Christianity 201

March 13, 2017

Spiritual Drift

This article appears at BibleStudyTools.com. To read it there and read the comments simply click the title below. Chris Russell is an Ohio pastor whose biography states, “He believes that ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is one of his ‘spiritual gifts.'” You can also read it on his blog Sensible Faith.

5 Things That Cause Us to Drift Spiritually

Several years ago a friend of mine took his wife and kids to the ocean for a week of R&R. While they were there, they purchased a small, inflatable boat for recreational use on the beach. One day the wife jumped in the boat and launched out into the water to just lie back and soak in some sunshine. After what seemed like a short span of time, she opened her eyes and realized that she was several hundred yards away from the shore. In a panic, she screamed for help.

Only one person on the shore seemed to hear her call, and that was her husband. When he realized her predicament, he immediately attempted to swim out to rescue her. That did not turn out well, because he was soon in need of being rescued as well!

Fortunately the lifeguard was doing his job well that day, and he was successful in rescuing the husband and the wife. By the time he was able to get to the wife in the raft, they were nearly a half mile from the shore.

As I have thought about that experience over the years, it has often made me think about how Christians often drift away from the Lord spiritually. It really doesn’t take much time at all to drift so far from the shore spiritually that one can scarcely even see the land anymore.

As a pastor for the past couple decades, I have noted several key things that tend to cause Christians to drift away from God. Here are five of them:

1)  An Out-of-Control Schedule.

Ephesians 5:16
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

One of Satan’s greatest weapons against our generation seems to be his ability to make good people busier than ever before. We so often sacrifice the best things in life by spending time doing things that are just “pretty good.”

If you desire to walk closely with God, you will absolutely, necessarily have to begin by taking a close look at your calendar. It is likely that you are currently doing too much. And it is also likely that your overly hectic schedule is affecting your relationship with God. So take out your pruning shears and begin to cut out any activities you can that will allow you to focus more time on your relationship with your Creator.

2)  Misplaced Affections

1 John 2:15
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

Be careful not to set your heart on things that really don’t matter. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen good people lured away from church life because they have fallen in love with things or activities that have no eternal merit. For example, children’s sports can certainly be a thrilling activity for your kids to pursue. But if those sports begin to adversely affect the spiritual involvement and development of your family, then pull the plug immediately.

3)  Discouragement

1 Peter 1:6,7 1
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

During the past couple decades that I have served as a pastor, I have often watched Satan using his weapon of discouragement to drag people away from spiritual activities. I have seen it many more times than I can number.

When the trials of life cause a person to become discouraged, he often begins focusing on those problems and takes his eyes off of Christ. It reminds me of when Peter walked on the water. He did great until he took his eyes off of Jesus and began looking at the waves beneath him and the clouds above him.

It is important for you to know that when life’s clouds grow dark and your trials become fierce, that is the time to run TO Jesus and not FROM Him.

4)  Abundance

1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

We Americans are so fat with our own prosperity that we often make wealth our god and not the true King of heaven. This has also been a recurring theme throughout the entire Bible. People struggle, God blesses them, they become prosperous, and then they depart from God. Ironic, isn’t it?

The chances are great that you probably do not feel like you are prosperous. But the reality is that nearly all Americans are extremely blessed and have more abundance than the vast majority of the population of the planet. If you are an American, you are most likely already a “One-Percenter” (wealthier than 99% of the world’s population).

People of abundance often choose recreation over worship. Why go to church if you could be out golfing, boating, camping, or going to movies or sporting events?

Satan wants us to be prosperous, because our prosperity and abundance often lure us away from our Creator.

5)  Parasitic Sins

Hebrews 12:1
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Many people begin to drift away from God, because they have sins in their lives that cause them to feel guilt when they show up at church. And they feel reluctant to pray or read their Bible when they know they have these issues in their lives.

Recently, I stumbled upon the most revolting video I’ve ever seen (through my Facebook news feed). The video showed an eye surgeon removing a parasite from a human eye. I won’t go into detail. That brief description alone is enough to send chills down the spines of many. All I can say is that the video was even worse than what you’re thinking right now!

When I watched that video, it dawned on me that many people have sins in their lives that are damaging them just like parasites in one’s body. And those sins will almost certainly affect your spiritual vision.

The solution here is not to run/drift from God. The key is to confess your sin to God who will restore you and make you whole again (1 John 1:9)!

