Thursday, May 21, 2015

Giving Up My Job as Holy Spirit Junior

It is a good thing to defend faith and take a stand for what is right. Scripture encourages us to be discerning and to warn others when there is false teaching within the church. And it is appropriate to call sin what it is and to expose injustice. Sometimes a battle is called for. But we don't have to do it angry.

Too often Christians get a reputation for being angry, self-righteous people who will defend the faith no matter who they offend along the way. Sadly, we sometimes earn it. We believe we are called to righteous anger and fighting battles for the Lord in order for the world to take our faith as seriously as we do.  Maybe that's why there are so many unhappy Christians walking around. We can't be at peace that God is in control if we are in a perpetual state of being angry and offended.

More importantly, God never asks us to be angry in defending the gospel or in any other circumstance. In fact, nearly every scripture about anger speaks of it as a negative thing to be avoided.  Even the scripture we most use to justify righteous anger doesn't say what we think it does (Ephesians 4:26 - "Be angry yet do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger.").  It is not telling us to be angry, it is telling us that when we do get angry (and we will because we are human!), don't let it cause us to sin and don't hang on to it. Let it go.

I can easily be one of those angry Christians and feel justified in it. On the one hand I came by it honestly as I grew up in a church with a few pulpit-pounding pastors preaching hell-fire and brimstone against a long list of transgressions that included not only the obvious murderers and adulterers, but even worse transgressors: those long-haired boys and short-skirt-wearing girls who also listened to devil music (rock and roll or anything with a drum beat).  It wasn't until I was an adult that I started to grasp the concepts of grace and mercy and God's unconditional love.

On the other hand, it is part of my personality to have a heart for justice and wanting others to behave and do what is right. That in and of itself is not a bad thing. There are many examples in scripture of people God used to deliver that kind of message. But the difference is whether God compels someone to speak against sin, false teaching, or injustice, or whether we take it on ourselves as a self-appointed role.  I'm sometimes guilty of the latter and if I'm not mindful of my thoughts and words and how scripture really tells me to respond to such things, I can become more critical than compassionate, more judgmental than merciful, and can appoint myself as Holy Spirit Junior to make people behave as if God needed an assistant.

It's too big of a job for any human to bear. What a relief to know I don't have to. I don't have to right the wrongs of others; I'm only accountable for my own before the Lord and that particular list is long enough to keep me busy without ever having to meddle in someone else's. Yes, I can take a stand against things the Bible says are wrong, but I don't have to be angry doing it. Why? Because that kind of anger tends to come from not being in control and the offense comes from not getting the results I want more than the issue itself.

The truth is, God has this - whatever "this" is on any given day. He is in control, He has a plan, He will make sure things are made right in His own perfect time and way. And the Holy Spirit has this. His job is to work in our human hearts to convict, restore, teach, and illuminate truth to believers and to convict unbelievers of sin and their need for a Savior. I may be used to introduce others to the gospel of Jesus Christ or to teach the truth of scripture, but only the Lord can change the heart.

I can still be deeply concerned and respectfully point someone to biblical truth.  I don't have to become offended or angry over it, especially if the outcome isn't what I wanted, because none of it is personal. It isn't about me. It is the Lord's person or circumstance to deal with and He will, with perfect justice, grace, and mercy that I will never be capable of. 

So what does the Lord ask of me? Scripture gives me direction in Micah 6:8: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" Justice, mercy and humbleness do not contradict each other and there is room for all three to shine through when I let go of offense and anger.

I only have to be obedient in studying scripture while relying on the Holy Spirit to reveal truth and give me words to say that communicate it well and in a way that glorifies God as I'm told in 1 Peter 3:15: "But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." And in 2 Timothy 3:16: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." 

This is what the Lord has been working in my heart these past several months.  I believe He has called me to use my writing to warn about some of the false teaching and teachers that have crept into the church, and to speak up about issues the law of our land or society's political correctness say are ok but that God calls sin. But I don't have to make it personal and become offended or angry. The battle is His and more importantly, so is the outcome.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How should Christians stand up for their faith in such an anti-Christian world?

