The River Runs Through It

I posted a status on Facebook this week with a question to challenge thought. I want you to take a moment and read Psalm 46. The verse I want you to really consider is verse 4. The question I have posed is “What is the river whose streams make glad the City of God?” The chapter itself does little to reference this imagery. I have received back some really good thoughts and insights from my friends on Facebook. I have also done some commentary and Scripture study.

Why do I share this? This is how you grow and learn from the Scriptures. Don’t just spend time with the easy stuff. Spend some time looking up something that you don’t get. This is not for a sermon. Nor did I start out with the goal of a blog entry. I posed the question because it came from my personal time in the Word with the Lord the other morning. So I thought I would just share a little how your pastor (or if you are not from Fellowship, a person you have for some reason chosen to read the blog of) grows from the challenge of digging into the Scriptures in his personal walk with the Lord.

So, what I have heard. I have heard how this refers to the River of Life, the Holy Spirit, and the gladness those cause within us. Really good answers and are true. I have also been referred to Ezekial by two men with Biblical degrees. The passage in Ezekiel is 47:1-12. In my reading (in commentaries) this passage could refer to anything from an army that chose not to destroy Jerusalem to the praise in our lives.

It is very interesting to study passages that cause different opinions and thoughts because it clearly shows the complexity of the truths we must grapple with if we desire to have an understanding of an incomparable God and His Kingdom. The challenge is, however, not to know the facts about the river that makes glad the City of God but to know how it applies to our lives so that we might experience the wonders of that river. (Way too many Christians today have filled their minds with the knowledge of such passages but their lives are completely void of such truth.)

So in my study and thought, I have come to this conclusion to share. The river whose streams make glad the city of God starts with God. That is an interesting contrast to the norm in how a river would make glad a city. A city is usually made glad and refreshed by a river that brings water into it instead of a river that comes from within. That is the difference between us and God. In my study this morning in Psalm 50 I was reminded that sacrifices were never intended to satisfy some hunger or need for God. He never needed any thing. He has never lacked anything. Sacrifices were for our benefit in the worship of God.

So the River does speak of the Holy Spirit and the River of Life. It is indeed the life giving flow that comes from God. This river that makes glad the City of God flows from God himself. In Ezekiel the power of this water makes fresh the salt waters of the oceans and brings abundant life in the waters of the world. You can keep thinking on that imagery but it is a wonderful picture of what the River of Life does when it flows freely in our lives and the world around us.

In further thought though, I do believe the streams are an important word in this verse. Streams mean canals or tributaries. These canals were purposeful in a city. Ancient cities did not have pipes as you and I are used to but canals that brought fresh water into the city and areas of it. These canals would bring water in and take water out. They make glad the city. They are a blessing to the people of it.

I believe that we are the streams. I believe we must become the vessels and tributaries by which the River of Life (The Holy Spirit) flows. We should be what makes glad the city of God because we have found our ability to make glad and bless God because we have received into our lives his life-giving and life-changing grace.

The deep truth to this passage and thought is echoed in the Psalm 50 passage I referenced earlier. God has never been in need of anything we have to offer. We have always been in need of what God has to offer. However, God has always found delight in what we have to offer when we respond to what he has offered. (You might need to read that one twice.)

God “inhabits the praises of His people” yet it is God that causes us the ability to speak his praises. (See Isaiah’s praise in Isaiah 6:1-8) Isaiah could not bring the word or praise of God anywhere until the grace of God had touched his own life. It is the River that flows from God that changes us and it is that river that runs through us that makes glad the City of God.

You might stop and think “how in the world would the average person ever tie all that together?” It is not as hard as it looks, it just takes time. All of that is not the result of a seminary education or a title at a church. Learning from the Word of God is the result of learning from the Word of God. I could not do that when I first started like I can today, but the reason I can today is because this morning I still asked the Spirit of the Living God I love to show me something new and to make me something new. It is a life-long process, journey, and joy. Seek after the Lord in his Word and respond by doing it (not just learning it) and you will indeed be a stream that makes glad the City of God.

