Saturday, March 19, 2011

He Himself is Sufficient

(Souce text - Hebrews 13:5)

A cursory glance through the early part of Hebrews chapter 13 reveals several instructional verses more of the random nature than of a pattern of a message. As though the author had gone to great lengths to make a handful of complex points in all the previous chapters, and now, breaking from the mental tilling, is tossing a few grains fo seed in at random barren patches of dirt he sees, hoping to address the barren spots.

The are, nonetheless, all most profound and inspired words. Verse five has always stuck deep in my heart - as no doubt it also has many, many saints throughout the centuries since it was first read.

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

It is tempting when reading this passage - as often we do - to pull only part of it out on its own, as though the latter part of the verse is the REAL meaning of the passage, and the former piece just a supporting point.

To do so, however, is a mistake.

What we are looking at really is an instruction with a supporting proof. Although we are often inclined to see it incorrectly as a prescription and consequent result.

Here's what I mean: we are so often tempted to read instructions as are contained in the first statement of this verse as though they are a prescription for a result. We think God is telling us, "If you do __________, you will get ________." And so this is how we read and interpret Scripture all the time. It's even how we understand and filter life.

Trouble is it's NOT necessarily the truth. Most of the time God is actually saying something more like, "This is how I am, and this is what I've done. So here is what your response ought to be like..."

Do you get the critical difference there?

One perspective puts the onus on ourselves to create our own destiny by our behavior - or by our ability to follow a prescription effectively. The other perspective puts the onus on God - on His true and unchanging nature - to be the cause and ourselves merely the affected party who is responding to God's character or work. The former really just results in our glory, and the latter results in God's glory.

So then, back to the passage...

What the Holy Spirit is quite clearly communicating to us through the writer of Hebrews is that "God is enough for us." That's why and how we can "let our conduct be without covetousness," and be "content with such things as we have." Because God Himself is enough for me, and he has promised that He will be with me always.

In fact, a supporting passage from the Gospels is found in the Great Commission at the end of Matthew:

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and behold I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen

So Scripture confirms Scripture that God is with us at al times. In fact didn't David speak of this same thing in the Psalms when he said, "Where can I go from your Spirit?" And if He Himself is sufficient for us in all things and in all ways - which TRULY HE IS j- then we can heed the exhortation of Hebrews to be "content with such things as we have" by allowing God to fill every want in our hearts.

All of these truths here not withstanding, let me emphasize one other aspect to this point...

As always it does, Scripture is speaking to our inner being here - our Spirit - to impart an eternal truth about where we should derive our hearts satisfaction. When we 'covet' something, it is an issue of the heart, though often we try to justify it with 'external need.'

So God is not saying we cannot want what we actually need, nor is He denying our real and tangible needs exist. Rather He is exposing the inner places of our soul where sin hides and offering us a lasting resolution - Himself.

Consider one further passage of Scripture, John 4:13-14

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Beauty of the Cross

I was just listening to a preacher that I like to hear through iTunes. I made a very powerful statement in regards to following religion versus following the Gospel. He said that the beauty of the cross is not in how well I do things or how righteous I am, but in the fact that God loves me despite how sinful I am and that He extends grace and mercy and salvation for those things which I have offended him (my paraphrase).

It's just amazing to me to hear Matt speak about religion versus the Gospel because I grew up in "American Christianity" and during the era of Christendom (or specifically speaking, cultural morality that was based on biblical values). It's cool because Matt gets it. He sees that the Gospel is not about religion in the sense where we have typically defined religion today: a way of being accepted by God if I do what He says. Matt's message is that this is NOT the Gospel! The Gospel really is that God accepts me through the blood of Christ and therefore I obey him out of gratitude and love, not "begrudging submission."

Growing up in American Christianity I have found that by and large the bulk of Evangelical America is following a religion based on the Gospel, not the actual Gospel itself. This leads to and promotes things like basing our self-worth on our ability to adhere to a pattern of behavior that in the end has no actual power to transform the heart of man. Where instead the power of the actual Gospel is that through the grace and life of Christ within me God changes my heart and transforms me into a new creature, and I get to watch and participate in His incredible glory for eternity - both here on earth and forever after this life. What an incredible promise!

The beauty of the cross is not that I make such a great Christian that I bring amazing glory and honor to God. The beauty of the cross is that in all honesty I am a miserable scumbag at heart and because God loves me and is cleansing me via the life of Jesus Christ at work in me, I am no longer neither miserable nor a scumbag. I am a child of God.

