Christianity 201

September 30, 2017

7 Habits of Highly Successful Christians

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Today we’re returning to the blog Disciple All Nations. The author is teacher, administrator, pastor, missionary, researcher, college professor and writer Russ Mitchell. Click the title below to read this at source.

Seven Habits of People who Accomplish Great Things for God

Who does not want to be successful? My tenth grade Bible class is beginning to study the Old Testament book of Joshua. In the first nine verses, we were surprised to discover seven habits that lead to prosperity and success. Considering that these may interest a broader audience, I will outline seven habits, which enable anyone who practices them to be successful. But first, an important perspective on what constitutes success.

A Biblical Perspective on Success

A biblical perspective on success differs significantly from the popular understanding of success, which seems to be associated with fame, fortune and a large social media following. In contrast, let us consider Jesus, the New Testament Joshua. In John 17:4 Jesus prays to his Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” Having this in mind, Jesus may have defined success as accomplishing the work that God has given a person to do. This perspective certainly contrasted with how people in Jesus’ day viewed success. In eyes of his generation, Jesus had no fortune; he was infamous – a liar or worse, and most of his followers abandoned him. They would have given Jesus a big “F” for failure. But this is not what God thought. God exalted him and gave him a name above every other name (Philippians 2:9). Why? Because Jesus accomplished the work God gave him to do.  This understanding of success, defined as accomplishing the work God has given a person to do, frames the practice of the seven habits of people who accomplish great things for God.

With this biblical understanding of success in mind, let’s return to Joshua 1:1-9 and look at the first habit of people who accomplish great things for God.

1. Hear what God says. The Book of Joshua begins,

“After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant…”

and the next eight verses continue God’s message to Joshua. So we will start our seven habits of people who accomplish great things for God with the observation that anyone who accomplishes great things for God must first hear what God says.

2. Go where God sends you. Verses 2-5 record God’s first instruction to Joshua.

“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.  Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life.” (ESV)

God’s command to Joshua was “arise, go….”  Reading on we see that God was sending Joshua and the people into the Promised Land, which God was giving to them.  God promised Abraham that he would give this land to his descendants (Genesis 12:7). The time had now come. God was at work fulfilling his promise. We too can accomplish great things for God when we go where God is at work and join Him in what he is doing.

3. Be strong and courageous. Three times in this passage God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous. However this command was preceded by a great promise (v. 5)

“Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.“ God’s presence was secret of Joshua’s success and it continues to be the secret of the Church’s success (Matthew 28:18-19).

Today we might say that God had Joshua’s back. And he continues to be with those who follow his call to make disciples of all nations. We might think of courage as “holy boldness”, inspired by God’s presence and commission. Courage is the choice to act boldly in the face of great risk. Without a doubt, courage is needed to accomplish great things for God.

4. Be careful to obey all God’s Word. Habit Number. 4 is at the heart of our list and is probably the most essential of them all:

“Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you” (v.7a NIV).

This same phrase is repeated in verse 8, and I also hear an echo of this verse in the Great Commission. “Make disciples of all nations….teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). People who accomplish great things for God must be careful to obey all of God’s word.

5. Do not turn to the right or left.

“Do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go” (v. 7b NIV). 

Joshua was to have a singular focus on his mission. Tuning to the right or the left would simply involve pursuing other things outside his calling. Jesus shares a similar comment in the parable of the sower. He notes that some “hear the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:18b,19 NASB). Reflecting on both examples, we learn that maintaining a singular focus leads to success.

6. Memorize God’s word.

Verse 8 “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips.”

The only way to keep God’s word on your lips is to first memorize it. This sets the stage for the final habit, which is…

7. Meditate on God’s word. Joshua 1:8 is considered the golden verse of the entire book and highlights the final key to success: Meditating on God’s word.

“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (v. 8 NIV)

People who accomplish great things for God memorize and meditate on God’s Word.  This is not an end in itself as the intended outcome is to “be careful to do everything written in it.” This leads to success.

Success follows practicing these seven habits

William Carey, the Father of the Modern Missions Movement (1761-1834), exhorted his generation to “Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God!” Joshua was certainly a person who not only attempted great things for God but accomplished great things for God. The remainder of the book of Joshua tells how he led the people into the Promised Land and possessed it, fulfilling a promise God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob centuries prior. Throughout his life Joshua practiced the seven habits outlined here, and the people of Israel served the Lord too (cf. Joshua 24:31).  It seems reasonable that those who faithfully practice all seven habits outlined here will accomplish great things for God too. What about you?

Questions for Further Reflection:

  1. How do you view success?
  2. What surprises you about these seven habits?
  3. What challenges you about these habits?
  4. What will you do to practice all seven of these habits?

 

September 12, 2017

Appointments with God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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NET 1 Timothy 4:8 For “physical exercise has some value, but godliness is valuable in every way. It holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.” 9 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance. 10 In fact this is why we work hard and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of believers. ©NET

If my schedule permits, I do prefer writing these devotional studies myself rather than importing than from the various sources we use in the course of a year. I find doing so forces me to spend time in scripture, immersed in a particular theme.

If you’re at a small group meeting and you contribute something verbally, it’s much easier to just say it than to have to commit to print. Knowing the words will be here for successive hours, days, months and years means fine tuning what it is you really intend to express.

But regular readers here will notice a disconnect between the words “forces me” and what we talked about in the last Sunday Worship column, which involves doing things wholeheartedly out of joy and delight. If you missed, you can read that article here. Just because I love to do something doesn’t mean I do not face the busyness and distractions common to us all.

However doing something joyfully can also mean that, while I see the benefit which occurs in my life by spending time in God’s word (versus the days I don’t get to do this) it doesn’t mean I have organized my life to the point where this flows naturally into my daily schedule. For you that might mean blocking out the time in your daily schedule; for me that means facing a 5:31 PM deadline each day knowing that subscribers are expecting something in their in-box.

And so it is we speak of spiritual disciplines. This term really grates on some people because of childhood memories of what constitutes discipline, namely punishment. (Often this intersects with the category of people who have problems with seeing God as Father, again because of painful memories.) I much prefer the term spiritual practices.

