Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Using the Opportunities


This isn't a journal entry that I'm real happy about sharing but I have a feeling at least some of you may be able to relate. So the phone rings last week and I find out that my wife was in a car accident. She thankfully tells me that she and the kids are fine, but because she hit the trailer hitch on the guy in front of her (who stopped suddenly to avoid a pothole) that his truck was fine, but the hitch smashed the light, shattered the grill, and pushed in the steel front bumper on our van among other damage. First of all this journal entry isn't about sympathy; thank you Jesus as I have the money and my family is fine, enough said ... right?

Well that's the problem with the way my stupid brain works sometimes. If she would have called (or sadly I got the news from someone else) that they were seriously injured, I wouldn't have cared about the vehicle one bit. My conversation would have been along the lines of "Honey, I'll be right there, who cares about the van."

However since they were all fine, suddenly it turns into a big frustrated mess in my head. I'm thinking we're heading out for vacation, light smashed, I wasn't planning on cash for a repair, yada yada yada ...

Now granted, I recognized these thoughts and I didn't sit there and vent at my wife, but I was frustrated and I'm sure she felt it. I put my wife in a lose-lose position; she either gets hurt, or has to hear frustration from me if she's not. What I love about our marriage is that I can talk to her about this, share my messed up thinking, and let her know that I am not blaming her. Yet it still doesn't fix my mind.

I could probably quote a litany of verses about how I should be thinking and what I should be focusing on, so to me it's not about knowledge of what to do, it's about prayer. It's a simple reminder of my fallen nature, and why prayer is so important in this process of transformation. It's not about head knowledge, it's about the transformation of the mind, and the long journey from there to the heart.

Thank You Father for making me aware of my opportunities to be more like You.

"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another." (Galatians 5:13 ESV)

~Matthew

Playing in the Sand


“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock." (Matthew 7:24 ESV)

Often as believers we talk about standing on The Rock that is in Christ, and we often reference the passage above which compares and contrasts a believer versus a non-believer who built his house on the sand. However, to state that I stand on The Rock isn't quite the point, and I would argue misses the point entirely. We could certainly get into a discussion over semantics and perhaps agree on the overall point, but I need to get the picture out of my head of me standing on The Rock. The picture that needs to be in my head is me living on the rock.

The man in the parable didn't vacation to The Rock. The man in the parable didn't take a stroll out to spend some time on The Rock. The man in the parable didn't decide one day to camp out on The Rock for a few days. The man in the parable built his house on It, he lived on It, he built his life around It.

May I not forget the basics of my faith by painting pictures that seem powerful, but aren't life changing. To stand doesn't require much effort, but to construct a permanent dwelling place does. I don't want to be standing on a rock while still playing in the sand.

Laying my foundation on His,
~Matthew

Monday, February 14, 2011

Defining Abundance




I was reading through Psalm 105 tonight with my wife and a particular passage really got me thinking about a few things; mostly about how we define abundance. According to dictionary.com it defines the word as "an extremely plentiful or oversufficient quantity or supply". Interesting, not surprising to any of us probably, but interesting.

They asked, and he brought quail, and gave them bread from heaven in abundance. He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed through the desert like a river. (Psalm 105:40-41 ESV)

He didn't just give them some bread, He gave in abundance.
He didn't just give them some water, He gave in abundance.

This passage made me go back to Exodus. As I read through the account of the Israelites, I didn't get a feeling that they really understood this as an abundance. Looking back at the story, many wanted the abundance now, not tomorrow, but now. From God's perspective he gave them "an oversufficient quantity" multiple times over, however to them, they were so concerned about tomorrow that they I really don't think they realized what God was giving them today.

Perhaps looking back on their journey from our position they could say, yes, look at that, God gave us more than we could even use; an abundance. However to them at that time, they were so nearsighted that they didn't realize the blessings that were overflowing right in front of them.

Phew! Glad I'm never like that!

Oh wait.

Why do we do that? We know He provides, and many of us believers have had a chance to experience in one way or another His abundant blessings. However we still worry so much about tomorrow, or think what we have today isn't enough. Being content isn't some new secular or unitarian worldview, it's Biblical to the core.

