Tagged: Religion & Spirituality

A New Year Has Dawned

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I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship.He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.

He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains.Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked.

Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help. He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows.

He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver. I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long. He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall.

He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;

Lamentations 3:1-25 (NIV 1984)

 

Word or Deed Ministry?

Should a Church focus exclusively on the Ministry of the Word or on a Ministry of Deeds? As the news of Jesus’ authority over nature and disease spread, soon there were overwhelming crowds gathering in wonder of what Jesus would do next. As the crowds impeded His ability to preach and their needs consumed His time, He would move to another town or even into the wilderness so that He could continue to freely preach the Good News about the Kingdom.  Jesus sought and found a beautiful equilibrium of word and deed in ministry. His Deed ministry was always about compassionately giving relief to people and families from their suffering, grief, misery, and distress. While His Word ministry was always about compassionately calling people and families to Faith and Repentance dealing with their deepest suffering, grief. misery and distress: their sin. In the ministry of Christ there was a synergy and integration of Deeds and Words working together so people would believe the message of the gospel. He saw ALL people as sick, all people as sinners and it was only those who admitted their need for the Doctor of their Souls who qualified for a place in his kingdom.

Paralyzed by Past Guilt

Do you ever wonder if God has forgotten you? Do you know what it’s like to feel worthless, broken and defective? Deep down do you question whether God is punishing you for a past mistake? Well, that’s how the paralyzed man in Mark 2:1-12 felt. He was paralyzed by something in his past that hindered him from coming into the presence of Jesus. There are lots of things that paralyze us so that we feel that we can’t move forward; many things that prevent us from entering into the presence of Jesus. Sometimes we find ourselves paralyzed by the guilt of the past. The problem is that our guilt has never been touched by the forgiveness that Jesus offers us in the gospel.

Guilt comes to us in two ways: 1) a legal guilt before the Holy Judge that comes from the violation of His law and 2) the guilty feelings of remorse that result from what we’ve done. The legal guilt is the real problem but the heavy burden of carrying guilt or the feelings of being dirty, unwashed and defective is often the experience. Thankfully, the Cross takes care of the legal guilt and the guilty feelings. Jesus invites you on a journey back into the ruins of your past to pronounce over you, “Not Guilty” before the Judgment Seat. Hear His strong voice say with authority to you, “There is now no condemnation for you because you are MINE.” After His declaration, He takes off the Judge’s robe to reveal the clothing of a servant grasping a basin and a towel. As He washes you, hear His tender voice say to you, “I wash you with my blood and you shall be whiter than snow. You will have a clean heart and your sins I will see no more. You can now live in joy and gladness in my presence. I will never leave you or turn my back on you. Let the joy of My Salvation be restored to you and may you walk with confident support into future obedience through the power of my Spirit” (Cf. Romans 8:1-4; Hebrews 13:5Psalm 51:7-12) Our only hope to walk again is to encounter the Savior who gives us Grace to Live Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow.

Jesus, please numb my pain!

Do you want to heal it or just numb the pain?” That’s what the Pharmacist asked a 12- year-old John Estorge in response to complaints of burning mouth ulcers. Not being a fan of pain, I contemplated the question for a moment thinking,  “Who cares about healing, I just want it to stop hurtingI’ll take the topical anesthetic please!”

I’ve discovered this same principle working in my children who don’t care for healing treatments for their skinned knees, or to endure the necessary pain associated with the extraction of a splinter, they just want band-aids. Sadly, this is often our typical response to the difficulties in our lives even as we pray. We don’t typically think that our real problem is the principle of sin living within us. Instead we blame circumstances or find fault with others as the real problem. We pray, “God, please change these circumstances, give me relief to my pain, and please change the way this other person acts.” While we anticipate that the remedy will come by a relief of our pain, a change in circumstances or the repentance of others, we fail to identify the real issue: our own personal sin and miss the real cure: forgiveness of our sins and getting closer to Jesus.

We are often like children who just want the punishment to end, rather than seeking forgiveness for the offense. Or we’re like the paralyzed man and his friends who sought  the healing of a physical limitation instead of the greater need, the forgiveness of His sins and drawing closer to Christ (Cf. Mark 2:1-12). The paralyzed man was surprised by what His encounter with the Savior delivered to him. Jesus went beyond everyone’s expectations to give more than what was requested to get to the root of the problem: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.'”

Jesus bestows health to the body, beginning with not only the removal of the cause and origin of disease, but in meeting his and our REAL NEED. We all need this ongoing inner healing of our hearts so we can experience the forgiveness of our sin, the resolving of our guilt and shame, the mitigation of our our anger, and the settling of our minds in the midst of fears. This only happens as we get closer to the Lord who through His Son, has healed you of the only disease that can really kill you, your sin. He is the Only One who has the authority and power to provide the only real cure, forgiveness. What we need so much more than a numbing of the pain or a change in circumstances is getting our hearts closer to a God who has declared us Right with Him through the work of His Son.

