Archive for Christianity

The Kids Aren’t All Right: Part 3–Love is a Verb

 

This is My commandment, that you love and unselfishly seek the best for one another, just as I have loved you.  No one has greater love [nor stronger commitment] than to lay down his own life for his friends.  (John 15:12-13 AMP)

 

Our kids’ generation is not immune from the error of past generations trying to pass love off as a feeling.  Love is an action word.  It is the act of sacrificing yourself for the benefit of others.

 

It seems that the first thing to go when a child loses his or her innocence is the ability to love.  Not the ability to feel, but the impulse to give sacrificially without thinking about it.  I believe that this is because kids in our American culture are so habituated in getting that it doesn’t even occur to them to give.

 

Remember, a child’s “reality” is limited by his or her perception, just as an adult’s is.  But the less life experience you have, the narrower your perception.  Children don’t instinctively know the difference between perception and reality, so it isn’t ever going to occur to them to test their worldview.

 

Where this becomes problematic is if they think that the world revolves around them, they will assume that to be true until they find out otherwise.

 

Another stumbling block for kids once they reach their adolescent years is their growing self-reliance.  Growing up is inevitable, and becoming more independent is generally a good thing as one gets older.  However, because kids don’t know what they don’t know, it is very easy for them to get in over their heads when trying to do something themselves.

 

Because they have not yet mastered their pride, if indeed they are even aware of it, it is also not in the nature of most adolescents to ask for help, even when they are completely overwhelmed.  Sometimes, it seems that they gravitate more toward the drama of being in a mess than in actually finding a solution to their problem.

 

I think this is why it is frequently so difficult for older kids to show love.  1 John 4:19 reminds us that we love because God loved us first, but unless you know that, you can’t act on it.  To live out a life of love effectively, you have to allow yourself to be controlled by the Spirit of love.

 

Now when was the last time you met a teenager who wanted to be controlled by anybody?  They are just reaching the stage of life when they can finally do things for themselves, and now we’re telling them NOT to think of themselves, but others?  No wonder they get confused, which of course, cranks up the drama even more, which throws them right back into the cycle of attention seeking about their confusion rather than helping them move forward with solutions.

 

Because God is love, if you are showing love, people see God through you.  The sooner we teach our kids how to look outside themselves, the easier it will be for us to help them shape their worldview into a view that actually has some WORLD in it.

 

 

The Kids Aren’t All Right: Part 2–Room to Grow

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Grace has been defined as unmerited favor, or getting something that you don’t deserve.

 

One way that we can show grace to others is by simply giving them room to grow.  This holds true for anybody, but especially for kids, since growing is their primary function.

 

It can be difficult for us as adults and parents to remember that kids are a work in progress.  They aren’t where we are yet.  They lack the life experience to have accumulated the wisdom that we have, and their pre-frontal cortices have not yet fully developed, which renders them inadequate to know what to do with the wisdom that they have acquired.

 

For this reason, I have often surmised that youth is wasted on the young.  Why do they have all the energy with none of the wisdom?  It seems that by the time we figure out what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives, we’re too tired to do it!

 

Of course, we never really stop growing.  Our bodies do, but our minds shouldn’t.  There is always something new to learn, as long as we don’t shut ourselves off from new learning.

 

As a parent, I can testify that a lot of the learning I have done in recent years involves learning to BE a parent, which in a lot of ways, includes re-learning how to be a kid.

 

We forget, don’t we?  We forget what it’s like to learn one thing and then think we know everything.  We forget the days when we used to put paramount importance on what other people thought of us.  We forget that we didn’t realize that the world actually didn’t revolve around us until somebody told us so, and even then, we had to be told more than once.  For that matter, we forget that we had to be told pretty much everything more than once.

 

Most of all, we forget all too easily how much we depended upon the approval of our parents.

 

So teach your children gently.  Just because they may act as if they know it all, you can’t assume that they know anything you haven’t told them.  Or that you’ve told them only one time.  Or that you’ve told them multiple times if there was anything in the room with a video screen on it.

