Month: September 2014

Tuesday Devotional: Numbers 35

bibleNumbers 35:1-5 

On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, the Lord said to Moses,“Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasturelands around the towns. Then they will have towns to live in and pasturelands for the cattle they own and all their other animals.“The pasturelands around the towns that you give the Levites will extend a thousand cubits from the town wall. Outside the town, measure two thousand cubits on the east side, two thousand on the south side, two thousand on the west and two thousand on the north, with the town in the center. They will have this area as pastureland for the towns.

Being a Christian in the world is difficult.  God has never been vague or unclear concerning this fact.  However, as people find strength in numbers, we tend to fortify ourselves with people who share our views and beliefs, to protect ourselves from those who do not.  We tend to isolate ourselves in “Christian Groups” because we feel threatened by the difficulties of living in a world where the word of God is mocked and hated.  We seek these “Christian Fortifications” because we doubt the promise of God to provide for us in our isolation, but we trust the provision of a Christian community.

These groups tend to make us feel safe. We like to feel safe.  Yet being a Christian is not only loving God for what he did, but loving God for what he continues to do.  How do we know if God is clearly at work and present in our lives? When no alternate explanation for provision exists.  Topping off a beverage makes very little physical difference to the fullness of a glass.  However, when you fill an empty glass, it clearly goes from nothing to something—a noticeable difference made.  The only way to see God’s promise to provide is when you are entirely reliant on his provision. This often occurs when we are alone and without.

The only way to experience God’s desire to fill our lives day after day is to be daily emptied out in preparation for his fulfillment.  Taking your faith in Jesus beyond the safety of Christian fellowship amounts to emptying yourself of the securities of people and accepting the safety of God.  We are called not to be groups of stationary, isolated Christians.  We are called in order to be sent.  We are blessed in order to become a blessing to others.  The only way we can bless those around us is to be with them, in the presence of those who do not believe.  The yeast in dough impacts the entire batch; Christians are called to impact the entire world.  Immersing ourselves in Christian communities while cutting ourselves off completely from the “outside” world is serving our own desire to feel safe.  Immersing ourselves in the trust of God and living in this world as a member of this world is serving God.

Thursday Reflection: Why We Eat, part 2

You can find part 1 of the series here.pen-and-paper_400x295_39

This reflection series is inspired by 1 Peter 2:2-3.

Today we’re reflecting on Boredom.

I love to eat.  I love the taste of food and I love the satisfaction of being full.  However, there comes a time when I find myself continuing to eat and I have to ask myself if I am actually hungry.  There is a point at which the stomach no longer cries out for sustenance, where the mind overpowers the natural urge of hunger and encourages the hand and mouth to work as one in order to fill a psychological emptiness rather than physical hunger.  Eating to sustain a level of activity more than to fulfill a bodily need.

For me, this happens when I am watching a TV show or movie.  At some point, the popcorn is finished and there is still more than an hour left to sit and watch.  At this moment, there is clearly no dire physical hunger to be satisfied. Yet, for me, there seems to be imbalance.  My ears, eyes and mind are still busy digesting the movie, but my mouth and hands feel left out.  At this moment, I choose to satisfy this boredom with something else to snack on.

For others, the need to snack has an emotional trigger.  Eating provides a sense of pleasure that dulls the lack of pleasure elsewhere.  Perhaps a tough day at work where nothing went well leads to the sensation that throughout the entire day nothing was deeply satisfying.  For some, that guarantee of satisfaction comes from food.  It doesn’t matter how bad the day, ice cream will always taste like ice cream.  Ice cream will always taste sweet. Ice cream will always taste creamy. Ice cream will always be cold and soothing to the soul. Ice cream, in moments of despair, is a friend that will never let you down.

Many believers have at one time felt that being a Christian is the most exciting and fulfilling thing imaginable. They wish for the steady stream of Bible studies and Christian fellowship to never cease.  This is an exciting time, and I pray that each Christian experience these moments more often than not.  However, the contrast to this sense of being alive in Christ can quickly shift to one of stale, unsatisfying boredom.

The reasons for the shift differ with each person. But the fact remains that, at some point, there will inevitably be obstacles to maintaining the excitement once felt in being Christian.  More often than not, the reason behind the plateau is the unfortunate truth that we seek activities and people to define life in Christ in the first place, rather than Christ himself.  In other words, we’ve sought to satisfy our hunger elsewhere.

