Sunday, January 2, 2022

I Take Things Out of Context---and So Should You! #readyourBible

 I've been accused of taking things out of context when it comes to matters of the Bible.

Ok, fine, yes, I admit it. I take things out of context.

But so should you!

This phrase, "taking things out of context", has been the battle cry of conservative and fundamental churches for a long time---but what are they really saying? In most cases, they're saying, "you're presenting that scripture in a way that doesn't suit my understanding; therefore, I reject your truth and substitute my own." (Shout out to Adam Savage…) 

In many cases, yes, people are being subjected to a warped truth steeped in centuries of misunderstandings and misrepresentations of who Jesus is and what He came to do. Much of scripture has been taken out of context to make it more palatable to whatever superpower pulls the strings at the time. 

However, there's another side that I'm beginning to see the more I devote my time to sharing truth at any cost. Seasoned Bible believers and long-time church goers are beginning to have truth revealed to them with scripture to back it up and it's scaring the pants right off them. I made a commitment long ago not to share scriptural things without actually sharing the scripture to back up what I'm saying. As people begin to have their eyes opened, straight from Scripture, to what the church has (mostly unintentionally) been suppressing, they don't know how to handle it and cry, "out of context" while really meaning, "out of my comfort zone!"

When I tell people that God's instructions found in Torah (first five books of your very own Bible) are for today and that we should be studying the Bible knowing that we are Israel, I AM taking things out of context! I'm taking them OUT of the context of what Christianity has been pushing for centuries and putting them BACK into the context of what the Bible and history and God Himself actually says! Taking things out of context is good if they're stagnating in the wrong context to begin with.

Many times long-time believers share motivations with unbelievers when it comes to having  their eyes opened to Bible truth: change is scary and hard and uncomfortable and sometimes lonely. It's sometimes easier to stay where we are than to fathom such a huge change to everything we know and do. I can tell you from personal experience that my Torah pursuant walk has been more of a next step in my faith, rather than a complete revolution of it. "Let go and let God" really applies here! I just follow Him one step at a time as He directly leads me---without all the stuff and noise of pastors and pulpits trying to interpret everything for me.

And since I'm taking things out of context, let me completely warp the purpose of this Anaïs Nin quote because it applies here so well:

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

This is a time of year when many people make commitments to fresh starts. Let this be the year you pursue His perfect truth, dedicating your study time to hearing straight from the Father. Ask Him to show you what He wants you to know about Him and ask Him to show it to you in a way that you will clearly understand.

"Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith." Hebrews 12:1-2

Yes, I take things out of context. And so should you!

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

The Pruning

This morning I felt led to read Matthew 7:19. When I got there, this is what it said:
"Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

We live in what the locals call the Ozark Mountains. Coming from Eastern Oregon where there are huge rocky peaks that are rarely completely clear of snow, all I see around here are little bumps. But they're beautiful bumps full of gorgeous trees that turn a million shades of amazing in the Fall and then quickly become bare sticks as winter approaches. I never tell people I live in the mountains---I say I live in the forest. There's definitely no shortage of trees in my heavily forested neighborhood.

So when I read this verse in Matthew, I immediately thought about our neighborhood after a storm. In the winter and early spring months, it's easy to see into the forest the changes that happen to the "bad" trees. One storm might loosen them enough to begin leaning on others, another causes them to press their weight even more against the trees around them--- sometimes causing those to begin to lean as well. As time goes on, their own weight pulls those bad trees down, down, down further and further until finally the ground gives way and they tip all the way over. Sometimes they've loosened the trees around them so that, in the future, those will also come down. Sometimes they're fully unrooted but have been packed so densely in an area that they lean for season after season, totally dead but being upheld by the strong trees around them. The more weight they put on others, the more the entire area is stressed.

But what happens when those bad trees are cut down and cleared out? 

Suddenly the weight is lifted from those other standing trees. They're no longer being crowded by the ones that are not flourishing. The encroaching burden is lifted. On the ground, a smooth path is made. There is space to expand and grow. A better view is opened up so one can see a path through---it allows the light to shine in.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them." --Matthew 7:15-20

I used to read this as being about other people who would act as a false prophet to me---that I needed to be careful to watch out for false prophets. Today, I'm seeing it more as a warning to myself--that I should be careful not to be a false prophet and to be sure I am bearing the fruit that pleases the Father.

But even more than that, this morning I believe I'm seeing this pruning through the eyes of the Father. Some would say that God loves everyone and since He does, no one will face eternal separation from Him. They can't bring themselves to see how a good and loving God could pick favorites from His children like that. However, this passage and many others tell us that God does, indeed, separate the wheat from the chaff.

"His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” --Matthew 3:12

These are not the random acts of a flippant God. No, these are acts of preservation. Yes, all life matters to Him. However, He has made a commitment to those who will obey His commands and devote their lives to Him.

