Christianity 201

September 27, 2017

The Fresh Start of Repentance

Life doesn’t always hand us an opportunity to redo every mistake we’ve made, but in Christianity, through grace and repentance we can go back to where we faltered, and ask God for a fresh start. But it’s more than just the confession of particular failings. It can also mean repentance of being on the wrong path, choosing an errant lifestyle, or even misunderstanding God’s truth.

We’re paying a return visit to Rick Joyner; click the title below to read this at source.

A Special Grace

Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to Thee in a time when Thou may be found;
surely in a flood of great waters they shall not reach him (Psalm 32:6).

There is often a tendency in Christians not to really seek the Lord until we get into a crisis situation. Then we seek Him earnestly. We see this same pattern with Israel in the Old Testament. This is a primary reason why many stay in a seemingly perpetual state of crisis. As we are told in Matthew 7:21-27:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven;
but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.

“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in Your name,
and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’
“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them,
may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock.

“And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house;
and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.

“And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them,
will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand.

“And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew,
and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.”

As we read here, just calling Jesus Lord does not guarantee that we will enter the kingdom of heaven. We must do His will. To call Him Lord and not do what He says disqualifies us from being believers, and makes us obvious unbelievers. How could we really know the glorious King of kings and not do what He says? To know that He is God and not obey Him is an ultimate delusion. This delusion leads to many tragedies and failures when the floods of life come.

One of our ultimate quests should therefore be to hear the words of the Lord. As we are told in John 10:4: “When he (the good Shepherd) puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” The obvious counterpoint here is that if we do not know His voice we will not follow Him. However, hearing His words and obeying them are two different things. Many glory in how well they hear the Lord, but they do not do what He says. We must count His words as the unfathomable treasures that they are. When the Lord gives us direction we should write it in a journal, reviewing it often to see how we have complied with our King’s directives.

If you are in confusion about how to hear from the Lord, go back and review the things that you know He has directed you to do. These are things like prayer, reading the Bible, fellowship, etc., all of which are directives that are clearly given to us in Scripture. As we obey these we will begin walking in the light, and the light will make our paths, and His voice, increasingly clear. As we are told in Proverbs 4:18:

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.

If we are on the right road, things should be getting brighter. If we are on the wrong road, things will be getting darker and more confused. If our path is not getting brighter and clearer every day, then we have departed from the right path somewhere. In the Lord the wrong path never turns into the right path. The only way for us to get back on the right path is to go back to the point where we made the wrong turn. That is called repentance.

Repentance is not only a good thing—it is one of the greatest Christian truths. In Christ we can actually go back to where we made a mistake and start over and get it right. In Acts 11:18 we read the response of the Jewish believers after hearing Peter’s testimony about going to the house of Cornelius: “And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.’” Eight of the most powerful words in Scripture are found in this verse: “God has granted . . . the repentance that leads to life.” Repentance is a special grace that God grants, and it leads to life.

September 25, 2017

Knowing God’s Will in the Absence of a Direct Message

Last year at this time we introduced you to California pastor Brian Loritts, author of Saving the Saved. We decided to track him down again this year at his blog and found this helpful teaching. Click on the title to read at source.

When I Don’t Hear From God…

Every last one of us has asked the question, What’s next? High school students trying to figure out where to go for college have asked this question. So have college students trying to lock in on a major (80% will change majors at least once), along with singles who are in a dating relationship and married people needing to discern when to have kids and how many. While these questions defy any unique faith category, Christians have historically filed these under the heading of the will of God. “God, what are you saying?,” we groan when faced with life’s proverbial forks in the road.

But this very question now sparks an age-old theological debate. While Christ followers contend that Christ does speak, we can be at odds over the method. Sure God’s primary voice is the Word of God, but does He also speak audibly? Garry Friesen’s, Decision Making and the Will of God, is weighted towards the no, while the title to Dallas Willard’s, Hearing God, let’s you know where he stands on the question.

If you’re looking for an answer to whether you should attend Stanford or Morehouse, marry Shiela or break up with her or take the out-of-state job, you just won’t find a chapter or verse in the Bible that will give you that answer. So what are we to do when faced with these decisions? I’ve found the following steps to be helpful:

Step One: Ask Him

In John 10, Jesus describes himself as “The Door” and “The Good Shepherd.” The metaphor of “The Door” points to salvation—how one gets into the sheepfold of the flock of God. The metaphor of “The Good Shepherd” depicts Jesus’ relationship with His sheep once they’re in. Then Jesus says, “When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4).  The Greek word for know is an intuitive knowledge, like the kind of knowing I had when after a few months of dating Korie I just knew she was going to be my wife. Or the kind of knowing one has when they meet someone for the first time and just know something’s not right.  It’s that knowledge the sheep have when their shepherd speaks. Do you see what’s being implied here? The Shepherd is speaking long after the sheep have come through the door (of salvation). Jesus speaks.

A few chapters later, Jesus pictures the Holy Spirit as our guide. Now what does a guide do? He speaks. When I was a little boy, my father taught me the timeless principles of fishing—things like how to bait a hook, cast and reel. A few years ago, I went on a fishing trip where I hired a guide. All he did was take the basic truths I’d learned of fishing and he showed me how to apply them in specific places at specific times so that I had great success. This is how the Holy Spirit works with the Word. The Word gives us the timeless principles, and the Holy Spirit—our guide—shows us how to apply them in specific ways. We just need to ask Him.

Step Two: Use Wisdom

In his book, Hearing God, Dallas Willard tells the story of a preacher who was out in the middle of a field late one night, and he couldn’t see. The field was full of rocks which made his journey treacherous. Several times he heard someone calling his name. Finally, he stopped and felt around. It was a good thing he did this. A few more feet and he would have died. Oh, by the way, he never saw the person who was speaking to him, and concluded it had to have been God.

Can I confess to you that this rarely happens to me. Maybe a handful of times in my whole life have I heard the voice of God in this way. The normal pattern for me is that I pray and ask God to speak into something, and I don’t hear anything. Now what?

