There is a principle …

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

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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 …

Who is listening to whom?

There is a lot of dialogue among Christians of varied persuasions about the techniques, abilities, and theology of how to listen to God [or even if God speaks today]. A young man told a group of us last night that he has often wondered “Where do the words come from that are a benefit to others, when they are not in my head to begin with?!”

How often have you felt like you were being prompted to say something to someone and immediately the following thoughts ran through your mind? “They won’t trust me. They won’t listen to a word I say. They’re going to say, ‘GOD? Speaks to him? Hardly!’” Or this objection: “Lord, please, I don’t talk well. I’ve never been good with words, neither in the past or today. I stutter and stammer.” Or the ultimate objection: “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Sound familiar? Too often we think that we are not the right person for the job God has in mind for us. Of course, stopping to think our objection[s] through, we will see clearly it implies that God does not know what He is doing. It implies that He has randomly just picked me to go do or say something because I happen to be handily available.

I suspect that the real reason that we are resistant to following the prompting of God has to do with it taking us out of our comfort zone. We do not like being uncomfortable. And why are we uncomfortable? Because we have set boundaries around what we will do in obedience when God prompts us in some direction. The author of Hebrews quotes God writing: “… my righteous ones will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” And then he adds “But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” [Hebrews 10:38-39 NIV] If we are to believe God, then shrinking back from doing what He wants us to do is to invite God’s displeasure in us.

God understands better than we do how uncomfortable it can be stepping outside of our ‘comfort boundaries.’ Jesus was there. He experienced that also. Our fear of stepping out be it to talk to a stranger or give a message really has to do with slavery. Who or what do we fear the most? Are we a slave to our fears; are we a slave to our individual preconceived boundaries of trust? Do we really believe it when God tells us, in writing, that “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear …” If we doubt that God really means what He says, than we will miss out on opportunities of receiving blessings from God’s hand by failing to minister to others that He Himself put in our way. We are a slave if we fail to obey, which is an oxymoron because being a slave has to do with unwavering obedience.

Ultimate Mandate

What direction are you taking in 2013?

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 NASB)

This is the greatest motivation speech ever given by a man. Millions upon millions of people and uncountable monetary and material resources have been mobilized by this single speech given over 2000 years ago.

Jesus gathered around Himself a ragtag group of twelve men, and together they changed the world. After He died and rose again, those same disciples gathered around them other men and women, who were much the same kind of ragtag people, kept multiplying down through the centuries and are still changing the world today!

Without God’s direct intervention in our hearts our lives are reflective of ocean tides … they’re constantly changing. We as humans change our standards and make our talk and actions match what is currently culturally expedient. All during human history, God has not changed His standard for acceptance. All during human history, God has not changed His message. All during human history, God has not changed His methods of restoration or transformation. God does not change. “Jesus the same yesterday today and forever.”

That is the best news for the new year. There are those who are waiting to hear the Good News. If you have given your heart to Jesus then He has given you, as His disciple the authority to go. In our multicultural nation, other nations and cultures are waiting, just outside your doorstep. Will you go, just as you are, as Jesus commanded? God is eager to share His love but He only does it through ordinary folks like us. Go!

Food or Garbage?

“…his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” Luke 6:45

The popular thing today is making everything green. It is hard to walk through any mall or go to any grocery store without being greeted by someone with a clipboard wanting to engage us in the ‘green movement.’ And mostly this is a good thing. But the most important item that we need to keep green is our words. But who talks about this? Some words are good for food. Some words are only garbage. Here is the thing … verbal garbage is not bio-gradable. Like all garbage it starts to stink and rot over time. We are prone to recycle it. When someone comes to our home we would never think to feed them garbage. The Bible says that The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, And they go down into the innermost parts of the body. [Pro 18:8] Whispered garbage seems so delightful but it will rot out the soul of our guest. So why do we serve it? “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” [Luke 6:45] It is not just the whispered words but the very manner of our speech when we think that it is safe to talk smutty. Why do we have our Christian speech and also our ‘other’ speech? We want to blend in with the boys. We want to show that we are not too spiritual. “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” Those that hear our words are conditioned by them. How we speak is as important as when we speak. Garbage takes no time to prepare. Good words require preparation and seasoning. Prepare your words carefully with good seasoning and keep yourself green in the eyes of the Lord.

