Monday, December 26, 2011

She Hath Done What She Could

A phrase has been echoing through my head.  The phrase is the title of this blog post, in fact.  Everyone should become very familiar with the author of that quote.  His name is Jesus.
But seriously, this phrase has been hounding me...over my whole life.  "She hath done what she could."  You may be wondering what a phrase that has a feminine pronoun in it twice has to do with me (don't say anything!), but let me explain.
I came across this phrase again when reading a Lamplighter book, recently.  I have a lot of the Lamplighter books as inventory, so I've been reading several of them before I have to send them back.  The book was called, "Christie's Old Organ", first published in 1874, according to the front cover.  In essence, the book is about an old man who is dying and asks his only friend in the world, a young orphan boy, to find out all he can about heaven before the old man's last month is up.  The boy does as he's asked, and the old man learns about Jesus, but just before he dies he laments the fact that he wished he could have had more than one week to show Jesus how much he loved him.  In remembrance of this, the boy devotes the rest of his life to demonstrating his love for Jesus, and the local minister mentions that the goal of each one of us should be that in the end, the Lord will be able to say of us, "He hath done what he could."  That's what got me thinking of that.
The phrase comes from Mark 14:8.  It's the well-known story of the woman with the alabaster box.  This is the story as we find it in Mark:
Mark 14:3-9  And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head. (4) And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this waste of the ointment made? (5) For it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor. And they murmured against her. (6) And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. (7) For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. (8) She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. (9) Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.
She did everything she could!  Went to the furthest possible extent to show Jesus her love!  (By the way, is it furthest or farthest?  I get mixed up about which to use...)
This was a very precious, precious gift.  We learn from verse 5 that it might have been sold for more than 300 pence.  A penny, Scripturally, is equivalent to a denarius, which was a day's wages.  That means this gift was almost a year's wages!  Think about that in today's terms!  That's pretty incredible.  It was probably her most precious possession, and she poured it out for Him.  I find it interesting that Jesus says this will be story will be spoken of wherever the gospel is preached throughout the whole world.  I think it's because, her response to Jesus parallels what He did for us.  He poured out His soul in death for us, and she responded with appropriate gratitude.  What she did could never equal what He was about to do, of course.   But it showed that she understood the great gift He was about to give.
A similar story Jesus commends is in Luke 21.  The widow with the two mites.  He said that what she did for God was worth more than what all the other rich people did, because even though she only threw in two mites...probably not real significant towards paying for the elaborate temple in comparison to what the rich men were throwing in...but in God's eyes she'd cast in more than they all.  "For all these have of their abundance cast in into the offering of God; but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had." (emphasis mine)
Why was the woman with the alabaster box to be spoken of throughout the whole world, wherever the gospel was preached for a memorial of her?  I believe because she stands as a shining example of the correct response to the incredible good news, the incredible gift of the gospel.  In response to God's great gift, we should be willing to pour out our lives for Him!
Now we might not die a martyr's death, or have the opportunity to physically give Him our most precious possession, but have we done what we can?  Wouldn't those be wonderful words to hear?  "He hath done what he could.  Well done, thou good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of thy lord."
But what can we do?  Whatever He asks. :)  And above.  Some of the things we do might be small.  But the greatest gifts, I believe, are when we do unnoticed things for God just because we love Him.  When we do something, without any other motive, without receiving any credit or recognition, (and maybe at times even receiving criticism), just because we love God...that's the greatest gift.  A lot of times, this is simply accomplished by 'loving your neighbor as yourself.'  
Our family watched a movie the other night called, 'To Save a Life.'  At least, I think that was the title...but anyway, in the movie there is a kid who commits suicide just because he felt alone.  The movie deals with people wrestling with reaching out to people who are usually ignored.  He went to a youth group just before he died, but people were busy, distracted, and he left.  But, as a result, people begin reaching out in small ways.  Inviting people to sit with them at lunch, being friendly, etc.  And it makes a difference.
Another Lamplighter book I read recently was called, "The Rescue of Jessica's Mother," a sequel to "Jessica's First Prayer."  (Both are very touching stories, by the way.)  But the second really addresses this particular man named Daniel as he reaches out to poor people, unlike the rich people in the congregation of the church he attends.  He uses his comparatively smaller means to do what he can for God because he loves him.  When I read or hear stories like these I realize I am lacking.  I don't always do what I can.  But I want to be able to say: 

'Yes, Lord, yes, to Your will and to Your way.
I'll say yes, Lord, yes; I will trust You and obey.
When Your Spirit speaks to me,
With my whole heart I'll agree.
And my answer will be yes, Lord, yes.'
Sometimes it can be just the smallest thing.  Praying for a visitor at church, or being friendly with someone at the grocery store.  When I feel the unction to do something like that, ironically many times I'll brush it aside.  "That's not the Lord telling me to do that," I'll say to justify myself.  But it's certainly not Satan telling me to do it!  And, really, what harm could something like that do?  Shouldn't I do what I can to show Jesus' love to people, regardless, and not make excuses?
These have been my random thoughts recently.  It's certainly not something I'm doing perfect.  But with God's help, I want my answer to be 'yes', and I want to do what I can to show my love for Him.
In this season when people are thinking of Jesus' birthday, it's good to think of the precious gift Jesus gave us, and of the precious gift He was glad to receive...and that He wants to receive from us.
Philippians 2:5-8
(5) Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
(6) Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
(7) But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
(8) And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Confessions of a Christian Cynic

Hi, my name is Michael Schroeder, and I'm a cynic.  The last time I thought cynical thoughts, actually.
I do tend to be a bit of a 'Doubting Thomas' even when it comes to miracles, (or people pointing out blurs of light that are probably angels in photographs), but actually, if you're a cynic hoping I'll bash faith and validate your indignation against ignorant imbecile believers, you should probably go to another blog, because I'm actually talking about a different kind of cynicism.  That kind of cynicism is directed toward God; the kind I'm talking about is directed toward people.  Stay tuned though and there may be a 'Confessions of a Christian Cynic part II.'
Where does my cynicism come from if I'm only 18, you ask?  Good question.  Jesus mentioned a reason for cynicism that sums things up pretty well in Matthew 24:12.  "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold."  And even though I'm only 18, I've been placed in situations where I've seen the...uh...not-so-bright side of people.  Nowhere near as much as I will see, I'm sure, but enough to make me wonder at times if there's ANYONE who's really real and wants to genuinely serve God.  There have been times when I've felt like Elijah under the juniper whining to God about being the only one left, then I have to remember God's rebuke to him: "Hey you little elitist, I've still got 7,000 people who haven't bowed their knees to Baal, so quit acting like you're all alone."  The psalmist's words in Psalm 116:11 also come to mind..."I said in my haste, All men are liars!"
But is this kind of attitude right?  God's words to Elijah show that it's not.  It's hard to remember that some times.  When Jesus used the words 'the love of many will wax cold, he was intimating something.  I get the picture in my mind of a candle slowing burning out.  This isn't a sudden process.  It comes from being hardened from seeing iniquity all around us.  I've seen so many people use other people as an excuse to quit coming to church and even as an excuse to stop serving God.  My mom taught be by example early on that no matter what anyone else does, even if that person is someone highly respected, or supposed to be on good terms with God and yet still fails, we can still depend on God no matter what.  Man in his best state his altogether vanity.  People are people and will fail us, and the fear of man will bring a snare.  And the church is made up of imperfect people!  I'm often reminded of Proverbs 14:4; "Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of oxen."  But in realizing the truth of the first part of that verse, (that the only perfect church is a church without people in it, just like the only clean stall is the one without oxen in it), the chance comes to become bitter and not trust anyone.  I realize that people are imperfect, and therefore, I also realize that people will often fail me.  What do I do then with that knowledge?  Sadly, a tendency of mine is to isolate myself from others.  I'm polite, but don't want to go any deeper.  I rarely share my deeper thoughts and feelings with others.  (You would be shocked if you could hear some of the sarcastic commentaries that run through my head from day to day.)  There are a few select people that I let into my inner circle, but they have to work to earn my trust.
Yet the second part of Proverbs 14:4 is essential to remember.  God designed us for community.  In His creation, after He created everything, He said it was good.  But then in Genesis 2, for the first time God says something is 'not good.'  He said, 'It is not good that man should be alone.  I will make an help meet for him.'  God designed the body of Christ to depend on one another. (1 Cor. 12)  Much increase is by the strength of oxen.  Even though there are some smelly situations that arise from the church, there is also much increase.  What I've come to realize is that I need GOD'S love for people.
I have been teaching on 1, 2, and 3 John recently, and one of the main concepts the apostle John focuses on is love.  Love one another.  And he has some pretty straight comments for those who don't.  And while I nod to that concept in my head, my practice of it is still quite lacking.
I realized this when I was praying a few weeks ago.  There are certain times in prayer when it's like I can glimpse what God sees.  God is holding out His arms, waiting to pour out His love on people, and yet they pass Him by and ignore Him.  They don't listen when He calls, turn away when He reaches out, scoff when He tries to show them His hand.  And whenever I get a vivid picture of this in prayer it makes me morose...and angry.  Why can't certain people see how much God loves them?  How can they do that to Him?  Instead of taking on and exhibiting the love God has for them, I see with indignation this unrequited love and the opposite effect is produced in my spirit.  Yet I have to realize that I've done, and in some respects am still doing, the exact same thing.  I've ignored God's love before.  I've turned my back on Him.  He loves me so much and yet I act like such an idiot.  The parable in Matthew 18 is a very accurate picture to depict the irony of my feelings at times.  And what I'm learning is that I can't love people on my own strength.  I need God's help to do it.  I need God's Spirit to fill me, and produce in me the love that He has for others.  One of the first fruits of the spirit is love.  It's the most important thing we can do as Christians.  We can't let bitterness and cynicism rule our lives.
So what's the recovery plan for this Christian cynic?  Focus on God.  Completely.  Once I get my mind off myself, and off of other people, I have a feeling that loving them will all fall into place.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Ravine

