Thursday, December 31, 2015

Christmas Reflections: Triple G-Rated Christmas!

With less than 24 hours left in the year 2015, many find themselves in a situation similar to the one they were in only days ago.  Just as there was scrambling at the eleventh hour prior to Christmas to make last minute purchases, there is now scrambling to make last minute New Year’s Eve plans and New Year’s Resolutions.  But if you’re like me, and already have your plans and resolutions set, you may find yourself in the place where I am.  That place not being physical, but figurative, in reviewing the year that has just passed.  While I found 2015 to be a great year, leaving me much to be thankful for, I’m not currently looking that far back in my rearview mirror.  As I look around my city, I see tons of Christmas lights and decorations that point toward the holiday that just passed.  That, in addition to co-workers I’ve recently run into asking me, “How was your Christmas?” prompted me to think a bit deeper than the generic responses we typically give to that question.  I asked myself in a still moment, “How was my Christmas, and what was special about it?”  It didn’t take me long to recall several great points about this recent Christmas.  I’ll give you three of them that led me to believe that I had a “Triple G” rated Christmas.  That is, a Christmas highlighted by Giving, Grafting, and a Guarantee.


I have seven members in my immediate family.  I typically spend virtually all of my Christmas money on my wife and five children.  However, this year, God’s providence allowed me to do some extra spending and to violate agreements that I have had with some loved ones by buying Christmas gifts for a good number of family members outside my home.  I can honestly say that I loved every minute of buying gifts for people that I knew would be completely unsuspecting of me getting them something!  As I purchased each gift I became increasingly eager to give the gifts to the corresponding people.  I must say, it made me look forward to Christmas Day in a way that I haven’t in a while.  As a child, I was excited about getting.  But this year, I was SO excited about giving!  I knew I’d be receiving some things here and there, but I wasn’t worried about that at all.  All I wanted to do was give my loved ones their gifts!  The thought of being able to hand them their gifts that day pushed me out of bed early.  I remember my wife asking me to calm down a bit as I woke her up before the kids did, fully ready to get the day rolling!  As I remembered how I felt, I thought to myself, “Something is really right about that feeling because God is an eager gift-giver!”  So eager in fact, that the Lord Jesus told His Disciples, “You may ask anything in My Name, & I will do it.” (John 14:14)  The Apostle James understood this so much that he tells us in James 4:4 that we “have not because we don’t ask God.” 

Of course the Lord does not mean that we can literally have anything we ask for in His Name.  But the hyperbole in His speech illustrates His utter-delight and readiness to grant us those things that we ask for that are in His Will!  This zeal for giving changed the way Christmas felt for me this year.  And I decided that I’m going to incorporate it whenever possible in every Christmas after this one that the Lord allows me to see.


After years of bouncing from house to house with our children on holidays, my wife and I decided on a plan to alternate.  Each year, we do Thanksgiving with either my family or hers, and then on Christmas, we alternate.  This year, we spent Christmas with my wife’s family.  For many, spending holidays with in-laws in nothing to smile about.  But as I reflect on this recent Christmas, I can’t help but to be overwhelmed by the blessing God has given me in my in-laws.  After nearly eleven years of marriage, I can truly say that my wife’s family is my family!  These people who I didn’t grow up with, haven’t known all my life, and at one point was totally apprehensive about, are now my family!  I love spending time with them on holidays!  If my wife wasn’t around, I still would’ve felt right at home!  As I realized this, I said to myself, “I’m no longer a foreigner to them.  I’m family!  I’m grafted in!”  It made me think of how the atoning work of Jesus has grafted in Gentile believers into the Household of Faith with Believing Jews (Romans 11:11-21).  Those who were not apart of God’s Covenant people, Israel, have now been given access to the forgiveness of sins, right relationship with God, and all the privileges of being God’s children through faith in Jesus! I find it amazing how God has illustrated this spiritual truth in my marriage to my wife.  My becoming one with my wife has not only lawfully made me a member of her family, but RELATIONSHIP has granted me an active, involved, desired, willful, fulfilling role in a new family.  A work of God alone!


