Beginnings are not endings

“I was born a slave … I am not sure of the exact place or exact date … My life had its beginning during the most miserable, desolate and discouraging surroundings.”

Advertisements

Booker T. Washington* described his start in life as such: “I was born a slave … I am not sure of the exact place or exact date … My life had its beginning during the most miserable, desolate and discouraging surroundings.” I have known personally many people in my life time who start life in difficult and incredibly ‘unfair’ circumstances. Rejecting parents of one child over another and ignored by parents who are involved in an addiction. Then there are those born with crippling and debilitating diseases. Or in the prime of their life are struck down as paraplegics. [Joni Erickson-Todda] There is absent parent[s] who are in prison or too sick to care for them. In today’s chaotic culture, many grow up in families surrounded by family who are murderers, child abusers and con-artists. Some grow up in or are sold into a type of slavery like sex-trafficking, even here in the US.

Consider Joseph, who is held up as a hero of the Bible. Jacob, his father, grew up as conniving and treacherous man. He took advantage of his father’s blindness and stole his older brother’s inheritance. Jacob’s father-in-law Laban cheated him several times with livestock and marriages.

Jacob’s sons took after their father. Joseph who was the 11th son born, was the youngest. Jacob played favorites with his sons. He was not shy about showing favoritism toward one child over other ten brothers. He did this in different ways: Jacob gave more affection, more privileges and less discipline to Joseph who was his favorite. Is it any wonder that this created animosity and jealousy among the other 10 older? One day when Joseph was a young man they saw an opportunity to be rid of him. They sold Joseph into slavery to some Egyptians slave traders. To cover their crime, they created an elaborate story, complete with hard evidence, to convince their father of Joseph’s unfortunate demise by a wild animal attack.

Joseph, the favored son with the nicest clothes, started life as a loved and cherished son. Suddenly he finds himself in a foreign country as a slave among foreign gods. But did he focus on yesterday? No. Let me say this, I believe that there is only one reality, today. Yesterday and tomorrow are not reachable. I cannot change the past or the future therefore, they are not in my realm of reality. All I can change is what is in front of me at this moment.

Back to Joseph. He remained faithful to his God and the Bible says “The Lord was with Joseph…” [Genesis 39:2] That is a game-changer in any circumstance. What changes, if I choose to believe God, is my attitude. Jesus levels the playing field. He is the only One who can change tomorrow. Someone said that “People go through life looking at the wrongs people do to us in the yesterdays.” How sad. They fail to see that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” [Hebrews 13:8 ESV] We may not escape the circumstance we are born into or the circumstances thrown at us either by whim or design or our ignorance or stupidity. The good news is that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” [Romans 8:31 NIV]. When everything is all said and done, if God is in us then it does not matter who is against us! Beginnings are not endings!

There is a principle …

“If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.”

There is a principle that states: “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.” Maybe you have heard this before. We live in a chaotic world with regular mass shootings, police brutality, countries rattling swords and other countries, and world-wide bigotry. There is no peace. Purpose for living seems allusive. And that seems to be the very theme I encounter in ministering to others. People young and old are searching for purpose and peace. And there seems to be no end to the different avenues people take trying to obtain what they want.

Just recently a young [30ish] Christian man [I’ll call him Joe] contacted me wanting help. His complaint was that he was under spiritual attack and depressed. I knew Joe was part of a ministry in the church we both attend. I asked him what he tried to do about it and he said that he would go and have the prayer team pray over him and that seemed to help, and he would feel better for a while. But then it would start all over again. The other thing Joe said he was doing was spending time with friends into wee hours of the morning talking and talking, trying to understand why this was happening. I asked him how that helped, and he could not answer me.

 

We set up a day to meet at a local coffee shop and he picked 8AM as the time. 8AM came and went and finally at 8:15 I called him. No answer. Then about five minutes later Joe called me, profusely apologizing and said he would be there in 20 minutes if I could wait. I did. He said he slept through his alarm because he had been out with friends talking till two or three in the morning. We set up second meeting and the same thing happened and no meeting. I tried one more time with the same outcome; same reasons and no meeting.

Later that week I sent him a text with this question: “Are you allowing God’s enemy to rob you of the very things you desire?” Then I shared this verse: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” [2 Timothy 2:15 ESV] Then I asked him if he was spending any time in the Word daily. He said he did not really have time.

