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written by Elder Mike Hosey.
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Spiritual Truths in the Aftermath of a Hurricane

I saw some spiritual truths this week as I feebly ministered to people in the wake of hurricane Michael’s fury.

Every road I’ve traveled down this week, and every building I’ve entered, and every person I’ve met has reminded me of the frailty that exists in almost every thread of our lives. We are guaranteed very little. Almost anything we have can be taken in a moment – in the blink of an eye. The wind can blow and the rain can fall and the waves can crash. If your life doesn’t have a good foundation then the experience of your loss, and the reality of your loss can be very great. Houses without good foundations or good  building codes do not stand in the storm. What I have seen this week illustrates this spiritual truth in ways that only people who have survived a storm can truly understand. People who have Jesus as a rock and foundation – or a building code – have a life that stands after the strongest storms.

As I walked through one woman’s back yard I was constantly tripping over vines. They hindered my ability to remove debris, and to help her right her yard. I cursed the vines because they were in my way. But then I realized a spiritual truth. Satan uses sins and attitudes and rebellion to grow vines in our lives that make it harder for the Holy Spirit to move through our hearts and to right our ways. What if we allowed Jesus to grow vines in our lives that made it harder for Satan to move through our minds – vines like love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness and self control. How many of these vines might grow if we simply served Jesus by serving others at least as much as we serve ourselves.

I pray that we can all learn these truths without the storm.

Don’t Take The Bait

A fisherman baited his hook with raw pieces of bloody meat.  He dropped the hook into the water, and as the bait splashed beneath the ripples, the blood invisibly dispersed among the eddies and currents that meandered and swirled peacefully beneath the boat.  In curly, fingery wisps it found its way to the nares of a nearby fish. Once inside, it triggered the fish’s sense of smell, and his forebrain lit up and crackled like the fireworks that children play with. He sensed food. His body was designed for food, and as the firestorm in his brain raged, he swam toward the smell. The closer he got to the bait, the stronger the smell infected his brain, and the more he craved the taste of whatever it was he was smelling. In a single, swooping pass he chomped the bait.  He was unable to see or smell the hook, and it pierced the inside of his mouth and tore his flesh. Instantly, another part of his brain electrified. Realization, fear, panic, and swarms of chemical signals twitched every muscle. He struggled to get away, swimming with all of his might, but the struggle was in vain. The more he resisted, the the stronger the hook grabbed. The fisherman reeled in his catch, took it home, and ate the fish at a wooden table next to a warm fire blazing on a brick hearth.

The fisherman used bait to entice the fish.  He put something attractive to the fish into his world.  In fact, there was nothing inherently wrong with the composition of the bait.  It’s sole purpose was to lure the fish and to conceal a hook. This is a picture of temptation.  In almost all instances, temptation is comprised of something (at least in part) that we are designed to receive or use in some way.  However, the bait is wrapped around a sinful hook that is designed to entrap us and pull us away from where God would want us. That hook is usually a simple lie.  For example, a young man (or woman) may be enticed into sexual intimacy before the commitment of marriage with the lie that there will be no emotional, physical, or spiritual consequences for the intimacy.  Humans are made for intimacy, and so intimacy is highly attractive. Satan takes this attraction and places it in deceptive contexts, and it can be difficult to resist.

There is nothing wrong with feeling anger. Because we are made in the image of God, it is an emotion that we share with him. It is designed to help us recognize and right the wrongs we experience in the world.  So when we see something wrong, we are lured to a state of anger. Satan will wrap that emotion around the deceptive hook of revenge, and try to lure us away from love and into bitterness or some other element of our sinful natures.

So don’t take the bait unless you want to be eaten (1 Peter 5:8).

Did Jesus Encourage Dishonesty?

One of the most confusing parables of Jesus is the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-13).  Smart people have been dissecting it since Jesus spoke it. There are a number of elements that make it difficult to understand.  For instance, every single character in the parable is dishonest. And Jesus appears to encourage us to imitate dishonesty by setting up the example. In the parable, a master discovers that his chief steward is wasting his money.  He calls the steward to account and threatens to fire him. The steward, who is not able to do physical labor, and is too proud to beg, decides to call in the master’s debtors.  He dishonestly slashes their debt, and they unhesitatingly agree to the deception of paying less than what they actually owe. He thus makes friends with his master’s debtors, so that when he is kicked out of the master’s house, he has somewhere to go. Surprisingly, the master then commends his manager for his cleverness and cunning. But even more surprising, and also quite strange, Jesus argues that “the sons of this world” are more shrewd than the “sons of the light,” and then remarks that we should use unrighteous wealth to make friends, so that they can welcome us into their eternal homes. Very Strange.