There’s a whole section of the Bible called Wisdom Literature. Books like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and several others make up this genre of Scripture. Wisdom is skillful living.  It’s practically applying the timeless principles of Scripture to the specific scenarios of every day life. Now this is interesting, because embedded in the very idea of wisdom is choice.

By the end of this year, my boys will be teenagers, and what I’m trying to do, the older they get, is to not tell them exactly what they need to do. Hard, I know. I think good parenting empowers children to make age appropriate decisions. I also think this is how God parents us. A sign of immaturity is the need to be told exactly what to do in every situation. It’s the mature person who can make decisions within certain parameters.

So, when I don’t hear from God, I take that as God saying, make a decision. Now I know this will rub some of you the wrong way, because you think God needs to speak into every decision you make. But can I ask you a question? Did you pray about what pants to wear today? Or if you should wear pants at all? Did you pray about brushing your teeth, or where to get gas? Of course you didn’t, and you shouldn’t. We make decisions every day, wise ones. It’s the child who needs to be told to brush his teeth. The mature person doesn’t. Again, when you don’t hear anything from God, make the decision, a wise one.  But how do we do that?

Step Three: Figure Out the Fences

Imagine your child asks you if she can play in the backyard. You say, “yes,” but a few minutes later she comes in and says can I play on the slide? You agree. A few minutes later she asks if it’s okay to play on the swing set? “Of course,” you say. Then she asks comes back in moments later and asks if she can play in the sandbox. You look your sweet daughter in the face and tell her your will is she plays within the fences of the backyard, and she can make whatever decision she wants as long as its within those fences.

The same holds true for us. I think it’s good to ask God about our “sandboxes,” but when we don’t hear an answer we have to figure out the fences—those biblical parameters—that will help us make a decision. So, for example, when thinking through a job situation, it’s always helpful to process these fences: 1. Will the job contribute to the common good of society; 2. Will it allow me to provide for my family (As a man this is my call); and 3. Has God given me the gifts and capacity to meet the demands of the job? While there are more questions we could ask, these are the fences. Now we are free to choose.

July 1, 2017

God’s Direction for the Rest of Your Year

Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. Isaiah 30: 20-21 (NLT)

The year is half over. What’s next? Ever wish you could see God’s entire plan for your life like a giant road map?

Back in the day, if you were heading on a vacation trip to a place in the U.S. or Canada where you’d never been before, if you were a member of AAA (or CAA) you could request a trip guidebook. Using previously printed pages representing different highway sections, someone would assemble a series of these ‘strip maps’ into a booklet that also provided commentary on places of interest, restaurants and motels.

Hard to imagine in a world of MapQuest and GPS tracking.

These ‘strip maps’ are a closer representation as to how life presents itself to us. We’re given direction that is sufficient for the day, but don’t always know how the pieces of the journey are going to form an overall story. It’s not unlike walking across a stream using stepping stones, and stopping on each to determine where to put your feet next.

Chuck Smith says of our key verse: “How glorious to be led of the Spirit and having God say, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’ What is the way? The way of waiting upon God and trusting in Him.”

As C.S. Lewis once suggested, to understand how God sees time, draw a line with two ends in a blank sheet of paper, then look at the entire paper. We see the line as a progression, but God sees it as a whole. We live within time, but God is eternal and separate.

Another way to say this is that the difference between our perception of time and God’s might be compared to having a travel atlas where the journey across a country or a continent reveals the beginning and the end. This is the type of “big picture” that God has. Our perception would be more flipping through the strip map, getting the journey in small bite size pieces.

I’m told Lewis also compares our perception and God’s perception to the difference between sitting at a level crossing waiting for a long train to pass by. Each car passes sequentially, one after the other. But miles above, as seen from an airplane, the entire train is visible from beginning to end, and as it slowly snakes its way through the mountains and valleys, seems to almost be standing still.

The problem is, we want the big picture. We want to know where the story is going. But often information is supplied on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour and even minute-by-minute basis.

And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways; fools will never walk there. Isaiah 35:8 NLT


I heard a story once from someone who was unimpressed with the Christian bumper stickers which proclaimed, “God is my Co-Pilot.” He proposed this amendment: “If God is your Co-Pilot, you need to switch seats.”

If anyone can find a link to the Lewis/train story, or knows an equally good time analogy, feel free to add it in the comments.

June 6, 2017

Seek Wisdom, Understanding, Insight

“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:1-5

Let’s bullet point the first part of the verse:

  • making your ear attentive to wisdom
  • inclining your heart to understanding
  • calling out for insight

The two payoffs are in the last part of the verse:

  • you will understand the fear of the Lord
  • find the knowledge of God.

How would you evaluate yourself in terms of these two criteria?

As you can imagine, on some days I read several devotions before selecting one to include here. This week I was reading a longer piece by a woman who moved from being a former Mormon to Evangelical Christianity. She described her Bible study method. You can click this link to see this section with illustrations (it makes more sense if you can see her examples):

