Christians still killing Jesus

I read an article today that has been gnawing at my brain stem for most of the day.  I found myself filled with an anger I didn’t know how to categorize.  Was it righteous?  What exactly am I angry at?  So I have been gnawing on it with the Holy Spirit, talking to the Lord about what exactly has me so riled in spirit.  I am not used to my spirit being so riled.  My feelings, my pride, or my want to be right is often the source of my riling.  This felt new and different.  And it has taken me most of the day to figure out what has upset me.  As I talked it out with H.G. (aka the Holy Ghost) I came to realize that I am upset because we—meaning us Christians—are still killing Jesus.

I know I have probably just offended you if you are Christian reading this.  I offended myself when I realized I was complicit in the continued murder of my Savior.  But H.G. walked me through this offense and I hope some of you will walk along with me.

So my journey started when I read an article about how multi-site churches are from Satan.  I am a member of Mars Hill Church, a multi-site church, and so I was offended that someone said I basically am a member of satanic gathering.  I have also been a member of a small church of maybe 150 people.  Both Pastor Dan and Pastor Mark Driscoll love Jesus, preach Jesus, and have taught me a great deal.  I am not biased one way or another.  I think both styles of churches are needed to suit the countless styles of God’s children.  I belong to a non-denominational Church, and I have belonged to a Baptist church.  Again, I am not biased on denominations as long as they teach the Bible and preach the good news of Jesus Christ.  This isn’t about what type of church is best, or what style of church you prefer, or the personality of the Pastor you learn the Bible the best from.  That is between you and H.G.

What bothered me is that this article was written by a Christian and was posted for a Christian blog/magazine/website thing.  I don’t know how to categorize it anymore, but I am sure you get the point.   Now I would understand the point of this article if it said that these multi-site Pastors were not teaching the Bible, were not proclaiming the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and that the Holy Spirit was not involved in the church at all.  Then yes I would understand the article.  But that’s not what the article said.  Instead it went on about how these Pastors are guilty of the sins of pride and idolatry.  But guess what …every single person is guilty of the sins of pride and idolatry.  It doesn’t matter if you Pastor a large flock or a small flock.  I am guilty of the sins of pride and idolatry.  So if a church is ‘from Satan’ because the Pastors sinners, then all churches must be from Satan.

10 I appeal to you, brothers,[a] by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

The Bible teaches against this.  I don’t go to Mars Hill because I believe it will save me, or because I idolize Pastor Mark’s teaching ability.  I go to Mars Hill because I learn the Bible there.  Jesus is who saves me.  Do some people idolize Pastor Mark?  Sure.  But people idolize their small church Pastor’s too.   If I idolized Pastor Mark it wouldn’t be Pastor Mark’s fault.  It would be my fault.  It would be my sin to deal with and my heart issue.  As Christians we need to stop saying ‘my way of doing church is better and more holy than your way of doing church’.  If Jesus is proclaimed and the Bible is taught, PRAISE THE LORD!  Be grateful and thankful that God’s work is being done.  The world and potential-Christians criticizes us enough, we don’t need to give them fuel for their fire.

When I was a pagan this was a major problem I had with Christianity.  Churches and professing believers tore each other apart, slandered one another up and down the internet, and generally acted like middle-school kids.  And that is how I saw you treat people who were a part of the ‘family of God’.  Why would I want to be a part of that family?  Why would I voluntarily skip into the middle?  When you, as a Christian, come out and call a style of Church satanic…why would any non-believer then go to that Church?  How many people have we just cut off from the saving grace of the gospel because we disagree with how things should be done?  Is it really worth that person’s soul?  Is your opinion of how Church should be done so important that it is worth this cost?  Are you really that prideful?

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

The article talks about how sinful multi-site church Pastors are.  So I am going to let you in on a not-so-secret secret about Pastor Mark Driscoll.  He is not perfect.  He is a sinner.  He gets things wrong.  He says things wrong.  He gets angry.  He needs Jesus’ grace.  He needs forgiveness.  He is just like me.  Imagine that.  Pastor Mark Driscoll isn’t Jesus.  He says that often.  Want to know something else about Pastor Mark Driscoll that so many people tend to overlook?  He repents.  He repents publicly, in front of cameras, to thousands of people.  He apologizes to thousands of people.  He talks about his failures and his sins in front of thousands of people.  Unlike me.  I sometimes have a hard time talking about my failures with just my community group.  I don’t have to eat humble pie every Sunday in front of everyone.  I do it privately with my husband and H.G.

So yay, my Pastor isn’t perfect, but neither am I.  He shows me what repentance looks like.  He leads me in how to be humble, how to swallow my pride, and how to talk frankly about my sin.  And guess what …your Pastor should do this too.  I find it completely comforting to know that my Pastor gets it, and is willing to be humbled before the world so that I learn how to be more like Jesus.  The only perfect Pastor is Jesus Christ who happens to be in heaven right now.  All Pastors have sinned and all Pastors fall short of the glory of God.  We, as Christians, need to let this sink in and we need to stop crucifying them for being as imperfect as we are.

“And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)

Stop throwing stones at my Pastor.  Stop throwing stones at Pastors who teach the Bible and preach the saving grace of God.  Just.  Stop.

“One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.” (Proverbs 29:23)

The article then goes on to say that as a member of a multi-site church I cannot hold Pastor Mark Driscoll accountable.  As if I should be able to be the accountability partner in my teaching Pastor’s life.  That right there is a huge ego and pride check.  Pastor Mark teaches me the Bible, and preaches the saving grace of God.  Pastor Mark is not my accountability partner.  Pastor Mark is not my friend.  If I had a pressing issue in my life I wouldn’t run to Pastor Mark for the answers.  And guess what ….when I belonged to a small church it was the same way.  Why?  Because they aren’t my personal and close friends.  I don’t hang out with them.  I don’t have them over for dinner.  I am not against becoming friends, but I don’t demand that be a requirement for me to sit beneath their teaching.  The same way I wouldn’t demand a college professor to be my friend before I take his class.

Pastor Mark Driscoll has an amazing gift for teaching the Bible, as do other multi-site church Pastors.  I learn so much from Pastor Matt Chandler, Pastor James MacDonald, Pastor Rick Warren, and many others.  I don’t know any of them.  And I hardly think I need to nitpick my way through their lives and demand they explain everything to me.  If you need that close relationship to your Pastor, then by all means go to a small church where that is possible.  I don’t begrudge you that need, but please don’t call me a Satanist because I don’t share that need.

