A Devotional Thought from the Psalms
                                                                    Psalm 3
                                                     When God Seems Distant

1 O LORD, I have so many enemies;
so many are against me.
2 So many are saying,
“God will never rescue him!”
Interlude
3 But you, O LORD, are a shield around me;
you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
4 I cried out to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy mountain.
Interlude
5 I lay down and slept,
yet I woke up in safety,
for the LORD was watching over me.
6 I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies
who surround me on every side.
7 Arise, O LORD!
Rescue me, my God!
Slap all my enemies in the face!
Shatter the teeth of the wicked!
8 Victory comes from you, O LORD.
May you bless your people.
Interlude

        Reveal - Psalm Structures: Focus Times
On this particular dangerous morning, the Psalmist, David, turns to God for strength and safety, salvation and support. While 2 Samuel 15, 16 detail his flight from Absalom, his son, it’s poetically portrayed here. Psalm 3 is the Morning Psalm, due to verse 5 which states in part, I woke up in safety, for the LORD was watching over me. It is followed by Psalm 4, the Evening Psalm because verse 8 says, I will lie down in peace and sleep, for you alone, O LORD, will keep me safe. Even in the midst of troubles, when God seems most distant we are bookmarked with our Creator’s shelter, morning and evening.

      Reflect
Ever had trouble praying because God seemed so distant? Ever been depressed because your troubles seemed so near? Ever been overwhelmed with life's battles?

Psalm 3 describes a time in King David's life (2 Samuel 15-17) when he was so inundated with troubles, his trust in God was engulfed by depression. Verse 3 mentions God being the One who "lifts up David's head”, a term denoting the despair he experienced due to the problems he was facing. David had the sense that God was somehow, somewhere asleep. So he begged God to "arise!" (verse 7).

But even though David's FEELINGS told him God was distant, his FAITH told him God was present. Confidently he implored God to slap the cheeks and smash the teeth of his enemies (terms used to denote the wild animal-Iike fierceness of his opponents). David trusted his faith over his feelings.

Today as you pray, believe that God will answer. Don't rely on your sensation of the nearness or distance of God. Regardless of your feelings, God will get you through!

      Renew
1)     Tell God how you’re honestly feeling about your relationship with Him right now.

2)     Remember: depression is not a sin. Refusing to do something about it, however, remains a huge problem. Therefore, ask for God’s help to trust even when you do not feel the Creator’s presence. And seek professional help if your depression lingers.

Father God, thank You that Your Word promises You are right here with me. I trust that through Jesus Christ, You will provide shelter and success. Through my Lord, Amen!

 



 
 
You parents who have little kids, you really experience the true excitement and joy of birthdays. A little child’s excitement at a birthday celebration makes it a day to remember. Little children can also add disastrous messes as well as exhaustion. And the more little ones you have, the more exhausting it can become!

One mother of 3 hyper-active preschoolers was chatting with her friends one day when a friends asked her, “If you had to do it all over again, would you still have three children?” “Sure”, she responded, just not the SAME three!”

You remember the little boy who sat in his classroom feverishly drawing something? His teacher asked him, what are you drawing? “Drawing a picture of God”, he said. But no one knows what God looks like, she replied. To which the little boy replied confidently,” They will when I am finished”.

Like little children, life is full of mysteries. Gaze into the heavens and explain to me how God could simply “speak” such extravagance into existence. The universe is so massive, so amazing, so mysterious. Or if you aren’t convinced of God’s reality, explain to me the mystery of how intelligence evolved from unintelligence, how everything came into being from nothing? It’s a mystery!

Consider the invisible world around us. Bacteria can only be seen through the lens of a microscope.

So whether it’s telescopic or microscopic, life appears shrouded in mystery. Think about it. If you increased the size of an electron until it became as large as an apple, and if a human being could be increased by the same proportion, that newly enlarged person could hold our entire solar system in the palm of his or her hand. And still we would need a magnifying glass to see it!

Life is full of far deeper mysteries, however. Take the mystery of  traffic: regardless of whatever lane I take, I guarantee it will become the slowest. Then there’s the mystery of the open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Now I ask you: when was the last time you dropped yours on the tiled floor instead of the carpet? There’s an awful “mysterious truth” programmed into that open faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich: the more expensive the carpet, the more likely it will fall…face down! Yes, it’s a mystery!

God is a mystery. God as revealed in Scripture and worshiped by Christians is infinitely mysterious. What I mean is it’s impossible for any of us to fully figure out God. That’s due to our own limitations. These restrictions are placed upon us both by our own limited minds and by God, who has chosen to limit what we can know. What if God wants to remain a mystery? Because God is in charge, we could not know any God who chose not to be known. But since the Bible tells us that God DOES want to be known, then it’s up to God to leave enough information for us to know God.

I. But…Many of the mysterious ways of God are impossible to understand.

A. In today’s world defined by terror, where is God?

B.        In a world defined by personal tragedy, where is God?

Take for example:

1.     Your diagnosis returns a verdict: the tumor is malignant. Your future is suddenly uncertain.

2.     The baby you've prayed for finally arrives, but your joy blemished. That tiny infant, your helpless baby, bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh, is disfigured, diseased.

3.     Your son informs you he's addicted to drugs and sex and he’s HIV positive.

   C. Where is God at times like these? This is when you really need God (not Sundays and holidays: real days…days of tragedy, days of loss, days of terror). Where’s God?

That’s why…

II.  We want to package God in a neat Box: a “god” we can understand and explain. 

A.     God, the Santa Claus: Ho, ho, ho! Have you been a good little boy or girl? If so I will give you great gifts. If not, you get coal!

B.     God, the Dictator: “Heil God”; we hope he is benevolent but we’re never quite sure.

C.     God, the Grinch: The Grinch hated people, both in and out of season! Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

D.    God, the Absentee Landlord: In the beginning, God started it all, but soon lost interest. Now God is uninvolved and uninterested in us, his creation.

