Jesus “Un-converting” New Followers? (John 8:31-59)

31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
      33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And the slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.

†  *  *  *  †  *  *  *  †

So I was clearing off my desk, removing the debris accumulated from being used as a teaching prep area, reading center, and “general Daddy-item collection center”. Behold! A keyboard! A push of the magic “sleepy moon” button and the big black box on my desk starts up with a hum and a whoosh.

I log in here to see what’s been going on since my last visit, and on the side of my dashboard I see a draft of a “Half-Chapter A Day” post I’d started forever ago and not finished. The post was John 8:31-59. As I re-read the section of Scripture as a preface to typing it out (as is my custom with HCAD posts), some things struck me as powerfully as they always have, while others stood out to me in ways I’m not sure if I ever picked up on before.

Let’s proceed, shall we?

Believing Yet Still Confused (vss. 31-33)

The preface to Jesus’ words in verse 31 is one of the things I’m not sure if I’ve ever zeroed in on before. “Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him” is a very important piece of information regarding those He’s about to converse with. What exactly did they believe?

Going back to the previous section (chapter 8 in general, vss. 21-30 in specific), we read of Jesus at the temple coming to the defense of the woman caught in the midst of adultery, His judgement of “he who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first”, His defense against the Pharisees’ accusation of self-witness, and His prediction of His departure and their needing to believe in Him to avoid dying in their sins. Without going into a whole sidebar on it, Scripture says that many began believing in Him after He told them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [He], and I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” (vss. 28-29)

I find it compelling, and worthy of further Biblical and commentary study, that it is specifically pointed out as a matter of fact that they did, in fact, believe what He was telling them. I think that’s of key importance, and in a way a picture of either “seed by the wayside” or “seed on stony ground” the Lord spoke of in the parable of the sower. Either way, they believed, even if only for a moment, yet something rose up (either within themselves or from without, i.e. the crowd or “the birds of the air”) and provoked them to get into a bit of verbal jiu-jitsu with the Lord and fight against what the Lord had revealed to them.

Teetering At The Cliff (vss. 34-36)

The Lord goes on to provide a distinction that I think a lot of people gloss right over, contrasting a slave and a son and their permanency within a house. A slave, being a “hired hand”, has roots and place elsewhere, yet his occupational requirement compels him to dwell in the house of the master for the length of his term of service, at which point he is free to go if he so chooses. A son, on the other hand, has no requirement to always dwell in the house of his father, and is free to leave whenever he chooses (such as was the case in the parable of the prodigal son), yet he will always be identified as a member of the family, and thus will always have access to the house of his father.

You can almost feel the encouraging compassion of the Lord, trying to get the Pharisees to see that their place in the house of their enemy was temporary, that there was still hope for change. Or to say it another way, their time of being slaves of “the master of the sin-house” was nearing completion, and they would soon have the option to either walk out of the house as free men or choose to remain in the house forever as a bondslave. I wonder how many of the people we talk to about the Lord are in a similar place of approaching the “point of no return” at which they can no longer say “I did it ignorantly, as a slave” and must choose whether they want to “put their ear to the doorpost” to accept the earring of a bondslave or to simply walk out of the house free.

They have the opportunity to either receive with gladness the great news that their time of being a slave to the things they don’t want to do is almost over OR once-and-for-all choose to be counted like a son in the house that desires only their destruction. As we continue reading, we see that they make the wrong choice; take note of how Jesus here says “if you commit sin, you’re (merely) a slave”, yet after something (we’re not told what) within them changes, Jesus starts to say “now that you’re actively choosing sin, you’ve become a son.”

“Who’s Kid Are You, Anyways?” (vss. 37-40)

So rather than looking forward to their time as a slave coming to an end, something — at this point I’m leaning towards pride as the culprit, but we’re not told — something within them seems to be offended at Jesus’ words. Maybe it’s because the Pharisees were so proud of their external efforts to maintain the appearance of sinLESSness that Jesus calling them “slaves of sin” caused them to rebel against the possibility of such a notion. But whatever the case, they begin down the all-too-familiar road of “if I cannot find a hole in your argument, I’m going to try to put a hole in you instead”.

Jesus uses their desire to kill Him as a bridge of sorts, a way of linking past and future, what they’ve already been known to want and what they can choose whether or not to do. In what strikes me as a word of warning, He follows up “your relationship with sin can be forever changed” with “you may be Abraham’s descendants, but you surely ain’t his kids”. He keeps bringing to the forefront the simplicity of what they’re doing — “you seek to kill me because I tell you the truth” — yet they keep ignoring it and pressing farther and farther into their hatred. In this instance (vs. 40), He comes right out and tells them, “you’re seeking to do this, but Abraham did not do this”, perhaps with the desire that returning the focus to Abraham’s works would snap them out of their own.

It didn’t. Rather, it caused them to go into full-blown personal slander.

“Who’s Your Daddy, Jesus?” (vss. 41-47)

On the heels of “Abraham did not do this; you do the works of your father”, they go right for the sucker punch — “We were not born of fornication; we have one father — God.” Perhaps it’s because they saw they had no more ground to stand on in the ‘Abraham is our father’ discussion, but they go more directly to Abraham’s position as being called by the one true God and try to take this opportunity to discredit Jesus amongst those listening by mentioning His conception outside of wedlock. Old habits die hard, especially when it comes to taking shots at familiar “enemies”.

Jesus ignores the claim of illegitimacy and focuses on their claim — “If God were your Father, you would love Me.” He goes on for 6 verses questioning their ability to comprehend, schooling them on who their father actually is (with a side-lesson regarding his modus operandi), and culminating in the heart of the matter:

“But because I tell you the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which of you convicts Me of sin? Yet if I tell the truth, why do You not believe Me?
47 He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore, you do not hear because you are not of God.” 

Jesus always makes it very simple for us. In any intro Logic classroom, “Premise, Premise, Conclusion” is pretty much as simple as an argument gets. In this case:

  1. You say you believe the truth.
  2. I speak the truth.
    C. You should believe me.

Yet:

  1. When asked, you offer no contrary evidence of me speaking the truth.
  2. I continue telling you the truth.
  3. You continue seeking to kill Me.
    C. Thus, you have no intention to believe the truth.

Doesn’t get much clearer than calling a spade a spade, does it?

When All Else Fails, Call Him Crazy (vss. 48-55)

You can likely conjure up several images of people in movies or TV shows going “Pshh, you’re crazy!”, and that’s probably pretty close to how they looked at this point. Though their version was worded a bit more culture-specific (“Do we not rightly say that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”), it was probably just as empty of a statement.

Jews hated Samaritans, called them “half-breeds” (as they were basically people born from one Jewish parent and one Gentile parent), constantly accused them of heresy, and had palpable disdain for everything that had anything to do with them — which, ironically enough, was probably why He chose to cast a Samaritan in the role of “good guy” in the parable of someone with reason not to help who chooses to help anyway, while the “cultural elites” (the Levite and the priest) avoided the hurting man altogether simply because they had other things to do.

Thus their calling Him a Samaritan was on the same plane as their insinuation that he was born of fornication, and as such He ignores it, except to point out “I do not have a demon; I honor My Father, but you dishonor Me”. Their brains must have hurt trying to comprehend how the “illegitimate (i.e. fatherless) man” was doing a better job of honoring His Father than they were.

True to form, they still didn’t get it — “Now we know you have a demon!”, they proclaim. Then Jesus leads them to the question that will divide all humanity throughout the course of history: “Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead?…Who do You make Yourself out to be?”

Abraham’s Joy & Jesus’ Declaration (vss. 56-59)

After once again going through and showing that their claim of God as their Father was empty, Jesus redirects them back to whom their “father” looks to:

“Your Father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”

They were incredulous. Here’s this guy in His early thirties talking about how Abraham saw “His day” (whatever that is), even though Abraham had been dead for more than a millenia. In the “Liar, Lunatic or Lord” discussion, this is where they’d change their vote from liar to lunatic.

And they walk right into what He hits them with next — He drops the bomb on them (again) regarding His identity:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

And there it is, plain as day. (Even though the most head-in-the-sand agnostics will insist that Jesus never said He was God.)

They of course recognized the gravity of His declaration, as evidenced by their picking up of stones to kill Him. I wonder if they had any thought at all as to how they were just minutes earlier holding those very same stones, waiting on the word from Jesus affirming Mosaic law so they could unleash on the adulteress they had brought before Him.

Was it like “Jesus astounds them with His answer, they drop the stones and let the woman go, then Jesus makes them mad again, so they pick the stones right back up”? I picture that in my mind’s eye, and it’s momentarily comical, until of course it sinks back in that such is the power of sin, veiling the eyes to see the patently obvious.

Of course, Jesus’ “time had not yet come”, so He was able to go unharmed from the rock-chucking would-be executioners. But the last verse only serves to remind me of the first one: “Jesus said to those Jews who believed in Him…”.

How quickly they appear to have been “un-converted” from their belief in Him, foreshadowing the crowd that went from joyously singing “Hosanna!” one Sunday afternoon to shouting “Crucify Him!” just four short days later.

It is not enough to merely “believe” Jesus; one has to put their faith in Him, in His redemptive work, otherwise just as quickly as they were “talked into it”, they’ll be later talked out of it as well.

