Purpose

A blog that focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Failed Fathers

This week's news reported parents who abominably mistreated their thirteen children by chaining, starving, neglecting, and otherwise abusing them. While this case is extreme, many children struggle with memories of imperfect fathers. Children understand God the Father based on observations of their earthly fathers. As a result, some children who accept God don't consider the relationship special or significant. Others reject God, concluding, "I don't want anything to do with that kind of Father." Here are twenty areas of potential failure by earthly fathers, contrasted with the perfect Heavenly Father.

Not providing for basic needs. Some fathers fail to adequately provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care, time, and personal interaction. Jesus said, "Look at the birds of the air.... Your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? ... Will He not much more clothe you?" (Matthew 6:26,30).

Not being aware of needs. Some fathers are so disconnected, unconcerned, or naive that they don't recognize their children's needs. Even when their children hint at needs or show symptoms of neglect, the fathers remain oblivious. "Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:8).

Not giving gifts. Some fathers never give their children special or appropriate gifts. "How much more will your Father give what is good to those who ask Him!" (Matthew 7:11). "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17).

Not expressing love. Some fathers will not hug or hold their children; some refuse to say the words "I love you." God's love is not hidden. "The Father Himself loves you" (John 16:27).  "See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us" (I John 3:1).

Not showing compassion. Some fathers demand that their children be tough, never crying or yielding to pain. "But the fruit of spirit is ...  gentleness" (Galatians 5:22-23). "The LORD has compassion on those who fear Him" (Psalm 103:13).

Not able to comfort. Some fathers avoid their children's tears and close themselves off from their sorrows. "Blessed be ... the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions" (II Corinthians 1:3-4).

Not showing mercy. Some fathers show no heart toward their children's troubles, leaving them to suffer the consequences or to work out problems for themselves. God has tender pity and compassion. "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36).

Not giving appropriate advice. Instead of giving wise counsel, as patterned in Proverbs, some fathers demand that children learn for themselves or treat them as stupid when they need help. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach" (James 1:5).

Not giving hope. Some fathers express either openly or by implication that their children are no good and will never amount to anything. "God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope" (II Thessalonians 2:16).

Not being approachable. Some fathers make their children intimidated to ever ask them for anything, whether big or small, needed or desired. "If you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you" (John 16:23).

Not accepting. Some fathers create an atmosphere of fear rather than belonging. "You have not received a spirit ... leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'" (Romans 8:15).

Not establishing appropriate boundaries. Instead of exercising parental discretion, some fathers show excessive permissiveness. God limits what He gives, based on His wisdom. "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures" (James 4:3).

Not treating all children fairly. Some fathers show partiality or favoritism to a certain child, regardless of his good or bad actions. "If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work" (I Peter 1:17).

Not acknowledging success. Some fathers will not recognize their children's talent, will not concede that their children have surpassed them, and will not praise good work. "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit" (John 15:8).

Not disciplining properly. Some fathers discipline occasionally, habitually, or exclusively in anger, with no conscious thought of guiding or correcting their children. "But He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.... Afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:10-11).

Not giving second chances. Some fathers impose strict censure on children who have deeply disappointed them. God heart shines in the story of the Prodigal Son. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him" (Luke 15:20).

Not offering long-term welcome. Some fathers impose a time frame on how long their children are welcome, perhaps even kicking them out of the home. "In My Father's house are many dwelling places ... I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2).

Not protecting. Through apathy or neglect, some fathers fail to protect their children from danger. "Holy Father, keep them in Your name" (John 17:11).

Not being moral. Some fathers verbally or physically, even sexually, abuse their children. God clearly expresses His response to such mistreatment. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea" (Mark 9:42).

Not being loyal. Some fathers refuse to acknowledge their children, some even abandoning them completely. "I will be a father to you" (II Corinthians 6:18). "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).

Exempt from failure, the Heavenly Father is the ultimate embodiment of every admirable fatherly quality, yielding a gracious, peaceful atmosphere. "Grace to you and peace from God our Father" (Ephesians 1:2).

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Finally - But Wait!

Life doesn't always go according to plan. In fact, sometimes just when plans finally seem to be coming to fruition, painful and disappointing setbacks emerge.

