Category Archives: The Christian Life

Prayer and the Throne of Grace

throne room

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Hebrews 4:14-16

Picture the throne room in Heaven.  It is filled with God’s glory, power, and radiant majesty,  a holy place from which Jesus rules over the entire universe while He sits at the right hand of God (Hebrews 1:3).  Here are three things about this throne:

It is a throne of grace.   In the midst of this throne room filled with God’s majesty and power, Jesus bids us to boldly come and present our requests to Him.  This is amazing, so amazing that I can’t even wrap my mind around it.  When we need help,  Jesus, the king of the universe,  is waiting for us to come so He can give us His mercy and grace.  In fact, in Isaiah 30:18 it says, “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.”  NIV  He longs for us to come to Him in prayer.  

Conversely, when we turn to someone or something else instead of to God, He rebukes us.  In 2 Chronicles 16, King Asa asked for help from the king of Syria instead of going to God for assistance.  God sent Hanani the prophet to Asa to tell him that God helped Asa in the past, so why didn’t he ask God instead of going to the king of Syria.  Hanani then said, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him.  You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.”

It is a throne of intercession.  Jesus can identify with our weaknesses, He knows our weaknesses and He is praying for them.  Hebrews 7:25 declares, “Consequently Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”  Jesus is not only ruling and reigning, but He is praying for us day and night.   Also, Hebrews 2:18 reads, “For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.”  When you are confronted with your weaknesses, or are tempted to sin–call out to Jesus!  He will help you.

It is a throne of well-timed help.  According to John Piper, in his devotional “His Timing is Perfect,” Hebrews 4:16 is more literally translated, “that we may find grace for a well-timed help.”  God’s grace will not come too early or too late.

What good news to rest on as we bring our needs, our dreams, and our failures to the throne of grace in prayer!  


The Two-Edged Sword

Image result for two edged sword picture

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Hebrews 4:12

I have talked a lot about the power of the Word and the necessity of being in it, so I just want to testify of what the Bible has done in my life.  As I have also previously mentioned, I became a Christian through two ladies who came and taught Vacation Bible School in my little farm community.  They taught the Word of God apologetically, persistently, and clearly.  I sat on the edge of my seat as I listened to them each summer.  They came from hours away, so this was the only time I heard teaching like this.  They quoted verses as they taught and in conversation, they sang songs with verses in them, and they simply stood on the truths of the Bible.

Through these two dear ladies, Miss Evelyn and Miss LaRue, the two-edged Word sword did its work in my life.  I learned that you don’t need a lot of props, you just need the Bible.  Through their encouragement I memorized hundreds of verses.  It is what changed my life, and I saw it change other people’s lives in the same way.  

When I went away to college, I joined Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship, a campus Christian group.  Through them I was taught how to study the Bible inductively and many other things that took this love for the Bible and the passionate belief that we must base our lives on it, eat, drink and sleep with it.  I have kept Bible study journals for almost 40 years now.

I worked my summers throughout college and beyond in camping ministries.  In each of these places, I saw God use me in other kids’ lives as I taught the Bible and told them the good news about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to pay the price for our sins and to purchase salvation for us.  I prayed with hundreds of kids to find this Jesus in their lives, just like Evelyn and LaRue did for me.

Since then, I continue with the same conviction.  I know if I teach with the Bible in my hand, God works.  I don’t get carried away with emotional or funny stories, just this living and active sword of the Spirit that changes lives.  In 2 Corinthians 4:1-2 it says that we are not to resort to manipulation or clever schemes, watering it down or panhandling it for profit.

God moved my audience from children to an evangelistic ministry in our County jail.  For over 17 years I have had the privilege of being the first person, in many cases, to introduce these dear women to Jesus and to the Bible.  The living and active word of God is doing its work in their lives.  Isaiah 55:10-11 says, “it will not return to Me empty but will accomplish that which I purpose.”


