Thursday

The Hidden Goodness of God

If God is good, how do we explain all the evil that happens to good people? How do I as a believer respond when my family, when godly people, are struck with unspeakable evil.

In the book of Job, we as readers get to peek behind the scenes of Job's torment, and we see what he does not: that it is Satan who does the work, and that he is inspired to do it by God's boasting of Job's righteousness. The book ends with the un-enlightened Job accusing God of the evil done to his family, and demanding an explanation for that evil. God's evasive answer is very enlightening.

God accepts the blame.

At no point in the book does Job learn that it was not God's hand that killed his family and destroyed his livelihood. God's answer can be boiled down to two arguments:

1) Job, you aren't big enough to understand, and

2) as a sovereign God, don't I have the right to take sovereign action?

It was only when Job understood those points that his fortunes were again reversed.

I conclude that I, like Job, am not big enough to understand all that goes on in the heavenlies. I know my Father is good. I know that He will bring something that His omniscience defines as "good" out of the tragedies that hit my life and the lives of the Cassie Bernals of the world. And I know that no matter what goes on, I can trust Him, even if I don't understand: justice will one day be done.

Oh yeah: I also know that when Satan steals from me and from mine, he owes me at least double for that theft. I don't need to stand there and suffer: my Daddy and I can fight back, and because we win when we fight, we can grab all the plunder I can carry from Satan's stinking, twisted fingers!!

God is good, but sometimes we have to apprehend that goodness by faith, not by our understanding.

Saturday

Whose Spy Are You?


Now [the 12 spies] departed and came back to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of
Israel in the Wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.
Then they told him, and said: “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.”


Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”


But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.”


-- Numbers 13

Twelve spies were sent to spy out the inheritance God had provided for them. Two returned with good news, ten feared the worst. I see this kind of division in our day.

It’s apparent: God is on the move; Aslan is on the prowl. He’s saying to his people something very like he said to Abram in the beginning: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” (Genesis 1:21)

God is clearly calling his people into action, and he’s saying very little so far about what he’s bringing us into. He’s clearly following the principle of Romans 14:23: “whatever is not from faith is sin.” If he were to tell us too much, we could not respond in faith. So he says, “Come to the land that I will show you. Eventually.”

One of the key principles for the day is that we must follow what he is saying now, not what he has already said. By way of illustration, we look at Abraham again: God gives him a son, then some time later he commands, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22) Had Mo held onto that word, a true word that God truly had spoken, Zack would have been a corpse on top of the mountain; but because Mo did listen, he saw the ram, the provision from God, and sacrificed the animal instead. Zack’s life depended on Moses listening for the “now word” of God.

Likewise, if we follow what God has said rather than what he is saying now, we will miss what he is doing now, and we will suffer great loss. Therefore one of the day’s key lessons is to learn to follow his still, small voice. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) It’s time for us to live up to those words.

It goes without saying that we listen to his voice; any other will lead us badly astray.

A second opportunity for growth comes this way: many believers are reporting that the season in which we live is an intense season; the pressure is heavy and is increasing, the pace is fast and picking up. The pressure is a temporary phenomenon, but the completion of the lesson is different than what many of us have experienced or hoped for. I believe that the season will end, not with the lifting of the pressure upon us, but with our growing to the point where the pressure is no longer a hindrance to us. It is we who will change, not our circumstances.

So our second lesson is about responding to difficulties. The lesson is about how we respond to pressure: do we respond with growth or with complaining? Do we notice what God is up to? Do we celebrate where we see his hand, where we hear his voice? Or do we notice the difficulties first? Do we fix our eyes on the obstacles in front of us? Do we notice the growing darkness more than we see the growing light?

If we recognize the darkness first, then whether we mean to or not, we are aligning ourselves with the ten spies that spoke out against what God was doing, who led the people in the rebellion that cost every last life in the community except Josh and Caleb.

Those ten had no expectation that they were condemning an entire people to death with their words; they believed that they were simply reporting the truth as they was it. But the truth that they saw, the spirit that empowered their words, brought three million people who believed them to an early grave.

