TEACH IT BUT DON’T PREACH IT

I have always had a gift for discernment. Years ago, I signed up for a Bible study. At the time I didn’t know much about Jesus – I didn’t even know He was Jewish, and I desperately wanted to know why people kept claiming that He was. Each week I received a new lesson in the mail (this was before the internet!). The first few lessons were good, and I was learning a lot (including that Jesus was, in fact, Jewish!). Then I got a lesson that left me feeling troubled. I can’t remember exactly what that lesson was about, but I do remember feeling unsettled – very unsettled! The next week, the lesson was even more troubling. I threw it away and asked the group to stop sending the lessons. I later discovered the study was from a religious group that does not believe all the fundamentals of the Christian faith. At that time in my life, I simply followed the leading of the Holy Spirit. It served me well.

The pre-millennial rapture was something I believed in for many years. Well, I’m not sure that I believed it because I didn’t really understand it. Mostly I wanted to believe I would not be here to experience this Great Tribulation I read about. I never had a real peace about all of this. Whenever it came up, that unsettled feeling came upon me. But I didn’t study Scripture, so I ignored my discomfort. After all, knowledgeable Christian teachers believed it so it must be true. Before I could really deal with it, I made some life choices that distanced me from Jesus, and His return was no longer something I thought much about.

In December 2009, I finally surrendered my life to Jesus and started studying God’s Word regularly but was far from mature in my understanding. When I read about Jesus’s return and eternity, it was straightforward. One day Jesus will return, there will be judgment and those who accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation will spend eternity here on earth that has been restored to its intended glory and beauty. That’s what Jesus taught His disciples and what they passed on to us.

The rapture theory began occupying my mind more and more. I began hearing it preached by the evangelists I listened to on the radio and I became aware of books and movies devoted to the topic. Most of the Christians I knew supported it. Each time I heard something or listened to conversations about it, I had that unsettled feeling. I could only ignore the Holy Spirit’s promptings for so long. God laid on my heart to take the time to study the claims being made.

The information I found was overwhelming and confusing, so I just did a quick, surface study. My simple conclusion was that the theory consists of a mishmash of verses taken out of context. What I was being told the verses meant contradicted what Paul taught the early churches through his letters. But this half-hearted research wasn’t enough. It left me with more questions. After all, people a lot smarter than me believed it. I learned there are names for “people like me.” I learned there is a great deal of anger towards those of us who don’t believe it. We are even accused of not truly being saved. These reactions convinced me that I must be wrong. Surely, I had missed something.

So, I began an intense, comprehensive research. I compared arguments for with arguments against. I read commentaries on the verses used to support it. I read books and articles written by the top supporters of Pre-millennialism rapture, from years ago to the most recent arguments. I mapped out the theory and the things it requires me to believe. The more I learned the more unsettled I became. I concluded that it is not something I can support.

There are consequences of this theory that have caused tremendous pain to large groups of people. Understanding this is discouraging and leaves me with a lot of questions for Christian leaders, most of whom are evangelicals. But I know I must fight the impulse to use this as an excuse to separate myself from Christ’s church. I must still be in fellowship with Christians who believe it, most hold a very strong belief in it. Many go so far as to view those of us who do not believe as traitors to the faith.

After struggling to find a comfortable, sound church home, I found one. I didn’t feel like I was walking into a concert hall when I entered. Old hymns were often sung, there was still an altar call at the end of the sermon, and the sermons always included the good news of the Gospel at some point. I wasn’t anxious or self-conscious about attending services by myself. My husband isn’t a believer and, while my daughter and her family don’t miss very often, they do travel. Very soon, a Sunday came that I had to go alone.

I sat down, feeling welcome and comfortable. I greeted a few people sitting around me and opened the bulletin to see what the message would be that day. The rapture. Oh, my. The rapture. The preacher had alluded to his belief in it before, and I was OK with that. I talked myself into staying to hear the entire sermon to see exactly what he would say, hoping that he would mention how it is one of several theories about Jesus’s return, but he never mentioned that. I tried to stay in my seat. I tried to put it in a right perspective. But eventually I had to leave.

I met with the pastor a couple of weeks after and asked him why he believes this theory to be biblically sound. I wanted him to give me answers that convinced me he had spent time in an objective study of the theory. His answers sounded practiced and “robotic.” They left me with more questions. He never asked me why I had reached my conclusion. I didn’t come to the meeting with the goal of changing his mind, but I had hoped he would listen to a few of my thoughts and help me understand how trained preachers explain away the doctrinal contradictions the theory produces. How we as Christians can accept what is being done around the world as a result of this theory. He seemed unsettled as I tried to talk about some objections I had. He assured me there were many in the church that don’t believe and that we are still welcome. He then moved on to his next topic. I lost my confidence in him that day.

We are supposed to be able to trust that our pastors are speaking Truth from the pulpit. We must be able to trust they interpret scripture wisely and correctly. The pre-millennial rapture theory is just that – a theory. It is divisive and not a foundational truth. There are many Christians who do not believe in it. Discuss it in small groups where questions can be asked and objections raised. But don’t preach it. It undermines a preacher’s credibility with those of us who do not believe it.

In my conversation with this preacher, I hoped he would ask me what my greatest objections were. He didn’t ask. And as I sat and listened to his monologue and thought about it in the following days, I realized I no longer felt I could fully trust his interpretation of scripture. What other scripture that I don’t fully understand is he twisting or taking out of context? The only good that came out of that experience is that I research any sermon or teaching that doesn’t ring true. Unfortunately, most Christians don’t take the time to do this.

Those of us who do not believe this theory can explain why we do not believe it: the theory is worldly-focused; it does not acknowledge the Old Testament nation of Israel as a type pointing to the New Testament Church; it ignores the progressiveness of God’s revelation; instead of Jesus, the nation of Israel becomes the theme of the Old Testament; it renders many New Testament authors’ teachings meaningless, including Paul’s; it requires that God has 2 plans of salvation because He has created 2 separate groups of people. One of the most frustrating issues is the claim that believers must always apply a literal meaning to the Bible, when we clearly cannot (for example, we cannot literally interpret Jesus as bread or water). The theory also collapses when reading the book of Revelation where Old Testament symbolism is used. In order for the pre-millennial rapture theory to work, we must switch to a literal meaning of words in the verses used to support the theory (for example, the number 1,000).  Symbolic interpretation is fine elsewhere. There are other reasons. Just ask us. We welcome the chance to discuss it.

Preachers seem hesitant to preach on the power of the Holy Spirit yet think nothing of preaching the pre-millennial rapture of the church. I believe it is having more of a negative impact on the church than many leaders understand. I have no problem with engaging members in a format where an open discussion can happen, but, please, don’t preach it from the pulpit!