As early as Christmas Night, when all is quiet, and all the wrapping paper is in the trash, a feeling of disappointment settles upon the hearts of many.  This disappoint for some is from the fact that Christmas can’t be everyday.  And it will now be another 12 months until we get back to this time of year.  For others, they see all of the build-up of Christmas as a let-down.  The brevity of the day, absent family members, or a missing gift here or there are enough to sour the idea of Christmas being worthy of all the hype surrounding it.  I could remember feeling disappointment creep in as Christmas came to a close a week ago.  But I didn’t shake this feeling off.  I embraced it.  I embraced the disappointment because it brought me so much joy!  Why?  I remembered that this fallen world that we live in is full of disappointments and let-downs.  But God has skillfully used these disappoints to create a longing in the hearts of His children.  This longing is for our true home.  A dwelling not made by human hands.  A place where we will live with our God!  A place where there will be no crying, death, mourning, or pain.  For the former order of things will have passed away, and our Lord will make all things new! (Rev 21:3-4).  Many things in this world don’t live up to the hype.  But earth can’t manufacture hype that will do justice to the glory that God has in store for His children at the consummation of all things.  The Bible tells us that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared to what God has in store for those who love Him (I Cor 2:9, Rom 8:18)!  We live now in a place where expectations are frequently not met.  God has told His children that disappointment will be impossible in His presence, because we can’t conceive expectation high enough to compare with what will be revealed on that Great Day.  And we won’t have to worry about brevity!  This glory will be eternal!  And our dwelling with God will be everlasting (II Cor 4:17, I Thes 4:17)!  The joy of the Christmas season is but a small sample-size of the joy we will have in the presence of God.  And that season of joy will not pass.  It will last forever!

I thought about how sure I am of all this.  As I am banking my eternity on all that I have just written.  I realized that which makes me sure is the Guarantee that Jesus promised to send into the world, His precious Holy Spirit (John 14:26, 16:7).  Jesus promised that He would come back to take His bride to be with Him where He is (John 14:3).  And He has given us the Holy Spirit as a foretaste of what is to come, and as the Guarantee that He will come back for us (II Cor 1:22, Eph 1:14).  As surely as snow and bright decorations signal to many that Christmas is coming, the work of the Holy Spirit signals to Believers that Jesus is coming.  As He sanctifies and prepares us for the Bridegroom (I Pet 1:2), He helps us to fall out of love with the World, and to fall in love with God.  He makes the world more and more foreign to us as our Heavenly citizenship blossoms in our hearts (Col 1:13, II Pet 1:19).  He makes us to love righteousness, and to long to be with the Righteous One.  And one day, every true Believer will be.  This is a joy and expectation that can carry me not only until next Christmas, but for all of life.  For the One who promised is Faithful (Heb 10:23).

Looking back over these three aspects of my recent holiday experience helped me to realize just how great a Christmas I truly had.  And as much as I anticipate an even better Christmas in 2016, I don’t look forward to it nearly as much as I look forward to the consummation of all things, when Jesus, the reason for the season, makes His 2nd coming.  He is coming quickly (Rev 22:7, 12)!

Friday, June 12, 2015

One Year Ago

I had literally been at work 15 minutes on this day last year when I got a call from my wife that I will never forget.  My wife is a live wire.  So I'm used to taking phone calls from her while she's riding an emotional high.  It's part of my job in our marriage to remain calm & help untangle the interesting knots life can tie together when she calls me about something disturbing her.  But this call was about much more than an "interesting knot."  I can still remember asking her to clarify three times when she told me, "The house is on fire!"

I immediately walked into my supervisor's office & told him what I had just discovered.  He gave me leave without hesitation.  I sped home hoping to find a quarantined, controlled situation that only had the potential to get out of hand.  What I found was a recently subdued situation that had already been totally out of control.  Less than an hour ago I had walked down from our 2nd level.  I had just used our bathroom.  I had gotten dressed in our bedroom.  I looked in on our children in their rooms.  Now, one could scarcely say that either bathrooms or bedrooms existed.  Only burned shapes & shadows remained of what I woke up to a short time ago.

The six members of my family besides myself all made it out.  Though they stood in front of our home with no shoes & wearing only pajamas, they were alive!  They were safe!  When I approached them, I could tell that they needed to see me at that moment just as much as I needed to see them.  I hugged each of them.  And as I did, the chaos around me seemed to fade.  I had a blessed quietness in the midst of all the noise. Multiple fire departments were scrambling to make sure there would be no re-ignition.  Neighbors near and far stood by & watched as if Will Smith were filming a new movie right outside our door.  Only I'm not Will Smith.  And this was no movie.  It was real life.  "My real life."  "Our real lives."  There was no director to yell, "Cut!"  This was really happening.  The 2nd level of our home was totaled.  Thousands of dollars of property loss & damage had occurred.  But as I embraced my wife & children, only one thing mattered.  All those God had entrusted to me were there.  Not one was lost.

My family shed many tears over the next several days, but many of those were tears joy!  Joy because God had shown such great Grace to us!  Joy because we were together!  Joy because despite us not having much of anything, we had each other! I understood what the Lord meant when He said, "Life does not consist in abundance of possessions," (Luke 12:15) more clearly than I ever had before.  Our church family & friends took wonderful care of us in our time of need, & helped to further solidify a right perspective on possessions.  Much was gifted & donated to us.  People helped & served us with their things by parting with great stuff in order that we wouldn't have to go without.  They could never do that if their possessions owned them.  People don't give away their gods! But they loved us more than their stuff, and it made a world of difference.  The kindness & support shown to us made a mark that will never be erased.

