Sunday, February 27, 2011

Curious of your interpretation

The initial (and remaining) purpose of this blog was (and is) to learn and grow in the Word and further our walk with Him. Since it's sparked many a debate and discussion, I thought it made perfect sense to illicit your thoughts on something I've wrestled with for many years. 

I've read this passage at least a dozen times, if not more and since the very first time I've wondered about the meaning behind it.

Mark 5

1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”

9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

So, tell me please, what does this mean to you? What's your big take away from this story? After you've responded, either in the comments below or by email, I'll toss out what I get from it and why I think I'm missing something.

Thanks & God bless,

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Relax Your Heart

Deuteronomy 6:5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

It’s impossible to truly love God and not show that love to your neighbor, your brothers and sisters in Christ and most importantly, your family. For, if we love our God with all our heart, we love everything He loves with all our heart. There is no going through the motions on this one, it’s clear cut, black and white. For those who fail at this, or worse – try to deceive with the appearance of a loving heart – a broken life in this world awaits them and far worse in the next…

There once was a young boy who craved his father’s love, as every young boys does, for this is how God made us. But all the old man had to share with his son was intoxicated anger overflowing from a calloused, clenched heart. Since the boy knew no other way and depended on his earthly father to show him how to live, he learned that love was spoken on alcohol-laden breath and then handed over with an iron fist.

Try as he might, the young boy couldn’t reconcile why his father’s “love” didn’t feel right and as he grew to adulthood, this in turn made him angry and drove him to drink. The boy, now living in a man’s body, married a troubled young woman and together they started their own family, where this sour brand of love was distilled further until the new family shattered under the pressure of living so far outside of God’s design.

The man-boy left his new family, angry and ashamed, blaming the world, his wife, his father and himself for everything he had never had and the damaged state of what little he did possess. Years later, he sought the help of God and dedicated his mind to the Word.

But all the pressure, the anger, the intoxication, the rage, compressed his heart into a lump of coal, hard, dark and loveless. He studied the scriptures emphatically, diligently seeking to memorize every passage, every word. And soon, he was a changed man. At least on the outside; just as coal can reflect external images, yet never truly escape its own internal darkness.

Somehow, the Word never moved the final foot, from head to heart. For as God’s love permeated the thoughts, with parables, illustrations and anecdotal evidence, it failed to ring true in the life of the man-boy. His earthly father was incapable of showing him what love was, which left him incapable of showing his own sons and so, he retreated into a shell, Godly on the outside, lost on the inside. He amazed many with his biblical knowledge, yet confounded those closest to him with his inability to “practice what he preached”.

It seems, true life change requires far more than scholarly study or Godly appearances.

Jesus tells us the most important commandments are to love our God with all our heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Yet, some can’t seem to do this because they’re heart is clenched so tight, made so hard from the pressure of life, they simply don’t know how. Instead, they go through the motions, trying to keep up the façade of respectability, fearful that if anyone might see the truth, they’ll lose what little semblance of control they believe they have. So, they carry on living a lie, hoping beyond hope that everyone around them really is too stupid to see the truth. And the enemy smiles knowing he is capturing one more soul…

The word “love” is used over 550 times in the bible. In fact, if you removed any inference to it, any concepts built on it and any lessons learned with it, the book would be empty. The entirety of Christ’s teachings would collapse.

What do you think happens to a human heart when you remove love?

Just as a stone can’t absorb life giving water, a hard heart cannot truly absorb love. Sure, it can get wet on the outside and mimic a loving life superficially, possibly deceiving many for short periods of time, but the truth always comes out for God cannot be denied and He is the God of truth.

My heart was hard for a long time, clenched tightly as if I could protect the tiny flicker of love’s flame I kept burning inside, like a man lost in a cave, with only match to light his way. But when I relaxed my heart and opened it up to God, He used that match to ignite an inferno, shining his warm love all over me and those I encounter. Even knowing that, I still have far to go before I’m living as He intended. How about you?

If you aren’t experiencing love in every aspect of your life, pray that God would show you where you’re going wrong. Rest assured it has nothing to do with the actions of others, for this is between you and God and no other. Pray he’ll show you how to unclench. Pray he’ll help you tear down the walls and learn to relax your heart. For only a soft heart can truly love, and without love, we’ll never see heaven.