III. God often doesn't fit our boxes nor our expectations.

A. Pride causes us to say "We deserve to know God as clearly as we know ourselves”.

B.  But what we say or teach about God barely begins to encircle the greatness of God's being.

C.  We stand at the edge of comprehension.

It’s a Mystery! So let me suggest that…

IV. Knowing God is a process, not a destination.
i learned about bodies of water through the gradual growth of discovery. As a child, I grew up on a ranch with a lake out in front of the house, which we  not very creatively  called "Home lake". As a 5 year old, that half acre of water seemed enormous. It shaped my entire 5 year old world!  Then, as I became a little older and more aware of my surroundings, I discovered the mighty Columbia river. This body of water was gigantic! It seemed to me that all my days of discovery were fulfilled by gazing at the Columbia. And in fact, that was enough...until I first saw the Pacific ocean. Wow! The Pacific was humongous! From a small lake, to a mighty river and finally to the biggest ocean  my understanding of H2O processed and gradually grew to where today, I understand that I will never be able to fully grasp the mystery of the majesty of water. 

How much less likely am I to fully comprehend and appreciate the majesty and power of God. Will I ever arrive at a place where I can say, "YES! Now I fully grasp God!"? Not in this life, I won't!

Paul described the journey with God this way…Paul’s Doxology about the mysteries of God: Romans 11:33-36,

33      Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
 How unsearchable his judgments,
  and his paths beyond tracing out! (a Mystery)34“Who has known the mind of the Lord? (It’s mysterious)
 Or who has been his counselor?”
35      “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”
36      For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever! Amen.

These verses record Paul's conclusion in Romans 8-11 to his grand discussion of God’s total control over everything. And yet, Paul explains here that despite God’s total control, we humans are still responsible for the choices we make. Now THAT’S a HUGE Mystery!  How can God be in total control, yet allow us freedom of choice and at the same time hold us accountable for our decisions?! It’s a mystery! Paul probes these mysteries as far as he can go. Then, rather than just guessing beyond the revelation that God had already given to him, Paul can do nothing less than fall down in astonished worship. Paul, here, uses the language of Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:11.

(Both these Scriptures also refer to God’s sovereignty, God’s complete command in and over all creation).

Compare these Scriptures from Romans, Isaiah, and Job 

(Isaiah 40:13)
Who is able to advise the Spirit of the LORD?
Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him?

(Job 41:11)
Who has given me anything that I need to pay back?
Everything under heaven is mine.


This kind of doxology was common to the writers of some heavily Greek-influenced Jewish documents. The technical term for this influence is called Hellenistic Judaism. In this doxology, Paul praises God’s wisdom in designing history so that salvation would be available not just to Jewish people, but to every ethnic group of the world.

Some people believe Paul’s words in Romans 11:36 reflect Stoic Philosophy. The most popular form of Greek philosophy in Paul’s day was the Stoic philosophers. Stoics believed that God controlled all things and that all mysteries would ultimately be resolved in some way as they got poured back into God. Although most people were not Stoics, many Stoic ideas were widely believed. Just like in modern culture, most people are not atheists, but many atheistic ideas are widely held.

But in this context Paul’s words in Romans 11:36, For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen, mean instead what Jewish people normally meant by such words. And that is this: God is the source and director of human history, and all things—yes, even the evil choices of sinful humans or the tragedies that slam us to the ground — all these things…in fact, EVERYthing that EVER happens will in the end bring praise to God, demonstrating the rightness of God’s designs for this universe. That IS, after all, partly the “job description” of God: bringing ultimate good from the ashes of evil.

Friends, tragedies are part of the mystery both of our life and also of how we understand God’s character. How could a God who loves us allow bad things to happen to us?   In our heads Christians know God is in control. But what should be our response when disaster strikes?

Here are three differing responses. All are modeled by well known people in the Bible. All three responses are represented by people worshiping this morning beside you, in front and behind you. But don’t look around at others; instead, see if you recognize yourself in one of these responses.

V.  So… What are these Faith Responses When Disaster Strikes?

Response 1 to tragedy
Some of you feel very little faith impact when a tragedy wallops you. Those of you who can relate to response one show great love and compassion for the others of us who suffer. And that’s true, even while you remain strong in the midst of your own suffering. Your faith in God is awesome and remarkable, especially to the rest of us! You find solid answers for yourselves and others. Perhaps those of you here this morning of whom this is true, can walk among our community of faith and share your love and encouragement with those of us who can’t quite put it all together as well as you have done it.

Biblical Example, Job: “…the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!” (EXPLAIN)

Response 2 to tragedy
When disaster strikes others of you, you feel your faith impacted, but not fatally. Many of you face daily struggles for survival. Your faith has been forged in the struggles just to survive daily life. Those of you in Response 2 ask all the “why” questions without necessarily receiving firm answers. At the same time, you continue to receive comfort and encouragement from the Scriptures, prayer, and fellowship with other believers. You eventually come to see God’s Hand of blessing woven into the tragedies you face. And when asking “why, God”,  you confidently point to the reality of evil, the power and freedom of human choice, your own limited abilities to understand all that God is doing, and the necessity to continue relying upon God. You, in response two, weave the tragedies of your life into your faith journey. By God’s Love and Grace, you believe you will be better for it, since God uses all things to work together for the good of those who love Him, according to Romans 8:28.
28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Biblical Example, Esther: Her Jewish heritage was hidden from her husband the king. Her Jewish nation was under a threat of death by a decree of the king her husband.

Esther faces a crisis of faith; will she stand with her people, revealing her Jewish-ness? Or will she remain hidden at home and thereby, she hopes, remaining safe?

What does she do?

