Christianity 201

December 7, 2017

Praying for God to Come Down. Or Not.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence. Isaiah 64:1

This may not be everyone’s favourite prayer. Some would find the presence of God to be a frightening experience and some would prefer God not exist at all so they need not worry about it. Some have deeply thought through positions of agnosticism or atheism. Many, however, land there having heard or seen slogans like “God probably does not exist, so stop worrying and enjoy your life”, and are quite happy to not give it much further thought. So please don’t talk religion, thank you. Why? Because people assume that if God exists, then they should worry. If God is alive and well, then while we are alive and well for now, all will not be well when we are no longer alive. There is a feeling that we would never be good enough, or could never be good enough to meet our Maker. So please don’t tear open the heavens and come down Lord!

However, there is a tone of confidence in Isaiah’s prayer which runs from Isaiah 63:15-64:12. Isaiah is confident that if God were more fully present, it would go well for His people. Is this confidence based on the goodness or righteousness of the people, or even his own? Far from it, in fact the prayer is full of honest confession:

6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you; Isaiah 64:6-7

Given the fact that God’s people have strayed far, praying for God to “tear open the heavens and come down” is sounding like a risky prayer to make indeed. Isaiah alludes to times in the past when God had “come down”:

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. Isaiah 64:3

The prayer for God to come down could be answered like the time God “came down” at the Exodus. While that went well for God’s people, it did not go well for the Egyptians with plagues and a sea that closed in on the Pharaoh’s army. Given the sinfulness of God’s people as confessed by Isaiah, perhaps this time the plagues will land on them?

So where does Isaiah’s confidence in God come from if not in the righteousness of the people? Why does he pray with anticipation of good things, and not plagues? This prayer for help is not made with an appeal to the justice of God, to rescue the righteous. That option is not open for God knows too much! Rather it is made with an appeal to the character of God and the relationship God chose to have with His people. Consider the following references in this prayer:

For you are our father,
though Abraham does not know us
and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our father;
our Redeemer from of old is your name. Isaiah 63:16

Turn back for the sake of your servants,
for the sake of the tribes that are your heritage. Isaiah 63:17b

8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people. Isaiah 64:8-9 (emphases mine)

Isaiah prays with confidence because he knows the relationship God has with His people is like that of a father to a child. While God as a perfectly just judge can expect, in fact must expect, perfection, a father can have compassion and mercy toward an imperfect child. So how can God be both perfectly just and yet act “fatherly”? How can God be both judge and “Dad”? The answer is given in God’s response to Isaiah’s prayer.

There is an answer to this prayer, but instead of the prayer being answered with plagues and punishment, it is answered with the arrival of a baby and the beginning of a new kind of Exodus. While the plagues on Egypt resulted in the firstborn of the Egyptians experiencing death, in this Exodus it is God himself that goes through it, both as the grieving Father, and as the dying son. Only a holy and perfect offering could stand in the place of sinful person, taking the consequence of sin. Only God Himself could do that, and in Jesus He has done that. In Jesus God is the perfect judge, taking care of sin at the cross, while also being the good father, being compassionate and merciful toward His children.

For those who feel that they have wandered so far from God that they could never turn or return to Him, it has nothing to do with how far we have travelled away, and everything to do with how far God has travelled toward us. He answered Isaiah’s prayer and has come all the way from heaven to a cross on earth in Jesus, so that we could be reconciled to Him. Turning to God has nothing to do with impressing the judge with our own efforts, and everything to do with the love of a compassionate heavenly Father.

Maybe you don’t think of yourself as God’s child. An opportunity is before you:

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13

Our relationship with God does not begin with our goodness. It begins with His.

However, even if you recognize that you are a child of God, you may think of yourself as the wayward child, the messed-up child, the stressed-out child, the foolish child, the undeserving child, or even the stupid child. On the one hand these might be accurate descriptions and we have room to grow like everyone else. On the other hand, The Lord’s Table while being a reminder of many things, is also a reminder that there are other adjectives that can be used to describe you. You are the redeemed child, the reconciled child, the forgiven child, the embraced child, the loved child.