Most importantly, when you pray for these things, relax your heart so that you might truly receive God’s greatest gift. Even those of us who think we know what love is, should pray these prayers and do so with an emphatic desire to learn from God’s answer.

Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Study at the Feet

I’m not sure why, but I love the old biblical notion of studying at the feet of a scholarly masters. The very thought conjures an image of students sitting on the steps of a great Greek temple with the teacher on the top step, imparting priceless wisdom that we students eagerly lap up, like a dying man drowning his thirst with life giving water.

Unfortunately, there’s no place like that in the St. Paul suburbs, so I have to do my studying remotely. Thankfully, God has given me lots of ways to do this with the dawn of the internet age. Now, between books, videos, emails, websites and blogs, I can study the words of John MacArthur, Craig Groeschel, Billy Graham, TD Jakes, Max Lucado, Greg Rohlinger and Mark Driscoll from the relative comfort of my home.

This morning, I found myself on the Mars Hill Church site, where God led me to a blog post by Pastor Driscoll that tunes right in with a conversation my beautiful wife and I had last night after church.

So, I’d like to share it with you and hear your thoughts:

Problems With (and Hope for) Religious People | Sermon Notes, Luke #60

It’s great to take in lots of information, but to truly absorb it and implement it going forward, I think it’s very important to discuss it in the confines of fellowship. So, please don’t be shy in sharing your thoughts.

Thanks and have a blessed day!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Since we all need a good laugh now & again.

Examining Worship

Romans 1:25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

A lot of people hear the term ‘idol worship’ and think of someone bowing down in front of a pagan statue or something equally archaic. Some with a smattering of bible knowledge might even think of Exodus 32 where the Israelites fashioned an idol shaped like a calf to worship it as the god of Israel.

Exodus 32:4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt."

But, today, people don’t do that. At least no one I’ve ever met or heard of does that.

So does that mean we needn’t worry about the sin of idol worship? Since, we’re certainly not melting down jewelry into the shape of calves or erecting Asherah Poles or bowing down before the likeness of pagan gods?

Unfortunately, just as each culture in the days of the Old Testament had their idols of false gods, we have ours as well.

For some, it’s spending money. Angie and I worshiped at that alter for years. We tried to earn as much as possible simply because we loved to buy new things. We let it consume us and spent inordinate amounts of time wrapping our lives around the acquisition of stuff. That was our idol.

Prior to meeting Angie, I worshiped names such as Budweiser, Corona and Absolut. I spent hours every day acquiring it, partaking of it and enduring the after-effects.

In both cases, nothing spiritual was gained, no maturity built, no relationship with Him nurtured. Instead, it drove us further from God simply by taking us towards a goal that wasn’t Him.

At other points in my life I’ve worshiped music, sports, movies and video games. As a professional musician, my life was consumed by writing songs, performing and then partaking of the decadent lifestyle that comes with touring and recording. This gave way to a love of the NFL, which has actually been there since I was little, but really took hold of me in the 1990s.

Thankfully, all these things were finally replaced with a worship of the creator and not the created. And since then, I’ve finally experienced real growth that has transformed my life. If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you should be familiar with what I’m talking about and if not, feel free to dig back through the archives.

So, that brings us to the question: what idol are you worshiping?

Our old Pastor at Palm Valley Church, Greg Rohlinger is fond of saying “We naturally move towards what we focus on.” If we’re focusing on sports, movies, video games, alcohol, music, food, houses, crafts, hunting, fishing, our career or anything else more than we’re focusing on God, by default, we’re moving away from Him.

Move closer to God.

Matthew 6:19-21   "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Scripture for a better day

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…” -1 Peter 4: 8-10

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Out of the Darkness, Living in Light

When I was a kid, teenager and young man my outlook on life was built on a foundation of discouragement, derision, cynicism and angst. Many who knew me back then said more than once that I’d taken sarcasm to the level of an art form and then mastered that art. I was quick-witted and often the first to take a pot shot at something a friend did. While I wasn’t alone in this atmosphere of discouragement, which pervaded the schools I attended and people I spent time with after school and into my young adult life, I was one of the overachievers of negativity. Without a mentor or positive role model, placed in an environment that could turn violently hostile in the blink of an eye, I gave in to base instincts and simply looked at life as one might a battle. Strike first, strike fast and strike hard. You either victimized or became a victim...

