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Archive for the tag “Christian”

Freedom of Captivity

What do you think of when you hear the name Paul from the Bible?

Many think of the world’s greatest missionary or the world’s greatest evangelist. Others think of the guy that wrote most of the New Testament. Still others think about a Pharisee turned Christian.

But Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, wants us to remember that Paul was imprisoned just as much as he wants us to know he planted a lot of churches. Almost 25% the book is devoted to Paul’s final arrest and imprisonment. If you add all of the information about Paul’s issues in Philippi then you have almost a third of the book dedicated to Paul’s legal problems.

Luke explains, in Luke 21:12 that Jesus prophesied that His people would be imprisoned for their evangelistic efforts.

Luke 21:12 – But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and …

Later, in the book of Acts, Luke shows us the fulfillment of this prophecy. Paul was not only one of those who were imprisoned, but he was done so because of Jesus’ call in his life: to both carry Jesus’ name to the Gentiles and Jews and to suffer for Christ. Paul’s ministry would not only be far-reaching, but it would be filled with suffering.

So, in Paul’s time, why were people imprisoned? There were really several reasons: to protect them from being hurt, to stop them from running away, to hold them while awaiting a trial or execution, or to force them to help in a judicial case.

Unfortunately, the prison system was very backed up and people would be imprisoned for long periods of time. Defendants were put into custody based on their charge. It was also based on the social status of the person. So, for example, if someone murdered another person, that would be serious. But if someone had a low status a lesser crime could be seen as serious.

If a Roman citizen was a high-status offender, they would be treated better than those who had a low status or were not citizens. There were several options available to the magistrates: prison, military custody, trusting to a higher-ranking sponsor, or release to their own reputation. There was a lot of corruption, even though there were laws in place to prevent it.

There is no greater example of how the system worked than Paul’s experiences in Philippi. Paul had removed a demon from a girl there and her owners, upset with the financial turmoil that it caused, have Paul and Silas taken to court where they are accused of being serious criminals.

Acts 16:16-24 – As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

The apostles are seen as low-status strangers. They are considered “these Jews.” The owners of the slave girl accused Paul and Silas of undermining the Roman culture and subverting the religion. They were told they were “advocating unlawful customs.” The owners of the girl use their influence as Roman citizens to get special consideration from the court.

Paul and Silas stay quiet.

For the longest time I wondered why they stayed silent. All they had to do was tell the court that they, too, were Roman citizens. But in this case claiming to be a Roman citizen would hurt the message of the gospel. If they would have said, “we are Romans” would have meant they would have to deny Jesus.

This led to Paul and Silas being publicly stripped, severely beaten, chained, and then put into stocks in an inner prison cell, the cells that were used for dangerous and low-status criminals.

While they don’t turn their back on their faith, it doesn’t mean they aren’t angry from the treatment they have received.

Acts 16:35-40 – But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

When the courts find out they are Romans, Paul and Silas stage a lock-in until the magistrates escort them out of the prison. The magistrates are fearful for the treatment they gave to Roman citizens, which is a serious crime in itself, and they go and escort the apostles out of the prison and ask them to leave the city.

In Jerusalem, Paul was arrested and chained twice at the Jerusalem temple. The commander tries to find out what Paul’s citizenship status is and what crime he has committed. Paul says he is both a Jew and a citizen of Tarsus.

But, yet, what crime has he committed?

The commander sees Paul as a low-class citizen and an overall troublemaker.

Paul is the guy cops don’t like to pull over. They ask for information and get half-stories or no story at all.

He is ordered for interrogation by flogging.

The commander ended up being wrong about Paul’s status.

Acts 22:25 – But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?”

The interrogation and flogging stops. The commander is even worried when he learns that Paul’s citizenship status is higher than his own. You see, the commander bought his citizenship while Paul was a citizen at birth.

The commander had a socially superior person flogged!

They remove Paul from the chains and placed in the centurion barracks where he is allowed to receive visitors.

Acts 22:29-30 – So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him. But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them.

Paul is then transferred to Caesarea where he stays for 2 years. But what this shows is how your custody is handled is based on your status and your crime.

The Romans bring out a sizeable portion of their army to transfer Paul to ensure his safety. The same commander that had flogged him sends a letter to the governor, Felix, and changes the facts so they don’t show that he had a Roman citizen from birth flogged for no reason.

He says that Paul’s issues are Jewish in nature and that his charges do not warrant death or imprisonment from a Roman standpoint.

Acts 23:29 – I found that he was being accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment.

Felix orders Paul to be kept under guard in his own palace.

Acts 23:35 – he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod’s praetorium.

Felix hears the side of Paul and the Sanhedrin. After that he determines that Paul should be kept under house arrest but be able to have friends over and have some other freedoms.

Acts 24:23 – Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs.

More than likely while under arrest Paul was chained.

Over the next several days Felix meets with Paul, hoping he would offer him a bribe. But he wouldn’t. And this shows that Paul’s resistance to judicial corruption was the reason for his 2-year confinement.

Acts 24:26 – At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him.

Felix leaves Paul in confinement as “a favor to the Jews.” In reality, what this did is that it made Paul suspect in the future in case the Jewish leaders wanted to bring other charges against him.

In the meantime, Felix gets replaced by Porcius Festus and his confinement is left in his hands. Likely the Jews attempted to influence this new magistrate through corruption. This led to Festus suggesting a change in the place of trial from Caesarea to Jerusalem.

Paul is not happy.

He cries out for an appeal to Caesar himself!

Acts 25:11 – If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

His appeal is granted.

Paul goes from Jerusalem to Caesarea to Rome. He is a citizen who is under the charge of the Roman centurions. Once he reaches Rome, where citizenship is the norm, Paul goes from an entire garrison down to being chained to a single soldier. He can live on his own and rent a place, which he does for 2 more years.

Being that rental properties in Rome are expensive and very few people could actually afford to rent a private house, Paul most likely found a place in one of the tenement buildings throughout the city. Paul most likely could not afford to continue working as a tentmaker at this time as those tools were costly and security in the area he would have lived was scarce. Since he was a citizen, he would have been eligible for grain rations, but otherwise he was in need of support from others.

