Sunday, August 30, 2009

Soul Conditioning

"When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord." Jonah 2:7

I was contemplating Jonah's situation the last few days. He was a called man of God, a prophet commissioned with a word. Why was it that he had to come to the point where his "soul fainted" within his very being before he remembered the Lord?

How many times have I waited until the very same point before I remembered from "whence cometh my strength?" Jesus commanded us in Matthew, the 22nd Chapter, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind...." If we were following this great commandment to the fullest, we would not be in that situation; we would always remember and know the leadings and desires of our God.

Of the three elements of the "love commandment", I think we humans want to concentrate on loving God with our mind. We want to be able to wrap our heads around Him, as we are prone to say. In John, Chapter 20, verse 29, Jesus was talking to Thomas. Thomas had refused to believe that Jesus was resurrected without certain physical evidence. Jesus, as you remember, provided the evidence, but followed with this: "...You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe."

I think we need to concentrate more on loving God with our hearts and, especially, our very soul. So, I started researching exactly how you could explain your soul. Some equate it with spirit, but I tend to believe, with certain scholars, that the spirit and the soul are different. I read that the spirit is from God and is totally spiritual, whereas the soul is not.

The best I could discern is that our soul is best described as the non-material essence of our being. The part that's not flesh and blood, but not necessarily all spirit. It's the part of us that meshes our spiritual and worldly experiences into what drives us as human beings.

I think that soul can be focused, like in the great love commandment. It can be who we are in God or Christ - the loving, caring, compassionate and righteous. It can be prophetic, evangelical and bring God glory as it was designed to be in the beginning. Or, it can be who we are within ourselves, which is where Jonah found himself and I find myself at times; those times when I have tried everything I know, the way I think it should be done, etc. At that point, when our soul is finally "fainted within" ourselves, we can remember the Lord.

I think lastly and most disastrously, our soul can be who we are in sin. Jesus warned us in Matthew with another ponderous question. "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul." Matt. 16:26

We can condemn our soul to hell or we can let Jesus save our souls and begin some conditioning of our soul's disposition. The formula for tenderizing and conditioning is simple. "Love the Lord your God with ALL your HEART, with ALL your SOUL, and with ALL your MIND. This," He says, "is the first and great commandment. The second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Feeling Alienated & Hostile? That Could Be A Good Thing!

I was struck by a verse in the Sunday School lesson this morning. We were reading in Collosians, the first chapter. Verse 21 says: "And you were once alienated and hostile in mind because of your evil actions."

I thought to myself, "once?" I still feel alienated and hostile at times - sometimes with others; sometimes even with God. So how does this mesh with my christianity? I thought I was a "new creature"?

Verse 22 went on to say: "But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him."

Thanks to Jesus, the sin that we repent of is seen through Jesus; is paid for and no longer exists. Those areas of sin in our lives that we refuse to let go of, however, alienate us from God and cause us to be hostile with everyone, including God, in the midst of our guilt.

We all have different weaknesses of the flesh and, at times, those weak spots will lead us to "evil actions" in the sight of God and, on our part, will lead to alienation and hostility.

I'm trying to look on this as a good thing. I want to be more aware of my feelings of alienation and hostility because I have come to see those feelings as attached to a part of my life that God wants to make better! Does that mean that my weakness will automatically go away? No, but, with God's help, I will get stronger.

Read the last part of the first verse again. "....because of your evil actions."

Even if the weekness remains, we can make a conscious decision not to committ the "evil actions" that alienate us from God and stir up the hostility in our minds. I see my walk with God improving as I suffer through less and less periods of Him not talking to me. He must be eliminating many of my rough spots and giving me added strength for the weak spots.

The more and more that I study and spend time with God, the dearer and dearer His revelations to me are and the more careful I am to avoid those things that separate me from Him.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Power & Grace of Jesus' Final Prayer For Us

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." Luke 23:34

In all my years as a Christian, I've always marveled at the grace and forgiveness in this prayer of the crucified Jesus.  A couple of Sundays ago, however, a question from one of my fellow Sunday Schoolers caused me to pause and wonder at the power in that prayer. And, the layers have continued to unfold.

Brother Wayne asked, after we had read this passage, "Did God honor this prayer of Jesus?"

The immediate "church" answer, of course, is "Yes. It was a prayer from Jesus, who was dying on the cross for our sins. Of course He honored Jesus request."

I also say yes, but I propose it was a conditional yes. And, my brothers and sisters, contemplating the results had He refused Jesus request helps you understand the power of the prayer.

Jesus, being of the legitimate lineage of Abraham, was in full possession of God's promises to the Patriarch of God's chosen people. We might also say that Jesus, with this prayer, was moving towards his fulfillment of those same promises.

First,  let's look at the promise of retribution against Abraham's enemies and the enemies of his people. God said to Abraham, "I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you....." Genesis 12:3 If we can picture Jesus hanging on that cross, it's hard to imagine Him being any more cursed. Without this prayer of our Savior, the culmination of His sacrifice for our sins, one can only guess at the curse we had coming!

