Posts Tagged ‘Love’

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“THE LAW IS THE LAW” – April 4

April 4, 2013

“Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall!  Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Acts 23:3

Scales of Justice Brisbane Courts-1=A week ago, I participated in a mediation process on behalf of my company to try and settle a dispute.  Mediation is a strange process.  The adversaries are isolated in separate rooms and the mediator moves back and forth between the rooms in an attempt to resolve the dispute.  However, there is no real resolution.  The core of mediation is an attempt by the mediator to find a compromise at which both parties are willing to let go of the dispute.  There is no determination of right or wrong.  There is no judgment rendered.  There are a variety of issues that come into play; the strength of the case, what can be proven, the cost of litigation, the provable damages, the duration of litigation, etc.  There comes a point in the mediation when you are no longer talking about the issues of the dispute.  You are merely talking about money.  Mediation is the calculation of tangible and intangible costs measured against risk.

Mediation is not justice.

I am not an attorney and I have never pondered very deeply about the law.  However, I have always correlated the law with justice.  I have held that somehow the laws passed by representative governments ensure justice for its citizens.  My latest experience with injustice (from my perspective) and the law has caused me to take a slightly more jaded view of the law.  One of my attorneys told me, after a particularly eloquent rant about the injustice of my whole situation, that I was trying to get the law to be something that it is not.  The law is not justice.

The law is the law.

The law is a tool.  There are some things that the law can be used for.  There are some things that it cannot be used for.  The law can be used with good intentions and it can be used with bad intentions.  The law can be a shield and it can be a sword.

I think that many people have a similar misconception about God’s law.

They think that their justification is in keeping the law.  The law is not justification.

They think that their sanctification is in keeping the law.  The law is not sanctification.

The law is the law.

God’s law is a tool.

“Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.” (Galatians 3:19)

So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”  (Galatians 3:24-25)

God’s law was given to us as a guardian to train us, pointing out sin and punishing it.  The condemnation that the law was pointing out is now removed from those who are in Christ Jesus.  There is no punishment from the law for those in Christ.  We still have God’s law to help train us.  It still points out sin.  However, the law is the law.  The law does not save.  The law does not remove our condemnation.

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4)

We get into trouble when we start to expect the law to be something that it is not.  We get into more trouble when we use the law in ways that it was never intended.  Paul was struck by a man who was wielding the law like a sword.  Yet, he violated the very same law in his zealous effort to protect the law.  The “whitewashed wall,” as Paul called him, believed that the law was something that it was not.

Obey the Law of God and State

Obey the Law of God and State (Photo credit: Frank DeFreitas)

I wonder how often we are similar whitewashed walls when we live in accordance to our stringent list of “do’s and don’ts.”  Are we living as if our pious performance is achieving something that it can never do?  Many people believe that they will make it to heaven because they hope that their “good deeds” will out-weigh their “bad deeds” on the grand scale of God’s law.  That is a false hope because it is expecting the law to be something that it is not. The law is the law.  It is a tool to point us to the true source of salvation, Christ Jesus.

We need to examine why we are living in obedience to God’s commandments.  Is your obedience coming from a heart that wholly loves your Lord and Savior as a gift or is it coming as an obligation from an unwilling mind that is doing what it must?

Obedience from a grateful heart is an expression of love. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)  Obedience is an expression of love.

Obedience as a duty has an expectation of the law that it can never be.  That sort of obedience leads only to other sins – pride, not loving our neighbor, gossip, hate, coveting, etc.

The law is the law. Jesus Christ fulfilled the law.  Our hope is in Him and Him alone.

What are your expectations of your adherence to the law?

