I was reading an article by Colin Smith where he made a simple point from an unusual story in scripture. The point is that God notices. The story was of a poorly treated Egyptian servant named Hagar.
The story is found in Genesis 16. God had promised Abraham and Sarah they would have a huge family. But Sarai (before God changed her name) was without a child, so Sarai gave her servant Hagar to Abraham, and she bore him a son – Ishmael. That starts an ugly rivalry between the women, and their marriage becomes dysfunctional. All of this was predictable. Pain, hurt, jealousy, and broken relationships are inevitable when you or I refuse to trust God and then take things into our own hands.
In jealousy, Sarai mistreats the pregnant Hagar so badly that the servant flees to the desert. Abraham didn’t protect her. She’s alone, abused, afraid, and in danger. It’s in this condition that an angel of God finds her and tells her to go back to her mistress, which was the right thing to do. It is back “home” where she bore a son who was given the name Ishmael.
But there is one verse that most of us miss when reading this story. It is Genesis 16:13 where Hagar says to the angel: You are the God who sees me, for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” God saw her in her greatest need. God saw her when no one else saw her. God noticed her when others had rejected her. God had mercy on her when others abused her. God went looking for her when others had given up on her.
God sees us. He notices when we are struggling and in pain. He notices us when we are being tempted and giving into temptation. He has compassion on us in our suffering, and he hears. And God will direct us to do the right thing if we’ll seek him and listen.
All this is summed up in the name of the baby boy born to Hagar – Ishmael. The name Ishmael means “God hears.” God hears! That’s the only hope in this whole story. The story of Hagar and Ishmael doesn’t have a storybook ending where everyone lives happily ever after! But in the next chapter (17:20), God promises that he has heard Abraham. We don’t know what Abraham specifically asked for, but God promises to bless Ishmael, who will have a large family.
God hears! Even when the circumstances look bleak, he hears us. Even when God feels far away, he hears us. Even when we are upset or angry at God, he notices. God is with us. God is for us. That’s all we truly need to know. That’s the basis of faith.
We began our new series I Got Questions by looking at the conflict between science and faith in God. My challenge Sunday was to choose both faith in God and science. Scientists who have only trusted or have faith in science, need to be honest and admit that science is limited. It can’t answer all the questions as our human intellect and wisdom has limits. Those who have faith in the Bible also have to admit that the Bible was not written to answer all our questions about the natural world. Both have something significant to offer.
Pastor Andy Stanley has it right when he reminds us that the Bible is not a science book, and science isn’t the Bible. They both have a place in helping us understand ourselves, this world and the supernatural world.
Here are some of the limitations of science. The theory of evolution (note it is a theory) has very little evidence that shows consistent slow transitional forms in fossil records. If evolution was the complete explanation of how animals and man came to be, then we should have a ton more evidence of animals that evolved over time. The fact is the evidence shows that we have more fossil records of animals that appeared all at once and were fully formed. The honesty is that there are holes in the evolutionary theory. Scientific evolution doesn’t give a compelling explanation of how life began!
Evolution can’t answer how cognitive development happens. How did we learn to think, speak, and create as we do? A question that some honest scientists ask is this: Can they trust their ability to know the truth (including there is no God) if human minds developed from lower animals?
Science tends to believe that our world is a closed system and that nothing can ever occur out of the normal laws of that system (Newtonian physics). But that doesn’t mean that God, who is bigger than and outside of our system, can’t intervene on occasion and do things differently. Scientists have been discovering that our world is not as regular and predictable as we once believed. Hence the rise of quantum mechanics and more.
I believe that God created the laws of nature or physics. They make life work. They also help us see when there is a miracle or an exception to the standard way of life. When the natural order is disturbed, it points us to a God who is intervening into our world. God wants life to be regular and consistent because that is what is good for us. I’m grateful that every day, the law of gravity consistently works. But at times, God chooses to break in and uniquely alter things to remind us that he is God. I love how John said it in John 20:30-31 – Jesus performed many other signs [miracles] in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. The miracles were signs pointing us to the fact that Jesus was not just a man but God himself who entered our life and world. Science gives us enormous understanding that makes for a richer and better life. But Jesus is the one who actually gives us life.
This week we start a new teaching series called I Got Questions. We’ll be looking at five of the more common questions that skeptics ask and that sometimes causes those who follow Jesus to question the validity of their faith. It’s my hope that this series will help both those who are skeptical and those who embrace faith in God to gain understanding and insight.
If you know someone who’s asking these kind of questions, invite them to join you. Here’s the questions we’ll be responding to: 1) Hasn’t science disproved faith? 2) Isn’t the Bible a man-made book of myths that’s full of errors, untrustworthy and irrelevant to the modern world? 3) Aren’t Christians arrogant, narrow-minded bigots suggesting there’s only one true God and only one way to God? 4) How can God be all powerful and good if he allows such evil and suffering? and 5) Jesus might have been a good man, but how can he be God?
The challenge is that there is so much to cover each week that just won’t fit into our allotted 35 minutes of teaching. So, each week, in our teaching notes, we’ll be adding resources you can use to go further in your understanding. We’ll suggest books, videos, classes and blogs that might be helpful. Here are a few to start with…
Each Wednesday after the Sunday message, the teacher will use this blog to address the topic they presented. These blogs will take the subject deeper or contain additional material we couldn’t cover in the message.
If you haven’t done so already, join RightNow Media. This is a free digital resource (available via computer, smart phone, smart TV, Roku, etc.) that gives you access to thousands of videos about almost any subject. There are great Bible studies, teachings on marriage, parenting, leadership, discipleship and personal growth. There are videos for kids, for your small group, and even for the holidays. Check it out. It’s free at https://mypantano.church/rightnowmedia.
