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God, His Truth, and Our Lies

SOURCE:  Dr. Bill Bellican

Each of us is affected by events in our past that have led to emotional wounding. We are fallen “image bearers” of Christ living in a fallen world. Certainly, we are affected by our own sinful choices as well as by the sins of others. Whether these events are traumatic or seemingly insignificant, they are fertile ground for distorted thinking, misperceptions, and lies to become embedded. The historical memories containing these “lies” too often are triggered by present events and act as unhealthy filters as we think, feel, and act in the present.

In addition to our own distorted thinking, Satan capitalizes on these lies using them as a way to keep us in bondage, weakened, ineffective, and destructive to ourselves and those around us. Satan would have us live an emotionally unhealthy, unfulfilled life in darkness. In contrast, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are Truth and desire us to walk and live in the truth. God knows that His truth will dispel the lies we believe, bring light to the darkness, and will set us totally free. Then we are able to love God more fully, love others, serve God, and enjoy a more fulfilled relationship with God.

The following Scriptures (NIV) are listed to open your thinking about lies, the truth, who God is, and how Satan works. The notes, which follow the listed Scriptures, are taken from the NIV Study Bible and other sources.  The notes are included to provide further insight and application of these truths.

Prayerfully read and reflect upon them asking God to apply His truth to your mind and to your heart.

Genesis 18:14a, Is anything too hard for the Lord?

NOTE: The answer is “no.” Nothing in God’s will is impossible for Him.

Exodus 23:29-30, But I will not drive them out in a single year.  Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.

NOTE: Many times God works with us through a process by which He prepares us for the next step.

Numbers 33:50a-55, The Lord said to Moses, “When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you.  Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess.  But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live.

NOTE: It is critical for us to allow God continually to root out all lies and distorted beliefs, or they can be triggered causing us continued problems.

Deuteronomy 4:29, But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.

NOTE: This indicates total involvement and commitment. The Lord longs to bring us His truth.

Joshua 4:24, He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.

NOTE: The Lord wants us to realize that He accomplishes His work without our help.

Joshua 5:13-14, Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

NOTE: We must know our place. It is not that God is on our side; rather, we must fight God’s battles. God has sent the commander of his heavenly armies to take charge of the battle on earth. He will fight on our behalf. We must be willing by faith to receive the truth from the Lord.

Joshua 6:1-20, Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands.  March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days.  On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets.  When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city.

NOTE: Marching around the city was a ritual act signifying a siege of the city that was to be repeated for six days. The Lord was laying siege to the city. At times, He may choose to lay siege to the walls around our memories, lies, and pain.

Job 12:22, He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light.

NOTE: God knows even secret, evil plans/thoughts. His light penetrates the deepest darkness.

Job 42:5, My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.

NOTE: It is one thing to know God and another to “feel” and experience God’s truth with eyes of faith and spiritual understanding. Freedom occurs when we trust God to apply to our lives the truths we had previously only known.

Psalm 28:6-7a, Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.

NOTE: The Lord realizes the need we have for the truth. He is our help as we look to Him.

Psalm 33:4, For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.

NOTE: No power or combination of powers can thwart God’s plan and purpose to save his people. Under the Lord’s rule in the creation, there is goodness, order, dependability, and truth.

Psalm 36:9b, In your light we see light.

Psalm 43:3a, Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me.

NOTE: God’s light invades and removes the darkness giving us a clearer, more focused view of the present that is based on His truth.

Psalm 66:18, If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.

NOTE: Sin can be a barrier to the Lord bringing His truth to us.

Psalm 77:13-14a, Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles.

Psalm 86:8,11a, Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart.

NOTE: God is the only true God. No other “god” acts with such sovereign power. Dependence on and devotion to God ask that He save us from the enemy outside but also from our frailty within.

Psalm 119:130a, The unfolding of your words gives light.

Psalm 139:7,12, Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? Even the darkness will not be dark to you for darkness is as light to you.

NOTE: Just as the whole creation offers no hiding place from the Lord, neither does even the darkness. There is no memory or lie that cannot be accessed by the Lord. He knows where everything is located.

Proverbs 2:6, For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

NOTE: As we cry out for, look for, and search for wisdom/truth, the Lord will bring it.

Proverbs 3:5-6, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

NOTE: We must commit to God our need, helplessness, powerlessness, and inability to figure Him out. We must refuse to come up with or rely on our own “answers” apart from Him. He will remove the obstacles from your pathway and bring you to the place where He wants you to be.

Proverbs 8:14, 17b, Counsel and sound judgement are mine; I have understanding and power; those who seek me find me.

Proverbs 30:5a, Every word of God is flawless.

Isaiah 2:5, Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah 9:2, The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

NOTE: Jesus is the light for our darkened minds and the lies we believe. His light is truth.

Isaiah 31:1, Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord.

NOTE: Our help and the truth must come from the Lord, alone. No one else can provide what He alone can provide.

Isaiah 45:19b, I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right.

Isaiah 49:8a, This is what the Lord says, “In the time of my favor, I will answer you.”

NOTE: The Lord has a perfect timing in revealing His truth to us.

Isaiah 49:23b, Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed.

Isaiah 50:10b-11a, Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze.

NOTE: When we try to help the Lord or find the answer ourselves, we will fail. We must simply “actively” wait for the Lord to accomplish His purpose in our lives and circumstances.

Isaiah 55:8-9, For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

NOTE: We can’t put God in a box to do things the way we think they should be done.

Isaiah 59:1-2, Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.

NOTE: God can do all things. But, our sins can be a barrier to God bringing us His truth. He longs for us to bring our sins to Him to be healed and released from them.

Isaiah 59:9b-10a, We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes.

NOTE: Too many times, we try to find our own solutions. We fail to take God as His word that He does want to bring us His truth to really set us free from our lies.

Isaiah 59:12-13, For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, uttering lies our hearts have conceived.

NOTE: Too often, we choose to cling to the lies continually acting them out. Once we turn to the Lord, He accepts our request for forgiveness and freely brings His truth in His way and timing.

Isaiah 59:15-16a, Truth is nowhere to be found. The Lord was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him.

NOTE: The Lord knows we are actually helpless to heal ourselves in any permanent way. He is the Author of truth, and He is willing to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Jeremiah 17:9-10a, 14, The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind.  Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.

NOTE: Wickedness/distorted thinking/lies must not be allowed to take root in the heart.

Jeremiah 20:12a, O Lord Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind

Jeremiah 23:23-24, “Am I only a God nearby, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

NOTE: God is both transcendent and immanent; He lives in a high and holy place but also with him who is lowly in spirit. There is no place that the Lord can’t access.

Jeremiah 32:17, 27, Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you. I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?

NOTE: The answer is, “No!”

Ezekiel 22:30, I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.

NOTE: The counselor lends his strength to those who have been weakened by the lies as both counselor and counselee look to Christ for His truth.

Daniel 2:22, He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness and light dwells with him.

NOTE: God knows where the darkness is and what lurks in it. Only His light will be effective in this darkness.

Daniel 9:13b, All this disaster has come upon us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth.

NOTE: Too often, we remain in the darkness even if we don’t like it. It is what we know. At times, we choose to believe that nothing can really change us or our situation. God’s truth can bring true change.

Hosea 10:12:13a, Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers righteousness on you. But you have planted wickedness, you have reaped evil, you have eaten the fruit of deception.

NOTE: Be no longer unproductive, but repentant, making a radical new change and becoming productive and fruitful. It involves hard work to break up unplowed ground. Many times the Lord allows us to “seek and wait” on Him until He brings His truth at just the right time.

Micah 7:8b-9b, Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.  He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness.

Zechariah 4:6, So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

NOTE: The Lord Almighty is the One who brings freedom. It is not we who do this.

Matthew 8:2-3a, A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing you can make me clean.”  “I am willing,” he said . “Be clean.”

NOTE: The Lord is the God of truth, and He always is willing to bring His truth into our lives.

Matthew 10:34, Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

NOTE: As one becomes more healthy, others who remain dysfunctional will try to draw the one back into the family dysfunction. Additionally, as we seek the truth, the spirits of darkness/Satan become active in trying to hinder this process of becoming free.

Matthew 11:29-30, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

NOTE: Jesus’ easy yoke and light burden is receiving His truth and freedom from the burden of lies we believe.

Matthew 13:58, And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

NOTE: We have to allow God to exist “outside of the box” we tend to put him in realizing His ways and thoughts are above ours. Otherwise, our ability to receive His truth is dulled.

Matthew 16:16-17, Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”

NOTE: When Jesus “breaks into” one’s life to reveal His truth, it is not the product of humanity/our own minds, but of Divine revelation.

Matthew 18:3, And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

NOTE: Trusting and unpretentious behavior like little children is necessary.

Matthew 19:26, Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Matthew 28:20b, And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

NOTE: Jesus will not abandon us allowing us to trust in His presence always.

Mark 1:40-42b, A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing you can make me clean.”  “I am willing.  Be clean.’

Mark 2:3-5, Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, thy made an opening in the rook above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

NOTE: Jesus recognized that the bold action of the paralyzed man and his friends gave evidence of faith. Even so, the men had to work in faith to reach the Lord with their friend.

Mark 4:37-40, A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

NOTE: Jesus is always in control. He is never intimidated by the worst of problems we face. He calls on us to believe in His ability to handle all situations and to do that which we find impossible.

Mark 5:24b-28, A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”

NOTE: The woman was healed because God graciously determined to reward her faith.

Mark 5: 36, Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

Mark 6:5-6, He could not do any miracles there.  And he was amazed at their lack of faith.

NOTE: Jesus chose not to perform miracles in such a climate of unbelief.

Mark 9:22b-23, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”

NOTE: The question centered on whether the father had faith to believe Jesus could heal. A person who truly believes will set no limits on what God can do.

Mark 10:15, I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.

NOTE: The kingdom of God must be received as a gift; it may be entered only by those who know they are helpless, without claim or merit.

Mark 10:27, With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.

NOTE: Apart from the grace of God, no one can be saved or healed.

Mark 10:51-52a, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.”

NOTE: Jesus wants us to realize what we need from Him.

Luke 1:37, For nothing is impossible with God.

Luke 5:12b-13a, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”

NOTE: Jesus is willing to meet us at our point of need in answer to our faith.

Luke 5:18-20, Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

Luke 5:39, And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, “The old is better.”

NOTE: Jesus was indicating the reluctance of some people to change from their traditional religious ways and try to think “out of their religious box.”

Luke 8:50b, Don’t be afraid; just believe.

Luke 13:12, When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”

NOTE: The spirit had been cast out, and the woman was freed from the bond of Satan and from her physical handicap. In the process of healing, Jesus caused her to face the reality of her pain. He causes us to face the reality of painful memories as the lies are determined.

Luke 18:17, I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.

NOTE: With total dependence, full trust, frank openness and complete sincerity.

Luke 18:27, Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

Luke 18:35-42, A blind man was sitting by the roadside.  He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”

NOTE: It seems that Jesus wants us to fully understand our problem and realize what we are asking Him to do for us.

John 1:4-5, In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

NOTE: From Christ comes all spiritual illumination. He is the “light of the world” who holds out wonderful hope for all.

John 1:17, For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John 5:8-13a, Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.  The man who was healed had no idea who it was (that healed him).

NOTE: Ordinarily, faith in Jesus was essential to be healed, but here the man did not even know who Jesus was. Jesus usually healed in response to faith, but he was not limited by a person’s lack of it.

John 8:32, 36, Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

NOTE: The truth Jesus brings dispels the lies and allows freedom. Those whom Jesus frees, are truly and completely freed.

John 8:44b, He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

NOTE: The truth is foreign to Satan who stands in direct opposition to the truth Christ brings.

John 14:6a, Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

John 14:16-17a, And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth.

John 16:13a, But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.

John 17:17, (Jesus in His prayer to the Father) “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

NOTE: In essence and in action the Spirit is characterized by truth. He brings people to the truth of God. All three persons of the Trinity are linked with truth.

John 20:27b, (Jesus to Thomas) “Stop doubting and believe.”

NOTE: Jesus calls us to simply believe who He is and in What He does and says.

Acts 26:17b-18, I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.

NOTE: The role of the counselor is to be used by Jesus as a tool to bring the light of His truth to those who are encumbered by lies and Satan’s deceit.

Romans 1:25a, They exchanged the truth of God for a lie.

NOTE: In our fallen state, we choose to believe a lie over the truth.

Romans 7:22-8:2, For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work in my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

NOTE: Deliverance comes through Jesus Christ over the force within us at work preventing us from believing in God’s truth. The controlling power of the Spirit frees us from the controlling power of sin and the lies it produces.

Romans 8:6, The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;

NOTE: The mind of the sinful nature leads to death/lies. The mind of the Spirit-controlled nature leads to freedom/peace.

Romans 12:2b, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

NOTE: This is the process of the truth permeating the thought/will.

1 Corinthians 4:5b, He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness

NOTE: God will find and expose the deepest lies of the mind.

2 Corinthians 3:17, Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

NOTE: The presence of the Lord brings freedom.

2 Corinthians 4:4, The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.

NOTE: The devil is the archenemy of God and the unseen power behind all unbelief and ungodliness. He attempts to infect all with his lies to keep unbelievers and believers from walking in the freedom that Christ brings.

2 Corinthians 5:21, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

NOTE: Christ, the only entirely righteous One, at Calvary took our sin upon Himself and endured the punishment we deserved, namely, death and separation from God. Thus, by a marvelous exchange, He made it possible for us to receive His righteousness and be reconciled to God. Our standing and our acceptance before God are solely in Him. All this is God’s doing. Given this, it is all the more believable that Christ would want to bring us His truth to dispel the lies we believe.

2 Corinthians 10:4-5, The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

NOTE: As the center of our very being becomes exposed to and fully subject to the lordship of Christ, every stronghold of lies is demolished.

2 Corinthians 11:14-15, And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

NOTE: Even when masquerading as an angel of light, this Great Deceiver remains forever the prince of darkness and father of lies.

Galatians 5:1a, It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

NOTE: Christ sets us free from the burden of lies in which we are caught and entangled.

Galatians 5:13a, You, my brothers, were called to be free.

NOTE: God wants us free from lies/bondage to better serve Him and each other in love.

Ephesians 1:17-19a, I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

NOTE: As Christ brings truth to dispel the lies we believe, our mind, understanding, and inner awareness can more certainly believe in the hope He offers.

Ephesians 3:17b-21, And I pray that you may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory for ever and ever!

NOTE: God, who is infinite in all his attributes, allows us to draw on His resources to believe in that which is beyond our human capability — that He is willing and able to break-in our past — to free us and redeem our present — to enable us to live a more fulfilled future.

Ephesians 4:26, In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

NOTE: Anger directed toward injustice is appropriate. However, it is important that it is appropriately expressed and released to Christ not being allowed to turn into bitterness.

Ephesians 4:31, Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

NOTE: Such things grieve the Holy Spirit and become a barrier to Christ bringing His truth to us. We must allow Christ to take these things away from us and onto Himself.

Ephesians 6:11-18, Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all thee flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

NOTE: Our battles can’t be fought only using human resources. The battle is actually against powerful, evil beings in the unseen world. Human effort is inadequate, but God’s power is invincible. Ours is a spiritual battle and must be fought in God’s strength, depending on the Word and on God through prayer.

Philippians 4:13, I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

NOTE: Union with the living, exalted Christ is the secret of contentment and the source of our strength as we trust Him to bring us His truth. We are not helpless in any way.

Colossians 2:6-7, So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

NOTE: We must continue to be “rooted” in Christ in an intimate, spiritual, living union.

