Thursday, June 22, 2017

How Sincerely Do You Believe God?

Mike Hosey, An Elder

Paul, the New Testament Apostle, gets right to the point about what the gospel does when he writes to the church at Colossae. In Colossians 1:3-5, he affirms their faith, and their love of other people.  But he says something curious after that affirmation.  He argues that their faith, and their love of others comes from a confident expectation of a future reward in Heaven.  In other words, he points out that what they believe about the future was having an impact on what they were doing at the moment he wrote the letter. He goes on to point out how this gospel was not only producing fruit in them, but all over the whole world as well (Colossians 1:6).  He explains that the gospel was producing fruit for them because they understood the grace that had been afforded to them. Paul makes two points here.  The first is that a belief about the future motivated their behavior, and the second, is that an understanding of the past was producing fruit.  The Colossians understood that God had given them a gift they didn’t deserve out of a love and commitment he had for them that they didn’t deserve, and this understanding was changing and shaping them in profound ways. 

As he continues, he tells them that he is praying that God will give them spiritual wisdom and knowledge so that they will produce even more fruit, and please the Lord with their lives (Colossians 1:9-10). He then makes – perhaps – the strongest statement of this section of his letter.  He prays that by bearing every good fruit, and living a worthy life, they will grow in the knowledge of God. 

As you read Paul’s opening remarks to the Colossians, ask yourself what it is that you believe about God and his plan.  Do you believe that there is a future reward for your work on earth?  Do you believe that God has rescued you from the horrors of hell, the horrors of your sins, or the horrors of your own anxieties and shortcomings?  If you truly believe those things, take the time to prayerfully ask some additional questions:  What am I doing to love others?  What am I doing to serve others? What am I doing to serve God?  How am I growing in the knowledge of God?  Has my spiritual wisdom expanded? What fruit do I see in my life?  The answers to the second set of questions may tell you something about the truth of the answers you gave to the first set of questions.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dear God

Mike Hosey, An Elder
Dear God -

Thank you for providing us fathers.  Thank you for those fathers who have sacrificed their time and their own desires so that their wives and their children can both be loved as well as feel loved. Thank you for the fathers who have provided. Thank you for the fathers who have stayed through difficulty and darkness..  Thank you for the fathers who have brought life.  Thank you for those fathers who have brought discipline, instruction, and guidance with a spirit of firmness, kindness, and love. Thank you for the fathers who lift up mothers, and that support them and help them. Thank you God for the fathers who have worshiped in spirit and in truth. Thank you for those fathers who have modeled Jesus, followed him, and led their families to him.

Lord, I pray that you shine before all fathers so that they cannot ignore you.  For those who know you already,  I ask that you shine in such a way that their families can see you in them.  And for those who don’t know you, I ask that you shine in such a way that the path to your forgiveness and acceptance is clear, undeniable, and unmistakable so that all other paths before them are dimmed in comparison to yours.

Lord I ask that you bless fathers with the strength to live out their roles with enthusiasm.  I ask that you bless them with the wisdom to discern your will.  I ask that you bless them with others who can be entwined in their lives so much so that their strength, resolve, direction and spirit is multiplied many times by the power you place individually in the lives of them all. I ask that you forge Godly friendships and Godly alliances in those who are fathers.  God, I ask that you bring purpose, and guide them to lead their families.  Most of all, Lord, I ask that you help them to follow the example of your son in every domain of their lives.

I ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What Do You Believe About God?

Mike Hosey, An Elder
One thing you may have heard me preach from the pulpit and elsewhere is that faith produces behavioral results.  In other words, what we believe affects everything we do. If you believe that your car is not safe, you  likely won’t drive it anywhere. If you believe your car is perfectly safe and will magically transport you to a mountain of riches once you hit 95 miles per hour, you’ll likely be trying to find a long, flat stretch of road pretty quick. In fact, every single thing that we do is anchored to some kind of belief. It is because of this that theological questions are the most important, and probably the most powerful.  What we believe about God (or what we don’t believe about God) has the power to govern all other beliefs we hold, and therefore, influence all of our behaviors, and even emotions. This is why Paul firmly teaches us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).

