Like air.

Hold your breath. Keep holding. A little bit longer- just keep holding. Hold as long as you can. Suddenly you have become more aware. You feel the need for air. You feel the pulse within. Maybe you feel dizzy or lightheaded. Now breathe. Depending on how long you held your breath, you might even be gasping for air to feel your empty lungs. Breath some more. Maybe this seems strange to you, maybe you already know this, but you need air. When you withhold your body this necessity, it becomes desperate. It needs oxygen. It needs life.

In Acts 2 that is exactly what happened. A group of people had met Jesus when he was on earth. They believed what he said. He promised the coming of His Spirit- not a ghost but something supernatural. The Holy Spirit is much like the air we breath. We don’t pay attention to needing it until we become desperate for it. The people in Acts 2 were waiting in a room desperate for this Spirit to come upon them. They had no idea what it was. But when it came it filled their lungs, their hearts, everything seemingly empty within them and overflowed out. They began to speak in languages unknown to themselves only because of this strange gift they received with the spirit. Our lives need the Spirit of God in our lives just as much as we need air. It always around. It is what gives you the gut feelings, the confidence, so much in our lives. When we really want more of it, it is usually because we’ve deprived its ability in our lives and we become desperate. Finally letting it in and breathing. Like gasping for air.

Worship Charades

I find myself frustrated with something. I read something that has disturbed me for a few days. And for two days, it has been gnawing at my heart begging me to understand.

Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games. I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion! …while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Clean up your act.

This passage is from Isaiah 1:13-17 [the Message]. I am still disturbed. Is this me? Yes I understand Isaiah was not directly this specifically to me, however it still applies. Am I this person? Do I treat worship- my lifestyle as a Christian- as a performance? Is it just a game to me? Does it matter at all. If I truly believe in Jesus, if he has truly changed my life, it should make a huge difference to how I live. It would be genuine and authentic. It would not be a charade. I would be different. Yet I find that I am not that different than who I was. I absolutely believe in Jesus Christ and what he lived and died for. Yet I still struggle with this internal battle.

I want to change. I want to be different. I want to quit the games of church and religion and actually make a difference in this world- starting with my own life. This verse basically says that God will not listen to our prayers because we’ve been tearing people to pieces and our hands are bloody. Maybe physically, but more than likely it is not physical. With our words. Gossip. Slander. Hate. Profanity. If I actually want to change this world and make a difference in the lives of others, I must learn to filter my words, my conversation, and even my actions. I need to clean up my act. You need to clean up yours too. It cannot be about a charade or a performance as a Christian, but a genuine encounter with Jesus and the desire to grow closer to him. That should affect all areas of our lives.

After Jericho.

I feel like lately God is speaking to me about promise, purpose, and purity.  Continually, in my devotion time, I find myself thinking about all three. I can see how all three correlate with my life currently. I am in a place, like the Hebrews [read my last post] in the desert wandering. Just wandering. But somewhere off in the distance and future there is the Promised Land. God has set out something for me, in my future, somewhere, but it is not fornow. Right now God is beckoning me to believe in his promise. He is beckoning my heart to believe so strongly that he does indeed have wonders ahead for me. Purpose. I have purpose. It is not to just breathe and to go through life, but to embrace whatever is ahead. For the Hebrews it was Jericho. They had to face an obstacle before claiming their Promised Land. They had to do as God commanded in order to have the victory in the battle.

But beyond that victory is what I talk about now. Before facing Jericho, Joshua had commanded the people to “Sanctify yourselves. Tomorrow God will work miracle wonders among you” [Joshua 3:5]. In their victory at Jericho, God gave them a command to not take anything cursed. By cursed he meant pagan idolatry, unclean items, and anything else that was impure and against God. Any other plunder was fine for the taking. However, as easy of a command that seems, it was not obeyed. They broke their covenant with God- their promise to him- to not take of any plunder God asked them not to. Once again, the people had disobeyed God. They had, yet again, choose their way over God’s.

Joshua was heartbroken by this dishonor of God. He fell before God, in what I believe, was desperation, despair, and hurt. God’s response was similar to before the battle at Jericho. Purity and consecration. He said, “I can’t continue with you if you don’t rid yourselves of the cursed things. So get started. Purify the people. Tell them: Get ready for tomorrow by purifying yourselves…you won’t be able to face your enemies until you have gotten rid of the cursed things” [Joshua 7:10-13]. And there it is. God did not say that they failed and that there was no hope. He gave them a solution. Grace. He told the people to purify themselves…to go through the ritual of cleansing out the impurity that had entered their camp.