I Believe That

Someone very dear to me recently confessed his belief in Jesus. He has been thinking about death over the last few months, talking to us about his assets and, on this occasion, the plans he has in mind for his funeral. He has no major health issues, but he’s in his mid-80’s and has slowed down quite a bit this spring. I am sure that thoughts about what is to follow this life are frequently on his mind. He’s mentioned to a couple of family members that he doesn’t feel he is right with God. He’s been reminding most of us what a good person he has been throughout his life.

I had been praying for an opportunity to talk about Jesus one more time with him.  I have given him books, things I have written, and talked about Jesus several times, but he never responded to my words, most often he would just change the subject. Each time I visited, I waited, hoping for some indication he wanted to talk about it. This particular Saturday, he began to talk about what he wanted at his funeral. He told us he wanted his granddaughters to speak rather than a preacher because he had never attended church and didn’t want someone he didn’t know to speak. He began assuring us that he had been a good person. I knew the opportunity I had been waiting for was here. My heart started racing, I panicked a little, then my mouth opened and out came the words. I don’t remember what they were exactly. I remember telling him I didn’t want to make him mad, but there is only one way to God and that was Jesus. I know I tried to quickly explain how only Jesus can make us good enough to stand before God.  I waited for him to say something along the lines of  “you can believe that but I don’t.”

Then he looked me in the eyes and said “I believe that.”

“You do?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

And that was it. He believed and now we knew for sure. I can’t express how happy I was. A great weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

On the drive home, guess who showed up. Satan. “You don’t know that he believes. Anyone can say they believe. You’ll see. There will be no evidence for you to know 100% that he believes. He’s a stubborn, proud man. You know in your heart he didn’t really mean it. You’ll know he didn’t mean it when you don’t see any evidence of a change.” On and on his attacks went.

No, he said he believed and I believe him. He would never have said that a year ago. There were several conversations about Jesus that he didn’t respond to at all. He had some bad experiences with overly-zealous and self-righteous Christians throughout his life so he had never wanted to hear anything about Jesus. But not this time. This time he listened and responded, “I believe that.”

But Satan had done his job. I began to doubt. I began to think of the things I needed to see to prove he truly believed.

Then guess who showed up. The Holy Spirit.

As an evangelical Christian, I get very caught up in looking for evidence that professing Christians really have accepted Jesus’s gift of salvation, but God used this conversion to remind me about grace. That it is a gift, free of charge. No payment required – payment has already been made. He brought to my mind the thief on the cross.

Luke 23 (NIV) – 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

That’s it. “…this man has done nothing wrong. …Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

If Jesus had been sitting in my spot on June 22, 2019, He would have said the same thing to this man. “I believe that.”

“…[then] you will be with me in paradise.”

Romans 3:10 (NLT) – As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one.”

Sure, evidence brings a degree of assurance, but even with evidence, we cannot be 100% sure of the condition of someone’s heart. I noticed an article during a recent Google search about the “ludicrous belief” of Christians that a rotten, evil person can end up in heaven while a truly good person will end up in hell. They don’t understand how that can possibly be true. They don’t understand that there’s only one way to meet God’s standard of righteousness and it’s not by being a “good” person. I didn’t think this man would ever come to understand that. But he has. And he is not one to say something he doesn’t mean. I envision him sitting in his chair at home pondering this new realization and I know God will use those moments to draw him closer. I pray he will find peace as each day passes.

Luke 15:24 (NIV) For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

What happened on June 22, 2019 is something I have prayed for for a very long time. Isn’t it predictable that Satan would show up immediately afterwards to ruin the day? To take away my joy by creating doubts in my mind? But I won’t let him. This was a moment that calls for celebration. And that is what I am doing.

I don’t deny that some will confess without meaning it. They confess thinking it will shut us up. That has happened several times as I talked to others about Jesus. But as I pray, God continues to give me peace that this was a sincere repentance.

I’ll keep planting seeds. That’s what I’m called to do. The joy we get when a lost one is found cannot be matched with any experience life can offer! How humbling to be chosen to play a part in building His kingdom! A wretched sinner like me chosen to work in this world for our Father, the Creator of the universe. Humbling.

 

BELIEVING THE PROMISES

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I just quit a job I’ve had for 7 years. I didn’t always appreciate the job, rarely enjoyed it, but tried to be thankful for it. I knew God had led me to it to serve Him in that particular place. Over the past couple of years, I had wanted to leave but felt that wasn’t an option; the benefits were extraordinary, pay was more than I should have been making, and knowing God had led me to it kept me from believing He might actually want me to move to something new. So I stayed. Each week I felt more and more suffocated but told myself I was being selfish, lazy, self-centered.

Looking back, I can see how God was trying to lead me away from it. I was not challenged by the work in the way we desire to be. Training had been practically non-existent so each new situation was difficult to manage. I became agitated with my co-workers over the least little thing despite fervent prayer to keep my attitude in check. I felt like a robot, just going through the motions. I didn’t believe I was worth anything. The job never provided any positive feedback. I just went in, worked, went home, got up the next day and did it all over again. I wasn’t interested in life anymore. I lost interest in everything. I resigned myself to the reality that I would just stay at this job until I retired or God called me home. I gave up.

Then God stepped in and arranged a situation where I just had to walk away. Satan kept telling me I was a failure. He kept telling me I was being irresponsible. He convinced me to focus on my shortcomings that would prevent me from finding a new job. And I fell for his attacks – but not for long.

I was in a Bible study learning about God’s armor (Priscilla Shirer). And that week the topic was faith: active faith (does God have great timing or what?). We were introduced to “The Faith Place:” situations where we are totally dependent on God coming through for us. I had to admit I had never done that. Despite my great love for Jesus, I had never gone to this place. The truth was I was still dependent on worldly things for security and lived in fear that I would create a situation that my unbelieving husband would have to clean up. I was allowing these worldly things to destroy my trust in my Heavenly Father. God desperately wanted to prove I can trust Him, even though He had done it time and time again in my life. So He stepped in and forced my hand. He made it clear it is time for me to walk the walk. I am tired of not trusting Him. I am deeply disappointed in my inability to do so and the ways I justify my doubt. I’m tired of throwing away spiritual strength and God’s peace and comfort because of my fear of whatever earthly consequences I might have to deal with.

I am believing the promises. I am believing God is good. I am believing He will give me an abundant life. I am believing I can trust Him. I am believing that there is nothing anyone in this world can do to me that will ultimately hurt me because God is the keeper of my soul. When I feel anxious about my husband’s reaction, I say a prayer to God that I will not let my husband sway me from my trust in God. The fear is gone and I put myself back into His faithful arms every time I feel the anxiety welling up. It still comes! I can only imagine God’s distress as He sees me taking on things under my own strength, knowing He has given me so many things to call upon that would ease my burden. It felt good to wallow in self-pity, anger and hurt. It is so much easier to let the emotions well up and take over. But it feels even better when I take the time to call on my Father and allow Him to ease the pain; to do things His way so that my life isn’t just one emotional breakdown after another. This is exactly why I sought Him out: so that anger, fear and self-pity would no longer rule my life and keep me from the peace I so desperately wanted.

