Archive for March, 2009

“It’s All About You, Jesus”

March 30, 2009

“The King will reply,  ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ ”  Matthew 25:40

Most of us have heard the song “It’s All About You, Jesus” or a song which sings similar words, at least.  The lyric goes:

It’s all about You, Jesus

and all this if for You, for Your glory and Your fame,

It’s not about me as if I should have things my way

You alone are God and I surrender to Your will.

The easy sentiments in these words sound majestic and removed from earthly concerns in their application but in reality Jesus brings the whole concept down to how we treat His children.  In the very next verse afterour key text above He condemns those who mistreated His children and takes their abuse personally.

Many claim to love God with all their heart but either forget or don’t realize how basic serving Jesus can be.  If, as the song says, it’s all about Jesus, then serving even those we consider to be the least of our brothers and sisters means serving Him.  We cannot, therefore, treat our family in Christ with disdain or neglect then claim to love Him with our whole hearts, for the former makes a lie out of the latter.

I think 1 John 4:20, 21 covers this point in a most direct way:  We love because He first loved us.  If anyone says,  “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom He has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And He has given us this command:  Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

I’m beginning to see how inconsistent the church became about human life and value.  Those in power thought God favored them so they lorded it over others who were not with the perception God’s favor meant they could treat those in lower estate with careless indifference or outright disdain and for their own pleasure.  This attitude, of course, is so far removed from Christ’s instructions as to be heresy.

For many years I considered serving the Lord in His work to be something I did for Him directly, which meant I could treat others with kindness but not become too involved with them.  The Word corrected this misconception to the point I now know God’s purpose for us is to be community without the blinders or barriers we erect as human constructs to perfection.  If we want to be perfect in the Lord, we must be a church, which in the original context meant the body of believers not a building or an organization.  Serving Jesus directly, then, points us to His people.  If we want to be in the ministry of God, our work must elevate those in His body or we are missing the point.

It’s all about Jesus, for His glory and His fame, which means in order for us to touch God we must touch His people and get our hands dirty with their needs.

Flawless

March 27, 2009

Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.  Do not add to His words, or He will rebuke you and prove you a liar.  Proverbs 30:5, 6.

I first heard this proverb when I was a kid listening to Bible story records, and since my brother and I didn’t have a tv much of the time growing up, these records became our source of entertainment.  I think we listened to them almost daily from 1969 on till they wore out.  Soon after my son was born and not long after my wife left, I decided to reinvest in these stories for him because now that I read the passage above in person, I get the context.

When we study Scripture, we can’t help but bring our own experiences, bias and perspectives to it.  For many this is harmless, for others who strive for accuracy to the point of fanaticism it’s horrifying.  I’m somewhere in the middle.  For us to grasp the truth in the Word we must understand the exegesis of it–which means the true context, e.g. the author, era or age of the writing, circumstances and people to whom the book or letter was written–otherwise we will probably miss the real point and go off in some other direction.

 One truth I’ve come to appreciate over time is the concept of sin.  Recently, I’ve been impressed by several pastors preaching on the meaning of the original word used for “sin” in the Hebrew.  It means “to miss the mark” or in other words, to aim at a target and miss the bullseye.  This is important in our understanding of truth in general for it tells us why there are such wacked views of Scripture floating around the church.  People get all sorts of ideas about what a passage means, then go to great lengths to make all of the Bible fit into their skewed perspective.

I’m not all that enthusiastic to live that way.

In Genesis God created the heavens and the earth and pronounced them good.  Now this might not sound all that important to some who read this blog but to me it’s crucial to get an understanding our very own nature and creation.  God looked at all He had made and called it “good”!  To me this means whatever He created for us is vital, whatever He created in us is sacrosanct and what we are designed to do because of His programming is holy.  Take our bodies for example:  We eat fruit from trees, grain from grasses and nuts from other trees as well as berries from bushes, all of this becomes fertilizer for the plants which produce our food.  Everything is dependent on water, so we excrete water filled with enzymes and other things our bodies cannot utilize which, if there were no diseases, in turn nourish other organisms.

