Sunday, October 25, 2015

Assurance in adoption

I am spending a few weeks preaching on the Bible, asking questions about it so we might better understand how God speaks through it and that we would grow in our love of Him.  

The first week we asked questions of "What?"  Since then we have dealt with "Who?" "Where?" and "When?"  This morning we asked "How?"  Specifically, the questions I tried to answer were:

How was the Bible put together?
How do we know the Bible is true?
How do we know if we are using the Bible correctly?
How does the Bible assure us of our place with God?
How does God call us to live in the world?

How does the Bible assure us of our place with God? 

The Bible answers that question in a number of places, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly.  The place I decided to go to find that answer was Galatians 4:1-7, which is an answer of the more indirect sort. 

Paul teaches a number of things in those verses and what I brought out of them was this: Prior of coming to faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord we were sinners, "enslaved to the elementary principles of this world," but that now, by faith, Christians have been adopted as children of God.  Paul says that we are saved "so that we might receive adoption as sons [and daughters]."  

A dictionary definition of adoption says: "To choose or take as one's own; to make one's own by selection or assent."  This is what has happened when we come to faith in Jesus.  By faith we are made children of God.  Adopted children of a perfect Father.

It can be easy to read references to fathers in the Bible and get caught up with memories of our own fathers.  Some of those memories may be very good, but I stand in the pulpit fully aware that for some of the people I preach to, their father is the last person they want to think of.  They have had fathers who, at best, failed them in every way possible, and who, at worst, were abusive and/or absent.

So we need to remember what kind of father God is.  He is a father who always acts according to His character, meaning that He is always loving, always protective, always seeking the best for His children, even when our reaching for the best means learning some lessons the hard way. 

He is a father whose children, every single one of the save one, is adopted.  Except for Jesus, every single one God's children was once on the outside.  Lost in their sin and unable to do a single thing about it. 

And now, by faith in Jesus, they have been adopted into the family of God.  Their sin has been washed away and they stand before the Father with the same sense of assurance as every other child of God.  Their place in the family, as children in the very best of families, is certain. 

At times when life is hard, when things are going wrong and you can’t understand why,  or even at times when life is a mess of your own making, know this beyond any doubts.  If you have faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord  your place in the family God is certain.  You have been adopted into the very best of families, the family that knows God as Father.  And He is a Father that will never, ever, fail to hold onto every one of His children.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Guidance…by pit bull

This morning was a fairly typical one for me.  I got up before everyone else, had breakfast, read my Bible, prayed and did some things for work.  Most mornings I am up first and depending on when others arise the early time I have to myself can vary.  Yesterday it was zero minutes and today it was an hour. 

I spent a little time with my family while they ate breakfast.  I am reading the Chronicles of Narnia to our daughter and today we finished The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  It is our second time through the Chronicles and I am noticing things that didn’t catch my attention the first time.  And I delight in spending time in this particular way with our daughter. 

Then it was time for a bit more work, followed by a conference call with two other pastors, both in Denver.  Among the things we talked about were some similarities and some differences between ministry in suburban Denver, where they are, and the reservation in New Mexico, where I am.

After the conference call it was time to run, as in "getting in my daily run."  I changed into my running clothes and headed out the door, taking the highway through town over to the next town, two miles east.  I had planned to head east to a point, turn around, and then take a slightly different way back as I got close to home.

Heading east takes me past a park, where a few people were sitting at a table.  There aren’t always people at the park.  Today there were and one or two of them called out to me.  I couldn't see who they were and I just waved back as I continued my run.  This particular park is across the parking lot from the liquor store, which is generally the primary attraction for people sitting at the tables.

A few miles down the road I neared the town east of us.  I heard a dog barking and stopped to take a closer look.  There is a large pit bull living at a house there, and almost always it is inside a fenced yard.  Sometimes it barks, a little bit, and more often it pays no attention to me.  Kind of like the dog in the picture.  However once this past summer, things were different.

That day I had passed the dog, in the yard, while going through town, but on the return he was out on the street.  And even though I was on the other side of the highway, he wasn't particularly interested in letting me pass.  In all my years of running I have never encountered a more aggressive dog.  Strong, angry, crouched down while barking up at me, and circling. 

Trying to get past him that day was a risky endeavor and I decided that should I encounter him on the highway again that I wouldn’t try to get past on foot.  And there he was, outside the fence this morning.

Quickly deciding to play it safe I just turned around and headed back to Dulce.  Safe from the dog but now with a new problem.  How to get in the amount of mileage I had originally intended, given that my plan had been altered by the pit bull?  So I came up with plan B.  Go to the corner where the park is and turn right, heading uphill and taking a bit longer path home. 

As I came back to town I hopped up on the sidewalk, which brought me closer to the tables at the park.  People at the park don’t often stay long.  They may be there when I go by in one direction but they are usually gone when I come back in the other direction.  Today was different, as they were still present, and there were more people.  I hadn’t counted on the way out but the return there were two groups, totaling seven people.

They called out to me, and I called back.  And I stopped to talk.  I was close enough now to see and recognize a few of them, and so I stopped and talked a bit with all of them.  And when asked, I prayed with two of them. 

