Archive for February, 2013

A prudent person foresees the danger ahead and takes precautions; the simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.
Proverbs 22:3 (NLT)

It All Started with Phil
About a year ago, my husband came to me with a conviction that we should begin to prepare for a future that might be much different than the life we live now. We started on the journey of becoming what are commonly called “preppers.” Preppers are people who are actively preparing themselves to be able to ride out an emergency or disaster. What type of emergency they anticipate affects (or perhaps dictates) the types of preparations they make.

This isn’t our first rodeo. Phil and I did a bit of prepping during the Y2K scare. Because we made our living with our computers, we recognized the potential for disaster with a global computer malfunction, did some research, and prepared accordingly. While nothing came from Y2K, Phil has felt that it was a training ground or “dress rehearsal” for some future event. And Y2K was a time when I learned the value of having a well-stocked pantry. Prior to that, I had kept very little food in the house and any time I needed something, I ran to the store to get it. Now I love being able to run to the pantry – saves time and doesn’t require boots, coats and gasoline!

But I digress. When Phil first brought up the subject last year I didn’t take him seriously. So he dropped the subject, but kept researching on his own and began to make small prepping purchases within our budget. After awhile he brought up the subject again, with more directness and urgency. I was quickly overwhelmed. So we set it aside for a few days until we had the opportunity to sit together and he could lay out what he was thinking, why he was thinking it, and what he thought we ought to be doing.

I Got It
I was convinced.

The world is rapidly changing. Any of a number of things can go wrong which could drastically impact our lifestyle. The probability of any of them happening is…well, experts disagree on that point. But what was the probability of Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy? What was the probability of our economic depression of the past few years and what is the probability of a second one in the near term? What is the probability of a major crisis of the power grid or the financial world systems?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but beginning to prepare for a world that is drastically different from the one I live in now makes sense. Scripture makes it clear that the world will experience upheaval before Christ returns. Society will not continue as we know it prior to His second coming. What is the probability that will happen in my lifetime? Again, I don’t know the answer to that question. But I know that more and more frequently we are saying “Jesus is coming soon!” in response to strange things happening in the world.

I am not predicting the end of the world. There was absolutely no credence to the speculation that the world would end on December 21, as the Mayan calendar seemed to indicate. Nor do I believe in an impending Zombie Apocalypse. What I am saying is that there is a probability – perhaps a high probability – that the world will suffer some kind of devastation in my lifetime. And I want to do what makes sense to alleviate suffering for those in my family and those around me.

I’m not trying to instill fear in you. Rather, I see this as an exciting opportunity for the Church to be the Church. Imagine the tremendous impact we can have if we are able to provide food, heat and water to others when those things aren’t readily available!

Why Now?
Why am I writing about this now? Because a couple of weeks ago I read about God turning the Nile to blood in Egypt and this lesson screamed in my brain – things can change in an instant! In an instant, the people had no water. People can live only a week without water (give or take a few days depending on lots of factors). At some point which will surprise all of us, water could become scarce.

I’m not the only one beginning (or continuing) to declare the message that it is time to prepare. There are others that are also taking steps now, but for one reason or another most people aren’t going public with their preparations. While it’s not a prominent message from most pulpits, there are many who are hearing and speaking the warning. Add me to the ranks.

As such, Phil and I are praying about starting a blog that talks simply and directly about preparing for a world that is different from ours. More to come on that one.

Last year Phil kept saying “I just keep hearing the message over and over – start preparing.” Now I’m hearing the same message, in slightly different words. “Get ready!” is the message I’m hearing over and over.

Spiritual Implications
Getting ready has many facets. First and foremost, we must be ready spiritually. Our focus this month in the Living God’s Heart series has been repentance. It is the best place to start – by agreeing with God that we have sinned, asking His forgiveness for those sins and then living the way He wants us to live.

Getting ready and growing spiritually is what Apprehending Grace Ministries is all about – continually reaching to grasp all that God has for us. Sometimes that reaching means hard work and sometimes it means sitting at the feet of Jesus and letting him love and teach us. (Yes, I know – just sitting can be pretty hard work for many of us.)

Getting ready also means preparing in the natural. My sister lives in a place where they occasionally experience hurricanes. They live prepared for that future natural disaster that may hit their area. When one comes close they ramp up their preparations. They increase supplies of food and water and they put up the pieces of plywood they’ve cut to fit their windows. Similarly, we need to prepare for that time when life is much different from what it is now. That’s the message God is giving my husband and me – the storms are drawing closer, it’s time to increase preparations. It’s time to get ready.

