Christianity 201

June 4, 2021

Vowing not to be Distracted

Earlier today a popular internet web-browser introduced an update which left users confounded and frustrated. Using my phone, I typed some keywords and started thinking about the number of businesses and individuals who couldn’t get work done that they needed to prioritize because of this distraction, and my mind immediately went to our key verse in Nehemiah.

The first time I looked at this passage here, in 2013, I called it “Try Our Signature Dish!” The reason? Restaurants have signature meals, a particular menu item that the place is well known for and with each menu revision, it’s always left intact. Preachers have signature sermon series as well, a particular book of the Bible for which they have great affinity and/or expertise, or if they are academics, a particular commentary that they have authored that stands apart from all their other writing. For Andy Stanley, who introduced me to this passage, the signature dish is the Book of Nehemiah — you can read more in his book Visioneering — and when he preaches it, the key verses are:

Neh 6:2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”

But they were scheming to harm me; 3 so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. (NIV)

Nehemiah had obtained special permission take what we would call today “a leave of absence” from his duties to the king to return home and rebuild the walls of his city, which had crumbled.

This is a passage about distractions in all areas of life, but especially distractions that can take us away from spending time with God and doing God’s work. In Nehemiah’s case the distraction was relentless. “Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave the same reply.” (v4)

Matthew Henry notes the specifics of those appeals:

  • When they courted him to an interview, with design to do him a mischief, he would not stir (v. 1-4).
  • When they would have made him believe his undertaking was represented as seditious and treasonable, he regarded not the insinuation (v. 5-9).
  • When they hired pretended prophets to advise him to retire into the temple for his own safety, still he kept his ground (v. 10-14).
  • Notwithstanding the secret correspondence that was kept up between them and some false and treacherous Jews, the work was finished in a short time (v. 15-19).

Author Steven J. Cole portrays Nehemiah’s refusals as a story you might get in your news feed:

Nehemiah Says No to Ono

Samaritan officials have disclosed that Nehemiah, governor of Judah, has again turned down the offer of Governor Sanballat of Samaria to meet at one of the villages in Ono, on the Judah-Samaria border. The proposed conference would include the Big Four of the area: Geshem, leader of the Arabs; Tobiah, leader of the Ammonites; Sanballat, and Nehemiah.

Sanballat issued a statement today in which he sharply criticized Nehemiah for his repeated refusals to cooperate. He reports that the purpose of such a meeting would be to work on a formula for lasting peace in the region. The Samaritan leader said with evident frustration, “This is the fourth time Nehemiah has turned down my invitation to meet and discuss our mutual concerns. These repeated refusals mean that the responsibility for increasing tensions and any violence that may result, rests solely upon Jerusalem.” (Adapted from Donald Campbell, Nehemiah: Man in Charge [Victor Books], p. 55.)

(If you want an excellent detailed commentary on this passage, the above link for that one is the one to choose!)

There have been several times in my life I’ve wanted to quote verse 3 to people, “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down;” but I’m not sure they would get the reference.

Blogger Alyson Browning calls this one of three marks of leadership:

…Third mark of leadership – ignore the annoying distractions (chapter 6). In this chapter, we see the enemies of God – Sanballet, Tobiah, and Geshem – attempting to discourage and distract Nehemiah from everything he was doing to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah ignores their plot to distract and harm him. He gives this now famous response, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (6:3, HCSB). Nehemiah kept his focus on the task God had for his life and ignored those who were trying to distract him.

Christopher Scott notes that we’re getting an inside look in this story:

One of the reasons I love the book of Nehemiah is that it allows the reader to peek inside the heart of Nehemiah because it was written as a memoir from Nehemiah. Most of the books of the Bible tell about events that happened, but rarely do they tell about the thoughts and feelings of the biblical characters. However, because the book of Nehemiah was written as a memoir, we get to take a peek past what has happened and actually read about what Nehemiah was thinking and feeling.

Michael “Sinbad” Creighton writes:

Nehemiah was doing something that could only be blamed on God. He led a group of people in the rebuilding of the wall around the city of Jerusalem and completed it in only 52 DAYS! And all through the process, he had distractors and distractions. Check it out here. And every time he stood firm in what God was leading and equipping him to do.

Notice the first line of the 2nd paragraph (italics added) here from Steven Ruff:

Proponents and opponents: those for and against something. Every leader has both in the circle of influence. Nehemiah was no different. He had received word of the condition of Jerusalem’s walls and his heart was broken. He had prayed, sensing a God-given mission, and approached the king for assistance. He made the long trip to Jerusalem, surveyed the situation first-hand, and gave a reasonable and attainable goal to the people. When Sanballat and Tobiah approached Nehemiah, sounding like children on the playground, a choice had to be made. Does he move forward with his plans or does he come down off the wall and argue with them about the legitimacy of his work? Does he make wise use of his time and strength by carrying out the work or does he waste time, energy, and strength arguing whether it could or could not be accomplished? Nehemiah chose in that pivotal and critical moment to not argue. As the work continued and his opponent’s displeasure became louder, he later made his decision known, loud and clear. He said, “So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” [Nehemiah 6:3]

There is a difference between casting and defending a vision before those you lead and arguing with them about the legitimacy of that vision. There is a difference between answering legitimate questions from the organization and arguing with them about it. The difference : the opponent’s spirit. Nehemiah opponents were not genuinely concerned with his vision. They were not there to understand better the work at hand. They were not there to investigate how they might be involved. Instead, their spirit was one that simply wanted to see the work stopped and the Israelites embarrassed. Period. Leaders must decide where they will spend their precious time, strength, and energy. Will they spend it helping their opponents who genuinely want to better understand their vision and decision? Or, will they spend it arguing with an opponent who only wishes to see the work stop or fail? Nehemiah answers this question for us. Leaders lead confidently and choose not to argue, instead, inform and encourage. Ed Stetzer sums this matter up perfectly. He said, “You do not have to show up to every argument you are invited to.”

Conclusion: This is from Kendra Graham writing at the Billy Graham Training Center website:

When the opposition hears of the work that God is doing, it will raise eyebrows and tempers. Be prepared for opposition when you start doing what God has called you to do…When you do work for God, ill meaning people, but also many well meaning people and noble causes may try to steal your attention. These are not bad things, but are not the things God has called you to. Be on guard. Know what God has called you to and have confidence in that.