Another verse which evokes negative images for people is 2 Timothy 2:15, at least in the way many of us learned it as children: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (KJV) Besides “shew” and “needeth,” the issue is actually the choice of the word “study” which is not used by other translations that are not derivatives of the KJV. “Study” tends to remind us of cramming for an exam. It’s not a positive image for many people, especially people who didn’t do well in school! Again, since we’re using the NET Bible today, better to go with, “Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.” It’s talking about diligence; applying ourselves to present our best to God.

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The term “spiritual discipline” is a frequently used tag on this site, but though it’s often covered here, I wanted to end with this list, posted in 2012 at the website Soul Shepherding for those less familiar with the concept. The author is .

Disciplines of Abstinence (Self-Denial)

These are ways of denying ourselves something we want or need in order to make space to focus on and connect with God.

Solitude: Refraining from interacting with other people in order to be alone with God and be found by him. (Solitude is completed by silence.)

Silence: Not speaking in a quiet place in order to quiet our minds and whole self and attend to God’s presence. Also, not speaking so that we can listen to others and bless them.

Fasting: Going without food (or something else like media) for a period of intensive prayer — the fast may be complete or partial.

Sabbath: Doing no work to rest in God’s person and provision; praying and playing with God and others. (God designed this for one day a week. We can practice it for shorter periods too.)

Secrecy: Not making our good deeds or qualities known to let God or others receive attention and to find our sufficiency in God alone (e.g., see Matthew 6).

Submission: Not asserting ourselves in order to come under the authority, wisdom, and power of Jesus Christ as our Lord, King, and Master. (If you think of this as submitting to a person as unto Christ then it’s a discipline of engagement.)

Disciplines of Engagement (Christ in Community)

These are ways of connecting with God and other people, conversing honestly with them in order to love and be loved.

Bible Reading: Trusting the Holy Spirit-inspired words of Scripture as our guide, wisdom, and strength for life. (Related disciplines include Bible study, Scripture meditation, and praying God’s Word.)

Worship: Praising God’s greatness, goodness, and beauty in words, music, ritual, or silence. (We can worship God privately or in community.)

Prayer: Conversing with God about what we’re experiencing and doing together. (As we see in the Lord’s Prayer the main thing we do in prayer is to make requests or intercessions to our Father for one another.)

Soul Friendship: Engaging fellow disciples of Jesus in prayerful conversation or other spiritual practices. (Related spiritual disciplines or practices include small groups, spiritual direction, and mentoring relationships.)

Personal Reflection: Paying attention to our inner self in order to grow in love for God, others, and self. (The Psalms in the Bible model this.)

Service: Humbly serving God by overflowing with his love and compassion to others, especially those in need. (Also tithing and giving.)

 

 

September 1, 2017

Working Out My Salvation

Philippians 2:12

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;  (NASB)

Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. (NLT)

We’re back with our annual visit to the blog Christians in Context by J. Mark Fox. Click the title below to read it on his blog, and then navigate from there to some other great articles. (We read several preparing this!)

Work out, not for, your own salvation

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. This command in Paul’s letter to the Philippians has caused many to stumble, to make an argument for works-righteousness, and even to believe that what Jesus did was not enough. That he needs my help to save me. We know that’s nonsense, and the plain meaning of this text makes perfect sense. Paul says work out your salvation. He doesn’t say work in your salvation. Or work up your salvation. Or work for your salvation! No, we are to work it out. In other words, what God has secured in you through His grace given on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice, work it out in every way and on every day. It’s what we do in our marriages, right? Were you done when you said, “I do”? No, you were just getting started. And for the rest of your life, you are working out your marriage in fear. And sometimes with trembling!

If you are working out your salvation as a father, it means you are learning to bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. You cannot learn that without starting to do it badly. But you have to start. When my children were very young, they each had trouble learning to ride a bike. They fell. They scraped their knees. They cried. But they kept getting back on the bike until it became second nature to them. Get back on the bike, Dad, and lead your family in the things that are most important. If you are working out your salvation as a student, it means you study. You work hard. If you are working out your salvation as a brother or sister in Christ in your church family, it means that when you are offended, you don’t hold onto that. You let it go quickly, and if you can’t let it go, you go to the one who offended you and you work it out. And yes, it will require work, sacrifice, and discipline. Tim Challies had a good word on this recently:

“I want to have 10 percent body fat. I set that goal a while ago and even managed to get really close to reaching it. But eventually I found out that I want to have 10 percent body fat just a bit less than I want to have 13 percent. There’s a key difference between the two: While 13 percent requires moderate effort to gain and retain, 10 percent requires strict discipline. I soon learned I just didn’t want the goal enough to put in the effort to achieve it. I didn’t meet my desire with discipline.” Then he adds, “I often consider the people I’ve known who set an example of unusual godliness. I think of well-known Christian men who lived godly lives in the public eye and who carried out unblemished ministries. I think of unknown and unnoticed women who lived equally godly lives far outside the public eye. What did they have in common? What was the key to their holiness? I believe it was their discipline. They disciplined themselves for the highest godliness. They were spiritual athletes who ensured their highest desires supplanted their baser desires. They achieved godliness because they aimed at godliness.”

We all have work to do if we are to aim at God’s best for us. Thankfully, we are never alone. Paul adds, “for it is God who works in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” That is the gift that keeps on giving.

January 22, 2017

Who Do You Follow?

It was exactly a year ago that I first introduced readers here to Russell Young’s writing. When I first met him, he was already very prolific and I felt that offering him an already-existing outlet for his thoughts would be good for him and a good fit for us. I am so appreciative of his contribution and the quality and consistency of his writing.  ~PW


by Russell Young

The issue of following is just as relevant in the church today as it was in Paul’s day. All confessing Christians would affirm that they follow Christ but it isn’t that simple.  Many take their instruction from others–pastors, teachers, or well-known authors. In fact, research shows that most do.

