Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Why Can't You Be More Tolerant?!?

Oh, I did it this time! Darren and I got into a discussion about sex outside of marriage. We disagreed and apparently I quoted a Bible verse or two, and so he asks, "How come you Christians are so intolerant?!?”

We got talking about the “Golden Rule.” You know, when Jesus said,

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 7:12

My mother once caught me calling someone a mean name. I got called into the house and was rhetorically asked, "Do you like it when people call you names?!?!?" "No?" "THEN DON'T CALL ANYONE ELSE NAMES!!!!" There it is; the golden rule in action. If I don’t like something done to me, I shouldn’t do it to them. A child can understand it.

This scripture comes to mind, when I think of why someone might not want to be told that they are living a lifestyle that is contrary to God’s commands:

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
John 3:19

Who wants to be tolerated? I have been tolerated before, and it stinks! Ever find yourself at a party where you are not wanted, but out of courtesy, your presence is endured? Not fun! Ever been the last kid to be put on a team in Phys Ed.? You weren’t really chosen. They had to let you play. You were tolerated, cause the Gym teacher was right there. How’d that feel?

God’s Spirit does not let His children just “tolerate” people. We don’t tolerate, because we are required to love people. The bar for us has been set very high, and God is not going to lower it, just because people who don't want to follow Him, cry "Let me do what I want, and you just tolerate me!" Sorry, I can’t tolerate you. I love you!

We tolerate what we don't appreciate. Our bodies tolerate pain, or toxic medicines. Socialists tolerate religion, (while their aim is to end it). But you and I are in this life together, and God in me loves you.

When Jesus says, "Love others as you would be loved yourself," that is a very simple thing to do. People all know how they want to be treated. All that He is commanding us to do is something that should come most natural to us. I know how I want to be treated, and I am to treat you that way. He does NOT say, "Do unto others as they want you to do unto them." (That would be oppressive).

They tried that on John the Baptist and on Jesus, but the Lord said:

“To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.”
Luke: 7:31,32

The apostle Paul wrote:

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Galatians 1:10

The Golden Rule is simple. Let’s not complicate it. God wants us to grow in our capacity to receive His love. People are free to love as they would be loved; as they were created to love others.

Ann and I are celebrating our 20th anniversary. In our early years together, we tried tweaking the golden rule. The problem was, that the things that I thought would please Ann, didn’t. And things she did with a loving heart to bless me, were things that weren’t appreciated. We laugh now, but then it felt like a crisis. Committed for life, to someone who doesn’t receive the way we love. What to do?

Like any seasoned couple, we had a breakthrough in our relationship, when Ann and I started letting the other love us according to the Golden Rule. When we stopped saying, "If you REALLY loved me, you would...." And now we hear ourselves more and more saying things like, "That was thoughtful of you, ..." or "That's Ann for you..." or "That's just how Tom loves..." What happened? It isn't magic. God increased our capacity to receive each other's love.

Allowing others to show you love, as THEY would like to be loved, clears our God given receptors for love. Ann was crestfallen 19 years ago, when I asked her not to iron my shirts. “That is why God made polyester.” I tried to joke. (Actually, I couldn't receive people serving me). I basically requested her not to express her love, as she wanted to. Gradually, if she wanted to iron something, I just let her. In more recent years, I've felt loved as she was doing so. Yet another new way for me to experience Ann’s love opened up to me. This has happened to both of us, in many ways, over the years. This would not have happened, if Ann were only free to love me, as I would have wanted to be loved. And I would still be typing this in a leisure suit!

Someone once tried to sit us down and explain how to love each other "better." But they were trying to make Ann love me in the few ways that I could receive love. And they wanted me to express my love differently, in a way that was easiest for Ann to receive. It sounds good, but where is the transformation in that? God has all kinds of ways to love us. He wants us more able to receive true love, in whatever form it comes in. God wants us to love more, not to be appreciated more. There are so many ways that God loves us, that we don't yet appreciate. We need to change ourselves, not everyone around us.

When we first got overseas, there were things that people did "for" us, that we didn’t like. It was part of their culture. For example, whenever we were going on a trip, our Asian friends would all come and see us off at the bus or train or airport, and just as we were leaving, they would hand us "provisions" for the trip. I'm talking watermelons, large loaves of fresh baked bread, or bags of grapes, etc. Honestly, we had 2 babies to carry and our luggage was totally full! "Can't they see that?!? We can’t bring baked goods and fruit through customs! Am I to have to ride this train for 3 days with a watermelon on my lap?!? Honestly people!!!"