2 Timothy 1:7, For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

NOTE: Confusion and weakness are not from God. He calls on us to wait confidently for Him as he brings His truth.

Hebrews 1:1, In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

NOTE: God is not limited in how He chooses to bring His truth to us. In these last days, the creator of the universe is the One who brings the truth.

Hebrews 4:12-13, For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

NOTE: God’s truth was revealed by Jesus. His words are active in accomplishing God’s purposes through a living power that works as an all-seeing eye, penetrating the totality and depth of our innermost being.

Hebrews 6:18b, it is impossible for God to lie

NOTE: God is absolutely trustworthy.

Hebrews 12:15, See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

NOTE: This “bitter root” or pride, anger, animosity, rivalry, or anything else harmful to others can block God bringing his truth and healing grace.

James 1:5-6a, If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt

NOTE: Wisdom is not just acquired information, but practical insight/truth generated by the Spirit.

James 1:18a, He chose to give us birth through the word of truth

NOTE: Since He gave us birth through His word of truth, He surely wants us to live and walk in His truth.

James 1:21, Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. James 3:14, But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.

NOTE: All barriers to Christ bringing His truth must be removed with His enabling.

1 Peter 2:9, But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

NOTE: God does not want his chosen ones to dwell in the darkness of lies but rather would have us live in the light of his truth.

1 Peter 5:8, Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

1 John 1:5b, God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

1 John 1:6-10 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

NOTE: Light represents what is good, true and holy, while darkness represents what is evil and false. To live and walk in darkness is characterized by wickedness and error/lies, while to walk in the light is characterized by holiness and truth. For Christ to be free to bring us His truth, it is critical that we bring to Him all known sins that He may forgive us and restore our communion with Him.

1 John 2:8b, its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

NOTE: As we look to Jesus, the darkness passes as the light of His truth shines within our minds.

1 John 2:21b, no lie comes from the truth.

NOTE: The truth is completely freeing and overcomes the lies of our minds.

1 John 4:18a, There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.

NOTE: There is no fear of God’s judgement because genuine love confirms salvation. To be frightened/fearful of God is based on a lie and is part of Satan’s deception.

1 John 5:6b, The Spirit is the truth.

3 John 4, I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

The Basics for Living a Meaningful, Balanced, and Godly Life

SOURCE:  Dr. Bill Bellican

(1) The most important decision in life is the one made by you concerning Jesus Christ.

God has said that everyone who sins must pay the penalty for his/her sins, and there is no one, including you, who is righteous and free from sin. There is no payment you can possibly make, nor nothing that you could do that would satisfy a Holy and Just God. The penalty or payment due for your sin is eternal death and separation from God – forever.

The only hope you have is to recognize you are a lost, helpless sinner before God, be genuinely sorrowful, and ask God for forgiveness. Then you must realize that God loves you so much that He planned and provided for you a once-for-all-time opportunity to accept His forgiveness, His free gift of eternal life, and adoption into His family.

You do this by believing in and accepting the Son of God, Jesus Christ, as your personal Savior and Lord of your life. Jesus, being the sinless and perfect God-Man, willingly took upon Himself your penalty for sin (as your substitute) thereby completely satisfying God’s righteous-holy wrath against you. Jesus died actually to pay for your every personal sin – past, present, future. Jesus was resurrected from the dead which showed God’s approval and acceptance for what He did for you.

After you have accepted Jesus as your Savior and Lord and, as a result, are eternally saved and now are in a “forever relationship” with God, there are some important next steps to begin growth and maturity in Christ:  (a) be water-baptized – an outward sign of the inward cleansing you have received; (b) become active in worshipping God in a Christ-centered church; (c) daily, call upon Jesus for the filling of the Holy Spirit, strength, guidance, and empowerment to live as He requires in the following key areas, which will lead to a Meaningful, Balanced, and Godly life:

(2) Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your (spouse/others) as you love yourself.

(3) Seek to know God, His Ways, and His Word before anything else – even more than desiring solutions to your problems. Trust that the Lord knows you and your needs better than you do.

(4) Seek knowledge, wisdom, and understanding from the Holy Spirit.

(5) Invite the Holy Spirit to totally empower and control you moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day.

(6) Pray continually. Meditate and fast. Seek to be joyful/content always, giving thanks for God’s loving control in sending or allowing all circumstances in your life. Choose to believe in God’s goodness no matter what the circumstances.

(7) Choose to forgive others as Christ has forgiven you. Continually ask Christ for forgiveness of your daily sins He makes you aware of. By faith, receive and give thanks for His forgiveness.

(8) Think of others as better than yourself. Do nothing out of selfish ambition/pride. Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good.

(9) Excel in the grace of giving – time, money, and devotion/worship to God. Allow yourself to be a living sacrifice to God.

(10) Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Think about whatever is pure, lovely, admirable, good. Avoid anger, rage, filthy language, sexual immorality, evil desires, greed.

(11) Mutually submit to each other. Husband-love your wife as yourself and even sacrificially as Christ loved you enough to suffer and die for you. Wife-respect and submit to the position your husband has been placed in just as Christ submits to the Father. Parent-be reasonable in your love and discipline toward your child(ren) – avoid extremes. You must honor and respect all those in authority over you as well as those who are under you.

(12) Bless and pray for any that mistreat you. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Allow love to cover many shortcomings of others. Do not repay evil for evil. Let God repay as He determines.

(13) Trust in the Lord always; Do not depend on your own understanding; acknowledge Him in everything and all circumstances. Realize your powerlessness to face any issue, and look only to God for guidance, help, and hope.

(14) Choose Life over Death (right over wrong) in every life situation. Trust God to bring your choice about and make it happen. Realize the Lord is your life.

(15) Seek to live and act holy just as God is holy. Seek to fear/honor/respect God and keep His commandments. Don’t grow weary in doing good.

Reference Notes

1) Joel 2:32. Mt. 16:16. Lk. 1:77-78. Jn. 3:16-18, 36; 5:24; 6:29, 40; 8:24; 14:6; 20:31. Acts 2:21, 38; 4:12; 10:43; 13:39; 15:11; 16:31; 22:16; 26:18. Rom. 3:10-12, 20, 22-26; 4:22- 25; 5:1, 6, 8; 6:9-10; 8:1-2, 24a; 10:9-10, 13. 2 Cor. 5:21; 7:10. Gal. 2:15-16; 3:13-14. Eph. 1:3-8; 2:8-9. Col. 1:21-22; 2:13-14. 2 Thess. 1:8-9. 1 Tim. 2:3-6. 2 Tim. 1:9-10; 3:15. Tit. 3:5-8. Heb. 5:8; 9:12, 22; 7:25-27; 10:10, 25. 1 Pet. 3:18. 1 Jn.3:1a; 4:9-10; 5:1, 11-12, 17.

2) Deut. 6:5; 10:12-13. Mt. 10:37-39; 22:36-40. Mk. 12:30-31. Rom. 13:8-10; 1 Cor. 13:4-8.

3) Job 28:24. Ps. 119:11, 168. Mt. 6:8, 25-33; Lk. 12:31. Rom. 8:26-27. Eph. 3:16-19; 5:10, 17. 2 Pet. 3:3-8.

4) Prov. 2:6, 13-15; 8:10; 16:16. Col. 1:9-12; 2:2-3. Jas. 1:5.

5) Jn. 16:13. Rom. 8:26-27. Eph. 5:18.

6) Job 42:1-2. Ps. 119:68; 136:1. Eccles. 12:14. Mt. 6:17-18; 7:7-8; 17:21. Rom. 8:28; 12:12. Eph. 3:12. Phil. 4:4-7, 11-13, 19. Col. 4:2. 1 Thess. 5:16-18. 1 Tim. 6:6-10. Jas. 5:11. Heb. 13:5. I Pet. 5:6-7. Ps. 119:48, 78, 97.

7) Ps. 103:1-5. Mic. 7:18-19. Mt. 6:9-14. Lk. 11:4a. Eph. 4:30, 32. Col. 3:13-14. Heb. 12:15. 1 Jn. 1:9-10.

8) Rom. 12:3, 9. Gal. 6:3-5. Eph. 4:31. Phil. 2:3. Col. 3:1-10. 1 Thess. 5:21-22. 2 Tim. 2:22. Jas. 4:7-8a.

9) Rom. 12:1. 2 Cor. 7: 16b; 8:7; 9:6-15.

10) Gal. 5:22-23. Eph. 4:2. Phil. 4:8. Col. 3:2, 5, 8, 12.

11) Eph. 5:21-6:9. Col. 3:18-4:1. Heb. 13:17. 1 Pet. 1:13, 18; 3:1-8.

12) Mt. 5:44. Rom. 12:14, 17-21. 2 Thess. 1:6-7a. 2 Tim. 4:14. Jas. 1:19. 1 Pet. 3:9; 4:8.

13) 2 Chron. 20:12, 15. Job 41:11b. Prov. 3:5-6. Ezek. 37:1-14. Dan. 3:16-18. Hab. 3:17-19. Jn. 5:16-18. Rom. 15:13. 2 Cor. 12:9, 10b. Gal. 2:20; 3:3; 5:16-18. Heb. 4:7-8.

14) Deut. 6:18; 30:11-20. Eph. 1:11b. Phil. 2:12-13. Heb. 13:20-21.

15) Lev. 19:2. Eccles. 12:13. Is. 40:28-31. Mt. 5:48. 2 Cor. 13:11a. Gal. 6:9. Eph. 5:1-2. Phil. 1:9-11. 2 Thess. 3:13. Heb. 12:14. 1 Pet. 1:15.

Adversity: The Dark Moments in our Life

SOURCE:  Charles Stanley/InTouch Ministries

The dark moments of our life will last only so long as is necessary for God to accomplish His purpose in us.

1 Samuel 30:1–6

If you want God’s best for your life and desire to be used by Him, at some point you will have to travel the road of adversity. This means that God can and will use adversity in your life for a good purpose—and yet, sadly, many people view adversity as only negative and defeating. But you don’t have to be among them.

God has designed adversity, regardless of its source, to become a turning point from which you take your greatest leaps forward in spiritual growth. He allows adversity to remain in your life only until He accomplishes His purpose in you. He will not keep it in your life one second longer than is necessary.

Some people are almost wiped out by trials, while others learn to stand in the confidence of God’s faithfulness. The latter have an overwhelming sense of stability and immovable strength. They weather the storms, heads held high, confident, bold, and not discouraged by any obstacle that comes along. They feel absolutely certain God is going to see them through the heartache and bring them out whole, joyful, and more mature on the other side.

Adversity also shows us where we stand in our faith. Do we doubt God? Or do we thank Him for His faithfulness during the stressful, heart-wrenching times? Do we trust that He will never leave or forsake us? Adversity is God’s most accurate measure of our faith—it reveals our endurance level. None of us knows how much difficulty we can withstand until we are tried.

Right now, right where you are, remember this: God has put a limit on all adversity. Because you are a child of God, the Holy Spirit is living inside of you, and He knows how much you can bear. The psalmist said: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Ps. 34:19). And, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Ps. 103:13, 14).

When we learn and mature in the midst of tremendous adversity, God is pleased because He sees His purpose being fulfilled in us. We are growing spiritually, becoming stronger in areas of weakness, and increasingly being conformed to the likeness of Christ. God is thrilled when we respond correctly to adversity!

There are three principles we can learn when we face adversity:

1. Adversity is God’s choice tool for building godly, spiritual character into our lives. Until we experience heartache, disappointment, and pain, we are not properly equipped for service (2 Cor. 1:3–7). He uses adversity to mold and shape us; He does not bring it into our lives without purpose.

2. Adversity usually comes in the areas where we feel the most confident. God wants to break us of the idea that we are sufficient on our own. He made us for a loving, intimate relationship with Himself, and He uses adversity to remind us of the fact that we are dependent upon Him.

3. God’s ultimate design is to conform us to the likeness of Jesus. Through adversity, God develops the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22, 23)—in us.

God also accomplishes several goals in our lives by allowing suffering and heartache. Adversity:

  • gets our attention.
  • reveals our weaknesses and strengths.
  • increases our aversion to sin.
  • demonstrates His faithfulness.
  • strengthens our faith.
  • removes our pride and self-centeredness.
  • prepares us for future service.
  • enables us to comfort others facing adversity.

Through adversity, God is molding you into a mature and effective servant. When you know Christ as your Savior, God sees you as a saint—sometimes struggling, sometimes falling, but justified, redeemed, forgiven, and reconciled to Him. He sees a person full of His unconditional love, indwelt by His presence, sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, whose name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. He also sees all of your potential—all the good you could accomplish for His kingdom.

So take comfort—adversity won’t take up permanent residence in your life. But when it’s present, it can develop good things if you’re willing to trust Him. Therefore, no matter what dark moments you may walk through, be confident He’s going to bring you into the light. And when He does, it will certainly be worth it.

3 Things God Never Promised

SOURCE:  Ray Deck III/Faithlife

In Scripture, God makes a lot of promises. He keeps them all, but there are a few things he never promised that might surprise you. Here are three; can you think of others?

Justice on earth

God keeps score. He promises to heal the wounded, reward the faithful, and punish the wicked (2 Corinthians 5:10). But he doesn’t promise to do any of that until after heaven and earth are remade without the curse of sin. He promises justice. He does not promise swift justice.

God is patient with us all (2 Peter 3:9). That’s a great comfort until we realize that he’s also patient with those who harm, oppress, and offend us.

To my regular frustration, Scripture never gives permission for us to enforce our own interpretation of justice (Romans 12:9). Instead, we’re told to wait on God’s perfect plan to be carried out on his perfect time (Psalm 37:7).

Comfort

Many television preachers have built a personal empire on the false promise that obeying God will lead to material prosperity and success. But God never promised his followers an easy life. In fact, he warned us to expect the opposite (John 16:33)—hardship and persecution from the world, and even correction from his own hand (Hebrews 12:7).

The Christian life is not a comfortable life, but it is a fulfilling one. (Click to tweet)

Instant change

I love hearing stories of miraculous life transformation. They fuel my faith in the transformative power of God’s Word more than anything else. But they also plant a desire for the same sort of instant change in my own life. Yet still I still wrestle with entrenched habits and besetting sins (Hebrews 12:1). Much as I love to see instant change in others, and long to experience it myself, I must remember that God has promised to change me, but hasn’t promised to do it instantly.

He has promised to complete the transformative work that he’s begun in me (Philippians 1:6), a promise that implies this change is going to take a while.

Seven Things the Bible Says About Evil

SOURCE:  Johnathon Bowers/Desiring God

How can we reconcile God’s sweeping control over creation with the existence of such horrors as cancer, famine, genocide, sexual abuse, tsunamis, and terrorism? Voltaire sums up the issue nicely in his “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster,” written after the devastating Lisbon earthquake of 1755:

Ill could not from a perfect being spring,
Nor from another, since God’s sovereign king.

His point is that since God is good, he can’t properly be the source of evil. Likewise, if God is all-powerful, no one else can thwart his intentions. So we’re stuck, it seems. Who’s to blame for the suffering we experience? Though we lack the space here for an extended discussion, let’s consider seven biblical affirmations.

1. Evil is real.

That is to say, we distort the Bible and do ourselves a profound disservice by minimizing the existence of suffering. God invites us to acknowledge our pain. The Psalmist wrote, “I believed, even when I spoke, ‘I am greatly afflicted'” (Psalm 116:10).

2. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

In some ways, talking about a “problem of evil” is a false start. A better quandary to start with would be the problem of sin. How quickly we rush to raise a self-righteous fist while our other hand digs in the cookie jar. “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?” (Ezekiel 18:25).

