Friday, November 21, 2014

Who Is the Master?

On Wednesday night, Jason preached a compelling message on the fruit of the Spirit.  To be honest, he stomped on quite a few toes, mine included.  But what I found interesting is the particular fruit that seemed to really give me a hard time.  Yes, I had trouble with most of them, in that I am not bearing spiritual fruits as I should, but I was quite convicted by the fruit of temperance.

If you look up the word "temperance" in a regular dictionary, you'll find definitions such as "self-control," "abstinence" and "self-restraint."  And while those are all appropriate definitions of the word, there is one given in Strong's Concordance that truly made me pause and think.  That definition is "a mastery over one's desires and passions."  Ouch!  Yes, it's the same thing as self-control or self-restraint, but put into those specific words, I understand the term so much better.

A mastery over one's desires and passions.  That means saying "no" to the things that I want but that I know are not good for me.  That Pepsi that calls my name from the grocery store line.  The chocolate cakes that sings such sweet music to my ears.  The new gizmo I feel I can't live without.  That new project that I want to take on even though I know I don't have the time or other resources to do so.  The desire to sit on the couch and watch television instead of doing my workout.  Temperance means that I look each of these desires and passions straight in the face and say, "No, you are not good for me, so I will not give in to your temptations."

Unfortunately, I think these desires have more of a mastery over me than I do over them.  They call, and I come running.  They beckon, and I heed their voices.  They convince me of all they have to offer, and I shake off the moment of hesitation and dive into those dangerous waters.  And then, I regret it.  Can you relate?

The good news is that God is patient, and He is working in us to make us what we ought to be.  The bad news (or better news, depending on how you look at it) is that we cannot change our own spiritual fruit.  No matter how hard we try to "fix" ourselves, our fruit will remain the same because it is not "our" fruit.  It is the fruit of the Spirit, which means only He can produce that fruit in us.  Remember, He is the vine, and we are just the branches.  The branches don't produce the fruit; they only display it.  The production comes from the vine. 

At first, that may seem bad because we like to be in control, and if something needs to be fixed, we like to know that we can fix it.  But when you think about it, there's really nothing we can do to fix it, and Jesus says we don't have to.  He will do it for us.  All we have to do is abide in the vine.  Surrender everything to Him, including our desires and passions.  And in doing so, the fruit of the Spirit will blossom and grow, making it easier for us to stare temptation in the face and say, "No, thank you.  I don't need you!  I've found something better!"

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. - John 15:4-5

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Was Blind But Now, Well, I'm Still Blind

Despite the chilling temperatures yesterday, Jason and I decided to take the dogs out for an afternoon hike.  It sounds crazy, I know, but with Jason's unpredictable work schedule, we've discovered that we have to make the best of every opportunity.  He finished work a little earlier than anticipated, leaving just enough time to get in a short hike at one of our favorite hiking locations.  So, we layered up our clothes, packed the backpack, loaded up the dogs and headed out.

By the end of the hike, darkness was falling, making it difficult for me to see, especially since I wasn't wearing my glasses and I'm night blind.  Noticing the failing light, I commented, "Wow, it's getting harder to see."  At that point, Jason (who was following close on my heels) wrapped his gloved hands over my eyes and jokingly said, "Let's see how well you walk by faith rather than sight."  In short, not well at all.

It was an eerie sensation to walk down the narrow trail with no idea where I was going.  I knew the path descended, but I couldn't tell where or when without my sight.  I feared every step, anxious that I would trip or run headlong into some obstacle.  After only a couple of seconds, I stopped walking and shook my head.  "I don't like this.  I don't like it at all!"  He laughed and removed his hands from my eyes, but inside I still felt blinded because I realized just how much I felt the same way in my spiritual walk.

I knew Jason was guiding me through the woods.  Deep down I knew that, even though I couldn't see what lay ahead, he could, and he cared enough for me to not let me fall or run into something.  Yet, even though I knew these things, I was still afraid.  I had no faith.  And unfortunately, I find the same is often true in my daily walk with the Lord.  I know He is guiding me.  I know He can keep me from falling.  I know that He can see what I cannot.  Yet I'm still afraid.  Afraid to walk.  Afraid to trust.  Afraid to turn over that control.  Too many times I find myself stopping and trying to rip off the blindfold, saying the same thing I said to Jason last night, "I don't like this.  I don't like it at all!"

Why is it so frightening to walk by faith?  Why is it so difficult to place complete trust in the One who is all-powerful?  How can a mature believer still be so immature when it comes to faith?  I wish I had answers for you, but I'm afraid today all I have is questions.  Perhaps you have an answer.  Maybe you've experienced the same fear of faith and discovered a way to conquer that fear.  If so, please share it below.  I'm sure we would all like to know.

