Archive for October 2013

Keep it REAL

filepicker-Gw4aY4VjRsGRCvFqStvm_keep_it_realRemember the classic scene and dialogue in the movie “A Few Good Men?”

Tom Cruise:  “I want the truth!”

Jack Nicolson:  “You can’t handle the truth!”

Sadly, often times, we can’t handle receiving the truth or giving the truth.

So we avoid it. We end up dropping hints, manipulating, guilting, and stone-walling people. Anything to avoid telling the truth.

The end result is that we forsake open, honest relationships and replace it with “pseudo-community.” It’s simply not REAL.

Marriages, family relationships, friendships and churches are often based upon an inability to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Truth without Love is brutality.  Love without Truth is hypocrisy.

 

It’s so important to have both truth AND love. Why?

Because we’re all members of the same body, and what gets propagated by one member WILL affect others. It’s the law of community. That’s what we discover in Acts 5 with Ananias & Sapphira. They willfully chose to sell some land. They could have kept the proceeds of the sale for themselves. No harm, no foul. But they opted to give the earnings to the disciples to be shared with the whole community of faith. Again, no harm, no foul.

Until…they lied about the amount. They told Peter “that’s all of it” when it actually was only the partial amount of the proceeds.

In a nutshell: They both fudged the truth. As a result, Ananias fell over dead, and later so did Sapphira.

Ouch.

One thing for us to know is that Ananias & Sapphira were “good, church folk.” Did you know that a recent Gallup Polls tells us that the ethical conduct of Christians varies only slightly from non-Christians?

Ouch.

That means Christians are falsifying income tax returns, plagiarizing, ignoring construction specs, not obtaining a permit, exaggerating about a product, and telling people what they want to hear.

Years ago, Fred Hollomon, the Chaplain of the Kansas Senate, prayed this prayer:

Omniscient Father: Help us to know who is telling the truth. One side tells us one thing, and the other just the opposite. And if neither side is telling the truth, we would like to know that too. And if each side is telling half the truth, give us the wisdom to put the right halves together. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

For followers of Jesus this ought not be the case. The truth ought to be in us and flowing out of us. Anything less is simply not real.

Awake My Soul

awake7Ah Ezekiel.

Ezekiel was a prophet at the same time as Jeremiah. When he was 26 years old he was taken into captivity to Babylon along with about 10,000 of his fellow Jews. In the fifth year of captivity Ezekiel received a call to be a prophet of the Lord and for the next 22 years he ministered to his fellow captives.

If you were to split his prophetic ministry into two halves and used the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem at 587 BC as the dividing line it would look like this:

1. Prior to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem Ezekiel spoke of DOOM.

2. Then after 587 BC Ezekiel was a prophet of HOPE.

Isn’t that what we need sometimes?

Not doom. We have enough of that.

I think we need more Hope.

Especially when we’re feeling spiritually dry, dusty, or dead. Lord, give us hope! When we’re in a spiritual valley, we need glimpses of perspective that comes through hope.

I think we all understand the concept of “valleys.” This is where we feel trapped, confused and discouraged. I imagine that’s how the children of Israel felt while they were in captivity…until one of their own, Ezekiel, started to speak hope into their valley.

That’s what he did in chapter 37, the famous vision called ‘The Valley of Dry Bones.” It was given to him more than 2,500 years ago for the Babylonian exiles. I think the words still apply to us today.

Here is the Vision:

The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?

“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”

So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.

God’s question to Ezekiel is an important one: “Can these dry bones live?” I think this is a question He is still asking us today. Now, from a human point of view the answer to this question is obviously NO. But with divine perspective, we know nothing is impossible.

“God gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” Romans 4:17

God takes that which is dead and makes it live again! How does this happen? I believe the text gives us two ways:

1. The Word of God

2. The Spirit of God

As Ezekiel walked through the valley of dry bones the Lord told him to prophesy (which means “to speak”) to the bones.  He said to the bones: “Hear the Word of the Lord.” As he spoke the Word of the Lord the bones started coming together with sinew, muscles, and skin.

Imagine this scene. Freaky and weird, huh? Especially for a good Old Testament Jewish prophet, because he isn’t supposed to touch dead things! But when God’s Word gets in contact with dead people it causes life.

Is it doing that in you? If not, then are you in close enough contact with God’s Word, and is it getting into you?

What is the Word of God saying to you? God is speaking, but are you listening? When we listen to God and his Word, it has the power to pull the dry, fractured parts of our life together. Things start to make sense again.

 

In a nutshell: The Word forms us.

 

When your life is falling apart, when you are in spiritual valley of dry bones then be quick to get in contact with the Word of God and let it form you.

Notice then in the text that the bodies that had formed didn’t have breath so God said to Ezekiel:  “Speak to the breath and tell it to breathe on these dead bodies so they can live again.”

 

In a nutshell: The Spirit fills us.

 

The BONES became a BODY with the Word of God and the body became an ARMY with the Spirit of God.

Friends, we need BOTH! Oh to be formed with the Word AND filled with the Spirit!

Join me in this pursuit. Join me in crying out to the Lord: AWAKE MY SOUL.

Generosity Is…

Generosity-21“As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1-4

Lest we think that Jesus is ripping on the rich folks, let’s be clear: he is not SHAMING them for their gifts, he is CELEBRATING the widow for her gifts. The reason is because her generosity flowed out of severe need and lack, whereas the others gave out of abundance. For one group it was most likely easy to give. For the poor widow it was undoubtedly painstaking.

Jesus affirms her generosity.

Paul did the same for the Macedonian church in his letter to Corinth:

“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” 2 Cor. 8:1-5 ESV

From this passage, as well as others in 2 Corinthians 8, I’ve discovered a few principles regarding generosity.

• Generosity is sacrificial (2 Cor. 8:2). It’s been said that it’s not about “equal gifts, but rather, equal sacrifice.” That’s really the bottom line of what Jesus was communicating in the story about the rich givers and the poor widow.

 Generosity indicates a maturing faith (2 Cor. 8:7). In this verse we’re challenged to grow not only in our faith, speech, knowledge and love, but also in the area of our giving. Is this an area of your Christian journey that needs to mature?

• Generosity is a response to Jesus’ life and work in us (2 Cor 8:9). Elsewhere in the Bible we’re reminded that we “love him because he first loved us.” This works in tandem with the understanding that our giving is a natural response to Jesus’ super-natural gift of grace and salvation. Simply put: we can’t out-give God!

Friends, I want to encourage you to live a generous life – modeled after God the Father giving his only Son, and extended through the life of Jesus, in the willful laying down of his life upon the cross.

“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”  2 Corinthians 9:15