Struggling to answer theological questions is essential to healthy Christian growth.  Of course, there’s a risk that you may arrive at the wrong answers, but if you skip the struggle you miss out on maturity.  Ponder how much power theological beliefs have over us by considering this question which was recently asked by one of our youth:If God is past, present and future then he would know your decisions, so technically he should know where you are going, so what’s the point of us living here on earth to suffer? Not answering this question properly leads to a belief that either God is pointless, or that life is pointless.  Both of those beliefs will produce dangerous behaviors, and very possibly a life of misery. The question is probably impossible to answer fully with finite human minds, but we can at least approximate a reasonable one. First, let’s look at a problem within the question itself. Just because we know something is going to happen doesn’t mean that we can’t derive good, or enjoyment from it.  For instance, I know how my children are going to respond to a variety of morally ambiguous situations.  Just because I know ahead of time how they will behave doesn’t mean that I am not either pleased or disappointed when they do the right or wrong thing. Now let’s look at a second perspective regarding the question.  We were made for God’s pleasure (Colossians 1:16, Revelation 4:11) and for his glory (Isaiah 43:7). Since we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), it is safe to assume that he, too, experiences pleasure when he sees us make right decisions,or feels displeasure when we make wrong ones, or feels pleased when he sees us follow him.  And he is definitely glorified when we do the right thing, especially when it’s sacrificially hard to do.  This holds true even if he knows the outcome ahead of time, because Satan doesn’t know the outcomes, and neither do most men. Finally, he created us to have relationship with him (Leviticus 26:11-12, Deuteronomy 6:5) and to do good works (Matthew 22:39, Ephesians 2:10). Neither our good works, nor our love for God are diminished by his knowing what happens ahead of time. Seeing God from this perspective can give us joy, rather than misery.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Would You Rather Be Dragged Around or Led Around?

Mike Hosey, An Elder
Several years ago, my parents and nephews visited me here in Florida. They drove down from Mississippi to spend time with my family. Because I wanted to show them the beauty of our area, I decided to take them on a kayak trip down the Santa Fe River. The boys had not quite reached the preteen years, and were still young.  One of them, Everett to be exact, refused to board his kayak.  All manner of persuasions were tried, and all manner of persuasions failed. He had convinced himself that alligator hazards lurked around every bend, and that the drabness  of the boat ramp was preferable to the dangers of the river. Ultimately, I had to drag him kicking and screaming onto the boat. But once we had glided down the river a bit, his attitude softened, and he realized that the boats and their captains were safe. He also realized that the beauty of the river, and the time with his family was worth the hazards. How we get to know Jesus can be a little like that.

A very controversial verse in the bible is John 6:44. It is there that Jesus declares that no one can come to him unless he is drawn by God. The Greek word for “to draw” in that verse is the same Greek word that means “to drag,” “to pull,” or “to haul,” with purpose (John 18:10, John 21:6, John 21:11, Acts 16:19, Acts 21:30, and James 2:6). Various kinds of Christians argue over the verse because some believe that it means God uses an external force to pull people into salvation whether they like it or not, and that there is no true free will, while others believe that the word means that God uses a gentle internal pulling or wooing to bring people to Jesus which can be resisted or even rejected.

I won’t get into the pre-salvation elements of that controversy given the confines of this short piece. However, I believe it is safe to argue that the principle of “dragging” easily applies on the saved side of salvation. God is continually making us more like Jesus using a variety of methods (Romans 8:28-29). He also disciplines us, and molds us like a father (Hebrews 12:6-7), or like a potter (Isaiah 64:8).  In those instances, God brings us closer to Jesus by dragging us through difficult circumstances.  The more we resist, the harder the drag will be. Once we are saved, he has promised to keep us until the very end (Philippians 1:6). We can either submit to his will and be led around, and see the beauty along the way (Psalm 25:4-10), or we can be dragged kicking and screaming to the same place in the same way that Jonah was (Jonah 1:1-Jonah 4:11). Either way, he's going to finish what he started.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Driving A Hard Bargain

Mike Hosey, An Elder

To drive a hard bargain is an American idiom that means to be uncompromising when making a deal. The person who drives the hard bargain is the person who has the advantage in any negotiation.  His or her advantage is so great, and the position of the other negotiator so poor, that the price for the bargain can be set at almost any level.  In reality, when a person is able to “drive a hard bargain,” negotiation does not truly take place. Instead, the disadvantaged negotiator simply capitulates to the bargain driver either out of need for the deal, or out of an overwhelmingly strong desire for the deal. Or, they walk away from the deal altogether.

