Galatians 5:22-23: Poll

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Published in: on November 11, 2011 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Breaking

I will tell them, “Come back, and I will cure you
of your unfaithfulness.”
They will answer,
“We will come back, because you
are the LORD our God.” (Jeremiah 3:22, CEV)

Project 168 is a film festival where directors randomly choose a Scripture verse and have 168 hours (a week) to make a movie inspired by the verse.

The film Breaking, inspired by Jeremiah 3:22, brought me to think about God in a way I never had. 

It’s hard to believe God would do this for us.

And yet, from the moment I watched the movie, I knew it was true, because it is exactly how my journey of faith has been.

I was raised in church.  I memorized Scripture verses.  And I thought I loved God.  I remember my first prayer for salvation at probably about four years of age.

It wasn’t my last.

As a seven year old, I would lie awake at night thinking about Hell.  I was afraid of isolation and fire.

One night, I asked Him to come into my life.

I thought I knew what love for God was after that, and I think I really did.  I loved God and I felt His Presence in my life.  I radiated God and I wanted to follow Him.  I didn’t put it that way; I didn’t even know what following was, but I was ready.

But then I found out becoming a Christian wasn’t supposed to be about a radical life change.  You were supposed to do things the same way.  Christians weren’t radical.  They were just like everybody else.  Only, they were going to Heaven.

And somewhere between eight and ten, I totally lost what it was to love God.

I had times of trying to find that love again.  At thirteen, I thought I discovered God’s love again at a church camp.  But the next year, I used that new love I thought I’d found and tried to take it on a summer mission trip with me.  The trip was like Armageddon to my faith.  Any hope I had for God’s love was almost leveled.  And even if He loved me, I hated Him, and I knew He knew it.  I had seen what I thought was Christianity at its worst: two-faced, back-biting, deceitful, coercive bullies.  I didn’t want to be in that group anymore.

I came back from that trip feeling like I had given God a chance to show He loved me, and He had showed He didn’t, and now we understood each other and it was time to move on with life.  And at the same time, I was crazy afraid of Him.  I didn’t want to go to Hell.  So I played prayer games where I would hide my animosity, pray for salvation, ask for forgiveness, and move on.  The problem was, I couldn’t move on.  So I started cycling through prayers like a record on a loop.  It was a nightmare, and I didn’t know how to get out of it.

I still (sometimes) went to church, and I learned a smattering of theology, enough that I thought I was really smart.  And God became a frustrating logic puzzle for me that I couldn’t figure out.  Have you ever seen those brain teasers that are two wire objects mixed all together? I always set those down on the table and stop trying to figure them out.

I didn’t like anything that made me feel dumb.  And, in the same way, I tried to set God down, and out of my life.  I couldn’t sort out any more whether He loved me or hated me, or how good was really different from evil.    Everything was all twisted up for me.

My dad got sick, and that was like the last strike against God to me.  I was sure He was proving to me once again that He hated me.

I had been bothered for years by the idea of predestination.  I believed God chose who He wanted and who He didn’t, and so I knew it was all over for me.  The truth was, if God chose who He wanted, I was never making it on that list.  There was no way I could compete.  I was the worst of the worst: a Christian turned traitor.

On the other hand, there was no way, even if God chose the worst people, that He would pick me, because my life was boring and dumb.  I played video games all the time.  If God was wanting to show how good He was by picking the least desirable, I’d still get passed up for somebody who had been an exciting sinner, like a serial killer or something.  That was really how I thought–except, I didn’t think that way, because I didn’t allow myself to think that way.  If I was going to Hell, I was going to Hell.  Why would I want to think about that ahead of time?

I always held out for the hope that there was some kind of “lawyery” way I could get into Heaven, like maybe God would take me in because I’d prayed the right prayer, even though He didn’t love me.

I lived in this stupid soup of meaningless drowning.  It was so dark in my head that I didn’t even try to find a light switch.  I thought at least I knew myself, but if there had been a mirror in front of me, I would have started talking to it.  I didn’t know who I was.

