Monday, March 31, 2014

GOD'S HUMANITY (A LESSON ON PERSEVERANCE)

The best way I can put into words what I am feeling and thinking right now is - I am grateful for the humanity of God.  Scripture says in John 4:24 that - God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. However, Father God has manifested Himself through His Word via a Burning Bush to Moses and pillars of cloud/fire to a future nation.  He sent His Word in flesh and we named Him Jesus or Yeshua. Then later when Jesus ascended back to His Father, the Holy Spirit was sent to dwell within believers for comfort and to lead them into all truth.  Although I am impressed with all the times God graciously chose to awe us with a manifestation of His presence, I am particularly drawn to and thankful for the human expression of God - Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Jesus is Son of God (Divine Title) and Son of Man (Human Title).  I see both of these sides of His life or titles to His personage being played out in His journey as I read The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  Jesus as Son of God told groups of people as well as individuals at different times in His ministry that He was the Messiah, the one that was foretold as the Christ to come. In John 8:28 the passage is a generic reading of what is to come.  Jesus claimed many times to be the Messiah, the one the Jews were looking for and a pretty straight forward example is found in Luke 22:70.  In John 4:25-26 and John 11:25 Jesus makes the claim on an individual level.  John 6:51 requires the knowledge of some history and the Priests and teachers of the law would be good candidates for knowing that history.  These religious men of that day would know exactly who Jesus was claiming to be.

Jesus also prophesied about every little detail concerning His immediate future - His betrayal, death, burial, and resurrection.  In Matthew 20:18 Jesus predicted the people who would condemn the Son of Man - the chief priests and teachers of the law. In Matt. 17:22 He foresaw the Son of Man's betrayal.  In Matt. 17:12 the Son of God forecasted the Son of Man's or His own suffering.  In Matt. 26:2 the Son of God foretold what kind of death the Son of Man would experience - crucifixion.  In Matt. 12:40 the Son of God accurately declared how many days the Son of Man would be in the grave.  In Matt. 17:9 Jesus, being one and the same - Son of God and Son of Man - prophesied His resurrection!

However, with all this knowledge of Himself as the Son of God and prophetic declarations of His mission - Jesus still had a powerful human experience called - The Garden of Gethsemane.  All these wonderful evidences within Christ's own life stood as unshakable testimony of who Jesus knew He was and what His purpose was in life, BUT He still was human.  Thank Father God that He allowed Jesus to endure the whole human experience including a possible redirection or rejection of His own mission (Mark 14:32-42).
  • They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them."Stay here and keep watch."  Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. "Abba", Father," he said, "everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."
  • Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.
  • Returning the third time,
Then again on The Cross, in that moment when Father God looked away from His only Son and the sins of the world - past, present, and future - were judged on the His body, the Son of Man and the Son of God cried out - ""Eloi, Eloi," "lama" "sabachthani?""--which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46)

Suffering and pain were in the plan for Jesus on our behalf.  Back in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said He could have called on more than twelve legions of angels to help Him, but He didn't because He knew that would interfere with Father God's plan (Matthew 26:53).
  • "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" 
Speaking of angels, still within the Garden scene Jesus experienced so much anguish that an angel was sent to strengthen Him so that He might endure more.
  • He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. - Luke 22:41-44
The Word of God embodied as Jesus, God's Son made flesh - the Son of Man - knew He was sent.
  • Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me."
Some people do not know their purpose in Christ yet.  For those who know what your God-given purpose/calling is in life - I encourage you - Christ has paid for the strength to go on.  Jesus has paid for that sense of abandonment and everything else that comes with the challenges in serving The Mighty God in a fallen world.  Christ promised life for the Believer would not be a bed of roses, but that He would be beside them all the way home.  And when you are in that questioning period of your life, your Garden of Gethsemane, remember to recall what is God's will in your life, read His Word, pray, speak to trusted believing friends and persevere.

Prayer:  Thank you God, for coming as your creation, a human, and loving us so much as to endure all and persevere.  I thank you Lord Jesus that I can lean on you with all my weight when I need to keep going.  In your name I pray Jesus, Amen.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

WAKE UP, GET UP, COME FORTH

When I was younger and living with my parents growing up there were different ways I would be awakened to get each day started.  Some days mom might come in my room and give me a kiss and gently stir me and say, "Chad, it is time to get up."  Other times she would whistle a tune or sing a song as a kind of walking human alarm clock that we could not get to.  My brother and I had to get up to calm her singing down a little.

