Sunday, November 29, 2015

Freedom Reigns!

John 8:34
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.

My eyes snap open after an almost sleepless night, what time of the morning it is I do not know, I’m covered in sweat and feel as if I am shaking from the inside out. Panic and paranoia rule me. I have managed to stay sober for six days but I know without a doubt that today it is over, today I am using.

The only way I can even begin to explain what addiction is like to a person that has never experienced it is to think of having the most aggressive sales person you can imagine take up residence inside your head. This guy doesn’t clock in and out he is there to stay, his perpetual sales pitch gets quieter or louder depending on your level of intoxication. Sometimes he tells sweet lies and manipulates you with his charm; other times he just screams the same thing to you over and over, drowning out all other thought, until you obey just to shut him up. What makes his sales tactics so successful is the fact that your body and mind is crying out for the very thing he is trying to sell you. Imagine fasting for two days and then strolling past the food vendors at the fair. That pales in comparison but that may give you something to grasp at. I have a bit of a thing for fair food….

I can no longer continue my resolve is gone; I am completely and utterly defeated and just want to feel better. A single thought is shoved into my sick and shattered brain, PRAY! I dropped to my knees and placed my head on a chair. I prayed simply that if there was a God in this world to please take this away. My brain went quiet, by heart rate dropped, my breathing slowed and an almost tangible feeling of peace fell over me like my Mother covering me with a big warm blanket when I was sick as a child. I rose to my feet, slowly processing what had happened. I went out on the balcony of my apartment and looked at the sky and the trees, they looked different somehow. The overwhelming compulsion and need to use was gone!

The Salesman has been cast out, or at least tied up, gagged and thrown in a corner! That scene was thirteen(clean  & Sober) plus years ago now and I have to admit that for much of that time I have been like one of the nine ungrateful lepers healed by Jesus that did not return with the tenth one to even say thank you.
However I do know it is as he would have it be, and that profound experience set me on a course to be where I am at today being one of his disciples ever seeking him who set me free from a bondage that slowly robs a person of everything, including your very soul. Addiction will first take the people closest to you, then your possessions, and finally your very dignity, your very humanity. I and many others like me were once, and still are slaves to what I know today as just another snare of Satin.

This snare is an obvious one, it’s easily seen, at least by the people on the outside. Many of us can easily think of someone we know suffering the yoke of slavery this sin brings, but we don’t need to be addicted to a chemical to understand what it is to be a slave to sin and we also don’t need to be an addict to be in denial of what sin we are slaves to.
We can be addicted and enslaved by a multitude of sins.

What of the man that works all the overtime available to him, missing holidays, birthdays, and just the simple quality time that comes with spending time in relationship with those he loves in sacrifice for the glorious retirement he invests in that may never come?

What of the woman that only feels security and happiness, however brief, in the acquisition of a larger home or a newer car?

What of the adulterer that prowls from one extra marital affair to another seeking the temporary high and much desired ego boost it delivers?

What of the person that escapes via their television set or computer spending hours in a world of lust and covetousness? 

What of the man that returns again and again to rage filled rants, days spent in bitterness, and a mind full of resentment?

This list could go on and on, my point I think is clear, there are many forms of slavery we can allow ourselves to become yoked by, some can be more comfortable than others, we can rationalize and justify our enslavement but it does not mean that enslavement is not what we are submitting to when we practice these sins again and again. Our rationalization also does not diminish in anyway the damage being done to our relationship with our Creator.

 I have used the word Yoke as Jesus uses it for a good reason. The definition as in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is as follows-
1) A wooden bar by which two animals are attached doing work
2) An arched device laid on the neck of a defeated person
3) An oppressive agency
I for the purpose of this writing like 2 and 3 the best. I think it best likens itself to the sin and slavery of that we are discussing and serves to put things in perspective. I believe Jesus used this term to give people a picture of the real situation they were in with sin, he used it to describe the yoke that he himself offered but in the verse before it points out how heavily burdened we already are. He is telling us we will be yoked to something but that his yoke will give rest not burden.  The load of sin may be light at first but as we continue to delve deeper and deeper into sin, as always happens, the oppressive rule it has over us increases, this load, this Yoke gets more and more burdensome.

