Friday, January 27, 2017

it's not easy

I don't think it was ever supposed to be easy. Following Jesus and surrendering all, I mean. Life is hard, the daily battle against the enemy is waging all around us, and I seem to be stuck in the crossfire. There is chaos all around and sometimes it just overwhelms me. There's the temptation to give in to the enemy, to bow down to my flesh, to let stress and anxiety reign. After all, the voice shouts, you deserve it. To give in. Let go of these unrealistic expectations of joy in the midst of this craziness. Put your confidence in the fact that you can't do it...give in to fear. Don't believe. Don't surrender those dreams to Jesus...He'll fail you!  I'm given a choice. I can listen to the voice of doubt. Or, I can believe that the Word of God is for right now. That Jesus died for this moment. That everything I choose to surrender to Him is better left in His capable hands. 

It's never easy, I think, doing the right thing. It's full of challenges. It's an uphill climb. A swim upstream. But it's worth it. Because in the midst of the chaos, the confusion, the potential for stress and anxiety and fear, Jesus is there. I see Him next to me. There's light at the end of the tunnel. I know that there is a joy set before me: it's Him. He is my reward. My joy. My strength. It's not about me. It's not about my fears, my dreams, my aspirations. There's difficulty in giving everything to Jesus, but oh, it's worth it. Because He's worth it. 

Oh, may my eyes be ever fixed upon the Lord. He is my portion, my reward. Anything and everything is worth going through in order to obtain Him. I surrender all. I believe in the Word of God – I put 100% of my confidence in Him. 

He's worth it. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

seek first the kingdom

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; that which when a man has found, he hides, and for joy thereof goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of Heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it."
-Matthew 13:44-46

"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."

-Matthew 6:33

I've been reading in Matthew the last couple of mornings, and haven't really been able to get past this passage right here. There's something about it that (though it's a simple two verses) is captivating, demanding, and exhilarating. I've been thinking a lot about Jesus lately. What's He's done for me, for you, for us. He gave His life for mine. But even more than that, I've been thinking about how I respond. How should one respond to the Gospel? I know for many of us we take it in stride and add it to our list of things we know, or put it on the shelf of great historical events. But the more I've been seeing Jesus – really seeing Him, digging into His Word and walking with Him throughout the day, the more I'm realizing that there is only one of two options that one can choose in response to the Gospel. It's take it or leave it.  A person can hear of what God has done for them and leave it, wether they 'believe' it or not. A person can hear of what God has done for them, see Jesus for who He is, and surrender everything. But there's no half-surrender. If there is, it doesn't matter. Jesus says he would rather have us be hot or cold (Rev 3:15).

I've been thinking about the parable Jesus gives us about the Kingdom in Matthew 13. At first glance it seems like a beautiful picture of two men finding these great treasures and giving everything for it, and they lived happily ever after with no consequences of their actions. As I've been looking at these parades, it's begun to hit me just how seriously they took this treasure. Think about it. The man in the field found a treasure that no one else knew about. Imagine him, excited, running home and beginning to gather everything together to sell it off. Who would've thought he was crazy? He most likely lost his good reputation with his family, his friends, the business world. After all, he just risked it all after a field...but what did he gain? The greatest treasure there was. He was willing to lose it all because he saw the worth of what he had found.

The merchant man found the greatest pearl he had ever beheld. What did he do? After recognizing its worth, he gave up everything he had for it. He didn't give half of what he had, he realized that in order to truly possess this treasure he had to pay full price for it. So what if those around him didn't recognize the value of the pearl? Would that be enough to dissuade him from forsaking everything for this treasure? No, because the opinion of those who didn't know could not dissuade him. He had seen that which cost everything and was willing to give it all in order to obtain it. 

 There was no question about the price of the prize for either of these men. They saw something that they knew would cost them all they had, but they were willing to lay down everything. Why? They knew the worth and value of that which they wished to obtain. This parable is compared to the Kingdom of Heaven. This is where the words of my Jesus hit me: if I want to follow Jesus I have to give everything. But before that, I must see Him for who He is. It begs the question, and it's one I've been asking myself this past week. What is Jesus worth to me? Whatever I see Him as will determine the extent of my surrender. I cannot serve God and mammon (Luke 16:13). I cannot follow Jesus without forsaking everything (Luke 14:33). I must pour out my most prized and precious possessions out in order to receive Him (Mark 14:3). This is a no-compromise, serve-one, sacrifice everything Gospel. But its not for the sake of giving stuff up. No, this is in order to receive the GREATEST treasure we could ever have! 

