Monday, August 30, 2010

Hidden Agendas (Part 3)

Hidden Agenda, image courtesy of John Casey, blkmrktgallery.com

I could easily answer that question with a Yes! I did find joy in doing something I know I had no previous desire to do. Unknown to me (I thank God for the clarity given to me now) but all during the time I was praying and crying to God to speak to me, He was working in me. God never saw a need to explain what He was doing in my life and I took His silence as rejection. What I now realize is that God was drawing me closer to Him by drawing me closer to those things I rejected before. Nothing could have enticed me to do household chores not even a failed marriage. Nothing could persuade me to launch a blog about my walk with Christ. I couldn’t deny I found joy and passion just in doing them and not having a hidden agenda. If there was an agenda, it was the joy and passion I experienced in the act of doing it.

I don’t consider myself a good husband because I do household chores and I don’t consider myself a good Christian because I blog. However, I do see how easily I could convince myself that I ought to receive acknowledgement and recognition for what I do. I can soak up attention so easily so I’m cautious about my attitude and checking my ego.

Martha did a hospitable act that caused her to refocus her attention on what someone else wasn’t doing. She sought support from Jesus to validate her opinion. Instead, Christ instructed her that she was worried and bothered about many things but only one thing is necessary…the focus of one’s heart.

Where is my heart Lord? Is it on you or is it all about me?

I allow myself to question many things I have said and done because I don’t want to find myself operating in a mode of self-justification that whitewashes my life. My life is focused on being submitted to Christ; body, soul and spirit, I belong to Him now.

I can see now what I was unable to see months ago. The Holy Spirit was swapping out those thoughts, attitudes and behaviors and bringing into my memory an undiscovered simple joy and passion. Each time I undertake a household chore or I sit down to write, I experience a joy, peace and contentment that increases the desire to do more.

There are bloggers dispersed all around the globe, those I have virtually met through this medium have given me an opportunity to hear the things which God is sharing through them as they live for Christ. Some have faced tremendous adversity; many are women who’ve known the callous and insensitive cruelty those of my gender can wreak on others. Some, seeking a place in the church have instead experienced ostracism. Some I have found to be genuinely down to earth loving and caring people. Some are hurt and continue to struggle with the painful reminders of their life.

Each in their own way has impressed me by their desire to press on.

I see Martha as a type of outward man, doing things which on the surface appear to be good, worthwhile things to do. However, there are things I do which cause me to seek attention and validation that what I’m doing is what others should be doing too. To this kind of thinking the bible says,

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…[who]…did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant…He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.1

The problem with the outward man kind of thinking is that I can never humble myself by becoming obedient when I focus on what others are doing for Christ. Certainly I value the truths which the Holy Spirit imparts to me but the Holy Spirit is not following a single methodology in teaching me. I would not have learned to experience joy apart from the expectation of acquiring something greater than the task I performed were it not for the Holy Spirit enabling me to discover a joyful passion in doing things which I previously rejected doing.

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.2

This then is how I discovered my joy and passion: by doing them in the name of the Lord and giving thanks to God the Father through Jesus Christ.

I am discovering that the fulfillment of obedience is joy and passion with thanksgiving.

To be given the opportunity to experience joy and passion and to be thankful for both the opportunity and the experience is something which I cannot adequately clarify; I can only say I have peace.

I see Mary as a type of inward man, who does not find it enough to be in the same house as Jesus, she sits at His feet hoping to learn from Him something far more valuable than attempting to fulfill a role that invariably leads to worry and frustration. There is in Mary the implication of joyful expectation; much like an expectant mother nearing the time to deliver.

Martha is living her life justified by her works; Mary is living her life justified by faith in Jesus. Martha expends effort and energy thinking her works will prove fruitful but instead, she finds frustration because Mary isn’t assisting her. Martha’s frustration demands that the situation be corrected in a way that pleases her. In all this Mary never says a word to defend her actions; Christ speaks not only on behalf of Mary but He addresses the real problem in Martha, worry and distraction.

As I look at Martha, I see how easily distracted I can get by the unexpected actions of others.

Martha had an expectation that Mary would assist her, when this didn’t occur she grew frustrated.

What does that say about me? It says that my (misplaced) expectations are directed towards the wrong person.

…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…3

I can avoid frustration, worry and disappointment by focusing on Jesus Christ because He will not frustrate, cause me worry or disappoint me.

When the writer of Hebrews says:

…who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…4

I get the sense that as painful and shamefully humiliating as the crucifixion was, Jesus endured the cross as an act of joy. Earlier, Christ said this of Himself and His relationship to the Father:

…I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.5

So even though the task Martha was performing was a good task, she had no joy in doing it; she was unable to focus on the sheer joy of doing it to please God.

Has my focus been misplaced? Quite often it has and I’ve found frustration instead of joy.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.6

There is an all-encompassing joy when my focus is solidly on Christ. In Him, I find true joy in the things I do because He has demonstrated the mindset I need in order to see the joy set before me.

There was a time when I would never consider cleaning a toilet. The toilet is a metaphor for my life.

I find myself smiling at this thought that all along, God had this in mind for me; stubborn, lazy, selfish me. A valuable lesson I’m learning on finding real joy without hidden agendas.

"Thy words were found and I ate them, And Thy words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart. For I have been called by Thy name, O Lord God of hosts."7

"...but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you."8

"And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit."9

Father in heaven,

I am counting it all joy when I experience the trials of life. I am learning that these trials test my faith with the goal of producing endurance in me. I see endurance is necessary to sustain me when I'm bombarded with thoughts of doubt. I am learning to pray, to ask and to seek You in faith, a faith which You've measured out to me. I thank You Lord Jesus for not leaving or forsaking me, even when I forsook You; You are ever faithful. Thank You holy Spirit for the guidance you give me; imparting wisdom and understanding of the scriptures into my life. Through You, I am empowered to apply the word of God into my life each day. Father, I cannot forget those who prayed for my marriage. They stood as mighty warriors, holding the line against the thief who came to rob, kill and destroy a love so precious. Thank You for the bloggers who encouraged me when I was discouraged. Finally thank You for Lillian, the woman she is and the heart to forgive. Our jouney is incomplete but we move forward with You. Help me as we endeavor to build a relationship that fosters a love which I value and cherish. Amen.


Footnotes:
  1. Philippians 2:5-8, NASB
  2. Colossians 3:17, NASB
  3. Hebrews 12:2, NASB
  4. Hebrews 12:2, NASB
  5. John 8:29, NASB
  6. Philippians 4:8, NASB
  7. Jeremiah 15:16, NASB
  8. John 16:22, NASB
  9. Acts 13:52, NASB
References:
  1. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  2. Matthew Henry's Commentary, McDonald Publishing Company, McLean, Virginia 22101, ISBN 0-917006-21-6


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hidden Agendas (Part 2)

Hidden Agenda, image courtesy of John Casey, blkmrktgallery.com

One Saturday, I could hear my wife in the basement and when I asked what she was doing, she answered,

I’m cleaning up the bathroom.

As I walked backed to do whatever it was I was doing, I wondered, Why? It was then that the Holy Spirit spoke to me the words,

It’s something which needs to be done.

I decided I would attempt to clean a bathroom.

A few weeks later, I was cleaning that very same bathroom in the basement and my wife came to the top of the stairs and asked,

What are you doing?

I’m cleaning the bathroom.

Silent pause

If you're doing this because you think somehow it will change things then you might as well stop trying because this isn’t going to change anything; so there’s no point in you doing this.

I’m not trying to change your mind; I don’t have any hidden agenda. I’m cleaning the bathroom because it needs to be cleaned.

That could have been the end of our dialog but I realized that I had more to say.

Look, I accept total responsibility for being selfish and arrogant and insensitive; I ruined something good. You’re hurt and angry with me and that’s cool. But I want you to know I still love you and I care about you; that’s not going to change.

Looking back on that moment in time, I realize I could have responded to this as I had so often before. She’d gotten in my personal space and my typical response would have been to vanquish my opponent; complete annihilation and total victory for me. I don’t mean physically, but I required emotional victories to validate my manhood. I was too smart for anyone (including the Lord) to truly get me; I alone could climb the top of my own apex.

