Luke

Tuesday Devotional: Luke 17

bibleRead Luke 17:4-10

The commands of Jesus are sweet but they must always bring us to cry out to God, “Increase our faith!”  The commands of Jesus are beyond what we are capable of achieving.  His ways are higher than our ways.  The commands of Jesus are not comfortable and they do not fit nicely and neatly with our way of life.  The way of Jesus is Holy and we are sinful.  These two natures are incompatible and contradictory to one another.  This is what we face when we read the words of Jesus and receive His proclamation over our lives.  We are called to enter the narrow gate.  We are called to count the cost.  We are commanded to die to self.  We are commanded to repent and submit our lives to the authority of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  We are commanded to be reborn and to be transformed in the likeness of Jesus Christ.  We are commanded to leave everything and to lose everything of this world in order to receive and possess the love of Jesus Christ in our lives.  We are instructed to believe that with faith in Jesus even the most daunting and impassable obstacle in your life can be moved.  Believing that we can live the life Jesus commands us to live requires a faith that can only be revealed through faith in Jesus and by receiving the power of the Holy Spirit.  Beware of living a life following Jesus where you never utter the words, “Increase our faith.”  We cannot follow Jesus without pleading every day for God to increase our faith in Jesus Christ.  Christians who are loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled require faith and more of it that in Jesus all things are possible.  Heavenly Father, increase our faith!

 

Tithing: Painful Giving

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As a result of sin, we are inherently possessive when it comes to money. We become like a protective lioness with her cubs when someone reaches for our money without a reasonable cause to do so. Giving hurts, and we humans are clever creatures. We understand that giving is good, but we tactfully structure our giving in a way that will not hurt us at all. We want to have it both ways. Thus, if someone is in need of money, we will give because to refuse to give would appear selfish. However, we calculate what we have and how much we could give so that after we give we can still buy the things we had already planned to buy. Then, and only then, we approve the gesture.

Tithing stands in a distinct contrast to this mindset. Tithing is a command from God, with the same characteristics as his other commands. The commands of God always call us to become a new creation born in the spirit of God and not the spirit of sin. Therefore, in order to tithe with the spirit of God, we are called to sacrifice our sinful natures and put on the Holy nature of God. Sacrifice inherently means pain, and thus most of us avoiding tithing altogether.

Because of Abram, ten percent is most commonly associated as the biblical gold-standard of tithing. While ten percent is biblical, tithing goes deeper than that. Tithing cannot be tightly calculated in the bankbook in a predictable and mechanical manner. In many ways, 10 percent should be a base number, with God free to determine how high the number can go. For some people, 10 percent is still comfortably unobtrusive when it comes to still providing for their own comforts. In this case, 10 percent is not painful, not sacrificial and thus, not enough.

Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Moved by the grace and power of Jesus Christ, this wealthy tax collector was not moved to give a mere ten percent and demand blessing or a miracle in return. He felt called by God first to give half of everything he owned,  and then to right the financial wrongs he had committed by repaying those he had cheated four times the amount he had initially stolen. This act of giving is not referenced in the scriptures as a tithe, but the spirit of the giving is the same as Abram in his encounter with Melchizedek, perfectly in line with the spirit of tithing according to God’s design.

Hell: A Place of Loneliness

This reflection series deals with the topic of Hell. Using Jesus’ illustration of the Rich Man and Lazarus as recorded in Luke’s gospel, this week we’re reflecting on hell as a place of suffering.

Read Luke 16: 19-31

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Last week we discussed the suffering of longing and emptiness that all people can relate to. If asked what remains as another fear common to all, most would likely answer, “loneliness.” We humans were created for fellowship. Even before we were brought into this world, God designed us for fellowship with him.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Genesis 1:26-31

Then, being brought into this world by our parents and family, we were born and raised to be “with” people, loved, cared for and nurtured by them.

As we get older and our lives separate from family and home, we find ourselves apart from people more than we find togetherness with them. While independence does have its place in human development and is an integral part of finding unity with the Father who created us, fellowship with people is where we are given the fullest sensation of what we were designed to experience. Thus, being constantly alone is a fate that most are terrified and tormented by.

