People as Cars

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60-55-50-40-30-20-10-0. My poor Subaru came to a dead halt on Jess and my 2nd anniversary date. People as cars? But people are not cars! I can see how they are after this past week.

Just as my car went down from 60-0mph in a minute, so God has had to do with me at various times throughout the week. I’ll be going 60mph down my “life as a highway” mindset and be trying to get done as much as possible, when God slowly takes me down to 0mph.

Why would a gracious, loving God do this you ask? Well, out of gracious love! He knows the truth of His Word, that we must live out “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10). Jesus did this often, withdrawing to pray to the Father despite all the hectic-ness of life being a professional healer and having people constantly following Him (Mark 1:35). He knew the importance of taking time out of His busy schedule for His Heavenly Father.

Unfortunately, most of us get going on our 60mph highway and don’t take time to acknowledge The Lord and be reminded, through prayer and The Word, of who He is and what His attributes are, such as the Creator of everything!

As I came across in our (Jess and my) Proverbs reading yesterday, Solomon speaks through inspiration of the Spirit as such: “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”(Proverbs 3:6, NASB)

Now the Hebrew word for “acknowledge” is יָדָע (yadah) and means “know Him”. It includes mental awareness of who God is and the consequential submission to His lordship. So to know Him is to obey Him. Think about it, if you really know the Lord, who He is, what He is like, and acknowledge those truths about Him in all you do, then you will want to be submissive to His ways!

Sadly, at various points in my week, I don’t “know Him” in all I do. If I knew Him in everything I did, then I would always acknowledge His θελεματος (Thelematos: will, desire, and pleasure) for my life above my own selfish one that I think will work out better.

So I took my car into the shop. “Your Subaru will be fixed in a couple hours. It just needs a complete re-learning program installed for how to shift gears.” Strange, I thought it was just transmission fluid. Next thing I know, they called me saying, “That didn’t entirely fix it, but we found a corroded part on the ignition, however, the parts department is closed, so we’ll do it on Tuesday and you’ll be good to go.” Corroded ignition? Sure enough, that didn’t fix it either, though it sure was a good thing to get fixed!

Next up they said, “Well, we washed it and drove it around a bit more, and now it’s doing the same thing as before. It might be something electrical, so we’ll get back to you at the end of the day and maybe have it done by tomorrow, go ahead and keep your spare car for another day.” Wow, they sure are fixing a lot of stuff wrong with my car; but they sure wouldn’t have known about them if they knew the solution by the beginning!

So how are we like cars? Just like my Subaru, the Holy Spirit guides me into a truth of my imperfection and I bring it to the Lord. Not only does He forgive me, He does much more than I expect. It’s like how I went to the ‘Subaru fixers’ and said, “My transmission is going bad!” and they guided me into the truth that it was something entirely different that was having an effect on the transmission. They guided me, and are continuing to, into the truth of the matter and have fixed a lot of other things along the way. They’ve let me know what it was that was wrong, but fixed it for me without charging me any extra.

Really, it’s similar to going to God, in that Jesus cleanses us spiritually through the forgiveness He offers through His death and resurrection. All we need to do is say, “Jesus, I’m a sinner, I’ve messed up. Please heal me and help me to walk in Your ways.” This is another way to say Psalm 139:24, “see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (NASB).

Then, through prayer and His Word, He guides us into what our imperfections are and personally works through our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit to heal us.The Spirit starts a work of bringing God’s Word to our remembrance (John 14:26) and ministers to us in the steps He wants us to take to live for Him as revealed in His glorious Word.

In a way, just as I gave my Subaru over to the ‘Subaru fixers’, we give our lives over to Christ as the first step. Then, we are led into truths (John 16:13) of how to maintain our spiritual lives: Revering God and keeping His commandments. “For this is man’s all.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Keeping God in reverence in our lives, that is, through The Fear of the Lord, which is a gift from the Spirit of God (Isaiah 11:2), is how we will acknowledge Him, and He will in turn, make our paths straight.

