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As is the man

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Judges 8:21 “As is the man, so is his strength”

    Strength arises out of character.  A dictionary definition of character is: “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.”   People are complex, imperfect and therefore flawed.  No one is pure and no one has perfect strength.  The Old Testament is full of  people with complex characters that determined their strength.  In Gideon’s case (this scripture  was directed at him) he was sometimes fearful, sometimes brave, sometimes prideful, sometimes humble.  Yet God worked through Gideon’s flawed strength to deliver Israel from oppression.  It is not a man’s strength that makes the victory rather it is God’s spirit. ” ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.” (Zec 4:6)
     The human condition hasn’t changed since Old Testament times.  We are still flawed, still prone to character defects, still prone to failure and we suffer for it.  What has changed since the Old Testament times is that we are not doomed by our failure!  This change is God’s doing.   Jesus said; “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29,30)   If you can find the strength to pick up His yoke He will work a change in your character while giving you rest.  Out of that rest comes a renewed, transformed strength.  You no longer have to exhaust yourself trying to be perfect, trying to be strong, trying to be right all the time!
     How does this happen?   The apostle Paul tells us; “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)  As we learn from Jesus by being open to His Word, we are transformed in our minds.  Out of this process our strength isn’t conformed to what this world passes off as strength.  Our strength takes on a purity and perfection that enables us to deal with this world’s troubles with joy, hope and peace.  ”These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)
     I  work with drug addicts who are in recovery.  Many, many times as they struggle with their addiction which they are powerless over, these men overcome by having the strength to take Jesus’ yoke upon them.  Their banner of sobriety becomes; “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13)

From a distance

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Luke 23: 39 – 43

 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”  But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
 
     People standing in the crowds at Jesus’ crucifixion would not have been able to hear the agonized conversation that Jesus had with his fellow prisoners.  People standing a good distance away would see three crosses and three condemned men dying a horrible slow death.  If they were close enough they might see them talking but wouldn’t be able to make out what was being said.  So for the crowds standing well back, they would never have had any idea that at that terrible time, a criminal’s eternal life was saved while he was dying on his cross.
 
     We are very fortunate to live in such a peaceful and prosperous country.  Many of us stand well back from tragedy, crime and criminals, dope and drug addicts.  Sometimes we see terrible events occur from a distance.   I’ve never witnessed an execution and don’t ever want too.  I have been there for a few friends as they died from illness.  I wasn’t  with my father or mother when they died.  And I often wonder what kind of conversations occur in those last few moments.  
 
     Sometimes we look at the outside appearance only, standing well back we can be overcome with  bleak anxieties about a person’s fate, forgetting that Jesus’ outreach and influence extends right to the last breath.  Often I’ve heard people say that ‘so and so’ got what they deserved because of their poor choices or unhealthy life styles. That was a prevalent attitude with the crowds at Golgotha.
 
     The Gospel tells us that; “The Lord is not slack … , but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”(2 Peter 3:9)  We can all rejoice that Jesus’ has a very different attitude than those standing at a distance.  His love is right there for us and available when we call out for it.  Especially for those who others think don’t deserve it and even for those who think they have earned it.

How good are you?

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Luke 18:19  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.”

