Friday, May 18, 2012

Cleansing the Temple

Transferring notes from my old Bible to my new one has been exciting because I've found notes and reminders that I don't think about much or had forgotten I'd written. Today I was transferring Jeremiah notes and a section in chapter 7 really struck me again. The Lord through Jeremiah says this: "Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord'...Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord....And now, because you have done all these things, declares the Lord...I will do to the house that is called by my name and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight...."

I'm guessing you probably feel a little uncomfortable just like I did when I read that. Because we may not have a physical building that we call a temple today, but according to the New Testament I am a temple. So are you. God's dwelling place on earth.

Now to tie that verse into Luke 19, where Jesus quotes it. He's just come to Jerusalem and made His triumphal entry. Since His disciples were expecting Him to take over the rule from the Romans and start an earthly kingdom, His actions during these few days would have been shock after shock to their ideals and systems. He comes in not on a great chariot or having built up an army, but on a random colt. No saddle, but with cloaks on it. To the Pharisees, this "imposter" coming in and being praised as King while riding on a donkey would have been rather offensive (not the first time they've been upset, of course.) But then instead of riding in and taking over the rule of the city, Jesus goes straight to the heart of Jewish religion: the temple. He drives out the sellers and overturns tables and calls them out for being mercenaries in the house of God. What. I think if we're honest with ourselves, we can pretty easily put ourselves in the position of the Pharisees and Jewish leaders at this time. Jesus' reign was not what they expected or wanted, and really, many times Jesus' reign isn't what we expect or want either. We want Him to fix all the problems in the world around us, but what he wants is to cleanse the temple. We want Him to get us a president with a Godly agenda, and He wants us to stop choosing money over Him. We want Him to come into the world and get rid of all the sinners and teach them a lesson, He comes in with His word and goes straight to our hearts, telling us to get the log out of our own eyes before we try to get the speck out of someone elses. He teaches a clean temple and a future Kingdom, not a perfect world and a Christian "comfort zone." Christ entered the city and went to the LAST place they expected Him to be dissatisfied with--their religious center.

If Christ came today, would He feel compelled to go straight to your temple and overturn tables? Would you be surprised at that? Is His reign over your HEART what you really want and look for? Or are you telling yourself that "This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord" and allowing yourself to assume that God is in your heart when He isn't?

Today, pray that you'll be willing to accept that letting Christ reign over you and your heart may be uncomfortable. Look inside yourself. "Don't assume you're good soil." (Crazy Love) Make sure your heart is tender, open, not being overtaken by thorns and moneychangers. If your heart has been, allow Christ to overturn those tables and cut down the thorns now, before it's too late, and while you still have time to cleanse His temple.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Living for Jesus

Although reading has always been my favorite pastime, I don't have much time for that during the school year (except reading, of course.) However, I made time to read Blue Like Jazz at the beginning of this year, and I was very glad I did. While I definitely disagree with or don't approve of some things in the book, the author is describing his moral journey and how he found God. It has some powerful, thought-provoking questions. There's one thing he discusses that I want to encourage you to think about today.

I think many of us, when asked, would say that the ultimate test of devotion is whether or not you would die for someone. And in many ways that's true. Clearly, Christ died for us when we were at our darkest (Rom. 5) and that's the most valuable gift ever given and strongest devotion ever shown. But I'd challenge you today to think about living. I honestly can say that I think if someone asked me to deny Jesus or die, I'd choose death. Although, to be completely honest, it might depend on what kind of dying we were talking about. But I think that a lot of us could really say that we would die for our cause. Dying would be a good way to show our love for Jesus and our devotion, and it would be relatively painless. Death and then comfort, death and then reward, death and then glory.

I think living is the hard part for me. It's easier for me to proclaim my belief in Christ and get shot than it is for me to do what I'm supposed to do and talk to random people about Christ. Because if I die, I'm not having to suffer the embarrassment of putting myself out there. I've done it and I'm outta here. I'm so insecure and concerned about how people view me, that it's the day-to-day living that's hard. But that's such a silly, shallow attitude. As Francis Chan puts it in Crazy Love, “When we face the holy God, “nice” isn’t what we will be concerned with, and it definitely isn’t what He will be thinking about. Any compliments you received on earth will be gone; all that will be left for you is truth.” What people think of us is going to seem pretty ridiculous when we get to Heaven. Even the people who respect us and think we're model, spiritual people aren't the ones who will be judging us, and of course the people who laugh at our beliefs won't be. God will be.

So my question for today is: are you willing to live for our cause? Are we devoted enough to die and experience brief pain to show our loyalty, but not willing to show our loyalty by proclaiming Jesus daily in our lives? I'm convinced that for me, living for Jesus is the hard part.

Here's a quote from Blue Like Jazz that was pretty poignant for me, and definitely humbling.

