Sunday, April 25, 2010

Please Don't Read This Post!

No, really.  You should definitely NOT read this blog.

If you do, just know that I warned you....I'm about to go on a full-blown rant.

You see, I've had it.  I'm sick and tired of people who say that they are Christians and then fail to bear any resemblance whatsoever to Christ.  I'm not talking about 'we all make mistakes' and 'nobody's perfect'; that I understand.  I'm far, FAR from perfect.  I fail to live up to God's will for my life everyday and must confess and set my sights once again upon the Father's will.

But I'm talking about the very opposite of the 'fruit of the Spirit.'  You've probably heard of the fruit of the Spirit - from Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."  Notice that the verse begins with "But"; that is because the preceding verses (which are much less-oft quoted) describe the converse.  The fruit of the sinful nature, so to speak.  "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like." 

So why am I so fed up?  Because a bunch of my facebook friends, ones who have frequently posted scripture and posted various statements about being a Christian, and have joined every facebook group that claims to represent Christ, have recently chosen to openly and publicly post statements that are filled with just this sort of rotten fruit!  Brothers and sisters, if you belong to Christ, don't you know that you are known by the fruit that you bear?  We all fail to live up to God's standard - but if we can proudly boast to all our friends the nature and details of our failures - without ever suggesting that we've stumbled; can we truly say the Holy Spirit lives in us? 

If you are not a believer then please know that I am not ranting at you!  I am frustrated with my brothers and sisters in Christ - or at least those who have claimed to be such - who are dragging His name through the mud by posting as their status that they are enjoying a sexual relationship outside of marriage; or that they spent the night in sin, saying casually that 'oh well, I'll repent tomorrow', or those who express their hatred for those who disagree with them politically.   I'll add to that those who boast of following their horoscope and those whose constant presence on facebook approaches idolatry!

But maybe I'm taking this all too seriously.  That's what Grace is for, right? 

"I warn you, as I did before, that those who like like this will not inherit the kindgdom of God." Galatians 5:21b.

"Do not be deceived.  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  the one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life."  Galations 5:7-8.

Lord, forgive me for the many times that I have failed to live up to the gift that you've given through your Holy Spirit.  Help me to not grieve or quench the Holy Spirit but to live a life characterized by the fruit of the Spirit.  Forgive me for taking my eyes off of you to dare to sit in judgment on anyone.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Forgiveness and Peace

Have you ever held a grudge?  You know, held it in your arms and nurtured it, fed it, watched it grow over the years?  People might suggest along the way that you let it go - but no, you kept it like an overgrown pet.  And then one day you realized that it had taken over your life.  Every choice you make, every thing you do and say - it's all about the Grudge!

How do you forgive when you've been hurt?  I don't mean how do you say the words - I mean how do you FORGIVE someone from the heart.  How do you move on without the hurtful words or deeds replaying in your mind on a daily basis, generating tension and frustration all over again?

One of the most vital lessons that I have learned about forgiveness is that it is similar to sanctification in that it is both a 'one time' event and an 'ongoing process.' 

What I mean is this - when we are saved, we are sanctified by the work that Christ did on the cross.  Although we are declared holy, because God sees not our sin, but Christ's sacrifice, we are not perfect; we continue in a process of sanctification throughout our lives as Christians. 

Similarly, when we forgive someone, we have the initial moment when we say that we have forgiven - and then we have an ongoing process of demonstrating that forgiveness on a daily basis.  Whenever circumstances or the enemy tries to bring the offense before us again, to stir in us resentment and frustration, "we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Cor. 10:5)  Given that Christ gave His life to forgive us - we can be confident that making our thoughts obedient to Christ means forgiving others.  Each time the hurt comes to mind and we are tempted to dwell on it, to recall the pain, to remember the hurt, to think about how unjustly we were treated - we must make a conscious choice to forgive again.

If we don't, over time, the hurt grows into bitterness.  Bitterness marries trials in our life and brings forth a Grudge.  It starts as such a small thing - but it feeds on every disappointment and grows with amazing speed! 

Don't let your little pet Grudge grow into a monster that rules, and eventually destroys, your life.  Starve it to death.  Deny it the anger and frustration on which it thrives.  Feed it forgiveness and love every day and it will waste away to nothing - and in its void will be peace.

Lord, there are so many people in my life right now who are dealing with hurt.  Although the offenses against them differ, each is in pain.  Some of the wounds are fresh and raw while others have never properly healed and continue to cause them suffering years later.  Help them sense your Holy Spirit giving them the strength to let go of the pain and to forgive today.  And tomorrow. And the next day.  And every day until one day they realize that, though a scar may remain, the wound has healed.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Freedom and Responsibility

I was thinking recently about my trip to Prague several years ago with my eldest daughter. While we were there, they were preparing for an election. We were surprised to learn that their Senate had a number of Communists and there was also a Communist campaigning for election to the Senate by distributing fruit bars with his picture and campaign promises (in Czech) on the wrapper as we made our way through the subway stations. It was surprising to us because we were under the mistaken impression that, having been freed from Communism, the people would certainly want nothing to do with the system that had oppressed them for so many years. But what we discovered was that some of the people in this former "Iron Curtain" nation blamed freedom for the influx of prostitution, pornography, and organized crime.