 

And please practice giving your kids room to grow.  They’re not going to get things right every time.  However, if you don’t encourage them by letting them know that your love isn’t conditional upon their performance, then they’ll just stop trying.  Mistakes are learning opportunities for them and teaching opportunities for you.

 

And when you teach, you also learn.

 

The Kids Aren’t All Right: Part 1–What We’re Up Against

Let's Cut

Lord, save our children.

 

When did it become not OK for kids to be kids?  There is hardly a child now that by the age of 14 hasn’t either cut themselves, questioned their sexuality or rejected God.  Anyone that tries to lead them to Truth is labeled intolerant, hateful, an ignorant bigot, or worse.

 

We are even accused of trying to indoctrinate our own children, but only because our parenting gets in the way of the attempts at indoctrination by our accusers.  And they want to call US hypocrites!

 

How fortunate then, that God already has a plan for these people.  He will have the last word, as he told His prophet Isaiah:

 

  I stop the highbrow intellectuals in their tracks,
and I show the fault of their reasoning.
  But I stand behind the words of My servants,
and I accomplish what they predict.
  (Isaiah 44:25b-26a VOICE)

 

We must endure.  As righteous as our anger may be toward our antagonists, we must remember these things:

 

  1. In our anger, we must not sin.(Ephesians 4:26)
  2. Vengeance is the Lord’s not ours.  (Romans 12:19)
  3. We do have a real enemy, but it is not a human enemy (2 Thessalonians 3:15, 1 Peter 5:8)

 

Our job is to spread the Gospel.  We can’t praise the name of Jesus and sully it at the same time.  If we take our eyes off of Jesus and start worrying about what other people are doing, then we lose sight of our mission.  As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his book, Strength to Love:

 

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence, you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence, you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

 

Our job is to bring the light of Jesus to a darkened world that does not know it is in darkness.

 

We shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter opposition to the Truth.  This has been going on since day one.  Jesus was crucified, the apostles were persecuted and martyred, and on and on through the centuries.  There may soon come a day when preaching the word of God becomes illegal in this country, as it is in many communist and Muslim countries.

 

But here’s the thing.  Even if they put us in prison, God’s word can not be bound.  As Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy:

 

Remember always, as the centre of everything, Jesus Christ, a man of human ancestry, yet raised by God from the dead according to my Gospel.  For preaching this I am having to endure being chained in prison as if I were some sort of a criminal.  But they cannot chain the Word of God, and I can endure all these things for the sake of those whom God is calling, so that they too may receive the salvation of Jesus Christ, and its complement of glory after the world of time.  (2 Timothy 2: 8-10 PHILLIPS)

 

We are called to persevere under trial and not to give up.  Even if we get tired and weak, God won’t.  So if we trust Him to carry us when we can’t go on, He will be faithful to do it.

 

We must stand firm, not only for our children’s sake, but also for our own.  Will you join me in praying for our youth today to be Truthseekers and not herd followers?

 

Whose Money Is It Anyway?: Part 3–Tithing

Diana and I at the Talkeetna River with the peak of Denali over my right shoulder.

The Lord All-Powerful says, “Try this test.  Bring one-tenth of your things to me.  Put them in the treasury.  Bring food to my house.  Test me!  If you do these things, I will surely bless you.  Good things will come to you like rain falling from the sky.  You will have more than enough of everything.  Mal 3:10 (ERV)

 

 

The Bible has many examples of people testing God.  Most of them occur when Israel was wandering in the desert for 40 years after Moses led them out of Egypt.  The New Testament frequently refers back to those instances as warnings of what not to do in a relationship with God.

 

Yet here, near the very end of the Old Testament, God is straight up inviting us to test Him.

 

In 2003, right after I became a Christian, my pastor preached a sermon on the verse above, emphasizing that in this instance alone, God wants us to test Him.  I had never thought of tithing that way before.  In my mind, tithing was like a church tax, or else something that only extra-credit Christians did.

