Anxiety and Being in the Middle

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. Matthew 6:24-28

Ever been put in the middle? It’s an awful place to be. There are some whose role it is to be peacemaker. The anxiety of trying to serve opposites is tormenting because pleasing them is impossible. Compromise keeps them at bay but they are never fully satisfied because neither has won.

What does this have to do with the parable about worrying? What I’ll eat? What I’ll wear? What others think of me? Whether I’ll be employed? Whether I’m seriously ill?

Anxiety serves Master Satan. Plain and simple. To worry is to wonder if God is faithful and Satan is the author of that. Worry then leads to autonomy. I take matters into my own hands to take care of myself because I believe God won’t.

Remember the daisy game? ‘He loves me – He loves me not.’ Though it was childish, I do remember the bit of suspense as I neared the end of the petals. Which way would it be? Love me – or loves me not? This is the stuff of serving two masters.

When the stakes are high, so is the battle. ‘God loves me – He loves me not.’ Faith is put on the sidelines as I wage the options of trusting God versus taking care of myself (which is serving God’s enemy.) God is unhappy because I fail to know the joy of childlike trust. Satan is unhappy because I entertain the promises of my Father’s word. How is this tug of war won? How do I extricate myself from living between two masters? Remove the power of the evil one.

Satan does not deserve an ounce of attention because he lies about the other Master. If he told the truth, the battle would be understandable. If he predicted outcomes correctly, listening to him would make sense. But nothing he says is true. John reminds me that he is a liar. His very nature is to lie. His default language is based on deceit. So, I step out from the middle today and give him no attention. When the first thought of worry emerges, I snatch it and kill it with the whispered assurances of a faithful Father. Every Word saves me and sends the other would-be master away from my presence.

No middle, Father. No torment. Only a simple, childlike trust built on every single promise You have made. I love how You take care of me. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Spiritual Acumen. Do I Have It?

Jesus also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A rainstorm is coming,’ and it does. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and there is. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky, but how can you not know how to interpret the present time? Luke 12:54-59

How can smart people be so foolish about spiritual things? How is it possible for one who knows God to miss the obvious signposts He provides for guidance? This was Jesus message to the crowd. They possessed real skill when it came to interpreting weather related signs but they were inept when it came to interpreting their times through the mind of God ~ the one they claimed to know.

When Saul was pursuing David in order to kill him, the numbers of those who stood by David were few in comparison to the armies of King Saul. But, there was a group of men called the ‘sons of Issachar’ who perceived both men correctly. They were able to see Saul for who he was ~ a disobedient king under God’s judgment. They were able to see David for who he was ~ God’s anointed man who should ascend the throne. From all circumstantial evidence, it would appear that Saul was suffering the threat of a coup, led by a renegade named David. However, these 200 men (descendants of Jacob), read the two men accurately. The children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of their times, knew what Israel ought to do. I Chronicles 12:32

What kind of spiritual acumen do I possess? The men of Issachar looked at Saul the way God looked at Saul. His throne or his crown did not sway them. They were able to see his behavior and leadership style and know that he was out of God’s favor. They looked for the anointing but couldn’t find it. They also looked at David and were able to see past his poverty and rag tag militia. They perceived the spiritual markings of a kingly anointing – a marking not visible to the naked eye but brilliant to the eyes of their spirit.

Not everything is as it appears. Powerful people are often a house of cards. They can crumble after just one confrontation. The meek are perceived as weak but will rise to rule over us when God promotes them. I am asking God to sharpen my spiritual acumen so that I can interpret what’s in front of me correctly. I believe Jesus is coming soon and never has understanding the times been more critical.

Whom have I assessed wrongly? Correct my vision, Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen

The Parables Jesus Told

I love a good story, especially if related by an exceptional storyteller. If the storyteller loses enough inhibition to bring life to the characters, utilizing a wide range of inflection for the character’s speeches, the stories will not only be captivating but memorable. I have to believe that Jesus was a perfect storyteller because thousands of years later, mankind is still talking about each of his parables.

He spoke in parables to fulfill prophecy. Matthew explained by quoting from Psalm 78.  All these Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables, and He was not talking to them without a parable, so that what was spoken by the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world.” Matthew 13:34-35 Psalm 78 speaks of Israel’s rampant unbelief in Yahweh ~ in spite of the fact that He rescued them repeatedly from their enemies. God spoke openly to them, displayed His power with signs and wonders, but they missed the point that God wanted a relationship with them. He wanted to be their God but they rejected Him. Many centuries later, Jesus spoke in parables to bring judgment on Israel’s collective hardness of heart. Only those who had a true relationship with Jesus would understand its meanings.