1.     She goes to her Community of faith for support and help (God reveals His plans and God’s very nature more often through community than in isolation)

2.     The Community cares for her, praying and fasting 3 days.

(As a Church we need to be prepared to sacrificially CARE for our Community)

3.     Esther resolves that for good or ill, both God and she will do what is best and what is right. She concludes by saying: “…and if I perish, I perish”. And Esther does what God called her to do; she does what is right! # 2: faith impacted, but not fatally.

Response 3 to tragedy
But some of you find your faith growing weaker due to tragedies and troubles. Your faith becomes marginalized. You find yourselves unable to maintain both the yearnings of your head and heart when tragedies overwhelm you. Your faith seemed adequate when your life was running so smoothly and everything was right on the right track. As you prospered with little opposition, many of you put your faith in a “feel good” god, a god that blessed your pursuits but made very few demands. God became a beautiful building to visit, a deity to satisfy before requesting a safe and speedy journey on the highway. God was someone to think about at religious holidays. To you, the “god” you worshiped became a loving permissive grandpa in the clouds, with long white hair, a fluffy beard, and an exquisite robe with golden sash. Do some of you remember that for a while we experienced this strange wonderful time of technological “dot.com” pro prosperity Wouldn't God always bless us with more good stuff? God had already given us the 15 ringgit low-fat, decaf, acid-free, double latte cappuccino extra hot, extra foam, and room for cream and sugar cup of coffee. God had already blessed us with the forty thousand dollar all leather, fully-loaded, mahogany dash, extra jump seat, sunroof, all-power SUV urban assault vehicle. God blessed our children with computers, I-phones, and techno-toys for both big and small boys, and games, and fun, and our own techno-virtual reality. God let us reverse aging and cheat death through plastic surgery, exercise, creams, and magic moisturizers. We planned to live fast and grow old while looking young.  Then you get the news. That SUV you adored? It was filled with the people you deeply loved. But it plunged over the side of a cliff. All were lost. You reach out for answers and for comfort from the “god” you have faithfully worshiped and discover your “god” is gone. For your god was the SUV and all the trappings in life it represented.

People who respond like this (in response three) worship the blessings of God instead of the God of blessings. You have substituted creation for the Creator. So when tragedy strikes you, it is the heart and substance of your very God that is destroyed.

We are so much like the Biblical Example of Elijah. Remember what happened to him? Following his “mountain-top” experience on Mt. Carmel where he destroyed the prophets of Baal, Elijah immediately ran for his life to a solitary (and he thought) safe cave when pursued by that woman, Jezebel. He cried out to God in 1 Kings 19:10, “I have zealously served the LORD God Almighty. But the people of Israel have … killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

Elijah trusted God for a mountain top victory. But in the cave he became a frightened little man.

Many of us respond to tragedy like Elijah. We know all too well what its like to feel alone and lonely. At times, we may even feel abandoned by God and the Community of Faith, the Church. We have locked ourselves away in a cave where we hope to stay safe. But God has a message for us, the same one God gave to Elijah in verse 11: “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the LORD told him. In other words, God said to Elijah (and God says to us: Turn around. Leave that cave. Face your pain. That is lesson number 1: Only when you face your pain can God deal with it; help you face it; and heal your hurts.

And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by… And …there was the sound of a gentle whisper. Let me read the account for u from 1 Kings 19:11-13:

11“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the LORD told him. And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.

 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.  And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?

It was then that God sent Elisha to help and strengthen Elijah’s faith. Why did the great prophet of God need a helper? Because of lesson number 2: we are not designed to face tragedy alone. We all need the Community of Faith.

Friends, it’s in our times of need that we want to better understand God. We all want to unwrap that mystery of God and get to know God better. This morning, God is asking you who feel abandoned in your time of desperate need, in that still quiet voice, not WHAT are you doing HERE?!!  Rather, God is asking, “What are you doing here?” In other words, what are you doing about your relationship with God? Are you stuck in despair? Or are you seeking a connectedness to the Creator? Are you willing to reach out, to receive help and support from the Community of Believers here at The Bridge Church? And are you willing to care for this Community?

William Phelps taught English literature at Yale university in the USA for forty-one years until his retirement in 1933. Marking an examination paper shortly before Christmas one year, Phelps came across the note: “God only knows the answer to this question. Merry Christmas.” Phelps returned the paper with this note: “God gets an A. You get an F. Happy New Year.”

God alone knows all the answers. And God is indeed a great mystery. Life is a mystery. However, being open to Mystery is one of the greatest joys and challenges for spiritual sojourners. Mystery is the key ingredient for hope! Many of us would agree with Harry Emerson Fosdick, "I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it."

Patricia St. John poured out her life ministering to people in the neediest places on our planet. She was in what has become South Sudan when war refugees flooded that country. They had suffered terribly and had lost everything, yet those among them who were Christians still gave thanks to God.

Patricia said that she stood one night in a crowded little Sudanese church listening to those uprooted believers singing joyfully. Suddenly a life-changing insight burned its way into her mind. “We would have changed their circumstances,” she said, “but we would not have changed them.” In her own words she stated, God “does not always lift people out of the situation. He Himself comes into the situation. . . He does not pluck them out of the darkness. He becomes the light in the darkness.

Parnell Bailey shares an illustration which I think explains why God allows us to experience the mystery of troubles in our lives. Parnell visited an orange grove where an irrigation pump had broken down. The season was unusually dry and some of the trees were beginning to die for lack of water. The man giving the tour then took Bailey to his own orchard where irrigation was used sparingly. “These trees could go without rain for another 2 weeks,” he said. “You see, when they were young, I frequently kept water from them. This hardship caused them to send their roots deeper into the soil in search of moisture. Now mine are the deepest-rooted trees in the area. While others are being scorched by the sun, these are finding moisture at a greater depth.