We were stuck. On the one hand, to refuse these parting gifts would have been a slap in the face of dear friends, and to accept them was a more a burden than a help to us. But we took them. Had to. God and all, you know?

That first year, we’d take the unwanted gifts and thank the givers. Gradually, we figured out some tricks by watching what the local folk did when traveling. We’d bring an extra bag just for such last minute send off gifts. We figured out ways of sharing these provisions with other passengers and those in need outside of bus stations, etc. A few more years and we were receiving these parting gifts with heartfelt thanks, perceiving the love behind the gifts. Soon, we noticed that when our friends gave us these things, that we actually and truly FELT loved. Another way to receive peoples’ love, had been opened up to us. God wants us to receive love. We can’t do that, if we keep tweaking the Golden Rule, insisting people love us as we would be loved.

So I said to Darren, and I say to anyone, I will not tolerate your walking into eternal self-destruction, because I have this love for you, that my Father in Heaven has for you Himself. I won't separate from Him, and so I'm compelled to tell you about my Lord and His ways. And if you see in me, things that are harming my soul, and you tell me, well, that is how I would be loved. So feel free.

I appeal to you to please look up the verbs "to love" and "to tolerate." My hope is that you'll see that it stinks to be “tolerated,” and that while it sometimes may be uncomfortable to be loved, that being loved is a good thing. My God loves you. And so do I. Deal with it!

Think I'll just quote another Bible verse or two.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. 11Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."

Ephesians 5:8-14

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"I Can Dream, Can't I?"

Jim and I got talking about why God gave us our imaginations. At one point Jim asked, “Tom, are you saying that it isn’t okay to daydream? A fellow can dream, can’t he?” And that got me thinking about the difference between “hopes” and “wishes.”

Modern English tends to lump these two words together: wishing and hoping. We hear, “I hope that it won’t rain on our picnic,” or “I hope we win the game today,” etc. But according to scripture, the word “hope” has specifically to do with something that is not only unseen; but that is true; something that God has spoken that will be. Two scriptures come to mind:

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

And…

“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

To visualize our hope, and to think on it, we must use our God given ability to imagine. Hope is the object, while faith is the expression of it. This hope, which produces faith, comes from hearing something God has spoken to us. Wishes are just druthers. Better English would be, “I wish it wouldn’t rain today.”

However, if God has spoken to you, and said that it wouldn’t rain today, then you can say that you “hope that it doesn’t rain.” And then by faith, clouds or no clouds, you would make your picnic lunch, and bring your fuzziest blanket, and no umbrella, (thus showing that you believe that you believe what God said). Otherwise, if you bring these things, it is just “wishful thinking,” that it wouldn’t rain. And if it does rain, well, we have proverbs for people like you.

We once lived in a city whose winters were sub-zero temperatures for 6 plus months of the year, with Siberian winds constantly sweeping through to remind us. Those days I’d walk about, with 5 layers of clothes and my fur-lined hat, and my Peoples Liberation Army coat and mitts. In such conditions, I was often tempted to daydream. In my dreams, I play great tennis, against great tennis players. Oh, and in my dreams, I win.

Why not daydream? I wanted to escape the cold. Some days out all afternoon, I’d be trudging about visiting people. I had busses to get on and off, having to walk far between appointments, and it was freezing! Daydreaming was a way to distract myself from the cold.

Ha! How must I have looked, shuffling through those icy streets, with a goofy smile on my face, as I drop shot Pete Sampras, or blasted a backhand down the line and out of the reach of an exhausted Michael Chang?!? After accepting the trophy and accolades from Bud Collins, I would soon be home. Time seemed to go faster. There’s nothing wrong with that, right?

But such daydreaming, can affect our relationships. One night after such a day of visits and appointments, (and having just gotten Andre Aggasi with my inside-out forehand approach shot), I got home, tromped upstairs to our apartment, where Ann, after a day of teaching and now cooking, handed me a pail of garbage and ask me to take it outside, and could I please “wash the inside out with snow this time, so we don’t get bugs?”

I was miffed! Would she have handed that bucket to Bjorn Borg? After “russafruffenmuffleduffinstinkinpailo’grussleduffin!!!” ing my way out to the garbage pile, I got some snow and started cleaning out the pail. The Lord asked, “Why so grumpy?”

