Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Lesser Than, Greater Than

This is a very "out there" kind of post, and it has little practicality as far as application and usefulness go, but with it comes the hope that some may see the Word of God in a slightly more enveloping light. And to make it all the more enveloping, i must try to describe time and matter.

Since atoms convert into energy, they must end (the second law of thermodynamics, also known as entropy states this). Energy runs out, new atoms do not spawn. The universe is running out of matter and energy, and has been since "the beginning." So with that said, matter could not have existed for eternity. It requires a moment in which it began. This moment is also the moment that time was brought forth. So we are left with the idea that there was no time, and at some point time will again cease to be. There is a moment in between which we call the universe. And without time, there would be no start-point. There is a great paradox in this universe and it is answered only by matter being introduced from somewhere else, a place without time, a place where "forever to forever" is now and yesterday and will be tomorrow without distinction.
Hopefully that made some bit of sense. This was something incredibly difficult to try and expound before reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, but has since only become clearer in mind, not in word (and the chapter, "Is Theology Poetry?" from The Weight of Glory played no small part in the exposition of this idea).
In other words, the realm of God is more substantial and more real than this existence because it existed before this universe was born and already exists after this universe has died out.
Not to say that this existence isn't real, only that the existence that will be is more real. If this life is indeed a vapor, then what comes next must be something greater, thicker, and more present; a fluid. And just as a mist is easily passed through and an ocean much less, so this life is less substantial than the life that will be. Both are real, one just happens to have much greater substance to it.

And we are now presented with the Bible, the Word of God. I will call it our Anchor for various reasons to be explained.

The Bible is, obviously, paper and ink and binding, sometimes electrons forming letters on a screen, depending on the medium you choose to read it from. But despite that, the ideas, concepts, stories, chroniclings, poems, and the like within Scripture are considered "God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16).
To take that as literal, to see the entirety of Scripture as being born of the thoughts of God, formed by His breath, we are then faced with the Anchorhood of the Bible.
God is eternal, without beginning and without ending. And though this paper that will decompose in its due time is the Bible, the substance of the Bible itself will not fade. It will not fade because it is from God, from a place that already exists tomorrow and existed before this universe was set in motion. The Bible, or at least the nourishment of it, is our Anchor to that place.
If it is from there, it is, in its message, preeminent of all things in this universe. It is our tie to God's existence. The stories were known and chronicled before time began, and set to paper only after these things took place. It is a drop of water in the vapor of our lives. It is a bit of substance in a fog. It is more real than this life because it is from another that surpasses it.

It may seem vague in its description of Heaven and the hosts therein, God, and the physical implications of anything Spiritual, but only because it would be as trying to describe a three-dimensional world in a two-dimensional one where the word "depth" has no meaning. We could draw a cube, a facsimile, but it is in fact still two-dimensional there. This is why Jesus didn't say exactly what Heaven is, but rather what it is like. This is why Jesus spoke in parables; we can't grasp the literalism (or literalness if we're going by the dictionary) of it because this is a step away, a dimension down, seeing through a mirror darkly. To word it in its entirety, He would've used terms that have no meaning here, perhaps made noises we could not understand--perhaps like that of those individuals so under the influence of the Holy Spirit that they cease to speak in earthly dialects. Could this be merely the spirit of the man meeting the Spirit of God and not being able to say or describe, to or through its mortal vehicle, what is going on, what is being said, or what is being exchanged?

The Bible is not just a collection of words; it is our Anchor to an existence that was and is and is to come because it was and is and is to come because it is from the One who was and is and is to come.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Water And Oil

This post is intended to ruffle feathers, to step on some toes. Maybe it'll hurt. Maybe not.

Sin is so comfortable . . .

We take sin lightly in today's culture. We think that, maybe if we just love these people a little better they'll turn to God, or maybe if we are more inviting to them they'll come into the fold. If we accept their sin, they'll be more apt to accept us or will be more open to consider our religion (yes, i am calling it religion at this point, and not in a glamorous light).
We're sinners, too. Keep that always in mind.

