Look Beyond What You Can See

My church recently studied the First Epistle of John in a sermon series on “Living Deep.” At the end of the series, my pastor handed out a list of fourteen steps to help us go deeper in our faith. Step four on his list is “Pray and look beyond what you can see to the deeper realities of God’s work.”

Look beyond what you can see

I have presbyopia. My old eyes need help seeing things that are far away. It is much easier for me to focus on close objects. My mind’s eye also has trouble imagining the future. When my mind is not occupied with work or ordinary daily activities, I tend to worry about the crisis or scandal of the moment. I get discouraged because it feels like evil is winning.

I am limited by what my eyes can see and by what my mind can conceive. How can I look beyond the chaos I see to the deeper reality of God’s work? My pastor said, pray and look beyond. Pray for insight. Pray for wisdom. Pray for understanding. Pray for hope.

According to 1 Corinthians 2, God’s wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit reveals deeper spiritual realities to those who love him. The Spirit explains spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. Not everyone can accept these words. Not everyone can understand these words. But the person who has the Spirit understands spiritual truths because he has been shown the mind of Christ.

However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
    the things God has prepared for those who love him—

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:9-10

The deeper reality of God’s work

The prophet Jeremiah wrote that the Lord has plans for us – plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us a hope and a future. But even though God promises to make all things work out for the good of those who love him, he doesn’t promise that there will be no trials and tribulations along the way. Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance builds character, and character produces hope.

Now I see things imperfectly. Someday I will see everything with perfect clarity.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:11-13

Mahatma Ghandi had the right perspective: “When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it – always.”

Ghandi looked beyond what he could see to the invincibility of truth and love. This is the deeper reality of God’s work. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

When I despair, Lord help me to remember that love never fails. Love always prevails.  Always.

Reading List:
Jeremiah 29:11
John 8:32; 10:10
Romans 5:1-21; 9:16
1 Corinthians 3:19
2 Corinthians 5:15
Ephesians 2:8-10; 4:24
Philippians 4:13
1 John 3:19-24

Trust in God’s Loving Plans

My church studied the First Epistle of John in a sermon series on “Living Deep.” My pastor handed out a list of fourteen steps to help us go deeper in our faith walk. For each step, he listed several scriptures for further study. Step one is Trust in God’s Loving Plans.

Trust in God’s Loving Plans

After the election, my pastor said he thought that people (like me) who were worried about the election of Donald Trump lacked trust in God. The truth is, I don’t trust dishonest, self-centered people. I do trust in the One who knows every corner of  my heart. Why do I trust in God? What does it mean to say that God is in control? Does God really have a plan? Is God sovereign over man’s free will?

Why do I trust in God?
1. I know him and he knows me.

I know my Father, the One who is from the beginning. I trust in him because I know that he is good. God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5). God is love. He is merciful and forgiving. He is just. He is honest. He is faithful. He will never leave me nor forsake me. Because God is good, I can trust him to do what is good.

God knows my heart. He knows my every thought, the good and the bad. I can’t hide from him because there is nothing about me that he does not already know. When I call out to him, he hears me. Even when I sin, he still loves me more than I can fathom. What love the Father has lavished, that I should be called a child of God!

Psalm 139:1-4 

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
2. He leads me on the right path.

I trust him because he shows me how to live right. The Lord is my shepherd. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. I hear his voice and I follow him. He is my teacher. He teaches me what it means to love others as I love myself. He teaches me to be meek. He teaches me to be humble. He teaches me to be merciful. He teaches me about anger and forgiveness. He shows me how to care for the “least of these.”

He steers me away from the wrong path. He warns me to watch out for false teachers. He tells me to be on guard against wolves in sheep’s clothing. Enter through the narrow gate. The road that leads to life is narrow and few find it.

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. – Matthew 7:16-18

3. He restores me.

I trust him because he changes me for the better. He restores my soul. He comforts me and quiets my anxious thoughts. He gives me hope. Even when I face trials, I am grateful because I know that it is for my own good. He searches me, he tests me, he reveals my sins. When my faith is tested, I persevere. When I face challenges, my faith grows. I am strong because his word lives in me.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Is God in control?

The first scripture on my reading list was Job 42:10-12, the epilogue to the story of Job that says he lived happily ever after. But you can’t understand Job’s restoration without knowing what he lost. He was a wealthy, righteous man with a healthy fear of God. Yet God allowed Satan to put him through some really awful tests of his faith. He lost everything he had: his children, his servants, his home, the respect of his community. His body was afflicted with painful sores.

