Archive for the “Obedience” Category

Christianity in America tends to major on love and minor on obedience. We seek intimacy and try to avoid obedience. We like the soft, feely stuff but hate the hard, uncomfortable stuff. Leviticus 26:14-15 got my attention when I read it a couple of weeks ago.

14“However, if you do not listen to me or obey all these commands, 15and if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt, and refusing to obey my commands, 16I will punish you….”
Leviticus 26:14-16a (NLT)

Don’t get me wrong. It was coming into a greater understanding of God’s overwhelming love for me that set me free to be the person God wants me to be. It was understanding how outrageously passionate He is for me that changed my mental image of Him. I used to see God as always standing in heaven shaking His head at me wondering when I’d ever get it right. Now I know He’s my greatest cheerleader, my greatest encourager, and the proudest Abba Father you can imagine. It’s the over-the-top pleasure He takes in me that brings joy to my life.

That great love frees me to take risks for Him. I know He will always love me, even when I get it wrong.

But that doesn’t mean He is pleased with wrong actions, and embracing His love must not come at the expense of embracing His righteousness and justice. It must not come at the expense of His holiness.

I admit it – I don’t know how and when and where to draw the lines. But I know that our churches are filled with people who praise God on Sunday mornings yet live unholy lives. And that grieves me. Because we, the Church, could have so much more impact. Yet I also know that it is not my place to judge another man’s servant (Romans 14:4). So perhaps the place to start drawing the line is with myself. I must be diligent to embrace obedience and God’s holiness. I must put into practice what I read – which means I must read with the intention of responding.

Apprehending the grace God has for us each day is done in many ways – by seeking Him every morning, by taking what He offers by faith, by receiving His love and by obeying His commands. Obeying God’s commands – that is, making daily life and lifestyle choices that are consistent with God’s Word – is just one way of bring more of His grace into our lives. It pleases Him. Even when we don’t get it all right.

Conversely, disobedience displeases God and brings punishment. He is our heavenly Father and He disciplines us as a father.

5And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. 6For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”

10For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
Hebrews 12:5-6, 10-11 (NLT)

In the midst of celebrating God’s great love, it’s critically important to remember that He is also a holy, holy God who disciplines His children. When things go wrong in our lives perhaps sometimes we are too quick to give the enemy credit for hassling it – perhaps we should be asking if God is punishing us.

At the risk of diluting the message of obedience in this blog, I want to provide balance. There are people who haven’t embraced God’s passionate love for them. There are those who see Him as I used to – as the One who always sees the flaws in their actions and whose standards are so high I can only feel condemned by them. Condemnation is from satan. Conviction is from the Lord. You can read about the difference in this Apprehending Grace blog about how very much God loves us.

If you fall into that category, I highly recommend that you read books by Brennan Manning. The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out is a great place to start. Brennan Manning died just a couple of weeks ago. This blog by Steve Wiens captured Manning’s message. Check it out and don’t miss the compilation video at the end.  It’s long, but it’s worth listening to. You will be inspired by God’s message of compassion and love spoken to and through his servant Brennan Manning.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartOur Living God’s Heart series has one goal – allowing God to transform our hearts so that we are living from a heart that reflects His heart. Each week I’ve written a blog about a condition of our heart, encouraging us to develop a heart like God’s. Because it is out of our heart that we speak and act (Luke 6:45). And how we speak and act in this life has impact on those around us and those who come after us.

Before moving forward, I thought a recap of our first heart conditions might be helpful. I’m providing the highlights of the blogs in this series, but you’ll find links to each of them throughout this article.

A Seeking Heart looks for God – it watches for what He is doing because what He is doing reveals His nature, His plans and His purposes. It seeks Him in every situation because a seeking heart wants to know God – know ALL of Him. At the end of this

Developing a seeking heart is not about doing all the right things, it’s about connecting with God. It’s not about knowing things about God. It’s about knowing God. And to truly know God, you must have an experience with God – which means more than simply reading Scripture and praying. It means lingering with Him. It means not giving up until you have touched the hem of His garment.

As we seek Him, we must do so with a humble and obedient attitude. We don’t read and pray simply out of curiosity or hoping to get something. Rather, we read and pray in a more purposeful and intent manner – desiring to know Him and His ways and being willing to come under His authority – to change our actions to be consistent with what we learn about our Creator. The humble heart recognizes that He is the Creator and we are the created. It recognizes that we are but dust and He is all glory. It knows that He is King and we are His servants.

An Obedient Heart flows out of the heart that seeks God. We listen for His voice with the intent to obey. An obedient heart has a predisposition to obey. We see that attitude in the prophet Samuel and in Paul. The Apostle Paul wrote that when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ everything else is worthless, and as such, seeking Him wholeheartedly is the only appropriate response. Paul wrote that he discarded everything so that he might gain Christ – that he might become one with Him. (Philippians 3:8-9a) That’s living with the intent to obey Christ.

A Repentant HeartWhen we seek God with our whole heart, it changes us. In many ways. One of those ways is that we begin to understand how deeply horrible our sin is to God. We become grieved in our hearts and spirits at the things we’ve done and the things we’ve thought. That’s the beginning of repentance.

The word “repent” literally means to “think differently” about your sins – as we become grieved at our sin, we are thinking differently about it. We are agreeing with God that it is an offense.

“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near” was the call of both John the Baptist and Jesus.

“Live the way you are supposed to live,” was their message. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”

Thus, the proof of our repentance is in how we live. We’re to live in love and holiness and obedience to God.

A Clean Heart is the result of regularly coming before the Lord to confess our sins. God promises that when we confess our sins, “He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God is so faithful. He forgives and He cleanses. He turns our sinful heart into a pure and clean heart.