3. God is good.

Whatever we say about God’s sovereignty over evil (and say we will; see below), we must never imply that God is corrupt, that he somehow nurses a dark side. “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).

4. God ordains all things that come to pass, including evil.

God does whatever he pleases (Psalm 135:6). To be sure, this means he clothes lilies and feeds birds (Matthew 6:26, 28). But he also makes lightning (Psalm 135:7). He strikes down firstborn children and kills mighty kings (Psalm 135:8). Our God holds sway over the good, the bad, and the ugly. “I form light and create darkness,” he says. “I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

5. Man is responsible for his actions.

Lest we fall into fatalism, we should remember that God’s sovereignty never excuses wrongdoing. When a man commits murder, the blood is on his hands. “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” (Luke 22:22).

6. God did not spare his own Son.

The cross speaks to our theology of suffering in at least two ways. First, it shows us that God can will something to happen that he opposes. Proverbs 6:16-17 tells us that God hates “hands that shed innocent blood.” And yet he sent his Son to suffer precisely that fate. Is this a mystery? Absolutely. But it is not nonsense. We can look at evil and with no contradiction say, “This is wrong, and God has willed that it take place.” Listen to how Peter describes the crucifixion: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23, emphasis mine).

Second, the cross demonstrates that God regards our affliction not as something strange to the palette, but as a cup he has drunk to the dregs. By giving up his own Son, God entered into our pain. He knows what it’s like to suffer loss. But he also did more. By putting his Son to grief, God turned grief on its head. “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). This brings us to the final point.

7. Heaven works backwards.

C. S. Lewis writes in The Great Divorce, “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”

Lewis is not being novel here. He is simply restating what Christians have hoped in for centuries, the promise that gives all our suffering purpose: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

Johnathon Bowers is Instructor of Theology and Christian Worldview atBethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, MN.

Suffering: A Suffering Savior Has Suffering Disciples

SOURCE:  Tolle Lege/J.C. Ryle

“Suffering is the diet of the Lord’s family” 

“All the sons of God take part in suffering with Christ. What says the Scripture? ‘If children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with Him.’ (Rom. 8:17.) All the children of God have a cross to carry.

They have trials, troubles, and afflictions to go through for the Gospel’s sake. They have trials from the world,—trials from the flesh,—and trials from the devil. They have trials of feeling from relations and friends,—hard words, hard treatment, and hard judgment.

They have trials in the matter of character;—slander, misrepresentation, mockery, insinuation of false motives,—all these often rain thick upon them. They have trials in the matter of worldly interests.

They have often to choose whether they will please man and lose glory, or gain glory and offend man. They have trials from their own hearts. They have each generally their own thorn in the flesh,—their own home-devil, who is their worst foe. This is the experience of the sons of God.

Some of them suffer more, and some less. Some of them suffer in one way, and some in another. God measures out their portions like a wise physician, and cannot err. But never, I believe, was there one child of God who reached paradise without a cross.

Suffering is the diet of the Lord’s family. ‘Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.’—’If ye are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then ye are illegitimate children and not sons.’—’Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom of God.’—’All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.’ (Heb. 12:6, 8; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12.)

Suffering is a part of the process by which the sons of God are sanctified. They are chastened to wean them from the world, and make them partakers of God’s holiness. The Captain of their salvation was ‘made perfect through suffering,’ and so are they. (Heb. 2:10; 12:10.)

Let us try to settle this down into our hearts also. The sons of God have all to bear a cross. A suffering Saviour generally has suffering disciples.

The Bridegroom was a man of sorrows. The Bride must not be a woman of pleasures and unacquainted with grief. Blessed are they that mourn! Let us not murmur at the cross. This also is a sign of sonship.”

–J.C. Ryle, Practical Religion: Being Plain Papers on the Daily Duties, Experience, Dangers, and Privileges of Professing Christians (London: Charles Murray, 1900), 418-419.

What Do I Need To Know (about ME)?

SOURCE:  Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee/Living Free

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.  Psalm 139:23-24 NIV

This Psalm was written by David. God called David a man after his own heart (Acts 13:22). And yet David knew he had failings. Because of his devotion to the Lord, he didn’t want to continue in any sin. He was open to personal examination and asked God to search his heart.

God already knows everything about us . . . more than we know about ourselves. David knew that. In verse 2 of the same chapter, he wrote, “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.”

God knew David’s shortcomings. David wanted to know them too. He wanted to say “I did it” and ask forgiveness. He wanted to clear anything offensive to God from his life.

Are you willing to ask God to search your heart? You may be doing all the “right” things, but what is in your heart? Bitterness? Unforgiveness? Jealousy? Fear? Selfishness? Wrong motives?

Sin separates us from God’s best for our lives. “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore” (Isaiah 59:2 NLT). We all sin. We all let wrong attitudes creep in. But we don’t need to let them move in permanently. We need to regularly ask God to search our heart and point out anything that shouldn’t be there.

How about you? Will you ask God to search your heart today?

Father, anyone looking at my life might think I have it all together. But you and I know differently. Please search my heart and point out anything offensive to you. Forgive me . . . and help me live in a way that is pleasing to you. In Jesus’ name . . .


These thoughts were drawn from …


Stepping into Freedom: A Christ-Centered Twelve-Step Program
 by Jimmy Ray Lee, D.Min.

What Makes Even My “Little” Sins So Bad?

SOURCE:  D.A. Carson/Tolle Lege

“God is always the most offended”

“What makes sin sin, what makes it so profoundly heinous, what makes it so deeply repugnant and culpable, is that it is offense against God.

We dare not forget that the first commandment, according to Jesus, is the commandment to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength.

Thus the first sin– first sequentially, first in fundamental importance– is not to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength.

It is the sin we always commit when we commit any other sin. At the most profound level, whenever we sin, God is always the most offended party.

David understands this: ‘Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight’ (Psalm 51:3).

And that is why, whatever other forgiveness we try to secure, we must have God’s forgiveness, or we have nothing.

Yes, you and I need to forgive one another. Yet in the most profound analysis of what sin is, only God can forgive sin.”

—————————————————————————————————————

–D.A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 159-160.

Homosexuality: What Do We Mean When We Talk About Change?

SOURCE:  Jeff Johnston/CitizenLink

[The Counseling Moment Editor’s Note:  This article was originally published on 13 June 2008.]

Freedom from Male Homosexuality

Over 30 years ago, Exodus International was formed as a coalition of Christian ministries proclaiming freedom for men and women struggling with homosexuality. Slowly Exodus grew and was joined by other groups that were formed to help people steward their sexuality and behavior according to God’s created intent, including Homosexuals Anonymous, Courage (Roman Catholic), NARTH (National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality), JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), Evergreen (Mormon) and others. As individuals in these groups shared their personal stories of change, churches, denominations and other ministries – such as Focus on the Family – came alongside, and the news of “change” for those with same-sex attractions was broadcast more widely.

Both inside and outside these organizations, there was – and continues to be – much discussion about what “change” means. Does it mean that someone who has experienced same-sex attractions never has these feelings or temptations again? Does change just mean that a person only changes his or her behavior? Does change mean that a person shifts from same-sex attractions to opposite-sex attractions? Or are those who claim to have changed simply suppressing these feelings and living in self-denial? And how does one measure change?

This article attempts to articulate some answers to these important questions – both for those who struggle with same-sex attractions and for those who want to know more about the very real changes that God can bring into a person’s life. It will focus on the issue of male homosexuality – realizing that men and women are very different and that lesbianism differs from male homosexuality in significant ways, including how the change process often transpires. The insights I offer come from the combination of my own personal experience with change in the arena of same-sex attractions and over fifteen years of ministry experience helping others who seek to steward their sexuality in accordance with their ethical and moral values.

Male homosexuality is like any other sexual sin or temptation that a person may struggle with. Given that God works with us as individuals, there is no “formula” for the change process, nor is there typically instant freedom. Not surprisingly, each person’s path to liberty will be different.

Moreover, same-sex attractions do not change by direct action against them. In other words, they don’t go away just because a person “tries really hard” not to have them or “prays really hard” that they’ll go away. This is because same-sex attractions are almost invariably rooted in deeper issues – developing over time as a person grows up and including profound aspects of the person’s body, mind, spirit and heart. Thus, given that humans are complex beings – and human sexuality is especially complex – dealing with same-sex attraction is usually not a simple or easy undertaking.

The good news is that homosexual attractions and temptations do change, dissipate and even disappear for many men – as they cooperate with God in the process of becoming more like Jesus. However, there are a number of aspects to the process of change, and it will look different for everybody, with no guarantee that one’s homosexual attractions will completely transform into exclusive heterosexual attractions. This reality should not be surprising to Christians given that Scripture teaches that all believers will continue to experience struggles and temptations throughout the course of their lives – the ongoing battle between the sin nature described as the “old man” and the “new man” that we are in Christ.

Having said this, here are some areas where change has happened for many:

Change in behavior

For many men, this is of paramount concern. Some homosexual strugglers have struggled with fantasy, looking at pornography, masturbation and/or sexual activity with people of the same sex for years. Each time a person behaves in these ways, thoughts, feelings and actions are rehearsed in the body and in the brain. And these thoughts, feelings, and actions become more ingrained, more habitual. An individual might have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of these experiences. Changing behavior is never easy – and requires time, effort, motivation, support from friends and family, and the empowerment of God’s Holy Spirit. It also takes replacing old habits with new ones. Recall that the Apostle Paul repeatedly calls us to “put off” the old and “put on” the new. While some pro-gay activists scoff at behavior change, men seeking to follow Christ know that these efforts – though difficult – can be real and significant. (1)

Change in motivation

It takes strong motivation to change. Many men are initially motivated to seek change from homosexuality by fear, shame or guilt.  Others are motivated by the desire for marriage and family, the desire to follow what the Bible says about God’s design for us, or the desire to follow the Church’s teaching. Some are motivated by dissatisfaction with their gay relationships and experiences. Others are motivated by love for truth or love for God. While conviction about sin is good, self-loathing and immobilizing shame are not. Shifting to positive, productive motivations is a big change for many men. The stronger the motivation and the deeper the commitment, the more likely that change will take place. God is powerful enough to change our sinful and self-centered desires, to give us the motivation to change, and to empower our wills to stay committed to Him.  Over time, and especially as we learn to receive God’s grace, many men notice a significant change in their motivations – from initial fear and shame to a love for God and desire to follow Him.  (2)

Change in identity

Many people believe that they were born gay – that being gay is the essence of who they are. This is what is known as the “essentialist” view of the origins of same-sex attractions. In contrast to this worldly view on sexuality, the Bible says that we humans are made male and female in the image of God – reflecting a heterosexual intent in our design – and that homosexual temptations do not define anyone. Thus informed by Scripture, the man who wants to change will start thinking about himself differently – as part of fallen humanity, as a sinner in need of a Savior, as a redeemed child of God, as a man.  He will ask God to change his self-image, from the world’s view to a biblical view. Homosexual strugglers are not a separate class or essence of humanity, and the man who seeks change will stop thinking of himself as essentially different from other men. He must embrace healthy, God-given and God-ordained sexual identity and masculinity.

Homosexuals Anonymous (HA) is a Christ-centered fourteen-step program that illustrates this shift in identity that must take place. It is different from many other “step” programs in that the struggler does not identify himself by his sin. Here’s how HA articulates change in identity in steps five and six: “We came to perceive that we had accepted a lie about ourselves, an illusion that had trapped us in a false identity. We learned to claim our true reality that as humankind, we are part of God’s heterosexual creation and that God calls us to rediscover that identity in Him through Jesus Christ, as our faith perceives Him.” (3)  Many men who come out of homosexuality do not think of themselves as “gay” or even “ex-gay” any more.  They are sons, fathers, friends, husbands – men.

Change in attitude

Men who struggle with homosexual behavior often feel victimized and rejected. This may have been true. But the gospel calls us to forgive and to release others from our judgment. The struggler often needs to feel the pain and hurt of wounds from the past, and then learn to give that pain and wounding to Jesus, who bore our grief and wounds on the cross. We either let Christ carry our grief and wounding, or we continue to carry them ourselves. Here, God also empowers us to live with a positive attitude:  not complaining, but giving thanks; not bitter, but loving; not angry, but forgiving; not grumbling, but praising. Cultivating these attitudes takes time, confession, prayer, effort, help from God, and help from others – including pastoral or professional counseling.  While this healing process can be very challenging to walk through, the end result can be joy, growth, and new life. (4)

Change in relationships with men and women

Anyone who struggles with same-sex attractions will have to examine his relationships. This kind of thoughtful moral inventory will often involve confession and the willingness to grow, mature and cultivate new actions. Here are a few of the relational sins – often connected with the homosexual struggle – where God will empower change:

Lust – desiring to use another man for one’s own pleasure and fulfillment;
Envy – wanting to own another’s masculinity, wanting to possess another person’s attributes;
Contempt – looking down on “straight” men or women, despising men who are unattractive, old, or effeminate, or fearing and hating women;
Control – wanting to control another’s behavior, affections, time, or thoughts; and,
Lying – not telling the truth about what one thinks or feels in order to maintain a relationship, not being honest about thoughts, feelings, behaviors or attitudes.

A man wrestling with homosexuality must also begin to develop healthy, non-sexual relationships with other men in the Body of Christ – learning to be a man amongst men. Specifically, learning to navigate uncomfortable or challenging situations in relationships is significant. And developing healthy relationships and good relational skills will often help same-sex attractions dissipate or lessen their impact and control over a person. God uses relationships in the Church to bring transformation, growth and healing.

Change in relationship with God

God longs to be in a deep relationship with each of us. But many of us view God as distant, angry, uninvolved or uncaring. We often don’t know how to connect with Him or how to hear the leading of His voice. Part of the Christian journey involves learning how to strip away the barriers to connecting with God. False beliefs about God must be identified and confessed, and we must be open to experiencing His love and grace. Men struggling with same-sex attractions often have deep hurts and wounds. Coming to God as a loving Father allows Him to begin to bring healing to those hurts and wounds – in His time and in His way.

Change in homosexual attractions

For many, same-sex attractions do change dramatically, and attractions for women develop. In his book, Desires in Conflict, Joe Dallas describes the reasonable expectations that many have experienced:

o change in behavior;
o change in frequency of homosexual attractions;
o change in intensity of homosexual attractions; and,
o change in perspective – homosexuality is no longer a life-consuming or dominating issue.

He goes on to write that many men also move into healthy other-sex relating.  (5)  Although not everyone experiences this type of change, it doesn’t mean that it can not happen or hasn’t happened for many. There are myriad testimonies of men who have moved out of homosexual behavior and into healthy God-honoring heterosexual relationships.  (6)

Many men – myself included – have struggled with same-sex attractions and, through relationship with Jesus Christ, have found release and freedom from these attractions.  Paul writes to the Corinthians to remind them that some of them used to be caught in homosexual behavior, but that they have been washed – cleansed and forgiven of past sins; sanctified – cooperating with God in the transformation process; and justified – no longer under condemnation for sin (I Cor. 6:9-11). And just as the men of Corinth found freedom from homosexuality, so, too, are many men today finding freedom and lasting change in their lives.

