Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Give me some context! Part 1

     I listen to a lot of sermons and I hear a lot of verses spoken in church and I often wonder how we come up with the verses that we select to use as references for our everyday life. A lot of them seem to fit the context of our lives, but do we ever really look at the verses around them to make sure we are using it properly? I wanted to dedicate some posts for some misused verses as I come upon them, so let's take a look at one.
Jeremiah 29:11 - For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
      Let me start by saying that I really love this verse. To just read it brings a level of comfort and I'm sure that's why it's used so often. I often hear this used as proof that the bad circumstances in our life can't possibly keep going because "Look at this! God's gonna prosper you, not harm you!" I've heard it used in references to bad financial situations. I've heard it used in situations involving sour relationships between family and friends. The overarching theme is "The circumstances in your life are going to change in the future because God is a God of prosperity for His children."
      I have a some problems with how we use this scripture, and maybe my complaint has to do with how we use scripture in general. I think that we are very flippant in the way that we God's word. There is no reverence in tossing out verses in that way. We twist the bible in an attempt to provide momentary comfort and seek to 'smooth over' the bad circumstances with a quick comment so that we can brush it aside and move on. I think there is so much more to be had in not only this verse, but this section of the bible. 
      Look at what is actually happening in this chapter in Jeremiah. We have Jerusalem being hauled away to Babylon into captivity. This is an entire people group being ripped from their beloved city. They have dealt with a long siege by a much stronger army. Many of those that did not die of starvation from the siege were slaughtered when the city was overtaken. Imagine watching much of your family starve to death, die of disease, or die at the end of a sword. As if that's not enough, now you are taken from your home, your possessions, and everything you've ever known and forced to march to a foreign nation to be integrated into a society that you've never visited. This is a time in history that our western culture simply can't relate to. This doesn't compare to a bounced check or a foreclosed home. This doesn't compare to a broken friendship or even a cancer diagnoses. This is a level of human suffering that most of us have never experienced and probably never will.
     Secondly, look at why Jeremiah is sending the letter. 
Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
I suspect that Jeremiah is referring to prophets like Hananiah (Chapter 28) who were saying that this exile would not be much more than a short journey. That in just a little while God would break the yoke of Babylon from Judah's neck and all would be well again. (Coincidentally, that's how 29:11 is used most often today.) The reality was that God had already set the length of the exile. That time would be 70 years. Seventy years! How much comfort does that give you now? "Hey, don't worry about your budget being blown up this month by that car transmission, God's plan is to prosper you.......about 70 years from now." Somehow I don't think we'd use it that way. Maybe we should, it might be better than how I hear it now. 
      I think it all comes down to our very definition of prosperity and harm. In America today we are so humanistic that we tend to only look at prosperity as a financial windfall, or maybe a great project completed. We look at harm as anything that isn't pleasure. If it's doesn't make me happy, it's harmful. As Christians, we need to look at things in a different light. In the eternal, what does prosperity look like? What about harm? I would say it's a difference of living in the glory of God forever, or His wrath forever. It's not something so small as our everyday lives. We don't yet have any comprehension of what prosperity and harm even look like. We can get a glimpse through the Word, and judging by that, it's more wonderful and more terrible than our brains can fathom. 
      Look at chapter 30. I think we can begin to get a handle on what God's perspective is on this.
11 I am with you and will save you,’
    declares the Lord.
‘Though I completely destroy all the nations
    among which I scatter you,
    I will not completely destroy you.
I will discipline you but only in due measure;
    I will not let you go entirely unpunished.’
Wait a second, that's prosperity? Our hopeful future is that the nation won't be completely wiped out? Why all the punishment? Read on, my friend.
12 “This is what the Lord says:
“‘Your wound is incurable,
    your injury beyond healing.
13 There is no one to plead your cause,
    no remedy for your sore,
    no healing for you.
14 All your allies have forgotten you;
    they care nothing for you.
I have struck you as an enemy would
    and punished you as would the cruel,
because your guilt is so great
    and your sins so many.
15 Why do you cry out over your wound,
    your pain that has no cure?
Because of your great guilt and many sins
    I have done these things to you.
So you see, there is no cure from this world for our wounds. There is no healing for our hurts. There is no relief from our guilt. No solution for the human condition. With all that in mind, where is the hope that God talks about in 29:11? Here it is:
21 Their leader will be one of their own;
    their ruler will arise from among them.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me—
    for who is he who will devote himself
    to be close to me?’
declares the Lord.