Soon, my Subaru’s gadgets will be made straight because I humbly gave it over to the people who knew how to fix it instead of trying to do it on my own. Give your life over to Christ, who knows how to fix you spiritually, He’s the only One who can and the only One who will. Remember the truth of James 4:6: “But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

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Beyond the Ballot

     It was off to the ballots! I headed out at 6:35 and made it to the ballot place at 6:56. 7pm cutoff time. I wasn’t expecting much to go on there beyond filling out a ballot and leaving, but God had more in mind for me beyond the ballot.

Divine appointments and opportunities:
      When I arrived, the first person I noticed was an old friend from high school of mine. I hadn’t seen him for over 4 years and called out to him from the back of the line. This led into a great conversation in which we concluded we should have a sort of reunion with our high school group of guys. This would provide a great opportunity to share my faith in the future.

      The next man I met was a local in Boulder by the name of Bruce. I shared my faith with him and wasn’t surprised when he said he was a believer who went to church nearby. I knew after the fact that he shared to me he was housing some people at his house. In my mind, before I told him about my faith, I was thinking ‘that’s a very Jesus like thing to do.’ We had good conversations about spreading the Gospel and about the Lord’s hand at work.
      During this conversation, a man came up to me asking if he could interview me. “Of course!” I said. I was given the opportunity to share my views and about Jesus through this interview that could possibly be on NPR. Please pray for it to be!
      Directly afterwards, I got the opportunity to start up a conversation with a lady in front of me named Casey. After overhearing the interview, she knew I believed in Jesus, so I got the awesome opportunity to be used by God as a potential small stepping stone in her life to Christ.

      I got to the ballot and, after having registered that morning, discovered my county had changed (oh the joys of moving very often as a college student). I was the last to vote in line, and didn’t get to after about two hours of waiting. I told the lady that I had been given many opportunities while I was there and wasn’t discouraged.

      I left the small mennonite church in Boulder to walk by a bus stop on the way to my car. There was a man named Derek sitting by the bus stop. He looked as a spitting image of a man that I met in the summer not far from there named Richard. A half black man with dreads and a hat on with a backpack-looking like he’s going on a journey. He asked how I was doing and I told him “well, I just got denied to vote”. We got into a deeper conversation and I asked what he believed spiritually. He said he believed many different things, a type of pick and choose religion. He then asked what my beliefs were and I told him (paraphrase) “I believe the only real Truths out there are Jesus and The Bible. When I sold out to Jesus and didn’t just ‘try Him out’ is when I realized that He was Truth and entered into a real relationship with Him beyond religious duties.”(John 14:6, 17:17)
      I then had the opportunity to share the story of how I met Richard not even a block away from there. How while I was on a prayer walk, Jesus told me, through His guiding Spirit, to turn down the narrow, dark path when I could have gone down the sidewalk that had lights all along it. That’s where I ran into Richard and was able to speak Truth into his life during his journey. (John 14:17)
      Please join me in prayer for all these people, that God would draw them to Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Application:
      There’s a lot more to voting then pen to paper, or dropping off the ballot. The voting ballot is very much a place that people are forced into patience and open to conversation. There aren’t many places like that anymore. At the grocery store, you run around, get your stuff, often check it out on your own in self checkout, and leave. There isn’t a lot of social opportunity these days as an adult. Many jobs are ones you can work at independently. You don’t have to wait in line inside a fast food restaurant-you can just go through the drive thru. Even in church, people can be independently there and choose to not talk to anyone-just come right when the service starts and leave.
      This night inspired me: God is a relational God. There’s a lot more beyond the ballot for us to be aware of. God can do more with a conversation than a piece of multiple choice paper. However, don’t get me wrong, I still believe strongly that everyone should vote as if there vote is the one that’s going to shift the majority. Your vote is a gift from God to fulfill Exodus 18:21: “But you should select from all the people able men, God-fearing, trustworthy, and hating bribes.” How much more must we fulfill this today, in our broken nation, in comparison to Israel? We must, people of God, we must.