Although the presence of God can, and should, be scary to someone who has rejected the Lord’s invitation to a father/child relationship, a child of God can pray with confidence as Isaiah did: “tear open the heavens and come down”. Being in Christ we can pray with confidence the last recorded prayer of the Bible:

20 The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. Revelation 22:20-21 (emphasis mine)


All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Canadian Baptist pastor Clarke Dixon’s writing appears here most Thursdays; read more at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

April 20, 2017

How Easter Cures Our Religion Addiction

by Clarke Dixon

We can become addicted to religion. Behind this there can be a sense of “if I do the right things, and say the wright words, God will have to love me and be good to me.” Religion has “me” as its focus. What I do. What I say. What I think I deserve. When we are addicted to religion we put ourselves, rather than God, at the centre.

The Christians in Colossae were being pressured into becoming more religious. Some scholars think that the pressure was coming from Jews who thought you needed to practice the Jewish religion to be a Christian. Other scholars think that it was an early form of the religious philosophy “gnosticism” that was the source of the pressure. Either way, in his letter to the Colossians the apostle Paul wants to set the record straight. In chapter two Paul lays out clearly our part in being Christian, but also what we cannot accomplish. Let’s take a look.

First out part:

Colossians 2:6-19 (NRSV) As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Notice, first off, that Paul’s encouragement is not “since you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, now get very religious, doing the right religious looking observances, saying the right religious sounding words.” That would actually be too easy, for you can do that kind of thing on your spare time. What is called for is something far more profound; “live your lives in him.” The requirement is not in doing religion, but living life. It is an every moment thing. The focus is not the religion, but the Person of Jesus. It is a relationship thing.

Sceptics like to say that religion is a man made thing. Paul would agree:

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.

Paul is not speaking against philosophy as an academic endeavour here. Philosophy, like all the arts and sciences are worthy pursuits. Paul is warning against, more literally “the philosophy”, that is, a particular way of thinking being foisted on the Christians at Colossae. He is arguing against becoming too religious “according to human tradition.” Rather than pursuing man-made religion, we are to pursue Christ himself.

We could sum up Paul’s line of thought here with “live your lives in him rather than practice religion.” That is our part. Next Paul points us to God’s part. Religion highlights the things we do. In the following passage I have highlighted [in darker type] the things God has done.

9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

The focus is on God’s activity. As Paul warns the Christians at Colossae against false religion, he puts the focus on what God has done in Christ. While religion points us to our activity, relationship with God as revealed in the Bible has always been first about what God has done. He created. He Made a covenant with Noah. He called Abraham with his promise of blessing that would touch the world. He rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. He gave His chosen people the law at Sinai. He gave them the promised land. He called the prophets and gave them the words to speak. He came to us incarnate in Jesus. He, God the Father, raised Jesus, God the Son, from the dead. While religion has what we can do as its focus, Christianity has as its focus, something we could never do, that is, raise the dead.

Because Jesus is risen, we do not practice Christianity as a religion, we relate to Jesus as a living Person. We serve Him, we worship Him, we adore Him, we learn from Him. This may give the appearance of being religious as prayer, the Bible, and church become expressions of that. These religious looking things are not the practice of religion, but rather part of how we live our lives in Christ. Living our lives in Christ goes way deeper than doing “religious duties,” it goes to walking with the Spirit and being transformed from the inside out: “. . .the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) Compared to character transformation, being merely religious would be far too easy!

Paul continues his argument against being religious:

16 Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 17 These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

Religion fills us with pride as we point to what we have done. The events of Easter fill us with humility as they point to what we have done. We committed a reprehensible crime when we crucified Jesus. We fell short of the glory of God. The events of Easter also point to what God has done. He has reconciled us to Himself. Our part is to live in Christ, “holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.” Are you addicted to religion? God has done for you through the events at Easter what religion never could. Why dedicate yourself to religion, when you can dedicate yourself to the One Who loves you?

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

Read more at Clarke’s blog Sundays Shrunk Sermon

September 24, 2015

Through a Glass Darkly

Today, a guest post from the blog Flagrant Regard. A longer version appears at the link in the title below.

