September 2, 2014

Thinking Today

The LORD lives! Praise to my Rock! May the God of my salvation be exalted!

I woke up this morning with this phrase stuck in my head: Blessed be the Lord, my Rock! May God, the Rock of my salvation, be exalted! 

Of course, that is a mixture of two verses from Scripture (Psalm 18:46 and 2 Samuel 22:47), two distinct verses that echo the same message (LOL!) It is funny how that happens, how certain Scriptures bubble up in your mind. I will find that often I get fragments of verses, bits and pieces, that float upward and into my thoughts. I seem to remember the Psalms most, with the NT verses following closely behind. Some stories from the OT come to mind frequently, especially those from the early history of the nation of Israel. Two of my favorite books are 1 and 2 Samuel. I love the story of Saul and of David, especially the stories of David.

This weekend, Dr. Michael Moore preached at our church. Dr. Moore is a professor at ASU and Fuller Seminary. His specialty is Ancient Near East Studies and he chose to bring a message about David and Goliath. The story of David facing Goliath is well-told by preachers, so when I heard that he was going to preach on that particular story, I thought "Hmm...I wonder what he will share that will sound like news to me?" Yes, that is something an "oldbie" Christian would say, something that those of us who have been around the church sermon network awhile would think (ouch!)  Of course, I didn't stop to think that perhaps his message was not going to be for people like me (oldbies), but rather it would encourage and equip newbies, those people who are less familiar with the OT stories. In truth, his message was interesting (especially the Hebrew language and context), and I do think it resonated with a lot of people in my church who may or may not know the story well. I digress...

I am not sure why my head has been stuck in 1 and 2 Samuel, but it has been for a while now. I haven't read these texts for sometime (perhaps a year or so), yet I am finding that my mind goes back to the story of the calling of the prophet Samuel, the early years of young King David, and the mighty misdeeds of the ruler David for some time. Perhaps it is because there is so much "mess" in these messages. Yes, David was a flawed human man, a man who lived by his passions, and a man who fell by his passions. Samuel was a man who was born of a Godly woman -- a woman who prayed earnestly for a son (1 Samuel 1) -- and on whom God showed His favor and provided a son. These two men, Samuel and David, represent the spectrum of life for me. On the one hand, there is the mess of human frailty, and on the other hand, the power of God to deliver us from the pain and heartache associated with that mess.

I am not sure why I am focused on the messy part of life, but perhaps, it is something the Lord wants me to think about more deeply. My life has been restored, but for many years, I lived in the mess of things. I look back now and I see great heartache and suffering. I see my own stubborn and obstinate self, my unwillingness to be moved, my refusal to go and to do the work the Lord was calling me to do. I see the results of that willfulness. I see the outcome of a bad attitude -- a hard heart. I also see compromise, taken to an extreme, manipulation, dominance, and selfish interest. In short, when I look back over the course of my life I see so much human messiness, so much hurt, so much pain. Granted, at times I was the one on the receiving end, but it would be unfair to say that I didn't inflict pain on others. I was and still am a prime example of flawed human flesh.

But God be praised -- and blessed be the Rock of my salvation -- I am living now in a new way. I am walking in a new way, to a new beat, and in a new direction. God has turned my mess into a message, and I am living now to help others see that no matter how messy their lives are today, God can heal, can restore, and can rebuild the damage caused through dysfunctional human relationships. Yes, my whole life is now focused on helping others understand that there are two relationships ONLY that matter in our life: the first is our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ; and the second, is our relationship to others.

The Lord has called us to love God and to love others:

Matt. 22: 36-40 - Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

In John 13, verses 34-35, we read the words of Jesus when He says,

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.

So often I think that we get the order of these verses mixed up. Instead of placing God first, we place others in that position. We attempt to love others through human efforts, through flawed lenses. The only way we can love others, really love them well, is through the lens of grace. We must place God first, we must make our relationship with the Lord central to everything in our life, and in doing so, then and only then will the lesson of grace become alive within us so that truly we can love others.

I believe that our relationships are dysfunctional when we revert this order, when we place God outside the locus of our lives. I lived this way for many years, even though if you asked me back then, I would have said I was living a faithful and obedient Christian life. The day God transformed my life, the day I came into His grace-filled, love infused relationship was the day that I began to see just how "off the mark" my focus was in my life. I thought that God was centered within me, that He was my focus. I thought that I was being humble, obedient, submissive to the needs of others. I thought that I was doing so well in my Christian walk. I thought all of this, yet the truth was the opposite because all around me was a mess, a shambles, and a war zone.

It wasn't until I put new glasses on, so to speak, God's new lenses, lenses that gave me clearer and sharper focus, that I began to see how far off the mark, how far away I was from the optimal "way" of Scripture. Of course, once I began to see more clearly, once I started to do things differently, my life didn't get better -- it got worse. Instead of experiencing immediate health and well-being, my life ended up in the dumpster. I didn't experience what I had thought would happen once I surrendered and yielded myself (truly yielded), once I put God back on His throne, and once I set about to love others as the Bible calls us to love them. As I look back now, I realize that the more I sought to honor and praise the Lord, the more my life spiraled downward -- until I was faced with utter hopelessness and personal destruction. In the end, I lost everything that I held dear, everything that I had placed above Him. I experienced Matthew 19:29 -- losing the people, the places, the things of this life in order to experience the blessing of an eternal relationship with the Lord.

Matt. 19:29 - And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will inherit eternal life.

I learned a valuable lesson through this experience. I learned that losing everything for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ brings far greater riches and blessing than one can imagine. Although, I lost so much of my self and my life as I knew it -- I reaped great reward. I gained riches beyond imagination, I gained a right perspective on life, I gained a new hope, and I gained a new way of doing things. Philippians 3:7-8 says in the NLT,

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.

I know that this may sound odd, but I have to agree with Paul. I like the Message version because I think it says what I feel so well, and in plain language.

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

The things that I valued, that I believed were so important in my life, are gone. What has replaced all those things is a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, a right relationship that places God first and others second. Order has been restored to my life, and as such, I am able to look through the lens of grace and see the world from a new and improved perspective. As I look out, I see others the way the Lord sees them. I see their mess, their pain, their sorrow, their suffering, and I long for them to understand the blessedness of a grace-filled, love infused relationship with the God who created them, who loved them, and who died for them.

My prayer today is to take the transforming light of Jesus Christ into a very dark world (John 12:46). As a child of the Light (a child of God), my role is to act as a lens to illuminate His Light (Matt. 5:13-16, Eph. 5:8) so that others, those who walk in darkness, may see it. May I take His Light where ever I go, and I may I cast His Light into dark places so that the people I meet, the people I come into contact with, and the people the Lord brings to me, may hear the life-changing message of Hope, of Restoration, and of Healing. I pray all this in the Mighty, the Merciful, and the Majestic Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen!

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