Sunday, March 22, 2015

Unhealthy Wishes: Defeating Desires That Destroy

Have you ever seen the classic Disney movie Aladdin? A quick recap, if you haven’t: A street kid finds a magic genie’s lamp and is granted three wishes. His first wish saves his life (pretty good wish, if you ask me). The third nobly frees the genie from his prison in the lamp. But the second proves to be a rather worthless wish: he wishes to be a prince so he can get the princess. Unbeknownst to him, she’s not impressed with his apparent wealth and power. In fact, she fell in love with him while he was still living on the streets. So what did his wish get him? A really angry rival and his princess (and her father) almost killed. What an unhealthy wish! Surely he could have come up with a much better one. But he wasn’t patient. All he knew was what he wanted, so he chose the quickest, easiest way to get it.

Sound familiar? It does to me.

To be honest, I’ve struggled with destructive desires my whole life. A few of my main ones are sugar, laziness, and possessions. Sugar… well, let’s just say chocolate, cookies, and milkshakes are almost irresistible. My lazy self doesn’t want to do the work to exercise and use my time wisely. And new technology and the latest action-packed video games are like an itch just under the skin that begs to be scratched (or bought, in this case). Substitute in your own Achilles heel(s), and I’m sure you can relate.

Every once in a while guilt rears its ugly head. Then I’m forced to confront these sins (yes, covetousness and a lack of self control are sins so let’s not sugar-coat it). For a while I persevere, but then a particularly delicious looking dark chocolate bon-bon will call out to me and I’m a goner. Or I’ll start a diet that is so restrictive it’s impossible to keep up for long. I’ll exercise faithfully for a few weeks and then suddenly find “no time” to do it. And then comes the temptation to jump on the latest “quick-fix” pill.

So why can’t we defeat these destructive desires? Why is it they always, always return to haunt us? Why can’t we just squash them flat and move on with our lives? My Bible study today gave me some pretty good ideas as to why that might be. Check this out:

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!
(Psa 119:34-40)

“Selfish gain”. “Worthless things”.  Huh! That sounds strangely like an unhealthy wish. So whoever wrote Pslam 119 must have understood what I’m going through. There was something in his life that he recognized as being displeasing to God. As I read through this morning’s passage (verses 33 through 48) I noticed two things. 1) The author knows he has a few destructive desires. 2) He wants to be able to speak uprightly and in truth to the audiences God places in his life, which apparently he knows he can’t do well with these things pulling him down. But then comes hope!

I will keep your law continually, forever and ever, and I shall walk in a wide place (NKJV uses the word liberty), for I have sought your precepts.(Psa 119:44-45)

What was the solution to his problem? Seeking God’s “precepts”! Delighting in God’s “testimonies”! His “commandments”. His “rules”. His “ways”. In other words: having a passion for the Word of God can free us from any desire that holds us captive.

Don’t get me wrong: We will always struggle. But that doesn’t mean that we have to be defeated. Check out Jeremy Ham’s post Why Do Christians Still Struggle with theFlesh? for more on that subject.

So the next time I find myself struggling with an unhealthy wish, maybe I should grab my Bible. Maybe I should memorize Scriptures like Jeremiah 17:7-10. Maybe I should start examining where God’s Word stands on my list of priorities.

When was the last time you used God’s powerful Word to refute temptation? Are you really truly trying to overcome the sins that “so easily entangle”? Are you looking to Jesus, the Living Word? (Hebrews 12:1-3, John 1:1-5)

Think about it.

When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food. Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.
(Pro 23:1-5)

Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.
(Pro 23:19-21)

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit." The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? "I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."
(Jer 17:7-10)

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
(Rom 13:11-14)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
(Heb 12:1-3)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Jesus: What You Need Him To Be

Jesus: Savior, Brother, Redeemer, Friend…. Angry toward those who set themselves against God, yet gentle toward the broken. Steadfast as a Rock, loving as a Shepherd, powerful as a King, and humble as a Child. All of these, and more, embody the complexity and beauty of our Messiah.

Over and over in the Gospels Christ put who He is on display for His disciples to see. They started out seeing Him as their society did, wanting Him to be a Conquering King. He was someone who would give them what they wanted: freedom from the Romans and glory at His right hand during His reign. It wasn’t until later, when they felt abandoned by Him, that they began to understand.

He hadn't come to free them from the Romans. He came to free them from their sins. His kingdom wasn’t an earthly one where they would be showered with power and wealth, but a spiritual one whose rewards wouldn’t be seen in this life.