Eat if from the master chef, not the new cook

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1. From the source

Think of the best chef in the world preparing the best dish. Of course, everyone wants to try it (who cares if it’s got a little meat 😉 Now what about your Dad trying to make the recipe on his own for the first time? Don’t get me wrong, Papa is a great chef, but not as good as the master chef. He wouldn’t be able to represent the dish as accurately as the master chef even if he was told the exact recipe as the master chef. So if given the choice, why would we eat the meal from Dad instead of the master chef?*

This is the common misconception of Christianity today. Even Jesus spoke against having sects in Christianity. Here’s the problem: These sects stem from us eating the bread of life from imitators of Christ. (Matthew 4:4) Many people in Christianity are imitators of certain disciples but not others: “Well I agree with Paul, not so much James.” But we end up building our life around the principles of imitators of Christ, not the source. We even base our life around our pastors, but they aren’t perfect either.

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2. Imitators of Christ

A lot of Bible studies I’ve been in like to focus on Paul’s writing. That’s good, but this is vanity and a grave misfortune; see, I had never read a Gospel and dissected it; I knew who Paul was in Jesus Christ before I knew who Jesus was. Now, Paul’s life is different from Jesus’, as it should be; and none of these disciples were perfect, like Jesus was. Debatably, Paul was somewhat of a people pleaser by nature (1 Corinthians 10:32-33), and he used it for the glory of God(1 Cor 9:20-22, Hebrews 12:14). But we should not strive to be just like Paul, although that was his calling.

God uses our sin for His glory; but Jesus didn’t care what people thought of Him from that standpoint-He was just doing His Father’s will. Jesus didn’t have any sin in His life to be used. Jesus calls us to say something to our brothers when they are doing something wrong, and that’s not people pleasing, that’s doing God’s will, regardless of whether or not they wanna hear it (Matthew 18:15-17). Jesus Himself said He didn’t come to bring peace but a sword! He came to set a son against His Father and a daughter against her mother (Matthew 10:34-39).

Paul cooks the main dish well, and Jesus is the source of it and cooks it better since He’s perfect. If Paul had a copy of a gospel, I’m sure he would have sent that to everyone along with his letters to show people Jesus’ perfect life, but that’s just not how it was back then.

When we are comparing ourselves to others, even the disciples and pastors, we are comparing ourselves to sinful beings, rather than the perfect One. Think of it like music, when a passionate, skillful cellist compares himself with Yo Yo Ma, he feels quite obsolete and that he must practice more than if he is only comparing himself with his cello teacher.

Paul, amazing as he is through the Holy Spirit, uses his people pleasing for God’s glory and to spread the gospel. Chances are, most people using the excuse of people pleasing are not doing this with it. If you aren’t going to use people pleasing to spread the word, it’s much better to get up in (prideful) people’s faces, like Jesus, and ask tough questions, and say it like it is (Matthew 16:23). Certainly, Jesus only did this with the prideful, rather than the humble. See, all the disciples were different based on what they learned from Jesus; they didn’t want people to follow them, but rather, Jesus. Not saying Jesus wasn’t compassionate, but when something was out of line, He said something about it.

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3. Enter by the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14)

Many people assume the easy way for Christianity, “Well, Paul says this to these people so I’m gonna do that because it still lets me do what I want.” Or “I like this pastor’s interpretation of the verse better.” Better to assume the hardest way “because narrow is the pathway and difficult is the way that leads to life and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14) Jesus wants us to give it all up (Matthew 19:16-26). We must hand over the car keys to Jesus and sit in the passenger seat.

Rather than taking the scripture that’s the easiest to follow, lets raise the bar and take some of the hardest things Jesus said (ie Matthew 7:21-23) and have those be the new standard of our lives. What’s the worst that could happen? I’ll tell you, we’ll become less focused on the world, and more focused on heaven and the will of our Father. For it is better to have pressure in this world, as Jesus did, knowing that we’ll soon be out of this world and in paradise. (John 16:33, Hebrews 12:2)

(PS: please comment below if you think this is theologically bogus-I’m not trying to do that; but rather, fixate our gaze even more on Jesus)

Climbing the tree of life

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Have you ever looked at a Christmas tree and wondered why there was a star at the top? One reason could be representative of the star that the wise men followed; I’d like to offer up another one.

