Friday, October 17, 2014

Phone Challenge

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 
whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, 
whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence 
and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." 
Philippians 4:8

I love to tell the stories to my children of me, sitting in front of the television with my hand on the knob, turning the stations every time my father said, "Next."  I can see the look in their eyes as the reality sets in that I, their mother, was the first television remote my family owned.  

Or the stories of driving all over town - to school, to the grocery store, to the gas station, to church - even across country - without a…wait for it…phone.  Wow.  How did we ever survive?  

But times change and because of that technology has greatly improved our lives.  Enter the lifeline of the modern phone.  It not only allows you to talk to someone, but you can text them, Skype with them, check your FaceBook, tweet a snarky comment, video a cop beating up a civilian, get directions, check the weather, surf the web and oh, yes, let's not forget play Words with Friends till the cows come home.  And all this is made possible by a thin cord we call the battery charger.

Yes, without the battery charger, life as we know it comes to a halt.  For some reason in our house, for every phone we own, we have about 5 charging cords - one for our car, one for the wall, one for the computer, and two because someone in the house is inevitably going to steal the one plugged into your computer and the wall charger.  

So the key to using this phenomenal, life-changing technology of the phone is keeping the phone charged.  Why?, you ask.  Because without power, the phone is dead.  It is useless and suddenly you become void of contact with the world. Simple things like knowing what time it is suddenly become a black hole of lost information.  How can anyone be expected to be on time without a phone? So every night, before you go to bed, you religiously plug in the phone, so that you can have enough power to make it through the next day.  You might even plug it in for a little extra umph here and there, to guarantee you survive while on the go.

Okay, let's switch gears.  What empowers your walk with Christ? Believe it or not, it's time in the Word.  Let me explain how that works.  As a child of God, we have the Holy Spirit who indwells us, convicts us, leads us, brings our prayers to God and even produces fruit in us when we are walking in obedience to the Word.  So time in the Word is that time where we are seeking the things of the Lord, we are striving to see Him more clearly and the Spirit uses that time to grow us in Christ.  When we neglect the Word, we limit the resources that the Spirit will use to sanctify us.  Don't get me wrong - the Spirit is never truly "limited" but He also doesn't magically make us like Christ when we ignore spiritual disciplines - He works through those disciplines. 

Our verse above talks about dwelling on whatever is pure, lovely, honorable, right and excellent.  All those things are found in the Word and "dwelling" in the Word means it's where your mind lives.  If you start your day in the Word, your mind will think all day on these things because the Spirit will use that scripture to enlighten you throughout the day.  It is a power source to get you through the day.  If you read romance or mystery novels, then your mind is going to be bent in that direction as you go throughout the day.  If you start your day with Sports Center or arguing with your spouse, or if you fill your mind with to-do lists and worries, then all day long your thoughts will be used up by worldly concerns.

As followers of Christ, we are called to set our minds on Him. Do it the first thing when you wake up so that you are headed in the right direction for the day or do it as you close out your day, to have that time with your Savior.  The problem is that few of us actually do this and we wonder why we struggle day after day.  Could it be that our battery is low?  Could it be that we are not taking the time to recharge in the Word?  We would not go a day without charging our phone battery but will go day after day, week after week, month after month with only a Sunday morning service to charge our batteries.  Isn't there something wrong with this picture?

So here is my Phone Challenge.  Each night when you plug in that phone to charge, grab your Bible and start reading it.  Or when you unplug it each morning, stop and take some time in the Word.  Read through the life of Christ in the gospels, or through the creation of the world in Genesis, check out the Psalms or soak up some great doctrine in the epistles - whatever you choose to do, search the scriptures to see Jesus more clearly.  Look for the heart and character of God.  Let the charger cord be the reminder to you that you need to recharge spiritually as well, and see how this transforms your life.

Remember, you wouldn't go a day with out charging your phone.  Isn't your walk with Christ more important?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Snowflake Propaganda

"Behold, I go forward but He is not there, 
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him; 
When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; 
He turns on the right, I cannot see Him. 
But He knows the way I take
When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold
My foot has held fast to His path
I have kept His way and not turned aside
I have not departed from the command of His lips
I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food
But He is unique and who can turn Him? 
And what His soul desires, that He does."
Job 23:8-13

I think you might need to take a seat for this blog today because I have some bad news, and here it is: the Bible doesn't say you're a snowflake.