The question is about what we speak about, what we meditate about; it’s about the words we use with each other. Jesus said, “… those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.” (Matthew 15:18) If our words are about darkness, then our lives will be defiled by the darkness about which we speak.

Does that mean we should bury our head in the sand and pretend that there is no evil? Come on, you’re smarter than that: of course not. We don’t pretend the evil is not present; we simply don’t give it our primary attention; we don’t talk about it, we don’t empower it.

When we measure the darkness, we fail the great test of our day. When we celebrate the Kingdom and it’s King, we pass the test, we overcome the darkness, we fulfill Jesus’ prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

So what are you reporting about?

Thursday

The Revival at the End of the Age?

Many people are declaring something along the lines of, "The greatest revival the world has ever seen is just ahead. The greatest miracles, the most wonderful wonder-working Church the world has ever seen is near." This is a wonderfully encouraging word.

The value of such a word, however, is determined not by how happy it makes us feel, but by the fruit it brings in the lives of those who hear it.

First, I need to clarify: I am neither denying or affirming that such a revival is coming. What I am doing is questioning the nature and the timing, and the results of these kinds of proclamations of it.

It is clear that the church has a consistent history of taking our strong wishes, presuming their truth, and building wonderful theologies of wishful thinking upon them. The above statement, and many more like it, was made more than half a century ago, and that might suggest that, at a minimum, his ideas of "just ahead" may not be the same as we normally mean by "just ahead.” The statement, while hopeful, has missed its mark.

It seems that every generation since the original Pentecost has believed that they were the final generation. So far, every single one of them has been proved wrong. Hope is a wonderful error, but it remains an error: hope built on an assumption is not hope built on God. Hope built on wishful thinking is a false hope, and false hope is my concern.

And this false hope has very serious consequences: the assumption that that we’re on the brink of a sovereign revival, then the human species tends to back off, to slow down in our part of the labor. It was a problem in the first century church (read 2 Thessalonians 3), and it remains to this day.

This complacency leads to (at least) two results:

1) Since the return of Christ is predicated on our success at certain tasks (Matthew 24.14), this false hope in fact delays the return of Christ. If we're not getting our part done, then we are delaying his part, his return. and

2) Because, many hopeful Christians have, over the centuries, complacently sat back and rested because of such a false hope, the result has apparently been that millions of individuals did not hear the gospel from their testimony, and presumably many of them are now suffering in hell, simply because some of those who were called to preach the gospel to them were waiting for the sovereign revival we’ve been declaring for so many generations.

I am suggesting that this is a problem: our focus on a sovereign revival is delaying the triumphant return of the Messiah, and is condemning people to hell. I repeat: I am not challenging the belief that such a revival is coming. I am challenging our response.

Nor am I suggesting that we deny hope to people. A hopeless church is an inactive church. Yet historically, a church motivated by false hope has also been a less active church. So what can we do?

Perhaps the answer is in avoiding either extreme position. Perhaps the answer is better found in honestly acknowledging, “Yes, God is going to do something dramatic. No, we don’t know when." Perhaps instead of focusing on what He is going to do, we can focus on what He has instructed us to do.

Jesus commanded that we pray, and gave us a model that includes praying, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth.” He’s commanded that we go “to Jerusalem, Judea and the ends of the Earth.” He’s commanded that we preach the “Gospel of the Kingdom” (which is not the same as “the gospel of salvation”). He’s commanded that we make disciples “of all nations” (not “in” all nations). And he’s commanded us to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” And he’s commanded that we do this with Himself, “Lo: I am with you always, even to the end of the Age.” There is a lot for us to do!

The end of the age will involve Jesus doing some things and it involves the Church doing some things. If the Church will focus on the person of Jesus rather than that part of the work that is His responsibility - if instead we will focus on doing the things that are OUR responsibility - then the work will be done sooner, and better, than it has been over the past couple of millennia.