Christianity 201

September 28, 2019

Motivation Matters

Can you do the right things for the wrong reasons?

I may have written about this verse before, but I wanted to circle back to it again today.

Proverbs 16:2

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
    but motives are weighed by the Lord. (NIV)

People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives. (NLT)

I like how Eugene Peterson takes this even one step further:

Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good; God probes for what is good. (MSG)

Each of us may easily rationalize or justify our thoughts and actions, but God is looking at underlying attitudes. I Samuel 6:17b reminds us that, “For man sees the outward appearance, but the LORD sees the heart.” Proverbs reiterates the truth of 16:2 in a lesser known, but I believe more powerful verse in 30:12, “There is a generation who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not washed from their filthiness.

We can fool some of the people some of the time, but we can’t fool God any of the time!

Weighed

Older translations incorporate the idea of our actions being “weighed” or “measured.” Think back for a moment to the the story in Daniel 5 from which we get the phrase, “the handwriting is on the wall.” What’s written on the wall is interpreted as “You are weighed in the balances and found wanting.” Verse 27 says, “TEKEL means that you have been weighed on the scales and found deficient.”  I Samuel 2:3 states, “Do not boast so proudly, or let arrogance come from your mouth, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by Him actions are weighed.

Consequences

Wrong motives can have a bearing not only on how God views what we do, but how he views our asks for the things we wish we could experience or the things we wish we could have. James 4:3 states,

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. – NIV

And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – NLT

Our various asks need to line up with his will. Those are the petitions he’s interested in granting. “And this is the confidence that we have before Him: If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” – James 4:3.

In 1 King 3, Solomon asks God for wisdom, and gets everything else thrown in. “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for–both wealth and honor–so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.”

If ever a passage in the Hebrew scriptures was crying out for a cross-reference from the New Testament, it’s this obvious choice: Matthew 6:33, But put God’s kingdom first. Do what he wants you to do. Then all those things will also be given to you. (NIrV)

So above all, constantly chase after the realm of God’s kingdom and the righteousness that proceeds from him. Then all these less important things will be given to you abundantly. (Passion Translation)

Self-Monitoring

All of this brings me to a verse that David Jeremiah mentioned in a broadcast this week, I Cor. 11:31:

But if we had judged ourselves, we wouldn’t be judged. (CEB)

If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. (GNT/TEV)

Let me modify the verb tense on that slightly to the reflect the position we often find ourselves in: If we had examined ourselves first, we would not have come under God’s judgment.

The verse is quite sobering when read in full context:

The Voice.30 Because of this violation, many in your community are now sick and weak; some have even died. 31 But if we took care to judge ourselves, then we wouldn’t have to worry about being judged by another. 32 In fact, the Lord’s hand of judgment is correcting us so that we don’t suffer the same fate as the rest of the rebellious world: condemnation.

Conclusion

II Chronicles 16:9 is translated in the KJV as The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. and in The Message as God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him.

God is watching.

Motives matter.

Hidden heart attitudes matter.

You can do the right things for the wrong reasons.

 

 

 

 

February 26, 2014

Help, I Need Somebody

Syd Hielema is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Campus Chaplain at Redeemer University College, located in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He was gracious to send us a copy of this devotional after it appeared in the campus newspaper.

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him (Acts 8: 30-31).

Help! I need somebody,
Help! Not just anybody,
Help! You know I need someone,
Help!
(“Help!,” Lennon/McCartney).

We live in a self-help culture. Our definition of adulthood includes navigating our way through life’s challenges on our own, independently. If we run stuck, we have bookstores overflowing with self-help books and, of course, that greatest self-help guru of all time: Google (or one of its many spin-offs). If I was given a dollar for every person who walked into the chaplain’s office and said, “I never expected to need any help, but I’ve hit a wall and I need to talk…,” I could retire to Mexico by now (well, almost…).

The assumption is that if we can’t figure things out on our own, there’s something wrong with us.

In the Kingdom of God, the reality is exactly the opposite: if we think we can figure everything out on our own, there’s a lot wrong with us. The very first comment that the Lord God made about us as he observed us in that wondrous Garden of Eden was, “it is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2: 18).

Syd Hielema - DevotionalDid you catch that? In a perfect world, before the fall into sin, we were created in such a way that we needed help! And that need is only multiplied now that we walk with our Lord in a fallen world that he has redeemed. That’s why Paul writes, “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you” (I Cor. 12: 21). The community that is led by the Holy Spirit is an interdependent body in which every single one of us needs the others.

This need for help applies to every dimension of our lives (in different ways at different times), but it always applies to our devotional life. We easily assume that praying and reading Scripture are just simple activities that anybody can do, and then we beat ourselves up because we discover that our devotional life isn’t going that well (sound familiar?). That’s why in November we chaplains sent out “30 ways to pray” and this month we’re doing the same with reading Scripture.

Do you desire to strengthen your own reading of Scripture? Do you recognize that you need help to do this?

Because we all need a little help.

