April 30, 2010

Such a Time as This

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14)

I love the story of Esther. Love, love, love it. I mean, it's a fairy tale... in the Bible!! Think about it. Little girl from the projects is so beautiful she's selected to be one of the king's wives (ok, just ignore the polygamy). She spends months and months living in luxury just preparing to meet the king. Then she hears that her family, her people, are about to be destroyed by the king's right-hand man simply because Haman is distainful of Esther's uncle, who not only refused to bow to him but was given high honors for saving the king's life. So, at risk of her very own death, she goes to the king to beg for her people. But instead of flopping down on the floor and crying for mercy, she gives him an invitation--would he go to dinner with her? Intrigued at the fact that she risked her life for this one request, the king agreed. Then after a wonderful evening she asks only for another dinner, and another. Finally the king is so enamored with Esther's beauty and mystery that he offers her anything she wants, up to half of his kingdom. At this point she asks freedom for her people, and the king grants it, and strings Haman up on the noose that he had prepared for Esther's uncle.

I almost wish the Bible continued with "and they lived happily ever after."

But did you catch the important part here? Esther went to the king knowing that she could be summarily executed if he chose not to acknowledge her. Dude.

I mean, how often lately have you faced death in order to do something that God has placed upon you to do? Or think about it this way, would you be willing to face the death of your reputation? Of your bank account? Of your position in society? Would you be willing to lose all of this, for God's people?

Esther's uncle had the most amazing line in the whole story when he told her look, if you don't do this, someone else will rise up. But that doesn't mean that they'll save your family. You were chosen to be part of the king's retinue because of your beauty, but perhaps God gave you this beauty in order that you would be in this place, at this time, with the chance that our people need.

And I do have to say I love love love that part of what Esther did was make herself beautiful for her endeavor. I mean really, when you think about doing the work of God, do you think that means you have to focus on hair and makeup? Well, I think that we each have an arsenal of gifts, and as women one of our "tools" is our appearance. NO I'm not saying to wear a low-cut shirt to get your way in life. But it's just a known fact that beauty grabs attention. And hear this, ladies... confidence is beauty. Self-assuredness is beauty. So when you go to tackle your own trip to the king, be sure that you are using every tool in your arsenal, especially confidence in Christ, and self-assuredness in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit inside you. That is what will shine, that is what is beautiful, above and beyond your earthly charms. :)

Ok, back to Esther's realization that God placed her where she was so she could do His work. She was the only person in the entire kingdom who could intercede on behalf of her people. It's an extreme story, because few of us will ever be in the exact same situation. But think about this: No one is you, but you. You have a unique blend of work, home, family, interests, gifts, and abilities. No one is exactly where you are but you. Do you think that God might just possibly have a plan just for you? Some situation where he has placed you specifically to do His work? Whether it is saving a country or just one child, whether it is teaching young children or providing the best customer service in the world, whether sharing Truth through painting or being a "safe" person for all the teens at church to talk with, God has placed you where you are for a reason.

Sometimes the trick is having that reason pointed out.

And then acting on it.

April 29, 2010

Don't be a Liar

If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)

Do you remember another verse that this parallels? Ok, well this is somewhat of a reverse parallel, but nonetheless, here is the verse it reminds me of (this is a paraphrase):

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and alll your soul and all your mind and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hinge on these two things.

Jesus said that when he was asked which was the "greatest" commandment.

So when you look at the 1 John verse, it's somewhat of a parallel because John is describing how it really is a living out of the two commandments. If you love God, you will naturally love your brothers, because God is love, and God loves us, all of us, and if we love God we will love whom He loves, which is everyone.

Got that? :)

It is a pretty good reality check, this verse. I mean, it's so very easy to say "well come on, this person is just terrible. He's not reliable, he's cruel, he's the worst boss/coach/friend/teammate ever, so I just don't have to try to be a good Christian to him, because he's rejected everything I say; it's just not worth it."

But if you're saying that you follow Jesus, that you're a Chrstian, then a show of an absence of love for someone.... well that makes your "deep and meaningful" relationship with God an utter lie.


Because I'm guilty of this a lot.

Like, all the time.

But thank God we have a God who forgives. Who loves us even when we're the worst boss/coach/friend/teammate ever.