Like Andy Stanley, I’ve tried to take ownership of this passage, helped by the fact I’ve heard him refer to it several times. I hope you’ll find the spirit of this principle useful in the days ahead.

From Eugene Peterson, Ephesians 6:

The Message.Eph.6.10-12 And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

13-18 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

April 23, 2021

Some of Jesus’ Statements We Call Hyperbole Are Still Truth

Can you imagine the crowds listening to some of the more outrageous statements made by Jesus and saying, “Oh, there he goes again!” Despite the sensational nature of some of the things he said, the phrasing is also the reason we remember them, like the one in today’s devotional.

Our online travels today took us to For Christ’s Sake Fellowship which is run by Pastor Daniel Harlow. This online ministry describes their goal as: “We aren’t necessarily looking for a congregation as much as we are trying to help establish a strong, personal, and life long connection between you and Jesus Christ.”

Click the header which follows to read at their site.

Cast Off Your Hand

“And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” – Matthew 5:30

Temptations abound in this world. You can’t turn on the tv or even drive down the road without being bombarded by beckoning sin. Even the smart phones we hold in our hands create an open doorway for all kinds of evils. What is a good person to do?

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus said that if your eye or your hand causes you to stumble, it would be better for you to pluck the eye out or cut off your hand and cast them away rather than to have your souls to end up in Hell.

What Jesus is saying there is not about hurting yourself, it’s about being willing to do whatever it takes to keep your eyes and your mind on Heaven. Aim for your righteousness and it will help yourself and others.

I do say “yourself and others” because you have more power and affect on other people than you realize. There is truly no such thing as a personal sin. Sin hurts and people who think much of you will follow your lead. You will take many souls with you wherever you go, either to eternal peace in Heaven or to eternal death.

Jesus mentioned the right hand for a reason. It is an example of your strong side. For most people, you get the greatest benefit from using your strong hand. That being said, even if something is benefiting you, it may also be what is doing the most damage to you in the long run.

There are many things in this world that are OK to do, but are they leading you somewhere good? Has the Holy Spirit been knocking on your door recently about something? Do you pray? Do you spend time in the scriptures? Do you use your tone wisely to help others?

I like to fish and I enjoy watching TV now and then. A few little relaxing pursuits are OK, but not when they consume my time. Even OK things, lawful things that benefit us, can get in the way of our eternal salvation. Moderation is key in many cases, but some things, even small seemingly insignificant things can take you away from the life God has called you too.

Jesus Christ suffered and died so that you can be free from sin. All of those bad things you’ve done are gone when you accept His payment on the cross. He died and rose again to give you an abundant life not only in Heaven for eternity, but here on Earth as well.

Use your abundance, whether it is food or money or strength or whatever, to help other people. Don’t use your time and earthly pursuits to chase sin. And make no mistake about it, if you are not actively chasing Heaven, you are slipping back down farther towards hell.

Jesus said there are only two roads. There is a wide one with a large gate that’s pointed in the wrong direction. Many people are on that road, heading for destruction. However, there is another road, a straight and narrow path that leads to an eternity of love and peace. Few find that road.

Which one are you on right now?

Once again, I’m not telling you to ACTUALLY cut off your hand. Please don’t! But I am telling you that we must be ready and willing to cut things out of our lives to gain God’s kingdom and blessings. Even if those things in our lives are OK and lawful, maybe they even benefit us sometimes, but if they harm us and cause others to stumble, then those things must be done away with in our lives.

If you do this, God has promised blessings and peace for now and forever. So stay on that straight and narrow path. It’s worth it.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:8-9

God’s blessings to you.


Bonus item: Here’s a short devotional from the same author/site. Check out “Refire!”

March 13, 2021

Fixing It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Today’s is a shorter post, but I felt there was someone out there who needed to hear this; or perhaps hear these verses of scripture.

It all has to do with the word fix and its variants. What does it mean when we’re fixed on Jesus?  The site BibleResources.info offers this:

The Greek word “fix” contains the idea of concentrating your gaze; to focus all of your attention on one object. Paul explains that if we concentrate on Jesus, we will be able to avoid sin and experience peace. When Jesus walked on the water, the disciples were terrified. Peter, however, was able to walk on the water by keeping his eyes on Jesus. He faltered when he lost his concentration and looked away!

Let’s look at the texts when this word is searched in the NIV on BibleGateway.com:

Hebrews 12:2
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Deuteronomy 11:18
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.

Psalm 141:8
But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.

2 Corinthians 4:18
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Hebrews 3:1
Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.

When I think of the word fixed I think of affixed, the idea of being stuck like glue!

Let’s return to the page at BibleResources:

If we actively focus on Jesus through Bible study, prayer and service – Jesus will become the center of our attention, and we will not fall. Deuteronomy 11:18 tells us to fix “his words in our hearts and minds”. Proverbs 3:5-6 enjoins us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (ESV). Proverbs 4:24-31 reminds us that if we focus and “fix our gaze before us, making level paths for our feet in ways that are firm without swerving” (distractions), that we can “keep our feet from evil”.

Isaiah 26:3 promises “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee…”. If we keep this focus, we will not “be anxious about anything…And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

If we keep our focus on the Lord as our “light and my salvation… the strength of my (our) life; of whom shall I (we) be afraid? (Psalms 27:1) We will not fear, “…for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”. (Isaiah 41:10)

With our eyes, thoughts, hearts and words fixed on Jesus we will be able to be “strong and courageous- all you who put your hope in the LORD! (Psalms 31:24)


Keep my Eyes on You by Graham Kendrick:


Monday is Devotional # 4000 here at Christianity 201. If you’ve been helped in any way by these readings, let us know.

 

December 9, 2020

Tangled Up in the Web of Political Distraction

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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II Timothy 2.4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.

I can’t remember the first time this verse was highlighted for me, but it’s often coming under the teaching of a gifted Bible teacher that the verses come to life. In my personal readings, I find they just don’t ‘jump off the page’ to the same degree. I think much depends on how our different personality types process information and learning.

