Sunday, January 30, 2011

What Is It

What Is It
Jan 31, 2011
Exodus 16:15 "When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was . . ."

There is an old expression that goes something like this: "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." A horse, years back, was as valuable to humans as a super computer is today. A horse was very, very useful for a productive lifestyle. You could pull a plow or a carriage with a horse; you could ride a horse for many miles. In short, a horse made life so much easier, unless that horse was old and worn out. Then it was good for nothing. This is where the old expression, "don't look a gift horse in the mouth," comes from. You could tell the age of a horse, and therefore the value of a horse, by looking in its mouth at its teeth. The expression suggests if someone gives you a horse as a gift, don't try to place a value on it by figuring out it's age, just accept the gift.

This expression gives us a small lesson in gratitude. It suggests we should be thankful when presented with a gift, a gift that we did not necessarily deserve or earn. The Israelites had a hard time with this lesson, and never actually learned it. Recall when the Israelites left slavery behind in the land of the Egyptians and followed Moses through the desert. There was no place to grow crops in the desert or even raise livestock, so the Lord provided them with sustenance. God provided them with Manna. No one knows what Manna actually was, but the word Manna literally translates to mean "what is it." The Israelites had never seen Manna and didn't know what it was, though they did know it could be eaten and that it provided nourishment. But instead of calling it by a name that could have meant, "the provision of God," or "bounty from heaven," or "food of blessing," they called it "what is it." Their declaration in naming it was akin to looking a gift horse in the mouth. Had they been truly thankful for the gift, which they did not deserve or earn, they should have called it "Jehovah Tsayid," which means "food/provision from the Lord," or more literally translated "God-food."

The Israelites continued in their refusal to be thankful and grateful to God by complaining about their God-Food. They whined and begged God for something else, something different. Instead of accepting the gift in humility, they complained about it. In reading this history, we can learn from the Israelites' mistakes. We can choose to turn our nose up at the provision of God or we can choose to accept the gift with humility and be thankful, thankful for however the gift presents itself, especially if we do not deserve it and did not earn it. There are so many areas in our lives where we have been taken care of by the provision of God, yet we find reason to complain. Or we find reason to simply not give thanks for what God has done. We look at what we have and place a value on it in comparison to what others have. We look the gift horse in the mouth instead of being grateful for it. This is insulting to the Lord and does nothing to garner good will from the Head of the Universe. In fact, the fastest way to have something taken from you is by complaining about it.

This is your chance to look at what has been placed in your life and make a concerted effort to be grateful. This is your chance to see the gift in front of you and simply receive it, not analyze it, not critique it, not complain about it but simply receive it. God has given you so much and this is your opportunity to call it what it is, Jehovah Tsayid. God has given you gifts, gifts you did not deserve or earn. Be thankful and keep the blessing by not looking the gift horse in the mouth. After all, you could have less, that's for sure.

1. What is in your life that you are tempted to complain about?
2. How can you see what is in your life as a gift from God?
3. Taken a moment to express gratitude to God for what He has provided.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Gen 22:13-14, Ex 16

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Catalyst for Change

Catalyst for Change
Jan 24, 2011
2 Corinthians 4:16 "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day."

A "catalyst" is something that instigates or initiates change in a situation, almost immediately. A catalyst provokes an action that propels change at a faster rate. If iron is left out in a wet environment, it will eventually rust. However, if you add a significant amount of heat as a catalyst, iron will rust almost instantaneously. When a person contracts the bacteria that causes strep throat, if left untreated, it could turn into scarlet fever. The body may be able to fight off the infection, but it may take weeks, maybe months. If the right antibiotics are introduced as a catalyst, a person can now recover from scarlet fever possibly within a single week's time. Catalysts can work in both directions, negatively and positively. You've probably seen a catalyst interact in someone's life, like a motor vehicle accident. The motor vehicle accident can propel change in that person's life, altering it forever within just a moment's time.

