REFLECTIONS

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written by Elder Mike Hosey.
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Would You Rather Be Dragged Around or Led Around?

Several years ago, my parents and nephews visited me here in Florida. They drove down from Mississippi to spend time with my family. Because I wanted to show them the beauty of our area, I decided to take them on a kayak trip down the Santa Fe River. The boys had not quite reached the preteen years, and were still young.  One of them, Everett to be exact, refused to board his kayak.  All manner of persuasions were tried, and all manner of persuasions failed. He had convinced himself that alligator hazards lurked around every bend, and that the drabness  of the boat ramp was preferable to the dangers of the river. Ultimately, I had to drag him kicking and screaming onto the boat. But once we had glided down the river a bit, his attitude softened, and he realized that the boats and their captains were safe. He also realized that the beauty of the river, and the time with his family was worth the hazards. How we get to know Jesus can be a little like that.

A very controversial verse in the bible is John 6:44. It is there that Jesus declares that no one can come to him unless he is drawn by God. The Greek word for “to draw” in that verse is the same Greek word that means “to drag,” “to pull,” or “to haul,” with purpose (John 18:10, John 21:6, John 21:11, Acts 16:19, Acts 21:30, and James 2:6). Various kinds of Christians argue over the verse because some believe that it means God uses an external force to pull people into salvation whether they like it or not, and that there is no true free will, while others believe that the word means that God uses a gentle internal pulling or wooing to bring people to Jesus which can be resisted or even rejected.

I won’t get into the pre-salvation elements of that controversy given the confines of this short piece. However, I believe it is safe to argue that the principle of “dragging” easily applies on the saved side of salvation. God is continually making us more like Jesus using a variety of methods (Romans 8:28-29). He also disciplines us, and molds us like a father (Hebrews 12:6-7), or like a potter (Isaiah 64:8).  In those instances, God brings us closer to Jesus by dragging us through difficult circumstances.  The more we resist, the harder the drag will be. Once we are saved, he has promised to keep us until the very end (Philippians 1:6). We can either submit to his will and be led around, and see the beauty along the way (Psalm 25:4-10), or we can be dragged kicking and screaming to the same place in the same way that Jonah was (Jonah 1:1Jonah 4:11). Either way, he’s going to finish what he started.

Driving A Hard Bargain

To drive a hard bargain is an American idiom that means to be uncompromising when making a deal. The person who drives the hard bargain is the person who has the advantage in any negotiation.  His or her advantage is so great, and the position of the other negotiator so poor, that the price for the bargain can be set at almost any level.  In reality, when a person is able to “drive a hard bargain,” negotiation does not truly take place. Instead, the disadvantaged negotiator simply capitulates to the bargain driver either out of need for the deal, or out of an overwhelmingly strong desire for the deal. Or, they walk away from the deal altogether.

God drives a hard bargain. Every. Single. Time.  This is because his advantage over us is overwhelmingly, demonstrably, inarguably great. He is the creator of everything, the owner of everything, and the controller of everything. There is nothing that we can offer him that he does not already have. Our failure to recognize this truth sometimes compels us to engage in immature thoughts about what we think we have to offer.  The usual thought process goes something like this:  Dear God, if you get me out of this fix, I will do x, y, or z.   Interestingly, the reverse offering is also frequent:  Dear God, if you get me out of this fix, I will NOT do x, y, or z.   But the truth is that God is not that interested in what you do or don’t do.  Just think for a moment about any human behavior separated from motive. If you think your tithe has worth to God you are mistaken, he already has your money and can separate it from you at any time. What has worth to God is you giving your tithe cheerfully because you love him and wish to obey him. The tithe itself is of no value.  The condition of your heart is what holds value. If you do good things because you expect good rewards, your deeds are self-serving and of no value to God (Isaiah 64:6).  But a heart that desires good deeds because they are good, and because they help to establish the love of God among men, and to change them into something better, is of immense value (Hebrews 10:24, Titus 2:7-9, Philippians 2:13). If you avoid doing wrong things because you fear punishment, then you are not truly being good, you are simply preserving yourself.  What God desires is that you have a transformed heart that willingly follows Jesus with a desire to be like him. Such a heart is of very great value. God knows that once your heart is actually changed, you will tithe for the right reasons, do good for the right reasons, sacrifice for the right reasons, avoid evil for the right reasons, and most of all love him for the right reasons.  This state is a total transformation for the better, and God’s love and your well-being so completely reflected in it that he is unwilling to compromise or negotiate on the process.  Perhaps A.W. Tozer realized this when he noticed, “God never negotiates with men. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross put an end to any kind of negotiations. It is now Christ or nothing. It is now God’s word in its entirety or nothing.”