Sweat poured down the boy's face.  He slashed with his sword wildly.  He had thought he'd been in control up to this point in the battle.  The dim shape lunged at him again.  Quickly, he sliced downwards with the blade, and the onslaught against him halted for the moment.  Where is my shield?  Oh where is my shield?!  If only he could see!  He looked around, panicked.  The archers would soon begin shooting again, and if he didn't have his shield...  It's time to retreat, the voice inside him urged.
Stealthily, (or so he hoped) he dropped to the ground and crawled along to a nearby gully in the hilly landscape.  He dropped down into the little ravine, and leaned up against the dirt wall, trying to catch his breath.  I'm not even sure who I was fighting against up there.  Wearily, he sheathed his sword.  He knew it wasn't wise, but he was too tired to go on.  For all he knew, he was doing more harm than good.  He may have even been fighting against the King's servants.  If only he could tell where the King was, he could make out what side of the battlefield he was on.  But in the darkness, it was too confusing.  And the King was out of sight.  The boy closed his eyes tightly, then pounded the wall of the ravine in frustration.  Of course, it was foolish to stay down here.  Then he certainly wouldn't be able to see the King.  But how could he jump back up into the midst of the battle when he wasn't sure where he should even attack?  His family was up there somewhere, and he didn't want to endanger them anymore than he had already by fighting in the wrong part of the battlefield, against the wrong people.
A movement overhead suddenly caught his eye.  He pressed against the side of the ravine, trying to hide himself from view.  A shape even blacker than the night sky glided overhead, a glint of light from an unseen source reflecting off its body.  The boy cringed.  He knew the shape well.  That horrendous, long wingspan.  The thin, scaly neck.  The razor-sharp claws and teeth.  His oldest enemy.  The dragon.  Had he seen him?
Abruptly the beast turned and swooped down lower.  Ah yes, of course, and don't forget those evil, gleaming eyes.  The boy knew he'd been spotted.  A cackle rose into the air.  Hideous.  Wicked.
At that moment, dark shapes poured over the edges of the ravine.  The dragon's minions.  Now the boy had no doubt about who he was fighting.  The hunched, demented creatures grew closer, their scimitars raised high, grunting in  exertion.  The boy looked down at his battered breastplate and belt with hopelessness rising in his heart...and screamed the name of the King.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Be Different!

