Monday, October 16, 2017

Poor Me


Numbers 20:2-5 NIV
 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron.  They quarreled with Moses and said, "If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord!  Why did you bring the Lord's community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here?  Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!"

Have You Been Given a Fair Deal?

During one of my trips to Russia, I was shocked to discover as I was about to board the plane back to the U.S. that I didn’t have my ticket with me.  This of course was not the end of the world.  The airline could simply look on the computer and find that I had purchased the ticket for that flight and reissue me a ticket and boarding pass.  That is what I thought would happen.  Apparently the Russian airline did not keep records of tickets issued in a data base and I was going to have to purchase a new ticket if I was going to board the plane.  Terribly annoyed, I gathered my luggage and trudged over to the customer relations window and waited to meet with a service representative.  By the time someone was able to speak with me, I missed my flight.  What was worse, the airline people said they could not find any record of me buying a ticket with them and that if I wanted to fly out of Moscow, I would have to purchase a new ticket.  What was I to do?  It seemed incredibly unfair for me to have to pay for a ticket I had already bought so I sat in the airport and stewed, waiting for someone with more authority than the ticket clerks to help me.  In the meantime, all the other flights leaving Moscow for London where I was to transfer were booked.  I began to feel sorry for myself.  “Why did I have to pay extra money to fly home?”  “Why wasn’t God helping me?”  “How come I had to miss my flight?”  “What sort of airline treats its customers so unfairly?”  I finally called the school where I had spent two weeks lecturing and complained to the director about my terrible situation.  He told me to hire a cab and come back to the school and figure out what to do there.  Now I had to spend fifty dollars for a cab ride back to Moscow.  What a joke!  What a waste of money!  I just knew the cab driver would overcharge me too!  Where was I supposed to stay when I got back to Moscow?  What would I have to pay for a hotel room?  Why did this have to happen to me?  It wasn’t right that I sacrificed so much to come and teach in Russia and then to have to put up with this.

Have you ever felt sorry for yourself?  Of course you have!  You have been mistreated and misunderstood.  You haven’t had enough money to get what you wanted or take the sort of trip you would like to take.  So-called friends have ignored you and taken advantage of your kindness.  You don’t get paid what you deserve.  Everyone else gets to relax while you have to keep working.  Why did you have to get sick now?  How come your car had to break down where it did?  Why did you have to get hit or your house robbed?  The work you do isn’t appreciated.  There is so much that isn’t fair in life!  How come God doesn’t take better care of you?

Perhaps you can relate to Ahab and his attempt to buy a field near his house.  He went to the owner of the field with a quite reasonable proposal.  Ahab said to Naboth, "Let me have your vineyard to use for a vegetable garden, since it is close to my palace. In exchange I will give you a better vineyard or, if you prefer, I will pay you whatever it is worth." (1 Kings 21:2 NIV) Ahab, although king of the land, did not use his political power to force Naboth to sell to him.  He nicely and respectfully tried to work out a deal with him.  However, to King Ahab’s surprise and dismay, Naboth refused to sell the land.  When nothing Ahab said could convince Naboth to sell his vineyard, King Ahab literally went back home to his bedroom and sulked.  Ahab’s wife later found him in his bed, refusing to eat because he felt so sorry for himself.

This is a brilliant example of how self-pity operates.  Almost always it is a product of lust.  Many mistakenly think of lust as merely some sort of misguided sexual desire but it is much more than that.  Lust as we see it in the Bible is the wreckage of desire.  “I want this now and I must have it.”  It could be anything that becomes an object of lust.  I want someone to respect me.  I want to be appreciated in this home.  I want that job.  I want a better income.  I want to buy that car.  Desires are built into you by God and they are important to your personality.  However, a corrupted desire is rooted in the unwillingness to wait for God to satisfy the desire His way.  When King Saul tried to kill David because of his jealousy over David’s popularity, his longing to kill David flowed out of his lust for respect.  Jacob lusted after his brother Esau’s place in the family and betrayed his father and his brother by trying to wrest it away from Esau by deceit.

When a lust is not fulfilled, when we don’t get what we want and we are not willing to wait for God to satisfy the desire we have in His way within His time frame, self-pity is the result.  I want this and I want it now.  If I don’t get it, I feel sorry for myself and become either angry or depressed.   She must love me.  He must treat me fairly.  They must respect me.  I deserve to have a better salary.  Lust, the unwillingness to let God work things out for me so that my desire can be fulfilled in the way He wants, leads to self-pity which can disconnect me from God and replace God’s joy and peace with misery.  The great sin of Job’s friends was that they pushed him into self-pity.  Rather than encouraging Job to patiently wait for God to sort things out for him, they prodded Job to become dissatisfied with God by insisting the Lord was punishing him for sins he knew he had not committed.  The more they accused Job of hidden wickedness, the more Job’s dissatisfaction with God grew.

