Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Rest for the Weary

"Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" Matt. 11:28.

Under the Overpass chronicles Mike Yankoski's adventures as a "homeless" person. Following God's specific directive and accompanied by his friend Sam, the pair resided in six cities spread throughout the country in six months.

Throughout their journey Mike and Sam became intimately acquainted with the difficulties of street life: lack of food and water, maintaining decent hygiene, constant exposure to all kinds of weather and the ever present threat of danger. Worst of all was the invisibility. Being ragged and dirty made it easy for people to pretend they didn't exist...including Christians. On more than one occasion Mike and Sam were made to feel unwelcome - even in church.

Despite the hardships, the pair knew their situation was only temporary. They marveled how those they met endured the harsh living conditions, rejection and loneliness for years on end. To the pair's dismay the church, which should have been a beacon of hope, often piled additional guilt and condemnation on the already beaten down men and women.

To prepare for life on the streets both men spent time in separate urban residential rehab centers. Only those in charge knew their real situation but the rest of the staff and residents didn't. In addition to mandatory assigned chores, daily chapel service attendance was required.

"The theme of their message rarely varied - and it always began with bad news...I couldn’t help wondering why the speakers so often focused on the 'hell, fire and damnation' theme and so little on hope, joy, love, peace or really anything positive. Did the speaker assume to be homeless or addicted meant that you're definitely on the road to hell and only scare tactics matter now?

Think about it. If you see someone dangling precariously off a cliff you might warn them about falling to his death but it would make more sense to throw him a rope.

Jesus did thunder warning of suffering and condemnation, but primarily to those who were convinced they were healthy and had no need of Him. To the weak, diseased, hungry and sin-bound He had another message. 'Come to me, all who are weary and burdened' (Matt. 11:28)." Under the Overpass

One doesn't need to scour the highways and byways to find desperate, broken, hungry, and addicted down-trodden people. We rub shoulders with them all the time. They sometimes dress nice, smell good and appear respectable. You'll find them in the pews and seats of churches every time the doors are open. They too can benefit from a message that declares God's love for those who are struggling with life. Some of these are also dangling off the cliff, hanging on by mere threads. They need a rope, not a sermon on how much worse life's about to get. The Gospel is supposed to be good news, isn't it?

How about you? Given the chance to share with those demonstrably down on their luck, what would you say? If you were in their place, what would you need to hear? Who do you know that looks "normal" but is struggling? It's not just the homeless and addicted. What do you say to them? What do they need more a life line or a threat?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

He'll Keep The Light On For You

"And having driven out the man, He stationed at the East of the Garden of Eden the cherubim, and the flame of the ever turning sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life" Gen. 3:24 Tanach (emphasis mine).

Ever wonder how the focus of this verse appears to be on God's way of keeping Adam and Eve away from the Tree of Life and out of the Garden? What if that wasn't His intent at all?

True, in their present condition, God was unwilling to risk the couple eating from the Tree of Life. Mercifully, He prevented them from remaining eternally as they were. The pair at this point expressed no remorse for disobeying God's directive, nor did they take responsibility for what they'd done. Eve blamed the serpent that wouldn't have been there if God hadn't created snakes. Adam blame Eve, which was God's fault since He had created her. If there was any design flaws in the plan, the blame was the Creator's.

Even sadder, the duo never voiced disappointment or sorrow over the disruption of the once very intimate relationship they shared with God. Still, He wasn't about to give up so easily.

The word guard is the primitive Hebrew root shamar which means to keep, observe, heed, preserve, beware, mark, watch, regard and save. Interestingly it doesn't convey any idea of erecting barriers to keep people out. In contrast, it speaks of preserving and maintaining a way back in.

Similar to the bush Moses stumbled on that was engulfed in flame but was unharmed, here the ever-turning sword was enwrapped (lahat, Hebrew for encircling fire) with flames.

John the Baptist was adamant. He wasn't the Promised One. John didn't even feel worthy enough to unlatch the sandal of God's Chosen One. He did however, alert his followers that he was preparing the way for the One who would baptize - not with water but with the Spirit and with fire.

Hebrews 4:12 describes the only way back to the Garden of God in Eden.

"For the Word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It penetrates even to the dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and intents of the heart."

Many in Christianity attribute this verse to the Bible, however when written, the Bible didn't exist. To the early church the Word of God was none other than Jesus Himself. He is The Word of God.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God" John 1:1.
In addition, Jesus made claim to being the exclusive way back to God.

"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" John 14:6.

Gen. 3:24 doesn't describe access to the Tree of Life as being permanently closed - quite the contrary. The flaming sword lights the way back in. Provision was made to ensure that entrance was always easily accessible.

Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 3 that passage through the flames establishes the validity of our efforts. Only the gold, silver and precious stones survive. Hebrews 4 reminds us that this includes our thoughts and motives. Some things won't survive the flames. Paul wrote that some "will suffer loss, he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping the flames" 1 Cor. 3:15.

