Christianity 201

March 5, 2018

Vertical Devotionals

There’s a story here. My other blog runs a feature every week where we do a news and opinion roundup called Wednesday Link List. This week, we’re running edition #400, so we went looking to find #1. We located it in early January, 2010, and decided to try the links. One of them was to a blog called More Than Useless, written by Thom Fowler who pastors two churches and also works full-time in retail. There we found he has continued to be faithfully writing ever since, even though we’d lost contact over the years.

So we emailed him (which we don’t usually do) and told him how it all came about and asked if we could use his material here at C201 and asked him to select a few pieces. Today we present you with two of them which are vertical in orientation, in other words, prayer-like in their composition. He describes his process as, “Basically, my blogs are taken from my journal, typed just as I have written them. I open with a short prayer and then read a passage of scripture. After that I usually write whatever I feel the Lord saying to me about the passage.” Click the titles to read at source.

I Have a Tree

Father, thank You for getting me up this morning. It was very tempting to remain in bed but I cannot, my spiritual fitness suffers if I do not take time to regularly meet with You. Thank You for caring so much about my spiritual health, not just this morning but for everything You have done so I can find salvation in You.

20 Timothy, guard what God has entrusted to you. Avoid godless, foolish discussions with those who oppose you with their so-called knowledge. 21 Some people have wandered from the faith by following such foolishness.

1 Timothy 6:20-21

I would ask, Lord that you would help me to guard what You have entrusted to me. Please give me the strength and the courage and the wisdom and the love to proclaim Your Good News to everyone I can.

Our world is replete with “godless, foolish” notions and there is so much banter back and forth. Help me to invest my time, thoughts and efforts wisely – putting my efforts into things worthy of eternity and Your kingdom.

In my mind’s eye, I see an orchard. I have my tree and everyone else has a tree, too. Each of our trees bears a regular harvest and that harvest is impacted by those things with which we feed and nurture our tree. We water and fertilize our trees but we can also graft in branches from other trees as well. All of these contribute to the kind of fruit we will glean from our trees and for that matter, the kind of fruit others will glean as well from our trees.

Lord, my tree is a gift from You – it is my life. I have done good and bad things to my tree but it is what it is. I have freely chosen to do with it as I will. First of all, I am grateful that I have given my tree back to You. You know what is best for its growth. You have trimmed out dead and diseased patches. You have grafted in branches that strengthen me and help me to produce better fruit. I still, quite often, have to interject things that hinder my growth. But You are patient and help me little by little rid them from my life. Lord, help me to guard what You have entrusted to me. Help me to be very careful with what I nurture my tree. My greatest desire is for the Master Gardener to use my tree as He sees fit and that its fruit will nourish others for years to come.

Swept Up into Your Arms

When I call You, Father, that denotes that I am Your child…and there is no better place to be. Life is a big thing. It is full of good things. It is full of bad things. As a child needs a parent to navigate through all the good and the bad in life, I need You.

Prior to writing this morning, I have already processed many things, good and bad. I’ve read of people’s love for each other, the joy of welcoming children into this world and the anticipation of the same. I’ve also read of people’s disregard for the preciousness of life and the audacity they have of expressing that mentality to others…and unfortunately the pain that such words can bring.

As I sit here, I need You Father. Not to just to hold my hand or to pat me on the head but I feel the need to be swept up into Your arms and to bury my face in Your strong shoulder. To be held tight. To feel Your strength…and Your love…Your understanding…Your comfort. Those are the things we so often need. These are the things we crave.

So many of us go through life and we never experience these things. The last part of James 4:2 states,

“You do not have because you do not ask God.”

Father, I am asking and I want to encourage others to ask, as well. You are willing and You are more than able. You can meet every single one of our needs. You can strengthen us for the paths we must tread. And much of that strength is in knowing that You are by our side. May we never forget what a great and awesome Father we have. Amen.

February 15, 2018

Seeing Jesus: Time to Clean Our Glasses?

The effect of seeing Jesus clearly makes a dramatic difference and clears up partial misunderstandings or complete misunderstandings as to who he is and why he came.

by Clarke Dixon

Reading through the Gospel of Mark you may notice a reticence on the part of Jesus to fully reveal his identity. For example:

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Mark 8:27-30 (emphasis added)

Peter gets it right, Jesus is the Messiah! But the disciples are to keep that fact to themselves. We also see the reticence of Jesus to reveal his identity at his “transfiguration” on the mountain. There Jesus’ identity is made even more clear:

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. . . 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. Mark 9:2-4;7,8

Jesus here is confirmed as being more than just the promised Messiah. He is also in some way superior to the law, as represented by Moses, and the prophets, as represented by Elijah. You can imagine the excitement of Peter, James, and John who I’m sure couldn’t wait to tell the others about what they had just seen! But then . . .

9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. Mark 9:9-10 (emphasis added)

Why the secrecy? Why didn’t Jesus just tell everyone who he really was on the first day of his ministry? The reason is quite straightforward. Jesus kept his identity quiet because partial understanding can lead to misunderstanding. People had a partial understanding of what to expect from the coming Messiah. Such a partial understanding of the Messiah could quickly turn into misunderstandings about Jesus.

It may have escaped our notice, but is surprising nonetheless, that “Messiah” was not at the top of the list for the identity of Jesus in the mind of the public. Let us read again:

27 [Jesus] asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Mark 8:27,28

While Peter gets it correct, “the Messiah” was not even on the list for people generally, never mind at the top. Why? Because in expecting the Messiah, the people were expecting something different than Jesus. They were expecting a focus on the Kingdom of Israel along with a message of doom for the Romans. Jesus was instead teaching about the Kingdom of God along with a message of repentance for Israel.

Even Peter, immediately following his confession of Jesus as the Messiah, displays this partial understanding:

Mark 8:31-33 (NRSV) 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter is thinking on human things, like the Kingdom of Israel and taking back the land from the Romans. A suffering then dead Messiah is not going to help with that! If Peter is going to misunderstand Jesus’ role as Messiah, everyone else is too.  Jesus immediately tells the people to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow” (v.34) The Messiah was expected to tell them to “pick up the sword and follow”.  A cross meant death by Romans rather than death to Romans. What kind of Messiah would lead us toward our deaths?! Only following the resurrection of Jesus would it all start to make sense.

Since a partial understanding of the Messiah would lead to terrible misunderstandings about Jesus, he keeps quiet publicly about his identity until less than a week before his death.