However, there was one way that my mom, dad, and grandma (dad's mom lived with us) woke me up that I wanted to focus on here.  They would come to the door of my bedroom and as I was in "Deep Six" sleep or sound sleep, they would call my name out into the room - "Chad".  Their voice was not too loud or harsh, it just filled the room and commanded my consciousness to alertness.  Sometimes I just opened my eyes to prove to them I was awake. Sometimes I kept my eyes shut and responded, "Yes, I'm awake."  Other times I would go ahead, stir and get up.  Of course this last response is what they were really pursuing because after they called my name they would say something like - "Time to get up."

The Holy Spirit downloaded to me this morning that Jesus did the same thing with Lazarus (my second favorite story of the Bible).  This time "sleep" meant death for Jesus' friend.  But all Jesus had to do to wake him from death's grip and marry his friend's soul back to his body was call his name - "Lazarus!"

The second thing Jesus said to Lazarus was a coming out phrase (ha ha).  It was a phrase that demanded respect and obedience because Lazarus had just woken up from death.  It was a two word command that gave Lazarus his marching orders now that he was alive.  Jesus said, "Come Forth!"

This event between Jesus and Lazarus reminds me of the imagery we find in Ezekiel's Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14). Lazarus' body would be equated to the bodies that already had bones together, tendons and flesh upon them, and skin covering them, but no breath in them.  Jesus calling out his friend's name "Lazarus!" would be like the part of Ezekiel's experience where -

  • Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' "So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet--a vast army.
"Come Forth!" not only meant for Lazarus to physically get up and walk to the entrance of his tomb, but I believe as mentioned above it was a calling to go forth and continue life, that his marching orders were still active.  Sometimes friends of God might get so distracted and depressed by the obstacles in life that we can become dead to God or non-useful.  But praise Father God, He sent The Grave Robber!  Ezekiel justifies this by saying,
  • Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.
I can hear myself complaining within this passage as well - "Me?  I am through.  I am worthless and all dried up.  I am useless.  I have nothing to contribute."  Do you have a spiritual life with the Lord of Life - Christ Jesus?  Are you entertaining habits or hangups that are making you spiritually sleepy or worse spiritually dead?  If the Lord went above and beyond the extra mile for Lazarus, how much more will He reach into our deathly attitude or situation.  He resurrects us by calling our Name and then says, "I Am the Sovereign LORD, I am opening your grave and bringing you up from it; I am bringing you back.......Come Forth!"



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

OFF MY BEATEN PATH - The Oklahoma Panhandle

The "Neutral Strip"

When Texas sought to enter the Union in 1845 as a slave state, federal law in the United States, based on the Missouri Compromise, prohibited slavery North of 36°30' parallel north. Under the Compromise of 1850, Texas surrendered its lands north of 36°30' latitude. The 170-mile strip of land, a "neutral strip", was left with no state or territorial ownership from 1850 until 1890. It was officially called the "Public Land Strip" and was commonly referred to as "No Man's Land."[5][6]

The Compromise of 1850 also established the eastern boundary of New Mexico Territory at the 103rd meridian, thus setting the western boundary of the strip. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 set the southern border of Kansas Territory as the 37th parallel. This became the northern boundary of No Man's Land. When Kansas joined the Union in 1861, the western part of Kansas Territory was assigned to Colorado Territory, but did not change the boundary.[6]

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oklahoma_Panhandle

Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/45/Okterritory.png

After the Civil War, cattlemen moved into the area.

In 1886, Interior Secretary L. Q. C. Lamar, declared the area to be public domain and subject to "squatter's rights".[8]

The strip was not yet surveyed, and as that was one of the requirements of the Homestead Act of 1862, the land could not be officially settled. Settlers by the thousands flooded in to assert their "squatter's rights" anyway. They surveyed their own land and by September 1886 had organized a self-governing and self-policing jurisdiction, which they named the Cimarron Territory.
 
The elected council met as planned, elected Owen G. Chase as president, and named a full cabinet.

