Friday, February 26, 2010

God's Question

God has only one question for mankind.  He's been saying it for 6,000 years. Some of us have heard him say it multiple times. On the surface, the idea that an all knowing God would even ask a question sounds counterintuitive. But when one looks deeper, the answer is apparent.  If God is asking us a question, it's because WE choose the answer. God may know how we choose to answer the question, but He still gives us the free will to answer it.

Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9

God's first question to mankind was "Where are you?" It is a question only we can answer.  God didn't create robots pre-programmed to love him.  He created free will agents with the ability to choose Him, or not.  Hense, When God asked Adam, "Where are you?", He wasn't referring to his physical location.  God asking the location of your body is absurd.  God asking you to decide the location of your heart is the single most important question of your existence.

Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. Joshua 24:15

We are all born into this world as trees planted on a fence line.  On one side of the fence is evil, representing our world right now.  On the other side is good, representing our life in eternity. We remain on the fence line, up until the point God asks us that very important question.  If we choose Christ, we are uprooted and transplanted into His righteousness.  We are grafted into the vine of Christ and our identity is now in Him.  If we don't choose Christ, we are transplanted to the other side and thrown into the elements.  On one side is a life hid in Christ, planted in eternity, and justified. On the other is a life hid in uncertainty, hopelessness, and separation. As long as we breathe oxygen, we can choose where we want God to plant us.  So where are you?

Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy? You have planted them, and they have taken root and prospered. Your name is on their lips, but you are far from their hearts. But as for me, Lord, you know my heart. You see me and test my thoughts. Drag these people away like sheep to be butchered! Set them aside to be slaughtered! Jeremiah 12:1-3

The prophet's question is as valid today as it was 2,600 years ago. Why do wicked people prosper?  Why does it seem like good things happen to bad people, and vice versa?  The answer is obvious when considering the branches of a tree. Having your tree planted in Christ doesn't mean you won't have branches hanging over into evil.  If I'm in traffic, at the Popeye's drive thru, or at the mall, you might actually see them grow faster than Jack's beanstalk.  But those are my branches, that is NOT where I'm planted.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, we are not what we've done.  We are where we choose to be, and choose to trust.

Just like a Bible toting, bumper-sticker, lapel pin Christian can have branches sneaking over into wickedness,  a sinner can have branches reaching over into charity, righteousness and good deeds?  The answer to the age old  question is this:  God MUST redeem the good branches of the wicked in this life, because their next life is only judgement.  For the Christian, we have already been judged at the cross, so our next life is only reward.  We redeem the reward of our good branches, on the side of our planted hearts.  We redeem the consequences of our bad branches, on the other.

When a Christian reaches into sin and unrighteousness, God prunes them. He doesn't even try to clean it up. He leaves the dead branches on the ground for all to see and read. ( Think Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, King David,etc. ) When the branches of a wicked person reach out into righteousness, God prunes them and their reward is given to them now. Why?  Because their answer to the question was, "right here and I'm not moving."  When God asked Adam, "Where are you?", it wasn't because He needed to know where he was.  He wanted to know which side of the fence to plant him on. On one side is forgiveness and eternal life, on the other is shame and suffering.  The question hasn't changed in over 6,000 years.

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Mark 8:36
But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15

Friday, February 19, 2010

Falling Off The Earth

As a child, one of the games I used to play with my brothers was Keep Away. Keep Away is a children's game in which two or more players pass a ball to each other, while a person in the middle attempts to steal it. Of course, Keep Away could be played with anything. I've played it with a ball, a television remote, or anything wanted by the one in the middle. For me, Keep Away was more fun if the person in the middle didn't want to play. There was an added feeling of joy and happiness when you're taller, faster, and in possession of something valuable to the poor victim.

Many years ago, I came to a major crossroads in my life. It was decision time and I didn't know which way to go. I had just graduated High School and was deciding on whether to join the military, head to college, or attend seminary. I was so scared about making the wrong decision, I spent the entire summer worried about what was going to happen next. Would I go to college? If I did, would I pick the right major? What about the military? Which branch would I choose? I didn't want to waste time, and I certainly didn't want to screw it up. It was during this time of paralyzing pressure that God spoke to me these words, "It's easier for you to fall off the Earth, than to fall out of my will.

Before hearing those words, I always thought that God's will was like a doggy treat that I only got if I deserved it. If I prayed enough, had good church attendance, read my Bible, or sat still long enough, then God would reward me. It's as if God was Jay Stewart and I was on "Let's Make a Deal". If Jay liked me, perhaps he would give me a wink or some-type of sign to tell me which curtain I should go for. No one wants to get zonked in life, and perhaps a little flirting before the show will get me something big. I spent the entire summer being on my BEST behavior. In reality, I became religious. I pictured Father God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit playing a game of Keep Away. If I wanted His will, I needed to work for it.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Psalms 23:1-3
So why do we think we need to "make" things happen, when the scripture clearly teaches that He is the shepherd, and we are just the dumb sheep? It is the shepherd, not the sheep, that know where the next pasture is. It is the shepherd that makes the herd sit down and rest. It is the shepherd that takes the herd from danger. It is the shepherd that causes them to be where they need to be. It doesn't say he only leads the sheep with the whitest wool. It doesn't say he leads them if they've been good that day and haven't caused too many problems. The Lord leads them because of one thing. Because HE is a shepherd. Shepherds don't play Keep Away. God doesn't withhold good from us. For a sheep that WANTS to remain in the herd, it would be easier to fall off the earth than fall out of the Shepherd's will.

