Thursday, October 30, 2014

Take This Job and…

By Allen White

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30

My parents made several trips to Costa Rica in the late ‘70s to help with construction of a Bible college in San Jose. They became friends with a missionary couple there, Bill and Hilda Bradney. As God would have it, a few years later, the Bradneys were missionaries-in-residence at my Bible college in the States.

One morning in class, Hilda held up a small brightly colored souvenir from Costa Rica. I immediately recognized it. My parents had brought several of these back from their trips.

This piece was a yoke like oxen would wear. Hilda explained how a poorly made yoke would cut into the neck of the beast making the work much harder and much more painful than it needed to be. A properly made yoke was smooth and would allow the animal to perform the task without injury.

This was exactly what Jesus was saying in this passage. There is a hard way of doing things, and there is an easier way. There is my way of doing thing, and there is God’s way. Now, please don’t misunderstand, either way there is work involved. The question is do we go about our work in a way that brings harm or in a way that gives life?

If we get to the end of our day exhausted from worry and stress, we have a heavy burden from a jagged yoke. If we feel the frustration from trying to please an unreasonable boss, client or customer, we haven’t acknowledged that there is a higher Boss that deserves our loyalty and who completely understands (Revelation 2:2). If we feel that our success is entirely up to us, then it certainly seems like we’re pushing a boulder uphill. All of this is the product of a rough yoke.

God challenges us to work hard (Proverbs 14:23), which is the kind of work that God deserves (Colossians 3:23). But, His work doesn’t leave us bruised or broken. Here’s the secret: you don’t have to change jobs to get a better fitting yoke. Your success in life depends more on what happens in you than what happens around you. That’s not merely a platitude. It’s a foundational truth in Scripture and in the business world. I just finished When the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins last night. He compares similar companies during similar time periods facing similar adversity. The companies that succeed are humble, diligent, methodical and assured. The companies that fail are arrogant, growth-obsessed, panicky and unfocused.

The question is not which company do you work for? The question is which set of qualities best characterizes you. One set is the result of a heavy burden, while the other is the result of an easy yoke.

I challenge you to lay down your way of doing things and your take on life and ask Jesus to show you His vision for your life. Ask for His perspective. Ask for His help. He is more than glad to give it to you.


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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Caffeinated Water or Living Water

By Allen White

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. John 7:37-39

We are a people obsessed with bottled water. It’s convenient. It’s healthy. It has become more expensive than soda at some places. It creates a lot of trash.

For a time someone was marketing caffeinated bottle water. I suppose it balanced things out. We could hydrate and dehydrate ourselves at the same time. But, if they ever come out with decaffeinated water, well, that’s where I draw the line.

Water was celebrated at the feast Jesus attended. During the first seven days, the priests and the people made a procession to the pool of Siloam with a golden pitcher. They collected water to pour on the altar, in commemoration of the water that God provided to the Israelites in the desert (Numbers 20), which was a symbol of Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4 ). (Source: The Fourfold Gospel: http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/the-fourfold-gospel/by-chapters/john/john-7.html)

As the Jews were celebrating the water that God miraculously provided to His people in the desert centuries before, Jesus stood up and said, “Oh, by the way, this miraculous water, well, that comes from me.” While we need to thankfully look back and remember the times that God has provided for our needs, we also need to remember that the book on His miracles hasn’t been sealed. In fact, Jesus says, this living water, this flow of the Spirit is something that all believers possess.

The flow of the Spirit is part of the life of every believer. But, why does it seem more evident in the life of some believers, but not in others? The Spirit’s flow is not like a flood that sweeps us away. What happens in us and through us comes largely by our choice. Do we want to plunge into that river with abandon? Do we just want to stick a toe in? Or would we rather just set up an umbrella and a chair on the riverbank and just relax and enjoy the day?

The limitation on the unlimited flow of God’s Spirit lies with you and me. How do we enter that flow? We simply ask. We don’t need elaborate or spooky prayers. All that we need is a simple request like “God guide me in this decision.” “God help me in this relationship.” “God use me to touch others today.” Then, pay attention to what happens next.

When I’m in the flow of God’s Spirit, I am calmer (not necessarily calm, but calm-er). I find that I am more understanding of others. I tend to be more creative. When I am out of the flow, I am critical. I am negative. I am down on everybody and everything, even if I don’t let on.

My life is beyond my control. And, believe me, at times I have tried to desperately control my life only to drive myself crazy. My life is more than I can control. Giving up the control of my life to God and plunging into the flow of the Spirit gives tremendous freedom. Things that I worry about melt away. While I don’t always understand how God works, I do know that outcomes are in His hands, not mine.

What is blocking the flow of the Spirit in your life today? Is it not asking? Is it depending on yourself or something else? Are you just completely distracted by what’s around you that you don’t even think about it?

