Christianity 201

January 3, 2017

Add God to Your Equation

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Today we pay a return visit to Weeping Into Dancing. Click the title below to read at source.

God’s Point of View and Proportions

When life is chaotic, painful, or full of uncertainty, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Exhaustion wears a person down, both physically and spiritually. And without time in the Word, depression is certain to knock on our door. It takes both physical and spiritual strength to weather a storm, and we require nourishment to persevere a lengthy or intense battle.

Without spiritual manna, the devil can easily establish footholds in our walk with Christ. Footholds are often secured when we doubt the goodness and faithfulness of God. Is God not constant? Is He good only when times are joyful and fruitful? Or, is God good, in spite of the trials that try to knock us sideways?

God does test our faith. But when adversity comes, He hopes the struggle succeeds in chiseling away personal impurities. Remember, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ. When we look into a mirror, we should see Christ in our reflection.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.James 1:2-4 (NKJV)

But the devil, always the prowling opportunist, uses adversity to spread lies. His lies attack the very nature of God.

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10 (NKJV)

In good times and bad times, we have to keep our focus on things above. By doing so, we obtain a proper perspective of our situation and correctly see things in their right proportion. Our circumstances may look grim, but Jesus walks with us through every storm!

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)

When we remember God’s love for us, we can look at our situation and identify positives, if we search them out. God is all about turning bad things into good. Learning to develop God’s perspective on life is greatly beneficial, but it takes self-discipline and there is no room for self-pity.

Consider the story of David and Goliath. If David had simply looked at the proportions of size and strength when facing Goliath, he would never have approached the giant. But David put God into the equation. He knew that all things were possible with God. He also knew that God would not be mocked.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.Galatians 6:7 (NKJV)

David had God’s perspective when he accepted Goliath’s battlefield challenge. He was able to perceive things from God’s point of view. He knew God was all-powerful. He was certainly far greater than the prideful Philistine who had yelled insults at God’s chosen people. Without armor, and holding a mere slingshot, David slew the enemy who had insulted his God, tormented King Saul, and terrorized the entire army of Israel.

King Saul, David’s brothers, and the Israelite army were paralyzed with fear because they viewed the giant and his challenge with earthly eyes. When God is not added into the equation of life, the proportions of the battle before us will cause feelings of intimidation and even terror.

If you find yourself in a time of testing, where a trial of some sort presses in, add God to your equation. When you do, the obstacles Satan has planted for intimidation purposes will appear out of proportion. Circumstances that initially seemed vast and capacious will melt away and become a fraction of what they had once appeared to be. The Light of the World will disperse all darkness and expose the devil’s handiwork. Step-by-step, through every twist, bump, and turn in your road, God will walk beside you in love, grace, and mercy. Like David, you too will sleigh your Goliath because God is with you.

The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” Isaiah 58:11 (NKJV)

 Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you.Proverbs 4:25 (NKJV)

 “So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:6 (NKJV)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

July 6, 2016

Not Loving the World; Not Being Led Into Temptation

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Greg LaurieAs we did last summer at this time, we’re returning to the devotional website of evangelist and pastor Greg Laurie; today’s devotional is a 2-for-1 special! Click the titles to read at source, and consider recommending this site to people who are just starting out on their devotional routine.

Frenemies with the World

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.

The word frenemy is a relatively new term in the English language. A frenemy is neither an actual friend nor an outright enemy. Thus, he or she is a frenemy. My concern is that some Christians have become frenemies with the world.

By “world” I mean a mentality, a system, a way of thinking. The Bible defines the world this way: “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—that is the world.

I think sometimes Christians get confused about this. They think anything that is enjoyable is worldly. But the Bible says that God has given us all things to richly enjoy (see 1 Timothy 6:17). It’s great to enjoy things that are wholesome and uplifting. This is not what the Bible is referring to when it speaks of the world.

The Message says it this way: “Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father.”

Little temptations can seem almost harmless, like cute little kittens. But little kittens ultimately turn into cats. And a little temptation can become a full-scale sin. As Christians, we have three enemies we contend with every day: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world with its allure is the external foe. The flesh with its evil desires is the internal foe. And Satan with his enticements is the infernal foe.


The Reward in Resisting

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

I heard about a pastor who was making a hospital visit and parked his car in a no-parking zone because he couldn’t find a parking space. He circled around multiple times, but finally he had to stop so he could go and see the person who had requested him. He decided to write a note and place it under his windshield wiper in case a police officer came along. The note said, “I have circled the block ten times. I have an appointment to keep.” Then, thinking of a Scripture verse, the pastor wrote, “Forgive us our trespasses.”

When he returned, he was surprised to find a ticket under the windshield wiper. At the bottom of the ticket, a note read, “I have circled this block for ten years. If I don’t give you a ticket, I’ll lose my job.” The note ended with a Scripture quotation as well: “Lead us not into temptation.”

Everyone gets tempted, including ministers. No one enjoys being tempted. In fact, we probably would prefer that temptation didn’t exist at all. But the Bible says there is actually a blessing in getting through temptation. James 1:12 says, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

This verse tells us that temptation can be endured: “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation.” There is no such thing as a temptation that is too hard to resist. God will allow only what you can handle (see 1 Corinthians 10:13).

It is hard to be tempted, but when you resist and get through it, that is a great victory. In fact, there is a reward waiting. There is a blessedness when you have come through times of temptation.

April 14, 2016

Where Do You Go?

Just a few weeks ago we looked at Psalm 1. I may have mentioned before that it’s one of several passages I use when I wake up in the middle of the night and want to empty my thoughts of all other distractions so I can get back to sleep.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The first four lines above form verse 1. In the language of the King James (and a few other versions) we see three different physical postures:

  • walks
  • stands
  • sits

While the language is metaphorical, as I thought about this, it occurred to me that there were three pieces of advice I could take away from this in terms of my relationship to the ungodly:

  • I don’t want to go where they go (the path that sinners tread, NRSV)
  • I don’t want to know what they know (follow their advice, NLT; or their ridiculing of Christ, AMP)
  • I don’t want my life to show what they show (living like sinners, ERV)

I couldn’t help at this point be reminded of a song we sang when I was a child, that was based on John 14:6

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

We would sing the first sentence of the song twice (adding ‘that’s what Jesus said.’) and then a short bridge:

Without the way there is no going
Without the truth there is no knowing
Without the life there is no showing.

The similarity to me was striking. In the Psalms verse, keeping bad company shows itself in a life by following the wicked (or ungodly, or evil ones, or sinners; various translations); while following Jesus also shows itself in ways we can express in physical action verbs: going, knowing and showing. (Full disclosure: We would sing ‘living’ on the last line, but later on I heard it done with ‘showing’ to complete the rhyme scheme.)

