Are You More Amazed or Offended?

One of my most embarrassing moments ever happened almost twenty years ago. It was back in the days when the internet and email were still in their infancy.

I received an email from a friend. It was short and to the point. It said something like, “Check out these links.” Of course today, I’d be very suspicious of an email like that. Back in 1999, I wasn’t thinking about computer viruses.

So I clicked on one of the links and the virus immediately sent the same email to everyone in my address book. Hundreds of people where I worked got it. Then they clicked on the link and also immediately sent the email to everyone in their address book.

And the domino effect was on. Every person who opened it, immediately sent it to everyone else. It was a mess. And very embarrassing for me because I was the first person in the organization to click on the link and let the virus in. One little click was all it took to create a nightmare for the IT department.

A few weeks ago, I got a different type of virus. It was a stomach bug. My daughter and grandson had it. Then my wife got it. I thought I had escaped, but then I got it. Something completely invisible to the naked eye had the power to make us feel awful for two or three days.

In Mark 6:1-6, there’s another type of virus at work, one that’s more destructive than a few lines of computer code or a stomach bug.

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Jesus visits his hometown and goes to the synagogue to teach. Jesus had wisdom like they’d never seen before and He could perform miracles. The people were amazed.

But rather than living in the amazement, they start to ask questions. Now questions aren’t bad, but when something doesn’t go our way or we encounter painful or confusing circumstances, we tend to ask questions like:

  • Why did God let this happen?
  • When are you going to do something God?
  • How is this situation going to work out?

I don’t know about you, but God doesn’t usually answer those why, when and how questions for me. That’s why it’s so important to have that rock solid foundation of trust in God’s character. If I know He’s good, then I can learn to live with the uncertainty of unanswered questions, as uncomfortable as it may be. Without trust in God’s character, questions and doubts become like a virus.

“Isn’t this the carpenter?”

Someone else chimed in, “Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?

Another asked, “Aren’t his sisters here with us?”

Amazement gave way to questions. Questions led to doubts about Jesus’ real identity. Those doubts led to taking offense at Him. And now they’re infected.

So what happened next?

Jesus could not do many miracles there, because of their lack of faith. Was Jesus’ power somehow limited by the people? Yes and no. No, Jesus did not cease being filled with the Spirit of God. He was still able to perform the miracles the Father called Him to perform in the power of the Holy Spirit.

But yes, their lack of faith was a limiting factor. God responds to faith, not to needs. God wants to be trusted. He enjoys it when we believe Him, not our circumstances. He rewards those who seek and believe Him.

If you’re not experiencing God’s work in and through you, then maybe you’ve allowed a virus in and have ceased to be amazed by Him. Could it be that you’ve allowed your questions to become doubts? And your doubts to hinder your faith…possibly to the point that Jesus would be amazed at your lack of faith?

The negative thoughts and questions we allow into our minds are extremely powerful. Like a virus, they infect us with doubts that can wreck our faith and even cause us to be offended by the idea of believing in or trusting Jesus.

I’ve seen it play out in the lives of people I care very deeply about. It’s heartbreaking.

What about you?

Are you still amazed by Jesus? Are you still in love with Him? Do you still seek Him? Do you delight in Him? Do you regularly spend time in His word to learn how He thinks and what’s important to Him?

Or have unanswered questions led you to doubt Him or even completely give up on Him or to be offended by Him?

It’s never too late to return to Him, but the longer you wait, the harder it will be as those viral thoughts continue to spread through your mind.

Self-Deceived

Have you heard about Anthony Weiner? He’s the former congressman who’s running for mayor of New York. He resigned from congress after it became public that he’d sent a nude picture of himself to a woman he wasn’t married to. Initially, he claimed his Twitter account had been hacked, but it wasn’t. He was lying. Eventually, he confessed and then resigned.

Well, he’s back. He wants to be the mayor of New York. And you’ve probably heard that Weiner has now admitted to sending sexually explicit texts to at least ten women in 2011 and 2012. All of this after he had resigned from congress. His campaign manager has quit, but as of right now–Weiner is vowing to stay in the mayoral race.

Anthony Weiner deceived his staff, the voters and his wife. To deceive someone is to give the appearance that something is true when in fact it’s not. But perhaps what’s even more alarming is that Weiner has so completely deceived himself. He knew what he was doing and yet he was able to convince himself that his actions weren’t inappropriate. He was able to continue deceiving his wife and all those around him and somehow still believe he was qualified to lead others.

Anthony Weiner isn’t the only one who is susceptible to self-deception. James 1:22 says: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

When we read or listen to God’s word and fail to apply what we’ve heard–we’ve deceived ourselves. Have you done that? Have you listened to a sermon, but not put it into practice? Have you sensed God speaking to you from His word, but not applied what He was telling you?

It’s a terrible thing to be deceived by someone.

It’s even worse when we discover we’ve done it to ourselves.

What’s Your Plan to Get to Heaven?

Did you catch what Phil Robertson begins to say at the 3:49 mark? “If you’re not a believer and you don’t believe God exists at all then the only hope you have is that He not be there. That’s your hope. Maybe He’s not there. What we’re saying is, ‘We trust that He is.'”

If you do believe in God, then you really have one of two directions you can go. First, you can try your best to appease Him and hope your best is enough. Up until the age of 19, that was my plan. I believed the key that would unlock heaven’s door was my good behavior. Of course the all-important question is: How good do you have to be?