From Got Questions.org:
How should Christians stand up for their faith in such an anti-Christian world?

As Christians, the two things we can do to stand up for Christ are to live according to His Word and grow our own knowledge of Him. Christ said, “Let your light shine before men…” (Matthew 5:16). This means that we should live and act in a way that supports the gospel. We should also arm ourselves with knowledge, both of the gospel (Ephesians 6:10-17) and of the world around us. First Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” All we can do is live and teach as Christ would and let Him take care of the rest.

Critics of Christianity have become more vocal recently. This is partly because there are many people who do not believe in God or understand the truth about Him at all. Yet the apparent increase of anti-Christians is also due to perception. As with many topics, those who truly despise Christianity are the loudest and most vocal of the non-believers. The vast majority of those who do not believe don’t care enough to bother believers. The few angry, vocal, bitter unbelievers make enough noise to seem more numerous than they are.

The typical insult from the non-religious crowd is to refer to believers as “ignorant,” “stupid,” “brainwashed,” or to otherwise suggest that those who have faith are less intelligent than those who do not. When a Christian stands up intelligently for his faith, the terms change to “bigot,” “extremist,” or “zealot.” When people who know that the believer is kind and loving hear this, the atheist starts to look like the fool that he or she is (Psalm 53:1). Most non-believers have no personal reason to see Christians negatively, but they sometimes hear so much from the loud anti-Christians that they just assume it is so. They need examples of Christ-like living to see the truth.

Of course, when someone claiming to be a Christian says or does something that is not Christ-like, the angry, loud crowd is there to identify him as a typical religious hypocrite. This is something we have been warned to expect (Romans 1:28-30; Matthew 5:11). The best thing to do is to cite a passage of the Bible that speaks against what the person did. And remind the atheists that just because a person says he is a Christian, and even if he thinks he is a Christian, that does not mean that he is. Matthew 7:16,20 tell us that true Christians will be known by their actions, not merely by their profession. And remind critics that absolutely no one lives without sinning at all (Romans 3:23).

An important thing to remember is that no one, no matter how persuasive, can force anyone to believe anything he doesn’t want to believe. No matter what the evidence, no matter what the argument, people will believe what they want to believe (Luke 12:54-56). Conviction is not a Christian’s job. The Holy Spirit convicts people (John 14:16-17), and they choose whether or not to believe. What we can do is present ourselves in a way that is as Christ-like as possible. It is sad that there are many atheists who have read the entire Bible looking for ammunition against Christians, and that there are many Christians who have hardly read the Bible at all.

It’s hard for the angry crowd to accuse a Christian of being a hateful, cruel bigot when that person demonstrates a life of kindness, humility, and compassion. When a Christian can discuss, debate or debunk secular arguments accurately, the label of “ignorant” no longer fits. A Christian who has read the secular arguments and can politely expose their flaws helps to deflate the stereotypes advanced by atheists. Knowledge is the weapon, and it is invincible when we let Christ direct us in how to use it.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Way We Like it Doesn't Change the Truth

Retired Church of Uganda Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi said, "The moment you’re far away from your Bible and you are not making a difference with your Bible, then you are losing God’s wisdom to help you to walk righteously before Him." 

That is the source of the weakening of the church.  We rely less on personal study of scripture with the Holy Spirit guiding us to truth and more on what the latest best-selling author or speaker is saying, or we rely on social media and form our opinions and even our theology based on what is going around on Twitter or Facebook.

As a result, we are lured into taking what God says is sin to not really mean that, and try to say scripture was misinterpreted, that it applied to a different people or time or circumstance and is irrelevant to us today, or that it isn't really what God meant.  We try to convince ourselves that if God really loves us that means he wants us to be happy even if it goes against his word. 

It sobers me and in some ways scares me because I know God is clear that not everyone who stands before him saying "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven.  He won't care what celebrity speakers on television told us, or what tens of thousands of people "tweeted".  He won't care what we read in best-selling books.  He won't care how human judges interpreted our rights in court. There will be no excuses, no debate we can give to convince him that we are the exception to what he told us in his word.