Paul ran into the dilemma concerning believers selecting teachers when addressing the Corinthian church and castigated them for their attitudes.  He wrote, “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men?” (1 Cor 3:4 NIV) On looking back at that church, it is easy to be critical of their thinking, but the very same practice is rampant today.  Many in Bible teaching can readily state the names of their favorite authors or speakers and take their instruction from them. The doctrinal positions within a church often reflect by proxy, the position of a favorite teacher. Paul found a problem with this and so should we.

It was not Paul or Apollos who was to be the source of truth. Paul confessed to his readers that he had “planted the seed,” while Apollos watered and that each had been given his own task by God. The problem that exists, of course, is the discernment of the task given each person by God and how dedicated are they to it. Perhaps, the issue of discernment is the greatest challenge facing today’s church.  There are a myriad of churches teaching a myriad of understandings; however, there is only one truth. The isolation of that truth is eternally important to each of us and Satan has been trying to confuse it from the beginning.

To whom do you attribute the possession of truth?  It is easier to accept the understanding of another than it is to ferret it out for ourselves.  It has become common to avoid the challenges of study, meditation, and prayer and to assume the teachings and beliefs of another.  Christianity Today published a study concluding “that while 90 percent ‘desire to please and honor Jesus in all I do, ’only 19 percent personally read the Bible every day.’” Another poll stated that 57% of people who claimed the Christian faith only read their Bibles 4 times a year or less. (Caleb Bell in Religious News Service, April 4, 2013)

If the Word is not being personally read and studied, those who claim the name of Christ, must be accepting as their truths the teachings of another.  This practice can be dangerous. A number of years ago, a pastor told me, “We teach what we have been taught.” Is it no wonder that the church is weakening? “Believers” are not putting sufficient investment into establishing their own faith system.

Pastors, teachers, and parishioners must be more discerning and more ready to challenge teachings that are in dissonance with their own reading of the Scriptures.  Those who are being taught should not be intimidated by their instructors, regardless of their credentials. Believers in the twenty-first century are working with scriptures that have been translated many times and which have been placed in imperfect minds. The Lord still informs people, they need not rest the truths of faith in another.

1 Kings 13 relates the story of “a man of God” who had been sent to prophesy to evil king Jeroboam concerning his impending fate.  The man of God had been told by God not to eat or drink in that place and to leave on a different route than taken upon arrival. Having given his message to the king the man of God left. Another man who claimed to be a prophet persuaded the man of God, since they were both prophets, to dine with him and although this was a lie he claimed that God had sent him.  The man of God returned to the prophet’s house and enjoyed a good meal, whereupon the prophet relayed the death sentence that rested on the man of God for his disobedience.

When God speaks, his words are to be obeyed.  He is the authority that is to be accepted.  The man of God felt that he had been released from his command because the other was a prophet.  God is God and he will not excuse our disobedience because of spiritual confusion even though manifested through someone esteemed and whose opinion might be highly valued. We are to be led by the Word and by the Spirit. Christ said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and I will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (Jn 14:26 NIV)

In the last days, many will be deceived. Consider this warning by Paul: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7-8 NIV) How well does this passage conform to your understanding? What questions does it raise that need answering?

There are many erroneous teachings in the Christian community as the presence of many denominations testifies. Christ said that he would teach you and remind you of his truths. This does not mean that pastors and teachers intentionally mislead; it means that we are to study and to let God teach us truth and righteous practices. If reliance is placed upon another, true discernment concerning the truth of his or her teaching should take place.  Your eternal hope may very well rest in your diligence of study, meditation, and prayer. To default to another may reap destruction to your soul.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young is a weekly contributor to Christianity 201 and the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

 

May 5, 2016

The Time for Boasting

This wasn’t planned, or I would have run them back-to-back, but today’s devotional pairs well with the one from May 2nd, Lest Anyone Should Boast. The writer is Mark McIntyre at the blog Attempts at Honesty who has appeared here previously. To read this at source, click the title below.

A reason for boasting

For the most part, I really don’t enjoy listening to postgame, on-field interviews of athletes. If the interviewee is on the winning side, too often the interview amounts to boasting about how he is faster, stronger or smarter than his opponent. We live in a day where self-promotion is encouraged and expected. This is an aspect of our society with which I am not comfortable. Perhaps this is why these two verses in Jeremiah jumped out at me when I read them this morning:

“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”” (Jeremiah 9:23–24, ESV)

For believers, if we are to boast at all, let it be boasting about the God we serve. Let us boast about that God makes himself understandable to us. Let us boast that God allows us to know him and be in relationship with him.

We have a reason for boasting, but that reason is not us. Let us boast about God’s character.

If we understand God’s character and boast about it, some of that character is bound to rub off on us. Please look at the list that is given in the verses above.

  • Steadfast love
  • Justice
  • Righteousness

If ware know God and are in relationship with him, it seems to me that these traits should be increasingly operational in our lives both individually and collectively. If we are seeking hard after God, it should be these traits that define the church.

Ask yourself these questions,

  • Are visitors to my church enveloped by a sense of God’s steadfast love (lovingkindness in the NASB)?
  • Is my congregations known for pursuing justice in the local community and around the world?
  • Do I convey an accurate portrayal of true righteousness, that which is granted by God through a relationship with Jesus Christ?

Not only is this a corporate challenge for us as we gather on Sundays, this is a challenge to us as individuals. We should be in prayer to God and give him permission to work these traits into the fabric of our lives. Paul tells us:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12–13, ESV)

Notice that there is effort required on our part. We need to extend effort toward becoming what God wants us to be. But ultimately it is God who works these traits into us. We need to allow Scripture to shape our desires and submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. This is a good news, bad news situation.

The bad news is that we fall short in love, justice and righteousness. The good news is that God is not done with us.

April 19, 2016

Sacrifice: When the Cause is Too Important

Whenever a nation gets involved in a major wartime effort, the civilian population left at home tends to have to make plenty of sacrifices as well…

So begins an article by Bill Muehlenberg at the blog Culture Watch, who we have featured here twice before. This is a longer piece, and we’re going to join it about halfway through so you are encouraged to click the title below to read it all.

