REFLECTIONS

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written by Elder Mike Hosey.
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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.

 

Challenging Your Culture is Wide Open Throttle

Living your life Wide Open Throttle means allowing the maximum amount of fuel from God’s word to run into your engine, then burning that fuel with the maximum amount of air from prayer and the Holy Spirit. But you can’t live life Wide Open Throttle until you put that engine into gear and do something with all of that power. If your engine is just idling with the throttle wide open, then you’re just wasting fuel. Interestingly, if you’re in gear, but your throttle isn’t open, then your engine will die from lack of fuel and air, and you won’t go anywhere either.
The prophet Elijah is a great example of how a person can throttle up and win for the Kingdom of God. He is also an example of how a person can choke the power of God by taking a hand off of the throttle and letting an engine sputter out. Consider his victory at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:21-29). The evil King Ahab of Israel had allowed the people to worship pagan Gods. Elijah challenged the king at the top of Mount Carmel to follow a real God.  Then in a true display of God’s power, he vanquished 450 prophets of Baal when he called down fire on an altar. But only after he had dared them to call down fire from their false God. They didn’t succeed. The people saw Elijah’s demonstration of power, and then at his command killed all the evil prophets. Elijah had understood the word of God. He believed it’s power, he spoke to God regularly, and he acted on that word! He was wide open throttle!

But just one chapter over (1 Kings 19:1-18), Ahab’s queen, Jezebel, hears of Elijah’s victory. In her anger over the deaths of her false prophets, she vows to kill Elijah. Elijah, the man who had just called down fire from heaven, becomes afraid of a pagan woman who worships an impotent God who could not display any power at all when called upon by 450 prophets. She was an evil woman who did not love or know God! Elijah forgot about God’s power, and his own status as a prophet. He forgot to pray for the fuel of God’s word, or a renewal of his spirit, and instead retreats into the wilderness, and prays a whiney prayer asking to die. He had cut off his throttle, and he had taken himself out of gear. His engine was sputtering instead of roaring. Thankfully, at the top of Mount Horeb, God breaks Elijah’s self focus and restores his fuel and spirit.

What areas in your life are open throttle? What areas aren’t? When was the last time you refueled? When was the last time you prayed a prayer to throttle up? When was the last time you challenged a pagan world with the fire of God?

Wide Open Throttles

There’s a saying in the biker culture that goes something like this: “Some pop pills, others tilt bottles, but we solve our problems with wide open throttles.” A throttle is the  human/machine interface on an engine that governs the flow of fuel and air. When a throttle is wide open, say on a motorcycle, or when the pedal is to the metal in an automobile, the greatest amount of air and fuel possible flow into the engine, and it performs at peak. The engine will produce maximum output, and the vehicle will assume maximum speed for the gear that it happens to be in. When bikers cite this bit of wisdom, they are proclaiming that the dismal problems of the world pale in comparison to the exhilaration they experience when they fully commit themselves and their machines to the open road. There’s no doubt that this principle is true across several life areas. Consider the drug addict who commits his life completely to his habit. When he opens the throttle wide open, the responsible world is drowned out. It pales in comparison (he thinks) to the pleasures of his drugs. The business woman who commits herself fully to her endeavors experiences a ride that drowns out the distractions of all other potential roads. When she opens the throttle wide open, she may end up building an organization that reshapes her economy, and perhaps the economies of multitudes of others.

The bible is full of men and women who lived wide-open-throttle lives. People like Daniel, or John the Baptist, or Paul, or Jesus. Their lives, quite literally changed the world. If you are reading this, you have benefitted — even if you are not a believer — from how they lived their lives with throttles wide open. Consider how Paul, the apostle, boasts of his strivings for Christ in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 where he shares, “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with  far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,[b] in cold and exposure.”

His wide open throttle life gave us most of the New Testament, and modeled for us how we can change from something old, to something much better. How open is your throttle?

Can I Get A Witness?

We use the word “witness” in our modern language a lot. We usually define it as: “one who gives evidence; specifically, one who testifies in a cause, or before a judicial tribunal.” Sometimes, it is defined as, “something serving as evidence or proof.” So a witness is someone or something that supports the truth of something else. If you see a murder, and are asked to testify in court about what you saw, then you become a witness. If the police find a video tape of the murder, and use it in court, then that video tape becomes a witness to the horrible event. If you see Superman save the day, and the newspaper reporter asks you what you saw, and you describe the excitement of a man jumping over a building in a single bound, then you are a witness to the miraculous. If the police find a couple of burglars tied with a Bat Rope and tagged with a note to the light post at 34th and Archer, then that rope and note are a witness to the crime busting activities of the Dark Knight.

And this is exactly how the term is used in the Bible. For instance, Deuteronomy 17:6 commands how witnesses are used in a death penalty proceeding. In Isaiah 30:8, the famous prophet is commanded to write down the ways of rebellious Israel, so that there is a permanent written witness to their condition.

The Bible is serious about witnesses. So serious, in fact, that it forbids false witnesses. It prohibits witnessing about something that isn’t true (Exodus 20:16). And it describes such behavior as murderously harmful (Proverbs 25:18). It pulls no punches when it lists a false witness with murder, adultery, slander, stealing and sexual immorality (Matthew 25:19). God seriously hates it (Proverbs 6:16-19).

God directs his people to serve as a witness to his grace, mercy, power, and commands (Matthew 28:19-20). And it is his expectation that his direction be carried out far and wide (Acts 1:8).
So ask yourself this question: “What is my life witnessing to the world?” Then examine your life to see what it is witnessing. Do your behaviors, your allegiances, your friendships, and your words witness to the truths of the one good King of all? Or do they bear a false witness about the ways of the world?

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