Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mundane no more

23Jesus said, "You're tied down to the mundane; I'm in touch with what is beyond your horizons. You live in terms of what you see and touch. I'm living on other terms.
(John 8:23)

Jesus is answering the accusations of the religious leaders - they are all hung up in the fact that he was from Galilee and that he could not possibly be of the line of David, so he could not be the Messiah.  They could not see the evidence of his divinity because they were so focused on the details of his lineage.  It is kind of like not seeing the trees for the forest.  To their accusations that he could neither be prophet or Messiah, he rebukes them with these words.  

He reveals much in his answer to their arguments:
  • You are bound by the mundane - tied down by it.  It was like an anchor around their foot, holding them to one thing and not allowing them to see the bigger picture.  
  • You are living in terms of those things that you can see or touch - the natural.  In that very fact, they were placing themselves in a mindset to totally miss the supernatural in all Jesus said and did.
He reminds them  that his focus is not the here and now.  He has a bigger purpose in being on earth - it was the purpose of redemption.  What was beyond their horizons?  In this case, he refers to his Father in heaven.  He is reminding them that he does nothing that his father does not first direct him to do.  He is all about fulfilling the wishes of his father - accomplishing the work of salvation so that we can move from the mundane and the natural.

The goal of Jesus was to point us toward the connection with his father that he enjoys.  His hopes were that in making that connection, we'd move beyond the mundane in our lives.  In simple terms, the mundane is that which is of this earth.  When he challenges us to look beyond the mundane, he is challenging us to look toward the heavenly, the spiritual.  The mundane is both common and ordinary.  The simple change in focus from what can be seen and touched brings us to a place of experiencing the uncommon and the extraordinary.

We choose the "terms" by which we live.  We either remain earth-bound in our focus, or heaven-bound in our living.  The choice to not trust in what is natural - easy to interpret and experience through the senses - is what affords a shift from the mundane to the extraordinary.  Jesus was in connection with the one who chooses to operate in the realm of extraordinary - in the realm of possibility.

Sometimes, I make choices to settle for the mundane - in those choices, I often find myself thoroughly disappointed by what the natural and the ordinary have to offer.  The mundane may be the easiest - the quickest and the most readily available - but it is seldom the most rewarding.  We need to see the importance of the choices we make.  The truth is that we determine the outcome of the choices in the very moment we make the choice!

Monday, May 30, 2011

The journey of a lifetime - Part II

1-2These are the sermons Moses preached to all Israel when they were east of the Jordan River in the Arabah Wilderness, opposite Suph, in the vicinity of Paran, Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Dizahab. It takes eleven days to travel from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea following the Mount Seir route.
3-4 It was on the first day of the eleventh month of the fortieth year when Moses addressed the People of Israel, telling them everything God had commanded him concerning them. This came after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled from Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who ruled from Ashtaroth in Edrei. It was east of the Jordan in the land of Moab that Moses set out to explain this Revelation.
(Deuteronomy 1:1-4)

We began to look at this book of history a little yesterday.  Israel was taking up on an 11 day journey that would ultimately take them 40 years to make.  We examined how this is not unlike us as we consider our journey toward deliverance from the things that hold us back, or hold us in bondage.  Today, I'd like us to focus on the fact set before us that it was after a huge victory that God's directions began to come to Moses for the people of Israel.  It is often that way in our lives - we have a great victory, and then we begin to sense / know the direction of God for our lives.

Yet, we find ourselves often facing the "clarity" of God's direction with many mixed reactions.  Sometimes we embrace it, walk into it and enjoy our victory all the more when we do.  There are other times when we don't want his direction or don't accept it because:
  • We fear the unknown
  • We fear the things that seem insurmountable
  • We don't trust those God has placed in our lives as leaders
  • We don't trust God
  • It is easier to complain than to be obedient (ouch!)
  • It is easier to turn and flee, than it is to face our enemies
  • We don't understand the timing of the Lord
  • We want our own way (double ouch!)
Here's the cold, hard truth - it is time to "break camp"!  We have been stalled in our places of apathy, bondage, and disobedience long enough!  The fact is that God is more concerned with our movement than he is with our contentment!  When we get too content (even if it is in our misery), he begins to orchestrate things that will bring about "movement" in our lives.  We can resist this all we want, but it will happen!

These guys were going around that mountain 40 years - an eleven day journey!  It was "long enough" for them to get quite content in their journey.  It was time for God to mix things up!  Here's the truth we need to get from this story - until we are ready to "break camp" we'll never occupy the places of victory God has in store for us!  

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The journey of a lifetime - Part I

1-2These are the sermons Moses preached to all Israel when they were east of the Jordan River in the Arabah Wilderness, opposite Suph, in the vicinity of Paran, Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Dizahab. It takes eleven days to travel from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea following the Mount Seir route.
3-4 It was on the first day of the eleventh month of the fortieth year when Moses addressed the People of Israel, telling them everything God had commanded him concerning them. This came after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled from Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who ruled from Ashtaroth in Edrei. It was east of the Jordan in the land of Moab that Moses set out to explain this Revelation.
(Deuteronomy 1:1-4)

There are certain books of the Bible that keep each of us away - simply because they don't seem to speak "loudly" to us or they just don't seem pertinent to the day and the hour in which they live.  Yet, even our curriculum within our schools include history as a major subject of study.  Why?  It is important for us to remember where we have been as we are moving to where we are going!

