Predictable

He’s about as predictable as a wasp on speed!

There is a commercial running on broadcast television that defines predictable as the comfort in knowing where things are headed. That’s a very lovely yet very narrow definition. Generally, it is defined as “able to be predicted.” If you’re talking about trading on the open market, the comment typically is “the market is volatile and never predictable.” A derogatory definition is “behaving or occurring in a way that’s expected.” Unfortunately, this is a definition I am personally familiar with. A predictable person is one for whom it is easy to anticipate actions; easy to foresee or anticipate what he or she will do. An example of a predictable person is someone who always shows up drunk.

In fiction, we find the predictable boring. In real life, we find the unpredictable terrifying. I’ve heard it said that an artist should paint from the heart, and not always what people expect. Predictability often leads to the dullest work. In comparison, in The Art of War Sun Tzu said, Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.”

When Predictability equals Immutable Truth

Unlike us, God is totally unchangeable, and has revealed to us many things about His immutable character. He is ultimately and fundamentally predictable. I can predict, for instance, that God will never leave me, nor forsake me; that He will work all things out to good for those who love Him; that He will hear and save all those call on His name. To doubt these things or fail to depend on them would be a great insult. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” 

The naturalist believes naturalism is a logical conclusion for atheists. Naturalism maintains that all things in the universe are the byproducts of natural laws, behave according to natural laws, and that such laws cannot be violated. Accordingly, atheists believe theism grants power to an omnipotent being who, by definition of being “all powerful,” could cause the universe to operate in any manner they choose. Here’s an interesting thought: What if any laws we might think we observe are merely the coincidental result of God’s choice to make things happen that way at the exact moment when we’re looking?

Routine versus Schedule

Predictability isn’t something you could say I’ve aspired to embody. It sounds sort of boring, doesn’t it? Not something the Cool Kids are into. I’ve never sought it out. That is, not until after a decade of stumbling around the chaotic territory of bipolar disorder, and, before that, nearly thirty years of active addiction. And when the two met, it was the “perfect storm.” As I struggled to manage my mental illness, and get clean and sober, my father told me I was addicted to chaos. That I needed to live on the edge. I think he was right.

I found it helpful to create routines rather than schedules. (Besides, there would be plenty of time for schedules and punching a clock once I got well and was able to return to full-time gainful employment.) Routine smacks of lifestyle, and I was certainly in need of changing that. For me, stability comes from routine.  I did find benefit, however, in ritual, no matter how contradictory that might sound. For example, morning meditation and regular time in my “war room” like in the movie of the same name. Prayer seemed almost meaningless to me for a long time. I realize now that this was rooted in poor self-image and thinking I deserved nothing of value from God or anyone.

What You Can Do to Help Yourself

Take some time to think about a few concepts, such as what the term predictable means to you. Where do you think this definition or concept originated for you? What do you think the difference is between schedule and routine? Can routines be healthy? What are your daily Dos and Don’ts? What are some of the meaningful or constructive rituals you use daily? What new habits might you be able to cultivate to help you reach your goals?

An example of high predictability would be a mouse who was trained to push a lever after it sees a light. It receives food after it pushes the lever. After the mouse has been trained and repeated this task hundreds of times there will be a high predictability that the mouse will hit the lever once it sees the light again. Do you have a high level of predictability in a particular area that is bad for you? Something that might be sabotaging your goals? Remember, there is absolutely no shame in seeking help for those serious, dangerous or predictable behaviors you just can’t seem to quit on your own.

A Fundamental Orientation of the Heart

Perhaps one of the hardest things we face is taking stock of whether our actions match what we claim to believe. Our worldview – that is, how we see the world and our place in it, or, if you prefer, our “philosophy of life” – should be obvious from our behavior. A worldview is not just a set of basic concepts but a fundamental orientation of the heart.

Since the events of 9/11, the term worldview is often used as a very general label for how people view the cultures with which their culture clashes. This is very important to note, as a worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or unconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world. A worldview is sometimes considered to be the fundamental perspective from which we address every issue of life.

From a Human Perspective

Imagine someone who thinks life has no true purpose. For that person, events are random. “I live, then I die.” A meaningless existence requires nothing from anyone. There is no need to check our bearings along the way to see of we’re “on track.” There is no need to justify our choices, values, or goals. There is a quiet desperation that drives humanity to think about the question, “Does life have meaning?” Even non-religious people understand that man has a burning desire to make sense of his life. Humanist Deane Starr writes, “Humans find their most complete fulfillment, whether real or imaginary, in some sort of intimacy with the Ultimate.” Our greatest and most difficult achievement is to find meaning in life. It is well known that many people lose their will to live because such meaning evades them.

What happens when someone fails to find a reason for living? Often they experience a spectrum of emotional and behavioral aberrations. Jay Asher published a book in 2007 titled Thirteen Reasons Why. Netflix has produced a mini-series based on Asher’s book, which has caused quite an uproar across the country. The story begins when Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker—his classmate and crush—who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the age group of 10 to 24 years. It is a critical problem in America. Educators and mental health professionals have mixed feelings about Thirteen Reasons Why. Dr. Nicole Quinlan, a pediatric psychologist at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA, objects to the show’s graphic, gratuitous portrayal of Hanna Baker’s suicide. I watched the mini-series, and I was shocked and upset by the final scene. I didn’t expect to see Hanna Baker drag a razor blade up both of her arms while sitting in a bathtub of warm water. It was, indeed, horrific.

Hanna Baker is a fictional character, but her plight is far from pretend. She was hounded by classmates, bullied online, and was labeled a “slut” after a football jock posted a random shot of her dress flying up when she came down a sliding board during her date with him. He intimated in his online post that Hanna was “easy.” Hanna’s problems worsened when she was raped by another member of the football team. On each side of the cassette tapes, she exposed one person (one “reason”) why she decided to end her life. Her thirteen excuses. Teenage angst is a very real and difficult emotion. Hanna, as are many teens, was trying to find meaning in what she felt was an already meaningless existence. Her worldview was that life was without purpose. The fault of the story depicted in Thirteen Reasons Why is its lack of providing meaning, hope, or the option of seeking treatment.

From a Biblical Perspective

Developing a biblical worldview involves both a mindset and a willset. First, how does the Bible explain and interpret my life and the world around me? Once this question is answered and accepted, the next aspect of a biblical worldview presents the challenge of putting this view into practice. A worldview is the framework of our most basic beliefs that shapes our view of and for the world, and is the basis for our decisions and actions. Worldview leads to values, which lead to actions. Beliefs clearly shape our behavior.