April 28, 2010

Jesus Math

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

I don't know about you, but I very rarely had to diagram sentences growing up. I know we had to underline the verb and noun, the object etc, but have you ever seen those diagrams where there are lines and angles and words on end? It's crazy. I'm rather glad I never had to do that. But.

But--I have realized that in a way our lack of understanding of sentence structure could be contributing to some of our failures as good little Christian boys and girls.

Take the if-then clause for example. The if-then clause is like a mathematical equation. If A=B and B=C, then A=C. Right? So there are three important words there (ok there are only 3 words there period): IF, AND, and THEN. IF says "ok, pay attention to what I'm about to say, because everything hinges on this." AND says "I just said one pivotal thing, but there's more, so make sure you see that what I'm about to say is just as imporant as the first thing." Finally, THEN says "Ok, once you've seen the first two things happen--and only when both of them have happened, you will now be able to experience this next thing."

Does that make sense? So in the equation, I cannot see that A=C without first verifying that A=B and that B=C.

I'm sure you're loving the math lesson here, but I do have a point as it pertains to today's verse.

Here it is as an if-then statement:
"IF we pray AND we turn from our ways, THEN God will forgive us."

And here it is as an equation:
Praying + Repentance = Forgiveness

Some people try to get the Forgiveness right away. Others think that they only need to say the words "God forgive me." Neither of these fits the equation. First, you can't have one side of an equation without the other. So to get forgiveness you must have prayer and repentance. Second, prayer and repentance really must go hand-in-hand. Praying is going to God and admitting you have done wrong. Repentance is saying you don't ever want to do that wrong again. (How many times have you prayed to God to forgive you for doing something that you have no intention of quitting?)

Now I don't want anyone to feel condemned here. I myself have many times asked forgiveness for things that I was about to do, not even something I had just done and knew I'd do again. We're all gonna mess this up from time to time. But it's a heart issue. If you truly want to be more like Jesus, you will want to recognize the sin in your life and turn from it. God will forgive us our sins because Jesus died as punishment for them. If you call Jesus your Lord and Savior his blood will wash you clean. But does that give you carte blanche? No it does not. Because again, we're supposed to be trying to be more like Jesus, not trying to find ways to get away with sinning.

Let me say that again: We're supposed to be trying to be more like Jesus, not trying to find ways to get away with sinning.

So, if I leave you with nothing else today, may you remember this simple equation: Prayer + Repentance = Forgiveness. It might just help you live a more Christ-like life.

April 27, 2010

The Scapegoat

"Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat...

"When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat's head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert." (Leviticus 16:6-10, 20-22)

Is it really believable that Jesus died for our sins? Is it realistic that this is something that could happen? Ironically, a lot of the same people who would say that this is utterly impossible--one man taking on all the sins of the world--are the people who believe in aliens, or magic, or multiple dimensions. Now I'm not putting a blanket "these do not exist" statement on those three things. What I'm doing is making a correlation between things that are difficult, if not impossible, to prove.

If you came from a Jewish tradition, and studied the scriptures (the Old Testament) I would think that it might be a bit easier to comprehend. Look at the verses above. What is it that happened in this story? Well, on the day of atonement, along with all of the other sacrifices and ceremonies that Aaron performed, he also took a goat and placed upon it all the sins of the people. Then it was led into the wilderness where it likely died. But the point is that the sins of the people went off into the wilderness, never to return.

So what was it that Jesus did again? He took the sins of all humanity--this time it was all humanity, not just Jews, and he took them for all time, not just the past year--and he took them upon himself. And he died, and took those sins with him, never to return. (ok, JESUS returned. The sins did NOT)

Jesus is often referred to as the sacrificial lamb. Which he is. But he is also the scapegoat for all humanity. The one on whom we pile all of our sin, guilt, doubt and iniquity. And through his death and resurrection, these things have been cast away from us forever.

Now, one important note is that we really have to try to stop coming up with more sin, guilt, doubt and iniquity. Jesus died for things you haven't even done yet, so they will be forgiven, but I wonder how our lives would be if, instead of letting ourselves wallow in doubt during a hard time, for example, but instead thanked God for taking that doubt from us. Because He did. It is gone from God's signt as soon as we repent of it. So why not avoid the need for repentance and go straight into thanksgiving? I wonder if that would change anything in our lives.

