Friday, May 28, 2010

Beauty and the Beast

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"Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme....Beauty and the Beast" Last week I was sitting in the Canton High School Commons watching an elegantly and beautifully dressed girl dance with this goofy-looking "Beast" (no offense to the boy of course!) dance back and forth while "Mrs Pots" sang the love song from the movie "Beauty and the Beast." My mom is a choir director in Canton for both the Jr. High and High school and I had the privilege of watching their spring musical performance. The kidos did an outstanding job and really told the story very well; in fact, they stirred up a lot of sweet and precious memories for me of when I was a little girl dancing around to this song in play clothes with some bear or ken doll in our living room. I was infatuated with stories that contained a beautiful girl searching out an adventure. Naturally, every little girl sees her role as "Beauty" when in reality---I think I'm closer to the Beast. I know, I know, I am not trying to fish for compliments or be the girl that never is satisfied with her looks--I'm telling the truth! Turn to a page in the Bible that I was reading in my quiet time this morning and allow me to explain:

"When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that my heart desires besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."

Psalm 73:20-26 ESV

On any given day, I can turn into a beast: past sins, regret and bitterness can easily creep into my heart and make me hostile towards the work of God's holiness and redemption in my life. I can be ignorant and just plain stubborn in surrendering things at the foot of the cross. I recall a scene from the musical last week when the beast yells at beauty " You're not welcomed here! Get out!!!!!!" Ha! I may not say those words audibly---or even think those words, but when I reject the Holy Spirit's leading or conviction, it is as if I am saying those things. My fits of rage and temper tantrums may sound something more like this: " Not now God, I'm too busy with other things. I just want to have a pity party right now ok? It hurts a lot--how could this happen to me, what did I ever do?" Yup. Even though it may have different words than the script, I would say that that those statements have come from a beast: me--bad breath and all!

But the "beauty" in this story (I hear the pretty melody of the transitional background music--if I could insert me humming it right here I would :), is that word found in verse 23 "Nevertheless." Despite my rage and anger, God remains faithful: He holds my right hand, guides me and even receives me into glory (vs. 23-25) The Psalmist confesses that in comparison to any other person or thing both in heaven and on earth---nothing matters and is more desiring than knowing God (v 25). He admits that his flesh and heart may fail but that really, God is the strength (or in Hebrew--Rock) of his heart and my portion forever. Portion refers to "lot, lines," or "inheritance." I think of portion as the only thing I cling to--the only thing that I will have in the end of my life.

Wow. We can watch a movie like Beauty and the Beast and think "what a great story!" But it's deeper than that when you look at it in light of what you know in Scripture: We are like the Beast but then we are transformed because of the grace, the mercy, faithfulness and ultimately, the love of our God. He is not fearful of us in our horrific state of sin: He sees us as 'ugly and gruesome' yet redeemable. The Bible says that once we accept Christ--when we 'died our lives are now hidden with Christ in God' (Col. 3:3). So when God looks at us--he no longer sees the beast, He sees Christ and He promises to 'never leave us nor forsake us' (Deut. 31:6). Surrender the mask of the "beast" to Christ so that you can experience the "beauty" of knowing God and claim the "beautiful inheritance" (Psalm 16:6).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Fear of Questions-a devo from various scripture

When asked the question “What are you afraid of?” My answer does not consist of the usual spiders, the dark or some disfigured movie monster—it is actually the inability to give an answer. Do you ever struggle with that? The fear of not knowing what to say or how to express what you know? I’m not just talking about in class when your professor randomly says “Miss Strom…what is the answer to practice problem 10-A?” (Although, it does make me a little nervous) I am talking about the questions that every person who claims to have Christ as the Lord and Savior of their life encounters by non-believers. Questions like: “Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God send people to hell? How do people come to know the Lord if they have never had the chance to hear about him? Why is the church full of hypocrites? Are you sure that Christ is the only way to heaven: do not all religions lead to heaven?” I have a tendency to push this topic or subject of fear from my mind and ignore it’s presence in my mind when in reality, we as Christ followers should be able to give an answer. But when my eyes stumble upon a passage like in 1 Peter 3—I realize that maybe it’s about time to face this fear:

