GOD IDEAS

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. [Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)]

Every Friday, I’m emailed a “weekly wisdom” consisting of two pithy sayings like, “Don’t just trust God for things; trust Him in things,” or “You can’t enjoy today if you’re worrying about the past or the future.” Last week’s wisdom really hit home with, “Not every good idea is a God idea!” More than once, I’ve looked back with regret while saying, “It seemed like such a good idea at the time!”

When she did it, eating that forbidden fruit probably seemed like a good idea to Eve just as moving to the beautiful grazing land near Sodom seemed a good idea to Lot. David’s ideas about taking a census to know the strength of his troops and transporting the Ark on a cart might have seemed good ones at the time but he lived to regret them. Fresh from his victory over Edom, King Amaziah may have thought it good strategy to challenge King Jehoash of Israel and, anxious for a child, Sarah probably thought it a good plan to give Hagar to Abraham. Saul’s idea to make sacrifices without waiting for Samuel, Rebekah’s scheme to deceive Isaac, and Hezekiah showing off his riches to envoys from Babylon may have seemed like good ideas at the time but, like those others, they weren’t! They may have looked like good ideas but none were God’s idea and all ended badly.

What those words of wisdom should have added, however, is that not every God idea seems like a good one. In fact, many make no sense to our mortal reasoning. Even though it was God’s idea to lead the people back toward Egypt and camp facing Pharaoh’s army with their backs to the Red Sea, it probably didn’t seem like a good idea to Moses and the Israelites. Joshua probably had reservations about exhausting his troops by marching them around Jericho for seven days and Gideon must have wondered at the wisdom of reducing his army of 32,000 to 300. Being told by God to deliberately marry a promiscuous woman who would betray him probably made no more sense to Hosea than buying land occupied by the Babylonians did to Jeremiah or building an enormous boat with no water nearby did to Noah. Nevertheless, as unreasonable as God’s ideas might have seemed to them, they faithfully obeyed. Regardless of appearances, they knew that God’s ideas are good ones!

We tend to think that the ideas we like are good ones (and God’s) and the ideas we don’t like couldn’t possibly come from Him which makes it difficult to discern the difference between God’s ideas and ours. The more we know of Him and His word, however, the easier it will be to determine if our good ideas and God’s ideas are the same. Even when God’s idea doesn’t seem like a good one, rest assured that, when God tells us to do (or not to do) something, we can know that His idea is far better than any we might have!

God does not exist to answer our prayers, but by our prayers we come to discern the mind of God. [Oswald Chambers]

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” [Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)]

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. [Romans 12:2 (NLT)]

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INCOMPREHENSIBLE BUT REAL

moebius band - moebius stripAnd I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you will know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. [John 14:16-17 (NLT)]

 I tell you the solemn truth, that the doctrine of the Trinity is not so difficult to accept for a working proposition as any one of the axioms of physics. [Henry Brooks Adams]

Writing about our Trinitarian God yesterday, reminded me of the Möebius strip (or band). Ever since my college roommate showed me one, I’ve been fascinated by it. To make one, take a paper strip, give it a single twist and tape the ends together to form a loop. If you draw a line from the seam down the middle of this strip, the line will meet itself back at the same seam but on the other side of the paper. If you continue drawing the line, it then meets at the starting point (and will be twice the length of the strip of paper) without ever needing to lift your pen. This single continuous line shows that the Möebius strip has only one boundary or surface. Imagine an ant crawling in a straight line along the length of that twisted and taped strip. It would return to its starting point having traversed every part of the strip without ever crossing an edge. Basically, something that looks as if it has two sides (and was made by a piece of paper that did), actually has only one surface or side.

If you cut this once-twisted piece of paper down the center line, you’ll end up with one long strip that now has two twists and two surfaces. If you cut that strip again, you end up with two intertwined strips and it just gets more confusing after that! German mathematician August Möbius’ discovery of the oddity in 1858 resulted in the development of a new field of mathematics called topology. While there are all sorts of algebraic and geometric explanations for this simple but remarkable piece of paper, I understand none of them.

Although I see how the Möebius strip could be applied to conveyor belts, continuous-loop recording tapes, and typewriter ribbons, I don’t understand its application in physics, music, engineering, chemistry, or topology. Understanding how it happens, however, isn’t necessary for me to know what happens when I take a strip of paper, give it a single twist, and tape it together!

