Sunday, August 02, 2015

From Or In?

So many Believers are sold a doctrine of lies that are entirely unobtainable as a Christian. "Accepting Jesus" is sold as a fix-it-all sort of magic wand to wave. Depressed? Try Jesus. Addicted? Repeat some words. Struggling to just get by? Jesus can somehow fix all that ails you in a moment. Friends, this is crippling for anyone who truly desires to follow Christ, victoriously. Life on this side of the Cross is full of pains, struggles and failures. The difference? Where your hope lies. If it's in your own try-harder, do-better attitude, you're sunk. If it's in the power of Christ with self laid to rest, there is hope beyond it all. God is well aware of my weaknesses and failures. He invites me to Himself, unaffected by my shortcomings.

Jesus told us, "In the world you'll have tribulations: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world, there's nothing for you to fear." For far too many years I walked in constant condemnation that I must be doing something wrong because my Christian walk was... well... hard. I fail. I fall. I wrestle with disbelief. I have real struggles and tribulation, just as Jesus foretold. So, today, I no longer errantly assume I must be doing something wrong because adversity is always lurking in the shadows. I rejoice instead in the Light that is Christ Who has overcome it all. It's His goodness, His faithfulness and His strength that enables me to stand. The confession of my inability unleashes His absolute ability. Standing in His ability alone is quite freeing and contains the proper exchange necessary to live a victorious life as a Believer.

Oswald Chambers said, "An average view of the Christian life is that it means deliverance FROM trouble. It is deliverance IN trouble, which is very different." Well said. May we transition properly from our incorrect thinking on these matters and begin to embrace and find joy in our weakness.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Stony Ground

As I read through some of the book of Matthew this morning, I came across the words of Jesus. Words spoken from a human tongue just like yours and mine. Released into the air in such a mysterious way so that others with physical ears to ear, could discern what came forth. Just as you and I address one another, God wrapped in flesh uttered lovely words of life that have crossed the great expanse of time. Some were harsh of course but all were pointing to one thing – man is fallen, drowning in his despicable state and He came as our One true Light and Hope – our Rescuer.

I seemed to hover over the words of the sower parable, explained. I was drawn into their imagery and purpose as I read and re-read them. If there was ever a specific teaching within a parable that seemingly sums up modern-day Christianity as you and I know it, it would be the explanation of the seed that was sown on the rocky places. (Matthew 13:20 and 21) 

For months now, I cannot seem to shake an inescapable thought pattern in regards to how I respond to trials in my life. As I’m quickly nearing forty-two years of age, I constantly seem to unearth old thought structures that contradict the teachings of Christ. Years and years of bad doctrines, some self-imposed, some from preachers who just never took the time to properly explain the Word. Either way, I truly do relish confronting these traditions and skewed views, thankful that the Holy Spirit desires to guide me into Truth.

So what about this “rocky ground” allegory that Jesus told us about? There are some specifics I’d like to draw out, if I may. But first, let’s state these two verses. The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;  yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.This one he speaks of received the truth - willingly and immediately – even joyfully! He embraced it and did not respond with prideful rejection. However, when affliction and persecution comes his way, he falls away and intentionally abandons the truth. Jesus tells us that this is because of several reasons. Let’s dissect them a bit in order to go a little deeper.

1.       He had “no firm root in himself”. Have you ever planted a garden? Perhaps a tree? Right now we have two-inch carrot sprouts in our garden. They’ve grown from seed, but their roots are surely very shallow and are not well established at all. Even the slightest tug at the greens would easily yank the entire young root system right out of the ground. Now, let’s imagine we walk around to the front of my house. There before us would stand a towering magnolia tree. I’ve been told it’s at least fifty years old. How ridiculous would it look for us to attempt to push over this behemoth of a tree? Its roots are indeed firm, digging deep into the earth-established. We’ve likely all seen an acorn cracked open, producing a tiny green shoot under a light bed of leaves.  This is the beginning. How long must it take for that little acorn to grow into a mighty oak that spreads out tall and wide? How long has the growing process been for our lofty magnolia? This, my friend is the Christ-life journey. Scores have been told to “just make a decision” and all will magically be OK. Just attend services, do a Bible study if you have time and try to hold on until the end. If you encounter troubles and trials, it’s the devil attacking you and/or you’re backslidden. However, time and time and time again Jesus tells us in advance there is a cost. There will be trials. There will be afflictions. There will be rough times – of growth. So, stay put Believer. Dig your feet down deep into the dirt of faith and become established in your identity in Christ. Be willing to let the process of growth run its course. Don’t be as Eve in the Garden and look to the right and to the left, wondering if there’s a better way outside of the Father. Keep your eyes fixed on your Hope and Assurance. Get rooted!

