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Imagine That!

I was flipping through the television channels the other evening and happened to stop for a minute on an infomercial.  On the screen were beautiful people extolling the virtues of their amazing product. Featured in attractive lighting and on polished sets, they demonstrated its versatility, explained its durability and lauded its affordability. The more I listened the more attractive the product became. Only at the very end, after reading the fine print and factoring in the overpriced shipping cost, was the total price revealed. And even though it was spread out over “six easy, convenient payments,” the final tally was still staggering to most folks trying to live on a budget. At first glance, it really was a cool gadget, but after considering the full cost, I decided that some things just aren’t worth it.

imagesAs I reached for the remote to change the channel, I found myself thinking about the story I’d recently read in the book of Joshua. When chapter 7 opens, the Israelites are still basking in their recent victory over mighty Jericho. They were likely shuffling through the shouldering ruins of the once impressive city as their eyes fell on their next target.

By comparison, the city of Ai seemed barely worth noticing. Their small numbers and apparent lack of skilled warriors encouraged and fed an over-confident and caviler attitude in the Israelites. Anticipating an easy victory, only a few fighting men marched on the unsuspecting inhabitants… but instead of a walk-through battle, Israel was handed a resounding defeat.  (vs 3-5)

Disobedience_of_Achan_1403-335As Joshua soon found out, it wasn’t lack of military prowess or strategy that was their undoing; their defeat was due to their failure to follow God’s instructions after Jericho was conquered. The Hebrew soldiers were specifically told to bring all the silver and gold from the defeated city into the nation’s treasury. (Joshua 6:19) However, ignoring that command, a man named Achan took for himself a robe, a couple stacks of silver, and a gold bar. (vs 21)

The tragic story culminates when Achan’s sin against the Lord is revealed… ultimately, resulting in his complete destruction. Achan and his family were stoned to death, and along with all his possessions, they were burned, then buried in the Valley of Achor.  (vs 24-26)

In hindsight, I’m pretty sure that Achan would have walked right by that stack of loot if he’d have taken the time to read and consider the fine print that was scrawled into the bottom of that gold brick. But he coveted the shiny things and took what he wanted without ever realizing that the true cost of his ‘purchase’ would include the life of the beautiful cherub-faced boy that called him Daddy, the brown-eyed little girl who pulled on the back of his robe, and the faithful wife who held his hand every night.

wait-moreThat’s the way it is with all temptation to do wrong. Satan is a master salesman, and sin and rebellion are his products. He taps into our unbridled cravings by spit-shining his wares, all the while concealing the true final costs under layers of our own desire. Too often we chose to satisfy self-centered longings with promises of imaginary benefits that never quite deliver as promised. We sign on the dotted line while our tempter spills out his smooth pitch, and before the ink dries, it’s often too late to undo the damage when his final “Gotcha!” is delivered.

So how do you avoid buying into the wrong things?

I say, use a little imagination!

Most of us have no trouble caressing sinful thoughts and letting our minds create delicious scenarios where we get what we want with no consequences. But, instead of allowing your inner creativity to lead you away from the Lord, why not couple your imagination with the Word of God and let it act as a tether to help you stay close to Him?

Before you accept that invitation, make that shady financial decision, enjoy a lingering embrace, or choose any clearly wrong behavior, think about and imagine the consequences. Don’t be distracted by dwelling on the pleasure you might enjoy. Instead, soberly consider the pain you could, and will feel, if you follow through.

Imagine your wife or husband’s heartache when your secret is revealed.

Envision the embarrassment when you’re fired from your job.

Visualize the haunting regret of repeatedly saying “if only I had…”

Picture yourself bearing the humiliation of lost respect, disapproving glances and becoming the subject of one of those ‘don’t let this happen to you’ stories.

Use your mind to logically anticipate the impact of your disobedience on your life and the lives of others.

imagesGalatians 6:7 exhorts us to “not be deceived” because “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Remember, there are always consequences to disobedience and to ignore the predictable outcome is to by into the enemy’s temptations and begin a journey to your own destruction.

God calls us to His Word and our minds to see reality and then choose to ‘change the channel,’ tear up the contract, and walk away from deception, believing the scriptural truth that “godliness with contentment is (the ultimate) great gain.” (1 Tim. 6:6)

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Itching Ears

I read an article last week that included the text of a podcast interview with Christian singer-songwriter, Michael Gungor. His comments included some startling statements that revealed his views on the veracity of the book of Genesis, the accuracy of the Gospels, and sinless nature of Jesus Christ. Sharing his thoughts about what he considers to be the “mythical” story of creation and the flood of Noah, he said… “… even if He (Jesus) did believe that Noah was a historical person, or Adam was a historical person, and ended up being wrong, I don’t understand how that even would deny the divinity of Christ.”  (Read the entire article here.  Read his personal blog response here.  )

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© Charles M. Shultz

I don’t know about you, but his alarming statements have ramifications far beyond the old earth/new earth debate within Christianity. It’s even more disturbing since these words came from the mouth of the Dove Award winning and Grammy-nominated worship leader.