Living in line with God’s standards is not necessarily easy. But it is immensely fulfilling and brings great rewards. Frederica Matthewes-Green, author and commentator, reminds the church to intercede on behalf of those struggling with same-sex attractions. She writes:

Those who struggle with such passions need our prayers. For some, persistence and prayer will lead to reorientation, while for others, there will be the difficult lifelong discipline of celibacy. As tough as this sounds, it’s not impossible, and it’s not unusual. Christianity has always required celibacy of unmarried heterosexual believers, which all of us were at some point and many of us may be again. This isn’t something we demand of homosexuals without being willing to shoulder the burden ourselves. On the path of celibacy homosexuals will find a crowd of heterosexuals going back two thousand years:  never-married Christians, those widowed or divorced, those caring for seriously ill spouses. We know it’s tough, and we know where to find help:  sixteen hundred years ago St. John Chrysostom wrote, “Even if lust makes imperious demands, if you occupy its territory with the fear of God, you have stayed its frenzy.” (7)

[Jeff Johnston is a research analyst for CitizenLink, an affiliate of Focus on the Family. ]

Endnotes:

(1) See, for example, Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, NavPress, 2002, and Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, Baker Books, 1996.

(2) See Joe Dallas, Desires in Conflict, Harvest House, 2003.

(3) http://www.ha-fs.org/The_14_Steps

(4) See, for example, Leanne Payne, The Broken Image, Baker BookHouse, 1981, andRestoring the Christian Soul, Baker BookHouse, 1991.

(5) Ibid, chapter 2.

(6) See the Exodus web site, Real Stories – Men, http://exodus.to/content/blogcategory/20/149/ andhttp://www.stonewallrevisited.com/menus/pages.html for some encouraging examples.

(7) “Facing the Homosexual Void,” Touchstone, July/August, 1998,http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=11-04-029-f

The Explanation For Our Difficulties

SOURCE:  Oswald Chambers

. . . that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us . . .John 17:21

If you are going through a time of isolation, seemingly all alone, read John 17 .

It will explain exactly why you are where you are— because Jesus has prayed that you “may be one” with the Father as He is. Are you helping God to answer that prayer, or do you have some other goal for your life? Since you became a disciple, you cannot be as independent as you used to be.

God reveals in John 17 that His purpose is not just to answer our prayers, but that through prayer we might come to discern His mind. Yet there is one prayer which God must answer, and that is the prayer of Jesus— “. . . that they may be one just as We are one . . .” (John 17:22).

Are we as close to Jesus Christ as that?

God is not concerned about our plans; He doesn’t ask, “Do you want to go through this loss of a loved one, this difficulty, or this defeat?” No, He allows these things for His own purpose. The things we are going through are either making us sweeter, better, and nobler men and women, or they are making us more critical and fault-finding, and more insistent on our own way.

The things that happen either make us evil, or they make us more saintly, depending entirely on our relationship with God and its level of intimacy. If we will pray, regarding our own lives, “Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42), then we will be encouraged and comforted by John 17, knowing that our Father is working according to His own wisdom, accomplishing what is best. When we understand God’s purpose, we will not become small-minded and cynical. Jesus prayed nothing less for us than absolute oneness with Himself, just as He was one with the Father.

Some of us are far from this oneness; yet God will not leave us alone until we are one with Him— because Jesus prayed, “. . . that they all may be one . . . .”

9 Reasons You Can Face Anything

SOURCE:   Jonathan Parnell/Desiring God

God’s sovereignty is a precious reality.

Now chances are this truth didn’t seem too precious when it first confronted you. The natural, fallen response to hearing we aren’t the ones in control is to white-knuckle our will and refuse to bow. Humans tend to like the idea that we are the captains of our own destinies. Motivational glib like that will pack out self-help seminars. But sooner or later, and hopefully sooner, we learn how bankrupt it all is. We are not in charge, and that’s a good thing.

Any peace and hope we have in our lives right now can be traced back to the fact that God alone is God, that he is the sovereign power behind everything. And this has future-creating wonder. God’s sovereignty, John Piper explains, is not mainly a theological problem with the past, but an invincible hope for tomorrow.

God’s sovereignty means the good he intends for his children will not be deterred. This means we can face anything. All his promises to us will be fulfilled. Pastor John lists nine such promises.

By the blood of his Son, God has promised infallibly…

  1. I will meet all your needs according to my riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).
  2. My power will be made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  3. I will strengthen you and help you and hold you up with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
  4. I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).
  5. I will not let any testing befall you for which I do not give you grace to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).
  6. I will take the sting away from your death with the blood of my son (1 Corinthians 15:55f).
  7. I will raise you from the dead imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:52).
  8. I will transform your lowly body to be like my glorious body, by the power that enables me even to subject all things to myself (Philippians 3:21).
  9. I will do this without fail because I am absolutely sovereign over everything and therefore, I can do all things, and no purpose of mine can be thwarted (Job 42:2).

This list is adapted from the sermon When Jesus Meets Disability.

Battle Plan Against Sin –> Act The Miracle

SOURCE: Adapted from a work by  John Piper

The battle plan

The link between the cross and the conquered sin in my life is my Holy-Spirit-empowered will. And that empowering by the Spirit is blood bought. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:5-6).

In other words, God intends that part of our experience of sanctification be the consciouswilled, opposition to specific sins in our lives. I only say “part” of our experience of sanctification because this is not the whole work of sanctification. In some areas of sin, God simply takes away the desire and the temptation is gone, and we don’t have to fight it any more.

Now here is what God showed [me . . .]: For decades I have applied this battle plan to sexual temptation but hardly at all to the sins of selfishness, anger, self-pity, blaming, and sullenness. I have engaged my will head-on with sexual lust. I have heard Jesus say, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29). Nobody spontaneously tears out his eye. That is an act of will overcoming all kinds of natural disinclination. That’s what I do when any illicit sexual thought tries to gain the ascendancy in my mind.

I go on the attack with A.N.T.H.E.M.:

  • AVOID.
  • Say NO! within five seconds.
  • TURN to something magnificent, like Christ crucified.
  • HOLD the pure thing in the mind until the temptation is gone.
  • ENJOY the greater pleasure of the blood-bought promises of God.
  • MOVE on to meaningful Christ-exalting activity.

There is nothing passive in my will when the lion of lust comes out of the bushes. I don’t lie down and wait for a miracle. act the miracle. I will explain that phrase in just a moment.

What I realized was that I was not applying any of this same gospel vigilance—what Peter O’Brien calls “continuous, sustained, strenuous effort”—against my most besetting sins. I was strangely passive, victim-like.

I had the unarticulated sense (mistakenly) that these sins (unlike sexual lust) should be defeated more spontaneously—with less direct use of my will. It should all happen naturally from the inside out. And if I tried to attack them with my will the way I did sexual lust, it would produce external conformity, not internal change. But I never let that thought stop me from attacking lust.

The text that broke though my inconsistency was Philippians 2:12-13.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so
now, not only as in my presence but much more in my
absence, work out your own salvation with fear and
trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and
to work for his good pleasure.

Why should there be “fear and trembling” as I attack my sin and bring about salvation from self-pity?

The reason given in the text is not a threat. It’s a gift.

Work to kill your sin, and will to kill your sin, and do it with fear and trembling because God Almighty—Maker of heaven and earth, Redeemer, Justifier, Sustainer, Father, Lover—is so close to you that your working and willing is his working and willing.

Tremble at this breathtaking thought.

God Almighty is in you. God is the one in you willing. God is the one in you working. Your “continuous, sustained, strenuous” effort is not only being carried out in the presence of the all-holy God, but is the very continuous, sustained, strenuous effort of God himself.

I am not waiting for a miracle. I am acting a miracle.

God is the decisive cause, but my will is the agent. And it becomes the agent in obedience to the command “work!” For in your working, God is working.

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This is an excerpt from the revised edition of  Brothers, We Are Not Professionals  (B&H Publishing Group, 2013).

Once Saved, Why Do I Still Have To Ask For Forgiveness?

SOURCE:  John MacArthur

As long as we live in a sinful world, with our own sinful tendencies, there is a sense in which Christians, though eternally cleansed by the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5), still need daily cleansing from the effects of their sins.

The perfect illustration of these two kinds of cleansing is found in the apostle John’s account of the Last Supper, when Jesus wanted to wash Peter’s feet. At first Peter was reluctant to have Christ serve him in such a humiliating fashion. He told the Lord, “Never shall You wash my feet!” (John 13:8).

Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

Peter, always brash, decided that a foot-washing would therefore not be sufficient for him: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head” (v. 9).

Jesus’ reply draws a clear distinction between two kinds of cleansing: “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you” (v. 10).

Bathing illustrates the forgiveness of justification. Those who are justified are forgiven the penalty of sin forever. They do not need to be justified again. The day-to-day effects of their sin still need to be dealt with, however. Sin needs to be confessed and forsaken regularly, and the pardon of a loving but displeased Father must be sought.

The verb tenses in 1 John 1 also demonstrate this. A literal rendering of verse 7 reads, “The blood of Jesus His Son keeps cleansing us from all sin.” And the verb tense in verse 9 also denotes continuous action: “If we are continually confessing our sins.”

So neither the confession nor the cleansing spoken of in 1 John 1 is a one-time, finished event. These verses simply do not support the idea that God pays no heed to the believer’s daily transgressions, as if our justification once and for all made sin an utterly moot point for the Christian.

Yet the question nonetheless seems to trouble many Christians. Why must we seek God’s forgiveness if He has already granted forgiveness in justification?

The answer is that divine forgiveness has two aspects. One is the judicial forgiveness God grants as Judge.

This is the forgiveness that was purchased by the atonement Christ rendered on our behalf. This kind of forgiveness frees us from any threat of eternal condemnation. It is the forgiveness of justification. Such pardon is immediately complete and never needs to be sought again.

The other is a parental forgiveness God grants as our Father. He is grieved when His children sin. The forgiveness of justification takes care of judicial guilt, but it does not nullify His fatherly displeasure over our sin. He chastens those whom He loves, for their temporal good (Heb. 12:5–10).

So the forgiveness Christians are supposed to seek in their daily walk is not pardon from an angry Judge, but mercy from a grieved Father. This is the forgiveness Christ taught us to pray for in the Lord’s Prayer. The opening words of the prayer, “Our Father,” demonstrate that a parental rather than a judicial relationship is in view. (This is also true in 1 John 1, where “fellowship … with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” is the subject matter, again suggesting that the forgiveness in verse 9 is a parental rather than a judicial forgiveness.)

Judicial forgiveness deals with the penalty of our sins. Parental forgiveness deals with sin’s consequences.

Judicial forgiveness frees us from the condemnation of an aggrieved, omnipotent Judge.

Parental forgiveness sets things right with a grieving and displeased but loving Father.

Judicial forgiveness gives us an unshakable standing before the throne of divine judgment.

Parental forgiveness deals with the state of our sanctification at any given moment and is dispensed from a throne of divine grace (Heb. 4:16).

As Judge, God is eager to forgive sinners; but as a Father He is equally eager to keep on forgiving and cleansing His children from the defilement of their sin.

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MacArthur, J. F. (1998). The freedom and power of forgiveness (electronic ed.) (57–58). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

What Really Are My Innermost Motives?

SOURCE:  D.A. Carson/The Gospel Coalition

Regarding:   Genesis 6Matthew 6Ezra 6Acts 6

THE FIRST THREE SECTIONS OF MATTHEW 6 (which itself is the central chapter of the Sermon on the Mount) deal with three fundamental acts of piety in Judaism: giving to the needy (traditionally called “alms-giving”), prayer, and fasting (Matt. 6:1-18).

The common link is striking: Jesus recognizes how easy it is for sinners to engage in worthy, philanthropic and even religious activities, less in order to do what is right than to be admired for doing what is right.

If being thought generous is more important than being generous, if gaining a reputation for prayerfulness is more important to us than praying when no one but God is listening, if fasting is something in which we engage only if we can disingenuously talk about it, then these acts of piety become acts of impiety.

The fundamental way to check out how sound we are in each of these areas is to perform these acts so quietly that none but God knows we are doing them.

So be generous, but tell no one what you are giving (6:1-4). Insist that even the recipients be silent. Pray far more in secret than you do in public (6:5-8). By all means, fast — but tell no one you are doing so (6:16-18). As for the middle item in these three traditional acts of piety, there is a further test: do not bother to ask your heavenly Father for forgiveness where you yourself are unwilling to forgive (6:14-15).

In each of these three traditional acts of piety, genuine Christian living is characterized by a simple yet profound desire to please God, and not by the ostentation that is in reality more interested in generating the impression among our peers that we are pleasing God.

The last two sections of the chapter continue this probing of our innermost motives.

(1) In the first, Jesus tells us to store up treasure in heaven, for our hearts will inevitably pursue our treasure. What we ultimately value will tug at our “hearts” — our personalities, our dreams, our time, our imaginations, our inmost beings — and we will pursue it. That thing becomes our god. If what we value is merely material, our god is materialism. But if all we cherish most belongs to the eternal realm, then our whole being will pursue what is of transcendent significance.

(2) In the second, Jesus tells us that a true and faithful relationship with God refuses to indulge in endless, needless fretting. We can trust God — his wisdom, his goodness, his providential ordering of things — even in this broken, evil world. Not to trust him betrays the pagan character of our hearts.

In short: seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (6:33).

Not Health–Not Happiness, BUT Holiness!

SOURCE:  Oswald Chambers

. . it is written, ’Be holy, for I am holy’ —1 Peter 1:16

We must continually remind ourselves of the purpose of life.

We are not destined to happiness, nor to health, but to holiness.

Today we have far too many desires and interests, and our lives are being consumed and wasted by them. Many of them may be right, noble, and good, and may later be fulfilled, but in the meantime God must cause their importance to us to decrease. The only thing that truly matters is whether a person will accept the God who will make him holy. At all costs, a person must have the right relationship with God.

Do I believe I need to be holy?

Do I believe that God can come into me and make me holy?

If through your preaching you convince me that I am unholy, I then resent your preaching. The preaching of the gospel awakens an intense resentment because it is designed to reveal my unholiness, but it also awakens an intense yearning and desire within me. God has only one intended destiny for mankind— holiness. His only goal is to produce saints. God is not some eternal blessing-machine for people to use, and He did not come to save us out of pity— He came to save us because He created us to be holy. Atonement through the Cross of Christ means that God can put me back into perfect oneness with Himself through the death of Jesus Christ, without a trace of anything coming between us any longer.

Never tolerate, because of sympathy for yourself or for others, any practice that is not in keeping with a holy God.

Holiness means absolute purity of your walk before God, the words coming from your mouth, and every thought in your mind— placing every detail of your life under the scrutiny of God Himself.

Holiness is not simply what God gives me, but what God has given me that is being exhibited in my life.

Hanging Out With God Right Now

Source:  Jan Johnson

This Present Moment

Today – even this moment – may be the day “the Lord has made” (Ps 118:24), but a lot of us are living elsewhere. 

Jesus, who knew the psalms well, may have been thinking of that phrase when he said:  “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now.”  He seemed to know that we are tempted not to live in this present moment but in the future because he concluded with, “Don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (Matt 6:34,The Message).

Instead of living in this present moment, we inhabit:

  • The Future – tasks I need to do, whom I need to talk to, that difficult appointment tomorrow, expectations about events and people and wondering if these expectations will be met.
  • The Past – what was said to me that was hurtful or compliments that made me feel really good (sometimes too self-focused), words or actions or even purchases or decisions I could regret,  who or what disappointed me.
  • Fantasy – what I would like to say to someone but never will, what I’d like to see happen but there’s no concrete evidence that it will ever happen.

Living in these other moments do not help me abide in Christ. To find contentment in the present moment is to hang out with God right now, relish and adore the companion of my soul and not sweat the rest.  It’s to turn each of those future/past/fantasy thoughts into a prayer for someone. 

