Trophies…just trophies

(Image not mine)

I feel like I haven’t been living with very much vision for my life. I feel like I should be setting bigger goals and then going about attaining them. In the workplace, I would like to be a Director one day. I wouldn’t want to be any higher in the ladder than that…but I do want to go about two levels higher than where I’m at. I would also like to own multiple properties…a relatively stable investment with long term growth. And tax shelter. I want to travel to every continent. See the world. I want to paint again. Dance. Be physically fit and reach my goal weight.

If I want these things, then maybe I need to set smaller goals that lead to the big one and go about achieving each step right? Maybe I need to be more proactive about looking for career building opportunities. Maybe I need to just make myself get that gym membership or sign up for classes. Maybe I should start looking for a little condo apartment to invest in for rental income. Didn’t someone say once, “The best way to get something done is to just do it“?

I shared this with Skywalker.

Why do these things matter? Why do you want them?

Well, it’s nice to be able to say I’ve been a good steward of resources and be able to produce fruits of my labor. It adds to security too. And I’d feel more accomplished. I might not save the world from disease, but for myself, I would have something to show.

Do those things really add security though?

Good point. No. My security is in Christ alone. All those things could be wiped with another economic crash or natural disaster. It’s happened before and it will certainly happen again.

Would your collection of trophies last in Heaven? Not that the things you mentioned are bad, but that’s what the world goes after. It’s all going to go through the fire…will it matter then?

Probably not. And now I feel a little sheepish. I know I’m to build eternal things, reach for the treasure that is in Heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. Yet the pull of going after those things have seeped into my being. The pull of collecting trophies. Trophies that will feed my pride. Trophies that could become my idols. I have to admit, they’re just trophies at the end of the day. Thank you Skywalker for speaking Truth into those rambled thoughts!

It’s a hard balance…we ARE to be resourceful and good stewards of our material wealth. We ARE to grow whatever we’ve been given…whether much or little. But not just material things….spiritual things as well. Do I have goals for that? Am I looking for ways to spread God’s love and compassion? What eternal things am I building? (Though really, I know I’m not the one building…God is.) Those are the questions that are probably of greater importance in the light of eternity. But it’s also not as tangible…and that is what I struggle with. I can’t “see” results. I suppose that also minimizes the temptation to be proud over what *I* accomplished. A life of faith is totally not about works, but it’s not easy either. So I blunder forward, praying for direction and discernment. Anyone else going through this?

Power as we don’t know it

(Image not mine)

“Don’t rejoice because the spirits submit to you, rejoice because your name is written in the Book.” – Luke 10:20

It was a sermon on Power; our speaker was Justin Tse. I would recommend listening to the whole thing here as I’m just going to touch on the bit that clung to my mind and made me think. The context around the verse above speaks of the disciples getting sent out on their first missions trip. They come back to Jesus with exciting testimonies of the power they had in casting out demons and healing. And then Jesus said, “Don’t rejoice because the spirits submit to you, rejoice because your name is written in the Book.”

Rejoice because your name is written in the Book.

I feel like it’s the key secret to something that our Teachers have forgotten to tell us about. When we think of spiritual power, we think of putting on our armour and swinging spiritual swords that cut bone and marrow, and being courageous and going about things with all our heart, mind and strength. We’re going to absolutely crush Satan’s minions and any other enemy by the strength we have in Christ! Woohoo!!

But I’m not thinking about how my name is in the Book. That I am God’s.
Yet Jesus said THAT is what we’re to rejoice in.

Through Justin’s message, God was challenging me whether I focus on having the “power” to defeat Satan…rather than on loving and being loved by God. Jesus’ power wasn’t in overthrowing the Romans, but was in humbly submitting to the cross, in displaying compassion to broken people…and through that, He overcame the grip of death. His POWER was in submitting to DEATH. I know it’s usually said that His power was in overcoming death in resurrection….but I’m seeing that it really starts by submitting and trusting that being in God’s Book and being loved by Him is sufficient. Afterall, it’s in God’s kindness that we are led to repentence…He didn’t fight us to the ground in order to convince us of our sins (though I don’t doubt God can do that if He deems necessary. Take Saul/Paul’s conversion for example.) In turn we’re called to express that kind of “power” by living out humility, hospitality, graciousness and compassion.

If the Israelites had wanted Jesus to liberate them from the Romans, but Jesus did something far greater by libertating the world from the grips of sin, then maybe my prayers for “power” to overcome the negative/unfair/uncomfortable situations in my life are FAR TOO SMALL.

If we play into Satan’s type of “power”…trying to fight and win and gain…then we lose to him. I think of the Beatitudes. It’s not a power this world understands. It’s completely counter intuitive.

At the end of the message we were asked, “What do you pray for?
What indeed. I thought of the times I asked for wisdom to know what to say to someone I was in disagreement with. Or the times I asked for strength to persevere through what seemed an unjust circumstance. Those are good things….but what if I prayed for a heart of compassion to know how to love them instead? What if my prayers were not about how to come out on top…but how I can lift someone up? My mind boggles.