After the meeting in March, Owen G. Chase went to Washington, D.C. to lobby for admission to Congress as the delegate from the new territory. He was not recognized by Congress.[10] A group disputing the Chase organization met, and elected and sent its own delegate to Washington.[11] A bill was introduced to accept Chase but was never brought to a vote. Neither delegation was able to persuade Congress to accept the new territory.[12] Another delegation went in 1888 but did no better.[10]

The passage of the Organic Act in 1890 assigned No Man's Land to the new Oklahoma Territory, and ended the short-lived Cimarron Territory aspirations.[10]

On November 16, 1907, Oklahoma was established as the 46th state in the Union [with the panhandle now officially being part of somebody's land - Oklahoma.].

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oklahoma_Panhandle

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

GRACIOUSNESS

It is my desire that Hebrews 12:15 is fulfilled to the best of my ability (teaching at least) - 
  • See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. - Hebrews 12:15
When I bless my wife Tanya with a Happy (unexpected, undeserved gift) the both of us benefit. I benefit because, coming from an unconditional angle, I experience her elation at the surprise gift. She benefits from the gift itself and my caring enough to bless her with a Happy.  My premise for giving was I love her and my result was the joy that flooded her soul.

God has given us the ultimate Happy. The Scriptures call it and Him - Grace.  Max Lucado challenges us to get a grasp on what God's Grace really means by saying, "We talk as though we know what grace means. Grace! The bank gives us a grace period. The seedy politician falls from grace. Musicians speak of a grace note. We use the word for hospitals, baby girls, kings and pre-meal prayers." (Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine, Max Lucado)

Grace means favor and unmerited or undeserved favor at that! In God's case, grace meant displaying that favor in the form of The Hero of all-time - Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world! All the world is saved, we just have to activate our status as redeemed/saved "through faith" in who God has already provided as His love-gift, Jesus, our unmerited, undeserved favor.
  • For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- Ephesians 2:8
I could try to give Tanya all the Happys in this world to suffice my love for her and assure her that I love her, but even though she is married to me, all those Happys would not begin to compare to the sufficiency of God's unmerited favor toward her.
  • But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." - 2 Corinthians 12:9
Even in Tanya's weakness she could boast about the favor, the grace of the Lord in her life. That kind of boasting is extremely limited in my relationship with her. Don't get me wrong, I am supportive, biased, and favor my wife with extreme prejudice, BUT GOD's Grace/Favor in her life is greater!

When Tanya or any of us are in a "time of need", The Manual of Life, The Bible, says that you can find your help by being confident and approaching the throne of grace where God already knows that you need to "receive mercy and find grace [favor]".
  • Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. - Hebrews 4:16
If you are in the process of experiencing and understanding His Grace, needing more of His favor especially at this moment in your life then I encourage you to approach God in prayer.  The Scripture admonishes us not to approach the LORD empty-handed (Exodus 23:15; 34:20; Deuteronomy 16:16).  So, approach His throne in prayer with a sacrifice of praise and thank Him for His grace(s) or favor seen and unseen, past and present.  Then seek His favor for your help in your time of need.  Even though He first loved us with His Amazing Grace before we knew and loved Him, Be gracious to God about His Grace and watch Him honor you with Favor!

Monday, March 24, 2014

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?

I am reminded that when we, as Christians, witness to unbelievers, although it is helpful to have a knowledge-base like a doctorate in Theology or a degree in Christian History, we don't have to have these in order to share Christ and/or our personal testimony with others.  The Twelve Disciples and early Christians did not have formal classes to attend and learn the material needed to successfully win friends and influence people to the point of conversion for Christ.  What they did have was life as their task master and the Holy Spirit of Christ as their Comforter and Leader into all truth.

I can only imagine the cultural and societal response to such a one-minded belief - that this Jesus of Nazareth was not only the Savior of the Jews, but Savior of the world and only through faith in Him, His sacrifice and resurrection can all humanity be reconciled to God.

"...the fact that the Christian faith was so new and so different from the pagan religions of the Roman Empire, many people were skeptical of Christianity and didn’t understand its message. In fact, they were even afraid of Christians. They had many questions about what Christians really believed, and rumors about them abounded." (Rick Renner)

It is in the middle of this firmly rooted polytheistic, pagan culture and society that Paul lives out his faith, writes to the churches, and teaches us how to live the Christ-like life - by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  It is also in the middle of this time when the Holy Spirit says through Peter (1 Peter 3:15) -
  • But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,
Peter's audience for this verse was not the unbeliever and it was not theologians. The verse was for the believer ("To God's elect..." - 1 Peter 1:1) and probably those new to the faith since Peter was giving much instruction in this letter.  There is great encouragement here to be prepared to speak on behalf of your faith by the life-trials you have experienced and your relationship with God.