“13Now(S) who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14(T) But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.(U) Have no fear of them,(V) nor be troubled, 15but(W) in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy,(X) always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and(Y) respect, 16(Z) having a good conscience, so that,(AA) when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17For(AB) it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (ESV-1 Peter 3:13-17)

It is so great that the first thing addressed here is the reminder that “If God is for you, who can be against you?” (Romans 2:2) If you are proclaiming the name of Christ and being obedient to sharing Him with others—which is what God has commanded us to do, what are you afraid of? The outcomes are win-win: if you share Christ with someone and give testimony to Him in your life, you win and if you are rejected and ‘suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed:’ another win. The next sentence is the heart-beat of this topic and I encourage you to put yourself into the scripture like this:

“Have no fear of them, nor be troubled Joni, but in your heart honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…”

First step in this passage is to ‘honor Christ the Lord as holy.’ What does that even mean? It has to mean more than just saying “Oh yah, God is pretty holy.” No, this means that we are to recognize God as perfect, set-apart from anyone or anything, pure, blameless, righteous, omniscient, omnipotent, Creator of everything: so Holy that no man would even have the ability to look upon God’s face without falling upon his own face, dead. I would say that God is more than just ‘pretty holy.’ I feel like this portion of the verse precedes the action of giving a defense in order to put us in our place. We are not omniscient. We do not have unlimited knowledge, or claim that we can perceive everything. Therefore, if we do not have this knowledge, we should not rely on our own understanding and perception but rather rely on Christ. Remember the verse in Proverbs? “The beginning of all wisdom is the fear of the LORD.” Adam and Eve desired to know both good and evil and so they sinned against God and sought fruit from the Tree of Life. This passage is addressing the core of every human being: a desire to be God—when in reality, all we can be is like God.

Moving onto the next portion of the scripture, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you..” Just because we are neither God nor omniscient like him, does not permit us to simply waste the mind He has given us. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul mind and strength.” (Mark 12:30). Therefore, do not even try to use the excuse that you do not have the ability. All of those questions that were shared in the beginning are targeting the simple reason why you have hope in Jesus Christ. So why do you have your hope in Christ? Not how did you come to know Christ—but why? Even mature Christians may struggle a moment in putting it into words: I know I do! But God’s Word says that we are always give a reason as to why we have placed our hope in Christ.

Even if we express our faith in Jesus Christ perfectly, it does not mean that the person will accept and believe in Christ. I was listening to a sermon the other day by the evangelist, Jack Graham on the topic of “Belief and Unbelief.” He addressed all of these questions and said that these questions stem from a heart of unbelief. I am not saying that if you have periodic doubts regarding God that you are not a Christian---but when you are approached by a person who is asking “Why does God send people to hell?” or “Why do bad things happen to good people?” That ultimately, these questions stem from a heart of unbelief and to be honest, your words cannot make a person believe. It is ultimately God who draws those to him. 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 says this:

“4For we know,(A) brothers[a] loved by God,(B) that he has chosen you, 5because(C) our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and(D) in the Holy Spirit and with full(E) conviction.”

Notice how the verse states “that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and full conviction.” ‘Not only in word but in the power and the Holy Spirit’ I am being repetitive because the point is that it’s the partnership of both sharing the Truth and God opening the eyes of the individual to Himself that penetrates his or her heart. God opened Saul’s (Paul) eyes on a road and audibly spoke to Him: think of having that kind of a conversion! (Acts 9) In Galatians 3, Paul is addressing the Galatians on this topic:

“1O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?(A) It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly(B) portrayed as crucified. 2Let me ask you only this:(C) Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by(D) hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish?(E) Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by[a] the flesh? 4(F) Did you suffer[b] so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and(G) works miracles among you do so(H) by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6just as(I) Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"?”

