Saturday, December 28, 2013

God Is Our All in All

What do you need from God today? He is everything. He's our all in all. 
El Elyon: Most High God 
El Shaddai: The Destroyer God, The Overpowering God, The God of Fertility, The Guardian of the doors of the House of Israel.
El'Olam: Everlasting God 
El'Hai: Living God 
El'Roi: God my Shepherd
El Gibbor: God of strength
Gabriel: The strength of God
Michael: Who is like God
Raphael: God's Medicine
Ariel: God's Lion
Daniel: God's judgement
Israel: The one who has struggled with God
Immanuel: God with us
Ishmael: God who hears/listens
El Roi: The God who sees
El ElyonL The Supreme Judge
Zokef kefufim -"Straightener of the Bent"
Malbish Arumim -"Clother of the Naked"
YHWH-Tsidkenu—"The LORD Our Righteousness"
HaRachaman-"The Merciful One"
Uri Gol— "The New LORD for a New Era"
YHWH-Niss"i (Adonai-Nissi)—"The LORD Our Banner"
YHWH-Shalom—"The LORD Our Peace"

He is all this and more, much more! 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Perseverance - The Hardest Call for Christians

Persevere: continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no indication of success; persist.

Perseverance is a word that is a constant theme throughout most of Jesus sermons and Paul's letters in the New Testament. The parable of the sower, where only one of the seeds grows to produce many fruits while the others die, the parable of the ten virgins, where only five were ready for the bridegroom, and the parable of the wheat and tares, where the wheat have to grow with the weeds until the harvest, are just a few of the examples. Ultimately, of course, we have the example of Christ himself, who perseveres on with his mission through the difficulty of his death and resurrection. Though the cup was bitter, "your will be done" was his prayer and his life was poured out as an offering for our sake, that we might live. We also have the martyrs and many in the "cloud of witnesses" as our examples. They held on to Christ till their very last breath. Rev 12:11 says of them, "they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death." Synonyms and phrases relating to perseverance also permeate the Old Testament. Deuteronomy is the best example of this theme of perseverance in the Old Testament. Especially in the beginning of the book where Moses summarizes the experiences of the Israelites prior to the laws and ordinances that he will lay out for them as given by God, he reiterates the vitality and the importance of them holding onto these very laws and statutes. If you hold on it will go well with you, he says. If you refuse to obey God and cast aside what he asks of you, and eventually turn your own way then it will not go well with you. The land will spit you out, he says. In Deut 4:3, Moses reminds the Israelites of an episode where this principle was demonstrated by talking about an event at Baal Peor. He says, "You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did in Baal Peor. The Lord destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor. But all of you who  held fast to the Lord your God are still alive today." The phrase "held fast to the Lord your God" really means those of you who persevered. And clearly, it doesn't turn out so great for those who rebel against Him. Boy, Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, "Fear him who can destroy your body and your soul." But for those of us who are in Christ, there is no fear, only love, faith, hope and peace.

Going to back to perseverance though, it is so important. Believing in Christ is just the beginning. You have your whole life ahead of you to be molded, shaped, cleansed, chiseled, refined in fire, made pure and ready of the coming of the King. He wants to use you, to turn this world upside down. He is yet to fill you with compassion and agony for the sake of this world so that you know what he feels when he sees this planet in pain. He wants you to work with him to bring hope. He is yet to test you to see what is in your heart so that you can be a better person, a light and example in all you do, just like him. He is yet to allow you to go through to persecution and pain so that you can learn to treasure him above everything. He is yet to teach you how to resist temptation and the devil so that you may experience what it means to be victorious over evil. He is yet to equip you with the awesome knowledge that no weapon formed against you shall prosper, but that all weapons will be used to make you a better soldier. He is yet to help you understand that you have nothing to fear in Christ. These are wonderful lessons that take a lifetime to learn. But the whole the point is Christ. He is the focus of our journey. He is the beginning and the end. Our entire life as Christians, the Spirit is trying to help us understand this.

But it's hard lecture to sit through and  the tests can get pretty difficult. It's hard to keep keeping on. So instead of holding on till it starts to make sense, we turn to a gospel that is not founded on Christ. We become social Christians that help the world fight injustice because we think that solving the world's physical problems is what God really wants from us. I mean, isn't that what it means to be a light? We become legalistic Christians because carrying out instructions is believe it or not, actually easier, by a long shot, than the abstract, all-requiring commandment to "love the Lord with all your heart, with you all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength." We become un-judgemental Christians who think acceptance is all that matters because having a standard to aspire to, well that's old fashioned and "religious". To each his or her own right? We become discussion and doubt-inclined Christians because we think that certainty takes away from that "still searching and going through the Christian journey" look that we all want to have.