Man’s attempts to explain his existence are just that: man’s attempts. Within the world, man’s experience and perceptions of the infinite universe are limited and inadequate. We need help from the “outside.” This is what a biblical worldview is. Help from the outside. More fundamental than any worldview that can be delineated by ideas and propositions is the religious or faith orientation of the heart. There are only two basic commitments, leading to two basic conditions of life: “man converted to God,” and “man averted from God.” The commitment one makes is decisive for all life and thoughts. From a Christian perspective,  worldview is not so much a matter of theoretical thought expressed in propositions, but is a deeply rooted commitment of the heart. Theory and practice are a product of the will, not the intellect; of the heart, not the head.

How Would My Life be Different if I Lived Out my Convictions?

I have spent most of my life manipulating others. For reasons best understood by reading my testimony, https://theaccidentalpoet.net/about/, I felt the need to hide, run away, or escape. I had a difficult time telling the truth, and, because of a victim mentality, I was able to rationalize my behavior. I became a born-again Christian at age 13, but never fully developed a relationship with, nor the mind of, Christ. When I began escaping through drugs and alcohol, I set off down a road that ultimately took me until August of last year to get off of and head in the right direction.

How could I act in such a callous and selfish manner if I was a Christian? I now understand the reason. One of my sponsors in Alcoholics Anonymous kept saying, “I hope you get God out of your head and into your heart.” Each time I heard that, I became defensive. Who are you to tell me I don’t have God in my heart? My former pastor said the same thing when he commented, “You don’t seem to have a heart for God.” What? I continued becoming defensive.  Several things happened over the past year that finally got through to me

First, I returned to the church of my youth where I accepted Christ. Within a few months, our church got a new pastor from New Jersey. Pastor Mike is exactly what I needed. He has a wealth of experience counseling Christians struggling with addiction. In our several one-on-one meetings, he has been able to help me restructure how I see my addiction and the many excuses I was holding on to as justification. He has also helped me take a different approach to my chronic back pain. He made an amazing statement: “Have you ever considered that your chronic pain gives you the opportunity to share in the sufferings of Christ?” Whoa!

Last August I made the ridiculous decision to “help myself” to some of my mother’s oxycodone. Unfortunately, this was not the first (or second, or third) time I’ve done so. The result was serious damage to my relationship with her and the rest of my family. Interestingly, this is something I feared would happen if I did not stop using drugs. Especially using mom’s medication! I remain estranged from the family, and can only continue on my road to recovery, turning my relationship with the family over to Christ. I know I am delivered from the bondage of addiction. I have to live that freedom all over again each day. One day at a time.

Luke 6:45 is a Scripture I meditate on daily. It is very convincing, and seems to confirm what my former pastor and a former sponsor said regarding my lack of having God in my heart. The verse states, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” God is concerned about the hidden man of the heart, which is our inner life. Our inner life is what we think about. And like the Scriptures above indicate, how we live and who we are.

A Change of Behavior Requires a Change of Heart

It says in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Why do we sin, do bad things, and make mistakes? Because of our heart, which the Bible says is desperately wicked. Why do so many people struggle with drugs and pornography, returning again and again to these sins and vices even though they know their lives are being ruined by them? Because our heart often leads us astray. We cannot live perfect lives, and we cannot save ourselves from the punishment that we deserve. Moreover, it is impossible to deny the flesh, resist temptation, and stop living a self-centered and sinful life without a true change of heart.

Can this explain my constant relapsing over nearly forty years? Can it account for my selfishness? The disrespect and dishonor I’ve shown toward my parents and siblings? Does it help explain how I can “believe” and “speak” about Christ and recovery while secretly using drugs? Worldview, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, is how we think about the world and our place in it. This basic belief establishes our values, which directly control our actions.

O Lord, how heartily sorry I am for failing to establish the proper Christian worldview, and to hide your Word in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.

It is only through my embracing a true Christian perspective and asking Christ to take away my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh that I can hope to act from a position of love and respect.

The Narrow Way

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14, Berean Study Bible)

Jesus was essentially saying there are only two options: heaven or hell. There is no middle ground. Remember Revelation 3:15-16, where God told the Laodiceans, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.” Concerning the way of sin and sinners, the gate is wide. It stands open. Inviting. You may go in at this gate with all your lusts about you. It gives no check to appetites or passions. It is a broad way. Truly, it is an easy way. There are no qualifications. There are many paths, and a choice of sinful ways. There is company in this way. But what profit is there in being willing to go to hell with others?

In saying “difficult is the way which leads to life,” Jesus was explaining how hard being a Christian really is. I am reading a book by Kyle Idleman called Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus. http://www.notafan.com/ Idleman reminds us of the words of Jesus in Matthew 15:8: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” We are to be more than whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but full of dust and dirt and spiderwebs and dead man’s bones on the inside. Likewise, it is wrong to appear righteous on the outside, but full of hypocrisy on the inside.

Idelman makes an important comment in his book. Many people take the wrong road, and only a few find the narrow path. If that’s true, then wouldn’t it make sense for us to slow down? Shouldn’t we hit the brakes, pull over to the berm, and make sure we are on the road that leads to life? Is it possible that you think you are on the narrow road but you are actually on the broad road? Could it be that you have set the cruise control, turned up the volume on your local Christian radio station, and are unwittingly traveling down the road of destruction with a Jesus fish on your bumper?

Donald Whitney, of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, once said, “If a person is wrong about being right with God, then ultimately it really doesn’t matter what he or she is right about.” So before you continue driving down the road, assuming you are on the “right” or “narrow” path, Idleman is suggesting that you slow down and look at some of the billboards and road signs and ask yourself what road you’re really on. Is it possible that you are wrong about being right with God?

Just How Narrow is the Gate?

Jesus is the door through which all must enter eternal life. There is no other way because He alone is “the way, the truth and the life” (See John 14:6) The way to eternal life is restricted to just one avenue—Christ. In this sense, the way is narrow because it is the only way, and relatively few people will go through the narrow gate. Many more will attempt to find an alternative route to God. They will try to get there through man made rules and regulations, through false religion, through good deeds, or on their own self-effort.

These who are “many” will follow the broad road that leads to eternal destruction, while the sheep hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him along the narrow way to eternal life. (See John 10:7-11)

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Entering the narrow gate is not easy. Jesus made this clear when He instructed His followers to “strive” to do so. The Greek word translated “strive” is agonizomai, from which we get the English word agonize. The implication here is that those who seek to enter the narrow gate must do so by struggle and strain, like a running athlete straining toward the finish line, all muscles taut and giving his all in the effort. But let me be clear. No amount of human effort saves us; salvation is by the grace of God through the gift of faith. (See Ephesians 2:8-9) No one will ever earn heaven by striving for it. But entering the narrow gate is still difficult because of the opposition of human pride, our natural love of sin, and the opposition of Satan and the world in his control, all of which battle against us in the pursuit of eternity.

