Returning The Slave (Reflection for 9/22)

“If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account”

-Philemon 1:18

ROTD: Christ has redeemed us to return us

Why?

 First of all, I apologize for the short break. Life caught up with me this weekend.

 The book of Philemon is such an interesting story. One chapter, it tells of how Paul came across the slave of Philemon, Onesimus. He discipled him and then returned him to his master, asking (firmly, in love) that he receive him not in anger as a slave, but as a brother.
I do not wish to stretch beyond reason here, but in this little story I see a picture of Christ. At the end of the day, we all belong to God. He made us. We are his-and even more so, when we are in Christ we are His. Paul calls himself a “Slave to righteousness” as he goes about the work of God. But-even as we walk with God, and under His authority, we fall. We try to run, we backslide, we look for escape, we lose our way. We become an Onesimus, unfortunately, because we are still human. Imperfect. Now, this is not to excuse sinful behavior, but simply to recognize that these things do happen.

Praise be to God that we have Christ. What He did for us is what Paul asks of Philemon-that any charge God might have against us, be put to His account. He took on all of our debt, all of the charges God could bring against us, and paid for them with His own perfect blood. We also know that He intercedes on our behalf to the Father, asking Him to look on us not as the sinners that we are, but as saints, covered in His own blood. And God listens.

Oh, it’s good to be reminded of the simple truths. This is at the core of our belief, and yet so often we lose sight of who we are, and who He is. We are sinful, creatures trying to surrender ourselves to Christ, to let Him disciple us, walk along with us, and at the end of the age present us before the Father to hear Him say “Well done, my good and faithful servant”

Prayer:

Lord, we come before you grateful for all you have done for us. We know that we mess up, run away, and try and hide from your authority and grace. We thank you that you sent Jesus Christ to take on our debt, so that we may be able to continue to strive forward and have a relationship with you. You are merciful, and just, and righteous, and you can deal with us in any way you please-and yet, you chose to deal with us in mercy and grace. Let us not take that for granted, and let us ALWAYS remember what it is that you’ve done for us.
In Jesus’ holy name, amen.

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A Father’s Love (Reflection for 9/18)

“For the LORD will not cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief,
he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
or grieve the children of men”
Lamentations 3:31-33

ROTD:   God’s reactions to our actions are always perfect.

Why?
This is one of the hardest things for anyone to grasp. Why would a God who is so good send trials? Why say no? Why delay the fulfillment of our prayers? Why is there still consequence?

There are many factors into these, but we can look at at least one aspect here in Lamentations. The narrator speaking in chapter 3 is a man who has directly felt the wrath of God, who has seen his punishment firsthand. The best way to explain this, I think, is with an illustration we all can understand.

Parents. (Yes, this is where I am going with it. Hear me out.) As kids, parents have rules for us to follow. They love us and inspire us and better us as people, but there are still rules of the household. What are the worst words you could ever hear when you got caught breaking one of those rules?

“Just wait till your father gets home”.

Terrifying. Because you knew that there was some type of consequence to your action. And dad gets home, and punishment is doled out, and reconciliation occurs as you tearfully swear to neverevereverever do it again. But of course you do. And the cycle continues.

Look at the nation of Israel throughout the whole Old Testament. They are constantly disobeying God, leaving His commandments, following other gods or people, complaining, whining…and then when God acts accordingly, they shape up. And so it continues. To read, it looks like Israel is really, really, stupid. Just follow God and it’s all good!

But don’t we do the same thing?

God is our Father. He is also a perfect Father. So while many of us have had horrible, terrible experiences with parental discretion here on earth, we need to be able to look past those to see what God is doing. Because we constantly are disobeying Him, sinning, blowing off His words, not talking to Him, trying to do life without Him. We disobey our Father all the time.
“He does not afflict from his heart” is such a cool statement, because it shows that God doesn’t bring punishment because He enjoys it. He brings correction to discipline us, to grow us, to help us to better understand Him and draw closer to Him. And, thanks be to God for His Son, we have the ability to turn around, repent, and continue to follow hard after Him.

Being a Christian does not mean that your actions no longer carry weight to them. God is love, yes, but He is also righteous and just, holy, mighty (for more on that, click here). What the speaker realizes is that all of the correction we receive from God comes out of a place of love, not evil sinister joy. Punishment doesn’t last forever. The trial you are going through does have meaning and purpose. All things do. So if God is trying to teach you to let go of some recurring sin, it might hurt a bit when that sin comes to light in the worst possible way. Or if He is trying to grow your patience, life might become quite stressful for a time. Finance and trust issues? Money might be a little tight for a while. We may not always understand the method, or the timing, but we MUST KNOW in our hearts that God knows perfectly how we learn and what we need to push us forward. These things always move us toward a deeper relationship with God, if we let them.

Now, I realize this leads to some bigger questions that have harder answers. Why do people suffer in general? Why is this world full of evil? My sister got raped, is that part of God’s plan? Why do babies die? How much does God send, and how much does He allow to happen to us?

These are questions that I have heard over the years, and some I struggle with to this day. We will dive into some of these later on, and look at the different aspects of God’s relationship to us, and sin’s affect on the world as a whole.

