Little Pieces of Obedience

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“It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, 18 even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.”19 Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.”

Hebrews 11:17-19, NLT

The faith of Abraham is understood by believers everywhere. This simple man followed God to a obscure mountain in Judea. He came fervently, and yet logically to the command of the Lord. Abraham’s confident assurance would carry him to Mt. Moriah were he would sacrifice his son. He would prefigure God’s own sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His only Son.

There were many steps Abraham had to take: the knife, the rope, the firewood, the donkey. There was a dozen details to arrange. Abraham would have had to plan ahead of time to prepare. I’m relatively certain he had ample time to consider what he was doing. The enormity of it all would’ve been staggering.

Hebrews reveals that ‘faith’ was what enabled Abraham. It was faith followed by a dozen little obediences that strengthened him to follow God’s instructions. Abraham would obey God, through faith, by doing many little things. All would lead up to the ‘big thing,’ the offering up of his only son.

I believe that no act is too small. Heavy doors swing on small hinges. Tiny obediences make for big ones. And sometimes we can’t tell them apart. It seems that several times during our daily grind we face little choices that often determine a far greater meaning. I’ve been told that there are flowers in alpine valleys that no man will ever see. Their sole beauty is visible only to God. Obedience is often like this. But the Lord knows.

God meets every act of obedience to Him with a smiling grace.

Hebrews 11 is known as the believer’s ‘hall of fame’. In its verses we’re pounded by the idea that the faith is visible only through obedience. What we do is as significant as what we believe. It has always been so.

“…but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.”

Daniel 11:32, NKJV

Little obediences prepare us for big ones. If we won’t obey in the small ones, how will we in the big ones? The prophet Daniel spoke of a remnant that would do astonishing things, and that the core of their fame would come from knowing God. This is faith made visible. The ‘great exploits’ spring out of a faith in a strong God. To be regarded in this way would be wonderful, but faith needs those little obediences to be able to do the great ones. 

We must reclaim the reality that the details of our lives are not trivial.

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Quarantined, for His Purposes

 

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Quarantines are a real possibility, even in this day. A quarantine is imposed when disease is contagious enough that it would harm a society: Measles, Smallpox, and the recent Ebola Virus  are just a few physical diseases where strict isolation must be imposed. It can be severe— an epidemic, with desperate consequences if not adhered to; in some rare cases, the use of deadly force have been authorized to maintain a quarantine until the disease is no longer communicable.

This may surprise you, but there are examples of ‘quarantines’ in the Bible. The term ‘unclean’ was used for ‘leprosy.’ Those afflicted must isolate themselves; they had to ‘announce’ their presence when in contact with society. Lepers lived in groups away from the general populace as a result of their disease.

In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthian he addresses another kind of ‘quarantine.’ The situation was dire; the church had advocated a Christian living with his father’s wife.

“I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.”

1 Corinthians 5:3-5, NLT

Understanding the Principal of Usefulness

20 “Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.”

2 Timothy 2:20, NASB

Found in God’s pantry are many things. Paul writes Timothy about the ‘large house’ which is the Church inclusive. Look around Timothy, there are gold ones, and there are silver ones. They have a noble purpose fitting for such a great house. These are the ones the guests will use; they befit the significance of the Lord himself. These vessels have great value for they are made of precious metals.

There are vessels of a different category. These are the ones made of wood, and of clay. These are part of the household, make no mistake about it. But their use is one of function, they’re used in common ways. (A clay ‘bed-pan’ perhaps?!)

21 “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”

2 Timothy 2:21

Paul, the author of New Testament doctrine of grace emphasizes the place of personal holiness. We are to ‘cleanse’ ourselves to become a vessel of honor. There is good news here:

  • All are vessels in the Father’s house. Each of us belong to Him. He determines their use.
  • Things are not yet in their final state. Change in status can be experienced. Clay pots can become ‘golden.’ Silver can become ‘wood.’

