Thursday, November 18, 2010

1 Year

People often don't think time passes by so fast, however, it does. Like James reminds us, "life is but a vapor" and David who said "mans days are numbered." Life passes and it goes fast. A year ago today...lets just say things looked different. It was about a year ago today I sat down with my best friend and brother, Tito. It was a year ago today that God used Him to start a process that is still going on today. It was a year ago today that God began coming from all angles. I remember just sitting back and not liking where I was.

Granted, back when we spoke, not to much changed in me at first, although, that Thanksgiving, I did pray and we had just lost my grandfather, so I had that on my mind. I remember crying in the car thinking about his life and how poorly I had treated him. I can still remember the song and where it was I sat while I wept bitterly for a life lost.

I can still remember being at my old friends house for the yearly Christmas party. This one was different for me though. Getting past all the food and gifts, I can see a guy who was at a point in his life that while he had the job, he had the friends, and soon would have the stuff to go with it, something was off. Something needed fixing. I can still remember wanting to pray (for whatever reason) before eating and some people looking at me as if I had conjured up some foreign concept, all he while, thinking to myself "We all went to a Christian school, why is this foreign?" It was God, He was working, and while I wasn't aware then, I am now.

I still can't help but think how perfect it had been set up. The place I worked was right across the street from Tito. It was the only way possible him and I could have lunch on any day during work. We worked across from each other. It was after that point I began hanging with him more. It was that point I began going back to church.

God had been working in me before then through other avenues, but at this point, He was not only working, He was tugging.

Christmas was different too, so was New Years. Things were changing, and I didn't know it then, but so many people were praying for my return. Faithful few who hand't given up on me. I am thankful they didn't. In fact I am glad they didn't. The people I have in my life now are a result of what God began in me a year ago, a work I walked away from, a work He was willing to continue because of His unending love. While I was busy seeing the failed result, God was busy looking at the end result once He was finished and because He is so in love with me (as He is with every living and breathing person) that rusted old project that had collected dust in the back, like Noah, He remembered. Not that He ever forgot me, but that He had to let it rust, He had to let it dust, He had to let it bust. When all that had passed, He did what He does best...redeem and restore.

In a nut shell, here is my story:

Matt 7:21-23 - Isaiah 44:21-22 - Titus 3:3-7 - James 1:22 - Isaiah 41:8-10 - Joel 2:25 - Neh 9:17,30 - Numbers 14:8

God is good....I love all of you. Thank you for putting up with my blog this year. I pray I finish strong, I pray WE all as one body, one church, finish strong, and I pray next year rock!

(A little early for the whole new year talk, but given what started a year ago today...felt right)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The End of the Earth...

It's been some time since I last posted, sorry about that. In any case, today I started the book of Acts after spending the last few months in the gospels. What a ride to say the least. What God has shown me about Himself, myself and those in my life has been amazing. It is fitting then that when finishing the gospels you transition directly into the book of Acts, which shows us what we should do we what the gospels has given us....spread the word.

Acts 1:8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.

This is as far as I got in my reading, however, this verse did make me wonder how far it is I have gotten in my ministry. Jesus made this statement on the Mount of Olives, (also where He made his statements regarding the end times in Matt 24-25). The Mount of Olives is located in Jerusalem, which is part of Judea. Jerusalem is about 35 miles south of Samaria and can be reached on a map by drawing a straight line. So it isn't very far. Additionally, and my favorite part of this whole verse, Jesus also instructed them to reach the end of the earth, or as the NASB puts it the "remotest parts of the earth."

What I found so interesting about the places Jesus names is that they coincide with places in our own lives. Typically when we read passages, we first look at context, then we breakdown audience and intention, then we dive deeper and do with the bible what James tells us to do with it, we apply it or become "doers of the word"(Js 1:22). Jerusalem to the disciples was where it had all started for them. This is where Christ ascended into heaven, it marked the beginning of the church age, the church that Jesus Himself had promised to build back in Matthew 16:18. It was upon this rock or this "petra" that Christ would build His church. It wasn't referring to Peter which in the greek is "Petros" or little rock, it was referring to his confession or to the truth behind his confession, the "petra" or bedrock of his confession. And it was upon this foundation that the disciples worked in the name of His church.