That is, until one day, I had a crash.

I didn’t hit the steering wheel of my car.  But I did have the sense of waking up to a whole new world.

Where in the world was I?  And how had I gotten there?

For the first time in 18 years, I saw the love of God.  Only, what I was seeing wasn’t the love of a God who picked me because I was an adorable 8-year-old with an awfully sharp memory for Scripture and who hadn’t done anything too awfully bad.

I was seeing the love of a God for an adulterer.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

I had been so unfaithful to God, so horrible to Him, so monstrously unlovable for years and years and years after committing to follow Him forever.  There was no way, no way, NO WAY God could want me back.  It was all over for me.  It had to be.  I was scared, so scared Hebrews 6:4-6 had been written about me.  I knew I should not be allowed to come back.

They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. (Jeremiah 31:9a, NIV)

I couldn’t believe God was opening the door I had shut.  I wondered if I was deceiving myself.  I still ask myself that when I think of who I am and what I’ve done.  But it comes down to John 3:36 for me:

And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.” (NLT)

Anyone.

I came to see that I could only have been chosen if God invites everyone.  Everyone.  Even the worst of the worst.  Even the traitors.  Even me.

If you are breaking, and you think there is no way God would give you another chance, I hope you will think about me, and know He does.

Will you fall down on your knees before Him, so that He can run to your rescue?

I will tell them, “Come back, and I will cure you
of your unfaithfulness.”
They will answer,
“We will come back, because you
are the LORD our God. (Jeremiah 3:22, CEV)

Published in: on November 11, 2011 at 6:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ephesians 6:10, Army of God: Strength

Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. (Ephesians 6:10, HCSB)

Had I understood this verse, I would have understood the entire passage about the armor of God.  But I didn’t, so the passage was nothing more to me than a disappointing analogy.

Before I can even begin to deal with my wholly faulted view of analogies in the Bible, I have to understand Ephesians 6:10.  If I don’t get Ephesians 6:10, I will never understand Ephesians 6:11-17.

I shared earlier that I grew up wanting to be a knight.  I didn’t want to be rescued by a knight, I wanted to be a knight.

One thing I thought was that girls had a bum wrap in the Medieval Ages.  Although I wanted to live back in that time, I sure didn’t want to be a girl.  Who wanted to be a damsel in distress, crying “Help, help!” from the top of some tower and expecting a knight to have all the fun getting there and saving you?  Not me.

I didn’t want to be saved; I wanted to save.  And although I thought this was a girl problem—I didn’t think I would have this problem if I’d been a boy instead—I didn’t realize this is actually a side problem.

There are two sides, and only two sides, in all epic battles I know.  There’s the side that represents good, and there’s the side that represents evil.

Most people—most—want to be on the good side.  Even though we live in a culture infatuated by villains, I think a majority of people would still say they would want to enlist for the good army . . . if for no other reason, then so they would be on the winning side!

If the majority of people want to be on the good side, doesn’t it make sense that Heaven’s going to be pretty full, and Hell pretty empty?  Can’t we all go out, do some good, win some battles, and step up to God on the day of Judgment to be knighted?

There is a big step I’m missing here.

Enrollment.

I can think of two big pieces to enrollment: qualification and willingness.

  • I can be very willing to be in the army, but if I’m not qualified, it doesn’t matter one iota.

For example, if I really want to serve in the U.S. military, and I’m a well-known terrorist . . . would the enrollment officers be wise to let me in?  Would they be mean to refuse?

The Bible tells us we are all sinners.  That’s like being a terrorist against God.  All of us have a past of evil.  Every time we put something or someone before God, the Bible tells us we sin.  We can say that’s not fair, but would we accuse our military of unfairness for banning terrorists?

God isn’t going to choose terrorists to populate His army.  We can fuss and fight about it, but the fact remains: He has every right to base His decision on our past.

