Thursday, September 29, 2016

It's a Kingdom, Not a Democracy . . .

Mike Hosey, An Elder

When reading the bible, you will never come across God’s government described as a democracy. It is always described as a kingdom.  The Kingdom of God is ruled by a single monarch. He sets the laws, and then prosecutes those laws. He metes out punishments, and supplies reward. God is in charge of everything in his kingdom. To use the academic term, he is sovereign. This means that he has supreme and ultimate authority and power. But this does not mean that God’s kingdom is incompatible with other forms of government. In fact, God uses all forms of government to achieve his purposes.  Consider Romans 13:1-2. This is a very radical verse.  Notice in that verse how Paul argues that ALL authorities are instituted by God.  There is no proviso allowing for an exception.  In this case, all actually does mean all.  This means that God has instituted the authority of kindergarten teachers, police officers, mayors, congressman, bureaucrats, virtuous American presidents, godless communist regimes, and even evil dictators. He is so adamant about this that in verse 2 he counts rebellion against civil authorities as rebellion against God. You may find that shocking, but Paul wrote that verse while living beneath a brutal Roman government which was often marked by a bloody iron fist, and at times, an astonishing moral depravity. His argument was that even evil governments bring order to society, and in most instances, it goes well for people who live within that order.  Evil governments, after all, also insist on order, and God uses such order to advance his kingdom.  A brutal and morally depraved Roman society which persecuted Christians with abandon, also advanced the peaceful spread of Christianity throughout the world with a near unstoppable force.

None of this, however, means that God is pleased with evil dictators or godless regimes.  It simply means that he uses them, and that he expects us to obey them so long as we are not being asked to do something which conflicts with God’s law.  Civil disobedience of God ordained authorities is acceptable when those authorities abuse their position by placing anti-God requirements on the people they are established to serve (Daniel 3:14-18, Daniel 4:1-37, Daniel 6:10, Acts 4:19, Acts 5:29). So even when you don’t agree with the outcome of an election, remember that God has established the political powers for a reason, and you have a responsibility to respect them, and advance the gospel in spite of them by living a godly life of order and goodness.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Does God Want to See You Broken and Shattered?

Mike Hosey, An Elder

Malleable, pliable and ductile are all technical terms used to describe a particular quality of metals, plastics, or other construction materials.  When a piece of construction material is described by these words, it means that it is a workable material.  A piece of metal that is malleable can be bent or hammered into a permanent form.  A piece of plastic that is ductile can be pulled into strands.  A lump of clay that is pliable can be worked into almost any shape, and fashioned into almost any kind of vessel. This is a character trait that God wants for all of us when it comes to our relationship with him.  He is the potter and we are the clay (Isaiah 64:8 and Romans 9:20-21).  When we are malleable, or ductile, or pliable, he can shape us into the person that he wants us to be. And the person he wants us to be most like is Jesus (Romans 8:28-29).  Just like the potter, he must sometimes collapse what he has started, or push in the walls of our vessel to make something new.  This is why Romans 8:28 says he works all things for our good, just like the potter sometimes collapses the clay for the good of a better shaped pot, God sometimes collapses and reshapes us to be more like his son.

But if we are not pliable, ductile, or malleable, then we won’t bend with his creative and redemptive hand.  Instead, just like a dried clay pot, we will shatter into shards and pieces at the touch of his creative force. This is always a painful event, and certainly more painful than being pliable and simply accepting his work in our lives.  But it is also necessary.  Consider that God is pleased by a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17).  This isn’t because God is mean, vindictive or a cosmic sadist. It’s actually because he wants the best for you.  If you’ve ever had an appliance or piece of equipment that isn’t working right, many times you will continue using it, compensating for its deficiencies and dragging out what actually needs to be done. But once it breaks, especially if it’s important, like an air conditioner on a Florida August day, you will get a different attitude about restoration or replacement.

God knows that this is true of your life as well. A broken spirit in a wise person will produce pliable clay that is workable and can be re-shaped, and formed into something better.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Am I Really That Hard of Hearing? How Do I Hear God?

