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Posts Tagged ‘Matthew’

Untamable God – Part 2

Continued…

One of the most powerful kings to ever rule the earth learned the lesson of God’s sovereignty the hard way.  Nebuchadnezzar thought that he was in control and that he had accomplished everything without any input from a god.  In fact, he thought he was a god.  In a dream (Daniel 4), he learns that his kingdom will be taken away unless he acknowledges God’s sovereignty and majesty.  Four times (4:17; 4:25; 4:32 and 5:21) the reader of Daniel’s book is reminded “the most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes.”  This echoes Psalm 47, which says, “God reigns over the nations…for the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted” (vv. 8, 9).  This is a lesson that king Nebuchadnezzar was about to learn the hard way.

It took a long time before Nebuchadnezzar learned his lesson, but in the end he finally acknowledged that “the Most High…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?’ ” (4:35).  As the Sovereign Creator, God does what He wants without questions.  He does not have to answer to anyone for His actions or non-actions.

This was the lesson that Isaiah learned and tried to teach Israel:  “You turn things upside down as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!  Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me’?  Can the pot say to the potter, ‘He knows nothing’?” (Isaiah 29:16, see also 45:9, 10).  Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Yet, is that not precisely what we often say or how we act when God seems to not work in the way we think He should.  We fall into completely denying Him (“He is not God…at least not my god.”) or accusing Him of not knowing what He’s doing (as if He should or would do what we would do).

After going through an interminable period of one trial after another, Job and his friends argued over what was the “cause-and-effect” of Job’s seeming down-turn in fortune.  Job didn’t want to accuse God, but did want to make his point to God that he should receive the equivalent of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for all his troubles since he had been so good (i.e. “righteous”).  Job’s friends – rightly still called today “Job’s comforters” – argued that Job must have done something wrong and needed to repent.  Both Job and his friends seemed to think that they had some kind of “Club Membership” that allow them to skip life’s difficulties and traumas.  It is no wonder, then, that the Sovereign God finally shows up to put both in their places:  Job’s friends for falsely accusing Job, and Job for questioning God’s sovereignty.  (Turns out that we get into trouble spiritually when we take the judgment seat to pronouncement judgments against our friends and God.  It seems that seat is reserved for only One Being.)

God puts Job in on the spot, just as He does all humans who think they know better than God how to run the world, by asking him, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” (38:1).  After that, Job gets an earful from God as God goes through a series of questions that ask, in one form or another, “Where were you when I….?” and, essentially, “When I was creating this…what were you doing?”

Finally, God the righteous judges sits down to listens to Job’s reply after asking him, “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?  Let him who accuses God answer him!” (40:2).  Smartly, Job simply answers, “How can I reply to you?  I put my hand over my mouth” (40:3).  God is not through, however, and launches into another series of questions that ultimately sound like, “Since you think you can do a better job, Job, you come up here and sit on this throne for a while!”  Again, Job, getting God’s message loud and clear finally admits, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwartedI spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (42:2, 3).

Grand Coulee Dam at Night, Summer 2009

Grand Coulee Dam at Night, Summer 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Three of Daniel’s friends seemed to understand this about God.  They were placed in the ‘hot seat’ for their faith – literally.  They refused to bow to a golden image of king Nebuchadnezzar; even with the king and his royal entourage right in front of them.  (Talk about being “put on the spot” and peer pressure at the same time!)  They were threatened to be thrown into a fire furnace heated seven times hotter than normal; so hot it instantly killed the soldiers charged with throwing them into the furnace.  One would think – according to our modern American pop-theology – that then would have been a great time for God to show up.  He did not.

Divine interference would have been the preferred action before the fire in our thinking.  However, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego recognized God’s sovereignty in their situation.  Their response to Nebuchadnezzar’s angry threat was “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (3:17, 18).  That, my friends, is faith in a big God who is Sovereign to do as He wills.  God did rescue them but in the midst of the fire, not before.  I cannot imagine these three Hebrew young men arguing with God, “Seriously?  Couldn’t you have showed up a little sooner!?

Perhaps some Muslims have an understanding of a sovereign deity better than American Christians do.  Granted, it has led many of them into a fatalism of their faith.  That has been a danger for Christians too.  However, when they do not readily recognize God’s plans or will, then they have learned to say, Inshallah” – “As Allah wills.”  Jesus, who as the Son of God knew the heavenly Father’s heart, will and plans better than anyone, also prayed “not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39; Luke 2:42).  No wonder He taught His disciples and us to include in our prayers, “Your will be done one earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9 – 13; Luke 11:2 – 4).

