Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sitting at the Feet of Jesus

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!"

"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed--or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."  (Luke 10:38-42)

       It's quite amusing to even try to imagine what Martha was doing in her home the day she opened the door to Jesus.  Since the author of this blog enjoys good food, he can only conceive that she was fixing a meal fit for a king.  (No pun on words intended, but little did she really understand that this Jesus Who was coming for a visit was truly the King of kings!)  The smell of lamb roasting slowly, mixed with the aroma of unleavened bread baking, would surely have created a wonderful savor wafting through the abode of the two sisters.  Yum!  But then too, Martha was no doubt consumed with overall household preparations to make sure everything was in its place for her "renowned" guest.

       Jesus finally arrived and made Himself comfortable in the simplicity of this home.  Without question, He was a gracious guest that would never have even slightly suggested that anything be out of order or in disarray in His hostess' house, even if it were a complete disaster.  The Lord's focus during His ministry on earth was always people-focused.  Mary must have sensed or knew this to be a profound truth and therefore decided to take advantage of it, and why not?  This was a wonderful opportunity for her to listen to the words the Lord spoke, to absorb His wisdom and overall character.  No one else is mentioned in scripture as being in the house other than the two sisters, so it's quite probable that she had a personal audience with the Lord for awhile.

       Little imagination is required to understand that Martha kept herself consumed with business, notwithstanding the Lord's presence in her living area.  The tasks before her, whether minial or not, robbed her of the joy of having God Almighty in her home as a guest.  The tension and resentment mounted against her sister, Mary, until Martha finally snapped.  Interestingly, though her anger was at Mary for the most part --no doubt she felt some annoyance at Jesus as well-- she aimed most of it at the Lord by chiding Him.  "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!"

       Jesus didn't get flustered nor did He lash out back at Martha.  He did however, firmly and lovingly remind her that Mary had chosen to sit at His feet and enjoy His presence, and that Mary's choice to do this was the better.  Between hustling about to make sure all the many preparations were in order and sitting quietly at the feet of the Master, the latter was, and still is more preferable.  Moreover, He of all people would not take that away from Mary by asking her to leave that place of quiet repose to go help her sister, Martha.  Luke is silent regarding Martha's response to the Lord's chiding.  We can only hope that she listened and heeded Jesus' words.

       Beloved saints of God, in today's busy world we frequently find ourselves much like Martha, and can surely identify with her mindset.  We are indeed doers.  We like to consume our time by doing and doing and doing,,,,, ad infinitum.  (We don't handle downtime very well.)  In truth, there was nothing wrong with Martha preparing her home for the impending Guest.  Today, there is nothing wrong with performing christian service in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And so we must ask, what is the issue?  What is the inherent message of this story tucked in scripture?

       We do things for Christ hopefully because we love Him and NOT out of some empty, Christian obligation.  This is where a relationship with Jesus and religion in general part company, and take different paths.  Those who are intimate with Christ, and love Him with every fiber of their being do things for Him because they choose to do so.  We obey the Lord because we love and adore Him.  Individuals steeped in religion do things for Christ because they fear Him or worse yet, they impose upon themselves some obligatory sense of responsibility that in reality is not given to them by the Holy Spirit.  (Read the parable of the bags of gold in Matthew 25:14-30 and focus primarily on the third servant's mindset.)  It is a duty they contrive within themselves, or issued to them by another hence, these same people tend to eventually burn out, and get angry with much resentment. 

       There is also another important lesson we must extrapolate from this message and it's simply this:  enjoying the presence of God is far more important than doing things for Him!  The Lord is ultimately far more interested in developing our character as we sit at His feet than He is in what we can do for Him.  "And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."  (II Corinthians 3:18)

       When we take time to enter into the glorious presence of the Lord, as the Spirit of God takes us to that place of great intimacy where Christ dwells in our hearts by faith, we are transformed little by little to look more like Jesus.  Beloved, this is the very heart of God.  This is His will for you and me today, and every day until time is no more for us, until we enter into the eternal realm.  We will supernaturally conform to the image of Christ as we spend time with Him.  The works we will then subsequently perform will have originated from a pure and undefiled heart, one that's in love with Jesus Christ and ergo impassioned to to see His glorious Kingdom advanced throughout the earth today.

       Yes, Mary was right all along; she had the right idea.  She spent those precious moments sitting at the feet of Jesus listening intently to every word that came from His lips.  And during any time when silence would ensue, she was reaffirmed by Him touching her with His hands of love and compassion.  Even in the silence there was power that was transferred from the Lord to this precious soul.  She was eternally changed.  And so it can be for us today as well.  Can we carve out time to sit at the Lord's feet and enjoy His wonderful presence like Mary did?  Yes!  We can; we must!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Necessity of Surrender

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty."  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished."  With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath.  Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.  The soldiers there came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other.  But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.  (John 19:28-33)

       Surrender is a powerful force, one that defies logic and imagination for it goes against the very grain of human nature.  Survival of the fittest seems to be the driving energy of humanity, providing the backdrop behind how we operate in this life.  We cling to and practice the seemingly timeless adages:  "master of our fate" and "captain of our own ship."  We insist on living our lives independently.  It's our way or no way.  The prophet Isaiah alludes to our sinful plight when He says, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all."  (Isaiah 53:6)  Sadly and tragically, many a time God, our Creator has no other choice but to let us sail our own ships hence determine our own destinies, saving that He take away our free will.  (Thankfully, our rebellion was cast upon the Savior!)

