Like a Lion

Many animals will live or die based on their ability to stay within the safety of the herd.  It is when they wander too far from the community, when they are isolated, that they become extremely vulnerable.   Maybe they end up alone because they have sustained some sort of injury and are no longer able to keep up, or maybe they have allowed themselves to become distracted, or maybe they just believe they don’t really need the others.

Whatever the cause, the greater the separation from the herd becomes, the greater the chance of being attacked, and, correspondingly, the lower their chances of survival become as well.  I will venture a guess that this correlation works in reverse as well; the closer one stays to the herd, the more “surrounded” they keep themselves, the less likely they are to be attacked.

God’s Word tells us that this principle is not only applicable on the African grasslands, but in our spiritual lives as well. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (ESV)

It would make your adversary’s job much easier if he could find a way to separate you from the “herd”, or in our case, the community of believers.  Our vulnerability to attack is directly related to this issue and we must “be watchful” for potential causes of separation.

What ways can you more fully engage with the “community of believers?” Church attendance? Participating in small groups? Ministry involvement?

What poses the greatest threat to separate you from the herd? Injury? (hurt feelings, taking offense, etc.) Distractions? Belief you don’t really need others?

Do you know anyone who has wandered that you can reach out to and try to restore?

real faith?

I once heard someone making the case that David’s faith, as he went to fight Goliath, was really not quite as extraordinary as it might initially appear.  “You see,” the argument went, “God told David what was going to happen.  David already knew that he would be Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 1.42.33 PMable to defeat Goliath.” From a human reasoning standpoint, I can understand how any foreknowledge David may have had could make the story less impressive.

If he already knew what would happen, then was he really all that brave? 
 
Did it really take that much faith if God had already tipped David off about what was going to happen?

In reality, however, this is not a good argument against the strength of David’s faith. It is actually closer to the definition of faith.  In fact, having God tell us things is where faith comes from in the first place.

“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom 10:17 NKJV)
 
In Genesis 15 God told an elderly, childless man that he would have offspring that would be as numerous as the stars.  In verse 6 we are told that when Abraham (at that point still Abram) heard God tell him these things that he actually “believed God.”  Hebrews 11:11 says that the way Abraham was able to become a father was by faith.  Abraham “considered him faithful who had made the promise.”
 
“By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.”  (Heb 11:11 NIV)

Let’s hear what God has to say about us, stand on His promises & claim by faith what God has provided by grace!

“He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” (1 Thess 5:24)


Silver Lining?

It is easy for Christians, myself included, to justify having things in our lives that we probably ought not have.  There are so many elements of popular culture that we work to find ways to deem acceptable.  What usually happens is a person will find some small “redeeming” quality and will use that as grounds for the justification.  Shows that are full of sexual innuendo are tolerated because they are humorous.  Music with degrading lyrics are considered acceptable because of the beat. On and on it goes…

This is nothing new.

In Deuteronomy 7:25 the Israelites are instructed, “The graven images of their gods you are to burn with fire; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, or you will be snared by it, for it is an abomination to the Lord your God. You shall not bring an abomination into your house, and like it come under the ban; you shall utterly detest it and you shall utterly abhor it, for it is something banned.”

“…you shall not covet the silver or gold that is on them.”

As this passage gives instructions on how to properly destroy idols, not even precious metals, like gold and silver, are good enough reasons to keep them around. The primary concern was that they would become “snared” by such items.  There was a possibility that even if an Israelite did not want to keep an idol for worship purposes, he/she might keep it around for other reasons, in this case financial benefits.  We don’t deal with idols as blatantly as the Israelites did but we certainly deal with things that can “snare” us and steal our affections away from the Lord. The Lord takes a pretty hard stance on anything that poses a threat to “snare” us.

“You shall not bring an abomination into your house, and like it come under the ban; you shall utterly detest it and you shall utterly abhor it, for it is something banned.”

Notice the consequence of allowing a banned item into one’s home; the person would become “like it.”  These things have an infectious quality. When we allow things into our lives/houses that God considers an “abomination” the  characteristic of being “banned”  moves from the item to us. We are told to “utterly detest” and “abhor” anything with that kind of potential.

