Friday, December 3, 2010

The Hurting and Discarded

It has been far too long since I engaged in the rhythmic cadence of placing thought to word through my keyboard. Many, many things have transpired in the past four months, some good, some not. Through it all, regardless of highs, lows, exhilaration, or crisis one powerful truth remains. God is so good, so loving, and so merciful and so constant.

Why wait so long before taking up the pen (or keyboard)? I can only describe my walk and my journey these past months as one who has enjoyed the warm sunlight and surface of the shallows of a crystal blue paradise and then through circumstance, response, and self-action has dove inward into murky grey depths where little light and little warmth penetrates. Though at times I have not walked where I should or followed what I know to be the path God has for me, like a safety line that a diver of great depths relies on for orientation and their very life, He has always been one glance away, one uttered prayer near, constant, anchored, unmoving and pointing to His higher purpose for my life, His protection from the storms that have assailed us.

What is truly marvelous in all of our lives is that we cannot run from this God, this loving Father. As David said in Psalms, where can we go? If we go to the mountain top He is there. If we go to the valley, He is there. The sky proclaims His majesty, the ocean depths His mystery. Even if we walk through hell - He is there. Jesus' redemptive work at the cross was THAT powerful. So powerful, the only escaping His presence is His ultimate sacrifice of love - our will. Even still, as long as we draw breath, He will wait as a gentleman, one prayer away, one "help me" from intervention.

What is also amazing is that to Him, we are not mistakes He has to clean up after. We are not souls roaming His creation that He continually has to enact plan B, plan C, on out to infinity because we keep messing up His intent. In Jeremiah 29:11 He states that He knows the plans He has for our lives, the very purpose for our treading this soil at this time in the history of this sphere. We cannot transgress so badly that He can't redeem our lives and utilize us to His planned purpose, and these are plans that He laid out before the first plant grew or the first animal drew breath.

Look at what Galatians 4 says:

“But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, "Papa! Father!" Doesn't that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you're also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance.” Galatians 4:4-7 (MSG)

I love the statement in this translation "you are not a slave, but a child". Further, in Romans 8 we read:

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For the Spirit which you have now received is not a spirit of slavery to put you once more in bondage to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit producing sonship, in the bliss of which we cry, Abba (Father)! Father! The Spirit Himself thus testifies together with our own spirit, assuring us that we are children of God. And if we are His children, then we are His heirs also: heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, sharing His inheritance with Him; only we must share His suffering if we are to share His glory.” Romans 8:14-17 (AMP)

How many of us hang our heads in shame, acting out the lie the enemy has sold us that we are dogs deserving to be kicked; that we should somehow have to make restitution for our lives mistakes before we can know the fullness of sonship? Look at what Ephesians says:

“How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. What pleasure he took in planning this! He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.” Ephesians 1:3-6 (MSG)

We see here scripture referencing our adoption as His children, and God doesn't engage in "foster parenting". We are sons and daughters of the King of Kings, Most Holy Lord of Lords, the very one immeasurably exalted above all heaven and earth and everything that was created, which includes every angel, every demon, every problem, every concern you might carry. He adopted us, and He planned to do so from the very start. And unlike so many adoptive homes where the adoptee is at a slightly lesser status than the birth children within the home, He has named us "joint-heirs" with His only Son.

This hits hard because it is the very reality my family is currently facing. My bride and I are in process of seeking adoption of a specific "special-needs" child. This little four year old boy has grabbed our hearts and what makes him "special" is the cognitive, emotional, and motor-skill delays imposed by severe neglect and abuse - a hurting heart and the resultant impact of a lack of love. I am learning so much through this process and have been continually astounded at the physical impact the absence of loving parents has had on this child. Through the process of engaging in foster licensing, court appointees, case reviews, and social workers, institutions I once considered a scourge and a necessary evil are now, to me, understood to be a necessary good in the face of evil in the absence of a work the body of Christ should have been doing all along.

In the early chapters of Acts, we read that orphan care and the care of widows was the province of the Church, not the state. Regardless of current politics and policies, the failure of the Church through the centuries has created the necessity of government interventions. Christ's love is not expressed in the administrative case review I just sat through. An explanation of God's love and grace is not given to the single mom as she picks up her welfare check. The government cannot duplicate or legislate the holy love that we as light bringers and salt on this earth are to be carrying out one to another.

This journey has already been marked by heartache and sacrifice, even though it feels as if we've barely scratched the surface. Family and friends have questioned our motives. People we assumed would be happy for us have, in some ways, acted like this is a funeral, a death of our known family as they were used to it. Deep emotional insecurities have surfaced in others as they have progressed from "oh that's a nice thing for people to do" to "What do you mean you are adopting?". We've had family tell us "You can barely take care of the kids you have".

This last statement cut deepest and we began to realize that adoption is God's answer to the hurting and discarded, because He never discards people. We also began to realize there is a very real enemy working against us in this and against this child in whichever ways are most effective, and so far those ways have been lies, misinformation, and directed statements of fellow believers - many people closest to us. This enemy seeks to devour and destroy lives. The more innocent the better. Where Jesus said "whoever harms one of these little ones" Satan seeks to do just that through he hands and mouths of people. Death and disease are effective, yes, but how much more devastating the effect of a child abused. With this, the enemy has snared one and statistically speaking, probably two people or more at once. In our case, division and strife now exist between family and our home. Something has been lost as we endeavor to obey in what we know God to be leading us toward - the rescue of one small soul.

Thanksgiving was difficult. No blood family attended our home. No stories were swapped recounting shared youthful experiences. No one freely loosened their belt to increase comfort during the football game or to squeeze in that last piece of pie. But God used the day and us to be a blessing. We were so blessed to have in our home several who might not have otherwise had a holiday experience. We were blessed to share a feast with those who did not regularly participate in this gathering that I have always taken for granted as a happy occasion of grouped family. My eyes were opened to the fact that this is not the case in many homes, and when one 15 year old told my son "this was the best Thanksgiving I've ever had" I was simultaneously pleased and saddened. This boy is an adoptee himself, living in a single parent home in which ties are strained with extended family. Further, mom and son are not the same "race" and even in our enlightened metropolitan culture, it is evident this has further created tensions.

As we enjoyed the food I recall looking around our large table, thankful to have been a part of blessing someone, bringing a smile and hopefully a good memory. But I was also humbled. I was humbled by the inadequacy of my life's efforts to reach those in need. Not everyone at that table was in need. But each of us were scarred in some manner. Each of us were there because we did not have the security of a stable and safe birth family environment to relax in that day.

I have too often overlooked my hurting brother and sister - and these are simply the people I know and interact with regularly. Yet here many of them were, banded together in our own "family", laughing, enjoying a meal, and sharing souls. God was in my home in a special way that day and this is His desire for us - for us to know his love of adoption, of reaching out to others and inviting them into our circle, of building others up when the devastation of words and actions is the norm for them. Adoption is not limited to bringing a child into your home. As adopted sons and daughters in Him, we also have a multitude of adopted brothers and sisters - all of them family in God's Kingdom. Through this journey I've discovered people of character and hearts of gold that do model God's selfless love and have been there to support us unconditionally. These people have been family when family has failed and I have been enlarged for the process.

The boy we are adopting has also taught me a thing or two about love, compassion, and grace. His hunger for love already has him calling me "daddy" and though he has behavioral challenges at times as a result of the tremendous upheaval he is experiencing, upheaval few of us will ever know, I see in his brown eyes hope for love, hope for protection, hope for a life of joy and security. I have vowed to provide that as his father, as best I can. I am so far removed from being that perfect parent and I am certain I have many challenges and "opportunities for growth" ahead. But I now know love towards one not of my bloodline and in my eyes, he is simply a son we did not birth, but a full son of my house none-the-less.

Finally, we need to remember this: regardless of the trials faced, those who have claimed Christ are all moving towards a feast of our own. At this feast will be a gathering beyond count. The Father will look over the banquet with infinite pleasure because His children are finally home, where He meant for them to be all along.

“We know that the whole creation of irrational creatures has been moaning together in the pains of labor until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves too, who have and enjoy the first fruits of the Holy Spirit, a foretaste of the blissful things to come, groan inwardly as we wait for the redemption of our bodies from sensuality and the grave, which will reveal our adoption, our manifestation as God's sons.” Romans 8:22-23 (AMP)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Thanksgiving and Praise - Keys to Your Life

I recently heard an amazing teaching by Pastor David Ellis that showed me that God's Word is so rich and so filled with life and so often we miss so many of the powerful truths and connections that are right before our eyes simply because we've been inundated with the same stories for years.  We become so "fogged over" in our quests for searching out God in His Word that we walk right past the obvious.  God isn't trying to hide himself from us in the ultimate cosmic game of "peek-a-boo".  He isn't pondering how he can next challenge us in a spiritual treasure hunt in an effort to keep Himself from us.  Jesus stated that his "yoke was easy and his burden was light".  Easy.  Light.  God wants you to know him, intimately.  Easily.  Ever been in a relationship that was just easy?  You didn't have to nervously re-acquaint or talk about the weather or family or employment or hobbies, it was just easy - you could just be yourself.  This is what God wants. 

