Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Intent on One Purpose

I love the book of Philippians. In the second chapter of Paul's letter to these Jesus Communities in the city of Philippi, Paul instructs the saints to be intent on one purpose. It is not an easy purpose, but it is vital for health and fruitfulness. Would you like to be fruitful (blessing people, casting lots of seeds, obeying Jesus, seeing God do eternal stuff through you) and healthful? Then here is something you should be intent on.
Putting others first is a noble idea but rarely is it an easy idea. It is a simple concept that makes sense in the scope of loving people, but it is not usually the normal way of living for us earthlings. Paul tells us to not do one thing from selfishness or from empty conceit. Not ONE things. Try living that way for one hour (make sure you are in a group context when you try living it out :-). What would your life, your family, your church, our world look like if we lived this way? How would folks be blessed, encouraged, happy, joyful and I think fulfilled. How about declare a day of selflessness and then evaluate how blessed you are in loving others and treating them as more important than yourself. If you try it, let me/us know what happens.

Words People Wish Jesus Never Said

"If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must DENY HIMSELF..." Luke 9:23 "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must...TAKE UP HIS CROSS and follow Me." Luke 9:23 "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever LOSES HIS LIFE for My sake, he is the one who will save it." Luke 9:24 "I tell you, no, but UNLESS YOU REPENT, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:3 "If anyone comes to Me, and DOES NOT HATE HIS OWN father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, HE CANNOT BE MY DISCIPLE." (Luke 14:26) "So then, none of you can be My disciple who DOES NOT GIVE UP ALL HIS OWN POSSESSIONS." Luke 14:33 Thoughts?

Friday, October 26, 2007

An Easy Yoke and Light Burden

Have you ever felt like following Jesus was like navigating a path that is slippery, filled with deep pot holes and often blocked by fallen trees? You are not alone. Following Jesus is a long journey and it is hard. Jesus said if we are weary and heavy laden to come to Him and He will give us rest. As I thought about Jesus giving me rest, my mind finished that set of verses which says, "for my yoke is easy and my burden light." I often focus on three words in this passage, REST, EASY, LIGHT. I forget about two of the other words that are at least equally as important. Those words are YOKE and BURDEN. The yoke may be easy and Jesus does carry the vast majority of the weight, but it is still a yoke. A yoke indicates a harness to guide you in the direction of the one controlling the work. In other words, when you 'hook up' with Jesus under His yoke, you lose your life and give Him control. This is a good thing and He does take on the majority of the work (we need to cooperate) but it still a yoke that in some ways restricts us (we should be slaves to righteousness). The other word is burden. His burden is indeed light, but a burden none the less. In part, this burden is to take the good news to the poor souls who are not yet following Jesus Christ. I need to be more burdened. I'm very blessed to be able to struggle on this journey of life filled with potholes, branches and mud under the yoke of Jesus, carrying His light burden to the world and to do it with a whole bunch of GREAT people. The Jesus community that I'm a part of are very persevering, loving and Jesus focused. These people help me to stay on the Journey - thanks Jesus for your genius called Church.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Art of Listening

Hearing and discerning the voice of God can be an artistic, mystical experience. If you have ever said something like, “I do not know how to hear the voice of God”, you are not alone…but you do not have to be stuck in that mode. All followers of Christ can hear the voice of God. There are some lessons that can be learned. I learned some this morning in my reading of 1 Samuel 2 & 3. To get the full force of the lessons from 1 Samuel 2 & 3, let me give you a brief overview. Eli was the current priest and prophet for Israel. He had 2 sons who were serving Israel as priests, but they had turned their back on God and were doing only what they wanted to do. They were sinning in all sorts of heinous ways. They were not following God’s standards for the sacrifices, they would steal meat for the worshippers and they were fornicating with women who were serving in the place of worship. It was really bad. In the midst of this bad situation, God had brought a young boy named Samuel to be raised by Eli in the tabernacle and would eventually take over Eli’s position. Samuel came to live there when he was between 3-5 years old. Eli was getting old, but it appears that he was not and had never really disciplined or confronted his sons in a real way about all of the sin that they were committing as representatives of God to the people. It was a really bad situation. A man of God was sent to Eli to confront him about his squandering of his position with all of the sin that his sons were committing. God’s heart was on fire against all that was happening. God even said to Eli that he was, “…honor(ing) your sons above Me.” Then the man, sent from God, told Eli about God’s judgment upon his family. His sons would both die on the same day. That sounds awful to me. God was not in the mood to be speaking much to his people at this time, probably due to the gross amount of sin (Eli’s sons) and the winking at sin (Eli). God was also boycotting the dreams of folks (1 Samuel 3:1). At the same time, God was pleased with Samuel (1 Samuel 3:19), the little boy who was growing in the ways of God and becoming a strong man of God – even in the midst of much sin. At least we know that our environment is not an excuse for being strong in God (that is another strong lesson that I should write on). So, what about listening to and for the voice of the Lord in our lives. 1 Samuel 3 tells the story of God calling Samuel’s name on four occasions, but Samuel thinks it is Eli calling him. The first three times, Samuel goes to Eli and says, you called me, and here I am. Each time, Eli says I did not call you go back to bed. On the third time, Eli gets realizes that it is God who is calling Samuel and instructs (mentors) Samuel that the next time he hears his name called to say, “Here I am Lord, speak.” You should read the account in 1 Samuel 3 for yourself. So here are some things that I learn from this passage regarding the art of listening to and for the voice of God: Sin Sin seems to impede the voice of God in our lives. Because of the gross and intentional sin that was being tolerated by Eli, his sons and the people (they didn’t rise up against them), God was in a silent mood for a period of time. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard sin in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” This is a statement about intimacy with God. So, when there is known, unrepentant sin in our lives, we may have trouble hearing from God or He may be choosing to draw us to repentance before He begins to speak to us as a way of relationship. Inexperience Samuel was certainly inexperienced in hearing the voice of God. The Word teaches us that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor had the word of the Lord yet been revealed to him.” (1 Samuel 3:7). Samuel needed a mentor in the voice of God. Much like trying to tune your ear to a different dialect or language, we need to tune our ears to the voice of God. It takes practice and it is always helpful to have a mentor. Don’t be discouraged by being inexperienced in hearing God’s voice, keep practicing. You may make mistakes and act upon something you think is the voice of God when it is not, but that is why we have mentors! Even the Experienced Find Listening a Little Mysterious As you read the account of God speaking to Samuel, you’ll find that it took Eli, a seasoned veteran in serving God, three times to discern that Samuel wasn’t hearing voices, but was hearing God’s voice. Maybe Eli’s being hard of hearing was due to his sin (I’m sure that is part of it), but also, hearing God’s voice is always an art, it is always a mystical experience. It seems right that we stay holy in our relationships to the Lord so that our ears are more tuned into the voice of God. Why would I want to have my hearing of God’s voice dulled by sin? It really makes no sense. So, even though hearing God’s voice can be mysterious, it is always better (and clearer) to be holy in our lives and stay repentant of sin so that the wax of sin can be cleaned out of our spiritual ears. Lord, I pray for myself and all who are reading this, to have their ears clean, and tuned into the voice of God. Lord, speak to us clearly through your Word, your people in our hearts so that we can follow you with gusto for our whole lives!