 

Besides, I had very little money at the time.  I was living on my own and trying to pay down debts from my recently failed first marriage.  What did I have to offer God that could win His favor?

 

Did your red light buzzer go off just then?  It should have.  For one thing, God’s favor is just a part of who He is.  There isn’t anything we can do to earn it.

 

And for another . . . does God really need MY money?  He’s God.  I don’t think He’s short of funds.

 

What I have come to learn is that it really isn’t about the money itself.  It’s about trust.

 

God entrusts us with His wealth according to our ability to handle it.  Jesus illustrates this principle in the Parable of the Talents, which can be found in Matthew 25:14-30.

 

But trust goes both ways with God.  He wants us to trust Him not just concerning the money, but also with our general well-being.

 

I chose the translation of the verse at the beginning of this post specifically for the phrase “Good things will come to you like rain falling from the sky.”  To the people hearing this prophecy from Malachi firsthand, in the middle of the fourth century B.C., this would have been a literal message.  They weren’t concerned with having new Cadillacs; they were concerned with their crops, as there was a great drought going on at that time.

 

So in context, what God was saying to Israel at that specific time was, “You want me to stop holding back the rain?  Fine.  Stop holding back your tithes.  I DARE you to give me back the first 10% of what you only have because I gave it to you in the first place.  Do that, and watch what happens.”

 

Now today, many folks who are not proponents of tithing argue that this was a specific message for a specific people in a specific time; therefore, it does not apply to us today.

 

But for me, I just couldn’t get past those words, “Test me!”  God is always testing me to prove my faith; now He wants me to test Him?

 

So that’s exactly what I did.  Here’s how it worked out.

 

The first thing that I had to wrap my brain around is that tithing is not something you do when you can afford it.  It’s 10% of what you have, even if that’s very little.  It’s not about the amount you’re putting into the collection plate.  It’s about trusting that God will bless the 90% you have left.

 

Once I got over my guilt about the tiny little checks I was writing each Sunday and just went with it, I started to notice things happening in my budget.  Like how I never ran out of money at the end of the month, regardless of how bleak things appeared at the beginning.

 

Over the years since then, I have noted many other instances where the math just didn’t add up at first, but things worked out better than I could ever have planned it.

 

The most recent example is this.  After our honeymoon, my wife told me that her dream vacation would be an Alaskan cruise.  Those aren’t cheap, but I told her then that if we started saving, we could set a goal to do that for our 10-year anniversary.

 

So we saved for nine years, at which point, I said, “Honey, we can do this, but it will wipe out our savings.”  We went forward with the plans.

 

Long story short, we went on that cruise and land tour in Alaska.  We just got back a couple of weeks ago.  Counting the flights out and back, it was a two-week adventure.  In my life, I have owned several cars that did not cost as much as this trip.

 

And we still have over three fourths of our savings intact.

 

Not only that, but we had beautiful weather the entire trip (which just does not happen in Alaska).  At nearly every stop, the guides on our excursions were amazed at all of the “rare” things we got to see, such as orcas, humpback whales bubble net feeding, the Hubbard Glacier calving, and the peak of Denali in clear sunshine, just to name a few.

Diana and I at the Talkeetna River with the peak of Denali over my right shoulder.

 

Indeed, God poured out his blessings on my family during this trip, but really, it was just a very obvious and visible manifestation of how He has blessed us, and our finances, all along.

 

Even during the extended periods of unemployment that I have had, I have never felt like we were “in need,” because God doesn’t respond to need.

 

He responds to faith.

 

And that is what tithing is really all about.  It is a tangible expression of the faith that God will meet your needs and then some.  And he blesses it every single time.

 

Do any of you have stories of God’s faithfulness regarding your finances?  I’d love to hear them!

 

Whose Money Is It Anyway? (Part 2–Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt)

slave to money
The wealthy rule over the poor,
and anyone who borrows is a slave to the lender.
(Proverbs 22:7 ISV)

 

Back in 2013, we talked about the Greek word doulos, which is a voluntary bondservant, or someone who has chosen to place himself under the authority of another.