So here we are!  One year later!  Still standing!  Not because we're so strong, tough, or godly.  But because God had mercy on us!  He gave bred to beggars, and we are eternally grateful!  I say to you today, that while there may not be a literal fire in your house, their might be a fire somewhere in your life today.  I pray that you wouldn't mourn as the world mourns in your loss.  If you are in Christ, our hope is beyond things that this world can take away!  Trust God with your suffering, loss, hardship, & outward circumstances.  These are tools that He uses to do the work of cleaning & sanctifying us inside.  "His ways are higher than our ways, & His thoughts are higher than our thoughts." (Isaiah 55:9).  He knows what's best for us, & how & when to administer medicine that we would never prescribe for or take ourselves, despite our great need of it.  He is worthy of our trust.  We gain much more from trusting Him than we do in questioning Him.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

How To Use Facebook & Not Get In Trouble

Without a doubt, Facebook is one of the biggest developments of our generation.  Being able to connect with those who are near, and to reconnect with those who are far on a daily basis is absolutely amazing.  No longer is there a need to send pictures in the mail, and gone are the days of only catching up with distant relatives at family reunions.  Facebook allows relationships to be made and maintained in a more relevant and intimate fashion than any other social networking experience of the past.  The list of benefits that come along with Facebook could stretch a mile long.  But as with anything of this sort, one may also make the same statement concerning Facebook’s detriments.

Many men and women have gotten in trouble with spouses, employers, and significant others by way of Facebook.  Arguments, fights, firings, break-ups, and even divorces have come as a result of reckless, negligent, and often ignorant use of Facebook.  There is a growing voice of disgruntled Facebook users who have raised the question of whether Facebook is worth the hassle it presents.  There are some Christians who have forsaken Facebook use because of its seemingly unavoidable pitfalls.  Can hassle and stress as a result of Facebook be avoided?  As a Christian and a Facebook user, I have seen many ridiculous issues result from improper and inappropriate Facebook use.  Though I believe that Facebook can be enjoyed without incident, I also believe that boundaries must be observed in order to avoid potential problems.  As a result of being asked by a few about how one should properly use facebook, I have developed the following guidelines that if followed will certainly significantly reduce if not totally eliminate unnecessary Facebook conflict.  This is by no means an exaustive list, and more can be added.  However, the following may certainly prove helpful.

1. Regard the Facebook Arena as “Real Life” and not separate from it.  You are dealing with and viewing real people, discussing real issues.  A persons status or comments on facebook should be assumed to be their real feelings.

 2. Do Not Access Facebook on Company/Work Computers. Regardless of whether you use Facebook for the right or wrong reasons, you are not being paid to use it at work.  Even if you’re employer permits Facebook access, it is an unreasonable risk on your job.  You cannot control what may be displayed on your workstation screen, nor can you guarantee virus infection may not occur as a result of accessing Facebook.  If Facebook is allowed to be accessed, there are normally multiple users who use Facebook from the same computers.  A simple failure to log out can result in an unauthorized person accessing your account and information.  This is a prime time for certain individuals to attempt to do something inappropriate.  If a person is logged in under an account other than their own, any questionable moves made while on the computer will not be traced back to them, but to the owner of the account.  This could potentially be you.  If you must access Facebook from work, do so from your own mobile device, and only on authorized/break time.

3. Don’t post things that pose questions that you don’t want to answer.   This includes your status, pictures, links, notes, and comments.  Understand that some things posted on facebook naturally raise certain questions.  This means people are not “digging into your business” or “trying to be funny” when they ask “Who’s the girl on your lap?” in the photo you just posted when you’re relationship status is married.  Certain emotions push people to different places.  If you are the type of person who doesn’t want to talk to anyone when you’re angry, posting something like, “I AM SO MAD AT YOU RIGHT NOW!!!!!” is not wise.  Why?  Because it naturally raises questions, and sometimes dangerous misunderstandings amongst those who see it.  No one knows the specifics of your PERSONAL situation.  But when you post about it on Facebook, your situation becomes public.  It would be wrong of you to get upset at someone for asking about the matter when you’ve “asked someone to ask about it” in so many words.  Unless you don’t mind explaining, save yourself the hassle of posting things that either beckon or require explaining.