The Beauty of Ugly Feet and Toenails. . .

Most people don’t put “feet” and “beautiful” in the same stream of thought.  Generally speaking, feet get a bad rap, and are more often associated with stinky socks, smelly sneakers, the aroma of the boy’s high school locker room on a Friday afternoon in May, sweaty ickyness, cold clamminess, or toenails.  And let’s face it toenails and the rest of that stuff are NOT beautiful unless you’re a troll, or Oscar the Grouch.

But as is often the case, God doesn’t always see things in the same way that we do.  On at least two different occasions in the Bible (Romans 10:15, and Isaiah 52:7), feet are described as beautiful.  They’re described that way because they transport the people who bring good news.  When I was a soldier training at Fort Sam Houston, TX, there was a truck that rolled around the post.  We called it the roach coach.  There was really nothing beautiful about the appearance of that truck. But whenever I saw it, I had a good feeling.  It was full of cold drinks, snacks and a variety of goodies. It wouldn’t have mattered if the truck looked like a train wreck in a wet chicken coup, its appearance wasn’t important. Its contents were, and because of that, I saw it as attractive.

Notice that in those feet verses the focus isn’t so much on what God sees as beautiful (although I think he does see those feet as beautiful) but rather on what the recipients of their messages see.  Feet that normally appeared ugly, now appeared beautiful because they brought the best news possible – that people could be friends and children of God once again. When you are outside the will of God, and when you are not friends with the person who sustains all life, you are in a desperate place.

Interestingly, these messengers were in a win-win situation.  God considered them beautiful for their obedience to the Gospel, and their fellow man considered them beautiful for playing a part in their rescue and restoration.  And even more beautiful than all of this, is that you can be just as beautiful as they were when you take the message to those people who haven’t yet received it.  When they do receive it, you too, will be beauty in their life! So no matter how ugly you think your feet are, they can be among the most beautiful objects in the world to the people you touch with the gospel!

A Fire in His Smokey Bones

The word of God is so powerful, and so potent, that it can never be contained. In fact, it’s like a fire which has within it either a destructive or driving force (Jeremiah 23:29Jeremiah 20:9, and Jeremiah 5:14).  The prophet Jeremiah knew this first hand. God gave him a very unpopular message.  Essentially, his message was one of impending judgment on the Hebrew people.  In Jeremiah 20:7-9, the prophet was faced with the unpleasantness of his task. He was thoroughly discouraged.  He felt like (and was) a laughingstock for the message he was bringing.  So strong was his discouragement that he accused God of deceiving him (Jeremiah 20:7). Right after that, he writes that the Word of God had become to him, “a reproach and a derision all day long (Jeremiah 20:8)!”  In Jeremiah 20:9, he is on the verge of walking away from the task and quitting, but he realizes that he can’t.  The Word of God is a fire in his bones, and burns in his heart.  He realizes that he simply cannot hold it in!  This is because the word is alive and active and sharper than any two edged sword. It is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). Because Jeremiah could feel it in him, he knew that active and living word was going to find its way out of him and reach its intended audience. He was wrestling with a living fire, and knew he couldn’t win.

Because Jeremiah was willing to receive the word of God, and to be a doer of the word rather than just a hearer (James 1:22), he became one of the most influential prophets of the entire bible. The word he agreed to take in, would not stay put. He impacted not just the Hebrew people, but the entire human race.

If you are a true follower of Christ, you are just like Jeremiah.  You have in you a living word that is intent on (and intended to) get out of you and into others. But there are some difference between you and Jeremiah.  In the time of Jeremiah, there was no church.  He was alone in his mission.  You are not.  You are surrounded by others who also have the Word of God in them, and you have the ability to stir up the fire in your bones, and fan it so that it is the most effective (Hebrews 10:24-25). Unlike Jeremiah, when you are discouraged, you have a cure for it right here on earth (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

And also unlike Jeremiah, you have a message of good news (1 Peter 1:3Hebrews 2:5-9Ephesians 2:5-62 Corinthians 4:14). One of the greatest truths of that good news message is that sin no longer has dominion over us (Romans 6:14). But it does have dominion over so much of the world.  The Word that is in you can fix a lot of that, so get it out of you, knowing that it WILL do what it was intended (Isaiah 55:11) which is to save the world from sin.