Living in the present moment is such a practical, down-to-earth, every day way to practice the presence of God. In Abide in Christ, Andrew Murray says that “the little word now is one of the deepest secrets of the life of faith…” Someone responded to Andrew by saying, “Whatever the surrounding circumstances might be, all I have to do is hold still, and rest and realize ‘Jesus saves me now,’ and for that moment I have what I need.” “Saves ” comes from sozo meaning healing, deliverance, wholeness.  You and I are invited into healing and wholeness in this moment.

Even more practically, God’s will for me in the present moment is to:

    • rejoice always
    • pray without ceasing
    • give thanks in all circumstances

(for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you, 1 Thess 5:16-18).

When I do these things in this present moment, the rest of God’s will isn’t quite so fuzzy. 

Maybe this “present moment” secret is why the command, “Behold!”, occurs so often in the Christmas text.  As Mary was told “Behold!” by the angel, she knew to stop, pause, slow down and look!  Look deeply and listen deeply!  Living in this present moment may have kept her from worrying about the future (I will always be shunned for becoming pregnant without being married) or glorying in the past (I must have done some cool things to be chosen for this!)  She got the idea, and answered the angel:  “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 2:31, 36, 38, KJV).

So all day long I can ask, What would it look like to love God in this present moment? What would it look like to love the person in front of me in this present moment?  Living this way is so much easier, so much more joyful.

Each moment is a gift of God to be with God.

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Jan Johnson is a writer, speaker and spiritual director in southern California

Stop Blaming The Devil!

SOURCE:  Liberty Savard/Charisma Magazine

So many Christians focus their energy on fighting Satan when we should be humbling ourselves before God. Find out why the devil may not be your problem.

When was the last time you ran a reality check on your perceptions of God’s Word? Too many believers embrace popular misunderstandings of what God has said rather than the truth. According to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, understanding God’s truth means your perceptions become aligned with God’s reality of the thing being perceived. One area in which the perceptions of believers do not line up with the truth relates to our understanding of how we are to deal with the devil. Many Christians believe we should order Satan around with great fervor, frequency and volume.

Satan cooperates with this deception, conceding victories whenever necessary to perpetuate the lie that God’s people need to battle him for everything God has promised them. This deception keeps earnest Christians too busy with Satan to focus on humbling and surrendering themselves to God.

But God is more concerned about the state of our souls than He is about the devil. He says in His Word, “‘If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves [their souls], and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways [of their souls], then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their [souls’] sin and heal their land’ ” (2 Chr. 7:14, NKJV). The Hebrew word for wicked (ways),ra, includes characteristics of being disagreeable and having an unhappy disposition.

God is telling us that what will bring about the healing of the land is His people’s turning away from wrong attitudes and self-centeredness. He does not say anything about warring with Satan to heal the land.

Daniel understood the need for humility and repentance. He prayed and confessed the corporate wrong agreement of God’s people when they were in captivity in Babylon: “We have sinned and dealt perversely and done wickedly and have rebelled, turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances…We have not earnestly begged for forgiveness and entreated the favor of the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities and have understanding and become wise in Your truth” (Dan. 9:5,13, The Amplified Bible).

The Israelites had been and still were actively entering into wrong agreements about what God was saying to them through His prophets. These wrong agreements had created “legal” grounds for Satan to establish a territorial dominion over them, controlled by the demonic prince of Persia. Wrong agreement always gives right of access to Satan’s workings.

Daniel knew that surrender and obedience were the solutions to the Israelites’ bondage. When he sought right agreement with God through confessing the sins of his people and repenting, God swiftly sent the archangels Gabriel and Michael to take out the prince of Persia. Note that God did not say Daniel or the Israelites needed to fight Satan over their bondage.

Plans for Satan’s Destruction

It is man’s desires for power, status and riches that allow evil spirits to harass human souls. These same desires are cunningly promoted by Satan as requirements for “power-Christian” status.

But is “power Christianity”–constant warring with the enemy–God’s plan for Satan’s ultimate destruction? I don’t think so.

In Ephesians 3:9-10 Paul gives us a clue to God’s will for the body of Christ on earth: “To make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (NKJV, emphasis added). The terms “principalities and powers” here mean “demonic forces,” as it does in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

Considering 2 Chronicles 7:14 and Daniel 9:5,13 along with Ephesians 3:10, we see an interesting truth emerge. God’s manifold wisdom (Eph. 3:10) will be made known through the church to principalities, powers and rulers of darkness when the body of Christ comes into alignment with 2 Chronicles 7:14, using Daniel 9:5-13 as a pattern for prayer.

And I believe God’s manifold wisdom may be the exact opposite of the charismatic “power-Christianity” being modeled today. Regardless of how contemporary Christian songs portray him as a fool, Satan is quite aware that he will ultimately go down. However, he may not know how he will be brought down.

Perhaps he believes he will be known in eternal history as the only entity with whom God Himself ever had to personally war. But what if God’s manifold wisdom is to use His own children, humble lambs with servant-like natures, as conduits of His power to take Satan down? Wouldn’t that be the ultimate humiliation–to be defeated by sheeplike believers with no personal strength to match Satan’s own destructive powers?

We’d be just God’s kids counting on His promises that He would use us to fulfill His great purposes. If Christians could see their lives through the perspective of such a plan, it would help clarify what misunderstandings must be put away in order to be a part.

Surrender and Obey

When we are unaware that our Christian walks are not centered in God’s truth, we will often make wrong choices to accommodate our souls’ unhealed hurts, unmet needs, fears and doubts. All of us have made wrong choices, as Jonah did when he ran from God, and had to suffer the consequences. But today we’re being taught to “rebuke” the consequences of those bad choices.

This is ridiculous. No human being could have rebuked or cast Jonah’s whale-sized consequence from him! Yet after Jonah prayed and surrendered his own will, trusting in the mercy of God, God commanded the whale to vomit Jonah onto dry land (see Jon. 2:7-10). What a concept!

There is a catch, however. When God delivers you from a tough consequence He expects you to realize that He is delivering you to put you back on track with His will. Beware of casually walking away from a divine intervention in your circumstances to pursue your life in the manner that led you into the whale’s belly in the first place! God has little patience for that.

Many struggling Christians are embracing the wrong idea that they can confess away the consequences of their self-willed choices. They are being taught to rebuke or command Satan’s “hindrances” out of their paths, with little understanding that most of the hindrances have been self-created.

Brothers and sisters, you cannot command or rebuke consequences out of your way; you must surrender and obey your way through them. Obedience always brings grace to the one who seeks to avoid getting back into the same circumstances.

If you are stiff-necked and stubborn, God may lift His grace and let consequences ride over you like a herd of elephants. Try confessing, casting or commanding elephants out of your path!

Consequences from choosing to believe wrong teaching will almost always have industrial-strength Velcro all over them, sticking to everything we try to do. If we could just admit, “God, nothing I’ve tried works!” and ask Him, “Why do I keep doing this to myself, and how can I stop?”

I believe He would answer: “You have wrong ideas and are depending on wrong things. You cannot command your way out of a spiritual mess; you have to obey your way out of it! You’re going to have to let your wrong understanding go, and trust Me to teach you the truth that will set you free.”

Faith, Fear and Finances

Three areas in which we have embraced misunderstanding rather than the truth of what God has said are faith, fear and finances. Extreme teachings on these topics are setting up many Christians for delusion about the source of their troubles and causing them to doubt in God’s faithfulness.

Faith is being taught as a force, a weapon to use against Satan and a means of “spiritual financing” for what the human soul wants. Charismatic teachers often say that faith is a tangible spiritual force with the ability to produce natural substance.

But Paul used the Greek word hypostasis (“substance”) in Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” to mean “a steadfast mind having courage, resolve, confidence and trust in God’s goodness” (Thayer’s). Nothing in Hebrews 11:1 implies a tangible substance that can be produced by what a human mind conceives and desires.

New Testament Greek almost always defines “faith” as “having trust and confidence in the goodness, wisdom and power of God.” God has a most excellent future for each one of us here on Earth–good works to do, good paths to walk in and good lives to live (see Eph. 2:10, The Amplified Bible). Stepping fully into this excellent future requires obedience and surrender to His will.

My best prayers seek the alignment of my will on Earth with His will in heaven. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus said, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10, NKJV). So, the best prayer I can pray is: “I bind my will to your will, God. Your will be done.”

When I live in accordance with this prayer, I don’t have to figure out how to save the world, my family, my bank account or my reputation–or how to save myself from the devil. I just need to obey what God has said. True faith is a place of rest and peace because it trusts an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God to take care of all of the details. He doesn’t need my input to get them right.

Regardless of how much faith we have, disobedience to what God has said allows Satan to get involved in our lives. Let me give you an example. Ephesians 4:26 says we are not to let the sun go down on our anger. If we choose to ignore this command and retire with anger still festering in our hearts, we open the door to bitterness, resentment and other evil works.

And justifying our actions does not absolve us of wrongdoing. How often God must wonder, “What part of Ephesians 4:26 don’t they get?” Rationalizing and justifying are the timber and bricks of the strongholds in our souls, and Ephesians 4:27 (The Amplified Bible) tells of their consequence: They give the devil a foothold in us. Satan uses such access to attack believers in spite of their authority, blood covering and righteousness in Christ.

Authority is always hindered, even rendered useless, by the presence of open doors that an enemy can access. Military leaders know their highest levels of authority are useless if they have open doors in their supply sources and communication lines. There isn’t a smart enemy alive–including Satan–who won’t use such doors to attack, slash and burn.

We have been told exactly what to do to see God heal our land, and we have not done it. We have become too power and authority conscious to humble ourselves as God instructed.

Fear is another subject of extreme teachings today. Many people have been taught that there is a demonic spirit of fear. This teaching is generally based on 2 Timothy 1:7, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (KJV).

The NIV translation is clearer, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” Thayer’s defines pneuma (spirit) as it is used here to mean “being filled with the same spirit as Christ, and by the bond of that spirit to be intimately united to Christ.” In other words, regenerated human spirits are not timid, having no room for fear because they are filled with the Spirit of Christ.

Fear is a symptom of an unresolved issue in the soul that keeps churning out emotional confusion, doubt and lack of trust. As long as any such unresolved issue exists and is fiercely guarded by self-constructed strongholds, the enemy can apply pressure in circumstances that mimic those out of which the fear was birthed in the first place.

Fear is not an evil spirit; it is an emotional response to a lack of trust and confidence in the goodness of God. You cannot be delivered of a lack of trust or have stronghold-protected wrong thinking, damaged emotions and unresolved issues cast out of your soul.

And God won’t dismantle your strongholds. That would be a violation of your soul’s attempts to guard itself. You have to choose to tear them down (see 2 Cor. 10:3-5) and give God voluntary access to heal you.

Finances is another area of extreme teaching today. I have visited several charismatic ministry Web sites and come away concerned regarding advice about finances. One Web site encouraged financially strapped people to confess: “My debt is gone. I have no debt. My bills are paid!”

There is no scriptural basis for such a confession regarding unpaid bills. If God were to deliver some Christians from their debt without teaching them to have a paradigm shift in thinking about money, these Christians would get in debt again. If we do not learn why we are always living in lack, any reprieve from God will be only a stopgap. God could make millionaires out of all of us, but He wisely chooses not to–at least not until we bring our understanding of finances into alignment with His.

God has never said His kingdom work is dependent on human wealth. Rather, it is “dependent” on the condition of the hearts of those who want His will done, even if it requires that their entire financial wealth be surrendered to Him.

I believe that money in itself means very little to God, that He created it only to teach us about our own motives. God is concerned about what money means to the one who wants it. Money is not the answer to our deepest needs.

Praying Right Prayers

Consider the times God has seemed not to answer your prayers when you asked for what you consider to be good things. Why didn’t He come through? God doesn’t answer our finest prayers if what we’ve asked for: would enable us to stay rooted in wrong understanding would allow us to hold onto something we need to release would enable us to follow a path away from His will.

God does not always respond to prayers, even those initiated out of great need, when the human soul is seeking a wrong answer. He does always respond, however, to obedience and surrender in the soul of a believer who has humbled himself and turned from his own personal agendas and wicked ways.

I believe God has said, “If you want to get everything you pray for, pray right prayers.” Right prayers issue forth from a heart that desires to see His truth manifested and His will being done–and makes itself available to help carry out His will.

God doesn’t need Christians who will take on the devil. He needs Christians who will humble themselves and trust in Him. He can take care of the power stuff Himself!


Liberty Savard is an ordained minister, speaker and president of Liberty Savard Ministries, based in Sacramento, California. She is also the author of Shattering Your Strongholds, Breaking the Power and Producing the Promise (Bridge-Logos).

What Kind of Character is Your Adversity Revealing?

SOURCE: Adapted from an article at  Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

Unfortunately, we live in an era when people are more intent on being a character than in developing character. Why not, since we live in a convoluted upside down society that rewards characters and oftentimes punishes those who display real character.

Character is the set of outward-facing qualities that tell our friends, our families, and the world who we really are on the inside.

Character is the reflection of what is really at the center of our heart. It’s not about the words we speak, because anybody can say anything to mislead, pose, or evade the truth, intentionally or unintentionally. Character is about how we actually live our lives, not what we tell people we would do in a given situation. What we actually do, our outward behavior, reveals the attitudes and motivators in our hearts.

Anybody can wear a mask to hide the true nature of what is on the inside. This makes it difficult to know, rely on, or trust someone. But this is where pressure, stress, life’s storms, and adversity come into play and show their value.

You see, it is much more difficult to put on a mask in the midst of challenging circumstances … it’s often during those storms that people’s true colors are revealed. What’s exposed either makes us interesting and more attractive, or reveals some inner ugliness!

Pressure and adversity push what’s inside us up to the surface. Storms reveal whether your coping mechanisms are mature or immature. Most importantly, difficulties cut through all the layers to expose who is on the throne of your heart, God or self. We have talked many times about how decision-making gets very warped when me-centered propaganda is the basis of decisions, and this is a hallmark of “poor character.”

So how do we develop character?

In Romans 5:3-4, Paul teaches us that suffering produces character. While it is admittedly difficult, try to see and be thankful for the fact that God is using life’s difficulties … and Satan’s attacks … to build your character.

God brings storms to:

1. Build character;

2. Reveal to us what is at the center of your heart; or

3. Allow you to succeed through the adversity, shining His glory to others to guide them through their storms.

Today, take notice when things don’t go your way. What does your behavior reveal about the character of your heart? What is your knee-jerk response? If you acted on the first thought that came to mind, what would you learn about your heart? You can build character, but it will take intentionality and practice. Better to practice building character, instead of me-centered living … on the edge … at the whim of the next storm, which will exhaust you daily.

Character development is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father, Thank You, God, for the opportunities You give me to grow in Your strength through my difficulties. I pray that You help me develop character that pleases You and allows me to be an example of a good child of Yours. I confess, Lord, that I spend too much time and energy on my image management. Help me shift that effort to improving my character. Suffering and difficulty seem to be the norm for me rather than the exception. Help me, Father, to use them to build perseverance … and to use perseverance to build my character. With Godly character, hope will be strong and abundant. I ask in the name of our Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ; – AMEN!

The Truth
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.   Romans 5:3-4 

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7

 

“Is Mania a Physical Problem?”

SOURCE: Taken from an article by  Ed Welch/CCEF

Yes. Mania is a physical problem.

And, since the question is [important], there is a little more we can say.