Jesus said we cannot serve two masters and he uses money as an example but it can be anything that is eclipsing our focus on him. When we see the eclipse of the sun we see first the sun in all it’s glory, all of it’s radiance being cast down on us here on earth and then very slowly we see a shadow begin, ever so slowly, to creep across its brilliance blotting out first ten percent, then thirty percent then sixty percent and next the shinning radiance of the sun is gone altogether. This my friend is sin! It rarely leaps into your life, no, it crawls in little by little and as it does the sunlight of the spirit of God gets dimmer and dimmer and dimmer until we are lost in the darkness, we are stumbling around in the blackness, our lamp has been removed, not by sin alone because light will always overpower darkness, but by our giving ourselves over to that sin! Having a moment of clarity we might see through our own denial and wonder how we have gotten to this dark place. 

2 Corinthians 3:16-17
16 but whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

There is Good News! All we need to do is what I did that day with my head on that chair, ask! Turn to him in an act and spirit of humble and sincere repentance and just as the father in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal son, God the Father will run to where we are! He will celebrate at our turning from sin and shower us with love and peace when we repent to him! Then just as Jesus said to the adulterous woman we should go and sin no more. We should not repent for a sin we plan to repeat, the Lord knows our heart and mind better than we do. We should lay our sins down at the feet of the Lord having no intentions of picking them up again, even if that act needs to be repeated over and over. True growth cannot occur in us if we are resigned to continue being enslaved by the very sin we are asking to be forgiven for. If this is the case we are either not believing the Lord can deliver us from the oppression of that sin or we love the sin and are not ready to stop going back to our vomit- Proverbs 26:11 

Paul tells us to examine ourselves and our faith! 2 Corinthians 13:5 and that when tempted the Lord will provide us a way to escape. 1 Corinthians 10:13

The Lord knows we can not be perfect but we also cannot use that as an excuse to remain addicted to or stagnated by the same sin year after year. We should be sincere in our repentance not only believing we have been forgiven, no matter the number of times we’ve had to return to him being defeated by the same sin, but believing and having faith that we will not need to repent of this particular sin again.

Some might ask, “How this is possible?” “How can such a perfectly righteous being go on putting up with such a depraved and sinful people as are we?”
To that question there is only one answer, God is Love!
Paul tells us in Romans 5:8 but God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.

He came and took our place, he came and he lived the life that you or I will never be able to live and he used that perfectly sinless life to pay the ransom for our sin so that we may in return have his righteousness, he literally died our death so we may live his life. So not only is he providing now our very existence but through his willing death on the cross is offering us everlasting life with him if we will only choose him and walk with him in this life.
We serve and worship a God that would pursue us while we pursue our own selfish desires and pleasures thinking nothing of him who gave us life and breath. A God that wants relationship with us so much he would come into our filth and save us from a death we rightly deserve.


Romans 8:1-2
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Jesus said the truth would set us free and later before his brutal crucifixion told Pontius Pilate that he came into the world to testify to the truth.

That truth is him, it is his life, he is the way the truth and the life and it is through him only that we find true happiness, contentment, fulfillment and most of all Love. Pursuit of these things exclusive of our creator only results in enslavement but it is when we take on his Yoke that we are truly set free!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Chosen!

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.


There are many verses throughout the Bible that would lead us to believe that we as Christians did not of our own volition alone choose Christ. We did not “find God” as some would put it, at least not completely on our own, no he found us, and chose us long before we were even conceived. Now the implications of this can be confusing and hard to absorb once the real depth of that is somewhat understood but again we find evidence for this in both Old and New Testaments alike.
 In the Gospel of Luke as the Lord begins to gather his disciples he stands teaching on the shore of Lake Gennesaret(Sea of Galilee)  about to step into the boat of Simon (Peter). Jesus certainly did not randomly select Peter’s boat to be the one he would step into of course, he knew exactly where he was walking to as he approached the shoreline of that lake. The Lord was specific and deliberate in his choosing of each of the twelve disciples for they would each serve in their own specific way to glorify the Father. We read in the Gospel of John after a particularly difficult teaching many whom were Jesus’ disciples turned away from him, but not the twelve, he says in John 6:70 “Have I not chosen you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!”
The Lord was not surprised to turn and see the twelve still standing there beside him and the Lord already knew which one would betray him, the Lord undoubtedly had this knowledge as he chose Judas to follow him. So we can see that God had predestined the twelve, but is that all? Are the rest of us just left to chance, our fate resting only in what decision we may or may not make about God? Well not according to the Apostle Paul who among other verses, wrote in
He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,
Then again here we have another passage that is among even more like verses from the Old Testament, this one in particular stuck out to me.
Isaiah 46:10
 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, my purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all my good pleasure;

