The Umbrella of Authority

Once there was a man who witnessed great injustice and found himself in a unique position to do something about it.  His miraculous birth and life during an awful time of persecution, not to mention his subsequent education and rise to authority, placed him in a special place and time to come along his earthly authority to fulfill his Heavenly Authority’s will to free an entire people.
 
Unfortunately for Moses, he placed himself outside of the umbrella of his authorities, took matters in his own hands, and started a precedent of death and destruction.  (Pause for Thought:  Read Exodus 2:11-15.  What precipitated Moses to think it was all right to kill the Egyptian?  How could have Moses appealed to his earthly (Pharaoh) and Heavenly (God) authority regarding the situation, so a person wouldn’t have to die?  How do you want your children to appeal to you in their time of distress?  When and where will you hear them out?  Will you explain your expectations and reasoning to them?)
 
Moses would once again, under God’s grace and authority, find himself in a position to free his people.  God’s timing and preparation of not only Moses, but also Pharaoh, would have to take place, so God’s ultimate authority and might could be on display for an entire people.  The Israelites, from day one, would never get over Moses’s original willfulness to place himself outside of God’s Heavenly authority and the earthly authority He established.  Even Moses’ own family questioned his ability to be an authority over them for a generation.  (Pause for Thought:  Read Exodus 14:10-12; Numbers 12:1-2; Deuteronomy 31:27-29.   What authority(ies) do you find yourself under?  How do your responses to their instruction influence the way your children view authority?  How well do you appeal to your earthly authority? Heavenly authority?  Do your responses to those you are “under” meet the expectations you have for your children’s responses to you?)
 
Ultimately, Moses found himself at the threshold of God’s promised land.  A generation of those who started to follow Moses authority would perish in the wilderness due to their inability to appeal to their earthly and Heavenly authorities and remain under God’s umbrella.  Even Moses was denied entrance into the Promise Land because he had withdrawn himself from under God’s authority throughout his life’s journey.  Joshua, filled by God’s spirit, would be the authority God used to build a nation.  (Pause for Thought:  Read Deuteronomy 33:51-52; 34:4,9)
 

I often wonder how this story might have ended for Moses and the Israelites who first left Egypt had Moses remained under his authorities’ umbrella, and not killed the Egyptian out of his own arrogance.  I often wonder about our children’s journey and ending in this life as they serve their authorities, including the Most-High Authority—God our Father.  (Pause for Thought:  Is there something or someone causing your children distress?  Have you given your children a time and place to appeal to you for advice, and if appropriate, your correction/solution to the matter?  What/Who will you pray about with your children this week?)


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The Endurance of the Like-Minded

One of the most fascinating displays in nature, to me, is the phenomenon of the bait-ball.  A bait-ball is a group of small, open-water roaming fish that will synchronize their movements around a center, so they appear to be a large single organism to predators.  I become mesmerized by each fish’s ability to move exactly in the same time and space the other fish are moving.  I often wonder how a species as simple as an alewife or sardine, can be so like-minded in their group, they can elude a complex predator, such as a salmon or shark.
 
God knew, for groups of small fish and Christ following families, it would be necessary to be of like-mind for endurance and prosperity. (Pause for Thought:  “Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the Lord.”—II Chronicles 30:12.  How “in-sync” are the members of your family right now?  What do you want for your family’s center?  Is this the center your family members are moving and thinking around?  How able to withstand the stresses of life is your center?)
 
One thing alone can break up a bait-ball—fear.  If a predator fish causes stress from without the group, a fish or two may decide it would be better for their self-preservation to abandon the center and others for open water.  This fish is often pursued and eaten which causes the bait-ball to lose their like-mindedness for fear’s sake.  Chaos ensues and the group is whittled down in size by those wishing to harm it.  (Pause for Thought:  “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may not be divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”  I Corinthians 1:10, 13, 17.  Have you witnessed a family and/or group of families moving around a center in harmony of thinking and behavior?  Do you suppose they experience little to no stress?  Have you asked them what, if any, stresses they encounter?  Will you ask them what the center of their like-mindedness is and if you can join their thinking?)
 
The church needs to be and is the place where individuals and families can look for the peace and endurance of the like-minded.  (Pause for Thought:  “Finally brothers, good-by.  Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace.  And the God of love and peace will be with you.”   II Corinthians 13:11.  What dishonest or unreasonable thinking is keeping you and your family from moving in coordination with Christ and Christ-following families?  Will you address this fear this week?  How will you address it?  If left unaddressed what, do you think, will be the outcome for you and your family?) 
 