While Paul’s instruction to Timothy has been quoted here four times, I was surprised to see it was quoted only four times. This year, while returning to past sources of devotional material, I was disappointed to see how many writers had got entangled — Apostle Paul’s word, not mine — the politics of the U.S. election and the related politicization of everything from the race protests to the virus vaccine.

It’s important to be aware of the times. Karl Barth is said to have told pastors, “Preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other;” though the actual quotation might have been, “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”

We cannot isolate in a Christian bubble and not know what’s going on in the wider world. In Matthew 16: 1-3 we read:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red, and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.

And it may be that God has called a few of you to be active in what is called the public square; to run for a governmental position municipally, regionally, in your state/province, or federally. (But note I used the word few. This is not a widespread calling or commandment.) Looking at the words of Jesus in Matthew, I can more readily see Christians serving in journalism (making people aware of the times,  from a Christian perspective where opportunity arises) or in law (drafting legislation or being judges.)

When I checked back, the most recent look at Paul’s words to Timothy was just three months ago in September. At that time, our focus was on avoiding knee-jerk reactions (or feeling you need to say anything at all). James writes,

And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.  (3:6 NLT)

Instead of starting fires, our words should be “a fountain of life.” That phrase is used in scripture to describe the Lord, but Proverbs 10:11 and 16:22 shows that it can be our descriptor, too:

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it,
But the discipline of fools is folly.

If our focus that time was avoiding knee-jerk reactions, our focus in June, 2018 was on the reality that we’re not really part of this world anyway. We don’t belong to it. We’re what the Bible calls strangers and aliens.

Philippians 3.20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We see this most clearly in I Peter 2:11 where we’re called

  • immigrants and strangers (CEB)
  • aliens and temporary residents (CJB)
  • visitors and strangers (ERV)
  • sojourners and exiles (ESV)
  • strangers and refugees (GNT)

Consider also Hebrews 11:13-16

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. (NRSV)

Shouldn’t our thoughts and our writing be focused on the place where we have our citizenship?

The summer previous, in August, 2017, we looked at how in Samuel’s day, the people didn’t want the distinct identity that God desired for them. The surrounding nations had kings. They didn’t have a king. They wanted a king. They asked for a king.

Interestingly enough, God accommodates this request. In I Samuel 8: 19-22a we read,

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

That article concluded: God’s ‘Plan A’ desire would be that his people would be a distinct society even in the middle of a foreign land; even when in exile. He wants us to focus on being the People of God. As Christians, we already have a King.

The oldest instance I could find of Paul’s words to Timothy here at Christianity 201 was one more year prior, in April, 2017. The context that day was spiritual warfare. Do we see this entanglement as a product of a spiritual battle? A battle for us to get stuck in the issues of the world? The political issues? The civic issues? The news-making issues?

I would argue, yes. The person whose writing and conversation has been captivated by political concerns in 2020 has lost a spiritual battle. Consider Philippians 4:8

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

To conclude, here’s how some newer translations (The Voice, and TPT) render our opening verse:

Remember that soldiers on active duty don’t get wrapped up in civilian matters because they want to satisfy those who recruited them.

For every soldier called to active duty must divorce himself from the distractions of this world so that he may fully satisfy the one who chose him.


For a different look at this subject, check out “Never Say the Bible Doesn’t Talk About Politics

To see if, or how often a particular verse has been covered here, type the reference into this blog’s search field.

 

November 17, 2020

On Recommitting or Rededicating Your Life to Christ

The large church I attended had a room off a hallway which was used for counseling people who responded (or came forward) to the appeal (or invitation) at the end of the Sunday evening service. Sometimes the chairs were arranged in pairs so that a counselor (or personal worker) could talk to and pray with an individual and a small pre-printed index card was on one of the chairs that could be filled in with a name, address, phone number for further ministry contact (or follow-up).

There were a number of boxes on those index cards that could be checked if the person was seeking salvation, or desiring to be baptized, but there were often boxes that said assurance or re-dedication.

I’ve talked before about the fact we don’t hear much about assurance anymore. We covered it here in 2013 and also in 2015. The same could be said for recommitting or rededicating. In the ebb and flow of topical trends in the church, some things get said at the expense of other things.

For some, the concept treads on a narrower, more-Calvinistic view of the salvation process (or soteriology.) One particular site which I’m not going to link to (for many reasons) is dismissive of the need to recommit or rededicate oneself to God; to Christ; to Christ’s cause. But they did get one sentence right: “Repentance is not re-dedication.” The world may offer that ‘confession is good for the soul,’ but confession of sin is a necessary part of following after Jesus, honoring God and not grieving the Holy Spirit.

But having said that, are there times in the life of a believer when, not over specific sin, he or she needs to reset, refocus and renew?* Of course there are.

CompellingTruth.org is an outreach of GotQuestions.org who we often cite here. They offer this teaching:

The idea of “rededicating your life to Christ” is not named in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful. In fact, it can be an effective way to help people realize that Jesus’ forgiveness is for all of us.

There are two common scenarios in which people rededicate their lives to Christ. The most common is that of an older child or young adult who accepted Christ at a young age. After years of going to church and living through the influence of his parents’ faith, he may realize his own faith is stagnant and underdeveloped. He may have never taken responsibility for his relationship with Jesus, or he may actually be living a sinful lifestyle. He comes to the realization that despite the fact he is a Christian, he wants a stronger Christian life. So he rededicates his life to Christ, taking a leap in maturity and restarting His Christian growth.

The second scenario is not strictly a re-dedication, but a realization. It involves someone who heard the gospel and thought she accepted Christ, but didn’t understand the implications well enough to have a saving relationship with Jesus. She may have gone to church the whole time, even served, but at some point she comes to know and accept the true nature of salvation. If she doesn’t realize that she was not a Christian before, she may call the transformation a re-dedication, even though it is technically a conversion.

Of course, it is not God’s intent for any young Christian to fall into a sinful lifestyle. Romans 12:1-2 says that a believer is meant to reject sin and experience continual spiritual growth. Likewise, it’s not God’s plan for anyone to misunderstand the gospel, going through the motions of a Christian life for years, before really understanding saving grace.

