By way of Introduction

I still don't totally get life. But mine is probably half over, so maybe I'm old enough to have learned something, and young enough to learn a whole a lot more.

Jesus said that He came to give us life and that more abundantly. Apparently, His idea of an abundant life and mine are not the same thing. My idea of an abundant life would be to win the lottery and live a life of pleasure. But that isn't happening, so He must have something else in mind. According to John 17:3 His idea of life is to know Him. So that's what I'm trying to do (get to know God), and hope to help others to do too.

The name of this blog is my attempt to express this. I choose the term FOG as an acronym for Friend Of God, but also as a way of saying the way isn't always clear to me.

Anyone who knows me knows I can be blunt at times. So was Jesus. The difference is that He was blunt and loving at the same time - I am not always. I don't mean to offend people (honest), but chances are I will at times. Please try to forgive me and not be afraid to come back.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

The faith of Pharaoh

Yikes, it's 5:00 Sunday night and I haven't written a word yet! But, knowing the THOUSANDS who would be on suicide watch this week if I don't post any fresh insights, I'm gonna go ahead and try.

I was listening (I work for an audio Bible company, remember) to Hebrews 11 - you know, the chapter sometimes called the "hall of faith" b/c it lists hero after hero and the crazy things they did b/c God told them to. It gets to the part about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, and how when the Egyptians tried it they drowned. And it commends the Israelites for their faith. Somehow that struck me as odd, and then I started thinking about what faith is and what it isn't.

I'm sure you know the story. The Israelites are fleeing Egypt, they've reached the Red Sea, don't have any boats and the Egyptians are about to catch them and haul them back to slavery (or maybe kill them). The people start worrying and complaining (as I'm pretty sure I would have), Moses touches the water and it divides in two.

Now, clearly this was a stunning development. As everyone in the world knows (unless you live in Albuquerque where there is no water) water doesn't just STOP and form a wall in mid air. I'm sure the people were pretty freaked out, but they go in anyway and get away. But think about that for a second. How much faith did that really take? They could see the dry ground in front of them, and they could either walk on it or stay put and get captured. I'm sure some were nervous, but once the first few people made it thru the rest could see that it was safe.

I'm sorry, but somehow this goes against my image of what faith is. Don't we think of faith of being something that we use in the absence of any evidence that it's the right thing to do or that it will work it? (Like Abraham sacrificing Isaac) I'll get back to this.

Secondly, the Egyptians can see the Israelites crossing on dry ground. Again, I'm sure they're freaked out (then again, after everything they just went through in Egypt maybe they were just sitting there thinking "of course the sea opened up for them. Why not?") At any rate, they can see that it worked for the Israelites so they figure they may as well go for it too. And, of course it doesn't work for them and they all die.

So my question is this: What made the "faith" of the Israelites better than that of the Egyptians? Seriously. They both saw dry ground where it shouldn't have been. Saw people crossing on that dry ground and decided to do the same thing. So what's the difference?

I think the answer has to do with what faith really is, and for this I look at Romans 4. Verse 3 says "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." But verse 9 says "faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness." Get it? Faith = Believing God. Those terms appear to be interchangeable in Paul's mind. To me, that can mean believing God when it sorta makes sense to (as in "the guy in front of me didn't drowned, so I'll try it too") as well as when it makes no sense at all ("sure I'll kill my son. Just tell me where and when.")

I like that. It makes faith less mysterious, and something I can wrap my brain around. It also means that I live by faith everyday whether I know it or not. For example, when I confess my sin I have faith that I am forgiven (1 John 1:9) even if I don't feel like it. When I give 10% of my hard-earned cash for what the IRS calls "no tangible benefit" I am exercising faith by believing what God says about tithing. I pray b/c I believe that God hears me (even though I often have no proof).