Philippians 2:25-30 – I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

Paul was in minimum security in Rome. He was able to welcome anyone and everyone to his place and preach as he saw fit, which would have been boldly.

Acts 28:30-31 – He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Paul would have basically had a house church.

After his third missionary journey, while on the way to Jerusalem, Paul was warned by the Holy Spirit that captivity and difficulties awaited him.

He didn’t care.

Acts 20:23 – except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.

It was in Rome that Paul told the Jewish leaders that he was in the state he was in because of Jesus.

Acts 28:20 – For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.”

Imprisonment and captivity was not a disqualification for ministry. It was an expression of it!

In his captivity letters, Paul said he was captive for a higher purpose. He is a prisoner for Christ. He shares in His sufferings.

Paul was an ambassador in captivity who preaches the freedom found in Christ.

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Spiritual Focus – A Study in Matthew 16

I know a lot of people ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder. I probably have some sort of ADD myself but am just to distracted to go get it verified. Basically put, people with ADD get distracted very easily.

A lot of people, including myself, suffer from spiritual ADD. It doesn’t take a lot to get distracted away from seeking God’s kingdom. The question Jesus asks in Matthew 16:26 really hits me hard.

Matthew 16:26 – What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?

Getting distracted and losing my sunglasses or car keys is one thing, but what about getting distracted by pursuing a career, watching TV, playing video games, or fill in the blank with your favorite distraction?

Imagine forgetting what you did with your own soul!

The Greek word for soul is “psyche.” This word has several meanings:

  • Physical life
  • Personal identity
  • Spiritual life as it relates to God

Let’s look at all three of these in relation to our own “psyche.”

In Matthew 16:21 Jesus predicts His own death. He was about to lay his physical life down so that salvation could be provided for the world. This is the complete opposite to the man in Luke 12:16-21  who was busy chasing treasure. God responds to this man’s life choices by saying:

Luke 12:20 – ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

In this verse above the word life is also the word “psyche.”

While Jesus spent His life getting ready to lay His life down for everyone, the fool forfeited his life by constantly getting ready to live.

I don’t want to be found like the fool, spending my life waiting to live while Jesus constantly lived knowing He would soon die.

I also don’t want to lose the second definition of “psyche,” my personal identity. My identity is who I am, whom I belong to, and the purpose for my existence. This definition is also seen in Matthew 16:13-19.

Matthew 16:13-19 – When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Peter tells Jesus that He is the Christ after being asked  by Jesus who the world says He is. Jesus then identifies Peter as the rock upon which the church will be built. But Peter forgets his identity and almost immediately starts chastising Jesus (16:22). Instead of behaving like the rock Jesus created him to be, Peter gets distracted by his own views.

The third view of “psyche” is that of the soul. I never want to lose that. It is the part of me that knows God. While all three meanings of psyche can fit here, it is this third definition that fits Matthew 16:26 most closely.

This verse looks back at Matthew 4:8-10 when Jesus was tempted.

Matthew 4:8-10 – Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Jesus never got distracted. He refused Satan’s offer to gain the world, reminding us that our life is meant for worshiping God.

He is the example. He asks us to ignore the distractions of the world and focus solely on seeking the kingdom of heaven.

Job Loss

Last week the first time jobless claims in America was 218,000. That is the number of people filing for unemployment benefits. While that is only a small portion of the 325.7 million people in America, that is still an incredibly huge number!

Add to that number my wife and many others with which she used to work. That’s right, she was laid off. She is an amazing worker and has a awesome work ethic. I’ve never seen someone so focused on her job than my wife. But companies don’t base their decisions on loyalty anymore, they base them on dollars only.

Over my career I have been laid off twice, fired twice, and have laid off or fired countless people. Currently as a recruiter and human resources professional, I help people find new opportunities after life throws a curve ball at them.

Getting laid off or fired is truly a negative thing.

But there is good news for Christians during this life situation.

God promises us that He will help us financially. Even when we don’t know where our money will come from, we know God will provide.

Matthew 6:34 – Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Jesus told the people in His day, many of whom were unemployed as well, to not worry.

That’s comforting, but, Fred, how does the application of that work? I mean, the bills are beginning to pile up and the creditors are calling me and Jesus is simply telling me not to worry?

Well it starts with prayer.

Now, prayer doesn’t guarantee you will get exactly what you want. Even if you do receive what you desire, it will most likely not be in the timeframe that you expect it. But Christians are called to a life of prayer.

Even when the prayers don’t keep us from losing our job, we are still called to pray. It obviously didn’t work. Why keep praying?

Yep, I don’t have a very good HUMAN reason for that.

The very first time we are told to live by faith happens in the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk was questioning why God didn’t protect His chosen people. It seems God was being unjust. God didn’t give us a crystal clear answer, but what He did say was “the righteous live by faith.”

Habakkuk 2:4 – See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness

We are to trust God no matter what, even when God seems to be acting against us.

Bottom line is that prayer brings about increased activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Over time, God DOES respond to the cries of His people and redeems them from the problems by bringing them into His good purpose.

So what else should we do while we wait for God?

Tighten your belt. We have grown very accustomed to luxury. When one is out of work it is time to refocus on the necessity and leave the luxury behind. Spending money makes us feel good. When we buy that $5 latte at Starbucks or the grass-fed, organic meats we feel good about ourselves. We can easily justify these as necessities while in reality they are luxuries.

Over the years our standards of what is normal or a necessity has changed. Not too long ago, a 1300 square foot house was elegant (I say this as I sit in my 2600 square foot home). Do we really need the latest electronic gadgets or designer clothing or the newest car? The list can go on.

We are so used to expecting this in our lives that we can no longer afford our lives.

It makes it difficult to cut back because we believe everything in our life is necessary. It is during this time to differentiate between needs and wants.

If you find that you really cannot pay for something, it is time to contact your lenders. There is all kind of debate in the church as to whether Christians should take out loans, and I am not going to cover that here. But if you cannot pay for what you own it is best to contact the lenders before they start contacting you.

