends, business partners, prisoners, tribes and races.  Left alone, cracks widen, and for the resulting chasms of ungrace there is only one remedy: the frail “rope-bridge” of forgiveness.  One can best understand forgiveness by observing what God does when He forgives us our sins.  He removes the notation from the record (Mica 7:18-19).  He forgets, putting it out of His memory (Heb 8:12).  He then treats us just like He did before we sinned, receiving us back wholeheartedly (Lk 15:20-24). 

In the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith.  By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am.  By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out.  I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.  And yet I never find forgiveness easy, and rarely do I find it completely satisfying.  Nagging injustices remain, and the wounds still cause pain.  I have to approach God again and again, yield to Him the residue of what I thought I had committed to Him long ago.  But I do so, because Jesus instructed us in His model prayer (Mt. 6:9-13) to say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  In 1984 Charles Williams has said of this prayer, “No word in the English language carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word as.”  Why?  Because Jesus plainly linked our forgiven-ness by the Father with our forgiving-ness of our fellow man.  In a world that runs by the laws of ungrace, Jesus requires – no demands – a response of forgiveness.  So urgent is the need for forgiveness, that it even takes precedence over “religious duties” (see Mt. 5:22-24). 

Thus, God granted us a terrible agency: by denying forgiveness to others, we are in effect determining them unworthy of God’s forgiveness, and thus so are we.  In some mysterious way, our own divine forgiveness depends on us.

But God took the initiative and shattered the inexorable law of sin and retribution by invading earth, absorbing the worst we had to offer, crucifixion, and then fashioning from that cruel deed the remedy for the human condition.  Calvary broke the logjam between justice and forgiveness.  By accepting onto His innocent Self all the severe demands of justice, Jesus broke forever the chain of ungrace.  And we as His children must do likewise.

Allow me to close with a true story of grace in action.  As 2013 came to a close, Malcolm Gladwell, a staff writer for the New Yorker and author of such bestsellers as The Tipping Point and Outliers, spoke publicly about his own rediscovery of faith.  He credits a visit with a Mennonite couple in Winnipeg, Canada, who lost their daughter to a sexual predator.  After the largest manhunt in the city’s history, police officers found the teenager’s body in a shed, frozen, her hand and feet bound.  At a news conference held at the family’s home just after her funeral, the father said, “We would like to know who the person or persons are so we could share, hopefully, a love that seems to be missing in these people’s lives.”  The mother added, “I can’t say at this point I forgive this person,” stressing the phrase at this point.  “We have all done something dreadful in our lives, or have felt the urge to.”

The response of this couple, so different from a normal response of rage and revenge, pulled Gladwell back toward his own Mennonite roots saying, “Something happened to me.  It is one thing to read in a history book about people empowered by their faith.  But it is quite another to meet an otherwise very ordinary person, in the backyard of a very ordinary house, who has managed to do something utterly extraordinary.  Their daughter was murdered.  And the first thing the Derksens did was to stand up at a press conference and talk about the path to forgiveness.”  He adds, “Maybe we have difficulty seeing the weapons of the Spirit because we don’t know where to look, or because we are distracted by the louder claims of material advantage.  But I’ve seen them now, and I will never be the same.”

 

For the above article, ideas and phrases were selected from: Grace, by Aaron Erhardt, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015; God’s Amazing Grace: The Sweetest Sound of All by Wilson Adams, Murfreesboro, TN: Courageous Living Books, 2015; What’s So Amazing About Grace” by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997; Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.  

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part I

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part I

By Tom Rose

 

[Note: The article that follows draws heavily from two books by Philip Yancey which are referenced at the end.  In an effort to help describe grace, this author uses a new word to contrast everything that is not grace, which he simply terms ungrace.]

We speak of grace often as if we fully understood it, but do we?  More importantly, do we believe in it and do our lives proclaim it?  Most of us have grown up with many values based on what sociologists call the “Protestant Ethic.”  It can be described in phrases like: pull yourself up by your own bootstraps; the early bird gets the worm; no pain, no gain; there’s no such thing as a free lunch; and stand up for yourself!  However, each of these are examples of “ungrace”.  Indeed, most institutions run on ungrace and their insistence that we earn our way.  Over time, we build up a resistance to grace – partly because it is unearned (and doesn’t seem fair) and partly because it is shockingly personal to the individual who receives it. 

Aware of our inbuilt confusion about grace as well as our difficultly to explain it, Jesus chose to teach about it frequently – most often in the form of parables.  The three stories in Luke 15 (about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son) seem to make the same point.  Each underscores the loser’s sense of loss, tells the thrill of discovery, and ends with a scene of jubilation.  It is only when we pause and allow their meaning to filter through our minds that we are confronted with their astonishing message and begin to realize how thickly our veil of ungrace obscures our view of God.

For example, can you image a housewife jumping up and down in glee over the discovery of a lost coin (Lk 15:8-10).  Now that image is not exactly what comes to one’s mind when we think of God.  Yet that is exactly the picture Jesus insisted upon.  In effect He is asking us, “Do you want to know what it feels like to be God?  Well, when one of my creatures pays attention to Me, it feels like I just reclaimed my most valuable possession, which I had given up for lost.”  The message is clear: God will go to any length to bring us home.  How far will He go?  All the way to Calvary.  God gave us His Son as proof that He has not given up on us.  That’s grace!