That is where we need to be. We are guaranteed for failure. We make mistakes. We choose our way, often, instead of God’s. But even in our failures, God allows for us to purify ourselves. What is it that you need to purify from your life? What is it that will hold you back from the full promise of God? I have many things running through my mind. I want that promise- the one before Jericho- that “God will work miracle wonders among you”. But my heart must be pure. My life must be purified and cleansed. After we face our Jericho, our victorious accomplishment, but also our selfishness, we know that we have a God of many chances. We have a God that lets us bring forth purity in our lives again. Only then can we move on toward the promise. Only then can we live with purpose. Purity.

Jericho before me.

I love the story of the Israelites. Their history fascinates me. Can you imagine? In Eygpt for years, and finally freedom is in sight. Finally released by Pharaoh and freedom is tangible. They leave. All Hebrews. But shortly after leaving they find themselves at the sea. They have nowhere to go. Pharaoh, by this time, as changed his mind and now ready to capture the Hebrews. They were stuck. No solution. Water on one side, certain death at the other. But God provided. He held back Pharaoh meanwhile separating the Red Sea allowing for dry ground. The Hebrews made it safely to the other side. They had their freedom. Finally. On their way to their land, the very land promised to them by God, they were afraid and for some reason did not think God could handle the danger ahead. Because of their lack of faith and doubt, they spent 40 years wandering in the desert with their promise so close, yet still so unattainable. Again, they were stuck.

At the end of the 40 years, the Hebrews were allowed their promise. Lead by Joshua now, not Moses, Joshua led the people to the Jordan River. The Jordan River is nowhere near as magnificent at the Red Sea. In fact it is not a challenge to cross over…or at least not all the time. But when the time came for Joshua to lead the people past the river, it was flood season and no possible way to cross the Jordan. But again, God found a way to work through that which seemed impossible and made a way for the Hebrews. God gave Joshua a word to speak to the people: “sanctify yourselves. Tomorrow God will work miracle wonders among you”. This time the people had a choice. They could stay in a less than mediocre life, but safe life, on the one side of the Jordan River or they could embrace the unknown. Nothing ahead seemed sure or certain. The river itself was flooded. But this time the people and Joshua walked confidently in the promise of God. The waters were separated for the second time, allowing the Hebrews to walk on dry land. On the other side, the Hebrews had reached their land that was promised long before that generation even lived. But it was not finished there. Other people lived throughout that land. Jericho was ahead.

I fully believe that the message Joshua relayed to the people was profound. If they were going to walk in the promise of God and actually live it out, they had to face the difficulties ahead. If they wanted the full promise of God they would have to leave the banks of the Jordan River, cross on the dry land, and move forward. They could have lived that less than mediocre life of safety. But they were not living. They were barely breathing. But in the Promised Land, they would be living a life that was anointed by God. Defended by God. Prepared by God. Jericho was just one of many people they had to face in order to obtain their promise.

How often do we see something ahead that is far from safe and we choose to stay where we are? How often do we choose to wander in the desert, barely alive, rather than choosing the difficult path, but knowing your are giving life your all? I want to live like the Hebrews. More specifically, I want to live like Joshua. I want to believe that if I purify my life, live my life according to God’s truth, there will be wonders ahead. But with that promise I have to believe that God will help me in the struggles as well. You know, the difficult, confusing, dangers times. God didn’t just put the Hebrews before Jericho and let them stand there. He lead them to victory. But in that victory path, they still had to fully believe that God was right there with and had complete purpose through everything that was happening. I want the faith of Joshua. To know that behind me is a desert that offered nothing to me but before me was Jericho. To know that I have a choice to live fully for God and have purpose in my life, and not just be suffocating in the heat of the desert. To know that God will do wonders in my life even with Jericho before me.

The harlot.

There was the harlot facedown.

She was accused of something. It may or may not be true. She was condemned as a harlot. It was simply accusation. She was apparently caught in the act of adultery. What of the man she was with? Why only her? Dragged from the bed into the streets. Taken away to guaranteed death. Surrounded by only hate, she was on her knees weeping. Aside from the possibility of her guilt (or innocence) she was not even given a chance. No room for apologies. No room for defense. Just certain death. The mob of hate surrounded her with stone in hand. It was in the waiting of the first release that time stood still. A beautiful stranger rose to his feet. He stepped in. Knelt beside her. Maybe he brushed the tangled hair out of her face. Maybe he kissed her forehead. Maybe he wiped blood from her brow. He then gazed into the mob. The condemners. When she had no chance of survival, he stepped in and spoke up for her behalf. Who were they to condemn, those hypocrites? Who were they to think that they could take life without a second thought, those murderers? Who were they to take her value of life away? With stones? Hate. Anger. Curses.

The stranger wrote something in the ground. Gently. Or fiercely? As he wrote the unknown the mob dispersed, knowing they would not have their death. The woman would not die. Not that day. The harlot would live. The harlot would not bleed anymore.