Actually if you have received the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ you are already that stream. And the Bible says that out of the “overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” So get in His Word so that you might get into Him and allow the stream banks to overflow and bring gladness in the City of God.

So what do you do with this that you hear? Answer these questions and strive to see those answers change.
1. What is damming up the flow of the River of Life in your life? What stresses, distractions, or priorities are preventing you from fully receiving into your life the River of Life?
2. Are you offering to God what you have to give him or what he has given you?
3. When was the last time you said “here I am send me” without qualifications or limitations to what that meant to God?
4. When was the last time you stopped and simply allowed the grace God has given you in your life bring joy to his life?

The Danger of Assumptions

There is a an old quote about assumptions that I will not repeat because I do not thinks such speech would honor my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but the sentiment behind the statement is so true. Recently I wrote a blog title “Why do you Condemn who you Condemn.” The blog honestly came across in a manner I never intended, as happens constantly in the blogosphere or in emails or any electronic form of communication.

So I want to clarify my thoughts. The reason I am challenged to do this is because I have an old friend who is an atheist. He and I have gone back and forth on Facebook some with discussions about God. He is very philosophical and well-learned. He posted a note in response to my blog entry and I did not like what it said because it was true. So I decided I needed to do a better job saying what I said.

The thought started with a quote from Job. “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?”

Here is what I believe. We condemn that which we choose to condemn because it some sick way it comforts us. We feel better that someone or something or some belief should be condemned because in condemning it we feel better about who we are and where we are in life. Often these condemnations are irrational and very poorly thought out.

It is not something we should beat ourselves up over but it is something we must learn from. Job was brought back to God through this experience not banished by God. Job’s condemnation of God was natural. He had been put through the ultimate ringer in life and God had willingly taken part in allowing that to happen to him. He had some issues with God and he was not perfect in his response to them.

But that is the whole point. Job’s imperfection does not change God’s perfection. What changed was Job’s view and understanding of God’s perfection.

So let me apply this better than I did last time. We all condemn what we condemn because that condemnation gives us comfort.

So from my view, I challenge you to quit condemning God with things that are not true of him to make yourself feel better about the things that are true about you. Be willing to grab hold of a reality that by its very definition you are not capable of grasping and be okay with that. That is why it is called faith.

But also, for those of us who do believe in God, do not condemn the thoughts and beliefs of others solely based on your viewpoint. Listen and hear where they are coming from. Have an open and non-condemning dialogue with them without backing away from the truth of your convictions.

God did not condemn Job to make himself comfortable. He did not come down on Job to berate him for his shortcomings. God reacted to Job with honesty and clarity and then restored Job.

Here is the challenge for the Christ-follower in the discussions that are known for us as apologetics –the challenging of our beliefs with those who hold an opposite of different belief. Your role and job is not to condemn the belief of anyone else. Your role is to clearly and honestly lift high the name of Jesus. It is Jesus that draws men unto Himself. He promised if we lift him up he would do that. It is not your job to tear down the thoughts of others (as I unknowingly and unintentionally did in my earlier blog). When we do that we are actually condemning others and condemnation is clearly not our job as Christ-followers. Condemnation will one day come but that is the role of the King not of the bondslave. So we must make sure that we do not condemn others to comfort ourselves. If you choose to walk into the world of apologetics you must come to grips with the reality that it is not a place of comfort. When we condemn those we speak with it is probably not with the goal of seeing them come to Christ but to comfort ourselves. If we can condemn what they believe then we feel more comfortable in our own belief. Disagree with it…stand against it…but do not condemn it or them. Actually make your goal less to stand against what others believe, but to stand for what you believe. Condemnation is the result of standing against. Conversion is the result of standing for.

So if I in anyway did this in my earlier blog, I ask your forgiveness. That does not honor the One I feel you condemn it honors my own comfort. My comfort is something I willingly sacrifice to have the privilege of being a part of such discussions with you.