Because that is what Jesus came to do--to change our lives, to give us freedom and forgiveness. To bear our sins into the wilderness so that we would not be judged by them. Glory, hallelujah! Thank you God for taking my sins from me, for giving your son to die for the sins I have committed, and the ones I have yet to commit. Thank you for loving me so much that you sent your son as the scapegoat for humanity, to die for things he did not do. Thank you that he took on all of my guilt and iniquity, that he died so that I may live. Help me to remember this before I am tempted into sin again, so that I would refrain from heaping more on the cross. Amen.

April 26, 2010

God Delivers

Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me; all day long they press their attack.

In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?

For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.
(Psalm 56: 1, 11, 13)

If you have a moment, you should really read all of Psalm 56. It's not very long. But I pulled out these three verses because they tell the general story of the Psalm: David is being attacked by his enemies without rest, but yet he is not afraid because of his trust in the God who delivers him and helps him to walk in the light of life.

How often do we say that first line, and then stop? How often do you pray "God this is happening, and that is happening, and no one likes me or wants me to succeed and..." but you never move to "But God I place my faith in you and I know that you will see me through this time, because you have already saved me from an eternity without you."

It's a little sad how easy it is to forget the message of the cross. Which, by the way, is the Good News of the Bible. God resurrected Jesus, so that even death has no hold over us, because He will bring us back to life as well. As David said, "for you have delivered me from death." He wasn't speaking only to the fact that he was still alive despite having men chase after him. No, I believe that he is also speaking to the fact that God saves us from an eternal separation from Him.

But how does he? That is something not really covered in this psalm. Why did God save him from death? Why will He save us? What do we have to do?

Well, if you've read any of my posts from last week, I was working my way through 1 John 1:5-9, which speaks to the fact that we will receive redemption from all of our sins if we confess them, and that if we walk in the light of God, we will have community with Him and with others.

I believe that Psalm 56 is a practical application of this. David was "a man after God's own heart" and even though he sinned big time, he always came back to God in repentance and sought God's wisdom and guidance constantly. He wasn't perfect, but He knew who was. And so David trusted in God. Trusted for protection. Trusted for life.

And he saw that the point of life is to walk it, to walk it in the light of life. To walk in God's light which sees everything about us. But we can only do this when we let go of our life, let go of those things which hold us back. Sin holds us back. Sin keeps us from walking in the light.

Can we stop sinning by ourselves? No. Not even if you promise yourself, God and the Easter Bunny that you'll never ever do "it" again. It is by God's grace, and with God's strength that you will stop. It is God who keeps our "feet from stumbling."

So be like David. Lift up your problems to the Lord. Tell him how you are being attacked and put down. But then, be sure to recognize that God is the one who will give you strength and redeem you. Open yourself up to God's work in your life by letting go of that which holds you back. Your sin hold you back.

And if you let go, you will see that you are a new creation over whom death itself has no hold. You will walk in the light of life, and you will be a light to others.

April 23, 2010

Confession Restores Fellowship

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:5-10)

Happy Friday everyone! OK, here's the recap of what i've been looking at in this verse so far: the Light of God sees everything, even those sins we want to hide. If we say that we're not sinners we're big fat liars. Walking in the light means two things: understanding that God knows we will sin because we are human, and knowing that we must confess those sins to receive forgiveness. And today I will discuss what happens when we do or do not confess our sins.

Think about it this way: You have a best friend, who stays at your house to watch the cat while you're on vacation. When you get back, and after she leaves, you notice a huge pasta sauce stain on the couch. You ask your friend about it, and she says it was already there. Now, you know this is not true, because you would never and have never eaten anywhere near your precious white couch. So. Is it fair to say that most likely your relationship with your best friend will be a bit strained for a while?

That's kindof what happens between us and God when we ignore our sins, when we justify them, or when we outright deny that we've sinned at all. It breaks God's heart, and puts a barrior between us. Now if you remember from Monday, there is no barrior that can withstand the Light of heaven, so we're not really hiding from God so much as we are absolutely losing out on all that God is offering us for a whole and fulfilling life.

Plus, go back up to the top and re-read the verse. I'l wait.

Did you read it? Seriously, go read it. It'll take five seconds.