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The Rigidity of Bitterness

Forced, under threat of physical harm, we freshmen boys were made to serve our senior masters by waiting on them and their tables.  We considered how our first week of high school misery might play out for the remainder of our tenure.  During one of our brood sessions, one of my fellow sufferers offered “hope” to us in his statement he couldn’t wait to be a senior, so he could impose his oppressive authority on some unsuspecting freshmen boy.  This kind of hope for justice didn’t seem right to me, nor did getting “even” with my senior tormentors seem righteous.
 
The rigid cycle of bitterness and the foolishness it brings rages on in our lives no matter our age or circumstance.  (Pause for Thought:  A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the one who bore him. – Proverbs 17:25; Read the story of Amaziah – II Chronicles 25; How did Amaziah’s foolish quest to get “even” cost him his authority and integrity?  How should have Amaziah dealt with his bitterness over his father’s life and death and the circumstances in his own rule over Judah?)
 
Bitterness’s vicious cycle is founded in the pride that leads to a fall.  Unfortunately, after we fall, the bitterness can be, and often is, picked up by our children for them to repeat the same mistakes and display the same foolishness.  Jesus’ ways of getting even and providing hope through bitter times is much different from the world’s ways.  (Pause for Thought:  But I tell you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. – Matthew 5:44; Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  – Romans 12:14. What enemy is causing your bitterness today?  In what ways has the bitterness impacted you, your family, your children?  How will you choose to deal with the bitterness if front of your family this week?)
 
We freshmen boys decided we did not want to perpetuate the bitter tradition we were suffering through and leave a legacy of foolishness.  I’ll never forget the disbelieving, but joyful, faces on the freshmen boys as we served them and their tables at lunch for the first week of their high school lives.  (Pause for Thought:  How can you get “even” by abolishing a rigidly bitter tradition/cycle by your service to your family or children this week?  Why does service result in our ability to be flexible and less rigid?  Can you name examples of how Jesus’ service to another lessened bitter rigidity and brought flexibility?  If you can think of some examples, share them with your children this week.)
 

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Crisis & Confidence

Crisis can come in many ways. It can come swiftly and terribly as in a sudden death or a financial catastrophe. It can come slowly, a gradual creeping sorrow, depression, or hot tears in the heat of the night. Crisis, too, can be born of our own hands. Past misdeeds and current sins can arise to plague our souls and bring frightful consequences.

 

All of this crisis brings doubt; doubt that causes us to question perhaps even our deepest held beliefs or to doubt how a sinner as wretched as we could ever be saved.

 

Each of us has known or will experience the bitter dregs of doubt. It is one of the tempter’s greatest tools to stifle the Christian’s good works and rob her of her joy.

 

The Lord does not want us, however, to live in a constant state of doubt or consternation about our standing with Him but rather to live confident in our position and identity in Christ.

 

Though we see now only in part the reality of our salvation, we may yet have assurance both in the present and in the age to come. We can stand upon our identity as forgiven children of the Lord.

 

If we have put our faith in Christ and repent of our sins, Scripture tells us that we have peace with God here and now. We have been justified by faith and that none may now condemn us.

 

While we experience some of the effects of our salvation today, we will not fully understand it until we meet Christ in the next age. That does not mean that we cannot live confident in the assurance of our future glory however. “My sheep hear My voice,” Jesus told His disciples, “and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

 

When our thoughts are assailed by shadow and we cannot see the light of day, God’s word for us gives us the confidence to reject our fleeting thoughts and emotions and to instead rest on the truths received from the mouth of God. It may seem forced at times, this rejection, but so does the athlete’s training. On the day of the race though, the discipline proves its worth. When the history of our life is told, our tale will rest upon these moments of tempting and our response. Let it be that we persevere under the crisis and chaos just as the love of God toward us perseveres so that we would hear at our final hour, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”


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Significance

I recently had the opportunity to attend my daughter’s first dance recital. The house lights dimmed and the stage filled with the tiny silhouettes of the first group of dancers. Now I must admit that I have a fairly low tolerance for both awkwardness and imperfection. The recital had both in spades. In light of this, I mostly checked out as the first performers began their earnest but labored routines. That is, until my daughter stepped onto the stage. I recognized her thin outline and suddenly my eyes were transfixed on her graceful form moving across the stage. I wasn’t noticing the flaws but rather the girl that I loved.
 

