Saturday, June 1, 2013

Priorities: God or Man?

2 Chronicles 16:7 You have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied on the Lord your God...

2 Chronicles 16:12 Yet in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians.

  John 12:42-43:  Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

Galatians 1:10  For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.

A bondservant is one who gives himself up to another’s will, those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing his cause among men.

Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.

Hebrews 4:12-13 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

2 Corinthians 13:5  Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?

I have nothing to add.  Let the Word speak.  Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Have NO other gods before Him.  He is a rewarder of them that DILIGENTLY seek Him.  Do I?  Do you? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Doubter's Dilemma

Thomas' thoughts battled for position. I want to believe what the guys are telling me. I really want to believe that he is here. In the past I have always seen him with my own eyes -- seen his unusual ways and his amazing miracles. But the last thing I saw was his lifeless body. Always before I have heard him with my own ears -- heard his unconventional teaching and powerful words. But the last thing I heard him say was "It is finished." Before his unexpected death, if I wanted to believe he was here, I could just reach out and touch him with my own hands -- touch a body pulsating with so much life it gave life to others. But the last time I could touch him, he had no pulse and certainly no life-giving capability. No, I can't believe. I won't believe. Unless I can see the scars in his hands and touch them...unless I can actually put my hand into his side where the spear entered, I won't believe that this man claiming to be Jesus is actually Him. It is impossible!

What day is it anyway? They're dragging one to the other with imperceptible difference. It has been..hmmm...eight days since the guys told me he showed up. I knew it wasn't true. If it were true, he would have been here by now. After all, he showed himself to Mary right away. He appeared to the others quickly as well. If it really was him, he wouldn't have made me wait this long. This impersonator knows I'm onto him so he is keeping his distance.  Why am I even bothering to stay in this closed up room with these guys? I should just get on with my life. What? Who's calling  my name. Where did this man come from? The doors were locked. How did he get in here? He's asking me to look at his hands and to put my hand into his side. Oh, God, he is telling me to quit being faithless but to believe... Jesus?! It really is him! How? Oh, I can't look at him. I should have known! Of course he is alive. Of course the others saw him.  I knew that always before his ways were unusual but amazing.  I knew in the past he was unconventional but powerful.  I knew he lifegiver.  Oh, why didn't I believe? Why? Why?

I John tells us that the disciples had seen and touched the Word of Life. After the resurrection, most of the disciples were allowed to see Jesus and touch the scars from his crucifixion before they were asked to believe. Sometimes God gives us those tangible, faith-building moments. But faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Those faith-building moments will be tested! Jesus said, "Blessed are they which have not seen and yet have believed." What has God promised you? Be blessed today -- believe!

And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness. (Gen 15:6)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Shattered Expectations

I wonder what it was like to be Mary Magdalene? She had been delivered of seven devils. She had witnessed many miracles. All of these displays of supernatural power were suddenly in question as she watched this same, heretofore powerful man, die --seemingly powerlessly -- at the hands of his enemies. What confusion must have filled her mind! She thought he was the Messiah, the promised King of the Jews. Now he was dead. She went to his tomb to anoint his body, only to find, the body was missing. What next? She hastened to tell Peter and John this news. They, too, went to the tomb, confirmed the body was missing and went home. But Mary didn’t move. Mary stood outside the tomb, crying. In this moment, perhaps the pinnacle of her confusion, she stood in the place she thought Jesus would be and cried. She cried for Jesus. She cried for what seemed to be her loss. She cried for her inability to complete the task that would bring closure to this loss. She cried in confusion. She stayed where she expected to find Jesus and cried. Then, Jesus came to her. She was the first to see him after his resurrection. Later, Mary would come to understand that Jesus was indeed the powerful Messiah she had always believed him to be. Later, the clouds of confusion would give way to more complete understanding that would light a new path for her life.

Can you relate? Have you in the past witnessed the power of God in your life, only to have your expectations shattered by an unexpected, perhaps even devastating circumstance? A quick survey of the Bible will show that God rarely works in the way we anticipate He will…but His work is always purposed and powerful. What do we do when we, like Mary, are at the pinnacle of a confusing situation in which everything we have believed about God seems to be contradicted by the circumstances in which we find ourselves? Do we leave the place we know Jesus to be or do we stay and weep for Him until he comes?

