Monday, August 29, 2011

A Bitter Root


I spent Saturday in Glacier National Park with a handful of friends from church.  Yes, we drove 6.5 hours each way for a single day of hiking and, let me tell you, it was worth it to see God's beautiful country.  Think the mountains of Switzerland in spring, with the pride of knowing it's Montana - the last wild frontier.  I'd been there once before, but it was many years ago and all I could remember is that it was "pretty."

"Pretty," is an understatement.  Glacial peaks jetted into a sky so blue you could almost swim in it.  Glaring against the sun I wanted to sprint across those vibrantly grassy hills glinting from clear, icy streams trickling around granite rock and sing at the top of my lungs like Julie Andrews in Sound of Music... and I have a deathly fear of singing alone in public.

What I found unique about this trip, was the way life resided among death on the same trail.  There were mountain goats, deer, gophers, and, thankfully, all very much alive.  There were pine trees, berry bushes, disidous trees and dozens of species of plants I couldn't even begin to name.  Among all of this vibrancy and life, there was the occasional snag.  A dead tree just as tall as the rest, white as bone, without a leaf to be had and even stripped of most of its bark.  For the sake of science, or so I told myself, I'd climb up to wherever it was and give the tree a good shove, just to see if it would fall over.  More often than not that tree was so deeply rooted in the earth it didn't even sway.

Several questions entered my mind: How could there be so much green, so much life, in this spot, and there be a single dead tree?  How could something so dead be so sturdy?

What's interesting about trees is they can live for hundreds of years, long after they appear dead to us.  The oldest bristlecone pine is described as "a gnarled jagged piece of deadwood ... overlaid on one side by a narrow strip of living bark barely sufficient to connect the few remaining living roots with its few remaining living branches. Yet every year the sap rises" (Feininger, 1968).  As I stared at this "dead" snag in particular, I considered the elements it faced staring at the lake below and the jagged peaks across the water, the wind whipping across its path both shaking it's roots and causing it to burrow deeper into the earth. 

Isn't that what happens to us when we face harsh conditions?  The elements strip us of our pretty exerior, but we're easily overlooked because we're surrounded by those who are healthy.  When a tree dies, it's usually caused by a change in the soil where the roots are.  Increases in saturation, flooding, landslide, etc.  What happens to the roots is what eventually leads to the tree's death.  We're not much different.

Hebrews 12:15 says, "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;"  That kind of bitter root causes the tree, or ones spirit, to die.  Much like the dead snags I saw hidden among the lush vegetation, we too can become lost in the vibrancy of the lives being lived around us.  We're living, but we're locked so deep inside that we have nothing to give.  Forget fruit, we're stripped of our bark.

Looking at the word "bitter," Webster was pretty generous with all words that can fall under it's umbrella: sourness, agony, nasty behavior, extreme dislike; sharpness, tartness, acrimoniousness, anguish, distress, grievousness, harshness, hostility, pain, sarcasm, venom, animosity, antipathy, belligerence, malice, spite, antagonism, emnity, hate, hostility, resentment... some can be interchangable and the Bible makes it very clear what bitterness can do to a person to change it from a life giving, fruit producing, vital piece of the forest, to another dead snag.
  • (Numbers 5:24) And he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain.
  • (2 Samuel 2:26) Then Abner called to Joab, "Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?
  • (2 Kings 14:26) For the LORD saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel.
  • (2 Kings 20:3)  "Now, O LORD, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
  • (Proverbs 5:4) ... but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.
  • (Proverbs 14:10) The heart knows its own bitterness,and no stranger shares its joy.
  • (Isaiah 38:17) Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction,for you have cast all my sins behind your back.
  • (Jeremiah 22:10) Weep not for him who is dead, nor grieve for him, but weep bitterly for him who goes away, for he shall return no more to see his native land.
  • (Ephesians 4:31) Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
  • (James 3:14) But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
We're not meant to live that way.

The apostle Luke (doctor and dedicated investigative journalist - basically) once said to repent of bitterness. (Acts 8:21-23)  Why?  Bitterness is a sin.  You're harboring hatred in your heart for and against someone and how you feel on the inside for them directly affects the actions you have toward them.  Do they deserve your bitterness?  Most likely.  Bitterness is only caused when you're wronged by another, so you're likely entitled (according to the world).  How about you?  Do you deserve Jesus' judgment, his bitterness?  Think about all the ways you spit in his face.  The difference is, Jesus decided to not only forgive you, but to die for you too - before you were even born and make the decision whether you'd accept his gift or not.

We all sin, because we are sin (Romans 3:10-14).  There's only one way to become entirely pure, and it's a goal we will never obtain because Jesus is the only one capable of living without sin (Psalm 119:9; Hebrews 4:15).  A bitter person harbors that anger, hatred, malice, etc. inside and it strips them of all beauty, fruit bearing capabilities, and it consumes them entirely.  Consider the dead snag.