"You do not have to be a theologian to tell someone why you love Jesus and what He has done in your life. But it would be wise for you to ponder in advance what you would say if someone asked you about it." (Rick Renner)

How can you be prepared to give an answer for the hope that you have if Christ is not set apart as Lord in your heart first?  There is a reason that Peter mentions sanctification first or cherishing The Lord in your heart above ALL other relationships.  It is only after a full realization of this truth in our lives, knowing Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, that we can proceed to the next sentence or step. 

To "Always be prepared to give an answer" means not only to have a succinct Testimony, but it also means to try and be caught up on current news, cultural, and societal information, SO THAT when asked about whatever "it" is from a Christian point of view, we will be ready - at a moments notice or "always" to respond. 

Last, but certainly not least is the manner in which Christians should respond - "with gentleness and respect". Showing these toward others in any situation, apart from being a Christian, is a wonderful way to make friends and influence people.  Just imagine the impact if Christians would implement this "gentleness and respect" more in their answers to the world.

How about you? Are you ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you about your faith? How prepared would you say you are to give an answer to every person who asks a reason for the hope that is in you?

To be more specific, if you found yourself sitting next to a non-Christian who asked you about what you believe, why you believe it, and how your faith affects your life, could you answer those questions promptly?

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you aren’t adequate to answer such questions because you haven’t been to seminary or Bible school. I remind you again that when Peter wrote this verse, there were no seminaries or Bible schools or graduates with diplomas. All there was at that time were simple, everyday Christians who went to work every day, raised families every day, and conducted business every day. And in the process of it all, they were constantly rubbing elbows with non-Christians from every walk of life, every class of society, and every ethnic group, who would ask them: “What is your faith all about?” “Why do you believe what you believe?” “Give me a reason for the hope you have!” (Rick Renner)

Christians, like Peter, I encourage you - If you cherish your relationship with Christ, in your heart, above all others, then always have in the forefront of your mind and on the tip of your tongue a gentle and respectful reason for the hope that you have through Christ Jesus for any opportunity that may present itself to share Him and His Good News. [Pritchard Paraphrase of 1 Peter 3:15]


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

THE PENALTY BOX

My Christian Hockey Analogy:

All of us on the ice begin with the inclination of disobeying the rules and cheating the system.  Most of us don't even care about The Game we just want to skate around doing our own thing whether it hurts other players/people on the ice or not.  The Good News is we have all been saved from eternity in the Penalty Box!  Our actions on the ice deserve the Penalty Box forever, but there is a Skater that has played The Game perfectly and allowed the underhandedness of the system/game to place Him in the Penalty Box.

This Skater overcame all the penalties and came out of the Penalty Box by the 3rd Period proving His right-standing, victory, and grace for all who lace'm up and skate. I say it like this because some people lace-up but they do not skate.  Some people just do the minimum and accept Christ as their Savior (lace-up), but then do not exercise their faith (skate) so that they grow and mature in The Spirit.

The gift this Skater (Jesus) has given to the skating world is awesome.  However, just because the Penalty Box has been avoided does not mean our actions on the ice should continue as normal.  No!  We should do our best to protect ourselves while on the ice, but learn to forgive the high-sticking, tripping, and hard collisions into the wall during our skating.

(and I am not even a hockey fan)......;)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A LESSON OF LIFE

A week ago today, February 25, 2014, at 5:15 a.m. I lost my mother-n-law.......for a while.  She did pass away, but because of Christ's victory over death, hell, and the grave - and His promise of seeing her again (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) I have Hope.

Audrey's life and her passing have reinforced in a gigantic way in my journey what life is all about - relationships.

There are certain relationships I can only begin to tell you how deeply meaningful they are to me.  Every time I am around these certain individuals like my wife, my mom, my dad, my brother, and a handful of friends - I can feel the tightness of joy around my heart until it is released by a joke, hug, or shared experience. Through Audrey's life and passing I have been challenged to value even more these relationships and any that might develop into these kind.

