Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Being Like Anna

In Luke 2:22-40, the testimony of Christ's prophesied forthcoming shines through the duo of two elderly characters: Simeon and Anna. Both were prophetically gifted, full of the Holy Spirit (directly recognized with Simeon, indirectly implied with Anna), advanced in years yet unified in their steadfastness to proclaim salvation.

In verse 36, we are introduced to Anna, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. Immediately, we are given a glimpse of her family background; however, in light of brief context, one must question why these past details are important enough to mention. Maybe Luke is offering the reader a clue in his opening presentation. If we bite the bait, take a trip down history lane and scope out an Old Testament equivalent, we will stumble upon Huldah, daughter of the high priest, Hilkiah (2 Kings 22), and likely sister of the prophet Jeremiah. Like Solomon, God filled Huldah with extravagant wisdom, enough to the point Hilkiah, among others, would seek the Lord's word from her. Interestingly, Huldah's name, derived from the Hebrew root, cheled, meaning "to glide swiftly", fittingly capturing her ability to discern the ways of God and voice prophecies concerning God's judgment. Her spiritual ministry foreshadowed that of Anna, as well as the passage of promise concerning the Holy Spirit's anointing upon women (Acts 2:17-18).

Luke also adds accent on Anna's age. Though not directly referenced, basic math combined with textual and narrative criticism, indicates Anna to be around 105 years old when she meets Jesus. Again, why does Luke resort back to her personal history? Perhaps Luke hoped to emphasize her spiritual discipline and her unceasing commitment to fast AND pray day and night. It’s hard to imagine any person who, score upon score upon score, would never compromise on such a calling. This level of devotion is nothing short of remarkable, especially when drawing cultural comparisons.

In this age, people are driven mad over finding love, social media, personal purpose, and accomplishing something "big", though often hindered by the hollow construct of vanity. Essentially, Modern American people have placed value on doing, instead of being, as was the case with first-century circum-Mediterranean culture. Even with 21st century Christians, an understanding of being tends to flow from our definition of doing. Although not all fall into this camp, the general pattern must not be ignored. The point is: Anna's life featured a righteous reverse of this modern trend. Her doing flowed from her being - from the God within her. Thus, her religiousness preserved itself in holiness, free from any artificiality.

Another takeaway from the story of Anna is God's faithfulness to reward the devout. In Anna’s case, her trust in the Lord opened the door for her to catch a visual of the fulfilled promise. The lesson here is faith merged with commitment renews faithfulness and maintains a posture of thanksgiving. In verse 38, the Bible says Anna kept giving the Lord thanks and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. With such a description, one could very well dub Anna as the female version of John the Baptist – the key differences being timeline and mission field. Anna, like Simeon, was instrumental in shaping the spiritual landscape of the B.C. temple, whereas John the Baptist’s arena would be the world outside of it several decades later.


As the Christmas season concludes, be empowered by the importance of being like Anna. She may go unnoticed in the birth story, and her life may only be represented by five verses. Yet, her inclusion into one of the most well-known chapters in Scripture was not by mistake. Anna is arguably the most dynamite widow of the New Testament, maybe of all time. A model for the ages, her life has and will continue to echo the enduring exclaimation that Christ is indeed enough.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What Bliss Is This?

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!”’ (Isaiah 52:7, NIV)

WHAT BLISS IS THIS?

Every Christmas, seasonal charisma arouses that magical popery of jollity and goodwill. Amidst the hurrying and scurrying, many people tap into a higher ‘cheer gear’ once December dawns, knowing the most wonderful time of the year is just around the corner. Snowflakes emerge on coke cans, polar bears dance in dreams, sounds of silver bells fill the air, popular television channels kick off countdowns, and old friendships reconnect as the surrounding world decks itself with adornment. As days grow colder, the warmth of binding bonds contribute to what is often associated as good tidings. But what exactly is a good tiding? And how do we adequately answer this if we possess superficial bliss, plastic like our materialistic buys?

It’s easy to lose sight on what drives our ebullience during Christmas. Granted, for me, perspective and prioritizing can be lost in the mix of to-do lists and holiday hassle. But I do know real joy comes from real peace. So whenever I pause to praise the Prince of Peace, I savor a heartfelt delight not even a Starbucks peppermint mocha can stir up. It’s at these points when I’m reminded how worship has a special way of aligning our ways to His. By applying the right heartsets in light of Christmas, we all can discover some rejuvenating truths that not only augment the joy of the season, but add a boost of boldness heading into a new year.

THE WAY FROM THE MANGER

For believers, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, salvation's inception, and the adoption to sonship (Galatians 4:4-5). It is a time to commemorate God’s ultimate gift, who would become the ultimate sacrifice, as well as the divine pathway, which begun in a Bethlehem stable and ended at a cross at Calvary, the tomb, and the right hand of God (Hebrews 12:2). From the beginning, God foresaw the incarnation as the bridge to a new covenant relationship with His children. However, the blueprints would require God's son taking on flesh and a marking ministry that would forever change our world. Thus, the purest celebration of Christmas is an honoring tribute to the greatest act of selfless love constructed by a merciful Savior. Good tidings, then, is the proper response as recipients of an everlasting contract of grace, paid for in blood. What is the right response exactly: To share the good news, mirroring God’s love to all men (1 John 4:9-11 NIV).

GOOD GRIEF! THE CHARLIE BROWN CHALLENGE

How well have we kept the manger and cross integrated into our execution of good tidings? As some of us have seen, cultural bents can reduce good tidings to spontaneous acts of short-lived compassion. So how do we righteously respond to such subtle sucking of holy verve?

Let’s think about Charlie Brown for just a minute. For all the verbal abuse Charlie Brown endured in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, he actually had the right approach in his search for the true meaning of Christmas. As the show progresses, Charlie Brown becomes increasingly convinced that commercialism ruins Christmas. Before he figures out what Christmas is all about, he first comes to terms with what it isn’t about: money, Santa Clause, self-centered wanting, etc. Moving from fiction to real life, we find commercialism isn’t the only bug that congests Christmas spirit.

Religion is arguably the greatest nemesis to Christmas, as it tends to cunningly override the open opportunities that allow God's life to manifest. One can discover this at the grocery store and post office. The food cart/package-to-smile ratio should never be in the 10:1 ballpark. Sadly, this seems to be the case year after year. An additional hot spot is the church itself, where year after year thousands of people plop coins in the offering bucket only to balk at directly comforting those less fortunate. Thus, is real giving truly happening? I would submit not, due to the separation of modest deed and good tidings.