Her words echoed in my mind, “This isn’t going to change anything.

Was I doing this to convince her I was now different or had I found a true purpose in doing household chores?

I told myself I was the same selfish, arrogant guy she’d married but piece by piece, little by little, things were being swapped out.

I’m going to break my geek out for a moment to try and explain my concept of swapping. At some point when software instructions are executed (running), they execute in memory. When those instructions are not being executed, they get swapped (moved) to secondary storage. This is similar to you remembering a birthday. The thought of when a specific birthday occurs is in your memory. You may also have a lunch meeting, parent-teacher conference or something else scheduled which you’ve noted in your planner, PDA or post-it on the refrigerator. The reminder of that event is stored elsewhere (secondary storage).

So the Holy Spirit is my task manager, swapping out these long held attitudes and behaviors and bringing into my memory the instruction set of cleaning toilets.

Last night I was thinking about hidden agendas because something in me was triggered and I was concerned that maybe I was still that same guy with just a new coating of paint. I questioned whether I was doing things for the right reason or did I have my own agenda running parallel to the outward things I said and did.

I talked it over with my wife and sought her insight, thinking I was too close to the issue to see clearly. After talking, I asked her to pray for me but I still felt no release from my thoughts. I desperately wanted to acquire the Lord’s clarity on this.

I knew that I had discovered a joy in doing work which I’d previously viewed as the kind of tasks which were menial and beneath me. Questions regarding my motives for blogging were triggered by my historical past attitudes; I was experiencing self-doubt. But it wasn’t the same kinds of doubts I felt when I couldn’t sense the presence of God. I had kept God at arm’s length for so long and when I called out to Him, He was silent. God obviously had His reasons and He definitely got my attention, so that when He responded to my cries, I was overwhelmed by His presence, love, forgiveness and grace.

My thoughts were clouded, I couldn’t discern whether God wanted my attention about my motives or if I was being attacked with doubts about my ability to follow Christ fully.

And then the Holy Spirit came and showed me something which gave me the clarity I needed. I read five verses in the tenth chapter of Luke about two sisters:

...a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. And she had a sister called Mary, who moreover was listening to the Lord’s word, seated at His feet. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him, and said,Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.But the Lord answered and said to her,Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’”1

Two sisters who are focused in two totally different areas:
  1. Martha is busy with the preparation and serving of the meal.
  2. Mary is busy listening to the message of Christ.
Martha wanted Jesus to focus on her concerns while Mary wanted to focus on the concerns of Jesus. I wondered how this applied to the doubts I now grappled with. It would be easy to see myself as Mary, totally focused on hearing the instructions of Christ but I needed to examine Martha’s attitude.

Certainly there was nothing wrong with Martha wanting to be a good host, serving food to Jesus and his disciples. But in carrying out this task, Martha became offended that Mary would not help her fulfill this labor.

Was I seeking favor by doing something for Christ?

I found myself questioning my attitude while cleaning the bathroom.

Did I seek the acknowledgement and approval of my wife regarding my taking ownership of these duties or was I doing them for the joy experienced in the activity?

Do I seek acknowledgement and approval from Christ and others regarding my writing?

Was I doing these things out of a sense of obligation or did I truly find a passionate and spiritual joy in doing them?

This seems like a good breaking point so I'll stop and resume this discussion tomorrow.

"For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy..."2

"For you will go out with joy, And be led forth with peace; The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, And all the trees of the field will clap their hands."3

Almighty God and Father of all,

I give thanks to You my Lord for giving me joy. It may seem selfish of me to say this but I bask in this joy as if I shall never experience this moment again. I treasure the privilege of following Christ. I face challenges for sure, but I rest my confidence in Christ and not in myself. I am reminded by the Holy Spirit that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. My thoughts aren't solely on myself but on the challenges so many others who call on your name face. You are the God who sees me and them. You know the needs and I know you are concerned to the degree that you will perform that which concerns them. Thank You that I have an audience with You through prayer. I bless Your Holy Name and give You all my praise. Amen.


Footnotes:
  1. Luke 10:38-42, NASB
  2. Ecclesiastes 2:26, NASB
  3. Isaiah 55:12, NASB
References:
  1. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  2. Matthew Henry's Commentary, McDonald Publishing Company, McLean, Virginia 22101, ISBN 0-917006-21-6

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hidden Agendas

Hidden Agenda, image courtesy of John Casey, blkmrktgallery.com

Some time ago, I read something that resonated with me; it was something which only recently I could identify with. Kim, who blogs over at From the Heart Online recently wrote:

If you’re thinking,Joy isn’t happiness? What?! What’s the difference?I’m with you. Then I learned the difference - that happiness is an emotion, and joy is more a decision or belief.1

This caused me to reflect on a recent change in my thought process. First and foremost, I’ve seen myself as a man for a number of years. My concept of manhood has defined my view of not only myself but others as well. If someone got in my personal space, I wouldn’t step back, I'd move forward. I learned to meet any perceived act of aggression or intimidation with resistance and force; push before someone pushes me was my thinking. I remember one night as a teen, I was standing outside a bar watching two men fight; it was the most intense physical conflict I’ve ever seen. What registered in my mind was that confrontations are a fight to the death; there can be only one victor, opposition must be vanquished.

Realizing there were problems in my marriage coincided with recognizing the failure of my relationship with Christ. But I still was comfortable with who I was and if others had a problem with me, it was essentially their problem. I began writing two years ago, and at the time it was a new experience for me. I joined a writer’s group who critiqued my fictional short stories on romance and relationships, I took classes on writing; I discovered a passion for writing. The irony here is that I was comfortable writing about fictional relationships while never having to address my own relationship issues. I did not write about Christ or Christianity although I did sense the Lord was trying to gain my attention.

When it became apparent that problems in my marriage weren’t being addressed, I decided to cease writing (in December, 2009) and rediscover the passion I once felt for Christ, my wife and my life. In January of this year I began daily prayer, bible study and meditation. During this time, the only thing I sensed from God was to start a blog but I resisted those thoughts because I felt I was in no position to talk to others about Christ. The more I prayed, the more distant my relationship seemed to be with the Lord. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t sense or feel His presence. I felt isolated from God, thinking He withheld communication from me and I didn’t understand why.

I was doing the things I’m supposed to do and yet it seemed as if things were actually getting worse. In March, I decided to start a blog because this was the only consistent area I believed God was directing me in. Still, I couldn’t understand why God remained silent to me. After all, this was a big risk I was taking to write about my relationship with Christ. In actuality, I began writing about a relationship with Christ; not my relationship with Christ.

I’ve only discovered recently the difference and it occurred in a way which could only have happened by the grace of God and the Holy Spirit.

I decided to clean a toilet.

I need to explain that first; I’ve come to acknowledge that I’m lazy. All my life, I’ve despised housework, deferring it to those I lived with. Secondly, I want to say, I cannot imagine the thoughts that my wife, children, mother and brothers held of me as I sat around watching television, or running off to do my own thing while there was work to be done, but in actuality, I really can imagine their thoughts.

As I cleaned this toilet, I wondered why I’ve avoided household chores and the Holy Spirit clearly enunciated the words because you’re lazy and selfish. As you can probably tell, the thing I’d been praying for, to feel the presence of God, to sense His direction in my life and to know He still loves me had been answered but I had not expected it to get this personal. Submitting my life to the authority of God meant that things were going to get ugly before they got better.

I’m cleaning a toilet and I’m enjoying it.

It occurs to me at this very moment something which I didn’t even recognize until just now.

The toilet was a metaphor of my life.

I desperately wanted my wife back but she’d convinced me that our marriage was over. Any attempt to talk with her was met with stiff impenetrable resistance. I could now feel the presence of God in a way I had never experienced before but my wife was no longer a part of this experience.

I love my wife. She is a gift from God and yet I took her for granted just as I’d done with Christ and everyone else. Apart from her, I am empty; a wandering vagabond.