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Jesus tells us that if we want God to give us our desires then we need to seek first the kingdom. In this case, we need to be looking for God’s “influence” in our lives (kingdom) as we strive to do what is right (his righteousness). Contacting those you cannot pay is the right thing to do. Not only will the creditors work with you, but God will honor it.

One you have done that, don’t give up!

1 Kings 17:12-14 – “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”  Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”

In this story, Elijah asks a woman for a meal during a devastating famine. But the woman did what Elijah asked and she didn’t run out of food. God used her giving to bring about His provision. Our giving doesn’t “earn” us anything, but it teaches us to trust God and put that trust at the forefront of our lives.

Now that you know you aren’t giving up, it is time to get out there. Start sending out resumes in faith.

Make your job to find a job. I have said that over and over to people I represent. If you are out of work, you need to spend your “free” time finding a job. Do not just sit back and wait. Don’t run away in fear.

Remember something: God is a creator! Even if there is no job out there that exists at this moment for you GOD CAN CREATE IT!

Mark 9:23 – “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

During this time you need to be willing to work at jobs that pay less than you were paid before and jobs that you may seem overqualified for or even demeaning to you.

Stay in motion.

Over my many years leading teams and lately counseling people on their careers I have found that God moves more quickly in the lives of those who keep moving forward than in those who feel victimized and paralyzed in their circumstance.

If you need to, ask for help.

I hate asking for help. But sometimes it is necessary. Maybe you reach out to a family member or a friend or the government. You might think it seems irresponsible to ask for help, but there come times in all of our lives that we simply need help. Asking for loans from someone close to you might need to happen and, if you are a person of integrity, then you will be greeted with empathy and kindness.

Finally, remember that this is only temporary. If you simply hang in there and keep in motion you will see that this will pass with minimal negative effect. And it might even help refine you into the person God needs you to become.

Hebrews 6:11-12 – We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Just remember this will all pass. God is going to make sure of it.

In the meantime, if anyone knows of any great, preferably remote, opportunities, send me a message and I will tell my wife. She’s currently looking for a new career choice.

Faced with Frailty

Getting older sucks.

There is no way around that, we all get older and we our bodies, minds, and emotions start to break down.

1 Peter 1:24 – For All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like a flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls

Now, please keep in mind, I am fairly healthy. But as I have gotten older, I have started having more and more issues.  And I don’t exactly keep myself in the best of shape. I don’t exercise other than walk the dog around the neighborhood a couple times a day. If you cut me I will bleed chocolate and marshmallow fluff. Watching my calories involves reducing the number of Oreos that I eat from 8 to 4.

Today as I went to the doctor, he told me that I have something on my leg that he wants to remove and send to pathology for testing.

Without making this sound dramatic, in a brief moment I realized just how fragile this life is. I had every negative thought running through my head in that single moment. All the “what-if” questions hit me. It didn’t help that as I was sitting in the doctor’s office there was a single publication to read and the title of it was “Living with Cancer.”

Now before I go on, please note that I have nothing more than a single lump on my leg that is getting cut off in a few weeks. Nothing more.

But when the doctor says those words about being a possibility, you begin to realize how fragile and frail the human condition is.

Job 14:1 – “Man, who is born of woman, Is short-lived and full of turmoil.

The then I think about the apostle Paul.

In Philippians 4 he talks about being content in all circumstance. In Galatians 4 he talks about his physical illness. In 2 Corinthians 12 he mentions his “thorn in the flesh.”

Paul was a broken man.

But humanity is broken by design.

I have heard many people say that we weren’t meant to be broken, but it was because of the sin that entered from Adam and Eve that we became broken. And there are definitely scriptures to support that, because of the Fall, we were broken.

But I believe we were broken before that, we just didn’t realize it yet.

How could sin enter into Adam and Eve unless they had a broken nature to them? If they did not have a nature that was susceptible to sin and brokenness then why did God have to give instruction to them? He could have just let them go on their own without the instructions.

But brokenness needs to be part of our condition by design.

We are never more human than in our brokenness.

Think about it, when you are doing well at something do you believe you need God? Do you truly put God first when things are going well? Maybe for the few “super-spiritual” people who we see as the Marvel superheroes of Christianity, but for the average run of the mill Christian, we forget God too easily.

We succeed and believe that our success is due strictly to ourselves. We grow and we credit ourselves for the growth.

We are a proud bunch of people.

Psalm 49:12 – But man in his pomp will not endure; He is like the beasts that perish.

But brokenness shows us that we are not God.

When we are hit with illness, we realize that we cannot do it alone. When our bank account reaches zero and the bills are piling up, we realize that we cannot dig ourselves out of the hole we created. When we anger our friends on Facebook we realize just how lonely we are when given to our own devices.

We need our brokenness.

It reminds us that we need someone who is much bigger than us. It reminds of us of our Creator and that we require a Creator to create us. It reminds us that we are simply clay pots in the potter’s hands.

Without brokenness we become a people that is proud of our own accomplishments. We turn inward focused. We desire ourselves and our own flesh and, eventually, our self-centered nature leads us to not just forget God, but others.

That is why brokenness is built into our humanity.

Without it we wouldn’t look out for our brethren.

God has always been about loving Him and loving others.

We can’t love others unless we know how to love Him.

That is why we wants us to love Him. It teaches us to love others.

Brokenness reminds us of that.

So, as I write this, and get out of my own head and refocus my attention on God and the grace He has poured on me, I realize my humanity and the brokenness I have. I realize the frailty of my body. I realize the strength I have in an eternal God.

And I thank God for the brokenness.

A lesson in living. A lesson in loving. And a lesson in being human.

Psalm 39:4 – “LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered–how fleeting my life is.

Another Graduate in the Family

Today I was at my daughter’s high school graduation. If you recall, last year at this time I was at my one son’s graduation. His was a little different. Jake isn’t my biological son. Kenzi is my biological daughter. I was with my daughter, and she was with me, from the beginning of her life.

I’ve been reading a lot of the book of Ecclesiastes lately. This is the 3rd time I have read it this year and each time I question why it belongs in the Bible.