So what does this have to do with us today? Most people you rub shoulders with know something about Jesus. However, it may be a partial understanding, which can lead to a misunderstanding. Let us consider a few examples:

Partial understanding: Jesus was a great teacher. True!
Misunderstanding: We should only go to Jesus for wisdom.
Full understanding: Jesus is also God the Son, the Saviour. We go to him not just for wisdom, but for salvation.

Partial understanding: Jesus was a prophet. True!
Misunderstanding: Jesus was just one prophet among many.
Full understanding: Jesus is also God the Son, unique in his teaching, his miracles, his claims. He is the only one who could reconcile us to God, and the only one who did.

Partial understanding: Jesus was a man. True!
Misunderstanding: Jesus was only a man.
Full understanding: Jesus is fully man, but also fully God.

Partial understanding: Through Jesus we are saved from hell, from separation from God. True!
Misunderstanding: Salvation from hell is all we need to think about, care about, or sing about.
Full understanding: We are not just saved from the consequence of sin; separation from God, we are also saved from its power as we walk in the Spirit.

This last one is an insight from John Stonestreet and Brett Kunckle in their book A Practical Guide to Culture.
Partial understanding: In Jesus we are “saved from . . . “ True!
Misunderstanding: Now that we have been saved from something, there is nothing for us to do.
Full understanding: We are also “saved for”. We are saved for for relationship with God, and for good works in our relationship with the world and everyone in it.

Do we allow a partial understanding of Jesus lead to misunderstanding? Do we see clearly who Jesus is? Perhaps it is time to clean our glasses.

(All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

The full sermon can be heard here.

See other sermons in this series at Clarke’s blog; look for entries in January and February, 2018

July 17, 2017

Walking with Jesus

NLT Gen 3:8a When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden…

Gen 5:23-24a Enoch lived 365 years, walking in close fellowship with God.

Gen. 6:9b Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.

Sometimes preparation for articles on the other blog result in finding articles that are well suited for use here at C201. That was the case with this piece by Joanna Pierce, writing for the blog of Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Bloomington, Illinois. Each day when we include an article here, we ask you to click through to the original page. To further encourage that, we usually don’t borrow the graphic images the author created for that piece, so your reward is greater when you click through. With this one, we simply had to include their graphic, only to find that it was used on every page of their articles/blog section. It fit this theme so well.

Just a Little Walk with Jesus

There are those perfect days when the sun is shining, the temperature is at a balmy 73° degrees, and the wind is flowing through the atmosphere, providing a cool and pleasant touch to the day. Whether we’re an outdoor or indoor type of person, we all develop an inkling to get outside to enjoy the beautiful weather.

There’s something about taking a stroll down the sidewalk that helps us drink in the day. We can appreciate the warmth of the sun on our skin, the agreeable breeze whisking around our cheeks, and the soft, rhythmic pitter-patter of our footsteps in our ears—an inviting, constant sound in the chaotic melodies of life.

Regardless of if the weather cooperates, it’s still nice to get out and walk! Walking helps us maintain a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally. Wonderful things happen when we walk—our stress is relieved, the release of endorphins makes us emotionally happier, our self-confidence is improved, and we get to enjoy the great outdoors! Even walking with certain people will help improve our mood.

Where we walk, who we walk with, and how we walk, all affect the true benefit of walking. And, while these factors help with our physical life, they also provide spiritual benefits as well.

How does walking help? Just look in the Scriptures!

Genesis tells us about 3 men who walked with the Lord: Adam (3:8), Enoch (5:24), and Noah (6:9). We’re even told that Adam typically walked with God in the cool of the day—he capitalized on the time and temperature of the day to maximize the benefit of walking!

Scripture tells us that these men not only walked physically with the Lord, but they also walked spiritually with the Lord. The word walked is the same Hebrew word in all settings of Scripture in Genesis. Walked literally means to come near and continue with.

Remember when I said where we walk and who we walk with all affect the true benefit of walking? Walking with the devil, or following our own flesh/desires is going to get us into a lot of trouble. I can guarantee this walking isn’t going to have any benefit in our spiritual life. But, when we draw close to God and come near to Him, the benefits are endless.

Coming near to God helps us to develop a close, intimate relationship with Him. Not only will He know us, but we’ll know Him! We’ll cultivate a friendship and love for Him that can’t be found in this world. Enoch walked so closely with God that God took him from this earth (Genesis 5:24). He may have walked right up to heaven with the Lord—we’ll have to wait until Heaven to find out!

When we stay close to someone, they start to rub off on us. We act like they do. When we continue in the presence of God, His Spirit will dwell in our life. That Spirit will help us live a life that’s pleasing to Him; we’ll be able to imitate Christ! Noah was considered perfect in the eyes of the Lord because he walked with Him (Genesis 6:9).

Today, let’s start our daily walks with the Lord. Physical walks may eventually wear out the body, but continued spiritual walking with the Lord will help rejuvenate us for the road ahead. All it takes is just a little walk with Jesus. I promise you’ll quickly see the benefit in your life.


Read more articles at this link

 

 

November 10, 2016

When Jesus Meets Skeptical Minds . . .

pharisees-and-sadducees

by Clarke Dixon

“Get over your skepticism and just have faith.” This might be what we would have expected Jesus to say to the Sadducees regarding their disbelief. They had come to him with an intellectual challenge to the prevalent Jewish belief that the dead would someday be raised to life. They were very conservative in their thinking, preferring the scriptures handed down from Moses, and not paying attention to the revolutionary “wishful thinking” of the later prophets and writers. Moses, they figured, did not have much to say about a resurrection of the dead. So an intellectual challenge is issued to Jesus. What does Jesus say? “Get over your skepticism and just have faith”? Actually, no. Since this might be something we are tempted to say today to someone who demonstrates a skepticism toward Jesus, we should really pay attention to what he does say.

Before we do, let us recognize that skepticism is a necessary and important gift. We all ought to be skeptics. In fact we all tend to be. For example, if I were to tell you that you can fly and that all you need to do is run down the middle of the street shouting “I can fly! I can fly!” would you? Of course not. Why not? Because you are a skeptical person and your skepticism has kept you from doing something foolish. Skepticism often keeps us safe from physical harm, not to mention from delusion and the potential for intellectual harm. A skeptical mind is a gift.

So what does Jesus say instead?

