Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Invitation to receive

21-22But Jesus was matter-of-fact: "Yes—and if you embrace this kingdom life and don't doubt God, you'll not only do minor feats like I did to the fig tree, but also triumph over huge obstacles. This mountain, for instance, you'll tell, 'Go jump in the lake,' and it will jump. Absolutely everything, ranging from small to large, as you make it a part of your believing prayer, gets included as you lay hold of God."
(Matthew 21:21-22)

The disciples are marveling over fact that Jesus came upon a fig tree that was covered in all kinds of promising green growth - leaves full, branches broad - yet not one fig was found.  He looks for the fruit, finding none, he curses the tree and  it withers on the spot.  Most scholars would tell us that the fig tree represented Israel and that Jesus was cursing Israel because it was not bearing fruit.  We don't want to focus on that this morning, but the fact that Jesus spends a few moments teaching his disciples about prayer.  

First, Jesus focuses them on the condition of heart that is necessary to receive what we desire from God in prayer.  We need to have an embracing heart that is filled with faith.  It is often difficult to live above doubt - often because the impossibilities look way too menacing and too prominent.  Overcoming, or at least stepping out in spite of our doubt is a challenge for most of us.  We need to pay attention to the entire passage here - embrace God first, then overcoming our doubts is easier.  

When we fully hold on to God - really drawing close to him - we find it easier to step out, even when there is a hint of doubt in the way.  The key is relationship - the closer I am to God, the closer I am to asking according to his purpose and seeing the fulfillment of what I ask for.  When we are in close relationship, we understand that all the blessings and promises of God are for us - there is no question in our mind. 

Next, we need to see that we must ask - unspoken requests are not really a thing that God works too well with.  He wants us to express our hearts to him because it develops the intimacy he desires with us.  As we open up to him about what it is we have need of - the deep inner desires of our heart - he is able to embrace us, pulling us closer, and meets us there.

Then, the promise to us is this - if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.  Condition - if you believe.  Promise - you will receive.  Condition - whatever you ask for in prayer.  The promise of God has two conditions - we must ask and we must believe.  Our doubts are dealt with in the presence of God - our needs are expressed in the times of prayerful sharing.  

To receive carries a couple of meanings I'd like us to explore before we finish this morning:
  • To come into possession of something - this is what we really almost always gravitate to as the definition of receiving.  Yet, see the components of this definition a little clearer - WE come into POSSESSION.  In other words, we step out in faith and we come into a place where possession is possible.  The impossible becomes possible in this place of faith.
  • To acquire or take it as your own - when we talk openly with God about our needs, we are trusting him to allow us to take that which we desire as our own.  Nothing delights the heart of God more than to meet the needs of his kids.
  • To act as a receptacle or container for - this is probably not the most common definition for receive, but it is significant for us to see in light of our passage today.  When we ask, we need to be readied to receive.  Why is there a difference between the time we ask and the time we realize the answer?  It is often because we need to be readied to receive - our "container" is not ready.  
  • To experience - as we consider this last definition, we should be pulling this all together now.  When we ask with an open heart, purposing to take in what we are believing God for, we find that our hearts are open to experience the fullness of God like never before.  We are open to assimilate through both our minds and our senses all that God is doing.  We are enlarged.
Our invitation today is to receive - the condition of our receiving is to ask.  The method of asking is to do it while drawing close to God and relying on him more than we believe in our doubts.  

Monday, November 29, 2010

Invited into Peace

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  (Romans 5:1-2)

One of the things I often remind people about when exploring scripture together is the use of the word "therefore".  This is a "joining" word.  It focuses us on what has been said up to the point that this word is used - reminding us that based on what has been presented, we can make the following assumptions or conclusions.  Paul has spent four chapters laying out the fact that ignoring God leads man into a place of ungodly pursuits and how God is not pleased with this behavior.  We try to get away with our sin, but God is not letting us off the hook - he has his eye on us, attentive to our every choice.  We try to mask the conviction of our sin with the pursuit of all kinds of religious experiences - thinking that if we look or sound religious, somehow this will appease the requirement for holiness that God requires of us.  

Paul was aware that there was a struggle in the church between Gentile and Jew.  The basis of the struggle was that the Jew felt superior to the Gentile because they were chosen by God to be his unique people - given the law, brought out bondage to their slavery, called his bride.  They thought this gave them a "leg up" on the Gentiles and constantly threw this up into their faces.  The facts that Paul wants them to remember is that the "works" of the law did not "save" anyone - it is faith and faith alone that accomplishes it.  Now, he presents the concept of peace with Jesus - gained through faith in the grace in which we now stand.  We no longer stand in "religion" or "rules of the law", but in grace (unmerited favor).

Therefore...or "since"...in view of the fact that we have been justified through faith....

Justified - proven right and qualified to become participants in the ownership of our inheritance in Christ Jesus.  We are now treated as righteous, all sin absolved through the work of the cross - not by any work of our own.

