Friday, August 20, 2010

Being Relatable

I have made many mistakes as a young Christian.  I've been zealous for Christ without any of the wisdom that comes from years of walking with the Spirit.  I've tried to tell people that they needed to belong to my church in order to be saved (a mistake I will never make again, although I still retain that some churches are not showing people the right way according to what I see in the Bible).  I've given advice to people without having walked in their shoes (or tried to walk in their shoes).  I've made snap judgements about people's faith based on outward appearances.  The list goes on.

As I've gotten older, I've gotten wise enough to know that I am not wise, and I've settled into a comfortable complacency.  I revel in being relatable; after all, I was invited to church randomly on the street four times (to sister branches of the same church as it turned out), but the only time I actually came was when they didn't mention "church" in the first encounter.  I saw that person as a friend and wanted to go to church with her, not as a recruiter that was trying to get me to join her sect.

After I got baptized, I was so excited by what I was learning, what God was doing in my life, I couldn't believe everyone around me wasn't interested in the same thing.  I got quite a few cold shocks from people I was sure would be open to the message (and a few surprises from people I was sure never would be).  In the end I've grown comfortable.  I know that God saves, that he opens people's hearts, that he is moved by my prayers, and that no amount of persuading on my part is going to convince people as to what they need.  I live out this mantra in my daily life as I talk about muslim values with my muslim friends, latest trends with my worldly friends, motherhood with my mom friends:

1 Corinthians 9:

19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.

I somehow think that simply by being relatable people are going to see that being a Christian is attainable, that you can be an upright person and still be "cool."  I don't think that idea is completely off-base, but if I examine closely, I've won no one for Christ that way.  Come, let us walk on this road together and talk about light subjects, and here at the parting of the roads I will continue on to heaven where I will meet my Lord, and you --

The truth is, there is no one way to win people to God, just as there is no one type of faith.  I know a young woman who was living in the spiritual gutters of NY, who became a Christian just because some newly-converted (unwise) zealot said she had better change her ways or she would go to hell.  I also know others who became a Christian just by seeing the gentleness and faith of their friends.  

I Corinthians 1:

Christ the Wisdom and Power of God
 18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written: 

   "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
      the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."

 20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

 26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."[d]

To be honest (to myself, as well as to you), I was a fool when I was called.  Any wisdom, any relatability, and coolness, any gentleness of tongue and spirit, any beauty ... I got with the help of the Spirit.  How can I then think that I can win people for Christ by displaying these virtues and clamming up on their source?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

People I Admire in the Bible

Four people instantly come to mind when I think about people I admire in the Bible.

The faith of the Canaanite Woman:

Matthew 15:21-28 (New International Version)

 21Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession."
 23Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us."
 24He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."
 25The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said.
 26He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."
 27"Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
 28Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Not only was she not concerned with her own pride, her own status (turning away in anger because of Jesus' words), but she understood that Jesus was so powerful it only took crumbs to heal her daughter.  She had great faith indeed.

The Man Born Blind:

John 9:1-34 (New International Version)

Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind
 1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
 6Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 7"Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
 8His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, "Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?" 9Some claimed that he was.
      Others said, "No, he only looks like him."
      But he himself insisted, "I am the man."

 10"How then were your eyes opened?" they demanded.
 11He replied, "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see."
 12"Where is this man?" they asked him.
      "I don't know," he said.

The Pharisees Investigate the Healing
 13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath.15Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. "He put mud on my eyes," the man replied, "and I washed, and now I see." 16Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath."
      But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided.

 17Finally they turned again to the blind man, "What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened."
      The man replied, "He is a prophet."

 18The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man's parents. 19"Is this your son?" they asked. "Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?"
 20"We know he is our son," the parents answered, "and we know he was born blind. 21But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don't know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself." 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ[a] would be put out of the synagogue.23That was why his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."
 24A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. "Give glory to God,[b]" they said. "We know this man is a sinner."
 25He replied, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!"
 26Then they asked him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"
 27He answered, "I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?"
 28Then they hurled insults at him and said, "You are this fellow's disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from."
 30The man answered, "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. 32Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."
 34To this they replied, "You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!" And they threw him out.

Spiritual Blindness
 35Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
 36"Who is he, sir?" the man asked. "Tell me so that I may believe in him."
 37Jesus said, "You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you."
 38Then the man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him.
 39Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind."
 40Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?"
 41Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

My favorite verses are 24-33.  He couldn't have had much status in the temple if he was forced to beg every day.  As a result he simply didn't care what the leaders of Israel thought - he had been healed by Jesus!  We forget that we actually have as little status as he did (and I find myself trying to hold on to that little bit instead of being proud of what Jesus did for me).

Jesus actually went back to find him and make sure he knew who he was - I don't remember him doing that for anyone else.

