6.05.2009

If you are familiar with the book of Job, you would know that God allowed Satan to do whatever he wanted to to Job as long as he didn’t kill him. When Job’s family, livestock and health were all taken from him, we read, ‘At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised." In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Life doesn’t always happen quite the way we plan. But how we choose to deal with the unexpected changes in events will make all the difference on how it will affect us.

For those of you who don’t know, I applied to work with the non-profit Invisible Children while also working on hosting a screening of their documentary in my town. I was so passionate and excited for this job. I was prepared to pay to work for them for the whole summer rather than getting a real job and making money. But even after I had my interview, I didn’t get the job and now I have been without a job for a month and I don’t know why. I’ve sent out resumes to over 15 companies but just haven’t heard back from them. It’s definitely discouraging and I could choose to be really angry that things didn’t go the way I had planned, but the truth is that God’s plans are always so much bigger and greater than we could ever dream of for ourselves. The obstacle is however, when we don’t know what His plan is.

In church, a man was giving testimony and said that while in school in Toronto, things were really tough for him (whether back home, studies, health, a job, etc). He was visibly distressed causing a classmate who always kept to himself to approach him on his worse day and told him that he looked bad and that this guy could offer him something that would take away all the pain. It sounded good so he followed him after school through dark downtown alleyways and up stairs to an old apartment where a group of people were praying by candlelight. The experience he had there completely calmed him down and when he left, he knew that God led him there for a reason; to cure him. When he returned to school the next day and for the rest of the year, this mysterious classmate didn’t return back to class, he was never seen back there again. This man sharing his testimony knew that this classmate was placed in his life for a reason, and once he served the purpose God had for Him, he went on His way.

It’s true though, right? Some people are placed in our lives for just short time, but for a specific reason; and then they’re gone. But I want us to look at this situation from the classmate’s point of view. Why was he there, and why did he leave? Maybe it took him 3 years and a lot to sacrifice in order to afford being able to go to school. He was there for a while and got involved with this prayer circle which he was really loving. Meanwhile his sister was in the hospital and getting more and more sick from cancer, before he knew it he had to leave to go back home to be with his family during his sisters final days. She passed away and it really took its toll on him resulting in him dropping out of school and is still working through depression and methods of coping. It’s been a long journey but through a few special people being placed in his life, he’s well on his way to full recovery and is hoping to return back to school in a year.

You see? Some things happen in our lives that we just can’t explain or understand why. From this classmate’s point of view, he worked hard for something, and just when it started going well he lost his sister and dropped out of school. But through one of his last encounters while at school, he led a stranger to freedom and a better life in Christ, without even knowing it. Just as God places specific people in our lives for brief moments but with monumental influence, He also places us in other people’s lives for their sake and we may never even know about it.

I’m reminded of a scene from the movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Brad Pitt explains a huge long series of events that eventually leads to Cate Blanchett being struck by a vehicle. He states that if only one thing had happened differently, then she would not have been fine. He says that, “sometimes we’re on a collision course and we just don’t know it. Whether it’s by accident or by design, there’s not a thing we can do about it. But life being what it is, a series of intersecting lives and incidents, is out of anyone’s control.” I think there is some truth that can be drawn from this story. Situations happen, both good and bad, and everything has a part in influencing who we are today. Although we may not like what is happening right now, it’s part of a bigger story that we just haven’t read yet. Jeremiah 29:11 says ‘For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ Although we can’t see the whole picture but only see what’s happening in the here and now, God sees it all and has a plan. Whether that plan is in our best interest or the best interest of someone else and God is merely using us to help someone else; like the classmate example from before. I’m not saying that God plans for bad things to happen to us. Because of our sinful nature and God’s just nature, He allows for bad things to happen to us just like He allowed for Job, but He works in such a way that He can still be glorified through it all.

I can choose to be angry with God; discouraged and depressed that He didn’t get me a job with IC. I could regret not getting applications elsewhere earlier as a back-up plan, I could ask myself plenty of ‘what if’ questions regarding my answers in my interview with IC. But God didn’t allow me to go through all of this just so that I would be angry with Him, beat myself up, or wish I made different decisions. Regretting some decisions, however, is healthy because the Holy Spirit puts it on our hearts that we made a wrong choice, but allowing guilt to dwell in our minds is not from God; He offers freedom from that guilt.
He allowed me to go through all of this with IC so that His glory can be illuminated and so that I may grow deeper in relationship with Him. I am not working with IC for a reason; one which I don’t really know yet. But I am going to remain optimistic, hopeful and thankful to God even though my plans fell through as I remember Philippians 4:6-7 which says, ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ I know that He see’s the bigger picture and I’ve got to trust that He allowed me to endure all that I did for a greater cause than to just be disappointed. And I’m eager to see what that reason is.