Through faith - we have come to a place where we have complete confidence in the promises of God.  We have more than a passing knowledge of his work on the cross - we have a firm persuasion, a conviction based on hearing that leads to a full acknowledgement of God's revelation in us.  We are firmly grounded on fact - the fact of the cross accomplishing what we could not in and of ourselves - holiness comes at the foot of the cross, not in the keeping of rules.

We have peace with God - a sense of security, freedom from all disquieting and oppressive thoughts.  It is gained through Jesus - we have an obtained advantage over those who have not experienced the work of the cross in their lives.  

We have access to God - a total freedom to obtain and make use of the grace extended to us.  Not just once, but over and over again.  Grace is needed frequently - it is to be accessed repeatedly.  Grace is the special favor, privilege, approval, and pardon of God.  It is his unmerited, divine assistance - just when we need it, right where we need it, just how we need it.

That gives us an ability to stand - in a specific position - occupying the "space" God has prepared for us in his presence.  To have this kind of assurance is something that people seek for all their lives in the natural, yet never find.  The peace of God - the freedom to stand in his presence - are both elusive to those who have not experienced his grace.

Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:11-18 that we were once without hope, but now are brought near.  That nearness to God is accomplished at the foot of the cross.  In coming near, he became the very peace we needed.  In that peaceful nearness, we experience the total access to God that the blood of Christ accomplished.  

If peace is eluding you today, perhaps it is time for a fresh visit to the foot of the cross - asking God to revitalize you today with the joy of his presence.  

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Invitation to be perfectly fit

19-22That's plain enough, isn't it? You're no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You're no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He's using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he's using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.
(Ephesians 2:19-22)

It is a joyful thing to finally come to a place where we feel like we "fit".  We often spend the majority of our lives looking for that "perfect fit" in life.  We experience disappointment when career, schooling, family, friends, spouse, etc., all somehow don't "fit" in quite the same way as we imagined.  Paul's words today point us toward the "fit" in life that will never disappoint!

When something "fits", we say it is adapted or suited for the purpose it is created for.  Our "fit" in life is that of relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are created for the very purpose of bringing him glory and honor.  When we pursue anything else as that "perfect fit", we find that it falls short.  Something that is "fit" is also prepared or readied - such as a crop that is "fit" for gathering into the barns.  The only thing in life that makes us "fit" (prepared or readied) is Christ.  We need his transforming power in our lives in order to be prepared for what comes our way.

We often overlook the meaning of these verses - glancing over them with a quick acceptance that we are being built into a holy temple for God's presence to indwell.  This is only possible when Jesus is the builder - he is the one "fitting" the pieces of our lives together so that they are a perfect dwelling for that presence.  Together, we need his perfect forming, his spiritually powerful "architectural" abilities.  No group of individuals is "built together" without that power.  We can try as we might, but the differences we each possess is often a hindrance to such "building".  In his hands, those differences are uniquely placed side-by-side, forming exactly what brings him the honor he desires.

Where do you fit?  Have you found your "fit" yet?  If not, Jesus stands at the ready to begin the work of "fitting" us for the exact placement he has in mind for us.  Some of us have a "fit" that lends itself to being supports, while others have the unique fit of bringing beauty and pleasure to the structure he is creating.  Regardless of the "fit" we fulfill, when we finally find that "fit", we are in a place where we know perfect peace, overwhelming joy, and everlasting grace.  Ask God to show you what he is "fitting" you for today.  He delights in placing his hands on your life, forming you into his planned purpose for your life.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Invitation into Obedience

14-16I can anticipate the response that is coming: "I know that all God's commands are spiritual, but I'm not. Isn't this also your experience?" Yes. I'm full of myself—after all, I've spent a long time in sin's prison. What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.
(Romans 7:14-16)

James 4:1 reminds us that we wars and quarrels don't "just happen" - they are not forces of nature.  They exist because WE exist - humans bring about quarrels and start wars.  Humans contend to overcome - whether it is another human being we are contending to overcome, or some habit or interest.  We often stand in opposition to that which we don't understand.  So it is with our spiritual walk, as well.  When we don't understand a commandment, it is easy to dismiss it as too hard to grasp, or too difficult to meet.

A man's desires are considered the things that he craves, longs for - they are defined as those things that we have an impulse toward because they promise some type of satisfaction or enjoyment.  He chooses to respond to that which his mind, and emotion, craves.  Choice is made after careful consideration - because there is a preference for some outcome.  Paul describes a situation in our passage where he likens us to individuals who have spent a long time in "sin's prison".  We are "friends" with sin - we tend toward / are inclined to respond.  Since this is such a struggle for us, how do we break free of this hold that sin has on us?

Paul tells us that we cannot be trusted to figure out what is best for ourselves - so we need God's commands to assist us in knowing how to respond.  That is the purpose of the Word of God - to give us guidance in how to live, respond, and grow.  John has a reminder for us about the placement of our affections - those things that we embrace as our frequent choices in life.  