Ok, so did you read that last sentence? If we claim that we have not sinned, we are essentially calling God, the Maker and Creator of everything in existance, a liar. We're saying "Jesus didn't die for my sins, because I don't sin. I can get into Heaven just fine on my own. I make my own rules."

But realistically, we can make all the "rules" we want. It's the Truth, however, that will judge us in the end. We do sin. We sin every day. Many times a day. (ok, I do, I'm just assuming that you do too.) And each time we ignore this sin, we put another brick in the wall.

God can break down that wall at any time, but He wants US to ask Him to. He wants us to take out the first brick. I have a painting I did years ago that showed a wall with a brick that was halfway between in and out of the wall. That painting says one thing to me: "Either you're building the wall up, or you're tearing it down." Every time we go to God and say "I have sinned, please forgive me," He does. He absolutely does. He wants us to give Him our pure and heartfelt repentance, He wants us to change our ways, and He can give us that strength. But what matters is that in the moment, He is forgiving us for what we have done.

This is not a carte blanche to do it again.

Please understand this. God's forgiveness is NOT a carte blanche to sin again. In fact, you may as well go put stock in scaffolding if you think this way, because the wall between you and God is just gonna go sky-high if you think you can just keep going back to God every time you sin, with the plan to just go do it again. What did we say yesterday? Repent. Confess, then repent.Turn your life around.

Because when you confess, and meaningfully say that you want to turn your life 180 degrees in the other direction, you not only receive the forgiveness that washes you clean, but you renew your relationship with God. Because you can see Him now, instead of that brick wall.

Just think about your friend and the couch. What if she had called you while you were gone, or met you at the door and said "I am so sorry. I know you don't eat on the couch but I was watching the game and I sat down and it was such an amazing ending that I jumped up without thinking and my plate flipped over and landed on the couch. I know that you may find it difficult to be anything other than angry right now, but I am asking you to forgive me. I will never eat on the couch again and in fact I will pay for the cleaning costs and I will make it my personal job any time you have a party to keep people who have food in their hands away from your couch."


Do you think you'd find it easier to forgive this friend, instead of the one who insists it was your fault?

Confessing your sins to the ones you sinned against can be painful. But it is in doing this that we tear down the walls between each other, and allow for the renewal of relationships.

Just remember that when you sin against someone, you actually sin against Someone else. You may need to confess your sins twice--once to the person, and once to God. It is then that you will have life and peace and joy restored to you, for the walls between you and God will have crumbled, and His good gifts will be there for the taking.

Be blessed.

April 22, 2010

Confession is a Good Thing

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:5-10)

So far we've talked about 3 things in these verses: The Light of God, which sees everything. The fact that if we say we're not sinning when we are we're liars, and we looked at part one of what walking in the Light really means: first it means that we must have the proper attitude towards sin. We are flawed, so we will sin, but if we have the right attitude and desire to not sin, that is walking in the light.The fourth installment of this particular Bible verse study looks at the second aspect of "walking in the light", which is confession and repentance.

God knows we are going to sin. He sent his son Jesus to die on the cross for us, for our sins. The wages of sin is death, so Jesus died. This means that Jesus' blood is on us. And not that we are guilty of His death, but that it covers us to show that someone has already paid the price for our transgressions. That is very, very cool. And yet, we do not get a free pass. Believing in God and accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior will get us into heaven. But it is forgiveness that will restore our relationships here on earth, that will allow us to draw closer to God. And forgiveness will not come unless we ask for it.

Let me say that again: Forgiveness will not come unless we ask for it.

Did you see the big "If" clause in the verse? IF we confess our sins God will forgive us and purify us. If. Not "at the end of every day he'll just automatically wipe the slate clean." Nope, God will not make us die for our sins, but He does ask that we say that we did them. Own up to it. It's an attitude thing again. If we sin and don't care, then we are not walking in the light. But, if we sin, and we say "Oh, my God, I know that I have sinned, I am so sorry, please forgive me and help me not to do it again," then God will say "you are forgiven." Because God desires our heart most of all. And a heart that cannot confess its wrongdoing is not a heart for God. Someone with a heart for God will stand quietly when the Light comes into their life and reveals any areas of sin, and then asks forgiveness, and seeks to adjust their ways.

