Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Ram is on The Way

As a storyteller, I always marvel at how God works, weaving the sub-plots of our trials in and out of the tapestry of this life. After yesterday's post, I prayed earnestly that God would provide, guide, grant wisdom and take care of us.

Today, Angie got this devotional in her daily reading emails.

August 30, 2011

A Ram is on the Way
Glynnis Whitwer

"So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, 'On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.'" Genesis 22:14 (NIV)

Have you ever been in a situation so desperate that it looked hopeless?

Have you ever sat at the kitchen table wondering how you were going to pay the electric bill? Have you ever stood at a door that's been slammed in your face by an angry teenager and despaired at having a relationship with him again? Have you ever had your heart broken so deeply that you wondered if you would feel whole again?

Sadly, we live in a broken world where desperate situations happen every day. I know someone reading this devotion is wondering how she will make it through the day because her situation looks hopeless. If that is you, I encourage you to keep reading. I believe God has a message of hope for you today.

That message is found in the Bible, in the story of a man who was dealing with his own desperate situation. His name was Abraham and he faced the greatest testing of his life. After longing for a son for many years, God finally gave Abraham a boy, whom he named Isaac. Abraham never imagined God would test his faith by asking him to sacrifice his son. But it happened.

It had to have been the darkest day of Abraham's life as he trudged up the mountain, with firewood strapped to his son's back. Every step took Abraham closer to what he believed to be the sad ending of a hopeless situation—the death of his son. Yet in spite of his sorrow, Abraham trusted God. His heart wasn't soaring with joy. He wasn't dancing up the mountain. But he put one foot in front of the other. Walking through the darkness of the situation; obeying His God's commands.

Unbeknownst to Abraham, something else was walking up that mountain. Quietly. Out of sight. On the other side of the mountain. Something else was putting one foot in front of the other. Only Abraham couldn't see it.

For every step Abraham took, a ram on the other side of the mountain took a step.

All Abraham saw that day was his solitary journey of pain. As he got closer to the top of the mountain, his dread must have increased. I wonder if he asked himself any questions. I would have. I would have wondered why hadn't God intervened? Why hadn't God stopped this testing? Couldn't God see that Abraham was a man of faith? Why test him in this way?

But there was no answer. There was no voice from heaven. And so Abraham kept obeying his God's command. He put Isaac on an altar and prepared to sacrifice his one and only son.

And just at that very moment, at the very last second, when it looked like the end had come, God spoke, stopping the sacrifice. Abraham looked up and there caught in the thicket was a ram. Abraham took his son off the altar, replaced him with the ram, and offered the sacrifice to God.

Abraham named that place "Yahweh-Yireh" or "The Lord Will Provide." And the story was written down for generations of God-followers to read. It was written so that you and I today would read it as we face our own hopeless situations. It was captured in print so that you and I would know that God is already planning for our provision. We don't see it. We don't hear it. But we can trust that our God is at work. On your behalf, and on mine.

I choose to trust God today. A ram is on the way.

Dear Lord, You know how desperate I am today. You know that my faith has wavered. Although I want to trust You, I'm having trouble doing so. I ask for Your intervention in my situation, and for an increase of my faith while I wait. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

God is not only a master storyteller, He's the master storyteller and it's a delight to watch Him work.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Need God? Read God.

It's always interesting how when I find myself feeling out of touch with God, all I need to do is take a quick inventory of my daily pursuits to see I'm not spending enough time reading the bible or engaging in heartfelt prayer.

There are certainly seasons where I feel closer to or further from Him, like I exist in some elliptical orbit around the Throne. But, more often than not, when I feel unplugged, I can look down and see the power cord in my hand, recently pulled from the socket by that guy I see in the mirror. Even though this isn't news to me, I still learn it regularly. Just like I did about ten minutes ago when I started catching up on some devotionals from the past several days; things that might have brightened my outlook last week had I bothered to read them when I should have.

I've been going through some pretty stressful business stuff lately that seems to get worse each day. I know God will take care of me, and I count my blessings regularly that I have such an amazing wife and awesome son: the family that's far better than I could ever deserve. But, the business stuff is really dragging me down.

