Wednesday, August 20, 2014

At Just the Right Time

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Romans 5:6.

 I’ve mentioned, in previous blogs, the fact that I like to watch old Gunsmoke reruns.  Marshall Matt Dillon always seemed to happen along at the most opportune time to prevent a gun fight, save a person from an untimely death, or a serious injury they might have suffered in a barroom brawl. Whatever the scenario, been, Matt had an uncanny sense of knowing when to intervene. The similarity between he and Jesus ends there.  Matt was human, and couldn’t be everywhere to save everyone, even if he really wanted to, and his death wouldn’t have helped one bit.

Have you ever felt utterly helpless?  Maybe it was when a loved one was sick, or after the death of a close friend or relative. Helpless means unable to help oneself; weak or dependent; deprived of strength or power; powerless; incapacitated.  Mankind was, and still is helpless without Christ.  Oh, we like to think we’re self-sufficient, but the fact is no human endeavor is accomplished on our own, NO THING!  “….apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5.  Every skill or talent that we need to complete any task has been provided for us by our Creator.  Some will scoff at me for making that statement, but I defy you to give me another source.  But all of that pales in the face of what Jesus did on the cross for us.  He secured eternal life for us, while we were still miserable sinners.  Sure he did it once and for all over 2000 years ago, but every time an individual comes to faith in Christ, then and now, it is precisely at the right time in their life.  Like Matt Dillon storming through the swinging doors of the Long Branch to rescue Miss Kitty, our personal realization of what Jesus did for each of us comes at our own right time.  There is no way to earn Heaven.  We can’t latch onto our godly parents coat tails and ride our way in with them.  Church attendance, membership, even baptism won’t secure it.  So you see, we’re still utterly helpless without him.  The good news is, you don’t have to remain in that miserable state, and today could be your right time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Full Jars

The Widow’s Olive Oil
1The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”
2Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”
“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”
3Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. 4Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”
5She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. 6When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.”
But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.
7She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”

The pastor of my church preached on this old testament story, the other day, and I found it so inspiring, I just wanted to share it. A recently widowed woman came to the prophet Elisha.  Her husband,  who must have been working in ministry with the renowned man of God, had died leaving her penniless with two young sons.  They were in hock to some creditors, who wanted their payment NOW.  If she didn’t cough up the cash, they would take her boys.  Desperate, afraid and maybe even somewhat annoyed, she explains her plight to Elisha. Her need was obvious,  and Elisha, being a wise, Godly  man could have gone to the coffers and handed her some money, or offered to help her in some other charitable way, but he didn’t.  The first words he speaks, inquire as to what she wants him to do.  Instead of waiting to hear her reply, he immediately asks her what she has in the house.  If the woman hadn’t been annoyed up to this point, I bet she was now.  Hadn’t she made it clear that she had nothing?  Had he forgotten about the threat of losing her sons? What part of desperate didn’t he understand She restates the fact that she has squat, but then seems to remember the small jar of olive oil.  Maybe that was said to emphasize how destitute she was, but Elisha, working through God, saw something valuable in what she considered puny. Employing all the members of the family, he told them to collect as many jars, bottles, urns etc. that they could find, and bring them back to the house.  At this point the woman could have lost it.  Why should we collect empty containers, didn’t he hear my sad story?  Luckily she didn’t, instead she obeyed.  Out of that obedience, behind the closed doors of their home, away from nosy, mocking neighbors, the oil flowed, and continued to flow until all the vessels were full.

Do you wonder why the oil stopped?  Was it because they ran out of pots?  On the surface that seems to be the obvious reason, but look closer.  It says that by selling the accumulated oil, she could pay off  all the debts, and live on what was left.  Her need was met, not exceeded, but it was more than sufficient.  Are you desperate today?  Is there a need that you want God to fill?  Listen closely, he is asking you what you have in your house.  No matter how small, or inconsequential we think our talents are, God can and will multiply them.  God could have simply given the widow the money, but no, he asked her to work with him.  Perhaps he’s asking you to do something that looks silly on the surface, but believe me, God is not silly.  Put aside your fears, pride, annoyance, or whatever else is holding you back, and obediently gather up those empty pots and pans. God will meet your needs, but he must have your full cooperation to fill those empty jars.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Be His Light

The word light is used some 2869 times in scripture, so I think that makes it an important term to, well, shed some light on. Beginning in Genesis, when light was created, and all the way through to Revelation, light, is presented to us in many forms.  The one I want to focus on today, is the light that Christ typifies, the very same light that we, as his followers, should be displaying today.