If I sound condemning, then accept my forgiveness; I don’t mean to sound judgmental. My true desire is to pray for the joyless and broken - to intercede for the Charlie Brown’s of the world, unknowingly adrift on a sea of holiday motions, who accomplish much goodness by way of action, yet remain numb to the broad significance of those actions. The unsung hero in Charlie Brown saw past the capped and crippled perspectives of his peers: Christmas isn’t about being filled but overflowing good tidings onto one another. Thus, the Charlie Brown Challenge is this: that we may be unified as a people who know why they give. May commercialism and customs not overcome us to the point our ‘love barometer’ stops working. May our donations, offerings and other givings accompany good tidings and stem more from the heart than the wallet. May we, with boldness and without hindrance (Acts 28:31) “proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns, because that is why [we were made]” (Luke 4:42-44 NIV). Such words are exquisitely unique, for this is both why and how we should celebrate Christmas.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Real Thing

You may want to put on your boots. Tonight not only features a shot of scattered clouds, but a chance of crushed phalanges as well. Not to imply I take any delight in stepping on them; I’m simply imparting a fair warning based on the content below.

So much jibber and jabber in America these days over the cross-generational increase in ignorance, indifference, and all that is killing innocence, passion and the pursuit of righteousness. Answers are in abundance, often in the form of an Average Joe’s two cents; others seemingly turn into dissertations without a trace of disciplined speech.

But hear me clearly, people. I’m not vouching for a concentrated series on my takes. Instead, deem my challenges as sporadic, with a light n’ easy, maybe “sunny-side-up” standpoint with respect to upcoming holiday bliss. Also, keep in my mind that when I preach to the choir, I consider myself to be a part of it. Freedom of bias is the succulent cherry atop the parfait of verbal art.

Chances are you crave something real in life, something authentic and true. And while most people don’t have a problem in identifying needs, the crux comes down to prioritizing and its fusion into holy living. God desires our aim to match our execution. So if authenticity is an aim, then abiding within judicious parameters becomes essential. To discover the real in life goes far beyond a mental knowledge of what we designate as desirable. We first have to recognize what pleases the Lord, so that our pursuits can become pure acts of reference and reverence.

As this pattern unfolds, the issue of intimacy inevitably uncovers us. The greater the distance wedged between us and God, the harder it is to grasp his perspective on what is gratifying to him. Many Christians can confess their dependence on God, yet a fear of intimacy ultimately compromises submission. If we allow apprehension relative to self-exposure to bind us, we’re basically sliding our requests over to God, rather than surrendering directly in his hands. To trust an almighty God with self-created legroom is actually a cowardly move, and makes no sense outside of our stubborn longing for false security. However, the more we release our own agendas and press into his will, the wider God’s capacity is to help us grade and weave our precedence into his. To have needs fits our divine making, but to be consumed by them breeches God’s design. To thirst for real attracts God’s attention, but we must not grief him by unauthorized, self-centered quests and wild goose chases.

Part of the big-picture problem, especially with young people, concerns the perceived pathway to the real. Secularism, commercialism, and relativism are among the worldly dogmas that condition youth to believe the route to real is relative to the importance of satisfied need. For Christian youth, persistent peer pressure mixes in a desire to"fit in" with serving God, which unfortunately produces the probable outcome of partial passion and lack of fire. Although relating well to others is a good thing, if this concern is placed higher on the priority ladder, with its rungs representing an order of significance, then pure intentions can be jeopardized.

As a youth minister, I must submit that the church must strengthen its battle plan, with young people in mind, against a culture laden with preying deception. We must educate with our actions how to earnestly seek the Lord in ALL things, so rising generations may know that everything real comes from the Father. Let us pursue the corporate calling of teaching young people that, "As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person", as Proverbs 27:19 states. Let us remind today's youth that, "the real children of Abraham...are those who put their faith in God", as it says in Galatians 3:7. To really live is to be consumed by God, for as Colossians 3:3 says, "For [we have] died to this life, and [our] real life is hidden with Christ in God."

Of course, the question then turns into, "How do we strengthen this battle plan?"

Part 2 Preview: I believe worship has to become the center of every thing we do. Today's youth need to see the church express "worship" outside the sanctuary.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Zeal

Imagine life as a crestfallen fugitive, perturbed past the point of pain and desperate for death. Not even Harrison Ford could fathom the intensity that Elijah must have felt during his escape to Beer-sheba from the clutches of Ahab and Jezebel. Conventional fugitives are often renegades seeking self-preservation and/or revenge; however, this was not the case with Elijah. On the heels of God’s intervention at Mount Carmel, Elijah had set off on another mission, initiated by the tucking of his mantle under his belt (18:46). As Elijah neared his approach to Ahab, the Bible says the power of God was upon him. Yet, not even this divine overlay could prevent a fear of man from overwhelming Elijah. Upon Jezebel’s threat on his life, he fled into the wilderness after leaving his servant in Beer-sheba, on route to Horeb. In the heart of rough country, God would trade refuge for refuge with Elijah.

The spiritual awakenings would commence with an angelic visitation at a broom tree (19:5) and a theme of deuces. Twice, an angel of the Lord commanded Elijah to get up and eat in order to meet the journey’s physical requirements. And twice, Elijah obeyed, knowing the expedition would be an extensive one. After 40 days on foot, Elijah arrived at Horeb and entered a cave to spend the night.

At this stage, Elijah must have been caught up in a whirlwind of emotional whiplash, wondering why his obedience after an emphatic victory over the Baal prophets had to brush with a man-fearing outcry. At the broom tree, Elijah not only asked for death, but admitted he was no better than his fathers! The desertion surrounding Elijah had clearly pushed him to the end of his rope. Still Elijah must have had some sense that a special encounter with the presence of God was looming. Why else would an angel justify his exodus to the mountain?

Once inside the cave, God made contact with Elijah. Twice, the Lord asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?” Twice, Elijah replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of Hosts, but the Israelites have abandoned Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they’re looking for me to take my life.”

Note the name Elijah used, the adjective choice of ‘zealous’, and how he openly confirmed his frustrations. Elijah may have been hiding from his enemies, but he, in no way, veiled himself from God. Contrarily, Elijah spoke transparently, addressing God with the name David shouted when he killed Goliath (1 Samuel 17:45), and the name Isaiah mentioned after prophesizing the coming of the Messiah (Isaiah 9:6-7). By proclaiming this profound introduction, Elijah ultimately subjected himself to the power of God, for the title, “Lord of Hosts” means Creator of every living thing. In essence, Elijah had no where to turn, but to the arms of the Father.