The word church throughout the entire new testament is the greek word "ekklesia" which means "a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly." It is never a reference to a building. We are citizens of Christ, called to gather together in all places, preaching the gospel: Christ crucified. Interestingly enough, Jesus begins with Jerusalem, which for me is like home. Our first place is home. Like 1 Tim 3:5 reminds us, if a man doesn't have rule over his own house, how can you expect him to have it over the church of God? So automatically, it is to those closest to us that we ought to preach the gospel.

The next place is an interesting one, Samaria. I say it is interesting because while it is only 35 miles from Jerusalem, there is something else that separates it that is more than just distance. In those days, the jews and samarians had a strained relationship (Luke 9:52-54, Luke 10:25-37, Luke 17:11-19, John 8:48). However, we know that throughout Jesus' ministry, He rebuked His disciples for their hostility to the Samaritans (Luke 9:55-56), healed a Samaritan leper (Luke 17:16), honored a Samaritan for his neighborliness (Luke 10:30-37), praised a Samaritan for his gratitude (Luke 17:11-18), asked a drink of a Samaritan woman (John 4:7), and preached to the Samaritans (John 4:40-42).

How that translates toward us? We aren't just called to love those closest to us, but also to love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us. We are called to love without partiality (James 2:1-5). Those people in your life who aren't so far away from you, however, are separated not just by distance, but by attitude and preference, Christ calls us to preach the gospel to them as well. This might mean you putting your pride on the shelf and dealing with comments, attitudes, opinions and all the like, however, unless you can say to yourself, that person is saved, then you must consider them headed to hell and as a result called to in some way reach out to them. Don't pull the "well I don't like them so therefore I don't want to deal with them for eternity," remember, "judge not, lest you be judged" which is to say, don't ever condemn someone to hell simply on appearance or preference, because if that were the case, then the same should have been done to you.

Lastly, we are called to go to the remotest parts of the earth. For me, these places are those that are well outside our comfort zones. Many times people equate this verse to mean the mission field in some foreign land, however, these days in the country we live in, that could mean the classroom, the office, or that homeless man on the corner. We need to begin praying that God show us what those places are to us. Cliche as it may sound, while you might think it impossible to reach that person or that place, remember that you can "do all things through Christ who strengthens you."

When Jesus was on the earth, His ministry was focused on the blind, the lame, the deaf, the widowed, the sick, the dead and the tax collectors just to name a few. Interesting thing about all of these groups was their place in society: rock bottom. All of them were viewed as the useless or the hated of society and as result were given little attention, Jesus however, was all about them and in the same way, we should be too. Let's start looking for these people in our lives, those people who seem so far away and yet, can be brought so near with just the words of the gospel.

All of this too say something God has been speaking to me for a few weeks now, start seeing people as who they really are: someone created in the image of God. Start looking to those remote parts of your life, start stepping out of your comfort zone, start loving those unlovable people in your life, start witnessing to those you call your own. You'll soon find the more you do it, the smaller the "distance" between you and these places. What once felt like a remote almost impossible place to reach, will soon be your Jerusalem.

It is a challenge; Acts 1:8 says to us that if we truly understood the gospel and all it means to mankind, we should then love our family by telling them and living it, love our enemies and present it to them through deed or word, love those unlovable people that rub us the wrong way by telling them as well, and lastly reach out to those people who seem unreachable or not worth it.

Start seeing people for who they are, and love them, the same way you love yourself....more on that later...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Conform or Reform?

You're a short little guy, generally despised by most you come across because of your line of work. Your history precedes you in that it has often times left a bitter taste in the mouth of those who come in contact with you. Rarely do people want to speak with you and when someone does, they are quick to assume the worst and cast you down as the short little thief your reputation makes you out to be. Desperate to change you seek to speak to the one man you have been told can change your world and cause you to be restored to what men ought be like. Desperate for His attention amidst a growing crowd, you frantically climb a tree in hopes of just catching a glimpse of the Man you seek to hear from. Being counted as the last person on the planet you think He would speak to, you sit, while among a crowd, alone, on the branch of a sycamore tree.

