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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lessons from the Battlefield, part 21: Motivation

Ezra 3:3 “So they set up the altar on its foundation, for they were terrified because of the peoples of the land.”

Because of their sin, the people of Israel had been taken into captivity. Just as
God had said, they remained in captivity for seventy years, and just as God had said, Cyrus released the exiles to return home if they desired. On their return to Israel, the people committed themselves to repairing and restoring the temple. They began by building an altar and reinstituting sacrifices. 

After all God had done for them, you would think that love would motivate their sacrifices. You might even think that fear of this God who had once again demonstrated His ability to deliver would be a motivator for obedience. Not so. These returning captives built the altar
“because they were terrified of the people around them.” They were not obeying because of their great love for their Lord. They were not obeying because they feared the God who had delivered them. They were obeying because they were afraid of the people around them. They simply wanted what God could do for them and the insurance of His protection from the people around them. There was nothing of love or relationship in their service. 

There are many reasons for service to God. Sometimes we attend church services, give our time and our money, and serve in a variety of ways because it is how we were reared and we've always done it. Sometimes our motivation for service is the community standing it affords. Serving God can easily become more about habit than about love or relationship, and periodically we should do a motivation check. Why do we do the things we do for the Kingdom of God? Does love motivate our service?

The Apostle Paul wrote sobering words about our service, saying that our works will be tried by fire. Only those that remain will merit a reward. 
Read his words here: 
Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NASB)

Dear ones, let us so order our heart and our motivations that the service we render is done with a pure heart of love and surrender to our Lord.  May we render works that stand the test of fire and yield a harvest of fruit that lasts. 

The recognition, part 2: what do you say?

And He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God." (Luke 9:20 NASB)

In this passage, Jesus was near Caesarea Philippi, where He had gone to pray. The twelve had accompanied Him and He had asked them what people said about Him. Then, He asked them a simple but profound question. "Who do you say that I am?"  Only Peter answered. He was frequently the spokesman for the group, and he answered rightly with clear insight into Jesus. The odd thing is that only Peter answered. What about Philip, who described Jesus to Nathanael as "the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote"? (John 1:45) What about James and John, who, with Peter, were part of the inner circle? Why didn't they say anything? 

Peter did well when he confessed that Jesus is the Christ, Son of the Living God, (Matt 16:16) but why did no one else make a confession that day? Perhaps they all silently concurred with Peter, quietly nodding their agreement, but it seems unexpected that only Peter made a verbal confession. 

We must decide for ourselves the answer to the question of "Who is Jesus?" but we also have to confess Him for ourselves. No one can speak for us, not our parents, our pastor, or our dearest friends. We must speak for ourselves, and confess our faith in Jesus for ourselves. Why? Why can't we just nod along in agreement? Our Lord was very clear on this matter. "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 10:32 NASB) The confession of Jesus on our behalf in eternity begins with our confession of Him now, so it is important for us to know what we believe in order to speak it. 

What is it that you believe about Jesus? How quick are you to speak that faith? If we believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God sent to take away the sin of the world, why do we not tell all who will listen?  A perishing world is desperate for faith and hope, and we know the One they need. Friends, let's share Jesus with them. 

Speak up. 
Speak out. 
Say what you believe. 
No one can do it but you. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lessons from the battlefield, part 20:

From 2 Chronicles 36:22-23

In the first year of Cyrus’ reign in Persia, God told him to build a temple in
Jerusalem and send the Jews home. This was the most unlikely thing in the world. A new king has more to worry about than building a religious temple in another country, and he certainly wants to preserve his skilled labor force. If our new president started his term by building a temple in the Middle East, we’d be more than a little upset. God, however, delights in doing the MOST unlikely. He delights in the unpredictable and unexpected. 

Years before, God had said He would use his servant Cyrus, but who could believe His “servant Cyrus” would turn out to be the king of an enemy nation? God had also told them that their captivity would last seventy years, but many were surprised when the end of captivity finally came. Right on time, God’s unexpected servant King Cyrus sent the children of Israel back to their homeland and financed their temple’s reconstruction. God did what He said He would do, exactly when He said He would do it. He was faithful to His Word.

Our wonderful, amazing Lord, delights in doing things in an unpredictable, unexpected way so that we will know without a doubt that every blessing came only from Him. Is there something about which you have been praying? Why not ask God to intervene in such an unexpected way that it will be clear the blessing came straight from Him. Pray that He will move in a way that only He could do. There is no greater fun than seeing God do something extraordinary! 

