Relationship Over Wonders

When I hear some preachers, I only hear about what God is going to do for me. The interesting thing I find in Scriptures is that while there are a lot of promises where God is going to bless me, but I also find a lot of Scriptures about the fact that I am made for God’s glory. That second part, where we are created for God’s glory, seems to be forgotten by these preachers. I don’t know why they skip over this second truth. I won’t speculate. I just know it’s important. It is the chief end of man, after all.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. – John 2:23-25, ESV

During that first Passover after Jesus had begun His ministry, He performed many miracles. The Bible says that many believed because of those miracles. However, it then says that Jesus did not entrust Himself to these people. Why not?

Perhaps it’s because they only believed because of the miracles and they only followed out of of a desire for more miracles. The “believed” here is shallow belief, something superficial; we would describe this as head knowledge. In other words, there was no relationship. Jesus did not bring these folk into his trust. He could see why they followed. They didn’t follow Him for Him, but for what He could do for them.

God has always been clear that He desires a relationship with us, His creation. We see it from the opening stages of Genesis, when He walked in the Garden of Eden with the first man and woman. We see this in Revelation when we are restored to the New Jerusalem. These folks weren’t interested in a real relationship.

What about us? Are we looking to God for what He could do for us? Or are we looking to God for the relationship He desires to have with us? Are we waiting for wonders and miracles? Or are we waiting for Him? There is a distinct difference between the two. Which of these is most important to you

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No Reward, No Big Deal

Did you ever do something you felt you should be recognized for and nothing came your way? How did you react? Were you angry? Did you do something about your lack of recognition? If you’re human, you probably were angry. And maybe you didn’t lash out this last time, but at some point in the past you most likely have. That’s why Mordecai’s lack of reaction was surprising:

In those days, as Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs, who guarded the threshold, became angry and sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And this came to the knowledge of Mordecai, and he told it to Queen Esther, and Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai. When the affair was investigated and found to be so, the men were both hanged on the gallows. And it was recorded in the book of the chronicles in the presence of the king. – Esther 2:21-23, ESV

Mordecai did something big. He did something really big. He uncovered a plot to harm the king. Reporting this through Esther, Mordecai passed the relevant information to the appropriate people. As a result, Bigthan and Teresh were investigated, the facts showed the plot, and the two were executed as a result. However, we see no indication that Mordecai received any recogntion. The next verses start the discussion of Haman’s conspiracy, leaving the question open at this point in Scripture (though we will get an answer later on in Esther).

So what happened with Mordecai? As far as the Scriptures reveal, he steadfastly maintained his post. We don’t see any grumbles or complaints. We don’t see anything that indicates Mordecai did anything about being passed over. In fact, we see the opposite (Esther 5:9). When we see Mordecai react, it was to Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews.

As it turns out, Mordecai was eventually recognized (Esther 6). However, this wasn’t through any action of his own. The king couldn’t sleep and went through old records. He noted the actions of Mordecai and inquired as to whether or not Mordecai had been recognized. Mordecai had not. So here we learn what we assumed, that Mordecai’s actions had been forgotten. The king then determined that Mordecai should be recognized for his service to the kingdom.

As it turns out, the timing couldn’t have been any better. Mordecai’s recognition flew in the face of Haman’s plot and put fuel on the fire of Haman’s demise. One doesn’t have to think very long to come to the conclusion that Mordecai’s delayed recognition was influenced in some way by God. However, don’t jump to the conclusion that because you haven’t gotten recognition, that means God is going to deliver it in a spectacular way later, like He did with Mordecai.

The truth of the matter is that a lot of times, when we aren’t recognized it’s a failure by the appropriate people and there isn’t some major event pending our later recognition. We may never get the recognition that we should. At least, we won’t get the recognition here in this life. But we deserve recognition! This is when it’s good to face a hard truth: if we always wanted what we deserved, we would want Jesus not to forgive us, because we don’t deserve His forgiveness or His grace. We can get so worked up about being ignored, passed over, or overlooked that we forget what we do have. Let’s not dwell on what we don’t have. Instead, let’s focus on what we do.