How have you done in your journey with God over the past year or the past few months? Have you drifted? Now is the time to return. Call out to God before you are so far from the shore than you lose all sense of spiritual direction.


1 In both versions of the original article Chris did not have a reference on his third point. We took the liberty of adding one. See A Diligent Heart or OpenBible.info for other related verses.

 

 

January 15, 2016

The Father’s Discipline

Today’s devotional writer, Art Toombs is new to us. Before we dig in, check out his archives of scriptures covered in past posts, you never know when you might need it. His website is Art Toombs Ministries – Online Bible Commentary. To read today’s sample at source, and then look around the site, click the title below.

The Lord Disciplines those He Loves

Hebrews 12:5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. (NIV)

The writer of Hebrews is addressing Hebrew Christians, encouraging them in their walk with God. Of course, these words are meant for all Christians, because we all face hardships in life. God does not want the hardships of life to pull us away from Him. So, in this passage he gives us some insights into the nature of hardships and how we should respond to them.

The writer begins by reminding us of “that word of encouragement” (v. 5a) in verses 5b-6, which are taken from Proverbs 3:11-12. The literal Greek translation for these verses is as follows: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor faint while being corrected; for whom the Lord loves He disciplines; and whips every son whom He receives.” To us, this probably does not sound like encouragement. No one chooses to be disciplined, or whipped for that matter.

But this is a picture of God’s correction for his children. Our Creator knows us best and knows the discipline that will achieve the desired result. He is not politically correct. God cares little for the rules of man, when they do not align with His word. Here He endorses whipping as a correction for children. God’s age of accountability is about twelve years old, so this would seem to be the age that such discipline is no longer warranted.

Also, we should not despise the one who disciplines us because he only disciplines us because he loves us. Contrary to the thinking of the PC crowd, we show our love for our children by disciplining our children, not by refraining from discipline. Physical discipline should be a part of that discipline, but only until the age of accountability.

The Lord disciplines adults, as our Father in Heaven. But discipline of adults usually comes in other forms. Physical discipline gives way to discipline of consequences. Adults face hardship, which is a consequence of sin. Our hardship may be a result of our own sin or it may be a result of living in a sinful world.  God allows hardships in our lives in order to discipline us. He disciplines us in order to refine us, to make us better. Through hardship he shapes us into being a child of God.

We should “endure” this hardship “as discipline” (v. 7a). We should understand that God is disciplining us. He is refining us. He is making us better, stronger. He is treating us “as sons” (v. 7b). He is allowing discipline because he loves us, as His son, or daughter.

God loves everyone, and wants no one to be lost, separated from Him. Therefore, “everyone undergoes discipline” (v. 8). The rain falls on everyone. God “sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteousness” (Mt. 5:45). Everyone suffers hardships in their life. It is God’s way of correcting us, and showing His love for us.

Hopefully, we learn from our hardships. Hopefully, we are wise enough to know that we must fall in line with God’s ways of doing things if we want things to turn out right. Hopefully, we will reach a point in our lives when God does not allow hardship.

But nothing is guaranteed. We do not know the amount of refining that God wants for each of us. He may have different things in store for some, and choose to allow more refining of them. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” (Isa 55:8).

Whatever the case, we should never resent God for His discipline. He allows it because He loves us. The alternative would be that He does not love us. None of us should want that. So we should rejoice in our hardships, knowing that God is working on us because he loves us. And no matter what, He is always there with us in the midst of our hardships. He has promised to never leave us, nor forsake us. And He always keeps His promises.

July 14, 2015

Prayer: Jesus Sets the Example

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repentance 2Today is our second of two days looking at prayer as part of a continuing Tuesday series at Scott McCown’s blog, The Morning Drive. Click the title below to read this article at source, or click this link to see all the various articles at Scott’s blog on this subject.

Jesus and Prayer

We continue our Tuesday study of prayer but looking to Jesus and His prayer life. John records, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-4, 14).  Jesus was NOT just a man! Jesus was NOT another prophet! Jesus was God in the flesh living on earth with man.

Jesus and prayerHe was “God with us”, the “Son of God”, Christ, yet He prayed to the Father – often – VERY often! Jesus did not talk about prayer partners, prayer warriors, and daily devotionals. Christ said nothing similar to “we should pray about it.”  He simply prayed. He did not promote prayer, he warned about vain repetitions. He called for persistence in prayer. At the very least we know He prayed for Peter by name (Luke 22:31-32).