Jesus says the narrow gate leads to a “hard” road, one that will take us through hardships and difficult decisions. Following Jesus requires crucifying our flesh (Galatians 2:20, 5:24, Romans 6:2), It involves living by faith, enduring trials with Christlike patience, and living a lifestyle separate from the world. When faced with the choice between a narrow, bumpy road and a wide, paved highway, most of us choose the easier road. Human nature gravitates toward comfort and pleasure. When faced with the reality of denying themselves to follow Jesus, most people turn away. (See John 6:66) Jesus never sugar-coated the truth, and the truth is that not many people are willing to pay the price to follow Him.

The famous biblical scholar Matthew Henry (Here is a link to his commentary on the entire Bible book-by-book: http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise/) addressed this issue in such a beautiful and comprehensive manner that I am including his words verbatim. Henry said

Christ came to teach us, not only what we are to know and believe, but what we are to do; not only toward God, but toward men; not only toward those of our party and persuasion, but toward men in general, all with whom we have to do. We must do that to our neighbour which we ourselves acknowledge to be fit and reasonable. We must, in our dealings with men, suppose ourselves in the same case and circumstances with those we have to do with, and act accordingly. There are but two ways right and wrong, good and evil; the way to heaven and the way to hell; in the one or other of these all are walking: there is no middle place hereafter, no middle way now. All the children of men are saints or sinners, godly or ungodly. See concerning the way of sin and sinners, that the gate is wide, and stands open. You may go in at this gate with all your lusts about you; it gives no check to appetites or passions. It is a broad way; there are many paths in it; there is choice of sinful ways. There is a large company in this way. But what profit is there in being willing to go to hell with others, because they will not go to heaven with us? The way to eternal life is narrow. We are not in heaven as soon as we are got through the strait gate. Self must be denied, the body kept under, and corruptions mortified. Daily temptations must be resisted; duties must be done. We must watch in all things, and walk with care; and we must go through much tribulation. And yet this way should invite us all; it leads to life: to present comfort in the favour of God, which is the life of the soul; to eternal bliss, the hope of which at the end of our way, should make all the difficulties of the road easy to us. This plain declaration of Christ has been disregarded by many who have taken pains to explain it away; but in all ages the real disciple of Christ has been looked on as a singular, unfashionable character; and all that have sided with the greater number, have gone on in the broad road to destruction. If we would serve God, we must be firm in our religion. Can we often hear of the strait gate and the narrow way, and how few there are that find it, without being in pain for ourselves, or considering whether we are entered on the narrow way, and what progress we are making in it?

Matthew 7:13-14 simply says, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (RSV)

I can think of no better way to end this critical discussion than to provide an example. Picture this scene with me. You’re walking along an old country road with thousands of other people, and you come to a dead end. There at the end of the road you see two gates. One gate is very large, and you can see that if you enter through that gate, there is a very wide, well worn dirt road on the other side. The road looks very pleasant and easy to travel on. What’s more, the vast majority of people are going through that wide gate. It looks like easily 95% of them are going in through that gate. It’s very tempting to just go that way. After all, everyone else is going that direction. You think to yourself, all those people can’t be wrong, can they?

Then you look at the other gate. It’s narrow. In fact, it’s so narrow, that only one person can go in at a time. And on the other side of that narrow gate, is a very narrow path. Again, it’s so narrow, that only one person can walk it at a time. Also, this path looks like it will be very difficult. You can see that it heads steeply uphill into the mountains with thousand foot drop-offs on both sides. What’s more, only a few people are deciding to take this path. You stand there, looking at both gates, and both ways. Which one should you take? All of us have to make a choice about which gate we will enter, and which path we will walk. In fact, we have already made that decision. Some of you have entered the narrow gate, and you are walking on the narrow way that leads to eternal life. Others of you have entered the wide gate and are walking on the broad way that leads to eternal destruction. The good news is that it is not too late to change paths! If you have entered the wrong gate, you can still go back to the narrow gate, enter through it, and begin walking on the narrow path that leads to life.

I hope this post will serve to guide you in making one of the most important decisions of your life. One that will effect you for all of eternity. May God bless you and guide you as you ponder the dubious benefits of the “easy life” versus the spectacular rewards of choosing to take the hard road.  As Robert Frost so prophetically said in “The Road Not Taken,”

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
©2017 Steven Barto

Words Create

I’m sure you’ve heard the cliche “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Think about this, however: a thousand words can create an amazing picture. There is no finer example of creating something with words than the Bible. The Book of Genesis puts us at the very edge of eternity, at the moment God created the Heavens and Earth out of vast nothingness. All you could see and all you could not see was a bottomless emptiness. An inky blackness. Interpretations differ as to precisely what this means, but taking the phrase “without form, and void” at face value, it seems to indicate that the Earth began its planetary life as an unformed, chaotic mass of material.

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God spoke, “Light!” and light appeared. He said, “Sky! In the middle of the waters, separate water from water!” He made sky with His words. He separated the water under the sky from the water above the sky. He said, “Water beneath heaven, gather into one place. Land appear. Earth, grow all varieties of seed-bearing plants; every sort of fruit-bearing tree.” Then He said, “Swarm, ocean, with fish and all sea life. Birds, fly through the sky over Earth.” God spoke, “Earth, generate life! Every sort and kind: cattle and reptiles and wild animals, all kinds!”

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Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out demons by speaking. He pardoned all of humanity as He hung dying on the cross when he spoke the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (See Luke 23:34)

Water Color of Crucifixion

James 3:5-8 says, “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.”

Of all the creatures on this planet, only man has the ability to communicate through the spoken word. The power to use words is a unique and powerful gift from God.Words do more than convey information. The power of our words can actually destroy one’s spirit, even stir up hatred and violence. Consider for a moment the long-term negative impact a father’s constant putdowns can have on his son. Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Not only do words exacerbate wounds, they inflict them directly. Are we using words to build people up or destroy them? Are they filled with hate or love, bitterness or blessing, complaining or compliments, lust or love, victory or defeat? Hope or despair? Like tools, words can be used to help us reach our goals or to send us spiraling into a deep depression. Words are so important that we are going to give an account of what we say when we stand before the Lord Jesus Christ. (See Matthew 12:36-37)

Jesus reminds us that the words we speak are actually the overflow of our hearts. (See Matthew 12:34-35) When we become a Christian, there is a change of heart. Naturally, there is an expectancy that a change of speech follows. The sinner’s mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. (See Romans 3:14) When we turn our lives over to Christ, we gladly confess that Jesus is Lord. As believers, our mouths are opened to praise and glorify God. (See Romans 15:6) Before we were saved, we lived in spiritual death. Paul describes those who are dead in sin in Romans 3:13, where he writes, “Their throats are open graves.” When we have love and hope and joy in our hearts, our words are full of blessing. So if we fill our hearts with the love of Christ, we increase the odds that truth and purity will come out of our mouths.