4. Don’t post things about other people.  Of all the rules here, this is the least set in stone.  However, it does require one to exercise wisdom if you are going to disregard it.  If you know someone personally, there’s nothing wrong with posting a compliment, or even a joke about someone.  Again, this is for people that you know PERSONALLY.  Most Facebook users do not know ALL of their facebook friends personally.  If you have a personal relationship with the person you’re posting about, then you are likely to know their temperament, their sensitivity to certain things, and their sense of humor.  Thus, you should be able to post something that they will understand and not take the wrong way.  Miscommunication is very likely to occur if you are posting about someone you don’t know personally.  Fixing a matter of miscommunication can be more difficult than you would anticipate.  Not to mention, it may result in a retaliation post from someone thinking that you intended to offend them or put them on blast.  All this can be avoided by simply not posting about others.  If this is a rule you will disregard, abide by this one: Taste it before you serve it.  It should be a common practice in your communication with everyone that you first think about what you will say to someone before you say it.  If it sounds mean, rude, or nasty to you, that is likely the way others will take it.  Either scrap the tray altogether, or add some salt.  Either way, when you believe you’ve got it just right, taste it again before you serve it.

5. Don’t post more than 3 times a day.  Facebook is a wonderful communication tool.  Used correctly, I would consider it more than a good thing.  However, it is something that can easily become addictive and problematic.  If you are constantly checking and posting on Facebook, it will eventually lead to an offense.  It may also lead to neglect of your spiritual, spousal, parental, and professional obligations.  As a video game fan, I have had to realize video games are “ice cream” in my diet of life.  It’s fantastic in its proper time and setting.  But it’s not the most important thing in my life, nor is it anything I can live on, and too much of it will absolutely make me sick.  Facebook should be regarded in the same way.  The Facebook world isn’t going to die without you if there are long periods of silence or absence between your postings.  Discipline yourself to a morning, afternoon, and evening update, and leave it at that.  There are special occasions that may call for more.  There are also special occasions that cause you to miss meals.  There shouldn’t be many of those.  Likewise, there shouldn’t be many occasions that should have you posting all through your day.  Remember, YOU HAVE A LIFE TO LIVE.  If you are busy living that life, facebook will properly be a neat accessory in your life, as oppose to actually BEING your life.

6. Don’t accept “friend requests” from people you don’t know at all or haven’t talked to.  There are predatory services that would love to access your wall for the purpose of solicitation and promotion.  If you receive a friend request from someone with whom you share no or very few mutual friends, I would advise being extremely cautious.  Many of us wear name tags at our places of employment.  Today, it is very simple for someone to see your name and find you on facebook.  This person may have been friendly when you encountered them at work, but YOU STILL DON’T KNOW THIS PERSON.  Don’t be afraid to send a message to a person before accepting their request, asking them how you two know each other, and/or why this person is requesting you as a friend.  You can also save yourself drama by not accepting friend requests from people who don’t like you.  If a person who disliked you in the past sends you a request, they may very well want to gain more information about you to further fuel their sour feelings toward you.  Every “friend” on facebook is not your friend.  Be wise about what information you post about yourself, and who you allow to see and access that information.

7. Don’t post personal things.  This mirrors rule #2, but it’s slightly different.  Discretion must be used on Facebook just as in actual face to face contact.  Every manner of conversation or picture is not appropriate for the public.  Obscene postings involving curse words, sexual references, pictures displaying middle fingers, overly exposed or emphasized private areas, or sexually suggestive acts/poses are distasteful and inappropriate.  If your emotions toward a matter would cause you to use any of the things I just mentioned to express, don’t put it on facebook.  If you are angry and have violent feelings and emotions, everyone doesn’t need to know.  Facebook postings can be retrieved and used as a basis for or as evidence in legal proceedings.  Again, Facebook is a public form.  Don’t fool yourself into believing that anything you post on facebook is or will be kept private.  Matters you would like to be kept private should not be posted on facebook.

8. People Don’t Need A Front Row Seat To Your Life.  Don’t fool yourself into believing that either by accomplishment or number of friends that you are more important than any other person on the planet.  No one needs to know about the small common things in your life that every other person has to do as well.  Waking up, showering, putting on clothes, eating, going to work, working, leaving work, and laying down for bed are not events that should move you to post unless there is something special about that particular instance of you doing that thing.  You don’t need to “check-in” with the Facebook universe before you make a move in life.  No one needs a blow-by-blow, step-by-step take of your day.

9. Don’t be afraid to delete problems.  If you have a facebook friend that continually posts inappropriate things that you don’t care to read about or see, delete them.  Deleting someone as a facebook friend is not rude or nasty.  Your facebook account must be maintained to your standard.  And if someone is continually operating outside of that, for the sake of ending future trouble before it starts, delete them.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t be friends with or like a person whom you delete on facebook.  It simply means that as far as facebook is concerned, the two of you do not agree.

