Monday, March 30, 2015

Loving the Stigma of Christ

From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” – Galatians 6:17

The word mark in its original Greek is ‘stigma’.  Stigma (Strongs G4742) means “a mark pricked in or branded upon the body. To ancient oriental usage, slaves and soldiers bore the name or the stamp of their master or commander branded or pricked (cut) into their bodies to indicate what master or general they belonged to, and there were even some devotee's who stamped themselves in this way with the token of their gods”.  While in slavery the mark is made ON the body, Paul says he bears the marks of the Lord Jesus “IN my body”.  So the mark was not an external scar received during his ministry, or a tattoo he received to a Greek god before he was converted, but something much different. 

In 2 Corinthians 1:22 Paul speaks to the Church at Corinth and says that God “has SEALED us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee”.  The word seal originates from the Greek sphragizo (Strongs G4972).  It is defined as “to set a seal upon, mark with a seal, to seal for security from Satan, in order to mark a person or a thing, in order to prove, confirm or attest a thing”. 

A seal is also a mark, a legal and binding one.  Such seals in Paul’s day were made with signet rings pressed into wax to create the sealed signature of a King or person of power.  Today we see seals embossed on paper, such as those made by a notary, and sometimes made on gold or silver foil paper.

But the seal Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 1:22 is the seal of “the Spirit”.  When capitalized, the word Spirit is a noun, signifying the Holy Spirit, which is not a seal on us but IN us.  In Romans 1 Paul again refers to himself as in slavery to Christ, as “a bondservant of Jesus Christ” by the power of the Spirit.  There is a slight difference in slavery and bondservant though that bears explanation.  A slave has no choice but to be a slave.  But a bondservant (Strongs G1401) originates from the word doulos, which also means a slave, but “one who gives himself up to another’s will, those whose service is used by Christ in extending and advancing the cause of men, devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interest”. 

Paul exemplifies the role of bondservant.  Once converted, we never read of him having down time or a time wherein he, like Jonah, turned against God’s will.  Paul pursued the ministry of Jesus Christ will a heart filled with love for Christ and for those that he ministered to.  He became a slave to Christ of his own free will.  He proudly spoke of the ‘mark’ within, the Holy Spirit, who had sealed him.

Bob George, in his book Grace Stories, tells of the Country Dog and the City Dog.  The City Dog stays penned up, and feels the restriction of the fence or walls in which he lives.  When the door is opened, the City Dog runs with all he can to break free from the boundaries he lives in.  The master then has to post posters of the missing dog, and find him to bring him back to the safety of his quarters. 

But the Country Dog has freedom to roam the country side, to go off into the woods, get muddy, and still come home.  Yet all the Country Dog wants to do is lay on the doorstep and wait for his master to come outside so he can follow him. 

Though both dogs have masters, only the Country Dog has made himself a bondservant from the love he has for his master.

I think Paul was most like the Country Dog.  He committed his life to Christ, and waited anxiously to follow Him anywhere He would lead.  As the Country Dog, his motivation was love.

Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” – Jesus, John 8:34-36


Monday, March 16, 2015

The Truth about Wisdom

“However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man
the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” – 1 Corinthians 2:6-12
Wisdom is something I’ve prayed to have and prayed for my children to have for years on a daily basis.  Why?  Because I am convinced that to live life without wisdom would be to miss out on what the “abundant” life is all about.  Wisdom gives us insight into God’s work in our lives, His overarching plan for us, and the lives of those we love.  It also gives us insight into the motives and purposes of man.

Paul speaks of the wisdom of God as a mystery, and that it was hidden.  Think back to the days of Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Elijah and Elisha.  These great men of God, though they were close to God, were not given the full plan of His future for man.  Though they knew of a Savior to come, they were not given the full plan.  God’s wisdom was hidden from them.  Today we can read their life story and see how they fit within God’s plan for man.  We know that the sacrifice of Isaac was a foretelling of the sacrifice of Christ.  We know that Jacob and Esau signify the saved and the lost.  But in their lifetime, these great men of God were not granted that wisdom.
Considering that, we have to understand that God’s wisdom is still hidden in great part to us who are alive.  Why?  Because His great plan is not yet completed, and will not be until the end of time.  “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” is a great promise that we will not be given the full story here on this earth.  God’s word is timeless, as we are still living in the frame of not seeing, hearting, or even imagining what He fully planned.