The Rich Man, aside from his eternal dissatisfaction and longing for relief from his suffering, is completely alone in hell.  He is left alone to ponder both his condition and the absence of a solution to his suffering. He is alone, with no one to listen to his problems, no one to offer any empathy or compassion.

When confronted with Church or Christianity, many people view both as a burden. For many people (especially in the modern Western world), individuality and the freedom it seems to give them is enough to give them the brash and prideful overconfidence to look God in the face and say to him, “I don’t need you! Leave me alone!” But we learn from the Rich Man that hell is a place where we are finally given our way. Hell is a place where God hears our request for isolation and gives us what our hearts desire. In effect, we request to be alone and God ultimately respects our desires and leaves us alone. Therefore, where many people view hell as a sort of large jar with people scrambling like insects to escape, only to find the judgmental, jealous and cruel God firmly tightening the lid, according to Jesus, hell is quite different. Hell is a place that the people residing there have in their heart of hearts requested, and who have received what they demanded.

We are often our worst company, our worst comforter and our worst coach. On the other hand, Jesus Christ came into this world as “Emmanuel.” Jesus is, “God with Us,” and hell could not be more radically different. Hell is “Man with Himself.”

Reflection Series: Hell

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Heaven and Hell. Some people assume Christianity is a religion which, if followed carefully and precisely, guarantees entrance into a personal heaven of safety, peace, love and joy. Some assume that Christianity poses impossible commands and rules that ultimately doom us to the looming hand of a judging God, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to throw us into a fiery eternity in hell to punish us for not being perfectly like him. While these assumptions are incorrect and based on sources outside of the Word of God, this two-pronged understanding of Christianity’s take on the afterlife is prevalent in today’s world.

As is the case with many topics, we have very little actual description of hell as it is mentioned in the Bible. However, one can argue that not knowing the entire scope of hell actually is a sign of God’s grace, in saving us the complete and detailed nature of hell. What we do know is that hell is a place God desperately wants us to avoid and we in turn should have a strong desire to avoid it.   In the Bible, God paints a picture of hell with few colors, but the colors he does use are enough for what we need to know about this place called “hell.” The Bible teaches us that hell is:

  • A Place of Suffering
  • A Place of Loneliness
  • A Place of Delusion

By examining these three aspects of hell we can hopefully come to a better understanding of why God gave his Son for us in order to spare us of this terrible place.

While there are many references to “hell” or “gehenna” in the Bible, our examination will focus primarily on the passage of scripture found in the Luke 16:19-31. Jesus’ description of the Rich Man and Lazarus provides us with more than enough to come to a complete understanding of hell.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

 Luke 16:19-31

Join us for the remainder of the reflection series next Thursday.

Spiritual Gifts: Healing

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For the next four weeks, we will examine the role of spiritual gifts in our Christian walk. Just as the baptism of the Holy Spirit has been debated throughout church history, the nature of spiritual gifts has also been a topic of much debate. This reflection series will outline four of the most debated spiritual gifts that often follow a baptism by the Holy Spirit. There are other gifts, such as prayer; however, for the moment we will only discuss four. The four spiritual gifts are:

  • Teaching
  • Tongues
  • Prophecy and Vision
  • Healing

All four of these gifts have a core purpose in common but as we will see they are unique from each other in the way they are used. This week, we reflect on healing.

In the same way that Prophecy and Vision come with stereotypes and judgments on the part of those outside of the Church, the idea of “healing” has also gone quite misunderstood. The gift of healing, like Prophecy and Vision, was a major part of Jesus’ ministry and the Apostles’ teaching and was well represented in the early Church. For us to dismiss it as something done in the past but not available to our present Church is illogical.

As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. -Matthew 10:7-8

The gift of healing is for us in the Church to possess now, not simply to reflect back to in nostalgia as something done by our forefathers. While some are gifted with the gift of healing in dramatically physical ways, most people go their entire lives without seeing an actual physical healing in person and assume the absence of frequent resurrections and blind-to-sight healings as proof that the gift of healing simply does not exist anymore.