None of us wants to live shallow lives. We want to be deep people. We all seek a deep faith, which is why we are all here this morning. But are we prepared to pay the price for the depth of our desires? The price is simply this: surrender. Surrender to the fact that we are limited in our abilities to comprehend God. God remains a mystery. Surrender to God’s plans and purposes for your life, both the good and those we perceive as tragic. Tragedies drive our roots deep into the soil of God’s Word and the Community of faith, the Church. Surrender this morning to whatever circumstance the rest of 2013 may bring to us, to deepen our roots and our dependence upon God.

Consider the depth of Annie Johnson Flint, author of 6,000 hymns and gospel songs. Annie was an orphan. She lived with crippling arthritis. She was stricken with cancer. Yet her faith was especially evident as she lay flat on her back, bedridden in never ending pain with a washboard strapped over her head so she could write words like these:

He giveth more grace as the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials His multiplied peace.


 
 
Question:
Hi Dave, I would be curious to hear where in Revelation the new Jerusalem is identified as all the believers. I have been doing a Precepts study of Revelation over the last two years, finished the 3rd of a 4 part series which will be completed next year.....and we have been interpreting the new Jerusalem as a literal city. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Answer:
Hi Sherie! Here is my response. it comes from Revelation 21:9-10. This reads as follows:

Then one of the seven angels who held the seven bowls containing the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come with me! I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”  So he took me in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.

If you look at 2 Corinthians 11:2 and Revelation 19:7 (to mention just two verses), the Church is equated with Christ's Bride and Christ is equated as the Bridegroom. Revelation 21 says the New Jerusalem which comes down out of Heaven is  Christ's Bride. In typical Revelation lnaguage, the Bride of Christ (the Church) is enormous, demonstrating that far more people make it into the Kingdom of Heaven that most conservative Christians believe! I hope this helps clarify why one enormous city has only one streest with a river flowing down the middle of it (and you thought YOUR city had traffic issues!). It is all symbolic, as was intended. Thus, the question 21st Century Bible students should still ask is "What did this passage mean to the original hearers". What it means to us today CAN NOT be determines if we do not understand correctly what Jesus intended the original hearers to understand.



 
 
QUESTION:
I was a little confused and uncomfortable when you said there is no heaven up there but a new earth in your sermon last Sunday.

RESPONSE:
Good Morning!
Thanks for the clarifying question about where we spend eternity.

Regarding eternity, I suggest Revelation 21. In this passage, the all believers of all the ages (including the church) are symbolically referred to as the New Jerusalem (other passages in Revelation identify the New Jerusalem as all the Believers). Notice, they are coming down OUT OF heaven, to their new permanent dwelling place: the new earth. This appears to be the final destination of God for His people: the new earth.

In fact, I do believe that when we now die, we go to be with God in heaven. But one day, God will complete the work he began in Genesis, returning us to the Garden (the New Earth).  It is interesting to note that in Genesis 1, the 7th day never ended, unlike day 1-6. This leads some Biblical Scholars to conclude that we are still in the 7th day of God's creation; it will not be complete until we are completely restored and returned to the Garden.

The only major significance in understanding this passage for me is this: when I come to explaining to pre-christians about spending eternity with God, they get a better feel of why this is going to be so grand if I tell them to picture a new earth with no devastating quakes, storms or people running around sinning and destroying all of God's creation. Imagine a perfect earth. THAT"S our eternal destination. Too often, when people think of Heaven, they think of clouds and harp music. In reality, the ONLY thing we know about heaven is that it is the place where God dwells. (Also, in reality, because God is everywhere present, God will also dwell in the New Earth).

I hope this clarifies my comments on Sunday. Sometime next year I will preach a series from Revelation. I will address the issue in more detail from the pulpit then.


Thanks for the question!
 
 
Alcohol…Question # 3 (11/17/09)
Atheism, Intelligent Atheist…(9/12/09)

Bible’s Accuracy: Does John 8’s story of the Adulterous Woman belong in the Bible?...(3/13/10)
Birth Control…Question # 16 (12/23/09)
Christmas Around The World Quiz…12/23/09)
Christmas, The Real Meaning…Observation # 5 (12/14/09)

Church And Politics…1/25/10Church – What Kind Of Church Throws Birthday Parties For Prostitutes?... (1/5/10)
Cleansing The Temple: How Many Times And What Does It Mean?...(3/15/10)
Creation Views…Question # 11 (12/11/09)
Cultural Title: Immanuel…Question # 1 (11/04/09)

Death: How could a loving God allow us to die? …(4/3/10)
Death and Prayer…(3/11/10)
Disagreements; How to Make Them Evaporate…(1/4/09)

Disasters: How Do We Respond To Them?...2/3/10
Doubt, Dealing With Times God Doesn’t Make Sense…Observation # 6 (12/23/09)

Doubts About Death: How Can I Know What Happens To Me After I Die?...1/30/10
Festival Celebrations, Old Testament…Question # 8 (12/04/09)
Forgiveness: Going Beyond Forgiveness To Restoration… (1/5/09)
Forgiveness: How do I do it?…Question # 15…(12/17/09)
God: All Knowing and Wise? Really?...(1/11/10)

God: Ever-Present…so what!...(2/5/10)
God: Why Am I Scared Of The Creator?...(2/13/10)
God: Why Do Some People Choke On Faith?...(2/20/10)
Guilt, How To Deal With It…Question #16 (1/1/10)
Islam, Differences…Question # 10 (12/09/09

Jesus’ Genealogies: Why are there Some Inconsistent Details? (2/24/10)
Jesus Is Both God And Human? So What? John 1:1-18…(2/16/10)
Life, Accountability…Question # 4 (11/17/09)
Manhattan Declaration…Question # 7 (11/28/09)
Mary, The Mother Of Jesus…Observation 3 (12/12/09)
Masturbation…Question # 9 (12/08/09)

