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Friday, September 15, 2017

For Anyone Complaining in the Wake of Irma

For those of you complaining about ANYthing at all today...
      This post is for those of you complaining about not having power and those of you complaining about those complaining about not having power and any other complaint on the table today. Tragedy stinks. I get it. I really do. All we heard for an entire week was hurricane Irma this and hurricane Irma that and watch out for the storm surge and "get out while you can!" Then the storm hit and everything went dark (and hot and sticky) for days. And the enormity of the silence after all that talking.... Some of us are STILL without power. Some of us have had to throw away entire refrigerators full of food. Some of us don't even have a home left to put a refrigerator in.
      And so I get it. Social media (mainly Facebook) is a way to connect with others, vent our frustrations and even in some weird, intangible way, bear one another's burdens. It is also, thanks to the mobile network, the only link many of us have to the outside world after being plunged into darkness and silence by this beast of a storm due to power and internet loss.
       As a society, our bend has become "sharing" our lives and happiness and sadness and whatever other emotions drive us on a daily basis. So when something like this happens and gives us an actual reason to get our stories out there but we actually can't because we are cut off from the proverbial "grid", of course we are going to flock to the one outlet we have to connect with the world outside of our dark, hot and sticky homes.
      Think about it. The power and internet is down. You can't watch the news talk about the storm anymore. You can't cook anything on your electric stove. You can't even give up and go to sleep because you have no air conditioner. You can't go out on the roads to escape the miserable situation at home because everyone else is also experiencing the same situation. Also, it is just plain DANGEROUS to be driving around when there are virtually NO street lights or police readily available. So, I totally get that people want to take to social media to complain, rant, rave, praise, cry....whatever. That's ok. I just want to say to each and every one of you, no matter what you are complaining about, I hear you. I am right there venting with you. I hear and feel your pain.
      This storm was awful. Downright unfeeling and merciless. No, I cannot imagine what it is like for those down south who lost their entire lives. I cannot imagine what it feels like to see every memory you've ever made washed away by the ocean. I cannot imagine what it feels like to have a loved one out working for hours and even days at a time to restore the lives of people who are only complaining and moaning about how long it is taking to make them comfortable again. I also cannot imagine what it would feel like to be 5+ days with no power in 90 degree plus weather. I really cannot (nor do I want to) imagine what being without power in those conditions for 5+ days WITH YOUNG CHILDREN feels like.
      Would I want to take to the one outlet I could in order to connect with my fellow humans in search of some shred of sympathy and encouragement? Absolutely. Would I want to go to the one place I could freely rant and release my frustration and possibly receive a "I feel ya sister!" in return? Heck yes! I think we all can relate.
       But just remember that tragedy takes no names and plays no favorites, my friends. That person you are blasting on Facebook for complaining about the electric company taking forever could be your very own neighbor. She could be the one who calls you into her door when the storm rips your roof clean off your house and you are forced to the street with your family. Likewise, the electric company worker that you are complaining about taking forever could be the very one who donated the money to the charity that gave you the assistance you needed to get back on your feet after the storm. You just never know, my friend.
       So I get that we all need to vent and we all need to feel validated in our frustration. But please, before we call someone an idiot or tell them to "shut the **** up and sit down" let's try to put ourselves in the other person's shoes. Let's try to remember that the ones we are condemning and humiliating, while their suffering may be different from ours, are still suffering. And to them, not knowing what it is like in your shoes, it is the worst suffering right now.
       The bible says we are supposed to give grace as we ourselves have received it. And as one of the biggest receivers (and daily needers)of grace, I am dolling it out in abundance. I hear you, I validate you, I feel you! Sister, brother, friend....neighbor. My prayer is that we all can find it in our hearts to offer grace in the face of unreasonableness, selfishness, and (most importantly) in the face of suffering. That we can all come back together as a community and lift each other up online the way I've seen us do in real life. After all, if we think back real hard, haven't we all at one time or another been a little unreasonable and selfish ourselves? Isn't this what Jesus meant when He said we should be mindful of the log in our own eye before we try to take the spec out of our brother's eye? More importantly, isn't this what He meant when He said "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy"?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Error of the Posperity "Gospel"