Over a year ago, she decided to leave but she didn’t leave, physically. Emotionally, she’d left the building and make no mistake about it, this was all my fault. The house was large enough for us to conduct our lives separately but it’s not what I wanted. I’d created an impasse that undid the one person who really mattered to me.

Even though I wanted her back in my life, I still had not fundamentally changed from who I was before. I’m fortunate that the Lord understood me in ways I never imagined and just as He gave me the desire for daily prayer, bible study and meditation, I began doing household chores. Initially, I was doing just the easy things like taking out the garbage. I realize now that was the only thing I took ownership of.

Next, I took up the laundry and I even did some ironing. But again, these were things which I found easy to do and they didn’t seem to be cumbersome for me because it was something that occurred as a weekly (sometimes even bi-weekly) task. Soon, I found myself washing the dishes and I must admit that although I wasn’t trying to show her that I was changing, I recognized an evolution in my attitudes as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit influencing me to change; I did these tasks because I recognized they needed to be done and I really wanted to do them. Up until this point I’d never considered cleaning the bathroom as something which needed to be done (by me).

I believe this is a good breaking point so I'll stop and resume this discussion tomorrow.

"In Thy presence is fullness of joy; In Thy right hand there are pleasures forever."2

"...Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning."3

"Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, And sustain me with a willing spirit."4

Father God,

You have been so gracious to me in ways which are totally unwarranted and yet, in spite of my ignorance and selfish ways, You penetrated the walls I erected around my life. I marvel now at how You are restoring me by breaking me down into workable parts that fit together in a way I could never manage on my own. How can I truly express my gratitude to You? You've given me joy, placing it before me much like a parent extends their hands to an infant preparing to take those first of many steps. Thank You for a wife who loves me, in spite of me. Through her, You continually bless and enrich my life. Thank you for allowing me to experience such joy. My journey has not been without hazards and difficulties but You've been right here with me through every one. I bless the name of Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. Thank you for those who took up the fight of spiritual warfare on behalf of me. They never ceased to pray for me. It is because of their example that I have taken up the mantle to pray for the needs of others. It is a joy I share with so many others standing before me. I count it all joy. Thank You Holy Spirit, for the gentle manner You employed to gain my trust in You. You fill me with a love, joy and hope that overflows. Amen.


Footnote:
  1. Lies That Rob Me of Joy: Lie #4, written by Kim, for the blog From the Heart Online, August 19, 2010
  2. Psalm 16:11, NASB
  3. Psalm 30:5, NASB
  4. Psalm 51:12, NASB
References:
  1. From the Heart Online, Blog written by Kim
  2. The Layman's Parallel New Testament, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  3. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sweet P's -- Praying for those in fear

Sweet P's are: Prayers, Petition, Praise!, Courtesy of teawithtiffany.com

Each Friday, Tiffany (Tea With Tiffany) hosts a meme requesting that other bloggers join her in a round of sweet P's (Prayers, Petition, Praise!).

All week, I've been asking the Lord, "What shall I pray about? What can I say on behalf of those needing Your help? Who shall I stand in agreement with so that You are in our midst Lord?"

The truth is, I don't know how to pray. I have found during the past few weeks of joining Tiffany and other believers that it is first a privilege to pray for others but it is not something I want to take for granted; to be just uttering a bunch of nice sounding words. I believe what I say matters, but I also believe that what I say needs to line up with a genuine sincere heart that honors God as the strength of my life and the source whom I rely upon.

I find myself in front of my computer in the early morning hour, awakened from a peaceful sleep, an indication to me that it's time to pray. I'm appending my Sweet P's along with Tiffany and others in a offering to our Lord. I invite you to please join with us.

"O my God,

incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see
" the many needs of those crying out, "save me!" All week, Your Holy Spirit has reminded me of the children of Israel standing on the banks of the Red Sea pursued by an enemy intent on destroying them. Right now, at this very moment Lord, there are others facing their very own Red Sea experience.

Their enemy may be unemployment, it may be sickness, it may be foreclosure of their home, it may be a failing marriage, it may be an abusive relationship, it may be a failing business, it may be an addiction, it may be legal problems, it may be low self-esteem, or it may be unconfessed sin. I don't know who their enemy is that pursues them but You are the Omnipotent God, You know who that enemy is and how long that enemy has been chasing them down.

Just as Moses spoke, I want to echo his words today by saying to those who are fearful, "Do not fear, Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord...The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent."

Cause us to remember that, "those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Send an army of angels to fight on behalf of those who've become weary from being pursued. Many of Your people are discouraged, tired, weak and sapped of any strength but I remember You declared that, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Let Your strength break forth O Lord as we acknowledge our weakness. We cannot defeat this enemy without You.

Open our eyes that we may see the glory of Your power and might. Just as You caused the Red Sea to swallow up the Egyptians, I ask You O Lord to swallow up this enemy right now by Your power and might. Do this Lord that we might rejoice and say: "I will sing unto the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and the rider hath He thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation."

We declare that, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear?...My heart shall not fear..I shall be confident."

What is there that anyone can say, "This is too hard for God?" What can separate us from Your precious love? There is nothing too high or too deep or too wide that can cause a gulf between Your love and Your people.

You are our strong tower and mighty shield. I confess my faith in You my Lord and King. Thank You Jesus for moving in these situations and rescuing so many, for giving courage in the face of fear, for giving hope in the midst of our trials and for giving peace in the depth of despair.

Thank You Lord. I cannot praise You enough for Your goodness and grace. It is You O Lord, "who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think..." To You be glory, honor and dominion.

May our joy burst forth like the morning sun, exalting You as our Lord and Savior. We lift up our hands in adoration and praise in honor of the love You shower upon our lives. We depend on You in all things. Thank You Lord for hearing and answering our cry for help. Amen.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tearing Down Those Other gods

Lil,

I just want to express my thanks for showing me something about myself that should have been so obvious and yet I was too blind to see. I love you so very much.



Tearing down the Asherah pole

Yesterday I was reading through 2nd Kings and I reached a conscious point where I thought to myself that, what I was reading was just more redundant writing which was used to describe the previous king of Judah or Israel. Just more of, and _________ did evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Now it came about in the third year of Hoshea, the son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah became king…And he did right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah…He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel…So Hezekiah slept with his fathers, and Manasseh his son became king in his place…And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord dispossessed before the sons of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah…1

I think I’d become a little bored reading about the lives of leaders who did not value their relationship with God. Men, who time and time again found reasons to erect images of idols, practice the worship of images and even engage in human sacrifice. I reached the point where I just wanted to be done with the books of Kings 1 and 2. It was then that the Holy Spirit spoke to me about one particular idol that frequently gets mentioned. I became fascinated with the preoccupation each idol worshipping king seemed to have with the Asherah poles.

What was it that endeared the men to erect this image time and time again, particularly in the case of the kings of Judah when their fathers tore down the image?

Did they not learn anything from the godly fathers who preceded them?

Did they not learn any truths from the ungodly fathers who preceded them?


Two kings in particular, Hezekiah and Josiah were both godly kings who honored God and yet when they died, their sons reinstituted the worship of false gods; particularly Asherah.

I wondered what these Asherah poles did that actually enhanced the lives of those who worshipped them.

It was then that the Holy Spirit showed me that the Asherah poles represent the things in my life that I cling to out of tradition, insecurity, desire and fear. I guard over those poles in my life to the point where I subconsciously defend having them. The thought that I myself was no different from those kings whom I’ve been reading about alarmed me.

What am I holding onto that needs to be torn down?

What poles have I erected around me that function more like a barrier to God and others?

I thought about these questions and heard the word of rebelliousness. I knew I was formerly rebellious, but I no longer saw myself like that from my current vantage point looking over my life. The Holy Spirit wanted to show me a different vantage point; one that allowed me to see what I really didn’t want to see.

I saw an unwillingness to be accountable, a problem submitting to authority, and a stubbornness that sought to follow my own path. I wanted to say, “That was part of my past but I’m not that same guy anymore!” But before I could utter a word of defense, the Holy Spirit showed me little subtleties which I subconsciously acted on.