While Jesus did perform miracles and gave many signs and wonders to prove that He was God, he spoke most often in parables to fulfill another prophecy, this one from Isaiah. “You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; and you will keep on seeing but will not perceive; for the heart of this people has become dull; and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes…” Matthew 13:14-15

What does that mean for me if I’m about to jump into the language of Jesus as found in His parables? It is possible for me to hear them but not understand them. Unbelief skews the message and makes it impenetrable.   I must ask for spiritual understanding.  The end result can be a full disclosure of this private language between Jesus and me.

Lord, I confess that I am spiritually blind unless You open the eyes of my heart. If there is anything that will compromise my ability to understand Your stories, would you reveal it to me? I want Your words to transform the complete landscape of my heart. In Jesus name, Amen

New Wine in Old Wineskins

No one pours new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the skins burst and the wine is spilled out and the skins are destroyed. Matthew 9:17

Don’t mix the old with the new. That was the message Jesus wanted to convey when he shared two parables. The first was ~ Don’t sew a new patch on an old cloth. It will shrink and tear. The second was ~ Don’t pour new wine into an old wineskin. It will burst and render itself useless. Anytime Jesus repeated Himself, the message was important.

Wine, when poured into a wineskin, begins the aging process. As it ferments, the gases cause it to expand. A new wineskin will swell along with the wine and all will be well. However, when you pour new wine into an old wineskin, the wineskin has already stretched to capacity and will burst with the fermentation process. The skin won’t sustain any new pressure.   So what is the allegorical meaning?

When Jesus came, people assumed that everything He taught (the new wine) was to be added on to their existing paradigm (the old wineskin) of their traditions. His message, however, was that He came to change everything. They were told not to blend the old with the new.

 If I’m a religious person – and then become a child of God – am I supposed to add Jesus to my religious way of life? No way. I’m called to turn away from religiosity to engage in a relationship. One is behavioral; the other is relational and heart-driven.

I am a new creation in Christ. I’ve been saved from religion and all the trappings that accompany it. I am no longer driven by the desire to do good things because that’s just what religious people do. Piety is supposed to be far from me because I know what I am without Jesus.

When God writes a new paradigm in my heart, it is stressful. The old wineskin of past paradigms must be abandoned and I don’t let go easily. I must turn away from anything associated with old religious archetypes. Church-ianity is not the same as what it means to live in Christ. The world doesn’t know the difference and that’s my fault. I’ve blurred the lines and must show them that loving Jesus and cultivating a church culture are two different things. The first invites others to love Him too. The second invites others to conform to a religious community. Jesus had strong words for the latter and so should I.

If there is any way I have attached You to something that should be dead to me, an old wineskin, show me. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Casual Teachers

And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” Matt. 13:52

A scribe was more than just someone who took dictation. He held a prestigious position within the Jewish community. An expert in the knowledge of scripture, he wrote it down and delivered it to the people. Jesus’ message here was this ~ A scribe/teacher has the authority and mandate to bring what is old, and what is new, out of his storehouse of knowledge and bring it to the people.

The role of the teacher is a critical one. In high school, my toughest subject was science. I thought I was just bad at understanding the concepts but when I look back, the teacher who taught it was checked out. He didn’t convey that he cared about his subject. He imparted information and I struggled to concentrate. As an adult, I’ve discovered that I like exploring the science of things. Naturally, I’m a curious person and love to learn.

Every teacher is a storyteller who brings life to what is important. Jesus did that by telling parables. He took old truths [about what the kingdom of God is like] and gave them new life by re-framing them in parable-like stories. He gave His people history and context as well as the New Covenant. There was never a more passionate teacher when He gave His life to defend it.

Where are the teachers who care to bring the whole counsel of scripture? Where are the teachers who tremble with the Word of God in their hands and feel like a horse at the starting gate on Sunday morning? I have been crying out to God this morning, “Lord, if they don’t care, the people won’t care! We won’t know our history, our legacy, and won’t embrace our spiritual treasures.”

 It is the sign of the times to see churches fall away. It is the sign of the times to see men of God lose the fire of their calling. It is the sign of the times to see the people languish for lack of knowledge. It is the sign of the times to see the Bible judged as irrelevant and boring. If the teacher doesn’t care, the student loses his way.