We can spin it any way we want but as Orombi says, "the way you like it doesn’t change the truth that is in the Scripture."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What's On Your Altar?

"Everybody has an altar. And every altar has a throne. So how do you know where and what you worship? It’s easy. You simply follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your loyalty. At the end of that trail you’ll find a throne; and whatever, or whomever, is on that throne is what’s of highest value to you. On that throne is what you worship." - Louie Giglio

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Simple Truth

"It may sound boring or out-of-date, but it just happens to be true: the way to grow in your relationship with Jesus is to pray, read your Bible, and go to a church where you'll get good preaching, good fellowship, and receive the sacraments. I'm not suggesting Christianity can be boiled down to a few external requirements. I'm not saying that at all. I'm arguing that if you want to be Christlike you need to have communion with Christ, and if you want communion with Christ you need to do it on his terms with the channels of grace he's provided. And that means the only way to extraordinary holiness is through ordinary means."

- Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Hard Path of Discernment



"If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul." It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. ...If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them."  Deuteronomy 13:1-8

This scripture seems to warn against more than worshiping false gods or idols. Could it also be warning that the other "gods" we sometimes chase after come in the form of a popular book or teacher that seems sound on the surface but when tested against scripture reveals unbiblical teaching? Could the claim by some ministries that certain practices or supernatural experiences are from God actually have elements of the occult or other religions mixed in and we are to "turn away from them"?

I can't help but be reminded that the original temptation started with the serpent's words "didn't God say?" as he mixed in enough of God's exact words to make it sound credible so that the lie was hard to detect. Satan is crafty that way. He always wraps deception in enough truth to make it look and sound right so we won’t bother testing it, yet 1 John 4:1-6 instructs us to test everything to see whether it is from God and promises when we do so, we will be able to tell the difference.

It's hard to not follow the crowd - especially when other Christians are doing so - but as this scripture points out, even if our family and friends are inviting us to follow something that isn't biblical, we are to turn away from them. That is a hard thing to do. Choosing the narrow path is lonely and difficult, but it's the path we are told to follow and it’s the path that leads to life instead of destruction (Matthew 7:13, 14). God doesn't ask us to take the less chosen path or to question everything so we can become targets for those who think we're just being judgmental, close-minded, or intolerant. He simply wants to protect us from the lies that can derail our faith. 

Discernment isn't always a fun companion because she asks us to stop and seek truth when we don't want to. She sometimes asks us to confront the wolves in the flock (Matthew 7:15) when we'd rather just look the other way. We are always to test and listen with a discerning heart and true teachers of God's word will welcome that and not be offended, just as Paul commended the Bereans when they wanted to verify what he taught with the truth of scripture (Acts 17).

Part of discernment is to determine if it is really false teaching or simply needing to clarify whether differences in denominational wording of doctrine can sound different than our own yet remain truth. That is sometimes a tricky thing to do but seeking discernment from the Holy Spirit and checking everything against what scripture says helps us separate one from the other so that we can embrace truth and turn away from lies.


*****


 “Among the gifts of the Spirit scarcely one is of greater practical usefulness than the gift of discernment. This gift should be highly valued and frankly sought as being almost indispensable in these critical times. This gift will enable us to distinguish the chaff from the wheat and to divide the manifestations of the flesh from the operations of the Spirit.” - A.W. Tozer
"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."  James 1:5
"Beware of interpreting Scripture in order to make it suit a pre-arranged doctrine of your own." - Oswald Chambers

"Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness." - Luke 11:35

Monday, March 9, 2015

Learning to Contend Without Being Contentious

I admit I love a good debate. As it relates to issues of faith, the concept of "iron sharpening iron" appeals to me and I've been blessed with learning from other mature Christians and being held accountable to the truth of God's word. Sometimes I've been challenged to rethink what I believed and sometimes my convictions have been confirmed. That's how the biblical concept of believers sharpening each other in the faith is supposed to work. It is more unifying and strengthening than divisive.

But sometimes what is intended as contending for the faith becomes contentious. 