Let me be crystal clear. "walking in the light" does not mean not sinning. Jesus is the only man who didn't sin. Walking in the light means saying "I do sin, I have sinned, and I am truly sorry."

And the beautiful thing is that God always comes through on His promises. There are times that He gives us an if-then clause, like with confession. IF you confess THEN God will forgive you. But the great thing is that He doesn't wait until He feels like forgiving you, He doesn't make you jump through hoops, and He doesn't make you feel bad about yourself first. He just forgives.

Now, I did add repentance in there--you don't see that word in the Bible verse but I feel that it is necessary to always follow confession with repentance. Repentance means to turn around, to do a 180 in your behavior, to run the exact opposite way of your sin. Confessing is great. But if you confess knowing that you're going to sin again, that's not really a full-out confession. That's saying "I want you to clean me up so I can go back out there and get dirty again." True confession is saying "I did wrong, I don't want to do it again, I'm going to change my life" and if you're smart you'll end it with "Lord, please help me."

And He will. God wants to help us. He wants us to live without sin, but He knows that we need His help and guidance. And He's always always always willing to give it. He's never in a meeting that can't be interrupted, He's always ready to speak wisdom into your heart and mind, and strengthen your resolve against that which tempts you.

It is here, too, that the most beautiful thing happens. We are clean, we are whole, and our relationship with God and with others is re-established. This will be my topic for tomorrow.

April 21, 2010

Don't Make Your Own Commandments

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:5-10)

Day 3 of using this verse, hooray! What have we discovered so far? We've learned that the Light of God can pass through anything to see us inside and out, and that there are no shadows in which we can hide from God. We also learned that if we say that we are not sinning and yet we are, that we are big fat liars.

So today let's look at walking in the Light. What exactly does that mean? I believe it means two things. First, we must try not to sin. Really honestly try. Yes, we're going to mess up. We're going to mess up so very badly that if any human got to be God for a day they would give humanity up as a bad job in about 5 minutes. But this is what I alluded to yesterday... it's not as much about our sinning, I believe, it's about our attitude towards it.

If I sin, but I think "Meh, God will understand" or "Well, but you should have heard what she said to me" or "I'm just trying to get my due," then I don't have the right attitude about sinning. In this case I sin even more because beyond the theft/cruel words/whatever I also have the sin of pride, where I am essentially saying "I get to make the rules here and what I did does not count as sin even though God spelled out the 10 Commandments pretty well."

I believe that the correct attitude towards a sin recently committed is "Oh my goodness, I just did something wrong, what can I do to make it right?" This, this is what living in the Light means. Because we are human, we are flawed, we are messed up six ways from Sunday, and we will completely ruin each and every one of our own good intentions without a buttload of self-control and a serious dose of Jesus.

To make sure I am clear here--we will sin. We will, we will, we will. But our job really is to try not to. And we will be able to accomplish that more often than we realize when we put our mind to living like Jesus, being kind to others, not stealing from work, not gossiping, etc. But what we must also do is understand that the Light of God will look into our deepest innermost thoughts and actions and will find places of sin, sin that we may not even know as sin because it's just become ingrained in how we "do" life.

So, living in the Light first of all means that we need to do our best not to sin, but to understand and recognize that when we accept Jesus into our hearts, we open ourselves up to the Light of God, and our sins will be brought to light, because try as we may, there will always be instances of sin in our lives. Always. What we must do then, is keep a humble spirit that says "Ok God, I did my best, but I know I'm not perfect. Please let me know where I missed the mark."

And this leads to step two, which I will cover tomorrow: Confession and repentance.

April 20, 2010

Are You a Liar?

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:5-10)

So today is the second day of looking at the same scripture. This is kinda fun so far. I like the idea of breaking it down like this. Of course I'm only supposed to preach on one verse (no I won't tell you which just yet) so I have yet to determine if any of this will make it, but I do want to have a deeper understanding of the context anyway.