15-17Don't love the world's ways. Don't love the world's goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.
(I John 2:15-17)

Don't love the world's ways - all secular affairs, the systems of all created things.  The world's systems (ways) find God's systems (ways) distasteful.  That is one test of whether a pursuit is godly - is it in alignment with the love of God (the Creator)?  We struggle so much with the matter of choosing the things of the created instead of the Creator because we perceive that those in pursuit of the world's ways have some advantage over us.  We see them enjoying themselves and we want to possess that same advantage.

7-10So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he'll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it's the only way you'll get on your feet.
(James 4:7-10)

To resist means that we withstand the force or effect of the one in this world - the devil himself.  We counteract and defeat him - in total opposition to his force - by fleeing from him.  To flee means that we run from the danger or force - we vanish from the very thing that has a pull on us.  In other words - we don't entertain it.  The wrong response to sin's pull is usually initiated in the very entertainment of the thought of that sin.  

We recall the part of this commandment to "flee from the devil", but we often ignore the rest of the passage.  It reminds us that we need to come near God - approaching him with intimacy.  There we find washing (cleansing and separation) of all that passes through our minds.  We are purified in his presence - made clear from defilement or imperfection.  Our entire being - every part of us - needs this cleansing.  We obtain it in the presence of God. 

So, how do we move from sin into holiness?  It is in the keeping of the very commands we often resist so boldly.  The invitation today is to keep his commands - even when we don't fully understand or appreciate the value of those commands.  In the keeping of them, he brings us close.  In this place of closeness, we will come to understanding.  

Friday, November 26, 2010

Invitation to be controlled

 25-27But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ's life, the fulfillment of God's original promise.
(Galations 3:25-27)

Direct relationship with God - made possible by the blood sacrifice of Christ - is ours today.  We can really "live" in his presence - have a life rich in every worthwhile experience, driven by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Paul has just finished telling his readers that they are no longer to spend all their time and energies gratifying the works of the flesh, but to live according to the Spirit of God that energizes them within.  To gratify is to give pleasure to - give satisfaction to through indulging in - to give into sin's pull and the mind's lusts.  Paul says we are free of that now that we are Christ's.

A man's nature is defined as everything that makes up our inner man - our temperament (how we respond) and our character (why we respond).  Apart from relationship with Christ, it is contrary to the things of the Spirit - incompatible with, on an opposing course, and moving in a direct opposite direction from all that God would have for us.  When we come to Christ, there are many times when we feel like our lives are in conflict - the old nature in direct conflict with the new.  It is as though they are in competition - each with their opposing needs, drives, wishes and demands.  The scripture goes so far as to tell us that these two natures are "irreconcilable".

We have been studying for a few days what it means to "belong" to another - to belong to Christ.  Those who are the property of Christ have become attached to him by new birth - their allegiance to their sinful nature being broken as a result.  Now we find our dependency in Christ.  Romans 8:5-7 tells us that those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires - yet, those who live in accordance with the Spirit of God have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  In other words, there is an exchange of "allegiance".

Allegiance is described as that which we dedicate ourselves to - every attitude, every motivation all directed to that particular thing or person.  Because of that dedication, there is a desire to be obedient to the wishes of that individual.  We find ourselves deferring to that individual - adhering to the wishes expressed.  Paul reminds us that if we have crucified the old man and been raised to newness of life in the Spirit of God, the flesh and its passions have also been put off (we no longer give allegiance to them).  Yet, many of us struggle with "fleshly" thoughts, actions, and compulsions everyday!  Why?

Three questions might help us to answer this question:
  1. What is our mindset?  It is a little appreciated fact that where the mind goes, the spirit follows.  If it is set on things that are opposed to the Spirit of God - it will follow.  If it is set on things that truly promise satisfaction and fulfillment - that is what we will experience.
  2. What controls us?  That which controls us either holds us in restraint - keeping us from responding a certain way - or allows us the freedom to pursue that which we desire.  It is easy to see that if we have the wrong thing in control of our lives (like our sinful nature), we will not have much restraint when it comes to not pursuing sin. If we have the Spirit of God in control of our lives (moment-by-moment authority and direction over), we will be less likely to respond to the sin nature - we will respond to the new nature being worked into us.
  3. What do our emotions reveal about us?  Although we are told not to rely upon our emotions as 'good' judges of what to do or not to do, they do provide us some measure of why we do what we do.  If our emotions are up one day, down the next, we often feel like we are riding a roller-coaster with our obedience, too.  We tend to be "emotionally" driven individuals - if it feels good, we do it, if not, we refrain.  It is the Spirit of the living God that wants to have the control over our lives - if we are relying on our emotions to tell us something is good or bad, we will be disappointed.
Our passage today reminds us that we are not just "washed up" for a fresh start - we are also clothed in some pretty snazzy "adult wardrobe" that adorns us in some pretty awesome fashion. We are not talking clothing here - we are talking an exchange of mindset, emotional response, and spiritual 'will-power'. With our death to sin and resurrection into newness of life comes an exchanged mind - not all at first, as you may well have realized - but it comes.  Our minds find other things to dwell upon that once were less appealing to us - like meditating upon the scriptures and allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal truth to us daily.  Our emotions become more "even-keeled", with less ups and downs, and even less pull on us to respond when they are in a state of changeability.  The biggest thing we see is our battle of the will - we almost talk ourselves out of responding to the old ways of life because we know they are in opposition to the things of the spirit.  We call this a battle of the wills.  

