Archive for December, 2008

The Deliberation Room pt 2

December 31, 2008

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.  James 1:26.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.  James 1:6-8.

Funny that this latter statement comes right at the beginning of James letter to the believers.  It’s almost like he’s setting up his theme for the book or something, for later he speaks about heavenly wisdom.

Here are the facts that jumped out at me last night as I read this passage:

1)  Those who are not self-controlled with their words are self-deceived about their religion and it is worthless.

2)  If we ask for wisdom, God will give it.

3)  If we doubt when we ask, God considers us unstable in everything we do and we will not receive anything from Him.

4)  A person who doubts is double-minded.

Object though we might like, these are pretty stable facts.  As I said in the previous entry, I have been known to speak my mind without censorship, which hurt some, offended others and generally lacked wisdom.  The only place I haven’t been unstable is in the doubt department, at least about this specific issue.  On the one hand, I’ve never doubted God; on the other I always doubt me.

Some reading this might think self-doubt a good thing, and I would agree to some degree, but sometimes it acts as a backdoor means of circumnavigating God’s purpose for our lives, and that cannot be tolerated.  If we ask God for wisdom, it usually means we want it for a specific issue in our lives.  If He gives us a answer, following through with what we know is vital to continuing in the faith and His promises.  Faith, as James makes clear, is an active pursuit of God’s will and purpose.  For us to say we have faith yet be inactive, is the same as having no faith at all.  Faith which accomplishes nothing is useless, like a tree in full bloom of summer with no fruit.

James doesn’t say we should just be careful about what we say, but that we should keep a tight rein on our verbal output, period.  There is no negotiation room for us to wiggle out of this:  A person who is not self-controlled and full of faith is unstable and double-minded, therefore untrustworthy with the things God would give them.

Most of us have been this person.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I can say with confidence and complete accuracy that all of us have fallen short of faith in our walk with God.

Grace covers our failures.  Love covers a multitude of sins.

We don’t have to despair because we don’t measure up for God knows our makeup, since He made it, and realizes that we are but dust.  He never treats us like our sins deserve but gives us grace to fulfill His good purpose.  How many of us haven’t been of two minds about which direction we should take?  I know that I’ve struggled to understand how to approach my life with clarity and confidence.  I failed God and myself (not to mention many other people) so many times in my pursuit of His plan for me that humiliation has made me quite cautious.

And thus the lesson in faith is complete.

What does James say is the sign of true religion?  A tight rein on one’s tongue.  If I have been humbled to the point of caution, taking care about what I say, reveal or give away, I am being wise in God’s eyes.  At the same time, not speaking what God intends for us to say is also faithless.  Jesus said,  “If any man is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of man will be ashamed of him in the presence of God and the holy angels.”  (Slight paraphrase there.)  To be afraid to speak the Scripture without censorship is just as much a lack of faith as not controlling our tongue.

Paul warned Timothy in both his letters to refuse to argue about words or quarrel over the Word of God.  This means keeping a tight rein on our tongue where we know it will not accomplish anything.  It also means that anyone who is argumentative or quarrelsome about the message of the gospel or disputable matters in the Bible, is a double-minded person, not acting in faith or in harmony with the Spirit.

A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but the heart of fools blurts out folly.  Proverbs 12:23.

We can squirm and avoid this truth all we want but the Bible is quite clear that if we don’t control out output, we are not godly.  A person growing in righteousness will learn what is good to say and what should be avoided.  A person bathed in the presence of Jesus’ Spirit will learn to trust that check in their heart when the circumstances raise the yellow or red flag.

Our God is a consuming fire, who will burn away the dross from our lives, break the stone surrounding our hearts and give us hearts of flesh that will feel the needs of others.  We must move forward in faith without doubting His provision, learn self-control and become wise in the heavenly understanding.  If we fail in our pursuit of His will, He is merciful, full of love and grace towards His children and will forgive us if we confess and repent.  It’s so simple to serve this Father God that anyone who complicates it must have a love for obscuring the truth.  Jesus said that the kingdom of God was given to such as these, meaning children.  I believe when we understand self-control in the context of growth in righteousness through Christ, our thinking grows more and more balanced.  Our ability to grasp the love of God becomes unlimited when we place our faith in His provision for even our failures.

Yes, I’ve been foolish with my tongue, yet I’ve seen God cover my mistakes so many times that I know He’s with me.  I’ve said things that made me cry out in despair and chagrin only to find out later that my Lord and Savior stopped the ears of those listening so that they only heard the message He wanted them to hear.  If my words today have made you afraid to speak at all, please don’t be.  Grow in the knowledge and grace of God realizing that He loves us with an everlasting love and as long as we are willing, He will grow us into His image in ways beyond our ability to understand or even imagine, for His love covers over our stumbling, bumbling and clumsy attempts to imitate Him.  