To assume this is to completely misunderstand the purpose of healing taught by Jesus for His Church to exercise. The purpose of the gift of healing is to express the impact of God. This impact is a visible, public transformation from old to new. However, this transformation from old to new cannot be reduced to simply the transformation of the physical body. In fact, Jesus Christ was adamant that our physical body means very little. The purpose of the numerous physical healings that Jesus conducted in the Gospels was not to discourage or intimidate by comparison. Those healings were conducted for Christ’s ministry and the people of that time, to fulfill the prophecies that illustrated the nature of the Messiah’s return, which would be characterized by physical transformation:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor. -Isaiah 61:1-29

While physical healing and transformation is still present in the Church today and some are gifted in this area, the true healing available to all those professing faith in Jesus Christ is of a different nature.

Jesus Christ was clear that healing is impossible without his presence and his word. In his Word lies the power of God to transform and save the lost.

2When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” -Mark 9:25-29

While most will never see a dead body raised physically, the sharing of God’s Word to someone outside of the presence of God is more powerful than physical resurrection. Anyone raised from the dead in this world still faces the challenge of sin. However, sharing the Word of God that results in a life born anew and a new creation in Jesus Christ represents the ultimate healing. There is joy in this world when a dead body is raised. However, according to Jesus, there is immeasurable rejoicing in Heaven at the resurrection of a life dead in sin, reborn and resurrected with Christ and transformed in his image.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. -Luke 15:1-7

Physical healing means absolutely nothing as long as the sin within the body is unaddressed. The priority of Jesus’ healing targeted sin, not the body. Finding God in the words of Jesus Christ and His gospel is the true pearl, the true prize, the true goal. In this way, the Church today has been blessed with the privilege of spiritually raising the dead to life through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. -Philippians 1:18-26 

Jesus is God in the Flesh: Forgiveness

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the divinity of Jesus Christ. 

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If you profess faith in the Christian message, yet lack this belief about Jesus’ identity, you expose a complete lack of understanding of the very Bible wherein you find the figure of Jesus in the first place. The Gospel narratives leave no possibility to reject the deity of Jesus. Rather, they appreciate, rely on,  and believe in the message that he spoke.

We can better understand this vital truth about Jesus with these four points concerning Jesus and his teaching.

  1. The man of “The Name”
  2. The man of Authority
  3. The man of Unity
  4. The man of Forgiveness

For the next several weeks, we’re going to reflect on these indicators that support the divinity of Christ Jesus.

The Man of “Forgiveness”

Although the Crucifixion testifies to the divine nature of Jesus, one can find enough support for the divinity of Jesus Christ prior to his sacrificial death upon Golgotha. Throughout his ministry, Jesus became popular for a number of reasons. While the number of people who believed in him as the Messiah and as God grew, the number of people simply hungry for miracles tended to occupy the daily majority. Just as people in today’s world are hungry for entertainment, so were the first-century people in Palestine.

Repeatedly in the Gospel narratives, we find people who are much more interested in the healing power of Jesus rather than his identity or greater mission to save the world and redeem all people from their sin. But Jesus always makes forgiveness of sin paramount over the physical healing alone. According to Jesus, there was a deeper sickness, a deeper problem and a deeper need for his power than any physical ailment present in a person’s life.

Repeatedly Jesus forgives a person’s sin, in response to someone asking for the healing of his or her body.

But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”  Luke 5:19-20

Jesus saw the deepest problem was sin, so he thrust himself into the center of all sins as the focal point from which forgiveness was to be given. All sins go much deeper and further than the person being sinned against, because ultimately, all sins are against God. Therefore, only God has the right and authority to forgive anyone their sins. In the context of human sin and the transformative healing power that Jesus also exhibited, the only reasonable person in human history that could make a case for having the power to forgive sin and thus be God in human form is Jesus Christ.