“Andrew would say that dying for something is easy because it is associated with glory. Living for something, Andrew would say, is the hard thing. Living for something extends beyond fashion, glory, or recognition. We live for what we believe....if I live what I believe, then I don’t believe very many noble things. My life testifies that the first thing I believe is that I am the most important person in the world. My life testifies to this because I care more about my food and shelter and happiness than about anybody else. I am learning to believe better things. I am learning to believe that other people exist, that fashion is not truth; rather, Jesus is the most important figure in history, and the gospel is the most powerful force in the universe. I am learning not to be passionate about empty things, but to cultivate passion for justice, grace, truth, and communicate the idea that Jesus likes people and even loves them.”

What are you living for? What are you showing that you believe in? 

Today, pray that we'll believe (really believe) in the important things, and that we'll believe them enough to live for them. Today. Let's make our lives testify that we're passionate about deeper, higher things.

And because I just love quoting Crazy Love: 

“In our world, where hundreds of things distract us from God, we have to intentionally and consistently remind ourselves of Him.” 

Heaven is a place of rest, let's be tired when we get there.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Trusting His Way

I'll warn you, it's late and I'm tired, so there's no telling what kind of grammatical mistakes I'll make in this post. (Dad, you might as well stop reading now.)

I guess this blog is just me exposing all of the things I struggle with in my little mind and then talking myself into being better, which may or may not just make you think I'm an idiot. But that's ok, I am one, so I'll keep posting and let you get any encouragement or wisdom you can from my mistakes. :)

Anyway, the class I was in at services tonight impacted me, and I'm hoping that a couple of things from it (which I had been thinking and reading about this past week) will help you or encourage thought on your part.

We talked a lot about dealing with pain and seeing other people's problems and not understanding God's plan or why things happen in our lives sometimes. We live in a world where intellect is revered, knowledge is necessary, and we all want to (and think we do) know everything about everything. So our faith wavers (Psalm 73) so many times when we look around us and can't see a formula for WHY someone who is sinful is seemingly rewarded and a righteous friend is diagnosed with cancer. We just can't make sense of it. 

But honestly, God never says we will. He, in fact, says we won't. He says His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His ways are higher than our ways. Our minds don't work on the same level as His. That doesn't mean that His plans aren't good. It means He's all-knowing and perfect and has a bigger plan in mind than just my feelings on this one day. When Job went through every terrible ordeal possible without a break, but God still didn't accept his questioning. God essentially responded with a list of all the magnificent things He can do that Job couldn't understand, leaving Job to only respond "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted....Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." 

The fact is, God's plans for His people are bigger than ME. And I won't be able to see His plan perfectly. There's no formula that says "One bad year + faith = 3 years of plenty" so that I can expect some great times of no pain, and there's no formula that says that I should be able to have a happy life because I love God. In fact, we're so hasty to figure out God's plan for our lives that many times we misinterpret what's going on around us and try to staple it on to some roadmap we've made for our lives, pretending we can see His path for us. The fact is, there are just going to be things we can't explain. There are going to be people who die who we wouldn't have let go yet if it was up to us, and there's not going to be a clear reason for it. There is going to be heartache and frustration and persecution that doesn't make sense to me, and during hard times we won't know what's ahead or what God's plan is in that hardship. So today, pray that your faith won't be hinged on your view of "God's plan," but that instead you'll have the faith to live today and do the good you can today to the people you see today. Because His ways are higher than our ways, and while we can always trust that He has a good plan for His people, don't assume that your plan is the good plan. Every good and perfect gift comes from above. And we are not the ones to decide what's good, by any means. Just look at our lives.

"I may see something in this world as completely ridiculous, that is a perfect part of God's plan. His thoughts are higher than mine are." (Todd Snapp)

Since I can't know all that God has planned, and should be careful about what I attribute to "His plan" (since my plans won't work out like I expect and that can shake my faith), what do we do? How do we get along?

I may not know what God's plan is, but I do know what His will is.

What a blessing that despite the fact that I don't understand His purposes or my future or the future of any of the ones I love, I know how He wants me to live this day. And I know that if I keep living this day how He wants me to, and every day after this day, no matter what chaos is around me, He has a home for me. That's the only plan I need to grasp right now.

Today, pray for trust and focus that we can follow His will even when we can't understand His plan. Today, like Asaph in Psalm 73, go to the Lord for comfort and peace and blessed assurance. When we just trust His greater knowledge and know that we can't understand all the ins-and-outs of His plan, it's comforting. God KNOWS me. And God LOVES me. That's all that I need to know to do His will and get along in life.

And just like my great friend David Smelser said (yes this is 2 shout-outs to DPS in 8 posts. Get used to it), "Just because your life isn't easier because you serve God doesn't mean your life isn't better because you serve God."