We talked about “not having time” to spend time with Jesus. We have time for other important and not so important things. I shared with him that there was only one primary source for understanding how to live as Christ-follower. Sure, friends are important, but they are a secondary resource.

The one mistake that young Christians make is not understanding the concept of discipleship. Listen to this Olympic Champion Eric Lindell: “You will know as much of God, and only as much of God, as you are willing to put into practice.” Guess what? Becoming like Jesus can only happen with practice and listening directly to God as the primary source. “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” [Hebrews 4:11-12 ESV]

So “Joe” … if you want to get out of the crazily repeating cycles in your life, you might want to change what you are doing. Just a thought …

Not always will it be so …

I was up really early this morning with Kathe. After breakfast, I sat down and continued my reading through Exodus. This morning I find myself at Exodus 15. Thinking about the previous events that God orchestrated, I decided to write my own poem based on Moses’ poem. It really is about gratitude. It was fun doing and helped me to remember that God is sovereign no matter what appears to be going on around me. I thought I would share it with you. I am not a poet … never tried this before. But maybe God will speak to you as you reflect on His work in your life … Enjoy.   

I will sing to the LORD,
For he has triumphed;
As in the days of Moses,
The horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea.
 
The Jesus is my strength and my song,
And He has become my salvation;
You have not left me as an orphan.
This is my God, and I will praise Him,
 
Jesus is a man of war; the LORD is his name.
Remember the fate of Pharaoh’s chariots and his army drowned in the sea,
And his chosen officers were lost in the Red Sea.
They went down into the depths like a stone.
 
Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power,
Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.
In the greatness of Your majesty you overthrow Your adversaries;
You send out Your fury; it consumes them like dry hay.
 
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
The floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
Fear not, stand firm, and see the work of the LORD,
For the ‘Egyptians’ whom you see today, you shall never see again.
 
The enemy says, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
But by Your hand they sank like lead in the mighty waters.
 
Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
Who is like You, inviting us personally
To live with You and You will be living in us.
 
You lead today by Your steadfast love
The people whom You have redeemed;
You guide us by Your strength to Your holy abode.
You are bringing us in to Your mountain
 
We tremble at the daily news
Pangs of fear and unrest grip our hearts
Until we stop and be still
Jesus is preparing a place for us in His Father’s house.
 
Not always will it be so …
Terror and dread will fall on Your enemies
They will become still as a stone
As the people You have purchased pass by.
 
Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you, certainly not as the world gives
Let not your hearts be troubled or be afraid.
The LORD will reign forever and ever.
 
Sing to the LORD,
Yet a little while and the world will see me no more,
But you will see Me.
Because I live, you also will live.
 

Gratitude

There are two ways we can look during life’s journey. Look up and see the stars. Look down and see mud. We can look up in hope. We can look down in dispare. We can look up and do what Epicurus counseled: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” We only live once on this earth. Why waste time looking at the depressing mud in life. Look up because your Redeemer is close.

What are you seeking?

Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. 
—Psalm 9:10In my experience the keyword is “seek.” I think seeking, the action of seeking after God, is a discipline. Our hearts are so prone to wandering and getting out of alignment with God’s purpose. And the more we get out of alignment, the more we miss out on God’s love for us and the more we feel like we’re alone in the world. 
But guess what? When I find myself feeling like that it’s I who have moved away, not God. As I look back on my experiences in trying to follow God, I find that when I feel forsaken and abandoned is when I’m assuming that God is just going to pamper me and give me whatever I want whenever I want it. And when he doesn’t, I throw a little tantrum and go off and sulk spiritually. “Seek FIRST me” counseled Jesus, “and every thing else will be added that you need.” (Mt 6:33)

Advocate

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”‭‭1 John‬ ‭2:1‬ ‭NIV‬‬

We naturally view God like the hanging judge in the old Wild West. He has itchy fingers for bring the mallet down to wield the death sentence in swift justice. We live our lives sequestered squirming under the harsh glare of guilt and desperately try to weasel out of our responsibility or blatantly deny the charges, invoking our right in our arrogance to defend our selves in God’s court room. As our life unfolds, we find a death sentence hanging over it. God keeps asking us if we want a public defender. He is sitting in the crowd, an advocate of impeccable record, having never lost a case in over 2000 years. All we have to do is admit we are guilty and unable to mount a sustainable defense, asking for help. The Advocate will run to immediately join us, bringing with him the best Counselor known. A few words are exchanged between the Supreme Judge and our new Advocate. Our case is adjudicated and “forgiven” is stamped on our file in blood red letters, permanently sealing it for eternity. We are able to walk out of the Judgement Hall a free person with access to the Counselor who helps us live a God-pleasing life, never to be under the death sentence again.