As we interact with our culture it is important that we do not allow “silver linings” to be the bait that snares us and steals our affections away from the Lord.  What things do you give place to in your life because of the “silver lining”?

the black hole syndrome

A black hole is an area in space from which nothing, not even light, can escape.  A black hole is formed when a star collapses. It has an incredibly strong gravitational pull, and once an object crosses the “event horizon” it is within the black hole’s grasp.  It continues to bring things into itself, nothing escapes and the “hole” is never filled.

Sometimes I can identify all to well with a black hole.  In a strange similarity to the collapse of a star, my collapse happens when my focus turns inward. If I am not careful, I can become very “me” focused.  I want to be happy, I want satisfied, I want attention, I want conversations to center around me…. On and on it goes, I want what I want.  The funny thing is, when I begin to seek my own satisfaction so fervently, it becomes the very thing that eludes me.  Every conversation, every relationship, every attempt to “please me” somehow crosses my own “event horizon” and is sucked into the void.  The more I focus on me, the emptier I feel.

I recently had a bout with my “black hole syndrome.”  For a period of time I allowed myself to become very selfish in my pursuits and desires.  I took extraordinary measures to ensure my own pleasure, satisfaction and gratification.  I was even willing to sacrifice in order to obtain this goal (sacrifice at other’s expense of course).  Ironically, the more diligently I pursue my own fulfillment, the emptier & less fulfilled I become.

When this aching emptiness gets my attention enough to bring me to my senses, I am “re-reminded” of the truth of God’s Word.  1 Corinthian 10:24 says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” These instructions go beyond living in peaceable community.  When I begin to apply this truth to my life, the black hole closes.  This wisdom does more than benefit my relationships with others, it benefits me.  I no longer watch attempt after attempt to satisfy myself disappear into a bottomless chasm.  Instead, I forget about myself, seek the good of others, & at last, find fulfillment.

bee together

When I was in grade school, I think it was 4th grade, a beekeeper came and talked to our class.  He had recently been out on an emergency call to remove a beehive from a family’s home.  He told us how he had removed the beehive safely and successfully.  The next challenge he faced was merging these “new-bees” into his existing hives at home.  Bees rely on odor and pheromones to identify one another within a bee colony and will fight and kill “outsider” bees that intrude their hive.

A special technique is used when a
beekeeper merges two colonies.   To merge colonies a beekeeper will place the hives together, separated by several layers of paper.  Over a period of several days, the bees will work their way through the paper.  As they take the time to work through the paper, the bees become accustomed to the other colony’s pheromones.  Eventually the bees penetrate the barrier that the beekeeper placed between them.  When they do, they all smell the same, like the paper they’ve all gone through.  Fighting is avoided and the bees are united.

Just recently I had the opportunity to enjoy time with a tight knit group of friends that I do not get to see often.  This close group was completely unacquainted with each other only a couple of years ago.  On the rare occasions we get to be together there is openness, understanding, transparency, deep sharing and encouragement.  This level of closeness is not unique to this group, but this group serves as an example of one of the key ways to obtain this level of intimacy. My group of friends has not given up meeting together.

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25)

There is something about the way bees are unified that I believe holds true in our human relationships.  The bees become unified after they have passed through the layers of paper.  Too often, when we encounter barriers in our relationships it signals the end of the line.  But we are instructed to “ not give up meeting together.” There are levels of knowing and being known that will not be achieved until we have “passed through” some barriers in our relationships.  There are depths of friendship that are not achieved until we have “passed through” some shared experiences.  God has made us for relationship.  He has made us to be part of a family, part of the same body.  We need one another and we need one another in a way that goes beyond the superficial.   If we are to ever move below the surface it is going to take a greater level of commitment to one another in our relationships.

Who are your closest brothers and sisters in Christ?  What is your level of commitment to them?  Some are in the habit of not meeting together, not building relationship, not pressing through barriers, not passing through shared experiences.  What about you?  What habits are you developing when it comes to your relationships?

good question

I have been reading the Gospel of Matthew.  One thing that has been standing out to me this time through are some of the questions Jesus uses, particularly the questions that are left with no response.  I will not attempt to answer any of these questions, but I would like to draw attention to their significance.

One example is found in Matthew 8.  It is the story of Jesus asleep in the boat as he and the disciples cross the lake.  A storm threatens to sink them and they wake Jesus up, fearing for their lives.  In verse 26, just before rebuking the storm, Jesus asks this question, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” (NASV)  The disciples never respond to Jesus’ question.  The obvious answer would be, “well Jesus, we are afraid because of this terrible storm and the fact we are about to sink.