Why Little Things Matter

Last night I chose to shake up my schedule and rearrange some ministry and spend the night with my Melanie (my 4 year old daughter) at a Cinderella Princess Night at the local library. It was a last minute change that I struggled with because I have something I do every Wednesday that is very important ministry wise. We were able to reschedule with everyone for the next night, but it bothered me to do it.

So Melanie and I were in a hurry leaving because before we could go I had to run by the church for a time of prayer with a family in our church. Melanie had to sit all dressed up in her Cinderella gown in my office by herself while I met with the family, but as always she did great. Then we went and met some of our best friends. Yesterday was Ainsley’s birthday. Melanie and Ainsley love each other in a way that is fun to watch as a parent. So we met Ainsley and her dad and went to the ball.

To be honest, the night at the library was a little under my expectations, but Melanie had a blast and I enjoyed being with her and our friends. We then took the girls out to eat at Cracker Barrel (because that is Ainsley’s favorite place). While there we got lots of comments about our princesses dressed up in the gowns. It was fun and we had a great time.

I realized the importance of that type of time with your kids after a sweet comment from a waitress. She asked about our two Cinderellas and then asked if we were the Prince Charmings. The answer was yes. I know that I need to show my daughter how a Prince Charming treats a lady so that when Prince Dead Beat comes around she is not interested in him. I also know that she is worth every moment I can give her.

Overall, the night was good and fun, but as I was riding 6 miles on my bike through the neighborhood this morning I was still thinking about not getting to go door to door in there last night because I had changed my plans. It was still bothering me. Was the change of ministry plans worth the night with my daughter?

Then I got to my desk ready to spend a busy day working toward the things God has me doing at Fellowship Church and on my desk was a drawing that my daughter drew while waiting for me to finish my meeting last night and take her to the ball. I have scanned it for you to see it.

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with very much…” Luke 16:10 a

Parents, we have some little things in our lives that are actually “very much”. Never lose sight of that. We can not put aside responsibilities in serving the Lord every time a family opportunity pops us but we also can not put aside our families every time a ministry opportunity pops up. Because they should both be both. Tonight my Cinderella will help me go door to door and invite kids from our neighborhood to Backyard Bible Club. And all the while this little drawing will be in heart.

Some times we can have it all!

Why do you condemn who you condemn?

Job is one of the most intriguing and challenging writings in all of Scripture. Job was a good man. Job was also a very blessed man. Satan told God that Job would not be a good man if here were not a blessed man. So God allowed Satan to cause the loss of all Job’s blessings. Job was still a good man. But he was a tad bit bitter and angry – as we all would be. And he was a little off on some of the conclusions he had about life – as we all are. The book is basically Job building a court case against God and for himself and the thoughts of some others who try to disprove him. At the end of all this not so great collection of human thought about the Divine – God speaks. And, man, when God speaks God speaks.

Job 40:8 says “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” Stop and read that second question again. Read it again. Read it again and allow it to be conversation between you and God. (Even if you have to for a minute pretend that there is a god because you don’t believe in him.) Let God ask you that question one more time.

Do you see and hear the power in that question?

Be honest. How often in your life have you done that? When did you do it today? In what ways have you discredited who God is to justify who you are? How many times have you criticized what God does to justify to what you do?

The reality of this question is found in the rest of this passage. Pick up a Bible and read it or check it on biblegateway.com. (all you have to do is type in Job 40 to get to the chapter. The verses are already there.) The reality behind this question is “who are you?”

I mean really “who are you?” Who are you to decide how things should work in the world? Who are you to decide what is just and unjust? Who are you to tell God how the universe should lay out? Where were you when he laid it out?

My basic premise with this blog is that I think this one verse sums up the whole reasoning behind every argument we have against believing in God, obeying God, and following God.

The truth is we justify ourselves by declaring him as unjust. You might simply do this by declaring the belief that a god even exists as unjust. Why? It is more comfortable to believe in what you can grasp than to believe in what you can not. You justify your own desire to have a control on your understanding of all things in this universe by declaring there is nothing in the universe that you can not understand.

I don’t want to harp on the person who declares there is no God in this blog, though. The truth is this verse catches up to us all.