 

However, as we also discussed in Part 1 of this series, no one can serve two masters at once.  You can’t serve God and be a slave to money at the same time.

 

So how do we become a slave to money?  In a word—debt.  When we spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to satisfy our cravings and desires, we are worshipping creations rather than the Creator.

 

If we are trusting God to provide us with what we truly need, then why would we leave His service to worship at the altar of prosperity?  How prosperous are we really, if we have a big fancy house with no furniture in it or a shiny new sports car that we can’t make the payments on?

 

It’s bad enough that our nation has promoted a consumer-driven culture where people are conditioned to believe that they need. . .no, that they DESERVE shiny, fancy, new, expensive things.  However, as if people going into debt for unnecessary playthings weren’t enough, now they are being encouraged to further mismanage the wealth that has been entrusted to them by turning to legalized gambling to provide a solution to this debt problem.

 

In my tiny little town of 4,952 people, we have five locations that have slot machines.  (I refuse to call them “video gaming facilities.”  Aladdin’s Castle is a video gaming facility.  People aren’t going to our bars to play Pac Man.)

 

In the month of January 2015 ALONE, a total of $100,136 was wagered at these five locations.  Let’s do the math.

 

First, you have to be 21 to play the slots, so that eliminates about 2,300 residents.  But not all of the adults in town play the slots either.  Indeed, most don’t even frequent the places that have them.

 

In the absence of an exact statistic, let’s assume that one in five adults in town plays the slots.  This estimate is probably on the generous side.

 

Now we’re looking at an average of $190 a month that each person is contributing to the one-armed bandits.  For some, it’s probably higher than that.

 

So what’s the problem?  Well, do YOU have upwards of $200 of disposable income each month that you can flush down the toilet?  Some folks do, but these are not the folks that typically go to bars in small towns to play slot machines.

 

Over half of the households in our town have a combined income of less than $5,000 a month.  A family with that level of income, IF they manage their money well, should have about $100 or so per month in discretionary income at best after the bills are paid.  But again, people that manage their money well are usually not found around slot machines.  And remember, the actual amount being deposited here is double that much.

 

So if people can’t afford to be blowing this kind of cash, why do they do it?  Well, duh, because they’re trying to make more.  They are under the illusion that they’re going to hit some kind of jackpot and be rich.  The reality is that they will have even less money to pay the bills they were having trouble paying in the first place.

 

But lest you think that I’m going off on a self-righteous jag about gambling, there are other ways to fall into the same trap of money mismanagement.  I learned my lesson the hard way with multi-level marketing.

 

Now I admire people in this country who go into business for themselves and make a lot of money.  But it never comes without hard work.  If anyone ever tries to show you how you can be rich beyond your wildest dreams and not have to suffer for it, RUN!  Anyone who gets involved in a scheme like this hoping to “get rich quick” will find themselves getting broke even quicker.

 

Generally speaking, God has a plan for us each day, and we are expected simply to be available, receive it, and obey it, carrying it out to its completion.  This method ALWAYS leads to success, though sometimes it takes a long, long time, and we may not even see the big-picture results directly.  Trying to get rich quick takes our eye off the plan Jesus has for us, which consequently robs us of the potential blessing attached to that plan.

 

Fortunately, God’s plan for blessing us in our finances begins with a very simple test of obedience.

 

(Which we will learn about in Part 3—Tithing)

 

 

Whose Money Is It Anyway? (Part 1–Stewardship)

Denethor

Whoever can be trusted with small things can also be trusted with big things.  Whoever is dishonest in little things will be dishonest in big things too.  If you cannot be trusted with worldly riches, you will not be trusted with the true riches.  And if you cannot be trusted with the things that belong to someone else, you will not be given anything of your own.  Luke 16:10-12 (ERV)

 

Take a moment to consider this question:  What do you have that wasn’t given to you?

 

We use words like “earn” and “create” to maintain the illusion that we alone are responsible for everything that we have.  However, if these things were really ours, then we couldn’t lose them, could we?