 

[In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should note that there are many great Bible teachers and commentators who’ve taught that this section of Scripture does NOT start with ‘those who believed in Him’ being the ones who then go into arguing with Jesus, but rather others who didn’t believe that were amongst the same group of Pharisees. Included in this group is no less than Warren Wiersbe, a man whom I greatly admire in the faith and have counted myself more than blessed to have been able to “study” under via his many books and commentaries. I certainly do not consider myself in the same Bible-teaching realm as him, and as such I recognize and freely admit that he (and those who agree with him) could be completely right in their assessment. I’m merely offering my impressions as they have come out of my own studying of the passage.
Perhaps it’s because of my own personal experiences with extremely proud “pre-Christ” people, but I think that, when viewed in light of both ‘external’ (i.e. other sections of Scripture) and ‘internal’ (i.e. within the passage itself) proofs, the case can be made that the people arguing were, in fact, the same ones who — at least briefly — believed in Him at the end of verse 30. While I wouldn’t be dogmatically resolute about it, after the last several hours of studying it, cross-referencing it, reading trusted commentators’ thoughts about it, and writing about it, I feel “confidently shocked” that those who “answered” the Lord in verse 33 were the very ones whom Jesus was addressing in verses 31 and 32.
That is what pressed me forward to write about it. May this example of pride and rebellion never be the case with us. ~JA]
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Quote of the Day: Monday, April 8th

“This, we say, is man, the fallen principality. In these tragic desolations of intelligence and genius, of passion, pride, and sorrow, behold the import of his eternity. Be no mere spectator, turn the glass we give you round upon yourself, look into the ruin of your own conscious spirit, and see how much it signifies, both that you are a sinner and a man.

Here, within the soul’s gloomy chamber, the loosened passions rage and chafe, impatient of their law; here huddle on the wild and desultory thoughts; here the imagination crowds in shapes of glory and disgust, tokens both and mockeries of its own creative power, no longer in the keeping of reason; here sits remorse scowling and biting her chain; here creep out the fears, a meager and pale multitude; here drives on the will in his chariot of war; here lie trampled the great aspirations, groaning in immortal thirst; here the blasted affections weeping out their life in silent injury; all that you see without, in the wars, revenges, and the crazed religions of the world, is faithfully represented in the appalling disorders of your own spirit.”

~ Horace Bushnell, “The New Life”

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Quote of the Day — Sunday, April 7th

“Christ has come, the Light of the world. Long ages may yet elapse before His beams have reduced the world to order and beauty, and clothed a purified humanity with light as with a garment.

But He has come : the Revealer of the snares and chasms that lurk in darkness, the Rebuker of every evil thing that prowls by night, the Stiller of the storm-winds of passion, the Quickener of all that is wholesome, the Adorner of all that is beautiful, the Reconciler of contradictions, the Harmonizer of discords, the Healer of diseases, the Saviour from sin.

He has come : the Torch of Truth, the Anchor of hope, the Pillar of faith, the Rock for strength, the Refuge for security, the Fountain for refreshment, the Vine for gladness, the Rose for beauty, the Lamb for tenderness, the Friend for counsel, the Brother for love.

Jesus Christ has trod the world. The trace of the Divine footsteps will never be obliterated. And the Divine footsteps were the footsteps of a Man. The example of Christ is such as men can follow. On! until mankind wears His image. On! towards yon summit on which stands not an angel, not a disembodied spirit, not an abstract of ideal and unattainable virtue, but THE MAN JESUS CHRIST.”

~ Peter Bayne, A.M.
“The Testimony of Christ to Christianity”

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Staying In “The Place”…

There’s been a bit of change in the air recently here in “the Compound”. My wife’s been contemplating a transfer at work in order to get closer to home (and farther from her long commute), we’ve been looking for a home to purchase for some time now, and from time to time it seems as though one particular area of service plucks at a heart string and the tune it plays is “More should be done here.”

My wife has sort of set aside the transfer thought for now — not changing course, but just letting it sit on the back burner, the ball in someone else’s court — and we just got home a few hours ago from looking at a few more potential homes. I admit, these current options have me a bit antsy inside…one particular home fits just about everything on our list except for the area it’s in. We prayed about it at lunch this afternoon, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. For some reason, I picked up a book that’s always on my desk and opened it, and this kind of jumped out a bit at me:

“Make every occasion a great occasion, for you can never tell when someone may be taking your measure for a larger place.”

What on earth (if anything) does that have with what’s going on? I continue reading:

“Marsden’s quotation would make a good text for a sermon. If I used it that way, I’d probably say that it contains at least four implications: (1) our work is supposed to make us grow; (2) we’re always being measured; (3) each job prepares us for the next one; and (4) the Lord may move us when He sees we’re ready. If I wanted a Biblical text to back it up, I’d quote our Lord’s statement in Matthew 25:21…

“If our service for the Lord doesn’t make us grow, two things may be true: either we’re in the wrong place, or we have the wrong attitude towards the right place. Both are tragic. But being miserable in your place of Christian service doesn’t necessarily indicate that you’re in the wrong place, so don’t be too quick to back out.”

Sounds like something I’ve been sharing with a few others lately. Reading on:

“God may have put you there for your good as well as for the good of the work. Maybe He has some unfinished business to accomplish in your life.

“I’m a person who likes to be comfortable in what I’m doing. I don’t like too many changes or surprises. My comfort zone isn’t big, but it’s well-protected. However, the Lord sees to it that my defenses are regularly knocked down. He doesn’t want me to get too accustomed to the challenge or too comfortable with the work. If that happens, He knows I’ll stop growing; and then my work will start to have the quality of a flea market leftover…”

Ouch, flea market leftover. That sounds positive. He continues:

“The difficulty of the task God gives us is one of His loving gifts for our maturity. American industrialist Henry Kaiser, whose factories turned out a ship every six days during World War II, used to say that “problems are only opportunities in work clothes.” When the Lord sees me mentally wearing pajamas and a bathrobe, He starts shaking things so I’ll change clothes and get to work. [How faithful He is to do that!] I need the work more than the work needs me. Christian service is supposed to make us grow, and it will if we’re in the right place with the right attitude.

“We’re always being measured: God is measuring us, and people are measuring us. When it comes to Christian service and servants, other people can make mistakes, and we can make mistakes. Most Christian workers are prone to think either more highly of themselves than they should (Romans 12:3) or less highly. If we think too highly of ourselves, we’ll get proud and start pushing our way into what we think is a more important place. If we think less highly, we’ll get discourages and want to quit. Both attitudes are wrong.”

God, where is this going?

“The Lord is the only One who can accurately measure both us and our work, but He doesn’t always tell us what He thinks… When God wants to encourage you and let you know you’re measuring up, He sometimes prompts people just to say thanks. They might phone you, write you a letter, or perhaps thank you personally…. Another evidence that you’ve been measured and approved by the Lord is the opening of new doors of opportunity. If you’ve been faithful with a few things, God will give you more things. Of course, that means more work; but God has measured you and is sure you can do it. Over the years, it’s been exciting to watch faithful servants grow and expand in their ministry to the glory of God. It’s one of the few rewards of old age.

“The important thing is that we do our work and not waste too much time measuring ourselves. ‘[People] who do their best always do more, though they be haunted by the sense of failure,’ said Scottish minister George Morrison. ‘Be good and true; be patient; be undaunted. Leave your usefulness to God to estimate. He will see to it that you do not live in vain.’…

‘Haunted by a sense of failure’…that sounds about right. Oye…

“However, I must issue a warning at this point: God’s servants must never use their assignment as temporary stepping-stones for something greater. There’s no place in the Lord’s work for ‘pyramid climbers’ who are so anxious to get to the top that they forget that ‘exaltation comes neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south, but God is the Judge: He puts down one and exalts another’ (Psalm 75:6-7). If you ever find yourself promoting yourself for a promotion, read the book of Esther and get acquainted with Haman. God wants us to be ambitious, but be sure it’s godly ambition.

When it comes to moving His servants, God’s plan is never wrong, and His timing is never off. Sometimes He moves us to a bigger place, but He may move us to a smaller place that we’re supposed to make bigger. He may put us in a situation for which we feel totally unprepared and in which we aren’t at all comfortable. So much the better; He’s giving us room to grow.”

Wow. What chatterbox said all that crazy talk? None other than Warren Wiersbe in his book “On Being A Servant Of God”. (If you’ve never read it, buy it, get it from the library, borrow it from a friend, whatever it takes…it’s life-changing.)

So what am I to take from all that?

As I sit here at my desk and ponder what the Lord would have me to do regarding our house hunt, not thinking even one bit about “being estimated or measured” at church, reading the chapter that came from was, at first, a bit confusing. “Great, thanks God, now I’ve got one more thing to be confused about.” But I think in a way, it was a reminder — there’s important stuff to be done that my wife and I are here to do, stuff of eternal importance. Which neighborhood I live in, whether our house has “proper office space” or not, whether there’s enough square footage of grass space for the dog, and what the last digit of our zip code might be probably don’t fit into the category of eternal importance, yet they’ve (lately) been consuming a disproportionate amount of time.

As a husband of one fantastic wife and a father to three beautiful daughters, I want to give them the best that can possibly be given. The problem with that is, of course, that I’m assuming I can best discern what “the best” exactly entails.

Since God is the only One who knows the end from the beginning, the only One who could possibly calculate every conceivable variable to determine what exactly “the best” is, I have to come to the place of recognizing that I’ve been trying to approach this home search “by sight” rather than “by faith”. What’s worse, I’ve been talking about how it’s “all in His timing” and “wherever He wants us to be”, yet I’ve been the one who (with my wife) has been determining all the parameters for our future home.

Shame on me.

It would be easy to determine that the service I give at church would be what Wiersbe’s words were speaking towards, and on one level they certainly might be; the Lord certainly knows that I’d love to serve there in an occupational capacity. But on a much more basic level, my “everyday ministry” is the one here at home, to my wife, to my kids, being the kind of husband and father they need for them to walk wisely and be supported in all they do. And though I might want them to have “the best house” in “the best neighborhood” with “the best schools” and “the best neighbors”, all those “bests” might be quite a bit different in reality than what they might look like at face value.

So as of now, it’s not in my hands. Actually, it never was anyways, we just like to think that it is. So I will continue to pray and ask for His leading, and proceed as He directs.