It catches up to us when we see things that we don’t think are right or are unjust. How could a just God allow? It is amazing how people will blame everything bad on a God they do not really believe in but never credit him with the good that is all around them. (Job, however, in all his trials, did not have such a problem.)

It catches up to us when we decide to disobey God even when we know it is wrong. We choose our own way. We justify it. We tell ourselves we deserve that sin in our life because it makes up for the unjust hurt or pain someone or something else has caused.

We do this all the time. We do it every day in our lives. We justify ourselves by dejustifying God.

We condemn the one we condemn because that condemnation makes us feel better about our own. Whether that condemnation is a Biblical truth, a lie you heard over and over again while growing up, a self-induced condemnation, or societal judgment we do not enjoy it. Condemnation is no fun. So we all try to condemn the one that we believe is ultimately responsible for our feeling of condemnation.

Condemnation will kill you. It will destroy your life. Whether you are living in the feelings of condemnation or doing the condemning, it will kill your spirit and drain the joy from your life. Strangely enough, it will not kill God. Your condemnation of God will not change him one bit. He will be no less who he is because you do not believe that He is who He is. It is your life this condemnation condemns, not his. It is your existence this condemnation ruins, not his.

The truth we must all realize is that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” There is no condemnation for us because there was condemnation for Jesus. Yes, condemnation is real. God – in his justice – must condemn all that is condemnable. (If there were any argument against his condemnation it would be its strongest if he did not condemn all that is condemnable.) So God did condemn. He condemned his one and only son so that you might no longer have to live in such condemnation. Literally his son “bore your sins in his body.” The Son of God “who knew no sin, became sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.”

So today if you desire to live where there is no condemnation…
    Stop condemning the only one who has cared enough about your condemnation to do something about it…
        Accept the reality of your shortcomings in life and the reality that your own actions have already condemned you not his unjust declarations…
            And ask Jesus to forgive you of all your sins.

And the only one worthy of casting the stone of condemnation will instead take upon himself your condemnation and give you freedom.

Staycation

I am not sure where the term “staycation” came from or where I first heard it. A staycation is when you use vacation to stay – not to go. It is still a vacation, but by choice you don’t go you stay.

This past week my family did a family staycation. We all went to Ruston. My Mom and Dad and sister both live there. Their houses are through the woods from each other. Our staycation was a great week. The thing I learned, though, is that a fun staycation is a lot of work.

So here are some ideas from our family staycation to help you and your family have some good time together.

Day One: Family Reunion – Mom and Dad invited all of my Mom’s family to come to the house. I got to see aunts, uncles, and cousins I had not seen in years. Sure you are doing it when it is convenient for you, but you are the host. Invite everyone and then enjoy who shows up.

Day Two: Local Fun Day – Denise, my oldest sister, has a pool so we swam. Then we all went to a movie together and out to eat pizza. It was a great day.

Day Three: Water Carnival and Adults without the Kids Night – Rachel, my middle sister, put together a day of fun water games and the three families competed against each other. Grandma and Grandpa served as referees and Grandpa took a spot in one of the families on some games. We played water balloon volleyball, water balloon toss (like egg toss), swimming pool relay race, sprinkler tug of war, water bucket race, etc. Then we had carnival food (corn dogs and nachos) for lunch. The kids swam the rest of the afternoon away. That night Denise and Keith hosted us for a murder mystery. During this night my oldest niece and a friend were paid to babysit for us. It was a lot of fun. You can buy the kits for them. The food was great. We laughed. It was Hawaiian themed. Wendy was a supermodel, Dad was a tribal chief, Keith was a tourist with a past, Mom was an elegant woman with a shady reputation, Rachel was a hula dancer, Denise was a LPGA pro, and I was a surfer. It was pretty funny. The costumes were fun and funny. We got into it and had a great time. Plus I got to be the murderer.

