Feeds:
Posts
Comments

The “Good News” of the gospel is not about the coming storm, it’s about the hope that we have in the midst of rough weather.  If no one is asking about this hope we ought to have (1Pet.3:15), maybe it’s because they don’t see any evidence of it.

The understanding that apart from Him we can do “nothing” (John 15:5) is meant to drive us toward surrender.   While the revelation that through Him “all things” are possible (Matt.19:26) is meant to facilitate our transformation.

We tend to view 2Chronicles 7:14 (If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear…) as a call to prayer, when it’s actually a call to repentance.

Destiny

I was not conceived in the dark

I was brought forth from the light

*

I was not born an orphan

I came with a name to carry forward

*

I was not raised in a slum

That’s just a place I chose to dwell

*

I never thought I was lost

until the day I was found

*

I never thought I was blind

until the day You opened my eyes

*

I never felt like I belonged

until I came into Your presence

*

I never understood destiny

until I looked into Your face

*

Take me to that place I’ve never been before

and

Introduce me to the person I’ve yet to become

Crusades

“Beware of Crusades”

(i.e. Battles fought in Jesus’ name that He did not call us to)!

It is a trap for zealous believers

(e.g. James & John-Luke 9:54, Peter-Matt. 26:51, Saul-Acts 8:3).

Circumstantial

At this point in the journey, I’m less likely to ask God to change my circumstances, and more apt to pray that He sustain me in the midst of them, ultimately working them to my good.

Intuition

It is important to distinguish between intuition and discernment.  One is rooted in experience (1Cor.3:19), and the way that seems right (Prov.14:12), while the other comes from the Spirit (Luke10:23) and allows the unseen to be seen (2Cor.4:18).

Taking the Bait

I’m not much of a fisherman, but I’ve recently been thinking about fishing lures.  While many fishermen prefer live bait, certain situations call for the use of lures, which can consist of any number of different elements (e.g. rubber, plastic, feathers…) used to attract the fish.  For those who know what they’re doing, there is a whole science to deciding what elements to use for a particular application. 

The specific lure that I remember using as a kid was called a “spinner”.  It had shiny metallic pieces on it, and as it moved through the water it created a spinning motion, which resulted in little flashes of light meant to attract the fish. 

In a time of prayer, I saw a picture of a spinner, moving just below the surface of the water, with little flashes of light coming from it, and pronged hooks protruding from the end.  I felt like this picture was symbolic of the spiritual battle that we face each day.  Though we know that the enemy often comes disguised as an angel of light, we often don’t recognize the deception until after his hooks are into us.

An enemy that doesn’t have the power to overwhelm you with a direct assault must resort to special tactics to achieve the desired result.  Normally, deception and distraction are an integral part of such a strategy. 

Our enemy is a master of deception, and in Western culture we have made distraction almost an art form.  Of course, we don’t refer to it as distraction, we call it entertainment, amusement, recreation, chilling out, a sport, a pastime, a hobby, a special interest…, but regardless of what we call it, our attention is easily snatched away from the more substantial issues of life. 

I would submit that our enemy loves these pre-occupations, and that they’ve been amongst his most effective tools in facilitating moral decay within our culture.  He doesn’t have to convince someone to embrace evil, he simply needs to keep them too pre-occupied with the temporal to even ponder the eternal. 

The truth is that most people within our culture still believe in the idea of God (or a “higher power”), and of being a “good” person.  But most are too busy pursuing their own interests to commit to any sort of relationship with God, or a church community, or anyone else for that matter.  In theory, those of us who count ourselves as followers of Christ ought to be a little harder to deceive, but our predisposition towards being distracted is much the same as the cultures. 

We can spend our whole Christian walk pursuing knowledge, titles, positions, spiritual gifts, experiences, credentials, recognition…  We can champion causes we’re passionate about, and fill our calendar with church activities.  Yet we may never really come to know the person of Christ, or be used by Him in a substantial way to touch the lives of others. 

While all of these pursuits may seem virtuous and worthwhile, unless God is calling us to them, they are simply a distraction from what He is calling us to.  Given the ineffectiveness of the church in touching the world, it is likely that this is more prevalent than any of us would like to admit.

In Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, he suggests that a person (or organization…) create what he calls a “Mission Statement”.  This statement should encompass what that person’s (or organization’s…) ultimate goal (i.e. mission) is.  

As conflicts arise, Covey suggests that they must be evaluated as to their bearing on achieving this ultimate goal.  His premise is that we spend a lot of time and energy on things that really don’t make any significant difference in achieving our over-arching mission. 

