Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Boldness of a Child

How approachable do we view our Father?  Is he on a throne in the midst of heaven beyond reach?  Probably not to most of us.  But how approachable is he?  Do we quickly, readily and regularly come to him with our cares, concerns, conversations, and dreams?  Do we regularly partake in communion with him - not the wafer and juice, but the fellowship of souls, the intimate knowing of persons?  When we fail/fall/sin do we immediately run to him? 

My study in Ephesians 3 has the word "boldness" sticking out today.  In 3:12, the New Living Translation states "Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God's presence".  You won't find much of that in the Old Testament.  As a matter of fact, you find a lot of people dropping dead when they violated the regulations about coming in contact with God's presence through the Ark and the Holy of Holies.  The High Priest, when he entered the Holy of Holies in his annual sacrificial prayer, had a rope with bells tied onto it and if those outside heard it stop jingling, they knew the priest had been struck down and would drag the him out.  I digress.  Christ's work was so all sufficient that all of the price of sin was so overwhelmingly paid that the sin barrier was wiped away removing all obstacles between us and the Father.  AMEN!

Back to "boldness".  This passage is similar to Hebrews 4:16 in which we are admonished to "come boldy to the throne of grace".  Boldness is laced throughout the New Testament as a characteristic indicative of one who has embraced the totality of Christ's work at the cross, who has been filled by his Spirit, and who now freely comes before the Father to obtain help and mercy.  I decided to do a little word study on "bold", "boldly", and "boldness" and here's what I found. 

In the New Testament there are three greek words or concepts for boldness that are used.  The first is the word "tolmao" and it means to dare to do something terrible and fearful.  It is used when Joseph of Arimathaea went with "boldness" before Pilate to obtain the body of Jesus for burial.  He overcame his fears, probably risking his own life and/or reputation to ask this Roman governor for an executed criminal's body.  I think many people approach God in this manner yet today, and yet this is not the boldness that we are instructed to approach him with in Ephesians or Hebrews.  How many of us have attempted this kind of "boldness" when we've tried to witness to others - you know, the kind where the words get stuck in your throat and your heart races as you try to overcome your concerns about your reputation, and potential ridicule as try to do the right thing and project the light of Christ's love to the world around you?  Sadly, too often this is the "boldness" that I've attempted and I don't think this is what the apostles walked in.

Another kind of boldness is listed in Romans 15:15 where Paul is telling the Roman church that he is writing to them in a more stern/bold form.  This word is "tolmeros" and means "to bear one's self boldy, to deal boldy with".  Paul is basically explaining to the Romans that though he knows them to be filled with good works and good things, he is having to be very frank and bold with them in his writings - to the point, not pulling any punches.  In a way he is prepping them for the fact that though they have things that are praiseworthy, he is also chastizing them with honesty and bold statments of truth.

The final word/phrase and the one that characterizes most of the uses of the term in the New Testament is the word "parresia".  This means "freedom in speaking, unreserved speech, free, fearless, confidence, cheerful courage, assurance".  A derivative that is also used is the word "parresiazomai" meaning "free spoken" and "to assume a bold bearing".  Parresia is how we are to approach the throne of grace.  It is the word used in Ephesians 3:12.  Parresia is how we can pray to the Father because of the work at the cross and Jesus sacrifice.  When Peter spoke at the Day of Pentecost, he was parresiazomai - free spoken, with a bold bearing. 

Boldness is the characteristic of the believer who has grasped their position in the kingdom; boldness to speak to their Father,  boldness because of who resides within them, boldness because of the fact that the blood was shed and all sin forgiven.  These disciples were fishermen, not eloquent speakers and theologians.  Peter was a man of action, not words.  When they came to arrest Jesus, he didn't dialogue, he whipped out a blade and swung, taking the ear of a servant.  After the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, though, Peter's boldness and speech marveled the multitudes.  Free spoken - bold bearing.  This is not arrogance.  Arrogance is drenched in self-pride and none of us has claim to anything that permits pride, for nothing of ourselves is deserving of the grace and mercy that God has lavished upon us.  Arrogance is what cast Lucifer from heaven and we can expect no audience with the King with arrogance in our hearts.  Boldness is assurance, confidence in HIS work and in our position as he has defined it - not listening to the lies of the enemy as to our unworthiness, but to the truths of the Father and his Word as to the total sufficiency of his sacrifice.  God himself has commanded us to come into his presence with this kind of boldness - unashamed, confident, secure, with cheerful courage.

My own children give no second thoughts for asking me of every want and desire on their hearts as I'm sure most of yours do.  They do not cower in fear when they hunger, they do not agonize over whether they are worthy to approach when they are cold and in need of additional clothing.  They simply and "boldly" proclaim "I'm hungry; when's dinner?" or "I'm cold - can I put on a sweater?"  In many instances, they very often help themselves.  They are confident in the knowledge that they are my children, that I love them, and that I care to see their needs met.

We are God's children.  How infinitely more does he love us?  Didn't Jesus ask the crowds this same question "you know how to give your children good things, how much more will my Father give to those who ask?"  God expects us to come to him with "parresia"; with the boldness of a child.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Flesh vs. Spirit: Slave vs. King Part 2

The fruit of the Spirit - we as New Testament, New Covenant believers are too familiar with this phrase.  We've lost its meaning as we've glossed over it in scripture, heard it countless times from the pulpit, probably even colored little apples and grapes in sunday school as children.  Jesus stated that by a tree's fruit you would know the tree.  The Word later states that by a person's fruit you would know them.  The same applies to us.  By the fruit of our lives, the outward evidence of God's inner working, people will identify us as the people of God, the light of the world, the holy people of a holy Lord.  Do you stand out as such in your day to day?  My answer is all too often not as much as I should.