Grace is unmerited, undeserved, unconditional love of God toward man.  Grace is what every sinner needs, but none deserve (see Rom 5:8).  Unconditional love is a difficult concept to grasp.  By grace, God did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  Truly, God’s goodness toward us was not based on any thing we had done – or would do in the future.  He acted freely and without expectation of receiving anything of equitable value in return.  It was unearned kindness.  Indeed, grace is the essence of the gospel as it puts the “good” in the Good News.  It provides healing to those who hurt, help to those who struggle, and hope to those who despair.

Here is an important concept, though: while salvation is by the “riches of His grace” (see Eph 1:7), it is not by grace alone.  Paul, in Eph 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”  The giver and gift are so involved that the gift cannot be handed over unless the recipient is involved.  Grace is God’s part; faith is man’s part.

Read the The Parable of the Vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16), then pause to notice the role of each character.  God is the master of the house, Christ is the foreman, the laborers are the disciples, the vineyard is the church, and a denarius was the ordinary pay for a day laborer.  Whereas the first group of workers agreed to a set wage, the others merely trusted the master to give them “whatever is right” (see v. 4).  Now at the close of day, the early hires were dirt covered, sweat drenched, energy depleted, hands throbbing, back aching, and denarius deserving – everything the latecomers were not!  The foreman was told by the master to pay the wages beginning with those hired last.  As each worker stood before the foreman they each were given a denarius – regardless of the time they started work.  Predictably, the story has those who get more than they deserve, those who think they deserve more than they get, and a jealous reaction arises.  However, no one received less than he initially expected, and some received more.  The master had not made the early hires equal to the latecomers; rather he made the latecomers equal to the early hires.

Many Christians who study this parable identify with the employees who put in a full day’s work, rather than the add-ons at the end of the day.  We like to think of ourselves as responsible workers, and the employer’s strange behavior baffles us.  However, unless we step outside the world of ungrace we risk missing the story’s point.  God dispenses gifts, not wages.  None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life.  If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell!  Grace cannot be reduced to generally accepted accounting principles.  In the bottom-line reality of ungrace, some workers deserve more than others; in the realm of grace the word deserve does not even apply.

Jesus did not want His followers to be haughty, nor did He want them to have an employee mentality.  It is not so much for so much.  Rather, they should focus on work, not wages; service, not seniority; production, not position; trusting in God’s goodness at the end of the day and not comparing themselves to other workers.  From our Protestant Ethic background, we reach a troublesome dilemma as few things seem more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals!  But this is the ‘New Math’ of grace. The master did not give the latecomers what they deserved; he gave them what they needed.  It was not based on merit, but mercy.  Moreover, if we care to listen, there is a loud whisper from the gospel that we, as believers, did not get what we deserved.  For each of us as His children deserved punishment and got forgiveness.  We deserved wrath and got love.  We deserved a debtor’s prison and got instead a clean credit history.  We deserved stern lectures and crawl-on-your-knees repentance, but He left our world to return to His and set the table of grace, beckoning us to come to His banquet feast.

It should be noted, however, there is one aspect of the Protestant Ethic that is affirmed by the scriptures.  Phil. 2:12-13 admonishes us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling…for it is God who is at work in you.  No one is too bad to be saved, but some are “too good” to be saved because they have a self-righteous attitude.  They tend to look down on others, think too highly of themselves, and feel that God owes them something.  Then there are others who are unwilling to make the effort to change their lives and to put in the work to grow in Christ.  Nevertheless, God will always do His part to make you into the person He wants you to be, if you will work, too.

In summary, grace remains the last and best word to describe what God has done for each of us.  First, grace is free only because the Giver Himself has borne the cost.  Second, grace makes its appearance in so many forms that it is difficult to define.  However, something like a definition of grace in relation to God would be: grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.  Yet, grace alone does not save us; grace is God’s means by which – if we choose to obey His commands - we may be saved.  Third, grace alone melts ungrace.  Finally, Christians are saved by grace in order to serve by grace.

When I stand before the throne,

Dressed in beauty not my own;

When I see Thee as Thou art,

Love Thee with unsinning heart;

Then, Lord, shall I fully know –

Not till then – how much I owe!

 

For the above article, ideas and phrases were selected from: Grace, by Aaron Erhardt, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015; God’s Amazing Grace: The Sweetest Sound of All by Wilson Adams, Murfreesboro, TN: Courageous Living Books, 2015; What’s So Amazing About Grace” by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997; Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.  

How Long, O Lord?

Saturday, November 13, 2021

How Long, O Lord?

By Gary Watson

David was being hunted in the mountains by Saul. Saul's jealousy had prompted him to make a vow to take the life of David. David flees for his life and while in the mountains, he wrote Psalm 13. (http://www.fbbc.com/messages/hyles_psalms.htm).  It might be observed that David was so stressed that he felt alone and deserted.

Psalm 13 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress has many common effects on our bodies:

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems

Common effects of stress on your mood

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression

Common effects of stress on your behavior

  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often

Scripture abound in assuring us that God will help us cope with stress.  1 Peter 5 strongly assures us that God will help.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever.

Note the assurances, challenges, and attitudes necessary as the passage describes: we must humble ourselves, submit ourselves to God, be sober-minded, and watchful.  We must resist the doubt and despair Satan causes. We need to be firm in the faith even if we suffer a while.

The words of Isaiah should reassure us:

Isaiah 40:

29 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.

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