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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Greener Grass Conspiracy Book Review

Bigger, better, faster, newer...it is often a reason we are always looking for the “next big thing”. It is a reason we don’t commit--to jobs, spouses, churches, you name it. It is a reason we find ourselves obsessed, depressed, or just restless. It is a reason we justify our action or inaction. It begins with two words, “if only”. We find that we cannot say with the apostle Paul, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” because the proverbial grass is always greener on our neighbor’s side of the fence. With the exception of Jesus, coveting due to discontentment in one’s own life is likely something that every human being has experienced. I know I have…frequently.


This is why I so heartily recommend Stephen Altrogge’s book, “The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence,” published by Crossway this year.

I was sent the book last week to read and review by the end of the month. Prior to receiving the book, I was concerned about meeting this short timeline. However, once I started reading the book, it was hard to put down. I attribute this to the fact that the book is: 1) on a topic to which I can easily relate; 2) written in clear language; 3) thought-provoking; 4) funny; and 5) only 139 pages long.

While Altrogge’s writing style is laid back, friendly, and full of humor (much of which is self-deprecating), there are plenty of reasons to read his book besides the fact that it is an easy read. In fact, I believe that I (and you) would benefit most from it by slowly digesting his points and particularly from using them to examine our own lives and motives. In fact, each chapter has half of a dozen or so questions designed to help us do just that.

Altrogge begins by exposing the problem in a way that a broad spectrum of Americans can relate to—whether we are rich or poor and whether our longings are material or immaterial. He then looks at what the Bible says causes our discontentment—namely, our own idol factory hearts. He shifts our focus to the fact that we are not the center of the universe, but rather God is and we are created to “display His worth to the world and to show how great God really is” p. 24. Later on the same page, he says:

“Contentment is created in the shadow of the majesty of God. I become content when I see and treasure and embrace the glory of God. I find contentment when I grasp the fact that life is not primarily about me and my comfort and my happiness. My soul is satisfied when I stop trying to elbow my way into the center of the universe and instead rejoice in and worship the God who really is at the center of all things.” P. 24

I love these words. And the beauty of Altrogge’s book is that these words don’t come across as the lofty or religious condescension of someone who has “arrived,” but rather Altrogge humbly speaks of his own struggles with contentment in a way that gives hope to those of us who find ourselves struggling as well. He acknowledges that we all need to ask God “to let us see…, really see, his majesty, splendor, holiness, beauty, fierceness, and greatness, so much that God captivates our hearts” and that we “need to ask God to help us love His glory” because “we can’t manufacture love for God” on our own. And as he describes in the book, it is this very love alone that rescues us from our malaise of discontent—self denial and idolatry will never suffice for this.

From this key point, Altrogge unpacks some of the lies upon which our discontentment is built—lies about God, ourselves, and this world. In Chapter 6, he lays out the richness of the gospel and our inheritance through it in such a way that not only challenges the lies we have come to believe, but also in turn exposes the laughable inferiority of our alternative “gods”—the things and circumstances we believe will somehow make our lives complete. This chapter is one I see myself re-visiting.

The book shifts to discuss the realities of suffering. I so appreciate this because, instead of offering empty platitudes or unhelpfully suggesting that Christians pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, Altrogge takes to the time to acknowledge the reality that life is painful and that people genuinely suffer—some more than others. He explains that “joyfully embracing God’s will doesn’t mean that we’re always laughing or smiling” p. 88. But through our suffering—big or small--Altrogge unwaveringly points us to one source—Christ Himself. Regardless of our circumstances, Altrogge continually urges us to engage with Christ and to ask Him for the kind of supernatural sincere joy that defies our circumstances and comes only from Christ.

I found the book to be most practical when Altrogge insightfully suggests how we engage with Christ. He says, “We meet Christ through promises, prayers, and people” P. 90. He first directs us to a series of “contentment-giving promises” in the Word. He then leads us to seek God in prayer, asking for “spiritual eyes” to see the “incredible wealth we have in Christ and to be filled with gratefulness for all we receive” pp. 96-97. And then he reminds us that “we cannot grow in contentment apart from the Body of Christ,” reminding us that we “need friends who will turn [our] gaze away from [our] circumstances to the God who never changes” and who will help us see when we are believing lies since our sin deceives us. P. 98

Whether you are going through a season of life where things are going well for you, or whether you going through a season of life where you are struggling, Altrogge’s book will challenge you to consider where your contentment rests. If you read it prayerfully, giving thought to application in your own life, it will not only help you see the areas of your life where your contentment ebbs and flows with your circumstances, but it will also point you to the only One who offers deliverance from this fleeting lesser joy and who calls out to you with all the substance of unshakable, supernatural, circumstance-defying sincere joy that flows only from His hand.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Discerning the Will of God in Community

I recently had a decision to make in a difficult area of my life.  It wasn't a particularly huge decision, but it could have had notable effects.  I was leaning toward one way, but through prayer and conversations with trusted friends in the past, I knew my weakness, propensity toward sin, and blindspots in this area of my life.  I prayed and I consulted three close, discreet, discerning, God-loving, me-loving friends.  All three of them led me away from the original decision I was pondering.  Through prayer and consultation with them, I had total peace in eventually making my decision in the direction they counseled. 

My major decision making process does not always go like this.  But I have come to realize the value in going to God with my decisions and going to His people.  I want to go to God with my decisions because the more and more I walk with Him, the more and more I want my life to conform to His will for me--to honor Him.  This may be an obvious point for a Christian. 