Wisdom vs. Knowledge

Every so often I find it instructive to pause in QT and consider the world (solar system for ancient writers) that God has created for us. Where we live in the ‘heavens’ is just a microcosm of His creation. Within our limited realm, the big picture is unfathomable. This morning I was thinking about what we know, what we know we do not know, and what we do not know that we do not know. And it too [what we do not know that we do not know] is unfathomable.
Psa 19:1-2  “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Knowledge does not just appear in our brain. It has to sought after. It has to be dug out like gold-infused ore from the earth. But ore in of itself is just ore. It is ugly and gives little hint that there is something precious buried inside, unless you are searching and know what to look for. Knowledge is like ore, it is raw data that is unrefined. Knowledge is just some information that may or may not be real. Knowledge really has no value until it is tested with fire and pressure. Knowledge under pressure is where experience is born and that is the start of wisdom.
God has put knowledge at our fingertips. Look at the ‘heavens.’ We can see both our solar system and the an unfathomable universe beyond. They “declare the glory of God …” Wisdom comes from how I look at the heavens or anything else that God has created. Do I see a multitude of stars that just randomly happened? Or do I use my mind to test that knowledge of what I see? Am I willing to seek honestly for the end product of knowledge – wisdom. That takes the hard process of burning off the dross [read: letting go of some knowledge that is proven false]. Wisdom is looking at the the heavens and seeing it not as a bunch of stars created by chance. Wisdom is looking at the heavens and seeing the glory of God revealed in His handiwork. We are part of His handiwork and His wisdom is being revealed in us as we allow God to test our knowledge. Under His tutelage, our experience and knowledge become wisdom that reveals His glory in the world [including all people] around us.

As it is …

“The essence of healing prayer is to bring the presence of Jesus into the afflicted places, for we are restored through union with him.”

I am asking myself this question: what is the purpose of prayer? Ed Noble, the senior pastor of the church I attend defines prayer this way: “The essence of healing prayer is to bring the presence of Jesus into the afflicted places, for we are restored through union with him.” It seems important that God wants us to move forward in our ability to communicate with Him. If that is a correct definition, then I need to take my prayers to the next level and learn how things work in God’s kingdom in this critical area.  

 Restoration, peace and healing are possible and that’s one HUGE reason I want to pray!  Restoration is what God is all about as His “kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.”  I find myself in need of inner healing, physical healing and warfare healing. It is when I get out of my egocentricity and ask God “what’s going on here?” that I participate with God in what He wants to do. That is when I contend for freedom of all kinds because that is God’s will for all of us.

In the very beginning of human history, God creates man in a perfect environment—the earth, where in the start of time, the kingdom of God reigns.  Man chooses to rebel against Him.  We have handed our lives, the earth and the history of the human race over to the evil one.  This earth is now in the Genesis 3 domain of the evil one and we and our world are broken.  All our misery flows from this brokenness and/or the direct influence of the evil forces to whom we gave our authority. But God intervened. He sent His Son to redeem us and restore us.  He is bringing His kingdom back to earth where His will is done here “as it is in heaven.”  He invites us to participate with Him.  We find ourselves in the middle of an epic war for the human race and the planet as we partner with Jesus in the battle for the restoration of His kingdom on earth. 

