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.

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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…”

 

 

LET NOT YOUR HEART BE TROUBLED

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So many people I know have been dealing with some mighty struggles in their lives lately, including me. It helps when those struggling know that God is holding us up, helping each one of us get through the struggle if we’ll turn our gaze on Him. However, I know I did not fully embrace God’s promises of care and comfort until I was experiencing some rather deep pain. One morning I heard James MacDonald give a sermon on John 14:1 that reminded me where our thoughts need to go at the first hint of trouble.

Philippians 4:7 –“ And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

This promise is not an easy one to claim – it’s difficult to accept that it can become a reality in our lives. When I accepted God’s calling to follow Him, it was the promise I couldn’t believe was possible. In no uncertain terms, I let God know that I knew following Him could never bring the peace I desired because it was loved ones in my life that left me paralyzed with fear and overwhelming sadness that I could no longer find the strength to cope with. I didn’t see any way He could ease my troubled heart unless He drastically changed these people or their circumstances and I didn’t see any earthly way that could happen soon enough to quiet the storms I was experiencing. That was my biggest error – I thought the only solutions were earthly resolutions. I sold God short – He has other ways of bringing us peace.

Romans 8:28 – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Well, God didn’t change the circumstances and He didn’t perform personality exorcisms on my friends and family. But in a matter of weeks I experienced a peace about it all. Being a new Christian and full of doubt about God being able to fulfill this particular promise, I can assure you I hadn’t done anything to bring about this newfound peace to my soul. It truly just came upon me. Nothing about the situations changed, yet somehow I experienced a peace about it all. I spent a lot of time thinking about this miracle He performed in my life, trying to figure out exactly how it had come about. After four-plus years of thought on the matter, the only thing I’ve ever come up with is that, for the first time in my life, I KNEW God was real. I KNEW He loved me and would be working in my life. These facts went from beliefs I held to knowledge of the reality of God and the power and love He has. This knowledge resulted in a newfound confidence that no matter how things worked out, I COULD trust Him. Knowing that eternity is a reality and is actually God’s plan for us helped me know that I would see good from those things I allow God to work out even though I might not see them in this physical world. I could truly claim this!

 I think as I work out my faith, too often I focus on the doing. As I’m confronted with struggles, I focus on praying, reading my Bible and, when peace does not come, I conclude I’m not “doing” enough, that I’m missing something or there’s some secret Christian thing I haven’t yet discovered. Prayer and Bible study are good things to do and in the midst of a trial bring momentary comfort to me. But as soon as I get back out in the world where I am unable to formally pray or pick up my Bible that sick feeling in my stomach often comes back, reminding me of the terrible things that could happen as a result of struggles. What I fail to remember is that I have the Holy Spirit dwelling within me, longing to bring me peace just as He did when I first yielded my life to Him. Too often, I don’t let Him do His work, feeling there is something I must do rather than simply relying on His strength. Simply being still with Him, thinking about Him and fixing my eyes on Jesus is all I need to “do.” A quick reminder in the middle of any situation that He is with me is all I need to squash that sickening fear and panic that often comes upon me.

 Praying, reading and spending time with God must be something I practice consistently to build my relationship with Him so that when the struggles come I am properly equipped to receive His peace. Waiting to do these things in the midst of a struggle adds to my burden because, along with coping with the emotions I must now get His Word into my mind and heart. When they are already planted there, I can immediately recall them and be comforted, receiving His peace before the fear and sadness are unmanageable.

Proverbs 30:5 – “Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.”

As Pastor James said, it is no sin to have a troubled heart, but as we continue to be troubled, sin can easily come into our lives. The longer we dwell in this place, the more negative emotions we feel, the more overwhelming the situation becomes and our hope quickly begins to fade. As the weight of our situation bears down on us, we are more likely to seek solace from substances, physical pleasure, self-pity, angry words or behavior. But as soon as we can look to Jesus for comfort, our tendency to go to these things is diminished and we can respond in His way. Be prepared by strengthening your knowledge of God and always remember you have the Holy Spirit just waiting for you to call on Him. That is how we can quickly find the peace He promises in every situation. Don’t wait for the doubt and fear to take hold before you call on Him!

CHRISTIAN CLASSICS

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If you’ve never read any of the “Christian classics,” I highly recommend you do so. I began reading authors like CS Lewis, AW Tozer, Andrew Murray and George Muller and the book Pilgrim’s Progress late last year and cannot tell you how inspiring I found them to be. I actually read CS Lewis a couple of years ago and have yet to finish all of his works, but it definitely left me hungry for more. As I read or listen to respected Christan leaders, I take note of references to these early Christian authors and keep a list to read. I am now working my way through my collection, sometimes reading 2 at a time! You can get entire collections in one book and because most are no longer on any Best Seller lists (but should be!), you can generally get them for a little bit of nothing. My only regret is that I bought most of them to read on my Kindle so I cannot pass them along to others to read!