24 Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?” Mark 12:24 (NRSV)

According to Jesus, the Sadducees do not have a skepticism problem, they have a knowledge problem. Specifically, they do not know the scriptures or the power of God. This gives us some important insight as to why people reject Jesus today. A skeptical mind may not be the problem. Let’s take a closer look.

The Sadducees do not know the scriptures. As the Sadducees revere the writings from Moses more than any other, Jesus asks them to consider what God said to Moses at the burning bush where God first revealed Himself to Moses:

26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.” Mark 12:26-27 (NRSV)

God did not say “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before they turned back to dust,” but rather “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” that is, “I still am. . . “ So they have not disappeared never to be seen again as the Sadducees assume. Jesus is telling the Sadducees that with their assumptions in place they are not doing a very good job of reading the scriptures. This kind of thing can be said today. There are people who have rejected Jesus because they have not handled the scriptures very well.

Consider, as one example, a common objection I hear to Christianity: “Where did Cain’s wife come from?” A good question, but when you know the scriptures, the wrong question. Consider what we learn from Genesis:

  • Chapters 1 and 2 – God created everything including humanity which he marked out for a special relationship.
  • Chapter 3 – Humanity sinned, breaking that relationship.
  • Chapters 4 through 11 – Though God would have been right to, He has not shut the door on humanity.
  • Chapter 12 – God has a plan to bless humanity and it will be worked through a special people.
  • Chapters 13 through 50 – Hang on, this plan may take a while, but God is involved along the way!

Through Genesis God has communicated exactly the things we need to know. As the Bible says about itself elsewhere, the scriptures “are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2nd Timothy 3:15 NRSV). To expect God to tell us everything and to expect Genesis to read like some super-sized cosmic Twitter feed is to not know the scriptures.

Additionally, many have rejected Jesus without knowing much at all about Him. Many think they have rejected Jesus when they have rejected a caricature of Jesus. This is not skepticism, but a lack of knowledge, specifically, knowledge of the scriptures. When we encounter deep skepticism toward Christianity, a skeptical mind may not be the root problem, but rather a lack of knowing the scriptures.

The Sadducees do not know the power of God. They are stuck in the rut of “we have seen people die and turn to dust.” They do not know the amazing things God can do with dust. Their minds are not open to the activity and potential activity of God the Creator. Again, the problem is not with skepticism, but with knowledge. There are people today who reject Jesus, not because they have skeptical minds, but because they don’t know the power of God; Virgin birth? Impossible! The resurrection of the dead? Can’t happen! A genuine record of revelation? How could we ever trust it hasn’t changed? But if God, Who created everything from nothing, exists, then then these things are possible. Consider the love of God and these things become more than mere possibilities. Keep in mind that no one has ever given good evidence that God does not exist. And of course miracles are a matter of history, not science. When we encounter deep skepticism toward Christianity, a skeptical mind may not be the root problem, but rather a lack of knowing, or being open to, the power of God.

There is something else here which Jesus does not say, but which is implied.

The Sadducees do not know the thrill of a Jesus revolution. The Sadducees do not know the power of God to make the dead live, but they do know the power of Rome to make the living dead. They like the Status quo of Roman power, in fact a revolution could threaten their own power. And here is another reason people reject Jesus; they are not ready for a revolution. A God honouring, Jesus following, Spirit filled life is revolutionary. Anyone can sin. It takes courage to be righteous. Anyone can follow the crowd along a broad path. It takes courage to think different and stay on a narrow path. Anyone can live the status quo. It takes decisiveness to make a change. While most parents hope and pray their teenagers are not rebellious, I hope and pray that mine are. Jesus loving teenagers are the most rebellious and courageous teenagers out there today. When we encounter a deep skepticism toward Christianity, a skeptical mind may not be the root of the problem, but fear of a revolution.

In not knowing the scriptures, the power of God, and the thrill of a revolution,

The Sadducees also miss out on knowing the love of God. The resurrection of the dead will not just be a display of the power of God in fulfillment of the promises of scripture. It will also be a display of the amazing love of God. We do not want anyone to miss out on that love so we will want to always be ready to point people to Jesus. When we encounter skepticism our role is not to tell people to stop thinking and just have faith. Our role is to help people know the scriptures, the power of God, and the necessity and thrill of the revolution, and so to point them to the love of God.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor with Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec. Read today’s entry at source at this link.

August 24, 2016

How Idols Take Us Out of the Race

by Clarke Dixon

What is the harm in a few idols? As long as you keeping coming back to do “the God thing” from time to time, right? Some church attendance, some Bible reading, some prayer, some sort of religious something. As long as we do that a little idol worship in our lives is not a bad thing, right? In Ezekiel chapter 14 we learn of some idol worshipping leaders who come to Ezekiel to “do the God thing.” We can paraphrase God’s response with one word: “really?” Said with a very sarcastic tone of course. Idolatry  is a ridiculous thing to do and in Ezekiel chapters 14 and 15 we learn of three reasons why God’s people in Ezekiel’s day should commit themselves fully to the Lord. These three reasons still hold true for us today. So what are they?

First, idolatry creates distance in our relationship with God. Consider:

Therefore speak to them, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any of those of the house of Israel who take their idols into their hearts and place their iniquity as a stumbling block before them, and yet come to the prophet—I the Lord will answer those who come with the multitude of their idols,  in order that I may take hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, all of whom are estranged from me through their idols.
  Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For any of those of the house of Israel, or of the aliens who reside in Israel, who separate themselves from me, taking their idols into their hearts. . .  (Ezekiel 14:4-7 emphasis mine)

Keep in mind that as Christians we are under a covenant of grace, and so no matter what kind of distance we may put between ourselves and the Lord, we can no more change our child-of-God status any more than a spat with my Dad would make my Dad no longer my father. Through Jesus God has given us the right to become children of God. But estranged children we can surely become through idolatry.