This fruit of the Spirit is more than unintended and accidental good behavior if we follow after God.  It is a harvest of holiness that each of us should be sowing, guarding, working to bring forth in our lives.  In the greek we gain further insight into each of these words and they shed tremendous light into what the first century believers were hearing in their own vernacular when Paul listed the following fruit/evidence of the Spirit:

Love:  first and foremost - it is the essential nature of God.  It means to welcome, be fond of, have affection for and can only be know by the actions it prompts.  Another concept of this word "agape" is "a love feast" and the sense of inviting others to a feast of charity.  To walk in this kind of love is not to show love only towards those one has affinity towards, but to open up the "feast" to everyone who crosses your path.  It actually seeks out the opportunities to do good to others that arise in life.  Paul, in Corinthians states that without this kind of love, everything else is for naught and we become noisy instruments (clanging cymbals).  As our pastor recently put it, "it is the curtain rod upon which everything else hangs".

Peace:  a state of tranquility, harmony, enabling a state of security and prosperity - friendliness, freedom from molestation, wholeness, quietness.  Being so assured of one's salvation and what we've been called to that we fear nothing from God and are content in him for whatever our walk on this plane brings us.

Longsuffering:  always associated with staying constant under trials, patience, endurance, constancy, steadfastness, slowness in averaging wrongs.

Kindness:  Goodness in action in tenderness and compassion as opposed to indignation against sin.  The root word "chrestos" means "fit for use or able to be used".  Also meaning good, virtuous, mild, and pleasant.  Only in kindness will we be fit for use in God's hands.

Goodness:  uprightness of heart, life, morally honourable and pleasing to God and therefore beneficial.  This greek word and it's root, "agathos" differ from kindness in that kindness is the gentle gracious aspect of goodness.  The latter also includes the notion of doing good to others, but is not always by gentle means.  Christ driving the money lenders out of the temple is an example.  Goodness includes gracious tenderness but is not limited to it.

Faithfulness:  the character of one who can be relied upon.  This is tied to the concept of assurance, a guarantee, a pledge.  To be confident in, to trust.  Obedience is the action resulting from this trust and is the outwart expression that evidences the invisible inward faith.

Gentleness:  a meek disposition, mild, soothing.  In the Old Testament, the meek are those who wholly rely on God rather than their own strength to defend against injustice.  It is the opposite of self assertiveness and self interest.  It stems from trust in God's total control of a situation.  This can only come from the Holy Spirit and not from human will.

Self Control:  one who masters his desires and passions rather than letting them master him.  From the greek "kratos" meaning "strength".  Controlling the power of the will under the operation of the Spirit of God.  Also from the greek word "egkrates" meaning "having power over, mastering, controlling, restraining, strong, robust".

Against the above fruit of the Spirit there is no Law.  This statement continues a line of truth earlier stated that this salvation, this pursuit of God, this new and holy life, this indwelling of his Spirit is incomparibly superior to the Law by itself.  The Law was given to restrain the evil tendencies of man, but they were ever present.  When the fruit of the Spirit is in place these inborn tendencies have no place and the Law has no claim or judgment against the fruit of the Spirit.  The fruit of the Spirit surplants these tendencies in the believer's life who is actively taking up their cross, crucifying their flesh (again see earlier posts for "staking down the flesh") and following Jesus.  In this there is complete and total freedom.  In this a slave is made a king!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Flesh vs. Spirit: Slave vs. King Part 1

Still working through and meditating on some truths that God has been dealing with me on and decided to do a comparitive study today.  God has really been dealing with me on getting the flesh out of my day to day, removing that which trips me up so readily and constantly.  We are all going to be fighting this one for the rest of our days on the earth so in no way do I think I'll achieve the pinnacle of "fleshlessness" in the next months and live a perfect life for the remainder of my days as an example to all.  But as I am striving for a deeper daily communion with my Father I am realizing that my flesh impedes my closeness and more of this sin-nature, tainted dna I can "stake down" (see previous posts) the deeper I can move into relationship with Him and into his will for my life.  I want this so badly.  As I pursue this, I find that the old "little" sins, such as the sarcastic comments once spoken about the obnoxious and rude individual who obviously deserves to be taken down a notch or two, suddenly are uncomfortable to my ears and not something I really want involvement with.  The Spirit speaks much more regularly and with deeper conviction the closer we get to Him and it is our choice to listen or to ignore but if we truly want a deeper relationship then we should not be surprised when his voice starts to become more and more clear in our hearts.

The passage of Galatians 5:16-26 urges the believer to walk in the Spirit rather than in the flesh; to take up a lifestyle of spiritually centered living and daily decisions rather than walking out and living what is natural and desired by our attitudes and unregenerative thoughts and "flesh".  The works of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit are both spelled out and a deeper study into what each of these really are is merited.  So often we see these lists as "thou shall nots" and "thall shalls" and gloss over them because we don't take the time to ponder their relavence in today's vernacular.  When Paul wrote these, they were very clear.  The flesh works kept the people chained to an old covenant, the Law, which condemned them.  If they stayed there they stayed condemned and ultimately remained out of fellowship with God.  But Jesus fulfilled the old covenant and those who would walk in him and walk in the new Spirit with the evidence of the fruit of the spirit in their lives, against these there was no Law.  These statements were poignantly clear to the first century believer living in the Mediterranean rim near the Jewish nation.

What are the works of the flesh as outlined in Galatians?  What are those things that keep me bound and chained, keep me from fulfillment of freedom in Christ and life, keep me from the potentials that God has created for me?  The following is a study of the words as written by Paul and the original greek words translated from Strong's Concordance.

Adultry:  being sexually unfaithful in mind and/or action to one's spouse.  This ranges from the fling with the other woman to what Jesus pointed out - simply looking at another with lust in your heart - it's all adultry and in our society it is everywhere from swimsuit model covers to internet images to redlight districts.

