Monday, December 24, 2012

Spiritual Starvation

Today, I was wondering what makes me different than everyone I know?  What makes me strange to the world?  Why am I constantly driven to learn more of God?  Why do I have this burning desire within me when even other Christians I know don't have this desire, or at least not to the extent I do?  If I had no family and no responsibilities, I would literally be online, or reading God books, or studying Scripture, or watching sermons, or listening to religious podcasts -- ALL. DAY.  I would pray, I would study, I would write 10,000 notes in my Bible.

Being a stay-at-home mom has its advantages.  I do spend a good amount of time learning of God and "kneeling" in my "prayer closet".

I think the Spirit gave me a little insight into what's going on here.  I'm suffering from a spiritual starvation.  What does that mean?  Well, I'll give you an example.  You know how sometimes you watch the Food Network and you think, "Man, it would be awesome to take some culinary classes!"  Not to become a "chef", per se, but just to learn how to properly cook.  How to cook GOOD food, not just... pork chops.

I often feel this way about learning the things of God.  I think how cool it would be to go to Seminary.  I'm not even remotely thinking of becoming a pastor, but man, it would be amazing to take some MEATY classes to learn how to properly study the Bible.  Or learn about God in general through a course that makes you write papers and research the Scriptures.

I want to know God, truly KNOW Him.  I want to unpack Bible verses.  I want to hear entire sermons that go through a book of the Bible and study it verse by verse.  I believe this is called exegesis.  I'm STARVING for this kind of teaching.

I feel like my Christian walk is like sipping milk rather than chewing on meat.

The problem I've found, however, is that the Body of Christ at large seems to be suffering from this starvation as well -- and they don't even know it!  They go to church, sing a few songs, hear a lovely message, and don't leave the building CHANGED.  They don't leave THINKING.  They don't have their world rocked by a revelation found in a specific Bible verse.

Part of this starvation in myself came about because this summer of 2012, the Lord Himself took me -- line by line -- through the entire book of Ephesians and unpacked every verse for me.  It was my most jaw-dropping, eye-opening period of awakening to the Scriptures in my entire life.  I've read Ephesians countless times, but the Spirit made me slow down and digest each verse, and truly understand what it was saying while at the same time, giving me a spiritual knowledge of what it meant.

After Ephesians, God took me through Galatians, Philippians, and Colossians.  The summer of '12 was an incredible time of tutelage for me under the Holy Spirit.  But my lament now comes from the fact that unless I do deep study myself, I don't get fed in this way by conventional means.

Don't get me wrong, I love my church and all the leaders.  I love learning different views from different people and discussing things amongst fellow Christians.  I love the "lighter" sermons about forgiveness or remembrance or chatting about a Bible story.  But I also need to have that deeper MARROW of Biblical teaching that will satisfy this hunger that's driving me to KNOW God.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about - I LOVE it when I hear a teaching from Genesis that the pastor then ties in to a verse from Isaiah.  Or how the book of Joshua might fit in as well.  I LOVE learning about prophecy, not only of who Messiah is, but His Second Coming as well.  I ADORE cross-referencing Scripture and gaining new insight into something from an obscure passage in the book of Amos.  I enjoy learning the original words in Hebrew and/or Greek, to get the full understanding of what the author was trying to convey.

However in today's churches, it seems there's a general "glossing over" of the Old Testament.  They might pick out some Psalms and Proverbs, maybe the random Isaiah at Christmas-time, but as a rule, the teachings are all on the New Testament.  For me, this robs God of His Hebrew heritage, of the history behind Christ and why He chose to reveal Himself through the Jews in the first place.  And I'll be the first to admit I don't study the Old Testament as well as I should.  But I WANT to.  I want to find nuggets of God's amazingness in Deuteronomy just as I did in Ephesians this summer.

Case in point -- did you know that Moses' "suffering symbol" for the people of Israel in Numbers 21 was a precursor to the cross?

Why NOT?!  I first learned about Moses' suffering symbol, not from a sermon, but through a SONG by Michael Card.  I've read about it before, as I've read the book of Numbers, but unless we're TAUGHT these gems, we don't always see them.

The cross of Christ and foreshadow of Him is ALL OVER the Old Testament.  Christ Himself even told us the Scripture prophesied of Him.  During His life, the ONLY Scripture was OT!  THIS is what I want to learn!

