Peace that passes understanding

It is easy to say that a person has faith as a Christian.  But often this is said when there is no stress and no actual call for faith.  Real faith amounts to trusting God when times are difficult – when you fear losing your job, when you have relationship issues, when there are medical problems.  I consider myself to have a decent amount of faith even in the toughest of circumstances but I will be the first to admit that my faith is not complete and that it waivers from time to time.

There are times that I have experienced a faith that is so complete that I know it is not my own.  I have been swept up in a peace that passes all understanding and can only come from God.  I don’t share any of this to brag about my own great faith because it is not about me at all but about God.

I’ve had some medical issues this spring.  This can be traced back to back problems that I had in the fall and really goes back over three years when I developed a hernia.  In short, I’ve been dealing with issues on and off for three years now but I say this without complaining.  Things have come to a head this spring however.  Right at Easter time I discovered that my ongoing back issues were the result of a ruptured disc that I’ve apparently had for many years and was unaware of it.  Therapy has helped alleviate the pain a great deal and I’m very thankful for this.

Just as I was getting better from my back issues (it was literally the day after my chiropractor cut my treatments back) I found myself in the emergency room.  Without being graphic, I’ll say that it involved bleeding and a bathroom issue.  I expected to discover a minor issue that I’d be given medication for and then be sent on my way home.  Instead, I ended up passing out in the bathroom of the emergency room.

This was the first time that I’ve ever passed out and I must say that it was a very surreal experience.  One minute I was awake, the next moment I was surrounded by doctors and nurses in a hospital bed where they were hooking up IV’s and monitors.  As I was stabilized, it became apparent that what I thought was a minor issue was going to involve at least spending the night in the hospital.  My passing out was a result of dehydration and minor blood loss.  The doctors would be running multiple tests to determine the cause of my problem.

At this moment, despite not knowing what was really going on, I found myself overwhelmed with peace.  I was exactly where I needed to be.  If I had waited to get checked out, as my first thought had been, in all likelihood I would have passed out at home.  There’s no telling what the effects would have been on my body but I’m certain that it would have at least scared my wife to death and of course I’d have ended up in the hospital anyway.

As I was stabilized and the doctors and nurses cleared out, I found myself humming “God is so good.”  At this point my ears were still sort of ringing and my tongue felt like three times its proper size.  Every logical, human response says that I should have been freaking out at this time.  But instead my thought process led me to “God is so good.”  This is a peace that has no earthly basis and can only be from God.

My tests ended up showing that I have a large polyp in my colon.  The size is unusual to begin with but furthermore doctors usually don’t even begin checking for polyps until the age of 50 which gives me some time before a normal scan would even be done for this.  As it was explained that this polyp would have to be removed and there was a slight chance that it was cancerous, I continued to feel the peace of God about the situation.  The surgery would require a week long recovery in the hospital which I wasn’t looking forward to but I’d do whatever was necessary.  Once the biopsy results came back, I’d then schedule surgery to have it removed.

My biopsy results came back that the polyp was benign but the doctor wanted to send me to another specialist who could better handle my problem.  The doctor I was referred to turns out to be one of the top rated doctors in the country for this kind of problem.  Instead of cutting me open from the outside and having a week long stay in the hospital, this doctor can do my surgery as an outpatient procedure.

Because of the size of this polyp, there is still a chance of cancer despite the biopsy coming back clear.  Fortunately the procedure is the same whether this polyp is cancerous or not, it has to come out.  Either way I will have to closely monitor this from here on out.

As I await surgery in a couple of weeks I continue to have a peace that passes understanding.  I know that God is with me no matter what my circumstances are.  Cancer is one of the most frightening words that a doctor can say and I don’t like hearing it any more than any other person.  But even in the worst case of scenarios, I know that God is still good.  In my consultation with the surgeon, he said multiple times that I was extremely fortunate to catch this when I did.  And that is the way that I feel as well.  I am not unlucky or smitten by God to have this problem.  Instead I am blessed to have caught this problem and God will see me through it with His peace.

Why Jesus thirsted on the cross

As Easter approaches this week, of course Christians are going to focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus.  I personally prefer to break Jesus’ death and resurrection into two parts.  Easter should be focused on celebrating Jesus’ resurrection and shouldn’t dwell on the brutalness of Jesus’ death.