Job’s friends were sure that Job had done something to deserve God’s punishment. They lectured him. Job knew that he hadn’t done anything wrong. He cried out to God, but God did not answer. He felt like God had turned on him ruthlessly. Oh, that I had someone to hear me! What have I done to deserve this? So he asked his accuser to answer.

God responded by saying “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” He asked Job, where were you when I created the earth? Do you know the laws of the heavens? God made the case that he has dominion over all we see, that he is the supreme, intelligent mind behind creation. Who are we to question his plans?

Job was humbled. He despised himself for questioning God. He realized that he spoke of things he did not understand.

I believe that God is sovereign, the supreme power of this world. He was here from the beginning. He sees and knows everything, including the future. God is working behind the scenes in ways that we can’t see, in ways that we can’t comprehend.

What are God’s loving plans?

The reading list my pastor gave us did not directly address God’s plans. God revealed many of his plans in scripture – his plans for creation, his plans for individual people and for nations. God’s specific plans for most of us remain a mystery so we are left to speculate about what they might be.

Here’s what I do know: God’s loving plan for mankind is summed up in John 3:16 –  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. He has a grand, loving plan for redeeming and restoring this broken world.

God promises that everything will work out for the good of those who love him. There was a time when I got hung up on what God’s plan was for my life. What was my purpose? Was I missing out on a calling? But now I believe that as long as I follow him and seek him, his plans for me will fall into place.

God’s sovereignty or man’s free will?

This issue of free will was not addressed in the scriptures my pastor provided on trusting God’s plans but it has been weighing on my mind. In these troubled times, some evangelicals use “trust in God” as a euphemism for “don’t resist” their chosen, worldly leader. They cite Romans 13 as proof that Christians should submit to all civil authorities. But if God is sovereign over us, we should ask, who are the higher powers of Romans 13? Why would God demand that I submit myself to the authority of a wicked man whose ways and plans are contrary to his?

When I wrote about how upset I am about this administration, my sister pointed out that God uses imperfect people. This is true. She quoted the prophet Daniel who said (Daniel 2:21), “He changes times and seasons; he set up kings and deposes them.” In other words, God set up King Trump so trust that his presidency is God’s will?

I studied the book of Daniel myself and even memorized the verse about God setting up kings. But I have a real problem with selectively using scriptures like this to justify the choices that people make. If I believed that Daniel’s prophecy applied to all leaders, I would have to believe that God set up Hitler and every evil leader who ever lived. I would then conclude that God is not good because a good God would not choose a leader that he knows is going to commit atrocities. God does not need to use wicked people to carry out his plan. No, not every leader is ordained of God.

Is God like a puppeteer pulling all the strings or do our choices matter? Are we blaming God for bad outcomes that we brought about on our own? From the beginning, we have had the free will to do things that do not fulfill God’s intentions. Human beings are selfish and greedy and we tend to pursue our own self-interests. We have plans that are not consistent with God’s. Woe to those who carry out plans that are not his.

Many are the plans in a man’s heart , but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. – Proverbs 19:21

“Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the LORD, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin.” – Isaiah 30:1

I trust that God intends what is good: feeding the hungry, freeing the oppressed, caring for immigrants and refugees, putting an end to war and strife. These are loving plans. I trust that in time God’s intentions will come to fruition despite the circumstances that human beings create when we exercise free will.

I trust in God’s loving plans. My spiritual challenge is not a lack of trust in God’s loving plans but a lack of patience. I am impatient for God to fix the wrongs. My challenge is not a lack of trust but a lack of understanding of how this all fits into God’s grand plan to redeem mankind. It’s hard for me to understand why anyone has to suffer and why evil people seem to get away with doing wrong. So I must take heart and wait for the Lord.

Reading List:

Job 42:10-12
Psalm 23: 1-6
Psalm 139:23-24
John 10:27-29
James 1:3-4
2 Corinthians 4:8-9
1 John 2:12-24, 3:19, 5:13-14

I Would Walk 500 Miles

This month, I ran a 6.5 mile leg of a marathon relay. After three or four miles, I noticed that the refrain of 500 Miles (I’m Gonna Be) was playing in my head – the only words I knew. Later, I looked up the lyrics. At all times, no matter what the singer is doing, he is so devoted to the one he loves that he’ll go twice the distance.

