Archive for March, 2015

March 30, 2015

It’s All About the Mustard

by Lester Young

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you’re familiar with the now-famous ‘mustard-seed’ parable. There, Jesus’ staff had just asked Him to increase their faith; to which He cryptically responded, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6). Now… …is it just me, or do you also wonder if His disciples sometimes wished to themselves that the Lord would – at least once in a while – give a straightforward reply? Of course, we know by the Scriptures why Jesus responded the way He did: to keep those who weren’t willing to repent and follow Him from understanding the mysteries of God’s Kingdom (Matthew 13:10-15, 34-35; Mark 4:11-12). And certainly He always explained the meaning of the parables to His inner circle when there were no crowds around (Matthew 13:36; Mark 4:10, 34). But can’t you imagine the disciples sitting there in front of Jesus during one of those teaching sessions thinking, “Lord, we don’t suppose You’d mind giving us a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer this time – just this once? Our brains are startin’ to hurt…”

Actually, I didn’t come here to tell you that.

However, with that said, the “parable” format of education wasn’t used simply for the purpose of keeping the unbelieving in the dark. It was (and still is, for that matter) also an extremely effective way to surreptitiously reveal underlying principles to believers. For instance, let’s consider that ‘faith-and-mustard-seed’ thing. On second thought, in order to get a really good run at it, we should back up even beyond that: let’s start with just the ‘seed’ part for now.

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March 23, 2015

Get Your Hopes Up (Too) High

by Lester Young

Today, I’d like to tackle an issue that many, many people on this earth (Christians and non-Christians alike) are forced to deal with on a continuing, daily, long-term basis – and by “tackle” I mean to punch it dead in the throat. From an early age we begin to be subtly indoctrinated into this sinister world-view, the seed of which likely being planted the first time we hear Mom and Dad utter the one little word that forever alters our relationship with and perception of them: “No!” Later on, as infancy grows into adolescence, large numbers of children are stunted in their spiritual development under the constant bombardment of even stronger forms of negative ‘enforcement’ and reinforcement. Finally, by the time we’re all grown up, there probably isn’t one single person on this whole planet who hasn’t heard at least once in his- or her life this tiresomely familiar rug-snatcher from some old adult, “Now baby, don’t get your hopes up; I just don’t want you to be disappointed.”

Now please don’t get me wrong; work with me here. I’m a big proponent of disciplining our children. We certainly need to teach them that there are acceptable as well as unacceptable forms of behavior, and that they can’t necessarily automatically have everything they want at the exact moment they want it, and that there are boundaries in life which simply must be respected (Proverbs 22:15). That’s only right and proper, and absolutely not what I’m talking about here (Proverbs 22:6). What I am referring to are the general negative vibes we adults all-too-often throw up as an invisible hindrance in front of children, unintentional – and even unbeknownst – though they may be. And what’s worse, they’re typically wrapped in the well-meaning cloak of “guidance,” “personal experience,” or “Lemme tell you what the world’s taught me over the years, kid”.

Again, gently directing our young ones is a major part of our responsibility to them. However, we must learn that short-circuiting ‘hope’ – anyone’s hope, regardless of age – is something we should never, ever do. But in order to truly understand how and why we shouldn’t, we need to know what hope actually is. In both the Old (Hebrew tiqvah) and New Testaments (Greek elpis) of the Bible, the word translated ‘hope’ is actually defined as “expectation” or “to expect”. That’s a little different from our western-English idea of hope, which can be expressed like this: “Well, I want it to happen, I’d like for it to happen… maybe it’ll happen” – in other words, it carries no more real weight than just wishing.