  1. Write down the date at the top of the page. Simple step, but it will help you see what days you studied (or didn’t) and how your understanding progresses over the coming weeks and months.
  2. Write the chapter(s) you’re in and/or the topic you’re focusing on.  If you haven’t been reading regularly and need help getting started, there are reading plans on www.biblehub.com.  I highly recommend the fantastic app Read Scripture www.readscripture.org put out by Francis Chan and The Bible Project.  It has given me a hunger for the scriptures that I never had before using it.  I must note here that its important to be flexible.  Don’t be totally stuck on chronological reading.  I read chronologically sometimes and other times I feel like there’s a specific topic I want to study.  Sometimes I have no impression at all and those are the best times because then God tells me what to study.  Which brings me to the next step…
  3. Pray before you begin your study.  A week ago, I was feeling so scattered and had no idea what to read.  I had been in the Old Testament in the Read Scripture app but didn’t feel like that’s where I was supposed to study that day.  I prayed a heartfelt prayer and asked God to calm my mind and show me what He wanted me to focus on.  Almost instantly, he answered by putting five distinct topics in my mind.  I wrote them in my notebook with blank lines underneath.  I felt like each one of these topics deserved a dedicated study so each day this week I have spent searching for references containing these topics.  Sometimes I do a simple word search inside one of the bible apps I use, other times I Google a phrase and find entire pages full of references dealing with that topic. I write down the ones that seem to stand out to me and once I have them all jotted down I read and ponder them.  Sometimes, I’ll feel like one of the references deserves another day of dedicated study so I’ll write it down on a the next blank page in my notebook.  By doing this God has already started to outline my future study sessions for me.
  4. Write down “random” thoughts, phrases and cross references you come across as you’re reading.  They’re not random at all.  Once you write it down you can keep going and not worry you’ll forget about it later.   God will reveal many side topics that are related to the one you’re focused on.  I find it important to follow a chapter or set of verses through or I would be constantly distracted by all the ideas coming in my mind.  Once I started jotting thoughts down and moving along I have felt amazed that I never run out of topics to study.  Here’s an example of some thoughts I had when skimming through Romans 12 that I plan to study in depth once I’m done finding scriptures related to the five topics God gave me.  I felt impressed to write out the entire verse and as I did, I noticed a few key words that might be important to study so I underlined them. A few questions came to mind so I jotted them down.  Normally I would’ve wanted to go research those questions right away which would’ve totally gotten me off track.  There’s nothing wrong with being all over the place in the Bible, because the fact you’re reading is great, but having a game plan will help your study connect to your spirit and will improve your relationship with God.  May sound simple for some of you but for someone with a busy mind, it is a game changer.

But then I was really struck by her section on “Deliberation.”

Deliberation is defined as “long and careful consideration”.  I would add “prayerful”.  The most important thing here is to be prayerful and to talk with God about what you’re studying, to listen to how He wants you to understand it and what meaning it has for your current situation.  Without deliberation, we are only reading to be reading, not to gain understanding.  Keep going back to what you write down and see what else God wants you to notice about what you’ve been studying.  The five topics God gave me last week are very specific to me personally and to what’s been on my mind.  A couple of them I recognized right away as answers to my prayer asking Him what I was lacking.  He hasn’t revealed yet how the other topics relate but as I keep going deeper into them I am positive I will understand what He’s teaching me.

In so many ways, this deliberate study is growing my relationship with my Father.  I am learning to hear Him better, I am learning to trust Him more as he shows me He is very aware of my specific needs, and I am finding greater joy in His word.  These are all things I had prayed for numerous times.  The answer to all of them was to spend more time in study and prayer.

Although it’s not on the same level as our opening scripture, let’s unpack the payoffs listed in the above paragraph:

  • I am learning to hear Him better,
  • I am learning to trust Him more
  • He shows me He is very aware of my specific needs
  • I am finding greater joy in His word.

How would you evaluate yourself by these four criteria?

 

 

 

 

May 24, 2017

Listening

Today’s devotional is an excerpt from a newly published book by Paul J. Pastor, The Listening Day. It’s a 90 day devotional which follows the format used in other books (Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess, and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling) with what God is saying to us written out as though God is speaking in the first person; with the difference that this book includes interjections on behalf of the reader. I’ll have a fuller review of it in a few days on my other blog. Clicking the title below will take you to Zeal Books.

Luke 8:15 NIV But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

The Needed Thing

Luke 10:41-42 NIV ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’

The life of God, of truth and understanding, lands in your heart with the fragility of a seed.  It is possible it will wither, be crushed, be pecked and torn, be strangled by lies.

The same word is sowed to all.  Christ the Sower shows no favoritism, respects no person above another.  The truth is the truth, as a kernel of wheat is wheat indeed, and an acorn is only and always the seed of the ancient oak.

The human heart is a fickle field, rocky and weed-laden. Your own heart makes it hard for truth to take root. Too often you work, when you ought to surrender, then give up when you ought to be working.

Your way is not easy, Lord.

It is better than easy. It is life.

What do I need to do?

Today, quiet your heart. Look inside. Consider the growth of the word in you. Where is your soil stony? Where do the birds ravage my tender promises to you? Where do the thorns and poisonous vines sprout?

Listening is the needed thing. Sit still at the feet of Christ. Silence fears. Cease frenzied activity. Stop your mouth. Breathe in the presence of the Quiet Planter. Listen to the voice of the one in whom is all truth and every understanding. You may keep whatever treasures you gather at the feet of your simple King.

Lord, you know that many things trouble me, from outside my heart and from within it. Help me quiet myself today, to truly listen and receive your word, allowing your truth to bear fruit in my life. Amen.

April 9, 2017

Their Hearts Were Hardened

by Russell Young

The Lord had hardened the hearts of Pharaoh and his officials when Moses asked for the freedom of God’s chosen people being held captive in Egypt. This hardening was done to accomplish his purposes. The purpose for hardening their hearts was so that the story of his miraculous signs would be relayed through the generations of Israel that they might know that he is the LORD. (Ex 10:1) He has hardened hearts throughout history in order to accomplish his purposes. However, Christ also spoke of the hardness of people’s hearts that inhibited or prevented the furtherance of the gospel and the hope of salvation.

Having a “hard” heart or a hardened heart means that a person’s heart is fixed on an issue as engraved in stone. It is not a heart of flesh that is malleable and can be influenced. A hard heart is not sensitive to anything other than its own interests and goals. It is not a humble heart but is often one that is prideful. As stated, God can harden a heart, but so can individuals. People can have hard hearts in relation to the Word and in relation to others.

The Lord stated that the hearts of his disciples were hard at times in referring to their lack of comprehension or understanding. (Mk 6:52; 8:17; Jn 12:40; Eph 4:18) It is troublesome when the hearts of believers have become hardened and fixed concerning others in the family of God so that they will not even examine the convictions of one another to discern underlying truths. God does not want his created people to have hard hearts and no one can come to him whose heart cannot be molded into the likeness of that of his Son. (Rom 8:29)

It is easy to find people with hardened hearts. They cannot conceive of the truth of God’s sovereignty over the world and all that is. They are not willing to see the divine hand of God in creation or in the miracles about them. They have trouble listening to or considering others and their opinions. They are often selfish and self-centered. We should be careful about applying the label of hardheartedness to others, however, until we have considered our own state. Most people have areas in life where a stubbornness and dogmatism persists and where the heart is no longer malleable and the Spirit’s influence is resisted. This does not mean that a person’s values and “truths” should be easily altered. The gospel is truth, after all, along with the rest of God’s Word; however, only God knows pure truth.

Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (Jn 10:27 NIV) ‘Listening’ is the sign of a receptive heart, a heart eager to absorb or accept the Lord’s teachings and directions. Obediently ‘following’ is indication of a sensitive heart. Paul told the Ephesians that they must “no longer live as the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their heart. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” (Eph 4:17─19 NIV) Their hardening prevented the knowledge of truth and the presence and leading of the Spirit for righteousness.

Every believer should examine himself or herself to check for hard spots in their heart. Honesty might reveal that there are more than they would like to accept. Regardless, Christ condemned blindness and ignorance to his teaching. He requires obedience to the Spirit; hearts that are sensitive and able to be led. It is easy to dismiss one’s ungodly attitudes and behaviors if they are common to those around, even the ungodly. Society gives many permissions that the Lord does not and one day all of those who call themselves by his name will have to answer for their rejection of his righteous standards. He knows because he is in the believer trying to lead and to gain victory. “[T]hose who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14 NIV) Victory cannot be gained by those who have hardened their hearts to sin, and particularly to a favorite sin.

The hearts of the Israelites were hardened and they could not understand or accept God’s righteous requirements. The writer of Hebrews cautioned his readers: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion during the time of testing in the desert.” (Heb 3:8) Accept it or not, those who belong to Christ today are wandering in the desert with the aridness of sin and deceit all around them. They have pledged that Christ was their Lord (Rom 10:9) and he desires to lead them to victory to the promised land, but they must have hearts that are sensitive and are prepared to obediently follow. (Heb 5:9)


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link

March 15, 2017

Right Results, Wrong Method

Numbers 20 (NIV):

1In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.

2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! 4 Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

9 So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”

This passage contains an interesting sequence of events:

  • The people are thirsty
  • God reveals to Moses that water can be obtained by speaking to a particular rock
  • Moses hits the rock instead (this worked before)
  • Water gushes forth

Maybe God had His instructions wrong, or maybe it applied to some other rock? After all, the water issued forth and the thirst of the people was satisfied.

Hardly. Moses was angry. “…Listen you rebels…” In anger he struck the rock.

In Moses defense, he was using a tried and true formula; see Exodus 17. And he got the desired result. No biggie, right?

The point is that Moses disobeyed; he did God’s work in a sense, but didn’t do it God’s way.

I find myself often guilty of this. I can justify something done in anger because it produced results. I’ve even said to myself, “I think sometimes you just have to get mad enough about something and then God uses that anger.”

Yes. I’ve really thought that. More than once.

And there is such a thing as righteous anger. But it is characterized by being shaped over a long-term, not a short-term; and by its righteousness more than its anger-ness.

James 1 19b & 20 (NIV)

…Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Whether or not you feel like you are more a product of the information age or the industrial age, either way you are probably results oriented.

But just because it worked doesn’t mean that God was in it, or that He was pleased, or that you were obedient. Even if the “worked” in question seems to bear the mark (vs. 11) of the miraculous.

And a great danger lies in trusting in what worked before, when God wants to lead you into something new.

And like Moses (vs. 12) by doing it our way, you and I may be missing out on God’s greater blessing and the fullness of God’s highest goal for our lives.

~PW


*Reader mini-survey:

Just curious… Have blog posts here resulted in you making the author’s blog part of your daily or weekly routine?  My hope is that in introducing you to a wide variety of Christian devotional and Bible-teaching bloggers, some of them will resonate with you to the point you bookmark their sites and/or subscribe, making their writing a regular habit.

January 21, 2017

You Can Be The Someone in Anyone’s Life

As I explained last year at this time, for several years I received a devotional booklet in the mail from James MacDonald and Walk In The Word titled Our Journey. After calling a local Harvest Bible Chapel, I learned that the devotional is now an online resource, and today, a year later, we pay a return visit.

That Special Someone

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19–20, ESV).

“Anyone,” meet “someone.”

The beauty of this passage from James 5 is evident in God’s personal care for His children as He matches up a “someone” with an “anyone” for a life-saving mission.

As you think today about those you know who aren’t living for God as they once did, the name that most likely comes to mind is someone close to you—a family member, longtime friend, or workplace associate. Perhaps, in fact, every time a sermon or small group discussion poses a similar type of question, this person has been your immediate answer for as long as you can remember.

“What an answer to someone else’s prayer you could become by obediently following up on a spiritual nudge from the Lord.”

You’ve probably made several attempts through the years to try persuading them to take God’s Word more seriously. Apparently to no avail. And sad to say, they may be closed off to hearing it from you at this point. Experience tells us they’ll respond best hearing it from somebody else now, some other way. And while you can (and should) stay persistent and faithful, always ready to lead them lovingly back to Christ, begin trusting God now to put this person of yours on some other believer’s heart who can represent Him to them with a fresh face and approach.

But don’t consider yourself a failure, ineffective, or out of a job . . . because there’s someone else who’s in your shoes today, who’s weary of trying and failing to get through to a loved wanderer. And they’re praying for someone like you to come along.

Unlike them, your relationship with this person who’s most on their heart is not as a spouse or sibling but is more coincidental. Maybe you went to high school or college with them. Maybe you used to work out at the same gym. Maybe their family and your family once lived on the same street and had kids the same age. But you knew then, or you’ve heard since, that they stopped walking with the Lord. And lately, as you’ve been open to the Spirit’s stirring in your heart, this person’s name and memory keep popping up—unexpectedly, yet with a certain weight and frequency.

Eventually, “someone” is going to bring them back. “Someone” is going to find this “anyone” that the Spirit is working to help you acknowledge. But why should “anyone” wait any longer when “someone” like you is already primed to be thinking of them and praying for them? Finding them may take a bit of work, especially if it’s a person you haven’t seen in a long time. But what a pleasant surprise for them if they were to hear from you. And what an answer to someone else’s prayer you could become by obediently following up on what you know to be a spiritual nudge from the Lord.