For me, comprehending the Holy Trinity is a bit like my fuzzy understanding of the Möebius strip. I know it exists but I’m not quite sure how it works. I’ve experienced it but I can’t explain it. That the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God while, at the same time, the Father is neither Holy Spirit nor Son, the Son is neither Holy Spirit nor Father, and the Holy Spirit is neither Father nor Son is beyond human understanding!

Even without understanding how God is one in essence but has three united persons in that essence, I know our Triune God exists. Scripture tells us there is only one God and yet it also tells us that God exists in three persons. All three were present at Jesus’ baptism and He spoke of them. Moreover, just as I’ve witnessed the reality of a Möebius strip, I’ve witnessed the reality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as they work in my life. That the concept of one in three and three in one is complex and puzzling doesn’t mean it isn’t real! Even though it’s beyond our understanding, like the Möebius strip, all we have to know is that it’s true!

Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God. [John Wesley]

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)]

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TO WHOM?

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. (Matthew 6:6 NIV)

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. [John 14:13-14 (NIV)]

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. [Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)]

“To whom should we pray?” is a common question. People wonder, “If we pray to God the Father, are we leaving out His Son? But if we pray to Jesus, are we leaving out God? And where does the Holy Spirit fit in?”

I’m no theologian, but it seems we certainly can’t go wrong by praying to God the Father. After all, when asked how to pray, Jesus began with “Our Father” and the Apostle Paul wrote the Romans about joining together and “giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [15:6] Nevertheless, Jesus, as the son of God, is divine and He promised that we can ask for anything in His name. So, we can pray to Him as did Stephen who prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” while being stoned. [Acts 7:59] To further confuse the matter, Paul explained that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us so it appears that we also can pray to Him.

If we can pray to any of the three, how do we decide to whom we’ll pray? Some people decide who they’ll address by the topic of their prayer. When they want to offer worship and praise, ask for forgiveness, or plead for divine intervention, they call on God the Father. When they need to talk with someone who understands their earthly struggles, they call on Jesus. Since the Holy Spirit helps us pray, they pray to Him when they can’t find the words to express themselves.

When we worry about to whom we address our prayers, however, we’re forgetting that our Trinitarian God, while three persons, is one God! Calling it a “divine riddle,” Puritan minister Thomas Watson explained, “The three persons in the blessed Trinity are distinguished, but not divided; three substances, but one essence. … If there be one God subsisting in three persons, then let us give equal reverence to all the persons in the Trinity. … One person has not a majority or super eminence above another, therefore we must give equal worship to all the persons.”

When learning about Jeopardy contestant Matt Amodio for yesterday’s devotion, I discovered that his answers irk the grammar police. Jeopardy answers must be given in the form of a question and he begins every response with “what’s…” even when referring to a person. Amodio’s strategy is to keep things simple and explained that keeping his responses consistent allows him to focus on the “meat” of the clue. Just as a Jeopardy contestant’s answers don’t have to be grammatically correct to be accepted, I suspect our Trinitarian God cares far more about our hearts than our words and would prefer we give more thought to the “meat” of our prayers rather than to whom or how they’re said.

We can address our Trinitarian God in any of a number of ways—as Eternal Father, Holy Spirit, Lord, Blessed Jesus, God, Lord of My Life, Almighty and Eternal God, Holy Spirit of God, Eternal Being, Divine Love, God of Mercy, Holy One, Holy and Blessed Trinity, God, Jesus, Spirit of God, or many other reverent names. Flawed beings that we are, we seem to complicate our lives unnecessarily and worrying about how to pray (rather than simply doing it) is one of the ways we do it. Amodio’s answers are accepted by the Jeopardy judges just as our prayers, offered in faith with a humble heart, will be accepted by God the Father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit.

Christian prayer is most often Trinitarian. Practically, this means we pray by the Spirit, through Jesus Christ our mediator, to God the Father. [Mark Driscoll]

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. [Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)]

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MANY WRITERS BUT ONLY ONE AUTHOR

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return here but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. [Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)]

great blue heronA popular mystery writer, frequently on the best seller list, now writes most of his books in collaboration with another author. Several years ago, after reading one of his joint efforts, I stopped reading his work entirely. While I never expected a literary masterpiece, the mystery was unrealistic, implausible, and the chapters unconnected. Although it’s said that he sets the plot line and there is an intense back-and-forth between the authors, it didn’t seem that way to me. It was as if the two authors alternated chapters and, at the end of their chapter, each deliberately threw in some farfetched character or event as a way of challenging the other to make sense of it. Having a plot outline certainly didn’t mean continuity or structure in their book.