While we may seek to be satisfied by the people or things that surround us, the irony is that these “hunger agents” have never demonstrated the hunger-satisfying power we attribute to them. Church groups and activities can be an amazing source of growth for a Christian. In fellowship one can more completely experience the nature of being born of the Spirit.  The mistake is looking to these people and activities to define Christian life, a naïve notion that they will always be there and that they will always satisfy us.

The truth is, they won’t.  Churches will change. People will move.  Activities and groups will evolve.

A common experience for many Christians is to be so over-the-moon-in-love with Jesus at a particular church, but the moment the church changes, or something in the routine is adjusted, the love loses zest, even value.  An individual who experiences this “loss of life” might choose to take a more internal and isolated approach to Christianity, moving away from church entirely.

Following this “divorce” from the church, the re-entry into the world can be shocking, one that takes quite a bit of down and up shifting, now apart from the Christian life.  Living outside of the presence of God reveals harsh realities that are, at times, too heavy to bear.   Suddenly the answers that explained everything within the church, in the presence of God’s Word, no longer make any sense. There is a sense of being lost and unsure of things.  At this point, a person can make one of two choices: return out of the need for God alone, or out of the need for things, people, activities: in other words, distraction.

Encountering the world and returning to God because of who and what He is? A miracle, a true “Prodigal Son” homecoming.  Being sold into slavery and redeemed is the Joseph story that some of us need to experience in order to truly realize what being a Christian is all about.  This is grace at work in our lives. To experience grace is to experience God.  This is a victorious moment for the Christian as well as for the Father in heaven.  There is nothing more exciting and satisfying to him than seeing one lost sheep finally return home.

Returning to God because of the comforts of “Christian Living” is a different issue entirely.  The reason to make the return to God in this manner has nothing to do with God at all.  Much like snacking with no physical hunger to satisfy, this is trying to satisfy a false craving.  In this case a person is returning in the search for some emotional or physical gratification, without necessarily desiring God.  When we do this, we are aware that, in returning, certain things will be as reliable or predictable as the sensation of sweetness found in ice cream.

Many of us have a tendency to use church: worse, we have a tendency to use God.  We wander about trying to control our world and  solve our own problems and then, like a swimmer coming up to get air, we find that we cannot handle it, and we go back to God. The time spent in “Christian life” this second, third, fourth, one-hundredth time around will seem like holding your breath underwater. At some point, you will need to emerge abruptly and gasp for air.  We find ourselves going back and forth, never being satisfied, and never knowing exactly who we really are.

Christians like saying that there are “seasons of spiritual growth.”  While this is true, the danger is that some tend to use this as an excuse to explain this seesaw manner of communion with God.  Using this logic, a swimmer could say that swimming has its “seasons” as well: “Some seasons I hold my breath, some seasons I come up for air.”  These clearly are not “seasons of change” or “growth.”  These changes are intermittent, predictable, and necessary in the act of swimming.

Being a disciple of Jesus is staying underwater and miraculously learning how to breathe while submerged.  Being a disciple means transformation, repentance, change.

Craving God in the way that we crave snacks when we are bored or depressed is misunderstanding the Gospel entirely.  The Gospel preached by Jesus Christ is neither a break from the action, nor action to relieve us from a break.  The Gospel is a way of life that, if allowed into the heart, will satisfy the need for satisfaction and activity before we can even realize that we desire either.

Come back next Thursday for part 3.

Tuesday Devotional: Leviticus 26

Leviticus 26:1-13bible

“‘Do not make idols or set up an image or a sacred stone for yourselves, and do not place a carved stone in your land to bow down before it. I am the Lord your God.

“‘Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the Lord.

“‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.

“‘I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove wild beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country. You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.

“‘I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you. 10 You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. 11 I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. 12 I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. 13 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.

When we are in need, we have survival instincts that allow us to seek out that which will ultimately help us out of our need.  However, when we are rescued from desperation and on solid footing once again, we quickly forget the past.  We forget how we were in need in the first place, and who or what actually helped us in that time.  In many ways, the actual getting of what we ask for can be the worst possible outcome.

Getting what we want inflates our self-worth to a point of irrational self-worship. We become limitless in our own minds, where only just before we were severely limited and in desperate need of rescue.  In that emergency was a God who has promised and given everything, without demanding much in return.  He gives when we need him, even though we refuse to acknowledge him.  He is present in our lives when we pronounce strong disinterest in being present in his.  He walks close enough to meet our daily needs, undeterred in his love by our lack of acknowledgement of his presence.  He is a God grieved to see his children making decisions that hurt them. He simply desires for us to see him as a God who supplies our needs because He cares.