The Recognition: the crowd's view

And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, "Who do the people say that I am?" They answered and said, "John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again." And He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God." (Luke 9:18-20 NASB)

We are moving into a passage that deals with recognizing the diety of Christ. From Mark's gospel, we know that Jesus and the disciples were near Cesarea Philippi. For those who are familiar with the geography of Israel, it should be noted that this is not Caesarea Maritima, the seaside city built by Herod the Great on the Mediteranian. Caesarea Philippi was a town located 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, in a region dedicated to worship of the Greek god of desolate places, Pan.  

Jesus had gone with His disciples to pray. To be more precise, the verse above suggests that Jesus had gone to pray and His disciples had gone along with Him. While they were there in that solitary place, He began to question them. "What are people saying about me?" He asked. Jesus was not doing a publicity check. He was about to lead them to a profound insight. "What are they saying? Who do they think I am?"  

All the answers indicated that He was believed to be either John the Baptist or one of the ancient prophets come back to life. Not one of the answers they gave that day suggested people thought He was a heretic or a crazy man. The religious leaders were disturbed by Him and His words and they accused Him of heresy, but the general populace understood that He was not just an ordinary man.  They weren't quite sure who He was, but they clearly understood that His presence had significance, and that He was a man of religious importance. 

Jesus heard all the answers, then He brought the disciples to the turning point. "But who do you say that I am?" He asked. Jesus was drawing a line in the sand. "You know what people say, but what do you say?"  He wanted them to understand for themselves who He was, not just follow along with the crowd. Some of them had come to Him on the recommendation of John the Baptizer, some had come at the urging of one of the other disciples, and some had joined Jesus when He called them from their work. Now, they were being asked to choose for themselves. What did they say?

It was Peter who spoke. It was almost always Peter who spoke, perhaps as the de facto leader of the twelve. According to Matthew, he replied, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus often referred to Himself as the Son of Man. Peter had recognized that He was not just human. He was, as the Son of God, also diety. Peter recognized, too, that, as God made flesh, He was also the promised Messiah and the fulfillment of all prophecy. He was the Promised One. 

These twelve men had spent a lifetime hearing about the Coming One, and likely expected a military ruler who would overthrow the Romans and restore the Kingdom to power and greatness. Jesus spoke of turning the other cheek, and commended the widow who gave her last mite. It was hard to imagine this Man leading a military revolution.  Peter's confession revealed an important fact. He was choosing truth over expectation. Jesus was not what people had expected, but He was exactly what we needed and Peter understood that. 

There is a great difference between our expectations of God's blessings and the reality of them. Those of us living in an affluent society have a tendency to expect more affluence, more ease, more recognizable blessings as we follow Christ. Those expectations, though, do not necessarily line up with His teachings. Sometimes He leads us to desert times of less rather than more, and we find even greater blessings in that place of less. We would do well to examine our own expectations about Christ, about faith, about discipleship. Are we expecting a "prosperity gospel" walk of faith or do we recognize that we follow the Suffering Servant Messiah who laid down His life for the sin of the world? We base our manner of following on our understanding of the One we follow, thus it is vital that our expectations of Who Jesus is be replaced by reality. 

Take a close look at both your expectations of Christ and the reality of Him. Look again at the promises He has given. The One who said, "Take heart, I have overcome the world," was the same One who also said, "In this world you will have trouble." He did not promise to help us avoid difficulty. He promised to help us through. He did not promise the results we expected in our difficulty. He promised to take that difficulty and bring something good from it. 

Like Peter, let reality replace expectation and confess with him, "You, Jesus, are the promised Messiah and my God." 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Fence Building

I am a fanatic about fences, and I don't mind admitting it. I want the barbed wire tight, the posts straight, and every strand level. Just so you know, there is never, ever a reason to secure barbed wire with baling string. Why would anyone even consider such an option? 

This morning, I did my usual routine of feeding livestock, writing, and opening the park. I was headed to take a shower when It occurred to me that the plants still needed to be moved to the greenhouse. That big project was almost done when Betsy, Ryan's first show heifer and a magnificent animal, came up to the fence and started bawling. She was clearly very unhappy. It turned out that a large dead tree had fallen on the fence, driven one of the fence posts completely into the ground (a few inches still showing) and totally leveled the fence. As a result, Custard, Ryan's big Charolais cross, had stepped through the gap and was in the yard. Betsy was "telling on her"!  

After moving the cows to the round pen, I went back to examine the fence. There was a tree down that needed to be moved, fencing wire to separate, and an entire stretch of fencing to be repaired. A closer look revealed that someone had used baling string to connect the wire to the posts. I was not happy.  In addition, some of the wire did not have clips attaching it to the posts. Maybe the impact of the tree knocked those clips right off. Maybe. But I doubt it. 