Proverbs 11:30  The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.
"I don't see the apostles hiding in their holy huddles, not going into the world to reach people with the gospel, but just focusing on the people in the church!"
"True, but I don't see them doing things that look exactly like the world, in order to attract people, and then trying to sneak the gospel in!"
Two Extremes
Thus begins the wrestling I've had with these two concepts.  The two voices represent two sides of me.  On the one hand, I don't believe Christians should simply complain about the darkness, but not actually do anything about it.  The world beyond the walls of our church is dark, yet, we sometimes stay inside our comfort zones where it's warm and light and comfortable.  We recognize that the darkness is bad, but we don't actually go out with our candles to do anything about it! Jesus said in Luke 8:16, "No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light."  But Paul also said in 2Co 6:17, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,".
When I used to think about "outreach" or "witnessing" I'd get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  It seems so intimidating to go out and talk to people.  I always associated it with preaching on street-corners, but generally that's not what people in America respond to.  So in the search to find out the best way to influence people toward God, I've noticed that people tend to swing between two ends of the spectrum.  And to tell you the truth, when I say 'people' I may just mean 'me.'   Here are the two viewpoints that I swing between.  I can either separate completely from the world, but the problem with that is that I can't win people.  I want to be a witness of what Jesus has done for me, and I want them to experience what I've experienced!  But to do it I need to actually have contact with people who don't know God.  Which can be scary!  But it IS important to bring people to a relationship with God.  I read a book called, "One Thing You Can't Do in Heaven."  That 'one thing' of course, is witnessing.  But then how do I do it?  To influence people should I go out and become friends with them by doing the kinds of things they're doing?  Laugh at their jokes, don't say anything to offend them, etc.?  The problem is that then I'm just like them!  I'm not influencing them, they are influencing me!  I see some churches adopting this strategy.  To bring people they do things to attract them, and become more like the world so that people will come.  So there are these two ends of the spectrum.  Separate completely, or compromise to bring people in.
The two Scriptures I quoted above seem to sum up the battle in my mind, and yet they aren't conflicting.  But if you emphasize one without the other, the results can be disastrous.  Since I've been trying to sort out the balance in my mind, I wanted to vent my thoughts somewhere, and a blog is a great place to do it!
You Have To Go Out...You Don't Have To Come Back
I read a book a while ago called, Battle for a Generation by Ron C. Hutchcraft.  Very good book.  And he starts out by talking about the incredible exciting stories of the Lifesaving Stations on the East Coast.  Before the Coast Guard and all that, there were Lifesaving Stations for ships who went out to sea.  Amazing accounts!  Single-handed rescues!  Committed people spending all night on flimsy boats in stormy seas!  These brave men and women would go out into the ocean when they got calls to rescue people who in bad shipwrecks.  One man went out on a stormy night into the ocean ten times and back to rescue the ten people who were trapped on a sinking ship.  But the thing that struck me most of all was their motto: You have to go out...You don't have to come back. Ron Hutchcraft compared them to the church. What would happen if they waited for people to come to the lifesaving station?  They wouldn't accomplish their goal of rescuing people.  What if they became so concerned about how the lifesaving station looked and made into more of a lifesaving club spending so much time focused on the needs of the workers who were already a part of the lifesaving station and making sure they were comfortable that they completely neglected their purpose of saving people?  Obviously the lifesaving station is there for saving people who are out in the ocean, and in order to do that, the workers needed to GO OUT to rescue them.  It's the same with the church.  Our mission is to save people, so obviously we need to GO OUT into the world to do it.  Matthew 28:19 is the Great Commission not the Great Invitation.
Our Strategy
But HOW do we do it?  The Bible says others need to be saved with fear pulling them out of the fire.  But clearly we can't literally snatch people out of Hell.  Jesus said this, "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." (Matthew 10:16)  The verse I quoted at the beginning provides an answer.  I've heard the last part quoted quite a bit when it comes to sould-winning; "he that winneth souls is wise."  But for some reason the first part is left out, even though that is what holds the key to the last part.
Holy=Set Apart
But to explain what I mean, first let me reiterate that we are supposed to be separate from the world.  We are supposed to be holy, and the very word hold means 'set apart'.  The Bible often refers to us as the pure bride of Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:2-4 says something that sums up this concept.  The Apostle Paul wrote, "For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.  (3)  But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  (4)  For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him."  Obviously, in order to be the kind of bride described in Ephesians 5:27, we can't compromise.  Yet we are supposed to be wise as serpents in order to win the world, and it's hard to attract people with no compromise.  Yet, as I once heard a preacher say, "If we dress the pure bride of Christ up like a harlot, those people who are attracted to that, will only be looking for a temporary relationship, anyway."  Romans 12:2 tells us not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.So how do we reconcile these two things?  We need to go out into the world, and yet we need to be separate from the world.  The answer is that we are supposed to be separate...within the world!  Or as the common saying says, "In the world, but not of it."
Counterculture is the Solution!
My pastor has talked a lot about counterculture.  I read the definition of Counterculture in my sociology book recently.  It's a subculture within a culture that does not conform to the norms of the culture its in.  So its not necessarily antagonistic, but it is deviant!  That's what we're supposed to be, and that's how we're supposed to win people.
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul said that he had written before to say not to keep company with sinners.  But in this chapter he clarified by saying that he didn't mean sinners of the world, because then we'd have to go to the moon.  (Jesus was a friend of publicans and sinners.)  Rather, the ones Paul commanded to dis-fellowship were those in the church who were living a bad lifestyle, because the church is the place that's supposed to be different from the world!  This is the place where people should be able to find refuge in Jesus' arms and begin living a different life.  Those in the church should be very distinct from those in the world.  The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life.  When people see how different we are...that our fruit is a tree of life...they'll want to be a part of that!  But if we look just like them, there's no reason for them to want to be like us.  There's no difference.  In our Bible study, we recently got done studying 1 and 2 Peter, which is like the counter-cultural Christian's guide!  The main point is the conclusion of what I have been thinking about how to reconcile the two verses I quoted from the outset.  We are supposed to be in the world, but our identity is supposed to be like that of the image of the Son of God, very different from the world, which is what will eventually win souls.
Let me finish up with one of my favorite stories from church history.  It's about a monk named Telemachus.  But the interesting thing about THIS particular monk, was that he wasn't satisfied with staying in solitude away from everybody, and he felt God was calling him to go to Rome.  This was in the 5th century, years after Constantine had died.  Telemachus went to Rome, at a time when the Emperor Honorius' armies had just won an amazing victory over the Goths.  They were bringing thousands of prisoners into the Coliseum to be used in the gladiator games.  The monk watched in horror as the people of this supposedly 'Christian' city cheered and roared over the blood being spilled in the arena.  This devoted man of God could scarcely believe the callousness of the sport in which gladiators would march up to the Emperor's box, yell, "Hail Caesar!  We who are about to die salute you!" then as soon as they had a victim pinned would look up into the stands for a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down.  Thumbs-up meant he lived, thumbs-down meant he died.   Telemachus, horrified, leaped into the arena himself, and got between two men who were trying to kill each other, attempting to stop the wielding of their swords.  "In the name of Christ, stop!"  But the frenzied crowd became enraged that someone would interrupt their entertainment and began raining stones down upon the poor monk's head, killing him in the process.  Okay, now let's take a step back from the scene.  At first glance, it may seem like he did little good.  Wouldn't it have been better if he had stayed home with those other monks, continuing his separated lifestyle of prayer and worship?  Or when he got to Rome, shouldn't he have gone along with what the crowd was doing, then later try to make friends with some of the people of the city in an effort to some day influence them towards Christ?  What did going into the very worst place in Rome, and standing out so different, and in such stark contrast from everyone else, really do for Telemachus or anybody else?  History holds an amazing testimony for an answer.  When the emperor Honorius found out what had happened, he banned all gladiator contests from then on, and John Foxe writes, "and from the day Telemachus fell dead in the Colosseum, no other fight of gladiators was ever held there."
I'll close with these verses from 1 Peter 3 that sum up what I'm saying.
1Pe 3:8-16  Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:  (9)  Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.  (10)  For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:  (11)  Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.  (12)  For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.  (13)  And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?  (14)  But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;  (15)  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:  (16)  Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
God bless you!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Secrets of the Vine...which aren't really secrets

