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.