The great lie of Satan which he first tried with Eve is that God is not good enough to make your life right.  This festering discontent with the Lord bubbles up into bitterness, frustration and depression.  It saps us of our moral strength and incites rebellion against God.  Listen to how Satan sowed the seed of discontent in Eve.  "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman.  "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."  (Genesis 3:4-5 NIV)  “God is keeping you from something good and it is not fair the way He is holding you back.”  Lust refuses to accept God’s plan for how to have one’s needs met.  Self-pity is our response to a lust that poisons our heart before we engage in outright rebellion against God.

There are two principles that every single person must be taught and if they are embraced, the peace of God can be attained.  The first is: God is in complete control of your circumstances.  Satan isn’t.  Luck isn’t.  Others around you are not.  God is in complete control of your circumstances.  The second is:  If you are in love with God, then every circumstance in life is good for you.  Why would you feel sorry for yourself if you know that God, who loves you with unlimited affection, is in charge of your life and will make it perfect in every way if you just trust Him?  Consider how Joseph from the Old Testament long ago discovered that these two principles were true.

When he was seventeen, Joseph’s brothers, out of jealousy, (or more precisely because of lust) sold him into slavery.  For twelve years his life wasted away first as a slave and later it got even worse after he was unjustly sent to prison.  Everything that happened to Joseph was unfair, at least from a human standpoint.  He did not deserve to be a slave and certainly it was not right for him to be in jail.  But you must remember and it needs to be certain in your mind, God is in complete control of your circumstances and everything that happens to you will make your life better.  At the age of twenty-eight, the Lord put Joseph to the test.  Into the prison where Joseph languished came two former employees of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.  One was Pharaoh’s chief baker and the other his cupbearer.  Both were sent to prison because of Pharaoh’s dissatisfaction with them.  On the same night, each had a dream that baffled and troubled him.  Joseph asked them to tell him their dreams because as Joseph put it, “Do not interpretations belong to God?”  After Joseph explained to the cupbearer what the Lord was telling him through his dream, Joseph asked him to try to get Pharaoh to release him from prison.  He added this bit of commentary about why he was in jail.  For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon." (Genesis 40:15 NIV)

In this one simple statement, Joseph showed that he had not yet learned to live by the two principles.  He did not believe it was God who brought him to prison and he did not see any good coming out of it.  As a result, Joseph had sunk into self-pity.  What Joseph did not realize and perhaps could not know was that the Lord was preparing him for the great task that only someone with tremendous humility and unbending loyalty to God could perform.  To make such a person, the Lord had to put him through slavery and unjust imprisonment and in it all learn to trust the Lord and stay loyal to Him no matter what.  Joseph was being prepared to become second in command of Egypt and bring the knowledge of God to that pagan nation.  All arrogance and self-pity and lust had to be squeezed out of Joseph before the Lord could entrust him with this responsibility.   Finally, after two more years in jail, Joseph was ready to trust God in any and every circumstance and believe that no matter what he faced, the Lord was good.  How do we know Joseph learned that the two principles were true?  When Joseph was finally freed by Pharaoh and Pharaoh put him in charge of running the country, his brothers who had sold him into slavery came to Joseph begging for food to feed their starving families.  Rather than making his brothers pay for what they had done to him, he reassured them that he did not blame them for selling him into slavery but rather was thankful God let him go through what he did.  "So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.(Genesis 45: 8 NIV)  Later, after their father died, Joseph reassured his brothers once more that God put him in Egypt for good both for him and many others including his brothers and their families.  But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19-20 NIV)


How much happier and more peaceful we would be if we could just see things like Joseph did.  Everyone around us would be uplifted by our approach to  life.  We would be encouragers rather than discouragers.  We would lift up the spirits of those who are feeling down and be like a breath of fresh air everywhere we go.  There is no reason to feel sorry for yourself if you know that Christ is in charge of your life.  If Christ could take the brutal beatings and barbaric crucifixion He suffered and turn it into salvation for you and the rest of the world, then He can and will work out everything we face with perfect care.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Mountain

Psalm 125:1 NIV
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.

How Does Your Faith Look?

Imagine a mountain of any sort.  It could be snow-capped, rising above the peaks of a dozen other mountains or a hill that stands out in flat desert wasteland.  The mountain can have a city sitting upon it or be a barren rock where few plants grow.  What does that mountain signify to you?  Does it trigger memories from your past or create an image of what you would like your life to be?  What do you think of when you look at the mountain and how does it impact your senses?  Are you drawn in a mysterious way to the mountains or are they frightening because of their immensity and the danger many mountains present to those who climb them.