Fornication:  being sexually promiscuous outside of the marriage covenant - casual sex among singles etc.  Living and working near a "college town" this is something that is rampant throughout the university setting.

Uncleanness:  impure motives, lustfull, luxurious living, sensual - this is splashed all over reality television and the media and is the epitome of self centered living.

Lewdness:  disgraceful, soiling the clean, insolent disregard for decency, base or uncontrolled speech, shameful

Idolatry:  placement of anything in a state of worship or focus above the Lord - America has no end of this but it extends even to the believer.  "I'll give you everything Lord, but I really don't want to sacrifice my comfortable home, or my weekends with family, or my friends, leave those alone and you can have all of the rest of me!"

Sorcery:  literally the use of drugs or medicating - poisoning with incantation and a goal of altered consciousness.  I never equated drug use with witchcraft/sorcery but in the Old Testament and historically divination and incantation went hand in hand with drug use to produce altered states of consciousness and mental states.

Hatred: the complete opposite of agape love - emnity.  Jesus put it this way - "you've heard it said not to murder, but if any of you hates - you've already committed murder in your heart".  Ouch!

Contentions:  the expression of emnity - to quarrel, again based in dislikes and hatred towards others.

Selfish Ambitions:  a desire to put oneself ahead of others, seeking to win followers, creating factions and divisions

Dissensions:  standing apart, refusing involvement

Heresies:  Dessentions arising from diversity of goals/oppinions, a self willed choice/oppinion that is substituted for submission to the power of truth leading to division

Envy:  to long for, a displeasure in hearing/witnessing the prosperity of others to the point of desiring to deprive others of said prosperity

Murders:  to kill, slaughter, cause death

Drunkeness:  denotes habitual intoxication and regularly partaking of intoxicating drink - tied to riotous behavior and revelry - those who revel in a behavior

Revelries:  rioting, carousal, the consequences of drunkeness, to riot

In this passage we are told that those who practice the above will not receive/inherit the Kingdom of God.  So often we hear this phrase "inherit the kingdom" or "receive the kingdom" and we think of when we die or when Jesus comes.  That is not what these words meant.  There is a difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Heaven.  The greek here is not referring to an actual physical place but rather the right to rule or the authority, royal power, dignity, dominion.  The dominion of God.  We have the kingdom now.  The kingdom moves with the believer, it is a sphere of dominion and authority that radiates from God's children to everything their spirit/lives touch or are associated with.  This is not a stationary thing.  Though the earth had been turned over to Satan by Adam, Jesus, before ever enduring the cross, could look the pharisees in the face and proclaim "today the kingdom of God is in the midst of you!"  To say this to them meant the full might and sovereignty of God's power, authority, and rule was in their presence.  Further, when he sent the disciples out to preach, teach and heal, we read that he sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God.

When Jesus instructed his disciples to pray "thy kingdom come", he was not telling them to pray out a gradual transition or progression.  The greek spells out an event of catastrophic and violent overturning.  This is how we as administrators of God's will on earth are to take from the clutches of Hell what Satan took from Adam.  We are to violently shake the gates of Hell in all of its manifistations around us and in us; in the broken and shattered lives that surround us daily, in the bondage and sin around us.  This is what Jesus did on this earth.  This is why the demons feared him.  This is why Satan fears us, fears the Word in us, fears what we have been given.  This is why he works wihout ceasing to keep our minds and hearts blinded and distracted and numb to the power and life God desires we walk in.

The kingdom of Heaven is always the kingdom of God, but the kingdom of God is not limited to the kingdom of Heaven.  If we'll get the flesh out, start walking out the kingdom and become the instruments that God desires us to be then we too, can overturn the hurt, the poverty, the brokeness that surrounds the world around us, whether it be in our backyard or half a world away.  God is not limited by our reach or what we perceive to be our reach - he lengthens it, expands it, grows us and enlarges our abilities beyond it.  Put down the flesh and walk in the spirit and enjoy the abundant life of true kingdom authority!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

God's Masterpieces

What comes to mind when you think of the word “masterpiece”? For me I think of works such as Michelangelo’s perfectly and smoothly chiseled David, or his tumultuous and energetic Sistine Chapel. I long to peer into the depths of the eyes of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. I recall the experience of standing inches from a Seurat, making nothing of the myriad of dots and colors and then gazing in amazement as I backed away and they merged to become fantastic snapshots of 19th century life. Water lilies drift lazily in peaceful streams under stone bridges in the countryside as captured by Monet’s brushstrokes and I long to step into the tranquility of those canvasses. Masters, each of these men, creating works the likes of which have never been reproduced and likely never will. Each work worth extraordinary sums for the unique nature in which they were created or the hand that created them – deemed priceless.

So what does it mean when God calls us his masterpiece? Is the word so diluted by paintings and sculptures and works of men that will ultimately fail the test of eternity that a timeless God who labels us so loses relevance? Consider the expanse of the universe and the images pulled from deep space, the ones that astronomers indicate must be billions of years old because the light has traveled so far to reach us. Simply consider the fact that there IS a universe so vast, and we haven’t even seen the edges of it. We’ve scarcely adequately studied our own solar system, even the depths of our own oceans.

God doesn’t say the heavens and the cosmos are his best work; he doesn’t call the creation in which we are placed the culmination of his abilities. He doesn’t even call the very Heaven in which he resides the pinnacle of creative talents. He calls you and me his masterpiece. According to Ephesians 2:10, we are created for more than just to be placed on a shelf and admired. We are created for good works. I find it encouraging that God has a plan of good works for my life. That means that he has a plan. That means that I don’t have to struggle to find myself, find my plan, find what my life is supposed to be about. I simply follow his leading. And this plan isn’t just being thought up as we walk through this life. “Well, he did this so we’d better compensate by doing this”. God had my life mapped out before I existed, had the impact of my life on this earth figured out before I took one step onto this soil. God knew who I would talk to, who I would witness to, who would watch my life, who would be affected by it, who I would change, who would hurt me, who would be hurt by me, and who I would love from my first breath to my last. He has the whole thing mapped.