When the Bible says to go after “anyone” who’s wandered from the truth, you can never say a person is too far gone to be reached, or that the situation is too messy and complicated to get involved. And when the Bible says “someone,” you know that any of us should be expecting His call at any time. He wouldn’t be alerting you about it if making this connection wasn’t part of His plan, if He wasn’t actively extending His grace to this individual and wooing them back into fellowship with Him.

Don’t underestimate the urgency of your mission. Be the “someone” to go after “anyone” today.

Journal

  • Who comes to mind when you think of “someone” who influenced your decision to embrace Christ as savior, or to return from wandering?
  • Ask the Lord to give you “anyone” to pursue for His sake. Who does He bring to mind?

Pray
God, in this moment I ask You to stir in me such a burden that I cannot escape it. Touch my heart with someone that I can reach out to with renewed friendship and grace. Let my obedience not be determined by their response, but by the overflow of love and mercy You’ve poured out on my heart and life. Even though I have my own burdens, cause me to know that when I take up what matters most to You, You will meet my needs in ways that are beyond what I could ask for or imagine. Use me as You see fit, for Your glory alone. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

January 1, 2017

Accomplishing Your New Year’s Resolution

resolutionsby Russell Young

Blessings to you in the new year! Many welcome the new year with resolutions and great intentions.  Research shows that most resolutions will not be realized.  The University of Scranton has stated that 39% of people in their twenties will achieve their resolution each year while only 14% of people over 50 years of age will achieve theirs. Perhaps greater success is achieved by younger people because of the nature of their resolutions, that habits are more entrenched in older people, or it may be that younger people are more determined to achieve their resolutions.  Regardless, change in behaviour is difficult to accomplish.  Some changes require the development of a completely different perspective, and all require motivation. Resolutions are not made concerning a single happening, but are intended to alter a developed pattern of action or attitude; they have become patterns because they have brought satisfaction or pleasure to the person who has adopted them.

Paul has shed some light on this aspect of the human condition. Although many accept that eternal salvation comes from pardon for sin, it really comes from the product that the Lord is able to accomplish in the transformation of a person; it is the result of sanctification by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5─6; 2Thess 2:13) making the believer a sacrifice acceptable to God. (Romans 15:16) A person’s transformation/sanctification requires a great deal of work and power.  Paul addressed the dilemma that he faced concerning his own inadequacy in the taming of his body.  He wrote: “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death (that causes death)? The flesh is weak! 

Paul followed up his predicament with its solution. “Thanks be to God—through Jesus our Lord!” (Rom 7:21─25 NIV) “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son…” (Rom 8:3 NIV) The reason why human resolutions and the laws of God are often not fulfilled is because their completion rests in a weakened sinful nature. Resolutions are made with good intentions but the weakness of the flesh often dooms people to failure.  Those who resolve to adjust their habits intend to do so…they want to keep their resolutions; the body just does not accommodate.

Try as one will the realization of a resolution cannot often be accomplished without divine help.  If the believer is being impressed with the need for change, the prompting for change probably came from the Holy Spirit. Change is not easy and should not be accepted as being easy, but it can be done.  Victory lies within the grace and power of God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the believer’s commitment to honour the Spirit’s calling.  It is often the lack of motivation and the weakness of the flesh that brings failure.

The Spirit is Christ in the believer (Col 1:27; 2 Cor 3: 17, 18) and he will lead and empower for victory, but those seeking victory must engage the battle with him. Prayer and commitment to honour the Lord through the successful completion of a resolution can never be abandoned. To do so means that the “believer” has fallen under the slavery of the weak, old nature and has relented to serving the flesh rather than God’s Son. If a person relies on his or her own strength for victory, they will revert to the old nature and to old patterns.  Victory demands a struggle with an objective, a determination of the will, and the power provided by the helper, the Lord.

Resolutions can fall into many categories but often they are related to expressing love and kindness toward a family member or brother in the Lord, or they may relate to gaining victory over habits that are offensive to others.  They may involve better financial management necessitating a reduction in love for the world and the things in the world.  They may also be related to issues of forgiveness.  Many resolve to treat their bodies with greater respect in some manner. These are all issues that deal with the development of the righteousness for which we hope. (Gal 5:5) They are issues important to Christ.

Since righteousness is not a trivial matter, neither should be the believer’s approach to its development.  Even in matters that might seem trivial, the faithful will bring their need before God in prayer, with commitment, and in expectation. Christ said, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me…” (Jn 10:27 NIV) It is through the practice of obedience that victory can be gained. To hear requires listening. The voice of God often comes through the quiet whisperings of a person’s conscience and the one seeking success will not dismiss these.  The Word promises that believer will not be faced with temptations from which a way out will not be provided, and states that he or she will not face temptations that are not common to man. (1 Cor 10:13) Even though a resolution may not seem to require victory over a “temptation,” it may have been induced through an issue that the Spirit has brought to mind and he is always ready to help the humble and submissive to enable victory over any issue that is in keeping with his will for that person.

New Year’s resolutions are important to the one making them and they may be important to God. Self-discipline and the leading and the power of the Spirit can assure that they are realized.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngCheck out Russell Young’s book now in print and eBook — Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

October 25, 2016

Choosing Between Being Useful to God, Or Not Being at All

Today’s thoughts are from Joe at the blog As I Learn to Walk, which came suggested to us. Click the title below to read at source.

Usefulness or Death

Jim Elliot has done it again.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, a wise former pastor of mine gave me a copy of The Journals of Jim Elliot. I don’t read it often, but, when I do, I find that God uses it to challenge me more than almost anything else. This experience was no exception.

I picked up Elliot’s journals yesterday and read the following words:

“I covenanted with my Father that He would do either of two things – either glorify Himself to the utmost in me, or slay me.” (From his entry on October 28, “Senior Year, 1948, 1949″).

The very next entry, dated only four days later, records a prayer to God wherein Elliot simply admitted that he felt death would be best, for he feared dishonoring the Lord in his life (From his entry on November 1, same chapter).