At the end of the book of Job, 40 chapters later, we read:
After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought upon him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.
The Lord blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job's daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

5.25.2009

Forgiveness. It’s freeing. It’s always a result of pain. It’s a place for healing. It’s often hard. It makes way for restoration. Forgiveness.

Over the last few years, I have had my share of painful experiences through various friendships and relationships. In order to maintain peace, I won’t share details of these relationships, just know that I’m speaking from true experiences from my life with both genders and people of all ages, I’m not just talking about dating relationships here. And I know that we all have our own lives with extraordinarily different circumstances, but I believe that forgiveness has been put in place as a gift from God.

When I drifted apart from particular past relationships, I began to talk about them with my other friends. My intent was not to share about the good times from my past, rather I wanted to express the pain I felt and put all the blame on these people. I wanted to turn as many people as I could against them. Why? Because they hurt me and it felt good to inflict hurt back upon them without actually hurting them. However one time, I had shared some negative opinions of one old friend with a mutual friend and because I feared getting caught and actually hurting this person, I felt I should tell the person myself and apologize. So in an email I explained that I had trash-talked them and our relationship, and I knew that it was wrong, and I wanted to apologize. I thought it was a noble thing to do but it was not received well; but I did feel better about myself, and that’s all that mattered to me.

It wasn’t until this past year that I realized this all needed to stop. I was trash-talking old friendships and past relationships just because they didn’t go the way that I wanted them to. I took any opportunity I could to share with friends about the bad things these people had done to me in the past because it earned me sympathy and revealed the hidden dark sides of these people. But it was not healthy, and not the reason why God put me in those relationships. He didn’t allow these relationships to end so that I would hate them, or warn others about them or to turn others against them. No. God put me in these situations so that I could grow as a result of them. Each and every failed relationship or broken friendship has contributed to the man who I am today. And despite the amount of pain that came out of those, the amount of love and growth makes it all worth it. Do I wish I could go back and change things so that I didn’t experience the hate, the betrayal, the neglect? Not at all, because I’m thankful for those experiences that God allowed me to endure, because I’ve grown with Him so much more through them.

But to be thankful is only one part of the equation. To forgive is what completes this process. It is what brings about restoration, trust and hope for a brighter day. And to be honest, these can only be obtained through the love and grace of Jesus Christ. It was as if He just flicked a switch in my heart and told me that I needed to forgive these people. To make amends with them was such a difficult task. But through His strength, I was able to contact each one of these people who I held grudges against and tell them that I was thankful for them and the relationship that we had. Recognizing that although we were distant now, we did have some good memories and that I was thankful for God placing them in my life for the time that He did. The response was mutual and freeing, and so the restoration began. Now, whenever I engage in conversation about these particular people, I must be sensitive and careful with my words as to make sure my listeners understand that we although had our ups and downs, I am still thankful for them and I don’t hate them; in fact I love them.

Forgiveness. It’s an odd thing. It’s not forgetting the pain, but rather it’s being thankful for the pain. It’s realizing that some things are not worth our stubborn, bitter and hateful attitudes. It’s redemption. It’s love. Forgiveness.

How often do we catch ourselves at the end of the day, resting our heads on our pillows and realizing that we haven’t talked to God yet that day? Or maybe one afternoon you realize that you haven’t spoken to God in the last few days even? And what is our response? We either begin to pray to recap all the time we missed and eventually get off track or distracted and we move on with our day, or we feel incredibly guilty and beat ourselves up for not being good enough Christians because we haven’t acknowledged Christ in our everyday lives.

Before I get started, the disclaimer is that I fully believe 100% that an active relationship with God requires constant communication and we cannot dismiss this fact. It’s integral to our Christian walk that we communicate with God so that we may hear His voice speaking truth into our lives, our struggles and our dreams.