‘Through A Glass Darkly’ – A Lesson On Spiritual Renewal

“We are all messed up like a person compromised with impurity; even all our right efforts are like soiled rags. We’re drying up like a leaf in autumn …”
Book of the prophet Isaiah, Chapter 64, verse 6

THE JOURNEY GETS MESSY

At the point of our conversion (or in my case, my reconversion), we’re given a new perspective by God which allows us to see more clearly the world around us and how broken it is. At the same time (and maybe more importantly) we are given much needed insight with respect to our own soul and moral character and how poorly developed they truly are. We become aware of God’s unmerited love for us but receive along with that a glimpse of how distant our goodness is from the goodness and purity of God. And because of our new, clearer perspective, we find ourselves humbly asking God for strength and the ability to live our salvaged-by-Grace lives for Him with a sincere determination.

But at some point, after this ‘great awakening’, we lapse back into familiar ways – well I believe most of us do – and find that the things of the Spirit become less important or engrossing compared to the urgent issues and distractions that make up our day-to-day existence. Still having the Spirit of God within us, we may become aware of this lapse, but often feel helpless to deal with it. And then guilt sets in – the biggest nail in the coffin for a once spiritually inspired, enthusiastic mindset. So we pray, “God get me out of this funk.” Or, “Make me better than I am.” Or, “Fix me (or things) again so I can feel connected to You!” But these repeated requests or prayers often come across as a seemingly useless endeavour. It’s like trying to repair or clean things up with broken and dirty implements.

And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

As our spiritual energy and connection to God seems to diminish, we feel caught in a loop and a dryness of the soul begins to overwhelm us. This is a dangerous ‘tipping point’ for some believers. If they don’t feel or see enough of God’s power in their lives, they walk away from the faith and give up ‘trying’.

HOW YOU BRING AN END TO A SPIRITUAL RUT

Here’s the thing: you can’t. As your spiritual life continues, you will lose connection with God frequently and all your efforts to rekindle the excitement or ‘vision’ you had the day you knew God had entered your life will, in your mind, amount to a hill of beans. You’ll feel adrift in stagnant water and those living waters Jesus promised his followers are somewhere on the other side of dark mountains that have seemingly hemmed you in. Welcome to the valley of the shadow of death. You have now joined the ranks of every single believer who’s ever asked God to change them! This might come as a shocker, but you were meant to arrive here.

“Why?”, you ask.

kitten distressed

Because it is at this time, God is about to reveal to you that everything you think you have done or have attempted to do to put things right between you and Him is not unlike your trying to clean a pair of glasses with dirty rags. And as long as you continue to assume you’re the one who has to clean up your spiritual lenses to restore clarity, perspective and objectivity to your own soul-view you will fail miserably because God has set it up that way.

Again, you ask, “Why? Why would God allow me fall so hard if I am doing my best to put things right?”

He does this so that He can reveal within us His power, His strength and what His vision for you truly is. It’s only when every light you’ve tried to keep going has gone out that it’s His time to shine! When your knees have hit the floor it’s then He eagerly shows you how strong His arms are by pulling you back up. He takes your worn-down perceptions – all the methods that you thought were going to keep you connected to Him or ‘spiritual’ – and tosses them into His washing machine. Then He hands you back those things that are really needed to really make a difference in your world, your outlook and life-experiences.

God likes to show off – the Scriptures evidence this repeatedly with respect to His character and/or his modus operandi. Deep in our personal valleys, if/when we continue to walk by faith (what little there may be of it at times) He will restore our spiritual sight by showing us who He really is by answering our prayers from an unexpected angle or entering our world in ways we never would have anticipated.

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“Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”
~ G.K. Chesterton

This kind of thing – beautiful and powerful spiritual renewal – happens frequently over one’s lifetime in the hearts of those who humbly walk with God. Admittedly, it takes a lot of patience and waiting for it to happen. But God helps with that too … just hang … on … a little … longer!

Wash, rinse, repeat.

This is God’s style of restoration and it’s so welcomed, especially when we’re spent from our trying so hard. With respect to our dealing with ourselves and God, preacher and author, John Ortberg, instructs us to ‘try softer’.

