Saturday, June 26, 2010

Stopping sin or chasing joy?

I often hear repentance explained as turning from what I was doing and heading 180 degrees in the opposite direction.  My experience is more like my body turns around and starts walking in the other direction, however my eyes stay focused on the original direction I was headed!  Couple of observations here:  1.  that's pretty rough on the ole neck, 2.  it makes it hard to see where I'm going, and 3.  it calls into question whether or not I've actually repented.

Satan has called my Father's character into question such that I find myself believing the father of lies over what I know to be true about my real Father.  Said another way, the Lord tells me to turn to Him, to press on towards a relationship with Him, a relationship for which He designed me before the beginning of time.  The devil says that the pursuit of what I want will bring me true freedom, joy and contentment.  Of the two messages my flesh takes pride in the idea that I know what is best for me.  And so the battle lines are drawn and I fight between what I want to do (good) and what I end up doing (the bad).

I love how the Lord uses His Word to give me examples in the physical world of what is true in the spiritual.  Go back to Genesis chapters 18 and 19 for instance.  Abraham's nephew Lot lived in Sodom, a town that was less than a moral place to live.  God tells Abraham what He's going to do, Abraham pleads for both Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his family are to be saved from the coming destruction and the angels go tell Lot and his family to get a move on.  You remember what happens from here - the Lord rains down burning sulfur and wipes the two cities off the face of the earth.  Do you also remember the instructions the angels gave to Lot (Gen 19:17)?  One of the instructions stands out to me, the one that says ,"Don't look back."  What did Lot's wife do?  She looked back.  What happened to her?  "But Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt." - Gen 19:26, NIV.

My repentance looks very much like Lot's wife many times.  I turn from my sin because the Lord tells me too, yet I look back over my shoulder to see that which is familiar to me, that which I don't truly believe I can live without.  Okay, maybe I'm stretching and saying that Lot's wife represents how I repent.  After all I'm pretty partial to destruction and seeing burning sulfur fall from heaven would be a pretty cool sight to see.  I see a principle here, but is there another example of "looking over my shoulder" that confirms what I see with Mrs. Lot?

How about Exodus and the Israelites leaving Egypt?  It takes Pharaoh ten plagues to finally let "My people go" then the Lord tells Moses "watch this" setting up the crossing of the Red Sea and wiping Pharaoh's army out.  You'll also recall that Israel told Moses to leave them alone and quit trying to free them from the Egyptians!  I don't know about you but I say this to the Lord when crucifying my flesh gets difficult.  I tell Him, "Listen, I know You think I'll be better off doing it Your way, however right this minute I don't see the benefit and its tough not doing what I'm used to doing."  I look over my shoulder at the, although ultimately destructive behavior, Egypt I'm used to.

Israel received the word of the Lord that they would possess the promised land.  The direction in which they were headed led to God's promise for them!  Jesus promised me an easy yoke and light burden (Matt 11:30), however I have to follow after Him without looking back to the way I used to do things.  Like Lot's wife I want to look back and see where I was, the sin I'm missing.  Like Israel, although I'm heading to a better place, a place promised to me, a place for which I was made to inhabit, I grumble that the trip is hard and my bird in the hand (my sin) is, at least in my mind, better than the two birds waiting in the bush!

Israel complained a number of times to Moses about going back to Egypt.  They were hungry and said to him, "If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt!  There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." - Ex 16:3, NIV.  Egypt was not a fun place!  Israel was enslaved for over 400 years.  There were whole generations that new nothing but slavery, and yet the generations that experienced God's deliverance out of that awful place actually looked back saying they'd rather be there!

That's me!  I look back to the pleasures of past sins and say, "Why couldn't I just die in my sin where I didn't have to try so hard?  It was miserable, but I got enough of a pay-off from the sin to at least make moments tolerable."  As I write this I'm amazed at the short-sightedness of my flesh, how quickly I turn from my Father, His promises, His character, the promised land of a relationship with Him, and am willing to trade it for something that I know only leads to death!  Israel said they'd rather die in Egypt without the Father than live in the desert with Him!  Every time I choose my sin over Him I say the exact same thing.  I know the wage for my sin is death (Rom 6:23), that the benefit of doing what I want to do leads only to death (Rom 6:21), and that as I turn from what I used to be and pursue Him, He has holiness and eternal life for me (Rom 6:22)!

So, Talley, stop sinning.  Ah, but there's the rub.  The enemy keeps my head focused on the, although temporary, fleeting, and ultimately deadly, pleasures of my sin.  The enemy says the Father selfishly wants me to serve Him which results in slavery to Him; a slavery that by definition means a joyless existence spent in joyless, toilsome service devoid of pleasure, satisfaction and contentment.  IT'S A LIE!!  I spend all this mental time trying to reconcile what I want to do (sin) with what I ought to do (obey) because I believe the lie that obedience is contrary to joy, peace, contentment!  God is not the liar, Satan is!