I also like that because it means a Christian's faith is grounded in something - what God says. In fact, it must be grounded in what God says. I made the point earlier that the Egyptians had as much faith as the Israelites ("the ground is dry, what the heck, let's try it") but their faith was only in what they saw and not in God. God never promised the Egyptians that they'd be spared. I don't blame them for thinking that since it worked for the Israelites it would work for them too. But their faith wasn't in what anything God had said to them so it failed. I see implications there for the "hyper-faith" doctrines (both inside and outside of Christianity) that teach faith in and of itself is all that matters. Having faith in mind-power or whatever else is no different in my mind than having faith in God doing something for us that He never said He'd do.

I'll have to come up with some catchy sign-off phrase, but for now I'll just say "Guess that's it for this time."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Relating to an unnatural God part 2.

This may be the hardest thing I've ever tried to write (and I write for a living)! I don't know that I have any great insights here, but I've come up with a few thoughts.

First, I believe developing spiritual senses takes self-discipline. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:17 to "train yourself for godliness". The word train is gymnazo in the Greek, so he is talking about some kind of exercise or hard work. What kind? If you look at the life of early Christians they fasted, they prayed, they studied scripture, the hung out together and what was the result? They walked with God to the point that they changed the world.

A couple of things I realized about these things though - first they are NOT the point (or the evidence) of Christianity. The point is to walk with God, and these things are only means to that end. In other words, what difference does it make if you have some tough spiritual regimen if it makes no impact on the rest of your life? Secondly, and I cannot stress how important I think this is, what works for someone else may not work for you. I seriously cannot do a food fast. I am a big guy with a high metabolism, so when I don't get enough calories I get tired and moody - which sort of defeats the purpose I think. Then there is personal taste too. Some people like (for example) "high church" liturgies and find great benefit in them, other people think they are the dullest thing ever. That's okay. God made us different and allows us to relate to Him differently (within Biblical guidelines of course).

If you've ever been frustrated (as I certainly have) by trying to follow someone else's advice as to how to pray, how to hear God's voice, etc I highly recommend a book called Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas. He profiles people in the Bible and how they related to God in different ways, and then suggests that each of us are wired in different ways and we need to figure out our own spiritual temperament and try to build our spiritual disciplines around that. The book is so helpful and practical. It even has a quiz to help you discover your own spiritual temperament and build your spiritual activities around that. One of the best half-dozen or so books I've ever read.

Now I'm going to go out on a limb a bit-but I think God gave us our physical senses as gateways to our spiritual ones. Romans 1 says that which may be known about God has been made evident in creation. But if that's so, why do so few people see Him there? Probably because they don't look. Most anyone who has been to Albuquerque (where I live) will tell you that the most striking feature of the city (besides about 8 trillion tons of sand) is the mountain range that forms the city's eastern border. The peak is something like 6,000 feet above the city (I'm too lazy to look up the actual height) and you can see it from almost anywhere. It's actually quite nice, b/c when you're lost you can always look up and see which way is east.

With my natural eyes I see the mountains the same way everyone else does - rocks, trees, snow at times, and that amazing pink hue at sunset. But I am learning to see more than that. For example, I see a reminder of God's righteousness (Psalm 36:6). Like the mountain, His righteousness never changes, never moves, and can withstand any and every storm. Or I can be reminded that even a problem as big as the a mountain is nothing for a person with faith. But how and why can I be reminded of that? Because I've taken the time to get the Word into me (spiritual discipline), and because I am learning to look for God's truth in natural things.

Think how often Jesus spoke of natural things to explain spiritual. Then He often said something like "he who has ears, let him hear" or even criticized people for not getting it. I think maybe He wasn't just teaching whatever the point of His parable was, but He was also teaching us to "hear" or "see" spiritual truth in natural things. I know there is a danger in that (we can misread natural things) and that's why we to be full of His Word, talk to Him throughout the day, and stay connected to others who can tell us if our ideas are completely off the wall.

This is where a really great blogger has some powerful final thought that ties it all together. I don't. I appreciate your thoughts and comments though - tell me if I'm completely off the wall!

I think next week I'll ramble a bit about faith.