Do I throw my hands up and say, “well if that’s the case then I have no choice and so I’ll just do what I want”? NO!   God told the nation of Israel "before you is blessing and cursing, life and death, choose life".  You DO have the choice.  Next to giving up his Son, it's the greatest sacrifice God gave, to allow his beloved creation the freedom to turn away from him if they so choose.  I believe every choice, every decision is a fork in the road and compounded these create millions and even billions of end results and I believe that I serve a God who is omniscient and big enough to know the end from the beginning of every single one of those paths. I believe God has a plan and if I follow him and pursue him as he desires me to, then I will ultimately find myself in the flow and center of that plan. My God is all powerful, powerful enough to wipe away my sin and past mistakes, he is all knowing, knowing every end from every beginning and what is best for me, and he is omnipresent, everywhere and always with me. God has prepared the good works for us, all we have to do is step into them, because we are his masterpieces and he cherishes every single one of us because he created us for just this reason.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Overcast Grace

Rough one this morning.  Ever read your bible because you're SUPPOSED to (it's what all good Christians do)?  Most mornings I jump into the Word and relish it.  I love it!  Not this morning.  I had to fight my way to the bible and fight my mind to stay focused.  To be honest, even after reading the same passage five times nothing seemed to really differentiate the paper and words in front of me from the newspaper - pretty sad.  I fully empathized with Paul's statements about how the athlete has to "beat his body".  I'm sure the recent Olympics, though filled with energetic and smiling athletes, were also filled with people who on more than one occasion begged for the alarm clock to stop, or their muscles to stop hurting, or their coach to just go away.  I awoke with a cramp in my leg this morning, my mind stayed afog as I refused to rely on the calorie rich jolt from soda for dieting's sake and so collapsing into my couch, with the Word before me and my digital concordance I stared.  And I stared.  Stared. 

Then I prayed "God help me.  I need this Word.  It is life to my bones and bread to me and I need you to speak to me today so that I can follow after you."  The only thing that caught my interest was the word "grace".  At first I almost purposed to ignore it.  This is such an over talked about topic.  Aren't there "um-teen" hundreds of books on the subject.  There are certainly very moving songs regarding it.  The Church is inundated with messages about God's grace. Give me "march into all of the world and take back all that the enemy has stolen and you will prosper for mighty is the Lord your God!!!" (this is NOT a quote from scripture so please don't try to find it).  Grace is present in the New Testament almost as much as love, to the point that I tend to ignore it.  Always we must be careful not to go from one ditch to the other.  In so many teachings that focus on only grace and love, the holy, awesome, and fearsome splendor of a sinless God and his resulting and terrible judgment against sin is ignored or muted.  But in contrast to this, to be so fearful of ignoring the "wrathful nature" of God's judgment that we forget about his grace, mercy, and love towards us leaves us cowering as beaten slaves in the corner, not seated as children of the King, which is what he clearly desires according to Ephesians 2.  It states that he desires to show us "the exceeding riches of his grace".

I had my hook so I delved in.  Exceeding - seems simple to me.  Plenty, enough, more than enough.  Here's what the greek word translates "to overthrow, overcast, to throw over or beyond anything, without caring where it falls".  I envision making a bed and casting the sheets over it.  You cover them by overthrowing the fabric so that it will fall down and cover the bed.  This of course is a paltry comparison.  God's grace was overthrown, without limit, covering all of us, covering our sin, when repented, covering all of creation.

Grace has been defined as "unmerited favor" or "getting what we don't deserve".  Certainly I believe this to be true.  When I studied out the rest of the greek for this, it also carries with it the concept of that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, and loveliness.  God's grace towards us doesn't just affect only us.  It brings him delight and joy as well.  How often do I fail to walk out that kind of grace, even to my own family?  When the rude person cuts me off in line, can I walk out joy, pleasure, and loveliness towards them?  This is the grace he has spread over all of us - every single one, over all of creation.  

Ever think that God finds delight in the waterfall?  Joy in the symphony of the evening insects?  Pleasure in the rhythm of the rainstorm?  But I am the culmination of it all, of all creation.  Even the angels marvel and say "What is man?"  Without grace I would never see his face, enter his presence or even know of his love.  Grace does not give license for sin, but grace allows me, an imperfect man, to come to the one who can wipe away my sin and still present me to himself blameless, spotless, perfect in his sight.  I am so grateful for that grace and for the fact that no matter how badly I think I've messed things up, as Paul says "his grace is sufficient".  His grace has been cast beyond everything, everything in my life, everything in yours.  And he did it with reckless love, not caring on whom it landed.  He covered it all in grace.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Stumbling and Falling

Reading through the introductory verses of Ephesians 2 today and Paul is discussing our former state of being in sin and trespasses.  I've always heard it's good to know where you've been so that you'll know where you're going.    This is probably why Paul brings this to light to the church at Ephesus.  In Genesis, Abraham built altars as monuments that marked the landscape of where God did specific great things, but he didn't stop and live there, he went forward to where God was leading him.  In my study on the opening verses the following questions kept coming to my mind - what is it to sin, to trespass?  We are so familiar with these terms that they are generic to us - probably because they are the best terms we have to describe walking out from under God's desired will and plan for our lives in not quite so many words.  What does it mean to sin, to trespass?  "...forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us"  Ever find those words awkward? 

I grew up in rural southern Illinois and we owned wooded land when I was young. I recall signs all over those river bottoms "NO TRESPASSING" and these for me have always tainted my definition of the word.  I conjure visions of grey cloudy days in heavily forested muddy lands near the Wabash river basin where land owners were seeking to prevent poachers and high schoolers from encroaching upon the borders of their timberland for purposes that inevitably resulted in property damage.  Every time I hear the Lord's prayer in a translation that uses the word "trespass" I think of those river bottoms, as if God a was property owner trying to keep trouble makers out.  Not a very accurate picture. 