However, there is a relationship, I can hear Audrey instructing, that needs continual cultivating - a relationship with Christ Jesus, The Creator, The Word of God. There is not an area in our life that does not benefit from maturing in a relationship with Christ Jesus. I have learned this AND that although Christians are promised the joy of reuniting with their loved ones, that is NOT the purpose for which Christ came to earth.  He came for you and me.

So, as the wonderful words were being spoken at Audrey's service, I also heard the voice of the Holy Spirit saying, "True, Chad, you will see her again.  But I came, died, and rose again so you could have eternity with me first.  Your loved ones are an added benefit because I am that gracious. I love you so much I made the way for you to be with me forever."

Relationships - value them and develop them into the cherished possession that you CAN TAKE to Heaven. The kind of possession that "moth and rust" cannot destroy (Matthew 6:19). The Relationship (you and Christ) - cultivate it always to keep an appreciation for Christ's sacrifice and excitement about the Hope He brings.

Monday, March 3, 2014

THE AROMA OF CHRIST

2 Corinthians 2:15
For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

2 Corinthians 2:15 is the only place in Scripture that identifies Believers as "the aroma of Christ".  In fact, that is the only place the word aroma is found in the New Testament.  For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  However, the word aroma is very plentiful in the Old Testament (Exodus 29:18, 25, 41; Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17, 2:2, 9, 12, 3:5, 16, 4:31, 6:15, 21, 8:28, 17:6, 23:13, 18; Numbers 15:3, 7, 10, 13, 14, 24 - not exhaustive).

In the Old Testament, aroma is linked with a phrase/sentence that is found repeated many times concerning the Jewish sacrifices - "It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD." There are particular foods, animals, and animal parts that were required for different "offerings". However, no matter what the "offering" was - a drink, piece of fat, animal part, or the whole animal, it was burned and the aroma was the end result that God was after.

In Genesis 8:21 God speaks about His wrath, specifically His wrath against the earth and all living creatures, by stating that He will never harm it in totality again, "even though every inclination of his [man's] heart is evil from childhood". In fact, God goes the extra step and places His wrath on the sacrifices of animals in the Old Testament (many times - year after year) and on His only begotten Son, Jesus, in the New Testament (once and for all).

If God was as concerned about the aroma of animals, for whatever the need, and the aroma of Christ's ultimate sacrifice, don't you think the aroma of the Christian (and I'm not talking body odor) should be that much more pleasing now-a-days?  I can only imagine some of my own offerings or sacrifices of praise probably have fallen short at times.  But if I properly (1) prepare, (2) burn, and (3) wave my offering to God, I believe He will look favorably upon the aroma of my offering.

In preparation, before entering that time of offering my heart and mind need to get in line to form the correct attitude. Before going into any situation be it a time of worship or a challenging situation, a Godly mind-set, heart-set, and attitude - from being in His Word - is a great start.

Second, in the actual offering or burning, even though the Holy Spirit lives within me, I invite Him to do a greater work, a transforming work and allow the Holy Spirit to burn my offering.  This is a testing of my motives and acceptance of my gift back to He who gave me my talent or gifting.  In worship and in difficult situations is my aroma, my service for Him and others, pleasing to God?

Lastly, I wave what I have left before the LORD in humble submission.  Many times in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers the wave offering is mentioned.  In some instances the wave offering is the last thing the Priests did.  For example, "After you have purified the Levites and presented them as a wave offering, they are to come to do their work at the Tent of Meeting. - Numbers 8:15 Notice "the work at the Tent of Meeting" is to follow immediately after the last thing - the "wave offering".

Disobedience is an aroma-killer! There was a time when God said He would NOT accept the aroma offerings of His people. These moments came in times of rebellion.  God said, " 'But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then...I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings" (Leviticus 26:14-16, 31)  So, God's decree for us to obey today is to be a pleasing aroma to God among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

Just like the aroma of Old Testament offerings/sacrifices were in the midst of the people or camp, the 2 Corinthians 2:15 verse locates the aroma of Christ that Christians represent as among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  So, Believers are not only the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), the Salt of the earth and Light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16), but we are also the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. So, is your Christ-like, spiritual aroma before others sweet or sour to God and others?  I know I still need help with my sweetness, my aroma of Christ.