But re-dedication as a concept is a powerful tool. It clearly demonstrates that God forgives. He forgives old Christians who sin, and new Christians who were deceived for years. It is a spiritual deep breath, wherein a believer can refocus her relationship with Christ. Like the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and Peter in John 21, it shows that Jesus will always take us back…

Their parent website, Got Questions looks at this from a different angle:

…In a desire to consciously choose to adhere to a newfound, deeper understanding of the gospel, believers may “rededicate” themselves to Christ.

However, falling away and returning to God is not how the Christian walk is supposed to look. Romans 12:1–2 explains that spiritual maturity is a gradual, ongoing process. Jesus said that to follow Him we should take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). And 1 Corinthians 9:24 and Hebrews 12:1 speak of the Christian life as a race, meant to be run every day. Many people rededicate after every sin. It’s easy to get caught in a cycle of rededicating, striving to follow Jesus closely, failing, and rededicating again. But habitual sin is not a problem solved by rededicating. It’s a deeper issue that can only be solved with a greater understanding of the grace and love of God.

Still, re-dedication is a useful tool. It’s a way to deliberately reject sin and renew a love for Christ. The disciples went through a re-dedication of sorts when they saw the risen Jesus. Their half-hearted devotion turned into a desire to pour out their lives for His service. In the same way, whether because of a conviction about a sinful lifestyle or a greater understanding of the gift of Christ, we can choose to abandon our shallow devotion to Christ and devote ourselves to Him more fully…

Here are today’s key scriptures:

Lord, [earnestly] remember now how I have walked before You in faithfulness and truth and with a whole heart [entirely devoted to You] and have done what is good in Your sight (2 Kings 20:3 Amplifed).

Remember from where you have come out and do the former works (Revelation 2:5a Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

Though You have shown me many troubles and misfortunes, You will revive me once again. Even from the depths of the earth You will bring me back up.  (Psalm 71:20 Berean Study Bible)

Do you need to, in computer language, “reset to factory settings?” That is to say, do a reset back to the days when you first followed Jesus? Or a time when your level of commitment was more wholehearted?

Then recommit. Rededicate.

This prayer is from the website ThreeDimensionalVitality.com:

Dear God,

I confess that I have strayed from my first love – Jesus – and I want to recommit my life to You. Please help me to become the person You created me to be. Enable me to always live a life that is pleasing to You.

I want to be a witness to others of Your saving grace and power. Forgive me when I take back the control of my life. I want You to be Lord of my life.

Renew my passion to walk more closely with You. You know all my desires and plans. Help me to fulfill Your unique call and purpose in my life.

Renew my heart, restore the joy of my salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Lord, thank You for this hope I have in You. Use my life to bring You glory, honor and praise.

Thank You, Lord, Jesus for hearing and answering my prayer. In Your Name. Amen.


*In our list of ‘re’ words, there is a great crossover between re dedication and repentance but there is also one word I didn’t touch because it offers us two different paths. That word is revival. The two paths are quite distinct, but one deals with personal revival, and other deals with the collective revival of a family or a church (or in Old-Testament terms, an entire nation.)

But at this point, we can also work backwards and say that perhaps there are times when a whole family or a whole church needs to re-dedicate or re-commit. And that may be a path to consider. But start with me and then look outside to we.

May 16, 2018

Trying to Do it All

Part of our mandate here at C201 is to present you with devotionals across a broad spectrum of Christian writers. You might have noticed that many of our writers are women, but periodically, I like to include visits to websites written specifically to women, rather than just having women writers.

Biblical Woman is one such site which we’re showcasing today. You may find articles which are written specifically addressing ‘Ladies’ or ‘Sisters’ but I hope the guys reading today will derive benefit from this as well. As always, click the title below to read at source.

Maybe You’re {NOT} Supposed to Do It All

by

“Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.”

~Colossians 4:9

In our culture, moms are called on to do more than they have ever had to do before. While we also have more help with smartphones and fast food and efficient appliances, most moms feel the pressure of being spread too thin. The commitment to raise children, the commitment to our jobs (professional, volunteer, home-based, etc.) the commitment to our marriages, and the commitment to our homes can leave even the most organized woman drowning in over commitment.

At the very end of Colossians, almost as an aside, Paul adds a note to a fellow brother in Christ, Archippus. Paul addresses him by name and says to “take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” This Archippus is thought to be Philemon’s son that is mentioned in Philemon 2, so it’s likely that he routinely hosted the church in his home and he was more than likely very involved in the church body overall. We are only left to speculate what Paul meant with this challenge to Archippus, but I do believe there are specific things that we, as moms, can glean from a simple statement by Paul.

Take heed or pay attention…

I know, as a mom, I can allow myself to be greatly distracted by everything. Without a plan, I can spend my day chasing rabbits or following the demand of the urgent. However, in our schedules, Paul reminds us to pay attention. We have to discipline ourselves to focus on what we are called to do.

To your ministry…

What are you called by God to do? We are most effective when we have a clear purpose and a clear goal. Take the time to pray about what God would have you to do. Discuss it with your husband. Without clear purpose, we leave ourselves open to the waves of whatever comes our way.

Which you have received in the Lord…

Where did you receive the call to do all the things you are trying to do? Ladies, this one is hard to accept, but it is imperative that we listen to what Paul is trying to say here. We can receive our “duties” from many different places, mainly other people, our kids, or our own selfish aspirations, just to name a few. But if we attempt to put on our plate every job that comes our way from any source, then we will be too tired and too distracted to actually hear what God is calling us to do. Make a list of all the responsibilities you have. Then, beside each responsibility write who gave you that job. If you ultimately did not receive it from the Lord, then, with much prayer and trust, begin working on releasing that job.

Fellow mommas, the Lord has called us to great ministries and responsibilities. Only those that we receive from Him have eternal consequences. If God did not call you to a job, the stretch of your influence will be stunted in that position. Release it and take heed to those we have received from Him.

That you may fulfill it…

Doesn’t it feel good to complete something? For a mom, it’s a special treat. The only reason I like laundry is because there is a beginning (dirty clothes) and an end (clean clothes). It is a great feeling to see a job to its completion. God desires us to accomplish something, not to work aimlessly chasing everything that comes our way. If we will pay attention to only the ministry that we receive from God, then the feeling of accomplishment is within our grasp. Are you always starting and never completing anything? Maybe you are trying to do more than what the Lord has planned for you right now.