If we want to go out and fight, there’s only one place with open enrollment for terrorists: Satan’s army.  And so, no matter how willing we might be to get into God’s army, our credentials will always land us on the other side.

Now here’s the incredible part: God had a special ops[1] plan to save us from ourselves.

God couldn’t make it easier to understand: He sent Jesus to die for our sins as terrorists, so that we could be free to enroll in His army.

But here’s the second part:

  • I can be qualified to be in the army, but if I’m not willing, I will not get in.

Jesus perfectly qualifies us to join the army of God.  But if we aren’t willing, we won’t get in.  There are two parts to willingness that I can think of from my own life: acceptance and surrender.

It does not benefit me for Christ to die for me if I do not accept His sacrifice.  I’ll say it again: I do not benefit from Christ’s sacrifice, if I do not accept what He’s done.  Rather, I am infinitely more condemned by this worst choice I make.

We were all in the execution line.  Every one of us was a terrorist belonging to Satan.  But Christ stepped in front of us, and He took our sin on His shoulders.

That is the point of the cross.

Far more than simply taking a bullet, He suffered the death of a terrorist, for us.  He paid for everything.

But if we stay in the execution line, His sacrifice is not for us.  His sacrifice is in no way diminished, but our choice voids our benefit from it.  This is the ultimate horror: not only to eternally die as a traitor, but to do so when you didn’t have to.

Going back to my vision of knights as a child, remember how I said I wanted to save and not be saved?  This is one of Satan’s all-time go-to defense tactics to keep his recruits standing in his line: pride.

I wanted to do the saving.  I wanted to get the glory.  I wanted to follow God my way on my own, and I wanted to get credit for bringing others along with me.  What I didn’t realize is that the only place we can lead people through our own works is behind enemy lines.

No one would put a terrorist on a bomb (dismantling) squad, but we become indignant when God doesn’t accept us just the way we are, and pick us for rescue missions.  I had all kinds of great plans for how I could serve God and become famous and glorious.  I had all kinds of great ideas for how I could win battles against the enemy.

The problem is, what enemy did I have in mind?  God tells us in no uncertain terms that we either serve Him or Satan.  There’s no “anti-war” ground and no place for people who don’t like to fight.  We are all waging war in every single act we do, and if we aren’t on God’s side, we can be sure we’re against Him.

Salvation through Christ goes beyond acceptance, though.  Salvation is the biggest internal battle any sinner will ever have, and it goes straight to the heart.  To be saved, we must surrender.

For many years, salvation to me was words that said over and over again, “I want you to save me,” to a Christ I didn’t want to follow.

It doesn’t work like that.

What if I call the U.S. military today and say, “Hey, guys, I really like what you’re doing.  I want to be in the military.  I won’t do push-ups or any of that hard core workout stuff, and you can’t ask me to quit my job, of course.  I’m afraid of planes, and I get seasick on ships.  Even if I take Dramamine, my homesickness won’t go away, so travel is basically a no go.  I have a psychological disagreement with standing in a straight line, and besides, it hurts my legs.  I’m ok if I can bring a folding chair along to drills, though.

“I’ve got to have a Jeep if we’re going on hikes, and I need to know the names of the caterers you hire for these events.  I need Tuesdays off, and of course all weekends.  I’m okay with sharing a room with one other person, but no bunk beds, please.  I get depressed if I get up before 7 a.m. and I need transportation to the nearest Starbucks.  I can’t make my bed like you guys expect, but I am willing to pay someone else who can do it for me.  Can my cat come along, and how many flat screen TV’s are in each barrack?  Do you have a microwave for popcorn, and will you buy me ice cream when I get my feelings hurt?  Oh, and how do I sign up?  Am I in?”