And then days like today happen.

Then your daughter graduates high school.

And your mom, who every time I would see her and she would talk about how excited she is to see Kenzi graduate high school, isn’t there because God called her home too soon.

And I start to see the importance of a book like Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes 3:2 – a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot.

I was in the delivery room when Kenzi was born. I was there when her mom needed an emergency C-section. I was there when the doctors said “we will do everything we can” as they worked on her and her mom.

I was also there when my mom died a little over a year ago. I was there when she told me that she probably wouldn’t be able to keep her promise of seeing Kenzi graduate. I was there when the tears came down her face as that became a reality to her and I.

But I was also there as my mom would pour into my daughter. I was able to see her learn how to love through interactions with the elders in her life. I was there to help plant the seeds of love and watch them sprout into the young woman she is today.

I was there, watching her leave, as she traveled out of the country for her first time without me. I was also there, watching her go, as she learned to split time between my home and her mom’s after we divorced. And I will be there as she digs up her roots and replants herself in a college away from home.

Ecclesiastes 3:3 – a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build up.

She was there as my relationship with her mom died. She was there when many of those seeds of love that were planted in her died from the blazing anger in her parent’s words toward each other.

And Kenzi and I were together as we tried to pick up the pieces from my failed marriage to her mom. I was there, working to build bridges between both my biological children and myself. We worked hard to build up that which God had started long ago and that her mom and I tried to unwittingly destroy.

And I will be there as our relationship morphs from my high school daughter and daddy to a beautiful young woman and her dad.

Ecclesiastes 3:4 – a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.

Kenzi and I both have seen many tears. I still remember the first day I upset her. She didn’t get very angry, she just cried. And the first time I was hurt by a decision she made, I spent time in tears.

But then we have also had a lot of laughs. Going to the movies and making fun of the characters or the script or the overall movie (can anyone say Sharknado?) is a tradition for us. She and I both have a very similar sense of humor, so we know what makes each other laugh.

I have seen Kenzi mourn, and we have mourned together. Mum’s death hit us both very hard, for example.

But then there are those times to dance. My wife will find this funny, but I remember getting her ready for her first school dance in middle school. I was trying to teach her how to dance and she was standing on my feet as I led. It is funnier than you might think because I truly cannot dance.

Ecclesiastes 3:5 – there is a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.

I have seen Kenzi grow into an amazing young adult. There have been “stones” in her life that she needed to remove in order to grow as a person. In this case, I have seen her know who and what to have in her life so that she can order her life in the way she needs it to be.

But on the opposite side, I have seen her add edifying “stones” to her life in order to build up the plan she has put in place. She is building a strong foundation of worldly success. I look forward to seeing her grow spiritually and build upon the worldly success she will have.

As for embracing, anyone who knows me knows that I will never hold back an “I love you” or a hug of those I love. For me, the time to embrace is always. Kenzi knows that there is a time for it. I have seen her initiate a hug or an “I love you” at times. But I have also seen her withhold it when it was necessary.

Ecclesiastes 3:6 – there is a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away.

Kenzi knows how to seek out that which she wants in this life. She will go after something tenaciously and will let absolutely nothing stand in her way. As her dad, sometimes I wish she would think about the consequences more and “give up” some of her ideas, but she is still in her time of searching.

As she grows, there are a lot of people and things in her life that she will throw away, and she needs to. I hope her love of family will keep strong. Family, even families that are broken or disjointed, are integral to success as one grows. I pray she will always need her family.

Ecclesiastes 3:7 – there is a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak.

Relationships, as we grow, become ever more important. It is vitally important to mend relationships of those who love you. If there is something else I can pray for my daughter about it is that I pray that God will place people in her life that will challenge her to grow. Those relationships are never easy, some are already there and some are yet to come. But humans don’t always like to be challenged and it is easy to tear those people out of our lives like they are toxic. But if we cultivate and mend those relationships we will find that we grow spiritually and emotionally. It is the toxic people we need to tear out of our lives.

The writer of Ecclesiastes goes on to tell us that there is a time to be silent and a time to speak. Kenzi has always been one to speak her mind. She typically doesn’t hold back. As she matures, she will hopefully find those times that she will learn when to be silent. I love that she speaks her mind, and that is a needed quality, but it must be tempered with timing as she matures and grows into the young adult God would have her be.

Ecclesiastes 3:8 – there is a time for love and a time for hate, a time for war and time for peace.

There is a time for love.

I have loved my daughter since the day I saw her born. The time to love someone is when they are your family. God loves His family. I love my family. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. And I pray that she feels the same about her family.

But there is also a time for hate. And that time is when your family gets hurt. Anything that breaks a family apart should be hated. Not the people but the systems and principalities that lead to brokenness. Fight the brokenness. Fight injustice. Hate that which destroys families and love.

That is our war. This is our time.

And in return, we a left with peace.

I pray for peace to fill my relationship with Kenzi. I desire everyone who I love to find peace with each other.

So now Kenzi is stepping out on her own. She has a full time job this summer that required her to move out of the house (even though she is only a few miles away) and she is going away to college (although she is still going to be in the same state).

It is time for her to grow. To allow God’s Word to be a lamp to her feet and a light to her path.

Psalm 119:105 – Your Word is lamp to feet and a light to my path.

The front porch light is always on for you Kenzi. Your family is here for you should you need us.

And we love you and pray for peace to fill you.

Amen.

Prayer from a Jewish Carpenter

The Lord’s Prayer. The majority of Americans have heard it at one point or another in their lives. It has been a point of contention in America through the ages. While many people in America want to throw shade at Madalyn Murray O’Hair for getting the Lord’s prayer removed from schools, her case in 1963 just helped to define prayer in the schools and add further clarification to cases that were already completed. In 1948 McCollum versus Board of Education decided to ban religious exercises in the classroom. In 1962, the case that specifically removed prayer from the classroom was Engel versus Vitale. It wasn’t until 1963 that O’Hair and other cases came to light that added more clarification to previous decisions.

