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Posts Tagged ‘Psalms’

God Surprises 2 1/2

Where does it say in “the good book” that the Creator of the universe must continually prove himself to his creation? It doesn’t.  But yet he does.  I suppose that is a part of his sovereign choice; to continually reveal himself in and through his creation and also at various times in specific ways.

It seems to be part of human propensity to have the memory and attention span of a very average fruit-fly. We constantly forget to see God in his creative works all around us.  It takes us banging into something to cause us to sit up and take notice that our universe in its largest parts down to its smallest parts is fearfully and wonderfully made.  But then we go merrily on our way and soon forget again who made it all and who still holds it all together.

A constant refrain in Psalm 106 is that God’s creation “forgot” or “did not remember.” How like us!  It seems that part of The Fall’s curses was a short memory.  Psalm 106 recounts all the great and marvelous things God did for his people but then concludes each episode with “but they did not remember” or “they forgot.”  It seems that one of the purposes of remembering is to believe that what God did before in the past, he can do again.

I, at least, find my life constantly repeating the same mistakes of Israel:they forgot His works and His wonders which He had shown them” or “the day when he delivered them” (Psalm 78:11, 42).  At worst, the experiences laid out in the Bible become only ancient history lessons of what God had done at one time.  At best, my own experiences of God’s “works and wonders” in my life become distant memories of what God did that one time.

One cannot help reading Israel’s Old Testament history and want to yell at the pages of the Bible,C’mon guys!  Look at all that God has done already!  Why can’t you believe him?”  Of course, the arrogance in that is forgetting our own faith journey (or should it more appropriately be called “lack-of-faith journey”?).  It is a rare saint to whom God has not had to prove himself over and over again.  Like I said, I forget.  Forgetfulness tends to breed doubt and unbelief in me.

Fortunately, God is patient. Or, I prefer the old word long-suffering.  For, truly, he suffers a long time with us.  To our benefit and to God’s credit he does not forget.  He does not forget that earthly existences are mere breaths or mists in eternity.  He does not forget that we are as fragile as fruit-flies in a fruit bowl.  “God remembered that they were made of flesh and were like a wind that blows once and then dies down” (Psalm 78:39).

So it is that every new trouble is an opportunity to remember what God has done. Because what God has done before, he can do again.  At least, that is how it is supposed to work in theory.  More often than not, if you are like me, you have forgotten.  And you have forgotten to remember, recall and recount God’s many blessings.  So, if you are like me, I end up frustrated, angry and throwing a tantrum over my troubles.  Finally, exhausted, I turn to God for help.

Once again, fortunately, this is where God not being like me is really a good thing. As the psalmist reminds me, “When God saw the trouble they were in and heard their cries for help, He remembered his Covenant with them, and, immense with love, took them by the hand. He poured out his mercy on them…” (Psalm 106:44 – 46).  God remembers.  God is immense with love.  God is present.  God is abundant in mercy.  Boy, I sure wish I could remember that every time I’m in a place of need or trouble.

A few years after the last God surprise I shared in “God Surprise 2“, my family had relocated to Grand Forks, North Dakota, where I was pastoring Valley Christian Center.  The house we were renting had to be sold and soon we were looking for a house to rent or to buy.  We wanted to be close to the church, which really limited our options.

Finally, we found a house to buy that we could afford with an unfinished basement. The previous occupants had done a lot of work to the house but left most of the basement unfinished.  They let their two young sons use it for a hockey rink.  You have to have lived in that part of the country to understand that idea.  It met most of our family’s needs and so we went ahead and purchased it.

The big problem was finishing the basement. We really need the room.  More importantly, a bare cement basement during a Grand Forks, North Dakota, winter is colder than most places in the lower 48 states.  And my wife absolutely hates being cold; more than she hates the devil.  Hell for her would not be a lake of fire but a frozen lake.  So, this posed two problems:  One was the money it would take to finish the basement.  Two was the “who” of who would fix it since I am no carpenter.  Nevertheless, my family moved into the house.

Late in Fall, I was visiting a plasma center to donate plasma and make a few extra dollars. I tried going once or twice a week.  The extra money paid for gas or for a few extra groceries in-between pay days.  During that time of the year leading up to the holidays, the plasma company held big drawings with prizes.  They hoped to get more people to come in more frequently to increase plasma donations.

