Equality

                  Equality

 

  This life has come to a search for equality. Everybody claims to want equality. Politicians say, “if you elect or trust me, I will get you equality”. Unfortunately, most of the politicians or others who are offering equality are more interested in their own power and enrichment. Politicians are only looking at this world and how to gain power for themselves. If one is looking for true equality, look to God. Every one of us is divided into groups by economics, ethnic heritage, politics, region of birth. and many other factors. The only way to gain equality in this life is by looking to the ultimate judge. 

     God views us all equally. God knows us intimately. God sees who we really are. Nothing is hidden from him. We might be able to hide things from our friends, coworkers or family, but not from God. Paul wrote, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”. We are all His creation. He has ultimate ownership of us. God sees our sinful condition. Our sinful condition is the one thing all of humanity has in common. We are equal. None of us deserves anything more than eternal punishment. We don’t deserve anything less.  

     The greatest equality was in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve lived in the garden in perfect equality. Equality with each other and perfect equality with God. God would come in the cool of the day and talk with Adam and Eve. Those must have been some amazing conversations.

 

  After the fall, humanity was more or less left to itself. But, throughout history God would move and select people to serve Him. There was Noah. He built a boat and saved his entire family. One constant throughout scripture is God’s love for fallen humanity. No matter how bad humanity became, God always loved us with a perfect love.

 

  After Noah, God knew humanity would need a savior. To that end, He looked at Ur of the Chaldeans and found a man named Abram. Eventually, Abram would be renamed Abraham. Abraham would have a son. That son would have a couple of sons. Eventually, the man Abraham’s family would become a people. One thing Abraham was promised was a land and a family. God told Abraham. The entire world would be blessed through his family. Through Jesus, all people would be equal.

 

  Jesus came to earth in the fullness of time. When Jesus came on the scene, the Jewish religion was so entrenched in society. There had been four hundred years of silence. There hadn’t been a major voice from God for that four hundred years. Jewish society had been totally stratified. On top were Jewish men, either Pharisees or Sadducees. These two major divisions of Judaism were arguing about who would divide the spoils. The spoils were followers. The problem was, neither sect was correct. Both sects had been so interested in their own power.

  

  When Jesus began preaching, his message was so new it appealed to the common people. Jesus took his message to the common people. His message was so simple. He spoke with authority. He plainly exercised authority. Jesus took his message to the lowest of society. He talked to women, tax collectors, or lepers, or anyone else who would listen. One of the primary examples of this was talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. Not only was Jesus talking to a woman, but a Samaritan woman. 

 

  Not too long in the future, Jesus would be arrested, tried, convicted and crucified. On the third day, Jesus was raised from the dead. He proved his resurrection to his disciples and sent them out into the world. He told them, Go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the rest of the world, which they did. The disciples started with the Jews. Once the Jews rejected the message of Christ, the gentiles were more receptive. The gospel took off as the gentiles. Not only were the gentiles receiving the message, they were receiving the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit fell on all of them equally.

 

  Here we are roughly two thousand years later. The faith continues to grow and reach anyone who hears and receives it. No one who wants to accept Christ, is rejected. Nothing matters, race, wealth, social standing, marital status, or any of the other measurements by which society has been divided. In the end, only accepting Christ matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am Yours and You are Mine

I Am Yours and You Are Mine

            Anyone who knows me knows I have an interesting sense of humor. It’s part cynic, part self deprecating, and part based in reality. Attending the Hillsong Conference 2013 changed my life and has added the dimension of writer. Go figure. I left the conference with a burning desire to write about what I experienced. As I talked to a friend, I related the experience and she asked me to send her a copy of the work. Honestly, I’m not even sure what to call it. I guess we could call it an article. As I slept the Sunday after the conference, the conference was October 18th and 19th, 2013. I became aware there might be a wider audience for my article. I posted to Facebook offering anyone who wanted to read the article a copy of it. I was surprised by the number of requests. I also began praying and asking if God wanted me to write more. I received my answer on my way to work.

            I began thinking about this line from the song “Oceans” by Hillsong. I was struck by the words “I am Yours and You are mine. My first reaction was to look at that statement and think. God sure got the short end of that deal. I know who and what I am. I believe I know very little of who and what God is. I know my knowledge of God barely scratches the surface of the truth of who God is.