I look up to Elliot, but I struggle to pray such a prayer. I imagine that many others do as well. This man’s faith shines with a genuineness, a sweetness, and a humility beyond any I’ve known. Though he felt inadequate upon seeing the extent of his inability, he surrendered himself to the Almighty, trusting God to lead and to work according to his perfect power and plan. Though he saw his weakness, he trusted in God’s strength. And because of God’s work in his life, he would rather die than fail to glorify his Lord. He never wanted to be a useless vessel.

I’m reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
1 Timothy 1:15-16

Paul, too, recognized his weakness, his complete inability to accomplish the mission in his own power and strength. But he recognized something more than this: he understood that his very weaknesses served to show God’s strength. As people looked at him, knowing his past, knowing his sin, they would realize that his transformation could only have been accomplished by God. They would know that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (Romans 5). Paul’s life was a living testimony to God’s grace and mercy.

Eventually, Paul would give his life for his Savior. Many years later, Jim Elliot would do the same. Each man resigned himself to die for the one who died for sinners. Each man gave up what he could not keep and gained something he could never lose. Each man ran the race well.

The hip hop artist Lecrae echoes Elliot’s prayer when he cries, “Lord, kill me if I don’t preach the Gospel” (From “Go Hard” on Lecrae’s Rebel album). This idea haunts me, but in a good way. It challenges me to discipline myself in godliness. It challenges me to give less time to the things that won’t last. It challenges me to look at the world as Jim Elliot did, as Paul did, and as Jesus did. May I be so committed to Christ. May I allow God’s strength to be displayed through my weaknesses. May I be found faithful.

June 12, 2016

The Conscience: God’s Operative Tool

•••by Russell Young

The Word of God often speaks of the need to be led by the Spirit in order for a person to be eternally saved.  How does the Spirit lead?  The answer is that God uses a person’s conscience to guide him or her.  The conscience is really God consciousness within the believer.  Where the conscious is strong, that person has a strong awareness of the presence of God.  Where it is weak, the bearer has only a weak or limited knowledge of God’s presence.

Following the believer’s confession of faith and of Christ’s lordship, the new believer is given the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead in obedience to the Word and will of God.  Regarding the Spirit Christ said, “But I tell you the truth:  It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn 16:7-8, NIV) Conviction takes place through a person’s conscience, and the conviction of the world of sin applies to all sinful activity-its practice in the lost and its practice in God’s children.

Christian conscienceA person’s conscience is his moral consciousness. And the writer of Hebrews has recorded that it is the Spirit that cleanses our conscience or moral consciousness from interest in performing those acts which lead to death. (Heb 9:14)  The result should be that a person’s awareness or consciousness of those immoral acts which might tempt him or her should alert them concerning the danger before them.  The Old Covenant Israelites did not enjoy the privilege of the Counselor to guide them but had to rely upon the law and their own sinful nature in order to live righteously.  They could not do it.  The conscience not only alerts the believer of dangerous temptations but also disturbs him or her when sin has occurred so that the sinner, including the believer, might repent and seek forgiveness for cleansing by the blood of Christ. (1 Jn 1:9)

The Holy Spirit uses the conscience to reveal dissonance between God’s Word and will and the believer’s heart and practices.  Paul was able to boast that he kept his conscience clear. “Now this is our boast:  Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in holiness and sincerity that are from God.  We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.” (2 Cor 1:12, NIV) John stated, “If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God…because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” (1 Jn 3:21-22, NIV)

The Holy Spirit is active in the lives of believers.  He enlightens them to sin and alarms them when it occurs.  Without his ministry in this regard, transformation into a holy mind and the development of righteous practices could not occur.  When the conscience is troubled a person can know that he or she is acting outside, or about to act outside, the will of God.  The conscience is the warning bell.

The Spirit, or warning bell, can be quenched, however. (1 Thess 5:19) That is, by consciously and repeatedly ignoring the Spirit’s alerts the heart will become hardened to the issue involved and the alert will no longer be heard.  The development of a sensitive Spirit or strong God consciousness is the most important tool the believer has to aid in living a righteous life.

Repeated quenching of the Spirit can lead to the conscience becoming seared; that is, a person’s conscience will no longer work to reveal sin and he or she will a become hypocritical liar.  “The Spirit clearly says that in the later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.  Such teaching comes through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as by a hot iron.” (1 Tim 4:1-2, NIV) A seared conscience leads to powerlessness, and to an unholy walk and possibly to the abandonment of faith. Special care should be taken not to sear the conscience concerning “pet” sins. The sins that a person has a tendency to rationalize or excuse.  The believer is to be careful to follow the Spirit’s leading if he or she is to remain faithful and develop the holiness that leads to eternal salvation. (Heb. 12:14)

In respect to the Spirit’s leading, it must be remembered that each person is God’s masterpiece or workmanship. (Eph 2:10) He is working to make them a sacrifice acceptable for God’s kingdom. (Rom 15:16) Christ said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.” (Jn 10:27, NIV) The Lord’s sheep or children will listen to and follow him, and when they do they will be conformed to the likeness of his Son. (Rom 8:29)

The Spirit uses the Word of God to enlighten the believer in regard to sin and righteous living and the Spirit instructs the conscience.  Those who neglect to bathe themselves in God’s Word will be unable to effectively fight the battle against sin and to achieve his or her necessary transformation.  In his study the believer has a responsibility and the privilege of knowing the heart of God on all manner of issues.  The conscience is God’s operative tool consequently, the believer should develop and protect it.

December 19, 2015

Does Your Hearing Need Healing?

A shorter reading today, but one rich in application This is from Adrian Plass, from the book You, Me and Mark (previously published as Never Mind the Reversing Ducks).

Mark 7:31-37New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Cures a Deaf Man

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

adrian plassSensitive as ever, Jesus takes this deaf man well away from crowds and noise so that he will not be overwhelmed by a cacophony of sounds when his hearing is restored.  Are the fingers in the ears and the spitting on the tongue part of the healing process, or, as seems more likely, was Jesus simply miming what he was about to? Another interesting but unanswerable question.  But here is one indisputable fact.  For this man, the first sound to emerge from a lifelong well of silence was the voice of the Son of God.  Not a bad way to start, was it?  For as long as he lived he would never forget the voice that called him out of silence and bewilderment into a new way of life.