One of the biggest lies our culture tells us is that we can do it all and have it all right now.

I know sometimes I listen to this lie and before I even realize it, I am working myself into a frenzy. As moms, the cost is too precious to waste our energy on tasks that are not from the Lord. I encourage you to join me in examining my own life and discipline myself to only heed the ministries that the Lord has given me that I might fulfill them to His glory.

April 7, 2018

Choosing to Set our Focus on Things Above

This is our fifth visit with Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings. He doesn’t write frequently, but often deals with the issue of spiritual growth.

A Gift for Our Spiritual Formation

Almost everyone enjoys gift giving. We enjoy giving gifts, but we really enjoy receiving gifts.

When we give a gift we give it with the intention that the gift is used. If we give a gift of chocolate we want the person to eat the chocolate. If we give a gift of clothes we want those clothes to be worn. If we give a gift of toys we want those toys to be played with in imaginative ways.

God has given us a great gift to be used for our spiritual formation in Jesus Christ. That gift is the Bible. Christians believe that God has preserved the Holy Scriptures over the years to help guide us in following Jesus.

Since the Bible is a gift that God has given to us, it is a gift that He expects us to use. God will speak to us by the Holy Spirit through the words recorded in Scripture.

If we are interested in spiritual formation and following Jesus, then it is essential we spend time with the Bible.

The book of Colossians is a book of the Bible that God has used over the years to speak to my heart.  One of my favorite passages is Colossians 3:1-4:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (ESV)

Our salvation and transformation begins and ends with God. It began with God’s promise to bless all the nations of the world through Abraham and his descendant; it continued through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus (the promised descendant of Abraham); and ends when Jesus returns and makes all things new.

Without God’s initiative, without God’s promise, and without Christ’s faithfulness we would have no life, no purpose, and no hope. Our redemption and restoration are bound up in the actions of our loving heavenly Father.

With that being said, we still have a great responsibility when it comes to our spiritual formation.  We do not become like Jesus by accident.

Paul wrote in Colossians that there is a choice we must make. The choice we are to make is to set our minds on the things that are above.

To set our minds requires an act of the will.  We have the choice about what to focus our minds on, and if we  don’t choose to set our minds on the things of God, then our minds will be set on other things: sports, money, pleasure, politics.

What must we do if we are going to set our minds on the things that are above?

I believe there are at least three steps we need to take in order to set our minds on heavenly things.

  1. We must change what we feed our mind. This is a two part process. The first part of the process is to acknowledge the ways we are being distracted. I recently had to to do this when I realized that the political podcasts I was listening to were influencing the direction of the my thoughts, which were flowing out into my sermons. We need to be aware of what is influencing our thoughts, and whether that influence is positive or negative. The second part of the process is to fill our minds the truth. This means we intentionally use the gift of Scriptures to set the course of our thoughts. If we are not replacing our old negative thoughts with new positive thoughts then our minds will go back to the old ways of thinking.
  2. We must be guided by the Spirit. The best way for us to be guided by the Spirit is to practice spiritual disciplines. We need to make room for the Spirit to speak into our lives. This includes Bible study and reading (both private and group), prayer, fasting, generosity, service, hospitality, and even simplicity (living a simple life). It is crucial that we intentionally make room for the Spirit to guide our lives.
  3. We must speak about what God is doing. It is crucial that we don’t keep all that God is doing in our lives to ourselves. We need to share our experiences with God with other people. By sharing our stories we become better aware of the truth God is teaching us and the direction He wants us to go. By sharing we allow other people to discover what God is doing and open their hearts to God working in their lives.

God took the initiative to save us from sin and death.

To be good stewards of God’s initiative and His generosity we need to be intentional in our spiritual formation. This requires us to be intentional in setting our minds on the things of heaven, so our hearts and minds are focused one following Jesus. We do that by using the gift of Scripture to set the direction of our minds.

 

March 23, 2017

Feeling Less Than Perfect? Romans 8: 4-14

 . . . so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:1-8 (emphasis mine)

by Clarke Dixon

There is good news here for those who “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” This of course will raise within the Christian the question “am I walking in the Spirit?” And to many, “how could I possibly be walking in the Spirit when I find myself, well, less than perfect?” This is a very important question to answer since most of us, when honest, find ourselves feeling less than perfect. Contrary to some eulogies I have heard, I have never officiated at a funeral for a perfect Christian. Experience teaches us that there has never been a perfect person except One. Are we walking according to the Spirit if we are less than perfect?

First off, we can note that the language of Romans chapter 8 does not push us toward thinking we ought to find ourselves perfect. To “walk according to” is not “to be just like in every way.” Similarly, “to set your mind” on something is not to be so consumed by something that you cannot possibly think of anything else. If you have no musical experience or instruments and you set your mind on learning guitar, you are going to want to walk out of a music store with a guitar and not a drum kit. You are going to want to sign up for guitar lessons, and not clarinet lessons. To do otherwise is to not have your mind set on learning guitar. But picking up the sticks and having a go on a friend’s drum kit is not inconsistent with having your mind set on learning guitar. Spiritually, being less than perfect is not inconsistent with having our minds set on the things of the Spirit. Of course we want to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48), however being less than perfect does not disqualify us from being people who walk according to the Spirit.

Second, God’s leadership in our lives is never described in terms that would make us conclude that we will achieve instant perfection. We are now used to living in an instant world. It is with some excitement that I download updates to my phone’s operating system. Each update comes with old problems fixed and new features added. Perhaps we expect receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit to be exactly like receiving an update that changes everything instantly. While some people experience miraculous deliverance from addictions and the like when coming to Jesus, most of us don’t feel a big instant change. The Bible never suggests our relationship with God will be like a computer user receiving a big update. The Bible points instead to a shepherd with the sheep, a father with a child, and a vine with the branches. These are all enduring mentoring relationships which require time and lead to development.