I just finished reading a book by Bruce Wilkinson (who also wrote The Prayer of Jabez), called "Secrets of the Vine."  I had to start out with that sentence so I didn't get nailed for plagiarizing the title and thoughts here.  And he identifies pretty quickly that they aren't really 'secrets' (because they're written in the Bible for everyone to see) but he did bring it out in a new way I hadn't thought of before.  Now, I know what I'm talking about, and you don't, so you are probably wondering where I'm going with this.  If you're patient, I'll explain.
Recently, I was filling out a character worksheet for a drama class I'm in, and part of it was to identify the character's greatest fear.  On the paper, I was also supposed to talk about the similarities and differences between the character and myself, so naturally I began thinking about what my greatest fear was.  And I went through a couple things in my mind, but then as I was thinking about it, I realized really my greatest fear is not being effective.  I want to make an impact.  I want to do something worthwhile.  I want my life to count for something.  And my greatest fear is not fulfilling that.  I want to bear much fruit.
Bearing fruit was also a big deal to Jesus.  He wants our lives to count for something, and He wants us to bear fruit!  In John 15:8 he says, "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit."  So God gets glory when we're bearing fruit for Him.  There's more than one way to bear fruit in our lives.  I always kinda used to look at that chapter as just about soul-winning, and although that's a big part of it, I think the fruit refers to all that stems from our life in Christ, which glorifies God!  The fruit of the spirit, which is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, etc.  I think, deep down, all of us want to bear fruit.  But sometimes it seems like we're not.  And in John chapter 15, Jesus identifies some main reasons.  In "Secrets of the Vine", Bruce Wilkinson identified a couple stages people can be at.  No fruit.  A little fruit.  More fruit.  And much fruit.  He gives a picture of walking through a vineyard at harvest time and looking at the baskets and seeing no grapes in one, a few grapes in the other, but still not very many, a much more full basket a little later, and then a basket that's absolutely overflowing with grapes.  That's the kind of life I think we're all striving for!  One that's overflowing with fruit!  But we are in different stages sometimes.  As we look at the basket of our lives, we will see different things, and there are reasons for that.  We're all at different stages.
Some people are bearing no fruit.  Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.  Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away."  Now I always looked at that "taking away" as being cut off and cast aside.  The branch is useless so it's thrown out.  But that's not what the Greek word actually means.  The Greek word is: G142 αἴρω airō  ah'ee-ro A primary verb; to lift; by implication to take up or away; figuratively to raise (the voice), keep in suspense (the mind); specifically to sail away (that is, weigh anchor); by Hebraism (compare [H5375]) to expiate sin: - away with, bear (up), carry, lift up, loose, make to doubt, put away, remove, take (away, up).
And it's the same word used for Simon 'taking up' Jesus' cross, and Jesus 'taking away' the sins of the world, etc.  It means 'to lift up'.  In a vineyard, the vine dresser will look for branches that are hanging on the ground, in the dust, and not bearing fruit.  They can't bear fruit because they're in the dust and getting dirty and are trailing on the ground.  But the vines are worth too much for the vine dresser to simply get rid of.  Too much potential.  Instead, he picks them up, cleans them off, and ties them up to the trellis so that they can begin producing fruit.  This isn't always an easy, painless process.
If you're looking at your life, and you're not bearing fruit and something is stinting your growth, then the first thing you need to look at is if there's sin in your life.  That's the primary thing that will hinder you from bearing fruit.  But you're not alone.  The vine dresser will help you overcome that, and He wants you to bear fruit.  But it may involves some suffering.  Hebrews chapter 12 reminds us that whoever the Lord loves, He chastens.  He doesn't want us to be involved with sin, and He wants us to repent so that we can begin bearing fruit, and He's willing to pick us up and inflict some suffering on us so that we can live up to the potential which He intended.
The next thing Jesus says is, "and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit.  Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you."  Now the next stage we might be bearing a little fruit, or more fruit, but we are still going through something.  It may be that God is pruning you, and getting all the distracting, excess, hindering stuff out of your life so that you can bear even more fruit!  In this case it may not be sin, but a "weight" that hinders you and brings you down.
Whereas these last two stages involved God taking initiative by chastening or pruning us, this last stage involves us taking initiative.  "Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, except ye abide in me.  I am the vine, ye are the branches.  He that abideth in me and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me, ye can do nothing.  If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered, and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."  This is an imperative point, and it's not easy.  "Abide in me" is an imperative command, and it requires effort.  You don't have to tell somebody to do something that comes naturally, but you do have to tell them to do something that doesn't, like 'eat your broccoli' or whatever.  It's the same here.  The reason "Abide in me" is a command, is because it's something we have to do.  Once we're bearing fruit and things are going good, we have a tendency to focus more on bearing fruit, than on our relationship with God.  It's similar to what Martha did in Luke 10:38-42.  She got caught up in doing things for God, and neglected spending time WITH Him.  Jesus really emphasizes the point here that the only reason we're able to bear fruit at ALL is because of Him. If we begin focusing more on what we're DOING for God, rather than our relationship with Him, (whether its teaching Bible studies or Sunday school, singing at church, witnessing, doing outreach programs, being a friend to someone, doing good works, helping out in a soup kitchen, starting a ministry, or whatever) we will become fruitless.  The less we focus on bearing fruit, and the more we focus on Him, the more we bear fruit!  Even though this sounds like a paradox, it's true!  Because our life flows from Him.  Without Him we can't do anything.  Ezekiel 15:1-4 brings up the fact that while other kinds of trees have uses after they've been cut down, whether for building houses or coat racks or whatever, branches from a grape vine have no use once they've been cut off from the source other than being cast into the fire as fuel.  Once we have been cut off from the source of our life, the source of our fruit, the only thing we're good for is fire fuel.  He's the one who actually causes us to bear fruit.  Fruit will naturally being to overflow from our lives because of the work of His Spirit. But we have to stay connected to Him.
So whatever stage you're at, maybe this little analysis will help you to either repent, trust, or begin abiding more fully in God.  It sure helped me.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Are you REALLY a Friend of God?

"I am a friend of God, I am a friend of Gooood, I am a friend of God; He calls me friend!"
That's a great song...sometimes.  But there are times when I don't like it at all!  Does that surprise you?  The reason is because it causes me to check myself.  Do we really think about what that means?  Can we really call ourselves friends of God?  The verse that automatically comes to my mind that distinguishes God between a master and a friend is John 15:15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. I'm sure some people as they read this post are thinking, Of course I'm a friend of God!  Me and Jesus are tight!  But before you say that, think carefully.  It's a big deal to be called a friend of God.  And just because you're 'saved' or a 'Christian' doesn't automatically mean that you're God's friend.  In fact, other than that verse I just mentioned, there are only two people in the Bible who are called 'Friends of God'.
Of course, there are a bunch of typical examples of the difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing someone, that come to my mind as I write this.  I might know a lot ABOUT the president, but if I walked into a room, and walked up to Barack Obama, he wouldn't know who I was.  And if I started acting like I was his buddy, it would be inappropriate and disrespectful.  A person may know a lot about their favorite celebrity, and many times I'll hear them talk about them as if that person were really their friend.  (Side note: A lot of people are that way with God, acting like they're real close to Him, when they're not.  I know individuals who throw around the phrase, 'the Lord told me' very loosely.  I used to be kind of free with the phrase, 'The Lord said', too, using it even if I just had a thought while I was praying.  But then I read Jeremiah 23, and it scared me.  I don't want to say, 'God sent me', if He really didn't.  It's serious to say that God said something.  Now, I'm very careful using that phrase.  Even if I think God impressed something on me, I'll try to stay away from using those words, because if I'm going to tell someone God spoke to me, they need to be able to be absolutely sure that He did.  Anyways, back to my celebrity example.)  There are people who know the minutest details about that celebrity's life, from what he eats, to what she wears, to what time he brushes his teeth...and if something bad happened in that celeb's life, I know people who would mourn for that person like they would for a close friend.  But if they happened to meet that celebrity on the street...the celeb wouldn't know who they were.  That person doesn't really KNOW him.  We don't know that celebrity's inner thoughts and feelings.
What is a real friend?  I've thought a lot about this before.  Call me cynical, but I think true friends are rare...even (or maybe especially) in this facebook age, where we call all our acquaintances friends.  But I couldn't share certain things with probably 90 percent of my facebook friend's list. (Yes, yes, except for YOU whoever's reading this of my friends.)  A friend should be someone you can confide in, and trust, and share your burdens with.  Now translate that into your relationship with God.  K, now people are thinking, "Well, sure!  I can confide in, and trust, and share my burdens with God!"  But that's not what I mean.  Flip it around.  Can God confide in and trust and share HIS burdens with YOU?  That's the question.
The interesting thing about the president is that even though I don't know him, I still have a relationship to him.  The relationship of a president and a citizen.  I'm still under the president's jurisdiction, whether I know him and can influence his decisions or not.  What he decides to do while in office still affects me.  I'm still under his protection as commander-in-chief.  But I don't KNOW him.  I don't know what goes on in his mind on a daily basis.  I'm not his friend.
Compare that with the examples in the Bible.  Remember, earlier I said there are only two? (Which, of course, isn't to say there aren't others that apply, but these are the only two specifically mentioned.)  Abraham.  The thing that comes to my mind is an account in Genesis when God is standing with two angels and asks, "Should I show Abraham what I'm about to do to this city?"  God revealed His plans to Abraham, and Abraham was even able to influence the Almighty's decisions!  That's being a friend with God.  In a very respectful way, of course.  I was just reading a book called "The Fear of the Lord" by John Bevere, and he emphasizes that in order to be a friend of God, you have to have a healthy fear of God.  This is shown by Jesus' statement, "Ye are my friends if ye do whatsoever I have commanded you" and an account in Genesis 22.  God told Abraham to offer up his only son.  And only because Abraham loved God more than the dream God had given him, Abraham did it.  Abraham had a fear of God.
The second example is Moses.  Psalm 103:7 says, He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.  The Bible says God talked to Moses face to face like a friend talks to a friend!  That's crazy!  A lot of times, we fall into the category of the children of Israel.  We see God's acts.  We see what He's doing.  We see the parting of the Red Sea, etc.  We see the what.  But Moses knew God's ways.  He knew the why behind the what.  That's why you can see the intimate conversations Moses has with God.  He was legitimately God's friend.  Not knowing God's heart can result in the kind of golden calf thing the Israelites took part in.  But the fear of the Lord endures forever.  And it's when we have a fear for God that we honor Him best.
So now you're wondering about me.  Do I consider myself 'a friend of God'?  I'd like to give you a quick 'yes.'  But, honestly, I don't know that God considers ME a friend.  There have been times in the past when I've felt God's burdens for people, (on a small scale, I'm sure, but I have felt His burdens and His pain in some instances) but not for a while.  I want my relationship with God to grow to the extent that He can trust me enough to share what He's thinking about with the extent that I'm not so wrapped up in myself that I can't hear what God wants to say.  How about you?
Once, when I wasn't feeling God's presence, I was at the altar and I began crying out and accusing God.  "You said You'd never leave me or forsake me!  You said You'd love me forever! You're supposed to be like a loving Father, to the extent that even if I turn away from You, You'll never turn from me!  You said You'd never leave me no matter what!" Etcetera, etcetera.  Then all of a sudden, this gentle thought dropped in my head.  "You once said that about Me."  And I stopped.  It was true.  There were times in moments of rapture at God's presence, when I had said similar things to God.  Even if He forsook me, I should keep loving Him.  And this verse came to me, also in John.  Joh 14:28 Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.  The disciples at this point were focused on themselves, because THEY were going to suffer when Jesus left.  But Jesus says, "If you loved me, you would rejoice..."  True love is wanting the other person's good more than your own.  Placing them above yourself.  The same is true with God.  To be a true friend of God...our focus has to be on Him and what His plans are.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Scene from Jesus' Childhood

