The Promises of God We Don’t Want

We love to claim God’s promises in scripture — at least some of them. Some we prefer not to think about.

Some promises — we might call them “consequences” — are promises that come as the result of our bad choices.

This topic comes to mind because of Friday’s Executive Order by the President stopping the refugee program for 120 days and severely crippling it thereafter.

Never mind that America is built on immigration; or that most economists say immigration is good for our economy; or that refugees have hadfence-978138_1280 little to do with domestic terrorism. It’s true that three Americans have been killed by refugee terrorists — they were from Cuba back in the 1970s, before the Refugee Act of 1980 created systematic entry procedures. Targeting refugees, which the State Department already describes as the “most highly scrutinized” and “most vigorously vetted” path to entering the US, is like fixing a dripping faucet while a broken pipe pours gallons of water into your kitchen.

But let’s assume everything in that last paragraph is wrong. If Christians are going to claim the Bible as the ultimate authority on how we are to live our lives, none of that is as important as the teachings of scripture.

What does the Bible teach about immigration and refugees in particular? A 2015 Lifeway Research survey determined that only 12% of Evangelical Christians consider scripture to be the primary influence on their view of immigration.

I can make a Biblical case for protecting our country and our families. But that isn’t a strong theme in scripture. It’s a stronger theme that God will defend those who are committed to His purposes. One of the strongest of those purposes is care for the most vulnerable (widows, orphans, homeless, and foreigners) and especially those who are victims of injustice — e.g. refugees.

In case this isn’t clear, refugees are those who have left their home country because of “a credible fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion, national origin, or social group.” You’re not a refugee because you want to find a better place to make a living, or because there was an earthquake in your home country. You are a refugee because of a credible fear of injustice.

Here are just a few of the hundreds of verses that apply to refugees:

Deut 10:19 Love them
Deut 14:28-29 Use tithes to bless them
Deut 31:11-12 Assemble with them to listen to God’s Word
Deut 16:11 Celebrate God’s blessings with them
Deut 24:19-20 Take care of their physical needs
Deut 27:19 Cursed is he who distorts the justice due them
Eze 22:29-31 God’s wrath on those who wrong them
Zech 7:10-13 God won’t listen to those who oppress them
Mal 3:5 God’s swift judgment against those who turn them aside
Isa 58 promises God’s blessing when we stop seeking our own pleasure to bring them into our own homes and care for them.

So we get to choose — individually and as a nation — which promises of God we want to experience.

God is faithful to deliver on His promises.  Like it or not.

God’s Power to Transform

sprout-1147803_640God’s power is revealed in the transformation of that which is perceived as most negative into that which is most positive – totally counterintuitive from a human perspective.

Only in God’s redemption work can the most shamed become the most honored, the most humble the most exalted, the weakest the most strong, the most depraved the most forgiven.

How Do You Carry Your Faith?

If you carry your faith like a weapon, you can expect to be attacked.
If you carry your faith like a first aid kit, you can expect others to seek your help.doctor-1015626_640

Expecting the Unexpected

caterpillar-butterflyWho would ever see a caterpillar for the first time and predict that it would become a butterfly?

Who would look at an acorn and predict it would become an oak tree?

But that’s the nature of God’s transformative work. He does the unexpected.

Explain it as nature if you wish, but you still have to marvel at where nature got that kind of power and imagination.

But our awareness of God’s work is easily dulled and we can take it for granted. Especially when change isn’t instantaneously or it isn’t explicitly obvious from our immediate vantage point.

Think about some of the transformations that we experience as we give up our selfish pursuits and live our lives more solely focused on revealing God’s glory through demonstrating His love for others:

  • The servant is honored – if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him. – John 12:26
  • The humble is exalted – Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. – James 4:10
  • The weak are made strong – for when I am weak, then I am strong – 2 Corinthians 12:10
  • The most unworthy are forgiven – her sins, which are many, have been forgiven – Luke 7:47
  • The poorest become the richest – He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with nobles, and inherit a seat of honor – 1 Samuel 2:8
  • The dirtiest become clean – having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience – Hebrews 10:22
  • The oppressed are set free – He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives…to set free those who are oppressed – Luke 4:18

We want honor, but do we pursue it through serving others? We want to be exalted, but do we pursue it through humility? Do we find strength, forgiveness, and purity through acknowledging we are weak, unworthy, and unclean? Find riches through not striving to be rich? Or freedom by seeking justice for others rather than focusing on our own oppression?

Once we step out on faith and take our eyes off our own desires, we discover an amazing truth: The results aren’t unexpected after all.  God delivers exactly as He promised.

Election 2016: What Matters Most…

The majority of American Christians are celebrating that their preferred Presidential candidate (or at least the lesser of two evils) won. While I don’t believe either party’s candidate has demonstrated the virtues we should require of a President, I do believe that God establishes the leaders of nations to accomplish His purposes. In the Old Testament we see that included Kings who ruled well like David, Asa, and Jehoshaphat, and it included Kings who didn’t rule well like Ahab, Rehoboam, and nearly all the kings of Israel’s Northern Kingdom. map-1027738_640History will tell which camp President Trump will fall into.

Although he certainly doesn’t see it this way, I believe the future of America is almost entirely not in his control.

So who is in control?

Well, certainly it’s ultimately in God’s control. But it’s intriguing and mysterious how things work when the sovereign God creates people with a free will and gives them dominion over a planet. The Bible often demonstrates God taking action based on the choices of man. Read the first half of Judges and mark all the places where the people did evil in the sight of the Lord, and all the places where it says the people cried out to God. See how God responded in each case.

