Sunday, December 29, 2013

Same But Different

Same But Different
December 30, 2013
Malachi 3:6  "I, the LORD, do not change. . ."

The Lord works in ways we do not always understand.  It is impossible to predict what He is doing, what work He is intending, what work He is doing in our lives right now.  In an effort to understand Him in our present situations, we define Him according to how He appeared or interacted with us in our past.  We project onto Him our interpretations of what He did for us last year or last decade.  If the Lord allowed a tremendous blessing in our lives, then He will always allow a tremendous blessing in our lives.  If the Lord allowed us to experience loss, then clearly He will always allow us to experience loss.  If the Lord did not answer our prayer last time, then He will not honor it this time. Our thinking of Him is flawed, when and if we limit the Lord to the manner in which He acted in our past situations.

The truth of the matter is the Lord is not limited by your imagination or understanding.  And to try and predict the work the Lord is doing is only a feeble attempt at controlling Him.  The Lord has free reign to work in our lives as He pleases and it is not always the same.  Just because the Lord allowed you to experience loss last year does not mean He will allow the same this next time around.  You cannot box Him into past circumstances.  While the Lord is free to do what He wants, He also wants you to give Him free reign in your life to the point you and I are not fighting against the work He is currently doing.  It is easy to confuse His character with His works.  He character will never change, but His workings are always new.

The children of Israel tried to do this; they tried to box the Lord into thinking He would always deal with them the exact same same way as the set of circumstances before.  He rebuked them and said, "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."  When the Lord said this, yes, it was to a specific people at a specific time, but the verbiage He used was to project it was a constant state of occurrence.  It was meant for that time and for the rest of the time.  The Lord doesn't just do a "new thing" one time.  It is a constant state of His character.

The Lord is the same; He does not change.  His heart is the same; it does not change.  His actions, however, are unique for every person and every new set of circumstances, based upon all the variables only He can comprehend.  The Lord is always moving forward.  While His laws for mankind are the same; He is still free to do a new work in your life and mine.

If we allow the Lord to truly be lord of our lives, then we are also giving Him free reign to do a new work.  Do not let the Lord's workings in the past paralyze you from fear of Him working that same way for your future.  It might be different this time.  He may have been shaping your character or growing your faith.  Maybe He was cleaning house.  You cannot predict the work of the Lord and I have grown to understand He works in ways I could never imagine. The more you and I try to understand what He wants to do, the more we put limits on what we will allow Him to do in our lives.  Free reign means free reign; so give it to Him.  Let Him be the same God but working differently as He sees fit.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Ps 77, Is 49, Hebrews 13:8

Sunday, December 22, 2013


December 23, 2013

Luke 2:10  "But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.'"

When Mary first found out she was pregnant without having been with her husband, she had cause for alarm.  She believed the report that the child would be from the Lord, but surely she had a few random thoughts during the pregnancy that caused her some perplexing emotions.  You and I think we have a lot to deal with in life, but when Joseph found out his wife was pregnant when he had not been with her, he had cause for alarm.  He had a lot on his plate going into that first Christmas.  Right after the birth of Jesus, an angel appeared to shepherds out in the field, not a natural event.  The shepherds had cause for alarm, maybe even trepidation.  There were a lot of intense emotions going into the first Christmas, from a human perspective.  All of which was difficult to comprehend at the time.

But every step of the process, (Mary dealing with an unexpected pregnancy, Joseph dealing with others viewing him as living with an adulterous wife, shepherds dealing with a frightening appearance of angels), was met with someone from heaven reassuring them it was going to be OK.  This event in life was not meant to cause alarm.  It wasn't intended to bring turmoil or difficulty or frustration, it was meant to cause joy.  The exact words from the angel were, "WILL CAUSE GREAT JOY." (emphasis added).

The Christmas story was anything but idyllic at the time.  If that had been my life, I would have thought about quitting.  But it was meant to cause great joy, not alarm.  While Christmas in the present certainly causes frustration from the economy, mixed emotions from family gatherings, and lonely nights, it was originally intended to cause great joy.  The birth of Christ was and is an enormous event for you and me.  We should be full of joy if we have Christ in our lives.  If you do not have joy this Christmas, then maybe you are missing Christ in all of it.