Christianity is a stated fact from God. The reality of it is Heaven and, just as real, Hell. The possibility of achieving righteousness is as far away from us as it was for Cain the moment He killed his brother out of jealousy. We are Cain. We are murderers and adulterers, according to Scripture, if we have hated our brother or lusted after a woman. Guys, let's not sugar-coat it, you're an adulterer, i'm an adulterer; you're a murderer, i'm a murderer, even if we've never so much as touched a woman or held a weapon. In pre-Christ times, a man guilty of physically committing either of those sins would probably be put to death or else castrated, yet Christ and John tell us there's no distinguishing features from the emotion and the committed act. This is because God knows that, if not for His law and man's law, if there were no repercussions, no accountability, no shame, mankind would kill and fornicate profusely (as many in this world do regardless), and therefore puts our hearts in such a stalemate that if we were without law or penalty of any sort, we still would not commit such acts.. He knows the heart's intent. And He judges by it.

But here we have the majority of the world denying or unknowing of Christ. But it's not a matter of belief in existence. It's a matter of believing who He is, and not only that but believing Him unto repentance (do Satan and those under his unholy dominion not also declare that He is, "Jesus, Son of the Most High God?"--belief in His existence and identity serve no good without taking up the charge to follow Him) As a fact, it has to be denied or accepted as it is, unaltered and unopposable, just like any other fact.

"We as believers should so back people into a corner with the word of our testimony that they have to say one of three things: Either you are a liar, you are completely out of your mind, or what you're saying is true. People shouldn't be able to say, 'Well, that's what you're into, but it's not really my thing--but no! It is either for everyone, or it is completely false. Christianity is not an opinion, it is the truth of the universe in which we live." *
When Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, the Bible says that when He saw the city, He wept over it.
This is not just some, "Oh, this makes me sad" kind of cry. This is weeping, this is a Brother clinging to His beloved sibling who is dying of lung cancer from smoking, saying, "If you had only listened!"
And here is where we are to step into Jesus' shoes and look at not just the state of the nation or the world, but the state of the Church, and say, weeping for them, "Listen while you still can!"
We take sin so lightly in today's Church that we don't condemn it, but rather invite it in as a part of the sinner (as opposed to being apart of the sinner). Sin is a catalyst for death, and Christ the catalyst for life, and these two go together like water and oil. And i know what you're thinking; under certain conditions, water and oil can mix. They did on the cross, and never will again.

Sin will lead nowhere but Hell, and it leads there as an interstate; straight and fast. And here, we are letting sin run rampant in our lives because we're too afraid of offending people. We put up with it from others, saying, "Well, I'm not contributing," but are we actually opposing?
Here's another analogy for it; picture your closest friend who is not a Christian, or else is a Christian in title but not in deed ("Sunday Christians"). It seems alright to leave well enough alone so long as they're not doing anything that will harm them, but go a little deeper into it with me. Sin leads to Hell; it leads to death. Picture them now holding a gun that they think is unloaded but actually has a bullet chambered. They're playing with it, taking it lightly, and they put it to their head. Do you stand idly by, saying, "Well, maybe it won't kill them"? Do you hope they pull it away before firing? Or do you do whatever it takes to stop them from splattering their gray matter across the sidewalk (perhaps a rough bit of imagery, but perhaps necessary).
This is a more real situation than if they had a real gun in their hand. This is the rest of eternity, not just the rest of a 65-70 year lifespan, a vapor.

If you're of the sort that says that we have authority over sin and we need to just keep praying for our country, i want to point out a few things real quick.
The first being that you're right, we do have authority over sin. We have authority to eat healthy, we have authority to abstain from sex, we have authority to pluck our eyes from our faces rather than to gaze upon something unholy or to cut off our hand if it causes us to sin. But how many actually exercise this authority? Faith . . . Action . . . Get the picture? They are married; they mandate other or they're pointless.
Another thing i want to mention is that suicide is at the highest rate in recorded history. Sex-related crimes such as rape and pedophilia and incest are also at all-time highs. Abortion, other forms of murder, alcoholism (in the form of drunkenness), recreational use of drugs; all these things are either at all-time highs or else on the rise. Your prayer life may be perfect, but if your faith (as married to and inseparable from action) life is complacent and careless, your prayers are nothing. There are even prayers that God sees as an abomination--but don't tell anyone in church that. It might offend them out of the pews. Better they offend God than for us to offend them, right?
The practicing of homosexuality is no longer seen as filthy and amoral, but is now celebrated as some sort of boldness.
Now look at these facts and tell me that we have authority over sin and that we just need to keep praying. We do have the authority, and we do need to keep praying, but until we exercise authority in our own lives and encourage it in the lives of those around us, there will never be a change--at least not one for the better.