As pilgrims and strangers, Israel set out from Egypt's brickyards and servitude to Pharoah's people.  In their venture into the unknown, two dangers really laid ahead of them that we often face as well:  1)  Our present condition has become comfortable to us, so it is easy for us to be "at ease" there.  2)  We might know that we want "something new", but rushing into it is seldom the best plan.  In all we do, God asks for one thing - commit our ways to him so that he can direct our paths before us.

Here begins the story of Israel's wanderings around a desert that took no more than 11 days to cover.  It took them 40 years!  Guess what....they are not too unlike each of us!  Has it ever amazed you to see just how much you cover the same old ground in your life over and over again?  Sometimes we are just plain "slow" in our travels through life lessons!

We are slow travelers simply because we are slow learners - we want to move on, but find ourselves held back.  When this happens, it is usually because we are certain that we are ready to move on, but we haven't fully dealt with what has us in bondage in the first place.  God wants us right where we are until we allow him to deal with those things - then we can move on.  This is not a measure of God's "punishment" in our lives - in fact, it a measure of his intense love for us.  Even though we are insanely slow to learn, he is awesomely gracious to take the time to teach us and to do that teaching thoroughly.  He wants us to get free of the old and to be ready for the new.

It was the eleventh month of the Jewish calendar when the started on their journey (sometime between January and February - the month of Shevat) - kind of midwinter.  Sometimes, God speaks when things are the "coldest" and the "hardest" in our lives.  Sometimes the "richest" message is received in the "hardest" of times.  What God wanted was that they would embrace the richness of his words for them - to accept his guidance and to submit to his care.  

As we explore a little further tomorrow into the journey that took close to a lifetime, let's begin today to examine where we are on this journey we call "life".  Maybe we are on the path to deliverance from some type of bondage - those things that just won't let go or that we won't let go of.  Or maybe we are getting pretty closed to the realization of the promises of God for our lives.  Regardless of where we are, we'd do well to consider the history recorded for us in this book of Moses.  There is much to be discovered about our journey.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Learn to live for the moment

 7-8 Oh, how sweet the light of day,
   And how wonderful to live in the sunshine!
   Even if you live a long time, don't take a single day for granted.
   Take delight in each light-filled hour...
(Ecclesiastes 11:7-8)

It is just about time for the sun to creep slowly over the horizon and bring the light of a new day to rest on the Valley of the Sun.  For those of us that live in Arizona, we don't celebrate the sun as much as we celebrate the infrequent breaks from the sun!  A few clouds are a welcome thing once in a while around here - a relief from the scorching of the sun.  I imagine that those facing day after day of tornadoes, cloud cover, and incessant rain that produces flooding would love nothing more than to say, "Here comes the sun!"  It is all about perspective - what we live with for a while becomes something we often take for granted.

This is true about the very fact that we wake each morning and go about our days involved in the routine matters of life.  Most of us don't wake up each morning with a conscious awareness that we have been "granted" another day of life!  Yet, a mother riddled with breast cancer, or a father weighed down by the crippling effects of Lou Gehrig's Disease whose lives are about to be cut short by the effects of their diseases, may see each new day in a totally different manner.  Their delight with one more day to enjoy their family may be foremost - bringing them cause for celebration.

Solomon reminds us that each day of sunshine is a blessing!  Don't take one single day for granted.  How do we develop this kind of awareness that God has given one more day for our use, our enjoyment?  I think it is a conscious decision each and every day until it becomes an unconscious decision each and every day!  We might have to "practice" our recognition of God in our day many times before it becomes "second-nature" to us to immediately recognize his graces in the moments we have been granted.  

I have my clock radio set to the local Christian radio station.  I know this seems like a small thing and a little too "religious" for some of you, but hear me out.  The first thing I hear when I rise is melodies of praise - turning my heart to the worship of the very one who has granted me this day to enjoy.  Now, this isn't the answer for everyone, but it works for me.  I often even get little tidbits of truth spoken to me in the simplicity of a line from a song.  There is no end to what God will use to convey his message of hope, his assurance of peace, or his challenge of obedience in our lives - we need to be open to the tools he uses.

Solomon's main goal in recording these words is that things all too quickly change - if we don't take advantage of the moments we have been given, we will always be looking back bemoaning the lost opportunities!  It is too late to regain what "could have been" once the moment is lost.  If we learn to live for the moment, conscious of God in each moment, we will have less regrets and more cause for praise!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Affected, but not always accepted

37-39On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says." (He said this in regard to the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were about to receive. The Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.)   40-44Those in the crowd who heard these words were saying, "This has to be the Prophet." Others said, "He is the Messiah!" But others were saying, "The Messiah doesn't come from Galilee, does he? Don't the Scriptures tell us that the Messiah comes from David's line and from Bethlehem, David's village?" So there was a split in the crowd over him.
(John 7:37-44)

The crowds were growing as Jesus walked the streets with his disciples, healing the sick, setting bound free, and opening blind eyes.  More and more gathered around each day, just hoping for a glimpse of some miracle, maybe a word for themselves.  Yet, the biggest struggle in the crowd this day was not who would get the next miracle, the next touch from Jesus.  It was "who is this Jesus"?  There was a mixture of beliefs in the streets - he's a prophet, a teacher, a carpenter from Galilee.  No one really could agree about who this "Jesus" was.