Doing a word study I found a couple of interesting things in the greek translations of the words for trespass and sin.  To trespass carries with it the notion of falling.  But not just falling down, as in "I fell into sin" but to fall ineffectively by the wayside, to be incapacitated.  The image of a line of soldiers charging in a battle came into mind.  In battle, men fall.  In life, people fall.  In this Christian walk, Christian people fall.  The psalmist in Psalms 91:7 reflects God's promise of protection while "a thousand will fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand".  The enemy has every one of us targeted, has each of us scoped.  How does that make you feel? 

God says that he has the very hairs of your head numbered.  Satan also knows you, and as long as you lie motionless and float downstream with the rest of the world towards hell, you draw little attention from him.  The moment you begin to stir and stand as a child of the King, you are zeroed in on, targeted and aquired.  Start taking back the world from him as Jesus commands ("go unto the world") and you are guaranteed to have him array forces to move against you.  I have personally felt this in recent months.  As my walk with the Lord intensifies, as my passion for truly and deeply knowing him grows and things that have held sway in my life for decades begin to lose their grip I find new attacks, new frustrations, new "opportunities" to walk out God's grace, love, and patience towards others.

Sin: missing the mark.  That definition just came to me recently.  I always knew that it was to fail, to rebel, to go the opposite way that God wants us to go, but recently I learned that it is also aiming and just plain missing.  Aiming a bow and arrow and missing the bullseye.  It doesn't matter how much you miss, unless you hit the bullseye, you still missed it.  That by itself was enlightening.  "All have sinned and fall short".  No matter how perfect you try to be on this earth, you will miss the mark at some point.  This innaccuracy was brought into our bloodstream in Eden and has been present since.  It necessitated the cross.  Every single one of us will miss the target and I tend to miss it daily.  But doing my study into the greek yesterday another aspect of this word jumped out at me.  The word translated "sins" in Ephesians 2:1 is the greek word "hamartia" which means "to be without a share in".  This is the greatest tragedy of sin and the ultimate wage of sin as outlined in Romans.  Sin robs us of our share in all that God has provided for us, sent his Son here as exchange for our redemption for.  Sin steals, kills, and destroys in our lives - daily.  It takes from our relationships and robs us of intimacy with our Father.  To be in sin is to be without a share in life, abundance, provision, health, and every good thing that God has promised.  When we tolerate even the "smallest" of sins in our lives we tolerate loss, we are tolerating a "missing out".  Why?  Why is sin worth this?  And what of a world drowning in sin and dying?

How tragic and and ultimately saddening it is that Satan has convinced an entire race that the baubles he has to offer, the pleasures of carnal flesh, the sin-life and self-indulgence of rebellion that lasts a mere 80 years at best and is plagued by pain and misery is so much more preferrable to the actual, true, meaningful life that God has for us that is for all eternity - forever.  Yet look around.  Every day you are surrounded by them.  Lost and perishing.  Bound, gagged, and being led off to slaughter.  Unaware of their approaching eternal seperation from a Most Holy and Mighty God who is surrounded by beings we have yet to imagine who continually sing his praises.  This plane is as close as they'll come to Him and I am as close as they are to knowing Him.  Unless they come to a saving knowledge of him, this life with all of its problems, struggles, pain, and difficulties is the only "heaven" they will ever know.  They have smiles on their faces, they greet me with "good morning" and "its-a-beautiful-day" but they are being led to death and torment that we have never conceived of in our worst of nightmares, one that they will never wake from or escape, one that they will share with Lucifer and and all of his fallen hosts for all of eternity.  Can I look at myself in the mirror and honestly stare into the depths of those eyes and tell myself "I did my best - I did everything I could to get the Word, the life-line of the Word to catch hold in their heart so the Holy Spirit could work in their life"?  Will I be able to look my Savior in the face and say such?

I think Psalms 91 speaks of protection from those who would do me harm, both spirit and men, but I also think it speaks of the world through which we walk daily.  A thousand at your side...ten thousand at your right hand...stumbling and falling.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Purging Egypt

Strange title today.  I tend to be drawn to the strange ones.  I don't label them for the benefit of the reader, I do it for myself.  Not so I can relish the thought of someone else thinking how clever I am.  They are markers for me alone.  Like landmarks on the landscape of my life, they denote specifics that stand out that I can readily recognize.  This path of words lengthens with every entry and I am a visually oriented person.

Today studying and meditating on some readings I've been doing on a book by John Bevere, God powerfully brought together several things he's gradually been teaching me over the course of the last year as I seek him.  So much like our Father to have the complete picture of where he is taking us and not be limited by the fragmented view that we are as we view from the "here and now" only.  The concepts I am referring to seemed to me to be good in and of themselves, but seemed completely disjointed truths; like reading that adultry is bad (and typically led to being stoned in the Old Testiment) and that honoring your parents leads to long life on this earth.  OK, cool to know, right?  Good word.  Thanks God.  I'll certainly try to live these out - easy enough.  Take it up a notch.  If you are a liar you go to hell and also you are to love your neighbor as yourself - again, not so much related truths, a bit tougher to live out, but sure, I'll do my best to make sure I love other people and tell the truth.  "Thanks again God, I can really feel you growing me!"  How many of us have left Sunday services with these morsels of moral direction, contented that we've somehow satisfied some listening or growth requirement by our Heavenly Father?  Is this the "good news" that Jesus instructed us to go out and preach to the world that would change it, revolutionize it, save it from hell, death, damnation?