He suggests that if it isn’t going to move us toward our ultimate destination, that we shouldn’t spend a significant amount of resources on it.  For the church, it would seem as though the “Great Commission” might be a good mission statement, or maybe Jesus’ statements as to the “greatest commandment”.  Considering those examples, it is difficult to reconcile many of the things “the church” involves itself with. 

From global warming, to student loan forgiveness, to who resides in the White House, the church seems to immerse itself in conflicts, that at the very least seem useless, and in many cases are counterproductive, in achieving our eternal purposes.  If we are investing the resources of the church in areas that it’s not been commissioned for, we are depleting those resources for doing the work it has been commissioned for.

On an individual level, the distractions are even more abundant.  We can easily get caught up in the day to day struggle to raise our families, and lose sight of our higher calling.  Like Covey, the Apostle Paul encourages us to keep pressing toward the goal; he also reminds us that a good soldier doesn’t involve themselves in “civilian” affairs.  These words speak of avoiding things that will distract us from our greater purpose. 

If we don’t keep focused, something as little as the way someone looks at us, or their tone of voice, can pull us off track.  One unkind word, or interpersonal struggle is often all that it takes to make us forfeit the joy of our salvation.  A situation on the job, or an unpaid bill may be all that it takes for us to forget the hope we have in Christ.  We must understand that within these situations there is a hook that our enemy means to get into us, and we must learn not to grab hold of it. 

We’re often so quick to respond to these issues without guidance from the Lord, and then get overwhelmed by the consequences of acting under our own power.  A fish is simply driven by their instinct, and if it survives, it can be hooked over and over again with the same bait.  As believers, filled with God’s Spirit, we need to be wiser than that, and learn to take every thought captive. 

We need to recognize that our enemy is always using people, and situations in an effort to snag us, and choose not to take that bait.  We need to understand that apart from God we can do nothing, and that if He isn’t calling us to the battle, He isn’t under any obligation to equip us for it. 

As Paul said, we must press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us.  Adding that, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”.  We too must push every hindrance aside, and throw off the things which mean to entangle us, so that we might run the race that’s been marked out for us.

Watch and Pray

During times of prayer I’ve often been reminded of the scripture, “watch and pray, lest you fall into temptation”.  As I re-read that passage, I got a renewed sense of what Jesus was saying.  It seems that He was trying to warn the Apostles that something was about to come against them, but they couldn’t seem to grasp the magnitude of it.  Despite all that Jesus had told them about what must happen to Him, they remained remarkably unaware. 

He didn’t just ask them to pray with Him, He asked them to watch as well.  What was it that He was encouraging them to see?  One might guess that it was to look for those who Jesus understood would be coming for Him, but in judging Jesus’ reaction to Peter’s response, it seems unlikely that He was asking them to stand guard. 

This wasn’t the first time Jesus had spoken of watching and praying.  In the parable of the fig tree He had told them of a snare that had been set for all who dwell on the earth, and exhorted them to always watch and pray, so that they may be counted worthy to escape the things to come.  He later singled out Peter and let him know that Satan had asked for him, that he might be sifted as wheat. 

I sense that Jesus picked those Apostles who were closest to Him, and the leaders amongst the twelve, because they were the ones most likely to understand.  He had previously expressed His exasperation at the lack of understanding amongst His disciples, but in preparation for this time He had painstakingly explained that He must be given over to death.  He wanted them to pray, so that their eyes would be opened to the significance of the events that were about to unfold.  But as the scripture says, they fell asleep. 

I believe that this is not only their story, but a representation of the church as a whole.  The Lord has been trying to warn us of things to come, but we’ve largely been asleep.  Like the Apostles on that night, our stomachs are full, it seems pretty quiet, and we’re largely unaware of the spiritual implications of what is going on around us.  Just as Jesus told them, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

So what is the temptation that Jesus was speaking of?  Was it a specific issue, or was it just temptation in general?  As we look at the scripture, we can get some sense of what was behind the spectrum of actions, and reactions that were occurring around Jesus in this time. 

It seems that Judas had fallen into the temptation to manipulate the circumstances for gain, while by drawing the sword, Peter took it upon himself to try to power his way through the situation in his own strength.  The other disciples fell to their fear, as they scattered, and abandoned this man that they had claimed to love.  Ultimately, Judas succumbed to despair and shame. 

The Temple Guard fell to the temptation to use the enemies’ tactics, as they came in the dark of night, and without just cause.  The High Priest, and the Sanhedrin were taken by their religious pride, their confidence in their own understanding, and their lust for power. 

Pilate succumbed to his fear of men, while the Israelites who gathered outside were caught up in the arrogance of the mob, as they shouted, “let His blood be on us and on our children”.  Finally, the Roman guards gave themselves over to the brutality that comes with unchecked power. 