The words we speak hold power. Power to create new possibilities or to close them down. Power to build relationships or to damage them. Power to lift people up or to pull them down. We often don’t realize the impact our words have on ourselves and others. If  we did, we’d do far less complaining! You also would never hear yourself saying things like It’s impossible,  I’m totally hopeless, I had no choice. Such statements do nothing but undermine and complicate your situation. Psychologists have found that our subconscious mind interprets what it hears very literally. The words that come out of your mouth serve to create the reality you inhabit, whether good or bad. Unfortunately, it is more common that we unconsciously sabotage our success by using language that undermines our opinions, amplifies our problems, and chips away at our confidence.

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Whenever we moan or complain about our lives to others, we are putting those negative words out there to become a reality. When you say something out loud enough times, your words become the truth, not only in your own mind, but in the minds of everyone who hears you saying them. If this is really so then ask yourself, Do you really want to admit to yourself and everybody you know that you are unlucky in love, unsuccessful at your career, miserable, or a failure? Your words are creating the life you live. Begin to choose carefully the words you speak. Practice improved self-awareness over the words you use to describe yourself and your life. It would be wise to avoid negative, powerless words such as can’t, shouldn’t, impossible, won’t. They strip you of your ability to manifest the life you want to live. I can’t believe how many times I’ve caught myself saying I’m an idiot, or that things will never get better.

What you say goes. Therefore, when you catch yourself thinking negatively, redirect yourself. Don’t say, “I am unhealthy and overweight.” Turn this into a positive, constructive statement, such as, “I am in the process of becoming healthier, and every day I get closer to my ideal weight.” It important for you to believe this is not merely a question of semantics. Words paint your reality. Choose them wisely. The next time you open your mouth to complain, or put yourself or others down, ask yourself, “Why am I about to say this?” How is this statement going to serve me or my happiness?” Most importantly, you will realize that buying into these fears will do nothing for your happiness. Negative words can only make you feel worse, ultimately manifesting negative consequences in your life.

Being in Relationship With God

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:2) (NIV)

What a fantastic Scripture reference. It speaks of a profound desire to commune with God. As I often do, I grabbed Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language, and I turned to Psalm 42. Peterson translates the first few verses as follows: “A White-tailed deer drinks from the creek; I want to drink God, deep drafts of God. I’m thirsty for God – alive. I wonder, ‘Will I ever make it – arrive and drink in God’s presence?'” (The Message)

Let’s consider what it means to be in a relationship. Dictionary.com says relationship is “a connection, association, or involvement…an emotional or other connection.” We are social animals. God created us that way. Genesis 2:18 tells us God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” (NLT) So it is only natural that we are created for being in relationship with God. Obviously, all relationships require work. They don’t just happen. When it comes to a relationship with God, we tend to feel as though we inherited our faith from our parents, and that we are one of His. Although family does have an impact on what we believe, the time comes when we must decide for ourselves. Until we make that decision, there is no real basis for relationship.

Foundation is important in all things, including relationships. Decide what you truly feel about God and tell Him. He’s big enough. He can take it. You can’t tell Him something He hasn’t already heard. My mentor and friend from church  believes in writing a letter to God. You might be thinking, as I did initially, “But God must know this stuff already, right? He knows the number of hairs on my head.” True, but the letter will serve as a cement slab on which you can erect your relationship with God. (Write out your concerns, doubts, and feelings in long-hand. I recommend not using your laptop for this exercise. A handwritten note is more personal.)

The number-one key in a good relationship is knowing your expectations.  Once you establish the base for your relationship with God, you can begin to build upon it every day through prayer and devotional reading of the Scriptures. I can’t overstate this point: Don’t sit on negative feelings too long. Otherwise, you will develop an offense or resentment toward God. Satan loves this because it tends to cut us off from God. As much as this is true in relationships with friends, family, or spouses, it is more so in a relationship with your Heavenly Father. The longer you wait to talk, the harder it gets. If you’re mad at God, go to Him as soon as possible. Preferably in a private place.

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Relationship is about finding and meeting God. As Perrott puts it, “It’s about starting and nurturing an honest relationship with our Creator. It’s about coming to terms with ourselves.” Sarah Young is the author of a daily devotional titled Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence.” Her reading for March 17, says, in part, “Come to Me for understanding since I know you far better than you know yourself. I comprehend you in all your complexity; no detail of your life is hidden from Me. I view you through eyes of grace, so don’t be afraid…when no one else seems to understand you, simply draw closer to Me. Rejoice in the One who understands you completely and loves you perfectly.”

The following comments are from Chip Ingram, Teaching Pastor at Living on the Edge. I was truly shocked by how much I could relate, minus the Marine upbringing part. Relationships, whether with a spouse or Almighty God, cannot be fear-based. Having a real, intimate relationship with God is not about using the right words, spiritual techniques, twisting God’s arm, or trying to live a perfect life. As we grow closer to Him, we come to see that He already knows our heart.

I spent many years living under a performance mentality, partly due to my “Marine” upbringing. I was taught from a young age that discipline and performance were paramount, so when I became a Christian I approached my relationship with God the same way. I remember I used to go through a long prayer list every day, worrying that I’d make a mistake and leave someone or something out. I also thought that in order to “get God on my team” there must be a certain formula, or specific actions that I needed to follow. But nothing I tried seemed to bring me feeling closer to God. Living on the Edge

Naturally, there are some basics we need to consider. For example, we need to make a daily habit of confessing our sin. If sin is the barrier in our relationship with God, then confession removes that barrier. When we confess our sins, He promises to forgive us of those sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (See 1 John 1:9) Forgiveness is what restores a strained relationship. However, confession is more than simply saying, “I’m sorry for my sin, God.” It is heartfelt contrition out of recognition that our sin is an offense to a Holy God. It is confession born out of realizing our sin nailed Jesus to the cross.

Of course, to have a closer relationship with God we need to listen when He speaks. Many people today are chasing a supernatural experience of hearing God’s voice, but Peter tells us we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which we would do well to pay attention. That “more sure prophetic word” is the Bible. In the Bible, we hear God’s voice to us. It is through the God-breathed Scriptures that we become “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (See 2 Timothy 3:16-17) If we want to grow closer to God, we should read His Word regularly. When we read Scripture, we are listening to God speak through it by his Spirit who illuminates the Word to us.