      Wow!  Is Jesus telling us that even He isn’t good?  Or is Jesus telling us to be careful about how good we think we are?  Jesus is talking to a rich young ruler who has approached Him with a question as to what he has to do to inherit eternal life (Luke 18: 18 – 27).  Jesus begins his answer with this powerful statement since the rich young ruler called him ‘Good teacher’.  Jesus then goes on and cites the ten commandments and the young ruler immediately says – ‘I’ve followed them all since I was a boy.’  The rich young ruler seems pretty sure that he is a good as anyone gets!
      Jesus takes the wind of the young ruler’s sails;  “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)  The rich young ruler couldn’t let go of his wealth and went away very sad.  Jesus sums up; “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (v 24)  The disciples asked; “Who then can be saved?”  (v 26) And Jesus answered: “What is impossible with human beings is possible with God.”  (v 27)
     Is it hard for rich people to get into the kingdom of God just because their rich?  Does money alone keep you out?   I don’t think so – it’s your relationship to the money that counts.  If you love it more than God, you’re in as much trouble as the rich young ruler.  Jesus simply showed the rich young ruler what was standing in his way with respect to inheriting eternal life.  For the rich young ruler it was his love of money.  Anything that we place before God will keep us out of the kingdom of God.   For different people it can be different things?
     What holds you back?  What holds me back?  I’ve approached Jesus at some time or another with the attitude that I’m pretty good – I’ve arrived!  Usually I fall into this trap when I’m judging someone or feeling pretty complacent in my (self) righteousness.  He has a way of taking the wind out of my sails. 
     What if he asked me to give up ‘my everything’ and follow Him – would I respond any differently than the rich young ruler?  I realize that there are some things that I am powerless over – I can’t give them up?  In the poverty of that realization I can only throw myself on His mercy.  By His strength I can do all things (Phil 4:13).  On my own I would walk away like the rich young ruler – every time!  That’s who I am!  But when I become poor in spirit and realize that there is no great goodness in me I can receive His blessing;   “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3)
     When I get to Heaven – I’ll be easy to spot.  I’ll be wearing a bright orange t-shirt that says  – JESUS GOT ME IN!

Divided Loyalties

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Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.”

     Jesus isn’t saying that money is bad or we should all live a life of poverty.  He is saying that divided loyalties create a tension in our heart that eventually becomes destructive.  If we serve God, we must walk as Jesus did.  This is a walk of compassion, empathy and humility.  If you’re  like me, this kind of a walking is tough; I do it with difficulty and stumble a lot.  This kind of walking makes me lose weight – especially the hard callous that always builds up around my heart. 
    
     If we serve Money, we can walk with an easy gait down a broad avenue and enjoy ourselves!  I’m drawn to this kind of strolling. Unfortunately when I’m on this kind of trip I gain lots of weight.  I swell up with pride, my middle bulges with indifference to my neighbour and my hands grab for all kinds of stuff that I want to carry with me.  When you serve Money, forget about travelling light.

     Somehow, we have lost touch with the idea that “less is more”.  Our society seems to be driven to grow, grow, grow.   We seem to feel that we aren’t successful unless we earn more, get more, do more, travel more, see more and on and on.  How much time do you have for your spouse and kids as you do more and more, as you chase after more and more?  How much joy is in this kind of ‘more and more’ when you find yourself drifting further and further away from those you love?

     In my post about ‘The Narrow Door’ I wondered if people would ask – why bother going through this narrow door – if it takes so much effort and is so difficult?  This is an honest question.  Here is a good answer.  Going through the ‘Narrow Door’  makes less of you – your ego will shrink and your heart will open up.   Less is more!

     The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).  Money love is a tool of a thief that steals your relationships, your emotinal health and even physical health and replaces these blessings with stuff – lots of empty stuff.  Jesus said; “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they [you and me] may have life, AND HAVE IT TO THE FULL.” (John 10, 10)

The Narrow Door

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Luke 13:22 – 14:6

Luke 13: 24  “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”

     This is one of these verses that can get people upset.  The culture we live in doesn’t like narrow doors.  We like our doors wide, accessible and inviting with lots of ‘glitz’.  We like doors that are easy to get through both for entering AND EXITING.  A wide and easy door that lets lots of people through is a popular door.  Its a door for easy  and casual company.  Its a door that makes backing out as easy as slipping in.  We don’t like the thought of not being able to go through any door.

     The narrow door, the one that Jesus is talking about, is a door that only lets one person through at a time.  It is a door that requires effort to go through.  The kind of effort that makes less of you not more.  It is a door that you can’t be too swelled up with pride or ego to squeese through.   It is a door that you can’t bring a lot of stuff through.  You have to let go and drop what you’re carrying to open it.   It is a door that you have to bend your head a bit to fit through – there goes the stiff necked pride.