I began to realize how easy it is to hang on to things that are so totally wrong for me and think that it’s cool, it’s not a REAL problem, I can handle things fine just the way they are. By relying on my intelligence, my talents, my skills and my knowledge, I was usurping the authority of God in my life.

What did I have to show for my Asherah poles?

I felt my own devised sense of security; I was protected from ever being hurt by anyone.

Who did I think would hurt me? Why even now did I feel the need to shield myself?

As I pondered these questions, I felt something which I’d always tried to shield myself from feeling; I felt vulnerable, weak and afraid.

I thought, O God, why do I cling to ways that bring me nothing but frustration and pain? Why do I value the empty thoughts and behavior in my life?

I want to tear down these poles that are part of my life Lord, but I don’t know if I can.

Surrender them to Me”, He says.

There is genuine concern for what I’m about to say but I know He knows me better than I know myself.

I’m willing Lord, I really want to but I need Your help because I really don’t know how...

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your way acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.2

The troubles of my heart are enlarged; Bring me out of my distresses. Look upon my affliction and my trouble, And forgive all my sins.3

O God, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly; My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.4

Heavenly Father,

I dont want the phrase he did evil in the sight of God to be associated with my name; I want to do what pleases you, what honors you, what worships you. Help me tear down those things in my life that I've erected. Things which hinder and harm my relationship with You, things which prevent intimacy with You. The things which keep me from being close with others. You give love to me without measure and I am constantly in awe of Your tremendous capacity to love me. Thank you Lord for the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, helping me grow in grace and love for you. Amen.


Footnotes:
  1. 2 Kings 18:1, 3-5; 20:21; 21:2-3, NASB
  2. Proverbs 3:5-6, NASB
  3. Psalm 25:17-18, NASB
  4. Psalm 63:1, NASB
References:
  1. Unger's Bible Dictionary, By Merrill F. Unger, Moody Press, Chicago
  2. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Access

Access Denied, image courtesy of ainley.net

I remember the first time I was told I had NO ACCESS and the shame and disappointment I felt in being excluded. For a kid, it meant hating the lunch period because I didn’t have anything to eat. For us, money and food always seem to run out at the same time, before the end of the month. I can remember being told to leave a store if I didn’t have any money. I can remember having the utilities turned off because the bill was unpaid. No lights, no water, no heat; I know what it’s like when access is denied.

I was worshipping in church this morning and as I stood there thanking Jesus for taking my place, I began to see Him walking towards Golgotha, for me. He endured the beating, the mocking of those who watched and He endured the weight of that heavy cross; for me. Without realizing what I was doing, I began pounding on my chest, crying that Christ suffered for me.

Now I’ve always seen myself as a tough guy, I took pride that I grew up in the toughest part of Chicago; the West Side. Back in his day, Al Capone lived on the West Side; so there is that gangster history and mentality. Now I’m no gangster, but I understand the philosophy behind the use of the word as a verb. By that I mean I’ve had to gangster certain situations; to get my way. On the West Side, male punks are frowned upon, so we have this whole macho mentality thing going on.

Here I stood, a former citizen of Chicago, native West Sider, and a fully grown man. My grandmother used to have a saying, “I ain’t no play toy!” I’ve been shot at and to my regret as a young man (while in a gang), I've shot at other young men; I know what it must’ve been like for the Earp’s and the Clanton’s at O.K. Corral. And here I was, standing there crying uncontrollably; just bawling.

Why?

Thoughts of, What will people think of you crying? You’re gonna look like some kind of punk!

It didn’t matter. I didn’t even know who was around me or if anyone was watching because I was worshiping Christ. He took my place; willingly took my punishment!

That ain’t no punk!

That’s as tough as you can get. Christ willingly stepped in and took a bullet for me. As they say in the military, “He fell on my sword.

So yeah, I was crying like a baby, because of what Jesus did for me.

You ever get like that while you’re worshipping the Lord?

People and sounds just seem to fade out of your thoughts and it’s just you and Jesus. I’m not saying, “You gotta cry like a baby to truly worship Christ.” What I’m saying is that peripheral thoughts get muted and you’re alone in that place where in the Old Testament, only the high priest could enter; the Holy of Holies.

But Jesus gave me access and now I am the recipient of a much better covenant than the one given to Moses and Israel. It’s the very reason why the writer of Hebrews declares:

So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive His mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need.1

I realize that like the Jews of the Old Testament, I was fearful to get too close; preferring instead for someone else to enter into that place.

What I didn’t realize was that they were going in for themselves and not for me; I had to enter that place myself if I was ever going to really worship.

I had to offer up a sacrifice of praise to God; for me.

I had to offer up thanksgiving to God; for me.

But I don’t have to offer up atonement to God; Christ already did that, for me.

I know there might be some guys out there reading this post and you’re thinking you can handle yourself in a pinch; you’re not gonna be a pushover for anybody. Perhaps some of you women have tasted the sting of a male who has this image of a tough guy seared on his brain. You escaped him and you’ve decided that, you ain’t nobody’s play toy anymore. But like me, you’ve been letting someone else go into that place, thinking, I don’t need to go there.

But that’s where you’re wrong!

You need to walk in there, into the Holy of Holies and let it just be you and Jesus; so you can worship Him.

If you’ve never really experienced real worship, you won’t know what I’m talking about, but those of you who have, Know the freedom and joy that comes from worshipping Jesus Christ.

Aretha Franklin sang about a spirit in the dark but Jesus says,

God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.2

So we sing as we worship Jesus Christ, who declares,

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one come to the Father but through me.3

I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of light.4

Worshipping Christ illuminates my perspective; it gives me insight into my access to God. Without worshipping, I’m just in the dark…waiting for God to move in my life.

Praise God! I don’t have to wait anymore!

I’ve got access.

How about you? Do you have ACCESS?

Our Father in heaven,

I thank you that through Jesus, we have been given access to that most sacred and holy place. We can experience the joy of your presence and offer up true worship. No longer will I think it’s acceptable to remain on the outside. I will never come before Your throne while standing on the outside, assured that my pride remains intact. Take my pride Lord Jesus. It’s worth nothing but you can have it. Take my ego and my macho, tough guy attitude and nail it to the cross You hung on for me. I just want to stay in here and worship with You for as long as I can. Thank You Jesus that I have access. I praise Your Holy Name, the name of Jesus Christ. You are my Rock of Salvation, my Redeemer and Lord. I’ve got purpose now Lord Jesus and worshipping You is a big part of my purpose and priority.


Footnotes:
  1. Hebrews 4:16, Living New Testament
  2. John 4:24, NASB
  3. John 14:6, NASB
  4. John 8:12, NASB
References:
  1. The Layman's Parallel New Testament, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  2. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6


What's in a Name?

Note: This post was written several months ago but I kept postponing it because the Holy Spirit led me to write on other topics. I no longer feel constrained to delay this post any longer. Some things have changed in my life since I first penned these words but I believe I have a firmer confidence in Christ during the time I began this and now. I'm not sure if it will be of value to anyone other than myself but the Holy Spirit has helped me see with a clarity I did not have at that time. May the Lord bless and keep you always.

Single red rose, Courtesy of photobucket.com
Single red rose, Courtesy of photobucket.com

Shakespeare once wrote:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose…By any other name would smell as sweet.1

Each of us has a name which we are known by. In America, the African was stripped of ancestral names and given what is known as a slave name; this was typically a European name. If there was a surname, it was that which belonged to the slave master.

My surname is the same as my father and his father’s father. I have no idea what my African tribal name is; I do know that I descended from the area now known as Angola. I have often thought what it would be like to meet those who still live where my ancestors were kidnapped.

I do not really know my father. He calls me from time to time, and we are cordial but our relationship was disconnected when he made the decision to disappear from the life of his family. I do not know any relatives with my surname other than my brothers and those who came after us. I have tried to avoid being a carbon copy of my father because (in my mind) he represented the worst that my name could be.