(For we walk by faith, not by sight:) - II Corinthians 5:7

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Power of a Single Thought

In I Kings 19, we witness Elijah's flight from Jezebel and, consequently, his flight from the Lord's work.  You see, God had placed him in Jezreel for a reason.  God had a work for him to do, and He wasn't finished with Elijah.  But in a moment of fear and desperation, Elijah listened to his feelings and the thoughts swimming around in his head that told him it just wasn't worth the fight, and he fled.  At first, he went to Beersheba, about 100 miles south of where he was supposed to be.  Then, after the Lord's tender care of him there, he continued his journey south and ended up another 200 miles away at Mount Horeb (also known as Mount Sinai).  It was a holy place, perhaps the best place to get his act together. . . if God hadn't already told him to be somewhere else.

What truly amazes me is the encounter that takes place next.  The Lord comes to Elijah and asks, "What are you doing here?"  Listen to Elijah's reply:  And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. (I Kings 19:10)  There are many things wrong with Elijah's comments, but I don't have the time and space to go into that right now.  Instead, I want to continue the story.  Read on:

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? (I Kings 19:11-13)

Again, there's so much that could be discussed here, but alas, I must press on to get to the meat of today's lesson.  After God displayed His great power and manifest presence, he asked Elijah again, "What are you doing here?"  Surely, Elijah was humbled by this display.  The Bible says he wrapped his face in his mantle which is a sign of humility and respect.  From that verse alone, it appears that God has gotten through to the prophet.  We expect Elijah's next words to be those of sorrow and repentance.  Perhaps a plea for forgiveness or a second chance.  But no, take a look at what he said:  And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. (I Kings 19:14)

I assure you this is no typo, nor did I type in the wrong verse by mistake.  Elijah's second answer was nearly identical to his first.  He gave the Lord the same answer almost word for word.  You know what that tells me?  Elijah had been rehearsing.  I believe that the forty-day trip from Beersheba to Mount Horeb gave Elijah a lot of time alone with his thoughts, and it wasn't at all productive.  It seems to me that Elijah rehearsed in his mind that same sob story so many times that he had it memorized and could probably spout it in his sleep.  And that, my friends, is what happens when we allow our minds to dwell on the wrong things.

In her book, The Best Yes, Lysa Terkeurst put it this way:  "We do what we do and feel how we feel because we think what we think."  Oh, how true!  Elijah was running from God because he felt like he was all alone in the battle and that God had let him down.  From before the time he faced the 450 prophets of Baal, he was declaring that he was the only one left serving God.  Evidently, that thought (false though it was) blossomed into fear, anxiety and eventually a rebellion so great that even the shaking of the mountain couldn't loosen Elijah's grip on his bitterness.  He did what he did and felt what he felt because he allowed himself to think what he thought.

The mind is a battlefield, and every thought can be a dangerous enemy.  Take care.  Be "mindful" of what you allow yourself to dwell on.  If you're not sure if the thought lurking about is friend or foe, run it through the filter of Philippians 4:8:  Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.  That will quickly help you to identify the thoughts that should be allowed to remain and those that need to be brought into the captivity of Christ (II Corinthians 10:5).

Never underestimate the power of a single thought! 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Why Won't You Answer Me?

While watching television this morning, I heard a statement that broke my heart.  An elderly gentleman was telling the story of his beloved wife who had passed away years ago.  "We prayed for God to heal her.  We prayed and prayed, but God decided not to answer our prayers."

While I understand what the man was trying to say (as well as the many others who have said it), there's a problem with his statement.  To say that God decided not to answer is to call God a liar.  Jeremiah 33:3 tells us, Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.  Did you catch that?  This is God speaking.  He said if we will call, He will answer.  What the verse doesn't say is that the answer God gives will be the answer we want.

You see, a better statement would have been, "We prayed and prayed, but God decided not to heal her."  Or even, "We prayed and prayed, but God decided to answer in a different way."  God was not ignoring this earnest request.  He was not being mean by denying this couple the healing for which they were seeking.  God simply had another plan, and while we may not understand His ways, we have no right to accuse Him of not answering our prayers.  If we call, He will answer, but it will be in His way and His time.

When it comes to making requests of God, I tend to have the same attitude the psalmist had in Psalm 102:2 -  Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily.  "Answer me quickly, Lord, and let the answer be what I want it to be."  But what I often fail to realize is that God is doing me a huge favor by giving me what I need rather than what I want.  Sometimes He has to say "no" to my desires so that I can grow more in Him and come to better understand and appreciate the choices He has made for me.  It's not always easy, especially at the time I receive His answer, but it's imperative that we each remember that "no" is an answer.  And so is "wait" or "not now."  

Whatever your prayer is today, my friend, take heart that Jesus knows your need.  He hears your request, and He has promised that He will answer you.  Be patient, and above all, be willing to accept the answer He gives, even if it isn't the one you were anticipating.  After all, you may soon find that answer to be a blessing in disguise.