The truth is that Jesus seldom fits the "mold" we try to put him in.  We often "see" him one way - trying hard to make him "fit" the perception we have of him.  Our perceptions are often not correct because they have been "warped" by our past experience, the present sensations we are experiencing, or the future hopes we have formulated in our imaginations.  Just as there was a lot of speculation in the streets as to the Messiah's "roots", there is often a lot of speculation in our own perceptions of how Jesus will move in our midst.

I am of the belief that this is why we have so doggone many denominations and world religions today.  No one can make Jesus fit a mold!  Yet we keep trying to pigeon-hole him into some belief system that is not always correct!  We cannot agree with ourselves, much less each other!  So, we split over the silliest of things and another church is formed, another denomination, or even another "world religion" that gets into some form of worship outside of the worship of Christ!

The crowds were divided that day as Jesus was walking amongst them.  They had all kinds of "opinions" about who he was.  These "opinions" would ultimately be the force that kept them from unifying in their beliefs.  Here's the truth:  Jesus is a crowd breaker!  He will never be accepted by all, but he definitely affects all!  

Isn't it about time that we stop "splitting hairs" over little matters of disagreement in the church and begin to unite behind the one who really is the center of the church - Jesus Christ?  No one possesses all knowledge.  No church has the ONLY revelation.  The truth is that if Jesus is preached as the Son of God, the Word of God is the foundation for living without adding to it or taking away from it, and lives are being drawn out of darkness into light...the church is actively doing what God calls them to do.  

Jesus is a crowd breaker - even those who won't accept him will ultimately be affected by him!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Some things are not meant to be known

43-46Jesus said, "Don't bicker among yourselves over me. You're not in charge here. The Father who sent me is in charge. He draws people to me—that's the only way you'll ever come. Only then do I do my work, putting people together, setting them on their feet, ready for the End. This is what the prophets meant when they wrote, 'And then they will all be personally taught by God.' Anyone who has spent any time at all listening to the Father, really listening and therefore learning, comes to me to be taught personally—to see it with his own eyes, hear it with his own ears, from me, since I have it firsthand from the Father. No one has seen the Father except the One who has his Being alongside the Father—and you can see me."
(John 6:43-46)

Jesus has just spent time teaching those who were following him about the importance of not wasting their time striving for things that were perishable - instead, he encourages them to put their trust in him.  Why?  He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.  I can imagine that stirred up a little "talk" amongst the religious scholars and leaders of the day!  As a matter of fact, those words would be equated to words of blasphemy and Jesus could have been marched out of town ahead of a stoning brigade!

Instead of stoning him right then and there, they ask a searching question about how they "throw their lot in with God and get in on his works".  Pardon me, but I don't really know that they were asking this question with any sincerity to follow Jesus as the one true son of God.  I think they might have seen a "good thing" in what Jesus was doing, recognizing that he crowds were following him, and they wanted in on the action!  Why do I think that?  Simply because of what they said next:  "Why don't you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what's going on? When we see what's up, we'll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do."

It becomes pretty obvious that these were men with mixed motives - they wanted to have more proof about who Jesus was.  Now, mind you, they had seen water turned into wine, five thousand fed from a couple of fish and a few loafs of bread, lame leap up walking, and a plethora of other miracles by this time....but they wanted to see more before they'd decide if they'd commit themselves!  Uh....can you imagine asking God to do even more to prove himself?  I'm thinking they've got enough evidence before them to have a pretty good "hint" that Jesus is no ordinary man!

They cannot connect with what Jesus is doing amongst them because they are trying to see it through the natural eye of their own understanding.  The things of God are seldom fully understood through our natural reasoning or intellect.  These only help us to interpret what we see, hear, and sense.  They are not the ONLY tools available to us when interpreting spiritual truth.  Too many times, we find ourselves complaining about not "getting" what is said or done because all we are focusing on is the message or the deed.  We don't see the "heart" behind it!

Jesus was clear - everyone who hears and learns what comes from the Father comes through him.  It is through the touch of Jesus in our lives that we can interpret the "heart" of the matter.  We will do well to connect-the-dots by drawing closer to Jesus, not trying to rationalize or process something through our own understanding.  It is in having our ears and hearts open to spiritual truth that we really hear what is being taught.  

There are thousands of disappointed and disillusioned followers of the Harold Camping prediction of the world's end on May 21.  They stand both ashamed and dismayed in the "failure" of his predictions.  Here's the truth we need to see - he had no ability or power to make those predictions in the first place!  If the son of God doesn't even know the hour, how can a retired engineer turned preacher?  The truth is that human effort accomplishes nothing with respect to eternal ends.  We must never put faith in human effort or understanding when it comes to eternal conclusions.

So, although this was his second "failed prediction" about the end of times, he will go on predicting that his dates were "a little off" and that the end will surely come (just 5 months from now).  Some will still follow his predictions.  They will because they don't recognize that spiritual truths are not understood through human efforts.  The struggle with spiritual truth is not new - the Pharisees just couldn't "get it" either!  

Here's what we need to see:  Draw near to Jesus.  Learn of him.  Run all spiritual truth through him.  What he reveals, he will confirm.  If it remains hidden from us...there is a reason!  Love him, seek him, and all will be well!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Start walking!