Many important events happened on mountains in the Bible and mountains often symbolized theological themes in the Bible.   Abraham had one lasting memory of a mountain, Moses several.  Peter, James and John never forgot what they experienced on a mountain and someday it will be a mount upon which our Lord will return.  Perhaps what makes a mountain so captivating is its great power and steadfastness.  Mountains simply are not moved.  Another quality of the greatest of mountains is their endurance.  The Psalmist has this in mind when he compares the believer who puts His faith in God to Mount Zion. Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. (Psalm 125:1 NIV)  The next verse gives a brilliant picture of how God protects us.  As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore. (Psalm 125:2 NIV)

Like Mount Zion, the person who trusts in God lasts forever but just as the mountains surround Jerusalem, God guards His people and protects them.  So we have the believer being like a specific mountain, Mt. Zion and the Lord being like the range of mountains around Jerusalem which contains Mt. Zion.  We are like a mighty mountain, the Bible tells us, if we put our trust in God.  But even more importantly, it is the Lord who is a mountain of protection for His people.  We will pause here and consider these two points carefully.

Many have lost their way because they get these two declarations confused and miss the point of them altogether.  Our faith is not in our faith.  It is in Christ who saves us from all that Sin creates.  If your faith is in your faith, you will certainly be shaken because at some point your faith will be shaken.  Your faith can be knocked down and wrecked by trials too great for you but your salvation is not dependent on your faith.  It is dependent on God whose salvation it is.  Like what happens when a great wave of the ocean strikes you, you can find yourself knocked off your feet spiritually by someone who talks you out of what you believe about God and convinces you that you are naive to think Christ can save you.  A book you read might be so persuasive in its arguments against the presence of God that you can doubt His existence.  Some person you trusted who built up your faith in Christ may commit a terrible sin and suddenly you wonder if Christianity itself is true.  If your faith is in your faith, you can become like a house built upon sandy ground that falls apart when a horrific storm beats against it.  Consider these examples of faith in faith.

When the Apostle Peter boldly proclaimed that even if all the other disciples fall away from staying with Christ, he never would, Peter was showing his faith in his faith.  Peter declared, "Even if all fall away, I will not." (Mark 14:29 NIV)  We know of course that Peter did fall away and his boast comes across as pure bluster to us but at the time, Peter was supremely confident that he could and would if necessary die with Christ if Jesus’ dire prediction came to pass.  He had faith in his faith.  It is one thing to have faith in God, another altogether to have faith in one’s faith in God.

James and John angrily called for Christ to let them pray for fire to come down from heaven and destroy the Samaritans in a particular village that did not want Christ and them to stay there. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.  When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" (Luke 9:52-54 NIV)  Here is the terrible problem with spiritual pride.  Although it may be grounded in God-thinking, it isn’t grounded in God.  James and John had plenty of faith in their ability to pray and by praying, bring down fire from heaven.  They clearly though had not much faith in God’s ability to remake and reorder lives.  It was clearly impossible in their minds for God to do anything much with the people living in the Samaritan village.  They were too far gone to be redeemed.  Jesus however thought differently and did something about it.

Let me illustrate the difference between faith in one’s faith and faith in God from a recent experience of mine.  I was working at a school as a P.E. instructor and somewhere on the school grounds lost a bracelet I was wearing.  I had been working with the kids both on a large grassy field as well as an asphalt play yard.  I searched everywhere I had been for the bracelet to no avail. As I looked to the ground, my heart looked to the heavens and I asked God to show me where the bracelet was but I still didn’t find it.  Finally, because the children were at recess, there were staff members of the school walking about supervising the kids.  I asked one of the workers if she had seen my bracelet but she told me she hadn’t.  However she encouraged me to not give up on finding the bracelet.  She had recently lost a small, diamond studded earring and searched high and low for it but the earring was nowhere to be found.  One day she spotted it in her driveway, completely undamaged.  Somehow it had gone unscathed, despite the number of times cars were parked in the driveway.  She told me not to give up on finding the bracelet.  I must admit, that I had quit thinking God would show me where the bracelet was and just smiled and thanked the woman for her encouragement.  Less than five minutes later, a girl who had been walking with the recess duty woman came to me with my bracelet.  It was not my faith that brought that bracelet back to me but rather the God of my faith that returned it in such a miraculous way.

When Jonah was sent by God to tell the people of Assyria in Nineveh that judgment was coming, he did not want to go because he thought the Lord would be easy on them.  If they asked God for forgiveness, Jonah believed God would let them off without any punishment for all the wicked things the people of that country had done.  Jonah’s faith was in his religion of right and wrong and punishments and rewards but not in God who is really God.  He did not think God could really fix all those Assyrians in Nineveh and make them a blessing to the world.  His faith in the religion of making people pay for what they do wrong was strong but His faith in the God who is really God was weak and broken.