Not Just Jots From a Bunch of Jewish Dead Guys . . .

I think too often we make the mistake of viewing the Bible as a collection of stories written by a bunch of Jewish dead guys who God ordered to jot stuff down in Hebrew and Greek.  We sort of gradually sink into thinking of it either as a book of rules, or as a boring and incomprehensible history.  When we’re not thinking of it in that way, we tend to think of it as a manual for fixing our lives – especially for the little parts of our lives that simply require good, common sense decision making and a little bit of discipline.  But in reality, the Bible is far too great to be either of those things.  To be sure, it is full of wisdom that can help us fix our lives, but the way it does that isn’t by giving us step-by-step directions, a protocol, or a quick and easy DYI process to follow. It does it by equipping us to do the work God wants us to do. In other words, it helps move us into the will of God. Consider, for instance, one of your memory verses from this past week. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that ALL scripture is breathed out by God, and that it can teach us, correct us, rebuke us, train us, and equip us.  It’s almost as if it’s a living and active thing (Hebrews 4:12). Read that Timothy verse again.  Your Bible was breathed out by God. It didn’t come from a bunch of dead guys.  It came from a living God. It’s supernatural.  And when you read it, it gives you the equipment you need to do every good work.

In part, it’s purpose is to equip each member of the church to move toward unity in the faith, to attain the full measure of Christ, to keep us steadfast in the midst of false teachings, and to grow us as a body that is full of love and good works (Ephesians 4:11-15).

Because the word of God can see right into our most hidden corners, it can discern our own intentions (Hebrews 4:12). When it does that, it is helping us get our motivations right.  And when our motivations are right, our feet will lead us to the will of God, and our hands will do the work of God. Because it is full of light to help us see in the darkness (John 1:1-5Psalm 119:105), and because it can revive us and fill us with both life and wisdom (Psalm 19:7), it is necessary for each Christian to internalize it as much as possible.  Having it in you will help you to love your neighbor, to volunteer for children’s ministry, and to hand out whistles on a river when you volunteer for an outreach.  It will make your tasks bearable, and perhaps even enjoyable. The Bible fixes our lives not by giving us step by step directions, but by giving us meaning, wisdom, life and light.

The War on Easter, and Why it is So Important

In our culture, Christmas seems to trump Easter.  Just think about it for a second.  Christmas, essentially, is a month long holiday for Americans and other westerners.  Stores begin decorating in November, and sometimes in October. We have parties beginning on December 1st and they continue all the way through December 25th. There are parties at your office, and parties at your church groups, and parties at your school. Christmas music plays on the radio, having begun sometime shortly before Thanksgiving. People run themselves ragged trying to fulfill a perceived religious obligation, while also trying to meet the dictates of their larger culture, pushed along by a hyped commercialism that is interested in cash more than it is in the birth of God to humanity. The baby Jesus is almost front and center for the month, even in secular and worldly circles. He is only partly eclipsed by Santa Clause.

But not Easter.  Easter gets no parties. Have you ever been invited to the office Easter party? There’s no Easter music on the radio.  No one runs themselves ragged. For the most part, the celebration of Easter is limited to a single day. Interestingly, at Easter there are no images of Jesus in the larger culture – only in Christian circles. There is no Easter equivalent of the nativity scene in your local mall. You won’t find any depictions of the stone rolled away, or an empty tomb, or an empty Cross.  Jesus is not just eclipsed by the Easter Bunny, he’s simply not there at all.

Of course this is not a dig on Christmas.  You can’t, after all, have Easter without it.  But Easter is, by far, the more significant holiday. And its greater significance likely is the reason you find Christmas being celebrated with so much more fervor. Satan does not wish for Easter to be celebrated with the same intensity. To paraphrase how one writer put it not too long ago: You don’t have to believe that Jesus is God to enjoy Christmas. You can celebrate Christmas as the birth of a great or wonderful man who taught us to love one another. But he’s still just a man.  This is not the case with Easter.  Easter shouts how Jesus died for humanity, and reconciled it to God — and not just humanity as a collective, but every human individually. It also shouts, triumphantly, that his death (and yours) doesn’t have to be permanent. If you are reading this, the significance of Resurrection Sunday is that you can have eternal life, and that your past can be erased, and that a future of goodness is guaranteed.