Now in my own life, I don’t physically follow the path of the wicked. My feet don’t take me into places I shouldn’t be. I don’t take the counsel of the wicked.

Or do I?

It occurred to me as I considered this that the physical act of “going where they go” isn’t all this verse is saying to us in 2016, because while we live in the physical world, we spend a lot of our time in the virtual world.

How much of time is spent online, and once there, how much is my values system being shaped by the broader culture?

Too much.

At the Together for the Gospel conference this morning (while I was watching the live stream) one of the speakers spoke about how much of the church’s value system and definition of what’s right and what’s wrong is being shaped by the dominant culture. This is true of the church as a whole, as well as local churches.

By the way, the phrase “standing in the way of…” which the older translations use has shifted in meaning today, where it has more the sense of “standing in someone’s way” i.e. blocking or preventing from what they want to do.

I would argue that today we do actually need to “stand in the way” of sinners, in the sense we need to put our hands up and declare their philosophy and values aren’t welcome in our spiritual community or even in our thoughts. We need to — perhaps even physically — have a sign on our computer that says, “No Access;” which is directed to the forces of this world that desire to control our attitudes and actions.

Some of the best teaching moments Jesus had with his disciples happened while they were “on the way” to some next destination. That’s the way we want to be found in, the way of Jesus.


For all translations of Psalm 1:1, click this link.

 

 

 

 

July 26, 2015

Uriah’s Wife and Potiphar’s Wife

One of the Lectionary readings for today is the story of what the paragraph header in one translation calls “David’s Great Sin.”

2 Samuel 11:1Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem.

      2Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance. 3So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her

As it was read in the church we visited this morning, I couldn’t help but think of the contrast between this story and the story of Joseph with Potiphar’s wife.

Genesis 39:4Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his [Potiphar’s] attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate...

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” 8But he refused…

11One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.

You wouldn’t know it by the classical art paintings shown at Wikipedia, but I’m sure in that time and place Potiphar’s wife — whose name is never given — was in her day equally hot as Bathsheba, who by today’s standards doesn’t fare well in similar paintings either. Rather, there’s something else going on here; we ascribe Joseph’s refusal of the woman’s seduction to his character whereas we look at David’s actions as showing a lack of character.

Joseph was doing his job. While today leaders — Christian or otherwise — are advised not to put themselves in a place where they are alone with a woman, he was after all where he was supposed to be. Responsibilities for Potipar’s household was written into his job description.

Like Joseph, there are many times in my life where I can look back and say that I held my convictions and remained strong in the face of sexual temptation. But as a I grew older, I realized that if I was really strong, I wouldn’t have put myself in those situations in the first place.

Many pastors and counselors who must meet with a person of the opposite sex often do so with their office door kept open, or meet in a public place. Temptation can happen at any time. Under the circumstances — and let’s face it, without warning in the book of Genesis to read — Joseph did well.

David, on the other hand, was not where he was supposed to be. You could say his observing the woman on the roof was a chance accident, but the first verse in the text simply doesn’t give us that option. He was at that time in the wrong place, and worse, he initiated the sexual encounter with Uriah’s wife.

Where Joseph ran away from the temptation, David ran toward the temptation. Where Joseph did everything he could do to avoid a sinful situation, David engineered the circumstances to both commit adultery and attempt to cover it up.

When Potiphar’s wife didn’t appreciate having her advances spurned, she fabricated a story that ended up with Joseph in prison. Despite this, God was orchestrating a plan that would see him returned to the same position of power, or one even greater, that would save the nation and even save his own family.

It’s a stretch, but because through the years in prison it came about that Potiphar learned that Joseph could interpret dreams, I can almost hear Joseph saying to Mrs. Potiphar what he would later say to his brothers,

Gen 50:20You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

David recognized his sin, and we believe his prayer of confession and his plea for God’s mercy. But there were long-term consequences. The wound healed, but the scars remained.

Ask Yourself: Because temptation is everywhere, when I encounter it, am I going to be Dave or Joe?


Bible verses today are from BibleHub.com; each verse number is also a link.

 

 

June 9, 2015

The Lord’s Prayer with Full Verse Cross-References

Monday morning at Thinking Out Loud, we offered a list of twelve (plus 3 bonus items) Bible passages (as opposed to verses) that every seasoned Christian should know. You can read that list by clicking here. Topping the list was The Lord’s Prayer. A few months ago at the blog Journey to the Center of the Soul, the author presented an expanded version of the prayer, which consists of incorporating a number of cross references; and I wanted to share that with readers here.  To read this at source, click the title below. Because we always put the scriptures in green here (to remind us of the similarity to a branch that is green when it has life) the entire post today is in green!

The Lord’s Prayer – Expanded Edition

We all know it by heart. We can recite the words without even thinking about what we are saying. I don’t think that was Jesus’ intent when He gave us that template for prayer we now call The Lord’s Prayer. So I would like to offer you an expanded version that I hope will help you think about what He was teaching us.

Our Father in heaven, let your name be kept holy, By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples1. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven2. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ3. [And] that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him4.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people5.  [Saying], for this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life6.  But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you7.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven8.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come9.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’ 10.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And he said to his disciples, Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing… And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them11. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus12.

and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses13.  And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses14.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift15. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive16.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it17.  Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted18. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you19. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil20.

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen

There’s nothing else to say! Blessings.

References:   1John 15:8,  2Matthew 5:16,  3Romans 15:5-6,  4John 5:23, 5Matthew 4:23, 6John 6:40, 7Matthew 12:28, 8Matthew 16:19,  9Matthew 24:14, 10Matthew 25:34, 11Luke 12:22-23,30, 12Philippians 4:19, 13Matthew 6:14-15, 14Mark 11:25, 15Matthew 6:23-24, 16Colossians 3:12-13, 171Corinthians 10:13, 18Hebrews 2:18, 19James 4:7, 20Ephesians 6:11

September 21, 2014

One Single Rule, One Solitary Commandment

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden ‘?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'” 4The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.…   Genesis 3 (NIV)

This article by Jered Totten appeared earlier this month at the blog Christians in Context. As usual, you’re encouraged to read this at source by clicking the title below.

“All the Law and the Prophets…” in a piece of fruit

A million yeses, one no

We’re all familiar with the story. In fact, if you grew up in the church, you’re probably so familiar with the story that there’s no surprise, no suspense left in it. But Genesis 3 is an epic drama. The fate of the entire human race hanging in the balance as good and evil are paraded across this cosmic stage. It was Shakespearean before Shakespearean was cool.

And at the center of it all: fruit. Yep, skin and pulp and juice. A plum, a pear, maybe a pomegranate. We don’t know. There are some (quite serious) people out there who are certain it was a grape because wine comes from grapes and wine is the devil’s drink. I’ll leave that discussion for another time (perhaps after we share in the Communion table?).