So what did Jesus do and why?  Jesus went to the cross because of the joy He knew was waiting for Him on the other side (Heb 12:2)!  His eyes and His body were both going in the same direction because He knew that where He was headed, although unbelievably hard and agonizing, was best.  What does the author of Hebrews say we ought to do?  "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus..." - Heb 12:2a, NIV.  How can I fix my eyes on Jesus if I'm looking over my shoulder at the comforts and pleasures of my sin?  I can't do both, I must do one or the other.  Therefore, stopping sin is not about walking toward Him with my eyes looking back.  I stop sinning because I'm too busy doing His will for my life!  Do you see the difference?  I can't make myself stop sinning; neither could Paul for that matter (Rome 7:15).  What I can do is abide in Him (John 15:4) bearing the fruit (not making the fruit!!) of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), and doing those things He's already planned for me to do (Eph 2:10).  Basically I'll be too busy obeying to have time to sin.

Why in the world would I want to obey someone else?  Am I not entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  How could slavery to Him give me life, liberty or happiness?  Amazingly enough Jesus speaks directly to this.  "If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father's commands and remain in His love.  I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." - John 15:10-11, NIV.  If Jesus obeyed the Father and did so because of the joy set before Him, does it not make sense that I would obey the Father as well?  My joy is complete in obedience to Him, not in slavery to my sin.

Father, please forgive me if I've misrepresented You or Your word in any way.  Please forgive me for my continued trips back to Egypt, for believing the lie that my joy will be complete in the pursuit of my sin and not in obedience to You.  I love You, Lord.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My mother-in-law's wisdom

We went to family camp in Chattanooga a few weeks ago.  That basically means Anna took care of all our children for a week (actually nothing new about that) and I "visited" for the weekend.  During the mornings there was time for family devotions where all the grandchildren came together in Juju's cabin and for an hour or so we would discuss Proverbs 3:5,6.  Each morning Juju would take a portion of the scripture, break it down word by word, and have the children give examples of "trust" or "lean" or "acknowledge" so that five years old to teenager had the opportunity to learn the verses in their own language.

I had reservations about whether or not you could camp out (no pun intended) on just two verses for a full week.  Really, don't trust myself but trust God, rely on His wisdom not mine, and He makes my paths straight...not too much there, right?  You should've seen Juju going around that room, each child asked the question "What does it mean to trust?" or "What does understanding mean?"  The way she engaged each one exactly where they were was incredible to see.  I heard five years olds talking about trust using examples of how the know they parents will do what they say they'll do.  Eight year olds talked about how God knows more than they do and so His understanding is better than theirs.  It was something to behold.

Anna takes after her mother like that.  You ought to see her in our house on a daily basis.  My children have wisdom beyond their years because of her and the Holy Spirit.  I find myself often looking to Anna when I'm trying to explain something to the children and saying, "Honey, what am I trying to say?"  It's as if the Father gave me an interpreter who understands both adult and child.  Anna speaks in pictures, analogies, metaphors; her wheelhouse is communication.

For whatever reason one of the words that stood out to me was "lean" in verse 5.  It's interesting to me that the Lord does not say, "Blindly do what I tell you to with no thought whatsoever."  He's given me the faculty of thought, a mind that seeks to understand, and a will that executes around what my intellect decides upon.  That said, I don't lean on my understanding such that what supports the decision is me, but rather His wisdom.  I trust Him with all my heart and merely use the mind He's given me.  Again in verse 6 I am to acknowledge Him in all my ways because He is the one who will make the path straight.

I believe this is vitally important for a number of reasons.  1.  His ways are not my ways such that if I lean on what I believe to be the right answer I'm bound to make the wrong choice (Isa 55:8).  2.  He already has good works ordained for me to accomplish.  If I'm focused on what I think I won't see what He's trying to accomplish (Eph 2:10).  3.  When He created everything, the why, the how, all of it, I was no where around to comment on it or add my two cents.  My guess is He still doesn't need my two cents and that I'd be better off going with His will than mine (Job 38:4).

I also like the idea of Him "making" the path straight.  It certainly makes metaphorical sense why I can't see very far ahead as there are twist, turns, obstacles in the way.  Funny thing is, if I look behind me I see that what brought me to where I'm currently standing is a straight path.  Looking ahead, leaning on Him, seeking His will in all my ways and He goes before me straightening that path.  His perspective is such that He has an "aerial" view of the landscape.  When I fly I can see all the roads, the intersections, the mountains, etc.  Out of my window I can see lets say 20 miles in any one direction which means I can see, in a straight line, two points.  If I'm down on the earth I can't see point B from point A and there are turns I have to take to get there.  The Lord's perspective is such that He sees points A and B, the straight line between them, then He condescends to come down and make the path between them straight "on earth as it is in Heaven."