Conversely, true Bible ‘hope’ is a powerful thing. It’s an expectancy that’s actually born from and based on something tangible: the unfailing Word of God. And that’s precisely why it’s so potent: it has the absolute right to believe that God’s promise will come to pass, because He can’t lie in the first place (Numbers 23:19; Isaiah 55:11; Romans 4:18-21; Hebrews 6:18). In fact, Hope is one of the three most powerful and enduring substances there is (1 Corinthians 13:13). God used it, Faith and Love to create everything that exists! (Galatians 5:6; Hebrews 11:1)

So God’s promise to us – i.e., His Word, and therefore He Himself – is the Source of hope, the Source of any and all real expectation of good that we can have; because any and all good things come from Him (John 1:1; Romans 15:13; James 1:17). He gives us every good thing abundantly for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17). In fact, every promise of God (and there are around 7,000 of them in the Bible) is a resounding “Yes; so be it!” to any person in Christ Jesus who’ll dare to take it and hang onto it (2 Corinthians 1:20; Hebrews 6:11-15). And if that’s God’s attitude about His promises, who are we to go around telling anyone not to get their hopes up over them?

Of course, I realize that most people say those things with the best of intentions: it’s usually an attempt to keep someone they actually care about from experiencing the pain of a disappointment, loss or failure. But if you dig down far enough below the surface, you’ll invariably hit upon some form of fear to be the core stimulus of that sentiment – and fear is the polar opposite of Faith.

What to do, then? Okay, granted: If your kid has aspirations of becoming the biggest drug dealer that North America has ever seen, it might not be a bad idea to try to steer him away from that hope. But otherwise, do your best to instill a “Yes, you can and will succeed” attitude whenever you get the opportunity. You know what I mean. My real point – and this is even more important than the positive support – is that your hopes and those of anyone you’re in a position to influence be built upon and rooted in the promises of God.

So if you or your child or anyone you’re talking to has God’s Word on something – regardless of how ridiculous or impossible it may sound to anyone else – then go ahead and grow a pair and “get your hopes up” as high as you can, and then push them a few clicks higher just for good measure. Don’t worry: God is more than up to the task of handling any expectation you can throw at Him, and if you’ll stay with Him on His Word you’ll never have to concern yourself again about being disappointed from “too-high hopes” (Ephesians 3:20; Romans 5:5 and Hebrews 6:17-20 New Living Translation). Because in the Lord, there really isn’t any such thing! (Luke 1:37)

 

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March 17, 2015

The Aroma of the Spirit; or, How does God Smell?

by Lester Young

Yes, yes, I know: a strange title… and, I suppose, an even stranger question. But I didn’t just pluck it out of the air. God Himself alludes to this very subject in the book of Exodus. There, He gives Moses a specific recipe for making the holy oil that would be used to anoint the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle of the Congregation and everything in it – including the priests who worked there – basically, anything that had to do with God (Exodus 30:22-30).

The ingredients God’s recipe called for leave absolutely no doubt in one’s mind that this was a wonderfully aromatic mixture. Only the best spices were used; absolutely no imitations or knock-offs. And no corners were cut during the preparation: they were instructed to make the compound using all the skill and artistry of a professional perfumer (verses 23-25). And incidentally, for those of you in the Western world who see the word ‘spices’ and (like me) your mind immediately jumps to paprika, garlic and parsley, I took a moment to look up its definition in the original Hebrew. The word besem that’s rendered ‘spices’ actually means “fragrance,” and can also be translated as ‘smell’ or ‘sweet odor,’ which I found rather interesting. From this I think it’s safe to conclude that God chose those spices for His anointing oil – if not solely, at least in predominant measure – simply because they were fragrant. In other words, just because they smelled reeeeally good.

Now let’s think about this for a moment. That fragrance must have been so rich and luxurious that… have you ever all of a sudden gotten a whiff of something that smelled soooo good it stopped you right in your tracks? You might’ve been squarely in the middle of cursing somebody out but then that scent hit you: perhaps the bouquet of an exotic and expensive perfume that just made you… well, never mind. Or maybe an enticing, succulent aroma that in remarkably short order left you salivating like Pavlov’s dog.

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