His truths are easy too.  Looking at a familiar passage in John 6:4-14 we see the account of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Remember the felt boards in Sunday School?  The paper cutouts?  Remember the coloring pages - 2 fish, 5 small loaves?  Again, this is one of those readings for me where it is so easy to miss truth, where my eyes can almost glaze over as I "speed-read" the passage.  Jesus sees a "great multitude" coming his direction.  We read the passage as him feeding 5,000 but we also know this is a headcount of only the men.  Conservative estimates put the crowd's total size of 10-12,000 with it possibly as large as 15-20,000.  Picture it.  Jesus and the twelve had just crossed the Sea of Galilee, taken a small hike up a dusty trail to a "mountain" top or to us a hillside, sit down to take a breather and they look out and here is a throng of 15,000 people headed their way.

Jesus says "Hey Philip, where can we get some food to feed these people?" (paraphrase) and right after this the Word says he asked Phillip this "to test him for He Himself knew what He would do."  One translation says He asked Phillip this to "stretch his faith".  Jesus wasn't perplexed by the scene unfolding in front of him.  He wasn't frustrated by the fact that thousands of people were approaching and he didn't have food with him and then lean over to one of his twelve and say "How're we gon'na feed 'em all?"  After Adam and Eve had sinned in the Garden, God wasn't playing hide-n-seek in asking "Adam - where are you?"  God always knows exactly where we're at, where our faith is at.  It is His desire to take us to the next level and His purpose in questioning us isn't to read us a Heavenly riot act but to draw us out - to get us to engage Him on His level so that He can start to move in our lives in the blessings He desires.

Look at Phillip's answer.  "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them that every one of them may have a little."  The New Living Translation puts it this way:  "Even if we worked for months we wouldn't have enough money to feed them!"  Phillip's answer:  We don't have enough money!

I have to imagine Jesus cracking a grin here, because the Word says He already knew what he was going to do, but don't miss the lesson.  Jesus didn't ask Phillip "Where can we get some cash together to run into town and get some food for this crowd?"  "He didn't tap Judas, the group's purse-holder and say "How much do we have in the bag?"  His question was "Where is the food coming from?"

It is then that Andrew produces the child with the two fish and five loaves.  Do you think that Andrew was policing the crowd, saw a kid with food and grabbed him by the collar and said "Jesus! Got a kid with food here!"?  I believe that this boy overheard the conversation and got it.  We see Jesus telling us that we have to have child-like faith and I believe this boy, overhearing the conversation, came to Andrew with his food offered it.  Why else would Andrew approach Jesus with an unknown "lad's" lunch? 

We read in verse thirteen that that after everyone had been fed they had 12 baskets full of fragments/left-overs and these wouldn't have been lunch pails.  They would have been large capacity baskets for carrying goods.  So what was the difference between "we don't have enough money" to "everyone's full and we've got more leftovers than we know what to do with"?  The pastor I heard speaking on this pointed something out that is so in line with what other brothers and sisters have echoed in recent months and something that I think God is trying to capture our attention on because it is critical to our success in this life.

The offering isn't what fed the crowd. How often have you offered up prayer, sacrifice, effort and seemed to hit silence in your petitions? Why?  Because the offering was the seed.  It needed a multiplier.  What was that multiplier?  It's in verse eleven:  Thanksgiving - praise.  Jesus was offering thanks over those fish and barley loaves the entire time He was distributing them.  He didn't just say "Holy Father, thank you for this meal which we are about to receive..." and then everyone sat down and ate.  Jesus was thanking over that bread and fish continually and a something happened - a cycle of provision took off.  To feed that many people Jesus was busy for hours - he was breaking fish and bread for hours to people lined up from all over.  He was handing off baskets of food to the twelve who were in turn running them to pockets of the crowd for a significant amount of time, giving thanks for it the whole time.

This is what He wanted Phillip to do - what He knew He would do from the start if given the seed to work with.  God has a calling on each one of our lives and if we'll seek out his vision for our lives it will be far more grand, far larger than anything we could come up with on our own.  This has a tendency to scare us.  "But God, I don't have enough...."  Is it money?  Resources?  Ability?  Do you sound like Phillip?  Your resources and talents never were the basis by which God is able to fulfill his plans through you - His are.  But even the offering of faith must be met with something - thanksgiving and praise.  It is the key. 

If God has shown you the vision of what He wants to do in your life, no matter how impossible it looks to you right now or how far away, begin to thank him and praise him for it today!  Don't focus on the obstacles or your lack or what you don't have or what stands between you and those dreams/visions. Look at the seed you do have and give thanks - this will cause multiplication.  Countless are the scriptures where praise and thanksgiving are to continually be on our lips.  Joy is strength and sometimes we have to will joy, just like we have to will strength to move.  Psalm 35:27 says "Let them shout for joy and be glad".  Don't have joy?  Then shout FOR joy because later in that verse we read God has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant.  Psalm 34:1 says "I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth."

It isn't for God's ego that we praise.  It is through praise that we are moved into the position of God being able to bless.  God knows who He is - He's pretty secure in the knowledge of Himself.  He's not in heaven insecure or not feeling well about himself and with holding blessing and prosperity if we don't give him some affection.  Our praise is the key that unlocks because it activates our faith and takes our attention off of circumstance and ourselves and focuses it on God's ability and when we move into this arena, God has something to work with in our lives.  He loves our praises because through our praises He can unleash the floods of blessings He has prepared for us. 

This is why he repeatedly brings it to us to praise, to ever be praising, to enter his courts with thanksgiving and praise, to be thankful for all things.  Thanksgiving and praise are the keys to your life - the abundant, overflowing, superior, extraordinary life that Jesus stated He came for you to have.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Your Reward is Through Your Fear

"What you are most afraid of is where your greatest rewards are."

A friend sent me this quote recently and to be honest I was taken aback by it. At first I almost dismissed it as I don't view myself as one to walk around in nervous fear but God grabbed me with the remembrance of things in my own life that I am currently in fear over. Things that when confronted with I tend to sweep under the rug, ignore, refuse to face directly. What do you fear? Is financial uncertainty? Sickness? The future? Do you fear never realizing your potential or never seeing your dreams become realities? Do you fear addressing that broken relationship? What about that habit that keeps creeping into your life that you need help with? Maybe you fear standing up for what is right, whether it be for yourself or for others, based on the Word.

You see, each of these is a storm, a testing of our character and each of these has a tremendous reward on the other side of them - a new plateau of living. But each of these requires complete and total honesty with yourself and a bold determination to face the issue in front of you and not back down from it, not cower or close your eyes from it for its "uncomfortable" nature. It will be uncomfortable. Growth usually is. But the end result is increased capacity, increased ability, and increased strength. These "increases" are necessary for the "increased" blessings that God has in store for you.

Jesus stated that he came for us to have life and to have it abundantly. The Greek here means to have life that is superior, extraordinary, surpassing and beyond what is normal. Very often, the means to these levels of increase are through the very storms that we are tempted to fear. We have to recognize that this fear is nothing more than the enemy's attempts to keep us from the very growth we need to encounter the divine and miraculous provision and blessings of God in our lives. When we stand on "we are more than conquerors in Christ" and "greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world" and the countless other truths in this Word that are life and power then truly we find the "roaring lion" a defeated foe melting into the shadows.

So when you see the clouds darkening on the horizon and the waves picking up, you can rejoice because you know there is something magnificent on the other side of the storm and regardless of its intensity - you are never alone.

Monday, August 2, 2010

God Wants You to Know...Him

I received an email today, one of many that I often receive, that started with "On this day, God wants you to know...".  Most of the time I dismiss these emails.  At best I'll give them a cursory scan but rarely will I delve into them with any enthusiasm.  Why?  Because I've found that most of the people sending me these emails have placed me on an automatic circulation list because I've become to them a "God person".  My regular scriptural quotes and biblical views have painted me in their minds as one who would appreciate their automatic electronic deposits.  These individuals very often also circulate "This day in your horoscope" and "Today your palm says..." type emails.  Since I'm a "bible thumper", I will obviously appreciate the "God wants you to know..." emails. 

Further, I see these efforts as a true longing for truth that each of us has innately within us.  Every one of us was created to seek God's face and yet so many of us choose to seek elsewhere.  If you've subscribed to these types of lists hear me out before getting upset with me.  I also subscribe to scriptural emails that deposit daily in my email account from various ministries.  Sometimes I have time to read them, sometimes I do not.  But I have always viewed these as supplementary reading and encouragement, not my daily dose of God's word.  Very often I get the sense that my emailing friends are sending me what is to them, the only connection to God's Word they may have in a day/week and this saddens me.