Truth be told, I hadn’t actually picked up a tennis racquet in years. I was not a Wimbledon champion. I was an English teacher, with whose wonderful wife and children shared an apartment that none of us wanted smelling like decay. In fact, it was thoughtful of Ann to drop what she was doing, and to get that garbage to me, before I had taken off my PLA coat and mitts and boots.

I was grumpy, because I’d misused my God-given imagination.

I apologized to Ann (and she congratulated me on my latest Wimbeldon victory). But still daydreaming also affects my ministry. During my outing to the clay courts of Roland Garros, I wonder how many people I do not pray for, do not stop and bother to give a good word to, or bless. While winning Wimbledon, I do not worship, intercede, or witness for Christ. So many people pray for us, and none of them are praying that I’ll send a two fisted backhand down the line and just out of the reach of Manuel Orantes. (Don't you dare ask me who Manuel Orantes is. I have a birthday coming up!)

I don’t expect to really get this 100%, before I get to Heaven. But I can sure do a lot better than I am now! Not meaning to come down on all daydreams. Some memories come to mind so pleasant in fact, that they remind us to thank God for certain people, or to pray for them. True thoughts are fine to think on. Yet, I’m pretty sure I could not get a serve past Roger Federer.

The Bible says we are soldiers who are in a spiritual battle. If a soldier is in battle, and daydreaming about winning Wimbledon, he is putting himself and his comrades in danger.

“No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:4)

I sure didn’t mean to sound like a killjoy to Jim. Are you thinking of the streets of gold and the crystal sea, a healing, or the ability to overcome an obstacle of faith? In Christ, these are all promised and so can be expressed as hopes. These are not just wishful thinking if you are in Christ Jesus. When I spoke about misusing our imaginations, I was more talking about vain imaginings; things that are not only not true, but that manipulate or distort, until we think differently of ourselves than we ought; (in a civilian way).

The Apostle Paul wrote: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

And…

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)

We are in a war, and there is plenty to keep ourselves occupied with in our thought lives. My recommendation to Jim and anyone else who finds them selves stuck in wishes and daydreams, but who would rather be filled with hope and faith, is first to listen for God’s voice. Then, when He speaks, take that message from Christ, and get involved in praying, planning, and purposing your thoughts and actions towards that which God has spoken to you. Write it down, and ask God to wake you up, when your mind and actions are being spent on lesser things.

The battle of the ages is raging unseen. Reality is, that we who are in Christ, have been given great orders to bring God’s divine solution to this troubled world, “in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life-.” (Philippians 2:15) When I meditate on that truth, and imagine what this might look like in the life God has given me, my life has great purpose.

Our imaginations are a gift from God, and with them, we can see what is real and from Him. We are to use our imagination for great things. So let us stop wishing, and start hoping!

Finally, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8,9)

I find it important that the first characteristic of what we are encouraged to think about is “whatever is true.” In these we can hope.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Why don't I hear from God?

After asking a friend this question, Rita was told, “There must be some sin in your life.” Sweeeeet!!! So let’s talk about hearing God’s voice, or sensing His lead, or knowing His will, or whatever dialect of Spiritualese you might use to describe this most wonderful part of following Jesus: Knowing His voice.

Jesus tells us that we are His sheep and that we listen to His voice and follow Him. (John 10:14-18). The key to hearing the voice of God, is to follow within earshot of Jesus.

Rita can hear God. She was born again when she was in her 30s. Jesus promised that the “Holy Spirit will guide” Rita “in all truth.” He promises that the Spirit would “tell” us things. (John 16:3)

God talks to His people, even when they sin. David was sinning with Bathsheba when God sent Nathan to “talk to” him. (And Jonah and Balaam). Today we can “grieve” the Holy Spirit. When someone says, “I was convicted to stop using His name as a swear word,” God spoke that to them. Ever been told to forgive someone? That was God speaking. Satan doesn’t want you forgiving people and I wasn’t there. It was God.

Our English language can rob us. “I just realized,” and “what a coincidence” and “funny you should mention that” often replaces “God showed me,” and etc. We don’t actually “realize” anything. We have 3 ½ pounds of brain, and I’m told we only use 10% of that. Repeat after me, “God showed me!”