Perhaps a less obvious point is our need for the Body of Christ.  The more and more I walk with God, the more and more I recognize the fact that I am sinful and I have weakness and blindnesses that prevent me from  seeing things as they are (this is true for you as well).  God's people can help me to see in the areas of my life where I cannot see well.  Sometimes when I sense a resistance in myself to walk in the light or seek counsel in a matter, that is a red flag that I might have hardness of heart in that matter.  This is not to say that I consult every Christian I know about everything in my life.  This is not practical, wise, or necessary.  However, there are topics that are big decisions with far reaching implications.  Or there are topics where I know I have a particular weakness or sin.  Or there are topics where I am confused at how the Scriptures would direct me.  Or there are topics in which a brother or sister has challenged me.  In these times, I have a short list of friends who I can go to--these are Christians in my life who know me well and are trusted friends.  I have seen their love for and commitment to God, His Word, and me.  They are "safe".  What I don't mean by this is that they are perfect or that they have never failed me.  What I do mean is that they are trustworthy, discreet, wise, discerning, faithful, honest, sincere, and committed.  They are willing to lovingly speak into my life in gospel way--with lasting love, with truth in accord with Scripture and with committment.  They are humble and acknowledge their own sin and weakness.  They have been vulnerable with me too.  They see my sin and weakness, and yet they look on me with love and devotion--they aren't going anywhere.  They recognize that we are all sinners in need of grace.  And they are not afraid to lovingly challenge, confront, or rebuke me, even if that is uncomfortable.  They desire God's glory and my good.

God has intended Christians to administer His grace to one another (see 1 Peter 4:10) and to build each other up in love through various things (serving one another, forgiving one another, encouraging one another, admonishing one another, praying for one another, confessing to one another, rebuking one another, etc.)

Below are some posts I have written during the period of the last 3 years.  As I was re-reading some of them, a common string I noticed among them is the role of walking in the light in community in discerning the will of God for our lives.


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Receiving Rebuke Biblically

In the last few days, I have been reading through the book of Proverbs. One of the themes that struck me the most was teach-ability, humility, and a willingness to receive instruction and rebuke. I want to have a soft-heart like that—a heart that listens to Biblical wisdom not just with my ears but with my heart and actions. I want to have a heart that is humble enough to hear and heed the loving Scripture-rooted warnings and challenges of wise brothers and sisters who love the Lord and love me. I want to have a heart that is humble enough to know its own frailty—that is prone to wander, that it is often deceitful, and that it is not always in line with the pure truth of Scripture.
Awhile after my reading in Proverbs, I stumbled onto this article from the PeaceMaker Ministries website.

http://www.peacemaker.net/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=aqKFLTOBIpH&b=1084263&content_id={0285AEC9-A85D-4F16-95D8-A4AB8A5BB3C5}¬oc=1

I cut and pasted the article below). The article was very convicting and helpful. Sometimes I receive criticism, internalize it, and instead of looking to the cross, I drown in despair. Other times, I can overlook criticism it and continue stubbornly in my own way—justifying it to myself “They don’t understand the whole situation,” etc. Sometimes I can hear unjust criticism and feel anger or bitterness or self-righteousness toward the person giving it. I want to be a woman of wisdom and grace. I want to receive criticism—just or unjust—graciously. Let me be clear--I am not saying that all criticism is true or Biblical or given in the right way with the right heart or that all criticism is meant to be heeded. However, I want to wisely consider criticism when I receive it and prayerfully comparing it to the pure word of truth in Scripture. I want God’s Word to be my guide, but I want to humbly remember that my heart is deceptive and is in need of the accountability and counsel of godly friends. I want my heart to be humble--recognizing that my loved ones rebuke me out of love--with my interest at heart, and more importantly (and more perfectly) God rebukes me because He loves me. Even with unfounded or improperly administered criticism, I want to have a heart of sincere love for the one who criticizes me—the kind of love that looks out for the interest of the one who criticizes me. I want to have pure, noble, and lovely thoughts, speaking only what is helpful for building others up. I want a heart that lovingly pursues and seeks godly unity, understanding, and intimacy with those whom I am called to love. I know this is impossible in my own strength, but God freely gives the power of His own Spirit who is able to do this in me. Lord, I plead with you—give me this heart!

Here is the article:

The Cross and Criticism

This article originally appeared in the Spring 1999 issue of The Journal of Biblical Counseling, (Vol. 17, No. 3) and was reprinted on the Peacemaker website by permission. It is also available in booklet form.


by Dr. Alfred J. Poirier, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Peacemaker Ministries


On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger and its crew embarked on a mission to broaden educational horizons and promote the advancement of scientific knowledge. The most outstanding objective of the Challenger 51-L mission was the delivery of educational lessons from space by teacher Christa McAuliffe. A lesson was, indeed, delivered, but not one which anyone expected. Just 75 seconds after liftoff, tragedy struck. Before a watching world the shuttle suddenly erupted overhead, disintegrating the cabin along with its crew. The debris of metal, blood and bones plummeted to earth, along with our nation's glory.


What had gone wrong? That was the pressing question everyone asked. As teams of researchers examined the wreckage, the specific cause was soon found. The problem was with the O-rings (circular rubber seals), which had been designed to fit snugly into the joints of the booster engine sections. Evidently, the O-rings had become defective under adverse conditions, and the resulting mechanical failure led to the tragedy. Was that the whole story?


The truth eventually got out. The New York Times put it frankly: the ultimate cause of the space shuttle disaster was pride. A group of top managers failed to listen carefully to the warnings, advice and criticisms given by those down the line who were concerned about the operational reliability of certain parts of the booster engine under conditions of abnormal stress. Just think: heeding criticism could have saved seven human lives.


As a pastor, church leader, and lecturer for Peacemaker Ministries, I am blessed with the opportunity to minister to people and congregations in conflict.. Among the many things I've come to learn is the dominant role that giving and taking criticism has in exacerbating conflict. Yet, even more, I've learned that the remedy wonderfully provided by God requires us to return to the cross of Christ. For our present purposes, I want us to look at the problem of taking criticism.


The Dynamic of Defending Against Criticism


First of all, let me define what I mean by criticism. I'm using criticism in a broad sense as referring to any judgment made about you by another, which declares that you fall short of a particular standard. The standard may be God's or man's. The judgment may be true or false. It may be given gently with a view to correction, or harshly and in a condemnatory fashion. It may be given by a friend or by an enemy. But whatever the case, it is a judgment or criticism about you, that you have fallen short of a standard.