Contending is to defend one's position against an opposing view, or to try to convince someone else of the validity of such a position.  Correctly applied, it is done without pride or the desire to win the debate at all cost. It is rightly defending the truth of scripture without compromise but done in love and with respect.

But sometimes I can become contentious. Contentiousness is turning the debate into an argument where winning becomes the priority. It ends up with hurt feelings and offending each other. It is pride that drives contentiousness.

A journey the Lord has had me on the past few years has been one of discerning certain false teaching that has become more mainstream in the church. Some of it has been around for decades but has more recently become more accepted as it is repackaged in the form of attractive teachers and ministries with successful television shows and books, and thanks to the explosion of social media.

Many well-meaning Christians don't even realize they are getting caught up in false teaching because they do not do the work of testing the teaching against what the Bible really says. They mistake a teacher's ability to draw in huge crowds, their celebrity status, television programs, and best-selling books as validation that he or she must be teaching biblical truth when in fact it is deception with just enough truth mixed in with lies to make it sound "right"; tickling the ears of those attending with what they want to hear.

So when a teaching doesn't pass the test of scripture, contending is a good thing; in fact a necessary thing.  Scripture tells us to contend for the faith, and especially where false teachers are concerned:

"Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." Jude 1:3-4

When I see people I care about going down a path of false teaching, my mama bear instinct kicks in and I want to protect them at all cost. If I saw someone walking on a railroad track and a train was approaching behind them but they weren't aware, I'd do everything in my power to get them off the track, even if it meant physically tackling them.  Likewise, when I see others following false teachers, I want to sound the alarm and draw them away from danger. But I can't force anyone off the track. All I can do is contend; that is, try to show them why the teaching or teacher is a wolf in sheep's clothing who will lead them to harm. 

My intent to contend always comes out of wanting to protect and expose danger, and I'm not afraid to call sin what it is, but sometimes pride threatens to kick in and left unchecked, I can become contentious with wanting to be right. When that happens the door of opportunity to be helpful can close and relationships can become strained. No one wants to listen to or be around a contentious person. I sure don't, yet I am so easily tempted to fall into that kind of argument.  More than once I've had to apologize and ask for forgiveness for my approach even if the message itself was spot on.

I'm learning to let go of the need to do the Holy Spirit's job to impart discernment and conviction. Yes, it still alarms me to see people following after what I can only describe as wolves in the flock instead of staying close to the Shepherd (Jesus).  It breaks my heart, actually, but when my influence is no longer effective (whether because I became contentious or because the person is simply not willing to hear), I have to understand that it is out of my hands.

But here's the truth: It never was in my hands and never will be. It never is my job to change someone else's mind. Yes, the Lord uses members of the body of Christ to encourage, hold accountable, instruct, and build each other up but it is always through the Holy Spirit that the real teaching or conviction comes. He may choose to use me in some way but not because He needs me. And that is why I need to make sure anything I share comes from Him and not because I take it on myself to be Holy Spirit Jr.

So as it relates to my blog(s), if I have ever written anything that offended a reader because it came across as prideful or contentious, I apologize and ask for forgiveness.  I don't apologize for my convictions, calling sin what it is, or defending biblical truth against false teachers, but I am aware my approach or delivery isn't always as honoring to the Lord as it should be even if my intent is in the right place.

And I ask for your prayers that I would continue to be open to the Lord guiding me in the delivery of my words. It's my main struggle. As followers of Christ we are to contend for the faith and defend biblical truth but we are also to do so in a way that glorifies the Lord and represents Him well.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Kind of Fear We Should Seek

From Note to Self by Joe Thorn:

"You don't need to be afraid of anything, but you do need to fear your God with a holy reverence. Such "fear" is an aspect of faith that responds to God's holiness, sovereignty, and transcendence. This higher form of fear is that which leads to awe, adoration, and carefulness of life because of the intimate knowledge of your Maker and Redeemer. What should you fear in life above a holy God who forgives the sins of unholy men like yourself? What can be taken from you? Your possessions can go up in flames, but you have treasure in heaven and stand to inherit the kingdom. Your reputation may be sullied, but you are justified in Jesus. You may be rejected by those you admire, but you are accepted by God. You may be hated, but your Father in heaven loves you with an undying love. What is there in this life to fear?