In the Bible, Jesus served as a significant catalyst for change. He performed many miracles that instantly changed people's lives. He healed the sick; He delivered the demon possessed; He fed five thousand people; He spoke life and redemption into sinful situations; this list could go on. We read the Bible and are often envious of the cataclysmic events Jesus enabled in people's lives for the better. I've certainly thought about how a miracle from Jesus could change many situations in my own life. You've probably thought the same. It is a dangerous daydream, wishing and longing Jesus would perform a miracle for your situation. Sure, pray for a miracle and hope it will happen, but it is dangerous to pray for a cataclysmic miracle and then do nothing at all, simply waiting for it to happen. This kind of behavior might eventually have you sitting, doing nothing, for a lifetime here on earth. There is no guarantee your miracle will be granted by God. God is sovereign and will decide when and where to initiate a cataclysmic event in your life, if ever. The daydream becomes dangerous because you can become bitter while you're waiting, should things not change in your deteriorating situation. You can become disconnected from God and those around you if your miracle never happens and all you do is sit back and wait for God to jump at your commands.

This could be frustrating, not having a guarantee that God will deliver on your expectation of a miracle, the catalyst that could change your situations forever. There is nothing you can do to expedite or satisfy the need for a miracle. But there is something you SHOULD be doing, whether you are waiting for God to show up or not. You can change your heart. The very reason you might have the need for a miracle could be the condition of your heart. God may need or want it to be purified. God might have you in a holding pattern until you change your heart. Whether you are in a dire situation or simply waiting for God to change things, your heart condition can always improve. No matter who you are or your level of maturity, your heart condition can and should change. If you are longing for a catalyst to change your situation, first consider the need for a change in heart, your heart. If you can't change it on your own, then petition God for help. King David did; he knew his heart needed to be changed and was willing to let God do just that.

In reading Scripture, God seems more readily available to change people's hearts over giving them the miracle they thought they needed. Joseph didn't get out of his jail cell until his heart condition changed. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years because the condition of their heart never changed. Job didn't receive his fortune back until his complaining heart had changed. This tells us God is more concerned with the condition of our hearts than our situations however uncomfortable they might seem. The very thing you might need a miracle for could be the very thing God is trying to use to change your heart. Wow, what perspective. Who would ever imagine that God is trying to use your life's situation right now to refine you and your heart? God is doing that right now in your life. Look for God to change your heart instead of your situation. The catalyst for change you are looking for could be a change in your heart.

1. Are you waiting for a miracle or allowing God to help you change your heart?
2. How could your situation change if your heart changed first?
3. How can you allow God the freedom to work on the condition of your heart during all the trials of your life?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: 1 Kings 8:47, 2 Chron 6:37, Ps 51:10 & 17, James 4:8, Col 3:10, Titus 3:5, Heb 10:22

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Satisfy Your Flesh

Satisfy Your Flesh
Jan 17, 2011
Galatians 5:16 "So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh"

The most difficult thing to do as a Christian is to live and act like a Christian 24/7. Really? Does God expect us to be Christ-like every minute of the day? Seriously, there are probably times in every week out of the year that a stranger might suggest I was not upholding a Christ-like image in my life. That probably goes the same for everyone reading this. We both know it to be true. There is a constant battle inside of us, to satisfy the flesh and indulge in a few sins OR to live like Christ when it doesn't necessarily feel good. Let's admit it, sin is certainly satisfying sometimes, for a short while. Nonetheless, it is not something we are to be in the habit of doing, gratifying the desires of the flesh.

Even the great apostle, Paul, struggled with his fleshly desires and personal satisfaction. He said to the church in Rome, "'I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.'" We all know this to be true; every time we sin or do something we are not proud of, we have the same feeling that Paul expressed. We do the things we hate. There is an impulse control issue at work inside of us because our flesh wants to feel good, it wants to be satisfied. So, in a moment of self-gratification, we cave in to what the sinful nature wants. We sin. After Paul writes to the Romans about the problem, he writes a solution in Romans 8 and then again in Galatians 5. His argument is that our flesh and the Spirit cannot co-exist at the same time; if we live by the Spirit we will not submit to the flesh. We are to live by the Spirit 24/7 in order that our lives might reflect Christ at all times.

Paul's advice, to live by the Spirit in order to combat giving in to fleshly desires, really doesn't make much sense. HOW does a person live by the Spirit, or walk by the Spirit? What does it really mean to walk in the Spirit? Paul tells us the outcome but only gives us a glimpse on how to accomplish it. The outcome is a life filled with the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, etc.), but the means to get that fruit is not so clear. The glimpse he offers though, in attaining it, is written right after he discusses the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. He says, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." But, again, how do we accomplish this?