But did He openly contradict their misconceptions, beating them brutally with the truth? No. He quietly and lovingly taught them, knowing they wouldn’t understand until later. He knew they would act out of fear when He was dragged off and murdered, their dreams shattered. But until they did understand, they needed Him to be their Teacher, their Brother. They needed to see Him struggle and be Human.

Some needed Him to be Physician, some Rabbi. With some He was the harsh Headmaster, with others the thought-provoking Riddle Maker and Proverb Speaker. He was to each what they needed at the time. But He was always Himself. He was God Incarnate.

Jesus’ compassion was evident in the way He responded to those He came in contact with. Even as each person was different, so were the ways He interacted with them. One of the most obvious examples of this (in my opinion) is Mark 5.

We have three new human characters that arrive on the scene here: The man possessed with Legion, the woman with the 12 year flow of blood, and the man whose daughter “fell asleep”.

With the first we have a man who has been tortured physically, mentally, and spiritually by a “Legion” of demons. (A Roman legion had 6,826 men. If the name is supposed to be an exact number… that was one tormented man!)After Jesus cast them out, the man wanted to come with Him. I personally probably would have had pity on him and said, “Sure! Come along.” But it’s interesting that this is one person He wouldn’t let follow Him. Instead, He said, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” (Verse 19.) You see, this man spent the last who-knows-how-long being destroyed by these demons. His body was in tatters, his old life gone. There was nothing for him- no goals, no mission. He was empty. But Jesus looked Him in the eyes and filled him up. He gave him a life mission. If the man would have followed Jesus, how long would he have been able to cling to Jesus for support? There was only a short time left before His death. Jesus would not allow the man to become an occupational victim. And that was the truly loving thing to do.

On to the second character- the woman with the flow of blood. This poor woman had been bleeding for twelve years. She’d tried every doctor, every treatment, endured humiliations at their hands and much pain. By the time Jesus came along she was desperate. Assuming that she developed this condition fairly early in life, she could have been in her twenties or thirties and unmarried. Bleeding constantly would have excluded her from religious gatherings. Spending so long with this condition had probably made her eager to go unnoticed by most people. She probably could easily blend in with the crowd. So that’s what she did and somehow got close enough to just touch the edge of Jesus’ clothes. Instantly she was healed and instantly Jesus knew what had happened. Being God, I bet He knew exactly who had touched Him, but He decided to give her the choice to come forward. And she did, trembling, and admitted to everything. I can imagine Him smiling down at her as He said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” (Verse 34.) Notice that He didn’t command her to tell everyone what happened and glorify God publicly. He left that decision up to her. But what He had done went way beyond physical healing. He gave her back public worship services and fellowship. He gave her the possibility of marriage. He gave her a future. For the first time in twelve years she felt beautiful and loved.

And lastly we have Jairus. His daughter, his little angel, his pride and joy, was dying. Even though he knew that he could be missing her last moments on this earth, he sought out her last hope- Jesus. Unfortunately, she died while he was on his way back with Jesus, bringing an apparent end to his quest. But Jesus simply told him, “Do not fear, only believe.” (Verse 36.) Then He allowed only three of His disciples to go the rest of the way with them. It is at that moment that Jesus put a plan into action. When they arrived and heard the professional, paid wailers making a racket He dismissed their “grief” by telling them that she is only sleeping (which was vastly amusing apparently). Then he went in with only the three disciples and the child’s parents, took her hand, and told her to wake up. And she did! So was she really not dead after all? No, I don’t think so. I bet she was very much dead. But because this family didn’t need any more excitement around them than they already had (I’m guessing), and He definitely didn’t need it known yet that He could raise the dead, He had lovingly given them something they could tell others- that she was merely sleeping. And, technically, she was since even in other passages of Scripture death is known as “sleep”.

Three people, three different responses, all made out of love and compassion for the receivers of His Gifts. He was who they needed Him to be. And He can be for you, too.

Maybe you’re lonely and in need of companionship.

He’ll be your Companion.

Maybe you are plagued by sin.

He’ll be your Savior and Forgiver.

Maybe you are feeling broken by this world.

He’ll be your Healer.

So if you are experiencing difficulty in your life today, don’t assume that Jesus is so lofty that He can’t respond to you how and when you need Him to. Instead, seek Him out. Cast yourself at His feet and cry out for love, healing, and understanding. He’s already waiting for you.

Think about it.