Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lying To Self

Creation itself is such an amazing thing. When I look at the uniqueness of creatures around us, everything from earthworms to elephants, from trees to sand, from oceans to stars, I know that this could never have been just a reaction of the elements. The world is most assuredly God’s divine design.

In the human race alone, we can see so many variants. Our DNA itself says that we are created to be completely unique – different from every other person in the entire world who has or will ever live. We are created by God’s divine design. Look at the people you know. There are those that are broad hipped, big shouldered, have thin lips, baldheaded, bug eyes, big ears, crooked teeth, overweight, and large feet! Thank God those characteristics aren’t on the same person!

Stop. Think about that.

What makes us think that those characteristics are bad? Being broad hipped can help in childbirth. Having no hair means you get dressed faster. We’ve been taught by society that these are bad features when in fact, God has designed all features. God doesn't make mistakes! There are those that go through life hating certain aspects of their self because popular opinion says those features are wrong or less desirable. How we feel about ourselves changes as we grow based on these opinions. No child thinks they’re ugly…until someone tells them so. Isn’t it funny how we suddenly look at ourselves through the eyes of others instead of the eyes of God, who made us to be exactly what we are?

It’s apparent why God chose to create the human species from the dust of the earth. Dust is susceptible to its surroundings. A gust of wind, and it’s piled in the corner. A little water and it sticks to everything. It’s easily pushed around, pulled apart, and will conform to whatever mold we put it into. But we aren’t just dust! God gave us the breath of life – from His lungs to ours. That’s what makes us individually special from all other living things. We have the breath of life from God Himself.

So what’s wrong with just being you? Just as dust is transformed by its surroundings, we are as well. We become so wrapped up in what others think and feel about us that we begin to lie to ourselves about what makes us individually happy. The opinions of others control our attitudes towards life as well. Many of us marry the “right” person, have the “right” friends, drive the “right” car, and have the “right” job. But at the end of the day, nothing feels “right” about it. Why? Because we’ve stopped listening to ourselves and become a robot controlled by popular opinion. So we spend our lives being miserable because we have the “right” life.

We want to be rich, famous, thin, beautiful, successful, own the biggest house, drive the best car, have perfect children, and belong to the social status organizations in our community. Yet, at the end of the day, we’re in debt, we’re cleaning too big a house, we’re hungry from dieting, we hate our jobs, and we are exhausted from running our perfect children to every approved event! Is it any wonder so many of us hit our 40’s and realize we’re miserable?

Satan operates popular opinion as one of his greatest weapons against us. He wants to change the “YOU” God created into something less, something unhappy, and something unfulfilled. The lies you allow to enter into your heart are from the father of lies himself! Many of us have listened to others until we don’t know who we are or what our true purpose is.

Imagine this.

What if all people in this world were in the place God designed them to be?

What if in only the community in which you live everyone lived within the plan and purpose God chose for them?

What if in your family alone, all were in the design God intended for them?

What if just you and you alone were the person God designed “YOU” to be?

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” – Psalms 1:1-3

Friday, August 17, 2007

Need an Umbrella?

There was no way he was going. He didn’t care who it was asking! That was one trip he was not going to make! Instead he found a ship going as far away from the town of Nineveh as he could. He boarded a ship sailing to the town of Tarshish.

Maybe it was the stress of the decision or perhaps it was the lack of sleep while God was urging him to travel to Nineveh. Either way he was exhausted, and Jonah fell sleep on the boat. He thought he’d escaped. God had not yet revealed himself to the people of Tarshish so it seemed the perfect destination to get away from God and His demands.

But God was watching. The clouds darkened and settled above the boat. All light was gone from the sky. The seas began to roar and the waves crashed against the little boat harder with every breaking tide. The boat was rocking because Satan was knocking! By rejecting the authority of God, Jonah had set in place his own destruction. God had removed the umbrella of protection put over his prophet and Satan was at the gate - prepared to attack!