The only time we get into trouble with creation or our own make up is when we step outside of it.  One little misinterpretation at the beginning means missing the mark pretty badly miles down the road.  I believe it is important for our understanding to study both nature and ourselves in order to grasp the purpose of God.  Yet without an understanding of what He says about it in Scripture, we muddle through reaching for truth in the dark.

Much of our problems grow out of misunderstanding the Word of Truth or adding our own addendum or agendas to those God established.  I’m guilty of it as much as anyone and so are you, which is one of the many reasons we need a Savior.  Yet in our searching out the things of God we must endeavor to submit to His truth through His Word.  Our understanding must adjust to greater understanding as it comes so we may grow to be more like Him in everything.  The problem with many of us is we attach ourselves to “truths” and refuse to budge from our original grasp of spiritual reality.

If we allowed children to stick with their perspective into adulthood, none of them would comprehend truth at all for they would still be afraid of the monster in the closet, believe magic made that donut appear out of nowhere, think their parents were superhuman and all powerful, and we could go on.  No, we have to grow out of our childish take on reality in order to function properly in the responsibility adulthood thrusts on us.  Playing house as kids might be normal fun but continuing this game into maturity is insanity.

The same principle must be applied to Scripture.  God has given us a pretty diverse set of messages to decipher and decode as we grow in Him.  The only way to comprehend the purposes and mind of God is to discard our own bias and perspective in order to conform to His.  This takes humility and a realization that we come to the table flawed through and through.  Just because I accepted Jesus as a young man doesn’t mean I have a complete grasp of what it means to serve Him.  Neither will we ever completely grasp what God has done from beginning to end, our job and joy should be to discover Him and what He has done without forcing our own flawed POV and prejudices on Him.

If God made the world and sin is destroying it, then we who are spiritual should be demonstrating a different attitude by reconciling ourselves to His creation and Way.  Anything else is missing the mark.

I think if just remember every word of God is flawless and stick to that understanding, we will find the peace and security we look for so desperately.

The Rules of Engagement

March 27, 2009

But my eyes are fixed on You, O Sovereign LORD; in You I take refuge–do not give me over to death.  Psalm 141:8.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne o f God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary or lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3.

Every time I go through Hebrews 11 I find new things to appreciate.  For instance many of these “heroes” of the OT were lonely people, struggling to survive their condition and not winning popularity contests.  I sometimes wonder what makes people like them tick, you know, why they choose to go against the grain with such determination and passion.  Then I think about Jesus and don’t wonder any more.

That last sentence in Hebrews 12:3 really shouts at us to remember our Master’s instructions which pointed out to us how to live, think and be in the world.  We are to hold loosely to the things of earth, working with our hands and being industrious for both our provision and faith.  The crux of balance is learning how to hold on loosely without letting go.  I must confess I don’t know how to do this sanely for I lack vital disciplines which would make it so much easier to navigate in life.

Yet when I think about it, I have lived much of my life in reaction to the other side of the coin’s extreme:  Rigid discipline, hard boundaries held with contempt for anything or anyone who does not submit, and a wholesale attitude of superiority when one thinks they are right to the exclusion of all others.  To put it quite bluntly:  Everyone’s poop stinks.  No one is exempt from falling into extremes or getting the balance tipped one way or another.  It seems to me that mankind cannot grasp the message of being in the world but not of it very well.  Either we escape the world to become monks or hermits so the filth of sin will not touch us (which, in my opinion, is just isolating our own sinful attitudes and a form of narcissism) or we buy into the American Dream, which is based on a “all this and heaven too” mentality.

I grew up in a staunchly opinionated church.  Indoctrinated from birth to believe our interpretation of Scripture was irrefutable, I began early on to develop a taste for being right at all times–I hated to be wrong and would argue my point long after even I could see I had no leg to stand on.  As I grew up in Christ, it slowly dawned on me how godless this state of mind was–how utterly Christ-less I had been taught to be.  I don’t attribute bad motivations to sincere people because I believe those who taught me believed passionately, but we all know people can be passionate about very wrong things.

Much of what I focus on in Scripture is an attempt to unlearn both the attitude and indoctrination of my youth, though I’m not out to prove it wrong necessarily, rather I’m merely doing my best to refocus on the important things of Christ instead of the debatable.  Still, what I’ve found in these past 20+ years is it’s pretty easy to live in reaction to both the world and the church where we ping pong from issue to issue without really ever living a full life in Christ.

