fruitage of the spirit's journal

Expressions from the Heart

Puzzled by Simplicity?

Puzzled by Simplicity? by Julie McAllen

What time is it when an elephant sits on your watch?
Time to get a new watch.
Simple questions deserve simple answers. So what makes us laugh at third grade jokes? We never expect simple answers.
In school I loved solving those long algebraic equations. I found delight in discovering that “x” plus “y” actually equaled “c” after filling up half a page and twenty minutes on the problem. As much as I enjoyed the “aha!” moment I wondered when in the world I’d ever need to use that process. Since graduating high school my math skills have diminished to balancing my check book and figuring out which can of soup is the cheapest per ounce. So much for algebra. But I remain fascinated with puzzles.
Have you ever found yourself engaged in solving puzzles in the Bible? As with my one time love of algebra, I can fill up pages of notes on a biblical topic with a satisfying “aha!” moment only to wonder when in the world this would be useful. There is no shortage of debatable topics offered to those who find themselves in biblical discussions. Are we in the last days? Is God a trinity? Are the gifts of the Spirit for our time? Is there a land promise left to Israel? Should women be ordained ministers? Were the six creative days literal 24 hour days? Do they deserve an answer? Of course they do and it is never a waste of time to resolve these questions for ourselves or others. But it is not the simple answer most deserving of our attention.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (Is 53:1)

What is the Christian’s message? Has it changed in the last 2000 years? Where it has, you will find problems. Look at your church, what is it’s main message? Look at your evangelism style, what is your message? Being a puzzle person by nature and a former evangelizer with a complicated last days message, I am always taken aback by the simple conversions of individuals in the Bible. Can it really be this simple?
One such story is of the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip in Acts 8:26-40. The eunuch was reading the scroll of Isaiah when Philip came along side him to explain it’s meaning. This eunuch was basically on his way home from a worship service. He was familiar with prophecy, but still had not heard the message.
32The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
34The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”
(Acts 8:32-34)
From this we learn he was reading what we now know as Isaiah 53:7-8. He was not yet acquainted with Jesus Christ and that is why he asked Philip “who is the prophet talking about?”

What do you think Philip explained to him? Did he come along side him to tell him about the last days? The origins of the universe? Convince him that Jesus was God Himself? How to be a good Christian?
 

35Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. (Acts 8:35)

What is the good news about Jesus? What is the message?

4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
  (Is 53:4-6)
The word of God says Jesus took all our sins on himself. Have you ever missed that point in giving a witness? Don’t.  That is the message. Have you ever been convinced that you need something else? Philip’s witness was about Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. That was the gospel to which this man responded and got baptized. Did you notice that the eunuch’s trust in Jesus’ sacrifice was all that was needed for baptism? He did not have to have a thorough knowledge of every deep prophecy or clean himself up to accept the sacrifice Jesus made. He was baptized right there on the spot! And then went his own way rejoicing. What? It can’t be that simple! There’s got to be a longer equation to solve!
If our message has become the second coming, have we overlooked the purpose of the Lord’s first coming? Who has believed our message? Read Isaiah 53.
If our message has become an argument about the trinity, but his role as the promised Messiah has been missed, we frustrate the message. Read Isaiah 53.
I find it interesting that Philip is the disciple in this story with the eunuch. I believe Philip understood Jesus to be God by the time he was giving a witness to the eunuch, but I don’t think he was a trinitarian at his own conversion and baptism. He accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah, but was still confused as to his triune nature after 3 years of discipleship (John 14:7-9). Yet, Philip’s message was not about accepting the trinity. Philip started in Isaiah 53.
Peter’s message also was Isaiah 53.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pe 2:24)
Paul understood the message of Isaiah 53.
16But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Ro 10:16-17)

What message have you been listening to and sharing? If it’s gotten complicated, simplify, bring it back to the good news that faith may follow the thing heard. Our gospel is not a message about angels and demons. Our gospel is not about piecing together evidence concerning the last days, winning someone over to the trinity, tapping into spiritual gifts, or scaring someone into submission through a message of hellfire or Armageddon. Our gospel is the same gospel that Paul preached, the same gospel that the eunuch was baptized under and later went his own way rejoicing. Our intention and compulsion is the same as Paul’s who said…
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor 2:2 )
So what time is it when an elephant sits on your message?
Time to get a new message.
Try starting at Isaiah 53.