The problem of "will" is addressed in the issue of control - who is in control?  We make a choice of our allegiance.  Today's choice may be stronger than yesterday's - each day bringing new challenges for our allegiance.  The more we align our allegiance (responding in obedience to Christ), the stronger the pull of that allegiance will be.  Our desires begin to take a backseat to those of the Spirit indwelling us.  It is a matter of choice - what will we align with today?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Invited to the Altar

25-26God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it's now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.
(Romans 3:25-26)

When we are bought with a price, there is an exchange of ownership.  This exchange of ownership is to have an effect on us.  The first thing we should notice is that there is a desire for cleansing.  We want to have things in our life that are not honoring to God dealt with and removed so that we can move on.  The place of cleansing is often referred to as the altar in the scripture.  Let’s examine the work of the altar:

  • ·         It requires that we place something on it – an empty altar is nothing more than ornamentation.  The only way something can be affected by the altar is to be placed there for sanctification.  There is an action of submission that must occur.
  • ·         It is a two-part process – we yield or submit to the work of the altar; Christ does the work of consuming the sacrifice that is placed there.  In the Old Testament, the altar sacrifices were consumed – either by the fire, or by the one tending the fire (the priest).  In the case of the “spiritual altar” of yielding our hurts, sins, fears, failures, etc. to God, the fire and the one tending the fire are both the same – God himself.   
  • ·         What is touched by the fire is never the same again – even a sacrifice not fully “touched” by the fire had noticeable evidence of being in the fire!

The altar is then a place where we can yield all to God and he will take our “all” and cleanse it.  The blood of Christ has both the power to cleanse and the ability to keep us clean.  When a vessel is cleansed at the end of one use it is so the vessel can be of use to transport something new.  We are cleansed at the altar in order that we might be of use for another purpose – instead of responding to our sin nature, we begin responding to the Spirit of the Lord.

At the altar, we find that we are changed – filled up with something that takes the place of that which was once so evident in our lives.  We are filled up with the Spirit of God in the place of that sin, failure, fear, etc.  To be filled implies that we receive a full compliment of what is needed.  To be filled also implies that as much as can be put into our spirit is put into us until our spirit is not able to contain any more.  We walk away from the altar satisfied.

A life invited to the altar is one that is tenderly transformed – we are received there in order to be transformed there.  Once we are cleansed by the Spirit of God, we are also filled.  In that filling comes the ability to be open to his leading and direction.  Direction implies that we are willing to have the way pointed out to us – having our activities regulated in such a manner that we are energized by another.  The fire has done its work.  We are transformed.
Today’s invitation is to come to the altar.  There you will find transformation awaits the yielded soul.  The call today is to sanctification – the place of cleansing.  What is God asking you to lay on the altar today?  What needs to be affected by his fire?  What is in need of his consuming touch in your life today?  Surrender it on the altar of his grace and mercy – be affected deeply by the fire of his love – never to be the same again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Invitation to build

Don't you see that you can't live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.
(I Corinthians 6:19-20)

We began to look at the concept of being bought (purchased) with a price that was far too great for any of us to pay - the life of the Son of God. That purchase moved us into the unique position of being another's possession - owned by another.  Today, we will explore what kind of obligation this places us under - what does being owned by Christ - indwelt by his Spirit - mean for us in our day to day walk?

It is possible for us to "own" something, yet not be in full possession of it.  A few years back, the city of Phoenix had a freeway construction project planned that brought this to light for many homeowners in the area.  They came to realize that they had purchased property that was merely part of a "land lease" - the house belonged to them, but the property upon which it was built was really not their own.  It belonged to the city - just leased to them to build upon.  This never seemed like an issue until the one who owned it wanted full possession of it!

When Jesus asks for full possession of our lives - body, soul and spirit - he is asking for access to not only our spirit, but all that gets "built" into our character.  He is like the city - he wants the land AND the house - for the special purpose of building what he sees as most important in our lives.  It is possible for us to be in relationship with the Lord and still not be fully his.  We go about building into our lives what we think is important - exclusive of what he wants for us.  When we do this, we remain slave to the pulls of our flesh - responding to the sin nature that drives us.

We are bought out of slavery to our sin nature - the price for our sin being paid, we are to live in service to the one who paid the price - responding to the new nature he places within.  We are to be of use to him - responding to him as he desires.  What was accomplished in the payment of the "purchase price" is to have an affect on our entire being - nothing held back for our own purposes.  Paul reminds us that our bodies are to reflect the work of Christ.  People are to see the image of the Creator in us.  In other words - if God wants the "land of our lives" for a freeway - so be it!