There are certain pastors who still preach in the way I "crave".  I absolutely ADORE Charles Stanley.  That man preaches everything the Holy Spirit has been revealing to me in my own study.  I love listening to him and being "confirmed" time and again by what I've learned myself.  Matt Chandler is excellent for the younger generation, a 30-something preacher who's survived a brain tumor and goes line-by-line in Scripture, unpacking the meaning behind verses.  Another pastor I love is JD Greear.  He's written a book entitled "Gospel" that blew me away.  Why have I NEVER understood the grace of God like this before?  Joseph Prince is an acquired taste for sure, however, when he digs into Scripture, they come alive for me.  John Piper is amazing, as well as Paul Washer, both unafraid to "tell it like it is" and confront your lackadaisical beliefs.  And give me ANYTHING to read by Charles Spurgeon, and I'll devour it like a starving man at Thanksgiving dinner.

I want to be challenged, I suppose.  I want to hear messages I don't already "know".  I feel as if pastors sometimes cater to the milk-fed while starving the meat-hungry.  Perhaps they themselves don't know the meat.  Perhaps they don't know the difference between milk and meat.  Perhaps they think they are preaching meat when in reality, it is only milk.  Perhaps God is leading me down this road because He wants ME to know the difference.

When I realized what my problem was, that I was spiritually hungry for MORE than what I'm learning, I said a bold prayer.  I asked God to teach me Himself.  Somewhere along the way, the Church has lost her Spurgeons, her Wilberforces, her Bunyans, her Edwards.  We've had a few modern day preachers such as they -- AW Tozer, Leonard Ravenhill and the like, but they, too, have passed away.  This generation of preachers needs to buckle down while telling their congregations to buckle up.

A third time he asked him, Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, Then feed my sheep."
~~John 21:17

Amen.  Let us not assume our churches are filled with people who rightly know the grace of God through His Gospel.  Until I read a book on it specifically, I didn't.  Let us not assume we know all there is to know about foreshadow and prophecy in the Old Testament.  Let's not have the children in our Sunday Schools be the only members in church learning about King David or Noah or Abraham or Adam! 

As 2013 begins, let's recommit to feeding the sheep of God and giving His Body a deeper, richer walk with Him.  Unless pastors and leaders truly ABIDE in Yeshua, neither can their flock.  HIS flock.  It is an awesome responsibility to be a man (and woman) of God.  Let us not skate through it and assume we know it, or that they know it.  As the Body needs to be challenged, so too do our pastors.

Dig in.  Overturn.  Seek.  Knock.  FIND.

It is the glory of God to conceal things,
    but the glory of kings is to search things out.
~~Proverbs 25:2


Monday, December 17, 2012

Spiritual Illumination of the Word

Do you have a specific Bible verse that's sort of ... hounded you all your life?  You've read it a bunch of times, but it never really made sense?  You haven't done any study on it, but every time you read it, your brow furrows.  Pastors may have mentioned it, but they never really get into the WHY behind the verse.

My mystery passage of Scripture is 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

This Scripture is speaking of a specific sin, or thorn, in Paul's side that was causing him "pain".  We don't know exactly what it was, but he speaks of it as a "messenger of Satan", to keep him from becoming conceited in the wonderful visions and revelations Christ gave him.  In other words, God allowed Paul to have this vice to keep him humble.  However Paul wanted God to remove it.  But God spoke, and Paul realized "When I am weak, then I am strong."

And there it is.  The mystery that has stymied me all my life.  How is it possible to be strong when you're weak?  All my life I had assumed it meant Christ gives you the appropriate strength you need in times of crisis and weakness.  I suppose that's true.  But I don't believe that's the full scope of this passage.

If you notice, the Lord tells Paul His GRACE is sufficient.  His power is "made perfect" in weakness.  Well...  Ack, what does THAT mean?!  God gave us grace at the cross, we're covered with it and clothed by it.  It's all around us.  We're saved by it AND we live by it.  It is by grace we resemble Christ at all, amen?  But what does "made perfect in weakness" mean?  Isn't God's power already perfect?  And why only in weakness?  What's going on here?

As the Spirit sometimes does with me, the revelation of this verse came to me quite by surprise.  I hadn't read it in awhile, as I'm studying other books than Corinthians.  It just popped into my head one day.  God said, "Here, understand this."  And I believe this Spiritual understanding is the very KEY to knowing how Paul was able to rejoice always (1 Thess. 5:16), no matter what came at him (Philippians 1:20-21).

You see, God was showing Paul, through the "thorn" in his side (that was likely a certain sin he kept committing *see Romans 7*), that God's grace is enough for him -- the very grace given to him at the cross.  This revelation to Paul wasn't God's flippant reply to Paul's genuine guilt and shame over a habitual sin, but rather a LESSON IN THE GOSPEL.