2.       As we read, this man in the parable “immediately receive(d) the word with joy” but it was “only temporary”. The Greek word used here is explained as insinuating a temporal season. From what Jesus explains, we could easily assume it was a favorable one. Just yesterday I heard a prominent preacher on the radio speaking of this “favor” of God. He exhorted his listeners to pursue this “perfect place” of favor from God and somehow reside there 24/7. Oh how we set each other up for absolute failure! If only there were a way for me to line up an interview for him to sit down and deliver this message to the disciples. What of their imprisonment? What of their persecutions for being named among the followers of Christ? What of their pains of laying down their livelihoods and worldly comforts to pursue this Christ? What would you say oh pastor to Stephen as he’s being run out of the city gates to be stoned by the angry mob? This message is only applicable to we who have a skewed view of salvation and entirely lack the understanding of walking out the salvation process. You see, in our age of Christiandom, we promote excitement and feel-good experiences above all else. Meetings work people into an emotional frenzy until they “receive the word with joy”. However it is only “temporary” and too often entirely based upon immediate response, not longevity. How many “rededications” and “recommitments” must we all endure? This summed up my meager Christian life for so, so many years. Too many! I failed to understand that the call of salvation was a life-long journey of triumphs and failures. It’s OK friend, to fall. It does not disqualify you or mean you’re outside of God’s hand. Get up! Remain in the joy of the Lord that is not circumstantial. Stay spiritually alert and do not allow the word that you’ve received to only remain as a temporary season.

3.       “When affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.Jesus is bought and sold like some sort of spiritual drug. A fix that will miraculously take you out of your predicaments and troubles. Unhappy? Try Jesus! Broke? Give your money to God (ie: a religious organization) so that you can get more in return! Depressed? Lonely? Lacking purpose? Just “get God” and all will turn favorable for you, right? *sigh* Don’t get me wrong, with a life rooted and established upon the Rock that is Christ, your life will have a much different outcome. That being said, you may or may not see physical evidence of the fullness of all that is going on in and around you. A true follower, the “seed on the good soil” follower that we see in verse 23, is more concerned with enduring the journey all the way to the end. As Jesus told us in Matthew 24:13, “He that endures to the end shall be saved”. To the end! Also, as I mentioned in the “root” point earlier, what of those who see every single trial and struggle as an attack from the enemy meant for harm? Of course this is not entirely ruled out but all is only an opportunity to see our need for, and reliance upon, our Heavenly Father. As I feel like I always say, it’s all about our perspective. We don’t always need to avert every little thing that attempts to thwart our spiritual growth. In fact, perhaps we should embrace it and see that oft times it’s been brought our way to conform us into the image of Christ Himself.

Someone I know is having a pretty trying time right now in a certain area of life. My initial response in prayer was to ask the Lord to free them of this burden – to see this trial pass quickly and become an easier path to be walked out. Quickly, I felt this was an incorrect prayer, rooted in my own personal convictions and preference. As I pondered on the spiritual matters that I’m discussing here, I changed my prayer. My request changed from their being ”delivered from” into their “deliverance being found in the midst of”, if that makes sense. Too often we want to spare one another, and ourselves, the inevitable pain and heartache. While this makes absolute sense in the natural, spiritually speaking we too often attempt to run off or avoid entirely what was meant to purify us and solidify our faith. When we do this, we miss what was meant for our good. May we become a people who embrace the trials rightly - trusting that the Father is fully capable to carry us, teach us and purify us as we journey along in the dark valleys of life. This gives so much more weight to the promise that He will never leave us or forsake us. Praise Him for placing us in opportunities to prove Himself as our All In All. So when persecutions, trials and afflictions come, what else must we say but The LORD also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble”. (Psalm 9:9)

To wrap this all up, I’d like to pose an interesting parallel, I think. I believe there is a deeper significance to why the ground mentioned in this area of the parable is “rocky” (some Hebrew texts say “stony”). As I read over this several times, I kept being reminded of the “heart of stone” and “heart of flesh” event that we hear of back in Ezekiel. God states, Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” If we could metaphorically say, as we see in Matthew 13:19, that the ground is the heart (kardia: mind, innermost being of man), then we could implement the importance of the “Ezekiel heart exchange”. I’ve explained time and time again the significance of properly understanding that Jesus doesn’t want to “come into your heart”. Rather, He desires to give you an entirely new one. I could spend pages explaining why I think this is so key to understand. The heart of stone (rocky ground) is simply incapable of being the proper “ground” for spiritual seed to develop and grow. It’s the way that we’ve been divinely designed. It is imperative for the ones who truly desire to follow Christ and to become rooted (with endurance) even when the afflictions come, to grasp this reality. This alone will keep us from only having a shallow, “good season” based Christianity that is blown to and fro by the ever changing winds of this life.