10. Check Your Privacy Settings.  Some privacy settings allow people who are not your friends to view your account, and even post on it.  If you don’t want people whom you haven’t personally authorized to view your account to have access to your postings and information, set your privacy settings accordingly, so that only friends whom you have personally accepted may view your account.

11. Examine your motives.  Before you log in, ask yourself, “What am I getting on Facebook to do?”  There is a ton to read, see, and comment on in the Facebook world.  If you are not careful, you can easily be pulled into, or distracted by something you shouldn’t be.  There are countless pictures of under-dressed people on facebook.  If you are getting on to seek them out, you’re wrong before you start, and you know there’s no reason for you to even log in.  If you’re getting on to insult someone, call someone out, or to express violent anger, you need to check yourself before you log in, or not log in at all.  You must have a plan prior to logging in to avoid many potholes.  Tell yourself, “I’m going to check my messages, and update my status.”  Once you’ve done those things, get off.  If you can’t discipline yourself to follow a plan, a Facebook account may not be for you.  That may be harsh.  But not having a facebook account is not the end of the world, nor the worst thing that can happen to you.  It would be far better to not have a facebook account than to lose a wife, job, friendship, or freedom because of it.  Always remember: There was a time when Facebook didn't exist.

I pray your Facebook experiences continue to be pleasant, and conflict free.  Hopefully the above will be of aid to you.

Monday, January 7, 2013


                     Ephesians 5:25-30

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body.

                                                 Written By: Matthew Bracey

It is often said today that “A man is the king of his castle.”  Everything within that castle must be firmly under his control.  This includes his wife and children.  Everything must operate according to his will and perpetuate his comfort.  Meal selection must meet his standard and be prepared promptly when he’s ready to eat.  The children should not interfere with his post-work unwind routine of kicking off his shoes and reclining in his favorite thrown-like chair.  And his golden scepter, the television remote or video-game controller, must immediately come to his sole-possession upon his entry to the home.  All men may not subscribe completely to this way of living and home operation.  But because of the great influence of this ideology in our cultural, a portion of this manner of home administration has crept into the majority of homes at some point.  The base formula: Use your family, gifts, and free-time to elevate yourself.  Though I didn’t know it, and wouldn’t have admitted it then, I had allowed this form of thinking to creep into my own home.

While listening to a sermon from Pastor Chip Ingram one day, I was blown away by the following quote: “Kingdom thinking says people are important, and you use things to help people.  Worldly thinking says things are important, and you use people to get things.”  This couldn’t be more true!  I saw that I was in Christ, yet content to be a product of my culture; instead of being a new creature in Jesus.  I realized that marriage wasn’t about “me being king” and keeping my wife and children in line so that I could have the most comfortable life I could.  But it was about showing that Christ is King, by mirroring His relationship with His Church.  My call to headship in my home is one of service, not dictatorship or abuse.  I have been given stewardship over my wife & children, with the responsibility of making sure that they bloom for God with all the brilliance He placed in them.  This can’t be accomplished with harsh words, oppression, and detachment.  Only by sacrificial love, prayer, and involved-discipleship can a man properly elevate his family.  And when we elevate our families continually in these ways, we elevate Christ.  Who by being lifted up will draw all men unto Himself(John 12:32), and allow all men to see that we belong to Him, as we show love one to another(John 13:35).   

Wisdom Is Supreme

Proverbs 4:7 - Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom.  Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
                                                Written by: Matthew Bracey

What is wisdom?  Is it academic excellence?  Is it street-smarts?  The lips of seasoned adults and senior-citizens often pour out stories of “how things were” and “the way things should be.”  These stories usually fall on the deaf ears of younger generations who feel as though the world operates far differently in their time then it did in that of their elders.  These stubborn youngsters are believed to be “rejecting wisdom” by ignoring what older people attempt to show and tell them.  Should we regard education, personal experience, and the words of long-time life veterans above all else?  Are we to forfeit all we have to gain understanding?  And if so, understanding of what?  What could be so valuable that merely understanding it would be worth more than all worldly possessions?