Tuesday Devotional: Luke 2

bibleRead Luke 2: 8-20

The story of how the Messiah entered human history is not a good one.  This meaning that if one were to create a story of salvation and supernatural global rescue, the story centered on Bethlehem is unacceptable.  From the announcement to shepherds, to the baby in a manger, the Bible’s account defies our worldly literary standards.  On the surface, from a worldly perspective, there is no power in this story.  There is no immediate action.  There is no flash.  But at the heart of it is the true nature of God, representative of all he is and claims to be. The Messiah enters the world following the precise guidelines that God has always followed: humility, sacrifice and patience.  In a world obsessed with class, status and power, God announced his Son’s arrival to lowly shepherds in the field.  These shepherds were not consumed by the material world, men seeking their own glory.  These were men of little means, men who served.  The message of a humble Messiah, born of humble means, was not lost on these men.  As shepherds, they understood the power in service, sacrifice and love.  Unbeknownst to them, they had been trained and prepared long before that fateful day to understand and receive the message from the angel without hesitation or doubt.  They were prepared to listen and understand.

In a world moved so easily by the presence or even implication of power, God sent his Son into the world as an infant.  This was not a man on horseback with armor and might.  This was an infant, more fragile than most.  This was not power in intimidation but in utter humiliation. The Savior of the world did not come with brute force, but ready to be loved for who he was and is, before any words were on his lips to convince us of that.  Rather than love that can be taught, his love can only be perceived and experienced.  In a world with such a longing for immediate solutions, God chose to send the salvation of the world in the form of an infant, unable to do anything for himself, with no indication of when that salvation through him would ultimately be revealed.  There was nothing swift about this gift to the world.  Only the presence of the promised salvation.  He was here.  That is all.

In so many ways, the story of the Messiah is unbelievable, but it complements its purpose perfectly.  God came into this world to change it, but that change is only brought about when we adjust to him.  The story of the Messiah is not how man would imagine it.  That is because man didn’t.  It is a story for us, but not by us; it requires us to listen but then to understand that God is not man.  His will and purpose is not our own.  He is God, and he is with us, but thankfully for us all he is also wonderfully unlike us.

Candles, Cakes, and Prayers: Believing what is Spoken

Man-Praying

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Wishful thinking is at the heart of why we make a wish and blow out the candles on a birthday cake.  We wish as some might wish on a star or when an eyelash comes loose.  There is no foundation to any of these rituals that give us any believable hope in the wish actually coming true.  We take part in these traditions because they are amusing.  We do them with a smile and a laugh but with no actual hope invested in them.  These traditions are carefree and trivial.  With no genuine expectation of fulfillment, we are left rather indifferent to the success or failure of any of these wishes.  We expect them not to come true, but would love to be surprised by the random chance that they did.  But since we didn’t REALLY believe, we protect ourselves from being REALLY disappointed when nothing happens as a result. 

The difference, however, between birthday cakes and God is that the Bible promises that these prayers are not only heard but can be answered.  However, when prayers are unanswered, we experience the bitterness we discussed earlier in this series, the bitterness of prayers we assume to be unheard.  The absence of answers can be difficult to understand and harder to find any peace with, but as we learn more about how Jesus talked about prayer, we find that unanswered prayers do not necessarily mean prayers not heard, or the absence of care or love.

Belief in prayer is a two-fold understanding.  Belief in prayer does not simply mean that one believes that the prayers can be answered.  Believing in prayer means that there is a clear understanding that God hears our prayers, and plans to carry out his response with our best interests in mind. A believer’s prayer comes with faith that the prayer at hand can be answered.  However, this faith does not come out of a record of consistently answered prayers.