 

Sure, we work for our money, but then someone else has to give it to us.  Then either we give it away to someone else by spending it, or we hold onto it forever and die, at which point we don’t take it with us.  There’s a reason you don’t see hearses towing U-hauls!

 

So if it’s not really “our” money, then whose is it?  King David answered that question emphatically after taking the offering to build the temple in Jerusalem:

 

To you, Lord, belong greatness and power,
honor, splendor, and majesty,
because everything in heaven and on earth belongs to you.
Yours, Lord, is the kingship,
and you are honored as head of all.
  You are the source of wealth and honor,
and you rule over all.
In your hand are strength and might,
and it is in your power to magnify and strengthen all.

  (1 Chronicles 29:11-12 CEB)

 

Everything in heaven and earth (yes, even the money) belong to God.  Therefore, we don’t really “own” anything.  Rather, we are stewards of everything currently in our possession.

 

Simply put, a steward is someone who is placed in charge of someone else’s stuff.  The principle at work here is that at some point, the steward will have to give account of how he or she has managed the property belonging to the Master.  A steward that proves faithful is rewarded, but those who aren’t . . . not so much.

 

You see, how we handle money is an indicator of how we will steward all of the other blessings in our life.  Money is just the easiest one to track.  So how do you track this in your own life?

 

The best way to gauge that for yourself is to figure out who it is that you really serve.  Are you putting your trust in the provider or the provision?   As Jesus said in the verse that comes right after the passage at the top of this post:

 

You cannot serve two masters at the same time.  You will hate one master and love the other.  Or you will be loyal to one and not care about the other.  You cannot serve God and Money at the same time.  (Luke 16:13 ERV)

 

If you are primarily interested in serving God by stewarding HIS wealth, then your needs will always be met.

 

However, if your hope is in the money itself, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

 

(Come back for Part 2—Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt)

 

Fishers of Men: Part 2–Track Record

so many fish

 

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.  When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.”

 Jesus replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me?  My time hasn’t come yet.”

 His mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Nearby were six stone water jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold about twenty or thirty gallons.

 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did.  The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine.  He didn’t know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

The headwaiter called the groom and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first.  They bring out the second-rate wine only when the guests are drinking freely.  You kept the good wine until now.”  This was the first miraculous sign that Jesus did in Cana of Galilee.  He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.  (John 2:1-11 CEB)

 

Jesus hasn’t even had a chance to start teaching or building into these guys who are following Him.  His disciples have only just met Him and have literally not had time to do anything but get to this wedding, perhaps chatting a bit on the way.  They really didn’t have any way of knowing for sure at this point what they were getting into.

 

But then, Jesus reveals His glory to His new disciples by changing the water into wine.  From that point on, the fishermen were themselves hooked.

 

Now go back to the passage at the beginning of Part 1, where Simon (now called Peter) and Andrew drop their nets to follow Jesus full-time.  This event takes place A YEAR after the wedding at Cana.

 

So Jesus wasn’t just walking along the beach casting hypnotic spells on ignorant and gullible people.  First, they knew their scriptures well enough to know that a Messiah was coming.  Second, John the Baptist had pointed them directly to Him.  Third, they had seen Him perform a miracle firsthand.

 

So by this time, Jesus had an established track record with these guys.

 

Luke 5 goes into much more detail than Mark 1 about what Jesus was doing at the lake that day.  He wasn’t just walking along; He was teaching people at the water’s edge.  Then He gets into Simon’s boat, and has him take it out into the lake a bit, so He is better situated to teach the crowd.

 

Afterward, He has Simon go out deeper into the lake and let down his nets.  This doesn’t make sense to Simon, because they hadn’t caught anything all night.  Nevertheless, Jesus already has enough of a track record with Simon that he does it anyway.  This is what happens:

 

They did it and caught so many fish that their nets began ripping apart.  Then they signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  The men came, and together they filled the two boats so full that they both began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this happen, he knelt down in front of Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t come near me!  I am a sinner.”  Peter and everyone with him were completely surprised at all the fish they had caught.  His partners James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were surprised too.