Those who know me well know I fall more into the "everything's great!" camp than the "yes, I need to open up and let my Brothers and Sisters in Christ help me shoulder this" camp. But, lately, I've sought the fellowship of two good friends to discuss these things in-depth and it's helped greatly. I've also admitted flat out that fixing these troubles is beyond my ability and I'm now 100% reliant on God to take care of the situation.

But, while I'm sitting here hoping He'll fix things, like most sons hope their fathers will, I'm neglecting what He wants from me. I'm neglecting my time in the word and my prayer time. I've replaced that time with some really great stuff though, like worry, stress, fear and frustration. Sounds like a good deal, right?


Well, my troubles certainly aren't going away overnight, but the other things that come along with them disappear like mist in a windstorm as soon as I open my heart to prayer and when I read God's word.

So, even though my problems seem impossible for me to repair and have resisted my every effort to fix them, I'm good. Because:

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26

So, if you're going through some tough stuff, and let's face it, we all do whether we want to admit it or not, always remember we need God, so we should pray often and we need to read God's word regularly. The rest is just details that He'll sort out.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Through the Flames...

After further thinking on my last post, the idea that quarrelsome people are very worldy confirmed the fact that I'm very worldly. While I try continually to tone that down and master it, it seems God would have me grow through that flaw by continually presenting me with test opportunities on the business side of my career to be quarrelsome. Sadly, I keep failing.

Looking back at the initial angle of the post, I found this of further interest on the subject:

1 Corinthians 3:10-15
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

While I may have no concrete idea of exactly what happens when we get to Heaven, I think I'm pretty assured of the fact that any works that in any way fall under the heading of "worldly" will certainly burn up. Hopefully, all of us find a reward that is far more than merely "escaping through the flames."

Friday, August 12, 2011

Worldly Church?

It seems to me, the main purpose of a Church organization is to
A) seek and save the lost
B) nurture the growth of the saved so that they might live a Spirit filled life.

While your mileage and opinion may vary, it seems most healthy Christian church organizations (at least on the outside) focus on the Great Commission and/or "being the body," which seems to jive with my two points above.

However, one thing that's struck me more and more lately is the litany of denominations and factions who insist their way is right and others are wrong. I've actually heard that some churches argue over how people are baptized, how prayers are sent heavenward and, the one that shocks me the most, some church leaders actually tell their congregations not to read the bible as they're ill-equipped to process the information for themselves.

While I have my own opinions on each of these topics, especially the last one, I wonder where  the line is drawn when engaging someone over this from a countering point of view? I've heard the logic espoused that those who make such statements are false teachers and their word should be combated at all costs. But, who is to say which side is right and which wrong when it comes to something such as the method of praying? Or how new believers are baptized?

Well, with that in mind, it's no wonder this passage jumped out at me today when I was doing some study (bolding by me for emphasis).

1 Corinthians 3
The Church and Its Leaders
1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?

When one church denounces another across the street in those cute little marquee wars we've all seen in chain emails (you know the ones, where church on the east side of the street says "All dogs go to heaven" and the west side church says "No they don't, read your bible"), are they not simply showing the rest of the world how unspiritual they really are? Are we not doing the same when we denounce the practices of another denomination, another behavior of faith? When we speak ill of another church?

At what point are we doing more harm than good by letting the unsaved see that we cannot even agree on how to worship or how to declare your faith?

I recently read a long, laborious blog post from a gentleman declaring that any true Christ followers should avoid Texas Governor Rick Perry's giant Day of Prayer in Houston that occurred a few weeks ago. In the posting, the man reasoned that no true believer should attend the festival due to Perry's affiliation with a Church group from Kansas founded years ago. That doesn't make much sense, does it? Well, the poster went on to cite all his reasons for denouncing this group, most of which read like the Pharisees presenting their case against Jesus… a lot of ins and outs regarding the law and how we should worship. If the man had a concise point of logic to back his insistence that we all avoid the meeting, I failed to find it.