After all, Mordecai didn’t dwell on being overlooked. He continued to faithfully do his job. And as Haman’s plan was revealed and it looked like it might work, we can conclude from Mordecai’s words to Esther that he had faith in God. Which is more important, the recognition of an earthly king or the reward of the King of kings? Mordecai seemed to understand the right answer to that question. Let’s do what we do because those actions are the right actions and not worry about recognition and reward. Let reward and recognition be no big deal. After all, compared to what we’ve been given by grace, they are no big deal.

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When God Says, “No”

When we want something, the last thing we want to hear is, “No.” However, sometimes we must hear it, because what we’re asking for is not good for us. Other times it’s because the person in question can’t deliver it. God is all-powerful and there are times even He doesn’t deliver what we ask for despite all that power. That seems like a contradiction, but it isn’t.

God will not deliver on something that is contrary to His character. If a request would require such, forget it. It’s not going to happen. And then there are some things that we think we want God to give us, but if we knew what He knew, we would quickly change our minds. Such was the case with the request of James and John:

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” – Mark 10:35-40, ESV

At first glance, we are struck by the arrogance of James and John, because they are requesting to be first and second in the Kingdom when Jesus takes over. In fact, that’s what is often preached on. However, Dr. Tim Keller pointed out something we often overlook. They were asking to be on Jesus’ right and left when He came into His glory. Jesus responded back that He could not give them such places because those places had already been set aside. Indeed they were. More on that in a bit.

The rest of Jesus’ response indicates that James and John were going to suffer with the pain and suffering Jesus Himself had experienced and was about to experience with the Cross. We know James was the first martyred and that John died in exile, knowing that his compatriots had been martyred for their faith. They would both undergo ridicule, derision, anger, violence, and hatred. The brothers would indeed drink from the same cup as Jesus. However, they were not given Jesus’ right or left. So who was?

Those places were given to a couple of thieves as Jesus hung between them on the Cross. James and John had more to do. It wasn’t their time or place to die beside Jesus. In hindsight, if they knew that’s what they were asking for, I think they would have forgone the request. Also, there was a critical testimony to still be delivered as one of the two career criminals would repent of his life of sin, receive Jesus’ words of forgiveness, and enter into paradise through the grace of God.

When God says, “No,” He has very good reason to do so. He isn’t doing it to be capricious or because He takes delight in our suffering. Sometimes it is because our request is for something against the character and nature of God. Sometimes it’s because we don’t know what we’re asking for, as was the case with James and John. And sometimes it’s because He has something bigger planned, like a thief finding grace. And sometimes it’s all three things. We should not get discouraged when He tells us, “No.” Instead, we should rejoice that He cares so much about us that He takes all of these things into account. Praise God even when He says, “No.”

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Acting with Trust

“I will believe it when I see it,” is a phrase that echoes through our heads a lot, even if we don’t speak the words. We are used to people and organizations overcommitting and over-promising things that many of us have developed a skeptical, cynical side towards these sorts of claims.

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” – John 2:3-5, ESV

The passage John 2:1-11 contains the first miracle of Jesus, when He turned water into wine at the wedding feast. Like is the case with most miracles, it started with a problem: the wedding had run out of wine. Given that weddings in that time and age were community affairs and that running out of wine would have been an embarrassment for the bridegroom, Mary decided to act. What did she do? She found Jesus and she informed Him of the problem.

What I find interesting is the fact that she came to Jesus with this particular problem. Jesus didn’t have a vineyard, much less a stash of wine on tap. It isn’t like the family had a lot of money for Jesus to procure the wine necessary. Yet Mary approached Jesus and left the problem with Him.