But by faith this time, and not by sight.

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Choosing The Better Part (Luke 10:38-42)

We’re teaching through the Bible in our Children’s Ministry time Sunday mornings, and a section we recently covered in 5th & 6th grade is the little snippet from Luke 10:38-42 where we see Mary and Martha, and their alternative ideas of what “serving God” looks like:

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. [A good thing.] 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. [A good thing.] 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” [A good thing and a bad thing, depending on where you’re coming from.]

And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha…you are worried and troubled about many things. [Not necessarily a bad thing.] 42 BUT one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” [Obviously, a good thing.]

There are lots of “good things” that we are called to do. There are lots of “good things” that the Bible commands us to be doing as disciples of Christ. And there are lots of “good things” that we are to be doing just as people in our cultures and citizens of our respective communities.

We can look at Martha and easily pick on her, saying “Why would she choose working in the kitchen over spending time with Jesus?” That’s partly because we’re largely a lazy society, but also partly because we don’t get the whole Oriental culture towards entertaining visitors. Someone comes over here, we approach it like “Hey dude, want a Coke or somethin’?” Very much not so there.

Contrary to what some (too many) may teach, Jesus was not rebuking Martha for her work. It was one of the highest priorities in that culture — and still is there to this day — for a person welcoming a guest into their home to expend a lavish amount of effort and resource to ensure that their guest felt like royalty in their home. Thus Martha was doing as the culture expected in a “morality-neutral” activity (meaning an activity that has no positive or negative morality in and of itself, like worshiping God in Spirit and truth (positive) or worshiping idols (negative) would), and as such Jesus was not chastising her for that.

What Jesus did rebuke her for (very gently, notice) was that she desired the Lord would take away from Mary what she thought was a worthwhile activity just because Martha thought a different priority took precedence in their situation. And as such, Jesus didn’t call down fire and brimstone on Martha — though some teachers would suggest we would do so in not so many words — He just re-directed her by commending Mary’s choice.

One could assume by Martha’s frustration that she expected Mary to help — being sisters, it’s quite possible that in other cases of visitors, Mary was always by Martha’s side, serving alongside her. Maybe that’s why she was frustrated: “You always help me in service, and here we are with our most important guest EVER, and you’re just sitting there letting the whole thing fall apart!” Again, Martha’s desire for Mary to help isn’t unreasonable, she just wasn’t viewing things through Mary’s eyes.

It’s easy for us to be “doers”, getting involved in many good services for the Lord (or for people on the Lord’s behalf), and that is commendable by God. Jesus is the One who sent us out to do the “work of the ministry” (the word “ministry” = service, remember). However we also need to take the time to just sit at His feet and worship Him, glean from Him, be recharged by Him.

As Jesus Himself would tell His disciples, “You will have the poor to serve always, but I will not always be here for you to serve.” (John 12:8) So when you have those moments of having the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet, by all means, take them.

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“Dung, Repurposed.” (DFTD, February 20)

(from “Daily Thoughts for Disciples” by Oswald Chambers, February 20th entry)

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“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” — Matthew 4:4

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Our natural reactions are not wrong, although they may be used to express the wrong disposition.

God never contradicts our natural reactions; He wants them to be made spiritual. When we are saved God does not alter the construction of our bodily lives, but He does expect us to manifest in our bodily lives the alteration he has made.

We express ourselves naturally through our bodies, and we express the supernatural life of God in the same way, but it can only be done by the sacrifice of the natural.

How many of us are spiritual in eating and drinking and sleeping? Those acts were spiritual in our Lord; His relationship to the Father was such that all His natural life was obedient to Him, and when He saw that His Father’s will was for Him not to obey a natural reaction, He instantly obeyed His Father (see Matthew 4:1-4).

If our Lord had been fanatical He would have said, “I have been so long without food, I will never eat again.” That would have been to obey a principle instead of obeying God. When God is educating us along the line of turning the natural into the spiritual, we are apt to become fanatical. Because of God’s grace things have been done which are miraculous, we become devoted to the miracle and forget God, then when difficulties come we say it is the antagonism of the devil.

The fact is we are grossly ignorant of the way God has made us. All that we need is a little of what we understand by pluck in the natural world put into the spiritual world. Don’t let your body prevail and say there is nothing after all in what God said. Stand up to the difficulty, and all that you ever believed about the transforming grace of God will be proved in your bodily life.

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Taken from Daily Thoughts for Disciples, © 1976, 1994 by Oswald Chambers Publications Association, Ltd., and used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids MI 49501. All rights reserved.

[[Some words Chambers uses are not used often today — click [here] to look up difficult words.]]

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Brief commentary:
Does any of you remember what your first week after coming to the Lord was like? For some of you, you’d have to think back to before I was born; for others, you might not even be through your first week yet. Regardless, that first week after coming to the Lord is typically either externally (depending on your social circle) or internally the craziest, most upheaval-intensive week of one’s life.

Assuming a genuine spiritual birth and not some “say a prayer, I’m good now right?, ok good back to my regularly scheduled programming” pseudo-conversion, the week after a person comes to the Lord is often that time when they start trying to figure out how the stuff that’s all currently on their plate in life is supposed to be ordered and which situations require some level or another of change.

For some, they’re confronted with the cold hard reality of what their booze or “candy” looks like to God; for others, they immediately have business deals or patterns of behavior at work come to the forefront of their mind in terms of “how am I going to reconcile that with my newfound faith?” For others still, it may mean vocational change or and adjustment to their educational direction.

For me, a switch was thrown on a concept that I wouldn’t hear a good explanation of for some time: I was in the midst of a separation, and the relationship had long been to some degree or another based on the premise of me being “the chaser” — you know, anytime something was wrong, I would “chase her” to find out what was wrong or what I could do to make her all better. Now that I had decided to follow Jesus, there was immediate conflict: no man can serve two masters, and here I was with two very legitimate claimants for the #1 spot on my list.

Without thought-out, logical argumentation as to why I felt so, something in me just knew that following God first would be central to everything else in life — including the success of my marriage. It was strange, though…she didn’t know what to make of it either, as I was now “giving her space” that she wasn’t sure she wanted (as those living off “the chase” seldom do) and waiting for her to make whatever move she wanted. We were both selfish, whiny, emotion-driven kids when we got married (surely much to the chagrin of our respective parents), and it would certainly take God to fix the messes we had gotten ourselves into. Long story short, after a few more years and a few more trials, she decided to bail for greener pastures, but that initial lesson of “put Me first and then you’ll be able to properly love her as I intended you to” was well worth the price of admission, as painful as that was.

All in all, we’re silly creatures, wanting to believe that there’s a whole host of “neutral not-importants” in our lives so we can continue to feed our flesh while maintaining the appearance of standing uprightly in the spirit. At some point though, we have to realize that in order to follow Jesus, we have to take some of that “natural” we’ve been holding on to so tightly and turn it over to the spiritual. “I count all things as loss” said Paul, one who could certainly stand to brag about his earthly accomplishments. But what did he think of them? “Dung.” His word, not mine.

We’re skittish like the sheep the Bible refers to us as — we don’t like walking by faith, we don’t like having to trust someone with an uncertain future (or present, for that matter), and we certainly don’t like giving up things even if we know deep down we should put them straight in the trash can. But choosing to follow Christ is like handing over the keys to your house: the new owner is going to walk through, room by room, until He has made sure that there’s nothing inside that’s going to kill you.

What we don’t like to hear is that mold in the walls is just as deadly as a leaking gas pipe…just because the leaky gas pipe might get the job done faster doesn’t mean that agonizingly slow day-by-day death by inhaling mold won’t end up making you just as dead. Don’t compromise; let Him fix all of it.

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“Why’d You Bother To Plant The Tree?” (DTFD, February 19)

(from “Daily Thoughts for Disciples” by Oswald Chambers, February 19th entry)

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“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.” 1st Peter 1:6

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If you know someone who has a good spiritual banking account, borrow from that one for all you are worth, because he or she will give you all you want and never look to be paid back.

Here is the reason a saint goes through the things one does go through — God wants to know if He can make one good “bread” to feed other people. The man or woman who has gone through the crucible is going to be a tremendous support to hundreds of others…

If you have a trial of faith, endure it till you get through. If you have been through trials of faith in the past, God is bringing across your path immature souls, and you have no business to despise them but rather to help them through — be to them a source of nourishment.

“[Jesus perceived] that power had gone out of Him,” and you will feel the same thing: there are people who spiritually and morally have to suck the vitals out of you, and if you don’t keep up the supply from the life of Jesus Christ, you will be like an exhausted volcano before long.

You must keep that up and let them nourish themselves from you until they are able to stand on their own feet and take direct life from Him.

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Taken from Daily Thoughts for Disciples, © 1976, 1994 by Oswald Chambers Publications Association, Ltd., and used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids MI 49501. All rights reserved.

[[Some words Chambers uses are not used often today — click [here] to look up difficult words.]]

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Brief commentary:
Oh, my. If there was a single word for the moment a tuning fork reverberates the exact pitch of a person’s heart-cry, this would be the moment I’d use such a word.

I remember coming across an online Christian ministry hub several years back (and Mike, if you’re reading this, I still think and pray for you often). It’s social format is somewhat common, create your profile, add your pictures, favorite resources, etc. When it asked for the “About Me” information, it took me about five minutes to try to find the words to portray what I felt my call at that moment was, and the only wording that sounded right centered around this concept: that I would grab a person by the hand and walk and talk with them, while at the same time holding Jesus’ hand, and as we walked along, my role was to draw those two other hands closer and closer until joyously one day Jesus and the friend would be walking hand in hand, and my job of “providing the introductions” would be over in that person’s life.