Distance between ourselves and the Lord is most unfortunate. The way many Christians treat their relationship with God is like an athlete, a runner, who goes to a newly assigned coach and says “can you give me money for new running shoes please? That is all I want from you.” We do this when we have an attitude of “Lord, just get me to heaven please, Oh, and make life perfect until then too.” The coach responds with “I have something far greater for you: my time, my attention, my attentiveness to how you are running, my expertise in training and running, my wisdom, indeed I offer you me. I offer you a relationship with me.” The Lord offers us a relationship and all the while we cry out “just get us the shoes.” Idolatry makes us content with the hope of heaven as we miss the fact that we are missing out on God.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. (John 15:9)

Second, idolatry leads us down a path of evil. Consider:

Mortal, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and placed their iniquity as a stumbling block before them; shall I let myself be consulted by them?  Therefore speak to them, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any of those of the house of Israel who take their idols into their hearts and place their iniquity as a stumbling block before them, and yet come to the prophet—I the Lord will answer those who come with the multitude of their idols,  in order that I may take hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, all of whom are estranged from me through their idols.
  Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations.  For any of those of the house of Israel, or of the aliens who reside in Israel, who separate themselves from me, taking their idols into their hearts and placing their iniquity as a stumbling block before them, and yet come to a prophet to inquire of me by him, I the Lord will answer them myself. (Ezekiel 14:3-7 emphasis mine)

IdolsIdolatry makes us comfortable with the abominable. It makes what is awfully wrong seem OK, or even good. Like, an athlete that cheats. Cheating through drugs seems OK, good even, if winning is the only thing. But if winning with integrity is important, then that is a different story. Idols kill our perspective on sin. Consider how the idol of Social Darwinism makes the elimination of a particular race seem OK, good even if you are Hitler. People become comfortable with the abominable. Consider how the idolatry of sex makes some comfortable with adultery or even rape. Consider how the idolatry of people can make a person comfortable with stalking. Though we need sensitivity here, consider how the idolatry of personal rights makes people comfortable with terminating life in the womb.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us . . . (Hebrews 12:1)

Third, idolatry makes us useless. Consider:

The word of the Lord came to me:

 O mortal, how does the wood of the vine surpass all other wood—
the vine branch that is among the trees of the forest?
  Is wood taken from it to make anything?
Does one take a peg from it on which to hang any object?
  It is put in the fire for fuel;
when the fire has consumed both ends of it
and the middle of it is charred,
is it useful for anything?
  When it was whole it was used for nothing;
how much less—when the fire has consumed it,
and it is charred—
can it ever be used for anything! (Ezekiel 15:1-5)

While I am enjoying the pre-teen and teen stages my boys are in I must admit to missing certain things from their younger years, like Thomas the Tank Engine. I do not, however, miss the Teletubbies. Thomas was not a fast engine, or a big engine, or even a pretty engine, but he was a useful engine. Practically every episode had some reference to Thomas being or becoming “a very useful engine.” As Christians we are called to be useful, to be fruitful:

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4,5)

Idolatry keeps us from fully abiding in the vine, in Christ. Idolatry makes us fruitless, and useless. Idolatry would be like Usain Bolt running his competition in dress shoes, or Michael Phelps competing with water wings. It does not help get the job done.

So what if we find ourselves more like spiritual couch potatoes than spiritual Olympians? Is there any hope for us when idolatry has sidelined us form the race? Yes, there is opportunity to get back on track. God wants us on track:

I the Lord will answer those who come with the multitude of their idols,  in order that I may take hold of the hearts of the house of Israel (Ezekiel 14:4-5 emphasis mine)

When we are on the wrong track the opportunity is given to “turn around”, a Hebrew word in the Old Testament often translated as “repent”. Consider:

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. (Ezekiel 14:6 emphasis mine)

When some people hear that word “repent” they automatically  respond with something like “how dare you tell me I need to repent! How dare you not accept me as I am!” In fact the call to repentance has nothing to do here with acceptance of who you are. It has to do with you not accepting the horrible situation you are in, not accepting that you are estranged form God, not accepting that idolatry has led you down a path of evil, and not accepting that being useless has become your status quo. Repentance is a very positive opportunity to re-evaluate and make positive changes. Athletes do it all the time as a matter of getting back on track. When idolatry takes hold, perhaps you and I should listen to God’s Holy Spirit and do likewise?

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. (1 Cor 9:24)

All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Source for this article
Link to Clarke’s website

May 25, 2015

When Love Output Exceeds Love Input

Matt. 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

We make a point to try to revisit writers who have appeared here before. Such is the case with Mark McIntyre at the blog Attempts at Honesty. To read this at source, click the title below.

water pumpLove, duty and honor

When a pump tries to put out more water than it takes in, it experiences a condition called cavitation. The end result is that the internal turbulence caused by the cavitation tears up the pump and eventually renders the pump useless. The pump only works well when it takes in as much as it tries to put out.

I find a cavitating pump a fitting metaphor for what I’ve observed in churches over the years. The Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:19 that we love because God loved us first. John also tells us in John 13:35 that love is to be the distinguishing mark of the church. Jesus himself told us that the two great commands are to love God and love our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40).

We are commanded to love, but the source of that love must be God himself. I have firsthand experience of what happens when the church tries to convey love without relying on God as the source of that love.

Without reliance upon God as the source of love, the church (and the individuals that make up the church) tends to replace love with duty or honor. Duty is a sense of responsibility to others. Honor is an attempt at maintaining a reputation. One is focused outward the other is focused inward.

Both duty and honor are good things in themselves. There is nothing wrong with having a proper sense of responsibility to our fellow man. I see the connection between duty and fulfillment of the second command to love your neighbor. There is also nothing wrong with wanting to have a good reputation. One of the qualifications that the Apostle Paul gives us for a church leader is that he is to be a man of good reputation (1 Timothy 3:2).

The problem is that even these good things are no substitute for experiencing and conveying the love that God has for us. Duty without love becomes a hard, unyielding taskmaster. How many times have I seen people “serving” in church with little joy and even less fruit? Duty without love produces zombie Christians who lurch around but are not fully alive.

Honor without love becomes narcissistic or forces one into very superficial relationships. I cannot let you too near to me if I want to maintain the illusion that I have everything under control. Therein lies the pressure to be superficial. The narcissistic tendency manifests itself in the “look at me” aspect that rears it’s head in churches. People want to be seen “doing ministry” and get hooked on the affirmation that it provides. The smiling face may hide an ugly heart.

Perhaps we all have an inclination toward these false foundations. But I find that when I am properly connected with the love of God, I want to serve those around me because I want them to experience the same sense of God that I have. When I am properly connected with the love of God, I don’t have to worry about my reputation. If I am following God, my reputation will take care of itself. Also, if I am experiencing the love of God, I don’t have to worry that you will see my failures and weaknesses. God knows all about my failures and loves me anyway.