Here’s what I’ve come down to after years of fighting the denominational/ doctrinal ping pong game:  What I fix my eyes on will define me.  Jesus’ promise to give us life to the full is not merely about doctrinal purity but putting our balancing our relationships to God and mankind.

The abundant life promised in John 10:10 comes hard on the heels of a warning about the nature of a thief, who comes to “steal and kill and destroy.”  It’s not all that strange, I suppose, to fall into old habits for the familiar brings a certain comfort with knowing its parameters as well as known consequences.  Yet those of us who want to rid ourselves of the stress we live with now must let go of certain earthbound logical sequences in our reasoning.  Jesus told us clearly we could not serve two masters yet we strive to do so anyway.  A person with one foot in the kingdom and one in hell becomes a zombie Christian, or what Paul termed “carnal” natured.

We even bring our earthbound grasp on unselfishness into mix with our Savior’s teaching on it.  In other words, we buy into the world’s teaching that self denial is about not taking care of ourselves at all in order to serve others or to tap into the universal consciousness.  We don’t seem to be able to balance both the self-denial of Christ and living our daily lives in such a way as to care for ourselves and others without the pendulum swinging to one side or the other.

To be honest I don’t think we are expected to be completely balanced, though we are commanded strive in Christ through the Holy Spirit toward that goal. 

How can I say this with such confidence?  Psalm  103:14–For He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we dust.  God knows we are incapable of balance without Him.  He’s also aware of the tides of human pressure, the confusion of navigating the treacherous waters of Scriptural interpretation and myriad opinions of teachers worldwide.  All of which means we must assess, study and reject or accept by virtue of our learning curve.  Our ability to grasp spiritual truth grows directly out of our state of submission to the Holy Spirit as well as the health of our spiritual being.  Since all of us are growing at different rates and in disperate areas, this means we grasp truth in pieces and without the whole picture to clarify aspects outside our ability at any given time to see.

Solomon claimed,  Then I saw all that God has done.  No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun.  Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning.  Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.  Ecclesiastes 8:17.

I guess what I’m driving at here is we need to be discerning, diligent and disciplined, for sure, but our lives must continue in the pleasures God gives us as well.  In other words those who become monks need to be certain God has called them to such a life or they will live outside the abundance of His will.  God made man with taste buds, touch, smell, eyesight and sexual desire to enjoy life and be happy.  While we are seeking God’s world first, we must realize our physical nature (sans sin) is all part of His plan for us as well.  In pursuing His Way over the world’s we redefine what it means to be human, to be loving, to be full, to be relational, to be rational, by resetting the boundaries to His specs instead of the world’s. 

Our efforts will meet with many roadblocks, divergent paths and balancing issues, but if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we cannot fail in the end.  We must just accept we will make mistakes, at the same time remember His love for us is an everlasting love, one which is non-negotiable and always in our favor.

Suffering

March 25, 2009

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with You; You hold me by my right hand.  You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me into glory.  Whome have I in heaven but You?  And earth has nothing I desire besides You.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  Psalm 73:21-26.

I have some friends of mine who are facing a particularly bad situation.  Their daughter has an odd form of growth (I can’t remember the name since I was keyed in on his agony) which creates a cyst then dissolves the tissue and whatever is around it.  This little girls is gorgeous and full of life.

He loves her with an absolute passion but feels the anxiety and fear of any good father. 

The questions of  “Why God?  Why our child?  If You’re so powerful, why don’t you heal her?” have to occur to him and his wife, it’s only natural–even for righteous people.  Remember Job?

What does God feel about us being sick?  Why doesn’t He intervene?

So much of our lives is unpredictable, with very little we can do about such unknowns.  One factor remains the same no matter how we try to sidestep it:  good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people.  Skeptics abound who doubt our faith in Christ’s goodwill and continued existence.  Though I see their point, I also know from Scripture the reason many of us suffer not only from the trial of sickness but also anxiety, the latter which is usually self-inflicted.

