Sunday, August 30, 2015

What If, Part I of II

What If, Part I of II
August 31, 2015
Romans 9:21  "Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?"

On more than one occasion, Scripture likens the Lord to a potter, a sovereign being who forms with His hands objects for a purpose.  The Potter fashions His clay to His liking and for His intended use.  Some clay gets turned into large jars for holding clean drinking water while some get decorated with colorful paint and put on display.  Some clay is fashioned into delicate pieces used for momentous occasions while other pieces end up holding ashes of the deceased.  The Potter has all authority and sovereignty to form His clay as He desires and to use His clay however He sees fit.

This analogy of the Heavenly Father as being a potter is sometimes encouraging while at the same time frustrating.  It is encouraging to hear the wonderful words of the writer, suggesting that you and I are being formed by the Master for His use.  It is encouraging to hear the wonderful words of the writer, suggesting that the Lord actually has an intended use for us.  It makes us feel special, as if we are chosen for specificity.  These things are true, we are chosen for specificity, but what if that specificity is never what we think it is or isn't clear?  What if you never understand what your actual use was by the Potter?

We go through life saying things like, "the Lord is not finished with me yet."  We decide that today is not the final result the Potter intended.  We say things like, "the Lord has big plans for me and He is going to use me mightily for His kingdom."  We wait in anticipation of something more, a pivotal moment of magnanimity when we can be satisfied that our life was actually worth living.  But what if you're done?  What if your intended use has fulfilled its purpose?  What if you've been steadily fulfilling it all along in the simplicity of your life and that's it?  What if there isn't anything bigger for your life?  Oh, the blasphemy of the thought.  It goes against everything we put in the hearts and minds of our youth.  But what if the Potter made you to be that common cooking pot that has chips and cracks in it's side, blackened by the fire with hardened food remains at the bottom?  Sure, it is an integral piece of pottery to daily life but can you be satisfied knowing this about yourself?  What if you are the urn used as a bed pan?  Shutter the thought but Scripture is very clear the Potter has the right to fashion His clay for common use, too.

When Scripture talks about the Lord being a potter, it talks about the uses of the clay, it talks about the sovereignty of Him to fashion as He sees fit, but it never talks about how His heart feels when He is watching the clay take shape before His eyes.  If you are frustrated in life, wanting a more noble purpose you must get perspective.  It isn't just about the use or His sovereignty in making you.  It is about how He feels about you, too.  Scripture never reveals how the Potter actually feels about His creations.

My wife has a mug fashioned by one of my children in art class during elementary school.  The mug is functional for drinking coffee but the edges are wobbly making it difficult to create a perfect seal with your lips to avoid dripping.  If you drink from it in a certain spot, it might actually snag your skin from a jagged point.  The mug is uneven, certainly misshapen from perfection and the handle's appearance makes you insecure about it's ability to hold the weight of the hot liquid over your lap as you bring it closer to your face.  If anyone else but my wife saw this mug in the store on a shelf, it would never get purchased.  But to my wife, it is her most prized coffee mug, not because it is perfect but because of her relationship to the mug, her relationship with her child who made the mug with all his heart.  She looks at the piece of pottery which would be declared misshapen by anyone else, as she calls it perfection.  Her heart is warmed every time she looks at it; she gingerly uses it, and meticulously cares for it to ensure she will always have it.  It is her favorite.

You are that same piece of pottery.  Just because you think you are misshapen or possibly not the most decorated or even the most sturdy, you warm the Father's heart every time He looks at you, not because you're perfect but because you are the object of His affection.  He has the sovereignty to fashion you as He sees fit, but He does not fashion with the absence of love.  His heart beamed with warmth and light as He was forming you, loving you because He made you.  You are His favorite, despite what you think when you look at yourself.  What if you ARE completely fashioned by the Potter and what if you ARE perfect.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:
  Is 29:16, Is 41:25, Is 45:9, Is 64:8, Jer 18:1-10, Romans 9:6-21, Eph 2:10

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Valid Request

Valid Request
August 24, 2015
John 17:15  "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one."