Jesus told Simon, “Don’t be afraid!  From now on you will bring in people instead of fish.”  The men pulled their boats up on the shore.  Then they left everything and went with Jesus.  (Luke 5:6-11 CEV)

 

They left everything.  Think about that for a minute.  Think of your job, your family, your house, your friends, your community—everything that makes your life what it is.  Is there anything, or anyone, that could make you leave all of that behind you?

 

If you said no, then consider these words of Jesus:

 

Those who love their father or mother more than they love me are not worthy to be my followers.  Those who love their son or daughter more than they love me are not worthy to be my followers.  Whoever is not willing to carry the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Those who try to hold on to their lives will give up true life.  Those who give up their lives for me will hold on to true life.  (Matthew 10:37-39 NCV)

 

These fishermen were ready to become man-fishers.  They were expectant, they were vigilant, and they were patient.  And because of this, we are still talking about them 2,000 years later.

 

So what about us?  Are we ready?  Are we willing to drop it all and go fishing?  Does Jesus have enough of a track record with us that we would follow Him wherever He would have us go?

 

If your answer is yes, then it’s time to go fish.

 

Fishers of Men: Part 1–Follow Me

jesus-bench-300x264

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.  (Mark 1:16-18 ESV)

 

This is one of a plethora of examples in the Bible where context is everything.  Just reading that passage by itself might make you say, “WHAT?  How gullible are these guys?  Was Jesus some kind of Pied Piper or something?”

 

Because it sounds like He was just going for a walk, saw these two guys, called them, and they came.  Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but you have to know where to look.  So here’s some background.

 

Simon and Andrew are brothers from Bethsaida, which literally means House of Fish.  They are working in a commercial fishing business in Capernaum, on the north end of the Sea of Galilee, where Andrew lives with Simon and his wife.

 

Andrew is also a disciple, or follower, of a radical new preacher known as John the Baptist, who was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah, the Anointed One of God who would redeem Israel.

 

One day Jesus shows up where John is baptizing.  John immediately recognizes Him, and points Him out as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Naturally, word gets out about this event.

 

So the next day, Andrew is there along with another disciple by the name of John, who recorded the events of that day in the Gospel that bears his name:

 

The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples.  When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look!  The Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus.

 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “What are you looking for?”

They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?”

 He replied, “Come and see.”  So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.  (John 1:35-39a CEB)

 

After spending the day with Jesus, Andrew immediately goes and gets Simon, convinced that he and John had found the Messiah.  So how were they convinced in a single day?  I’m sure it had a lot to do with what Jesus said to them, which the Bible didn’t record, but there is another reason.

 

Andrew and John recognized Jesus as the Messiah because they were EXPECTING the Messiah.

 

Indeed all Jews in that day were, but most of them didn’t know what they were looking for.  Many were hoping for a military leader to throw off the Roman occupation of Judea.  These folks missed it completely when Jesus was in their midst.  Indeed, many of them were among those who eventually had Jesus executed.

 

But John the Baptist knew that the Kingdom of God was another matter entirely.  And he had done his job in preparing the way for those who had ears to hear his message, Andrew and John among them.

 

(Come back for the conclusion–Track Record!)

 

Your Will Be Done

gethsemane
Then they arrived at a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to the disciples, “Sit down here while I pray.”
He took with him Peter, James and John, and began to be horror-stricken and desperately depressed.
 “My heart is nearly breaking,” he told them.  “Stay here and keep watch for me.”  (Mark 14:32-34 PHILLIPS)

It’s hard to imagine Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of the world, being “horror-stricken and desperately depressed.”  And yet, it happened.  Jesus was facing the greatest test of His time on earth, and He was facing it as a human being.

 

It’s difficult to wrap your brain around the concept of Jesus being both fully divine and fully human, rather than being some sort of a spiritual half-breed.