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for freeing us from the law.  Thank you for using it as a tool to show me my sin and my need for a Savior.  Lord, may my obedience be a pleasing fragrance to You.  Examine my heart and my motivation for all that I do.  May my keeping of your commandments be a demonstration of my love for You.  Keep me from sinning in my obedience.  Grant me a heart that is undivided and a willing mind that serves You in gratitude and love.  Amen

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WHO IS YOUR COUNSELOR? – Feb. 16

February 16, 2013

“But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsel. Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! Psalm 81:11-13

When I was young, I could not wait to grow up.  I remember day dreaming about the time when I could have my own things and make my own decisions.  I felt very constrained as a child.  My parents decided when and where we would go.  They decided what I would eat and what I would wear.  They decided what activities that I was allowed to be involved in.  They made my work schedule.  They treated me as a child when I wanted to be treated as an adult.  I could not wait to be an adult and to experience the associated freedoms.

I realize now that I had a wonderful childhood.  I would not want to change any of it.  My parents loved me and nurtured me.  I am deeply grateful for the childhood that they gave me.  Yet, I still wanted to grow-up even though I had a wonderful childhood.

Adulthood was my escape.  In adulthood, I would be allowed to make my own decisions.  It was not that my parents were poor decision makers.  They made very good decisions.  I just wanted to make my own decisions.  However, it was never about decisions.  My desire for adulthood was rooted in control.  I wanted to be free to do what I wanted to do.

Adulthood has not turned out to be as magical as I had thought.  The freedom of making my own decisions is not as liberating as I thought it would be.  Escaping the shackles of my parents has only revealed the heavier yoke of adulthood.

I never realized the weight of adult uncertainty until I became an adult.  I had always thought that adults just did whatever they wanted to do.  I now know that is not true.  Adults have to do a lot of things that they don’t particularly care to do.

I had always thought that adults just knew the right thing to do.  I think that is one of the greatest ruses that adults play on children.  I always thought my parents knew what they were doing.   They did not.  They were figuring it out as they went along.  I have come to realize that clarity does not accompany adulthood.  We all are doing the best we can with the information and resources that we have available to us.

Bible Study 2

Bible Study 2 (Photo credit: DrGBB)

Just as my childish view of adulthood revealed my desire for control, how you view the Bible reveals your attitude about God.

There are many people who view the Bible as a book of “don’ts”.  They view it like a child views his parent.  It is a book that is removing their freedom. It is a book that tells them what they can’t do and what they have to do.  It is a book that treats them like children when all they want to be is an adult.  That sort of attitude can lead to day-dreaming about activities and a life free from those oppressive constraints.  Many have felt that if they were just free to follow their own counsel then they would be happy and satisfied.

The refusal to walk in the ways of the Lord is not about decisions it is about a heart battling for control.  We want to do what we want to do.

How do we know what is the right thing to do?  We all have a choice.  We can either follow our own counsel or the counsel of God to decide what the right thing is.

My counsel comes from me.  I don’t know anything beyond my experience.  Therefore, my counsel is an undulating wave of feelings and convictions evolving from my attempt to figure this world out as I am passing through it.  My counsel involves trial and error.  It requires me to make to decisions on how the universe works that I can’t know.  My counsel speculates what the future holds with multiple layers of assumptions and inferences.

My counsel is a guess,  biased by a stubborn heart.

God’s counsel is from the One who created this world.  He is the One who knows the purposes and meanings of this world.  He is the author of this world’s purposes and meaning.  God knows all that happens. He is in control of all creation; taking it along His divine plan.  God’s counsel entails the most complete and deepest understanding of the past, present, and future.

God’s counsel is the most reliable source of guidance available to us because He has a perfect understanding and knowledge of all things.

Why would anyone choose their own counsel?

A stubborn heart has a deleterious effect on our decision-making.   A stubborn heart will elevate our own counsel because that will get it what it ultimately wants.  A stubborn heart demands the freedom of selfish pursuits just like a child can long for adulthood.  The achievement that perceived control is merely a life of eternal insecurity because it is inevitably based on a heart that is trying to figure it out.  Clarity and certainty is impossible. There will come a day for all people when they realize that they are still subject to the requirements of this world.  Just like adults don’t get to do whatever they want to do, this world has consequences for the actions of every person.  It doesn’t matter what we day-dream the world to be like.  Reality has a way of waking us up.