My purpose in taking us through all this is to highlight the incredibly intimate and personal nature of the God we of the faith we call Christianity worship. I think we can lose sight of this in our day to day activities. If you are a Christian reading this, or just a curious agnostic or nonbeliever you should realize and know that even this small moment in time has been preordained by the Master and Creator of the Universe, and the moments to come after. He has or is drawing you closer to himself, he has chosen you specifically. Not just the group of people that you may or belong to, but you alone, you specifically. He has selected you to be a member of his family, to be his child, and not just that but he made you to one day be drawn to him, and purposed you for this. This should be amazingly deep and profoundly convicting for us to come to grips with. Deep because to try and fully understand its implications are too mystifying for our finite minds to grasp entirely, convicting because coming to and trying to live in the knowledge that you’ve been adopted into the eternal family of God the Father should force us into a sense of purpose and meaning. After all we do not see Jesus choosing the twelve and then the twelve going home and moving on with their lives; he had some things in mind for them to do. He no doubt has some ideas for us as well. Actually throughout the Old and New Testaments it would be near impossible for us to find anyone that was called into the family of God that was not used for the glorification of God in some way.
So were we chosen to merely sit in a pew every week, volunteer at Church occasionally, pay our tithing, and live out the remaining six days of the week being much like the world of non-believers we live in? It would be hard for us to read just about any book of the Bible and hold that view. If the only difference in us and the non-believer is where we sit on Sunday don’t we need to then ask ourselves if we really believe what we claim to believe?
Beliefs guide our thoughts, thoughts guide our actions and our actions become what we are known by, not only to ourselves and the Lord but to the people around us. Being chosen should also not feel like a weight to bear, it shouldn’t well up in us an overpowering and ever present sense of guilt, or obligation. I would say that if we are unmotivated to be active in our faith, active being reading the Word, praying, and some form of evangelizing, or if we are active but only out of guilt or obligation there is something very critical and important missing in our walk. Quite possibly the most important thing in a Christian’s life, a relationship, he chose us first and foremost to be in relationship with him. Can we honestly and confidently say we are? A very wise and faith filled lady in a Bible study I belong to said something one week that made me stop and really reexamine my relationship with Christ, she said “I know who Bill Clinton is, I know a lot of facts about his life, some things he has said, and situations he has been in, but if I were to walk up to Bill Clinton and put my hand out he, of course, would not know me.”
We should, above all else, be seeking him, focused on him. This means having an open dialog as well as daily quiet secluded time in prayer. We should be always sharing with him; telling him our daily struggles, asking him for his strength and peace, and sometimes telling him why we just really don’t like the way things are right now. But also thanking him no matter what the situation realizing that we are in his plan, apart of his story, and knowing that many times there are others around us that would be grateful for our difficulties. It means reading and rereading his Living Word.
David tells us in Psalm 119:11 “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
Jesus tells Satin in Matthew4:4 “It is written; man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
The Lord gave us this wonderful text of his that we may know at least a portion of his heart and mind. The more we read his book, and seek his presence through prayer, the more is revealed to us, not only about him but about ourselves and the truly hopeless state we were in before he drew us to him. Also so we may know his heart and mind for us his people. But even then he hasn’t called us to sit at home and read and do nothing else, he hasn’t called us to himself just for our own betterment, no, he wants and expects us to bear fruit. Bearing fruit comes through an ever deepening relationship with him, its not just works but first a profound change on the inside. It is a rearranging of heart and mind that will then begin to change the way you see your life, your world, and yourself. When we are seeking to be in relationship with him the works we are doing in his name will not feel like a burden, no on the contrary it will feel like fulfilling a need to pour out a bit of the tremendous love, peace and grace that is being poured in.
The men and women of the New Testament, whether they were Apostles, or just disciples like you and I, they joyfully walked directly into very dangerous situations. They testified to the truth even when doing so may have meant a beating, imprisonment, or death. Why? Because they understood that they were chosen by the one and only God that came to the earth and defeated any physical death that could be dealt to them. They understood that this world we live in now is not the only place we will live and more so it is not the most important. They were living for the Kingdom they would inherit. We find in the Book of Acts Peter and the Apostles standing in front of the Sanhedrin declaring- Acts 5:29 “we must obey God rather than human beings!”
Knowing the Sanhedrin might have them stoned or flogged they spoke the Gospel and refused to be silent about it. They didn’t do this out of a sense of obligation because that wouldn’t have been enough to motivate such a dangerously rebellious statement, no, they did it because they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they understood what Christ had done and what he was asking them to do, they understood from what they had been saved and to where they would be going. They couldn’t possibly keep from proclaiming the Gospel!
We see men and women so fundamentally changed from what they once were they cannot help but be different than those around them. They are so full of gratitude for the salvation that’s been received they want others to have it! They’ve been released from their worries and given the understanding that they can rest in the will of the Lord. They’ve had the oppression of their past thrown off through the forgiveness Christ offers. The chains of sin have been broken and they see that they have been set free from the slavery it held over them.
Although there are places in the world still persecuting our Christian brothers and sisters we safe and pampered Christians here in the States are likely not going to face any circumstances like the early Church in our lifetimes. We do not have the fear of beatings or death for our proclamation of faith in Christ, but that’s not required for great faith.
We have been predestined; we have been purposed, and specifically chosen for citizenship in the Kingdom. We may not be called to be missionaries or Preachers as many of the first Church were but this doesn’t mean we can’t make an impact. I think sometimes we take on the perspective of spectators in Christianity. We go to Church expecting only to get something. We are the Church, just as the first Christians were. They didn’t even have a building to call the Church.
Paul tells us in 1Corinthians 12:27 “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
Wherever you are people should see something different about you, we affect the people around us, if we are a working part of the body of Christ that affect should be Christ-like.