What you can do about your bitterness, is give it to the God who can carry it and turn it into something worthwhile.  When it's handed over to God, he takes it off of your shoulders and works a miracle.  (Psalm 103:2-5,8-13).  Perhaps turn you from that deadened snag, rooted so deeply in your ways, convinced there's no other way to live, and bring you back to life.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Step-by-Step (Not the TV show)


Wrong roads are hard.

After journeying down enough of them with the wrong people, you start to think - and hope - that maybe there's another, better, way.  Even if you aren't sure what it is, or who you can walk it with, there's got to be a way that doesn't lead to one step forward and two steps back, but one step dutifully, and joyfully in all circumstances, in front of the other.  I can hear it now: "Naiive, Sam.  This is Life."  Der, di, der.

Here's some good news, you absolutely can walk in a way that is better than the way you've been walking, and God provide's the path, he gives guidance to our steps, in the Bible.  You just have to know where to look. 

I've put in a Q&A format.

First off, where in the Bible has God actually walked with someone?

(Genesis 5:22) "Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters."
(Genesis 6:9) "These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God."
(Genesis 17:1) "When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, 'I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.'"
(1 Kings 3:3,14) "Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father... (And God said to him), ... 'And if you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.'"
(Hosea 11:12) "Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,and the house of Israel with deceit,but Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One."
(Micah 4:5) "For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever."

Okay, so what did it look like to see them walk with God?  Is it the same then as now?  Same in the Old Testament as in the New?
 
(Leviticus 18:4) "You shall follow my rules and keep my statues and walk in them.  I am the Lord your God."
(Deuteronomy 10:12)  "And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul."
(1 Kings 8:61) "Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day."
(Isaiah 8:11-13) "For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 'Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.  But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy.  Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread."
(Ephesians 4:17) "Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds."

Well that sounds great, how in the world am I supposed to pull that off?  It sounds like perfection. 

(Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27)  "But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'"

Oh.  All righty then, how do I get him to intervene and make it possible in MY life?

(Psalm 86:11) "Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name."
(Ask!)
(Jeremiah 6:16) "Thus says the Lord, 'Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls...'"
(Isaiah 2:3a) "and many peoples shall come, and say: 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in this paths.'"
(You need to make an effort - show you want what you're asking for by being willing to do some legwork.  Going up to the "mountain of the Lord" usually took weeks to accomplish because people were coming from villages dozens of miles away, traveling by foot through the desert, for a single day of being at the Temple.  That's effort).

How does God do it, exactly?  Guide me, that is.

(Isaiah 30:21) "... your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left."
(Psalm 32:8) "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you."
(Isaiah 48:17) "Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: 'I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go."
(Luke 12:12) "for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."

How do I even know he sees what I'm going through and will help me - me personally?

(1 Samuel 16:7) "But the Lord said to Samuel... 'The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.'"
(Psalm 33:13, 15) "The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man... he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds."
(Jeremiah 20:12a) "O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind..."

Will He ever leave me?

(Psalm 48:14) "...this is God, our God forever and ever.  He will guide us forever."
(Isaiah 40:28) "Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable."
(Isaiah 58:11a) "And the Lord will guide continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong;"

All right so... What are some practical ways I can walk with God?

(Proverbs 14:2) "Whoever walks in uprightness fears the Lord, but who's devious in his ways despises him."
(Isaiah 40:31) "but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."
(Isaiah 50:10b) "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God."
(Ezekiel 18:5-9) v. 9 "walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully - he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God."
(Hosea 14:9) "Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them."
(Micah 6:8) "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
(Colossians 1:10) "so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."
(Colossians 2:6) "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving."

Okay, so God and I are walking and it's hard, practically impossible, but it's worth it... right?  There's gotta be some benefits.

(Deuteronomy 5:33) "You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long..."
(Deuteronomy 28:9) "The Lord will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways."
(Deuteronomy 30:16b) "...you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you."
(1 Kings 2:3) "...that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn,"
(1 Kings 8:23) "and said, 'O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart,'" (2 Chronicles 6:14)
(Jeremiah 29:11-12) "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart."
(Psalm 37:4) "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart."
(Psalm 84:11b) "...no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly."
(Psalm 89:15) "Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face."
(Psalm 119:1-3) "Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord...who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!"
(Psalm 94:18-19) "When I thought, 'My foot slips,' your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.  When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul."
(Psalm 128:1) "Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways!"
(Micah 2:7b) "Do not my words do good to him who walks uprightly?"
(Acts 9:31) "So the church... had peace and was being built up.  And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied."
(1 John 1:7) "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin."

Okay, so plenty of benefits, but it can't be that easy.

(Job 1:7; 2:2) "The Lord said to Satan, 'From where have you come?'  Satan answered the Lord and said, 'From going to and fro on the earth and from walking up and down on it.'"
(Mark 10:24) "And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!"
(2 Timothy 3:1) "But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty."

Great.  There are benefits but it's going to be hard, the ultimate goal is perfection, but it'll take the help of God, which I have to ask for, and then what?