Six years ago, I was part of a book project in which twelve women, all Christian blog writers, were to write a chapter about being hurt, then healed, and how the Holy Spirit transformed them into wounded healers. In spite of having a similar theme, herding cats would have been easier than having twelve Christian women come together in a cohesive voice. Instead of being a patchwork quilt bound together by our experience with the power of the Spirit, we were more like twelve totally different blankets with absolutely nothing in common. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, it clearly was not Spirit led and, while wishing the project well, I withdrew.

If twelve Christian women couldn’t come together into a unified voice and two well-known professional writers seem unable to put together a simple plot, I find it amazing that some forty writers managed to put together the sixty-six books of the Bible over a span of about 1,500 years. It’s not always easy to read but, without a doubt, the Bible makes sense and has a unifying theme: the revelation of God’s plan and purpose for His people and His Kingdom.

Within this one book we find poetry, law, and history along with biography, wisdom, prophesy, and personal letters. Written in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), the writing took place in various locations—from the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula to the king’s palace in Israel, from Babylon to a prison in Rome. The writers were a diverse group of men—ranging from a doctor, publican, tent maker/Pharisee, and adviser to a Babylonian king to fishermen, shepherds, kings, scribes, and judges. They all had their own style and, in some cases, even a specific audience. Nevertheless, in spite of their different backgrounds, languages, times, and places, there is a cohesiveness to what all of these men wrote and their words never contradict one another. Even with the writers’ different perspectives, they have a unified voice that proclaims the same one true God and Jesus as the way to salvation.

When two well-known authors working together can’t put together a solid well-written mystery and twelve women, living at the same time, speaking the same language, and claiming to be Christian writers can’t successfully put together their faith stories, how did the Bible’s forty writers manage to do it? Perhaps, it’s because people write what they want to say but the Bible’s writers wrote what God wanted said! The Bible may have forty different writers—the people who put pen to papyrus or parchment—but there was only one author: God. It was God who inspired those men and, because they wrote His word, the Bible is one uninterrupted and unified story. It is, indeed, “God-breathed.”

The Bible is God’s word in human words. [Mel Lawrenz]

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)]

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. [Matthew 24:35 (ESV)]

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YOUR KINGDOM COME

This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” [Matthew 6:9-10 (NIV)]

Remember that the same Christ who tells us to say, “Give us this day our daily bread,” had first given us this petition, “Hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” Let not your prayers be all concerning your own sins, your own wants, your own imperfections, your own trials, but let them climb the starry ladder, and get up to Christ Himself, and then, as you draw nigh to the blood-sprinkled mercy-seat, offer this prayer continually, “Lord, extend the kingdom of Thy dear Son.” [Charles Spurgeon]

sunflowerIt wasn’t until I read Charles Spurgeon’s paraphrase of “Your kingdom come,” as “Lord, extend the kingdom of Thy dear Son,” that I truly gave serious thought to what it means to pray, “Your (or “Thy”) kingdom come.” Although we say it every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, what exactly do those three words mean? After all, that was God Himself giving His disciples a guideline to prayer and there certainly couldn’t be a better teacher! Since there are over seventy references to the Kingdom of God in the New Testament and this petition immediately follows praising God’s name in Jesus’ prayer, the coming of God’s Kingdom clearly was important to Him.

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection opened the doors to God’s Kingdom. Yet, it is only when Jesus comes again at the end of the age that God’s Kingdom will reign with power and authority. While this petition is for the fulfillment of the Kingdom with Christ’s return, it is much more than that. As we pray for the coming of Jesus in the future, these three words also are a petition for the expansion of God’s Kingdom in the present. They are a prayer that the gospel message will be preached to and accepted by all so that the whole world will be made Christ’s Kingdom and filled with His glory. We’re asking God to reveal Himself in such a way that His kingdom is visible here on earth and that He will open the hearts of those we encounter and to whom we witness.

