God Is Good

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created (James 1:16-18, NIV).
            God is good – all the time.  And all the time – God is good.  That statement is a bedrock foundation for the Christian faith.  Without a basic affirmation and belief of God’s goodness, our faith will experience cracks and not stand the test of hard circumstances and difficult situations in life.  Without the steadfast conviction that God is good, the alternative is that God is somehow fickle or even mean – that he does not really care about the problems we experience in life.
            Last week I had an experience I have not had in twenty years; I bounced a check.  First of all, it’s embarrassing because I didn’t have the resources I thought I did. It’s frustrating because you tack on the charge for your negligence. So, here I walk into the bank where everyone knows the pastor.  And I get to walk up and tell them that the pastor needs to clear up his insufficient funds.  A trial is like a bounced check. You feel stuck with a problem that you don’t have the resources to solve. The temptation is to rant to God: “Do you see me over here, God? Do you see what I’m going through? Are you paying attention? I’m about to bounce a lot of spiritual checks here. I don’t have the resources. I don’t have it emotionally. You’re rattling my faith, God. Don’t leave me in this mess.”
Those expressions of desperation you feel so awful about are in fact the exact truth that God has been trying to bring to your attention. You flat out don’t have the resources. He wants you to come to the place where you humbly get before him in a deeper way and tell him what he’s known to be true all along: you are in over your head and you need him.  Your poverty of spirit enables you to receive from God.
            When life is good, it is not a stretch to say God is good.  But it might be easy to slide into a belief system that thinks God is the problem when situations take a turn for the worse – that somehow God is the source of our trouble.  And if we have not been working on a relationship with God, we will have scant resources to draw from in a time of trouble.
            God is good.  God is not mean.  Every single good gift that there is in this world comes from God.  Nothing evil can come from God.  There would be no good in this world if God was not around.  God’s grace is constantly around us.  If his grace were not here, it would be like living in a dystopian novel.  It would be like a zombie apocalypse where everyone is constantly looking over their shoulders for the next evil thing to happen.  But, although there is evil in this world, it could be a whole lot worse if it were not for God’s goodness.
            People will typically question God’s goodness when they do not understand what is happening with something they do not like.  They want answers.  They want justice.  They want stability.  And when it does not come right away, they might question if God really cares.  But you do not need to understand everything about a situation to know that God is good.  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  Nothing can separate us from God’s love – not trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword – not any adverse circumstance that occurs in your life.


            God has good plans for his people, the church, because he is a good God – all the time – without changing like shifting shadows.  As long as we believe we have the resources and abilities within ourselves to do church ministry, it will likely either not happen or not occur with the blessing of God.  Only through the humility of dependence in a good God who gives good gifts is there true hope and faith.  World Communion Sunday reminds us that our good God is at work in people from all nations and ethnicities all across the earth, providing spiritual nourishment to us at his hospitably good Table.  Thank you, Jesus.

The Price of Prayer

All of the Christian life is grounded in two important theological truths:  God is good; and, God acts powerfully in the world for good.  Prayer is based in the conviction that God is concerned to hear us; and, that he is able to respond and answer.  Prayer might be something that we can engage in at any time, but real God-focused, God-honoring prayer has a price.  It will cost us time, effort, vulnerability, and following through with action.  Biblical prayer is not just throwing up some private requests, but is an activity that requires something of us as a community of believers in Jesus (James 5:13-20). 
            The entire church is to pray – all of us, the happy and the suffering, the healthy and unhealthy.  More specifically, the New Testament letter of James tells us that the leaders/elders of the church are to pray for those who are “sick” (James 5:14).  The word James used refers not just to a physical illness, but also to those who are weak and weary, those who are completely worn down because of their life circumstances.
            James provides a clear chain of responsibility.  The onus is on the sick person to contact the elders of the church.  James clearly puts the need for communicating the situation on the person who is undergoing the trouble.  For many people, this is humbling and difficult, so they do not do it.  But prayer has a price – it will cost us some openness.
            When the needy person communicates the trouble, then the elders are to anoint the person in the name of the Lord and offer a prayer of faith on his/her behalf.  It is the leadership’s job to pray.  In the Bible, anointing with oil was a deeply symbolic act of encouragement in which a tangible thing was being done in order to lift the person from the trouble.  Physical ailments of bodily sickness; sinful problems of anger or bitterness; spiritual struggles of doubt; emotional challenges of depression; anything and everything that would cause a lack of health could be prayed over and people could be anointed and encouraged.
            Prayer for James was not a strictly private affair; it was a communal activity.  I want us to entertain the notion that if we are not experiencing healing, wholeness, and health whether it is physical, relational, or spiritual, then maybe God is calling you and I to not only personal private prayer, but corporate prayer offered by the elders of the church.  It is not just the prayer offered by one solitary individual that makes the sick person well – it is the collective faith prayer of the church’s leadership on the troubled person.
            The goal of prayer is healing in its complete form:  physical, mental, emotional, relational, and, of course, spiritual.  Effective prayer results in reconciliation with others, and a restoration to the community of faith.  To bring those who wander from the truth back – to realize a return of a prodigal – will result because of prayer (James 5:19-20).
            In the past ten years, the American church has experienced a pronounced slide of people out the door.  According to Christian pollster, George Barna, 25% of the U.S. population now identifies themselves in the religious category of “none.”  They have no religious affiliation.  Many of them have left churches.  You already know this.  You know it because this is not a statistic to you.  You know some of the “nones” personally.


            What will you do about it?  Wish it were different?  Lament it?  Complain about it?  Or will you and your church pray with heartfelt, earnest, passionate, deliberate, sustained, and believing prayers so that prodigals will return and those who have wandered far from God will experience the grace of Jesus Christ?  Bring them back.  Do it with prayer.