In a powerful response of love, the Lord graced Elijah by passing him by. Like a high-action scene pulled from a Hollywood classic thriller, Elijah witnessed mighty winds, shattering cliffs, earthquakes and fires. One could only wonder what Elijah’s reaction might have been like as this all transpired. Although the Lord’s presence triggered an earthly shaking, He was not in the actual elements, but rather outside them in a soft whisper (19:12). This still small voice would humble Elijah to the point of wrapping his face in his mantle. What Elijah had just experienced was a touch of the Holy Spirit. What Elijah had just witnessed was the Lord of Hosts soothingly speaking to him, “My Spirit is present among you; don’t be afraid” (See Zechariah 4:6; Haggai 2:5).

What an incredible, breathtaking moment! God had charged Elijah so that he could continue carrying out his calling! Furthermore, such an instance of intimacy was demonstrated in part so we, believers of the 21st century, could find peace and rest in unsettling times – when the walls of life seem to crash around us and we feel our allies are thin. How amazing is the Lord for setting us up to encounter his glory? How gracious is He for answering our call in the midst of trouble and adversity? How thankful we should be when the preciousness of God fills us with the strength and encouragement needed to press onward. Even when the ground rumbles and everything seems to be falling apart, God is there!

Having supplied Elijah with reminders of his very nature, the Lord would charge him to voyage to Damascus and anoint three men: Hazael as king over Aram, Jehu as king over Israel and Elisah as prophet in Elijah’s place. These successions of anointings would set the stage for a greater cleansing of the spiritual landscape for the next several generations.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Cloud & The Divine Darning

Lately, life is but a passing peek outside a windowpane. Revealed is an autumnal vista in full bloom, attempting to cover my colorless mien with blushes of vibrancy. But on this dreary October afternoon, my heart is the cloud I wish I could fly to. And there’s no refreshing touch, trace or tone, apart from God, that can liven this soul, deadened under a blanket of despair, claustrophobic from pain and weary from “why’s”. Still there is something somehow offsetting the grief, like a ray of sun that is felt, but not seen, leading all emotional mush to the foot of the cross.
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We all know it’s uncomfortable to stay in the same place. Our whole lives are based on the premise of perpetual progress – the advancement of self to be more like Christ. In turn, our transformation is meant to influence that of another, through the grace and glory of God. What the ultimate journey accomplishes is nothing less than radical. And along the evolving pathway are the inevitable discoveries that teach us how to be for God while being in the world.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the radical life is staying up on its down sides. No one said living wholesomely was easy. In fact, the fullest route is by the far the most difficult and requires courage beyond the human mind. The key question in response is what fear mode will ignite: a fear of burdens or a fear of Christ? A fear of life or a fear of God’s life for us? Two completely different fears, two completely different lives.

The Bible is saturated with powerful hits that help us cope with despondency. And the more we meditate on God’s wondrous precepts, the more we’ll find His goodness in the cracks of our imperfections. In heartbreak, there are joyous silver linings that turn twinges into tickles. This elation in recreation occurs when we accept a divine darning and admit wholeheartedly the need for it. Too often we make what’s required an option. For instance, running to God in the midst of adversity can teeter on the verge of conditionality, when we should recognize it as marvelously mandatory.

With what we empathize on paper usually has a harder time seeping into the mainstream of our entirety. We tend to overlook the fact holiness doesn’t administer shortcuts or promote compromise. Real Christianity cancels out the grayness that we western believers like to mix in to the rhythm of everyday living. We can’t ever forget that only two directions exist in the spiritual realm, and the Spirit is the compass we abide by.

The direction and flavor of my life is dramatically changing; however, I'm not alien to the faithfulness of the Lord. I see his mighty hand at work, not only in my life, but in those around me. Maybe you can relate to the feeling of a bittersweet whirlwind or sympathize with an empty vagabond. As a rocked boat, I hope to righteously manage these rough seas with open sails. And as I nagivate this sea of beautiful unknowns, I know I'm secure in the Father’s arms and the warmth of his embrace erodes all binds. Our lives are but clouds, volumes of vapor that God breathes into to produce something far greater than we can possibly fathom. In a world full of texts and tweets, to follow Him, even if the call demands the shedding of our fragilities, is truly the greatest opportunity and gift we can ever experience.

2 Corinthians 4:7-15
New Living Translation (NLT)

 7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.  8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. 13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus,will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Joy Replacement Process

As I drove to work this morning, marveling at the arrival of autumn colors, a crazy realization came to mind. I am much healthier than I’ve been in a long time, booming on betterment surges the past six weeks. But though my cylinders are functioning cleaner and crisper, I’m not nearly as joyous – several posts short of jubilant status. I could be off my rocker in the execution of such phraseology; nonetheless, ensuing bemusement has left quite the throbbing head.

Let me cut to the chase, instead of verbally dancing about the mulberry bush. I desire to be all that I can be for Jesus. Throughout my blog history, my passion about conforming and transforming for his glory has been a consistent theme, along with an increasing dissatisfaction with complacency and its pertinent counterparts. In essence, I have grown alongside my writings. Dig through five years’ worth and one will discover that in the pursuit of God, I have gained a solid understanding about the fool I used to be, what an identity in Christ looks like, and how God’s innate qualities have everything to do with our purpose and destiny.

I am convinced that becoming like Christ is the greatest journey we will ever embark on. However, Christ never guaranteed a smooth metamorphosis. Often times, the marking lessons and lasting impressions stick through heavyweight grapples that teach and enable us to live blamelessly. Even recently, I’ve smelled the coffee on certain dregs, not fully steeped in the cup of God’s best. Yet, the acumen wafting off the handle has been more refreshing than an entire autumn’s worth of pumpkin spice lattes. Post-equinox, life has been a celebration, rejoicing over the Lord’s faithfulness and the blessing of having a wholesome fear for him on a steeper upward trajectory.

Still, I feel as if, at times, I’m running on empty and the verdict is still out in the fog. Granted such merriment in celebration has been combated with challenges, particularly coping with dead ends. The quantity of these dead ends has especially pushed me; perhaps this wouldn’t be the case if all such crossroads were God-imparted, sans a mixture of the man-made. Regardless of the circumstance, the best first move is releasing the wheel and surrendering any maneuver that would induce self-autonomy into the equation. The second is giving God complete access to clear and gut both mind and heart, in turn, revealing each road for its true journey and destination. Crossroads, indeed, provide breakthrough opportunities; they should not be dreaded.

