Now is the time

I’m co-teaching the 8th grade Sunday School class at Trinity CRC this year. The material we’re using is helping us explore worship – both Graphic found at worship and our Monday-through-Saturday worship – and this week we talked about how God is indeed worthy of our honor and praise.

I hope my students learn this easier than the Philistine god Dagon did. In a story in 1 Samuel that makes me laugh out loud, the Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant and put it in their pagan temple. (That’s not the funny part – it’s coming now…) The next morning, the Philistines open the doors to their temple and the statue of Dagon is face down on the floor in front of the Ark! The people quickly restore Dagon’s dignity by standing the statue back up again. But the following morning when the Philistines open the door to their temple, Dagon has fallen down in front of the Ark again – except this time the statue’s head and hands have fallen off!

I laugh at the way even an inanimate object somehow “knows” to fall down before the Lord. It’s sad, though, how long it sometimes takes intelligent human beings to realize this – human beings such as myself. It’s so easy for me to lose the focus I’m invited to have on God and bow instead to things like money or possessions or recognition. In His grace, God sometimes gently draws me back to Him. For example, it might be something I read in the Bible or the words of a song. Or, in His grace, God sometimes brings me to a breaking point to force me to wake up and realize He is God and I am not. For example, it might the painful correction I need to receive from a friend. Regardless, things always go better for me when God receives the glory.

All this reminds me of Brian Doerksen’s song “Come, Now Is the Time to Worship.” It refers to how one day all of creation will confess the sovereignty of God. But blessed are those who realize and confess and live this reality sooner rather than later! If my 8th graders grasp this, they’ll be well on their way for years to come.

The mind of God

At a recent Trinity CRC staff meeting, we looked at the doxology (a.k.a. outburst of praise) that concludes Romans 11:

Oh, the depth of the riches
of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Each of the questions posed here are incredibly profound, but it was the first question that I found particularly arresting:Graphic found via Google “Who has known the mind of God?” It’s an impossible question!

Can I know the mind of God? Of course not! He is infinite; I am finite. He is eternal; I am temporal. He is omnipotent; I am weak. He is holy; I am a sinner. I could never comprehend what goes on in the mind of God even if I were given the opportunity to know all His thoughts and ways. He is way too big and I am way too puny.

And yet…

Can I know the mind of God? Of course I can! He reveals Himself to me through creation which manifests “God’s eternal power and divinity.” I can see God at work in His world. I see Him even more clearly in His Word which is “fully reliable in leading [me] to know God.” He reveals HIs deep and unending love for me; He reveals the things that bring Him joy and the things that break His heart, inviting me to find gladness and grief in the same places.


Can I know the mind of God? At first I’m tempted to think this is a trick question. But on second thought I see it as an invitation to both view myself accurately and encounter the God who wants to be in relationship with me. Even in this impossible question, God answers with grace.

My adoption

A couple weeks ago the Nelson family spoke at Trinity CRC about the journey Cody & Breanna have been on to adopt Bongani and bring him home to the US from South Africa. Cody & Breanna have a great story and it was touching to hear Bongani pray at the end of their presentation.

Photo of the Nelson family is from their Facebook page

I’ve always resonated with the adoption language found throughout the Bible (examples here, here, and here). I contrast it with having biological children: When Monica and I welcomed our children into our home, we had no choice on gender, ethnicity, eye and hair color, health, temperament, and so on. But if we had adopted children, we may have had some say in those matters.

Knowing that God adopted me means knowing God specifically chose me. What makes that astonishing is that apart from Christ I wasn’t that great of a find! It’s not because I was particularly worthy but because of grace through Jesus that I find myself part of God’s family.