It takes time for sheep to learn and know the voice of the shepherd. It will take us time to discern the voice of God in our lives. Of course vines and branches take time to bear fruit as any gardener can confirm. Likewise, parenting takes time. Parenting takes so much time, in fact, that on average, for a parent to raise a child from birth to the age of eighteen requires about eighteen years! No parent I know expects his or her child to be perfect over those eighteen years. Our relationship with God is consistently described in ways that point to the passage of time and to development. There is no promise of instant perfection.

So if perfection is not evidence of “walking according to the Spirit,” then what is? The evidence that a shepherd and sheep are in relationship is the sheep’s response to the shepherd’s voice. Our listening may not be perfect, but we will be listening. There is a desire to hear the Lord’s voice. The evidence that branches are abiding in the vine is fruit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23) The Christian does not experience perfection in every way upon receiving the Holy Spirit, but in walking according to the Spirit will be developing in these character traits and more.

Perfectionism is not a fruit of the Spirit. In fact, perfectionism can be a tool of the devil. While I have largely given up on perfectionism, there is one area of my life where I am still a perfectionist. It is an area of my life in which I struggle with frustration and where I am most likely to sin through losing my cool: renovations. It is not that I cannot do it. It is that I cannot do it perfectly. My aunt expressed wonder at my recent bathroom renovation. By recent, I mean completed recently, though started three years ago! She exclaimed “Wow! You did this?” When I walk into that same bathroom, I see the poor drywalling work to the left and think, “yes, I did that.” Don’t fail to celebrate the fruit of the Spirit in your life because you are too focused on your imperfections. The devil is happy when we do. Perfectionism will not lead you into greater righteousness. An enduring relationship with God will.

As a rhythm guitar player I would be thrilled if my favourite guitar player, Peter Townshend, were to come to my home and offer to give me guitar lessons. I could be a glass-half-empty guitarist and say “I will never be able to play like that.” Or I could be a glass-half-full guitarist and say “with Pete’s help I will be able to play better today than yesterday.” Of far greater significance and wonder, the Lord of the universe has taken his place by our side, and on the inside, as our shepherd, father, and friend. We can be glass-half-empty Christians and say “I am not perfect and feel like I never will never be perfect. I therefore doubt I have the Holy Spirit and am beginning to doubt I am a Christian.” Or we can be glass-half-full Christians and say “I may not be perfect, but with the Holy Spirit on the inside helping me, I can be better today than I was yesterday.”

There is a wonderful affirmation in verse 9 “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Since you have the Holy Spirit, since you have God inside, live as you are; not perfect, but a growing child of God. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Romans 8:14

(All Scripture references are from the NRSV)

Click here to read this at Clarke’s webpage, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

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.

 

 

February 20, 2014

Reviving The First Love

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Rev 2:4b “…You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!  5a Look how far you have fallen!  (NLT)

Rev 2:4b “…you have left (abandoned) the love that you had at first [you have deserted Me, your first love].”  (AMP)

Matt. 24:12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold. (NLT)

Jude 21 [K]eep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. (NIV)

Matt 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (NASB)

In the area in which I work, Christian publishing, sales of books have hit a slow patch. It’s easy to blame eBooks, but Christian reading as a whole is down as people devote their time and their spending to supporting screen habits that are, at the end of the day, all about entertainment.

In church life, denominations report baptisms and conversions are down. Baptist (SBC) writer Thom Rainer says, “We are reaching fewer people for the gospel today than we did decades ago when we were a much smaller group.”

Yesterday, I was thinking of the song, Revival by Robin Mark. One of the lyrics says, “Like the preacher preaching when the well is dry.” It’s easy to identify people — both clergy and laity — whose well has run dry. Like hamsters running the wheel in the cage, we get caught up in religious life, but all the activity isn’t taking us anywhere.

I maintain that any point in time all of us in either of the two situations:

  • moving toward the cross
  • moving away from the cross

In your life it may be quantifiable on a yearly basis or a daily basis. The daily may be a microcosm of the annual; or your relationship to God, your hunger and thirst for the things of God may have its ups and downs.

I also need to pause here and talk about that phrase, “the things of God.” What are these things? Some of the things — the latest worship song, involvement in teaching Sunday School, a spirited discussion about creation science — may be spiritually superficial. Here’s a phrase you can Tweet:

To be excited about the things of the Lord, first you have to be excited about the Lord of the things.

God wants us to be in a constant posture of moving toward the cross. Back to the Robin Mark song, here are few of the lyrics:

Every dreamer dreaming in her dead-end job
Every driver driving through the rush hour mob
I feel it in my spirit, feel it in my bones
You’re going to send revival, bring them all back home

I can hear that thunder in the distance
Like a train on the edge of town
I can feel the brooding of Your Spirit
“Lay your burdens down, Lay your burdens down”.

The song is a clarion call to release yourself from the empty, the meaningless, the burdensome things of this world, and await the revival in your heart God wants to send you.

Here’s the video for the song. It’s long — ten minutes — but I pray it speaks to you. God wants to stir revival in your heart, and in mine. This is something we can ask for in prayer knowing that we are asking in God’s will.

January 1, 2014

Your Best Year, Spiritually

This is from Clay Smith at the website of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter, South Carolina and appeared there as This Could Be Your Best Year Ever, If…:

blank calendarHow will you make [this] your best year ever?

Maybe you will make an impressive list of resolutions, detailing plans for self improvement in finances, health, and relationships. Reality check: how did those resolutions work for you last year? The truth is about 92% of those resolutions won’t be kept. Why?

We don’t keep resolutions because we assume we have enough will-power to overcome our problems. We think if we just try harder we can do it. We make our problems harder because we try to tackle all our troubles at once. By the second week of January (sometimes the second day) our will power is overloaded. In a moment of stress we make an exception. That exception becomes a breach in the dike of resolve. We’re back to the same old patterns with the same old results in a matter of days – or hours.

There is a different way. Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Another translation would be, “Put God in charge and follow His way of thinking, and He will take care of everything else.”

Stovall Weems expresses it like this: “This can be your best year ever if it is your best year spiritually.”

Decide to make this your best year spiritually. Talk to God about what this year could look like. Ask God for His input.

God might tell you to read the Bible through in a year – it’s a doable challenge. God might tell you go on an adventure – it may be a mission trip or it might to lead the group next door. God might tell you to experience true generosity for the first time – giving not out of guilt but out of joy!