The gospel accounts record over twenty (20) instances of Jesus praying:

Jesus prayed:

  • Mark 1:35 – He rose early to pray.
  • Luke 24:30-31 – He prayed before a meal.
  • Luke 9:28-30 – He prayed at His transfiguration.
  • Luke 22:43-44 – He prayed when He was weak.
  • John 11:41-43 – He prayed at the tomb of Lazarus.
  • Luke 6:12 – He spent the night in prayer.
  • Luke 9:18 – He prayed alone while in a crowd.

Jesus prayed because:

  • He was busy – Luke 5:15-16.
  • He had decisions to make –
    • Luke 3:21-22 – Before His immersion (baptism).
    • Luke 6:12-16 – Before choosing the 12.
    • Matthew 26:36-46 – Before facing the cross.
  • When He faced crisis – John 6:15.
  • When He faced death – Hebrews 5:7.

In John 17 we have a prayer of Jesus’ recorded for us. To me this is the Lord’s Prayer. in this prayer we hear Jesus:

  • Submitting to God – John 17:4, 6-8, 14.
  • Praying for His needs and desires – John 17:1-5.
  • Praying for the needs of the apostles – John 17:9-19.
  • Praying for the Church (you and me) – John 17:20-21.

If Jesus needed to pray, what does this mean for us?


Bonus article:  Here’s a link to one more from the series: Quality Prayer

March 4, 2012

Slow to Learn

Elsie Montgomery is a Canadian, blogging daily since 2006 at Practical Faith. She also teaches people how to write Bible study materials and devotionals. This post is from yesterday where it appeared under the title, Slow Learner.

When I was six years old, my mother signed me up for piano lessons. My sister went on with them and still plays the piano. My brothers learned some piano, then guitar and banjo. I struggled for about a year. My mind would not let my left and right hand do two separate things. Finally, my teacher, my mother, and I all gave up at the same time. Even though I regret my lack of perseverance, the piano was not for me.

The past few weeks while reviewing old spiritual journals, I’ve been appalled at my slowness to learn obedience to God. Every old lesson has been repeated and repeated. Things that I have relearned this year were first learned decades ago. Why didn’t they stick? Why did it take so long to get God’s truth into my head and into my life? As I’ve pondered this question, God amazes me with today’s devotional reading. (Yet I’m sure He has told me this more than once also.)

It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea. (Deuteronomy 1:2)

One simple verse describes how far it was from where Moses and the people of Israel left Egypt and began their journey to the promised land. As the devotional reading says, it was only eleven days away, yet it took them forty years to get there!

Why did this journey take more than 1300 times as long as it should have? Because this is the way of humanity and the depth of human sin. Even when we give ourselves to God and to a life of faith, sin in us resists every step of the journey and instead of moving on, we fumble and stumble, even go backwards.

In the same way, just as it took them far longer than it needed to go that short distance to freedom, so has it taken me far longer than it needed to move from salvation to a set-apart and sanctified life. My sin also has resisted God every step of my journey. I’ve fallen and gone backwards so many times.

The reading says, “How slowly we get over the ground! What windings and turnings! How often we have to go back and travel over the same ground, again and again. We are slow travelers because we are slow learners.”

I think about the way my mind works. I live in the “now” and am easily distracted. That means I do not dwell on the stuff of the past, good or bad, or think much about the future. Worse yet, when I think about anything, my mind doesn’t stay there very long. For example, reaching for my calculator to figure out that 1300 number took me into a shelf that contained a document that grabbed my curiosity. Instead of the calculator, I picked up the document and looked at it for a few minutes. Easily distracted.

Very little meditation and being easily distracted means that lessons barely scratch the surface before I’m off to something else. As today’s reading says, “God is faithful and wise, as well as a gracious and patient teacher. He will not permit us to pass cursorily over our lessons.”

Just when I might think I have mastered a lesson because I “got” it, my wise Teacher knows better. He sees the need of deeper plowing. He does not want me to be a mere theorist with a smattering of this or that in my head. Instead, unlike the music teacher, He will not give up. He keeps me year after year playing scales because He wants me finally making music.