But almost every person who has read that fateful chapter has at one time or another expressed the same frustration and confusion at the account of the fall:

“What’s the big deal with the fruit?!!”

I mean, it seems so arbitrary. So piddling. So banal. My pastor once described the pre-fall state of Adam and Eve as “a million yeses and one no”. But that one “no” seems so maddeningly trivial that some people are inclined to allegorize the entire story. “Surely the fruit represents sex” they say. (Right. ‘Cause that makes sense after God puts two nekked people in Eden and tells them to “be fruitful and multiply”. Sorry, try again. Better luck next time. Don’t quit your day job.)

But if this world of typhoid and typhoons, racism and rape, gender wars and genocide, tyranny and tragedy, is all due to a literal little nibble on the no-no nectarine (say that five times fast)…well, then we’ve got a bigger problem on our hands: namely, a God who looks a whole lot like Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts tearing through the universe crying “off with their heads!” when someone sneezes on his backswing.

Is there any way to understand the fruit, the forbidden, the fall, that doesn’t turn the entire story into a metaphor or turn God into a whimsical deity guilty of a cosmos-swallowing overreaction?

A long time ago in a Galilee (not so) far, far away…

I am reminded of another story in Scripture where there was a discussion about another singular rule, another solitary commandment.

And one of the scribes came up and … asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
(Mark 12:28-30 ESV)

From Jesus himself we are given the big E on the eye chart, the bullseye on the moral dartboard of life. Every other command, rule, prohibition, and exhortation uttered by God flows out of this one, including the one Jesus mentions immediately after (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”).

Or to say it another way, if you keep this one rule (love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength) then by default you will have kept all the other rules as well…including that one way back in the garden. Yes, the one about the fruit. Yup, the weird one. We’ll get there, but first, Jesus’ one commandment:

Love the Lord with all your heart:
Do you desire God more than anything else? Or are there other things that capture your heart and steal your affections?

Love the Lord with all your soul: Do you find your deepest identity in who God says you are? Or are you tempted to find your identity in who others say you are and the identity you can create for yourself?

Love the Lord with all your mind: Do you trust an infinitely wise and good God? Or do you trust your own reasoning first and only turn your thoughts in God’s direction when it makes sense to you?

Love the Lord with all your strength: Will the labor of your hands be used to show God as great, God as glorious, God as worthy of worship, praise, and honor? Or will you work and strive for that which will bring yourself glory and applause?

And now we are ready to return to the garden. Perhaps, by now, you see where I am going. Because the fruit didn’t just represent some arbitrary no-no. No, no, not at all. It represented a God-alternative that asked for their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Heart At Satan’s flowery promises of an eye-opening meal, Adam and Eve desired what the fruit offered more than what God offered.

Soul At Satan’s charge that God was holding out on them and that they could be so much more (i.e. “like God”), Adam and Eve reached for self-created identities rather than the identities given them by God.

Mind At Satan’s alternative story (which included painting God as a liar), Adam and Eve trusted their own reasoning and wisdom more than they trusted God’s.

Strength At Satan’s prompting, Adam and Eve lifted their hands to work for their own glory instead of God’s.

Epilogue

So yeah. The fruit was a big deal. If I may be so bold as to say it again, it represented a God-alternative that asked for their heart, soul, mind, and strength. But fortunately for us, God didn’t let the story end there. In the very same chapter of Genesis 3, God promises to send another, a singular offspring of woman, a snake-crusher.

And Jesus came. At every point where Adam and Eve failed (and we all continually fail), he did not. At every temptation for his heart, soul, mind, and strength, Jesus resisted and the full testimony of his life cried out:

“My heart is the Lord’s, and he is my greatest desire. My soul is the Lord’s, and he gives me my deepest identity. My mind is the Lord’s, and he is the most trustworthy source of wisdom and knowledge. My strength is the Lord’s, and my work is for his glory.”

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:15-17 ESV)


Jared is the worship pastor at Redeemer Church in Omaha, NE. He tweets for Christians in Context at @cicblog

August 6, 2014

Excerpts from Mere Christianity

Occasionally we take a break and do a day of quotations from a top Christian author. Today, all the quotations are not only by the same author — C. .S. Lewis — but from the same book, Mere Christianity. These are all from the GoodReads website and at the end is a link so you can read more.  The scripture verses are not part of the quotations or the website, but have been added by me afterwards!


 

C. S. Lewis“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
 II Cor. 3:18


 “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Matthew 16:16

“A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is… A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.”

“When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
James 4:7


“[To have Faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Luke 9:57


“I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner. …I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life — namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.”

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
Isaiah 64:6


“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.”

Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.
Romans 5:5 (AMP)

Here’s the link to the quotations.  There are eight pages.  Choose a couple that I have not selected here, read them slowly to get an idea of what they’re about, and then ask yourself, what scripture verse might I attach to Lewis’ thoughts on this subject?

April 8, 2014

Overcoming Temptation

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James 1:13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Ben Stuart is part of Breakaway Ministries a non-denominational student outreach on the campus of Texas A&M University. The video runs 4.5 minutes.

“Do I believe God really loves me?”

This was an interesting quote at the end: “I dislodge a beautiful thing from the human heart by replacing it with a more beautiful thing.”

 

February 24, 2014

The Hope of Healing for the Broken

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Today’s C201 takes a different course. It’s a snapshot of some personal correspondence that I wrestled with five years ago. While it’s one thing to write and format something here each day, it’s a whole other matter to engage one-on-one with someone, and frankly if that’s what you do online, I think it’s a more noble calling than having a high traffic blog. I’ll let the rest explain itself:

Depending on where you stand on the cessationist or dispensational continuum, you may or may not believe that supernatural healing is still available. Personally, I believe that God is predisposed to healing, but may withhold it if there are greater lessons he has for us. I don’t believe that stops us from asking. In fact, I believe God is constantly saying, “Ask me.”

When it comes to inner healing, we often place it into a separate category. There are people reading this who are asking God for a physical healing that perhaps has been at the top of their prayer list for some time. But there may also be some people reading this who are asking God for victory over some sinful habit or lifestyle and in a way very similar to those seeking physical healing are wondering why this prayer request remains unanswered. To them the question is, “I keep praying and asking God to take away these sinful desires, but day after day they are still there.”

I am not completely lacking in understanding on this — my certificate of sainthood is not yet in the mail — but as I navigate through the blogosphere each week, I try to offer encouragement where I can. (Update: I now have about 500 or more bookmarked in my computer and read many of them each fortnight.)