There are many ways to approach Jesus’ death on the cross and from my years of preaching I’ve learned that one sermon can’t cover every aspect of Jesus’ death.  I recently had an odd thought cross my mind as I was looking at Jesus’ death however.  Why did Jesus thirst on the cross?

Obviously we know the physical reason that Jesus thirsted.  He was put on trial in the middle of the night and was taken from Annas to Caiphas to the Sanhedrin to Pilate to Herod and finally back to Pilate in a matter of hours.  By noon was hanging on the cross when darkness fell over the land.  Jesus would have been thirsty for no other reason than the fact that He had had nothing to drink.

The real question is why it is significant that Jesus’ thirst was one of the details of the cross that was recorded by the gospel writers.  “I thirst” is one of the Seven Last Words from the Cross as Jesus’ final statements are known as.  Is Jesus’ thirst a simple reflection of His humanity and a display of the frailty of His body in His last moments before death?

I could be wrong but I believe that there is much greater significance in what takes place because of Jesus’ thirst.  When Jesus declares His thirst, He is perhaps no more than minutes away from death.  If simple thirst was the issue, He could have gone a few minutes longer, knowing that He would soon give up His spirit.  But I believe that what takes place before Jesus’ thirst and immediately after He declares His thirst is quite significant.

Before this, Jesus has asked “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  It is a repeat of the words of the prophetic Psalm 22.  That is the moment that the sins of humanity are laid on Jesus and He is separated from God the Father.  As God the Father looks down upon His Son, he now sees sin.  Jesus is sinful in the eyes of the Father at this moment.

After Jesus declares His thirst, a sponge with wine vinegar is brought to His lips.  We might want to focus on the drink itself but that is not what caught my eye as I studied this passage this year.  It is a hyssop plant that the sponge is attached to.  David mentions cleansing with hyssop in Psalm 51.  It is at least one of the Psalms that he wrote after his sin with Bathsheba was discovered.  A hyssop plant is used for cleansing.

Likewise, this plant is raised to Jesus’ lips.  In Isaiah 6, Isaiah sees God face to face and cries out “Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”  An angel then flies over to him and touches his lips with a hot coal to essentially atone for his sin.

When Jesus declares that He is thirsty, ignore the actual thirst part for a moment.  What transpires is a hyssop plant is raised to His lips.  This occurs just after the sins of the world have been laid upon Him.  Jesus is in need of cleansing and the hyssop plant which David asked for his cleansing is raised to Jesus’ lips, the same location that Isaiah was cleansed of his sin.

This isn’t to pretend that there isn’t other significance to Jesus’ thirst or the wine vinegar or anything else in this passage.  But aside from those other possibilities, I believe that Jesus is cleansed of the sins of the world that has been laid upon Him when the hyssop plant is raised to His lips on the cross.  Moments later He will declare that it is finished and He’ll give up His spirit.  He has taken the sins of the world and they have been cleansed.

Should Protestants care who is pope?

For the last two weeks, one of the major news stories all over the world has been the resignation of the pope.  This is arguably the most important story in the world as 1.2 billion people identify themselves as Catholic and thus should have a vested interest in what is going on in the church.  And of course they should have an interest in who the next pope will be.  History tells us that speculation is almost completely fruitless as likely “frontrunners” for pope are far more difficult to predict than frontrunners of an election.  And in case you don’t recall how well people have done in predicting that, 2012 had no less than five different leaders for the Republican nomination to run for president.

So, this is in no way an attempt to speculate on who will be pope.  The broader question to ask is, should I, as a Protestant, even care who is the next pope?  The easy answer would be no, because I am not Catholic and therefore the selection of pope will have no bearing on me one way or another.  The truth though, is that I am always concerned about who the pope is and you don’t need to be religious at all to have a vested interest in the pope.

The pope has the ability to sway the thoughts and opinions of more people in the world than anyone else.  Of course of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, not all can be considered “good” Catholics as not everyone will listen to the pope.  For instance, the church has taken a stand against abortion and there are still plenty of pro-abortion Catholics.  Secondly, the pope heads an institution in the church that is quite unchanging.  It is unlikely that any pope in the foreseeable future will change any longstanding beliefs and traditions that impact millions of people.  Nevertheless, the potential is there.  Should the church change its stance on a major issue such as homosexuality, the ramifications would be far reaching and ultimately affect far more than just Catholics.