You can look at Christmas and reject its divinity. You cannot do so with Easter.  The empty tomb is proof of divine involvement.  Easter is the fulfillment of God’s mission to earth.

The Focus of Jesus

Jesus was mission focused. He set his eyes on a single goal that his father had given him (John 3:16), and did not release his focus for that goal until he had achieved it.  He intended to redeem the human race and restore its willing members back to a full relationship with God. He did this through a great deal of distress.  He knew that he was going to die a difficult death (Mark 8:31).  But more than that, he was fully aware of the suffering that would meet him on the cross (John 18:4).  The distress caused by this knowledge fostered so much anxiety, anguish, or agony that his sweat was like blood (Luke 22:44).  And on the cross he felt the abyss of an abandonment by God (Matthew 27:46).

And yet he remained focused. Consider for instance a couple of choices he made in his final moments of life. On his way to the cross, Soldiers offered him wine mixed with gall (Matthew 27:33-34), or as Mark puts it, wine mixed with myrrh (Mark 15:23).  This drink was concocted by the Romans to be a sedative, or perhaps a poison, to deaden the pain of crucifixion, or in the case of poison, to hasten the arrival of death.  Jesus refused the drink, choosing instead to complete his mission with full mental faculties. Later, as he hung on the cross, he was offered another drink, called sour wine. This wine was a cheap drink used by Roman soldiers.  It had no immediate sedative effect, and to drink it could have conceivably prolonged his life.  Jesus took that wine specifically to fulfill prophecy (John 19:28-29).  He wasn’t going to give up until he had completed the mission. Upon consuming that wine, and fulfilling the prophecy, Jesus stated, “it is finished,” and gave up his spirit.

Jesus finished the work that God had sent him to do.  He did not lose faith or focus.  And although his mission to reconcile us was finished, his victory was not.  He rose from that death (Matthew 28:1-10) proving that we, too, can have victory over death (1 Corinthians 15:20-211 Corinthians 15:50-57).

Because Jesus died and rose, you now have assurance that you can rise, not only from spiritual death, but physical death as well!

So follow the example of Jesus, be mission focused, be a part of his body in this world, and bring life to others!  He has given you the power to overcome the world (1 John 5:1-5).

Relationships, the Will of God, and the Final Moments of Jesus on the Cross

One of the fundamental tenants of Christianity is that we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).  This means that we bear many attributes of God.  First, obviously, it means that we look like him. When the disciples gazed at the face of Jesus, they were gazing at the face of God.  Do you remember when Adam and Eve sinned, and shortly after heard God walking in the garden (Genesis 3:8)? God walks and moves like we do, or rather, we walk and move as he does.  Another attribute we share with God is that we are relational beings.  Notice in Genesis 1:26 that God said “let us make man in our image.” Relationship is innate to the Godhead, and so at some level it will be innate to us.  For instance, consider God’s reasoning for creating Eve – he reasoned that it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).

This relational attribute we have is mightily important. So much so that not only did God program it into our being, but he also commanded it in our moral codes. Jesus reminded us of the two greatest commandments, both of which are relational.  The first is to love God with all of our being, and the second is like it, which is to love our neighbor like we love ourselves (Matthew 22:38-39). The writer of Hebrews tells the Christian church that they should not neglect gathering themselves together as a body of believers (Hebrews 10:25). In other words, he was telling them that relationships were very important to Christian life.  Considering these two commands, it can be argued that when we forsake relationships, we are outside the will of God.  From Genesis, to Matthew’s Jesus, to Hebrews, it is not good for man (or woman) to be alone.

Jesus modeled this attribute for us almost everywhere he went. Whenever he wasn’t walking, working, eating or living with his disciples, he was reaching the lost.  And when he wasn’t doing those things, he was communing with God. He even modeled this relational attribute in some of his final words.  In his dying breaths, he saw his mother and one of his disciples standing near the cross. He recast their relationship, telling the disciple that she now belonged to him as his mother, and he now belonged to her as her son.  From then on, the disciple took the mother into his own home. It’s interesting that one of his final statements concerned familial relationship.