Yesterday I wrote about the Light of God (I like capitalizing things, have you figured that out?) So today might seem like a bit of a bummer, but we really must follow up the Light with the Lie. Do you live in the light? Let's make this really easy: If you do anything at all where you're grateful for darkness (Except developing film or watching the stars) or where you find yourself looking around first to make sure that no one is looking... well chances are you're not living totally in the light. You're actually hanging out in the shadows a bit. So if you try to say "Yes, I do live in the light, I'm a follower of Jesus and I just love him to bits and pieces" and you go home at night and watch "just a little" porn or call a friend to "keep her up on the news of the area" or take home "just a few reams of paper" from work... well, my friend, from one liar to another--that is NOT living in the light.

I have learned to justify my actions so very well that it's actually a problem. Let me give you a hint: if you start your "reasoning" for doing something by saying "But I feel" or "But I deserve" or even just the word "but," you're looking for a shadow to hide in. Your brain, your heart, and the Holy Spirit inside you are actually pretty good at telling you when you're doing or about to do something that's against God's will. What's crazy, however, is our ability to completely forget that the Light of God is ubiquitous. It's always "on" and it's always everywhere, shining into the corners and through walls. While the star around which this planet revolves is a good image to use for God and His glory, we must not forget that it is the smallest fraction of the reality that is the Great I AM, the  Alpha and Omega.

So, is it possible to live entirely in the light? Heck no! Not unless you're Jesus of Nazareth, born of the virgin Mary. You know it's not possible, I know it's not possible, God knows it's not possible. But does that mean we give up? That we give in to temptation because we're going to sin anyway? Or must we always flagellate ourselves and cry out to God "we're not worthy, we're sinful scum, we should be punished for our sins." (All of which is true, by the way.)

I don't think so.Without trying to get too ahead of myself here, may I just point out one thing: This verse never says "stop sinning." It says "You're a liar if you say that you don't sin."

So is God concerning Himself with your sin, or your attitude about it?

Hmmm. Words for thought, eh? I'll follow up with more tomorrow. :)

April 19, 2010

Live in the Light

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:5-10)

Hello again! I took about a week off from my devotionals, ironically because I'm going through a tough spot, and instead of bathing myself in the word I chose to sleep later. I don't want to get into all of that just now, I feel as though it will work itself out over the next few days. But today I'm going to start doing a study of this particular passage, and I might keep at it for a few days. I have to teach a short sermon on one verse in here, and I figure I could use a few days to dwell on it in context. So, let's get started.
God is light. When I think about that, I get this image of a Person so great and big and with the very sun shining out of Him that you can't hardly even see his outline. It's kindof a cool mental image I have. We've often seen pictures of Jesus where he's haloed by light, and you have to wonder where that light comes from. Well, "from God" would be a good guess.
But where is that light going to? Now that's a question for us. That light is coming straight at us. You can't stand close enough to God for His light to be that gloriously bright and not be bathed in it yourself.
So what does that light feel like, and what does it do? Well, as God is, I believe that light is multidimensional. In other words, it is able to do more than one thing at once. I think the Light of God is warming and soothing, much like the feeling you get on the first nice day of summer when you just lay yourself down outside and soak up the warmth. But I also think the Light of God is a light so concentrated and directed that it cuts into us, into the very innermost beings of us, and doesn't leave anything ignored. This is a light that is not stopped by clothing, or the walls we hide behind. And it sees everything.
Well shoot. Suddenly my list of sins seems longer.
That's the "down side" to having the Light of God directed at us. God sees everything about us, even those secret sins that we've done such a good job of rationalizing that we don't even recognize them any more.
But God does.
Because with His Light are His Eyes. He will look at everything on which His Light shines. (Which, by the way, is everyhing in the world, but we'll leave that for another day.) So when this light shines into the very innermost depths of our being, so too goes His sight. So God knows. He knows it alllll. You don't have to confess your sins in order for God to know what they are--He can see them plain as day.
Did you think that when the lights turned off, when the world spun you away from the sun, that you could do whatever you wanted?
Because the Light of God doesn't concern itself with things like steel, bricks, mortar, earth, rock, or magma. And, the Light of God doesn't come from the star around which our planet rotates. It comes from God, who is everywhere. Hm.
So what matters most is this: knowing that you live in the Light of God, the light that sees everything and knows everything that it sees, how do you live?

April 7, 2010

Like a Child

"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Mark 10:14-15)

If you've studied the Bible or attended church for long enough, you've probably heard or read countless teachings on this. So I may not have anything new to add. I will, however, give you my thoughts.