Ever time a client went in and was screened, he or she was handed a little sheet or paper to enter the drawing. Those slips of paper were then added to a large wire drum about half the size of a 50-gallon barrel.  At first, it looked huge compared to the little pieces of paper.  Then, as the weeks went on, it looked too small as it began to fill up.  On top of this, this plasma center was one of five other centers that would have names entered into the drawing.

Now, I have never been a big one for drawings. Those that I have entered, I have never won anything.  I have plenty of friends who have had that fortune, but not me.  So, on this occasion I did not bother to fill out the slip of paper and enter my name in any drawing except when badgered by one of the screeners prepping me for a draw.  Only then did I reluctantly enter the drawing.  And, as the wire cage filled up, it only confirmed my suspicion of “what’s the use?”

On one visit to donate plasma, the cold air from the Canadian Arctic was settling into the Red River Valley of the North.  Snow was already blowing and the frosty air would take your breath away if you breathed too deeply.  I thought about the unfinished basement.  How in the world would I heat that to keep it comfortable?  My wife hates the thought of being cold more than the threat of catching the West Nile Virus.  What would we do?

As I entered the center, the young attendant screening the people that morning asked if I was entering the drawing.

“Naw,” I said nonchalantly.  “Look at all the names in there!  I never win anything from these things anyway.  I’ve put my name in only a half-dozen times at most.”

“Well,” she challenged, “you can’t win if you don’t enter.”

“Now you sound like a commercial for the state lottery!” I kidded.  We both laughed.

“This is the last day to get your name in,” she reminded me.  “What’s there to lose?”

“All right,” I relented.  “I’ll fill out the little slip of paper just to make you happy.”

“What if you won the Grand Prize?” she asked.  “What would you do with the money?”

The Grand Prize was $10,000.  That was beyond my ability to even think of winning that in the drawing.  I would set my sets a little lower on one of the dozens of Apple Nano-pods being offered in it.

“I don’t know,” I answered.  “I guess I would give some money to a hospital for handicapped children I just found out about in India on a recent trip there.  Then, I would finish my basement with the rest of it.”

“How unexciting!” she announced.  “No trip?  No party?  No buying something special?”

“No,” I answered back.  “In my book those would be pretty special enough.”  Leave it to a young college student phlebotomist to consider the average things in life unexciting.  Wait until she grows up and has a family, I thought to myself.  I smiled and moved on to the next station.

As I went back to one of the many beds to have my plasma drawn, I thought half to my self and to the Lord, “Lord, it sure would be great if I did win that $10,000.  What a great way to help with the children’s hospital and to also finish the basement in my house.  $10,000 is not big in your economy.  You’ve done that before for us.”

Soon, I was hooked up to a machine drawing out plasma and putting back in red blood. I started to read the stack of magazines I took with me each time I went.  I found the time to be a great way to catch up on reading.  A little over ninety minutes later I was on my way with a few more dollars in my pocket.

Sea Anemone, Port Townsend Marina, Washington, July 2010

Sea Anemone, Port Townsend Marina, Washington, July 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

After the beginning of the New Year, I returned to the plasma center. The place was full of University of North Dakota students back from winter breaks.  This was a popular place for university students to make a few extra dollars for school life.  After signing in, I went to the waiting room with the rest of them.  Soon one of the nurses approached me.

“Mr. Almberg?” she asked pensively.

“Yes?” I replied wondering what was up that a nurse was talking to me.

“Mr. Almberg.  We need to talk to you.  Do you have a few moments to come with me?”

“Sure,” I answered.  Inside I was thinking that my last plasma draw must have been off somehow.  If you have too low of iron or too high of something else, you have to take a break for a couple of weeks before you can come back in.  This had happened a couple of times before.  So, I was preparing myself for the usual dietary questions.

We entered a small room.  There were a couple of other phlebotomists there as well as the center’s director.  He sat down opposite me and said with a very serious face, “Mr. Almberg, we have something very serious to discuss with you.”

“Uh, oh.  What did I do now?” I responded trying to diffuse what appeared to be a serious situation with a non-serious response.  “Cholesterol too high again?”