When it comes to the knowledge of this spiritual universe, I am a child.  I can’t figure out how it works on my own.  I don’t want to rely on my day-dreams of what I hope it will be like.  I need a trustworthy Counselor.  I have a Father in heaven who loves me and knows how to give me good things.  He has given me His counsel.  Why would I reject His counsel?  Why would I think that I could know better than Him?

We need to cling to the good counsel of our God even when we really don’t like what it might be saying.  Don’t trust your feelings.  The discomfort that we may feel from God’s counsel is merely the abrasion of a stubborn heart; a stubborn heart that needs to be daily worn down by the Gospel.  It is the Gospel that softens our stubborn hearts and creates a desire for God’s word and a disdain for the contrary counsel of this world and our own mind.

Whose counsel will you seek this day?

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for not leaving us on our own.  Thank you for providing us with your Word and giving us your Counsel.  Forgive me for acting like I know better.  Forgive me for not following your Word like I know that I should.  You have given it to me for my good.  It is a wonderful gift.  Father, I delight in you Word; write it upon my heart.  Weave your counsel into every part of my life.     Amen

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LOVE OF YOUR LIFE – Feb. 14

February 14, 2013

“So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done.” I Kings 11:6

Education is the answer to our society’s problems.

That statement is often explicitly made or it is implied without question when leaders wrestle with the difficult blemishes of human communities.  Our communities are awash in violence, unkindness, hurt, heart-ache, lost dreams, and crushed hopes.  Education is the remedy in which many will place their confidence.

If people are informed, then they will be able to restrain themselves.

If people have better decision-making skills, then they will make better decisions.

If people know the consequences of their actions, then they will make right choices.

If people know the help that is available to them, then they will choose not to participate in destructive activities.

 I am not opposed to education.  I do believe that we should inform and educate individuals on the ramifications of their actions.  However, I think that we should be realistic about how effective education can ever be.  Our society’s problems are not due to social-economic conditions nor are they due to a lack of information.  Our society’s problems are due to a heart problem.

Education cannot solve a heart problem. 

Solomon was the smartest man ever.  People came from around the world to listen to his wisdom.  God educated Solomon on the cause-effect of his actions:

“And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish you royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your Father, saying, “You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.”  But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all people.” (1 Kings 9:4-7)

That lesson seems pretty clear.  I don’t think that it is possible to misunderstand God’s lesson to Solomon.  Solomon was a smart man and he had a clear and concise lesson.  If education was the answer then Solomon would have made the right decision.   Solomon did not make the right decision.  “So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done.  Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem.” (1 Kings 11:6-7)

The man who was responsible for building the magnificent temple to Yahweh is at the end of his life building places of worship for false gods.  How can that be?  He is a person who knows better.  He is informed.  He knows simple cause-effect logic.  He wrote books on wisdom.  Yet, he makes these horrible decisions.

Education is always trumped by a rebellious heart.  Solomon proves that.

Romantic Heart form Love Seeds

Romantic Heart form Love Seeds (Photo credit: epSos.de)

Humans will always do what they love most.  Solomon loved women.  Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.  That is a man who loves women.  That is a man with a serious problem.  We are told that Solomon clung to these women in love.  He loved these women more than he loved God.  He was more concerned about pleasing these women than being obedient and pleasing to God.  He was willing to sacrifice his throne and the entire kingdom of Israel to have his appetite for women satisfied.  He gave up everything for what he loved the most.

Solomon’s rebellious heart trumped all his intelligence, wisdom, and knowledge.

We should not be foolish enough to think that we cannot go down the same road as Solomon.  Jesus told us that the greatest of all commandments, “you shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt. 22:37)  We must be careful of what we allow our hearts to love.

We should not miss what Jesus is teaching.  The most important thing that any follower of Christ should be doing is making sure that they are obedient to the most important commandment; the great commandment in the law.  If you are going to get any of the commandments right, then get this one.  It is the great one and it has to do with what you love the most.

I would imagine that Solomon, while he was building the temple in Jerusalem, never thought that he would do what he did on the high places.  He did not guard what he allowed his heart to love.  This is why we are told to examine ourselves.