The Nelson’s presentation reminded me again of this prayer in Seeking God’s Face:

Adopting God, thank You for being not only the all-knowing architect of space and history, but also my loving Father. You have made space in Your heart for me, and I am embraced as Your child. I praise You for the wonder that You have chosen me, that I have been brought in from the outside – acceptable, accepted, and loved in Christ. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Philip F. Reinders

Slower to anger

Anatomy of anger graphic found via GoogleAnger is a complex emotion. Things would be easy if we could just say that being angry is always sinful. But that cannot be as the Bible records instances of God becoming angry (such as when the Israelites rebelled and made a golden calf). And when Paul urges us not to sin when we’re angry, the assumption is that it’s possible to indeed be angry without sinning.

I learned a lot about anger while reading Glittering Vices by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung. She points out how anger is actually connected to love as it can reveal what I really care about. Glittering Vices by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoungAnger can also provide the motivation I need to make right something that is wrong. As Prof. DeYoung writes:

Anger, when it is a holy emotion, has justice as its object and love as its root. Both love and justice are focused on the good of others… Motivated by good anger, we hunger and thirst for righteousness, an appetite that depends on justice for its object, but on love for its right expression. Anger in these cases adds energy and passion to the execution of justice. The love that underlies it, however, keeps it in check, for love does not seek to destroy the other, but to set things right. (p. 130)

Vicious, sinful anger, on the other hand, Prof. DeYoung continues, is rooted in selfishness and harms others. Here’s my favorite line in her description of when this emotion gets misdirected:

Unhinged from justice, bad anger aims at another’s injury,
rather than another’s good.
(p. 130)

Put less poetically, sinful anger causes more harm than good. How I need discernment to know when my anger is righteous and when it is making a hurt-filled situation worse!

Thinking about anger reminds me of this part of Psalm 103:

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
– – slow to anger and abounding in love.

God’s anger is perfect, yet He is slow to get angry. My anger is imperfect. I suspect it would most often be best if I were even slower to get angry than God!

(I’ve blogged about anger before.
It includes a classic Goofy cartoon!)

I’m a hypocrite, too

As dozens of media outlets have reported, reality Photo of Josh Duggar from nypost.comTV star Josh Duggar has been outed as one of the 32 million people who used the cheating website Ashley Madison. Acknowledging the contradiction between adultery and the family values he espoused while part of the TV show 19 Kids and Counting and a director at the Family Research Council, Mr. Duggar declared, “I have been the biggest hypocrite ever.”

I’m not sure I entirely agree with his assessment. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that he’s the hypocrite with the biggest spotlight on him right now.

Full disclosure: I have never watched 19 Kids and Counting. However, I suspect that if the Duggars are anything like me, they tried to show the best side of their large family, keeping dark secrets locked away from the public’s eye. That’s very understandable. But also unfortunate as it gave the impression that they – finally! – are the model Christian family everyone should imitate.

Well, that can only last so long. Although created in God’s image and filled with His Holy Spirit, I am tainted by sin. Sometimes sin sideswipes me in ways I didn’t see coming; sometimes I consciously choose to go down the wrong path. It’s the same with all the members of the Duggar family as well as everyone who professes Jesus as Lord.

I’m not saying this to justify a defeatist attitude, suggesting we may as well just give into to temptations to do things that hurt God, others, or ourselves. The apostle Paul pointedly said something about that. But I think it’s worth recognizing that to be a Christian simply means to be a hypocrite. On this side of the new heaven and new earth, I won’t follow Jesus perfectly. I’ll make mistakes and I’ll be impacted by others’ mistakes.

Does the media make a big deal about Christians caught in sin because Christians tend to put on a false front while the cameras are rolling? Do I think my message to the world must be that I’ve got it all together because I follow Jesus? If I was more humble and more quickly acknowledged my mistakes – while not ignoring the good things God is doing in and through me – perhaps people wouldn’t pounce all over me when one of those mistakes comes to light. Both Christians and non-Christians might say, “Yeah, he messed up. He warned us he would. Just like I do.”