The condition of the fence was so totally pitiful that I decided the only thing to do was take down the entire section, reseat my posts, and restring the wire, and I gathered my tools to get started. It was a terrible mess and the job looked way too big, but I did what I always do. "Lord, I can't tell where to start. Please help me!" 

After a survey of the rubble, it was clear that the tree had to be moved. I was trying to decide how to move it and thought, "Roll it".  Much to my surprise, I reached down, lifted that big log, gave it a twisting shove, and it rolled right down the hill. Thankfully, only one strand of wire was broken and It just so happened that there was one turnbuckle in the tool box to repair it. Before I knew it, I had reseated the posts, figured out how to use my come-along (to tighten the wire), taken all the wire loose, repaired the break, restrung the wire, and secured it to the posts (with the appropriate fencing clips). 

It was amazing that all that work was accomplished so quickly, but what was even more amazing was that the fence was tight and straight. More than a decade ago, a dear friend realized how lacking I was in basic farming skills and undertook to teach me. He and his family  taught me how to set a post, string wire, and build a fence, among many other things. How they stood dealing with such a prissy diva is beyond me, but they were instrumental in God's work of transformation that changed a diva into a woman a little more like what God has intended. I'm still easily overwhelmed by the scope of the farm work, but I'm much quicker to think, "Maybe I can do this" and to give it a try. The investment they made in my life has yielded an incredible result and my new straight fence is just one of the many benefits of their efforts. 

Now, lest you think that I have become a fantastic farmer, remember that my fence was in a mess before the tree fell, and I didn't know it. I am a fanatic about wanting the fences to be right, but I have not been a fanatic about checking them or repairing them myself. That's because I have, once again, let busyness take over, and the farm, the pastures, the fences, and I don't know what else yet, have gotten away from me. The good news is that the investment in me was not wasted, I do know how to fix fences, and the farm work will get done in the same manner the fence was repaired today. One step at a time and with the help of God. 

Are you investing in the life of someone? It is easy to get frustrated when that effort you've expended seems to have no yield or be totally wasted. Take heart. Investments in the Kingdom of God are never wasted, even when the part of the Kingdom you're investing in is a too-busy, prissy woman like me. In the blink of an eye, a tree can fall, fence wire can break, and priorities can be not only shifted but also corrected. 

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; (Matthew 6:20 NASB)

You may not be able to tell it right now from looking at my pastures, but before too long, I'm hoping it becomes clear that the investment in my life was not just worth it, but is bearing fruit that lasts. 

The Journey, part 30: recognition

And it happened that while He was praying alone, the disciples were with Him, and He questioned them, saying, "Who do the people say that I am?" They answered and said, "John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again." And He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God." (Luke 9:18-20 NASB)

In a series that began with the apostles' journey of obedience, the traditional stopping point would be when those apostles returned from their travels and gave their report to Jesus. The miracle of the loaves and fish was included in our study of the journey because of one very important point. That event demonstrated the vital truth that no miracle was possible without the blessing of God, but with His blessing, no miracle was impossible. 

This verse is another natural transition point. The narrative changes here from an account of the miraculous feeding of the multitude to a discussion of whom Jesus was believed to be, and is another point before which the study of the journey of obedience might end. This passage is included because it contains a question we all must answer.

"Who do you say that I am," Jesus asked Peter. It is a question we are compelled to consider. Is He just a religious zealot? Is He a madman with delusions of grandeur? If those are true, then we must not follow Him, for He is not God. If, instead, He IS the Son of God, the Christ, the Promised Messiah, then we dare not follow Him. If His claims that He died as a sacrifice to pay our penalty for sin are true, if He was resurrected to demonstrate His power over sin and death and set us free, then a decision to follow Him is the most important decision we can ever make. If we choose to stake our eternal destiny to the claims of Jesus, then we must also stake our present life to Him as well. 

If, like Peter, we believe that He is the Christ, then we will follow, as the disciples did, in a journey of obedience that changes everything. Decisions must then be based on His will and not our own. Our sin must be relinquished and purification and sanctification must become our goal. If Jesus is who He claims to be, and if we choose to follow Him, then we cannot remain the same. Our following must lead to transformation into the very image of Christ. 

 "But who do you say that I am?"  This is the question we must answer. It is the question on which our lives, our eternity, depend. Consider well, dear ones, and be certain that you have joined your life with the only One who holds the present and the future in His nail-scarred hands. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Haiku #4

Justice with mercy
Righteous Redeemer and King
Holy is The Lord