Missing it

I spend time with a variety of people.  My work offers connection to people of different ages, background, family, ideas, hopes, ambitions, and so on.  Through this unusual fellowship I am given access to the deep things of life, experiences reaching back further than my own years,  the goals, failures, and successes of children and the aged alike.  

 

An older man was talking to me about flying for the first time.  He was a young boy excited to be flying with his family.  The airport was a small rectangle building with little amenity.  Although he was a bit nervous, flying on a plane was thrilling.  The plane was visible from the ticket counter and as his parents finished the transaction his dad stopped by a small machine.  He put in .50 cents and the machine issued a $10,000 life insurance policy if the plane crashed.  Enthusiasm was soon tempered by the possibility the plane was unsafe.  The room seemed a bit smaller and unsure.  He heard in the distance someone mention terminal and he was sure it was about him.  Seeing the look of worry on his son’s face, his father bent down and comforted him, “Every trip is dangerous.  We prepare best we can, but we will not miss this trip.” 

 

After telling me about one of his earliest memories, the old man said, “I was filled with a sense of danger.  But the fear of crashing was less than my fear of missing the trip, and being left behind.  If my dad took me, he would keep me safe.”

 

Life is full of danger.  There are distractions, situations, and circumstances that overwhelm us daily.  Nothing is safe.  But you are not alone.  There are several passages that illustrate the dangers of life and the security of walking with God.  1 Timothy 4 reminds us each how to move through life preparing, growing, and maturing.  “These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity… Do not neglect the gift that is in you…”  Growing and developing how we speak, our conduct, love, faith, and purity is only an option.  The warning suggests you can neglect it.  Although the trip may be dangerous, not going is even more frightful.

 

I am convinced our church, community, and world are at a crossroads.  We feel there is a goal ahead but the trip seems dangerous and choosing one way or another limits our options, so we wait but time presses on.  The inaction produces frustration and like being stuck in an airport, everyone else is moving nearer and nearer towards their goal while we receive more and more troubling information.

 

In the opening of 1 Timothy 4, Paul says, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…”  You can put your trust in the wrong information, you can get stuck, you can miss the trip.  Or…  Or you can trust in the Father to take you where He would have you, you can lift up the awe inspiring work of our Lord Jesus, and you can rely on the Holy Spirit to empower you.  The dangers are real, but the living God is making things right.  Are you going with Him?

Fast Food

I eat fast food for a couple of reasons. It is inexpensive, sometimes tasty, and, of course, fast food is fast. The convenience may be its greatest attribute. I can drive through any chain and in mere moments have a cheese burger in my hand in no less than ten minutes. As I drive away unbuckling my seat belt to shuffle the cell phone, burger, fries, adjust the car radio, and dodge better drivers, I find some time to contemplate my newsletter article. May I decon- struct the value of fast food for a moment and see if it applies to our day to day Christian walk?

Inexpensive: Sure, the $1 menu seems cheap. But only for the moment. If we add to that $1 all of the other things that come with a cheap meal, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease... Suddenly, the $1 doesn’t seem like such a value. Our spiritual lives are not different. Quick and fleeting experiences are no match for deliberate, passionate preparation. Satisfying relationships are impossible without deep connections, intentional effort, and sacrificial love. There are no shortcuts to a satisfying life. It takes work. Anything of value, whether spiritual or tangible, takes time and energy. There are no end runs. Far too many of our relation- ships are fast food, when what we desire is a satisfying meal.

Sometimes Tasty: I agree that the pungent flavor of sugar and salt taste good for a moment, but does it last? The strange film that lingers after the meal, a weird reminder of the chintzy investment made, coats your mouth and diminishes the taste of any meal that follows. The unpredictable taste and the lasting regret should prevent us from returning, yet it rarely does. The acracy speaks volumes to the spiritual quick fix. We give ourselves over to self-help books, fads, or trivial stopgaps and though it leaves a lingering insufficiency, an insipid film, we return again and again to more pablum, ignoring the sufficient God that is nearer

than any of us could imagine. How near is the grocery store to your favorite fast food? How much food is in your house that only needs the work of preparation? If you don’t act quickly the food that is already in your house, already bought, already delicious, spoils and what would once sustain and satisfy is thrown out.