Here is Doctor Luke’s account of one such restoration. “And He was doing some teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath day. And behold. A woman had a spirit that caused an infirmity eighteen years and was completely bent together by a curvature of the spine, and was not able to raise herself up at all. And having seen her, Jesus called her and said to her, Woman, you have been released from your infirmity, and the cure is permanent. And He placed His hands on her. And immediately she was restored to an erect position. And she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answering, being indignant that on the Sabbath Jesus had healed, was saying to the crowd, Six days there are during which it is right and proper to accomplish things. In them therefore you should come and be healed, and not on the day of the Sabbath. But the Lord answered him and said, Actors on the stage of life, playing the role of that which you are not, does not each one of you on the Sabbath release his ox or his donkey from the feeding-trough and lead it off to give it a drink? And this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound, just think of it, eighteen years, was it not a necessity in the nature of the case that she be released from this binding restriction on the Sabbath? And while He was saying these things, all those who had opposed Him blushed for shame. And the entire crowd went to rejoicing because of all the glorious things which were being done by Him. [Luke 13:10-17 WUEST]

The ‘religious right’ demonstrate by their suggestion that things that were not in line with the kingdom of God.  Jesus did things here on earth as they are in heaven. They argued about the point of law regarding when work should be done. But the Sabbath was the only time that Jesus went into the temple. So how could the woman obtain healing from Jesus other than on the Sabbath? Sadly, the synagogue official was doing what came natural … protecting the synagogue … the same way that mis-guided Christians do today with the church. We get so wrapped up in protocol that we miss the opportunities that are there where the Spirit of Jesus can minister.

Jesus was more interested in restoring people than in following some protocol that superseded God’s intention of bringing healing through His Son Jesus. Jesus spoke to the woman who was probably shunned due to her affliction. Many would be following the cultural myth that she was in that condition due to some sin on her part. Jesus broke the protocol of men in the synagogue to do the will of God. The will of the Father is not in the rules and regulations set up by men but in the ability to listen to God and then go and do what He says. The enemy of God wants us to focus on protocol so that we miss what God is setting in front of us to do in bringing the kingdom of God to those in desperate need of healing.  Since Jesus knew the cultural norm for working on Sabbath [‘Sunday’] I have to ask myself why do you suppose Jesus didn’t wait until the end of Sabbath to heal this woman? Looking at His ministry, Jesus did things not out of convenience but from God’s time table. Jesus was demonstrating this principle so that all would see the hypocrisy of this synagogue rule and bring focus to where the real issue lays. 

As I have read and studied the Scriptures, the story of Gideon reflects where the presence of Jesus restored and healed someone wounded or broken.  Gideon’s story is powerful because Jesus spoke to his fear without speaking to it directly. “Greetings mighty warrior!” That spoken to a man hiding in a wine vat quietly winnowing out wheat so that the enemies would not hear or see him. He was not the image of a warrior. Possibly the first question he asked of himself was “What’s going on here?” We need to be asking God the same question. However, we need to be expecting an answer. And we need to be open to hearing the truth about ourselves. Sometimes when I ask that question I get pushback. The enemy will whisper things like: “This is such a ridiculous question.” Or: “Why would God speak to you?” Or: “You’re not worthy.” 

If we are to participate with God in healing then we need to be declaring that Jesus paid a price for us and that our whole self belongs to God. I think that all to often we have made agreements in our hearts that contradict the truth about God and His kingdom? For example: “I’m always going to be sick.” Or: “I’m always going to be depressed.” Or: “God doesn’t do things like this for me.” Or: “God doesn’t care about this particular problem.”

Maybe it is time for you to invoke the presence and life of the kingdom of God. Maybe it is time for you to pray earnestly first “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done HERE and NOW.” Write out this model prayer that Jesus left with us in your own words. Remind yourself that God’s will is to bring you freedom.

Comments? I would love to hear them!

 

Not always will it be so …

“… helped me to remember that God is sovereign no matter what appears to be going on around me.”