Some people are prone to mania and some are not. Those who are prone to it are neurologically different from those who are not, even though there is little or no scientific evidence for those differences yet. The reason we can say it is physical is that it is not spiritual. That is, the spiritual is expressed in those behaviors and thoughts that are either commanded or prohibited by Scripture. Mania is neither commanded nor prohibited. It is physical by default like pneumonia or cancer.

We are embodied souls—physical and spiritual. Some behaviors call attention to the spiritual while other behaviors highlight the effect of our physical bodies. When someone is violently angry, we are not too concerned about brain function because the problem is definitely spiritual. But when someone is blind or lame or even having an incredibly difficult time with math, the problem is physical. Likewise, when someone has emotions that are excited and elevated for no apparent reason (i.e. mania), and those emotions stay at that level no matter how much the person would like them to come down, the problem is physical.

Where this gets tricky

Where this gets tricky is when those who are manic commit flagrant sin, especially sin that they might not commit when their emotions are in a normal range. This is so common that behaviors such as “sexual indiscretions” are mentioned in the diagnostic criteria for mania.

These sins, of course, are spiritual. To say otherwise would create one of the most frightening scenarios we could imagine.

“I, Ed, take you, Sharon to be my wife. I promise my fidelity to you, unless I have some brain-thing happening that makes me have sex with someone else or makes me dump every penny we have on a lottery ticket.”

Is it possible that the body can make us more vulnerable to temptations? Absolutely.

Anyone who has ever been cranky because of little food, little sleep or PMS reminds us that the body can be a stumbling block. But those same people confess their crankiness rather than blame it on their bodies.

God can sanctify

There are ways that mania creates intense and unique temptations for people, and I think that many of us would not do well in the midst of those temptations. When you begin to understand mania you become more patient with those who experience it. But we know this: the Spirit of God can sanctify manic people even if their mania persists.

Adversity in the Center of God’s Will

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. 1 Samuel 19:1 NIV

One day David was minding his own business, tending sheep, when God called him to be a king. He didn’t ask to be king, but God said he was the one. He turned out to be a really good king. Imagine that? God made a good pick! David had a heart modeled after God’s, according to the Bible.

So, since God had chosen to bless David in such a way, why, throughout David’s story, do we continually find Saul trying to kill David? For some time, David was chased by Saul. David hid out, sometimes all alone, which is the setting we find him in during the writings of many of the Psalms. David was God’s choice for king and yet he was often placed in incredible adversity.

What does this tell us about the way God guides His children?

What it says to me is that sometimes God’s will for us places us in the middle of trials.

More importantly, I am learning that I cannot determine whether I am in God’s will based on whether or not my life is peaceful. Just because I have struggles in life, doesn’t mean I am not in God’s will for my life.

Think about Abraham who faced the trial of leaving his homeland; Moses wandered in the wilderness forty years; Joseph was sold into slavery; Nehemiah had to fight off naysayers; Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den. All of these great servants of God faced persecution, heartache, and trials beyond most of our imaginations. Yet, all them, during the adversity, were right where God wanted them to be; in the center of His will.

We all like for life to be peaceful, and we can have inner peace in the middle of the storms of life, but God has not promised us a life free of problems. In fact, we can perfectly within His will and still be facing adversity. He has promised us we can trust Him and that His grace is sufficient. Through it all, God uses the difficult seasons of life to make us more like Jesus.

How has God used adversity to shape you?

Lord, What Do YOU See When YOU Look At Me?

SOURCE:  John Eldredge

What God Sees When He Sees You

Your sin has been dealt with. Your Father has removed it from you “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12). Your sins have been washed away (1 Cor. 6:11).

When God looks at you he does not see your sin.

He has not one condemning thought toward you (Rom. 8:1). But that’s not all.

You have a new heart.

That’s the promise of the new covenant: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezek. 36:26 -27). There’s a reason that it’s called good news.

Too many Christians today are living back in the old covenant.

They’ve had Jeremiah 17:9 drilled into them and they walk around believing my heart is deceitfully wicked. Not anymore it’s not. Read the rest of the book. In Jeremiah 31:33, God announces the cure for all that: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” I will give you a new heart. That’s why Paul says in Romans 2:29, “No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit.”

Sin is not the deepest thing about you. You have a new heart.

Did you hear me?

Your heart is good.

What God sees when he sees you is the real you, the true you, the [person] he had in mind when he made you.

(Wild at Heart , 133-34)

Homosexuality: Tammy’s Story (4)

SOURCE:  Living Free/Dr. Jimmy Lee/Tammy Webb-Witholt

“Jesus told the people who had faith in him, ‘If you keep on obeying what I have said, you truly are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32 CEV

Today Tammy tells about finding her true identity: “If you had asked me if I was born gay, I would have given you a resounding ‘yes.’ I considered this as unchangeable as the fact that my hair was blond and eyes blue or that I was raised in Africa by missionary parents and lived in a boarding school from the age of seven.

“But the journey I’ve taken with God has convinced me that I was not born gay. I began to realize that although I ‘felt’ as though I was defined by my homosexuality, that was not who God created me to be. The power of God’s Holy Word and his truth supersede any false sense of identity we may possess—which is why I love his Word so much. God was not just calling me from homosexuality to heterosexuality. He was calling me to discipleship, to holiness.

“If you are on a similar journey, I encourage you not to focus on what you are leaving behind, but to focus on Jesus Christ. He loves you unconditionally. He will give you the strength you need. He has a good plan for your life and will help you become all he has designed you to be.”

Are you hiding some truth about your life—from God, from others and even from yourself? Truth is the only way to total freedom. Ask God to help you desire the truth. And then as He reveals truth to you as you pray and study the Bible, embrace it. Stop running from it. Allow God to take away your fears—and rejoice in the freedom that only he can give.

Lord, please help me know the truth about myself. Help me stop hiding behind fear, anger, rebellion, embarrassment—anything that will keep me from being honest with you, with my loved ones and with myself. Help me focus on Jesus. Help me experience the freedom that only comes with knowing the truth. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Lessons Learned: Moving from Homosexuality to Holiness by Tammy Webb-Witholt. This group study offers biblical tools, along with an abundance of hope, to anyone struggling with homosexuality.

Where’s the “Balance?” (in loving our enemies)

SOURCE:  D.A. Carson/For the Love of God

Reference:  1 Samuel 11; Romans 9; Jeremiah 48; Psalm 25

ONE OF THE STRIKING FEATURES OF the Psalms, especially the psalms of David, is the theme of enemies. This makes some Christians nervous.

Does not the Lord Jesus tell us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-47)?

Yet here David prays that God will not let his enemies triumph over him (Ps. 25, especially v. 1), calls them “treacherous” (Ps. 25:3), and complains that they have increased and fiercely hate him (Ps. 25:19). It is inadequate to ascribe the two stances to differences between the new covenant and the old.

Preliminary reflections include:

(1) Even Jesus’ teaching that his followers love their enemies presupposes that they have enemies. Jesus’ requirement that we love our enemies must not be reduced to the sentimental notion that we all become so “nice” that we never have any enemies.

(2) New Testament believers may have enemies who must at some level be opposed.

The apostle Paul, for instance, says that he has handed Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan to teach them not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20). Both 2 Peter 2 and Jude deploy pretty colorful language to denounce fundamental enemies of the Gospel. Even if his language belongs to hyperbole, Paul can wish that the agitators in Galatia would emasculate themselves (Gal. 5:12). The Lord Jesus himself—the same Jesus who, while dying on the cross, cries, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)—can elsewhere denounce his enemies in spectacularly colorful language (Matt. 23).

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, unless we are to accuse the apostles and Jesus of hypocritical inconsistency, the demand that we love our enemies must not be reduced to the sentimental twaddle that merely smooths enemies out of existence.

(3) A very good case can be made for the view that the primary concern of Matthew 5:43-47 is to overthrow personal retaliation, to eschew the vendetta, to overcome the evil we receive by the good we perform, to absorb the hatred of an opponent and return love.

But none of this denies for a moment that the other person is an enemy. Moreover, those in leadership may, out of love, feel obligated to protect the flock by chasing out a wolf in sheep’s clothing, by exposing the charlatan, by denouncing the wicked—without succumbing to personal venom.

(4) One measure of whether one’s response is the hatred of vengeance or something more principled that cherishes God’s holiness and leaves room for forbearance and love, is the set of associated commitments. In David’s case, these include trust (Ps. 25:1-34-57b,1621), repentance and faith (Ps. 25:71118), and covenantal fidelity (Ps. 25:10).

I do the connecting, and then God does the perfecting!

SOURCE:  Jan Johnson

Rowing or Sailing?

Transformation into Christlikeness and the Christian life in general seem like a lot of work to many people.

They may even think: 

There must be more to this life than trying;

God must be disappointed in me;

It feels like I live a double life (a public Christian life and a secret life of pain, disappointment, or failure);

No matter how hard I try, I don’t seem to measure up to the standards I know are right and good.

In fact, most of us have experienced the weight of knowing all the things we should be doing and not doing, and the exhaustion of being behind where we think we ought to be. Giving more and trying harder seem to be the only alternatives. As a result, a lot of people give up hope of becoming more of what God wants them to be, because they have no idea how to add any more to what they are already doing.

With that approach, the spiritual life is like rowing a boat (by yourself!). You do your best to persist, even when it is hard. You go to conferences, study, and get involved in serving. You try to do the right things, but never get as far as you think you should.

At times you may even feel as if you were issued only one oar and so you keep going in circles. Some find themselves rowing against the current and going more backward than forward. When they ask for help they seem to hear: “Row harder” or “Do more” or “You are not dedicated enough.”

There is another way in which the wind does most of the work. Sailing. In sailing we learn how to align the sail with the wind and let the wind take us places we could never get to (or imagine) on our own. As we learn how to interact with the sail, we see forward movement because the wind (the Spirit) is doing the hard work.

The sailing approach is spiritual formation, which works from the inside out, relying on the Spirit. Instead of forcing myself to say the words, “I forgive you,” I learn how to engage with God so my heart truly forgives. I can then express the forgiveness from my heart. Instead of only acting as if I love my enemy, I interact with God so that God can change my heart so I actually love them. I demonstrate the life of God because of who I am, not in an effort to override who I am. This changes where I focus my efforts. My task is to learn how to let God work on my heart, rather than trying to do what I think is the right thing to do.

We no longer depend on willpower to override contrary feelings and inclinations, with repeated cycles of repentance and re-dedication: Stability/Failure/Repentance/ Stability. Instead we participate with God to move our inner life forward in ways we cannot manage by our own willpower and effort. The results? Deeper intimacy and trust in God. Scripture comes alive. Internal healing and growth become our normal everyday experience. Life is increasingly seen the way God sees it (through the eyes of heaven).

Formation is then relational.

It is, as many of you have heard me say: You do the connecting, and then God does the perfecting.

The connecting occurs as we glimpse that vision of life in the kingdom of God where I live in companionship with God and rely on God every minute. I use spiritual disciplines (as God invites me) to connect with God. The change in my character then flows out of living a life with God that is rich and full, challenging and adventurous.

——————————————————————————————————————————

Much of the above is adapted from David Takle’s excellent DVD course, Forming, (www.KingdomFormation.org) with his kind permission.

Acting Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick/Discipleship Journal

God can use the annoyances of marriage to school us in his love.

It was one of those crazy weeks: deadlines looming, clients in crisis, dirty dishes scattered throughout the house. In a moment of frustration, I yelled at my husband, “You never help me around the house!”

That was not accurate. Although Howard doesn’t always notice the things I do, he is always willing to help. I’m sure he was tempted to defend himself: “What do you mean I never help you around the house? Just last week, I  . . .”

But that’s not what he did. Instead, he asked, “What can I do?”

Still frazzled, I snapped back, “Plan next week’s menu, shop for all the groceries, and cook all the dinners.” And he did. The meals were simple (frozen pizza, hot dogs, chicken nuggets), but the love behind them was extravagant.

It is an incredible gift to our husbands or wives when we respond in a godly way to their wrong actions. This gift comes through hard work—and the grace of God. God uses our relationships to school us in how to love when we don’t feel like it, how to forgive when we’ve been sinned against, and how to overcome evil with good. God can use the imperfections, weaknesses, differences—and, yes, even the sins—of our spouses to help us become more like Christ. Marriage provides the perfect backdrop for continual lessons in applied theology.

It’s My Problem?

Someone once said, “Adversity introduces a person to himself.” When our spouses aren’t behaving as we’d like, God often wants to show us a few things about ourselves.

Before marriage, I pictured myself as a kind and easygoing person. Once married, however, I began to glimpse another side of me. I saw how much I liked my own way and how angry I became when I didn’t get it. I noticed a tendency to hang on to my hurts. I got a peek at my pride when I believed I was right, and my husband was equally convinced I was wrong. These negative aspects of my personality were exposed when Howard wasn’t doing what I thought he should. When things were pleasant between us, these sins remained hidden.

I see the same pattern as I counsel married couples. When I ask, “When did your problems start?” I often hear, “I didn’t realize I had problems until I got married.”

Rather than focus on what our spouses are doing to us that is annoying or hurtful, we must redirect our attention to what our spouses’ wrongs reveal in us.

We generally blame our spouses for our reactions: “You make me so mad.” “If you didn’t do that, I wouldn’t act this way.” But our spouses actions don’t cause our responses. For example, I feel impatient and irritated when I am waiting in line for a slow clerk who is chatting with another clerk. The clerk is notmaking me feel these things. She is simply the trigger that exposes the impatience and anger already in my heart.

Jesus explained it this way.

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

—Lk. 6:45

What overflows from your heart and comes out of your mouth when your spouse behaves badly? God uses those moments to expose our hearts so we can see ourselves more clearly, change, and grow. Part of that change is learning to step back and take in the larger picture.

The Real Battle

When I’m fighting with my husband, I usually lose sight of whom I should be fighting and what I should be fighting for. I fight to get my way, to be right, or to prove my point. But the real struggle couples face is not for such temporal victories. As much as we might feel it in the moment, our spouses are not the enemy. Rather than engage in combat with each other, we need to ward off Satan’s tactics. Rather than seeking to vindicate ourselves, we need to fight for the glory of God, the preservation of our marriages, our spiritual health, and our children’s future.

Satan is our real enemy. He is out to destroy us (1 Pet. 5:8). Satan tries to convince us that God’s ways don’t satisfy and that following Him will rob us of something enjoyable. During marital troubles, he whispers, “Why should you work on your marriage? After all, look what your spouse has done. Why should you forgive? You have needs too.”

When Susan discovered that her husband, John, was heavily involved in internet pornography, she felt deep hurt and anger. Her first impulse was to shame him publicly, exposing him to his family, church, and employer. But if Susan is going to win her battle, she needs a clear understanding of Satan’s strategies and the weapons available to her.

The only weapons that have real power are spiritual (2 Cor. 10:3–5). God gives us a powerful alternative to reacting recklessly to our spouses’ sin: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Ro. 12:21). The Apostle Peter reminds us, “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (1 Pet. 2:15). We overcome evil with good when we stop battling our spouses and respond to wrongdoing in ways that are godly, righteous, and loving.

From Reacting to Responding

Jennifer came to counseling grinning from ear to ear. “I finally get it,” she said. “When I don’t react to Paul’s stupid remarks with a sarcastic dig, God actually works in his heart.” Jennifer had learned an important lesson. Though we don’t intentionally set out to ruin our marriages or hurt our mates, our reactions to our spouses’ wrongs can be like tossing a lit match into gasoline. A relationship deteriorates rapidly when two sinners sin against each other at the same time.