Do I sound harsh, sarcastic, even judgmental?  If anything these emails from the above anger me.  Not at the individuals who send them - but at an adversary who has so blinded us.  At a culture where we have made Christianity so comfortable that the lines are so blurred that one could pick and choose their spiritual enlightenment as if at a smorgasbord or a drive-thru.  "Don't have time for real Word study so I'll get in this little nugget" or "I'll have a little Christianity and some cute horoscope/witchcraft with some tossed eastern philosophy and a side of zen - that should satisfy my craving!"  The one who seeks to rend our souls and pull them into eternal torment with himself could not be more pleased with this and a Loving God who cries for us to simply open our eyes and who has given us everything we need to see and walk away from hell sadly shakes his head as we dabble in cute palm readings and "harmless" devils.

I'd like to send one of these emails back to all of my friends to whom I have concern, not as an accusing finger of judgment but as a clarion call.  It would say "Today God DOES want you to know...HIM".  Everything He has ever done has always revolved around relationship with Him.  Creation:  so that we would exist - with him.  Eden:  so that we could walk - with Him.  The cross:  so that we could be redeemed - back to Him.  He's even coming back to get us - to take us, where?  To be with Him!  The whole Bible is about coming to know and walking with Him.  I don't know if there is "extraterrestrial life" in this universe, but even if there is not, I have no trouble with the concept that I serve and love a God whose love for me is so immeasurably vast that he created all of this, just for our wonderment.  Billions of stars burst into song, exploding into life and dying before Him.  All creation testifies to the glory of His Name and His splendor.  And he invites us, daily, to know Him, to walk with Him, to let Him show us the wonders of His love for us.

This isn't done by a daily emailing. Like any love affair, it only happens with time well spent together.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

For the Working

"Servants, respectfully obey your earthly masters but always with an eye to obeying the real master, Christ. Don't just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ's servants doing what God wants you to do. And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you're really serving God. Good work will get you good pay from the Master, regardless of whether you are slave or free. Masters, it's the same with you. No abuse, please, and no threats. You and your servants are both under the same Master in heaven. He makes no distinction between you and them."  Ephesians 6:5-9

It is easy for me to skip over verses like these or to easily dismiss them as having little relevance.  But this is where the Holy Spirit grips me and reminds me that His Word is eternal and that all of it has relevance throughout time.  In Matthew 5, Jesus said that heaven and earth would pass away before this Word did.  It is permanent and the soil that we walk around on, that we tend to view as the "permanent" is actually the temporary and fading.  The stars that we nightly glance up at, are failing and this Word will outlast them.  These verses, the very ones above, have greater permanence and resound through eternity with greater influence and impact than cosmic phenomena light years away or even the elemental fusions of our own life giving sun.  There is complete relevance in all of God's Word throughout the book, we simply have to open ourselves to understanding it and finding its application.

In the verses above, Paul is talking to servants and masters, slave owners and slaves.  Both groups very common in the Mediterranean Roman Empire in which Paul lived and which affected and influenced every aspect of society throughout all of the know countries and lands on the earth at that time.  Sometimes we have to close our eyes and place ourselves very literally in the times, footsteps, smells, and sights of the authors. 

Paul was writing to a culture in which the ownership of slaves was common.  Middle and upperclass citizens had them throughout to assist with everything necessary for the running of the home or estate.  They were nursemaids, cooks, stable attendants, gardeners, plowhands, masons, heavy laborers, practically everything one could imagine.  Some were terribly mistreated as you imagine our own nation's terrible history with slavery would indicate.  Some were brought into the home as extended family, treated more as the butler in some of the movies we've watched.  Regardless, these were the working class of Paul's day, the societal norm of the blue collar worker - the ones getting the work done upon whom the wheels of a society at large depended.  Most, if not all, of us would identify.

We'd identify not only with the concept of the working class, but many of us would identify with the notion of not being treated well at one point or another by those in authority over us.  Some of us find ourselves in position of authority and therefore find ourselves dealing with individuals for whom we oversee who do not treat us well - either through lack of integrity or through lack of respect.  We thankfully do not have to face the vestiges of slavery but we do face a society of entitlement and excessive availibility of litigation.  Unionization and administrative policies have both contributed to abuses that have at one time or another permitted excesses in favor of corrupt management or equally dishonest labor practices.  The pendulum is ever in motion and typically at its apex either the employee or the employer gains the upper hand.  These ever shifting grounds make it all the more critical for us as believers and followers of Christ to be firmly grounded on His Word and on what He would have us do in our jobs and places of employment. 

First we must recognize that our employment is not our source, our provision, our living.  God is our source.  He is our provision.  You could lose your job tomorrow.  Does that mean your life is over?   Of course not.  Your Father has promised to meet your needs and He has never failed once on any of His promises.  Your employement, whether it is the culmination of years of academic study and preparation or something you stumbled into, is only a means for God to use you and bring His provision into your life.  I once heard a statement that revolutionized the way I consider my work related income:  My earnings are simply seed.  With that seed - if I am obedient and follow God's will and ways - He can truly bless me with so much blessing I can't contain it.

Secondly, the job IS NOT your life.  This has been such a difficult lesson for me to learn and to be honest - I'm still learning it.  I don't know if it is just me or men in general but I put my identity in my work.  When someone tells me "anyone could do your job" I take offense because I know differently.  I strive for excellence, to improve the condition around me and to innovate change.  Most around me are content to simply show up and draw a paycheck and my work ethic tends to be against this grain of thought, particularly in an institution as large as the one I work for.  I can't shake this either.  It is engrained deeply within me, very much to my frustration at times.  I can't number the times I've pulled my hair out because supervision wants only a mediocre product and I know it can be so much better with just a little effort, a slight tweak.

Third, we need to start realizing our places of employment are very often the mission fields that God has laid before us.  I've written thousands of words in this blog about the work that God has been preparing in my heart regarding the hurting, the orphan, the widowed, the needy.  But so many of those people are right around us daily - behind smiles or frowns or even non-expressions.  In jeans or slacks, dress-shoes or tennis-shoes.  We have to be Jesus to everyone around us as the opportunities present themselves and when you spend 1/3 of your waking day with people away from your family and church family - God certainly has a plan in store for you to be salt and light in the sphere of influence He has placed you.

Dissecting the above verses, I was struck by something significant.  Certainly they are an encouragement to do my best at my workplace for God.  But this was a cerebral acknowlegement for me.  Much like "better be good, God's watching".  What impacted me was a study into the Greek.  Verse 5 above in showing how we are to relate to our masters (employers/management) the King James translation states that we are to "be obedient...[to them]...with fear and trembling with singleness of heart as unto Christ".  This phrase bothered me and would bother most, particularly those who regularly suffer abuses, attitudes, or lack of respect at the hands of managers, directors, administrators, etc.  Fear my boss?  I get "as unto Christ" but what is this "trembling" all about?

The greek for the word "fear" here has two meanings.  One is to be in terror, but the other is to respect as a wife respects her husband.  Flip back a few verses to Ephesians 5:22-33 for marrital respect and servitude.  Further, the phrase "singleness of heart" denotes a focus of intent, a generosity of effort.  Picture, for a moment, someone close to you who has hurt you deeply - a close friend or relative.  If you were sitting in your living room and they unexpectedly opened the door and came in demanding they needed a drink, would you gush in love and generosity towards them or would you be somewhat stand-offish and cold, withdrawn and harsh?  If you helped them at all would you show them the cabinet and sink or shuffle quietly into the kitchen and silently hand them a glass half-full?  What if Jesus himself were to walk through that same door and sit down on your couch asking or a drink?  Would you drop everything and serve?  Offer him a cool drink, mix up some juice, something to eat, prepare a meal?  Can you see the difference in 'generosity of effort'?  On one hand we have the half-hearted and begrudging requirement of one who feels responsible to perform an action.  On the other we see the fervor of one who passionately focuses on the objective at hand and meets the need to the best of their capacity. 

"But they don't appreciate me" or "I haven't had a raise in three years" or "I give way more than I earn".  Ever think these thoughts?  I literally have had each of these crawl through my mind recently.  "Well, I give them my work, they owe me".  Remember who we're working for.  It's not for our employer.  They simply need a body and if yours isn't there they will find one to replace it.  It shouldn't simply be for yourself, because God has a much more broad plan for your employment than simply meeting your financial needs.  Rather we are to work "as unto Christ".  "But my boss doesn't act like Christ".  By no means are we ever to do anything unethical or blindly follow another into sin, but in as much as is possible, we are model Christ to both those above and beneath us.  And we can always praise God for the James 1:3-4 patience that is perfecting us!  If we need to see this in action - read chapters 37-41 of Genesis for the life of Joseph and we'll find the abuses we've suffered small in comparison. 

So, when was the last time you looked past the face of your boss and saw Jesus?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Lord Send Me..."

"Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) is the man whom You discipline and instruct, O Lord, and teach out of Your law"  Psalm 94:12

"For the Lord corrects and disciplines everyone whom He loves, and He punishes, even scourges, every son whom He accepts and welcomes to His heart and cherishes."  Hebrews 12:6

I open this writing with these scriptures because I have recently been corrected in my thinking by the Lord, even disciplined.  When we think of discipline we always think of the unpleasant but we forget the picture painted in Psalms 23 of our Father as the Shepherd equipped with the rod and staff.  These instruments "comfort" the psalmist.  A shepherd used these to guide, herd, and generate necessary course corrections for the safety and well-being of the sheep.  So it is with discipline and instruction.  They are necessary for course correction in our hearts and thinking for our benefit and well being because our Father loves us that much.  Very recently I underwent course correction in my thinking regarding loving others and compassionate outreach.