As a Protestant, I have even more interest in who the pope is and what he will do.  For better or worse, the Catholic church symbolizes the universal church for many people.  When the church does something or says something, it often speaks for all of Christianity.  Certainly not every priest is a pedophile (likely a very, very small minority), nor is every Protestant minister without grievous sin, but in the eyes of many outsiders Christianity is full of perverted leaders.  The Catholic church is what shapes the perception of Christianity for many people because they do not know the differences between Catholic and Baptist and Presbyterian.

While I do not hold to many Catholic beliefs, the Catholic church is often in line with conservative Protestant churches on social issues.  In many ways, the battles over social issues have already been fought and popular opinion has swept away any sense of morality or upholding what the Bible teaches.  Nevertheless, should the Catholic church shift from a conservative position on any social issue, conservative Christians will not only be a minority but will find themselves badly outnumbered and possibly even open to persecution.

There are some who look upon the Catholic church as evil and will even try to call the pope the antichrist (or the false prophet of Revelation.)  I believe such speculation is foolish and serves no purpose.  I do believe that anyone who teaches anything other than “salvation by faith alone” is in error.  To that extent I believe that the Catholic church is in error as it upholds works and dogma alongside the importance of faith and scripture.

Nevertheless, no matter what one thinks of the Catholic church and the pope specifically, I believe that it is our duty to pray for the selection of the next pope.  This will be a man who wields more influence over the world than any president or world leader could have.  He has the power to hold the church in a conservative position or to allow it to be washed away with the tides of popular opinion.  Protestants don’t agree with Catholics on issues of faith and many will question whether the pope can be saved while holding to Catholic dogma, we must still recognize the influence that the position holds.

God can use a person to accomplish His will whether they are saved or not.  Without any insult intended to Catholics or the position of pope – if God can speak through Balaam’s donkey, through false prophets, and through Caiaphas the high priest of Jesus’ day, God can certainly accomplish His will through the pope as well.  And that will have ramifications on Catholics and Protestants alike.  So be in prayer that God would place the right man in leadership regardless whether you follow the pope or not.

Setting Priorities

In Luke 14:28-30 Jesus says  “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?  For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him,  saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’”

One of the greatest difficulties in life is setting priorities and making a plan according to those priorities.  Personally, I can manage priorities for only about a week at a time.  Each week I know that there are certain things that need to be done and other things that I want to get done.  It’s a good week if I accomplish all of those things.  But to apply that same principle to a month or an entire year?  For me at least, it seems impossible to know how to pace myself.

There are some things in life that are relatively easy to plan for.  If your priority is to go to college, you know that you need to work in high school to have grades that are good enough to get into college.  If you want to go on vacation, you need to save for that vacation (or suffer the credit card debt after the fact.)

On the other hand, there are a lot of curveballs that life throws at us.  A friend of mine went to college to be an elementary school teacher, only to reach the end of the curriculum and have to do student teaching.  There she discovered that she didn’t enjoy the kids as much as she had anticipated.  Likewise, you may make a major purchase only to unexpectedly lose your job six months later.  Or have your house damaged in a storm.  Or deal with a serious illness.

The point is that there are some things that we can plan for and others that we can’t.  There are times that we encounter speed-bumps in life and we need to maintain the course and keep our priorities and goals ahead of us.  Other times we need to recognize when our goal is not reachable or at least currently detoured.

I’ve recently read some of my previous posts regarding goals for Spreading Light Ministries.  I’m quite proud of the things that I’ve accomplished with the site but there are times that my goals have been laughable.  I’ve made reference to pages and sites that I hoped to launch in a month and they haven’t been launched four years later.  There are a multitude of reasons why and ultimately they’re not that important.

In the past month I have completely re-evaluated my online ministry.  There are times when I got away from my priorities.  Other times I had a new priority only to discover that it wasn’t as important or as successful as I had hoped.  In the last month or so I have shut down six websites with plans to close another two.  For the most part I’m not doing away with the content of the sites, just rearranging things in a more logical order under and a smaller footprint.  It does little good to have a dozen sites with fifteen pages each if I can logically reduce them into three sites with sixty pages each.