At the cross, Christ became our sin and we became His righteousness.  Anyone who knows my walk with Yeshua knows 2 Corinthians 5:21 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible, because it outlines what actually happened that day.  Christ became "me", and I became "Him".  Galatians 2:20 (another favorite) says we DIED with Him on the cross and the life we now live is CHRIST in us.

So, it was our life for His Life, a life of sin and shame traded for a Life of Righteousness and Truth.  God placed OUR sin record on Yeshua, and gave US His mantle of Righteousness.  God then turned His face away from Yeshua so that He could gaze upon us.  We now have the favor of the Father toward the Son of God.

With regards to Paul's "thorn", God was saying that all of Paul's sins are GONE.  His record is wiped clean.  It is a struggle to live holy, but God knows its impossible, which is why He sent Christ to atone for us.  This is why God's GRACE is enough.  Because by His Grace, our sins are as white as snow.  We agonize over stumbling, but God tells us not to.  His Grace is enough.  He remembers our sins no more.  Christ already paid our punishment.  So while we hurt because we sin against God, the Lord is telling us there is now no more condemnation (Romans 8:1).

"My Grace is enough!"

But how could God's power be made perfect in our weakness?  Why is it when we're weak, we're strong?

Certainly Christ gives us strength when we ask it of Him.  But it is because of God's grace at the CROSS that we are strong when we are weak.  We are leaning on HIS work.  On HIS blood.  On HIS atonement.  It is by HIS strength we're saved at all!  So in that darkest moment, when you've stumbled into that familiar sin, THAT is when you're strong in Christ, because you already have the Victory.  You are an overcomer because He overcame.  Our identity is found in Him.  His Grace is the eraser that has wiped the "chalkboard" of our sin record clean.

When you are at your lowest and you feel like you've broken God's heart, THAT is when you're strong.  Don't turn away from God in that moment, Christian!  Turn TOWARD Him!  You are strong in that moment, because no matter what you've done, you have been given VICTORY in Christ.  His Grace is enough because He's wiped the impossible stains of your life clean with His Own perfection.  We are the strongest when we're weak because it is only when we're weak that we realize we need His strength to save us.

Grace isn't fully appreciated until one is brought to the end of their rope.  When we stumble in sin as believers, that is when we truly understand the scope of what has been forgiven.  That's when we internalize the price Christ had to pay, when we comprehend the depth of God's Love, and the magnificence of the One Who has given us redemption.

Therefore, in our weakness, we look to God's Grace to be our strength, because no matter how weak we are, we have been made STRONG through God's forgiveness of sins on the cross.  There is nothing anyone can do to pluck us out of Yeshua's hand.  There is nothing anyone can do to pluck us out of the Father's hand (John 10:28-29).  THIS is why Paul was able to rejoice in his suffering!

The strength of God's grace is everlasting.  No matter what we do, He will not lose us.  Our sins are forever gone.  And while we continue to sin in the flesh, the blood of Christ covers us until our salvation in Him is complete (Philippians 1:6) and we're glorified at the Resurrection.  Paul's strength in his weakness was not simply asking Christ to give him strength, but to realize he already HAD Christ's strength, His righteousness, His perfection, His favor with God the Father.  And never was he more aware of that fact than when he had sinned -- and yet remained a favored child of God!

The "strength" in this verse is not physical strength, emotional strength, or even a spiritual strength, but rather a knowing that no matter how hard we stumble, fall, or fail Him, His Grace is enough.  Our strength is knowing that our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).  That we are in the palm of His hand.  That He'll never let us go.  That our sin record has been completely expunged - even if we commit another sin.

I believe this truth is why God allowed Paul to have this "thorn".  Thank God for Romans 7!    Through Paul, we realize that as Christians, we still sin and we'll still struggle with it, but God's grace is enough - and His strength is made perfect in our weakness.  For when I'm weak, I see how glorious, how marvelous, how beautiful, and how incomprehensible our God is to forgive -- and forget -- a lifetime of rebellion through Jesus Christ our Lord.

When we sin, that is when we should praise Him the most, not run from Him in shame!  At the cross, He took our entire lives upon His shoulders so that we could find our strength in weakness through His wondrous Grace.  Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. ~~Ephesians 6:10


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Yeshua Still Amazes Me

Lately, I've been thinking about my own mortality.  Morbid, I know.  I often wonder what my little world would be like -- without me.  How would my family go on?  How would my friends cope?  Certainly the world would continue on as it always has.  My life is but a small influence on this big earth.  However, I'd like to think I've reached a few people for Christ -- at least five that I know of for sure -- my children.

