Good things to Good People?

fonzThis is a several part series on the question of how God treats good and bad people. Someone recently said to me that they wondered why good things were not happening in life, even though he had been a good person. Here is the first question:

Should good things happen for good people?

You may have heard the expression that God will give an answer, but it might be Yes, No or Later.

Yes. There is a general principal that good things follow natural choices. This is a matter of making wise choices.  For example, wearing your seat belt gives you a better chance to survive an accident.  So choosing to be honest, decent, fair, thoughtful and just should have good consequences.

Beyond that there is a personal principle, by this I refer to the promises of God to bless and reward.  For example, Deuteronomy 6:5, “…be careful to obey so that it may go well with you…”  This is the idea that the Lord actively rewards (or punishes) behavior, beyond the natural consequences of our choices.

No. However, there is also a recognition that “…time and chance happen to all…” as it says in Ecclesiastes 9:11.  That is to say, stuff happens that does not make sense to us.  These appear to be “chance” or “bad luck.”  We believe with our faith that God is in control, but we often see with our eyes things that do not fit what we think to be true.

This is a major point of the book of Job.  Job suffered great calamities and he did not know why they happened.  His friends said that since God rewards and punishes us for our actions, that Job must have done something unjust or offensive. They were wrong.  Their explanation was too simple and legalistic.  We learn from their example that we can not always know why bad things happen to good people, or good things happen to bad people.  God’s ways are mysterious to us.

Later.  Some of the care and reward from God is in the present.  In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “Give us this day our daily bread.”  The idea is that each day we are given what we need to get along.  Some of them come during our lives but we have to wait.  One example of that is the father of our faith, Abraham.  He was promised a land and descendants as numerous as the stars.  However, he did not own any of the promised land, except for a piece of land to bury his wife Rachel.  He did not have a son until he was nearly 100 years of age.  The the promises were true, but slow in coming.

Some of the rewards and punishments are reserved for the future.  There is a Hall of Fame for Faith in Hebrews 11.  We find some of the great people of the Bible listed there, such as Noah, Abraham, Joseph and Moses.  We also find un-named martyrs, who did not receive anything in this life:

36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…

What we have as believers is Faith: That is a certainty about the character of God and the promises of God.  But Faith is not only what we see, it is most often what we can not see.

Homework: If this makes you anxious, let me suggest a prescription.  Take Psalm 23 three times a day with thought and prayer.  Read or say it slowly, phrase by phrase as a meditation and or a prayer in the morning, around noon and at night.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

 

 

 

What is in a Name? – Lord’s Prayer

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I got to think of ways in which we use and misuse the name of God.

 

 

 

What’s in a Name?

He calls by name

            Awaking a heart.

We call on his;

            It’s the start.

Saved by his name

            Written within

Baptized in the name of

            Father, Son and Spirit

Call on his name

            When In distress  

Ask in his name

            That needs be less

Praise to his name

            With lungs and life,

Confess his name

            With all the rest

We’ll sing his name

            As his guests.

Don’t lower his name

            To a comma or a curse,

Give honor to him

            In deeds and words.

FOGBOM – “Our Father”

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“Our Father in Heaven…”

In the 1960s it was popular to talk about all people as being under the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of Man.  One man who ran for President, Nelson Rockefeller, used this expression all the time.  His aids began to shorten it from “the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of Man” to “FOGBOM.”

We hear this in general. We might refer to fellow Americans as brothers or sisters. Soldiers may refer to brothers in arms.  One person may refer to another person of the same race, or of the same team as a “brother” or a “sister.”  I have not argument with that in general usage.  It is true that we should view all of our fellow citizens as a kind of family.  Everyone in American should get the same family privileges as everyone else.  The Pledge speaks of “liberty and justice for all.”

the Bible uses the expression of Father in a different way.  Not all people can call God their Father in this sense.  That is because the world as a whole and individuals in their lives start in life as foreigners, exiles and even enemies of God.  The Gospel invites those who are far away to come near.