God has been working in my heart for some time to engage me in the needs of others, to bring me to a place where I can be utilized to effectively minister to people.  This has entailed prayer for an increased capacity to love others, for compassion, for boldness, for wisdom, and for tremendous growth.  To look back at where I was in my heart and attitudes and see where God has moved me from and where He is moving me towards is exciting.  One of the more exciting and serious aspects is that I know I am called to minister on an international level through short term missions work.  By this I mean that God has spoken into my heart some very specific works that He wants me to participate in, works that will require travel to foreign nations, ministering to orphans, widows, and impoverished peoples in HIV ravaged countries, bringing the Word, supplies, and hope to what can only be described as an indescribably desperate scenario where death walks nearly unchecked and superstition, misinformation, and demonic stronghold have nearly choked out the concept of the "family unit" as very many parents are dead or dying of AIDS.

My spirit has gripped James 1:27 which states that "Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress...".  My heart resonates with the call in Isaiah 6:8 which says "Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.”  In fact, my passion for these causes have grown so strong that I had begun to ignore some basic truths that God needed to remind me of, truths that are worthy of all to be continually in rememberance of.

In Luke 10:25-37 we read the familiar passage of the Good Samaritan.  Key to this passage is a question that should continually be in all of our minds and hearts; one that we forget and too often ignore.  Who is our neighbor?  The whole point of that parable was to teach us that our neighbor is anyone around us in need. Around us - daily they are all around us. Jesus told this very direct parable to a group of men who knew how to give generously. They knew how to give in full view of others to causes that were popular, were on the rise, were gaining attention and notoriety. But their giving wasn't "giving" at all. It was purchase. With their very public giving, they purchased for themselves respect, they purchased admiration, they purchased admittance to the community leadership clubs.  But what would have struck them about this story was the fact that a social outcast by their societal standards was demonstrated to have behaved in a more loving and compassionate manner than any of the "acceptable" and "respected" members of their culture to meet the need of a complete stranger who came upon their path as they went about their day to day business.

 Further, he didn't make a big deal of it.  There was no fanfare, no pageantry.  There was the injured and there was the innkeeper and these were the witnesses.  The one in need and the one with the physical goods to supply those needs and the Samaritan put the two of them together with compassion.  Nothing else was required.  The Samaritan didn't run back to his home church, take up a collection, start a food drive, or even seek to put together a team of physicians for a "those-who-are-waylaid-while-traveling" ministry.  He was in the present, in the now, the hands of God to the person in his path.

Now it should not be thought that missions teams, food drives, and the raising of funds is outside of God's will.  In fact these are the very means by which the greatest of needs can be met.  But how many of us rely soley on these methods to reach a dying, hurting, and hell-bound world.  A mission team won't help the local widow.  A food drive won't help the co-worker struggling with depression.  The only common denominator of assistance in both of those scenarios is us, the compassionate Christian individual.  One of the mindsets that God so gently and graciously steered me out of was the notion that I could not fully experience compassionate living until I had touched the problem of the needy, set my feet on foreign soil and touched skin tones different than my own, listening to tongues I didn't understand.  Then I would know the fullness of compassion.  But that is putting a condition on love.  If you live 6,000 miles away my heart is open to you.  What about if you live 6 miles away?  God's love is unconditional and the single mom hurts just as the orphan just as the addict just as the widow just as...

In Mark 16:15 we are told to go into the whole world and preach the gospel - literally to share the good news of life and redemption.  But how many of us immediately mentally leap to far off lands?  The "whole world" - it starts at your front door.  It is between your driveway and work.  It is at your desk, by your locker, at your work station, next to your kid's sports practice, just outside your church, in the restaurant, at the school and everywhere in between.  Should we support international missions work?  Absolutely!  Beyond that, even pray about whether God would have you go!  But in the doing so, do not forget that you have a continual field of work around you every single day.  "The least of these" - the broken, the hungry, the abandoned, the abused - they are all around us here just as they are in other nations. 

The thing God has been so kind and so good to disciple me in is that it does not have to be one or the other, but it SHOULD be both that move our hearts to compassionate action.  We simply have to have the courage to pray "Lord send me" into the mission fields of our own lives.

Dangerous Compassion

What is compassion?  What does the face of compassion look like?  I used to think I knew and only within the last few years did I begin to realize I had no concept of the word.  Like many in this nation, I think I believed myself to be compassionate.  I felt the twinge of nagging sorrow for those affected in other nations by calamity, natural disasters, wars, or pestilence.  I occassionally tossed in my dollars to support the efforts of the missionary works or the relief efforts to those far off locations as I felt responsible to do something.  I later learned these offerings were based in guilt.  Guilt for my willful turning from the sufferings of others.  These "offerings" were the purchase price to alleviate the naggings of my conscience, to quiet the small quiet voice of the Spirit within me.

But this notion of compassion will not suffice when one begins to earnestly seek God's face for a compassionate heart, for the ability to love others above themselves.  This has been the necessary prayer for myself because I've come to realize that God has called each of us to serve.  Serve Him and serve each other.  To do this effectively we must love and to love we must relate - compassionately.  Not everyone around you is experiencing mountain-top living all of the time and when they are in their valleys, compassion is required to reach into their lives, to encourage and partner with them in prayer.  To pray for compassion is to pray for God to lay your heart open to the wounds and hurts of others, to feel their suffering and pain.  This is true of the neighbor down the street who has lost a loved one, it is true of the addict itching for the needle, it is true of the orphan in the far off land.  Compassion does not have limitations, parameters, or geographic boundaries.

We tend to think of the Old Testament as being filled with God's judgement but there are countless scriptures that speak of God's compassion.  In doing a quick word study the Hebrew word for God's compassion towards us means to love deeply and to have tender affection towards.  In the New Testament we read on several occassions where Jesus was moved with compassion.  This Greek word means to be moved to one's very core being, to be moved to one's bowels, their very depth of being.  This is God's/Jesus'/The Spirit's compasssion towards us.  It moves Him to the depth of His being with tender affection towards us.  Compassion moves.  It does not permit a stationary reaction.  It moves those experiencing it.  Moves them to action, to deed, to alter the circumstance.  And as Spirit filled believers, this is God's total design and desire for us on this sphere.  That we would be moved to change and heal the devestation that hell has unleashed upon men in hatred against God and mankind.  We are the ones empowered for this work.  We are the ones with the ability to see this done.

But the prayer for compassion is dangerous.  It is dangerous to your known way of life and your fleshly/carnal nature.  In fact it is deadly.  Much of what I have valued has had to die and it is not an easy death.  This flesh is continually with us, continually gasping for ressurection in attitudes and intents, in the very way in which we seek to place our needs and desires above others'.  When Jesus said "pick up your cross and follow" he was literally saying "stake down your flesh and  follow on the path that I have prepared for you to walk even when you can't see where it's going".  Compassion can only be fully functional and effective in the heart of one who has done this, who has staked down their flesh, put themselves aside, and is ready to walk in the love that Jesus walked out towards humanity.

Additionally there is an adversary that takes notice of these shifting allegiances.  Suddenly strongholds that were present for him to operate through are cast down.  Temptations that quickly disabled or incapacitated are scarcely noticed.  Increased pressures and desperate measures are required.  Compassion is the heart of God within you, "the sleeping giant awakening" so-to-speak.  Giants draw attention and make large targets.  Strongholds in your heart or your thinking will not be relinquished without conflict.  The enemy will fight to retain the footholds in your life, but when we equip ourselves and resist as stated in Ephesians 6 and James 4, he will lose.

When this compassion takes hold of us and we begin to see people through Gods eyes, see souls as God sees them, then this compassion is dangerous to hell itself.  This compassion is the motivating force that shakes the very foundations of hell as God's people work to bring the light of the Word and the Love of God into the lives of the lost and dying, whether they are 6,000 or 6 miles away.  This compassion will move us to the very depths of our own being, and we will find ourselves in motion.  As stated, compassion does not permit a stationary stance but requires reaction in the face of suffering.

I'll close with a quote from Fields of the Fatherless by Tom Davis, a book that I strongly recommend anyone seeking a better understanding of compassion read:

"Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human."

This is exactly what Jesus did when he came to this earth as fully God, fully man, and exactly what he is asking each of us to do as well.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Power of Submission through Humility

Humility is a word that I, like many I'd imagine, struggle with.  What is it to be humble?  I always envision an impoverished monk in burlap with a rope belt meditating at a monastery.  Or I envision someone who always has their eyes cast down, never wanting attention drawn to themselves.  I don't think I'd be too far removed from the erroneous notions that most hold of what humility is.  What if we were to consider that Jesus was perfectly humble?  What if we pictured our same perfectly humble Jesus violently driving money changers out of the temple?  What does this do to our notion of humility and why is it important? 