But the beautiful stranger took her place. “What’s yours is mine. What’s mine is yours.” Only a short time later did a similar mob condemn the beautiful stranger. Only a short time later did the mob surround the man with the same hate. But he was not guilty. No evidence but a verdict still given. Death. The beautiful stranger would die. This time no one stepped in. No one spoke on his behalf.

It should have been her.

I am heartbreakingly reminded of this woman. She is still around today. She is the homeless person. She is the liar. She is the one that gets the blame. Without a thought, she is the condemned. She is the harlot. She is everywhere. And yet, the beautiful stranger died in her place. Even more, the beautiful stranger died in mine. I have the opportunity to step in and help the harlot. To give her a chance at life. Yet, often I find myself with the stone in hand and the bitter words coming from my mouth. And always I find that the beautiful stranger took my deserved death. I am not without sin. The next time I see the harlot, I have a choice…

the pillars fall.

Samson. Most people know about Samson as the man with the long hair that made him strong. They also know that he fell in  love with a woman that deceived him. But there is so much more…

Samson was a man born to live as a Nazarite- following strictly to a set of standards. From the very beginning the Bible says that the Spirit of God was working on him- in the womb and childhood. But something else was also working greatly in him. Lust. It consumed him. He was a Nazarite- an Israelite- yet he continually fell in love with these other women, women from another people group. It wasn’t just that these women were from a different people group, it was that they were pagan and evil. He fell in love with the enemy. The first one was a daughter of Timnah. At the wedding feast, he gave a riddle to the guests to solve. Because they couldn’t solve it, the his bride became angry. By the end of the feast Samson killed thirty of the men. [don’t focus on that Samson kills…not yet at least]. He later finds a prostitute…something not exactly kosher in the Nazarite vow. She as, yet again, from the enemy people the Philistines. While he was with her, the men of the town decided they’d kill him. Samson in turn killed all of the conspirators. And yet once more, Samson fell in love with a Philistine woman- the famous Delilah. I would bet that she didn’t love him at all. She simply was there to deceive and betray for the Philistines to defeat their greatest enemy, Samson.

One thing was for certain- God was with Samson regardless of his mistakes. On three known occasions he had relations with Philistine women, a pagan, evil, unclean people that the Israelites and especially, a Nazarite, were to avoid. But every time before and after Samson made the mistake of doing something stupid, the Bible says that the Spirit came upon him with power. God had a reason for using Samson. He was born to live as a Nazarite and have the greatest strength of any man- basically supernatural. He was able to kill a lion: “when he got to the vineyard of Timnah, a young lion came at him, roaring. The Spirit of God came upon him powerfully and he ripped it open barehanded” [Judges 14:5-6]. Wow. Other times Judges 14-16, Samson, without struggle, kills men- not single fits, but large groups of men. These men were not innocent either…they were the enemy of Israel and scheming to kill Samson with opportunity would come. But every time the Spirit of God empowered him…well almost.

Samson, consumed by his lust, finally gave into the deception of Delilah. He wanted her so bad, that he caved. He gave Delilah the secret to his strength, which was also the method of God’s punishment on the evil’s of the Philistines. His hair had never been touched with a razor, never cut. When he had fallen asleep, Delilah had the Philistine men come and cut his hair. Judges 16 says that he immediately grew weak. And worse…”he didn’t realize that God had abandoned him”. Other translations, more accurately, say that “the Spirit of God left Samson and he didn’t realize it”. The point is that the moment he let his lust consume him and take control of his life, disallowing for God to lead him, things changed. And worse he got to a point where he had no idea that God’s anointing on his life was gone. He had no idea that God was no longer with him- no longer would put up with his behavior and no longer allow for his lust to interfere.

I never want to get to the point where God leaves me. I never want to get to the point where the Spirit can no longer work in my life because of my sin and selfishness. And much much worse, I never want to be so far off that God’s Spirit and anointing can longer dwell in my life because of how corrupt my heart has become. Samson was lost, so it seems. He was betrayed by the woman he loved. His eyes were gouged out and he was humiliated in front of the entire Philistine people. I wonder how he felt? When did he finally realize that God’s Spirit was no longer with him? But God’s grace, again goes so far. Samson cried out to God, asking for one more chance. Oh the beauty of God’s grace. God’s spirit came upon him once more, and Samson died that day after pulling down the pillars killing all the people within the building. “He killed more people in his death than he had killed in his life.” [Judges 16:30]

God returned to Samson. After betrayal and rejection. After lust. After selfishness. After pride. God returned. His grace- his Spirit- gave Samson more power than ever before in his last moments, proving that he is faithful. Though I hope I never reach the point where God’s Spirit leaves me, I hope that if I ever walk away or betray my God, that he returns with love and grace and power.