And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee. (Ps 39:7)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Night that Changed Them

J and D are very much alike. They are both passionate and strong-willed. They will both argue with anyone and everyone and mostly each other. J and D are very much different. J has a father. D’s father is in jail. J’s siblings all have the same mother and father, all living in the same house. D’s siblings all have different fathers, none of which are in the house. J’s passion is like a river of happiness in which anger occasionally surfaces. D’s passion is like a river of anger in which happiness occasionally surfaces.

J’s family and D’s family are very much alike. They both desperately need Jesus. J’s family and D’s family are very much different. J’s family has already met Jesus. D’s family has yet to meet Him.

J and D and T were playing basketball that night. J and D, as usual, were arguing. T was trying to be a peacemaker. She reluctantly stepped in to referee. After about 30 minutes of intervention, she felt some good progress had been made but she was exhausted. It was time for T to go home and seemed a good time to walk D back to his house. T left and D asked if dinner was almost ready. D was always asking for food. She has tended to assume he was just a kid trying to get something for nothing. On this occasion, though, something in her thought that maybe D really was hungry. Maybe he really hadn’t eaten since having a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Maybe she should give him something to eat of more substance than a cookie.

Everything in her wanted to walk D home and have a peaceful family meal. Everything in her wanted to feed D some dinner. She finally figured out a way she could do both. She decided to get some food and send it home with D. She left D on the porch and went in to get him some food to take home. But what if the food she sent home with him caused problems at home? So, she decided instead she would actually sit outside with him and let him eat there while she chatted with him -- to let him know she cared. But that seemed kind of…well, like she didn’t care that much. Finally, they all decided they would invite D in to eat with the family. They might have a peaceful dinner because J promised he would not argue with D.

She went out and asked D to come in. She stopped D and J in the living room, had them hold up their right hands and went through a ceremony in which they so solemnly promised not to argue during dinner, to eat the food they were given and not to complain. She, D and J sealed the promise with a high five and proceeded to hand washing and dinner.

Dinner was wonderful. They ate and enjoyed the food. They talked and enjoyed the conversation. Even D had a funny story to tell. After dinner, she said she would walk D home. That’s when it happened – the thing that caused her heart to both overflow with joy and break with sorrow. Her joy overflowed when D awkwardly threw his arms around her legs as if he didn’t really want to do it but was unable to contain himself. Her heart broke when D quietly called back to her husband, “Bye, dad” as she and D walked out the door.

How could she not return that hug? How could she possibly hold back the tears? What if she had not fed D dinner, thinking he was just trying to get something for nothing? What if she had sent dinner home with D, thinking their family time would be much more peaceful that way? What if she had just fed him on the porch, thinking she could show D love and concern from a safe distance? What if God had not pushed her through all her natural responses and into His supernatural response?

It doesn’t seem like much. Some refereeing, instruction, rules, and laughs. Some promises, dinner, stories and more laughs. But to D, it was special. It impacted his life that night.

It doesn’t seem like much. A spontaneous, awkward hug around the legs. A quiet, “Bye, dad.” But to them it was special. It impacted their lives that night.

It doesn’t seem like much. A strong-willed, often angry boy from a somewhat disadvantaged family meeting a strong-willed, often happy boy from a somewhat hesitant family. But to God it was special. It impacted eternity that night.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Checking Division

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)

Did you ever have one of those days when it seemed you just couldn’t get along with the people you normally spend time with? I was prompted to look at this passage in James recently after one of those days when my family was on “staycation” and the atmosphere for a good part of the day was somewhat negatively charged. If these days are the exception rather than the norm, we tend to brush them aside. But those days aren’t pleasant and, in honesty, there are longer, “striving seasons” in any group that exists for an extended period of time. Because I recently started a study comparing the Old Testament Jewish temple with the New Testament body temple, I began to think about seasons of strife in a broader, family of God sense. Although strife can ultimately be a catalyst to strengthen some previously weak and vulnerable areas, history tells us that it frequently causes more harm than healing when it comes to a family operating at full capacity. Too often, it ends in division rather than multiplication.