I'm not claiming to be perfect, but i am claiming to be exercising authority over certain areas of my life that i have in the past given over to sin. I'm not acting as if my faith or prayer lives were perfect, but i am practicing them in the name of Jesus Christ, the Perfector** of our faith. I'm not saying i'm holy because, as said, we are impossibly distant from achieving righteousness, but i am saying i follow the only Righteous One.

In all this condemnation of flesh and sin, it is necessary to close this by mentioning that Jesus Christ died in your sin so you wouldn't have to die in it. He was resurrected on the third day by God, and the invitation to live in Christ's grace is available to you. All you have to do is ask, and then let Him work in you any way He will. It might hurt, it might require cessations of things you want to perpetuate, it might mean losing much of your life, but these things are not worth comparing to the glory of following Christ.
He is hope, peace, mercy, grace, and above all He is love.

* Mattie Montgomery, from his sermon, "The Blood Of The Lamb And The Word Of Their Testimony," February, 2012

** It is my opinion that perfector is a more logical spelling than the accepted form, perfecter

Friday, February 14, 2014

My God Is Mine, And I Am His

There are times where i've said things that have been rather legalistic, and have decided to try and hold less Levitical opinions, and to stagger trivial things as being less than absolute. I take it back. All of it.
And i pray God allows me to make this as least condemnational as possible because, as is taught more often than the wrongfulness of sin, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1)

If something is not wrong, that makes it right. Likewise, if something is not right, that makes it wrong.
What is not right is not good, what's not good is bad, and what's bad is, well, sick. If there is one time that something is neither good nor bad in the Bible, i have not found it. The Bible draws all things as absolutes, right or wrong, blessed or cursed, living or dead, righteous or sinner; there is no halfway right thing, there is no barely blessed person, no one is only kind of alive, and there is none righteous.
And it's about time there were some things set as absolute again.

Sin is sin is sin is sin.

Now, to put this a little step forward, the Ten Commandments.
How do we reconcile them to Romans 8:1?
Simple. Do not condemn. This includes yourself. Do not condemn yourself by breaking the Law of God.
Yes, we are set free from the law of sin and death. Yet at the same time, a mere two verses later, Paul says that "[God] condemned sin in the flesh."
We are set free from the law because it could not free us. If we are in Christ, we are not condemned because He freed us by being the catalyst through which God condemned the flesh.

Despite this freedom from the law and condemnation, i feel that seeing a Levitical stand would be an act through which the glory of God could shine all the more unhindered through a set apart people.

Moses asked the camp of the Israelites, "Who is on the Lord's side?" and it was the sons of Levi who gathered around him.
It was the tribe of Levi that said, in essence, "We will do anything the Lord asks of us, no matter the cost to us or those around us." This stand was against any and every institution of man and it was for God alone. Then, in the same chapter, it was Moses, another Levite, who said to God (paraphrasing), "These people have sinned against You, but I am asking for forgiveness on their behalf. And if they are still to perish, as the one You have designated to be their leader, I must die with them."
Levites were the first, as far as i can tell, to make intercession.

When taking a census of the nation of Israel, the tribe of Levi was overlooked, because these people were not to be counted, but to be kept apart. They were to stay at the Tabernacle, to set it up, take it down, to guard it; the Tabernacle had been given unto them, this place where the Spirit of God would come down and rest was under the watch of these men. Under their watch was the presence of the Lord.
The man that guards to Tomb of The Unknown Soldier; this tribe was comprised of men with that sort of zeal.

"Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle. The Levites shall be mine: I am the Lord." (Numbers 3:45)
God made a special claim to the people of Levi; He chose them as His own. What greater statement could be made of a people over God saying, "[They] shall be Mine: I am the Lord"? Through Christ, all nations come unto Him, and He calls us all His.

Here's a personal favorite of mine regarding them; "At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord to stand before the Lord to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day." (Deuteronomy 10:8)
The Lord set them apart. They were the firstfruits, the wave offering, the choice grain, however you want to put it, they were just that. The best of the crop were they, and God set them apart to carry the Ark of the Covenant. In other words, He chose them to carry His promise to mankind among the people of Israel. They were the ones who had been entrusted with the Law, the pre-destination of Christ, the future hope of grace and glory was on their shoulders as they marched, and God set them apart for this specific act. In our lives, if we are to be Levites, we must be so overwhelmingly fascinated by God as to completely succumb to His will such that He can call us carriers of His promise. They had wholly died to self in order to become vessels of God's purpose--just as we're to do as Christians.
Not only this, they were called to stand before the Lord and to minister to Him and to bless in His name. Just as angels ministered to Christ after He was tempted, Levites were called to minister to God, to proclaim His glory, to pray without ceasing, to constantly offer up praise of pleasing aroma. With the New Covenant, Christ, we are all called to minister to each other and to God, and to bless in Jesus' name.

"Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers. The Lord is his inheritance, as the Lord your God said to him." (Deuteronomy 10:9)
And here, Levi has no portion with the rest of God's people. Because God called them His, they would call Him theirs. If you want to be set apart, it requires a call, but it also requires an answer. The only answer to the call of Christ, as i believe it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who put it, "is an unconditional yes."
We can't say, "Well, God, we will carry the Ark so long as You have someone else relieve us sometimes. That thing is heavy, You know!"
No, this isn't a burdensome statement, this is freedom. God called them unto Himself, away from the material, and into sanctification. The liberties therein are boundless. Instead of worldly things that "moth and rust destroy," they were given something transcendental yet profound, and eternal. They were given the very presence of God.
This would be something to boast about for sure; to look at your neighbors and see them satisfied with their big houses, fancy clothes, and luxury cars, yet know in your heart of hearts that what you have will never be out of style, will not fade, can not be shaken or destroyed or taken from you, and will accompany you every day of your life, and being satisfied with it.
They were set upon things the other tribes could not see except through their lifestyle; the abundance of grace flowing to them and through them, the glory billowing from them like stacks in a furnace.

That is the Levitical order. That is God choosing His people, and choosing a people who would make Him theirs. That is resting in absolutes.

Christ offers this same prestigious honor to us all. He is calling, He is standing at the door, He is knocking.
God is looking for a Church set apart for Himself, of which He can say, "They are Mine." He's looking for a Church that will say, "God is ours at any cost."
And the first step towards seeing God's vision for His Church come to be is by saying, "Yes!" in your own life, and encouraging others to take that same step while interceding for them. The Church needs changed from the inside out, and this is how we do it; by letting God first change us from the inside out.
To quote Mahatma Gandhi, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world." And the same goes for the Church. To see a Church set apart, be set apart in the Church.

Never again will i strive to be less Levitical in my words or actions.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Cliché Jesus

There was an interesting image that came to mind earlier at work. It was like a very short scene played out in front of me, and it seems that it could make others think about their own personal idea of Christ.

There were two men before me, and there was a choice that had to be made; follow one, or follow the other.
The first one was the idea i all-too-often have of Christ: handsome face, chiseled jaw, groomed facial hair, you name it. His hair was immaculate, long and tangle-free, wavy and smooth. He was quite muscular, wearing a royal purple sash, a brilliant crown on his head, and he had thousands of followers in nice clothes, preachers and well-to-do people all rather urbanely dressed, and he told me that he was Christ. From his voice and manner, it seemed wasn't a decision for me to make, he simply was the Messiah, and he said it with authority.
The second man was really ragged looking. He was skinny, like a homeless man. His hands were cut up, scabbed, scarred, blistered and calloused, with split fingernails to top them off. His face was weak and feeble, covered mostly by a muddy and matted beard, His face had all manner of sun-damage and weariness. His clothes were torn and stained like a mechanic's favorite t-shirt, His hair was shaggy, and He somewhat ugly in the way that you'd walk around this person while purposefully avoiding eye-contact. His followers were few, but looked much like Him. He asked me who i believed He was.

I've actually thought of this quite a bit and always figured Jesus was of the more lowly type, but until this came to mind, it never struck me just how lowly.
He was a carpenter, which results in lots of cuts and scrapes, many callouses, splinters, and the like. Foxes (these are wild scavengers, mind you), have holes, but the King has no place for His head; He was homeless. When the disciples asked what there was for Him to eat, He said doing the will of His Father was His food. He walked from town to town, not always on a donkey. He was without money, and so most likely without clean water the majority of the time.
We glamorize Jesus, even when we attempt to portray Him as a "nobody" from that time--clean (or at least without tear) clothes, clean face, soft beard, flowing hair. These things were for those in the houses of royalty of that era, not workers, carpenters, wanderers.