Consider Prodigal son.  You know this story.  A  Father had two sons. The younger one asked his father to give him his inheritance. This was an incredibly rude thing to do; it amounted to him saying “I can’t wait for you to die.  I want my money now.”  The Father gave him his money and the son blew the wad on wild living.  Soon he was feeding the pigs of a farmer in a foreign land, which would be a bad occupation for someone Jewish. He even began to steal food from the pigs.  That is as bad as it got.

He said to himself, I’ll go home.  Even dad’s servants have it better than this. I’ll go home and ask to be a servant.  As he approached home, his Father ran out and embraced him; he gave him a robe and a ring to show his dignity as a son.  He welcomed him back.

We are not children of God by nature. By nature we are lost, like the prodigal, each in our own unique pig pen.  We are created  and loved by God.  We are far off and away from Him because of our own choices.   When we return we are adopted as sons and daughters.   We are sons and daughters who are welcomed and celebrated.

Jesus invited followers to pray to God as our Father.  This is radical.  We are not alienated sinners any longer. We are the adopted children of God.

15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.                                                                                                    Romans 8:15-16

 

Two Brits on the Lord’s Prayer

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I have over the years enjoyed British pastor/theologians.  Among those who find a place in my library are John Stott,  Martyn Lloyd-Jones and J. I. Packer.  It can’t be the accent, because there are paper books.  It has to do with a commitment to scholarship for the church.  They avoid the error of scholarship for scholarship’s sake – the Bible was not sent to us for analysis only.  It avoids the error of simple mindedness – as one of these authors titled a book, “Your Mind Matters.”

Here are two quotes on the value of the Lord’s Prayer as a model for praying.

“So the Lord’s Prayer should be put to service to direct and spur on our praying constantly.  To pray in terms of it is the sure way to keep our prayers within God’s will; to pray through it, expanding the clauses as you go along, is the sure way to prime the pump when prayer dries up and you find yourself stuck. We never get beyond this prayer; not only is it the Lord’s first lesson in praying, it is all the other lessons too. Lord, teach us to pray.”

– J. I. Packer, “Praying the Lord’s Prayer”, Crossway, 2007, p. 17,18

“The Lord’s Prayer covers everything; and all we do is to take these principles and employ and expand them and base our every petition upon them. That is the way in which it is to be approached.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount”, IVP 1959-1960, p. II. 49

Thoughts on Narratives

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There are lots of ways to preach a passage of scripture.  One is to put the narrative into a formula such as this: Give it a title; identify a thesis, make three points, preferably alliterated, and find other stories to illustrate.

For Example:  David and Goliath:

  • Title:Taking on Giants
  • Thesis: You can overcome the impossible.
  • Three Stones:
    • Stand Tall
    • Say a Prayer
    • Shoot!
  • Illustration:  maybe an Olympic Athlete who overcome a hard life to win a gold medal.  If you are up to speed, play a video.  If you are a big church, invite the athlete to speak before the message.

Nothing really wrong with that.   You have heard a sermon like that if you attend a church with a preacher.  Maybe you can see a certain preacher delivering this message. You could probably preach it yourself.  But, do you think that is really what the story is about?

I’ve come to think of preaching narratives differently.  The Biblical stories are already crafted.  They need to be presented freshly. some obscurities need to be explained and the larger context of the story needs to be pulled in.  But mostly the preacher needs to stand to the side and let the story speak as intended.

Here are my thoughts in bullet points:

  • Narratives have a built in structure. Do not squeeze them into your formula – such as three points and a punch line.
  • Narratives are illustrations. They don’t need you to illustrate them so much as explain what is not clear.
  • Stories have power.
  • Use a little freedom in telling it, but make clear what is in the story and what is your own take on it.
  • Don’t over-principalize.  One author has built a book on a sentence of scripture. That seems to be using the text as a scaffold for adding your own thoughts.  It is not hearing the text.
  • Let them remember the story, not the preacher.  People will be telling the story of David and Goliath a lot longer than they will talk about Pastor Bob.  That is a good thing.
  • I prefer the word “Story” to “Narrative.”  Yes, narrative is a literary category, but it has also become an over used bit of semi-scholarly name dropping.  “Story” is  short and clear.

If I get my listeners to hear the familiar in a fresh way, and they have the Biblical story in their minds, I can trust that the Original Author can apply the story to His listeners.