What Can You Do Now?
The subject of preparing for a future disaster is huge. There are many elements to it. That’s what our new website will be about. It’s a big challenge and you may not see anything for a couple of months. In the meantime, here are some things you can do:

Pray – When you see news reports that tempt you to become disgusted with our government or say negative things about it, pray instead. We are to pray for those in authority over us – whether we agree with them or not. Pray that God will give our leaders wisdom and courage and integrity. Pray that our government will be full of men and women who seek God’s will regularly.

Pray – When you see the continuing moral decay in our nation, pray that God would bring revival to His church. Repent that we have not held up His standard of righteousness during our generation but have instead allowed the culture to change us more than we have impacted our culture. Pray that God would have compassion on our country.

Pray – For wisdom. Ask God about the validity of this message. Is He beginning to whisper in your ear that it’s time to “get ready”? If you’re like me, you’ll need to hear the message a couple of times before it takes hold. Pray!

Don’t be afraid. Don’t live in fear. Regardless of what happens in the coming days, God is in control. If you are tempted to fear, purposefully rest in God. Purposefully meditate on His goodness and His power and His majesty.

Look up for your redemption draws near! Satan rules this world for now, but a day is coming when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

To God be the glory.

Watch this space for more info on getting ready for the coming day when life is no longer as it is today.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

1In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, 2“Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
Matthew 3:1-2 (NLT)

As we’ve focused on repentance this month, I hope your spirit has become sensitive to God. I hope that as you’ve read these blogs they have worked their way into your heart and it has softened, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict you of sin in areas that you have previously been blind. I pray that you have taken those areas to the Lord and asked forgiveness. I trust that you are choosing to live differently as God leads you out of sin toward righteousness.

That’s our purpose for studying repentance. That’s God’s purpose for sending the Holy Spirit into our lives. Jesus spoke these words recorded in John 16:

7Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I go, I will send him unto you. 8And he, when he is come, will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.
John 16:7-9 (ASV)

Judgment is coming. Righteousness is available to us through the blood of Christ. The Holy Spirit, who is also called the Comforter, has been sent to us to convict us of our sin so that we might turn to the righteousness of Christ.

And the moment we turn to Christ, we begin to reap the benefits of repentance. John the Baptist’s message was “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

When we live in repentance, we draw closer to the Kingdom of Heaven. In response to questions by the Pharisees about when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus answered that “God’s Kingdom is already among you.” John 17:21b (The Message) One of the tremendous blessings that accompany repentance is a nearness to God and greater experience of the Kingdom of Heaven in our lives.

With the Kingdom of Heaven comes God’s blessings.

“God blesses those who realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.
Matthew 5:3 (NLT)

31“So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. 32Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, 33and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.
Matthew 6:33 (NLT)

God’s greatest desire is for us to pursue Him wholeheartedly. When our heart is bent toward repentance we are not only seeking God, but doing so with a desire to make His ways our ways. And that’s wholeheartedly seeking Him.

I pray that as we move to our third heart condition next week that we do so without leaving the repentant heart behind. Continue to meditate on the heart God wants you to develop as you spend time with Him this week.

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Last week I shared some of the lessons God’s been teaching me while learning a new sport. Last week’s lessons were primarily lessons in humility and discipline. The lessons I learned weren’t all personal ones, however. Learning a new sport – that is an activity that I essentially had no familiarity with prior to eight months ago – provided a great reminder about the process of learning something new – and our walk with the Lord should always be a process of learning something new.

It is so easy to fall into the trap of believing that becoming a more mature Christian simply happens – either by coming to know Christ or by knowing Him for a longer period of time. While the Lord is gracious, especially with new Christians, nothing is farther from the truth. If it were true, Paul wouldn’t impress upon us to “finish the race” – it would happen automatically.

I don’t think my experience was unique. Two things characterized my life as a new Christian: I loved studying His Word and spiritually I was growing at breakneck speed. Of course those two things were related, but both were also a function of God’s tremendous grace that is available to new believers. For many people, me included, spiritual lessons come easy in those early days.

While this is wonderful – wonderful! – it builds an expectation that spiritual growth just sort of happens automatically. After all, it didn’t feel like I was trying very hard and God was enabling me to grow andpractices o was consistently the worst shooter on the range on any given day to being able to consistently hit the target, usually within a couple of inches of where I’m aiming – for you non-shooters, that’s not bad, not bad at all. I went from being a lousy shot to being a pretty fair one. I’m not winning any awards, but I’m not doing badly either.

The  disciplines and that allowed me to improve as a shooter are the same disciplines and practices that will help me grow spiritually.

Why do I care about becoming spiritually mature? Two reasons:It pleases God and it benefits me. I like to think I’m motivated purely by the former. The truth is that the latter is important to me, too. Know what? God knows that! That’s why He’s taken the time to explain those reasons to me as well. The more I become like Christ (which is another way of saying becoming spiritually mature), the more I will live a blessed life. I will have more peace and contentment. I will walk into every situation with the presence of God as my constant companion. I will not be shaken by the circumstances of this world. What a great way to live! And of course it’s an even better way to die.