(Deuteronomy 32:12) "The Lord alone guided him, no foreign god was with him."
(Psalm 37:23-24) "The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand."
(Psalm 62:1) "For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation."
(Proverbs 16:1) "The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord."
(Proverbs 16:9) "The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps."
(Proverbs 19:21) "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand."
(Proverbs 20:24) "A man's steps are frm the Lord; how then can man understand his way?"
(Jeremiah 10:23) "I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps."
(John 14:26) "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."
(2 Corinthians 13:14) "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 16:20; Galatians 6:18; Ephesians 6:24; Philippians 4:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:28; 2 Thessalonians 3:18) and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."

That's comforting.  Any last suggestions?

(Isaiah 2:5) "O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord."
(Ephesians 4:1-2) "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,"
(Hebrews 13:21) "(May God) equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.  Amen."
(1 John 1:3) "that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ."

So, let's walk.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Challenge (part 2) Finding Commands

Jesus' ministry begins in Matthew, is repeated and told from different perspectives in Mark, Luke and John and completely fulfills the promises made in the Old Testament dating as far back as Genesis (3:15).  Jesus' ministry led to what was called the New Covenant, hence the reason we have the Old and New Testaments.  The Old Testament was before the new covenant promise that God made with his people with the death, burial and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

The Old Testament is still just as important today as it was before Christ.  You have to understand a bit of Back Then to grasp exactly what it was that Jesus did and is still doing today.  Not to mention how huge of a deal is the gospel.  It's absolutely mind boggling and it would almost seem easier to make up a story than believe what the gospels have to say.

I had a very interesting journey going through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and taking every command I could straight from the Jesus' mouth.  Forget what your parents say about Jesus, forget what your religion says, your friends, relatives, the pastor on TV, forget even what I say for that matter. 

