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Posts Tagged ‘Christian Living’

As one who enjoys working on word puzzles – choosing from all the words known to man, and then arranging those words in the simplest and clearest way possible to convey a significant thought – I equally enjoy solving the puzzles that others before me have worked out. After several readings of Peter’s first letter to ‘God’s elect’, I believe the significant thought he was trying to convey was the faithful aspect of our Creator.

As a people belonging to Him, He calls us out of what is like a womb of darkness into His wonderful light. ‘In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope, into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.’ ‘We are like new born babies and like them we need to crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it we might grow up in our salvation.’

We were like sheep going astray, but we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. We who have been called out have spent enough time in the past doing what the world chooses to do – living in lust, drunkenness and all kinds of craziness; and maybe our old friends will think it strange when we do not plunge with them into the same flood of wasteful and improper behavior which is indifferent to moral restraints. Our friends may heap abuse on us now for not joining with them; but know this, one day they will stand before a judge and abuse will be heaped on them.

If you think it’s hard facing a judge today, think of that day. Think of today as a little trial run. If you think your judge today is unfair, imagine how unfair it’s going to seem to your friends when God says, I’m sorry; but you never turned from your wicked ways. I called you but you would not come. I gave you many chances but you would not listen.

But you have listened. You have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. Know that you are shielded by His power, ‘though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith may be proved genuine.’ Once your faith is proved – once you know, in spite of the trials you are in, that your Creator is in deed faithful – you will be able to help others whose faith is still being proved.

‘Don’t be surprised (or discouraged) at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.’ Understand you are ‘participating in the sufferings of Christ. When you suffer, it is according to God’s will. He wants you to learn that He, as your faithful Creator, can sustain you and bring you through whatever you are facing. You should commit yourself to Him and continue to do good.’

Don’t waste your energy thinking the judge did not treat you fairly, or that God has abandoned you, or that He can’t help you. Nothing can happen to you that He does not first allow. Nothing can happen to you that He cannot handle. Consider what he accomplished in creation. Consider the impossible situations He helped His people through. Consider that He raised Jesus from being dead to life.

Now . . . do you think your situation has finally backed Him into a corner? Is God finally stumped; not knowing what to do? Saturate yourselves with the stories in this book and you will learn that He is not. Don’t reduce God to what your puny mind can think. Don’t limit His ability to what you can understand. He is our faithful Creator and we would do well to commit ourselves to Him. Commit yourself to Him and let Him show you what He can do.

Peter ends his letter with these fitting comments, ‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith – faith in the fact that God is your faithful creator. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.’

He is in deed our faithful Creator. He is very able to not only forgive us of our sins, but to see us through the messes that our sins have gotten us into. But He doesn’t stop there. After we have suffered a little while, He will restore us.

Do you remember the story of the prodigal son? When he returned, all he asked for was to be forgiven and made a servant. What did his father do? He threw him a feast. God wants to throw you a feast.

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This was the first line in a note a guy handed me one night. “Pray for me to keep my oath with God.” It was exactly what I had been working on in my writing. What is it that will help us keep the oath we make to God? What is it that will keep us from easing up on the commitments we make? What is that will keep us from eventually forgetting God altogether?

It’s not so much that one day we are passionate for God and the next day we are passionate for the pleasures of the world, it is more that one day we are passionate and the next we’re a little less so; until we wake up one day and realize that we have forgot God.

So, how do we go about not forgetting? How do we insure that we will keep the oaths we make?

When God delivered the nation of Israel from Egypt, even though they saw Him do some pretty cool stuff . . . they forgot. And what did God do . . . He sentenced them to years of wandering. There are some things with some of us that can only be worked out of and in to us over time. And at the end of that period of time – at the end of the wandering – we finally come to a place where we are ready to not forget.

At the end of Israel’s wandering, they were ready. They were camped on the edge of what God had planned for them all along. Caleb and Joshua saw it 40 years ago. But the rest . . . it took a little time. And in Joshua chapter 1, once again, just outside what God had for them; they declare this oath; “Whatever you have commanded us we will do and wherever you send us we will go.”

I don’t know why it takes some of us years of wandering to reach this point of resolve when others reach it so much sooner, but I’m glad that God does not wash His hands of us. He knew how to get Israel to this place to where they could make and keep such an oath; He knows too how to get us there. Listen to part of a poem I wrote awhile back.

