Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Living Sacrifice

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
Romans 12:1

Jesus gave us the ultimate example of sacrifice. The Bible says that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In other words, when we were still against God, before we had ever made a decision to follow Him, He gave His life for us. This is an amazing example of friendship and love. Paul also points out that we, as humans, might choose to die for a righteous person but never for a wicked person (Romans 5:7). Think about it, who would you put your life on the line for? Who would you be willing to die for? Your kids? Spouse? Your brothers, sisters, parents, or friends? For these people we might be willing to die, but what about the person who bullied you in high school? Or the boss who just fired you? Let's take it a step further and consider whether you would put your life on the line for the serial killer on death row. Would you be willing to take his place? What about Osama Bin Laden when he was still alive? If you had a chance, would you have taken his place while helping him to safety from the blast that killed him? Most of us would not have. However, Christ died for each one of these people and He also died for us while we were still His enemy! This is why Paul states that it is only reasonable for us to present our own lives as a sacrifice to Him in return. This is not even above and beyond, it's the least we can do in response to what He did for us. He gave His whole life for us and all we can offer in return is our own life.

So what does it mean to present our bodies as living sacrifices? 

A lot of times we discuss this verse when we reference putting down our carnal nature. We think that Paul is referring to cutting off our sinful desires (i.e., lust, greed, dishonesty, gossip, etc.) when he talks about presenting our bodies as a sacrifice, but that is not what Paul is referring to. Our sinful desires and our carnal natures were crucified with Christ when He went to the cross. Christ’s blood has already washed us and freed us from these things. Obviously, we should be stopping our sinful actions and striving towards holiness, as we already discussed in the previous section. Paul also shows us in Galatians 4:9 how foolish it is to continue sinning after being set free,

“But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?”

Why would you want to stay bound to those sinful desires after Christ paid the price for you to be set free? When it comes down to it, giving up sin is not even a true sacrifice. Why would we call it a sacrifice to give up our bondage and accept the freedom that has been offered us? But even if you did consider it a sacrifice to give up our sinful desires, this could never be the sacrifice that Paul is referring to here. Paul is referring to a sacrifice that is "holy, acceptable to God", but sin can never be considered holy.

So if Paul is not talking about us sacrificing our carnal nature then what is he referring to? Again, Paul states that the sacrifice should be “holy, acceptable to God” and a quick look in Leviticus makes it clear what the parameters were for an ‘acceptable’ sacrifice. There were many types of sacrifices in Old Testament times but one thing that was always common to the sacrifices is that they were to be without blemish, perfect in every way (Lev. 1:3; 22:19). Understanding that, we can understand why our sinful nature would never be a sacrifice that would be acceptable to God. In fact, in Leviticus, God commands that the unacceptable parts of the sacrifice should be separated and burned outside of the camp; the rest was presented to God.Applying that same principle in our own lives, we should be putting off the sinful nature and allowing it to be consumed by God’s holy fire. Then we should present the rest of us as a sacrifice to Him. We should be presenting everything that is good about us to Him. Every talent, skill, personality trait, anything that people may compliment us on, should be what we present to Him as our holy sacrifice. We should be putting these things on the Lord’s altar and saying “use them as You will.

Often we think that we need to lay our problems and our weaknesses at His feet, but really what we should be presenting to His throne is our strengths. God has asked for our best parts, our areas of strength and our talents. He’s the one who gave us those things so it is only fitting that they should be used for His glory and He will lead us into how to use those things most effectively. Since He is our creator He knows the best way to utilize our strengths and talents. Not only that, he takes it a step further by strengthening us where we are weak (2 Corinthians 12:9-11). He has the best plan for our lives. 

Therefore, present your whole self, made righteous through Christ’s sacrifice, to God. This is a sacrifice that God will see as holy and acceptable, and this is your reasonable service in response to the sacrifice He made for you.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Pride vs Confidence

"Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."
James 4:10

Sometimes it seems there is a fine line between confidence and pridefulness. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out where exactly that line is. 

At what point does your confidence become arrogance? 
At what point should you advocate for your self and at what point should you shut up and listen?