As with the cavitating pump, failure to allow the love of God to be the driving force and the content of our message will cause a life to eventually fall apart. If you have any doubts about this, I point you toward the most chilling words that Jesus ever uttered in Matthew 7:21-23. In this passage Jesus tells us that many who worked for duty and honor will not find entry into Heaven. It is only those who have been in relationship with him and have experienced his love and forgiveness will gain entry.

The stakes are very, very high.

 

December 8, 2014

How We Think About God

Peter Enns is a renown theologian and Biblical scholar who has experienced both accolades and controversy. In this simple article he published last week — click the title below to read at his blog — he presents ten scripture passages that he feels have informed his picture of God. What verses would you add to the list?

10 New Testament passages that shape how I think about God

1. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his suffering by becoming like him in his death… (Phil 3:10). Both suffering and resurrection—times of great difficulty and times of triumph—are expected and normal parts of the Christian life.

2. …unless you change and become like children… (Matt 18:3). As children trust their parents with no thought of an alternative, Christians are called to trust God—which is both comforting and challenging.

3. …do not worry about your life…look at the birds…consider the lilies… (Matt 7:25-34). Worry should be as impossible for followers of Christ as it is for birds and plants, which by definition are incapable of worry.

4. …the truth will make you free… (John 8:32). The truth—knowing Christ—will make you free, namely free from yourself to be free toward God.

5. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us… (1 John 4:12). The difficult and often counter-intuitive act of loving one another is the closest we get to seeing God.

6. But while he was still far off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran… (Luke 15:20). The parable of the lost (or, mistakenly, “prodigal”) son. The father has no thought of judgment toward the son, only welcome…and he can’t wait to get started.

7. …your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). Intimacy (union) with God is the present reality and hoped for goal of the Christian life.

8. …there is no longer Jew or Gentile…slave or free…male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28). What humans use to divide between each other for power and control—ethnicity, economy, gender—mean nothing to God.

9. Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? (John 8:10). Whereas our tendency is to punish and exact holy retribution, Jesus shows us that God’s default mode is to forgive and encourage us to move on and begin anew.

10. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… on either side of the river is the tree of life… Rev 21:1; 22:2). The entire biblical story is summed up. The Bible ends where it begins; creation is restored. Everything else in between, God’s story as a whole from Abraham to Christ, is about how God makes that happen.

November 13, 2014

Are Your Prayers Too Polite?

Today’s post is by Christel Humfrey and appeared at the blog True Woman a few days ago. To read this at source, click the title below and then take some time to look around the rest of the blog.

Is Politeness Killing Your Prayer Life?

Christians in North America are generally polite pray-ers. We tend to pray correct, respectful words that we think God wants to hear. But let’s be honest, many of our prayers are tentative, repetitive, and somewhat boring.

prayer requestsI’m all for politeness with acquaintances. But real relationships require more. If my husband only spoke distant and polite words to me, our relationship would wither and die. I want to hear his struggles, his fears, his anger, and his joys. I want to process with him, not just hear his conclusions. I want him to trust me.

Intimate relationships require authentic feelings. Our innermost thoughts—however wrong or immature—are shared in trust. So why do we keep God at arm’s length? Are we trying to be something we are not? Are we afraid to trouble Him? God is our Father, yet we often treat Him like a distant relative.

Be Authentic in Prayer

Recently, I was reading through Jeremiah, and I was struck by how real his prayers were. He didn’t pretty up his words. He prayed heartfelt words. He brought his complaints to God and pleaded with Him.

“Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” (Jer. 12:1)

“Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?” (Jer. 20:18)

“Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved” (Jer. 17:4).

What if we prayed what we really felt? Our words would come as no surprise to God, but we may be humbled when our foolish thoughts become words. Sometimes we feel things but can’t really define or understand them until we speak them out loud. So we vent them to friends or shove them down deep not wanting to trouble God with our “little” cares. We make a critical mistake when we don’t bring our troubles immediately to God. Not only does He care, but He also has the power to change things.

Prayer brings us to a vulnerable place. We lay bare our hearts to God in prayer. Our carefully created persona is peeled back until we stand naked and exposed before a holy God. This is an uncomfortable—no, terrifying—thought without Christ’s blood shed on our behalf. There is no pretending with God. He knows our thoughts before we speak them (Ps. 139:4). Every hair on our head is numbered (Matt. 10:30). He knows us. The real us.

But the Christian can approach the Father with boldness (Heb. 4:16, Rom. 5:2). We are beloved children, not distant employees. We don’t need to fear Him because the cross happened. Christ paid the penalty for our sin and clothed us in His own righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). So we take an uncomfortable leap of faith, not because we have confidence in ourselves, but because Christ is trustworthy, and God has adopted us as His own.

Expect to Be Changed

When we bring our complaints and requests before our heavenly Father, something unexpected happens. We come to Him hoping for a change of circumstances and leave with a new perspective. We are changed by prayer. We see this pattern often in the Psalms. A complaint turns to praise through the course of prayer. If we apply this template to our own prayer lives, we may be surprised by the fruit it bears.

When it’s just you and God in private prayer, why not be brutally honest? You can trust Him with your heart because He cares for you. Authentic prayer deepens communion. It grows assurance and inflames love. Go ahead and jump in the deep end with God. Polite prayer may be more comfortable, but authentic prayer transforms hearts.

Do you feel free to be honest with God in prayer? If you stopped being polite, what would you say to God?

True Woman blog is a ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Written by Christel Humfrey. Used with permission. Copyright © 2008-2012. All Rights Reserved http://www.truewoman.com

October 18, 2014

Give Me This Mountain

I was enjoying the lyrical depths of a playlist of songs by Graham Kendrick and was particularly drawn to the song Give Me This Mountain (Caleb’s Song). I decided to post it on Thinking Out Loud by itself, but wanted to at least include the scripture reference. The video annotation reads:

A song about a Biblical encounter between Caleb and God. Caleb was called ‘wholehearted’ by God and was allowed to enter the promised land.

I decided to investigate that further, first in scripture,

Numbers 14:24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

and then when I landed on the blog of Harvest Pointe Fellowship in Evans, Georgia. Once there, I knew I had to include it here at C201.  Click the title below — a reference to Caleb’s character before God — to read it at source.