Tomorrow, we will consider what it means to be "owned by Christ".  Today, consider what areas of your life you are maintaining control over (building what you want to see built).  It is possible that God is receiving honor from those things.  Getting an education is an honoring thing to God - applying ourselves to learning is not a sinful thing in and of itself.  Yet, getting that education with the intent that we climb a career ladder exclusive of God's direction in our  lives can be sinful.  God wants to be in the decisions of our lives, central in our focus, creating what will bring him the greatest honor.  As owner of our lives, he wants to direct the outcomes of our steps.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Invitation to be possessed

19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
(I Corinthians 6:19-20)

This is the beginning of the season of the year when everyone succumbs to the buying and selling of goods in some manner.  The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally called "Black Friday" - the beginning of the bargains of that kick off the season of Christmas shopping.  Thousands will wake earlier than usual, down a quick breakfast, then charge head-long into the hoards of holiday shoppers just looking for the next great "buy".  There is one "buy" that has already been accomplished for us - one that we cannot find or purchase on our own - it is our salvation.

Our passage today reminds us that we are bought at a price - the price of the cross.  God has provided the greatest gift of all - not so that we can squander it anyway we please - but so that we can honor him with the transformation of our lives.  We are no longer our own to do with as we please - we serve a higher purpose after receiving this gift of Christ - the purpose of serving a holy God.

We are purchased at a price that we could never afford to pay.  When something is purchased it is no long the property of the one who formerly owned that thing.  When we buy that shirt from the storekeeper, it becomes ours to wear and place on the display of our bodies instead of the store's manikin.  When the exchange of the "property" takes place, there is a surrendering of the rights of ownership of that "property".  

That which is purchased has had a price paid - there has been a sacrifice of payment that paid the exact price that was owed for that which is purchased.  That is what Christ's sacrifice did for us - paid the exact price owed for our sin - redeeming us from the coldness of being "manikin dwellers".  

We are presented as a gift to another - Jesus.  You and I are God's special love-gift to his dear Son, Jesus.  Purchased specifically for him - to become that which will bring him honor and praise.  We are offered to him, no longer slaves to our sin, that we might fellowship with him in the depth of the communion of intimate friends.  The purchase of our lives had a purpose - bringing honor to God.

That which is purchased becomes the possession of the one who pays the purchase price - to do with as he pleases.  The one who possesses the thing that is purchased has the enjoyment of that item.  We are purchased with a price far greater than we could pay so that we could be the enjoyment of our Savior.  He savors our presence as much as we savor his.  There is a change in us that allows us to submit to the one who is now owner of our lives.  We call this obedience - not just because we have been purchased - but we have been brought into the full possession of the Son.  

It is also true that what is owned requires special attention - in order to keep what is possessed in "tip-top" condition.  We would be silly to buy something of great value and then leave it out in the elements, rotting in the sun, rain, and winds of the storms that come.  We don't place a thing of great value in harm's way - we cherish it, give it a place of honor, and direct our attention to it on a regular basis.  So it is with Christ's treatment of his greatest gifts - us. He places us right in the center of his presence, so that we might be given the direct attention we so desperately need.  In turn, we bring him honor.  He enjoys (delights) in us and we experience the enjoyment of his great delight.

Today, you are invited to be purchased - to be possessed by another.  In that possession comes an exchange of position - being brought into the very presence of a holy God.  In that exchange of position comes the privilege of being the object of his affection - his undivided attention.  Are you ready?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Come into refreshing

Jesus said, "Come off by yourselves; let's take a break and get a little rest." For there was constant coming and going. They didn't even have time to eat.
(Mark 6:31)

16 The LORD’s justice will dwell in the desert, his righteousness live in the fertile field. 17 The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. 18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. 
(Isaiah 32:16-18)

We live such busy lives, pursuing all kinds of avenues of interest and demand, seldom realizing just how much of our bodies, souls, and spirits are being depleted in the process.  Our invitation today is to come into a place of refreshing - the place where the Spirit of the Lord dwells.  It is there that we will find the refreshment of body, soul and spirit.

To be refreshed means that we find new vigor or energy by rest.  In our first passage today, the disciples had been out healing the sick, casting out demons and were returning back to Jesus to share the many stories of their journeys.  Jesus knows the limits of the physical body - instructing them to take time to get a little rest.  You can only go at an "amped up" physical pace for so long - then the body will rebel.  It needs physical, emotional, and mental rest in order to restore the energy it needs for that type of activity.  Jesus was instructing them to take time to make themselves "fresh" again.