Praying is something that we do, most often when we want or need something.  The more a person is in need, it seems his prayers are more numerous.  The more faith a person has, also the more it seems he prays.  The converse is true, too.  The less faith a person has, the less he is willing or likely to pray.  Maybe he had a few unanswered prayers and decided to give up on prayer.  Maybe they weren't valid prayer requests.  While prayer is not just for asking things from our Heavenly Father, but for communication with Him, let us for a moment discuss the things we ask of Him.  After all, Jesus asked things from the Lord up in Heaven.

Consider for a moment where the Lord resides.  Sure, He resides in our hearts but not physically.  The Lord resides in another realm; call it a spiritual realm, whatever you'd like.  Wherever that realm is, that is the place our prayers must travel to be received by the Lord of Hosts.  Our prayers end up in another realm.  The word "realm", its derivation, does not come from the word "reality" but from the word for regime.  The word "realm" means Kingdom.  The Lord resides in another Kingdom and our prayers go to Him in that realm, that kingdom.

This was the same for Jesus; He had to pray as a human to the Heavenly Father who was in another Kingdom.  His prayer requests went to the Father for consideration, out of this world, into another realm.  Jesus had some specific prayers recorded in the Bible, many of which were not just conversations with the Lord but specific lists of requests.  In fact, of the recorded prayers of Jesus, they ALL contained requests, petitions to the Heavenly Father.  While none of this is that revelatory, it does convince me of several things.  Jesus prayed and could not command the Lord to do as He required; He had to ask with a sense of requesting permission that may possibly by denied.  It also proves that you truly have to ask the Lord, not just assume He will grant what is in your heart without a request.  If Jesus had to ask, then we have to ask.

Jesus prayed for the protection of His disciples, protection from the enemy (the devil) and He used words like "want" and "may I" and His tone was one of "please, Father". He specifically prayed for the safety of His disciples yet all of them were eventually killed, martyred.  If you look at His prayer for His disciples in John 17, it wasn't for physical safety that He was praying; it was for the spiritual guarantee of their souls, being delivered into Heaven.  Jesus was asking that the disciples would be protected from the devil's temptations to turn from their faith.  Judas had turned from that faith, being tempted away, and consequently ended up in hell.  The real prayer of Jesus was that those He brought to the knowledge of the Heavenly Father would be protected in that knowledge, that safety from the devils temptations for a guarantee to be in that other realm someday, the realm where the prayers go.

If you lack the faith to ask things from the Lord, thinking He won't give them to you, consider reading all the prayers of Jesus and at least making those prayers your own.  If Jesus had to request them, and was able to request them, then so should you.  Since your prayers end up in another kingdom, make them Kingdom prayers.  You cannot make your prayers Kingdom prayers unless you make it your goal to understand that Kingdom.  Kingdom prayers are the ones that are valid requests.  Figure out what the Kingdom wants and make your requests line up with it.  Jesus did not request anything that wasn't in line with accomplishing the kingdom's goal, but He still had to ask.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Matt 6:9-13, Matt 14:23, Luke 22:32, Luke 22:41-44, John 16:6-26

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Lord is My Shepherd

The Lord is My Shepherd
August 17, 2015
Psalm 23:1  "The Lord is my shepherd, I will not lack anything."

You have heard the famous verse quoted as, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want."  It is a comforting verse, a pleasant verse, and a desirable verse to quote, inspiring peace and satisfaction.  It is quoted at many funerals, it is quoted when we feel we are lacking, and it is quoted when we need our hearts to rest by still waters.  But I do not believe many people understand what the verse, and immediate verses following it, really mean.  And if a few of us understand what it really means, then we don't live like it on a constant basis.  If you study the verses, you'll see it quite differently.

Just focusing on the first few verses of the full passage, the Lord is likened to a shepherd.  This first theme is inspiring of peace, suggesting the Lord is a care-giver, a protector, someone who is watching out for us.  The second theme introduced is, "I shall not want," as a state of stability, confidence in what the Lord will do for us.  The first full sentence is actually a summation of the entire passage.  "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."  It tells us the Lord is our protector and care-giver, and we will not lack anything.  And this is precisely what most people believe the verse to suggest.  And most people would be wrong.