However it comes, most of us would agree that criticism is difficult to take. Who of us doesn't know someone with whom we need to be especially careful in our remarks lest they blow up in response to our suggested corrections? Unfortunately, as I travel around the country, the tale is often told that many people would never dare confront or criticize their pastor or leader for fear of retaliation. Many just find another organization to work for or church to attend.


In fact, don't you know of leaders who select those to be nearest to them who are easiest on them? How many times have you been warned to "walk on eggshells" around that person?


As sad a commentary as this is, such people are not much different from me. I, too, do not like criticism. Any criticism is hard for me to take. I'd much rather be commended than corrected, praised than rebuked. I'd much rather judge than be judged! And I do not think that I am alone in this. The more I listen, the more I hear the dynamic of defensiveness against criticism.


In counseling, I see it in the humorous way a couple will be diverted from the issue at hand to debate who said what, when, and where. Or in how people debate back and forth as to whether it was a Tuesday or a Wednesday when they did something.

Why do we expend so much time and energy swatting at these flies with sledgehammers? Why are our hearts and minds so instantly engaged and our emotions surging with great vigor in our defense? The answer is simple. These issues are not minor or insignificant. We defend that which we deem of great value. We think it is our life we are saving. We believe something much larger will be lost if we do not use every means to rescue it. Our name, our reputation, our honor, our glory.


"If I don't point out that I've been misunderstood, misquoted, or falsely accused, then others won't know I'm right. And if I don't point out my rightness, nobody will. I will be scorned and condemned in the eyes of others."


Do you see the idol of self here? The desire for self-justification? But idols have legs. Because of this deep idolatrous desire for self-justification, the tragedy of the Space Shuttle gets played out over and over again in our relationships. It destroys our ability to listen and learn, and it provokes us to quarrel.


Thus, for the sake of our pride and foolishness, we willingly suffer loss of friends, spouse, or loved ones. Some of that destruction comes in the shape of a thin truce. We tolerate a cold war. We make a false peace. We pledge to each other to discuss only those things which have little significance for bettering our souls. We lay out land mines and threaten the other that we will explode in anger if they so much as raise the forbidden subject of my mistake, my error, or my sin.


This is how churches split and factions develop. We surround ourselves with "yes" men—people willing to never challenge, advise, or criticize us. Yet, while we go on defending ourselves against criticism, we find Scripture teaching something different.


Criticism Commended


The ability to hear and heed correction or criticism is commended in Scripture, particularly in Proverbs. Being teachable, able and willing to receive correction, is a mark of the wise. And the wise father or mother will encourage as well as model such an attitude for their daughters and sons.


The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice (Prov. 12:15).


Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice (Prov. 13:10).


A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool (Prov. 17:10).


The ability to take advice, correction, and rebuke is not only considered a mark of the wise, and the inability a mark of the fool, but both the wise and the fool reap according to their ability to take criticism:


He who scorns instruction will pay for it, but he who respects a command is rewarded (Prov. 13:13).


Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning (Prov.. 9:9).


He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding (Prov. 15:32).


There is gain in taking criticism. No wonder David exclaims in Psalm 141:5: Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it. David knows the profit of gaining wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. He knows rebukes are a kindness, a blessing, an honor.


Ask yourself: Is that how you look at a rebuke? Is that how you perceive criticism, correction or counsel? Do you want to look at it that way?

How can we move from always being quick to defend ourselves against any and all criticism toward becoming instead like David who saw it as gain? The answer is through understanding, believing, and affirming all that God says about us in the cross of Christ.
Paul summed it up when he said, "I have been crucified with Christ." A believer is one who identifies with all that God affirms and condemns in Christ's crucifixion. God affirms in Christ's crucifixion the whole truth about Himself: His holiness, goodness, justice, mercy, and truth as revealed and demonstrated in His Son, Jesus. Equally, in the cross God condemns the lie: sin, deceit, and the idolatrous heart. He condemns my sinfulness as well as my specific sins. Let's see how this applies to giving and taking criticism.


First, in Christ's Cross I Agree With God's Judgment of Me


I see myself as God sees me—a sinner. There is no escaping the truth: "No one is righteous, not even one" ( Rom. 3:9-18). In response to my sin, the cross has criticized and judged me more intensely, deeply, pervasively, and truly than anyone else ever could. This knowledge permits us to say to all other criticism of us: "This is just a fraction of it."


Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law (Gal. 3:10).

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10).


By faith, I affirm God's judgment of myself, that I am a sinner. I also believe that the answer to my sin lies in the cross.


I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live (Gal. 2:20).

For we know that our old self was crucified with him [Jesus] so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin (Rom. 6:6)


If the cross says anything, it speaks about my sin. The person who says "I have been crucified with Christ" is a person well aware of his sinfulness. You'll never get life right by your own unaided efforts because all who rely on observing the law are under a curse. "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law" (Gal. 3:10). Thus the cross doesn't merely criticize or judge us; it condemns us for not doing everything written in God's law. Do you believe that? Do you feel the force of that criticism? Do you appreciate the thoroughness of God's judgment?


The crucified person also knows that he cannot defend himself against God's judgment by trying to offset his sin by his good works. Think about this fact: whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10).


To claim to be a Christian is to agree with all God says about our sin. As a person "crucified with Christ," we admit, agree, and approve of God's judgment against us: There is no one righteous, not even one (Rom. 3:10).


Second, In Christ's Cross I Agree With God's Justification of Me


I must not only agree with God's judgment of me as sinner in the cross of Christ, but I must also agree with God's justification of me as sinner. Through the sacrificial love of Jesus, God justifies ungodly people (Rom. 3:21-26).


But the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).


My goal is to boast in Christ's righteousness, not my own.


No one will be declared righteous in his [God's] sight by observing the law (Rom. 3:20).


This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Rom. 3:22).


Pride breeds quarrels, says Solomon. Quarrels are often over who is right. Quarrels erupt in our idolatrous demand for self-justification. But not if I am applying the cross. For the cross not only declares God's just verdict against me as a sinner, but His declaration of righteousness by grace through faith in Christ.


The cross of Christ reminds me that the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me. And because of this, God has thoroughly and forever accepted me in Christ. Here is how grace works: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit (Gal. 3:13f).