But I digress. Let’s look at the practices that helped me improve as a shooter.

Study: Shooting a gun accurately requires a whole lot more than picking it up, pointing it and pulling the trigger. Over the past six months I have spent a fair amount of time learning about what those other things are. I read. I watched videos. I read some more. I talked to people. I received formal and informal instruction from experts. I learned about types of guns, gun safety, gun handling, loading, cleaning, and of course shooting.

Paul urged Timothy to “study” to show that he is “a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, NRSV) If we don’t study God’s Word, we will not learn how to properly use it. It will not be a weapon available to us when the enemy attacks. That means you and I must spend time studying Scripture. Not just reading it devotionally, but studying it. Take notes during your pastor’s sermons. Join a small group that studies the Bible (not just books about the Bible). Study it on your own. Just study!

Apply what I learned: That manifested itself in three ways –

  1. I had to do things I’d never done before
  2. I had to do things differently than I ever had before
  3. I had to do things that just didn’t feel right

You can imagine that each of those things made me uncomfortable, but if I hadn’t endured the discomfort — worked through it – I would never have progressed. The same is true in our spiritual life. When we learn about practices in the Bible that are new to use, we need to try them. Maybe you’ve never fasted before – give it a try. Maybe you’ve never prayed with your arms raised – it’s Scriptural, so give it a try. It will feel unnatural – it won’t feel “right” – but try it. Then try it again. And again. Because it doesn’t feel right the first or the second or the third time. But eventually it clicks and it’s very right. Maybe you don’t like to pray in public. Get over it! Quit thinking about yourself and think about  the heart of God. Then pray.

Open yourself up to being obedient to serving and worshiping God in new ways. You will be uncomfortable. It won’t feel right at first. But there are facets of God to be discovered in those new patterns. Don’t miss them because youre unwilling to be uncomfortable.

Practice. Then practice more. Phil and I have taken many basic ballroom dance classes. One of our early instructors used to tell our class over and over again that we needed to practice each step a thousand times. Our next instructor was a very sweet older man. He would get a bit lost in his love for the dance and he’d encourage us to practice our dance steps as we walked down the street. Then he would demonstrate the practice. Phil and I were never quite ready to be that bold (aka, look that foolish) in public, but the point is both instructors agreed that the only way to learn the dance steps were to do the over and over and over again.

Getting something right doesn’t mean you’ve learned it. It means you’re somewhere between lucky and experiencing your “aha” moment – that point at which what you’re learning makes sense. To actually learn it you must do it correctly over and over again until doing it right is more natural than doing it wrong. Doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about target shooting or serving God.

The first time you pray publicly you might blunder your way through it. That’s OK. God isn’t judging you badly – he’s proud that you’re trying. Trust me – the person you know who prays beautifully in publicly – hey didn’t start out sounding like that and God doesn’t honor them or their prayers more than he honors you or your prayers.

Make time for it! To study, try new things and practice takes time. And time doesn’t materialize on its own. Phil and I had a weekly range date – Thursdays during lunch. Previously Thursdays had been our day to go out to lunch together. We had to give up those dates for our new dates. We also tried to fit another range date in many weeks. It meant not doing something else. To read in the evening we had to watch less TV. Growing spiritually means we have to make time commitments for God. When will you set aside time to study His Word? When will you set aside time to pray? When will you set aside time to serve Him in whatever area He’s called you?

There is payoff, friends. You will grow in Him. You will draw closer to Him. You will become more like Him. Those are very good things. Worth far more than gold or rubies. Worth more than the pearl of great price.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8 (NRSV)

1In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, 2“Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
Matthew 3:1-2 (NLT)

Remember, the word “repent” literally means “think differently” about your sins. We need to think differently about them because we tend to like them! Before we came to Christ were happy to indulge in many of them. But we’ve been called to repentance. We’re to think differently…But repenting isn’t only about thinking differently…

Skipping down to verse 5, Scripture continues…

5People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. 6And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. 7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? 8Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.”
Matthew 3:5-8 (NLT)

The way that we prove that we have repented – the way that we prove that we think differently about our sin – is by living differently. “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.”

Just as God’s actions prove His love for us, our actions prove our love for Him.

But what are those actions that prove we love God? Let’s look at what Colossians says:

1Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand….
5So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. 7You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. 8But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. 9Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.

Colossians 3:1-10 (NASB)

The first part of the chapter tells us that we’re to think differently about our sins – that we’re to repent of them, and not only think differently about them but to put them to death. Since we’ve been raised to new life with Christ, we’re to put to death the “sinful, earthly things lurking within you.” Whether we’ve been Christians for a few days or a few decades, when we’re honest with ourselves and God, we recognize that there are still sinful desires lurking within us.