Towards the begining of this year I completed a fairly in depth personal study in Galatians.  I decided about a year ago I was going to go through all of the Epistles, the letters of the New Testament.  About the same time, I also began to pray that God would soften my heart, help me to become a more compassionate human, draw me closer.  I knew love was central to God's core being and that He desires that each of us walk it out towards each other.  After all, Jesus said the entire Law and Prophets (essentially the whole Old Testament) was summed up in love your God completely and love your neighbor selflessly.  I think we mentally acknowledge this and we strive for this, but it truly doesn't reach the heart of most of us, particularly that last part.  This is what I was wrestling with.  I knew that I too easily dismissed my neighbor.  Remember when the crowds asked Jesus "who is my neighbor"?  We too easily refuse to engage the hurt, the lack, and the shortcomings of those who surround us every single day.  To be honest, I don't have it within me.  I knew it then and I know it now.  It was that realization that caused me to begin to pray thus.  I realized that if I didn't have it, if I couldn't muster it on my own then it must be something that God had to do within me, something that I had to seek out in Him.

As I've been reading through John Bevere's book "A Heart Ablaze", he essentially contrasts the passion that Moses had for God and the manner in which the nation of Israel withdrew from God even when they were simultaneously being provided for and led by Him.  They all experienced the same miracles, were all delivered from the same annihilation, were all invited to the same mountain top to meet God in the same way.  God delivered the entire nation and being no respector of persons, God's plan wasn't to single out Moses to bring only Moses to the pinnacle of communion with himself.  God longed for an entire nation of priests, not a designated clan.  But the people of Israel couldn't let go of Egypt, couldn't put away the "benefits" of their old lives, though those lives were marked by slavery.  We constantly read where hardship brings forth statements like "Why did you lead us out here to die out here in this waste?  We were better off in Egypt."  What hit me was that of any of them, Moses should have been the one who had trouble leaving Egypt behind.  He never knew hardship in Egypt, he knew only privilege, authority, comfort and wealth.  What was the difference?  What's the shift in mentality?

Simultaneous to this, I am really being impacted by a series called Radical (link at the bottom) by a young pastor named David Platt in which he is peeling down what it means to truly be a disciple of Christ; and most of us comfortable "christians" won't like the answers.  Jesus turned away a lot of people, people who were enthusiastic followers, excited about the miracles, caught up in the rumors of a "messiah" a true prophet from God.  They knew he was something, because he was shaking up the entire religious order of things, but very often, and usually at the most inopportune moments (at least from a recruitment standpoint) he'd turn on the crowd and say things like "If you want to be my disciple you have to pick up an instrument of death that convicted felons carry in shame to their own executions and follow me, and hate your parents.  If you really want to pursue me, then you'll have to eat my flesh and drink my blood."  Can you picture what the twelve were thinking?  "Uh, Jesus, you just lost them at 'Hello'. "

This past Sunday at church, our pastor began teaching on Galatians 5:16-25.  He mentioned the Fruit of the Spirit and how first among these was Love.  He compared love to the curtain rod upon which all the rest of the others hung.  Towards the end of that passage it speaks of crucifying the sin nature and it's desires and that's when God struck.  A year's worth of gentle nuturing, soft whispers to my spirit and quiet insights hit me like a wall in a high speed crash, the ramifications I am still dazed by and trying to comprehend.  All I know is that I don't want to let go.  David in Psalms speaks of deep calling out to deep and there are depths of revelation, life, and holiness that most of us will never scratch the surface of because we are unwilling to pursue God in the manner that he pursues us.  I'm catching just a glimpse of this "depth" and I want it. Back to the Word.

What struck me was the concept of crucifying the sin nature and its passions.  Jesus also spoke of taking up the cross in Luke 14:27.  He was referring to crucifying your flesh, your passions, your sinful desires.  This is what separated Moses from the entire nation of Israel, including his own brother Aaron.  Moses crucfied his sinful nature, desires, and passions.  Do you know what the greek for crucify translates?  It literally means to stake down, to make something stay in place by completely destroying the power of the flesh through intense pain.  This is what the crowd heard when Jesus said take up a cross. They didn't hear "you can purchase your golden cross as a reminder of your committment".  They heard death, pain.  We are to put down and stake in place our flesh, this is the "working out of our salvation" that is spoken of in the New Testament.  It gets better.  The greek for flesh is the word "sarx" which not only implies one's physical body but the totality of our earthly being apart from the divine.  At what point do we start to dispair here?  Does any of us have this within us?  The short answer is "no".

What I'm realizing in all of these studies is that in my insuffieciency, it is God who is sufficient.  If I could have authored my own salvation, I would figure out a way to do it without God and short cut the whole process.  That's the way we people operate.  We seek the short cuts, the easy way, the check list to mark off.  I did numbers one through three so now I'm ready!  But God is so infinitely beyond this method of limitation, this finite brand of human thinking.  "In my weakness he is strong".  In the Galatians passage we see the phrase "against such there is no law".  The whole reason we dispair in the struggle to overcome our flesh in our own strength is the same reason the cross and the blood were necessary; because the law and the prophets were not enough by themselves.  The law, the Old Testament Law defined sin, put a stamped label on it, brought it into the light of God's judgement and justice, but did nothing to redeem.  Look at it. 

The Law identified what was right, what was wrong.  Today secular society very often epitomizes the Ten Commandments with the statement "Thou Shalt Not".  The law was unbreakable, unyielding and final, but continually, people were broken upon it.  They were stoned to death, executed, cast out. Punishment was harsh.  Atonement was expensive and always involved the life blood of living creatures.  Death was continually present and people were continually required to soak their hands in blood.  Jesus' once-for-all at the cross was so overwhelmingly sufficient that it not only bought his own salvation from such fate (remember, he was 100% man) or just a few of his close friends and relatives.  It paid for all mankind for all time.  Every last one of us.  No matter what you've done, it's been paid for, you could say, "over-paid" for.   This ushers us into the Spirit and in Galatians, we are told to live by the Spirit for against the Fruit of the Spirit there is no law.  It was at the cross that God moved us from the curse of the flesh and its works listed in Galatians to the Fruit of the Spirit.

