Conditions, Conditions, Conditions

MBA

Something that has always rubbed me the wrong way are conditional agreements.  I’m not talking about contracts where each side is negotiating their terms.  What I am talking about are those moments when you ask someone for a favor, and they respond with “only if you will….”.   Or, even better, when someone approaches you to do a kind deed and then slips in the terms.  I just don’t like it.

I think it is because I don’t operate that way.  If you ask for a favor, I am going to say yes or no… but my answer is not going to be dependent on what you can do for me.  If I do a favor for you, it is because I want to help not because I want something out of it.

If you do me a favor, I only want you to do it if you want to.  It’s a heart issue, I suppose.  I was always taught to give without expectation of return, even if what I was giving was my time.  As an adult I learned to give money instead of loaning it.  I also learned how to value my time better so that I didn’t say yes to everything and burn myself out.  It also meant I learned how to accept no as an answer without getting upset.

I’ve also learned over the years I don’t like conditions in other aspects of relationships.  I don’t want to be your friend, if the conditions are that I must agree with everything you say and do.  I don’t want to be your friend if I have to change who I am in order for us to keep the peace.

I just hate conditions.  I also think that is the absolute beauty in God’s gift of salvation, and His love for His children.  God did give us conditions.  The Ten Commandments and The Great Commission, for example.  However, what the Old Testament Reveals to us is that as much as man tries, he is virtually incapable of following them.  He knew this, and still loved us anyway.  He knew this was an impossibility for us, and gave us His son to bear our iniquities.

This is not an excuse that allows us to continue to live in the flesh, in spite of His conditions.  It is an assurance that even though we can’t, His love doesn’t waiver.  Our salvation doesn’t balance the line of conditions, fluctuating based on our ability to walk that line.  Our salvation hung on a cross.

#Write31Days – Post 4 – The Big Picture

soapboxIf someone were to come to my home right now and look in the snack basket on top of my fridge, they would be shocked.  There are approximately thirty packages of chocolate pudding.  They would wonder why I would let my kids have that instead of healthier options.  How irresponsible of me as a parent, right?  I should be teaching my children better eating habits.

However, they would be wrong.   What they don’t know is the whole truth, they didn’t see the big picture.  The truth is that I put in thirty packs of pudding and thirty packs of fruit cups packed in water, not syrup.  My kids have been choosing the fruit over the pudding.

I would be judged on what someone thought I was giving them, not realizing that they were actually seeing the option my children rejected.  This is what happens when we assume based on what we see, without having more information… without the bigger picture.

We can apply this same idea to the scriptures when we are not looking at them as a whole.  The truth is that the scriptures are filled with harsh truths and loving compassion.  We are judged by what others see, not what they don’t.

If all we throw at the world is judgment, condemnation, and “tough love”, that is what the world sees.  We give them rules to adhere by, a long list of do and don’t commands, and set an expectation of my way or the highway.  Then, the world sees God as a looming ogre, unable to be satisfied, angry, wrathful, unmerciful.  No wonder, they wouldn’t have anything to do with Him.

If all we throw out into the world is Gods’ love, mercy and compassion, that is what the world sees.  They see a God that lets people get away with sin, because He loves them so much.  They will see no need to change who they are, to no longer conform to the world because God’s love is easily given.  No wonder we see people filling our pews, but no sign of change in them… nor taking God seriously.  This is where we are judged as hypocrites because we call our selves Christians, but we don’t act like it.  There is no evidence of it.

God is not fully represented to the world if we are only giving them half the picture.  We can’t only show a harsh and demanding God, just as much as we can not only show a gentle and loving God.  Neither of these views encompass God as a whole.  They do not reflect the overarching story of the scriptures.  They eliminate parts of God’s character.  We have to share the full measure of God in order to have a real affect on people’s lives.  We need to know that God loves at the same time as being called into obedience.

We need the healthy doses of scripture that help us make better decisions, avoid temptations, and long for holiness in our lives… just as much as we need the sweet encouragement of a loving and forgiving God.

If we are only representing a portion of the scripture, we are being irresponsible with The Word and with our witness to others.  We are living half of the life God calls us to live, believing half of the Truth we’ve been entrusted with.  We are also giving to others a half truth, half story, that doesn’t fully reflect our wonderful and marvelous God.

FRAYED – A Church Unraveling

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My longest posts are, generally, the ones where I am pouring out my heart.   So, consider this your warning.  Grab a cup of coffee and get comfy, we may be here a for a while.   My heart is heavy to day.