Money, The Church, And Changing The World (2/9/10)
“Naked Gospel” Critique…Observation # 1 (10/08/09)

Prayers: Why Do Some Seem Unheard?...(3/26/10)
Reincarnation…Question # 2 (11/10/09)

Sin is Civil War Against God…(2/12/10)
Stealing’s Causes: Economic Injustice And Brokenness …(3/19/10)
Stress: How To Thrive Under It…(2/6/10)
Tattoos…Question # 17 (1/2/10)

Timing: Why does God’s Timing Seem So Slow To Me?...(2/19/10)
Tithing…Question # 6 (11/28/09)
Wit…Observation # 2 (11/21/09)
Women in Church Leadership…(9/28/09)
Worldviews…Question # 14 (12/14/09)

Worship That is Real And Acceptable To God…1/29/10
 
 
  The Tragedy Of Death: Why we die
How could a loving God allow us to die?  Isn’t God supposedly in control of all things? If so, I want to know why part of God’s “Blessed Plan” includes my death!  How can God claim to love us while God permit our death?

                                Our personal responsibility in our own deaths 
The Bible doesn’t side-step this life-and-death issue. Rather, from the beginning of the Book, it provides clear responses to questions about death. First off, the Bible makes it clear that death was not part of God’s original plan. Genesis 1-3 tells of God’s purpose in providing a rich and lushly abundant environment where God’s creation, including people, could have a blast while finding eternal fulfillment. There, in the Garden, death held no claim. Eden was a place of abundant life! All people had to do was choose to live.

But as all good parents will tell you, so long as you make all the choices for your children, never providing them the opportunity to grow by making decisions for themselves, there is no growth. Unless your children have an opportunity to choose good over evil, there is no choice. For God to be loving, God had to provide us free will to make a personal choice. Why? Because for love to be personal, it must be a choice we make. That’s why we read in Genesis 2:16-17:

16But the LORD God warned…“You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden 17—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”                              

Wisely, God’s plan for creation included the freedom to choose love, demonstrated by appreciative obedience. But people chose to ignore God and listen to evil (has anything really changed much down through humanity’s sad history?)

                                God’s reason for allowing death
The decision, then, to die, was in a real sense our own decision. People were the ones who said God didn’t know what the heck He was talking about! We wanted to know as much (maybe more) than God. So we reached out, took a bite of the fruit, and died. Now what was God supposed to do? Look at the crisis facing God (as recorded in Genesis 3:22-24):

22Then the LORD God said, “Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat it? Then they will live forever!”  23So the LORD God banished them from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made.  24After sending them out, the LORD God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And he placed a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. 

Yes, God could have intervened and allowed us to eat from the tree of life, thus living forever in a fallen condition. But precisely because we were now fallen, that’s the reason a loving God could not opt for such a scenario. We were never designed to understand evil. Why? Because unfortunately, people  tend to embrace the evil they understand over the good humanity desires. The moment the juice from the forbidden fruit trickled down our throats, we partly became the evil we desired to know. Suddenly, instead of humanity embracing an amazing future with nothing but good ahead, we embraced the ability for great good and great evil, at the same time. The decision was suddenly ours. But our ability to embrace evil destroyed our ability to consistently embrace good. This is what the Bible calls “sin”, a falling short of God’s target ideals for humanity.

So what was God to do? Sure, there was still plenty of goodness in God’s creation. Of course there was great beauty in the world. But now there was unacceptable ugliness too. Could a loving God allow the pinnacle of creation to live forever in a damaged world with broken bodies, disease, unbridled anger, jealousy and murderous intents? Could a God who loves us also allow us to live forever reincarnated back into a hell-hole of war and violence, evil ambition and fear?

                                God’s plan to eliminate death
So God embarked on a plan to rescue the entire universe. Through coming to earth and paying the price, God would redeem fallen humanity. When Jesus died, He invited us to trust His death to pay the price for our place in a restored creation. This new world provides the perfect environment, freed from destruction, violence and evil. This pristine world will embrace the Nations and provide them safe harbor; the world will recover from sickness. We will be restored to our dignity at the apex of creation.  Revelation 22:2, 14 describes the scene for us:

2(The river) flowed down the center of the main street (of the New Jerusalem – Christ’s Body – the Church). On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations…14Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life. 

God bookmarks our story, the history of humanity recorded in the Bible, with the tree of life. First in Genesis, the tree is removed to safeguard us from an eternity of never-ending evil. Then in the last book of the Bible, we are provided this tree’s life-giving fruit. This assures us of a never-ending future in a place so amazing that we can’t even begin to fathom what it will be like. That is how God’s plan demonstrates God’s love for humanity.

This Easter weekend, as you worship at the beach, maybe you ought to spend time worshiping with others in a House dedicated to that purpose, thanking God for such incredible love. That love is seen most clearly at the cross of Jesus Christ, the one who paid the price for us to live forever in a place redeemed from all brokenness.
 