I’m sure my sons and daughters would acknowledge (if they had to admit it) that they too have tried to avoid being a carbon copy of me; particularly the worst aspects in me.

I believe that as a child, I wanted, desperately wanted to redeem my family name; but I didn't know how. I wanted to make my surname honorable, a source of pride and prestige. When I became a Christain, I learned that the Jews also believed in redemption, that you could buy back anyone or anything which was sold into slavery.

You might wonder why my name was so important to me and all I could say is that, “As a child without a father, I felt ashamed and dishonored.” The strange thing is that very few people call me by my surname. I’ve been called many names in my life (both good and bad) but seldom am I called by my last name. I do feel pride in my name because it was redeemed but there are still inherited traits from my father and his ancestors. I say that because I do things which remind me of him. I am distant with others not because I don’t like people; I suppose I found security in personal solitude. When I am around others, I believe I am quite sociable; but you would have to ask others who know me that question.

God is called many names too (some good and some bad) but there is one name God is known as which has always made me aware of the immense greatness of who He is: Jehovah

The nation of Israel was so careful in speaking the name Jehovah that they would remove all vowels and only pronounce the consonants. The name JHVH was spoken with fear, awe and reverence.

For the Jew, to say the name of the Lord God served as a reminder to be thankful because the word Yah meant to breathe. Each time the name of the Lord God was spoken; the Jew was reminded that the breath of God was in him. So he would say JH (Yah) VH (veh) (that is, Yah-veh). Literally it means the life of God exists within me as I move and breathe.

Abraham’s original name was Abram (Ab-rawm’) which means high father or father of height (i.e., lofty). This could be interpreted as one who honors his father as the firstborn son or one of physical size. Since birthright (as the firstborn son) or size was preferable and honorable to a father, this would have been an honor to Abram’s father (Terah). It is possible that as an adult, the name Abram served as a reminder that he was childless. In Abram’s day, having a son was most important because it meant the continuation of the family. Being childless meant that his name, his life, his family history would cease with Abram but God changed that.

God added a syllable to Abram’s name Ha (haw). The Hebrew word Ha means behold or look and see what I do now. God breathed life into Abram’s body and changed him to Abraham (Ab-raw-hawm’), meaning father of a multitude.

Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.2

I may never know what my African tribal name is but each day I am reminded to behold, look and see what I do now for you; (by the syllable) Ha. Each day, I discover how gracious God is towards me and those in my life. I can never praise Him enough for His goodness. My surname was given to a slave; physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Through the grace of God, my surname and my life was redeemed by Christ.

In Hebrew, the word Yehovah (Yeh-ho-vaw’) comes from the word hayah (haw-yaw’). Yehovah is (the) self-Existent or Eternal One. Hayah means, to exist, that is be. He who is, was and ever will be.

I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord (Jehovah) I did not make myself known to them.3

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…4

The New Testament Greek form of the word Jesus is Iesous (Ee-ay-sooce’) is the name of our Lord. It comes from the Hebrew word Yehowshuwa (Yeh-ho-shoo’-ah) which means, Jehovah saved.

You may have never given much thought to what your name means; perhaps you have. I want you to know God has placed a value on you and your name. Through Jesus Christ, God redeemed you and your name from the slavery of sin and death. When you breathe, it is by the breath of the Lord God, Jehovah. When you move, it is by the power of the Lord God, Jehovah. You have existence (life) by the Self-Existent One, Jehovah.

For in Him we live, and move and have our being…5

No matter what anyone has told you, names are important; they represent
  1. History,
  2. Identity,
  3. Value,
  4. Integrity,
  5. Honesty,
  6. Love and
  7. Hope
History:
Many people have been able to trace their family history back for generations and in some instances, hundreds of years. One's family history can offer a glimpse into the past as to the character and behavior of those who preceded you. Sometimes, family history can be stained by the lives of ancestors with questionable character. We all recognize the stain of one's name when associated with something bad. The names Hitler, Stalin, Capone, Gacy, Amin and Mussolini are names most of us readily identify as men who caused great suffering and pain. For the Christian, our history is intertwined to the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Identity:
It is through identification that we answer the question: Who am I? How I live my life is often characterized by my identity. The alcoholic is identified by his uncontrollable need to drink. The abuser is identified by his need to instill fear and pain. In Christ, we learn of His compassion, love, service and obedience. Identifying with Christ will be characterized by His reflection in our life.

Value:
Often, we are deceived into believing we don't matter; that we're insignificant. But the truth is that God sacrificed His only Son for you; Jesus willingly died on a cross for you. That indicates that God places great value on you. The reality is that before you existed, The All-Knowing God thought enough to value you; He still does today.

Integrity:
When I think about integrity, I think of someone who is true to their word. What you say matters, so if your words are not bonded by integrity, then it says, "My word means nothing. My word is empty and worthless." God's word cannot fail because He upholds it with integrity. My word has failed me (and others) more times than I can count, but I'm realizing how important it is that my words have integrity. Learning to be faithful to God teaches me to uphold what I say.

Honesty:
I was reading another blogger writing about confession and one of the comments stated that too often Christians will run you down if you confess your faults. But should our actions be governed by what others say or do? I think it helps to have trusted friends whom we can share our lives with and not fear rejection. We all have faults, I am learning to be honest about mine.

Love:
God is love. When I ponder that truth, I realize how much grace He extends to me in my life. It is as if I'm in the ocean drifting and God casts me a lifeline. But before I can reach it, I drift even further away. But God loves me to such an extent that His lifeline of grace extends to where I am. That is the character of God's love for each of us; an unconditional love. I wish I could love unconditionally; I try, but so often I fail. Still, I won't give up because God hasn't given up on me. I will learn to love unconditionally.

Hope:
A farmer hopes for an abundant crop. A child hears a familar sound and hopes the ice cream truck will drive down his street. Each of us has hopes we want to realize. The Christian hopes in the resurrection. A hope that one day I will stand before my Saviour and hear Him say, "Well done good and faithful servant." Being a Christian gives one hope. Hope that we can give, serve and love better than we did. Hope that God will strengthen me to face the challenges of each day. Hope that I will bring glory to God by exemplifying the life of Christ.

Whatever your ancestors were, no matter what you felt, thought or did, your name and your life have now become relevant. You are important and significant to the Lord God. The Book of Life contains the names of all those whom the Lord God redeemed. Do not live in the past. Let every breath serve to remind you of the price of redemption. You are different because of Jesus Christ.

What’s in your name? Your name is the representation of your identity. Your identity defines the kind of person you are. Let your name serve as a reminder of the goodness of God and the life of Jesus Christ.

Footnotes:
  1. Romeo and Juliet, Act II, scene 2, Written by William Shakespeare
  2. Genesis 17:5, KJ
  3. Exodus 6:3, NIV
  4. Philippians 2:9-11, NIV
  5. Acts 17:28, NIV
References:
  1. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, By James B. Strong, S.T.D, LL.D., Riverside Book and Bible House, Iowa Falls, Iowa 50126
  2. King James Version, The Crusade Analytical Study Edition, Crusade Bible Publishers, Inc., PO Box 90011, Nashville, Tennessee 37209
  3. The NIV Study Bible, Edited by Kenneth Barker, Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, USA

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sweet P's -- Praying for those facing trouble

Sweet P's are: Prayers, Petition, Praise!, Courtesy of teawithtiffany.com

Each Friday, Tiffany (Tea With Tiffany) hosts a meme requesting that other bloggers join her in a round of sweet P's (Prayers, Petition, Praise!). I'm appending my Sweet P's along with her's and others in a offering to our Lord. I invite you to please join with us.

Our Father in heaven,

So many people feel alone, helpless, hopeless, discouraged, defeated, beaten down, bruised, neglected and lost; they feel like giving up. They may not even realize it but they are standing at the altar of deliverance and salvation. The enemy has assaulted them thinking that their lives can be taken but NO LORD! The enemy is a created being, just like me. There is only One God over all heaven and earth. The enemy doesn't understand that all those scheming, conniving and cunning efforts only steer us to the altar of Your deliverance.