In recent days my eyes have been opened to how others view the church, more so than ever.  In particular, it has been most apparent as more church/Christian scandals break the news.  From a popular Christian family (who is caught up in the sinful decisions of one of their sons), the Ashley Madison leak (which exposed the names of Christian men and women wrapped up in adultery), bakeries and state clerks (caught up in the gay marriage SCOTUS decision),  and into the press and debates over the released Planned Parenthood videos (and the push to defund Planned Parenthood).

We are called hypocrites for standing against gay marriage, while divorce is still rampant within the church.   In other words, they wonder why we consider ourselves an authority on what a healthy marriage actually looks like… since we can’t seem to get that right ourselves.  We lost our integrity.

We are called hypocrites for standing against something when our own past, or current hidden sins, are being exposed for the world to see.  We lost our transparency.

We are called a “hate group” because of the words of our mouths and behaviors/actions are anything but Christ like. We say the most terrible things about people who are not “just like us”.  We lost our love.

We tear apart people we have never even met based on what a news article says about them.  We cry paranoia over news reports and internet articles where we are only receiving part of the story.     We lost our discernment.

In stead of loving people, we feel justified in screaming “murderer” at a women who had an abortion.  Without any knowledge of the events that brought her to the clinic that day.  We don’t take the time to understand people, but feel justified in judging them.  We lost our compassion.

What does the world see, when it looks at us?  What are we known for?

By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:35 (HCSB)

We have become our own greatest obstacle.

We argue over translations of the scriptures, then we wonder why the world doesn’t trust the scriptures to be accurate.

We argue over personal interpretations of scriptures, to the point that we have divided from a unified body of believers into denominations.  Then, we wonder why the world doesn’t trust that we know what we are talking about.

We rake leaders and teachers, over the coals in public and social media forums.  These are our own sisters and brothers in Christ!  Then, we wonder why the world doesn’t trust us with their failures and short comings.

We put on a false purity, holiness, righteousness, knowledge, wisdom, and illusions of “Christianity” instead of being authentic, transparent, and vulnerable.

We use judgement as a way to sit above others making our sin look smaller, because they are so much worse than we are.

We sell ourselves to the world as people who “have it all together” or “have all the right answers” and then we stumble and fall and discredit ourselves and our faith.  When the reality is that none of us have it all together or the right answers.  We are not spared trials and obstacles.  We simply have a hope that carries us through, and a trust that nothing we do when we fail can separate us from the LOVE OF GOD!

I find myself over, and over again, praying the Holy Spirit would convict us all to get beyond this place of division over foolish arguments and reconcile us to a united body of believers who stand in one accord, sharing the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  That we can be like Paul, who admitted of the sinners he was the worst.   Using that as our platform to woe people to Christ, instead of our “holiness”.

We have become slaves to the traditions and human commands of what a “Christian” should look like, that we have neglected what the scriptures say.  These human commands, they sound good and right, but if we are not testing them to the scriptures, and not praying for the Holy Spirit to help us discern truth… we become trapped.

Colossians 2

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person. I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery—Christ.[a] All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him.

I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments. For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.

Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, overflowing with gratitude.

Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ. For the entire fullness of God’s nature[b] dwells bodily[c] in Christ, 10 and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority. 11 You were also circumcised in Him with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah.[d] 12 Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. 14 He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.[e]

16 Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day.[f] 17 These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is[g] the Messiah. 18 Let no one disqualify you,[h] insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm and inflated without cause by his unspiritual[i] mind. 19 He doesn’t hold on to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and tendons, develops with growth from God.

20 If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: 21 “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”? 22 All these regulations refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are commands and doctrines of men. 23 Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence.[j]

The hard truth is the greatest obstacle to our sharing of the Gospel, has become ourselves.

We are not known for our love, hope, and faith.

We are known for hate, judgement, and we lack the basic understandings of our faith.

We are guilty of quoting scripture out of context; or stating the Bible says something that can’t be found in any book, chapter or verse.  We look past certain scriptures as being “out dated” or part of a different “culture”  in one breath, while claiming we believe in the full authority of the scriptures in another breath.

We are unable to defend our faith, because we have not learned it.  We are not students of the word.  We are repeaters of other teachers.  And, even worse, we are repeaters of the teachers who say what we want to hear.  (2 Timothy 4:3)

We look to the scriptures to learn about ourselves.  How does this pertain to me, when we should be asking how it pertains to God.

We are no different than many of the churches in the NT days.

And difficult times are still ahead.

2 Timothy 3

But know this: Difficult times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people!

For among them are those who worm their way into households and capture idle women burdened down with sins, led along by a variety of passions, always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth, men who are corrupt in mind, worthless in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress, for their lack of understanding will be clear to all, as theirs[a] was also.