The men in the boat were afraid for their lives. Though innocent of the crime committed, their lives had also been put in jeopardy! They were looking for places to hang on, looking for a way to stay afloat should their boat capsize. Then Jonah told them about his journey from God - his attempt to run. Jonah told them to “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.” Jonah already he was wrong in running from Almighty God. His heart told him so! A child doesn’t disobey a parent without feeling guilt. But now that God had removed the umbrella of protection, he was willing to repent, and admit his mistake.

As soon as Jonah was thrown out of the boat – the seas became calm. Jonah had stopped running. He was no longer going to Tarshish. In fact, he wasn’t going anywhere unless God rescued him. But our Loving God always reaches out to us when we’re sinking. He, who forgives all our sins, had already prepared a fish big enough to become a traveling vessel, and inside its belly, Jonah traveled safely to shore.

Just as a potter must bring the clay under his submission to make it useful, God has to bring us under his submission as well. When the clay refuses to be molded, it’s tossed aside. And then, it begins to dry out, to crumble, to lose its strength, and become nothing more than dust. If the potter does not return to the clay, it becomes completely useless.

God uses different situations to mold us by the authority we allow him to have over us. When we rebel against that authority, we give place for Satan to enter into our lives. Satan is very familiar with rebellion! In fact, he led the heavenly rebellion that caused 1/3 of all the angels to be cast out of heaven with him. He knows how to orchestrate your rebellion as well. Just as he whispered into the ears of the angels he’ll whisper into yours!

“If God really loved you, would he allow this to happen? Surely He doesn’t love you as much as he loves Sister Saintly! Look how wonderful her life is!”

“You’re worthless. You can’t do anything right. What does God need with a servant like you? This task is much better suited for someone else!”

“The church doesn’t like you. Those people are probably talking about you behind your back! You know Brother Bigmouth said you had no talent because Grandma Gossip told you so!”

“It’s okay! Sure, God will be disappointed, but He’ll get over it! After all, He forgives all our sins, right? What’s one more!”

Friends, Satan is bold! He has nothing to lose and nothing to fear! He thought nothing of trying to tempt Jesus Christ in the wilderness, even thought he was completely aware who Jesus was. No, this was not their first meeting! Jesus was in Heaven when the rebellion began, and was with God when Satan and his minions were cast out. Yet, the fact that Jesus had full authority from God over Satan did not discourage him from trying to tempt Jesus. Don’t think he won’t come after you if you allow the umbrella of protection to be lifted through your insubordination to God! Resist the Devil and he will flee. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

“But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.“ – Psalms 5:11-12

Friday, August 10, 2007

Choosing to Forgive

Okay, I’m going to give you the bad news. Sit back, relax, and breathe deeply. I’ll do this as painlessly as possible.

In life, people are going to hurt you. There will be those you love who betray you, those you call friends who stab you in the back, and those you trust who will deceive you. You’ll be gossiped about (yes, even you!), lied to, and ridiculed. You’ll be robbed, you’ll be wronged, you’ll be mistreated, and yes, even discriminated against. You’ll be falsely accused and punished unfairly. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

Friends, if you are luck enough to read through the last paragraph, and still think “oh, no, not me!” then you need to hear this so you’ll know how to react when it does happen. If you read the paragraph and know all too well the truth it speaks of, you need to know how to react to what has already happened.

When people hurt you, you have a choice. It’s an A-B multiple choice, a 50/50 chance to get it right. You can chose: (a)To forgive or (b)To hold a grudge. (Hint: pick A – forgive!)

Forgiveness is not for the assailant, but the victim. You’re grudge will be in your heart, not theirs. The problem with grudges is that they get heavier as you carry them. As you think about them and dwell on them, they began to become an infection in your heart. Eventually, the grudge will grow and your whole heart will be filled with anger and hatred. Every ounce of love will be pushed out, squeezed out and dried up.