Pastor Mark Driscoll is my teaching Pastor at my church.  He isn’t my personal Pastor.  Pastor Dave Bruskus is a fatherly Pastor for me.  He is a Pastor I would reach out to for big questions as I have seen his wisdom and love for God’s children.  Pastor Sutton Turner is a warrior Pastor for me.  I see him on the front lines for God’s glory, working to spread the good news of Jesus Christ far and wide.  These two men are accountability partners for Pastor Mark Driscoll …and I completely trust them to do that job.  I don’t feel the need to do it myself.  Now my personal Pastor is actually at my Church at Mars Hill Downtown Seattle.  For a while it was Pastor Joel Brown, who is completely amazing at speaking the truth in God’s love.  He was the Pastor I went to when I needed a Pastor.  God has called him away to Mars Hill Tacoma.  So now my personal Pastor is Pastor Matthias.  I am still getting to know him, but I trust him already with knowing he is a man of God’s heart and would give wise counsel.

Why am I telling you this?  Because I am a member of a multi-site church, and I want people to know that I do have a Shepherd (Pastor) and I’m not just some consumer/groupie who stares at Pastor Mark on a screen.  I go to watch Pastor Mark on a screen because he teaches the Bible in a way I understand.  I do the same with the other Pastor’s above whom I mentioned.  But if that’s not for you, I get it.  We are all called to understand Scripture in different ways; just as all Pastors are called by the Holy Spirit to serve the spreading of Scripture in different ways.

31 “So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32)

The last point that really rankled me in this article was the critique against the pastors who served these Multi-site churches.  A man needs to be called by the Holy Spirit to become a Pastor.  The Holy Spirit then usually calls a Pastor to a certain church for a certain ministry.  That calling is between that Pastor and the Holy Spirit.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus warns us very poignantly against calling the works of the Holy Spirit as something evil or from Satan.  We are really not supposed to blaspheme the Holy Spirit.  Which is what we are doing if we are saying what the Holy Spirit has called these men to do is from Satan.  Who am I, and who are you, to judge what exactly the calling of the Holy Spirit is on anyone else?  The will of the Holy Spirit cannot be held in check by anyone’s will, design, or church style.  If the Holy Spirit calls a Pastor to a small church, yay Jesus!  If the Holy Spirit calls a Pastor to a mega church, yay Jesus!  If the Holy Spirit calls a Pastor to a multi-site church, yay Jesus!  We should be rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit to still stir up the affections of men’s heart to serve the LORD rather than trying to dictate how that service should look like.  We, as Christians, really need to stop trying to shame one another into worshipping God as we see fit.  Otherwise we are exactly like the Pharisees.

Jesus did not teach like the Rabbis of the Pharisees.  Jesus did not follow their traditions or man-made rules and laws of what worshipping God should look like.  The gospels are full of this battle of wills, of these demands the Pharisees made that Jesus conform to how they thought synagogue should look, sound like, and be lived out.  They were so outraged by Jesus’ nonconformity that they failed to see people drawing closer to God, repenting, and living a new life.  They murdered Jesus for this.  And we are still doing it today.

Church is about Jesus.  As Christians we need to be about Jesus.  And when we lobby accusations and insults at other Christians who are worshiping Jesus in a different way ….we become a Pharisee.  We put our preferences, our traditions, and our own opinions about how serving the LORD should look before the fact that this is really supposed to be all about Jesus.  When we do this we kill Jesus for the non-believer.  When we do this we kill Jesus to the skeptic watching on.  The world around us is killing Jesus enough on its own ….the children of God shouldn’t be helping them.  Stop throwing stones.  Stop giving the LORD a bad reputation by our own preferences.  Enough already.

Is the Pastor teaching the Bible?  Is the Church preaching the saving grace of Jesus Christ?  Is the Holy Spirit moving the people toward God?  If the answer is yes …then shut up about how you think things should be done.  Go to a church that suits your needs and worship and praise the LORD for providing us with so many ways to glorify Him!  Put your stones down.

If you don’t like a Pastor, then don’t like that Pastor.  Don’t help the world tear a servant of the LORD down by adding fuel.  Don’t go on various social media’s and spread contempt for the servants of the LORD.  You aren’t serving Jesus by doing this.  You aren’t glorifying God by doing this.  We need to put our feelings and opinions (our pride) aside and seek after the glory of the LORD first ….not the glory of ourselves and our opinions.  As Christians, we need to stop killing Jesus before the world who is definitely watching us crucifying our own.

“In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19)

 

“He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.” (Proverbs 13:3)

 

“Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles.” (Proverbs 21:23)

“The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil.” (Proverbs 15:28)

“A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. “ (Proverbs 18:7)

“The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.” (Proverbs 19:11)

“A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.” (Proverbs 29:11)

Heavenly Father and earthly father

In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” (Matthew 6:9)

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:” (John 1:12)

                Talking to my earthly father is awkward at best.  We don’t have a bad relationship, but we don’t have a very good relationship.  I am trying to work on it, and I believe my father is too in his own way.  It is just that our ‘ways’ are so completely different.  It’s hard, and sometimes I get frustrated in sadness.  I want our relationship to be so great.  I want it to be like the relationship I hear my Pastor talk about having with his daughters.  But it’s not.  I am beginning to understand this yearning I feel for a wonderful relationship with my father is a fraction of the yearning my Heavenly Father must feel for me.

I am a pretty crappy daughter to my Heavenly Father.  Again, His ways and my ways are completely different.  He is holy and righteous and pure love … and I … well I rebel against Him, defy Him, and continually break His heart with my sin.  I cringe with this truth as I sit pretty on the thought that I am a pretty good daughter to my earthly father.  God hasn’t lied to me or about me.  God hasn’t betrayed me.  God has never hurt me.  God has never given up on me.  God always wants me around Him.  I am sitting here typing this out and I am completely at a loss why I don’t show as much devotion to the LORD as I do for my father who has done all those things.

I know it is easier to have a ‘good’ relationship with a father I am passingly involved with.  There is no real intimacy between my dad and me.  I seek intimacy with God.  As surreal as this sounds I actually think I know God better than my father; which isn’t saying a lot I know.  So I would like to ‘comfort’ myself with the idea that this somehow excuses all my failures.  It’s not true.  I know that.  I have a lot of sin when it comes to having God be Abba, Father.  And just sitting here now writing this I have to shamefully admit I actually have a lot of sin when it comes to my earthly father as well.

As confusing and frustrating as this all sounds to me I can take true comfort in one fact.  As a child of my father, and as a child of God, this will never change.  I will always be the daughter of my father, and the daughter of my God.  And, at least, in the relationship between Abba and myself He is perfect and not going to mess anything up.  My dad and I are good at that in our relationship.  I know I really need to try harder, and put more effort into our relationship.  Into both my relationships.  It is just so easy to be lazy with a dad who is equally lazy; and lazy with a Father who won’t ever leave, give up, or stop loving me.  And I really hate that I have to admit that.  But it is true.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” (John 20:17)

 “(16) And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God.  As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them.  I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’

(17) Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord.  Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.’  (18) ‘I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.’” (2 Corinthians 6: 16-18)

                Jesus is the only  One who can redeem both of my relationships.  For God could not receive me as I was: I was unclean.  Through the blood of Christ I am made clean.  Because of the blood of Christ I am a living temple that the Holy Spirit can live within.  Thus Abba, Father will always draw me near.  I can be separate from the world on my life journey of sanctification.  Since Jesus has ascended I can cling to Him.  I need to cling to Him.  I need to bury myself so deep inside of Him so that I can do a better job of reflecting the glory of God.  This is perfect hope for an imperfect sinner.