Another critical component is to speak to God daily through prayer.  The Gospels provide many examples of Jesus secreting Himself away to commune with the Heavenly Father. Prayer is much more than simply a way to ask God for things we need or want. Consider the model prayer that Jesus gives His disciples in Matthew 6:9-13. The first three petitions in that prayer are directed toward God (may His name be hallowed, may His kingdom come, may His will be done). The last three petitions are requests we make of God after we’ve taken care of the first three (give us our daily bread, forgive us our sins, lead us not into temptation). I have found that reading the Psalms on a regular basis has enhanced my prayer life. Many of the Psalms are heartfelt cries to God with adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication.

Obedience will help us grow closer to God. Jesus told His disciples in the upper room, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (See John 14:23) James tells us that as we submit ourselves to God through obedience, resist the devil, and draw near to God, He will draw near to us. (See James 4:7-8) Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that our obedience is our “living sacrifice” of thanksgiving to God. I believe obedience is our proper response to the grace of God we received through salvation. We don’t earn salvation through our obedience, but we were bought with a price. Oh, what a tremendous price it was! The only true way we can show our love and gratitude toward God is to honor His Word.

It might sound simplistic, but consider how we develop a closer relationship with other human beings. We spend time with them in conversation, opening our hearts to them and listening to them at the same time. We acknowledge when we’ve done wrong and seek forgiveness. We love them. We treat them well and sacrifice our own needs to fulfill theirs. It’s not really that different with our relationship to our Heavenly Father. Surely, we have to admit to ourselves that we are social beings in need of relationship. Furthermore, we need to see relationship with God as critical to joy, peace, fulfillment, and a sense of belonging in an otherwise vast and scary universe.

How few people we know, or even know of, who experience the kind of closeness with God that our hearts long for. Even in Scripture only a handful of people seemed to have a special relationship with the Father. Abraham was called a friend of God. The Lord spoke with Moses face to face. Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on a throne. Paul was taken up into the third heaven, and the Apostle John had an incredible vision, which he recorded in the book of Revelation. These are not every day encounters with Jesus. Each of these individuals developed a closeness with God that ultimately changed their lives, as well as hundreds of millions of others over the last 2,000 years.

God does not have a secret society of intimate friends. We are as intimate with God as we choose to be. It is our desire, our abiding, our purity that will determine the depth of our intimacy with Him. Intimacy is understanding that I may feel “hinged” or “unhinged.” It is knowing that I must sit at the feet of Jesus, so that I can walk with integrity as His friend. It is experiencing the closeness of the Lord and at other times wondering if He is near. Essentially, intimacy is abandonment of ourselves to the Lord—abandonment born out of trust and an intense longing to know the living God.

A Study in Romans Chapter 8

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, he explains that we are saved by grace, and not by obeying the Law of Moses. In Romans 6, he dealt with the old objection that if we are under grace, then why should we bother to change our ways. If all our sins are forgiven, why worry about sin? We read in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound?  God forbid!” Grace is no excuse to sin. We died to sin when we were crucified with Christ.

In Chapter 7, Paul clarifies the relationship between the law and sin. He begins with the example that the law has authority over someone only so long as he lives. When we died to sin, we also died to the Law of Moses. In the eyes of the law, we are dead. We’ve been given a new life in Christ. Abundant and free. We are supposed to avoid sin, but sin is no longer defined by the law of Moses. Rather, it is defined by the character of Christ.

In the eighth chapter of Romans, Paul makes a declaration of freedom; spiritual freedom through the Holy Spirit. He also speaks of four freedoms we who are believers are to enjoy right now. Remember in our last lesson that Paul told us we are saved by grace.  We are not saved by obeying the written law. This, we discussed, does not of course give us permission to sin. Rather, we should serve God by being slaves to righteousness rather than being slaves to our flesh.

Chapters 6, 7 and 8 of Romans deal with sanctification. In Chapter 6, Paul shows us that we must not continue in sin, but live in holiness. The main theme of Chapter 6 is surrender. Just because we are under grace as born-again Christians, we cannot continue to sin so that grace may abound. Romans 6:1-2 says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! Grace is no excuse to sin. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Remember, we died to sin when we were crucified with Christ. What had to be done was done. We are to walk in a new, resurrected life with Christ and not serve our flesh.

We are fleshly creatures, for sure. We have a body. We have a mind, will and a soul. We talked in the previous lesson about the struggle within us to live the Christian life. In Romans 7:24-25, Paul writes, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 8:1 speaks of the ultimate freedom. It says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”  Paul goes on to say in verse 2 that the Law of the Spirit in Christ Jesus has made us free from the Law of Sin and Death.”

The condemnation spoken about in verse one refers to “guilt.”  It refers us back to Romans 6:3-5 concerning how we were baptized in to Jesus Christ. We were baptized into His death, and  we were buried with Him. Likewise, we were raised up in new life with Him by the glory of the Father. We walk in a newness of life. For if we were planted (that is, grafted in) together with Christ in the likeness of His death, we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection. Our old man is crucified with Christ. The body of sin was destroyed that we might no longer have to serve sin.

The second verse of Chapter 8 deals with two competing laws. The Law of the Spirit of Christ Jesus and the Law of Sin and Death. These are the two most powerful Laws in the Universe; the Law of the Spirit of Christ Jesus alone is stronger than the Law of Sin and Death. This means that if the believer attempts to live for God by any manner other than Faith in Christ and the Cross, he is doomed to fail. In reviewing our prior lesson on Chapter 7, we recall talking about how it’s a struggle to live the Christian life. Romans 7:24 says, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Who will set me free?” Romans 7:25 says, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

We again see the answer in Romans 8:2, which says, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” There are fifteen things which the law of Moses could not do that are worth mentioning here:  the law could not justify us; it could not free us from sin and death; it could not free us from condemnation; it could not redeem us; it could not give us an inheritance; it could not bring righteousness; it could not impart the Holy Spirit; it could not perform miracles; it could not free us from the curse; it could not impart faith; it could not impart grace; it could not make us perfect; it could not control sin in man; it could not keep man from sin; and it could not enable a man to obey.