In reference to my previous blog, let’s keep in mind the four purposes for the temple as named by Solomon: dedication to God’s purposes, dedication to God’s presence, dedication to prayer, and dedication to sacrifice. A body in which the individuals are encouraged to operate in these underlying purposes will be healthy. But a healthy body is a target of attack from Satan and one of his favorite methods of attack is to divide and conquer. When division is left unchecked, a previously vivacious church can be rendered ineffective in the kingdom of God.

James uses some strong language when he talks about the source of bitter envy and strife (self-seeking) in the body. That source is the wrong kind of wisdom—wisdom that is earthy, sensual demonic (AKA “the wisdom of man”). It produces confusion and brings with it every evil thing. That’s weighty!

Thankfully, in this same passage James also gives us some excellent evaluation tools to use when we began to see division in the body. We can check the wisdom of all sides of division by comparing its characteristics with the features of the “wisdom from above.” Ask a few simple questions:

*Is it pure? (Or is it mingled with self-promotion and pride?)

*Is it peaceable? (Or is it presented in a contentious manner?)

* Is it gentle? (Or is it harsh?)

*Is it willing to yield to others and to God? (Or is it stubborn?)

*Is it full of mercy? (Or is it full of judgment?)

*Is it full of good fruit? (Or is it full of the works of the flesh? See Galatians 5.)

*Is it without partiality? (Or are predispositions and prejudices playing a role?)

*Is it without hypocrisy? (Or is there dissonance in walk versus talk?)

In all likelihood, because there are humans involved, in all sides of the division there will be elements of both types of wisdom. The question lies in whether all the parties involved are willing to honestly evaluate and adjust their perspective. If we are as individuals in the body truly seeking to be dedicated to God’s purposes, His presence, prayer and sacrifice, then the body as a whole should naturally revert to checking our division by multiplying godly wisdom and subtracting our earthly wisdom. With God, all things are possible.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Temple Talk

Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (I Corinthians 6:19-20)

If our bodies are considered a temple, it seems we could benefit from learning about the purposes and plans of the original Jewish temple. In 2 Chronicles 2, Solomon determined it was time to construct the temple and states four overlying purposes for its construction:

* To dedicate it to the Lord.

* To burn before Him sweet incense.

* For the continual shewbread.

* For the burnt offerings.

These purposes provide good points of evaluation for Christians:

1. Am I dedicated to the Lord? Have I set myself apart for the purposes of God in my life or are there still parts I am reserving for other purposes?

2. Am I dedicated to prayer? The priests were commanded to burn incense every morning and evening at the same time the burnt offerings were made and the incense was to burn all day and all night. Incense is a picture of the prayers of the saints going up before God (Psalms 141:2, Revelation 8:3-4). It pleases God for us to pray. I Thessalonians 5:17 says we should “pray without ceasing.” Do I?

3. Am I dedicated to communion? The showbread “stood on the right side of the Holy Place across from the lampstand and held 12 loaves of bread, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. The priests baked the bread with fine flour and it remained on the table before the Lord for a week; every Sabbath day the priests would remove it and eat it in the Holy Place, then put fresh bread on the table.” ( Shewbread literally means “face” and “bread.” Jesus said he is “the bread of Life.” In addition, bread is commonly associated with sharing a meal or communion. When we put all these aspects together, the imagery of the showbread was continual communion in the presence of God. Am I aware of God’s presence continually?

4. Am I dedicated to presenting my body a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1)? The burnt offering was a sacrifice to be completely consumed for God. Romans instructs us that this is our reasonable service. Jesus was completely consumed for us! Do I stay on the altar of sacrifice in my life?