Mike Hosey, An Elder

The other day I was preparing meals for our family when my daughter Emily was trying to tell me something. I could see that she was talking to me, but I could not hear her words no matter how I cocked my ear, even though I was very physically close to her. The room was filled with noise. An air conditioner was running, other people were talking, and there was the low hum of appliances filling the air.  Sound was everywhere, but none of it was very loud. It’s just that there was so much of it interfering with the projection of her voice. There was visual noise as well.  Movement was in the room. Josh was doing something in the kitchen just inside the corner of my eyesight. I’m not sure, but there was probably a dog in the middle of the kitchen floor.  This inability to hear a voice is not a terribly unusual phenomenon. There have been many times, for instance, when I’ve been kayaking, and my children have been down river from me while I called to them at the top of my lungs, thinking my goodness, why can’t they hear me. In contrast, there have been other times when I have been able to decipher what someone is saying to me in the midst of the roar of loud engines, or loud weather, or loud music. 

All of this has application to how we may (or may not) hear God.  When I couldn’t hear Emily, it is because I was distracted by a lot of stimuli, and because other sounds were competing with her voice.  When she and Josh could not hear me on the river, it is because they were far away from me, and the distance conspired with the pleasant and natural noises of the river to drown my voice before it ever arrived in their ears.  But how did I hear the voices of my friends in the din of engines, or thunder, or rock and roll?  Because I knew my friends well, and could anticipate their words, or read their lips, and so still perceive their messages even if I couldn’t fully hear them with my ears.
The bible tells us to be still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10). That psalm is instructing us to remove distractions from our lives so that we can hear God’s voice without all the commotion that fills up our lives.  James tells us that if we move closer to God, he will move closer to us (James 4:8).  If you want to hear his voice, then it is best to move your boat closer to his so that the distance can be shortened, and his voice can easily reach your ears.  Finally, if you know God, you will hear his voice (John 10:1-42). His sheep know him, and so hear his voice, even in the midst of dangers and distractions.  And the best way to know God is to know his word (John 1:1) because he is the word.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

How To Know God's Plan for Your Life

Mike Hosey, An Elder
The absence of incompatibility is one of the best ways to define agreement. When things are in agreement, they jive with one another. They are compatible. They flow and move together. Agreement is marked by harmony and compatibility. 
To understand this point, consider the action of walking with a friend. When two people walk together, they must be in agreement on direction, pace, gait, and in many cases even conversational material. If any of those first three items are out of whack, especially the first one, then you will not be walking with your friend, because there will be no compatibility. One of you might be walking north, while the other walks south. One of you might walk fast, and the other slow. The lack of agreement on those items eliminates your ability to move together. If in the final item, you can't agree on what to talk about, then one of you might even quit the trek and end the togetherness that way. 
If God has a plan for your life (and he does) then the best action for your life would be to find out what that plan is and follow it. The best way to find out that plan is to align your heart with God's, because it is out of the heart that the course of your life flows (Proverbs 4:23 NIV), and if your heart is aligned with God's, well, then what flows out of his will flow out of yours. The best way to make that alignment is to walk with God. In order to walk with God, you must be in agreement with his pace, his gait, his conversational material, and especially his direction (Amos 3:3 KJV). 
In fact, walking with God is what made some of the greatest heroes of the bible. Noah walked with God (Genesis 6:9), and Enoch walked with God (Genesis 5:21-24). Of course the apostles quite literally walked with God. Walking with God generates power in your life. In fact, Paul tells us that walking with God generates so much power, that by walking in the Spirit of God, we will be freed from giving into our sinful natures (Galatians 5:16). If you can remember the last time you actually battled your sinful nature, you know how powerful that statement really is. The opposite is also true. If you choose not to walk with God, then who you walk with is death, destruction, and sin (Ephesians 2:1-2, Colossians 3:5-7). Obviously, you are not walking in the direction that God is going if you choose not to walk with him. If you are out of agreement with God, then you are outside of the plan that he has for your life, which means that the very best place that your life can be in is somewhere other than where you are!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

How To Align The Out of Place Things in Your Life

Mike Hosey, An Elder

The concept of alignment is something that most people intuitively understand. That’s because we regularly run into the physical consequences of things being out of alignment.  For instance, when you grab the grocery buggy with one wheel that’s out of alignment with the others, you must constantly fight that buggy to stay straight as you walk down the aisles.  When the tires on your car are not in alignment, you have to fight the car to stay straight on the road.  This fight usually produces the expensive problem of worn tires that must be replaced earlier than expected.  The lock on your front door is a master example of alignment. Inside the keyhole on the door knob is a cylinder with things called tumblers.  If you place the correct key in the hole those tumblers align and you are able to open the door.  But the wrong key doesn’t align those tumblers, and of course, the door will not open. 