If we are in proper relationship people will see our lack of worry, our abundant joy, and the purpose with which we live our lives, and they will wonder what is different, they may even ask, and that is our opportunity to be a witness of the transformational love of Christ. Let’s be citizens of the Kingdom living not for this present world but for the one yet to come. Lets ask ourselves what we can add to our Church not just what our Church should be giving. Not because we feel we have to but because we feel so full of the love of Christ we can’t keep from doing something to pour some of that love out on others. Let’s fill our hearts and minds with scripture so we may be better guided in our own lives and in helping others. We are a people that have been chosen lets be that. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

You want me to do what?! 
#3

Exodus 3:1-11
Moses and the Burning Bush
3 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelite's out of Egypt?”


This amazing living text we call the Bible has such continuity, such consistency in theme, in purpose and meaning. How is it that this possible with 40 authors, written in three continents, among many different cultures, over a span of 2000 years? It’s because the Bible truly has but one author speaking through many broken yet still chosen vessels. True to form God doesn’t choose the most qualified, or at least what we would see as qualified. It is hard not to read about these servants in the Old Testament and not see the many similarities in character they have in comparison to the Apostles hand picked by God incarnate while he was here on the planet with us.

Here we have the great servant Moses through which God uses to free the Israelite's from the harsh oppression of ancient Egypt. He would guide and govern the multitude of his people for all the remaining years of his earthly life; he would take them through the Red Sea and across miles of desert. This great servant Moses who, through God, gave us the Ten Commandments, books have been written on him, movies have been made about him, and yet as we start to read Exodus we find that Moses kills a man, hides his body in the sand and shortly after abandons his people. Again and again the text gives us unflattering details like this that only give more weight to its authenticity. If someone wanted to create a great myth of a triumphant figure that courageously marched his people out of slavery we would certainly not begin by destroying the character of the hero by having him commit murder and then cowardly flee from his people to save his own skin. Moses was a guy that screwed up, I can relate with that. More than that he is a man that had it all, he was, by all appearances, the Grandson of the ruling Pharaoh over the Egyptian empire. How he came to the knowledge of his Hebrew heritage the text doesn’t say, possibly the Pharaoh’s daughter told him or a family member working for the Egyptians. I find it very revealing and interesting that the Bible details Moses looking around first before killing the Egyptian. He didn’t fly into a rage and suddenly cut the man down, he didn’t accidentally hit him too hard while protecting the Hebrew slave but he stopped to take time to see who might be watching knowing what his intentions were. In our court system today we’d call that premeditation.
Then when the Lord comes to Moses, despite what he has done, telling him he has chosen him for the incredible task of freeing his people Moses seems to want no part in it.
The Lord is about the business of glorifying himself through us and what better example to hold up for us, his children, than a truly human servant, with all his faults and failures highlighted for us to see. This shows me it’s not about me, it’s about him, and what he can do with us despite our faults, if we will only believe and do. I have unfortunately felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit to say something, or to do something at a particular time and setting and have let some of those opportunities pass without my obedience only to feel convicted later. Why do we do that? Why don’t we seize the moment and obey? Why do we fear what human minds may think or human mouths might say when we have the Creator of everything at our back? I think often we feel inadequate as Moses did here, I believe we wait for someone more qualified to speak up, to take charge of what we know the spirit is telling us to do. We also have our own figurative dead bodies buried in the sand, some poor decisions we’ve made or maybe an anger issue or something more. Moses undoubtedly feels like a man unworthy of the Lord’s favor. He has murdered a man and left his family, his home, and all he knew to escape the consequences of his actions. On top of this he has a speech impediment, of what sort we don’t know, but he uses this as an excuse for his lack of willingness in Exodus 4:10 “I am slow of speech and tongue” and Lord replies in this great way that only the Lord can 4:11 “Who gave human beings their mouths?”