“No, no,” he smiled.  “We’re just wondering what you’re going to do with $10,000?”

I stared blankly back at him.  I was sure that this was a joke.  One of my friends worked at the center and she was standing in the corner of the room with a Cheshire cat-like grin on her face.  I was suspicious.

“Who knows,” I smiled back trying to hide my nervousness for the punch line I knew must be coming up.  “I’ll let you know when I have $10,000.”

“Well, the reason we called you back here instead of telling you out in the waiting room is because you won the Grand Prize drawing of $10,000.”  His smile got bigger.

I looked at him.  I looked around the room.  I looked over at my friend and she was nodding her head like a bobble-head doll on the dash of a four-wheel drive truck gone mudding.  I was dumbfounded.

“You’re kidding me,” I spit out.

“Nope,” the director reassured me.  “Congratulations!  You’re our winner out of all the entries from all six centers!  It will be a few weeks before you get your check, but for right now we need you to fill out some paper work to get it processed.  Are you OK with that?”

“Good grief, yes!” I responded somewhat still befuddled.  Each of the people in the room came by to shake my hand and congratulate me.  My friend was last and said, “I’m so glad it was you who won it!”

“Unbelievable!” I responded.  “Who’d have ever thought!?”

After filling out the paperwork, I went back to one of the beds to do what I had come to do.  Give plasma and make a few extra dollars for gas and odd groceries.

As it turned out, I was able to donate $1,500 to the children’s hospital in India as well as finish the house’s basement with the help of a friend.  I paid him and he used the pay to launch his journey into full-time missions work with Royal Rangers International.

There is a frequently quoted “fact” that “Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice.”  That may or may not be true.  I do not know.  What I do know is this: God’s blessings do.  What he has done before, he can do again.  We – that is I – just need to remember that important fact.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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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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Alligator Teeth and Pearls

The terms for the coming of God’s Kingdom are not for the faint-hearted or weak-willed.  Those who have experienced, or presently are experiencing, the coming of God’s Kingdom here on earth through revival and renewal already know the price that was paid for it to come.  Even Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful people have been seizing it” (Matt. 11:12).

It has often been observed throughout church history that the Kingdom of God has advanced and grown upon the blood of martyrs.  There always seems to be a terrible price to be paid in the natural realm for the spiritual realm to breakthrough and upon it.  Even a brief study of the lives of those used by the Spirit of God throughout the Church’s history to bring reformation, revival, and renewal will discover lives broken and poured out – Polycarp, Irenaeus, Tertullian, John Wyclif, William Tyndale, John Hus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, Dwight L. Moody, William Seymore, Katherine Kuhlman, and others of greater or lesser importance.  Who will be the ones to usher in God’s Kingdom in our generation?

The apostle Paul said, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7).  Someone else rightly remarked that the problem is getting that “treasure” out!  I might add that sometimes it appears we are more “earthen vessel” than “treasure”.  Nevertheless, God promises to pour out His Spirit upon those who humble themselves, forsake their sinful and selfish ways, and spend their energies seeking His face and favor (2 Chron. 7:14).  The question for our generation is, “Who are the brave soldiers of the cross who are going to seize that promise and opportunity?”

Unfortunately, our American religious culture has led us into a “lazy-boy” style of faith that is not does require anything from us.  We enjoy being spectators to the “sport” of religion and “change channels” when we become quickly disinterested.  The average American’s spiritual life looks less like a disciplined journey and more like channel surfing.  Our attention span is short and the next spiritual high is sought out for its brief escape from reality.  From the comfort of our homes, we have become voyeurs to the spiritual journeys and experiences of others.  However, for all that we have witnessed and watched, we remain unfit for our Kingdom duties.

Washington State Capitol, July 2003

Washington State Capitol, July 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

When one travels overseas and witnesses the Church at large accomplishing so much with so little for the Kingdom of God, it challenges preconceived ideas about what is really important in God’s Kingdom.  God does not seem to delight in the “sacrifices” we enjoy offering – music, fellowship, pot-luck dinners, listening to good Bible teaching, along with an occasionally generous gift of cash in the offering plate.