We do what we love the most.  That is why the great commandment is to love God with all that we are.  When you love God more than anything else then following Christ is merely doing what you love.  We do what we love the most.

What do you love?  What do you love the most?

Is there someone who you love more than God?

Is there someone who you would compromise your faith to keep?

Is there someone who you want to please more than God?

Where are your affections?   Your heart will always trump your mind. 

Be careful of where you allow your heart to wander.

PRAYER: Lord, I know my heart and I know that it is prone to wander.  Father, keep me bound to you.  Lord, show me what I am allowing into my life that is drawing my affections away from you.  You are my all in all.  Lord, soften my heart so that I will seek you first in all that I do.     Amen

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A WEED AT HEART- Jan. 3

January 3, 2013

“We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” 1 John 5:19

Cover of "Master and Commander - The Far ...

Cover via Amazon

I am a fan of the Patrick O’Brian nautical series of Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin and the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.  I had not watched the movie or read one of the books in a while.  So, I was appreciative of an opportunity that arose over the Christmas break.

In a discussion about the actors that we enjoy and appreciate, I discovered that my in-laws had never watched the Master and Commander movie with Russell Crowe.  It was a perfect excuse to introduce them to the Patrick O’Brian story and be transported to another time and world.

When we watched the movie, I was delighted to be reminded of one of my favorite lines.

 Maturin and Aubrey had returned to the Galapagos Islands to allow Maturin to do more investigating.

 Dr. Stephen Maturin: “Jack, I fear you have burdened me with a debt I can never fully repay.”
Capt. Jack Aubrey: “Nonsense! Name a shrub after me. Something prickly and hard to eradicate.”

I love that attitude – “name a weed after me”.  Who wants a weed named after them?  There are not very many people who would be comfortable with their legacy being associated with a prickly and hard to eradicate weed.

However, have you ever considered what a weed is?

I have planted a lot of grass in my lawn.  I go to great extents to water, mow, and fertilize my grass.  However, when that same grass gets into my walkway, it is a weed and I try to eradicate it.

I have planted rose bushes in our flower beds.  They need a lot of work; pruning, herbicides, fertilizer. Yet, I have a wild rose-bush that is growing along our ditch bank that I burn every year, periodically spray it with Roundup; I try to eradicate it because its location makes it a weed to me.

I planted an entire row of elm trees as a wind break.  Since they have matured, I pull up elm tree sprouts all along my house foundation and out in my yard.  Those little sprouts, which I initially spent money to buy, are now a weed because I don’t want any more elm trees.

A weed is classified as a matter of context.  The gardener determines what is and is not a weed. The gardener determines what plant is valued and what is considered a noxious growth.

Have you ever considered what you are in this world? 

Who is the gardener of this world?  At this time, our enemy, the evil one, is the gardener of this world.  That makes every follower of Christ a weed in this world.

Weeds

Weeds (Photo credit: Tobyotter)

I am a weed.

The reason that I don’t fit into this world is because I am a weed.

The reason some view me as odd is because I am a weed.

The reason that I am unappreciated is because I am a weed.

The reason that some treat me with disdain is because I am a weed.

The reason some consider me uneducated or intellectually inferior is because I am a weed.

The reason some want to legislate away my beliefs is because I am a weed.

Since I am a weed, what kind of weed am I?

I am hard to eradicate“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38);

I have a bad fragrance“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16);

I am prickly“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22)

I am  a weed in this world by definition.  The reason I am a weed is because this world’s gardener is not my gardener.

My Gardener views me as a beautiful sprout of wheat, a fragrant flower, a productive olive tree, a fruitful grape vine.  In my Gardener’s eye, I am valued; I am the plant to be nurtured, protected, fed, watered, and pruned.

In my Gardener’s eye, this world is full of weeds to me; weeds that threaten to choke and stifle my growth.

