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A Word on Debt from a Freeloader

As my bride-to-be and I are approaching our wedding day (still 5 months away…only 5 months away!) the discussion of finances and debt has arisen. I am thrilled that she and I have similar feelings and thoughts about debt. We want to get rid of it. We want to be at a place of living completely debt free. We both will carry some debt into our marriage from our private, Christian undergraduate and graduate educations. I have a car that is being paid for and she will need a car at some point in the near future. Looking at the strains debt can place on a relationship and a marriage we have to be disciplined with our finances to prevent them from becoming a problem in our marriage. Money is one of the primary reasons that many marriages struggle and, ultimately, end in divorce. Debt is a key contributor to these marital issues.

What if we could live completely debt free? What if we could always be free from the burden of owing someone money? This day will be one of the most freeing moments in our marriage! No school loans or car payments or any other payments beyond our monthly living expenses! What a day, what a feeling! Complete freedom from the burden of debt. Some of you know this feeling already and some of you are longing for it. It truly is amazing!

So, what if someone made me an offer that was so unreal, so ridiculous, that I would be stunned in disbelief? When heard the offer I would look around for hidden cameras and wonder who was behind this hoax. What a terrible joke to play on me! But in the end it wasn’t a joke. The offer? To take on and pay ALL of my debt. And, take on and pay ALL of my fiancé’s debt. What?!?! But wait, there’s more. ALL of our debt will be paid, FOREVER. If we choose to take on a mortgage to purchase a home one day…paid! If we get loans so she can go to graduate school to further her education…paid! When we take out loans to send our children to college…paid! And just imagine what we can do with our credit cards!!! We could go anywhere, do anything, buy whatever we wanted. ALL our debt is paid!

If we continued on this path we would begin to appear reckless and ungrateful. It would appear that we would be abusing this incredible gift. Who would want to be this person? We often call them freeloaders. I hoped to never fall into this category, but sadly I do. I am a freeloader every day of my life. I don’t want to be and hate that I am. But I am. This offer was made to me and I accepted it and have chosen to abuse it. Almost every single day I intentionally accrue debt that someone else has already paid for. He bought me out of debt and promised to always do so. He said I don’t need to live under that burden, but I run to it. I rationalize it, saying that I can’t live without at least little debt. Hopefully you caught on that we are no longer talking about financial debt, but another kind of debt. A much more serious debt. Spiritual debt.

Spiritual debt is so serious because we can’t make payments throughout life hoping to lessen the severity of the final bill. There is no re-financing, no interest free offers, no consolidation. As our lives here on earth end we will have to face a Great Collector. He will require our payment, all of it. The scriptures tell us that we all have it (Romans 3:9-18 & 23) and that we are incapable of paying it back (Ephesians 2:1-3). The only hope for us is that our debt is transferred to someone who can pay it, Jesus. Colossians 2:13-14 gives us this relief from debt: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

We must allow our debt to be transferred to the Cross. And when this transfer is completed, don’t be a freeloader of grace. Nobody likes a freeloader

“and bless me…please???”

You ever have those times when everything you read and think and pray line up to one idea? This morning was kinda one of those moments for me. During my daily time with the Lord I have three different readings I am regularly drawing from. Foremost is the text of Scripture, nothing can replace the Word. I also read Chambers “My Utmost for His Highest” and an excerpt from a wonderful volume entitled “From the Library of Charles Spurgeon.” Occasionally the words from Chambers or the Spurgeon book will enhance the idea of my reading from Scripture, but rarely do both compliment each other and connect with the the text I’ve read from the Word. Today was one of those rare occasions when everything connected.

I am currently making my way through the text of the Bible trying to examine prayer. My hope is to better understand how those in Scripture communicated directly to God so I will be a better communicator with Him. The last couple days I have been stuck on a passage in Exodus 12, which actually does not reference direct communication to God but it reveals something incredible about prayer and our communication with God.

Exodus 12:32 “Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!”