1-6Soon another Feast came around and Jesus was back in Jerusalem.    Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there was a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, with five alcoves. Hundreds of sick people—blind, crippled, paralyzed—were in these alcoves. One man had been an invalid there for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him stretched out by the pool and knew how long he had been there, he said, "Do you want to get well?"  7The sick man said, "Sir, when the water is stirred, I don't have anybody to put me in the pool. By the time I get there, somebody else is already in."
(John 5:1-6)

Today's passage is a story of a sick man - likely a paralytic or lame by some disease that has left him unable to walk on his own.  The custom of the day was that these sick people would be gathered in various parts of the town, usually in a place where many "well people" would pass by them all day.  They would spend their days begging for just a couple of coins - something to allow them to eat that day.  This pool called Bethesda gathered hundreds - simply because it was known for its "healing powers".  Today is just a day like any other for those gathered there - until Jesus shows up!

That is the first truth from this passage that I'd like us to see - every single day will be just like the last UNTIL Jesus shows up!  The hope for our change lies not in a special "pool" or "magic formula", but in the presence of Jesus in our lives.  

Something unusual was about to happen that day for this man, and for those gathered around that pool who would be the onlookers for this amazing occurrence.  The customary way of obtaining the "miracle" was shifting from man doing something to "get the miracle" to man relying on the one who performs the miracle.  The man is quite honest with Jesus - he had no one to help him to get to the pool when it stirred.  He was helpless.  He had no ability in himself to "get his miracle".  This is so true of all of us - try as we might, we do not possess the ability to "get our miracle".

The next truth is simply that we must focus on the one who provides the miracle more than we focus on the method of the miracle.  We often limit God's movement in our lives by trying to make him "fit the plan" we have.

Jesus asks one question:  "Would you like to be well?"  Let's see....this man has been coming to this Pool of Bethesda every day for thirty-eight years...I'm thinking he might have a hint of a desire to be well!  The great healer is standing right before him.  Yet, look at how he answers Jesus - "I don't have anyone to get me to the well, so I miss out on my healing every time!"  He is still focusing on the only way he believes his healing is possible - the well.  Jesus often asks the most revealing questions and we often give the most revealing answers!

The last truth is that Jesus asks us if we want to be delivered from our "lameness" all the time - we often make excuses for why we cannot be well.  God never wants us to accept lameness in our emotional, spiritual, or physical lives.  He provides a way for our healing - often a way that doesn't "fit the picture" of how we imagined our healing to come.  Our part is obedience - a willingness to walk healthy wherever we have shown lameness in our being.

To the man Jesus says, "Get up, take your bedroll, start walking."  Today, we face challenges - some almost as daunting as this man's journey to the pool.  What seems impossible in the moment is really nothing in the presence of Jesus.  We might do well to stop focusing so much on the "well" and start focusing on the one who can "make us well"!

Monday, May 23, 2011

But I don't get it!

3Jesus said, "You're absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it's not possible to see what I'm pointing to—to God's kingdom."
 4"How can anyone," said Nicodemus, "be born who has already been born and grown up? You can't re-enter your mother's womb and be born again. What are you saying with this 'born-from-above' talk?"
(John 3:3-4)

We began to look at the story of Nicodemus yesterday.  As we continue to day, keep in mind that Nicodemus was a Pharisee.  The Pharisees were religious leaders of the day - supposedly the experts on the interpretation of scripture, the wisdom of the day dwelt in them.  He starts his conversation that late night with Jesus with an observation and a question.  He tells Jesus that people recognize him as a great teacher from God.  He comes to this conclusion because of the simple fact that Jesus has done tremendous miracles in front of them and they cannot deny that God must be behind those miracles.

It is important to recognize that he probably wasn't there as a representative of the Pharisees - otherwise he would not have had to come under the cloak of darkness, hiding the fact that he was consulting with the "great teacher".  Jesus is always aware of the real reason for our "visits" with him, despite our tendency to beat around the bush.  He comes straight to the point of what Nicodemus really needs to know - unless a person is born from above, it is impossible to see what this "great teacher" is pointing to!

Jesus doesn't spend any time contradicting Nicodemus about the fact that he is a great teacher.  He could have started with, "Hey, Dude, don't get me wrong, but great teacher doesn't do me justice!"  Then launched into the fact that he is the Son of God on earth to bring salvation to his people!  But...true to form, Jesus does what no other can do - he meets Nicodemus exactly at the level where Nicodemus could understand him.  He does this by posing a simple parable - unless a man is born from above.

This absolutely flies over the head of Nicodemus.  He just doesn't get it.  In fact, he thinks Jesus is literal in his saying that a man must be "born again".  In turn, he asks Jesus the question, "How can I go back into the womb?"  A legitimate question if one is looking at this idea from a perfectly natural sense.  Our questions often reflect the depth of our revelation of God at that very moment in our lives.  We often have a limited revelation of God wherever it is that we are struggling the most to understand the facts presented to us in the Word, in prayer, etc.

We often approach the revelation of God in his Word, through spiritual teaching, in prayer, in a purely natural or secular manner.  Yet God asks for us to listen through the ears of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit that will reveal deep truths for those with ears to hear and hearts to respond.  Often, we limit our understanding of God and his tremendous love for us because we are simply trying to "pigeon-hole" him into our "framework" of what he is like, how he responds, etc.  God's hope for his kids is that we will stop trying to approach his revelation through our own understanding.