A freshness of spirit comes in taking time to get alone with Jesus.  A freshness of body requires taking care of it by adequate rest, nourishing food, and the right amount of activity to keep it physically fit.  Freshness of mind is something that we often overlook.  When we neglect re-energizing our minds, we get burned out.  God does more than provide for our spirit and body - he also provides for our minds.  Mental "health" is achieved in keeping balance in our lives - allowing mind to meditate of things that build up and restore in sufficient amounts that there is balance maintained.

God's promises to Israel were that they would dwell with a righteous God.  The fruit of living with a righteous God is peace, quietness of spirit, and confidence of mind.  God's intent was that we would live in undisturbed places of rest.  In other words, not affected by what the world was hurling our way.  How on earth do we ever get to that place of undisturbed rest?  It almost seems impossible.

Did you know that one of the outcomes of "rest" is to be reinvigorated?  We think of rest as the ceasing of activity - God's desire is that we cease our activity and allow him to show us his activity!  That is were we find rest - in stopping our activity long enough to acknowledge his.  In doing this, we bring honor to the one who requires to place of "center-focus" in our lives.

The invitation to come into a place of refreshing is really a call to cease from our own striving - striving to overcome sin, striving to live better, striving to keep it all together, striving to be perfect.  The enjoyment of the place of rest is that we are enlivened by the Holy Spirit - rejuvenated at the core of our being.  The passage from Isaiah has a key to this "ceasing".  Don't just scan over it or you will miss it.  

"The effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever!"  In other words, the effect of dwelling in the presence of a righteous God is that his righteousness will affect us.  The affect is quietness and confidence.  Quietness of mind and confidence of spirit are end-products of dwelling in the presence of God - taking time to get alone with him often enough and long enough to be affected by his righteousness.  

The next time you feel like you are "over the edge" in living life - come into refreshing.  Your life thrives best where there is balance.  If you are out of balance, you're in a place of danger.  Just as a washing machine rocks, bangs, and clangs when it is "out of balance", so your mind, emotions, and body will go through all kinds of needless gyrations, not fully accomplishing the purpose for which they were created.  It is only when we are "in balance" that we can accomplish what we were created to accomplish.

The invitation is to come into refreshing - get balance in your life once again!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Come into fellowship

We saw it, we heard it, and now we're telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.
(I John 1:3)

We have been considering the various invitations in scripture this week.  Today, we examine the invitation into fellowship with a holy and righteous God.  Fellowship is more than an acquaintance with someone.  It is a closeness of relationship that involves companionship - that type of relationship that is comfortable.  For many people, fellowship with a holy God is a scary and overwhelming thing.  There is a fear of entering into fellowship, getting too close to God, because God is good and we are not.

Communion, or fellowship, speaks of a degree of intimacy that is not easily "faked".  It must be genuine - developing over perhaps years - and is not easily broken.  Our communion with God is the same.  There are no short-cuts into fellowship with God.  Later in this same chapter, our writer explains that if we have fellowship with God, we have fellowship with one another - a condition that encourages our growth and development.  He further explains that if we have been affected by the blood of Christ, we are on a pathway of being purified from all sin.

That should give us encouragement that we are able to approach a holy God - it should also give us hope that we can develop this type of intimacy with him.  God knows that we are "visual" people - we often need to see something to fully understand it.  So, in his love for us, he gives us each other - in order that we might learn the principles of fellowship (communion, intimacy).  The next time you look at a close friend, or even a budding acquaintance, rest assured that he/she is placed in your life to teach you some of the principles of true fellowship.

Some have said that companionship (fellowship) is a basic need for humans - without it, we wither up and are not able to meet our full potential.  We are created as social beings.  Love is something we both need and are required to give away.  It is a two-way street.  We crave relationship on one hand, yet fear it on the other.  The neat thing about God's plan is that he always brings someone across our path that will help us learn to love.  We often find ourselves gravitating toward someone who has learned to love well - thereby learning how to love in return.  We are looking for models all around us - we are imitators of what we see, hear, and experience.

This is exactly why God sets us up in the local church - to learn to love as he loves.  It is a place of "learning".  We "learn" to be companionable creatures - often by trial and error.  We "learn" to be truthful and we learn to hold onto a truth that has been shared.  In time, we "learn" to trust deeply.  God has been providing us with the opportunities to develop intimacy in natural relationship so that we understand the aspects of intimacy with him (fellowship).  

The invitation today is to come into fellowship.  The opportunity for fellowship is two-fold: first with God, second with those he puts in our path.  We learn to be comfortable in companionship from our "path dwellers" in order to drive us deeper into companionship with our God.  As we learn to love God, we are also learning to love those individuals along our path.  Love is reciprocal - it must be experienced and passed on.  