Does it surprise us that submission and humility are linked?  It shouldn't.  Submission cannot occur without humility and both are required of us.  We are repeatedly instructed to submit to God and to each other throughout scripture so humility then becomes less of a perplexing notion to leave unanswered and more of a critical component of our daily walk.  True submission cannot occur without humility or with pride.  Pride and humility are not compatible - they are polar opposites. 

Even the core greek words from which they were translated are in complete opposition to each other.  Pride comes from the greek word "huperephanos" in which the central greek word "huper" is to "place above, in the stead of, very chiefest, exceeding in".  People with excessive pride seek to be placed above others, in the stead of others, in the chiefest positions. 

Submit comes from the greek "hupotasso" in which the central root word is "hupo" which means "under, beneath, below, inferior position or condition, moderately". The greek words huper and hupo are direct opposites. People in submission (or walking in humility) place themselves in inferior positions or in positions of servitude purposefully and willfully. They walk in moderation, not the excess of the proud, they place themselves, in their minds and hearts, in service to others. Jesus modeled this throughout his entire ministry on earth and demonstrated it in full for his disciples when he stripped down and washed their feet, a job for a lowly servant, not the King of Kings, Co-creator of Existence, powerful and mighty Son of the living God.

James 4:6-10 says:
God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.

I Peter 5:5-7 states:
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

From these, we can begin to see humility is important to God and that He is opposed to the proud. The greek for God’s resistance to the proud here comes from the word "antitassomai" which means to "range oneself against, to oppose". Core to this greek word is the word, "tasso", which means to "arrange in an orderly manner, assign, appoint determine, ordain and set".  We begin to get the picture that God literally, sets Himself against, in the fashion of placing opposition in an orderly and determined manner, to those who, in their own thinking, are chiefest, think themselves above, desire to be shined upon or illuminated for attention’s sake. This extends to those who refuse others because of some perceived deficiency or flaw or lack of ability.

In contrast He gives grace, which entails His divine influence on our hearts and our lives, wellness, joy, favor, and benefit, to the humble – those who in their thinking are base, of lowly estate and degree. This should not be confused with people who think they are of no value or worth, but rather these are those who in the perspective of God’s majesty, might, grace, mercy, and eternal values, recognize the fact that no one has anything apart from what God has granted, given, or blessed us with and are eternally thankful and grateful.  It is to these that God pours out His favor, influence, and blessing - His grace.

But as stated, submission and humility cannot exist within a heart that harbors pride.  A further study into the greek for pride, "huperephanos", also links the root "huper" to greek words "phaino" and "phos". The word phaino is to lighten, as in spotlight, shine, to appear, to seem. Related to this word is the word phos, which means luminous. Do we not begin to see the character attributes of the angel of light in the study of pride? As love is the core and defining characteristic of our God, so is pride the defining and core characteristic of Satan. Because pride is such a satanic force in the lives of people, because it keeps people from acknowledging their need for God, because it tore heaven, and because it continues to destroy hearts and lives on earth, we can now understand why God says he will set Himself and arrange Himself in a very determined manner against those who harbor it. Would anyone really want the Creator of Existence, the Most Holy and Mighty God in determined opposition to them?

How do we overcome this deadly force?  Lets go back to James 4 where the Word states “'God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble’ therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” God gives us the answer to pride in our lives; submission to Him. Place yourself in submission to Him and pride won’t have rule in your life. Submit to his Word, submit to what He has instructed you to do, both in his Word and in your heart. Submit. 

Further we are told to resist the devil. Resist here in the greek is a different word than the one used to show God's opposition to the proud. Here it is the word "anthistemi". This word further comes from two greek words "anti" and "histemi". The word anti is familiar to us in our own language.  The word histemi means to stand, abide, appoint, covenant, establish, hold up, lay, present, set up, stand by, stand forth, stand still, stand up. Instead of the armed, planned and determined opposition God puts forth against the proud, this is a digging in, a trenching in and establishing against assault.  This is what we do when the enemy comes against us.  Why?  Because we are not omniscient.  We do not always know which direction he will come from.  So we dig in.  We entrench.  We brace for impact, like the Roman phalanx - shields up.  He cannot penetrate this shield of faith.  Ephesians 6:16 says ALL of his fiery darts are quenched by it.  So he tries from another direction.  Another tactic.  Finances, God provides.  Sickness, God heals.  Relationships, Love overcomes.

When we do this, we know from the Word that the devil must flee. He must. He has no alternative. Why? Because he is a coward. He loves attacking the saints when they do not know the Word or their own method of delivance and protection. Remember, he prowls as a roaring lion, looking for the weaknesses. A lion does not hunt by running up to the herd, looking for the biggest animal and going head to head with it. Lions hunt by craft, by camoflauge, by getting attention away from themselves, by looking for the weaknesses and exploiting them in the weakest and easiest to catch. Satan is looking for the weaknesses in you to exploit. He hunts you by craft and camoflauge, by getting your eyes to look elsewhere than the Word, than Jesus. When we dig in, when we set our foundation in the Word and trench in and prepare to stand (resist) against him, the devil, despite even his own desires, will flee every time. But in order to effectively resist in this fashion, we must first be in full submission to God.

Further, according to 1 Peter 5, we are to be clothed with humility. The greek for this is the word "eckomboomai", which is to get dressed for work, to put on the apron, the work clothes, the appropriate apparel to get the job done. We are to put on humility in preparation of getting the job or work done. Also implied in this is clothing relating to station, identifying the individual. Today, an apron would identify a cook, a hardhat identifies a construction or plant worker, a uniform identifies law or military. Humility identifies God’s people. One cannot have true humility with self-seeking pride or without self-sacrificing love.

Humility, then, is a garment to be put on daily, a choice to be made. The greek for the word humble is "tapeinos" and implies a debased and cast down state. We are not cast down or debased by others, but we are depressing the flesh, casting it down ourselves. This is the conscious choice of the humble, and is what causes humility to become such a powerfully effective force in our lives. It is the true power of not being in chained to the whims of our own flesh, but in putting ourselves in submission to God, in whom all things are possible, in whom we are more than conquerors, in whom is the mightiest power of all heaven and earth, physical and spirit, seen and unseen. This is daily taking up our cross, crucifying and staking down the flesh, and following our Lord.  It is not something forced upon people by others. The most down trodden person can still be overflowing with destructive pride and completely powerless in their situation. We choose to be humble, to put down our flesh for the sake of Christ and others. We daily choose to let the offenses of others raise our flesh up in indignation and defense or to find no footing or seed-bed in us by the determination to put our own flesh down.

We are to clothe ourselves with this humility, not to become stepping stones of the world or punching bags for the enemy, but so that we can truly rise up in power and effectiveness against the enemy, shaking the very kingdom of darkness around us, transforming the world and affecting the people that are within our sphere of influence. When we humble ourselves under God, he promises to exalt us and empower us to do the works that He created us for. It is in the power of humility and the state of submission to Him that we are truly free and truly mightiest in the Lord.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Submission - It Starts at Home.

Continuing in Ephesians I come to a passage that, to be honest, I've been looking forward to like a sick man looks forward to medicine.  It might not taste good but he knows it is going to help him become healthier.  Submission to others.  Not my favorite topic as I have wrestled with pride and even a surprising internal backlash against a sense of inferiority for most of my life.  These two facts have often left me described as strong willed, stubborn, a loner, and even "not-a-team-player".  Of course I've rationalized it all away to the fact that I'm much more efficient when I work on my own, I tend to be more creative without interuption, etc.  How does the old saying go "no man is an island"...?

What this really boils down to for me is submission.  Pride and humility are at the heart of it and further discussion will be forthcoming on these, but submission is key.  I've never had a problem submitting to others as long as I understood their place in the hierarchy of things, for example, a supervisor, a pastor.  I'll even submit to fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord to avoid stepping on toes.   For example, if someone is running the skits during VBS and I think they are out of touch with the kids but those placed in charge of skits are really passionate about them and not listening to suggestions, my philosophy has always been "OK, we'll do it your way, even if it doesn't work".  (Not sure if that qualifies as submission.)  But if given enough "heads-up" I'd rather avoid this scenario altogether and work alone rather than submit, and this has left me quite alone for many years.  Disconnected, uninvolved, discontented.  I think back to so many instances when I was nearly consumed with bitterness over the ways in which I had been genuinely and significantly hurt by careless or thoughtless actions of others within the Church and there was no good opportunity to reconcile on my behalf because I was already holding these people at arms distance.

But even this doesn't really get to the heart of the matter for me.  I've always been quick to forgive others - somehow that is a character trait that I've been blessed with.  You can genuinely wound me, but if you sincerely try to make it right and we reconcile, I'll work with you and we'll be brothers in the Lord regardless.  However, something changes when I walk through my own front door.  The rules change and expectations are different.  The truth is I've spent far too many years walking through those door posts and slumping my shoulders from the struggles of the outside and completely letting all guard down, expecting to exert no further effort towards anyone or anything once safe under my own roof and through the past year, God has been showing me that I've had it completely backwards.  I don't go "off to war" out in the world and return the exhausted provider for my family.  The battle is not "out there", it starts right within me and ends within me, daily.