Some sin is contagious. It effects other believers and the Church. Sometimes we are quarantined by the Holy Spirit until the contagion passes. I have experienced this several times in my own discipleship. These are not pleasant times. But there is no condemnation. I’m still His servant, His love for me stays outrageously constant. God waits for me.

Yes I am His servant, and I must wait out in the hall. I haven’t been faithful. So I sit in His waiting room, waiting for His call. This is for my good, and for the Church. And Father knows best.

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Bone Tired Weariness

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8 Then Jesus said, Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30, New Living Translation

Weariness and burdens are our common plight. We all have them. They are shared as sort of common identity, like eye color or hair color. We all have them, and wish we didn’t. Sometimes we feel like shutting down.

Weariness, that bone-tiredness that sleep doesn’t seem to help. We seem to be chronically fatigued by life and what it brings us. We have heavy burdens, we carry a load that only gets heavier (and never lighter.)

Money problems, bills that are past due, marriages, straying children, cars that need fixing, family problems, job hassles, health problems… the list goes on ad nauseam. There are far too many issues, too many problems. I believe boredom and tedium are added to the list as they only intensify the hopelessness. (Its own special kind of suffering.)

Some will choose to ‘self medicate’ with alcohol or drugs. They want something more, and find they only create more burdens (not less.) Some will become hopelessly addicted, never finding relief from their burdens, but only increasing them. Suicide very often is seen as the only way out.

But Jesus will never condemn (leave that to the Pharisees) but instead offers a sort of amnesty to the burnt-out and the burdened. Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus did not say, “Get away from me, I am holy and you are not.” Rather, He makes himself to be the solution to all those who life has overwhelmed. He wants our burdens and takes on our weariness. He wants us. He wants to give us peace and rest.

He invites us to exchange whatever burdens us for the yoke of discipleship.

An easy trade, especially since we are so desperate. Some have evaluated Jesus’ offer and made the transaction–piling up our burdens at His feet. We might be a little hesitant about the “my yoke” part, but will quickly find that discipleship can’t be compared to the weight we once carried for so long.

The non-demands of biblical disciplehip are easyFor my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Following Jesus becomes the best way to live.

29 He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:29-31

 

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Listening to God’s Voice 101

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“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.”

Matthew 13:16, ESV

There is a vast audio ocean that surrounds us.  Did you know that in the room where you are reading this, that there are cartoons, music, mysteries, and concerts going on? You just don’t see or hear them unless you have your radio or television tuned in to the right frequency. We live in the golden age of Bluetooth and cell phones. (Oh my!)

There is a frequency that we must lock into, where we can hear important things (or block-out confusing sounds.) God is so into ‘communicating.’  We understand He desires us to communicate with Him. He yearns for a dialogue with us,  just like He had once a long time ago in the early chapters of Genesis.

Knowing that I’ve been created in imago dei. I ponder the visible, which is a simple shadow of the real world. Mankind in general, creates and communicates–this is what we do–because it’s how God acts. In a certain sense, you might say we are miniaturized versions of Him. Afterall, we are in His image.

He is always speaking, but we’re not always listening.

The attribute of listening is amazingly profound.  Often, I listen to my local radio station while I’m driving in my car. When I drive away from the radio tower, the signal gets weaker and weaker. But if I turn the car around and drive back into town, the signal becomes stronger and I can hear it again.

In the same way, we stop hearing God when we drift away from Him. But if we will turn around and come back to Him, we’ll hear His voice again. The closer we are to God, the clearer we can hear Him. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

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Fire Walking [Protection]

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“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
     When you cross rivers, you will not drown.
    When you walk through fire, you will not be burned,
      nor will the flames hurt you.”  

Isaiah 43:2, NCV

There is an unique immunity that is given to the simple.  Believers find that suddenly they have been inoculated against a reality that others can’t understand.  Passing through the waters, we find the divine presence.  We discover it and find that it covers us.

Daniel tells us of three men dropped into a super heated furnace. To survive was impossible, and yet they felt no heat or flame while inside. That is a tremendous thing for believers to understand.

Having Him to cover us is a profound thing.  There are many reasons this should not be happening to us, and not given any serious thought.  And yet He appears out of nowhere, and declares that we are completely immune to every attack against our desperate souls.