            I began to examine that simple sentence. I stopped laughing and thought, Okay, Lord. I know you want me to keep writing.  I am yours and You are mine. What does God get by receiving me? The God of the universe doesn’t need anything I have. I don’t have anything. He would even want. He owns everything. “This is what the Lord says: Heaven Is my throne and the earth is my footstool.”, Isaiah 66:1 (New Living Translation). The most beautiful scenes we see on earth, whether we look at mountains, beaches or anything else, is God’s footstool. God rests His feet on the earth. What do I possibly own that God could want. Ultimately, the answer is nothing. I am just a man, and a very flawed one at that. I have nothing to offer God that would make Him want me in and of myself.

            How do we get from fallen, broken, flawed, and sinful humanity to something God would want. If we look at this from a purely earthly, human point of view, this becomes really amazing. The God who created the universe wanted a part of His creation to worship him. There was and continues to be one problem. The problem is sin. We are fallen humanity. A holy God cannot look upon sin.

            Somebody had to bridge the gap. Humanity couldn’t. Religion has been defined as “Man’s attempt to reach God.” Religion tells us. If we do certain things, pray, do good works, conduct our lives in a certain way, we will obtain an eternal reward. “Religions have almost as many “don’ts” as “do’s”. Some will have more of one or the other. There is one commonality of religion. All require human effort. It takes effort to obey the list of do’s and don’ts.

            If “I am yours” is all there was to this relationship, it would be enough. It is enough to know we are accepted by God. We belong to God. Whether people want to acknowledge God’s ownership is irrelevant. The God of the universe already owns everything. The claim of self ownership is the height of arrogance. It is the source of original sin. Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden and rebelled against the ownership of God.

            However, there is an “and” in the sentence. “I am yours” is not the end of the sentence. There’s more to it. Both sides of the sentence, “I am yours” and “You are mine”, reveal the gain of humanity. Humanity, who has nothing to give, gains a share of the inheritance of God. We become sons and daughters of God by adoption. We gain the privilege of approaching the throne of the God of the universe and talking to Him directly.

            While humanity gains everything from this arrangement there is one who sacrifices a great deal. Jesus loses the most of this arrangement. What does Jesus lose? Jesus laid aside his Glory and place in heaven. He comes to earth. He is born in a minor town of Bethlehem. He lives with an earthly father and mother. He had to grow up, go to school, do chores, and work with his earthly father Joseph. Jesus has to wait thirty years before starting his ministry. At twelve years old, on a trip to the temple, Jesus is found by his parents at the temple asking questions of the teachers. When Mary and Joseph approached him after searching for him three days, he asks them, “But why did you need to search? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49 NLT) This is one of the few incidents we have of Jesus’ childhood. Jesus had to wait another eighteen years to begin his ministry.

            “He is mine”. It’s a small sentence. It shows our absolute gain in this relationship. Humanity gains everything. We gain forgiveness of sins. We become adopted into the family of God. Jesus, who is the only Son of God, now willingly shares his inheritance with humanity. Most will not accept his gift. Make no mistake, it is a gift. Humanity has nothing to offer in exchange. “When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags”.(Isaiah 64:6 NLT). The best humanity offers is garbage to God. This demonstrates the equality adoption gives humanity.

            Jesus did something no earthly prince could or would ever do. He left his seat at the right hand of God, came to earth, and died for our sins. When an earthly prince abdicates, the only people affected are other princes. When a prince abdicates he leaves the throne to another. Most never return to the throne. Jesus did. After His ascension, Jesus resumed his seat at the right hand of the Father. Each prince moves up in succession. A prince abdicating does not affect the commoners. When Jesus left his throne, He was doing it for people who couldn’t do anything for him. His death and resurrection could elevate all of humanity to equality with him. The only way we achieve this equality is accepting Jesus as our personal savior. Achieving this equality is impossible otherwise. 

My Hillsong Conference Experience

Hillsong Conference thoughts.