Let’s look at those freedoms we mentioned earlier. First, there is freedom from judgment. Romans 8:1-4, in the Amplified Bible, tells us, “Therefore [there is] now no condemnation (no adjudging guilty of wrong) for those who are in Christ Jesus, who live [and] walk not after the dictates of the flesh, but after the dictates of the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life [which is] in Christ Jesus [the law of our new being] has freed me from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the Law could not do, [its power] being weakened by the flesh [the entire nature of man without the Holy Spirit].  Sending His own Son in the guise of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, [God] condemned sin in the flesh [subdued, overcame, deprived it of its power over all who accept that sacrifice]. So that the righteous and just requirement of the Law might be fully met in us who live and move not in the ways of the flesh but in the ways of the Spirit [our lives governed not by the standards and in according to the dictates of the flesh, but controlled by the Holy Spirit.]

Second, there is freedom from defeat. Romans 8:5-17 talks about how those that are after the flesh mind (i.e., pay attention to) the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, they mind the things of the Spirit. The phrase “after the flesh” literally means that which you set your affections on. Those who set their affections on the things of the flesh will naturally fulfill them.  Of course, verse 6 tells us that to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is peace and life. Minding the things of the flesh is against God in every way. Such a mind will not obey the law of God, nor can it do so because it submits itself to sin. As long as the sinful mind lives in rebellion it cannot please God. So verse 8 tells us they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

The good news: If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwells in you. Quicken here means to make alive. You might remember Romans 7 being filled with words like “I,” “my,” and “me.” Romans 8 is characterized by the word “Spirit” 17 times. Through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have power to live a Christian life.

That kind of power is available to you when the Holy Spirit controls your mind. For the Apostle Paul, there are only two different mind sets, only two different thought patterns.  They are at odds with one another. Your mind is either controlled by the sinful nature or by the Spirit of Christ. There is no half-measure. In fact, Paul makes it very clear in verse 8 that if you have not the Spirit of Christ you are none of his. He means you’re not quite a Christian yet. When you trust Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing your inheritance. (See Ephesians 1:13). The seal of the Holy Spirit is a metaphor for how God has given each believer the power of the Holy Spirit living inside enabling us to live differently than we did before.  We know the sinful nature is hostile to God. So if we have the Spirit of Christ in us, yet choose our fleshly behaviors, we grieve the Holy Spirit.

We get freedom from discouragement when we have the Spirit of Christ in us. Just as we get defeated when we feel like a failure, God knows we get discouraged when we don’t have Hope: when we don’t see purpose or meaning in our lives. What often opens the door to discouragement is pain and suffering. Paul says “look, I know you all are going to have pain and tough times, it’s part of life; part of living life as a believer in a hostile world. But it’s going to be worth it all when we see Jesus. Verse 12 tells us we are debtors not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. We owe the flesh nothing. It has no more control of our lives. We must not live in the sins of the flesh or we shall die. But if we will put to death the practices of the flesh by the Spirit, we shall live. Let’s look at Galatians 5:16-18.  My study Bible has the subheading of “victory.” The verses say, “This I say then, walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other so that you cannot do the things that you would. But if you be led of the Spirit, you are not under the law.” We are going to get into this more in depth in a few weeks when we shift our focus from Romans to Galatians and study the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.

Despite our trials, our weakness and our sins, “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” God does not cause all things, but he allows them and works with them for his purpose. He has a plan for us, and we can be confident that he will complete his work in us. God planned in advance that we should become like his Son, Jesus Christ. So he called us through the Gospel, justified us through faith in his Son, and united us with him in his glory: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (See Romans 8:29-30)

The meaning of foreknowledge and predestination is vigorously debated, and this verse does not resolve the debate, for Paul is not focusing on these words here (nor does he elsewhere). Paul is not commenting, for example, on whether God allows people to reject the glory he has planned for them. Paul’s purpose here, as he nears the climax of his presentation of the Gospel, is to assure readers that they do not need to worry about their salvation. If they want it, they’ll get it. And for rhetorical effect, Paul speaks even of being glorified in the past tense. It is as good as done. Even though we have struggles in this life, we can count on glory in the next life.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all — how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? (verses 31-32). If God went so far as to give us his Son even when we were sinners, we can be sure that He will give us everything else that we need to make it. We can be sure that He is not going to get angry at us and take away His offer.

“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies” (v. 33). On the day of judgment, no one can accuse us, for God has declared us not guilty. No one can condemn us, for Christ our Savior is interceding for us: “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (v. 34). We have not just a sacrifice for our sins, but also a living Savior who continues to help us in our journey toward glory. Paul’s rhetorical skill shines in the stirring climax of the chapter: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’” (verses 35-37, quoting Psalm 44:22) Can our troubles separate us from God? Even if we are killed for the faith, have we lost the battle?

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) I like the fact that the Apostle Paul did not these words that we will become conquerors if we work at it; rather, he said we are more than conquerors right now. This simply means that the work has been done by Christ. The enemy is defeated. We died to sin when Christ died, and we are raised up in life with Him. If we start acting like it, seeing ourselves as more than conquerors, we will live a prosperous and victorious life. Start looking through the eyes of faith. See yourself prospering, and keep that image in your heart and mind.

From Head to Heart

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

This statement by the Lord Jesus begins in a very profound manner: “And this is eternal life.” To complete such a statement requires comprehensive truth. If the statement had started with “this is included in eternal life,” many non-comprehensive matters could be used to finish the statement. After all, we could certainly argue that forgiveness of sins is included in eternal life. Escaping hell and securing heaven are also included in eternal life. Likewise, meaning and purpose for living are included in eternal life. Additionally, we find spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit in eternal life. Of course, fellowship in the body of Christ and new understanding of the Scriptures are included. Nevertheless, none of these individually, nor all of these collectively, are sufficient to complete the statement: “And this is eternal life.”

To finish that profound beginning, we need to add an all-encompassing truth. We must speak of the full dimensions of eternal life. What is large enough to complete that majestic opening? Only the one reality of knowing God would be adequate: “that they may know You.” Yes, knowing God is what eternal life is all about. It is only through meeting the Lord that forgiveness is found. It is only by being in Christ that we escape hell and secure heaven. Then, it is only through getting acquainted with the Lord that meaning and purpose for our lives are made real to us. Also, it is only through a growing intimacy of trust in Christ that spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit can properly mature. Furthermore, it is only through an increasing acquaintanceship with the Lord that Christian fellowship and biblical insight are appropriately developed.

These truths certainly concur with those prophetic words of old that promised a new covenant of grace to replace the old covenant of law. “I will make a new covenant…not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers…But this is the covenant that I will make…I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people…they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Hebrews 8:11 applies these words to followers of Christ. “All shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.” The new covenant provides a growing, intimate acquaintanceship for all who will walk in its terms of grace.