The fear you need to maintain and cultivate is a fear of God, for in it you will discover wisdom and develop strength that enables you to persevere in faith to the end."




The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!
Psalm 111:10



Sunday, February 8, 2015

Remember...

In my Bible study these days a thought keeps resonating: Remember.

It's a significant theme that appears many times in scripture as we are instructed to remember days, events, places, people, and teachings that speak to God's holiness, power, character, and sovereignty.

Without remembrance, we are in danger of listening to other voices that tickle our ears with promises of another Jesus who is more politically correct and gives us a pass on sin, a salvation where "love wins" and the cross doesn't matter, and special revelations and mystical experiences that aren't biblical no matter how spiritual they seem. Before we know it we have forgotten who God is, what He has done for us, and what He promises with protection and blessing when we obey...and dire consequences when we choose our own way over His.

He is a jealous God who will not share our affections for other things more than Him. He is a holy God who will not overlook our deciding to ride the fence on issues that He has declared sin. And He will not tolerate being mocked when we we ascribe to Him through the Holy Spirit words and manifestations He did not say or do.

But ultimately, I think what what we are in danger of forgetting is that the whole of scripture is one huge love story with the bright scarlet thread of redemption woven into the drab fabric of our fall from grace, leading to His perfect plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. I think that is what He wants us to remember most of all and it is the message being lost in the church.

Remember the cross and the empty tomb and why we need a Savior. Remember who you are in Christ. Remember what God has done and will do. Remember His holiness.

Remember.

Monday, January 26, 2015

God Sees My Potential, Not My Past

"I realize that God is in control of the universe, that the mistakes in my past, while dramatic to me, did not ruin God's plan beyond repair. God is sovereign, and His plans cannot be thwarted by someone like me. He can fill in the blanks of my mistakes, teaching my children what I failed to teach, restoring what I destroyed, rebuilding what I tore down, redeeming what I sold away.

And He tells me to stop looking back, to press on toward the prize...He knew my mistakes before I ever made them, yet He still planned to use me anyway.  He didn't see me as The Great Loser, but as someone uniquely gifted with something to be used in His kingdom work. Where I see myself as a disappointment, He sees me as an asset. He already knows the fruit I will bear for Him, and my future is on His mind so much more than my past.

If He can see me that way, why wouldn't I want to press on toward that goal, and wave good-bye to my fragmented, imperfect past? The future is so much brighter in Christ, and I have so many sisters and brothers who need strengthening.

Thank you, Lord, for seeing my potential instead of my past."

- Terri Blackstock

Friday, January 23, 2015

Resting in God's Sovereignty

From When You Are Weak by Brian Cosby:

"The sovereignty of God is one of God's attributes that speaks of his complete control over all things, all people, and all time. Nothing happens apart from his providential governing, not even the death of a sparrow (Matt. 10:29).

Because God is sovereign, wise, and works all things for our good and his glory, and if he sees fit to give us many earthly possessions or very little earthly possessions, we can rest in the knowledge that he is in control. Whether we find ourselves in plenty or in want, the sovereignty of God should comfort us, humble us, and grant us a steady contentment in the outworking of his eternal plan." (p. 78)



Monday, January 19, 2015

The Idolatry of Fear



Good reading today about fear from When You Are Weak: How Boasting in Jesus Makes You Strong by Brian H. Cosby:

"Wrong (sinful) fear, according to scripture, is an emotion whose foundation is faithless idolatry. Let me explain.

This kind of fear lacks faith; he or she does not believe that God is really in control and that all things work for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). This sinful fear, simply put, is idolatry. It's idolizing your own safety, wealth, and health. It's exchanging the glory of God for your own reputation, status, and security. Any threat to these things brings fear because they have been elevated to a sinful place in your worship and affection.