10 But you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance, 11 along with the persecutions and sufferings that came to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from them all. 12 In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 1Evil people and impostors will become worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, 15 and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God[b] and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

We think that this warning in 2 Timothy 3 is about the world alone, but it isn’t.  This was a letter written to the church, about the things happening within the community and within the church.

We… the body of believers…. will become:

Lovers of self.

Lovers of money.

Boastful and proud.

Blasphemers.

Disobedient and Ungrateful.

Unholy, unloving, irreconcilable.

Slanderers, without self control.

Without love of what is good.

Traitors, reckless.

Conceited and lovers of pleasure over God.

We will hold to the form of godliness, but deny it’s power.

We will become so focused on loving people, that we will distance ourselves from The Word.  Or, we will become so legalistic to the Scriptures, that we will distance our selves from the people who need to hear it the most.

The lion doesn’t go after the animals in the pack, he goes after the one who is isolated, alone, and hurt.  Isolated from the body of believers, as we miss corporate worship.  Isolated from our sisters in Christ, as we hold grudges and fight against reconciliation.  Hiding from our family, instead of embracing them.  Isolated from the Word as we become more dependent on what others say about it, versus reading it for ourselves.  Isolated as we become too busy to – pray, study, attend service, fellowship with other believers.

Our “righteous” divisions are isolating ourselves from the greater body.

And we think we are being holy.

That we have some greater knowledge than they do.

That our self gratifying interpretation is better.

We argue with fellow believers instead of loving them.

We have become proud, and our pride is literally festering and manifesting itself in every area of our lives.

And then we wonder why we are not known by our love?

Our love, has been overshadowed.

We have overshadowed Christ, with our own self righteousness.

We want the world to see us, how holy we are, how knowledgeable we are, and how much will live “in accordance to the scriptures”.

But we are told that all of that means nothing, if we don’t have love. (1 Corinthians 13)

Being right, has become more important than love.

If you wonder why no one seems to listen to you, I wonder…

Are you the sound of love?  Or, are you just making noise?

OLD TESTAMENT LESSONS FOR OUR GOOD

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I have been taking classes with Christian Leaders Institute, and I am currently finishing up my Old Testament Survey class.  Before I took this class, I was already in love with the Old Testament.  I actually find it very relatable to the every day struggle we have to do what God has asked of us.  This class has really helped bring to the forefront some points I may have been glossing over.

In the Old Testament, God set out some very specific directions for Israel.  In fact, it couldn’t have been more clearly stated.  It was repeated over and over again.  It was even written down.  For all intents and purposes, there was absolutely NO REASON Israel should have had trouble understanding what was expected of her.  Yet, time and time again, Israel would fall away from those directions and do her own thing.

And, time and time again, God would send someone to set her straight.

To most people, today, they do not see the direction of God very clearly.  In fact, an overwhelming number of prayers revolve around people wanting to understand what God’s will is for their life.  Praying for his plans to be revealed to them, praying for His will to be done in a situation.  And, as Gentile believers, we didn’t get such a specific list of what we should and should be doing as Israel did.  This became a point of conversation at a council meeting amongst the disciples and elders.  They flat out admitted that they couldn’t expect the Gentiles to keep a law, that they couldn’t even keep as God’s chosen people.  So, they went into prayer & came up with a few chosen things.

Even Christ, himself, left us with two commandments.  Love God.  Love one another.

So… what does that mean about all of those rules?  What do we do? How do we follow God?    We are left having to work that out with God, one on one…. daily, hourly… minute by minute, at times.  Thankfully, we do have the Holy Spirit to convict us and guide us.

But, let’s go back to Israel in the Old Testament for a second.  Actually, lets go back to the beginning.

God created everything, including man and woman.  He set out some pretty simple rules.  Tend to the garden. Name the animals.  Have babies.  And, don’t eat from that tree over there… or you will die.  Adam and Eve were not bound to the rules that would eventually be placed upon Israel.  And, the serpent managed to derail them from the most simple set of rules ever given.

They had it easy.  They walked with God.  They didn’t have the weight of sin upon them yet.  They had NO REASON to disobey God.  But, they did.  And, it would cost them & forever changed their relationship with God.  He would no longer walk among them, as he once did.

Over time the burdens on God’s people would grow from this original sin.  And God would continually pick people to step up & save Israel from her own doing.

The world would become so wicked, that the only way to make it better would be to send a flood to wipe away all the evil… save a man and his family, whom God favored.  All evil was wiped away, yet sin remained and flourished, after the flood waters rescinded.

