Bondage…

Standard

freedom-from-sin-s-power012213_4

Isaiah 1:2 Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. 4 Ah, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the LORD, who have despised the Holy One of Israel, who are utterly estranged! 5 Why do you seek further beatings? Why do you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. 6 From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds; they have not been drained, or bound up, or softened with oil.

Israel is paying a price for disobedience to God. They have been attacked by other nations, occupied, and suffered defeat. Through the prophet Isaiah, God uses the imagery of a sick and beaten human body to describe the state of Israel. They have suffered terribly yet continue in their disobedience. In essence, God is saying it doesn’t have to be that way. If they will repent of their sin and turn from their ungodly ways, the Lord will restore them. Even so – they continue to rebel.

When I read passages like this one it’s easy to judge Israel. They are in such a bad state one would think they would jump at the chance to be reconciled to God, to be spared further death and humiliation, but this is not the case. However, when I look in the mirror I see that too often I’m tempted to do the same thing.

Once we get into patterns of sin it’s hard to break loose. We can try really hard to change, and might succeed for a while, but trying harder generally leads to failure. Why? Because our human nature is to sin and rebel. It was true of Adam and Eve, it’s true of every person born since. Will power will not get it done.

As I mentioned yesterday, what’s required is not greater effort per se, trying REALLY HARD this time, but an acknowledgement that we are “in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves”. It takes humility to admit that. To admit our powerlessness. To admit we’re stuck in a pattern of sin. Yet in our humility God has an opening to do in us what we cannot do ourselves.

Question: Where might you be stuck in a pattern of sinfulness? I’m assuming if you could break free on your own you would have done so already. Have you asked the Lord to take hold of you and set you free?

Lord Jesus, give us grace to call upon your name in our hour of need, that we might be set free from bondage to sin and death. Amen.

 

Hope for a hot mess like me…

Standard

worship1

Galatians 2:19 I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. 

Given that the apostle Paul was writing this letter to the churches in Galatia we know he hadn’t died a mortal death. At least not yet. Instead he was referring to a spiritual reality. In baptism he “died” in the water, but was raised up into a new life.

That’s true for you and me too. I get frustrated sometimes because, for all my spiritual growth over the years, I have such a long way to go. I keep getting in my own way. If living a life that honors God were simply a matter of trying hard I would be in complete despair. Why? Because trying harder doesn’t seem to get me very far.

But these verses from Galatians give me hope. The Spirit of God lives in me, as in all Christians. There are so many things I cannot do, but there is nothing impossible for God.

Lord, there are days when I’m spiritually strong, but many more it seems I’m just a hot mess. I expect many who read this blog post can relate. Give us grace to overcome our shortcomings, not by “trying harder” but by submitting to your power living in us. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

More than sex…

Standard

romance-couple-holding-hands-by-water.jpg.1340x450_0_166_6978

Song of Solomon 3:1 Upon my bed at night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer. 2 “I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves.” I sought him, but found him not.

The writer describes something like a dream in which a woman seeks her lover. What struck me is the description of “him whom my soul loves”. The love described is much more than a physical attraction, but penetrates to the deepest parts of her personhood. In my mind I’m comparing this bible passage with the so-called “hookup culture” of our modern day.

Wikipedia describes, “A hookup culture is one that accepts and encourages casual encounters, including one-night stands and other related activity, which focus on physical pleasure without necessarily including emotional bonding or long-term commitment. It is generally associated with Western late adolescent behavior and, in particular, American college culture.”

Guess who has three college-age children? This guy. And while I certainly acknowledge my own lack of appreciation for the power of physical intimacy when I was a young man, I hope for more for my own children. As I read in a recent newspaper article on a the topic, the author (a dad like me) describes a “loneliness that comes from giving fully of yourself in the hope of finding intimacy—and in return getting only intercourse…”. It seems that appreciating sexuality for the profound gift is is requires swimming against the current of popular culture.

Gracious God, you gave physical intimacy as a profound blessing to humankind. Give us all a deeper appreciation and care as we steward this precious gift. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Jesus revealed…

Standard

JESUS-EYES-Ed-Unitsky

Scripture: Galatians 1:11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me (Paul) is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Observation:  The apostle Paul, who planted the churches in the region of Galatia, was worried they were being deceived by another leader preaching a false gospel. In explaining what was different about his gospel message, Paul reminded his followers that he didn’t receive his message from another human being, but rather “through a revelation of Jesus Christ”.

Application: I’m attending a prayer conference this weekend with some leaders from my church. The primary speaker is a pastor named Paul Maconochie, an old friend who is originally from England. The Lord has given him such grace for teaching and sharing the truths of the faith. As I was listening to Paul last night the Lord was showing me a number of things I’ve been longing to see and hear.