Those sinful desires hang around the edges and wait for the opportunity to pounce. What are they? Paul doesn’t list all of them in this passage, but he lists these:

  • sexual immorality
  • impurity
  • lust
  • evil desires
  • Being greedy (for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world)
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • malicious behavior
  • slander
  • dirty language
  • lying

Paul says we’re to put these things to death. That requires action on our part.

Paul doesn’t say “watch them die,” he says “kill them.”

  • That means when you are tempted to lie, what should you do? Kill the lie – don’t let it live – don’t give it breath – instead, kill the lie by telling the truth.
  • When you are tempted to be greedy, what should you do? Kill the greed by being generous – giving something away that you love.
  • When you are tempted to be angry, what should you do? Kill the anger by showing love.

Becoming a mature believer doesn’t just happen because we come to church on Sunday and pray throughout the week. Becoming a mature believer doesn’t happen just because we read our Bibles every day. Becoming a mature believer happens as we think like God thinks about our sins – we repent of them and put them to death.

And I know that’s not easy, but this Colossians passage has helped me over the past month because of the imagery. As Paul wrote in verses 9 and 10:

Don’t lie to each other for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.
Colossians 3:1-10 (NASB)

Paul uses the imagery of putting on our new nature and he continues it. Let’s skip to verse 12.

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved,…
Colossians 3:12 (NASB)

I love that intro. Paul started chapter 3 by saying “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand…” now he begins the second half of the chapter by saying “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved…”

Paul is giving us instructions how to prove our love to God, but he fills the chapter with words that reassure us that we are loved by God. God has already proved His love for us.

12So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
Colossians 3:12-14 (NASB)

Those 5 verses are chock full of instructions for living in a way that pleases God. I want to look at them a little more closely this afternoon. What do they say?

V12 “Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

“Put on” – Like you put your clothes on each morning! And we have to do it each morning because those characteristics, those qualities, don’t come naturally to most of us. So each morning, and sometimes many times throughout the day, we have to consciously think “I am going to put on patience right now.” Or “I am going to put on kindness right now.”

I put my sweater on a dozen times a day because I get cold. I need to put on compassion and kindness and humility and gentleness and patience just as many times because my heart grows cold and I want to be impatient and selfish and demanding. (I know that’s hard to believe about me, but it’s true.)

V13
“Bearing with one another, forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”

“Bearing with one another” means putting up with each other! But doing so with patience and kindness and gentleness and compassion and humility! You know, sometimes my husband really gets on my nerves! Not very often, but it happens! And when that happens, I have two choices: Be frustrated with him and snap at him, or take a deep breath and put on patience and bear with him.

And if he has done something to offend me, I’m to forgive him – just as the Lord has forgiven me.

V14 “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”

We are most like Christ when we love one another. Scripture describes love as the perfect bond of unity. It is what Jesus prayed for us before His crucifixion:

20“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
John 17:20-21 (NKJV)

Jesus prayed that we would be one. That requires putting on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. So when we get dressed in the morning, we also pray “Lord, help me to love like You love today.” Because I can’t do it on my own. I need His refreshing and His filling each day.

Jesus gave us the example of perfect love:

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8 (NRSV)

When He has done so much for us, let’s commit again to prove that we love Him. As He prompts us this week, let’s put our repentance into action – let’s put to death the deeds of the flesh and put on patience and kindness, forgiveness and love.

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I’ve taken up a new sport – target shooting! If you had told me a year ago that I’d be going to the shooting range on a regular basis I would certainly have told you that you had me confused with someone else. And I would have been wrong. There are many reasons why I’ve picked up this sport, and I’ll leave the discussion of those for another blog. Today I want to share general lessons about my journey to learn a new sport.

When Phil and I decided to take up target shooting, we first signed us up for a gun safety class. The class included eight hours of classroom instruction followed by a couple of hours at a shooting range.

I was intimidated. But the instructor was great and he quickly put us at ease in both locations. So eventually we were trained enough to feel comfortable to go to the range alone. With our new guns. And comfortable is a relative term.

I share all this so that you understand two things:

  1. We approached the sport with a “safety first” perspective. I understand that talking about guns and target shooting can make some people uncomfortable. It did me.
  2. I was way out of my element. I had one afternoon of pistol safety, handling and shooting instruction before I became an Air Force officer…thirty-five years ago! I didn’t shoot well enough then to “qualify” – that is, be recognized as passing the training. It was OK because I was clearly headed for a desk job.

