February 14, 2016

Leaving Our Egypt

Posted in Faithfulness of God, Teaching tagged , , , , , , , , , at 1:27 pm by tclickenger

As I am sure most posts start, this has been on my mind for a few weeks now.  Percolating I guess.  The topic of this post is the Hebrew word “mitzraim.”  This is a very obscure topic among us non-Jewish people and without intentionally searching out the topic the chances of encountering it are fairly remote.  So it has been surprising to me that information about “mitzraim” has been coming to me from sources consistently all this week.

One of the insights came to me through a video a friend of mine shared on Facebook.  The video was of a Jewish rabbi, Dr. Abraham Twerski (who is also a practicing psychologist specializing in addictions), describing how lobsters grow.  It is a great clip and a fantastic introduction to this blog.  I invite you to take a look then come back and continue reading.

http://www.jinsider.com/videos/vid/393-rabbi-dr-abraham-twerski/7895-responding-to-stress.html#7895

That thing that the lobster feels is “mitzraim.”  What mitzraim means is constriction or tightness.  The root of the word means constriction but it can also mean distress as it is translated in most of our English translations in this verse,

Psalm 118:5, “From the distress (or constriction: hametzar – singular version of mitzraim) I called to God, He answered me in divine spaciousness.”

When we feel severe distress we often feel as though our own chest is constricting our heart. I believe this is the feeling that David is describing in this psalm. I believe David understood the spiritual condition of constrictions in our soul. I believe he also understood the contrasting condition brought by God’s abiding presence in our life, divine spaciousness.

The interesting thing about “mitzraim” is that it also means Egypt.  This adds a whole new dimension to the Exodus story. With this new dimension the story is no longer just about the children of Israel, but is now also a story about you and me.  Since we live in a free and democratic society it is hard to identify ourselves with slavery, even harder to believe that, apart from God’s intervention, we are in fact a slave.  Just as Jesus told us.

John 8:34 NIV — Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

A slave to the demands of our flesh, the twisted desires of our soul and the influences of dark spiritual forces.  They straight-jacket us while we are in complete oblivion to the confinement our captors have put us in.  It sounds illogical, we become slaves by doing what we feel like doing when we feel like doing it with whoever we feel like doing it with.  That sound like freedom doesn’t it?  Then contrast that with what the Bible says, that we should obey, do this, don’t do that, it sounds very restrictive. Sound absurd doesn’t it. 

In fact, this thinking is captured well in a song from my youth. Let me share some of the lines from it. 

Living easy, living free

Season ticket on a one-way ride

Asking nothing, leave me be

Taking everything in my stride

Don’t need reason, don’t need rhyme

Ain’t nothing I would rather do

Going down, party time

My friends are gonna be there too

In case you didn’t recognize those lyrics, they’re from the song titled “Highway to hell” by the band AC/DC. 

But even as the song tells you, following your own whim and way is not the road to freedom. Not physical freedom or spiritual freedom. Those who have addictions are slaves to those addictions and it constricts the enjoyment of their life. Anyone who indulges in being lazy become enslaved by laziness and it limits their opportunities in life. Anyone who indulges in gossip become addicted to listening to and spreading gossip. It then restricts their relationships because they become know to be untrustworthy and disloyal. I could go on but ultimately, living life doing what you want when you want is the road to a torturous confinement. 

True freedom requires discipline and boundaries. That’s why God gives us His word, his instruction, to instruct us in how to live our life  in freedom. To show us where the boundaries are. That’s where I’ll continue on my next post in this series. 

April 26, 2015

The Path of the Upright

Posted in Humility, Teaching tagged , , , , , , , at 8:51 pm by tclickenger

Proverbs 15:19

The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is paved.”

The inspired words of the Lord are so beautiful and rich with meaning and truth.  In Hebrew the phrase “… but the path of the upright is paved.” is only three words.  But, my goodness, the depth of meaning contained in just those three words is incredible.

In Hebrew it reads, “v’orach yisarim s’lulah.”  “Yisharim” is the plural form of the word “yashar.”  So literally it would be upright ones.  Samson Raphael Hirsch, a 19th century Jewish rabbi, describes an upright one as “an individual whose thoughts and will are directed exclusively upon the aim which has been set for him by his sense of duty and destination.”  Now compare his words with those of the writer of Hebrews.

Hebrews 12:2

“Looking upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I’d say according to that definition, Jesus would definitely qualify as an upright one.

“Orach” means path or way.  The upright ones, their path or way of life  is “s’lulah” or always even, going continuously straight and upwards.

The upright one is contrasted with the lazy man.  A lazy man completely shuns this sense of duty.  When difficulty comes, he gives up.  When the difficulty he faces is just the fact that he doesn’t feel like it, he has the laughable faculty for inventing excuses to shirk responsibilities.  “There is a jackal in the way, a lion in the street.”  Because of this way of living, the lazy man’s life is increasingly difficult.  Like trying to walk a path through nothing but hedges of thorns.