I feel like he is somewhat frustrated a little. I don’t know, when someone says something like “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?!” Ha! My paraphrase of this text would be: “Are you high on something—what’s your deal?” But the Galatians were struggling with the concept of works and faith and which of the two were the means of salvation. Notice the placement of the word “Spirit.” Verse 3 states that we began with the Spirit and later on in verse 5, ‘he who supplies the Spirit to you.’ Are you getting the idea now?
This somewhat leads into one of those questions addressed earlier about “Why does God let good people go to hell—why aren’t all people saved?” I will admit, this topic makes me uncomfortable but just because it’s uncomfortable doesn’t mean that we are not to wrestle with it. The element of God’s sovereignty in salvation and the concept of predestination can get a little messy theologically. No body likes to think of people going to hell and if God desires for no one to perish—it doesn’t make sense. This is something that we are to wrestle with as Christ-followers and seek God’s Word on. I am so incredibly humbled with this topic and do not claim to ‘have it all figured out’ but here is what God’s Word says and it is my prayer that you take it and be uncomfortable with it too.
Going back to that verse in 1 Thessalonians, it does state “that he has chosen you.” Romans 8:29-30, Ephesians 1:5,11: six verses total in the New Testament pertain to God “predestining” or “determining beforehand,” other literal meanings are “elected” or in Greek ekloge meaning “choice, selection, election.” (ESV Commentary) This predestination is to be ‘conformed to the image of his son’ or the ‘adoption of Christ.’ Never does it say “God has predestined us for hell.” WE, ourselves, are predestined for hell but God, in His abundant mercy and grace, has now predestined us for heaven. See the contrast? Additionally, we cannot claim to be ‘good people.’ Jesus Christ himself said in Matthew, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." There is only one person who is good. The statement about “keep the commandments” is not saying that you earn salvation through good works but that you must first recognize God as the only person who is good. In that light and recognition, the good that you serves an act of belief in it. We must realize when wrestling with this scripture that God is good! He is not an evil God sending people to hell. Did he elect people to know Him? According to the word, yes—He is God and is sovereign. Does that mean that we who are chosen are to just sit on our bums and let him bring those that are his to himself? I love this passage from Romans 10:

12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." 14 But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? R32 And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for"Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world." 19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,"I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry." 20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,"I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me." 21 But of Israel he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people."

(Sorry. This devotional is turning into a full-blown lesson—but it is so good to work through this amen?!) The verses 13 and 14 state the fact : How are people going to come to the Lord if they have not heard? And how are people going to hear if someone has not been sent to preach? Can you see how predestination fits into God’s plan and will? The verse “Everyone who calls on the name of Lord will be saved,” reveals that God is good and does not desire for anyone to perish. As we get to verse 18 in this passage, we realize that a lot of people have heard it—but they deny the message. God is so patient amen? Verse 21 it states that “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” Within the concept of predestination, there is still an element of choice—to obey or disobey. How it all works, I am still not completely sure: it would be foolish to deny the fact that God has predestined us because it takes away from God’s immense sovereignty and is inconsistent with the way he has carefully planned-out all of creation. In the same sense, we are not robots—love is a choice: Christ did not say “You will follow me,” he said “Follow me.” God is not sending anyone to hell: He loves us so much that he granted us a way to be saved from it!

Whew. Questions? :)Ha. Questions may seem rather intimidating but do you realize how important they are? Do you see how facing a fear of questions head-on can actually lead to a deeper knowledge of God? The more we know God—who is love, we can know love. The wrestling is not in any shape or form a means of obtaining head-knowledge, it’s meant to be practiced and put into action. Recognize the reason you came to Christ, passing from darkness into light. The Bible commands us to ‘let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’(Matt. 5:16). Probably the biggest question you should wrestle with are not the ones people ask you, but the one you should ask yourself daily “Why am I a Christ-follower?” Allow that question to permeate into the way you live your life.