For now, though, rest in this: That just because it seems like God is angry at you, He’s not. He derives no joy from our pain.God loves you more than you can fathom, and with love does come discipline, and correction. Anything that God is using to teach us and correct us-any trial ,situation, person, circumstance-is done in love. We just have to open our minds and hearts to see it as such.

Prayer:

Lord, we do not always understand the means and ways that you work. We struggle to grasp that a loving God can also punish and correct and discipline. God, help us to know that you love us. Help us to recognize Your hand in our lives, in every situation. We pray for forgiveness, for we know we are a sinful, messed up people. Show us where You are at work in us, and correct us in whatever way you see fit. However loud You have to shout to get our attention, do so. However fall You let us fall before we face our eyes to You, let us. However much You have to strip away from us in order to build us up correctly, break us down. Whatever You need to do, do in our hearts today.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

Where is Your Hope? (Reflection for 9/17)

“But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope”
-Lamentations 3:21

ROTD: Just because you can’t see God doesn’t mean He isn’t there.

Why?

Life can beat the absolute crap out of us. Sometimes it’s due to choices we have made, and sometimes it’s out of our control, and sometimes it’s both. This is one of my favorite chapters of the Bible, because it deals with just that. The first half (v.1-20) are basically this man crying out because of all the pain and affliction he has faced in life. And there is no correction of his thought. He cries out, “God, why? Why is all of this stuff happening to me? Why do you seem so set against me, so far away? Where are you?” Don’t we do that as well? When we don’t see where life is headed, or when we can’t possibly comprehend how God could be at work in our situation, we get down. Frustrated. Angry. Bitter. Depressed.

Then, the turning point.
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope…”

What words.
You see, we get so caught up in the before-the woe is me, life sucks, when will this end way of thinking-that we seem to forget all that we know about God. Listen to what the speaker recalls.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The speaker then goes on to describe the goodness of the Lord-how compassionate he is, how His justice is true, how He DOES hear our cries and see our tears. How, even in the midst of suffering, He is eternally merciful, he responds to our anguish.

We need to stop polarizing God-forgetting the good in the bad times, and the righteousness in the good times. But specifically, when things are hard and life has us beaten down, we need to call all these things to mind. Just because life is dark around you, and you can’t see God moving, doesn’t mean He’s gone. He’s always right there. So have hope.

Prayer

God, we pray that you help us to remember who You are at all times-good and bad. God, we know that sometimes life gets out of control, and you feel very far away. Help us to pursue You even then, even more. We need you, Lord, always. Show us Your goodness, God. We won’t let go until You do. Teach us to be patient in tribulation and to have joy amidst the pains of life. We love You, and we thank You for being who You are.
In Jesus’ holy name, Amen. 

How Long Will We Forget His Might? (Reflection for 9/16)

“He has cut down in fierce anger
all the might of Israel,
He has withdrawn from them his right hand
in the face of the enemy; 
He has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, 
consuming all around”

-Lamentations 2:3

ROTD: We must not forget to fear the Lord.

Why?

Another prevailing attitude of the day, among Christians and non alike, is a lack of the fear of the Lord. Going along with our lack of forethought of the consequence of our sin, it appears as though we have set out to deny that God is a God to be feared. We overemphasize His love, mercy, grace, tenderness, forgiveness (ALL of which are good things) but we forget that God is equally a God of wrath, of justice, of righteousness, of holiness, of perfection. This deserves and demands our respect, reverence, and fear.
But what does it mean to fear the Lord?
The best way I have heard it explained is in Eshon Burgundy’s song, “The Fear of The Lord“. He says, pretty simply, that

“To fear the Lord is to stand in awe of the reality of God”

So this means that we don’t necessarily go around quaking, wondering if our next wrong step will earn us a lightning bolt from the Man Upstairs. It means that we recognize and are humbled by the sheer magnitude of who God is.
Have you ever just taken a moment to consider God? Who He is? What He is capable of?
That’s why it is a good thing to fear the Lord. If we make God into someone who is not to be feared, what reason at all have we to listen? If I am more powerful than the God I serve, who does that serve better-God, or me?

When we begin to look at just who God is, what He can do, and compare that to who we are, and what we have done, it should send a little shiver down our spine. It should humble us, as we look at the reality of God and His majesty. Reading these verses in Lamentations, and throughout the Old Testament, God isn’t just some mean old God who kills people, as some would seem to believe. God is perfect, and holy, and sin is simply unacceptable.  This is what the response is to disobedience, and He told them it would be so. Does not a father discipline His child? How much more so, the perfect God of the universe?

Every other religion in the world is man reaching out-either to God, or just self-enlightenment, or to just living-everything else is us trying to do it on our own. God says, “This is what Christianity looks like as a religion”. It’s an impossible task, and we would inevitably fall to our own destruction trying to reach out to God.  So He made a way for us. Thanks be to God that His power is on display in His pursuit of us, and that when we recognize just how mighty our God is, we see that in all of His omnipotence He DESIRES to be with us. He wants us to be with Him, and He has made a way for us to do so through the death of His Son on the cross.