Wholehearted -Joshua 14

Besides God, there are two main characters throughout this stage of our study of Joshua: obviously Joshua is one of them, and the other is Caleb. Caleb is one of the spies who entered the Promised Land the first time– all the other spies gave reports of giants and fortified cities and how it would be impossible to take this land but Caleb (and Joshua) stuns everyone by boldly proclaiming that they should enter the land because God had already given them the victory. No one listened to him and the children of Israel are forced to wander the wilderness once more. We should not be surprised to learn that the name “Caleb” comes from Hebrew and means “wholehearted”. Caleb is a man who lived his entire life with wholehearted devotion to God’s purpose.

…Caleb is one of the unsung heroes of the Bible. He stands as a shining example of one who never lost his edge spiritually. He himself said at age 85, “I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and coming in” (Joshua 14:11 NKJV). This demonstration of courage must have unnerved the other men. They may even have thought him senile.

At this point of our study of Joshua, God’s people have taken much of the long awaited Promised Land and Joshua was dispensing portions of it to the tribes. However, Caleb steps forward to claim that which had been promised him by Moses. In fact, Caleb asks for the land that he had surveyed as much younger man.

In response, Joshua granted his faithful friend Caleb what he asked. He gives Caleb Hebron. The old man proved he had not yet exhausted his courage, when he said:

Now therefore, give me this mountain [the land of Hebron] of which the Lord spoke in that day. . (Joshua 14:10–12 NKJV)

The other men of Israel must have breathed a sigh of relief that Caleb had chosen this portion of land. This was not some beautiful, green pasture; it was one of the most treacherous mountainous areas of the Promised Land. Even more problematic was the fact that formidable adversaries inhabited this land. This was the home of the sons of Anak, the very same giants that terrified the 10 spies sent by Moses. No one wanted to take on the giants except 85-year-old Caleb. Can’t you just envision him holding up that muscular old arm, saying, “Give me this mountain”?

I love the boldness of this man of God. I can just see Caleb running up that mountain. I can see him as he slays his adversaries. He was victorious. He had been strong all those years and he finished well.

Let me share several principles with we learn from Caleb’s life that can give us this same spiritual stamina we need to run and indeed finish in the race of life well.

1. Follow the Lord 100 percent. Scripture says again and again that Caleb “wholly followed the Lord.” It’s in Joshua 14:8–9 and verse 14: Joshua blessed Caleb and gave the old man what he asked because “he wholly followed the Lord God of Israel.”

This is clearly a key to Caleb’s spiritual success. But what does it mean to “wholly follow the Lord”? It means that you must fully follow our Lord not halfheartedly, but completely. One hundred percent.

Are you wholly following the Lord your God? If you are not, you will eventually be picked off. It is only a matter of time until you become a casualty in the race of life.

2. Don’t compromise—stand your ground. At the risk of being ostracized, Caleb took a stand for what he knew was true. He knew he needed to be more concerned with God’s approval than man’s approval. And for this, he was rewarded.

As you walk with the Lord, you will face many temptations to cave in to peer pressure, to do what everybody else does. But if you are going to fully follow the Lord, then, like Caleb, you must make this principle operative in your life. Stand firm and seek God’s pleasure, no one else’s.

3. Take God at His Word. Caleb didn’t win immediate entrance to the Promised Land. First, he had to wander around with those ungrateful, complaining Israelites for 40 years. They said things like “We remember the good old days back in Egypt, where we had garlic, leeks, and onions.”

Despite the Israelites’ childish clinging to conjured memories, Caleb hung on to the promises of God. He knew God would be faithful, regardless of the time frame. Caleb trusted God’s word to him. We can do the same.

4. Long for fellowship with your God. Caleb asked for a place in the Promised Land called Hebron. There is something very interesting about the name Hebron, which—in the original language—means “fellowship, love, and communion.” Hebron is where Abraham met with God face-to-face and received the promise of the new land in the first place.

Caleb yearned for fellowship with God. While the other Israelites longed for Egypt, Caleb longed for Hebron. While the others looked back in dread, Caleb looked forward with fearless anticipation. While others wanted to please themselves, Caleb wanted only to please God.

This is an essential key to spiritual longevity. You must always move forward. You must always seek to grow spiritually and never look back. That’s what will keep you going.

If you are living this Christian life for others’ applause, you won’t make it. You have to run empowered by your love for God.

Questions for thought:

1. Have you ever felt resentful or burdened by something God was calling you to do?
2. One justification for not helping or serving is that feel we need time for ourselves, for our studies, for our work, for our own rest. While easy to understand, what do you think is wrong with this mindset?
3. When was the last time you felt excited and even proud to have the chance to serve? What made that situation so different?
4. What are some practical ways you can begin to see serving God as your privilege rather than your burden?

 

October 4, 2014

Practicing Silence

Discipline of Silence

Today’s post is by Donna Wood from the blog Food For the Journey. To read this at source, click the title she gave it (!) below:

Hush, little Baby…

“Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” ~ 1 Kings 19:11-13 (NSV)

During Centering Prayer this week, I was thinking — wait! Thinking while Centering. Isn’t that against the rules? —  We are told to be quiet and wait for God to transform us in the silence.  But sometimes, even when, according to the rules, we shouldn’t pay attention to words and noise, God speaks.  What..?  It’s true that Centering Prayer is designed to take us beneath the noise into the silence where God dwells within, but I have learned to listen for his voice there.  I must be a bit of a rebel. “Be still and know that I am God” is true, but sometimes He insists on talking to me.  The Bible shows that God is not as interested in all the rules, even though helpful, as he is in relationship. I want to be aware; I want to notice God and pay attention if he decides to speak into the silence.

It is the becoming still that is the biggest problem, or at least for me, when we are trying to be aware of God.  Often he speaks in a whisper or the sound of sheer silence (see scripture above.)  The fact is, we can’t still the voices in our heads.  Brains aren’t designed that way. But we can silence our minds by not following our constant thoughts down rabbit trails. This does take practice—the practice of returning to silence when we catch our mind in its ADD activities.

There is a story about one of our granddaughters who lived with us when she was small.  This granddaughter was an extroverted child who was always talking, talking. Since her grandfather and I are both strong introverts, this was a challenge.  One time grandpa said quite firmly, “Please be quiet for a while.”  She said, “OK.” Then without missing a beat, she said, “I will be quiet.  I will stop talking.  I won’t say anything more.  Not at all.  Can I talk now?”  Sometimes we are like that with God. We plan to be quiet; we think we are being still, but the noise is so loud that we couldn’t hear God if he did talk.