With my earthly father things aren’t so much like that.  He will hurt me.  I will hurt him.  He will ignore me.  I will ignore him.  We will skirt around each other in a dance of acquaintances.  I don’t want that.  I don’t think he wants that.  Jesus is the only way to get closer to my dad.  Learning about Christ, how He related to God as His Father, will help mold me a path to follow to my dad.  Learning to love and forgive like Christ can continue to change me into a new creation so that I can better love and forgive my father.  I just can’t be lazy.  I don’t want to be lazy.  I really need to be in continually prayer for the Holy Spirit to take away this laziness.

The LORD’s name for me

“No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.” (Genesis 17:5)

“(15)Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. (16) And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.’” (Genesis 17:15-16)

“And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.’” (Genesis 32:28)

“(17) Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. (18) And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.’” (Matthew 16:17-18)

“Then Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him.” (Acts 13:9)

I was saved four years ago this autumn.  Very soon after I was saved by the blood of Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit laid something on my soul.  The problem was that I was a new Christian, I didn’t know much about the Holy Spirit, and I thought this ‘thing’ being laid onto my heart was just in my head.  I was told to change my name.  That I was such a completely different person, this change went down to the very roots of my being.  I am not the person I used to be.  I am nowhere near that person.  But I didn’t understand the fact I was a new creation.  I didn’t have the Biblical knowledge that God did this sort of thing; changed people’s names at key moments in their life.

You see I, Sarah, was a practicing pagan: a Druid.  I had a spell book, practiced rituals, and belonged to a grove.  I regularly communed with spirits.  I was also heavily into the BDSM community.  I was a submissive, a sexual slave.  Sarah is a masochist.  In my life I have had numerous sexual encounters with males and females, some younger and some much older, some married.  On top of all of that I persecuted Christians.  I mocked them, belittled them, and lashed out at them in so many horrific ways.  I told myself it made us ‘even’ since it was the Catholics who burned Druids, and tortured Shamans.  I think somewhere in my heart I was angry at Jesus for doing this, or supporting this, or thinking this was okay.  I assumed this is what Christians wanted.  And I was adamantly against reading the Bible to learn any differently.

Then I got cancer and I started to read the Bible thanks to the pushing of my fiancé Jeremy.  I read the book of John three times before I had surgery to remove the tumors.  I was terrified of the surgery.  My neck is the one place on my body where I am not supposed to have cut open.  I prayed a lot that day as I waited to be taken back.  Then, right before I went under, I heard the most amazing thing.  Three words were spoken to me that changed my entire life.  I heard Jesus say to me, “You are mine.”

When I woke up everything was different.

Everything had changed.  I actually couldn’t remember anything about my old religion.  I couldn’t tell you the names of the gods or goddesses.  I couldn’t remember if it was Winter Solstice or a Winter Equinox.  I couldn’t remember my spells.  I couldn’t remember the meaning behind any of my rituals.  My desire to go back to the fetish club was gone.  For the first time in my life I began to long for monogamy and hungered for marriage.  I found myself thirsting for the Word, and I began to read my Bible a lot.  I stopped persecuting Christians and instead publically proclaimed myself one.  I lost almost all of my friends.  My entire world turned upside down.  Nothing about me was the same.  From the inside out I felt different.  Everyone who was still around me began to pick up on the difference.  I no longer responded to things and situations as Sarah would have.

Back then, nearly four years ago, the Holy Spirit laid it on my heart to change my name.  I resisted Him.  I told myself it was just my imagination.  I knew that it would hurt my mom deeply if I changed my name.  I couldn’t even begin to fathom how to get people to start calling me a new name.  I convinced myself it was too much work for such a little thing.  For such a simple thing.  So every time the Holy Spirit continued to bring it up, I shoved it back down.  It was nonsense.  I told the Holy Spirit it wasn’t something that happened in the Bible.  So He took me to several verses, the ones above, to show me it was Biblical.  That when Jesus grabs a hold of someone for God they so completely change that they are a new person.  A new creation.  Who Sarah was died four years ago.  She was left under the water when I was baptized.  Someone new came out of that water.  Someone I am still learning and at times fighting for.

What has brought this to a head in these last few weeks is that I began attending a Redemption Group.  I signed up because I read the most wonderfully horrific book I have ever read in a long time, “Rid of My Disgrace” by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb.  If you have ever been raped, sexually assaulted, or abused this is a book I HIGHLY recommend reading.  It took me nearly three months to read it.  It was so hard, but in reading it I realized I have PTSD from being tormented and raped all those years ago.  Despite having seen a rape counselor I am not okay.  I realized he helped me merely to function again as a normal human being, but I wasn’t healed.  I was so broken inside and I had just come to accept the fact I would always be broken.  For six months of my life I was tortured in a hell I couldn’t escape.  Then I lost five years of my life because I was completely checked out of my life.  I haven’t grieved all of that.  All the gritty, horrific, terrifyingly painful memories.

And I have been fighting the Holy Spirit again.  He is walking me through this.  He is the reason I joined a Redemption Group.  On the first night He pressed in on me so tightly.  Despite what Jay did to me I am a new creation in Christ.  I am completely redeemed.  I can be whole through the cross.  The blood of Jesus covers even what happened to me.  My identity can no longer be there, nor can it be held captive any longer.  I struggle with this concept.  I struggle with fear.  I struggle with the weight the Holy Ghost, HG, has placed on my soul.

I am not who I was.  I haven’t been for four years.  For four years I have been a new creation.  I am a new woman, a fresh and good tree, one who bears the figged fruited desires of God.  HG has told me the name of this new creature, this new being, this godly woman.  And I am scared to call me by His name for me.  I still don’t want to hurt my mom.  I don’t want to offend her because I don’t think she will understand.  I know this is a fear of man issue.  I know Jesus gave me a name.  I know I need to start using it.  So I pray I have the strength.

Abba, Father … You are wonderful, mighty, and worthy of praise.  I can’t believe you wanted a wretch like me.  I am in humbled awe that You, Jesus, pursued me for 30 years.  You never gave up.  LORD you are so good.  You are so incredibly good to me.  Thank you for giving me this chance to be the woman You want me to be.  Thank You for taking out my heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh.  Holy Spirit, please, I beg you to be with me.  You have been after me for nearly four years now to do this.  I want to stop resisting you.  I want to fall into the freedom of Your strength, guidance, and control of my life.  You wove me together from the very start.  LORD You had a name for me from the beginning.  Please give me the wisdom to explain this change to those who question.  I need Your strength.  I will curl up in the comfort of your arms Heavenly Daddy.  I will be your daughter.