In church and in our personal lives, we should periodically evaluate our priorities.  We often do this when things are going well but it’s just as important when things are going well.  What worked for us in the past may not be serving us well now.  And even more importantly, it may not serve us well in the future.

This week I got to spend time with my mentor.  He was saying how much he uses Powerpoint in his sermons and presentations and ten years ago he never would have thought about it.  This isn’t someone who is afraid of technology either.  This is someone who had a job offer from IBM in the early 1960’s but ended up being drafted instead.  The point is that times change and we must be willing to adapt with it.

We need to remember that as Christians and a part of the church our main priority never changes.  Jesus Christ is always the main priority.  The difference is how we pursue Him.  Water hasn’t changed since creation but we certainly don’t get it the same way that someone did even 150 years.  We need to constantly be asking ourselves if our priorities are still in line with the direction God wants us headed in.

Why I don’t discuss theology much

As a pastor I love studying God’s Word.  I love it when after years I still stumble across new insights or things fall into place in a way that I never quite saw before.  If you’ve read the Bible for years you’ve probably noticed how you can read the same passage but get something totally different from it each time you read it.

Unlike a lot of Christians, I enjoy studying theology.  What I don’t enjoy is arguing about it however.  There are some basic sets of framework that help us interpret all of the Bible.  The best known systems are Calvinism and Arminianism but there are also systems such as dispensationalism and covenant theology.

Systems are valuable if you need to explain your theology quickly and you can say that you’re a Calvinist as easily as you might say that you’re a Baptist.  Whomever you are speaking to can get a pretty quick idea of what you believe.

Outside of the quick need to sum up my beliefs, I hate using the labels.  To proclaim that I am a Calvinist or an Arminian will immediately put up a wall between me and about half of the people I speak or write to.  Many will immediately want to tell me why I am wrong and they are right.  I have no problem defending my beliefs and I feel quite secure in them.  My experience is that many people adamantly hold to beliefs that they don’t really understand themselves but instead have just been taught to believe.  They can repeat arguments that they’ve been given but they can’t actually explain why they believe what they believe.  So if it comes to a debate, I feel pretty good about getting into one.

My problem with arguing theology is that it is typically unproductive.  These issues become divisive within Christian circles.  Unless it is a debate over how one is actually saved, I don’t think that theology is good to be divided over.  Every so often I’ll get an email concerning one of my articles telling me why I’m wrong or what I’ve missed.  For the record, I get more emails in agreement that someone likes my approach to theology.  But the people who disagree are more vocal.

Those who disagree with my understanding of the Bible and wish to provide me with the “right” answer are unlikely to listen to reasoned arguments anyway; they’ve already made up their mind.  People who are actually open to a discussion are unlikely to email me and instead they will do more research on the subject.

For clarity’s sake, I should mention that when I’m talking about theology here I’m talking about what might be termed systematic theology.  There are important social issues that divide the church – homosexuality, poverty, abortion, etc. – that are worth fighting over.  Not to downplay the importance of good theology but ultimately it doesn’t matter if you are a Calvinist or Arminian.  On the other hand, it makes a big difference in life concerning what you believe about poverty or abortion.

Theology is important because it helps us read and understand the entire Bible.  It colors the way we interpret many different passages.  I encourage everyone to study theology and determine not only what they believe but, more importantly, why they believe it.  Debating it with an attempt to change someone’s mind is probably going to be unproductive but you should at least be able to explain why you believe it.


I happen to like gardening.  I can’t pretend that I’ve been very successful with it outside of planting some flowers but there is something about growing your own food that is appealing to me.  There are tons of gardening principles that apply to the Christian life.  A remember a few years ago I even thought about writing something regarding the similarities between gardening and our Christian walk.

I can’t guarantee that I’ll ever get around to writing all that I had planned on writing regarding gardening and Christianity but the topic of pruning has crossed my mind recently.  I’m working fervently on updating not just this website but many of the sites that I operate across the Spreading Light Network.  This has been a time consuming process to say the least.

