Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Great Adventure

Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,” Philippians 3:13 (NLT).

The command was unmistakable. “Go!” His mind whirled with unanswered questions:

“Why? What's wrong with where I am now?”;
“Go? Go where?”;
“My support system's here. Why give it up?”;
“Is this really necessary?”

It was.

Willing to place his life and the lives of his household, his fortune, his reputation and his safety into the hands of his unseen God, Abram pulled up stakes and left Familiar. God required him to relinquish his past in order to find his future. Follow God, but to who knows where?

Abram's journey mirrors our own. Like our forefather in the faith God asks us to break with the past, leave Familiar and pursue the Glorious Great Unknown. Abram was required to surrender three things: his land, his family and his father's home in order to attain one object - “the land that I will show you.” Genesis 12:1 (Tanach). Do the math. Give up three and get one in return. Lopsided trade don't you think?
A recent post In Means In delved into Acts 17:28. Abram's Great Adventure is another Old Covenant example of this New Covenant truth. Abram's land (live), his family (move) and his father's house (our being) had to shift from the realm of natural possibilities to that of supernatural supply in an unseen place (God). Abram did it.
Paul followed in Abraham's footsteps and apprehended more than he gave up. Both received new identities: Abram became Abraham, Saul became Paul. With much to lose, they took the risk and followed God. Both  men faced difficulties and challenges. It's not easy pioneering a new belief system. Abraham and Paul experienced supernatural encounters with God, angels and so forth. Many believers secretly long for such experiences. If we do what these men did, we can have what they obtained.
The fact is Christianity's no cake walk if you're serious about pursuing God. There's a price to pay. It's no fun to be pruned and have your dead wood lopped off but it is essential for new growth to appear. In the end our “land that I will show you” will be far more valuable than all we give up. It really will.
How about you? If you took drastic measure like Abraham and Paul how could your life be radically different? What would you consider too extreme and would prevent you from entering a newer, deeper relationship with God? If so...why? Is it worth it?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lost That Lovin' Feeling?

"Yet I have this against you: you have forsaken your first love."       Rev. 2:4

As I scrolled Facebook's news feed I noticed a familiar recurring theme, Christians bashing other Christians. I didn't bother to click on the links to get all the juicy details. The incident reminded me of comments I'd heard recently from Dr. Ogbanaya, a UMC minister in Venice CA. While discussing the book of Revelation and the seven angels of the churches mentioned there, Dr. O focused on the church in Ephesus.

The Lord had wonderful things to say about this band of believers. The Ephesians worked hard, persevered and didn't put up with wicked men. They'd become expert heresy hunters and could sniff out a false prophet a mile away.

After an enthusiastic pat on the back, the Lord dropped this bombshell.

"Yet I have this against you: you have forsaken your first love, remember the height from which you have fallen." Rev. 2:4-5.

In their desire to maintain doctrinal correctness, the Ephesians had lost something very precious to God...their first love. Zealous for Him, their attempts to ferret out impostors had turned them into judge, jury and final authority. It cost them their love. According to Dr. O, God's view of heresy hunting is a guaranteed way to lose what He considers more valuable than being right - love.

Sound doctrine is important. It's beneficial to consider viewpoints that challenge our beliefs because we might just learn something new. Perish the thought, we just might be wrong! It's another matter to call people names and to label them as false, heretical and apostate.

Today, there are the usual popular targets. When I see negative remarks I wonder if the authors of these derogatory comments know the subjects personally or if they've ever had any contact with these individuals. Have they spoken first hand to the ones they're castigating? Do they know what's in the heart of those they criticize? Were they present when God called these people into ministry and do they know all the details of this calling?

When it comes to finances and lifestyle, do the authors have access to the subjects' personal financial information? Is it possible that the ones accused give more generously than their accusers (percentage and/or dollar wise)? I knew of a minister years ago who was vilified severely for his alleged lavish lifestyle. He wore fine clothes, drove nice cars and lived in an expensive house. What his critics didn't know was that the value of his home was equal to about a tenth of his personal giving into the work of the Lord yearly. How many believers would willingly live in or could even find a home to live in equal to a tenth of their annual giving? In this man's case his lifestyle was frugal compared to his critics. Are judgments leveled based on outward appearances and not necessarily the facts of the matter or the condition of one's heart?

The church at Colosse had challenges also. In his letter to them Paul touched briefly on the intrusion of Gnosticism. His main emphasis, however, was the truth - Jesus Christ. Paul avoided the pitfall of feeding a critical spirit, never lost his first love and equipped the believers there with what they really needed.

Many of us have failed in the area of discerning who is or isn't really God's anointed, including Samuel. Sent to Jesse's home to anoint the next king of Israel, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, "That's him! That's the one!" Fast forward one chapter and you'll find this same Eliab, along with the rest of Israel's army cowered in fear before Goliath. He even sharply criticized his younger brother David's interest in fighting the giant and we know how that turned out.

That day at Jesse's God taught Samuel and all of us a very important lesson. "...man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." 1 Sam. 16:7. Based on his behavior, David would light up Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the rest of social media. He got it wrong many times and made horrible mistakes. God said this about him.

"I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do." Acts 13:22.

I wonder what kind of push back God would have received for a post like that? How many would un-friend Him for that opinion?