Fast: Fast food is fast. For example, the order taker should have the order taken and paid for in 30 seconds. The grill should have the sandwich made in 45 seconds (which starts at the time the order taker begins taking the order). Runner has 17 sec- onds to assemble the order (sandwiches, fries, etc... on a tray or in a bag). The customer (on front counter) should never wait longer than 90 seconds. That’s right, 90 seconds. And if it is one moment late we harrumph. With that hurried pace set we consume the food with equal urgency and almost immediately feel remorseful. May I suggest that the hurry and anxiety of rushing causes us to miss table fellowship. The dinner table is a place of connection, fellowship, brokenness, and Blessing. Once that is understood, nothing should keep you from a deliberate, meal together.

In a hurry to watch a new show? In a rush to get somewhere? Have to get work done? Need to check FaceBook or the weather in Albania? These are the distractions the enemy uses to keep us from the table. 90 seconds to order, 5 minutes to consume, and the only gains are negative. Sharing a deliberate, patient meal nourishes the family.
A nourished family can carry you through dark days. A nourished family can help bear the burdens of life.

We are weakest when we are isolated. Knowing our weakness, God provided us family. How are you nourishing yours?

Anthony

In The Wilderness

We like to think we’ve all been there. We associate our hard times with the hard times of theprophets of old. Our experiences often seem so dire that either God has forsaken us or He doesn't care. Sometimes we can see the ground drying up before our eyes as the spiritual drought soaks up every bit of energy we have left. We pray for rain. We long for something, anything refreshing. What if in these moments of being spiritually stuck we’re wearing ourselves out from holding back? Not that we don’t log enough hours in service. No thats not it. It’s not that we lack sincere effort in helping others. We have given plenty out of our own efforts. But what if while straining to hear God’s voice we are sticking our fingers in our ears? 

I have had ups and downs in my own life. Slumps that have brought me to the brink of destruction. Many people have experienced times of hurts and times of fear. We’ve all faced giants in some way or another. But before we faced our giant, before we decide that our own Goliath is calling us out to battle, have we spent time in the meadow? Have we battled the lions and the bears that have went after our sheep? I believe every thing we experience in life can lead to an opportunity to understand more of who God is and who I am if we listen for that still small voice. I’m afraid the reason my own problems have come in cycles is due to my inability to listen and to act. What if God has been trying to prepare you for something so great that if it were four thousand years ago it would make the pages of scripture? What if God desires that all of His children gain His perspective? I’m starting to see more and more in my life and in the lives of others that God is trying desperately to grab our attention. If we but seek Him then all of our woes would have a purpose. 

The children of Israel had their wilderness experience due to disobedience. Why was The Son of Man “driven” into the wilderness? Why did the greatest man to ever live, John the Baptist, have to spend time isolated in the wilderness? This seems to be a reoccurring theme throughout the Bible. Many wilderness experiences but often for various reasons. I don’t think that anyone can argue that Jesus was driven to the wilderness due to disobedience. Nor could anyone make an argument that David was sent to the lonely fields for a punishment. There is no case in the Bible of God sending anyone anywhere for a punitive purpose. Jonah wasn’t sent to Nineveh because he had made bad decisions. God had a purpose for sending Jonah. God had a purpose for the 40 years Israel spent wondering about in the desert. God had good reason to drive Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days. Somehow God even used the situation of Joseph being sold into slavery to save His people. The reason in all these cases may vary but the purpose remains the same. Redemption. 