I still haven’t sorted out my thoughts around this…but for now, I rejoice that my name is in the Book, and that I don’t have to understand fully.

What rules: Your Desires or God’s word?

You know how two people can read the same passage in the Bible and then come up with completely different conclusions about what it must be saying?

There are many things to keep in mind in order to read and interpret scripture properly. This includes understanding historical context, historical culture, sorting out whether the passage is a historical account, or poetry, or prophecy, whether the passage should be taken literally or not and what the original word in Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic means. There are probably many more things to consider if you take a course on how to read scripture properly (because there are really THAT many things to consider).

More simply though, is what priority or authority we give the Word in our lives. Christopher Yuan describes it this way:

There are Revisionists and Traditionalists.

Revisionists have ranked in authority:

  1. Their desires, emotions and experiences
  2. Find research and studies that support (1)
  3. The Bible…re-interpretted or revised to support (1) and (2)

For example: I’m in love with my boyfriend, we’re in the “moment”. There’s research that shows sex before marriage is good for testing sexual chemistry before committing to someone and this supports what I feel like doing. Therefore, the Bible must be out-dated with the no premarital sex thing. Or the Bible must be referring to something else but premarital sex is ok.

The Traditionalists however, see it like this:

  1. The Bible
  2. Find research and studies that support (1)
  3. Their emotions and experiences are modified to follow (1) and (2)

So in this example: The Bible says to honor marriage and seek purity. There is research that shows having sexual relationships prior to marriage increases the chance of divorce which supports what the Bible  says. Therefore, though I’m in love with my boyfriend, I confess my selfishness and lust and will make sure to honor what the Bible says.

See the difference?

A lot of what the Bible has put restrictions or “rules” around is NOT because God is a kill joy and doesn’t want us to enjoy life. It also isn’t because His word is irrelevant to life today. People thought God’s word was irrelevant in Adam & Eve’s day, in Noah’s day, in Abraham’s day, in Jesus’ day, in Martin Luther King’s day…and in our day. There is nothing new under the sun. We tend put incredibly short-sighted desires and emotions as an authority over God’s word and then “revise” it to suit our motives and desires. Or we brush it off as “irrelevant”.

When interpreted correctly, the Bible describes how we’re apt to screw ourselves over (and we have been for millenia) when we wander from the truths and principles God has lovingly provided us. Not because He’s punishing us, but because there are some very real consequences when we break spiritual laws, just as there are consequences for breaking natural laws. I see more and more that what seems like restrictions or rules against a good time is actually a love letter with a road map detailing how we can best navigate our time on earth such that we have a dynamic and healthy way to thrive in Life. With the people around us. And on the planet we’ve been given to take care of. Seriously.

Simpler illustration….it’s like reading a guide-book to a country we’ve never been to before. There are details on what to expect, what the highlights and lowlights are. Where to get good food and clean water. How to interact with the locals, what their customs and values are. As well as what laws and fines to be wary of or what areas of town to avoid for safety and health reasons. A wise person takes note to follow what’s written. A foolish person does whatever they see fit to do. The illustration ends here in that while you can usually get away with not following a travel guide-book and get home in one piece, the end result of not following God’s word is death.

God’s trying to get us all Home.

Enough about Joseph

We just concluded a year’s study on the Book of Genesis in BSF. A great study of human nature as we covered the first families and saw they were as dysfunctional as they are today. During the sharing night many spoke of their admiration for Joseph, whom I admired too the first time I did this study, but this time around…he didn’t stand out so much….

OK yes, Joseph went through a lot. At age 17 he was so hated by his half brothers they plotted to kill him, but they spared his life and sold him as a slave (actually for less than what a slave was worth) to Egypt. Just when things were starting to look up, as he became the General Manager of the Captain of the Guard’s entire estate, the Captain’s wife framed him for rape because he wouldn’t sleep with her. So he was thrown in prison. Then he had an opportunity to have his case brought before Pharoh when he correctly interpretted the dream of a Royal Cup Bearer. But the Cup Bearer forgot about him. Time creeps along and Joseph is now 30 years old. Pharoh has disturbing dreams his magicians and advisors cannot interpret. This triggers the memory of the Cup Bearer who then tells Pharoh about Joseph. Joseph gets released from prison. Interprets the dreams. And suddenly finds himself promoted to Prime Minister of Egypt, second only to Pharoh himself. Acting on the interpretation of the dreams, he saves hundreds of thousands of lives. Including the lives of his brothers…who make peace. And this family goes on to being the line from which Jesus Christ descended, and is also the nation of Israel today. Amazing story. Incredible story. Joseph. Wow.