Job 28:28 tells us that the fear of the Lord is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.  To fear God is to respect Him, and to shun evil is to obey what He commands.  This is the whole duty of man(Ecclesiastes 12:13).  Therefore, when we respect and reverence God, and choose His ways over the alternate paths of the world, we are walking in our purpose as human beings.  Going back to the Garden of Eden, the plan of Satan has been to distract man from the purpose of God, and to offer and emphasize forbidden alternatives to Godly obedience(Genesis 3).  Though education, personal experience, and the words of the aged have great value and may add to one’s wisdom, they are not wisdom in and of themselves.  Wisdom is understood in the seeking & finding of the knowledge of God(Proverbs 2:5), the most important education.  The knowledge of God in Scripture will help us properly navigate through life and learn from the grace & mercy of God that we all experience(Matthew 5:45, Acts 10:34-35).  Though wisdom is not determined or guaranteed by age, you are more likely to find wise instruction on the lips of a 50 year-old than a 20 year old; from the mouth of one whose hair is gray, than one whose hair is black.  I’ve heard it said that “You don’t get to be old by being foolish.”  Though that statement has its flaw, there is much truth there.  Scripture tells us that we will be wise if we accept instruction and take advice(Proverbs 19:20).  Who we get advice and instruction from is key.  If we chiefly reverence the advice and instruction of Scripture, we can weigh the direction of others against it to discern whether their words are faithful, or folly.  Abstaining from foolish counsel is an act of understanding.  In certain instances, accepting foolish advice can cost you all you have, including your life. 
The only pursuits or plans that are truly worth your life are those that are rooted in Christ.  Remaining loyal to Christ is worth our every breath.  Jesus has promised us this(Matthew 10:32-33, John 11:25-26).  There is no more worthy cause to give your life toward, and if necessary, to give your life for.  Whether on this side of the Jordan or the other, the value of wisdom and understanding is above all things.  They offer protection from the wicked(Proverbs 2:12) & adulterous(Proverbs 2:16), health and nourishment to the body and bones(Proverbs 3:7-8), more value than silver, gold, or rubies(Proverbs 3:13-15), long-life, and honor(Proverbs 3:16).  And unlike anything else, growth and development in these holds promise not only for this life, but the life to come as well(I Timothy 4:8).                 

Friday, October 5, 2012

I Don't Flow Just To Flow, I Don't Vote Just To Vote

One of my favorite people in the whole world, Adam "MC Till" Hayden, dropped a line on his Downtown James EP that changed my mind on the subject of voting forever. It’s featured on the song "Downtown Music". Drop by his site and pick it up. The featured line says, "On election years people ask why I don’t vote no more, I tell em’ I do, when I find someone worth voting for. I don’t flow just to flow, so you can best be sure I don’t vote just to vote."

That line made more sense to me than anything I had heard in a long time. I was of the mind-set that viewed voting as necessary, regardless of who one voted for. Obviously, many have given their lives in favor of African Americans having a right to vote in elections and other such political issues. I was always taught that we were disrespecting the memory and sacrifice of those who came before if we didn’t at least take the time to vote for someone. But after hearing MC Till’s line, my eyes were opened to a new perspective. MC Till is not African American, so his statement had to do with more than race. As I examined it further, I indeed found much more than an issue of race in this matter.

A vote is a powerful thing. It is an approval stamp, a choice, an expression of your will and what you want to happen or come about. With this being the case, how can one claim to be doing a good work by ignorantly voting? Voting simply for the sake of voting grants approval to people and issues that one knows nothing about. In all reality, the people and issues that an ignorant person votes for may be the worst possible choice. I would hate to think that something that is outside the will of God would go forth, simply because I voted for it. What if my vote was the vote that made the difference? It’s this thought that led me to abstain from ignorant voting. Not voting itself, but ignorant voting.

Rather than being obligated to those who came before us to "just vote," I would contend that we are obligated to them in the regard of being informed. If we are informed, and know the views and opinions of candidates, as well as the proceedings of issues on the ballot, we can vote confidently for the party that most closely resembles the will of God. One may ask, "What happens when neither side is anywhere near the will of God?" In these cases, I wouldn’t vote. God does not endorse any evil, and in places where I felt as though I was voting between two evils, I would choose neither. Scripture tells us that all authority is appointed by God. Meaning that all who make it into positions of authority have done so because God has permitted it. Because of this, we should not lend ourselves to undue worry in politics. There are those who give much attention to politics, and never once consider God. For the Christian, this should not be. Our first priority and loyalty is to God. Our chief concern ought to be glorifying God by living out His work and will in our own lives, and we can trust that our Lord will take care of us. Enduring the leadership of certain individuals may not be easy, but we ought not complain unnecessarily. Rather, we should pray for our leaders in accordance with Scripture. Moaning, gossiping and the like do well for no one. They only make things worse. Wherever true attention and change is needed, we need not venture outside the will of God to bring it about.

I urge you as we will elect a new president this year, to take time to become informed. Learn the views and stance of each candidate and prayerfully make your decision from there. You don’t need to know EVERYTHING. But there is a big difference in knowing SOME THINGS and knowing NOTHING other than a candidates sex or skin color. Please don’t gamble and risk endorsing wrong because of a desire to simply vote.