“Often the people in the Gospels who got in the most trouble with Jesus were the ones who thought they were working hardest on their spiritual life. They were trying so hard to be good that they could not stop thinking about how hard they were trying. It got in the way of them loving people. … there is an alternative: Try softer. Try better. Try different. A river of living water is now available, but the river is the Spirit. It is not you. … Don’t push the river.”
~ John Ortberg, from the book, ‘The Me I Want To Be’

WHAT’S THE WORD ON ALL OF THIS?

I cannot emphasize this enough: the Bible and its guiding principles as presented to us through the many colourful characters who authored it is like having a legal representative with you when you are in your darkest trial and at your lowest ebb. It stands beside you to instruct you when direction is seeminly absent. It is there to remove (not add to) your guilt when you may be completely bereft of feelings, spiritual enthusiasm or at the tail end of your faith. There is NOTHING you are experiencing (including the dryness of soul and even the disdain for all things spiritual) that has not been experienced by those who went before us – from Adam to Amos, Joseph to Jesus, Paul to Peter.

Read the Word and wait. Don’t read it, and you’ll feel utterly alone. I don’t care if you’re a literalist or a liberal – the Power of God is in that set of 66 books. You will find God in those words (try to resource a good translation like the New International Version or The Voice) and they will comfort you and set you up for that glorious moment of restoration – the big wash – that is coming to restore you to a fresh awareness of God’s will for your life and a clarity of vision that only He can provide.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In the medical field, visual clarity isn’t something that occurs by one’s trying to see better or by applying a plethora of home-remedies. It occurs via the efforts of a skilled outside agent who is able to alter the eye’s lens in order to enhance or correct poor vision. Similarly, we must await God’s agent – the Spirit – to restore to us the perspective, outlook and vision we are deeply in need of to get through this thing called life. We cannot experience these necessary renewals through any amount of redo’s that we embark on, no matter how sincere our effort.

Wait for God to be the Saviour He truly is. You will not be disappointed.

“But those who trust in the Eternal One will regain their strength. They will soar on wings as eagles. They will run—never winded, never weary. They will walk—never tired, never faint.”
The book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 40, verse 31 (The Voice Translation)

“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”
Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 10, verse 13 (New Living Translation)

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, chapter 7, verse 10 (NIV Translation)

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.”
Book of Revelation chapter 3, verse 19 – Jesus speaking through John the disciple to the church in Laodicea (N.I.V. Translation)

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”
Paul’s letter to the Phillippians, Chapter 2, verse 13

“To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
Second letter of Peter, chapter 1, verses 1 thru 4 (NIV Translation)

 

©Flagrant Regard; used by permission

June 4, 2015

Job and God Hash Things Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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So admittedly, my header for today’s post and its original title at Clarke Dixon’s blog seem to be at odds, but trust me, it’s the same article!

Woe is Me (or What Do Stephen Fry and the Prophet Isaiah Have in Common?)

A presenter on a television show asked celebrity Stephen Fry the following question: “Suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates, and are confronted by God. What will Stephen Fry say to him, her, or it?” Here is his response:

I will basically…that is the odyssey…I think I’d say, ‘bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right. Its utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?’ That’s what I’d say.”

The presenter then asks “And you think you’re going to get in?” To that came the following:

No! But I wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t want to get in on his terms. They’re wrong. Now, If I died and it was – it was Pluto, Hades, and it was the twelve Greek gods, then I would have more truck with it, because the Greek’s were… they didn’t pretend not to be human in their appetites, and in their capriciousness and in unreasonableness. They didn’t present themselves as being all-seeing, all-wise, all-kind, all-beneficent. Because the god who created this universe, if indeed it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac. Utter maniac. Totally selfish. Totally…. We have to spend our life on our knees, thanking him? What kind of god would do that? Yes, the world is splendid, but it also has in it insects, whose whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. That eat outwards from the eyes. How — why? Why did you do that to us? You could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable.