The psalmist prays that he would be preserved like “the apple of [God’s] eye” and Jesus later confirms that the God who sustains the sparrows and the flowers of the field takes a far greater interest in the care of His children.

 

Somehow, in spite of our grand insignificance and the infinite complexity of the universe, the Lord of all creation reserves for us a place in His heart. He peers through the lives of the billions upon billions who live and have lived and sees our single flickering light.

 

I imagine too, that He views us much as I viewed my daughter, with loving intent even as we offer our flawed and inconsequential offerings back to Him. Though no other eye could find value in our lives of little consequence, He lovingly accepts our lives as the earnest yet erring gifts of those He has chosen and adopted.

 

When we begin to see our identity through the eyes of God, we are set free from our infernal quest for significance through our own hands. It has been said that “worth, value, and beauty is not determined by some innate quality but by the length the owner would go to possess them.” If this is true (and it is), then we are truly valued indeed and we can begin living not to prove our significance but to honor the One who already sees us as such.


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Love All People

Can we be honest for a moment?

 

Sometimes we have a people problem.

 

Oh, we like people— sometimes, but we like them on our terms. At our most cynical we tolerate people for what they can do for us. Even at its most benign, our concern for others can be a tainted mixture of motivations. Our hesitation is not without cause though.

 

We live in a world in which war, terrorism, injustice, politics, and crime are inescapable. Even those we choose to love grieve us with offenses both trivial and heinous. If we love, it is a guarded love and in spite of ourselves.

 

The problem, for Christ-followers (and it is a big problem) is that Jesus, on multiple occasions explicitly ties together loving God and loving our neighbor. When asked about the greatest commandment He naturally answers, Love the Lord, but then problematically adds on “love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

Often, quite often, in fact, we operate as if our faith in Christ is independent of other people. Sometimes it is easier to love the Lord than it is other people. We know the trustworthy character of the Lord but people— well, we know the track record they have going, and it’s not good.

 

For those who choose to follow after Christ though, the command to love others is inescapable. We aim to love not only those who deserve it but all we encounter. In loving our neighbors regardless of what they have or haven’t done, we model the way Christ loved us. He did not choose us when we were holy people with our lives perfectly arranged (we’re not even those people yet) but loved us while we were hopeless, wretched, and lost.

 

So we make it our aim to love through action our neighbors— strangers and brothers alike, always acknowledging that it may be difficult, painful, and messy but also keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus who, quite inexplicably, loved us first.


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Love God

We love to say that we love things; lots of things: TV shows, sports teams, and of course, people. We’re naturals when it comes to loving things. Granted, the depth of our love varies. We don’t love pizza the same way we love our spouse (or at least would never say so). At its core, what we call love is a sort of a transaction: emotion and intent manifested through action. We love our spouses so therefor we choose to spend time with them and make sacrifices for them. Yet as quick as we are to say that we love things, we also know the fragility of these loves. Sports teams lose. TV shows drop in quality (usually around the fifth season). Even relationships, in which we have invested so much, can cause us incredible pain.

 

We are, it would seem, created to love. The question then, becomes what we love.

Jesus was once asked which the greatest command that God ever gave was. Without hesitation, Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” This phrase, known to the Jews as the V’ahavta, part of their statement of faith, Jesus says is the very foundation of most of the Ten Commandments. It underpinned all other acts of obedience.

 

Jesus tells us who our love is meant for. We were created to love God; not in the way we ‘love’ an activity or a movie franchise, but with every facet of our being. Jesus tells us to love the Lord in a way in which we are willing to sacrifice everything about ourselves (our thoughts, our time, our money, and even our lives) to demonstrate our affection. To those who first followed Jesus, this means sacrificing homes, families, livelihoods, and ultimately their lives. What are we willing to sacrifice? Better still, our love finds its ultimate fulfillment in the Lord. When we love the Lord we are using love for its intended purpose. Unlike all the other things that we ‘love’, the Lord— and only the Lord will never fail or forsake us.

 

Our aim here at YFM is to be a community that lives out that first, greatest commandment in all that we do and all that we are both individually and corporately.


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