Our Lord’s declaration to two blind men that Jesus healed is widely misunderstood.  As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!"   When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?"   "Yes, Lord," they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith will it be done to you"; and their sight was restored. (Matthew 9:27-30 NIV)  Jesus was not telling the men that they were healed because they had enough faith to get a healing.  They were healed because their faith was in Christ to heal them and He did it.


God does not want you to work up our faith and try to blow it up like a balloon so that you can get the things you want.  He simply tells you to trust Him in every matter.  There is so much you try to fix and so many problems you stress over because you don’t know how to solve them and the Lord tells you to settle down and trust Him with it.  Rather than fuss over something that bothers you, first go to Christ and the Holy Spirit may put a solution in your heart that will take care of your problem.  Perhaps He will begin working in someone else who will lift the problem off your shoulders.  God could simply give you peace while you wait for a solution.  God does not care one bit how great or small your faith is.  He simply wants what faith you have to be in Him.  Here is something you can say to remind you of how great God’s love is for you and how willing He is to help you.  Make this simple statement as you face the trials before you.  “Jesus is my Savior.  I put my faith in Him.”

Monday, October 2, 2017

Psychological Effect of Redemption The Will

Philippians 2:13 NIV
…for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

What Determines Your Actions?

When I asked Mary Jo to marry me, it was an important moment for her.  She had to make a decision that clearly would dramatically impact her life.  No one else could decide for her although others could influence her decision.  Her parents may not have been happy to have me as their son-in-law but they weren’t the ones given the responsibility of saying “yes” or “no” to my proposal.  Mary Jo might have had many factors weighing on her when I “popped the question”.  She could have thought about my extremely good looks and my hilarious sense of humor and that might have influenced her.  She might also have considered how poor I was, how limited my earning power was as well as all my quirky ideas and how skinny I was and been pushed the other way.  Unconscious forces within her might have impacted her opinion of me, determining factors that she could not explain.  Perhaps early childhood experiences with taller men influenced Mary Jo’s decision.  Maybe fears or lusts or angry feelings had an effect on how she responded.  In the end though, it was her will and hers alone that acted upon my question of marriage.

You have a will, the part of your personality that decides for you what you shall do.  It is what closes the deal.  All day you make decisions.  Your passions influence how your will acts.  You have done things simply because you were angry or broken-hearted or elated.  Your conscious thinking impacts how your will responds to what you face.  You think about things, weigh the evidence and ponder what is happening and how it affects what you might do.  Your unconscious thoughts influence your will.  Sometimes childhood trauma, a destructive forgotten relationship or a humiliating experience will without your conscious knowledge determine the direction your will takes.  Because your heart is poisoned by sin, the will you possess is also damaged by Sin.  For obvious reasons, a healthy and effective will is critical to your well-being because what you decide can have lasting ramifications for you and those you love.

Let us think of the will as the part of us that creates the outward push of self.  When you reach outside yourself and act upon what is percolating within you; that is the will making the determination. Your will drives your actions.  We see this in Philippians 2: 13 in which the Bible says,”…for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13 NIV)  The will is linked to whatever you do or decide you won’t do.  The Lord’s intention for you is that your will would be free to do as it wishes.  You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (Galatians 5:13 NIV)  However, with a free will, we can be wicked and cruel, selfish and filthy or loving and kind, truthful and generous.  It is our will that decides what we shall do.

What is amazing is that the God of the universe does not usurp your will.  Christ asked the two blind men who begged Him for help, "What do you want me to do for you?" (Matthew 20:32 NIV)  When two disciples of John the Baptist started tagging along behind Jesus, He asked them, "What do you want?" (John 1:38 NIV) The assumption underlying God’s relationship with us is that we are free to choose it or not.  “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:15 NIV)  The very call of Jesus to Andrew and Peter was, “Come follow me”.  (Mark 1:17 NIV) It seems that they did not have to follow Jesus if they didn’t want to do so, if they weren’t interested in being “fishers of men”. Even when the Bible calls to us, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…", the will is left to decide how to respond.(Acts 16:31 NIV)

Consider the strange account of King David and his affair with Bathsheba.  The decision David made to sleep with her had disastrous ramifications for him.  It certainly impacted his family as well as those who saw him as a spiritual leader.  How did it affect God’s plans for David and the good He wanted David to accomplish?  The affair did not just hurt David’s reputation but God’s too.  What kind of God chooses men like David to lead His nation?  Given all the bad David’s act of Sin brought, it is interesting that God did not stop him somehow.  But David had a will that God was not willing to usurp even if it meant a disaster would be averted by doing so.  God has made us sovereign in the Will we have been given.  We are free to have Him as Lord or not, free to follow Him or not.