As a believer, there is a living, dynamic force available to you. He will elevate you beyond where your heart and mind typically go. He will empower you to be the person you’ve dreamed of being. He will enable you to overcome the adversity that surrounds you. Start the flow.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Spiritual Growth is Not Self-Help

By Allen White

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:16

It’s fun to discover something new about yourself. If you’ve ever taken a spiritual gifts test or a personality test, you get jazzed from the insight into what it is that God created for you to do. The Bible tells us that there are many parts of the body (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12: Ephesians 4). The parts are not identical, that’s for sure.

Every one of us is gifted and called to do a work (1 Corinthians 12:7). It’s great to find out how we can make our individual contribution to the Kingdom. But, this verse touches on something else related to our gifts.

Gift discovery is not just a means of feeling good about ourselves and our purpose in life. This verse adds some context to the use of our gifts: we are a part of a whole. Our growth is contingent on the growth of those around us. Spiritual growth is not merely a self-pace, self-help program. In fact, spiritual growth leads us to become more focused on others and less focused on self.

The key to our spiritual growth is connection. Not just connection to God, but connection to each other. Paul gets anatomical on us here, by evoking the image of ligaments that join and hold us together. “Ligaments are fibrous bands or sheets of connective tissue linking two or more bones, cartilages, or structures together” according to Dr. Keith Bridwell of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. Without ligaments, the body of Christ would be just a bag of bones.

We would have all of the parts. All of the parts would be together, but the parts would like coordination. I would do my spiritual thing. You would do your spiritual thing. We would live in harmony as long as our spiritual things didn’t collide. But, sometimes the collision produces the growth.

Study, prayer and meditation on God’s Word are all wonderful things to help us grow. We certainly need to seek quiet and solitude at times to hear God above the din of this world. But, this type of spiritual growth is only one dimensional. Our spiritual growth must be integrated into our whole lives.

Yes, growth takes place in solitude. But, growth also takes place serving side by side and connecting in a small group. We gain much from the experience and insights of others.


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Monday, October 27, 2014

A Bland Christian Life is a Misinterpretation

By Allen White

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

The world paints the opposite picture. For a lot of people the idea of following God seems just as restrictive as following a family budget. The lie is that we lose of freedom by following Christ. Yet the truth is that only in Christ can we be truly free (John 8:36).

The Enemy’s purposes are clear: theft, death and destruction. Affairs don’t lead to better relationships. Pornography doesn’t lead to intimacy. Overeating doesn’t lead to satisfaction. Alcohol abuse only leads to hangovers. And, shopping binges only lead to garage sales. You don’t end up headed north by traveling west.

The easy answer creates more problems. The quick fix leads to greater damage. The wide path leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).

Jesus came to give us a life that produces all of the fullness and richness that would completely satisfy us. Our frustration is that we can’t just flip a switch and have it. Fullness from God is carefully cultivated. Most of us are just too impatient with that. Our impatience causes us to turn to things that fulfill us temporarily. We believe in God’s promises, but then we pluck the apple off of the tree. Sure, it makes us feel guilty, but we’re in control over it. Or, so we think.

I am not writing this to judge you. I am writing this because I am one of you. I’m continually learning to resist the exaggerated pleasures of this life and look for the simple pleasures that God provides. I too am learning to lay aside the saccharin that kills and to reach for the sweetness that God provides.

Here’s the catch: we have to choose to neglect the quick fixes and the accessible diversions and choose to engage in things that truly satisfy. A lot of evenings I find myself vegging out in front of the television. I like to watch the Food Network. The food looks good. The people look like they’re having fun. They say it smells good, but it just smells like my house to me. They say it tastes good, but it’s not in my kitchen. I’ve looked.

I’m not going to forsake the Food Network entirely, but I have backed off. It makes me hungry, which ignites my overeating. So, last night, I just watched a couple of shows. I also painted my mailbox post. (Our HOA is a little intense about such things.) I also had a conversation with my wife, then I got my things ready to go to the gym after work the next day, so I wouldn’t be rushed in the morning. It felt more productive. It felt richer. It felt a little more satisfying even with less snacking.

Jesus didn’t come so you would lead a bland life. If you feel that a vanilla existence is more spiritual, then you have misinterpreted Scripture. Jesus died so that we can truly live the fulfilling life that God intended. Our job is to avoid the poor substitutes and embrace life that is truly life (1 Timothy 6:19).

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

When Good Things Become Bad Things

By Allen White

Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." Galatians 3:11-12

Most of my own efforts at spiritual growth have been rather pathetic. For many Januarys I have been inspired to read the Bible through in a year only to find myself stuck in the middle of Leviticus in the middle of February. End of story. I can follow the rules for a while, and then I just run out of steam.

Whether we’ve tried to break a bad habit or start a new one, most of us are only self-disciplined to a point. People celebrate our self-discipline. We might even impress ourselves: “I’m on the fast track to spiritual gianthood now.” But, if our self-discipline only produces pride in our ability to follow rules, then how much spiritual growth has actually taken place?