While I'm certainly not siding with Perry or passing judgment on the poster for that matter, the fact that there were tens of thousands of people gathered together on US soil to worship our God seems to have far more potential positives than negatives. Urging people to avoid it, the very people who might instill the event with the true Spirit, hardly seems Christ-like. On the contrary, it seems like behavior rooted in fear and manifesting in reactionary mistrust. Not everything is a nefarious plot to steal your soul. And, even if it is, no thief can open the hand of Jesus. So, why act out of fear? Jesus tells us not to fear over and over again in the bible. Aren't we listening?

I have no illusions the entirety of Christian believers will ever unite and set aside the worldly behaviors such as those mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:1, and evidenced all around us every moment of every day, but, it does give me pause and make me question what thoughts I'll entertain and allow to pass my lips regarding how others worship.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

New Day - New Way of Understanding

Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

My admiration of Paul - and particularly the Book of Romans - is no secret to anyone paying attention to my spiritual journey - that means both of you [wink]. I think, to date, I've read this book at least ten times, and pieces of it far more. So, I've obviously read the above passage enough times that I should completely comprehend it by now.

Here's where that "Living Word of God" kicks in though, proving once again that passages take on new meanings depending on where we are in our walk.

A few days ago, I read this and emailed it over to Angie, stating we needed to print it out and put it on the refrigerator, so that every time one of us felt a tug to indulge in food we really didn't need to eat, we might read it and think twice. Then, last night, I was at the 'fridge door, getting water, and sat and read it again.

We had bolded the portion of the passage that says "offer your bodies as living sacrifices" to reinforce the concept of not overindulging in food, something she and I have struggled with for a long time, but thankfully, a struggle she's been winning more and more lately (as recorded on her site).

As the water filled my bottle, the entire concept of making sacrifices ran through my mind, in one of those flash slideshows like you see in the movies. I pictured families bringing livestock to the Temple for sacrifice, people making offerings to God and even a few random images of fictional, dramatized sacrifices of fair maidens over volcanoes (yes my imagination is that overactive).

After all the images were done, I was left with a realization that these cravings for food were something I should be sacrificing to God. These times when I'd rather lay on the couch than go be active are moments where I can live sacrificially for Him. It struck me like a lightning bolt of inspiration that this must be what Paul meant by being a "living sacrifice."

"Living for God" can just be three empty words if I'm not actually living sacrificially. Sure, we tithe, we donate time, we help our church, our friends and family. But, if we give these cravings and other times where we're drawn to gluttony, sloth and other sins of the flesh over to God, instead of indulging them, we're offering our bodies as a living sacrifice.

To that end, I'm joining a gym tomorrow. I will also enact a strict diet to speed my physical recovery from "fat, old guy" to a man who truly looks fit, trim and young for his age. I might be turning 43 next month, but that doesn't mean I have to look like it.

For those of you who call me friend, I beg you to ask me about this frequently. Speak the truth in love and keep me accountable. As a writer, I'm forced to spend long hours every day sitting in a chair staring at this computer, which does nothing for my physical well-being. But, you can reach out to me through it and encourage me to work out and avoid unnecessary trips to the fridge.

If I truly want to be full-grown spiritually, I must also have a sharp mind and fit body. The three are symbiotic and if one falters, the other two are pulled down with it. It's like a three-legged table, if one leg falters the table will surely tip over and fall.

I'm praying that by toning my body, I'll sharpen my mind, strengthen my spirit and, by default, find myself able to achieve far more for God.

As the cliché goes, tomorrow is the "first day of the rest of my life." Pray with me that it's also the first day of a new life of physical fitness instead of sedentary fatness.

Father God,
You gave me this body, free of disease and major defects, yet I've seldom worked to maintain it, please forgive me. You amaze me by keeping me as healthy as I am and for that I'm very thankful. Please accept my cravings and laziness as a living sacrifice to you, Father, as I deny those things and give them to you. Please remind me hourly that I am Your son, blessed with the power of the Holy Spirit to be a good and faithful servant. But to be that, I must offer these things to You, each and every time.

In Jesus Name I Pray,