Part of my updating has involved letting some things go.  At one point I believe that I was operating 40 or more websites.  Not all of these were a part of the Spreading Light Network but nevertheless there were a ton of sites.  And I owned the names to probably twice as many as were designed.  A lot never got built.  But there are some sites that I put considerable time into that I decided to let go.  The main reason is that they no longer fit the focus of my online ministry.  Or in several cases I’ve been able to combine them into other sites and reorganize things.

My point in all of this is that there will be times that we need to cut things out of our life in order to make room for new and better things.  We all have a limited amount of time, space in our house, friends we can keep in contact with, etc.  I had to carefully take stock of where I was at, what was working for me, and what could be let go of.  In my instance, letting go was literally a lot of work.

Pruning things out of our life shouldn’t be painless.  Cutting things out isn’t without its costs.  Spending more time with your family could mean getting passed over for a promotion.  Devoting yourself to studying the Bible more might mean less time in front of the television.  But what we need to remember is that we are pruning, we aren’t cutting down.

When you prune a plant there are typically two reasons.  The first is like one might do to a bush.  It has grown to a size a shape that you are pleased with and anything more than that is too much, so you cut it back and remove the excessive growth.  The other time to prune is to promote more growth.  On many kinds of plants there will develop what are sometimes called “sucker” limbs.  These are limbs that shoot off from the main trunk but nothing good will come from them.  They won’t bear fruit or they won’t leave the bush looking as nice.  The bigger issue, aside from just not being productive, is that these sucker branches steal valuable nutrients away from the rest of the plant.  But if you cut them off, the plant can spend that much more energy into growing bigger fruit or more flowers.

We all have some sucker branches in our life.  They are things that steal away our energy from doing something more productive.  And cutting these things out won’t necessarily be easy or painless.  But rather than thinking of it as cutting something out, consider it making room for something greater.  If you did something relatively simple such as cut out an hour of tv, think of it as an hour that you could spend exercising  reading a book, praying, or even catching up on sleep.  When you cut something out it means that you have room for something new.

I encourage everyone to take a look at their life and determine what could use pruning.  But before you start to cut that out, decide what you want to fill that area with.  This will give you motivation as you struggle with the loss of whatever you’re cutting out.  Remember, it’s all to strengthen another area of your life and improve it.

2013: The Year of Jubilee

This is the time of year when people often reflect back upon the past year and look forward to the upcoming year.  I’m choosing not to dwell on the past year.  I’ve had worse years but 2012 certainly doesn’t rank among my best.  I’ve had some personal disappointments, some financial frustrations, and one of my cats even had to have surgery that cost me over $2000 because she ate a thread that got stuck and caused her intestines to rupture.  Nevertheless, God is still good and I’m choosing not to complain.

I have decreed the year of 2013 as a year of jubilee in my life.  God gave the Israelites an order to celebrate a jubilee every 50 years and while I still have a ways to go to reach that milestone I have decided to make 2013 a year of celebration.

I partly got this idea from a friend of mine (who incidentally I’m working on a web project with so you might be hearing him soon.)  Every year he would decree the forthcoming year as “the year of …” as an indication of what he expected or what he hoped to work on for the year.  Past themes for my friend were the year of breaking free, the year of accomplishment, and the year of transition.

I have declared 2013 to be the year of jubilee partly based on plan and partly based on premonition.  I have a ton of projects that I plan on rolling out in 2013 that I’m really excited about.  I always have projects in the works but I believe that a couple of these projects could end up being the biggest since I first started my website over a decade ago.  So I’m really excited about that and I’m praying that God would bless those projects beyond my wildest imagination.  And of course I’d appreciate your prayers as well.

The other reason I have declared 2013 to be the year of jubilee is because I really believe that God is going to bless the year for me.  As I have endured some frustrations over the past year I’ve been reminded repeatedly that God would reward my endurance.  I don’t want to make it sound as if God owes me anything because I’ve had a less than stellar year.  God owes me nothing and this isn’t a matter of correcting a cosmic balance sheet that is out of balance.

Instead, this is a matter of holding onto the promises that God has made.  God has plans for each of our lives. It’s not a guarantee that we won’t get sick and it is no promise that we’ll be wealthy.  What I’m confident about however is that God isn’t through with me.  This means that I have work to do and God has more work to do through me.