Yet, God reveals Himself to us through His Spirit, the Holy Spirit living in those that believe in Him and love Him.  “The deep things of God” such as His character, His will, His plans, are made understandable to us through His Spirit.  Yet, we are not given them in full, but as Paul later puts it in 1 Corinthians 13:9-12, we know in part and prophesy in part.  We see as though through a dark glass, able to make out only part of what God is doing in our life or the lives of others.  His Spirit reveals the “things freely given to us by God”, which we call blessings, mercy, and grace.  Sometimes they are tangible, and sometimes intangible. 
But without His Spirit to discern the mystery, we have no understanding of them.  This is why those that do not believe in God or have not submitted to Him through salvation are often restless in life, filled with chaos and confusion.  Without salvation, there is no Holy Spirit residing in them to reveal God. Without salvation, there can be no peace (Ephesians 2:14).

Father, let us all come to know You as Father.  Take us deeper into the mysteries of You.  Let us understand Your ways and Your plans and find peace for the anxiety and ramblings of our souls.  Thank you Father that one day all the mystery will be gone and we will see you face to face. Amen.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Fight Between the Ears

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-3

If there’s one thing that being married to a runner has taught me is that the most difficult part of running is the battle between the ears.  Our bodies can do far more than we believe, and often it’s those thoughts of failure that cause us to quit, to give up.  If you listen to the signals from the body, the pain in the ankles, the soreness in the calves, then you will quit!  That’s why we must train our minds as much as we train our bodies.  If you allow your mind to consume you with thoughts of failure and inadequacy, you will fail.

The writer of Hebrews, which some believe was Paul, addresses the race that we are all running – the race of Christian life.  He says that we are to look to Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith, and speaks of His race, and how he endured the cross, the shame, and successfully completed His race.  By “looking unto” Jesus we allow Him to be our mentor.  We place our focus on the One who has succeeded in this race, and don’t look around us at those who fail daily.  Who you look to for advice and guidance is a very important decision in anything you do because the student rarely excels above the teacher.

So I ask you, who is your Christian mentor?  Don’t answer Jesus too quickly.  If your faith isn’t growing to the point that you can do all things through Jesus Christ, then it’s most likely not Him.  If your faith is based upon the level of faith your pastor, your Christian friends, your parents or siblings, or anyone else has, you may not finish as highly as you want in this race.  Who do you look to for advice when you are down?  Who do you look to for encouragement?

Christ was able to take on the physical and emotional pain of being a Christian.  He stood strong through the mocking, the false judgements, and the abuse.  How are you holding up?  Are you still standing strong?  Do you find yourself wanting to quit, wanting to skip Bible study and Christian fellowships, and going through seasons of disappointments with church and Christian friends?  Or are you able to say “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34)”?    

Friend, perhaps the issue is the battle between your ears.  If you look around and see others failing, it’s easy to feel inadequate and unable to continue walking with Christ.  But they are not to be your teacher – they are students as well.  Change your mentor.  Consider the way Christ ran the race with moments alone with God in prayer.  Consider His thankful heart. Learn from His complete submission to the plan God had for Him. 

As the old saying goes, you can’t soar with the eagles if you hang around with the turkeys.  Stop reflecting on the success or failure of others and feeling as if you cannot win this race.  Look to the finisher of your faith, the One who will turn your invisible faith into the visible results.  He found joy and overcame the obstacles set before Him, and you can too.  Friend, the Word would not say it if it were not true.  You CAN do ALL THINGS through CHRIST, who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13).

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Good Vibes, Happy Thoughts, Warm Wishes, and “Little” Prayers

Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, give to the Lord glory and strength.   Give to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come before Him.  Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!” – 1 Chronicles 16:28-29

Since the beginning of time Satan has had one motive – to discredit God to man, and discredit man to God.  He spoke to Eve in the garden saying “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4), all but saying that God was a liar.  He spoke to God regarding Job saying “he will surely curse You to Your face!” (Job 1:11).  When he can turn even one of us away from God, he wins.
Notice the sly manner in which he does try to discredit God to us.  He never said to Eve that God was a liar.  He implied it.  His ways are of no avail when attempting to discredit us before our maker, so we are the center of his actions.

