Archive for January, 2010

I’ve got to tell y’all something that happened to me earlier this week.  Ok, so we’ve been working out in the yard for a couple of hours every afternoon lately.  I was putting away the rakes one day and thinking about how much we’ve accomplished in just a couple of weeks.  I thought to myself, “Wow, if we would just spend two hours out here every day, our yard would be in pretty good shape.”  The Holy Spirit immediately spoke straight to my heart, “If you would just spend two hours with Me every day, your life would be in pretty good shape.”

In the age of fast-food, internet, and texting, we get used to the fast-paced life.  Everything’s instant, jumping from one thing to the next.  We get distracted and super-busy with things like school, church activities, helping our families, hanging out with friends, etc.  Some of these can be very good things, but not when they begin to become distractions that keep us from spending time with our Creator.  It’s like the Mary and Martha story: 

38 “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ 41 But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:38-42 (ESV)

Martha was busy serving Jesus and wanted Him to scold Mary for not helping her.  Jesus corrected Martha by saying that Mary realized the one thing that is really important – Him.  Martha was distracted with much serving – did you catch that?  That really hit me – she was distracted by serving!  We aren’t told much about Martha in the Bible, but I think she might have been a lot like me.  A lot of times, I get so busy serving God that I forget to just sit and listen to what He has to say.  I have this tendency to think “Look at what all I do for God,” when I’m often not really doing it for God at all.  I’m doing it so people will praise me, not so they will praise God.  And that means that I’m doing it for men, and not for God.  Ultimately, I’m focusing on ME.

So I guess what I’m saying is, let’s get refocused.  Do we truly take great pleasure in just sitting and learning what God has to say?  Let me tell you, there are many times when I don’t.  I just want to hurry up and get done reading my daily Bible chapter so that I can check it off and get on with whatever else I have to do.  But you know what?  The Bible is the only book God has ever written, it’s His love letter to us, His bride!  And it is how He speaks to us nowadays, so if we want to know more about what He has to say, we have to know more of His book!  And what about prayer life?  Don’t ask me for advice about that, because I will be the first to tell you, my prayer life is anything but consistent.

If we want to live a victorious Christian life, we’ve got to slow down and listen to Him.  A fire will die down if you don’t add more wood to it.  We are the light the world, but to keep the light burning, we have to refuel it – and He is the fuel.  Does that make sense?

As wonderful as it is to work for the Lord, we shouldn’t let it distract us from spending time with Him.  Yes, we are commanded to do good works in our Christian walk (Eph. 2:10).  We’ve just always got to remember that the focus of our life is not so much on those we serve temporarily, but on Him Who we will serve eternally.

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“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5 (ESV)

One reason I have struggles in my spiritual life is because I have often ceased to abide in Christ.  I think “abide” is a church-y word – you know, we hear it all the time, but what does it actually mean?  According to the Bible study teacher at the retreat I mentioned earlier, “to abide” means: to stay, rest, or remain contentedly.  We are commanded to abide in Christ – we’ve got to rest contentedly in His arms trusting that His plan is best for us (Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 8:28). 

As the branch is always connected to the vine (or trunk if you’re thinking of a tree), receiving nourishment through the sap that flows through the entire plant – in the same way, we must always be communicating with our Savior, receiving nourishment through His Spirit and His Word.  Abiding in Him is the only way we can ever bring forth fruit to His glory.  Seriously, you don’t see branches running around by themselves producing fruit, do you?  The ones that aren’t connected to the tree are dead or will be soon.  We’ve got to be connected to the vine!

Now, I will admit, the thought has more than once crossed my mind, “But that’s so boring.  What about my freedom?  Doesn’t God want me to be happy?” Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  Being “connected to the vine” doesn’t mean that we’re gonna be sitting in the corner, pinned to the tree like we’re in time-out.  Abiding in Christ is one of the most fulfilling things we’ll ever experience before we get to Heaven!   It doesn’t mean we won’t be allowed to have fun anymore!  But I do believe that it means that the nature of things that we enjoy might change.  As we learn to delight in His presence, He will form our desires to be like His desires.

I think “contentedly” is the key word in the concept of abiding in Christ.  I guess it kind of goes along with the “being in charge” concept from yesterday.  If I keep trying to be in charge, it’s a sign that I am not content with the direction in which Jesus is guiding my life, or simply think I could do better.  How wrong of me to think that!  We can only see a tiny section of the beautiful masterpiece He wants to make out of our lives – and we think we know better than He does?

