When It Doesn’t Make Sense

Should we obey God? Before we answer too quickly: What if we bump up against a command in the Bible that makes no apparent sense to us, or perhaps rubs us the wrong way?

Let’s consider the following interchange between Jesus and Simon Peter.

Peter’s challenge

“And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat.”

What Jesus asked Peter to do here was easy. It didn’t require much effort, and it made perfect sense.

But notice what happens next: “When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered and said, ‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.’”

Initially he states the facts: worked hard, all night, caught nothing.

“. . . but I will do as You say and let down the nets.”

After a night of hard work with only empty nets to show for it, fishing was probably the last thing Peter wanted to do at the moment. Who could blame him?

But good ole Peter! Overcoming his natural reluctance, he obeys—and is amply rewarded.

“. . . they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break.” Peter and his partners “filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink” (Luke 5:1-11).

The nets that came up empty the night before are now torn by the weight of the catch!

In response to the facts Peter cited—worked hard, all night, caught nothing—Jesus provided a new set of facts—great quantity of fish, nets breaking, boats sinking.

Jesus positive facts far outweighed Peter’s negative facts.

Peter’s growth

This wouldn’t be the last time Peter would find what Jesus said extremely difficult to accept. As time went on, Peter realized increasingly that Jesus is never wrong.

To his credit, Peter moved past his initial objections: “. . . but I will do as You say . . . .”

If Peter had known all along what was about to happen, would he have objected? But since he didn’t know, he had to trust.

He was learning to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

What was Peter’s reward that day? A big catch? Something far better: a strengthened faith and a clearer understanding of just how powerful Jesus is.

What if Peter had refused to obey?

And what if we?

Christ’s power + our obedience → great results.

Makes sense.

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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I Was Going by the Wrong Standard

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“I wish they’d just leave it alone.” Have you ever heard anyone say this regarding Daylight Savings Time? It certainly can be a hassle, but do we really have any choice, unless we want to be out of sync with all those who do change their clocks twice a year?

“Spring forward, fall back”

Saturday night I dutifully set our clocks back one hour for the end of Daylight Savings.

But the trouble was, I did it a week too early. I was going by my pocket calendar that said it was time to change the clocks, so I did.

The trouble was, I was using a 2006 calendar to prevent having to buy a new one for the current year. Since both 2006 and 2017 began on a Sunday, I figured it would do just fine.

The trouble was, the date to fall back had been changed since then to the first Sunday of November. I had forgotten that.

As a result, I missed Bible class. A week early and an hour late.

So what lesson can we draw from my slip-up? Simply this, I was going by the wrong standard and didn’t realize it.

More wrong standards

Do people ever go by the wrong standard in religion? All the time.

Such erroneous standards include:

  1. Old Testament laws which are no longer in force, now that we are under the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:4-18; Hebrews 8:6-13)
  2. Additional writings purported to be divinely inspired and accepted as equally authoritative with the Bible (Proverbs 30:6)
  3. Religious traditions which are of human, not divine, origin (Matthew 15:1-9)
  4. Pronouncements by religious leaders who claim to speak directly for God (Jeremiah 23:25-32)
  5. One’s own subjective feelings (Proverbs 3:5; 14:12; 28:26; Jeremiah 10:23; 17:9).

And that’s not all! With so many different standards, is it any wonder that division prevails?

But God’s word unites all who hold to the Scriptures as their only standard, neither adding to nor taking from.

This is “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3).

Next spring I’ll be more careful.

 

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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In Exchange

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One day I accidentally dropped a large paper clip into the crack between the seat cushion and the back of the couch in our den. In trying to retrieve it I pulled out a ballpoint pen, then another, and then another. I never did find my paper clip.

Not a bad trade-off—three pens for one paper clip! Maybe I should drop another paper clip down the crack.

Loss is bearable if we get something better in return. In everyday life we are perfectly willing to exchange our hard-earned dollars for something we really need or want, especially if it’s a real bargain.

Jesus’ offer

Jesus said, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). He had just said that we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (verse 24; see Galatians 2:20; 5:24; 6:14).

We must give up ourselves (our own desires and comfortable, familiar ways of thinking and living) and instead let Christ determine our values and goals.

We let Him own us completely instead of our trying to direct our own little world.

In exchange, He promises us life that is life indeed (John 10:10). But if we’re not willing to let go of ourselves, then we’re the ultimate losers.

Our response?

If we should trust Jesus enough to do as He directs, will we be disappointed in the long run? Does Jesus offer what He can’t deliver? Can He be trusted?

The Rich Young Ruler was unwilling to make the trade—and he was sad (Matthew 19:16-22). Paul was willing—and he was glad (Philippians 3:4-14).

Are we willing to stake everything we’ve got on the conviction that His way is best for us—and that someday we will be glad we took Him up on it?

Ever so glad!

 

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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A Practical Parenting Tip from Paul

One young man

Timothy had a good reputation (Acts 16:2). Years later Paul could say of him, “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father” (Philippians 2:20-22).\

What had molded Timothy’s character? Certainly Paul had a part, but as he wrote Timothy, “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.”

“. . . from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15; see Acts 16:1).