Syd then provided us with a detailed, annotated list of devotional resources in print he recommends to the students at Redeemer, which follows this paragraph. (If it’s not visible, clicking the “more” tab below will take you there.) Some of these may not be available where you live and I know one is possibly out-of-print, but I wanted to include it here in full so that you can see that breadth of materials available, and this list is hardly exhaustive. I’m surprised that in four years of recommending devotional materials we’ve never done a list like this, but today makes up for it!  Be sure to click through. Comments and additional recommendations are welcome.

(more…)

November 28, 2013

The Jesus Blueprint for Prayer

Today, we’re going to once again invite some of you to be contributors to C201, but first, today’s thoughts are from the blog Digging The Word where they appeared a few days ago under the title, Learning to Pray (click to read)

Luke 11:1Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As He finished, one of His disciples came to Him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Hebrews 5:7While Jesus was here on earth, He offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the One who could rescue Him from death. And God heard His prayers because of His deep reverence for God.


Describe your prayer life using one word. You may think of words like exciting, strenuous, frustrating, boring, confusing, intermittent, difficult, struggle. Do you think it was easy for Jesus to have a prayer time?

Jesus’ last prayer time was in the garden just before he was arrested. He knew that his time had come and that he would be tortured and crucified very soon. Of course he had a stressful agonizing time in prayer but I wonder how his other prayer times were. I looked at that verse in Hebrews that said that Jesus “offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears” and I wondered if that prayer in the garden was the only time that he cried out with such intensity in his prayer time.

Jesus agonized in prayer while his disciples calmly fell asleep. But when the test came, Jesus walked through the trials and went all the way to the cross with courage, he never showed any signs of stress but where were his friends that had skipped their prayer time? They proved that they didn’t have the same courage that Jesus had. We often see prayer time as preparation for the battle but for Jesus prayer was the battle ground.

In Luke 11, after Jesus had spent time praying, one of His disciples asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”

Some things are worth noting from this verse. John the Baptist’s taught his followers to pray and we need to be taught how to pray. Nobody expects us to know how to pray without any instructions on how to do it. The disciples had been with Jesus for over 2 years. They had total access when He taught and preached. They witnessed His miracles. Yet, as far as we know, they never took Him aside and asked, “Lord, teach us to preach,” or “Lord, show us how to minister.” They did come and request, “Teach us to pray.”

Prayer 101

✔ Jesus prayed for others. Matthew 19:13-14, John 17:9
✔ Jesus prayed with others. Luke 9:28,
✔ Jesus prayed alone. Luke 5:16
✔ Jesus prayed regularly. Luke 5:16
✔ Jesus prayed in nature. Luke 6:12
✔ Jesus prayed all night. Luke 6:12
✔ Jesus prayed with passion. Luke 22:39-44
✔ Jesus taught persistence in prayer. Luke 18:1

These basic guidelines show us how, when and where to pray by following Jesus example.



Christianity 201 is part of a blog aggregator called Faithful Bloggers. (Click the icon in the right margin or below to link.) Recently Courtney, the moderator of Faithful Bloggers, wrote a piece guiding writers how to carefully craft a devotional piece. Is it a coincidence that I was holding this article for several days and today’s topic was prayer?

I’m reproducing it here to encourage some of you to consider taking a verse of scripture which is percolating in your hearts, and writing thoughts the rest of us might appreciate. Send it to the address on the submissions page.  To read Courtney’s article at source, click How To Write a Devotional Piece: Be Prayerful.

Writing on a regular basis isn’t always easy.  Coming up with the words you want to use to convey your message isn’t always easy.  Sharing God’s Word and His message of salvation and love isn’t always easy.  When you put writing and sharing God’s message together through devotions, it isn’t always easy.Writing devotions is a very precious and important task.  Anyone who reads your devotional should be able to find the love of Christ of in it and reading your devotional might be the only time they see an example of that kind of love.  That is why we must be prayerful when writing devotions!

Before you put pen to paper, or rather, start typing, pray. Ask God to tell you what He would have you to write about. What message does He want you to impart? Be mindful of what comes to mind as you are praying. Does a particular person come to mind with a specific issue? Does a specific verse pop into your head?

Listen. He will tell you what to write.

Praying before you start writing a devotion will make it so much easier to actual write the devotion.  But that is not where you stop praying.

You need to be prayerful throughout the entire process – before you write, while your write, during the editing and proofreading stage, throughout marketing, etc…

Remember that once you publish your devotion, whether it is on your blog, as an ebook on Kindle or in PDF format, or as a physical book, your job isn’t done.

Be prayerful for your readers.  Pray that your readers will receive the comfort, love, and encourage that you intended when you wrote the devotion.  Be prayerful that your devotion will touch at least one life for the glory of God.

Being prayerful is something so simple that is it often the one step that is forgotten.  Next time you decide write a devotion, don’t forget!