The controversy about a short prayer is remarkable! This prayer has been around since before even Jesus’ public ministry. Depending on your translation, it can be as short as 55 words or as long as 75. It has been prayed and studied by countless millions worldwide for centuries.

But was Jesus the first to say those words?

While it isn’t a controversy, most Christians believe that Jesus was the one who first said the words to Lord’s Prayer. Many people don’t realize that Jesus came to fulfill much of the Jewish Bible and create a new covenant. Many of Jesus’ teachings speak directly to the heart and soul of Jewish Law.  And the Lord’s Prayer is no different.

Every part of the Lord’s Prayer can be found in different Jewish prayers or Psalms. I want to look at each area below and give the Jewish counterpart.

Our Father in Heaven

While Origen, one of the church fathers in the 3rd century, through that the Lord’s Prayer separated Christianity from Judaism because of calling God “Father,” the truth of the matter is that God has been called Father since the early days of Judaism.

Many prayers in Judaism begin by calling God “Father.” And the term “Father in Heaven” comes from a reader’s Kaddish at the end of Jewish services that would be recited as the following, “May the prayers and petitions of the entire community of Israel be accepted by their Father in Heaven.”

Isaiah goes so far to call God “Father” directly.

Isaiah 63:16 – But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.

Israel is even known as the “children of God.” These expressions show a familial relationship with God, who is our Father.

Hallowed be Thy Name

The Kaddish goes on to say, “sanctified be His great name.” Throughout much of the Old Testament we find that “holiness” is God’s prevailing attribute.

Leviticus 11:45 – I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.

Something interesting to note, here, though is that when the Bible was translated for the common people, the Saxon word “haelig” was used, which is where the word “hallow” is derived from. The original term in the Kaddish is “yitkadash” which means “sanctified.” This would then line up to the Old Testament and the book of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel 38:23 – I will magnify and sanctify Myself, and will reveal Myself in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD.’

Thy Kingdom Come

To continue with the use of the Kaddish, it says, “May He establish His kingdom during your life and in your days and in the life of the whole house of Israel.” These are the prophecies that are taught in both Zechariah and Daniel.

Daniel 7:27 – Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’

The “kingdom” as a symbol of God’s dominion is the messianic hope of the believers.

Thy will be done

The Kaddish says, “By His will, He created the world.” Many other prayers in Judaism begin with “May it be Your will.” This is usually followed by some specific desire that we obey and be given the opportunity to perform something commanded in the Torah. For example, “Obey His will, so that he may fulfill your will – the desire of your heart.” (Mishnah Avot 2:4)

This is a very clear section of the prayer. We should work for God’s will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven. It is needed here on earth. In heaven it is already done.

Give us this day our daily bread

In the Middle East, it was customary to have our primary food be placed inside bread. This is still going on today in meals that are surrounded by pita.

Genesis 3:19 – By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread, until you return to the ground—because out of it were you taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”

In synagogue, it is required to offer thanks before a meal, “Blessed are You, oh Lord our God, who brought forth bread out of the earth.” Also, there is a grace given after a meal that would thank God “who provides bread to all flesh, for His mercy lasts forever.”

Forgive us our trespass (sin, debt)

Three times daily Jews will pray the Amidah. In it we find, “Our Father, forgive us for we have sinned. Our Sovereign, pardon us, for we have transgressed; You kindly forgive and pardon.” If this is done in sincere repentance, then God grants forgiveness.

Around 170 BC, a Jewish scholar named Ben Sira changed the idea of forgiveness. He changed the idea from simply God forgiving to us needing to forgive our neighbors. “Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. Can a man harbor anger against another, and yet seek healing from the Lord? If he has no mercy toward a man like himself, how can he pray for his own sins?” (Ben Sira 28:2-4)

This is similar to the Mishnah in the first and second centuries in describing Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.

In both Luke and Matthew, though, the words used are different. Matthew asks to forgive our debts and Luke asks to forgive our sins. The original word, “h’ovah” can be translated in three different ways: an obligation, a debt, or a sin. If we were to strictly use the Hebrew text of the Amidah, however, we would find that the word “sin” would be prevailing winner.

Lead us not into temptation

Again we run into multiple possible translations. Both the Aramaic-Hebrew words and the Greek words can mean test or temptation.

The origin of this section of the prayer comes mainly from the Psalms.

Psalm 26:2 – Test me, LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind;

People have the ability to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, death and life.

Save us from evil

Again we look to the Psalms for the inspiration for this section of the prayer.

Psalm 34:14 – Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

The end of the Amidah says, “Oh my God! Guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking guile.” It is important that the Jewish prayer does not refer to the “Evil one.” Many churches have translated this to say “deliver us from the evil one.” In a strictly Jewish context, this would mean to save from doing that which is evil.

For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever

This section was added much later, about the 4th or 5th century. It comes from the book of 1 Chronicles in which it is recited at a Jewish service when the Ark was opened and a scroll of the Torah was removed.

1 Chronicles 29:11-13 – Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.

The Lord’s Prayer is recited millions of times on Sundays around the world. In the early church and even in many churches today it is recited as much as 3 times a day. Augustine said that it should be recited by every Christian at least once a day.

Regardless of how much you pray it or even how much you desire to learn from it, the truth is clear, Jesus did not put this together specifically for the Christian church. This was a bridge between religions. This is an opportunity for Christian and Jew alike to come together in prayer to the Almighty God.

It distinctly ties Jesus to His Jewish roots.

And it should go without saying that it should also tie us to those roots.

Writer’s Block

Hebrews 3:13 – But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

I’ve been blogging for almost exactly 6 years.

6.

That is longer than a lot of jobs I have held in my life. It is longer than I have been married to Mimi.

The majority of my posts are theological or apologetic in nature. Ever since I started this blog I wanted to take modern day issues and show that the issue is not modern only and then how the Bible informs us to handle the issue.

I never thought I would have six years of source material, but here we are.

Lately, my brain has been unfocused when it comes to my blog. I am spending a lot of time reading the Bible (currently working to memorize the kings of Israel and Judah and what they did so I can apply it in my life). I am spending a lot of time reading books by others, mostly dealing with being a good husband and what that looks like. I’ve been spending a lot of time in prayer, trying to figure out just what God’s call is on my life (I believe I am called to vocational ministry, but every door I try to open gets closed).