22 “‘So you will be my people,
    and I will be your God.’”
Jesus was that leader. Jesus is that ruler. He came completely devoted to the redemptive mission of God. He made the way to prosperity and shut out the harm for all of eternity for those who follow him. Best of all he made it possible for God to declare again that "You are my people, and I am your God". Is that not awesome? If you go on to read chapter 31, you will read some of the most beautiful words in the whole Bible. Words of the stunning redemption and the New Covenant provided through our great ruler Jesus. 
     I hope this helps to bring some context and depth to an overused and watered down verse. I hope this helps to make the beauty of the Lord Jesus a little more real to you today. Let not your heart be troubled today with the cares of this world. God's plan really is to prosper and not harm. He really does provide a hope and a future. It just might not be something so lowly as a a better job, a bigger house, or a clean bill of health.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I'll Take the Stairs

Then they said, "Come, let's build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world." - Genesis 11:4  
     This is really our great problem, isn't it? Among all the world's religions (including the majority of supposed Christianity) is the basic idea that if we are good enough, we can achieve heaven. If our works are great enough, we can build our Tower of Babel high enough to get there on our own. This basic human idea even flows into, and possibly from, our American consumer mentality. 'If I can just get past that next hurdle, this next goal, that next big purchase, then I'll truly be happy. Then I can rest.' I believe this is the lie that permeates our culture so deeply that most people, even church going 'Christians', can go their entire lives without ever realizing they are caught in it.
     The great news of the gospel is that we can't get to heaven on our own. We can't be good enough. We can't achieve a certain level that will make us acceptable to God. It says it explicitly throughout the scriptures so many times that I don't even feel that I need to address it here with reference. The great news is that what is impossible for us, has been achieved apart from us. Look at what Jesus says in John 1:51. This is right after Nathaniel has been impressed because Jesus knew about him before they ever met.
Then he said, "I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth."
Do you see? He calls himself the stairway to heaven, and He certainly is. Not only is He A stairway, He is THE stairway. We don't have to build a tower, we can take the stairs. In fact, we MUST take the stairs because our tower, our work, can never get us anywhere.
     The writer of Hebrews expresses dread for those of us still trying to work on the tower.
God's promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. - 4:1
What could he be so worried about that he would 'tremble with fear' for those of us who won't experience it? It is this: That you have entered His rest is an essential proof that you are a Christian. When we see people in church who are in constant distress, we should truly fear for them. They have missed the stairway. They have missed His rest.
     We worry about the stock market, our home equity, the government, foreign debt, terrorism, and everything else. We need to build the 401k back up, buy a new car, have the new gadget, get the kids in private school, buy the bigger house. We have to get back to church, join another book study, give more money, get the new Christian CD. I'm not saying that all of these things are bad. Some of them are necessary, even noble, but it's so easy to get caught up in this world, even in Christian things, and focus only on our own work. All the while we miss Jesus' work on the cross completely. We just continue to work on the tower, hoping that in our work, we will find rest. Don't be fooled, it is the same tower that muslims, hindus, humanists, and even atheists all work on, believing that they can achieve heaven, enlightenment, or peace on their own.
     But for us, the true Church of Jesus Christ, there is rest waiting (Heb 4:9). We can't stay in this constant cycle of striving and consuming. Jesus has so much more for us than that. All we need to do is put down our labors and rest in His finished work for us (10). After all, we can't build the tower and take the stairs at the same time. So, let's put down our hammer and chisel, leave our bricks and mortar, and give our lives to climbing the stairs that are Jesus Christ (11). Let me close with a final quote from Jesus. It can be found in John 5:29
Jesus told them, "This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent."
I pray that your life leads you to the stairs that are Jesus. That you would stop striving and give your life over to Him. Only then will you have the peace and rest that God alone gives. Only then can you begin to live the life He has for you.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Where there's a will, there's a way

     Where there's a will, there's a way. I've heard this saying many many times and I think it's very prevalent in society, but to break it down I think there is even more here than we realize. I think there is a great spiritual truth that can be derived from the words, and I'm going to make an attempt, however futile, to show that here.
     Let me begin by giving a definition of the word 'will'. My 1828 Webster's Dictionary (a fantastic work, I must say) defines the word as 'That faculty of the mind by which we determine either to do or forbear an action', and I think that's a very good definition. It involves choice and determination that I'm ready to do what it takes, and my 'way' will be realized based upon my determination. There is a very real sense that all 'wills' in our lives will lead to a 'way' no matter what it is. It could be good or bad depending on the long term pattern of the choices we make.
