“What have you heard lately?”

Gary has been a friend for several years, but about two years ago he went waaaay up in my esteem.  We were sitting over coffee and had talked about his small remodel project he was considering.  Out of the blue, he asked me, “Well, c.a., what have you heard from the Lord lately?  What’s He saying to you these days?”

Now there’s a mind-bender when you’re not expecting one!  I had blogged about Prayer, Love, The God Who Is There, the Bible, Jesus, and many other Christ-centered themes, but I did not expect to hear from God that particular day.  Like most of us I had settled into my routines and was living for God.  But most of the stuff on my “living for God” list was back to ancient teachings from when I was a kid; basically, a list of things I did not do.

Let’s see:
1. No beating up anybody, although I got very angry at that other driver and would have shot his tires if that would not get me arrested.
2. No swearing, although several unkind words were on my mind about that same driver.
3. No lying.  Actually this one is easy for me because if I lie, I will have to remember what I told someone.  I always tell the truth even when it is to my disadvantage.
4. No porn, although I thought for an awful long time about that girl in the mall with the short shorts and tank top.
5. No cheating on my taxes (okay, so my wife does our annual tribute to the IRS).Ten Commandments 2
6. No smoking; I have never even had a drag on a cigarette, but don’t think one goes to hell for this anyway.

And actually there was a list of things I did DO, but many of them were also part of the routine.  I attended meetings of believers regularly per Hebrews 10:25.  We gave faithfully to the reach of Jesus in the world through various organizations and participated in active missions whenever we traveled, even if the cover for the trip was academic or social.  I prayed fairly regularly for friends and family.  And both of these lists could go on.

But the thing that struck me with Gary’s question was the expectation that if I was living with a living God, Gary expected us to be in conversation!  It was shortly after this that I blogged on Practicing the Presence ().  His question awoke in me an awareness that most of the time I was not listening for Someone else’s voice, ePharisees.pngven as I blogged on Christ-honoring themes.  What a Pharisee I was turning back into!

Not everything about the Pharisees was bad.  Paul even listed off some of the good things his life as a Pharisee meant.  But then he said, But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (Philippians 3:7)  Even the good stuff of being a religious leader, even the zeal for godliness that came through obedience to the Law of Moses.

So now Gary’s question keeps ringing in my ears, even after two years, and I listen for that Voice more often.  Whether serving my home owners’ association, going out to dinner with friends, shopping at Walmart or Lowes, planning a trip to Arizona to see my brother or Miami to see former students, or dealing with issues with my K.C. family, I try to listen for a Voice, and when I listen I discover He is not silent.  I am not an expert at this, but I am growing and listening more than ever before.

When you gather with other believers this weekend, if you attend a church or small group, consider asking questions that will open their hearts and serve them.
Start with what Gary asked me,
1. “What has God been saying to you lately?”
Then ask two other questions (stolen from Crossway 😉 ):
2. What is the best thing that happened to you this week?
3. What is the worst thing that happened to you this week?

Lisrening.jpgBe prepared to take some time for the answers.  Be genuine in your desire to build up and encourage holiness, obedience and unfettered love among the disciples.  And listen for a Voice that will tell you how to live according to His word in love, faith and hope.  Like Francis Shaeffer said in his excellent book by this title, “He is there and He is not silent.”

What have you heard lately?

 

 

If Adam Had Not Sinned

“Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all peopleRomans 5:12

But what if Adam had not sinned?  Would that have guaranteed freedom from sin for the whole human race?  Would each of us been sinless for all eternity?  There are no clear answers to these questions, but here I posit some possible considerations.

TemptationAdam was made in the image of God, i.e. experiencing time, having personality, emotions, volition, intelligence, masculinity and femininity, i.e. a living soul.  But we know what happened: he ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil which Eve gave to him when she was deceived.  The only tree in the Garden from which they were forbidden.  So why did God put that tree there in the first place?  He gave them everything that was good, “very good,” in fact.  Why mess it up with a tree that posed a potential problem?

God did not want automatons who had to serve Him because there was no other choice.  By creating man with volition, i.e. will that was free, He was creating someone with whom He could relate; someone with whom He could enjoy fellowship.  He did not, nor does He now, need us or our fellowship.  Existing as the Triune One, He already had and maintains perfect fellowship within Himself: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is simply in His nature to share the love and holiness He enjoys, so here we are!  Created in His image, not as though He has hands and feet, but in our spirits sharing in a very small temporal way the grand and eternal characteristics that identify Him as God.

By creating man with volition, there always is a possibility of disobedience. (Keep this in mind.)  However, all Adam and Eve knew experientially was what was good.  The only thing they could learn from the forbidden tree was what was evil.  It all came down to trust, that experience God did not even know until He came to earth as the God-Man, Jesus, and had to trust His Father and the Holy Spirit in ways the Triune God had not experienced.

Garden of Eden ExpulsionWe know what happened to Adam and Eve, and each of us has experienced the inclination toward sin that originated with their disobedience.  We know to do good, but we find in ourselves an impotence to do it.  We know to avoid sin, but we find our sin nature pulls us inexorably into it.  We have no power to resist evil and do good within ourselves.  It is only through the redemption that Jesus provides that our once dead spirits are made alive by the Holy Spirit so that we no longer obey the world, the flesh nor the devil.  We are freed from sin’s power.