So, you know, atheism is not just about them not believing there is – not believing there is a god, but on the assumption that there is one, what kind of god is he? It’s perfectly apparent that he’s monstrous, utterly monstrous, and deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish him, your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, and more worth living in my opinion. [Source: LYBIO.net]

What would you say? Some would say “thank you.” It seems that some would say “God, why didn’t you do it the way I would have done it?” Isaiah is a prophet who in a vision found himself before the throne of God. Check out what he ends up saying:

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings:with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said:“Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
(Isaiah 6:1-5 NRSV)

Isaiah’s first response to being confronted with the full-on holiness and majesty of God is humility: “Woe is me. I am lost.” Humility is also the response of Job when he finds himself confronted and challenged by God. He has had a deep and divided theological discussion with his friends, but then God confounds him with two chapters of questions which could summed up with “Job, are you God?”

3 Then Job answered the Lord:
4 “See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
5 I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but will proceed no further”
(Job 40:3-5 NRSV)

After more questions from God in chapters 40-41 Job again responds with humility:

1 Then Job answered the Lord:
2 “I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? ’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me. ’
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes”
(Job 42:1-6 NRSV)

When confronted with the presence of God, Job quietens down. So too, does Isaiah. Note that Isaiah does not simply say “woe is me, I am an unclean man” but rather “woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips.” He knows it is better to keep quiet. There is something about the full-on presence of God in all His glory that causes us to go silent. While we might think about what we might like to say to God when we stand before His throne, what we will be able to say is another matter altogether. When our Lord returns and we stand before His throne there will be what we might call, a great “shutting up.”

We must note, however, that there is a place for questioning and complaint before God. Lament is an important expression of our faith and the book of Psalms especially can help us with that. I have many of the same questions as Stephen Fry. But when it comes to the great jigsaw puzzle of faith, it has become far too wonderful a picture to let the pieces I cannot yet place keep me from working at it. I cannot help but enjoy the beauty of what is completed thus far. Some people start with those tricky-to-place pieces and never get going on the rest. There is a place for lament, for wrestling with God over the tricky bits, but there is no place for telling God “I know more about being God than you do.” The experience of His presence and glory will strip us of that deception.

And how we love to comfort ourselves with deception. Like the activity tracker on my watch that tells me I get moderate exercise while riding my motorcycle. That comes as great and comforting news to me. People like to deceive themselves with the notion there is no God. As Stephen Fry pointed out “The moment you banish him, your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner.” After all, without God there is no “woe is me” moment. Or you can also delete the “woe is me” moment by creating your own spirituality. In fact you can make yourself the centre of the universe. Adam and Eve tried that out. But when God showed up, they hid. Deceptions will always let us down. If I carry on the deception that riding my motorcycle is great exercise, I will soon need to trade in my 125 for a Harley Davidson Fat Boy. Seeking comfort through deception will lead us to a very uncomfortable place. But when we get out into the presence of God and have our “woe is me” moment, we find a strange, and very comforting thing happens. Let us return to Isaiah’s vision:

6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said:“Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me.
(Isaiah 6:6-8 NRSV)

The greatest comfort comes from a true vision of the glory of God, for His glory consists of His compassion and grace as well as his holiness and justice. God’s glory leads us to say “woe is me” when we apprehend His holiness and our lack, but also to say “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NRSV) when we are apprehended by His grace and love. God’s glory is made up of every true thing that can be said about Him, and not one thing less. It includes the deep, deep love of Jesus.

The apostle Paul must have had an excruciating “woe is me” moment when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, while travelling a path of persecution against Christianity. He must have rejoiced with incredible joy when he realized he was forgiven and sent on to serve the One he tried to destroy.

Have you had a “woe is me” moment? I must admit that it has made my life simpler, purer, cleaner, and more worth living.

June 20, 2014

Keeping A Spiritual Journal: When You Look Back

Phil. 3:10 I want to know Him inside and out. I want to experience the power of His resurrection and join in His suffering, shaped by His death…  (The Voice)

When you write a devotional blog, or keep a devotional journal, inevitably there are times when you look back at past entries and say, “What on earth was that about?”  What obviously made a great deal of sense on the day you wrote it suddenly appears to be random. You know there was a spark that set pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, but now you are lost trying to decipher it.

The Knowledge Effect

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  (Job 42:3, NIV)

Job realizes that from day one of his experience, where the discussion is concerned, he’s been in way over his head. He is humbled and contrite. In verse six, Job is found saying,

Therefore I despise myself
    and repent in dust and ashes.”

