Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The hidden potential of the ordinary

Our family’s been enjoying some pretty delicious bread baking experiments lately, researching how to make the best and most nutritious types. In the days of the Bible, bread wasn’t like the bland unhealthy stuff we find at the supermarket, but was so wholesome and full of nutrients, bread alone could sustain a human life for a long time. After all, Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life.

Try to eat a cup of whole grain flour, and you’ll barely be able to swallow it, much less get any nutrition from it. But add it to some water, and allow the natural yeast in the air to begin fermenting it, and something miraculous happens. It releases an abundance of proteins, B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, selenium and more. What seemed like a worthless pile of powder turns into a life-giving substance only when it begins to ferment—to rot! Then that life-giving dough can be baked and eaten. That flour wasn’t worthless—nutrients were hidden there all along. It just had to go through a rotting process to become transformed so all that goodness could be released. What does this have to do with us?  

How much is hidden within us? How much potential for growth and change and miracles is lying dormant inside of us? If you notice the way God performed miracles in both the Old and New Testaments, He always used ordinary things, and at least one of His servants to partner with in that miracle. Jacob and his faith in God used striped sticks in a water trough to strengthen his herds, Moses used his rod, Joshua marched in a circle, blew trumpets and shouted to tear down Jericho, Gideon used torches, clay pots and more trumpets to throw his enemies into confusion, Jesus used mud on a blind man’s eyes and took a little boy’s lunch to feed 5000 hungry men. God wants us to see that what we already have is enough for Him to do an amazing miracle. Our little dream, our little family, our little computer on it’s last leg, our little bank account, our little prayer group is enough for Him to unleash a hidden greatness for His honor and glory, but something has to die and rot for that to happen, and that something is usually our selfishness.

There’s a passage in Proverbs usually considered a warning against adultery. But it’s actually a warning against unfaithfulness to any kind of commitment. It warns us to drink only from our own cisterns, or wells, not to long for the water of others. Where God has placed us, is where He plans to make us grow, where He wants to unleash the inner greatness that we don’t yet see. But if we turn away from our “cistern,” we’ll never experience that joy. Am I saying that we should never give up on a job or business, or even a bad relationship? What I see the Bible saying, is that if we first serve Him faithfully and selflessly where we are, He’ll lead us out of our struggles and misery and into unthinkable blessings. That might mean leaving people and things behind, but only when He is doing the leading and not our impulsive flesh.

Start with what you have, even if it seems paltry, and tasteless, and destined for nowhere. Where God has placed you is where He wants to test your faithfulness. Are you honoring Him by being careful with your motives and desires where you are? Are you serving Him with joy in your marriage, even though your spouse isn’t serving back? Is your workplace being blessed by the best you have to give, as if you were working for Him and not for the ungrateful boss and coworkers around you?  

We live in a selfish culture of immediate gratification that teaches us to give up on things when we don’t immediately see what we want—even commitments. Everything is disposable. But not faith, not obedience, and not the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which includes patience, humbleness and faithfulness. What is it inside of you that is full of hidden potential to bear amazing fruit? What selfish attitudes inside of you need to die and rot so this transformation can happen? Be faithful in both behavior, and attitudes. Believe, and allow God to transform what you may have disregarded as paltry and tasteless, into the very blessings you need.

Drink waters out of your own cistern, and running waters out of your own well. - Proverbs 5:15 MEV
Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.  He who loves his life will lose it. And he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me. Where I am, there will My servant be also. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.  - John 12:24-26 MEV

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Humble and strong

Years ago I knew a young evangelist who would tirelessly hand out flyers and speak to passersby in a plaza close to church throughout the week. He had the appearance of a humble Christian, and he worked harder than a lot of young men I knew for the sake of the gospel. But one day a fellow evangelist noticed that he only gave flyers to people who looked underprivileged (which was a great thing), but refused to pay any attention to those who looked like they came from a higher pay grade. When he was asked why, he responded with contempt that “those rich people are all proud, I don’t waste my time on them.” But when his fellow evangelist was friendly to everyone who was willing to have a conversation, whether they were well-off or poor, this young man became angry, and sulked all the way back to the church. His seeming humility was just for show. His religiosity caused him to reject others who he deemed unworthy of compassion.

Being humble means knowing your place before God, and doing exactly what He wants of you no matter how you feel or what you want. That implies that you don’t do anything that conflicts with God’s ways, even if others pressure you. It also means being humble will at times make you seem very proud, rebellious, anti-social, fanatical, and downright crazy. Moses was seen as all of those, and so was our Lord Jesus. All of the disciples walked that same path of criticism, so who do we think we are to preserve our reputation when we claim to follow God? Being humble is risky, and requires raw faith and courage.

“Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all the men on the face of the earth,” says Numbers 12:3. The picture most of us have of humbleness, is someone so meek that they become passive. Just doormats for others to walk all over. Moses was nothing like that. Sure, there were times when he was quiet to hear God speak, or patiently waited for the right time to act even though it seemed like God was taking too long. When the Israelites were so stubborn that God’s anger was about to wipe them out, it was Moses’ compassionate cry to God for mercy that saved them all. Humility fights, believes, obeys and stands firm. True humility is strength – not passivity.

If God asked you to face the most powerful and ruthless leader of the world, march into his royal palace and demand that he hand over all of his slaves knowing that he could slice off your head at any moment, would you do it? That boldness doesn’t match the world’s definition of humility, but that’s what God saw in Moses. Perhaps all that God is asking you to do today is to finally break off that unhealthy relationship with someone you’ve been emotionally dependent on for years. Maybe it’s finally having that talk with your pastor about the hidden sin that you’ve been struggling with in shame, or to finally show kindness to those people you’ve always had contempt for. Unlike Moses, there are no death threats or armies involved, just the fear of letting go of your security blanket. Will you do it?

If you won’t, then know this: you are not humble. You still believe that your own way is superior to God’s. You may even have very spiritual sounding reasons for resisting Him, and look like a dedicated Christian. But His word warns, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)  The last thing you want is to have God’s hand turned against you, and there’s only one way to be given His grace. By being humble.

“Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”  He has told you, O man, what is good— and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  Micah 6:7-8 MEV

Monday, June 20, 2016

While it’s still light

I recently was asked about the man born blind, and Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question of who’s sin was to blame for his blindness – the man himself, or his parents?  Jesus answered, neither of them, “…but it happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. I must do the works of Him who sent Me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:3-5)

So that raises a lot of questions. How could neither he nor his parents ever have sinned? Did God purposefully make the man suffer years of blindness so He could perform a miracle just to impress people? What’s this “night” that Jesus says is coming when no one can work?  Does that mean that after Jesus ascended into heaven that no more miracles could happen and we’re all now plunged back into darkness? So much for such a small passage!  

The whole reason the disciples asked Jesus this question is that the Jewish culture of the day saw a spiritual reason behind every illness. Barren women were cursed, and the blind or lame must have committed some sin to deserve the wrath of God. If someone committed suicide, it meant a curse lay upon the entire family for generations so that no one would do business with them or step foot inside their house. So when they came across this man, the disciples wanted to understand how to view this sad situation.  

Jesus replied that neither he nor his parents sinned, not to mean that they were perfect, just that his blindness wasn’t a punishment for any specific sin. He was blind because the entire world is under a curse, because all of humanity has chosen to rebel and live in sin. Because all human beings are sinners, Satan has had freedom to infiltrate the world with sickness, disease, evil desires, corruption and death. The sins of the world open doors for evil to harm others – even innocent children. That man born blind never had a chance to choose to sin before the illness had destroyed his sight. Satan is ruthless.

Did God make the man blind just to put on a show years later? That’s not what Jesus meant at all. God never toys with us. He was (and is) teaching that no matter what affliction comes over us, God has already provided a way to overcome it, be healed from it, and use it for His glory. Any attack of the devil, whether it comes through our own fault or not, has God’s label on it as a miraculous turnaround if we submit to Him, resist the devil and believe. It’s just the submitting, resisting and believing  part that we don’t always do.

There is a night coming when those who belong to Jesus will be removed and taken up into heaven, and the antichrist will set up his rule on the earth for a time. Jesus constantly urges us to see our days as short, and the time of His return as soon. We have much to do for His Kingdom while there is still time, because once that horrible day comes when many will be left behind, darkness will be the law of the land. Meanwhile, Jesus wants us to follow in His footsteps as long as there is still light. Let’s learn to know God intimately, and bring others to know Him too. Let’s show His power through the authority He gave us to bind up demons and principalities, and to heal the sick and perform miracles in His name. There are many suffering people who need this faith, who need someone to stand up with courage to show God’s power to them just as Jesus taught us. This is not just for pastors or evangelists, it’s a command for every Christian to obey. We are commissioned to do that until He returns, no matter what our jobs or vocations are. That is our highest goal. Praise God that we have the opportunity to be in the light while it lasts, let’s do our utmost before it’s gone!

 Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me. Or else believe Me on account of the works themselves.  Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in Me will do the works that I do also. And he will do greater works than these, because I am going to My Father. I will do whatever you ask in My name, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.  John 14:11-14, MEV

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Power to row against the current

Playing with my boys at the beach when they were little was a lot of noisy fun. We’d get so into the diving and swimming and splashing, that we wouldn’t notice how far down the shore the currents had pushed us. We thought we were staying in the same place, but we were gradually drifting. We’d have to get out onto the sand and walk back to where we’d begun to start playing again, continually keeping track of where the sea was carrying us. In the same way, unanchored boats drift in powerful currents, untrained swimmers can drown at sea, and lives that aren’t spiritually powered by the Holy Spirit can be swallowed up by the currents of this world.

Too many Christians complain that God requires too much, as if He owed them an easier life. As if it wasn’t enough for Him to come to this world as a man and pay the most painful price for the sins of the entire world so that we could be set free and enter heaven. God’s very small requirement of obedience and daily self-denial of our flesh is seen by many as unfair. “Why does God keep wanting me to fight?” is the question I get all the time.

But here’s what most of these complainers don’t understand. When we’re baptized in His Spirit, He enables us to fight, to swim, to keep rowing against the current, and even gives us joy in the process. “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness...” 2 Peter 1:3. He’s the one who gives us the power! We don’t have to push against the current all on our own.  

But resisting the current doesn’t happen by magic. Though we begin to push with our own will, it’s the Holy Spirit that gives us supernatural power to do what our weak flesh could never do on it’s own.  And though a miracle is sparked by our effort, we have no right to take credit for it, because all we did was refuse to be swept away by the world. The miracle was all God, and even the strength we had to fight, came from Him.

Funny thing how Christians can ask God to baptize them in His Spirit, and then be unwilling to resist the currents of the world. They may do all the outward things that look impressive to their pastor or church friends, but because they don’t resist temptation or pride or selfish ambition, the baptism never happens. Being baptized in God’s Spirit doesn’t mean a life of floating on clouds and automatic godliness. It means being able to plunge into the nitty-gritty of life with the power to resist and overcome, to see miracles, to spot demonic attacks and mount an effective counter-attack, and to have a great sense of joy every single day. Yes, your flesh will complain at times that it’s being pushed too much, but you’ll know that your flesh is lying to you. The Spirit will provide an unending supply of strength to live by faith because you won’t be living by rules and restrictions, but in a deep and loving relationship with Him.

If you as a parent can find the love to constantly fight to protect your children from sickness, hunger, loneliness, rejection and everything else a parent sacrifices for, then you understand how worthwhile that fight can be for your flesh and blood who you intimately and dearly love. An emotionally healthy parent doesn’t sacrifice because rules force them to, they sacrifice from the depths of their hearts for their precious children. This is the kind of relationship that motivates us to fight to please our Lord Jesus. We keep adding to our faith, adding to our character and adding to our knowledge of Him because we love Him as our own flesh and blood. He gave His flesh and blood for us, so the little we owe Him is nothing compared to what He gives us.

So don’t stop seeking, don’t stop pushing forward, don’t stop rowing against the current – He wants to empower you, and He is worth every effort.

For this reason make every effort to add virtue to your faith; and to your virtue, knowledge; and to your knowledge, self-control; and to your self-control, patient endurance; and to your patient endurance, godliness; and to your godliness, brotherly kindness; and to your brotherly kindness, love. For if these things reside in you and abound, they ensure that you will neither be useless nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But the one who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted because he has forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.  2 Peter 1:5-9, MEV

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

To tithe or not to tithe…

I’ve come across various articles online complaining that churches are too literal about God’s command in Malachi to give ten percent, because now we are in the age of the new covenant. They reason that since Jesus has come and the old ritual laws of the past no longer apply, we should just give freely and generously as the Spirit inspires us with no set amount, which means that the law of tithing no longer applies.  

Some teach that we should be giving much more than just a tithe. Just as Jesus took Old Testament commands and expanded them to mean much more than previously thought, giving should also have a greater significance today than just adhering to a law of ten percent. That sounds great, and I agree we should be even more generous than the ancient Israelites who gave out of compulsion. But who actually gives beyond ten percent on a regular basis just out of the desires of their heart? If there were no baseline of at least ten percent, most people would quickly decide that God hasn’t inspired them to give anything at all, and feel content to just give God their pocket change, if anything. When giving is motivated by random moods, faith disappears and emotionalism takes over. Giving that honors God has to be done out of a rational choice that usually goes against what we feel. If giving doesn’t feel uncomfortable it probably isn’t of much spiritual value. God gave us a baseline of ten percent for a reason.