It seems that God refuses to be tamed and be made nice for us to play with in our leisure. On the other hand, do we really want a God that we can put in our pocket like a rabbit’s foot lucky-charm?  Is a God who is always disposed to our whims really big enough to serve or worthy of worship?  I don’t think so.  The One who sits over all His creation and all the nations of the earth is too big, too untamable.  He does as He pleases.  We serve Him, not He us.  If this is true, and I believe it is, then we better get used to being more like Job when it comes to things we cannot explain.  Admit that God is too big to explain and shut up.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Rigged Religious Resumes

It is becoming more and more difficult these days to identify the difference between the real and the fake.  Our televisions broadcast “reality” TV programs that are not really reality but staged events made to look like they are living documentaries.  A number of recent authors, who wrote and published personal autobiographies, are found out to have fabricated their stories, fooling their readers, not to mention the red-faced editors, publishers and enthusiastic promoters.

Prominent businesses and universities have hired individuals because of their stellar résumés, only to find out later degrees and experiences were fabricated to bolster the candidate’s image. Professional athletes who broke national records are discovered afterwards to not have reached those hallmarks on their own terms but with the help of performance enhancement drugs that made them stronger and faster.

The television news from major news organizations is acceptable to the public even when it is “staged news” or even fabricated.  Political candidates stretch and fabricate their past experiences to appeal to the desires of voters who willingly go along with the charade just to defeat the other party.

Is it any wonder that the generation coming after us is so skeptical and cynical towards our world?  Is it any wonder that the number one thing they crave is “authentic relationships”?  Is it any wonder that the next generation is more comfortable in the virtual world than the real world?

Unfortunately, the Church in the United States has not faired much better.  It seems that we have turned out a “plastic” faith.  A new Pew Forum survey on religion revealed that most people in the United States identify themselves as Christians – 78% in fact!  Protestants (51%) are still the majority of those.  If these Pew Forum findings are true of our American culture, then one has to wonder why these “Christians” do not have a more significant impact upon their culture.

One has to wonder how Pew Forum identified those who were “Christian” versus those who were not.  Incidentally, 25% of young adults (18 – 29) identify with no religion.  On the other hand, could it be that identification with Christianity for most religious people is more of an idea than a lifestyle?  We like the idea of being a Christian; we just don’t want it to cramp how we live.  We like how it looks on our “résumé”.

The Lord knows the real from the fake, however.  We know that Jesus, when he returns, will identify those who belong to him and separate them from those who do not (see Matthew 7:18 – 23; 25:31 – 46; Luke 13:24 – 29).  Interestingly, there will be those who claim to identify with him, but he will not lay any claim that they are his.  He will deny knowing them.  Some are even Pentecostals who cast out demons and do many miracles in Jesus’ name!  Still, he says, “Depart from me.  I don’t know you.”

The troublesome problem is how to identify real followers of Christ.  The question for the Church should be, “How do we make genuine, authentic followers of the Lord Jesus Christ?”  Jesus seemed to make it pretty clear in the above parables just what he would be looking for in those he identifies as “true” or “real” disciples.

  • They do “the will of my heavenly Father.”
  • They put into practice Jesus’ teachings and lifestyle.
  • They feed the hungry and thirsty.
  • They clothe the naked.
  • They care for the sick and the prisoner.
  • They “enter the narrow door” by discarding all of life’s baggage to follow Jesus.

This list suddenly makes following Jesus hard!  It is easier for me to say, “I believe in you, Jesus!”  It is much harder to do the work of Jesus here on earth.  Yet, that is how he will identify his own in the last day.  They will be the ones doing his work.  In other words, the Kingdom of God is made up of individuals who do not just believe but who do the work of the Kingdom.

The Protestant Reformation recaptured this idea when it proposed the idea that there is a visible church” and “invisible church.” Simply put, everyone who is a part of the visible church may not be part of the true Church of Christ – the invisible church that only Christ knows.  Not everyone in the visible church hears the Shepherd’s voice and follows it.  However, the true Bride of Christ – the invisible church – hears her Master’s voice and does his work.  In other words, the actually number of true followers of Christ is much smaller than those measured by the Pew Forum or Barna Research.

