Christianity 201

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.

September 26, 2012

Show Me Your Way

We’re generally taught that God gave Moses Aaron to assist him because Moses was “slow of speech.” But while I believe we can take that literally — as do most commentaries ascribing it to stuttering — I think that it was also a metaphor for a general insecurity or diffidence. We may not have a speech problem but we can ‘stutter’ in our willingness to trust God.

I know I am very guilty of this.  I’ve seen past answers to prayer, and seen evidence of God orchestrating circumstances and using existing situations for His glory in my life, but sometimes I approach a new challenge wondering if God is going to show himself.

Today’s thoughts are from the book we used two days ago, A Year With God: Daily Readings and Reflections on God’s Own Words, by R. P. Nettlehorst, published in 2010 by Thomas Nelson. This entry, number 88, is part of a section titled “Faith and Doubt.”

NIV Exodus 33:12 Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

17 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

There’s always room for worry.  No matter how clearly God acts, human beings will want more reassurance.  Moses had seen many miracles.  He regularly talked to God face-to-face.  And yet, with all of that, he wondered who would be going with them to the promised land.  He wondered if he knew for sure where they would be going and what they would be doing.

God did not berate Moses, did not criticize him, did not even ask him a pointed question.  Instead, God quickly reassured Moses and told him again that he would be with him.  Moses – who saw God in the burning bush, on Mount Sinai, and even in the Tent of Meeting where he talked to God as a man might converse with a friend – then asked God if he could see his glory. And God gave him what he asked!

No matter how close we think we are to God, it is easy to start taking our closeness with God for granted.  We need a bigger fix just to feel normal and to know that God is still there.  God accommodated Moses, so don’t be afraid to tell God about the doubts and weariness you may be feeling.

Today’s worship song is Show Me Your Ways by Hillsong

January 18, 2012

Confessions of a Recovering Legalist: Ten Things Jesus Never Said

Ever heard of “Christian karma?”  Some people think God works that way; that some things that come into our life journey are ‘payback’ for choices we made, and things we did in the past.

Yesterday we dug up a classic interview clip from 100 Huntley Street, Canada’s daily Christian talk show, produced by Crossroads Christian Communications.  Can you handle a video clip two days in a row?  We decided to see who Moira Brown has been interviewing lately, and we found this one, with author with Will Davis, Jr., author of Pray Big and the new Ten Things Jesus Never Said.

Note: The link takes you (sometimes)  to the 2:30 mark in the video where the discussion of this book begins; you can go back to watch the intro if you wish.  If it doesn’t you can jump to 2:30.  You can also look at ALL the interviews from the television program at this link.

May 8, 2010

Using The Bible to Keep God at a Distance

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I was very impressed with this analogy from David Paul Door’s blog.

There is a way to read the Bible that keeps God at an arm’s length. If you primarily read the Bible as a book of principles to follow and people to imitate then your relationship with God won’t be intimate, it will be contractual.

Why is this so?

In a contract whatever you put in is what you will expect to get back.  I pay my mortgage every month and after 30 years I expect the bank to hand me the deed of the property.  This relationship works because I don’t have the money to buy a house with cash.  And in exchange for some interest paid I get to be the full owner of the property.

But this does not create intimacy with the bank.  I actually don’t mind them fading into the background.  And on their end they don’t bother me unless I haven’t paid.

Do you see how a relationship with God can never be intimate when the interaction is based on these terms?  We think, “I put in obedience, He, in turn, blesses.” In this instance, our interaction with God can still be fervent, it just won’t be intimate.   There will be no love.

But when we begin to see the Bible as story of God’s blessing humanity, eve when they didn’t keep up their end of the bargain, something in our relationship changes.  The anger of “you owe me, God” is exchanged for humble gratitude.  The devastation of “I would’ve had more if I could’ve just been more obedient” turns into an exhilarating freedom and joy.

And who wouldn’t want to draw near to a God like that?

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