Well guess what? The worlds problem is much bigger than the physical issues of sex trafficking and poverty (though it's good that we're fighting against them). God is not interested in how well you can carry out instructions because you can't carry them out well enough and standards are very important as demonstrated by Christ's death. Not persevering is not an option in Christianity. As it is written in Heb. 10:32-39, "Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence. It will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, "In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay." And, "But my righteous one will be by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back. But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed by to those who believe and are saved." It's easy at the beginning but it gets tough toward the end. Hang in there. When you fall, remember he carries you. Get up. You are saved in Him. Keep going. Keep holding on. The reward will be so great that just "one glimpse of him in glory will the toils of life repay." I got chills writing the previous sentence :-).
Chris Rice: Come to Jesus

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Stereotype in Acts

Christians today, including myself, have often remarked that there seems to be less power and faith in this generation than there was in the past, and "past" has often referred to the time of the apostles as recorded in the book of Acts. This book and the time it describes is truly amazing. It was a marvelous time for the Church. People being healed, miracles everywhere, the dead raised to life and the Gospel of Jesus reaching the vast Roman empire at a staggering pace as Christians took the message out with them wherever they went. But we often miss some of the other events that happened in Acts that may not be as comforting for us today. For instance, in this same time period, Christians were persecuted and hunted mercilessly, James was beheaded, Peter was crucified upside down, Paul was stoned and left for dead at some point in his journey, sent to prison countless times, and finally beheaded in Rome, John was thrown into boiling oil (but was spared), many were burned and crucified and also fed to wild beasts. Now that aspect of it, isn't quite as appealing is it? We get scared as soon as we read these parts; our hearts sink. But what we don't understand today is this: serving God in his power will have dire consequences for us as we seek and live godly lives in an ungodly world. Now, it is not always doom and gloom. It wasn't always for the apostles but they were ready for it when it came because they prayed fervently and sought God deeply so that they understood, "it has been granted to them not only to believe in Jesus but also to suffer for his sake." Phil 1: 29.  There was no ignoring this aspect of their call.

Now hardships aren't always in the form of outward persecution. In phil 2, Paul describes how distraught he was at the illness of a friend, Epaphroditus, who was finally healed, he writes, sparing him "sorrow upon sorrow" (Phil 2:27). Often times, we experience depression, anxiety, fear, sleepless nights, hunger, etc as we seek God, pray to God both for ourselves and others. Christianity is no joke my friends. It requires sacrifice and while miracles have happened and do happen, they might not always. Sleepless nights will make you tired, you will feel famished as you fast and pray, the loss of a loved one will cause heart ache, the whip of the lash will hurt, and we will suffer great emotional, physical and mental stress and pressures. In our desire to seek God and His kingdom first, we sacrifice many relationships, dreams and any comfort from this world. It has never been true that those who serve God suffer less or have more wealth. That is devlish teaching. Those who serve God, however, experience joy that passes understanding. They have never been let down by Him. He has always supplied all their needs. Though they suffer their reward is great. They will cry out to God and he will plant their feet on solid ground. Even Acts is filled with loss, fear, death, and persecution. The stereotype of a group of people who did miracles out of bravery is not always true. What is true is how much they had faith in God's love to get them through. Let us do the same.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Slaves, What Do We Do With Freedom??

"Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and 
children of unfaithfulness because the land is guilty of the vilest adulatory in departing from the Lord." Hos 1:2. Those of us who are prone to legalism may come to Jesus expecting to win Him over with our obedience to manmade traditions and laws. Those of that have been used and thrown away may come to Him with a longing to be loved but with some attraction to the old way of life. Those of us who have been addicted and unsatisfied by the addictions, may come tired of the downward spiral, but with a very fragile sense of how to achieve self-control. Those of us who are prone to being logical may come to God expecting Him to appeal to our logic. Those of us who have been depressed may enter the relationship with very low expectations from this new relationship. Whatever our past, all of us bring baggage into this relationship that God wants to have with us, even when His voice is saying that He wants to do something new in us. If you look at all the baggage different people bring into their relationship with God, you will notice a common thread – no matter which we are, we were slaves to something before He rescued you. Freedom, therefore, is foreign to us not only because we have never experienced it but also because we have no idea what it really means to be free. What is freedom? Evn for slaves who have heard the word before, its definition is misunderstood because it has been developed and understood with a slave mindset. This is why knowing the true meaning of freedom is an important part of our journey with God. It may not be important in the first moments of the relationship. But it becomes critical along the way, because as Paul puts it, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1). 