I distinctly remember thinking as a teenager that because I hadn’t killed anyone I was qualified to get into heaven. I guess I thought it was okay to lie, steal, cheat, treat people unkindly, ignore those in need and have very little room in my life for God, but as long as I wasn’t guilty of murder–I was fine. My view was that heaven was our default destination and you really had to screw up big (like commit murder) to not make it in.

The problem with this view is obviously found in the definition of “good.” If it’s true that God created me and He created heaven, then what would lead me to think that my definition of good is the right one, that I get to determine the entrance requirements for heaven? Stop and think about it for a minute. It’s a really arrogant perspective.

If you’re trusting in your good behavior to get into heaven, let me encourage you to first find out what your god requires. And then get hard at work following his commands. And hope you don’t slip up. Hope you don’t somehow commit an offense he’s not willing to forgive. Sadly, I think you’ll find you can never quite shake that feeling that maybe you haven’t done enough. And that should motivate you to keep trying harder. As far as ever experiencing genuine, lasting joy or peace–forget it. How could you never knowing if eternal bliss or eternal punishment awaits?

So you can choose to believe God does not exist and then hope you’ve guessed right. Or if you do believe God exists, you can try to be as good as possible as defined by whatever god you’re believing in. Remember, you don’t decide what’s good or bad. He does. If this is your belief system, then your only hope is that you do enough good to outweigh your bad. Good luck with that.

The other option is to believe in the God Phil Roberston spoke of, a God who created us to live in friendship with Him. But because the human race has rebelled, we stand guilty before Him with no hope of ever being good enough to earn forgiveness. So a loving and moral God took on flesh and bore our punishment on the cross. Jesus died in our place and offers us the gift of forgiveness.

But a gift must be received. Have you received the gift of Christ’s forgiveness?

If this whole thing about Jesus seems like a fairy tale to you, then you’re back to either one of the first two options. You can hope God isn’t there or you can hope you’re good enough to appease Him.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)

Seeking and Finding God

For a long time, I’ve assumed it should be easy to seek and find God. I’ve been wrong though.

Can you think of any good or worthwhile activity that’s easy?

Eating healthy and staying in good physical condition requires planning, commitment and hard work. Doing well at your job and advancing in your career can mean long hours and sacrifices in other areas. Getting a college degree requires a big financial investment and years of studying. Having a good marriage requires a lot of time and effort. Having a thick, green, weed-free lawn requires year-round attention.

Anything good requires commitment, sacrifice and hard work. So why would we think any less is required to truly find God and experience Him? And let me take this one step further. I suspect it will require more effort to find God the longer we’ve known Him. If you work out, you know the longer you train the harder you must work to continue seeing gains. I believe the same is true when it comes to God. I’m not suggesting He’s hiding from us, but let’s not make the mistake of thinking God is easy.

Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” To seek Him earnestly means to seek with serious effort…and when we do, He rewards us.

And Jeremiah 29:13 says, You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” We don’t find Him when we seek Him with minimal, half-hearted effort.

If you want to lose weight and get in better shape, you know it means saying “no” to the potato chips and ice cream and “yes” to healthier foods. It means going to the gym or running three miles rather than sitting on the couch.

What do you need to say “no” to, so you can say “yes” to more time in prayer and reading the Bible? What habits or sins are keeping you from seeking Him with your whole heart?

Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”

If we sow little effort in seeking God, we will not find much of Him. If we sow serious, whole-hearted effort, we will find much more of Him.

I believe we can experience as little or as much of God as we’d like. So the question is…

How much of God would you like?

Predestined to be Adopted

My wife, Robyn, and I have never adopted a child, but we have many friends who have. A very good friend of mine and his wife adopted a little girl a number of years ago who has had some developmental issues. Parenting her has been very difficult at times and she continues to be a challenge.

If I asked my friend, “If you would have known then what you know now–would you still have adopted her?”

I’m pretty sure his response would be something like, “No doubt about it! She’s our daughter.”

I’d like to think I’d be able to answer the same way. And I’m very grateful it’s how God would answer. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul said:

In love, He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will–to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the one He loves.

That’s a mouthful, I know, but let’s look at what Paul reveals to us about God’s heart toward us. In the previous sentence, we see that God chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. Now we see that He predestined us to be adopted into His family. Before you and I even existed, God chose to adopt us.

Was God surprised by our sin? Did we catch Him off guard? Did He have some regrets once He saw how we behaved?

Of course not. He saw all of our days before we took our first breath. He saw our selfish acts. He knew our evil thoughts. And yet, He adopted us anyway. Despite all of our sin, He made us His sons and daughters.

And He didn’t do it grudgingly. It was “in accordance with His pleasure and will.” God was pleased to adopt you. It was His will. He wanted you. He chose you. He adopted you. He made you His child.

And He has no regrets, because He already saw how you’d turn out. And so the result is “the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.”

Think about that. God knew all about our sins and failures. And He adopted us anyway…by grace. And because we were adopted by grace and because He already knew all about us beforehand–there’s no danger of Him giving us back. We weren’t adopted because of our goodness. We were adopted in spite of our badness.

IT’S BY GRACE!

You are God’s child. In love, He predestined you to be adopted. And it was all by grace that was freely given to you in Christ.

If you have been living under a cloud of guilt and condemnation, then it’s time to start walking in the truth. You don’t have to be afraid that God is displeased and disappointed with you. You can live confidently in God’s love, because your Father has seen the worst about you and adopted you anyway.