This led to a culture I cultivated in my own mind of how I should judge others. While I wanted everyone else to ignore my flaws, forgive my mistakes and make allowances for my shortcomings, I insisted on holding everyone else to perfection… or else.

If someone did anything I didn’t agree with, approve of or deem as “smart”, they were fair game for anything from mild, disrespectful insults to outright aggression. I was taught respect was earned and quite frankly, a very small number of people were up to the standards I thought were respect worthy. And, I even disrespected those people from time to time…

In looking back, it’s almost like my presence was often a black hole in the culture in which I existed. My cynicism, sarcasm and disdain certainly didn’t encourage anyone to improve themselves. In fact, odds are I inadvertently shot a few people in the foot, proverbially speaking, when it comes to learning to soar like an eagle.

Thankfully, between my best friend, my wife and my Father-in-law, I learned that living angrily wasn’t “the way” and with a great deal of help from them I changed my outlook. Then, I came to Christ and that minor human change evolved into tangible spiritual transformation that took me away from the darkness I’d walked in for over 20 years.

I’ve learned to love others, unconditionally, in spite of how they perform. Now if someone close to me does something I don’t agree with, approve of or deem as “smart”, my heart softens and I pray God can use me to boost them if they are indeed stumbling. Because, quite frankly, when we fall do we really need those we love kicking us?

If I succumbed to my old alcohol addiction, would Robert really be helping me by getting angry and derisive towards me? If I made a mistake that led to a car accident, would Angie be helping me by pointing out how stupid it was not to look before I changed lanes? If I slipped into my old ways and said something mean spirited and hurtful to a friend, would Ken be helping out by insulting me then telling me he didn’t want me around?

It boils down to the most awesome question ever asked: What Would Jesus Do?

He would encourage, enlighten, edify, uplift, and extend grace through His love.

Anyone can be a jerk like I used to be, it’s easy, just give in to your base instincts including fear and self-loathing, allow the enemy to whisper in your ear without rebuke and let go of love.

Thankfully, as followers of Christ, we all have a front row seat to watch God in action, in us, through us and all around us, showing conclusively that we should never revel in the darkness, but strive to live in the light. Granted, I can still back slide, but thankfully, it's the exception and no longer the rule.

Thank you, Father, for giving us light!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Generosity versus Selfishness

Generosity flows from God in everything He does. He gave us the earth; he gives us food, air, sunlight and everything else we need in our daily lives. He gives us His unconditional love. In fact, His generosity went so far that the very idea of following him down that path overwhelms my parenting heart:

John 3:16   For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

He gives to us for our immediate needs and for our eternal souls. He gives to us as an example of how we should give to one another.

Matthew 22: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’(NIV)

God gives and gives and gives.

Yet our world tells us to take and take and take.

A certain archangel once decided that giving should be replaced with taking. He tried to take the throne of heaven and was cast out for it. Rightfully so.
After this, sin entered the world. And, that sin was rooted in his "original idea" of being selfish.

Genesis 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (NIV)

No longer did people concern themselves with doing for others as the number one priority. The paradigm shifted and “look out for number one” ruled the day.

Our world bombards us with things to covet and why we should covet them, especially here in America. A quick Google search reveals that the average American is exposed to 3000 advertisements a day. Bite sized chunks of information, specifically and painstakingly crafted to make us covet materialism and indulge selfishness.

All of these ride in with the despicable underlying edict that if you don’t covet there’s something wrong with you. Who doesn’t want the latest and greatest stuff? If you don’t, there’s obviously something wrong with you and your life is inferior and somehow less meaningful compared to those who do have the shiny new things.

What a horrible concept to foist on humanity!

It’s amazing to think that one bite of a piece of fruit could turn a grand creation so far from the creator in philosophy and action.

Thankfully, God is still giving and still imploring us to give. He designed us to be generous, and rewards us for doing so. Generosity brings with it a sense of fulfillment we simply can’t get from selfishness. Trust me, I know. No matter how much we spend, no matter how much we own, no matter how many toys we have, the words of Jesus still ring true:

Luke 18:25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.(NIV)

Jesus didn’t say this because he wants us all to be impoverished, he said this because the man he was speaking too was more attached to his possessions than to God. The man was selfish, not generous.

