BETA

Facts of the Matter

A weekly letter of encouragement and challenge to business and professional men and women

Archive for April, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

DEALING WITH LIFES DISSAPOINTMENTS

Last night a long time friend called to share disappointments he is facing in his life.  While in his twenties he had in his mind what his service to God would look like, and how it would play out. Over the years, however, the demands of supporting and raising a family, of developing a career, and dealing with the intensity and complexity of life in a major metropolis, have exacted a far greater toll on him than he ever imagined.  At mid-life, he finds himself exhausted, struggling with depression, and disoriented as to what his purpose in life should be. As we chatted, several thoughts came to mind:

First, it is God, not I, who determines the direction of my life: In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his stepsA man’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand his own way? I know, O LORD, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps. (Pro. 16:9; 20:24 ; Jer.10:23) Observe Jesus words to Peter, in foretelling his martyrdom,  I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.  Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, Follow me!"  (Jn. 21:18-21) (See Psa. 33:11; 135:6)

Second, God often accomplishes his sovereign and mysterious purposes without explanation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: What have you done? …I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. (Dan. 4:35; Isa. 46:10) (See Psa. 33:11; 115:3; 135:6) How, for example, am I to comprehend the fact that God directed Hosea to take a prostitute for a wife; instructed Abraham to kill his son, and took away everything that was most precious to Job, one of his righteous adherents?

In humility and with childlike trust I am to choose to surrender myself to the Lordship and sovereignty of our incomprehensible God: My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughtsDestruction is certain for those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot ever argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, `Stop, you are doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, `How clumsy can you be!’. (Isa. 55:8, 9 NIV; 45:9 NLT)  (See Psa. 92:5; Hos. 14:9; Rom. 11:33 -36)

Philip Yancey said, "We are asked to live out the life of Christ in the world, not just to refer back to it or describe it. We announce His message, work for justice, pray for mercy, and suffer with the sufferers. . . .He has given me joy and love and happiness and goodness. They have come in unexpected flashes, in the midst of my confused, imperfect world, but they have been enough to convince me that my God is worthy of trust. Knowing Him is worth all enduring."

Third, Gods plan for me is not primarily about what he wants me to do, but what he intends for me to become:  Christlike. The reality is that most spiritual transformation transpires through suffering:  Werejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Rom. 5:3, 4 Selected) The suffering allowed by God in Romans 8:18-27, culminates in our conformity into Christlikeness: We can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son  (Rom. 8:28 , 29a Msg.)

"In a way I wish I could take to heaven my old, tattered Everest & Jennings wheelchair. I would point to the empty seat and say, Lord, for decades I was paralyzed in this chair. But it showed me how paralyzed You must have felt to be nailed to Your Cross. My limitations taught me something about the limitations You endured when You laid aside your robes of state and put on the indignity of human flesh.  At that point, with my strong and glorified body, I might sit in it, rub the armrests with my hands, look up at Jesus, and add, The weaker I felt in this chair, the harder I leaned on You. And the harder I leaned, the more I discovered how strong You are. Thank you, Jesus for learning obedience in your suffering…You gave me grace to learn obedience in mine." Joni Eareckson Tada

QUESTION:  Have you come to this level of mature perspective in responding to Gods sovereign plan for your life?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

HONEST DOUBT OR STUBBORN UNBELIEF? (Part #2)

In last weeks Facts we discussed Weak Faith and Wavering Faith. The third characteristic of honest doubt is:

#3  Perplexed Faith: Do you ever have times when life is not working?  Everything seems out of focus. The pieces arent falling together.  Confusion reigns. The Greek word for perplexity, aporeo, conveys the idea of having no way out; being at a loss;  standing in doubt.

The Apostle Paul experienced perplexity in his faith: We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of deathWe are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair.  The encouraging news is that Paul and his team, amidst their perplexity learnedthat we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  (2 Cor. 1, 8, 9; 4:8 – Selected) (See Lk. 24:1-8; John 13:21-29; Acts 2:5-13; 10:9-20)

So, my fellow struggler, take heart. Take your weak, wavering, and perplexed faith to Jesus, because, We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  (Heb. 4:15b, 16)