How about you? How do you determine what's true and avoid engaging in criticism and slander? What measures will you use to determine the validity of someone's call? How will you assess and judge the thoughts and intents of their hearts? Is being a "Defender of the Faith" worth losing your first love over?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Who Are You Listening To?

"And He (God) said, 'Who told you that you were naked?'” Genesis 3:11 (NIV) emphasis mine.

A failure of catastrophic proportion drove them to hide from their only source of help. The sound of God manifested Itself in the garden. Run. Hide. The cool evening air sent shivers through their bodies. The glory gone, any changes in the atmosphere were now felt.

“Where are you?” the familiar voice cried out.

A mistake of that magnitude hasn't been replicated, by humans at least. Satan experienced his own fall from grace before the first couple crashed and burned. In an attempt to conceal their altered status the pair traded glory for fig leaves. That didn't work.

Had an omniscient God really lost track of Adam and Eve? Not likely. He knew exactly where they were, but did they? With His perfect creation reduced to chaos one might expect God to react with anger: yell, scream, threaten, throw things and stomp around. Maybe give Adam some applied five fold ministry. He didn't. Instead He asked a simple question. “Who told you that you were naked?” Did it really matter? They were.

In the beginning God, and then Adam, had the power to create with spoken words. The bible states that the couple actually saw their condition had changed and that they were now naked. God didn't declare that over them. This left only Adam and he got what he said.

It's fascinating that God's first reaction wasn't, “What have you done?” but “What have you become?” What if instead of hiding the pair had run to Him immediately for help? What if they took full responsibility for their actions and not blamed it on others? Could things have been different? Maybe.

God asks us the same question today. “Who told you that you were....stupid, unworthy, unlovable, a failure?” Insert your own favorite brand of derogatory remarks. God didn't call Adam and Eve naked and He's not the author of many of the demeaning labels we place on ourselves. Too often we too try to hide. We already feel guilty, we don't need to face an angry, disappointed God. But is He really upset?

God never responds negatively to a “broken spirit or a contrite heart,” Psalm 51:17. These the psalmist states, “God will not despise.” He's quick to forgive and start the restoration process. He'll even endeavor to mitigate the disastrous consequences of our sins.

"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness." Lam. 3:22-23

He's more interested in healing and inclusion than in punishment and exclusion.

How about you? What negative labels have you taken ownership of? How does this belief system affect your life? If you knew for certain these aren't God's view of you, how would your relationship or lack of one with Him change? Why not stop hiding and find out?

P.S.the reference to the sound of God manifesting Itself in the garden is from the Hebrew. Their understanding of God is that He is formless and therefore neither male nor female in appearance.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Impartation Generation

"When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, 'Tell me what can I do for you before I'm taken from you?' 'Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,' Elisha replied." 2 Kings 2:9 (NIV).

Something was up. His mentor was on edge, fidgety. Was Elijah really trying to lose his protégé? Elisha was determined. Regardless of Elijah's erratic behavior, he would stick close by.

Elisha's friends down at the local prophetic school seemed to know more than he did. Who told them that Elijah was leaving? Was there a hint of expectation in their voices? Who wouldn't want to step into Elijah's sandals and take his place?

Impartation is a buzzword in some Christian circles today. I believe things can be imparted but I don't always agree with how this is administered. The laying on of hands isn't anything new. Maybe that's part of the problem. It has become commonplace, reduced to an expected ritual.

Paul wrote to Timothy, "Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure." 1 Tim. 5:22. Paul advised using caution when laying hands on individuals. Was Timothy willing to be responsible for the manner that a person handled an impartation? Transference works both ways. How well did Timothy know this person? Did he want what they had? Paul recognized the power of impartation and the importance that both parties understood what's involved.

I heard a speaker share a recent experience. After a session a listener approached, requested prayer and asked the speaker to lay hands on them. This person desired a double portion of the speaker's anointing.

The speaker wisely saw an educational opportunity. Laying hands on the petitioner the prayer went something like this. "Lord, give this person a double portion of the struggles, hardships, difficulties and persecutions I've endured."

Aghast, the recipient knocked the speaker's hands away and angrily demanded, "What are you doing? I didn't ask for THAT!" The truth was exposed; all the person wanted was fame and notoriety.

Elijah and Elisha shared a close bond. Elisha served Elijah, he did all the grunt work. As Elijah's Man Friday, Elisha had seen it all; the short bursts of excitement and the long haul of drudgery. If anyone was prepared to succeed Elijah, it was he.

Elisha requested the double portion only after given an open invitation by Elijah to ask for anything. This is a much different scenario than the one described above. Although the heir-apparent, Elisha wasn't a shoo-in.

"You have asked a difficult thing,' Elijah said, 'yet if you see me when I'm taken from you, it will be yours - otherwise it will not.'" 2 Kings 2:10 (NIV).

Even if Elisha was Elijah's first choice, the double portion wasn't his to give. In order to receive Elijah's mantle, Elisha need vision. He couldn't receive what he couldn't see.

It's no different today. It isn't a matter of "I'll believe it when I see it," but, "I'll believer it and then I'll see it." Faith requires belief before sight. Impartation is more than a drive-by, fast food distribution of mantles and anointing. God likes slow cookin'.

How about you? Is there someone whose shoes you'd love to walk in? What hardships did they endure for the sake of the anointing they carried? How would your life need to change in order for God and His calling to maintain top priority? What things would have to go? Are you still sure you want this?