So that’s what this year jubilee is really about.  I’m asking that God would bless what He yet has in store for me.  I’m asking for wisdom to know how best to use the gifts that He’s already given me.  And I’m asking for empowerment to use those gifts in great and wonderful ways to touch people in ways that I haven’t even thought of yet.  And since I’m confident that God will do these things, I can already begin to celebrate what I know God will accomplish in 2013.

Into the Light

It hasn’t been quite as long as it would appear since I last posted.  I actually had a post in May discussing how difficult it is to actually apply the theology we know to be true when we encounter the worst that life gives us.  Unfortunately that post was lost because of problems I had with the site.  **Scratch all of that, thanks to Google’s cache system, I was able to retrieve my lost post.** Fortunately that was all that was lost because I saved my old backup.  I also used this as an opportunity to update the look of this section.  Eventually the entire Spreadinglight site will look like this but at the rate I’m going it might take another year.

This has been a rough year as I had alluded to in my now lost post.  It hasn’t gotten any better in the last three months.  Like all times there have been peaks and valleys but this year has been more valleys than peaks.  As a matter of fact, I’m not sure if I can even recall a peak from this year.

Last week was the worst punch to the gut yet.  It was completely unrelated to any of the other difficulties this past year but it was personal in a way the other problems weren’t.  It left me angry and depressed and probably feeling a range of other negative emotions.

Now, before I get any further into this post and start to make you depressed or you think that this is a “woe is me” post, it’s not.  The point of this is just the opposite.  We’ve probably all been at a point in our life where we just didn’t want to hear any sympathy from anyone else, even if it was well intentioned and Biblical.  Well, what do you do if you have a friend who is going through such a problem?  You have to pray.  The only thing that you can possibly do is pray.

I’m not going to say that I was at a place where I wasn’t going to listen to anyone.  The truth of the matter is that I didn’t feel like I needed to listen to anyone.  As a pastor I know all of the “answers.”  God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.  God has a plan for even this setback.  Everything is according to God’s timetable.  I don’t believe that I even wavered in my belief of any of those things but frankly there are times when those thoughts just don’t resonate with where you are at.  In those times, all you can do is wait for God to lift you back up.

Fortunately I know that I have a lot of people praying for me.  This past week, I don’t think that it was by coincidence that I spoke on spiritual warfare and the targets that all Christians, but especially pastors, have on their backs.  I won’t pretend to be over the hurt that I experienced last week in particular but I know that I am feeling better only because of prayer.  But I also know that things are looking better right now than they did a week ago.

Paul wrote in Philippians 4:12 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  I won’t pretend that I’ve reached the level that Paul did and am capable of being content in all circumstances.  But I do believe that there were probably times in Paul’s life that he struggled with frustration from people not listening to him or while he sat in jail.  And I have to believe that part of Paul’s secret of contentment was knowing that when no other words would help him, God would still lift him up on his darkest days.

Practical Theology

I haven’t posted much lately.  I haven’t done hardly anything with any websites lately.  And the short explanation for that would be that I’ve been quite busy.  The last three months in particular have been a blur.  They’ve been such a blur that as I was figuring how long it’s been since things were “normal” I was originally thinking it had been two months until I realized that things were last normal in February and this is the end of May, so it’s actually been three months.  The last month has been one big, non-ending blur for the most part.

So what spurs me to finally write a post?  For one, hopefully things are slowing down and I have a chance to catch my breath.  But moreso, I feel the need to write about what’s been going at my church.  Some bad things have been happening at my small church.  Without going into any details, it’s stuff that no Bible class ever covered and ultimately the legal system will end up dealing with it.  It’s stuff that was bad enough to leave me in tears at the pulpit two weeks in a row and caused a much worse break down at home in the middle of last week.  And none of it involves me personally, I’ve just been so emotionally invested in a few ugly situations that are taking place with other families.

All of this brought me to thinking about the practicality of our theology.  We talk about love and forgiveness all of the time at church.  And certainly we mean what we say.  But even as we say it, it is an abstract concept.  What I mean is that it is easy enough to forgive someone who accidentally wronged you.  We can even forgive someone who purposely harmed us and seeks our forgiveness.  But what about the really profound hurts in life?  A spouse who commits adultery.  A drunk driver who killed a family member.  A child molester.  Can we just as easily forgive these people?