Amazing transformation has happened to me in the last five years since I began silent prayer.  I have changed in ways I would never have imagined possible and my life with God is more intimate.  Whether we use Centering Prayer or not, some practice of silent awareness is important to our spiritual lives and formation.  Ruth Haley Barton said, “Silence is the most needed and the least experienced spiritual discipline among Christians today.”

Help us today, Jesus, to be still.  Quiet us as we wait on you in the silence.  We want to be with you and listen if you speak.  Hush our busy thoughts, and make our hearts and minds aware of your presence. Amen.


Mission 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.

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

 

 

April 3, 2014

Meeting With God

Hebrews 10: 19+20

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,
(NIV)

This week we participated in a most unusual communion service. The elements — the bread and juice — were placed on a table in a self-serve style. Nothing unusual so far, right? But to get to them you had to walk behind a curtain, single file, one at a time. Suddenly, you were in there, all alone, just you and God.

Others were waiting and they joked ahead of time that they’d ‘tie a rope to your feet and pull you out if you stay too long,’ but you had these brief seconds to enter into the ‘Holy of Holies’ and express to God in a whispered prayer whatever you would say to Him, or listen to whatever He would say to you.

It’s a communion or Eucharist that I will never forget.

It brought home the idea that although we worship corporately at weekend services, ultimately, our relationship with God is individual. We’re not saved, or counted among God’s people because of what our church does collectively, but because of our personal response to God.  Consider the difference between these two phrases:

  • ‘We had communion at church this Sunday’   or
  • ‘While in the service today, I communed with God’

That got me thinking about the broader aspects of making our experience(s) with God more individual.

I think that sometimes people are critical of the phrases “accepted Christ” and “personal Savior,” when the problem can be solved with a rearrangement of one or two words. Consider the difference between:

  • ‘I accepted Christ as my personal Savior’   and
  • ‘I personally acknowledged Christ as Savior’

But then, the personal has to go beyond the initial conversion experience. Consider phrases like:

  • ‘We’re now part of local congregation’
  • ‘I’ve joined a weekly small group Bible study’

Each implies the idea of assimilating into the larger body, and that’s right and good, but total assimilation would mean the loss of personal identity. Your relationship to Christ cannot be expressed in terms of a relationship to a Church or study group.  (Note: Or biological family.)

Try these on for size; say them out loud if necessary; and see if they fit you:

  • ‘I am growing in my understanding of the ways of God’
  • ‘I am more fully aware of God’s presence in my life’
  • ‘I am increasingly making decisions subject to God’s desires’
  • ‘My appreciation for what Jesus did is a daily factor in my life’
  • ‘I am so thankful for God’s grace’

These I/My statements — and others like them you can add in the comments — should be at the core of our spiritual identity, not statements like:

  • ‘I’m really enjoying the church I’m attending’ or
  • ‘My pastor is absolutely amazing’

Maybe your pastor is amazing, but he will have to give his own account to God, and you will have to give yours.

II Cor. 5:10

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (ESV)

For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. (NLT)

Romans 14:12

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. (NIV)

 

 

June 14, 2013

The Ways of the Lord

Several years ago we visited a church expecting to hear the pastor preach, only to discover it was Teen Challenge Sunday, and the team would be taking the entire service. At first I was disappointed, but as one of the young men shared his testimony, he said something I will never forget:

I knew about the Bible, but I didn’t understand the ways of the Lord.

That one sentence was a takeaway from that day which was worth all the other minutes at that service. I used it to examine my own relationship with God. Was my standing based on just Bible knowledge? Just on acts of Christian service? Just on coasting on a commitment made many years ago?

If you’re in relationship with someone, you’re going to know how they would act, what they would think, words they might say; all in response to a variety of situations. You know if you do something whether or not they would be pleased or grieved. You can almost hear them audibly speaking.

The phrase “the ways of the Lord” occurs in the NIV seven times. The first six are positive, the last is negative, when Paul tells Elymas,  “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” in Acts 13: 10

Two passages are identical, II Sam. 22:22 and Ps. 18:21

For I have kept the ways of the Lord; I am not guilty of turning from my God.

— not surprising since David is the author of both; the inclusion in Psalms is very much a ‘copy and paste’ with the next verses in both being:

All his laws are before me;
I have not turned away from his decrees.
 I have been blameless before him
and have kept myself from sin.

Psalm 25: 10 continues

All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.

and in Psalm 138:5

May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great.

In II Chron. 17: 5b and 6 we read:

…all Judah brought gifts to Jehoshaphat, so that he had great wealth and honor. His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord; furthermore, he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah.

Hosea 14:9 states:

Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.

Of this last verse, Matthew Henry writes:

The ways of the Lord are right; and therefore it is our wisdom and duty to know and understand them. The way of God’s precepts, in which he requires us to walk, is right, agreeing with the rules of eternal reason and equity and having a direct tendency to our eternal felicity. The ways of God’s providence, in which he walks toward us, are all right; no fault is to be found with any thing that God does, for it is all well done. His judgments upon the impenitent, his favours to the penitent, are all right; however they may be perverted and misinterpreted, God will at last be justified and glorified in them all.

I think the key here is that knowing could easily be inferred to be knowing about. We all know the danger of knowing about God, but not truly knowing Him. But the verse doesn’t give us that option, it speaks of walking in His ways.

The first part of Micah 4:2 says,

Many nations will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”

R. G. LeTourneau is quoted as saying,

If you know the Lord
You will love the Lord
If you love the Lord
You will serve the Lord
If you’re not serving the Lord
You don’t love the Lord
If you don’t love the Lord
You don’t know the Lord

Today, I offer a paraphrase based on today’s study:

If you know the Lord
You will know the ways of the Lord
If you know the ways of the Lord
You will walk in the ways of the Lord
If you’re not walking in the ways of the Lord
You don’t know the ways of the Lord
If you don’t know the ways of the Lord
You don’t know the Lord.

June 13, 2013

What the Bible Teaches About the Seasons

David Kenney has been doing a series about the seasons in our lives.  There was a post more recently about summer which would be far more timely, but perhaps some of you find yourselves spiritually speaking having to Navigate Spiritual Winter.

Last time we looked at the seasons. And of the four, I think we don’t want to wade through winter.  Can’t we get through the hard times or the dark times any quicker? Winter is cold and lonely. In Winter, God seems silent.

Perhaps you’re walking through a season of Winter right now.

So I want to offer you a few suggestions for this season of quiet that might help you navigate it.