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

Before this song got stuck in my head, I had been thinking about writing a retrospective post about the past 500 days – about the spiritual angst I feel as a follower of Christ living under the Trump presidency. But the song made me think that I should be looking forward and not backward.

When I am drowning, I know I’m gonna be,
I’m gonna be the sinner saved by you.
When I’m hurting, I know I’m gonna be,
I’m gonna be the one healed by you.
When I’m lost, yeah I know I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be a disciple following you.
When this world falls apart, dear Lord, I’m gonna be
I’m gonna be the one trusting you.
But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the one who walks a thousand miles
To stand outside your door.

Before I ran my relay, I went through several weeks of training to improve my speed and endurance. When we all finished, everyone of us got a medal, just like those who ran the whole distance.

I am not running to get a medal that will not last. My reward is eternal life with Jesus.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 (NIV)

via Daily Prompt: Retrospective

A Glimmer of Light

In the second week of the Living Deep sermon series at my church, the topic was a Deeper Walk. John wrote: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him, yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth (1 John 1:5-6). Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6).

John described an “experiential test” of whether a person is truly a follower of Christ: the test is how you behave. If you have been born of God, you cannot keep on sinning as you did before (1 John 3:9). If you have fellowship with God, you will keep his commands. Just as light contrasts with darkness, a person who has been saved should be noticeably different from a person who hasn’t.

In no uncertain terms, John challenged believers to be honest about our sinfulness. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives (1 John 1:8-10).

Pastor Brad said that we should admit our sins to ourselves, confess them to the Lord and to others, and replace the sin we are giving up with the word of God.

In the silent time of prayer, I confessed that I call people dirty, dehumanizing names when I am upset with them (though not to their faces). I am disrespectful like this when I’m driving and get annoyed with another driver or when I’m watching TV and hear someone lying. The other person can’t hear me but God can.

I know that it isn’t enough to control my tongue; my heart needs to change. Jesus said, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).

John’s admonitions are humbling. While it is no fun to be called a liar or to be confronted with my sinfulness, it is good for me to be humiliated on a regular basis! I claim to have fellowship with Jesus yet I continue to walk in the darkness. I am too proud of my own spiritual maturity, telling myself that I’m not like “judgy” religious people, that I’m more loving and tolerant. But I fall so short of the example Jesus set!

What does the Lord require of me? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with my God (Micah 6:8).

John described the faith walk in very black and white terms; either you walk in the light or you walk in the darkness. I agree that Christians should take sin seriously. But even for those of strong faith, the spiritual journey is not without struggles. Richard Rohr wrote that we never get to spiritual maturity without engaging in “shadowboxing” and the struggle continues for the rest of your life.

When I go for a walk in the sun, I put sunglasses on to protect my eyes, which are pretty sensitive to bright light. As I walk under the trees and the light becomes dappled, my eyes struggle to adjust to the changing light. They can’t figure out whether to dilate or constrict. Sunglasses off. Sunglasses on. I adjust to the changing conditions the best way I know how.

I want to be a glimmer of light in the darkness. I want to have a heart radically changed by grace. I want to be proof that Jesus is who he says he is.

*****************

Selected verses from “Live Like That” (Sidewalk Prophets)
Am I proof
That You are who you say You are
That grace can really change a heart
Do I live like Your love is true
People pass
And even if they don’t know my name
Is there evidence that I’ve been changed
When they see me, do they see You
I want to live like that
And give it all I have
So that everything I say and do
Points to You

Living Deep

My church just started a new sermon series called Living Deep, which will be based on First John, a letter written by the apostle John. My pastor said this book is challenging to preach about because there are no stories and no characters. It is deep. It is luminescent.

To live a deep and meaningful life, you have to dive deep. In the first sermon, Pastor Brad told us about his scuba diving trip in Maui. He described an experience that was beautiful and unforgettable. I have never been scuba diving so I can only imagine how beautiful and awe-inspiring it is. I do know the joy that comes from experiencing the beauty of nature. I do know the joy that comes from knowing the deep, deep love of Jesus.

God is light. In him, there is no darkness at all.

How great is the love that the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are!

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.

This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

He who has the Son has life.

Here’s to diving deep and experiencing the deep, deep, luminescent love of Jesus!

via Daily Prompt: Luminescent