I was up really early this morning with Kathe. After breakfast, I sat down and continued my reading through Exodus. This morning I find myself at Exodus 15. Thinking about the previous events that God orchestrated, I decided to write my own poem based on Moses’ poem. It was fun doing and helped me to remember that God is sovereign no matter what appears to be going on around me. I thought I would share it with you. I am not a poet … never tried this before. But maybe God will speak to you as you reflect on His work in your life … Enjoy.
I will sing to the LORD,
For he has triumphed;
As in the days of Moses,
The horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea.
The Jesus is my strength and my song,
And He has become my salvation;
You have not left me as an orphan.
This is my God, and I will praise Him,
Jesus is a man of war; the LORD is his name.
Remember the fate of Pharaoh’s chariots and his army drowned in the sea,
And his chosen officers were lost in the Red Sea.
They went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power,
Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.
In the greatness of Your majesty you overthrow Your adversaries;
You send out Your fury; it consumes them like dry hay.
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
The floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
Fear not, stand firm, and see the work of the LORD,
For the ‘Egyptians’ whom you see today, you shall never see again.
The enemy says, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
But by Your hand they sank like lead in the mighty waters.
Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
Who is like You, inviting us personally
To live with You and You will be living in us.
You lead today by Your steadfast love
The people whom You have redeemed;
You guide us by Your strength to Your holy abode.
You are bringing us in to Your mountain
We tremble at the daily news
Pangs of fear and unrest grip our hearts
Until we stop and be still
Jesus is preparing a place for us in His Father’s house.
Not always will it be so …
Terror and dread will fall on Your enemies
They will become still as a stone
As the people You have purchased pass by.
Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you, certainly not as the world gives
Let not your hearts be troubled or be afraid.
The LORD will reign forever and ever.
Sing to the LORD,
Yet a little while and the world will see me no more,
But you will see Me.
Because I live, you also will live.

Withered

I need to wake up. It is not all about how warm and fuzzy I feel during worship in a place of safety and aesthetically pleasing surroundings.

The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree – Mark 11:23-24
“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
I would not have expected this statement. Is it true? I must say that it is inspiring. Where is the “But”? Jesus made this statement as a carpenter. Everything that Jesus did on earth he did as a man fashioned just like me. When he was building stuff in his father’s shop and hit his thumb with a hammer, it hurt him as much as it would hurt me. When consider this startling statement, maybe Jesus is moving me out of low-grade praying. Maybe He is moving me toward elevated prayers. Is this sort of prayer possible coming from my level of confidence?
As with all things originating with God, there is a certain way that things work. And there is a way that things will not work. Too often I just assume that God will just do things outside of the way that He designed things to work; including prayer. If I am going to be able to move a mountain, then I need to shift my mindset in a different direction. I need to wake up to the reality of the way that God does things.
Consider this insight that the Spirit of Jesus gave to John in exile: Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Rev 12:7-11 Based on human event thought out time and on the opposition toward Jesus while He was on earth and the opposition thrown against those who follow Jesus, it is hard to argue that there is not some sort of holy war going thought human history. And it is a brutal war. Paul wrote to the house churches in Ephesus: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
I need to wake up. It is not all about how warm and fuzzy I feel during worship in a place of safety and aesthetically pleasing surroundings. The Apostle Peter writes to warn us: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1Pe 5:8 In some sense, that adversary is not something in a red suit with horns. It can be seen in our culture where to stand up for biblical principles is to invite an onslaught of hate-filled opposition. There is no room for ‘agreeing to disagree’ but if you do not agree you are labeled with ugly names and having no value to society.
Part of the mind-set of growing up is that I need to change how I interact with God. Instead of asking Jesus to do stuff for me, maybe I need to ask Jesus what I can do for Him? Sound familiar? Growing up means understanding things from a different perspective. When I was a child I had no clue why my parents would tell me certain things other than to deprive me of what I wanted. But then when I became a parent it became clearer what they were doing. God wants me to grow up. Again the Apostle Paul puts it succinctly regarding God’s agenda for me: “… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” But do not look for some magic wand, formula or way of worship to accomplish this. It takes an act of commitment and just like moving from childhood to adulthood, it takes work and learning ‘how stuff works.’
I think the problem is simple and yet difficult. We are invited by Jesus to grow up. We are invited to related to God not as children but as son and daughters. Ask yourself, do you pray as a son or daughter. Do you talk to God the Father as a son or daughter who know their position in the family of God? That is what Jesus was trying to tell His twelve close followers that gave up everything to be like Him. The Apostle relates that one time Jesus told the group that He alone has overcome the opposition in the world: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. … In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” John 16:24 & 27 In living out life here on earth, we move from childhood to adult. Somewhere in that journey we need to understand and make sure that we are really children of God, related to Jesus by blood and not just by some ecclesiastical name. King David recorded this insight: “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He makes known to them His covenant.”