Here is a challenge for you:  The next time you are up against a revelation from God that seems too challenging for you to really "get", simply step back a moment.  In that moment of reflection ask God to help you see this through his eyes instead of through the limitations of your own understanding.  You will be amazed at what God can do when we are willing to stop "processing" his revelation through the limitations of our own past experiences! 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

In the cloak of darkness

1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”
(John 3:1-2)

The story of Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader, one of the elite group known as Pharisees, came to Jesus "under the cloak of darkness".  His reasoning was probably pretty evident - the Pharisees did not like Jesus' teachings and he would be "called out" for his behavior in seeking Jesus out.  Jesus has just finished cleaning out the temple - throwing out all the money-changers and vendors who were making a living off of selling the offerings at the steps of the temple.  He had made several important statement that day in response to the Jews' question, "What credentials can you present to us?"

Jesus' response was pretty vivid and every Jew within in hearing distance probably thought that what Jesus said bordered on the impossible.  Jesus simply says, "Tear down this Temple and in three days I'll put it back together."  They had spent forty-six years building the temple - how on earth would it come down, much less be rebuilt within three days?  To those of us that know the end of this story, we know that Jesus was referring to himself as the temple and to his death, burial and resurrection as the "rebuilding" in three days.  It wasn't until after his death, burial and resurrection that his disciples remembered these words and took some comfort in them.

I have found that remembering what Jesus says is often a product of both time and circumstance.  We often don't remember much of what he has given us in his Word and his promises until we actually need to put those things into use in our lives.  Jesus always commended the follower that would avoid the tendency to look for signs and wonders to confirm his testimony.  He focused on the gratitude of heart and the ability to connect with grace that he saw in his followers.  The same is true with us - he looks for us to make connection with him, then he will sustain us through both the hard and good times.

Nicodemus was one of the men within hearing distance that day in the Temple - it was his job to protect the temple and to confirm or deny what was taught by the Rabbis of the time.  He was a man of the Word - studied in the Law of God.  Now, we find him cloaked in the shadows of darkness, silently making his way to Jesus, so as not to be seen by those he has called "brethren" all these years.  Whether he was drawn by curiosity or need - I don't know.  The fact is that he came.

There are too many times that we are like Nicodemus - cloaking our pursuit of Jesus, not willing for others who walk in our sphere of influence to see the hunger in our hearts for more of Jesus.  Questions that burn within our spirit, hopes that yearn to be fulfilled, and needs that cry out to me met - all hidden under the cloak of darkness, so others won't see evidence of our pursuit of the only one capable of touching us as we so desperately need to be touched.

The fact of the matter is that there are many in our sphere of influence that need to make the same pursuit!  It is often in having a companion in the journey that the journey is made easiest.  Isn't it time that we come out of the cloak of darkness in our pursuit of Jesus?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Go to your room!

Let your love dictate how you deal with me;
      teach me from your textbook on life.
   I'm your servant—help me understand what that means,
      the inner meaning of your instructions. 
(Psalm 119:124-125)

As a parent, whenever one of my children did something that deserved some "discipline", I had to "weigh" what would be appropriate for the offense.  If it was a minor offense....like not having the breakfast dishes they'd used that morning washed when I got home...it warranted a much "lighter" punishment.  When they struck each other, threw things in anger, or lied, there were differing forms of discipline required.  Why is it that we "vary" the discipline we give our children?

It is simply because we want them to learn from their errors, but we don't want to crush them in the process of the learning!  When love "dictates" how we deal with our children, we learn to be compassionate with them as they fail.  We use the failures as opportunities to develop the character traits that will make them into stronger adults.  We learn to be "measured" in our discipline, helping the child learn that certain actions will "make or break" their character as adults.  We are developing values and morals as we do.

If the child keeps striking other people, he/she will soon be labeled as the "bully" - or worse yet, as a mean-spirited, misbehaved, angry child.  If the child neglects to get the dishes done, they may not have a very clean house, but the concern of the parent is really directed toward the disciplines of not being lazy or irresponsible with our commitments.  In teaching our children, we are desiring to form life-long values that will influence their future decisions and actions.

God is no different.  As our heavenly Father, he "tailors" the instruction and the discipline to help us grow where we need most to grow.  He knows that a little "slackness" today and tomorrow and the next day has the potential to lead to a whole lot of slack days.  When he sees us continually choosing things that hurt our body, damage our minds, or wreak havoc on our emotions, he wants to counter them with things that will build us up, keep us safe, and embrace us in love.

The way we interpret God's instruction - his discipline - determines how well we embrace it.  I remember my kids storming off to their rooms, angered by the "discipline" I would give (like missing out on TV or picking up their clothes from the floor would kill them!).  The immediate response to the discipline was not always great.  Today, I look at my children and see the "tell-tale" signs of that discipline.  They have grown into responsible adults - each at their own pace, but nonetheless, they are exhibiting the traits I so earnestly hoped they would.

That is all God is hopeful for when he brings discipline into our lives - that we will grow into the mature believers of faith that he sees for us in the future.  We may call this discipline - God calls it discipleship!  All depends on how we look at it!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Beat your head on that wall one more time

9 A sage trying to work things out with a fool
   gets only scorn and sarcasm for his trouble. 
(Proverbs 29:9)

There is absolutely nothing to be gained by trying to convince a fool that his thoughts or actions are foolish!  Try it sometime and you will walk away from the experience feeling like you have spent that hour hitting your head against the wall!  A fool just cannot see the trees for the forest - they just don't have perspective.