Lord, thank you for your willingness to meet me at my point of need.  Thank you for leading me in Your ways by Your Spirit.  Please keep me out of Your way long enough for You to will and act within my life to accomplish Your purposes.  I love you Father.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What do you mean by "God's will?" Part 2

I've received some great feedback and I thank you for it.  From a pure semantics stand point I'm apparently trying to figure out what He willed as opposed to what would please Him.  Said another way, I want to know what He has said "will happen" versus what He has said "pleases" Him.  There are plenty of other vocabulary words out there that will help to split hairs; ordained, willed, purposed.  Let's assume for a minute that I "figure out" which is which.  What good will that do me?  Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not advocating intellectual laziness, a throwing in of the mental towel or just saying "have faith."  Bottom line I think I'm struggling with the search for meaning in my decisions and actions.  What part is me and what part is Him?

I have this bad habit of spending more time and energy trying to figure Him out than in executing what I already know about His will.  His commands are, I believe, very specific revelations of His will for me.  For instance I am to love Him with my whole self and my neighbor as myself (Luke 10:27).  It is His will that I be sanctified (1 Thes 4:3).  He doesn't want me to conform myself to the pattern of this world but to discern His will for my life by the renewing of my mind (Rom 12:2).  He created me specifically to accomplish good works that He has laid out for me (Eph 2:10).  When I get a "yes" to a prayer request I am assured of that answer coming directly out of His will (1 John 5:14).  Finally, and here's the kicker, I know that anything I do that is in accordance with His will is done only because He worked within me to accomplish His will (Phl 2:13)!

It would seem that a better use of my time and energy would be in the discernment of His will for my life with a mere peripheral intellectual pursuit of understanding the interaction between our wills.  It's funny (not ha ha funny, but interesting) that I get more wrapped up in "how could that be His will" and standing in judgment of what He either allowed or did as opposed to "am I personally pursuing His will?"  I get more wrapped up in how He justifies His actions, His will, in comparison with His supposed character (again, insert your "How could He let this happen" event).  I will even look to His will for someone else, usually someone who has something I want but which the Lord has seen fit to not give me, and ask the Father, "Well, what about them?"  Fortunately I'm not the only one to have done this (John 21:20-22).

So what do I mean by His will?  I'm coming to the conclusion that the personal answer to that is "What do You want me to do today?"  He's given me enough direction to be in the middle of His will for 18 hours or so that I'll be awake today.  I will give Him praise when I accomplish His will because He has worked in me to accomplish His will.

Father, please forgive me if I've misrepresented You or Your will this morning.  I do want to understand how it all works, however please work within me to will and do Your will as its already been revealed.  Thank you for loving me.  I love you, Father.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What do you mean by "God's will?" Part 1

I remember conversations after 911 about whether or not it was "God's will" that the planes flew into the towers.  If I take a sovereignty tack and say that nothing happens outside of God's control, that for those called according to His purpose He works all things out for their good, then there's an argument to be made for it being His will.  That said, the murder of over 3,000 people doesn't intuitively make sense to me to be defined as "God's will."  Don't get me wrong, my intuition cannot be relied on for truth as I am still sinful and must account for the effect of the fall in all my judgments, while at the same time the Holy Spirit speaks to me through my "conscience" which communicates my intuitions to me....My point is this, how can murder (or any other sin for that matter) be God's will?

Where I want to go with this is to better define what we mean by God's will.  The first kind of "will" I want to look at is found in the following verses:  Psalm 40:8, Nehemiah 9:24, Nehemiah 9:37, Psalm 30:5, Psalm 51:18, Proverbs 11:1, Proverbs 15:8.  Each of these verses has the Hebrew word "ratson", the root of which is "ratsah".  Guess how the Hebrew word is translated in each of the verses (I'm using the ESV).  In order, its translated as follows in each verse:  will, would, please, favor, pleasure, delight, acceptable.  In short if we're talking about God's will as that which pleases Him, those actions in which He delights and finds acceptable, then we can easily say that 911 (please fill in your "how could God allow this" event that has more personal meaning to you) was not God's will because it was not pleasing to Him, was not looked upon with His favor, did not delight Him and certainly did not please Him.

 So if I'm going to look at His will as that which pleases or delights Him then I can't necessarily say that everything is His will.  That said, aren't there things that He wants happen that do happen as a direct result of what He desires, like when He created the earth?  More to come....