Last illustration:

No father watching his son or daughter attempting to walk as a baby punishes the child for failing.  I mean, if the baby stands up for the first time, what do the parents do?  Well, in the modern age we grab a camera and take pictures, laughing and crying with joy over this unstable little bundle of joy doing what a few days ago was completely out of their reach.  A dad doesn’t come over to a child who falls on its diaper and say,  “You clumsy little cretin!  Look at all I’ve done for you and you can’t even learn to walk properly?!!  I should never have had you, you’re not worth the trouble!”

No, a good parent swells with pride when their child walks, grabs their little hands and helps them along, shouting for the camera or people to come look.  The baby, of course, doesn’t get all the noise or interest in their shaky stance by that couch or whatever, he or she just knows that daddy is happy.

God is pleased when we trust Him, do our best to imitate Him and, in our fumbling, bumbling, clumsy and probably scary way, do our best to walk in His will.  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and act according to His good purpose.  Philippians 2:12, 13.  We work in concert with God’s presence in our hearts to live out loud His nature and purpose.  Remember what I said before, according to James, faith which is inactive is not faith but mere belief.

Go in the knowledge that failure is a pretty sure thing for us while we grow in grace and knowledge, but also know that God will hold us up if we let Him be our Father in fact as well as in claim and is proud of us if we act in faith.

Advertisements

The Deliberation Room

December 31, 2008

A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but a fool blurts folly.  Proverbs  

He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity.  Proverbs 21:23.

If one gives answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.  Proverbs 18:13.

My nephew, Dusty, tells everyone that I don’t have the little room most people are born with where ideas or thoughts bounce around for consideration before I say them.  They go from thought to mouth without censorship or deliberation.  Though I laugh in rueful acknowledgment, I can’t tell if the room was missing the day I was born, never developed through lack of guidance or it’s there but I just never recognized what it was.  One thing’s for sure, he’s right.  Things go from thought, feeling or inspiration to my tongue without much weighing of the need to say them.

I used to believe that all I was doing was being honest, direct and refusing to wear facades, now I wonder if that wasn’t an excuse to just let it all hang out whatever the cost.  Though my intentions were never to hurt, frighten away or anger, my actions did just that without censorship.  I spoke to things as I saw them, and still do to a greater degree than is probably comfortable to most people.

I’ve discovered something in these blogs as I’ve been writing, they do for me what song writing has always done:  they allow me time to reflect on the appropriateness of the thought, it’s application and to be sensitive to other people.  The ability to deliberate over an idea or thought doesn’t usually occur to me until after I’ve made the faux pax.  Of course, Proverbs calls me a fool and unwise, lacking in prudence and incurring shame.  Through this and my other blog, I’m forced in some ways, to edit my output for the sake of clarity and getting my point across.

In other words these writing forums have become the antechamber I needed all my life to edit my verbal output.  Strange as it may seem to some who might casually read this blurb about my failings, I have begged God to show me the rules of social aptitude for years.  This is the first time I’ve been able to actually see results in my public behavior.  The blogs have been an education ground where I have to ask myself,  “Is this gonna’ meet the goal I set out to reach?  Am I gonna’ communicate?  Will God be honored by what I write down?  Am I saying too much, too little or just enough?  Should I speak this fact in public though I know it would embarrass and hurt someone else?”

Because I can see it on paper (of a sorts), I am able to weigh the content a bit better.  Which means I’m a visual or kinetic person, who learns, analyzes and ascertains by doing, seeing and experiencing.

While I was married, I learned many things about appropriate subjects…of course these subjects filtered through my wife’s preferences, still many held merit.  I learned to keep my mouth shut about certain aspects of our lives because it embarrassed her.  During and after the divorce, I grew silent and reluctant to speak to certain aspects of our crumbling relationship, since I knew that to do so would be quite useless.

That’s another thing that makes more and more sense to me:  If it ain’t gonna’ accomplish the goal, why do it?

Actually, my counselor during my divorce aftermath gave me three principles for goals setting:

1)  Where do you want to go?

2)  How are you going to get there?

3)  How’s that going to help get you where you want to go?

It may sound simplistic but these three questions have become my Deliberation Room for they help me figure out the purpose of my words and actions–not to mention whether or not I should hold or release certain feelings.

James 3:7, 8:  All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

I am aware of how futile it is to attempt to change one’s self without divine help.  Yet I’ve also come to realize that being able to write things down, talk them out and taking the time to think them through is vitally important.  We can’t go just by what we feel here, it has to have wisdom attached to the reason or the outcome may end up in the toilet.