Praying that God’s Kingdom will come is also an acknowledgement that He is our sovereign king and the ruler of our lives. Even though the Kingdom will not be complete until the second coming of Christ, we can experience it today. This leads into  the next petition of “Your will be done,” in which we ask Him to enable us to do what is pleasing to Him. May we be genuine, faithful, obedient, and capable servants of His Kingdom!

Although my lips frequently speak the words, ”Your Kingdom come,” until considering Spurgeon’s words, I barely understood their magnitude. In my personal prayers, I have neglected praying for the coming of God’s Kingdom—the day when Jesus will return and all things will be restored. Although I remember to pray for pastors, missions, and missionaries, the expansion of God’s Kingdom here and now and the role I should play in that expansion has never been on the top of my prayer list either.

If the coming of His Kingdom is God’s priority, perhaps it should be ours as well. Moreover, we should prove the truth of our prayers by putting our words into Kingdom-promoting action. Let us be like the Apostle Paul who, “proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” [Acts 28:31]

We therefore pray that God would exert his power, both by the Word and by the Spirit, that the whole world may willingly submit to him. [John Calvin]

Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed,  nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” [Luke 17:20-21 (NIV)]

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OR ELSE

My child, do not reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t get angry when he corrects you. The Lord corrects those he loves, just as parents correct the child they delight in. [Proverbs 3:11-12 (NCV)]

little blue heron“Baby Blues,” a comic strip by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, portrays the MacPherson family and the frustration, craziness, and humor that come with parenthood. Perhaps because I had a boy like him, my favorite character is the middle child, Hammie. Without a doubt, the inventive boy is a handful but he’s delightful in his own special way. When Zoe, his older sister, comments that he’s stopped making his usual annoying noise, he explains: “Mom used the three magic words.” When Zoe asks, “Please and thank you?” he clarifies, “Stop or else!”

Like the MacPhersons, the three magic words at our house were “please” and “thank you.” However, like Hammie’s mother, there were times I gave my children the option of obedience or facing the consequences with the other three: “Stop, or else!” Of course, the “or else” is an empty caution unless there’s an understanding of what “or else” entails.

The Old Testament is filled with God’s warnings of “or else” to the Israelites; sadly, it’s also a chronicle of their repeated failure to listen and obey Him. Time and time again, they disregarded God’s law, rejected His prophets, fought among themselves, worshipped other gods, and participated in pagan practices. They couldn’t say they weren’t warned by all the judges, kings, and prophets God sent to them so they shouldn’t have been surprised by the famines, floods, droughts, wars, exile, and oppression that resulted from their disobedience. Those afflictions, however, didn’t mean God had been unfaithful to His people. On the contrary, He was completely faithful to his words of warning. By withholding His blessings, the people got exactly what God said they would.

The book of Judges is a series of “Stop or else!” stories. Time and time again, after their disobedience, the Israelites faced the consequences of oppression by people like the Philistines and Ammonites. They eventually repented, called to God for help, and were granted relief. Although a period of peace followed, they were slow learners and the cycle would repeat: obedience gave way to disobedience and they again faced God’s “or else.” Nevertheless, just like Hammie’s patient and loving mother in the comic strip, God never gave up on His people.

Like a good parent, God gives fair warning and provides his people with plenty of opportunities to change their ways. Jesus warned us about sin, Satan, hypocrisy, pride, selfishness, materialism, greed, and false teachings. He clearly told us there are consequences to sinful behavior: the wages of sin is death, there will be a day of judgment, the unrighteous won’t enter the Kingdom, unbelief brings death but belief brings life, and the day of His return will come without warning. Scripture tells us how it will end—we can’t say we haven’t been warned!

It is the wonder of the grace of God that he has given such warnings. If we do not listen and turn from our evil ways, and so suffer awful judgment, then it is not the grace and love of God that is lacking, but the fault of our unrepentant hearts which refuse to heed the revelation of God, and spurn his love. [Georgina W. Everingham]

Our fathers on earth disciplined us for a short time in the way they thought was best. But God disciplines us to help us, so we can become holy as he is. We do not enjoy being disciplined. It is painful at the time, but later, after we have learned from it, we have peace, because we start living in the right way. … So be careful and do not refuse to listen when God speaks. Others refused to listen to him when he warned them on earth, and they did not escape. So it will be worse for us if we refuse to listen to God who warns us from heaven. [Hebrews 12:10-11, 25 (NCV)]

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