A good friend of mine has said to me repeatedly, “I hope one day you get God out of your head and into your heart.” Naturally, I’ve argued again and again that I already have God in my heart. Then I think about many of the decisions I make. How I decide (basically, how I rationalize) that the rules don’t apply to me. I decide to do something because it suits my situation. I feel justified because of how I’ve been treated, or because others have been able to “get away with it.” On the surface, it seems like nothing more than survival. But when I consider my behavior from a Christian worldview, I realize what I’ve done is unacceptable.

Consider, for example, writing a check. This is a normal everyday practice for millions of Americans. For me, I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve written many checks hoping to cover them “in time,” justifying my decision because I needed medicine or food, or the rent was due. As you can imagine, each time I do that, I increase the odds that I will not be able to cover every check. When I reflect on that behavior now, I think of two of the Ten Commandments. We are not supposed to steal, and we are not to bear false witness. Isn’t writing a bad check breaking both Commandments? Is this proper Christian behavior?

Psalm 119:10-11 says, “With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” (NASB) A pastor friend of mine, who comes from a lineage of pastors, said he memorized Scripture growing up in order to aid in standing against the wiles of the devil. It is certainly not a fool-proof solution to sin (we are, after all, finite, fallible, easily tempted), but he is able to consistently avoid sexual immorality, such as pornography, has remained a virgin until marriage, and in the two years I’ve known him I have never heard him utter a curse word or use the Lord’s name in vain.

What I’ve come to understand is that although I have God in my heart, I have not given Him every room. It’s funny, but I see some of this as sinful pride. Like I’m saying I am too far gone even for Christ to save. Thankfully, I don’t fully believe this, and it’s only been a passing thought here and there. It is truly a slap in the face of Christ to tell Him what He did on the cross was enough for everyone in the entire world but me. When I get the sense that I’m acting as though I believe this, I repent of it immediately. There could be no greater propitiation for my sin. There is no other solution. The entire Creation has been groaning since the Fall as a result of sin entering the world. Obviously, nothing else could rectify the problem but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

 

One Day – From the Journal of Katie Davis (September 2, 2008)

Until very recently, I had forgotten about God’s unconditional and undying love for mankind. For me specifically, and for every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth in general. I am reading a book I borrowed from an elder at my church called Kisses From Katie, written by a young woman who went from high school to Uganda at age 18 to care for and teach Ugandan children. The conditions in the villages are horrific and deplorable. Her love for the people blinded her to the filth and stench.

Katie Davis is a young woman who, at 18 years old, senior class president, and homecoming queen, left Nashville, Tennessee over Christmas break of her senior year for “a short mission trip” to Uganda. Her life was turned completely inside out. She found herself so moved by the people of Uganda and the needs she saw that she knew her calling was to return and care for them. And so she did after graduating from high school. Her book takes us on a journey that can only come from radical love. Katie chose to sleep on a tiny cot in an orphanage, delivering first aid to children who have lost their parents to HIV Aids, famine, and, too often, war and murder.

Katie stayed in Uganda for more than a year, where she moved off her cot and into a house large enough to start a small school and adopt nine orphaned children. Her ministry has grown into an NGO (non-government organization) that now operates a school program for hundreds of children.

In keeping with a promise she made to her parents, she returned to the United States in 2008 to start college. Almost immediately, she felt like a stranger in a strange land, longing to return to her adopted children and the ministry she started. The following is an entry from her journal, dated September 2, 2008, that brought me to tears and convicted me as to my life and my modicum of service to the Lord. It is a bit long, but well worth your time.

One Day – September 2, 2008

Ordinary people.

He chose Moses. He chose David. He chose Peter and Paul. He chose me. He chose you. Common people. Simple people. People with nothing special about them. Nothing special except they said “yes.” They obeyed. They took the task God assigned them and they did it. They didn’t always do it well, but they said “yes,” and with His help they did it anyway.

Extraordinary tasks.

Moses was a murderer, a shepherd just trying to mind his own business and move on with his life when he watched a bush catch fire and not burn up. God wanted to use him to lead His chosen people people out of Egypt. Moses was human and told God that He had the wrong guy. Moses wasn’t an eloquent speaker, and he was afraid. But he said “yes,” and God used him anyway. The Red Sea parted, bread fell from heaven, and people believed.

Jonah was an ordinary fisherman and God wanted to use him to set Nineveh free of its wicked ways. Jonah was human and quickly ran away, overwhelmed by the task God had given him. From the belly of a fish, he repented, he begged God for forgiveness. He said “yes,” and God used him anyway. The people of Nineveh believed in God, turned from their wicked ways, and were spared from destruction.

David was a shepherd boy, pretty much the runt of the litter, the very last thought in his father’s mind, and despised by his brothers. God wanted to use him to be the next great king of Israel. Though everyone doubted and watched in horror, David said “yes,” and God used him anyway. Little David used a stone to take down the giant Philistine. The Philistines  were defeated, and though David continued to make mistakes, God used him to make Israel a great nation and relay His words to many people.

Mary was a peasant girl, probably a teenager, getting ready to marry a local carpenter. God wanted to use her to carry His Son, hope for all mankind, into the world. She asked the angel, “Why me?” and “How?” Ultimately, though, she surrendered herself to His will. She said “yes,” and God used her anyway. A baby was born who transformed the world then, and still does today.

Paul was a young man who made it his goal to destroy Christianity, dragging believers to prison and even killing them. God wanted to use him to proclaim His name to Gentiles all over the world. Paul  had a violent history and initially other believers were afraid. But he said “yes,” he fearlessly proclaimed the Gospel, and God used him anyway. Paul performed and witnessed miracles, wrote close to half the Bible, and spread the Good News all over the world.

Sometimes, the everyday routine of my life feels so normal to me. At other times the idea of raising all these children seems like quite a daunting task. I realize that since I have chosen an unusual path it is easier for outsiders to look at my life and come to the conclusion that it is something extraordinary. That I am courageous. That I am strong. That I am special. But I am just a plain girl from Tennessee. Broken in many ways, sinful, and inadequate. Common and simple with nothing special about me. Nothing special except I choose to say “yes.” “Yes” to the things God asks of me and “yes” to the people He places in front of me. You can too. I am just an ordinary person. An ordinary person serving an extraordinary God.

Why Do I Feel So Empty?

Why do I feel so empty?
Eyes closed, I see
Only gray.
Not even darkness.

I hear my heart thumping
In my head and
I wonder why
I’m even here.

I clasp my hands together
As if in prayer;
Maybe I’m hoping my
Inherited faith will
Accord me some dimension.

This cold emptiness
Undermines me, and,
To an extent, adds
To my predicament.

Too many things interrupt
My awareness of meaning,
Which feeds my
Uncertainty.