       Crucifixion was a brutish form of capital punishment employed by the Roman Empire, which was the supremacy in Israel when Jesus was on the earth.  This type of capital punishment was grueling and ruthless wherein the victim literally died of asphyxiation.  As gravity pulled the body downward, the chest cavity became smaller and smaller due to the arms being suspended by the nails.  The victim could temporarily stave off death by pushing upward with the legs that were also nailed.  We see in the above scriptures that when Jesus was crucified, a request promulgated by the Jewish religious leaders through Pontius Pilate asked that the bodies be timely removed from their crosses in order to not be displayed on a special Sabbath.  In turn, this required a hastening of death for the victims.  As a result, the roman soldiers broke the legs of the men who were crucified with Jesus.  Upon approaching the Lord however, they noted He was already dead so it wasn't necessary to break His legs.

       The Psalmist prophecied that the bones of the Messiah would in fact not be broken when He wrote, "he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken."  (Psalm 34:20)  Indeed, Jesus had not struggled, but had met His fate with a determination that He would fulfill the will of His Heavenly Father.  "....for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."  (Hebrews 12:2)  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man, God in flesh taught us how to die so ultimately we might truly live!

       Beloved saints of God, we struggle so hard in this life.  We strive and labor to meet the numerous demands that too often, we place on ourselves.  We walk around tired and weary, numb from being pulled in so many different directions.  In truth, it is costly to be the captain of our own ship.  And we must never ever deceive ourselves into foolishly believing that just because we are Christians that we are not guilty of running our own lives.  Truthfully, we spend an inordinate amount of time planning, reasoning and plotting our futures.

       It is the Father's will that we not just make it to heaven when we die, but that we succeed and do well in this life.  And so in His divine love and mercy, He frequently takes us to a spiritual Calvary and lovingly crucifies us in order to purge those things in our lives that hinder our spiritual growth.  (John 15:1-2)  Consequently, the cross becomes the portal to real, genuine life, the abundant life to which Jesus refers in John 10:10.  "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life."  (John 12:24-25)

       There are no shortcuts, no circumventions to the process of dying to self that we might live to God through Christ.  If we are going to experience the kind of life for which we were created, we must die to the many aspirations and goals that too often become our agenda for existence.  We must forfeit even our most intimate dreams for a successful life, so the life of Christ can rise up in us.  Our will must cease to exist; it must become one with that of the Heavenly Father.

       Are you hanging upon the cross today?  Are you staring a shadow or figure of death in the face?  Is your financial empire crumbling around you?  Are all your hopes and dreams for a glamorous career dashed to pieces?  Do you find yourself in the midst of a long drawn-out job that's draining the very life from your soul?  Has the huge dream home that's taking every dime of your income become a prison of sorts?  Are you in a relationship that's leading down a path to death?  Worse yet, are you spending all your time and effort on making things happen in your life?  Are you trying to make your ministry succeed?  Are you attempting to seduce God into doing something for you, knowing all the while that that's not quite what He's got in mind for you?

       God, help us to surrender our very lives upon the cross on which You've placed us.  May we take one last breath and peacefully give up the ghost as Jesus did, so that we might truly live.  And Father, if need be, mercifully break our legs so that the imminent death may come quickly.  In Jesus' Name, amen.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Gilgal: Roll Away the Shame and Reproach

At that time the LORD said to Joshua, "Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again."  So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gilbeath Haaraloth.

Now this is why he did so:  All those who came out of Egypt--all the men of military age--died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt.  All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not.  The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the LORD.  For the LORD had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey.  So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised.  They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way.  And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed.

Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you."  So the place has been called Gilgal to this day.  (Joshua 5:2-9)

       Gilgal was the very first place at which the children of Israel arrived once they crossed the Jordan River into the promised land.  Anticipation of the unknown mixed with fear and trepidation were surely some of the emotions these chosen ones experienced as they felt the ground beneath them.  But also, they were eye witnesses of the majestic miraculous of God as He parted the waters of the Jordan in order that they could ford across safely.  Seeing this mighty miracle by the Hand of this God of their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, should have imparted a great measure of faith to aid in their conquest of the new land set before them. 

       Indeed, this was a new generation of Israelites coming into the promised land.  Their forefathers had died in the wilderness after forty years of aimless wondering, decreed by God because of their unfaithfulness and rebellion.  In light of this, those entering the promised land bore the shame and reproach of their parents who had been slaves in Egypt.  The ceremony of circumcision realized at Gilgal was necessary in order to establish a memorial wherein God's people knew they were permanently free from any and all bondage their parents experienced as slaves in Egypt.  Had the Israelites not experienced Gilgal, they could never have forged ahead with great victories in the promised land.  It would have been literally impossible.

