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.