Sunday, April 29, 2012

Problem Solved

Problem Solved
April 30, 2012 
Gen 41:14  "So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon . . ."

The story of Joseph is a tragedy with a happy-ever-after ending.  Joseph was loved by his parents and was clearly differen from his brothers.  The Lord gave Joseph a gift at an early age; it was the ability to see dreams and interpret them.  One of his first dreams was of his father and brothers bowing down to him, which only led to the first tragedy of his famous story.  His brothers were already jealous of him and this dream was just the icing on the cake.  It was possibly the final straw that set things in motion; his brothers plotted against him.  Soon, Joseph found himself being hauled off into slavery.
Joseph was just being Joseph, functioning in all the gifts and talents the Lord gave him, but it landed him in slavery and eventually in prison.  The tragedy in his life certainly was not fair or deserved.  But thankfully it didn't stop there for him.  He continued to function in his gifts even in prison.  Upon being thrown into prison, Joseph stayed true to the Lord and used his gift of dream-interpretation for two fellow prisoners.  Both of those interpretations came true when the two prisoners were freed three days later.  Joseph was sure to beg them to remember him, to help him get out of there.  But they didn't, at least not initially.

Two years later, one of those prisoners was still alive and the king was in desperate need of dream interpretation.  The prisoner remembered Joseph at just the right time and Joseph was brought before the king, to interpret a dream.  Joseph, again, functioned with the gifts the Lord gave him and was freed from prison, elevated in status, and given authority and wealth.

There are a few key things we can glean from this emotional story.  The first thing to realize is that Joseph functioned in the gifts and talents the Lord gave him, at all times.  Joseph stayed true to the Lord and how he was made by the Creator.  He functioned with those gifts and talents no matter what the outcome.  It was in him and he HAD to do it.  It was what landed him in slavery, it was what landed him in prison, it was what kept him in prison, and it was what got him out of prison.

While some argue that his gifts and talents didn't keep him in prison, take a look at the story one more time.  The fellow  prisoner didn't have any authority or  power to free Joseph, but at JUST the right time, the king was in desperate need of Joseph's gift.  The fellow prisoner had the opportunity for the first time to bring Joseph's case before the king, but only in light of the king's need for Joseph's gift.  Had Joseph been freed from prison any earlier, he would probably have fled the country, being nowhere to be found when the king needed him the most.  The Lord kept Joseph in prison BECAUSE of his gift.  Joseph's gift was the key to getting out of prison all the while; his problems were solved the moment his problems started.  Only Joseph couldn't see the big picture, all that the Lord had in store, the perfect and masterful plan.

Christian, I would submit to you that your problems are already solved; you just have to submit to the Lord's timing in all of them.  The Lord has created the way out for you but you must remember to be like Joseph and continue to function in the gifts and talents He created in you, no matter what and at all times.  Serve the Lord whole hearted.  Only then will you see the amazing plan unfold and only then can you be used mightily for His purposes.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Gen 37, 39, 40, 41, Rom 8:28

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Desert and Death

Desert and Death
April 23, 2012
Josh 5:4  ". . . All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt."

The Israelites were God's chosen people right from the start.  The Lord put His mark upon the people, making it clear they belonged to Him.  They were His children, and He was their father and God, an entire nation dedicated to Him.  The Israelites first became an actual nation of people while under slavery in Egypt.  You know the Bible story well; shortly after the horrible plagues, Moses led the people out of Egypt, just before wandering in the desert.  And they wandered in that desert for forty years.

Forty years!  Can you imagine wandering around in a desert land, walking circles past the same few mountains time and time again?  They had little change of scenery, the variety of food was almost zero, and there were no vacations or simple luxuries.  There was just sand, sand, and more sand.  They walked and walked, without a plan, a path, or a purpose.  It seemed they were lost out there, destined to wander in a wasteland forever.  But they weren't lost; the Lord was leading them to nowhere.

That's right, the Lord was leading His people out in the desert to NOWHERE.  God did not have a destination in mind; He had a purpose.  It was all part of His master plan.  The Lord was teaching His nation how to follow Him, how to depend upon Him.  The Lord was making His nation into a people that would serve and trust Him.  The desert wasn't a pleasant place; it was a place of discipleship and a place of death.  Throughout the story of the Israelites in the desert there is a word that appears repeatedly.  It is the word "test."  The Lord was testing His children to see if they were the right consistency, to see if they were worthy of being called His children.  The hot desert was a place of refinement for that process and a place of death, to kill off all that wasn't pure, all that wasn't worthy of Him.  Then He would test them again, to see if He had gotten rid of all that was rotten among the Israelites.