On the contrary, most people who pray throughout their lifetime will be left with a longer list of prayers left unanswered as opposed to the ones that were. Faith in prayer comes from an understanding of the one to whom we pray and his character: the character of God himself.  Understanding the one we send our prayers to is absolutely necessary for any faith in the prayer process to emerge and grow.  We people are limited creatures and cannot achieve everything.  But if we approach God in the same manner, ascribing a limited nature to Him, we will naturally doubt the prayers being made to begin with.  If there is no belief that God is exactly who he says he is then there is absolutely no hope whatsoever that anything close to impossible could become reality.  If the God of the Bible is a myth and a legend there is absolutely no difference praying at the bedside with hands clasped together than praying over a birthday cake while dawning a birthday hat.  The God of the Bible, who hears and desires to answer prayer, can only be revealed by the Spirit who testifies to the truth.  It is therefore open for everyone to experience, but not everyone is open in turn to the experience.

Upon finding confidence in the ability of God, one must understand how he desires to use his ability.  Many who have found faith in the God of the miraculous have ultimately been disappointed by God, due to a fundamental misunderstanding of his nature and approach to our prayers.  Many take a black-or-white approach to prayer.  For example, if I am suffering and I pray for the suffering to stop, I might suppose that if God is powerful enough to stop it he will, and if he cares for me enough, he will.  We found our understanding of prayer on a tight rope, allowing God just enough room to walk without losing his balance and falling.  From this perspective, suffering is merely “bad” and, therefore, the presence of a “good” and “loving” God who allows suffering to persist implies the complete absence of goodness and thus the absence of God. While the why and when of suffering will often be a mystery, the conclusion that God does not care is unjustifiable from the perspective of scripture.

Throughout the entire Bible, and specifically in the life and teachings of Jesus, God reaches out to people and cares for them in ways that define rationality.  There are many instances where Jesus heals an individual before they even ask for it or even imply belief in him, such as Luke 7:11-17, when Jesus raises the son of a widow from death to life. As the stories of Jesus’ healing are so numerous, this particular story is easily overlooked,especially due to the popularity of the resurrection of Lazarus. This smaller, but no less significant, display of Jesus’ power over death is passed over rather easily.

The miracle of Jesus overpowering even death is worthy of praise all on its own.  However, the more amazing aspect of this story is the lack of dialogue between the mother and Jesus.  We find no evidence that the mother spoke with Jesus, let alone placed faith in him at all.  What we do see is that Jesus felt compassion for the widow, and his heart “went out to her.”  It was out of this compassion that Jesus not only restored her son to life but simultaneously restored the life of this poor woman.  Upon reading this passage, we cannot conclude that Jesus came into the world simply to display power. The only remaining conclusion is that Jesus came into our world, with healing power, simply because he cared.

Thursday Reflection: Why We Eat, part 2

You can find part 1 of the series here.pen-and-paper_400x295_39

This reflection series is inspired by 1 Peter 2:2-3.

Today we’re reflecting on Boredom.

I love to eat.  I love the taste of food and I love the satisfaction of being full.  However, there comes a time when I find myself continuing to eat and I have to ask myself if I am actually hungry.  There is a point at which the stomach no longer cries out for sustenance, where the mind overpowers the natural urge of hunger and encourages the hand and mouth to work as one in order to fill a psychological emptiness rather than physical hunger.  Eating to sustain a level of activity more than to fulfill a bodily need.

For me, this happens when I am watching a TV show or movie.  At some point, the popcorn is finished and there is still more than an hour left to sit and watch.  At this moment, there is clearly no dire physical hunger to be satisfied. Yet, for me, there seems to be imbalance.  My ears, eyes and mind are still busy digesting the movie, but my mouth and hands feel left out.  At this moment, I choose to satisfy this boredom with something else to snack on.

For others, the need to snack has an emotional trigger.  Eating provides a sense of pleasure that dulls the lack of pleasure elsewhere.  Perhaps a tough day at work where nothing went well leads to the sensation that throughout the entire day nothing was deeply satisfying.  For some, that guarantee of satisfaction comes from food.  It doesn’t matter how bad the day, ice cream will always taste like ice cream.  Ice cream will always taste sweet. Ice cream will always taste creamy. Ice cream will always be cold and soothing to the soul. Ice cream, in moments of despair, is a friend that will never let you down.