Have you ever wondered what Jesus' childhood was like?  No...??  Well, I have...  All we know from the gospels is how he was born and a short incident in the temple when he was 12.  Other than that, it's silent until he's like 30!  What was going on?  We know that he was human in all points like we are, so he probably had a fairly "normal" childhood going through all the stuff children normally go through.  But we also know that he was without sin!  So he was a sinless child!  That's quite a concept!  Well, I was reading in a history book one day about a town being built close to Nazareth during the time when Jesus would have been growing up.  The book said that Joseph, as a carpenter, would have likely had lots of work there.  So it captured my imagination, and just for fun, I wrote this conversation between Jesus and Joseph which I'm going to share with you...
(p.s. I couldn't decide whether to use Jesus or Yeshua, and the result is that I use both, and it doesn't really make sense, but just bear with me.  And don't judge me to harshly...I don't consider this my finest work or anything.  And it's not that exciting...just a conversation between him and Joseph.  Okay, I'm done with the disclaimers.)

Joseph pounded away with his hammer, beads of sweat forming on his forehead underneath the strap holding his head covering in place.  He stopped, and motioned for the water flask, which Jesus handed to him.  Closing his eyes, he took a long drink, and listened to the sounds of Sepphoris clamoring all around him.  The murmur of conversation, and haggling going on in a nearby marketplace.  The sounds of the construction project they were working on.  He heard the distinct bray of a donkey, and the plod of camels' hooves, as a caravan passed by.  A man called out in a foreign language to a friend.  A Roman's chariot drove by, going at a quick pace.
Joseph finished his swig, and opened his eyes, wiping his mouth.  As he handed the flask back to Jesus, some Gentile women with heavy make-up, and uncovered heads walked by, making provocative gestures, jewelry jangling from their wrists.  A few of the Jewish men on the job stopped working to watch the seductive show.  One of them sidled up to them, and made a lewd comment.
Joseph shook his head in disgust, and turned back to his work.  "Yeshua, you know how important it is for the Jews to stay away from Gentile affairs, particularly in marriage."  Joseph looked pointedly at him.
Jesus was looking sadly at the man talking to the women.  "Haven't they read, 'Do not give your daughters to their sons, nor take your sons for their daughters?'  Don't they know it will turn their hearts away?"  He paused.  Then with a softer voice said, "Like Solomon."
Joseph raised his eyebrows at his son.  His knowledge and the way he retained Scriptures never ceased to amaze him.  Though he taught the boy as much as he knew, Jesus seemed to grasp so much more than the carpenter thought possible.  And the way he had said 'Solomon', just was almost as though he knew Solomon personally, and was lamenting the king's poor choices, rather than talking about a dead king he'd heard about from the Tanahk.
Joseph shook his head, and kept hammering.  "And you know, son, even within our own people, there's cause for caution.  We're different...our family is set apart."  He grunted as he pounded in the last nail, and reached for the next piece of timber.  "We're of the Davidic line.  Which means we're the great king's descendants.  And we have to keep the royal bloodline pure."  He turned and looked at Jesus' bright eyes boring into him, and added, "So when you look for a wife, son, be sure to look for a good woman of the tribe of Judah."
He smiled and motioned for the pouch of nails.  Jesus bent down to grab it.  The thought crossed Joseph's mind that he should possibly lighten up the conversation.  "What kind of woman would you like to marry, hmm?  You're getting closer to that age."
Jesus shook his head solemnly, as he handed Joseph a handful of nails.  "I must be about my Father's business."
Joseph laughed.  "Well now, you can be a carpenter and still get married.  Why, look at me.  You don't have to devote all your time to work, you know."  He grinned at Jesus.
The boy cocked his head to one side, and a smile touched the corners of his mouth.  Then he turned, and his eye seemed to catch something. "What is that building?" he asked, pointing to a structure behind them.
Well, I guess he's done with that conversation, Joseph thought, slightly amused.  He glanced over to see what Jesus was talking about then grimaced.  "Ah, that's one of the towers being built for Herod Antipas' new palace."  He turned back to his work.
"Why is it only half-finished when the other buildings around it are completed?" Jesus asked.
Joseph grunted, steadying the beam he was working on.  "Because the builders didn't count the cost.  Didn't have enough funds to finish it.  You'd think if a king has enough sense to plan out his army going to war, he'd plan out the cost of his extravagant palace.  But no.  That tower's become a laughingstock among the people."
Jesus nodded.  "We should count the cost in our lives too, shouldn't we?"
Joseph looked quizzically at him.
Jesus smiled, and hopped down from the ledge he was sanding to help Joseph hold the beam in place.  "Some men don't marry for the kingdom of heaven's sake, because they count the cost of their lives.  He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."  He smiled, and added, "You know, the angels in heaven don't marry, and they get along just fine."
The beam tipped a little, and Joseph caught it, as he chuckled at the boy's insight.  "I suppose so."
Jesus continued, "but you know the wife I would want? I would want her to be pure, undefiled, and unspotted.  A chaste virgin.  Holy, and without blemish."  Suddenly, Jesus lowered his head, and murmured, "Not a treacherous harlot...with a whore's forehead."
Joseph looked at him sharply, in surprise.  "Now, what in HaShem's name made you say that?!"
Jesus didn't answer, but reached for another hammer, and pounded in the last nail on the other side of the beam, then returned to the ledge he had been sanding.
Joseph's eyes trailed after the child.  He seemed to remember similar language to what the boy had said in the prophet Jeremiah's writings.  But surely the child hadn't been thinking of that!  Sometimes the things he said astonished him.  Other times he couldn't make sense of them.  There certainly was something different about this boy.  The one the angel spoke of...

