Monday, June 30, 2014

The Mystery of Growth

When I pray about a problem or a struggle, too often I find myself expecting God to simply step in and fix things.  I expect the fixing to be immediate, and I expect it to be painless and effortless on my part.  I watch for a flash of lightning at the end of my prayer that either gives me the solution or whips me out of the situation I'm unhappy with.

This flash of lightning rarely comes.

I've been working in my garden this spring.  I don't know what I'm doing.  I've never had a green thumb.  But I figure since I have some space now and extra time on my hands I might as well see if I can do something constructive with it.

But it's discouraging. 

I planted nasturtium seeds, sweet peas, and marigolds, which I've heard keep out the garden pests, but none of them have sprouted. 

I put in three tomato plants two weeks ago and they haven't grown an inch.

Other people have zucchinis already and I only have wisps of green shoots just starting to push up through the cold soil. 

My rhubarb is spindly and my pumpkin plants have maybe three leaves each. 

Yesterday I got frustrated and went to the garden store.  I bought a hanging tomato plant loaded with blossoms, and a dozen or so potted flowers already lavishly adorned with pretty pink and purple flowers.  My deck looks lovely. 

I plunked eighteen pre-grown marigolds down in my vegetable garden, on top of the seeds that never sprouted and in the middle of a row of carrot seeds I'd forgotten my grandson had planted a week ago.   The garden looks better too.  At least there's some color now.

I'm not giving up on the seeds, mind you.  Every day I'll go out and check to see if they've come up.  But some of the enthusiasm has dampened.  I don't know if there will be enough left to motivate me to pull the weeds, which are flourishing, when they begin to smother the rows of chard and arugula.

But I suspect there's a lesson here. It has occurred to me that God's creation of the world, and of us, was not simply an event.  It was, and is, a progression of events.  Some of the events are so small and seemingly insignificant we don't even notice them.  These small events overlap and run together so mysteriously we can't fathom how they are working, and sometimes it looks like they aren't.  

But they are working.  Growth inevitably happens, in the soil and in our lives. 

It's another great and wondrous godly mystery.

Instead of whining that He's not answering my prayers when I see no immediate change or feel no instant relief, I need to choose to believe things are happening, even when I can't see them.  I need to look for the little rays of hope and light that He might be trying to give me in the process--the green shoots just beginning to poke their little heads through the soil.

And I need to act on the rays of light he gives--to participate with Him in the working out of the process.  I need to be willing to change, and to let the process run its course in me.

God, please help me with the green thumb business.  Help me to trust in the mystery of growth, to remember to water the garden, and be motivated to pull the weeds.  And help me to remember where my grandkids have planted their little seeds so I don't mess up the process of their learning about growing things.

The Never Ending Mystery

Here are more good thoughts on the mystery that is God, quoted from Open Doors, June 30, 2014.

He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ…   Ephesians 1:9
     Human beings always want to know “why?” and “why not now?” But it’s precisely because we are human we cannot know. That’s why mystery is so important to understand. The entire book of Job is all about the “why” of suffering and in the end God invites Job to see a bigger picture than even his suffering.

     Creation is a mistake if all you see is your suffering. But if you lift your eyes wider and let your gaze roam over the whole universe with God, you can also see that creation has even more beauty and grace.

     So we are to value mystery because it enables us to feel God’s love…love that was fully revealed in Christ.

     Sometimes we get to see “why?” and “why not now?” (one of the good aspects of growing older). Often we don’t because we are the players of life in the universe, not the playwright.

    Christine Mallouhi in her excellent book, Waging Peace on Islam, makes this significant conclusion:

     The victorious and triumphant Christian life does not conjure up pictures of suffering and death and feelings of abandonment. But this was all part of God's victory in Christ. If this was the path the Master trod why should it be any different for the servants? Jesus cried out "why?" and "where are you?" to God when circumstances were crushing him. God is always greater than our understanding of him and there will always be mystery about him that causes us to fall down in awe and worship. This mystery, which we want to tidily categorise, keeps causing struggles in our life. Every time we get God tidied up like a ball of rubber bands, another end bursts out and the struggle begins over again, until we learn to live in faith with untidy ends. If everything is clear then faith is irrelevant. We are not called to solve the mystery, but enter it.[1]
Today I will value mystery because it enables me to feel God’s love.
Thank You Lord that though the world around us if full of suffering, it is more full of beauty and grace. Help me to trust You and value mystery.

[1] Christine Mallouhi, Waging Peace on Islam (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2000), p.52.

Open Doors is an organization that ministers to persecuted Christians in all countries where it is dangerous to be a believer.  It's a great resource for learning about true faith among our brothers and sisters around the world.  You can sign up to get encouraging e-mails from this organization on a regular basis.  You can also pray and give to their ministry. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Like the Wind

Your Word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.  
Psalm 119: 89-90

I don't believe in "magic," but something a little like magic sometimes seems to happen to me when I meditate on passages in the Bible. 