Stay in prayer for our leadership, stay informed, and don’t vote just to vote.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A "Prince of Peace" Who Doesn't Bring Peace

In Isaiah 9:6, the prophet Isaiah speaks of the coming Messiah. 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

These words describe Jesus, who is called, Christ, the Savior of the World.  However, Jesus seemingly contradicts His title of Prince of Peace in Matthew 10:34-36

34"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
   " 'a man against his father,
      a daughter against her mother,
   a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law -
    36a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.

How is it that the Prince of Peace does not come to bring Peace?  As is stands today, Jesus is referred to as the Prince of Peace, but yet He Himself tells us that He did not come to bring Peace, but a sword  How can both of these things be true?

Jesus came to this world as a man.  He operated in this world as a man.  But to leave His description there would be to fall eternally short of who Jesus truly was, and is.  Jesus was a man, but He is also God… God in flesh.  John 1:1-2,14 explains this to us.

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,[d] who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The “Word” referred to in this Scripture is Christ Jesus.  He is God(Almighty and All-Powerful) and with God(Yahweh, The Lord, Jehovah, The Father) simultaneously.  They are separate, but one in essence(properties, attributes, and desire).  Colossians 6:9-10 also speaks of the unity of Yahweh & Jesus.

 9For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

God(Yahweh) is a Spirit, not a body, nor a man. (John 4:24, Numbers 23:19).  But all of who and what Yahweh is(properties, desires, and attributes) was in bodily form in Jesus, who is head over all things.  Yahweh is God(Supreme, Almighty, Most High).  The fullness of who and what Yahweh is was wrapped in flesh, in the body of a man, in Jesus Christ.  Jesus was a man(body/flesh).  But He was also God(Supreme, Almighty, Most High).

Establishing Jesus as God brings us a step closer to answering our original question.  How can Jesus be both the Prince of Peace, and yet, not bring Peace?  If Jesus is God, and shares in all of Yahweh’s properties, attributes, and desires, then everything associated with Yahweh may also be associated with Jesus.  And everything attributed to Yahweh may also be attributed to Jesus.  If we can associate and attribute God with Peace, then we can do the same to Jesus.  Now that we know Jesus is God, what makes Him the Prince of Peace?  We find Yahweh being referred to as “Peace” in Judges 6:23-24

23And the LORD said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.
 24Then Gideon built an altar there unto the LORD, and called it Jehovahshalom… 

Jehovahshalom is translated as “Jehovah/Yahweh/God is Peace.”  Merriam-Webster’s dictionary tells us that Peace is silence or calm.  Peace is freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts and emotions.  Peace is harmony in personal relations.  Peace is an agreement to end hostility between parties that have been at war or in a state of enmity.  Peace is what Gideon called Yahweh after Yahweh had spared his life where Gideon should have died.  Yahweh told His servant Moses in Exodus 33:20 that “No man may see my face and live.”  Yet, in Judges Chapter 6, Yahweh appeared to Gideon in bodily form.  Gideon saw His face.  Rightly, Gideon should’ve died.  But despite this, Yahweh speaks a calming word to Gideon, “Peace be unto thee, fear not: thou shalt not die.”

Yahweh brought calm and silence to a man who was yelling out in fear concerning what had just taken place and made him worthy of death.  Yahweh freed Gideon from the oppressive thoughts and emotions that told him he would now die.  Yahweh restored the harmony in the relationship between He and his chosen people, Israel, which Gideon thought was now surely lost, as Yahweh had allowed Israel to be oppressed by the Midianites.  Yahweh had assured Gideon that there was not hostility between them, although Gideon was a Hebrew, the very people who continued to prostitute themselves away from Yahweh, and had brought down correction that had the entire nation, including Gideon believing that Yahweh had forsaken them.  Yahweh had assured Gideon that he would not die.

Yahweh had brought true peace unto Gideon.  This was not a Peace that would see Gideon free from war and hardship.  In fact, Yahweh’s visit to Gideon was to commission Him to go forth in battle against the Midianites.  This was not a peace that said that everything will go right for Gideon throughout the remainder of his life.  This was a blessed guarantee that Yahweh would be with Him in all things, and that Yahweh had ultimately granted him victory over all that opposed him.  This was a reassurance that though things may seem as if Yahweh has abandoned Him, Yahweh will carry Gideon through to the end.  Yahweh had not discharged Gideon from duty, but He sent him forth, with assurance of victory.  Regardless of what Gideon may encounter, he was to know that God was for Him.  And that is greater than all of the world against him.