July 11, 2012

Build, Pray, Love, Look

I’m currently reading one of a number of “never before published” books based on the writing of A. W. Tozer.  This one is titled The Dangers of a Shallow Faith: Awakening from Spiritual Lethargy, released this year by Regal (Gospel Light). In Chapter 3, he speaks about having a wrong concept about God himself.

If you do not have a right concept of God, of yourself and of sin, you will have a twisted and imperfect concept of Christ. It is my honest and charitable conviction that the Christ of the average religionist today is not the Christ of the Bible. It is a distorted image — a manufactured, painted on canvas, drawn from cheap theology Christ of the liberal, and the soft and timid person. This Christ has nothing of the iron and fury and anger, as well as the love and grace and mercy that He had, who walked in Galilee.

If I have a low concept of God, I will have a low concept of myself, and if I have a low conception of myself, I will have a dangerous concept of sin. If I have a dangerous concept of sin, I will have a degraded concept of Christ. Here is the way it works: God is reduced; man is degraded; sin is underestimated; and Christ is disparaged.

Does this mean we must be tolerant? Actually, men are tolerant only with the important things. What would happen to a tolerant scientist or a tolerant navigator? The liberal religionist simply admits he does not consider spiritual things as vital.

No wonder Jude said the terrible things he said in his epistle to the Church. I recommend you read the book of Jude

…We are not called to always show a smile. Sometimes we are called to frown and rebuke with all long-suffering and doctrine. We must contend for but not be contentious. We must preserve truth but injure no man. We must destroy error without harming people…

A Call to Remain Faithful

(NLT) Jude 1:17 But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ said. 18 They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. 19 These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.

20 But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, 21 and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.

22 And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. 23 Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.

…Now He’s come to His own — true believers in God and in Christ. And then He gives them four things to do:

  1. Build up — “building up yourselves on your most holy faith…” (v. 20) Do you have a Bible, and do you study it? Have you read a book of the Bible through recently? Have you done any memorization of Scripture? Have you sought to know God or are you looking to the secular media for your religion? Build up yourselves on your most holy faith.
  2. Pray — “praying in the Holy Ghost” (v. 20) I do not hesitate to say that most praying is not in the Holy Spirit. The reason is that we do not have the Holy Spirit in us. No man can pray in the Spirit except his heart is a habitation for the Spirit. It is only as the Holy Spirit has unlimited sway within you that you are able to pray in the Spirit. Five minutes of prayer in the Holy Spirit will be worth more than one year of hit-and-miss praying if it is not in the Holy Spirit.
  3. Love — “keep yourselves in the love of God…” (v. 21) Be true to the faith, but be charitable to those who are in error. Never feel contempt for anybody. No Christian has any right to feel contempt, for it is an emotion that can only come out of pride. Let us never allow contempt to rule us; let us be charitable and loving toward all while we keep ourselves in the love of God.
  4. Look — “looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (v. 21) Let us look for Jesus Christ’s coming — for the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ at His coming. Isn’t it wonderful that His mercy will show forth at His coming? His mercy will show itself then, as it did on the cross; as it does in receiving sinners; as it does in patiently looking after us. And it will show itself at the coming of Jesus Christ unto eternal life.

~A. W. Tozer, The Dangers of a Shallow Faith pp. 44-46

(scripture text added)

December 16, 2010

A Different Kind of Prayer

Prayer is something I really struggle with.

We pray together as a family each night, and I am in touch with God many times throughout the day, though I would hardly characterize it as “without ceasing.”   And I am more than willing to pray with people at my job on a moment’s notice; “praying on a dime,” I call it.

But I’ve been reading a lot lately about prayer and feel that this is one area of my Christian life that while it exists in measurable quantity, it is seriously lacking.

For example, I’ve never been big on prayer meetings.    I’ve been reading lately about the way God intends for us to bring our needs to him corporately; and in fact I’ve been challenged on this subject three different ways in the last 48 hours.   It’s been a long time since I’ve prayed with people outside the family in any significant way, or for any significant length of time.

In the middle of all this I’ve been thinking about something else…

God wants me to pour out my heart to him, but sometimes I feel like I can’t find the words.   Yet there are other places in my life where I am never at a loss for words — at my computer.

So I’ve been thinking about writing e-mails to God.   This is something anybody reading this right now can do, because you’re all online to read this which means 99% of you probably have e-mail.  And you probably write many — perhaps dozens — of e-mails and/or Facebook status updates and/or Tweets every single day.

So why not pour out your heart to God in an e-mail?

(You could address it to yourself if you feel the need to actually hit the “send” button, or save it as a draft when you’re done, or simply read it over a few times and then delete it.   Just don’t type “God” in the “To” field or your auto-complete might just send it to your good friend Godfrey Smith, or your sister’s daughter who you have tagged as “Godchild.”)

Writing an e-mail is the most natural form of communication known to many of us, and usually the words flow without hesitation.  It’s also a great way of organizing your thoughts.

And don’t think for a minute that God isn’t “hearing” that kind of prayer. Or that He can’t. Or that it counts less because you didn’t verbalize it audibly.

Willing to join me in a prayer experiment?