Monday, September 5, 2011


This may be appropriate for Labor Day since it's a day to honor the "social and economic achievements of workers." Or it may be entirely inappropriate, depending on how you look at it.  You see, this is a thought God has been dealing with me about lately through various means, but it's a sticky subject because while IT is a good thing, IT can be very bad if your motive is wrong.  I know that's kind of a cryptic way to start, (particularly since you may not know what IT is), but hopefully I'll be a little clearer as I go on.
I thought I would open this blog post with these verses.
James 4:13-16  Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:  (14)  Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.  (15)  For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.  (16)  But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.
Over the last few weeks, I have been reading two amazing books that were written in the 1800's by someone called E.D.E.N Southworth, titled Ishmael and Self Raised.  And I'm not just saying they were amazing because I'm interning with the publishing company who republished them!  (Although, if you do want to buy them, you could go to and use my code, GUILD02, in the promo code box so I get credit. ;) haha just kidding about the credit thing, but seriously, you should look into finding these books somehow and reading them.)
In these books there is a lot of great, life-changing material, with admirable character role models, but to keep this relevant to my post, there was one character in particular that struck me, not as a role model, but as someone you SHOULDN'T follow.  The character's name was Claudia and in the book, she is part of a high class in society and has everything a girl could want, but she still wants more.  She wants to marry into an even higher class of society.  And so she consents to marry someone she doesn't love, even though there's someone else of a lower class but of a higher character whom she really cares for, just for the sake of the title this man can give her.  Now bear with me through this soap-opera-sounding explanation.  There's a particular scene in which just before the wedding Claudia goes to her cousin and confesses the state of mind in which she is doing it.  Her cousin begs and urges her not to go through with the marriage, but Claudia is determined and in the course of the conversation she says: "I must fulfill my destiny....I am in the power of the whirlpool or the demon."  Her cousin is horrified, and answers, "The name of the demon is Ambition, Claudia; and the name of the whirlpool is Ruin."  And Claudia responds, "Yes! it is ambition that possesses my very soul.  None other but the sins by which angels fell would have power to draw my soul from heaven."  Now, as you read the entire scene, which is much more heart-wrenching than the few lines I've shared here, especially since you already feel for the characters so much by this point of the book, (but I had a reason for sharing those particular lines); but as you read, your heart is screaming at Claudia to stop what she's doing.  Her total deprivation in her resolution seems so obvious, and it seems so clear that what she should do is lay aside her ambition and do what's right!  The reader can see that what she's after is so fleeting and temporal, and what she's giving up is so essential and eternal!  And yet, ambition seems to have such a strong hold on her!  I won't tell you, of course, whether or not she actually marries the guy, because that would spoil the book for you!  (I've probably already given away too much!)  But this scene left an impression on my mind, and I wanted to share it with you to make my point.
So coming back to the point, I was mowing the lawn the other day, which is a great reprieve a lot of times in my day, because it's so boring and gives me a chance to just think about things, but I was thinking of Claudia and the scene with ambition.   Now, while I was reading the scene, I certainly didn't identify myself with Claudia!  In fact, I thought she was acting idiotically, and I couldn't believe she was doing it!  (Yes, I get into my books.)  I rarely identify myself with the characters who mess things up...(I usually try to see myself as the hero, you know).  But as different thoughts were going through my head, God convicted me.   One of the reasons I've been writing so much about prayer is because I have been lacking in prayer over the last few months, and I've felt a revived sense of urgency to pray.  But these last couple months have been extremely busy for me!  I have been traveling all over, competing in the national Bible Quizzing tournament in Ohio, attending the Lamplighter Guild in New York, finishing up high school, starting college, helping out with various programs at my church, doing odd jobs to get a little bit of money, etc., etc.,.  And I started to realize how self-centered my focus has been.  I have had certain goals in my mind all summer...the Lamplighter Guild, Nationals, etc.  This is the time in my life when I'm beginning college, thinking about my career, preparing for my future.  And the word 'my' has been very prominent in what I've been doing.  In my head, I rationalize it, in that I'll be able to do great things for God once I attain these goals...but there are times and places where I can see that in my spirit, Ambition was rearing it's ugly head.
Let me define what I mean by 'Ambition' before I go any farther. has two definitions of Ambition that I want to point out.


an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment: Too much ambition caused him to be disliked by his colleagues.
desire for work or activity; energy: I awoke feeling tired and utterly lacking in ambition.

The first kind of ambition is the kind Claudia represents in my mind.  The second definition is the kind that is desirable to have.  It's the kind that Proverbs talks about over and over and over.  "Seest thou a man diligent in his business?  he shall stand before kings."   Interestingly, it's also personified in another character in the book, the hero, Ishmael Worth.  (We know he's the hero, because that's who the author named the book after.)  Ishmael is born in very, very humble circumstances, but through hard work, honesty, perseverance, and dedication he rises to a position of greatness.  This is also ambition--he desired this position and worked hard to get it.  But there's a difference between the ambitions of Ishmael and Claudia.  I'm drawn to the one and repelled by the other.  Why?  I believe it's because of the other striking thing about Ishmael, which is his servant's heart.  He is constantly serving others, and thinking of others and God's righteous causes before his own.  Several examples of this are given in the book which I won't give away, but I believe that this is the fundamental difference in the two types of ambition.  My pastor preached about it this last Sunday.  We are supposed to have ambition and work hard and be diligent...but the end result is supposed to be to glorify God and be about our Father's business.  Our attitude isn't supposed to be that we are working hard to achieve great things for ourselves!  But that we're working hard to glorify God and to serve others.  We must have the same attitude as John the Baptist-- "He must increase; I must decrease."
Claudia's ambition was to gain great fame and attention and wealth and prestige for herself.  Ishmael's was to attain a great station so that he could serve God and others.
We must humble ourselves in the sight of God.  I talked about this in my last post, but it bears repeating because it is such an important concept in God's kingdom.  When we are out to please and glorify ourselves, the result is that we will do the opposite.  Two passages of Scripture really bear this out to me.  Proverbs 16:18-19  Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.  (19)  Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.  And Jesus' words in Luke 14:11  For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
So as I begin this internship with Lamplighter, and work to get my college degree, and study for Bible Quizzing for next year, and develop relationships with people, and teach Bible studies, and get involved with a theater group, and attend an apprenticeship weekend, the Lord is reminding me: don't be about yourself.  Focus on God.  It is better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud because that's where God is at.  And I don't want to enter the Promised Land and not have the Presence of God go up with me.
One last passage of Scripture before I quit.  (Of course, you can stop reading at any time, but I'll try to keep my explanation short anyway.)  I read this the other day in the book of Jeremiah.  It's a short chapter...just five verses, and it's addressed to Baruch, who was kind of like Jeremiah's secretary.  But the last verse has a very profound, simple, important message.  The land is about to be destroyed because of Judah's sins, and God is very angry and grieved with the people of Israel.  So God is doing a work in the land, and yet it seems like Baruch is just thinking of himself and his ruined plans.  He's upset because God has brought about grief and sorrow in his life.  (That's true for us many times, too.  We get upset at God when we suffer, even if we know it's part of His plan.)  And at the end of the chapter God asks him, "Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not."  I believe that applies to us as well.  And God's reason when He speaks to Baruch is that more intense suffering is coming on the land.  But if we have the spirit of John the Baptist, like I talked about earlier, or the Apostle Peter when he writes about their attitude of rejoicing in suffering in 1 Peter...then it won't matter that our plans to prosper ourselves were foiled.  Because it's not about seeking great things for ourselves.  It's about seeking Him.  And if you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these things shall be added unto you.  I'll close out with a few verses from 1 Peter, and that last Scripture in Jeremiah, but I strongly encourage you to read the whole chapters.  (Come on, the one from Jeremiah is only 5 verses!  And 1 Peter is just awesome.)  I know God has been dealing with me about this stuff.  Maybe it's a good reminder for someone else who's reading this, too.
Jeremiah 45:5  And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the LORD: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest.
1Peter 4:1-2  Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;  (2)  That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God....1Peter 4:11  If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
1Pe 5:5-6  Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.  (6)  Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:

God bless you.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Meaningful, Life-changing Entertainment

Just so everyone knows, ('everyone' meaning all 2 people who look at this blog, haha) but I am going to begin a marketing internship with Lamplighter publishing, and I thought I would start by at least putting up a link to the website so that people can go to it.  In the next few days I'll put up a post about why I believe in Lamplighter's ministry so much that I'll work for them for free!  (Well, the experience is priceless, but you get my point.)  Check out Lamplighter's website!
They have just released two brand-new, high-quality radio dramas called Teddy's Button (Lamplighter's #1 best-selling book), and Sir Knight of the Splendid Way (which is an allegory many say is even better than Pilgrim's Progress!).  These audio dramas are on the same quality level as Adventures in Odyssey and Radio Theater from Focus on the Family for those of you who know what those are.
These books and dramas are life-changing, and I highly encourage you to check them out.
I was going to put up a promo too, but couldn't figure out how to get it into my blog post, so just go listen to it. :)