I want my unsaved loved ones to see what God offers us and the kind of life we can have by following Him. But Satan prefers they not see that so he leads me away from God’s way to my self-centered ways. And, until now, I’ve fallen for it hook, line and sinker. Not anymore.

I am claiming the peace that surpasses all understanding. I am claiming the abundant life. I am claiming my value as a child of God through Jesus Christ. I’m putting on my armor and using it.

KNOWING GOD

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I surprised myself a few days ago when I was able to answer a rather complicated question about God posed by a preacher on the radio. As I sat feeling a bit more smug than I should, it occurred to me that the answer would not have been found in any one Scripture that I might have been able to call to mind.  I hadn’t memorized the answer from one of the many books I have read or a sermon I’ve heard.  I was able to arrive at the answer because I know God.  Oh, I still have a lot to learn about Him, but it was a lightbulb moment when I understood that the Creator of the universe is knowable.

When I first became a Christian, I was desperate to learn all I could about the events and people in the Bible. My goal was to learn and remember as much as I could.  I wrote out genealogies, a chronology of all the major events, and each of the Jewish festivals and the meaning behind each one.  I mapped out a timeline of kings adding important notes about each one, whether they were good or bad, whether they ruled in Judah or Israel.  I wanted to be sure I knew what message each of the prophets delivered, to whom they tried to speak, and how they died.  I was clearly learning historical facts about God’s work in our world.  What I didn’t realize was that I was also learning about God Himself.  Through the events He included in His message to us, I learned about His faithfulness, His goodness, and how great His love is for us.

Deuteronomy 4:29 – “But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Each year for the past five years I have read the entire Bible. Each year God brings so many new things to my attention. Each time I spend time in God’s Word, I remind myself that this book is how God chose to tell us things He wants us to know and I feel so close to Him.  Sometimes I am surprised at the thoughts He brings to my mind, the insights He gives me.  Some days I read and don’t have this experience but even on those days I feel near to God as I read.  It’s so amazing to know the God that created me wants me to know Him.  The relationship is not one-sided – it is not merely that God knows me so intimately – He has provided ways for me to know Him in the same way.

In addition to reading the Bible, I regularly listen to respected Christian teachers on the radio, at my church and on TV (although I have learned to be very careful about whom I watch on TV – it seems to be the one media where false teachers abound!). Allistair Begg, James MacDonald, Erwin Lutzer, Ravi Zacharias, Hank Hanegraaff, Charles Stanley, Michael Yousseff, Adrian Rogers, Ron Jones, Chip Ingram and Tony Evans are just a few that I can count on to present sound Biblical teaching.  Christian authors are another provision from God to help us know Him better: Arthur Murray, C.S. Lewis, George Muller, A.W. Tozer, Dietrich Bonhoffer, and many current Christian authors.  Each day, after reading and meditating on Scripture, I read other Christian books, often two or three books at a time!  On days when I feel down I pop on the earplugs and listen to Christian music.  It is so uplifting and provides a way for me to praise God instead of focusing on myself.  It’s better than any anti-depressant I have ever been prescribed!

To know God, we must seek Him – earnestly and diligently. There’s no quick or easy way to do this.  Just as in our human relationships, it takes time.  Don’t neglect this essential aspect of your Christian life.  It is so much easier to obey and serve God when you know Him.  It’s easy to come up with excuses.  Those dirty dishes will still be there, the laundry will remain in that hamper until you’ve spent time with God.  Knowing Him will actually make washing those dishes and clothes a more joyful activity – because you will understand how every activity in your day can be used to glorify Him!

For so many years, I worked on memorizing other people’s answers or finding Scripture that answer questions others might ask about God. But as I have got to know God better, I can reason through what I know to be true about Him.  Knowing His character and His attributes is the best way to equip ourselves to lead others to Him and to help them know Him rightly.  Knowing Him also helps me make decisions that will glorify Him and bless me, giving me the best life possible.  Knowing Him helps me get through difficult times because I know of His faithfulness and great love.  He is a very real presence in my life when I make Him the priority.  Not only does He make each day more joyful, His strength and comfort have become real resources that I can call on to get me through the struggles.

How blessed are we that we serve a God that wants us to know Him and has provided so many ways that enable us to have a relationship with Him!

1 Chronicles 28:9 – “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever.”

FOOLS FOR CHRIST

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One of the more difficult “responsibilities” we have as followers of Christ is to die to self.  After 50+ years of living a life dedicated to securing my own comfort, this has proven to be pretty challenging.  Not because I don’t want to do it – every fiber of my being wants my commitment to Christ to be evident to everyone I come into contact with.  But as I become more convicted of habits and attitudes I need to rid myself of, I find myself dealing with things that are so ingrained and culturally acceptable that they are not so easy to identify and very easy to justify (to myself – God’s not buying it!).  And once God reveals them to me and I accept that they truly are creating an obstacle in my relationship with Him, I have to admit the real problem is that I don’t really want to get rid of them.  When I first committed my life to Christ, the things I let go of were things I had struggled to let go of for years.  I didn’t mind ridding myself of those things; even patted myself on the back for being able to turn from them!  But now I am at the point where it is time to let go of some deeply rooted habits that make my life comfortable and easy. And as I become more convicted about them, I am disappointed in my level of commitment to Christ as I continue to justify them or refuse to turn from them. 

Romans 7:15 – “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…”

One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is Abraham’s great test of faith.  While I’ve never doubted that it was a true story, what Abraham experienced never sunk into my consciousness.  I was reading “The Fifth Gospel” by Bobby Conway and in his chapter titled “Fools for Christ,” he talks about the “weird” and “ridiculous” things God has asked His people to do.  He mentions Abraham.  And, reading about Abraham in this context suddenly made it more real than it has ever been.  Here’s how Mr. Conway put it:  “God promised Abraham he’d be the father of many nations.  Then, after Abraham finally receives his promised son, God tells him to kill the child.”  The degree of faith Abraham had suddenly hit me.  Abraham was being asked to sacrifice HIS CHILD: the child he had longed for his whole life; the child he didn’t believe he would ever have.  In spite of the shock he must have felt when God asked him to do this, Abraham was faithful in obeying God.  In spite of being promised by God that his heirs would be as numerous as the stars he was still willing to obey God and kill the one thing that could bring that promise to bear.  I can only imagine the things I would have said to God, the questions I would have been asking, the justifications for not obeying this seemingly ridiculous request.  But Abraham did it believing that somehow God would work it all out.  I was ashamed at how I struggle to let go of things in my life that are nowhere near as precious as Isaac was to Abraham; ashamed at how little faith I have that God is just waiting for me to clear my life so that His plan and ways can enrich my life; ashamed at how unwilling I am to forego the comforts I have acquired because I fear the things I feel He is asking me to replace them with. 