This very message is the ultimate message of Christ to all those who will believe in Him.  In the tenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus is commissioning His disciples to go forth and preach to the lost sheep of Israel.  The disciples had seen the persecution and disapproval of Jesus by the religious authorities and their followers.  They had no reason to expect better treatment.  For Jesus to be carrying the message of God, the way He was received would cause many to question His authenticity.  If Jesus was truly bringing God’s message, why were those who should certainly know the voice of God rejecting Him?  Jesus promised His disciples that they would see no better treatment than He.  In verse 16 Jesus says,

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves…”  

 In verse 22,

All men will hate you because of me…” 

In verses 24-25

24"A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub,[c] how much more the members of his household!”

Certainly hardship and difficulty lay ahead for Jesus’ followers.  This type of adversity would lead many to believe that the men who endure this manner of tribulation can not be servants of God.  But just as The Lord sent Gideon forth, in the midst of adversity, with assurance of victory, Jesus does the same for His followers in verses 28-33,

28Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
 32"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

Gideon was assured that he would strike down the Midianites as one man.  The war between Israel and Midian would not endure.  However, the war between light and dark, death and life, good and evil shall thrive.  Ultimately, one shall completely vanquish the other.  Darkness, death, and evil shall no more be heard from in one million years than the dinosaurs are heard from now.  But despite the length of the battle, victory has been pre-appointed by a Sovereign Lord.  Things may not always seem as though the Divine Decree has gone forth.  Times may come during which the Word of God seems to be of no-effect.  But believers in Christ are to rest assured that every supposed advance of the Enemy is actually a step toward the ultimate victory that God has spoken from the beginning.

As Gideon completely destroyed the Midianites, so has the work of Christ completely removed all that stands between man and a right-relationship and standing before God.  Jesus was sent to this world as “The Sacrifice” that would be the once and for all atonement for the sin of all who believe in Him.  In the sacrificial system, an animal was used as a substitute for a man or an assembly.  What happened to the animal(Death) was what should rightly happen to the person or people.  However, the animal took the punishment it did not deserve in order that men should be free of the guilt they stood under.  Jesus, the Lamb of God, was the ultimate sacrifice for man.  The prophet Isaiah speaks of this hundreds of years before it takes place in Isaiah 53:9

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary tells us that to “chastise” is to severely punish, or to censure, which is to judge, blame, or condemn sternly.  The guilty, severe punishment of condemnation that was upon Christ, brought us Peace.  This restored peace was concerning our relationship with God.

Jesus Christ offers true peace to all who follow and believe in Him.  Just as God told Gideon that He would be with him despite how things appeared, Christ frees the minds and hearts of His people from disquieting and oppressive thoughts and emotions by letting them know He is with them, regardless of how things look.  Just as Yahweh was with Gideon, Jesus will be with His people.  In Matthew 28:20, Jesus commissions all of His followers and leaves them with this parting note,

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

The blood of Christ is the decree that ends the hostility and enmity that has separated God and man, and restores the harmony of their relationship.  Isaiah refers to Jesus prophetically as “Mighty God”, Everlasting Father” and “Prince of Peace.”  I believe this is done intentionally to show that Jesus “Is God”(Supreme and Almighty), but also “Of God”(begotten and Son).  The term “Prince” refers to an heir.  One who will eventually take over as King.  But Jesus is, and always has been King of kings and Lord of lords.  How can the King also be the Prince?  He must be equivalent with the King, and also born of the King.  The reign of Jehovah/Yahweh will never end.  Thus, the reign of Jehovah/Yahweh and that of Jesus must be one and the same in order for Scripture to be fulfilled concerning Jesus in Isaiah 9:7,

Of the increase of his government and peace
       there will be no end.

Just as in the time of Gideon, Jesus also speaks to His people, “Peace be unto you, fear not, you shall not die.”  Though because of the fall, we all rightly deserve death, Christ has died our death for us, thus ushering us into eternal life.  Certainly many of Jesus disciples have died, just as Jesus Himself died.  But the Apostle Paul tells us in the New Testament that “To die is gain.”  The death Jesus refers to is the same spoken of in John 3:16,

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

All men must die.  But all men do not perish.  Though we die a physical death, we are spiritually alive, even beyond the grave.  To perish is to die spiritually, and to await a final judgment of “Guilty” from Christ on the Day of Judgment, when all who have received the same verdict, along with Satan and death will be tossed into the Lake of Burning Sulfur.  This is the second death.  Though a man in Christ will certainly die physically, he will never see a spiritual death.  He will never perish, but will go to be with Christ, where He is.  In John 11:25 Jesus explains,
“He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”  

 And in John 14:2-3,

“I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

By the hand of Gideon, God brought a peace to Israel that released them from the burden, bars, and chains of Midian.  But by Jesus Christ, God has released all who will believe in Him from the burden and chains of Sin & Death.  God is King, and God is Peace.  Jesus is God, and of God.  Both King, and Prince.  And without question, He is Prince of Peace.