I want to help, encourage and build up those around me and in some way through this blog.  The only way to do that is to be deliberate about what I say and think before I write.  So I’m building a Deliberation Room where I can weigh my words more carefully, plant the seed of thought with intentional grace and become more like my Master than ever before.

Abundantly Supplied

December 28, 2008

Many who read this on a regular basis know my financial situation because I’ve made it clear that I decided to wait on the Lord to provide. Tonight God gave me a big miracle from the Grace Point eldership.

I spoke with the treasurer during the break between the first part of the service and the testimony/sermon. He asked how things were going and I told him God was giving me just enough to get by but that I expected Him to come through this week with more than I had asked for.

This man has hired me in the past and knew my testimony about work and ministry, so he smiled and said, “God seems to always come through for you. I’m sure He will again.”

At the end of the service, he caught up with me and handed me a check as he usually does, folded. Then he grinned mischievously and said, “The church decided to pay you for the two services you had to miss because of the snow, since you already prepared them.”

Stunned, I looked at the check and lo and behold there was $420.00. I stuttered something and he just smiled and replied, “When we talked before, I realized that God had already worked for you because the elders and pastor told me before the service even began to pay you the extra. God came through for you again even before you or I knew it and then when we talked, I just decided to be silent and tell you now because I saw your faith.”

God comes through without a doubt. I now have enough money this week to pay for Bob Barnes’ labor, my rent, what was lacking for last month and bills that have been delinquent.

I also received notice this morning that I would be receiving a check to work for some people in Bridge City (another church I attend and play for on Saturday mornings) this week equalling about $500 to 600.00. Add to that another $700.00 for the job I will work this week and it adds up to a big blessing.

God provided without my knowledge or interference.

I hope this testimony encourages anyone who reads it. God will provide for those who trust Him, exceedingly abundantly more than we think or ask.

Do You Wish to Download?

December 26, 2008

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  Matthew 13:24b, 25.

“Do you wish to down load?”

I didn’t even think about it because it looked like an official McCafee notification that comes about once a year.  Oddly enough, the Yahoo! tool bar came with it, which seemed a little out of place to me but I didn’t think about it.

Then I got a message that I had a virus and needed to scan my disk.  The scan window looked odd and I aborted.  It came back up so I decided to scan with the original McCafee, which, sadly enough, seems to have been disabled or deceived, because it found nothing.  Again, I attempted to go into Control Panel and delete the file by uninstalling it, and it went away only to come back five minutes later with an insistence that drove me crazy.  Something had taken control of my computer and wouldn’t even let me use System Restore.

I called a computer whiz friend of mine who gave me a few things to try and nothing has worked so far.  It looks like I will have to save all the files I need for work and memories to storage disks, then completely wash the hard drive by reloading the entire operating system and erasing all previous data.

Time.

Frustration.

Loss.

Jesus said to His disciples,  “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.  It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.  So watch yourselves.”  Luke 17:1-3a.

Do we see this statement for what it says?  “So watch yourselves.”

Humans are social creatures, which means that we are affected by those around us in subtle as well as not so subtle ways.  It’s interesting to hear people tell me that they “just need to be themselves” then watch them go out and conform.  If we look at the alternative crowds and those who would be “original,” we find them all doing their best to be unique but instead looking the same.  I don’t care how many different piercings a person has in odd spots, the fact that they have them is enough to conform to a select corner of society, which makes them conformists.

When I was young, everyone wore bellbottoms or something of that nature.  It actually embarrasses me a little how conformist we were at that age, for we would call those who wore straight legged jeans “hicks” or “rednecks”, laughing at them for being so behind the times and square.  Yet if you had asked many of us what we were trying to do, we would have said we just being ourselves, individual and different from the crowd.  What we really meant (though without realizing it at the time) was that we were being different from our parents’ generation.

“Do you wish to down load?”

B. F. Skinner determined that it takes approximately three weeks to make a habit and twice that much to break it.  What we download into our minds will create an environment of performance for whatever is the dominant factor in our habit.  For instance, if we believe (as the hippy era taught) that we should “check out” of reality and create our own, we will live our lives this way until either we determine it doesn’t make us happy or kills us.  Those who believe they deserve pleasure at their beck and call will practice a lifestyle based on this premise, which means they will practice what they believe passionately.

The first time I studied OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) was in nursing school.  It became apparent that somethings are just wired into us.

Sex can become an addiction, I believe, but it starts out as desire, then a habit until it realizes itself in a full blown addictive mess.  I am not a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist, I’m just a man.  Let me say, however, that from my personal observations about sexual “addiction,” that most of us should call it something else entirely:  1 John 2:16b–The cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does…

Oops!!  Major faux pax alert!  Or, in the world’s eyes, this type of reasoning comes down to complete and utter foolishness.