Our shortcomings are of no concern to Lord; he wants the same from us that he is asking of Moses, obedience through faith, once we’ve committed to giving him that he will come in clean us up and get us qualified for the task he has given. He is telling Moses, it doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in yourself, I believe in you now you should believe in me!
Moses has just seen a great sign, the Angel of the lord in the burning bush, he has heard the very voice of God and is still not totally convinced he says in 4:13 “Pardon your servant, Lord, please send someone else.” Notice he isn’t arguing whether his people should be freed or not, he just thinks someone else would be better for the job. Whether the feeling of the burning anger of God did it or the inclusion of his brother Aaron to do the speaking Moses makes the right decision to obey. Again we can relate because Moses had to grow his faith in the Lord and in himself by doing what was commanded and seeing the results. As we read through Exodus we can see Moses coming back to the Lord unsure of his will and the path ahead but he continues to obey. He also surely had to overcome the limitations he had set for himself and redefine what kind of man he was and none of that is possible without forging a closer relationship with our Creator.
We can set limitations on ourselves and think we know our capabilities better than the one that made us. We can look at something that the Holy Spirit may be leading us toward and think “Oh no, not me, I could never do that!” Maybe it’s trying to talk to a coworker that’s having some family issues about coming to Church or giving their life to Christ, leading or participating in a Church project, or as bold as going on a mission trip. Maybe the thing that is holding us back is the dead body we’ve got buried in the sand, meaning the sin that we have committed or continue to commit. We think ourselves unworthy or incapable but that very act of faith in accepting the Lord’s will could be what finally forces us into growing into a closer relationship with him. Sometimes accepting a task can force us into badly needed growth. How can we have the arrogance to think we may know our potential better than the Supreme Being that can have a personal relationship with us and yet also guide the paths of the planets in there orbits?
We see these greatly faulted and fallen servants throughout the Bible that were able to rise far past what would have ever been possible for them left to their own resources but they were willing to do one thing, step out in faith, step out in obedience, step out and trust that God was not only for them but that he knew them and their path far better than they themselves ever could! What we see in Exodus is Moses being redeemed, we see him start out making a lot of mistakes and running from those mistakes, running from God even, but then after a divine intervention he is slowly being made into a new creation much different than before and by the time his life comes to a close he is far and removed from being just a common criminal on the run in a foreign land tending a flock that’s not even his own. Moses was able to put himself aside and allow Yahweh to be great in him.
Christ can do this for us today but he won’t do it with our restrictions being placed on him, we can’t say to him “This is the area I feel I can give you, help me here Jesus!” We need to be willing to ask him for direction and pray for acceptance of the answer when it comes. We also need to be willing to leave the body in the sand, stop returning to it! We should ask the Lord for forgiveness and rest in the fact that we’ve received it and know we no longer need to feel guilty or unworthy over it anymore. If the Lord only chose the worthy the Kingdom would not get anything done! It’s through him that we are made worthy; it’s through him that we gain the strength to do the things we thought ourselves incapable of before, it’s in him that we find our true selves.

The only true greatness we can ever attain in this life is through our ability to serve and glorify him who made our very existence possible in the first place!

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Water

Jeremiah 17:5-8

5This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.

7“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
8They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

John 4:14

14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Here we have in the book of Jeremiah the Lord speaking through Jeremiah to tell us that being close with him is like a tree being close to a stream; it has no fear of the sun or worries of thirst if a drought comes. Then more than 500 years later we have the Lord again referring to himself as a life giving spring that will forever eliminate your thirst, which could be easily taken to mean your needs and worries. What an amazing document we have in the Bible!