Now, for those of you who attend HBCSL most likely you know what I am talking about because David talks about snowflakes all the time.  But for those of you who have no idea what I am referencing, let me explain.  Snowflakes are supposedly unique - no two snowflakes are identical. (In researching this claim, I came upon a thought provoking question - if there were two identical, who would know?) So living life believing you are a snowflake - and heaven forbid, raising your children to believe they are snowflakes - means you believe you are truly special, unique - there's no one like you, which makes you even more wonderful.

Unfortunately this mindset is not just a worldly mindset - it is a big part of the church, as well.  Haven't you ever heard someone say, "His testimony is so powerful - God has big things in store for him!" Or, "That guy?  Oh, he's a rockstar!  You should hear him sing!"  Or, "She's a genius!  Three years old and can already recite the Gettysburg address!"  Praise, praise, praise - we praise ourselves and believe the lie that there is something new under the sun and it's…ME!  Ta-da!

Okay, friends, how about a dose of truth.  What does God's word actually say about us?  Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, "That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done, is that which will be done.  So there is nothing new under the sun."  So not much new.  Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?"  And Isaiah 64:6 calls our righteousness filthy rags.  So deep down we're pretty normal and normal means rotten to the core.

But there is good news -  I Peter 2:9 says, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."  Hmmm. I think I like that better. It makes me feel better about myself, right?

Well, friends, I just got to the heart of the problem - we spend too much time trying to feel better about ourselves and no where near enough time proclaiming the excellencies of the One who called us out of the darkness and into the light.  As John the Baptist so humbly declared, "He must increase, I must decrease."  Instead of looking for our uniqueness in a world full of snowflake wannabes, we should look to the One who was truly unique - the One who created with the sound of His voice, who holds the universe in place, who tells the waters how high to wash onto the shore and who gives sustenance to the birds of the air. The One who left His throne in heaven to put on flesh, endured the mocking and accusations of a completely rotten to the core society, hung on a cross and bore the wrath of His Father in our place so that He could claim us as His own.  The One who uses the earth as His footstool, always sees the big picture, understands the big picture and is operating within the big picture, is preparing a place for us and is coming with an army of angels to get us. He alone is unlike anyone else and He alone deserves our praise.

Jesus. (Just stop and take a breath, then say His name again - it's refreshing.)

As Job reminds us above, let us remember the uniqueness of our God and spend much less time proclaiming our own personal uniqueness to a world who couldn't care less ("own" and "personal" were purposefully redundant).  Let's stop competing for the attention which Jesus alone deserves and demands.  Let's put an end to snowflake propaganda and start proclaiming loudly the excellencies of the One who called us out of the darkness and into the light.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Quick Word Study

"Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
Bless His holy name."
Psalm 103:1


It's a common word among Christians:
  • We love our new car - we are so blessed!
  • God has blessed us with good health this winter…
  • (sneeze) Bless you!
  • Bless your heart, you are such a caring soul!
  • Bless this house
  • Bless the Lord
So, what in the world does the word "bless" mean?  After a quick turn on, here's what I discovered:
  • in the old English, bless means "to consecrate, to make holy, to give thanks"
  • in the old German, bless means "to hallow with blood, to mark with blood" - this was a from an ancient ritual of sprinkling blood on pagan altars
  • the latin words used in scripture for bless mean "to speak well of, to praise"
  • in the English dictionary, bless means several things - to make holy, to give honor, to extol or praise, to glorify and to call upon God for protection or favor
Now, let's define our uses from above:
  • We love our new car - we are so blessed! God's favor
  • God has blessed us with good health this winter… God's protection
  • (sneeze) Bless you! God's protection - sneezes were once thought of as an attack by an evil spirit and to say "Bless you" was to call on God's protection to ward of the spirits…hmmm…
  • Bless your heart, you are such a caring soul! God's favor
  • Bless this house God's favor and protection
  • Bless the Lord Glorify, praise and make holy
I think the most common understanding is the receiving of God's favor when we talk about being blessed.  But when we read verses that declare a blessing on God, it can be confusing if we don't understand that "bless" also means glorify and praise.