Why?  Because it explains something we do by another means than they wish to see it.  For one thing it tells us that porn is not an addiction in the same category that a drug is; that gluttony is not the same kind of problem that alcohol might be.  If most men (and women for that matter) would be honest with themselves, they would admit that their “sexual addiction” is really about immediate gratification.  We all want pleasure when we want…which usually means “right now!”  Yes, it can become a psychological habit and a form of retreat when we are stressed, just like eating or fighting, but that doesn’t put it on the same plane as drug addiction.  For those who look on the net for sexually stimulating material, we have a choice!  It’s not like our compulsion can’t be endured.  If you or I knew for a fact that lust would kill us immediately, we wouldn’t do it.  Though the Bible tells us sin leads to death, the timeline is so far out from “now” that we don’t really register it.  We accept death as natural, when in reality it isn’t at all.

I believe we have explained our sin problems away by tagging them as addictions.  For instance, if someone told me they would shoot me if I looked at the naked girl on the page in front of me, I would do everything in my power to be obviously looking the other way.  The same would go for fatty foods or whatever could kill me by unhealthy habits.  Our natural instincts for survival automatically kick in when the immediate death threat rears its ugly head to make us avoid it like…like…like death!  Unless a person has a clinical depression problem or some other diagnosed mental disorder death is not something we rush towards eagerly.

An addiction, however, will circumnavigate the death threat.

Yet our sin becomes an incredibly bad habit that we give into time and again until it becomes our security blanket or comfort zone.  Crack is a coping mechanism, too, yet it kills those who buy into its comfort.  For the wages of sin is death…But?   the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:23.

Don’t be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  Galatians 6:7.  What we choose to download is different from that which has been downloaded into us either by neglect on our part, absent mindedness, or someone else’s programming.  That last one is the hardest to overcome, I believe, because it usually involves parents or relatives and being taught from infancy to believe or act certain ways.  If we explain temptation as a request to download, we see that it is always a choice.  Our habitual response might be to say “yes” every time, but it is still a response we have to unlearn.

No matter how we slice it the Bible explains our habits as either our choice to sin or the results of sin.  One is our behavior, the other is just a condition brought on by a world without God directly involved.  Paul goes on to explain in Galatians 6:8–The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  We can’t escape the natural consequences of sin, which are mostly enslavement and death.  Paul lamented his own fight with this sinful nature by crying out,  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Then answers his own cry of despair by saying in the very next sentence,  Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!

We have an answer, a form of therapy which escapes the earthbound logic of psychiatrists and scientists:  It’s called a change of heart.  God tells us He will take our heart of stone, that habit of our own making or consequence of another’s sin, and turn it into a heart of flesh that beats with real blood and life.

Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–His good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:1, 2.

Hell0, my name is Jonathan, and I’m a recovering sinner.  Like you I’ve downloaded a lot of garbage into my mind which became rooted in my heart, now I’m having to work it out with God’s grace…

Pure Religion

December 24, 2008

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  James 1:27.

This text has been knocking around in my head for the last several weeks–especially as we approach Christmas, the time of giving.

I find it rather ironic after all the hullaballoo about religion and how it so hypocritical, that James makes it clear that pure religion is about caring for others in a totally clean way.  In other words we don’t have an agenda for our nice deeds rather we do them because they are right and good and we like being that way.

I don’t want to mislead anyone who reads this blog about doing right things, because it’s quite easy to do anything from a mere performance mindset instead of a heartfelt desire to be good.  Most of us would like to see ourselves as good, I mean rarely have I even heard of someone who thought they were all bad or wanted to consider themselves this way.

James takes us in the direction I’ve been muttering about on this blog for the few entries:  giving of ourselves in the form of time and resources.  Three categories present themselves in his interpretation of pure religion:

1)  Looking after orphans

2)  Looking after widows

3)  Not being polluted by the world.

Now there are many ways to think about these statements.  Some might combine the first two into charity for the poor and unfortunate, yet caring for either category takes completely different resources and approaches.  For instance, an orphan will need a home where someone can bring them into a family setting in order to raise them up in the nurture of parenting.  A widow can be self-sufficient to some degree, though in James’ era, they like as not starved to death.  Not all the widows, however, were to be looked after by the church, for Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 5 that widows who had families were to be cared for by their families not the church.  In other words, where the social services of the church provisions were concerned, they were to give them to people who had no one to help them.

Many of these widows and orphans, of course, would have had no one to help them once they accepted Jesus as their Savior, because their families would have disowned them.  These were the ones to whom James and Paul want us to reach out.  The church was to be a haven for those who had nothing, no where to go and no prospects for changing their lot in life.