       So I recently have had a lot of time to reflect and think and have gotten a lot of clarity about some things that were very confusing to me for a time. It is something like coming out of a dark tunnel. You do not see where you are while you are in the tunnel because of the darkness of it. But when you come out of the tunnel into the light you can look back and because of the light see where you have been.
       This morning I want to talk about false teachers and namely a specific type of false teacher. The "prosperity gospel" that has taken off and become a big thing recently is very alluring but the truth is, as Paul told the Galatians, it is not the true Gospel but only a perversion of the real Gospel. I confess that I have embraced this teaching for a short time. Why? It sounded good and those around me were also embracing it. But I am so very thankful for God's mercy and grace for me to lead me back to the truth. And today I wanted to share some of the truth I have had time to reflect on the past week.
       So what is the prosperity gospel? Basically what it boils down to is that God wants you to be rich and happy. (They like to use the word "prosperous" but let's not beat around the bush here.) They teach that you can and should, by your own words and thoughts, create the kind of life you have always dreamed about with riches and health and "prosperity". The issue I have with this message is what about those who love God and are careful to obey all that He commands and still suffer greatly in life?
       What do you tell the woman whose baby died even though she prayed with all her might and believed with all her heart that God would heal him? Or what about the man who got laid off from his job doing the only trade he has ever known and has poured his sweat and tears into finding something else but is unsuccessful? The message of the prosperity gospel is that you only need to change your thoughts, change your words, change your world. Wrong!
       Suffering is part of life. No I don't believe it makes God happy when we suffer but it is necessary. The bible says the Lord disciplines those He loves. Suffering is a tool He can use for our good. Paul talks about rejoicing in suffering because it produces patience and hope and Godly character. Peter talks about sharring in the sufferings of Christ. How can you truly know Christ without knowing His suffering when He came to the earth for this very purpose?!
       If we can control every aspect of our lives with our thoughts and words then what need is there for the power and grace of God? When you tell someone they need to change their thinking in order to change their lives, you are doing two things: 1. you are telling them what God has given them is not enough and planting a seed of ungratefulness and 2. you are telling them they can work to obtain Gods favor and therefor nullifying the Cross of Christ. Arrogant! This kind of thinking lowers Jesus Christ from Lord and ruler over ALL authority to passive bystander. Perhaps genie in a bottle if we are so inclined to include Him in our "life-changing" words and thoughts. Yes, the bible talks about the importance of our words so I am not denying that. But if it is possible to get rich and prosperous by simply speaking we are taking God out of the equation. The God who "...kills and makes alive...brings down to Sheol and raises up....makes poor and rich....brings low....also exalts" (1 Samuel 2:6-7) But no, according to the prosperity "gospel", if you wake up every morning and tell yourself for 30 minutes a day that you are rich and prosperous then it will surely happen! Sounds more like witchcraft than the gospel to me.
       If God has no purpose for suffering in our lives then why did He refuse to remove the thorn from Paul's side? He states very clearly, that His grace is SUFFICIENT. HE, Himself, is SUFFICIENT for us. This perverted gospel is not bringing people closer to Jesus Christ but instead driving them away! It is a clever and cunning trick of the enemy to lull us into a false sense of pride and self-love while simultaneously driving a wedge between us and the Cross. Jesus said, he who does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of Me. How can we take up our cross if we are busy chasing earthly riches? Paul told the Collosians to set their minds on heavenly things and not on earthly things. If we are focused on becoming rich and "prosperous" we cannot be focused on becoming holy as He is holy and storing up treasures in heaven.
       I recently watched a youtube video of one of these pastors preaching a sermon entitled "Are You Tired of Being Broke?" He had a huge pile of M&M's on the stage and had even given them out to the congregation. Within the first five minutes of preaching he threw out Luke 6:38 "Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over" The problem is that this scirpture is completely misused! When you take out a piece of the puzzle and try to guess what the picture is from that one little piece you are going to run into errors. Jesus is not talking about money. (Gasp!) No, He is talking about mercy and forgiveness.
       And yet, here is this pastor speaking to who knows how many people with hundreds of empty calorie, brightly colored treats to entice his audience, telling them that God wants them rich. The problem with this gospel, much like the nutritional content of those M&M's is that it is empty. When you preach anything other than Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen again, you are preaching an empty gospel.  "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."
       I'm not saying these "prosperity" pastors are not saved or don't know the Lord. The truth is I know nothing about them aside from what they preach, what comes out of their mouths. However, Jesus said what comes out of our mouths is what is in our hearts and therefor we will know them by their fruits. So what I do know is they have bought into a lie of the enemy  and are now wrapping it up in packaging made to look like the Word of God. But when you unwrap it, all it really is, is smoke mirrors. An empty deception.
       So my question is...what kind of a gospel do you want to feed on today? One that will fill you up and never fail you? Or one that is nothing but brightly colored empty calories?