I say "sometimes" because it doesn't always happen.  Many times when I read the Bible I don't "feel" the "magic." 

And I say "seems" to happen because what happens is so subtle, so internal, so apparently outside of the realm of reason that I'm never quite sure where it comes from or even what it's doing.  

As I write those words, I'm reminded of what Jesus said to Nicodemus about the Holy Spirit: "The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

What if it's the sweet wind of the Spirit that's wafting through my heart when I "feel" that "magic" while reading God's Word?

Psalm 119 works this kind of magic on my spirit.  When I take the time to meditate on this worship song, the sense that my mind is untwisting and my heart is re-orienting toward God is so strong it's almost tangible.  Without fail, when I go to this Psalm, I come away with a renewed sense of what is right and a deeper longing to share the Psalmist's love for his God.

This experience is something so subjective I find it hard to write about.   I'd like to give a specific example of a particular verse and explain just how it affects me, but I can't.  I guess some things of God are so deep--so spiritual--that they're beyond verbal description.

Sometimes I think it would be nice if I could capture the Spirit of God, put Him in a box, or pin Him down to a display board where I could study Him at my leisure, make notes, and write up a research report on "the topic." 

But, no, that wouldn't be so nice.  If I could do that, I would be God and He would not be.  And that would be a tragedy beyond imagining.

Some of my favorite verses in Psalm 119

I have hidden your word in my heart
    that I might not sin against you. (vs. 11)
Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. (vs. 18)
I run in the path of your commands, 
    for you have set my heart free. (vs. 32)

Am I alone in my experience of this spiritual phenomenon?  
Have you experienced anything like it? 
What are your favorite verses in this Psalm?

I'd love to hear your comments on this topic.

Matthew Henry's commentary on Psalm 119 makes for a good study of the Psalm. 

In researching for this post, I also found a great site on Bible study in general.  
Check out Got Questions? 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Six Encouraging Truths About Bible Mysteries

The Bible is astounding.  It's a collection of 66 books, written over a period of 1500 years by 40
different authors in three different languages, yet it reveals one consistent God, communicating one central theme throughout: The Creator loves and redeems and wants to be known by the human beings He has made.

So why is the Bible sometimes hard to understand?  Why do there seem to be contradictory messages?  If God wants us to know Him, why does He shroud himself in mystery?

No one has definitive answers to these questions.  We can say it's impossible to understand an infinite God with our finite minds.  This is true, for sure.  We can also say that what look like contradictions to us may be compatible truths in the realm of the eternal.  And we must also recognize that the devastating separation that happened between us and our Creator in the Garden of Eden did more to keep us from understanding Him than anything He might have done. 

He has not shrouded Himself in mystery.  He is simply who He is.  He is a God whose nature is beyond our understanding.  What else would we expect the Creator of the universe to be?

So we need to be content with the limitations of His revelation, assuming that He has given us all we need to know to come into relationship with Him, and trusting Him with the mysteries we can't understand on this side of heaven. 

We need to accept, and be encouraged by, these six truths about the Bible:

 1.  The Bible is full of mysteries that none of us, neither scholar nor layperson, can explain or understand completely.  The Trinity, the Incarnation, the relationship between God's sovereignty and our free will--mysteries such as these will remain unexplainable to all of us at least until we get to heaven.

2.  The Bible does not even try to solve these mysteries for us.  God's Word simply tells us that certain things are true without explaining how they can be. We should carefully analyze the Word for what it says about the great mysteries of the faith and embrace those truths, without trying to make it say more than it does. We should not give in to the temptation to overanalyze just to make us feel more in control of our understanding of the Truth.

3.  In his inscrutable wisdom, God has chosen to involve human beings in the revelation and propagation of His Truth.  He inspired human writers to record His Truth in the Bible, and we believe the Holy Spirit guided their thoughts and their pens as they wrote.  Though we believe He watched over the selection of writings to be canonized, and guarded the meaning of the message as it was passed on in translation, there have been human errors, both in translation and interpretation of the message.  But we believe that somehow, miraculously, the Truth about God has been preserved even in that process.

4.  Because of these limitations to our human understanding, we should be gentle with fellow believers who hold to interpretations we don't agree with.  We can debate interpretations with others, but only within certain parameters.  Our arguments must be based on careful, prayerful, objective analysis of the biblical text, and we should always debate with humility and love.

5.  We need to actively seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we read God's Word.
If we are humble and honest in our search for Him in His Word, every thought we have as we meditate can be covered by His grace and guided by His Spirit.

6.  God is sovereign.  His Truth will stand forever.  No amount of erroneous speculation on our part will destroy it, so we can relax a bit in that direction.  Yes, we must be careful.  We are called to "rightly divide the Word of Truth," but even when we are careful we will not be perfect in our understanding. 