What a sure foundation for the soul! Now, I don't practice self-justification, but boasting—boasting about Christ's righteousness for me.


If you truly take this to heart, the whole world can stand against you, denounce you, or criticize you, and you will be able to reply, "If God has justified me, who can condemn me?" "If God justifies me, accepts me, and will never forsake me, then why should I feel insecure and fear criticism?" "Christ took my sins, and I receive His Spirit.. Christ takes my condemnation, and I receive His righteousness."


In light of God's judgment and justification of the sinner in the cross of Christ, we can begin to discover how to deal with any and all criticism. By agreeing with God's criticism of me in Christ's cross, I can face any criticism man may lay against me. In other words, no one can criticize me more than the cross has. And the most devastating criticism turns out to be the finest mercy. If you thus know yourself as having been crucified with Christ, then you can respond to any criticism, even mistaken or hostile criticism, without bitterness, defensiveness, or blameshifting. Such responses typically exacerbate and intensify conflict, and lead to the rupture of relationships. You can learn to hear criticism as constructive and not condemnatory because God has justified you.


Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? ( Rom. 8:33-34a).


Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it (Ps. 141:5).


If I know myself as crucified with Christ, I can now receive another's criticism with this attitude: "You have not discovered a fraction of my guilt. Christ has said more about my sin, my failings, my rebellion and my foolishness than any man can lay against me. I thank you for your corrections. They are a blessing and a kindness to me. For even when they are wrong or misplaced, they remind me of my true faults and sins for which my Lord and Savior paid dearly when He went to the cross for me. I want to hear where your criticisms are valid."


The correction and advice that we hear are sent by our heavenly Father. They are His corrections, rebukes, warnings, and scoldings. His reminders are meant to humble me, to weed out the root of pride and replace it with a heart and lifestyle of growing wisdom, understanding, goodness, and truth. For example, if you can take criticism—however just or unjust—you'll learn to give it with gracious intent and constructive results. See the sidebar, "Giving Criticism God's Way."


I do not fear man's criticism for I have already agreed with God's criticism. And I do not look ultimately for man's approval for I have gained by grace God's approval. In fact, His love for me helps me to hear correction and criticism as a kindness, oil on my head, from my Father who loves me and says, "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone He accepts as a son" (Heb. 12:5-6).


Applying What We've Learned


1. Critique yourself. How do I typically react to correction? Do I pout when criticized or corrected? What is my first response when someone says I'm wrong? Do I tend to attack the person? To reject the content of criticism? To react to the manner? How well do I take advice? How well do I seek it? Are people able to approach me to correct me? Am I teachable?


Do I harbor anger against the person who criticizes me? Do I immediately seek to defend myself, hauling out my righteous acts and personal opinions in order to defend myself and display my rightness? Can my spouse, parents, children, brothers, sisters, or friends correct me?


2. Ask the Lord to give you a desire to be wise instead of a fool. Use Proverbs to commend to yourself the goodness of being willing and able to receive criticism, advice, rebuke, counsel, or correction. Meditate upon the passages given above: Proverbs 9:9; 12:15; 13:10,13; 15:32; 17:10; Psalm 141:5.

3. Focus on your crucifixion with Christ. While I can say I have faith in Christ, and even say with Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ," yet I still find myself not living in light of the cross. So I challenge myself with two questions. First, if I continually squirm under the criticism of others, how can I say I know and agree with the criticism of the cross? Second, if I typically justify myself, how can I say I know, love, and cling to God's justification of me through Christ's cross? This drives me back to contemplating God's judgment and justification of the sinner in Christ on the cross. As I meditate on what God has done in Christ for me, I find a resolve to agree with and affirm all that God says about me in Christ, with whom I've been crucified.


4. Learn to speak nourishing words to others. I want to receive criticism as a sinner living within Jesus' mercy, so how can I give criticism in a way that communicates mercy to another? Accurate, balanced criticism, given mercifully, is the easiest to hear—and even against that my pride rebels. Unfair criticism or harsh criticism (whether fair or unfair) is needlessly hard to hear. How can I best give accurate, fair criticism, well tempered with mercy and affirmation?


My prayer is that in your struggle against the sin of self-justification you will deepen your love for the glory of God as revealed in the gospel of His Son, and that you will grow wise by faith.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dr. Alfred J. Poirier pastors Rocky Mountain Community Church, PCA, as well as serves as adjunct instructor for Peacemaker Ministries on issues involving conflict counseling and mediation. He completed his D. Min. in counseling at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside , PA in 2005.
Text box from the same article:

Implications for Dealing with Criticism


GIVING CRITICISM GOD'S WAY


I see my brother/sister as one for whom Christ died (1 Cor. 8:11).


Keep on loving each other as brothers (Heb. 13:1).

I come as an equal, who also is a sinner.


Are we any better than they? Not at all. For there is no one righteous...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:9,23).


I prepare my heart lest I speak out of wrong motives.

All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD (Prov. 16:2).


The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil (Prov. 15:28).


A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction (Prov. 16:23).


I examine my own life and confess my sin first.


Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye (Matt. 7:3-5).


I am always patient, in it for the long haul (Eph. 4:2).


Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. (1 Cor. 13:4).


My goal is not to condemn by debating points, but to build up through constructive criticism.


Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may give grace to those who listen (Eph. 4:29).


I correct and rebuke my brother gently, in the hope that God will grant him the grace of repentance even as I myself repent only through His grace.


And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth... (2 Tim. 2:24-25).


Monday, September 21, 2009

A Praying Life

I recently read "A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World" by Paul Miller. It was so beautifully written that I underlined thoughts on nearly every page. More importantly, it is the kind of book that has changed my walk with God. It has helped open my eyes to some incorrect ways I have been viewing God that have manifested in my prayer life. I have walked away with a better understanding of what it means to have a relationship with God. The book contains helpful tools for prayer, without the guilt and legalism. The author humbly, warmly, and humorously draws from his own life throughout the book in such a way that helped me visualize application as well as helped me simply enjoy the book. In some ways, it reminded me a lot of a modern day "The Practice of the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence. I know I will re-visit this book.