He alone knows where I’m bound
and how to get me there;
to follow close and listen well,
this my only care.

He knows how to get us to the place where we are willing to follow close and listen well. While we are carrying out our sentence of wandering, we follow sort of and listen a little. There’s a lot of ‘us’ that has to be worked out of us – the confidence we have in our own ability and the doubt we have in God’s; all that has to be worked out. So, to get us to this place . . . that is His goal.

I always had passion for God; but I allowed that passion to cool. I justified the cooling . . . all the way to it being just plain cold. But at the end of my wandering, I quit justifying it. I learned how important it was to guard it. When I sense that it is cooling, I take steps to rekindle it. If you can guard against it cooling for a day, you can be assured that it won’t eventually get cold.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, His answer puts it all about as simply as it can be put. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” If you are Loving God with all your heart you will have passion for Him; and if you have that passion, be careful to not let it slip.

Maintaining passion for God will guard against distractions from God. Passion will help us keep the oaths we make. Passion will keep us from easing up on our commitments. Passion will keep us from eventually forgetting altogether. When we have passion, we can, as Peter puts it, “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires”.

It’s not about concentrating on the elimination of our evil desires; you can’t do it. There is a nature that rolls and crushes everything in its path. God has set us up that way. He has, as Paul puts it, “bound all men over to disobedience”. Until the end of our wandering, try as we may, still we are bound.

But at the end of it all, when we’ve proven to ourselves without a doubt that we can’t do it, when we simply just come to God; He does for us what we could never do for ourselves – He changes our nature. As we come and continue to come, He changes us. Little by little, the tentacles of hell are cut. As He takes up more and more space in our heart, He rids it of all that is set against Him.

Our part is just to come. To come and not quit coming – to not let up on our coming – to let Him do for us what we could never do for ourselves. That is without a doubt, the difference.

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In the movie The Aviator, Leonardo Dicaprio, playing the character of Howard Hughes, is trying to produce a film that contains a dogfight – an airplane battle in the sky. After watching the first take on film, he commented; ‘We’ve gotta have clouds. Without clouds there is no perspective.’

I thought of that in relation to grace; without the backdrop of sin, grace can lack perspective. Brennan Manning has a new book out – All Is Grace. If you know anything about Brennan Manning, you know his life is that good backdrop.

Philip Yancey, in his forward, says that Manning could hold and audience of thousands spellbound while telling about a Maker who loves and forgives; but then could end up in his hotel room drinking himself senseless. Each time he begged for forgiveness. Philip writes that he ‘progressed not by always making right decisions but by responding appropriately to wrong ones’.

I can relate to Brennan Manning – progressing not by right decisions but by responding appropriately to wrong ones. After doing things I swore I would never do again . . . over and over and over, sometimes I would make myself go without eating; partly to prove to God that I was sorry and partly in hopes that it would make me think a little more the next time.

I like what Manning says on the front end of his book:

This book is by the one who thought he’d
be farther along by now, but he’s not.
It is by the inmate who promised the parole
board he’d be good, but he wasn’t.
It is by the dim-eyed who showed the path
to others but kept losing his way.
It is by the wet-brained who believed if a
little wine is good for the stomach,
then a lot is great.

Some will not be able to relate to this. Some might even disagree with it. But for those of us who have struggled in the battle against evil – winning sometimes but also losing sometimes – where would we be without grace. I like the way Max Lucado puts it; “Mercy forgave the prodigal. Grace threw him a feast.” Grace doesn’t stop at forgiveness. When we come to our senses, no matter how many times, grace offers us an opportunity to start over.

Without this backdrop of sin, grace can end up like items in a store, just another item we associate with Christianity. But with this backdrop, it becomes the window display that catches the eye and makes people want to stop and come in.

Today is December 22. We are getting ready to celebrate the birth of the One who made this grace possible. It is an undeserved gift no matter how you look at it; but if you’ve been the repeat offender, it is the gift. Against that backdrop, grace has perspective.

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When Tina sang that, she was saying she could do without it. I wonder how many people, influenced by the words of this song, have come to the same conclusion – have hardened themselves with this same belief. It’s easier to just quit trying than to work until you find it.