It's because of this love for us, the love of a perfect being towards an entirely unworthy race of offenders, that Jesus can make the demands in Luke 14 of what is required of us if we are to be true followers of him.  If taken literally, they sound harsh.  Hate your parents, hate your wife and kids, your family, carry your cross. Because it's harsh we "translate" it.  "Jesus didn't really want you to hate your family, what he was saying was...".  Jesus wants nothing short of everything, total commitment, all of you.  That's it.  Everything.  In comparison to your total affection, devotion, and love for him, your love for everything and everyone else around you will look like hate.  But He brings it full circle.  "Husbands love your wives as Chist loved the Church". 

God wanted nothing less of the nation of Israel when he freed them from four centuries of slavery.  He orchestrated the removal of a nation of people from the geo-political powerbase of the world who had been there for 20 generations so that he could bring them to himself and fellowship intimately with every single one of them.  When they left there was not one of them sick or weary or disabled.  That is impossible in a what is estimated to be a nation of two and a half million people.  He gave them absolutely everything they would need to make the journey to himself, all he required was all of them and only one man in a nation of two and a half million people was willing to answer that calling.  One man ascended the mountain and saw God.  The rest of the nation cowered at the feet of the mountain, unwilling and afraid.  They knew their hearts weren't ready to meet this Most Holy One.  Egypt still had part of their heart, part of their desire and devotion.  After all God did for them and the invitation He laid before them, they hid and fled - how that must have crushed his heart.  The picture is one of sadness as he had Moses tell them to go back to their tents and it is after that we read he instituted the order of the priests and the regulations of how they were to enter his presence only annually.  His desire was for a people of priests, a people of communion and fellowship.  One man heeded the call.

This is why Jesus tells the crowd pick up your cross, count the cost.  We're so used to the notion of alter calls where people raise their hands if they want to know Jesus and we feel good because we've led them to the Lord.  Then we wonder why this country is gripped by shallow Christianity that is nothing but a facade and thin veneer of religion that is inneffective at best. We've missed the idea of asking people to count the cost, missed the notion of asking them to think about what it means to pick up the cross. When Jesus did this, he turned people away.  One minute the crowd would be enthusiastic and when he laid out his invitation, people left irritated and upset.  Jesus was saying to those people what God was saying to the Israelites: "you've got to get the world out of your system to follow me".  He's not interested in half-hearted followers.  Hot or cold.  Get off the fence.  He loves us all incomparably more than we know how to love him or each other, the proof is in the lengths he went to redeem us.  The invitation is timeless.  It's the same invitiation given to the children of Israel, the same one Jesus was giving to the crowds who were attracted to his miracles and teachings, it's the same to you and I.  It's an invitation to love like no love we've ever known.  "Will you follow me recklessly - as recklessly as I pursued you, considering nothing else in this life, willing to give everything for me as I did for you?  Will you put nothing in front of me in value including family, possession or goals? Will you purge Egypt?"

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Shaking Off Death

I screwed up yesterday, fell into sin, and God called me on it.  What was it?  None of your business.  I've confessed it, repented and it's under the blood.  But sin is sin and we've lost sight of the fact that sin is deadly.  We tolerate it, allow it to flow around us, permeating our homes, coming into our lives, sleep with it.  It has teeth and talons and without the saving power of Jesus' work at the cross would drag every one of us to hell.  It murdered even the innocent Son of God, flaying the flesh from his body, rendering him a bloodied, beaten, and broken man, sending even the one who was there at the formations of the worlds to hell.  But we're ok with this because we've conveniently forgotten it.  We all know that Romans 6:23 says "the wages of sin is death" and subconsciously, we've chalked this up to a listing of "salvation" scriptures to quote should we ever be bold enough to actually lead someone down the trail to Christ.

God is working in my heart get rid of the junk that snakes around my ankles and trips me up.  In Hebrews 12:1 the word puts it this way "let us strip off and throw aside every encumberance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (cleverly and deftly) clings to and entangles us" (Ampliphied).  In Exodus through Deuteronomy, God had to lead the Israelites in the desert for 40 years to get Egypt out of their hearts before they were ready to go in and possess the promises he had for them.  Did you know it was only a jouney of a few weeks from Egypt to the Promised Land.  It took them that long to "throw aside every encumberance and the sin which so readily clings".  I believe God is calling everyone of us to get rid of the junk.  He is coming back for a Holy Church and what we've been is anything but holy.  He wants commitment like none of us have yet realized.  Want to know the depth of the commitment he's looking for?  Study Luke 14.  But in that commitment, He will take us to heights we've never imagined.  We haven't been capable of imagining them because our spirits haven't been in sync with his to the degree that he wishes.  He can't reveal himself to us until we align with him.  He is the unchangeable one so that means we are the ones who have to align. 

For me, I've got to lock down these lips.  Words can be terrible things and too often they flow too freely.  We forget they are how God formed all of creation.  They are little faith filled energy packets and when we are speaking the wrong things into being we are doing far more damage to our own lives than we can comprehend.  James says the tongue can set the world on fire and I've come to believe it.  It's as innocent as the good natured joking about the guy who deserves to be ridiculed because he's obnoxious and gets himself in trouble, or the boss who knows better than everyone and gets proven wrong.  But it's also following the link on the web browser to the new SI Swimsuit cover to look over the curvateous adultress splayed on the sand, or allowing impatience within you to snap into rapidly rising anger towards others, or seeking self above others in a multitude of ways beyond count.  "So easily entangles". 