Our soldiers are able to protect our country because they surrender to authority.  There is absolutely no other way to keep a nation standing.  When we think of surrender, we think sometimes of “giving up”, but the surrender a soldier demonstrates is anything but.  A soldier surrenders to instant gratification, to selfishness, to personal glory, to mistrust, to fear, and to cowardice.  A soldier is able to give up even his or her own life because (s)he has surrendered doubt and put faith in the commander.  This is how concentration camps are emptied, hostages are freed, civilians are protected, and wars are won.  This surrender is anything but giving up.  This surrender is about giving all.

We are qualified by Christ to walk away from our old life as an enemy of God and walk into a new life of fighting for Him.  When we are willing to receive Jesus into our life, we realize that He is the knight in shining armor, not us.  We accept Him as our Hero, and we surrender to Him as our Commander.

Then—and only then—do we understand Ephesians 6:10.  Our battle is not won by our skill or strategy or courage, but by the strength of a God who holds Himself on a cross to die for the sins of the world.

Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. (Ephesians 6:10, HCSB)

_____________________________________________________________

1st Photograph, Statue of a knight, by Zakwitnij!pl Ejdzej & Iric, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/zakwitnij/

2nd Photograph, Knight’s helmet, by Jennifer Boyer, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/jenniferboyer/

3rd Photograph, Slaying knight, by Thomas Waldek, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/rawtrigger/

4th Photograph, Fighting knight, by Ed Alkema, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/nl/

Photographs are under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

[1] This comes from Dr. Charles Ware’s sermon, Special Ops for the Savior.

Ephesians 6:10-17, Armor of God: first thoughts

Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore,

    with truth like a belt around your waist,

    righteousness like armor on your chest,

    and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace.

    In every situation take the shield of faith,

    and with it you will be able to extinguish

    the flaming arrows of the evil one.

    Take the helmet of salvation,

    and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.

(Ephesians 6:10-17, HCSB)

Like most kids, I loved what little I knew about the Medieval ages: castles, knights, quests, and maybe, just maybe, a dragon or two.  Medieval castles fascinated me with their stalwart fascade and maze of chambers.  But far more than what royalty was doing behind stone walls, I wanted to know about knights.

I didn’t want a knight to come and save me from distress; I wanted to be a knight!  I wanted to be “galliant”, a word that seemed to be invented just for knights.  I wanted my own horse (a big-sized My Little Pony) and I wanted to swordfight.  I got two plastic retractable swords at a birthday party, and I challenged all my friends.  I thought I was pretty good.

Our church purchased a Pilgrim’s Progress still-pictures movie for its lending library, and I would have checked it out every single week if a 7-year-old was allowed to do such things.  I loved the part when Pilgrim put on his new armor—armor based on this Ephesians 6 passage—and took on Apollyon, the prince of demons himself.

As I grew older, my love for knighthood didn’t wane . . . my love for Ephesians 6 did.  I wanted real things—real enemies, real battles, and real swordfights.  Ephesians 6 became a disappointing metaphor to me.  Why couldn’t I really fight?  Why did it have to be an analogy?

I didn’t have the answers; I only knew I was disappointed with Ephesians 6, disappointed with the Christian life.  I wanted to be a Christian to escape Hell, but I wanted to find an epic journey to keep myself excited in the meantime, until I had to go to Heaven and play a harp or sing.

And I completely missed out on Ephesians 6.

Years went by. I tried to battle my low self-worth, self-hatred, anxiety, loneliness, purposelessness, despair, rage, bitterness, depression, and sin.  And everything I battled, I lost.  I had no idea what I was doing wrong.  I was putting on all the armor of the world: therapists, self-help books, entertainment, materialism, self-absorption, idolatry, and debt, to name a few.

But I still didn’t win any battles.

I didn’t realize that I never would.

Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore,

    with truth like a belt around your waist,

    righteousness like armor on your chest,

    and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace.

    In every situation take the shield of faith,

    and with it you will be able to extinguish

    the flaming arrows of the evil one.

    Take the helmet of salvation,

    and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.

(Ephesians 6:10-17, HCSB)