“But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham My friend. You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest regions, and said to you, ‘You are My servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you,

I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.'" --Isaiah 41:8-10

Anyone who would call the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob their God and keep His commandments, they are Israel---whether by birth or by being grafted in, like many reading this have been. He has made a commitment to those who honor Him that we have His help and that He is upholding us.

In order to do this, He must clear out the "bad trees" around us. Often we sense this happening when we find certain relationships are subtly becoming more and more distant over time. Sometimes we are moved out of a job or ministry situation unexpectedly. Other times the activity we were involved in no longer seems to fit and we lose interest. Sometimes He moves us and other times He moves them but, what I have found to be true, is that the more I move toward Him, the more excess people, situations, and stuff seem to gently fall off. 

It's not that God wants us to hermit away somewhere with no relationships or hobbies---it's just that He wants to refine what we devote our time and, more importantly, our emotions to. He wants to make a healthier path for us to dig in our roots a little deeper, let the light shine in a little clearer. He wants to lift the heaviness off and release us from some of the deadness leaning on us that will eventually pull us down when it gives way and falls completely.

"...that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all…" -- 1 Timothy 2:2-6

All this dividing and refining and singling out and setting apart---these are not acts of a God who chooses favorites at random. He desires that everyone should come to Him. Although we see the separations happening more and more as we approach the time of His final judgement, we must remember that we are not yet at that day. Therefore, we need to be careful that we are allowing Him to do the separating when it comes to the people around us. Of course we need to be wise and not allow bad influences to corrupt good character, but we must be very careful when we are deciding who to "cut off". We must pray for wisdom and allow God to direct us because it may be that the person we think is too bad to save is the very one God would use us to help bring into wholeness in Him.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Ask, Seek, Knock -- A Testimony of the Ancient Paths

Many years ago, when I first started attending church regularly, (I was 18, maybe?) a woman came up to me after service and said she felt God wanted her to share a verse with me: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7) Over the years, I've always valued that verse, of course, but I never really had a deep down in my gut, "this is it" feeling about it until I recently came across another verse from Jeremiah. 

"This is what the Lord says: 'Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.'" (Jeremiah 6:16)

For almost 25 years I've wrestled with His word, trying to make sense of some things, trying to really "get" it. It's only recently that I feel I'm starting to have a real breakthrough into those "ancient paths". I've begged God for years to show me truth and lately, the more I've stepped away from the teachings of man and let my mind clear from all the traditions and distractions and trappings of "church life", the more I can clearly see the meaning of His word to us. Lately, as I read the Bible for myself and allow Him to interpret it for me as He designed it (as much as my feeble little mind can understand --- He is a pretty big God, after all!) I find that He truly has never changed. His ancient paths are His today paths. His truth is for all generations. 

I tapped for a really long time on that door---it's a big door with many layers of revelation of understanding and He was faithful to open it just enough to throw me a bone now and then. After many years of tapping, one day I started pounding. I started pounding and shouting and pleading and crying out---"I WANT TO KNOW YOU!" Desperation was deep down in my guts now and I was at a crossroads -- I was considering giving up. I was wondering if it was all even true. There were SO MANY unanswered questions, so many voices, so many options. I needed to know His truth.

And then one day, it was I who felt the tap. It was a still small voice, a whisper, and it spoke sort of sing-songy like my Mom used to before daylight on fishing mornings, "Sarah, it's time to wake up."

"Do you really want to know Me?" it said. "Then look to the ancient paths. You've asked, you've knocked, now seek and you will find me."

So I did. I went to the most ancient thing I knew to be true---the beginning of the Bible---and when I did, He began to reveal Himself to me in a brand new way. He began to show me His plan for His chosen people, Israel---that they were to be a light to the nations, His chosen missionaries that would reveal Him to every soul. He showed me how these ancient truths still applied in the New Testament when He confirmed the purpose of Israel through the words of Jesus, recorded by Matthew and other writers. He showed me that it was always His plan that the foreigner could be grafted in and adopted into the family of Israel by committing to follow their God and His ways. This was a concept I understood to be something Jesus brought, but didn't realize God had been doing that clear back in Moses' time and before. He showed me that because I have been adopted in through my faith in the Messiah, Jesus, I am now part of the family of Israel. Therefore, all the beautiful, wonderful promises God gave to Israel and all the loving and life-giving instructions He gave to them through the first five books of the Bible and through the prophets---that was all for me too! 

I have an inheritance! This concept has overwhelmed me for over two years now. All that God set up for His chosen people, the ones He chose to proclaim His truth to all nations, all that is for me, also! Not for me, instead, but for me ALSO! 

It is my belief that if one really wants to know God, one must look to the ancient paths. He tells us over and over that He never changes. The traditions and teachings of men have brought all kinds of changes to how faith is walked out over the years, but God and His ways have never ever changed---and they never will.

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