The rules don’t bring us closer to God. In fact, they often put up a barrier. Rule keeping may cause us to feel more secure, but it doesn’t necessarily make us more godly. If following the rules actually worked, according to this passage, it would only lead to following even more rules.

God is more concerned with your heart than whether or not you follow the rules (Isaiah 29:13). Even Jesus broke the rules to do the right thing. (Matthew 12:9-14). The Christian walk is about a relationship with God, not rules.

For some, rules can become an obstacle. For others, rules can become an idol. Anything that we depend on other than God is an idol to us. If I have a financial need and charge it on my credit card rather than asking God to provide, then my credit card is an idol to me. If I avoid sin to guarantee my place in Heaven, then my self-righteousness is an idol to me. If I believe that daily Bible reading will help me avoid temptation and do the right thing, then I’m in for a surprise.

So, what do we do? We surrender ourselves to God. As we give our ideas, our abilities, our problems, our opportunities, our ambition, our comfort, and everything else to God, He gives us something better.

What is it that you can’t live without? What makes you feel secure as a believer? Church attendance? Serving? Reading daily devotionals in your email? None of these things are bad, unless your effort begins to take the place of your dependence on God. As Michael Mack says, “God loves you too much to let you settle for less than him.”


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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why Don’t I Feel Like a New Creation?

By Allen White

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17

I always wished that this verse was a little more automatic. “You are a new creation. Poof, the old is gone. Flip the tassel on your mortarboard. You have graduated to sainthood.” Then, we would all throw our caps into the air, and we would move on into our new lives. But, in reality, when I read this verse and look at my life, I think “not so much.”

Paul is describing a spiritual transaction. What once bound us to an eternity of punishment has been exchanged for an eternity in Heaven with God. Our destination has been changed. Now, our path must be re-routed.

Just like programming new coordinates into your GPS, your route is recalculated, often with the instruction to make a U-turn. If you depend on the GPS, you often find that the route is unfamiliar. Sure, it might be a shorter way, but it makes us uneasy. We’re not entirely convinced that the GPS is right. It’s just a machine. Even though it speaks, it doesn’t listen. The GPS doesn’t always get it right, but God does.

Some of us changed our destination many years ago. Often we get the feeling that maybe we should be a little further along than we are. Part of spiritual growth has to do with our availability and attention. The other part is being patient with the process.

You are a New Creation. God did that work in your life when you came to faith in Him. But, it’s also a work that God continues to work out in your life (Philippians 2:12-13). In the process, it’s easy to grow impatient with yourself and with others. God is at work. He’s guiding you in the right direction. Trust His guidance.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Misunderstanding God’s Creative Process

By Allen White

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

I was driving down Cicero Avenue in Chicago a few years ago. For some reason, I thought that this would save a little time driving from I-90 to Midway Airport. The route was far from expedient, but it was educational.

The light turned red. I stopped and looked to my left. At that moment, I saw a man with ratty looking clothes and an unshaven face, lifting a bottle cloaked in a paper bag and taking a swig. This is not an unfamiliar scene. What was unfamiliar to me was my response. I didn’t think “That dirty old bum. I can’t believe people live like that.” The thought that instantly popped into my head was “This is not who God made you to be.” I surprised myself in that moment.

The light changed. I began to drive, but I also began to think about that man. Years ago, he was a precious baby cuddled his mother’s arms. Every person who looked at his little face couldn’t help but smile. I doubt that he receives many smiles his direction these days.

Most of us will never be a bum on skid row. But, in our thoughts, our attitudes, our actions, our priorities – are we who God created us to be? We are God’s workmanship, His masterpiece. We are not our own workmanship. Believers are not “self-made.” We are designed by God to do what God created us to do. The problem is that we often misunderstand God’s creative process.

Sure, we want to see how everything will come together. We all want to feel that we are living a life that’s worth living. We want what Joseph had. “He succeeded in everything that he did.” (Genesis 39:3) But, none of us want to be thrown down a well (Genesis 37:23-24), sold into slavery (Genesis 37:36), falsely accused (Genesis 39:17), and thrown into prison (Genesis 39:20-21). If we could skip the process and just get to the final product, that would be awesome.

I’ve always been fascinated by sculpture. The thought of taking a block of granite or marble, envisioning the sculpture, then carefully removing everything that is not part of the masterpiece is mind-boggling to me. But, this is the perfect picture of God’s work in our lives. When we go through trials and hard times, God is chipping away at the parts of us that don’t belong on His masterpiece. It’s not pleasant. Sometimes we wonder if God cares about us at all. But, as we trust His hand, we come to learn that His intent for us is for our good.

How is God chiseling away at your life these days? Do you feel like you are living the life God intended for you or is something getting in the way? Are you resisting the work that God needs to do? Are you resenting it?

God has a plan for you. You must learn to trust His hand.

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