Is it fair to associate our experiences in the wilderness to the people from the Bible? I think so but you must also ask, “If I am here, then why?”. The answer can be summed up in two ways, the redemption of your soul or the redemptive acts that God is preparing you to do. In either outcome the solution to finding our way back is found in seeking God’s face. Ask any Christian why Christ had to die and they’ll tell you for the forgiveness of sins. That’s a correct answer but it is an incomplete answer. Jesus was crucified and resurrected for the sins of the world because The Father longed to make us His own. The entire plan from the beginning was to reconcile mankind unto Himself. If you are in good standings with your spouse do you talk to them once a day? Would that type of interaction suffice to build a long-lasting relationship? You may have said the vows and intended to keep them but does your past intentions out weigh your current actions? In the case of a husband ignoring his wife or a wife ignoring her husband in this way what do you think the inevitable result will be? Divorce. That isn't a pleasant word. Now take this same relationship principle and apply it to a God who has spared nothing to reconcile you unto Himself. As this picture develops in your mind imagine a desperate man trying everything to rekindle his relationship with his wife. But the wife has grown cold and is no longer interested. Can you imagine the heartache the husband would feel? To what lengths would the husband go to win back the affection of his wife? Now what is the reason for your wilderness? 

Until we learn how much God loves us, and apply that knowledge to our lives in every aspect, we may continue to repeat the mistakes that have driven us away from God. God loves you deeply. And every moment of your waking life, the good moments and the bad, He has been there with you. You see, God never left anyone alone in the wilderness. For disobedient Israel He was still very present. They hadn't arrived at their intended target but God never left them. In fact he still provided, even in the wilderness, all provisions necessary in order to sustain His children. If God worked this way on a macro level with His chosen people what would make you believe that He would deal with the individual differently? All things that you have needed God has provided proleptically in His infinite wisdom. He knew what you would need even before you asked Him for it. All the while God has been preparing you for a determined purpose. In order for any of us to fulfill that purpose it will require us to become one with His Son just as The Son was one with The Father.

“I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me.” John 17:20,21

Until we get to the point that we realize every thing God wants us to do hinges on us drawing closer to Him we’ll repeat our experiences. When we lose sight of The Lord, when we stop seeking first The Kingdom of God and His righteousness we’ll find ourselves in a pattern of disappointment. When we find ourselves in the wilderness, for disobedience or for equipping, it’s always in the same method. We find that all handicaps have been subtracted and we are forced to rely wholly on Him. And when we rely solely on Him we become one with The Divine. God answers His children in times of distress. The problem is sometimes as His children we wait until distress to call on Him. When our perspective of whatever situation we find ourselvesin is one of an eager pupil we develop the very perspective of God. As James reminds us, “My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.”

The wilderness is an opportunity for us to mature in our faith. The experiences that we have when we are cashed out of all other resources other then God bring us closer to Him and nearer to who He wants us to be. We are not sent to the wilderness out of spite. We are brought to the wilderness so that we can be removed from all distractions and be completely dependent on Him. When we don’t get it the first time He is gracious enough to take us back again. When we are being prepared for a mighty work sometimes He uses the wilderness to prepare us. Either way praise God that He is willing to lead us to a place that is closer to Him. Once we are purged of ourselves we can give to others out of the efforts of God. We are then cleansed and consecrated for a Holy purpose and given the authority of Heaven through the Spirit of God.

Manny Elswick

Energy

Energy drink sales in 2012 totaled well over 12 billion dollars and the number continues to rise.  Without making too much over the health of energy drinks or the fact that most of the consumers are men between the ages of 13 and 35, why do we consume so many energy drinks?  How tired are we?

 

Pulled in a variety of directions, people struggle to keep up with the hectic pace of work, family, kids, sports, politics, news…  everything.  As the demands of life pull we seek a way to maintain the stride.  A quick fix seems to be an efficient option and gradually it becomes the only option.  With diminishing returns the pattern becomes an addiction in more than one way.  Painfully, the chemical dependency is secondary to the addiction of the quickness of the fix.  Everything requiring focus and determination becomes a hassle.  Responsibilities turn into burdens, conversations become noise, and work becomes fruitless. 