Part of that encouragement is to follow up and see where people are at a week or two later; I don’t think you should just drop your little kernels of truth and then take off.

So I was a little disappointed to discover that one blogger who seemed to be wrestling with the question of inner healing had taken his blog offline.

Trying to keep things concise, this is what I had written to him:

Some sins can be habitual or even addictive behaviors, but for the most part I think our sin is the result of our choice.

As long as we are in the world, we will have temptation. Paul wrestled with the idea of wanting to do right and finding himself back doing wrong until finally he cries out, “Who will save me from this body of death?” (see Romans 7: 15-25)

I like your concept of exploring this with a parallel look at the subject of healing. We often speak of this as “inner healing,” or “healing of the mind.” Of course, we can’t expect God to rid of us all evil desires in the way he might rid of us disease, or the effects of injury.

Instead, the Bible gives us another concept to consider: Holiness. While the righteousness of Christ is “imputed” to us at salvation; and while we are encouraged to pray “lead us not into temptation;” holiness is going to require a greater effort on our part.

So if, as I started, sin is a result of choice; holiness is going involve making different choices. For God’s part, then what needs to happen is a work of “cleansing.”

Then, the questions would be:
(1) Is miraculous, supernatural cleansing still available? and,
(2) Why do some Christians experience a dramatic before-versus-after cleansing, entering into more holy living; while others continue to grapple with sin?

I think the answer to (1) is yes; God can intervene and take away desires, or send circumstances so that those desires diminish. The answer to (2) is more complex, though some elderly, “holy” people will admit they still struggle with wrong thoughts and desires.

If I had it to write over again, I would have added this: Part of what transacted on the cross was that we were freed from sin having power over us. I no longer have to serve sin. Christ has freed us from the power of sin. Yet still, I may choose to sin.

And one thing I’m learning is that the more I know of Christ and of Biblical teaching, the more that choice to sin is an informed choice. In other words, I am increasingly more responsible for my choices than a blogger in his teens or twenties who may be wrestling with parallel issues.

So how would you answer the two above questions? Which is the bigger request, to ask God to heal someone’s thought life, desires or impulses; or ask God to heal someone of disease? 

Update: Feb. 2014 — While watching an episode of the children’s video series What’s in the Bible, I was reminded that God frees us from the stain of sin, the power of sin and the effects of the presence of sin in the world. Each of these is however, a different focus.

January 24, 2014

The Difference Between Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance

Not the kind of deliverance we're discussing today

Not the kind of deliverance we’re discussing today

Today’s teaching is from the website GreatBibleTeaching.com. This is a topic we return to frequently because life is spiritual battle much of the time. Many times the articles come from a Pentecostal or Charismatic perspective, and I think the issue there is not that such groups over-emphasize spiritual warfare, but that other groups don’t discuss this enough. There are so many related articles at this website that this time I very strongly urge you to click through to read this article at source.

The difference between deliverance and spiritual warfare is that deliverance is dealing with demonic bondages, and getting a person set free, whereas spiritual warfare is resisting, overcoming and defeating the enemy’s lies (in the form of deception, temptations and accusations) that he sends our way. Deliverance involves the breaking up of legal grounds, the tearing down of strongholds (offensive spiritual warfare), and the casting out of demons. Spiritual warfare on the other hand, is dealing with three key things the enemy sends at us: temptations, deception and accusations.

This teaching will give you an idea of how spiritual warfare works. There are other teachings on this site that will go into more detail on certain areas of spiritual warfare.

Offensive vs. defensive warfare

Spiritual warfare comes in two ways: offensive and defensive. Offensive warfare is tearing down the strongholds the enemy has formed in your mind through deception and accusations, and defensive warfare is guarding yourself against the tactics or schemes of the devil.

The enemy’s three primary weapons

There are three things that we can expect from the devil. The Bible tells us that we struggle not against flesh and blood, but against demonic forces. Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” The three primary things we struggle against include:

#1 Deception: To deceive somebody means to make another person believe a lie or something that is not true. When the enemy sends deception your way, it is an attempt to deceive you into believing something that is not true, so you will fall into error. Strongholds are built through deception. A stronghold is formed when deception takes hold in a person’s mind. A stronghold is an incorrect thinking pattern that stems from believing something that is not true.

From the very beginning, Satan deceived Eve into believing that God’s Word was not true. In Genesis 3:4, the devil told her that she will not surely die as God said she would in Genesis 2:17.

#2 Temptation: Temptation often follows deception. First the enemy tells us, “You won’t surely die!”, then he makes the fruit on the forbidden tree look good to us. Since Eve accepted Satan’s deception (his lie), now the tree that she was not supposed to touch looked good to her. She was tempted (enticed) to sin, because she allowed herself to first be deceived. Temptation is when we are enticed or encouraged to sin in one way or another.

In Matthew 4, Jesus was led out in the desert to be tempted by the devil. The devil tried to convince Jesus that it would be harmless to jump off a building. Often people will be so drawn to sex with their boyfriend/girlfriend when the enemy tries to convince them that it is all harmless and fun, when it’s not harmless at all, but an open door to the devil. Jesus saw through Satan’s deception, and resisted the temptation by speaking God’s Word. King David said in Psalms 119:11, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.”

When the enemy tempts you, he’s showing you the worm… but behind that worm is a hook. The Word of God helps you see the hook behind the worm.

#3 Accusations: The devil is known as the accuser of the brethren (Rev 12:10). He is known to take a believer who has done an embarrassing or gross sin in their past, and continue to rub it in their faces and beat them down with guilt and condemnation over their past.

Dealing with deception

We have two weapons to deal with deceptions: the belt of truth (Ephesians 6:14) and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) which is the Word of God. Both are truth, which is found in God’s Word, so why are they given two different names (a sword and a belt)? Because one is meant to be defensive (the belt), while the other is meant to be offensive (the sword). This means that the Word of God is both an offensive and a defensive weapon. A belt is something you wear to guard against an attack, while a sword is used to slaughter the enemy.

You use the belt of truth (God’s Word) to guard against the enemy’s deception (lies) he sends your way, while you use the sword of the Spirit (also God’s Word) to tear down existing strongholds (deception that took hold) in your mind.

In Romans 12:2, we are told to “be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” How do we renew our minds? By getting in God’s Word! In Ephesians 5:26, this process is referred to as washing of water by the Word: “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.”

Dealing with temptation

In James 4:7, we are told to resist the devil and he will flee from us. But it’s not that simple; in the same verse, we are also told to draw near to God. Dealing with temptation is a two fold process of resisting the devil and drawing near to God. The closer you get to God and the more you become aware of His love, the less power temptation will have over you.

James 4:7, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (The context of those verse is clearly speaking of temptation).