             I feel like God is wanting me to write my thoughts down. I experienced a lot of things this weekend. It was an amazing experience. I feel God wants me to sit and write about what He revealed to me. I didn’t know what to expect when I heard about Hillsong coming to California. I would joke, They are on my bucket list. Meaning, I wanted to hear them before I died. What I received was so much more than just a concert or even a conference. What I received from God was a life changing experience. Every song, every speaker, had something for me. The songs were an opportunity to praise God and give Him glory. The sermons each had relevant God wanted me to hear and know.
            Whenever anyone wants to do something outside of the norm for God, rest assured the enemy will attack. My attack came in the form of a cold. My family came down with the illness around the 11th of October. I knew I was probably going to get it. There was no escape or avoiding it. I prayed, Lord if I’m going to get it, let me get it early and recover from it even just partially before the conference. My voice was not 100% when I went. I’m so thankful for God giving me the finances to go to the conference.
          The conference began with one of my favorite (NOT) things. Driving to Los Angeles. It seemed like every driver in LA lost their ability to drive. I had three locations in my GPS necessary for the trip, the Nokia Center, my hotel and Fuddruckers. Hey, a man’s got to eat. Without knowing my way around LA, I picked a hotel within a couple of miles of the Nokia center. I know it’s a little thing but, thank God for giving me a room close to the center. I left Bakersfield at 11:30 am. I stopped for gas and rolled out. My check in time for my hotel wasn’t until 2 pm. My first destination was Fuddruckers. When I got to LA I checked my ETA to Fuddruckers. It was about 2:15 pm. I had a big burger, fries and a soda. I really didn’t need to stress. I stood outside for over an hour. As I walked in the door, I saw a sign. It had a list of things that were prohibited. One of them was weapons. I had a knife on me. I had two options, go back to my car or toss the knife. I decided to toss the knife. I still set off the metal detector. I had my coinage, wallet, KIA memorial bracelet, watch, and belt.
              I found my seat and found out I was really far away. I didn’t buy my ticket until I confirmed I had the days off. I sat in my assigned seat. It wasn’t an aisle seat but the three seats to my right were empty. To my left was a very attractive young blonde lady. She told me, it was her first concert. I told her, you are in for a treat. That was a serious understatement. I’m glad I was able to slide over. By the end of the conference, I needed the room to move. I’ve never considered myself a dancer. I’m a typical white guy.. I don’t have any rhythm. I freely admit that. Hillsong’s music got me moving, raising my hands until my arms were tired and praising God and His Son Jesus at the top of my lungs. I had to stop several times because my throat would dry out. I’m still hacking and coughing.
                 The first messenger of the conference was Bobby Houston. He’s the pastor of Hillsong Church. His topic came from the song “Oceans”. He talked about the great mystery of faith. He talked about the wonder of God including us in the mystery of ministry. The song “Oceans” is about the night Peter and the apostles were sailing on the sea of Galilee. Jesus wasn’t with them. Late at night, during a storm, Jesus was walking on the water. Seeing someone walking on the water terrified the apostles. Jesus called to them and told them it was Him. Peter calls to Jesus, “Lord if that’s you, call me to come to you”. Jesus, said, “Come.” Peter steps out of the boat and walks on the water to Jesus. He’s fine as long as he keeps his eyes on Jesus. When Peter looks at the waves and wind, Peter starts to sink. It was surprising how much Pastor Bobby Houston emphasizes the ministry of the local church. Another part of the sermon, He discussed the subject of diversity. He said, “Evangelism is like breathing. God breathes in sinners and breathes out saints. The church at Jerusalem breathed in diversity and breathed out unity. The church at Antioch breathed in unity and breathed out diversity.” One of the interesting things he demonstrated was the relationship between the song “Oceans” and the scripture. I was surprised to learn all of the songs the musicians write are reviewed by Pastor Robert Fergusson for doctrinal soundness. This makes the music groups accountable. It also includes them in the overall ministry of the church. I didn’t know Hillsong is the church. The musical groups are extensions of the church. God is breathing in people who he wants to change and breathing out saints who He wants to begin reaching others.

            The next speaker was Bobbie Houston. She is Brian Houston’s wife. One feature pastor Houston encourages is letting women take a role in the worship service. I grew up in a Freewill Baptist church. My church did not allow women to speak in the church service where men were present. Women could teach younger men or teenagers but, teaching older men was not allowed. Pastor Houston has a rather interesting view about this situation. He believes if you silence women, you are silencing over fifty percent of your church. Her topic was to accept people for who they are.