God, as I read the Old Testament account of Your people wandering in the wilderness, I see myself engaged in the same complaining and rebellion. I also see how You wanted to put an end to their resistance before You allowed them to get to the real work of receiving the promised land and conquering their enemies.

You are doing the same with me. On one hand, I’d like to forget the past and press on, but on the other, it would be prudent to at least remember the lessons. Layer by layer, You keep teaching me. Has anything finally permeated deeper than the surface, deeper than merely “knowing” what kind of person You want me to be and how I should live? Sometimes I don’t think so. I could sit here and rue all my mistakes, weeping and regretful. Or I could remember the lessons, even the repetition of each one, and simply be obedient, allowing You to finish all that You started and keep moving toward a fuller victory.

~Elsie Montgomery

April 2, 2011

The Discipline of Walking With The Spirit

Paul Steele is a pastor in Storm Lake, Iowa.  This appeared just over a week ago on his blog, Paul’s Ponderings, just before he began a one month internet fast.  It appeared there without the addition of the scary word “discipline” under the more simple title, Walking With The Spirit.

A man cannot live one hour a godly life unless by the power of the Holy Ghost. He may live a proper, consistent life, as people call it, an irreproachable life, a life of virtue and diligent service; but to live a life acceptable to God, in the enjoyment of God’s salvation and God’s love, to live and walk in the power of the new life—he cannot do it unless he be guided by the Holy Spirit every day and every hour. ~ Andrew Murray, Humility and Absolute Surrender, p. 128

Trying to follow Jesus is hard work, especially when it is attempted solely by our own strength and will power. It is, in fact, impossible.

I know from experience that I don’t have what it takes to follow Jesus. The truth is that given the first sign of difficulty I crumble. It is what I do with trying to write a book, to run every morning, to eat healthier, and a numerous other things that I think are important. The cold reality is that in the battle of desires my flesh takes the easier road rather than sticking things out to the end.

This is one reason why we cannot boast in our salvation: because I do not have what it takes to save ourselves. We are weak and ignorant creatures, and the experience of life shows us that we will do things that we enjoy doing, even when we now that they are not good for us. There is not one of us that doesn’t know that McDonald’s isn’t a healthy place to eat, yet millions of us eat there every day. [Confession time: I am craving a Double Quarter Pounder and french fries right now] The problem isn’t about knowing what is right and wrong, the problem is disciplining our flesh to do the right thing.

Since we lack the will power and stamina to correctly discipline our flesh, we need to the help of another if we are going to experience the new life we have been given through Jesus’ death and resurrection. That help comes from the Holy Spirit working in our lives. Consider what the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:16-17; ESV)

The Spirit will enable us to live in such away that we will not feel compelled to give into every desire and whim our flesh has. By walking with the Spirit we turn our backs on the desires of the flesh, and we are able to live the way God desires us to live.

How do we do this? It is at this point that I wish Paul would have given us a little more instruction in his letter. It appears there is an assumption that the Galatians already knew what Paul was talking about. So let me offer a couple of my own thoughts.

First, I think it is safe to assume to walk by the Spirit is not about keeping a Law. In both Romans and Galatians Paul equates trying to keep the Law as a work of the flesh. The Law shows us what it means to live as God’s holy people in this world, but it requires our own strength and will power to keep, and thus it is said to be a work of the flesh.

My second thought is that to walk with the Spirit begins with repentance. We need to lay aside trying to become holy by our own effort and turn to God so He can make us holy. This requires that we confess our weakness, denounce our sin, and pledge our loyalty to God. It is this attitude of humility and of being poor in spirit that allows us to be open to the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

It is time to stop tiring so hard to be come holy by own efforts and it is time to start trusting the work of the Spirit in our lives. For it is the Spirit’s work, and not our efforts, which produces the changed life God desires for His people; But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22, 23; ESV). It is the Spirit’s fruit, the result of His work, that produces the type of life that God wants us to live.

~ Paul Steele

November 20, 2010

A Serious Moment with Jon Acuff

Even though he doesn’t print my comments anymore, I continue to be impressed by the serious, devotional side to the otherwise humorous blogger, Jon Acuff of Stuff Christians Like.    Today’s post was a good example…

Last week, I asked my dad, a pastor in North Carolina, about something I read in Proverbs 1. Here are what two verses I read said:

8 Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

9 They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.

After reading that, I thought I’d ask my dad what he would consider his “instruction.” I was curious what he and my mother would say. Here’s an excerpt of his response, which I think probably applies to a lot of us:

Jon, that’s a great question. My primary prayer is for you private, interior life to keep growing so that it can support your growing public life. The other half of my prayer is great thankfulness for you and the opportunities that God is giving you.