There is nothing more satisfying for a parent than to see his or her child achieve something truly great.  God desires for us to have confidence in ourselves, but His deeper desire is that we find our ultimate confidence in him, since no other confidence is really any confidence at all.

 

 

Thursday Reflection: Why We Eat, part 1

pen-and-paper_400x295_39Discipleship always progresses in a distinct direction. It’s intentional and motivated, with the end always in sight.  However, although the purpose is clear, the process is not. A disciple’s life is wrought with ups and downs and peaks and valleys.

It is important to recognize the necessity of these various seasons of spiritual growth. However, regardless of the challenges and obstacles we encounter, the goal should always be one of growth and forward progress.  Through these seasons we either gain or lose definition as disciples. Hunger for growth fuels growth.  Whether or not we feel hunger during each season, one question must be asked— “Why do we worship?”

1 Peter 2:2-3 reads:

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Regardless of how long we have been following Christ, growth in the Spirit must always continue. Craving that growth in the Spirit fuels the new life of the believer. The passage leads us to reflect upon three things regarding spiritual hunger. We must continue to ask ourselves, “Why am I eating?”  We must ask ourselves if we are worshipping, or “eating,” out of boredom, pressure, or need.

Over the next three weeks we’ll be looking at three answers for spiritual hunger in Christian disciples. Check back next Thursday for part 2!

Tuesday Devotionals: Exodus 33

bibleExodus 33:7-11

Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. 10 Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. 11 The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.

Relationship with God is personal.  Of course experiencing the presence of God has always been, and will be, enhanced by the fellowship of corporate worship.  However, the power of God to change exists only in the one on one, face-to-face experience.  One cannot know and be moved by God if knowing and being moved by him requires the presence of other people.  Otherwise, the experience of God will be present in one moment and non-existent in another, completely defying the nature of Emmanuel, God with us to the very end of the age.  God is a God with the ability to bring people to their knees in awe-inspiring corporate worship, but his ultimate desire is to meet us as his beloved children.  A face-to-face conversation requires trust and intimacy, and this is how God chooses to speak to us.   The relationship with God is “ours” as Christians, but it is first and foremost “yours.”  God, the Father, spoke to Moses face-to-face, as a father speaks to a child. Jesus the Son spoke to his disciples as friends, inviting them to “come and see” him for themselves (John 1.39). He showed them who he really was, is, and will always be.  To know God is to know how He sees you, how He chooses to approach you.  His desire is to always be close.  His desire is to draw near.

Thursday Reflection: 2 Timothy 2

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As we get into a regular posting schedule around here, look for twice-weekly updates, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Today we’re reflecting on a passage from 2 Timothy chapter 2. Be blessed as you read!

God does not need man, God desires man.

In order to accomplish his objectives in this world, man is unnecessary.  God desires man to be involved because in that involvement man can witness the Father at work.  However, our involvement is not assistance, but rather participation.  We often possess a distorted perspective of our role in the works of God in this world.

We bear witness to the works of God in our immediate surroundings and  inflate our role in the process.  We reason ourselves into believing that without our openness, without our obedience or without our righteousness, the outcome that we witnessed would not have been possible.

These are lies.  The truth is that the healing or change that we were made privy to was prepared and put into effect far before God called us into the picture.  The truth is that God did not need us, so much as he included us.  Thus, the healing or change that we witnessed was as much for our own benefit as it was the benefit of the one being healed or transformed.

God’s desire to include sometimes has very little to do with the person we witness experiencing the healing or change.  God’s desire to include us has everything to do with our being included in a power-presentation of the Father and his majesty.  This is a moment we are meant to see not so that we could stake any claim in what we saw.  We were brought in as witnesses, so that we could set out and tell the world about it.  Our involvement in the works of God in this world is for us, but never by us.  We are involved in God’s work so that we can build upon our faith with the truth that God is for us and nothing can stand against us.

God desires for us to be involved in his work and be about his business.  He does not desire to work in private or keep us at a distance.  His desire is to provide us every opportunity to see him work.  While it would be easy for him to work alone and accomplish his goals in private, this is a position he has never adopted and never intends to.  His desire from the beginning was to walk with us, to have us work alongside him.  This desire comes out of his love for us, and his love for our company, a love that can only be made complete when we know him to the point of knowing what he is capable of. Knowing him so well that we are completely overwhelmed by how efficiently and powerfully he works while still making time for his children throughout.  He calls us into his work daily, not for us to help him finish his work, but merely for us to be with him while he works.