"You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?"



Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Seek First....

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" Matthew 6:33
(**This post was actually written yesterday, August 21, 2017. I just didn't get to post it here until now!**)
       This morning, I had some alone time with God and I wanted to share with you what I learned. I was reading in Matthew the sermon that Jesus gave on the mount. More specifically, I was reading the part where Jesus is telling the poeple to stop worrying about what they will eat or drink or even wear. I've heard this passage preached and read it in devotionals more times than I can remember and the message is always the same: God doesn't want you to worry, He will take care of it. While I believe that is true, I think there is something missing.
       Jesus said, "You cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money" God said in Isaiah that HE is the Lord and He will NOT give His glory to another. God is God. He is the beginning and the end, the first and the last, the Creator of ALL creation, the executor of judgment and the giver of grace. His glory and power and might and wisdom and all that He is is so much so that He doesn't even need meaningless words to describe Him. He tells Moses in Exodus, "Tell them I AM has sent you." He is.
       So when we worry and fret about having "enough" (I believe) we are essentially robbing God of the glory and honor and praise that rightly belongs to Him. When we worry or become anxious about something we essentially make that thing our master over God. 2 Peter 2:19 says by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.

(Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about life's surprises that come along once in awhile and knock your feet out from under you and leave you on your knees crying out to Jesus for help. Sometimes we all go through things that divert our attention to the circumstance over the One in control of the circumstance. But I am talking about a life and a heart that is characterized by worry and stress and a constant state of striving.)
        When we worry and stress, we are not just robbing ourselves of peace, we are robbing our God of His rightful praise and honor. We are robbing Him of His rightful place in our lives. Hebrews 13:5 says to be content with what we have. Why? Not because God is greedy. Not because He doesn't have enough to give. But it is because Jesus Himself said "I will never leave you or forsake you." Jesus Christ who is God and who is with God said He will NEVER LEAVE US! And He, who is worthy of all praise, who's name is above every single name there is or ever will be, who actually has every right that we think we should have ourselves, has said He will be to us everything we could ever need. When we worry about sufficiency, we not only are saying we don't trust Him to give us what we need but, more importantly, we are denying His ALL-sufficiency for us.
        Jesus asked the people, "How many of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" The answer is none. Because worrying accomplishes nothing except taking our focus off Jesus and His sufficiency for us. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. What are you seeking today? I confess that I have been guilty of seeking "enough". Even "more than enough". But Jesus promised if we seek Him first, He will take care of all our needs (Matthew 6:33, Phillipians 4:19). Let's give our glory and honor and praise back to the One it rightfully belongs to and give our allegience back to the rightful master, Jesus Christ our LORD and Savior.

Ask, Seek, and Knock

"Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you" Matthew 7:7

       During my quiet time with God this morning, I got to finish reading the sermon that Jesus gave on the mount. You know it’s amazing how easy it for us to take a piece of scripture out of the bible and make it stand on its own. I can't tell you how many times I've done this. But when we do this, we are not getting the whole story. We do not have all the facts. It is similar to taking a piece out of the puzzle and trying to make it become a picture on its own. 
       I can't tell you how many times I've heard, read, and even sung the verse above. And the message I've always gotten from it was that if I am really persistent in my prayers God will give me whatever I want. This morning I realized the error in my thinking. I don't believe that's what Jesus was saying at all. I believe what He was saying was so much deeper and more beautiful than that!

       A wise person once showed me in other areas of scripture how God will often use progression words to make a point. Psalms 1 is a great example. The psalmist talks first of walking, then standing, then sitting with people who have no interest in Godly things. First you are walking, then you get comfortable so you stop and hang around for a while (standing), then you get really comfortable and take a load off (sitting). Now, you are one of them. The point, I believe, the psalmist was trying to make was that turning your back on God doesn't happen all at once. It's a slow and sneaky process which is why we need to be careful!

        When Jesus said to the people to ask, seek and knock, I believe He was using progression words to make a point. First, you ask Jesus into your heart. Then, you seek His kingdom and His righteousness. Last, you go right up to the door of heaven itself and knock because you know, being an adopted child of God, you belong there!