God has been working with me on these questions for the past few years, especially in the context of my career. In 2013 I was fired from my position as the administrator of a Residential Treatment Home and, though there were many contributing factors, the main underlying reason is that I did not advocate for myself or my program and allowed my supervisors to put me in a no win situation. This was a time where I was supposed to speak up and instead I shut up. 

Soon after God opened up the door in a new, better company that was in the same industry with only one catch, I started from the "bottom". I was hired as a regular staff and began the process of reproving myself in this new company. God, as always, has been faithful and over the past couple years I have had the opportunity to become the Assistant Administrator and have also had a chance to take their leadership academy as well as learn and grow under my current administrator. 

That brings me to my current situation. I learned, from my experience of being fired, to speak up for myself and I have been doing my best to find opportunities to do so in my new company. Even so, an opening for an administrator position came up recently and I wasn't even considered. I found myself getting frustrated and even upset because I am confident I would be a great administrator and I couldn't see why no one was seeing that truth. I felt overlooked and undervalued. 

The morning before I found out that I wasn't being considered for the Administrator position, James 4:10 showed up as the daily verse on YouVersion. "Humble yourselves..." I read it in the morning before I knew that I wasn't being considered and didn't think too much of it. But after getting the notification God brought me back to it. I processed it and I realized that I had allowed my confidence turn into arrogance. 

I found myself getting upset when my boss would point out my mistakes because I felt that he should be recognizing all the great things I do. 

I was upset at them not considering me for the administrator position even though I could see why it may not have been the best fit for me to move on.

But why was I upset? If my boss was pointing out true mistakes, then I should thank him for helping me improve. If the position wasn't the right fit then I should be happy that the people hiring could see that and kept me out of a less than perfect situation. So why be upset? 

My pride was hurt. Not only that but God was showing me how, through my pride, I was trying to make things happen on my own. I wasn't trusting him any longer to put me in the right position at the right time. "Humble yourselves...

Not only did this verse tell me what I need to do but it gave me a promise. If I humble myself than God will lift me up. 

Confidence is good, but confidence doesn't mean that I attempt to lift myself up

At the right time God will lift me up. And when He does I can be confident that I will look back and be thankful that He didn't allow me to lift myself up. 

I was finally starting to get it but God apparently wanted to make sure because the following verses showed up on YouVersion over the next week:

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." - Proverbs 1:7

"Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble." - Proverbs 11:2

"Before destruction the heart of a man is haughty, and before honor is humility." - Proverbs 18:12

"For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation." - Psalms 149:4

I know this was very focused on my own situation but I hope that it helps some of you as well. God has promised that if we humble ourselves and put our trust in Him, He will lift us up. If you are waiting to be lifted up this may just be the word that you needed to hear!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

When You No Longer Experience God...

"Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis

In case you are not familiar with The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis, the important thing to note is that CS Lewis was writing from the view of a demon working for Satan. When you read the above quote you have to switch sides around, in order to truly understand. The "our" is referring to the demonic forces and the "Enemy" is referring to God. 

In our early Christian years there are often moments in which we truly experience God. Moments in which we feel His presence and we see him in everything around us. However as we continue with God we come to a point in which that experience doesn't seem as real. In the beginning, we follow God because we desire to, because there is truly nothing that we want more than to do His will, but there comes a time in which that desire is less prevalent. 

It is in these times that our true nature is revealed and our true power is possible!

When we come to those points where God seems far and we still follow Him, we still look for His will, these are the moments where we can solidify our relationship with Him. These are the moments where we can do the most damage against the enemy's kingdom! 

There is nothing more powerful on this Earth than when a Christian, who does not feel like following God, who even finds him or herself doubting God's very existence at times, makes the choice to seek after His will anyway!

CS Lewis's quote inspired me to write this but I write it from my own experience. I have been in that place the last year or so, and off and on for the last few years. When I was in school I was the student who was always praying for God's calling in my life. I had many times in which I truly experienced God in my life. I had many services in which I experienced being "drunk" in the Spirit and times in which God spoke to me. I remember hearing teacher's talk about what to do when God is silent, or why God is sometimes silent and I never truly understood what they were talking about because since I was twelve years old I heard Him speak to me fairly regularly. I even remember talking to Him when I was as young as six. 

