Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Opportunist

            While sitting in a grocery store parking lot, my eyes were drawn to a man in the next row of cars. He was pushing his cart of groceries while chatting away on his cell phone. When he reached his vehicle he let go of the cart and opened the trunk to put his purchase in it.
            Apparently the conversation was more intriguing than his groceries because he kept his back turned with his groceries, which remained about two feet behind him. While the man’s focus remained elsewhere, a large black crow landed on the handle of the grocery cart where he had easy access to the bag sitting in what would normally be the child seat. The crow immediately stuck his head into a bag and started pecking at whatever food he could reach. The brazen bird pecked away for close to a minute without catching the attention of the man on the phone. When the man finally finished his conversation, he turned to his right. At the same instant the bird flew off to the man’s left, and was never in the line of sight. As I watched the event, I was struck by how much of an opportunist that crow was. He had become skillful at robbing people of their food then escaping without notice. People have no idea there is a problem until they arrive home, and even then they don’t understand what happened to the food in their bags.
            Satan is like that crow. He is opportunistic, entering into our lives and destroying all he can while our back is turned. We pay so much attention to the things we consider important while living our lives unaware that Satan is pecking away behind our backs. We may turn, but when we do, he has disappeared, leaving only the destruction that he caused.           The Bible likens the devil to a lion. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”(1 Peter 5:8). Sometimes the devil devours a person all at once, but more often he destroys us in little ways. We view the destruction as bad luck, or someone else’s fault but it is really the devil pecking away at our lives. Like the man in the parking lot, when we turn to our right, Satan moves to the left, and we never realize what has actually happened. He pecks at our character, chips away at our beliefs, and attempts to shred our faith. He pecks at our heart and if we never turn, he continues his pursuit until we no longer desire to live for Jesus.

            This is why Peter urges us to be serious about our faith, aware of what is going on in our lives, on the alert for the spiritual losses that are happening around us. We need to maintain vigilance over the things that really matter, and let the less mportant things take care of themselves.  Our spiritual lives are far too important to turn our back only to let Satan ruin things for us.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Part Of Isaiah 9 We Skip Over In The Christmas Story

With the Christmas holiday, the prophecy found in Isaiah 9 becomes a key topic in churches throughout the world. We love to read those glorious words,
For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV)
The promises of the scripture give us strength as we ponder the power of the birth of Christ. We love to discuss what we are saved to… but we often miss the power of what we are saved from.

This week, Isaiah 9:4-5 captured my attention. It is a powerful text and deserves our attention. To grasp it’s meaning we must create a mental image of battle. Picture an army engaging in battle during the Isaiah the prophet’s lifetime. Soldiers walked great distances to reach the battlefront. Drones, bombs and grenade launchers were not available. They relied on Arrows and swords to defeat their enemy. Because of this, the soldier wore heavy armor complete with heavy breast plates, helmets, metal arm and leg protection, and armor coverings on their boots.

Movement of any kind could be painful, binding and pinching the skin. While the battle was raging, the soldier sweat profusely, cuts and scrapes could not be avoided, and shear exhaustion was the result. When soldiers withdrew from battle, their clothes would be drenched in sweat and blood. Their bodies were covered with sores, even if they escaped injury by enemy sword. Additional injuries were not dealt with until the day’s battle was over. This often added a great amount of extra blood, which soaked the soldier’s clothes. When they were finally able to retreat, even their boots were filled with sweat and blood. The next day, the soldier did not have a suitcase full of clean clothes. What they had on the previous day was what they had to wear that day. It is a gruesome picture but an accurate description of battle.

Sin has so many similarities to the picture of battle. We never enter into sin thinking that it will leave us bloodied, soaked, and exhausted. But, think about the actual effects of sin. Addiction, financial ruin, broken relationships, loss of health, and separation from all we hold dear are the real results of sin. Day in and day out we must wear the same garment of sin, and each day we are robbed of more of our existence, until there is nothing left to give.

The good news is that Christ came to offer salvation.
“For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,

you have shattered

the yoke that burdens them,

the bar across their shoulders,

the rod of their oppressor.”
Isaiah 9:4 NIV
When we accept Christ, the yoke of sin is shattered. The rod of our oppressor is broken. The bar across our chest and shoulders that carries the weight of guilt and shame is lifted from us.  The yoke of Christ replaces the yoke of sin. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29 NASB).