I’m gonna’ say something here which sounds callous and hard but is a spiritual truth none the less for us as followers of the Way:  The truest test of loyalty for the believer comes through extreme hardship and pain.  Just as the best test for a marriage is when things are either extremely good circumstantially or extremely stressful, so with our relationship to God.

Yet I don’t think God “sends” trouble specifically to us all the time.  Oh, I know many who would tell you every gnat or mosquito that bites us is sent by the Lord to test our resolve to serve Him, but I don’t believe it.  Solomon claims time and chance happen to all men, therefore we should realize our  hurtful circumstances come as a natural outcome of sin as much as from the hand of the Lord.  He created all the possibilities and mostly in that way do evil things come to us by His hand generally.  I do believe there are times when He steps in and works specifically to bring about destruction, for that is Scripture, but not everything is sent by Him to test us.

Living in a world full of sin is test enough.  We don’t need to have someone step in to create artificial situations so our loyalty or devotion to God can be proven because those sold to sin will take care of that problem naturally without encouragement or interference.

I ache for my friend and his wife.  I see their little girl, so beautiful and perfect, smart and funny, and I cry inside for their pain.  The answer to the question of why such things happen to good people has been answered by the cross, however, and I hope and pray they find this to comfort them in their hour of agony.  What is happening to Chloe is a direct result of sin in the world, though no specific sin anyone could put their finger on.

Please pray for TJ and Michelle as they walk this valley of the shadow.  Send them light and comfort in the Spirit that they may be able to stand through whatever comes clinging to the hope of Christ.

The Devil’s Dilemma

March 23, 2009

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.

Then they said,  “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building.  The LORD said,  “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.  Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other. 

So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.  Genesis 11:1, 3, 4, 6-8.

The significance of this passage should not be underestimated. One language, one common nationality, one goal, and these people were about to accomplish what we would have deemed impossible for them.

I believe America is the new Babel.  O, not in the way some have termed due to Hollywood and immorality (though this might be true it’s not my point), rather it has become the new Shinar for the world, where all nationalities and cultures gather together.  Our inventiveness and industry brought us wealth beyond that of almost any other nation in history, along with progress in medicine, construction and a host of other ideals some in the past could only dream about.  Yet it is precisely because we have a hodge-podge of cultures intermixing and sharing ideas, gifts and strengths that America has come to this stature in the world.

Satan is the enemy of God’s nature, therefore the enemy of His very image stamped on humanity.  The dilemma is simply this:  Satan’s goals are divisive, destructive and ultimately chaos, yet for him to accomplish such worldwide goals he must unify the nations once more to the plain of Shinar.  The tower this time is not a place where the gods come down to vacation (the tower was considered by some to be for this purpose) but knowledge itself.  We have made science the new god, knowledge the new tower where we will reach to the heavens and bring the gods down to us–which, in essence, means mankind seeks to become gods.

In Revelation 17:3-6a we read:  Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert.  There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns.  The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls.  She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.  This title was written on her forehead:  “Mystery, Babylon the Great; the Mother of Prostitutes and of the Abominations of the Earth.”  I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.

I looked up the name “Babylon” and found it tied to the original word “Babel” of which we read just now.  The significance cannot be coincidental but intentional for both the place where God confused the languages and the end of days bring to mind unification against God.  Mankind was unified at one point with the same language, ideals and topography according to Genesis.  In the last days before Christ comes the barrier of language must be broken down, which brings in the modern technology of which the internet and other types of communication are but a beginning.  We will see a world drunk with the mixed wine the woman on the scarlet beast gives them, who herself is drunk with the blood of the saints.

Wine in NT presentations represents teachings or truth.  Jesus told us we could not mix new teachings with with old by using the parable of the wineskins with new or old wine in them.  The new wine represented the gospel and the new dispensation of the cross; the old wine, the Jewish law and heathen rituals.  If we read further in Revelation 17, we find out that the beast this woman rides once was, disappeared during John’s (the writer of Revelation) time, and would be again.  The prostitute represented a belief system just as the woman with the sun beneath her feet represented the Christian followers or church.