What I want to talk about though, is this idea that we should feel absolutely terrible when we don’t talk to God during our day. Where has this guilt resided from? When we lie down and reflect on our day, only to realize that we haven’t spoken to God at all, why do we feel like we have upset God, or that He is disappointed with us because we’ve wasted our day. He gave us this glorious day, another day of life to live and we didn’t even include Him in it, right?
But I want us to break down that wall. Break down this preconceived idea that God frowns upon our day when we don’t communicate with Him or consciously acknowledge His presence each day. Did you notice that I said ‘consciously’? That’s what I want to talk about, because I am confident that God loves us and smiles upon us each and every day whether we’ve knowingly talked to Him or not.

You see, God gave us family and friends to fellowship with each day. He designed us to dialogue and enjoy the company of one another, we are made to embrace fellowship. So unless you are a hermit, surely you interact with multiple people each day; don’t you think God loves to see us talk with one another?
God gave most of us a great sense of humour and appreciation for funny things. Jesus laughed, God laughs, why shouldn’t we? When you are told a story or something happens right in the moment that causes your sides to splits, or makes tears stream continuously down your face for the next half hour; does God not absolutely love watching you laugh? He created you to laugh, so when you embrace that opportunity, surely He smiles upon you.
Each and every person has been blessed with many skills and talents, some unique and some that can be shared among many. When you sit down and jam on your guitar for an hour, or you take a photo of a beautiful sunrise, or you sweat over the oven to make your family a delicious hot meal, you are utilizing and developing your God-given skills and talents. If you don’t pray first before you partake in these activities or consciously recognize God’s blessing of these gifts, will He not be happy when you do them? Surely He can’t help but smile upon His beloved children when they use the gifts He’s given them.
We all love to eat, and we can all make the choices to eat healthy or not. Sometimes snacking on junk food is nice, but consciously eating healthy is the wiser choice. When we take care of our bodies by listening to what it needs rather than what our taste buds want, God is pleased. When we exercise, go for a run and give ourselves enough sleep so that our body can heal and be in its best shape, how can God be disappointed with us?

Do you see, that in all these ways and hundreds more, we are praising and worshiping God all day long, without even realizing it. When you look outside your window and see the sunset and think to yourself about how beautiful it is, or you get lost in the mesmerizing flicker of a candle’s flame, you are appreciating God’s beauty, His creation, His love for you. We worship God in so many more ways beyond the expected words and music.

And with that said, is it worth beating ourselves up over not praying to God throughout our day? Because if you think back on all that you’ve done each day, you’ll soon realize that you have acknowledged Him and pleased Him without even knowing it, and you’ve made Him smile many times over. Obviously actually acknowledging God in all these things will help you develop in your relationship with Him more and that will make Him smile that much more; and if you don’t consciously communicate with God, you need to improve on that.
When you recognize the majesty of a cloud, acknowledge His craftsmanship it that.
When you have a good talk with someone you haven’t seen in a long time, acknowledge His hand in that.
And when you play a Taylor Swift song on your guitar, first acknowledge His blessing of your skills, and then pray that you learn some better music.

But, when you rest your head on your pillow knowing full well that you haven’t spoken to God at all yet, don’t beat yourself up, and don’t feel He’s mad at you. Know that you’ve made Him smile today, know that He still loves you and always will, and know that tomorrow will bring that much more love and smiles.

5.21.2009

This is inspired by the late Kyle Lake’s [Re]Understanding Prayer.

Scripts.
When you think of scripts, what comes to mind? For me, I think of actors memorizing lines for the purpose of taking on a role of someone else. They read a script to get a clear understanding of what they should say, how they should act, how they can best represent their character.

Our Christian subculture has created its own scripts –its own means of instructing others on how to do things we as Christians do– and Christians always seem to be searching for it. They’re looking for a formula to best do everything. Whether it’s how to dress, worship, read the bible, care for others, forgive enemies, or in this case, how we pray.