So, my immediate thoughts:

Read Scripture deeply (not for material but for life, like what you are doing with Proverbs, guarding and sustaining the good habits that you have had.)

Pray deeply – e.g. Prov 3:1-6. Turn what you are learning into prayers.

Read devotional authors deeply – find out from people you respect who they read (that would be a great list to develop down the road)

Share deeply with someone – a friend or counselor

Without missing the fun, sustain a healthy paranoia about your heart and your temptations. I think it is possible to have a healthy paranoia without living fearfully or cautiously. A healthy paranoia not only keeps us alert and honest, but hungry to keep learning. Success dulls our eagerness to learn.

Thanks Jon… and Jon’s dad! The last paragraph contains much “instruction,” including that reverence for God is the beginning of wisdom.

June 6, 2010

That Girl’s Father is Broken Hearted

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There are, perhaps, a few extraordinary men who can watch action-packed, suspenseful, sexually explicit films and come away more godly. But there are not many. And I am certainly not one of them.I have a high tolerance for violence, high tolerance for bad language, and zero tolerance for nudity. There is a reason for these differences. The violence is make-believe. They don’t really mean those bad words. But that lady is really naked, and I am really watching. And somewhere she has a brokenhearted father.

~John Piper

from Desiring God via Jim Upchurch.

June 4, 2010

Unfaithfulness

I don’t want to get legalistic about posting here, but I missed yesterday, which is odd because I spent the day at home, the car never left the driveway.   I’ve only missed one other day since starting this; it’s easy to get distracted.   Unnecessary distractions.   I’m trying to remain faithful to this because I see faithfulness as a virtue worth cultivating on an ongoing basis.

When I think of the opposite — unfaithfulness — I often think of Jesus and his disciples in the garden of Gethsemane.

Mark 14: 37Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? 38Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

39Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

41Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come.

Maybe it was the wine.   The passover meal included four instances of “taking the cup;” although the gospel accounts record, at best, only two of these.   Four glasses of wine would do it.   But the same translation, NIV, has the equivalent of verse 40 saying, “he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.” (Luke 22: 45) (Sorrow, or grief over his clear delineation of his death, or at least, his impending ‘leaving them.’)

Anyway, for me, at 11:50 last night when I realized I’d missed a day, it was the same type of voice saying, “Could you not write a few lines; embed another worship song; find a quotation?”   I guess your definition of faithfulness may vary.   Here’s The Message on the Luke verses:

37-38He came back and found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, you went to sleep on me? Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert, be in prayer, so you don’t enter the danger zone without even knowing it. Don’t be naive. Part of you is eager, ready for anything in God; but another part is as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”

39-40He then went back and prayed the same prayer. Returning, he again found them sound asleep. They simply couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t have a plausible excuse.

I guess sometimes when distractions keep us from sticking to a spiritual discipline, we really don’t have a plausible excuse.

Here’s a final verse from Matthew 25 (NIV):

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

May 19, 2010

Capturing Every Thought

This is the third of a series of three posts on the subject of our thought life.   It’s time to take prisoners.   This is something I’ve been working hard to put into practice — even more diligently in the last 48 hours or so — but it takes a great deal of discipline.

First we’ll start with 2 Cor 10:5 in the King James version of the Bible:

Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ

The NLT paints a different picture:

With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God. With these weapons we conquer their rebellious ideas, and we teach them to obey Christ.

The KJV (and the NASB) envisions thoughts being rounded up and taken captive — possibly appropriate language to the time of writing — while the NLT (and the NIV) talks about teaching “them” to obey Christ.   Who or what is “them?”   It could be “people kept from knowing God,” but it seems to be “their rebellious ideas;” it’s their ideas that are being “taught,” this is reinforced by the NLT of verse four (the preceding verse) which talks about “the Devil’s strongholds.”

The Message Bible breaks out into similar, but different language:

We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.

The danger here is losing ourselves in the word pictures and missing the bigger point:  It is incumbent on us to guard our thoughts, our hearts, our minds.   We have to do this by being gatekeepers of what we will allow to come in; and as gatekeepers we have to never be asleep at our post.