What is even more interesting is Mary’s response after Jesus gave what would appear to be a negative answer. It isn’t, for He’s pointing out that there is a timetable for His ministry on Earth and that He is ultimately in control of that timetable, not anyone else. She might be His earthly mother, but He’s still the One who makes the call. Hence the reference of “woman” (a very polite form) and not “Mom” or “Momma” or any variant of mother. Despite that seeming rebuff, Mary ordered the servant to obey Jesus. She acted with complete trust that He would solve the problem. Her faith in Jesus was rewarded.

When it comes to our petitions before God, we cannot take an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude. We might not say that’s what we’re doing, but many times it is. This isn’t to say that we should automatically assume God is going to deliver whatever we ask. More on that tomorrow. However, if we’re following His lead and we know what we’re asking for is what He would ask for then we need to act in accordance with the belief that God is going to deliver. When we don’t, we are very much the double-minded man James described in his epistle.

God is trustworthy. God hears the prayers of His people. Put these two things together and we should come to the conclusion that if we are asking according to what God would ask, we can trust Him to bring it to pass. How much more fulfilling our prayer lives would be if we would act accordingly on this simple truth!

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Praying for Our Communities

Every community has issues. Some may only have minor concerns while others have major problems. I was reminded of this as I was listening to a sci-fi novel yesterday while out for a walk. The characters were talking about how a particular community had become more rundown than they remembered it. That got me to thinking of these verses:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. – Jeremiah 29:4-7, ESV

The message to Jeremiah was for God’s people to go and be an active part of their communities. There were others, false prophets, that were telling the Israelites to isolate themselves in order to “remain pure.” God had a different plan. He wanted the Israelites to be a part of their communities. He wanted the Israelites to rub off on the community. God wanted to change the community for the better. He told the Israelites to actively pray for the community and for its peace and health and wellness. Their prayers and their active involvement would ultimately result in peace and health and wellness for God’s people.

This hits home as we talk about how our communities have issues. As congregations are we getting together and praying for our communities? Are we getting actively involved in them? It’s easy to set ourselves apart, walling ourselves in the fortresses that we call churches and lament what is going wrong outside the walls. That’s not the way God would have us do things, however. He would have us be engaged, not only physically but spiritually, too.

Would you seek the welfare of your community? If you aren’t already, would you actively pray for your community? Would you do so regularly? Also, if you aren’t already, how could you become more involved in your community? How could your church be more involved? If we want our communities to grow and improve and become places of peace, health, and wellness, we must take an active role. If we don’t, we will find that our own peace, health, and wellness will be negatively impacted by our troubled communities.

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Beating Childhood Cancer

Child Cancer AwarenessNote: I feel this post is important enough to post across all my blogs.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month here in the USA. Here are some statistics:

  • In 2014, an estimated 15, 780 children (ages 0-19) will be diagnosed with cancer in the USA.
  • In 2014, an estimated 1,960 will die of cancer here in the United States.
  • That averages to between 5 and 6 children dying of cancer every day, just here in the United States.

There’s a lot of talk about “surviving” cancer, meaning you hit the 5 year mark after diagnosis. That’s a misleading statistic, as I’m about to explain. Here are some more statistics:

  • 12% of children diagnosed with cancer do not survive (don’t make it to the 5 year point).
  • The average age of diagnosis is six years-old.
  • With current treatments, 60% of childhood cancer survivors suffer after-effects.

Campbell’s Story:

A more comprehensive telling of Cam’s story can be found on this blog and on this Facebook group. Here’s the short version: Cam was diagnosed with cancer when she was 3 years old. She beat it. However, certain symptoms came back, which led to re-checks. The cancer had come back. Despite all efforts, including experimental treatments, Campbell died from cancer. Technically, she is a survivor, because she made it past five years (5 years, 2 days). However, Campbell is no longer with us. Therefore, the statistics stating 12% of diagnosed children die of childhood cancer should be higher.