There are so many thoughts I appreciated in the book. At the end of this post is a little snippet from Miller where he talks about the role of biblical community in discerning the will of God in the details of our lives (this was not a huge part of what the book was about, but it was one of the many parts that got me thinking).

Praying and assessing our situation in light of what Scripture says is our first step in discerning the will of God in any situation in which we find ourselves. However, consulting mature believers is also an important part of consulting God-- as Scripture tells us our hearts are deceitful, our sin is deceitful, and seeking godly counsel is wise and profitable. Here are some Scriptures that discuss this concept:

Jeremiah 17: 9-10 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? "I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."
Hebrews 13:12-13 “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”


Proverbs 11:14 “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”


Proverbs 15:22 “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”

Here is what Miller had to say in pages 142-144 of his book (I bolded the part that most struck me):

…we balk at praying, “God I want a vacation home. Would you get me one?” We don’t mind “acting” selfishly, but “talking” selfishly is embarrassing. After all, we aren’t little children anymore. A vacation home is so beyond the purview of daily bread that it feels presumptions to ask God for one.


So what do we do instead of asking God for a vacation home? We look at our finances, talk to a realtor, and go buy one—all without seriously praying about the decision. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying buying a vacation house is inherently sinful. God delights in giving his children good gifts, including vacation homes. But he wants to be part of the decisions we make. He wants our material needs o draw us into our soul needs. That is what it means to abide—to include him in every aspect of our lives.


Abiding is a perfect way to describe a praying life. For example, many Christians who are thinking of buying a vacation home might even pray, asking God practical questions, such as “Can we afford it?” “Will it be too much work?” “Should we make an offer on this house?” There are good questions. But we seldom ask God heart questions such as “Will a second home elevate us above people?” “Will it isolate us?” In the first set of questions, God is your financial adviser. In the second set, he has become your Lord. You are abiding. You are feeding your soul with food that lasts.


We can do the same thing with a promotion. It feels selfish to pray for one, so instead we will work for one! We end up separating a big part of our lives from God because we are trying to feel good about ourselves. As we have seen, we create two selves—a spiritual self and material self.


We also shy away from prayers like these because they invite God to rule our lives. They make us vulnerable. Like the crowds at Capernaum, we want breakfast, not soul food. Left to ourselves, we want God to be a genie, not a person. Scholars have pointed out that Jesus’ references to the kingdom are a subtle way of introducing himself as a king. When we pray the first petition of the Lord’s prayer, “Your kingdom come,” we are saying “King Jesus, rule my life. The heart is one of God’s biggest mission fields.


Oddly enough, we can also use prayer to keep God distant. We do that by only talking to God and not to mature believers. I can demonstrate that easily. Which is easier, confessing impure thoughts to a mature friend or to God? The friend is tougher. That feels real. We need to ask the body of Christ, Jesus’ physical presence on earth, the same questions we ask God. If you isolate praying from the rule of Jesus by not involving other Christians, you’ll end up doing your own will. Many Christians isolate their decision making the body of Christ, then further isolate themselves in their vacation homes. They say something like this: “Well my husband and I prayed about it, and the Lord seemed to confirm it. Possibly God did confirm it. It is also possible that you used prayer as a spiritual cover for “doing your own thing.” We can mask our desires even from ourselves.


Look at how Scripture and a listening heart are woven together in this hypothetical conversation with a mature friend.

Bob, my wife and I would love to get a vacation home. You know how pressured life has been for us, and it would be great to get away to a quiet place where we can unwind. We’ve found this beautiful place up on a lake that the whole family could enjoy. At the same time, we’re concerned with what it might do to our hearts. We want to be followers of Jesus, and he warns us against building bigger and better barns. Is this a bigger and better barn? Will it elevate us above people? Will it isolate us from people? Is it a wise use of our resources? Will we be limiting what we can give to others? At the same time, we think we could use our house to give vacations to people who can’t afford them. Tell me what you think.


Along with those questions, give your friend enough data to make an intelligent decision. Be open about how much it will cost, what your income is, and how it will impact your giving and savings.


One reason we don’t ask a mature friend these questions is Western individualism. Individualism goes back to the Judeo-Christian heritage all they way back to Psalm 23 and God’s tender care for me. When the Good Shepherd loves me, I have dignity and worth. I have value as an individual. But modern secularism has taken the Shepherd out of Psalm 23, leaving just me trying to create my own dignity and worth. It is my money; I earned it. I need a break. So it never occurs to me to include God or anyone else in my decision to buy a vacation home.
For more on discernment, see this post:

http://abranchinthevine.blogspot.com/2008/08/wisdom.html
For more on submission to the Body of Christ, see this post:

http://abranchinthevine.blogspot.com/2009/07/thoughts-on-submission.html

For more on walking in the light in the Body of Christ, see this post:

http://abranchinthevine.blogspot.com/2008/11/walking-in-light.html


Friday, August 1, 2008

Wisdom

Do you ever find yourself on the receiving end of conflicting advice, even from Christians? With all the voices vying for our attention, how do we know what is from God? In considering this question prayerfully through the Scriptures, I was led to the following points:

1) Consult and obey the Word.

2) Seek God’s power through prayer.

3) Recognize that there are two kinds of “wisdom”- one is worldly and one is godly.

4) Recognize the deceitfulness of our hearts and sin and humbly seek counsel.

5) Distinguish godly verses worldly wisdom by its fruit.

6) Christ is our perfect example in wise living.

1) Consult and obey the Word.

God’s Word is the standard by which everything must be tested. God’s Word is able to make us wise:

2 Timothy 3:14-17 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Psalm 119:9-11 “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

2) Seek God’s power through prayer.

As I am in God’s Word, I pray:

Psalm 119:34-37 “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.”

The Psalmist’s example tells me to seek God with my whole heart, to pray to Him for understanding of His Word, and to ask Him to keep me from wandering away from it. The Psalmist also asks God to incline his heart toward God’s testimonies (God’s Word) and away from selfish gain.

3) Recognize that there are two kinds of “wisdom”- one is worldly and one is godly.