How do you worship? Do you stand up? Do you sing songs of praise? How about close your eyes? Do you raise your hands? In some churches and denominations, whole levels off spirituality are derived from the placement or extension of the hands.
What is your first impression of Christian music? When I was in high school, I would share my music with friends and they often loved it. When I told them it was ‘Christian,’ they were so surprised because it didn’t match what they originally perceived as Christian music. They understood a script for Christian music, and what I shared stepped beyond those boundaries and they couldn’t believe it. They were blown away by this new concept.
How do you read the bible? Do you read it one book at a time? A chapter at a time? Maybe you take a small passage and spend weeks meditating on it? Why do you read the bible? Just so you can dissect it and reword it in order to better apply it to today’s world and your current situations?
How do you offer advice or support to a hurting friend? Establish eye contact, ask them questions about their well-being, repeat what they just said in a more sympathetic tone, read a scripture verse pertaining to their situation?

These are just a few examples of the formulas that we search for. And they have become readily available to us especially through thousands of self-help books found in the Christian book stores. And they are pretty simple formula’s to remember, but when they’re used, you can easily lose the genuine realness that should never be faked.

Now here are some examples of the scripts that are offered to us regarding prayer:
-Address God as ‘Father God’
-Thank Him for 5-7 things or people around you before anything else
-Use the word ‘Just’ a minimum of twenty-five times
-Address God at the beginning of each new phrase or sentence in case He forgot you were talking to Him
-Finish every time with ‘In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen’
And for some bonus points be sure to:-use more words, bigger words, quote God’s own scripture to Himself, increase your volume, add more emotion for best results of promotion of self and for the purest and most free connection with God

I often spend long periods of time where I won’t pray out loud. I’m not certain, but I pretty sure that the bible never says that you have to pray out loud –it merely refers to people praying together, or in groups. When I open my mouth and begin to pray aloud, I find it very difficult to not think about what the people around me think of my prayers. I can’t stutter, I have to have my thoughts all figured out first, I can’t repeat what’s already been said in a prayer circle. These are all scripts I am afraid of breaking.
When I worked for a youth group I found myself having to pray one-to-one with the youth. They would tell me generally what they needed prayer for and then I would pray for them. But my prayer became advice for the youth. “God remind him to wake up early to pray, help him to listen to his parents better, help him to see you in nature and think of you during his day when he’s walking down the street, brushing his teeth, etc.” All of this I could have just said to him before praying in order to make my prayer a more direct conversation with God. Instead my entire prayer ended up having the sole purpose of making sure the youth heard what I was saying.
From this point on I learned that I could verbally give my advice and support to someone first and then follow that with silent prayer. Tell him “I'm going to pray for you now silently, but know that I am praying for x, y, and z for you.” Often someone likes to feel supported through prayer, but this doesn’t mean they have to hear your prayers. Prayer is to be an intimate conversation between you and God –not necessarily for others to listen in on. If you’re past this point of caring what others think of your prayers, good for you, but if not, I’d encourage you to take time to really think through your motives and why you’re praying out loud. Maybe you need to take a few steps back and pray silently until you’ve humbled yourself enough to pray out loud.

Jesus associated the Pharisees with the word Upokriseus, which translates to Hypocrite. But when Jesus was using this word, it actually meant two-faced and people would often think of an actor –someone who plays a part on a stage, someone following a script.
The Pharisees had mastered their religion so well that it became more about methods, skills, and techniques rather than a change of their heart. Much like an actor, their lines were unattached from their person.

There are many special groups who share a common language that is largely unknown to those outside of the group. Take televisions for example. Did you know that a DLP DNIe 720p is jargon for Digital Light Processor chip and a Digital Natural Imagine engine and delivers 720 lines vertically scanned in a progressive fashion? Or if you are a true golfer, you would know what Grow Teeth, Backdoor, Four-Jack, In the Leather, Kick, Knee-Knocker, Run, and Thin all mean.

I often use to begin praying and then catching myself quickly, realizing the clich├ęd vibe of my conversation with God. And asking myself, ‘what did I even mean by that?’ I would then go back to the beginning and try to think about what I meant by the words I said before. We need to be ready to locate and uncover the scripts that have been handed down to us for generations in regards to what and how we pray. Consider the following common scripts of prayer:

“Be With”
Jesus said ‘I am with you always.’ Do we have to ask Him to do something He’s already always doing? What we are usually asking for is God to help us identify His presence and involvement in the present situation. So why don’t we just say that?

“Bless”
When else do we ever use this word in our normal vocabulary? We say it so often in prayer, but other than to excuse someone who sneezes, we rarely ever say it. It must be great for God to hear our generic conversation with Him. What we are usually asking is for God to give us or someone else something. Why don’t we stop trying to sugar coat our selfishness and say it like it is?