Jesus often referred to himself as “the Light”.  “Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’ " John 8:12.  In 30 AD, when his public ministry began, the nation of Israel had been without light for well over 400 years.  The word of God, spoken through the prophets, had been silent for all that time. A world devoid of God’s presence, must have been frightening, to a race that knew they were his chosen people.  The only connection they had, was found in the keeping of the law, and that was getting very old indeed.  Allow me to illustrate this sort of darkness by a physical example. I’ve visited several caves in my day, and one thing a tour guide mentioned to us always stayed with me.  Caves are the darkest place on earth.  There is no light source at all, hence fish who lived in the underground waters had eyeballs, but were blind.  The same holds true for any human or animal who happens to get lost in one.  Scientists say that anywhere from 1-4 weeks, of this life without light, will render one completely destitute of vision.

It’s amazing to me then, that this noble people didn’t lose their faith, all together, during this pitch black era.  Imagine that you are that hapless person left behind in the cave.  The electricity is turned off, no glow appears from a star, moon or candle, and you just know you are going to go blind.  Oh, you pray, for any tiny pinprick of light to guide you out.  That gives you some idea of how the Jewish believers must have felt.  So, when Jesus came along he was that saving light source to a world in darkness. “…the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." Matthew 4:16.  Masses of light-starved people began flocking to him, with a hunger for God that only deprivation could instill. Not everyone came running, there were plenty who had adjusted to the dark.  “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19.  We can all agree that most crimes occur during the night, when evil actions are more easily hidden.  Hence, those “adjusted” folks were doing just fine in the dark, “thank you anyway Mr. Jesus, we don’t want what you’re selling.” they said.

For those sincerely seeking his enlightenment, then and now, we are promised His light, aglow inside us, and outwardly visible. “For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!” Ephesians 5:8.  My question to you today is, are you living as a person of light?  Is the beam, that emanates from your being, strong enough to draw people in from the darkness?  If  you were the only example of how Christ’s light should be shining, how much darkness would it displace? Have you checked your power level lately, or ever? Do you leave the “light shining” to the priest, minister or other “closer to God” types?  Sadly, you are not alone.  I dare to say many Christians have no idea of the light that is available, and Satan loves that.  The longer he can keep the world in darkness, the more blind, lost souls he can accrue for himself.  Don’t believe me, believe His word, invite God in and let him turn on that eternal light that the world is so desperate to see. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  2 Corinthians 4:6.  Don’t be concerned about the size of your light, all that matters is that we continuously display His Light!!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Diluted and Deluded

Diluted and Deluded.   While not truly homonyms, like write and right, dilute and delude are pretty similar sounding.  Recently, while trying to come up with words to describe a large portion of the body of Christ, the Church, these two words found their way into my thoughts, and that’s what I want to share with you today.

 First off, let me give you the dictionary definitions.  Dilute: to make something weaker, fainter, reduce the strength or force of something by admixture.  Delude: to mislead the mind or judgment of; deceive:
to mock or frustrate the hopes or aims of.  Allow me to illustrate this with a story from my childhood.  My BFF in the 1960s lived on the same block as I, and we often hung out at each other’s home.  Why I remember this particular incident is a mystery, but here it is.  Her dad was making orange juice, from a can of frozen concentrate, when I noticed that he added at least twice as much water to it than my dad did.  I thought it odd, but then I saw him throw in a big cup of sugar to the pitcher.  As a kid, sugar was never a bad thing, so we eagerly drank it up.  While it didn’t taste as orangey as I was used to, the sugar more than made up for the “diluted” concoction.  I was thus “deluded” into thinking that this sugar infused substitute was every bit as good as the full-strength version.