The most beautiful thing to me is the response of the Son of God to these instructions....
       Ask, He said, and it WILL be given you. He's saying, "If you ask Me to come into your heart, I will!" In Revelation He says, "I stand at the door and knock. If anyone lets Me in I will come and make my home in him." And remember, it is impossible for God to lie. So if He says His answer will be yes when you ask Him in, then you can rest assure His answer will be YES!

        Seek, He says, and you will find. He's saying, "If you seek Me with all your heart, you will find Me!" Seeking requires movement, action. When you are hunting, you cannot find game unless you go out and seek it. The deer or rabbit or whatever it is you are hungry for is not going to come right up to you and say "Here I am. Go ahead and shoot!" You must go out and seek it. So it is with the kingdom of heaven. If you stay in the same place spiritually you will never find it. (I am not saying at all here that you must work to obtain your salvation. Salvation cannot be possessed by anything we could ever do or say. That is why, I believe, Jesus says to ask first. You cannot even begin seeking unless you first have the Spirit of God in you to motivate and empower you!)
        Knock, He says, and the door will be opened to you. He's saying "I have adopted you into my family. Come right up to the door and knock because you are welcome here!" I love this because Jesus said in John 10:7 that He, Himself, is the door for the sheep. If we ask Jesus into our hearts, we are essentially inviting the very Doorway to Heaven into our hearts. And He says, "Yes! I will open the door for you!"

        I really wanted to share this with you this morning because for a long time I thought this verse (along with others like it) meant whatever whim or desire I had on earth could be granted if I can just be persistent enough. The problem with this thinking is that it not only lowers Jesus Christ from the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-sufficient God that He is down to more of a genie in a bottle, but when the Lord sees fit to leave your prayers unanswered, what then? There begins to grow a disconnect in your heart and you begin to doubt His love for you.
        No, our God is much more loving and wise and powerful than to just give us everything we want whenever we desire. (Parents, do you give your children everything they want? I certainly hope not!) Jesus is promising something much deeper and more beautiful and eternal here than answers to earthly prayers. Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our minds on heavenly things and not on earthly things. 1 Corinthians 2:9 talks about the wonderful things that nobody has seen or heard that God has prepared for those who love Him.

       Don't get me wrong, our earthly prayers are important and even commanded by the Lord. But I believe when Jesus is saying ask, seek, and knock, He is talking about Himself and the kingdom of heaven. It is not that we should not pray for our own lives and the lives of those around us, but I think the important thing is to have eternity in mind when we are praying.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Coffee and Water

I was thinking this morning, on my way to work, about the daily struggle I endure between my cherished coffee and the ever healthy (yet ever tasteless) water. Stay with me here. So I love (LOVE) my coffee during work. It serves as not only a pick-me-up for that afternoon lull when I could put my head down and dream away right there on my desk, but also as sort of a warm, fuzzy blanket for my tummy. Yum! 
However, I also know that I need to be drinking more water. It's healthy, it's thirst-quenching, and just all-around good. So usually I come into work and go get myself a nice, hot cup of coffee and a nice, cold glass of water and figure on drinking them both throughout the day. I reason with myself that I can take a sip of coffee then a sip of water and so on. The only problem is that usually the coffee wins out and the water ends up sitting, untouched, on my desk and my body ends up missing out on the healthy benefits of the water.
This morning it got me to thinking about this verse where Jesus is telling the people that you cannot serve two masters. If you are going to follow Jesus, He has to be the most important. If you are trying to live your life for Jesus but also the things of the world, as He said, you will love the one and despise the other. It probably won't be intentional. And you may even do a good job of splitting your affections equally at first. But eventually, the things of the world (your coffee, your sweets, your bank account, your tv  shows...)will end up stealing all your attention. 
Now, I realize the decision whether to drink coffee or water is not a life altering decision and in light of eternity it is pretty minuscule. However, God showed me that this can be a metaphor for approaching our relationship with Jesus. Are we willing to put down the "tasty" thing in order to pick up that which is best for us? I began to wonder what other areas of my life I was willing to share my devotion with. Where else was I dividing my affections? 
If you're realizing, like me this morning, that you have been trying to serve two masters in any area of your life, you are not alone. I'm so thankful that we have a loving God who gives us verses and analogies such as coffee and water to show us where we are failing and lovingly point us back to the right direction. 
Father, I pray that you will help me see the areas in my life where I have been dividing my affection and attention and help me to give it all back to You to whom it rightfully belongs. In Jesus' name, Amen.