Next time when my cup is overflowing and He continues to pour, may I look to Him with childlike laughter and say, OK dad, it's enough!

Perhaps that's why He made waterfalls ... to remind us of our blessings that are overflowing ...

His,
~Matthew

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ear Muffs


Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46 ESV)
I've always loved the call of Nathanael; the rawness of the human reaction always seems to speak to me. You can look at it as racial or cultural tension with those from Nazareth, or simply as doubt and skepticism. However either case captures many of us when we come face to face with the possible Truth of Jesus Christ. We may have faced it in our past, currently face it, or know others of the same. It's a beautiful story, one worth sharing, but may when faced with it simply reply in jest; "Really, that's what you want me to believe?"

So much is captured in just a couple verses, and the few verses that follow capture even more in my opinion:
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” (John 1:47-50 ESV)
There is something going on here far more than Nathanael being impressed that Jesus saw him under a fig tree that I assume must have been difficult or impossible for him to have seen him otherwise. However there is no dialog between Philip and Nathanael (who introduced them) asking about this seemingly amazing incident. There is no pause wondering how it happened. There is no doubt. Where did the skeptic go?

There is something about standing face to face with the Creator of the universe that even if you don't know it ... you know it.

Since I use this as a journal, my question now is how does this apply to me?

I think my application in this lies in something far greater than anything I can come up with on my own. I've been feeling for a while now (and to be honest this is a little bit scary) that God has been preparing me for something big. I don't know what, and I don't know when, but I just feel it. For the last few years I've been on a journey that has been growing, mostly intellectually. However my heart in the last several months has been separated from this world in so many ways. I don't mean isolated, just set more on things of Him, than things of this world.

In SE Michigan as we approach Easter there is a growing movement (hundreds of churches are participating) called EACH (Everyone a Chance to Hear). I think there are many Nathanael's out there, who just need to hear the Truth, or at least are given a chance. I used to worry more about my salvation than others. OK, that's a lie; I used to worry about my salvation, and not care about others. I used to live in spiritual isolation trusting in my eternal home, but being too scared to wander out to lead others to it as well. But that's changing. I think I put on my ear muffs too much, it's time to take them off. God doesn't stop talking, we just stop listening.

Lord, lead me to the Nathanael's out there, and may Your Truth penetrate their soul to advance Your Kingdom.

Soli Deo Gloria,
~Matthew

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thanks in Advance!

Several times lately the topic of prayer has either come up in conversation or just in my own meditation. Often the question from some, even believers, is why pray for certain outcomes if God is sovereign? After all, if God is sovereign, and His Will ultimately will be done, why do we pray about these things? What's the point?

As I think about this question, two answers pop in my head immediately. For one He tells us to pray and bring our requests to Him, so ultimately that should be enough. After all, the minute I start questioning God on the logistics of His requests then I may as well just ask for the position as creator of the universe and be done with it. However, that often isn't quite the answer that makes me feel completely satisfied with the subject.

The second reason that comes to mind summarizes why I generally pray, and that is to seek the Will of God. In prayer He can and may reveal His Will to us during our time together. My goal when I pray is not to seek the doing of my will, but to seek His Will, and ask how I can be involved in it. Read the passage below as it summarizes exactly what I feel:

But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
  until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
 (Psalm 73:16-17 ESV)

We pray for discernment. Some request are easier to pray for in that way and some are more difficult. Sometimes as when asking discernment for a new job opportunity, or a new relationship, or choosing a mission field, it makes sense for us to pray that way. Sometimes, like when we start asking questions about suffering, it can be difficult as we seem to not seek to understand, but to change.

Though the ones I personally struggle with are prayers of healing, at least certain forms of it. Let me be clear, Biblically we are asked to do this, I understand. Likewise we are to pray with persistence and confidence. Not to say that we guarantee healing, but to pray knowing full well that He "can" heal if He wants to. I pray for healing but my prayers are more in the form of discernment. Paraphrasing they're often in the form of "God, if it's in Your Will, heal this individual. May Your glory be seen if this healing occurs, but if not, may You comfort the family and friends and Your love be seen."

