Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Island of Knowledge

Can God use me?  If the answer is yes, what are the barriers to God's work in and through me?  Great Lenten questions!

A friend was trying to work on a home project that required cutting boards.  He was going to buy a jigsaw to make a precise/clean cut.  I told him that to do that he needed something more like a circular saw ... it isn't the appropriate use for a jigsaw.  To do the right job the right tool is needed.  Sometimes God gives us aptitude and programs our DNA with abilities.  To do those pre-programmed things we do pretty well.  But what if God has the ability to grow us ... change us ... add a passion for His plan to the mix?  What if all these things will amplify our giftedness with the fuel and power of passion?  What if there is a good God who desires to lead us and teach us?  What if we allow God to knock down the barriers that keep us from becoming the very best followers we can be!

1 Corinthians 12 is a description of both spiritual gifts and aptitudes that God gives people like you and me.  It doesn't describe those impediments that we place in God's way.  One of those impediments (knowledge) is our subject this week.

Theoretical physicist, Marcelo Gleiser, winner of the $1.5 million Templeton prize for expressing (through science) the value and existence of the spiritual dimension,  says it like this ... "we act as though we have the ability to know everything through science, though we live life on a island of knowledge in an ocean of truth."  Gleiser, in this quote, expresses the 2 sides of knowledge that block our progress and, during this Lenten time of listening, learning, seeking and struggling, keep us from seeing the spiritual dimension.  These 2 things are simple but pervasive:

1. The first problem with knowledge is that to gain knowledge you must exist in humility to truth.  Some of my friends call this 'intellectual honesty' which basically says ... "I am empty and need to be filled."  When we are haughty and arrogant we believe we know all that is necessary.  We have what educators call a 'fixed' mindset which hoards our meager knowledge in our little shell saying 'I am complete with what I have.'  All the while God is saying ... "open your eyes and see me ... open your ears and hear me ... I am still talking, why have you ceased to listen?"  The rich young ruler walks off sad because he is unwilling to empty himself and be filled with God's better eternal stuff.  Judas dies believing that Jesus isn't the Rome-conqueror he expects (and he isn't there to see the miracle of the resurrection).  Jeremiah's Israel can't see past the law and go off into exile to hopefully be emptied in the wilderness of captivity and then refilled with the presence of God's only son.  To know we must humble ourselves to the truth God so wants to give us.  We must be ready to be filled.

2. The second problem with knowledge is that we fail to seek learning openly.  Our colleges and universities are filled with people who, at least some of them, earnestly seek to know.  Our news media vettes their version of the 'news' because they have confined the truth to their desired world-view.  Academics in many of those colleges and universities present their knowledge without acknowledging the limitations of their context.  Gleiser says that we are in an era that has started a new religion ... scienceism.  We jump in whole-heartedly to 'truths' that science has found without looking at the historical and methodological problems of science itself.  We think because science has, through an often limited and flawed scientific process filled with assumptions, found something out, that becomes truth.  Gleiser says that 'truth' holds (and is defended, funded and forwarded passionately) until new truth supplants it.  He wonders what it would be like if we stepped back from the 'island of knowledge' which we live in and realized that there is an ocean full of things we don't know.  He also wonders about the arrogance of terms like 'the theory of everything' which implies the laughable idea we CAN know everything!  We must desire truth ... not science, information or a list of facts.

What do these two things mean to us ... Christians ... seekers ... people who say we are 'followers?'  I think we realize that we truly have been gifted by a God who is not shy about 're-gifting.'  We say, "God doesn't call the equipped ... God equips the called."  Then we ignore this totally saying, "God will place me doing things I am good at!"  That is not acting in humility to the truth and the power of God.  That is not being open to the fact that God just might want us to learn some new stuff and grow into a 'new creation.'  If we are followers let's listen to Jesus as He says ... "learn from me because I am lowly and humble in heart ... and you will find rest for your souls! (Matthew 11:29)"  Grow!

Finally, stop worshiping things that lead us away from the truth of God.  The verse above (Matthew 11:29) says ... "Learn from ME!"  Enjoy science.  Rejoice in new discoveries.  Hope we will solve mysteries through this gift from God that can make lives better and heal us.  But listen to Jesus and to the Father as they tell us to be careful about this self-centered arrogance of thinking our knowledge, our ideology, our science and our feel-good approach to knowing is 'all that.'  Romans 11:33 (MSG) says ...  "Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God ... this deep, deep wisdom?  It's way over our heads.  We'll never figure it out!"  Do you believe this and many other statements about the truth and wisdom of a God bigger and smarter than me/you?  I live on an island of knowledge ... but there is a vast ocean out there, full of stuff God knows.  Let's learn together!  Randy

Monday, March 18, 2019

Could It Be?

