Wednesday, October 31, 2007

But My Situation is Different!

"No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it" 1 Cor. 10:13.

No temptation has overtaken you, but such as is common to man. Your situation is not exceptional. People all over the world have gone through what we are facing. Sometimes our enemy wants us to think that our situation is worse than what others have faced. But many have faced it, and many have triumphed.

God is faithful. When we think that our situation is exceptional, we are choosing to believe that God is not faithful. We feel that God is being harder on us than on others.

Who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able. He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability. But do we allow ourselves to be tempted beyond what we are able? Sometimes the temptations we face are not the ones God allows, but the temptations we allow. Should a recovering alcoholic go to a bar? "Flee immorality" (1 Cor. 6:18). "Flee from idolatry" (1 Cor. 10:14). "Flee the love of money" (1 Tim. 6:11). "Flee youthful lusts" (2 Tim. 22).

God will provide a way of escape. He will provide a way of escape for the temptations He allows. The only way of escape for the temptations we allow is ESCAPE -- FLEE. But the temptations God allows? He says we will be able to endure them. The temptations we cannot endure, then, are probably temptations that we've allowed.

When God Cannot Be Found

Isaiah writes, "Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts..." (ch.55:6,7a NASB). It's interesting that he says we need to forsake "our way" and "our thoughts", because (he explains later) God's ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours. To put our ways and thoughts before His, is perhaps a type of wickedness and unrighteousness called "presumption".

Why does he say, "Seek the Lord while He may be found"? Maybe because sometimes when we work our way out through natural and logical reasoning, we end up far away from the will of God. And many times we can make decisions where there is no reversal, no going back. By then, it is ridiculous to seek the Lord about the matter. Sure God can work all things together for good, but it would have been best had we sought His direction before we proceeded. We could have avoided some nasty consequences.

Paul writes about it this way, "... a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised [examined]. But he who is spiritual appraises [examines] all things..." (1 Cor. 2:14-15a). The context here is that the spiritual man examines everything from a spiritual (rather than natural) perspective. How do we examine things from spiritual perspective? By seeking God while He may be found, and by calling on Him while He is near - gaining His perspective before we try to work everything out in our natural and fleshly thinking. Because by then, it may be too late!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Finger Painting

Little Johnny and Julie were hard at work at their newspaper-covered kitchen table. One big sheet of heavy paper stretched between them as their shared canvas. Plastic bottles of paint stood on both sides of the white paper.

Johnny painted a blue cloud with purple lightning coming down. Julie painted an orange Mommy. He painted a yellow snake in a brown tree. She painted a green Daddy pushing a red baby stroller. He painted purple and blue guns. She painted pink and red hearts. He painted brown Indians shooting arrows. She painted green and orange stars.

The buzzer announced the end of their painting time. Mom strode into the kitchen, initiating Project Cleanup. She set their masterpiece on the sunlit counter with a smile. In the bathroom she took off their plastic smocks, and cleaned the paint off of the faces, arms, fingers, and hair of her newly created Indian children. Now how did Johnny’s blue paint end up in Julie’s hair? she wondered. And that’s Julie’s red paint above Johnny’s eyebrows!

Mom clicked on the washing machine and headed back to the kitchen. She cleaned off the kitchen table... and chairs... and floor... and how did it get on the ceiling! Only later did she notice the colorful hand print on her blouse...

As a Branch church, we are called to relationships. This is not an option. “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Phil. 2:4 NLT). “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Rom. 15:1 ESV).

Relationships are the finger paintings of life – and they can be messy. No, the children didn’t mean to get paint everywhere. It just happened while they focused on their finger paintings. Relationships are like that. In our best intentions, we end up smearing paint on places it doesn’t belong.

As long as there are relationships, there will be messes – and opportunities for offense. There is no guarantee that in the church we will not be painted upon. Actually, we could guarantee the opposite. Is it because people in the body are trying to get their paint on us or our side of the canvas? Is it because they are intentionally hurtful? Probably not. Maybe opinionated. Maybe poor communicators. Maybe unaware of another’s sensitivity to an issue. Maybe still growing up into Christ (Eph. 4:15). But not usually intentionally hurtful.

As intrinsic as messes are to finger painting, misunderstandings are to relationships – because none of us know everything. None of us can know all that could be hurtful to another. Jesus doesn’t require us to be perfect in knowledge, but perfect in love (Matt. 5:48, 1 Jn. 4:12,17,18).

The Message paraphrases Paul’s words like this: “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self... [Love] doesn't keep score of the sins of others... [It] puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best... [and] keeps going to the end” (1 Cor. 13).

Because relationships are the finger paintings of life, misunderstandings will occur in a relationship based church. Thankfully, God is the Perfect Parent who knows how to clean up after our messes. He doesn’t notice the imperfections of our paintings, nor is He hindered by us getting paint everywhere. He takes pride in the fact that we are painting our masterpieces together for Him.

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