From my first awakening, I have a conscious choice to make - who will I live this day for?  Myself, or others?  I can go to work and do a great job meeting all demands and expectations of those above me and still have lived the entirety of the day for only myself.  Then I can return home tired, spent, and still living for myself, de-energized to an expectant family and have nothing to give them and wound them with indifference, impatience, and critical speech.  In doing so I not only wound my children and rob them of the possitive growth and affection they crave, but I strike at the heart of my very own home, my bride - and here is where I've been needing this medicine.

Ephesians 5:22-24 reads:
For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church.   As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

Now why would a woman, specifically my wife, desire to "submit" to the man I just described above?  The word submit, in the greek is the word "hypotasso" and had two uses.  It was a greek military term that meant to "arrange troop divisions under the command of a leader".  In a voluntary sense, it means to "have an attitude of giving in cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden".  Again, why would anyone desire to submit to one with the attitudes and actions displayed above?  I wouldn't.  This is where, as husband of the home, it becomes critical to follow through to the next verses because we get so hung up on the introductory sentence, we miss the meat of the whole statement here.

Verses 25-30
For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.  He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body.

Now I have read this times without count but there are truths here that really need to capture the hearts of men, mine included.  Do we fully comprehend how Christ loved and is still loving the Church?  Most of us think we do.  Part of the answer is found in these verses.  He gave up his life for the church to make her holy and clean, by the cleansing of the Word.  This love does not always run with natural inclination or depend on how you are "feeling" at the moment.  It is modeled for us in the example of how Christ loved the church, gave himself for it.  When the Word says he gave himself for the Church, the greek for "gave" literally means "to deliver into the hands of another, to give into one's power or use, to give one's self up".  Men, when is the last time you gave yourself over to your bride's use or power to be used as she saw fit.....WITHOUT complaint/grumbling/poor attitude?  These negate the whole thing.  I can't tell you the number of times my own bride has reminded me that doing something for her really doesn't mean a whole lot if my heart is in the wrong place.

I'm not referring to taking the trash out or feeding the pets or any of the hundreds of other menial chores that dictate our lives - though every one of these are important baby-steps.  I'm talking about truly dying to yourself to live for your wife and family, to serve them, protect them, be the stability that God designed you as the husband to be.  Scared?  Intimidated by these demands?  God wouldn't have put it in his Word if He wouldn't ordain and empower you to do it.  I look at my beautiful sleeping children every morning and wonder how I can possibly be the father they deserve but I am continually reminded that God knew them before he formed them, before he formed me, and he knew the father he wished them to be raised under and will empower me to train them up properly when I partner with their mother and seek His face.

Further, just as Jesus cleanses all of us by His word, eradicating disease, sin, and every filthy, deadly and dirty thing from us that would keep us from being spotless, unblemished and pure before him - we are called to wash our homes, our families, our wives in that same Word.  The greek here is literally to bathe, in the sense of cleansing the blood out of wounds.  I am to cleanse my bride, to bathe her and our home in the Word.  The greek for "word" here is the the word "rhema" which is "that which has been uttered by the living voice, the spoken word".

It is evident that God's Word needs to be on my lips in my home, regularly and continually and over my wife and children in prayer.  Further, just as Christ's action of cleansing his Church with the Word permits him to present a body without blemish, to himself, so my action of doing likewise will build up and purify my bride and my family.  Verse 27 in the KJV uses the word "glorious" in describing the Church Christ presents and verse 28 husbands are commanded to do likewise.  The word for glorious in the greek is "edoxos" and it means to hold in high esteem, to make honorable, notable, and of high repute. 

It is my responsibility as husband to my bride to build her up in this manner.  My wife should be held in high esteem by others directly as a result of my actions, my cleansing with the Word through prayer and in the manner in which I speak of her when away from the home.  Praise of her should continually be on my lips.  The "old ball and chain" joking that occurs should never cross my lips nor should I long dwell in its presence.  Freeing her of insecurity by continually praising her in public is one of the most valuable gifts a man can give his wife.  The really crazy thing is that in taking such protective care of my bride, I ultimately take care of myself because too often we forget - we very truly are one joined flesh.  So too, in taking care of each other, we ultimate take care of the Body of Christ and ourselves!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Uncommonly Wise

Ephesians 5:15-17
"Look carefully then how you walk! Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise (sensible, intelligent people), Making the very most of the time [buying up each opportunity], because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be vague and thoughtless and foolish, but understanding and firmly grasping what the will of the Lord is."

Wisdom is something I pray for continually.  I count on James 1:5 which states if any lack wisdom ask for it, because God gives it liberally.  I've read Proverbs completely though and regularly draw from it.  To be honest, I need to read it again and again because there are so many timeless truths in that book that are still daily applicable.  Things that I have often wished I had thought of in the moment of decision making or at the time I was doing something that I later regretted.  I know wisdom starts with the fear (reverence, respect, and awe) of the Lord as proclaimed in Proverbs 9:10.  I know it is a treasure and a companion to be sought. 

I know God was absolutely pleased when Solomon asked for it above everything else on the earth.  Think of it...this man was given cart blanche an invitation to anything he wanted in the earth - something that hadn't happened since Adam.  What does he ask for?  A character quality.  An intangible.  An elusive.  God was so thrilled and not only gave this to him but poured out so much wealth on the man he was the talk of nations.

In reading through the verses of Ephesians today one translation starts verse 15 with the phrase "walk circumspectly".  This word is uncommon to me so I had to look it up.  The greek here is the word "akribos" and it means to "exactly, accurately, dilligently".  To "grace-minded" believers such as myself, these words are enemies.  I'm supposed to have a little wiggle room for failures and grace to forgive these, right?  I get nervous when confronting accuracy and precision, perfection and exact requirement.  What I find interesting is how our failure to walk in this manner is linked to a lack of wisdom.  So how do I avoid this pitfall?  How do I walk wisely, excactly, with precision.  The answers are in following verses.

Verse 16 shows us to make the most of the time, to buy up every opportunity.  Verse 16 in the King James translation reads "Redeeming the time because the days are evil".  The greek word for redeem is "exagorazo" and one of it's meanings is "to make wise and sacred use of every opportunity for doing good, so that zeal and well doing are as it were the purchase money by which we make the time our own".  Wow!  Purchasing time with zeal and well doing.  I've never thought about being able to purchase time.  I spend it, waste it, if I'm wise invest it.  But here I am to purchase it.  This is directly tied to being wise and walking "circumspectly" 

Again in verse 17 we are admonished to not be unwise - but to understand what the will of the Lord is.  This has always seemed like one of those elusive truths to me.  To "understand the will of the Lord".  This is the mountaintop of faith to climb - the test of your walk to gauge yourself against.  Are you where you should be in your relationship with Him?  Do you understand his will for you?  It's always been something to be grasped, something to be reaching for, striving for, but very often something just out of reach.  This is because I have been looking outward instead of inward.  I have been looking for the booming voice in the clouds, the pillar of fire by night, the confirmng word from a church sermon instead of listening for the small quiet voice confirmed by His Word.  The greek word for understand is "syniemi" and it means to "to join together, to put the perception with the thing percieved".  Its root word is the word "syn" which simply means "with, beside, accompany"

Understanding the will of the Lord is my bringing my perceptions and thoughts in line with his.  Where are his perceptions and thoughts?  Never more evident than in His Word for sure, but also in our hearts as we meditate on Him and regularly and daily communicate with him.  This is where our once a day prayers in the morning or at night don't cut it.  We HAVE to live moment by moment in His grace and in His presence.  Why?  "Because the days are evil".  What is so amazingly awesome is that He desires to live every second of every day in this communion with us!

These three simple verses contain within them a series of inter-related truths that are powerful and essential to the Christian walk.  We are to walk out our lives and strive for accuracy and exactness, with purpose which we do by seizing every opportunity to do good with zeal - this is wisdom.  This is the same wisdom that brings us into and through which we will discover the will, direction and path of our lives as God has designed them from the start - understanding his will.  These are the good works he has prepared for us from the beginning as proclaimed in Ephesians 2:10. 

Wisdom is not a cerebral infusion, but an expression of the heart.  When we understand this, though we won't even notice it, others will find us wise.  And God will begin to pour out on you with a smile.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Unsuspectedly Coveteous

Ephesians 5:5
For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

This is one of those "not me" verses of Bible; the ones where we read them and think to ourselves "thank goodness that's not me".  We tend to gloss over those verses.  We know idolators and those practicing witchcraft and those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will find no entrance into Heaven and with assurance we confidently write off those tresspasses as sin we are in no danger of being convicted of.  Had I not been recently gripped by the writings of a fellow brother on Thanksgiving I would have probably let this verse go very quickly into my mind, process for a few moments, and back out of my thoughts and that would have been the end of it.  I'm not an idolater - I don't worship idols, bow to a Buddha, chant to figurines, etc.  I like to think I'm not immoral or impure and I regularly pray forgiveness over myself and protection over my thoughts and my mind.  I don't desire to take or possess what others have out from under them so I'm no Ebenezer Scrooge so I'm not coveteous.  I'm clear - next verse...