I remember what Jesus said about the daughter of Jairus, "The child has not died, but is asleep." People laughed at Jesus. But Jesus spoke to that child, "Little girl, I say to you, arise!" And right now the devil is mocking, believing he has a stronghold in someone's life but it's time to hear the word of the Lord speaking deliverance from anxiety and fear.

Jesus wants to speak life into someone's life, just as He did with Lazarus when He told Martha, "Your brother shall rise again." Jesus is the resurrection and the life; we live because of Christ, "in Him we live and move and have our being". Someone struggling needs the resurrection power of Christ in their life right now, enabling them to rise up from their circumstances. Oh my God, let them hear You say, "arise!"

The centurion said to Jesus, "Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed." Our Father, we have been made worthy by the blood of Jesus Christ, I ask You to say the word Lord, that healing and deliverance would be experienced in the lives of many who think all hope is gone.

People are facing disaster in their lives, whether it's because of flooding, oil spills, sickness, death, loss of work, loss of family, loss of hope; You're the God of redemption. Lord God, let the power of Your words speak life into their lives, speak deliverance and healing from circumstances. Lord speak the words of peace that exceeds all human understanding and comprehension because You are "able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think"; Your power "works within us" Lord God.

I thank You Father that so many are calling on You right now; interceeding for others. Your love encourages us to seek You, to send You our petitions; to call on the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ.

Thank You for hearing us and answering the needs of so many. I lift up my hands in praise of such a mighty God. You are the God of compassion and love. I believe that today, many will experience a breakthrough in their life, shouting victory and sending up praises to You. Thank You for the richness and abundance of Your grace. Bless Your holy name. Amen.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Coming After Christ (Part 3)

Following Jesus means to follow in His steps, image courtesy of ucgmikebennett.wordpress.com
Following Jesus means to follow in His steps

What does it mean to follow Christ?

The Greek New Testament word used in Luke 9:23, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-theh’o) means, To be in the same way with, to accompany specifically as a disciple: --- to follow.

This infers to me that there is agreement by me to accept the discipleship of Christ; to be guided and mentored by Jesus Christ.

Sharon (Sharon Sharing God) recently wrote about hiking with her husband:

Sometimes when we’ve been hiking for a long time I get really hot and tired, and sometimes I don’t think I can take another step. What do I do? I keep my husband in my sights ahead of me, and I just plod on after him.1

Following was never a strength I exhibited. Taking instruction was for me always difficult because I had my own opinions about what to do and how to do it. If you’ve read the previous two posts you’ll recognize a pattern of thought and behavior inconsistent with someone coming after Christ.

Topics on submission and discipleship were not that important to me as fundamental concepts to grasp. As a result, I continued to be mired in thoughts and behaviors which severely limited my appreciation for the goodness and grace of God. It also restricted my ability (and willingness) to face adversity, temptation and sin.

As I look back on my life, the Holy Spirit has helped me recognize that although my biological father deserted our family, I still managed to pick up an attitude and behavior he demonstrated although he never personally mentored me.

When my father left, he abdicated his responsibilities as a husband and father. It was as if he went to the moon because he had vanished. He never called, wrote or attempted to contact me or any of my brothers; were invisibly non-existent to him. What the Holy Spirit helped me realize is that when I didn’t agree with someone, or they gave me frustration, they became non-existent to me. I wasn’t even cognizant of this thinking and pattern of behavior but I can see how I often emotionally shutdown on people.

As I said, my relationship with Christ was no different than my relationship with anyone else; it was a conditional relationship. I’m thankful that I no longer have that kind of relationship but I’m saddened that I have damaged some really valuable relationships which I thought in my mind were perfectly OK.

Following Christ takes commitment, discipline, wisdom and sacrifice. I can say without reservation that I’ve had days where I’ve cried out to the Lord, “I have nowhere else to go, who is there like You that will listen to me?” I’ve also had days where words just couldn’t be uttered from my mouth and I found the only word in my vocabulary was, Jesus.

We all begin this journey the same way, we hear the message of the gospel and we make an expression of our faith by accepting Jesus Christ as our savior but at some point, the journey starts to get rough.

Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the rod, and the birds came and ate them up. And others fell upon rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil, and yielded a crop2

Being rooted is a term used in martial arts that indicates your base cannot be moved. Have you ever seen a plant grow in the most inauspicious place? Through a crack in a concrete sidewalk, in a junkyard; places one can’t imagine a plant surviving. And yet, there it grows! Despite all the obstacles, it remains rooted. To follow Christ, I must remain rooted.

To be rooted in Christ, I must be committed to Christ.

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up3

Most of us understand the concept of discipline and the phrase lack of discipline or undisciplined. I had to learn that I couldn’t follow Christ and lead an undisciplined life. I like to think of discipline as order that escapes chaos. My life before Christ was chaotic, undisciplined, and lacking focus. Accepting Christ didn’t suddenly cause these flaws to change. I discovered that it takes discipline. For me, it is the kind of discipline that flees a chaotic life much like a runaway slave. I needed order in my life and as a software engineer, I learned about order and structure. Without me even realizing it, God was giving me a pattern to follow Christ; the order and structure He could impart in my life.

To be disciplined in Christ, I must have order and structure.

Unlike knowledge, wisdom was difficult to acquire. I was intelligent, so acquiring knowledge was never a difficult task for me. But wisdom was far more elusive. For me, I have come to realize that wisdom isn’t the years of experience I’ve gain in an area; wisdom is the correct application of the knowledge I’ve acquired. It’s one thing to know the right thing to do, wisdom enables me to do the right thing correctly.

Everything is permissible for me—allowable and lawful; but not all things are helpful—good for me to do, expedient and profitable when considered with other things. Everything is lawful for me, but I will not become the slave of anything or be brought under its power.4

True wisdom comes from God and I had to learn that if I was ever going to be successful in following Christ, I needed something I sorely lacked; wisdom. Reading the bible enables me to acquire knowledge but no matter how many times I read scripture, I am conscious of my need for God to impart wisdom and understanding so that I will correctly apply the word of God in my life.

To apply spiritual wisdom in my life, I must seek wisdom and understanding from God.

How many times have you heard someone say, “Why does God require me to give something up?” Many people think that following Christ is painful. I guess if you’re being stoned as Stephen was, then yes that was painful. But when I considered my thoughts on things I have to give up for Christ, I realize that this was my own concept of the relationship; not God’s. I spoke earlier about how in the Old Testament, the sin offering was brought to the priest and the offerer would lay his hand on the head of the animal symbolizing a transfer taking place. All claims of ownership rights, vested interests were abdicated because the offerer acknowledged that the sacrifice belonged to God. I’ve learned in my life that things I’ve given up required a willingness on my part to transfer rights to God. So if I had a problem in my life, like shutting down emotionally with others, I came to realize that it was something which I was incapable of handling on my own. I reached a point where I offered it up to God, transferring ownership rights to Him.

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.5

Sacrificing the things I selfishly crave in order to maintain a relationship with Jesus Christ and others is a choice I freely make.

To sacrifice, I must freely give to God that which I value.

Christ says:
If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.6

Father God,

Following Christ has not always been easy for me to do, but the fault was with me. I humbly declare my desire to follow Jesus all the days of my life. I'm committed to discipleship. I seek Your wisdom and understanding in things pertaining to my life. I ask the Holy Spirit to help me apply Your word in my life each day. The things I once treasured and valued are now an offering to You. I ask You to help me see what else needs to be offered up that I may follow Your Son without being choked by the cares of this life. Amen.