The Cure to Drifting

Fix on Jesus

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus.  Hebrews 3:1 NIV

Last time we looked at five things that contribute to drifting spiritually.  There are many more ways, knowing that the world, the flesh and the devil all work against our spiritual growth.   Since I listed five things that contribute to drifting, I’ll answer with five ways to combat the drift:

  1. Fix our thoughts, hearts and eyes on Jesus.  I love that word, “fix.”   There are several verses with the words fix and set.  Picture yourself being stuck to Jesus like glue.  You’re fixed to Him.  Colossians 3:1-3 tell us to set our minds and hearts on things above, and Hebrews 12:2 also tells us (NIV wording again) to “fix our eyes on Jesus.” It takes an intentional mindset to keep looking at Jesus in the Word, in our worship and in prayer.  Tell yourself to get your eyes and thoughts off of yourself, off of others and to fix them on Jesus.
  2. The Holy Spirit.  The good news is that we have been given the power of the Holy Spirit to work in our lives to overcome those things that pull us down and cause us to drift.  Galatians 5:16 announces, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  
  3. Fellowship with like minded believers.  In 2 Timothy 2:22 we are told to “flee youthful passions, to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  That means you purposely place yourself around people who are fixed on Jesus.  If you can’t find any to hang around, then read their blogs, their books, listen to their sermons or worship songs.  
  4. Learn to worship.  Good worship music draws our thoughts and hearts to Jesus.  Don’t listen to garbage music that doesn’t do so.  Worship just doesn’t have to include singing or listening to music.  Include the Psalms in your diet.  Memorize and meditate on them.  True worship changes our affections, drawing them away from the things of the world to heavenly things.
  5. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.  That means reading, studying, meditating on  and memorizing the Bible.  For me, the closest link to drifting spiritually is when I get too busy, distracted or undisciplined to be in the Word.  It means I am living my life in my own strength, in the flesh, and I am dead meat when I do that.  The verse from the hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is so true: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.”  

O Lord, keep me from wandering and drifting.  Daily pull me back to Your heart.  Draw and fix my thoughts on Jesus.  Fill me with Your power to walk in the Spirit and to stick to Jesus like glue.

 


Don’t be a Drifter

drifting

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.  Hebrews 2:1  

Most people don’t go from living  a normal life of working a job, going to church and paying their bills to suddenly going out and robbing a bank.  The path is usually a slow fade, as the Casting Crowns song aptly says: “It’s a slow fade when black and white are turned to gray, and thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid,  when you give yourself away.  People never crumble in a day. It’s a slow fade, it’s a slow fade.”

To not drift away from the things we know with that slow fade that leads to trouble, takes diligent attention.  There are at least 5 things I can think of that cause us to drift:

  1. Busyness.  Everyone is just busy these days, even retired people.  But the things that we are busy with aren’t always the most important things.  Sadly, the most important things get pushed to the back shelf until a crisis hits, or something that jolts us into more clear thinking.  Ephesians 5:15-16 reminds us to “Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time because the days are evil.”
  2. The cares and riches and pleasures of life, as described in the parable of the sower from Luke 8:14.   They were the thorns that choked out one of the soils, causing the seed  to be unfruitful.   In 2 Timothy 3, Paul said in the last days people would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”  Do the cares, riches and pleasures of life cause you to drift from your devotion to God?
  3. Distractions.  They can be really good things that distract us, like time with family, much needed sleep, or chores.  But usually the things that keep us from having a daily time of connecting with God are less noble–like a “must watch” TV show, fiddling on the Internet, or not being self disciplined enough to have a set quiet time.
  4. Unattended  sins.  In 1 Timothy 1:18-19, Paul urged Timothy to “keep fighting the good fight, holding faith and a good conscience.  By rejecting this, some have made a shipwreck of their faith.”  In other words, if you don’t keep a clear conscience it can shipwreck your faith.  Unconfessed sins, or living a sloppy faith life with delayed obedience, partial obedience, or just plain disobedience can make you distant and disconnected from the Savior.
  5. Lack of concentrated effort.  If you love something, you spend time and money on it.  If you have a desire to get good at something that you like, you work on it and put sweat equity into it.  Matthew 6:21 says it: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Perhaps drifting is a sign of where your heart is and it’s time for a gut check if this is where you are at.  Many people have “yes, but’s” when it comes to moving ahead in their faith walk, but they don’t have those same big but’s when it comes to doing something they really love.  They plow through the obstacles.