As Abraham walked to the place where he would sacrifice Isaac, I like to think he spent some time bargaining with God, just as I do.  But as I consider the faith he must have had, Abraham is more apt to have spent those moments asking for strength and comfort.  That’s what my conversations with God need to be.   

The stories in the Bible are given for instruction.  I have to stop glossing over them and pretending they don’t really apply to me.  God will probably not ask me to offer my children as a sacrifice to Him but He is asking me to sacrifice a lot of things that have come to be so important in my life that I struggle to let go of them.  He is asking me to trust that when I do that, my life will be so much more meaningful and joy-filled.  He is asking me to trust that these are the things I must do to become more Christ-like.  The things God is asking me to do aren’t really that ridiculous or weird, but I have been shown glimpses of what God wants my life to look like and I gotta say it’s weird for me to think that I could live like that.  It’s so different from my self-absorbed lifestyle!  But I want to demonstrate my faith and live my life as a testimony to others what followers of Jesus can look forward to and if I can implement the changes God is asking of me, I know for sure that others will see a huge difference and at least wonder at what has come over me! My lifestyle has to be so different that people notice.

Bobby Conway goes on to say: “God knows that most anyone obeys Him when blessing is promised and given.  But what about when that long-awaited gift is delivered and God asks you to give it back?  How many obey then?”  I want to be one of those people that obey when it’s hard.  It certainly isn’t as difficult as Abraham’s test, but dying to self is never easy, no matter what the sacrifice is.  And as I fully grasp the reality of what others have done, particularly the people we read about in the Old Testament, I find a little extra strength to “be a fool for Christ!”

Consider Joshua at the battle of Jericho and Ezekiel lying on his left side for 390 days then flipping over to his right side for another 40 days.  Instead of focusing on how they were being perceived, their faith in God’s ways kept them obedient to what He was telling them to do.  My faith must be my focus to follow through with the things God is showing me.  As God convicts me to spread the Good News of salvation, I find excuses for not doing so.  I would prefer God grant me the gift of singing so I could safely serve Him at church in the choir!  Why can’t He give me the gift of teaching and give me a Sunday School class?  But if handing out tracs to people who want nothing to do with a “Jesus freak” is what God is calling me to do – to give up my comfortable days in the pool or in front of the TV – then I must trust that is how He can best use me and get out there and DO IT.  As I contemplate these promptings, I am curious about how it will all play out and excited to see what God can accomplish with me if I can only find it in me to obey Him.

Isaiah 55:8-9 “…for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”

This is what Conway says about these Isaiah 55 verses: “…there is an infinite gap between the way He thinks and the way we think.  Think about that. But God’s creative, out-of-the-box ideas not only challenge our thinking but also test our faith.  We Christians are quick to sing and talk about trusting God and following Him no matter what.  But when He asks something odd, difficult, or uncomfortable of us, that’s when things get a bit complicated.”

My response to God’s requests of me so far has been “God knows how fearful I am of people, He’ll understand if it takes me a while to work up my nerve.”  Here’s the last quote from Pastor Conway that has turned my thinking around: “Never before has the church tried so hard to fit in with society, when in reality God still wants us to think different and stand out. We’ve spent so much time, energy, and money trying to convince the world that we’re normal – just like them.  And why?  Because deep down we want to be accepted by our friends and culture. And this stems from two roots – an insecurity about our faith and a subtle fear of man. Both of these contribute to our desperation to be liked. And neither are characteristic of the Fifth-Gospel Christian.  …we still recognize that radical obedience to God may sometimes lead others to think we’ve gone off the deep end.”  And that’s what I have to accept.  The things God is calling me to do are so out of character for me.  But I am out of character.  That night I committed my life to Christ and He sent the Spirit to dwell in me I became a new creation.  Until I actually do what God is calling me to do, I will not be an effective witness for Christ.

Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

THE GREAT SIN OF GRUMBLING

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Although I don’t like to admit many of my behaviors are sin in God’s eyes, at some level I realize they are: overspending, calling in to work sick when I’m not, cursing, just to name a few.  One sin that I dismiss too easily is grumbling (also known as complaining, murmuring, venting).  Venting is the term used mostly to justify the sin: “I just need to vent.”  There are even websites for venting, providing ample excuses to do so and theories about how it can be beneficial!  But as I study Scripture, I read how seriously God views this behavior.  I was listening to Rev. Jeffress (Pathway to Victory) the other day and his sermon reminded me that when I complain (or vent or grumble or murmur) what I’m telling God is that I’m not happy with the life He has given me; that I feel short-changed somehow; that I feel I deserve better than what God has given me.

As we read about the Israelites wandering through the wilderness in the book of Numbers, there are many stories about their grumbling.  There’s never enough water or food.  They’re unhappy with Moses’ leadership.  There are too many obstacles to entering the Promised Land.  Most astonishing is their memories of life in Egypt. In Numbers 11:5 their distorted recollection of their lives in bondage reveals the level they sink to in order to justify their grumbling.  But I am guilty of the same thing, convincing myself that there must be something better than what I have; that if my life were tweaked just a little here or there or re-vamped totally in other areas, I could be happy.

Numbers 11:18-20 – “Then you shall say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was well with us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have despised the Lord who is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we ever come up out of Egypt?”’”

Like most of us, my job is the thing I grumble about most often.  I’m not crazy about it. The skills required are not things I have ever been good at (math!!) and the training was practically non-existent.  Until a few months ago, I decided that I didn’t want to work full time anymore.  Each year that passed, I became more and more disappointed with the fact that I still had to work at this horrid little job – to pay off debt, to provide insurance for me and my husband.  So I grumbled about the job, about having to work, about not being able to work part-time, about the people, the management, the resources – you name it, I complained about it.  I half-heartedly tried to be joyful about this particular plan God had for me, but I kept waiting for His plan to change to match mine.  I figured I had given Him 5 years of wandering in this particular wilderness and that should be enough.  Surely I had earned the right to go into the Promised Land!  But since the day I went to apply for the job I have known without a doubt that God put me in this place at this particular time.  Even with little training and no background in this kind of work, God has granted to me the knowledge I need not only to perform my job but also to feel confident in it.  And over the last few months, I have realized some things that have enabled me to get up and go to work with a godly, sincerely joyful attitude:

I know for a fact that God has placed me here and I cannot ignore that fact.

I had a list of the things I believed I “needed” in order to be fulfilled in a job and this one includes every one.

Almost without exception, each day I am presented with an opportunity to show God’s love.

I cannot put a timeframe on God’s plan.  He will move me when He’s ready, not when I decide He should. I am there to serve Him and that is what I focus on.