I vacillate, not sure
If it is “I” that believes
Or my ancestors
Believing through me.

If my meaning has been
Stamped on my heart by
Someone else, someone
Who is not me,
Someone who is less than God,
Then it is a phony meaning,
And is, perhaps, why I
Feel so empty.

©2017 Steven Barto

Are You a Broke Christian?

I apologize for the forcefulness of the question I presented in the title of today’s blog post. Understand this: It is not something I like to talk about. I had a pastor tell me that finances are my Goliath. What’s interesting is I was not shocked by his comment. Know why? Conviction of the Holy Spirit. Then, as if to truly solidify this truth for me [hopefully so I could deal with it better], he pulled out the tithe ledger, glanced at it, then said, “Hmm. Do you realize you have only given $467 in offerings this year?”

Christians should be able to be free. There is power in the Name of Jesus to Break Every Chain.”¹ Whatever your financial situation, there are numerous faith-based experts just waiting online to help. I took advantage of Dave Ramses’ wonderful free monthly budget²  It’s so cool. It’s malleable. I found it so simple. That was back in July! I haven’t used it since. There are two powerful forces at play in my case that right now I give over to the power of Jesus: (a) procrastination, and (b) a poor sense of self (I don’t deserve success). A man who thinks he’s worthless and has nothing good to offer will typically “let himself go.” This includes finances.

Now certainly none of this may be you, and to that I say Hallelujah! But maybe you struggle with money like I do. Maybe you never seem to have enough to make ends meet. Perhaps, like me, you seem to never have any cash in your wallet. I real low for me was not having a quarter for the parking meter, getting a $10 ticket, and not being able to pay it within 72 hours. That’s the magical period. After that, it’s $20. Because I don’t plan ahead or manage my finances, a 25 cent parking meter fee turned into $20. Whether you have a great deal of money or very little, until you really believe that money in your possession is not your money but God’s money, your finances will likely always be a source of discontentment.

Remember, God owns it all, yet we worry and fret over not having enough. We manipulate to get more, then agonize over losing what we have. How do we get free from this dreadful bondage? Personally, I find it hard to hear statements like, “True financial freedom is being content with what God gives you.” (See Hebrews 13:5) I’m starting to trust God and turn my money over to Him.

Let’s look as some myths and truths about money which I borrowed from June Hunt in her publication Financial Freedom. These major financial myths have led and will continue to lead many astray unless these beliefs are replaced with major financial truths

Myth.
If you live a godly life, Christian life, you will experience financial gain and prosperity.” Unfortunately, this message is shouted from the pulpit and printed in books by the millions, categorized “Christian.”One so-called preacher that I will not name here has a rather similar doctrine. It is difficult for his “fans” to see what he’s doing because he won’t talk about doctrine. He won’t talk about theology. He doesn’t even preach about repentance, the “fall,” or the wrath of God. He quickly back pedals when asked hard questions. He has an estimated worth is $40 million. Why is he well-off and you or I can’t afford to wash our car for Sunday school?

Truth.
According to the word of God, godliness is not a means to financial gain. The Bible calls this “a different doctrine” taught by false teachers.

Myth.
Money is the root of all evil!

Truth.
No! Money can be used for great good. Actually, according to the Bible it is the love of money that is the root of evil. It takes money, for example, to get tens-of-thousands of Bibles into the hands of Muslim and non-Muslim countries. It takes money to build refugees, housing, school, and hospitals in Uganda and other neglected areas in Africa. It takes money to fight AIDS and care for orphaned children.

Myth.
If I ever have enough money, or the right house, or earthly possessions, then I will be happy!”

Truth.
Happiness does not spring froth from your financial situation, nor does it com from possessions or the amount of money you have, but from faithfully and wisely managing what has been entrusted to you. Remember Mattthew 25:23? “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things: I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

[Note: Read the entire parable of the talents in  Matthew 25:14-30.]

Now what might lead to excessive debt? Just watch!

Lifestyles That Lead to Debt

  • Using money to keep up social appearance
  • Using money to feel important
  • Using money to manipulate others
  • Using money to appear “righteous” in the eyes of God and others
  • Spending money to escape personal tensions
  • Spending money to momentarily lift depression
  • Spending money to indulge in an obsession or addiction

Bitterness

When we are discontent with God or others over our finances, our anger spreads a deep root of underlying bitterness, affecting both us and the things around us.

  • Focusing attention and energy on gaining possessions
  • Indifference to the needs of others
  • Resenting the position, prestige, power, and popularity of someone else
  • Outbursts of anger that lead to sharp, cutting comments
  • Nurturing an ungrateful attitude

To sum this up, thousands have gotten themselves into this kind of trouble, me included, but it is never too late to take the reins. Seek advice. Get on your knees and ask the Lord to forgive you of your tendency to squander what God gave you. I will close out with four ideas I found on Crosswalk.com. You can find their basic steps in the financial planning process right  here:  http://www.crosswalk.com/family/finances/financial-planning-from-a-biblical-perspective-1324741.html

1. Goal Setting – Define both short-term and long-term goals (driven by your purpose). These will differ depending on your stage of life, your finances and the size of your family. Make sure you have these in writing and keep them up-to-date.

2. Creating A Balance Sheet and Cash Flow Statement – This is just a fancy way of saying that you should list all of your assets (property, stocks, bonds, etc.) and liabilities (mortgage, credit card debt, etc.) to get a clear picture of where you stand financially. You should also list all of your regular income sources and expenses for a year.

3. Develop a Budget & Financial Plan – Based on your analysis in step 2, determine how much you should save, invest, and spend. Your goal should be to spend less than you earn over the long haul. Your financial plan defines how you move from where you are in step 2 toward the goals outlined in step 1.

4. Assess and Adjust – Once you have begun implementing your plan, schedule a time to review your progress. Plan to do this on a monthly basis. In addition to regular assessment, make an annual date with your spouse to pray, review your finances, and discuss your goals for the coming year.

Times are tough for sure. But what if time is short? Suppose a major disaster occurs just minutes from your home or your church. With proper money management, you can be solvent, giving you a greater chance to help the injured and the displaced. It is critical to be prepared, because we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. To the extent that we let money, property, collectibles, video games, and $75 jeans define us and suck up our funds, we are actually wasting money that really belongs to God. Frankly, he can call upon us at any time to turn some of it over. Our duty is to be ready when that day comes.

  1. Reagan, W. There’s Power in the Name of Jesus. Published April 22, 2014
  2. Dave Ramses can be found at https://www.google.com/search?q=dave+ramses&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8
  3. Hunt, J. (2014). Financial Freedom. Torrance, CA: Rose Publishing/Aspire Press