Until Jesus returns, confession of sins and reaching out for forgiveness will be part of what it means to be human. Instead of pretending I’m something I’m not, my energy is better spent repenting and asking for forgiveness when I sin… as well as extending grace and forgiveness when the person next to me messes up, too.

It would be cool if the media caught some of that on camera once in a while.

Alluring letdowns

Our trip to British Columbia last month involved catching a few flights there and back. One of the flights began with the usual offer of in-flight entertainment: For $7.99 I’d have access to more than 100 TV channels and new-Picture of airplane cabin with seat-back screens found via Googlerelease movies on the little screen embedded in the seat ahead of mine. I saved my money and brought along something to read.

I found it interesting that the offer continued to appear on everyone’s screens the cabin during the entire flight. In fact, even as we were preparing to deplane, screens were still showing happy people inserting their credit card and watching TV. Apparently it’s never too late to purchase inflight entertainment – even if you’re only a couple minutes away from stepping into the airport terminal!

Seeing the invitation to purchase inflight entertainment after the flight was over reminded me a bit of sin. Sin is enticing: It promises quick happiness and pleasure outside of God’s will and design for the good life.

But succumbing to sin is like paying $7.99 to watch inflight TV after the plane has landed. I might get a minute or two of fun, but ultimately it’s a letdown. It always turns out that sin never comes through with what it promises. As attractive as the devil tries to make them look, immoral shortcuts to happiness, pleasure, cash, or status will ultimately prove to be empty. They’ll likely even be harmful to myself and my relationships with others.

Trusting God and pursuing His will, on the other hand, bring fulfillment. I pray that by focusing on God’s free gift of grace, I can see that the things sin offers – alluring as they may seem at first – are actually empty and about as worthless as purchasing inflight entertainment after the plane has landed.

The hard work of rest

Our family just returned from our vacation to British Columbia where we had a great time reconnecting with family and friends.

Part of our time away was spent at Purden Lake in northern BC.

Once again I experienced the irony of how resting can be hard work.  It does not come naturally to me. I might step out of the office and leave the building, but I’ll still take my work with me in my mind – thinking over sermons, wondering about particular people, planning meetings and ministries. My body might be out of town, but sometimes it takes two or three days before my brain begins its vacation. And often a day or two before our scheduled return, my brain already begins thinking it’s back in the office. Just because we say we’re resting or just because it looks like we’re resting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are!

Taking a break is not easy. It means letting go, and I have a hard time doing that. I want to stay involved (read: I don’t want to be out of the loop and/or not in control). I want to be continually productive (read: I don’t want to disappoint people who might get the impression I’m lazy).

Nevertheless God tells me and you to take a break, to engage in Sabbath rest. In His mercy, He does not want to watch us burn out, even if it’s by doing good and worthwhile things. Our physical and emotional health is important to God.

But I think even more importantly, in telling me to rest, God is inviting me to trust. He reminds me that the world will not spin off its axis if I take a break. In her book Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, Marva Dawn speaks of God’s Sabbath invitation to rely on Him, to “let God be God in our lives” (p. 29). Sabbath rest teaches me to recognize when and where I am trying too hard on my own to secure my future without trusting God or sensing His presence. Rest keeps things in perspective.

I like Mark Buchanan’s double definition of Sabbath. In The Rest of God, he has the familiar definition that it is a day, typically Sunday in the Protestant tradition. But he also defines Sabbath as an attitude:

A Sabbath heart is restful even in the midst of unrest and upheaval.  It is attentive to the presence of God and others even in the welter of much coming and going, rising and falling.  It is still and knows God even when mountains fall into the sea.

You will never enter the Sabbath day without a Sabbath heart.  (p. 4)

It doesn’t come naturally (spiritual disciplines typically don’t), but part of trusting God means resting, observing Sabbath – Sabbath moments, Sabbath days, Sabbath seasons. It lets God be God. And it helps me be better at being the me God wants me to be.

(I originally wrote and posted this in July 2010
and our recent vacation brought it to mind again.)