Here’s the challenge to you and to me: Let’s make 2012 our best year spiritually – and it will be our best year ever.

Grace and Happy New Year

Go deeper with an article by Jack Wellman at Christian Crier, 5 Christian New Year’s Resolutions for 2014. The article will encourage you to:

  1. Set the Alarm Clock 10 Minutes Earlier
  2. Memorize One Bible Verse per Week
  3. Create a Prayer Journal
  4. Share the Gospel Daily With at Least One Person
  5. End Each Day with Prayer and Bible Reading

December 30, 2013

Four Things to Add to Your New Year’s Resolutions

spiritual resolutionsThe Christian blogosphere is somewhat dominated by American writers, so I’m really excited to mix things up today and introduce you to Enoch Anti from Ghana. His blog is called Truth Publication and to bless him with some blog traffic, you should click here to read at source.

The Glory of God

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. (Revelations 4:11).

To God Be The Glory. That phrase should be our marching orders for 2014. The glory of God should be top priority on our list of resolutions. All things—including you and I ―are and were created for God’s pleasure . We are on earth on His assignment. We are here on His errand. His glory. His joy. His purposes. His agenda. His plans. Everything in the end is to His glory. We are here to give glory to his name: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.“ (Isaiah 60:1-2).

This life is more than us. It is more than our dreams and visions. It’s more than the things we want to achieve for ourselves. There’s a bigger agenda, and that agenda is the glory of God. Romans 8:29 gives us very clear insight into God’s agenda for our lives: it makes us understand that conforming us to the image of Christ (character and virtues) is that agenda. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son…“ Life is for “His name sake“: …he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake“ (Psalms 23:3). As we enter 2014, let‘s seek to put the glory of God ahead of everything we seek to achieve. “He must increase. [we] must decrease“ (John 3:30).

Now, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.“ (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

Spirit-Controlled Living

Plans are good. Strategies are needed. Clear cut smart (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) goals are very necessary. But human wisdom, skill and talent is not enough to live a victorious life: “…This is the word of the LORD … Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.”  (Zechariah 4:6). On top of our plans and strategies, we also need the direction and leading of the Holy Spirit.

By Spirit-controlled living, I mean a life that is controlled by the Holy Spirit. He leads and we follow. We cannot live a Spirit-controlled life and still have control over our lives so to speak. There must be a place for the leading of the Holy Spirit of God in the life of every child of God, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the [children] of God.“ (Romans 8:14).

Speaking about the Holy Spirit, I am not only speaking about church meetings, prayers, reading our bibles, living a holy life(very important), speaking in tongues, anointing, prophesy, unction and all our other repertoire of “spiritual“ cliches. I am speaking about the totality of our lives. Every other area of our lives—career, marriage, family life, finances, education, entertainment, etc ―matters to God.

A few days away, we will be walking into a new year with its uncertainties and unknown territories. But we have a guarantee of God’s guidance and direction if we will heed to His voice. “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left“ (Isaiah 30:21).

Using Your Gifts

“…he gave…to every[one] according to [their] several ability…“ (Matthew 25:14-15).

Everyone is gifted. There are no exceptions. God has endowed everyone with what they need to live a fulfilled life. However, just like the parable of the talents, it’s not enough to be gifted. It’s not enough to be talented. It’s not enough to have dreams and visions. No matter how gifted you’re, you have to step out there and get started. The only time a difference is made is when people step out to use what they have. If you read Matthew 25 further down, you will realize those who made a difference are those who stepped out to use what they received.

The problem with many of us is that we sit in the stands “spectatoring“ and cheering people who are using their gifts on without doing anything with ours. I am in no way saying it’s wrong to cheer gifted people on. We all need encouragement and a push, but while you are cheering people on, be encouraged with what others are doing and get to work with your gifts. You can also make a difference if you start using what you have.

There are I believe a number of reasons people don’t use their gifts. Top on the list will be: (i)Fear (ii) Self-doubt (iii) Waiting for the right time (iv) Waiting for inspiration from others to start. You see, it is ok to have fears and self-doubts. But those who step out despite their fears are the ones who make the difference. You have a gift—no doubts about, but step out and get things done.

Impacting your World

Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life (Genesis 45:5)

Life is not about us only. There are destinies tied up to our lives (beyond blood relatives). Sometimes the routines of life can get you wondering. Is this all there is to life? But life gets interesting if looked at from the perspective of assignment. In this life, we are on an assignment: A God given assignment. An assignment to fulfil God’s will in on earth, an assignment to impact other lives.For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption (Acts 13:36)” Read Genesis 45: 5 above again and note: “for God did send me before (ahead) of you to preserve life“. In other words, whatever evil was done Joseph was part of God‘s agenda to save lives. The nations Israel and Egypt would have been destroyed by famine if Joseph had jumped into bed with Potiphar (taken a shortcut route to his destiny).

Life is that simple. Every life is a life on purpose and assignment. We are on a God sent errand. Life  is a string of interdependence. Like a food chain, we all contribute to the survival of each other. For the sake of all the lives intertwined with our destinies, let’s look beyond ourselves. Our pains, temptations and challenges (I still love the old word problems) are part of God‘s grand design to change other lives. All things indeed work together for good for those who love God. Look beyond yourself, it’s not all about you. Step out into the New Year and impact your world.

February 2, 2013

Try Our Signature Dish!

Restaurants have signature meals, a particular menu item that the place is well known for and with each menu revision, it’s always left intact. Preachers have signature sermon series as well, a particular book of the Bible for which they have great affinity and/or expertise, or if they are academics, a particular commentary that they have authored that stands apart from all their other writing.

For Andy Stanley the signature dish is the Book of Nehemiah — you can read more in his book Visioneering — and when he preaches it, one of the key verses is:

Neh 6:2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”

But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.   (NIV)

This is a verse about distractions that can take us away from spending time with God and doing God’s work.