The will does not act in a vacuum however and in many ways it is a slave to forces beyond it.  Saul, the newly crowned king of Israel had been told by God through the prophet Samuel to wait seven days until Samuel returned before offering a sacrifice to God in preparation for the war that was about to begin.  He did wait for seven days but he did not wait long enough for Samuel to return and against God’s will, Saul and his soldiers offered a burnt offering to God.  Some of us have bought expensive presents for people we love even though they have told us not to do it and usually it works out well anyway.  In this case, it didn’t for Saul.  God punished Saul for his disobedience.

At the risk of making it seem that Saul should not have been held accountable for his rebellious act, we must consider the forces working upon Saul’s will.  First, there were his conscious thoughts.  He looked about and saw a great army of Philistines before him who were battle tested and far superior in numbers and weaponry.  As the Bible puts it, they were “as numerous as the sand on the seashore.” (1 Samuel 13: 5) Not only that, his own soldiers were going off and hiding in caves and behind bushes and in cisterns.  It seemed unreasonable to Saul as he considered the situation, not to hurry and offer the sacrifice so that he might gain God’s favor because if he waited much longer, nearly his entire army would desert him and the Philistines would attack.  Saul’s passion was pressuring his will certainly as fear began to overwhelm him.  He may have been angry too with Samuel for taking so long.  Consider Saul’s unconscious thoughts that pushed up against his will.  It was not that long ago that Saul was made king and even though Samuel had told him that he was God’s choice to be king, when it was time to present him to the nation, Saul hid among the baggage gathered off to the side.  When originally informed of God’s plans for him, Saul referred to himself as from one of the most insignificant of all the families among the Israelites.  How this impacted Saul unconsciously, we cannot say but it had to have some effect.  From birth, he saw himself as not good enough, as inadequate and incapable of accomplishing much in life.  Even when assured that God believed he could be king, Saul couldn’t buy it.  This embedded way of seeing himself made it difficult for Saul to accept the challenge of courageously trusting God.

What our Lord did for us as Savior was to take out of us the corruption of our will.  The Sin that makes the will unstable and untrustworthy is removed from it through Christ crucified.  It can function as God intended when He gave Adam the challenge of rejecting the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  What is more, with Christ joined to us, we can have a will that agrees with God on everything.  Philippians 2: 13 reminds us that now, with Christ as part of us, it is God who works in you to will and to act in conjunction with what He wants.  In other words, God gives your will backbone to withstand the sort of pressures Saul faced. 

There is one powerful force that works on the will that must now be given its due consideration.  Our body, our physical desires can and have made the will a slave.  There is a supernatural component to the will that alters altogether the way we can live.  Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NIV)  There is a tremendous promise here that we must take into account when we consider all those acts that it seems our bodies force us to perform.  It is seen, and we cannot say this strongly enough, that with Christ taking out of us our Sin and the Holy Spirit a part of us, the body cannot force our will into anything.  The will is altogether free in Christ to withstand even the most powerful urges of the body.  We must face this statement head on.  Either God is for us and we are able to fight off any addiction or behavior pattern that our will rejects or the Scripture is a mythology littered with colossal empty promises.


How can you ever know if your will, joined with Christ is strong enough to make free decisions that honor Christ and make your life good?  Jesus offers you an experiment to try.  Find out just how powerful Christ is and how effective His work is in you.  He says without pushing you, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV)  Impose your will upon every single desire that goes against what God is saying to do.  The will is like a great muscle. You must train it to follow God or it will be a slave to your passions, your body, your conscious or unconscious thoughts.  If you take your will in through the narrow gate you might find the way hard and uncomfortable and even some times unreasonable and maybe boring.  But as you train your will to follow Christ, something will happen to you that may surprise you.  God’s peace and contentment will begin to take over your heart and a joy that is supernatural will creep into you also.  The term the Bible uses for this experience is “life” and it is promised to those who bend their will to that of God.  Eventually as you train your will to follow Christ, God’s will becomes your will and you will be “the will of God”.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Passions

Hosea 7:6 NIV

Their hearts are like an oven; they approach him with intrigue.  Their passion smolders all night; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.



What Is The Source Of Your Passion?



A few weeks ago I was coming out of the church parking lot and traffic on my side of the road was packed.  Two lanes merge into one right at the driveway of the parking lot and no one was moving due to the stop light at the cross street on the next block.  Normally I just inch into the traffic and drivers let me through.  After all, they aren’t going anywhere and I am not trying to get ahead of them.  I just want to cross into the lane going the other way.  As I began to work my way into the traffic, the first car waved for me to come through and so I started but then all of a sudden, the driver in the car in the second lane quickly lurched forward to block my way through her lane.  At first I could not believe what I had just seen.  Why did she do that?  What good did it do her to not let me through?  Was she crazy?  I did not recognize her and when I stared into her head, she would not look my way.  There I sat in my little car, blocking one lane of traffic but unable to let that lane move forward because I was prevented from going on into the other side of the road.  As soon as the traffic light turned green and the woman was able to move forward and clear the way for me, I wondered at my temper.  What had happened to it?  Why didn’t I get mad at the woman for being rude to me?  More importantly, what if I did get angry and try to retaliate.  What would I have done?