So, when we’re considering the last four posts on here about tithing/offering and the legalities and scriptures wrapped around those concepts, keep in mind the only thing that really matters is that God designed us in His image, which is one of generosity, not one of selfishness.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tithing Part IV - Heart Check

For those who have been following along, I posted a three part devotional from Pastor Bayless Conley on tithing last week that caused quite a stir.

In the interests of fair and open discussion, I've invited Gary Arnold to offer his counter-points to Pastor Conley's message and you can read it below.

After doing a lot of research on the subject and consulting many who have far more biblical wisdom than I do, my current take is that tithing/giving/the offering all come down to a heart check. If your heart is right with God, you'll live generously as easily as you breathe. For me, that's a true sign of spiritual maturity and a great mile marker in our walk. Give generously of our time, our talent, our resources and we'll be one step closer to living the life God designed us to live.

And as the saying goes, "show me your checkbook and I'll show you your heart."

Now, here's Gary's reply:


Pastor Conley:
In Matthew 23:23, Jesus speaks about the issue of tithing in this way,

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone."

Jesus tells us, "These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone." Yes, they should tithe, but the things He lists are the most important issues.

While we will touch on these issues in later devotionals, I want to point out the fact that Jesus does say we should tithe.

The Living Bible paraphrase of this verse is helpful, "For you tithe down to the last mint leaf in your garden, and ignore the important things—justice and mercy and faith. Yes, you should tithe, but you shouldn't leave the more important things undone."

Gary Arnold:
In Matthew 23:23 Jesus is speaking to the scribes and Pharisees who were still under the Mosaic law. Under the Mosaic law, God commanded a tithe of the increase of the seed and animals in herds and flocks. The scribes and Pharisees were following God’s command to the letter, even on their herbs. Jesus did not tell the scribes and Pharisees that they ought to tithe on their income from their jobs as teachers and lawyers nor did they say they were. Jesus did not tell us that we should tithe. Jesus was only speaking to those under the Mosaic law.

Pastor Conley:
You should tithe. The first ten percent of your income, or the first ten percent of the increase that God brings to you, is called a tithe. The Bible says in the last chapter of Leviticus that the tithe is holy, and it belongs to the Lord.

Gary Arnold:
The tithe was never the first tenth of anything. God defined His tithe in Leviticus 27:30-33 to be a tenth of crops (not the first tenth) and every tenth animal in herds and flocks (the last one out of every ten). The crops and animals are from God’s miraculous increase, not man’s income. The tithe is Holy because it came from God’s miraculous increase, and the crops and animals that were tithed had to be raised on the Holy land.

Pastor Conley:
So you should tithe. That is very important. In fact, I believe it is the first step in getting God involved in your finances, and an important step in you getting control of your finances.

Gary Arnold:
There is no scripture that commands, recommends, or even hints that Christians should tithe.

Pastor Conley:
In Malachi 3:10-11, God says,
"Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this," says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field," says the LORD of hosts.

Gary Arnold:
Was God speaking to the people or the priests? The people took the tithes to the Levites who lived in the Levitical cities, not to the temple. The Levites took the required tithe of the tithe to the temple. (See Nehemiah 10:37-38) Only those tithes ever made it to the temple. The priests then took those tithes to the storehouse. It only makes sense if God is speaking to the priests in this verse.

Using the Strongs Hebrew concordance-dictionary, let me translate those verses into simple English:
"Bring all the tithes from your crops and animals into the storehouse, that there may be food to eat in My house, and try Me now in this," says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour down a blessing of rain that there will not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the insect for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your crops, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field," says the LORD of hosts.

Pastor Conley:
Those are pretty amazing promises! God says when we bring the first tenth to Him, He will open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing we cannot contain. He even invites us to test Him in this area! (As far as I know there is no other place in the Bible where God does that.)

Gary Arnold:
Promises to the priests, not to Christians. God never said to bring the first tenth to Him.

Pastor Conley:
Notice, too, that He says He will rebuke the devourer. While this was written to an agrarian society whose prosperity was measured in vineyards, crops, and their livestock, you can transpose this principle right into the era in which we live. God will still bless us, and He will still rebuke the devourer for our sakes.

Gary Arnold:
This is not a so-called principle that you can transpose into this time. Those verses did not apply to wage earners or anyone other than those being addressed.