Let me repeat: I was out of my element. No computer, no desk, no pulpit. Just guns, ammo and the outdoors. Oh, and hearing protection. Trust me, no one looks good in hearing protection. And I had absolutely no idea how to hear what Phil was saying to me when I was wearing it! Ears on, ears off…ears on, ears off. No one else on the range seemed to be having this problem. Ugh. (FYI, I’ve since cracked the code – you purchase special (that is, more expensive) ear protection that filters out loud noise but lets in conversation level noise. Phil got me a pair for Christmas!)

God has used this journey into a new sport to teach me some things about myself and my walk with Him. I’m finally ready to share them with you. (FYI, usually when God teaches me something you’re the first to hear about it. These lessons were different – it took me longer to process them and be ready to share them with you.)

I had fallen into a life that lacked risk-taking. The first thing that smacked me in the face when I took up target shooting was the realization that I was intimidated by not knowing things. I was embarrassed at not knowing what to do when things didn’t go as planned. I was intimidated when we went gun shopping. I didn’t know what questions to ask and I knew that I wasn’t using terminology correctly. “They must think I’m such a fool,” I’d think. I hadn’t realized that being knowledgeable was so important to me.

That’s when I realized that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less accustomed to not knowing how to do something. Not because I’ve grown older, but because I’ve lived a “safer” life during the process – I take less risks. I don’t like that. While becoming less of a risk-taker is normal as one grows older (it’s often called wisdom!), as believers in Christ, we ought to always be living a little on the edge. I was attending a business training webinar today and the speaker said something along the lines of your goals being too small (aka safe) if you can see yourself achieving them on your own. I want to have God-sized goals for my life. That means trying new things and taking God-ordained risks.

I like being good at things. (Hmmm, there’s got to be too much pride in that.) When we first started going to the range, it quickly became clear that I wasn’t very good at hitting the target! I was surprised by that but even more surprised at how much being good at something impacted how much I enjoyed it. I was consistently the worst person at the range. That embarrassed me. I struggled to enjoy a sport at which I seemed to have little ability.

I really liked many things about the sport – I was spending more time outdoors, I was getting more exercise, I was spending more time in leisure activities with my husband, I was learning something new. Those were all positives. The only negative was that I wasn’t good at it. And because of that, I really struggled to enjoy myself. It was as if my identity or worth was somehow connected to being good at a sport I was just learning. How stupid is that? Pretty stupid is the answer. Not being good at target shooting was the only thing that was keeping me from totally enjoying myself.

And I wanted to be enjoying myself. Phil was enjoying the sport a great deal and I wanted to share it with him. So I had to learn how to be happy with my poor performance – which is a strange combination of lowering my expectations while still keeping them high. If I was going to enjoy our range outings, I needed to not be negatively impacted by poor aim while still trying to get better at hitting the target. There are spiritual implications in that lesson. In Christ, I am called to always hope and always have faith, even when I don’t see the answers to my prayers becoming a reality. I’m to be content in whatever circumstances God has placed me. Enjoying target shooting has helped me to understand some of the dynamic tension at work in living contradictions.

Hitting the target requires keeping many disciplines in balance. There are many elements that go into accurate shooting – breath control, stance, site, trigger pull, for example. All are required to be successful. You can do pretty well by concentrating on just a couple of them, but to excel requires attention to detail in each area. I learned quickly that I could have everything right except trigger pull and I might as well have had none of them right. Conversely, when I got trigger pull down, I would shoot better if I remembered to breath correctly, but even when I forgot I’d hit still the target…perhaps not quite where I was aiming, but pretty close.

The same is true for our walk with the Lord. To have a healthy and dynamic relationship with God, we can’t rely on being consistent in just one discipline. I can pray regularly, but if I don’t pair that with reading Scripture, my prayers will soon be off the mark. They will quickly degrade into prayers that don’t focus on God’s desires and His plans. Similarly, I can prayer regularly and consistently read my Bible, but if I don’t put any of God’s commandments into action my spiritual journey will progress with a significant limp. If I don’t serve God and others in some way, I lose the opportunity to grow through sacrifice and working with others. And if I pray and read and serve well but my life lacks worship – spending time in intimacy with the Lord – I am at risk for becoming burdened by the disciplines and losing my first love.

My journey into learning a new sport has been interesting on many levels. Who would have thought that it would have included lessons about myself and God? I thought I was just humoring my husband because he thought it would be fun. God really does use all things for our good – even those things we’re not good at!

Let me encourage you today to challenge yourself in some new area. You, too, might be surprised at the lessons He has in store for you. So go ahead – make 2013 the year you learn something new!