The light of Christ has been undoing me. When I focus on the cross and God’s love, I realize I’m not suffering from a lack of joy, but rather enduring a necessary but uncomfortable makeover. Thus, I’m not truly empty, but instead, numb from operation. What operation? Well, think of it this way: my joy is going through a replacement process. The process itself provides short-term and long-term aspirations. The obvious and immediate application, cliché as it may sound, is joy must be uniformly anchored in Christ. It cannot be mixed or split into stipends. I’m talking “all in” lock, stock and barrel style. The long-term remedy comes through prolonged diligence to maintain the short-term, ultimately enhancing spiritual maturity. What is one facet of spiritual maturity? Taking inventory of the heart consistently and making sure all joy is stocked in God’s warehouse (Note: you can substitute any fruit of the Spirit with joy here). Once a healthy rhythm is established, we will find that yesterday’s replacements become tomorrow’s refreshments.

Joy must be authentic as well, with each root connected to God’s heart. Any stray roots must be pursued. This is why I love the parable of the one lost sheep. The model of a loving Shepherd devotedly searching for the wandering lambs within us is captivating. He will never stop going after us. If we are apathetic in the caring of our root system, then we run the risk of allowing our emotions to dictate our joy. When this happens, we acknowledge God as king of our souls, but live a lifestyle that relegates him to prince. Such a destructive pattern must be put to death.

In closing, I’m thankful that God has been wooing me closer to his heart by restructuring and reconfiguring the outlets from which my joy flows. We are called to count it all joy, as Paul says, and rejoice always, especially in the glow of victory. Don’t mix and match as you please! Don’t absorb the relative perspectives contra to biblical principles. Doesn’t real joy manifest itself through greater trust in the Lord? And if our joy is even partly plastic, what does that say about our faith? What does that say about our desire to transform the broken, so they, too, may be strengthened by Christ’s love and transform others who are broken?

God has won, is winning and will continue to win no matter what intersections we come to, no matter what life throws at us and no matter how we feel about it. So live with the truth in mind.

To be continued…

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Tucked Cloak

Imagine being Jehu.

King of Israel. Successor to Ahaziah’s nefarious reign. Charged and anointed by a prophet sent by Elisha. And prior to your commission, this messenger is given the most random: “Tuck your cloak into your belt” (v. 1).

Wait, what? Is Elisha tipsy here? Did somebody bump his head after doing the chicken dance too many times?

Probably not. What is certain is the Bible does not directly clarify the significance of this action; however, you can bank on this representing something important.

Quick rabbit trail: I would argue that God crafted the Word so that its readers would have to dig in to find certain answers pertaining to inherent questions. Another message for another day though…

Back to the cloak…

A concordance check reveals that this isn’t the first time this instruction is mentioned. We find it earlier in 2 Kings 4 and Exodus 12, when God bestows Passover guidelines to Moses.

In both situations, haste is specifically addressed. Why? Perhaps to remind us that often times, God’s master plans require timely compliance. The chosen vessel, whether a mere servant (Gehazi) or the greatest prophet of all time (Moses), was secondary to the Lord’s objective and its execution. Pressing in further, we find a God who desperately wanted to reveal a sovereign sign. And in accordance with his burn to demonstrate power and perfect directive, he needed recipients purely devoted to his agenda.

The trend continues in 2 Kings 9, where Elisha’s alacrity is evident by electric excitement. Why was he in such a hurry? Well, if we look at 2 Kings from a distance, we see the house of Ahab wreaking vice all over the place. No doubt, the next select king of Israel needed to act strategically aligned to God’s timeline in order to sufficiently wipe away the line’s immorality. And Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat, had the advantage of inheriting the blueprints to overcoming idolatrous corruption (read about Jehoshaphat’s reign in 1 Kings 22). Elisha must have been ecstatic to launch the beginning of the end for the Ahab dynasty.

By the end of 2 Kings 10, Jehu had fulfilled the mandate of destroying the house of Ahab, featuring a bloody blitz on Joram, Ahaziah and Jezebel. However, before Jehu could serve as king and complete his assigned tasks, he had to be anointed by a prophet spurred by a specific order. What exactly can we take away by this?

First off, to “tuck a cloak into a belt” meant, in part, to encourage the receiver, having earned the confidence to carry out the delegated mission. If we examine alternate translations, we discover a Hebrew inference. To tuck a cloak into a belt or bind up loins suggested, “Get ready for travel.” When I hear this, three words come to mind: Brace for adventure!

In adjunct to rightful rapidity, the charge merits deference. Think about it. When a major event is on tap, we ready ourselves. We dress up, freshen up. We spray the Axe. We check our teeth. To adequately prepare is to revere the reason for doing so. The process not only keeps us in check, but unites each element of our entirety in believing something big is about to happen. So the prospect of pursuit had to be countered with honor.

So is it okay to give Jehu a victory clap for his slaughter-laden conquest? Absolutely. But let’s not forget the first two characters in the story, who rightly played their part in the transition between two God-fearing leaders.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Perspective

When I think of subjective words that drive me crazy, perspective comes to mind. By itself, I savor the word; universally, however, the word has grown cliché, culturally costumed to fit the individual more so than any other entity. And though I don't seek to undermine personal relevancy, we must not let the 'self' take away from its ideal meaning: true understanding proportionate to importance. What's important may vary from person to person, but perspective always bridges the gap between perception and reality. If perspective acted as a device, it would stretch, connect, filter and process our daily perspicacity to produce a quality output, aligning to absolute truth.

Now that I have gotten the mumbo-jumbo out of the way, I can clarify the past five sentences with a testimony.

In recent weeks, my big-picture perspective has benefited from various experiences, some inspiring, and others discouraging. On the plus side, I’ve endured some major rejuvenation by means of stepping out of my comfort zone and persevering through intimidating circumstances. Conversely, I've had to face a few prickly pears, testings on minor scales and setbacks brushed by disappointments.

One particular low came the night prior to departing for The Gate Alabama tornado outreach, when I came face-to-face with a challenge. On the heels of failing my first attempt on the P/1 exam, God specifically told me to go down to Alabama and, "live and serve as if I had passed." Thus, the biggest test lied before me. I could have caved in and adamantly turned away. But I made the decision before stepping out the door that I was going to pass the test. I had to believe God had my best in mind (one of the more underrated definitions of hope), and that the best would happen.

Driving down to Huntsville, I felt mired in a “0-2” hole, but God, in his grace and sustainability, helped me connect to his perfect mission. So when the time came to break down oaks in sweltering heat, my spirit soared like a ball destined for the outfield bleachers. And as I re-entered Tennessee territory, my perspective had finished rounding the bases. All I had to do was stick to the Father’s game-plan.

