Friday, January 25, 2013

Faith-Changing Truth Found in Simple Words

I am reading through the Bible from front to back with the hope of starting over when I am done and continuing this practice until the day God takes me home. I am also seeking, in a separate practice based on the advice of George Muller in his autobiography, to take a single verse or even just a few words in a verse and chew on them and meditate on them with the sole purpose of beginning my day seeking food for my soul (not with the aim to teach, or to get answered prayers, or even to pray—but simply to feed myself and nourish myself so that the rest of my day, and everything in it, comes from this place of being spiritually fed). With that introduction . . .

I was so affected by something the Spirit showed me (reminded me?) yesterday in Ephesians that I shared it with the youth last night. Basically, I had begun Ephesians as my meditation book and was, by familiarity, blowing through verse one (the greeting) to get to the "good stuff." In verse one Paul says, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:" Moving rapidly past that to verse two I was struck by the thought that I wasn't meditating and chewing on it or giving God time to feed me with it, but rather "throwing it away." So, I went back to it and . . . I never got past the first six words!

Now, in what I am about to share my guess is that every Christian reading this already "knows" what I am about to say. But, maybe, it will be a refreshing reminder, or something not for you but for another. Or, maybe it is just for me . . . At any rate, whatever God does with it for you, I was struck by how Paul didn't say, "Paul, a Christian" or "Paul, a teacher of Scripture" or "Paul, a follower of The Way" or anything like that. Rather, his calling was directly tied into the person of Jesus. "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus . . ."

As I reflected on this and skipped around to his other greetings I found this to be his consistent theme (and in case you are thinking that Paul was just insecure and defending himself, James and Peter do the same thing). Paul begins Philippians, "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, . . ." and Romans, "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, . . ." These are just a few examples, but they all show the same thing—Paul, and Peter, and James, and likely Timothy, were all completely tying their identity and calling into the person of Jesus, not into religion or a way or even a book like the Bible.

This may not sound like much, but it is huge! Somewhere in our faith walk it seems like there is such a temptation to follow Christianity, or the Bible, or what we "ought to do" or "ought to be" because it is what a Christian does or is . . . and Jesus seems to slip out of the picture. We see a person in need and think we "ought" to help them, or we feel we "ought" to stand against abortion, or _____ (fill in your blanks). But, Christianity or the Bible can't ask us to do anything, they aren't a person. It is Jesus, who died for us, who loves us, who has prepared eternity for us, who gave up all His rights as God for us, who is asking. He is the One who says, "Hey, see that person over there? Would you please go love on them for me?" Quiet time isn't a religious obligation or duty, it is a time we set aside and meet with the lover of our soul, our bridegroom, and I believe He values that time and looks to it as well. When we say "no" to that time we aren't saying no to a Christian duty, but to the One who waits for us and loves us.

On the flip side (and this is so exciting!), when we are crying out for help, when we are in trouble, when our needs overwhelm us, we aren't relying on Christianity, or the Bible to save us. It is Jesus who does. It is not Christianity or the Bible that says it will never leave us or forsake us, He does! In this nation Christianity may soon be throttled and restricted and legislated into a state approved faith that restricts what we can say, or we could be in a country where Bibles are illegal, but He doesn't change and He doesn't leave us. Everything is about Jesus. In Colossians we are reminded, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent." (1:15-18)

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, an apostle of Christ Jesus. All Christianity could fail. All Bibles could be burned. All church leadership, and all church goers, could be corrupted and fleshly and caving to the world. All freedom of religion could be lost. All laws and legislation could go against the faith and its values. But who Paul was would not change because his identity, and obedience, and dependence were in Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Jesus said the king receives everything done unto the least of these as done unto Himself. May we never forget that. Nothing we do is in a vacuum, and nothing is ever simply religion, though we may not realize that fact. May we never substitute for Jesus things merely about Jesus. May we never make the means to the end the end in themselves.Everything points to Jesus, and any stop on the journey short of that is missing the whole point. We may be saved. We may believe He died for us. But if we ever begin to serve (or depend on) a religion or Book instead of the Person they are about, we will lose the joy and the confidence and the faith, because only He can never fail, and only He is real. Everything else is just the shadow or revelation pointing to Him. Everything else can be taken from us. Everything else can fail us. He never can, and never will, and of all those things, only He alone can love us—and He does.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Subtle Shift of View

When fighting a wildland fire we (our volunteer department, along with state agencies we work with and, I would imagine, all fire services) often post lookouts to keep an eye on the big picture of the fire around us. You get such tunnel vision when you are up in the flames and attacking the fire and adding lengths of hose and hot and tired that you might not even see the fire has jumped the line behind you, and is circling onto you or is cutting off your escape routes. The military faces similar problems when the intensity of the moment so narrowly focuses you that you miss the bigger picture happening around you. I am sure many, many other professions or situations face the same thing . . .

As Christians I have a sense that in our daily life we can often get so focused on the situation or person in front of us that we are dealing with that we can easily lose sight of the bigger picture as well. This can be dangerous, especially in causing us to give a home to unBiblical thoughts and attitudes that can rob our joy, cause us to feel defeated, start to live under burdens that God is not placing on us, give root to unGodly emotions, etc. I had the thought this morning as I reflected on the lives of many people I know, that there are three areas (these are just the ones that came to me almost immediately) that we might, with a subtle shift of perspective, dramatically bless our daily walk and faith. They are:

An Offering: What if, for example, we are dealing with a boss who is, simply, a jerk. We can as Christians look at them so much they fill our whole frame of view. We can become filled with the guilty back and forth in our heads, "I'm supposed to love them. I have to love them. I am supposed to submit to them, etc." We could repaint this example with any number of situations that similar thoughts might fill us with. No matter the scenario, if we simply let them fill our focus it becomes a miserable effort for us. But, what if we stepped back and said, "I can love them as my deeply personal offering to God. I can submit to them as my worship to the One who humbled Himself and died for me. Lord, I am going to love this person and I give you this love as my offering and worship. You, Father, who first loved me that I could love You. I love for You and it is a gift I joyously give You." I wonder how much of a difference it would make if we didn't make it about the person, but about Him? If we saw that love we were about to give as a gift wrapped up and as we begin to love we pictured ourselves handing that gift to Jesus on the throne, and Him taking it with His nail-scared hands?

Not the Enemy: Ephesians 6:10-12 encourages us and tells us, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (ESV) What if, instead of becomming so focused on the person causing us such pain, we could remember to see that they are not our real enemy but rather we are in a spiritual war? If we can direct our anger at the real source and recognize that the person in front of us is simply a part of the fallen world and the spiritual war we are in, it might really help us to see things properly and to let go of some of the hatred and anger in us toward them that cripples our walk, our faith, our relationship with God, etc. If we can keep the real enemy the real enemy it will, I believe, help prevent roots of bitterness and a lot of wasted effort and energy directed at something that isn't going to change anything.

Unto Jesus: In Matthew 25:34-40 Jesus tells us of a future time. He says, "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' " (ESV) What if, instead of just seeing a need in front of us, we could see it as a chance to minister unto God Himself? What if, instead of one more thing calling on our already thin resources we could see that person and realize that what we do unto them Jesus receives as if it was done unto Him, Himself? Might it feel different to realize that what we do unto that person is seen, by God, as a personal ministry to Him?

These are just a few things that came to me in my reflections. I wanted to share them with you in the hopes they might bless you this day as well. If this concept of perspective being important in the daily Christian life speaks to you, you might also want to check out my Oct. 24, 2012 post: Taking a Step Back. I hope you have an amazing week, deeply aware of His love for you. Thanks for reading and sharing in my life.   —Erick


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