There ARE two groups of people that don’t hear from God. To religious leaders intent on killing Him, Jesus said, “The reason you do not hear His voice, is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:47) He didn’t say this to be mean or intolerant. That was truth that they needed to hear. Just because Gene Autry sings, “Santie Clause knows we’re all God’s children, n’ that makes everything right,” each Christmas season, doesn’t make it true. God speaks to His children. He loves everyone. We are all His creation. But only some have become His children:

“He (Jesus) came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
John 1:11,12

If you are a child of God, Jesus says that you hear His voice. If you don’t think you are hearing His voice, you need to get the wax out. Here is how I check my ears:

First, I must expect that God wants to speak to me. His goal is to make me like Jesus. Believe me, He has a lot left to say to me. It is written, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word (Rhema) that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) I’m supposed to be living off of spoken words from God. I eat food three times a day. My Father wants me fed spiritually too.

Years ago, on “Missions Sunday,” a missionary would come and speak. I would miss those Sundays, unless I happened to forget and go, and then I’d sit glued to my seat, and kind of disengage. I knew that at the end of these services, the organ music would swell, and the Pastor or Missionary would give a kind of altar call, so that anyone who thought that God might be calling them to foreign fields, could come forward for prayer.

I didn’t know that God had my best interests in mind. I think I had this idea, that if I listened to the missionary, and then the organ played, that in the heat of the moment, if I went forward and let Pastor lay hands on my head to pray, that someone in the front row, (who maybe wanted my car) would stand up and prophesy: “God wants brother Tom, to smuggle Strongs Exhaustive Concordances into Siberia, driving an olive green Dodge Dart!” Then the congregation would applaud, with joyful weeping; and then of course, I’d have to find another church to attend.

Yikes!

Next, I must believe that God has my best interests in mind. Our Heavenly Father is not some Yuppie dad, preoccupied with His career as Creator God. He wants to affirm us too. Maybe you never had a dad present at home. You have a great One now! He will show you what a wonderful Father He is. Ask Him.

Consider these verses:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose.”
Romans 8:28

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
1 Corinthians 2:9

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!”
Ephesians 3:20,21

Get into His presence. Be still and know that He is with you. Worship Him. Do you have a list? “Where should I work?” “Who should I marry?” “What school should I go to?” Let it go. He knows what you need to hear today, better than you know yourself. If you don’t hear right away, and have to get up and go, thank Him for going with you, and know that you will hear what He has to say soon. But let Him say whatever He wants.

Once, I was going to take a new English teaching Job and in doing so, needed to move fast. Ann and I couldn’t decide on one of two apartments. I prayed, “God, please show me which apartment to take?” I got quiet with Him and then I opened my scriptures and prayed, “Lord, anything you want to say to me, I want to hear it.” These words from Proverbs jumped out to my spirit:

“All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.”
Proverbs 21:2

It was God, and I should have been excited. But, I was annoyed. I wanted to know which apartment to take. This “word from God” was not answering my question. I prayed again, and that Proverb stuck in my mind. I knew it was what God wanted me to hear, but I wanted to talk about something else. I felt that His words were rather beside the point. Couldn’t He work on my character AFTER the move?!? I was in a hurry.

But really, I did ask Him to say whatever HE wanted to tell me. I ended my time in prayer, saying, “Lord, if there is something hidden in my heart, that you want me to see, I ask you to please reveal it. You know I need to know which apartment to take. Amen.”

That night, our friend Mahmut, came to visit. He has faith in Christ too, and he has a way of seeing things that I appreciate. He asked me, “What has God been saying to you this week?” So I showed him the verse from Proverbs. I told him I was a bit frustrated. Yes, we could take either apartment, but God knew whom my neighbors would be, (who would be most open to Jesus), so I wanted Him to guide me in this.

Then Mahmut says, “I thought that your school decided to rehire you. Why are you changing jobs?” And then I surprised myself. I began complaining how each year the school tells me that they have better applicants for English teachers for next year. Then later when those teachers don’t actually come, they rehire me, and I’m supposed to be grateful!?!? The folks at this other job really want me, and I’m tired of being put down each year, and now that I think about it, gag! “Mahmut, that is just really prideful of me, isn’t it? I mean, that I should think that my talent and great personality should let me keep a job when they could get a PhD in English to come!?! Honestly! Mahmut, isn’t that prideful?!?”
And Mahmut, in his wisdom said, “Yes Tom, it is.”

I didn’t need a different apartment. I humbly took my job back, and had several more great years at that same school. I was often later so grateful that God didn’t answer MY question.