Next time we will look at how not to drift.  We don’t want to stop on the negative things before we get to what may help us to not drift.  May God, the One “who works in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure,” be at work in you to keep you from drifting.


Jesus is a Very Big Deal

Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power.  After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.  Hebrews 1:3

The writer of Hebrews starts off with a magnificent declaration of five things about who Jesus is.  They are central to our faith, and why Jesus is a big deal:

  1. He is the radiance of the glory of God.  Jesus is full of God’s glory, and He was even when He was a human on the earth.  The apostle John told about it in John 1:14, We beheld His glory, full of grace and truth.  If you want to know God’s glory, look at Jesus.  Read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and absorb His miracle power.  In John 2:11, after Jesus turned the water into wine, John recorded, This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory.  And His disciples believed in Him.  
  2. He is the exact imprint of God’s nature.  Jesus is God.  John 1:18 tells us, No one has ever seen God; the only God (Jesus) who is at the Father’s side, He has made Him known.  If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.  As Colossians 1:15 also declares, He is the image of the invisible God.  
  3. He upholds the universe by the word of His power.  I love Philippians 3:21, Who, by the power that enables Jesus to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.  And Colossians 1:17 says, In Him (Jesus) all things hold together.   Jesus holds the universe together, He holds you and me together, and He holds all of the political and climate events together.  It is not in man’s power to do this, only Jesus’.  When I watch the news and start to feel afraid and unsettled, it is this concept that comes to mind.
  4. He made purification for our sins.  We are all infected with a lethal disease that causes spiritual death–it’s sin.  No one is immune to this disease, as all have sinned, from Romans 3:23.  Our problem isn’t poverty, or pollution, or evil institutions–it’s sin.  Only Jesus could pay the price for our sin, and He did.  Hebrews 10:11-12 states, Every priest…offers repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God.  The root of purification is “pure.”  We have been made pure by Jesus’ blood.
  5. He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.  Jesus is not the little baby in a manger, nor is He the bearded guy in the pictures with a kid on His lap.  He is now glorified, ruling and reigning on a throne, sitting next to His Father God, “the Majesty.”  He lived a perfect life, completed the job He came to do by dying on the cross and triumphantly rising again, and then was given the victor’s crown.  Jesus is executing judgment and righteousness from the throne with all power and authority and will one day come in great glory.  Check out the description that John gave after He encountered the risen and exalted Lord in Revelation 1:12-17.  This is Jesus!

 

I commend King Jesus to you that you might trust in Him,  love Him and worship Him.  

 


From useless to useful

 

useful

I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.  (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)  Philemon 1:10-11

 

 

Paul and Onesimus were cellmates in Rome.   The story is told in the book of Philemon.  Onesimus was a runaway slave, belonging to Philemon.  Philemon was a Christian, and I’m guessing he lived in Colossus, as Paul mentioned Onesimus in Colossians 4:9.  Paul wanted Philemon to release Onesimus as a slave so that he could be a messenger for the Gospel once he got out.  Onesimus deserved to be executed according to the law, but Paul wanted Philemon to pardon him and to welcome him as a brother.

Onesimus means ‘useful.’  Maybe that wasn’t his real name, but Paul changed it to that.  Or maybe that really was his name, given by hopeful parents so he would become someone great.  Whether he knew the meaning of his name and was rebelling against it, or whether he knew it but was born in poverty to parents who were slaves, his life was about to change.  He could now live up to his name.  Onesimus became who he was supposed to be in that prison cell, because God called him by name and he became God’s child.

We are all runaway, useless slaves.  We all deserve execution because of our sin.  That verdict isn’t just for people in jail, it’s for everyone.  Romans 3:23 says it: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”   We all need a pivot point where we turn from our sin to follow Jesus, turning from the useless pursuits of self interest, to the useful God designed purposes that God has for us.  Paul’s pivot point was on the road to Damascus, Onesimus’ was in prison.  Neither of them expected this wonderful change, but they got it.

2 Corinthians 5:17 promises, “If anyone is in Christ, he (she) is a new creation.  The old is gone and the new has come.”  Isn’t that a great promise?  God is in the recycling and re-purposing business.  He takes all of our previously useless mistakes, random life experiences, and unfulfilled potentials and weaves them together for good.  And He makes us useful for His kingdom.