No, God makes it hard for us so that only those who are really passionate and hungry get what they desire.  Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt. 5:6).  David had it right when he said that what God wants is not more religious platitudes and practices.  What God desires is “a broken and contrite spirit” (Ps. 51:17).  How hungry and thirsty are you for God and His Kingdom to come to earth?

We know and understand even by human economy that those things that are truly of worth are costly.  How much more so of heavenly things?  There’s a great story of a lady tourist in India who noticed the necklace worn by a local Indian man.  “What is it made of?” she asked.  “Alligator’s teeth,” the man replied.  “I suppose,” she said patronizingly, “that they mean as much to you as pearls do to us.”  “Oh no,” he objected, “anybody can open an oyster.”  I have a feeling that acquiring the priceless treasures of heaven are more like getting alligator teeth than pearls.  It’s a costly journey that requires courage.

Our world is in desperate need of a people of God who “forcefully” take His Kingdom to their part of the world through their sacrifices of a dedicated prayer life, radical obedience, and brokenness over the world’s spiritual state.  What will it take to get the “treasure” God has put in you poured out for the benefit of others and His Kingdom?  How hungry are you for God to have His way in your life?  How thirsty are you for His righteousness to be at work in the world around you?  How much do you really want God kingdom to “come, on earth, just as it is in heaven”?  Be careful how you answer that!  It could begin a journey that you never imagined.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The mid-winter months are the toughest months for me.  The skies and clouds are gray.  All the colors of the earth are muted and lifeless.  The long cold nights seem to awaken in me a need to hibernate.  Life seems to come to a slow crawl – like molasses in January.  The shorter days, where one goes to work in the dark and comes home in the dark, bleed the sunshine out of the soul.  And it truly seems like my soul goes dark.

Some call it Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Others label it simple depression.  Whatever it is, all I know is that it sucks away life and the joy of living.  I am not talking about the kind of depression that leaves a person huddled in a ball in the corner of the room paralyzed.  I am talking about a more subtle kind.  I am talking about the kind of depression where one can half-way interact with others, even smile and laugh, but behind it all have a lingering dread and foreboding that consumes every thought and action.  It is mentally exhausting.  Moments alone are painful mental exercises in attempting to get over the cancerous negative thoughts that eat away at any self-esteem or sense of self-worth.

Many people cannot relate to this mental state.  Few have experienced sadness but not this type of lingering despair of life that broods for weeks or even months.  Thankfully, many people will never experience what it is like to live with heavy soul-filled despair without any hope of relief on the horizon.  Some people have experienced periods of depression and those that have all exclaim the painful experience and hope never to go back there.  However, for many people like me, it is a regular re-occurring event.  When relief finally comes and the “cloud of depression” finally lifts, it is tainted by the bitter after taste of knowing that it will visit again.

Depression does not seem to be something that even the best of Christians get to bypass in this life.  There are plenty of examples of leading Christians who suffered from depression.  Likewise, we have some biblical examples too.  King David complains of dark periods in his life to God.  About 3/4 of the Psalms contain laments.  Read Psalm 69, 77, or 88 and you get a picture of someone painfully wrestling with depression.  Elijah and Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet,” were prophets of the LORD God who seemed to have dramatic episodes of depression too.

Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591) wrote about “the dark night of the soul.”  It portrays the utter discouragement that comes to those who suffer from depression.  Martin Luther‘s three-year period of depression threatened to ruin him.  The great 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, suffered from paralyzing depression to the point that there were times he could not preach or minister.  He tried to explain to others that he could not think himself out of his depression.  He described his thoughts like knives shredding his heart into pieces.  Abraham Lincoln once said about his depression:

“I am now the most miserable man living . . . If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. . . Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell . . .  To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better.”

William Cowper (1731 – 1800) was a gifted poet and writer.  Nevertheless, he struggled with depression so much that he was institutionalized.  Miraculously, it was in an asylum that he read the Bible and understood that salvation is found in Christ.  Yet, despite becoming a Christian, Cowper was never completely free of depression.  He continued to struggle with it for the rest of his life.  Still, through dark valleys, he wrote some of our greatest hymns.