I can venture to say the only thing that got Mary though the pregnancy and birth of her son was realizing it was the Christ.  I bet the only thing that got Joseph through the first Christmas was realizing it was the Christ.  The shepards were able to calm down once the angels re-assured them it was the Christ.  After they all realized it was the Christ, they were able to experience the joy in Christmas, despite their own unique situation and experiences surrounded the surreal event.

If you are lacking joy, consider realizing the Christ.  It was meant to CAUSE GREAT JOY for all people.  "All people" means you.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Matt 1:18-21, Lk 1:26-38, Lk 2:8-20

Sunday, December 15, 2013

God Owes You

God Owes You
December 16, 2013
Isaiah 64:6  "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. . ."

Wouldn't it seem nice for a moment if God owed you a favor.  To make the scenario even better, you could maybe choose what it would take to pay off His indebtedness.  And you could determine the exact moment of pay-off, like when you think you need it most, when you've gotten yourself in a pickle.  Then you could receive something nice and feel guilt free for enjoying it; after all it was owed to you.

It is absurd, however, to think that the Lord would owe a human any amount of debt, whether in returning a favor or money.  But you and I act like the Lord owes us something.  We do good deeds and we keep score.  We obey the Lord's commands and have a running tally.  We give of our time and money, and have a detailed record to prove it.  While we will never outright declare the Lord owes us for any of this, we think it when we need a favor.  When we get into a pinch or a tricky situation, we pray to the Lord for help and then sit with a sense of entitlement because of all the favors we've done for the Lord.  After all, it's the least He could do for all we've done for Him.  It's time He makes good on those favors.  Maybe our giving to the Lord was with good intention, but surely He was noticing our efforts.  Surely He was keeping a tab.

To say this gently, the Lord owes you nothing.  The Lord owes me nothing.  The Lord is indebted to no man and will not be held hostage for the good you think you have done in your lifetime.  Anything you've done for the Lord should have been done out of the goodness of your heart.  If not, you should have kept it to yourself.  It's hard to do though, give without slightly feeling good about it, like you've made the score uneven in your favor.  I might suggest that anything good you or I have done was because WE owed the favor.  Whether we helped the needy or gave money at church, we have an obligation to the Lord for all He has ALREADY done for us.  If you've given anything, it was about time to return the favor.  The scales have and always will be tipped away from you when compared to the Lord.

It is easy to hope He might have taken notice of your passed deeds, especially when you're in need now.  Maybe He'll take it all into account.  The fact of the matter is, He wants to help you in your time of need, only He isn't going to base it upon the good you've done in the past.  The Lord isn't' going to weigh your good past when considering helping you in the present.  They are not correlated.  It is irrelevant to Him.  He wants to help you now and will consider your situation with MORE favor than you think you deserve.  If you demand the favor, don't expect Him to perform per your wishes.  The Lord never works like that.  He works in a way that is truly in your best interest, even if it means not pulling you out of that tricky situation.

So go ahead and do good deeds, only don't keep score.  And go ahead and ask Him for help when you need it, only don't ask when considering your spotless record (because it really isn't that spotless).

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Ez 33:23, Rom 3:3-19, Rom 8:28, Rom 10:3-13

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Not Stronger

Not Stronger
December 9, 2013
2 Corinthians 12:9  ". . . for my power is made perfect in weakness."

I've often heard people say that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  This is not true; in fact it is heretical in nature.  The actual phrase, "that which does not kill us, makes us stronger," was written by Friedrich Nietzsche (pronounced Knee chee).  Although his cognitive abilities were impressive, devoting his life to the study of philology and philosophy, he was not a Christian.  In fact, he grew up in a religious environment, only to turn away from anything faith-based in exchange for pre-modern existential reasoning.  Nietzsche was an atheist who declared outright that there is no God, and even called himself, "the Anti-Christ."

His famous quote makes you ponder, if something emotional or physical didn't kill you, then it stands to reason you might actually be stronger for it, able to bear up under it again easier the next time.  After reading through Scripture this does not compute correctly, though.  Nietzsche is suggesting you can actually handle something on your own, fighting through it, struggling to come out on top and are better for it.  But this is not how any of us can come out on top of a difficult situation.  We do not struggle on our own, making it through difficulty based upon fortitude or brute strength.  We are able to handle the difficulties in life successfully only through the power of Christ that is living in and through us.