Unless you are a robot, you have passion.  It could be blocked or stymied by your will but you have access to passion, a treasure trove of it.  What you do about your passion is up to you.  It can be poisoned by sin and become a source of tremendous turmoil for you or it can be transformed by God into a valuable part of your personality.  Many are afraid of the passion they possess and try to keep it in check by either fighting against it or attempting to dismantle it.  Others are controlled by their passions and like Legion with his many demons, find themselves taken captive by their passions and made a slave of them.  Perhaps you have known people who showed no emotions and although they seem passionless, it is more likely that they live in constant fear of being dominated by passions that scare them.  Shows like Star Trek romanticize the passionless person and yet that is a mistake.  Passion is a critical part of who we are and how we have been made.  To discount or discredit your passion is like rejecting your lungs or hating your blood vessels.  What we need is an approach to our passions that is not only reasonable but even beneficial.  That is what we shall consider today.



Passions can be defined psychologically as the ruling forces within the heart that drive our actions. They are the powerhouse motors we possess that get us going.  They push us into actions that our will alone can’t initiate.  Without passion we live and act mechanically; just going through the motions of daily life without ever leaving our comfort zone.  Biblically, the heart is the center of who we are.  It is the root of our thinking, our will and our passions.  Sometimes in the Old Testament a term which in the Hebrew is translated kidneys or “reins” is used but it is essentially the same as the heart.  When you read the term heart in the Bible, don’t think of it as the pumping muscle in your chest but as the idea of you and who you are internally.  The heart however, which is the source of the passions, is broken by sin.  As we see in Jeremiah 17: 9, The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it? (NIV)



The question of course is rhetorical.  Our hearts are a great mystery to us and nearly unfathomable.  Sin has corrupted them to the core and whether it is the damage brought about by the sins we commit or the sins committed against us, they are a wreck of what God intended them to be.  Each of us is stymied by the heart we have.  We may change a certain behavior or alter some habits, but in the end, there are depths to the heart that make a mess of our “good intentions”.  Paul, in speaking of the heart and its warping of passion said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7: 15 NIV)  This a universal experience.  Whether you are from Asia or Africa or Australia, you have acted in ways that were unfathomable to you and maybe even embarrassing.  Why is that?  It is because your heart is warped and unpredictable.



Jesus has a strong take on how damaged your heart is.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matthew 15:19 NIV)   You cannot count on a heart that is so unstable and wrecked.  Any sin imaginable can come out of you and without warning.  Out of this pot come your passions; unpredictable and unreliable.  It is possible though to not be dominated by the passions coming out of your sin damaged and corrupted heart.  The Bible says, So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Galatians 5:16 NIV) “Desires” is nothing more than your passions as they flow out of the sin percolating in your heart.  There is nothing laughable about what is possible with a heart such as the one you and I possess.  The worst that humanity has to offer is there in your heart and my heart and the passions can drive them out of us like dynamite.



Before we have been born again with Christ living through us, all we have to rein in our corrupted passions is the conscience.  Depending on how strong or weak our conscience is morally and how developed it is will determine what our passions drive us to do.  Of course, as is hinted in Romans 7, the law also can constrain our passions.  But when we have been transformed by the power of Christ crucified into Christians, there is a new force working in us.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Galatians 5:17 NIV)  The Holy Spirit wages war with the corruption in the heart and this can have tremendous psychological ramifications.



Some of the most anxious and depressed individuals are often Christians who struggle to accept the changes God wants to make in them.  Anger and stress manifest themselves in believers who don’t want Christ to change everything in the heart.  Galatians 5:19-21 provides an ugly picture of what comes out of the heart that is not converted fully by Christ.  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (NIV)  The only curb other than conscience against such behavior is the fear of being caught for doing something bad.  We can hold back some of this ugliness but eventually anything we see in this list of fruit produced by corrupted passions can come out of us without warning.  We find we are angry or bitter or jealous and we say that isn’t us but it is us.  All of this is floating about in the heart unchanged by the work of Christ.  This is the fruit of passion developed in a sin corrupted heart.