Our thoughts, words, aspirations and goals must constantly riddle through God’s flawless strainer. If we separate our natural inklings, then we inevitably discover how pathetic our brain waves can be. We classify people by numbers – amount and quality of talent, income and knowledge gross. Even more ominously, we make critical judgments based on imaginations and assumptions. We desire to be seen as real, but make daily decisions rooted in what is anything but that. We begin to forget where we’re going and why it’s important to go there. In no time, a cloudy haze caps our ability to adequately define “worthwhile", before we're struck by a tornado of another nature.

Are we out for God’s glory or our own? Maybe fame isn’t on the ambition list, but what about respect? Say we focus on what we feel allows our true identity to shine, but if it bounces for being alien to God, does it really count? Does the feeling of getting ahead financially, love by a soulmate, abiding by self-installed order and false peace satisfy our depths at day’s end?

Standing at ground zero surrounded by EF-5 tornado damage - amidst a landscape of hope and grief - this light bulb went off. Why do I become so sucked into my own vortex of narrow-mindedness? I mean I can become easily swept into striving mode. But for what? To accomplish a worthy goal to find esteem in the eyes of others? Do I really think that's going to produce a lasting peace? Besides, this has nothing to do with a heaven-bound outlook! Here, I am playing my small part in the grand pursuit of fulfilling the Great Commission. With each smile, each helpful hand extended, I am representing Christ. I am an ambassador for him! I was made for moments like this. Not to collect my $50,000 a year and receive the smiles given by a world no longer ignorant to the fact I've found my "place". I just want to do the will of the Father. Why do we make things more complicated than they need to? Doesn't it make sense for even our flesh to want the simpler way? There are Alabamians who have been stripped of all possessions. Some families were wiped off the face of the earth in the span of minutes on April 27th. Others survived for a divine purpose, and still don't know it. Yet, their hope is being restored day by day. Can I say the same thing about me? Is any part of me swirling into chaos, despite a sturdy roof over my head? I know what I can't take. And I'm aware of the truth I must absorb in my spiritual mainstream:

So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.” ~ Colossians 3:1-2 (MSG)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Upbeat of Job

No doubt, Job dwellers have increased in the aftermath of two horrific tornado outbreaks, one that pounded Alabama on April 27, and a second that cut Joplin, Missouri in half on May 22. In wake of these tragedies, relief and response strategies have become spotlight topics again, and people across the country have begun investigating various calls to action: how to react, encourage, help victims emotionally process the ‘what nows’ and how to quench unbelief and apprehension, etc.

In times like these, numerous doors are opened to Good Samaritan hearts, which can reach in and reach out to an ailing community. With mobilization materials and deployment discipline, hope will ultimately win the war, even if preliminary battles are lost. But the greatest tool concerning the grief journey is a double-edged sword, known as the Word of God. Meditating on a book like Job can stir us to appreciating God’s master plan, even in light of great tragedies.

We often do not view Job and Psalms in the same light. Job is perceived as a sober book, left on the shelves of our hearts, joining Lamentations and Leviticus among others. But if one reads closely, one can find some of the purest passion found in entire Bible.


Take Job 8:5-7 and 19:25 as examples:

“ 5 But if you will seek God earnestly and plead with the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, even now he will rouse himself on your behalf and restore you to your prosperous state.Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be.”

“ I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.”

1.Job 19:25 Or vindicator
2.Job 19:25 Or on my grave (dust)

Talk about uplifting resounds! Job, who lost more than other human, still has the mind, heart and strength to emphatically proclaim truths about God. His sufferings, like many, came in the form of an extreme, testing season. When the pain overwhelmed him, he did not shrink in his despondency, but rather used it to bounce his cries back to God.

When hurt and sorrow fill one’s cup to the brim, God doesn’t want us to be caught up in what we deem non-relatable. He wants us to talk to him with an open, honest and humble heart. When humility meshes with thanksgiving, faith is produced. And faith can yield some astounding positivism in light of significant tragedy. As faith builds, so does our belief in the promises and purposes of God. Remember Job had it pretty rough, rougher then any of the families who lost loved ones and homes in this spring’s historic storms. But God is in the business of coming through for the broken. And as our earthly home encounters more growing pains, we must be mindful of the trust deposits we give to Christ. No matter what side of disaster you find yourself, be grateful and be giving. Know that victory is never completely out of the picture. And read the book of Job, you just might come away with something powerful and profound to take to the world.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Decreasing to Increase

Before church this morning, I asked the Lord to help me understand what it means to "decrease", while allowing him to "increase". Although the broad definitions haven't been difficult in recognizing (see Acts 17 and Mark 8), the current crux has come in applying the inherent details (i.e. What does the art of losing myself specifically look like today? Are the core AND surrounding mantles of each spiritual blockade in my relationship with Christ being identified?) Recent conviction has taught me within discipleship and freedom prayer arenas, Christians are perhaps overfocusing on the root of sin, and missing the bigger picture (a.k.a. the root-taproot-stem combination, to speak in plant anatomy terms). What this means is we're not thoroughly connecting the dots to the factors that strengthen the root of each sin. I believe many of us can determine the home base of our own personal iniquities, but there's that challenge of going taking the extra step (this is why I bolded "surrounding mantles").

Selah.

Several weeks ago, I received a series of stirring awakenings. Two weeks of subsequent processing has led to the following belief: Among this rising generation, there exists an alarming spike in indifference due to a) a lack of genuine Spirit encounter and b) an ignorance created by engaging culture too intimately. In other words, young Christians are reaching out to the "deviants", but they're not reaching in (or encouraging them to reach in themselves). Such funk is generating a hazy ambiguity over the concept of God's glory. People naturally struggle to relate with what they consider to be non-encounterable. And I wonder if today's youth are separating desire from commitment, inadvertantly stiff-arming grace. I see many young people missing one or the other - in some cases, both! Despite the decline in legalism, I fear such blindness is merging tighter with apathy and is heart-shaping the church in all the wrong ways. My concern is that evangelism and discipleship will be negatively affected, unless something is done.

Sometimes, I feel at the end of my rope (Psalms 109:21). I'm a desperate leader, wondering why the passion in my heart can't stick like velcro to those around me? Is it because I haven't totally fixed EVERY area in my heart and God is holding me back in my effectiveness? Do I have to derive both the core and mantles of each personal weakness, not just the core? I wish I knew the answer.

One thing is for sure: I'm sick and tired of discovering and identifying the problems, but not knowing what to do about it (I'm speaking generally about my generation here). I'm fed up with an over-tolerant culture that has dilluted boundaries across the board with respect to relationships and fundamental morality. And I yearn for a unified, David-like heartcry that ignites believers to know WHY they live and stay devoted to the cause:

Psalm 63: 1-4

"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. 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."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rob Bell - "Love Wins" Dialogue (Part 2)


This week, I’ve been pressing further into Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins’ and have been appalled with his distorted doctrine. The more I read his controversial best seller, the more I disagree with the message. Combined with his Monday night session at the Curb Center, I’ve started to wonder if Bell has crossed into the ‘false teacher’ category.