All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Living-dead living

Col 3:5  “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…”

It is difficult to live as a living-dead man. The seat of my desires shows itself in the different parts of my body. I like the old English word “members.” My body is composed of different members. All of the members are subject to earthly desires. The eye is different from the hand. The brain is different from the mouth. Yet the eye, brain, mouth and hand all feed information to the seat of my desires. This is where “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” are fed to the seat of my desires. In the Garden, where perfection reigned, the information flow was untainted. But the proverbial “I” rebelled and garnered the wrath of God. “I” was expelled. “I” now became a creature of idolatry. Now I live, as a citizen outside of the Garden, in a body of members who tainted by earthly desires that are hostile to a holy God. And the only remedy is death, but to not the physical members, as that would harm or even kill me. It is the seat of desires that will be dominated and killed. It is a beast; a wild horse that refuses to be broken. As anyone knows who has been horseback riding. The reins are for keeping the horse from running away with the rider. By denying domination to the seat of my desires I keep the control; I keep rein over  influence of my members from running away with me. My experience teaches me that not putting to death this pale horse allows it to gain power and morph into a raging bull elephant. It is warfare. In warfare, you kill the enemy bent on killing you before he succeeds.

Simple Solutions

“…you are my followers if you love each other.” (John 13:35)

When Andrew Jackson was a general in the Tennessee Militia during the War of 1812 his troops were fighting and bickering among themselves so he called them together and said, ‘Gentlemen, let’s remember the enemy is over there!’ We’d all do well to remember just that. It’s easy to love God; it’s harder when it comes to loving those we have to live with.

Someone once said: ‘If there’s anything that would keep me away from Christ if I was lost it would be the attitude of Christians towards one another.

Everything we need to know about living with one another can be found in these two verses, ‘Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself…look out…for the interests of others’ (Philippians 2:3-4 NAS)

Sounds like something a teacher might say to a roomful of nursery children. Adult problems could be solved if that was the driving force in our relationships.

How many couples could reconcile their marital differences if they applied what Jesus said, ‘People will know…you are my followers if you love each other.’ (John 17:21).

Don’t be fooled…

“Don’t be fooled by the cliché’s of protest movements … It’s not about declaring war on some nefarious élite. It’s about changing behavior…” [David Brooks The NY Times] Jesus said succinctly: “I am the way and the truth and the life…” We never seem to learn fundamental truths. History repeats itself because we as humans do not want to hear the truth. It is really simple: We are unable to change ourselves.

Healing our wound…

“Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors…” Isaiah 1:9

Yesterday’s headlined news story was a second day “in infamy” for our nation. The story was how we had a national day of mourning for the loss of life ten years ago, on our soil. All day the TV ran unfolding stories of the tragedy and heroism that occurred. Commentators compared 9-11 to Pearl Harbor. Aside from the surprise attack, these two events cannot be compared. The Pearl Harbor story has an ending with the total defeat of the Japanese empire and the totalitarian German government. We healing for the wound of Pearl Harbor in the victory of WW II. Pearl Harbor was avenged. But what about 9-11 … Where is the closure? Where is the victory? Sure we killed Bin Laden but we still have 100,000 spread out on various foreign soils being exposed to acts of deadly force. Peace has become elusive for us. The story of 9-11 is not ended.

Watching the news events unfold yesterday once again affirmed to me that we have lost our moorings as a nation. With a double mind we contemptuously throw God out of the public affairs and then ask for His protection and blessing in times of national need. We commit national fraud by denying Christian prayers or symbols in schools or government lands but then invoke the name of this same Christian God to help us heal. We watch our Presidents ask for God’s blessing today while tomorrow supporting laws that hinder His name being invoked in governmental sanctioned places. Are we insane? If this God whose name we keep invoking is real, then He is making the same assessment … that we are insane.  With our own flimsy resources we build wall and then white wash them. We cry peace but there is no peace. We reject this God’s authority so we can live as we please, seeking comfort and love without the truth. This is the stuff that fairy tales; we have become a nation believing in fairy tales.