Turtle River, Turtle River State Park, North Daktoa, Fall 2004

Turtle River, Turtle River State Park, North Dakota, Fall 2004 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Unfortunately, many church people are like the story of a man and his wife who were sitting in their living room watching a drama about a man who lost consciousness and went into a coma.  The husband says to her, “Just so you know, I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine.  If that ever happens to me, just pull the plug.”  So, his wife gets up and unplugs the TV!

Jesus set the example for us, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.  Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4).  There is a day coming when it will be too late to try to do anything for the Lord so you can be identified as one of his when he returns.  May the heart-cry prayer of the Church become, “Lord, shake us out of “a vegetative state” and awaken us to the work we need to do in this generation!”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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This is hilarious.  I did not write it.  Someone passed this along to me in 2005.  (Some online sites suggest it is from Dave Berry of the Miami Herald but I’ve never been able to find anything definitive as to who actually wrote it.  It does sound like a Dave Berry article though.)  I’ve enjoyed rereading it and sharing it every year with my friends.  It brings out the holiday spirit in me…


This is the time of year when we think back to the very first Christmas, when the Three Wise Men; Gaspar, Balthazar and Herb, went to see the baby Jesus and, according to the Book of Matthew, “presented unto Him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

These are simple words, but if we analyze them carefully, we discover an important, yet often overlooked, theological fact: There is no mention of wrapping paper.

If there had been wrapping paper, Matthew would have said so: “And lo, the gifts were inside 600 square cubits of paper.  And the paper was festooned with pictures of Frosty the Snowman.  And Joseph was going to throweth it away, but Mary saideth unto him, ‘Holdeth it!  That is nice paper! Saveth it for next year!’   And Joseph did rolleth his eyeballs.  And the baby Jesus was more interested in the paper than the frankincense.”

But these words do not appear in the Bible, which means that the very first Christmas gifts were NOT wrapped.  This is because the people giving those gifts had two important characteristics:

1. They were wise.

2. They were men.

Men are not big gift wrappers.  Men do not understand the point of putting paper on a gift just so somebody else can tear it off.  This is not just my opinion: This is a scientific fact based on a statistical survey of two guys I know.

One is Joe, who said the only time he ever wraps a gift is “if it’s such a poor gift that I don’t want to be there when the person opens it.”

The other is Steve, who told me he does wrap gifts, but as a matter of principle never takes more than 15 seconds per gift.  “No one ever had to wonder which presents daddy wrapped at Christmas,” Steve said.  “They were the ones that looked like enormous spitballs.”

I also wrap gifts, but because of some defect in my motor skills, I can never completely wrap them.  I can take a gift the size of a deck of cards and put it the exact center of a piece of wrapping paper the size of a regulation volleyball court, but when I am done folding and taping, you can still see a sector of the gift peeking out.  (Sometimes I camouflage this sector with a marking pen.)

If I had been an ancient Egyptian in the field of mummies, the lower half of the Pharaoh’s body would be covered only by Scotch tape. On the other hand, if you give my wife a 12-inch square of wrapping paper, she can wrap a C-130 cargo plane.

My wife, like many women, actually likes wrapping things.  If she gives you a gift that requires batteries, she wraps the batteries separately, which to me is very close to being a symptom of mental illness. If it were possible, my wife would wrap each individual volt.

North Dakota Roosevelt Elk

North Dakota Roosevelt Elk ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

My point is that gift-wrapping is one of those skills like having babies that come more naturally to women than to men. That is why today I am presenting GIFT-WRAPPING TIPS FOR MEN:

* Whenever possible, buy gifts that are already wrapped. If, when the recipient opens the gift, neither one of you recognizes it, you can claim that it’s myrrh.

* The editors of Woman’s Day magazine recently ran an item on how to make your own wrapping paper by printing a design on it with an apple sliced in half horizontally and dipped in a mixture of food coloring and liquid starch. They must be smoking crack.

* If you’re giving a hard-to-wrap gift, skip the wrapping paper!  Just put it inside a bag and stick one of those little adhesive bows on it.  This creates a festive visual effect that is sure to delight the lucky recipient on Christmas morning:

YOUR WIFE: Why is there a Hefty trash bag under the tree?

YOU: It’s a gift for you! See? It has a bow!

YOUR WIFE (peering into the trash bag): It’s a leaf blower.

YOU: Gas-powered! Five horsepower!

YOUR WIFE: I want a divorce.

YOU: I also got you some myrrh.

In conclusion, remember that the important thing is not what you give, or how you wrap it.  The important thing, during this very special time of year, is that you save the receipt.