The answer is very simply but very hard to do sometimes. It is hard to do because it takes aforethought. You cannot fight the flesh while you are in the moment. It is impossible. You must fight what the flesh wants before you get into the situation when your impulse control will lose out to the temptations of sin. You must belong to Christ BEFORE you get into a moment that could compromise your faith. You must SUBMIT to the power of God and consciously lay down your own self when you are in a position of strength, when you have no temptations or sinful distractions. This can happen only when you are alone with God, on a daily basis. That is where you submit yourself to Him and accept the power of His Spirit to live in you. If you have done this, before you enter an opportunity to sin, you will be able to resist the desire to sin. You cannot submit to God once and think you are safe for the rest of your life. The Bible tells us that we must die to ourselves daily, that we must take up our cross and follow Christ every day. If you find yourself doing what you don't want to do, then submit to God and the power of His Spirit every morning, in a moment of strength, so you can resist the flesh in a moment of weakness.

1. Do you make a conscious effort to submit your life to God's Spirit on a daily basis?
2. How can you submit to God in your times of strength so you may combat your flesh when you are weak?
3. How can you take up your cross daily and die to yourself every morning? Try it this week and see what happens.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Luke 9:23, Rom 7 & 8, Rom 7:15, Galatians 5, 2 Cor 5:10, Phil 3:8 & 19

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reading the Right Scriptures, II of II

Reading the Right Scriptures, II of II
Jan 10, 2011
Jeremiah 29:11 "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

To read Jeremiah 29:11 with a literal translation in mind, it does appear that God was speaking to a direct audience, a specific segment of Jews living during a specific time period. While this may be disheartening to some who believe this exact Scripture speaks directly to them, there are some principles we can glean from reading this account of another's interaction with God. Though God was promising the prosperity, hope, and a future to those Jews who were exiled during that time, we can gain an understanding of God through His words. Whenever God speaks, He not only has words to say, but He also reveals His character. There is a certain facet of God's character revealed while He was speaking to those Jews through Jeremiah. This angle on God's character is His genuine desire to care for His children, to not leave them feeling abandoned. You may reinforce this part of God's character by reading the Scripture in the New Testament found in 1 Peter 5:7, "Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you."

There is some caution in applying this character quality of God's too liberally, and that is reading into it the idea that God guarantees physical prosperity for all His children. He never says you will have a big house, a handsome and lovely spouse, well behaved children, and a steady employment without stress. He truly never gives these promises in Scripture. Consider the 12 disciples, for example. The 12 disciples walked and talked with Jesus, following in His footsteps, their lives directed by His instructions. If the were any of God's children deserving of prosperity, it might have been at least a few of these 12. But there is no account, Biblical or historical, suggesting any of the 12 disciples had a physically blessed and prosperous life. In fact, almost all of the disciples were persecuted and martyred. This certainly isn't physical prosperity.

Consider John the Baptist who was declared by Jesus as the greatest among men. Certainly John deserved Godly plans of prosperity. But John lived in tents, ate bugs, wore itchy camel hair, and was beheaded for his beliefs. This is not, by any standards, a life of prosperity. Prior to the 12 disciples and John the Baptist, there were the prophets in the Old Testament, God's chosen mouthpieces. If anyone should be blessed, it would be a messenger of the Lord Almighty. But there is no account that any of the prophets received a life of prosperity by any means. Elijah was driven into the mountains, Ezekiel was considered a freak, Daniel was castrated and forced into servitude, and the Lord gave Hosea a prostitute for a wife; this list could go on and on.

These examples create a diametrically opposed thought on God promising to give us all a life of prosperity when you compare them to the verse in Jeremiah 29:11, especially when the verse says, "and not to harm you." We can see that His character does care for His children, but we can see by example that certain men of God never received that earthly life of prosperity so desired by many. There is a verse, though, that does give us a glimpse into what God actually desires for our lives. It is found in Numbers 6:22-27. This glimpse is found very early in Scripture when God was setting up His church, giving instructions to the first priest, Aaron. The priests were to perform their duties and pass the traditions down through the generations. God instructs Aaron, listen to His words: "This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: 'The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.'" This is God telling Aaron to pronounce and pray a blessing on God's children. A prayer of blessing that is to be said aloud, over their lives. This is what God wanted, even instructed.

God WANTS you to have a blessed life, but He never guarantees that you will be physically blessed with prosperity. Many factors come into play that lead to the seeming dichotomy of the 12 disciples not being blessed or the Prophets from living that life of blessing. It is the plan and work God has for specific people, which may require situational hardship, for His will to be carried out. Otherwise, God does desire that your life be blessed. If you do not have a physically prosperous life, then know God has a higher calling for what your life means in the greater scheme for mankind and His will for it on this earth. If that is the case, you will receive your prosperity and reward in Heaven.