Consider Moses. After the tumultuous interactions with Pharaoh, the dramatic deliverance, and approximately two years of desert travel, (during which Moses faced repeated complaints, demands, and rebellion), Israel finally reached the Promised Land. Moses was ready to lead the people into the land of blessing. But wait! The fearful, unbelieving people refused to go in. Moses had to lead those obstinate people through forty more years of senseless wandering, ultimately losing his own opportunity to enter.

Consider Joseph. After hatred by his brothers, years as a slave, false accusation, and unjust imprisonment, Joseph finally had a promising encounter. Joseph expected  Pharaoh's grateful cupbearer to intercede to Pharaoh on his behalf, leading to Joseph's vindication and freedom. But wait! The cupbearer forgot, and Joseph languished in prison for two additional years.

Consider Abraham. After God's promise of a son, there followed twenty-five long years of waiting, years that included questions, failure, and self-effort. Finally Isaac was born, and Abraham could rejoice in seeing the beginning of God's plan. But wait! God asked him to sacrifice that very son, the miracle child who could not be replaced.

Consider Paul. After years of persecution for sharing the Gospel, capture in Jerusalem, threat of conspiracy, and two years of imprisonment without resolution of his case, Paul was finally granted the opportunity to appeal to Caesar where he could be vindicated. But wait! This hopeful plan met with additional imprisonment, more hearings, a dangerous sea voyage, shipwreck, delay, and years of house arrest.

The reasons for these disappointments were quite varied. For Moses, it was the unbelief of others. For Joseph, it was another's neglect. For Abraham, it was direct interaction by God. For Paul, it was governmental inefficiency and incompetence.

In each case there was a bigger picture, however. God was always working to accomplish His plan. Through these setbacks, Moses, Joseph, and Abraham each had remarkable roles in preserving the nation of Israel. Paul had tremendous opportunities for spreading the Gospel and writing Scripture.

These disappointing reversals were not easy for any of these men, but the men did not give up. They kept going, kept obeying, and kept following God, even when all human hope had disappeared. This faithful obedience was extremely important. If these men had quit, (God's providence aside), Israel would have wandered without a leader, the nation would have died in a famine, the budding nation of faith would have been squelched in unbelief, the spread of the gospel would have been curtailed, and several books of the Bible would not have been written.

Each man's case also reveals the hand of God. Although the situations were not ideal, these men were never neglected nor forgotten by God. Rather, God continued to work and bless. Moses recounted God's provision for Israel: "These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing" (Deuteronomy 2:7). Joseph could accurately say, "God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive" (Genesis 50:20). God commended Abraham, "For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me" (Genesis 22:12). Paul's treacherous journey resulted in his "preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered" (Acts 28:31), in fulfillment of God's promise (Acts 23:11). God reveals that "without faith it is impossible to please Him" (Hebrews 11:6), but faith pleases Him. Each of these men experienced the pleasure of God because of his faith.

In matters of health, employment, marriage, family, finances, and more, modern Christians also have stories of disappointment, delay, and reversal. Life does not always go according to desire or plan. Like these Bible characters, it may seem that just when things are finally turning around, just when the dark sky is finally brightening, just when life finally starts to present some optimism, everything unexpectedly falls apart. Hope dies, progress ceases, and the direction of life is reversed through means completely outside of one's own control.

Moving faithfully forward is not easy, but it is necessary, just as it was for these Biblical examples. While modern stories may not have the same historic impact as these Biblical examples, there would nevertheless be disastrous negative consequences for leaving God's plan, just as there will be tremendous positive results for continued faithfulness. An individual cannot know what those negative consequences would be nor what the positive results will be, but one or the other will come, depending on the individual's decision. Modern Christians probably won't shape the course of history, but they can impact their own history as well as that of their families, friends, churches, and communities. More importantly, their faith and obedience will bring the pleasure and approval of God.

The types of reassurances that God gives today are also the same. He reassures of His presence, provides needs, does His divine work, expresses His approval, and fulfills His promises. Christians are never abandoned by God in their times of disappointment.

Believers must continue to follow God in spite of unexpected and changing circumstances. They must continue to submit to His plan, repeatedly saying, "Yes, God, I will follow your path. By your grace I will remain faithful until the end." They must trust the God who alone knows every detail of their path and what He plans to accomplish through their lives. Not resisting, not despairing, not wavering, they must express the sentiment of Mac Lynch's song "I Will Follow."