J.B. Phillips (1906 – 1982) was a loved pastor and well-known for his Bible translation work – The Phillip’s Translation.  Phillips had many admirers and seemed to them to be the epitome of success.  Little did even his closest followers know that he suffered life-long with clinical depression that often incapacitated him.  After his death, his wife, Vera, and good friend, Rev. Edwin Robertson, published a book about J.B. Phillips entitled “The Wounded Healer.”  It tells the other side of Phillips’ story.  They write,

While he was ministering to others he was himself powerfully afflicted by dark thoughts and mental pains. He knew anxiety and depression from which there was only temporary release. And while he never lost his faith in God, he never ceased to struggle against mental pain.”

Some years ago I read “The Wounded Healer” about J.B. Phillips’ life.  He became a hero of the faith for me.  I in no way suffer the level of incapacitating depression that he did.  However, I know too well what it is like being afflicted with “dark thoughts and mental pains” while ministering to others.  I also know the constant struggling against that mental pain while maintain my hope and faith in God.

Tree Stump Close-up, Turtle River, ND, Fall 2005

Tree Stump Close-up, Turtle River, ND, Fall 2005 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

There are no easy “steps” to getting out of depression.  I have had many well-meaning friends give me their counsel and advice for defeating depression.  I am not sure it is ever defeated.  One might as well wage war against the frigid cold of a January winter in North Dakota.  The exertion may make you feel like you are accomplishing something but it is utter futility at the end of the day.  It blows on you and through you regardless of what you do.

The best that I hope for is to weather these tumultuous storms of the soul.  Experience has taught me that they will pass – though later than I like rather than sooner.  The Word of God becomes my mainstay in reminding me of God’s continued faithfulness and delight in me regardless of how I feel.  I particularly dwell upon the hope that David expresses in his darkest laments as he puts his faith in God.  The warmth of friendships around me, whether they are aware of my inner black hole or not, comforts and encourages me with moments of levity.  In these moments, rays of sunshine warm my heart.  My world will not be colored gray forever.  Someday, the full colors of spring will bloom and I will be able to bask in the full warmth of the Son.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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There are two powerful mental and spiritual weapons used to ensure the continued decay of our world and culture.  They are resignation and despair.  One teaches us to believe that it is no use attempting to change things the way they are, let alone hope for any change.  The other teaches us that the world is beyond hope and we will do good just to get ourselves out alive and unscathed.  These trap us into a world of hopeless worry and chilled inactivity.

Jesus introduced a different way to view the world.  It is a world that is under siege by evil spiritual forces and human wickedness.  It is a world which he invaded with his Kingdom to “undo the works of evil.”  When Jesus came to earth, he did not arrive to just check on conditions and then report back to heaven what he witnessed.  He came to change the human and world condition.  Everything about his life was a divine rebellion against the status quo.

The divine rebellion Jesus started was meant to bring everything on earth under the dominion of his Kingdom.  In fact, he promised not to come back “until the gospel of this Kingdom is preached to all the peoples of the earth.”  In other words, he fully expects his followers to continue this divine rebellion until every tribe, language, and people group has had an opportunity to join the rebellion.

While on earth, wherever Jesus went he proclaimed “freedom for the captives” and set people free from demonic oppression, sickness, and disease.  He rebelled against the wicked corruption of the religious leaders of the day.  The Son of Man refused to accept things as he saw them on earth.  His mission was to bring the Kingdom of God to earth to rescue it and redeem it from the stranglehold of its satanic ruler.  The all powerful weapon wielded against Satan’s rule was his death and resurrection.  He broke the back of Satan’s power in death.  He liberated death’s captives by his resurrection.  Through his complete submission to the Heavenly Father, he gained “all authority in heaven and on earth.”  One day, everyone and everything will declare that he is absolute Lord and God.

Until then, he has left the work of this divine rebellion against the status quo to his followers.  We continue his work of undoing the works of evil and setting spiritual captives free through his authority and the power of his Spirit at work in us.  We bring people into the Kingdom of God by baptizing them into this new world order and allegiance to its King.  We teach them the Way and how to observe what Jesus taught.  Then, we train them to join this divine rebellion and to not accept resignation or despair.