I grieve God when I express how unhappy I am with what He has led me to. I want to demonstrate to Him that I have faith in what He’s doing and I will be a loyal servant to Him.  I will do it with a glad heart, living out Jesus’ example.

Numbers 14:20-24 – “… all these men who have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded My voice, they certainly shall not see the land of which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who rejected Me see it. But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it.”

I wake up now knowing my job’s main purpose in my life is to serve God. I’m not a social person at all, so work is really one of the few opportunities I have to share Jesus.  As I stop grumbling about it and remember its true purpose in my life, I find myself waking up each day excited to see what opportunities God is going to present me with.  The grumbling is unwarranted.  It’s telling God that I am unhappy with His plan for me.  As I give myself over to Him and follow Him fully, I am blessed in so many ways. I inherit the land God wants me to live in – a life filled with joy, peace and contentment!

2 Corinthians 10:5 – “…casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…”

Rev. Jeffress’s sermon provided me with new thoughts to consider whenever I feel the urge to grumble.  There are a lot of people around me who make grumbling a regular part of the day and when I cannot redirect the conversation, I just check out of it.  I cannot be a party to it. I cannot glorify God by grumbling about the life He has given me.  God has revealed to me that He considers it a great sin even if the world does not.  And He provides me with a way out of it:

Philippians 4:8 – “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.”

SEPERATED FROM GOD

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Ever have one of those days where you feel you are nowhere close to being worthy to be called a child of God?  Where you’re tired of trying to tell people about Jesus when you know they could not possibly care less?  When you want to give up on serving Him and just lounge in His love?  When you want God to be there for you but you don’t feel like being there for Him?  I had a few of those days about a week ago.

 Andrew Murray:  This is the spirit of the world:  to seek one’s self and the visible (John 5:44). 

I just decided for one day I was going to do whatever I wanted to do.  I felt too tired to even try to speak of God to anyone.  I didn’t feel led to read His Word.  I said some off-hand prayers but they were only seeking God’s approval for how I had decided to spend my day.  I didn’t wait for any kind of an answer from Him.  I did feel Him gently trying to lead me away from this self-obsession; felt Him thumping my noggin several times trying to draw me nearer to Him so He could adjust my attitude.  But I kept justifying my desire for the day to just be about me.  “I deserve one day.”  And that’s how I spent the day – diverting others so I could stick to my plan.  I thought I could hide out in the pool just lying there. For one day it couldn’t hurt, right?  Each time someone asked me to do something, I found a way out of it if it didn’t fit in with my plan for the day.  I indulged myself, giving myself first priority over everything that came up. 

 Who could I hurt if I just checked out for a day?  Well, I messed up a really big opportunity to bring a couple of people nearer to God.  I missed some good witnessing opportunities.  I hurt God.  I grieved the Spirit.  I didn’t worship God as He deserves. I felt the pain of being separated from God. 

 As the week progressed and I was in a better place the thought occurred to me that Jesus never said “Ya know I’m just going to take a day for myself.  The lepers and possessed and sick and lost can just wait a day while I pamper myself.”  Jesus didn’t go to a spa, lounge on the beach, or play a round of golf to refresh Himself.  He did take time to be alone but He spent the time with His Father, praying; He spent entire nights praying to God.

Luke 6:12 (NKJV) – “Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.”

The need to focus and aggressively nurture my relationship with God last week gave me the chance to experience how spending time with Him does so much more for my soul than spending a day absorbed in myself.  I remember thinking “It’s just one day.  I deserve it.”  But it did nothing to rejuvenate me.  And I certainly don’t “deserve” it.  Without Jesus I am a wretched sinner.  I could live in a place on earth where a day of rest is not possible. Am I better than those who live in such a place that God would allow me to indulge myself in such a way?  I deserve nothing.  If God blesses me with a “free” day, it is shameful that I even thought of moving away from Him to experience the blessing.  The realization that I did this sickens me.

 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 

 I know that feeling tired in my walk with Jesus is going to happen but I must also remember that it is a tool Satan can use to pull me away and thwart my work for Jesus.  I cannot have a day off from living for Christ because I must always be looking for opportunities to share His Good News and to be His hands and feet.  While I can have a day of doing nothing but meditating on Him I cannot go a single day without spending time with Him and keeping the needs of His Kingdom first and foremost.  Scripture tells us that Satan is a formidable foe and we must not underestimate him.  But Satan won on that particular day and his victory did not go unnoticed.  It is a consequence I do not want to experience again anytime soon. I wish I could communicate to my unsaved friends and family how wretched it feels being separated from God once we know Him and how much He loves us.  I want them to know it brings misery that is beyond description and it is not something they will want to feel for eternity.

2 Corinthians 5:17 – “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

The old Carolyn paid a visit that day and I didn’t much care for her.  Since that day it has been very clear to me that God didn’t just repair me when I committed my life to Him: He truly did make a new creation.  God used the day to help me see how far I’ve come and how dark the world truly is without Him. I wonder how I lived so long in the darkness but clearly understand why I spent so much time depressed, lost and feeling so hopeless. 

D. James Kennedy:  “You cannot say, ‘No, Lord,’ and mean both words; one annuls the other.  If you say no to Him, then He is not your Lord.” 

God has used that day to refine me in two ways.  He began to lay on my heart what He wants my life to look like.  Still not fully recovered from “battle fatigue,” I responded with a flat out “no.”  No, I wasn’t ready to do the things He was showing me.  No, sadly, I don’t think I’m capable of living like that.  No, it just makes me too tired to even think about it.  Pre-occupied with myself, I let God know that I didn’t think my walk with Him could ever look like what He was showing me.  But as I call on the Spirit’s power rather than my own, I know I can do what God is calling me to do. 

 Psalm 132:13, 14 – “This is my rest, here will I dwell.”

 God also reminded me of the need to devote one day to Him – a Sabbath Day.  As a Christian, we generally think of Sunday as the day to devote to God, but I find I don’t truly devote the day to Him.  I go to church then the day continues as any other day.  I do household chores, shop, run errands.  If it is truly a Sabbath for me, it should look different than any other day.  Andrew Murray, in his book The New Life says:  “Keep it very holy.  And, above all, let it be a day of inner fellowship with your God….  …There is no better day than the Lord’s day for doing good to body and soul….”  I suspect if I were to observe one day as a true Sabbath, I won’t feel the fatigue I encountered last week.  I don’t want to go backwards in my Christian walk; I want always to be strengthening my faith, always moving forward.  God’s example is for one day out of seven to be a day of rest and as I obey Him in this, I will be better able to live every single day of my life serving Him in the best way possible.