Definition from Strong's Concordance
greek word "pleonektes" = covetous - one eager to have more, to cling to a thing

In all honesty, what percentage of the American culture would NOT be defined by the above definition - eager to have more...clinging to things.  Every one of us would love to answer "not I". I certainly would.  "But being covetous is being evil and desiring to take from others..."  Not by the above definitions - not by the literal greek translations of the word.  "But I don't cling to anything!"  Really?  Give your car to the next person walking down the street.  Sell all of your televisions and unsubscribe to cable and use all of the money saved to help feed homeless people.  Writing this makes even myself cringe - and I know I have a long way to grow because I too am clinging.  

Covetousness is simply the non-stop never-ending desire for more and more and it is the culture of this country.  It is the epitome of the famous quote from multi-millionaire iron-magnate Rockefeller when asked how much money was enough?  "One dollar more".  It is you and I continually wishing for the latest, newest television, better computer, new appliance, replacement vehicle, better home, more clothes to replace the ones we don't wear.  It is the lurking unsuspecting desire to improve our quality of life, our station, our way of living, our material goods.   It's the job we want to replace the one we don't care for, it's the bigger home with the better lawn, it's the new couch or the new town.  It is the bill we've all been sold that we need to ever be seeking to improve ourselves, our standard of living, the quality of our homes.  We need to keep up with at least everyone else in the neighborhood, right?  It is rooted in discontentment.

We have reached the technological point in our society where something revolutionary is being invented every single day and due to the demands of successful marketing, it has to be projected to the consumer as something you simply cannot live without.  So we continue to fill our homes with with items we cannot live without, all the while ignoring a world that is dying without God.  What is truly alarming to me here is that the Bible makes no differentiation:  covetousness=idolatry.  When studying out the greek for the word idolatry, it is tied to covetousness and the worship of things above God, literally the worship of Mammon.  Our love of things is a worship just as our love of gods and idols of false religions is.  To Paul, and the New Testament believers, it was evident that these were one and the same.  "For this you know with certainty..."  Why don't we know this with certainty?  For me, I suspect it is because we are grown blind by our lack of thankfulness and contentment.

In writing to the Phillipians and their concern for him, Paul says:

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. 
Phillipians 4:11-13

Contentment is a foreign word to the American culture.  We are not a content people.  We do not know how, as Paul states above, to be content with whatever we have.  We are movers, we are shakers, we change the conditions, we change the circumstances.  We see a problem, we fix it.  We see an injustice, we correct it.  We are not patient.  We don't have time to be patient with so much to correct.  "God this need fixed.  God, did you hear us?  Fine, we'll take care of it!"  But until we learn to live in contentment, we will never be able to grasp thanksgiving.  Until we embrace these, we will always struggle with covetousness pulling at our hearts as we walk through this earth, ESPECIALLY since we live in the most materially affluent society in the history of this globe.  This is something that is critical for us as believers to grasp.  It is crucial or it will be a stumbling block to our growth.

I fully believe that if God so chooses, He can and will pour out tremendous blessing such that I cannot contain it upon me as stated in Malachi 3:10.  But the question is the condition and goals of my heart.  Does this immediately excite me because I begin to think of myself, or does it immediately excite me because I begin to think of the Kingdom.  Have I crucified myself (literally translated staked down my own flesh to the point of killing my desires) to the point that God's blessing upon me will generate His blessing towards others, or does He have to worry about what Mammon is going to do in my life?

Let your character or moral disposition be free from love of money [including greed, avarice, lust, and craving for earthly possessions] and be satisfied with your present [circumstances and with what you have]; for He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!]
Hebrews 13:5 (Amplified)

Whether we have much or have little is of no consequence. The cure for covetousness is contentment and thanksgiving, and these are found very simply in the fact that we have Him and He is all we need.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Called to Expose

Ephesians 5:8-15

This passage reminds the believer that we are light in the darkness.  We are surrounded by a world engulfed in darkness and we are the only source of light in that darkness.  The darkness hates the light because everything within it is exposed by light and it cannot overcome light.  We've all heard the analogy, when you flip the light switch in a room, there is no part of the room that remains dark by sheer fact of the darkness not being able to overcome the light.  Even in the largest of darkened spaces, a single bulb alters perception, changes the condition.  We are to this world, those  individual light sources.  The good news is none of us are alone.  The great news is that the light within us is so much more brilliant than all of the darkness of hell that death and the grave could not contain it.

But more than this, we are not called merely to carry this light around.  We're called to do something with it.  We are called to actively expose darkness.  Darkness of intent, darkness of thought, darkness of action.  This does not make us popular with the darkness or those who would wish to carry it or remain in it.  This does not mean we see a devil behind every rock and evil intent behind every person's eyes.  It does mean that when blatantly confronted with darkness, and our spirits will know it, then we as bearers of light in this world have the responsibility to expose it for what it is and speak truth and light and life into the situation.  Again, this may not make us popular, it may not be appreciated.  However, it may be the only lifeline someone so lost in darkness has.

As we do this, we can expect opposition.  We are not merely exposing people's actions, thoughts, and intents.  We are exposing spiritual forces, works, and entities.  Those forces seek to remain hidden, cloaked, non-existent in the minds of those so lost.  One of the greatest footholds the enemy has into men's hearts is in convincing them of the lack of his existence.  It is only as the Word and the Lord exposes in my own heart that I am set free and so it is with those whose minds and hearts are enslaved and enshrouded in darkness in the world around us.  We are commanded to expose this darkness at every opportunity, because we are the light bearers.  I love how this passage ends...

“Awake, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Tree in the Wind

I've been on a bit of a hiatus from these writings and I've suffered as a result.  I've stated before that these writings are chiefly for myself so that I can revisit and re-ponder what God has spoken to my heart in the quiet times.  I've been enduring what I would call a bit of a crisis of faith as of late, and I do not believe this to be overly dramatic or an overstatement.  With tremendous spiritual growth we all can anticipate a point or points of testing.  It is promised in the Word and it is necessary.  It is the only way in which we gain strength, persistence, stamina, endurance, the capacity for bigger and better works. 

I would characterize the first 4 months of this year as being very explosive in my walk with the Lord.  He is so good and so amazingly full of grace and mercy towards us.  How incredible he is to sit in majesty with thousands of angelic beings proclaiming his glory and worth night and day with lightning and thunder encompassing his throne as he watches over all of the universe that he unleashed and yet...He knows my name...He is concerned for my well being...He wants me to succeed in knowing  him intimately...He works in me to grow me to the point that he can continue to reveal more and more of himself to me...He loves me THAT much.  I have enjoyed the fruit of his goodness towards me these past few months in growth that I haven't seen in many years.  God has brought me into connection with fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord that have been a tremendous encouragement and blessing to me and my family on a local, national, and even international level.  I literally have people that I now communicate with, support, and pray for half way around the world. 

A year ago I was simply praying for God to show me how to love people period.  Now I feel continually compelled to be in motion to be doing something for Christ.  I know this to be God's working in my heart for in and of myself, I am nothing.  I know the scriptures are true when they state my righteousness is as filthy (literally translated "menstrual") rags because I've tested this to the extreme.   I've been putting forth those rags most of my life and now I see the worthlessness of my former offerings.  It is purely God in me that is driving me to do these things.  It is as Ephesians 2:10 states - the good works that he designed for me from the start and the amazing thing is I can't do them on my own.  Praise God!

Again, tremendous growth requires strengthening.  One of my former vocations was as an Arborist for a local community.  I ran the city foresty program and one of the things I continually witnessed was when a home owner would install a new young tree they would stake the tree in.  By this I mean they would place usually three to four stakes around the tree and then secure ropes or wires from the tree to the stakes thereby creating stability in the tree from being blown over and allowing the tree to remain perfectly straight.  The problem with this was they always had the ropes/wires completely tight which was detrimental to the tree.  Staking was a good practice if you left the ropes be somewhat slack.  The reason was that you actually want the tree to sway in the wind.  The more sway the better.  Critical to a tree's development for trunk strength is the swaying motion the wind creates.  The wood fibers will actually respond to this motion and increase proportionally in the trunk and in the root flare, where the trunk meets the ground, as a response to the wind thereby strengthening the tree over time.  When you overstabilize the tree - you eliminate the tree's ability to do this and actually harm the tree in the long run.

The past few weeks the winds in my life have picked up to gale force and I've been encountering resistance on every front - in my spiritual walk, in physical health, my relationship with my bride and children, our finances.  I've been buffetted from just about every direction I can think of and to be honest, I don't think the ride is over.  We very much would like to enjoy the fact that we have a loving Father who wishes us to be his children, who wants us to become empowered as his representatives on this earth.  If we're serious, we even begin to realize that we need to give no less than all of ourselves to the one who gave everything of himself for us.  Then we really start to become spurred into motion to pursue him at all cost, even if friends abandon us and co-workers start to look at us differently. 