And that really is what we do, if we haven’t quit. We work ourselves to the bone to love and win the love of others. It’s disappointing when it doesn’t work, but because of the value we place on it, we try and try and try. It’s cool when it pays off, when the motives are right and the labor is rewarded. It makes it all worth it.

I wonder how many times God, tried and tried and tried with me. What’s love got to do with it . . . I’d hate to think of where I’d be if it weren’t for it. I think of all the things I tried to do to win it and all the miserable failures along the way when my enemy convinced me that I didn’t have it. Mark Hall (Casting Crowns) has a line in one of his songs that says, “I feel I am just one mistake away from seeing You walk away”. If it weren’t for love, wouldn’t He have?

I know when Paul wrote this line that he wrote it as a statement of something that had literally just happened. But think of it in relation to you right now – I did this morning. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for us”. “God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners (while we were on miserable failure number ____), Christ died for us.” At just the right time, while we were still powerless, God demonstrated His love for us.

If we quit and walk away, we miss what could’ve been. I could have quit and walked away. God could have quit and walked away. But love, because it has everything to do with it, endures all things. God, the perfect example of love, endured all things with me; and at just the right time, when I was still powerless, He demonstrated it. That kind of love transforms. What does that kind of love not have to do with it?

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I work with guys who, as a result of some bad decisions, have ended up in jail. One is in for the first time because he didn’t control his drinking. Another is in for making and selling meth. Some are in for a short time while others await longer sentences.

I get to work with the ones who have turned to God. One who was in for drinking commented that he couldn’t believe how far off track he had gotten. He was a new person. Soon after getting out though, he is back to uncontrolled drinking.

The one who was in for selling meth, was in at least once before for 2 months. He said while he was in he was on fire for God. Within 4 hours of his release he was making meth again. So here he was, in again, telling his story.

I realize as they tell their stories, that they are not unique. We all struggle to keep from going astray; they just have more trouble with it than some of us who have gained in the fight. They have dug some deep holes for themselves and it will take resolve like never before to break the cycle that grips them.

God is doing His best to help them break it. Psalm 78 says, “Whenever God slew them, they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again. They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer. But then they would flatter him with their mouths.” I can relate to that.

Is there not that same cycle with all of us to one extent or the other? We forget God; He slays us; we turn back to Him; He helps us. Then we start the cycle over by forgetting Him again.

I’ve been reading Paul’s letters lately. I’m amazed at the going astray he dealt with. His entire ministry was about sharing the gospel, people coming to God with sincere devotion, then falling away after he moved on. His letters addressed the issues.

I like the way he puts in 2 Corinthians 11:3. It reflects not only the potential for the Corinthian people to go astray, but Paul’s concern for it. “But 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.”

It troubles me when I see the guys sincere and pure devotion to God, knowing they will soon be thrown to the wolves and be deceived by the serpent’s cunning. Most of them don’t have the roots to stand strong. I have struggled enough in my own life to know the cycle very well. I tell the guys this one thing that has helped me.

Jesus was getting ready to leave His disciples. He was getting ready to pass the baton off to them. The gospel would be on their shoulders. He knew they would need what He was getting ready to give them. Even He depended on it.

At the beginning of John 16, Jesus makes this statement. “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.” The ‘all this’ was the importance of ‘staying connected’ that He spent most of John 15 telling them about. When I look back on my walk with God, I see times I was connected and times that I was not. When I was, I was on fire for God. When I wasn’t, I went astray. This will be true if you’re in jail or out, if behind the pulpit or in the pew; there is no easy road. Staying connected is the only way I’ve found to break the cycle of going astray.

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I read where Paul referred to himself as the least of all the apostles and didn’t even deserve to be called an apostle because . . . He had a good reason, and I will get to it, but what really struck me is when I reworded the verse. I am the least of all Christians and do not even deserve to be called a Christian because . . .

Like Paul, I didn’t have trouble coming up with my ‘because’. For Paul, “I persecuted the church of God.” For me, my problem was not that blatant. I was just inconsistent. For 30 years I was up and down – hot and cold.

I recently read a book that closed with this quote:
“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth,
not going all the way, and not starting.”

