Monday, January 16, 2012

Choices and Companionships

Choices. Life is full of choices. We choose whether to get up in the morning and when. Then we choose what to wear, what to eat, what to do, where to go. Somewhere in all of that choosing, we choose our companions. The book of Proverbs in the Bible has quite a lot to say about our companions. For instance, Proverbs 13:20-"Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm." Another verse that is pertinent: 1 Corinthians 15:33 AMP - "Do not be so deceived and misled! Evil companionships (communion, associations) corrupt and deprave good manners and morals and character."

When my kids were young, we had a cassette tape by The Bill Gaither Trio titled L.I.F.E. On that album was a song called "Primary Data." Maybe some of you reading this have heard the song. It's a good one and I wish I could get my hands on a copy. Part of the lyrics went like this, "...input, output, what goes in is what comes out; input, output, that is what it's all about. Input, output, your mind is a computer whose input output daily you must choose. Let the Bible be your primary feed; it's got all the data you need..."

I've been thinking about that song and the connection between the input we receive from various companionships/associations and the level of trusting obedience to the LORD which we manifest in our lives. The world we live in is filled with all sorts of possible companions--music, movies, TV shows, magazines, books, internet sites, and all sorts of other media, as well as actual people. Even things that may seem "good" or "okay" can draw us away from our first love or distract us from the work that the LORD would have us doing.

You've probably heard that saying, "a little leaven leavens the whole lump." Leaven is used to portray sin in Scripture. If you've ever baked bread or watched bread being made, you know that it takes just a little bit of yeast to make a batch of 2 or 3 loaves rise into nice tasty bread. Likewise, when we listen to that song about illicit sex or watch a movie where two people who are not married to each other are involved sexually with each other or listen to jokes that may be just a little "off," thoughts take root. We might be more inclined to yield to the temptation to imitate what we have seen or heard. Or we could become dissatisfied with the spouse we have because he/she isn't as sexy or romantic or whatever as the man/woman we saw in that movie. Or maybe we just become more desensitized to sin. It doesn't seem to take much desensitizing and before we know it, we're tolerating all sorts of sin in ourselves and in our brothers & sisters of faith.

That's how we become powerless believers who look no different from anyone else in the world. That's how Christians can have divorce rates that rival non-Christians. That's how Christians can lie and cheat and steal and commit all sorts of sins and not even think twice about it.

James 1:12 "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

Jas 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

Jas 1:14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.

Jas 1:15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

Jas 1:16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren."

It all starts with a choice. What kind of input, what kind of "companions" will we choose?

2Ti 2:21 AMP So whoever cleanses himself [from what is ignoble and unclean, who separates himself from contact with contaminating and corrupting influences] will [then himself] be a vessel set apart and useful for honorable and noble purposes, consecrated and profitable to the Master, fit and ready for any good work.

2Ti 2:22 AMP Shun youthful lusts and flee from them, and aim at and pursue righteousness (all that is virtuous and good, right living, conformity to the will of God in thought, word, and deed); [and aim at and pursue] faith, love, [and] peace (harmony and concord with others) in fellowship with all [Christians], who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart.

The Deceitfulness of Sin

Thinking about the deceitfulness of sin and how easy it is to justify its presence in our lives…It makes no difference what kind of sin it is—could be sexual, could be idolatry or covetousness, could be gossip or lying, could be stealing, could be something like racism—as long as it’s “private” or “small” or “socially acceptable,” we seem to be experts at rationalizing it or denying that it’s present in our lives. Why is that? We don’t seem to have a problem identifying “big” sins like murder, but those “little” sins—they trip us up all the time.

I think part of the problem—a BIG part of the problem—is that many Christians seldom, if ever, open the Bible and read it any more. Along with that, many Christians seldom, if ever, take a look at God’s original instructions for His people, contained in the first five books of the Bible. Without an understanding of the “law,” God’s Torah, we can no longer identify what is sin and what is not; without Torah, there are no absolutes. It then becomes a matter of what seems “right” to me. Therefore, if it feels good, do it. God knows that we are human and He’ll forgive us. But is that really the way sin and God’s forgiveness works? I think not. That smacks just a little too much of “easy believe-ism” or “greasy grace” as some call it.

God set aside a people to bear His name and walk in His ways. Then He gave them instructions to guide them as they followed Him because His desire was for His people to be holy as He is holy. We call those instructions “the law.” These instructions are not impossible to follow. What made them so difficult to keep involved all of the rules and regulations that men attached to them. Yeshua kept these instructions perfectly, showing us through His example how they were meant to be followed, and elaborating on them in His teaching , restoring their original intent, and putting them in context for us.