Children are probably the most rule-aware subset of humans. You may not believe this, but they are. They are rule-aware because children are still trying to figure out the world around them, so they do their best to catalog everything they see and hear. Thus people are generally only "good" or "bad," because they do not have the mental subtleties to see the gray area.

This is quite clear in language. Children who grow up speaking English are stuck with attempting to figure out a language which is based on both the Romance and Germanic tongues, each with their own rationale. So it helps to know things like "I before E, except after C." But there are soooo many intricacies of the language which you and I take for granted now, because we've memorized it. But you will see a child attempting to follow the rules, and getting it all wrong, until they learn. (House-Houses verses Mouse-Mice, for example).

All that to say that when a child "learns right from wrong," they do not question it. Of course, a child's favorite question is often "why?" (typically because they like to have the rationale behind the rules they're learning), but you can often tell a child "Because that's what God teaches us" and they'll be content.

So if you take the time to teach your children God's commands, they will not only learn them, but they will parrot them back to you. Don't even think about lying in front of a child who has just learned that lying is wrong!

Many people read the above verse and talk about how we must be innocent as a child to get to heaven. This is true. But we must also be dilligent to learn God's laws and apply them to our own lives. And, really, children do this better than most any other age group. So you want to inherit in the Kingdom of God? Be like a child. Learn what is right and wrong, and stick to it.

April 6, 2010

In This Moment

Jesus turned and saw her. "Take heart, daughter," he said, "your faith has healed you." And the woman was healed from that moment. (Matthew 9:22)

When does God work in our lives? Must we prove ourselves first? Jump through hoops? Fill out a request form? Wait until He "feels like it?"

For all that we must recognize that God works in His good timing, when He decides to do something now, it happens now. If God decides to grant healing, it will happen in a moment. If He decides to grant you favor, it will happen immediately upon His decision.

Sometimes we don't recognize this, because we may not know all the steps involved. Think about this: What if you're looking for a new job, and you pray and you pray and you pray for a new job, and six months later you finally get one, and it's perfect for you. Do you think God made you wait because He was putting you off? I don't think so. I believe if He chose that job for you, He was simply putting things into motion. Perhaps someone there had to reach retirement age, or secure their own job before they could leave.

God knows what we want before we ask for it, but He will often wait until we ask before He takes action. At that point, however, rest assured that things are happening towards His answer to your prayers.

Sometimes we will see the fruits of our prayer the instant we are done praying. And other times it may be months or even years later. But never doubt that God is working. This is why we should ask God our request, then thank Him for fulfilling it, because He is! If God's answer is yes, then He's on the job, then and there.

That's some good news, isn't it?

April 5, 2010

Look Straight

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." (Luke 22:61)

There are only 47 instances of the word "straight" in the NIV. And a fair few of the New Testament instances use this "then someone looked straight at someone else" phrase. It's really quite interesting to me, because it says in this verse that once the Lord (Jesus) looked at Peter, Peter remembered what Jesus had said to him earlier. And at this time Peter wasn't too terribly close to Jesus, because he was trying to save his own skin by denying he knew the man. And yet Jesus was able to turn and look directly at Peter, so there was no doubt at all whom he was addressing, even though Jesus didn't speak a single word.

God does the same thing for us even now. Maybe when we are in the midst of doing something we know to be wrong, someone we know will see us, or we will see someone else who is reaping the "rewards" of living a lifestyle that is out of the will of God, and this will suddenly look us straight in the face and say "This is what you are going to become if you do not change your ways."

Or maybe you'll see an advertisement for, say, soap, and a revelation from God will hit you right between the eyes. I have received God's word to me by looking at a tree.

The point here is this: God may not always say clear concise words in English (or your native tongue) when He wishes to speak to you, but He is always talking, always sharing His wisdom with us. And because we often forget to listen, He will slap us in the face with something or someone catching our attention in a way that will make our heart resonate with the knowledge that this is a revelation straight from God.

So keep your eyes open.

April 2, 2010

Have Compassion

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. (Mark 6:34)

It is so very easy for us to think about nothing and no one but ourselves. We seek understanding and forgiveness from others, yet we hold them to a higher standard and judge them when they don't come through on our perceived "fair" expectations. Especially when the other person is not a believer, we judge them harshly, don't we, and compare ourselves to them. At least we're not like them, hooray for that.