The last thing that we should have in our minds as ministers of the Gospel of Christ is that we’re at one level and the people we minister to are somehow on another. Just as a person at one time can have grandparents, parents, a spouse, and kids, that’s all ministering to people is as well. No one set or “class” of people is “worth” more than any other group; they just have different roles based on their levels of experience within the framework of the family. Everyone has something to contribute in different situations; just about everyone has something to contribute in every situation! Far be it from us to start thinking that because someone asks a question or needs help with something that somehow that makes us higher up the ladder than them.

Every believer needs three people in their life to really be firing on all cylinders in regards to their spiritual walk: they need a Paul to mentor them, a Barnabas to encourage them, and a Timothy to disciple. When those three people are in place (and there’s nothing to say that one person can’t fulfill more than one of those roles, mind you), a proper perspective regarding people will be maintained, and the Lord will flow through you not only to those three, but will overflow onto just about everyone else you come across in daily life.

Let’s be honest: going through trials really sucks. Given the choice, all but the most devoted sadists would choose the more comfy way to learn. But God’s smart enough — and loving enough! — to let us go through some rough stuff (usually when we’re not listening to the easy stuff, but not always) so we can not only have our own sight corrected, but then also be able to correctly steer others who are having the same “eyesight problems” we had previously. (Some have used the old adage about getting advice on child-rearing from people who’ve never had kids — having gone from zero kids to three kids practically overnight via adoption, it’s mind-boggling how quickly the justifications I would have previously brought up in defense as a child-less person melted away under the reality of actually having three snot-factories running around infecting everything in my house with their “kid-ness”. I love ‘em anyways, but you folks with kids know what I’m talking about.)

Again, this was a heart-checker. As he said, “you have no business to despise them”. After all, if you think about it, the people coming to you for help are the positive fruit of those “negative” trials you had to suffer through previously. And if you despise the fruit, why’d you spend all that pain and energy planting the tree?

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You’re Ripping Us Off!

God has timing that is unmatched in the universe, let me tell you.

I’ve now “replaced the calendar” almost 13 times now since I’ve come to faith in Jesus Christ as my Redeemer, my Savior, my Lord and King. And in that time, I can remember only once before having an explosion of emotion towards Him like I did Sunday night.

The reasons for it and the commentary regarding it are best saved for another time, but suffice it to say that God took everything I had to unleash on Him, held me close to His heart, and let me “get back to work”.

Many flashes of words spoken and written by influential people in my life chimed in at various moments in my tirade, including my pastor and several other pastors and teachers I’ve been privileged enough to study under.

Scripture washed over me in such a way that it was indistinguishable from my tears.

My pastor told us one Sunday morning about a time he went through where, for about two years, his walk with God seemed — in his words — “like licking a rock”. Dry, dusty, lonely. Pretty much the opposite of what you would ever actually want your relationship with the Lord to be like.

He said that as he prayed — even though he felt no answer would be forthcoming, for whatever reason — at some point during that two-year period he said to God “I know You’ve promised never to leave me or forsake me, but for some reason that’s how I feel…so I’m going to submit my feelings to Your promise and continue in the work you’ve put me in, and when this dry time is over, I’ll hopefully be face to face with You once again.”

It ministered to me at the time he said it, but didn’t have much personal application with me until relatively recently. And as the emotion flowed freely just a few short days ago, it’s one of the things that kept coming back to mind.

Continue being faithful.

Your work is valuable.

I love you!

You’re going to make it.

I am always with you.

Fast forward about 33 hours here, and as I open up the Word and a devotional that I read, I’m struck with two reminders — Jeremiah, the prophet who put everything he had into faithfully delivering the Word of the Lord to his people even though they wouldn’t listen, and Paul exhorting a very carnal church regarding their duty in service to the Lord and to one another.

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“Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. 6 Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters — that you may be increased there, and not diminished…
10 For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed in Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. 11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity…”
(Jeremiah 29:5-6, 10-14a)

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“But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body…
25b …but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”
(1st Corinthians 12:18-20, 25b-26)

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Here are the words of the devotion for February 19th:

Let us review something here that we probably know: the doctrine of the life and operation of Christian believers on earth — starting with the fact that the Christian church is the body of Christ, Jesus Himself being the Headship of that body. Every true Christian, no matter where he or she lives, is a part of that body, and the Holy Spirit is to the church what our own souls are to our physical bodies.

Through the operation of the Holy Spirit, Christ becomes the life, the unity and the consciousness of the body, which is the church. Let the soul leave the physical body and all the parts of the body cease to function. Let the Spirit be denied His place in the spiritual body, and the church ceases to function as God intended…

According to the Bible, the whole body exists for its members and the members exist for the whole body. And that, of course, is the reason God gives gifts, so that the body may profit spiritually and maintain spiritual health and prosperity in its service for Jesus Christ in an unfriendly world.

[His prayer at the end of the devotion]
“Lord, I pray that today we in our church might be aware of Your presence, that we might be faithfully exercising the gifts You have given and that we might be a healthy Body that pleases You. Amen.”

Both of these passages ministered to me because they meet both sides of where I feel I’m at lately. Just as Jesus gave His disciples the encouragement “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” with the command “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations“, here this morning God saw fit to give me the reassurance “yeah, you’re gonna be ‘in the desert’ for a little while, but I’ve got a purpose for the time and when the time’s up I’ll be there waiting for you” along with the reminder “you are an important part of My Body, and I need you to be there showing that same care for one another to those who need to see it“.

I know I’m no Jeremiah, nor am I a Paul. My words are not Scripture, and I have no authority in and of myself. I’m just a regular guy, no different from you, who has a burning in my bones to share with people the goodness of God and the lengths He has gone to to rescue people from the disease they didn’t even know they had.

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“O LORD, You induced me, and I was persuaded; You are stronger than I, and have prevailed. I am in derision daily; Everyone mocks me. 8 For when I spoke, I cried out; I shouted, “Violence and plunder!” Because the word of the LORD was made to me A reproach and a derision daily.
9 Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name.” But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not…11a But the Lord is with me…”
(Jeremiah 20:7-9, 11a)

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But YOU, brothers and sisters — YOU are just as much a part of that body as I am. You each have people who you interact with daily, circles in which you travel, fellowships full of other believers who have their own struggles, trials and tribulations going on in their lives. Are you suffering with those who suffer? Rejoicing with those who rejoice? It’s certainly much easier to rejoice with people (at least outwardly) than it is to suffer with those who suffer, but BOTH are the natural “work” of the Body in proper relation with the Holy Spirit.

I’ve come to realize the practical, real-world application of 1st Corinthians 13 in my own life: no matter how many people I evangelize on the street, no matter how many disciples I train up, no matter how many classes I teach or studies I lead, no matter how many blogs I write or how many countries those words make their way into, it’s all worthless if I’m not actively willing to be “in sackcloth and ashes” with those being ground into the dust and “in party hats and hula skirts” with those who are rejoicing. Worthless because people don’t care what you know (or think you know) unless they know that you genuinely care.

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“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

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Our society has become so “appearance-driven” that we often put on our “happy Christian” façade when we go to church, shake hands, give hugs, smile and wave, then drive home just as hurting and wounded as we were when we arrived. In the first century church, everyone lived in the same town as the people they fellowshipped with, and they likely saw each other more frequently on a day-to-day basis than we do today — we, the masters of the commute. Yet if it was so important for the “constantly fellowshipping” folks in that day to still gather together for fellowship on the first day of the week, wouldn’t it be even more important for us, as typically disconnected from our neighbors and Family as we are, to get in that good fellowship time with our brothers and sisters?

Sure, it’s easier to hide. If you are a part of a larger fellowship, it’s easier still. But if you do so, you’re ripping the rest of us off, because you are a valuable and important member of His Body, and you were given gifts specifically for the purpose of edifying and growing the rest of us!

“Many hands make light work”, as the saying goes. Yet so many have removed their hand from the plow entirely that the few who remain at the work are nearly crushed by it. Ever since I first started teaching “Children’s Church” roughly ten years ago, I typically can’t sleep the night before. It’s not something that is all holy or dramatic; I just have always had a sense in my spirit of the immense responsibility it is to deliver the Word of God into the life of another person. Anyone who reads Matthew 18:6 and yet somehow thinks that teaching kids is a casual and carefree thing needs to find a different area to serve in.

A.W. Tozer said it this way: “The rewards of godly leadership are so great and the responsibilities of the leader so heavy that no one can afford to take the matter lightly.”

I have a few faithful brothers that I know I can call anytime if something’s up, but honestly, I find myself asking myself (when someone calls me at one of those times) “why should it even get that far?” I mean, if we’re being real with each other, shouldn’t we be open with each other on Sunday mornings? Wednesday nights? Bible studies? Discipleship classes? In the off times at the coffee shop? How on earth do we let each other fall through the cracks? How do we let each other come to fellowship, recognize the façades on each other’s faces, then just let each other go without peeling back the bandages and asking for some healing oil?

These questions are what compel me to love you. Christ died for me so that I could be a part of His Family, and He did the same for you — but now that we’re part of His royal Family, are we supposed to be a gaggle of Jerry Springer dysfunctionals? God forbid! We’ve been ripping each other off, holding back love, depriving each other of the outworking of the Holy Spirit through the use of His gifts, and as a result we are causing the Body to atrophy. I pray this would compel you to become fully engaged in the lives of those you’ve been called to “have the same care for” — your brothers and sisters in Christ’s Body.

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2)

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[NOTE: the devotion referenced here was written by A.W. Tozer and compiled by Ronald Eggert in devotional form in the book “Tozer on Christian Leadership”, copyright 2001 by Wing Spread Publications. All rights to the work reserved by the publisher.]

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For The Audience of One

[NOTE: the devotion referenced here was written by A.W. Tozer and compiled by Ronald Eggert in devotional form in the book “Tozer on Christian Leadership”, copyright 2001 by Wing Spread Publications. All rights to the work reserved by the publisher.]