If you do the math, Campbell died at eight years old. She passed away despite heroic efforts from donors to cover expenses and lobby her insurance carrier to cover the experimental treatments, medical personnel performing everything they could do (numerous brain surgeries, clinical trials, experimental treatments), positive thoughts and prayers, and even celebrities taking the time to make some of her wishes come true.

How do I know about Campbell? Campbell’s dad is a Citadel classmate of mine. Because of Campbell’s fight, I became more educated on childhood cancer. Childhood cancer is the leading disease cause of death in children. Every form of childhood cancer we can find a cure for means more bright, young lives saved. Furthermore, given how much damage current treatments do, we need better treatments for survivors. All of this requires research. Research requires funding. As a result, I’m trying to raise awareness about it now.

What We Can Do:

I don’t believe in issuing challenges. If this touches you enough to give, then please do. If not, I realize there are many excellent causes and efforts out there. Please try and give something to one or more that have meaning to you. Here’s what Cam’s family specifically asked for, because this puts research dollars forward for the doctors who were treating Cam and her particular form of cancer. You can mail donations to:

Weill Cornell Medical College with GREENFIELD Ependymoma Research in the memo field.

The mailing address:

Ana Ignat
Department Administrator
525 East 68th St, Box 99
New York, NY 10068

Or you could choose another childhood cancer charity/research fund. If you do, please check with a site like Charity Navigator to see how efficiently that charity uses the donations it receives. I know that particular charities in the past have sounded great but when you do the research… not so much. That’ll help you ensure that more of your donated money goes to research.

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Do we understand God’s hatred for sin?

Do you have something you can’t stand? Something that provokes a violent and immediate reaction in you? For some folks it might be snakes or spiders. For me, it used to be cauliflower. If “kill it with fire” comes to mind, you know exactly what I mean. Have you ever stopped to think that God feels similarly about sin?

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
and keeps wrath for his enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
– Nahum 1:2-3, ESV

We don’t like to talk about God as a jealous, avenging, and wrathful God. After all, those qualities in us are terrible. Our jealousy, even if well founded, typically leads to sin. Our avenging tends to go too far. Wrathful, being a description of strong anger and a sense of revenge, almost always results in too much. However, the rules change with God because He is perfect. All of those qualities are held in keeping with the rest of His character. The verses which follow explain the limits of His vengeance and his wrath and the fact that He is slow to anger.

Wrath, vengeance, and anger are strong emotions, though. They aren’t to be taken lightly. They are the consequence of God’s hatred for sin. We talk about God’s great love and His mercy. We call Him “Daddy” or “Father” because the Scriptures tell us we can use “Abba.” We like God as a cuddly teddy bear, as a supernatural Santa Claus. To only characterize God in this fashion, however, is to have an incomplete view of what God has shown us about Himself.

The Scriptures make it clear God hates sin. God may be slow to anger (as opposed to most of us), but He will deal with sin. That’s why verse 3 reminds us that God will not clear the guilty. He deals with sin powerfully and completely. He is, after all, a God of justice as well as a God of love. And He has shown that He is willing to “kill it with fire,” as was the case with Sodom and Gomorrah.

Why do we play with sin? If we know God hates it and we know God’s reaction is going to be in keeping with that hatred, why do we toy around with it or, worse, embrace it? I think we have been lulled into forgetting just how much God hates sin. This doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility or the accountability of our sin. After all, God delineates clearly His view of sin and the punishments He has thus far been willing to deliver for those who dabble or delight in sin. This is one reason regular Bible reading is so important to the Christian walk. We are reminded of God’s view on sin and His correcting of it. Our minds are refreshed on the subject.

Let us, through our love for Jesus Christ, begin to feel the same way about sin as He does. Let us reject it in ourselves as surely as He would. The temptation is to look at someone else and say, “I’m not as bad as that person.” The problem is that God doesn’t do that. His comparison for us is against His own perfection. We fail miserably there. That’s why we need grace. However, let us not be so flippant to sin because of grace that we don’t take sin as seriously as He does. He hates sin. He hates the sin in us. We should, too.

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