 
Alcohol…Question # 3 (11/17/09)
Atheism, Intelligent Atheist…(9/12/09)

Bible’s Accuracy: Does John 8’s story of the Adulterous Woman belong in the Bible?...(3/13/10)
Birth Control…Question # 16 (12/23/09)
Christmas Around The World Quiz…12/23/09)
Christmas, The Real Meaning…Observation # 5 (12/14/09)

Church And Politics…1/25/10Church – What Kind Of Church Throws Birthday Parties For Prostitutes?... (1/5/10)
Cleansing The Temple: How Many Times And What Does It Mean?...(3/15/10)
Creation Views…Question # 11 (12/11/09)
Cultural Title: Immanuel…Question # 1 (11/04/09)

Death and Prayer…(3/11/10)
Disagreements; How to Make Them Evaporate…(1/4/09)
Disasters: How Do We Respond To Them?...2/3/10
Doubt, Dealing With Times God Doesn’t Make Sense…Observation # 6 (12/23/09)

Doubts About Death: How Can I Know What Happens To Me After I Die?...1/30/10
Festival Celebrations, Old Testament…Question # 8 (12/04/09)
Forgiveness: Going Beyond Forgiveness To Restoration… (1/5/09)
Forgiveness: How do I do it?…Question # 15…(12/17/09)
God: All Knowing and Wise? Really?...(1/11/10)

God: Ever-Present…so what!...(2/5/10)
God: Why Am I Scared Of The Creator?...(2/13/10)
God: Why Do Some People Choke On Faith?...(2/20/10)
Guilt, How To Deal With It…Question #16 (1/1/10)
Islam, Differences…Question # 10 (12/09/09

Jesus’ Genealogies: Why are there Some Inconsistent Details? (2/24/10)
Jesus Is Both God And Human? So What? John 1:1-18…(2/16/10)
Life, Accountability…Question # 4 (11/17/09)
Manhattan Declaration…Question # 7 (11/28/09)
Mary, The Mother Of Jesus…Observation 3 (12/12/09)
Masturbation…Question # 9 (12/08/09)

Money, The Church, And Changing The World (2/9/10)
“Naked Gospel” Critique…Observation # 1 (10/08/09)

Prayers: Why Do Some Seem Unheard?...(3/26/10)Reincarnation…Question # 2 (11/10/09)
Sin is Civil War Against God…(2/12/10)
Stealing’s Causes: Economic Injustice And Brokenness …(3/19/10)
Stress: How To Thrive Under It…(2/6/10)
Tattoos…Question # 17 (1/2/10)

Timing: Why does God’s Timing Seem So Slow To Me?...(2/19/10)
Tithing…Question # 6 (11/28/09)
Wit…Observation # 2 (11/21/09)
Women in Church Leadership…(9/28/09)
Worldviews…Question # 14 (12/14/09)

Worship That is Real And Acceptable To God…1/29/10
 
 
Psalm 34:15-16 says:
The eyes of the LORD watch over those who do right;
his ears are open to their cries for help.
But the LORD turns his face against those who do evil;
he will erase their memory from the earth.

It should come as no surprise that the way I live my life impacts my prayers. The first half of the verse above promises God hears and helps based partially at least upon my past life choices. The second half reinforces that evil choices results in a lack of God’s responsiveness. In fact, theirs bad news for evilly lived lives – God not only won’t listen to their prayers, God will destroy even the memory of evil people. Maybe the following prayer should be our prayer as well:

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.


Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst for the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim. Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.


We ask You to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love. Amen


- Sir Francis Drake -1577

What is YOUR response?
 
 
Recently at Union Church, five smooth operators rang the front bell and entered the secure Church grounds (a sad sign of the times that we need security at a Church). Their pretext? They wanted more information so they could “join us” at one of our four different Worship Services. The reality? They executed a well rehearsed plan: two of them kept two of our University students occupied while they taking their lunch break out in the sunny courtyard. Two other accomplices entered the library areas where the students had been studying and stole a brand new Macintosh laptop computer. One cased the Sanctuary, seeking treasure from heaven. They re-gathered in the courtyard where they coolly thanked everyone for their “help” and walked then out.

The entire disgusting event was recorded on several of our closed circuit security cams (another sad sign of our times). Here’s what made the theft especially devastating for one of the students: he had just borrowed the computer for the day from a friend, promising to take excellent care of it. The theft left ripples of pain and brokenness, not the least of which I noted to the victims – when you come to a place devoted to worshipping God, shouldn’t there be an expectation of safety and security?

What cause someone to become a thief? What could possibly allow me to justify taking another’s property and claiming it as my own? I believe there are two things broken here, either of which - or both of which - can cause another to justify these actions. One is a broken economic system, allowing some to have so much while others nearby have near to nothing. The second is a person who is so broken, they feel they “deserve” what others possess. 

Marx and Nietzsche taught that economic systems needed socializing in order to protect the poor and to redistribute wealth. To them, this “taking from the rich and giving to the poor” structure provided justice. Of course, neither man lived consistently with his beliefs. They imposed their ideas on the bourgeois elite whom they called “exploitive”. But they, themselves, lived comparatively comfortable lives.

My mother was raised in a socialist commune in Llano just outside of Los Angeles, California back in the 1920’s. Grandpa sunk his entire and considerable life savings into this commune. He believed firmly in the justice of his socialistic cause. As an architect, he designed and built all the numerous structures for the small community. But most of the leadership were more interested in a “good time” on weekends when they traveled into the big city, LA, than they were in furthering their socialistic philosophy.

Jesus’ censured a similar group, the Pharisees, who exploited the poor and spiritually poor in Christ’s day. Jesus warned his followers, “…they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show”. (Matthew 23:4-4)

Some claim the Bible clearly teaches socialism. In fact, the Bible clearly teaches we are too broken for socialism to ever work. The socialistic system, whatever merits it may possess outwardly, could never work because those who purport it are unable or unwilling to live up to its demands.

In 1 Samuel 2:7 it says,
The LORD makes some poor and others rich;
    he brings some down and lifts others up.

This means that socialism is not God’s current plan for humanity. Some have plenty, some less. Jesus said in Mark 14:7 that we could help the ever-present poor anytime we want (indicating that those who have are responsible to help those who have not). It is a Christian’s purpose to bless others. Why? Because God has blessed us. Christians sacrificially give to others as a way to express our love for God, who sacrificed His very life for us.

So what is God’s response when I want something and I cannot obtain it except through theft?

Hebrews 13:5
5Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said,
    “I will never fail you.
    I will never abandon you.”