The story should sound familiar to most. It is the story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19:1-10. Below is the section of scripture, take a moment to read it:

1 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. 7 But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”8 Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

The passage is quick to mention the status of Zacchaeus in society and with good reason. Luke, the author of this book and also the book of Acts, is very good with details. And it's important that he mention that this man was a "chief tax collector, and he was rich" to point out the state of this man's image in society. To anyone on the street, this man was despised. No one liked the tax collectors in those days and this fact is plainly seen once we reach verse 7 where we see some asking themselves, "Why on earth would Jesus go talk to that guy?" When I read verse 7, it reminds me a lot of myself and so many of us who often times are guilty of placing labels on others without first considering the heart. The bible is clear that the heart's position is one of the most important things to God (Prov 15:11, Psalm 51:16-17, 1 Sam 16:7). In a sense, the story is somewhat similar to David's when this young shepherd boy would eventually become king. Even Samuel, a man of God, was quick to want to write off David as the chosen king simply by his stature and place in his household. In the same way, the people in this crowd do the same.

Now my question to you is this: Why didn't Jesus say to Zaccchaeus, "Hey you! Sinner boy! Get down from that tree and drop to your knees and worship before I backhand you into the book of John." Why wasn't Jesus quick to write this man off? I think all of us, myself included can gain some serious wisdom from this. See when Jesus spoke with Zacchaeus, He had every right to condemn him and send him running in broken fear, however, his approach was different. Rather than do what the rest of the world would do, Jesus went the opposite direction of the world and did what He knew was what would please the Father. Romans 12:1-2 tells us not to be conformed to the things of this world, and in that it includes the way this world tends to treat the least respected and the less fortunate. It has been said that can tell how a society acts by way of how it treats the least among them.

These days if there is a group that is frowned upon by most, it is the youth of this world. What some of us fail to see in these troubling days is how under attack they are. The enemy is no fool. What better way to destroy a nation, to destroy a civilization by destroying those who will eventually take over. He is no fool and in his plan he will spare none. In today's school system ideas like evolution, safe-sex, and ideas of relative truth are pumped into the soft, malleable minds of youth and rather than act out in response to this, many of us often write them off and label them hopeless. What we need to remember is something I have been learning from Ezekiel 37 where God asks Ezekiel if the dry bones can live, his response to God, "Oh Lord only you know." We must have the same attitude when we approach the least likely among them. Rather than see them as arguers, grumblers and rebellious, we should see them as whosoevers (John 3:16), we ought see them as who they really are, people created in the image of God.

A lot of people these days harp on things like Christian hard rock music, or christian rap, claiming that such music is a christians way of compromising and going the way of the world. Some tend to throw out the word "seeker friendly" to describe such efforts. While I agree that there is a line that must be drawn between this world and the church, it is equally important that we as christians begin gripping the statement Paul makes in 1 Cor 9:19-23. To the jew he became jew, to the greek, greek. What does that mean? Does it mean that in order to reach a drunk, I need to become a drunk, no. However, it does mean that if I am to reach a drunk, first I mustn't write them off due to their drunkenness, but instead figure out by which avenue I can reach them in order to inject the gospel. In the same way, how else am I going to reach those pockets of society who are so deep into a thing, without first stepping into that world, with caution of course, to determine what it is keeps them in their state and also determine, through Christ, how I can get them out of it.

A lot of us tend to pass judgement on people without first considering the heart, and to me, if the heart is pure in the sight of God, then the work that results from it will show. From the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Like Jesus, we must meet people where they are at, establish common ground, because if not, we are elitists who are looking to increase in number. Instead, we ought to take the Christ approach and humble ourselves. Be willing to dine with the least of these in order that their house might come to salvation. Notice Jesus didn't become a tax collector, He didn't take part in the act of tax collecting, instead, He lived out the what He was preaching and let that speak for itself while he ate with Zaccheaus. He let His light shine on His behalf.

I know I don't do that. In fact in many cases my mind tends to count someone or something beyond the grip of God, however, His hand isn't short that He can't save (Isaiah 59:1). We get so caught up in endless arguments of how things should and shouldn't be and we'll

We ought do the same. Let us stop passing judgement and start figuring out how it is we might do more to be Christ-like and live out in our lives the very gospel we sometimes tend to use as a baseball bat instead of as the heart-piercing sword it was meant to be. Keep in mind though, that in all of this, it takes some serious spiritual maturity and discernment to figure out where you should and shouldn't be. Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. We can't simply justify doing something just by claiming it in Jesus name, we need to spend some time seeking the Lord in prayer and study to at least get an idea of the direction we should go in. Once you have that, then, like Nehemiah, ride the waves of your convictions, building whatever wall you must build, knowing God is behind you.