What I’m driving toward is the comparison of the flood era, certainly, but also the time of Babel when men accomplished great things because they were unified and intermixed.  God divided mankind up into families so that the potential of humanity could not be reached until they reunited.

I also believe the mix of race would create a human race stronger than the sum of its parts.  When God confused the languages at Babel, He probably did so according to family clans, which means specific genetic characteristic traits would come to define nations.  For example:  The people of Iraq historically created great machines and were architects in the ancient world.  This doesn’t mean others weren’t as gifted in this area as well, but we see the earliest civilizations in the Sumerian region designing and building things other nations copied later.  The Oriental races clear up into Siberia were wise in medicines, advanced in natural knowledge and creative in the arts and philosophy.  There were nations who were wise in earth knowledge, great hunters and explorers on land and sea.  Some nations were gifted in military planning and the like.

Combine all these cultures into a mixed pot of one nation and we get the best of all of them.  We also get the worst of all of their natures.  I’ve noticed some of the most beautiful people in are the mixed blood.  Believe me when I say I am not setting forth a new science rather making an observation from a Biblical standpoint which could be scientific in nature.  If God really did confuse the languages and scatter people all over the earth, then what He did was divide the best of the gifts and knowledge up in order to keep mankind from advancing too quickly.  I cannot speak to His motivation entirely except to comment on Jesus’ constant comments on the perfect timing of His mission.  God’s purpose has a schedule we are not able to fathom mostly.  O, we get the headlines but rarely grasp the full scope of what God is trying to do.  He set in motion a specific time for things, which meant those with other plans at Shinar needed to be thwarted for the plan of salvation to work out God’s way.

Right now I’m barely scratching the surface of this idea.  It will take more thought and consideration, questioning those with greater knowledge than my own and certainly study to grasp even the headlines.  Yet understanding it sheds some light on why certain races seem to specialize in certain things while that race in others.  The combination of all their talents and gifts would bring together the best they had to offer and advance the human race beyond where it is now.

“But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end.  Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.  Daniel 12:4. 

The KJV uses the words “many shall run to and fro and knowledge will increase” which says to me travel, exploring and cosmopolitan sharing of their discoveries.  Knowledge used to increase every few years and some advancements took hundreds if not a thousand years, now we see nearly a monthly increase in our advancement.  Why?  I believe it is the increased communication between nations, or families of humanity.  As the world grows more cosmopolitan, we will see an significant acceleration

 of knowledge as well.

Faithful in Little

March 20, 2009

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

“No servant can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.”

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.  He said to them,  “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts.  What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.”  Luke 16:10-15.

I’m pretty sure there will be people who read this passage who squirm and sidestep, look for wiggle room and just ache to explain away the pointed way in which Jesus approaches the subject of worldly wealth, but let me save you the trouble:  There’s no avoiding it, He wants our hearts to value something else other than worldly wealth.

Yet look how Jesus gets to the subject of true riches.  First, He explains that unless we are trustworthy with worldly wealth we will never be trusted with true riches.  I can only surmise by the context here He is speaking of spiritual wealth.  Then He turns the truth over to the other side of that coin to point at our responsibility toward other people’s property.  In other words our faithfulness, honesty and disinterest in selfish gain must include not only our own finances but others.  Being responsible for our own might actually be easy for some of us; being responsible for ours as well as other’s property takes balanced thinking.  Notice Jesus doesn’t condemn money or worldly wealth, rather He calls us to untie our chains to it.  We are to serve only one Master, everything else is subject Him.

Again we approach the subject of being trustworthy in the matter of godly things over worldly.  I’ve written quite a bit about finding a mate in this world where I’ve emphasized the need for spiritual growth and dedication; here is another area where we have to get our outlook right for God to trust us with another person’s life and heart.  If our own lives are not transformed into God’s image and the mind of Christ, God will not trust us with a spiritual partner because we will be a discouragement to them as well as a drag on both their calling and lives.

God first gives us little to see how we will handle it, then as our abilities increase, He increases our responsibilities.  Notice in the text above how the Pharisees “sneered” at Jesus message, then look at  His answer to their scoffing.  What God values is heart change, being heavenly minded lived out in the real world and a sense of detachment from all the world has to offer, requires or seeks to own.  A lot of men and women claiming to be followers of Jesus want to be married to godly people yet use worldly methods to both attract and evaluate them.  I think Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees translates to this subject as well:  What is highly valued in the eyes of men is detestable in God’s sight.