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22)

There is a day of harvest coming.  On that day, the distinction between wheat and weed will be made. On that day, my Gardener will be the one making the plant classifications.  On that day, His classification is what will matter and those known to Him as a wheat will be harvested and those unknown to Him will be weeds to be burned. (Matt. 13:36-43)

Until that day, I can think of no higher honor than for this world to view my legacy as nothing more than a weed.

I will be thrilled to be viewed as a prickly, stinky, weed that is hard to eradicate.

I know who values me.

I know who is nurturing me.

I know who is pruning me.

I know my Gardener and He knows me.

…And that is all that matters.

PRAYER: Jesus, Thank you for being my Gardener.  Lord thank you for caring for me.  Forgive me for periodically forgetting who I really am.  Forgive me for thinking that being a weed is preferable.  Lord, care for me so that I will produce fruit in abundance to your praise and glory.  Amen

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TREASURES WORTH MORE THAN A FACEBOOK POST – Jan. 2

January 2, 2013

“And His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” Luke 2:51

We have all heard mommies make very definitive statements about how exceptional their son or daughter is.  We all dutifully nod in agreement;

O, yes he is the cutest baby I have ever seen,

O, yes she is the smartest baby I have ever seen,

O, yes they are the best-behaved children ever.

We all know that it is a lie.  There is a phenomenal process that takes place in rational people when they become parents.  They lose their objectivity. I am not objective when it comes to my kids. I am fully for them; they don’t need a dispassionate arbiter – they need a Dad.

During my generation, mothers have attempted to “treasure” away all the accomplishments and cuteness of their child in a “baby” book.  It seems that Facebook has now become the dominate domain of these motherly treasures. I truly enjoy seeing parents delight in the blessings of their children. Imagine what Mary may have posted on Facebook about Jesus:

MARY:  “I AM PREGNANT! I haven’t given myself to Joseph.  An angel came to me and told me that I am going to give birth to the Son of God.  Isn’t this amazing! I am pregnant with the Messiah!”

We all would go, “Right, that is the most unusual excuse I have ever heard.  I wonder if she is going to wear white at the wedding ceremony.”

MARY:  “Guess who came to visit today – shepherds; a lot of shepherds.  They said that a bunch of angels appeared to them in the sky and told them that baby Jesus is the Savior, Christ the Lord!  BTW – be sure to make reservations before coming to Bethlehem.  They don’t have enough hotels.”

We all would go, “What caravan did they get tied into?  Those poor kids – listening to shepherds; I hope they are careful – that baby is going to get sick.  I wonder how long she is going to stick with this “I’m a virgin” story?”

MARY:  “We dedicated Jesus today. It was awesome.  Simeon and Anna both came over and gave special blessings over Jesus that made me marvel.  They said the Jesus is our redemption and salvation.”

We all would go, “She is probably exaggerating.  They said something similar for my boy – I can’t believe she thinks we’re foolish enough to buy that she was not sleeping with Joseph.”

MARY:  “We have lost Jesus! Please pray”

English: Holy Family: Mary, Joseph and child Jesus

English: Holy Family: Mary, Joseph and child Jesus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MARY:  “We found Jesus today; thanks for all your prayers;  I was so scared.  We found him in the temple of all places. You will never guess what he was doing – sitting among the teachers of the temple.  They were all amazed at how knowledgable Jesus is.  He really is exceptional for his age. Only the Son of God could know the Scriptures like he does – we never taught him any of that.”

We all would go, “I am so glad they found him.  I am sure he is very bright; Joseph is a very intelligent craftsman.  Wow – she is still sticking with that virgin story. I have got to hand it to her – she is persistent.”

MARY:  “Jesus is the most submissive child ever.  He does whatever I ask him to do – on the first time I ask.  He is such a help to Joseph and I – he is the best son any mother has ever had.”

 We all would go, “O, yes he is very obedient.”

We are told that Mary treasured up these things in her heart.  I have always thought that Mary was doing what every mother does; the “treasuring” of all the childhood memories, cute sayings, special moments, and achievements of our children.  It goes by so fast that if we don’t treasure it away we will forget it. I thought that was what Mary was doing.