After all, the most unfair thing that has ever happened was Jesus dying for us when we were at our darkest. The beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair. (Yes, I'm quoting Relient K.)

"It may not be the way I would have chosen when You lead me through a world that's not my home, but You never said it would be easy, You only said I'd never go alone."

"Should Thy mercy send me
Sorrow, toil, and woe;
Or should pain attend me
On my path below;
Grant that I may never
Fail Thy hand to see,
Grant that I may ever
Cast my care on Thee."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Seeing His Way

I think one of the hardest things about faith is having sight like the Lord. Having wisdom to see past now, see through temptation, and see myself clearly. So that's what I'm praying about and encouraging you to pray about today.

1. Pray that we'll have the wisdom to see that even if we can't understand it or know the future, there's a bigger plan. There's a bigger goal and work being accomplished in our faithful lives than what we can see right now. No matter my pain, confusion, or discouragement, my life (if I'm living faithfully) is glorifying God somehow. Romans 8:28. Today, pray for His vision to want and understand His plan and His goodness.

2. Pray that we'll have the wisdom to know when we're being tempted and to see the way out. Sometimes we rationalize temptation and avoid even realizing what problems we have in our spiritual lives. I know I do. And we avoid seeing the way out because it's embarrassing, or challenging, or less fun. Today, pray for His vision to see and flee from temptation.

3. Pray that we'll have the wisdom and the sight and the work ethic to SEE the man in the mirror and FIX the problems we see. James 1. It's so hard to have the stamina and will to work on problems that we know will hurt or shame us to fix, but today, pray for His vision to see what's wrong and how vital it is for us to fill ourselves with goodness and not evil.

And don't forget to see His thread of faithfulness in your life (from Day 1). Don't close your eyes and miss the army.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my Buckler, my Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Being the Fuel

I heard a couple of challenging discussions of the "drink offering" concept over this school year, and that's what's on my mind today so I'm sharing.

While it's easy to look at the passage where Paul says he's already being offered up as a drink offering and taking applications about being sacrifices for the Lord and being fully devoted and selfless in service, and those are helpful applications, the drink offering in the Bible isn't exactly your normal sacrifice. Drink offerings (thank you Luke Chandler) were used to pour on sacrifices as a fuel for the fire. They were the alcohol that allowed the sacrifices to burn freely.

So. What does that change about the application we can take?

If I'm being a drink offering, I'm giving of myself to allow someone's sacrifice to burn. I'm the one who's helping someone else praise and worship the Lord. I'm the one who is poured out to fan the flame of another follower's sacrifice.

Today, pray that we can be drink offerings. That your life will be poured out and bring some wanderer to sacrifice to the Lord. That you can help light the fire in someone's life and encourage him to be more devoted, and encourage him to give it all to God.

Be willing to be poured out to fuel the fire in someone else's offering. It'll make yours burn more brightly, too.

"Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise. I surrender all."

"So let my whole life be a blazing offering, a life that shouts and sings the greatness of our King."

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Compelled by Love

If you haven't read Crazy Love by Francis Chan, I would strongly encourage you to. If there's a book besides the Bible that has changed my way of thinking, that's it. In fact, I have 2 copies so I can always loan one out and have one to read (by the way...who has my second copy?) :)

Anyway. Crazy Love ties together scripture and honest discussion about being a serious follower of Christ in a way that will humble you and make you think seriously about your level of devotion and inspire you to focus on your relationship with Him.

Today I'm just going to include a couple of thoughts from Crazy Love that are making me think today and I hope they'll challenge you too.

What I want you to think about and pray about today is motivation. If we're living and thinking how we should, our motivation for everything should be our love for Christ and our gratitude for salvation. But is that what's motivating us?

I'll be honest, it's pretty hard for me to really love Someone who I can't see or talk to face-to-face right now. No matter how strongly I believe, or how obviously I feel He is displayed in His creation, sometimes it's hard for me to really have an emotional and mental reaction to Him and His work in my life . I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who has that problem. It's easy to love physical family and friends, but sometimes our shortsightedness lends itself to a self-centered attitude that makes us too cynical to build feelings for the Lord, the very One who gives us all the love in our lives. Since we have a hard time building a true love for Him and a serious focus, sometimes our motivation for doing the right thing and for dreaming of Heaven is completely wrong. I know that I am guilty of this sometimes. I hope that when you think about this today you'll be honest with yourself and pray that you can be driven by love for Him and zeal for the Gospel, not by selfishness.