As this scene unfolded, there was all variety of temptation to fall to, and we see just about everyone, other than Jesus, succumbing to it.  It is the same today as it was then.  We are falling into the same kinds of temptations.  Our tendencies to react, and respond are the same as theirs, and Jesus’ words still echo loudly.    

Of course Jesus didn’t give in to temptation, as He walked through the horrible reality of the cross.  The scripture says that Jesus despised the shame of the cross, that He agonized to the point that His sweat became like droplets of blood, and that He was sorrowful unto the point of death.  Yet while praying in the garden, He resolved not my will, but thine be done. 

We rationalize that He was the Son of God, and that this means it was somehow different for Him, but the scripture says that He was a man, who was tempted in all the same ways we are.  I would submit that through His times of prayer, He was fortified for the things to come. 

Throughout His ministry, we repeatedly see Jesus separating Himself from the crowd, and finding that quiet place to be with His Father.  He said He didn’t do anything that He didn’t see the Father do first, and I believe that it was in these times of prayer that He received the insight, and direction necessary for Him to fulfill His purpose. 

It was these private moments that allowed Jesus to maintain an eternal perspective on what was happening around Him, and so it is with us.  If we are to be fortified for the things to come, and not fall to the buffet of temptations that await us; if we hope to maintain an eternal perspective, and fulfill our purpose, we too must find the quiet place, where we can receive direction from God. 

It seems that the Western church has fallen into the cultural trend of having a very short attention span, and that the concept of prayer has largely given way to engaging speakers, drama teams, dancers, and power point presentations.  While none of those things is wrong necessarily, it seems like we’ve tried to make ourselves relevant to the world by imitating them.  We can pack the house for conferences, or plays, or concerts, but struggle to get anyone to get excited about a prayer meeting.  If there is too much of a lull in the action, we’re afraid that we will lose the crowd. 

As I consider the state of prayer within the church, I am reminded of the story of Jesus coming into the temple area, and overturning the tables of the money changers, and merchants.  I’ve heard it said that it was the corrupt practices of the merchants in the temple that angered Jesus, but Mark’s gospel account seems to indicate that it was the mere presence of commerce within the temple.  He not only confronted the money-changers, and vendors, but began to drive out those who were buying and selling, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 

I sense that Jesus saw this as a defilement of a sacred place, and that he abhorred that the focus had been taken off the Father.  This makes me wonder how Jesus views the blatant merchandizing, and enterprise that takes place within the church today.  His objection to those extra-curricular activities was that His Father’s house was to be a “house of prayer”. 

The question that looms is whether we are any closer to this today.  How many local churches can accurately claim to be a house of prayer?  If a church isn’t a house of prayer, what is it a house of?  If we are not a praying church, then what are we placing our hope in?  Unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain.

Watch and pray, lest you fall to the temptation to focus on the seen realm (2 Cor. 4:18)

Watch and pray, lest you fall to hollow and deceptive philosophies which depend on human tradition (Col. 2:8)

Watch and pray, lest you fall to the temptation to do what is right in our own eyes (Matt 16:22-23)

Watch and pray, lest you give in to the impulse to take matters into your own hands (Luke 22:50-51)

Under the Influence

I was raised in a Christian home with two loving parents, two brothers and a sister.  We were taught (via word and deed) very traditional ideas about God, family, and life in general.  While these were my earliest influences, there came a time in my life that I began to challenge just about every one of those ideas.  I was not consciously trying to rebel, but I definitely wanted to see things for myself.  I didn’t have to go out, and seek the things of the world, all I had to do was live in the world with an “open mind”, and those things worked their way into me. 

I just listened to some music, watched some television, went to some movies, and read some magazines.  Nothing drastic, I lived a fairly typical life, and very subtly “evolved” in my thinking.  I remember thinking how the people who talked about things like “sex and violence in popular culture” sounded like alarmists; after all I was around all that stuff, and it wasn’t affecting me. 

It wasn’t until years later, when I came to an awareness of the emptiness within me that I considered something might need to change.  Shortly after that realization, the life that I had carved out collapsed, leaving me scrambling for a new reference point.  That is the period in which God became “real” to me. 

I went through a season where I found myself frequently alone, and cutoff from the routine of my former life.  As I read the Bible, I encountered many of the ideas that I’d been raised with, and I had to wonder when, and how I’d gotten so far away from that.  It was then that I began to recognize how wrong I had been about the affect that soaking in the popular culture was having on me.

The Bible warns that bad company corrupts good character, and that is largely viewed as a warning against hanging out with the wrong people.  While that is undoubtedly the main thrust of that passage, I’d submit that keeping company with the wrong ideas, and images is just as damaging; maybe even more so. 