So what does God value that man does not?

Character.  The character of Christ lived out in both our attitude and actions.  A heart change which shows itself unmistakably in our daily routines, values and relationships.  What we value will shift 180 degrees from the world’s perspective.

What does Paul tell us to do?  Be transformed into the mind of God, only in this way will we be able to figure out what His will is.  Coming from an outsider’s perspective just contaminates the pot.  Since we cannot serve two masters according to Jesus, trying to continue being carnal minded while seeking spiritual truth from God’s lips will only end in chaos and confusion.  No one seeking to know the mind of God from a Christ oriented POV goes to an accountant or politician, for these people, who might even be spiritual in their own right, probably won’t be speaking the mind of God.  No, we turn to the source of truth, the Bible and those who adhere to and teach it, where we find enough instructions and illustrations enough to give us some kind of idea what will be required.

The Pharisees worried about what other people thought of them more than they did about God’s opinion.  They concerned themselves with popular opinion over true righteousness of the heart.  If we use the same methods of evaluation, we will fail to meet the criterion just as they did.  We will also fail to fulfill the purpose of God for our own lives as well.  If we try to serve both self-interest and God’s will, we will come up with nothing but emptiness, failing both.  The only use of worldly wealth is demonstrate our faithfulness to our new Master, Jesus, any other motivation will divide our hearts and cause us to either shipwreck our faith or be weighed down with unnecessary anxiety.

The book of Judges repeats a sentence in three or four places throughout the book, which says,  In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.  Judges 21:25.  Reading that book we find chaos, erratic behaviors and foolish thinking, along with the results of some very bad choices.  This sentence is a warning to those who would mix God’s ways with the ways of men.  We have a king, His name is Jesus, and our instructions are quite clear.  Deviating from His Word will only end in disaster–either now or in the Judgment.

He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.  Proverbs 28:26.

The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and understanding begins and ends with knowledge of the Holy one.

Finding a Soulmate

March 20, 2009

Here’s an article/blog entry I wrote for Susan of TLC for women called “Great Expectations” (and yes, it is a pun on the book with the same title).

Becoming Rich

March 19, 2009

A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.  Proverbs 28:20.

I have this proverb underlined in my Bible.  I use a color coding for verses where blue is for promises and positive statements, red is for curses and negative statements, then yellow works as a reminder for passages I need to commit to memory.  The first part of this proverb is in blue, the latter in red.  Here’s the proverb before it verse 19:

He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.

Both could be looked at as harsh statements–and in a way they are–but if we take them from a certain train of thought (i.e. wisdom), they warn us of the consequences of laziness, greed and running after get rich quick schemes.

 I have a relative who has run his retirement into the ground chasing online businesses and get rich plans.  We’ve warned him several times about this stuff being harder than it looks but to no avail.  He simply wants to be rich and has lost nearly all of his savings and retirement on investing in companies who promise the moon but deliver poverty.  It’s a pretty common problem with those who see wealth as a certain position or level of money in the bank, instead of contentment or their needs being met.

Now while I call what he’s doing foolish, I don’t blame him all that much because our programming drives us to get ours in the here and now.  That said, I will not be chasing any get rich quick schemes at all, nor will I allow myself to succumb to the desire to be rich in the world’s eyes at all.  This means friends, relatives or love interests who push me to worldly success may as well save their breath because I’m not interested, for in God’s eyes seeking earthly security and wealth is a complete dead end and waste of our precious time.

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  1 Timothy 6:9, 10.

Jesus’ instructions about this issue is pretty clear,  “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well.”  Since He is our Master in all things, we must follow Him where He commands us to go.  The above statement wasn’t a request or suggestion but a requirement of peacemakers who submit to the cross.  No one who claims Christ will continue to seek after their old nature or bend all their efforts for that which perishes, rather they invest all their means into securing a knowledge of Christ first in themselves, then in the world around them.