     You start by looking for the door and knocking on it;”… seek, and you will findknock, and it will be opened to you.”  (Luke 11:9)  Don’t try to carry a grudge through it;  “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11:26)   Leave your pride at the door; “For the Lord takes pleasure in His people;  He will beautify the humble with salvation.” (Psalm 149:4)

     When you’re through the door – you’ll realize that He carried you through; “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,.. ” (Zec. 4:6)    The self-satisfied, the self-absorbed, the self-centered, the self righteous never have that realization.  What do you think?

Where is your treasure?

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Luke 12:8 – 34
Luke 12:34 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
                Business oriented people are often asking; “What’s the bottom line?”   This is a good question to ask in any situation because it’s the ‘bottom line’ that sums up the entire deal!  Jesus framed this question in general terms – covering the spiritual as well as the practical.  These two aspects of reality aren’t as unrelated as we have come to believe.  
                 How we live our daily lives and treat others are practical matters that relate directly to the spiritual orientation of our hearts.  What does a person chase after? What does a person desire above all things and what does a person guard and protect? The answers to these questions expose the spiritual reality of our lives.  Some would say; “My life doesn’t have a spiritual reality – I don’t believe in religious stuff!”  Not believing in a spiritual reality is a spiritual reality.  Any grade school math teacher can tell you that zero is as much a number as one or two or three is.   What kind of experiential chauvinism allows people to deny the existence of something because they don’t experience it?  I’ve never gone to China but I’m not about to deny its existence because I’ve never had (or wanted) the experience.
                As we consider all the things that pull at our heart we can start to get a sense of our spiritual geography.   Where do your motivations carry your mind, soul and spirit?  Through what emotional terrain does your daily life bring you – a cool meadow or a high place or a swamp?  If your life is like mine – we travel through all kinds of terrain as we seek our heart’s desires.   Jesus said to us; “… do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.  … But seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 8: 29-31)
                How do we seek His kingdom?  We have to make an effort – journey towards it.  I have a plaque in my home that says; “Wise men still seek Him”.  Even today, people search of something better than the shallow reality of consumerism.  This ‘walk’ through the Bible is a journey towards His kingdom.  Like the wise men of old – you’ll find the journey long but worth the effort – if you stay at it.
                A sign post along the way that will tell you that your heading in the right direction is the realization that; “ … a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12: 15)

Is your ‘house’ divided?

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April 5 – Luke 11:14-36
Luke 11:17 “… ‘Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.’”
                Jesus was accused of casting out a demon from a suffering man by the power of the devil.  His accusers were jealous of Jesus’  power and had no compassion for the suffering of the man Jesus delivered.   Jesus countered these critics by pointing out the lack of logic in their claims.  The devil would never let his ‘so called’ power be used to ease human suffering – to do so would diminish his kingdom.  In his absolute selfishness, the devil isn’t one to share power!
                Today we rarely think in terms of demons and the devil.  But suffering still exists and so does jealousy as well as compassion.    It’s a complex world.  But we can discern a powerful spiritual principle in Jesus’ words.  Even though it’s a complex world, any nation, community, house, family or even individual must have a basic unity of spirit to stand against ruin.
                What does this kind of unity of spirit look like?  This question can be answered at any level  (from community to individual) by looking at results.  Elsewhere (Matthew 7:20) ,  Jesus said plainly that a person would be exposed by the outcomes of their actions (‘By their fruits you will know them’).
                All of us are complex people living in a complex world, we all have a past and some of it we aren’t proud of.  Our ‘inner houses’ are divided and the ‘ruins’ in our past show it.  The Good News is that we can change – “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
                The fruit of standing firm in His Word and keeping in step with Him is: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.’ (Galatians 5:22)   We will change as we move forward increasing our unity with the Spirit of His Word!  This doesn’t happen in one step or all at once – like any genuine change it happens over time after many steps (some backwards, sometimes stumbling). 

               Spiritual progress not spiritual perfection is the rule on this side of eternity.

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