Blogger Alyson Browning calls this one of three marks of leadership:

Third mark of leadership – ignore the annoying distractions (chapter 6). In this chapter, we see the enemies of God – Sanballet, Tobiah, and Geshem – attempting to discourage and distract Nehemiah from everything he was doing to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah ignores their plot to distract and harm him. He gives this now famous response, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (6:3, HCSB). Nehemiah kept his focus on the task God had for his life and ignored those who were trying to distract him.

Christopher Scott notes that we’re getting an inside look in this story:

One of the reasons I love the book of Nehemiah is that it allows the reader to peek inside the heart of Nehemiah because it was written as a memoir from Nehemiah. Most of the books of the Bible tell about events that happened, but rarely do they tell about the thoughts and feelings of the biblical characters. However, because the book of Nehemiah was written as a memoir, we get to take a peek past what has happended and actually read about what Nehemiah was thinking and feeling.

Michael “Sinbad” Creighton writes:

Nehemiah was doing something that could only be blamed on God. He led a group of people in the rebuilding of the wall around the city of Jerusalem and completed it in only 52 DAYS! And all through the process, he had distractors and distractions. Check it out here. And every time he stood firm in what God was leading and equipping him to do.

Notice the first line of the 2nd paragraph here from Steven Ruff:

Proponents and opponents: those for and against something. Every leader has both in the circle of influence. Nehemiah was no different. He had received word of the condition of Jerusalem’s walls and his heart was broken. He had prayed, sensing a God-given mission, and approached the king for assistance. He made the long trip to Jerusalem, surveyed the situation first-hand, and gave a reasonable and attainable goal to the people. When Sanballat and Tobiah approached Nehemiah, sounding like children on the playground, a choice had to be made. Does he move forward with his plans or does he come down off the wall and argue with them about the legitimacy of his work? Does he make wise use of his time and strength by carrying out the work or does he waste time, energy, and strength arguing whether it could or could not be accomplished? Nehemiah chose in that pivotal and critical moment to not argue. As the work continued and his opponent’s displeasure became louder, he later made his decision known, loud and clear. He said, “So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” [Nehemiah 6:3]

There is a difference between casting and defending a vision before those you lead and arguing with them about the legitimacy of that vision. There is a difference between answering legitimate questions from the organization and arguing with them about it. The difference : the opponent’s spirit. Nehemiah opponents were not genuinely concerned with his vision. They were not there to understand better the work at hand. They were not there to investigate how they might be involved. Instead, their spirit was one that simply wanted to see the work stopped and the Israelites embarrassed. Period. Leaders must decide where they will spend their precious time, strength, and energy. Will they spend it helping their opponents who genuinely want to better understand their vision and decision? Or, will they spend it arguing with an opponent who only wishes to see the work stop or fail? Nehemiah answers this question for us. Leaders lead confidently and choose not to argue, instead, inform and encourage. Ed Stetzer sums this matter up perfectly. He said, “You do not have to show up to every argument you are invited to.”

Like Andy Stanley, I’ve tried to take ownership of this passage, helped by the fact I’ve heard him refer to it several times. Just today I was watching something on a popular media channel and realized that it was serving solely as a distraction. It reminded me of this verse, which led to today’s thoughts. I hope you’ll find the spirit of this principle useful in the days ahead.

October 1, 2012

Living in a Christian World

KJV Ephesians 5:18 …be filled with the Spirit;  19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;

Phillips  Ephesians 5:18 l…let the Spirit stimulate your souls. Express your joy in singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of God!

NASB Phil. 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Message – Phil 4:8Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

The verses above usually receive a fairly specific application. The first, from Ephesians, has to do with allowing the Word of God (in a parallel Colossians passage) and the Spirit of God to overflow from your heart resulting in worship to God, in this case worship that is specifically musical; with the result that Christianity is essentially “a singing faith.”

The second verse from Philippians is usually used in reference to controlling our thought life; controlling what we allow to control us. Both verses have been referenced here at C201 in their primary contexts.

But today I want to think in terms of the everyday lives we live on Monday morning, after weekend services are over and we’re back to work, or school, or raising children. We spend at the very least an hour on Sunday in the “world of church” or “world of faith.” But many people walk out the door when the service ends and find themselves back in a culture situation that afford no opportunity for “psalms and hymns” and makes it hard to think about things which are “pure, lovely and of good repute.”

Their connection with Christian culture vanishes.

Those of us that blog, or work in vocational ministry at a local church or parachurch organization can be thought to represent one end of a continuum which has, at the other end, people who attend a church, but don’t allow the a Christian “seasoning” to permeate their lives throughout the week.

They possibly don’t read a daily devotional either; in print or online, so we’re not speaking to readers here necessarily.

Now having said that I can anticipate two objections.

The first is that we’re supposed to be “in the world” (though “not of it.”) This means that we’re not to spend our week living in the religious bubble or the Evangelical bubble. We’re expected to be out there getting our hands and feet dirty. Our time at worship before God is a type of retreat from the cares of the world, but then we return to the mission field where God has placed each of us.

The second objection would be that Christian culture, such as it exists, is somewhat flawed. ‘Christian’ is not an adjective that can be layered over music, books, radio, movies, web channels, restaurants, video games, etc. Reading Christian blogs — which I do a lot of — doesn’t make me more spiritual.

And yet, it bothers me that despite these valid objections, there are people who choose to almost abdicate from the world of faith for the other 167 hours of the week. They don’t have a preset for the local Christian radio station, they don’t take advantage of the resources available from online ministries, they don’t read any Christian books in the course of a year. Some don’t read their Bibles all week either; whatever reading is done in the worship service constitutes their only direct contact with the God’s Word throughout the week. (No pressure, pastors; right?)

Personally, I could survive a month on a deserted island with just my Bible, but in general, I need help. I am a better person in terms of my interactions with the world at large if I can approach those interactions with the flavor of faith. I need books to keep me thinking on things that are “true… honorable… right…” and I need music to keep me “singing and making melody to the Lord.”

I’m not trying to justify an industry, or several industries, or those industries’ excesses, but I’m saying that I do believe that at their genesis, there was a noble purpose of fanning the flames of faith; fanning the flames of what the Holy Spirit is already doing in our lives and wants to do.

And I’m concerned for people who are missing out on programs, resources, and opportunities that could greatly enhance their relationship with Jesus and their knowledge of God’s ways.

 

 

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
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