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Archive for February, 2014

February 22, 2014

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller has served as my favorite book for several years, as it depicts the gracious love of a father, as is God’s for His children.  John Piper also reflects the parable in detail in a sermon entitled “A Tender Word to the Pharisees.”

“The deepest void in the older brother’s heart is that he lived in the house with the father, and he found it quite unsatisfying… He did not love his father, he didn’t love being with him.  The father says, ‘You are always with me…All that is mine, is yours” (Luke 15:11-32).

Despite the son’s independent sense of righteousness, such a gracious gift is offered.

“There is an inheritance for a son, not a slave….Don’t boast on the porch of merit as obedient servant. Come into the family and receive forgiveness from your brother and me.  Yes, you do need it.  Come and celebrate grace.  There you get the inheritance…  Just like the older brother came in from the far country of misery, you come in from the porch of merit… You can stay and get paid the wages of your sin, or you can come in.”

Much like the older brother,”the Pharisees were lovers of money,” meaning deep down beneath their religiosity they idolized money over their faith in the words they studied, taught, and governed (Luke 16:14).

John Piper continues to warn us, “It’s the Father’s word for everyone who is bitter and hard toward sinners.  One of the greatest tests of whether you love mercy is whether you feel mercy toward sinners.  You tell you are a pharisee by whether your heart is moving to woo and rescue sinners, gross sinners OR whether you are disgusted at their behavior.”

It is said that Jesus was most stern with the Pharisees, loving towards the widows and children, welcoming to all who had ears to hear, and emotionally wrecked for those who have yet to hear or reject His Truth.

Today, I am emotionally wrecked, rattled, and inspired by Jesus’ heart to unify ALL of mankind with His glorious love.

Through reflection of Jesus’ life, I find myself clinging to the contrast of David overtaking Jerusalem by force and Jesus walking in peace.  Where the people of God brutally fought for their inheritance,  Jesus provided a way.

Prior to his arrival to Jerusalem, Jesus weeps over the city compromised by political and religious reign over His people.  He says, “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies…will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation” (Luke 19: 41,43).

Did you get that?  Jesus weeps, He weeps for His people.  God’s intentions were to create man in His own likeness.  Although we are born intimately connected to our Creator, the sin of man causes a strain that is only yielded by Jesus’ sacrifice.  Now, Jesus weeps.  He later cries out to God in Heaven, but recognizes His life must be given for the future of His people.  He weeps for the lives of His people.   King of kings, LORD of lords, Ruler of Heaven and earth weeps for us.  He is emotionally connected; He has emotionally invested in His children.  And He weeps.

Before this event, Jesus had spent a supposed three years with His disciples.   Two I wish to note.  The first, Matthew, a tax collector.  A tax collector at this time, was a Jewish man shamed by submitting to Roman rule.  However, after rejecting his own people in pursuit of promised safety and possible riches, it is Matthew who ” invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners” (Matthew 9:10).   The second, chosen for an unknown reason is Judas Iscariot.  The only things written of this disciple are that he was selected to be one of the twelve,  he was bribed by the priests, he looked for the opportunity to betray his Teacher, and he took his own life (Matthew 26 and 27).

Both men were trapped by the temptation of Rome’s material treasures.  However, Matthew found Life in Jesus’ teachings, and Judas found a way to gain more earthly riches.  Matthew was killed delivering Jesus’ Truth to the nations, while Judas killed himself before spreading Jesus’ teachings.

How marvelous would it have been to study under the great Teacher?

Judas missed a great opportunity to serve, be a friend of, and live forever with Jesus.

I, of course find myself awed by God’s craftsmanship:

“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
    Before you were born I set you apart
    and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”

“O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”

The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you.  And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!” Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said,

“Look, I have put my words in your mouth!
Today I appoint you to stand up
    against nations and kingdoms.
Some you must uproot and tear down,
    destroy and overthrow.
Others you must build up
    and plant.”

The beautiful vision God communicated to Jeremiah affirms to each of us, that God has our lives mapped out, but it is our love for Him, faith in Him, and obedience that permits God’s wondrous acts to move through us (Jeremiah 1:5-10).  The Jewish law includes God’s guidance through prophets, but the Great Commission is brought to the disciples by the resurrected Christ, Himself:

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-17).

John is inspired by Jesus to write letters to seven churches (Revelations 1-3).  In recognizing the similarities of our modern cities to that of the church of Ephesus, pastor of Mars Hill Church, Mark Driscoll, convicts servants of man, saying, “If we are doing it for the praise of men and not for the glory of God…then rather than excusing our lethargy, we should repent of our idolatry.”