That said, let me show you where I’m going with this.  Over the past 2000 years, the “church”, and I’m referring to the body of believers, not a particular denomination, has changed radically.  The fully concentrated, strong, vibrant and flavor-full, entity that Christ envisioned, has become, in may cases, not all, a weak, faint, sugary, diluted rendition. The sad part is, we have been deluded into thinking that’s how the church should be, and has always been.  Wrong, wrong, wrong!!!  If you aren’t familiar with your Bible, do yourself a favor and read the Book of Acts.  The author, Luke, describes for us a power-house, literally.  Miracles were happening on a daily basis, lives were changing, the earth was shaking with full-strength, no sugar added Christianity.  People all over the known world were amazed at what was happening, and thousands of them joined the church, daily!!!

 When is the last time you witnessed that kind of reaction to the word of God?  I don’t know exactly when, or why, but as the church grew, well meaning leaders began diluting that dunamis power with “religious sounding” rules, laws and  mandates.  Paul was aware of this issue when he said, “For Christ didn't send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News--and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power.” 1 Corinthians 1:17. Today, many churches play down the true gospel message, of repentance, grace and the power of the cross, because it might seem to strong. Instead they try to sweeten it up with “clever speech”, and “relevant” programs focused on social, family and financial issues, etc. Don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing wrong with the church offering these programs, but not at the risk of diluting the power of the Cross.

 I’ll admit, there was a time that I was perfectly content with the watered down church. It didn’t challenge me to change my life, and it was palatable to my sinful nature. Then I tried the full strength church, and realized all the flavor I had been missing. Now, I can’t wait for the opportunity to “drink” in his word each new day. Are you tired of lackluster church, Good!!  Now, ask God to serve you the 100% version of the Good News, you’ll me amazed at what you’ve been missing….at it won’t rot your teeth!!! “Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” Psalm 34:8

Friday, August 1, 2014

Leaving Your Comfort Zone

Without seeking it, I was recently offered the lead part in a local historical play.  For nearly 65 years I’ve happily abided in a comfort zone, when it came to using any kind of “theatrical”  talent.  The primary reason being, it scared me to death!   My parents can, and will, attest to the fact that I was an extremely shy child.  If anyone looked at me cross-eyed  it would cause me to dissolve in tears, and forget about having to stand in front of the class and talk!!!  College speech class helped me immensely, but public speaking still made me nervous, and performing was out of the question. When I auditioned for the play, I only asked for a small role.  A couple of lines, spoken within the comfort of a group of other one-liners.  Perfect.  A few days later, the director called and asked me if I would be negotiable on how many lines I spoke.  Puzzled by this request, I asked her to explain “negotiable” to me.  She blurted out, “We want you to be the lead.”  I have to admit that I hammed up my audition lines, just for the fun of it, never expecting a request like this!

 Cutting to the chase, I didn’t accept readily, in fact I balked telling her how I had never done anything like this, along with a laundry list of other very reasonable excuses.  She gave me the script, asked me to look it over, and get back to her with my answer in 2 days.  How could I possibly make a decision like that in 2 short days!!  My comfort zone was so, well, comfortable, how could I possibly venture outside of it?  She saw only my hidden talents, and knew that they would fit her script perfectly, my trepidation was not important to her.  Deep down, I knew this part was me, but fear was holding me back.  She was relentless.  Finally, the potential that she saw in me, and her encouragement gave me the strength to shakily say yes.  Fast forward to opening night.  All the practices, line-learning, set directions etc. where now being put into action.  The play that she had lovingly written, over a 2 year period, was now coming to life.  I was nervous all that day, praying I’d remember all those lines. Taking center stage, as the lights came up, I asked God to help me through.  He did!! I’m proud to say, I made it successfully out of my comfort zone, and fulfilled the author/director’s plan for the show.

 Not unlike this talented author, God has plans for our lives.  But, like me, most of us are way too happy in our little comfort zones.  Maybe he wants you to get involved in a ministry you’ve never even thought about, and you feel unqualified.  Perhaps he brings a hurting person into your life, one who’s hungry to hear about God.  Whatever the request, it means making that uncomfortable step away from your zone, into His.  The author of the play knew the direction she wanted her play to go, I didn’t, but with her help, guidance and encouragement we brought those plans to fruition.  She couldn’t have done it without me, and I certainly couldn’t have done it without her.

 When God calls you, and he will, to view his "script" for your life, don’t shrink back and pull your blanket over your head.  He knows the outcome, and will grow and qualify you every step of the way.  You’ll be so glad you said yes, I am!! For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:11