Wartime, Self-Sacrifice and the Christian Life

…The Christian life is a life of warfare, of battle, and of fighting. It is also a life of hardship, surrender and self-sacrifice. At least it is supposed to be.

I have written often the issue of warfare and the Christian life. See here for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2009/03/18/fighting-the-good-fight/

And I have often written about the sacrifices a believer is called to make for his Lord. But here let me offer some spiritual parallels to what we found happening in the countries reduced to rationing during the last great war. The parallels are not perfect of course because in the Christian’s life, it is a voluntary rationing and self-sacrifice, not one forced upon us by government.

Spiritual WarfareBut otherwise we have some real similarities. In both cases, an urgent end requires discipline, self-denial and sobriety in order to achieve a good outcome. In both cases the cause is much greater than the individual, and any sacrifices we can make for the greater good are vital.

In the Christian life we war against the world, the flesh and the devil. The spiritual battle is constant and to the max. If we hope to properly present Christ and extend his Kingdom and strike blows against the satanic empire, that will require real effort from us, and real self-sacrifice.

If we just keep living a self-indulgent, me-first lifestyle, we will achieve nothing of worth for the Kingdom. In fact we will end up aiding and abetting the enemy. The New Testament makes much of this type of thinking. For example Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, as he mixes his metaphors:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Or consider his words as found in 2 Timothy 2:1-5:

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.

Self-discipline and self-denial are essential parts of the Christian life if we want to see Christ glorified, the world reached, and enemy strongholds pulled down. It will not happen any other way. Like Paul, we make sacrifices for our Lord because he made the greatest sacrifice for us. We can do no less.

As C. T. Studd once said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” Or as the Welsh preacher J. D. Jones said, “All the calls of the gospel are calls to hardship, to sacrifice, to battle. Christ would have no man follow him under the delusion that he was going to have an easy time of it.”

F. B. Meyer put it this way:

It is urgently needful that the Christian people of our charge should come to understand that they are not a company of invalids, to be wheeled about, or fed by hand, cosseted, nursed, and comforted, the minister being the head-physician and nurse – but a garrison in an enemy’s country, every soul of which should have some post of duty, at which he should be prepared to make any sacrifice rather than quit it.

Let me conclude with the words of Leonard Ravenhill on this issue. He said,

When a nation calls its prime men to battle, homes are broken, weeping sweethearts say their good-byes, businesses are closed, college careers are wrecked, factories are refitted for wartime production, and rationing and discomforts are accepted – all for war. Can we do less for the greatest fight that this world has ever known outside of the cross – this end-time siege on sanity, morality and spirituality?

January 9, 2016

The Spiritual Discipline of Fasting

For several years I received a devotional booklet in the mail from James MacDonald and Walk In The Word called Our Journey. After making inquiries with a local Harvest Bible Chapel, I discovered that the devotional is now an online resource, and after checking it out, I read this devotional which you can read at source by clicking the link below.

And When You Fast

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6, ESV)

“And when you fast,” Jesus said, before teaching a few, practical pointers on the subject (Matthew 6:16). His first words raise a basic question, though: When should you fast? Every other Tuesday? When your friends do? When you feel bored? No, fasting isn’t a spiritual whimsy; it’s a spiritual discipline, and the Bible gives some clear outlines to the practice. According to Isaiah 58, you should fast . . .

When you are caught in a sinful pattern. God said, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness” (Isaiah 58:6a)? When you are caught in a sinful pattern, fast. Authentic fasting gives God an open channel to show you how you’re held captive by bad behavior or even by good behavior that’s out of control. Fasting reveals and breaks sinful patterns.

When you have a heavy burden. Back to Isaiah 58:6b: “Is not this the fast that I choose . . . to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” Do you have a heavy burden you have been carrying for a long time? Then fast. For example, skip lunch for a week. Give the time you would have spent eating to prayer. And let the gnawing in your stomach heighten your hunger for God.

When you are oppressed by the enemy. Consider again the fast “to let the oppressed go free” (58:6b). Many believers feel burdened for someone who’s not walking with God. Names may immediately flood your mind. Perhaps you’ve prayed consistently for them. Add fasting. You can fast and pray about the oppression, asking God to tear the veil of darkness with His light.

When you want to give to someone else. Is [the fast] not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh” (58:7)? When we share our bread, homes, clothes, and blankets—not the extra items we don’t need or want anymore, but the stuff we consider ours—that’s a form of fasting pleasing to God. Fasting teaches us how to be generous not only with the surplus God provides, but also with the principal God provides.

When you need an answer to prayer. “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am’” (58:9). Fasting not only clarifies our prayers, but it also opens our eyes and ears to see and hear God’s answers. When our hunger for God is elevated, the stuff keeping us from sensing His presence will be removed, and we will know that when He says, “Here I am,” He means it.

When you need direction. Here’s another outcome of fasting: “And the Lord will guide you continually” (58:11). Who doesn’t want God’s guidance? Yet how often do we actually demonstrate our desire by fasting and waiting attentively on God?

When you need to be spiritually restored. Through fasting, God restores us. “And the Lord will . . . satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (58:11). What a stark picture of what our lives look like. God offers water for our scorched souls.

When you need to be revived. As long as you’re alive, you are under renovation—you’re not finished, and God isn’t finished with you. However “ruined” you see your life today, God can rebuild and use you. “And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in” (58:12). Your best days can still be ahead.

Journal

  • We began by asking, “When should you fast?” Let’s make that question more personal. When should you fast?
  • During a time of prayer and fasting this week, go back over this rich passage from Isaiah 58. What do these verses mean, and what does God promise in regard to fasting?

Pray
Lord God, when should I fast? Help me to hear Your answer to that question. How do You want me to apply what I am reading and learning? Fasting heightens my hunger for You. Through fasting, You refine me, restore me, and awaken me. Thank You for the ways the spiritual disciplines set us free. In Jesus’ name, amen.