As you're trying to better yourself this summer, take an honest look at yourself. As Francis Chan says, "Don't assume you're good soil." Be willing to notice if you're lukewarm. I think I notice more lukewarm aspects of myself every day. Here are two ways I struggle in my motivation, and I hope thinking about this will help you grow closer to God also:

"Lukewarm people don't really want to be saved from their sin; they only want to be saved from the penalty of their sin. They don't genuinely hate sin and aren't truly sorry for it; they're merely sorry because God is going to punish them. Lukewarm people don't really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better than the old sinful one." (Crazy Love--emphasis added)

1. Why do I avoid sin? Why am I grateful for salvation? Because I'm scared of Hell, or because I love holiness?

"The critical question for our generation--and for every generation--is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?" (God is the Gospel by John Piper, as quoted in Crazy Love)

2. Why do I want Heaven? Why am I working towards it? Because I want the "no tears" and "no pain" and "no goodbyes," or because GOD is there? Do I love God enough that it matters to me?

Today I challenge you to read Psalm 63 and pray that THAT will be a description of your attitude towards God today. Let's start disciplining ourselves to read more, pray more, and the beauty is that the more we look to God and talk to Him, the more we'll love Him.

"O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory. Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise You."

If we really love Christ, our sinlessness will come from a desire to be like Him and with Him forever.

Pray about that today.

2 Cor. 5:14 "For the love of Christ compels us...."

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Serving Through Strain

I'm getting this from a sermon and a lecture I heard (thanks, DSmels and Mr. Peeler), so by no means are these my ideas, but they've really been on my heart since I heard them and this is definitely something I need to work on, and since I don't feel great today it seemed like an appropriate topic to share.

I have a legacy of always being tired. I don't know if I just whine about it more than most people do, or if it was the follow-up to an emotionally rough summer, or if there's something wrong, but especially this past year of school I've just felt like I was struggling to function almost daily because of how tired I am. Which is weird because I got much more sleep this school year than I ever did last school year. Old age? Anyway, my normal schedule tended to be that I'd get up at 6 and study for whatever test I had that day, go to classes from 8-3, and then sleep until...forever. And then eat or study and then go to bed at curfew or soon after and start the whole routine over again. I just am/was always tired. So naturally my first instinct isn't just to go around looking for ways I can help or errands I can run for people in the afternoon or evening, because I'm exhausted and "I need to sleep." (And obviously my level of tiredness is much more important.) So when I heard these thoughts they hit me pretty hard, and while my room didn't get any cleaner after I heard it, I think about this all the time.

In the gospel accounts of the last few days of Christ's life, you don't see much sleeping going on. Especially the day before his death, it's pretty clear that He didn't get a whole night's sleep to rest up for the trials of that day. His life is one long example of endurance, and it's definitely an example we can look up to. He doesn't ask us to serve in ways or love in ways that He hasn't, and if we're being living sacrifices we can certainly be grateful for his example of sacrifice through His life and His death. But think about that last day and night of Jesus' life. Read through the account starting in Luke 22 tonight and write down all the things Jesus experienced. He celebrated the Passover with His disciples, He instituted the Lord's Supper, He settled an argument between selfish disciples who STILL didn't understand the meaning of His kingdom, He went and prayed intensely to God about the trials He was about to go through, (even though His disciples couldn't stay awake) He dealt with two of His closest companions betraying Him publicly, He was mocked, led before a false council, slapped, spit upon, whipped, the list goes on and on. After you make that list of all the things He experienced, make a list of all the things He said. I think you'll find the list to be pretty short. He taught His disciples, prayed, made brief and impressively respectful answers to those who were interrogating Him unfairly, and then prayed for His persecutors to be forgiven. I think about how I'd act if I had been awake for at least 24 hours and was being treated like that; I am pretty sure I'd be a pain in the neck. I'd be feeling sorry for myself, furious that my friends were failing to help me and stand up for me, and there is no way that I'd let myself go through all of that torture for someone else's benefit if I had the power to stop all that was going on. But Jesus let it happen. He let all of it happen. He stayed up all night only to be treated shamefully on our behalf. The perfect King allowed Himself to be shamed more than any common criminal would deserve. He was completely human (He asked for water on the cross), and allowed Himself to be put through all of this despite His exhaustion and humiliation. He let it happen. He sacrificed His sleep, His peace of mind, His dignity for us.

Some people say that doing something nice for someone always makes you feel better. I can pretty much tell you that in my experience, going the second mile doesn't magically give you more energy. But feeling better isn't our motivation for service anyway. Serving someone will teach you lessons about endurance, and it will be good for your heart and soul, even if it doesn't magically make you physically feel refreshed and renewed. So whether we're tired or sick or just plain sad, let's work on finding ways to show attention, share blessings, and spread truth.

If Jesus could stay up all night just to be treated shamefully, why can I not endure enough to even help someone out when I'm tired?

Today I'm asking you to think and pray about ways in which you can serve or show compassion even when you're tired or sick, and I'm asking that you pray for me to have the selflessness to serve through strain. Because really, doing someone a favor when we're tired is the least we can do for what He has done.