“Lead, Guide, and Direct”
Three words that all mean the same thing.

“I pray for the best for him”
This doesn’t even make sense. Do we think that God doesn’t already have our best interests in mind, and has us facing what we’re facing for a reason? Whatever we’re going through might be difficult and hard, it might be a sin, but God’s got us right where He wants us every moment of every day. God always has our best interests in mind; we don’t need to ask Him for that. What we should be saying to God is thanking Him for the situation, asking for His guidance and thanking Him for whatever the result of the situation or decision may be.

So the next time you pray, try not to use any of these words or phrases, it will be very difficult. The next time you pray, if you can’t use other normal words to articulate what you’re saying, there’s a good chance you don’t really know what you mean or what you’re praying. The following are more great words that are in our prayer vocabulary, that should be reconsidered. Read through them and see if you can think of what you really mean when you say it… then try using that alternative next time you pray:
Fellowship? Confess? Born Again? Have a Burden? The Lost? Anointed? Raise Up? Prosper? We call on You to…? We ask this only if it be Your Will? Go before us and…?

Prayer is a conversation with God. Someone told me they will sit a chair down in front of them and picture God as a man sitting there in the chair and then they will talk to the chair. It makes Him feel real to them.
We don’t need to impress God with our fancy words taken from scripts passed down through the ages, and we definitely don’t need to try to impress others with our words.
Prayer is a response, prayer is talking to God. He’s asking us ‘How’s your day going” and prayer is our answer to that question. Let’s respond.

“The point is to gain simple conversation with God where tired, vacant language is abandoned and replaced with truthful speech.” –Kyle Lake

I once stayed in a church called The Winnipeg Centre Vineyard (The Vineyard for short) when I visited Winnipeg. John Rademaker was one of the founders of The Vineyard and the best example to me that a rich man can enter the kingdom of heaven. We’re all familiar with that verse in Matthew 19.
Who was John though? John was a professional entrepreneur for 40 years. He was at the top of his game, having founded 3 businesses and managing people and customers from 1960 to 1995. This man was living the life, until he took an abrupt exit from the corporate world...

I was engaged in a conversation at one time where the group was discussing what is worth spending our money on? What are good jobs to have that will provide enough cash? How much money should we be saving and how much can we have as personal spending money? From this, more questions arose: What should we find valuable? What defines enough cash? What are we really saving our money for?
I soon realized where this conversation was going, and I posed the question, how much of your money do you really earn? Surely there is an element of earning your cash, but is it possible that the money we possess is all one big gift?
Too often we make our money and then decide what we want to use our money for and how we can benefit and earn even more for ourselves. Sound a bit much? ‘No, that’s not me’ you say. I’m not accusing anyone, I merely want to point out a fact that many forget too easily, myself included.

The money you claim is yours... isn’t yours?

Does our money not belong to God? Is everything we possess his? He’s provided us with our money, our house, our food, despite whether we’ve necessarily earned it or not. Specifically here, God blesses us with this thing called cash, and in return, don’t you think He expects us to use it wisely?
I don’t understand why I think I can do whatever I choose with my money; I wonder if it is even technically mine. God has entrusted this money to me, but not to do with whatever I please. To entrust, is to pass ownership of something to someone else, suggesting that it was His to begin with. Not only do we need to consciously recognize whose money we are spending, but wouldn’t it also be a good idea to make sure that the rightful owner is alright with it.
If God gives you His money, He’s got a reason for it, agreed?
If you want money and He doesn’t provide it to you, He’s got a reason for that too, right?
It’s His money and He can do with it what He chooses. And more often than not, He chooses the right things to invest His money into...

Ecclesiastics 5:10 says, “The one who loves money will never be satisfied with money, he who loves wealth will never be satisfied with his income.”
Why do we waste so much money? We’ll go out and buy fast food while we have perfectly great food already back home. We’ll spend $10 a week on the latest movie. We’ll upgrade our shoe, hat or purse collection to match our newest outfit or the latest fashion. Whose money is this again? Is it ours to do with what we want? If you ripped your one pair of jeans and have no replacement pants, then sure, buy a new pair for yourself. If you haven’t had your favourite chocolate bar in a while, then sure, treat yourself to something nice. God has entrusted you with this money, and you’ve got to be wise with your purchases. Do you need this or that? Do you think God shared His money with you so that you could buy yourself five $20 CDs so that you could get the sixth for free? That’s something for you to talk with Him about.