The fire of God refines, it doesn't destroy. Although unpleasant it's to be embraced and not feared. Receiving conviction and heeding His correction can prevent additional mistakes and blunders going forward not to mention additional wood, hay and stubble. Our flesh and soul won't like it, but out spirit will thank us for it.

How about you? When was the last time that you asked Jesus, the Word of God, to evaluate your thoughts, actions and motives? How would you describe the experience? What surprises did submitting to God's review of your life and work reveal? Would it be better to know now and make changes than experience the fate Paul described above? With Christ as our Judge and Baptizer with fire we can be assured that the refining process will bring out the very best in us.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Take Out The Trash

"Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one think I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" Phil. 3:13-14.

Paul was a neat-nik. He promoted a personal program of year-round continuous spring cleaning. Childish things (1 Cor. 13:11), bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice (Eph. 4:31) were relegated to the trash can regularly. Sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed and idolatry (Col. 3:5) were deemed rubbish and dealt with accordingly.

Paul and other biblical writers weren't promoting self-improvement regimens. Eliminate A, B, and C and your life will be happier, healthier and more productive. That's not the point. If not careful, all of our lives get cluttered with non-essentials. We have homes full of stuff and storage units to house the overflow of yesterday's must haves. Paul and others recognized that hanging onto old junk in our personal lives leaves less room for what is important and vital for life.

In his book, Prayer - Does it Make a Difference? Philip Yancey explores the topic of unworthiness and its impact on our prayer life. Often this type of feeling is rooted in the very things Paul urges us to kick to the curb. To illustrate, Yancey quotes an anonymous fourteenth-century author's book, The Cloud of the Unknowing.

"Before penetrating the cloud of the unknowing above us," he said, "we may need to imagine a 'cloud of forgetting' beneath us. Forget past failures, forget recurring sins, forget feelings of inferiority, and instead open your mind to God, who cannot fill what has not been emptied." (pg 185).

Taking out the trash opens up more space for God to occupy comfortably. We don't want Him to feel restricted, having to wiggle around our old habits, mindsets and lifestyles which reduce the volume He wants to pour into us. God wants us to see and understand from His perspective. He want us to be just like Him. This happens when we make a clean sweep. Out with the old to make room for the new.

Unfortunately, this is harder to do than to talk about. Look around you. How much useless stuff is hanging around your house? You neither need it or use it, but...you can't part with it. In some cases it's broken and beyond repair, but you still won't let it go. Why? What's the problem?

In the same way that pitching out old household items is a measure of identity loss, so is discarding old ways of thinking and behaving. If we get rid of these leftovers, who are we? Empty space can seem scary. This is, however, what faith is all about. We trust God to replace our debris with something very valuable.

How about you? What's cluttering up your life and restricting God from taking a more expansive role. Why are you hanging onto thing which are unnecessary and don't work anymore? Don't you think it's time to finally take out the trash?  

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

One Question

"So I say to you: 'Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you'." Luke 11:9.

"If you could ask Me one question about anything, what would it be?"

Usually I'm the one making requests of God, but this time it was His turn. I was speechless.

"What did You say?" I inquired. I needed clarification.

"If you could ask Me one question about anything, what would it be?"

My initial reaction was how I could frame my question that would allow me more than just ONE question. However, that's wishing and wishes aren't questions.

"About ANYTHING?" I had to be sure.

"Yes, anything."

Of all the questions I've pondered over the years nothing came to mind. With a limit of one I had to make this question count.

"I need to think about this."

What an odd position to be in - keeping God Almighty waiting for my decision. Worst of all, I couldn't think of the most important thing I wanted to know.

I've often wondered what His favorite color might be. My guess is green because there's so much of it everywhere. Why do giraffes have such large necks? What did creation look like? What is the purpose of mosquitoes and roaches? How did you dream up everything you've made? I've wondered about these and more, but this was for real. What did I really have to know?

What never crossed my mind were questions about my natural life. What's the winning lottery number? How can I make a lot of money? What will make me a best selling author, an in-demand speaker or even a decent day-trader. No, how about a super day trader. This opportunity was too important to waste on trivial matters like these.

Finally I spoke. I told God the one thing, more than anything else that I wanted to know.

"What do I have to do or change so I can see and understand the way You do?"

"Technically," God laughed, "that's more than one question."

"Work with me on this," I replied. "I'm having a hard time putting my thoughts into words. I want to be able to see and understand things from Your perspective and not my limited sphere of knowledge."


God didn't say one word. I didn't take this as a "No!" My question can't be answered verbally. I'll have to experience it.

I'm confident I don't really know what I asked for. Discovering the answer may be harder than I've imagined. It might hurt a bit too. Still, to be able to see with His eyes and understand with His heart will transform me into a more loving, compassionate, patient and joyful person than I could ever work up on my own. I'll be just like my Dad. What more could a girl ask for?

How about you? If you could ask God one question about anything - what would it be?