January 2, 2016

Give Attention to Reading

 
1 Timothy 4:13
 
Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (ESV)
 
Until I get there, concentrate on reading Scripture in worship, giving encouraging messages, and teaching people. (GW)
 
Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. (NLT)
 
Till I come, give heed to the reading, to the exhortation, to the teaching; (YLT) BIble

I didn’t know where this verse would take me today, but it led me to a longer excerpt from the IVP Bible Commentary, as found at BibleGateway.com that discusses the apparent differences between preaching and teaching.

First however is the matter of reading. In context, the idea of public reading of scripture fits, but wasn’t part of the KJV text used for many centuries. Clearly, to be able to exhort and to teach, one would need to begin with a personal study of scripture, but we also need to look at this in the light of the eliminating of the public scripture reading in many modern churches. Yes, I know that now we have the scripture texts on a giant screen for closer inspection, and don’t even ask my opinion about the ping-pong style of what were called responsive readings. Still, I think this is an area where the modern Evangelical church loses out to the liturgical churches, with their inclusion of an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a Gospel reading, an Epistle, or some combination of those.

My original intention here was simply to focus on the importance of personal reading as we start a new year. (Admittedly, the verse was a bit of a proof-text when I first selected it.) But then my study took me into so many other areas. Here is the aforementioned commentary:

First, he urges consistent practice of the public reading of Scripture (v. 13). This is by no means an innovation; it was already part of Christian worship, having been adopted naturally from Jewish synagogue worship (Lk 4:16; Acts 15:21; 2 Cor 3:14). Its import lies in the way it centers attention on God, who, communicating with his people, initiates and sustains a covenant relationship. Practically, the reading of the lesson also prepares the people for the exposition and application of Scripture.
Then the writer goes on however to deal with the other two elements of the verse, and there was so much good here I could not leave it aside:

[P]roper Christian worship will include preaching. The term used here could mean exhortation, encouragement, comfort or an appeal, and it is linked to the Scriptures in Romans 15:4 and Hebrews 12:5. Romans 12:8 reveals that preaching is a Spirit-directed activity (that is, a charisma) of communicating God’s message to the people (compare 1 Cor 12:8). The starting point is the conviction that Scripture is always relevant to God’s people (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Teaching is the third activity to be consistently practiced in the worship assembly. As with preaching, a special gift is associated with this activity (Rom 12:7).

But how do these two activities differ? Passages such as this one and 1 Timothy 5:17 and Romans 12:7-8 (see also 1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11) seem to make a distinction between preaching and teaching, though the Greek terms may vary. But the precise distinction is difficult to pin down. The term used here for preaching (paraklesis) refers to appeals made to believers (Rom 15:4; Heb 13:22) and unbelievers (see 2 Cor 5:20). Teaching, however, is usually linked to the church. Knight may be correct to see the distinction in terms of purpose, preaching being the call to respond to God’s Word (which would fit an audience of believers or unbelievers), teaching being the more intellectually oriented communication of Scripture’s principles (1992:208).

It may be also that the two activities differed in style and tone of delivery. But distinctions based on content (for example, limiting teaching to Christian ethics and preaching to theology) do not seem to be in mind (see Tit 2:10-14). Yet often the two activities must have overlapped considerably: it is hard to imagine teaching without leading the people to response, or preaching without providing a reasoned exposition of a text’s principles. Nevertheless, as long as we make room for overlap and avoid distinctions that are too rigid, it seems safe to think of preaching and teaching as two applications of God’s Word in the church: (1) the call to response, whether that entails confession, receiving God’s encouragement or appropriating his promise, and (2) the building of a solid foundation for living through the systematic teaching of biblical principles that coherently and practically express God’s will.

Certainly a worship service includes a good deal more than these three activities, especially elements that are response-oriented: prayer, the singing of hymns, testimony and practical ministering of one to another, observance of the Lord’s Supper. Paul was here correcting tendencies introduced by the enthusiasts, and he focuses on the primary tasks of the minister. God’s Word, through its reading, preaching and teaching, initiates and sustains spiritual life, and its place in Christian worship is central. Without it there can be no effective ministry.


July 13, 2015

Prayer: Uses and Abuses

The Heavens Declare 1Three times previously we’ve borrowed material from Alabama pastor Scott McCown’s blog, The Morning Drive. I can’t recommend his writing enough. Each Tuesday he’s been running insights on the subject of prayer. You can investigate all the articles at this link. We’re going to run one today, and then choose a second one for tomorrow. Click the title below to read this one at its source…

Using Prayer

How do you use prayer? Do you use prayer as an avenue for you or as a way to talk to God?  Before you answer think about these “uses” of prayer.

We disUSE prayer when we are:

  • Not praying for national, state, local, and Church leaders.
  • Not praying for strength for the Body of Christ
  • Not praying for spiritual growth in ourselves and in the Church.
  • Not praying.
  • In Acts 13:1-3 we read of the early church’s reliance on God through prayer, Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”

We misUSE prayer when we see it as:

  • A tool for manipulation. Like the misbehaving child who’s parents sent him to his room to pray about his misbehavior.  He came back later and was still acting up. When asked if he prayed about his behavior, he said, “Yes, I prayed you would be more patient with me.” Sometimes we pray aloud with the intent of our words changing those that hear us pray and not a sincere prayer to God.
  • As a substitute for preparation / work. Someone said, “As long as there are tests in school there will be prayer in school.”  Prayer-peration is not a substitute for preparation.  Prayer is inviting God to walk and work along-side us and to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, not what we are unwilling to do for ourselves. Maybe that is what James is warning about in Jas 2:15-17, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Don’t just pray that someone’s needs are taken care of if you are not willing to act to relieve those needs. Prayer is communication with the Father.

We abUSE prayer when

  • We make demands of God. To hear television preachers tell people to pray in a way that demands God act concerns me. God is sovereign, I am not.  God knows what is best for me, I do not.  I ask for God’s blessing, I do not demand it. Again James speaks to this, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (Jas 4:15).
  • We pray to “look good” or pious. Jesus said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” (Mat 6:5-7).

How do you use prayer?  Use it to open your life to God letting Him know your struggles, needs, and desires.  Trust that He will work what is TRULY best for you.


Go Deeper: Here’s a link to another article by Scott on a different subject that we considered running today, but it’s a bit longer. Check out Who Is Jesus? Really?