Surely Jesus was aware
that the disciples saw the storm as the cause of their fear. But I have a hard time believing that Jesus took the time to ask the disciples a question with such an obvious answer.  His question, in the middle of a storm, was not a use of sarcasm, or an attempt to belittle the other men in the boat.  There was something deeper that Jesus was attempting to draw attention to.

Another example is found in Matthew 14.  In this chapter we find the disciples at sea once again.  This time Jesus comes to them, walking on the water.  Peter leaves the boat to approach Jesus but begins to sink.  After Jesus rescues Peter, he asks him this question in verse 31, “Why did you doubt?” Peter never answers the question and the story moves on.

Typically I just keep on reading, the answer to Jesus’ questions seeming fairly obvious. But for whatever reason, as I read through Matthew this time, I keep getting stuck on these questions. Jesus was not wasting time with redundant questions.  He was probing, teaching, helping the disciples come to some realization.  After failures of some sort the disciples are left with a question.  I have to believe Jesus’ heart in asking these questions was to help them, to lead them to some insight that would prevent them from making the same mistake in the future. When Jesus asks a question, there must be a corresponding answer.

As I wrestle with these and other unanswered questions in Matthew I am finding it enlightening to apply these questions to my own fears and doubts.

When I struggle with doubt, why? When I am afraid, why?

Is there something I have allowed into my life that has caused it?  Is there a “voice” that I have listened to that I shouldn’t have? Are there things I need to be doing to keep my faith strong that I have neglected? Is my focus where it should be?

Again, when Jesus asks a question, there must be a corresponding answer.  Pay attention to these types of questions in the Gospel accounts.  Next time you find an unanswered question, consider that maybe you are the one who is supposed to supply the answer.

do you hear what i hear?

Just recently, I spent some time in a crowded shopping mall.  It was full of the typical holiday commotion that you would expect to find in a mall this time of year.  It was nearly in a state of complete chaos, but I will dismiss it as “general holiday excitement.” People were bustling all around, trying to find the perfect gift.  In the midst of the busyness, I sat down, enjoyed a cup of coffee and watched.

As I watched the shoppers scurry around I sipped my coffee and listened to the Christmas songs that were playing over the mall PA system.  For whatever reason, I began to pay close attention to the words that were being sung.  “In the dark streets shineth the everlasting light…” Song after song poured out of the speakers. “Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord the new born King…”,  “The holly bears a berry as red as any blood, and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good…”

I felt like I was the only one who was listening, or the only one who cared about what was being sung.  “These songs should be acknowledged as more than just background music,” I thought to myself.  Wonderful truths were being proclaimed to the mass of oblivious shoppers. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”  But no one batted an eye at this incredible announcement.

“God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.  Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day.”  No one acknowledged the song, but it continued all the same. “To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy!”

One after another the songs came.  And not the typical mall Christmas songs either.  They weren’t playing songs like “Here Comes Santa Clause” & “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”  They kept playing the good ones.  O Holy Night, What Child Is This, The First Noel… With each song, it was as if someone was intentionally trying to get a message across.

I understand that people had other things on their minds.  Not everyone had the luxury of sitting with a cup of coffee and simply observing & listening.  But still, the contrast of beautiful, life changing truths being sung to people who appeared to be completely indifferent was stark.

I kept listening.  I sat and thought about the words I was hearing.  Tears welled in my eyes.  I felt overwhelmed by God’s love.  I felt thankful.  I felt sad for those who weren’t hearing what I was.

I have been back to the mall since then.  Unfortunately, I think I was more like the other folks as I attempted to get some shopping done.  Not only when I am at the mall, but just in life in general, I can get so distracted and caught up in the frantic pace of life.  What was it about that day at the mall?  Why was I so moved by the beauty of Christ coming to save sinners?  Why was the significance of Jesus’ work so apparent to me then? I think, very simply, the difference was that I took time to be still.  I took time to listen and to let the truth settle in my heart.   Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

It becomes more pronounced around Christmas, the rushing around and forgetting what the “season” is really all about.  But it is a problem that we deal with all year round.  Take some time to hear.  Take some time to “be still & know.