I have been in conversations at times that I feel as though they are "spinning out of control" - much like a tornado!  What I have learned is that I cannot ever "convince" the one who is not going to be open to being convinced!  When you present evidence, and there is absolutely no openness to evidence, it is hard to move beyond that resistance.

So, how do we deal with the folks in our lives that just don't ever seem to be open to the evidence - whether it is the facts they need to do their job better, the truth they need to embrace to keep a relationship together, or the evidence that the Word of God is valid?  I don't profess to know everything there is to know about this subject, but here's what I can glean from scripture (a good place to start, if you want my opinion):
  • Don't argue with them!  Just put the facts out there - what they choose to do with the facts is their choice.  You are only "obligated" to share the truth and then let it stand.
  • Don't try to reason with them!  This should go without saying, but a fool is NOT reasonable!  There is something lacking in their ability to see the event, process, or relationship in a rational manner.  I don't profess to know what that is that is "lacking", but I do believe that reasoning with a fool is much like trying to plug a leaking levy with your finger!  When you think you have it all control, another "leak" pops up!
  • Don't try to play on their emotions!  This is dangerous ground - simply because they are so emotional in every response they make!  There is little balance, so thinking that you can play on their emotions is as uncertain as predicting how many ants dwell in one ant colony!  It is a moving target!
What I can say is this - fools don't want our advice, don't appreciate our directives, and don't value our wisdom.  So, don't spend a whole lot of valuable time trying to change them.  Point them in the right direction, but don't be dismayed when they don't follow your advice!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Craig's List on Doomsday

 36 “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows."
(Matthew 24:36)

Last night, I caught a short clip on the TV about all the stuff that is the works for this Saturday - the supposed date of the Lord's Second Coming!  According to the report, the propagator of this sensationalism (a California church leader) is touting that he knows that the "end of days" is happening this Saturday!  Hmmm....I wonder how he does that when even the angels and Christ himself don't know when they will receive their "marching orders" for his return!!!  And what is absolutely amazing is the up-tick in "business" around this supposed second coming of Christ!

Search the infamous "Craig's List" website and you will find hundreds advertising a "safe house" for the rapture, emergency water and food caches, etc.  But...I had to share this most priceless one that I searched out this morning.  It is from a man or woman in Glendale, AZ and it is awesome!

Actual posting on Phoenix Craig's List website:  

Are you attending the rapture on May 21st, 2011 ? - $1 (Valleywide-Glendale/N Phx)

I expect to be left behind when it happens, so if you aren't going to need your worldly possessions; be they money, cars, canned food, durable goods, etc; I would gladly take them off of your hands. Serious responses only, please.

And remember, time is short! You can contact me by replying to this ad. I live in Glendale, But I'm willing to travel for said goods. 

Here's another one:

Rapture May 21st? I would like your stuff (All of AZ)

Are you attending the rapture on May 21st, 2011? I expect to be left behind when it happens, so if you aren't going to need your worldly possessions; be they money, cars, canned food, durable goods, etc; I would gladly take them off of your hands. Serious responses only, please. And remember, time is short! You can contact me by replying to this ad. I live in Chandler, But I'm willing to travel for said goods. 

Now...if you did not get a belly laugh on that one, just read 'em again!  These add posters are obviously believers in Christ and know that the predictions of the exact day of Christ's returning is NOT reliable.  They might be simply posting this because they are showing the absurdity of this type of hoax and emotionalism created by these doomsday prophets.  OR...they might be unbelievers, simply mocking the belief that Christians hold about the Second Coming of Christ.

Either way, here's the straight truth:
  • Scripture records the words of Jesus himself - the only Son of God - that clearly state he doesn't even know the exact day or hour.  That is a tightly held fact that only his Father possesses.  And he is not sharing it!
  • Believers need to "live ready" everyday!  That is the entire truth!  No sensationalism is necessary if we are living as close to the heart of Jesus as we possibly can!  The day or the hour won't matter when we know that we are close to his heart!
So, I don't know what you will be doing this Saturday, but I plan on gutting my walk-in closet, painting it afresh, hanging new shelving and rods, and generally completing one more home-improvement project that I have been itching to get at!  All the while, enjoying being close to the heart of the one I know loves me beyond measure!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Edit away

1-6 God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand.  I'm an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking.  You know when I leave and when I get back; I'm never out of your sight.  You know everything I'm going to say before I start the first sentence.  I look behind me and you're there, then up ahead and you're there, too—your reassuring presence, coming and going.  This is too much, too wonderful—I can't take it all in! 
(Psalm 139:1-6)

Without reservation, most of us would admit that there are "chapters" in our lives that we'd like no one to read.  We have some failures we'd rather no one really knew about, dreams that seem kind of silly when considered by others, and problems with memories that we just cannot seem to let loose of no matter how hard we try.  These "pages" of our lives are inscribed through the passage of time and the events of the days gone by.  David does what most people don't have the guts to do - he invites God to investigate his life - to read those "hidden chapters" like they were an open book.  He is not wanting God to get second-hand knowledge of his actions, attitudes, or attributes - he wants it to be first-hand.  