Someone once said “Forgiveness is love in its most noble form.“ I like this quote because it points out the source of forgiveness, love. Someone else once said, “Love isn’t love until you give it away.” There are so many of us who are selfish about who we will love. We want to segregate those we love from those who have wronged us. We want to withhold our love, and therefore our forgiveness.

But Jesus said to love your neighbor. His answer to the question of “And who is my neighbor?” in Luke 10:29 was not a territorial one describing how many miles of circumference designated a neighbor. His answer pointed to the actions of the one who became a neighbor. Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan who took care of a wounded man, and showed mercy on him. Mercy is what Jesus desires from us (Matthew 9:13), as a way in which we show our love to each other.

Sometimes forgiveness can only be given by acting out of love. Doing something nice, above and beyond the ordinary, for the person who has wronged you does wonderful things within your heart. It allows you to concentrate on ways to love them rather than ways to hate them. Your heart will be filled with that love, and a funny thing happens when you put love in your heart. It fills it up and pushes everything else out! In fact, we’ve all been given one of these “above and beyond” gifts. It was called the crucifixion, and by it we can have eternal life, and be free from our own sins.

Now here’s one last warning on the subject of forgiveness. Listen carefully. (Are you listening?)

If you don’t forgive those who hurt you, God will not forgive you of your sins. Don’t believe me? You don’t have to! Mark 11:26 says “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” That’s God’s word, not mine.

Friends, more than anything else in this world we need God’s forgiveness. Far more harm can be done to us by not receiving that forgiveness and living a life dredged in sin than could ever be done to us by our enemies! It’s a simple matter of power. God has it, and without Him, we don’t. You need Him to get through the trials that will come your way (see second paragraph). You need His love, which comes from being forgiven. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” If God’s mercies are new every morning, shouldn’t yours be as well?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Picking Sides

When I was a little girl I hated gym class. What I hated most was when we’d be divided into teams by picking sides. You know the routine: two people would be put in charge of picking their teams, and one by one they’d call your name. Most kids didn’t like this because if you were last be called, it meant you weren’t good at the sport to be played, or your weren’t liked by those calling names. Although that did occasionally happen, I didn’t hate it because I was last picked. I hated it because I would always be picked for the opposite side as my best friend. I didn’t like she and I being on opposing teams! She was my confidant, my safety net, and my comfort zone! We were a pair – two of a kind. I was simply happier when we were together.

Jesus speaks of opposing sides in Matthew 12:30 when he says “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” Are you on the opposing side of Jesus? You have to be really paying attention to your actions to answer that question. And unlike gym class teams, you can switch sides in an instant, and switch back again.

Sometimes we switch sides just because it seems to be more fun to be on the other side. There’s a myth that sinners have more fun than Christians do. This myth is laden with sinners who proclaim it to be so because they’ve never completely given their life over to Christ. Unfortunately for those who would rather not pick a side, but rather play the field, there is no cheering section, no fence to ride, and no gym pass for this game. You are on one side or the other.

It’s completely true that being in opposition to Christ as a born again believer isn’t fun. In fact, yours truly can tell you, it’s miserable! It’s as if you’re part of a big jigsaw puzzle, and someone is trying to hammer you into a certain shape that you don’t fit. The key to finding happiness in being a Christian is to become the shape…what Jesus want’s you to be…without opposition. Allow Him to mold and shape you into his image and you’ll find that being on the Christian team is to be on the winning team. It’s much easier to allow Christ to fit you into His plans for your life, than to try to fit Him into your plans.

Here’s the truth, whether you want it or not. If you aren’t pulling for Jesus, you are pulling for Satan. If you aren’t standing for Jesus, then you’re standing against him. If you’re not telling the lost about Him, then you are Satan’s co-captain. Yes folks, it is that simple. If you are not for Him, you ARE against Him.