However, I think that Mary was doing something more. She would have remembered what the Angel told her. She knew how babies are made. Her son WAS different.  I think she was storing a more important kind of treasure.

Mary had a day coming when she would stand at the foot of the cross and watch her son die. I can only imagine her anguish and confusion. I wonder if that was the time when she went back to these treasures that she had stored up and made a withdrawal.

All of these wonders and miracles that she had seen were reassurances of who her son really was.  He really was that special – he really was what the angels said – he really was the Messiah – he really was my Savior!

I think that Mary’s example is for more than parenting.  I think Mary’s example of storing away treasures is an example for daily life.  We need to do the same thing.  We need to treasure away in our hearts all those lessons, blessings, answers to prayer, obvious fruit in our lives, manifestations of God’s goodness and faithfulness.  Everyone has a day in their future when your feet will get knocked out from under you.

What is going to reassure you when you are blinded by heartache and confusion? 

That is when we go back to what we know – the treasures that we have stored away; the scriptures that have spoken to us, the answers to prayer, the path that we have taken that shows the faithfulness of God.

We all need a store house of “treasures” of our Savior so that we can make a withdrawal in troubled times.

PRAYER: Jesus, Thank you for being as exceptional as the angels proclaimed.  Thank you for being everything that your mother Mary had treasured away.  Thank you for proving all that you taught the Disciples.  Thank you for being obedient to your Father and doing what you were sent into this world to do.  Thank you for saving me.  Lord, you have been so good to me.  Father, store those treasures in my heart.  Reassure my feeble faith; help me in my unbelief.  Remind me of your faithfulness when I need it most.  Amen

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RESPONDING TO A BAD YEAR – Jan. 1

January 1, 2013

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!” Psalm 72:18-19

This morning I have read many optimistic declarations for the coming year.  I think that it is wonderful that people are looking forward to a “great and amazing” 2013.  However, my sense is that many of these declarations are made in an almost mystical, power of positive thinking, type of manner.

What if you are not optimistic? Will your lack of positive thinking doom you?

What if 2012 has not been a “good” year as most would define it.  Last Sunday, my Church provided an opportunity for people to give testimonies of praise for what God has done for them throughout the year.  All of the praises were for God responding in  “good” ways.  There were no praises for the God’s peace in tragic loss of a child.  There were no praises for God’s strength while a spouse has to work away from home. There were no praises for God’s provision while being unemployed. There were no praises for God’s purpose when health is not restored. There were no praises for the “bad” things of unknown purpose and I know that there were some.  I almost gave a testimony to the “bad” things but fear of extemporaneous speaking in a new Church held me back.

I look back at 2012 and I am glad that it is gone.   I don’t look at this last year with fondness even though God has been so faithful to me and my family. My year feels like a period of grinding endurance.  I think it is a testimony that many may share.

I have not had to endure anything in comparison to some in 2012.  I have not experienced any deaths in my family; I have not been subjected to any violence; I have not been separated from my loved ones; I still have a home; I still have a job; I still have good relations with my family.  God has bestowed so many blessing upon me that I cannot even count them all.  Yet, I do feel like an Eeyore about 2012.  When I look at 2013, I feel like I am leaning into a harness preparing for a long pull.

What are we to do when we are not optimistic?

What is our response to struggles and disappointments when we lack understanding of their purpose?

When we don’t have answers, we must go back to what we do know.  We remind ourselves of the faithfulness of God; we remind ourselves of the goodness of the God; we remind ourselves that our treasures are not in this world; we remind ourselves that our Father knows how to give us good gifts; we remind ourselves that we are clay in the potter’s hands; we remind ourselves that God is still on His throne.

I don’t have answers for all the hurts in the world.  I don’t have an elixir of optimism. I only have my testimony.

This is what I wish I would have said on Sunday:

“My 2012 was bad. It was bad from an economic perspective. It was bad from a ministry perspective. I don’t know the reason I am walking through difficult and unstable economic conditions. I don’t know why the Church plant that I was part of for five years did not prosper and survive.  However, I praise God for these situations because of what they are revealing within me.