But wait! We are just at the good part of the story. In every story there is a hero. This same Christian God is none other than the Hero Jesus Christ and His remnant in this rebellious nation who have not bended the knee to the god of rebellion. To many citizens, Jesus is a stone in their path that they trip over and kick out-of-the-way. But to the remnant this stone is the Rock. They have discovered that He alone is the Source of all comfort and love. They live by His Truth.

Yesterday was a day of mourning for us as a nation “under God.” Today, one day later, we move forward as a nation not under God, on a war footing with no peace in sight. God warrior saints; that is His remnant. This is a small band of Hero followers, equipped for victory. Gideon thought that he needed an army of 32,000 but his Commander ordered a reduction in arms. Gideon obeyed [it was an insane military move] and ended up with a force of 300 and that was enough. Gideon’s remnant received the  applause for success but it was the Hero who won the victory. Today there is a rag-tag remnant in our nation. They are obediently expanding the Kingdom of God in their own lives. The Hero’s prayer finds fulfillment as His people in the remnant learn obedience; others see the Hero and obey His call. The final victory is not in the weapons of war but in the salt and light of the remnant.

Not My Opinion

This is my name forever…” Exodus 3:15
At some point in the future there will be one final word from a Name that will end all controversy for all time. We live in an apartment building where some apartments face inward to a courtyard with a fountain. For several nights now there have been loud collections of words being spoken till the wee hours in the morning. Loud obnoxious words without meaning. Words trying to drown out other words with their own noise. Words quoting resources. Words of anger. Words of surprise. Words rolling off alcohol saturated tongues. Words from many languages. Piercing words disturbing us in our sleep. Annoyed words thrown from quiet balconies to shut down the irritating words. Words, words and more words tossed into the night from voices in the dark. As I lay there trying to sleep, often I have asked the question: “In the multitude of words where is the wisdom? There is one Word that points us to the One Name that has the Ancient Wisdom. I AM. “This is my name forever…” Exodus 3:15 Many words try to explain or explain away I AM. Look into the past; examine the present; peer into the future … the Word forever accurately represents the Name. The Word did not grasp the Name on his own. “…he became so far better than the angels as he has inherited a name superior to theirs.” Hebrews 1:4 “…God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name…” Philippians 2:9 So the next time that you hear words flowing around you, remember that this Name provides the final “say so” – the final word of I AM. “…keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus…” Hebrews 12:2 One Word. One Name. One Source. Amen!

Truth or Consequences?

I know a man who 45 years ago made the decision to build his career rather than listen to God calling him to work in His Kingdom.  He told me that the lure of “getting ahead” was more important than being obedient to the call that God put on his life to go into ministry.  “What if God wanted me do something that I hated or that would be outside of my ability to be successful accomplishing?”  He described this as a paralyzing fear.  He looks back on his life and sees missed divine opportunities on several occasions.

The more I got to know him, the more he revealed how he made a series of choices that took him down paths of rebellion.  The consequences were felt emotionally, mentally, financially and physically.  He related to me how this pig-headedness caused undue stress in not only his own life but those closest to him.  As he moved further away from God he sought to expel any remnants that God had been part of his life.

He told me that all of his best efforts to build the career that he desired failed.  “There is not one company I have worked for that is still in existence under original ownership or name” he claimed.  “During this frenzy of trying to build my career I was twice fired; three different companies I worked for changed owners and the new owners laid me off; four times the companies downsized due to economic conditions with a subsequent layoff.  During the 30 odd years of frustration, he told me that his stubbornness prevented him from turning from his rebellion.  He never did obtain the career he sought after.  He became in his mind a ‘victim’ with no sense of contentment or security.  He emphasized that those early choices to go his own way … to walk away from God’s plan for him … put him and his family into needless hardships.

“But you know what?  God does not give up on us!  As Jesus told Peter after he boasted about what he would do for Jesus, ‘after you have turned, strengthen your brothers.’”  This man is walking now where God is directing him.