However, we are born into sin, our hearts are desperately wicked, and without a constant focus on God’s Word and hiding that Word in our hearts, we so quickly slide into sin. The Bible tells us that sin is deceitful. It doesn’t present itself as some terrible, evil thing that we should fear it and run the other way. No, it whispers to our mind and our flesh, telling us how pleasant it is, how satisfying to our desires, how much pleasure we’ll experience by indulging in it, how “happy” it will make us. And then, like Eve, we think, “well, sure, why not?” Then the next thing we know, we’re entangled in it and find that getting free of its enslavement is not so easy and the pleasures that it promised more often than not leave us feeling empty and decidedly NOT “happy.” Trust me, I’ve been down that road more times than I can to remember and I KNOW. On the other hand, obedience to God’s instructions, although it might mean crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5: 24), brings joy and peace (Rom 8:6).

So how DO we know what sin is and how to identify it in our hearts and lives? Romans 3:20: Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Romans 7:7: What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "YOU SHALL NOT COVET." 1 John 3:4 AMP: Everyone who commits (practices) sin is guilty of lawlessness; for [that is what] sin is, lawlessness (the breaking, violating of God's law by transgression or neglect--being unrestrained and unregulated by His commands and His will). CJB Everyone who keeps sinning is violating Torah — indeed, sin is violation of Torah.

For further study:

Colossians 3:5-17

Romans 6 (all), 8:1-18

Galatians 5: 16-26

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Ephesians 4:21-24, 5:1-17

Hebrews 12:1-17

Romans 12:1-2

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A New Year, A New FOCUS

You might think that since I haven't posted much here that I've fallen by the wayside. Well, not exactly. Life has been happening. I'm still a fulltime college student, which keeps me quite busy during the school semesters. In 2011, I also took summer classes. In a week I begin what many say is the busiest semester in my teaching degree program. If they are right, I may not have time to get back here to post until summer; we'll see.

So am I still committed to following Yeshua and walking in all of His ways? Absolutely! Have I got it all figured out and down pat to the point that I'm doing it perfectly? Absolutely NOT! :o) I am still a "work in progress." However, I believe even more firmly, if that's possible, that YHWH's Torah is still in effect, that it applies to ALL of His children (Jewish or Gentile), and that I bring Him pleasure when I do my best to walk according to His Torah. I am still "going it alone" as far as my family goes; my precious hubby is on board with me, praise YHWH, but my children and grandchildren have not come to this understanding yet. I continue to pray that YHWH will work in their hearts and open the eyes of their understanding. They have a love for the Lord, make no mistake, as do so many Christians, but they have not grasped the place that Torah obedience has in the life of a believer. It's not about salvation--salvation is by faith, not by works--but works follow faith and are the evidence of a changed heart; Torah obedience is about sanctification, about holiness, about pleasing the Father and being unspotted from the world.

Over the past year I felt so pulled by the world and the flesh; at times it felt like my anchor was slipping. When a challenge was issued in one of the cardmaking groups that I belong to (the group Anything Goes at Papercraft Planet) to make a papercraft project highlighting a word or phrase that you want to work on this year, I knew this was an answer to prayer. As I thought about what word I wanted to make my goal for this year, FOCUS came to the forefront. In a way, that word wraps up the whole idea of Staying the Course and of my decision to follow Yeshua. I believe that the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-6 says it quite well: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart." If that's not FOCUS, I don't know what is!

But beyond that, I knew that FOCUS, while my key word, was also to be expressed as an acrostic. So here's what I've come up with:

F--focus on being faithful (Matt 25:23), fruitful (Col 1:10), and fearing the LORD (Prov 9:10, 14:27)

O--focus on being obedient (1 Pet 1:14) and taking every thought captive to the obedience of Messiah (2 Cor 10:5)

C--focus on choices: being content (Heb 13:5), crucifying the flesh (Rom 6:6), contending for the faith (Jude 3), compassionate (1 Pet 3:8), and my conduct (1 Tim 4:12, Phil 1:27, Rom 13:12-14, 1 Pet 1:15, 2 Pet 3:11)

U--focus on being unashamed (Rom 1:16), unconformed (Rom 12:2), upright (Psalm 143:10, Prov 11:20, and unspotted (James 1:27)

S--focus on having a servant's heart (Eph 6:6-7), being spiritually-minded (Rom 8:5-6), being a slave of righteousness (Rom 6:9), self-controlled (Gal 5:22-25, 2 Pet 1:5-8), and studying to show myself approved unto God, a workman who needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth (2 Tim 2:15)

In one of the newsletters I receive, this one from Jewish Jewels, a Messianic Jewish ministry to the Jews & the unsaved in general, I learned that the word "shema" does not mean just "hear;" it also means to "do." That takes me back to one of my favorite verses from James 1:22: "But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." James continues (vs. 23-27): "For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." The "perfect law of liberty" is the Torah and the "work" that YHWH says we are to do is the Torah, which also teaches us how to stay "unspotted from the world."

In that same newsletter (Jan 2012 issue), they said that the Jewish understanding of prayer is that it is a "service of the heart" to YHWH; I like that!
Not only are we to bless the LORD as we go through our day, thanking Him for all that He has given us, but we are to pray without ceasing, bringing our petitions to Him as well. Cool!

At any rate, I now have a FOCUS for 2012. I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays out and what the Holy Spirit does in me as I strive to stay the course towards the high calling of YHWH.
Take care and may the grace of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah be with you!