I’ve been learning patience.

A lot has come up recently in current world events to give me enough to write about. Unfortunately, as I begin to write about them, I get a few sentences in and my brain shuts down.

Like right now. I am sitting here, in Panera, staring at my computer screen chanting under my breath, “God, give me the words.”

There are so many topics I could write about.

But I’ve got a serious case of writer’s block.

Psalm 138:3 – On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.

You have to respect pastors. They write about 40-50 sermons a year.

Want to know the secret about sermons, though?

They aren’t writing them from scratch.

Sure, the jokes might be new, the anecdotes might be personal and fresh, and the application might be relevant but the source material is thousands of years old.

A few years back when I went to a church planting conference in Nashville I heard Louie Giglio share a story about a parishioner who went up to him after a few years of being in the church and said that his message spoke to him that one particular day he was preaching. Louie went on to say thank you. The parishioner said that he was amazed at how his source material is always new and fresh. Louie said, with a small smirk on his face, “Want to know a secret? The message hasn’t changed in all the years I’ve been preaching. The only difference is that today you chose to hear it.”

The same is true for blogging.

Over my six years I have received emails and comments from people at one time or another saying that the message I shared really affected them. Honestly, while my stories are personal and truly only lived by myself, the gospel message that is attached to those stories has never changed.

Colossians 2:2-3 – My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

My hope is that if someone who doesn’t believe in Christ reads my messages that they will want to make the choice to seek Christ. My other hope is that for those who already have a relationship with Christ that we can learn how to live as Christ would have us live.

I used to love being considered a “evangelical Christian.”

And that is what I am.

My blog, and consequently my life, is meant to be lived evangelically. And I am a Chrsitian.

But I am not the title “evangelical Christian.”

That term brings up notes of Republican, hypocritical, and focused on power and money.

I am not Republican. I am not Democrat either. I refuse to vote. I am truly non-partisan.

Am I a hypocrite? Of course. So is everyone else in this world. At some point in everyone’s life we have done something hypocritical.

Am I focused on power and money? Sometimes. But back in 2014 I left a 6-figure+ job to focus on both God and future family. God has blessed me and my family enough that we aren’t going hungry and we have been able to live a lifestyle of moderate comfort. But I had one year where I made less than $20,000 and have at times had to work a couple jobs just to make ends meet. So money and power only in the respect that I just want to be able to pay my bills.

Proverbs 30:7-9 – I ask two things from you, Lord. Don’t refuse me before I die. Keep me from lying and being dishonest. And don’t make me either rich or poor; just give me enough food for each day. If I have too much, I might reject you and say, ‘I don’t know the Lord.’ If I am poor, I might steal and disgrace the name of my God.

Simply put, I am a Christian. This is a blog about my journey as a Christian. Will it always be what you expect to hear? Of course not. There are many aspects of God that I wrestle with, even to this day. I may not always seem like I have it all together. But I feel that puts me in good company. Look at a lot of different people in the Bible. A lot of people whose hearts are God’s struggled with everything God said or did. Habakkuk, Elijah, Moses, Ananias, Peter or really any of the disciples are examples of that.

The Christian journey is never one of saying you have confidence in anything…except Christ.

My ways are not His ways. When I think I have it all figured out, God steps in and says, “No, Fred, why do have so much pride in you so as to accept everything people say versus what My Word says?”

It seems like my Christian walk is 2 steps forward and 1 step backward.

But that is still forward momentum.

So, I want to give you some hope, Christian.

This is coming from one Christian whose life looks nice and clean on the outside but on the inside is filled with question. This is coming from someone whose goal in life is not be a mouthpiece for a government party but to be a mouthpiece for Christ alone. This is coming from someone who is just as screwed up and messed up as you are.

Take it from me that if this man can find the hope that comes in Christ and be transformed daily by it, then you can too.

That is my hope.

That this blog will be an example of sanctification. It is a slow process, but it is forward momentum.

So, take hope that even if you have questions about how the Scriptures and God will affect your life, know that you are not alone in your struggle. There are many of us out there trying to figure it out with Christ at the forefront.

And never give up.

Stay the course.

Taking two steps forward and one step back.

Each day.

Until God calls you home and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Galatians 6:9 – And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

We Are The Church

Ephesians 2:20-22 – Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

On Resurrection Sunday I didn’t go to my home church for service. Last year my mom passed away on Easter Sunday and this year Easter just happened to fall on her birthday. I went up to my dad’s alone and we went to his church and then went through the box of memories we had of my mom.

My dad’s church is nothing like my home church.

My home church is your typical modern non-denominational, evangelical/charismatic, thousand-person church. My dad’s church is a small Methodist church that typically has less than 25 people at it.

My home church has an amazing worship team. My dad’s church has an organist who misses a lot of notes.

My home church has 6 pastors, 7 elders, about 50 trustees, and several other people who help with the service. My dad’s church has a part-time pastor that goes to preach at another church and then comes to my dad’s church to preach.

My home church has a weekly monetary need of $33,000 to meet all of the financial needs of both the church and the missions that we support. My dad’s church has raised just shy of $11,000 in the first 3 months of this year.

My home church is continually bringing in a younger and younger crowd (and not at the detriment of the older crowd either). My dad’s church had an average age of 60+.

It was a little bit of a culture shock going to church with dad today, but not completely as I grew up in that kind of church environment.

But let me tell you something, my dad’s church has a lot of positives that my home church just doesn’t.

Hebrews 10:24-25 – And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

First, for the Sunday service, almost all of the 20-something people who attend the church are helping out in the service in some way. That is almost a 100% participation!!! My home church struggles in this area.

Next, the discipleship of people is very strong. Over a quarter of the people at my dad’s church is going through discipleship classes regularly and each of them are connected with each other and spend time with each other outside of church living life together. While they aren’t taking official classes, they are pouring into each other daily just by spending their lives intertwined.

