Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Key Ingredient

"Jesus looked at them and said..."with God all things are possible" Matt. 19:26.

Now for a boring grammar lesson. We all should know (unless we slept through English class) what with means. With is: to be accompanied by, to be in association with, to have or to possess. Simply stated it is someone/something PLUS someone/something.

Most expositions I've heard on Matt. 19:26 follow this general track. Men are hopeless basket cases, unable to accomplish anything redeemable on their own. However, with God, and by that what is meant is God all by His lonesome, all things are possible. The problem with that understanding is the pesky four letter word with.

According to Jesus, God doesn't do the possible all by Himself. He's not the ultimate spiritual Lone Ranger arriving on scene atop his faithful charger Silver. Who then does He work in tandem with? God has His Tonto. In case you didn't realize it Paleface, Tonto is us!

Not off floating on a cloud somewhere in heaven listening to harp music God, Who is the Key Ingredient, resides in every believer. There's only one way for Him to get from Point A to Point B. We take Him there. All He performs is done through His people who make up the Body of Christ.

God does everything through you and me. What we deem impossible may sound intimidating, even daunting.  That's true if we take into account only our abilities and strengths, and not God's. He is already aware of our capabilities, and just calmly waits for us to finally "be still and know that I am God."

Possibilities are co-operative ventures; 100% God and 100% man. Perhaps the reason we don't see these happen as much as we'd like to is that we've removed ourselves from the equation. Doing so never produces the correct answer because we've left God with no one to work through. Sans a willing partner, God takes to the sidelines and waits patiently.

It's time to remove the false mindset that we can ever be separated from God and His love. Christ is in us right now, and vice versa. We're inseparable. Scripture attempts to repeatedly hammer this truth into our thick little skulls. However, when wrapped in feelings of inadequacy and failure our minds are renewed, but with the wrong information. We wind up living in an altered reality that God never designed for us.

How about you? Based on your strengths, abilities and resources what possibilities (not to mention impossibilities) seem unattainable? Which would you prefer: 1) God shows up and single-handedly makes things happen, 2) you and God work together to perform things you never imagined you could do? Which do you think He'll opt for? Next time you quote Matt. 19:26 are you willing to keep yourself in the equation? With Christ in and working through you, can you ever really fail?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


"Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

The secret to knowing God is simple...be a slacker!

Marty McFly in Back to the Future couldn't catch a break, especially from Mr. Strickland, Hill Valley High's self-proclaimed Border Patrol. Mr. Strickland berated his students mercilessly, culminating his diatribe with "Slacker!" According to the psalmist, God on the other hand has a soft spot for slackers.

The word still in Hebrew is raphah (pronounced raw-faw). A primitive root, raphah  means to slacken, literally and figuratively. Additional definitions are: fail, faint, be (wax) feeble, idle, be slothful, be weakened, consume. These aren't terms we readily ascribe to in our can do culture.

The psalmist notes that stillness isn't something we do, it's what we become and are. Some interpretations of what a victorious Christian walk looks like don't embrace the concept of stillness. Perhaps this is the reason we expend so much energy running ourselves ragged to the point of exhaustion. Once there, with all resources and strength depleted, and all avenues of escape blocked, we have some of our greatest encounters with God.

The psalmist places his seal of approval on the careless lifestyle. Instead of berating ourselves to do more, and at a higher degree of performance, why not slacken the reins a bit? In stillness, experience God (who lives inside of us) on a deeper, richer level. Rather than play it safe all the time, attempt the impossible knowing that failure will only open up new doors to intimacy with God? It's really alright to not perpetually being doing something for God. Being still is just fine with Him.

To know is the Hebrew word yada (made famous by Seinfield, "yada, yada, yada"). This is to perceive, distinguish, to know by experience. In addition it's to have sexual intercourse, and you can't get any more personal than that. Head knowledge comes by doing, intimacy by being. For those who enjoy a more hands-on, boots-on-the-ground, "git 'er done" approach, lack of activity makes them squirm. Why waste time doing nothing when there's so much that needs to be done?

Psalm 46:10 is God's recipe for getting back on track when our plans and programs implode. We all get tripped up by life's speed bumps. Paul was one who knew this well and shares advice his all-wise God gave him, "...my power is made perfect in weakness" 2 Cor. 12:9.

Spending time with God for the sole purpose of being with Him is never a waste. Doing so can keep us out of trouble, getting side-tracked on bunny trails and burning-out. Also, when we really know God, we're in a better position to introduce Him to others.

How about you? How does being a slacker conflict with your concept of a vibrant Christian life? How will being still in order to know that He is God benefit you? Note the important conjunction and. To know God requires stillness on our part. How would you define the difference between doing and being? Which appeals to you more? Are you willing to develop a knowing relationship with God on His terms?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

No Surprise

"Stop marveling (cease wondering; quit being astonished) brothers, if (or: since) the ordered System (world of culture and religion; or: the estranged secular system of governmental control) is constantly hating you (habitually regarding you with ill will)." 1 John 3:13.

Opposition from the world's system was expected. What surprised John the Apostle was that some Christians anticipated something very different. A realist, John adopted neither a persecution nor a Pollyanna complex.

American Christians may protest: "Yes, but that was Rome. This is the U.S. We're a Christian nation!" Are we?

The only genuine "Christian" nation is the Kingdom of God. Political, religious, economic and cultural world systems, even the best intended and designed always conflict with God's rule and reign. The single common denominator that fouls them all up is...us. People are always the problem.