Do I have to be a neuorotic mess all day wondering if I'm about to fall into sin?  I don't believe so.  I believe the Word that states the Holy Spirit is given to us a helper, to be with us, help in time of need.  I believe that if we are pursuing holiness, that God honors this and helps us dodge the potholes.  Does He jump them for us?  NO.  Yesterday I felt the twinge in my spirit that I was involved in something I should not have been, but I continued, and that is sin, that is rebellion.  It doesn't matter how you paint it, it is what nailed my Savior to an instrument of criminal torture and condemned him to die.  That was the Holy Spirit in my spirit leading me and God's word promises He will do this when we pursue/follow him.  No doubt, we'll have to choose.  In Deuteronomy 28-30, God lays out for the nation of Israel the blessings of following him and the curses and hardships of going their own way, and in 30:19 he puts it to them "here's life and here's death, choose life!"  Likewise, he'll never override our will, but he will help us see the difference.

Today, he's calling to me to shake off the sin, get rid of the extra weights, shake off the death, and choose life.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Life Well Lived

It's late and I sit here a full week after my grandmother has been laid to rest.  Sure, all of our grandmothers and grandfathers are destined to pass, afterall grandparents are old.  Old people die, blunt, harsh, true.  Nursing homes and convalescence centers are filled with them.  Many of them forgotten.  Some have regular visitors.  The very wealthy ones live in "assisted living communities".  Regardless, they are all marching towards the same end, an end that seems an eternity away to someone such as myself.  So the passing of my own grandparents should be natural and expected.  But it dawns on me, I do not consider my parents "old" and they are grandparents. Relativity brings perspective to bear but relieves none of the sense of loss.  Regardless of the fact she was 80, regardless of the fact she was in the late stages of alzheimer's, her time on this plane was not complete by my selfish estimation.  Why?  Why was she timeless to me?  Was I in daily contact with her?  Was she a part of my daily prayers?  Did she regularly visit?  Did I have regular contact?  Sadly the answer to all of these questions is "no".  Then why?

My grandfather passed a full thirteen years ago.  With his passing, I watched my tall and elegant grandmother wither to an echo of her former grace.  The loss of her soulmate was evident in her very countenance and in the very manner in which she continued to live her life.  The kindness of her smile never left her face but the warmth was sadly hollow.  A woman who I recall trekking through the U-picks for berries became a solitary shut-in, never leaving her property.  This is not an indictment, simply the facts.  When Glen Benson died, most of Mary Benson did too.  Sadly, though, I did indict her for this.  But in examining, I've become less critical of this because I think I've started to tap the tip of the iceberg that was the soul entwining love they shared. 

I used to think that grandma stopped living when grandpa died because he was her rock and when he passed she had nothing but I've since realized this to be erroneous. In the decades of photos of her the constant I see in her eyes is tranquility and elegant quiet grace. I now realize he was the energy and she was the rock. He was the headstrong horse and she was the soft hand reigning him in.  He was the strength, make no doubt about it, he was the drive, but she was the constant, the unwaivering.  In this I've come to a closer understanding of the inseparable nature of my grandparents and why so much of my grandmother disappeared when my grandfather left this earth.

The funeral home that interred my grandmother put together a collection of imagery from photos that my aunts supplied and with those created a slideshow with a moving musical score that is touching to say the least.  From those images, I saw a whole new dimension of my grandmother that I wish I had investigated while I knew her in life.  I say "knew her" because even those caring for her did not have much of her recognition in the last months as the progression of the disease stole memory and brain function.  It was honestly about a year ago that we last had cogniscant conversation and even then she drifted.  Prior to that I wish I had explored the depth of her. 

From the pictures, I see a radiant, beautiful girl from an enormous family.  She would turn heads today and I watch as she becomes smitten by a chiseled and good looking young man and both of them fall hopelessly in love.  It's tangible.  You can feel it, almost smelling perfumed hair and aftershave in a manner that no camera phone of today would ever capture.  You watch as they pose for portrait after portrait, knowing they are documenting their youth in the only known media for doing so at the time.  They "pretend" to be movie stars but in fact, possess far more elegance and machismo than any of the red carpet peasants of today's tabloids.  Photogenic to a fault and never sparing a smile for the lense how many hundreds of photographs must be in the archives of those shoe boxes.  First one baby, then three, then five.  Then a grandbaby, then five, then ten.  Buzzcut hair, long hair, perms, buffonts, plaid, leisure suits, jeans, blouses.  1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, lives fully lived.  One can feel the bitter winter cold, the warmth of summer days, smell the lilacs on the bush in the lawn that has long since been cut down, hear the cattle that have long since been sold.  Barns have been razed, burn piles turned to hotdog fires, abandoned cars to childrens' playgrounds. 

It has become evident to me that the two of them truly were inseperable, that they never did belong apart from one another.  In a tragic manner, part of me wishes that she should never had never had to have suffered on this earth without him, that somehow she could have left when he did.  But I know her trials are over and that she is now before her Savior with her husband.  I know I will see them again and when I do, I know I will see the radiant beauty of the youth of their spirits, which was ever present regardless of the failing of their flesh, and that is ultimately what is beautiful about them, about each of us. 

I've spent a great deal of time in thought this past two weeks since my grandmother's passing.  I've not really shed a tear and this bothers me somewhat since I shed many at my grandfather's passing.  I think I am far more at peace and far more happy for her release than I was when my grandfather died..  When grandpa died, it was my family's first real experience with death and it was the end of an era of close knit family bonding.  This is also and end of an era, but in the ending, the torch is being passed to us of the next generations.  We've been given a tremendous heritage, we've been shown the way.  We can follow in the steps of great and Godly ancestors or we can live unto a selfish and inconsequential nothingness.  I have two grandparents who are both before their God today with forty-plus decendants and very many of them following in their steps toward the same end.  I can only dare to do better.

I'll leave off with a quote that I find applicably poignant.

"As a day well spent brings happy sleep so a life well lived brings happy death"  Leonardo Da Vinci