The thing that hit me most about that little image was that the one stated He was Christ, the other asked who I said He was.
After all, it doesn't matter to the non-believer whether or not Jesus was the Christ; it matters to those who call Him the Son of God. It matters who I say He is. It matters who you say He is. He could walk around proclaiming to be the Christ all day long, and yet it wouldn't matter if nobody else said He was the Christ.
In the same way, we can proclaim to be Christians day in and day out, bumper stickers plastered on our cars, t-shirts with "edgy" Christian slogans or Bible verse, cross and fish jewelry adorning our necks and fingers, and it won't matter. It won't matter one bit.
If someone can't look at our lives and tell who we follow, are we actually following Him? Does His light really shine from us, or are we just perpetuating the Christianity Machine?

Here's a question i am asking, paraphrasing a question Christ presented His disciples, and i implore each and every one of you to ask it to a close friend, preferably a non-believing one; aside from my shouting, aside from my claims, aside from my apparel, who do you say that i follow?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Still Small Voice Pt. I

 Then He [God] said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13, NKJV)
 We often look so hard for God that we miss Him entirely.
 He can be in the earthquakes, He can be in the forest fires, He can be in the raging of the seas, the hurricanes or tidal waves. But sometimes, He wants us to look for Him. He knows we get bored if everything is spoon-fed to us, so He hides. He almost plays with us. And He does this so we don't lose interest in the pursuit.
 Yes, sometimes it would be easier if He would stand in front of us and say, "Hey, you, kiddo, I'm right here."
 But would that really be any better for us? Would the finding still be finding if there was no seeking? And even if so, isn't the seeking the part where we learn the most?
 You can learn more about a person by seeking them rather than having them tell everything to you.

 Shakespeare would've answered the question, "What are you like?" with something akin to (i won't even attempteth to imitate his style) "I'm a playwright and poet, namely of the iambic pentameter variety." Does that do him justice? Hardly.
"In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But 'tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who in despite of view is pleased to dote..."
 Measure the stressed syllables, hear the rhymes, count the steps; it's beautiful, and it flows with grace and rhythm and measure. Upon first hearing it, it might just seem lovely, but after seeking, an entirely new level of wonderment is revealed.
 God is kind of like that, too. And He knows it. He knows we'll find out more about Him if He sets us into His Word if He puts us in a place where we need to open the Bible and pray than if He appeared before us and said, "I'm God, follow Me this way."
 He wants your attention, but He wants to be sought, so there's a whisper instead of a shout, a glimmer instead of a flash.

 This is incredibly off-track from the original intent.

Still Small Voice Pt. II

 Then He [God] said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11-13, NKJV)
 Convictions are not just a series of don't-do-thats in our heart. They are also a series a do-thats. We often overlook that, thinking God only tells us what not to do According to John 12:49-50 (and various other places in the Gospel accounts), Christ only spoke what the Father told Him to speak, and so He tell us, "Go." That's not a "thou-shalt-not," but rather a "thou-shalt." And Jesus didn't often flat-out tell people, "You're sinning, stop that." He asked questions.
 You want to stir up someone's heart to do right, then ask them about it, don't just say they're in the wrong. If a Christian is being obscene, ask them how they feel about it, how God would feel about it (remember the all-too-cliché, WWJD bracelets?). Ask them what God has called them to, and then ask them if that behavior fits their calling. Even when His parents found Him in the temple, He asked them two things; why they were looking for Him, and whether or not they knew He would be about His Father's business. Asking is as good, if not better than telling.

 We only notice our convictions if they're loud, but we must listen for the whisper He puts in our soul. These are often the most important. The loud ones are the do-nots, such as not stealing something, not hurting someone, and the like. The ones everyone knows.
 The small ones are those He's wanting us to hear so that we can learn what He's like inside ourselves. These small ones are the dos. They make us miss stride for a step or two. Ever felt the inexplicable urge to offer someone a few cents when they're short on change? That's probably Him convicting you. Ever seen someone upset and had a compulsion to ask what's wrong? That could be Him as well. The ones compelling us to love, even in small gestures, instead of to merely not sin; these are the convictions of the intimate, loving heart of God working inside of us.

 To be good, as we see in Luke 18 (i think . . . The rich young man part), is not simply not doing bad things; he had kept all the commandments, mostly a series of donts, from childhood. To be good (only God is good; to exercise His heart and, therefore, His goodness), he had to do. He had to sell everything and give it to the poor. But he instead settled with going back to the donts because the dos are sometimes a whole lot harder. But his conviction was loud--it was standing in front of him. Christ, telling him, essentially, "Do an act of love."
 He didn't get the adventurous, beautiful pursuit of God's heart from that gentle tugging at him that the rest of us get. He, apparently a follower of Judaism because he kept the Torah, and also a believer in Christ since he called Him "Good Teacher," knowing full-well that God alone is good, got what so many of us say we need in order to do God's will; a physical manifestation of God standing in front of us, saying what we must do. And even so, he still went away sad because he said no.
 Convictions, more than not doing what is wrong, encourage us to do what is good, what is the will of the Father.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

All Or Nothing

 God is a complete God. He does nothing part-way, and expects nothing left unfinished by us, either.
Now, when i say that He is a "complete" God, that is taking into account the partial sentence in Genesis 3:22 (unless you read from certain translations such as the NIV). That's a topic for another day, lest i digress. But even that is resolved by His next action.