Your life is governed in part by the property of alignment.  If your physical body is not in line with nutrition, proper exercise, hygiene and those things your physical body is in need of, then you will have sickness.  This, of course, will impact your emotional and intellectual life, and possibly your spiritual life.  If your emotions are not in line with your intellect, then your physical body may suffer as you make decisions based on the emotion of a moment rather than the truth of a moment.  If your intellect is not in line with spiritual truth, then you will make self-serving decisions that do not actually serve you very well, and your emotions and physical body will suffer.  Like the grocery cart, all of these misalignments cause you to fight your body to stay straight as you walk down the aisle of life. There are many examples of this principle in the bible, but one of the easiest ways to understand it is to examine the lives of King Saul and King David.  Both Kings were sinners.  King Saul sinned over and over again, and eventually God took the kingdom from him. Among other things, King David was an adulterer, who apparently tried to hide his sin, and when he couldn't, he murdered the husband of his adulteress so that he could have her freely, yet God blessed David, promised his bloodline an eternal throne, and gave us Jesus through him.  Why did God exalt one and crush the other? The reason is that Saul’s heart was not in line with God. Whenever he sinned, his interest was in exalting himself.  When he was caught, or when he was in trouble, his interest was in saving himself and not changing himself.  In contrast, David’s pattern of life was to do everything as God would want him to. When he sinned, it tended to be out of weakness. When he realized his sin, he asked God to change him, cleanse him, and put him in line with God’s precepts (Psalm 51:1-19). Saul rejected the word of God (1 Samuel 15:26). In contrast, David loved the word of God and made it the center of his life (Psalm 119:97).  When you align yourself with God, everything else falls in place like the tumblers in a doorknob. God's door then opens for you. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

How NOT to Lose Your Zest for Life

Mike Hosey, An Elder

In Romans 6, the Apostle Paul writes about the intersection of death, sin and life.  Towards the end of his chapter, he argues that the wages of sin is death (Proverbs 6:23).  That means that the payment for working for sin, or working to fulfill sin, or living for sin, or being alive to sin is funded from the payroll account of death!  Interestingly, that payment of death is most often delivered in a very peculiar but cruel way.  To understand this cruel method of payment, consider the ironically evil benefits of sin. A person derives a certain amount of pleasure from sinning.  There really is no denying this. It is usually the chief reason people sin.  This does not mean, however, that pleasure is bad.  In fact, pleasure is good. It was created by God, and it exists for a good purpose. It is obtaining pleasure in a way contrary to how God intends for humans to enjoy it that is bad or sinful.  As a person pursues the pleasures of sin, his senses become more and more dulled to the pleasures he thinks he is getting. All addictions are an excellent example of this life-stealing sin process.  With addictions, a person gets less and less pleasure, and so needs more and more exposure to the substance or behavior to which they are addicted. As one famous theologian put it, there is an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure.  And pleasure is a hallmark of full life.  A person who pursues sin is dying. And the more he pursues it, the more dead he becomes. He becomes more dead to pleasure, more dead to general life, and more dead to the joys of Christ.

But if that same person dies to sin, and decides to come alive to Christ, his life becomes new.  Interestingly, the more he pursues Christ, the less he will enjoy the pleasures of sin. That same person will increasingly enjoy Godly pleasures.  In truth, most of the pleasures he might have enjoyed in a sinful context, he can enjoy in a Godly context, and not only can he enjoy them, they become greater as they are transformed to healthy joy. The slaking of lust becomes loving marital intimacy. Those who have experienced both sides of that spectrum will tell you the wholesome side is far more pleasurable than the sinful side.  Partying in selfish wild contexts converts to solid and true fellowship. Pursuit of self-ambition becomes pursuit of the advancement of God’s kingdom, and then witnessing (and sharing in) the joys of changed lives.  The more you live for Christ, the more you will wish to die to sin. Once come alive to Christ and are able to compare the pleasures side by side, you will find that there is no comparison!