February 21, 2015

Devotional Poetry

Today you have a choice of two devotionals; you can choose one or read both.

 

CEB Luke 5: 29 Then Levi threw a great banquet for Jesus in his home. A large number of tax collectors and others sat down to eat with them. 30 The Pharisees and their legal experts grumbled against his disciples. They said, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

31 Jesus answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do…

Last year at this time we visited the blog Scripture4You. Because they take more of a poetic approach to scripture and the readings are shorter than what we do here, I thought we would include two of their most recent posts. As always, click the titles to see these at source, along with some beautiful illustrations.  (I wish I had the font that they used as well!)  The scripture verses are all links as well, today we’ve used the Common English Bible for all of them.

Scripture4You

Levi’s Dinner Party

Jesus called Levi, the tax collector, to follow.
Jesus was an equal opportunity employer.
Levi was so excited about his new career…
 …he gave a great banquet for him in his house,
and a large crowd of tax collectors
and others were at table with them.

 

Levi invited all of his friends who also just happened
 to be in the financial field.
So was this one of the first fund raiser events.
Did Levi see that if Jesus was to spread his message
some additional funds might be necessary?

 

Jesus chose to place himself in the company
 of every kind of person imaginable.
He did not concern himself with a person’s
sinfulness social or economic status.
Jesus came for everyone.

 

Imagine for a minute if Jesus
had only chosen fine upstanding members
of the community for his followers.
Would the greatest of sinners given him any notice?

 

Jesus purposely went out of his way to encounter
 all aspects of the human condition.
No one repulsed him… no one was rejected by him…

 

“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, 
but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous 
to repentance but sinners.”

 

Today we believe in annual
visits to our physician for our well-being.
Jesus was focused on the well-being of the soul.
We have many ways to maintain the health
 of our soul through the sacraments.

 

When Jesus walked among us
 he was the preview of all of the sacraments.
Jesus restores and repairs all things;
those whom he called came to witness this first hand.

 

We are Blessed today because Jesus
is the Divine Physician
for the body and soul.
~~~Peace~~~

14 At that time John’s disciples came and asked Jesus, “Why do we and the Pharisees frequently fast, but your disciples never fast?”

15 Jesus responded, “The wedding guests can’t mourn while the groom is still with them, can they? But the days will come when the groom will be taken away from them, and then they’ll fast.

Fasting Beatitudes

Today’s message highlights the pitfalls
and the beauty of fasting.
Fasting is a spiritual practice designed
to bring us closer to God.
We do not fast to let others think more highly of us.
A time of fasting is not to pretend we are a better
person because we are not eating.
Fasting is a practice to remind ourselves of our dependence on God.
It is God who sustains us in all our needs.

 

We fast for blood work, we fast because it is prescribed
by our religious beliefs.

 

Fasting is not so much about what we do or don’t eat.
Fasting is more about our mindset.
We must ask ourselves what is our motivation for fasting.

 

God reveals to Isaiah what amounts to
the Beatitudes of Fasting.
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.

 

Yours will be a clean heart…entrance into the kingdom.

 

…your wound shall quickly be healed…

 

If while you are fasting you focus on the care of others;
your own ills will be healed…
your heart will be cleansed…
you will be forgiven…
Your fasting will not be in vain…for all the wrong reasons.

 

The wounds of our soul are healed
when we reach out to care for God’s children.
The wounds of our soul from years past
will be filled in smoothed over with the grace of God.

 

If you choose to fast do so with a loving heart…
for even if you are not aware of the wounds of your heart
healing will occur.

 

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…

 

Fasting is not about being sad and gloomy.
Fasting is about surrendering our will to doing God’s will.
It is in fasting where we can come to know
 what hunger for God truly is…
Our hunger for God is our hunger to be made
whole again to be with him in heaven.

 

Blessings may come in restricting you food intake,
but not by ignoring the needs of the poor.
~~~Peace~~~

January 16, 2015

Salvation By Works: Yes and No

The Message – Col 2:6-7 My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.

The Voice – Col 2:6 Now that you have welcomed the Anointed One, Jesus the Lord, into your lives, continue to journey with Him and allow Him to shape your lives. Let your roots grow down deeply in Him, and let Him build you up on a firm foundation. Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught, and always spill over with thankfulness.

Amplified – Col 2:6 As you have therefore received Christ, [even] Jesus the Lord, [so] walk (regulate your lives and conduct yourselves) in union with and conformity to Him. Have the roots [of your being] firmly and deeply planted [in Him, fixed and founded in Him], being continually built up in Him, becoming increasingly more confirmed and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and abounding and overflowing in it with thanksgiving.

If you read nothing else here, don’t miss the first line of the reading which follows. Some people have a works-based faith. It’s not grace-based because it consists entirely of doing things. But some people, once they believe they have assurance of salvation by grace, end up doing nothing. Still a third group of people often realize that they have been guilty of living their lives in one extreme or other other, and end up swinging to the opposite position, but that leaves them still in the extreme. There is a continuum here, and the key is to find the balance in the middle.

E. Stanley Jones was one of the best-known Methodist missionaries (to India) and religious writers in the first half of the twentieth century. This is from Good News, a United Methodist website.

Devotional by E. Stanley Jones, Focus 3

By E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973)

You cannot attain salvation by disciplines*—it is the gift of God. But you cannot retain salvation without disciplines. If you try to attain salvation by disciplines, you will be trying to discipline an unsurrendered self. You will be sitting on a lid. The result will be tenseness instead of trust. “You will wrestle instead of nestle.” While salvation cannot be attained by discipline around an unsurrendered self, nevertheless when the self is surrendered to Christ and a new center formed, then you can discipline your life around that new center—Christ. Discipline is the fruit of conversion—not the root.

This passage gives the double-sidedness of conversion: “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Col. 2:6-7, RSV). Note, “received”—receptivity; “so live”—activity. It appears again, “rooted”—receptivity; “built up in him”—activity.