In the teaching Forgiven Sinner or Saint?, it shows you how the power of sin (temptation) can be broken in our lives.

Dealing with accusations

The fiery darts of the enemy in Ephesians 6:16 are accusations sent our way. For example, when the devil tries to accuse us of our past sins, we are to have faith in the work of the cross and know that they are forgiven and not to look back. Faith is what we use to put out the fiery darts of the enemy (Ephesians 6:16). We are not to meditate about our pasts, because they have passed away (2 Corinthians 5:17), and our sins have been forgotten (Hebrews 10:17).

Ephesians 6:14, “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth (knowing your sins have been forgiven through your faith in the work on the cross), and having on the breastplate of righteousness (not our righteousness obviously, but the righteousness of God through Christ Jesus);”

Our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), but because of the work of the cross, we can receive the righteousness of God through Christ Jesus (Romans 3:22, Galatians 3:6). Therefore when the enemy tries to remind you of your past, tell him it’s been washed away (2 Corinthians 5:17), your sins have been forgotten (Hebrews 10:17) and you have the righteousness of God (Romans 3:22)!

There are other teachings on this site [GreatBibleStudy.com] that will specifically help you wage war against the enemy’s accusations. They include Condemnation versus Conviction, The Power of Your Thoughts and Dealing with Guilt.

The tearing down of strongholds

A stronghold is deception that’s taken hold in a person’s mind. It’s an incorrect thinking pattern based on a believed lie. People can get incorrect perceptions of God by listening to Satan as he tells them how God doesn’t love them, etc. People can feel like dirty old sinners when they believe Satan’s accusations as he continually reminds them of their past (which has been washed away!). Strongholds are based on lies from the devil. They can come in the form of deception or accusations. Accusations always lead to guilt and the feeling of unworthiness, which weighs you down and tears you apart spiritually.

Since strongholds are built upon lies that we have been fed, the way we tear down strongholds is by feeding on the truth (in God’s Word), which is the opposite of what the enemy has been feeding us. If the enemy has been feeding us a lie, we need to stop eating the lie and start feeding ourselves the truth. The weapon we use to tear down strongholds is found in Ephesians 6:17, “…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” A sword is an offensive weapon and is meant to tear down and kill the enemy’s troops. Strongholds are the devil’s assets in war, and he uses them against us. Take up the sword of the Spirit (God’s Word) today, and start slaughtering the enemy’s assets that he’s been using against you!

The teaching on Strongholds will give you a much better understanding of how strongholds work and how to tear them down.

Some good spiritual warfare books

Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer

Basic Training by Kim Freeman

Spiritual Warfare by Derek Prince

October 29, 2013

Strength to Overcome

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Joshua 17:12 Manasseh was not able to defeat those cities, so the Canaanites continued to live there. 13 When the Israelites grew strong, they forced the Canaanites to work for them, although they did not force them to leave the land.

14 The people from the tribes of Joseph said to Joshua, “You gave us only one area of land, but we are many people. Why did you give us only one part of all the land the Lord gave his people?”

15 And Joshua answered them, “If you have too many people, go up to the forest and make a place for yourselves to live there in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaites. The mountain country of Ephraim is too small for you.”

16 The people of Joseph said, “It is true. The mountain country of Ephraim is not enough for us, but the land where the Canaanites live is dangerous. They are skilled fighters. They have powerful weapons in Beth Shan and all the small towns in that area, and they are also in the Valley of Jezreel.”

17 Then Joshua said to the people of Joseph—to Ephraim and Manasseh, “There are many of you, and you have great power. You should be given more than one share of land. 18 You also will have the mountain country. It is a forest, but you can cut down the trees and make it a good place to live. You will own all of it because you will force the Canaanites to leave the land even though they have powerful weapons and are strong.” (NCV)

I never ceased to be impressed at the number of people who are sharing daily devotional thoughts online. Even if absolutely no one is reading, it provides a discipline in their life that offers much spiritual benefit. I know that after years of trying different daily reading programs, preparing these readings has helped me develop a regular study plan, and has taught me so much. Also, there are just enough regular readers that I am kept accountable. Furthermore, the potential for someone to land on something I’ve written or reblogged here, and have that article change their life, is huge.

Sometimes I’ll use keywords in a Google Blog Search to try to find what someone is saying on a particular topic or Bible reference, but other times, I’ll be using Google (or Yahoo) Image Search to find a picture or graphic which complements an article. That’s how I landed on Devotions By Chris, though I never did find the picture. This appeared on the blog a few days ago under the title Strong Enough to Overcome.  Please give Chris Hendrix — and the other various writers we use here — some encouragement by clicking the titles to read articles at source.

I’ve been reading in the book of Joshua about the land allotment given to each tribe of Israel. You know the part where, like the genealogy sections, we typically skip over. I saw something interesting in Joshua 17:12-13. It says,

“The people of Manasseh never were able to take over these towns – the Canaanites wouldn’t budge. But later, when the Israelites got stronger, they put the Canaanites to forced labor. But they never did get rid of them.”

They couldn’t get rid of a few people in a few towns even after all the great conquests in the Promised Land.

As I read this, I began to think of the sins that I have in my life. You know the type. They’re the ones that no matter what I do, I can’t seem to beat. No matter how hard I try, I still succumb to their temptation every time. I’ve done fasting and prayer to get strong enough to beat them out of my life, but they still keep showing up. I’ll see something in the day that starts the process. My thoughts begin to dwell on the things that will eventually lead to the sin and sooner or later I fall. Sound familiar?

Near the last part of that verse, it says that they forced the Canaanites into forced labor when they became strong enough. When I read that, I thought of II Corinthians 10:5 that says,

“We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

It’s our thoughts that keep the temptation alive in our heads that walk us down the road to sin. I’m not strong enough to drive out those thoughts and so I end up sinning. But here, Paul says we have divine power to demolish the strongholds in our lives.

There is a power beyond ourselves, in Christ, that can give us the power to take those thoughts captive and as the book of Joshua says, “put them into forced labor.” When we try to combat these thoughts in our own strength, there isn’t enough power. Those thoughts seem to be fortified against whatever we throw at it. They’re like the Canaanites in Joshua 17:16. The people of Joseph complained that they didn’t have enough land because the Canaanites had iron chariots and couldn’t be moved.

Joshua didn’t care about the iron chariots. He wasn’t looking at this as a physical struggle, but a spiritual one. He spoke into the tribe what they were that they couldn’t see. He saw what God sees when He looks at us. In verses 17-18 he told them, “you are very powerful” and even tough the Canaanites had iron chariots and were strong too, “you can drive them out.” He spoke into their lives and called out in them what God had put in them. He reminded them of their past victories and current realities.