This is what Jesus has to say. 
  • Don't put God to the test. (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12)
  • Worship God and serve only Him. (Matthew 4:10)
  • Repent (Matthew 4:17) and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15) or perish (Luke 13:3)
  • Follow me. (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17; Luke 5:10; John 1:43, 12:26, 21:19)
  • Let your good works done for the kingdom shine so God will be glorified. (Matthew 5:16)
  • Commit to both the least and the greatest commandments of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:18-19)
    • Some commandments in the OT are forever fulfilled with Jesus' death, burial and resurrection.
  • Your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20)
    • Kingdom righteousness works from the inside out because it first changes the heart (see Romans 6:17; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 5:22-23; Philippians 2:12; Hebrews 8:10).  By this the actual conduct of Jesus' followers will be able to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees.
  • Even things of great importance should be cut off if it leads a person to sin. (Matthew 5:29-30)
  • Your character should be of such integrity that you do not need an oath when saying "Yes" or "No." (Matthew 5:37)
  • Do not resist the one who is evil. (Matthew 5:39)
    • The word "slap" translates in Greek to "rhapizo" - to slap, to strike with an open hand.  One shouldn't return an insulting slap, which would escalate violence.  Jesus doesn't prohibit self-defense (Luke 12:11, 22:36-38; Acts 22:1, 24:10) or fleeing from evil (1 Samuel 19:10; Luke 4:29-30; John 8:59, 10:39) but a failure to resist a violent attack leads to even more serious abuse.
  • Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27-31)
  • Be perfect as God is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
    • By seeking to live in conformity to scripture you are pursuing the perfection of God.
  • Be merciful as God is merciful.  (Luke 6:36)
  • Give so that others will glorify God, not for your own personal glory/recognition. (Matthew 6:1-4)
  • Pray in private to grow in your relationship with God; don't just pray in public to receive recognition. (Matthew 6:6)
  • Don't get mindlessly repetitive in prayer, but if you repeat, repeat earnestly.  (Matthew 6:7-8; Mark 14:39; 2 Corinthians 12:8; Psalm 136; Isaiah 6:3).
  • Pray to God as "Father." (Matthew 6:9; Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6)
    • "Abba" was the same word used by Jewish children for their earthly fathers so it's clear the relationship is meant to be personal.
  • Work for the continual advance of God's kingdom on earth, and in the hearts of believers. (Matthew 6:10)
  • Fasting is between you and God.  Don't make the hardships of fasting public but "wash your face" (see Ecc. 9:7-8) and enjoy life.  (Matthew 6:17)
  • Store up treasures in heaven. (Matthew 6:20; John 6:27)
    • Deeds done for God's glory, not our own, leads to rewards in heaven. 
  • Choose to serve God or money.  You can't do both.  (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13)
  • Don't be anxious. (Matthew 6:25, 33; Luke 12:22)
  • Don't judge others - you have no authority to determine whether others are guilty before God.  (Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37)
  • Don't help someone remove the "speck" from their own eye until you've removed the "log" from your own.  (Matthew 7:5; Luke 6:42)
    • Those who feel grieved and humbled by their own sin are able.
  • Be merciful, forgiving and slow to judge (Matthew 7:1-5) but wisely discern the true character of people and don't indefinitely continue proclaiming the gospel to those who reject it.  (Matthew 7:6; Acts 13:46, 18:6; Titus 3:10-11)
  • Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you. (Matthew 7:12)
  • Decide whether you're for Jesus, or against him.  There is no in between. (Matthew 7:13)
  • Only those who do God the Father's will, will go to heaven - an oral confession does not necessarily mean a repentant heart. (Matthew 7:21)
  • Everything in your life must be secondary when compared to following Jesus.  (Matthew 8:21; Luke 9:60; John 12:25)
  • Pray for laborers to help tend to the harvest. (Matthew 9:37-38; Luke 10:2)
  • Minister to both the spiritual and physical needs of the lost. (Matthew 10:7-8; Luke 10:4-7)
    • Take no money or gift when you do this; your reward is in the kingdom of heaven.
  • "What I tell you in the dark, say in the light.  What you hear whispered proclaim on the housetops." (Matthew 10:27; Luke 8:17, 12:3)
  • Don't be afraid. (Matthew 10:31; John 6:20)
  • "Come to me (Jesus)."  (Matthew 11:31)
  • Do not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10)
    • Willful and persistent rejection of God and his commands - it's a sin committed today only among unbelievers who deliberately and unchangeably reject the ministry of the Holy Spirit in calling them to salvation.
  • Whoever does the will of God the Father is part of Jesus' family.  (Matthew 12:50; Mark 3:34-35; Luke 8:21; John 8:31-32)
  • Take heart, do not be afraid. (Matthew 14:27)
  • Deny yourself.  Take up your cross and follow Jesus. (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34-35; Luke 9:23-24)
    • Die to self-will and take up God's will and follow Jesus no matter what.
  • Listen to Jesus. (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35)
  • Confront a brother or sister in the church if there's a problem between you two.  Follow the guidelines of how in scripture. (Matthew 18:15-17)
  • Forgive - always, no matter how many times it takes.  (Matthew 18:22, 35; Mark 11:25; Luke 17:3-4)
  • Do not divorce.  (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9)
    • Extenuating circumstances, approved by Scripture, are exempt.
  • Let children come to me.  (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16)
    • Do not deny a child Jesus if they're asking questions.
  • To be perfect, sell what you have to the poor and follow me (Jesus).  (Matthew 19:21; Mark 10:21)
  • To be great, be a servant; to be first, be a slave. (Matthew 20:26-27; Mark 9:35, 10:43-45; Luke 9:48, 22:26-27)
  • Don't use God's house as a means to make a profit.  (Matthew 21:13; Mark 1:17; Luke 19:46; John 2:16)
  • Give to Caesars what is Caesars and to God what is God's. (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25)
    • Pay taxes and obey civil laws. 
  • Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:27)
  • Clean your heart so the outside may also be clean.  (Matthew 23:26; Luke 11:39-41)
    • Don't be oblivious to the corruptness of your heart and get focused on appearing pure on the outside.
  • Stay awake and alert.  You don't know when the day of the Lord is coming.  (Matthew 24:42; Mark 13:35; Luke 12:40, 21:36)
    • Don't get complacent in your walk with God; spread the gospel and work on your relationship with Jesus with a sense of urgency for the end times.
  • Do to others in need as you'd do for Jesus if he were the one in need.  (Matthew 25:40)
  • Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all Jesus has commanded.  (Matthew 28:19-20; John 3:5, 4:14)
  • Proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations.  (Luke 24:46-47)
  • If anyone doesn't receive you and they wont listen to your message, shake the dust from your sandals when you leave and leave them in God's hands with the confidence you did what you could.  (Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5, 10:10-11)
  • Come away by yourselves and rest awhile.  (Mark 6:31)
    • If you don't take good care of yourself and allow alone time with God to fill your cup, you will not be successful in ministry.  You will wear out quickly.
  • Have faith in God.  (Mark 11:22)
  • See that no one leads you astray.  (Mark 13:5)
  • Endure the hatred you will receive for my sake, and you will be saved.  (Mark 13:13; Luke 21:17-19)
  • Believe and be baptized and you will be saved. (Mark 16:16)
  • Do not stop those who preach in the name of Jesus - whoever is not against you is for you.  (Luke 9:50)
  • Acknowledge Jesus Christ before people.  (Luke 12:8)
  • Humble yourself.  (Luke 14:11, 18:14)
  • When you give a feast, invite the poor.  (Luke 14:14)
  • Count the cost before committing to following Jesus.  (Luke 14:26-28)
  • When you've done all you've been commanded, simply say, "We are unworthy servants.  We have only done what was our duty." (Luke 17:10)
  • Always pray, and don't lose heart.  (Luke 18:1)
  • Many will come in the name of Jesus proclaiming the end times - don't be led astray and don't go after them.  (Luke 21:8)
    • To know what it'll look like when Jesus does come, read Luke 21:25-28)
  • Partake in communion in rememberance of Christ and what he did on the cross.  (Luke 22:19-20)
  • Believe in Jesus for eternal life (John 3:13-15, 36, 12:49-50, 6:29)
  • Listen to Jesus' voice.  (John 10:16)
  • Do as Jesus has done.  (John 13:15)
  • Love one another.  (John 13:34-35, 15:12)
  • "Abide in me." (John 15:4)
  • "As the Father sent me I send you."  (John 20:21) Go bear fruit.  (John 15:16)
I'm certain there are more commands Jesus has said that I either overlooked or didn't see because I'm still learning myself.  If you can think of, or discover, one feel free to add it in a comment with the scripture that says where you got it.