God is Drawn to Humility

Continuing along my prayer thoughts...
I know I've been quoting a lot from Luke, but Luke does talk a lot about prayer. (Or recorded a lot of talk about prayer, I guess.)  And I was noticing that prayer seems to be kind of a central theme in chapter 18.  Throughout the chapter different points were standing out to me.  I touched on the first one in my last post.  The second one I notice is very clearly demonstrated in the next parable Jesus tells.
Two guys go up to the temple to pray.  (Remember the theme is prayer.)  One of them is a Pharisee.  This is someone who has studied the law to the extent that he's part of a particular group.  He knows what he's talking about Scripturally, and he leads a pretty good life.  He doesn't commit a lot of the "concrete" sins like adultery, murder, extortion, drugs, sex, and rock 'n' roll, (ha sorry had to throw that in) and people can look at him and see that he's trying to live a pure life.  The other guy is a publican.  He's part of a hated class of people, and he likely has committed some of these sins!  Extortion was a particularly common problem for publicans to have.  They have two different lives, but both come with different attitudes, and I believe if either had had the other's attitude, their results would have been different accordingly (yeah try to dissect that sentence).
The Pharisee walks up and says, "God, I thank thee, that I am not as..." *casts a side-glance to publican and sniffs before clearing throat and piously returning to praying* "...other men are.  Extortioners, unjust, adulterers.  Or even as...this...*spits out word*...publican." *wraps robes around him, and strides to another column, lifting his hand in the air haughtily*  "I fast twice in the week, (Tuesdays and Thursdays, you know).  I give tithes of all that I possess."
Whereas the publican doesn't even feel worthy to come as close to God's seat as the Pharisee does, but stands afar off, and won't even look up to heaven, but smites his chest and says, "God, be merciful to me...a sinner."
Then Jesus says that this man went to his house justified, rather than the other!  The publican, who likely had committed the "concrete" sins we were talking about went to his house justified, rather than the publican who didn't commit these "concrete" sins but did all these great things.  Why?  Because of the way they approached God in prayer.  I said in my last post that it's hard to be a hypocrite when you pray in secret.  I still think there's an element of truth to that.  But I should be careful about making a blanket statement like that.  I've been learning that even when praying, there's a certain attitude you have to have toward yourself and God in order to get God's attention.
God is drawn to humility!  Some of my favorite verses in the Bible have to do with this concept.  Psalm 51:16-17 is something I'll occasionally pray and it says, "For thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offerings.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken, and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."  It says He won't despise that kind of spirit!  Something draws Him to it.  1 Peter 5:5 says to the younger Christians to submit themselves to the elder Christians, and to be clothed with humility, then gives this reason: "for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble."  I love that.  It's beautiful. The reason is that God desires us to completely depend on Him.  HE's the one who will exalt us in due time.  He wants us to cast all our care upon Him, for He cares for us!  C.S. Lewis wrote something really profound about pride in Mere Christianity, and I wish I could remember exactly what he said, but the gist of it is that the reason God hates pride so much is that the very nature is of competition.  When we are prideful, in a sense, we are trying to compete with God.  And His glory can't be competed with.  He loves humility because we are casting ourselves at His feet and admitting that we can't do anything to save ourselves, but have to depend on Him.  And that's when He's able to work.
Jesus gives a visual example right after he told the parable I was talking about earlier, when little children are being brought to Jesus and the disciples try to get rid of them.  But Jesus stops them and says, "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein."  He points them to the humblest member of society--a little child, and tells them that's the same attitude we have to have when approaching God.
In prayer, God is drawn to humility, because humility is just honest.  Seriously.  Think about it.  Where is boasting?  It is excluded.  If we have an inflated opinion of ourselves, we're just deceiving ourselves.  It's not the way things are.  In reality, if we were really faced with the glory of God like Isaiah was, like he did we would fall to our face and cry, "Woe is me, for I am undone!"  The fact is we ARE nothing.  We really AREN'T anything...without Him.  The first thing on the list of the 7 things God hates is a proud look.  When we come before God, we must come with humility.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Prayers not Players

"Minister who do not spend two hours a day in prayer are not worth a dime a dozen, degrees or no degrees."  Yikes.  Rough words from an old preacher named Leonard Ravenhill.  It shows a striking contrast to my own prayer life.  And it seems like most of the world has my mentality of five minute fasts rather than incessant interceding.  Okay, I was trying to alliterate, which didn't work out so well, but you get my point.
I want to challenge a statement I seem to hear often in youth groups or Bible studies.  "It's okay if you only pray for 5 minutes or read 2 verses, as long as you do it consistently."  On a certain level, that's true, and I get what people who make that statement are trying to say.  They want to promote consistency, which is great.  But praying for 5 minutes won't get you past all the carnality that you've been thinking about for the rest of the 23 hours and 55 minutes in the day. (Okay, minus sleep time for you technical folks out there.) Those two verses you read can't be adequately received unless they're taken in context and studied!  God wants us to spend quality AND quantity time with Him.  How will we get to know Him better if we don't spend more time with Him?
It's interesting...almost all the examples of prayer you have in the Bible have to do with not stopping.  And I'm not just talking about "Pray without ceasing."  Let's take a look at a few.  In Luke (you can tell I've been studying Luke) chapter 18 verse 1, it says that Jesus spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint.  The story he tells is about an old unjust judge who doesn't care what anyone thinks, including God!  He's not interested in the opinions of others whatsoever.  And then there's a widow lady.  Can you imagine this poor lady who because of her position is being taken advantage of?  Who knows what her adversary was doing to her...maybe afflicting her financially or emotionally or whatever but something was being done that required justice.  So this lady gets up her courage to go to the judge.  Timidly, she comes before him, and presents her request...and is turned away.  Now what would we do in that situation?  "Oh, I guess my problem can't be solved.  If the judge won't listen to me, nobody will!"  Not this widow lady.  She persists in constantly going back and bugging the judge over and over and over again about the same thing!  And finally, not because of any righteousness on his part, but because he's tired of dealing with her, he grants her request!  So Jesus tells this story, then says, "Check out what the unjust judge says."  This is a guy who wouldn't fear God or regard man!  And if even he responded to this poor lady's petition after she kept coming to him over and over, "shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?" (emphasis mine.)  What I get out of this story is that prayer is supposed to be persistent.  Pressing.  Continual.  God doesn't want us to give up, just because we don't hear anything from Him, or we don't get an answer right away!  In the next verse, Jesus says, "I tell you, he will avenge them speedily.  Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?"  Consistent prayer requires faithfulness.  If we really believe God and we trust Him and are faithful to Him, we will continue in constant prayer.  Remember, we're not supposed to have faith in faith, as my pastor always says.  We're supposed to have faith in God, which means that we trust Him whether our prayers are automatically answered or not.
Jesus gives another example in Luke chapter 11, along the same lines!  His disciples ask him how to pray, and he teaches them, then gives them the example of a guy going to his friends house at midnight for some bread, and banging on the door, even though his friend's kids are in bed and his friend doesn't want to get up, till the guy finally comes and answers.
One more example and I'm done. (This one's actually not in Luke!) Elijah was one of the greatest prophets who ever lived, and James uses him as an example to us, to show us that prayer works.  "Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months."  James is saying that Elijah was human just like us, but because he prayed earnestly, things happened.  The next verse says, "And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth brought forth her fruit."  We actually have an account of this in 1 Kings chapter 18.  It says that after fire came down from heaven and the prophets of Baal were killed and stuff, Elijah told Ahab that there was the sound of abundance of rain.  There had been a drought for three years, and there probably wasn't a cloud in the sky when Elijah said this!  But he goes up to the top of the mountain, and he puts his face between his knees, and he begins to pray.  Then he tells his servant to go look toward the sea, and the servant goes and looks, and comes back and says, "There is nothing."  A lot of times that's how it seems when we pray.  Nothing.  Isn't weird how hard our flesh fights against praying?  What's the big deal?  You're setting aside time to talk to God.  But it can be so hard to do!  And this is one of the excuses I'll throw out.  "There is nothing."  Why should I pray if I don't feel God?  Why should I pray if He's not listening to me anyway?  But look at Elijah's response.  He doesn't say, "Well, I put my 5 minutes in, we'll see what happens."  He says, "Go again."  And he prays again.  The servant comes back, and there's nothing.  Elijah sends him back out and prays.  This happens 7 times!  Then finally, on the seventh time, the servant comes back and reports, "I see a little cloud out of the sea, like a man's hand."  That was enough for Elijah.
The point that I see here is to pray consistently and incessantly.  Prayer is more than a ritual or presenting God with a wishlist.  It's communicating with the King of the universe!  That may sound cliche, but it's very true.  My heart is convicting me because of my lack of prayer.  It's one of the simplest things in Christianity!  The most fundamental, basic thing: pray.  Yet, I think there are a lot of people who don't do it!  Corrie ten Boom once said, "Don't pray when you FEEL like it.  Make an appointment with God, and keep it!"  We can get so caught up in all the other stuff that we miss this basic weapon.  One time I told a preacher I couldn't figure out God's will for my life and I wasn't sure what to do, and he asked me the most simple question.  "Are you praying?"  Ha!  Well, of course I'm...uh...praying.  But it hit me.  I really had slacked off on getting up early in the morning and praying.  You mean I have to pray to figure out what God's will is?!  Maybe!  It might help!  The great thing about prayer is that it tests how real you are.  I'm not talking about praying at church or a convention or the dinner table.  Another thing Leonard Ravenhill said is that the secret to prayer is secret prayer.  (Matt. 6:5-6)  You can preach, teach Bible studies, sing, attend church, give money and still not have the anointing of God...but it's hard to be a hypocrite when you pray in secret.
And that's all I have to say!  I'll probably be posting more about prayer in the next few weeks, because I think it's a big deal.  Later!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Glory and Suffering