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

“The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
Jesus, Mark 1:15b (NLT)

Last week we looked at John the Baptist’s message to the Israelites:

“Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
John the Baptist, Matthew 3:2 (NLT)

John was only the forerunner with the message. The Messiah was to follow bringing the same message:

“The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
Mark 1:15 (NLT)

Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah didn’t come as the conquering king the Israelites expected, He came as one following in the footsteps of a man who lived in the wilderness, dressed in camel hair and ate locusts and honey. He came as one following in the footsteps of a man who called the Israelites to repentance and who was jailed and beheaded. The Messiah didn’t come with a message to those who had conquered the Israelites; rather, He came with a message to the Israelites: Get your house in order! Live the way you are supposed to live. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

It’s the same message He has for us today. You see, the message of repentance isn’t for the worst sinners, it is for all sinners.

1About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. 2“Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? 3Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. 4And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? 5No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”
Luke 13:1-5 (NLT)

His promise is the same as the promise made by John the Baptist – the kingdom of God is at hand. The kingdom of God is available to those who repent. It is the same call and promise that God has been making throughout time:

12That is why the LORD says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. 13Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish.
Joel 2:12-13 (NLT)

God remains the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He calls us to repentance. Not because He wants to watch us grovel, but because He wants to forgive us and give us the Kingdom of heaven.

In her blog The Prayer of Confession Requires a Repentant Heart, Kim Butts quotes Dick Eastman:

“Confession is a heartfelt recognition of what we are. It is important to God because it indicates that we take seriously our mistakes and failures. Of course, God does not ask us to confess our sins because He needs to know we have sinned, but because He knows that we need to know we have sinned.”
Dick Eastman, The Hour That Changes the World

Check out Kim’s blog here.

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I got a new laptop recently. My husband has graciously loaded many of the programs I use regularly on it and I’ve not started to use it. This morning I was trying to take notes while watching a video. Easy task, right? Not so when everything is new. This laptop uses a newer operating system than my old one. ()f course – anything older than a few months seems to use a new operating system – yes, I know I’m exaggerating, but consider this your first indication that things have not gone well.) Additionally, the hardware (i.e., the laptop itself) has many keys in different locations, along with a different touchpad and mouse configuration. Combine the two and chaos ensues.

It seemed that every time I started taking notes I would select many lines of text already on the screen and type over them. Ugh. In my attempt then to undo that mistake and move the mouse to the correct location I’d miss information as the video continued to play. So I’d click on the video to pause it. Instead of pausing, the video would go to full screen view and continue to play. Ugh. In my old operating system, clicking on the video would pause it. So I reduce the size of the video and then accidentally click the stop button instead of the pause button. Stopping the video takes it back to the beginning, so I’d have to find where I’m at in the video, which is a trial and error process. After finding my spot, I return to my Word file to make notes and the process starts over again. That’s why watching the 30 minute video this morning has taken me an hour. And that’s why I’m a bit jumpy.

Add to that miscommunications with my husband who is experiencing muscle spasms in his back this morning and I’m even more jumpy. So I set everything aside to talk with him only to have him say “you’re really stressed this morning.” Uh, yeah…

But I don’t want to be. So I asked him if we could put off our conversation for fifteen minutes and I returned to the Psalm I read during devotions this morning.

I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
Psalm 16:8 (NLT)

This verse wasn’t written about challenges with computers or husbands. It was written about the fear David faced as he was pursued by King Saul. Saul wanted to kill David. I’m only having a frustrating day with my new laptop. (Yes, I’m thankful for my laptop, right?)

Still, the words soothed my soul. The Lord is always at my right hand. He is always with me. He is always my shield and my Savior. He is my strength – even strength to overcome life’s frustrations when they seem extraordinarily frustrating.

2I said to the LORD, “You are my Master! Every good thing I have comes from you.”…

5LORD, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. You guard all that is mine. 6The land you have given me is a pleasant land. What a wonderful inheritance!

7I will bless the LORD who guides me; even at night my heart instructs me. 8I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
Psalm 16:2, 5-8 (NLT)

I began writing this blog fifteen minutes ago. And I can tell you this: my attitude now is miles away from when I started. Stress evaporates in the light of the Lord if we allow it. Don’t hold on to it. Take it to Him.

The truth is, my stress evaporated within about a minute when I turned to this Psalm. The other fourteen minutes were spent telling you about it! Everyone has a minute. Everyone. Don’t let the enemy convince you otherwise. If you’re stressed – or frustrated or annoyed or angry or depressed or anything other than at peace – take a minute to let God reorient your thinking. Don’t let this world shake you. God is by your side.

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One would have to be in a pretty bad place for prison to be considered a promotion…at least as we view things. Perhaps, however, we’re not seeing with God’s eyes.