What has been useless in your life that you can give to God to make useful?  And, how can you be Paul to someone else, just like Paul was God’s ambassador for Onesimus?  Proclaim to them the good news that all is not lost.  Your useless, painful experiences can be turned into something good.  Your destiny of being headed for destruction because of their sin can be turned around through faith in Jesus and pointed Heavenward.

I love this song by Meredith Andrews, “The Gospel Changes Everything.”  Check it out:

*Image from drawception.com


Troublemakers

negative energy

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice,  have nothing more to do with him.  Titus 3:10

There are verses here and there that tell us what God thinks about people who stir up drama and division.  Here are a few of them:

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid.  For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.  Romans 16:17

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to Him; haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.  Proverbs 16:19

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.  Proverbs 10:12

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.  Hebrews 12:14-15

Are you starting to get the picture?  Being divisive is driven by bitterness and hatred and it needs to be kept in check.  Otherwise, it is like a cancer that spreads and takes others down.  It must be dealt with.  Paul tells how to handle someone who is a spreader of drama and contention: warn them twice and then, if it continues, have nothing to do with that person.

Actually, Paul tells about a few different types that we are to have nothing to do with.  In 2 Timothy 3:5 he wrote to avoid people that hold to the form of godliness but deny its power.  In Ephesians 5:3-7 Paul lists a bunch of things, including foolish talk and crude joking, along with greed and sexual immorality, that if believers exhibit them to stay away from.

Peace and purity in the body of Christ are big deals.  It might seem radical to have nothing to do with people that spread strife, and some might call it unloving.  But creating and maintaining an atmosphere of peace honors God and promotes spiritual growth.  

Think about your own handling of something that doesn’t go your way, or of trying to work together in a group.  Are you the one who resorts to ‘taking your ball and going home?’  Do you back stab, manipulate or undermine decisions?   Do you have unresolved bitterness that you need to take care of so you can sow peace and not drama?  Do you have a “friend” who is constantly stirring up trouble that you need to have a critical conversation with?

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.”  Colossians 3:15

 


Itching Ears

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  2 Timothy 4:3-4

The last days.  Have you heard of them?    Those are the times before Jesus returns to the earth.  It sure feels like the last days, doesn’t it? The last days are what Paul described in 2 Timothy 3-4.  In Matthew 24, Jesus talked about wars and rumors of war, lawlessness increasing and peoples’ love growing cold.  He said that was just the beginning of birth pangs.  In other words, this could go on for awhile and get much worse.

George Barna, a Christian researcher and pastor, published a book in Sept. of 2016 called America at the Crossroads.  In it he explained the difference between fads and trends.  A fad is something that comes and goes in popularity, like leg warmers or Cabbage Patch Dolls.  A trend is something that impacts the culture and causes a shift that lasts.  I would say a recent cultural trend, or shift, came about when Bruce Jenner launched the headline, “Call Me Kaitlyn.”  That was an event that swung many other cultural pieces into motion.

itching2.jpgMoving away from God and toward evil is a trend that will only continue. It is interesting that the reason Paul gave for this trend is because people will have itching ears and will act to suit their passions.   It’s already happening.  People with itching ears don’t want to hear Biblical truth because it might pinpoint a sin habit that they either haven’t come face to face with, or one that they are currently engaged in and don’t want to quit.  They find a different place to go that suits their passions.  Or, as statistics show us, they stop going to church all together.

Part of our itching ears has to do with short attention spans, a consumer based view of what people want in a church, and a make-your-own-sundae approach to belief systems. Barna wrote about how people aren’t just picking and choosing from Biblical truths to form their worldview, but they are gleaning things from the Koran, some from Buddhism, others from New Age principles.  That’s called syncretism.

At least we’ve been warned, so as to not be surprised by any of it.   That’s one of the reasons why Paul wrote what he did to Timothy and to us.  Another purpose is so that we stand firm and not water down the truth to make it easier to handle.  Stand firm in what you firmly believe and have been taught, and don’t let your ears itch.  In the next verses in 2 Timothy 4, Paul admonishes: “Be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

We may or may not be in the last days.  But we can be in our own last days, recognizing that our own lifespan is just a vapor and a mist.  Make the most of them.