The “rooted” means we take from God as the roots take the soil; the “built up” means we build up as one builds a house, a character and life by disciplined effort. So we take and try; we obtain and attain. We trust as if the whole thing depended on God and work as if the whole thing depended on us. The alternate beats of the Christian heart are receptivity and response—receptivity from God and response in work from us.


* What are the spiritual disciplines? Here is a list to get you started. That list has 12 disciplines in total, this one contains more, but breaks it down into seven key areas. (Click the tabs at the side of the landing page.)

October 21, 2014

Chewing on the Word

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Jim ThornberFirst of all, it’s not a reference to Ezra eating the scrolls, but if you guessed that, give yourself five extra points!

Today’s reading is from Jim Thornber whose writing we have shared here several times. For four years, Jim was an Assemblies of God minister who was also a monk. Seriously! Check out his story here and here. To read this at source, click the title below.

Gnawing On God

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” —  Joshua 1:8

I like the word “meditation.” Although some Christians are truly scared to meditate – thinking it is something done by cultic Eastern religions while forgetting that Judaism and Christianity ARE Eastern religions! – Scripture is full of injunctions to meditate upon the Word and Law of God.

The word for “meditation” in this passage comes from the Hebrew haghah, meaning to murmur, to mutter, to sigh, to moan, to roar, to meditate, to muse, to speak, to whisper. The word also describes the low moaning sound of a dove (Isa. 38:14) or the “growl” of a lion (Isaiah 31:4). Eugene Peterson uses the analogy of a dog gnawing on a bone, getting everything it can out of it.

This got me wondering: what is my heart gnawing on? What causes me to moan and growl, to be so totally consumed with God that I’m unaware of any thing else? If people could listen to my thoughts, would they hear me murmuring and musing about God and His goodness? Would they hear me whispering to God the joy and wonder I sense in His ever-present love? Or, would people hear me doubting my place in His Church, struggling with my pride and my desires and wrestling to place my wants into the realms of His eternal agenda?  Depending on when a person tuned in, I know they’d hear a little bit of both.

I want my heart to murmur, sigh, growl, moan and utter the goodness and glory of God. I want to be lost in my consumption of God and unaware of anything but Him. But in reality, I spend too much time thinking about my self and my place, or perceived lack of a place, in the Kingdom. In say I want to consider Him but I end up thinking mostly of my self.

However, meditation is not thinking, which is where I go wrong. Meditation means I’m gnawing on the truths of God. It means I’m taking into my spirit the very nourishment that God knows I need in order to grow into a healthy man. Meditation is the simple act of putting my mind and spirit into the hand of God and allowing Him to take me where He needs me to be. Thinking, on the other hand, is me taking God where I think God and I need to be. See the difference?

I want to wrap my thoughts and prayers around God the way a lion wraps its paws around a piece of meat, savoring and tasting its life-giving goodness. I want to meditate upon God and reap all possible benefits from the encounter. I wonder if this is why the Psalmist encourages us to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8)? Could this be one of the reasons Jesus said we must eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53)? How else could we take into our spirits the nourishment needed for the eternal journey?

Today I purpose to gnaw on the goodness and faithfulness of God. What about you? What’s on your plate?

 


Related: 4 Previous posts by Jim Thornber at Christianity 201.

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!

 

 

August 25, 2014

Forgiving Those Who Betray Us

Matthew 6:12

Forgive us the wrongs we have done,
    as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.  (Good News)

Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. (Phillips)

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven (left, remitted, and let go of the debts, and have given up resentment against) our debtors. (Amplified)

I had run across Samuel C. Williamson online because of his book, Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids? (Bet that title has you curious!) I thought we had used his material once before, but apparently today will serve as an introduction. I also thought the topic of this particular post might resonate because, unless you live in a vacuum, we’ve all been hurt. To read this at source, and then look around the rest of his blog, click the title below.

How Do We Forgive Betrayals?

I ended last week’s story of betrayal with the faint beginnings of a desire to forgive. But our wanting to forgive doesn’t mean we’ve granted forgiveness any more than wanting a beach vacation gives us tickets to Tahiti. It’s a start, an important start, but only a start.

Our desire to forgive is undermined by our memories, recollections of the betrayal that relentlessly resurface with stunning clarity. With the vividness of slow-motion video, I recall a half-erased whiteboard, the buzz of a fly, and the shadows on the wall.

A friend of mine remembers the jingle of an ice-cream truck and the smell of lilacs through the screen porch.

We want to forgive, but images flood our mind, and something in our soul recoils. We try to forgive and forget, but those memories scratch their way out of the holes we buried them in.

We want justice; somehow, in some form or fashion, we want payment. Like David, our heart cries, “Let death take [them] by surprise; let them go down to hell while still living” (Ps. 55:15).

Or as Freud said, “One must forgive one’s enemies: but preferably after they’ve been hanged.”

It twists our soul

Last week, I heard a talk radio host interview a therapist. The therapist claimed that “unforgiveness is a major contributor to heart disease,” and that “bitterness can kill us.” The wrong done to us begins to take root in us. The evil inflicted on us begins to flow out of us.

Mirslov Volf wrote, “Forgiveness flounders because I exclude my enemy from the community of humans and I exclude myself from the community of sinners.” We begin to dehumanize our betrayer, and in turn we are dehumanized. Agony and anger twists our souls.

On hearing the consequences of non-forgiveness, the radio host responded, “I don’t want a stroke, so I’d better start forgiving. I’ll just let it go.”

But it’s not so simple. No magic wand will wave away the stain. To claim, “I’ll just let it go,” is like getting over stage-fright by saying, “I’ll stop being self-conscious.” It makes matters worse.

And it completely misunderstands the essence of forgiveness.

Because someone does have to pay

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (the World War II martyr who died resisting Hitler) said:

If you’ve ever really forgiven somebody, forgiven some real wrong, all forgiveness is suffering. If you say “I forgave and I didn’t suffer,” it wasn’t that serious a wrong. But if you have ever really been wronged, and if you have forgiven it, then you have suffered. Because all forgiveness is a form of suffering.