The story of Joseph is an interesting one. Sold by his brothers to traveling merchants, he ended up in the household of the Pharaoh’s (King’s) Chief of Security, Potiphar. He was quickly promoted to being Potiphar’s personal assistant and placed in charge of his entire household. Potiphar’s wife found Joseph quite attractive and begged him (repeatedly) to have sex with her. When Joseph refused, she accused him of trying to rape her. Without any investigation or even listening to Joseph’s side of the story, Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison. For the second time in his life, Joseph was dealt a tremendous injustice.

I don’t think there are any of us who would consider Joseph’s change in position a promotion. Yet when we see the whole of the story, we can see that it was.

Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison.
Genesis 39:22 (NLT)

In Potiphar’s home, Joseph learned how to run a home. In prison, Joseph learned how to run a prison. He got practical experience in how to manage the prison for the Pharaoh of Egypt. Yes, he was a slave in both cases, but running a prison is a much larger responsibility than running a home.

Being in prison also put Joseph in the place he needed to be to receive his next promotion. It was in prison that he met the Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer and baker. It would be the cup-bearer who would introduce the Pharaoh to Joseph. It would then be Pharaoh who promoted Joseph to Prime Minister of Egypt. It is this promotion that put Joseph in a position to save his brothers (yes, the very brothers who had sold him into slavery) and his father from dying of hunger during the severe famine. He learned and refined the skills he needed during his time as Potiphar’s assistant and head of the Pharaoh’s prison.

In each situation, God was preparing Joseph for his next assignment.

I can’t imagine that Joseph was happy about being sold to Potiphar or being thrown in jail. Nevertheless, he was faithful to God – which means more than praying – he was faithful to do his best in the situation God had placed him.

It’s painful to realize that it is God who has placed us where we are when we’re not where we want to be or where we think we deserve to be. I remember an exceedingly painful time in my life when thinking that God had allowed what had transpired to happen only magnified my pain. Joseph’s situation was worse than mine. I may have been betrayed, but I wasn’t sold to others and I wasn’t thrown into prison for staying faithful to God.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

But “working things together for good” is a process. The start of a project – whether it’s a painting or a building or cleaning the house – is often messy. And those involved in a project from the start can get pretty messy before they receive accolades for the finished product.

Our role in all this is to remain both faithful and full of faith – faithful to be obedient to One who knows the end before we even see the beginning and full of faith that He is good and is working for our good.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

Are you being challenged to be faithful or full of faith today? Don’t give up. God is working – in you, in those around you, in the situation and in your future. In the meantime…

  • Focus on God, not on your situation.
  • Remember His goodness and His faithfulness.
  • Know that His ways bring blessing even if your current circumstances seem to prove otherwise.
  • Remain thankful. Look for opportunities to be thankful.
  • Practice the sacrifice of praise – praising God in the midst of challenging times.
  • Find a church family whose love will help you through to the other side.
  • Seek His presence regularly.

These things sound like platitudes, but they are foundational actions that will help you remain steadfast during the challenging times in your life. They will help you remain both faithful and full of faith.

By the way…did you notice that all the words first words in the above list are verbs – action words. Be proactive when you’re in challenging situations. Work at staying close to God. Work at staying faithful and full of faith.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 3:2 (RSV)

When we seek God with our whole heart, it changes us. One of the ways we are changed is that we begin to understand how deeply horrible our sin is to God. As we continue to seek God, that understanding moves from our minds to our hearts. We become grieved in our hearts and spirits at the things we’ve done and the things we’ve thought. And if our heart remains open to God’s Spirit, we become repentant. Over the next few weeks, I want to explore what it means to have a repentant heart.

John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ. Isaiah 40:3 is a prophecy about the ministry of John the Baptist:

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the LORD! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God!
Isaiah 40:3 (NLT)

In other words, his message would be one of preparing the way for the Lord to come. In Isaiah it’s described as “clearing the way through the wilderness” and “making a straight highway through the wasteland.”

The wilderness and the wasteland is our life – our sinful life. It’s a land that must be cleared before God can move in. I’m not saying that we have to get rid of all the sin in our life before we invite Christ to be our Lord and Savior. If that were the case, none of us would ever be ready to be saved. No, friends, sin has too strong a hold on each of us.

What I’m saying is that we must come to the place of (1) agreeing with God that our lives are wilderness and wasteland, (2) asking Him to come take over the mess and (3) committing to working with Him to follow His ways instead of our sinful ways.

That’s what opens the path in the wilderness and God loves walking through that path.
What the Apostle John actually said to the people was more to the point:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 3:2 (RSV)

Now the word “repent” literally means “think differently” about your sins. It’s the place we all must come to if we are to live for Christ. Because, quite frankly, before we come to Christ, we like our sin. We’re happy to indulge in many of them. But God, through John the Baptist, calls on us to think differently about our sins. We’re to repent.