In Psalm 119:34-37, God’s “testimonies” is related to giving life, and is contrasted against “selfish gain” and “worthless things”. Romans 12 further carries this contrast between God’s will, which is good and acceptable and perfect, and the pattern of the world:

Romans 12:1-2 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Clearly, there are competing interests here. On the one hand, we have the interests of selfish gain, worthless things, and the world. On the other hand, we have the interests of life in God’s ways and God’s will, which is good and acceptable and perfect. James 3 explicitly tells us that there are two types of “wisdom”, one that is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic, and another that is from above:

James 3:13-18 “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
4) Recognize the deceitfulness of our hearts and sin and humbly seek counsel

Scripture tells us that worldly “wisdom”, which is really no wisdom at all, can appear to be like the real thing so we must guard ourselves.

Colossians 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
How do I examine my motives when determining whether my desires are coming from godly wisdom or of worldly “wisdom”? In examining our own motives, we must keep in mind that our hearts are deceitful:
Jeremiah 17: 9-10 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? "I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."
To discern my motives, I must go to the Lord because my heart is deceitful and He is the only one who understands it. With the Psalmist, I must ask God to show me my heart and any wickedness there, and then to route (or re-route) me in the way everlasting:
Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

In addition to going to God in prayer, because of the deceitfulness of our hearts, God directs us to seek and heed the exhortation of godly counselors around us- our brothers and sisters who are walking in godly wisdom. This requires honesty, openness, and humility.
Hebrews 13:12-13 “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

Proverbs 11:14 “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”


Proverbs 15:22 “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”


It is important also to remember we must test the wisdom of our counselors against the Word, recognizing that not all counsel is godly counsel even if it is coming from our brothers and sisters in Christ (see Job’s friends for example). For this reason it is helpful to seek counsel from multiple godly counselors.

5) Distinguish godly versus worldly wisdom by its fruit.

While Scripture contains all the wisdom I need for life, Scripture does not give me direct answers for each specific decision I face. It does not explicitly tell me what job to accept, whom to marry, or where to live. In making these decisions, we are called to discernment based on Scriptural truths. We are called to take Scriptural principles and discern our methods and applications from them within the context of seeking God’s face through spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting (which is a topic I hope to address in another post). So, how do we discern what is worldly “wisdom” and what is Godly wisdom in our decision making? Going back to James 3 is useful in determining this:

James 3:13-18 “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

From these two types of “wisdom” we see a difference in fruit or the results that follow. Worldly “wisdom” is accompanied by things like “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition”. Godly wisdom is “peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere”. Worldly “wisdom” yields “disorder and every vile practice”. Godly wisdom yields “good fruits” and “a harvest of righteousness”.

Here are more Scriptures that further point us to what are the fruit of righteousness or fruit of the Spirit verses what are the fruit of wickedness and folly:

Galatians 5:16-26 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Ephesians 5:1-21 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you.’


Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Phil 1:9-11 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.


Col 1:3-14 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.


From these Scriptures we see that some of the fruit of wickedness and folly include: rivalry, conceit, sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, provoking one another, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking, and debauchery.

In contrast to this bad fruit, we see the following as examples of the fruit of righteousness: love, humility, obedience, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, filling with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, and enduring. The one fruit that is mentioned repeatedly and seems to sum up the rest is love:

1 Corinthians 13:13 “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”


Colossians 3:12-14 “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.


Galatians 5:5-7 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

6) Christ is our perfect example in wise living

Godly wisdom is modeled perfectly for us in Christ!

Colossians 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."
The life of Jesus is our perfect example of good fruit that proceeds from godly wisdom. The gospels are a great place to study the example of Christ. Here is another snapshot of Christ-like wisdom:
Phil 2:1-8 “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in man form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
This kind of wisdom is counterintuitive to me, as it is not the kind of wisdom I see modeled in the world!

Summary

To summarize our journey through Scripture, how can I discern which promptings are from God? Firstly, the Word of God is our gauge by which we test everything. We pray to God to illuminate Scripture for us and to enable us to glean wisdom and obedience from it. We recognize that there are competing “wisdoms” out there, and that one is godly wisdom that aligns with Scripture, is rooted in godly motives and yields good fruit, and the other is worldly or fleshly wisdom that contradicts Scripture has bad motives and results in bad fruit. We recognize the deceitfulness of our hearts and sin, and we ask God to search our hearts and reveal them to us, while we are humble and open before our brothers and sisters, seeking godly counsel that we test against the Word. Finally, we look to Jesus as our perfect model of how to live in godly wisdom.
 
Thoughts on Submission


Independence and autonomy are classic American virtues. The more I search the Scriptures, the less I see these as Biblical virtues. Rather, what I see in the Scriptures below is that God wants us to be submitted to Him. Indeed, this is what it means to be a Christian—to believe in Jesus and His Lordship and to submit ourselves to Him in worship out of a heart of love for Him. We cannot have this without humbling ourselves before Him. Submitting ourselves to Him means submitting to His Word in all things. I am starting to see that it also means submitting ourselves to His Body, as the Scriptures below indicate. Our submission to one another in general and our submission to one another within the authority structures that He has given us are to be out of reverence for Christ. A few implications of this are:

1) Our submission to others is secondary to our primary reverence for Christ. Because our submission to each other is rooted in our primary reverence for Christ, we are never called to “submit” to anyone in a way that would cause us to dishonor Christ;

2) Our submission to one another in general and our submission to one another within the authority structures that God has given us in Scripture are vital ways in which we submit to Christ Himself! This makes sense when we consider that how we treat one another in the Body is how we treat Christ Himself;
3) In our submission to one another in general and to one another within the authority structures that God has given us, we are imaging and honoring Christ who is in perfect submission to God the Father for all eternity.

4) We serve and bless others by submitting to one another by lovingly sacrificing ourselves in the interests of others.