2 Peter 1:4 – “…having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”

 I have escaped the world and after spending one day back in it, I know I don’t want to ever go back.  But, as I’m fond of saying, “Me is a hard habit to break.”  I now know that I must watch for an attack when I’m feeling tired, and draw closer to God instead of pulling away from Him.  I found this prayer from Andrew Murray (The New Life) and I ask it of God every day: 

 Precious Savior, teach me what self-denial is.  Teach me so to distrust my heart that in nothing shall I yield to its desires.  Teach me so to know You that it shall be impossible for me to do anything else than to offer up myself to possess You and Your life.  Amen.

JOEL OR JESUS

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Right after I committed my life to Jesus Christ, I became so hungry for His Word.  I couldn’t wait to read my Bible each day to discover what God wanted to reveal to me.  I read every book I could get hold of and listened to every preacher I ran across on the radio and TV.  One day I ran across Joel Osteen on TV.  That day Mr. Osteen was talking about how God wanted to bless me.  He was saying that all we need to do to receive God’s blessing is have faith – believe financial security is what God wants for us all.  He is just waiting for our faith to be sufficient.  I thought to myself “Of course God wants to bless me.  God only wants the best for me. If my faith is strong enough, I will be blessed. When I follow Christ, God wants to reward me just as any parent wants the best for their child.” Without a lot of thought to what Mr. Osteen was saying, it seemed to make perfect sense.  It sure was an answer to my prayers for getting my finances in order!

 One of the things that led me to God was I knew I needed to learn to trust Him to get through the difficult times I was experiencing.  I wanted nothing more than to have unshakeable faith in God and, based on what Joel Osteen was saying, the proof for myself and to others was whether I would get all of the things I wanted. If I found myself still in want and suffering in some way, it was simply because my faith wasn’t what it needs to be. 

 2 Peter 1-3:  But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories.

 I went right out and bought a set of Joel’s DVD’s so I could listen to him in the car.  His messages were uplifting and encouraging.  There was always a funny story at the beginning of each one and that helped me get the day started on a positive note.  Every day I asked God for the money I needed to correct my financial situation and told myself as long as I believed it was true, eventually it would happen.  I felt I was on my way to trusting God the way we are supposed to trust Him – I just needed to keep strengthening my faith.  I was a big Osteen fan and felt I needed to share my discovery with my daughter.  I wanted to be sure her faith was sufficient and that she was seeing life in the positive way God wants us to see it.

True to her nature, my daughter patiently listened.  Then, in her simple, quiet way said:  “Be careful, Mom.  Joel Osteen is a prosperity preacher.”  Well, my first reaction was confusion.  I didn’t know what a prosperity preacher was, but I knew it couldn’t be anything good because she was definitely giving me a warning.  Then I felt offended.  I loved Jesus and was only trying to have the kind of faith we are supposed to have and Joel was just trying to teach me how to do that.  He certainly looked very happy and I refused to believe he had anything but Christians’ best interests in mind. 

 Then the thought occurred to me that my daughter would not tell me something that wasn’t true; she’s not a liar and it was her quiet, strong faith that had led me to Jesus in the first place.  So I began to research this prosperity preacher idea.  I became more and more unsettled about Mr. Osteen and others like him.  The more I read and studied, the more uneasy I felt when I listened to him.  It wasn’t too long before I realized his messages weren’t giving me any peace about God – I realized I was even more anxious trying to gain the kind of faith Joel told me I needed.  After studying the Scriptures Joel quoted, it was quite easy to see he took things out of context all the time.  I was also beginning to realize that I was living life the same way I had been before I committed it to Jesus – under the power of me, seeking only to satisfy and serve me! 

 I was embarrassed at first, then disappointed that I had allowed myself to be misled so easily.  The allure of getting the things that would make my life comfortable had too easily overtaken me.  As I learned more theology and doctrine I was aghast at Mr. Osteen’s “interpretations.”  His deception is not easily seen by those of us sincerely seeking God because he is subtle; my problem was that I wasn’t doing my homework. I came to understand that Mr. Osteen is abusing the concept of faith, hiding behind it to create a false sense of guilt in people who were not experiencing the worldly success he promises we are entitled to.  According to him, the only thing holding me back from wealth and health was my own failure to have enough faith in God.  That’s what Mr. Osteen wanted me to believe, but my experience told me something different.  I was learning that I can count on God to get me through the rough times and, even after only a few months, He had already proven this to me.  No, faith wasn’t my problem – false teaching was my problem!

 2 Peter 2:18, 19 – “For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”  

The bottom line was that I finally understood what Joel Osteen was really saying:  his message wasn’t to have faith in God.  Joel Osteen’s message is that I must have faith in me: my words, my attitude, and my thoughts.  His message doesn’t match up with the Bible.  I’m not a negative person – I have always been overly optimistic, a bit of a dreamer.  As I recalled the book I read at the time of my conversion (Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom), I realized that the inner city preacher in that book had more peace and faith than any wealthy person I had ever known about.  I knew that being successful according to the world wasn’t how I would “prove” my faith.  I wanted the kind of faith that inner-city preacher had – to be able to live in any situation knowing God was taking care of me.

 I try to lead others away from the health, wealth and prosperity preachers.  More often than not, their reaction is anger.  I’ve been accused of creating drama when I point out the errors in his teaching, of not being a true Christian because I don’t agree with Joel Osteen.  I have been told that they follow Joel because they are tired of hearing all the “fire and brimstone,” the negative stuff other preachers want to harp on!  And my only reaction is to tell them to do their homework. No matter who I listen to – including the preachers and teachers I know to be Biblically sound – I listen to what they say then go straight to my Bible and read the Scripture to see if it all matches up with the basic tenets of Christianity that we MUST hold fast to.  There are peripheral things that I don’t like to listen to but I understand those are things we can respectfully debate (like the rapture).  But when someone tries to tell me I am a little god, that my words have power, that I can speak anything into reality, I am left cold with the arrogance it takes to profane the Word of God in this way.  If you believe Mr. Osteen’s teachings to be Biblically sound then it is your responsibility to tell the paralyzed person that it is due to their lack of faith that they do not walk.  You must tell the dead child’s parent that their child died because of their lack of faith.  That is what the faith teachers teach and if you support them, you are telling the world that you believe these things to be the Truth.

 Acts 17:11 “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

 Anyone who studies or teaches God’s Word should welcome scrutinty and invite challenges.  This spurs us to action and makes all of us accountable. Don’t ever allow others to do the work – you must take it on yourself.  If you struggle to know whether you rightly understand Scripture, go to a trusted Christian and ask them for help.  And even with them, if you feel uneasy with their answer, keep digging.  The Holy Spirit will cause you to be disquieted with a lie – it’s always been true in my life.  Begin your study/reading time in prayer, asking God to open your eyes, your ears and your heart to hear what He wants you to know and to discern Truth from lies. 