Some would say I am not praying with belief in the healing power of Jesus' name, but I disagree with that. I'm not doubting that Christ can or will heal by praying this way, I'm just wanting to be in His will and not assuming that He will heal every single person I pray for. Praying in the words of expectant healing, while biblical, can begin to blur the lines of arrogance if we're not careful in my opinion; something I most certainly do not feel when I'm standing at His throne. Don't get me wrong, if the Spirit is leading you to pray for someone in some particular way, then let Him use you. My point though is that I believe these are more the exceptions than the rule.

This whole concept reminds me of times when I get an e-mail that is signed off, "Thanks in Advance". Isn't that a way of saying, thanks for doing what I'm asking you to do because I'm not giving you another option? I feel like that's what I say to God when I pray that way, "Thanks in advance" to the "Holy, Holy, Holy" God of the Universe.

I just think we need to make sure it is Spirit led and not ritualistic or of the flesh. I love prayer requests (distribution lists and all), prayer meetings, and one-on-one individualized prayer. I just think we need to do more seeking of His will in prayer than assuming it, and that's what I feel we can do sometimes if we're not careful.

Seeking His Will,
~Matthew

Monday, February 7, 2011

Expectations

Ever notice how you can leave work expecting one thing, and by the time you arrive at home things seem to be quite the opposite? Perhaps I'm the only one. Sometimes I get on the road to find out that it's going to be a long drive because Snowpocolypse II is slowing it down, or simply some driver thought it was in their best interest to create havoc for the rest of us. Perhaps as you drive home you get a call to remind you about that appointment you almost forgot about; and at this rate you wish you had. Perhaps when you walk in the door it's not quite like the Cleavers, but more like the Rebel Alliance is making it's final stand against the Empire with light sabers swinging. My point is that you have expectations, and they change; or get changed for you.





So speaking about expectations ...

Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. (Joshua 21:45 ESV)

I think this passage is all the more interesting if you recall the history. The Israelites finally got to the promised land, but due to their lack of faith (except from Caleb and Joshua) they were told to go pound sand for 40 more years before they could enter. In essence, until the unbelieving generation died off, they wouldn't be allowed entry. Well, that is except for Caleb and Joshua, however they had to wait that 40 years as well. Do you think it matched their expectations? Hardly if you ask me.

However that verse is that much more beautiful knowing that history. Amidst the trials and delay, Joshua still recognized that His will was done, regardless of how it played out. I don't see it's about time in these words from the passage above; I see thank You. Read them again if you need to.

Thank You Lord for fulfilling those promises even when I'm expecting things to go a different way. May I learn to close each day and open each day with a word of thanks to You. Ultimately, may Your Will alone become my expectation.

Yours,
~Matthew

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Intoxicated


You don't get drunk by staring at the bottle, you get drunk by taking it in. The bottle has something that when you drink it, intoxicates you. Of course we all know the obvious and that is because of the alcohol. However the Bible also talks about another type of intoxication.

"Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love." (Proverbs 5:18-19 ESV)

When you look at the word intoxicated you get the Hebrew word (transliterated) shagah. Among the possible definitions (determined by context) is to wander; I like to see this as lost or mesmerized. This isn't the word shakab, which is much more sexually oriented, this is about something much deeper.

Going back to my first point about that bottle and the action of drinking. You have to take it in, and there has to be something in the bottle to begin with. Likewise there has to be some transfer done between my wife and I. If she is shutting down (putting the cap on the bottle) and/or I'm not drinking it in, shagah isn't going to happen.

However that shutting down I would imagine can be fixed pretty easily by simply backing up a verse. If I am rejoicing in my wife, expressing to her my love for her, and my attraction to her, I really don't think that there will be as much shutting down. Bitterness, dissension, and being critical of her very well may, and rightfully so. Why would she want to let me share in that intoxicating love that she is holding when I'm treating her with disrespect?

It was great reading this together with her tonight. We talk about anything and everything together and it's always fruitful (even if it doesn't seem so at the time). Oh, we have our disagreements, but it's this open communication that not only continues to help me rejoice in my wife, but for us to be able to share a love so deep, it's intoxicating.

