Christianity 201

September 2, 2013

Cultivating The Inner Life

Where we live, Labor Day weekend marks the kickoff of the school year, and therefore, the official beginning of a new season in educational, personal, business, and church life. This blog post seemed most appropriate. Jim Williams has not been writing consistently, so this appeared back in February at his blog The Journey, under the title Better Every Day. I think it’s equally important for this time of year.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor 4:16-18 (NIV)

‘Outwardly we are wasting away.’

One look in the mirror exemplifies this truth. Physical beauty fades and youthful vitality wanes.

‘Inwardly we are being renewed every day.

Inwardly we are getting better every day. Renewal of spirit and inward refreshing are experienced by those who embrace Christ-like living.

The choice is ours …

a) We can live focused on the ‘outward life’ but the Bible warns us that this only leads to despair and destruction.

b) We can live focused on the ‘inner life’. The scriptures tell us that when we do this we can live a better life every day. This is in spite of any natural decay of our outward life. The inner life can get better, fresher, newer every day.

It starts with spiritual renewal and rebirth.

John 3 recounts the incident when a religious leader named Nicodemus visited secretly with Jesus in the middle of the night. Jesus told him that to experience the kingdom of God one must be ‘born again’. He wasn’t speaking of a physical rebirth but of a spiritual rebirth. You and I can experience this new birth by acknowledging our need as sinners, and making Jesus our personal Lord and Saviour.

Sometimes when we feel life is not improving, or things aren’t getting better we get discouraged. This portion of scripture encourages us that when we are tempted to lose heart remember these three things:

1) The inner life is more important than the outer life.

2) Things that are of eternal consequence outweigh things that are temporary.

3) Natural circumstance is temporary but spiritual reality is eternal.

There are many voices that are vying for our attention. The natural, outer life continually tugs us away from the better life in Christ.

It is constant and will not cease until we step into eternity with Jesus. It is something we must deal with daily.

How does one keep themselves focussed on the more important inner life?

The best way I know is to practice ‘Everyday Faith’. The fellowship of which I am part, The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, is encouraging its members to do just this by combining the following four habits. (http://www.everydayfaith.ca) Below is a brief summary:

a) Read every day.

– Hebrews 4:12 “ For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double- edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

– The truth is that when we engage scripture, we engage God. Engaging God renews us internally.

b) Pray every day.

– Phil 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

– Prayer is conversation with God. Conversation with God energizes our spiritual life.

c) Give every day.

– Acts 20:35 Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

– Practicing generosity with our finances, time and resources help us to focus on eternal values.

d) Share every day.

– There is something about sharing our faith that brings joy to the one who is sharing.

We are unable to stop the ‘wasting away’ of our outer life. It is happening and it will continue.

We do have the opportunity to embrace the renewal and refreshing of our inner life. We can experience the joy of getting better every day when we embrace life in Christ.

Q: What does it mean to you to have an inner life that gets better every day?

May 17, 2013

Comfort From the Word

I tend to read the scriptures for instruction and teaching. I’m looking for passages that engage my intellect and illustrate the inter-connectedness and symmetry of scripture; not to mention scriptures I can share with personal contacts and blog readers.

I wrote about that in a blog post that has actually run twice here, sharing a popular verse of scripture, II Tim 3:16,  in three translations and then ending with my paraphrase:

All scripture has its point of origin in God’s mind, and

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

But while this list includes four benefits of studying the word, it is not inclusive. The point is that whatever we think of when we think of the Bible, it is always so much more.

In Ps. 23:4 we read:

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

What is the ‘rod and staff’ spoken of here?  Most translations, including The Message preserve this imagery:

Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.  (The Message)

Matthew Henry affirms that this imagery is pertinent to the phrase that precedes it; that the protection of the Lord described here is that needed in the face of death:

It is a comfort to the saints, when they come to die, that God takes cognizance of them (he knows those that are his), that he will rebuke the enemy, that he will guide them with his rod and sustain them with his staff. The gospel is called the rod of Christ’s strength (Ps. 110:2), and there is enough in that to comfort the saints when they come to die, and underneath them are the everlasting arms.

Ultimately, our comfort is God Himself. The Voice version, which tends to add things to the text, simplifies it in this verse:

Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness,
I am not overcome by fear.
Because You are with me in those dark moments,
near with Your protection and guidance,
I am comforted.  (The Voice)

This echoes Psalm 46:1

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (KJV)

a verse which in many ways parallels the first verse of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my Shepherd…

This itself echoes Psalm 121:2

My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.  (NIV)

This comfort should sustain us at all times; not just as we reach the end of life; though it is often at the end of life that people turn to God.