I think there’s a lesson in this for all of us. It’s easy to jump into a discussion based on some micro-topic, but it’s difficult to see the macro-implications, the big picture. Which of us hasn’t, at some time, regretted that we started talking; or begun a sentence only to realize part way through that we have no idea how to get to the period at the end of that sentence?

Christianity 201 - newI call this blog Christianity 201, but some days I feel like, ‘Who am I to say I’m at the 201 level?’ Some days I feel like I’m back at 101, or Pre-101. My goal is to introduce topics that immerse readers in the deeper things of God, but some days I feel like I’m more immersed in the shallow things of Paul. (Thankfully, we run about 67% re-posts from other blogs, so I’m able to surround myself with the depth of other, great writers.)

I look back on posts from six months ago, or two years ago, and what seemed so profound seems to ring hollow. Not every one of them, but some of them. But some of this may be due to:

The Manna Effect

15b …Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. 16a This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need…

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.  (NIV)

Sometimes, I believe the Lord gives us what we need for that particular day, and only for that day. I don’t want to push the analogy here and suggests that I look back on previous entries here and feel they stink, but if the analogy fits, so be it.

I believe that God is trying to perfect us and teach us, but it’s not necessary that we remember the intimate details of each circumstance and each lesson. Rather, I think the truths of God are applied like layers of paint.

Last summer we stained a wooden deck chair. We bought the stain because it was on sale, and then looked for something to use it on, and settled on this rocking deck chair with wooden slats. I kept applying layer after year of wood stain, and didn’t honestly think the first coat did anything, nor did the subsequent coats appear to make any difference. But this summer, you can see the result of my work.

I believe that each sermon, each hymn or worship song, each Gospel story, each Epistle, each Psalm or Proverb, etc., is contributing to the finished work of who we are. Don’t expect to be able to go back and figure out what you were thinking when you wrote it. What matters is that you were faithful, you were obedient, and you were focusing your mind and your heart on God as you typed or wrote.

Lam. 3:22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.  (ESV)

However, some times you look back and you realize it’s not The Manna Effect or The Knowledge Effect but it’s,

The Maturity Effect

Sometimes it’s not what you wish you knew back then, or that you can’t get your head in the same place where you were; rather, it’s you’re not the same person you were before.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.  (I Cor. 13:11 NLT)

Hopefully, some of the things I was writing a few years ago don’t make any sense at all, because I have moved into a more mature place in both my walk and my knowledge of God.

I’m not going to be so bold as to say that’s the case, but I hope I can look back on things I was writing about perhaps a decade ago, and even laugh, because I’ve gained the perspective that comes with walking with God for a longer time.

II Peter 3:18 But grow in grace (undeserved favor, spiritual strength) and recognition and knowledge and understanding of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… (Amplified Bible)

Do you keep a journal or a blog? What do you find when you look back at older entries?

May 20, 2013

Keeping an Eternal Perspective

It’s hard for me to believe it’s been more than a year since we last visited the blog Digging The Word. It is a great Bible study and devotional resource. This post appeared in April under the title Living with Eternity in Sight, and as always, you’re encouraged to click through.



1 Peter 5:6-11  So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time He will lift you up in honor.

7  Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you. 8  Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 9  Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.

10 In His kindness God called you to share in His eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, He will restore, support, and strengthen you, and He will place you on a firm foundation. 11  All power to Him forever! Amen.


As Peter comes to the close of his letter to the churches in Asia Minor he gives them a summary of how to live and what their attitude should be as they wait for Christ return. It is a message that is just as relevant to us today.

Humility

One of the biggest struggles that we have is with humility, God knew that we would have a challenge in this area, so the importance of humility is taught throughout the Bible. Humility is required for salvation, we need it in order to see ourselves the way that God sees us, without humility we will not turn to God and ask for help. From that point on our lives should be known for humility, once we see ourselves the way that God sees us, we should find it difficult to view ourselves as much without him.

Isaiah 57:15  The high and lofty One who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: “I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.

It can be difficult to yield to God’s plan and humbly allow his power to work in your life, he may bring calamity and difficulty for a season in order to bring glory to himself or the hard times may be there for your spiritual growth, sometimes it might look easier to take the controls and do things our way.