Now is the time to decide consciously which team you’re going to play on. In Matthew 13:47-50, Jesus tells us “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

One day, the sides will be clearly marked, as in gym class. The angels will be calling our names, and separating us. Which angel do you want calling your name? How will you feel if you very best friend is suddenly on the opposing side? How will you feel when you’re separated forever?

Strive now to be on the same side. Consciously set a goal, evolve a plan, and put the steps in motion to be sure that happens. Live in the Spirit and not the flesh! Live to where you will be a force to be reckoned with in the spiritual world. Show your lost friends and family that there is great joy in serving God when you serve with your whole mind, body, and soul.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Hiding Place

“Amidst the sorrows of the way, Lord Jesus, teach my soul to pray
Let me taste Thy special grace, And run to Christ, my hiding place

You know the vileness of my heart, So prone to act the rebel's part
And when You veil Your lovely face, How can I find a hiding place

Lord, guide my wandering feet, Draw me to Thy mercy seat
I've naught to trust but sovereign grace, Thou only art my hiding place

How unstable is my heart, Sometimes I take the tempter's part
And slight the tokens of Thy grace, And seem to want no hiding place

But when Thy spirit shines within, Makes me feel the plague of sin
And how I long to see Thy face, 'Tis then I want a hiding place"

Baptist pastor Daniel Herbert wrote this song in 1814. It was recently recorded by one of my favorite bands, Jars of Clay, on their CD titled “Redemption Songs”.

Psalms 19:7-12 tell us that we cannot hide from God. If we go to the depths of the sea, He is there. If we go to the height of the heavens, He is there. Darkness doesn’t veil us from Him. No matter where we may go, God is always with us, always watching over us (Proverbs 15:3).

While listening to this song one day God touched my heart through the words of this song. If God had given us all a place where we could go to hide from Him, would we go there? Think about it. Meditate upon it.

At first I thought, sure, I’d go there! It would probably be so crowded you’d have to get reservations to get in! There’d be so many people just waiting outside the gate to get in and do something behind God’s back.

Or, would they? There are many people today – even church goers – who seem to have no conscience – no sense of right and wrong. They don’t care who knows what they do, and they repeatedly “slight the tokens of Thy grace, And seem to want no hiding place”. Maybe it wouldn’t be so crowded after all. Or maybe it would be filled with hypocrites, murderers, child molesters, thieves, liars – and basically, the scum of the human race. Gee, that would be great company to be in, huh?

The more I thought about it, the less I wanted to be in that kind of place. Can you imagine what it would be like? Can you imagine the things that would go on in that kind of place? Think about it. Meditate upon it.

Then, when you had to leave there, imagine the guilt you’d have to feel when you came back into God’s view. Remember when you were little and you’d do something really wrong behind your parents backs, and even though they had no idea what you’d done, you still felt the guilt of knowing that it was wrong, and more than that, the separation of knowing you couldn’t share the truth with them. To feel that kind of remorse – to “feel the plague of sin” in our relationship with God could not be worth the temporary fleshly satisfaction of whatever sins we had committed.

Separation from God would be the essence of this hiding place. It would be empty of love, for God is love (1 John 4:8). It would be empty of light, for Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). It would be without hope, because Jesus is the hope of things to come (1 Peter 3:3-5). In fact, it would be pure evil (Psalms 5:4). How horrible this place would be – a place where you’d feel nothing but hatred, darkness, evil, and a complete lack of hope for things to ever get better. When you think of what this hiding place would be like, it is evident that this place does exist. It’s called Hell.

That’s not a place I even want to visit! And, none of us have to. For God has given us a “hiding place” from Hell!

“Lord Jesus, shine and then I can, Feel sweetness in salvation's plan
And as a sinner, plead for grace, Christ, the sinner's hiding place.
As a sinner, plead for grace, Christ, the sinner's hiding place”

Shine, Jesus, Shine! Lord Jesus, may we all hide in the sheltering light you provide, and accept the tokens of your Grace.

“You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word.” - Psalms 119:114