The Centurion:

Luke 7:1-10
The Faith of the Centurion
 1When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2There a centurion's servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, "This man deserves to have you do this, 5because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue." 6So Jesus went with them.
      He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: "Lord, don't trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 
7That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." 9When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, "I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel." 10Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

This man actually amazed Jesus with his faith.  Wow!  The Centurion was used to his word meaning something, as orders were carried out as soon as he spoke them.  He believed that Jesus had this same authority and didn't even need to have him present in order for his servant to be healed.  He understood Jesus' authority, even over life and death, and he had not even grown up with the prophets to feed that faith.  He simply knew who Jesus was.


I didn't copy all of Acts 7 for space, but copied my favorite part.  The part that gives me a thrill every time I read it for the conviction he had that caused him not to mince words:

Acts 7
51"You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it."
The Stoning of Stephen
 54When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56"Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." 57At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him,58dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
 59While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Jesus actually stood up!  You know when you cheer the players on and can't resist getting to your feet in your passion.  Jesus stood up for him.

I hope he stands up for me one day as great faith is really the only thing that counts.

Luke 18:8 (New International Version)

8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Just Sow It

This is our sunflower that reaches 10 feet.  The thing that amazes me about it is that's pretty much the size that Goliath was when David went against him in 1 Samuel 17:4.  I've put our Peanut in front of the stalk so you could compare the height.  David was still a boy so not that much bigger.  Well ... a bit bigger since Peanut is not even two yet.

But still, can you imagine that stalk a man?  If so, you'll marvel as I do at David's words in 1 Samuel 17:

45 David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give all of you into our hands."
 48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 

I haven't written in this blog at all in quite some time.  I was trying to fool myself in thinking that it's because my other blog consumes me (true) and that it glorifies God enough without mentioning him, just as the book of Esther does (wishful thinking).  The truth of the matter is, I have not been in the Word enough, and that was my whole point in starting this blog - to be inspired to be more in the Word by having a place to write about it.

My husband is not a full-time preacher (though I wish he could be), but as he was preparing the message for last Sunday and we were discussing it, the thing that struck me most from what he said was, "It doesn't matter how good your "soil" is, if you don't plant any seeds in it, nothing will grow."  He was referring, of course, to the Parable of the Sower, brought to life for us by having our own garden for the first time.

Matthew 13

The Parable of the Sower
1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9He who has ears, let him hear."
 18"Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." 

All we did was to plant a tiny little sunflower seed, and this marvel came out of it.  We didn't do anything to make it grow, but we did have to plant the seed.
In our garden, we have chinese cucumbers that are sprawled all over the ground, climbing up the stakes, up the wall, on to the hedge and even onto the hazelnut tree nearby.  We have proud (mini) rows of corn.  We have clusters of green tomatoes ripening, big fat elephant leaves on the zucchini plant, tiny red raspberries on prickly bushes, beets with their red leaves coming out of the ground, carrots with their feathery tops.  All we did was to plant tiny seeds that, in their size, were little distinguishable one from one another.  God made wild things grow out of it.  Imagine if we plant the seeds of the Word in our heart what might grow.  

Isaiah 55:
10 As the rain and the snow
       come down from heaven,
       and do not return to it
       without watering the earth
       and making it bud and flourish,
       so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
       It will not return to me empty,
       but will accomplish what I desire
       and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Hope to see you all soon(er).

Monday, June 7, 2010

Why is the Resurrection Necessary?

My husband preached a great message on Sunday, great to me because I learned something new.  The majority of this discussion comes from that message.

In 1 Corinthians 15:12-14, it says 

The Resurrection of the Dead
 12But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

So, why is our faith useless if there is no resurrection of the dead?  Well first of all, let's look at Isaiah 53: 2-5, which describes Jesus.

2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
       and like a root out of dry ground.
       He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
       nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

 3 He was despised and rejected by men,
       a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
       Like one from whom men hide their faces
       he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

 4 Surely he took up our infirmities
       and carried our sorrows,
       yet we considered him stricken by God,
       smitten by him, and afflicted.

 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
       he was crushed for our iniquities;
       the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
       and by his wounds we are healed.

First of all, it's interesting to note that he was not physically beautiful like most paintings portray him to be.  People couldn't bear to look at him.  He was a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.

But more to the purposes of this discussion is that he was pierced and crushed for our sins.  Actually, if you read the different accounts of the crucifixion in the four gospels, you see that he was betrayed (sold), abandoned by everyone, falsely accused, denied by his best friend, on trial before his people, on trial before the government, flogged (39 lashings with a whip made of nine leather cords with sharp objects tied into it - a punishment meant to torture as much as possible without actually killing the person), mocked, spat upon, beaten on the head again and again while wearing a crown of thorns, made to carry his cross, to which he was finally nailed, had his few belongings divided up in front of him, his divinity attacked ("come down from the cross now if you really are the Son of God," and to borrow a quote, was ever such evil belched from the mouth of hell?).  And finally to die.