Michael Card writes the following phrase ... "Could it be You make Your presence known so often by Your absence, could it be that questions tell us more than answers ever do, could it be that You would really rather die than live without us, could it be the only answer that means anything is You?"  I love this beautiful song about searching and listening for God's beauty, grace, provision and power.  It asks the question, "Could it be?"

Psalm 139 mirrors some of the thoughts in this song as it presents both answers and new questions.  I get a lot of questions.  People are trying to find their way in a world filled with confusion.  People are wondering about the Church.  People ask about evil and why it exists.  Let's take a Lenten journey through some of the questions and answers from Psalm 139.

First, does God love us?  David's resounding answer is 'absolutely!'  God is present with us (I can't go anywhere Your Spirit doesn't exist [v:8]).  God's presence is both aware and uplifting (You hem me in behind and before me [v:5]).  God holds us close (You lay Your hand upon me [v:10]).  God created us carefully (you wove me together in my mother's womb [v:13]).  I think you get the point!  The 5 love languages (Gary Chapman) are gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch and acts of service.  All of these are found in Psalm 139 as David describes a God he loves and trusts.

Second, does God call us?  David believes God both forms us (we are made in a secret place ... with ordained, God-planned, days [v:15-16]) for His purpose and His will.  I believe that will is expressed into the world as the Church.  I often hear people talk about the faults, the failures and the hypocrisy of the Church.  I would affirm that all of these things happen.  So ... why does Jesus call the Church His bride?  Why does the entire New Testament plant, struggle and affirm such an enterprise?  Maybe the answer is that God teaches, leads and grows us through the struggles we have with one another.  Maybe there is a secret blessing in trials that bring us closer to a mature understanding of God.  Here's an observation.  Those people who reject the very imperfect Church believe one of two lies.  The first lie is that they are above and better than those hypocrites, ne'er-do-wells and failures that make up the Church.  The second lie is that their infirmity, sin and depravity is too pervasive for them to walk in the door of the Church.  Both of these lies are filled with arrogance (I am too good or too bad), self-centeredness (I can do something that trumps God) and misinformation (I am so smart I know the mind of God).  God calls all who ask for God and believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Stop insulting God's Spirit by refuting His calling, His bride (the Church) and His plan (saving the world with messed-up people like you and me!

Finally, a very hard question ... do I have value?  David's answer in Psalm 139 might be found in those questions that provide beautiful answers.  Why would God protect something that isn't valuable?  Do you believe God makes precious things (like people)?  Why would God be intentional about something that had no value (God doesn't do trivial stuff)?  Why would the greatest king in the history of Israel (the chosen people) ask God to inventory, assess and correct him?  Who is capable of making darkness light (v:12).  Could it be the only answer that means anything is God?  "Lord ... give us Your light ... show us Your presence ... affirm that we are Your creation ... lead us in the way everlasting!"  Randy

Tuesday, March 12, 2019


I like to cook.  I have the chance to prepare meals for myself and for Lee and I often.  When we go out to eat I am tasting, experimenting and observing.  How is the food prepared?  Is it good?  Does the meal highlight an ingredient or mask it?  One of my pet peeves is when food is so over-seasoned you cannot tell one part of the meal from the other.  The other day I had green beans that were so filled with salt, they were no longer 'green beans.'  They were just green things that tasted like salt.  It did not make for a good meal!

I think sometimes we do life like those green beans.  We try to taste and look like everything else on the plate.  We lose our distinction, our mindset, our desire to become all God is making us.  We are happy tasting like everything else in the 'stew' of the world rather than tasting distinct, wild, free and different.  How can we do better?

We can become those people who believe in change.  Lent begins with Ash Wednesday.  This year, as I placed the ashes on each forehead, drawing a cross, I said, "You are chosen by God ... repent and believe the Gospel."  Three things in that little statement.

First, you are chosen.  The word in the Old Testament is 'distinct or peculiar (Deut. 14:2).'   If you are chosen by God you are chosen to be distinct ... to taste like yourself.  I want to tell people, "It's ok ... go ahead ... be and become what God is making you because that 'person' will be good."  You are here to add a distinct flavor to this world.  God has chosen you because the world will be better if your flavor is added.  He could have just soaked you in salt and made you taste like everyone else, but that isn't how God cooks.  You will add to the flavor and being chosen will make the 'team' better!