This is a challenge to my soul this morning, but I think I'm going to take it. I'm called to seek first the Kingdom of God, and I can't do that unless I really see who Jesus is. He's everything to me. What is Jesus worth to me? What am I going to give to seek Him first?

"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."
[Matthew 6:33]

Saturday, January 14, 2017

keep my soul.

"Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life."
                                                                                                           -Deuteronomy 4:9a


I've been think a lot on what it means to "keep my soul". As I was reading in Deuteronomy (as part of my study on worship...I might share some thoughts on that soon!) this morning, I couldn't help but be drawn back to this passage. Chapter four is right before Moses gives the children of Israel the Ten Commandments, and this is near the start of his book-long speech. Moses reviews what the Israelites have experienced by the hand of God, their Ultimate Provider and Deliverer, and then commands them with this. Take care, and keep your soul. What does this even mean? What's the importance of it? Later in this same chapter he commands it again...what's the big deal?

The Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy 4:9 is shamar, and it's used three times. It means this:
  • to keep, guard, take heed
  • to keep, have charge of
  • to guard, keep watch and ward, protect
  • to keep, retain, treasure up
  • to restrain
  • to observe, celebrate, keep
  • to preserve and protect
  • to be kept, be guarded
  • to keep, pay heed
  • to keep oneself from
  • to keep, to watch, as a garden
This word is used where we put "take care" and "keep".  We're commanded to do this same thing twice in order to steward our most precious possession: the soul God has granted us. As CS Lewis says, "You don't have a soul. You are a soul – you have a body." This is who we are. It's what sets us apart from other creatures. It is what the Son of God sacrificed His life for. We are commanded to guard this gift diligently. The life that has been bestowed upon us is able to be taken away – why else would we need to guard it, keep it, protect it? Shamar is an offensive verb (not offensive in the meaning of offending somebody...offensive with the meaning 'opposite of defensive' ;). There's action, steps taken forward. The guard and watchman of this citadel is not passively standing by. He (or she) is actively on guard, watching for any movement of the enemy to attack the fortress. Anything that would come against it is not welcome...it's shot down and destroyed. There is no place for anything but light and life in this castle. This is the proper perspective I need to obtain in regards to my soul.

If I am commanded to 'keep my soul', what should I be doing? If I'm guarding this treasure, what should I do to protect it? Paul, in Philippians, says to "set your mind on things above." My eyes and my ears are two major input areas that I need to have a watch on...if my mind is the control center of my body, why wouldn't I watch what comes in? The words I read, the images I set before me, the music or preaching I listen to, or the very thoughts planted in my head; what do I do with them? What I set before me is what I am going to imitate. What map I stare at is the road I am going to take. What am I doing with every thought? With every spare minute? Sure, it might not be bad, per se, but I'm on mission. All the time, I am on assignment from Jesus Christ. I've been commissioned with the task of building the Kingdom of God here on earth. There is nothing more important than that. How can a Kingdom be built strong if the builders are not equipped? How do we become equipped? By submitting ourselves to King Jesus and setting Him before our eyes. This isn't easy, folks, but it's worth it. The best things are. 

This morning Jesus began to point out two things for me to begin to apply in my life more so than I already have been. As I've pondered it today, I'm beginning to see that this is critical, at least for me.
  • Be watchful over every bit of input in my life. Movies, media, thoughts, words...what's the ratio of Jesus to  ?? .  Be watchful, be guarded, be vigilant. 
  • Set Jesus ever before your eyes. Make Him your first priority – He is what remains after all else is gone.
How I wish I could tell you that I've got this down, that Jesus is all I ever think about, hear about, watch, or speak about. I wish I could tell you that this is written from the perspective of one who has been perfected and that lives this out perfectly. I'm not. But (what grace!) I know One who is, and this is the One who has commissioned us to. He gives the greatest gift – Holy Spirit – and enables us to live as He did because it's Him doing the work. What a Jesus! May we continue to set Him ever before us, and keep Him front and center. My prayer for you and I both is that Jesus, and only Jesus, might be everything.

Friday, January 6, 2017

far above.