It’s quite hard for us Americans, living in a free society and able to be pretty much whatever we can get the education to do, to understand the past system.  If you were ever a slave–even if you were free now, your status in the world would be diminished considerably.  Just read a couple of history books about various rulers who were slaves at one point and you will see the disdain with which the royal born bore them.  Times are tough now, granted, but at least no one looks down on me for working at a fast food place until I get back on my feet again.  In Paul’s day a person would be stuck with that job the rest of their lives, with no hope of advancement, for the most part, or change.

Orphans, if they weren’t taken in by relatives, became beggars and/or thieves by necessity.  Many of them were also sold into slavery where they were treated little better than cattle for the slaughter.  Widows were treated as less than important unless they married very powerful men who’s sons were heirs.  In this way they could keep their position of respect and some authority over their life, but it could all go away with just a word from a ruler.  One who was born on the lower end of the chain of command or status never realized self-determination much but slaved for those who thought the gods favored them because of their power, abilities and prestige.

James’ warning above was to see every human being in a new light.  We were to rid ourselves of status thinking, period, and not become polluted with cast systems, valuing those who were powerful or rich just because of their means and lifting up the unfortunate by giving them a change of heart.  Paul told the Corinthians,  Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  but God chose to the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore as it is written:  “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”  1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

Though religion has caused wars, never have I seen a truly renewed heart that was not lifted up to bring peace.  Everyone who accepts Jesus with their whole being becomes a new creation, the old is past, the new has come.  Their whole outlook on themselves and the world changes to a higher value once they realize they are sons and daughters of the King of kings.  Though even Christianity, despite the above teaching, has formed cast systems itself, the truly renewed heart in Christ lifts up the disenfranchised and brings them to a new status.  It was a Christian man who fought slavery for twenty years in England, spending all his resources, energy, health and influence to bring about change.  Wilbur Wilberforce was a man of deep conviction about his Savior and set out to lift up others with his knowledge.

Jesus brings equality to the earth.  Criticize it though the world around us may, the message is quite clear that for us to  be unpolluted by the world means quite literally that we hold no human being in light regard or disregard, but see all as valuable in Christ.  For us there are no orphans or widows for all have one Father in God and elder brother in Jesus Christ.  We lift up our unfortunate not out philanthropy but knowledge that these people are family.  Our involvement in their lives is not out of charity but family obligation brought about by love.

Jesus entire message could be summed up in by saying He desired a change of heart.  Change the heart of anyone and you change their politics, state of mind and future prospects.  The world’s view of cast, value and worth is based on what it sees with its eyes alone; the Christian sees them all through the eyes of one who being God, became a lowly nobody to rescue all the other nobodies the so called “somebodies” were ignoring.  He is our example, our Master in all things and commands us to reach out to others in love, which is our purest form of witness.

The Lion of the Tribe of Judah

December 23, 2008

I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.  Then one of the elders said to me,  “Do not weep!  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.  Revelation 5:5.

“Aslan a man!”  Said Mr. Beaver sternly.  “Certainly not.  I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea.  Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts?  Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!”  said Susan,  “I’d thought he was a man.  Is he–quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,”  said Mrs. Beaver;  “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?”  said Lucy.

“Safe?”  said Mr. Beaver;  “don’t you hear what Mrs.  Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis.

I have always loved this quote from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” because it shakes our understanding of what it means to be Jesus.  In other references to Aslan, the children learn that after all, “he’s not a tame lion.”

God is wild.

O, not in the way many use that term, which is to say, directly or indirectly implying either partying till we drop, vandalism, survival of the fittest or a host of other things that we misuse the term “wild” in place of the true meaning.  No, God is dangerously good, completely clean in motivation and heart.  Scripture claims there is no shifting shadows in God’s nature for every good and perfect gift comes from Him (see James 1:16-18).

God is wild in the way birds cannot be held in the hand, in the way that the king of beasts is given to a set of motives He alone knows and understands. God cannot be tamed or brought to heel for our agenda; in fact we could say every agenda known exists because He created the possibility of it or it wouldn’t exist.  He cannot do evil, therefore to attribute evil to His wildness is like claiming the a mountain is a valley.

We do not tame God or reason with Him to inform Him, rather He allows us to argue our case for the purpose of revealing our hearts and educating us to His will.  God made the wilderness, flowers that grow whether we like them to or not and mighty trees in every forest or grove we encounter.  He is the source of these things.  The ruggedness of the mountain ranges, the sweeping beauty of the valley floor where rivers run and animals live with abundance.

God is not dictated to like some godling who begs for our approval.  He is not worried when the world at large dismisses, ignores or laughs at Him because He knows the beginning and the end.  Every life in the history of the world is held in His hand.  Every breath we take is from His provision.