Likewise, God brought the Assyrians and Babylonians into power over Israel because of the behavior of His people. So if God acts in response to the behavior of His people, what does that mean to us today?

It means the future of our nation depends not on who is President; not on who the Supreme Court Justices are; not on which political party is in power; and not on anyone’s position on any other issue. Those are results, not causes — the results of God acting in response to the obedience (or not) of His people. Our success on every issue depends on God softening or hardening hearts so that our efforts succeed.

Which brings me to what matters most about this election season and gives me the greatest cause for hope.

For months I’ve campaigned for us to carry our God-given responsibility to humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways so that He would hear from heaven, forgive our sins, and heal our land (II Chr 7:14).

My hope is in the increasing awareness and affirmation of believers who, like me, have despaired to the point of finally recognizing and accepting our ongoing responsibility. We are becoming the Daniels and Nehemiahs that pray, not only for own sins but for the sins of our nation. Perhaps, God willing, this will change the direction of America. Won’t you join us?

I won’t always agree with President Trump, but I pray for the grace to always respect him as God’s appointed leader, like Daniel, Paul and others did with leaders in scripture. I’ll pray regularly for him, even as I continue to pray regularly that God will awaken us to our responsibility.

Before You Vote…

This sounds a lot like what I wrote in July, but with the elections upon us I’m willing to be redundant.

I’m disappointed by how few Christian leaders I’ve heard calling us to serious prayer for these elections. Many readily share their own wisdom and analysis, although rarely from a humble, God-dependent posture. Whether their conclusion is right or wrong, this approach troubles me.

God is not sitting in heaven wringing His hands over whether we’ll vote for the right candidate. He establishes the rulers (Dan 2:21). He wants our hearts more than our votes. But that doesn’t justify apathy on our part. We have been given stewardship over this planet and have been placed in nations and communities where we can live out that stewardship. However, God is clear throughout scripture that we’re to execute that stewardship in dependence on Him. Attempting to do it on our own guarantees failure, no matter how good our solutions. Our best wisdom cannot override hearts that have been hardened against us. Only God can change hearts, and He generally chooses to do that only when we ask. That’s the power of prayer.

God’s promise to Israel in 2 Chronicles 7:14 captures a theme throughout scripture about how God engages with man:

…if my people who are called by my name
humble themselves, and
pray and
seek my face and
turn from their wicked ways,
then I will
hear from heaven and will
forgive their sin and
heal their land.

(ESV, emphasis mine)

This isn’t a call for unbelievers to get their act together.  This is a call for God’s people to acknowledge our inability to solve our own problems — moral, relational, economic, security, education, or any other — without God’s intervention. The same effort will have a different result depending on whether it’s done in our own strength or by looking to God first and always. God makes this case to the disobedient Israelites in Haggai 1:

You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes…You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away.

Contrast that with the promise of Malachi 3:

…put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts.

It’s past time for American Christians to humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways of trying to heal our land with our own strength and wisdom instead of with the power of God.

 

Hurricane Matthew Relief Trip Report

Our team of six Hope Force International (HFI) staff and reservists formed the initial response team to Hurricane Matthew. We met in Nashville and drove our equipment to Fayetteville, NC. The original plan was to head to Florida, but as Hurricane Matthew made its trip up the coast, it became apparent that we could do the most good in North Carolina. Additional reservists and volunteers joined us in the following days.
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Through a string of relationships (which is how most things get done!), we connected with city officials in Lumberton, NC. They were thrilled to have us involved, but we had to wait for the water to recede before we could get into the area to begin work. So we setup our initial base of operations in an empty house near Fayetteville (it was up for sale, owned by a friend of a friend…). 14670860_1187053201340489_7850694225780063080_nWe worked on eight homes in the Fayetteville area while waiting five days for the water level to go down in Lumberton.

Some of the homes in Fayetteville were owned by widows that we connected with through local churches. Fort Bragg is near Fayetteville, so we also had the privilege of helping the families of some military men stationed there.
woody-linda
Lumberton is a city of about 21,000 people. It is an economically challenged area, and has been recognized as the “most dangerous city in NC”, “4th most dangerous city in the US”, home of the “worst NC drivers” (fatalities/capita), and the “6th worst place in NC to get a job”. Nevertheless, the city officials we engaged with were impressive, dedicated, hard working, caring people. They were excited to have HFI engaged as much for the emotional & spiritual care we brought as for the physical labor we provided. During the time I was there, HFI brought in three chaplains in response to the city’s requests for help.

Everyone we met in Lumberton defied the city’s negative reputation.

Woody’s a good example. When the levee was breached and water flooded into his neighborhood, sandWoody spent the night making trips into his neighborhood in a boat rescuing those who couldn’t get out. His own home was badly damaged and will require a lot of work to repair. Decades of remodels left multiple layers of drywall and paneling, and layers of flooring upon flooring – and the flood waters settled between each of those layers. It all needed to be removed so his home could dry out properly.

The hardest part of disaster relief deployments is having to leave knowing there’s still so much work to be done. It will be months or even years before some of these people recover from the physical and emotional trauma. It is our “terrible privilege” to be able to engage with a few and do what we wish we could do for all. But our belief and prayer is that some of those we meet will find the source of peace and joy in Christ that far surpasses the losses they’ve experienced.

Thank you for your prayers and financial support that made this effort possible. You can continue to support Hope Force International at http://www.hopeforce.org.