James talks about another group who don’t hear from God. They are “double minded” people. One minute apparently full of faith, and the next full of doubt. James says in chapter one, that a double minded person “should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” You can please God by just doing what it is you believe (in accordance with scriptures) that He is telling you to do.

“He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”
Hebrews 11:6

A double-minded person only wants to hear from God, so that they can THEN decide whether or not they are going to obey. No. Those who want to hear must first determine that no matter what God says, that they will obey Him. We can say this confidently because He is good, because we know He has our best in mind, and because He will be with us the whole way. We say “yes, Lord!” before He speaks.

Trust me, “No, Lord!” is just bad English. (See definition of “Lord.”)

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

“Can I get a little cooperation here?!?”

Matt is having a difficult time, in his family, at work and even with folk at church. “Nobody is listening to me.” He wants to be a good father to his kids, who seem to do the opposite of whatever he advises. Those at work don’t really take his business seriously. And he’s had this project at church that he’s wanted to start for some time, and nobody seems to get on board with him. Frustrated, he wonders why he gets no cooperation from God or man.

To answer Matt’s question, “Why can’t I get any cooperation?” I first want to say, that Matt is a reasonable fellow. He isn’t demanding his friends and community to help him expose evidence that the last five U.S. Presidents were really disguised Reptilians from the planet Zorkon. Matt has legitimate concerns for his family, for his work, and to see God’s kingdom grow. So why is he getting no cooperation?

This is probably an authority issue.

After college, I was working at a group home for emotionally disturbed teenagers, and I loved my job. The kids seemed to like me, and I sure enjoyed working with them. I was attending church. A relatively new believer, my goals were changing, my priorities were changing, and many of my habits were definitely changing.

There was one particular habit that didn’t seem to want to change. I repented and repented and it just hung in there. In time, I did something I knew I shouldn’t. I “wearied in well doing.” (Gal. 6:9) I knew according to scripture, that I had not done all I could to stop (Heb. 12:4), but I was tired of feeling bad about this constant failure. Wanting to be happy again, I simply put this sin on the back burner, and told myself, “God will just heal me of it in His good time.” Sounds nice, huh? And so I just went on; continuing to read His word, enjoy fellowship, and well, um, continuing with this particular sin.

Then I hit this wall at work. After having such a fun start, for two weeks in a row now, it seemed I could do no right. The kids were being sneaky, and bouncing off the walls. It was very frustrating! Fights broke out, and I lost my temper more than once. I felt ignored. “What happened, Lord?” I didn’t like this at all!

Then Sunday at church, the preacher was talking about the Centurion who had come to Jesus, wanting healing for his servant. Jesus had marveled at the man’s faith, after he’d explained how he recognized Jesus’ authority over demons. The Centurion knew authority when he saw it, and knew Jesus had spiritual authority to make his world right.

Then the preacher said, “So, if things are out of control in your home and at work, it may be that you don’t see God’s authority!” Immediately, I remembered my putting that sin on the back burner. Ignoring God’s authority over my actions and thoughts, how could I expect the kids who were under my authority now, to listen to me? Then and there, I told God I was so sorry for ignoring His authority and repented again, of my sin. And yes, the very next week at work, was just wonderful!

Centurions were amazing people! They have a perfect track record in scripture. Matthew 8 tells us about the Centurion just mentioned. Jesus was “amazed” at his faith. In Matthew 27:54, it was again a Centurion who, when Jesus died on the cross said: “Surely, he was the Son of God!” Later, when Pilate wanted to know if it was true that Jesus had died, he sent for someone he could trust; a Centurion. (Mk 15:44)

Peter marveled at a Centurion too. Cornelius was a Centurion. He was such a man, that God sent an angel to him, saying: “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” (Acts 10) God directed Peter to Cornelius’ house, so that Cornelius and everyone in his household could hear the gospel, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit, and be saved. This Centurion was the first of the Gentile church.

How about Paul’s experience with Centurions! Look at the way they work! In Acts 22 and 23 and 27, you will find Centurions who really recognized authority, both on earth, and spiritually. One Centurion is commanded to flog Paul. When Paul asks if it is right to flog a Roman Citizen, the Centurion thinks first, then goes to his commander and presents Paul’s case, thus keeping his boss out of trouble. He honored those in authority over him!