Our forefather Adam sinned, meaning He shot for the bullseye of self-realization and ended up with death and what we know today.  Which the world blames God for ultimately.  They take our own nature and put it at His feet.  Mainly they think God has to answer to them, when in actuality it is definitely the other way around.

We have abused our world, its creatures, its plant life, its people.  We have treated it like a spoiled child does too many toys, carelessly and without regard for the cost or supply line.

He is a lion, untamed, unmanageable by human standards and wholly other.  His purposes run deep, His nature beyond our comprehension, His truth beyond our capability to grasp.

This wild God did something unthinkable:  He became one of us.  It’s true.  He did the most unexpected, unthinkable and merciful thing love could do:  He became like His own creation.  For He understands us intimately, though we understand Him hardly at all.  He did the wildest, most unpredictable, unthinkable and loving thing anyone has ever imagined.

God will not be tamed, for He isn’t safe.  But He’s good.

The Construction of Faith

December 22, 2008

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?”  Matthew 6:25.

I’m snowed in at the moment, unable to go to work, though I have a job pending.  Home Depot can’t deliver the materials to the job and I can’t work if they aren’t there.  Plus, it’s quite cold outside and we are facing more freezing temperatures tomorrow and Wednesday.  Although I cancelled a payment, it tried to come through anyway and drove my already meager bank account into the hole, which sucks because I was counting on that little bit of money to help me get by.

I’m not complaining just explaining my mindset for this post.

Susan commented that her church came up with enough money to help a local man who was out of work, for the most part, with his rent.  So I wanted to add my experience to her comment.

A really good passage for thought during these times is found in Psalms 37:23-26  If the LORD delights in a man’s way, He makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with His hand.

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.  They are always generous and give freely; their children will be blessed.

When I get in these times where I have no idea what is going to happen next, I begin the praise for what God has done in my past.

I have been self-employed for the last several years (I think eight or so) and have never been deserted by God.  I can testify quite easily to the fact that no matter how bad things got or looked, I always came through them somehow.  Right now I’m looking at bills that haven’t been paid, no money in the bank and a significant chance that the weather will knock out our electricity (we actually went a few hours without it last night).

God is faithful always.  His purposes will be realized in our lives or we will run from Him.  Jesus made it clear what God wants out of our lives:  faith about everyday things, not just the big salvation or theological issues.  

Years ago I began an album called “The War” which was to be a musical concept on Daniel and Revelation.  I grew up SDA, as I’ve said before, and they really emphasize prophecy and eschatology, so I thought this would be deep and make people think about the times to come.  They teach that we will go through the tribulation (and here I don’t care one way or the other, so let’s not argue about it) so my songs set themselves in this framework.

Nothing happened to let me finish this project, although most of the songs are already written.  What has happened, however, is that I have changed my emphasis quite a bit, for I began to realize that the greatest war wasn’t what happened outside in the world between Christ and Satan through the tribulation or over who would rule the world, that’s already been decided.  No, the big war on the spiritual plane was for the hearts and souls of people–you, me, everyone.  The war that wages constantly is for our attention, trust, faith and belief.

If the enemy of our souls can get us to distrust God, even if we don’t believe anything else, he’s beaten us.

That is why faith in His promises are so vital to our everyday.  

John 5:39, 40, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you posses eternal life.  These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Oddly, the Christian church seems to be making the same error of the Jews in Jesus’ day, getting caught up in mistaking events, doctrines and ideals for salvation and what will change the heart.  The spirit gives life, the letter kills.  Who rules the attention, rules the heart.

Jesus said,  “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:19-21.

We make the mistake of thinking the Scriptures are salvation rather than a big signpost pointing us to the exit off of the highway to hell.  The rituals were there to remind us, like the pile of stones Israel put beside the river Jordan after crossing on dry land.  They are reminders of who is in charge, where our life’s blood source is and how we are to enter eternal life.

The first steps to faith is found in the Beatitudes (found in Matthew 5:1-12). Before we can live in faith, we must realize our spiritual poverty, be humbled by it, see our emptiness as spiritual hunger for God’s presence, grow merciful towards others in the same condition and be purified by the blood of the Lamb.  Only through this last measure do we see God, before this we are blind, poor and naked grasping for hope in the darkness.

The last two show the results of the blood of Jesus for the very first statement after purity is making peace.  Paul calls us the ministers of reconciliation and what is peacemakers if not reconcilers?

Now because of the nature of the war we fight (not on a physical plane exactly though it might come to that at times through persecution and death), we will experience opposition to our faith.  This is why we who operate in the leadership of the church must be willing to lay down our own means of security for the provision of others, for by it we teach the character of God.  We also build in them a sense of faith in the one who provides for all. 