Satan was trying very hard until the last minute to get him either to give up, or to sin.  If he sinned, then he would have had to die for his own sins.  But he held fast, remained without sin, and died for ours.

So why did he need to be resurrected?  I mean, our punishment was already paid for in his death.  God's law required a sacrifice of blood for sins, thus the jewish custom of sacrificing animals. 

Hebrews 9:22

22In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

The sacrifice was made, and we are forgiven.  So again, why did he need to be resurrected?  Sure, it's faith-building.  Sure, he sets the path for us to follow so we can all be resurrected and spend eternity with God.  But why is our faith useless if he were not resurrected?

Here's why.

Romans 4:25

25He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

What does it mean to be justified?  Well, when we justify ourselves we try to clear our name.  It means to be cleared "just as if I had not sinned."

You know, in Revelations 12:10 it says,

 10Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
   "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,
      and the authority of his Christ.
   For the accuser of our brothers,
      who accuses them before our God day and night,
      has been hurled down.

So Satan accuses us day and night (ever feel like that?).  And in heaven (before Satan gets crushed under our feet) he's going to stand next to us before God and accuse us of all our sins.  And we will say, "Yes, but Jesus died for those sins."  Then Satan will say, "But you killed the Son of God.  You killed Jesus."  And we will say, "What are you talking about?  He's right there.  He's not dead!"

So we not only needed Jesus to die for us in order to be forgiven of our sins, we needed him to be resurrected for us to be cleared of our guilt for his death.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Changing Churches

* To my friend whom this is about, bear with me as I continue to sort through my feelings on this matter and don't get frustrated with me, please.  I'll understand eventually.

We go to a great church.  At the moment, there is no obvious sin that needs repenting of (which for me is the most important criteria, considering our minister growing up was sleeping with one of the married women).  People love each other and are in each other's lives.  We try to get together regularly to read the Bible and pray (which is more or less successful, given our busy lives as mothers at the moment).  However, a friend of mine left the church to go to another one because ours was too dull - not enough inspiration, not enough life in the room, not enough talk of the Spirit.

Last Sunday we had a visitor who is a psychologist, a faithful Christian for many years, and about to become a grandfather.  I've heard him speak before and trusted his view on the matter so I asked him if my preoccupation with people leaving our church was normal, or .... something to be repented of .... or - why does it bother me so much and is that wrong?

His response made sense to me.  He said that it's not wrong to be upset that people leave.  What kind of family would we be if it didn't matter whether people came or left?  And sometimes people do leave for the wrong reasons.  If the only thing we're looking for is inspiration, then we're missing a very big part of what church is about.  (I am not saying this is the case with my friend).  He personally believes that church is most effective in small groups, although he currently goes to a church with 2000 members.  He said when you go to a church that size, you can almost only look at whether or not you're inspired by the message, but when you go to a house church, you don't really think about being inspired, you think about the family.

But all in all, he said not to miss the big picture.  It's not like I think that friends who leave are less spiritual than those who stay, are any less saved, are going to be any less nourished than they would be going to the same church as I do.  But he said that God sees things differently, a bigger picture - he sees his people in families everywhere and moving from one group to another doesn't shake him because it's overall the same family.

This was helpful, although to be honest, it's not because I suddenly saw the big picture.  I have some more growing to do for that.  It's because I was able to put a finger on why it bothers me so much that people leave.  For me, a church is only about the family.  To me, the inspiration comes from loving one another differently than the people in the world do.

In John 13, Jesus says,
34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Hebrews 10 says,

24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.25Let 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.

This is how people are impacted by Christ - when they see this being lived out in the church and the lives of the disciples.  Awhile back, I knew some friends who stopped going to our church and started church-hopping. At the time it was not so they could find the right one for them (perhaps that has changed), it was so they could take a little from each place.  I expressed in so many words that I thought it was selfish.  Part of our being in one body is so that we can give to it, not just take from it.  Jesus didn't say to look for inspiration wherever you can, he said to love one another as he loved us.  This implies commitment.

Colossians 3:

12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
 15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

How can we do this if we are not invested in one church, one body of believers?  

Granted, my friend expressed that she didn't really see that in our church anymore - the speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  To her credit, she is seeking a body of believers where that is the case.  That's fair enough.  But for me, in my staunch, loyal family point of view, we don't abandon our family to find that - we inspire our family to be that.  I cannot say whether she or I are right, but I know God can work in both strongly-felt beliefs.

As Philippians 3 says,

 15All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16Only let us live up to what we have already attained."

We're not going to have all of our answers here on earth, but we have to live up to the best of our understanding.  It goes on to say:

20But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. Chapter 4 1Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!

The person I spoke to in order to get some perspective on the issue, said in the end that sometimes we simply have to say, "I'm sorry we won't be seeing you anymore on Sundays, but when else can we hang out?"  

Since losing my friendship is not even an option, that seems like the best approach.