But not really when you apply some serious thought to his next words.  To paraphrase, Jesus said, “he who is faithful in little will be faithful in much, and he who is dishonest with little will be dishonest with much.” The shrewd (or dishonest) manager exemplified this. He was faithful to serve himself by wasting his master’s resources, and he was faithful to serve himself even more when he dishonestly lowered what his master’s debtors owed. Any dishonesty present in his wastefulness was compounded by an order of magnitude with his self-rescue mission.  It paid off, and he had the reward of being able to live with the dishonest debtors.

But Jesus is not encouraging us to be dishonest. He is simply using the example to teach the principle of faithfulness.  God has given you many gifts. One of those is money. While money is neither good nor evil, it is an integral part of an unrighteous world — so much so that loving it is the root of many evils (1 Timothy 6:10).  Jesus wants you to hold the money loosely and wisely use it to advance his kingdom. Jesus is arguing that like the shrewd manager, our time in the world is limited, and we should use the resources that God has given us to make friends so that we will have greater treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).  If we are faithful with the little that he has given us, then we will be faithful with the greater spiritual gifts that he has for us as we mature.

Ironically, Jesus’ audience included religious leaders of the day (Luke 16:14-15). They had not been faithful with what God had given them, and like the wasteful manager, were about to be fired from their jobs.

GRACE, MERCY, AND YOUR LOCAL WAITER

We humans are frequently and horribly self-serving. Consider how we handle things that we don’t deserve. When our lives are assaulted with things we believe we don’t deserve, we usually return disfavor to its source.  For instance, I have noticed that when a store clerk, a waitress, or some other service person makes a mistake on an order, humans are very quick to dish out contempt for the server. This is often true even if the mistake is the fault of the chef, or the manager, or some other person in the chain of events, and not the server.  If the server greets us with coldness, we often scorn him or her without even considering what might be contributing to his or her immediate behavior. It never enters our minds that someone may have died, or a marriage may have been lost, or that spiritual forces may be at play for the soul of a person who is acting disfavorably toward us.  Our return disfavor is expressed in our own verbal tones, or body language, a call to the manager, or perhaps, even in a direct verbal strike.

On the other hand, if we are met with undeserved favor, we can be  quick to assign that favor to something good about us. Instead of recognizing the good favor as undeserved, we tend to lift up some portion of our lives that we believe to be righteous as the reason for our blessing. Rarely do I see a person who finds a $20 bill passing a portion of that grace on to someone else who also doesn’t deserve it.  Instead, it is mostly used for immediate gratification.

Grace is favor that is not merited or deserved. It is a central element of the bible.  And God expects us to be changed by it. In fact, he expects us to allow it to flow through us into others (1 Peter 4:10). In the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35) Jesus tells of a man who owes his master a very great sum of money.  He begs the master to spare him. The master cancels the debt, but the forgiven man finds a fellow servant who owes him comparatively much less debt. Ironically,he has that fellow servant punished for his inability to pay. The unmerciful servant had not been changed by the gracious mercy of his master. The grace of his master had not found its way into his heart.

There are many reasons why we do not forgive. I have found that chief among those reasons is that we too often fail to see the grace that has been extended to us.  While we were still in rebellion toward God, he died so that we could be forgiven (Romans 5:8). That’s grace.

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (OR AT LEAST LOOKED LIKE IT).

Walled away from the beauty of Florence, Colorado’s striking blue skies and cool crisp air, Robert Hanssen ticks out the rest of his life in a supermax prison facility where he is serving 15 consecutive life sentences.  If you’re like most Americans, you are not familiar with his name, but he is easily one of the most damaging moles in American history. On the outside, he looked wholesome, clean, and all-American. He was college educated with multiple degrees, married, had six children, and has been described as actively involved in church and church organizations.  He was an FBI agent for decades, and later employed by the State Department. Between 1979 and 2001 he transferred nuclear secrets, strategic information, American counterintelligence activities, and untold numbers of documents to America’s then chief foreign enemy, the Soviet Union. At one point, he even attempted to recruit a friend of his, a Colonel in the U.S. Army, to join him in his efforts at espionage.

Because he grew up in America, looked American, acted American, and was involved in American life, he was mistaken by America to be a friend.  When he was sitting behind his FBI desk, he looked like every other FBI agent. In fact, he looked enough like a good FBI agent that he was given privilege, responsibility, and rank.  Of course, his fruits eventually bore him out, and as he grew more active with the soviets, what he was producing became evident to discerning people around him.

Jesus tells a very similar story in the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-20, Matthew 13:36-43).  In that parable, a farmer sows wheat, and while he is sleeping an enemy sows weeds among the wheat. The farmer’s workers discover it and ask if they should pull up the wheat.  The wise farmer orders them to let the two grow together rather than risk pulling up the wheat with the weeds. When the weeds and the wheat are fully mature, they will be easily identifiable, then they can be separated.  One will go to the fire, and the other to the Farmer’s barn.