I believe that these kind of statements are just the most recent example of the kind of fruit that comes from the de-emphasis on teaching doctrine in the church today.  Too many believers (especially the young) are all too quick to adopt beliefs that are popular in the general culture, soak them with personal feelings and rational-sounding logic, then meld these concepts together to create their own more palatable and less off-putting view of Christianity. This is a dangerous trend that, unfortunately, is encouraged by biblically ungrounded  people who’ve been thrust into the spotlight in our churches.

© Bill Waterson
© Bill Waterson

There is no shortage of spiritual topics where there exists generous scriptural latitude for discussion on divergent interpretations or application of God’s written Word. We need much grace, mercy, love, and patience when entering these dialogues, and great wisdom to know when continuing the argument isn’t worth the cost in broken relationships.

However, it’s important to emphasize that the nature of Christ and His work of redemption aren’t up for debate.

To propose that Jesus didn’t know whether Noah and Adam were real, historical people questions His character, His role in creation, and His divinity!  If Jesus is God (as He claimed to be ~see John 4:25-26; Matt 16:15-16) then He possesses and has access to all of the attributes of the Almighty, (including being all-knowing). Colossians 1:16 states categorically that Jesus is creator of “all things, in both heavens and on earth, visible and invisible.”  If someone wishes to appeal to human logic, that verse alone tells us that if He was present and active in creation, He would have to know with absolute certainty if Adam was real or not!

To be mistaken about Noah or Adam, as Mr. Gundor suggests, implies Christ’s knowledge was limited to only the events of His earthly life, which, if true, would significantly diminish His divinity, which, in turn, undercuts His role as redeemer. If Jesus is not God, then He is reduced to a mere  mortal and therefore, unable to be the sinless sacrifice for mankind.

The implications of these aberrant ideas seem to be lost on Mr. Gundor as he continued sharing his personal beliefs:  “Even if Jesus knew that Noah and Adam were mythical, but knew He was talking to people who thought they were real, that’s another possibility. Jesus was just referring to a story he was part of to these Jewish people that know that story.”

Here Mr. Gungor suggests that Jesus may have known the stories of Genesis were “myths,” but spoke as though they were real only because the people of his day believed them to be true.

from King James Video Ministries
from King James Video Ministries

Think about the implications of these words. Doesn’t purposefully concealing the truth from people also mean that Christ was lying? If we are to take this man’s statements at face value, we must understand that his line of thinking ultimately compromises the perfection of Christ!

Today, we tolerate and accept deception as a way of life because everyone puts their particular ‘spin’ on a story. And sadly, hiding facts and fudging numbers is part of how the world operates these days. But while this seems to be the norm in today’s society, it’s still not OK with God. His standard has always been, and will forever be, perfection. Even one ‘little white lie’ or small deception on the part of Christ would mar His qualifications to be the “Lamb of God who takes the way the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

© Charles M. Shultz
© Charles M. Shultz

On the surface, Mr. Gundor’s statements could easily be dismissed as “no big deal,” but Paul warned us that the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.(2 Tim. 4:3-4) Since more every day it seems that day has arrived (see Victoria Osteen video here), we need to be ever vigilant to evaluate the beliefs of those who claim to be leaders and teachers in the church, and to be on guard against the insidious influence of the world and the deception of our enemy.

In Galatians 1:8, Paul insists that believers hold tenaciously to the truth as revealed in God’s Word and reject those who attempt to lead us away.  He says “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!”  And in Titus 1:9, he lists the basic qualifications for leaders in the church to include that “he must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

The scriptures are infinitely practical and wholly coherent, but will frequently conflict with human reason. So, the devil will try to use popular logic, appeals to emotions, and “practical” rationalization to break believers loose from the solid anchor of scripture.  Every time he succeeds, we invariably begin to elevate “what seems right in (our) own mind” (Prov. 16:25) above the clear teachings of the Bible! This is a precarious and dangerous position!  Without an anchor to hold position, when the storm comes, we’ll find ourselves far off course and eventually dashed on the rocks.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. ~ Hebrews 4:12

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Stitchin’ Along

I love quilts! I think my affinity for them can be traced back to my grandmothers, both of whom were skilled in all kinds of needlework and made quilts for both necessity and recreation. I have several of their textile treasures displayed around my house along with a few others that I’ve collected or been given over the years. I’ve even made some myself.

100_7121-1<— I finished this one when I was in college.

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—–> This one to the right was a Christmas gift for my son after he graduated high school last year. It’s become his favorite keepsake because it’s created from a sampling of t-shirts saved throughout his school years.  (I have plans to make each of my other children one in a similar style.)

100_7114-1<—- And this one is a memory quilt made out of fabric scraps from clothes my mom and grandmother made for me when I was a child. Mom and I made the top together when I was in my early 20s.  My daughter, Laura, and I completed it almost two decades later as a middle school history project.