After digesting his heaven and hell ideologies, Bell appears to twist scriptural truths to satisfy an attempt to create a universally appetizing gospel. But this stance is a total 180° from Christ’s approach. Jesus never bowed down to gratify what the Pharisees, Sadducees, and all other religious owls wanted to hear. In each circumstance, he stood firm and stayed connected to the flow of God’s heart. Although Bell provides stirring questions and a solid analysis on God’s compassion, any positive output is overridden by his covert defiance concerning the cross’s significance.

In a world marred by indifference, partiality, stubbornness, rebellion, and disobedience, it’s no question that the lost and backslidden will love to hear a prominent voice declaring the absolute possibility of every man’s place in heaven regardless of an acceptance or denial of Christ as Lord and Savior. As I will mention later, this seems to contradict the Good News Christ brought during his ministry tenure. Although Bell acknowledges free will, his idea of freedom tarnishes God’s justice and wrath, often misconstrued to be detached from His love. With very few references to the cross in the book, one must carefully dodge Bell’s warm, seemingly relativistic tones. In cunning fashion, he sheds a new angle that falls eerily close to the false belief that multiple ways lead to heaven.

With Easter looming, it’s good to ask yourself: What was the point of the cross? What does it mean to have eternal life? Yes, the extremist, old school evangelical mindset of Jesus’ death satisfying the anger of God is not the right spiritual position. But swinging to the other side of the pendulum is not any better. One must read between the lines and absorb what Bell is indirectly implying and not implying. God’s incredible love for mankind overcomes all that hasn’t measured up to his perfect standards. Within God’s infinite love is a respect for each man’s free choice. Yet, that free choice doesn’t produce freedom if one is living in sin and bondage. One must remember the huge chasm between free will and freedom.

If people who aim for holiness end up at the same ballpark as those who deliberately forsake it, how is genuine love being shown? Think of a parent not punishing his/her child, using the excuse that one day they will grow up, become an adult, they will realize what is right and wrong automatically, and everything will become handy dandy. No! That’s crazy talk.

One note before I continue. Bell loves to criticize all existing fake portrayals of Jesus. While I agree that the church at large has misrepresented Christ, this in itself cannot be used as a ‘last resort’ excuse as to why salvation does not occur. I submit that there are numerous examples of true Jesus being shown all over the world every day.

Back to the cross…

The best testimony to grace is the cross; the highest example of reconciliation is the cross. To replace its value with a feel-good, ‘must not disappoint anybody’, wishy-washy Christianity is pure tragedy. The Bible is infallible. Thus, breaking it down to the point of rearrangement and regurgitation to fit personal customs is wrong. Let’s remember that even before Jesus died, he spent three years preaching the Good News – how he was the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). No one can come to the Father, except through Him. If people deny Christ out of disbelief or lack of desire, a wedge is ultimately established. What has triggered this theological firestorm in recent weeks is the idea that God’s love, which "demands freedom", will pluck people out of hell and into the safe refuges of God’s celestial paradise, assuming some admittance of error takes places along with a declaration of faith (Honestly, I am getting a huge headache writing this, because I feel as if I shouldn’t have to be writing it).

On a more positive critique note, capturing the semantics of hell proved to be a personal point of interest in Bell’s investigation of eternal realities. But this can impress only to a certain extent. The key lies in the interpretation, application, and commission of God’s perfect Word. And frankly, this is where Bell misses the mark. He employs misleading filters on Christ-centered dogmas laden with the potential to guide many to actual truth. Instead, many recipients of Bell’s message around the world are sharing in naive smiles.

The merciful heart of God and the spiritual afterlife have never been dull subjects. But the frightful unthinkable is starting to emerge within so called ‘Christian arenas’, and I’m afraid of people accepting a God and theology so whacked, it fuels what Bell mentions as hell on earth (hell that can be experienced before we die). If a Christ-centered message encourages fleshy persistence, the message must be questioned. Integrity must be fought for.

Let’s remember the times, guys. The New Testament foretells an uprising of false teachers in the last days (2 Peter 2:1-3, 1 Timothy 1), which I believe we have already entered into. I don’t believe Bell is out for himself, but I strongly consider his theology to be a sundry blend of unbiblical ideas and catered palatability. I am worried that salvation lines will become increasingly blurry for those not anchored deep enough in a relationship with God.

Finally the bottom line: By seeking to take the fire out of hell, Rob takes the fire out of holy pursuits and the healing, redemptive power of the cross. I am not saying every word is linked to a lie, but I am saying that before reading Bell’s new book, a prayer for discernment would be very wise.

The Sweetest Fragrance

Last Easter, I found great meaning in Paul’s teaching on the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5): the redeemed redeeming the lost in Jesus’ name by way of the cross. This year, I’ve backpedaled several chapters to 2 Corinthians 2 and have basked in Paul’s charge to live as ministers of the New Covenant.

First, what is the relationship between these two segments? Applying “passage unification”, we denote reconciliation as the pulse of the New Covenant minister. We are all Kingdom agents, whether we realize it or not, for the cross’ power cannot be denied; however, the choices we make influence our evangelical effectiveness. So the question is not whether we are Christ ambassadors, it’s how will we carry our respective crosses. What is our cross? It’s our callings, purposes, burdens and struggles between spirit and flesh.

Secondly, Paul offers a unique comparison between commission and fragrance that grips me. To be like Christ is to be like sweet perfume. Mary, in Mark 14, demonstrated this just as well as any of the disciples, when she anointed Jesus’ feet. In spite of shame, her dramatic exchange with Jesus captured the ultimate reason why we celebrate Passion Week. Easter is not about sweets and fertility; it’s about revering the cross, the torn veil, and the age of grace.

Repentance and beholding grace give off pleasing aromas unto the Lord. But this isn’t the only appealing scent in our repertoire. Throughout Scripture, the significance of smell is well documented. Let’s investigate some of examples:

Fragrance is linked to:

Splendor (Hosea 14:5-7)
Intimacy (Song of Solomon 4:10-12)
Sacrifice (Genesis 8:20-22/Ephesians 5:2)

Talk about good company! Mathematically, we can formulate this list so that sacrifice plus intimacy equals splendor. In other words, if we relinquish selfish arms and press near and dear into God’s heart consistently, then the glory of the Lord can be recognized.