The Charge

righteous

I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and because of His appearing and His kingdom; Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not.   2 Timothy 4:1-2 HCSB

Paul was on the home stretch of his life as he wrote these words.  He was imprisoned in Rome and he knew that he was soon going to be executed.  He was writing to Timothy, a follower of Jesus that was at least 25 years younger than Paul.  Paul had discipled him and now he was passing the baton on to Timothy and he wanted to ensure that the Gospel message wouldn’t be lost, watered down, or changed in any way.

Paul was  giving Timothy the charge of maintaining the most important things because he knew he was soon to be executed.   Timothy was to carry on the torch that has been eventually passed on to us, almost 2000 years later.  Why was Timothy to keep the Gospel message going?   Paul gave Timothy three reasons why he should take the baton and run with it, and those reasons apply to us today.

  1. Because of the judgment that awaits all of us.  2 Corinthians 5:10 states, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”  Paul included the judgment in his presentation of the Gospel.  In Acts 24:25 we find that for two years Paul shared with Felix the governor while imprisoned, reasoning about righteousness, self-control and the coming judgment.
  2. Because of Christ’s appearing.  Jesus is coming back, this we know for sure.  In the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25, Jesus told about how five were foolish and five were wise.  The wise ones were ready for the Bridegroom’s returning.  The foolish ones slept and the groom said, “I don’t know you.”    In 2 Timothy 4 Paul talked about receiving the crown of righteousness, not just for him, but “for all those who have loved His appearing.”
  3. Because of Christ’s kingdom.  Most of the parables that Jesus told, especially toward the end of His ministry, were about the kingdom of God.  After Jesus returns and defeats Satan, He will establish an 1000 year actual physical kingdom here on earth.  According to Luke 19 and the parable of the ten minas, what we do during our lives determines our lot in His kingdom.

All three of the things that motivated Paul to proclaim the message of the Gospel must motivate us.  We don’t want to get to the end of our lives and find that we had wasted our words on things that have absolutely no eternal value.  We aren’t all called to be pastors and teachers, but we are all commanded  to proclaim the good news of Jesus in our own way, using the gifts that God has given us–whether convenient or not, in season and out.  


Are you a “good” person, or a Godly person?

good personHaving the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.  2 Timothy 3:5

The verses before this one in 2 Timothy don’t paint a good picture.  Paul wrote that in the last days difficult times would come.  He said that people would be lovers of self and lovers of money, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, amongst other descriptors.  Well that pretty much describes our “selfie” culture, doesn’t it?

Then Paul  said that people would have an appearance of godliness, but deny its power. People who consider themselves to be atheists or nonreligious wouldn’t have an appearance of godliness, nor would they attempt to do so.  It is Christians that would consider themselves godly.   But Paul wrote that many will deny the power that comes through godliness.

I’ve always taken this verse as meaning that we deny God’s power, like the power that comes from accessing the Holy Spirit, the power of the Bible, and the power of prayer.  So many people that are Christians don’t put their money where their mouth is when it comes to those three areas.  They say they believe in prayer, but don’t come to prayer meetings.  They say that the Word is able to change lives and equip us for every good work, but they don’t really read and study it much.  And they may or may not say that they have a relationship with the Holy Spirit.  Many people I know would shy away from that topic.

Lately I’ve been thinking about people I know who say they don’t read the Bible, but call themselves Christians.  I would describe them as “good” people, but not godly people.  There isn’t much power in being a good person, but there is in being godly.   It is making every effort to be diligent, kind, gentle, honest, filled with integrity in everything you do.  It means keeping a clean conscience before God and before others.  We would call that holiness, and that’s something we don’t emphasize much these days.  I guess people think that’s old school or legalistic in this day of grace.  But yet, there is power in it.

Don’t deny the power that comes from godliness.  Positively stated, if you make godliness a priority, you will be fruitful and effective in your Christian life, as 2 Peter 1:8 promises.  It will also keep you from being a lover of self, of money and of pleasure, rather than a love of God.

“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”  2 Timothy 3:2-5

 

*Image from walkingchristian.com