Tag Archives: obedience

Whether Good or Bad…part II


Photo from http://www.prayforrefugees.com/

The Syrian refugee crisis has divided our country. Yes, a nation less than 2% the size of the US and over 7,000 miles away has divided us.

Some want to help the refugees—as long as they stay over there; some want to welcome them to the US with open arms; some want to ignore the crisis altogether, arguing that we have our own problems to worry about.

The crisis has divided the Church, too, and along similar lines. I’d like to say it is as simple as choosing fear or love, but nothing is simple.

What got me thinking about this now was my reading in Jeremiah 42. Nebuchadnezzar had ransacked Jerusalem and taken the best and the brightest back to Babylon. Those who remained asked Jeremiah the prophet to pray for them so that “God may show us the way we should go, and the thing that we should do.” (Given their track record of disobedience, it’s a wonder they asked at all.)

The word that came back from God was, shall we say, counter-intuitive. With Nebuchadnezzar still threatening, it certainly didn’t make them feel any better, either. In essence, God said, Don’t fight. Don’t be afraid. Don’t run away.

It wasn’t what they wanted to hear, and they didn’t obey.

I wonder how well we would obey. What if a prophet from God said to American Christians today, Don’t be afraid of the refugees. Welcome them to your country, your communities, your homes. Help them. Love them.

“But terrorists may come in, too!” we argue.

“Yes, I know,” replies God.

“But they’ll live off our taxes and get medical care for free!” we complain.

“Yes, I know,” God says. “Don’t be afraid. Welcome them. Help them. Love them.”

Sometimes what God says doesn’t make sense. It isn’t safe. It doesn’t seem right. That’s when faith comes in. That’s when obedience comes in.

Because disobedience isn’t safe, either.

Whether Good or Bad…


freely-10163“Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to whom we are sending you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the LORD our God.” (Jeremiah 42:6)

How often have you made promises like that? Usually they come out in the hard times—illness, unemployment, battles. When God seems distant, silent, even uncaring, and we’re desperate for something—anything—to let us know He hasn’t abandoned us.

But the promise made in the desert is always harder to keep in the lush, green meadow. Especially when the message we hear back isn’t quite what we had in mind. When God says to the suddenly-unemployed businessman, “don’t send out anymore resumes.” When He says to the couple desperate for children, “don’t adopt.” When He says to the cancer patient, “don’t try another treatment.”

Not long after Nebuchadnezzar had ransacked Jerusalem and deported the best and the brightest, those who remained sought God’s voice. We’ll do whatever He says, they vowed. It wasn’t an easy promise for the people of Israel, especially in light of what God had usually said through his prophet. And the message that came back was no different than before: Don’t be afraid. Don’t fight. Don’t run away.

But with the Babylonian king still on their doorstep, they didn’t like that message. And they didn’t keep their promise. But God did.

If they had just listened and obeyed, all would have been well. “I will build you up and not pull you down;” God said, “I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you.” Instead, they ran away to Egypt—and Nebuchadnezzar followed. To borrow a line from The Phantom of the Opera, “disaster beyond your wildest imagination will occur!”

When I was in Liberia several years ago, many of the Christians shared a litany:

In that West African nation ravaged by a 14-year civil war, it was as much a statement of faith as of experienced reality; it didn’t feel like God was good all the time. But sometimes, faith is all we can cling to.

Sometimes, what God says doesn’t make sense. Sometimes, it seems to work against the very thing we want. Those are the times that faith is tested. That’s when faith gets real. That’s when we need to cry out in desperation, faith, and hope: God is good—all the time!



Cru logoOver the past week, I have been enjoying a vacation reminiscent of summer trips my family took when I was young, but unlike any that my wife and I have taken with our own kids. Starting out in San Diego, we have visited the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde National Parks, stopped briefly to walk through Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico at Four Corners National Monument, watched as the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train began its slow trek into the mountains, and rode the newly-rebuilt Royal Gorge Aerial Tram a thousand feet above the Arkansas River in Colorado.