 “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55:6-9 (ESV)

Once we’ve learned to come to a point where we give Him full control, I believe the next step is staying there – abiding in Christ – resting in His arms and trusting His plan for our lives.

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(Please forgive me for not writing out all of the scripture passages mentioned.  The post was getting very long even without them.  I encourage you to look them up for yourself or on www.biblegateway.com. :))

The first major reason that I think causes me to have low points in my spiritual life is that I have a tendency to want to be in charge.  I know I’m supposed to give everything to Him and let Him be in control, but I have a heart attitude of “Here, God, take everything… except such-and-such.” 

According to the New Testament, there are basically three ways you can be living.  Here is what my Scofield Study Bible says about it:

Paul divides men into three classes: 1) psuchikos, meaning of the senses, sensual (James 3:15, Jude 19), natural, that is, Adamic man, unrenewed through new birth (John 3:3,5); 2) pneumatikos, meaning spiritual, that is, the renewed man as Spirit-filled and walking in the Spirit in full communion with God (Eph. 5:18-20); and 3) sarkikos, meaning carnal, fleshly, that is, the renewed man who, walking “after the flesh” (Romans 8:4), remains a babe in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1-4). The natural man may be learned, gentle, eloquent and fascinating, but the spiritual content of Scripture is absolutely hidden from him; and the worldly Christian is able to comprehend only its simplest truths, “milk” (1 Cor. 3:2).

Here are some notes from a session in AWANA counsel time last year.  (This originally came from a tract put out by Campus Crusade for Christ.  You can see the online version at http://www.ccci.org/training-and-growth/classics/the-spirit-filled-life/index.htm)

The Sinful man – one who has not accepted Christ as Savior.  Self is on the throne of the heart of the sinful man, and his sin separates him from fellowship with God.  No matter how much he tries, he can never have peace with God in his own power.

The gospel in a nutshell: Jesus paid the debt for our sins – death (Romans 6:23).  We must accept the fact that there is no way we can pay the price we owe and live (we admit that we are sinners), and believe that Jesus paid it for us when he came to earth, died on the cross, and rose from the grave.  Once we have done this, Christ comes into our lives as Savior and Lord, we are part of God’s family – Christians.  There are two ways a Christian can live: walk in the flesh (carnal) or walk in the Spirit. (See Galatians 5:16-25)

The Carnal man – one who has received Christ as Savior, but lives in defeat because he is trying to live the Christian life in his own strength. In the carnal Christian’s life, Christ has entered, but self is still on the throne.  Christ is not allowed to direct the life, and interests are directed by self, often resulting in discord and frustration.  Here are some possible characteristics of the carnal Christian: ignorance of spiritual heritage, unbelief, disobedience, loss of love for God and for others, poor prayer life, no desire for Bible study, legalistic attitude, impure thoughts, jealousy, guilt, worry, discouragement, critical spirit, frustration, aimlessness.  The carnal Christian claims Christ’s name, yet has no desire for deep doctrine, but only simple “milk.” (See 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and Romans 8:5-8) 

The Spirit-filled man – one who has accepted Christ as Savior from sins and is yielded to Christ as his Lord – the one in charge. In the life of the Spirit-filled Christian, Christ has entered, is seated on the throne of the heart, and is depended upon to control all of the details of life.  Interests are directed by Christ, which results in harmony with God’s plan.  Here are some characteristics of the Spirit-filled Christian: Christ-centered, empowered by the Holy Spirit, introduces others to Christ, effective prayer life, desires and understands God’s Word, trusts God, obeys God, displays Fruit of the Spirit, thankfulness, and abundant reverence for Christ.  (See Ephesians 5:18-21)

How does this apply to us?  We often only want Christ to be our Savior (to rescue us), but we don’t want Him to be our Lord (the one in charge).   If I want to have a consistent walk with God, I’ve got to give everything to Him.  EVERYTHING.  This is not just a one-time thing, though – we must do it daily, often more than once a day!  I very often have to stop during the day and say a prayer something like this: “Sorry, God.  I’ve been taking over.  Forgive me, Lord.  I want You back on the throne.”  To live a successful, Spirit-filled life, we must begin by being sincerely willing for Christ to be in control of every area our lives.

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’”  Matthew 16:24-25 (NKJV)

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What Happened?