So what about Jonah? What about the sheep that seem to fall out of their shepherd's will? What you have to understand is that Jonah was a prophet of God to Israel. You don't get to be God's prophet by being rebellious. Jonah wasn't running from God, Jonah was running from an assignment. There is a big difference between a single act of rebellion, and living a rebellious life. It was because Jonah was in God's herd that He went after him. Jonah knew exactly what he was doing. Jonah didn't accidentally take the wrong flight and end up in Tarshish. Even when we purposely flee from our Shepherd, He comes after us. Why? Because that's what shepherds do. For a Christian who is in God's hand, and WANTS to be there, there is nothing that will be able to take you out of it. Even in the heat of the moment, when you jump yourself.

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me. John 10:28

Jonah is known by us as the guy who ran from God. But Jonah was known by God, as HIS sheep that had gone astray. Yes, you have a free will, and God will never violate that. But He does have a Ways and Means Committee that will ensure you return to the herd, one way or the other. Jonah was NOT the rebellious prophet who didn't want God. You are never who you are right NOW, and you are not who you used to be. Right now, you are His. You are not what you've done. You are NOT the rebellious child who had an abortion, had a child out of marriage, robbed a bank, or stole a car. God knew Jonah's heart and He knew that the Jonah's heart still belonged to Him.

God knows your heart, and he knows who you are, even when others don't. If you are in His family, then you are His responsibility and He will be the perfecter of your faith. Don't let the devil, your in-laws, or your friends tell you otherwise. And don't worry about tomorrow, next week, or next year. Keep your eyes on the Shepherd. The sun will rise, gravity will remain, and you can't sneak past the Shepherd. He's just too good at it what He does.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

And let us run with endurance the race God HAS SET before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Hebrews 12:1-2

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Spotter

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Eph. 6:10

Long before 38 Special released the album, strength in numbers was an idiomatic expression referring to the physical and emotional strength drawn from a group of people. The phrase implied that individually, we are nothing, but together, we are a force to be reckoned with. I have no strength, but the numbers do. Similarly, the Bible doesn't tell us to be strong. It tells us to be strong in the Lord. We have no strength, but God does. We have no power, but He does. Being strong in God has nothing to do with how well we quote scripture or the size of our authorized King James. Being strong in God is simply positioning yourself under his responsibility and his care.

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor. 12:10

No one likes to appear weak. We're not even interested in being strong, just as long as others think we are. We all have a tendency to flex our own muscles. We can't help it. We buy stuff, wear nice clothes, put on make-up, be on our best behavior, and change the way we talk. All because we want to project in public, a bigger, better, and more successful image of ourselves. Most of us are like walking power-point slides. We accentuate the positives. We underline and italicize. Even our walk looks like scrolling text, as we say our name in bold. But inside we know better. Paul didn't hide his weaknesses, he displayed them.

Paul isn't indulging in masochism. He's simply realized that troubles in life have aided in the popping of his bubble, the snapping of his girdle, and the crumbling of his wall. If it's down, God can lift it up. If it's out, God can put it back. If it's dead, God can make it live again. Paul understood that God doesn't compete with his kids. He doesn't say, "Let's flip a coin. Tails, you can do it your way. Heads, you have to follow me." If you want it bad enough, God will give it to you. God will never take the microphone out of your hand. He'll let you talk your entire life, and patiently wait for you to lose your voice. Paul embraced his suffering because he noticed how quickly it caused him to pull over, get out of the driver seat, and let God drive the car. Being lost with no gas, no money, and no place to go is a clue that you should have never been driving in the first place. Need proof? Ask Jonah.

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. 1 Cor. 10:13

Paul invites weakness, because it allows God to be strong. Paul also says that God doesn't test us beyond our limit. So which is it? How do we reconcile God being our strength in weakness, with the fact that he said he wouldn't tempt us pass our weakness? We have to recognize that HE is the way of escape, that allows us to bear it. The escape isn't an admission of defeat or a retreat. The escape is a part of the victory. The escape is a testament to God's faithfulness and His strength. Religion will teach you to return to battle with the latest Hillsongs album and quoting more scripture. Christianity teaches that it isn't about you, it's about Christ! Those that battle sins and habits on their own, fail miserably. Ask me how I know. Remember Joseph didn't conquer the temptation with Potiphar's wife, he RAN from it. Jesus was the only one who ever conquered sin. Flexing our muscles and standing in our own strength may seem like the Christian thing to do, but in the end, it will kill you.

There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. Prov. 14:12

Spotting is a crucial part in weight training. The main job of a spotter is stand next to the lifter with his or her hands under the bar. By doing this, the spotter can place MORE weight on the bar allowing the lifter to push more weight than he or she could normally do. If all we ever lifted was what we can already push, we would plateau and never go to the next level. A spotter ensures that your weight limit is always rising. God never brings us into situations where He isn't going to "spot" for us. And if God is spotting, there's NOTHING we can't lift. I've foolishly placed weights and had to call for a spot a few times. It's not a good feeling. Many choose to live their lives without God's love and protection. For them, there is no way of escape. ....unless you call for one.

For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Romans 10:13