Pastor Conley:
Years ago, in a small church in Mexico, a friend of mine was teaching on tithing. A poor man in the church got angry and stormed out. Later that day, he read the verses from Malachi again and decided to put God to the test. "Could God fulfill His promise—even in my circumstance?" he thought.

That poor villager later testified—interrupting a service and demanding that tithing needed to be taught again—"because these people need it!" He told how he had been blessed like never before since he started giving one-tenth of his earnings to the church.

Gary Arnold:
Are we going to follow man’s examples, or are we going to follow God’s Word?

Pastor Conley:
God is not limited by the circumstances that surround us. He can bless us no matter where we are if we will "try Him" and bring all the tithe into His storehouse.

Gary Arnold:
You have limited God’s blessing to those who tithe. God is not limited. God can bless us no matter what the circumstances. You also incorrectly infer that the storehouse referred to in Malachi is somehow equal to a church building today.

Pastor Conley:
Malachi 3:8-9 gives us a sober warning,

"Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, 'In what way have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation."

Gary Arnold:
Let’s look at Malachi 3. First, who is God speaking to – the priests or the people?
We need to study the entire Book of Malachi rather than take a few verses out of context.

By the time we get to verse 6 in chapter 1, we see it is the priests that are being addressed at that point.

In both chapters 1 and 2 of Malachi there is a conversation going on between God and the priests. Every time the word "you" is used, it is referring to the priests. Chapter 3 continues with this conversation. In verse 5 God says "And I will come near to you to judgment….." In the Old Testament, during this period of time and generally speaking, only the priests could get near to God. It is only in the New Testament that born again believers, you and I, can get close to God. So up to chapter 3 verse 5, God is speaking to the priests. The word "you" is still referring to the priests. There is nothing in the scripture to indicate this changes when you get to verse 8. But that's not all.

Read Numbers 18:29-30 and then read Malachi 1:14. Those verses explain robbing God of the offerings. The PRIESTS, not the people, robbed God of the offering by giving to God the worst instead of the best.

In Nehemiah 13 we are told that the priests stole the Levites portion of the tithe; therefore, they had no food to eat at the temple, and they went back to their own fields.

Therefore, taking the Levites portion of the tithe is the robbing God of the tithe. Or to put it another way, THE LEVITES WERE ROBBED. God said He was robbed because the tithe was not taken where God directed.

Pastor Conley:
Now if you think about this statement, you have to ask, "How do you rob God? I mean, really, what does that mean?"

There are two ways we rob God when we refuse to tithe:

1. We rob God of honor that is due Him. In Proverbs 3:9 it says to, Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase. By giving God the first part of our income, we are honoring Him as being first in our lives. We demonstrate faith in His promise to supply our needs as well—and God is honored by our faith.

2. We rob God of the opportunity to bless us. In Malachi 3:10, God promises to bless us if we bring Him the first tenth of our income (the tithe).

The promise in Proverbs is that our barns will be filled with plenty if we will honor the Lord with our firstfruits (Proverbs 3:9-10).

He can bless us. He desires to bless us. Let us not rob Him of the opportunity to do so, nor of the honor that is due Him.

Gary Arnold:
First, you are mixing firstfruits with the tithe. They are not the same.

In Nehemiah 10:37 we learn that the firstfruits were taken to the temple for the priests, and the tithes were taken to the Levites who lived in the Levitical cities. Therefore, it has been established that firstfruits have nothing to do with the tithe.

In Nehemiah 10:38 we learn that the Levites would take a tithe of the tithe to the Temple. It is this tithe, the tithe from the Levites, that went to the storehouse, not the tithe from the people. This is important to remember when we study Malachi 3:10.

The first-fruit was a very small amount of the first crop harvest and was small enough to fit into a hand-held basket (Deut. 26:1-4.)

First-fruit and first-born offerings went directly to the Temple and were required to be totally consumed by ministering priests only inside the Temple (Neh. 10:35-37a; Ex. 23:19; 34:26; Deut. 18:4).

OLD TESTAMENT - Proverbs 3:9 (KJV) “Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase:”

NEW TESTAMENT - 2 Timothy 2:6 (KJV) “The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.”

In both the above verses, the first fruits are referring to the first of the crop and not to income. If you want to somehow get a principle and relate it to income, be consistant in both verses.