We discover in Galatians 5: 22 what God can do with our passions when He remakes them.  They can produce a lifestyle straight out of heaven.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV)  How can our passion begin to develop these qualities?  Romans 5: 5 gives us a hint at the mechanism God utilizes for the transformation of our passions.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (NIV)  How can the passion in your heart be changed into something that generates the goodness of God in you?  It can only happen when God’s own love is poured into your heart by the Holy Spirit. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Do

There is a critical moment when the Lord speaks to us and we respond to His message.  Either we do what He tells us to do or we don't and our reaction is critical to a wide-ranging spectrum or circumstances rooted in real time.  The Hebrews had an evening to decide what they were going to do about the command to enter the Promised Land and they choose to balk at it.  Paul in a split second, as he stood before Festus the Roman governor, demanded that his case be heard before the court in Rome, knowing already that the Lord wanted him in Rome.  It goes the other way also.  When the Lord demands we stop doing something, our decision there can have dramatic and long lasting ramifications.  Was there not a point when the Lord's word warned David the King to stop gazing at Bathsheba as she was bathing and even later to not send for her, knowing full well she was married?  Did Job's friends never feel a  tinge of guilt as they berated Job for imagined sins when they were sent to him only to comfort him?  There is a parenthesis of time when we can be God's or not.  Imagine what could have been if the great city of Nineveh had maintained its allegiance to God when Jonah proclaimed the coming judgment.  There might have been two centers of outreach to the world through which the Lord's word would have been declared.  You have critical moments when what you do will make all the difference in how God is perceived and received by those about you.  Do not ask God to help you do what He has directed.  He won't.  You must act in the strength He has already given you.  A plant must break through the ground for the stem to be strong enough to survive the forces it will face as it extends itself.  A butterfly will only have wings of sufficient strength if it tears through the cocoon on its own.  You are strong enough to do what the Spirit has told you to do.  For your own sake and for the good of countless others, you must do it.


Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you.  Deuteronomy 6: 3 NIV

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Guilt

In the United States and many parts of the world, it is considered prudish to have less than seven sexual partners.  No longer is promiscuity considered morally wrong, at least as it pertains to a standard derived from something less than the Bible.  There are other areas of behavior that are morally repugnant to a large portion of the population that would be odd concerns to any era but our own.  Feelings of guilt have not left us; they simply have become attached to new morality tenets that have surfaced in our time.    Would a couple ever before have felt guilty about having another child yet now many do!  Has there ever been an age where so much angst has been suffered over the military strength of one's own nation?  When did we start feeling guilty about expressing faith in Christ?  It is moral to send naked pictures of oneself by text but immoral to pass those naked pictures along to others.  There is a moral code to our world and it shifts about like seismic fissures.  The natural course is to make morality match one's behavior rather than the other way around.  In a social order that decides it is moral, what need is there for a God who dies for one's sins?  A god who powers success might be interesting or a deity that settles emotional instability could garner a following but a true Savior who wrecks ones inner world by becoming Lord is anathema to  moral self-determinists.  Satan does not want a guilty sinner and does his best to keep the fretting over right and wrong from the soul.  But once a man or woman faces the mirror of God's own justice and gains a fresh insight into what really is right and wrong, the sham is uncovered and the healthy guilt of the Holy Spirit descends.    We try so hard to be done with guilt but guilt is a window through which the light of God shines into the heart and reveals the true need of every soul, the need for Christ to bring salvation to the totality of life.

When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 
John 16:8 NIV

Monday, September 4, 2017

Unconscious Thought Part 2

Psychological Effect of Redemption
Ephesians 1: 7 NIV
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins…

What Does God Have “in Mind” For You?


For perhaps several hundred years, many involved in creative arts such as painting, sculpting, storytelling and songwriting have been aware of some unseen force within them that affects their ingenuity.  Even mechanics and mathematicians have been intrigued by the surprising insight they mysteriously develop as they try to solve a problem.  The author Tom Clancy has this to say about the effect his subconscious thinking has upon his writing.  “I think about the characters I've created, and then I sit down and start typing and see what they will do. There's a lot of subconscious thought that goes on. It amazes me to find out, a few chapters later, why I put someone in a certain place when I did.”    We use the expression, “I need to sleep on it” to indicate the need to wait before making a decision but also because we realize that something mysterious happens to how we think about things when we actually do sleep. 

One of the most unattended difficulties we face is our complete ignorance in regard to the effect of our unconscious thinking upon our daily activities.  Does it impact your decisions?  What role does it play on your moods?  Is it influential in the sorts of relationships you develop and maintain?  Is it possible to control and direct your unconscious thoughts to your advantage?  One of the rarely considered aspects to thinking fully through Christ as part of you is the impact that has upon the unconscious world.  Later we shall discuss the supernatural forces working within us but for today we will consider only what role Christ plays in impacting our unconscious thoughts.