While I do not know the formula for achieving a physical blessing from the Lord, or even if there is such a formula, I do know one thing. If you are not His child, living for Him, then His name is not placed on your life, leaving your blessing (either earthly or Heavenly) in doubt. Listen to what God says about this after He instructs Aaron to pray a prayer of blessing on His children, "'So [Aaron] will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them."' You can't have the blessing of the Lord, unless He has put His name upon your life. Live like a child of God and let Him put His name upon you. Then trust Him to take care of you, both in this life and the next, whatever that may bring. Let God define what blessing or prosperity means for your life, not how you want to interpret the verse found in Jeremiah 29:11.

Allow me to leave you with God's word for EVERY ONE of His children (not just the ones found in Jeremiah 29:11). May the Lord bless you and keep you, may He make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May He turn His face toward you and bring you peace.

1. What is your definition of the word "prosper"?
2. What verses did you use to get your understanding of the word "prosper"?
3. How can we perpetuate God's instructions to Aaron, by praying God's blessing for His children?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Num 6:22-27, Ps 37:25, Matt 11:11, 1 Peter 5:7, 2 Peter 1:20

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Reading the Right Scriptures, I of II

Reading the Right Scriptures, I of II
January 3, 2010
Jeremiah 29:11 "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"

For anyone reading scriptures from the Bible, it is important to perform some due diligence to truly understand the author's intended meaning. Yes, the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but it was written by men, across thousands of years, all of whom had different writing styles. It requires interpretation, when reading the Bible, to understand what God wanted to originally communicate through His words. Interpretation is not always easy and sometimes the same scripture could be interpreted many different ways by many different people. And yes, Christians can and do interpret scripture incorrectly at times.

For instance, King Solomon declares in Ecc. 2:4, "'I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.'" At first this seems pretty straight forward, suggesting that Solomon was the one who built the houses and vineyards for his own enjoyment. But it is extremely doubtful and improbable that a king actually picked up a hammer to literally build the house. There is limited reasoning to suggest that a king grabbed a shovel and physically planted his own vineyard. In this instance, a literal translation of the Bible is not valid because Solomon most likely employed people to build and create for himself; he even had slaves. If he had slaves, why would he dig a ditch to plant some grapes in rocky soil? Yes, Solomon could take the credit for having the houses built, but not for the physical construction. The Bible is not trying to lie and deceive us, but it is easy to read things incorrectly. In this instance, you and I probably do not presume to be fooled that Solomon was the actual laborer in the task, but it is a point we should all consider when reading other Scriptures.

There is a particular Scripture that is often misquoted or misinterpreted by Christians and pastors and preachers alike. It is Jeremiah 29:11, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" When reading this scripture and applying it, many people decide it means God wants to physically prosper anyone who reads it. I've heard many preachers quote this verse from the pulpit to parishioners, leading many people into believing this scripture was written and directed toward them. In fact, this scripture was written to a very specific group of people who were taken captive from their homeland and were fearing probable extinction in a foreign land. But God had other plans for them; He protected them and allowed them to be fruitful as a people group. It was from that original small band of people that Jesus Christ descended. Jesus as the Messiah, from their bloodlines, was the "hope and a future" God was talking about when He spoke those words to the captives through the prophet Jeremiah.

While God may or may not want to prosper you, He does not want you to get the wrong understanding from reading Jeremiah 29:11, or any other verse for that matter. If you read Jeremiah 29:11 and think God was writing this verse specifically for you and wanting to prosper you through it, then He would also like you to build a giant Ark out of Gopher bark and fill it with two of every kind of animal for a pending flood. This sounds silly, but we can't read the Bible both ways, only when it is convenient and pleasant for us. If we did this, we could pick and choose what we wanted to understand about God and His Word for our lives.

Understanding Scripture is not always easy; learned men can come to many different understandings of the same verse. I've been wrong on many occasions, throughout my life, in trying to understand God's Word. But this will not stop me from seeking answers to life's tough questions within the pages of God's precious Words. I would encourage you to do the same.

1. How would you interpret Jeremiah 29:11?
2. How can you ensure you are understanding and interpreting Scripture correctly?
3. What additional sources do you consult when trying to understand the Bible?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Ecc 2,Jer 29, Acts 8:26-40, 2 Tim 3:16