In Prepared Time!

One of the challenges we often face in our relationship with God centers on our lack of understanding of God’s use of time. For us, time is relative, finite and unknown–when we are young, a year is forever and as we get older, it’s a blink of an eye. When we are having fun, it flies by and when we are anxious or hurting, time is a sloth.

Because of our earthly conception of time, we can grow impatient in our relationship with God because the unfolding of God’s will does not occur on our timetable.  Ever prayed for a job or for a relationship to work out and feel as if your prayers fell on deaf ears? Ever waited on a major decision or direction for your life and nothing happened?

In these times we are so sure that God has missed our prayer or isn’t listening because there is no action or clear resolution. However, we feel this way because we are seeing God’s response through our human lens of time. Recall Abraham and Sarah’s difficulty conceiving a child and how they thought they were too old for God’s promise to be fulfilled. Yet, in proper time the promise was fulfilled and it was done outside what they thought was the normal bounds of time for bearing a child!

This classic biblical story illustrates perfectly how time works in God’s realm. For God, time is eternal. It is both infinite and fully known. God made a promise and fulfilled it, not according to Sarah’s biological clock, but rather according to God’s plan.  The Scriptures tell us what God has promised will be fulfilled, that in all things God has a purpose and we are to trust in the Lord at all times.

(Importantly, the Scriptures also remind us that the time for salvation is now. Here God is emphatic that we are to hurry, whereas in other areas we are to be patient. Why? Because without salvation all else is lost, but that is a topic for another time.)

While we continue to measure time by the unforgiving and expendable second, minute, hour, day, week, month, year, decade and lifetime, God’s measures our time according to the fulfillment of our eternal purpose. Our clock has a second hand and God’s clock has a preparation hand. That is to say that the will of God unfolds through our relationship with God. Want God to work faster, build your relationship. Want prayer to be more effective, strengthen the faith that binds you to God. Revelation follows preparation! Through God all is revealed in prepared time!

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Focus on the Forest! Focus on Christ!

One of the most common comments I have heard from those investigating a relationship with Christ is that they believe in God but not in church. For these folks the church has come to represent something less than God. When you dig a little deeper, you will often find that their objections come are a result of experiences from youth or adulthood with a specific congregation or with the beliefs and practices of a particular sect of Christianity.

Regardless of the source, these objections are important to address because they are keeping people from reaching the fullness of their potential in Christ.  To sort through the objections and gain proper focus it is helpful to recall the words of Paul to the people of Colossae.  Paul cautions Christ’s followers not to get caught up with things that are destined to perish, by idle notions, self imposed worship or false humility.  What is Paul saying? Surely Paul is not saying that we should ignore church, picking a branch of Christianity or following rules?

Paul was likely talking about religious sects other than early Christianity, yet his words are as applicable today within the church. Paul is reminding us that real power and authority comes through Christ. While the church is a representative of Christ, it is run by man (in many cases literally). As such, humans will inevitably put structure around worship. These structures or rules are put in place to govern the way the church operates. Order of service, how many hymns are sung, how often communion is taken, who can do the scripture readings or who can serve as deacons are all examples of human rules.

Paul cautions us that sometimes such regulations can have the appearance of wisdom but in fact are human additions to the body of Christ’s work. Over the years, I have witnessed congregations split over these regulations and sadly people stray from their walk with Christ. Paul tells us not to get caught up in what he calls human commands and teaching, but rather stay focused on what comes from Christ.

That is not to say we should avoid organized religion because it has rules and structures. On the contrary we should cultivate our relationship with Christ both inside and outside the setting of church so that it is strong enough to guide us past such disagreements over human structures. Our ongoing, active relationship with Christ is too important to focus on the smallness of human structures. Think of the body of Christ in terms of a beautiful forest and these human rules as individual trees. Paul is telling is not to lose sight of the forest by focusing on a single tree.

Rather, Paul continues, we must build our relationship with Christ and mould our behavior to that of Christ. This important shift toward focusing toward Christ will give us the perspective we need to set aside disagreements on human structures, thus preserving the forest and furthering our relationship with Christ!

Lift The Veil!

In his correspondence to the Corinthians, Paul references the veil of Moses as part of the old covenant and the glory of God on the faces of Christ’s followers as part of the new. All this discussion of old and new covenants and veils, can seem outdated and confusing in our modern lives, yet what Paul was trying to say continues to be relevant today.

The old covenant between God and the Israelites was a powerful pact–so powerful that Moses had to disguise his face in order to speak to the people after receiving the Ten Commandments. The light of God shined so brightly on his face that he put on a veil so as to not scare the people. The people were not ready for the full revelation of God. Thus, the old covenant was a covenant of words in the form of law.