Keep yourself in God’s love, Julie

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July 21, 2009 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Strength in Weakness

j0309634Two weeks have gone by and I haven’t kept up with the study of Galatians. Several times I attempted to sit myself down and write about the freedom we have as Christians (as we learned in the book of Galatians), but the enemy managed to place stumbling blocks in front of me and caused me to trip. Those of you who know me personally are aware of the various dilemmas slapping me up at the moment. I’m not one to put my personal life out there, but trust me when I tell you that I’m being attacked by the enemy (and suffering consequences of poor choices I’ve made) as I post this journal.

 I’m writing today in an attempt to be lifted up in spirit; yes, I’m down at the moment. If you’re finding yourself at the “end of the rope” or been a target for the enemy’s bullets, I hope you find encouragement in this message.

One word keeps coming at me relentlessly – weakness. Actually, there’s more than one word: tired, drained, exhausted, pathetic and faint – to name a few, that describes my energy and will to move forward. How can this be? Me? Pathetic and faint?  I have to confess, I have an incredible life. I am blessed to have amazing friends – not just “fair-weathered” friends, but genuine friends who love and care for me. I don’t think I go one day without and email or phone call (or text message) from someone dear to me, letting me know they’re thinking about me. I love my work, my family and my ministry – and most of all, I share an intimate relationship with my Heavenly Father. So, why am I struggling with weakness?? Dear Lord, reveal yourself to me through these challenges you are allowing me to experience. Open my eyes of understanding so that I can come out of this glorifying You.

 2 Corthinthians 7:9 tell us that “power is perfected in weakness”. Power and weakness in the same sentence? Yes, because the weaker we are, the more God’s grace shines clearer. It’s not until we need God’s grace that we actually search it out and obtain it. Pastor James McDonald stated in one of his sermons, “The grace of God is not fully seen in our lives until weakness is fully experienced.”  Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10

I’ve come to understand that feeling weak is not fatal – it is necessary. Without weakness, how can God display His saving power? Without weakness, I wouldn’t need God’s grace.  I take no joy in the pain of my struggles, but I do take joy in knowing that Christ’s power is revealed through me as I suffer through them. Yes, I’m tired. Like so many others who are also going through their share of sufferings – whether it be pain from a child who has gone astray, pain from a marriage slowly deteriorating when you’ve tried all you can to keep it together, pain from a job loss or financial burdens – or pain from suffering mental health problems such as depression or suffering from physical illness. All of these cause weakness, weariness, exhaustion and feelings of hopelessness.

 Isn’t it comforting to know we are children of a mighty, awesome Father who will strengthen us with His power? I’m not sure how many times the apostle Paul mentioned about his weaknesses, but it appears that in the 2Corinthians, he mentions it quite often. When I think about Paul experiences (2Corth11:26-27), it’s no wonder he was weak – physically and mentally. Yet, 2 Corth 11:30, Paul said, “I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.” Why? Because displaying Paul’s weakness magnified God’s power at work in and through him. How awesome is it to know that God’s power is being revealed through each one of us when we are weak?

 I resolve to surrender my weakness and exhaustion. I give it to my Father above, who will empower me with strength and wisdom so that I can move towards his purpose for me. Although my feebleness may cause me to move a little slower, my faith will not waiver. In time, I’ll be able to brag about my weaknesses, just as Paul did. In the meantime, I will move one small step (in faith) at a time.  Thank you, God, for your saving Grace…thank You for Your Mercy…thank You for Your Power.

July 7, 2009 Posted by | Expressions | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

God is with us

God is with us by Julie McAllen

11 When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. (Job 2:11)
Their desire to comfort their friend was admirable. Their recorded attempts are confusing. When I read of God’s displeasure in the things uttered by his friends, I am not always sure which things were so bad. That tells me I really need to pray about my words of “comfort.” Take for example Bildad’s words at Job 8:20.