     I always hear people asking "God, what is your will for my life?". It is the cry of many lives, and surprisingly, that's a really easy question for me to answer. From reading the Bible, the prevalent theme throughout is that God's will is a relationship with us. He wants our lives submitted to Him. He wants our obedience. "What does He want me to obey?" might be the next logical question. I would respond to that with Matthew 22:37-40 as a great start. It is Jesus' response to what the greatest commandment is.
Jesus replied, "'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important:'Love your neighbor as yourself.' The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments."
     Well then how can we love Him more? How can my entire being be submitted to loving Him? I would ask you, how did you grow to love your family? Your wife? Your husband? Most certainly you did a lot of work to cultivate your relationship. You definitely spent a lot of time getting to know that person and if your marriage is successful, you will always continue to be getting to know that person. Most marriages fail because we don't realize that it's a lifelong process. The other person begins to change and we don't continue to pursue them and soon enough, the small gap that began to form has become a chasm that can no longer be bridged. What makes us think that our relationship with God will be any different? Why do we think that we don't need to pursue Him?
     I think it's mostly because we genuinely don't want God. We aren't asking for His will in our lives, we are asking for His way. We don't want Him messing with our wills. We just want some resolution, an end result. We want the rewards and promises of God, but we don't want the relationship. We want to live in our will, and yield God's way, but it doesn't work like that. Our will only yields our way, and if you know yourself, you know that your ways aren't all that great. However, when you get in God's will you get God's way. He will guide your life on the path He wants it to be on, which is the best possible path.
     Do you struggle with needing to know God's 'way' for you? What you're really saying to Him is "God, you are not enough for me and I need to know where this is all headed because you don't bring me satisfaction." If you are in that place, you are in danger. My brothers and sisters, seek Him, seek to be in His will, and you will not only find His way for you, but you will find that His will is all you'll ever need.
     If you are truly in God's will: a submitted life to Him and obedience to His commands, then the way will no longer matter. You won't care where you are going, because you will know Him. He has more for you in a relationship with Him than He has for you in His plan for this life. If you are in His will, you have found peace and joy which surpasses all understanding. What more could we ask for than Him?
     Next time we say this saying let's specify. Where there is my will, there is my way. Where there is God's will, there is God's way. Both are certain.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Fire is Burning

     I woke up at 4 in the morning the other night and had a vision. I used to ignore those types of things as dreams and just rollover and go back to bed, but this was different. I keep a pen and paper near me, only because I like to write in bed before I go to sleep, but this seemed too important to write in bed. I was drawn to my desk and I began to write. This was my vision:
     There was a man in a burning building with fire all around him. He is in a middle room and a firefighter bursts in and says "Grab on to me!". The man is sitting there next to a 500 pound bowl made of cement, clutching it with all his might. He looks at the firefighter and says "But this is all that I have!". The firefighter says "You'll have to leave it behind" and the man replies "No, this is all I have!". The firefighter is forced to leave as the man burns to death clinging to his bowl.
     You see, grabbing on to Jesus is the only way to live, truly live. He will pull you out of the fire of God's wrath, but it will cost you all that you have. Many of us have things we like and don't want to give up to follow Him. Things we think are worth much more, but they will all leave you in the fire and they are all worth the same as that bowl. Nothing. Cling to Jesus and leave all else behind, my friend. You will have left all you have, but you will have lost nothing and gained everything.
     Look around your life. What have you given up to follow Him? What will you be willing to give up? If the answer is nothing, or really any less than everything, then I have bad news for you, you will die in the flame. He will not pull you out with one arm clinging to your garbage or with you trying to grab things as He carries you towards the door. He will only carry you out once you have both arms wrapped around Him and your face turned only towards His. (Mat 10:39)
     I would also argue that the rest of your life is then you being carried through the flame. It is not you walking outside in the fresh air, as some preachers would have you believe. That will come later. For now, it is your reward to be able to realize that you are in a fire. You will struggle as you see friends and family in the fire. Sometimes the smoke will be so thick you will have trouble breathing, and other times you may even be burned, but when it seems as though you can no longer take it, you can always look up and have great comfort in the one carrying you. He saved you, is saving you, and will continue to save you.
     Now don't misunderstand. This is not a perfect analogy. It is not a full circle doctrinal vision, but is does make a point that the Bible would agree with. You must cling to Jesus, and Jesus alone. There is no other way to get to heaven. There is no other way to have a relationship with God. All other 'ways' will be shown false, and any trust you have in any other thing will be proven foolish and perilous.