We need to be pursuers of Truth. May we, as the followers of His day, sit at the feet of Jesus. May we be fully engaged in what He is speaking as well as what the Spirit is saying in this hour. It’s time to be alert and pressing in-moving forward with our gaze rightly set.  We, the Body of Christ, can do it, but not by accident! And no one can do it for us. May we deliberately set our minds on things above and walk the path, narrow that leads to the gate, small. It is our destiny and anything less will never be enough.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Proper Citizenship

Just to set the record straight in regards to me and my household after all of the years of negative junk that I always see my fellow white-Christian-American peers post on here:
1) I'm not worried about illegal immigration causing me to be broke or unemployed. This land is not "mine" to pridefully declare who is and who is not "entitled" to be here. I'm striving to live with a citizenship established in heaven. Is this earth my home? Yes. (I was created out of and for the earth.) However, this world and its patterns that are alive and well, desiring for me to get sucked into them (yes, even in America) are not.
2) I'm not enamored with Obama's bad presidency (because they're ALL awful). Posting images on Facebook like middle schoolers of how atrocious he is .... still? After FIVE YEARS in office now? Give it a rest. Bad president. We get it.
3) Our refrigerator is full and so are our cabinets and pantry. We NEVER, EVER go hungry (despite the pictures people post of the poor white-collar white working man's empty 'fridge as opposed to the welfare check receiver with a full one.) Perhaps if the Church took care of the poor and destitute today as We in early-centuries did (instead of building multi-million dollar "ministries"), we would not be in this predicament.
4) I'm not obsessed with "Christianizing" this nation because it's a kingdom of men, for men, destined to fall. (Always has been, always will be). The state of immorality, greed and laziness is a product of previous generations. It did not "just happen". We are ALL responsible. For me, "Christian" and "American" are not, and cannot, be synonymous.
5) The rules and government of this world don't guide me, sway me or dictate my life. My primary responsibility is to strive to be conformed into the image of Christ - period. The goings on here do affect me, yes. However, my vision, my gaze, my obsession is to seek eternal things that are not of this world.
So there you have it. The next time you see all of the Christian mainstream saying "poor us", Obama-trash-talking, gay and lesbian hating, illegal immigrant bashing, etc. please count me out. Thank you.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Firm Foundation

Everyone who comes to me and hears My words and acts upon them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building house, who dug deep and laid a foundation upon the rock; and when a flood rose, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built (founded upon a rock).  Luke 6:47 and 48

OK, we need not have a degree as a contractor to understand the things we can glean from this parable that Jesus spoke to us. Of course many of us have heard this passage our entire lives. But do we really grasp what it is saying? It was generally just explained as “Well, just build your life on Jesus and everything will be great when the storms of life come.” As was the case with many sermons that I heard in my years within the organized church, that I can remember anyway, we often topically blew over key points that I now read and ponder upon. I believe it would do us some good to slow down.

Could we close our eyes and imagine the man who builds this house? He attains the materials necessary, we know not how. Perhaps he purchased them with the fruits from his own labors. Perhaps they were supplied to him by his Master. Either way, he constructed a house with purpose. It’s irrelevant what the house looked like but Jesus makes no mention of it being an awesome mansion shrouded in gold and silver. The house that is like the one that hears Jesus’ words and acts upon them isn’t one about exterior flair or extravagance. Jesus could have told us to construct a house that looks pleasing on the outside but for all we know, the house could be a one-room shack without anything that would interest most of us at first glance.  It’s all about what is unseen - the foundation. It’s all about the foundation.

If we stay within the visuals of this parable, I see the key as being the process of the digging. Too often we just say “OK. So the guy who pleases Jesus builds his house on Jesus. Got it.” and we move on thinking it will somehow just happen. Maybe we think, spiritually speaking, that one night at a revival service it “happened” or that it somehow it magically takes place on Sunday mornings from eleven to noon. Have you ever driven past a jobsite where one morning crews were starting to clear an area for construction and then by sundown the same day a building was fully erected? Of course that’s ridiculous but too often Christiandom promotes this ludicrous proposition as realistic for one’s spiritual life. Make a “decision” to build your house upon Jesus and off you go! How many spiritual failures have come from this faulty approach?