In the Old Testament we see God tell the men of Israel not to marry foreign women, because their hearts will undoubtedly be turned to their foreign gods.  It was not the women themselves that were the issue, it was their ideas, and belief systems that God was trying to keep His people from. 

This was played out in dramatic fashion in the life of Solomon, whom God gave wisdom that was “as measureless as the sand of the seashore” and “greater riches… than all the other kings of the earth”.  Despite all of Gods favor, Solomon’s appetite for foreign women (700 wives, 300 concubines) caused his loyalty to become divided, as he built altars, and made sacrifices to the gods of his wives. 

To understand what a serious issue this was to God, consider the fact that despite King David’s adultery and murder, God assessed him to be a “man after God’s own heart”, while despite Solomon’s wisdom, and the splendor of the Temple he built, God angrily promised to tear the kingdom from his children. 

Solomon obviously thought that he could have it both ways, but God knew that ultimately it would cause him to become double minded.  While many of his actions had exalted God, his heart became separated from Him, and in the end the heart is all that counts.

God’s word tells us not to be conformed to the things of this world, and that in fact friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God.  I believe that many of us who call ourselves Christians have fallen into the same trap as Solomon did.  We believe that we can say and do some good things for God, and yet still be on good terms with the world around us. 

We can spend a couple of hours a week involved in “church stuff”, and maybe even pray or read our bible some; but then live just like our lost neighbors for the rest of the time.  We listen to the world’s philosophies, fill our ears with the world’s music, fill our heads with the images of the world, and think that somehow that isn’t coloring our perception of truth. 

It is like saturating a sponge with red fruit punch, and then trying to carry that sponge across a white carpeted room.  There is no way that it isn’t going to stain you, and get on everything that’s around you.  As we sit and watch seemingly harmless “entertainment”, our perceptions of the roles of men and women, of relationships, and of what is acceptable are being affected.  As we sit and watch infomercials, or the shopping channel, we’re encouraged to covet all the things we don’t have.  As we watch the news, our perception of reality is being affected, whether we believe it or not. 

An example of this is a group, which purportedly represented over 10,000 Christians, who came out with a document supporting the Theory of Evolution.  Their stated motivation was that “Creationism” (i.e. the literal interpretation of the biblical account of creation) just isn’t “good science”.  Their misconception was that the “Theory” of Evolution equated to “good science”.  If that were true, it wouldn’t still be a theory all these years after Darwin first developed it. 

In a laboratory a theory is put to the test, and if a consistent result cannot be derived, that theory is assumed to be at least incomplete, if not completely false.  Because of gapping holes within it, the theory of Evolution has not been proven, and as such should probably be classified as questionable science, if not “bad science”.  But we’ve been taught it as though it were fact for so long that many just assume that it must be. 

This is the same dynamic the Church succumbs to on other issues as well.  Gods’ word clearly says one thing, but what we see and hear going on around us is what we treat as reality.  God meant for His church to be an influence on the world, but in the western hemisphere the church seems to be taking its cues from the culture.  Whether it is the model for the family, marriage, divorce, sexuality…, the church appears to be trying to make itself more relevant to the world by adapting itself to the world’s beliefs. 

If our mission was to get people into the church building this approach might be helpful, but our mission is to “make disciples” of Jesus Christ, and this approach only serves to distort His image.

The Bible teaches that how a man thinks in his heart will dictate how he lives.  If our conception of manhood comes from things like John Wayne movies, or our conception of what a family is comes from shows like “Everybody Loves Raymond”, or our conception of men and women come from books like “Women are From Venus and Men Are From Mars”, or our conception of what success is comes from people like “The Kardashians”, or our conception of what charity is comes from people like “Oprah”, or our conception of what love is comes from things like “Romeo and Juliet”…, then we’ve been conformed to this world, and not transformed into the image of our God. 

Only our Creator can truly show us who we were made to be, only He knows what will fulfill us.  Only a God who yearns to have relationship with us can teach us about what He intended for relationships.  Only the God who “is love” can show us what real love is.  We need to quit looking to the world for reality and truth, because one day we will pass from the unreality of this life into the reality of eternity.

When that happens, only Gods point of view will matter, and the rest will have been nothing more than “chasing the wind”.  Like someone who’s had too much to drink, we can argue that we’re good enough to get ourselves home, but a simple blood test will reveal whether we are “under the influence”. 

At the end of this road there will be a traffic stop, and the results of that blood test will definitely be brought before the court.  On that day the man who has tried to make the best of both worlds will likely find that he’s made nothing of either of them.