Without the Lord our resources can be found in one thing only, Man. My identity, my self-esteem, confidence, love, acceptance, moral guidance, ethical standards, and inner strength will all need to come from the people that happen to be around us and nowhere else.  
I will again and again (whether I realize it or not) use observation and comparison to look around to other persons in my life for guidance and direction on these things. I will have only humans and the world with they’re limited resources and failings to tell me who I am and what kind of person I should be. We all do this to an extent, but when it’s the only source we have it is not only lacking and unstable but often leads us and others to destruction. If my inner well-being and outer moral character are up for grabs to whoever might have the most influence on me in any given life circumstance I find myself born into the odds for a really bad outcome are incredibly good, great even. We can see the outcome of this plastered across our newspapers and on our nightly news programs. As a young man I was always looking for purpose and identity in those people around me rather than looking to my Creator to tell me who I am and what kind of person I should be. This worldly source of identity and strength fails us miserably because it cannot possibly provide what we truly need.
This human I may choose to emulate, gain strength from and find my identity in may be an abusive and violent father, or an uncle that’s main occupation is dealing drugs on the street, or maybe a morally bankrupt business tycoon that cares for nothing but the next profit. Now of course we could happen to be born into a circumstance where those influences could also happen to be positive and morally sound people and if so our guidance and direction in life will possibly be better, but we will still find it lacking greatly. We will still find ourselves searching for purpose and identity somewhere where it cannot possibly be found. We often don’t realize what we are looking for but we are beings born searching for identity, for meaning, for purpose and guidance that only God can provide. God intended and still intends for us to find these things in him but when we remove him we can only seek the ways of Man, which are inherently wicked and evil.
 You might say this isn’t you at all, that you’re an independent thinker and don’t allow the thoughts, possessions, and morality of others affect you. You might ask yourself if you’d be bothered driving a vehicle produced in the 90’s to your work if everyone else was driving new vehicles, or if having the smallest house out of all your friends or family would bother you, or maybe if when buying clothes your looking for those brands you see on everyone else even if it hurts your wallet to buy them. I am not at all saying it is wrong to have nice things but if we feel we need to have certain houses, cars, and clothes to feel secure about ourselves then our inner worth, our strength and guidance might be based more on Man and the World than on God. It’s the weight we give these things not the having of them that is the problem.

If you’re a news watcher, and I am not, you’ll see articles on yahoo and programs on television featuring everything from gang violence here in our own back yards to terrorist bombings and be-headings over seas. Some of us watch these programs and feel comfortably separated from the people that are the perpetrators of such atrocities. “Those people are evil” we say and think.  “How could those people do that?” We can look at the history of mankind and see literally millions upon millions of people meeting a grizzly and terrible end. We can see it in wars, in death camps, in gang violence, mass shootings, people being killed by every means imaginable for thousands of years now, and some of us still don’t get it. We sit in our comfortable living rooms having never committed most of these acts and feel good about ourselves and our own lives. We can look at those circumstances and those people many times and compare ourselves out thinking they must have been especially evil to have done such things. The terrifying truth is that “Those people” are you and me without God!
 What we see painted across the headlines are the potentials that you and I could reach so easily if we are using only the man next to us to measure ourselves by and he is using us. When we let the world define us and the world we are born into is doing incredibly evil things, without a relationship with the one true God, we join in. If you or I were born into a violent gang controlled neighborhood, and all we’ve seen or known is that life style the chances of us also choosing it are astronomically good without God and the inner strength and identity that comes through knowing him we would be sure to emulate our surroundings and quickly assimilate ourselves into the same behavior and activities.
Once we have truly accepted Christ only then do we begin to know who we are. It is a tragedy that many people go to the grave having only ever been a carbon copy of one or two people they really liked or looked up to, never really discovering their true selves through Christ Jesus. What I mean by this is that not only can we never provide for ourselves a greater path than what our own maker has planned but that there is a fundamental piece of ourselves that can only be found in Christ.
The world offers us temporary hollow pleasures, puffed egos, and a lot of pride. These things are shallow in meaning and fleeting in happiness. It offers us a life wrought with worry having only ourselves and possibly a few other people to gauge the directions of our decisions with. It tells us we can have it our way, and that it’s all about us and actually that is why it works so miserably. Sure this type of self gratifying lifestyle will bring with it some sensory pleasures but it leaves us with no real meaning or purpose to our lives. It creates broken homes, fatherless children, and a society on the take and never out to give. We were not created to live for ourselves and when we do it brings spiritual bankruptcy. At some point the old hollow pleasures yield no more gratification than watching a movie you’ve watched 20 times before, sure some of the parts are still mildly amusing but you know exactly how the whole thing is going to end. You will at some point in life begin to ask yourself “Isn’t there more than this?” and the answer to that question is Good News!