Prayer:

Lord, we recognize that You are holy. You are perfect, and deserving of all the praise and honor and glory. Help me to recognize the reality that is You. Help me to stand in awe of you, help me to fear you properly. Lord, we thank you that we don’t have to strive to try and reach you, but instead while we were yet sinners and rebellious You sent Your Son to make a way for us to join You. Help us to have a reverence and fear of you all of our days, and give us the joy and peace that come in knowing Christ and being known by Him.
In Jesus’ Name,
Amen.

P.S. to find more works by Eshon Burgundy, here is the album in full: http://www.humblebeast.com/the-fear-of-god/. Eshon and other hip-hop artists write God-inspired, deep works through the label HumbleBeast. God bless!

Why Don’t Our Hearts Cry? (Reflection for 9/15)

” Look, O Lord, 
For I am in distress; my stomach churns;
my heart is wrung within me,
because I have been very rebellious.
In the street the sword bereaves; i
n the house it is like death”
-Lamentations 1:20

ROTD:

Falling down in life must be followed by falling to our knees.

WHY?
In this day and age, it is a rare thing for people to be willing to take responsibility when things go wrong in life. This isn’t to say that things DON’T happen that are outside of our control, but we like to think that everything is outside of our control. We are just helpless victims of circumstance, we were born this way, we can’t help it. And what this kind of attitude creates is equal parts apathetic, attention seeking, and aggressive. We don’t care about our own end in our walk in life with God. When things go wrong, it’s always because of some other source other than ourselves. We sound like Jerusalem in the beginnings of this book. “Look at me, look at me, and see what the Lord has done to me, I have nothing!” is the cry of the desolate city for the first two chapters. We seek pity and comfort from those around us-that surely, these things aren’t MY fault, that life is just cruel and hard and it’s just best to live for myself and do what makes ME happy. Then, when we have those few people who are willing to call us out on some things we need to change, we become very aggressive, defending our “goodness” and that the other person is just hateful, or wrong, or both.

Where are the heart cries? The late nights, the yelling and pleading and earnestly seeking some answer as to what’s going on? Because even with all of her lamenting, Jerusalem says one recurring theme that is correct; “I have been very rebellious (v. 20)”and again, “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against His word; (v. 18)”.

Even though she still is seeking comfort, Jerusalem gets it. She brought this fall upon herself, and now she cries out to God to hear her in the midst of a horrible time in life. That is a place we need to get back to. That, when we fall down, and our choices lead to some pretty heavy consequences, that we don’t try to rationalize it or ignore it or blame others. We cry out. We tell God, truly, how we feel. And we admit our need for Him. We admit that we are messed up, torn apart, desolate, ravaged by the choices we have made, and cry out.

Again, this isn’t to say that every time we mess up, God is striking us down. Or that every bad situation is tied to something we did or thought or said. But when we sin, sometimes we do experience consequence to that sin. Instead of running from it, we need to own up to it and continually be leaning into our Lord.

Prayer:

God, bring me to a place where my heart cries out for you. Break me down if need be, but help me to see my eternal need for You and You alone. Help me not to put blame elsewhere for the consequences of my sinful actions, but to see and admit that I have rebelled against You. Teach me, keep me, and help me to learn how to pray. 
In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Where Did I Go Wrong? (Reflection for 9/14)

“Her uncleanness was in her skirts; she took no thought of her future. Therefore her fall is terrible; she has no comforter. ‘O Lord, behold my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed!”
-Lamentations 1:9
ROTD (reflection of the day):
Don’t let your arrogance lead to your consequence.
WHY?
If we go through life thinking we can follow God AND continue in our same patterns of sin. There is an inevitable spiral that will occur. You can’t serve God and yourself. Because of our sinful nature, allowing ourselves to continue to dwell in a place of sin only strengthens those desires and ways, and we fall into them more and more. The bible tells us to resist the devil and he will flee, but we often forget that first we must “draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). We must have an attitude of continually trying to draw closer to God, to fixate our eyes on Him, to do all that is within us to serve Him wholeheartedly. If you keep living in sin, don’t blame God for why life has suddenly gotten harder to live-examine the way you are living, first. Oftentimes, when we try to blame God for why some things in life have taken a turn, He points us back to our own actions. Just because you are a Christian doesn’t mean that your actions never have consequences anymore. So think of your future-think about whether what you want to do is aligned with the way God would have you act and conduct yourself. Be conscious of the fact that Satan is ALWAYS around, waiting for that moment when he can trip you up. So be alert! Be in the Word, in prayer, in communication, in fellowship, and always looking up. Then you won’t have to ask, “where did I go wrong?”
Prayer:
Lord, keep my mind focused on the long run. There is more to life than just this life, but what I do here does affect what I’ll be doing for eternity. Help me to not worry about tomorrow, but to continually be aware of Your presence with me. Help me to pray, to read, to seek, and to be aware that the things I do, do have consequences. I love You, God, and I want to serve you with all that I have. Keep me awake to the workings of Satan, and help me to be aware of my actions.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.