If Jesus promised our needs would be met by first going after the kingdom of God, then it stands to reason once we’ve done this working our land will produce what is necessary to sustain our work for Him.  This means when we don’t have enough by our own or other people’s standards, we don’t grow discouraged because we know we have enough for today.  The lesson of the manna should teach us this.

Jesus told Peter to push out into the Sea of Galilee for catch.  Peter mildly objected to the request but gave in to humor his Master.  The result of even Peter’s reluctant obedience (and tired effort since they had fished all night) was a catch so abundant the nets began to tear, the boat began to sink and the fishermen had to call all the nearby boats to help them bring the catch to shore.  Peter fell at Jesus’ feet and declared,  “Go away from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!”  He knew his doubting heart held nothing of use to Christ.

Jesus reply should encourage us as well,  “From now on you will catch men.”  With the current catch of fish still being counted, the situation still fresh in his mind and his own humble outburst of unworthiness, Peter probably still only had an inkling of what was to come.  Yet this story should not only encourage us but slap us awake.  Peter, an experienced fisherman and sailor, caught nothing after a full night of fishing using every human trick in the book.  Jesus took all his experience and turned it on its proverbial ear by nearly swamping the boats with a catch humanly impossible–or, at the very least, improbable.

If we don’t consider this just a brilliant story or simply something that happened only to them, we may gain encouragement to step out and do the impossible with our own lives as well.  It’s not for nothing the gospels record this story for those who would hear or read it later.  Our response of faith is critical here:  God can do what man tries to do but fails.

The more I know of God’s way, the more I am confident of the truth:  It’s God’s way or the highway to hell.  And that hell comes in all shapes and sizes as well as situations.  A man who chases human made fantasies might gain something here in this life, but what does it profit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his very soul?

Be Like Jesus

March 16, 2009
Written by John Smulo   
Friday, 06 February 2009 11:04

Be Like Jesus

1. Get baptized by the craziest guy in town.

2. Say and do things that are guaranteed to make religious people want to kill you. Repeat again, and again, and again, and again, and again and don’t stop unless forced.

3. Do amazing things for people and ask them to not tell anyone.

4. Hang out with the most despised, marginalized, looked down upon, and shunned people you can find.

5. When possible, forgive and restore people, even if they betrayed you.

6. Live in a way that provokes gossip.

7. Win the most grace competition.

8. Keep the party going. 

9. Serve people (note: nose plugs may be required).

10. If you’re sad cry.

11. Empower people to do the extraordinary.

12. Act like a rock star in a hotel temple.

13. Radically simplify theology.

14.Break human-made religious laws. Repeat consistently.

15.Prioritize the most important over the important.

16. Let women with questionable backgrounds pay your bills.

If you would like to copy this and put it anywhere feel free.

The Compliment

March 14, 2009

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work.  If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who has no one to help him up!  Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10.

Most of the time when we use the word “compliment” we are saying something nice about someone else.  Yet there is another meaning which gets used less now than it did in bygone eras, I’ll have to use it in a sentence:  Those two compliment one another.  Meaning they benefit, complete and take care of one another.

The church is supposed to be this kind of atmosphere.  What one cannot do, another steps up to fill the gap.  None of us can be completely independent or self-sufficient.  Those who live this way (if you can call it “living”) seem self-reliant and okay, but really they steel themselves against the need they feel inside.  Sure they might have shut themselves off to the reality or believe they have extricated themselves from needing anyone, but the only reason anyone does this is to avoid being disappointed.

 This is an area where I lack wholeness (another word for “perfection” in Biblical terms).  I don’t really know how I came to feel the outsider, it might be that I just took it more to heart than other kids, whatever it was, I know that I felt left out of a lot of relationships.  So I began the trek into the world of books so I could find some kind of connection with people.  In books I could hear people’s thoughts, get their motivations and find some sense of belonging–even though merely as an observer.

As I entered music more and more, it also pulled me away from others in an odd way, for I began to meet them through music almost exclusively.  I used my guitar to attract them and then the songs to hold their attention.  I honestly felt nothing else I offered gave them a reason to stick around.  Of course an attitude like that leads to misunderstanding other people feel the same need.  In the late sixties and early seventies the pop world emphasized individuality to the point everyone felt like worlds unto themselves, though there were definitely pockets of people teaching commonality and community.  Songs and posters telling us no one can know how we feel programmed a generation into isolation.