Christ offers us an opportunity to be complete in him, to truly know ourselves through knowing him. Living in him I need not worry, only work toward accepting what is to come as his will and remaining confident that regardless of the size of the storm or the circumstance he may bring me to I will have his joy and strength to carry me through it. Having it not be about me is a good thing, no it’s a great thing! 

Depending on the world for our fulfillment we become like the bush in the wastelands, as the verse states. We wait for our next bit of happiness or pleasure to come from the material world around us, and when it does come it’s good, but then it’s quickly gone again leaving us searching for the next bit of happiness or momentary feeling of fulfillment we might find. In the mean time we are left feeling empty again and again saying “Now what?” Some of us continue this pursuit by seeking material things, or wealth, or by changing relationships, or forever searching for some dream job, thinking that something will finally provide what we are seeking.

When we finally stick our roots in the water we find a stream of life that not only sustains us, it provides us with a strength, love, and joy that are unending. It wells up in us a spring of eternal life! All we need to do is drink and take in what is being provided. Once we begin to do this how we see the world will change, and with time how the world sees us. No matter how little or how much we have we will have a contentment that did not exist before. We will begin to count the smallest things as blessings, things we once took for granted we will praise God for. We will finally find ourselves planted next to the water!

Monday, November 2, 2015

You want me to do what?! 
#2

Genesis 22:1-2
Abraham Tested
22 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Heralded as the single greatest act of faith in the Bible here we have Abraham, the father of the three largest religions on the planet, obeying the Lord’s request for the sacrifice of his one and only son. However earlier in Abraham’s story we see him fail himself and his wife as he gives into fear on two occasions and lies about the true nature of they’re relationship. He allows his wife to be taken as the wife of another man, not once but twice, fearing he’d be killed if he didn’t. Also after the Lord promised him an heir that would create for him descendants as numerous as the stars, he gave into his wife’s plan and he slept with her slave girl, taking matters into his own hands once again.

I am so grateful that I have this God inspired word in my life, I am so grateful for its authenticity. Again and again scripture records the failures of its greatest figures and I am so glad it does. I can relate with failures! We don’t have a book of amazingly great heroes that knew just what to do at all the right times. We don’t have a book that so glorifies the men and women in it that they no longer seem human at all. We have a God breathed word that tells us not of how great and flawless these people were but of how great and flawless Yahweh is and how even deeply flawed people like you and me can have that greatness in our lives just as Abraham had him in his.

This is also the beginning of the significance of Mount Moriah as a holy and sacred place. About a thousand years later we see King David buy the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite in order to build an alter to the Lord so that the people may avoid a plague. Then after the death of David Solomon built a huge temple at the same location which lasted for 400 hundred years until the armies of Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it in 587/586 B.C. Seventy years later the temple was rebuilt by the Jews after they’re return to Jerusalem from Babylon. Once again in A.D. 70 the Roman armies led by Titus, the son of the Emperor Vespasian, destroyed the temple. The “Wailing Wall” we have there today is all that remains today of that original structure. Needless to say it’s been a hotly contested piece of real-estate since the Lord led Abraham there for the sacrifice of his son and it continues to create controversies today.
Every believing parent that hears or reads this story asks themselves the same question “Could I do it?” Non-believing parents would ask “how could God ask such a thing.” Many non-believers would use this story as an example of the cruelty perpetrated by men thinking they are being led by God. To the non-believing parent I would say God asks some very tough things of his people at times. In the Old Testament many of the prophets met with terrible ends. In the New Testament we have all of the Apostles martyred save John. Here in our modern day we have missionaries that feel they have been called to distant lands to further the Gospel only to be jailed, killed, or contract a deadly disease. Also the non-believing parent should also bear in mind the outcome, after all God did not allow the sacrifice to be completed. To the non-believer or atheist that would use this story as an example against our faith I would say that you are only proving your inability to hear, understand, and interpret scripture at any type of real depth when you only glean a short amount of superficial information from a verse or story in an attempt to put together a case against our faith. Take your time and really study and research what it is you don’t believe to see if your reasons for unbelief are founded on good evidence or bad, you may be surprised.
To the Believing parent I would say you can’t know what you’d do without having been in the position and circumstance that Abraham found himself in. At this point Abraham had lived many faith filled years, perfecting his relationship with the Lord. He was 100 years old when Isaac was born. The Lord had promised an heir to Abraham and Sarah and made good on that promise despite their being in they’re golden years. Can you imagine your Grandparents or your Great Grandparents having a child? Isaac’s age at the time of this sacrifice has been the subject of much discussion, from being in his twenties and a willing participant to no more than an unsuspecting infant or toddler, either one you choose puts Abraham’s age greater than 100, possibly much greater. Abraham had also been through many faith testing situations by the time we come to this point. Faith grows as we daily seek to maintain a connection and a relationship with Yahweh. Our ability to discern whether God is speaking to us and what he may be trying to tell us becomes honed and sharpened. I think Abraham’s reaction to this hard request made by God shows us the level of faith and utter dependence he had come to in his relationship with Yahweh. He heard, he discerned, and he set out to do just what the Lord had asked of him. Let’s not forget at least 25 years earlier he set out on a 500 mile journey due to another request the Lord had made. Not knowing at all where he was going he left everything he knew and asked his family to trust in him as he led them and the Lord led him.

