Sunday, February 23, 2014

Exit Strategy

Exit Strategy
Feb 24, 2014
Matthew 6:24  "No one can serve two masters.  Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise  the other.  You cannot serve both God and money."

Having an escape plan is often a good idea.  Children should always know how to exit a home in case of a fire.  Passengers should always know how to board a life boat in case the ship is going down.  In business, it is important to know how to leave the commitment, if it becomes unprofitable.  But it is not necessary to need an escape plan when serving the Lord.  When following the Lord whole-heartedly, no matter what the outcome, there is never a reason to walk away from the Lord's plan.  There is never a reason to turn back or walk the other away.  Having an exit strategy is a foolish thing when it comes to walking in the Lord's will for your life.  An exit strategy would allow you to be double-minded and not fully committed to serving Him.

Jesus knew this when He told the rich man to sell all his belongings.  A certain rich, young ruler came to Jesus and asked Him what it would take for the man to gain eternal life.  The man was wealthy, respected in the community, and still had a long life ahead of him.  Jesus told him to sell everything, give it to the poor, and become one of His disciples.  If he kept his prior life and tried to follow Jesus, there would always be an exit strategy or a way to leave the Lord.  He could easily return to his former life.  Jesus wasn't actually saying that selling all your belongings is required to make it to Heaven.  But to this specific young ruler, his former life would have kept him from following Jesus, from fully giving his heart to the Lord.  The Lord asked him to rid himself of his former life and devote his heart to serving the Lord; this is what it means to make Jesus Lord of your life.  The Bible says that the rich, young ruler walked away from Jesus and never fully committed.  His former life was too tempting and enjoyable to leave.  He wanted an escape plan but Jesus knew this would keep the man from making it to Heaven.  His money was the real lord over his life and was a possible exit strategy from following Jesus.

Unlike the rich, young ruler during Jesus' day, there was a man who actually left his former life and is a shining example of following the Lord whole-heartedly.  His name was Elisha.  The prophet Elijah asked Elisha to follow in his footsteps and serve the Lord whole-heartedly.  Elisha agreed.  But Elisha did something important first.  He burned his entire way of life and severed all ties.  Scripture says that Elisha was a farmer, who had twelve sets of plows and oxen.  A poor farmer might have only have a single donkey and a single plow, but Scripture says that Elijah had several and employed others to work them.  It was suggesting that Elisha was successful in his business life, living a quite comfortable life.  But when he decided to follow the Lord, he burned all his plows and slaughtered his oxen on an alter to the Lord.  It was a way of demonstrating that he was willing to serve the Lord whole-heartedly, no turning back.  Elisha went on to become quite possibly the most successful servants of the Lord.

The difference between Elisha and the rich, young ruler was simply a heart condition.  Elisha was willing to serve the Lord whole-heartedly but the rich, young ruler was not.  The rich, young ruler wanted to keep his former way of life, but the Lord requires a full commitment, one without an exit strategy.  There is no turning back when serving the Lord and this type of commitment is required to make it to Heaven.  It is always required when following the Lord's will for your life, not matter how uncomfortable it might seem.  The rich, young ruler had a comfortable life, one that he wasn't willing to abandon for the Lord.  Abandon your former way of life and maybe you'll become like Elisha.  This world could use a few more Christians as successful as Elisha.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  1 Kings 19:19-21, Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-31, Luke 18:18-30

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Carry Splintery Wood

Carry Splintery Wood
February 17, 2014
Luke 9:23  "Then he said to them all: 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.'"

Picture, for a moment, Jesus walking on the earth during His time period, with all the traditional scenery behind Him.  He had a heart full of hope for mankind as He brought a message of salvation, many people respecting Him, even worshiping the ground He walked upon.  In your mental picture He might be wearing a white tunic or a robe, maybe some sandals.  He might be carrying a sack made out of animal hide and His own skin toned darker from years in the sun.  There might be camels and donkeys in the back ground and women carrying baskets of bread going about their daily lives.

Then picture for a moment, the hours leading up to his death when He was forced to carry His cross up to the place of His impending crucifixion.  People were standing there jeering at Him as He faltered under the heavy weight of the wooden cross when they toured Him through town up toward the hill.  They spat on Him, even took punches at His face.  Humiliated, He struggled, his body weak and feeble from enduring torture.  His once white tunic now stained red with His own blood.  He fell once, twice to the ground under the weight of His cross.  The fifteen minute walk with the cross upon his back probably took closer to an hour, the sharp splinters of the wood digging into His flesh during the painful execution march.