When we’ve been deeply wronged—not just an accidental slip-up but a treacherous betrayal—we know there is a debt, a deep-seated sense of injustice. We can’t shrug it off as if nothing happened, we can’t simply dismiss those memories in a momentary fancy of forgiveness.

When we remember the injury, we must choose between two paths. We can make the perpetrator pay (by finding little ways to make them suffer, poking pins in their memory, disparaging them to our friends, or snubbing them in our heart); or we can forgive.

If we make the perpetrator pay, evil wins. The road to hell is not paved with good intentions, and not even with our betrayal of others. The road to hell is paved with our non-forgiveness.

So what does it mean to forgive?

Everyone thinks forgiving is a wonderful idea. Until they have something real to forgive. Because forgiveness means suffering. If we don’t make the perpetrator pay (and somebody has to pay), it means we pay.

Forgiveness means we pay our betrayer’s debt.

It’s normal life. If I borrow your car and wreck it, then either I cough up cash for the repair, or—if I don’t have any money—then you do. The damage doesn’t disappear magically. Somebody pays. (Or you drive a wrecked car, which is just another form of you suffering for my mistake.)

How do we pay? When we’re tempted to dwell on their cruelty, we stop (it costs not to punish them in our thoughts). And when we have a chance to tell others of their betrayal, we shut up (we suffer when they enjoy a good reputation). And we pray for their welfare, not punishment.

Of all Christian disciplines, this is the hardest. First we suffer the horrible wrong done to us, and then we pay for their wrongdoing. It’s double baked death. Compared to forgiveness, chastity, charity, and contentment seem like sipping lemonade on a summer’s evening.

Forgiveness also brings us closest to Christ. It is suffering, thorns, nails, and a cross.

Forgive me for repeating myself

To settle a debt requires capital. We need a full bank account (either financial, emotional, or spiritual reserves) to write that check. We need deposits in our account before we can pay out. But our reserves were depleted by the wrong done to us. What are we to do?

Our ability to forgive is wholly dependent on our being forgiven. When it seems impossible to forgive, our only hope is to understand our debt to God, and to grasp our own forgiven-ness.

Jesus said of the prostitute who washed his feet, “She loves much because she’s been forgiven much, and whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” With the deposits of our own forgiven-ness, we pay our debtor’s debt. And little by little, we find we have forgiven.

Over time (not magically in a moment) something miraculous happens. We begin to really hope for them, to really wish them the best; we even begin to love them.

The evil done to us has been executed.

Sam   (see also, Betrayal)

P.S. Don’t think that because I can write this that I can also do it well. But I’m getting better.

P.P.S. Forgiveness does not mean disconnection with reality. Our betrayers may still act like jerks toward us or toward others. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we should go back and work in that ministry or become best pals with that former friend. But it does mean their debt has been paid, that we have shredded our case files, and we that desire their welfare.

September 15, 2013

His Word: Our Sustenance

CEB Ps. 119:11 I keep your word close, in my heart,
so that I won’t sin against you.


NCV Ps. 5:3 Lord, every morning you hear my voice.
Every morning, I tell you what I need,
and I wait for your answer. (emphasis added)


NIV Ex. 16:4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.

17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.

19 Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”

20 However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.


NLT Luke 11:3 Give us each day the food we need

Despite the fact I prepare these readings each day, I am also acutely aware of my need to find something that constitutes my own feeding from God’s word; and although I spend most of the entire day immersed in the consideration of Christian resources and doctrinal matters, I am becoming increasingly aware of the times I have omitted to include some personal time in God’s word.

Daily BreadThe graphic at right turned up this week on the Facebook page of a local church. It reminded me of an earlier time in my life when I would run to the Bible in the face of crisis. I remember one time when our family learned of the sudden, untimely death of the daughter of a family friend. As my parents drove to offer them some comfort, I found myself alone basically choking down chapter after chapter of my Bible, trying to find some meaning or peace in the face of tragedy.

But you can’t successfully negotiate a book with which you have little familiarity.

The other type of sporadic Bible readers are those who only turn to the book on Sundays. I was thinking of this today when I looked down at my Bible and realized that if anyone asked, I only use this Bible at church. But the reason is that I have at least a dozen other Bibles which I use during the week, but I only take this one  to church because it has larger print and I can read it without glasses. (My vanity Bible, I guess!) However, it gave me some insight into what it must be like for people who don’t touch a Bible during the week, or worse, people who only read from a Bible at Easter or Christmas. 

This is why I feel it’s appropriate to consider Bible reading as an application of the story of the manna in the wilderness.  In light of verse 20, I was tempted to title this, “When God’s word starts to stink.” But as offensive as that might have been to some readers, it does express what happens if we try to live on yesterday’s input from God. The Word is powerful, and will show itself to be real to you over and over again, but you need a fresh word for each day.

…The above quotation from Psalm 5 reminds us that hearing from God is one half of the ongoing conversation we are encouraged to have. Prayer and Bible reading go hand-in-hand. Here I have to be brutally honest; I spend more than a passing measure of time each day in prayer, and I endeavor to spend more than a token amount of time reading the Bible each day, but in truth, the two disciplines are rather separated. I confess that my Bible reading time and my prayer time are not integrated, and even as I write this, I realize this is a deficiency on my part.

One of the best writers in this area of spiritual disciplines is Richard Foster. On a Wikipedia page about him, someone has identified these practices as:

inward disciplines of

  • prayer,
  • fasting,
  • meditation, and
  • study in the Christian life;

the outward disciplines of

  • simplicity,
  • solitude,
  • submission, and
  • service;

and the corporate disciplines of

  • confession,
  • worship,
  • guidance, and
  • celebration

Today we’ve looked at the inward disciplines, but I believe they are foundational, and there is a reason why the list appears in this order.

Questions:

  1. Do you feel the time you spend overall in prayer is adequate?
  2. Do you feel the time you spend in prayer is consistent on a daily basis?
  3. Do you feel the time you spend overall reading your Bible is adequate?
  4. Do you feel the time you spend reading your Bible is consistent on a daily basis?
  5. Is your prayer time and your Bible time integrated or are they somewhat divorced from each other?
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