The problem is that many think God is not interested in our small little problems.  I disagree.  While I don’t think God dictates what kind of colors we like, I do believe He cares about our clothing in general, for Jesus said so.  Though He might not dictate whether or not we prefer apples over pears, He still provides food.

I’m broke by human standards, and yes, I’m a little concerned.  Yet I know by faith that my God can provide my needs abundantly more than I can think or ask because I have experienced it time and again.  This summer for example, I had no work scheduled for July, yet after a few days of leaving it to the Lord in constant prayer and forcing my heart to trust Him (and believe me some days were pretty hard to pull my attention away from the anxiety), the work began to come in again and He took me through September with finances to spare.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that God promised to provide for those who are faithful to Him.  If we open ourselves up to His will, then He will keep us from falling on our faces.  We might stumble, but we won’t fall.  I’m waiting for God to part the waters, and He will for I have seen Him do nothing but miraculous things for me in the past forty years of my life.

If God can do this for me and I am no titan of the church, He will do this for you.  Just trust Him in this and watch the waters part, or you’ll walk on the water to the boat, or something else will happen just as wild because that’s who our God is.

The Heart of Giving

December 22, 2008

This song  came to me several years ago as I thought about how much God was willing to sacrifice for us. He is extremely generous and willing to go beyond our expectations to the degree that His life became the price.

We must be like Him in this as all things.

I have a long way to go.

The Purpose of Giving

December 22, 2008

Remember this:  Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  2 Corinthians 9:6, 7.

In our search for God’s will, we have be careful to take in the whole context of any subject.  The point of tithing was to implement a system of giving back to God in order to connect to God not impress Him.

It’s vitally important we don’t the cart before the horse on this one because as humans we have such an incredible tendency to put performance over heart.  Consider this for a minute:  What is the purpose of giving?  To provide God with means to accomplish His work?  God’s Word already dispels that notion, read Psalm 50:7-15, if you don’t believe me.

If God owns it all, then what is the purpose of our giving at all?  He doesn’t need it, so what gives?

It’s about something called “transformation”…you’ll find the concept in Romans 12:1-3 and following.  If we get caught up in thinking that somehow God needs our efforts to accomplish His will, we have made ourselves indispensable and that makes us little gods.  Since I can testify quite emphatically and with total conviction that I am not even a demigod, and we can assume that none who read this are either, then any reference to God needing our money or means is ludicrous.

The transformation of the heart is the most important feature in the giving wheel.  God isn’t greedy for our means, lusting after our wealth, or coveting our gifts, rather He’s trying to teach us to be like Himself.  Generosity is in God’s nature for Jesus says of the Father,  “He causes His sun to shine on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  Matthew 5:44b.  The purpose of us disciplining ourselves into the habit of giving is for a basic character change from selfishness to generosity.  That’s it in a nutshell, nothing more to gain from it.

So what if God promises to bless us for our gifts, that’s not the point for He wants our hearts to be generous on all occasions so that we may display His character to the world.

As far as I understand the text, we are not under the law anymore, but under the Spirit.  To put it another way, we don’t adhere to the letter but the Spirit law, for the letter kills, the Spirit gives life.  Does this mean that law was evil or somehow imperfect?  Not at all, it was for a time and place which now doesn’t serve God’s purpose, otherwise we would all still have to put tassels on our clothes and be sacrificing bulls.

We could argue whether or not we need to give 10%, 23% or 40% and it wouldn’t make a difference to the purpose of God.  Why?  Because it isn’t the amount that we give that’s important anymore but the heart of the giver.  In fact, I don’t think it ever was the amount that mattered to God for the Psalm I referenced above sounds like He’s more interested in our hearts.  Certainly Ezekiel 36:24-32 seems to be making that point.

I believe in the Bible, so what I’m saying isn’t trying to explain away old truth for new “truth” rather I’m attempting to explain what I now grasp about the Law and the legalistic nature of the human heart.

For a time the human race was under the supervision of the Law to keep it from getting run over by sin.  Once Jesus came we were delivered to our birthright.  Galatians 4:1-7 shows us that once an heir comes of age, the authority of the tutors, guardians and trustees becomes subjugated to him not the other way around.  

Let me give you an illustration that helped me grasp this concept.

When I was a boy, Mom and Dad wouldn’t let me drive a car, cross the street by myself or be out of their sight for more than a few minutes without checking up on what, where and how I was doing.  I needed supervision because I didn’t know how to live safely in the world. Once I became older, they grew less and less supervisory and more freedom came my way.  I grew to understand that the rule wasn’t “don’t cross the street alone” but “don’t get hit by cars” instead.  I understood the danger of not being tall enough to drive a car or experienced enough to do it safely.

