Get Real with God
Get real with God

Bible study can be encouraging…until we begin to put the people of the Bible on a pedestal.

It’s so easy to think of them as almost mythical individuals. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Peter, Paul—we read their accounts and imagine them to be larger-than-life. We even excuse their foibles, frailties, and outright sins because, well, they’re biblical heroes of the faith!

But doing this creates a problem. The problem is that we begin to believe the lie that the transformative power of God isn’t for real people like us with real problems and real sin. After all, the people of the Bible didn’t live lives that included the kind of things we deal with today…or did they?

Then we get to the book of Psalms. In the Psalms we read authors who bare their hearts and tell it like it is. They get real.

Here are just a few examples:

Ever feel as if God doesn’t care about your troubled circumstances? So did David in Psalm 10:1 (NIV):

“Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

But David did not remain stuck there. He refocused on God’s character in verses 16-18:

“The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed….”

We see a similar response in Psalm 13. David began with verses 1-2:

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”

Then he concluded in verses 5-6:

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”

Ever feel envious of the wicked and wonder why they prosper while you’re trying to do what’s right? So did Asaph in Psalm 73:3-5:

“I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.”

But just like David, Asaph changed his perspective by the end of the Psalm in verse 28:

“But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”

Perhaps you’ve been falsely accused. David understood that, too, as he wrote in Psalm 109:1-2:

“My God, whom I praise, do not remain silent, for people who are wicked and deceitful have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues.”

And once again, he concluded with a different perspective in verses 30-31:

“With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord; in the great throng of worshipers I will praise him. For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them.”

David and Asaph did not allow their circumstances to define God. Yet they were authentic and transparent about their struggles. And from reading passages such as these, I’ve learned three things to help me as a follower of Christ in my relationship with God:

  • Problem:
    I can be real about my problems in talking with God and with others. Being a Christian doesn’t mean we slap a plastic smile on our face and pretend life is wonderful while we’re crying on the inside. Being authentic means facing reality, whether it’s pleasant or not.
  • Pour out your heart to God:
    God can handle whatever I need to tell Him. He is omniscient—He knows everything. Which means He already knows what I’m thinking, so nothing I say to Him will be a surprise.
  • Perspective:
    It’s okay to tell God how we feel. Even Jesus did it in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me…” (Luke 22:42). But like David and Asaph, He also refocused on who God is—in this case, His sovereignty—when He finished the sentence by saying, “…yet not my will, but yours be done.

    I can be real about my circumstances and my discouragement, but I can’t stay stuck there. As a child of God, in Christ, and with the indwelling Holy Spirit, I need to look up. To consider the character of God. To rest in the truth of His attributes. And to trust that He is always at work for my good and for His glory.

Those people in the Bible? Yes they were real people with real problems. Let’s learn from them and model the same authenticity. For as we read what they wrote, we hear echoes of the cry of our own heart.

And when we get real with God and others, a watching world will see His power lived out in real people.


 
Does God Ever Forget?
Does God forget sin?

Anyone other than me find themselves becoming a little more forgetful as they get older?

It happens, doesn’t it? The same weakness we saw in our parents and grandparents (and chuckled at!) is now showing up in us. And if you haven’t experienced this yet, no worries…it will happen!

Forgetfulness. It’s a human foible. But is it one God shares with us?

Some people say yes. They say God forgets our sin because of the forgiveness we have in Jesus. They cite verses such as:

  • “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” ~ Isaiah 43:25
  • “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” ~ Hebrews 8:12
  • “Then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” ~ Hebrews 10:17

But is not remembering the same as forgetting? Maybe for people, but not for God. God is not like a doddering old grandfather with a faulty memory.

Whenever the Bible refers to God remembering, it has nothing to do with a poor memory. He is perfect and omniscient—He knows everything.

When the Bible says God remembers, it means God is ready to act.

Consider these examples of verses that talk about God remembering:

  • “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided.” ~ Genesis 8:1
  • “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb.” ~ Genesis 30:22
  • “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” ~ Exodus 2:24

So when God “forgets” our sin, it means He will not act on them. He will not hold them against us. He will not pour His wrath on us. And He will not judge and condemn us.

Why? Because Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath so we would not have to.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” ~ Romans 5:8-9

When God “blots out our sins” He covers them with His Son’s blood, sacrificed for us. He doesn’t forget our sin. How could He? If He “forgot” our sin, then He’d have to forget the reason for Jesus’s sacrificial death.

An infinite, perfect, omniscient God forgets nothing.

A holy, righteous, just God requires payment for sin.

And a merciful, compassionate, and gracious God provides that payment.

The result is that there is now no sin for Him to act on—to “remember”—because everything that needed to be done was done at the Cross.

Those who put their full faith and trust in Christ are clean in God’s sight…as clean as His Son, Jesus.

That’s why King David could say with confidence in Psalm 18:20-24:

“The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his rules were before me,
    and his statutes I did not put away from me.
I was blameless before him,
    and I kept myself from my guilt.
So the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
    according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.”

Despite all his sin, David knew, in God’s sight, he was righteous. And Christians can say the same thing.

It’s all about amazing grace. Intentional grace. Grace that provides a right standing before God even though we don’t deserve it. Grace that enables us to say with David, I’m righteous in His sight.

Not forgetfulness. Grace.

May we never confuse them.

*All verses are quoted from the English Standard Version (ESV).


 
Shepherds in the Headlines – the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly
Shepherds

One of the most significant roles described in the Bible is the role of shepherd.

But it’s one that can also be abused.

Lately, our present-day news headlines have been filled with accounts of the worst possible abuse by 21st century pastor-shepherds.