The more we desire to love God, the more we will desire to love those he places in our path.  What are your "path-dwellers" showing you about God's love, grace, joy?  What are they exposing in you that brings you to your knees?  What are you exposing in them that brings them to their knees?  Remember...love is experienced in stages - each building upon the other - exponentially.  Fellowship with God grows in the same way - one revealed truth after another.  Come into communion (fellowship) with God and experience what he has for you today.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Come into victory

24 When they had them all there in front of Joshua, he called up the army and told the field commanders who had been with him, "Come here. Put your feet on the necks of these kings."  They stepped up and put their feet on their necks.
 25 Joshua told them, "Don't hold back. Don't be timid. Be strong! Be confident! This is what God will do to all your enemies when you fight them."
(Joshua 10:24-25)

Joshua was going up against one army after another as Israel is coming into possession of their promised land - Canaan.  One of the tribes of Israel, Gibeon, was in serious trouble with enemy kings surrounding them.  Not just one army attacking, but five Amorite kings had mustered their military might and had surrounded Gibeon!  Ever feel like Gibeon?  Surrounded on all sides and ready to send up the white flag?  

The men of Gibeon send word to Joshua that they are surrounded and require his immediate intervention.  Joshua had been one of the twelve spies Moses sent into Canaan to spy out the land prior to their entering.  Only Joshua and Caleb came back with any belief that Israel could take the land.  When Moses died, Joshua became their leader.  Under Joshua's godly leadership, Israel entered Canaan to take it as its own.  Now, he is called upon to assist Gibeon.

He had been camped at Gilgal with his army.  They had to march all night to reach Gibeon.  As they approached Gibeon, scripture tells us that God threw all the military of these five opposing kings into immediate panic and confusion.  They five armies scattered to the hills and valleys - running in panic.  This military battle is probably best known for the prayer of Joshua - asking God to stop the sun and moon - giving him more time to attack until every last one was rounded up.  

The five kings were not too eager to lose their lives, so they hid in a cave.  When Joshua and his men had finished the work of taking the five armies, they came back to the cave and took the kings.  This brings us to the passage we examine today.  They are brought before the people of Israel, the military field leaders of Israel's army are instructed to come forward and place their feet on the necks of these five kings.  A strange thing to ask, huh?  Not really.

Joshua was giving Israel a visual display of the might of their God.  He was showing them that God had delivered these kings and their military might into their hands.  Now they were victorious over even the strongest of the military in the land.  The foot on the neck is a symbol of victory - it is a sign of submission by those that are held in such a manner.  A humbling experience for these kings of the Amorites indeed.  

What can we learn from this passage?  First, nothing can stand against the people of God.  God is supreme and when he is raised up in the lives of his people, he will go before them.  Second, when we have the faith to believe the impossible, God has the wherewithal to do the impossible.  I have never asked the sun or moon to stand still, but I have asked God to heal cancer, restore lost children, and release me from guilt.  In each prayer, he has been faithful.  Last, but certainly not least, victory belongs to God.  As his children, it belongs to us, too.  He invites us forward, just as Joshua invited the military field commanders to come, in order that we might place our foot on the neck of our greatest enemies.

Our enemies come in many forms - that favorite sin that drags us down, the long-held shame of past failures, the present compromise of misplaced affections.  Regardless of the form, God is victor over all.  If we are "in Christ" and Christ is "in us", then we are victors over all, as well.  Today's invitation is to come into victory.  Ask God for what seems impossible.  Place your heel upon the neck of your enemy today.  Your victory awaits.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Come into satisfaction

1 God—you're my God! I can't get enough of you! I've worked up such hunger and thirst for God, traveling across dry and weary deserts. 2-4 So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open, drinking in your strength and glory. In your generous love I am really living at last! My lips brim praises like fountains. 
   I bless you every time I take a breath; my arms wave like banners of praise to you. 
(Psalm 62:1-5)

In today's mad rush to find fame and fortune, we often miss out on the things in life that really give us the most satisfaction.  I was talking with a friend this week about how one of her friends was asked why she never had children.  The answer was, "We just got so busy that we forgot to have them."  Career, interests, making a living - each presented a distraction that kept the couple from realizing the passage of time.

Look at David's words that we are considering today.  He finds time for God, even in the midst of the Judean wilderness, being pursued by enemies galore.  He even acknowledged that he had "worked up such a hunger and thirst" for his God.  Where did this occur?  In his travels across dry and weary deserts.  Did you ever stop to think that purpose of some the driest and weariest places in your life were designed by God to bring you to a place of hunger and thirst?

You would consider me a lunatic if I told you that the driest places can be the richest experiences of your life!  Think about it - do we really find as much satisfaction in making a trip to the well when we are not that thirsty as we do when we are parched and dry?  Do we drink as deeply when the need is for basic hydration versus thirst?  The dry times cause us to both drink deeper and to enjoy what we are experiencing in God!

Satisfaction really has a couple of meanings - being contented, and being fulfilled.  Contentment is something that comes because we have peace of mind.  Peace of mind is not something of our own making - it comes from drinking deeply of God's graces, enjoying his provisions, and realizing his protection.  Fulfillment is usually associated with coming to an end of something - the work is completed.  Coming through a dry place in life is rewarding - there is enjoyment in the realization of what has been achieved in the space of the wilderness.