Second, 'repent!'  The word generally means to go in a different direction.  The rich young ruler (Mark 10) was told to change direction and go somewhere uncomfortable, dangerous, difficult and good.  God is bold with the seasoning when He cooks!  To change you must move from a 'stasis' mindset to a 'growth' mindset.  I think when Jesus says repent or John the Baptist says "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! (Matthew 3:2)" it is a call to change, growth and betterment.  All those people coming down to the river to be baptized by John the Baptist were to go back changed, different and better.  I hope when you heard those words on Ash Wednesday you went away chosen ... repenting.  If you missed the service, it is not too late to say, "Lord ... I want to be chosen ... I want you to change me!"

There is a third thing ... "Believe the Gospel."  Jesus said, "Whoever does God's will is my sister and brother and mother (Matthew 12:50)!"  He said this while His actual mother and brothers stood outside waiting to talk to Him.  Jesus connects 'belief' with 'action' here.  We sing songs about belief ('where He leads me I will follow', 'here I am to bow down ... here I am to say you are my God', etc.).  As Jesus is 'seasoning' the world with strange and peculiar people like you and me, He is hoping that these people are believing the Gospel in their actions.  That is convicting to me because I so often fail to express my belief and His Lordship in my life.  But that is the call!

You are chosen (you are part of the team in the biggest game ever), you should be in a constant state of repentance (change toward God is always a good thing) and you are an expression of Gospel truth in the world (that flavor will be stark, wild, distinct and refreshing).  I am glad you are in the 'stew' of life with me!  God bless!  Randy

Monday, March 4, 2019


If I had to sum up the overall concept of Lent in one word it might be the word "central."  I offer this word as both a question and a statement.  The question is ... "What is at the center of your life?"  I hope this is a good question because I have been observing a lot about this concept.

Jesus talked often about this.  He asked the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-27) to sell it all and give the money to the poor ... was his focus on his stuff, keeping the law, accumulating power?  Let's look closer at this familiar story.

1. Motive - The rich young ruler's motive is revealed at the very beginning of the story.  His motive is central to understanding the point of the story.  This young man was a 'getter.'  He got things.  He got wealth.  He got power, probably because of his affluence.  He was young but had accumulated wealth at a young age.  As I view this man with a critical eye I wonder if the lesson here (partly) is to ask myself if I too am a getter.  While I am not rich, young or powerful, I do have a propensity toward getting.  I, like the young man in the story, might be very interested to ask, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  How do I "achieve," "do," "get" eternal life.  This is a very self-focused question.  "Self" is at the center of the man's motive.  The center of this man's life is getting and possessing so that he might 'inherit' eternal life.  I heard a statement from and old minister once ... he said, "In order for their to be an inheritance, someone must die."  Where this man is centered on himself, Jesus asks him to get rid of those things that actually 'possess' him.  Jesus said, "Dude ... you have to recenter your life so that you can find God, yourself and your place in this world."  I wonder what Jesus might say to us?  Are we getters?  Is our focus on 'getting to' the land over yonder, or are we true evangelists who are concerned about other people knowing, growing in, loving and proclaiming Jesus?  Look at our music.  Go through the hymnal or our list of praise songs.  How many are about reaching the lost?  How many are about 'my' salvation?  Another verse comes to mind ... "Those who want to save their lives will lose them, but those who lose their lives for me will save them! (Matthew 16:25)."

2. Meaning - Where does the rich young ruler find his 'meaning' or 'purpose?'  Based on the story, he will not sell his stuff.  It could be because he fears the monetary loss, but I wonder if it not because he will lose who he is?  His salvation, his foundation and his center are his possessions.  Jesus is not just asking him to sell out to make a point.  I don't think Jesus gives one hoot about being right here.  I think Jesus has love and admiration for a young man who is, at least on the surface, interested in eternal life.  Jesus says, "If you are REALLY interested in eternal life, make it the center of your life.  Make it your purpose.  Make it your passion!"

3. Mission - In life, during Lent and just as a good personal practice, we need to know the mission.  This young man's mission was keeping up his lifestyle and keeping the law.  He was good at both.  I think this is the context in Isaiah (64:6) when our goodness is spoken of as 'filthy rags.'  So, what should our mission be?  Maybe 3 things ... a) be focused (centered) on allowing God to bring us and others to Himself (Exodus 19), b) be centered on following (Matthew 4:19) God (He doesn't need my advice on leading) and c) be centered on a lifestyle that praises God (Psalm 66:4).

What is my motive, my meaning and my mission?  Randy