 

Haggai 1:6

You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

 

We are spread too thin and focused on strange things.  Is it not interesting that the best way to improve energy is to do something active? Most people think that lying on the couch will help regain energy.  After three hours of TV/ computer do you feel anything other than tired?  Passive activities will make you feel as tired as being busy without a goal.

 

Passive faith, without focus is equally fruitless.  Our faith is meant to be utilized in everyday situations, growth, relationships, work, play… everything.  Looking only to a sermon or motivational speech to maintain a daily walk of faith is as affective as the energy drinks.  Eventually there will be a crash.  Active faith requires more than a Sunday sermon.  Active faith reaches into our lives and transforms all things to which it is applied.  Focusing that active faith causes substantial changes in our lives, relationships, and worship.

 

Paul closes 2 Corinthians like this:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!  I hope you will find out that we have not failed.  But we pray God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed.  For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.  For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. What we pray for is your improvement. I write this while I am away from you, in order that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority which the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down. 

 

There is no reliable quick fix.

 

Anthony

New Life

People struggle.

In spite of our cultural and technological advancements, many people struggle with disappointment, depression, and despair. Every person regardless of position, power, or pedigree struggles. Many Christians I know struggle with problems they are afraid to share with their Christian sisters and brothers. They fear exposure will produce ridicule or rejection. This reluctance turns spiritual community into a shell game where members hide their flaws. The struggle we all feel becomes like an untreated wound. More isolation leads to more struggle.

There are parts of our lives that we need to wrestle and subdue. There are parts of a believer that must be honed, shaped, and cut away. Just as there are parts that need to be encouraged, built upon, and added to. Each of us has unconquered demons. None of us are finished products. We need something more to complete us. A group of believers building one another up and correcting one another is a powerful and transformative force that God uses with frequency.

I am not talking about church attendance, though that is important. I am talking about a connection with others, a communion of sharing, compassion, edification, and discipleship. A small collection of struggling people moving ever closer to God, shaping decisions based on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and leading lives more and more in line with Jesus, transforms every struggle into Godly growth.

The function of connecting like this is to take our struggle and apply prayer to each situation. For years I thought that prayer should be part of my life. I was wrong. The more I learn about prayer the more I realize it is to be the center of my life. The more I learn about prayer, the more I am convinced life itself flows out of prayer. Deeper, clearer understanding of the nature of prayer moves me to bring God to my struggle and to the struggles of our world. Intercession, that is to bring an all sufficient God to meet the needs of a struggling, insufficient person, a broken situation, or monstrous circumstances, is the goal. There is hope. God is not finished. He is looking for someone to change His circumstances.

Despair is presumptuous. It assumes that the sun will not come up tomorrow and even if it does, it will not be felt. None of us knows enough about the future to be hopeless. We are reminded of hope in faith, fellowship, and friendship. Isolation and despair only add to our struggle.

Easter is coming quickly. Spring and the last bits of snow are melting away. Even now there are strongholds in your life that you have long struggled with. As we each seek the hope that Spring brings we begin to see the old habits melt away, yet they linger. We pray out of our need. God prays for us out of His abundance. He is praying for you. Bringing resurrection power to cold dead parts of your struggle. Honestly bringing your struggle to the Lord, interceding as if God is not finished, and connecting with a group of believers to glorify Him, will bring new life. (John 12:27)

Anthony

Good Grief

Serving God is simpler when things are going well.  When things go poorly, situations and circumstances overwhelm, and life becomes more broken than whole, serving God becomes much more complex.  Dark times come.  How we reconcile  dark times with the God of light, life, and love are the beginnings of true discipleship. 

