Thursday, May 19, 2011

Praying for a Drought

"Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it. Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof." Psalm 65:9,10

Living here at the beach makes it seem like an almost alien concept. After all, the tide comes and goes, each time rising to the same mark in the sand as the time before. The water level never fails to reach its pre-determined height in the sand, so the concept of a drought is almost...well, absurd.

The consequences of a drought here at the beach in Florida are almost non-existent. A lack of rain here never affects someone's livelihood, only their water bill. If the rain fails to fall, you just adjust your lawn sprinkler timer. However, growing up in the farm country of The Ozarks, I am keenly aware of the consequences of a drought. So serious are its repercussions in that part of America that the very livelihoods of families depend on the simple act of rain falling from the sky.

The contrast between these two places are polar opposites. Here at the beaches, people pray for sunshine on their days off of work. In the Ozarks, people pray for rain so they can continue to work. But what about a Christian? Should we pray for rain, or a drought? Let us examine this question from a unique perspective.

Galatians 6:7 says, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." (emphasis mine). Simply put, whatever a man puts out, that is what he can expect to return. If you are a man of evil and wicked ways, you can expect a life of hardship. If, however, you are someone who forgives his enemies, you can expect forgiveness from your Heavenly Father in return.

David, in Psalm 51 prayed to God for forgiveness for his actions with Bathsheba. Specifically, David prayed that God would "Deliver me from bloodguiltiness..." (Psalm 51:14). David prayed that God would withhold the consequences (i.e., spiritual death) of his evil deeds, and in effect, prayed for a drought. David knew very well the concept of cause and affect. A harvest must first be planted as seeds that are sown, and Davids' actions were the seeds that would grow into his spiritual separation from God.

As Christians, we have the ability and the right to pray the same prayer that David prayed. The prayer of forgiveness. Just because we are Christians does not mean that we will live the rest of our lives blameless. Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The key word is all. Not just some, or a few, or those born on January 28th. For ALL have sinned. But in the very next verse, Romans 3:24 says, "being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,". 

Just like King David did in Psalm 51:3, we have the ability to acknowledge our transgressions and be forgiven of them by asking that God purge our sins, and hide His face from our iniquities (Psalm 51:7-9).

For those whose lives depend on rain, it would almost seem counter-productive, but a Christian should pray for a drought. A seed that's been sown-whether good or bad- cannot grow without rain. Could you imagine having to pay for every single sin you commit yourself? It would be impossible! After all, as the old saying goes, "When it rains, it pours." So while it may be true that the farmer requires rain for his Earthly well-being, the Christian depends on a drought to hold onto his spiritual life.

So regardless of whether you live at the beach, or you plow fields for a living, the next time you pray to God, be sure you pray that He sends a drought your way.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Man Who Betrayed Christ Yet Kept His Integrity

The world Integrity is defined as "a firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values: incorruptibility."

It's the last part of this definition that catches my attention. Incorruptibility. Just the very word leaves the impression of strength. The inability to be swayed from one's moral compass.

The scene opens up with Jesus and His Apostles sitting in the upper room partaking in the passover feast. Jesus had just revealed to His followers that one of them would betray Him, and as would be expected, they began to question who it would be. But there was no questioning on Jesus' part. He knew exactly who would betray Him. He knew whose kiss would seal His fate. Someone belonging to Jesus' inner circle had a momentary lapse of integrity. At the very least, they were not incorruptible.

However, Peter being true to his nature, stood up in front of the other Apostles, and in an attempt to set himself above the rest, proudly declared that he would go to the death with Jesus (John 13:37). I can imagine the scene in my mind. With his body half turned toward Jesus, and half turned to the others, Peter swears such an allegiance while beating his right fist against his chest in an act of dramatics.

However, Jesus had to deliver bad news to Peter as well.

Not only would Judas Iscariot betray Christ, but Simon Peter would also deny Him. And not just once, but three times before the cock would crow (John 13:36-38).

"Impossible!" Peter said.

"Wait and see, then." replied Christ.

I have no doubt in my mind that Jesus knew what fate would become of Judas Iscariot, and He had the wisdom to resign Himself to it. However, Jesus didn't give up hope on Simon Peter.

Two men, both committing what essentially amounts to the same crime against Jesus. In this instance, denial is betrayal. It doesn't matter how you cut it. The two are inseparably linked. Two men committing essentially the same act, yet two different paths were taken by each man. Judas Iscariot sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver. At the very moment Peter opened his mouth and uttered the final denial, the cock opened its mouth and crowed the fulfillment of Jesus' words.