Learning to live life as an "open book" is scary.  As long as the less desirable "chapters" of our lives can be "edited out", we are okay with letting others "read us".  We'd like the "editing" rights to our lives - but that is not our job!  At best, we are second-rate writers - so how do we expect to be first-rate editors?  There is only one editor that will do the job right the first time - that is Jesus Christ.

Why is it that we resist the "editing" work of Christ in our lives?  It could be because we have some element of shame attached to those hidden chapters - having done things we are not at all proud of now.  It could be that we have secret aspirations that we have held for years, all the while too fearful to share them because we have listened to the lies of others that tell us that we will never amount to much.  Or still, it could be that we just don't think we've done well in the "writing" of our lives and we don't believe there is much contained in the "chapters" that anyone would benefit from "reading".

Here's the honest truth - your life is filled with things that bring you shame, but Christ has the ability and desire to edit those pages so the shame is no longer there.  Your life's dreams matter and Christ desires to make dreams a reality.  Your life may not be monumental in the eyes of others, but in his sight, it is magnificent.  

Learning to live life as an open book is indeed difficult, but it is equally as rewarding.  Isn't it time to allow the "editing" work of the hand of Christ in your life?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Yep, you've got chaos!

Every morning you'll hear me at it again.
   Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar
      and watch for fire to descend. 
(Psalm 5:2-3)

As I was waking up this morning, my radio was playing a song whose lyrics contained the words, "It feels like you are creating chaos in me".  The idea was that out of chaos, God brings good stuff.  The fact of the matter is that we all frequently feel this same way - like all that God is up to in us is chaos.  David was no exception.  He frequently conversed with God about the "stuff" that just seemed to surround him with all kinds of challenge, busy-work, and unknown outcomes.  This passage from the Psalms captures it best...Every morning you'll hear me at it again!

I think we might think God gets tired hearing about our lives.  After all, how many times does he need to hear that we are frustrated with our pain, or disappointed with the loss of our youthfulness?  How many times does he need to listen to the "stories" of our waywardness?  How often has he heard the same story of repentance, only to hear us at it again in a short matter of time?  The "chaos" just seems to keep coming - and we just seem to keep bringing it before God.  Why?  Because we can!

David was pretty revealing when he penned these words.  His very next statement really captures a beautiful picture for us - every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend.  First, he comes EVERY morning to God.  There is no fear in his heart that God will get tired of hearing from him!  Then, he lays it all out before God...holding nothing back.  That is how a sacrifice was prepared in Old Testament times - it was laid out for all the pieces to be seen.  Sometimes, we'd like to hold a little back, but it is in laying it all out that it is available for God to affect.

If that doesn't paint the picture, we need to see that it was in the laying of the pieces on the altar that David hoped for the changes he desired to occur.  Why is this important?  Simply because the altar is the ONLY place we can actually be altered!  It is the laying out of our lives that God is able to affect change - to bring order out of what looks like nothing more than chaos!

David says he does this and then waits watchfully for God's fire to descend.  This is the hardest part of bringing it to God - waiting watchfully for his move! Nothing is more of a struggle for us than waiting.  In the waiting, we want nothing more than to retrieve a few pieces off the altar and tuck them carefully away for "another time".  The sacrifice is only consumed if it is whole!

So, if life seems a little like CHAOS right now...don't lose hope!  It probably is!  In that CHAOS God is at work bringing something beautiful out of it.  CHAOS is really Christ Having Authority Over Sin in our lives.  CHAOS is really Christ Honoring Abandoned Obedient Service.  CHAOS is Christ Healing And Opening Spirits.  CHAOS is simply God at work!  Embrace it!  It has a purpose far greater than you'd ever imagine! 

Monday, May 16, 2011

See for yourself

"Come along and see for yourself."
(John 1:39)

The book of John opens with a calling of the disciples - the intimate twelve that would become the inner circle of companions to follow in his footsteps, learn of his teachings, and be support in his times of trial.  In looking at the call to become a disciple, I see that words, "Come along and see for yourself."  Jesus was not in the business of convincing these men to follow him - leaving all they had to follow along in his ministry.  Instead, he asked for them to decide for themselves what it was that he proclaimed as truth.

As I considered these words, several things came to mind:
  • Discipleship requires us turning our attention from what it is we are doing at the moment towards the Great Teacher, Jesus.  These fishermen, tax collectors, and tradesmen had to specifically turn from what they were doing to follow Jesus.  This was no easy matter for them - their entire livelihood was affected by this one matter of redirecting their attention.  The same is true for us today.  We turn from what we have been involved in toward a newness of life, mission, and purpose.
  • Discipleship requires following.  Sometimes, we think of those that are "followers" in a negative manner - seeing them as weak, unable to make their own decisions, and not able to really step up to lead.  In Jesus' eyes, the one who followed him could take no greater "stand" in life.  These men were laying down their "right" to be self-directed men.  They were actually exchanging the role of "independent" to dependent.  Following suggests the exchange of being "self-governed" to the submissive place of being "Christ-governed".
  • Discipleship requires finding and aligning yourself with others that will "turn and follow".  There is a sharing in the message, in the work of the gospel that brings meaning to this new life.  It is in walking with others that we see the proof of what it is to experience Christ.  
  • Discipleship requires obedience.  Jesus asked them to lay down their nets - that which they were the most familiar with - and take up a new pursuit.  This was not the same for them.  They were expected to step out of the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Their place of familiarity with what it was they were doing was being transitioned - they were moving into a place where everything was new, fresh, and vital.  This would be a place of learning for them. 
  • Discipleship requires coming to "see for yourself".  They could have stayed on the shore, mending their nets, or in the tax house, recounting their money.  But...they didn't.  They were not willing to have a second-hand experience.  They wanted to see it all for themselves.  Some might label this a sense of curiosity.  Others might see it as a sense of daring.  Whatever it was, they saw something that intrigued them and excited them to action.
  • Discipleship requires an openness to the newness of revelation that God will give.  Nothing matters more in our process of learning than our willingness to learn.  When we are "open" to learning, there is much to be taught.
The call was one of "coming to see for themselves" - stepping outside of their comfort zones and into a place where not everything was "sure", or "planned in advance".  In the movement away from their "comfort zones" they would experience revelation greater than they'd ever imagined.  It is as we answer the call to "come and see for yourself" that we are expanded in our revelation!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Before anything else fails