Generations later Paul asks the new Christians of Corinth to lift their veils and to show their faces. What changed in the intervening years? Certainly the power of God had not changed. What had changed was the nature of the covenant between God and the people because of the birth, death and resurrection of Christ. The new covenant was and remains through Christ and what was governed by law previously was and is now governed by the living word or the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s sacrifice lifted the veil and further revealed the power and glory of God to Jews and Gentiles alike as they became believers through Christ. Paul rightly asked the Corinthian Christians to lift the veil so that others could see the light of Christ that was available to them, not by law, but by the Spirit.

Paul’s commentary on lifting the veil has at least two important functions relevant today. First, it reminds us that we should have no veil between Christ and ourselves. In other words, we are to reveal ourselves completely to God, not because our secrets are unknown to God, but because our admission or complete revelation allows us to be filled fully with the Spirit.  By removing the veil, we remove OUR barriers to the full acceptance of Christ and the Holy Spirit which of course is our ticket to salvation. Secondly, removing the veil allows others to see the power and light of the Holy Spirit through us. This helps us fulfil our evangelistic responsibilities as followers of Christ.

There will always be a human tendency to partially veil ourselves to the world, but we should strive to overcome this tendency. Lifting the veil to Christ is the first step!

Cross The Magic Threshold!

If you walk through the Milan airport to the train station there is a dark passageway with a stream of foggy mist coming out of the center. Some mysterious slide images are projected on the far wall. It is a modern art exhibit entitled The Magic Threshold. It’s a surreal experience that reminds me of our initial steps in faith.

Often times we start our walk in Christ in a dark place in our lives–a time when we can’t clearly see the way forward. The fog and haze confound us and make charting a productive and positive course all the more difficult. It’s precisely these times when we desperately pray to God to light the path.

Although we may pray the hardest during these difficult times, we cannot know God’s plan for our lives. Perhaps there is a trial we must go through or a lesson we must learn in order to fulfill God’s will for our future. This dark, foggy chasm between our offered prayers and God lighting our path we could call the magic threshold of faith–believing that God will guide us out of the darkness even when we can’t see the path ahead.

Crossing the threshold in faith is the key to a fruitful relationship with Christ. Each time we cross a threshold, we gain confidence in our relationship with Christ and our path toward God. As our relationship deepens the chasms in our life become more manageable–not as dark, not as foggy and certainly not as wide. This is the beauty and magic of faith.  Cross the magic threshold for God is with you!

Try Some Fresh Squeeze!

Have you ever caught yourself reading scripture without grasping what you are reading. You try to faithfully read a few chapters a day but today you are running late, or maybe you have a lot going on and your mind wanders or its late in the evening and you can barely hold your eyes open. Sometimes in a particularly rough week, I realize this has happened a few times in a row and I find myself talking to God about why I have not had any revelation that week. Sound familiar? It’s more common than most of us want to admit.

The problem is skimming a few chapters quickly and hoping for inspiration is like rolling an orange in your palm and expecting juice.  If we want the real fruit of scripture, then we need to peel it back and give it a squeeze.  Like the orange, scripture produces more juice the more we squeeze.

Many times I have read a passage and come up puzzled and a little dismissive of its importance. Later, upon hearing a sermon or reading commentary, something will click and I’ll go back to the passage. This time an underlying message stands out clearly.

The last post on Paul in jail at Phillipi is a perfect example. I read it several times in the last few months for one reason or another. Each time, I noted how “Christian” of Paul to take the time to reassure the jailer or how wonderful that the jailer was saved without further thought. Just recently, I was thinking about how we wall ourselves in and in effect become incarcerated in life when the story of Paul comes back to mind. I got out the Bible and re-read it again.  This time the words jumped off the page–the incarcerator was the incarcerated! Such a fundamental point that many of you probable received it the first time you read it, but for me it was a revelation. I had to call someone, a spiritual mentor, and share my new found wonder just to see if I was finally getting it.

This example could be repeated time and time again for many of us and in every single chapter of the Bible. Scripture is often complex and challenging and its mysterious for a reason. God wants us to seek out the Word, to ponder it, nurture it and yes, live it. For a chosen few this may come easy, but for most of us it’s difficult and it’s time consuming.

For the Word to do us any good it has to take root deep inside of us and that requires more than casually rolling it around in our hands a few times a week. Try focusing on quality instead of quantity. Prayer and reflection are equally important and don’t be afraid to share your thoughts with others.  Chances are they have both new questions and additional insight. God gave us the orange but it’s up to us to receive the juice!

Let’s Join Paul in Jail!

One of the many stories in the Bible that intrigues me occurs in the Book of Acts. Paul and Silas are arrested at Phillipi and after being beaten are placed in stocks in the inner jail. In the middle of the night, while singing and praying an earthquake causes all the cell doors to open and all the prisoner chains to fall off. Truly a work of God. The head jailer, fearing that he will be killed decides to commit suicide, but Paul cries out to him saying not to harm himself for all the prisoners are still there. This single event convinces the jailer of the power and mercy of Christ and he asks what he needs to do to be saved right then. The jailer takes Paul and Silas to his house, where he and his household are baptized and saved!