5) We are served and blessed by others as we submit to them. Because of the deceitfulness of our hearts and our sin, we need our brothers and sisters to remind us of the Scriptures and to help us apply the Scriptures to our lives. We are in dangerous territory as isolated or “self-sufficient” Christians. Hebrews 13:12-13 “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

6) Submission to one another is a way that we humble ourselves before God, but it is also a way that God cultivates sanctification and Spiritual fruit in us. When we walk in the light by exposing our hearts to one another, inviting others to speak into our lives, and living in accountability, we experience growth. Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron,and one man sharpens another.”

Here are some Scriptures that talk about submission to one another:

Ephesians 5:15-21 “5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,


“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”


Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”


Ephesians 5:22-24 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”


Colossians 3:15-17 “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”


Hebrews 13:7-19 “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. 18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.”
Ephesians 6:1 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
Ephesians 6:5-8 “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.”


1 Peter 3:1-6 “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”

We live in a world where people airbrush, spin, whitewash, sanitize, market, strategize, cover up, etc. Why? We live in a world where image and accolades are everything. We want recognition. We want to be adored…..


…I want recognition. I want to be adored. I want people to think well of me. I want glory. I want praise.

Praise and glory do not rightfully belong to me. All praise and glory belong to my God. He alone is worthy. He alone is sincere and righteous and pure in His own right. I am clean, but not because I have done anything righteous or pure. I am only clean because He cleansed me. He took me while I was stained and marred by sin. He took me knowing my sin (my nature, my inclinations, my actions—past, present, and future) and He paid the price for all of it. He cleansed me from the filth of it, it so that I can be pure in His sight and so that I can have peace and relationship with the One who is Pure, Holy, Righteous, and True. He is even doing the work in me to transform me into the image of Jesus the Perfect One so that I not only get “counted righteous” through Jesus’ work, but I get to experience redemption, restoration, and freedom from the sin that burdens me through the process of sanctification (shedding of sin and putting on of Christ-likeness). This is a process that God does in me, that happens gradually over a Christian’s lifetime, and that is incomplete in this lifetime. We get to experience complete freedom from sinfulness on the day that we are finally with Him in glory! What wonderful news!!!

Why then do I still want to look good in the eyes of others? Why then do I mourn damage to my reputation? Why then do I want to be liked and admired—not just so that others would see Christ in me, but so that they would see ME? This is so wrong!

Proverbs 25:27 “It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one's own glory.”


Isaiah 42: 8 “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.”


Romans 11:36 “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

Furthermore, when God is glorified, I have joy, peace, and hope!

Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”


Romans 5:1-2 “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

1 Peter 1: 3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Since I want to seek His glory and not my own, it is important that I walk in the light (i.e. that I am real, sincere, and honest with God, myself, and with others rather than trying to look like someone I am not). Here are just some reasons I ought to walk in the light:

1) God commands it (see all the Scriptures below).

2) So that others might see God’s workmanship and goodness in my life despite me, and that this would cause them to give glory where it is rightfully due--to God and not to me….

Ephesians 2:8-10 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

2 Cor 4:7 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

3) So that others might believe in God because of the testimony of what He has done in my life, and so that others would be encouraged that there is hope in Him for them too...

1 Timothy 1:15-17 “15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”


2 Cor 1: 3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

4) So that I would not be a stumbling block in causing despair in a brother or sister in Christ who sees a false fa├žade of self-righteousness in me while they struggle secretly with their own sin….

Romans 14: 13 ” … but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”


John 13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”


Matthew 18:1-5 "At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, 'Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.5 Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.' 7 'Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!’”

5) To experience forgiveness and freedom in Christ….

1 John 1: 5-10 “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

6) To be aware of and to acknowledge my utter dependence on Him…

2 Cor 12:9-10 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

7) To remain humble, submissive, and ready to receive God’s grace…

James 4:1-9 “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

8) So that others in the body can help me (and I in turn can help them as they are honest with me about where they need help)…

James 5:13-18 “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 7 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”

1 Peter 4:10 “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.”

1 Cor 12:4-7 “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

9) To expose myself (motives and actions) in such a way as to enable godly brothers and sisters to speak into my life with truth as they can sometimes see what my deceitful heart refuses to see…

Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”


Proverbs 27:6 “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”

10) So that I do not get puffed up or fall into thinking that I have reason to boast in anything but the Lord.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

11) So that I would not find my worth in the accolades of the world, but rather in the fact that I am a daughter of the Most High...

Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”


John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Matthew 10: 29-31 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”


Romans 8:14-17 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

12) So that I would worship no other God but the One True God (not myself, not my accomplishments, nor any other thing)...

Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”


Dear Heavenly Father,

Please forgive me for all the ways I try to steal your glory by desiring affirmation from the world rather than from you! Forgive me for wanting to hide my sin like Adam and Eve rather than to come into the light and receive your forgiveness and restoration and to show others how gracious you are to someone like me. Help me to walk in the light. May you ever get the glory in my life as you enable me to walk in the light. May my life be an encouragement to others because of what you have done for me and what you can do for them. I love you Lord. I thank you that in your glory I get joy, peace, and hope. I thank you that the more you are glorified, the more we get to experience joy, peace, and hope. Be glorified in our lives. Help us to be real with one another—Christians and non-Christians alike. May we always be led by your Spirit in what we share with others. May your Spirit produce sincerity in us. May your Spirit produce real and sincere fruit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control and the like. Help us to stop trying to fake it. In Jesus’ Glorious Name, Amen.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Yes, You are a Legalist...But God is Good!

I was recently blessed to have some sweet conversations this week--one with a friend who has weathered her share of trials and heartache in the last few years and has gained great wisdom and faith because of it. The other conversation was with my husband as he was talking about a topic that the Lord has placed on his heart and has given him a passion to preach on soon. Interestingly, both of these two separate conversations were about the same thing—the fact that any act of “obedience” done apart from love for God and love for people is hollow and meaningless legalism.