(From “The Osteenification of American Christianity” by Hank Hanegraaff): “Take, for example Osteen’s parody of Philemon 1:6 as a pretext for making positive self-affirmations.  …Osteen writes “The Scripture says, ‘Our faith is made effectual when we acknowledge everything good in us.’”  Conversely, he says, “our faith is not effective when we acknowledge all our hurts and pains.  It’s not effective when we stay focused on our shortcomings or our weaknesses.”  …In reality, Philemon 1:6 has nothing whatsoever to do with making positive self-affirmations.  Nor does the text suggest that our faith is made effectual when we acknowledge all that is good within.  Indeed, Paul says quite the opposite.  Rather than having confidence in positive confessions, he prays that Philemon would have “a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”  …Far from making self-affirmations, Scripture exhorts us to affirm our weaknesses and as such our utter dependence on Christ.  To boast in the flesh has nothing to do with faith and everything to do with foolishness.  The great apostle to the Gentiles, and an exemplar to us all, [Paul] was reduced to an utter state of weakness so that he would no longer glory in himself.

…Consider [Osteen’s] rendering of Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden.  Adam’s offense, according to Osteen, was not rebellion against God but rather believing Satan’s suggestion that there might be something wrong with him. …From Genesis to Revelation, Osteen simply uses Scripture to communicate whatever he wants.  …[Osteenfication] is conforming Scripture to cultural norms as opposed to allowing the plain reading of the text to transform.  It is the recitals of mantras rather than the renewal of our minds.  The glory of the cross exchanged for the paltry glory of consumerism.  Psychobabble over precept.  In short, a rebranding of the faith once for all delivered to the saints and the gospel of the kingdom traded for empty baubles of health and wealth…

 It’s Joel or Jesus.  Who do you want to please?  I cannot imagine holding so tightly to anyone proclaiming to be a follower of Christ that I will not hold them accountable.  My own preacher, my relatives, and especially celebrity preachers – they all must be tested and researched to insure their words match God’s Word.  I don’t care how popular they are or how maligned I am for speaking out against them – I’m choosing Jesus. 

 2 Corinthians 11:3But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. Cross references: 2 Corinthians 11:3 : Ge 3:1-6, 13; 1Ti 2:14; Rev 12:9

It’s Joel or Jesus.  Joel Osteen cannot save you from eternal separation from God.  I truly wish Mr. Osteen would get out of the charade of being a man of God and just call himself what he really is – a motivational speaker.  One of the sure evidences that Joel is not a committed follower of Christ is his fear of losing his material possessions.  Paul is very clear in telling us that he learned to be content in any circumstance and we must learn to do so also.  Jesus did not have a place to lay His head.  If these two were not “blessed” with worldly comfort, why does Joel tell his followers that worldly comfort is a true test of our faith?  Osteen is not alone – TD Jakes, Prince, Joyce Meyer, Hagee; watch them all.  They are perverters of the truth and we must hold them accountable. 

 Don’t put anyone above Jesus.

IS GOD’S FORGIVENESS CONDITIONAL?

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Did you ever wonder what the part in the Lord’s Prayer that says “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” means?  I had always filed that one under “Theological Mysteries Too Deep for Me to Understand.”  Doesn’t God assure us ALL of our sins are forgiven because of Jesus’ death on the cross?  This seems to imply that He will only forgive as I forgive and I’m human.  If someone has done something really awful to me and I’m struggling to forgive them, does that mean God will not forgive some of my sins?

 I wasn’t going to take any chances with this and decided that forgiveness was to be my way of life.  I have some pretty bad sin in my life – bad.  I have spent the majority of my life serving myself at great cost to others.  But I claimed God’s promise that He forgives me for everything I’ve done as long as I am sincerely sorry and turn away from those things.  There is a lot of sin that a just, righteous God had to wipe from this sinner’s slate, and if He’s willing to do that for me, I will forgive whatever somebody has done to me.  Some wrongs are tougher than others and I often find myself struggling to stay at the proper level of forgiveness, but rather than dwell on what someone has done, I shift my focus to their need for God, remembering the time in my life when sin defined my life.  I concentrate on praying for them and for me.  Focusing on forgiveness and prayer keeps my thoughts away from what they have done.  God’s gift to me is a forgiving heart, which I feel very blessed to have.  Even with that, I have found it to be consistently and profoundly true that forgiveness may not do anything for the other person but it has set me free: so much less to fret about and stew over.

 So, despite not fully understanding what this part of the Lord’s Prayer means, I had it covered by my decision to just forgive.  Then a few weeks ago I was listening to Alistair Begg on the radio as he explained this passage.  Seems I’ve been taking the line too literally – no surprise there.  According to Pastor Begg, as sincere followers of Christ, our goal must be to forgive everyone of everything (forgive us as we forgive others) because that’s how God forgives those who accept His gift of salvation.  If we’re unable to do that, then we haven’t fully realized how detestable sin is to God; we haven’t acknowledged how abhorrent our sin is to Him, nor how great His gift of forgiveness is.  Once we fully understand the magnitude of God’s grace and mercy we will be able to forgive seventy times seven times.  It’s something we will work on as long as we walk on the earth, but it is to be our goal. To choose not to forgive someone and stick to that decision is a clear indicator that we haven’t grasped how wretched we are without Jesus.

 Psalm 51: 3, 4 – “ For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned,”

 As humans we rate sin – murder is worse than a lie, lying is worse than stealing my pen from work, stealing my pen from work is worse than using God’s name in vain.  But whatever you consider the smallest sin separates you from God.  We must look at sin from God’s viewpoint, not our own.  In His eyes, no matter how “small” the sin, the object of His great love – YOU – are separated from Him.  That grieves God.

 Mark 5:34: “And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.  Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.”

 Grace is relatively easy to understand intellectually.  Jesus paid our debt and God no longer holds us accountable for any of our sins – not a single one.  In my mind I understand that.  But truly comprehending how great His mercy is is extremely difficult.  If I have spent my entire life repeatedly committing the sin I think is the absolute worst one, but right before I die I sincerely accept Jesus as my Savior, God forgives me. He said He would and I expect Him to do that.  And He expects me to forgive everyone of everything without keeping record of the offenses.  Too much to ask from a human being?  Yep.  But I can do it because His Spirit dwells in me and I call on His power to get me to the place He expects me to be.  I can’t just consider forgiveness; I can’t reason through a situation to determine if I will or won’t forgive; I certainly can’t make a decision about forgiving someone based on worldly rationale because the world will tell me I certainly do not have to forgive everyone of everything all the time.  From a worldly perspective I cannot accept that someone like Jeffrey Dahmer could be forgiven.  But God clearly tells me otherwise.  The world rails at the thought of a child molester being forgiven.  But God will forgive anyone that is clothed in Jesus’ righteousness.  That’s the magnitude of His forgiveness that I have to understand.  And if I cannot understand it, I simply must accept it and trust Him in that.