The invitation to us today is to come into satisfaction.  There, if we are willing to drink deeply and taste of his goodness, we will find great delight for our weary souls, searching spirits, and boggled minds.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Come into knowledge

66 Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
   for I trust your commands.
(Psalm 119:66)

Yesterday we began to look at some of the things outlined in scripture as "invitations" to us.  Today, we will explore the invitation to "learn of God".  Jesus was calling his disciples in the early part of his earthly ministry.  John was curious about where it was that Jesus stayed.  He asked Jesus where he lived and Jesus' response was to "come and see".  This is perhaps the most rewarding invitation anyone can received - come and see.  It implies the ability to come into a fuller revelation of all that we are curious about.

In the spiritual sense, there is a great deal that causes us curiosity - figuring out how the whole trinity thing works, understanding the virgin birth, working through the idea that a loving God allows bad stuff to happen, are just a couple of examples.  Our psalmist today asks God to teach him knowledge and good judgment.  He has come to God for revelation - he wants God to disclose to him the things that he is curious about.  His request does not stop at the gaining of knowledge - he asks God for good judgment, too.  

What is the difference?  Knowledge is gained through study, seeking intently, being open to learning.  Good judgment is the wisdom to apply that knowledge that we have received.  One without the other is like only wearing one shoe!  You will stumble along with one foot well-protected from the elements while the other is exposed.

If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.  For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. 
(Proverbs 2:3-5)

The knowledge of God is not something for the weak-hearted.  It requires a commitment to seeking it out - but there is a guarantee that it will be found when we seek with an intensity.  With knowledge comes the accountability to use what it is that we have been given.  That scares some people - being held accountable is not something we naturally gravitate toward.  We often resist being held accountable - because it is work!

The invitation to come into knowledge is both rewarding and a little frightening.  If I can dissuade you from turning tail and bolting right now, I want to let you know that the reward is much greater than the effort to learn of God or the issue of being held accountable.  So, come into knowledge - spend time with him, getting to know him and learn of him.  He delights in having all men  come to a knowledge of the truth!  (I Timothy 2:4)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Come into rest

17"Come!" say the Spirit and the Bride.
   Whoever hears, echo, "Come!"
   Is anyone thirsty? Come!
   All who will, come and drink,
   Drink freely of the Water of Life!
(Revelation 22:17)

An invitation is something that many of us regard as a thing of honor - to be invited to an event, to participate in some significant memory, is a significant point of enjoyment in our lives.  We have an invitation presented to us this morning in our passage to "come".  There are several things that we are invited to participate in that are presented to us in scripture.  Over the next couple of days, we will explore some of those "invitations".

The first invitation we are encouraged to participate in is that of rest.  We are called upon to participate in a rest that is outside of our own doing - it the rest that only God can produce deep within our spirit.  

28-30"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
(Matthew 22:17)

What does this invitation sound like to you?  Normal, everyday trudging through life?  If you are like the majority of us, the answer is yes.  We are tired - burned out - not just on religion, but on all kinds of matters of life.  We get "worn out" because we are trying to live life by our own terms - trying to "fix" everything in our own power.  There is nothing more fatiguing than to have the idea that we can do things all on our own - like when we think that if we want something done right we'll have to do it ourselves.

David tells us that his soul found rest in God alone (Psalm 62:1).  Mind, will and emotions have a tendency to be in conflict many times.  The mind races ahead in unending reasoning, working out every detail to the "nth" degree.  The will struggles with each decision along the way, sometimes with great stress produced.  The emotions consume our energy as the turmoil of keeping up with the mind's thought and the will's struggles taunts us at every turn.

So, how do we "come into" rest in the way God defines rest?  The answer comes in another passage written by David:

1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
   will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
(Psalm 91:1)

There is a place of "dwelling" that gives us rest.  To "dwell" means to remain - to continue in - the shelter of the Most High.  The presence of God must be cultivated - we have to take the time to experience God.  Rest is a result of knowing his presence is with us in all matters.  Rest is a condition brought on by taking time to "cease" the endless mayhem of our day and to refocus on the one who made the day.  

Jeremiah was an Old Testament prophet that God used to confront Judah and Jerusalem for their worship of idols - those things that got in the way of truly celebrating the presence of their One True God.  He gives this instruction to the nation:  "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls."  (Jeremiah 6:16)  Look at what God says through Jeremiah.  Stand and look - this is a call to refocus.  Ask where the good way is - this is taking time to seek God's plans over our own.  Walk in it - this is a call to be obedient to what is revealed (submitting our will).  Then...you find rest for your souls.

Rest is not as elusive as we may think - it is just as close as the presence of God.  The invitation is given to come into rest - ceasing from our labors long enough to enjoy the presence of God - thereby experiencing a right order to our thoughts, a freedom from the struggle of our will, and the settling of out of control emotions.  Rest is found in a person - not in any action, any location, any plan.  It is in God and him alone.  In the shelter of his wings, we find rest.