It may seem blunderingly symbolic to say so but many of the Christians that I meet have forgotten the tone and content of the voice that first called them to follow their master without question.  There are so many other voices that come crashing in with opinions and doctrines and advice and temptations and distractions.

Move away from those other sounds to a private place away from the crowd.  Close your eyes.  Listen hard.  Do you hear that voice coming out of the silence, the voice that first commanded your eyes to be opened and your ears to be unblocked?  Do your vision and your hearing need to healed again?  His gentle touch is upon you.  Open your eyes and listen with your ears.  There are old and new things to see and hear.


I want to know you; I want to hear your voice…


C201 New LinkMission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. Your suggestions of articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

October 10, 2015

Running on Your Strength, Not God’s

Romans 8:13 For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.…

Today we pay a return visit to Zech Newman, who we’ve featured here before. In general, his blog is directed toward business entrepreneurs, but from a decidedly Christian perspective. In that world, “hustle” is the name of the game. It’s in that context that he wrote the following this summer; click the link below to read at source, and pass this site on to a business owner who might appreciate reading it regularly.

4 Signs You’re Into Works of the Flesh

There is a difference between hustling really hard and getting into works of the flesh. I am sure that like me you want to not only include God in your dreams and aspirations, but you want to do what He has for your life. It is quite simple to slip into works of the flesh and try to do things on our own strength. Heck it’s not just easy, but natural to operate in the works of the flesh. What feels unnatural to us is being led by the Spirit. Although this feels unnatural it is the only way to have true peace.

Getting into works of the flesh is a common problem for all of us. It is not cut and dry because you can be Spirit led and work really hard and can also barely work and be into works of the flesh. To help you on your journey here are 4 signs you’re into works of the flesh.

1. Out of priority. The moment we get out of alignment is a sign that we are into the flesh. Your priorities should be God, then spouse, kids, the body, and then your career. This is a life priority, not a time allocation. When you notice that you are out of priority quickly realign your life back into “balance.”

2. Jealousy/comparing. Both of these go hand in hand with each other. We compare to show how we are better than someone else or we compare to show how we are more “spiritual” than someone else. Comparing your hustle or work to others is a sure-fire sign that you are operating in the flesh. It is hard for me to not get into comparison and jealously. I often struggle with the thought of, “What does he have that I don’t?” When I have a thought like this, I am focused on myself and not on Christ.

3. Loss of peace. One of the attributes of being plugged into Christ is peace. No matter what the storm is in your life you can have peace. It is overwhelming and passes understanding, however, it is ever-present when you are plugged into the vine. It is an impossible peace to describe until you encounter it when everything around you is falling apart.

4. Mental weariness. When you are operating in the flesh you are trying to figure things out and rationalize life. The ways of God will not always make sense. Mental weariness comes in when we try to “figure it out.” Trusting God is moving when He says move and not going around and around in your mind. Get off the mar-a-go-round in your mind and trust God!

Galatians 5:19-21 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

In the end, the moment we start to get frustrated is the point at which we move from working in the Spirit to working in the flesh. You can be working 100 hours in a week and be working in the Spirit or you can be working ten hours a week and be working in the flesh. Being led by God will have fruit that is of God. Not fruit of strife and confusion. If you are off the path get back on with Jesus.  Be blessed on your journey.

How do you recognize when you need to readjust? 


Go Deeper: Here is a message outline at Sermon Central on knowing the 17 Works of the Flesh (3 pages)

 

 

September 11, 2015

Becoming an Engaged Preaching Audience

“He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9).

Today, we pay a return visit to the Christward Collective website. When you are given the opportunity to deliver a sermon, there is no denying that an unusual adrenaline rush takes place. This probably happens to some degree in any public speaking situation. But in a church context, there is the additional rush (for lack of a better word) that you can experience as the Holy Spirit gives you things to say that weren’t in your written notes.

Sadly however, the audience is often very passive. You see people yawning, or reading their bulletin, and wish that every person in the congregation could be as engaged as you. (That’s the dynamic of small group situations that many find so stimulating.) The author below paints a vivid picture of a church service where everyone is equally energized and in a sense part of the teaching taking place.

Of particular interest here is a link at the bottom of the article. Don’t miss this. It’s to a book A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in the Worship of God, published in 1835 and photographed for the archives of Princeton Theological Seminary. (Click the pages to turn.) If nothing else, read the table of contents to see the various aspects of the study the author made of this.

Meanwhile, click the title below to read today’s thoughts at source.

He Who Has Ears

Some accuse the Protestant emphasis upon the preached Word as pastor-centric and non-engaging, but such an accusation assumes too little about the listener’s responsibility in corporate worship. Every individual in the congregation has responsibilities when the Word of God is preached. As we listen to the Word preached we want to aim at listening to it astutely, attentively, reverently, prayerfully, and responsively.

Astutely: As listeners of the Word, we must insist upon the sound preaching of the Word. We dare not fall into the ways of those who have “itching ears” and accumulate for ourselves “teachers to suit our own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). The temptation to do so is great and subtle. The Word is our nourishment, we live by “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Our souls and hearts will languish apart from “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). The pastor who enters the pulpit should not be able to satiate us with stories, jokes, wandering tales, or dispassionate reflections. We want to hear from God, so we will listen astutely for that living Word (Hebrews 4:12).

Attentively: Our worship is never passive, but active as we engage with the Word preached. Of course, it is not our “laboring” that makes the Word preached effectual; that is the work of the Holy Spirit as He attends to the Word and works faith in the listener (John 3). But a disengaged and passive listener to the Word is no listener at all. As the preacher is accountable for what he says, so the congregation is accountable for its faithfulness in listening.

Reverently: God is speaking to His people and so we are to receive that Word reverently. With the Psalmist, we would say, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak” (Psalm 85:8). The most blessed of sermons occur when the listener begins to forget the preacher and finds their mind filled with the Word of God, their heart moved with love for Him, and their affections running after Him. We are on holy ground in worship and knowingly hang on the edge of our seats as we long to hear the next words from our Heavenly Father. He speaks and we listen.