Julius was a Centurion who could both think, and who could recognize spiritual authority. When Paul and other prisoners were being transported on a ship as prisoners, Paul and the ship’s pilot disagreed on when to travel. Julius sided with the pilot. Why not? Paul made tents, after all, and the pilot knew the sea. Well, it turned out that Paul was right. An angel then spoke to Paul, and Paul encouraged everyone. Then, next time Paul and sailors disagreed, Julius heeded Paul, and as a result, all on the ship survived. Paul was Julius’ prisoner! Julius recognized Paul’s spiritual authority. He later stopped the soldiers from killing all of the prisoners, “because he wanted to spare Paul’s life.” (Acts 27)

Centurions were a carefully selected stabilizing force of the Roman army. Career soldiers, these were men who, over years, had moved up in the ranks. Entering the military at age 16, they couldn’t become a Centurion until the age of 30. They knew how to be under authority, and could only become Centurions with high recommendations. Centurions were officers, and depending upon the strategic importance of their troops (they commanded anywhere between 80 and 120 men), they were ranked similar to what modern day army lieutenants or captains are. Some more seasoned centurions would be like our lieutenant colonels or even colonels.

Centurions were in charge of training their soldiers, and they fought alongside their men in battle. Centurions awarded the good soldiers and punished those who proved unfit for service. A Centurion could be punished himself, just like any solder (for instance, if found asleep at their post, or for having poorly trained troops).

A Centurion had to be a good communicator. They needed to be able to read messages and battle plans sent from their commanders. They had to be able to communicate clearly to both those under and those over them in rank: To take orders and to give them well, in other words, to cooperate with everyone.

Centurions had considerable earthly authority. Yet, what impresses is that they had the eyes, humility and wisdom, to recognize spiritual authority where present, even in carpenters, fishermen, and inmates. And doing so, they were blessed by God.

When people God has in my life, don’t listen to me, and when nobody is cooperating with me, I need to check my place in the line of authority. Am I aware of who is in authority over me? Am I in right relation with them? Is God over everyone else in my life? Or are my leaders or parents above God in my estimation? Am I honouring and respecting my parents, elders, and those in spiritual leadership over myself? Am I making demands of peers, as if I were in authority over them, when in fact, I am not? Centurions were men who knew their place. And God seems to really enjoy working with that. Remember Jesus' reaction to the Centurion. Wouldn't we love that to be God's reaction to us?

American culture, with equality being so emphasized, can sometimes keep us from recognizing those in spiritual authority, or from us taking authority where God wants to give it. This same principle may apply, if we don’t take authority when we are in it. (Parents who want to be just friends, be warned). Things can get out of hand either way. The easiest way to get more cooperation, is to make sure you esteem God as the highest authority in your life. With God being honoured on His throne, the rest will fall into place.

Trust me on this. I haven’t spent the last eight centuries observing you people from the mother ship, for nothing!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

How can we be content only with God?