You may see yourself like these two tribes. You’ve forgotten all that God has forgiven and delivered you from. You have strongholds in your life that you’ve allowed to remain because you haven’t seen yourself as strong enough to beat them. You’ve allowed them to shame you and to accept them in your mind. I’m telling you today that you are strong enough to overcome. You are powerful through the Holy Spirit that God has placed in you. If He has forgiven you and given you deliverance from other sins, He can give you the strength to beat the ones you’re struggling with today. Though they seem fortified with iron, God’s Word is more powerful and it is alive in you today. Bring those thoughts into captivity and drive them out of your mind’s landscape. You are very strong.

Today’s two-for-one special: The theme of Spiritual Warfare appears here very frequently. For past articles, click this link, scroll down the page and select another article to supplement today’s reading.

August 9, 2013

Dealing with Spiritual Dissonance: Five Steps

Although this appeared at a blog called True Woman, the message here is most applicable to men and women alike. The author is Dawn Wilson, and to read this and reader comments at source click this link: Five Steps to Dealing with Spiritual Dissonance.

Spiritual authenticityI’ve never been a jazz fan; I don’t enjoy the dissonance. As I reacted to some jazz music on a television program recently—telling my husband how much I hated it—the Spirit of God suddenly convicted me on some spiritual dissonance in my life:

“You say one thing, but do another. You tell women to be authentic, but what about this area of your life?”

“You say one thing, but do another. You tell women to be authentic, but what about this area of your life?”

A recent incident flashed across my mind, a situation when I exaggerated the truth to the point where it was a lie. Not a good thing. Hypocrisy.

Truth is one of my foundational life values, so when God pointed out the dissonance, I cringed.

My husband Bob, who directs a mission agency, shared one reason for spiritual dissonance in a recent message. “We tend to compartmentalize our lives,” he said, “and when we do that, the spiritual does not carry over into our everyday decisions.”

I wondered—how often do I compartmentalize, relegating the spiritual to designated parts of my life while ignoring or shutting it out in others? Because I want to overcome spiritual dissonance, I’m taking these five steps. I will:

  1. Recognize the dissonance in my heart. When I depart from fellowship with God, my heart wants something else more than Him. I’m drawn away by my natural desires—away from what God desires for me (James 1:14). I need to admit when my harmonious relationship with Him takes on some dissonant notes.
  2. Realize the root cause of my dissonance. I have a new nature in Christ, and God is making me more like His Son; but I still have free will to reject God’s everyday work in my life. James 1:15 says various lusts conceive and give birth to sin. I get that. I want what I want when I want it—things, pleasures, attention (1 John 2:16)—and when I want them more than what God wants for me, I’m an easy target for temptation.
  3. Repent of any sin that causes dissonance. Instead of rationalizing it away or justifying sin, I need to take it seriously. Sin will always separate me from spiritual intimacy with my loving Father. Because God is light, He cannot fellowship with darkness. My sins are already forgiven in Christ, but I must still recognize my wayward heart, repent, and turn from sin (1 John 1:8–10). I’ve got to get honest!
  4. Resist temptations that lead to new dissonance. The Word of God will help me fight the tendency to compartmentalize (2 Cor. 10:4–5; Heb. 4:12). God wants me to embrace truth and resist the enemy’s lies (1 Peter 5:8). When I take refuge in Jesus and the scriptures, God shows me His “way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13).
  5. Refocus on harmony to weaken future dissonance. I will praise and worship God, seek Him, and pray for discernment. Because I know my spiritual dissonance grieves Him, I am asking God to rebuild my character where it is weak and change my heart (2 Peter 1:5–9).

My prayer for spiritual authenticity comes from Colossians 1:10:

“To walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

How does spiritual dissonance creep into your life? What has God taught you about not compartmentalizing your life?

July 31, 2013

Able to Keep You from Falling

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jude24-25

Last night I ended the day listening to a recording of The Jude Benediction. There are several different musical settings for this passage; although this one had some variances, it was closest to the song I remembered.

As I thought of approaching this verse today with excerpts from various sources, my search results first led me to something that was posted only days ago by Deryk on the blog, Becoming Less. As I tried editing this at various points, I felt that I really should run all of it. I hope you resonate with the author’s raw honesty and transparency. And as always, you’re encouraged to read blog posts here at their source; this one was originally titled On Being Kept from Stumbling.

The contents of my heart and mind are kind of raw and disorganized right now. I spend a good deal of time in conversation with other Christians, as well as perusing the internet, to hear and process where the Church is at on a variety of issues and topics and what not. And it can be discouraging.

So many Christians who fight what they understand to be sin in their lives eventually grow weary. That’s nothing new. But when they do, they may glance over to the World, who is waiting with open arms to embrace them in whatever they may be fighting. See, the World won’t condemn, or judge, or even call it “sin.” The World is “tolerant,” and truth can bend and flex to not only accept whatever you might be fighting – the World might even call it a good thing, something to celebrate!

I see Christians doing a lot of bending and flexing and doing a dangerous dance with the World. Some people end up radically reforming their theology, not in a “Reformed” sense but trying to put the pieces back together in such a way that says God’s down with sin that for thousands of years Christians have understood him not to be. At different points throughout history, this may have been more difficult, because the World may not have embraced such change as culturally acceptable, even outside a “religious” sphere – but today, it’s an epidemic.

So in our struggle against sin, we look to a church of redeemed sinners for strength (though we’ve always been crippled and desperately dependent on Christ), and if that’s not enough, the World is waiting with open arms for us to give up and fall completely… only to tell us that we never really fell after all, we just threw off the misguided, oppressive chains of religion to experience enlightenment. What a tricky situation we find ourselves in.

I cling to the hope of this benediction from the epistle of Jude:

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 1:24-25

I read stories of Christians responding to the life-long struggle with our sinful nature that we all face by re-forming their theology to tolerate their sin, or by ditching their faith altogether to try embracing their sin without the pretense of reconciling the two. This is scary. It scares me to see older Christians give up when I’m facing who knows how many more years on this earth, pursuing sanctification but knowing that until I stand before Jesus I’ll always be battling sin. It’s intimidating, not knowing how God will or won’t change me, or how fast, or how radically. What will I do with that in a year? In 5, or 10 or 50?

But Jude reminds me that it’s “him who is able” to keep me from stumbling, and to present me blameless, to himself.

I look at my life and see certain struggles with sin that have greatly diminished, to a point where I pretty much don’t experience them or, at least, not nearly as significantly as when I was in a place of lesser maturity. By the grace of Jesus and the power of his holy spirit in me I have grown in discipline and holiness, and I can testify to him being so good to me in that. But what about the parts of me that aren’t changing like I want? What do I do when I see sin so deep in me, and know that I’m not guaranteed any particular outcome with that short of the day I stand before Jesus?