God would hear the cries of his people, enslaved & oppressed, and rise up a man to deliver them from the hands of their captives.  Moses would lead the nation of Israel, making a covenant with God, setting up some very clear directions and expectations.  Yet despite their deliverance from captivity, Israel couldn’t keep it together.  Every time Moses would step away to commune with God, they’d start doing their own thing again.  And even their leader wouldn’t make it to the Promised Land, because of sin.

In the time to follow, when Israel was without a leader or a king, Israel would once again go about doing her own thing.  Each man doing what was right within his own eyes, what made sense to him.  They would fall under oppression and hard times, and God would hear their cries.  He would raise up a judge to bring Israel back into the fold.  But, scripture tells us repeatedly, that as soon as the judge would die, Israel would go back to her old ways.  Doing what seemed right, in their own eyes.  Israel could only keep it together when there was a leader, headship… person of authority, in place.  And even then, they were still messing up some.

Then, when earthly kings were raised up…. sin was still abound.  Even that king, who was a man after God’s own heart, couldn’t follow the rules.  Simple rules, written out, taught by the priests, and with warnings from the prophets.

A theme here in the OT, is Israel’s inability to follow the rules.  But when you look closely, you will notice part of that theme is that they did better when they had a clearly defined leader.  But, as soon as that leader was out of the picture, they couldn’t keep it together.

Fast forward to Nehemiah.  By this point, Israel had really messed up & they were paying the price for it.  They had been taken into captivity into Babylon.  Jerusalem, the city and the temple both, were destroyed.  They were displaced and scattered.  They were breaking all sort of rules from worshiping the gods of the locals, intermarriage with people who were clearly on the “do not marry” list, they were not sacrificing for any sort of atonement, and were once again doing their own thing.  The law was forgotten.  New generations had come, and had no understanding of what God had done for Israel in the past, and what His expectations for them were.  In Ezra we learn that God softened the heart of the Persian King (who was now over Babylon) and allowed Israel to return to it’s city & rebuild it (and the temple), seeking favor from God.  They get there, come up against some opposition and everything stalls.  Then Nehemiah gets wind of what has happened, he is grieved over it, and with the permission of the king, he returns to Jerusalem and takes on the big task of putting it all back together again.  Not just the physical city, but also the people and more importantly spiritually.  They find the Book of Law and share it with the people.  Everyone is reminded of what God had done for Israel, they grieve over their sins, they renew the covenant, and everything looks great.

Then, Nehemiah goes back to the king’s house to do his job.  What happens when Nehemiah leaves?  In short order, it all falls apart.  Once again, without that leader that God raised up…. Israel can’t keep it together.

So…. after all that history lesson (LOL)… how is this relatable to us today?

While we don’t have the same Book of Law that Israel was given, there are some things we do know.

We know that were a supposed to do what is good, noble and true.  We know that we are to be honest, hard workers, ethical and moral.  We know that we are supposed to submit to God, our spouse, etc.

Yet… when the cat is away, the mice will play.

The boss is out of town?  Great, lets toss the required suits and wear jeans and tshirts all week.

Dad isn’t home?  Cool, we can bend some of his rules with the kids… right mom?

Not in church today?  No problem, go right ahead and overcharge your customer.

Teacher is absent?  No big deal, we can skip class or tell the substitute that we were going to watch a movie.

When left to our own devices, when our leadership & authority is out of sight…. we don’t follow rules.

We speed when the cops aren’t looking.

We change or relax the rules when the other parent isn’t home.

We do bare minimum work when our boss isn’t around.

And, we don’t even think twice about it.

Which is exactly why I am glad that the story didn’t end with Nehemiah.  I am so grateful for the New Testament, which gives our stiff necked, wayward selves… HOPE.  Hope that came in the form of a baby, who would walk this earth sinless, yet pay the price for the sins that had already been committed & the MANY yet to come.

When Christ left, we once again began to falter.  In fact, the two rules he left us with… Love God, love others.  We have a hard time just following those.  We are the same today, as Israel of the Old Testament.  Everyone doing their own thing, and what seems right in their own eyes.   And, just like they were waiting for a Messiah then…. we await His return now.

The truth is, we really know what we should be doing.  In many ways, it is simpler for us now (after Christ) than it was for those in the Old and New Testament during his ministry and just after.  The question is, what are you doing about it?  Are you accepting that you’ll never be perfect & making excuses and exceptions to what God wants from you?  Or, do you have an open mind, heart and soul… wholly surrendered and trying to do what God asks of you to the best of your abilities… at all times, not just when others are present?