            The next speaker was Pastor Robert Fergusson. He is the doctrinal pastor of Hillsong. All pastors are doctors. Some are surgeons. Pastor Robert refers to himself as a surgeon. He spoke about the definition of Grace. The definition of Grace is unfair. Jesus is the Son of God. What was fair about his coming to earth to save humanity? As the Son of God, he owns everything, because God owns everything. Jesus gained nothing in coming to save us. Jesus gave up everything to come down here. What did he gain? Jesus gained an agonizing death. He had to put up with all of the problems involved with being human. Jesus had to deal with temptation. He had to experience being tired, frustrated, disappointed, and angry and the list goes on. There was nothing fair in his coming to earth and dying for us. Now, we are adopted children of God. Jesus will share his inheritance with us.

            The next speaker was a fiery little woman named Christine Caine. She brought out this illustration of developing film. I remembered taking photography in high school. She talked about developing film. Developing film has to be done in total darkness. I remember trying to use a bag to unload film from a canister. I couldn’t do it. I had to use the darkroom. She used the illustration of film being developed in the dark. It took time and the chemicals. The film can’t be exposed to light too early. If the film is exposed to light too soon it will be ruined. I’ve been praying for a long time for God to reveal where He wants me to serve. I’ve come to realize His not giving me an assignment wasn’t ignoring me or thinking I’m not good enough. It was my time in the darkroom. I had to be prepared for the ministry which God has for me. I don’t know what that ministry will entail. I’m starting to get some idea where and what. I think it might have something to do with helping my fellow veterans who are returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. Many of them need to know there is a God who loves them and knows what they’ve gone through. There is a God who can give comfort like no one or nothing in this universe. 

            The final speaker was Pastor Judah Smith. His sermon title was, “Don’t take what’s yours.” That sounds counter intuitive. He used the parable of the man who owned a vineyard. He went to the square in the morning and hired a group of men to work for him. They agreed to work for a day’s wage. The owner of the vineyard went out at five separate times and hired groups of men. At the end of the work day, the owner of the vineyard inserts the only tension in the situation. He decides to pay the last group of men first. The men are paid for a full day’s work even though they only worked for, at most, an hour. The owner proceeded to pay each succeeding group the same wage. Finally, he comes to the last group of men. These men have worked all day long in the Middle Eastern heat. I know this heat very well. I spent the better part of a year living there. These men didn’t notice a trend? The owner paid every preceding group of workers the same. I don’t understand why they expected more. The first group was the only group with a verbal contract for the day’s work. They stood there complaining about the pay they received. The owner asked them, “Isn’t this the price to which you agreed?” They said yes but weren’t satisfied. In the end the owner told them to take what they had earned and go. The owner would never employ those men again. What a tragedy, to be told by God, “Take what is yours and go.” How much better for them had they rather said, “If you need any help tomorrow afternoon, I think we are available.

            I went there not quite sure of what to expect. I expected to hear some great music. I wasn’t sure about the preaching. I’ve been in church since I was five years old. I’ve heard a lot of preaching. I’ve heard some of the best preachers in the Freewill Baptist denomination. I’ve been privileged. Both the men and women brought dynamic messages. I was leaving the conference and a lady from Hillsong University asked me what I thought. All I could say was wow. I was speechless. I was so amazed by what God had done through the music, preaching, and talks, I was having trouble processing it. So much was going through my mind, I was trying to process what was going on. I felt like my mind was just overwhelmed. It was like drinking from a fire hose. I also had this burning desire to write this down. I don’t know what I’m going to do with this. I already have one request for a copy. I think that’s part of the reason I was burning to get this down. Pastor Russ was complaining about men being unemotional in church. He contrasted it with how some men act when they shank a golf shot or their favorite team is being beaten like a goat tied to the goal post. As he was saying this, I thought “You want to get them mobile and praising God, Send them to a Hillsong conference. As stated earlier, I’m a white man. I have no rhythm. By the end of the conference I couldn’t keep still. I would raise my hands and praise my God as loudly as I could.