1 John 3:17 tells us that “Whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?”
Why do we tend to hold onto our cash so tightly? Is it the security we feel it offers us; is it this sense of earning that prevents us from giving it up, what is it? When it comes to helping others by giving them money, why do we think so hard about it or try to avoid the thought completely? And I’m not just talking about flicking a quarter into a man’s Styrofoam cup. But how about helping out the lady in front of you who doesn’t have enough money to cover the groceries that she chose, or spotting the guy in line the extra change he needs to buy his coffee? Or buying lunch for the really annoying classmate who forgot their food, despite how much you can’t stand them?
It comes down to the convenience of the situation, the relationship you’ve established with the individual, and back to this question of whether they’ve earned the cash. But who cares about all of that? Why do we have this checklist; that if 4 out of 5 boxes are checked, then we will help someone financially. But it’s not our money, remember? This is God’s money that we’re holding on to, and He’s given it to us for a reason: not to bless ourselves all the time, but to bless others too. And if the opportunity arises to give our money away for the better of someone else, I think that is exactly what God would want us to do.

But what if you’re tight on cash? You need that $20 to buy this, or you were saving it for that, or you’re a student and you need all the money you can get just to survive? This may all be true, but like I said before, God will provide us with the money we need. If he wants to give us His money, then He will. But we must step out in faith, that through honouring God by sharing with others what He has shared with us, He will bless us in return in whatever way He sees fit.

1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains.”
John Rademaker is such a powerful example to me. God entrusted millions of dollars to John over the span of 30 years. There were bound to be times where John spoiled himself throughout those years and was not wise with his cash. But what did He end up doing? John stopped in his tracks one day and thought to himself, “Why am I making all of this money? When I die, I can’t take this monetary wealth with me.” And from that point on John decided to listen to the Holy Spirit in taking this money and using it to serve others. John invested this money into renovating an old downtown Winnipeg warehouse into a church. This beautiful building serves as a place for worship, but it is also serves meals, a daycare, hosts guest groups, has meeting rooms, and the second floor now serves as a home for people off the streets who want to get clean from the drugs and lifestyle they are currently in. From my understanding, John continues to invest the money God has given him into buying more nearby buildings and renovating them into better homes for current and future residents. John has taught me that I can be rich and still serve God wholeheartedly despite how difficult that may be for others. He has taught me that God may give some people just enough money to get by, and give others millions of dollars. In the end, the money still belongs to God and we must be willing to hear His voice telling us how we should be spending it.

Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

5.20.2009

We all know about the idols that people physically bow down to and worship. Golden statues that people pray to and feel comfort from and receive blessings from. These are just one type of idol. But how about all the idols you have? You say you don’t have any figurines on your mantel though, you don’t pray to anything, you don’t burn incense in hopes to have good fortune. But how about all the other idols that are around us? There are so many of them, and even without our knowing it, a spectator may easily be able to say just as Exodus 20 does, “They are becoming like these idols they are surrounded by.”

How do we define an idol? Something is an idol if it receives more of your worship than God does. It takes the place of God, it competes with our time with God and they are more often than not just bloated good things. When we say yes to what the world offers and no to God; that is an idol. When you believe that someone/thing did something for us when it was really God who did it; that is an idol. Likewise, when you say yes to Jesus, you’re saying no to the pretenders.

Idols are so much more than physical statues that people bow down to, they are all around us and they seek to take the position of God in our lives. However, we read in Colossians 1:15-23 about God’s supremacy. Everything is made for God, and by God. We can not take these huge definitions of God and just tag them on to something else. God says to us in Exodus, ‘you shall have no other God’s before me.’

How do we hear the voices of idols? They are found in our head, through those around us, and through various other inputs in our everyday lives. An example would be the narrow view of what beauty is, determined by the magazines issued to our world. The magazines will tell us what beauty is and whether we fit the category or not and where we are ranked. These depictions of beauty say to us, ‘We own you. We will rate you. We will tell you your worth.’ As soon as we allow a magazine to do this and we listen to it, it becomes an idol.