Finally, my dad’s church had the entire congregation making a joyful noise to the Lord during the hymns. My home congregation falls short here. Yes, the first 6 rows at my home church sing out loud, but I typically sit in the back. As I look around at people the larger majority are not singing the songs. Don’t get me wrong, they like the music a lot (and so do I). But they don’t have a personal connection with the music like the old hymns did on the older generation.

After the service, the pastor of my dad’s church asked me if I would come up and give the message one weekend. In the short few moments it took me to respond, I did think about the differences between my dad’s church and my home church. But I answered with an emphatic “yes.”

I’ve thought a lot about being a pastor. I’ve been trying to apply for several pastor positions but since I don’t have the experience level or the ordination, I’ve been rejected by almost all the places I’ve applied.

And could I ever lead a United Methodist Church?

Romans 12:5 – So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Their theological differences are so far away from my home church’s views. I’ve talked to my wife about the possibility of being a UMC pastor. Or another legacy denomination. And we’ve both agreed that it would be a struggle not just for me but my wife and family to go into an environment that would be so far removed from where we are now. What would the kids be taught in youth group of Sunday School? What would the overarching theology be from the pulpit or from the denomination?

And if we look at the first century church as our example, they were completely unified and are the perfect example for us to follow.

Or were they?

All the members worked together in peace and harmony, right?

Nope.

The New Testament chronicles several dissentions and problems in the first century church. As a matter of fact, the book of James was written to help bring unity among the churches. The early church was suffering from false teachers, partiality toward those who had money, gossip, and general misunderstandings regarding faith and its application.

That’s not very different from today? What are today’s litmus tests? False teachers (especially those who preach about homosexuality and gender issues). Partiality toward those who have money (or who claim to be conservative, right-wing politically). General misunderstandings regarding the faith (which version of the Bible to use, how to translate the end-times prophecies, and general church polity being used as a condition of faith).

Ephesians 2:19-22 – So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

I am not going to say that I am becoming more liberal in my beliefs. Paul was never wishy washy about where he stood. I still hold my same beliefs that I ever have in believing that the Bible calls homosexuality and abortion sin. But I also need to line that up with the Bible’s call for unity, even in a church that was as corrupt as the Corinthian church where Paul STILL called them saints!

I know many groups, both liberal and conservative, have worked together to build bridges between those who call themselves Christian. Ecumenical groups abound in this day and age. Some are worthy, others I call into question. I am a member of the Manhattan Declaration, for example. I signed it. It is an ecumenical declaration between Evangelical, orthodox, Catholic, and even some legacy denominations. It believes that every life has dignity, that marriage is between one man and one woman, and religious liberty is a right of all human beings. It is clearly made up of groups of people in which I disagree with their theological beliefs.

But we have unified to get an important message out that strikes at the core of the gospel message, that we are all created in God’s image.

So just how can groups that varied theological beliefs come together?

I don’t completely have that answer.

I know the answer is held somewhere in the gospel message. That is one thing that all foundational Christian denominations believe, that God formed us in His image, that we fell through sin, that we are in need of a Savior, that Jesus Christ is that Savior, and that Jesus died and rose again and will one day come again to save His church.

The answer is in there.

Acts 28:31 – Proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

But where?

Can it be enough that Christians come together to spread the gospel message? Can that be enough?

The disciples, once Jesus was taken up in the cloud from them, ran beck to Jerusalem and spread the message about the Kingdom of God. Paul, Peter, Phillip and especially Jesus all preached and teached the Kingdom.

The problem today is not a church that believes one theology over another.

The problem today is that the church doesn’t even know what the Kingdom of God is!

If we could unify under that alone we would be a much stronger church! We wouldn’t focus on what makes us different but what makes us the same! We wouldn’t have time to fight among each other over scraps but we would be out there on the front lines taking entire cities in the name of Christ and fighting against the real enemy, Satan.

So let’s learn about the Kingdom of God. Let’s try to understand its implication on our lives and how we should live and act as a Christian people.

Then….

Let’s get out there and help the world to seek FIRST the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

The Altar is Empty

As we come up to Resurrection Sunday I can’t help but think about the amazing truth that the tomb was empty.

That fact alone makes me continually think about my words, actions, and behaviors to see if I am living a life that would bring honor to the simple message that the tomb is empty. But as I look around my church on any given Sunday I find that not only is the tomb empty, but the altar is empty as well.

Every Sunday we give people the opportunity to come up and pray with an elder or prayer worker. The impetus is the call to accept Christ.

Typical routine: Songs, announcements, tithe, sermon, sinner’s prayer, altar call.

The altar call is for both the saved and the unsaved. This past week my pastor preached on a topic that should have had Christians from all walks of life coming to the altar to pour themselves out before God. Unfortunately, other than the typical people who come up almost every Sunday, we had very few people come forward.

I have always debated the use of sinner’s prayer/altar call. There are times I think it is “easy believism.”

Are you going through a tough time? Come leave it at the altar, God will fix it. Just not always in the way we expect.

The part that is sorely missing in the sinner’s prayer/altar call is the follow up to walk through life with the person. And this isn’t only at my church. This is happening in churches all across America.

Our church was blessed with over 70 people giving their lives to the Lord last year and over 60 getting baptized. That is almost as much as the average Christian church has in attendance on any given Sunday!

But is it enough? And, Christians, why are you not pouring your heart out before God when given the opportunity?!?

While the altar call is not really found in the Bible, there are some examples that show that an altar call is biblical. For example, Jesus publicly asked the disciples to follow Him immediately. And they did.

Later in the book of Matthew, we are told a new believer must acknowledge Christ “before men.”

We also see that when Peter gave his first sermon that thousands came to the Lord that day, which can denote some sort of altar call.

The danger comes in whether, especially with conversions, those conversions were real. Romans 10:9 explains that believing in your heart comes first, followed by a verbal confession. It is dangerous just to think that someone calls out to the Lord for saving that they are saved. Just look at Matthew 7:22.

Matthew 7:22 –On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

True salvation leads to continual sanctification as the fruit of the Spirit buds and grows inside the new believer. If there is no fruit, then there is no repentance.