       Beloved, we like the children of Israel, cross over the Jordan River when we accept Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives.  We go from the right side (death, flesh) to the left (life, spirit).  Once in the promised land, our salvation is complete as far as rebirth is concerned.  "And this is the testimony:  God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son."  (I John 5:11)  Unfortunately, as the case often is, the mind still bears the brunt of the life we left behind on the right side of the river.

       The prostitute still sees the faces of the countless men to whom she relinquished her body time and again on a bed of anonymity.  The drug addict carries needle marks on the arms where veins used to be, an ever-present reminder of the numerous highs experienced.  The alcoholic may still crave a drink in order to squelch feelings of helplessness and confusion.  The fornicator is forever rejected by the ex-spouse and the children, despite giving up the sexual infidelity after salvation.  The lesbian still is bewildered about feelings she daily encounters that contradict everything she knows is right.  And so the list continues....

       Lest we read the above list without finding our old identities there, the shame and reproach of any sinner's life is most assuredly relative, whether others perceive it as severe or not.  All Christians enter the realm of salvation carrying burdens from our own distinct "Egypt."  The memories of these experiences hinder us from moving forward into the promised land.  Rather than progressing westwardly and claiming the infinite territory that God has given us in Christ, we spend countless hours reliving what was or worse, what could have been.

       Brothers and sisters, God does NOT remember the life you had before you accepted Christ, the life you had on the right side of the Jordan!  "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death."  (Romans 8:1-2)  We must believe and appropriate this truth for our lives.  The verity of the freedom we experience in Christ must serve as our Gilgal, circumcision experience, the eternal power of the cross to absorb confessed sin!  The shame and reproach have been rolled away and were nailed to His cross.  They're gone; we cannot afford to linger on these past experiences!  "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."  (John 8:36)  "....He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood before us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross."  (Colossians 2:13-14)  Hallelujah!  Glory to God! 

       Christians that continue to wallow in the spiritual mud of memories risk insulting God by rejecting His grace and mercy.  Moreover, we become slaves of our past, a tragedy unparalleled other than going to eternal damnation when we die!  Dear friends in Christ, God chose you and me before the foundation of the world to be His precious children.  That being said, consider the following scripture:  "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will."  (Ephesians 1:4-5)  The Lord keeps no record of our past wrongs.  Nor should we!

       Finally, we can go to Gilgal anytime we need and/or as the Holy Spirit prompts us, and allow the Lord to graciously roll away other kinds of painful memories.  Many people suffer things as Christians that, if left unchecked, can build great barriers further hindering their advancement into the promised land.  Christians suffer loses, rejection, death of loved ones, divorce, financial ruins, sickness, marital infidelity, etc.  We are not exempt from suffering, however we mustn't ever let these trials and tribulations stop us from winning the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:14)  This was the Apostle Paul's attitude and must be ours as well.  Our promised land is huge and sets before us.  We have much conquering to do in this life!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ebenezer: Stone of Help

The words to the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
Hither by thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God’
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”  (I Samuel 7:12)

        God’s people, Israel had long been disobedient to the Lord by worshipping foreign gods since arriving in the Promised Land.  Their sin of idolatry again and again brought them into tremendous bondage and defeat by their enemies.  The Philistines won a great battle over the Israelites notwithstanding they even had the Ark of the Covenant (symbolic of the Lord’s presence [Psalm 99:1]) in the midst of the war camp!  The daughter-in-law of Eli, the overseer of the temple at Shiloh and Samuel’s predecessor, expressed the agony and horror of losing God’s presence at the end of the battle, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God was taken.”  (I Samuel 4:22)

        For about 100 years the Ark remained at Kiriath-jearim (“city of forests”) after seven months of being held in enemy territory.  But only after 20 years at Kiriath-jearim, Israel began to lament the loss of God’s glory in their midst.  Prompted to repent by Samuel the prophet, God’s people were heirs to a great victory over their enemy when the Lord their God fought valiantly for them against the Philistines.  It was at this point that Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”  The stone became the witness, a memorial to the faithfulness of God to His people by conquering the enemy. 

        For us who live in the dispensation of grace, the stone of Ebenezer is Jesus Christ Himself.  His victory at Calvary helps us to realize that the Lord has helped us beyond measure despite that we were lost and unable to help ourselves.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8)  Moreover, Jesus remains our Ebenezer through this life, for oftentimes we experience the power of the enemy, as well as defeats and disappointments that easily overwhelm and beset us.  We must frequently lay the stone of Ebenezer down as a memorial for what God has done in Christ, and what He will continue to do throughout this life.

        The true Ebenezer, the rock-solid Stone, Jesus Christ, the Son of God has fought mightily for His beloved.  The victory is ours!  The Bible says, “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.”  (Colossians 2:15)  We memorialize Him today through worship in spirit and truth.  Praise His mighty Name!    

My Very First Blog

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