Here is a statement that I found in a commentary on these verses: “If we do not humble ourselves under God’s grace then he will humble us under his judgments.” Either we will humble ourselves voluntarily or the day will come when we will be humbled by God.

Trust

It is difficult to trust in this world that is full of selfishness and pride, we all try and get our way and look out for ourselves but there is a place and a person that you can put your trust, a place where we can unload without fear. We can go to the cross where we are completely accepted by God and we can trust him to lighten our load.

Psalms 55:22  Give your burdens to the LORD, and He will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.

What more can anyone wish for than to know that the great and merciful God of the universe thinks about you? Not only does he think about you but he also cares! Amazing thought isn’t it?

Stay Alert and Stand Firm

Watch out! Satan will try to use any opportunity to make our lives useless for God. Initially he is out to destroy you by making you a prisoner to death but once you are a child of God and you are no longer under the curse of death his next plan is to make you useless for God.

James 4:7-8  So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  8  Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.

Satan will try to make you fearful and ineffective but we can stand our ground if we stay alert to his schemes. Our best defense against that “roaring lion” is to stay close to God. It seems to me that the devil must hate God and be repulsed by him and the last thing that he wants to do is hangout close to him. So if I am staying close to God then the devil won’t want to come close to me.

Perspective

It is best to live with your long term goal in site. Do you have a long term goal? Every child of God has one but too often the stuff of this world will try and take our focus from the eternal glory that we will share with Jesus and get our focus on the short term problems around us.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  18  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

God has called me to greater things than I can imagine! God will take care of every need for this life and he will provide for my eternal destination. The devil will use the pain and trouble of this world to try and get me off track but I will choose to “fix my gaze on things that cannot be seen.”

Thank you Lord for teaching me how to get through this world, thank you for loving me and giving me a new perspective on how to live, help me to keep my eyes on the eternal.

July 11, 2012

Build, Pray, Love, Look

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Call to Remain Faithful

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

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

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

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

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

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

(scripture text added)

May 15, 2012

Sometimes Spirituality is Messy

NIV Luke 18:35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

from Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli (bio):

…Religious institutions do not like surprises and especially dislike a spirituality which threatens the status quo. Threaten others with a loud and boisterous faith, and you will be politely (at first) asked to quiet down; dance your faith instead of sitting still in your pew, and you will be asked to leave; talk about your faith with passion, and you will get expressions of concern about the inappropriateness of your emotions.  Allow others to see your brokenness, and you will be reprimanded for being too open; hear the music of faith, and you will be warned of the danger of emotional instability…

…All of us tend to seek comfort, to structure predictability, to eliminate the new and different from our experience. The word messy strikes fear into the hearts of the comfortable. According to the comfortable, God does what he always does. “God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow,” which they interpret as “stays the same.” There are those in the church who honestly believe God is a nice and neat God. One quick run through the Bible gives you a different picture. The God of the bible is the master of surprises: frightening clouds of smoke and fire, earthquakes, windstorms and firestorms, donkeys that talk, pillars of salt, oceans splitting apart, using a little boy to kill a giant, the Messiah in swaddling clothes and dying on a cross. No one can follow God and be comfortable for too long…

…When Jesus and his followers show up, it isn’t long before people start pointing fingers and calling names. Jesus was called all kinds of names: wine-bibber.., Sabbath breaker, blasphemer. Over the centuries religious people have refined name-calling to an art. The name most commonly used today? Unspiritual

…According to his critics, Jesus “did God” all wrong. He went to the wrong places, said the wrong things, and worst of all, let just anyone into the kingdom. Jesus scandalized an intimidating, elitist, country-club religion by opening membership in the spiritual life to those who had been denied it. What made people furious was Jesus “irresponsible” habit of throwing open the doors of his love to the whosoevers, the just-any-ones, and the not-a-chancers like you and me.