Yet the songs did know how we felt or we wouldn’t have related to them.  We can’t escape our need of each other and shouldn’t want to, but fear keeps us out of reach.  We desperately crave community and acceptance all the while we are attempting to escape its clutches or control.  Being on the outside of this social turmoil has its advantages because people like me stand back and observe, though our viewpoint is many times skewed by resentment and feeling ostracized.

Let me stop here to make clear I don’t feel this isolation anymore, not since I gave it up for Jesus.  He brought me into community, although He worked pretty hard to change my fear of people into a genuine love for them.  By the time I turned 25, I let go of much of what held me back from church body.  I am only telling my experience to show you what I know about being outside the community and it’s taken years of redirection and education in the Word to get me admit I needed them.

One of the reasons, however, I struggled to give it up to any church was the way many of them seemed to force a political, social or particular doctrinal agenda.  I am an odd blend of SDA, hippy rock n roll and Evangelical…How could I help but be such since I grew up SDA but have accepted a more ecumenical stance?  Many arriving to the community of believers from such strong churches as Catholicism and Pentecostalism find they still hold certain POV from their past and incorporate these into the group in which they find themselves.

Our tribal, social strata, nationalistic and other affiliations have been greatly destroyed by the sixties in an effort to preach the better truth of shared humanity.  Yet many have tried to throw the baby out with the bath water by shunning any emphasis on the racial differences to escape the insidiousness of racism.  While I understand this as white man, as a Christian I find it repulsive and godless.  The differences between us racially would be best served if we celebrated our heritage where it is noble and rejected what showed itself as ignoble–but doing both with open discussion and without blinders on of any kind.

The lesson for the church is our disparate abilities compliment and serve one another. 

The abilities themselves give no one more or less inherent value for they are just another means for the follower of the Master to wash one another’s feet.  As in my last blog entry where I quoted Paul discussing the different gifts, we serve one another with these abilities, all the while avoiding the trap of the world’s perception of some being better than others.  Again, here’s how our Master taught us to behave:  Jesus called them (the disciples) together and said,  “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of  Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.  Mark 10:42-45.

So you see we have a mandate to keep our hearts from vying for position or status in church.  It is so pronounced a teaching in the NT, Jesus repeated it several times in various ways.  All of us from pastors to ditch diggers belong to one body and no one holds more power or honor than others.  A pastor who honors his or congregation above himself/herself demonstrates the attitude of Christ as an example for them to follow.  The ditch digger who earns less than most demonstrates his or her greatness in the church by becoming wise in the things of God through His Son Jesus Christ.  Both use their gifts and abilities to serve the church; both are worth the life of the Son of God; both demonstrate the commonality and community the world lacks by warming their brothers and sisters, bearing their burdens for a time, washing their feet when they are dirty (rebuke, correction and teaching in righteousness) and giving of themselves to the betterment of the body.

Without this kind of loving service to one another, the church is just a religious collection of people lacking any life or vitality, and completely misrepresenting the nature of Jesus Christ to those who watch them.  As the Bard wrote years ago, “All the world’s a stage…”  On that stage where the cross casts its shadow should be inacted the principles of unity through diversity Jesus so emphatically taught before His death.  In our daily routines and fellowships we must complete in others what they lack.  Paul said it better,  We apostles have been put on display at the end of the procession… 

If this is how one of our greatest theologians thought of himself and his compatriots, how should we consider ourselves?

There is a reason why some are not preachers and others are.  I’ve met preachers who cannot even drive a nail.  I know a member of one my churches who gets confused by almost any kind construction yet is a lawyer and intellect.  The former truth doesn’t make him an idiot nor does the latter make him superior, rather it makes him able to service others in a way they can’t help themselves.  Yet people like me who are gifted at driving a nail and shaping wood complete him.  I’ve met carpenters who are deep philosophers but will never be clerical or writers; I’ve met clerical people who cannot think spatially.  Each completes in the other what they other lacks and, hopefully, serves to lift the other up.

This is what being family means through the view of the cross.