And it's at that very moment that Jesus' eyes met Peters. I was perhaps this look from Jesus that saved Peter from sharing Judas' fate.

Both men had lost their integrity. One loss was made permanent, but one was only temporary. In fact we know that Simon Peter went on to be a great leader for the early church, and even delivered the first sermon after Christ's crucifixion. Talk about a come back!

I often wonder what was going through Jesus' mind when He looked into Simon Peter's eyes early that morning (Luke 22:61,62). I can only speculate, but I don't believe it was spite or anger or an "I told you so!" attitude. These thoughts would have been completely against Christ's character. In fact, Jesus had probably already forgiven Peter, and was thinking about how great of a leader he would go on to be, despite this minor slip-up. Jesus could recognize talent, and He saw it in Peter.

Yet, here we still have a crossroads. Two men, two acts, two decisions to be made. We have an instance where one man had a momentary lapse of integrity, and betrayed Jesus at His weakest hour, yet he went on to recover. On the other hand, we have a man who did the same exact thing, yet didn't even attempt to recover his integrity. He went out and resigned himself to his self-imposed fate.

So the question is, who decides if we have integrity or not? The answer is only we can make that decision. To me, this is rooted in the fact that it doesn't matter if you have a lapse of integrity, what matters is what you do after the lapse.

Did Peter collapse under pressure and become momentarily corrupted? Yes.

Is that all he is known for? No.

 Did Judas Iscariot become momentarily corrupted? Yes.

Is that what he is known for? Pretty much.

What is sad is that Judas was not beyond forgiveness for his actions, yet he resigned himself to a fate that did not need to be. It's true that we are in fact human and subject to a lapse of integrity on occasion. Having integrity does not mean never stumbling, but rather whether you pick yourself back up or not. Peter betrayed Christ, yet he was able to recover and keep his integrity. The old saying is, "It doesn't matter how to run the race, but whether or not you finished it." .

So you've made some mistakes in life. Do you go out and resign yourself to your fate, like Judas? Or do you take a queue from Peter and look Jesus in the eyes, accept His forgiveness, and cross the finish line upholding your integrity?

Only you can make that choice. So what will it be?

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Power In Perseverance

From my desk in my office at home, I can look out the window and I can see almost my entire back yard. I've sat at my desk and looked out this window dozens-if not hundreds- of times before, but something today caught my eye.

Last year, I blocked off an area in the right rear corner of the yard with chicken wire to keep my dog, Bailey, out of it. He loves to run and play in the back yard, but this was somewhere I'd rather he didn't tread. Anyway, inside this 20'x20' space I grew all different herbs, spices, peppers and melons. I grew Habanero Peppers, Basil, Oregano, Blackberries, Blueberries, and even the sweet Spanish Chayote. However, the fact of the matter is that last spring and summer here in Florida was exceptionally hot. We even broke hundred year old records for the longest consecutive heat waves and going the most days without rain fall. Summer was so brutal that in reality, few plants had a fighting chance at survival through the summer, let alone to regenerate this year. The conditions were simply not right for growth. So, after all the plants were done producing, we tore the wire fence down and relinquished the corner back into Bailey's control.

However, today as I sat down at my desk and opened my blinds, I looked out to the old garden (of which I admittedly have done nothing to this season), and see a couple of plants beginning to sprout up. I was stunned because I was certain that everything would have to be replanted after such an unforgiving summer, and the winter snaps. I guess I just underestimated the persistence of these plants. 

There's a certain wonderful mystery in perseverance. It is essentially the inability to give up. The very word of perseverance means the steady persistence in adhering to a course of action, a belief, or a purpose, despite opposition or discouragement. God gave us the first example of perseverance by not destroying man after their disobedience in the Garden of Eden (Genesis Ch. 3).

Perseverance was shown when Joshua's troops marched around the city of Jericho wielding trumpets instead of swords. Surely they must've been thinking Joshua was sending them out on a suicide mission (Joshua 6:1-27). But, they marched on anyway and by quitting time on the 8th day, Jericho had fallen.

Perseverance was shown when Naaman dipped 7 times into the filthy River Jordan in order to come out clean. Weren't the rivers back home cleaner and more likely to do the trick (2 Kings 5:1-19)? But Naaman dipped into the River Jordan anyway, and found the proverbial 'Fountain of Youth'.

Perseverance is Job not saying, "Yes, Dear" to make his wife happy by "just cursing God and dying" (Job  2:9). Instead, Job scraped the boils off, had a conversation with God, and rebuilt his life bigger than before.