And FYI, this passage that talks about creating a beautiful marriage is smack in the middle of a chapter that warns us of the sweet call of adultery. Let us keep our marriages strong, better yet, keep them intoxicating ... you don't want to be pub hopping around this issue.

Intoxicated by my wife,
~Matthew

Friday, February 4, 2011

Busyness and Confusion

Did you ever stop for a moment to look at the items on your metaphorical plate and just feel overwhelmed? Did it ever get piled so high, like this mammoth snowball, that it seems almost unmovable? While some of us may struggle in other ways, I have a feeling I’m not alone in answering yes to both of those questions.

As believers I know that He wants us to be a people of order and focus, and not a people of busyness and confusion. Unfortunately we can easy become over-committed with Kingdom work as well. Perhaps you are getting pulled physically or emotionally to do more in your community, your church, or your mission field. While I think that those things are critical and Kingdom building, I have a habit of taking on too much and thus becoming too unfocused and confused.

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:33a ESV)

So when I’m sensing confusion, rather than peace, I know it’s time to sort some things out.

Thus I’m at a point where I need to re-prioritize things as items are coming onto my plate that is already full. I’ve usually been pretty good at making sure I’m not over-committed, but lately it’s been sneaking up on me; thankfully, I have Him to help me with the priorities. Nonetheless, I need to make sure it’s His voice I’m hearing guide me, not mine or the voice of the enemy, which can be guilt disguised as conviction. So this weekend I plan on coming to Him with my full plate, and asking Him to take off what needs to be taken off, leave on what needs to be left on, and fill me with strength to do His will.

I know that I may enter this weekend burdened, but I will leave it free. I may enter this weekend unfocused and confused, but will leave it feeling clear minded and directed. I may enter this weekend without a plan, but will leave it feeling directed by Him. After all, He knows what is best for me.

Seeking His order,
~Matthew

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Becoming a Reader


I've never been an avid reader, and there is no secret about that. I read seldom, especially compared to some readers out there, and I certainly have my share of books that I have started reading and stopped in the middle somewhere. However, that’s about to change. Call this a new year’s resolution or prayerful guidance, but I want to start reading more.

Before I get book any recommendations let me just say I have a clear plan on where I am going. I still will read leisurely on the side purely for entertainment’s sake, however I have a goal (starting now) of reading one non-fiction book a month from a different Christian author. More specifically I have been called to read some of the more prominent Christian authors of the past. After talking with a brother/pastor on some recommendations, he also sent me a link to an article that really captures what I’m after. The article highlighted that very question, and the writer’s response to whom he recommended reading was rather interesting; he wants to read dead people. Here is an excerpt from the article:

"So here’s what I’ve learned. If someone has been dead for a while and his book is still in print and widely read, then it’s probably worth reading. And, if we’re honest, there are precious few books written by Christian authors today that will still be read in 24 months, let alone 24 years. I want to use my reading time to immerse myself in powerfully formative material, and not just flash-in-the-pan trends. Does this mean I never read living authors? No, of course not. But if they’re not dead, I like them to be pretty close. I can usually trust that they’re not going to waste what time they have left on this earth writing sappy Hallmark card sentimental Evangelical fluff." - Skye Jethani, I Read Dead People

So where to start? Well, due to some research (and book availability at my library network) I am starting off with a book from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Cost of Discipleship for my February read. His story seems painful, yet incredibly moving. I am eager to see what deep insights I can perhaps learn from his life, as tragically powerful as it was.

As I read through Joshua today, I read about the Gibeonite deception, and how they came to deceive Joshua and the Israelites to make a covenant with them. The way that the Israelites reacted, and sadly seen too often in Scripture, was what follows:

“So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the LORD.” (Joshua 9:14 ESV)

I pray that as I read through these books and stories I remember that like me, all are human and have their own faults. I pray that I will be diligent with coming to Him for counsel as I seek to wash these writings with the Word and reveal their Truth. All of the authors that I plan to read have walked with the Lord longer than I, and will undoubtedly have much to offer for my own journey. Though may I never lift their writings above Scripture, yet thank Him for their service and show me how I can serve Him better myself.

Time to get reading!

~Matthew
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