Jesus watches over us.  He concentrates His focus on us, and we find a strength that is almost absurd, something that doesn’t make any sense at all.  He covers us from all the ugliness that could be focused on us.  A barrier is put around us.   His care protects us and shields us from the insidious attacks on our very vulnerable hearts.

Isaiah 43 declares that there is an certain immersion of grace that surrounds our souls. 

We encounter a sense that He is there and that He will not let anything happen to us.  This security is not from anything we produce, maintain or manufacture.  He brings it to us without any logical reason.  It’s called “grace” and it gives us a certain protection.

This world generates a lot of ugliness.  We must enter and pass through a whole lot of difficulty and pain.  Water and fire, that in abundance, are things that will happen to us.  We will deal with these things, and work our way through them.  One thing needs to be understood,   His spirit in us resists being controlled by sin.

We travel through intense times when our faith seems ludicrous, when it seems weak and illogical.  But somehow we make it, and we will pass through this and other challenges.  He intervenes and brings us safety and strength.  We are indeed survivors, and we pass through all evil and darkness without being scorched or singed.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:6, NLT

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Always Like Little Children [Always]

 

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 “About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Matthew 18:1-3, NLT

I used to think that maturity meant sophistication, something to out-grow. Applying it to spiritual matters was a natural fit. I tried hard to accelerate things and attempt to move beyond simple basics of the faith. Jesus’ cadre of disciples needed this lesson. They were given very specific and pointed instruction:

One day some parents brought their little children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But when the disciples saw this, they scolded the parents for bothering him.Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Luke 18:15-17

“Children are the hands by which we take hold of heaven. ”  

Henry Ward Beecher

Jesus makes a special effort to get his followers to see their need. He voices the dictate that they must become children again; that they must learn that the basics are the core. Real faith remains childlike even as it gets old.  As we see the children that are in our midst, we should see in them the pattern for us as we connect with the Lord, and with each other. It’s a paradox, but we mature as children, and this doesn’t ever change. Jesus told us that the Kingdom belongs to those whose faith is childlike.

Childlike faith seems to have three focuses:

  1. Areas of intimacy, in the presence of the Lord as sons and daughters,
  2. Areas of relationships, between each other as brothers and sisters
  3. Issues of spiritual warfare,  facing the daily battle with sin and darkness.

Holding a child’s faith works its way into us in deep ways. At its essence is a humility (mixed with brokenness) that shapes how we move through our lives. There would be many embarrassed people if they were suddenly clothed in nothing but their humility. (I think we should make more of it then we do.)

Becoming a person of childlike faith will take a lifetime, that is why we should start now.

“God created the world out of nothing, and so long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.”  

Martin Luther

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Simple Discipleship, [Understanding]

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Each of us who are broken believers will take the following steps. This is simple discipleship. These four will be at the root of everything we do. Our mental illness may influence this walk, but it can’t derail the process. Because it is a supernatural one, everyone starts at the same spot— whether we’ve an illness or not. Each of us must take these four steps and engage them:

  1. Come to Me

  2. Learn of Me

  3. Follow Me

  4. Remain in Me

Disciples will build their lives on these. They are solidly basic but extrapolated out into different unique variations. Each one will be uniquely yours.


COME TO ME:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28, ESV

The source is Jesus, and his presence is sought. Our heavy issues are relieved by his nearness.

 

LEARN OF ME:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29

Jesus shares his yoke with every disciple. We are to learn at his feet, and it’s there we learn of his humility. Rest is your evidence of his proximity.

 

FOLLOW ME:

 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

A cross awaits every disciple. Self-denial is critical for every believing disciple. Jesus will show us how it’s to be done.

 

REMAIN IN ME:

“Remain [abide] in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” John 15:4

This involves drawing and extracting life from him. We are a branch that pulls its life essence from its core, he is our vitality and our strength.

“Whatsoever one would understand what he hears must hasten to put into practice what he has heard.” –Gregory the Great

 

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