December 31 Esight, 2008

Herb MontgomeryAre you tired of making New Year’s resolutions only to watch them vanish like smoke as the following weeks ensue?

I’d like you to consider two very opposite things as this new year begins.

First, what does it really mean to make a promise? We human beings have such precious little follow-through that the Bible actually states it’s “better not to vow!” (Ecclesiastes 5:5). Many times, promising only serves to make us feel better in the moment as we make the resolution. Doing so truly grants us nothing in the eventual outcome. We simply experience further disappointment and doubt in our own sincerity and whether or not God can accept us.

“Your promises and resolutions are like ropes of sand. You cannot control your thoughts, your impulses, your affections. The knowledge of your broken promises and forfeited pledges weakens your confidence in your own sincerity, and causes you to feel that God cannot accept you . . .” (White; Steps to Christ, p. 47)

Second, I would like you to consider a very different option this new-year. Instead of making promises, try just choosing to believe a few.

This one is one of my favorites:

“Therefore, tell Israel, ‘Message of GOD, the Master: I’m not doing this for you, Israel. I’m doing it for me, to save my character, my holy name, which you’ve blackened in every country where you’ve gone. I’m going to put my great and holy name on display, the name that has been ruined in so many countries, the name that you blackened wherever you went. Then the nations will realize who I really am, that I am GOD, when I show my holiness through you so that they can see it with their own eyes.

For here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to take you out of these countries, gather you from all over, and bring you back to your own land. I’ll pour pure water over you and scrub you clean. I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed [i.e. other-centered], not self-willed [i.e. self-centered]. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands. You’ll once again live in the land I gave your ancestors. You’ll be my people! I’ll be your God!” — Ezekiel 36.22-28, The Message

That is a pretty amazing promise concerning the kind of work God wants to do in each of us! In the Bible, there are so many promises that He makes to us about so many precious things. What we need is not greater resolve but greater faith. I want to challenge you, for the next few weeks, instead of making new year’s promises from you to God that will fade over the next few weeks into regret and remorse, go find five promises that are especially meaningful from God to you. Repeat them daily over the next few weeks and choose … to believe.

Happy New Year!

December 22 Esight, 2008

“These things you have done and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.”— Psalms 50.21

I was awakened this morning by my one-year-old son’s voice as he called out, “Papa? Papa?” I turned to him, but, much to my surprise, he was not reaching for me. Instead, he was reaching for the phone. My son calls the phone “Papa”! That was a rude awakening. As I pondered this, I was reminded that I had been on the road too frequently during the first year of his life. God then began to whisper a very stirring realization to my heart.

This is exactly what happens to many believers in their relationships with God. For my son and me, the phone is the conduit through which we have communicated over the past few months. Hence, it is natural for him to confuse my name or my person with the phone. To him, they are one and the same because that is how his he and his mother speak to me most of the time. But the phone is inanimate. The phone cannot hurt him. It is just an object.

Many people in modern society experience the same type of confusion in their interactions with God. They mistake the conduits through which they experience God for God Himself. Such conduits can include churches, holidays, books, families – the list is endless. None of these are perfect representations of God; they are simply conduits through which we can experience Him. Let me illustrate the dangers of this faulty view. When a person is hurt or offended by a church, a pastor, or a well-meaning church member, then, voila! That person is no longer interested in anything that relates to God. It is clear, then, that we must be careful not to confuse any event with God Himself – not even a holiday season, which, although incredibly beautiful, also contains a very dark side for many people.

God is separate! He is not the church. He is not your family. He is not a book that is difficult to understand. He is distinct from these experiences. Does this mean that these “conduits” are wrong? No! God forbid! Though they are fallible, these are the means through which God endeavors to reach us with insights about Himself and His love for us. Why, though, does He use these agents, if they include such risk? Because, as with everything, the greater the risk, the greater the reward. We can identify with our relationship with a church, a pastor, a spouse, a father, or a friend, even though these relationships can also produce pain. We must realize that only God is infallible; only God is purely other-centered. Only God is love. We must always be careful to distinguish between the conduits and God Himself. Something to consider.

I wish you God’s best this week. Also, if you celebrate any, regardless of which ones you choose to observe, happy holidays!

December 7 Esight, 2008

Let me say at the beginning of this week, that if you are enjoying this holiday season with all your romantic soul . . . this weeks esight is not for you. (There’s nothing wrong with that by the way, I’m just saying I’m not concerned for you. You’re doing well.) But for those who are going through, maybe, economic hardship this holiday season, or maybe family issues, wishing things were different, or just struggling with what history tells us is the loneliest time of the year for many, rather then writing my own words to you, I would like to share a passage I read last week. It brought all of you to my mind and to my heart. I truly wish you God’s best during this time of the year. Keep your eyes, not on what is present, but on what is to come. And remember, You are loved beyond measure.

In His Inexpressible Love,

Romans 8:17-39, The Message:

That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens. All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs.

These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. Romans 8.24

But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun. So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose?

If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.

We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

I wish you God’s best this week,