 It would be easy to get far more in-depth than i'm planning with this, and so will refrain, using few examples.

 Joshua 6 contains my first example; the fall of Jericho. God gives rather strange, albeit specific directions for the Israelites to follow, which includes a week of marching around a city. It wasn't until they had fulfilled all the commands that the walls finally fell. It wasn't until everything God commanded had been fully completed.
And this presents the question of why they had to march instead of God just destroying the stronghold outright. It's a matter of discovering one's level of faith.
And a further question could arise; "If God knows all things, He knows how much faith we have, so He doesn't have to test us." And that's true. He does know how much faith we have. We don't. Job's story is one not of God discovering Job's faith in God, but Job discovering his own faith in God, as well as God's confidence in His faithful ones.
Digressing again.

 The next i'd like to bring up is Abraham and Isaac's encounter at Moriah in Genesis 22.
"After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' He said, 'Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.'"
 Abraham gets the trying directive to go to a place that isn't shown to him at the time of his departure. This isn't the first time, either; in Genesis 12:1, he's told to go to a land that God would show him. That in itself begs more faith than many would be capable of displaying.
But in this, he's told to take his only son (to address the elder brother, Ishmael, born to Hagar, would be another digression), whom he loved, and offer him as a burnt offering. This required Isaac to be tied and placed on a pile of branches, his throat slit, and then burned.
Isaac asked where the lamb was for the offering. How it must have grieved Abraham to tell him that Lord would provide it. Like pouring salt on a wound, or twisting a knife.
He bound Isaac and laid him on the altar, the wood for which Isaac carried himself. Abraham was a hundred years old at Isaac's birth. It's unlikely that Abraham could have tied him up had he resisted, without consent.
And Abraham even gets as far as holding the blade to his son before the angel stops him.
It wasn't enough to just say, "Okay, God, you're most important to me." It took a days-long venture with his son to go and sacrifice his son, all the way unto putting the knife to his son's throat.
There was no doubt in God's mind, no doubt in Abraham's at this point, that God was first in his life.

 There are many other references that could be made on this topic, but those are the only two i have the time (or energy) to read up on and type.
Here's the thing, however; He asks us to do things as completely as He does. He wants utter submission to His commands. He wants us to be limitless on what we'd do in order to serve Him.
We often get into the mindset of, "If I just set myself up to do something, He'll bless me like I did it completely," but that's not how it works. If He asks you to give something up, be it a specific behavior, friends, family, a job, dreams, anything, He means for you to do so without thinking of how to get around it. He is intending to bless you however He intends; the grace part is giving you the chance and conviction to give up something for Him, to act recklessly for Him, to lose everything for Him. That is a grace in itself. Cherish it. Everything you have gained should be counted as loss for His sake. Our glory comes from what He asks of us, the sacrifices He calls us to make; not by our means, but by His grace.

 I'm sure, at times, we'll say, "God, what on earth are You thinking?" And His answer will probably be silence. The more you ask that, the more silent He may seem to be. But that's perhaps good. The more reason for doubt there is in something that we persevere through, the more wondrous the glory we see.

 There are no partials in Christ. There is all in Christ, or not in Christ. He loves entirely, wants to be loved entirely. Better to be hot or cold than lukewarm.
Surely, the greatest case against a belief in God's grace is seeing someone living the same after meeting Him as before. Someone who is one way in church and another outside of it; this is the greatest representation of why someone should not believe their testimony.
He wants living sacrifices of our human nature to be fully engulfed in the flame on the altar so that there is nothing left of it. He wants everything we are to die there, so that everything He is can live where it was.
The opportunity -and calling- to lay myself down in such a way is the greatest grace i can imagine Him asking of me.
For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Friction of Faith and Fear

“Jesus didn’t warn us of prophets. He warned of false prophets. He didn’t warn of signs and wonders. He warned of false signs and wonders. Knowing the real helps us to recognize the false. For this reason those with little to no fire think all fire is strange fire.”
 Bill Johnson is credited with that quote.
Take a moment to let that last sentence really sink in. "...those with little to no fire think all fire is strange fire." Many Christians have given themselves over to submission that makes them comfortable. Hands are raised, tears are shed, praises sung, prayers whispered, and these are some of the most beautiful things. We should never give these up. Every Sunday, there are people with wet eyes, dabbing their cheeks with tissues, and it makes my heart swell knowing that they're experiencing God in such a profound way. At times i envy them, and other times have found me with the same fogginess of vision.
But still, even with this, we (i at the very least) cling to our inhibitions.

