Thursday, March 24, 2011

Holiness & Love

For the past couple weeks, since being back in TN, I've attended Grace Center in Grasslands. Both times I've known that I was exactly where I was supposed to be and God made sure that the messages have been precisely what I needed - not to say that they weren't for every other person in attendance, too!

I've been praying and reading and pondering and searching and wrestling and asking about all kinds of things. Two specific things keep coming up - and have been for over two years - are holiness & love.

As I've been reading through Romans, chapters 13 & 14 have talked about both. At Grace Center this week, pastor Jeff touched on holiness and re-connecting with several friends who have been wounded by - what I call "religious love" - has only made me further my pursuit of revelation on both subjects.

Yes, volumes have been written on each topic individually and I don't in any way claim to have a full grasp of one or both, but felt compelled to share what I feel the Holy Spirit showed me this morning.

How can anyone tell that I'm a Christian by just looking at me? Do my words, actions, clothes, habits, hobbies, & priorities paint a clear picture of who I am? Am I more influenced by the world around me or by God inside me? Does my outside match my inside?

In my notes from Sunday's message I wrote, "Lord, remove me from the influence of the world. Help me not to dull my heart with what I watch, think, say and listen to." It is my desire to be holy - not "holier than thou". "Holy" is defined as "devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity" to be holy my life needs to be devoted entirely to God and His work.

We can't be holy if we don't know love. (Check out 1 Corinthians 13 for an in-depth look at love.) Webster defines love as, "a : unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as (1) : the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2) : brotherly concern for others b : a person's adoration of God"

Romans 14:13 reads, "Then let us no more criticize and blame and pass judgment on one another, but rather decide and endeavor never to put a stumbling block or an obstacle or a hindrance in the way of a brother." This passage is clearly talking about someone who is a Christian - a "brother."

Romans 13:9(b) & 10 read, all the commandments "are summed up in the single command, You shall love your neighbor as [you do] yourself. Love does no wrong to one's neighbor [it never hurts anybody]. Therefore love meets all the requirements and is the fulfilling of the Law." This passage is speaking of neighbors. Neighbors can be anyone - not necessarily a Christian.

So where do we start? If we walk in love toward everyone (our neighbors) and stop criticizing, blaming and judging our brothers (fellow Christians) we will be well on our way.

Love leads to holiness & holiness compels us to love.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Fast that God Chooses

Recently, I've encountered several people who are "fasting" or "on a fast". Having grown up in the church, it doesn't surprise me that this is an act often practiced by those who call themselves Christians. I, myself, have partaken in the act of fasting many times over the years.

This morning, as I sat down to spend some time reading the Word and in prayer, I felt compelled to simply open my Bible at "random" and not read from the specific passages I had planned for today.

I opened to Isaiah 58 and found that chapter quite interesting as it is about - you guessed it - fasting. Though I've read this chapter several times, it seems I read with prejudice or pride or pious presumptions, previously. This morning, I read with concern and conviction and crystal clarity - thanks to revelation of Holy Spirit within me.

Often, I had fasted to "get God's attention" - and I don't think that's wrong. I've done "crash diets" to lose weight and called it "fasting". I've deprived myself of food or media or other things in attempts to manipulate God into doing what I wanted - all the while using the religiously accepted label of "fasting" to allow myself to feel justified in my self-righteous pursuits. "Look at me, Lord. I'm fasting for ten days so You'll listen to me and do what I want. Look how humble I am. Look how hungry I am. Look how sacrificial I am in this sackcloth. I know You'll reward me with what I want." All that happened in those fasts was I was hungry and frustrated and a little angry at God for not rewarding me for my religiousness. Sounds silly, doesn't it?

Verses 4 & 5 in Isaiah 58 (Amplified) reads, "The facts are that you fast only for strife and debate and to smite with the fist of wickedness. Fasting as you do today will not cause your voice to be heard on high. Is such a fast as yours what I have chosen, a day for a man to humble himself with sorrow in his soul? Is true fasting merely mechanical? Is it only to bow down his head like a bulrush and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him to indicate a condition of heart that he does not have? Will you call this a fast and an acceptable day to the Lord?"

I've also partaken in fasts that were completely out of desperation to hear God - and He's answered me. I've fasted and spent extra time in prayer and intercession as the Spirit led - and seen amazing, miraculous things occur. So what's the difference? Motivation.

Look at verses 6 & 7: "Rather is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every enslaving yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house - when you see the naked, that you cover him, and that you hide not yourself from the needs of your own flesh and blood?"

On my way home the other night, I stopped to get an Arby's Jr, value sized curly fries and a Dr. Pepper. I pulled into a parking space to eat it and a lady approached my car. She asked for help. She said she needed $35 for a room and only had $15. I asked her if she needed a ride. She accepted and got in. I asked her if she was hungry. She was. I gave her my little value meal. I drove her to the place she wanted to go and gave her $20. Now, I don't know if she used that money to get high or drunk or if she used that money to have a roof over her head and a bed for the night. I was simply being obedient to what I felt I needed to do in that situation. I think that's a true fast.

I don't share that to puff myself up, pat myself on the back or make myself feel good. I share that because I think God was trying to get me to see the difference between a fast that I choose and a fast that He chooses. I hope it helps anyone reading this to see the difference, too.

If we continue to read Isaiah 58, look what happens when we allow ourselves to be participants in a fast that God chooses.

"Then shall your light break forth like the morning, and your healing (your restoration and the power of a new life) shall spring forth speedily; your righteousness (your rightness, your justice, and your right relationship with God) shall go before you conducting you to peace and prosperity, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am'. If you take away from your midst yokes of oppression wherever you find them, the finger pointed in scorn toward the oppressed or the godly, and every form of false, harsh, unjust, and wicked speaking, and if you pour out that with which you sustain your own life for the hungry and satisfy the need of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in darkness, and your obscurity and gloom become like the noonday. And the Lord shall guide you continually and satisfy you in drought and in dry places and make strong your bones. And you shall be like a watered garden and like a spring of water whose waters fail not."(Verses 8-11)

Those verses are full of precious promises available to those who will surrender their own agendas and fast according to God's plans and for God's purposes. The fast that I choose, from now on, is the fast that God chooses.