Probably the most interesting thing about this word study is the old German use - to mark with blood.  As a believer, this is probably the most accurate definition of "bless" we could have, when it comes to God's favor in our lives.  We are marked with blood - Christ's precious, perfect and powerful blood.  The imagery of protection throughout scripture that is connected with blood is clear:
  • blood sacrifices were required, all the way back to the garden to cover the sinfulness of man (Genesis 3)
  • God did not allow blood to be drank because it represented life (Genesis 9:4)
  • blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat and on the people for atonement of sins (Leviticus 16)
  • the precious blood of the Lamb is what cleanses (I Peter 1:19)
Even though the root may be pagan, don't be fooled - false religions have often stole or imitated truth to deceive.  We absolutely are blessed by being marked with Jesus' blood and this is a great image to have in your mind when you talk of God's blessing in your life.  So yes, God has greatly blessed all of us and we are called to bless Him - glorify, praise and set Him apart from the world.  He alone is God and He alone is to be blessed!

Have a blessed day!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Common Grace

"Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, 
turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 
and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him.  
And he was a Samaritan."
Luke 17:15,16

Do you know the story?  Ten lepers.  Ten outcasts with no hope.  Ten men bound together, not by race, religion, or choice but by disease, misfortune, and heartbreak.  They know of Jesus' reputation and cry out for mercy and He heals them all.  Yet only one falls on his knees and thanks Him.  

Only one glorified God in his healing.

So what do you know about common grace?  Have you ever heard of it before?  It's a theological concept that says all men, believers and unbelievers alike, are recipients of God's grace to a certain extent.  It is common because it is experienced by all humanity, and it's considered grace because it's something that mankind doesn't deserve but God in His rich compassion bestows His grace on us.

Let's flesh this out a bit:  In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus says (Matt. 5:45) that God sends both sunshine and rain on the evil and the good.  So the basic ability to live is a gift from the Lord - true.  Life is not something we earn or deserve - God is the giver of life and guess what?  He doesn't just give life to His children but He gives life to all men. 

But His common grace goes beyond this.  He also blesses mankind with great wisdom (science, medicine, education) and with great physical talent (athleticism), and with immense creativity (musical and poetic, written and acted), but He doesn't just bless His followers. All humanity bears the image of their Creator, whether or not they recognize it, and because of this they are greatly blessed.

If God gave humanity what it deserved, if He left us to solely be consumed with our sinfulness, we would have destroyed ourselves ages ago.  But He restrains sin (another blessing), as seen in Genesis 20 when a pagan king took Sarah as his wife, not knowing she was married. Abimelech claims ignorance and God tells him that He personally restrained him from taking Sarah and did not let him touch her.  Here we see God not only graciously protecting Sarah but graciously keeping a pagan king from sinning.  He also directs the hearts of unbelievers to accomplish His will - this is seen in the story of Moses and Pharaoh, as well as a repeated theme in the book of Judges. God moves in the hearts of heathen nations to do His will.

But God is not mocked - we all reap the consequences of what we sow here on earth, believers and unbelievers alike.  Believers will not receive the punishment for our sin but God does not magically cause crop failure when we plant bad seeds, but gives grace to the humble to survive a bad harvest.

Believers today are criticized because when anything good happens to them they say, "God is good. He has blessed me."  Unbelievers think that we are claiming some kind of special grace that is not available to them.  But the truth is that God is good and has blessed all men - He heals their diseases, He prospers their companies, He grants success for their inventions and creations.  A big difference is that believers recognize that blessings comes from the Lord and they give Him glory for what He is doing, rather than denying God's existence and claiming the glory for themselves.

That being said, look at our leper story above again.  Do you see the common grace now?  All ten of the lepers were blessed by Jesus' grace, mercy and compassion.  However, only one recognized and glorified God for it.

Just for the record, there is a grace that is showered upon the believer that greatly surpasses common grace, but I believe that understanding God's love for all men and the grace that He bestows each day has great value.

So, are you one of the nine (just living life off of the common grace of God) or the one who recognizes Jesus for who He is?