Why, after having the yoke of sin removed, would we want to have the yoke of Christ placed on us? It is for our own protection. Jesus said that if a demon is not replace by something else, it will just go and get ten more, and the problem will be even worse. Once we are safely in the yoke of Christ, he is able to carry our burden, and keep us from being recaptured.

Now, here is where this victory has its profound effect.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle

and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,

will be fuel for the fire.”
(Isaiah 9:5 NIV)

The King James Version conveys the picture of this verse beautifully. “For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise.” What a great picture of a life in sin. But when the silence of redemption comes, our bloody, smelly garments are rolled up, and thrown into God’s consuming fire along with our worn out boots.

The Voice presents verse five like this:
It’s true. All the fabric of war will go up in flames:

the troops’ heavy boots that stamped us down and their blood-soaked garb

Will all be burned beyond recognition or use.

There will be a new time, a fresh start.”

When we come to terms with what we have been saved from, the picture of what we have been saved for becomes all that much sweeter. We like to downplay sin as simply an error in judgment, or a poor choice, which we can walk away from any time we want. But look at the real effects of sin. We see it in broken lives, destroyed families, crushed hearts, and shattered lives. The yoke of sin is a burden that crushes us. We need help if our lives are to get any better. It is because of this that Isaiah wrote:
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
 And the government will rest on His shoulders; 
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, 
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
 The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.”

(Isaiah 9:6-7 NASB)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Using The Past To Shape Our Future

“Leadership takes many forms. A leader is one who influences others through the power of his or her person and gifting.” Bob Mitchell

I met Bob Mitchell, Former President of Young Life a couple of weeks ago. What a kind couple he, and his wife are. Through them I received a copy of his book, Letters To A Young Life Leader. I want to share a portion of the introduction to his book because it is powerful and pertinent in times like these. The words are for leaders of the organization, but whenever Bob says, Young Life, feel free to put any organization, or governmental structure you want.
 Fred Bittner

           " In the days of the steam locomotive this story was told. It seems that somewhere in the South a dog was being shipped by train. For a couple of days the dog sat in its crate on the station platform. Finally someone asked the station attendant about the dog and its destination. He answered, “We don’t know what we’re gonna do with that dog. He don’t know where it is he come from, and he don’t know where it is he’s a-goin’…and furthermore, he done chewed up his tag!”
            It is important to know “where it is we come from and where it is we’re a-goin.” I know there are those who would say that “history,” or, from where it is that Young Life has come, is not important. Not wishing to dwell in the past, they would insist, “What is past is past! What is now is now!”. I understand this thinking and the desire to “move on,” and not attempting to recapture feelings of the good old days.
            But we ignore our history to our peril! To “chew up the tag” of important lessons learned, the ways God has led, may mean that we will be less effective in our mission, and tragically, we may even repeat our mistakes. God forbid that we forget those leadings from him which are timeless and essential!"

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Finding The One

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”
Matthew 18:12-14 (NKJV)

            The sad truth is that America is filled with lost sheep that nobody bothered to pursue. At one time they were very active in church but then something happened. It’s hard to say what that “something” was, but when it happened, the lost sheep was hurt. When they walked away from the body, nobody pursued them. On their own and lost, their faith began to suffer until they accepted their position as another name on the inactive file at the church.
            Why was the lost sheep not pursued? Church leadership can come up with any number of reasons; most of which place the blame on the lost sheep. Actually, in today’s “Seeker Friendly” churches, new fresh faces quickly replace the lost. Why seek the sheep when new lambs are born everyday.  It’s true, but is it Biblical?
            The mantra of the lost sheep is “I use to go to (fill in the blank)”. Amazingly the lost sheep’s problem is not with God. Their problem is with what they call the “Organized Church”. They were hurt and nobody pursued them, nobody checked, and so it felt like nobody cared.
            The easy question for the church is, “Why don’t they just come back?” It’s a good question, but the answer is not all that simple. While the church has moved on without thought, the lost sheep has remained in the place where they were hurt. They are still waiting to be pursued, waiting for the church to act like Christ intended. Until that happens, the lost sheep will remain little more than a statistic on a Gallop pole of those who believe in God, but do not attend church.

“It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven
that one of these little ones should perish.”

            I want to be a part of a church, which is committed to restoration. I want to be part of a church that can legitimately say, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:18 (NKJV). Understandably restoring lost sheep is a challenge. Restoration is a slow process, and wounds may go deep, but the results are worth the investment. It may not be the largest church in the community. It may not have the most exciting programming. But it may well be the most rewarding. It is a certainly Biblical venture.