But these are not the winds, this is not the resistance.  The winds come when an ages old demonic power recognizes he no longer has sway in your life and determines that he will end your new-found piety and devotion by pitting everything in his arsenal against your faith in this Word.  The winds come when your plans to evangelize go out the window because sickness invades your family and suddenly the condition of other people's souls is a little less of a concern than that of your sick child curled up in their bed.  The winds come when the finances you were counting on for those necessary home or vehicle repairs fall through and you are suddenly faced with crisis as bills keep piling up.  The winds come when you can feel the gazes and new found friction between you and your co-workers as you no longer participate in the daily gossip pool or supervisor-slam sessions and they direct those efforts of malice towards you behind your back.  The winds come when both you and your spouse are simultaneously exhausted and the kids have far to much energy for this late at night and you didn't really appreciate the tone in your spouse's voice or the way in which they dismissed your feelings when you were talking to them about something that was important to you.  The winds come when your very own attitudes are less than what they should be and you feel yourself sinking into them, but rather than seeking God out for deliverance, you choose to flesh over spirit.

Listen to what James says in James 1:2-5

"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing."

My growth in this life is fully dependent upon these troubles, these testings and shakings.  Without these, I will never know the perfection of patience as stated above.  Patience is defined as being consistently constant, enduring.  This endurance, this steadfastness, is the mark of maturity and strength and is something that is to be strongly desired.  But to desire it is to desire the very trials that make it possible, and this is where we falter.  I know I have on too many occasions.  We desire to be upright, straight as an arrow Christians with strong supports all around us.  We have our small groups, weekly bible luncheons, our community activities, our sunday services - all neatly staking us down.  Every minute accounted for in our weeks, schedules tight, cinched off with precise tension from multiple sides just like those young trees.  And just like those trees, we've insulated ourselves against the winds and the trials, the very things that will strengthen us. 

Now don't get me wrong, I believe small groups, bible studies, and the like are beneficial and cause growth in their own right.  I enjoy participating in them and love the encouragement I gain from "iron sharpening iron" in discussing God's word with my brothers and sisters.  So many of them are so much wiser than I and I love gleaning from that wisdom.  But how many of us have replaced our deep and intimate walk with our creator with these meetings, these gatherings.  How many times have we replaced meeting God with meeting others to talk about God?  I have.  I have often met my Lord at scheduled times in scheduled buildings and in between in uttered prayers during the day only as I needed him.  Where is the love and devotion in that?  Where is the intimacy and relationship in that? 

This addresses the 2nd half of the tree - the roots.  Psalms 1:1-3 reads:

"Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.  But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.  They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do."

This daily meditating and communion with my Lord is the development of solid root structure.  The tree in the wind topples for one of two reasons - it snaps at the trunk for week stem development or it is uprooted for weak root zone development.  We fall for one of two reasons - we are broken for lack of strength and endurance or we simply are not rooted deeply enough to withstand.  

God is still working in me to show me how to have "great joy" in trials and troubles, but I do find great encouragement in the fact that God uses those things to perfect me, to strengthen me.  Those things that at first seem detrimental and even profoundly uncomfortable have eternal benefits and work for my good.  God is strengthening me little by little, fiber by fiber to stand in the wind.  Trials will come, they are promised, but they only serve to strengthen us, to increase our capacity to bear fruit and be a blessing to others.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Ever seen the bumper sticker or t-shirt that has the religious symbols that form the word "coexist"?  Something about that stirs something in me.  I hate that logo passionately.  I hate what it represents; the notion that it doesn't matter what you believe, as long as we all get along, everything will be ok in the end.  I hate the lie that has been sold to countless souls, sending them to an eternal torment and inconceivably and aweful damnation.  Most of the faiths in this logo don't even proclaim the existence of a hell or have any notion of the demonic forces they toy with.  Worse, the whole thing smacks of religion which is not what faith is about at all.  My salvation is not a work of religion but an overwhelming act of a loving Savior and my resultant relationship with him and the Father. 

Further, the cross on this logo is reduced to one of several religions.  I am NOT a religious person.  At times I almost hesitate to say I am a christian as this term in modern vernacular has become so diluted and polluted.  When the term was originally issued to early church believers, they didn't come up with it for themselves.  Rather it was their persecutors and the world around them that called them "little Christs".  Today we've turned it into a label, a brand that somehow includes roughly 1.6 billion souls walking this planet.  That's 1.6 billion IF you include those who claim to be "christian" by political, social, or cultural mapping standards such as the United States which claims to be a christian nation and very many of the western European and Latin nations.  Sadly the vast majority of these will stand before our Savior and hear the words "depart...I never knew you."

Back to my bumper sticker.  Why do we think that we can bring so many divergent philosophies together and "get along"?  Why do we think we can continue to each go our seperate way, doing as we please without rules or consequence and not injure someone in the process, not cross someone else's truth?  The whole falicy of "coexist" is that this works fine...unless someone introduces absolute truth with absolute standards for right and wrong.  Then we've encroached on other's freedom of thought and right of expression.  Then we've imposed our beliefs on others.  I wonder how that argument would work in court.  "The officer then imposed his desire for traffic flow at 55 mph on me, while I was innocently enjoying the right to freely travel 80 mph.  I then accelerated to 100 mph just before the crash which involved the other vehicles, at which time I was wrongly mistreated by being arrested for killing the family of five in the minivan".  The world of "coexist" doesn't bring peace or unity or harmony.  It admonishes negligence and blindness, because that's what it truly seeks.  You turn a blind eye towards what I'm doing and leave me alone and I won't critique what you are doing and everyone gets along, even when what I'm doing hurts you or myself. 

On most of the stickers I've seen, three of the seven letters are formed by the symbols of Islam, Judiaism, and Christianity.  Christianity does have its tarnishes thanks to the crusades, the Inquisition, and even more recently scandals of faith of the past few decades.etc.  Looking back we see these things were done outside of the will of God and apart from his Word, we see the absolute falicy of men and their imperfect and very often self centered natures.  True Christianity still boils down to the two most important commandments as Jesus stated "love your God with everything in you, love your neighbor as yourself".  Reckless LOVE.  Our Jewish brothers have been the punching bag of almost every culture and God's blessing still resides upon them.  Many follow the Torah and still need to come to know Jesus, but God's covenants still hold true.  Islam is as bloody as Christianity has been and is on the rise in violence and persecution against both the Jew and the Christian with no sign of letting up.  There is an obvious absence of unity here among these even these, the most established of faiths.

In Ephesians 4:1-6 Paul writes

"1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2  Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all." 

In speaking to the believers, we see here that the Lord desires that we work at cultivating unity among ourselves, making allowance for each other's imperfections and character flaws.  But this is unity among believers, among those who call Him lord.  Can there be unity among believers and non-believers, among Christians and those who refuse Christ?  2 Corinthians 6:14-18 puts it pretty plainly. 

"14  Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? 15 What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? 16 And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: "I will live in them and walk among them.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  17  Therefore come out from among unbelievers, and seperate yourselves from them and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord.  Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. 18 And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”  (New Living Translation)

Here we are not called to isolate ourselves from the world around us, but to stand up and stand out and stop pretending to be part of a fallen race.  This isn't a call to turn our back and "shun" the world but to stop immitating it and be who God called us to be - his holy, set-apart, children who will proclaim and walk out His love and grace and set the nations free through the testamony of their lives and word of their mouths.  Boldy and, when necessary, fiercely taking back from the enemy what he has stolen from all of humanity through abuses and deceptions and drugs and famine and disease.

Jesus never promised to bring peace to the earth.  As a matter of fact, he promised to bring division and strife.  In Matthew 10 where he sends out the 12 for the first time to evangelize and do real work in his name, he warns them the work he is sending them to do is divisive.  People will hate them for it.  In verse 34 he very bluntly says "I didn't come to bring peace. I came to bring a sword."  That sword is the sword of the Spirit as described in Ephesians 6:17, his Word, his gospel, and it is alive and powerful and divisive as described in Hebrews 4:12.  It seperates and cuts away sin just as our witness and the Word we proclaim will seperate us from the culture around us that is so rapidly deteriorating.  Men will despise us for it, darkness cannot abide the light and there is light within the believer who is passionately pursuing Christ and his directive to "go into all the world".  That world starts at your door step and circles 360 around this globe.  So from this world, we can expect the opposite of unity to the message of Salvation and the total grace of God's love, but it is only under the operation of God's love can total unit be achieved.  Because of this, men strive in vain to "coexist".

Thankfully those in Christ do not.  Thankfully those in Christ are new creations - transformed - capable of love and unity beyond the scope of our natural born tendencies by the indwelling of his Spirit.  Humility and gentleness follow after those who are bearing the fruit of the Spirit and in that fruit we are able to preserve peace and remain united.  The world will never know this unity.  They want to, so very badly they want to.  They try to manufacture it, particularly with every calamity and disaster that strikes at the heart of men they band together to generate it.  But they cannot sustain it because it is of men and not of God.  We have this unity forever because we are all of the same body, Christ's body and we are One.