My altered running plan, and the time I spent with the people in the park, was answered prayer.  It may not have looked like it, and it took me a moment to realize it, but that’s what it was.  Alcohol abuse has a devastating effect on this community and each week in worship we pray that God would deliver people from it.  That He would show us how to support and encourage people seeking freedom.  That is what was happening this morning. 

In the two years we have lived in Dulce I have come to know a number of people who really struggle with alcohol.  I have come to see them as people God has placed in my life for a reason.  They are people I pray for often, and whom I intend to pray for until either God delivers them from their addiction, or until we leave Dulce.  And in either of those two outcomes I may still continue to pray for them.[1]  I pray for them, and there are times such as this morning, where I pray with them. 

And so in the final analysis, the pit bull on the road was not quite the enemy I had supposed it to be.  This morning he was there as guidance from God, changing my plan to become something that fits within His plan.   

And His plans, no matter how they become apparent, are always best.

[1] In Letters to Malcolm C.S. Lewis wrote words to the effect that there were people he may one day stop praying for, but he didn’t believe that today was the day.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

When should we doubt the Bible?

I am spending a few weeks preaching on the Bible, asking questions about it so we might better understand how God speaks through it and that we would grow in our love of Him.  The first week we asked questions of "What?"  Two weeks ago it was "Who?  This morning we asked "When?"  Specifically, the questions addressed were:

·         When was the Bible written?
·         When should we read the Bible?
·         When should we question the Bible?
·         When should we doubt the Bible?
·         When will the promises of the Bible be fulfilled?

The Bible is an old book, written by many different authors, in languages that no one speaks any more.  Those authors all had their own particular point-of view, and maybe their own axe to grind.  And the circumstances of our day are so different, in so many ways.  Given all that it's only natural for us to question what the Bible has to say in our day, isn’t it?  When should we doubt the Bible? 

While it may be a natural tendency to want to doubt what the Bible has to say about any particular issue that is a place we should only venture towards with the greatest of caution.  It should feel a bit like getting close to the edge of the Grand Canyon and wanting to lean out to get a better look.  What seems to be a potential gain is not worth the risk.

When we call into doubt what God teaches in the Bible we blur the distinction between God and the people he created.  We make more of ourselves and less of God.  We make more of our ability to decide right and wrong, and disregard the boundaries God has put in place, boundaries that exist for our protection.

Sometimes we doubt what the Bible has to say about an issue because we are misunderstanding what God is saying through it.  It deals with matters of biology and geography but it is not a science textbook.  It addresses issues of marriage and relationships but it is not a handbook for counseling or self-improvement. 

And perhaps the greater reason we doubt the Bible is that we disagree with what it has to say about a particular topic, one that may be dear to our heart.  In our day marriage is one of those topics that easily comes to mind.  It is so easy to say that our culture is so different from the culture the Bible was written in that much of what it says about marriage is no longer relevant. 

And that approach would be one of placing ourselves in grave danger.  To doubt the Bible and openly dispose of what it has to say is doubt God, who stands behind each word of the book.   

Some things the Bible teaches are hard to understand.  There are things that will challenge us, things that we would really rather not consider to be true. 

But a better approach than doubt is trust, and that when faced with a hard teaching we continue to trust the Author of the teaching.  We trust that what He said is true, and we wait, on Him, to make it clearer for us, on His timing, and not according to our own demands.

Or, as Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us,

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths."

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 5, 2015


I am spending a few weeks preaching on the Bible, asking questions about it so we might better understand how God speaks through it and grow in our love of Him.  Last week we asked questions of "What?"  This past Sunday we turned our attention to "Who?"  Specifically, the questions raised were:

·         Who wrote the Bible?
·         Who should read the Bible?
·         Who is the Bible about?
·         Who is the Bible for?
·         Who perfectly shows God's love to God's children?

Broadly speaking, the questions addressed the author of the Bible and the audience.  And while the Bible itself identifies human authors for most of its books, it also teaches that the Holy Spirit is ultimately at work through each human author, so that God Himself is the true Author of the Bible.

And the audience?  The Bible contains things that would be beneficial for anyone to read, ponder and follow, such as the second section of the Ten Commandments.  People may not believe in God but nearly everyone would agree that instructions not to steal or murder make sense. 

But just as there is an Author at work behind the other authors, so too is there a more specific audience for the Bible, and that is the people who believe in God and believe that He is speaking through His written word.  These are the people who find life in things such as the first section of the Ten Commandments.  These are the people who, as they read the Bible, find more than common wisdom.  They find words of peace, of hope, of encouragement, to name but a few of the kinds of things they read.  These things are precious to them because they are written in God's word, and intended for God's people. 

And, perhaps best of all, the Bible shows one person in whom these two groups, Author and audience, meet.  In Ephesians 1:7-10, Paul writes:

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ  as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."

That is a long and rich sentence about the work of Jesus Christ, and the two things I want to note here are these:  First, in the work of Christ on the cross there is redemption for God's children, so that the debt their sin against God demands is paid for in the blood of Jesus, and second, that this work of Christ is a part of God's plan to unite His children with Himself. 

Who perfectly shows God's love to God's children?  Christ Jesus, that’s who. 

May you know the presence of His love in your life today, and give to Him the praise that only He deserves.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.