 When i was younger (does that make me sound too old?), people would dance in the aisles. Not choreographed movements, but undignified, carefree dancing. Foolish dancing. And it egged others on. This is rare to see anymore, it seems. Now we're content to stand at our seat.
It was once a common occurrence to hear someone speaking in tongues. Not to themselves, but shouting, for all the congregation to hear, and nearly as often someone else give translation. There's much to be said on the gift of tongues, such that it could fill volumes, so this will be as in-depth as this post gets on the matter.
Healing took place not just in mega-churches where thousands attended and factors of that viewed on television, nor was it confined to revivals the masses flocked to. Many churches, varying in size, attendance, and denomination, nurtured witnesses of miraculous touches from God.
There was prophecy, genuine divine perspective; insight of not only modern application of the Word of God, but also of God Himself as He is, not just as He was two-thousand years ago (this may seem like a statement against Sola Scriptura, but i do believe the Holy Bible to be the complete and living Word of God).

 These things were not uncommon, but rather typical. And that wasn't but a mere decade ago.
Because "those with little to no fire think all fire is strange fire."
To a non-believer, or even to a new believer, these things may seem frightening, mystical even, or it might just weird them out to the point they want no part of it. However, the passion of new Christians almost invariably exceeds that of "seasoned" Christians. A new Christian, from what i have witnessed, sees their conversion to be a miracle as massive as moving a mountain. It's we, those who grew up with our faith, who have become "comfortable" with it and, therefore, see the newly reborn as a strange fire.

 We (again, i at the very least) hold back. We fear . . . Something.
Embarrassment? David danced naked in the street.
Lack of education? "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus." (Acts 4:13) (Note that they "recognized that they had been with Jesus")
No authority? Jeremiah was told not to say that he was improper to speak due to being young.
Poor ability to speak/act with that kind of attention? A man with a slow tongue was told to have congress with Pharaoh, ruler of the largest and most powerful nation in the world at the time, who was seen also as an embodiment of a god. Not just that, but he was told to make demands. And to lead an entire nation out of Egypt.
Perhaps that we can't succeed? Adam and Eve were told to fill the earth. Two people, given the task of populating an entire planet. And here we are.

 Our/my excuses are frail. Surely, we must remain willfully blind to hold onto that fear.

 Personally, i believe Jesus Christ was being quite literal when He said, "Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him." (Mark 11:23)
I don't have to tell a geographical station to become mobile to know the ends of my faith. I trust God for the small things, and it's a hard thing to admit that the monumental things are another story.
I've never told a mountain to jump into the sea because i'm afraid that it won't happen. And it's not so much that i doubt God's power, but rather that i doubt that He would use me.
Minute or massive, the scale has no matter to God; to trust Him to grant me safe journey to work in the morning takes no more faith than to trust Him to move, say, Denali . . . It's somehow easier to believe one over the other.
And surely, i must remain willfully blind, because to the One that simply spoke the universe into being, Whose power is still left largely unfathomed, surely stopping the sun from setting would be no harder than causing a drizzle of rain.

But the fire is not quenched.
It will never be quenched, not even when the whole of creation has reached its fullness. The Holy Spirit is an All-Consuming Fire. He does nothing partially. He will not be put out, will not be satisfied. He is restless. He is fervent, wild, and savage. And the more a fire burns, the bigger, the hotter, the wilder, the more dangerous it becomes.
And while those with little to no fire think all fire is strange fire, they will know also that He is an All-Consuming One.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Redeeming The World...