Knowing how to live in true freedom is very, very important because it shapes the attitude that we have in our relationship with God. Freedom in God does not have the narrow definition of an ability to choose what you want to do, as we would often define the term. Freedom in God is living in the righteousness of God. I know this may bother you at first as it did me, because we often think (and most people do) that freedom is the absence of any external control in our lives. We think that freedom means we should be able to control ourselves and therefore control the decisions and choices that we make. But that is not how the Scriptures define freedom. Rom 6:16, 18 says, "Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey Him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey - whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience which leads to righteousness? You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness." In other words, the Bible slavery is only to sin and freedom is deliverance from it into slavery to righteousness. Well. Imagine that. Freedom is slavery to the righteousness of God. Romans 8 goes a step further and describes the mind of a Christian as one that is controlled by righteousness and the Spirit and no longer one that is controlled by the world. The question to ask after this, of course, is which controls you? 

Some of you will immediately say that freedom in righteousness and slavery to righteousness sound contradicting. To the flesh, yes. But not to a spiritual mind, though it may take some time to fully reconcile this knowledge. You see contradiction is sometimes the product of conflict between what the flesh is accustomed to believing and what the Spirit reveals. But as we continue to journey further as Christians, we begin to see things from God's perspective through His Spirit. We begin to understand that freedom, righteousness and obedience are all virtues that God wants to fulfill in his people, so that those who are in Christ are free. It is because they are free that they are free they are slaves to righteousness. We are free because we are freed from sin, but we are slaves to righteousness because we are obedient to God and our obedience to God comes solely from a heart that loves Him. This is as important as understanding what freedom means. 

Let me show you what I mean. In Hos 2:16, God says to his people through His prophet, "In that day," declares the Lord, "you will call me 'my husband'; you will no longer call me 'my master'". What does this mean? Here God is trying to help us understand that he wants intimacy, a bond of love in this relationship, not people who will simply do what needs to be done. In an ideal relationship between man and woman, for instance, they are in love with each other. This governs their attitude toward each other. They do not cheat on each other, for instance, because they love each other. They are therefore slaves to whatever commandments they must obey in order not to not hurt the person they love. Their love for each other is not forced, and they will not encourage their bodies to do what might hurt the other because of love. And if they do hurt the other person, then the genuineness of their love comes into question. On the other hand, we all know of relationships that lack passion or love, but that are not tainted with obvious betrayal. This relationship is unfulfilling and bitter. Why would any of us want to remain loyal to someone we do not love or care about? This is not the type of relationship God desires to have with us. 

My final point is more for those who have discovered the secret of freedom and love as I have descried above. I will use the words of Paul because he has written so beautifully in Gal 2:4 "...some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves." Your relationship with God is a beautiful thing. But the enemy works night and day to destroy just for the pleasure of hurting God and hurting you. That is why you must guard your affection for God. As for as God goes, if you come to Him when he draws you, He won't let anyone steal you from Him. He says in Hos 2:10, "no one will take her out of my hands." You are loved. This is not just a sentimental sentence. It is reality. Embrace it! If you, however, decide to resist the Holy Spirit and choose your way of freedom rather than God’s, then there is no more hope left for you.

Selah - I bless your Name
Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir: I bless your Name

Friday, March 1, 2013

You Want the Rose, Not the Lover

Ever since my soul started waking up to the spiritual realities of
life, one observation has greatly amazed me. It is the observation that God has put some kind of intrinsic quality in ethical principles so that even those who want nothing to do with Him enjoy life to some degree. Now, I use the phrase "to some degree", because I believe that life is only enjoyed to its full extent when these ethical principles of life are accepted in conjunction to the Giver. That is why Jesus says, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" [Jn 10:10, emphasis added]. If life could be fully lived based simply on what he gave, rather than its connection to who He was, why would he say that?

Let me give you an example of what I mean from my work. I am a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Nebraska. Everyday, I come in contact with folks who want to succeed in their careers and work very hard for this success. I find this trait quite admirable, and I can't tell you how motivating it has been for me. Frankly, based on the laziness taking over in Christianity, we could learn a lot about hard work from the world today. I also don't think it would be too presumptuous of me to say that most of you will understand what I mean when I say that, work and its results are one of the most satisfying values of this life. Nothing like working hard to make you feel like you've utilized your time well and nothing like success to make you feel like it was all worth it. The hard-working people I write of are neither morally perverse, (I use the word "moral" in the context of how the general public uses it - that is, a word not subject to a religious definition) nor capricious or hateful. They simply live their lives in enjoyment of the results of abiding in ethical principles. These values bring them some sort of happiness, even prior to any success, because God has blessed the values, like hard work, with a certain amount of satisfaction that comes to the doer in their being accomplished by the doer. This happiness, of course, is very partial and very, very small.