Scripture tells us, "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe" (Prov. 29:25). ...[This] passage contrasts the fear of man with trusting God. In other words, if we are fearing man, then we are not trusting God. But if we are trusting God, we do not fear man." (pp 62-64)

I needed to hear this today. I'm often guilty of idolizing my fears to the point that they threaten to overshadow my faith and trust in the Lord. I become a "Christian atheist" who claims to believe in God but lives like his presence in my life doesn't make a difference when I give in to worry about my health, provision, my family, the bad that can happen, and so many other things.

Worry is my biggest area of struggle as I'm so easily tempted to take my eyes off of Jesus and see what scares me instead. I have to be diligent in taking every thought captive so I don't let my fears become bigger than my God.

As I wrote this post, a Veggie Tales song called God is Bigger Than the Boogie Man kept running through my head. It seems silly but the message is the same: God is bigger than anything I fear!




Friday, January 16, 2015

Defending Against the Ultimate Bully



Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life. Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not proceed in the way of evil men. Avoid it; do not pass by it; Turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; and they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble.” Proverbs 4:13-16 NASB

Bullies aren’t happy until they make someone else miserable.  Acts of harassment and violence against their victims are usually premeditated with specific targets in mind because they can’t rest until they come up with ways to harm others. 

This is also the way of Satan. He is constantly devising ways to attack God’s children and will never rest in his mission to destroy what is most cherished by God. Where the Lord delights in encouraging us, Satan delights in making us stumble in discouragement so we will doubt God’s love. 

But we aren’t without hope in defending ourselves against the enemy.  Our main weapon is to take hold of God’s word and to turn away from the path of the wicked so we don’t become vulnerable to attack. 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises that the Lord will help us resist temptation and will provide a way out of it.  Proverbs 119:11 tells us to hide God’s word in our hearts so that we won’t sin against him.  Even Jesus knew this as he resisted Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), responding to each temptation with scripture.  Satan’s lies can never hold up against of the truth of God’s word.

Guarding our hearts is vital in protecting ourselves from sin and the attacks of the enemy. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  Think about ways you can guard your heart in what you listen to, watch, or read.  Think about what causes you to stumble and begin memorizing scripture that you can hide in your heart to help you resist temptation. Soon, Satan's bullying tactics will become less effective as we grow stronger in defending against them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Let Not Your Heart Become Entangled

What competes with your affection for God? My devotional at Trochia today:

Let Not Your Heart Become Entangled

 

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Does anything else replace God in your heart?

“Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.”  Proverbs 7:25-27 NIV
The “her” spoken of in Proverbs 7 is a worldly adulteress actively seeking to lead her victims astray.  For Christians, adultery against the Lord is anything our hearts becomes entangled with, anything that replaces our desire for him.
The Bible is full of examples of those who were brought down by things they desired more than God.  It began with Adam and Eve, who chose to listen to the enticing lies of Satan instead of what God promised. Esau gave up his inheritance for a bowl of stew. The children of Israel repeatedly rebelled and chose other gods over Yahweh.  In so doing, they broke their promise to be faithful only to him. Sometimes the sin was literal adultery, as with David and Bathsheba.  In each case the result was the same: separation from God with dire consequences.
The Bible often refers to the relationship between the body of Christ and the Lord in terms of a marriage.  The vows of marriage represent a covenant – a promise to be exclusively faithful to each other. When we trade our affection for Jesus for what the world has to offer, we break that promise. Yet, amazingly, he remains faithful to us no matter how much we break his heart. 2 Timothy 2:13 says even when we are faithless, he remains faithful because he cannot deny himself.
Scripture tells us God is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14Deuteronomy 4:23-24) but this isn’t the kind of negative jealousy we think of, that controls or seeks revenge.  The word also means “zealous”.  His love for us is one of zealous vigilance that will pursue us and do whatever is necessary to protect our covenant relationship with him. He demonstrated the depth of his love by dying on the cross for us and securing the promise of eternal life.
Our heavenly Father says in Jeremiah 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.”  Take time today to express your love to the Lord and thank him for his zealous faithfulness.




Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Living Abundantly With Less

My blog post at Trochia.org today:

Living Abundantly With Less

During the worst of the economic recession a few years ago, I heard story after story of people going through devastating financial challenges and forced downsizing of their homes. For most of us, this would be a tragedy but as many discovered, it could be a blessing. One friend said of her financial difficulties, “This forced stripping is becoming a wonderful gift. The meaning of a house and its furnishings has dramatically changed for us through this challenge. There is a sense of freedom and a feeling of freshness that is taking the place of our loss and regret.”

The theme of simplicity and downsizing has been ongoing in my home for several years. For me, this voluntary journey springs from a desire to get rid of the excess that weighs my life down, and trust more fully in God’s provision.

Downsizing, whether forced or voluntary, helps us redefine what abundance really means and shows us what is important: the truth of God’s word and living his way.

The world tends to see abundance in terms of material things – the more, the better. Jesus has a different perspective. He said in John 10:9-11: “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

When Jesus says in John 10:10 that he came to give life “abundantly” he is not speaking about material gain. The New Living Translation says “to give life in all its fullness.”

The Greek word for “abundantly” in this verse is perissos and is translated to mean “exceeding some number or measure or rank or need; over and above, more than is necessary, superadded; exceeding abundantly, supremely; something further, more, much more than all, more plainly; superior, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon; pre-eminence, superiority, advantage, more eminent, more remarkable, more excellent.”

This rich scriptural definition of abundance reminds me that one of my favorite names of God is Jehovah Jireh, our Provider. The name means “The Lord sees and provides.”

Like a good shepherd, he is not a sometimes provider or an almost provider, but a remarkable, excellent provider. He sees what we need in every area of life and takes it on himself to provide. When we step out on faith and receive life with Christ in all its fullness, we are released from the stress of providing for ourselves or worrying about what will happen tomorrow or the next day or a year from now. When we rest in his promises, we can hold everything with open hands that allow us to let go as easily as we receive.

Ephesians 3:17-20 speaks to the fullness of life Christ came to give: “And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, living within you as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love; and may you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God himself. Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.” (TLB)

This is a promise we can count on – that even as we let go of our stuff, God fills our lives with more satisfying abundance than the world could ever offer.

What are you holding on to that you need to give to Jesus, your Good Shepherd and Jehovah Jireh?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Promise



“I will tell of the Lord’s unfailing love. I will praise the Lord for all he has done. I will rejoice in his great goodness to Israel, which he has granted according to his mercy and love. He said, ‘They are my very own people. Surely they will not betray me again.’ And he became their Savior. In all their suffering he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years.” Isaiah 63:7-9 NLT

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Be Careful in Your Theology



This excerpt from Note to Self by Joe Thorn says well what's been on my mind lately.


Be Careful in Your Theology

"Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." 1 Timothy 4:16

"Dear Self,

Your views of God and self are not small ideas of little consequence. You must carefully do the hard work of building a theology that reflects truth. Do not merely settle for the study you have already done. This is more than laziness; it is carelessness with the truth of God. What you have already accomplished is not sufficient to have arrived at a perfect "body of divinity." You need to continue to study and articulate the truth throughout your life. As one who believes that sin has corrupted every faculty of a man, you must acknowledge that if there is corruption in your heart and mind, there is probably some error in your doctrine as well.

Don't settle for the teaching of one teacher or system because you like the leadership there. And do not blindly embrace a tradition because you believe it is simply the closest option out there to what the apostles gave us. While you will do well to listen carefully to those teachers who have gone before you, especially those teachers who consistently preached and taught the whole counsel of God, you must remain careful.

To be careful in your theological development is to be ultimately persuaded of the authority and the sufficiency of Scripture, as well as the worthiness of God. If Scripture is the only perfect and certain word from God, which alone is the flawless revelation of God, then read it, study it, and then articulate the truths it teaches carefully, so as not to misrepresent God or lead people away from the truth.

You do not get to rest just because you believe you chose the right theological tribe. You must continue to exercise due diligence in your investigation and articulation of the truth. By it you will both know God and make him known, or you will misunderstand God and lead others into error."


From Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn, page 121.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Glorifying God Instead of Self

People who know me well know how I feel about the "prosperity gospel" movement with its promises of health, wealth, prosperity, and power - usually guaranteed when you give a financial contribution ("seed offering") to their ministries. My main issue, besides the blatant false teaching that comes out of this movement, is with the lack of humility shown by many of its leaders with their focus on self-gratification, self-fulfillment, self-empowerment, and entitlement - what's in it for self instead of glorifying the Lord, and even elevating oneself to god-status.

One look at the bookshelves in a Christian bookstore gives witness to this with titles like 5 Steps to Release God's Power for Promotion and Increase in Your Life, Your Best Life Now, You're Supposed to be Wealthy, Become a Better You, 8 Steps to Create the Life You Want, How to Succeed at Being Yourself, Power Thoughts, Imagine Yourself Successful, Speak What You Want and Receive it Supernaturally, Release Your Destiny, and so many others.

It's more about what God is supposedly obligated to do for us or what we are supposedly entitled to in tapping into the power of the Holy Spirit than how we can serve God as the message of self-fulfillment and seeking experiences overshadows the gospel of Christ. It's more about how we can command and manipulate the Holy Spirit like a genie in a bottle to give us whatever power, experience, or material thing we want than it is about living a life in humble obedience and surrender to Jesus.

The thing is, our requests are not promised to be granted just because we ask. What IS promised is that God will give us whatever we pray for that is in agreement with his will: "And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him." (1John 5:14-15)

He delights in giving us what will bring the evidence of his Holy Spirit into our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), but he will not say yes to requests that come from a wrong motive (James 4:3: "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."), or when we ask out of pride (James 4:6: "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.").

If we are genuinely seeking God's will then our motives will be pure, our hearts will be humble, and our desires will line up with His. Even Jesus, who asked to be spared from being crucified prayed "not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42), then responded in humility and obedience.

The Lord invites us to come to him with boldness and confidence (Hebrews 4:16) and to bring him our petitions (Philippians 4:6), but we must also make sure our hearts are in the right place; that we are coming before the throne of grace with an attitude of submission and glorifying God instead of elevating ourselves. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Significance of God's Affection



"Don't lose sight of God's holiness and power. Those very qualities make his love significant. Without a healthy respect for God's greatness, his affection loses value. ...The affection of a familiar, buddy deity is one thing; the love of the Lord of heaven and earth, the one who dwells in unapproachable light, is something else entirely. As Francis Chan wrote, 'The fact that a holy, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, fair, and just God loves you is nothing short of astonishing.'" - Drew Dyck, Yawning at Tigers

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Speaking With Grace


There is a story in the Bible (Acts 16:16-18) that caught my attention recently: "It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out at that very moment."

At first I wondered why it irritated Paul so much. The girl wasn't saying anything bad. If anything, she was confirming the truth of why Paul was there and in a sense was advertising for him. I see now that it wasn't what she was saying that was so annoying, it was how she was saying it. She likely was following them all over the place, constantly yelling her message. It was obnoxious and Paul finally had enough already.

The message wasn't lost on me as I've been trying to be more aware of how my words can impact others; not so much the topic itself but in the delivery of it. I have a strong sense of wanting to share biblical truth - which isn't a bad thing - but even truth can become unwelcome if it is delivered in an obnoxious way. And I'm also learning that just because something can be said doesn't mean it needs to be said.

My focus these days is to become more discerning of whether the Holy Spirit is prompting me to write/speak or if it is just me wanting to give my opinion. I'm learning to pause and first ask the Lord if He wants me to speak and if so, what He wants me to say and how He wants me to say it. I want my writing and spoken words to be tempered with grace that honors the Lord and edifies the person receiving them, even when they may be hard words of truth.

Today I'm focusing on Ephesians 4:29:
"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear."

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Returning

After a needed break, I will return to blogging with a new emphasis on devotional/Bible study posts more than daily life as I share what I'm reading and learning in my faith.

Blessings to you in the new year!