Most of the world’s philosophies would get us to accept things “as they are.” They push their followers toward quiet acceptance of the status quo.  Stoics claim that any unwillingness to accept the existing world is useless and vain.  They would get us to believe that “the way things are” is an expression of God’s will.  So, trying to change the world or pray that God would make changes is bad.  Buddhists tell us that the way to true spiritual enlightenment is to embrace the way things are in the world.  Even secularists hold a view that sees an inevitability to life and the world as it is.  It is better, they teach us, to accept life the way it is and deal with the reality of it than to attempt to hope for change; especially change through any spiritual means or belief in a god.

However, Jesus taught and modeled a different way.  Probably the most significant for his followers is prayer.  Whenever believers pray, it is by its nature a rebellion against the status quo – the state of the world as it is.  In particularly, petitionary prayer expresses a faith in God’s willingness and ability to bring change to our world.  David Wells, in an article in Christianity Today (Vol. 17, No. 6), states,

It is the absolute and undying refusal to accept as normal what is completely abnormal.  It is the rejection of every agenda, every scheme, every opinion that clashes with the norms that God originally established.  Our petitionary prayers are an expression of the unbridgeable chasm that separates Good from Evil, a declaration that Evil is not a variation on Good but its very opposite.”

Jesus told his followers that “At all times we should pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).  So, if we succumb to resignation or despair, we surrender a biblical view of God that says God is present and has the ultimate authority and power to change things.  In essence, we say that it is useless to pray as Jesus taught us, “your kingdom come, your will be done.”  Why even exert ourselves to pray if God is not present nor able to change the status quo?  Thus, we end up striking a truce with all that is wrong in the world instead of being angry enough to call upon God and his justice, mercy, grace, and redeeming love.

When we pray, we are openly declaring that God and this world are at cross-purposes.  To not pray is to act as though they are not.  Unfortunately, most of us have gotten too used to talking about the world’s problems than praying about them.  It is easier for me to point my finger and shake my head at the world’s wickedness and evil than to engage it in petitionary or intercessory prayer.  I allow the resignation of “the way things are” and the growing despair over what appears to be hopeless situations to rob me of my most potent and powerful influence in the worlds as it is:  Prayer.

When I pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done,” it is more than a blanket prayer to cover all situations.  It is specifically asking the Lord of lords and King of kings to bring his authority and dominion to bear in a particular circumstance in my life or my world.  When I pray, “on earth as it is in heaven,” I am asking for that same supreme and absolute authority and dominion that God Almighty has in heaven to be displayed in a particular place and time here on earth.  It is to cry out as the psalmist did, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!”

Rose in Full Bloom, Bush House Gardens, Summer 2009

Rose in Full Bloom, Bush House Gardens, Summer 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Jesus’ life was filled with prayer.  He refused to live in the world or do the Father’s business on any other terms than the Father’s.  If he, the Son of God, required so much time in prayer to discern, discover, and disclose the will and mission of God in his life every day, how much more is required of us who follow him?  Or, do we think we are more capable than he?  Of course not.  More likely, like his disciples in a storm tossed boat in the middle of a dark night, we have surrendered to resignation and despair.  However, Jesus’ life and discipline in prayer was a divine rebellion against the world in its perverse and fallen abnormality.

If you are like me, the objection to this is on a very practical level, “But I have prayed and nothing seems to change!”  This is perhaps why “prayer” and “do not give up” or “persistence” is always coupled in the Bible.  Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow before an unjust judge.  He was determined not to hear her case.  However, because of her persistence, she won her day in court and received the justice due her.

God is not an unjust judge.  In fact, Jesus’ comparison is to point out how much better God is than a corrupt and unjust earthly judge.  The main truths, however, do not concern the character of the judge but of the widow.  First, she refused to accept her unjust situation.  In her world during the time of Jesus, her unjust and unresolved situation would have been the status quo for widows who do not have an elder male to plead their case.  Jesus is making the point that his followers, also, should not accept or resign themselves to evil and wickedness in this world.  The other example we find in the character of the widow is that, despite her discouragements and setbacks, she refused to resign or despair.  She persisted in her cause; so should we.

The problem does not necessarily lie in our practice of prayer.  We are persistent.  Most of us would get an “A” on our heavenly report card for persistence and effort.  Where we are most challenged is in our understanding the nature of prayer.  Too often, we consider it a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in the great “Cosmos Monopoly” game.  Instead, prayer is my service and my part in the Kingdom of God’s warfare against the devil and his works upon the earth.