What do I do if I lack a Bible teacher? I engage the One who is resident inside of me. I make spending time with my inner Rabbi my first priority. Taking responsibility to feed myself and not rely on my local pastor is the ‘norm’ of far too many people. Yet, it is the only mode for their survival. Though our teachers fall away, this reality need not dictate my fate.

 Inside my spirit today resides the best teacher who ever lived. He knows the whole story, is passionate about it, and loves to be engaged to pass on what He knows. He unveils the mystery with insight, enthusiasm, and a well-chosen language formed just for my ears.

I will not starve with You inside. Thank you for teaching me and keeping my faith alive. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Minimizing My Light

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before others around you that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven.”      Matthew 5:15

I’ve noticed that really good lighting costs money. How many times have I purchased a cheap desk lamp only to lament, “I still can’t see!” There’s nothing like a quality light fixture. It reduces eyestrain and makes work a joy.

Why would we, as light-bearers, want to give off ineffective light? The world has eyestrain as it tries to look for our influence against the backdrop of their darkness. It isn’t to be found or it’s so faint that the light makes God appear to be a weakling.

Each of us was given a gift and the gifts, used correctly, radiate perfectly. There are three ways I can handle my gifts.

  1. I deny I have any. Maybe no one has ever helped me discover them because I grew up in a home where children weren’t defined. Perhaps I was told that I was inept at a certain thing when I was really gifted. Parents give skewed messages all the time. I can often think it’s humility to deny my giftedness but it’s really denial. The world suffers from my self-imposed darkness based on self-deception.
  2. I recognize my gifts and see them as catalysts for my own glory. I gain attention because of them. I assume places of leadership and leave quite a stunning legacy because of them. While I may believe they burn brightly, the light is really a false light.  God does not bless selfish uses of my gifts and therefore gets no glory.
  3. I recognize my gifts and I humbly offer them to God for His service. I know what I’m good at but also understand that any eternal value will be absent without the wind of His Spirit fueling each gift. I have no clever plans to use them for myself. My dream is to make God great and my spiritual gifts are means to that end. Oh, when that is in place – how it illumines my world.

Light draws and light also repels. The correct use of my gifts will give glory to God and appear beautiful to those who are looking for Him. But the proper use of my gifts will also shine so brightly that the glory of God will not be attractive. I never know which reaction it will incite. But this I know ~ when the Spirit of God shines through us, we know that we were created for such a time as this.

I was born to showcase Your glory.  In Jesus’ name, Amen

 

Becoming a Legitimate Fruit Inspector

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Matthew 7:15-18

         Jesus offers this parable to His audience just after warning about judging others. That message, plus this one, addresses what is one of the most misunderstood messages of our Christian culture ~ that under no circumstances should we judge others.

         So is all judging wrong? And if wrong, why would Jesus bother to tell us about false prophets being bad trees? He obviously wanted us to beware of them and He gave us signs to identify who they were. I contend that this is righteous judging.

         My husband’s father, a well-known evangelist, when calling a spade a spade, was often accused of judging. His answer was both comical and truthful. He said, “I am not judging. I am fruit inspecting.” That’s biblical.

         What I can learn from this parable is that wolves do exist and with God’s help, I can recognize them. A righteous person bears good fruit and a wolf, as well as any unbeliever, bears bad fruit. If I believe that good fruit is defined as simply doing good things then I am spiritually immature and run the risk of being deceived by people with an agenda.

         Good fruit is to do good things for the sole purpose of glorifying God. As a child of God, I am to do everything to the glory of God. Period. I don’t do anything good for my own reputation and self-gain.

         This definition is critical and clarifying because I see unbelievers (and wolves) doing good things all the time. But if I possess Spirit-driven intuition, I realize that they are incapable of doing anything good with the intention of giving God glory. That is not their intent. They are, either, driven by human compassion at best or driven to the desire for power and recognition at the very worst. I must be a prayerful fruit inspector to tell the difference.

         What is a good example of a wolf in the Gospels, according to Jesus? The Pharisee who stood up to pray in public and said, “I’m glad I’m not like other people.” He then listed all the other people’s sins. (Luke 18) Not only was he unaware of his own innate sinfulness, he thought himself better than anyone else, and he wanted others to know through the use of public prayer. Jesus was clear that this was unrighteous. Bad fruit.

         Can I truly identify good fruit and bad fruit? Do I know myself well enough to know the difference in my own heart? I need to start there or the deception that goes that goes with my own sin will blind me when I need to understand others in a way where I am protected from spiritual wolves.

Foster and birth greater fruit inspecting skills. In Jesus’ name, Amen