What we look like isn’t a measure of our status as children of God.  Instead, it is what we produce as we mature that is a measure of our relationship (Galatians 5:16-25).

Planting Seeds

One of the potential reasons that Jesus used parables to teach people is because they make us think deeply about the principles he was interested in teaching us.  They carry more meaning than lists of facts or dos and don’ts.

Consider one of his most well known parables: the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-9, Matthew 13:18-23). In that story, he compares the spiritual growth process to a sower who casts seed.  Some of the seed falls along the path of the sower. Birds come and take it away, so it doesn’t produce anything. Jesus explains that these birds are like Satan and his demons who steal spiritual truth from people who don’t understand it. The sower then casts some seed that lands on rocky ground. This seed immediately springs up. But because it has no root, it dies quickly. Jesus shares how these are the people who don’t have good soil for roots to take hold, and so even though they respond well to spiritual truth, difficult times that surely come from trying to live it out, burn it away like the scorching sun. The sower casts yet another time, and the seed falls among the thorns. The seed grows, but is choked out by the thorns and weeds.  Jesus argues that these thorns and weeds represent the cares of the world that choke out spiritual truth and don’t allow it to produce fruit. In other words, cares about money, comfort, status, or safety keep one from living out spiritual truth, and therefore producing fruit. Finally, the sower casts seed on good soil. This soil is deep, doesn’t have weeds, and is well protected from thieving birds. It produces fruit in great volumes. Jesus explains that this soil represents people who hear the word and understand it. They then produce a great harvest of spiritual fruits like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

There is an overarching principle found in this story.  Certain kinds of soil grow things well. If you plant good spiritual truth in good spiritual soil, good things will grow.  If you take the time to be a sower, you can grow in some people an abundance of good fruit.

But the opposite may also be true.  If you plant weedy and thorny seeds in the right kind of soil they can grow to choke out good fruit. Whether you like it or not, you are a sower in someone’s field. Everyone’s field has been prepared to grow something. Are you planting seeds of negativity, doubt, bitterness, anger, greed, worldliness, self centeredness or strife in soils that are ready to grow it.  Or are you casting seeds of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness and self control?

Hypocrites in the Church

It’s been said that one shouldn’t look for hypocrites in the church. The problem with doing so is that you will find them.  You’ll find them in the pulpit, and the pews, and the Sunday School room. Just like you’ll find them at your work, and at the grocery store, and on T.V.  Perhaps your neighbor is one. Perhaps, even, your spouse is one. They’re everywhere. The hunt for them would be easy because of their sheer numbers. You won’t be able to change your church, or your work, or your neighborhood by engaging that hunt. The task would be too daunting. But you can, in fact, diminish the number of hypocrites in all of those places that you hold dear.  The best way to do that is to have a word with the hypocrite in your mirror. You can change that one. Just turn him or her over to Jesus.

Hypocrisy is nothing more than the result of an unexamined life. Since the fall of man, our hardwiring has been corrupted beyond belief.  Our nature is ruled by self-preservation, the avoidance of pain, and by the pursuit of things we find pleasurable. Challenging hypocrisy in our own lives interferes with all three of those corrupted elements. To see your hypocrisy means you might have to give up a part of yourself, it certainly means you’ll experience the psychological pain of seeing self-deceit, and it will likely put a wet blanket on some things you might enjoy doing.  But thankfully, you don’t have to challenge that sin by yourself. God has given us the Holy Spirit to show us our faults and to lead us into truth (John 16:8 and John 16:13). Trust that Spirit and you can overcome hypocrisy.

Jesus tells a poignant story of a hypocrit (Luke 18:9-14).  He was a religious leader who went to the temple to pray. Another man – a tax collector – who was severely looked down upon by society because of his station, joined him at the temple.  The religious leader, in his pride, thanked God because he wasn’t like the tax collector, and concentrated on his own excution of religious duties. The tax collector, however, wouldn’t even lift his head, but instead prayed for mercy regarding his sinful state.  Jesus noted that the lowly tax collector would be exalted, while the religious leader would be humbled. Jesus pointed out the value of one noticing one’s sinful state.

The truth is that you can’t fix a problem until you look at it, and identify it.  Hypocrisy blinds us to our problems, and puffs us up without warrant over others. Have you asked the Holy Spirit to search you? Do you have hypocrisy anywhere in your life? Do you see yourself as better than others?

There Are No Guarantees

We live under an illusion of permanency.  We believe that things will always be the same.  And we’ve engineered our world in such a way that illusions of permanency are continually reinforced.  We keep the climates of our buildings and homes at a constant and comfortable room temperature through every season. Most of us keep our refrigerators and pantries full — often with the same staples.  We work at jobs for years on end, and some of us live in towns for decades. But permanency, sameness, and everlasting security are not real. They are, in fact, complete illusions. Everything is in flux.  Everything is always changing. And in a fallen world, everything is always dying. Because we live in a world in which the idea of a guarantee is everywhere in our economy, we’ve tricked ourselves

into thinking that there are actual guarantees.  But the truth is that real guarantees are exceedingly rare.  No one, is guaranteed another day. — or even another second.  Any and every person can cease to exist on this planet at every and any second.