So evaluate your relationships, and consider where you are in the will of God.

Don’t Drink the Poison!

A very popular saying about forgiveness is that withholding it is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to suffer or die.  Of course there’s a lot of easily recognized truth in that statement. The first truth is that the only person being negatively affected by the unforgiveness is the unforgiver.  A second truth is that the person withholding the forgiveness is actively trying to harm the person who should be receiving forgiveness. Think about that for second. Withholding forgiveness makes one an avenger, which is something for which God strongly disapproves (Romans 12:19).  And if you maintain that position of unforgiveness you are actively opposing God. Further, you are not following the example set by his son (John 3:16).

A very non-Christian thinker recognized some of this truth once when he said that “without forgiveness, life is governed by an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation.” If you haven’t forgiven someone, then you are very likely mired in either resentment, or even hatred of that person, or you are either openly, secretly, or unconsciously scheming to execute retribution, or to exact revenge. And if that is your state of mind, then you are not going to be able to fully love the people around you to whom you are actually committed, and for whom you have nothing to forgive, because a piece of you will always be devoted to harming the person who harmed you. And if that is the case regarding your relationship with the people who you love and can see, what does it do to your ability to fully love God, who you can’t see (Matthew 22:36-39)?

No doubt, forgiveness can be a very difficult task. However, one thing that helps to make it less difficult is to realize that you also are forgiven by God when you ask for it. Each time that we sin against God, we damage the creation that he has made.  Sin harms the spirit that he put inside of you.  It harms the body in which your spirit is kept.  It harms the people around you who he made.  It can even harm the very planet on which you walk. And even though all of that is true, God has chosen to forgive you in ways that you cannot fathom (Psalm 103:10-14). He does not deal with us according to our sin.

Unforgiveness is a kind of rivalry, or dissension, or division.  As such it is wholly an act of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21).  But forgiveness is an act of the Spirit, and if we live in that Spirit, we will produce different fruit (Galatians 5:22-26). So if you need to forgive someone, if you want to get out of that cycle of resentment and retaliation, and if you want to love your family and God to the fullest, leave your anger at the cross, walk in the spirit of God, and ask him to help you to forgive those who have harmed you.

One Amazing Expectation for All Christians

The New Testament only mentions the man Epaphras three times, but his role in its creation is significant. Not only was he a fellow prisoner with Paul (Philemon 23), but he also founded the church at Colossae (Colossians 1:7), which is where we get Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Paul makes a curious statement about Epaphras in that letter.  He says that Epaphras “struggles” in his prayers on behalf of the Colossian Christians, so that they will reach maturity and stand confidently in the will of God (Colossians 4:12). Epaphras prayed for their maturity.  That is, he prayed for their spiritual growth. His desire for the Christians at the church he founded was such that he “struggled” in prayer. And it was his own maturity that advanced the Kingdom of God in ways that we cannot fathom, and that has spanned generations because he stood confidently in God’s will by founding that church. His prayers show that he sought that same potential in the church that sprang from his own mature obedience.

This is not an uncommon theme in the New Testament.  Just look at Paul’s expectation in Ephesians 4:15 that we are to grow or mature in every way to become more like Christ.  It’s likely that Paul means this both as an individual statement, as well as a collective one.  For instance, he expected that each individual Ephesian would grow to become more like Christ. He also expected that the family of Christians at Ephesus would grow to become more functional as Christ’s body in that area (Ephesians 4:16).

All throughout the New Testament you will find an expectation of growth. Consider how the writer of Hebrews admonishes his fellow Christians for a lack of growth.  He expected to see them as teachers, but found them more like children who needed to be taught again (Hebrews 5:12-14). The writer of Hebrews was disappointed in the progress he found among his brethren. But contrast that with Paul’s statement on progress to Timothy.  Paul is instructing Timothy on how to shepherd his fellow Christians, and he tells him to immerse himself in the reading of scripture, teaching, and of not neglecting the gift he had been given.  He tells him to do this so that everyone may see his progress.

Every Christian has been given some kind of gift, and there is an expectation on the part of God that every Christian grow toward maturity, and to be more like Christ in the use of that gift. How hae you progressed in the use of yours?

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