This means that God says you shouldn’t long for “stuff”. Our longing should be satisfied by God. Those who long for “more stuff” are never ever satisfied because as the old saying goes: “How much more money does it take to be satisfied? Always one more dollar”.

Psalm 37:7, 16
Be still in the presence of the LORD,
    and wait patiently for him to act.
    Don’t worry about evil people who prosper
    or fret about their wicked schemes…
 It is better to be godly and have little
    than to be evil and rich.

This verse means that if you wait patiently for God to meet your needs, focus on what God has already given to you,  and quit focusing on what you do not have, you will find the very quality you thought would be yours due to more money. That quality is contentment!

Proverbs 23:4-5
Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich.
    Be wise enough to know when to quit.
                   in the blink of an eye wealth disappears,
    for it will sprout wings
    and fly away like an eagle.

This verse teaches us that wealth is not what satisfies. God may give it to you (as Hebrews 13:5 teaches). But the decision is always God’s not ours. For every Christian whom God can trust with wealth, there are 10 whom God know will be ruined by wealth.

Economic systems, be they capitalistic or socialistic or any other “istic” are all broken. Why? Because we are all broken. The solution to poverty is generosity, not socialism. The key to creating generous people is Jesus Christ. Those who are truly followers of His will always be generous to others.
 
 
Question:
How many times does Jesus “Cleanse the Temple, overturning tables and chasing out moneychangers? And what does it all mean? How do we apply this to Church today?

Response:
I will begin my answer by placing the question in one of its Scriptural contexts:
Luke 19                                                                                
28After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples…36Then the crowds spread out their coats on the road ahead of Jesus. 37As they reached the place where the road started down from the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.
38   “Bless the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
      Peace in heaven
          and glory in highest heaven!”
39But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”
40He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”
41But as they came closer to Jerusalem and Jesus saw the city ahead, he began to cry. 42“I wish that even today you would find the way of peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from you. 43Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you. 44They will crush you to the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you have rejected the opportunity God offered you.”
45Then Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the merchants from their stalls. 46He told them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a place of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

Today we welcome Him with palm fronds. Next week we crucify Him with drawn swords. Today we applaud and cheer. Next week we will jeer and arrest Him. For now, He is the King of the World! Soon, however the thorns will crown Him King of Golgotha. For now, His disciples can’t get close enough to Him. They fight over who has earned the right and the left positions of honor. Within the week, however, this legendary teacher will stand alone, with plenty of room on both His right and His left. For these faithful followers will have all left.

Jesus enters into Jerusalem riding a colt as did his ancestor, King David. He is making a clear statement and He is making His stand. He is plainly proclaiming he is as was David before Him, Israel’s king. But will these crowds (who sing His praises today) accept His kingly rule tomorrow? Today the loud Hosannas fly! This expression taken from Psalm 118:25-26, means “Please, LORD, please save us. Please, LORD, please give us success.” Today they promise eternal allegiance to Jesus by saying, “Bless the one who comes in the name of the LORD!”

But there’s a problem with crowds. Everyone is caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment. No one has thoughtfully considered what in the world are they really doing, nor the price they might have to eventually pay. The crowds are indeed following a “kind of Jesus”. But unfortunately, it is not the “Jesus of the Bible”. And even though this mass was hysterically shouting His adoration, these same people would be calling for His crucifixion in just a few days. The crowd who now adored Him would soon shout “Crucify Him!”

Do you wonder who was in the crowd? Who were these people? Max Lucado suggests, “They were just regular people. Regular folks like you and me with bills to pay and kids to raise and jobs to do. Individually they never would have turned on Jesus, but collectively (they’ll end up wanting) to kill him…They suffered from mob blindness. They blocked each other’s vision of Jesus.[1]

Lucado hits the target point blank. “Mob blindness” allows the crowd to see whom they want, not the Jesus who is.

What “Jesus” are you following? What “version” of Jesus is playing on your life’s screen today? Do you “blindly” pursue a vision or version of the Savior unrecognizable in the Scriptures? Are you counting on the Church to provide you the “Authorized View”, the perfect portrait of the Lord Christ? Well if your understanding of Jesus rests solely on Church teaching but with no personal experience, then you should take warning from the mistakes made by the religious leaders in Jesus day.

In Luke 19: 39-40 The Pharisees (the “Church leaders of Jesus’ day) said regarding the crowds’ praises, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!” He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

Here, Jesus laughs at their assertion that the public praise is undeserved. He admonishes the religious leadership, saying if people are silent, all creation will rock on! Matthew reminds us this, too, had been predicted in Psalm 118: “The stone rejected by the builders has now become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’S doing, and it is marvelous to see.” (Psalm 118:22-23).

Here, Jesus claims He is that “rejected stone”, rejected by the builders…Let’s see now; who were the ‘builders’? The religious leadership! You see, being “religious” and being in “Leadership” does not automatically make you right! It was these very “builders”, the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the other leaders of the people” (Luke 19:47) who convinced the crowd to turn on Jesus.

Lucado once again notes, “The religious leaders (turned on Jesus). Not surprising. Disappointing, though. They are the spiritual leaders of the nation. Men entrusted with the dispensing of goodness. Role models for the children. The pastors and Bible teachers of the community. “The leading priests and the whole Jewish council tried to find something false against Jesus so they could kill him.”3 Paint that passage black with injustice. Paint the arrest green with jealousy. Paint that scene red with innocent blood. [2]

 As a result of following their leaders, the Lord wept over Jerusalem, and was forced to prophesy its coming judgment, saying, “I wish that even today you would find the way of peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from you.

43Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you. 44They will crush you to the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you have rejected the opportunity God offered you.”(Luke 19:42-44).

Tragically, this was fulfilled in graphic detail in AD 70 when the Roman General, Titus, burned the city and destroyed every stone of that Temple.