The passage starts out as a declarative statement.  Try reading it like this: "The Lord is MY shepherd."  The writer was making a bold statement of his relationship with the Lord.  If a person is to declare the Lord as a shepherd, and as MY shepherd, it conveys a sense of submission and a degree of ownership.  The author of this passage was saying he submits to the Lord's leadership.  This is further evidenced when the author writes in the subsequent verses, "He leads me beside still waters."  The Lord cannot lead if we are not submitted to Him fully.  In the analogy of the shepherd, the author is suggesting he is a sheep.  A sheep has absolutely NO say in where the sheep will be led.  A sheep will have absolutely no say in how the shepherd provides for it, and the sheep will not be his own, but under the protective ownership of the Shepherd.  The sheep MUST live in constant trust of the shepherd to fulfill his job.  While initially a comfortable verse, it can be quite unsettling if we want ownership of the direction for our lives.

It can be further unsettling if you, as a Christian, want to believe part of the verse but not all of it.  Read it in a modern version of the verse with emphasis and it sounds like this: "I submit to the Lord's leadership, and I will lack no GOOD THING."  If you want to believe the original "I shall not want" part of the verse, you have to submit to the fact that the second part of the verse CANNOT be true, unless the Lord is your shepherd, your leader.  Furthermore, it isn't that you will not ever be left wanting anything in this life, but that you will not lack the appropriate and healthy things in life.  You will certainly have "wants" in this world, even if the Lord is leading you, but He will not satisfy those wants if they are not healthy for you physically or spiritually.

Lastly, in order to have the peace of a sheep being led beside still waters, you must fully trust in the Lord at all times.  The Lord can lead you to rest by still waters, but if you don't trust in Him, then you can be sitting beside still waters with angst in your heart.  A sheep doesn't worry about the shepherd fulfilling his duties, so why would you worry about the Lord not doing His job if you submitted to Him?  If you still have worry in your heart, then it can mean either of two things--either you are not fully submitted to His leadership or you don't trust Him to do His job.

Let the Lord be your shepherd and you truly will have all you actually need in your life.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Ps 23:1-3, Ps 34:10, Ps 84:11-12, Matt 6:33, Romans 14:17, James 4:3

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Christianity is Divisive

Christianity is Divisive
August 10, 2015
Luke 12:51  "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division."

Christianity is divisive.  By saying this, it alone creates controversy.  We are to love one another, have mercy on one another, and forgive one another.  But we are also taught to live in this world yet not be of the world.  We are taught to stand firm to our convictions in the Lord, never denying Him and always denying ourselves.  We are taught to follow Him and do the Lord's work despite what the world believes or does.  We are taught to follow the Lord's standards for living regardless of the world's definition of those standards.  There are many dos and don'ts described in the Bible which the world believes these are arbitrary, especially if they are not harming someone else.  The world wants to pick and choose what they believe, live for, and abide by.  As Christians, we can't do this.  This creates divisiveness between those who are Christians and those who are not.

Jesus said something divisive.  He said, "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division."  Jesus was foretold as the one who would be bringing peace on earth to all mankind.  Yet Jesus tells us from His own lips that, "From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three."  Such dichotomy in Scripture.  Essentially, Jesus was saying there would be Christian and non-Christian.  Being a Christian would set you apart from those in this world, and your belief system would be in conflict with those around you, even in your own family.  He wasn't saying we should wage war against those in our family who do not believe as we believe, but that we must stand up for our convictions even if it means being disowned by those closest to us.  He absolutely did come to bring peace on earth for all mankind, but that peace is a state of settlement in our hearts, having our eternity secure in Heaven.  That peace is a restfulness in our relationship with the Lord, not a state of ease while living in this world.

As Christians, what we believe will be offensive to the world.  This isn't on purpose, but will naturally happen when those in the world want to live as they want to live, absent from the Lord's standards.  I was once asked about my political position on abortion and I resolutely stood against it.  To clarify the question, the questioner suggested that was my personal belief, not my political position on abortion.  Because of my Christianity, I cannot separate the two.  This creates divisiveness in the world.  My position on the physical age of those who can vote has nothing to do with my Christianity, because there is nothing in the Bible to suggest a voting age as a sin or not.  But my position on abortion is clearly spelled out for me in the Bible, therefore I cannot change that position, political or not.  This is where Christianity becomes divisive.  I will be divided against those who believe abortion is a viable option.  If it is disgusting in the Lord's eyes, it should be disgusting in my eyes.