I was retelling my youngest daughter about the meaning of this particular quilt a few months ago, when she said ‘Hey mom, i think that l’d like to make a quilt with you sometime too!”

100_7109-1It just so happens that i have a fabulous Lone Star quilt top that my paternal grandmother, Lissie Williams, assembled but never got around to completing.  ——->

So with the intention making this a end of the year project, I dug it out of storage. But before we could even get started on the actual quilting, we had to make the backing.  That meant Leia needed to learn the basics of using a sewing machine.

Leia
Leia

So, I sat her down in front of my Singer with the goal of showing her how to control the stitching so her seams would turn out nice and straight. Of course, she quickly found out that it’s a little more tricky than it looks when I do it.  Her major problem was that when her seams started to swerve, she would stop the machine and try to manually force the fabric back in line under the needle. I had to keep reminding her that it’s much easier to make corrections when the machine is in motion.

I think that’s a concept that works well in life too. Often when we make a mistake and veer out of line with God’s will, we stop. Condemnation and shame beat us into inaction, but when we sit idle, it’s easy to become knotted up under the enemy’s assault on our minds. What we don’t often realize is that, just as with the sewing machine, it’s easier to get back on course when we engage ourselves in positive motion.

I think that’s what the Apostle Paul meant in Philippians chapter 3. Verse 13-14 say “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’

Do you see that? He tells us to let the past be the past, and choose today to engage our motor and ‘press on’ with a new commitment to godliness. As you do, you’ll see your life soon begin to create a beautiful pattern for God’s glory!

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Blue Morph

Shedding the Camouflage

imagesThe Butterfly Garden is one of the feature attractions at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. The glass enclosed exhibit is home to scores of exotic species of these beautiful, free-flying insects. This time of the year one of the showcased creatures is the Latin American Blue Morpho butterfly. This particular flittering beauty sports iridescent blue wings that can stretch up to seven inches across. When the sunlight bounces off their out-stretched wings, it’s almost as if they glow!

However, when we visited recently, we found it very difficult to take a picture of them. They would only light for brief moments, and when they did, the wings would quickly snap shut, hiding their glorious color. At rest the appearance of the Blue Morpho was plain and uninteresting and which obviously helped them blend into their background.

Blue Morph closedAs I skulked around in the shadows of this artificial tropical menagerie in a largely fruitless effort to snap an elusive shot, it occurred to me that these simple creatures bear some striking similarities to many believers in the world today.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

When we’re saved by Christ, we leave our cocoon of death and are instantly transformed into new creations. Scripture declares emphatically that believers are alive in Jesus, given a restored spirit, a new hope and a brand new life. But too many of God’s people don’t have an accurate understanding of what happened to them and consequently, allow the shroud of their old lives to cloak their new beauty. Old attitudes and ingrained ways of thinking and behaving shade our inner radiance, and the memory of those things that scripture describes as “passed away” holds us back from the experiencing the reality of what is “new”.

But God calls us to shed our disguise, open our wings and show others and the world the difference that Christ has made in us.

If you’re thinking that you’ve tried to change the way you’re living only to end up in frustration and defeat, this isn’t a post about trying harder, or being more committed. Most of us know that true spiritual reformation doesn’t stick through shear willpower alone. Real change in living begins with a change of thinking that is centered on truth. It’s a life-long pursuit aided by the Holy Spirit that draws us nearer to God as we daily walk with Him.  Colossians 3:1-8  gives us an outline of how we can cooperate in the process.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, (vs 1) -Transformation is a work of the Spirit that begins with an encounter with Jesus. Without a changed heart as the starting point, our best efforts become only a flawed self-improvement plan that will never result in a real and lasting inner change.

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (vs 2)Since we have the “mind of Christ,” we no longer have to be slaves to random feelings and ideas. We need to realize that allowing our thoughts to dwell on anything that’s prohibited by scripture is dangerous. However, most of us have to admit that in this area we are prone to indulging in. Too often we invite and even enjoy evil or unrestrained thoughts rather than exercising the power given to us through the Holy Spirit to take “every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (vs 3)This is a very theological concept here that could take volumes to explain, but as simply as possible this means that when you became a Christian, you died to sin. Because of your relationship to and with Jesus, your life is now intertwined with Him! And since sin has no power over Him, it, likewise, has no power over you!

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature… (vs 5-9) – Paul goes on to challenge us to very practically begin to avail ourselves of the power that we have through our relationship with Christ. That is, we need to draw on the His Spirit that now dwells within us and begin to say “no” to sins such as “immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed” (vs 7) also, “anger, rage, malice, filthy language, and lies” (vs 8), and then replace them with the righteous behavior that’s consistent with the alteration that He’s done in us.

…Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. “ – vs 10  – Finally, Paul reminds us that our new lives are continually being altered through our understanding of who our God truly is. In Romans 8:29, the apostle referred to this as “conformed to the image of Christ.” This should be our ultimate goal… to become more and more like His Son until the day that we can finally and completely shed the world’s camouflage and let others see the glory of the Lord in us!

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