Prayer goes way beyond my private concerns, though it includes them, to include Kingdom wide concerns around the whole world.  It is more than just a religious experience or spiritual discipline then.  It is to stand in the courtroom of the world and plead “the case” against what is wrong and for what is right.  It is about my participation in the divine rebellion against the status quo until “all things are placed under his feet.”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The first decade of the 21st century is quickly fading behind us in the rear view mirror of our lives. Isn’t it amazing how one 10-year period can bring so much change?  How quickly it can come and go?  How terribly swift its events can over take us?  International disasters from earthquakes to tsunamis.  Horror’s from 9/11 to the Swine Flu pandemic.  The list of events just from this last decade is almost endless.  On a global scale we have seen it all.  We have been amazed at the rise and fall of the world economy and the rise and fall of our cultural heroes.

It makes one wonder what the next decade will bring. What surprising discoveries await humankind?  How will world governments and rulers navigate this next decade’s international events and crises?  What tragedies and human horrors lurk in the next 10 years?  What scientific or medical breakthroughs hide from us just around the corner a few years from now?

On a more personal level, there is no doubt that our own lives will continue on and change.  We cannot avoid it anymore than we can avoid getting older.  As my grandma Stalnaker would always say, “Time and tide wait for no one.”  Some of us in this next decade will watch our children grow and graduate from High School and/or college.  Some of us will bury our parents and/or grandparents.  Some of us will marry and begin families.  Some will go through “the valley of the shadow of death” and others will enter the decade “sowing tears” but leave it “reaping a harvest of  joy”.

Who knows what the future holds for us. I believe the most important question for us is, How are we equipped to deal with the circumstances and changes we will face?  Some of us have prepared and are preparing our lives well – spiritually, financially, emotionally, relationally, etc.  Others of us, I suspect, have neglected to even think about the future; choosing, instead, to face it with a ‘que sera, sera’ attitude.  Whether you face the future with a sense of self-determination or fait accompli, you cannot avoid the on-rush of the next decade.

Sunlit Leaves BW, Howard Amon Park, Richland, Washington

Sunlit Leaves BW, Howard Amon Park, Richland, Washington ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Looking back over the past decades of my life, I have come to appreciate just how small a decade really is in the scheme of life and especially eternity.  My grandparents lived 7, 8, or 9 decades.  My parents just entered their 7th decade of living.  Put in those terms, that doesn’t sound very old does it?  In Methuselahn terms, they are just children.  I am only 4, getting ready to turn 5.

Just this past decade, my family and I have moved from Washington State to North Dakota and back again.  Two of our children have graduated High School and left home.  My wife, Kelly, earned a Master’s Degree in Education.  The last of my and my wife’s grandparents have gone on to their eternal reward.  Now, our parents are the remaining grandparents to our children.  I have had the joy of pastoring and leading two great congregations.  I also had the privilege of traveling to Albania and India.

The decade before this last one, the 1990’s, my family and I moved from Washington State to Springfielf, Missouri, and back again.  I earned a Master’s of Divinity degree in Springfield, Missouri.  Our two youngest children were born.  I pastored and led two great congregations (the last one from the 90’s into the beginning of this last decade).  We owned six different vehicles.  Our two oldest children began their school years.

And these are just the highlights from only the last two decades!  Looking at all that has happened, it is no wonder that I am exhausted.  The decades before those were even busier.  It is amazing how much can be packed into 10 years.  One has to wonder about all that will happen in the next 10 years.  As I stand on the edge of beginning my 5th decade of earthly existence (I’ll be 49 this Spring), I am more cognizant than ever of the fact that I do not and cannot control the  future.  After all, many of things I have experienced over this past 10 years was not on my “To Do List”.  They were not even on the radar screen of my forecasting abilities!  Some of the biggest events were complete surprises to me.

Perhaps each decade should come with a life journey sign that says, “Caution:  Sudden Changes Ahead!”  One thing is for certain, how we face this next decade and the personal “tools” and preparation we go into it is very important.  No wonder the wisdom of King David is still so appropriate.  It must have been in his old age when he sang the prayer, “Lord, teach us to number our days.”  He knew, as we are all discovering, that they pass too quickly.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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