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Yesterday’s “Tozer on Christian Leadership” devotion really struck a chord with me, predominantly because having visited all sorts of different churches of varying denominations, sizes and congregational cultures, I can see two different sides to what he’s trying to express. The truth of his words is the same in all instances, yet the application of it — at least in today’s “church” landscape — might be a little trickier and requiring of more determination than it would seem at first glance.

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“Them that sin, rebuke before all, that others also may fear.”     (1st Timothy 5:20)

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Here are the words of the devotion for January 29:

I cannot believe in the spirituality of any Christian man who keeps an eye open for the approval of others, whoever they may be. The man after God’s own heart must be dead to the opinion of his friends as well as his enemies. He must be as willing to cross important persons as obscure ones. He must be ready to rebuke his superior as quickly as those who may be beneath him on the ecclesiastical ladder. To reprove one man in order to gain the favor of another is no evidence of moral courage. It is done in the world all the time.

We’ll never be where we should be in our spiritual lives until we are so devoted to Christ that we ask no other approbation than His smile. When we are wholly lost in Him the frantic effort to please men will come to an end. The circle of persons we struggle to please will be narrowed to One. Then we will know true freedom, but not a moment before.

[His prayer at the end of the devotion]
“Lord, does anyone really get over the desire to seek the approval of others? That is a battle for which we are totally dependent on You for victory. Help me today to be content with only the smile of Your approval. Amen.”

What he’s saying is absolutely, unequivocally correct. Both Scripturally and practically (sad we even have to mark the difference, but such it is in these wicked days), the only One we should be seeking the approval of is God Himself. He brings nations onto the scene and brings them down to nothing, and He is able to exalt or humble a man or woman just as easily. The desire of each of our hearts as Christians — as Disciples of the living Messiah — should be to live our lives in such a way that regardless of how we’re viewed by others, be they church folk or unbelievers, we can read through the examining lens of Scripture and know that our vertical relationship with Him is true and plumb.

[I’d like to add here that this is proving to be an extremely difficult and time-consuming thing to write about, mostly because I want to make sure I’m not simply spouting off my personal opinions. I want this to be edifying and helpful, not opinionated and destructive. “He must increase, I must decrease”, in other words.]

There is also an unfortunate reality within the structure of church government when the fellowship being governed starts gaining size and, by consequence, more layers of governors. Every one of us as believers has our own experiences, our own backgrounds, our own victories and struggles, our own doctrinal strengths and weaknesses. And as such, our approaches to different situations might vary from person to person, yet as we yield our own personalities and characteristics to the leading of the Holy Spirit, our responses and how we handle the situations should prove Biblically sound.

However, there are inevitably times when the one in authority and the one under authority in a situation of church governance are going to come to loggerheads regarding approach, with one having handled something in a certain way and the other thinking or communicating “I would never have done it that way…”. This brings a difficult fork in the road: is the leader mature enough to handle the difference with openness (i.e. “I would never have done it that way, but I see your Scriptural basis and will support you in it”), or does the leader revert to “I would never have done it that way, and if you continue to handle it that way, you will no longer be able to serve here”? Might make you feel a bit like Job:

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“Is there not a time of hard service for man on earth?
Are not his days also like the days of a hired man?
2 Like a servant who earnestly desires the shade,
And like a hired man who eagerly looks for his wages,
3 So I have been allotted months of futility,
And wearisome nights have been appointed to me.”
(Job 7:1-3)

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Providing that no one was put in danger by the difference in style, and that the approach of the one under authority was not malicious or destructive, the obvious preference any person in a position of authority should desire is the first response. God has brought all manner of people together in this crazy stew of humanity He calls His Bride, and as such we need to be sensitive to the fact that in church leadership, those differences in approach — even seemingly dramatic ones — do not necessarily mean that the servants are incompatible or cannot serve together, or do not share the same vision for souls.

Why do I bring this all up?

Simply put, as congregation sizes increase, the challenges they face also increase, as will the interpersonal “conflicts” that will arise any time you add more personalities to an organization. And as size increases, the need for more layers of church government increase with it so that the groups of those under authority remain manageable by those in authority.

[Side note: I know the term “authority” usually hits people with a bit of a negative connotation because of people’s tendency to abuse it, but in the context of a congregation, authority really means responsibility and accountability for, rather than power over. Yes, there is a certain measure of executive power that comes with authority — there would have to be, otherwise the authority will be viewed as “having no teeth” and, sadly, will consequently be ignored — but when that executive authority changes into lordship over, that is where the problem arises. As Scripture reminds us, we should pray for those in authority over us in the Church, as they’re responsible (i.e. “accountable”) for their influence in our service, for the better or the worse.]

That’s not a Bible-only concept; it is a practical reality in every group of any size, be it a business, corporation, government, military, or any of a dozen other common types of organizations. One person might be able to oversee three others with relative ease; increase that number to fifty, and the ease evaporates. Increase it to a few hundred and it can easily become depressingly challenging. Into the thousands? Forget about it, it’ll drive you nuts (unless you disengage, which would in all practical sense neuter your direct influence of those you’re supposedly accountable for).

As the layers increase, you as a Christian leader will have more and more people who are “over” you in authority, which can sometimes cause you to feel like “there are just that many more people to try and keep happy with me” since that’s the way our culture typically operates. You will likely have times when you have those in authority over you who share many similarities with you in terms of personality, leadership style, giftings, even secular interests such as taste in fashion or shared favorite sports teams. You will also likely have times when you have those in authority over you who are polar opposites in terms of personality, leadership style, giftings, and secular interests. And that’s where the rub comes.

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“For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (Galatians 6:8-9)

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I wish it wasn’t so — though perhaps it’s God’s application of “sandpaper” to our spiritual lives — but in the occasion where you’re polar opposites with one (or several) in authority over you in the fellowship in which you serve, it can become a tremendous temptation to do things to garner the approval of those people. Not saying whether that is right or wrong in all cases, just stating it as an interpersonal reality.

And it is precisely those situations where following the Biblical advice Tozer is offering here can be so tough. Almost impossible.

If you’re a person who’s spent a significant period of time serving in your fellowship, it becomes all the more difficult (as that voice inside you creeps up saying “You don’t want to have wasted all that time here just to get “fired” because of personal differences”). And let’s face it, not everyone in leadership is there because of God directly putting them there; there are bad choices and favoritism alike that take place from time to time, though if God has allowed you into such a situation, work with it in that same “He must increase, I must decrease” attitude of service, which He will honor.

But here’s the tough part: we have to make sure we distinguish style from substance. Getting into fights over style are petty for all involved, and as such only break down rather than build up.

Here’s the tougher part: if I really trust God, I need to do everything within my power to ensure I’m being faithful with that which He has called me to be and do in His service. As a Christian leader — whether it’s changing diapers in a nursery, supervising a group of elders, or pastoring a church of thousands or of twenty — you and I are called to serve Him first, and if we find ourselves in a situation where we feel we’re forced to choose between being true to our calling of  serving Him through service to His people and bending ourselves to satisfy something superficial in someone else, we need to “carefully, prayerfully” keep a clear conscience and seek His approval alone.

That does NOT mean be divisive, because God hates those who sow division, even those in His own Body. (I tend to think He feels even more strongly in that case). It doesn’t mean to talk bad about the person you disagree with, justify yourself in your own mind that you’re right and they’re wrong, or any other flesh-driven activity. If you have people you’re accountable with (which you absolutely should if you’re in leadership; if not, get some), by all means privately discuss with them your feelings and viewpoint, and ask for their godly counsel as to how they think you should proceed. After all, the first layer built upon the foundation of servant leadership is the recognition that you’re not always going to be right, so seeking Biblical counsel from believers you trust is wise.

It means to be humble, but firm. “Meek”, to use a Biblical word for it; “power under control”. Let your stance be known in humility, keeping style separate from substance, and making sure that first and foremost you’re seeking God’s approval upon your service.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)

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“You’re Telling On Yourself, You Know.”

I was just typing up today’s DTFD post when I decided to read today’s entry from “Tozer on Christian Leadership”. Here’s what it says:

“The important thing about a man is not where he goes when he is compelled to go, but where he goes when he is free to go where he will…

A man is absent from church Sunday morning. Where is he? If he is in a hospital having his appendix removed his absence tells us nothing about him except that he is ill; but if he is out on the golf course, that tells us a lot. To go to the hospital is compulsory; to go to the golf course, voluntary. The man is free to choose and he chooses to play instead of to pray. His choice reveals what kind of man he is. Choices always do…

I think it might be well for us to check our spiritual condition occasionally by the simple test of compatibility. When we are free to go, where do we go? In what company do we feel most at home? Where do our thoughts turn when they are free to turn where they will? When the pressure of work or business or school has temporarily lifted and we are able to think of what we will instead of what we must, what do we think of then?

The answers to these questions may tell us more about ourselves than we can comfortably accept. But we had better face up to things. We haven’t too much time at the most.  (“Tozer on Christian Leadership”, January 28th entry “Choices”)

I love A.W. Tozer. His stuff always cuts through all the hogwash and self-justifying excuses we come up with and shoots straight into the 10-ring. A pastor friend of mine used to say it this way: “The one thing you can always count on people to do is exactly what they really want to do.”

Yeah, I live in 21st century America too. In southern California, in fact, where the “rush rush rush” seldom stops. Our modern culture of “hey, we’ve got a couple hours free on Thursdays, how ’bout we sign up for something to fill the time?” has not served us at all, but rather has enslaved us in such a way that we no longer have very much time to just sit and meditate on the Lord.

As my brothers and sisters in arms gather together to pray before and after the Sunday morning services we serve in together, one of the most common prayer requests is that we each would be able to further carve out precious time to read more, study more, pray more, meditate more. We all feel the pinch of days filled with things that ultimately won’t matter, and it kills us a little on the inside to consider that. So, with true American gusto, when we get a little “free time”, when we cash in some of those vacation days, one thing rushes to the forefront of our minds: “This time is precious, make the most of it.”