The Lord allowed many of the Israelites to die for various reasons; those who came up lacking when weighed in His eyes were often snuffed out.  He wanted an entire nation who could represent Him.  Everyone that didn't represent Him well was killed off.  The Lord put many to death in the desert; they were the parts of the nation that did not bring honor to Him.  It may sound harsh but the Lord gave them their opportunities for spiritual success.  Those who refused to be successful in following Him wholeheartedly were no longer welcomed in His nation of people.  The Lord used the desert as part of His process; death was necessary in the desert.

In the New Testament, the verbiage seems a little bit more appealing for this refinement process.  The Bible uses the word "pruning."  The Lord prunes us into the fruit-bearing vine that He needs us to become, useful for His glory.  But the word for "prune" is no less harsh than what the Lord did to those Israelites in the desert; the word "prune" means to cut off.  This is just as harsh and final as death.  The Lord doesn't just want to get rid of all the things in your life that aren't appealing.  The Lord wants to cut it off, to kill it.  The Lord used the desert and death for the Israelites to get it through their thick heads, all the things He needed them to learn and become.  The Lord will use that same process in your life today.

If you find yourself in a circumstance that seems like a desert, where you are walking in circles, getting nowhere, then it is time for you to get a clue.  It is time to understand the Lord is killing off all that isn't righteous in your life, all that isn't pure.  He is pruning you.  He wants you to be worthy of wearing His name, but you must submit to His process, whatever method He is using to refine you and change you into the man or woman of God that He needs you to become.  The sooner you are refined, the sooner you can leave the desert.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Exodus 16:4, Deut 1:32-33, Deut 13:5, Josh 5:3-5, John 15:1-3

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Apples and Eyes

Apples and Eyes
April 16, 2012
Psalm 17:8 "Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings. . ."

The human eye is made up of complex muscles and nerves used for vision. The pupil of the eye is what lets light into the lens of the eye; it is the black dot in the center. The iris is the colored part of the eye surrounding the pupil; it is also a muscle. The iris has two functions: it controls how much light is allowed through the pupil to the lens, and it also protects the pupil. The eye is extremely critical to the body so the Lord created involuntary responses in our systems to protect it. If a foreign object comes toward the eye, the body will naturally do whatever it takes to protect the eye from coming into contact with that object. You've undoubtedly felt this response before, if your eye has been threatened by a small pointy thing. Your eyelids shut tightly, your head turns away, and your body moves position. This all happens without you thinking about it just to protect your eye from damage or harm.

It's good that the body protects the eye, since eyes are good for seeing things, especially tasty apples. Adam and Eve saw the fruit in the Garden of Eden; they saw it with their own eyes. They saw that it was good and valuable for something. Over the years, we have come to familiarize ourselves with that story and equate that tempting fruit as being an apple. While it is not known exactly what type of fruit it really was, many have referred to it as an apple and associated it with a covetous desire for what the eye sees; the object of one's affection. Some call this the "apple of the eye." I would disagree with this definition however, and suggest that the "apple of the eye" refers more to the pupil or the physical center of the human eye.

Whenever the Bible uses the phrase "apple of the eye," it is referring to an involuntary response of protection over something, akin to what the human body would do to protect the eye. In my own life, the "apple of my eye" would certainly be my own eyes, but it would also be my children. My children are not simply the objects of my affection, which is akin to infatuation, a fleeting feeling. My children, and I have four of them, are something that I would physically protect from harm out of an involuntary response. My wife, who was once the object of my affection before we were married, has now become the apple of my eye. I am their protector and I would do anything and everything to keep them from harm's way, even if it meant sacrificing my own body so that they may live. And I would do it all without even thinking about it; it is an instinctive response the Lord instilled into my behavior.

The Lord is our Heavenly Father, and His children are the "apples of His eyes." This means that the Lord is intent on our immediate protection. We are not simply the objects of His affection but are critical and important to Him, valuable enough to protect without aforethought. While you may not think of yourself as a child, the Lord considers you His and would do more to protect you than I am capable of doing for my own children. He naturally wants to protect you from harm, from the attacks that would seek to destroy you. He sent His son to protect your soul from Hell and He sent His Spirit and angels to protect you from what this world wants to do to you. He loves you and desires to protect you as much as your own body wants to protect the center of your eye.

King David understood this concept of protection versus affection when he prayed the words to the Lord, "Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings." If you read the verse before and after these words in his prayer (Ps 17), it alltogether reads:
"Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who are out to destroy me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.

But there is a caveat to gaining His protection as being the "apple of His eye." You have to be His child.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Deut 32:9-11, Ps 17:7-9, Pr 7:2, Zech 2:8, Rom 8:17

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Holy Ground

Holy Ground
April 9, 2012
Exodus 3:5 "'Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.'"

Moses had an encounter with the Lord during the famous story of the burning bush. If you recall the story, Moses saw the bush burning on the mountain top but the bush was never consumed by the fire; it simply kept burning. Intrigued by the sight, Moses ventured up to the mountain top for an investigation. He saw the burning bush and the Lord spoke to him from within the fire. The Lord told Moses to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. It is curious as to why the Lord would call that particular patch of soil and rock, "holy ground." If anything should have been considered holy, it would have been the bush, since it was so unique. But the soil, it didn't do anything special; it was just dirt. Why was it holy?