Jewish history tells us that the temple was not always used in a way that fulfilled its original purpose and design. Often small compromises would be made which would inevitably lead to huge deviations from the law and ultimately some pretty severe consequences. Though we are not under the law any longer, God does ask for our complete dedication -- abandonment to Him to fulfill the purposes for which we were created. Human nature is to compromise, but we have the means with which we can avoid falling back on our human nature. We have the Spirit of God dwelling in us, teaching us His truth and empowering us to walk in it – if we will allow Him to do that. When we live out the purposes for which we were designed, it is not only pleasing to God, it is pleasant for us, and in doing so, we are completely fulfilled and satisfied. How’s your temple?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Praying for Perpetrators

And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. (Job 42:10)

But I say unto you, Love your enemies… and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matthew 5)

I have a dear friend who I not only love but I greatly admire. I knew fairly early in our friendship that she had suffered abuse in her childhood. However, I had been friends with her for some time before I became aware of the extent of the horrendous abuses she endured early in life. I’m sure I am still only aware of “the tip of the iceberg” of her experiences. The little bit of understanding I do have of this time in her life would be hard to take gracefully had I learned of a complete stranger being subjected to such atrocities. But, when I hear of my close, dear friend going through such fire in her life, every fiber of my being wants to strike out at someone, something in pure anger. The questions in my mind fly like bullets – why?, who could…?, how can…?

The other morning I woke up with the song, “Forgiveness” (Matthew West) in my mind. I began that morning as most others, with a walk/jog and prayer time. As I was walking and praying, this song continued to play through my mind until I finally asked God if there was someone I need to forgive. My friend came to mind and I thought about the seemingly impossible task it must be for her to be able to forgive her abusers. As I thought about it, I realized that I need to forgive her abusers. Yet, it seemed impossible for me, even as distanced as I am from the actual events, to forgive them. I voiced that to God and then, after some struggle, affirmed to Him that I do forgive them, asking Him to do what only He can do to cause my heart to follow in obedience as well.  Then I prayed for those I considered my enemies.

Since that prayer time, I have been contemplating the subject of forgiveness again. I have known for a long time that it is a command. I have also known there is power in forgiveness. I have visited this subject over and over again, always from a slightly different angle.  On this occasion, as I reflected on my friend’s situation and all the resultant struggles and issues that have come out of that, God brought to my remembrance the above passage I quoted from Job. I had already known that Job was set free when he prayed for his friends (who had not been very good friends at all in his time of trouble). That truth in and of itself is powerful. However, what I had not really noticed until I looked back at this passage today is this:

The LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against you, and against your two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job has. Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept: lest I deal with you after your folly, in that ye have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job…

This is a lot to ponder. God’s acceptance of Job’s friends’ repentance and God’s show of mercy to them was contingent upon Job’s prayer. Wow! Now, theologically, I know God hears and accepts the sincere prayer of any sinner who repents. Nonetheless, this passage packs a powerful punch and another angle on the key role that our willingness to forgive plays in freedom – our freedom and the freedom of those who committed the offense.

Think of it this way; we are to be Jesus to those around us.  There are three are intricately intertwined components of the mechanism of my forgiveness – Jesus’ forgiveness of me, my realization of my need for forgiveness, God’s application of forgiveness.  It only makes sense that our willingness to forgive and pray for others (i.e., being an example of Jesus to them) can be key in opening the door for them to accept God's forgivenes and mercy.

I am sure I will continue to have questions about the horrible crimes committed against my friend, but one thing I think I understand more clearly now is my need to forgive her perpetrators. I know she has addressed this issue, but I now understand that I also must forgive them and pray for them. Doing so not only frees me, but also opens a greater opportunity for them to be freed from the bondage they are in due to their sin.

Humility --> forgiveness --> freedom.

With man this is impossible but with God ALL things are possible.
Follow Jesus, plus nothing.

I will close with the lyrics of the song I referenced above: 

“Forgiveness” by Matthew West

It's the hardest thing to give away
and the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those that don't deserve
It's the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just too real
It takes everything you have just to say the word...


It flies in the face of all your pride
It moves away the mad inside
It's always anger's own worst enemy
Even when the jury and the judge
Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
It's the whisper in your ear saying 'Set It Free'

Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible

Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Help me now to do the impossible


It'll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it's power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you

Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible


I want to finally set it free
So show me how to see what Your mercy sees
Help me now to give what You gave to me
Forgiveness, Forgiveness