Let’s look at Judah.
He’s the one who suggested the brothers not kill Joseph but sell him as a slave to Egypt instead. Not sure if that deserves any points for that. He marries a heathen woman and has three sons who are so wicked that God Himself kills two of them. Tradition of the time stipulates that the daughter-in-law be given in marriage to the next living brother in order to preserve the line of the elder brother if he dies. After Judah’s two elder sons die by God’s hand, he blames her as the source of bad luck, and does not give her to his youngest son. Meanwhile, being accustomed to using prostitutes, he impregnates his daughter-in-law, who had dressed as a prostitute to get what is her right: a child in Judah’s family. He almost gets her burned to death for prostituting herself until he realizes she’s carrying his child and that he was wrong to have treated her the way he did by withholding his son from her. That’s Judah. Wow.

(Image not mine)And the shocker, or it was a shocker when I first figured it out, is that JUDAH, not Joseph, is whom Jesus descended from. Joseph SAVED Judah, saved the whole family and provided a place for this rag-tag tribal family to grow into a great nation…but he is not in the lineage of Christ.

What?

To paint a slightly more complete picture, Judah had transformed over the years such that he was willing to take his youngest half-brother’s place as a slave in Egypt. He became a very different man from the guy who willingly sold Joseph into slavery at a bargain price. The Bible doesn’t record what else transformed about Judah, but some thoughts that I have managed to gather is this:

  • God’s grace is truly amazing. His work in someone’s life can literally turn a lost-causes into warriors, heroes and kings. I’m challenged to consider those who I deem as hopeless or a lost cause, and to see instead that God’s specialty is taking the unlikely and using them in mighty ways. I should not be so quick to think their last chapter has been written.
  • Only God can do something like this. Take zeroes to heroes.
  • How successful and amazing you are right now doesn’t guarantee any kind of legacy. Sometimes I wonder if Joseph would’ve found it unfair God didn’t use his lineage, but if his character was as humble and upstanding as he sounds, then I don’t think he would’ve given it a second thought. Question for us is are we willing to be used however greatly or humbly that God intends?
  • Neither a epic past failure (Judah) or an epic success (Joseph) matters in the long run for God. Hold onto neither as it shouldn’t matter to us either.

Consequences vs Punishment vs Discipline

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Recently I had a heavy conversation with Dahn about consequences, punishment and discipline. Does God find ways to punish you…purposely withhold good things from you…because you displeased Him? Or is it just consequences…either of our wrong doing or someone elses. How about discipline from God? What leads to which in view of our spiritual walk with God? Keeping in mind too, that our spiritual lives cannot be separated from our physical lives…nor can our lives be separated from the lives around us.

I think we’re wrong to rank sins. “Well, doing this is better than doing that.” Choosing the better of two evils…is still evil. We should weep over someone who hates, as much as someone who lives in addiction or is abusive, as much as someone who lies. Sin = sin which deserves death. Not because God is mean, but because He is just. Real-life consequences of the various sins might differ in impact to our lives but consequences is NOT punishment. Consequences are natural results of laws being upheld or broken; whether laws of nature or laws of spirit. Spiritual laws are harder to discern and sort through…but I think of Deut 30:15-18:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

That’s spiritual law. Walk in obedience to God=life. Disobedience=destruction. Destruction isn’t the punishment…it’s the result of breaking spiritual law. Like burning your hand on the stove isn’t punishment…it’s the natural result of putting your hand on the stove. Spiritual consequences can carry into the 3rd or 4th generation. Look at effects of acoholism or teen pregnancies in familes. But that curse/chain of consequences can be broken as that person claims new life in Christ and starts to live in obedience. The consequence of that is God blessing them to a thousand generations. Obedience vs disobedience determines what consequences result.

Sometimes I’m tempted to believe that God is out to punish me, in addition to the consequences. But I keep reminding myself to humbly bear our consequences in the now, which isn’t punishment. I believe God knows our heart and is merciful too….so sometimes the consequence could be lifted as a result of that mercy. Or He blesses us so much more than we deserve as we’re living in true repentence and that’s His grace. God is slow to anger and doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. To believe God is out to get me is a false belief of God…perpetuated by the Enemy.

I think God’s discpline…could feel like punishment…but isn’t. Discipline brings about maturity and growth and good transformation whereas I think punishment is just to make you suffer. Make you pay. Was Joseph’s time in prison punishment? No. But it is part of God’s discipline and training for Joseph to be a good govenor of Egypt. God’s kindness was with Joseph IN prison…we’re apt to think God’s kindness would’ve kept Joseph FROM prison. This tells me to examine how I view trials/suffering as well as how I view God. And maybe if I’ve gotten nothing out of a difficult situation, then *I’m* the problem, punishing myself.

I’m reminded again of the saying, “God is more concerned about your character than your comfort.” So now when I find myself in some kind of uncomfortable/painful situation I go through these thoughts:

  1. Is this consequences for a sin of mine? If yes, confess, repent, bear the consequence with humility and start to live rightly.
    If not…perhaps it is part of the consequences of someone else’s sin which unfortunately, is never in isolation to that person. It’s an opportunity to practice grace and forgiveness. Or it could be a form of discipline and training. Or even a strange answer to prayer….
  2. Could this suffering be used for character development somehow? Absolutely! It grows patience, perserverence, hope, grace, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, love, peace, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, etc etc. Take this time to learn well and be transformed!