Now going back to where I started, many times in my day, both here and in my personal Bible study time, I find myself engaging scripture more as an intellectual pursuit than to seek comfort, solace and strength from its pages. My faith is way up in my head somewhere and isn’t penetrating my heart.

Or there is also the “This is really deep stuff; who can I share this with?” mentality that sees the truths about God more as a type of theological email forward to be sent on to ten people who must promise to send it ten others.  “This is so good, I must send it to Bob.”

The result of this is what I am experiencing as I write this: In times of anxiety, stress or fear, I sometimes feel I have woefully inadequate resources at my immediate internal disposal because I have not “banked” the truths of God’s comfort and life-giving strength. I find myself totally broken because I have studied God’s Word enough to know the comfort of God is there to be taken, but living in the middle of a disconnect, not being able to draw on it as I should.

I don’t need God’s rod or staff to drive away 3rd party oppressors as much as I need to be hit over the head with it as a reminder, “Hey…I am right here; I am the strength you need.”

Do some of you resonate with this? Is it possible you’re attracted here to the “201” nature of this page — perhaps even looking for Christianity 301 or Christianity 401 — but are missing the “Christianity pre-Kindergarten” principle that Jesus loves us?

Yes, we need to search the scriptures and study to know the core doctrines and history that we learn from its pages. But we also need to know how to find comfort from the Word; because in those times, all our Bible knowledge and ability to explain theology will not hold us up. We need to know the reality of  “still waters” spoken of elsewhere in the 23rd Psalm.  

I know I do.

January 18, 2013

Avoiding a Spiritual Heart Attack

Today’s post is from Kelsey Wilson, a contributor to Jeff Jones’ blog, where this appeared in December. As always, you’re encouraged to read this at source, and check out the rest of the blog.

“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it springs the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23 NKJV


What happens to you when you hear that a close friend has had a heart attack? More than likely, you are concerned and hope that your friend has been spared of any major heart damage. Because, we all know the physical struggles that a person must go through when their heart’s been damaged.

The best way for us to avoid a heart attack, and subsequent heart damage, is by doing our best to keep our hearts healthy through a healthy lifestyle and healthy choices. Today’s text is not speaking of our natural hearts– but of our spiritual hearts. It speaks of the importance of being intentional to “keep,” or really “guard,” our spiritual hearts the same way that we do our natural ones.

Why is that so important? Well, it tells us right here in the text– “…for out of it (our hearts) springs the issues of life.” The New Living Translation says it this way, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”

I want to share with your three ways to keep your spiritual heart healthy:

(1) Eat Right

Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, “…Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (NKJV) In the same way that we can’t eat junk food all the time and expect to stay healthy, we need to always be feeding on the pure and healthy Word of God.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t read other things, but just think of those other things as snacks, or a dessert, but our main course should always be the Bible.

“Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.”  Jeremiah 15:16, NKJV

A daily diet of God’s word brings us spiritual strength and helps us to maintain a spiritually healthy heart.

(2) Be Forgiving

Nothing brings on a heart attack and ultimately heart damage faster than unforgiveness. People can mess with us, so we really need to diligently guard our hearts from unforgiveness. While we can’t stop people from saying things or doing things that hurt us, we can protect our hearts from it.

Jesus said in Matthew 11:25,  “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive them, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” (NKJV)

So make it a point to be forgiving– forgive quickly, and forgive often. If someone hurts you or offends you, loose them and let them go. Your heart will be thankful that you did.

(3) Exercise Through Worship

We all know the importance of exercise. Some of us are great at it, others— and you know who you are– are not so great at it. But again, just like we need physical exercise, we need to spiritually exercise on a regular basis. One of the best ways to engage our hearts with the Lord is through times of daily worship.

“So I will sing praise to Your name forever, That I may daily perform my vows.” Psalm 61:8, NKJV

This is just another reminder that every day is a good day to worship God through song. It’s a great way to keep your heart healthy.

Jesus said in Matthew 22:37, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” (NKJV)

So let’s make today a heart healthy day, by reading God’s Word, being quick to forgive, and experiencing a bit of worship throughout the day.

Say It: “God I thank You for a strong and healthy heart. Today I will do what it takes to keep my heart in good shape, I will read Your Word, I will be quick forgive when others wrong me, and I will worship You with my whole heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen!”

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