Just as there is wonder in this plant that's growing for a second season, there's wonder in all of God's creation. The Church which Christ built, the Church of Christ, is no exception. There is a wonderful purpose in Christ creating His church. We as Christians, like this plant, have the odds stacked against us. However, just as the plant is able to get enough nutrients, food, and water from the surrounding soil to persevere and grow, we too get enough spiritual nourishment from the church to continue our growth. Make no mistake, Christ created His church in part so that His followers can count on, and rely on each other to stay faithful (Hebrews 10:25).

Just as sure as the tide goes in and out, you can believe that you and I will stumble and get discouraged in our daily walk with Christ. And it won't happen just once. It will be a lifetime of sore knees and bruised egos. The question is whether you're going to go at it alone, or if you're going to allow others to pick you up and dust you off?

Monday, May 2, 2011

One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Treasure

"One man's trash is another man's treasure."

At least that's how the saying goes, anyway. I remember when I was a kid riding through the neighborhood with my dad, and sinking low into the seat as I watch him pull over to inspect what someone had put out to the curb as trash. Now, to be fair this wasn't their regular household trash, but things like an old entertainment center, an old TV, or perhaps a coffee table. I thought to myself that maybe they were items that they had tried to offload in a yard sale the previous weekend, but nobody bought them, and they just wanted to get rid of it. At least that's what I told myself in order to make myself feel better.

I vaguely remember it always looking something like this.
My dad was a pro at it, too! It didn't matter what was on the side of the road, my dad could get it home. And in one trip, guaranteed. You could put him in a Pinto with a wife and three kids and he'd still be able to get an entire bedroom suit home, including a set of bunk beds. That may be an exaggeration, but not by much. The funny thing is, that growing up I thought that he was the only person alive who ever did something like that. Come to find out, it's a very common practice! Though, I didn't know this until I met my wife and found out her dad does the same thing! "Hallelujah!" I thought to myself. What a sigh of relief! Sure, my dad was still weird, but he was not alone in his weirdness! The bad news was, now I had to deal with riding down the road with a father-in-law who stops at piles. And the tradition was passed on to Jen's younger brother, David. In fact, as I write this, my guest bedroom (which used to belong to David when he lived with us) still houses a couple of these "recycled" items that he had picked up throughout his college years.

Just yesterday, I was out talking with my neighbors who had just cleared out their garage and made a "junk pile" out by the curb to be picked up at trash day. As we spent the afternoon talking, at least two vehicles driving by stopped to check out what was in the pile. However, this is not something new, something thought up by people who live in a society of over-abundance. In fact, it has been going on for hundreds of years.

The scene was early 1500's Europe, around the time Martin Luther was sending his translation of the Bible to the printing presses. It's in this period of Europe when a young typesetter's daughter was playing in her father's shop. As she played, she came across a crumbled up piece of paper that had the words, "for God so loved the world that He gave". No ending was given, no conclusion, no completion of the thought. The sentence simply was not finished.

The sentence was not finished, but what was said changed this little girl. With little knowledge of God, or of His Word, she had grown up terribly afraid of God. Yet, there she stood, holding the words that made that fear seem... unnecessary. Suddenly, she felt an ease come over her in regards to God. The little girl stuck that piece of paper in her pocket and ran home.

When she arrived, she pulled the paper out of her pocket and showed her mother. Her mother, like her daughter, had very little knowledge of God or His word. However, the mother read the words anyway. 

"For God so loved the world that He gave" 

Again, no completion of thought. No ending to the sentence. No ending to this sentence left the mother baffled. Confused, she asked her daughter, "Well? What was it that He gave?" The daughter simply smiled at her mother and replied, "I don't know, but whatever it was, it must've been wonderful, because He loves us."

How much simpler can you make the Gospel message? The entire life-no, world-changing Gospel message was summed up for this little girl, found on a piece of paper that had been crumbled up and discarded by her typesetter father. Where he surely read a mistake or a typo, she read a message of hope and love.

And she was changed forever by it.

The fact of the matter is that God doesn't have to give us anything. However, He loves us so much that He gave the most precious gift that any parent could ever dream of parting with-His beloved Son. I wonder what the mother would have thought if she had been able to read the rest of John 3:16? "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not parish but have everlasting life." I suppose I'll never really know the answer to that question, though I can speculate that, being a parent herself, the significance of what was given would not have been lost on her.

What I do know though is two things:

1) The act of carrying home another person's trash started hundreds of years before my dad did it, and;

2) Sometimes, one persons trash truly can be a treasure. A treasure that has the power to change lives.