I wonder what your reaction to that statement is--- any act of “obedience” done apart from love for God and love for people is hollow and meaningless legalism. Perhaps you wholeheartedly agree with this statement and can even quote the Scriptures that teach it. For me, it is easier to understand this concept with my head than it is to live it with my heart, as legalism creeps into my heart in such subtle ways. Submission to my husband has been one way that this has shown itself in my life—often early on in our marriage (and sometimes still), my “submission” to my husband was more of a resentful resignation and the performance of a duty rather than act that flowed out of love for God or my husband. I knew I was supposed to submit to my husband—so I tried to do what he asked and I tried to hold my tongue. This was such an unfruitful exercise—it inhibited the oneness and unity between us and it caused resentment and bitterness to grow in me. Neither of these things honored or blessed my God or my husband (or me, for that matter). Yet somewhere in my head, I thought it was better to walk through the motions than to not do anything. But Scripture tells me, nothing I do apart from love counts for anything:

Galatians 5:6 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision (THINK: any act of outward obedience) counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”


1 Cor 13:1-3 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”


Matthew 22:34-40 “But when the Pharisees heard that he (Jesus) had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ 37 And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”


John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.


Romans 13:8-10 “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Something God has taught me and continues to teach me in practice daily is that when I don’t feel like loving God or loving people, I should pray! When I don’t feel like submitting to my husband, it is more fruitful to pray for love for him and for God. After all, my submission to Kristian is an expression of love for God and for him. Ephesians 5:22 tells me “Wives submit to your husbands, as to the Lord”. Just the verse before talks about “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”. Colossians 3:8 says “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” 1 Peter 3 talks about how submission to our husbands reflect our hope in God. The mere act of submission has no value apart from loving God and loving our husbands.

Now, this does not mean that if I am not “feeling love” for God or for my husband that I should not submit. This is where our legalist and self-serving hearts tend to go. What it does mean is that I ought to still act and pray with faith in the God who places love in our hearts!! I cannot muster up this kind of love in myself, and I know I am called to have sincere love--not "love" as the world defines it, but love that is sacrificial and returns blessing for reviling.  Fortunately, God has never failed to answer my prayers to create love in my heart. Sometimes I must pray and pray and pray—but He always does this miracle. Sometimes I must open my Bible and read of God’s character of scandalous love. Sometimes, I must go to a trusted friend who can pray with me and counsel me from the Word. Sometimes I must just tell Kristian that I am struggling to submit and ask for his help. Sometimes I must ask for his forgiveness--for being bitter or resentful.  But as I seek to be filled with God’s love, God is always faithful to fill me with His love (the love that loved me while I was dead in my trespasses!!!). He enables that very scandalous love to flow through me to others who, like me, do not deserve God’s love. As God has been slowly growing me in the area of submitting to my husband out of love, our marriage has been so blessed—we have grown in oneness, we have both been edified, and I believe that God has been glorified.

I used submission as just one example of an act of “obedience” that is meaningless without love. There are so many things though that we can “walk through the motions” on without love for God or others. When many of us think of legalism, we think of “religious people” and we do not consider ourselves one of “them”. We think of legalists as people who arbitrarily make rules against things like tattoos or drinking or watching television or movies. Or we think of people who do not interact with non-Christians, who listen to cheesy music, and who wear ugly clothes for the sake of  “holiness”. But the truth is that we all have our propensities toward legalism. Any act of “obedience” done apart from love for God and love for people is hollow and meaningless legalism. We can steward our money. We can steward our health. We can steward our time. We can give to the poor. We can attend church or Bible study. We can lead. We can submit. We can care for our loved ones. We can pray. We can read our Bible. We can listen to a friend in need. We can speak the truth. We can volunteer in the community. We can serve in church. We can preach the gospel. We can be faithful to our spouse. We can lead people to Christ. We can do many good and even necessary things—but these things lose their meaning without love.

If you are wondering about the ways in which you might be living in hollow and meaningless legalism, pray about it…ask your trusted loved ones who know you and know God and His Word. Ask yourself where there might be bitterness and resentment in your life and examine your action and inaction in these areas of your life—where is love for God and others in all of this? Ask yourself where your heart is plagued with condemnation (which does not come from the Lord).

Another big clue is to ask yourself, in what areas of my life are my “acts of obedience” joyless?

As you are reflecting on your own life, remember that God is gracious! He remembers that we are dust. He has promised to transform us and conform us to the image of His Son. He is the God who forgives and redeems, and in Him there is every hope!!

Lord, teach us to love you and to love others!! Show us how we are not doing this. Open our eyes where we are blind and show us grace! Forgive us for how quick we are to judge others for legalism or for failed obedience, and open our eyes to soberly assess ourselves. Teach us to remove the plank from our eyes. Help us not to live a life of dead works. Nothing we can do can bring us to you. You have done what needed to be done—you gave your life for ours. You give us faith, you keep us and transform us. Help us not to settle for hollow acts of joyless obedience. Father, you want so much more for us and for those you have placed in our lives! Give us the joy of serving you and others out of your pure and delightful love!! Help us to meditate on your love. Teach us of your love through your word and through interaction with your people! May your love be so real to us that it naturally flows from us to you and to others. In Jesus name, Amen

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Praying the Scriptures

Colossians 1
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant.  He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. 9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.


Thank you, Father, for the love you are growing in us for our brothers and sisters in Christ that exists because we live in hope--that you are who you say you are, that you have paid the price of the sin that used to separate us from you so that now, in faith, we get to enjoy relationship with you now!  And we have hope that you are changing us daily, transforming us into your image so that one day we can fully enjoy relationship with you and with your people--unhindered by sin!!  Thank you that this hope produces love in us.  Thank you that the truth of your Word came to us--that we heard it and understood your grace in truth!!  Thank you that it is bearing fruit in each of us and in this world.  Father, I pray for us.  May we be filled with the knowledge of your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding!!  Teach us to seek this out in your Word and through prayer and through fellowship with one another!  Help us to walk in a manner worthy of You, fully pleasing to You, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in our knowledge of you!!  Show us how and equip us!!  Strengthen us with all power, according to your glorious might--for all endurance and patience with joy.  There is so much in this life that requires our patience and endurance--we are in the difficult middle...help us to live joyfully with the glorious end in sight.  We thank you and help us to always thank you because you have qualified us, you have given us an inheritance, you have delivered us from darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of our beloved Jesus, in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of our sins!!!  Thank you!!  In Jesus Name, Amen.