Now, the last of the third verse in chapter 12 of Genesis: "....And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Thank you, Jesus! As we celebrate Easter Sunday, we celebrate the grace, forgiveness and power of Jesus prayer as His resurrection was the fulfillment of the faithful promises of God. Easter Sunday celebrates our adoption into God's family, God's chosen people.

Given what we have just seen in these last few paragraphs, doesn't it also make you more understanding of God's stand on forgiveness? If you cannot forgive those who mistreat you, then I cannot forgive you, God explains in His word and I hear in my ears, 'after all, look what I have forgiven for my Son.'

This brings me to the conditional part of God's honoring of Jesus' prayer. I say, yes, God has forgiven as Jesus asked, but on the condition that those seeking the forgiveness accept His Son as Who He is and not what He appeared to be to some. If we take Jesus, fully, as our Lord and Savior, Christ's prayer for us is answered and we are forgiven. If we reject Jesus, we are not forgiven and are cursed by God as promised to Abraham in the beginning. I don't know about you, but I'm happy to spend eternity in forgiveness and Bless the name of Jesus for the opportunity.

One final confirmation of God's honoring Jesus prayer came today, on Easter Sunday. A very young man in our congregation came to the altar and gave his life to Christ. Do you need any more than that?

Monday, March 23, 2009

"If not truth, then it is a worthless lie."

Tumbling around inside my head today were fragments of thought from my Bible study this morning that included Jesus conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, conversations with a friend of mine about waiting on the Lord and then the final straw, a quote from a book by Nicholas Evans called The Smoke Jumper.

In the book,  Evans' character, an African warlord, says, "If truth is a loaf of bread and you pick up a crumb, do you have the truth? If not truth, then it is a worthless lie..... The truth is that there is no truth, only crumbs. You have yours and I have mine. But I have more of them and mine are gathered with knowledge and experience, not under a false banner of piety and prejudice."

It took me back to the morning reading in the Book of John. The Jews and the Samaritans fought over where God should be worshiped. Supposedly worshiping the same God, they fought with each other over their own "truth" when both only possessed a crumb. Jesus said to the woman at the well, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." John 4:21-24

There's that "truth" issue again. We who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ want to worship God as He wants; we want our worship to be a pleasant aroma. Jesus says, here's the way, in spirit and in truth. So, from where do we obtain truth? Are we to gather our truth from human experts, from our friends, from the Oprah book club, from our President or even the pastor of our church?

I would propose that God says no, with conditions. If the human experts, our friends, the president, our pastor and, yes, even Oprah, speak the word of God, then this is the truth. If any of our contemporaries choose to mix and match the philosophers, great teachers and scholars of our day into a melting pot of theology, then my God has been blasphemed.

I am sorry, we'll, no, I'm not sorry, I am one of the remaining remnant that believe the scriptures contained in the Holy Bible are God breathed, given through divine inspiration to those who penned them to paper. That same book of Living Scripture tells me that, if I study, if I seek God and His direction in my life, the Holy Spirit promised by my saviour that now lives within me will take those words, inspired by God, and teach, instruct me in the ways that I should go.

I truly believe that through this relationship between me, Gods everlasting and faithful word and the work of His most Holy Spirit, God will reveal Himself to me one layer at a time. As I am ready, through fire-tested perseverance, my relationship and closeness to God will grow ever deeper as the river of life shown to Ezekiel in his vision of the New Jerusalem. (Ezekiel 47: 3-5)

All in all, the mortal question is from what source we have decided to gather our truth and in what state of completeness we gather it. For, I'm afraid, taken in crumbs, we can all justify our own truth, but taken as a whole from God Himself, we can find the truth Jesus called us to add to the spirit of our worship!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

No Sign of Exemption or Removal!

I think our human nature is to hope that God will hold us exempt from trials and tribulations or, maybe, remove us from certain situations, but that's not the way that I read it. I don't find any place where God's word says He'll just take us out of the situations life hands us.
There are many places, however, that remind us that He will bring us through. There is the old saying we've all heard in church that proclaims God will never "bring us to something that He won't bring us through" and that admonition of my elders was brought back to my mind the other day as I read in Lamentations, chapter 3, verses 22 and 23....
"Through the Lord's mercies, we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness."
Amen and Amen! I don't know about you, my friends, but I need His compassion and mercy on a daily basis. All we have to do is ask. As Jesus has shown us in the model of how we should pray, "Give us, this day, our daily bread......Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one...Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us...", it is a daily battle.
He tells us in His word that all we have to do is ask in His name and it will be granted. In other words, whatever we ask in prayer, if it is according to God's will, will be granted us. The Apostle Paul reinforced the idea by reminding us to "pray without ceasing" If we do not have joy and peace in our lives, our relationship with our Creator, Savior and Sustainer is not as it was designed.
It seems obvious, then, that God's will is that, through everything in our lives, we depend on Him; that we look to Him for guidance and strength. His word goes on to say that we have to ask and petition our God in faith and without doubt. It follows, then, that how we react to life after we have involved our God through prayers, supplications and thanksgiving will reflect the truth and strength of our faith to those who are watching our journey.
So, let us praise God for His compassions, for His daily provisions of strength and thank Him that He feels us worthy of trials. Let us thank God that He is preparing us, through the "fire" for a new revelation of Himself, for a new level of spiritual growth!