Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cross to Bear

Cross to Bear
Feb 27, 2012
Matthew 16:24 "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'"

If you are a Christian, then you have the opportunity and responsibility to follow Jesus. That is what being a Christian is all about. It's not simply about attending church or doing good things for others; it is about following the Lord Jesus Christ whole heartedly. Jesus spoke decisively as to what this means. He put it in plain language so the first Christ-followers could easily understand it: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." While the words seem easy for us to understand today, I don't think we fully grasp what Jesus was trying to say. He wanted to communicate that the individual didn't really matter any longer within the equation. He wanted to communicate something incredibly important to us that He would later demonstrate for us.

Recall the passages in Scripture that discuss Jesus' time immediately before His arrest and Crucifixion, praying in the garden. I can picture Him fallen prostrate in fervent prayer, the anxiety and stress of His impending torture bearing on His shoulders. As blood-sweat dripped from His flesh He begged the Father to take the cup of suffering and death from Him if possible. Jesus was saying that His own human nature was not excited about dying on the cross; He didn't really WANT to be tortured. But Jesus submitted to the will of the Father and obediently followed through with the Crucifixion. After Jesus was arrested, He was forced to literally carry His own cross to the place where He was put to death. Jesus could have decided at that point not to go through with it. But in obedience, He chose the will of the Father, bore His own cross and allowed Himself to be executed that day.

The early Christians were familiar with this process, watching a man march toward the hill of crucifixion while carrying his own cross. When Jesus said that a Christian must be willing to take up his own cross, denying himself, He was referring to this physical manifestation of marching toward a crucifixion. When He spoke those words, it was BEFORE He demonstrated them Himself, BEFORE He carried His cross. Jesus then gave us the first example of His own teachings, that you must deny what you want, submit to the will of the Father, literally march yourself to the hill of crucifixion and die to yourself, killing off anything that is internally you. WOW, this sounds aggressive, but it is the truth, and it is exactly what Jesus had to do.

We live in a world where "I" is the center of the universe. We raise a fit if we do not get our own way, and we talk louder when no one is listening to our opinions. But Jesus would say that if you want to call yourself a Christian, then all the selfish behavior goes away. Your opinion no longer matters in the grand scheme of things and you don't get to call the shots. Your hopes and dreams are secondary to the Lord's plan. While you might not like this point, you cannot argue with the Lord's words when He said, "deny yourself." His words were clear then and they are clear today. Jesus said you get to follow in His footsteps, marching your opinions and wants to the hill of crucifixion. Jesus carried a cross that should not have been His so you and I could understand bearing our own. And if we are not willing to do this, crucifying our opinions and wants and dreams, then Jesus has other difficult words to swallow. He said, "Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me."

We each must bear our own cross and do so willingly. If we do, He has promised that we will have eternal life in exchange. If we want to call ourselves Christians, yet not deny ourselves, then we are in jeopardy of Christ not knowing us in eternity.

Don' take my word for it; look it up: Matt 10:37-39, Mark 8:33-35, Luke 9:22-24, Luke 22:39-44

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Delayed Gratification

Delayed Gratification

Feb 20, 2012

Galatians 5:16 "So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh."

The Lord programmed certain primal instincts into the human brain to ensure the species would survive. For instance, when a human is too cold, he will do anything and everything to get warm (find a heat source, find shelter, put on additional clothing). When a human is hungry he is programmed to search for food. The severity of the hunger determines the passion with which a person will pursue food. It is the human nature to satisfy the needs of the flesh; it ensures survival. We are all programmed in this manner, to take care of our needs first and foremost. This has served the human race well for thousands of years, as evident by an ever growing population. This passion to serve the flesh, however, does have a point of diminishing returns. 