To reverse this pattern, we need to stop reacting out of our fleshly natures and start responding as God calls us to do. Most often, this process starts by harnessing our tongues. Proverbs tells us, “Reckless words pierce like a sword” (Prov. 12:18). The psalmist knew about struggling with the tongue. “I said, ‘I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence'” (Ps. 39:1). Yet he also knew that keeping quiet can be tough. “But when I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish increased” (v. 2). Something in us feels good when we open our mouths and let someone have it.

In our culture, we are encouraged to express our negative feelings so we don’t become unhealthy. But negative feelings are a lot like vomit. It feels better to get it out, but vomit belongs in the toilet—not on your spouse.

Writing letters to my husband—the kind I rip up rather than send—helps rid me of destructive emotions. Ask God for His perspective. He will teach you what to do with your negative reactions so you can address why you’re upset in a constructive manner. Inevitably, God–directed responses will demonstrate His love.

Costly Choices

Many couples are committed to staying married “no matter what,” but they do so with hard hearts. God doesn’t command us simply to stay married, however. He commands us to love, no matter how another person is behaving. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk. 6:27–28).

Love, from God’s perspective, is much more than an emotional feeling for another person. And it is bigger than a commitment to stay together no matter what. To love my husband as God calls me to means that I must consciously choose to act in his best interests, even when it costs me. This type of love is demonstrated when a tired husband stays up late talking with a wife who needs a listening ear, or when a wife who hates to cook gladly makes her husband’s favorite meal. But what does godly love look like when our spouses hurt us, disappoint us, or sin against us?

David knew his wife, Lisa, wasn’t honest with him about their finances. But he never confronted her about it. He said he loved her and didn’t want to upset her or make her mad.

However, genuine love is defined by actions that focus on another person’s good, not actions that simply make another person feel good. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Prov. 27:5–6).

What was in Lisa’s best interests? She didn’t need David to overlook her spending and deceit; she desperately needed him to confront her. Lisa’s “wrong” became part of God’s plan to mature David. God wanted him to become a God–centered husband, not a Lisa–centered husband. David learned to wrap himself in God’s all–sufficient love and received strength to move beyond his fear of rejection. Then he could boldly love Lisa by confronting the spending problem—for her good and for the welfare of their marriage and family.

The Gifts of Love

Loving our spouses when we are angry or hurt is difficult. It may even feel impossible. But the love that gives good gifts to undeserving people does not originate in a human heart; it is God’s love displayed through us. When our spouses act wrong, we may not readily be able to give them our affection, warmth, or companionship. However, there are gifts of love we can give, regardless of the current climate of our marriages.

The gift of acceptance. Sometimes we refuse to accept our spouses as they are and where they are. We seem surprised when our spouses act imperfectly or differently, as if somehow they aren’t ever supposed to do such things. “I can’t believe you did that,” we say. “How could you think like that?”

I’ve heard people say again and again in counseling, “You’re not the person I married!” One time, a husband replied, “Oh, yes I am. But the person you dated? He was a fake.”

Learning to accept our spouses doesn’t mean we like their faults, neither does it imply that we resign ourselves to a hopeless situation. True acceptance begins with understanding reality: We—and our spouses—are creatures in process.

Acceptance is more than a grudging acknowledgement of reality. Acceptance is a true gift when we stop resenting having to give it, when we learn to be emotionally content with our spouses as they are, all the while asking God to mature them.

The gift of truth. We do not always face the truth in our marriages. We imagine the best in spite of evidence to the contrary. We close our eyes to information that would help us make better decisions. However, there are times when we must tell the truth about reality, though always with love (1 Cor. 13:1,Eph. 4:15).

None of us likes it when our spouses tell us something about our behaviors or attitudes that we don’t want to face. Yet it is loving and good when they do so. Why? So we do not continue to deceive ourselves into thinking that all is well when we are about to fall off a cliff (Jas. 5:19–20).

At times, our efforts to give the gift of truth will have wonderful results. Other times, we may see no change or repentance; we may even be mocked. Remember, God has called us to love our spouses as no one else in this world will. That may mean suffering under mockery and still speaking truth (Ezekiel 2).

The gift of kindness. Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and being kind is one of the definitions of love (1 Cor. 13:4). Yet, as with the other gifts, we struggle to give the gift of kindness when we don’t feel like it or when our mates have hurt us.

Joan’s husband, Adam, was an alcoholic and a drug abuser. His drug use was so out of control that Joan finally asked him to move out until he got help. When, through friends, she heard he had a bad case of the flu, she cooked a pot of soup and delivered it to his apartment. Joan gave the gift of kindness to her selfish and irresponsible husband.

Being kind and gracious doesn’t mean you ignore wrongdoing or pretend it didn’t happen. Being kind means that what happens to you doesn’t define you. It doesn’t shape you or turn you into something evil. Extending kindness and mercy doesn’t depend upon whether the other person has been good or bad, wrong or right. Kindness is a gift of love, not a reward for good behavior.

In every marriage there are moments, even seasons, when we have the opportunity to choose to act right when our spouses act wrong. It might be in small, everyday ways (cooking hot dogs for dinner) or in big ways (extending forgiveness in the face of deep betrayal). God will use even the pain of a difficult marriage to help us become more like Christ—which He promises is very, very good.

An Intimate, Honest, Personal Conversation (With God)

SOURCE:  Randall Johnsonthimblefulloftheology

Ephesians 4:12-16 – Conversations with God

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Some people can be very protective of their place and position, making it difficult, if not impossible, for someone else to gain their knowledge or experience.  But not You, Lord Jesus.  You have purposely given Your church gifted individuals for the express goal of equipping us to be replicas of You.  Whereas some might see this as just another form of pride, we, Your followers, know it is the expression of Your deepest love for us.

Your heart is to build us up, to help us attain to the full stature of Your character because you know this is what makes us the most happy and fulfilled.  When we are loving like You love, when we are making a powerful contribution to the welfare of another like You do, we are operating at our “factory” best.

I want to be everything You are, Lord.  You want me to be everything You are.  There is nothing better to be.  So equip me, equip me, equip me.  Let me never tire of gaining more knowledge and skill to minister to my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.  Help me maintain absolute unity in the faith with them.  Make me worthy of Your gifts.

Six Ways of Minimizing Sin

SOURCE:  blog from Provocations and Paintings

I found these six ways of minimizing sin to be very instructive regarding gospel-centered sanctification/mortification of sin. Take a moment and examine your fight against sin, the ways you are prone to minimize sin, and develop an intentional strategy to renounce them.

Defending

I find it difficult to receive feedback about weaknesses or sin. When confronted, my tendency is to explain things away, talk about my successes, or to justify my decisions. As a result, I rarely have conversations about difficult things in my life.

Pretending

I strive to keep up appearances, maintain a respectable image. My behavior, to some degree, is driven by what I think others think of me. I also do not like to think reflectively about my life. As a result, not very many people know the real me (I may not even know the real me).

Hiding

I tend to conceal as much as I can about my life, especially the “bad stuff”. This is different than pretending in that pretending is about impressing. Hiding is more about shame. I don’t think people will accept the real me.

Blaming

I am quick to blame others for sin or circumstances. I have a difficult time “owning” my contributions to sin or conflict. There is an element of pride that assumes it’s not my fault AND/OR an element of fear of rejection if it is my fault.

Minimizing

I tend to downplay sin or circumstances in my life, as if they are “normal” or “not that bad. As a result, things often don’t get the attention they deserve, and have a way of mounting up to the point of being overwhelming.

Exaggerating

I tend to think (and talk) more highly of myself than I ought to. I make things (good and bad) out to be much bigger than they are (usually to get attention). As a result, things often get more attention than they deserve, and have a way of making me stressed or anxious.

[This excerpt is taken from the excellent study called The Gospel-Centered Life.]

God Will Test The Grace HE Gives

SOURCE:  Octavius Winslow   (1808 –  1878)  The Octavius Winslow Archive

Comfort Me On Every Side

“O God, you have taught me, from my youth: and hitherto have I declared your wondrous works. You, which have showed me great and sore troubles, shall quicken me again, and shall bring me up again from the depths of the earth. You shall increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.” Psalm 71:17, 20, 21.

A careful reader of David’s history cannot but be impressed with the early discipline into which this eminent servant of God was brought.

He had scarcely slain Israel’s vaunting foe, while yet the flush of victory was upon his youthful brow, and the songs of applause were resounding on his ear, when he found himself placed in a position of the keenest trial and most imminent peril. The jealousy of Saul at the unbounded popularity of the youthful warrior, in whom he at once beheld a rival in his people’s affection, if not a successor to the throne, instantly dictated a policy the most oppressive and murderous. From that moment the king sought his life. And thus from being the deliverer of the nation, whom he had saved with his arm—an idol of the people, whom he had entranced with his exploit, David became a fugitive and an exile. Thus suddenly and darkly did the storm-cloud rise upon his bright and flattering prospects.

Two deeply spiritual and impressive lessons we may gather from this period of his history. How rapidly, in the experience of the child of God, may a season of prosperity and adulation be followed by one of trial and humiliation!

It is, perhaps, just the curb and the correction God sends to check and to save us. We can ill sustain too sudden and too great an elevation. Few can wear their honors meekly, and none apart from especial and great grace.

And when God gives great grace, we may always expect that He will follow it with great trial. He will test the grace He gives.

There is but a step from the “third heaven” to the “thorn in the flesh.” Oh, the wisdom and love of God that shine in this! Who that sees in the discipline a loving and judicious Father, would cherish one unkind rebellious thought?

Another lesson taught us is, that our severest and bitterest trials may be engrafted upon our dearest and sweetest blessings.

It was David’s popularity that evoked the storm now beating upon him. The grateful affection of the people inspired the envy and hatred of the king. How often is it thus with us! God bestows upon us blessings, and we abuse them.

We idolize the creature He has given, and cling too fondly to the friend He has bestowed—settle down too securely in the nest He has made—inhale too eagerly the incense offered to our rank, talents, and achievements—and God often adopts those very things as the voice of His rebuke, and as the instruments of our correction.

Thus may our severest trials spring from our sweetest mercies.

What a source of sorrow to Abraham was his loved Isaac; and to Isaac was his favored Jacob; and to Jacob was his precious Joseph; and to Jonah was his pleasant gourd!

And what deep spiritual truth would the Holy Spirit teach us by all this?—to seek to glorify God in all our blessings when He gives them; and to enjoy all our blessings in God, when He takes then away.

Are You A WRETCH (like me)?

SOURCE:  Joe Stowell/Strength for the Journey

Who Me, A Wretch?

“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

There are a few hymns that I really like, and “Amazing Grace” is one of them. But somehow, like so many other familiar tunes, the weight of the words soon gets lost in our familiarity with the song. From bagpipe bands, to presidential events, to state funerals, to gospel songfests, to nearly every church in America, “Amazing Grace” has been performed so many times that we easily become numbed to its profoundly disturbing message.

You know the first line by heart: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me . . .”

Hold on.

Me—a wretch?!

None of us like to think about how wretched we are. We’d rather live in the self-delusion that compared to others we aren’t all that bad after all. We go to great lengths to look and feel good about ourselves. We exercise and diet to lose weight so we look good at the beach. We put makeup on in the morning so that we look good when we get to work. I ask my wife to help me pick out clothes so that I look good when I speak in church. And when someone says, “Hey, you’re lookin’ good!” we feel we have arrived.

But here’s the sobering news.

If we were to look at ourselves the way God sees us even when we have it all together, we would see something totally different. He sees through all of our efforts to be “lookin’ good.” His vision probes far deeper than the all-too-cool clothes we wear, our makeup, our rippling abs and our great tan. He strips away the layers of self-delusion and penetrates deep into our hearts where each of us is a desperately lost sinner. And, no matter how good you think you are, it’s not until we know that we are like condemned criminals before Him that we can begin to understand how amazing His grace really is. When you can honestly say that His grace saved a wretch like you, you can begin to stand in amazement at the greatness of His grace. In fact, His grace is only a “sweet sound” when you know how deep it had to go to clean you up!

What is God’s amazing grace?

It’s the outstretched love of Jesus whose agonizing death and victorious resurrection saves us from who we really are—not from who we think we are. Romans 5:8 says: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He died the worst kind of death imaginable, because it needed to cover the wretchedness of our desperately lost souls. We weren’t lookin’ good when He died for us. If we were as cool as we think we are, He could have stayed in heaven. But like hopeless beggars trapped in the sludge of sin, we needed Him. And so He came and died in our place.

Now that’s what I call amazing!

Getting over our self-deluded sense of coolness is step one toward reveling in the stunning grace of God. Every once in a long while someone will come up to me and say: “Hey, Stowell, you’re a really good man.” And while I like the sound of that, I know in my heart that I am not a good man. I’m a fallen man in desperate need of help. But by His grace I am a forgiven man. I thank God every day that there was a Really Good Man who lived on the earth 2,000 years ago who hung on a cross to save a wretch like me!

The Cost of Being a Real Christian

SOURCE:  J.C. Ryle/J.C. Ryle Quotes

It costs something to be a real Christian, according to the standard of the Bible.

There are enemies to be overcome, battles to be fought, sacrifices to be made, an Egypt to be forsaken, a wilderness to be passed through, a cross to be carried, a race to be run.

Conversion is not putting a person in an arm-chair and taking them easily to heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory.

~ J.C. Ryle

Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J.C. Ryle, “The Cost”, [Wheaton: Crossway, 2002], 174.

“ADDICTION” may seem too strong a term, BUT . . . ?!?

 SOURCE:  John Eldredge

Reenacting the Fall

The story of Eden is not over.

Every day we reenact the Fall as we turn in our desire to the very things that will destroy us.

As Gerald May reminds us, Addiction exists wherever persons are internally compelled to give energy to things that are not their true desires. To define it directly, addiction is a state of compulsion, obsession, or preoccupation that enslaves a person’s will and desire. Addiction sidetracks and eclipses the energy of our deepest, truest desire for love and goodness. (Addiction and Grace)

Addiction may seem too strong a term to some of you. The woman who is serving so faithfully at church-surely, there’s nothing wrong with that. And who can blame the man who stays long at the office to provide for his family? Sure, you may look forward to the next meal more than most people do, and your hobbies can be a nuisance sometimes, but to call any of this an addiction seems to stretch the word a bit too far.

I have one simple response: give it up.

Let go of the things that provide you with a sense of security, or comfort, or excitement, or relief.

You will soon discover the tentacles of attachment deep in your soul. There will be an anxiousness; you’ll begin to think about work or food or golf even more. Withdrawal will set in. If you can make it a week or two out of sheer willpower, you will find a sadness growing in your soul, a deep sense of loss. Lethargy and a lack of motivation follow.

Remember, we will make an idol of anything, especially a good thing.

So distant now from Eden, we are desperate for life, and we come to believe that we must arrange for it as best we can, or no one will.

God must thwart us to save us.

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(Desire , 92-93)

Who is my FATHER, really?

SOURCE:  Joseph Alleine/Tolle Lege

“What would My children have?”

“The LORD God says to His people: I am the everlasting Father, and I will be a Father to you (John 20:17). I take you for My sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18). Behold, I receive you not as servants, but as sons to abide in My house forever (John 8:35-36).

Whatever love or care children may look for from their father, that you may expect from Me (Matthew 6:31-32), and so much more since I am wiser, greater, and better than any earthly parents.

If earthly fathers will give good things to their children, much more will I give to you (Luke 11:13). If such cannot forget their children, much less will I forget you (Isaiah 49:15). What would My children have? Your Father’s heart, His house, His care, His ear, His bread, and His rod? These shall all be yours.