Footnotes:
  1. In His Footsteps, by Sharon Kirby, on the Blog Faith’s Firm Foundation, August 16, 2010
  2. Matthew 13:3-8, NASB
  3. John 15:6, NASB
  4. 1 Corinthians 6:12, Amplified Bible
  5. John 15:13, NASB
  6. Luke 9:23, NASB
References:
  1. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, By James B. Strong, S.T.D, LL.D., Riverside Book and Bible House, Iowa Falls, Iowa 50126
  2. The Layman's Parallel New Testament, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  3. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  4. Matthew Henry's Commentary, McDonald Publishing Company, McLean, Virginia 22101, ISBN 0-917006-21-6
  5. Sharon Sharing God, blog by Sharon Kirby

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Coming After Christ (Part 2)

Taking up your cross daily, image courtesy of photobucket.com
Take up your cross daily

One of the most difficult things for me to do was to take up my cross daily; I was always looking for my own personal Simon of Cyrene. Those who know me easily recognize that I don’t care for manual labor. As a young boy I had a summer job picking up trash in the neighborhood. It was hot and tiring work and it was that summer that I decided I would do anything other than manual labor. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to work in the IT profession.

When I think about these words of Christ, I realize that this involves a kind of death march of one’s self; understanding the march ends in crucifying my earthly ambitions. Hmmmmm…you can see how difficult it was for me to get to this place when I couldn’t even deny myself. The idea of someone else carrying my cross seemed perfectly acceptable, especially if they were willing to. I remember one of my younger brothers bought a car and in my mind I knew I now had wheels to go where I wanted. I remember times I would just grab his keys and leave. It never occurred to me that I needed to correct my behavior towards my brother.

My real problem here is that I was irresponsible and accepting Christ didn’t change that attitude initially; because I didn’t want to carry my cross. I look at carrying my cross daily as practicing personal responsibility. I once commented on another blog that discussed the need to trust God. In my comment I acknowledged the need to trust God but I found myself asking, Does God trust me? When God needs someone to demonstrate the power of His forgiveness, His immeasurable grace and love, His unsurpassing goodness, His righteousness and truth, and His holiness, will He call on me? Am I being responsible as a servant of God? Am I being accountable to God?

Carrying my cross daily is that aspect of me putting to death my selfish desires to gratify my own wants and replacing them with a genuine desire to offer myself up as a living sacrifice. The bible says,

…present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.1

Presenting myself as a living sacrifice becomes a form of worship offered to God. The understanding finally dawned on me that doing so is reasonable because worship requires sacrifice. This parallels what occurred in the Old Testament references to worship.

…’When any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or flock…And he shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf.'2

The sacrificial offerings of animals were consumed by fire. The fire that consumes me is the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, the offering was sacrificed by the priest but it was presented to the priest by the offerer for their sins. In doing this, the offerer gave up any claims, rights of ownership or vested interest in the offering (animal); it belonged to God. This was symbolized by placing their hand on the head of the animal to indicate a transfer of:
  1. Ownership rights
  2. Sin
Taking up my cross daily is a voluntary act on my part, not as an act of atonement such as what occurred in the Old Testament; Christ has once and for all atoned for me. Taking up my cross daily is the act of a free-will offering, a sacrifice of praise, and a sacrifice of thanksgiving unto God.

Each day as I choose once again to take up my cross, I recognize it is a conscious decision on my part to abstain from sin and be an instrument offered to God for whatever He purposes. I have in truth, given ownership rights, claims and all vested interests of my life to God; I am no longer my own.

This is for me, taking up my cross daily.

Footnotes:
  1. Romans 12:1, KJ
  2. Leviticus 1:2,4, NASB
References:
  1. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, By James B. Strong, S.T.D, LL.D., Riverside Book and Bible House, Iowa Falls, Iowa 50126
  2. The Layman's Parallel New Testament, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  3. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  4. Matthew Henry's Commentary, McDonald Publishing Company, McLean, Virginia 22101, ISBN 0-917006-21-6


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Coming After Christ




One Way Highway Sign, image courtesy of ricesigns.com
We need to hear from you
We need a word from you
If we don't hear from you
What will we do
Wanting you more each day
Show us your perfect way
There is no other way
That we can live

I love the early morning just before the break of dawn. The house is quiet, the dawning sun has not yet appeared but I am ready to talk with God. More importantly, I’m discovering the importance of being silent as the Holy Spirit washes over my thoughts; allowing me to reflect on the mercies, goodness and graciousness of Almighty God. Often, I will find myself singing a song that comes to mind. It was during my Morning Prayer and meditation that the Holy Spirit brought this passage of scripture to mind:

And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’”1

As I thought about this, I found myself looking out the window into my back yard. I could see a butterfly hovering around a fruit tree. I then watched several birds land to the ground and eat their fill.

I then thought about a medical research story I read last year which reported that researchers at the Tokyo University of Science successfully created what they call a “tooth germ” containing genetic instructions and then subsequently implanted it inside the tooth socket of a mouse. One month later, a new tooth appeared above the gum line. After 11 weeks, the new tooth contained the same properties, shape hardness and response to pain and stress as a natural tooth; the tooth also was used for chewing by the mouse.

This got me to thinking about the long-term implications of merging science with technology. Medical Science is now using the term, “programming” which was formerly used exclusively by IT Technologists. The idea that germs or cells can be “genetically programmed” to follow a set of instructions (either one-time only or until a conditional interrupt occurs) is a radical leap from how most view science and medical research.

I suddenly got the thought that butterflies, birds, and even germs function based on their coding; it’s in their DNA so to speak. I then wondered why as a Christian I struggle in areas of my life while a bird never concerns itself with the next meal.

A bird follows the life of a bird.

A butterfly follows the life of a butterfly.

Germs and cells follow the life of germs and cells.

Who do I follow?

Christ says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me”, there are three steps to take:
  1. Deny myself
  2. Take up my cross daily
  3. Follow Christ
I’ve discovered that the more things I have, the more difficult it is to deny myself. I derive a measure of pleasure from things. It’s strange when I think about it but I live a life of redundancy. Perhaps it’s because money was tight growing up with a working Mom and four brothers. If I have something, you can be pretty sure I have two. When I shop for groceries, I seem to always pick up two items; redundancy. Perhaps it’s as I said growing up with very little disposable income. Working in IT has only seemed to reinforce that pattern of thinking. If you are architecting a computer system, one of the issues to address is failure. If you have a redundant system, you protect yourself from failure by just switching to the redundant system if the primary fails.

Things get in the way of denying myself.

The problem with denying myself is that I love me. I love everything about me. I don’t mean there are aspects of my life that I prefer not to have, but I find it difficult to get upset with myself over anything I do. If I am disappointed, it is quickly forgotten and once again, I love me. It occurs to me that the love I have for myself is unconditional love; I don’t have to do anything to love me, I just do.

I used to believe that absolutely no one loves unconditionally. People only love me as long as they were getting something in return. When I look back at this belief system I valued, I realize I was actually defining my method of loving others. I hope you can see the flaw in this belief because it sets you up to be manipulative, deceptive or ultimately frustrated. I did things to get things; my relationships were predicated on what someone had of value that I wanted.

God has demonstrated to me that His love is unconditional and I must admit that was a difficult concept for me to grasp. I conducted my life as if it were a software program coded by an IF THEN ELSE condition clause. If I do this, then God will do that or else. There is a scripture which is so appropriate for that kind of thinking:

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.2

In my mind, if God didn’t answer my prayer it was because I missed an instruction step in my flawless program, all I needed to do was debug it, correct the problem, and re-run the code. Early on in my studies of programming languages, I learned the phrase, GIGO, which means, Garbage In, Garbage Out. It never occurred to me that I was following the wrong set of instructions; after all, this was my code!

I don’t know about anybody else but this thinking was constructed out of a concept that God was a kind of genie. Now I didn’t refer to God as my own personal genie, but it strikes me that this is how I essentially viewed Him. Rub-a-dub-dub, say a prayer, and presto change-o, my prayer would be answered by God. Problems began to mount as I experienced unanswered responses from my genie...errrr God. This led me to become frustrated with God, and when that happened, I cut off His access to me. As silly as this may sound, I thought I was in control of this relationship with God. I would teach Him a lesson, either do as I say, or You get nothing from me. I was certain He’d get my message.

I really didn’t understand the concept of God’s sovereignty. Because of this, I didn’t understand that God had another kind of routine running in the background of my life (the Holy Spirit). One thing I’ve learned from a career in IT is that software routines which run in the background (or behind the scenes) are actually more critical to the ability of software running in the foreground; allowing them to function correctly.