 

But if there are any doubts about Jesus being fully human, his anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane should put those to rest.  He knew what He was about to face, and He needed strength to get through it.  Matthew’s account of this episode words it this way:

 

He took Peter with him and Zebedee’s two sons James and John, and began to be filled with anguish and despair.

 Then he told them, “My soul is crushed with horror and sadness to the point of death. . . stay here. . . stay awake with me.”  (Matthew 26:37-38 TLB)

 

Despair.

 

The One who was the Light of the World, who came to bring hope to everyone in it, was filled with . . . despair.

 

So considering this, is it any great wonder that we can feel despair when we face our moments of greatest testing?

 

And to take that one step further, usually when we are having our moments of fear and torment, the worst thing that we are facing is the unknown.  We are scared, because we wonder what is going to happen.  Will I have the strength to endure this trial?  What will people think of me if I fail?  What am I about to lose?  Do I really want to know the answers to these questions?

 

Jesus didn’t have the luxury of fearing the unknown.  He knew EXACTLY what was about to happen.  And it scared Him.  A lot.

 

Let’s be clear about this.  Jesus, the Son of God, knew why He had come to earth.  He knew He had work to do, and He knew He had to finish that work.

 

But Jesus the son of Mary and Joseph said this:

 

“Father, if it is your will, take this cup of suffering away from me.  However, your will must be done, not mine.”  (Luke 22:42 GW)

 

 

Jesus knew going into this time of prayer what God’s answer was going to be.  He knew what He had to do, but He was NOT excited about it.

 

Nevertheless, He submitted to His Father’s will.  He did not want to go through with His arrest, torture and execution, but more than that, He did not want to go against His Father’s will.

 

The Greek word regarding God’s will in this sentence is ginomai.  This signifies that Jesus is not only saying that God’s will must be done, but that it must be.  In other words, God’s will is eternal, just as God is eternal.

 

In light of His knowledge of this, Jesus really didn’t have any illusion that His prayer was going to be answered with a “yes.”  And yet, He prayed for God to let Him off the hook anyway.

 

Perhaps this knowing was the greatest reason for His despair?  He knew He wasn’t getting out of this.  I can’t even imagine what He must have felt like in the garden.

 

And yet, He remained submissive, because He never lost focus on what His greatest mission was.  And that was simply for God’s will to be done.  Jesus was sincere about completing His work.  He isn’t just saying “Your will be done,” to sound pious, like it’s the right thing to say while praying.

 

It is, of course, the right thing to say, but it is also the right thing, period.

 

Because God’s will wasn’t about Jesus the man doing something He didn’t want to do.  It was about Jesus the Savior bring God’s plan of salvation to fulfillment:

 

Jesus Christ did the things God wanted him to do.  And because of that, we are made holy through the sacrifice of Christ’s body.  Christ made that sacrifice one time—enough for all time.  (Hebrews 10:10 ERV)

 

This sacrifice began not on the cross, but in the garden, when Jesus made up His mind to be in agreement with God’s will.  Because of this resolution, and the confirmation of His purpose that it signified, we are able to approach God today as His adopted children.

 

But this is about more than our salvation.  Heaven will be awesome, of course, but what about the here and now?

 

Do you ever have situations that you know you won’t be strong enough to face  by yourself?  Isn’t it helpful to know, then, that even Jesus needed to be strengthened not only by angels and the Holy Spirit, but also His three best buds?  It is much less difficult to say to God, “Your will be done” when you have your closest friends surrounding and supporting you.

 

It is not likely that any of us will ever have to face a crucifixion, and we DEFINITELY won’t ever have the weight of the sins of the world upon our own shoulders.

 

Nevertheless, when I am faced with something I really don’t want to do, and fear is holding me back, it helps at least to know that the God to whom I pray knows a thing or two about fear and apprehension.

 

But it helps me even more to know that He still got the job done.