It isn't a pretty picture, watching Him walk toward His impending death, despite just days earlier living a seemingly idyllic life of a healing prophet and rabbi, teaching a message of hope.  His life was far from His own, since He came to earth to serve those around Him and then pay the price for their sins with His own blood.  He spent His whole life in service to everyone else and then at the last minute, sacrificed everything for them when they didn't deserve it.  And this, this is what WE are to do for our own fellow man.  We are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and serve mankind in like manner.  Scriptures says we are to take up our cross daily and follow Him.

The words, "take up your cross daily and follow [Christ]," don't exactly have the right meaning unless you are reading them in full context.  Some would argue that to "take up your cross" means to live a life of self sacrifice.  While this is partially right, there is more to it than that.  Remember the imagery in your head of Jesus walking toward the place of the crucifixion with the weight of the wooden cross over His shoulders, blood dripping down His brow, hindering His vision.  This is the imagery you should have in your head when you read the words, "take up your cross daily and follow [Christ]."  As Christ marched toward His execution, He was bearing the weight of the world on His shoulders, humiliated and beaten, debased and despised.  This is closer to the full context of "taking up your cross."  Your life as a Christian is to give your life to your fellow man in an effort to save their souls.  All the while, the world will hate you, humiliate you, debase and reject you, even punish you for things you didn't do.  They will accuse you falsely and proclaim your life a waste.  But still you are to march toward your impending execution, refusing to raise your own hand to potentially save your own skin.

If I were to write my own translation of the phrase, "take up your cross....," it might read something like this: endure your most feared humiliation on a daily basis and accept physical and emotional injustice as acceptable if it means bringing salvation to those around you.  Carrying your cross daily will leave a lot of splinters in your shoulders, and it might even be somewhat bloody.  This is far from the idyllic lifestyle of a prophet and a rabbi.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Matt 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 17:3

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Chair Worthy

Chair Worthy
Feb 10, 2014
Acts 13:22  "After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.'"

To be king for a day.  Oh what it would be like to sit on a throne and be king, just for one day!  Everyone would serve you, obey your every command.  No one could argue with you or prove you wrong.  No one could fire you from your job.  All the money and resources of the kingdom would be at your disposal.  You would be in charge, on top of the world.  We've all imagined this, to be in full command of others, with extreme wealth to supply our imperial whimsical desires.  But alas, no one reading this has ever experienced such opportunity, such a twist in fate from the current state of being.  It is a day dream made to stay just that, as the Lord never intended for a human to enjoy that type of lifestyle.

Just the opposite is what the Lord had in mind.  A throne is not a position to be envied because of idyllic worship but rather it is a point of servitude.  People were not meant to be served sitting upon a throne.  The Lord established thrones on this earth to serve the people.  The only throne to be worshiped is the one in Heaven, where the Lord alone is seated.  All other earthly thrones were not and are not meant to be worshiped.  They are a position of authority to serve the people who are under such earthly thrones.  If you review the first earthly thrones established by the Lord, they were over the Jewish nation.  The Lord allowed it only as a point of leadership, not because He wanted the Children of Israel to worship the man seated in the chair.  The king was there to serve the people, to take care of those under his authority.

It is a huge responsibility to sit upon a throne.  The chair is not to be envied unless you want to serve others whole-heartedly.  Being in a position of leadership over others is something the Lord takes very seriously.  In fact, if you remember King Solomon, the Lord honored Solomon because he wanted wisdom to lead the people with gentleness and fairness, meeting their needs and growing them up.  Solomon didn't want the throne to be worshiped but to serve those under his authority.  But to be in such a position, you must be willing to genuinely put the needs of the people above your own.  How you treat others in your leadership role is a huge reflection of your Christianity.  You must be worthy of sitting in that chair of leadership as demonstrated by your service to the individual physical and spiritual well-being of those under your authority.