Did you catch that? At the end of Pharaoh’s command for the expulsion of Israel from the land of Egypt, he tags on the request to “bless me also.” What?!?! The last several chapters are nothing but Pharaoh’s constant rejection of God’s authority and refusal to submit to God, but as he’s sending them out he requests that Moses blesses him. How arrogant is this? How absolutely absurd of a request can you get? Pharaoh did not choose to honor or acknowledge God or His authority, but he sought a blessing from Him. It is completely ridiculous to think God would bless Him in such an arrogant place. Pharaoh needs to humble himself before Almighty God and hope to gain the favor to merely approach His throne, not to seek a blessing of some sort.

Now let’s shift to the Chambers and Spurgeon readings for today. Chamber is entitled “Til You are Entirely His” on July 31. He communicates that at our core we are his, but in the extremities things are different. We have been saved but the process of sanctification is always working itself out to make us Holy. If we choose to let these “dirty/messy” areas remain in our lives then we will not ever be “entirely His.” We are His, but we will never reach entire sanctification while here in this world. So we should always be growing in holiness in order to become entirely His. If we hold on to these “dirty” areas of our lives we are intentionally limiting our potential with the Lord. The Spurgeon reading connects this thought with an excerpt from Christopher Love. He states that we must be brought into a place of friendship and reconciliation with God, through Christ, in order for our prayers to be heard. He says that all prayers not dictated by the Spirit must be dictated by the flesh. If our prayers are not assisted by the Spirit then they will not be accepted by God.

Connecting this all back to Pharaoh which will hopefully explain my conviction. Pharaoh was seeking God’s blessing for his own glory and desires. Nothing in his life demonstrated a reverence for the God of Israel. Yet he came to seek a blessing because he understood the power of God. He was seeking to gain the blessing or power of God for himself. Or as Christopher Lover suggested, he was asking out of his flesh. I wonder how often I do this? I approach the Lord for clarity, wisdom, an answer, or simply something I want but my life does not reflect that I have reverence, respect or love for God. Or maybe I’m intentionally letting a “dirty/messy” area of my life remain? Ah dang, ouch, that’s true for sure. So my approach to my communication with God is birthed from the flesh rather than the Spirit. If my request is from the flesh then how can I expect God to honor, or even hear it? I hope and pray that I will be better coming to the Lord in prayer in the Spirit, rather than in the flesh.

The First Time We Talked to God

imageReading from Oswald Chambers devotional “My Utmost for His Highest” I felt challenged about my own prayer life. I have often communicated to my students that as my prayer life goes so does the rest of my spiritual life. In doing some self reflection I realized that my own prayer life is active, but only to the point of necessity. I pray daily for those that I love, daily for a select few that do not know Christ yet, daily for things I want or need, daily in thanks. All of these happen, my iPhone reminds for most of them, but they have become more of a chore than an opportunity to connect with my Father. My conviction is to engage prayer, from the text of Scripture, in order that I may better understand prayer so that I can truly enter into prayer and commune with God. So today I start with the first instance, in the Bible, of man talking to God…

Genesis 1 and 2 record the creation, God’s perfect design for the world. He caps it all off with the statement of “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31) and he rests. In the first two chapters I can find no direct communication from man to God–we do see God communicating with man directly, but I’m looking for our communication to God. Then the story moves to Genesis 3. Anyone familiar at all with the Bible knows what happens in Genesis 3, the Fall of Man (and the world). As I continued through the text I was amazed that I did not find man saying anything to God until this instance. The first recorded statement of mankind to Almighty God arrives in Genesis 3:10 and reads “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” REALLY?!?!?! Our first communication with God in the entirety of Scripture was an unintentional confession of sin! We can dive deeply into the theology of this, but in wading through the minutia of it all I feel there is a key idea that is present that we can all bring to our lives of prayer. In short, this first statement to God by mankind identifies that God is Holy and we are not. Adam immediately knew that something was off and he was in no place to commune with the Almighty.