Why don’t we ever plan week-long vacations to our prayer closet? Why don’t we look to invest the $500 it would cost us to take the family to Disneyland in some good study tools, like commentaries or Bible software? Why don’t we use that vacation time to attend Bible conferences, men’s/women’s retreats, or prayer meetings?

There’s a huge variety of reasons why, but they’re all summed up in one simple one: there’s other things we’d rather be doing.

This word from Tozer today is like a shot across the bow for us, a warning to let us know we might be drifting into dangerous waters. If our heart is on the golf course, even if our glutes are in the pews at church, our worship is tainted. Remember, God is not looking for our impeccable attendance record and our memorization of whatever liturgies are on the schedule for today; He’s looking for hearts that have come to worship Him, to sit at His feet and learn from Him, and to serve others just as we would serve Him.

People can tell who we are by the choices we make. We’re not as safe in our justifications as we assume we are.

 

Choose wisely.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“I have chosen the way of truth;
thy judgements have I laid before me.
I have stuck unto thy testimonies:
O Lord, put me not to shame.”
~ Psalm 119:30-31

Categories: General Interest, Quote Of The Day, Thoughts and Daily Insights | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

“Whether By Neglect Or Execution, Just Kill It Already…” ((DTFD, January 28))

[NOTE: today’s entry regarding “sensuality” is NOT using the term the way it is commonly used today (which almost always meant in terms of sexual connotation). Thus it is important to remember this so as to not get the wrong idea about what is being said. Make sure your “grown up pants” are securely fastened and be edified; he’ll define his use of the term in the third paragraph. ~Jason]

(from “Daily Thoughts for Disciples” by Oswald Chambers, January 28th entry)

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“If you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” — Romans 8:13

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Sensuality is not a sin; it is the way my body works in connection with external circumstances whereby I begin to satisfy myself. Sensuality will work in a person who is delivered from sin by Jesus Christ as well as in a person who is not.

I do not care what your experience may be as a Christian, you may be trapped by sensuality at any time. Paul says, “Mortify the deeds of the body”; mortify means to destroy by neglect. One of the first big moral lessons a person has to learn is that one cannot destroy sin by neglect; sin has to be handled by the redemption of Jesus Christ. It cannot be handled by me. Heredity is a bigger problem than I can cope with; but if I will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit on the basis of Christ’s redemption, He enables me to work out that redemption in my experience.

With regard to sensuality, that is my business; I have to mortify it, and if I don’t, it will never be mortified. If I take any part of my natural life and use it to satisfy myself, that is sensuality. A Christian has to learn that one’s body is not one’s own. “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit…and you are not your own?” Watch that you learn to mortify.

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Taken from Daily Thoughts for Disciples, © 1976, 1994 by Oswald Chambers Publications Association, Ltd., and used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids MI 49501. All rights reserved.

[[Some words Chambers uses are not used often today — click [here] to look up difficult words.]]

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Brief commentary:
It might be safe to say that just about every man, when that opening phrase “Sensuality is not sin” was read, likely had some sort of convicting thought. Our culture has groomed the word “sensuality” from a neutral, factual one to a dark, lurid, almost taboo one. It has become the word to use synonymously for “sexuality” when you’re in company that would find that word offensive. But sensuality is more than just sexual; it can reach into and become a part of every physical interaction we have with the world.

We would use the terminology “living according to the flesh” nowadays, and what we would mean by that is simply that we’re being driven by our carnal, physical drives rather than taking control of them and putting them back in their place as our servants rather than our masters.

As I was learning the basics of this thing called “Biblical Christianity”, several teachers I admire and respect defined mortify as “to put to death, execute”. I think that might be a bit more along the lines of what Paul was getting at when he said “mortify the deeds of the flesh”, at least with the way we use the terms today. “To put to death or execute” carries with it an air of proactivity, taking the fight to it rather than letting it bring the fight to you (as “to destroy by neglect” seems to convey).

I don’t think the flesh is going to completely disappear through simple neglect, at least not long-term. During times of fasting and prayer, the purpose of the fasting is to restore prominence to the spirit while depriving the flesh so as to weaken it; fast for more than a few days and your stomach will, for the most part, stop griping. But continue to fast for an extended period of time and it will rear its head once again, and with a vengeance.

Factor into the equation our propensity for “once again messing up” — sneaking a candy bar in the middle of the second day of your fast, for example — and there it is, right back in the forefront of prominence: the flesh.

No, I think the other definition is better, especially in this context, because quite simply, the battle with the flesh is a very active one, not one where you can simply leave it alone and hope it will be satisfied with you not encroaching upon its turf. The flesh might let you think that’s sufficient, but it sneaks up on you like a house cat on a cricket and pounces on you when you’re least expecting it, steering you here and there in your decision-making and generally causing all sorts of havoc.

Interestingly enough, today’s word from A.W. Tozer says this:

“The important thing about a man is not where he goes when he is compelled to go, but where he goes when he is free to go where he will…”   (A.W. Tozer, in the “Tozer on Christian Leadership” devotional, January 28th entry titled “Choices”)

People around us in life will be able to tell whether we have our flesh under control or whether we’re under the control of our flesh, even if they’re unbelievers or otherwise unfamiliar with the “flesh” concept. How? Because our choices are on display for everyone to see. If we look for any excuse to miss church, people will notice. If we look for reasons to avoid praying with people, people will notice. If we walk by the hungry with a bag of Double-Doubles in our hand, people will notice. If we pass the shivering along the roadside and pull our jackets around us a little tighter, people will notice. Sure, eventually the Holy Spirit is going to be convicting you in Dolby surround sound, and at that time you might make some change here or there, but how many opportunities will you lose out on because of that passive approach?

Think about that. If you choose to sit back and just ‘let the flesh die’, in a way it’s like spraying a spider in your house with whatever aerosol you have handy, then not going to check to see if it did the job. Tonight I was washing some dishes when my wife came home, and as I was doing so I noticed a spider hanging out in the little crevice created by the curved bottom of the soap bottle and the sink shelf. As I tried to move the bottle to get a better view of what type of spider it was, it was bumped into the side of the sink where dishes were soaking in semi-soapy water. It quickly latched onto the backside of a cup, and I lost sight of it. Needless to say, every few seconds for the remainder of the time I was doing dishes, I was keeping an eye on that corner of the sink to see if it would re-emerge. (Last I saw of it, it looked like it had taken spider scuba lessons, because it was actively swimming downwards in the water.) When my wife came in, I told her of what happened, so she stuck her hand in the sink, pulled the stopper and let the water drain. “Don’t do that!”, I told her. “If it’s dead, that’s fine, but don’t give it the chance to dry out and come back to life to exact his revenge on me while I’m finishing up!”

That’s how the flesh can be. It might look like it’s harmless, all soggy and pitifully flailing in the corner, but that’s just its way of convincing us to leave it alone. Just like you would (or should) respect the potential of a Black Widow or Brown Recluse spider to threaten even your life, the flesh should be viewed with no less respect. It’s a killer, and the only thing you can do to keep it from getting you is to actively put it to death every single day.

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“Oops, Your Label Is Showing…” ((DTFD, January 27))

(from “Daily Thoughts for Disciples” by Oswald Chambers, January 27th entry)

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“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” — Matthew 7:21

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Human nature is fond of labels, but a label may be the counterfeit of confession. It is so easy to be branded with labels, much easier in certain stages to wear a ribbon or a badge than to confess.

Jesus never used the word testify; He used a much more searching word — confess. “Whoever confesses Me before men…” The test of goodness is confession by doing the will of God. “If you do not confess Me before men,” says Jesus, “neither will your heavenly Father confess you.”

Immediately we confess, we must have a badge; if we do not put one on, other people will. Our Lord is warning that it is possible to wear the label without having the goods, possible for a man or woman to wear the badge of being His disciple when he or she is not. Labels are all right, but if we mistake the label for the goods we get confused.

If the disciple is to discern between the person with the label and the person with the goods, he or she must have the spirit of discernment, that is, the Holy Spirit. We start out with the honest belief that the label and the goods must go together; they should, but Jesus warns that sometimes they get severed, and we find cases where God honors His Word although those who preach it are not living right lives.

Judge the preacher, He says, by his or her fruit.

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Taken from Daily Thoughts for Disciples, © 1976, 1994 by Oswald Chambers Publications Association, Ltd., and used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids MI 49501. All rights reserved.

[[Some words Chambers uses are not used often today — click [here] to look up difficult words.]]

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Brief commentary:
You know, it’s amazing to me that Chambers wrote when he did, several decades before “commercialism” — that is, the driving force of brand names — really took off. There are two parts to this point, and both are just as timely (if not more so) today than they were when he penned them.

Perhaps because of my life being spent more or less in proximity to the Los Angeles metropolitan area, I see a culture so infused with the idea of “branding” that everything is almost instantaneously boiled down to a label for people. You’re a “Coke person” or a “Pepsi person”; a Dodge, Ford or Chevy guy; a conservative or a liberal, Republican or Democrat; a Methodist or a Baptist or a “Calvary Chapelite”. No matter what the topic of consideration is, there’s a label for what category you fall into.

And honestly, that’s unfortunate.

Artists would cringe if you reduced the Mona Lisa to the description “some smiling chick”, or the Sistine Chapel to the description “fancy paint in an old building”. It’s telling that riding the waves concurrent with this epidemic labeling is the feeling amongst just about everyone that they’re “more complex” than the labels they’ve been given would lead you to believe. We hate being oversimplified, yet we typically participate quite frequently in oversimplifying others so we can plug them into our mental spreadsheets for easy classification.

Why do we do this?