*To hear the sermon by Matt Chandler that inspired this post, click here. To read a transcript of his message, click here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Inviting God Into Your Brokenness

The other night I spent some time with my wife at her job. She's a summer camp director at a Christian camp in central PA. This week she has a guest speaker from Minnesota and his ministry team joining the camp. The speaker shared a very powerful message that night about brokenness, it was actually his testimony of how God saved him. Not your typical message - or testimony. God literally saved him from death, at his own hands. The speaker shared his story about how on a morning in 1992 after a half hour of panic, Billy, a tough but broken young man faced all of his brokenness collapsing in on him - or rather the walls he built. Billy has a unique story of a life with a broken home and an alcoholic and ultimately absent father, a tendency toward perfection in sports and religion, and a few years of military service.

This particular morning not long after Billy had come home from his time in the military, he opened the door of his house with the awareness that someone was in the house. His newly honed military skills and senses kicked into action as he prepared to take care of the unwitting intruder. However, as he stealthily checked every room of the house and finally found himself in the basement with only one room left, he found no one there. But still, he was keenly aware of the presence of someone - or something just behind him. It was the feeling of tangible evil.

Over the next several minutes Billy's years of brokenness and the walls he had built which held it back came crumbling down on top of him until finally he found himself sitting in the makeshift office in the basement with a rifle aimed square at his chest. He couldn't quite figure out a way to hold the gun and fire it, until he balanced it on a ledge. As the thoughts ran through his mind, "Do it!" and, "Well, I don't know," the gun shifted toward his shoulder as it went off. Bang!

As Billy described the next few moments in his own words: "The pain was unbearable. The stench of burning flesh was ungodly. The blood was unreal." Billy collapsed from the pain, shock and loss of blood. His right shoulder had been nearly completely blown off. His deltoid muscle was gone. Part of his collarbone had been blown into his lung. The bullet had gone completely through his body and out the other side.

As Billy regained consciousness he heard the voice of the Police chief descending the stairs of his house to the basement where he was, gun drawn. "Are you OK, kid?" The police thought there was a shooter involved. The paramedics soon arrived, and had to literally carry Billy in a body bag up the stairs because the staircase out of the basement was too narrow and steep to get a gurney in. One of the first paramedics there was a kid who went to school with Billy. Tears streamed down his face, as Billy said, "I'm going to die, aren't I. Am I going to be OK?"

But what happened between the time Billy fired that gun and when he regained consciousness is something amazing - an unique. As Billy says, "What happened was God."

The investigators reports show that from the desk in the makeshift office downstairs where Billy shot himself there were blood footprints on the floor all the way over to the bed where police and paramedics found him lying. When Billy was found he was still wearing his size 11 running shoes he had on when he came home that day. The footprints were size 8, barefoot.

There is also no explanation for the towel from upstairs that was used as a dressing already wrapped around Billy's shoulder when police and paramedics arrived. No one was home but Billy.

And there is no explanation for why the Emergency Dispatch Service to this day cannot find the recording of the 911 call that came in triggering the dispatch of police and paramedics to Billy's home.

Billy stood before the audience and with determination and conviction in his eyes said, "Don't tell me there is no God."

What followed is perhaps just as miraculous as what happened between the gunshot and the arrival of medical professionals. God saved Billy's life even though Doctors in the Hershey Medical Center and Johns Hopkins University thought Billy was going to die. They thought they were going to have to amputate his arm to even have a chance at saving him. Three days later, on his little brother's birthday, Billy regained consciousness and began a long period of pain and recovery - and of transformation.

Billy shares how for two years after his life was dramatically different and still broken. But through it all God worked in his life and ultimately was able to change Billy. His heart behind the testimony and something he repeated over and over was that he prays that none of those who hear his story have to go through the same level of suffering before they allow God to help them.

The whole point of Billy's story is that he had years of brokenness that he thought he could bear on his own. He thought he could handle it until it all came crashing in on him.

As I sat listening, touched, I knew that what he had to say was just as much for me as it was for anyone else in that room. So often I try to handle everything in my own strength. I try to build walls to hide and protect me from my own brokenness. But in it all, God wants to come into my brokenness and bear it for me.

It's just like the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Corinthian believers, His strength is made perfect in weakness. We think we must be strong to survive, but really we must be weak and allow God to come into our weakness. We must invite Him in, because being a God of love He will never force His way into your life.

Do you have it all together? Is your world just falling apart? If either answer is yes, you need God. Because eventually all of your pain or all of your success is going to come crashing in on you and you are going to need God to lift you up - to carry you through.