We can argue that those in Christ are now forgiven, which I wholeheartedly believe, but we cannot ignore the state we were once in. So as we choose to approach God in prayer, let us not ever forget the wounded, wretched state we were once in. As we approach the Father we must be humble before Him, broken and weak. God may I remember the place you daily bring me from, may my connection with you be one that is centered on the joy and hope that I have because of the grace you have shown me. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Familiarity Returning to Amazement

Mark 6:1-6
The crowds were growing, everywhere in Galilee people were talking about him. They were amazed! There was a buzz of excitement in the fishing villages and towns surrounding the lake. He was traveling back and forth across the lake and around the lake, doing things that were unheard of in this small community. In Capernaum he had just “healed” a dead girl, and now it was time to make his way home. What great things could he have planned for Nazareth? The people must have been stirred, anxiously awaiting the return of such a man. Waiting in wonder at the great things he might do in his hometown.

He arrives and on the Sabbath goes to the synagogue to teach. He stands and speaks with incredible wisdom and it is evident that his words and message are profound. The crowd responds with astonishment…they are amazed at what he knows and how he speaks. They have heard rumor of this great prophet and teacher, performing great works in Galilee. They look up to respond, “Ohhhh, it’s only Jesus. He’s the carpenter. See right over there, that’s his family.” And the eye of familiarity clouds their perception of greatness. They recognized him as one of them, just an ordinary guy from Nazareth. He spoke great things, but they were more concerned about his credentials than is message. “Where did he learn all this?” “He’s not a priest, he’s just the town carpenter?” “Hey Jesus, quit all this preaching stuff and get back to work. I’ve been waiting on my table for weeks!” And Jesus could do no great works among them, and he marveled at their unbelief.

Having grown up in the church and always being around the church it is easy to fall into a place of familiarity with the Lord Jesus. He has always been in my life and played a key role. This passage from Mark’s gospel weighs with heavy conviction on my heart. Have I become too familiar with Jesus? I think the answer to this lies in another question: am I regularly sitting in awe of Jesus? I’m wondering if my heart consistently gets a good dose of Jesus’ greatness? How would things change for me if I was intentional about consistently being in awe of Jesus and his work?

Think about the last time you saw something great for the first time. What was your reaction? Stunned silence? Amazement? And after that first sighting or experience did you long to see or experience it again? Without hesitation I think we can all say, “yes!” we wanted more. Familiarity is a strange thing though. It tends to wear on us and we lose sight of something or someone that is truly great. We long for the closeness and comfort that comes with familiarity but can lose sight of greatness. I know I do this with more than the Lord, I do it with people. I have been blessed to know some incredible people. I mean people who truly amaze me. As I have become familiar with them I often lose sight of how truly great they are. My dad is the best man I’ve ever known, and mom is the epitome of Proverbs 31. My brat of a little sister has become a godly wife and mother of 2 (almost 3!). She also ran Division 1 track for a perennial top 25 team. Her husband is one of the most faithful, gentle men I’ve ever known and I am proud to have him as a brother (in-law and in the Lord). He played college football by the way. My other sister, also a D-1 runner for the same school, has proven to be an amazing mother! She’s also a teacher and somehow gets middle school kids excited about math every day. My cousin is one of the best young engineers at a huge firm in Portland and his fiancé is a brilliant attorney. I am surrounded by incredible people!

Stop today and be in awe of Jesus. Remember who he is, remember the work he did. Think of who you are without him and who you are with him. I hope and pray that this brings a sense of joy and awe at his greatness in the midst of a very familiar relationship with him.

Checking the Rearview

I have the privilege of being part of an incredible ministry every Thursday night. It is probably one of the most consistent ministries that brings non-Believers into our church. For almost 30 years now, 25-55 men fill the church gym to play basketball. Game to 7, sign the board if you lose, don’t get Spade mad or he’ll close the gym. And we play, and play, and play. At the midway point (about 8:15pm) we stop and someone shares a little devotional or challenge for the guys. I often get the opportunity and didn’t anticipate anything different when I shared recently. I challenged the guys to ask God for 30 days to show Himself and to honestly look for Him in their lives. As I was leaving that night one of the guys ran across the gym to simply ask, “Greg, how do I know if I see Him? How do I know it’s Him?” I rambled off some quick “Christian” answer, but soon realized that maybe I didn’t have a great answer for him.