Our brother Rick lives in a 7 by 9 foot cell, 23 hours a day, with one hour a day in an exercise cage outside. He is serving out a very long sentence for things done in his youth. He loves to pray and always encourages me in his letters. Every couple of years, he goes up for parole, and thus far he is denied parole and sent back to his cell, to again pray and regroup. He has a lady friend who he would like to marry, and there is a church looking forward to his release for a ministry that Rick is excited about. He is not the boy that went into prison, but he accepts responsibility for what he did without God in his life. He knows his Bible and yet at such times, he asks, if just to be affirmed in what he knows is true: “When I have nothing else, and the family and ministry that I want is not able to happen, (and maybe never here on earth), what can I do to be content while only having God?” And so I tell him the things that sometimes he tells me.
Sometimes simply a straight answer, to a sad Christian, is the most loving. Here is one, shot from the hip: "I know you are broken and I know you have been wounded, but if you aren't rejoicing regularly, then you are not walking in obedience. Therefore, simply start rejoicing."
The very basics of our faith require us to rejoice in the Lord always. Paul says it again; “REJOICE!!!" One chorus that has often helped me, if I let the Spirit play it in my spirit, is the one that goes, "We bring a sacrifice of praise, into the house of the Lord." Sometimes praising takes a bit of work. We do not need to feel good, in order to rejoice. Rather, we rejoice, because in Christ, we have every reason TO rejoice.
I had to learn thankfulness. A number of years ago, a friend patiently listened to my gripes about my seemingly stagnant life, and discerned that I was misbelieving something. Turns out that I thought, mistakenly, that to thank God when I didn’t FEEL thankful, was hypocrisy. A child of God is not a hypocrite if they say "thank you God!" but don't "feel" full of thanks. I don’t remember what I was complaining about that day. In those days, it sure didn’t take much. But I wasn’t being thankful.
Ha, God doesn’t say to us, “You’ll thank me and you’ll like it!!!” He knows we won’t always feel like it. Rejoice is a verb; it is not a feeling. Doing so is commanded however, and when I complain, I find that the reason that we are to praise and thank Him is because, regardless of how we may feel, the Lord is worthy of our thanks and our praise. It is right to thank and praise Him. And that is reason enough to do so. My apparently crummy day doesn’t change that He is wholly good, and good towards me. When we will get into the practice of thanking and praising God each day, those feelings of gladness and joy, which we normally think of when we think of thanking and praising, will follow. When my friend showed me the error of my thinking; he recommended that each day, until I am in the habit, that I write out and say 100 sentences, all beginning with, “Thank you God, for………. It seemed gimmicky at the time, but I did it. I knew I needed change, and now realized that there had been a lot of praise and thanks that God was not receiving from me.
It was actually difficult to start, but once I had thanked Him for the air I was breathing and the meals I had had that weekend, and got into naming a number of people He had placed into my life, I got on a roll and really, the hundred “thank you Lord,” list was done in minutes. And soon, wow! So many of his true promises for my eternal life, were coming to mind, and I was turning these thoughts into thanksgiving. Thank you Lord, for the forgiveness of all of my sins; even my past unthankful ways! Thank you Lord, for eternity with You in heaven assured. Thank You for Jesus’ and what He did on that cross, for me. Thank You Lord, for loving me so much! Thank you for your Holy Spirit who never leaves or forsakes me; and Who guides me and determines to keep me on the Way. Thank You for such purpose in life, that You have entrusted me with Your message of salvation, so that I can share this life with others; and that if any of these you send me to believe, that they too can have these wonderful gifts that only You can provide. The life and day You have given me has such potential Lord. It didn’t have to be this way. But this is the day that You have made, and I can rejoice and be glad in it! Lord, You are awesome! Thank You!!!
Within a couple weeks of doing this, I found joy pouring in and out of me; joy that I hadn’t felt in years it seemed. I even received a physical healing which I would be happy to tell you another time, during the first two weeks of giving thanks like this. I had suffered from that painful symptom of stress for 3 years, and when this joy came in, so did this actual physical healing!
In his book, "The Marriage Builder," Larry Crabb talks about how we in Christ are never to despair or be without hope. He points out that in the Old Testament, people often tore their robes in grief, distress or despair. But priests were never ever to tear their robes, unless they were in the presence of blasphemy. (See Exodus 28:32, 39:23 and Leviticus 21:10) Kings could tear their robes when upset, but Aaron the high priest was told in Leviticus 10:6, that if he tore his robes that he would surely die. God would see to it, that the priest does not EVER tear His robes. This is because the High Priests alone could enter the Holy Place, in the Temple, where God’s presence dwelt. For them, to express hopelessness and despair was like saying that though they knew God’s presence, that there was reason for despair.
For anyone born of God, through the shed blood of Jesus; now that He has ascended and has sent the Holy Spirit of God to dwell in His children; the presence of God is accessible to each of us and at any time. According to 1 Peter 2:5, we ARE priests of God. We are members of the royal priesthood if we are born again. We can enter His presence any time we choose to. And so to be without hope, in despair, and declaring things a total disaster, is more than just a symptom of past hurts or emotional damage. We are at such times, willfully keeping away from God’s presence.
Don’t let Satan rob you of the gift of repentance. Repentance is a gift of grace that God grants His children. If in Christ, you have been given access into God’s most holy presence. There, you will find the grace to continue on. If you “Enter His gates with thanksgiving in your hearts,” and “enter His courts with praise,” you will become glad. (Psalm 100 and another good old church chorus) We like to think of praise and thanksgiving as outpourings of the joy within us, and that can be the case. But sometimes giving praise and thanksgiving, is pure discipline in action; done not because we feel like all is well, but because we know it is true, that in Christ Jesus, all things are possible for us with the God who loves us; and so He deserves our praise and thanks. We start out obeying at such times, and we leave the gladness up to Him. But my experience is that if we’ll do this, the gladness will come.
Okay Rick, you may have just given me my very first blog. (-: Ha! Thanks for your fellowship! You always bless me so much!