My name is Lael (Lay-el).  It means “Belongs to God.”

I pray that will always be true.  I hope to always strive to live up to this name You have given me.  In Jesus’ most holy, profound, and wonderful name I pray.  Amen.

Strugging with being led

“(1) Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  (2) And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.

(3) Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’

(4) But He answered and said, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by the very word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”’” (Matthew 4:1-4)

 

Then Jesus was led.  Led.  My Almighty Savior and Lord was led.  He followed someone else.  Jesus was subservient to another person’s will.  He was submissive in walking second in line rather than first in line.  And Jesus lost none of His strength, none of His dignity, Jesus didn’t become less valuable in doing so, and He certainly didn’t become any less God.  These four words are some of my favorite in the Bible because they justify me as a submissive woman and they challenge the world’s long held beliefs on what it means to be submissive.

These four words also challenge me by what follows them.  Jesus did not just submit to any Tom, Dick, or Harry.  Jesus Christ followed the will of the Holy Spirit.  If you are going to follow anyone, the Holy Spirit should be it.  And that is where I am challenged.  Before I became a Christian I was really good at following various Dominants, or Masters/Mistresses.  I was a fairly obedient submissive.  I know how to follow physical instruction well.  Go here, do this, come back.  I follow baking and cooking instructions perfectly too.  And I am actually really good at putting together furniture from the complicated instruction things you get from stores.  If you gave me directions, or a map, I can find my way anywhere.  I am pretty good at following.

But then I became a Christian and the one thing I was really good at was challenged.  The Holy Spirit led Jesus, and I am to be like Jesus, which means I need to be led by the Holy Spirit.  The problem is the Holy Spirit doesn’t come with a map, an instruction manual, or a Google webpage of ‘How To’s”.  Or at least not a reliable one made by a sane person.  Instead I have to get to know Him.  And that meant recognizing the fact that the Holy Spirit is indeed a Him.  Then I have to begin to recognize His voice among all the other noise going on in my head and heart.  I needed to cultivate a relationship with the Holy Spirit.  At this point I realized this would take time.  This made me realize that Jesus didn’t just come up from being baptized in the Jordan, introduce Himself to the Holy Spirit, and follow Him perfectly immediately.  Jesus had spent years, probably His entire life, getting to know the Holy Spirit intimately and personally so that when this day came He could follow the Spirit into the wilderness easily without getting lost.

I know this is true because it says in various other places in Scripture that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit.  They knew one another that well.  Right now I don’t think the Holy Spirit would want to fill me.  I have too much stuff inside of me still that would completely offend Him.  Stuff I am working on with the Holy Spirit to clean up His living quarters inside of me.  So I can be filled and led.  But right now I am not there.  I feel the Holy Spirit’s urging me, or His guiding hand sometimes.  But it is never with the distinction of being led.  Or maybe I am just making up the distinction, but from the world I come from…when you submit to someone….there is a distinct difference between being guided by them….submitting to their urging…and being led.  Being led is like being blindfolded, hands tied behind your back, and completely trusting the other person to get you to the place you are going.  I can’t say I have that sort of trust yet with the Holy Spirit.  I still buck and ask too many questions, and demand to know too many answers.  And I know I don’t know the Holy Spirit well enough, yet, to perfectly hear His leading direction.

With those thoughts in mind I continue forward in my swimming in verse one to read where the Holy Spirit was leading Jesus to.  The Holy Spirit wasn’t taking Jesus to the nearest five star hotels.  The Holy Spirit wasn’t taking Jesus on the easiest and safest road.  The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness knowing Jesus had no tent, no food, no camping gear … nothing.  And what amazes me is that Jesus followed, knowing They were going out into the middle of nowhere with nothing on hand.  I know I wouldn’t have that kind of faith or trust.  I know that if the Holy Spirit began to lead me out into the mountains or the Cascades I would be like…..um no.  I would claim the Holy Spirit’s voice as me losing my mind.  I would turn my back and go home.

Jesus doesn’t do that.  He continues to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit into dangerous and unknown territory.  He knows the Holy Spirit well enough to trust Him.  Jesus doesn’t worry about His comfort, or His stomach, or His safety.  He trusts completely, wholly, and without reservation.  Jesus, instead, looks forward to this time to be alone with His Father.  He doesn’t worry about spending one day gorging on all His favorite foods before this fast.  He just follows the Holy Spirit, who leads Him into nowhere land, and says……Hey let’s fast and pray for 40 days and 40 nights.  And Jesus is okay with that.  He would rather spend time communing with His Father and with the Holy Spirit…..than eating, than sleeping in a bed, than hanging out and partying with His friends.  God is His priority.  In a way I can’t comprehend.  In a way I admire in awe, and with great humility.  Because this Man, this Jesus, would then come away from His time with God to be tortured, beaten, flogged beyond recognition, and then hung on a cross to bear the weight of my sin, the sin done against me, and all my shame.  And He followed God, and the Holy Spirit there, willingly…again.

Now I believe it is the book of James that says God does not tempt us to sin.  Only Satan, the world, and our flesh tempt us to sin.  But never God.  So I know and trust that completely.  Which makes the end of verse one hard for me to really grasp because the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  Verse two tells me the tempting was not the only reason; there was communion with the Father as well, prayer, fasting, and by Jesus’ answers I am going to assume some Old Testament Scripture study occurred during those forty days and forty nights.  And I guess I struggle with this because I have this ‘world’ view that being a Child of God means God will lead me away from pain and suffering and only onto good paths away from bad things.

But if I were to read my Bible I would know differently.  Jesus tells me I will suffer if I follow Him.  Jesus warns me that if I follow the lead of the Holy Spirit I will be attacked by the devil, by people who hate Jesus and therefore hate will hate me, and that the storms will come.  Jesus actually prays for my protection in this world because the only way I will ever follow a safe path led by the Holy Spirit is outside of this world.  Apart from this world when I am in heaven.  And I want to rail against that, denying that claim saying no no no no no no…..my world will be perfectly safe, and a model of a little heaven with a house and a yard, and picture perfect.  The problem is when I do that I buy into the world, I invest into this world and this life and put it into the place of most importance….and I tell my Lord and my God and my Holy Spirit…..sorry you need to lower down on the list because I don’t agree with you.

In this little snippet of Scripture I am shown the right away.  What is wonderful about Jesus is that he doesn’t just tell me the way to do it, but He models this for me.  He doesn’t ask me to do anything He did not do in all His humanity rather than in His divinity.