These words just came to mind as I’m writing… Paul said that he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). I’ve prayed in similar confidence in God’s work in other people so many times, but so often forget about these words when I need hope.

I guess I’m trying to be OK with God’s work in me. I’m trying to be OK with the speed and trajectory that it’s taking, even though I’m, well, not. However I have been skewed, flawed, jacked up by living in a sinful world, and however Jesus decides to heal and free me – or not yet, or not right now – I’m trying to trust him in that. If I’m having to realize that I may not experience the kind of change I long for on this earth, if I’m not a person whose heart and life is characterized by the freedom and holiness I want on the timeline I want it – God is still good. I have to trust in his coming kingdom and present redemption and stay confident that one day I’ll stand before him completely healed and whole.

I deeply desire to be able to joyfully and honestly believe and speak the words of the Doxology in Jude. I want to look at my life and affirm that God is to be praised for keeping me from stumbling, and that I’m headed towards being presented blameless in his glorious presence. I know my sin is paid for, and it doesn’t stick to me, in his eyes; I’m just so sick of the ways it’s so near to me on this earth. I don’t want to grow weary, I don’t want to compromise like so many do.

Please pray for me. Pray for whatever healing and freedom God will grant me, and for holiness and strength in whatever ways I need to bear a cross, including the scars of sin.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”

(Psalm 51:10-12)

 

 

 

Image: Agape Ministries

July 25, 2013

A Path to Conquering Temptations

Temptation

Matthew 5:27-30 (NIV)

Adultery

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[a] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 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.

2 Peter 1:3-5 (NIV)

Confirming One’s Calling and Election

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.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge

Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Today’s writer is Michael Belote at the blog Reboot Christianity. Although it was directed at men specifically, the principles apply to men and women equally. To read this and many other good articles at source, click here.

The best path for conquering temptations

I recently wrote a post about the need for men to step up and own lust as their own sin, instead of constantly blaming women for the way that the women are dressing. The comments, frankly, followed the typical modern Christian teaching on the subject, pivoting to blame women’s immodesty instead of man’s sinful heart. One commenter was honest enough to just lay it right out there, saying that our goal should be to focus on women’s immodesty because then men “wouldn’t have to” deal with lust at all.

What is interesting is that this debate has brought to mind that there is a larger subject under discussion here: what is the best way to avoid temptations? When faced with any physical temptation (alcoholism, drugs, sex/lust, gluttony), what is the best way to avoid it?

Most commenters seem to be focused (at least in the lust debate) on prohibition–that is, our focus needs to be on removing the temptation. If no temptation exists, then voila, we get no sin!

I find this argument to be wholly without merit, for several reasons:

1.  Removal of all temptation is impossible.

You will never, ever ever, remove all temptation. Even if you are somehow able to get Christian women to switch from a two-piece to a one-piece, you still have all the non-Christian women, you still have immodest one-pieces, you still have advertisements on billboards as you drive, you still have commercials on TV that are inappropriate, you still have magazines that show too much skin, you still have internet access with all of its temptations, etc., etc.

Trying to reduce lust by getting one small segment of the population to cover their stomachs on the three days per year that they visit the beach is ridiculous. It’s like trying to eliminate salmonella poisoning by making sure that everyone born in 1983 stops cooking with eggs: you are picking one tiny portion of a massive population, making one small change to it, and hoping that somehow it will magically change everything else.

We have to wake up, people. Lying to ourselves about our ability to change the culture won’t help us at all. We live in a sin-cursed, depraved world. We always have, and we always will. The world has been filled with sex and violence since long before Jesus and will be until He comes back. We are warriors in Enemy-occupied territory, and our goal needs to be to focus on protecting ourselves, not to focus on the ridiculous notion that we can somehow talk the Enemy into not tempting us any more.

Temptations will be here, and to be honest…even if every attractive Christian woman in the world started wearing old-fashioned bathing gowns, it would not make lust significantly easier in our modern era of internet pornography and lewdness everywhere.

2.  Even if we could remove all temptations, this will not diminish the frequency of sin.

As I wrote about in my book, as long as there is a demand in one’s heart for sin, he will find a way to do it. History is rife with examples. Prohibition of alcohol failed miserably, actually increasing alcoholism as people began to buy cheap moonshine instead of having a beer. Muslim countries where women wear burkhas have brutal rapes too–indeed, there is no statistical correlation between the amount of clothing worn in a country and its lustfulness. Sailors put on a boat for months on end, and prison inmates with long sentences, have “switched” from heterosexual to homosexual (or at least, bisexual) to satisfy their cravings for lust, even though their visual stimuli to women was completely removed.

It is simple supply and demand: as long as the demand exists, the actions will still happen: limiting the supply will only increase the cost someone will pay to perform the sin (either literal money, or a “cost” in personal life).

3.  Even if we somehow removed all temptations (impossible) and that removed all frequency of sin (impossible)…even then, that is not self-control as described in the Bible.

The Bible talks a lot about self-control. Jesus talks about it (Matt 5:27-30), Peter talks about it (2Pet 1:3-5), Paul talks about it (Gal 5:22-23). Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and is to allow us to avoid temptations.

Trying to remove all temptations is NOT the same as exhibiting self-control. Let’s use another fruit of the Spirit for example…take any of them. Is it mature to say, “I could exhibit Christian love as long as others were lovable?” Is it mature to say, “I could have joy as long as there was no suffering in my life?” Is it mature to say, “I could have peace as long as we remove any anxiety?” Is it mature to say, “I can be patient as long as I get what I want when I want it?” Is it mature to say, “I can be gentle as long as there is no one making me angry?” Is it mature to say, “I can be good as long as there is no temptation to be evil?” Is it mature to say, “I can be faithful as long as there is no other available choice?”

Of course not! So why is it okay to say, “I can have self-control as long as women don’t dress in a tempting fashion?” Why do we treat self-control differently? We shouldn’t. Just as with the other fruit of the Spirit, self-control must be able to be exhibited in the midst of the temptation, or it is not a discipline at all, and you haven’t grown any closer to Christ in the least.

Does all this that mean I’m saying we shouldn’t also focus on removing temptations? Of course not! Feel free to pray, as Jesus recommended, for God to keep us from walking into temptations–indeed, we should pray for that daily. What I’m saying that removal of temptations is not a necessity to having self-control, and existence of temptations is not an excuse to lack self-control. And further, I am saying that lust is a MUCH bigger problem than just “a natural reaction to immodesty,” and (see the examples I gave in section 2 above) will NOT go away just because we improve women’s modest dress. So we have to stop using immodesty as an excuse, and starting owning the problem–because we will never live in a world free of temptation from lust (or any other sin), until the Lord comes back.  And one day He will fulfill those promises of a world where we have no temptation…but until then, He commands us to learn self-control.