I won’t bore you with geek-speak but something as simple as the movement of a mouse requires software code that maps a display screen so that anytime you move that mouse, you see the display symbol of where your mouse is pointed. What you see (and care about) is where the mouse points on the screen, what you don’t see is the background software (set of instructions) that indicates movement of the mouse.

So in my case, God has (a kind of software routine called) the Holy Spirit running in my background which I was totally unaware of. The routine wants to bring me to a point of true submission, to a place of dependency, to the presence of God; but before that can happen, it must deal with the viruses running around in my mind.

One virus which was particularly problematic was my view of God. God had to rid me of the virus of conditional love and replace it with unconditional love. This would mean that I needed to first accept that God loves me unconditionally; I also needed to recognize that my understanding of this belief was unimportant. I say this because there are many things in life which I don’t understand and yet, I accept the belief in their existence and operation.

For example, I don’t have to understand the internal mechanics of a combustion engine; I just need to accept that a unique key will start my car. I don’t have to know if the pilot flying the plane I’m in has twenty years of experience or two months, I simply need a boarding pass to believe I will arrive at my destination.

So I accept that God loves me unconditionally but I also had to learn to accept that answers to my prayers weren’t based on anything I said or did; which meant accepting the sovereignty of God as well. God isn’t required or obligated to answer my prayers in the way I want.

I had to learn to accept that God could say to me,

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.3

...And yet, still love me unconditionally.

God isn’t obligated to explain why He chooses to act or not act on my behalf. I had to learn to accept this aspect of our relationship. But just as I had to accept God’s unconditional love, I had to learn how to give love unconditionally. This background routine of God’s has been running in the background for years but the thing I realize now is that it was a scheduled routine that initiated when God called it to run. It has been running for a long time but I find that I am only now at the fountain that quenches my thirst.

In order for me to deny myself, I must love unconditionally. I can place no constraints on the relationship I have with God or others. There is nothing they can do to get me to love them. It is something I choose to do.

Everything in my life can be failing but not God’s love and now I can finally say, “Not my love for Him”. Those in my life, family, friends, peers and those whom God needs me to interact with will receive my love unconditionally; I choose to freely give love.

This then for me is denying myself.

I’m thankful that the Holy Spirit is running in me, ensuring that I’m available when God calls me, that I’m open to go or do what He asks. Not because I’m looking for something in return, but simply because I love God and for no other reason.

It occurs to me that I’ve said much already and I’ve only talked about denying myself to follow Christ. I hope that you will allow me to continue this discussion tomorrow. I certainly appreciate the time you’ve given me today.

Father God,

You have established a covenant with us through Your precious Son, Jesus Christ; a covenant built upon Your tremendous love and grace. The words of Christ echo in my thoughts but they echo throughout all eternity as well; follow Me. You demonstrate the magnitude and depth of Your love and You invite me to drink and partake in the marvelous ministry of salvation. I submit my life to you wholly and without reservation. I am Your's forever. I can never buy or repay Your goodness but I can love you without conditions. Thank You for freeing my life in this area. I invite You to create in me the attributes that truely demonstrate one who follows Christ. Amen.


Footnotes:
  1. Luke 9:23, NASB
  2. 1 Corinthians 2:14, NASB
  3. Isaiah 55:9, NASB
References:
  1. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, By James B. Strong, S.T.D, LL.D., Riverside Book and Bible House, Iowa Falls, Iowa 50126
  2. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  3. We Need to Hear From You, Lyrics by Andrae' Crouch, 1982, Light Records
  4. From Stem Cells to Tooth In the Mouth of a Mouse, Written by Jeremy Singer-Vine, August 10, 2009, Wall Street Journal

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I Got A New Attitude!

Extreme Makeover, image courtesy of tv.comI found myself reflecting this week about my past; my attitudes and actions. Have you ever found yourself immersed in conflict and
swept away as if you were in a rushing current of flood waters? More often than not, my emotions have led me to the deep end of dangerous waters. As a young man, I found myself following my emotions regardless of the consequences; that is a recklessly bad decision.

Years ago when I first moved from Chicago to Texas, I came face to face with something I didn’t expect. By that time, I wasn’t the Black kid growing up in Chicago, living in a predominately White community. Back then, that kid heard Whites call him some of the most vile, insensitive things a person could say to another human. In school, I had to endure the constant mocking from White students while teachers ignored their taunts. Between classes, I had to always be aware while walking down the stairs because a White student would often spit on unsuspecting Black students.

I learned about hatred at a young age growing up in Chicago.

But when I moved to Texas, I was a professional; I was a software programmer. I felt good about my accomplishments, what I achieved and where I’d come from.

And then one night, I met someone familiar, someone who I’d forgotten about for years; my old enemy hate.

As my wife and I stood inside the doorway of a restaurant, I heard someone speak to me on my right. I turned in the direction of the voice and asked the White man,

What did you say?

It was more a case of me being rhetorical than asking him for clarification because I knew exactly what was spoken, and then he said it again.

I stood there for a moment and then my emotions erupted as I invited the man to step outside. Since he was on his way out of the restaurant, I followed him but he wasn’t interested in fighting; by now though, I couldn’t hold back the roaring tide of my emotions.

As he quickly jumped behind the wheel of his car and locked the door, I began kicking the side of his car. This man, who had uttered a simple word to me, cowered inside his car waiting for his family to get in so he could leave.

I continued kicking in the side panel of his door, shouting for him to get out of the car but I was unable to persuade him. Finally he drove away.

My wife who had been pulling on my arm to no avail stood silent and embarrassed by my behavior. I remained incensed.

When I finally returned home, I sat down, my anger still simmering at its boiling point. It’s strange how the Holy Spirit chooses to speak to me at a time when I want to say,

Not now God.

What do you believe is more important, the truth or a lie?

I still wanted to feel angry, but He had my attention and I replied,

The truth is more important.

And then He asked me,

Then why do you believe a lie?

I was puzzled by this question and I immediately protested,

What lie have I believed Lord?

You believe you are what that man called you tonight.

Lord, I don't believe that!

Here I am, disputing the Omniscient God of all creation that, I know what I know; and then He said something I couldn’t argue with.

You had to believe that you are that word because you went to a tremendous effort to disprove it; only the offendable are offended.

I wanted to tell God that, offendable is not a word but I sat there quietly considering the possibility that perhaps God could be right. I know that sounds so totally arrogant but that was how I thought back then. My thoughts retraced the events that occurred earlier.

Why did I react so strongly? Why did I feel the need to disprove what was spoken to me? Did I actually believe what I heard?

Thoughts of my childhood years replayed in my mind like a video. I could recall those voices of my childhood, angry, insolent Whites shouting at me; reminding me I was unwanted. Voices reminding me I was unwelcome, not good enough, smart enough or competent enough; I just didn’t measure up to their standards.

As I’ve learned to identify with Christ, I’ve seen my ego checked at the door of faith. My life is no longer defined by who I am but by the life of Christ in me. I can no longer be reduced to a shamed example of Christ, I claim my manhood in Christ. I am not defined by the words of man but by the word of God.

There was a time in my life when I felt I was due respect for what I’d accomplished; I’ve done nothing to distinguish myself apart from Christ. Whatever I’ve been able to accomplish in my life is a direct result of the immeasurable grace and blessings of God.

It’s not a matter of what defines me, it’s who defines me.

I choose Christ.

Father God,

You are the Omniscient One, you know all things; You are intimately acquainted with me and my weaknesses. You know the scars I bear and the hurts I’ve felt. I acknowledge that words have a measure of power to hurt but words are not greater than You. I will not allow my life to be shaped by the human depiction of what I am. Your word declares,

…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

I thank You Lord God, that I am committed to renewing my mind daily, I am being transformed by the power that raised Jesus from the dead. I thank You that, ”I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” I seek to demonstrate Your will in my life; Your will is good, acceptable and perfect. Thank You for being the God who heals and restores; Your grace and love are beyond measure. You are worthy of all praise and glory. Amen.