Prayerfully: The Spirit must attend to the Word, so we labor prayerfully in the pew as much as the preacher labors at preaching in the pulpit. Prayer paves the way for the Spirit’s effectual moving. We want our hearts to be fertile soil (Mark 4) for this eternal seed of truth. Even as our ears and mind our being stirred with the Word, so we are stirring our spirits in prayer.

Responsively: As the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of Man.” The Scriptures demand response: faith and obedience. We are to be “doers of the Word and not just hearers” (James 1:22). The fault lies with us if we emerge from a service asking, “Did you get anything out of that sermon?”  Rather, we desire to respond with, “I will believe what God says and will obey Him.” The sermon will never be perfect, because the man preaching it is never perfect. Yet, if the text was read and the text was preached, there is always something for the listener to respond to. Searching our thoughts and lives for where the Word preached that morning is speaking needed truth in my life marks every faithful listener. We dare not excuse ourselves, focus on how much others need to hear this truth, or think we have heard this message too many times. None of us are perfect in any area of our Christian lives, we are all straining forward, pressing “on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Dear Christian, you may be sitting in corporate worship while the pastor is preaching, but this is no idle exercise. We are to be engaged with the Word. The little effect many sermons have upon listeners is less often due to the preacher’s lack of skill in preaching, but rather due to our lack of effort in listening. Listen astutely, attentively, reverently, prayerfully, and responsively. “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9).

 

Richard Steele, A Remedy for Wandering Thoughts in Worship

Joel Beeke, The Family at Church: Listening to Sermons and Attending Prayer

 

 

January 23, 2015

God Wants to Use Non-Professionals, Non-Experts

38 Then Saul gave David his own armor—a bronze helmet and a coat of mail. 39 David put it on, strapped the sword over it, and took a step or two to see what it was like, for he had never worn such things before.

“I can’t go in these,” he protested to Saul. “I’m not used to them.” So David took them off again. 40 He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them into his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across the valley to fight the Philistine.

if you’re not familiar with the story click here to read the full chapter

Today’s thoughts are taken from Eugene Peterson’s book Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians, which is a study of the life of David. So many times in church life we think we have to leave certain responsibilities to the pastor. Depending on where you worship, there are often limits on what non-clergy — the laity — can do. This often transfers to a belief that if you are empowered to carry out a task, you have to do it in a certain, prescribed way. You find yourself often imitating the person who usually carries out that task, because that is what is expected.

Those of us who have worked vocationally in Christian ministry often use the two word shortcut code “Saul’s armor” to describe these situations. We’re being asked to perform in a way that is simply not us.

Eugene PetersonOn the near side of the valley, King Saul is worried over this kneeling David.  He has just tried his best to be of help by outfitting him with his own armor.  He set his bronze helmet on David’s head, wrapped him in his coat of mail, and handed him his sword, which David strapped around his waist.  David had never been dressed like that before.  And it seemed like such a good idea.  Saul’s Armor!  The king’s weapons!  If there was anything that would fit him for the task ahead, it was certainly this.  Was there a man in Israel who wouldn’t have counted it the highest privilege to be so equipped?  But when he tried to walk, he couldn’t move.  Weighted down under the cumbrous metal, he was reduced to a stiff and awkward waddle.

There was no question but that Saul was well intentioned.  He wanted to help and was helping in the only way he knew:  pile on the armor, protect yourself, get a weapon with proven effectiveness.

This is a common experience in the Valley of Elah, when an amateur ventures into a field dominated by professionals.  All around us people who care about us are suddenly there helping – piling armor on us, dressing us up in equipment that’s going to qualify us for the task (even though it didn’t seem to be doing them much good).  We get advice.  We get instruction.  We’re sent off to a training workshop.  We find ourselves with an armload of books.  These people are truly concerned about us, and we’re touched by their concern, in awe of their knowledge and experience.  We listen to them and do what they tell us.  And then we find that we can hardly move.    (p. 42)

As I read this, I was reminded of an earlier part in the book where Peterson talks about how we tend to defer everything to pastor, priest, rector or minister:

Most people who venture upon a life of faith are laypersons.  Why do so many of the habitually and pliantly take a subordinate position under the certified experts in matters of faith – that is, the clergy?  As a pastor myself, I’ve never gotten over either my surprise or my dismay at being treated with doggish deference by so many people.  Where do all these Christians, who by definition are “new creatures in Christ” and therefore surely eager to taste and see for themselves (a universal characteristic in newborns) that the Lord is good, pick up this deprecating self-understanding?  They certainly don’t get it from the Bible or from the gospel.  They get it from the culture, whether secular or ecclesial.

They get it from leaders who love the prerogatives and power of expertise and bully people by means of their glamorous bravado into abdicating the original splendor of a new life in Christ and declining into the wretched condition of the consumer.  The consumer is passivity objectified:  passive in the pew, passive before the TV screen, vulnerable to every sort of exploitation and seduction, whether religious or secular. (p. 21)

As I read these words several days later, I am reminded that there are likely people reading this who, while they long for a deeper walk with God, settle for a church life that reflects the passivity Peterson speaks of.  When needs are mentioned, they assume someone else will answer the call. Someone more gifted. Someone more intellectual. Someone who has the particular expertise they think is needed.

It’s common today to be in a room and you hear the sound of a cell phone ringing and you ignore it and then suddenly realize, that’s my ringtone. Of all the people in the room, it’s me they’re calling. Perhaps that’s true in Christian service as well. Appeals are made but few take the time to say, that call is for me.

It may be that someone is reading today and God has a calling on your life to step out in faith in what we would call a ministry, but an inner voice halts you from making the first move:

  • I’m not trained
  • I’m not a Bible scholar
  • I don’t know Greek
  • I’ve never taken any Bible college courses

Now by all means, if you can, take some courses, get some training. But God may be wanting to use you, right now, the way you are — imperfect, tempted, broken, unschooled — with no armor, just the five stones in your hand.

Your posture as a warrior for God may not include armor, helmet and a sword. You may be kneeling at the brook, looking to all the world like you’re playing in the water, when you’re actually gathering stones, formulating a plan and acting on a vision.


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