20 “Surely God does not reject a blameless man
or strengthen the hands of evildoers.”
(Job 8:20)
Isn’t that akin to something a well-meaning Christian might say today?
So, what if the problem continues? Does that mean I’m rejected by God and therefore not blameless? And why did my neighbor’s problem clear up when he’s not even a Christian? Why did the Lord strengthen his hands and not mine?
Surely God does not reject a blameless man…………..oh?
Or strengthen the hands of evildoers…………………………oh?
We pray, we search the scriptures for counsel, we pour out our lives for charity, and guess what folks? Our unscrupulous neighbor gets the cure, the big house, the promotion, and the respect of many friends and we’re left to ponder why we’ve washed our hands in innocence and begin to envy the prosperity of the wicked (Ps 73:3, 13).
Have we been misled in the belief that Christians are somehow immune to the same plagues as the world around us? Remember, God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt 5:45) The rains do fall on blameless men. And God does make his sun rise giving blessings and mercy to those who neither acknowledge nor serve Him. Should we doubt our own faith in God when we see no answers to prayers for relief? Did I displease Him somehow? Why has He forsaken me? I must be sinning somewhere, because the latest Christian author said I would be blessed with God’s favor if I worked the program. Hmmm….is there something familiar with those kind of thoughts?
Job struggled with understanding his trials and we struggle understanding our own. But don’t be fooled by the false comforters who teach that if a man is not prospering, there is something wrong with his relationship with God. In fact, the opposite is often the case.
2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)
While going through a trial, it’s not our immediate response to be joyful. But looking back on trials is another story. Aren’t you thankful for trials through which you can now see the Lord was with you? But did you know He was with you at the time you were suffering? Pray for eyes of faith if you are currently in a trial or comforting someone who is.
How do we find comfort? In our modern era we have so many resources to lean on when we sense a weakening of our resolve to honor God with unswerving faith. You know the scramble. Just pop in that favorite Christian CD. Open your Bible to your favorite verses neatly categorized by chapter and verse. Call or email a friend. Attend another conference. Listen to the audio of the last one that inspired you. Search the web for topics about your particular struggle. Go to church.  While all of these are blessings and I can personally attest to their encouraging power in my own life, I am humbled by a man’s faith who had access to none of them. No, this is not another lesson on the suffering of Job.
Let’s look at Joseph.
Joseph’s story begins with his own jealous brothers hating him for having a dream and being loved by his father (Gen 37:4, 11). He was sold into slavery, tempted daily by Potiphar’s wife, thrown in prison on a false rape charge, and out of the only two friends we know of in that cell, one dies and the other forgets him for two years when Joseph specifically asked to be remembered. Some life! Put it in the context of the modern era:
This guy Joe comes from a dysfunctional family and ends up in prison for raping the boss’s wife and the inmates don’t even like him! Must be a bad dude, God’s forgotten him. Let him rot. Ya know that other guy Mr. Potiphar? He must be going to the right church because you can sure see the Lord’s blessing on his house! For we all know….”God does not reject a blameless man or strengthen the hands of evildoers.” (Job 8:20)
Oh?
5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6 So he left in Joseph’s care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. (Gen 39:5, 6)
How about that! Joseph does the right thing and Potiphar gets the blessing! Not only Potiphar, but later Joseph’s presence in the prison gave the guard ease also (Gen 39:20-23). It says “the Lord was with Joseph” and that “he showed him kindness and granted him favor.” How’s that? Looks to me like the prison warden was granted the favor. What would Job’s comforters say to Joseph in this situation? Further more, how did Joseph maintain his faith in God? Was it those weekly church services that built him up? Did he find relief in the tranquil stylings of his favorite CD? I know, it was blogging with friends about that last faith conference! Really, what did Joseph have? Maybe you live simply without computer or stereo, but poor Joseph didn’t even have a Bible!! I’m left with the conclusion that Joseph was a man of intense prayer. And it explains a lot. I am thankful to have His word neatly bound in chapter and verse, but I am more blessed to know He speaks to me through His Spirit in prayer—even more so if I am left without the other modern methods of encouragement.
Through a prayerful relationship, God was with Joseph. It may not have been evident to the outside observer as he sat forgotten in prison by his family, employer, and friends, but Joseph had the peace of God which transcends all understanding (Phil 4:7). For how else could a man who lived through those trials come out forgiving his brothers with these words?
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Gen 50:19-21)
Joseph knew his place with God because he was a man of prayer. He understood that various trials were not an indication of God’s displeasure in him. He continued to pray through it without acknowledgement or comfort from others that God was with him. He simply knew.
Thank you Lord, you are with us.

Keep yourself in God’s love, Julie

July 2, 2009 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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