My proposal for men

My proposal is that we do not spend our time hoping that the Enemy will not afflict us with temptations–because that is a losing proposition, and will be until the Lord returns–and instead start donning the armor we need to protect ourselves.

As my boss would say, it’s time for us to “Confront the brutal reality”–and the brutal reality is that, no matter what we accomplish as Christians, in our society we will be tempted, and frequently.

My proposal is that we stop wasting so much energy trying to create a world free from temptation (which we will not achieve), and instead spend our energy creating men who are immune to the temptations.

By far, the most successful program in the history of the world for overcoming temptations is the AA program, which has helped millions overcome crippling addiction. Founded by Christians on Biblical principles, the 12 steps there are a great approach for anyone dealing with any temptation:

  1. Admit that you personally are powerless to overcome the addiction/temptation.
  2. Believe that God can restore you to sanity.
  3. Make a decision to turn your life over to God in this area.
  4. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.
  5. Admit to God and to others the exact nature of your sin.
  6. Be entirely ready for God to remove these defects of character.
  7. Humbly ask Him to remove your shortcomings.
  8. Make a list of all persons harmed.
  9. Make direct amends to as many of them as possible, as long as it does not cause further harm.
  10. Continue personal inventory and when mistakes are made, promptly admit it (usually to a sponsor who has walked the same path).
  11. Seek prayer and meditation to God, asking only for His will and the power to carry it out.
  12. Practice the same by leading others who have the same struggle.

With all due respect, as long as we continue to blame women’s dress for our lustfulness, we fail to go beyond #2 and #4 above–we do not believe that God is capable of removing lust as we are, but rather that temptations must be removed first, and in so doing we are not being “fearless” in our moral inventory.

A final word:  men, I’m not speaking about something that I do not know. I struggled with lust in college, mightily. And the path I walked down–though I didn’t know it at the time–was not far off of the 12-step program. While I still am not perfect, the successes that I have had with regard to gaining self-control in my life (not just over lust, but self-control in general) all began when I admitted that I was the problem, not the world around me. I could gain self-control from the Spirit, and not just hope to never again be tempted.

If you can’t get to that point, then you will never heal. Of course women should make sure they are not tempting men, but that’s an extremely minor part of the problem. And that is why I am so insistent that we stop telling men that they are mindless sex fiends who cannot help themselves if they see a woman in a bikini: it is not true, it is not biblical, and it keeps them from progressing down the path to healing.

June 15, 2013

Heart Guarding

The theme of guarding your heart turns up frequently on devotional blogs, but it’s something we need to be constantly reminded of. This post by Mike Brown appeared at the blog We Are Soma under the title, The Discipline of Guarding Your Heart. Soma is a network of 18 U.S. churches, and Soma School is for existing or potential church planters. Learn more at WeAreSoma.com

 Simply re-arranging the furniture of my life without pulling up the root of the sin that so easily entangles ensures yet another crisis where I am left defining myself by what I do, or don’t do.

When looking at every relationship I have through the lens of discipleship, I am always asking three questions. What do they need to know in order to develop a Biblical mindset about God, themselves and the world? Who do they need to be in order to maintain a close walk with Jesus where His kingdom is first in their heart? What do they need to do in order to live a life consistent with the truth of the gospel?

These are not bad questions, but due to my personality bent, I have given undue attention to the areas of knowing and doing, instead of being. I can teach and train anyone to grow in the knowledge of Jesus. I can imitate and model for others what action that flows out of the gospel looks like. What I can’t do is change someone’s heart, from which all knowing and doing stem. In Proverbs 4:23, King Solomon says

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life”.

Solomon says that above all else, we are to guard our hearts, for that is where every external thing in our life comes from. Merely focusing on knowledge or action without examining our heart motivations is a curriculum to develop Pharisees, not disciples.

My own heart is drawn astray when I am tempted to look at someone’s knowledge of, and obedience to the gospel as the mark of maturity. Yet I have both seen and been the man whose knowledge and obedience are based on fueling the idolatry in my own life, rather than being a reflection of my love for Jesus.

In Proverbs, the heart is seen as the source of all action. It is assumed that it will constantly be under attack, thus to need to guard it with vigilance. We know the Bible teaches that our heart is the essence of who we are as a person made in the image of God. How do we care for our heart in a way that ensures it stays a source of clean fresh water which purifies all of our thoughts and actions?

God led me beside still waters and restored my soul in such a unique way last year that I’m beginning to finally understand the value of rest. I was becoming increasingly concerned about the tone of my voice with my wife, my children, and my church. I was becoming aware of just how many nights I put the kids to bed, spent some time talking to my wife, then went to my laptop “to get a head start on my busy day tomorrow”. I was becoming more susceptible to believe the praise of others about my strengths as well as being crushed by the criticism of my weaknesses. Through the help of a godly community committed to seeing how the gospel speaks a better word over me (Heb. 12:24), I realized that my heart was looking to my productivity as the source of my strength. So, I stopped.

I took several months off to rest. I needed to know my identity was found in Christ, not my preaching. I needed to know the tone of my voice with my kids wasn’t dependent on how good or bad a day I’d had. I needed to see my wife as a God given help to me, not just a partner in life. I needed to care for my church in a way that reflects the self-emptying, sacrificial love of Jesus. I became a part of the community, rather than the guy in charge. I took a vacation where spending the whole day doing nothing but playing with my kids was the work of the ministry. I stopped basing my well being on how much I got done that day.

Through God ordained Sabbath rest, Jesus teaches us how to guard our heart. By resting, we are able to identify our affections and adjust our intentions.

When we take time to step off the treadmill of productivity, and can no longer gain an unhealthy sense of worth or value from our output, we are able to clearly identify the affections of our hearts. What is currently driving my thoughts and actions right now? What am I am showing that I love more than Jesus by the mental and physical energy spent pursuing it? Is rest something I do when all my work is finished, or a discipline practiced regardless of how much work is left?

Only after the Spirit leads us to identify where our affections lie can He teach us to adjust our intentions. Heart change will lead to a renewing of our minds and a re-evaluation of our actions. What needs to be left undone in order to pursue something better? Am I willing to let people down in order to live consistent with a heart that desires Jesus? If my intention is to glorify God and enjoy Him, what needs to be adjusted in my life in order to achieve that?

Simply re-arranging the furniture of my life without pulling up the root of the sin that so easily entangles ensures yet another crisis where I am left defining myself by what I do, or don’t do.

Sabbath rest is a command by God designed to bring life. Only when we see those things in our lives that poison our hearts can we view rest not as a burden, but as a gift from our Heavenly Father, who is always at work restoring our souls.

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