But there is one guarantee of which we can be sure. It is the guarantee that if a person loves God by following Jesus, that he or she can live forever, even if he or she dies on Earth.  And it will be a full, and joyous, and peaceful life.

Many people are unaware of this truth.  This is excruciating. The reason it is so excruciating is because many of these people that don’t know this truth live excruciating lives, and when they disappear from this world, the pain of this world will not leave them, but will intensify for them.

But those who are aware of how much God loves them, are given a wonderful opportunity.  It is the opportunity to remove from this world pain and suffering, and to be a salve for the wounds of those who don’t know the truth.  No one is guaranteed another day. But you can make the most of your time in this world by taking every opportunity to show others Jesus so that they can share in one guarantee that makes the most difference.

Being Wide Open Throttle Means Being Committed

Being Wide Open Throttle means taking a risk. If you twist that throttle all the way around, or if you press that pedal all the way to the floor then you are going to take off, go fast, and feel some power. It’s risky business. In order to “safely” go Wide Open Throttle, you have to be committed to the risk, the speed, and the excitement. If you’re not committed, then you’ll second guess at the wrong time, and that can be quite dangerous.

John the Baptist had the right kind of commitment to live Wide Open Throttle, and that’s exactly what he did! It had been prophesied that he would herald Jesus into his ministry (Matthew 3:3). John lived that prophesy out (Matthew 3:1-16)! He lived in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey, and dressed in coarse robes of camel hair and a leather belt. He probably looked like something out of The Hobbit, or some other fantasy movie. He baptized those who came to him and confessed their sins. When the religious leaders of the day came to watch him baptize those people, he chastised them. He called them a brood of vipers — which would would have been akin to a number of modern profane insults. Talk about taking a risk. Then after calling them such a derogatory name, he schooled them on how being a child of Abraham wasn’t measured by bloodlines, but by behavior. He then indirectly referenced Jesus, and hinted to those religious leaders that they may be burned up like worthless chaff.

John the Baptist didn’t pull any punches. He twisted the throttle all the way the way for the kingdom of God. So much so that Jesus referenced him as the greatest prophet (Matthew 11:9-11). Imagine Jesus calling you the greatest prophet of anyone before you!

John kept the throttle wide open all the way to his death. In his last days, his life had intersected with the life of Herod, the king of Galilee. Herod had been flirting and dabbling with incestuous ideas and relationships. John warned him that this was against the law of God. This angered Herod, who had him imprisoned, and then later beheaded (Matthew 14:1-12). You don’t get any more wide open throttle than that.

So in your Christian walk, what is the last risk you took? When were you last wide open throttle? When was the last time you were half throttle?

Is Your Throttle Attached to Your Wheels?

Being Wide Open Throttle is about going places. You twist the throttle or press the pedal and your vehicle is put in motion toward a goal. But there’s something really obvious about that vehicle that we usually overlook.  It is a complex machine that is made up of many moving parts that are all very, very different, but still work together toward the common aim of moving you and your stuff safely down the road. Those different parts are so intertwined, and so interdependent, and so good at working together that we view the car as a seamless, single object rather than as a bunch of different parts.

 

The Christian walk is very much like this. You can twist your throttle all you want, but if you haven’t bound yourself to your bike, and your bike to your wheels, then you aren’t going anywhere.  Binding yourself to other Christians, who are different than you, but who also are united to you in common purpose is invaluable to that walk. Paul talks about this in depth where he argues that a body needs it’s different parts, but then argues that each of those parts make up the same body. (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).

 

One great illustration of this is found in the story of three Jews with the Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3:1-30). They resisted a king who had required them by law to bow down and worship a giant idol.  If they did not worship as he had decreed they would be thrown into a deadly heated furnace. All three men were unique individuals. And all three men were able to bind together and withstand the King’s evil requirement. They were able to do this because they were united in their love, respect, honor, fear and trust for the one true God. The king did, indeed, have them thrown into the furnace.  Miraculously, God protected them. But it is interesting to note that they were willing to go into the furnace and stand up for their God even if he chose not to save them (Daniel 3:16-18). It’s unlikely that they could have made such a resistance without being bound to each other and to their common God. They demonstrated with perfection Solomon’s wisdom that when three separate cords are woven together into a single strand, they become very hard to break (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

 

Are you Wide Open Throttle?  Have you bound yourself to others who are different from you, but united with you in purpose? Your Wide Open Throttle can’t take you anywhere if you aren’t.

 

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