You should never seek out the honor of the throne, lest you be worthy of sitting in such a chair.  How have you cared for those around you?  How have you served them and nourished their souls?  Do you sincerely place their needs and conditions of betterment above your own?  If you want a position of leadership because it satisfies the ego, then you are setting yourself up for failure and the Lord will not allow it.  The Lord is quick to de-throne individuals who are not worthy of sitting in such a seat, who do not look to the needs of others above self.  If you day dream of sitting in a throne to be a king, then that daydream must included hard work on behalf of the people, taking care of them like a shepherd would tend to his flock.  It is not an easy place and should not be desired if you want a relaxing lifestyle.  Only the selfless person can be worthy of sitting in such a chair of leadership.  Few are chosen by the Lord to be leaders and He looks very discriminately at your heart.  Your heart must be ready to sacrifice everything for those around you.  That is what makes you chair worthy.  An earthly king will do only whatever the Heavenly king wants him to do on behalf of the Lord's people.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:
  2 Chronicles 10:13-14, Psalm 132:11, Is 16:5, Luke 1:32

Sunday, February 2, 2014

I'm Not Jesus

I'm Not Jesus
Feb 3, 2014
Job 1:8  "Then the Lord said to Satan, 'Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.'"

Jesus is the ultimate example of someone whom we should all emulate.  It would be nice if every Christian could be Christ-like at all times.  This is what we should strive for, but we all fall short of being like Jesus.  One of the most difficult things about being a Christian leader is that people will compare you to Jesus a little more often than the average Joe.  You will be held to a higher standard.  When you falter or stumble, even in the slightest, there will always be someone willing to shake his finger at you and remind you that you aren't perfect.  And it is easy in that moment to tell him off while gently reminding him that you aren't Jesus.  You're not perfect and it is impossible to live up to the standard of the Son of the Living God.  In your imperfection, you reason that it is quite OK to not be perfect.  After all, we can't be perfect; we're only human.

Some might reason that Jesus was human at the same time while being a Deity.  He was the ultimate example of succeeding over sin while being tempted.  He was the ultimate example of perfection in human form, blameless and able to handle Himself well in every situation.  Yes, Jesus was human and without sin, but lets face it, He had a slight advantage.  He was God in human form.  From our perspective it wasn't really a level playing field.  He was perfect and sinless because he was always perfect and sinless BEFORE He took on a human form.  So let's narrow the playing field a little and compare ourselves, for the sake of argument, to someone else a little less like a God.  Let's compare ourselves, just for a moment, to Job.

Remember that Job was a man who, in a debate between God and Satan, was put through hell on earth just to prove a point.  The Lord told Satan that Job was an extremely upright man, a man who would serve the Lord through thick and thin, no matter how tough life got.  Satan asked to test the Lord's theory about Job, inflicting the worst wounds upon him as humanly possible, to see if he could hold up.  Satan killed Job's children, all of them, leaving him alone.  Satan destroyed Job's wealth and fame, debasing the man to an embarrassment.  Satan ravaged Job's body to the brink of death.  Job had nothing to live for and it was recommended that Job curse the Lord and simply die.  But Job didn't do that; he stood firm to his faith in the Lord, trusting in His greater plan.  Though Job couldn't have experienced a worse emotional pain than the death of his children, he still trusted and served God.  Though Job became a social outcast similar to a bum, Job still stood for his faith.  Though job endured physical torture, he still declared that God was a good God.  The Bible says that throughout all Job had to endure, he didn't sin.

Job didn't curse the Lord for what the Lord allowed in his life.  Job is an example of a true human being who could relate to EVERYTHING you are going through right now.  There isn't a person with emotional or physical pain, alive today, who could trump Job and his sufferings.  Yet Job remained faithful and true under pressure.  Job wasn't Jesus, he wasn't the Son of the Living God, he wasn't a Deity, yet he did it!  Job was faithful to serving the Lord in every and all circumstances, even the same circumstance you are enduring right now.  If you feel there isn't a human who could understand what you're going through, you're wrong.  If you excuse yourself and your bad behavior suggesting that no one else could persevere through your own similar difficulties, you are wrong.  Job did it.  Job succeeded and it is an example of a human, an imperfect and tempted human, who was able to triumph over the difficulties that life brought upon him.

So the next time you'd like to excuse your ill behavior, suggesting Christ-like living could not be attained under your personal, unique circumstances, think again.  Job did it and you can, too.  No, you're not Jesus but if Job could endure ALL of life's difficulties at once, then you and I can surely endure our own personal portion.  It IS possible to maintain your Christianity throughout ALL circumstances.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Job 2:3 & 10, 2 Tim 2:3