After forty days and forty nights Jesus is hungry.  It seems like a no brainer statement, but I think a lot of us need to hear it.  I know I need to hear it.  Jesus is my Lord and Savior.  He rose from the dead.  He is my God.  So in my mind I tend to forget Jesus is also human.  He got hungry.  He needed to sleep.  He was fully human with all the weaknesses of our bodies.  I doubt not eating all those days was something easy for Him.  I am sure He had stomach cramps and pains.  I doubt He got cranky and testy like I would have, but it is a question I plan on asking Him.

So there Jesus was, unbelievably hungry, with the vague possibility of being cranky, and physically weak from lack of nourishment.  The Bible doesn’t tell us He was barely able to move, or that He was crawling, or unable to walk.  Jesus had His mind about Him.  He was standing with the devil on the pinnacle of the Temple.  I have seen people come out of a week long fast and they are almost like zombies.  They are completely drained.  Jesus, however, doesn’t seem to be like that at all and He fasted for forty days.  Which leaves me to believe there is some real truth to the words He speaks to the devil.  So real truth to that Scripture He quotes that I don’t always take advantage of.

First of all the devil challenges Jesus’ identity by saying ‘if’ He is the Son of God, as if Jesus might be unsure of who He is.  The thought seems ridiculous in the context of Jesus..but it is common place in the context of me.  I know I struggle sometimes with the identities the enemy wants to put on me to replace the identity Christ put on me.  I am in Christ.  I belong to Christ.  I am a Child of God.  I belong to Jesus.  I know this, but then little whispers in my ear bring up my past.  They tell me I am a sinner, I am a whore, I am a victim, I have been raped, I have led other people down into the pit with a smile on my face.  Sometimes I give in to those lies.  Sometimes I reach out to put on those identities again and cover up my true identity in Christ.  Jesus is the only identity that counts any more.  All the others have been washed away.

Jesus models how I should respond to this type of badgering.  This type of lie.  He doesn’t even acknowledge it.  It doesn’t affect Him.  Jesus is so secure in His knowledge of who He is He brushes the attempt away easily.  It doesn’t get to Him.  It doesn’t bother Him.  Which I think it is a very important point.  I know that when I respond to an identity being pinned on me it is because there is some small part of me that fears it is true, so I feel I have to defend my true identity.  The truth is I don’t need to defend my true identity.  My identity in Christ it the truth, and nothing can change the truth.  No matter what anyone says, Jesus has a hold of me and nothing will make Him let go.  I need to remember that.

Then Satan tries to get Jesus to perform on command like a dog trick or a pony.  Jesus will turn water into wine.  He will feed thousands upon thousands with a child’s lunchable.  If he wanted to, he could have done what the devil said.  He could have turned the rocks into magnificent feasts to eat.  Jesus doesn’t take orders from satan.  He doesn’t perform on command for His enemy.  He doesn’t need to justify Himself, or validate Himself, to anyone … much less a fallen angel who knows exactly who He is and what He is capable of.  And that is exactly what a lot of non-Christians want me to do.  They want me to perform on command for them so that they might believe or see Christ.  When they really have no interest of seeing Christ at all, they merely want to make me dance.  Jesus doesn’t perform on command for His enemies, for the Pharisees, to make them believers.  Neither should I.

The last part of this section is Jesus’ answer to Satan.  What I love about this is that Jesus answers a non-believers question with Scripture.  He quotes text from Deuteronomy.  Men don’t live on bread alone, they are sustained by the words of God.  And Jesus is proof of that.  Forty days he didn’t have food and he came out of that with His mind intact.  He wasn’t feeble.  He wasn’t falling over.  He wasn’t near death.  Jesus fed His soul, which in turn fed His body.  Which is something that goes against science.  I am, by no means, encouraging people to not eat.  I don’t even think people should go out and fast for forty days and nights without seriously talking to their doctors first.  They aren’t Jesus.  We aren’t filled with the Holy Spirit.  We don’t have that sort of relationship, but it has been done in the past by others.  So it is doable.  But it is just something for me to think about.  I eat three meals a day and what not to feed my body.  Am I reading enough Bible, or doing enough study in God’s word, to feed my soul?  Or is my soul starving?

Back to my original thought, I love that Jesus answers this question with Scripture.  I know a lot of people argue non-Christians with science and everything else.  They do combat on academic worlds and planes.  Jesus quotes Scripture.  The perfect book that God wrote is enough.  People may ridicule me for quoting Scripture to them, but at least I know that the source is good and Holy and right.  The point of teaching I get from this is that Jesus didn’t quote Scripture to Satan to convert him.  Jesus knew it was impossible.  He knew there is no forgiveness for Satan and his minions.  Jesus quoted Scripture because it is the truth.  So when I discuss religion with people and my only book source is the Bible….I am not trying to convert them or win the argument.  The only agenda I have in the conversation is sharing the light of Jesus into their life for whatever amount of time they will allow me.  What happens to those seeds afterward is up to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus spoke Scripture because it was true; and not simply because He wanted to be right.  I need to repent of wanting to be right, or to be understood.  I simply need to share what is true and let the Holy Spirit have His way.  Which goes back to that leading thing.