In a sermon delivered on Jesus’ letter to Smyrna, at the church of Smyrna, Driscoll inspires the church congregation to continue preaching Jesus’ Truth by reminding the people that “He is always present to comfort you, because He has walked the road you are on.  And since He has walked that road for you, inviting Him to walk that road with you, is a great honor.  So do not fear.  They may take your money.  They may take your reputation.  They may take your life. But they cannot take your Jesus.  And if Jesus is who you treasure the most, then the fact that He is always with you and cannot be taken from you is enough.”

My prayer is that it is God that we value most, above all else.  May we be so overcome by God’s grace towards us that we share His loving grace with every man and woman we meet.

Tony Miano says “If we claim to know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and we are not actively engaged in sharing the gospel with those with whom we come in contact, we are sinning against Him and are without excuse.”

With a Turkish translator present, Driscoll added, “For the Christian, this [world] is as close to hell as you will get.  For the non-Christian, this is as close to Heaven as they will get.  Because Jesus died for us, and rose for us.  If we die for Him, we will rise with Him.”

I appreciate that this suffering I feel now makes me rely upon the Lord’s strength, and that I will never know another suffering.  But for the people I know and have not yet met who remain separated from God, I cannot allow myself to miss the opportunity to invite them to meet with God.  No creation of God’s shall be damnable, and yet, history has caused this separation, but God’s plan uses us–me and you–to conquer the earth in Jesus’ name!

“How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”  – Penn Jillette, an atheist comedian, magician, and filmmaker

YOUCH! If we claim God is LOVE, that “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only begotten Son,” so much more shall we offer to give fully in committing to Jesus’ call to make disciples of all the nations.   God detests the evil temptations that lure man, but He greets His children with love, not hate.

So shall we dine with the sinners and tax collectors, place our hands on lepers, offer food to the hungry, AND baptize in the Spirit, bringing salvation to mankind.

May we have the courage.  Peter denied Jesus three times, and yet, Jesus promised “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18).  May we rely on Jesus with faith alone.

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February 19, 2014

Often times in the past I have considered myself a “runner” in regards to settling down in a community, location, or program.  It is apart of my instinctual adventurer’s spirit; however, it also has caused strains on past friendships.

My current job has me working in the homes of families with autistic children.  Since I work in homes, the scheduling permits many awkwardly large gaps of time where I find myself sitting in my car, waiting for the allotted time to arrive.

Tonight I found myself early, as usual, but too early.  Therefore; I chose a podcast to engage my mind while I fed my stomach.  All the while, still sitting in my driver’s seat with the ignition off, lights out.  You’d think I was eager to fellowship with adults by this point.  In addition, my days are spent working with kids, who for the most part are non-verbal.  An extrovert like me should be crying out for communication.

And yet, this time, I sat outside a home hosting my church’s bi-monthly prayer meeting.  Thirty minutes early… by the time the sermon completed (probably my 20th just this week), the meeting had progressed for 15 minutes.  I walked to the door and found it locked, I was late.  Rather than knocking, I found myself walking away, without an ounce of discouragement.

Instead, I found myself in my car, yet again.

God met me rather quickly, of course.  As He insisted I recall the last time I walked out on a church fellowship event, I found myself contemplating my understanding of temporary.

Just last week I submitted two graduate school applications.  One of my references forwarded her letter to me, with intentions I am not too sure of.  However, I found myself encouraged that this woman, who held authority over me in a position of service in kid’s ministry, saw the individual who diligently pursues the Image of Christ.  Do you see the conflict?  In reaching for the future, I was required to focus on the past.  Where am I left in the present?

A few weeks ago I was insisting on seeking deeper relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ; today I walked away from the chance to communicate with God  in an intimate community setting.  In my essays I wrote:

God, the Light of Life, came into the world and began His ministry in His thirties.  During His ministry, He invested fully into the lives of twelve men—eleven who furthered the call.  This concept of studying in deep fellowship is a characteristic I believe Fuller Seminary is able to offer that no other psychology program offers.  Coming out of a season of solitude and deepened dependency upon the Lord, I yearn to speak of God’s presence and characteristics, to question and discuss, to challenge and be challenged by other believers.  My drive is to work for God’s ministry.My hope is to grow alongside other students—of academia, Scripture, and life—who are also seeking after God’s commands first and foremost as they move forward in life.It is my intention to study under professors passionately serving God’s Family through directly servicing family relations in professional and missional work.

I thank God that these are my desires in pursuit of seeking greater knowledge and ability to serve Him as He has planned Our ministry.  However, it is incredibly self-serving and self-neglecting for me to assume a seminary is able to offer me such fellowship and mentorships, but the Christians I walk alongside in my day-to-day life right now are temporary.

Life is temporary. All of it.  This life I am living is temporary.  In this one life I live, there have been and will continue to be several transitional phases in life; however, this does NOT permit me to disregard the works of my present.  God is in pursuit of intimacy with each of His beloved children.  The relationship He so longs for is eternal, a forever-lasting connection.  It will not fade.