But that’s not a popular word in our culture. You’re more likely to hear someone say “I have no regrets” than “I repent” or “I have repented.” The concept of “no regrets” is one that denies our sin. Scripture has something to say about that:

8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9 (RSV)

The truth is that we are sinners and we have sinned. Repenting of our sin means that we learn to think differently about them – to think about our sin as God does.

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.
Isaiah 64:6 (NLT)

We are all infected and impure with sin. To think otherwise is to be deceived. But God is ready to forgive our sins when we come to Him with repentant hearts. He will cleanse our hearts from the darkness within them when we are truly repentant. Being remorseful isn’t enough – simply being sorry doesn’t cut it. Repentance means hating our sin as God hates it. And it opens the door for God to enter and wipe clean all the sin that we come to agreement with Him about. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Amen!

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Two women friends chatting over coffee at homeWhat Ever Happened to Biblical Fellowship?
A few weeks ago, Phil and I spent an evening with a friend playing games, getting to know one another’s history, then worshiping and engaging in Biblical fellowship. It was a wonderful night. We had great fun playing a quirky board game. We enjoyed the food we shared. Worship was wonderful. But the best part for Phil and I was the Biblical fellowship. In all honesty, it feels a bit wrong to say that the Biblical fellowship was better than the worship, but I think it’s an issue of familiarity. I enjoy worship frequently. True Biblical fellowship is so rare. And that’s a sad thing.

Biblical fellowship is not just fellowship with other believers. It is fellowship centered around what God is doing in our lives. It is talking about what we are learning from our daily Bible reading. It is sharing the nuggets of joy or peace or His presence that we experienced during our times with God. It’s talking about a recent sermon we heard or book we read that impacted us. It’s sharing our spiritual history with one another.

The sad thing is that in Christian gatherings, the conversation sounds much like the conversation around the water cooler at work, perhaps different only in the cleaned-up language that is used. Topics and conclusions differ little. It is an indictment against us that we talk more about sports and hobbies and families than about what God is doing in our lives.

Why are our conversations so lacking in spiritual content?
Three answers come to mind immediately:

  1. We are embarrassed to appear “too spiritual” to our friends. Since no one else is doing it, we’re embarrassed to be the first kid on the block to change the conversation. I say, let’s be courageous! Start the conversation!
  2. We don’t want to embarrass the people we’re talking to. Maybe they aren’t in a place in their spiritual walk where they would have something to share. And we don’t embarrass them. Phil and I have found that the people we want to be around most are those who challenge spiritually. If that’s the case, why do we shy away from being those people? Again, I say – let’s be courageous! Let’s start the conversations!
  3. We aren’t spiritual enough. We can’t talk about what God is doing in our lives because we’re not aware of what He’s doing. We’ve allowed our life and our vision to be filled with the things of this world leaving little or no room to encounter God and see Him at work in our life. I don’t want to be that person (but admit that I sometimes (often?) am). I say – let’s make God a priority every day, and then practice looking for God at work in our lives. (Read Developing a Seeking Heart for more on this.)

Biblical Fellowship Conversation Starters
While generally it’s a good idea to start conversations by asking questions about the person you’re talking with, when introducing Biblical fellowship into your conversations, that might be a bit risky. It puts others in a vulnerable position. It’s much better to start your Biblical fellowship conversations with stories about your own experience. After sharing your vulnerability, you can engage them in the conversation by asking questions. Here are some ways to get the Biblical fellowship conversation started:

  • “I saw something yesterday that reminded me of the goodness of God. __________________________________.” (Sometimes all it takes is beginning the conversation. Your initial comment may spark continued Biblical fellowship in others without you asking them any questions.
  • “I read something interesting in during my quiet time this morning…” Then follow your story up with something like ‘What do you think about that passage?”
  • “I noticed something I’ve never noticed before in the story of _________________ (fill in the appropriate Bible story). Have you noticed that before? What do you think about it?”
  • “I read a blog this morning that challenged me to _________________. How do you _________________?”
  • “Recently, God has been impressing upon me the need to _________________, but I don’t know where to start. Do you have any ideas? How do you _________________?”
  • “On Sunday, our pastor said _________________ and it really hit me. So I’ve started to _________________. But I’m having a hard time with _________________. How do you do that?”
  • “Tell me about how you came to the Lord.”
  • “Have you attended any Christian conferences recently? What was the theme? What impacted you the most?”

In our society, the conversation rarely centers around God (at least not in a positive way), even at Christian gatherings. Be the person that changes that. Yes, it takes courage. Yes, it means making yourself vulnerable to others. And yes, you’ll be opening the door to uplifting and encouraging conversation. So a final time, I say – let’s be courageous! Let’s start the conversations!

Oh, and by the way, it’s a great way to enhance your spiritual walk with your spouse. Take your joint walk with the Lord to new levels by regularly having Biblical fellowship.

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