Not only do idols tell us something that is contrary to God’s teaching, but the benefits that they offer us are temporary. Idols tell you your value, they measure you, but God loves everyone, and values each person equally. Idols tell you to use your power to fuel you passions/pleasures, but God gives you power and defines its limits. Idols tell you that pleasure is found in seduction and if something feels good then don’t stop, but God gives us proper mixtures for all our pleasures and tells us not to tamper with the mixture.

Taking the example of the magazine, only God is loving and wise enough to define the value of humans. When you insert someone or something else in to replace this position then you have an idol. You may not like the thought of that, but just as much as the voice of people affects us, so our voices affect others. We have the power to create idols for others by putting value on them, but we must be strong enough to fight that temptation and declare that we will not sit alongside all the idols on the mantel that are trying to put value on others.
So what idols put value on us and how? Money, peers, physique, clothing, association, intelligence and media. They all attempt to put value on who we are and how we compare to others by ranking our economic and social status.

Right from Genesis, humans have had this desire for power. In response to this desire, idols tell us who has control over us, and who we have control over. Maybe you can relate to one of these three: a victim using power to control others by acting more helpless than they really are; a persecutor using power to control others by bullying them, withdrawing power from them and placing value on them; or a rescuer using power to control others by smothering them with love and sympathy. God tells us who can have what amount of control and power over other people. As soon as we take advantage of that power and use it for self-gain, it is not glorifying to God and therefore is an idol.
Similar to the idols that place value on us, the idols that tell us what power we have, including physique and intelligence, by using our superiority over others to control them and there actions. Another idol may be the voices telling us about the false power that a certain race or gender may have over another.

When we talk about idols that use pleasure to lead us away from God’s direction, it’s not too hard to think of relevant examples. How can a pleasurable thing become an idol? First, if it consumes all your time and you can’t go without it, it is an idol. If you can’t leave it without still knowing that you’re loved by God and that He is the fill for the void you are trying to fill with this pleasure, then it is an idol. Likewise, if there is a pleasure that you’re able to give up and miss, but know that you don’t need it, then it isn’t an idol to you.
But there is more to it than that. Maybe you’ve dealt with a lot of heartache, sufferings and struggles in your life. Maybe the pleasure you seek isn’t to fill a void or make you feel really good, but it’s just less pain. Some may say, “I know God loves me, but that just isn’t what I want to hear right now.” Take the pleasure of drugs for example; they make you forget, they can free you from the pain inside.
God’s given us pleasurable things in this world to enjoy, and He tells us to be creative with them, but not to mess with their purpose or mixture. Idols tell us that they have the authority to rewrite the formula of these pleasures. God’s given us a mixture for sex with faithfulness, but idols tell us to play with sex by mixing it outside of wedlock and faithfulness.
So what idols encourage pleasure by means outside of God’s intent? Videogames, movies and music can distract us and teach us false morals and beliefs. Sex is a pleasure that God’s given us but when taken outside of wedlock it can become a dangerous idol. The visual stimuli of nudity, the thoughts in our heads, our desire for intimacy, and the physical stimuli with others can all be stemmed from God’s good intentions of pleasure with which we take advantage of and abuse. Relationships with friends, girlfriends and boyfriends can become idols when we can’t be without them. If we need them, find our identity in them, or seek constant approval or acceptance from them, then that relationship has become an idol. Even our hobbies and skills can become idols. If you become so addicted to hockey, guitar or coffee that you can’t give it up or if you find your identity in it rather than in your relationship with God, than it has become an idol.

So, how do we cipher through what is God’s voice and the voice of idols? How do you know if it’s God telling you to stop investing so much time in a friendship because He wants more of your time, or an idol telling you that you don’t deserve such a good, healthy friendship, that all you deserve to be alone. How can you tell if it is God giving you talents and Him wanting you to use them as best you can, or if it’s an idol telling you to be the best you can be and work as hard you can to always be at the top of your game?