Choices

“(13) Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. (14) And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”
(15) But Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed Him.
(16) When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. (17) And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’”  (Matthew 3:13-17)
                I have made a lot of bad choices in my life. I have made some good choices in my life. Then I have made a lot of choices that were somewhere in the middle. I see them now as missed opportunities for good. My life, your life, is chuck full of choices. Countless opportunities are decided upon every second of our lives. Each and every one of them is a gift from God. He gave us the gift of free will. God didn’t want mindless, robotic slaves there in a relationship with him for all eternity. God wanted us, and the angels, to have the choice on whether or not we loved Him and entered into a relationship with Him. He knew some of us wouldn’t choose him. He knew Lucifer wouldn’t choose Him. He allowed these things to be so that I, and you, could come into existence and make a choice of our own. He loved me enough to endure the sin, the evil, and the heartache of this world. For me. For you. For all of us.
                These four verses are chuck full of choices. There John was preaching to the gathered masses about the coming Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. John is baptizing people into repentance so that they can ready their hearts and souls for the coming Son of God. So there he is with a long line of people waiting to be baptized. John finishes with the person, the soul, in his hand and turns around to speak and bless the next person in line. And who is the next person in line? Jesus. His Cousin. The Man John knows to be the Son of God. The very person John has been heralding to the masses for some time now. There Jesus is, standing waist deep in the river, before John waiting to be baptized by him.
                John has a choice here. He can esteem himself here. He can call out to the masses, saying, “Look! Here is the guy I’ve been telling you about! He is the greatest! And look! HE wants me to baptize Him! See how amazing I am?!”   I can’t count how many times I have made that choice. I took a situation that really shouldn’t have been about me and turned it into a situation where it was all about me. John has that choice now. This would have done wonders for his career. This was an amazing moment for him. Jesus is honoring him above all men by allowing John to be the one to baptize him. This is a big deal. John chooses to humble himself. He admits Jesus is higher than him in all ways, that he himself needs to be baptized by the fire of Christ. And yet Jesus wants to be baptized by a lesser man than Himself? Why?
                Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized. Jesus is without sin. Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus Christ is God among us. He has done nothing needing repentance. Jesus had nothing to confess. There were no skeletons in His closet. So John is not only humbled, but He is bewildered. Later in the Gospels Jesus esteems John above all men, saying John is the greatest man to have ever lived. Ever. You and I can never come close to the greatness of John in God’s eyes. And even this man tells Jesus…you don’t need me for anything. I am the one who needs you. So if Jesus needed nothing from the greatest man in all of human history—past, present, and future—what could Jesus possibly need from any of our own works. John needed Jesus. We need Jesus. I need Jesus. It is never the other way around.
                Jesus has a choice here. He could command John to baptize him. Jesus could blow off John’s profession and confession of need for Him and simply baptize Himself. Jesus could have said ‘screw it’ and left the river Jordan. Jesus could have done any number of things. His choice, however, is to give choice back to John. Jesus knows John needs Him, and Jesus doesn’t tell John no. Instead He says, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
                Permit. Permit isn’t a command. Jesus, the Son of God, asks John to allow Him to be baptized by John. He asks John to do this for Him. He gives John the chance to say no.  John could have said no, and made excuses of not being good enough, not worthy enough, or any other thing. Jesus, Lord and Savior, asks John to do this favor for Him. John humbled himself, and Jesus lifted John up to His equal. He said, “Cousin, please do this for me.”
                But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Not only does He lift John up to an equal but He includes John in the rest of His statement. Jesus could have easily have said, “for thus it is fitting for me to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus includes John. Jesus doesn’t esteem Himself higher than John. Jesus tells John that it is fitting that they, together, fulfill all righteousness. Jesus tells us it is fitting that we, together, fulfill all righteousness. He says it to John; and through John He says it to you and to me. It is fitting for us to do things, righteous things, with Jesus. It is fitting for us to be in a relationship with God. He doesn’t want mindless slaves, He wants a family. Son and daughters. He is our Father.
                The unspoken choice is Jesus’ decision to submit Himself to the will of God. Jesus doesn’t have to be baptized. Jesus doesn’t need to be baptized. There is no valid reason for Him to walk all the way to the Jordan. There is no need for Him to get dirty and wet in the only clean clothes He has. He has no need to surrender His higher status, again, to submit Himself to the ceremony of His created beings. He could have said, “Look, Dad, there is no reason I should do this. So I’m not going to. It just doesn’t make any sense. It isn’t logical.” How many times have I used every single one of those arguments? Too many. Jesus doesn’t use any of them, and He had every right to use them. It isn’t about what rights Jesus has. It is about what God wants for Jesus, and what God wants for us.
                Jesus, the Son of God, God-man on earth is not less than God. Jesus submitted to God’s will. He made the choice to give up His choice to obey the choice God had for Him. It wouldn’t be the last time Jesus does this. Jesus was submissive to the will of God. Too often in this world people associate the choice of submitting to being considered lesser. Jesus is not lesser than God. Jesus made the choice to put another’s will before His own. Which is what submitting is. It is putting someone else first. Jesus put God first. So if Jesus, the Son of God, God-man on earth….chose to submit to God’s will for Him …what right or excuse can the rest of us come up with that somehow gets us out of doing the same? I have tried many excuses, and flaunted many such ‘rights’ I thought I had. Then I read a passage like this and I am shamed, humbled, and am humiliated before the Lord.
                John made the choice of humbling himself before Jesus when John could have esteemed himself. Jesus made the choice esteeming John, and lifting John up to where he belonged at Jesus’ side. Jesus made the choice of humbling Himself before God when Jesus could have esteemed Himself. So what does God do? God makes the choice of esteeming Christ, and lifting Him up to where He belongs at God’s side.
                God, before the masses of people waiting to be baptized, and those who have already been baptized, speaks to the people of Israel. God has not spoken out loud to people in hundreds of years. God’s voice comes down from heaven where everyone can hear Him. God the Spirit comes down from heaven like a dove to light upon Jesus where everyone can see Him. God lifts Jesus up and claims Him. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
               I wish I could have been there to see that. I wish I could have been there to witness this event. I wish I could have seen the looks on everyone’s face. I want to know what John’s face looked like in that moment. Most of all I wish I could have seen the fact of Jesus, who had humbled Himself in a way beyond our comprehension, who had just been publicly and obviously claimed by the Father. I doubt He looked smug. I doubt He had a look of superiority. My bet is that Jesus looked more humbled, more loved, and more beautiful than anything we can comprehend. And the next time I have a chance to esteem myself I hope I think of these four verses. I hope I can keep a humble heart. And if someone lifts me up, I hope I can capture a glimpse of Jesus’ grace…and remain humble, thankful, and full of love.