Two seemingly incompatible words.  Glory and suffering.  Yet, I've been learning they seem to be inseperably linked.
Think about the stories we love the most.  Usually they are the ones about people who have overcome insurmountable obstacles, been tested and tried, discouraged and disillusioned, and yet somehow still succeed.  We love the stories about little ragamuffin orphaned chimney sweeps who somehow rise to a place of position in the king's palace, or people who start from the bottom and work their way to the top, but what kind of success story is someone who says, "Yeah, I have an amazing story.  I inherited a billion dollars from my dead grandma and now I'm living in ease and luxury!"?  Boring!
Glory is most clearly revealed in the darkest circumstances.  For example, if a sports team beats another competitor with no problem or struggle, it's not really that big of a deal.  But if the team has struggled through the entire season, and barely make it to the most important game, and starts out by losing point after point till its almost impossible to come back, but then by some incredible odds they begin making an amazing comeback, and the best players are being hurt, and then at the last possible second someone makes an awe-inspiring pass and wins the game...those are the kind of glory stories we love!
And yet...we (meaning I) seem to constantly want glory without suffering.  The disciples of Jesus had the same problem, and I was really noticing this contrast between glory and suffering in Luke chapter 9 at our Bible study the other night.  Let me set the stage for you: Jesus has appeared on the scene and called his disciples, choosing twelve specific men out of all his followers to be his disciples.  He has been doing incredible miracles, healing the sick, casting out demons, even raising the dead and calming storms!  I can imagine the disciples are beginning to get pretty excited.  This could be a really good deal.  Maybe this really is the promised messiah we've all been waiting for, who will drive out the Romans and establish the kingdom of Israel to its rightful place again!  Not only that, but these twelve were in his inside group.  At the beginning of chapter 9, Jesus sends out his twelve disciples to do what he'd been doing and gives them power and authority over demons and to cure diseases.  This even attracts the attention of King Herod.  Things are going very well.  Then when the disciples get back, Jesus performs the miracle of feeding the 5,000 with only five loaves and two fishes! Fish. Fishes. Whatever.  Can you imagine what the disciples are thinking?  Here's a guy who can feed an army out of nothing!  This is great!
Then in the middle of all this, Jesus brings things to a screeching halt.  He takes his disciples out to this place where Luke says he is alone praying, and then asks them, "Whom do men say that I am?"  The disciples begin throwing out all the different theories, then Jesus asks, "But whom say ye that I am?"  Peter answers, "You're the Christ of God!"  Then Jesus does an odd thing. (At least, I thought it was odd when I read it.)  He tells them not to tell anybody!  Putting myself in the disciples shoes, I'd probably be thinking, "What?  Isn't that the whole reason you're here?  Shouldn't we be proclaiming to everyone who you are?" 
A similar thing happened in chapter 8.  A twelve-year old girl is dead, and Jesus brings her back to life.  Then he tells the parents not to tell anybody what happened!  When I first read that, I was thinking, "What?!  Sure, that'll be easy.  'Hey, wasn't your daughter just dying?  Now she's running around and eating food and stuff as healthy as ever! What happened?' ''m not allowed to tell you...'  Why would he tell them not to tell anybody?"  But now...(and I may be wrong about this, so don't stone me all you theologians) I think maybe he was trying to teach his disciples something about glory. 
So back to chapter 9.  He tells them not to tell anybody, then he throws another curveball in verse 22.  He says, "The Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected of the chief priests and elders and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day."  Then he says, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whosoever shall save his life shall lose it and whosever will lose his life for my sake shall find it."  This totally goes against our grain!  The disciples are thinking of all the glory of this coming Messiah, and now Jesus says if anybody wants to follow him, they have to deny themselves and take up their cross.  That sure doesn't sound glorious.  I think there are still people today who want to follow Jesus for the glory, but he says, if we want to follow him, we have to deny ourselves and suffer.
The next thing that happens in the chapter is the mount of transfiguration.  Clearly a moment where Jesus peels back the wrapper and shows them His glory!  But even there, Luke includes a detail not mentioned in the other gospels.  Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus in glory and talked about his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.  In glory, they were talking about his decease!  So here's a glory moment to cap all glory moments, then they come down the mountain and Jesus casts out a demon none of his disciples could cast out to top it off.  But even while they're all standing there marvelling at the mighty power of God, it's as if Jesus cautions them by saying, "Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men."  And they still don't get it.  The next part cracks me up.  The disciples obviously don't get it because they began arguing about who's the greatest!  First of all, Jesus has been trying to show them humility throughout this whole thing, and second, you'd think they would have learned some humility when they couldn't cast out the demon!  But Jesus patiently teaches them again.  Then we have two more examples, of John specifically, forbidding a guy from casting out a demon because he wasn't part of their group, and then he and his brother wanting to call down fire from heaven because some Samaritans wouldn't give them a hotel room! 
You can tell where the disciples’ minds are at...and Jesus continues to constantly correct and instruct them.  The chapter climaxes with three accounts of people willing to follow Jesus but under certain conditions.  The first man says, “Lord, I will follow you withersoever you go!”  Now, I may be reading into the text, but based on Jesus’ answer to him, I’m guessing he didn’t really realize what he was saying.  Maybe he was just in it for the glory?  But Jesus tells him, “Look you can follow me, but you’ll be homeless, worse off than animals.” (Paraphrased, of course.)  The same type of thing with the next two.  They were willing to follow Jesus and share in his glory, but only on their terms.  But Jesus calls us to total commitment.  “If we suffer we shall also reign with him.  If we deny him he also will deny us.”  This chapter was full of examples contrasting suffering and glory, and the disciples just couldn’t seem to grasp it.  But we know that Peter finally did because in his first letter he writes, “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations; that the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Glory and suffering are linked.  And in living for God, you can’t have one without the other.