Because it’s much easier to label something and file it away for later consideration (which happens more and more rarely as time goes on) than it is to face something now, considering, pondering, meditating upon the nuances and subtleties that people bring into a discussion. By and large, we make more enemies through this practice than we make friends, which in turn will gradually feed our idea that “we’re so misunderstood”, because after all, “if people really understood me, more people would like me, right?”

In Christian circles, this practice is very much alive and well — not typically in a malicious way, but more perhaps because when people come to faith in Christ, it’s usually out of a recognition of their brokenness and the sense of offense they have brought to their Creator. And as new people in any group tend to do, they seek to be accepted among some faction of the group at large so they can become comfortable in their new social surroundings.

Nothing wrong with that.

However, when we set ourselves up for the kind of “oversimplification” that we always say we don’t like others to impose upon us, it gives the enemy a foothold. Scripture is crystal clear about the fact that God despises divisions amongst His Body, and that the enemy often puts a lot of energy into trying to get the brethren to fracture and divide.

It’s a very casual thing amongst many modern Christians, and we even assign lots of religious-sounding titles to our factions: over on the left, those are the “worshipers” sipping their lattes and looking like they just came out of an Aeropostale catalog; in the front, we have the “glory-be’s” — you know, the ones who are very outgoing or athletic and never pass up an opportunity to declare a little too loudly “glory be to God!” for them finding a parking space or discovering that the new phone they want to buy is now $25 off with the e-coupon they were emailed on their old phone; back in the back are the “exes” — you know, the ex-alcoholics, the ex-druggies, the ex-prostitutes, etc.; and over on the right, we have the “show thyself approveds”, the studious crowd who never walks out of the house without a Bible, concordance, and three commentaries on whatever book they’re currently reading through.

Recognizing that “an eye in the body is obviously not a foot” is not at all an issue; different people with different callings and at different stages of their spiritual walks and in different social or professional circles are obviously going to be different. But the fact that we’re too often so eager to not be “the new guy”, and are willing to jump into a label just so we can be known as somebody (even if it’s not who we really are OR who God intends for us to be), that’s the problem.

My closest brothers in the fellowship I currently serve at are (in no particular order) Chargers fans, Broncos fans, Raiders fans, 49ers fans, Falcons fans, Angels fans, Dodgers fans, Lakers fans, Clippers fans, Ducks fans, Kings fans, Penguins fans, Sharks fans, and on and it goes. There are natural rivalries that we (possibly because we’re men, but I don’t think exclusively because of gender) find ourselves in throughout the course of the years, almost always amicably. Yet we don’t allow those petty differences to become fractional.

If we were to look at “more spiritual” differences, as in who’s more of a “worship kind of person”, or who’s more of a “meditative student of Scripture”, it would honestly be just as petty to divide over those differences as it would be to say “I, as a fan of the greatest football team on earth, the Green Bay Packers, cannot in good conscience serve with the likes of you, a demon-spawn fan of those hacks the San Francisco 49ers”.

Church, wake up! God puts eyes and noses and ears and veins and arteries and bones and muscles and mitochondria all together in this skin-bag we call a body so that we — as eternal spirit-beings — can interact within the confines of a specially designed “earth suit” with the world we live in. And He does the same exact thing with this grander-scale version that He calls His Body, putting together feet that smell with noses that run and mouths with halitosis and waxy ears so that each and every one of us can be sharpened, be edified, be “grown up” and molded into more complete and effective bondservants of the Lord Jesus Christ than we can possibly imagine being if we were apart from such “crummy” and different service-mates!

As is said, “the label and the goods must go together”. God’s sovereignty will carry the message above even the faults and hypocrisies of the messenger (a la Philippians 1:18), but that doesn’t excuse the messenger from his need to make Confession to God, then go out and make public his Confession of God. And if that person is a teacher, all the more frequent the need to revisit that practice of Confession.

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Finding The Balance — Joy and Fear

Anyone who has been serving in the ministry of the Gospel and Discipleship for any length of time can attest to the fact that you will find people typically break down into opposing groups when discussing subjects that usually don’t get a lot of “out in the open” time. Theological discussions can get huffy in a hurry, and there’s a certain level of “theological hypotheticals” I try not to wander beyond — simply because it’s fruitless.

But there are other subjects which people also filter into opposing groups about, but not for the same reasons. These are more “still working my brain through the idea” kind of subjects. The one I’ve been thinking about a lot this week is a classic: joy and fear.

This tends to be one of those subjects that actually shows itself in people’s lives, often without them even knowing it. Ask a person where they fall on the topic of living their life in Christ with joy or with fear, and nine times out of ten you’ll get a quick, “first instinct” reply, followed by some “deer in the headlights” looks if you press further, along with palpable discomfort and any of a dozen common “excuse me, I have to go” reasons to exit stage right.

If you try to approach it Scripturally, a casual Bible student will often fall into a hard place. They’ll have in their mind things they’ve heard over time about the supremacy of one over the other, and when they read they’ll have a tendency to pick up on those verses which speak to that supremacy and find reasons to excuse those that say otherwise. This is not a good practice, and God will certainly make sure you encounter enough “sandpaper people” to grind that edge right off of you.

In the meantime, we should seek to not head into the discussion with our own pre-set ideas of “which holds supremacy over the other”, but rather should seek to learn whatever it is that the Lord would have to teach us about the subject. Consider this thought:

“The joy of the Lord grows primarily out of our relationship with Him, while the fear of the Lord grows out of our responsibility to Him. Joy and fear are neither enemies nor competitors; they’re friends and allies. ‘In heaven, love will absorb fear,’ said John Henry Newman, ‘but in this world, fear and love must go together.” Later in that same sermon, he added, ‘Fear is allayed by the love of Him, and our love sobered by our fear of Him.’

All responsibility without joy will crush a person and turn Christian service into slavery. But all joy without godly fear will make that servant shallow and immature. Jesus calls us both friends and servants (John 15:14-15). We enjoy intimacy and carry responsibility, and we must keep them in balance.”
~Warren Wiersbe, “On Being A Servant of God”

There’s something I frequently refer to (certainly not the only one to ever use the wording) called the pendulum syndrome: basically, people swinging back and forth (like the pendulum on an old grandfather clock) on issues because they feel like this verse or that verse declares that this side or that side of an issue is the right side. But as is often the case, we need to stop the pendulum from swinging all over the place and let it rest — that’s finding the balance.

In regards to this topic, you’ve seen people just as I have: on one hand, the “bouncing off the walls” newborn Christian who’s got the joy-joy-joy-joy down in their heart who spill it all over you as they walk by; on the other hand, the “robeless monks” who give you the idea that it’d be a sin for them to express any happiness, and that God would surely smite them to salt if they laughed. Neither is healthy.

Just as Wiersbe pointed out, responsibility without joy makes a slave, while all joy without godly fear makes a servant shallow and immature. We certainly don’t want to be slaves under a taskmaster, but I don’t think we should desire to be shallow and immature either.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom” — do you and I want to be wise? “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” — do you and I want to be strong? Let’s see…all the Christ-followers who do NOT want to be wise and strong, stand up and walk out of the room — how many do we have left? Hopefully all. Why did I choose those two verses? Simply because they show that joy and godly fear do not have to compete with each other, do not have to “all or nothing” out-do one another. They’re merely different “exercises” for different spiritual muscles — work all of ’em, the better spiritual shape you’ll be in.

To say it another way: if you want to be strong and stupid, go for the “joy without fear” package; if you want to be wise and weak, go for the “fear without joy” package. I don’t know about you, but “strong and stupid” and “wise and weak” don’t sound like very appealing options to me. Wouldn’t it be better to have those supposed “opposites” work together in your life and mine, so that we could be both strong with His strength and wise with His wisdom?

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“The Relationship’s More Important Than the Circumstances…” ((DTFD, January 13))

(from “Daily Thoughts for Disciples” by Oswald Chambers, January 13th entry)

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“Unless you are converted and become as little children…” — Matthew 18:3

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I have continually to convert the natural life into submission to the Spirit of God in me and not say “I will never do anything natural again”; that is fanatical.

When by the providence of God my body is brought into new conditions, I have to see that my natural life is converted to the dictates of the Spirit of God in me. Because it has been done once is not proof that it will be done again.

“Unless you are converted and become as little children…” is true for all the days of the saintly life; we have continually to turn to God. The attitude of continuous conversion is the only right attitude toward the natural life, and it is the one thing we object to. Either we say the natural is wrong and try to kill it, or else we say that the natural is all there is, and that everything natural and impulsive is right.

Neither attitude is right.

The hindrance in spiritual life is that we will not be continuously converted; there are “wadges” of obstinacy where our pride spits at the throne of God and says — “I shall not; I am going to be boss.”

We cannot remain boss by the sheer power of will; sooner or later our wills must yield allegiance to some force greater than their own, either God or the devil.

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Taken from Daily Thoughts for Disciples, © 1976, 1994 by Oswald Chambers Publications Association, Ltd., and used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids MI 49501. All rights reserved.

[[Some words Chambers uses are not used often today — click [here] to look up difficult words.]]

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Brief commentary:
In the brief time I spent as a single man after coming to the Lord, there were many things that the Lord taught me. Even in the midst of incredible difficulties and relational challenges, there were things the Lord was constantly revealing to me from His Word and from His Creation around me.

When the “single time” ended and “married time” commenced, there were many more things that the Lord taught me, and some things that I’d extrapolated during “single time” didn’t really bear out in “married time”; not that they were wrong, per se, but more that they were superficial, suitable for the shallow moments but not able to sustain the depth of root necessary for the life that comes with married life in the southern California hustle and bustle. Again though, even in the midst of incredible difficulties and relational challenges (both of which were easier to bear with a spouse), there were things that the Lord was constantly revealing to me from His Word and His Creation around me, made all the more beautiful by having an equal to share such things with.