Back the original question: what if Adam had not sinned?  Imagine for a minute having parents who nurtured you perfectly, trained you in your growing years without unfruitful anger or selfishness, guided you with wisdom in making decisions until you were able to imitate them perfectly.  Imagine not being inclined to be selfish, yourself!  Seeing another child with a toy would not evoke jealousy or envy, because from birth you knew that if something was good for you, your parents would provide it.  Where would be the impetus to sin?  Why would you doubt the integrity of the God who walked with your parents and you every day and provided everything, not just good, but very good!?  Someone born into such a kingdom would be inclined to do the right thing, just as now we are bent to do the wrong thing.

However, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil would still be in Eden!  The tempter may have been vanquished with Adam’s and Eve’s obedience.  Perhaps the serpent, that liar and murderer, would not even have been allowed back into the Garden after Adam and Eve had children.  But the Tree would still be there  . . . and you and I would still have volition, free will.

Without the pull of someone evil trying to mess up our relationship with a loving God, we might never have touched that forbidden tree, as Eve would have taught us to obey.  Eating from the Tree of Life in the center of the Garden would have provided us with eternal life.  But free will would still be free.  Someone could decide to eat of that forbidden tree.  Through the thousands of years and billions of people on the earth, one of us may have decided to go our own way and try the forbidden fruit.

Satans fallINSANITY, we cry!  Of course.  All sin is insanity in one measure or another.  Why would someone inject dangerous chemicals into his arms at risk of death just for a good feeling that will pass?  Why would someone steal what is not his just to gain a very small and temporary advantage over another?  Why would someone lie to save a moment’s embarrassment?  Why would an angel try to steal God’s glory and make himself God!?  Yet, Lucifer, living in the presence of all the love and holiness of God that he could experience, made just that decision!

I suspect God, infinite in wisdom, would recognize a “problem child” before he became a problem and protect the rest of humanity and the rest of the universe from one sinner’s sin, but He would not stop the exercise of free will.  So someone, even after Adam’s and Eve’s passage into faithfulness, could still decide to try life without God’s guidance.  Any one of us could have still sinned in the Garden and our path would have taken us and our progeny on the same road that we are now on, thanks to Adam’s and Eve’s choice.

So we are now faced with that same choice Adam and Eve faced: Will we trust The God Who Is There or will we trust our own perceptions and doubts about His goodness?  What if Adam had not sinned?  We would still face this choice: to do life our own way or to do life His way.  Even though Adam sinned, it is still our choice, the same as if he had not sinned.

 

Baggage We Do Not Need To Carry

“Praise be to Yahweh, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” Psalm 68:19

Ecclesiastes1.jpgThe author of Ecclesiastes seems somewhat pessimistic at times in his short book.  He laments in chapter three that God places a heavy burden on mankind.  He goes on to suggest that humans and animals share the same fate of dying, and questions, Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (3:21)  This is a far cry from what Solomon’s dad penned in Psalm 68.

David was a man who knew his God, from the times he sat on a hillside watching Jesse’s sheep and worshiping Him in the solitude of the lonely hills to when God delivered Goliath into his hands.  Even so, with a list of failures and missed cues from God, he still found refuge in God’s faithfulness to “daily bear our burdens.”

Baggage1We all tend to tote weights that God would prefer to bear on our behalf.  A dear friend has a heavy bag that is carried everywhere as if her life depended on it.  In her own words she told me that she has to walk slowly and stooped because of its weight.  However, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:30)  So we must ask ourselves whose burden we are carrying.

Consider if that purse was snatched from her by a thief (God forbid!).  But she would not die from its loss.  She would still have food to eat, a place to sleep, and clothes to wear.  She would still have a family that loves her and would help recover the important things that were taken, believers who would gather round and try to help.

Baggage 2.jpgWe must unburden ourselves of this kind of baggage, and metaphorically release other weights we carry.  Hebrews’ author instructs us: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (12:1-2)

I am learning to travel light, carrying the truly essentials: my driver’s license, a few dollars cash (usually not more than $20), a pen and pencil, my house and car keys, a comb and handkerchief, a day’s supply of meds, a small notepad and my phone.  Think very carefully about adding anything to this list.  We need to be ready when Jesus returns, and bags of “stuff” only slow us down and make us stoop.  We all carry many other weights that are not of God’s choosing, and would be healthier and happier without them, if we could let our Lord carry them.

There was a time I was afraid to throw something away because I would have to go and buy one when I needed it, which usually seemed to be as soon as I threw it away!  Then I realized that was specifically God’s plan!  Because in getting rid of stuff, He leads us into new relationships where we can get what we need when we need it, but not before.  He wants us to build trust, and this is one way He does it.

BaggageBeyond material things we carry with us, there is a lot of baggage in the unseen world of the Spirit that slows us down and hinders us from letting God work through us.  Habitual sin fills the heart with “stuff” that holds us back from what God wants to accomplish.  Pride often blocks the avenues through which God would like to pour blessings on others.  Selfishness keeps us from carrying each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).  Unbiblical priorities rob us of energy that should be given to bringing our world closer to God, and instead we let opportunities slip through our hands.  Deafening noise from iPods, music-streaming services, or on our TVs keeps us from hearing the whispers of His Spirit (see October 2, 2016).  Even religion, when practiced for its own sake, can keep us from following Jesus, and blind us to His scandalous love for us.

The unburdening begins with practicing God’s Presence (August 27, 2017).  Recognize that He is always with you, even when you do not want Him to be!  Become aware that there are Eyes watching what our eyes see, Ears listening to what we are hearing, a Mind that understands our weakness but does not intend to leave us in that pitiful shape.  And begin to “cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

And remember, “This is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)  Not at all!  He sets us free from burdens!!  We do not have to carry all that baggage anymore.