Last week I feel like I saw the worst that humanity has to offer, or at least close to it.  The natural human response is to question why God would allow such things to happen.  That’s not where I’m at.  I know that bad things happen because we live in a sinful world.  The question I ran through my mind was why God continues to put up with all of this garbage.

There is a day of judgment coming for saints and sinners alike.  I don’t doubt this for a moment.  What I wondered was simply why that judgment hasn’t arrived yet.  How does God look down on us and not want to destroy us?  It happened in Noah’s time.  And if the small amount of garbage that I witnessed made me literally sick and left me crying, how does a holy and righteous God deal with it?

Of course there is only one answer to the question.  God doesn’t withhold punishment because He takes any delight in sin.  It disgusts Him far more than it possibly could for us.  But God is allowing time for repentance.  He wants the people who do these things to seek Him in forgiveness.  And if they do, God will forgive even the worst sins.

On the other hand, there is a day of judgment coming for the unrepentant.  They may end up in jail or they may escape earthly justice altogether.  Whatever the case is though, they won’t escape God’s justice.

Because these situations haven’t affected me personally it’s not really fair to say that I believe that I have the ability to forgive those who have caused harm.  For the families involved it will be much harder.  But ultimately our ability to forgive isn’t nearly as important as God’s ability to forgive.  Whether we forgive or not, the most important thing is that these people seek God’s forgiveness.  Otherwise there will be a day of reckoning as God casts all sin from His presence.

Would Jesus Help?

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything but it’s not as long as I had originally thought.

Last night I encountered one of my least favorite things in ministry – someone asking for money.  The story I was told was vague and had to do with a pregnant wife and the hospital and no money for gas.  I really wasn’t sure if they were on their way to the hospital or coming home or what.  I never have any cash on me and gave the guy the only dollar I had.  My guess is that he left cursing me because my dogs had probably made him soil himself and it wasn’t worth the effort.

Whenever I am asked for money, the story is almost always the same.  It’s vague and usually it is money for gas.  There’s usually some kind of urgent emergency tied with it, the hospital in most cases.  Have I believed any story that I’ve been told?  No.  And that’s the first problem.  I have to believe that any person who would have approached Jesus with a lie would have left empty handed.  They might have received a valuable lesson from Jesus, but not what they wanted.  I do not have the benefit on knowing with 100% accuracy that a person is lying nor am I bold enough to flat out tell the person that I don’t believe their story.  I once had the opportunity to try to verify a person’s story by asking for more details and wasn’t surprised to not get a return call.  If your wife’s uncle is really in the hospital in NC, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for his name and the name of the hospital so I can call and verify that he’s really there.

This brings me to problem number 2.  If the people are lying, what are they using the money on?  I’m not going to assume that everyone who asks for money is going to use it on drugs, but let’s say that they need money simply because they were careless with it.  On one hand, I’m not responsible for what a person does with the money.  If they use it wrongly that’s not my decision.  On the other hand, if I give money when I have a strong feeling that it will be misused, this could be wrong on my part because I am enabling a lifestyle where that money will be poorly spent.  Even if it’s not on drugs or alcohol, by bailing out someone who has mismanaged their money I allow them and even encourage to misbehave again.  I’ve proven that someone will always bail them out from their poor decisions rather than help teach that all decisions have consequences.

And of course there is a matter of finances.  Like last night, I have limited finances and the church has limited finances.  I strongly believe that it is part of my duty to wisely use what God has blessed me with.  Enabling someone to continue to make poor life choices doesn’t seem like a good use of my finite resources.

I know that more compassionate people will counter that there are legitimate problems in the world and I understand that and believe it.  It’s a thousand times worse when children are involved and live in poverty because of the poor decisions of a parent.  It would be an easy decision to make if I knew that the problem was legitimate and that it would go to directly help the one in need but I have to believe this is rarely the case.

I will bend over backwards to help someone with a legitimate need.  Particularly if there is someone connected with the church, I will do everything within my power to help a person.  I am not compassionless or enjoy seeing people suffer for poor decisions.  But I want to know that my money is actually going toward a need.

If Jesus were in my shoes and had limited knowledge and finances to help, I don’t know what He would do.  I’d like to believe that He could handle these issues better than I but I don’t really know how to handle them any better than I already am.  And I hope that’s good enough.