I merely took from the gospels, my eyes start to cross when I consider what Acts and the Epistles have to say! 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Challenge (part 1)

I woke to the tingling warmth of sunlight on my face and a soft twittering chorus above me.  Swaying with a gentle breeze, I slowly open my eyes and remember where I am.  I'd fallen asleep in a hammock I'd strapped between two fir trees the night before.  Warm and cozy amid my blanket, I watch dew drip from the bushes below, while colorful flowers nestled among them soak up the morning light.  Smiling, I ease to the forest floor and admired the way the light cut through the canopy of branches above on a stretch.  I'd been told by someone on their own journey just yesterday that there was a town of His people not ten miles ahead of me where I'd be able to get a good meal and encouraging company.  I didn't take long to condense my sleeping materials and mess kit into my pack.  It's wear and tear is proof of just how long and arduous of a trip it's been.  I'm far from finished, but today is a day I can begin with a smile.

The walk of a Christian is akin to a never ending hike.  (If you're not a fan of the country or woods, I apologize - you're missing out).  Some mornings begin like this one, where everything is beautiful and only good things that can be seen ahead.  Other mornings look more like this:

No sleep.  I'd closed my eyes, but sleep hadn't come, and in truth I didn't expect it.  The pitiful excuse for a tree provided some shelter from the torrential downpour that had begun late last night, but the steady dripping of freezing water forbid rest.  I prayed the small plateau it stood on would protect me from the flooding, should there be one; please God, prevent a flood.  My hammock was miles behind me, torn to shreds, and I have to thank God that it was the hammock and not me that wretched Lion had gotten hold of with his claws.  It was bad enough to have had the scare of an enormous scorpion's bite to my ankle a few hours after the Lion.  I hadn't come across any civilization in three days.  I started to doubt the direction I was going two days ago, but I couldn't very well stop walking or turn around.  After all, I wasn't certain what was the right or wrong way.  I had to keep going and pray God would guide me to food, water, and His people.  A crack of thunder boomed overhead so close my bones shuddered and I fought back the tears.  I didn't know what time it was, but it'd been dark for many hours.  When was the sun going to come up?  When will the rain finally cease?  How close was the Lion?  What would happen if it found me here, defenseless?  I drew my knees to my chest, fearful, and watched a flash of lightning flood the forest with light.  And I prayed.

I've faced extremes and the in betweens of both situations, as have most Christian disciples.  If you haven't, you haven't been a disciple very long.  If you haven't and you've been a "Christian" for years, I'd question the legitimacy of your faith.  Those who really follow Christ will suffer as Christ suffered (Romans 8:17, 2 Corinthians 1:5, Philippians 1:29).  And that's a whole lot of suffering.

What separates Christians from other religions is that it's not a matter of being perfect or earning your salvation or following a list of rules (Romans 3:27-28, 5:1, 7:6, Galatians 2:15-16). It's about a relationship with Jesus Christ and aligning your life according to his teachings, regardless of how your life is going (1 John 2:3-4).  How can you have faith in someone without knowing them?  Know Jesus, which means have a relationship with Him, and your faith is strengthened.  We all, each and every one of us, need Jesus with the same fervent desperation on our best day as on our worst (Romans 3:10-12, 23).  There's no distinguishing the need.  Jesus is Jesus and we are sinners yesterday, today and tomorrow.  We don't just sin, we are sin, which means our need for a savior never ends.

Sometimes a walk with God can be very difficult.  Not because He asks the impossible, but because we hold so tight to this world and what it demands from us.  Though the way of the world kills us, our sinful selves want it.  By holding onto the world we are insisting on being enemies with God (James 4:4).  Not just saying, "no thanks, God" but we become enemies of God.  That'll make your Life a little difficult when the Creator of everything, including you, is your enemy.

So how are we supposed to let go of the world and walk closer with God?  Is that possible?  Where do we even begin?  How can we face the storms having the same faith in God as we do in the sunlight?  All of Jesus' teachings, every command, every piece of advice Jesus gives about how to be closer to God the Father, is in the Bible.  No pastor, preacher, reverend, bishop, pope or medicine man is going to give you better advice, because GOD wrote the Bible.  He inspired authors to put precise words on paper that came directly from Him (2 Timothy 3:16).  How can you get closer to God than going to the words He wrote?

Regardless of what your hike looks like today, whether it's been going well, going terribly, or you're simply stuck in the mud and have given up hope entirely that there even IS a God, I challenge you to read the next blog posted and follow me on a challenge I've decided to accept.  Not only because it'll help me to grow in my relationship with Jesus (always a good thing), but because I think it'll also help my readers (however many stumble across this blip in cyber space) to understand the kind of God-man Jesus was, and the kind of Savior He is.