Again I repeat, if your understanding of Jesus rests solely upon Church teaching but contains no personal experience, you should be afraid, very afraid. Align your personal experience and the Church’s teaching, both with Biblical support. The Bible and the Bible alone is the sole authority in matters of faith and how we practice our faith, correcting both Church teaching and personal experience. If you are not a biblical Christian you are no Christian at all. If the “Jesus” you follow isn’t the Jesus of the Bible, He is no “Jesus” at all.

You, see, the Jesus of the Bible, immediately following the Triumphant Entry went directly into the Temple for a QUICK “LOOK AROUND”. Mark 11:11 tells us, So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. He looked around carefully at everything, and then he left because it was late in the afternoon.

The very next morning Jesus returns to Temple Mount. And the crowds, who once adored Him, began to abhor Him.

Then Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the merchants from their stalls. He told them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a place of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” (Luke 19:45-46)

Someone wisely noted that the crowd, hailing Him yesterday, would begin hating Him today. Their “triumphantly processing Jesus” disintegrated right before their eyes. The real Jesus, the One clearing the Temple terrified them.

Twice in His three year public ministry Jesus clears the Temple. John 2 records the first occurrence; the other Gospels record this cleansing during His final week. Jesus literally bookmarks His ministry with a passion for the place of worship.

If worship is this important to God, the Son, how dare we relegate it to secondary importance, squeezing it in if nothing else comes up. People will arrive on time for golf and the theater. But are we so passionate about God?

My Temple will be a place of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves, Jesus exclaims! His allusion is to those dens and caves located just outside Jerusalem where robbers hid themselves while waiting to steal from the innocent.

A House of Prayer for All Nations, says the parallel passage in Mark 11:17.  Jesus, not being a Levite, could only enter into the outer courts of the temple area. Notice the diagram on the PowerPoint. The religious leaders backed the sin in the Temple Courts.

First, the money-changers.
Money-changers provided a useful service. Jewish people from other parts of the empire or even from different towns in Galilee would have local currencies that needed to be converted to some standard for use in the Temple. Money-changers exchanged it for their own, much they do at International Airports all over the world today. This, in and of itself, is not evil. 

Next, the merchants.
Merchants, too, provided a useful service. One was not to bring sacrifices from long distances but to follow the more convenient prescription of Moses’ law: buy the sacrifices in Jerusalem. The provision of the merchants, in itself, was also not sin. So why did Jesus throw a Temple tantrum? Why the righteous indignation? Was the Temple receiving a “kickback” from the sellers and money-exchangers? Probably. Was it wrong for the stalls to locate entirely within the Temple Mount area, assuring Temple custodians a monopoly on the income? Absolutely! As one Pastor notes, “It’s not difficult to see what angered Jesus. Pilgrims journeyed days to see God, to witness the holy, to worship His Majesty. But before they were taken into the presence of God, they were taken to the cleaners. What was promised and what was delivered were two different things.…(In essence, Jesus is saying,) ‘You cash in on my people and you’ve got me to answer to.’” (Lucado)

The IVP Bible Background Commentary notes, however, “The issue is not whether there should have been moneychangers (or merchants); it is whether it was valid to turn much of the outer court into a place emphasizing commerce rather than worship. With hundreds of thousands of pilgrims at Passover, the merchants’ strip in the temple must have been quite large.”

Indeed it filled one particular court - the Court of the Gentiles. The only place where non-Jewish believers were allowed to worship within the Temple structure was entirely devoted to the marketplace. Their WAS no more room for the Gentiles. But in stark contrast, note what God had commanded concerning the Temple and Gentiles:

And my blessings are for Gentiles, too, when they commit themselves to the LORD. Do not let them think that I consider them second-class citizens... 6“I will also bless the Gentiles who commit themselves to the LORD and serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who have accepted his covenant. 7I will bring them also to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. (Isaiah 56:3, 6-7)

Jesus, God in the flesh, cannot remain silent in the face of such injustice. Risking the fury of the crowds, Jesus takes a stand. God takes a stands alone against blatant prejudice. He quotes Isaiah saying, My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations…ALL nations. Not just Jewish people, ALL people who are willing to turn from their sin and trust God to save them. ALL who will commit themselves to the LORD.

Jesus addresses the greatest sin of the Temple. It is the religious people’s ethno-centricity. When you believe your race or ethnic group or nation or family is superior to others, more acceptable to God, then God needs to overturn your tables and to cleanse your life.

Jesus says, My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. And the crowds turned on Him for it. Within the week even Jesus closest friends would turn on Him, betray Him and crucify Him. As Joan of Arc said when she was abandoned by those who should have stood by her, “It is better to be alone with God. God’s friendship will not fail me, nor God’s counsel, nor God’s love. In God’s strength I will dare and dare and dare until I die.”[3]

It’s time for each person who names Jesus as their Lord to ask: which “Jesus” am I following? Am I following the “Jesus” of the crowds, the One who makes me feel good but Who’s message I do not comprehend or appreciate? Or am I ready to take my stand, positioning myself against the crowd, shoulder to shoulder with Jesus, both of us filled with passion for our Father’s House, a House of Prayer for ALL nations?

Thomas a Kemps writes, “Jesus has many who love His Kingdom in Heaven but few who bear His Cross. Many follow Jesus to the Breaking of the Bread, but few to the drinking of the Cup of His Passion. They who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for the sake of comfort for themselves, bless Him in every trial and anguish of heart, no less than in the greatest joy.”

Today, I invite you to renew your stand. Stand with our Savior against injustice. Stand with the Lord against prejudicial ethnic preferences. Stand with Christ, bringing All Nations into this House of Prayer we call the Church.

[1]Lucado, M. 1992. And the angels were silent . Multnomah: Portland, Or.

3 Matthew 26:59.

[2]Lucado, M. 1992. And the angels were silent . Multnomah: Portland, Or.