One of the sly methods I’ve seen lately has to do with discrediting our prayers, and discounting our faith in our prayers.  Here’s what I see – not just on social media, but in many face-to-face conversations.  Someone has a problem, and they ask for prayer, or as it more often is occurring, they as to be “remembered” as they go through the issue.  The responses are alarming!  People send “good vibes”, “happy thoughts your way”, “warmest wishes”, or agree to say a “little” prayer.
This all sounds positive and good, until you look at it from God’s viewpoint.  Where in that does God gain any glory in answering that prayer or transforming that situation?

Someone needs to explain good vibes to me.  How are they sent exactly, and how do they work?  Do you send them through some sort of cosmic channel that I am not tuned into?  Do you blow them like kisses?  I did some research and “good vibes” seem to be rooted in the effects of the moon and sun, and originated with those that practiced astrology. How does God feel about the worship of the effects of the sun and moon?  He says “And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage.” (Deuteronomy 4:19).  God forbids it (Deuteronomy 17:3).  It is a form of idolatry.
Here’s another I just don’t understand.  How are your “happy thoughts” going to change my issue?  Can your happy thoughts cause healing?  Can your happy thoughts repair relationships, rectify financial issues, or even better my moods?  How exactly can a thought in your head make anything outside your head better?  I just don’t understand. 

The same is true of wishes.  “I wish you felt better.”  Well that’s nice and all, but there’s no action in wishing that causes me to be better.  I wish I had a million dollars too, but when I check my wallet, not even a dime is added.  Wish me a happy birthday if you want, but I’d much rather you pray that I be given lots and lots of years here, or even pray and thank God that I’m still alive! 
Perhaps the most discrediting thing we can say about prayer is to refer to it as a “quick” or “little” prayer.  I’m going to tell you right now.  If you ask me to “say a quick little prayer” for you – I’m probably not going to do it.  If you don’t feel it’s worth sincere knee-bent prayer, then I don’t see the need for me to waste time on it.  I’ve got plenty to pray about already.  And how does God gain glory from “quick little” prayers?  Does He get just a “little” glory in return?  Everything we can concern ourselves about on this earth is of concern to our Father God.  No matter how great or how small they appear to us, to a God who has no impossibilities, all things are equally important.  Nothing is insignificant. We are instructed in Philippians 4:6 to “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;”.  In “EVERYTHING BY PRAYER” we relieve our anxieties and worry.  Notice the verse also speaks of thanksgiving.  What are you to be thankful for?  EVERYTHING.

When we offer up good vibes, happy thoughts, wishes and small prayers, we dissipate the glory that is due God, who answers our prayers and works all things for our good (Jeremiah 29:11).  He is due our praise as a sacrifice.  It is our sacrifice because in giving it we are recognizing that there was nothing we could do to change the situation and He did it.  The absence of God in our lives is often in exact proportion to the absence of praise.  James 4:8-10 says “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”  The double-minded are those that lack faith in their prayers, or consider other sources for the answer.  The prime example is those that ask for prayer over healing, then when it comes, credit the good doctor and the good medicine he gave.  May I just ask you, who formed the mind that gave that doctor the good wisdom to offer you the good medicine and who truly made the contents of each and every pill?  Was it formed by anything that was not created by God? Hmm?  Don’t be double minded.  Be every so conscious that God is at work through many sources to answer every prayer.
God’s word teaches us that he inhabits the praises of His people (Psalms 22:3).  Can you see what satan has to gain if we stop giving God the glory, the praise, for the answer to prayers?  Can you see what he gains if we stop praying and taking our problems to God?  Wise up people! He is as active today as He was in the days of Job.  He still seeks to steal, kill and destroy.

So…please keep your good vibes, your happy thoughts, wishes, and “little” prayers.  I know you mean well, but I would prefer to have you sincere prayers to a God who hears, and answers.  And that is all I will offer you in return. 
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” – James 5:13-16