My task: Write down every command issued by Jesus Christ during the three years of his ministry, and (here's the hard part) live them.

There will be a lot, no doubt, and it'll be daunting, but there is hope.  And this hope comes in one word: grace. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wisdom from a Worrywart

If you're a worrywart, or just tend to stress about things in life - who doesn't? - these are for you.  I did not come up with this list of 5 tips, I discovered it in a very helpful book, Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow.  However, these were too good not to share.  I've copied them and posted them in three very visible places around my house to help me memorize them and hope you will find them useful too.

The Key to Contentment (as told by a woman named Ella):
1. Never allow yourself to complain about anything - not even the weather.
2. Never picture yourself in any other circumstances or someplace else.
3. Never compare your lot with anothers.
4. Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise.
5. Never dwell on tomorrow - remember that tomorrow is God's, not ours.

Contentment occurs when Christ's strength is infused into our body, soul and spirit.  He infuses contentment into us through his Word.  So read.  It's our "helping out" that leads to anxiety.  When we take over and try to control what happens, we take our focus off the One who is in control and put our eyes on our circumstances.  God's got the steering wheel, so let him drive.  Theologian J.I. Packer once said, "Contentment is essentially a matter of accepting from God's hand what He sends because we know that He is good and therefore it is good."

Do you know that God is good?  (Mark 10:18)  Do you believe it?  If you're anxious, believe that God might need some help now and then, or you simply don't trust he really knows what's going on in your life, crack open your Bible and remind yourself who He is exactly. (Job 10:11; Psalm 139:13-14).  It's easier to believe Him when you know who He is.  God doesn't MAKE bad things happen (Micah 6:8; Romans 8:28, 12:2; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Timothy 4:4), He does, however, allow them for a bigger purpose, a greater good, to come about that's bigger and more complex than we can understand.  (Romans 3:3-5; Philippians 3:10-11).

Will you use your negative situation?  If you aren't sure how, you can start by using your hard times as a megaphone.  "Things are hard, but God is still good.  Nothing makes sense, except the truth in my Bible. (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  I'm struggling with seeing the positive, but I know I can count on the promises God has made." 

Ever notice how people pay more attention to what you say and do when you screw up, or when times are particularly difficult?  What message are you sending?  Are you allowing yourself to be content by keeping your focus on God, or is your gaze elsewhere?

Joshua 22:5; 2 Chronicles 6:14; Psalm 69:13.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Accident? I think not!

One of my favorite scenes in a movie is from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  When Brad Pitt's character Benjamin is doing a voice over explaining how the woman he loves, Daisy, played by Cate Blanchette, ends up getting hit by a car.  There are so  many tiny circumstances that play into the whole mess and that's exactly how it happens.  Someone breaks a shoelace and winds up being a few minutes late to replace it.  Another person forgets their jacket and goes back to get it.  Someone else decides not to stop for a cup of coffee like they usually do.  I decided to go to church an hour earlier than normal, not 59 minutes, not 45 minutes, but exactly an hour (not that I was counting the minutes, that's just the way it turned out).  That decision, and who knows how many others, led to my car accident that totaled what was, to me, a brand new (used) car.

Everything may or may not happen for a reason, but I am convinced that God uses every thing that happens for His glory one way or the other.  You get cancer, He'll use it.  Someone you love dearly dies, He'll use it.  You break a leg and can't play in the championship game, He'll use it.  You get into a car accident, lose a car, and have to go through the nightmare of figuring out all that goes into filing a claim and then how to proceed with it, He'll use it.  My first instinct is to think, "well that's kind of selfish of Him."  Immediately following this thought is, "Well, duh!"  He's God!  He created everything, He is 100% all the time good, He's responsible for every good thing that happens in this world because He allowed it to happen - so He should get the credit and glory! 

Today I went to a car rental company to get a car until this whole ordeal that is a claim is taken care of.  There are half a dozen rental car companies I could've chosen.  Thrifty, Enterprise, Avis, Hertz, Budget, Dollar, Affordable Auto, etc.  I chose Enterprise (they'll pick you up!).  It's one of two companies that my insurance uses and, the valley Enterprise location was on the way to the destination my Dad was headed to so he could drop me off, and perhaps it's the success of their advertising but I felt more comfortable with Enterprise.  Why not? 

I walk in, at 10:20am they don't have any customers, and the first man I see at the desk is a tall black man in his late 20s or early 30s with an orange tie and a University of Texas ring on his right hand.  I'm from Eastern Washington, seeing someone from Texas isn't exactly the norm in these parts.  After four years in the military I've met a lot of people from Texas - it seems to be the place to join the Marine Corps - and personally, I love people from the south.  Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia... I tend to get along with people from that area wonderfully and I'm sure it helps I'm a big advocate of their cooking and hospitality.  To protect this man's privacy I'll call him Drew. 