Many believers have at one time felt that being a Christian is the most exciting and fulfilling thing imaginable. They wish for the steady stream of Bible studies and Christian fellowship to never cease.  This is an exciting time, and I pray that each Christian experience these moments more often than not.  However, the contrast to this sense of being alive in Christ can quickly shift to one of stale, unsatisfying boredom.

The reasons for the shift differ with each person. But the fact remains that, at some point, there will inevitably be obstacles to maintaining the excitement once felt in being Christian.  More often than not, the reason behind the plateau is the unfortunate truth that we seek activities and people to define life in Christ in the first place, rather than Christ himself.  In other words, we’ve sought to satisfy our hunger elsewhere.

While we may seek to be satisfied by the people or things that surround us, the irony is that these “hunger agents” have never demonstrated the hunger-satisfying power we attribute to them. Church groups and activities can be an amazing source of growth for a Christian. In fellowship one can more completely experience the nature of being born of the Spirit.  The mistake is looking to these people and activities to define Christian life, a naïve notion that they will always be there and that they will always satisfy us.

The truth is, they won’t.  Churches will change. People will move.  Activities and groups will evolve.

A common experience for many Christians is to be so over-the-moon-in-love with Jesus at a particular church, but the moment the church changes, or something in the routine is adjusted, the love loses zest, even value.  An individual who experiences this “loss of life” might choose to take a more internal and isolated approach to Christianity, moving away from church entirely.

Following this “divorce” from the church, the re-entry into the world can be shocking, one that takes quite a bit of down and up shifting, now apart from the Christian life.  Living outside of the presence of God reveals harsh realities that are, at times, too heavy to bear.   Suddenly the answers that explained everything within the church, in the presence of God’s Word, no longer make any sense. There is a sense of being lost and unsure of things.  At this point, a person can make one of two choices: return out of the need for God alone, or out of the need for things, people, activities: in other words, distraction.

Encountering the world and returning to God because of who and what He is? A miracle, a true “Prodigal Son” homecoming.  Being sold into slavery and redeemed is the Joseph story that some of us need to experience in order to truly realize what being a Christian is all about.  This is grace at work in our lives. To experience grace is to experience God.  This is a victorious moment for the Christian as well as for the Father in heaven.  There is nothing more exciting and satisfying to him than seeing one lost sheep finally return home.

Returning to God because of the comforts of “Christian Living” is a different issue entirely.  The reason to make the return to God in this manner has nothing to do with God at all.  Much like snacking with no physical hunger to satisfy, this is trying to satisfy a false craving.  In this case a person is returning in the search for some emotional or physical gratification, without necessarily desiring God.  When we do this, we are aware that, in returning, certain things will be as reliable or predictable as the sensation of sweetness found in ice cream.

Many of us have a tendency to use church: worse, we have a tendency to use God.  We wander about trying to control our world and  solve our own problems and then, like a swimmer coming up to get air, we find that we cannot handle it, and we go back to God. The time spent in “Christian life” this second, third, fourth, one-hundredth time around will seem like holding your breath underwater. At some point, you will need to emerge abruptly and gasp for air.  We find ourselves going back and forth, never being satisfied, and never knowing exactly who we really are.

Christians like saying that there are “seasons of spiritual growth.”  While this is true, the danger is that some tend to use this as an excuse to explain this seesaw manner of communion with God.  Using this logic, a swimmer could say that swimming has its “seasons” as well: “Some seasons I hold my breath, some seasons I come up for air.”  These clearly are not “seasons of change” or “growth.”  These changes are intermittent, predictable, and necessary in the act of swimming.

Being a disciple of Jesus is staying underwater and miraculously learning how to breathe while submerged.  Being a disciple means transformation, repentance, change.

Craving God in the way that we crave snacks when we are bored or depressed is misunderstanding the Gospel entirely.  The Gospel preached by Jesus Christ is neither a break from the action, nor action to relieve us from a break.  The Gospel is a way of life that, if allowed into the heart, will satisfy the need for satisfaction and activity before we can even realize that we desire either.

Come back next Thursday for part 3.