 This is a post i've been often inclined to write, but have just as often refrained. And i'm writing it now because i feel this is a needed thing, not necessarily for others to read, but for me to be reminded.
I recently read a quote by Albert Einstein that went as follows:

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.”
 Yes, that is about women, but regardless, it makes an asexual point.
An author named Leslie Ludy wrote in a book called "When God Writes Your Love Story," (sappy title, great book) that she and her husband authored,
"If God is preparing you to make an impact on this world for His kingdom, chances are He will take you through a season of solitude. This is a season when you learn that you can't lean upon anyone but Him for your confidence and when you gain the strength to stand alone even when no one else stands with you."
 This statement is similar in nature; when we stand apart, we live apart, we live differently, we don't have typical, sociological conformities that we so commonly seek. We, by association (or rather, lack thereof), become something wholly different.
This is not a call to absolute social avoidance, nor to forsake fellowship with other believers. Those two things are of much importance. But this is a statement of forsaking worldly things.

 Within the walls of a "church building," there should be no worldly things. None. There should be absolution, white and black, nothing more, nothing less.
What ever gave the Church the idea that murky water is not only acceptable, but good?
There should be no distinguishing features between us and the world? Lies!
"Innocent enough" is the most dangerous term ever conceived by the dark lord of Hell himself (also known as "The Adversary"), and we have let this into our lives.
Santa Claus is "innocent enough." The Easter Bunny is "innocent enough." What doesn't hurt us can't truly be that bad for us, right?

 My stance has always been that those things had no place in the church, but i see that idea was dangerous, though true in entirety. The church is a building, nothing more. An adult entertainment store can be moved into a vacant building that was once a church; a church can be in the same building that a liquor store once inhabited. It's just a building, a hollow shell that means nothing.
The Temple was destroyed, and three days later He built the Temple inside of us! The veil was torn; the Holy of Holies is within your heart; the place where even the high priest was to enter only once a year due to the unadulterated presence of God. And we somehow forget this, thinking instead that we must be more holy in the building that will eventually crumble and fall.
So again i say but with a more individualistic scope, these things have no place in the Temple of the Lord. They have no place in me.

"Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways."
 That's Psalm 119:37.
"I will not set before my eyes
anything that is worthless.
I hate the work of those who fall away;
it shall not cling to me."
 That's Psalm 101:3.

 These are not things "innocent enough," but rather "worthless." This is anything without worth. Anything not of God, we are to turn our eyes from, and there's no footnote saying "within the building called church."
A preacher named Mattie Montgomery said something along the lines of, "There are three kinds of food; things that are bad for us, things that have no nutritional merit, and things that are good for us. The difference between people is this; the non-believer will eat the things bad for their spirit, the Christian will eat things that are neither good or bad, and the set apart follower of Christ will eat only the things good the their spirit."

 It's no coincidence i'm posting this on February 2nd, 2014; the Superbowl is airing. And churches around the nation are "redeeming" this event.*
So have your fill, hollow buildings full of Christians, of sports (need i mention that any outspoken Christian athlete will be mocked?). Have your fill of scantily-clad women thrusting their chests and pelvic regions. Have your fill of these things so ardently of the world. And redeem them unto yourselves.
Don't forget to redeem yourselves to God, though.

 As part of the Church, the congregation of Christ that has no architectural limits, i am ashamed to say that i sometimes waste time on worthless ventures. But look for me on a stage speaking of their merits and you're exercising futility. Look for me forsaking time for fellowship to speak of them, and you will look in vain. Ask me to give any immeritous (i realize the accepted spelling is immeritus, but immeritous seems the more proper) thing up, and i will gladly.

 A lovely worship band called My Epic has a song that mentions that Christ took on our form and died with it, and that the only thing God didn't resurrect with Him was our shame.
Many of us, as the Church, have learned to justify anything because Christ justified the everything that we are. But what wasn't resurrected with Christ was the shame that He bore for us. This does not justify anything of the world; it sets a dividing line (or a sword, if you will, as Jesus said He came to bring) between the world and what our interest should be set upon.
Worldly things or Godly things.
Bad things or good things.
Worthless things or worthy things.
There is a sharp contrast, and no gray.

 We can claim to justify things for the sake of drawing people in to hear the Gospel, but as much as the Gospel is coming into their lives through things like Halloween events and Superbowl broadcasts, we're inviting worldly things into the church building, and the more these worthless things are there, the more comfortable we become with them in the Temple of God--the more comfortable we become with them in us.

 *I'm not opposed to football or pro sports or anything like that. I find them a waste of time, yes, but i do have issues with trying to justify them as good or even not worthless, and i have issues with Christians glorifying them or inviting them into a "House of Prayer." It's either a House of Prayer or it's not, it doesn't work both ways.