Although we speak lovingly of freedom, we sometimes demonstrate a preference for tyranny, because freedom necessitates responsibility for our actions. We prefer to ignore the truth - freedom to commit an act does not cause us to commit the act.  Freedom is the stage upon which our character is revealed and displayed for all to see.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are sometimes frustrated that the law fails to prohibit acts that we consider to be immoral or sinful in God's sight.  But this freedom allows us to demonstrate visibly and powerfully the difference that Christ makes in our lives. We too often are more preoccupied with changing the law or letting everyone know how we feel about the law, than with helping victims, living according to the moral code we proclaim, and especially showing the love by which Christ said His true followers would be known.

One of the greatest differences between the United States and some of the Muslim nations that oppose us so violently is the freedom that our citizens enjoy. These nations teach that the strict moral code that is forced upon them will allow them to be righteous in the sight of Allah. It's a lie - because righteousness is not revealed by what you do when constrained by the law. Instead, it is demonstrated by your actions when you are free to act according to your character. Righteousness cannot be impressed upon us by law, but must come from within - and it can only come from within when the Holy Spirit dwells within us and leads us.  "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory."  Ephesians 1:13-14

Sneak Attack

His brown leathery skin cracked as he waddled down the aisle of the theatre, carefully selecting the young girl who would be the perfect unwitting accomplice. Webbed wings extended slowly as he approached her from behind and then silently wrapped them around her slight form, distorting her view.

Lynn sat comfortably reclined in the seat next to her friend, Teresa, enjoying the sci-fi flick about an alien invasion. His intrusion had been perfectly timed; she never knew what hit her. He smiled a grotesque smile that distorted the cracked brown skin even more as he contemplated his victory. He let out a low chuckle that sounded more like a cackle but built into a full-throated roar of delight. The girls heard nothing.


“So, what did you think?” Teresa asked skeptically as they emerged from the theatre.

“It was very convincing,” Lynn paused. “I guess I just never really considered it before, but I thought it was very believable.”

“Hm. I was always taught that God did all these miracles, but I never really thought about how he did them, or whether they really were miracles, or where God came from,” her friend responded thoughtfully.

“Yeah, I mean, logically it makes a whole lot of sense.” Lynn continued, oblivious to the fact that her mind was not utilizing logic at all. In fact, her mind was processing information not according to her own logical thoughts, but based on his influence. Delightful! “Think of all the so-called miracles described in the Bible that we can actually do now! We can heal people of all sorts of diseases, even bring someone back to life when they have died. Maybe not four days later, but it’s just a matter of time before we’re able to do that, too!

Her warming enthusiasm encouraged him to push a little further. “Just think, if aliens did come here to earth three thousand years ago, wouldn’t they seem like god to the people who lived then? The people wouldn’t understand that they were just creatures who evolved like we did, they would think they had magical powers.” The more she talked, the more convinced she was of the truth behind the movie’s premise. He smiled smugly. It was the very premise that he had suggested to a young screen writer not so long ago.

Teresa’s skepticism was fading as her friend’s enthusiasm squashed her doubts.

The teens strolled through the parking lot oblivious to the creature perched on Lynn’s shoulders; his wings cloaked her head and shoulders. He clung to her scalp with the claws of his right hand while the long, bony index finger of his left hand swirled slowly as if stirring a cocktail inside her head.

The girls reached Lynn’s car and said their good-byes.

“I’ll see you in church tomorrow, right?” asked Teresa, crossing the lot.

“Maybe - it’s kind of late. I may sleep in. Good night!” called her friend as climbed into her car and waved.

Yes, it had been a very good night.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Part 2 - Obed-Edom

OK, so we saw that Uzzah bore the consequences of David's failure to seek the Lord in regard to the details of bringing the ark up to Jerusalem.  If you weren't sure about that, check out 1 Chronicles 13:1-4: 

1 David conferred with each of his officers, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. 2 He then said to the whole assembly of Israel, "If it seems good to you and if it is the will of the LORD our God, let us send word far and wide to the rest of our brothers throughout the territories of Israel, and also to the priests and Levites who are with them in their towns and pasturelands, to come and join us. 3 Let us bring the ark of our God back to us, for we did not inquire of [a] it [b] during the reign of Saul." 4 The whole assembly agreed to do this, because it seemed right to all the people.