The purpose the strict code my parents operated with on my behalf was for my safety.  Now that I’m a man I can cross the street safely, drive a car, own my own things and command my schedule all because I have grown in wisdom and knowledge about how life works.

I see this as how God looked at the law.  We don’t need a commandment for which day of the week to keep anymore because all days are sabbaths.  Or to put it the way Hebrews 4:7 says it Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today...  Our new sabbath is today.  Does that mean we no longer need a day off from work?  Not at all.  It just means it doesn’t matter which day we take off.

What’s the spirit of the fourth commandment?

To worship God as Creator and take a day off per week.  That’s it.  God simplified the command in order to take the legalism out of it.  The law was only there to educate us to the principle, so now that we are in Christ, we live in the transformation of our hearts and minds rather than a code of conduct we don’t quite get.

Tithing was about us becoming selfless and generous not just about supporting the priesthood or religious leaders, though that’s what was done with a good portion of the tithe.  In fact, if we study Deuteronomy 14 we see that every third year the tithe went to the storehouse and was used for anyone who might go without.  During the other two years, however, the Hebrews ate a portion of their tithe along with the priests.

Our thinking must come around to balanced thinking.  We must grasp the concept of God’s intent not just the rules or we will be saying with the false believers “rule upon rule, precept on precept, line upon line, here little, there a little” and miss the opportunity to find abundant life.

God’s Social Services

December 21, 2008

There will always be poor people in the land.  Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward the poor and needy in your land. Deuteronomy 15:11.

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come an eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in the work of your hands.  Deuteronomy 14:28, 29.

Just a few verses before 15:11 we hear God saying there shouldn’t be any poor among the Hebrews, now He’s pretty much guaranteeing there will be.  Isn’t that kind of like speaking out of both sides of His mouth?  I guess it depends on what you read in the context or not.  He tells them there shouldn’t be any poor as long as they obey Him and keep close to Him, and, since He knows they won’t do this, here’s what to do.

Much of what we know about God is spelled out right here in these passages above.  The single most wonderful difference between most gods and the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Christian is that this God cares about everyone, wants everyone to be equal in freedom, ownership, value and economic success.  Strangely enough, most people don’t actually get this message out of the Bible because they see only the punishment.  Here’s a God who loves individuality but values unity at the same time.

Let me clear something up that might be clouding their vision (and may be yours):  Most of the punishment we read about in the Bible is aimed at people who disinherit the widows, orphans, aliens and God’s servants.  God doesn’t target people for being imperfect but for outright crimes against others.

God’s government is based on love, treating others as we would want to be treated and caring for the unfortunate.  What’s so surprising is that most people don’t know that the two greatest commandments Jesus inaugurated in the NT come straight out of the Law.  Love God with all our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love our neighbor as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18).

Why is loving God supremely the one that we struggle with the most?

Because He requires that we do good, that we not defraud our neighbor’s, bear a grudge or seek revenge?  O, may be it could be that we don’t love Him with all our hearts because He asks us to feed the hungry, lift up the poor, give to the stranger, and take care of the sick.

God’s government is based on a sense of caring for the disenfranchised, lost, foreigner, the fatherless, the widow…and I could go on, believe me. Look at the reference to our tithe in the Deuteronomy 14 alone.

Instead of the storehouse being a temple, as most have been taught, it looks like it was an actual warehouse where people could come to find something to eat, raw materials for clothing and sustenance.  Which begs the question:  Where did we get the idea it was a church building?  I’ve heard Christians blithely quote the text Bring the whole tithe in the storehouse, there may be food in my house (Malachi 3:10), without realizing that it wasn’t speaking of a temple, synagogue or church but a common building in town where anyone could access it.

You see, someone in the past decided the church was the place for this tithe because, logically, the pastors and elders should guide where it went.  In the NT the deacons were the keepers of the storehouse and anyone who had need could come and find help–even non-believers, though that was rare.  Yet it must be noted that if the church building was supposed to house the tithe, wouldn’t God have told them to take it every third year to the temple?  Instead He told them to take two consecutive years to the temple, then the third year store it in their towns for those who had need.

Talk about a great system!  This is socialism mixed with capitalism mixed with religion…you get the idea.  If our government and social system worked in this fashion, everyone would be provided for who had need.  The lame, Levite, widows and orphans could work at the storehouse making sure everyone got what they needed.

Later we learn that all fields, orchards and the like were to remain open without fences and anyone going by could take from them as much as they could hold in both hands.

Again, God’s form of social services.  I believe this would revolutionize our world if we practiced this kind of generosity.