Challenge of John the Baptist

“(1) In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, (2) and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ (3) For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:
‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.”’
(4) Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. (5) Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him (6) and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
(7) But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (8) Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, (9) and do not think to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. (10) And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (11) I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (12) His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the bar; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’” (Matthew 3:1-12)
                John the Baptist fascinates me. In other Gospels you learn he is a miracle birth himself. His parents were far beyond the age of child rearing, but God blessed them with John. In the Gospel of Luke you learn that story, and how John was filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb. I wonder what he was like as a child. John the Baptist and Jesus Christ are cousins. If they got together for play dates back then, what would that be like for the both of them? John knew who Jesus was when John was still in his mother’s womb, and when Jesus was still in His mother’s womb. What really fascinates me about John, though, is what Jesus said about him. Jesus said that John is the greatest man to ever live. In the eyes of our Lord and Savior no man will ever reach the level of John the Baptist. I want to know what he was like, what his voice sounds like.
                John had some fire in him, and more courage than I ever realized before. He is out in the wild, preaching and teaching, doing things that are normally done in temples and performed by men trained to them. The Pharisees and Sadducees. But here is John, a wild man who eats locusts and honey. I have never known anyone to be completely filled with the Holy Spirit, so in my mind I bet John had a glow about him. I see him with a spark in his eyes that is both kind and compassionate, and then also burning with the truth of God’s judgment. I doubt it was easy to look John in the eyes. I doubt he was an overly clean man, probably not well groomed considering he lived in the wild. He lived in Judea, Israel, so I have no doubt he had that manly musk of sweat and dirt about him. I seriously doubt he looked anything like the normal teachers of the day. None of that mattered to the people who listened to what he had to say. They didn’t care that he was lowly, poor, and ‘uneducated’ to the standards of that day. The people believed him. I never saw him nor heard him, but I believe him too.
                Now I want to be like John, but I came to John as one of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Maybe just as you are coming to this passage as a Pharisee or Sadducee. I was one of the brood of vipers. I did not come to John to hear what he had to say, I came to basically assure myself that whatever he was saying isn’t true. We have all heard of hell, and the burning torment that will come upon us unless we are saved through the blood of Jesus Christ. So a lot of nonbelievers, and I was one of them, come to the Bible and to Christians to prove them wrong.
                The Pharisees and Sadducees had their reasons for why they shouldn’t listen to John the Baptist concerning Jesus. They were the sons of Abraham, whom God made a covenant with. By that very fact alone they assumed they would get to heaven. The Pharisees and Sadducees also believed themselves to be very righteous, religious people whom God would welcome into Heaven with open arms. These are the two key mistakes I made, and probably the two key mistakes a lot of people make today.
                First is disbelief. Their reason was they were born Jews of the bloodline of Abraham. My reason for disbelief was the hypocrisy I saw among religious people. I was a pagan, worshipping God through nature. Maybe you are an atheist, or a Buddhist, or a Muslim. Whatever you want to call it you believe something else, even if that something else is nothing at all. And according to whatever you believe, when you die, you will be perfectly fine. John tells us that when we come before the judgment seat of God whatever we believed, or assumed, or thought was true isn’t going to matter. God isn’t going to give us a ‘get out of jail free’ card because we casually dismissed him for whatever we thought was better or truer. There are very few people in this world who will be able to claim ‘I didn’t know’. If you are reading this, you definitely can’t claim that. You know. The Pharisees and Sadducees knew.
                “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” John cried this out. He cried this out over and over again. He cried it out so loudly that it created such a stir that the Pharisees and Sadducees had to come see what the big hoopla was all about. He is, still to this day, crying it out loud enough through the Bible and other people that it brought me (a viper) down out of my nest to see what all the hoopla is about.
                The second key mistake I had been making was my belief that my good works was enough. I, after all, was a good person. I didn’t steal. I didn’t kill people. I paid my taxes. I was generally a nice person most of the time. So when I die—and all this stuff turns out to be true—I figured God was a loving God and would let me in because of my good behavior. My tree bears good fruit. Well it does if you cut out all those ‘little white lies’ I tell, but that is only to be nice to people. Oh, and the cutting people off on the road, or in the parking lot, or in a line on Black Friday. But those are just small things. And God surely won’t mind all my cursing, swearing, and taking His name in vain. He should overlook all that worshipping another god before Him….even though it is His first commandment. Because I am nice, and good, and shiny, and pretty. Well I am if you overlook all the sin in my life that God clearly states is sin in the Bible. But God is a loving God, so I should be all good. My fruit, after all, is mostly good. 80/20. Okay maybe more like 60/40. Maybe even 50/50 on a bad day, but those don’t happen to often. Either way, God will understand.
                Yeah. Right. Jesus told us that John the Baptist is the greatest man to ever live. He is the best. He is the most good. If there was ever a tree who would bear good fruit…it would be John’s tree. Jesus is telling me I will never be as good as John. If you can’t accept that, check your pride. John was a good guy all the time. I somehow doubt he had 50/50 days. So what does John tell me? Even he, the best man to ever live, isn’t worthy enough to carry the sandals of Jesus. John says he isn’t even good enough to be the slave of Jesus. So if the greatest man to ever live…by God’s own decree…isn’t good enough to the lowest slave of Jesus…where do I stand? John is the greatest man, and even he can’t do it without Jesus. Even John the Baptist needs the saving blood of Jesus Christ.
                As a viper this made me uncomfortable. In my heart of hearts I knew I was no John the Baptist. So I knew I couldn’t escape hell by claiming my own awesomeness and shiny parts wouldn’t appease God. Once I sorta chewed on that I began to doubt my excuse of not believing would go over well with him either. Somehow I didn’t think God would look favorably on “Yeah I thought I was awesome and I didn’t believe anything you had to say to me.” Sounds kind of disrespectful. Okay to be honest it sounds completely disrespectful. So with my eternal soul at stake (forever is a very long time to spend in hell) I thought I could devote enough of my time to read one Gospel. I actually read the Gospel of John, and I know this is the Gospel of Mark. I am starting with Mark because Mark focuses on the sheer volume of prophecies Jesus actually fulfills. I’ll get to John, and hopefully you will to.
                So I changed my mind, I repented. When Jesus takes his winnowing fan to the threshing floor…I don’t want to be the chaff. For those of you who don’t know what that really means—I didn’t either—here is a small wheat harvesting lesson. They used to gather up wheat in a bar. Then they would come out with this big shovel like spatulas to dig into the wheat harvest. They would toss and bounce the wheat on the shovel thingy to separate out the chaff. The wheat, being heavy, would fall back onto the shovel. The chaff, being light, would get caught in the air and blow away. They would then sweep up the chaff once they were done and throw it into the fire.  I was very lucky that someone cared enough for me to make me read the Bible for myself. I made my own decision.   I am eternally grateful that when it is my turn to be tossed into the air, I will fall back into the safety of Jesus’ harvest…rather than meet the burning end of the furnace.
                It’s strange to think that these twelve verses changed my life. I chewed on them, pondered them, and arrogantly took up the challenge to read the Bible. I, after all, knew better and wouldn’t be swayed. I chuckle at those thoughts now. Jesus did baptize me with the Holy Spirit. I might not glow or look like John did…but my insides, my heart and soul, have never again felt cold or empty or lost. I have a peace I couldn’t ever achieve on my own. My Raggedy Andy caused me to pick up the Bible to meet John the Baptist. John the Baptist stirred me up enough to meet Jesus. Jesus came into my life with the Holy Spirit to sink into a relationship with God. And nothing in my life has been the same since. And for that I will always be humbly, deeply, lovingly grateful.