11-13Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day—but we'll hardly notice. We'll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and the promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness.
(2 Peter 3:11-13)

Peter has spent a great deal of time in this second letter to the New Testament church dealing with the idea of being on alert for false teachers and being sensitive to the Word of God as a measure to evaluate the teaching we receive.  In the second chapter of this book, he brings out the fact that false teachers actually divide the church, pitting one against another, instead of unifying believers in purpose and task.  They slander the truth - making a mockery of the truth contained in the Word of God by twisting it to their own liking.  Their end is not a happy one - they will bear a huge judgment for their part in leading people astray.

He described these false teachers as proud, unthinking animals.  It is almost like referring to them as creatures of instinct - doing what comes naturally to them.  They are quick to criticize, or laugh in unbelief, at those facts they know very little about.  Their life is one of misdirection - and they make no attempt to cover it up.  They promise much - but deliver on very little.  So, why is it that they have so many followers?  Peter is very plain in his explanation - we go after the easiest thing, the thing that promises the quickest reward.  We don't think it through, believing their lies, simply because their boasting creates an allure that caters to the "fleshly" side of our nature.

Now, he points us to the hope we have in Christ.  This hope is developed by stimulating our thinking toward wholesome living.  The world offers all kinds of negative stimulation - Peter's hope is that we will cultivate the kind of thinking that creates a positive focus for us.  In other words, he is telling us to really become students of the Word - so that we can spot the difference between the truth and a clever lure.  This type of familiarity with the Word of God is not found in weekly attendance at a local church meeting, hearing one sermon a week, and hoping that will give us what we need to make it through the week. It is something that is cultivated by frequent and consistent intake of the Word.

We only come to a place of living with excited expectation for the return of the Lord when we fully embrace the idea of relationship with Christ.  Relationship is investment - time, energy and talent.  When we are engaged in this type of active relationship, there is an excitement that wells us, drives us forward and keeps us coming back for more.  The idea is that we need to "live ready" - for the next challenge, the next opportunity, the next turn of events.  We are most ready when we are finding our source for readiness in Christ alone!  When we really begin to "tune into" what he has for us in his Word, we begin to live in such a way that we avoid error - we don't make the same mistakes over and over again.  We recognize error and move away from it, instead of being lured into it.

I've spent a lot of time this week focusing on the importance of the Word of God - as our guidebook for life, our standards of behavior, and our hope for every need.  It truly is the "owner's manual" for solid living.  You've probably heard it said, "When all else fails, read the directions!"  I'd like to challenge us to learn to say, "Before anything else fails, let's read the directions!"  

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Powerful Sword

5-9So don't lose a minute in building on what you've been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can't see what's right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.
(2 Peter 2:5-9)

We sometimes struggle with what it takes to live a godly life, but Peter tells us that everything we need is provided to us IN CHRIST JESUS.  Our part in the relationship is to grow in intimate relationship with him – depth, awareness, and consistency is implied here.  We are called to receive his greatness and power – people who understand their calling will also understand the significance of what they have received IN Christ.  We are given each of his promises and we can count on these promises because of his love for us.  Peter says that the growth comes as we apply the Word to our lives – it has the effect of producing a life of moral excellence.  He outlines four things that the Word will do for us if we will spend some time faithfully exploring the depths of it.

1.   We will come to know God better.  We cannot read for too long without coming across the evidence of his love for those in relationship with him.  We see his compassion on sinners, his repeated interventions to keep them safe, and his own hunger to be known by his children. 
2.   We will come to a place of mature self-control.  The Word of God has a way of dissecting the various areas of our lives where we need to focus attention.  We will periodically find ourselves saying, “Ouch, I really needed that!”  There are habits that need to be broken, attitudes that need adjusting, and worries that need to be finally resolved.  This happens in the quiet moments of reflection on the Word of God.
3.   We will come to a place of learned endurance.  In other words, when the Word of God gets into us, it helps us “run strong”.  We find that we walk with a sense of assurance and don’t give us so easily on what seems impossible, is difficult to face, or is frightfully annoying.
4.   We will come to a place of godliness in our daily walk.  The ultimate outcome of spending time with Jesus in the Word is that we will be deeply affected by it!  It changes how we “do business” in our daily walk. 

It is not rocket science – get into the Word, let it get into you, and things will change.  No one who allows the Word of God a chance to do what it has the power to do will walk away unaffected by it!