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The Russian literary giant, Leo Tolstoy, once wrote a story about a successful peasant farmer who was not satisfied with his lot.  He wanted more of everything.  Here is how Tolstoy tells the story:

One day a farmer received a novel offer.  For 1000 rubles, he could buy all the land he could walk around in a day.  The only catch in the deal was that he had to be back at his starting point by sundown.  Early the next morning he started out walking at a fast pace.  By midday, he was very tired, but he kept going, covering more and more ground.

Well into the afternoon, he realized that his greed had taken him far from the starting point.  He quickened his pace and as the sun began to sink low in the sky, he began to run; knowing that if he did not make it back by sundown the opportunity to become an even bigger landholder would be lost.  As the sun began to sink below the horizon, he came within sight of the finish line.

Gasping for breath, his heart pounding, he called upon every bit of strength left in his body and staggered across the line just before the sun disappeared.  He immediately collapsed, blood streaming from his mouth.  In a few minutes, he was dead.  Afterwards, his servants dug a grave.  It was not much over six feet long and three feet wide.”

The title of Tolstoy’s story was: “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” (Adapted from Bits & Pieces, November, 1991.)  In the end, Tolstoy suggests, all a man really owns is a 6-foot by 3-foot piece of earth, so we are better off putting our confidence elsewhere.

Jesus, like Tolstoy, warns us (Matthew 6:19 – 24, 33) that we had better not put our trust in the promise of materialism.  If we do, we will be sadly disappointed.  Instead, there is something of eternal value that we can give our lives to pursue.  Anything we forfeit here on earth to gain what is in heaven will be returned to us there 100 times over (Matthew 19:29) along with eternal life!

Unfortunately, the western church in particular has drifted away from this teaching of Jesus.  Like first century Judaism, we associate material blessings with God’s favor.  Yet, very few people as well as nations have ever passed the prosperity test (Deuteronomy 8:8 – 10; 31:20; Jeremiah 5:7; Hosea 13:6).  The antidote to the poison of material envy and greed is “seek first His Kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

However, this is not a prescription for poverty either.  We are not more spiritual if we are poor – or act poor because we do not want people to think we have anything, which is hypocrisy.  Instead, in abundance or in want, the Lord wants us to trust him for all our needs.  He wants to use us to pour out his riches and grace upon “all nations” so that through us all people will know that He is God.  Like Abraham, he was to bless us so that we can be a blessing!

Nowhere is this more evident than in the churches of nations of the two-thirds world that are marked by material poverty but spiritual abundance in revival, signs and wonders, and miracles.  These saints do more with less for the Kingdom of God, while the American church does less with more.  While we are rich in available materials and resources, we are growing more and more Biblically illiterate and spiritually impoverished.  Thinking that we are rich and blessed, we are truly “blind, naked, and poor.”

Waitsburg Tombstone

Waitsburg Tombstone ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

While in Albania, I saw a church that was struggling with the simple resources that we take for granted everyday and every Sunday.  Can you imagine attempting to teach Sunday school or disciple without materials in your own language?  Can you imagine a church without any resources to pay for a staff of pastors and office help to keep ministry going?  Can you imagine doing Children’s ministry without any props or tools?

This is what I witnessed in Albania.  Yet, I saw a vibrant church in prayer, reaching lost souls, fellowship, and growing future leaders.  I witnessed creative people and pastors inspired by God who gathered dozens of children to teach them about Christ.  I saw the church gather for prayer and then “hit the streets” to find people to pray for and possibly be a witness to them about the love of Jesus.

My family has paid a price for my trips abroad to Albania and India.  Seeing such poverty among the world’s poorest of the poor ruins a person.  It gives one a jaundiced eye toward our western materialism and consumerism.  As such, for the past several Christmases we have not exchanged gifts.  We have not given gifts.  Plus, we have asked our friends and relatives to help us express Christmas in a new way.

Every year we pick a world poverty problem to target and give towards efforts that attempt to meet it.  We have supported homes for girls rescued from forced prostitution; bought and put together medical kits for AIDS patients; bought chickens for a impoverished family.  This year we are buying a goat to be given to a family in need.

This is a great time of year to ask ourselves:  How much stuff do we need to be successful?  How many material things do we need to feel God’s care and love?  How long do we wait until we have the earthly things we need so that we can answer God’s call to bless others?  How much of this world’s stuff are we dependent upon for our personal happiness?  How much “earth” does one need?

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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