To understand why I believe this happiness is incomplete, think of a lover that gives a rose to his beloved from his own garden. Let me ask you this: where does the value of the rose lie to the beloved? To some degree the beloved will enjoy the rose, simply because it is a rose. But the reception of the rose as attached to the lover - that's what makes the rose exceptionally important. In comparison to this happiness, the satisfaction that comes to the beloved simply because the rose is a rose is not even worth mentioning. In this case, the beloved understands that she is not only a recipient of such favor from her lover, but that she is a receiver also of the labor that went into the gardening. The sweat, the time, the patience - it's all real. The presence of the lover not only makes the rose valuable, it makes it irreplaceable. Going back to the intrinsic value of gifts, think of why even a love note written on an old piece of paper can be worth much more than the whole world to the beloved. It is from the lover; that's why. A note from anyone else may have found its place at the bottom of a backpack, in the recycle bin, or even the trashcan. The lover gives the note value. That is how you ought to think of the ethical principles; they are values that give us joy in this world. We enjoy them, but the rejection of the giver makes them, well, just a rose. Basically, when you accept values simply because they are good values, you are saying you want the rose but not the lover.

Unfortunately, no lover is going to chase after one who does not want them back forever. It is the same with God. He will not chase you forever if you go on rejecting him. Would you ever tell the best most wonderful, most kind person that you know to remain in an abusive relationship forever in the hope that someday their lover sees value in them? Of course you wouldn't. So why do we expect God to do that? This is the same message that Paul gives Timothy in the second chapter of his second letter to Him; "If we disown him, he will disown us." When we see God in all his glory and realize how connected everything is to him, we will cry our hearts out from despair of how much little value we placed on the giver of "all good gifts". Accept this Lover. Accept also what he offers you. Then will joy be complete.

Tenth Avenue North - Beloved

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Warning for This Age

If you would like to entertain yourself in this lifetime, then you have by default counted the reward, that is Jesus, to be of much less value than your immediate comfort. That is why, I ask that you heed the warning which God has spoken through His prophet Zephaniah: "Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near." (1:7). Examine yourself. Examine your heart. Determine now where you stand with Him. Let your life be saturated with prayer and songs of worship to the Lord. Do not interact with your friends, family members, acquaintances, teachers and co-workers as though they are simply people. Remember the supernatural battles that we engage in; that which has been written about multiple times in the scriptures. STOP and cut off whatever is preventing you from consistent and genuine commitment to Jesus the Christ, for every decision to indulge in sin is really an opportunity for you to announce where your loyalty lies. No one can serve two masters and what you spend most your time doing says a lot about what or whom you value most. You must therefore learn to fight the good fight if you wish you value Christ most. As the apostle Paul wrote, "I don't fight as one beating the air and I do not run as one running aimlessly. But I beat my body and make my slave so that after I have preached to everyone else, I myself will not be disqualified from the prize" (1 Cor 9:26-27). Fight now so you can rest later. If you rest now, you will have lost your soul forever.

Can't give up now: Mary Mary

Sunday, February 10, 2013

"I Surrender All" Cliche Much?

Every Christian who sincerely seeks the face of God will at some point have to answer His question, "How much do you love me?" Now, this may not be an audible voice, but it is always accompanied by a test and your mind will be permeated with this question even as you are faced with the tests. Meanwhile the Spirit will invade your mind even more as it reiterates the question so He can lead you closer to the heart of the Living God. Jesus faced this question and for Him the test was the cross. "How much do you love me my Son?" At the end of John 14, Jesus says, "The prince of this world is coming, yet he has no hold on me. But the world must know that I love my Father and I do exactly as He has commanded me." John Piper put this perfectly when he tweeted, "Ordained defeats are really victories." There is so much to unpack in this, but the main concept is this: no matter the cost, we must always answer the question above, with a "this much" which should go hand-in-hand with a sacrifice for the cause of Jesus. "God demonstrated his love for us" remember? We also must demonstrate our love to Him. This is, no doubt, a choice that will require us to count our lives very cheap, to sacrifice the respect of our families and friends, a choice that will require us to bear the gruesome weight of hateful world that doesn't understand our response to Christ's love for us. The question will come and you will have to answer it. I want you to know something though. The choice "this much" will be a choice that requires sacrifice, but it is also the only road that will allow you to progress with God. If you can't surrender all, you can't move forward at all. It's just a fact of our journey with God. So, no, "I surrender all" is not a cliche, but it is a process. Yet, scripture is filled with the hope that is what is now a process is already a done deal. As the writer of Hebrews remarks, "He is making holy those whom he has already made perfect." Don't give up, even as you get ready to sacrifice. You will receive the strength you need. I am not telling you that; I am promising you that! I love you and I wish the best for you! I hope you choose Him no matter what happens.

Song by Steven Curtis Chapman: Long Way Home
Related Post: Gethsemane