This gives you the opportunity to evaluate where you stand.  The world famous pastor, T.D. Jakes, is quoted as saying recently that his position on homosexuality has evolved and is evolving. He said that LBGT's have a right to find their own church that fits their own belief system.  The Bible never once suggests we were allowed to pick and choose our beliefs in what Jesus taught.  You are free to make up your own religion but you are not free to make up your own version of Christianity and still call it Christianity.  We are either for Him or against Him.  There is no buffet where you get to cherry pick your verses out of the Bible.  If you stand with the Lord, you will naturally find yourself in direct opposition to the world on more than one issue.  Stand with the Lord, however; that is my recommendation, because the Lord wins in the end.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Mark 13:13, Luke 12, Luke 21:19, 1 Cor 10:12, 2 Cor 1:21, Eph 6:14

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Clean or Filthy

Clean or Filthy
August 3, 2015
Isaiah 64:6  "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away."

If you surround yourself with enough people who fill your head with what you want to hear, it will become your reality.  If you can find five people to tell you that you smell like roses, then you must clearly smell like roses, right?  What if those five people couldn't really smell anything, but you didn't know it?  Would it still be true that you smelled like roses?  There are many presumed preachers of the Lord's Word who would espouse doctrine not perfectly aligned with Scripture.  Yet, they can convince you of their truths and lead you astray.  One such teaching is that your best is good enough and the Lord will only hold you accountable if you are not doing your best.  Your best, my best is not good enough, no matter what someone might tell you.  There isn't a single human being out there who smells like roses even if someone tells you that.

Scripture teaches that there is not one righteous.  It actually says that a human's best righteousness is likened to filthy rags.  The literal translation in the Bible to those filthy rags is actually quite vulgar.  You can take a clean dish rag and scrub your pots and pans with it, turning the rag brown, but that is not what this is talking about.  Sure the rag would be dirty, but it is just lightly soiled from the dishes.  Filthy rags in the Bible's literal translation of the word, in specific context, is a woman's bloodied menstrual cloth.  In the Bible, there were specific rules regarding a woman's menstrual cycle and her relative cleanliness.  She was to go through a specific cleaning process each monthly cycle and a priest could not touch her, nor her husband have relations with her during that cycle.  The Lord was trying to prevent the spread of blood born pathogens and requiring these rules reduced infection.  Regardless of the science behind it, even today a bloodied menstrual cloth can be considered disgusting.  Our best righteousness is likened to something that is disgusting.  If you wanted to translate it today, in keeping with the vulgarity of the Scriptural reference, you might suggest that our best righteousness is like used toilet paper.  It doesn't smell like roses.

So, I would ask you a question.  If five people told you that you smell like roses, would it be true?  The Bible says no.  Your best isn't good enough.  This isn't meant to depress you but shed light on anyone who would presume to be arrogant.  If you always thought you smelled like roses, then you wouldn't need a savior.  Thankfully the Lord has provided a way for us to be made completely righteous and pure, but it requires acknowledging that our best is likened to filthy rags, being humbled enough to accept the work of a Savior.  It requires a person to deeply reflect on his or her actions, realizing there is sin in there and many flaws, imperfect regardless of effort.  You might intend to do the right thing, trying your best, but it will fall short of what the Lord would have done.

Unless you are Jesus, your cleanliness is filthy.  Please hear why I express these truths so deeply.  It is not up to you and me to determine right or wrong.  It is not up to you and me to decide what is good or bad.  Hold all your actions against the canon of the Bible.  If it falls short of those teachings, then it is clearly short.  If you cannot find a parallel in Scripture and it falls into a gray area, then realize if it is up to you to decide, it might not end up smelling like roses, despite finding five people who might agree with you.  There is no human jury that can decide righteousness, no person who can determine what is right.  Error on the side of caution and just presume to be less than perfect, even if it is your best, then accept the Savior's forgiveness for the rest.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Romans 3:10 & 23