Cover of "Dark Night of the Soul"

Cover of Dark Night of the Soul

I believe that struggles and disappointments are part of a process that God uses to wean us from this world and ourselves. In the book Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross, a metaphor is used that I have returned to many times.  It is a metaphor of a mother weaning a child. I have yet to see a child enjoy the process of being weaned from milk to solid food. Yet, we all know that it is a process that is vital to the maturity of a child.  Consider the process that God uses to cause us to mature in our faith. When we are “young” in our faith, we drink spiritual milk and have spiritual forms of security blankets, binkies, sippy cups, etc.  These crutches of our spiritual immaturity are habits and mindsets that support us when the roots of our faith are not deep.  We can linger just below the surface in this immature, supported state.  However, there is a danger to immaturity. Those with shallow roots of faith are in danger of falling away when real trouble comes. (Matt. 13:20-21)

God loves us too much to leave us with shallow roots even though growing roots can hurt.

I know that the reason 2012 was difficult and disturbing is not because God was absent or inactive in my life. It was not because He does not love me or want to use me. The reason that the 2012 was distressing is precisely because God is working – in a powerful, deep, and transformative way.

I am being liberated from seeking my security in my paycheck.

I am being liberated from seeking my identity in my job title.

I am being liberated from dictating how God can use me.

I am being liberated from my appetite for the praise and respect of men.

I am being liberated from my attaching of joy to circumstances.

I am being liberated from my pride.

This process of liberating my soul from my crutches of immaturity is a totally loving, healing, and compassionate act of my Father.  It would be an unloving Father, who would leave His son in perpetual immaturity and danger of falling away. God loves me too much to let my physical comfort get in the way of His Spirit maturing my soul.

I know that the process is not complete. I still don’t really understand what God is doing.  Most of His work is being done in hidden ways that I am not even aware of. I am not enjoying this process.  It is uncomfortable and I like to be comfortable.

The Lord knows how often I pray for a little break from being weaned.  He knows how many times I have cried out due to my discomfort. Yet, I have faith that he knows what is best for me; after all He is my Father and He is so very good.

Therefore, I praise God for 2012 and what is to come in 2013.  I praise God for the “good” things that He has given me. I also praise Him for loving me enough to give me “bad” things; “bad” things that in His wonderful hands are freeing me from attachments and compulsions that I struggle with or don’t even realized are holding me back.  I praise Him for loving me enough to disrupt my comfort and cause the roots of my faith to grow deep.  I praise Him for teaching me that my true freedom and comfort resides only in Him.

It is a wondrous thing that only He can do. Blessed be his glorious name for 2012 and 2013; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!”

PRAYER: Father, thank you for being so good to me.  Thank you for providing for me; thank you for taking care of my family and keeping us safe throughout this last year.  Thank you for all the blessings that you have given me.  Lord, forgive me for dwelling on the negatives and allowing the cynicism of my mind to condemn the good work that you are doing in me.  Forgive me for wanting to have control of my life and not trusting you as I should. Father, complete your work in me. Liberate me from my flesh so that I might be free to love you as I long to do. Lord, continue your work in me; don’t leave me as I am.  Amen

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WHAT DOES REAL MERCY LOOK LIKE?- Dec. 31th

December 31, 2012

“Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.” 1 Samuel 2:17

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijna...

The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Jan Wijnants (1670) shows the Good Samaritan tending the injured man. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“A young man finished the late shift but was delayed in leaving work because it was payday.  He waited to receive his wages in cash because he had plans for the next day.  Due to the delay, the young man decided to take a shortcut home. While walking home, he fell among some gangbangers, who robbed him, stripped him of his clothes, and beat him half to death.

Now by chance, a pastor was driving through the area and saw the young man’s broken body in the gutter. Being in a hurry, he moved his car over to pass on the other side of the road.  He dialed 911 on his cell phone but did not have a signal.  He subsequently forgot about the limp body due to his mind being full of ministry thoughts.