I will follow Thee, my Savior, where-e’er the pathway may go:
Through the storm or through the valley or through great trials so low.
I rest in Thee, trust in Thee, I place my life in Thy hands.
I will follow Thee, my Savior; Lead on, my Shepherd, lead on.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Breaking Refugee Stereotypes

Peter wrote his first epistle to Jewish refugees "who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (I Peter 1:1). Because of their conversion to Christianity and stand for Christ, the Jews were scattered north and west from Jerusalem into Asia Minor (Turkey), a region approximately 600 by 400 miles. Interestingly, the word scattered is Diaspora, a term used to define this specific event in history, in which converted Jews were expelled from their homeland and flung throughout the world.

Peter refers to trials faced by these refugees. "You have been distressed by various trials" (I Peter 1:6). He does not immediately identify the trials, though a major one was clearly the Diaspora itself. Peter later identifies a second aspect, which was the unwelcome response of the citizens among whom they resided: "they slander you as evildoers" (I Peter 2:12).

This reaction toward a group of refugees or displaced persons is neither unique nor surprising. While the citizens of those lands very likely did not understand everything about the strangers, they would have been aware that the invading people were there because they were being chased from their own country. They must have speculated about the reason, wondering what those people had done and what kind of people they were. Considering the prejudices that naturally exist regarding foreigners, it would have been easy to assume that these strangers were disreputable and undesirable. In fact, the word evildoers refers to criminals. Because of their biased attitudes, the citizens of those lands were speaking evil against the newly-arriving Christians, who they believed had been chased from their homeland for being criminals or who had fled their homeland to avoid punishment.

In 2:11, Peter had urged these refugees to remember their status as strangers in this world and to avoid the spiritual warfare that is aroused when the distinction is ignored. (See previous post.) In 2:12, Peter gives a second commandment. "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation."

The believers were to keep their behavior excellent. In the things they did and in the way they lived, these believers were to continually maintain excellence. The word refers to something beautiful, being used figuratively to mean morally or literally good. There is a different Greek word that refers to something intrinsically good; this word, however, refers to excellence, beauty, or goodness in appearance or use. The believers were not perfect, but through their actions they were to present to others lives that were valuable, virtuous, and worthy.

The believers' testimony was at stake. The Christians were dwelling "among the Gentiles," surrounded by them and open to their observation, "as they observe." These Jews had been forcibly placed into a situation in which they were on display. The pagan nations into which the Jews were scattered might not have understood the difference between traditional Jews and converted Jews, but, due to past experience with Jews, they almost certainly knew that Jews were different. Additionally, they probably had some understanding of the political situation - that these particular Jewish refugees had been chased from their own homeland by their own people. All factors considered, the Gentiles would have been curious about these refugees and would have been observing them carefully.

The way in which the Christians were to answer those accusatory observations was with their "good deeds." Good is the same word translated excellent earlier in the verse, referring to beauty, virtue, and value. The Christians were not to show this virtue by their demeanor alone, but through the deliberate and observable actions of their everyday lives. The Gentiles were carefully watching and inspecting the believers. After all, they suspected the Christians of being criminals. When they did not immediately observe evil deeds, the scrutiny may have become even more intense, and suspicion may have grown, suspecting that these tricky criminals were trying to lull the observers into thinking they were okay. The observers would have been cautious, expecting that the true nature would eventually emerge. If the believers lived as God desired, however, the Gentiles would see only continued good works.

As the observers continually saw the exact opposite of what they expected to see, God's purpose would be achieved. The divine plan was for these heathen nations to "glorify God in the day of visitation." These skeptical and depraved people would end up magnifying God and esteeming Him highly. In essence, the Gentiles would observe the life-changing work of God in the lives of the believers. The Gentiles would realize that not only did those Christians not fit their expectation of refugees, they didn't fit the expectation for humans at all. Mankind in his natural state does not live that way, so obviously God had done a divine work in them. These careful observers would see the evidence of God's transforming power and would embrace it for themselves, thereby accepting salvation and glorifying God.

While Christians today may not fall into the category of political refugees, they are nevertheless strangers and pilgrims in this world. Like these Jewish believers, modern Christians are surrounded by lost people who often view them with curiosity and suspicion. The accusations themselves may be different. Instead of calling Christians criminals, today's society might call them weird, hypocrites, judgmental, freaks, weaklings, intolerant, or fanatics.

