A Prayer of Faith

Habakkuk 3:17-19
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer's;
    he makes me tread on my high places.

By Chuck Griffin

Monday, we looked at how the prophet Habakkuk wrestled with his era’s version of the problem of evil, the questions that arise about God when bad people seem to prosper. The context was very different from our own—God’s chosen people were overrun by brutal conquerors—but the frustration and confusion expressed by the prophet were similar to what we might experience today.

We stopped at Habakkuk 2:1, the point where the prophet took a stand, seemingly demanding answers.

And God answered. Rooting the vision he offered Habakkuk in a seemingly distant but certain end to the divine plan, God asserted that the “righteous shall live by faithfulness.” He also assured Habakkuk that our perception of right and wrong is correct. Those who build wealth out of their own strength and corruption, making idols of objects in this world, will fail, although the patience of the righteous will be required.

It was enough to launch Habakkuk into prayer. We might even say song, as the third chapter has embedded in it instructions that there be musical accompaniment.

Habakkuk shows us the right attitude to maintain, even when the answers aren’t at first satisfying. He declared the greatness of God, poetically recounting the actions of the one who is clearly over all creation.

And even in pain, with all around him seeming lost, the prophet made it clear that God would continue to be worthy of honor and worship. “I will take joy in the God of my salvation,” he said (3:18).

How blessed are we that we have seen so much of God’s great plan play out! With the coming of Christ, we see how the cross marks the end of sin and death, even if we must wait patiently for Christ’s work to come to full fruition.

We will tread the high places.

Dear Lord, when we experience our own times of woe, help us to have the faith and perseverance of Habakkuk, trusting in the end of your plan to come. Amen.

Good Fish, Bad Fish

By Chuck Griffin

A lot of people, particularly younger adults, don’t like the idea of “going to church.” This is true even if they consider themselves spiritual.

That’s not just a personal observation; studies and polls are proving this fact repeatedly. Most recently, Gallup research showed that for the first time in U.S. history, less than 50 percent of American adults belong to a church. (Gallup included membership in synagogues and mosques, too, and still got to just 47 percent participation.)

Particularly instructive for us are the studies that explore why some people have strong negative reactions to the idea of being involved in a church. Yes, people sometimes complain that church is boring. Yes, people say there are now many other attractions on Sunday, and involvement in church simply cannot compete.

There is one criticism that stands out above all others, however, and it is the primary problem we “churched” people face when telling others about Jesus Christ. Churches, these church-averse people say, are full of hypocrites.

The solution is not to call these critics wrong, but to acknowledge they are right, using that humbling truth to move toward a deeper conversation about why Jesus Christ died on the cross.

Jesus told us from the start that the global church would be considerably less than pure until he returns and restores all of creation to a holy state. One place he illustrates this truth is in a parable found in Matthew 13:47-50.

The church is the primary way we now see the presence of the “kingdom of heaven” on earth. But Jesus described the kingdom of heaven as being a net full of fish, good fish and bad fish mixed together.

In the story, the good fish are put in baskets, while the bad fish are thrown out. “That is the way it will be at the end of the world,” Jesus said. “The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous, throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This parable sometimes is misinterpreted, with people assuming it’s a simple tale of God’s desire to separate the righteous and unrighteous in the world. But in this parable, the world is represented by the ocean, while the net is the initial gathering of people who say they want to follow Christ.

A similar parable is found in Matthew 13:24-30, where an “enemy” sows weeds in a field of wheat representing the kingdom of heaven. The two are allowed to grow together until the final harvest, when the weeds are separated and burned.

When we hear the “hypocrite” charge leveled at us, it’s important that we learn to say in all humility, “Yes, things are not as they should be in the church. Brokenness and sin remain among us even though we call ourselves Christians. Jesus told us this would happen.”

We can hope such simple honesty will open the door to a conversation about deeper truths. For example, Christ remains our perfect savior regardless of Christians’ imperfections. And Christ wants his followers in fellowship together, even though he knows evil will sometimes wriggle into the net.

As fishy as it sometimes smells, church remains the place to be in relationship with God.

Lord, help us to project desirable images of righteousness to a hurting world needing to know you better. Amen.