When the “married time” gave way to “married with kids time”, the number of things that the Lord has taught me has simply exploded, and some things I’d extrapolated during “married before kids time” didn’t really bear out in “married with kids time”; not that they were wrong, per se, but more that they too were superficial, suitable for the relatively calm and carefree moments but not able to weather the storms that would be unleashed during the prospect of trying to not just keep the kids alive and healthy, but also raise them to be kids who had a conscious realization that they were wonderfully created by a God who loves them deeply. Beautiful, precious, heart-warming little sinners that they are, kids have a tendency to quickly apply pressure and heat to the parts of your life you’d previously thought were secured and impenetrable, showing you exactly who you really are. Yet again, in the midst of incredible difficulties and relational challenges, there have been things that the Lord has constantly revealed to me from His Word and His Creation around me, made all the more beautiful by having an equal to share such things with as well as some wonderful bambinos to pass such things along to.

“Wow”, you’re thinking, “that’s the longest intro you’ve ever unleashed on us here.” Begging your forgiveness, there is a reason for the long-windedness. In each stage of life I’ve experienced thus far, there have been such wonderful revelations that there is no way I could have possibly turned away from God. And every time it seemed as though enough of the universe made sense for me to start wrapping my mind around it, God would bring me to the next stage in my walk, and I’d once again remember afresh exactly how much I simply didn’t have a clue about.

“What on earth does that have to do with this devo?”

You see, God has been faithful in the things He has said He’d be faithful in, and as a result my heart has resonated with that and continued in the desire to follow Him and become more like Him. Miserable failure that I recognize myself as notwithstanding, I can see the Master Carpenter’s hand at work over the years — first chopping down the tree to haul it somewhere else, then running the tree through the saw to get it into its rough shape, then hitting the rough product with the sandpaper — really coarse at first, then finer and finer as layers are ground off — then when it appears the final product is in view, out comes another log to be cut and shaped and sanded to make the final product that much more fantastic.

But before coming to faith, there were many times when I’d fall back on “pre-programmed responses” when certain things would happen in my life, as I was far more willing to attribute things to just about anything other than God. When you’ve already made up your mind that “God doesn’t exist”, then anything He does to interrupt your daily life or bring good things your way, you’ve already decided it can’t be from that particular source and thus are forced to seek an explanation elsewhere.

(This is one major reason why the whole “Just try Jesus for a while” thing never works — the heart isn’t converted to begin with, and thus He doesn’t know you (Matthew 7:21-23) and you’re basically analyzing the life you already had, setting yourself up for failure.)

No, you can’t “just try Jesus” as if He were a new brand of soda or new designer shoes. You’ve gotta place your life in His hands, give Him your all and let Him do with it as He sees fit. No, it’s not a “once and for all” kind of thing — though we all wish it would be! It would be fantastic to just cast your ballot for Jesus once, and then be locked into that choice forever, never having to worry about falling away or doing wrong. But God is gentleman enough to allow you to come and go as you please. Sure, He’ll give you sage advice (since by choosing Him, you’ve basically said “I want You to lead me”) regarding your decisions, but you’re free to heed the advice or do your own thing, accepting the consequences of your choices either way.

But that’s what makes this “attitude of continuous conversion” so fantastic, so effective. If you’re seeking Him, then regardless of the earthly consequences you reap as a result, it will work together for your good (Romans 8:28) because you love Him and are called according to His purposes.

My youngest is a perfect example: cute enough to get bikers to say “Awwww!”, but stinking sinner enough to require stern correction from time to time. But when such a thing happens, when she gets busted for something bad enough to require discipline, her face becomes downcast but she still makes eye contact with me the whole time, and through her tears she’ll leave wherever she is and come straight to my side, usually with arms outstretched for an embrace. Even in what could be considered the most strained part of our relationship — the times when I have to discipline her — she still doesn’t run away, she runs towards me. The relationship is more important than the circumstances.

At the heart of it, that’s all God is looking for from us as well — when the hard times (or the good times) come, do you walk away from Him? Or do you run towards Him? The answer to that question has supreme importance, and as such He gives us opportunity after opportunity to realize how we’re answering it and, if necessary, begin to answer it differently from how we have been.

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“Heartbreak, Anger, and Perfect Justice…” ((DTFD, December 18))

(from “Daily Thoughts for Disciples” by Oswald Chambers, December 18th entry)

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“What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” — Mark 8:37

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The modern Christian laughs at the idea of a final judgement. That shows how far we can stray away if we imbibe the idea that the modern mind is infallible and not our Lord.

To His mind at least the finality of moral decision is reached in this life. There is no aspect of our Lord’s mind that the modern mind detests so fundamentally as this one…

The parables in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew are three aspects of the divine estimate of life. The parable of the ten virgins reveals that it is fatal from our Lord’s standpoint to live this life without preparation for the life to come. That is not the exegesis, it is the obvious underlying principle.

The parable of the talents is our Lord’s statement with regard to the danger of leaving undone the work of a lifetime.

And the description of the last judgement is the picture of genuine astonishment on the part of both the losers and the gainers of what they had never thought about.

To be accustomed to our Lord’s teaching is not to ask, “What must I do to be good?”, but “What must I do to be saved?” How long does it take us to know what the true meaning of our lives are?

One half second.

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Taken from Daily Thoughts for Disciples, © 1976, 1994 by Oswald Chambers Publications Association, Ltd., and used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids MI 49501. All rights reserved.

[[Some words Chambers uses are not used often today — click [here] to look up difficult words.]]

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Brief commentary:
Here it is, four days since the horrendous attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and my heart grows heavier each day that passes. Here I sit, some 2,900 miles from the events, not having any personal connection (that I am aware of, at least) to anyone involved there, yet I’m heartbroken.

A part of me is crushed. I have three beautiful daughters, ages 8, 7 and 4, and the thought of something like that happening at their elementary school is chilling. Into my mind come thoughts of being a parent so geographically close to your children, yet being so helpless, so unable to do anything of substance to help…such a circumstance would cripple me, in my honest opinion, especially if something tragic befell one of my kids.

And then a part of me gets angry. And I know I’m not the only one.

Why is that?

Simply put, it’s because within each one of us, God has placed what most people refer to as a conscience, that thing inside that upsets our whole disposition when something just isn’t right. And central to that conscience is a sense of justice, that wrongs will be made right and evil doers will shoulder the weight of their offenses.

But how can something like that ever be made right?

It can’t. And that’s what stokes that anger, the idea that justice somehow cannot be served, simply because that which was “taken” is more precious and valuable than anything the offender could recompense. And to it that he chose to take his own life rather than face his consequences, and many people will find themselves in the coming months feeling cheated out of the process of justice because of it.

That’s exactly why I think this particular discussion is so fitting for these current events: it’s not all about the here and now, even though that’s how so many of us honestly view our day-to-day lives when it comes to the concept of justice. Person A does such and such to Person B, Person B presses charges, Person A receives his discipline, and the case is closed. Justice is served, and the world can once again resume it’s regularly scheduled activities.

That’s not how it is in God’s judicial system, however. There is no statute of limitations to worry about, no legal song and dance maneuvering to get a defendant off on a technicality, and certainly no way to escape one’s punishment by taking the “easy way out” and ending one’s life.

Everyone walks through His courtroom one day. Everyone, without a single exception.

In the few days since the event unfolded, I have heard “a lot of precious nothing” regarding the young man whose hands brought about all the bloodshed, lots of detail about a lot of stuff that doesn’t sound like it will explain anything about why he did what he did. As such, it would be not only unfair but willfully ignorant of me to sit here and pass judgement on him one way or another. Obviously, his deeds were evil, that is without question; however, the “mental illness” banter is in full swing, though I’ve yet to hear definitively about exactly what “mental illness” caused him to do what he did. Hopefully time will bring us more answers, though the underlying root will undoubtedly be the same.

I’m sure there are parents there who are going to long for the young man to stand trial, to be judged by a jury of his peers, be found guilty on all counts and be sentenced in like manner to those he himself sentenced. Their consciences cry out for justice, and rightfully so.

But God’s courthouse is inescapable, and it is certain that the young man who cut short the lives of those 20 children and 6 adults is no exception to that rule. But we also must remember that none of us are privy to what went on within his mind during that last split second of life — was his heart hardened like Pharaoh’s, or did he, at that last second, cry out to God? We will never know, and as such we should refrain from trying to offer our own ideas regarding his eternal fate. God’s justice is perfect, and no one escapes it.

I know the anger I would feel if it were one of my kids I got that phone call about. But I also know I have faithful men around me who would remind me of God’s perfect justice, as well as His mercy and grace to all those — my own sinful self included — who cry out to Him with a repentant heart.

And while it is certainly easier for us to look out through the peepholes of our own eyes and see those who have sinned against us — and indeed, people have in fact done so — I should never forget that God forgave me, stinking rotten sinner me, even though I am just as guilty as those who physically drove the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet.

My heart is heavy, having had the “big girl conversation” with my two older daughters last night. They heard things from other kids at school that we needed to correct, and despite our most careful handling of the subject, it’s still scary, for adults as well as for kids. They were hesitant to release from their bedtime hugs and go to sleep. As I write this, they’ve both been up and out of their room at least once for “potty breaks”, accompanied once again by long, never-want-to-let-go hugs.

As we look to the future, desiring a tomorrow in which these types of things no longer happen, and our hearts long for justice for the tragedies that have already occurred, let us also find rest in the knowledge that no one escapes God’s justice. Then, when our hearts have healed enough to handle it, let us also consider ourselves, whether we will walk into His courtroom pleading our own cases or have Jesus standing beside us as our Advocate before the Father.

Categories: "Daily Thoughts For Disciples", General Interest, Thoughts and Daily Insights | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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