Ok, so you just got back from summer camp, a retreat, revival, Bible study, or just had a really awesome quiet time this morning.  God is more real to you than ever before, and you’re going to serve Him wholeheartedly for the rest of your life.  You get home, back into the daily routine, and before you know it, God’s back on the list of people to call when you need help, instead of the One you’re living for. 

Sound familiar?  It does to me!  It’s happened to me more times than I’d like to admit.  You know what I was thinking about today?  We sound a lot like the children of Israel through the entire Old Testament.  Remember?   They’d be doing pretty good – praising God and everything – then after a while, they would begin to look around at the other people living nearby and before you know it, they start intermarrying and worshipping the neighbor’s gods instead of the God Who had created, delivered, and sustained them.  Sometimes God would let this go on for several years, but eventually, He would bring punishment upon them, usually in the form of assaults from some of the same neighbors that pulled them away from God in the first place. Then the Israelites would repent and turn back to God, vow to serve Him forever, and have peace for a while before they turned to idols again. 

On the cycle would go, and on it goes with us sometimes.  We get really into the Word and on fire for God, then gradually start to slip back into our “normal” lives, until something happens to shake us up and send us crying back to Him again.

Why does this happen? I’m hoping to share some of the reasons I have experienced over the next few days.

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Be Alert

1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12  But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13  Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Matthew 25:1-13 (ESV)

One of my favorite Bible study teachers used the following analogy on a girls’ retreat I went on last spring.  (I guess this is mostly for girls – sorry guys.)  It really made me think.

Think about this, girls – you found your true love/Prince Charming/the one you’ve been waiting your whole life for!  You are engaged, and he has gone off somewhere to build you a house and get everything in order for you to get married.  He is going to come back for you any day, so you’ve got to be getting your things ready.  Don’t you think you would be excited and looking for him every day?  Well, I would be! 

That’s how we’re supposed to be with Jesus!  We are engaged to Him (the Holy Spirit is like our engagement ring – Ephesians 1:13-14), He has gone to prepare a place for us (John 14:2-3), and He’s coming back any day (Mark 13:32-37, 1 Thess. 5:2)!  Am I as excited about that as I would be about getting married?  Something to think about.

I’m sure there is a lot more theology involved in the story of the Ten Virgins that Jesus told, but here is what I got out of it today.  Five of the virgins were prepared – they had extra oil for their lamps so that they were ready when the bridegroom was coming.  The other five virgins are called foolish – they used up the oil that they had for their lamps and they were too lazy to get more before they absolutely had to.  To me, this shows a lack of adoration for the bridegroom – they really weren’t excited and waiting for him to come back.  And they ended up missing his return and not being allowed to attend the marriage feast. 

Is this how we act toward Christ?  Are we so lazy doing whatever we want to do that we won’t be ready when he returns?  It’s a challenging question.  I have asked Him to remind me of it more often.

So be alert!  We don’t know when He’s coming back.  It may not be for 20, 50 or 100 years, but it may be this year.  Would you be ready if it was tomorrow?

“You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Luke 12:40 (ESV)

“He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” Revelation 22:20 (NKJV)

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God Forgives

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer. -Job 42:7-9 (ESV)

Job’s friends had sined against the Lord. They had essentially put words in God’s mouth and offered false council. Yet God forgave them. This is perhaps one of the most amazing attributes of God. He forgives.

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. -2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” -Jeremiah 31:34 (ESV)

“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” -Mark 2:7

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. -Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. -1 John 1:9 (ESV)

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” -Luke 7:47-50 (ESV)

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.
-Psalm 130:3-4 (ESV)

To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” -Acts 10:43 (ESV)

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Where Were You Job?

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
-Job 38:1-11 (ESV)

By the end of the book of Job, Job wants to know why all these things have happened to him. He has four friends who for the entirety of the book have been telling him that God must be punishing him for some great sin. But Job continually denies this and is at loss for a reason. In Job chapters 38 and 39, God comes and speaks to Job. (Actually the conversation continues through the end of the book in chapter 42.) In these chapters God is asking Job, “where were you Job?” Basically what God is saying is, “look, I have a plan that you’re only seeing part of. Don’t question what I’m doing.” Just like Job, we often see only a tiny piece of the puzzle. This particular piece may not be very pretty. We want to question God about what’s happening instead of putting our trust in Him and His name. We can’t now what God has planned. Romans 11:34-35 (ESV) says, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. We do not know the Father’s mind. We do not need to try  to. We need only to trust in Him and His promises and in His divine plan.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. -Jeremiah 29:11

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