The following are a few easy ways to tell whose voice it is that you’re listening to:
-Through prayer and biblical knowledge; you should be able to find the answers to your questions and be able to tell what is God’s voice verses an idol’s
-Through community accountability; you should have close friends that you can trust to tell you to smarten up when you need to
-By trying to give it up; you should be able to give it up. You can miss it, but know that you don’t need it
-By asking yourself; if you are too afraid to hear the answers to your questions of whether something is an idol or not, then there is a good chance that it is an idol. If you can’t even ask yourself the questions, then you really need to work out some things

Idols are all around us, and Satan will always use them to try to lead us farther off the track to a healthy relationship with God that is glorifying to Him. What idols are in your life right now, and how will you eliminate them? Sharing your struggles with God is a great place to start. Go ahead; see how He will teach you what it means to take down the idols on your mantel.

What does the bible say about how we should support our church financially? Or how we are to support our missionaries?
There’s something in there about tithing, right? About ten percent, although some believe that is just an estimate; just a suggested amount. Others take it literally and faithfully give ten percent of their income to the church every week.

Who are missionaries? Some people believe that all Christians are missionaries? But there is something distinctly different between missionaries and evangelists. A missionary is a special kind of evangelist who goes deep into groups where it’s hard to reach. I think that Romans 10:14-15 identifies the important role of a missionary well. Evangelists are here, right now and share about who God is through their words and deeds.

Just because we are not on the frontlines like the missionaries are, that doesn’t mean we get to sit around and wait for the time to pass. Our mandate is to proclaim Christ here while facilitating the proclamation of the missionaries wherever they are.
So how are we to be a part of the supply line in supporting our missionaries? We can supply foundational prayer, and we can always be inquiring and encouraging the missionaries perseverance. We can help find more people to send out possibly including ourselves, and lastly we can help through financial support.

It is so important to financially support your church at home, but it is equally important to supply the missionaries with what they need. Consider the Marine Corps. For every one man on the frontlines, it requires 10-20 men to stay back to support him. The four services that the Marines are to provide are Beans (the supplies), Bullets (the ammunition), Band-Aids (transporting injured soldiers), and Bad Guys (transporting enemy prisoners). The Marine’s rarely ever hold a gun at the frontlines, but without them the men on the frontlines would never succeed. In Latin, Semper Fidelis means to ‘Always Be Faithful’ and this is the Marine Corps motto as it should also be the motto of every evangelist staying back home. Staying back does not mean sitting back and relaxing while the missionaries do all the work. We have a role in all of this.

If you currently do not financially support your church, I strongly urge you to consider it. It is something that I am working through as well. If you feel you are tight for cash, and don’t want to give up very much money, think about whose money it is. God commands us to give what we have to others and to the church, so despite how little amount of cash we have, we need to learn what it means to step out in faith; that through honouring God by sharing with others what He has given us, He will bless us in return in whatever way He sees fit. We must have faith that God will provide us with the money that we need.
If you do support your church, I thank you for your faithful service; but how about your missionaries? How are you supporting them? Anything is great, as little or as much as you can give. It doesn’t matter what others think about how much you give, what matters is that you give.

Are you fulfilling your role in the supply line?
.we consume so much.

How have we reached this place where we go to restaurants, order pretty decent food for a pretty ridiculous price, and can rarely eat all that’s on our plate? Not because we ate too much before the meal, but simply because the plate is piled high with food! As it turns out, the price isn’t actually all that ridiculous because you really are paying for what you’re eating. The portions on these plates should really be able to feed a few. But no, we decide to order the whole thing for ourselves, and because it’s our money, despite how full we may be, we know we better eat everything even if it gives us pains for the next few hours that follow. Much like a buffet, you’re full but you feel you have to keep eating because you’ve paid so much for this food.

‘What about the starving children in Africa?’ We hear this often, that we don’t really let it phase us anymore. They’re over there, we’re here. It’s a world away, and I’m hungry. If they were here I’d share it with them. But by me not eating all this food, isn’t going to save those hungry children with flies in their faces.

We’re so tolerant of something that we should be losing sleep over. Maybe if we eat wiser and cheaper, our friends and family will notice and appreciate our reasons. Maybe if they join in, their co-workers will recognize it and will consume less. Maybe if enough people make conscious efforts to eat less, the media will grab hold of the restaurants who are losing business and tell stories about it. And maybe when the news stations broadcast that this is all being done because of those starving in other countries, something will be done.Maybe… but even if none of that happens, we should still try to eat wiser and cheaper and tell our family and friends why we’re doing it. Not in a self-proclaiming manor but to raise awareness and to free our self-conscience.

.we consume so much.

.but it’s our choice.