Finally, we connect the dots one last time so that the cross can be a liaison among glory, unity and redemption. Think about Mary again. Christ could have cared less about the actual fragrance of the ointment poured on his feet. What really pleased him, and was the act enough to secure Mary’s salvation? Let’s look at reconciliation. Was the woman forgiven? Yes. Did she likely commit a higher number of sins than the disciples? Most likely. Did Jesus cherish the opportunity to reiterate the purpose of his ministry? Yes. Why? Because as his authority was glorified, Mary was being saved; thus, the link between Jesus’ identity and purpose could be evident to those still searching. The belief and faith of a fallen, desperate woman in need of a Savior had directly lined up with why God sent His one and only Son.

Paul describes being saved as a “life-giving perfume”. Why? Since Jesus came to give life to all people, we must radiate this life back to him. Anything God gives carries an amazingly sweet aura. He watches us not to stalk us, but so that when we look up to him, we can tap into that splendor Hosea references.

Next time you talk to God, make sure to smell for funky odors. Remember God never sleeps on those who need and ask to be reconciled back to him.

The Gospel in Motion

Yesterday, at the 1 By Youth Outreach, Stacey Hildner and I took Legacy members to Burger King during lunch break. Sweaty and sweltered, we sauntered into the restaurant, needing a reprieve from the morning’s work. But what started as a respite would turn into something far greater.

Ten minutes into our stay, an elderly man limped to a seat right across from Stacey and I. Immediately our attention connected with his apparent pain. Without hesitation, Stacey and I begun a conversion with him. As we carried on the dialogue, we soon discovered the real brokenness came not in his body, but in his heart.

William had just lost his wife. He lacked a car, connections with eight children and a physical remedy. The one daughter who lived locally had a house on the other side of town. However, his multiple leg conditions were only worsening with time, so he simply did not have the strength to walk the miles to visit her.

William’s demeanor was sweet and sincere. The tears streaming down his face revealed a yearning for answers and a thirst for breakthroughs. But the greatest void came from within. What William truly needed was hope.

Prior to our conversation, he had waited many times for a “saint” to ignite life back into him. On numerous occasions, William would walk into Burger King in search for fulfillment, but would leave emptier than before.

But on this day, that would all change.

To our delight, Stacey and I continued to absorb William’s vulnerability. We learned about his mistakes, greatest joys, and the ups and downs of 60 years living in the Music City. William also showed signs of a belief in God, having quoted back to us a fair amount of memorized scriptures.

Eventually talk turned into prayer, and suddenly Burger King became an altar. We prayed for the Lord’s strength, comfort and peace to fill William, reminding him that God is always in the business of blessing those who mourn. We also told him that God is attracted to the downcast, since his strength is made perfect in weakness. By prayer’s end, William’s smile was coming back again, his complexion radically changed. As we parted ways, we invited him to the 1 By Youth block party. He told us he would likely come.

What seemed like twenty minutes turned out to be sixty, and as we stepped back out in the sun, Stacey and I knew we had experienced one of many divine appointments God sets up every day. The opportunity served as an excellent testimony to the youth who witnessed this episode unfold. The greatest thrill, apart for accepting Christ, is spreading God’s love to others. To live is Christ, to die is gain. And in the middle of it all is love, the greatest gift of all.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rob Bell - “Love Wins” Dialogue (Part 1)


I’ve always stood by the belief that God never predestined people to hell. To accept the converse is to condone fundamental flaws in a holy belief system. Does God stamp a ‘hell’ label on certain people at birth and ‘heaven’ on others? No! However, God does know every possible outcome of every possible decision we face. Of course, this is just my heart speaking on the matter. Like many others, I’ve also questioned the origin of free will. Did God create this? Or is it linked to his nature? I would submit God didn’t need to produce free will, but rather imparted it to humanity from his essence – the truth of His being.

Rob Bell opens his book with provocative questions concerning our eternal destiny. In doing so, we uncover a notable divide among the faith: what ultimately saves a person from everlasting separation from God? Though Rob captures this well with a parade of ponderous inquisitions, he doesn’t present enough biblical truth to support Christian unification.

I anticipate sharper disagreements as I proceed through the book, but I do agree with Rob when he notes that though prayers are important, they can only go so far. For many, salvation starts with a declaration of truth. But is that enough to get a Kingdom pass? After all, the felon dying on the cross next to Jesus punched his ticket into heaven by simply asking Jesus to remember him in paradise. No repentance, no statement of faith, but instead, a powerful acknowledgment in Christ’s true identity. So this begs the next question: Is a rightful response to truth the real key to a heavenly home? As Rob Bell states, “…all that matters is how you respond to Jesus.”

Anyone can recite a conversion statement, but to maintain life in Christ should be our true aim. Our eternal future is a gift that is given to those who are committed to believing AND living for Jesus as Lord AND Savior. If one truly believes, then how they live will flow in sync to faith. So clearly, knowing the character and heart of Jesus is imperative, since afterlife destinations can be largely dependent on how Jesus is reflected in our lives.

Rob Bell detests legalism, so it is no surprise he attacks culturally warped perceptions concerning eternal security. Numerous notions, rejected by the Word yet emitted from the mouths of so called “Christians”, have turned people away from accepting Christ. What happens when a redemptive opportunity comes, but is squandered due to a false portrayal of Jesus from those heaven-bound?

I understand Rob Bell is simply setting the table for the reader to pause, think, chew, and digest. But let’s remember that we can’t possible fathom the immense heart and mind of the Father. Despite a boatload of negative vibes emanating from the church today, God is raising up enough faithful evidence so each person can tap into free will to make a determination on who they want to follow. God is fair, just, and never absent of love. It’s how we interpret and depict this love that makes all the difference. It’s all in the response.

In my next note, I will discuss Rob Bell’s dangerous philosophy on the nature of hell, and how he may be trying to “over-please” man by sprinkling of falsehoods on top of Scriptural realities.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Aim and Flow

“ 13 Clearly, God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God’s law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by faith. 14 If God’s promise is only for those who obey the law, then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless. 15 For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it.” ~ Romans 4:13-15


For a young person, interpreting this passage can be downright difficult. For aspiring enlighteners of truth, the sight of students drubbing fingers over lips can be rather frustrating. So when handling nutrient-rich Scriptures, the best approach is often the bite-sized version. So in the spirit of activating mental light switches, I present to you an in-depth look into the epicenter of Romans 4. Let the illumination begin…

First off, let’s dissect v. 13:
Is Paul downgrading obedience to an optional act? Absolutely not. Contrarily, as we will further discuss in this note, he is declaring the sanctity between obedience and faith through the question of: What’s the point of one without the other?

In other words, obedience is futile without faith; conversely, if faith is eminent, but obedience lacks, faith is reduced to inactive hope.