The Lord wanted Moses to understand that His presence was in that place. The Lord of the Heavens and the Earth was in that place and He wanted Moses to understand that the Lord's presence was holy. Holy is defined as being set apart. The Lord's presence is set apart, it is different from us or anyone else who might be considered important. It was the Lord's presence that made the location surrounding the burning bush holy; it was Moses' responsibility to respect that presence, to take off his shoes out of reverence. Taking off your shoes is a sign of submission in many cultures. If I take your shoes, it represents that you cannot go anywhere; you are submitted to the situation. The Lord wanted Moses to submit to His presence and realize that he was subservient to the Lord, especially during a conversation with the Most High God.

You and I, though we may go into a place of prayer with the Lord, a conversation with the Most High God, we may not always be so reverent. I am not suggesting that you should take your shoes off while you pray, but that your heart attitude should be one of submission and respect. When you enter into a time of prayer, you are entering the presence of the One True God; that is a holy place. But how often have you said a quick prayer out of memory or habit and done so in a flippant manner? As many times as I have prayed in my lifetime, I have certainly been guilty of this. The presence of the Lord is holy and we need to remember this.

There are a few things we should consider from the experience of the burning bush. Read again Moses' encounter with the Lord; Moses trembled with fear. When was the last time you trembled in the Lord's presence? Moses didn't speak until he was spoken to, and he came to the Lord ready to listen instead of talk. Again, these are things a few of us might fail at every time we enter the Lord's presence. I usually go into a time of prayer and begin speaking right away, which is definitely a sign of irreverence. If we go into prayer humbled by the Lord's power, then we might be a little bit more submissive and reverent during that time, maybe finally allowing the opportunity of hearing the Lord speak to us. In our reverence, we would be submitting to the Lord and His will during prayer, maybe finally getting an answer to our troubles.

If we take off our "shoes" during our time with the Lord then maybe our experience on holy ground would be different than the thousands of other times we have gone into prayer and left feeling unchanged.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Exodus 3:2-6, Josh 5:15, Acts 7:30-34

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Losing Religion

Losing Religion
April 2, 2012
James 1:27 "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

The word "religion" has developed a bad reputation in recent years. It has become synonymous with an outdated and out of touch practice. It is often marked with liturgical and mindless rituals inside the church walls, practices that have lost their meaning over the decades. Younger generations, not able to see the original meaning behind it all, reject this religion because it does not make sense; it becomes irrelevant. I would argue that younger generations are correct in their understanding of the older religion because it HAS lost its meaning; it IS irrelevant today. If my grandfather's peers could have perpetuated the meaning behind their practices in their daily practices, the word "religion" would not be offensive.

Even the very first Christians lost the true meaning behind their religion, just one generation after the death and resurrection of Christ. The apostle and brother of Jesus, James, wrote about this to the first church. He said that faultless or meaningful religion was not necessarily a liturgical practice but a lifestyle that impacted and affected others. He mentioned taking care of orphans and widows as crucial to that practice. He did not mean, however, that taking care of orphans or widows was a religion in and of itself, but that a heart should be purposed with action by the one professing Christianity. He was suggesting that our Christianity should be marked by taking care of others.

Orphans and widows are two people groups who could be considered innocent in regard to their situation, meaning they do not conduct their lives in a manner so as to leave themselves without a father or without a spouse. They are people who are negatively impacted by an uncontrollable event. When James wrote these words, a widow couldn't own property, become educated, or manage a business. And a child has always been too helpless to provide for himself. James said it was the job of people who call themselves "Christians" to take care of those who couldn't take care of themselves, to provide for those who were struck down by life's circumstances.Those who are struck down by life's circumstances today are not just called orphans or widows. Today they are called hurricane victims, unemployed, hungry, and abused. They are living among us with a fake smile on their faces and they are living abroad needing surgery to correct a cleft lip and palate. But we are often too consumed with taking care of our own selves to help these people. We are too corrupted by the desires of this world to care for someone else.

James wrote about this, too, the corruption that comes from living in this world. That is the second line following his order to take care of orphans or widows. He said we should avoid becoming tainted by the ways of this world. Today we call this "keeping up with the Joneses," or striving to live the way others live because of our envy. If we live with envy, then it is impossible to see the need in others. My grandfather's religion didn't teach us to take care of those affected by life's circumstances, but you and I have the opportunity to redefine religion in the eyes of our peers today. We can prove that Christians are the first to respond to sex trafficking, flood victims, and even the electricity bill of the unemployed.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Ps 10:17-18, Ps 82:3, Ps 103:6, Ps 146:7, Is 1:17, Is 58:10, Dan 4:27, 1 Tim 5:4, James 1