One of atheist’s strongest arguments against God is that He is not seen. My usual reply is neither is their brain (thanks Dad). But, as I think about it more I am forced to ask, “how do I see God?” and know that its Him. I mean really see Him, not just flippantly dialing up the explanation of providence for every situation or circumstance. As I’ve thought more about it, I’m not sure if I have a great answer to the question or a good explanation as to where to look for God in the present. In the Old Testament there was great mystery as to God’s name and His appearance. We even see that arguably the greatest man in the OT, Moses, was not permitted to see the face of God (Exodus 33:20). But they could see His work. The Israelites were told to always remember the things that God had done, to consistently remember Him (Deuteronomy 6). In the New Testament men walked with the God-man, Jesus Christ. His work and ministry was easy to identify because people saw it happen in front of their faces. So how do I see God?

As I look for Him today, I am forced to recall how He showed Himself to me yesterday. I need to check my rearview. I can give example after example of how God has shown Himself to me in the past. This is the key to seeing God. It forces me to trust Him in the present. His sovereign plan is one that I cannot know until it has happened. I can’t know it beforehand, or even in the midst of it happening, but I can know it after. Every life is ornately decorated with evidence of God’s hand, we just have to know where to look for it. This is why it is so important to check the rearview. Don’t live in it, this would be far too dangerous (much like driving using only your rearview). Live in the present and TRUST that God is working and revealing Himself. Then check your rearview and realize that it was He who was working things out for your best, for His glory.

Losing Control

Psalm 125:1 “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.”

I am amazed at how the Lord continues to remind me of my need to trust Him. Or…maybe I’m amazed at how often I forget the necessity of trusting Him? I have spent the year in a journey through the Psalms. Throughout this journey there have been constant reminders of why I should trust Him. He is the sustainer of life and giver of good things (Ps 1); a shield about me (Ps 3:3); designer of the world, yet engaged in my life (Ps 8); righteous (Ps 11:7); a refuge to the poor (Ps 14:6); the source of all pleasures and joy (Ps 16:11); my strength, rock, deliverer, fortress (Ps 18); my shepherd (Ps 23); the source of the fountain of life (Ps 36:9); the perfecter of beauty (Ps 50:2); and He is for me (Ps 56:9). This list is by no means exhaustive, it would take a lifetime to express everything that the Lord is from the Psalms. And yet, in the midst of this journey, I still struggle to trust.

Today I am reminded at the beginning of Psalm 125, yet again, why to trust Him. Trusting in the Lord gives me a solid, immovable foundation on which to stand. It is not my ability to trust that makes the foundation constant, it is the foundation itself. He is trustworthy, He is the one who cannot be moved and who abides forever. I am incapable of these things….am I even capable of trusting? My desire, my personality, my insecurities, my nature all long for control. In moments of fear and uncertainty I begin to take control, because I think I can control. In reality I have no control at all. When I am most concerned or afraid, when I hate it the most is the moment that I must lose control and trust Him. My trust forces me to where I need to be, resting and relying on Him. Trust forces my heart to lose control of circumstance and situation, and to be okay with losing control. Instead of focusing on the world around me I am forced to see the One that my trust is in.

He is so much more than me. As I lose sight of my situation and circumstance and see Him I am moved to release control. There is no greater feeling than losing control, but I don’t know this until I am willing to give it up. In losing control I am forced to accept that I cannot control and must subject myself to someone or something else. I ultimately don’t like to trust this, but why not? As I know Him more, trusting Him should be easier but it is always a fight.

So today, the question of control & trust…is it He, or me?