Day Four: Scavenger Hunt – Wendy and I put on a scavenger hunt that was perhaps the longest ever but a great time. We started at the house and gave the kids notebooks and pencils to write things down. We had a video clue and then I used my voice recorder and my radio tuner thing for mp3 player (not sure what you call it) to have a radio clue. The majority of the scavenger hunt was at a park. One spot was a fishing challenge and each kid caught a fish before we moved on. We also played some games and at the end we buried the treasure on the lake beach and in the box were water guns and water balloons. It was great fun. Then that night mom and dad cooked ribs and we pigged out. (Well, most of us did. One of my sister’s can literally not eat meat off the bone, while I can barely stand for meat to already be off the bone. Go figure.)

Day Five: Golf and Kid Fun – The guys got to go play golf at Black Bear in Delhi, LA. It is a great course but my score was not great. The moms took the kids to a play place in Monroe and they had a blast. Wendy and I cooked Mexican food for the night.

Day Six – Girl Spa and Tea Party and Boy’s Golf Day and Date Night – Friday we took the boys to play golf. With a 6, 7, and 8 year old boy it was interesting. We had a great time together on the slowest nine holes of golf in the history of the game. The girls had an elaborate spa day with a facial and foot scrub and pedicure and manicure and make-up and dress up. They loved it. The food was abundant but very girly. Then that night Mom and Dad took all NINE grandkids while the parents got to go on a date. (I highly recommend that grandparents do this for their kids as often as possible. Every time you give your kids a date night you strengthen that home. Just a thought.) So we all went to a Japanese steak house and sat at the hibachi grill and it was fun and we talked and laughed and had a good time. Then we went to see a movie together. Then we went to Wal-mart because I think all married couples must end up at Wal-Mart during each date.

Day Seven – Go Home – Well we had a birthday party first and it was a lot of fun. My niece Ashley had a party at the pool with the family. We invited my dad’s family and it was good to see cousins and my aunt. Then we headed home. It was a great week but by this point I am pretty sure we were all ready to be apart.

So why did I share this. First of all it was a great week and I wanted to write about it. Second, I hope you and your family might can learn something from it. And third to make a point about families.

Great families are great fun but it takes a great amount of effort. I have a great family but it is great because we work at it. You might not have the means to head off on your dream vacation this year but maybe you have the time off and the resources to dream up a whole new kind of vacation.

The next blog will get back to spiritual things, I think.

Getting the Just out of Justice

Do we ever do anything justice when we say just. Let me give you some examples to follow my thought.

When your wife asks you to fix something and you say I’m just gonna rig it up. Do you do it justice?
When your boss tells you what she wants done you and you think I’m just going to do it this way. Do you do it justice?
When you take on a ministry responsibility with certain expectations but you say I’m just going to do these things. Do you do it justice?

When we say I will just…we say I am going to the minimum standard set by me. We decide that we know what is the right standard and that is all we will do.

The problem is that just kills justice. Justice will never be found in the minimum requirements set by the person seeking to have minimum responsibility.

Think about how we pray. God if you will just… Basically we are saying to God, “God, if you will simply do what I have decided is best. I realize you are infinitely wiser and stronger than me but I have this issue all figured out. Just do what I decided. That is what would be best.”

Does that do God justice? He tells us to bring him our prayers and petitions with thanksgiving not with limitations. He tells us to bring our requests boldly into the throne room but we have to remember it is his throne room not ours.

I really believe that we need to get rid of just in our life. Quit looking for what you could just do and start asking God to show you what it would mean to bring justice to the gifts and abilities and opportunities he has given you. Quit looking for the minimum standard and start seeking to give everything you can.

Quit saying things like, “If we could just leave things like they have always been.” Or “I wish we could just go back to the way things used to be.” Or “I am just going to show up and do what I have to.” Or “I am just going to quit.” Or “I am just going to go and find another church.” Or “I am just going to do what I want no matter what my spouse says.”

Quit saying just or you will never do life justice. We have been given too much for us to just it away.

P.S. I am preaching on God is Just this Sunday and this idea is kind of a side thought that is consuming my thoughts that need to be on the truth to preach so I thought I would JUST blog it to get it out of my way. Quitting JUST is much harder than I thought.