For years, many Christians have watched the Roman Catholic church struggle with a tsunami of scandalous charges. Accounts of gross sexual immorality by clergy who have not only neglected to shepherd their congregations, their abuse of the flock has been egregious.

This past week, a protestant denomination has also been in the headlines. The curtain has been torn away to reveal similar charges of sexual immorality that must grieve the heart of God in ways I can only imagine.

Back in the Old Testament, the prophets of God spoke judgment on religious leaders appointed to shepherd God’s people. For example:

“Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?… I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock”
(Ezekiel 34:2, 10 NIV).

But God also identified Himself as a shepherd:

“As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them,
so will I look after my sheep” (Ezekiel 34:12 NIV).

And, of course, Jesus said:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I know my sheep and my sheep know me”
(John 10:11, 14 NIV).

If earthly pastor-shepherds are a picture of God’s care for His people, surely the abuses seen today bring sorrow to His heart.

The Puritan preacher, Thomas Watson, once said, “The sins of the wicked anger God—but the sins of professing Christians grieve him.”

There are shepherds—flawed and sinful.

Then there’s the Good Shepherd—perfect and holy.

The question is, will we allow the flaws of earthly shepherds to turn us away from the Good Shepherd? All too often, that’s exactly what happens. Or we judge all earthly shepherds by the failings of a few.

Sometimes, it’s not about the shepherd at all. Sometimes it’s about the stubbornness of the sheep.

This week I was challenged to let the Good Shepherd shepherd me. To submit to His leading. His prompting. His correction. To listen for His priorities rather than push ahead with my own. To examine my good intentions in the light of God’s intentions.

Will I read Psalm 23 not just as poetic literature, but as an instruction for life?

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (ESV).

I was challenged to surrender to the Good Shepherd in thought, word, and deed. Sometimes this means listening when He tells me to lie down and rest. Sometimes it means following as His Holy Spirit leads, even when I feel too tired to continue. But what will never change is that I—a stubborn sheep—am loved, cared for, and belong to the Good Shepherd who is always at work for my ultimate good and His eternal glory.

Don’t allow corrupt shepherds to tarnish your view of the Good Shepherd. And don’t place human, flawed shepherds—even the best of them—on a pedestal so high that they are set up for failure.

Instead, our pastor-shepherds need our prayers and our encouragement as we all love and serve the Good Shepherd together.

So now I extend this same challenge to you. Regardless of the examples of earthly shepherds—good or bad—will you allow the Good Shepherd to shepherd you?


 
Are All World Religions the Same?

The beginning of a new year is often a time for introspection. A time for new year’s resolutions. Even a time to explore religion and spirituality as a way to start the new year “right.” But are all world religions the same?

Some people think so. And if all religions carry equal weight, then it’s easy to cobble together aspects of various religions to satisfy their preferences. They view religion as menu items on an old Chinese take-out menu—pick one from column A and 2 from column B and you’ve got a version of religion that meets your inclinations.

So let’s take a look…are all religions really the same? Of all the current world religions:

…how many of their founders were prophesied to come?

It doesn’t take much for someone to appear on the scene without any warning and make authoritative claims. It’s an entirely different situation for hundreds of prophecies over thousands of years to point to one person…and have this one person fulfill them.

Only Jesus Christ was prophesied to come. Through His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus fulfilled more than 300 prophecies—a statistical impossibility by human standards.

…how many founders of world religions have died and remain buried or cremated?

All of them…except one. The founder of every world religion has had their death documented. Their burial sites (or cremation) have also been documented.

But Jesus Christ is the only one whose tomb is empty (Mark 16:6). Multiple historical evidences prove the resurrection. For more information, please check out The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

…how many founders not only claimed to be God, but proved it by miraculous acts documented by eyewitnesses?

Jesus Christ performed miracles attesting to His claims and authority—miracles documented in the Bible (Matthew 9:5-6). Now before you dismiss the Bible as a biased book written by His followers, remember there were thousands of unbelievers present at the time the New Testament scriptures were written. Any of them could have refuted the documented events included in the Bible if those events were not true.

…how many world religions require a life of good works to achieve heaven?

When religion requires a life of good works, it creates a conundrum. In simple terms, how many good works are enough? How do you know when you’ve met the minimum requirement? Do you even know what the minimum is?

Christianity is the only religion that starts by saying we cannot do enough good works to be accepted by God (Ephesians 2:8-9). It’s impossible for sinful humanity to clean itself up to meet a holy God’s standards. Instead, God came down to us—He became man in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only person to live a perfect life, die a sacrificial, substitutionary death on our behalf, and be resurrected (I Corinthians 15:1-4).

No one else offers this grace. Grace gives us what we don’t deserve: God’s love and acceptance. A good thing, too, because we could never earn what God gives freely.

…how many world religions provide you with a divine Helper to assist you in living a life honoring the One in whom you believe?

Only one: Christianity. Before Christ’s death, He promised to send the Helper who would indwell every believer (John 14:16). While our good works cannot earn us a place in heaven, they are our way of showing our gratitude for the gift of salvation. If I have been saved from eternal death, how could I not want to live a life honoring the One who saved me?

The Holy Spirit lives and works in every believer (I Corinthians 3:16) to prompt, convict, encourage, and empower us. This enables us to live in a way that testifies to the power of God in the life of His children.

Religion or relationship?

Christianity may be characterized as a world religion, but in reality, it’s more of a relationship than a religion. Christianity, in its truest, biblical form, is personal. It’s an individual choice to surrender to the God who created you, loves you, and saved you.

Before you dismiss it as just another world religion, you owe it to yourself to explore the claims of Jesus Christ. Read the Bible and ask God to show you the truth.

If you do, your life will never be the same.


 
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