Hell’s Goal: Destroy Your Faith!

Hell has a strategic plan led by your adversary the devil in which all of its resources are brought to bear and released on the church. The objective: to use any allowable and necessary means to sift your faith. The greatest strength of the enemy is that he is Opportunistic!

Simon Peter loved Christ deeply, he was certainly the most passionate, zealous and outwardly dedicated disciple. But in the midst of a “Perfect Storm” of circumstances when his Shepherd was taken away (seemingly) against his will, his heart was struck with paralyzing fear and his faith was shaken to violent extremes. This attack, crafted in hell’s workshop was predicted by Jesus with these words: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…” Jesus seeking to prepare Peter saying, In a little while, you’re going to see me taken away and Satan will use this opportunity to come at you and you will battle with the forces of Hell!

Satan, a wily opportunist, does seek convenient opportunities to destroy your faith. The picture Jesus gives us is that Satan, having access to God, has approached the Father to make demands to have Peter and the rest of the disciples (Cf. Job 1-2.)

The sifting of wheat was an agricultural process of agitating or shaking grain in a kind of fan or sieve. The grain remained in the fan and would not fall through the mesh while the chaff and dust were thrown off and no matter how much you agitated or shook the grain, true wheat would not fall through. Now if there was no wheat in the sieve, everything would fall through. In using this illustration, Jesus is saying that everything that is not of faith will be ground up and blown away and that the disciples must hold to their faith, trusting the power and goodness of God for their hope, then they will not fall through the mesh into Satan’s hands. Satan will take advantage of trials and craft well-designed temptations to agitate and sift out our faith with a view to obliterate it. The devil boastfully and arrogantly believes that no true faith exists in the church and that people only believe because of God’s blessing and selfish interests. So he will sift you with suffering, popularity, success, wealth, taking advantage of convenient opportunities of weakness and do whatever it takes to prove your faith false.

Much later from first-hand experience, Peter wrote, : “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him firm in your faith” (1Peter 5:8, 9). But the victory that overcomes Satan’s sieve and Satan’s throat is our faith. Similarly, John reminds us in his first epistle,  “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith” (1John 5:4).

We know that our struggles in this world are not against people but against the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil from Hell. So we take up the shield of faith with which we can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. So we should not be surprised by temptations and trials but instead prepare our minds for action, regarding these  as formidable attacks as if your very faith is THE TARGET of a powerful enemy. Prepare for the fight, because all temptations are forged in the workshop of the enemy!

Tomorrow: The Guarantee of Jesus that true faith will persevere!

It’s Supposed to be a “Personal” Relationship

I’ve been thinking a lot about the lack of depth and experience in our personal relationships as well as the lack of experience in our relationship with God. Evangelicals have basically coined the phrase, “personal relationship with God,” but when pressed further about its experiential meaning, the answers merely revolve around the forensic (legal) language of substitution, atonement, imputation and propitiation (all of which I hold firmly). I understand that Christianity has been a battle for ideas, especially in the early years and during the time of the Reformation but we have become polemicists (masters of disputation and debaters of ideas) instead of children of God who deeply experience our Heavenly Father and so there is no one there for our hearts. So, because our leaders and teachers are great at defining the battle over the ideas of the gospel, we have learned and followed but the results have been that we have largely missed the God of the Gospel. Oh how easy it is so easy to accept ideas about God as a replacement for an experience of Him. Even the language of the Scriptures is rich with experiential language calling us to koinonos (an intimate companion, mutual sharer and partaker) and its derivative,  koinonia (communion by intimate participation) with Him.

Listen to and experience the intimate language of John’s first epistle,

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—  that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship (koinonia) with us; and indeed our fellowship (koinonia) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

Receiving uncomfortable grace

Too often we bury ourselves in the busyness of following Jesus and serving others instead of relaxing and receiving uncomfortable grace from Him. Our hearts are often resistant to love that it poured out on us, a resistance that forces our bodies to tighten up inhibiting us from receiving.  I think about the tender act of love bestowed on the disciples by Jesus as He washed their feet. How hard was it for the disciples to sit and receive that little act of grace? Yet an even bigger act of grace was to come as He went to the cross for them.

While Jesus certainly wants us to follow Him in doing acts of humble service and not to see ourselves as too good or too big to do little things, menial tasks and even costly, inconvenient acts; doing, for most of us, is easier than receiving! In fact we can bury ourselves in service while never having to sit and receive. Jesus asks us to first relax and receive from Him then expend ourselves generously toward others only to come back to Him to relax and receive again.