Stubborn unbelief, however is a whole different matter:  One word used in the New Testament for unbelief is a combination of two Greek words, apeitheia and apistia, that conveys the idea of  volitional, disobedience and distrust. The account of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead serves as an example. Jews who had just witnessed the miracle of Lazarus resurrection by Jesus, immediately set out to murder the Savior. (John 11:46-53) The miracle was self-evident for all to see. Yet these willful unbelievers were cold and calculating in their decision to not believe in the One behind the miracle. It was recorded of them and other unbelievers, Despite all the miraculous signs [Christ] had done, most of the people did not believe in him. (John 12:37) In another context, Jesus said of willful, disobedient and distrustful unbelievers, O you unbelieving (warped, wayward, rebellious) and thoroughly perverse generation! How long am I to remain with you? How long am I to bear with you?  (Mt. 17:17b Amp.) (See Dt. 9:23; Ps. 106:7, 8; John 3:36; Acts 14:2; 19:9; 28:24; Titus 1:15; Heb. 3:12)

You may recall the story of the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus, who longed to eat what fell from the rich mans table. The wealthy man ends up in hell, and Lazarus at the side of Abraham.  In torment, the rich man cries out to Abraham, across the great gulf that separated Abraham from the place of torment, I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. In other words, the brothers in their stubborn unbelief would not respond to the terrifying truth of hell amidst the most convincing of evidence.  (Luke 16:27-31 – NIV)

The Greek word dialogismos in the New Testament conveys the idea of stubborn unbelief in the form of disputation, doubt, debate, vain imaginings, foolish reasoning, and stupid speculation. This is the word that was used in the account of the crippled man who was let down through the roof for healing. When Jesus saw him, he forgave his sins. In reaction, the Pharisees and teachers began to reason, saying, Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But Jesus, aware of their reasonings, answered and said to them, Why are you reasoning in your hearts?  That is, why are you engaging in stupid speculations and stubborn unbelief?  (Lk. 5:21, 22)  (See Acts 19:9; Heb. 3:12)

In summary: Honest doubt is a problem encountered by believers. Stubborn unbelief is a characteristic of non-believers.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

HONEST DOUBT OR STUBBORN UNBELIEF? (Part #1)

The other day, a young, newly minted PhD philosophy professor sat in my living room, expressing with angst doubts he harbors concerning the veracity of the Biblical accounts. It is obvious that his blue chip education is crashing head on with his faith in Jesus.

Tell me, do you ever have moments of doubt? Ever wonder if the whole Christian thing is a charade?  Ever fear that God wont show up in your time of crisis?  How do you think God views our struggles with doubt?  Is it ok to doubt? Is there a difference between  honest doubt and unbelief?  

The Scripture seem to divide honest doubt into three categories.

#1  Weak Faith: Remember the father whose son Jesus delivered from an evil spirit? Said the father, If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us, to which Jesus replied, Everything is possible for him who believes. Said the man in response, Lord I believehelp my weakness of faith. (Mk. 9:23 Amp, 24).  My guess is that what this father meant in his heart of hearts was, Lord, it is useless to hide this unbelief that still struggles in my heart. I wrestle with it and cry out for your help against it. Obviously, the Lord had compassion on him. After all, he healed his son.

The disciples on the Road to Emmaus after the crucifixion said, We thought [Jesus] was the Messiah, to which the Master replied, O foolish ones [sluggish in mind, dull in perception] and of heart to believe. (Lk. 24:25 Amp.)  Commentator Adam Clarke writes of these men:  They were slow of heart backward, not easy to be persuaded of the truth, always giving way to doubtfulness and distrust.  Yet, it was these very men Jesus commissioned to take the Gospel to the ends of the world. We know from history that most of them were martyred for their faith.

#2  Wavering Faith: John the Baptist, languishing in prison while awaiting execution – after powerfully heralding the coming of Christ wavers in his faith, sending an emissary to Jesus, asking, Are you the Christ, or do we seek another?  And Jesus response? Castigation?  Angry disappointment? No, exoneration. I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist. (Matt. 11:3, 11)

Remember the account of the disciples observing Jesus walking on the water?  Peter asked if he could walk to Christ.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, Lord, save me! Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. You of little faith, he said, why did you doubt?"  That is, Why did you waver?  (Matt. 14:30, 31) Yes, Peter wavered in his faith. But he grew in faith to become the powerful leader of the 1st Century church.  Years later, he wrote this powerful statement on faith: In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (I Pet. 1:6, 7)  Some years later Peter was martyred for his faith.

After the resurrection, Jesus met the eleven on the mountain where he commissioned them to take the Gospel to the world. Yet, When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  (Matt. 28:17) That is, they wavered in their faith. Had this been my training program, I probably would have said, Hey guys.  Time out. Lets take another year or so and go back over this issue of faith..  Given your shaky belief system, Im not quite ready to entrust the future of Christianity into your hands.  Not Jesus. He went with what he had, knowing, as history has proven, that their wavering faith would mature into stable, strong convictions.

Next week we will conclude our discussion with Perplexed Faith, and Stubborn unbelief.