Who doesn’t like the potential of a special degree of insight and understanding buried within unconscious thinking if Christ is part of the heart?  It must be reminded however that for every person, unconscious thinking is corrupted by Sin.  Degenerate and volatile forces of evil  work below the surface of our conscious thinking and that has caused us all sorts of problems and even pain.  Paul the Apostle described this perfectly in Romans 7.  I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:15-20 NIV)

This unseen force, the work of Sin within our unconscious that fights against even our best intentions is so familiar to us that when we read what Paul has to say, it almost feels like he is reporting on our own minds.  But this is universal, the inability to live according to our highest values and principles.  What our conscious thinking attempts, our corrupted unconscious undermines.  There is hope though and it is a real and trustworthy hope.  Redemption, a technical term in the Bible that speaks of the work Christ did for us by being crucified and raised from the dead is how God takes out of us the Sin that corrupts our inner being.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. (Ephesians 1:7-8 NIV)  To understand just how crucial this is in regard to the unconscious, we must remember that the term here which is translated “forgiveness”  has as its primary meaning, “to put away”.  What Christ did by dying for us is to take away from us the Sin that is within us.  This brings us a real freedom to our unconscious thinking, not just to our conscious decision making.

Before Jesus Christ died for us, Psalm 51: 6 was a far off dream.  Now it is possible for you.  Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. (Psalm 51:6 NIV)  As we learned earlier, truth is the translation of a Hebrew word that describes firmness, stability.  God is now free to take the chaos out of our unconscious thinking and remove the corruption from it.  How does He straighten out our unconscious inner world?  He puts into it His wisdom, or to use the Psalmist’s expression, teaches “wisdom in the inmost place.”  What once was a combustible combination of bitter memories, warped patterns of thinking and a corrupted manner of perceiving what you are encountering, your heart, for once has the potential of bringing you peace, joy and encouragement in a supernatural form.

Hebrews 4: 12-13 tells insists that God is able to dig into the deepest parts of your soul where no psychologist or mental health worker can explore.  For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13 NIV) With no sinful act or sinful damage able to withstand the cleansing and healing work of Christ in the heart, the Lord searches, processes, evaluates and takes out of darkness everything that wrecks you, all through the Cross.  What is He unable to see in your heart?  What is impossible for Christ to heal in your heart?  What wrecked habit or painful memory can He not make right?  With humanity, it is impossible to clear up all this and make your heart right but as Jesus told the disciples, "What is impossible with men is possible with God." (Luke 18:27 NIV)

The Cross of Christ is the greatest miracle seen in history for through it, we are brought out of the wreck Sin has cost us and by it, God can work His way through the darkest and deepest parts of your heart and fix it all.  The Bible uses the metaphor of light to express what God does in us.  For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6 NIV)  You might question this.  Can Jesus Christ do what some of the greatest psychologists and psychiatrists in history haven’t been able to accomplish?  Well yes He can!  If you let Him have full access to you.    The work of Christ in the heart is quite simple.  He retakes it and remakes it for the glory of God in you.  By His light, Christ eliminates the darkness of your heart.  In other words, He heals all the damage caused by Sin in the inner parts of your life.

It does not take deep insight to realize that something is thoroughly wrong with the created order.  From top to bottom, our world is broken and we are broken too.  For too long we all lived with our brokenness.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:22-25 NIV)  Like the rest of creation, there is inward sighing in you, deep places where there is moaning at how it has been.  The damage caused by Sin is great and for some horrific.  Yet, you don’t have to be broken any longer.  God has a new way of life for you. 

There is a wonderful promise found in the Bible and it must be considered before you move on with what you are doing.  In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. (Romans 8:26-27 NIV)  Outwardly, you may not show any signs of damage or turmoil.  Nothing seems wrong but inwardly there is sighing and groaning.  At those spots, those secret spots, the Holy Spirit works in you.  In the deep places, He knows what hurts, what is traumatized and damaged and there He intercedes for you.  Where surgeons cannot enter and human machines cannot reach, our Lord heals, He calms, He soothes.  Without permission, the Spirit will leave you alone but at your call, He touches the angry, inflamed, lonely, infected, ruined places in your heart and He heals them.  The places of the heart where you have lost your childhood, your innocence, where the dreams you once had were stripped from you, God will heal too.  He will give you a new dream deep in your heart and new love to make your heart whole.  With your permission, the Holy Spirit will heal the damage in your heart.


Each evening, before you go to sleep, invite Christ to heal the parts of your mind you can’t explore.  Ask Him to be in charge of your dreaming and purify it.  Let your last thought before you fall asleep be of your Lord alive in you remaking your inner parts and repairing all the damage caused by the sins of the world.  Remember He won’t just come in and do whatever He wants.  Our Lord “stands at the door” of your heart and it is you who must let Him enter.