"...which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but in the age which is to come, and has put all things under His feet..."
-Ephesians 1:20-22a

The power of God is a mighty thing. It is intensely beautiful to behold: ocean waters parting, water becoming wine, a lame man leaping, blind eyes seeing, a lost soul saved. The power of God is a vehicle through which we see the majestic grandness of our God. Every act of power from the throne room of grace is a picture of how worthy and holy He truly is. It's amazing just how powerful God really is, and I don't think we've even seen close to the fullness of it. In the passage above, Paul has just finished talking about the mighty power of God, which He worked in Christ. Before I get into what He did when He worked in Christ, I want to take a moment to look at the Greek word for worked. It's the word

energeō [verb]
  • to be operative, be at work, put forth power
  • to work for the aid of one
  • to effect
  • to display one's activity, to show oneself operative 
  • to be effectual
To take this word at face value, it's an effort. Whoever is energeō-ing is literally working. It's an operation, an activity, a force. There's a physical aspect to this. "Worked" is the action verb of the subject "His mighty power" in verse 19.  His power (the same power that is exceedingly toward us who believe) is the power that God uses to raise Jesus from the dead. That's some serious power! Think about what that takes for a minute. Also, this power seated Jesus at the right hand of the throne of God in heavenly places. That's a doozy. So yeah, you've whipped up enough strength, power, and might to raise somebody to life, but I'd like to see you do this. It's insane, but it's God. So what is this heavenly place? Where is Jesus, exactly? Where is His position? 

heavenly places: epouranios [adjective]
  • existing in heaven
  • things that take place in heaven
  • heaven itself, the abode of God and angels
  • of heavenly origin or nature
This is literally talking about heaven. This is where the actual throne room of grace is located. The actual Holy of Holies is in this place...this is where Jesus is. He is seated in heaven. Not some made up galaxy, but heaven. The home of God and angels. Only Light, no darkness. He's there at the right hand of God [the right hand is a symbol for a place of honor or authority]. Next Paul says that Jesus is above five things: principalities, powers, might, dominion, and every name that is named. Out of all my studying this week, this part was probably my biggest highlight. The Lord spoke so mightily to me through this.

principality: archē [noun]
  • beginning, origin
  • the person or thing that commences, the first person or thing in a series, a leader
  • that by which anything begins to be
  • the extremity of a thing
  • the first place, principality, rule, magistracy
  • angels and demons
He's above anything that begins to be. He's above spiritual powers. He's above Satan.

power: exousia [noun]
  • power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases
  • physical and mental power
  • the power of authority (influence) and right (privilege)
  • the power of rule and government
He's above the governments and authorities of this world. He's above people's choices. 

might: dynamic [noun]
  • strength, power, ability
He's above the physical and spiritual strength of darkness. He's above the ability of you and I, and He's above the ability of the forces of hell to take Him down.

dominion: kyriotēs [noun] 
  • dominion, power, lordship
He is above every earthly lord, leader, tyrant, and king. He's above every authority that is in control.

Finally, Jesus is above every name that is named, in heaven and on earth, in this world and in that which is to come. Think of a name, any name. Was it the name of a person? Maybe it was of a disease. Was it a company? A protest? A movement? JESUS IS ABOVE IT. He is above every
lover
dictator
husband
wife
child
friend
pastor
president
employee
employer
disease
cure
problem
insecurity 
disorder
protest
movement
system
agenda 
etc.

He's above it ALL. He's over the Western Church, the LGBTQ movement, the abortion industry! He's over cancer, diabetes, endometriosis! Our God is powerful! I want to jump into chapter two really quickly to point out a verse that's hit me hard. Ephesians 2:5-6 says this:

"Even when we were yet dead in sins, made us alive together with Christ (by grave you are saved), and has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus."

Guys, this is us. We are the Body of Jesus Christ. We are those seated IN HIM. We are in these same heavenly places. Our location is His location, because we are in Him! Don't you see? The issues we struggle with, we fight for, we cry over...it's in the hands of the One we find ourselves in! The enemy is no longer above us, in control over us, and we are no longer his puppets. If we find our position in Christ, our feet are over every principality, power, might, and dominion! We are in the One who is above every name that is named! This is the Gospel! There is no other option but to praise Jesus and thank Him for this salvation. This isn't just a salvation from an eternity in hell, folks, it's a salvation from the day-in, day-out defeats and compromises! It's a salvation from you! We don't have to live under the thumb of oppression any longer! We are free in Jesus when we are seated in Him! We have the authority, in Christ, to command the enemy to flee. We have to strength and power, in Christ, to resist the devil! We have the power of God at our disposal, because we have surrendered every bit of us to the One who does it all. Gone should be the days of defeated living. Today is the day to awake to the truth of the Gospel, to the reality of who we are in Jesus! We don't have to live the way we've been living, people! It's called Christianity, and it's the biggest victory we'll ever walk in. He has clothed you with the garments of salvation. He has covered you with His robe of righteousness. He has given you His armor. He has made a way to live as He has. 

 Church, let's get in Christ.