There can come a point in searching for food when the line of excess has been crossed. In a sinless world, if we are hungry, we search for enough food to satisfy the hunger pangs and we stop eating. The system works perfectly, that is, until we cannot stop eating despite having satiated the appetite. We all know what it feels like to over-eat. We live in a world where getting food is not as difficult as it once was. If you have easy access to the technology required for reading this devotional, then you probably have just as easy access to a food source. It is not a chore then, to get food the moment you are hungry. This results in instant gratification for the body's needs. Wow, what a great scenario: we get hungry and we find food almost instantly. The problem is, we don't stop eating when we are full. This scenario applies to so many areas of our lives, not just our physical appetite for food. Because we have a sinful nature, we are prone to seek over-gratification. Greed, lust, and gluttony coupled with instant gratification is a bad combination.

There is no delayed gratification anymore in our lives. We are able to gratify our fleshly desires almost instantly, whatever feels good. Our society is advanced enough to overcome almost every difficulty to human life. This ability to overcome difficult can be a good thing if we are cold and in jeopardy of hypothermia. This is a good thing if we are parched and in need of a life-saving spring of water. But it is not a good thing if we live every moment of our lives this way, constantly seeking ways to satisfy all the desires of our sinful flesh. When the Lord created humans, He programmed primal instincts into us, just as He did all the other animals. However, to humans, the Lord also gave intellect, the ability to reason beyond our primal instincts. There is problem, then when we are used to gratifying the flesh instantly in every area of our lives but must show restraint when it comes to the point of excess or areas that could lead us into sin. This difficulty in restraint and our ever increasing ability to make things instant has lead to the moral decline in the human species. The Bible recommends mastery over striving to always satisfy the flesh instantly. 

While I am not an expert in being sinless, I do know that if I instantly gratify myself in every area of my life, I am more prone to sin. The opposite is true as well; the more I delay the gratification of my needs, showing restraint, the less likely I am to fall into sin. Wise married couples have found this to be true when they were exploring sexuality at a young age. Obese people have found this to be true over time. Indebted people have found this to be true in their finances. The list could go on for all those with regret, suggesting that restraint could have saved so much heart-ache in life.

The Bible says that the only antidote for the inability to show restraint is to live life in the Spirit. This means not living according to what the flesh wants or needs, but having a rational approach to submitting ourselves to the Lord and allowing His Spirit to reign in our hearts and minds. It takes a conscious effort to submit ourselves to the Lord in all areas of our lives. He has promised that this will keep us from falling into the temptations that lead to sin. It takes less effort to submit ourselves to the Lord's Spirit BEFORE we get to the point of having to show restraint. Live a life submitted to the Spirit and instant gratification will not be an issue. As it turns out, delayed gratification is actually a good habit to put into practice. 

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Rom 13:14, Eph 2:3

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Locusts ate my Paycheck

Locusts ate my Paycheck
Feb 13, 2012
Joel 2:25 "'I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten. . . '"

Locusts are a grasshopper that can devour an entire field of crops in a matter of minutes. A swarm of locusts can wreak havoc on an area of countryside in just days. What takes weeks and months to plant and grow can be eaten by locusts in moments. While most of us don't live in an agrarian society that is susceptible to locusts, we can understand the devastation that can occur to our livelihood if an entire year's paycheck was consumed by a single unexpected catastrophe. In the Bible, locusts were used to describe just such a devastation, an event or time-period where a person is left destitute and completely helpless to stop it. You may have experienced time-periods of locusts in your life; the Lord prescribes a method of dealing with such calamity.

In the book of Joel, the Lord gave Joel a set of prophesies; some have already been fulfilled and some are yet to come. Throughout the text written by the prophet, the Lord uses imagery and words that give us deep clues into His character. Part of the Lord's character that is revealed is the response required of us when we have been devastated by locusts. In Joel, the Lord describes a devastation upon the land and tells the Children of Israel how He wants them to deal with it. He said they should declare a sacred fast and make sure their hearts are turned toward Him. He said they should each weigh their own hearts and ensure the Lord is the number one priority in their lives. He said they should examine themselves, repent of any sin, and declare their dependence upon the Lord.

In the Bible, a swarm of locusts, or a major devastation to a person's livelihood, was either sent by the Lord in order to get someones attention or by the Enemy in an effort to destroy a person. In both cases, it required an act of God to overcome the devastation. In some of the cases, the Lord relented after getting the person's attention, turning their eyes onto Him. In some of the cases, the Lord decided to step in on behalf of His children when the enemy was the cause. But it didn't matter what caused the locusts in a person's life, it just mattered how the person dealt with it--by turning toward the Lord in full and complete dependence.