It would be so much more beneficial for us to understand that it’s an ongoing process - this digging and establishing of our foundation – erecting this house that will stand whatever comes its way. A “well built” house, as Jesus said, will not be shaken. A foundation that has been painstakingly established on Christ, with great labor and toil, will provide the necessary strength to hold strong when we’re battered by all kinds of trials and storms. We’ll have to sacrifice things to build. We’ll have to focus on the unseen. We’ll have to commit to embark on the process. I’m reminded of when Jesus said “He who endures (suffers and perseveres) to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:13). Stay in the process.

I want to be a man that hears the Master’s words and acts upon them. The floods and waves are coming and are already here. Only those who have invested the time to dig and build as we’re instructed will stand. Let we who have taken on the banner of Christ consign to labor in our construction of houses that please the Lord and whether the storms. Lord, help us. Instruct us. Enable us. We long to stand.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Fear Assault

Although I’m not a gun owner and personally believe they’ve been given far too great of a place in social acceptance, there is something much more dangerous than any gun (and any other material weapon for that matter) that has ever existed. Fear. Nothing has ever ended more lives and held millions captive more than fear. The Republican conservatives want you to fear the always-appalling actions of the current Democratic-run US government. The Democrats want you to fear the looming Republican agenda. The Government as a whole wants you to fear the “evil terrorists” that are somehow always plotting to kill us all. And the Christian majority? Well, they seemingly lead the way. They want you to fear… well, everything. Non-Christians, hell, backsliding, gays, the wrath of God, people of other ethnicities, the sinful world and even Jesus if you’ve not been good enough and He’s mad at you for it. I don't even watch it and I know that the mainstream news and entertainment industry want you to fear every type of sickness and disease from the common cold to the ebola virus. Fear your neighbor that may be a serial killer. Fear a terrorist attack. Fear losing your job. Fear that the government governs too little or too much. Fear leaving your house and fear what might happen if you stay home! *sigh*

Daily, we are all attacked from all sides with emotion-driven fear. The future of our children, our job security, our health, financial situations… we could go on for days with scenarios of dread. Lurking in the shadows of every experience of life is fear. It may be buried deep down but it is always trying to rear its ugly head.

But what of the follower of Christ? How do we face these challenges in the midst of our daily lives? How do we respond when seemingly every avenue of influence in our lives attempts to drive us to fear? 

In regards to fearing judgment, 1 John tells us that God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.

We also know from Paul’s writings in Romans that “the goodness (kindness) of God leads to repentance.”

We can pretty much spread wide a large umbrella for all of the other earthly and temporal terrors that plague us from ever side with just a few verses.

“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea.” Psalm 46

“He [who properly fears the Lord] will not fear evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is upheld, he will not fear.” Psalm 112

“From my distress I called upon the Lord, the Lord answered me and set me in a large place. The Lord is for me; I will not fear; what can man do to me? Psalm 118

For God has not given us a spirit of fear (timidity), but of power and love and discipline.” 2 Timothy

“Peace I (Jesus) leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” John 14

Don’t let fear push you into or keep you from your directive. Never allow it be a role player in your decision-making process. There is a time for weighing pro’s and con’s over a thing, but fear should never be a deal breaker. Is fear holding you back from taking a new step in your life? The fear of failing… again? The fear of the unknown? The fear of things that are entirely out of your control? As a Believer, I can leave no room for fear. We can no longer, as a Body called according to the purpose of Christ, be so easily swayed and manipulated by fears that are broadcast to us from every angle.

How do we do it? Turn off your TV’s! Stop having a daily diet of FoxNews and everyone’s endless commentary on this worlds goings-on. Put down the printed trash that pollutes your mind with earthly mindsets. Forsake the conversations of gloom and doom around the water cooler. Stop eating of the endless trees of fear. Stop being an eager participant of the earthly chatter and propaganda-driven fears of the patterns of this world. Our absolute assurance cannot be rooted and established in the ebbs and flows of our natural condition. Set your minds on things above! It is time to come out! Come and out be free! Free to rise above it all and see things what they truly are. All that I’ll ever encounter is upheld by the Creator’s capable and mighty hands. In this alone I find rest.