     It is not my goal to condemn you, but to have you look at your life. If you call yourself a believer, a follower of Christ, then examine yourself! (2nd Cor 13:5). Do you see Jesus in you, or do you follow other things? Are there things that you would not give up if He asked? What is most important in your life? Is it Him? If it is anything less or anything in addition to Him, then repent and put Him where He belongs. The number one spot in your life is rightfully His and His alone.
     I thank God for bringing you here to read this. I thank you for taking the time. As always, comments and questions are welcome.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Glorious Journey

     One of the most widely spread lies that I have seen in the past year is that people believe that Christianity is an event. I have talked to people who believe themselves to be a Christian because one time they prayed a prayer and asked Jesus to come into their heart. I have seen people pray the 'salvation' prayer and have tangible change almost immediately in their life, but after a week, month, or however long, they start to lose that warm and fuzzy feeling and end up falling back into the same sinful ways that they started in. My friends, that is not Christianity, and that event was not conversion.
     You see, if you were truly converted, then Jesus will not leave you where you started. You won't be perfect, and you never will be in this life, but you will continually get better. That is not to say that there won't be good days and bad days, but if I were to look at a graph of your Christian life over time it would show that you look more and more like Jesus over the years, and less and less like your former self.
      I think that many pastors are afraid to question the salvation of anyone in their congregation, as they very well should be. It is not the place of anyone to judge others hearts because we cannot possibly know their heart. That being said, if we can see someone who believes themselves saved and believes themselves to be a Christian and yet they are living carnal, wicked lives without even so much as a glance at repentance, then we owe it to them to at least have a conversation. We should be much more afraid for their souls then we are for our own reputation. For people to run around calling themselves Christians when they are not is terrible for Christianity. It shows the world exactly how hypocritical the church is. More importantly, it blasphemes the name of Christ Jesus. From a non-believer's perspective, if you see a supposed Christian living just like you with no victory in their life, no joy of salvation, and no dedication aside from what appears to be a wasted Sunday morning, why would you be drawn to church? Why would you be drawn to Christ? They will say "Well, that person goes to church and they're just like me, so I must be ok too." Even worse, they will say "Jesus has no power, He has not saved them from anything. They are exactly the same person they used to be." And the world falls a little bit deeper and grows a little bit darker. My friends, we are called to be the light of the world. The only problem is that we can be no light on our own. It must come from God. We can only reflect His light.
     Salvation does not come from a prayer or taking communion. It does not come from an alter call or a baptism. Salvation comes only through Jesus. It is a supernatural work coming only from God. It will change your life completely. It is a complete regeneration. It is as if you have been born a second time and the life cycle of growth starts all over. Most importantly, once the process starts, it can't be stopped. Jesus does not start a good work and quit after a week. Jesus finishes all that He starts, and all that He touches bears fruit. No work of His hands bears thorns, it only bears fruit.
     I beg you to examine yourself today. Take a look at your life. Has it changed since you have known Jesus? Is your life bearing fruit? Can you pinpoint areas where He has transformed you? Is he still working on you today? If you answered yes to all of those questions, then praise God. May he continue to work on you all the days of your life. If you answered No to any of those questions, you should be afraid because it would appear that you do not know Him. Pray that Jesus would take over your life. Repent of your sins and throw your self upon Him and His finished work on the cross. He will not deny you. He will put you on the path to the greatest journey you could ever imagine.
    I plan to dig a little bit deeper into the doctrine of what I am saying in the near future so stop back and take a look. In the meantime, tell me about your story in the comments section. Also, feel free to email me at the address under my profile with anything that may not belong in the comments section. I'd love to hear from you, whether praise or criticism. May the Lord draw you closer always.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Think About It

     I have often thought over the past year about how much things have changed in my life since I have been following Jesus. I used to be the person at the party, not only consuming everything in sight (booze, drugs, etc.), but also convincing others to do the same. I chewed tobacco all day every day. I hated everything about God and anything to do with religion or spirituality. I basically was on track to do anything I could to actively destroy my life. But now, all those things have turned around 180 degrees. To think that so much could change in one year gives me hope in God's truth that in Him, nothing is impossible.
     That being said, if you would have asked me two years ago if I were a good person or not, my answer would have been a resounding yes. If you were to ask me now, that answer would be a definite no. So much has been revealed to me through reading the Bible and being in communion with God. The more you read and find out about Him, the more you realize how wrong you were, and how wrong you still are. You see, I may be 100 times better than I was before, but I still fall infinitely short when compared to God. We have no comprehension for how perfect He is, nor how wicked we are. 