We are living in an economic time-period that is akin to locusts; this presents us with an opportunity to respond how the Lord has prescribed: in complete and utter dependence upon Him. He wants our hearts to be completely toward Him, sin confessed (if any), and with a deep anticipation of Him to move on our behalf. If you feel the current economic time-period is not yet to the point of being like locusts in your life, the Lord still would like to have your undivided attention. If we all turn toward Him, Scripture says that He may relent, stop the locusts before they have eaten it all, and leave a blessing in its place. Locusts or otherwise, if the Lord sees our response of dependence upon Him, His Word has declared He would repay all that the locusts have eaten, that He will restore what was taken from us.

The Lord isn't interested in your crops, or your paycheck; He is interested in seeing you being completely dependent upon Him for everything. He wants your face turned toward Him at all times and your willingness to confess all your sins (regardless of how righteous you think you are, there is still a sin the Lord wants to get out of your life). If you have seen the devastation of locusts in your life, look toward the Lord, with your heart fully focused on Him.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: 2 Chron 7:13-15, Joel 1-3

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Running a Nation

Running a Nation
Feb 6, 2012
1 Kings 3:9 "So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?"

When King Solomon took over his father's throne, he was inexperienced. King David had left his son a great kingdom to rule, to manage, and to govern. I imagine it was an ominous task, frightening at times, considering the large responsibility Solomon had in filling his dad's shoes. Growing up a king's son, Solomon had a comfortable life, probably not lacking in an easy lifestyle. Surely there were those who might have even called him a spoiled brat at times growing up. But now, thrust into the seat of the throne, Solomon had to man up and run an entire nation. Solomon even recognized his own lacking, confessing to the Lord in a dream that his inexperience might hinder his success as a king. He recognized the task was important and was honest with himself that it would take a great man to rule such a large nation.

Solomon prayed to the Lord, asking for wisdom and discernment in ruling the nation entrusted to his care. The Lord, when Solomon requested wisdom, was impressed with the request. Others might have asked the Lord for riches and power, but not Solomon. Solomon's prayer tells us a great deal about himself, also shining a light into being an effective leader. Solomon requested wisdom. But why? Why did Solomon ask for wisdom in ruling the great nation? Why would it matter? Solomon was already king, he could have done anything he wanted with no one to stop him. What inspired him to request wisdom? The answer to this question is revealed when you read a portion of Solomon's prayer. Solomon said, "so give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people . . . who is able to govern this great people of yours?"

Solomon did not request wisdom in ruling a nation or a country, he asked for a heart to lead the Lord's people. He recognized that they were individuals who had mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. It wasn't a country to Solomon, they were people. He put faces to his task. And they weren't just any people, they were the Lord's people. Solomon feared the Lord. He recognized the Israelites, akin to the Lord's sheep, were simply entrusted to his care. He knew that if he failed in being diligent with their lives, then he would have to answer to God Himself. He knew that the individuals who made up the great nation were counted as important to the Lord. The Lord knew each person by name; Solomon wasn't running a nation, he was leading people.

You and I, though we aren't a king or queen, still have individual lives entrusted to our care by the Lord. We aren't managing a household or a classroom or a business or a soccer team, we are leading the Lord's people. They aren't just a group, they are individuals who are loved by the Lord. And they aren't yours for your benefit, they are there for the Lord's glory. You do have influence over people's lives and it is important to ask the Lord for wisdom in leading them His way. Be inspired by the Lord to care for His people. Ask Him for wisdom; ask Him how you should be diligent with those who are watching you. You will have to answer to the Lord Himself for how you managed others. You will also answer for the things you didn't do in managing others.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: 1 Kings 3, Dan 12:3, Matt 25:40 & 45, John 10:3, Rom 12:8, Rom 14:19, 1 Thes 4:11-12, Heb 13:17