I often wonder what my funeral would be like, and how I'd be remembered.  I should hope the one thing that comes to mind, the one thing people cannot avoid, the one thing that would be shining throughout every corridor of my existence -- would be my love for YESHUA.  I should hope my friends and family would be happy and joyous in knowing I was HOME with Him FOREVER.

But thoughts like these bring the curious mind to play out scenarios of what my family might go through in the event of my passing.  And it truly brought home the idea that we as Christians are the light of the world.

In my home, I am the only one that listens to Christian music.  Occasionally my daughters might, but not all the time.  Usually, I am singing and dancing along to my music while I do chores or cook dinner.  This light would be gone.

I'm usually loud in general, and my laugh (I've been told since my tender years) is quite ear-splitting.  In high school, folks used to refer to me as, "You know, Rebecca -- the one with the laugh?"  In my absence, the house would be quiet.

In my family, I am the only one who cares to go to church on a semi-regular basis.  I attend a small group and sometimes show at extra-curricular activities.  The only reason there is no dust on our Bibles is because I read them.  Occasionally my kids do as well, but not nearly as often.  The constant reinforcement of Scripture, therefore, would be lost.

I love to post on Facebook and this blog and a few Christian forums, edifying the brethren and sharing things the Spirit has taught me.  That soul food from our Lord would be dried up.

I am not saying all this as a downer, these are merely the thoughts I've had.  If God decided to take me, His light in me would go out in my corner of the world.  There are other lights -- my kids obviously, and my sister's family too.  If any one of them passed away, a similar story would be told.  We are all lights for Yeshua, we just vary from glory to glory.

Some of us prefer a quiet faith, while others prefer to live out loud.

But I have noticed in my own life that I am a "live out loud" Christian, while those in the closest proximity to me are of a quiet, if not dormant (or semi-dormant) faith.  I used to have like-minded believers around me in my youth, but for years after I married, I went through a long drought of the things of God.  Two years ago, I decided to do something about it and retired from writing romance for His glory.  I also decided it was time for me to find a church on my own.  I refocused my life to point to GOD FIRST, and then everything else to follow.  I worked hard to purge every vain idol hidden in my heart.

In short, my relationship with God is now the most precious one I have.  He is my Best Friend, my King, my All-in-all.  I would hope HE is what my friends and family would remember about me the most.  That I was gung-ho and unrepentant about what I believed.  That I jumped in head-first to the things of God and never looked back.  That this world no longer held any worth or entertainment for me, that all I lived for was YESHUA.

I want the memory of my very life to be a shadow of the Gospel.  I want to glorify my Lord even in my death.  I want people to be inspired, to stand in awe and say, "Now there was a woman who loved God!"

Not for my own sake, mind.  I will no longer be here.  I will be enjoying my eternity with the One my soul loves.  No, for HIS sake.  For the glory of HIS name.  That is the cry of my heart.

If I had my druthers, the Gospel itself would be preached at my funeral.  It would be required that awesome stories be told.  I would like praise songs to be sung, worship to be had, and thanks to be given, that Yeshua died to save me, that I'm safe and sound in His Loving arms.  I would hope the focus would be on HIM and not on ME.  That my life so reflected HIM that every story told would reveal Him.

After all these years, Yeshua still amazes me.  He's never left me.  He's been with me since I asked Him into my heart as a thirteen-year-old girl.  Folks I know that used to be on fire for Him have now cooled, but I haven't.  I've kept myself close to His robes.  I don't want to fall away.  I don't want to ever face this world without my God walking before me, without my God at my right hand (Psalm 16:8).  I know how I am.  I know how I spin out of control at times.  I need my Anchor.  I need my Rock.  I need the One Who's always been with me.  I need the One Who knows me better than anyone else on the planet.  I need the One who gives me peace, joy, and strength.

Perhaps I've been able to keep my childlike qualities.  I know for a fact that I've returned to my First Love.  He's rekindled within me a Love that burns brighter than ever before.  And He's given me a means to share Him with the world.

If He takes me out sooner rather than later, then I want the world to know I have NOTHING apart from Him -- He created me, the air I breathe, the food I eat, the family I have...  He's given me the home I live in, the cars I drive, the friends I have, the church I've longed for, and above all -- Eternal Life.  To me, God is THE MOST beautiful, glorious, wonderful, spectacular, generous, and loving Being in existence.

He STILL amazes me!  He will continue to amaze me for an eternity.  Hallelujah.  \O/