God drives a hard bargain. Every. Single. Time.  This is because his advantage over us is overwhelmingly, demonstrably, inarguably great. He is the creator of everything, the owner of everything, and the controller of everything. There is nothing that we can offer him that he does not already have. Our failure to recognize this truth sometimes compels us to engage in immature thoughts about what we think we have to offer.  The usual thought process goes something like this:  Dear God, if you get me out of this fix, I will do x, y, or z.   Interestingly, the reverse offering is also frequent:  Dear God, if you get me out of this fix, I will NOT do x, y, or z.   But the truth is that God is not that interested in what you do or don’t do.  Just think for a moment about any human behavior separated from motive. If you think your tithe has worth to God you are mistaken, he already has your money and can separate it from you at any time. What has worth to God is you giving your tithe cheerfully because you love him and wish to obey him. The tithe itself is of no value.  The condition of your heart is what holds value. If you do good things because you expect good rewards, your deeds are self-serving and of no value to God (Isaiah 64:6).  But a heart that desires good deeds because they are good, and because they help to establish the love of God among men, and to change them into something better, is of immense value (Hebrews 10:24, Titus 2:7-9, Philippians 2:13). If you avoid doing wrong things because you fear punishment, then you are not truly being good, you are simply preserving yourself.  What God desires is that you have a transformed heart that willingly follows Jesus with a desire to be like him. Such a heart is of very great value. God knows that once your heart is actually changed, you will tithe for the right reasons, do good for the right reasons, sacrifice for the right reasons, avoid evil for the right reasons, and most of all love him for the right reasons.  This state is a total transformation for the better, and God’s love and your well-being so completely reflected in it that he is unwilling to compromise or negotiate on the process.  Perhaps A.W. Tozer realized this when he noticed, “God never negotiates with men. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross put an end to any kind of negotiations. It is now Christ or nothing. It is now God’s word in its entirety or nothing.”

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Beauty of Ugly Feet and Toenails. . .

Mike Hosey, An Elder

Most people don’t put “feet” and “beautiful” in the same stream of thought.  Generally speaking, feet get a bad rap, and are more often associated with stinky socks, smelly sneakers, the aroma of the boy’s high school locker room on a Friday afternoon in May, sweaty ickyness, cold clamminess, or toenails.  And let’s face it toenails and the rest of that stuff are NOT beautiful unless you’re a troll, or Oscar the Grouch.

But as is often the case, God doesn’t always see things in the same way that we do.  On at least two different occasions in the Bible (Romans 10:15, and Isaiah 52:7), feet are described as beautiful.  They’re described that way because they transport the people who bring good news.  When I was a soldier training at Fort Sam Houston, TX, there was a truck that rolled around the post.  We called it the roach coach.  There was really nothing beautiful about the appearance of that truck. But whenever I saw it, I had a good feeling.  It was full of cold drinks, snacks and a variety of goodies. It wouldn’t have mattered if the truck looked like a train wreck in a wet chicken coup, its appearance wasn’t important. Its contents were, and because of that, I saw it as attractive.

Notice that in those feet verses the focus isn’t so much on what God sees as beautiful (although I think he does see those feet as beautiful) but rather on what the recipients of their messages see.  Feet that normally appeared ugly, now appeared beautiful because they brought the best news possible – that people could be friends and children of God once again. When you are outside the will of God, and when you are not friends with the person who sustains all life, you are in a desperate place. 

Interestingly, these messengers were in a win-win situation.  God considered them beautiful for their obedience to the Gospel, and their fellow man considered them beautiful for playing a part in their rescue and restoration.  And even more beautiful than all of this, is that you can be just as beautiful as they were when you take the message to those people who haven’t yet received it.  When they do receive it, you too, will be beauty in their life! So no matter how ugly you think your feet are, they can be among the most beautiful objects in the world to the people you touch with the gospel!