Its an amazing story in and of itself, but what strikes me is the symbolic nature of the story. The chief incarcerator is himself incarcerated! Here are Paul and Silas physically incarcerated but spiritually liberated and their jailer who believes he is free but, as it turns out, is spiritually in a prison. Moreover, at the very moment their freedom is possible Paul and Silas reach out to their incarcerator and this single act convinces him what they have been testifying to is truth. In each case, the message is clear: those who walk in Christ are free and have the ability to free others!

What’s intriguing is how many of us are incarcerated without realizing it. The more I reflect on my own life the more I see that at different times, even if I felt at the time that I was in control or doing well, I was in fact incarcerated. What has incarcerated you? A job, success, a bad relationship, fear, fame, family, friends, a narrow mindset–this is just a shortlist of possible jailers.  It’s even possible that these jailers felt like important pluses in your life, but looking back were actually keeping you from being free.  Perhaps you are still jailed by them today.

The good news is that Paul’s story is as applicable to our lives today as it was nearly two thousand years ago. If we want to be physically free, we need to be spiritually free.  Accepting Christ in our lives and allowing Christ to guide us begins the process. It’s amazing how the more we pray and reach out to God, the more is revealed to us about the lives we are living.  Secondly, spiritual liberation in Christ then gives us the confidence to confront our physical incarcerators.  Sometimes, as we discussed above, that is a circumstance, other times it is an individual or group of individuals, many times the jailer is ourself! (Whew, there is a whole other post right here!)

Regardless of the source, Christ can free us! Let’s not spend another minute in spiritual captivity. By accepting Christ fully and identifying our incarcerators, Christ will free us to fulfill God’s purpose for us, including freeing others. Paul knew he was free, even in chains. Let’s join him!

Psst! Spread The Good Word!

There are over 2 billion self identified Christians worldwide, one third of the world’s population. Yet surprisingly, even given these numbers, one of the most underdeveloped parts of being a member of the Christian faith pertains to evangelism. Evangelism dates back to the apostles. Early Christian leaders would travel from town to town proclaiming the good works of Jesus to Jews and Gentiles alike and in doing so, Christianity began to spread worldwide. Evangelism thereafter became a specific calling and throughout history, men and women with the gift have made a dynamic and successful profession of being called by God to itinerantly preach the gospel.

The evangelism of Christianity has been amazingly effective for the last two thousand plus years. However, in a sense the professionalization of evangelism has let us off the hook in that most of us leave relaying the gospel of Christ to the pros. While I certainly don’t want to diminish the demonstrately effective work of professional evangelists, I often wonder if we as Christians shouldn’t shoulder more of the responsibility of sharing the good news of Jesus.

If you are like me, you have had many occasions to spread the word, but for one reason or another haven’t done so. Perhaps the timing didn’t seem right, maybe you didn’t know the person well enough or even were worried about what people might think. I have been guilty of all three.

The point is that each time we pass up an opportunity to evangelize, we also pass up the opportunity to give someone the greatest gift–their own relationship with Christ–a relationship that will guide them when they are troubled, that will comfort their sorrow, and give them peace and direction in their life.  Moreover, we can’t underestimate the impact of personal testimony. Our stories are the most poignant because they are the most real.

We are proud to be Christians, but think of the impact we could have if we also mustered the courage to evangelize.  We each have the ability to reach someone, we each have something special to offer others and God.  There is still much need in the world and the gift of Christ is the answer.  Let’s help spread the good word!

In God We Have Nothing to Fear!

When I was a child, I admit that sometimes I came away from Sunday service afraid of God.  I can’t say if it was the admonitions of the eternal damnation that awaited me as a sinner, the vivid stories of a God’s wrath in the Old Testament or the firery delivery of the sermons, but I feared God. More likely than not it was my lack of understanding of the scriptural context. In any event, my perspective on fear has changed over the years.

Upon first reading the scriptures are full of passages, especially in the Old Testament, exhorting us to fear God. However, having a biblical fear of God doesn’t necessarily mean we should be afraid. Rather, the Bible calls on us to fear God in the sense that we are to have reverence and awe for God. To me, this is the starting point–believing that there is a Great Omnipotent Creator and having faith that through this Supreme Being all things are possible.

We demonstrate our reverence and awe each time we reach out to God in prayer asking for guidance.  In fact, according to Proverbs, reverence is the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom. By reaching out to God through prayer, we begin to establish an ongoing and active relationship with God. In other words, our love for God and respect for the direction provided form the spiritual building blocks for our relationship with God. Parenthetically, it may also be why every good, lasting relationship contains love, respect and divine guidance–a pearl of wisdom that I could have used long before now!

One of the greatest things about developing an ongoing, active relationship with God is that the power of God is available to you at all times. Awe for God’s power in our lives can be a great comfort and often it is precisely that reverence which helps steady us when we are earthly afraid. The important thing to remember is in God we have nothing to fear, not even fear itself!