Another young man

How different Timothy’s upbringing was from that of the young man described by Arlie J. Hoover: “A student who was an agnostic once told me that his mother deliberately raised him with no ideals, no values. She told him when he was very young, ‘I am not about to make you conform to my values. I just want you to grow up for yourself, make your own mistakes, search out the truth on your own, find your own worldview and life values.’

“This all sounds so sweet and reasonable and tolerant to most ears, but if you analyze this notion carefully it falls into a pile of nonsense” (“Toleration and Relativism: A Crucial Distinction,” Firm Foundation, 3-21-78: 181).

Conclusion?

Timothy had a mother and grandmother who taught him the Scriptures. Is it any wonder he turned out so well?

Do you suppose this just might still work today?

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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How God Stretches Our Understanding

Moving beyond what we know

God designed our minds so that we can absorb new insights much more easily if we can connect it with something we already know. In other words, we move from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

So often Christ taught this way. He drew parallels between common things in everyday life and not-so-familiar spiritual concepts. He used figures of speech such as simile (“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed . . . .”) and metaphor (“I am the good shepherd . . . .”) (Matthew 13:31; John 10:11).

It’s remarkable how many different ways Jesus describes Himself. Jesus is too big for any one single comparison to be adequate. Jonah, for example, is quite unlike Jesus in some important ways, but in at least one narrow sense there is a parallel, and in that one respect Jesus draws an analogy  (Matthew 12:38-40).

The New Testament compares baptism to a birth (John 3:3-5) and to death (Romans 6:3-7). These are not contradictory but each comparison sheds light on a significant aspect of baptism. In one way baptism is an end (death to the old life of sin). In another sense it is a glorious beginning (a new birth).

Moving beyond what we’ve experienced

The Bible shows us how to have fellowship with the God who is both like us and not like us. The Bible prepares us for life beyond anything we’ve ever experienced. And so God uses His word to help us make that challenging transition from the physical world we are so familiar with to a life that far exceeds anything we’ve ever known.

God uses Scripture to develop in us a whole new way of seeing so that “we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

What exciting vistas God lays out before us! Are we willing to move beyond the familiar here-and-now to the less familiar but far more wonderful then-and-there?

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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“All Ye Fruitful Trees and Cedars”

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Made by God

Sara and I visited a remarkably well-stocked greenhouse in Deep East Texas. As we moved slowly down the narrow aisles between the pots and hanging baskets, it occurred to me how many different kinds of plants God has made!

We saw aloe vera, orchid, violets, airplane plant, corn plant, hen and chickens, Mexican heather, impatiens, begonia, ornamental pepper, bromeliad, bamboo, maidenhair fern, asparagus fern, rabbit’s foot fern, Swedish ivy, rubber plant, a wide variety of cacti, and on and on.

In spite of this impressive array, the foliage we saw was only a small sample of the thousands upon thousands of botanical species God has made.

“Then God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them’; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:11-12).

It is still good! Plants beautify our world and cleanse the atmosphere. From far and wide our supermarkets import fresh produce to grace our tables. And trees are transformed into houses and furniture.

Praise to God

Jesus often drew spiritual lessons from the world of horticulture: wheat and thorns, vine and fig tree, lilies and grass. The Bible is a veritable greenhouse, with abundant references to plants, all the way from the small garden herbs, mint and cummin, to the mighty cedars of Lebanon and the oaks of Bashan.

“Let them praises give Jehovah,/For His name alone is high,/And His glory is exalted,/Far above the earth and sky” (“Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah!” by Wm. J. Kirkpatrick, based on Psalm 148).

Just as the starry heavens speak of God’s glory (Psalm 19:1), likewise the marvels of the plant kingdom demonstrate the wisdom of the One who made us all.

 

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: http://www.lockman.org/

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Deadlines

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Life is one deadline after another. I have always admired newspaper people because they work constantly under the restrictions of the unforgiving clock. Sometimes late hours are the only way to make it all come together on time.

Deadlines can be tremendously motivating. Do you, like me, work better under pressure? Would we get as much done if it weren’t for these time constraints?

Some things in life, however, do not have a specific deadline. They may be even more important than the urgent tasks that demand to be done NOW. And yet because there is no set time, the days and weeks and months and years go by—and little gets done.

Careful preparation

Think of all that must go into planning a beautiful wedding. Talk about a major deadline! Everything must come together by the announced hour: gowns and tuxes and people to wear them, candles and flowers, preacher and photographer, cake and punch, and countless other nuptial details.

But what happens after the honeymoon? Do those things that matter most in marriage receive the attention they deserve?

And our children? Aside from homework assignments, ball games, etc., what about those areas where there’s no set deadline? Does their spiritual training take a back seat to lesser concerns? They’ll be grown before we know it. What are we doing about it today?

And what of our relationship with God? It’s been said that the urgent tends to preempt the eternal. The demands of daily living have a way of crowding our calendars to the point that lesser concerns receive more attention than we give God (Matthew 6:25-33; Luke 8:14).

The final deadline

Whether read or unread, the Bible tells us of that final undated deadline when God will bring it all to a conclusion (Hebrews 9:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

When it comes is uncertain, but that it is coming is more certain than the precise time of tomorrow’s sunrise.

Let’s be ready.

 

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