Drew was more than helpful with me getting a rental car.  Even though my claims adjuster didn't answer the phone like he said he would the day before, even though my insurance agent didn't answer the phone to answer a question for me about where my totaled car had been towed, he took my claim number and said, "don't worry about it" with a smile on his face.  We chatted about jobs, the weather here versus Texas, my accident and how he knew very little about the area he and his wife now lived.  Turns out, they'd only been living in my hometown for a solid seven days.  From the direction of the conversation, his demeanor and the pull I'd learned over the years to pay attention to, I pulled out a card and handed it to him.  "I don't mean to be too forward, but if you'd like to get to know some people in town at a good place, this is a wonderful church.  A good family, if you're looking for one."  He took it and smiled real big, "I'm looking for a home."  I grinned back as he put it in his dress shirt pocket.  "Well good, because that's exactly what this place is.  I love it."

He took me to a 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee with the intention of making me feel safer in an SUV instead of a sedan after my accident, and helped me with the finer details.  "I'm a Christian man," he said, "so I don't want to fool you.  We offer liability insurance - don't get it.  It's not necessary if you're covered by your own insurance company.  However, Get the basic stuff because if you do get into a car accident it'll protect you from our company going after you and your insurance company."  I love an honest human being.  Before we said goodbye he said he'd talk to his wife about the church.  "If you do decide to come," I said, "dress comfortably.  Come in flipflops or jeans or the suit you're wearing, whatever you prefer.  We're not about that.  Just come as you are.  And this place really is a home, a family."  He seemed reassured by that, shook my hand and we parted ways - me with my 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee!

Will Drew and his wife come to church on Sunday?  I certainly hope so.  It'll get them integrated in the community, because we come from all over the city, and the International Church of Christ (ICOC - there is likely one in your city or close to it) is truly a Bible teaching, Jesus loving, God fearing, church of disciples.  A family, a home, and I love that God used my car accident as a means for me to be an evangelist to this man.  Even if it's just one person, a totaled car is worth it to have him and his wife show up once and perhaps plant a seed.  The battle with getting my claim settled is far from over, but the ball is rolling, and now all I can do is keep my eyes open for more ways to be an evangelist for Jesus.  Praise God for using my wreck, for being the amazing God he is who loves each person on this earth so much He'll go to extreme lengths (or rather, extreme to us) to reach out to one person.  

There are no accidents.  It's kind of like Forrest Gump once said: "I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happening at the same time."  God has a plan for us all, and to us it may seem like an accident or coincidence how things turn out, but God knows how it's going to go.  We have free will, but He'll use the horrible things in this world and the decisions we make as a means to fulfill the plan He has.  Complicated?  I certainly think so - it's God! 

Here are a few scriptures that might help:  Psalm 37:23.  Proverbs 16:9, 20:24.  Jeremiah 10:23, 29:11-13. Matthew 10:27. 1 Peter 1:6-7.

You can also check out biblegateway.com (one of my favorite websites) that helps you to find keywords in the Bible with only a few strike of the keys. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Quick and Dirty Lesson on Insurance

I am a Word Gal, not a Numbers Gal.  Anytime I start to use numbers they usually end up in red and are frequently followed by "?!" while my brain slowly starts to expand to a size that causes my eyes to bulge out of my skull.  It's pain I'd rather avoid. 
When my brain really starts to glitch, is when I start hearing terms I know I never learned in school, yet have read somewhere in the hundreds of books I've consumed over the years.  Let me tell you something, the meaning of those words change drastically when they start impacting your life: Premium, Lein Holder, Registration, Title, Claim, Adjuster, Rental Cars, Loan, Insurance and all the dozens of policies and types of coverage that make you want to pop your eye out with a spoon, Fault, Credit, Police Report, Paperwork, Towing, and all the finger pointing each insurance company does to prevent having to pay anything, or much of anything, in the case of an accident.  Your job, Mr. Insurance Company, is to take care of me in the case that I could've been killed in a car accident that wasn't my fault and you're making this as difficult as possible - as if my life isn't already hard enough now being out of a car and in physical pain.

Two weeks ago I bought my first car.  Or rather, me and the bank bought my first car.  It didn't matter though - after four years of being without a car, four years being told what to do and held back from making those "adult" decisions that most people I knew had made by the age of 19 or 20, I had finally bought my first car.  A 2005 Chrysler Sebring.  It wasn't a perfect car, it had it's issues, but all things considered it was a good car for me and while I'm not the greatest fan of Dodge, it was a solid car.  Was being the operative word.

Exactly one week to the day of having bought my car, I was going west, 55 mph down a heavily used highway on my way to church.  It'd been a long day, I figured I'd get to church earlier than anyone else and spend that hour on the grass doing a Bible study on something I realized I could use a lot more practice with - prayer.  My trip was interrupted by an 87 year old man in a 2007 Buick.  He was facing west in the middle turn lane about to cut across my two lanes of traffic to head north to home.  He didn't see me and turned into my lane.  I tried to swerve around him, in vain, and my front left fender collided with the front of his car, and my airbag exploded.  At about 45 mph I was sent across the other westbound lane, over a curb and slammed headfirst into a 40 foot gas station sign when the passenger airbag exploded.  When I opened my eyes, there was dust everywhere that I mistook it for smoke.  I could smell something burning, what I later realized was caused by the explosion of the airbags and the crumple of metal at such an impact.  I coughed on the dust, the country radio station I'd been listening to had changed to an AM talk radio station on prayer (what a sense of humor God has) and all I could think about was that the ignition was still on and I needed to get out of the car.