Believers interacting with all aspects of society can naturally exude a Godly influence, which will engender resistance. Nevertheless, we need to be that consistent example demonstrating that there's a better way to live...an alternate lifestyle.

Jesus wasn't delusional. He was hated, knew it and instructed His followers to expect the same. No one likes rejection. We have a whole industry dedicated to avoiding it: conferences, books, seminars, all chock full of techniques to learn how to make others like and accept us. Jesus faced the problem head on with the truth. His motive wasn't to shame or coerce people into accepting Him, but to demonstrate to them a new way to live that wouldn't disappoint.

Jesus wasn't put off by people who didn't automatically immediately embrace His teachings. His are radical and require a new mindset. Adopting them makes one weird, just like Him. Jesus got crucified for being counter-culture. Pain and suffering don't rank high on most people's priority lists.

Believers emulating Christ's character reminder those dependent on world based structures of the flimsy foundations they stand on. These systems never work. Programs designed to alleviate problems can force compliance, but never change hearts. Until that happens, a natural authoritarian but doomed to fail rule is necessary to maintain a semblance of order.

History and the Bible portray the interaction between Christians and the repressive Roman rule of their day. There were no demonstrations launched, no demands for rights voiced. However, their lives were so diametrically opposed to the surrounding culture that Romans couldn't help but take note.

One author described  dissonance based on sex and money. Romans were free with their sex and tight with their money. Christians gave generously of their resources and were stingy when it came to sex. They lived what they preached.

How about you? How do you react when your Christian values and beliefs are ridiculed? As an American, how does this conflict with the idea that the U.S. is a Christian nation? Should we be surprised as opposition to Christianity increases? How can living a Christ-like life impact our culture and society? Isn't the price to do so worth it?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Sing the Truth

"...in this we constantly know experientially that we continuously exist within the midst of Him, and in union with Him. 1 John 2:5.

"Christians don't tell lies - they go to church and sing them."           A.W. Tozer

On one hand we're blessed with ever increasing venues and resources for Christian music. On the other, under pressure to produce new material to keep up with the demand, we find some songs confirm Tozer's observation. They just aren't true, Scripturally speaking.

While writing this piece I elicited my husband Joe's help. We both work from home, with offices on different floors. Other than a few hours a week (going to the gym, grocery shopping, and so forth) we are together all the time. I asked my better half how he would feel if I told him that I was desperate for him.

"Well," he replied, "if we were physically separated for an extended period of time, it could make sense...sort of."

"But what about right now?" I asked. "We're both at home most of the time."

He thought for a moment.

"Well, I'd begin to wonder what I was doing wrong. If we're in close proximity most of the time and you're desperate for me, somehow I'm failing you. You're experiencing some sort of separation that I don't feel at all. I think we're connecting, but from your point of view we aren't."

He proved my point.

"So, I said, "if Jesus is in us and we are in Him, how can we possibly be desperate for Him? What are we really saying about Him and to Him when we sing those words?"

"I don't sing them," he quipped.

Neither do I.

The 70's birthed the Contemporary Christian Music industry to fill the void of rock-n-roll the Jesus Movement left behind at salvation. Pickings were slim back then. Christian radio stations were leery of airing this new music. Our local station's offering of  Elvis crooning "Crying in the Chapel" was their nod to this new sound. Gag me.

Recording executives saw a market ripe for exploitation (Christian music really is a business), and as the airwaves expanded their playlists, Christian bookstores worked to accommodated this new, eager audience. What I've observed since the beginning and continuing until today is that content isn't always based on solid Scriptural truth, but usually on emotional appeal. Unfortunately marketing and stage presence often trumps genuine faith and maturity. Causalities litter the landscape.

Recent polls reveal the majority of Christians don't read the Bible. So, how does this apply to Christian music? Songs crafted with catchy melodies and well-written lyrics easily get stuck in our heads. How do I know? Let me hear a Motown song from the 60's and I'll probably remember every word. Problems arise when the message in the music doesn't agree with God's Word.

Is this some conspiracy on the recording industry's part? Are they trying to manipulate and dilute the truth? Personally, I doubt it. To me it is just a rehash of the old same formula they've used in other genres. Take heart stopping lyrics, accompanied by emotionally grabbing musical scores, performed by a compelling stage presence, and you have a hit. At least I hope that's all it is.

John describes our total integration with and in Christ now! We're inseparable. That established, why do so many songs issue a desperate plea for God to come and be with us? Did He go some where and not tell us? Is He reneging on His promise to never leave or forsake us? A lot of music would have you think so.

It's true that we may not always feel as if we're connected. But we walk by faith and not by feelings. Scripture instructs us to renew our minds. Does singing songs that lament a distance between us and God create mindsets that oppose God's promises to us? Does this set us up for frustration and disappointment? I believe it does.

Listening to music that emphasises our real position in Christ can conflict with our emotions making us feel uncomfortable and even hypocritical. Reprogramming our minds and thought processes, in those instances, is what we really need to do. If we base our theology on the music we listen to as opposed to the truth of God's Word or even better yet,  intimate encounters with Him, we set ourselves up for disaster. This isn't a railing against Christian music at all. I have more than my share. It is an encouragement to be discerning.

How about you? Is it easier and more comfortable to sing about God being far away as opposed to being in you right now? If so, why? How much of what you believe is based on the music you listen to and not on the Word of God? Between those two options, which do you think will prove to be the more truthful and beneficial?