1. EXAMINE YOUR LIFE

In seasons of Winter it’s possible that something is blocking you from hearing God’s voice. Take a moment to examine your life and ask “Is there any sin in my life that might be standing between me and God?”

Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, my Lord would not have listened”

A close self-examination will require you to go deeper than perhaps obvious things.

Where is your thought life these days, what do you spend your time doing? And remember, there is no shame in asking for forgiveness. Sometimes that’s what is needed to set the relationship back.  And of course, God does not hold grudges, nor is he immature that he would be giving you the silent treatment, rather I think sometimes the volume is turned down, to force you to stop what you’re doing and ask. “What just happened? What am I missing?”

God wants nothing more than to be in right relationship with you, and sometimes we just need to say we’re sorry to make it all better again.

2. ACCEPT GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY

You know what that means? It means sometimes God is silent and he has every right to be, he’s God. He actually doesn’t owe you an answer.

A.W. Tozer said, “God is said to be absolutely free, because no one and no thing can hinder Him or compel Him or stop Him. He is able to do as He pleases always, everywhere, forever.”

When the trials hit Job, Job’s wife offered her own advice, she told her husband to curse God and die. But in the very first chapter of his story, when Job hears that every single one of his children had died and that many of his flocks and herds had been stolen, the bible says in Job 1:20 that “Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship.”

During season of Winter, we each like Job, have a choice in how we react. Job faced the choice of acknowledging—or rejecting—the sovereignty of God. In response to his suffering and loss. Job chose to let God be God.

I love what Job says in Job 2:10 “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?”

Accepting God’s sovereignty also means actively trusting God and realizing He is in control and can be trusted.

Job says in 13:15 “Though (the Lord) slay me, I will hope in Him”

Nothing in Job’s life, or ours, happens apart from God’s knowledge and plan. Remember you are his project, you are his masterpiece. Da Vinci used to walk away from painting the Mona Lisa for years. Can you imagine how she felt? Did I do something wrong? Does Da Vinci still love me? But all the while it is Da Vicni who is the master. He knows what he’s doing. He can’t be expected to explain himself to a painting.

And if you read the story of Job, as the reader you know that there are no moments where God was not in control. God knows what he is doing and sometimes the hardest moment are just to trust him.

3. LISTEN TO WHAT GOD IS SAYING

Although God may seem silent regarding a specific request or petition, remember that He is always in a constant state of communication with us. In fact, it is possible that you already have an answer from God. The Bible is full of specific answers about what is right and wrong as well as information about God’s character and His intention for us as His children and His followers.

Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

So don’t forget to dig into God’s Word—even if God seems silent in prayer and life, He is always talking you through his word. To find out what God has to say about the problems you’re facing or the questions you’re asking; read the Bible. I think many times in silent times, verses in the Bible can have new significance in light of current problems you are facing.

4. RECOGNIZE THAT SILENCE CAN BE INTIMATE

Oswald Chambers says, “When you cannot hear God, you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible—with absolute silence, not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation.”

Silence does not have to be bad. Sometimes its a sign of comfort and familiarity.  You know, when you are completely comfortable with a person, it is possible to sit in a room together and not utter a single word. When two people are in love, silence can be a sign of intimacy.

1 Kings 19:11-13 The Lord said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

 Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

It’s such a beautiful picture. All of these mighty and disruptive sounds – elements that we might assume would be announcing God’s presence, but it was in the last sound, the sound of a whisper where God was heard.

God whispering results in us leaning in closer. Maybe that’s what God wants, maybe he’s tired of yelling at you. Maybe he’s tired of yelling over the distractions in your life. Lean in.

5. CONTINUE TALKING TO GOD

Psalm 22:2 “Oh my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest”

David is expressing anguish in God’s silence but notice what he says, “I cry out every day.” Just because God is silent, that doesn’t mean David has to be. If I baby can’t get his parents attention with cute little coos and giggles, what do they do? Cry even louder. Crying is like a baby alarm isn’t it?

I think seasons of quiet can be just as much an invitation to us to press forward and seek Him even more boldly.

Ephesians 6:18 Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying.

Because the truth is, even though it’s Winter, there is still activity going on isn’t there?  Just because it’s winter it doesn’t mean things aren’t growing. Those dead trees sticking out of the snow, they’re still alive aren’t they? They don’t look like it, they aren’t bearing any fruit, but deep down inside those roots are still growing. Even in Winter, God is still working.

The full series:

December 2, 2012

Where We Are Shouldn’t Look Like Where We Came From

Today we pay a return visit to Elsie Montgomery at Practical Faith with a post titled, The Present is Sometimes Too Much Like the Past.

Never being a person who dwells on the past, I have difficulty remembering events that are vivid for my children and others in our family. However, one thing I do remember well — what I was like before I became a Christian.

Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh… that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:11–12)
At that time, as these verses say, I was alienated from the promises of God, separated from Him and hopeless regarding anything spiritual or eternal. The biggest reason that I can remember what this was like is that every time I stray from God and try to do anything without Christ, I experience those same emotions and that same sense of separation as I did then. The biggest difference is that it is not God who turns away now, but me. Why would a Christian do this? We have everything God can give us and are no longer alienated from God.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)
The blood of Christ covers all sin and removes the alienation. The big words are atonement, propitiation and redemption. The shorter version is that because Christ died for me, my sins are forgiven. Because He lives for me, I can depend on God for whatever I need.
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
And instead I rely on myself? To do so means that I pridefully think I can? Or that God does not care about my issues and problems? Whatever my reasons, the Holy Spirit reminds me that I am no longer separated from the promises of God or alienated from Jesus Christ. He is for me, not against me. I have been brought near.
If God is for me, who can be against me? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for me, how shall He not with Him also freely give me all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for me. Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Yet in all these things I am more than a conqueror through Him who loved me. I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord. (Romans 8:31–39, personalized)
I’m not sure of my mental IQ but sometimes I just bottom out on my spiritual IQ. So dumb. Put in black and white, nothing seems more foolish and hopeless than to depend on me and put myself into any situation without relying on God. Yet He is my Savior. He always knows how to pull me back out of those holes that I dig for myself and remains faithful to do so, even as I behave so foolishly!

October 20, 2012

Only God Can Do The Work of God

John 15 (NIV) 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Today’s Bible study — title borrowed from a quotation from Augustine — is an eight-minute video with Radical author David Platt and Crazy Love author Francis Chan discussing the times we try to do things under our strength instead of allowing The Spirit to do that work through us.

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