Whatever We Ask: Part 6–Prosperity

joel osteen

“. . .  God wants to make your life easier.  He wants to assist you, to promote you, to give you advantages.  He wants you to have preferential treatment.”  Joel Osteen—Your Best Life Now

 

 

This quote is an example of a concept known as “prosperity gospel.” There are several variations on the theme, but the main idea is that the Bible’s references to promises of blessing and prosperity are a contract between God and His children.  All Christians have to do is confess, or “speak into existence” God’s promises, and He is bound to deliver on them.  Both proponents and critics of prosperity theology sometimes refer to it simply as “name it and claim it.”

 

Indeed, there are many examples of God promising blessings in the Bible.  Here are just a couple of them:

 

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy.  My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.  (John 10:10 NLT)

 

 

And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you.  (Deut 28:11 ESV)

 

 

We have both the right and the position to ask God for anything in prayer, but remember this.  He doesn’t owe us anything, and we owe Him EVERYTHING!  If we don’t keep that reality in clear focus, then we are likely to approach God with an attitude of entitlement, rather than one of humility.  The result is that, in our minds, God becomes a supernatural ATM, spitting out the blessing whenever we insert our “believe to receive” card.

 

But wait a minute.  Isn’t “believing to receive” the whole point of faith?  When we ask, we are supposed to believe and not doubt, and God does promise blessings to those who believe, so what’s the problem with believing that God will keep His word regarding prosperity?

 

Actually, there’s nothing wrong with trusting God to keep His promises.  What’s wrong is the American definition of prosperity.

 

Let’s face it, y’all.  We are SPOILED in this country.

 

As I write this, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.  Most American’s can’t live on that.  Just about nobody can raise a family on that.  Fast food workers are demanding more than twice that in some areas.

 

And yet, our federal MINIMUM wage yields an income higher than that of 92% of the world.

 

Think about that for a minute.  If you are working full-time and making federal minimum wage (many states are higher), then you are already doing better than six billion people are.

 

But do you FEEL rich?  In most cases, I would expect that would be a no.

 

And what about those other six billion people who make less?  2.1 billion of them are Christians.  Are they prospering?  Is God keeping His promises to them?

 

Here is a verse that is NOT frequently quoted by prosperity gospel adherents, “Beloved, I pray that with respect to all things you may prosper and be healthy, just as your soul is prospering (3 John 1:2 DLNT).”

 

The folks that would have you believe that it’s God’s job to make your life easier are putting a period in place of the comma in the verse above.  Prosper and be healthy in all things!  Sounds great!

 

But there’s something else there—a “just,” sometimes translated as “even.”  John’s assumption is that physical and material prosperity will follow and accompany spiritual prosperity.

 

So what does that look like?

 

You need look no further than Paul.  First, consider this rundown of his physical circumstances:

 

Five times the Jews have given me their punishment of thirty-nine lashes with a whip.  Three different times I was beaten with rods.  One time I was almost stoned to death.  Three times I was in ships that wrecked, and one of those times I spent a night and a day in the sea.  I have gone on many travels and have been in danger from rivers, thieves, my own people, the Jews, and those who are not Jews.  I have been in danger in cities, in places where no one lives, and on the sea.  And I have been in danger with false Christians.  I have done hard and tiring work, and many times I did not sleep.  I have been hungry and thirsty, and many times I have been without food.  I have been cold and without clothes.  (2 Cor 11:24-27 NCV)

 

And yet, the same man says this:

 

I’m not saying that because I need anything.  I have learned to be content no matter what happens to me.  I know what it’s like not to have what I need.  I also know what it’s like to have more than I need.  I have learned the secret of being content no matter what happens.  I am content whether I am well fed or hungry.  I am content whether I have more than enough or not enough.  I can do everything by the power of Christ.  He gives me strength.  (Php 4:11-13 NIRV)

Contentedness is the secret to a prospering soul.  And this comes from trusting not that God will give you everything you want for your purposes, but that you will have everything you need for His.

 

So how about it?  Is your soul prospering?  If so, then you are already living “Your Best Life Now.”  You don’t have to “believe God” for the biggest house in the neighborhood to make it better.