Truth is, I’ve been through something of a dry season in the spirit. This isn’t unusual as all believers go through seasons when the Lord seems to be far away. Intellectually I know the Lord has never left me because the bible promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. But it’s been a while since I’ve felt a fire on the inside. One of my prayers for this conference is that the Lord would speak to me again, touch me on the inside so that I might be renewed.

As I awake this morning, preparing for a full day at the conference, I believe my prayers are being answered. There is a stirring in my spirit that is unmistakably from the Lord. And as I write this blog post I can see that the Lord is with me and that he never left. Why? Because the Lord is revealing the truth. It’s moving from my intellect to the deepest part my soul. It’s no longer something I simply think, but something I KNOW with confidence. That’s the difference between an understanding (I know in my head) and a revelation (I KNOW in my spirit).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, today I pray for all people (myself included) who hunger for you. Many of us know about you, but too few really KNOW you. By your grace reveal yourself to all who call on your name. Amen.

Agree with one another…

Standard

Negotiation1

2 Corinthians 13:11 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. 

V.13 is a greeting we often see included in the liturgies of the church, coming at the beginning of the worship service. Yet here the greeting comes at the end of Paul’s letter, not the beginning. This gives me a different lens through which to think about the verse.

In verses 11 and 12 Paul commends to the believers in Corinth a number of things: “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another…” and so on. These sound like simple things, however they are not easily done. Take “agree with one another” for example. Spend enough time with any group of people, Christians included, and disagreements will emerge.  Most of the time disagreements are trivial, but sometimes not. Sometimes entire churches split, even entire denominations. Live in peace? Christians fight all the time with those outside the church and with one another. I could go on.

Turns out, the only hope we have to actually live as Paul commends are the three things he mentions. First there is “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Through Jesus Christ our sin and brokenness have been forgiven. We have been restored to God in the name of Jesus and freed to live as children of God. The “love of God” is how we find capacity to love others, even those who appear unloveable. Our love for others is an overflow of God’s love for us. Finally, living in “communion with the Holy Spirit” means we’re continually aware of how the Spirit dwells within us, leading and guiding us in all righteousness.

What do you need from the Lord today?

Lord Jesus, teach us to live as Paul commends. For without you working in our lives we cannot do it. Amen.

Confrontation…

Standard

confrontation

2 Corinthians 13:1 This is the third time I am coming to you. “Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” 2 I warned those who sinned previously and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again, I will not be lenient— 3 since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful in you. 4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. 

The tone of this passage is tense. The apostle Paul has spent most of this letter defending himself against his critics. In this section of the letter he gives warning of an upcoming visit to Corinth in which he will forcefully deal with his detractors once and for all. It’s obvious that Paul has great affection for the people, but that affection will not prevent him from dealing with some unpleasant business.

Let’s face it. Sometimes it’s just easier to let problems go than to confront them. Confrontation takes time and energy and fortitude that I don’t always have. And, of course, I’m never sure how that sort of conversation is going to go. What if the thing blows up in my face? What if I just make things worse? What if it turns out I’m partly, if not completely, to blame for the situation? Better to just let it go, right?

Well, no. Not right. Being a grown-up means dealing with problems even when I’d rather not. This morning I’m owning the fact that I have some growing to do in this area. Question: Is there a problem you’re aware of that you’re avoiding?

Lord Jesus, living in community with others means dealing with problems. Give us grace to step up when we’d rather not. Amen.

Cool stuff? Yes please…

Standard

o-BC-LUXURY-CAR-TOUR-facebook

Ecclesiastes 6:1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy upon humankind: 2 those to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that they lack nothing of all that they desire, yet God does not enable them to enjoy these things, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous ill. 

When we read “those to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor…” we probably don’t think of ourselves as falling into this category. But by any global standard most of us are wealthy. Argue if you must, but it’s true. We lack nothing of consequence from a material perspective. We have been given by God all we need – and even many things we simply want.

I like stuff as much as the next person. I don’t obsess over material things, but I enjoy them for sure. What I find interesting about this passage is “yet God does not enable (us) to enjoy these things”. God may lavish us with material things, but the satisfaction they bring tends to be fleeting. It’s great for a while, but then “meh”. Happens to me all the time.

I’ve found it doesn’t really matter the size/scope of the purchase, the thrill is temporary. It can be exciting to make a major purchase like a house or a car, but after a while it’s simply a place to live or a means of transportation. Smaller purchase are all the more so. Why do you think this is the case?

Well, what I’ve come to understand over the years is that joy, satisfaction, peace, contentment are all things that come from the inside out – not the other way around. Material possessions can be fun, really fun, but won’t satisfy our deepest longings. The only One who can offer the sort of thrill our hearts and souls long for… is God.

Lord, teach us to seek satisfaction, contentment, and joy where they can be found – in our relationship with you. Amen.