God's instruction is the same. Believers are to live beautiful lives of integrity and value. Certainly, Christians are imperfect and will sometimes fail, but the overall impact of the life should be that unbelievers see Christ. Just as in the early church, those unbelievers are watching carefully and perhaps suspiciously. They may watch for a long time before they are willing to change their preconceived notions. God's plan is still the same. Christian "refugees" who live godly in this "foreign" world will draw unbelievers to God for His glory.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Strangers

In 1962 Jim Reeves wrote a song containing these words: "This world is not my home. I'm just a passing through." In 1678 John Bunyan expressed the same idea in his book, originally titled Pilgrim's Progress From This World to That Which Is to Come. In A.D. 64, the apostle Peter said, "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul" (I Peter 2:11).

Peter lovingly addresses his readers, earnestly urging rather than forcefully demanding. His entreaty is given because he wants what is best for these beloved Christians. He wants them to do what is best so that their lives can be the best as they ought to be.

Peter addresses his readers as aliens and strangers, which is the basis for his urging. The action he is encouraging is reasonable based on the realization of who they really are. The two terms share one Greek root, while each includes a second root that creates the distinction between the two words. Alien deals with the dwelling itself, or by implication the family. In other words, the family unit or home is now located in a place that is not its origin. Stranger refers to making one's home or residing. Beyond the fact of having one's house in a foreign land, it is the idea of settling in there and realizing that one is now living in a foreign land, probably never to return to his original home. The reality that the believers are aliens and strangers, not really belonging where they are, is the reason they are to act and live as Peter is about to encourage.

The concept is quite familiar to his readers. Peter had already referred to them as strangers in the first verse of his epistle. In 1:1, however, he was referring to earthly geography. These believers had been forced from their homes in the Diaspora. They were now living in various regions which are listed in the epistle's opening. They know exactly what it is like to be displaced and to live in a strange place. In 2:11, Peter is applying the same concept in the spiritual realm.

Peter is stating that this world is not the true home of these (or any) believers. These readers, who understood the concept quite well due to their geographic displacement, are to apply that understanding to their spiritual lives. They are now residents of heaven, holding heaven's culture and values. This world's cultures and values are foreign. A Latin would feel out of place in an African culture and would not participate nor be interested in certain practices. A diplomat in a foreign country might explore various cultural practices, but he might never understand them or embrace them for himself, even though he lives in the country where they are practiced. This is exactly how a Christian should be toward this world.

Because of their foreign status in this world, Peter urges the believers to abstain from the fleshly lusts associated with it. They are to hold themselves off from such things and not let themselves go toward them. Specifically, the fleshly lusts are the longings and desires associated with this world. They are urges that are bodily, temporal, and unregenerate. "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father but is from the world" (I John 2:16).

Peter's basis for urging this response is completely logical. Because these believers are aliens, it is reasonable and expected that they would not embrace the practices of the corrupt world in which they are living as non-citizens. Various religious groups have recognized this danger in the past. The Pilgrims, for example, had left England and settled for a time in Holland. In Holland they feared the world's influence as they saw the culture damaging their children in terms of worldliness and corruption. The Pilgrims ended up leaving Holland as a result. While a geographic move may not be necessary, or even effective, the underlying concern is correct. Earthly, sinful, basely passionate, self-centered, and proud desires have nothing to do with Christianity. Instead they are the true manifestation of a world without God. No Christian should embrace those things.

Peter goes on to tell why his instruction is so important. The fleshly lusts are dangerous and should be avoided, never embraced, because they wage war against the soul. Experimenting with or involving oneself in those lusts is asking for trouble and inviting conflict. Fleshly lusts, once embraced or experimented with, create a raging conflict. The war already exists, but it is folly to make the war harder by inviting the enemy into one's own camp. The wisest action is to avoid the battle as much as possible and to have good defenses so that the enemy doesn't have a good opportunity. Embracing (failure to abstain from) fleshly lusts is deliberately causing the battle to rage.

This battle is quite serious. Although a battle dealing with fleshly lusts would seem to be a physical battle, it is actually a spiritual battle. Satisfying the flesh carries the battle into the arena of the soul. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12).

Satan is at the root of the world's system and its fleshly lusts, and he wants to destroy Christians. Christians must respond soberly, seeking to limit the temptation and pull of the world. They should never (intentionally or unintentionally) make the battle harder by deliberately embracing something that earnestly seeks to destroy his soul. Many things about the world hold some appeal, and they are readily embraced by the citizens of this world, but they should not be part of the lives of believers, whose residence here is that of strangers.