Paul hadn’t started; but me, I stopped short of going all the way. Both miss the mark. But in 30 years I never quit trying. I might have fell 100 times, but I got up 101. God could have justly walked away. He could’ve with Paul. I like the line Paul adds after saying why he didn’t deserved to be called an apostle.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” God could have left Paul in his lostness. He could have left me to hobble the rest of my Christian life. But He didn’t. He allowed me to get up that 101st time and that gracious gesture was not without effect.

The effect on Paul was that he worked as hard for God as he had worked against Him. “What he learned he preached”. In an effort to persuade others to believe the same truth he had come to believe, he worked. Seven years later, I am working. That is the effect. What I’ve learned, I use to persuade others.

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Are there any wordpress bloggers out there that attended this years Summit; either from Willow Creek or from one of the many satelite locations around the world. This was my first year. My son and I went.

There’s a lot to process, but the Lord has me thinking about the man, the message, the faith of Stephen Furtick, and a comment that was made about him by one of the other speakers. If you heard Furtick’s message, you know about digging trenches.

The other speaker who commented had been digging trenches for 35 years to alleviate hunger around the world. His comment about Furtick was the assurance that his (Furtick’s) generation, because of their great faith in God to do the impossible, would eradicate it.

When I started my latest series, A Journey of Faith, I didn’t have it all laid out. It is litterally a journey. As I learn, I write. As the Lord shows me things I wrestle them out and then I write.

Is it possible that while we want to see miracles, God is wanting to see the hungry fed? Has God just brought me to a major intersection in my journey, giving me the opportunity to get on the same road He is on? I would expect that I’ll be wrestling this out over the next little while.

Anyway, GLS attendees, if your out there I would especially like to hear from you. But also to any, if this strikes a chord with you, I would like to know your thoughts.

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I was tempted to leave this out. This is a series that I have labeled ‘A Journey of Faith’. The stories in this series were to be a record of the things I learn in relation to believing God and seeing God size things happen.

I wanted to write about it but it didn’t seem to fit. I started to pass it up for one just a few chapters away and write about this one another day; but I couldn’t. It kept pulling me back. The truth of it was so exactly where I have lived. It expresses it so simply and clearly.

And then I thought . . . it could be the very thing responsible for my being on this journey. And so I saw that it ‘did’ fit. I ‘didn’t’ have to pass by it.

There’s really nothing I can say about it or add to it to make it say anything more than it says all by itself; so I will simply close with it.

Psalm 119:67 “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.”

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I love the Psalms. They are written records of individuals pouring their heart out to God. Occasionally I find phrases that express more clearly than I have been able to, the cries and yearnings of my own heart and soul. They give me specific words that I can use myself as I pray.

One such verse is Psalm 74:11; “Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of you garment and destroy them”.

Although I don’t have people I want destroyed, I have had situations I wanted to see destroyed. The image of God standing with His hand tucked in the folds of His robe, knowing it could come out at any moment, was a helpful image to have in mind as I prayed.

It was especially cool to see it finally come out. And now having seen it, I can pray another verse; but now with more feeling and meaning than ever before. It is so simple but it says so much. Psalm 118:7; “The Lord is with me; he is my helper”.

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In John 5:36 John quotes Jesus as saying, “the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me”. It made me wonder about myself; does the work I am doing for God have evidence which testifies that He has sent me – that He is with me?

He was talking with some Pharisees. Though they were very familiar with scripture, they did not recognize that the scripture they were so familiar with testified of Jesus. They were not raised on Him like we were, so it is at least understandable that they could miss Him. But we who have been raised on Him, though we may not be guilty of not recognizing Him, have we missed recognizing the truth of which He came to testify?

I know I have. Seven years ago when I decided to start over in my Christianity, it was this very thing that caused me to start over. What had I missed? My life didn’t reflect the type of life I read about in the scripture. There was far too little evidence that He was with me.

And so still, I am wrestling this out. In this series, which I am calling ‘A Journey of Faith’, this evidence – His testimony of my life – is my focus right now. He is good to confirm along the way that I am on the right track. This passage in John is confirmation.

Awhile back, in a comment from a fellow blogger, was part of a poem:

“Because my heart
Has thus agreed
My mind believes
It has obeyed”

I’m convinced that we are all guilty to some degree of being familiar with scripture and the Jesus of which it speaks, and have settled that that is enough. But I still say there is a wrestling we must do to really get it . . . and until we have God’s testimony on our lives, we haven’t yet got it.

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