In ancient Israel the tithe went to the Levites, the priests, to provide for their needs and the needs of the Temple. Tithes were also given during the various festivals. So if Jesus teaches us to go beyond the Old Testament ways of simply following rules, and follow Him instead with all our hearts, a radical change in attitude towards possessions would have to set us apart from the rest of the world. To have a biblical perspective on wealth, we’d have to stop caring about it – and care a lot about it at the same time. It sounds contradictory, but let me explain:

We’d be so convinced that God is a true Father who provides for His own, that we don’t worry about tomorrow, and are unafraid to give. No clutching wallets for fear that He will leave us destitute, because as He provided daily manna in the wilderness, we have no doubt that He’ll provide if we give. At the same time, we take great care to administer what we do have, great or small, as all our money has come from His hand. It’s a gift from heaven, not a possession. We do this by being generous in our giving, and by being careful stewards of what we receive. 

A lackadaisical attitude isn’t the same as trusting God for the future, and neither is stinginess the same as being a good steward of your money. Jesus consistently taught that God’s laws aren’t to be observed just outwardly, but should change us to the very core of our being. We should tithe joyfully and in gratitude, looking forward to more of God’s provisions, unlike the Pharisees who tithed to publicly show off how spiritual they were. 

Did Jesus ever mention whether tithing was just an Old Testament law meant to be abandoned or not? When He rebuked those Pharisees who tithed even the tiny leaves of their herb gardens, He commanded them not to leave tithing undone, but to do it out of a pure heart, with justice, mercy and faith. According to Jesus, the law of tithing still stands, but with a deeper meaning. So when we’re filled with gratitude and live in daily surrender, then tithing becomes a pleasure – it’s just the baseline of all else that we gladly give.

“Let every man give according to the purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  2 Corinthians 9:7 MEV 
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You tithe mint and dill and cumin, but have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone.”  Matthew 23:23 MEV  

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Seeing the red flags

Martin Luther, hero of faith and father of the Protestant Reformation, a former monk who exposed the corrupt practices of the Catholic Church in the 16th century and was persecuted and hated for the rest of his life because of it, wrote what God taught him through those trials in his commentary on the book of Romans: 

“Those speak foolishly who ascribe their anger or their impatience to such as offend them or to tribulation. Tribulation does not make people impatient, but proves that they are impatient. So everyone may learn from tribulation how his heart is constituted.”

We can’t blame our short tempers, fears or insecurities on the fact that we’re going through difficulties. It’s tough times that reveal the weaknesses hidden inside of us, like being in a crucible where we either burn up, or just steadily soften and become purified. Weaknesses are easily masked when life is calm, but then we never improve. Yet few people allow that softening to happen no matter how much heat they go through. Wisdom in spiritual warfare, resilience and a solid faith are priceless treasures that are instilled in us when we respond to trials correctly.  

When fears mushroom out of control, it’s a red flag that our faith is unstable, so we fight against the fear, and fight to build that tiny speck of faith into a powerful and effective one. When tempers flare, we can choose to channel impatience and anger against the devil instead of people, and willfully do the opposite of our emotions by showing love to our enemies even when it hurts our pride. When insecurities paralyze us from taking steps to better our lives, we defy our emotions, brace against the doubts and just push forward like bulldozers with the promises of God as our assurance. Every attack of the devil is an opportunity to attack back by countering temptations, and doing the right thing.

Grumpiness, bad moods and self-pity are red flags that your relationship with God is off kilter – that something can be done about it, and that God is waiting for you to stand on His Word, take action and fight! It means it’s time for some emotional housecleaning and a new boost of strength from the Holy Spirit.  

Let’s agree to stop blaming circumstances or people, to start acting against our emotions by shaking off these attacks of the devil and learning through whatever trial or tribulation comes against us. It’s amazing how quickly attacks can lose strength once we rise up against them in faith. The fact that we have Bibles available in over 530 languages today is due to the fighting faith of Martin Luther and many other pioneers of the Reformation and beyond. We not only bless ourselves when we learn to fight back with faith, we can bless the world. Have you noticed your red flags? Have you ever wondered what God’s been trying to teach you through this trial your facing?   

O Lord, You who know, remember me, and take notice of me, and take vengeance on my persecutors. Because of your longsuffering, do not take me away. Know that for Your sake I have suffered rebuke. Your words were found and I ate them. And Your word became to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart, for I am called by Your name, O Lord God of Hosts. I did not sit in the assembly of mockers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone because of Your hand, for You have filled me with indignation.  Jeremiah 15:15-17 MEV