The crux of the matter is aim and flow. If you aim for the right target, then what flows from that will be right as well. Ask yourself, “Are you more concerned with appearing righteous or are you aiming to be in a right relationship with God? Are you obeying for intimacy or image?”

If we apply the ‘aim and flow’ method, we discover that directing the heart to honor the Lord is key. Why? Because a sincere fear of God happens when man seeks a right relationship with Him and makes that his target; out of this, obedience will naturally flow.

Let’s look at this from another angle, while mixing in historical perspectives. If one is searching for glory, a good place is start is to glorify Jesus. Abraham understood this as the cornerstone to a healthy spiritual walk with God. Remember that at the time of Abraham, there was no law in place. So Abraham had to rely entirely on faith. As it increased with age and experience, so did His obedience. Despite some notable slipups, Abraham’s anchor and aim connected to a desire to please the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9).

During his day, only decades removed from the resurrection and ascension, Paul realized many believers still owned a law mentality. Instead of aiming for divine relationship, people settled for their own ideas of “righteous living” – doing good works, while forsaking fellowship with the Father.

Centuries earlier, the law had come through Moses, but Christians weren’t fully aware of this new age of grace that dawned after the cross. People still obeyed the law out of a fear of death and punishment, not out of a fear of God. Their idea of worship was referencing past constitutions, not relishing in everyday communion with God. In essence, obedience had developed into a flotation devise – the central way to preserve life. Paul knew his audience had to change. This is why he continuously promoted a message of faith and hope wherever he went.

Let’s step back now and process v. 14:
If the promise relied solely on obeying the law, then a relationship with the Lord wouldn’t make much sense. Why? Because the promise, which ensures eternal security and everlasting life for those who believe and accept Christ as Lord and Savior, could only hold those who weren’t fallen. So the heart of the promise has to be faith, because faith and a rightful relationship with God fuel each other. When these two are in sync, obedience will naturally flow. If one substitutes obedience for faith in the previous sentence, a stale philosophy can potentially arise. For the Bible is clear that without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and the Christians of Paul’s day were great at separating the two. Obedience can produce faith, but a rightful relationship with the Lord always starts with faith.

The thorny verse comes in verse 15:

15"For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it.”
Shut the front door! What are you saying, Paul? People who obey the law will be punished, instead of rewarded?

Not so fast, young Padawan.

For one thing, there should be ‘no try’ (Yoda ‘for the win’ once again). Either you obey or you don’t. God doesn’t operate any system that awards points for trying. However, points (in the form of knowledge, blessing, favor, influence of spiritual gifts, discernment, etc.) are granted for those who abandon legalisms that emphasize “righteousness by works” and obey out of the flow of love and relationship.

Here’s another twist on the argument: God designed free will so love could have the foundation and footers necessary to bridge a relationship between His divinity and man’s iniquity. It is the Creator’s love that keeps us from being remote-control operated robots. To live like the typical Christian of Paul’s day is to accept a more robotic way of life. Beware the robot, my friends! They will spiritually kill you.

Well, that wraps up today’s word on the way. A bit lengthy, but I hope there are gold nuggets that can be taken out of this. I may come back to this and expound on certain points, but the main gist can be found by linking the bold phrases of this blog.

Peace and blessings to you all,

Cameron Fry

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Punching Through to Jesus


"Harass these hecklers, GOD, punch these bullies in the nose.
Grab a weapon, anything at hand;
stand up for me!
Get ready to throw the spear, aim the javelin,
at the people who are out to get me.
Reassure me; let me hear you say,
 
"I'll save you." ~ Psalm 35:1-3 (MSG)

I received an encouraging word in the shower this morning about ‘punching’ through to Jesus. Now I wouldn’t dub this the most enlightening analogy ever received. By all means, it’s a flippin’ sports analogy. How conventionally masculine, right? And for the record, I’ve never understood why the shower has been such a hot spot for divine insight and downloads. Perhaps it’s the cleansing metaphor in action. Perhaps it’s the fact I’m completely alone and that’s when my spiritual antennas reach a sensitivity peak. I could go on… (But I won’t because so much talking about shower time borderlines the awkward. And I firmly believe in the word ‘quota’…)

So I have this five minute pity episode, reminiscing about the time when I used to be a moron. Yes, I can still be one occasionally (on the common sense side), but I’m talking about the ‘Dark Ages’ of my life (a.k.a. ‘The Age of Clueless Rebellion’ during my stint in east Tennessee). Oh, what two years of refinement, purification, realignment, transformation can do, right? It is overwhelmingly sweet: connecting to God entirely and eliminating the earthly associations that once held rights to my identity. Can somebody say, ‘Sayonara? Seriously, cue Stuart Scott and his ‘Booyah!’ bellow. I’m on Jesus’ team and we’re winning…

The light bulb: Often when I wake up from sleep, I start swinging punches…punches at the past, at the devil, at myself. It’s the heart cold that never dies. I pray the Ephesians 6 armor on and lather myself in the truth of God’s Word, but usually this occurs AFTER I’ve knocked myself in a tizzy. It’s happened at least once a week for three years and counting. I’m telling you, it’s incredibly exhausting. I know the motions of ‘taking thoughts captive’ and freedom prayer. Sometimes, the motions are mechanical like a programmed android. Other times, I feel that emphatic ‘kiss’ from the Lord while expressing worship, adoration, etc. But it’s only gotten so far.

The picture: Concerning intimacy with Jesus, I’ve gotten into the red zone so many times in my life. But I’ve fallen short of the goal line and settled for a mere field goal on…probably 75-80% of the time I’ve reached it. (What’s up, Titans!) Do I put points on the board? Absolutely! Do I still fall short of the ultimate prize? Don’t make me say, ‘Duh!’ (Shoot, just did). Call the past week a long visit to the chiropractor. Mine goes by the name of Jesus Christ, and he’s been cracking me up like crazy. It’s hurt like a sugar fast on Christmas. But it’s been one of the best decisions of my life.

The resolution: So many distractions, so little time. When the axe meets the grind, I’ve lived 25% of my life already, and at some point, I have to rise above the harassment. God, punch the bullies in my life, whether they be word curses, vain thoughts, demonic dreams, penetrative insults…I cannot care if my name is an abused baseball in a batting cage. There’s something powerful about God standing up and taking the punches for us. In the meantime, we can punch through the garbage and crap of this life and experience intimacy with Jesus no matter what relational level we’re settled on. The next time you feel tempted to dwell in the land of entitled shame, ‘junk mail’ Satan’s plan, then block him for good with a ‘heart of praise’ stiff arm that would make Chris Berman proud.