Nothing makes people in the church more angry than grace. It’s ironic: we stumble into a party we weren’t invited to and find the uninvited standing at the door making sure no other uninviteds get in. Then a strange phenomenon occurs: as soon as we are included in the party because of Jesus’ irresponsible love, we decide to make grace “more responsible” by being self-appointed Kingdom Monitors, guarding the kingdom of God, keeping the riffraff out (which, as I understand it, are who the kingdom of God is supposed to include.)

Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality (Zondervan, 2002) pp 40-48

June 29, 2011

Anyone Out There Totally in Love with God?

Today’s piece is from Jim Thornber, whose blog is actually named “Thinking Out Loud.”  (Great minds think out loud alike.)  Jim’s own story begins, “How does an Assemblies of God minister from Southern California find himself a monk in a Catholic-based community in Eureka Springs, AR?”  You can read that here.  This particular item appeared at his blog under the title I’m Still Calling the Shots in a series titled Scriptures That Bother Me.

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. 1 Cor. 6:19-20.

Every Tuesday morning, I get together at a local coffee shop with a group of men from First Baptist Church. We spend about an hour and a half studying, praying for needs, challenging each other in our relationship with Christ and generally drinking too much coffee. It is one of the highlights of my week.

The other morning as we were studying Crazy Love by Francis Chan, someone asked if we knew anyone who was totally in love with God. You know, a completely sold-out, every fiber of their being doing little more than living, breathing, talking, thinking about and obeying Christ type of person.

We all got silent for a few moments as we racked our brains trying to think of someone we knew who was totally and completely sold out and in love with God. As the silence lingered, I thought it rather humorous that none of us at the meeting thought anyone at the table fit that description. Even the two pastors who were there, yours truly being one of them, weren’t named by anyone else in the group as being totally in love with Christ. Well, that was humbling!

The first person who came to my mind was Mark Buntain, who visited my Bible college in the early 80’s. A missionary to India, Mark founded Calcutta Mercy Ministries, which reaches the poorest in India through schools, a homeless shelter, massive feeding programs, orphanages and a large church. I remember hearing him teach in the chapel at college, and I was struck with his sincerity, complete humility, and absolute dedication to the work Christ called him to.

When he finished speaking, he didn’t come down front and meet the students like most every other every other speaker did, listening to their compliments and signing autographs. Instead, Mark turned around and dropped to his knees at the choir pew and engaged in prayer. That image is still burned in my mind.

I remember watching him walk alone through campus, oblivious to all the students and the beautiful scenery as he talked out loud to God, praying and praising the Lord as walked. He had one thing on his mind as he walked, and it wasn’t how he appeared to the students; it was how he appeared before the Lord God his Savior. And, if you stopped him and engaged him in conversation, he didn’t make you feel like you were interrupting him. However, you knew you were in the presence of one who spent his every waking hour walking with God.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul says, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). If that is true, that we are not our own, then why can I only think of a few people who actually live that way? I know I don’t. Sure, I claim Jesus is my Lord, but too often I live with myself calling the shots. How often have I prayed for guidance in ministry, only to edit where I’ll go based on the geography or size of the church without even consulting God?

This idea that I am not my own, that I was purchased by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, has been haunting me for a week, if only because I know the price that was paid and how I repay that price by leading my own life at my own convenience.

It is time I seriously consider making God the True Lord of my entire life. Maybe then, the next time someone asks if they know anyone completely and truly in love with and sold out to God, I might just come to someone’s mind.

~Jim Thornber

April 26, 2011

Powerful Worship Song: Speak, O Lord

Do you appreciate the worship songs posted here, or do you wish that every day was a text devotional or Bible study?  We’ve somewhat evolved a style here with something different in terms of mix or balance, and I think some days a great worship song can say as much or more than a great devotional post.

I saw this online at Tim Challies blog a few days ago, he had the making of the song with Kristyn Getty, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend.  I thought it would be great to share all three verses of the song.

Allow God to speak to you as you listen.

Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.

Teach us, Lord, full obedience,
Holy reverence, true humility;
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
In the radiance of Your purity.
Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see
Your majestic love and authority.
Words of pow’r that can never fail—
Let their truth prevail over unbelief.

Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds;
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us—
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity.
And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises,
And by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.
Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built
And the earth is filled with Your glory.

April 2, 2011

The Discipline of Walking With The Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Paul Steele