 As a Christian I am held to a very high standard.  That standard is not another human being – my standard is Jesus.  God’s work in me is conforming me to His image, not to the image of the “goodest” person I know.   When forgiveness is hard, I remind myself that, had I done something as horrible as Mr. Dahmer, the moment I accepted Christ’s death as payment for my sins, I would have been forgiven.  That’s God’s promise.  Learning to forgive is part of our sanctification – part of becoming more like Christ.  We must constantly be working on it.  If there’s someone you haven’t forgiven because you feel justified that what they did was so bad you need not forgive them; perhaps someone keeps hurting you time and time again and you have stopped even considering the need to forgive them, you can know you haven’t fully grasped how abhorrent your sin is and how great God’s forgiveness is.

 Luke 11:3, 4 – “Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”

 God’s forgiveness is not conditional.  This statement in our Lord’s Prayer is a reminder of what God has set as our goal.  If there are still people in our lives we are struggling to forgive, we can know we haven’t fully grasped the magnitude of what God has done for us.  We haven’t fully realized how wretched we are without Christ.

TIME TO DEAL WITH MY PRIDE

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 Recently God made it clear to me that it’s time to deal with my pride. I knew I could no longer excuse or dismiss the way I behave when pride rears its ugly head in my life. It was time to let go of it and allow God’s Spirit to determine my response instead of my emotions. I’ve been troubled with this for some time, unable to enjoy God’s peace as I continue in my disobedience.

 Here is some of what C.S. Lewis says about pride in his book, Mere Christianity, Chapter 8 titled The Great Sin: 

            “There is no fault … which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.”

             “…the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

            “Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But pride always means enmity – it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.”

            “If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.” (I love that one!!)

            “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.”

 I went back to college to get my bachelor’s degree because “everyone” around me had one. Once I had that, I began noticing all the people who had master’s degrees. So I got one. Then, as I was working in my field, I noticed how many people had a specialized certification so I got that. Then I got a job where the majority of people had PhD’s. I made phone calls, eager to begin my work earning that degree. But I was tired – tired of attaining one level of education only to yearn for the next. Before I earned them, I wanted them desperately. But as soon as I had that piece of paper in hand, their value diminished: after all, I didn’t earn them from a top-ranked college. I didn’t become the confident person I thought I would become because I had them. When I committed my life to Christ, He showed me that His plan for me has never been a worldly one – the degrees were part of MY plan. But pride did provide me with a use for those worldly achievements: to try to convince people I’m “cleverer…than others!”

 My go-to pride behavior is spewing my “wisdom” for whoever is within earshot. I say whatever pops into my head to show how much I know, to indicate the things I have or my position in life, to insure someone understands I am not wrong or “less smart” than they are. When I see a chance around people I’m comfortable with to expound on whatever topic has come up, my “wisdom” comes gushing out. I say things without considering the effect my words have on others. It’s embarrassing to put that on paper and my pride tells me I don’t have to talk about it; better to keep this to myself so others won’t look down on me or know my secret – as if they’re not already aware of it! I discussed thoughts on pride in another blog, but this aspect of it was one of those things in my life that I hadn’t yet identified as disobedience.

 I can’t tell you how many times I’ve embarrassed myself as I allowed pride to determine my behavior. But that’s not the worse consequence – I’ve hurt people I love. I’ve struck at people at their most vulnerable spots, wanting them to feel small on purpose. Lewis is absolutely right when he says “Pride leads to every other vice…” God has made it clear how pride is bringing sin into my life and I know I must hand it over to Him now.

2 Corinthians 12:9 – And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”   

 I’ve deleted these last two paragraphs numerous times thinking there’s another way I can talk about this without divulging my weakness. But I’ll press on – as I become more obedient, it is a clear testimony of the Holy Spirit’s work in me – I can’t do this on my own!

 I used to ease my conscience about my pride by telling myself I’m just insecure. But isn’t a big part of insecurity just constantly reminding myself of the areas in my life where I feel I don’t measure up? Labeling pride insecurity garnered sympathy and self-pity. I didn’t have to admit my behaviors were due to pride; I was simply compensating – behaving in a way that eased my suffering – never mind I caused others to suffer! My goal wasn’t to simply overcome insecurity; my goal was to be at the top, nothing less satisfied the true source of my problem.

 The more mature we are in our Christian life, the more we abhor sin. There was a time in my life when I didn’t give a second thought to these things. If I said something hurtful to someone I told myself I was only trying to help them. Chasing after college degrees was only my ambition and a desire to be successful. Now when I allow my pride to determine my behaviors, I am deeply troubled. There were two situations in the past month where I didn’t even try to stop myself from speaking even though I knew exactly what was going on before I opened my mouth. After hours of embarrassment and contemplating painful apologies, I am thankful that God allowed me to see my sin so clearly. I’m thankful He gave me the heart and courage to apologize.

Romans 7:15 – “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

I’m not naïve enough to think I won’t continue to give in to my pride. But I am being very intentional about how I respond when I feel the swell of pride come over me. I have been in a number of situations already where I felt it full-force and wanted so badly to say something that would puff myself up. But I refrained and the feeling from obeying God instead of responding to my emotions brings so much peace. And it has helped me advance my relationship with one particular person so that I am better able to show God’s love.

 There are so many behaviors that we don’t often attribute to pride: an unwillingness to admit when we’re wrong; refusal to apologize; self-pity; arrogance; refusal to acknowledge how your behaviors hurt others; insisting that everything be done your way; refusal to listen to someone else’s ideas; the need to control situations and the people around you; focusing on others’ faults; reluctance or refusal to accept or even listen to constructive criticism; defensiveness; anger; responding by giving others the silent treatment. Do you feel the need to say whatever’s on your mind, giving no thought to the consequences of your words or tone of voice? Look at your behaviors and determine whether or not pride is at the root of it and begin praying for the strength to conquer it. You will need the Holy Spirit – there’s no hope of conquering this one without Him!

 While pride damages our relationships with other people, the greatest harm is that it keeps us from God. Lewis reminds us that pride IS enmity (hostility) to God by man. Are you too proud to submit to His authority? Too proud to understand His plans are better than yours? Too proud to admit He operates in ways that we are unable to understand? Too proud to accept that God can save even the worst sinner you can imagine? Too proud to admit you are as bad as the worst sinner you can imagine? Are you too proud to forgive everyone who has ever hurt you or your family? Are you too proud to submit to Christian leaders God has placed in your life? Are you too proud to reject Christian leaders who don’t adhere to Christian doctrine? Are you too proud to admit that something in your life is not in keeping with God’s Truth? Pride demands that we be number one, the “main event”, even putting ourselves above God and His commands.

 C.S. Lewis points out that pride changed Lucifer from an angel to Satan.  He says it is “the complete anti-God state of mind.”

Job 20:6-7 – “Though the pride of the godless person reaches to the heavens and his head touches the clouds, he will perish forever…”