1. The tree of life

What if that’s God at the top and we start out our Christian lives following Him from the bottom of the tree? It’s pretty hard to climb a tree isn’t it? You have to step on branches and work against gravity to get up the tree. Compare gravity to the advice the world gives us and what it tells us to do (ie fulfill our fleshly desires, follow our hearts) and branches as events, people, passions, hobbies, and objects placed in our lives.

As we go along, God gives us branches to step on momentarily while we pursue Him to know Him more. But then we stop and think in our foolish minds: “It’s quite a bit easier just to step out on a branch and walk along it for awhile”. Here’s the problem, once you walk out even a little bit on that branch, you can’t look up and see God as well as before; there are other branches blocking your view; you might be able to see part of Him-until you get even farther along that branch. Additionally, it makes it nearly impossible to progress towards God if you aren’t climbing towards Him-it’s dangerous and difficult to jump from one branch to the other. Doing such a jump as this can cause us to fall off the tree completely. Additionally, it’s very dangerous to go out on a branch too far, otherwise, the branch will break under your weight and you will fall.

When we are in following Christ to know Him more, we are given branches as steps to get closer to Him. We need to recognize and appreciate these branches God has placed in our lives, but He never intends us to step out and actually walk on the branch he has intended for us to step on with one foot, maybe two.

2. The tree of life in our lives

New age belief and moralistic thematic deism assume that we will be able to get closer to God in different ways, but these ways require jumping from branches. Think of these branches as excuses and easy ways out of not pursuing God. They can seem inherently good but can ultimately lead to death.

Here’s a classic example: health and well-being. Inherently, this is an excellent thing to apply to your life, but don’t let it become a branch. If you tread too far out on the branch, you will keep striving for the next step to reach perfection in human form and will never reach it; also, you won’t be growing closer to God. Often we can’t see that the branch has an end so we keep walking it. Also, branches are pretty hard to walk on alone aren’t they? Think about trying to keep your balance-it’s nearly impossible unless you go on your hands and knees and give everything you’ve got. We may not have gravity against us, but that ends up being harder, because we don’t have the trunk to hold on to.

The biggest problem is all of us want progress. So we make this branch even more of our life, afraid to step back to the trunk of the tree, not realizing that the greatest progress we can make in our life is to make Him increase and us decrease (John 3:30-It seems like I’m putting this verse in every blog post…)

3. Biblical relations

This analogy of a tree helped me better understand the narrow gate leading to heaven that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 13-14. Truly, it is much easier to go off on a branch and focus on that than on something we can’t physically see. Just look at all of the instances in the Old Testament where people make statues their gods just so they can see them. Every Christian faces branches; in fact, we all have had a skewed view of God at some point because of going too far on a branch and not being able to see God (the star at the top of the tree) through the other branches.

If we are climbing towards God, He will give us branches to step on and support us as we climb closer to Him. We should appreciate and acknowledge these branches He gives us! Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things” (the Gentiles seek) “shall be added to you.”

In Ecclesiastes, we are told even more directly to appreciate these things.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20: 18 Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. 19 As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart.

The things that distract us from God are innumerable. It could be argued that anything in this world other than God is a branch, only meant to be stepped on with one foot-two feet at the most. It’s no wonder Jesus said to enter by the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14). It’s difficult to climb against gravity, keeping are focus on God even when we step on branches that are so easy to step off on and take the easy way out. Thankfully, God gives us a plan laid out in The Bible so that we can focus on Him alone; it’s not easy to climb a tree.

Matthew 7:13-14: 13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because[a] narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

4. Navigating the tree

So how do we navigate this tree trunk with branches you ask? Read the Word that God has given us through Jesus Christ and follow Him. The surefire way to navigate this path is to read The Bible, given to us by God Himself. Following other things, even if you are focusing on a famous pastoral figure, will be tainted by sin, which is why it’s good to keep our gaze heavenward. (1 Corinthians 4:18)