If we have wrestled successfully through a struggle, it is because Christ has given us strength.  The Apostle Paul calls it his strength during weakness.  He recognized humans are frail in comparison to the Lord.  He calls us to draw upon the strength of the Lord when we are weak; this is when the Lord is made strong in our lives.  If we have weathered through anything successfully, it is because of the Lord's strength, not our own resolve.  If left on our own, we may survive difficulty but come out an altered person.  Struggles can leave a person paralyzed emotionally and physically; this isn't anything like Nietzsche's "stronger."  If we draw upon the strength of the Lord, we can come through difficulties with a stronger testimony.  In fact that is what the Lord loves about enduring difficulty with us.

He loves the opportunity for our weaknesses to point to His strength and create bragging rights for His successes in our lives.  Paul writes that this should be our goal, to rejoice in our weakness so that Christ can be made strong.  If you think you can weather anything alone, coming out stronger, you are working too hard.  For starters there is a good chance you'll have limited success.  Secondly, it is WAY easier to trust in the Lord's strength and experience to help carry you through life.  If and when you come through difficulty successfully, you've gained experience in placing the situation in the Lord's hands.  The realization then is how to put the situation in the Lord's hands sooner.  Your goal is not to be stronger but to be weaker, trusting in the Lord's strength.  If it doesn't kill you, it should teach you how to be weaker.

By the way, Nietzsche spent the last part of his life mentally ill, having lost his mind.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Ps 84:5-7, Phil 4:12-13, 1 Cor 10:13, 1 Cor 15:42-44, 2 Cor 12:1-10, 2 Cor 13:4

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ant Economics

Ant Economics
December 2, 2013
Proverbs 6:6  "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise."

The Bible is a single story of hope woven together from beginning to end.  But all throughout Scripture there is a variety of wisdom peppered in that needs to be headed while we are on this earth.  Specifically, the book of Proverbs gives us all important information we should implement while living our lives from beginning to end.  One example of such wisdom is an analogy of an ant, the small six-legged picnic nemesis.  Ants are usually considered a pest, but the writer of Proverbs said we should examine the life of an ant and implement the wisdom found by its example.

We are to consider how the ant "stores its provisions in the summer and gathers its food at harvest."  The summer time is when the ant is busiest, storing away any provisions it finds.  It doesn't live extravagantly on the abundance of food during the summer months; it lives only on what it needs and keeps working.  It works hard instinctively, not knowing the future or trying to predict it.  The ant never is content to stop, not knowing how long of a winter it must survive.  If there is work to be done and the ant is able, it keeps working.  If a fellow ant can only gather a little, the others chip in to make sure that ant is still able to eat over the coming winter.  It is an all-for-one and one-for-all mentality. The ant is hard-working and generous with its own family.  It works as long as it is able and never considers retirement.

Humans, on the other hand, like to spend the excess of our income the moment it becomes excess.  If we have a constant level of excess, we simply adjust our standard of living so it is no longer extra.  We may decide to set some away for the future, but that is only retirement monies, not necessarily in preparation for an unexpectedly long winter.  And any money we save is earmarked for ourselves, never for those in need.

This time in our history is marked with economic depression and there are limited moments of excess.  We all hope it ends soon, but we must change our ways regardless.  We must redefine our thoughts of the future, realizing retirement is not actually a Biblical principle.  Long winters may be a constant, not a once-in-a-lifetime event.  And of any monies we have extra, we should consider setting some aside for those in need.  Unfortunately, we have more people who are in need than people who have excess, it seems.  This should be opposite if we all had followed the ant's example.

The ant never turns down work, if there is work to be done.  This is also opposite of humans.  We like to decide if certain work is below our standards of respect.  We refuse work if it doesn't pay as well as we want.  The ant would never turn down working, no matter how menial or insignificant it seems.  The fact of the matter is, humans are lazy.  Yes, this is a generalization, but we are often lazy, exchanging perceived self-respect vs financial stability.  It is time to change our perception of work and financial savvy.  Storing away in times of excess is not hoarding; it is wise, if it is earmarked for the right reasons.  Living frugally should become the new defining trait of our society, not living in excess.  We could all learn a lot from an ant.  It could change our lives forever.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Proverbs 6:1-11