 I do have to warn you, many people find it a bit challenging to stay in them long enough to get hooked but if you can stick with it and get used to each of the authors’ idiosyncrasies, it is well worth it. For the older authors and books, the language is not what we are accustomed to, but that is part of the attraction for me. We have so butchered and “dumbed down” the English language! To read it as it was once spoken and written can take some getting used to but it is like listening to great music! Experiencing the beauty of words and phrases seldom used anymore is heavenly (pardon the pun)! I read that Tozer wrote much of his work in a cramped upstairs apartment in the middle of Chicago – whether that’s true or not I haven’t taken the time to confirm. But, if true, I agree with one commentator I read – it’s hard to believe such inspired work came out of such a familiar, everyday place.

Numbers 21:9 (NIV):So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

It’s not only the language, it’s also their treatment of Scripture that we seldom see in modern-day authors. In contrasting the classics with modern-day works I think Tozer hits the nail on the head. We are so busy defending the faith or outlining how to get it into our lives that we seem to have lost the only real answer: fix our gaze on God; remind ourselves continuously of His presence. Just as in Numbers where God directs Moses to make a serpent of brass and put it upon a pole in sight of all the people so that those who have been bitten can gaze upon it and live, so should we simply “look” constantly throughout our days upon Jesus as if He is sitting at our side. I guess this wouldn’t sell many books or programs. Living a life of faith, and experiencing the many blessings God promises us, according to Tozer, is simply this: looking at Him, for looking is believing. The first chapter would be the last chapter. As we move farther away from the simplicity of it, we are inundated with book after book and method after method of how to get our faith into our lives. I know I sound like a broken record when people come to me seeking relief from a burden in their lives. I can think of no other answer but to remind them to look to Jesus, keep your eye on Him, abide in Christ, remind yourself of Him every minute of every day.

 As I began to grow in my faith, I sought out mature Christians, writers, speakers, preachers to help me understand what living for Christ should look like in my life; how I could rely on an unseen being to bring me comfort. It was overwhelming: I was introduced to all kinds of lists of things I should do; the beginning letter of each item on each list would begin with the same letter to help me remember the things I should be doing. But I couldn’t keep it all straight and my life became very similar to what it was before I found Christ – constantly working at developing better life habits. There was just one habit they failed to tell me about: reminding myself every minute of every day of Christ’s presence in my life (a.k.a. the Holy Spirit). This truth became clear to me as I read Andrew Murray’s “Abide in Christ.” It became clearer as I read Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God.”

 Each of the authors I have read so far has given me a gift – Lewis has brought me extended knowledge and new ways to think about Scripture; Murray has added a level of peace to my life I never thought imaginable; Pilgrim’s Progress formed truths about our walk with God into visual pictures for me. I’ve not read enough of Muller to find what impact his writing is going to have. But Tozer has left me with a concept that I pray all Christians would grasp hold of and can be included in all of the things mentioned here: spiritual receptivity – our willingness to accept that the unseen spiritual world is as real as the physical world we can see.

 I ran across Tozer’s concept of spiritual receptivity in his book The Pursuit of God and in my mind it answers the question as to why these works have lasted, why one person stays in the Bible consistently while another does not, why one Christian can truly find peace with Christ while another does not, while one finds it “normal” to walk with God while another struggles to stay in that place, why one struggles with handling their emotions while another has learned how to act on them in a Biblical manner . We must understand and KNOW that the spiritual realm of God is an unseen reality, and though we cannot experience with any of our five senses, it is no less a reality. One can believe in the principle of God, but not in the reality of Him. As long as I have even the slightest doubt about the reality of Him, I have no real being on whom I can rely. Though I tell myself I hand my burdens over to Him, if I do not truly believe there is anyone really “there” to see to them, I am left with nobody to take care of them.

 I have spent the last 4 years desperately trying to understand what living out my faith should look like in my day-to-day life. I felt it shouldn’t be something that changed with my emotions or the circumstances I found myself in each day. It needed to be so ingrained in me that, when external things threatened my peace or my joy, I overcame it no matter what the threat was. I wanted God’s presence in my life to be so entrenched in my minute-to-minute living that when I found myself feeling the consuming fear I had lived with for so long, I would be able to turn loose of it because I truly trusted God and His working in my life. I reached that level of trust and faith as I read Andrew Murray (Abide in Christ; The Two Covenants). His revelations were reinforced by Tozer’s concept of spiritual receptivity (The Pursuit of God and Man: The Dwelling Place of God). I found I can live more spiritually not by checking things off of a list of behaviors that all beginning with the letter “P” but by keeping my mind on Christ as much as possible. As I read my Bible each day, I formed a “book club” with Murray and Tozer. Their written words elaborated on what I was reading in God’s Word, emphasizing the points I wasn’t paying enough attention to, pasting together the verses that I needed to see in one place about living this Christian life.

 If you want to accept my challenge to begin reading the Christian classics, I recommend starting with Tozer’s The Pursuit of God. The prayers at the end of each chapter are amazing. I truly believe you will find a new level of spirituality as you gain insight from these amazing followers of Christ!