The upright one is a person of fierce resolve.  When the real difficulties come, and they will come, he overcomes.  Difficulties become increasingly easier to conquer.  Laziness is always in the way, no matter what you wish to do for yourself or for other.  It is a hindrance that God, as your loving Heavenly Father, will chasten you to overcome.  Are you having difficulty in your life?  Does it feel like you are trying to walk a path through the briar patch?  Do some inventory.  I am not saying that you are certainly being lazy but we (me included) need to consider the possibility.  We are called to disciplined spiritual work.  And even if you are physically a hard worker, you could be spiritually lazy.  Are you studying your bible?  Are you being disciplined in your prayer life?  If you are going to my church right now, you are being exhorted to pray more and pray with more understanding.  Get your thoughts and will directed, resolved on this aim.  If you’re having trouble disciplining yourself, find a partner.  Meet together every morning until you have the discipline to continue on your own.

Ecclesiastes 4:9

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.”

Remember, “Nothing of eternal consequence (eternal significance) happens apart from prayer.”

Prayer is but one spiritual activity we can be lazy in.  There are others to consider while you are doing inventory.  Prayer is meaningful spiritual work though and must not be neglected.

My Father and my King,

I pray that I am ever reminded of the duty and destination set before me.  Help me to maintain a fierce resolve, keep my undistracted attention on my example, Jesus, so that one day where He is, I will be also.  Help me to overcome the hindrance of the flesh and it’s tendency to be lazy.  May I rest when you tell me to rest and be active when you desire me to be active.  Help me to realize the rewards of: rest for my soul as I yoke myself with Your Son; a way of life that is always even, going continuously straight and upwards; and the privilege to hear you say, “Well done My good and faithful servant.”

Amen

March 7, 2015

Do You Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

Posted in Teaching tagged , , , , , at 5:33 pm by tclickenger

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6

I love how detailed and specific God is throughout scripture. Jesus, being one with the Father, is just as specific with His words. God is not slipshod with what He says. With the knowledge and wisdom He has concerning all things He is masterful in using words to mean so many things at the same time and all of them being true. I don’t know about you but I have a tendency to gloss over the details of scriptures. In the past, as I was reading this scripture, I would unconsciously read “hunger and thirst” and kind of combine them as “strong desire” because I thought that they both express strong physical desires. Looking at the details though, God could have expressed this with either “hunger” or “thirst” but He chose to use both. This begs the question, “Why?”

While Jesus was expressing spiritual longings, He is using desires that we are physically familiar with. So, to answer why, lets explore what hunger means to us physically and what thirst means to us physically. This may sound shocking to you but hunger is not really a desire. When our body is in need of food it produces the feeling of hunger to make us aware of this need. We then desire, seek out and consume food to relieve this feeling. The same goes for thirst. Our body is in need of water and so it produces the feeling of thirst to make us aware of this need.

Hunger then is the awareness of our need for one thing and thirst is the awareness or our need for another thing. The reason Jesus said that “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” is because in order to achieve righteousness we must recognize our spiritual need of two separate things. Once we become aware of our need, a desire is produced within us to satisfy that need. We seek out and make that thing we need apart of what we are.

Hunger is a spiritual picture of the awareness of our personal need for knowledge and understanding. In order for us to be righteous we need to have an understanding of what righteous ways are. We long for to know God’s will. The word, the truth, the extension of Himself that clearly shows us life as it truly is, not as the world misrepresents it. Through our study of the word of God, the bread of life; through seeking out shepherds who provide proper nourishment for our level of growth and development, we gain knowledge of the principles that put order to our activity, relieving our longing for spiritual food.

Thirst is a spiritual picture of the awareness of our need for active obedience. In order for us to be righteous we also need to be obedient to the ways we know to be right. The book of Psalms speaks frequently about thirst. I believe David had a very deep awareness of his need for obedience when He wrote in Psalm 119:131, “I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands.” I believe that David is keenly aware that it is not the commandment that satisfies his thirst but the obedience to the commandment that brings satisfaction. God was also communicating the truth of this principle when He inspired David to pen the words in Psalm 63:1, “My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for you, in a dry and weary land where there is not water.” This world that we live in is a dry and weary land. There is very little obedience to God’s ways in this world.

In the physical, both food and water are vitally important for life, but our need for water is more urgent than our need for food. We can generally survive 40 days or greater without food but we won’t last more than a week without water. The spiritual truth attached to this physical reality is that knowledge, understanding of truth, belief, or faith that we are not actively obedient to, or in other words, without works is dead, as James so poignantly put it. When we walk in submission to God’s will for our life, according to His word, we are drinking from the “spring of the water of life” (Rev. 21:6) and our life also becomes life giving. Inspiring other toward obedience and thereby “streams of living water (then) flow from (us)” (John 7:37).  Our life then is filled and overflowing.

God, my Father and King, I am thanking you for the wisdom you gave us through your Son, our anointed salvation, who with just 14 words could express volumes to His disciples. Thank you for the words of instruction for full satisfaction of the needs of my soul. That I may live and not die and be life giving to this world. In this world where bitterness is in the mouths of all who revel in sin and shallowness, I am thankful of “How sweet Your words are to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” (Psalm 119:103). I am also thankful for the Godly legacy passed to me from the words of my grandfather. Thank you for the divine arrangement that placed his bible and his words into my hand, mind and heart. I thank you and give you praise for giving those seeds to me, for causing them to grow and blossom. I pray that all these words would work in the lives of all who read them, giving practical application, giving life to the reader and flow waters of life to others around them.

Amen