One of the great and wonderful mysteries is that somehow, in his sovereignty, God works around and through our mistakes to reveal Himself accurately to us.
How awesome to realize that God wants to be known by us, and has made that possible through a Book infused with holy mysteries!

This post was first published June 18, 2014 in the Far East Broadcasting Company's blog under the title, "Six Truths Concerning the Bible's Mysteries."

Monday, June 16, 2014

Consider the Rooster

On a less serious note, I was going through my files this morning and found the following article in an old mimeographed publication called Evangel Trumpeter, published by Melvin Haug, the pastor of a small church in Hines Oregon some time in the early 1960's. 

Reproduced here for your admonition and enjoyment:

Consider the Rooster

The Lord used a rooster to convict Peter (Luke 22:60, 61).  The Master will use any Christian who will follow the rules adhered to by the rooster:

1.  He rises early and immediately begins his God-given task of crowing.
2.  The rooster does not refuse to crow because he can't sing like a canary.
3.  He energetically does that which is never praised.  Who ever heard, "Did you hear that rooster crow? Hasn't he a charming voice?"
4.  He awakens sleepers--unpopular but often necessary.
5.  He is the proclaimer of good news: the arrival of a new day with God-given privilege and opportunities.
6.  He is dependable.  He is persistent.  He is a first class advertiser, for he loudly heralds the good work done by his associates.
7.  He never complains about having to do the same common tasks, and he does not worry about compensation or receiving recognition.

Such homely lessons may not appeal to you, but if you are a true disciple--a learner--you will not despise the lesson because of its humble origin.  The Word of God has many lessons that are not set forth in great doctrinal sentences.  These [doctrinal sentences] are, of course, of primary importance, but where we have laid hold upon the great truths and have these truths lay hold upon us, there are, nevertheless, lessons that we can learn, even from God's roosters, unless we are either too big to learn or know it already.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Meeting God Under the Fig Tree

John 1:47-49

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false."

"How do you know me?" Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you."

Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."

Nathanael was obviously not in a good mood when his friend, Philip, came to tell him about Jesus.  He'd been sitting under a fig tree, probably talking with God, and there had probably been a lot of whining going on in the conversation. 

I can just hear him saying, "Why is the world in such a mess?  What happened to all your promises about coming to rescue us? It's been over 300 years since we Israelites have even heard from you.  Are you still there?  I know I shouldn't be complaining to you, of all people, but you know me.  I love the truth, and I have to be honest with you.  I just don't understand what you're up to."

"Nazareth!  Can anything good come from there?" said the grouchy Nathanael.

"Come and see," said Philip.

So he went.  Not expecting to meet someone who would pick up the conversation he'd just been having with God under the fig tree and finish it.

Yesterday morning I was alone in the house with nothing pressing to do, so I decided to indulge in my current favorite pastime, watching old West Wing episodes on Netflix.

But before I headed downstairs to the computer, Someone whispered in my ear, "Why would you spend your free time with West Wing when you could spend it with me instead?"

A good question, as His questions always are. 

It had been a while since I'd had (or taken time for) a leisurely visit with Jesus.  My quick-fix QT's had been keeping me going, but I was long overdue for the fireside-chat version of Time-with-God.  The kind Nathanael had under the fig tree.  So I sat down and started reading.  Nothing earth shattering happened.  In fact, I spent much of the time, as I read, worrying in God's ear. 

Lord, how can you fix us?
Our culture is so far removed from a godly mindset.
The West Wing worldview is so pervasive, and so persuasive. 
Does anyone even care about knowing you anymore? 
Are you able to do anything with us?
Are you still here, Lord?

Then the phone rang.  It was a friend I don't talk to often.  She was calling because she needed encouragement in her walk with the Lord.  She needed to hear someone else say that God was still here, and that He was at work in her life.  She called because she cared about knowing God.  Deeply.  And God was doing something wonderful in her heart.

We encouraged each other, realizing that it was actually God who was encouraging us both.  
God saw us under our fig trees. 
He heard our concerns. 
He reassured us both through our shared testimonies about His faithful love.

But he couldn't have done it with me if I'd been watching West Wing when my friend called.  If I hadn't been under that fig tree, I would have missed the blessing of his reassurance.  I would have missed the great encouragement of knowing that he sees me, he knows me, and he cares. 

My brother-in-law challenged me today about my priorities in a post on Facebook.  He shared a thought from C.S. Lewis, who points out that we won't come to God if we think we can find satisfaction anywhere else.  God is always our last resort.  After West Wing

I'm thankful for a God who cares.  A God who whispers in my ear when I'm going to the wrong source for refreshment and comfort.  A God who then stoops to sit with me under my fig tree. A God who finishes our conversations.