But then you read something like the above verse. Jesus had compasssion on people because they did not have the knowledge and understanding of God. They did not have the hope that is found in Christ. So of course they could be bitter, selfish people. But what Jesus did is reach out to those people, where they were, in order to draw them in to a relationship with Him.

This is what we should always remember when we see people who do not know Christ, when they treat us in unfair ways, when they ridicule us even for who we believe in. We should remember that they have no shepherd in their life and instead of being proud of ourselves we should have compassion for them. Not pity or condenscension. Compassion.

Because someone had to have compassion for us, back before we knew Jesus.

And aren't we still full of ourselves even now? Perhaps people are treating us with extra compassion even though we know Christ. Don't we then owe it to others to be treated as we ourselves are?

Just chew on that for a day or so. :)

April 1, 2010

Do Not Fear What They Fear

"Do not fear what they fear" (1 Peter 3:14/Isaiah 8:12)

Ok, so who is "they" and what is it that they fear?

Does it help to have a bit more of the verse: Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1 Peter 3:13-15)

So, here's the deal. It's hard to be a Christian. It's super-hard to be counter-cultural, and yet God has called us to this. He "set us apart" for Himself. That means we are not as the world is. That means we're going to be fought against. Yes, fought against. In the spiritual realm as well as the physical.

Sucks, doesn't it?

I just had two great conversations yesterday with each half of the same couple. With one we touched on the concept of what it means to be counter-cultural, and with the other we discussed (among many other things) parallel situations that each of us are in where we feel as though we are being overlooked for favor that is being granted abundantly to other people.

So yeah. Separate, set apart, and shat on.

(Look it up. It's the past tense.)

But that's the way it is. Ok, Jesus never said "thou shalt be shat upon," but I think you get the gist of it in the other stuff He said. He said it wasn't going to be easy. He said that His follwers were going to be mocked, ridiculed, harmed and even killed for following Him.

So then here comes this statement: "Do not fear what they fear." It's something that was said alllll the way back in Isaiah as well. Kinda makes you think that there's something going on in the world against the Chosen Ones, eh?

But back to the question: who is "they" and what do they fear?

In the context of 1 Peter, Christians had been scattered about Rome. They were being persecuted and killed. I believe that "they" is the Roman mob, and what "they" feared is being counter-cultural. Being less than Roman. Ironically Rome was a total melting pot of cultures and ideas by this point, and yet Christians found themselves then in the place where Christians in America seem to be as well: we live in a land that is so open to new ideas that it does not accept a belief system built on "I am the way, and the truth, and the life."

So what did they fear? The Roman mob. The culture turning against them. Even good little Roman citizens had to fear Roman persecution if they stood out from or went against culture.

So this is where the Christians are told "Do not fear." Peter doesn't, sadly, say "Don't worry God will protect you, nothing will happen." Nope, he said "Yeah, it's gonna kinda suck. But here's the deal. Don't be afraid of it. Have your hope in Jesus." And furthermore, in a somewhat well-known verse, Peter goes on to tell people to always be prepared to tell people about the source of their hope. Which means they have to have hope--even through the persecution!

What does this mean to me today? It means that I can't be afraid of being seen as different, that I was created to be counter-cultural so when I stick out like a sore thumb I may as well be ok with it. And that means that when people see me and know that I am a Christian, I should desire that they would also see the hope that is in me. Hope in the knowledge that this isn't it. If I don't get a promotion, if I lose all my friends, if I get persecuted against, I still have eternity. Because this is just temporary. So I don't have to be afraid of living with pain or sorrow because compared to forever, this is a short time.

And that, my friends, is what "they" fear. "They" fear that this is a one-shot deal, that they only have one chance to live, and as such they have to "fit in" with the societal norms, because they need to have as successful a life as possible, because this is it. There are no second chances with unbelievers.

But we know that, through Christ, not only do we get another shot at existence after death, but we get a guaranteed awesome one that will never end.

So do not fear what "they" fear. Remember that this is only temporary, and have hope. Live out that hope, and you will maybe show "them" a better way. And maybe, just maybe, they'll start wanting what you have. And you can give them hope too.