What is there in this world that does not belong to the Creator? What things are just mine? Is there anything? You may say “well I paid for my car” or “I own my home” but nothing on earth can be made from anything the Creator didn’t make or foresee man making, or for that matter foresee you specifically having. The things that we own often were once owned by someone else or will at least be owned by another person after we are long gone. The closer a relationship I have with him the more I can see where he had everything to do with giving me everything I have, so these things are his, gifted or loaned to me by him.  If nothing is mine and everything belongs to the creator what would make me think that my kids are mine? My children are his and he has the power to take them or to give them at any time just as he has the power to take my things if he so desires. I am of course speculating but I think that Abraham’s relationship with the Lord was so strong, so dependant, and so much apart of his daily existence that he had come to know fully that he only had what he had because God had willed it. He knew that Sarah was Gods and if he had saw fit to take her there would be nothing he could do to keep God from taking her. I think he also had come to a place where he knew to not live with the Lord was to not live at all. Throughout this entire story we see him from the beginning going where God tells him to go and doing what God tells him to do. Now we can see he screwed that up from time to time but he was certainly seeking, following, and living for the Lord. He knew to turn from the Lord was to essentially stop taking in air and he knew to trust and follow the Lord is where real true life resided.

It is of intense interest to me what Abraham says later in verse 5- “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” He says “We will come back to you” Abraham trusted that the Lord would not fail in his prior promise to him; he knew that the creator could give life back where it was taken if needed. I do not believe this makes his act of faith any less great though. He trusted the Lord with his life and now with the life of his only son as well, but why not trust, Isaac belonged to the Lord with or without Abraham’s trust. At least now at this point in my studies I believe God led Abraham to do this for the sake of Abraham alone. I am not of the camp that thinks God was testing to see what Abraham’s reaction may be, or how strong his faith was, or to see if he valued his son more than the Lord, he is God the Alpha and the Omega, he is unrestrained by time, all seeing, and all knowing. Yahweh certainly knew what Abraham’s reaction would be; he knew his heart better than Abraham did. Sometimes relationships need an event of great strain to stretch and almost snap the ties that bind it together in order to then make it all the stronger. It is possible the Lord felt this was a necessary exercise for Abraham to be put threw, but we could guess all day at the immeasurable mind of the creator. We are but tiny specks of intellect compared to the mind that would devise and choreograph the dance of unimaginably immense galaxies. He is the engineer of the stars and also concerned with creating the immensely small workings of our human cellular structures. He arranged the very workings of time and space but still created us for him to love. Some of our life struggles are of our own making through the gift of free will but some struggles the Lord leads us into for the sole purpose of sharpening us. This Christian life he has sent his one and only son to gather us into is not an easy one and if it feels easy then we need to take a good look at ourselves because we may be children of the other father, the father of lies. Abraham was great only in his capacity to become a vessel, to submit completely to the will of God, to put his own wants and needs aside and just do and be what the Father was asking. How many times have you complimented your cup on the wonderfully delicious beverage inside? No of course you don’t give any credit to the cup, only to what the cup has been filled with, if the cup is doing its job it’s no more than a tool to carry what’s inside.  Abraham was also a man of great resilience and perseverance, even after he had failed the Lord, as we all do, he did not stay down, no, he rose and began again, and again. We have a God that not only allows but he encourages making new beginnings. When we are teaching our children to walk we too know they will fall just as they will when trying to ride a bicycle for the first time, but how heart breaking would it be to see your child give up on that bike and never climb back on it again? We are all fallen, if the father of our faith couldn’t get it right all the time we certainly won’t but what’s most important is we do not give up, we get up, we repent, and we get back to serving God’s will!