     You may be thinking to yourself, "Well I think I'm a pretty good person. Sure, there's some things that need to be changed, but overall, I think I'll be getting to heaven someday." You probably do a lot of nice things for your family and friends. Maybe even give to charity and help out in your community. You make it to church every Sunday, put a few dollars in the basket each week. Compared to everyone else around you, myself included, you're probably a pretty good person. Unfortunately, you will not be judged in comparison to your neighbors when the day comes. You will be judged in comparison to the only one who ever lived a perfect life. Jesus Christ. Let me tell you, my friend, you will fall inconceivably short. That is why He had to come in the first place. No one could ever make it to heaven on their own merit. We are hopelessly lost without His direction.
     If you still don't believe it, think about a couple of things that Jesus told us. I've never murdered anyone, and I'm sure you haven't either. Check that commandment off. Don't have to worry about that one, right? Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, that even if we are angry at someone, treat them with contempt, or curse someone, we are in danger(5:22). He equates anger and murder. How many times, even in the past week, have you been agitated by a co-worker, complained about that stupid cashier at the gas station who can't count change, or spit curses at the driver who cut you off? "Murder", Jesus says. I don't know about you, but I've killed more than a couple this week by that standard. He says similar things about adultery, pride, and revenge, and I am guilty of all. If you are honest with yourself, you probably are too.
     So what are we to do? I would suggest a few things to you. The first would be to admit to God that you cannot live up to His standard, because you can't. The second would be to confess the things that you are aware of that are wrong in your life. The Bible says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive. The third thing I would tell you is DON'T STOP THERE! Be deliberate in your thinking all the time. Ask yourself not just WHAT you did today, but ask yourself WHY you did it. Take an inventory of your thoughts throughout the day. Put up a reminder on your fridge or your desk to "Be Deliberate". Your motives and emotions will tell you more about what's wrong then just looking at your outward actions. Ask God to take the things that are wrong from your life as you encounter them. Trust me, He will.   
     I hope you have come to realize that nothing you do can get you to heaven. You must trust in Christ alone. I have never regretted getting closer to God and His will for my life. It is the greatest thing you could ever do. So be deliberate today! Weed out the things from your life that God doesn't want there, and give your life to Him, that he may use it for something truly worthwhile.
     Hopefully reading this has helped you in some small way. Probably more likely is that it has at least made you think a little bit. I make no claim to be perfect or to have life figured out. I'm just here to try to help others find the Truth that I have. If you agreed with this or disagreed, if you liked it or hated it, please comment and let's have a conversation about it. If there is something I missed, something you would like to add, or a suggestion on something else for me to write about, please let me know. I'm open to all opinions as long as you are open to mine. Thanks for reading and may God show himself to you more and more.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Mission

     I am a Christian. A relatively new Christian, but a Christian nonetheless. I have found in my short time walking with Jesus that there are many false doctrines and teachings, and I have made it my mission to decipher through those to find the truth that the Bible teaches. I don't claim to know all that is true, or even to know more than any one person, but I do know the desire of my heart: to know God's truth as much as He will show it to me. I plan to write as often as I can to publish doctrines and teachings that have helped me immensely in the past, and others that will inevitably help me as I move forward.
     I have only two goals in writing this blog. The first is to help others find the extraordinary Truth that I have found. It is amazing what God can do with your life if you seek Him earnestly and open your mind to the facts that He has laid before us. The second is to find more truth for myself. I would love nothing more than for people to read something I write and then contact me to add or correct what I am saying. If just one person finds truth here, or helps me find more, then this venture has been a success to me. If this becomes a network for friends and fellowship as I hope it will, then let all the glory go to God, without whom I never would have done this.
     I invite you to follow me and keep updated with what I am writing. I invite you to comment on my posts, not only if you agree and it has helped you, but also if you disagree or I have not said enough. I also invite you to email me your ideas for something I could research and write about. I want to learn, so if you have something to teach me, suggest to me, or add to my posts, please don't hold back. I am no English professor. That much is probably clear to you already, so please forgive grammatical, punctuational, or any other errors you may find. I welcome your criticism and correction, so please give it. If anyone should ever wish to edit for me, let me know, because God knows I need it. I would be happy to send you all of my posts to correct them before publishing.
     Thank you for reading even this much. May God bless this work, and may you continue to seek God, because those who seek will surely find.