"It seemed right to all the people" - Oh my!  May God forgive us when we are doing what 'seems right to all the people' - sound familiar??

But moving on, after Uzzah's demise, David is afraid to bring the ark up to Jerusalem.  "Instead, he took it aside to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. 14 The ark of God remained with the family of Obed-Edom in his house for three months, and the LORD blessed his household and everything he had."  (1 Chronicles 13:13-14)

Obed-Edom was a Gittite - a resident of Gath - but apparently NOT a native.  We learn (in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 25) that Obed-Edom was a descendent of Korah - a  Levite who was given responsibility as a gatekeeper for the temple.  And it is reiterated that "God had blessed him."

As Christians, God has given us greater treasure than the Israelites ever experienced.  We have the Holy Spirit - the very presence of God himself - living within us.  God is available to us through prayer every moment of our day!  We have the Word of God - in fact, most of us have several copies in various translations so that we can more easily grasp the meaning behind each word.  And yet how often do we read it?  Do we really study what we find there?  Do we share it with others?  Do we approach prayer with a reverence that demonstrates that we are speaking to a Holy God?  Or do we treat God casually. 

The ark of the covenant resided with Abinadab for over 20 years - do you suppose that his family became comfortable having it there?  Did they toss a blanket over it and use it as a coffee table?  They say that "Familiarity breeds contempt" - may we never become so 'familiar' with God that we treat Him or His Word with contempt.

Right Idea, Wrong Methodology!

Have you ever felt that the Lord was leading you to do something, but when you tried to do it, everything went wrong?  I just learned a little something about this very thing from Uzzah and Obed-Edom.  What, you don't remember these two biblical names?  Let me share their stories - I'll break this up into two blogs to keep it short (I can hear you laughing!)  First the story of Uzzah:

(2 Samuel 6:1-5)  1 David again brought together out of Israel chosen men, thirty thousand in all. 2 He and all his men set out from Baalah of Judah [f] to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, [g] the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark. 3 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4 with the ark of God on it, [h] and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5 David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with songs [i] and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.

Sounds great, right?  David is bringing the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem.  They were celebrating and praising God 'with all their might'.  But then something unexpected happens:

(2 Samuel 6:6-8)  6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.
8 Then David was angry because the LORD's wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.

Now, this is one of those passages of scripture that has always puzzled me.  It seems a little...well...harsh, doesn't it?  Should Uzzah have just let the ark fall off the cart and land in the mud?  Why did God strike him dead right then and there?  What did he do that was so wrong?  As usual, I'm asking all the wrong questions!
Let's back this cart up a moment and look at this a little more closely - starting with God's instructions regarding the ark.  In Exodus 25:10-15, we learn that the ark was cast with rings along the base through which poles were inserted to be carried on the shoulders of the Levite priests.  The poles were not to be removed.  So clearly, moving the ark on a cart was in direct conflict with God's expressed instructions for how to transport this treasure that represented God's presence among His people. 
The ark had been transported by cart previously - by the Philistines!  They had captured the ark and had it in their possession for seven months, during which time God struck them with plagues.  So to rid themselves of God's wrath, they placed the ark on a new cart led by two cows which had never been yoked and were separated from their calves.  They let the cows go and they miraculously led the cart straight back to Israel.  Through this the Philistines understood that it had been God's judgment on them that caused the plague.  The Philistines had not received God's instructions regarding the transport of the ark - so their efforts to do the 'right thing' were honored by God and they were healed.
But there is more to this story - and those dreaded genealogies come into play once again!
Who was Abinadab?  Well there are two Abinadab's that appear in scripture - one was a son of Saul, who was killed in the same battle where Saul, Jonathan and several of Saul's other sons were killed.  The context of 1 Chronicles 6 certainly suggests that Abinadab was still alive at this time, so it seems likely this is the other Abinadab, who was David's older brother.   David, and therefore Abinadab and his two sons, were of the tribe of Judah - not Levi!  So not only was David transporting the ark in an inappropriate manner - but he was allowing someone other than the Levites to do so.  And it cost his nephews life!
At first glance, we might be tempted to think, "How unfair!"  It wasn't Uzzah's fault that David wasn't following directions!  When we fail to follow God's plan, there are consequences - and sometimes others feel the pain of our disobedience.  
David believed that the Lord wanted him to bring the ark to Jerusalem - but instead of seeking God in the details of how to do that, he took a shortcut.  He did what seemed to be the right thing to him.  It wasn't that he didn't care about what God thought - after all, they were praising God 'with all their might'!  He summoned thirty thousand 'chosen men' to accompany the ark! 
How often do I have a leading from the Lord and say, in effect, "Great, now I'll take it from here!"  Then I'm angry when my methods result in failure.  Perez Uzzah - it means God broke out against Uzzah - that is not the place I want to be!