But what about for the believer?

Every Sunday there are elders and prayer workers up front waiting for people to pray with. Why won’t people come forward?

We are called to leave our burdens at Jesus’ feet.

Without having a physical Jesus to do that with, we typically lay our burden at His feet through prayer.

This is very similar to what Hannah did in 1 & 2 Samuel.

1 Samuel 1:15 – But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD.

Hannah poured herself out before God.

I imagine a pitcher of water.

The water are the burdens in our life, which is the pitcher. Think of how heavy that pitcher becomes when the burdens begin to fill the pitcher.

Then the altar call comes.

You sit in your seat, wondering when the service will be over so you can be first in the drive thru line at the fast food place. Meanwhile, all those burdens, and your already half-full pitcher, goes into next week where more burdens fill you up.

The next week you think that you have had enough, so you go to the altar and pray with an elder or prayer warrior.

But you don’t want to give it all out.

So you pour a little of the pitcher out at the feet of God.

You walk out of church feeling a little lighter, but still full from the previous weeks.

The next week comes and your burdens take you to the brink. You go into church on Sunday morning and just can’t even bring yourself to worship. You stand there while the music plays, staring blankly at the band. Then during prayer your mind is wandering across everything you have to accomplish. During the sermon you are making plans for the rest of the day and possibly the week.

Then the altar call comes.

You have a choice.

You can go down and unload. That would be doing what Hannah did by emptying herself before God. That will help give you clarity and direction throughout the upcoming week but realize that your pitcher will start accumulating water again.

Or, you could go down an release just enough burden to lighten your load a little, knowing that you will overflow with burdens the coming week.

But you have another choice.

You could go to the altar every Sunday and pour out your burdens before God every single Sunday. Going into a new week with an empty pitcher helps us to maintain sanity, but it keeps our perspective on the One who can remove our burdens completely.

So, this Sunday don’t let the altar be empty. Let’s always remember the tomb is empty, but the altar is filled with people who desire to pray with you and help you pour yourself out before God.

Broken in the Wrong Way

Psalm 34:18 – The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

I am a gamer.

Lately, my game of choice has been Fortnite Battle Royale. The battle royale style of gaming allows you to drop into a map with 100 other people and play a new twist on the king of the hill game.

You start out in what they call the “Battle Bus” which is flying above the map. You jump out and, through the use of a glider (or victory parasol if you have won matches like myself), you drop down into the map. One of the most popular strategies is to drop on top of a house or building and then use your pickaxe to break through the roof into the attic where there is usually a golden chest with some great loot.

If you pick the wrong place on the roof you could break through and drop not into the attic, but through a hole into the next level of the house. You then have to take the time and build a ramp to get back up to the attic, leaving yourself vulnerable to other people and with weak defenses.

You broke the roof in the wrong way.

The strategy didn’t work well. The plan didn’t go as, well, planned.

Have you ever been through something that broke you?

How did you handle it?

The Bible gives a plan for using our brokenness. If we choose not to follow Biblical instruction then we can find that, like falling through a hole in Fortnite, we are left more vulnerable and defenseless.

Psalm 51:17 – My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

If we decide to listen to our own desires rather than Biblical instruction, we get our hearts hardened, we become bitter, sarcastic, cynical, and, sometimes, proud.

This world sees the broken as without value. Being broken is something we try to avoid. No one wants to ever say that their finances are broken. Having a broken marriage usually means you are steps away from a divorce. Being broken emotionally can lead to depression and anxiety.

But God has a different view of broken things.

God takes pleasure in broken things while the world turns away from them. In fact, God requires that we be broken before He can begin using us. We need to come to the end of ourselves before we can come to Christ.

Brokenness brings you closer to God.

Psalm 51 is a testament to the fact that God uses the broken.

This Psalm was written when Nathan, the prophet, went to him after David had done his business with Bathsheba. For more on what happened, check out 2 Samuel 11-12.

Verses 1-2 start with David desiring true repentance. He had repented of his sin and now he craved the cleansing from his iniquity. This lays the foundation for the rest of the Psalm, a cry out to God to see what true repentance looks like.

In verses 3-4 David admits to us that his sin is “ever before” him. He is saying that his unconfessed sins are not forgiven. He realizes his sins against God and asks to be justified.

Verses 5 and 6 has David telling us theological truth, we are all born into sin. This theme does not go away as you continue to read the Bible. Even in the new Testament Paul is claiming the same truth (check our Romans 5 or 1 Corinthians 15).

David starts talking about hyssop in verses 7-10. Hyssop was a plant that had cleansing properties. This was an illustration to God that he wanted to be cleansed of his sin. He is asking God to regenerate him, which is, according to 2 Timothy 2:25, a work of God.

2 Timothy 2:25 – Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth

David was concerned. He is worried that he committed apostasy, which would have completely removed God’s Holy Spirit from him. He is asking God in verses 11-13 to restore the “joy of his salvation.” So, I don’t believe that David is truly worried that he is no longer saved, but he is worried that he will no longer know the joy of the Holy Spirit. He is asking for that to return. He is also asking God to restore him so that he will be able to teach others not to sin the way he had. Later in the Psalms we see that David’s joy was restored and he also used his opportunities to teach others.

In verses 14-15 David is asking God to forgive the murder that he committed. Along with this, David is not only asking God to forgive him, but to open his lips and mouth to declare His praise.

The true repentance, and example of his brokenness, is found in verses 16-17. David knows that a simple burnt offering or sacrifice will not atone for what he has done. Only his completely crushed and broken spirit can prove that he is repentant. As he continues into verses 18-19, David is not dismissing the sacrifice system that God has created. David is simply saying that before a sacrifice can be acceptable the heart needs to be repentant.

So how are you broken?

Are you broken correctly? Or are you wrong in how you are broken?

If you simply take the brokenness and build to your sin through pride or bitterness then you are wasting the opportunity for Christ to use you.

Using David’s example, we can see what being broken properly looks like and apply it to our lives so that we don’t give superficial sacrifice but have a completely repentant heart to God.

 

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