God is not the author of evil.  Sickness, poverty, war, death… are a direct result of the bent nature of this world.  These  broad problems often find their way into our lives specifically through loss, pain, isolation, malaise, depression, fear… The God of the Bible is pure light and holy love.  In Him there is no darkness.  God is not the problem.  God is the solution.   

Job says, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.”  That passage has hung in my mind during difficult times.  But focusing on that passage in isolation is a mistake.  God did not say that.  In fact, it is an ill informed Job that says it.  Before his enlightenment, before God speaks, before understanding, Job ignorantly blames his problems on God.  Job 1 reminds us that it is Satan that takes Job’s wealth, children, and health.  God’s will was for good and not harm.   

We cling tightly to Romans 8:28 and realize that our world is broken and our God is good.  Always.  In every situation. God is life, light, and love.  Death, darkness, and evil are not from God.  Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  If our theology becomes twisted and we think God creates evil, the end result is despair and, left to find its end, death.  Bad theology affects every aspect of our lives and ultimately takes us to a dark and desperate place. 

I should also add that God does not want us to pretend that bad things are good.  Trying to be stoic in the face of grief is neither authentic nor helpful.  There are terrible situations in life that need to be acknowledged so that they can be dealt with.  We hurt.  Amid brokenness and struggle, in the thick of pain and loss, we weep.  Recognizing agony, sin, loss of potential, and grief honestly is to share in the same suffering of Christ.  Jesus did not pretend bad things were good.  We are to be no different.  There are people suffering even now.  Creating a false understanding of suffering is evil.  We do not suffer without Hope.  God is working even now to bring more of Heaven into this damaged world.  There is overlap.  God’s kingdom is here even now.  It is not fully here, but it is also very much here.  Because the Kingdom of God is present we are able to do incredible things. “Though outwardly we are wasting away,” says Paul, “yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).  There is an overlap.  Honest evaluation of our situation met with God’s hope for transformation leads to Kingdom principles.  So in many ways we struggle, but we do not do so without hope.  Our God is sufficient.  His adequacy meets our inadequacy. 

God’s plan is for us to imitate Christ.  Intervening where there is injustice, interceding where there is need, and infusing every dying situation with hope.  God’s yes is greater than death’s no. 

 

Anthony 

 

New Year

2015 is finished. How did you do?

Typically, I create a list of gains and loss- es, record them, assess the knowledge, and do the same exactly the same thing the next year. Measuring out successes, victories, failures, and defeats of 2015, I find myself more and more trying to define what good the information does me. Recording the information helps me very little if there is not significant course correction. Knowledge does me little good if there is no wisdom.

Our record keeping devices, computers, phones, and even watches are forever improving to create a precise digital log filled with terrific amounts of knowledge. It is unsettling to recognize the amounts of personal information stored on our devices, yet we still passionately use them. The sheer volume of data should enhance our understanding of our true self. Instead we passively look at the information in a strange and disregarding manner and shrug it off. The width of knowledge grows moment by moment and without using wisdom to gain depth of who we are, the whole of life becomes painfully predictable.

In 2016 I pray that God’s Will be my dream. I am ready to walk with Him in new ways and where there has been failure and brokenness I am asking for victory and wholeness. When we approach the new year with a desire to be in the pres- ence of God, He responds in profound ways.

I am reminded of a battle in 2 Chronicles where the Israelites are devastatingly out numbered and it seems that everything is at an end:

“... For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You ... Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel ... thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s ... You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!” Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12-17)

God is at work even now. He is going ahead of you and fighting battles. This next year can be a repeat of the year before. We can be negligent with the knowledge we have been given. Or we can position ourselves against the waring enemy. Taking overwhelming situations and circumstances to our Lord and letting Him fight the battles ahead of us. Eliminating fear and anxiety, and moving against the dangerous enemy that sur- rounds us, we can have victory and have it even now.

Or we can do the same thing we did last year.

2016 has begun.

Anthony