If I recognize how temporary this life is, and I recognize this season is extremely short in preparation for the next, how dare I think there is nothing left to learn.

My prayer tonight for myself and anyone who identifies with this distress, is that we cling to God in our present, believing Paul when he wrote, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).  A brother in Christ from my undergraduate studies said it like this, “Be joyful in all He does through you.  Search for the best, pray to be blessed, and let God take care of the rest!”

May we celebrate God’s grace with anyone and everyone who has ears to hear (Matthew 11:15, 13:9).

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February 13, 2014

A compilation of what God has placed on my heart during this season of preparing and applying to graduate studies.  Although these words will not be viewed by the programs, the reflection inspired my pursuit to be directed by God rather than my own intuition.

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Satan consistently brings illness into my life.   He tries to prevent me from completing works glorifying God.  In turn, God graces Himself by inviting me into a season of solitude and rest, a time where His voice renews my Spirit and prepares my being for the proceedings He has planned.  God continues to be victorious, and because of that, I am rarely weary or confused, stressed or saddened, anxious or unaware of the potential impact of God’s presence.  I find it odd that Satan continues to think that damaging my physicality could altar my Spirituality.  Nonetheless, the Spiritual warfare remains prevalent in transitional periods of my life.

 

During this last seven months, five were spent resting.  Nearly two months ago, I began praying, “The little that I have to offer: may it be yours.  May my energy be spent on you.”  Each day that the prayer became increasingly selfless, I became more disciplined.  Partnered with the discipline came opportunities to worship God through fellowship and service.  The infection may still reside within me, but God has healed me from the symptoms.  He is greater than any blockade the enemy prepares in battle.   He is the great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14).   I AM is the name of God of which I have called out in praise and questioning during this time of rest.  For He has remained present, aware, and all-knowing.   God’s armor and compassion are the two characteristics He brought me deeper in understanding of and need for as He leads me into the world of broken families, abused individuals, and lonely victims.  God’s command is to make disciples of the nations, but the Spirit in my heart cries for those clueless of God’s presence in their hardships.  

 

It is for this very reason, the call upon my heart that my life’s actions continue to defy human expectation.  God’s favor allows me to love a suicidal caller without being burdened by the threat.  His grace provides comfort and peace, the ability to empathize, while probing for the factors that cause an individual’s ambivalence.  God uses individuals who Satan has reduced to bare minimum, and through a process of invitation and purification, God redeems the lost and is glorified by the fruits to come of their new identity.  As God called down to Jacob and said, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name” (Genesis 35:10), He also transformed Saul into Paul (Acts 13:9), and He continues to remodel men and women today, giving them new hearts (Ezekiel 36:26).

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Having grown up in an emotionally abusive home, I seek to glorify God, by “beginning within our own families and then reaching out to a suffering humanity that needs to embrace His love and sacrifice.” I grew up admiring my grandparents’ servant hearts and compassion for one another.  However, after their passing, I sought out a Family in God, one that never ceases to exist.

Before I knew God was in me, He allowed for me to experience a dysfunctional family.  Then, He brought me on an adventure around the world–Europe, Middle East, Central America, and Canada. Together we were welcomed for dinner at family homes, listened to the heartbreak of Hungarians stuck in a post-Communist state, danced with Greeks, feasted with Orthodox Jews, drank tea and strolled with a Scottish church congregation, were humbled by a cancer-stricken man’s encouragement, and hopped around the red rocks of Petra with local Bedouins.  God brought me on an adventure, and in Him, I never feared the unknown. Jumping on a train, to a booked hostel, and no other connections became a habit of Ours, and in each destination I saw God in the face of strangers.

He has shown me through my own family how families fail to love one another.  He journeyed overseas with me to show me traditional family values in nations following cultural traditions from before Jesus, during Jesus, and in Jesus.  Now, I seek to know how a family is built in and through Jesus’ kind love. I look forward to studying under couples dedicated to becoming one through His gracious love.  Traveling with the Lord as my best friend was a true delight; however, I am prepared to enter a season of fruitful fellowship. God graced me with a vision of Our future ministry. I am now seeking His preparations.

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Each time I experience a sense of self-forgetfulness, as explained by Tim Keller, I feel increasingly aware of the depths I have yet to know.  It is as Socrates stated, “As for me, I know that I know nothing.”  I am one who is deeply grieved to call myself an expert of any one thing.  As a Behavioral Therapist I am labeled an expert, paid to enter the homes of clients, to strengthen the interpersonal abilities among other behavioral and mental skills.   However, I express joy at the mere thought of one day delivering my dissertation, presenting a collaboration of studies, theories, and newly established conclusions, of being the expert for a day.

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