For the past few days we have been with my parents, a treat that only happens every couple years. Many of our conversations have been about church ministry, family, current events, and the staff conference from which they’d just returned. There has also been plenty of catching up on old friends (“do you remember…?” or “have you heard from…?”) and reminiscing about the adventures we had as a family or that my parents have had in the thirty-plus years since I (their youngest) left home. And the adventures have been many, but far more than mere adventure….

Next year, my parents will celebrate fifty years on staff with Cru (known until four years ago as Campus Crusade for Christ). Those years have taken them from their childhood homes in Michigan to live in California, Minnesota, Texas, British Columbia, Germany, and Colorado. But they have served even more broadly on four of the world’s seven continents: Africa (Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, and North Africa, to name a few), Asia (Mongolia, Siberia, and China), Europe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, England, the Netherlands, and Russia), North & Central America (Canada, U.S., Mexico, Haiti, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, and Cuba).

And they have shared their faith in Jesus Christ more broadly still, with global ambassadors and diplomats, national presidents and prime ministers, business executives, college students, athletes, and military leaders. They have trained thousands of men, women, and children, whether through a Sunday School class with six teenagers or a Dallas Cotton Bowl stadium with 85,000; in a church with a few hundred adults or a dinner with dozens of international diplomats. Mom has taught hundreds in an international women’s Bible study and Dad has talked about Jesus one skier at a time as he rode chair lifts with strangers for forty years.

During many of the conversations with my parents the past few days, our daughters have read books or played games on their phones. But they have also heard the stories, the names, the challenges and blessings. And as they’ve walked through Oma and Opa’s condo, they’ve seen the evidences of these lives lived for God: memorabilia from their travels, gifts from friends, photos of family. And I think my girls have caught something of the legacy they are inheriting—a legacy of faith and faithfulness, of devotion and obedience, of love for God and people. My prayer is that they will see a similar legacy in my wife and me, even if it will look different than their globe-trotting grandparents.

Stones on the Journey


This is a synopsis of the message I preached yesterday at Cold Springs Church. It is based on Abram’s call and journey in Genesis 12. I see four “stones” on Abram’s journey:

The Stone of Separation: God’s call separates us from all that we find comfortable and familiar—from everything in which we find security apart from him. But he promises to replace our security with him: Abram was called to leave his country, but was promised a new land. He was called to leave his kindred, his community; but was promised a great nation. He was called to leave his father’s house, but was promised the presence of God. (Notice that this ties nicely into one way of looking at a theme throughout the Bible: that God creates a people, for a place, to enjoy his presence. We see that theme in creation, in the story of the people of Israel, and all the way to Revelation, as we see God gathering his people to a new heaven and new earth to enjoy his presence forever.) Where are you finding security apart from God?

The Stone of Promise: Sometimes God’s promises are unbelievable, impossible, or unimaginable. But that doesn’t keep us from trying to imagine how God will fulfill the promise—we just usually get it wrong! (Because, after all, “our thoughts are not God’s thoughts; nor are our ways his ways.”) What we need to cling to, though, is not the promise; we need to rely on the character of the promise-giver.

The Stone of Obedience: We want to obey God; we really do. We want to do God’s will, but we often hesitate in uncertainty; God has said Go, and we want to know where to go – or at least what direction. We are too often frozen into inaction by our very desire to do God’s will. But his will is sometimes simply, Go. And we need to obey the call…even when it doesn’t seem to make sense.

The Stone of Remembrance: When Abram obeyed, he came to the place where God said he should be: “To your offspring I will give this land.” And there—where the Lord had appeared to him—Abram built an altar. Continuing on the journey, Abram built another altar to call on the name of the Lord. One line in the old hymn, “Come Thou Fount,” says, “here I raise my Ebenezer.” An Ebenezer is a stone of remembrance. We need those. Maybe it’s an actual stone; maybe it’s a memory; maybe a journal entry or a photo. However you remember, when God shows…remember. For me, May 28, 2009, is a stone of remembrance. On that day I prayed a very specific prayer that God answered very specifically and very immediately. God showed up, and that date is engraved in my mind.

Separation. Promise. Obedience. Remembrance. Stones along the journey of faith. It’s a journey with no road map, only milestones. But once you start on the journey, the risk – the adventure – will get into your blood and course through your veins and you’ll never again be satisfied with the comfortable, secure, risk-free life you once knew.