So likewise, a young Christian couple driving home from a night of fellowship at their Church drove down this street and saw the young man struggling to rise.  Fearing that the same fate may befall them, they passed by on the other side of the road and sped away to safety – considering the fate of the faceless person a product of a series of poor choices.

But an atheist, as he journeyed, came to where the young man was and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him, performed first-aid and called 911.  He waited with the young man until the ambulance came and he followed the ambulance to the hospital.  Upon learning that the young man had no medical insurance, the atheist agreed to pay all the young man’s medical bills.”

Which of these three do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the gangbangers?

We all can see that the one who showed the young man mercy was the one who loved his neighbor as himself.  Jesus tells us, “You go, and do likewise.”  Helping the injured and abused young man is our example of what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Is is possible to show our neighbor this same kind of love before they make a fateful choice?

Now, consider what would be more loving to that young man; what if I could have gone to his place of work and warned him not to take the shortcut? What if I could have gone and given him a ride home so that he would have never gotten attacked in the first place?  It wouldn’t relieve me of any responsibility of helping him put his life back together if he refused my offer or advice but how unloving is it to allow him to blindly walk to his own destruction?

How merciless is it to stand at the crossroads and simply watch someone willingly choose the path that has abuse and heartache around the bend and say nothing.

Eli’s sons were worthless men.(1 Sam. 1:12) They were doing all sorts of sinful acts in their roles as priests. These guys were blatantly committing very great sins in the sight of God and the whole nation of Israel.  People were going up to Eli and telling him what his sons were doing but Eli wasn’t willing to do anything more than plead with them.

“And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sings against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” (1 Sam. 2:23-25)

Was it merciful for Eli to leave it there?

He had the authority to remove them.  Why wouldn’t he remove them from their positions of authority in the temple? I don’t know specifically why – it says in verse 29 that Eli honored his sons more than God. Therefore, it seems that Eli did not want to dishonor is sons.

How merciful was that? Eli knew the law; he even warned his sons of the consequences of their actions but he then stood by and watched as their impenitence led to their own destruction.  How loving was that?

The Church will be a messy place. I think that is a good thing. If it is not a little messy, I don’t know if people are being real. The mess in the Church is there because the Church is doing what it is supposed to do. The Church is a gift to us.  If the Church was not necessary then why did God give it to us?

The Church was given to us to help believers persevere to the end, to endure, to mature, to encourage each other, and to put Christ’s love and mercy on display (among other reasons).   We don’t do any of that perfectly.  There are times when we live our faith in very imperfect ways.  It is for those times that Christ instituted Church discipline by authorizing the apostles to prohibit or permit certain kinds of behavior (Matt. 18:18, John 20:23).  Jesus instituted Church discipline out of love.

There are some who abhor Church discipline and some who relish it.

Both attitudes are wrong and neither should be in Church leadership.

The purpose of Church discipline is to show the greatest love and mercy to someone who is at a crossroad and is picking the road that will lead to pain, heartache, and destruction. Church discipline in all its form is not to punish for punishment’s sake but to encourage true repentance and to call home someone who is straying into danger.

That is the most loving thing a brother or sister in Christ can do. 

However, it will be messy; there will be hurt feelings – unkind words – accusations. There was a cost to the good Samaritan.  Are you willing to bear the cost of showing mercy to your wayward brother or sister?

A Church without discipline, performed in loving and merciful manner with a primary concern for the person’s soul, is no longer a Church but merely a social club. A social club that is more concerned about the number of members than the condition of those members.

Be a real part of a real Church; it is for my good and it is for your own good!

PRAYER: Father, make me a man characterized by love and mercy.  Give me a compassion that compels me beyond my desire to avoid confrontation.  Help me to see my brothers and sisters spiritual conditions as you do and to care about it.  Lord, give me people in my life who will care enough about me to say something when they see me straying off course.  Create in me a heart that desires and appreciates loving concerns being brought to my attention. Lord, I am so acutely aware of my imperfections; give me a teachable heart that wants to be bound to you even when it hurts to hear the truth.  Amen

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