Trust and Obey

“(13) Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.’
(14) When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, (15) and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.’
(16) Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. (17) Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
(18)’A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’
(19) Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, (20) saying, ‘Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.’
(21) Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. (22) But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. (23) And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’” (Matthew 2:13-23)
                I tried to write about this yesterday but I found myself merely telling the story again only I was adding in the details of the hardships this new, small family had to go through. The Bible is full of accounts of people who heard God speak to them—whether through a dream, a burning bush, or by means of an angel—and they are told to leave everything they know, everyone they love, behind. Just get up, go to this strange and foreign land I am sending you right now. Don’t wait a week. Don’t make travel plans. Don’t figure out a new job before getting there. Just go. Right now. And amazingly enough each one of them did. Granted Jonah got up and went the exact opposite way than God had told him, but in the end Jonah ended up in Nineveh. Back then there was no Google, no MapQuest, no GPS, no cell phones, and not even a mail system for them to ‘keep in touch’. They just got up and went.
                To be honest I don’t know if I am capable of that kind of obedience. I console myself by saying it would be different once God Himself was actually speaking to me. But then I wonder if I would think myself a little loopy to even entertain the idea of God speaking directly to me. Which really just makes me sad. I know God still speaks to us. He speaks to us—the believer and non-believer—through other people, through dreams, through music, and through our own souls. The problem is we don’t listen, we don’t see, we don’t pay attention, we get distracted, we have to answer this text message, we have to take this other call, we need to get coffee first, and we believe we have to be crazy to actually think God has spoken to us. I know I have personally used all of those excuses and some of them more than once.   The hard truth is I don’t know if I could have been obedient enough to God’s will to keep Jesus safe. And having typed out that shameful confession I feel extremely uncomfortable. The truth hurts, and the only way to change that truth is to admit it and figure out why.
                What Joseph and Mary did in the first few years of Jesus’ life is amazing. I read those ten verses and I am in awe of their trust in God. God says to jump and they ask how high. God told me to write a book, and I said, “Sorry, Jesus and I are not on speaking terms right now. So I am going to go do massage.”   Right out of massage school I get diagnosed with cancer and that consumes my life for about 8 months. During that time I meet this great Christian guy and become saved.
                So God comes back and says, “I want you to write this book. Jesus and you are on speaking terms again.”
                My reply? “Sorry, God, that story is too personal and uncomfortable. It is too revealing. Besides, I really want to do this massage thing. I am good at it and it could give me a more comfortable life.”
                A month and a half after I start working as a massage therapist I fall and basically destroy my ankle. I spend the next 20 months unable to walk. I now have severe nerve damage in my left leg. I have a noticeable limp. I had to have major reconstructive surgery on my ankle. All in all, being a massage therapist is out of the question for me. And in these last two years of recovering God has really leaned on my heart and told me He really wants me to write this book. So now I am writing this book.
                It wasn’t three days in the belly of a great fish, but I unfortunately took after Jonah rather than Joseph. I don’t think God gave me cancer. I don’t believe God caused my ankle injury. Had I listened to God and wrote the book the first time I still would have gotten cancer. The difference is I probably would have handled it better emotionally because I would have already had Jesus at my side and had the Holy Spirit as my strength. I would have done things during that time much differently. If I had written the book after the second prodding I might not have gotten hurt. I might not have been at work that day to live up to my klutzy ways.  Then again, because I am most skilled, I might have found another way in another place to have the exact same injury. But the book would have been done by this time, and probably published. And that could mean I would have had added money where I have currently been struggling with what little Workmen’s Comp has been paying me.
                So here I am, writing the book I should have written two years ago. At the end of the day God’s will is being done. If Joseph had woken up from that first dream and said, “Sorry God, I need to finish working on that bench for the Smith’s. It will give me the money I need to make the trip to Egypt for you. Let me get that out of the way first.” I don’t think it would have changed things. I don’t think if Joseph delayed his leaving for Egypt would have enabled Herod’s men to find Jesus and kill Him. God had a plan. I do think that the delay would have cost Joseph in some other way. Why do I think that? Because when we give up God’s perfect, good plans to follow our own design…it can never end as good. We aren’t perfect. We don’t know everything. We don’t see everything. My design will always fall short of God’s design. So why, then, do I always think I know better? Why do we always have excuses wrapped up in the pretty packages of ‘valid reasons’?
                Pride. For me it usually boils down to pride. I was too proud of myself, and all I have done, to think I needed Jesus. I was good enough, despite my pervasive sinful ways, it was more than enough. Jesus dying on the cross to atone for me is redundant and obsolete. The problem is God is never obsolete. He wouldn’t have humbled himself by becoming a human child, dependent on sinful people (because we are all sinners, even Joseph and Mary) to keep Him alive through Herod’s rage, and submit Himself to the degrading, spiteful, hateful ways of man when He could easily wipe any one of us out for all time…..if we could do it on our own. And it took one man (my Raggedy Andy) and cancer to entertain the idea I am not almighty…to open a Bible and read what God actually has to say.
                So I read the four Gospels. I met Jesus. I admitted I am not good enough on my own because I am a sinner. I became saved. But I still held on to my pride. I, after all, had paid a lot of money to go to this school. I really loved giving massage. I was good at it. I could make myself a comfortable life doing massage that didn’t involve me opening my life up to the public scrutiny that would come with the writing of the book. My way was clearly better. My way was clearly less painful. And in my way I still loved Jesus, so everything was good.
                I wonder what would have happened if Joseph took that road. If he obeyed the first dream by taking Jesus and His mother away, but instead of going to Egypt he went to north into Syria, or maybe wanted to spend some time on the Island of Cyprus. I bet that choice would have required several more verses having been written and maybe required another chapter to write about how that had gone. Because I honestly don’t think it would have gone well for Joseph. But Joseph headed the wisdom of the Proverbs. God is good. And true wisdom is found in aligning ourselves to the will of the Lord. He heard and he obeyed. Mary listened to her husband, submitted to his wisdom in obey God, and followed. How many women, today, would make those same choices?
                So as I sit here and read that passage again I want to shine the light on how incredible Joseph and Mary are. I want to hold them up high so that way I can look at how good they are without ever addressing what their light shines back at me. Which is a mistake I think a lot of us make when we read the Bible. God gives me the example of this small family not just so I can admire them…but so I can strive to be like them. See and obey. Hear and obey. Know and obey. Trust and obey. The trusting part is as hard as the obedient part. The world we live in today doesn’t nurture the concept of trust. It feeds us ways to bend trust, sneak around trust, or tell little white lies to trust for its own good.
                Jesus told us, however, that the moment we believe in Him we are not of this world. We should not strive for worldly things. We can either hunger after Jesus and follow His ways; or we can hunger after man and follow in worldly ways. I can honestly say I hunger after Jesus and attempt to follow His ways…while I stumble along the ways of the world. I am getting better at distinguishing between the two paths. I know I will never be able to perfectly follow the footsteps Christ has left for me. But I also know that when I come before the Father…I won’t have to the tolls for all the detours I took. Jesus already bought my ticket, He took over my debt. I don’t have a bill to atone for. So I need to be better at trusting and obeying. For anyone who can pay off my debts to God…is better, more good, more trustworthy, and more deserving of obedience than any other man on earth can ever hope to be.
                So I need to be more like Joseph and Mary. Not because without them Jesus wouldn’t have made it. Jesus would have made it by the God’s grace and through His will. I need to be more like Joseph and Mary for they obeyed God because they knew they needed Jesus. I shouldn’t do God’s will, and write this book, because God needs me to. God will get it done one way or the other. I should be doing God’s will because I need God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in my life. And the only way to have Them in my life…is to walk with Them. Not against Them or away from Them.

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