You shall have My fatherly affection. My heart I share among you. My tenderest loves I bestow upon you (1 John 3:1; Jeremiah 31:3; Isaiah 54:8).

You shall have My fatherly compassion. As a father pities his children, so will I pity you (Psalm 103:13-14). I will consider your frame, and not be extreme to mark what is done amiss by you, but will cover all with the mantle of My excusing love (Psalm 78:39).

You shall have My fatherly instruction. I will cause you to hear the sweet voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way’ (Isaiah 30:21). I will tender your weaknesses, and inculcate My admonitions, line upon line, and will feed you with milk when you cannot digest stronger meat (Isaiah 28:13; 1 Corinthians 3:2). I will instruct you and guide you with My eyes (Psalm 32:8).

You shall have My fatherly protection. In My fear is strong confidence, and My children shall have a place of refuge (Proverbs 14:26). My name shall be your strong tower, to which you may at all times fly and be safe (Proverbs 18:10). To your stronghold, you prisoners of hope (Zechariah 9:12). I am an open refuge, a near and inviolable refuge for you (Psalm 48:3; Deuteronomy 4:7; John 10:29).

You shall have My fatherly provision. Do not be afraid of want; in your Father’s house there is bread enough (Psalm 34:9; Luke 15:17). I will care for your bodies. Do not worry about what you shall eat, drink, or put on. Let it suffice you that your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all things (Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-32). I will provide for your souls: meat for them, mansions for them, and portions for them (John 6:30-59; Lamentations 3:23).

Behold, I have spread the table of My gospel for you, with privileges and comforts that no man can take from you (Isaiah 25:6; Matthew 22:4; Proverbs 9:2). I have set before you the bread of life, the tree of life, and the water of life (John 6:48; Revelation 2:7 and 22:17). Eat, O friends; drink abundantly, O beloved!

But all this is but a taste of what I have prepared. You must have but smiles and hints now, and be content with glimpses and glances here. But you shall be shortly taken up into your Father’s bosom and live forever in the fullest views of His glory (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

You shall have My fatherly probation. I will chasten you because I love you, so that you may not be condemned with the world (1 Corinthians 11:32; Proverbs 3:11-12).”

———————————————————————–

–Joseph Alleine, The Precious Promises of the Gospel, Ed. Don Kistler (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Publications, 1665/2000), 24-26

Joseph Alleine (1634 – 1668) was an English Puritan Nonconformist pastor and author of many religious works.

Jesus’ demeanor and behavior were so odd!

SOURCE:  Jan Johnson

Saturated in Serenity

In the last month I’ve walked through three situations that rank as the most stressful of life:  doing our income taxes, moving through a computer changeover, and being scolded publicly for something I didn’t do.

The changeover, as usual, was the one that caused a meltdown.  But after my initial fit, I printed out the August 2011 wisbit Relaxing into Another Reality. I rehearsed over and over how I was being invited to move from the chaotic left side of Rembrandt’s painting to the quiet, serene right side, sitting next to Jesus in the boat. I wanted to relax in the reality of the Kingdom of God and function in harmony with it, in experiential union with God. (As I reflected on the scolding, I realized that the other person was living on the chaotic left side and I didn’t want to join him. Same with the taxes:  just stay on the right side with Jesus.)

Encouraged by this, I wanted to picture Jesus in another gospel situation living in the vitality and power and energy of the Kingdom of God:  his arrest.

After interacting with God in his Gethsemane prayer (what great preparation), Jesus was roughed up and accused but exuded “a peace and calm which is beyond the knowledge of the world possessed Him…  His extreme gentleness of manner is marvelous… full of dignity and measured reason which is more effective than hot wrath. The majesty of heaven shines out in every word and deed in this hour of humiliation.”

Jesus’ demeanor and behavior was so odd!

When threatened with arrest, some people lead car chases and shoot at the police. The Roman soldiers and temple police must have expected such behavior from Jesus because they came equipped with lanterns and torches, apparently imagining they’d have to search in caves and crevices of the walls of the garden (John 18:3).

What did they think? Picture Jesus’ serenity as the chief priests who had taunted him and plotted to kill him now stand before him (Luke 22:52). Free of contempt or scorn, he isn’t sarcastic or cynical, saying, “I knew you’d show up eventually.”  If he had showed signs of agitation or turmoil, we would have excused it because contempt is deemed acceptable if you’re stressed. People say, “Don’t be offended. She’s under a lot of stress right now.” 

Instead, he was “not defenceless but undefending, not vanquished but uncontending, not helpless but majestic in voluntary self-submission for the highest purpose of love.”  That’s who I want to be when I grow up!

And, we can be sure Jesus had a right heart.  How?  By the way he healed the high priest’s slave when Peter sliced off his ear. 

From reading and experience about healing prayer, I know it requires a right heart most of all. Contrast the angry, taunting crowd with the tender kingdom heart of Jesus. That’s why these words on the cross must have flowed easily from his mouth (rather than be forced):  “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34).

Jesus responded with this gut-level serenity and love at this highly stressful moment because he was alive to the kingdom of God. His faith became a powerful life force (knocking over the soldiers at one point (John 18:6). This life in the kingdom of God moment by moment is the life I want, and which I taste now and then.

——————————————————————————-

Although recently experienced, much of the wording above adapted from chapter 8 of Invitation to the Jesus Life (quotation from Life of Christ syllabus, Seth Wilson and Edersheim).

Invitation to the Jesus Life

May I Be As HUMAN As Jesus

The Counseling Moment editors note:  ” . . . I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” [John 10:10]

SOURCE:  John Eldredge

Fully Human

 

I cannot say this more emphatically—life affected Jesus. “We have spread so many ashes over the historical Jesus that we scarcely feel the glow of His presence anymore,” lamented Brennan Manning. “He is a man in a way that we have forgotten men can be: truthful, blunt, emotional, nonmanipulative, sensitive, compassionate.”1

Jesus never did anything halfheartedly. When he embraced our humanity, he didn’t pull a fast one by making a show of it. He embraced it so fully and totally that he was able to die. God can’t die. But Jesus did.

It will do your heart good to discover that Jesus shares in your humanity.

He was, as the creeds insist, fully human. (Yes, yes – more than that to be sure. But never ever less than that.)

I’m sure the chipmunks made him laugh. The Pharisees sure made him furious. He felt joy, weakness, sorrow.

The more we can grasp his humanity, the more we will find him someone we can approach, know, love, trust, and adore.

———————————————–

(Beautiful Outlaw, 59)

YOU are NOT the GOD I would have chosen!

SOURCE:  Michael Card

God’s Disturbing Faithfulness

What in the world is God up to?

“You are not the God we would have chosen,” Walter Brueggemann prays in his book Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth.

That troubling prayer resonates in my heart. For the truth is, most often I would have chosen (and indeed do choose) a god other than Him.

Most often, I would rather not learn the hard lessons the hard way. I would rather not have to worship in the wilderness, where God continuously calls me to find and be found by Him. I would rather God simply meet my expectations, fix my problems, heal my hurts, and be on His way.

I want a God who is faithful to me in ways I understand and expect, who expresses faithfulness in the ways I choose.

The good news is, there is such a god. In fact, there are many of them. Constructed of small snippets of Bible verses, glued together with human reason and need, these gods always move in expected ways, according to the given formula. Their faithfulness always feels good. It almost always ends in bankable results. That is the good news. The bad news? None of them represent the God of the Bible.

This is faithfulness?

The faithfulness of God is celebrated throughout the Bible, especially in Psalms. It is one of the psalmists’ favorite reasons for praising Him (36:5; 71:22; 86:15; 89:1-2, 5, 8; 100:5; 138:2). And why not praise God for His faithfulness? When we think of all the wonderful promises He has made and realize that because of His perfect faithfulness He will perfectly keep each and every one, how glorious! Who wouldn’t want to give their lives to such a God as this? Who would not choose Him to be their God?

Yet as we enter more deeply into a relationship with the God of Scripture, we increasingly discover—to our great annoyance—that, despite the reports to the contrary, most often God refuses to act in simple, easily understandable ways that coincide with our definition of what His faithfulness should look like.

We ask Him to be faithful by answering all our prayers for healing. Isn’t Ps. 103:3 crystal clear? He “heals all your diseases,” it says (emphasis mine). So we beg and plead, and yet the cancer rate among Christians remains virtually the same as among those outside the faith. We respectfully request financial help; after all, Phil. 4:19 explicitly promises that “God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (emphasis mine). When the looked-for check does not appear, what are we to think? Either God is not being faithful to His promise (unthinkable!) or else we do not understand what that faithfulness means.

So what is the missing piece of the puzzle? What is God’s faithfulness supposed to look like?

This is surely the question that troubled Job.

The religious world he inhabited believed God’s faithfulness should look like doing, fixing, judging (even cursing), answering, healing, and ultimately providing. That, at least, was the point of view of Job’s friends. In return for their works-righteousness, they believed that God was obliged to make things right for His people.

Yet Job, whom God Himself declared righteous, is beset with every sort of suffering and loss. A thousand years or more before the man of sorrows, Job became acquainted with all our grief. In return for his righteousness, Job received unimaginable suffering. Where was God’s faithfulness? Had He forgotten His promises? Was He hiding? Was He asleep? As I spend more and more time in the book of Job, I begin to wonder if the deepest source of Job’s pain was not the murdered children or his wrecked health, but rather the terrifying prospect that the true God might indeed be nothing like the god of his old definition.

In Job’s world, God was a question-answering god who faithfully provided wisdom. Yet when the God of Job finally appears, He only asks more questions. How disappointing for Job’s friends. The God of Job clearly has more in mind than meting out justice. His faithfulness is expressed in a way that no one could ever have imagined: He showed up! Nothing could have been more disturbing for the lot of them.

“My ears had heard of you,” stammers Job, “but now my eyes have seen you” (42:5).

A God whose faithfulness is more a matter of presence than provision. A God whose faithfulness is made visible simply by showing up . . . sound familiar?

Faithfulness Incarnate

In His own time, as well as ours, many who came close to Jesus were disappointed by His disturbing revelation of the faithfulness of God.

There were those who wanted Jesus to judge and condemn. In John 8, the scribes and Pharisees hounded Jesus for a judgment against an adulterous woman. If Jesus were to be faithful to their notion of God and the law, they reasoned, He had no other choice but to pronounce her fate. After all, she was caught in the act.

Others wanted healing, and certainly Jesus healed people by the thousands. But faithfulness for Jesus didn’t always look like healing. In John 11, after hearing of the life-threatening illness of one of His closest friends, Jesus appears to loiter for two more frustrating days. As a result, Lazarus dies. Martha and Mary appear with the same disappointed accusation on their lips (though I believe in different tones of voice). “If you had only been here, he would not have died,” they both say. If only . . . you had fixed things, healed him, answered our prayers the way we wanted them answered.

But, like His Father, Jesus has come to show us that God is faithful to us in ways we never could have dreamed. Jesus refuses to condemn the woman caught in adultery because, as Frederick Buechner once said, He knew He would be condemned for her (Jn. 3:17, Ro. 8:1). “I pass judgment on no one,” Jesus will say to His critics (Jn. 8:15). Later, in the face of His hearers’ disbelief, He will declare, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it” (Jn. 12:47). The disturbing faithfulness of Jesus does not look like condemnation. Instead He showed up to save!

And before Jesus moves on to the tomb of his friend Lazarus to call forth the “dead man” from the grave, He enacts what most of us never regard as a miracle. But it may be the most miraculous miracle of the whole story. The miracle? Jesus wept.

He showed up and entered fully and painfully into the suffering of His friends. Moments later He would indeed provide the resurrection miracle none of them could even have imagined asking for. Yet Lazarus would eventually die once more, wouldn’t he? Death would remain a reality, even as it is for us today. But what had changed forever was the image of the face of faithfulness. Not judgmental; not with anger in its eyes but rather a tear. God incarnate enfleshed and gave form to faithfulness.

Faithfulness was Jesus fully present.

Present in their redemption and ours.

Present in their suffering and ours.

Present in their loneliness and ours.

Acquainted with their griefs and ours.

This was a faithfulness no one expected—so deeply personal, so fully satisfying. Jesus didn’t always faithfully give people answers or healing or judgments, but He did give them Himself.

The Promise of Presence

Who is God for you? What do you think His faithfulness should look like? Is He a predictable theological entity, frozen on the throne? Is your greatest hope for Him that He might appear someday and pass judgment on your enemies? Or could He possibly, unimaginably, be the God we meet in Job who descends from the throne room where He has been dealing with the accusations of Satan, the God who shows up, having been moved by Job’s tears.

Who is Jesus for you? How is faithfulness written on His face for you? Is He merely a caricature walking three inches off the ground? Or might He impossibly be the very image of the God whose disturbing faithfulness looks like simply showing up to make His name “Immanuel” true in the fullest way it could ever be true. Could it be that the best show of faithfulness is not the healing or the unexpected check that saves from bankruptcy, but the unthinkable truth that God has chosen to be “with us” through it all? Could it be that the miracle is not provision, but presence?

Faithfulness most resembles the God who showed up and, in the process, became acquainted with all our sorrows. His promise of faithfulness is heard in His parting words, “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20, emphasis mine). It is the best promise any bridegroom can possibly make to his bride.

In our frustration we cry out to the heavens. We shake our fists at the sky, demanding that God act, move, fix, heal. We insist that He be faithful according to our expectations of faithfulness. My mentor, Dr. William Lane, used to say,

We want the God of the magic wand. The God who makes the cancer go away. But more remarkably, He is the God who comes alongside us and suffers with us. He is the God who never leaves us.

Ask yourself, how did God Himself speak of His faithfulness? What are the words He most often used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe what it would look like? How about:

Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.

—see Dt. 31:6; Heb. 13:5

Now the dwelling of God is with men and women, and He will live with them.

—see Ex. 25:8; Rev. 21:3

No doubt I will go on forgetting all this and doggedly keep demanding God to provide.

I need money.

I need health.

I need happiness.

And when the sky remains silent I will likely fume at Him in frustration, “Where are You?” I will doubt Him and His promised presence with and in me because what I think should be His provision has not shown up on time.

And He will continue to pursue—passionately and patiently—my foolish, forgetful self.

If, like me, you find yourself disturbed by what sometimes appears to be a lack of faithfulness on God’s part—if you, too, are beginning to feel that He is not the God you would have chosen—then perhaps it is time to wonder if God is up to something else, something other than trying to become our pie-in-the-sky god.

Just maybe He is working a more miraculous miracle than we ever could have asked for or imagined. He, the God of the universe, has determined to do a work in (not for) us. Paul declares in Phil. 1:6 that He has promised to do this interior, spiritual work until He is finally finished, and that will be on the day Jesus shows up fully, finally, and completely, once and for all time.

Brueggemann is right.

This is not the God we would have chosen.

But neither could we have dreamed up nor imagined such a God: a God the immediacy of whose presence is incarnate in us by His indwelling Spirit, a God who is committed to the throes of completing this labor of indwelling us, of being born in and through us. It is His deepest desire. It is the greatest of all His wordless miracles.

He is not the God any of us would have chosen but, as Brueggemann marvelously concludes, He is the God who has chosen us.

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MICHAEL CARD is an award-winning musician, performing artist, and songwriter. His many songs include “El Shaddai” and “Immanuel.” He has also written numerous books, including A Violent Grace, The Parable of Joy, and A Fragile Stone. A graduate of Western Kentucky University with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in biblical studies. Michael lives in Tennessee with his wife and four children.

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