Two mechanics up to their elbows in grease ran over to help me.  I could open the door by jerking on the handle and giving it a shove with my shoulder, but beyond that I was shaking so badly I couldn't move.  Shock.  Interesting how it impacts the body.  The mechanic at the door helped me out, set me on the curb and ran back to the car for my purse.  I stared at what was left of my car.  The front bumper was gone, under the body - I'd ripped it off when going over the curb and run over it, the front left tire was torn and collapsed inward, hundreds of pieces of the car were strewn across the street and parking lot, if my car had been built with an axle it would've been broken, the drivers side door was busted in and off it's hinges, hanging open, the front of the car was, to put it simply, destroyed, and some liquid was pouring out of the engine onto the pavement.

The mechanic ran back to me with my purse and my Bible from the back seat.  "Let me guess," he said, "you were listening to a Christian radio station?"  When I told him what happened he just smiled and said, "Sounds like someone up there is really looking out for you.  I'm glad."  I thanked him and he handed me my Bible.  "You'll need this.  He's coming back soon, you know."  By this point the state patrol had shown up and were checking on the old man who'd turned into my lane and had totaled his car.  I just looked at the mechanic and thought about all I'd seen in the Marine Corps, the headlines about the 30 US troops who'd died in that helicopter crash a couple days earlier, the natural disasters that've struck this earth in the past ten years, the miracle God had conducted by protecting me and the old man so much to let us walk away from the accident, and nodded in agreement, "Yeah, He is."

I remember it clear as day and thinking about all the things that could've gone wrong still sends chills up my spine.  I can still see him turn into my lane, feel the collision of our cars smashing into one another at that speed, hearing my own scream, seeing the sign coming at me and praying I wouldn't hit a person at the gas station or any other car in my lane, and then the jerk, smell and shock when I came to a stop.  I felt the burn on my left arm from the airbag seams causing abrasions, I gingerly reached up with shaking fingers to touch my face and head for any bleeding, checked my legs and feet for any damage caused by any pieces of the car being shoved into my leg space after colliding with the posts - there was nothing.  I was okay.  During the wreck I thought I would've been flung around a bit more, hit my head on the driver side window or on the steering wheel after the airbag deployed before I hit the sign.  You can chalk it up to me having had my seatbelt on, and I'm sure that's a huge part of it.  The fact is, whoever my guardian angel is held me in place and kept me from being thrown here and there.  Don't get me wrong, there was definitely movement and I got my fair share of whiplash, but I've been in accidents before and for how fast I was going and the number of times I collided with things, I was surprisingly still for the duration of it.

I don't know why God allowed the accident to happen.  Perhaps to make me a bit more appreciative of the life I have, perhaps to tell me that while I paid for the car it was never really mine, but His and He was just loaning it to me just like everything else I have in life, perhaps to make me an expert on how to handle insurance companies after an accident to help someone else.  Or maybe, and while I think it's all of the above I do believe this is the biggest reason, it's just another way of being given the opportunity to glorify God.  He allowed me to live to be the Maid of Honor in my sister's wedding this previous Sunday, He allowed me to have walked away without much more than a sprain, whiplash and abrasions, and only He is making it possible for me to get through handling all these numbers with insurance companies with my sanity intact.  I still hate numbers, but I'm learning a lot.  I still hate that insurance companies are more annoyed with you for having been in an accident, whether it's your fault or not is irrelevant, instead of being more helpful, but it's teaching me patience and testing my ability to be persistent and firm without using a few choice words I learned in the Marine Corps.

I'd much rather be working on the novel that's been stewing in my brain for a few weeks.  I just bought my first car and learned what all those terms mean.  Now I'm having to learn how to handle more terms and numbers like the value of a totaled car, remembering phone numbers to three different adjusters who keep passing the buck, two insurance companies and the names of two agents in each company, cost of a rental car, the number to Washington State Patrol to pay for the police report so I can prove the accident wasn't my fault, yadda yadda yadda.  I haven't even made my first car payment.  I've spent the past four hours making phone calls, adding up numbers, playing the waiting game and filling that waiting time by writing this.  Sometimes I feel like asking God if it's possible for me to do anything in life like a normal human being.  What most learn in years, I learn in three weeks.  The short amount of time its taken for me to learn so much, is only one aspect of my life where this has happened.  I must remind myself, it seems every ten minutes, that God gave me this portion for a reason, and while I don't understand it, I accept it, and I'll do my best to accept it with as much grace as possible, but I'm going to need a lot of God's grace in the process. 

Not to mention a long bike ride, in the near future, to burn off the frustration.

By the way, don't sign a scrap of paperwork until you've read all the fine print and have talked to a handful of people about what to do - counsel is GOOD.