Once you sign up, go to the “Apologetics” library for a wealth of resources where you can go deeper with the subjects we are addressing in this series. One resource that is helpful for our first teaching on the conflict of science and faith is the video The Search for Meaning – Science and God with Oz Guinness.
Arm Your Faith
Travis Swart will lead a class on apologetics. It’s an online class that lasts 10 weeks and starts September 3rd. Sign up here – pantano.church/ArmYourFaith
Our faith is reasonable and rational, and in humility, we welcome and want to engage in questions. We also want to be able to share with others how compelling and reasonable our faith is. Don’t miss this series, and consider inviting someone new to join you.
It’s common for people to love Jesus, believe the Bible, be basically good and serve others, but stop short of the radical kind of life that Jesus invites. Well, what more is there to faith? I’ll get to that shortly. Now, I’m pretty sure most of these folks are saved (only Jesus knows for sure). They obey Jesus, but often do so reluctantly and mostly out of a sense of obligation. They will be dutiful and go through the motions, but their obedience has limits. They have faith, but it is not a fully surrendered faith.
Jesus invites us to an uncommon level of faith. What does that mean? He calls us to a radical abandonment of that which is safe and predictable and where we are, in the end, still in control. Jesus wants us to embrace an uncommon faith that is so mature that we are sold out, fully devoted and “all in” as we follow him. This kind of faith sets no limits on what we’ll do in obedience to Jesus. This Sunday we begin a new series called Uncommon. I’ll be challenging all of us to join a group of uncommon folks who embrace an uncommon faith. This is going to be good!
One of the places I see this is in a story recorded in Luke 5:1-11. What we see in this story is that Simon Peter responds to Jesus in two different ways. The first occurs as he’s living out of a common kind of faith. Jesus asked Simon Peter to go fishing but he really didn’t want to do it. That’s a characteristic of ordinary faith. We know what Jesus wants, but we drag our heels, question why and often complain (even if only inside). When Simon Peter reluctantly agreed to do what Jesus asked he addressed Jesus as “Master” (see verse 5). The word “master” means one who has status and authority or someone who is perceived as important. Simon Peter saw Jesus as a great person and obeyed him because of his status.
Simon Peter and his partners put out the nets and had a miraculous catch of fish that filled the boats. In response to the miracle, Simon Peter addressed Jesus as “lord” (see verse 8). “Lord” is a different word than “master.” It means owner. There’s a huge difference between Jesus being an important person with status and Jesus as the owner of our lives. Peter moved from a common, normal faith to an uncommon one.
So, I want to invite you to renew or embrace a commitment to live an uncommon faith. We call that All In Partnership here at Pantano. Every year I ask you, as one who’s part of our church, to declare your commitment to surrender to the lordship of Jesus. 2019 All In Partner cards will be available this Sunday or you can sign it online.
Don’t sign up to be All In unless you are sincere about it. Not everyone is ready to embrace an uncommon faith – that’s why it is uncommon. And, declaring you are All In doesn’t mean you will do this perfectly. Join me, and many others, in being All In. Being All In means you affirm that your whole life – your time, your skills, and your money belongs to Jesus. Because he’s Lord, you’ll do your best to follow him in how he leads you to use your life to make a difference, wherever and however. Being All In means you’ll seek to love people to Jesus and help us transform our world and populate eternity.
We began a series on fear last Sunday called What Keeps You Up at Night? You can watch a replay of the entire service weeknights at 6 pm on our opening page at pantano.church (scroll down to the “Watch Live” section). Or you can watch just the message anytime – click here.
The cost of fear is very high. Sustained fear causes stress that over time can erode our health resulting in diabetes, cardiovascular issues, infertility, and so much more. Fear disrupts a healthy emotional balance as it robs us of peace and often results in things like depression or outbursts of anger. Fear can hinder us from taking important and needed risks that are a normal part of life and that help us grow and move forward. And, one of the seldom mentioned consequences of fear is that it can keep us from living out our true self that can make a difference in the place God has put us.
God created each of us unique. Our true self is made up of the characteristics, desires, motivations and our unique gifts that reflect God as we were created in the image of God. The person God created us to be has been damaged by our sin but has also been redeemed and restored in Christ. Fear often causes us to back away from our true self that best reflects God, and that he created to make a difference in his name.
Here are some of the costs of fear that we too seldom reflect on or talk about: When we fear not being loved, cared for, or included, we selfishly seek ways to get love instead of looking for even imperfect ways to love. When we are afraid that we can’t make things right, the way they should be, we can react in anger rather than looking for our best or better response that might make a small difference. We are afraid of failure so we’ll choose dishonesty to get a good outcome or fall into self-doubt that paralyzes us from being a positive contributor. We fear not having enough (of anything) and rather than sharing whatever we do have, we hoard it and ironically prove in action that we have nothing to share.
Fear keeps us from giving away the gifts God gave us to help others. When fear causes us to doubt, what we have to offer won’t be seen as valuable and worthwhile, so we withdraw and others lose out on the less than perfect gifts we could have given. We fear anything that might cause us pain or suffering, so we overindulge in the things that make us happy or numb the pain and become disengaged from contributing to others. We can be afraid of being controlled and manipulated so we refuse to be vulnerable and approachable which are amazing gifts in themselves. We are afraid of change or conflict so we become neglectful of or withhold the actions that might make a difference.
There is a very high cost of living in fear. Fear is one of Satan’s best tools he uses to try and stop love, hinder service, and neutralize God’s people. In the end, we choose fear or we choose faith. It is actually easy and quite natural to choose fear. But it takes prayer, effort, courage and lots of help to choose faith in the face of fear. Faith is a deep trust and confidence that God is with us to help us be the person he made us to be…no matter what. Faith is choosing to be like Jesus…no matter what. Choose faith!