These last few years I have learned why so many teachers talked about this topic. I have had long periods of time in which I felt like God was nowhere to be found. There were even times where I secretly asked myself why I was still following Him, why was I still looking for His will? Then something would happen, something small but just enough to show me that He is still there. Something that would show me that He is still watching out for me and my family. Something just enough to keep me going. 

Now I feel that I am slowly getting out of this cycle. I am finding that I am able to experience Him more often, I am able to find that desire again and be more sure about His presence, but it has been a long uphill battle to get here. I have written before about passing through the storm and Jesus' promise that we are going to "the other side". 

If you feel you are going through the storm now and you find yourself in a place in which you no longer experience God's presence know that you will get to the other side!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Do You Believe?

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?
John 11:25-26

In January I started school again and I am now about to complete my second semester since then. In two semesters I have had the opportunity to take courses in Biology, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Astronomy. In each of these courses there have been descriptions of ideas and theories perpetuated by science which I have always heard downgraded and discarded in church as being against the Bible. These are ideas of the Big Bang, Macroevolution, the universe being billions of years old, as well as others. In the face of these "scientific" ideas I have been forced to rethink some of what I have been taught and reconsider my understanding about the Creation, the existence of God, and more specifically the evidence that I have for and against these things. More specifically I had to rethink: 

How can I present the idea of God in a convincing manner to unbelievers?

Often we hear about scientists who attempt to prove God through science or attempting to disprove theories like the Big Bang or evolution. The famous philosopher Rene Descartes attempted to prove rationally the existence of God but was criticized by other philosophers for "circular thinking". With full recognition that I have only taken introductory courses I have come to one conclusion that I wish both sides would admit:

We will never, on this Earth, be able to scientifically or rationally prove how the world came to be, how humans came to be, or the existence of God.

The biggest thing I have learned in my Astronomy class especially is that no matter how much scientists attempt to use known science to predict how something will be, we will never know how it is until we can observe it directly. Over and over again there were statements in my textbook stating something similar too, "According to everything scientists knew about [some planet, moon, etc.] they would predicted it would be this way but when we flew a probe by it we found out it was completely different" In other words, regardless of how advanced our science is it has been proven over and over again that we have to observe it directly to truly know how something is or how it happened. The only way to know how the world came to be is to get a time machine and go back and observe the beginning of the world. The only way to know how the first humans came to be is to go back and see the first human coming to be. The only way to know God exists is experience God on a personal level.

Even with all of this I can say more confidently than ever:

There is a God!

Jesus Christ of Nazareth is God!

Jesus died for your sins and rose again to conquer death, hell, and the grave!

How can I be confident about these statements? Because I have experienced God on a personal level, I have a relationship with Jesus Christ and I have experienced the evidence of the victory that came from his death and resurrection. 

I will never be able to convince you that God is real. I will never be able to show you enough proof to believe that He created the world and formed humans by His own hand. I will never be able to show the evidence of Jesus's death and resurrection. 

All I can do is attempt to give you enough hope in His existence that you choose to seek Him with an open heart. 

I pray that you will do that. I pray that you will let go of your skepticism and your bitterness against religion. I pray that you will take some time now to take a break from your busy life and seek God with an open heart. Forget about scientific proof and socially acceptable theories and take a moment to truly consider for yourself and yourself alone:

Do you believe this?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dangerous Prayers

Dangerous prayers. I just started a week long reading plan about Dangerous prayers. Is there such a thing? It starts off with the line from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” saying that Aslan is not safe but He’s good. Dangerous prayers.

I guess a dangerous prayer is one which is dangerous to our comfort zones, one that prays against the easy way of life. It is one that comes right up to the question of “why are we doing this thing?” So to start I have to ask myself, “why am I doing this thing?” Why am I a Christian? Why am I living? Why am I striving to be a good husband and father? Why am I working in Mental Health and now going to school? Dangerous prayers.

In order to truly make a difference I have to get out of where I am comfortable. I have to get out of my comfort zone. I have to step out of the easy way of life. Do I truly want to make a difference?

In order to reach people I have to step out, I have to reach out, I have to be seen. Do I really want to reach people? 

How far am I willing to go to reach God’s plan on my life? How far am I willing to go to fulfill His purpose in my life? 

Let’s start here: “Lord, teach me to pray dangerously!”