That pure heart is one that can now see God in greater ways (Matthew 5:8), and when we see God, we will worship Him.Those with a pure heart will gaze upon the Lord in awe or amazement. We won’t just look at Him in passing. We won’t seriously inspect Him. We won’t watch Him from a distance. We will gaze at Him in awe – we will worship Him.

A Heart Filled with Outrageous Praise flows from the heart of worship. We’ll look at the heart of worship and praise in more depth later in the year, but we paused from our monthly focuses to look at the heart filled with outrageous praise during the week of Palm Sunday. How can we focus on anything but praise as we read the story of Jesus triumphal entry and hear the shouts of all around “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

The praise of Jesus’ followers was quite fickle, however, because it soon turned to “Crucify Him.” It was for God’s purposes that Jesus died on the cross (Acts 2:23).

A Beating Heart – But God raised Jesus from the dead “because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24). Hallelujah! “He is risen from the dead” the angel said (Matthew 28:6). Jesus is alive forever! His heart beats for you and for me. It is a heart of compassion and love, yet it also beats with the power that raised Jesus from the dead. That power is available to those who believe.

Wow! We’ve covered a lot of ground during the first quarter of 2013.And we have a lot more ground to cover, but I thought it was a good idea to pause for a week and remind ourselves of what we’ve been learning. Living God’s heart truly will transform us if we persevere in it. But if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to get sidetracked. So this is our “catch up” week – the week during which we review what we’ve learned and refresh ourselves in those areas where we might have been distracted. Here they are again:

  • A Seeking Heart
  • An Obedient Heart
  • A Repentant Heart
  • A Clean Heart
  • A Heart Filled with Outrageous Praise
  • A Beating Heart

Which “heart” did God highlight as you read today’s blog? That’s the heart condition for you and God to work on over the next few days.

Tell me how it’s going. I’d love to hear from you. Post a comment to the blog, on Facebook, or email me.

And if you’re finding our Living God’s Heart series helpful, I hope you’ll share it with a friend. Just click on any of the links below.

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Last Sunday our pastor preached about the importance of obedience. Obedience – immediate obedience – opens the door for the opportunity to worship. Disobedience, on the other hand, brings about destruction – ours and those around us. I’ll be picking up on that point as I preach a resurrection message this Sunday. The first thing that happened when the women found the empty tomb on that first Resurrection Sunday morning is that they were given an assignment. “Go quickly and tell the disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead’” (Matthew 28:7b, NIV) the angel said.

Scripture records their obedience:

8The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. 9And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him.
Matthew 28:8-9 (NLT)

The women were very frightened – not just a little afraid, they were very frightened – a synonym for the word translated “very afraid” would be “in terror.” Yet they were immediately obedient. They rushed to respond. And as they went, they met Jesus. And they worshipped. If they had not been obedient, would they have met Jesus? Would they have had the opportunity to worship at His feet? Honestly, we have no way of knowing what God would have chosen to do but what we can say definitively is that they were obedient and in their obedience, they met Jesus.

That’s a preview of my Sunday sermon.

Today, I’m reading Acts chapter 10. (I’m a couple of days behind in my Resting at the River’s Edge reading.) God sent an angel to give Cornelius an assignment – send some men to find Peter and bring him to your home. Verses 7 and 8 reveal Cornelius’ immediate obedience.

7As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. 8He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa.
Acts 10:7-8 (NLT)

That’s immediate obedience. And it opened the door for tremendous blessing.

So Cornelius’ men set off for Joppa and arrived there about noon the next day, just as Peter was going to the rooftop to pray. As Peter prayed, God gave him a vision and a command that went against everything he had been taught as an Israelite. Then the Holy Spirit then told him to go with the men who were arriving at his door. This also would have gone against all he had been taught. You see the men coming to Peter’s door were Gentiles and they were servants of a Gentile.

Peter describes the situation and his response upon meeting Cornelius and the people he had gathered in his home:

[Peter] said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection.” Acts 10:28-29a (NIV)

Peter was immediately obedient when He heard God’s voice – even when it contradicted the earthly teaching he had received. And it opened the door for tremendous blessing.

The blessing that Cornelius and Peter received as a result of their obedience is described in the last verses of Acts 10:

44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, 47”Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Acts 10:44-48 (NIV)

The obedience of Cornelius and Peter opened the door for faith to arise in the hearts of those in Cornelius’ household. They believed Peter’s message:

36“You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all…39We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen…42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Acts 10:36, 39-40, 42-43 (NIV)

Cornelius’ obedience, Peter’s obedience, even the obedience of others in Cornelius household who came to hear the man of God preach – their obedience led to the sending of the Holy Spirit and the rising of faith in their hearts.

Going to the home of a Gentile, eating with him and definitely sharing the Gospel with him got Peter in a lot of trouble with other believers. Read about it (and the resolution of their conflict) in Acts 11.

Obeying God may get us in some hot water, but it is always the right thing to do and it always has blessings attached to it. May it include suffering along the way? Yes. But there are blessings attached to obedience. Blessings for those who obey and for others in their sphere of influence.

Embrace obedience. Even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when it means hardship. Embrace obedience out of love for God. But know that because of His love for us, there are always blessings that will come from that obedience.

Do you have a story of blessings following obedience? Share them with us here or on our facebook page.

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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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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

The humble shall see their God at work and be glad;
And you who seek God, your hearts shall live.
Psalm 69:32 (NLT/NKJV)

A seeking heart is not simply a curious heart. Rather, it is a heart that approaches God with purpose and intent. Curiosity is simply a “wondering.” I wonder what’s at the end of this road. I wonder if that dog is friendly. We may begin our pursuit with a wondering – does He exist? Is He real? Will He answer me? God will respond to our wonderings – our curiosity, but only to a point. He will reveal a bit of Himself to the curious. But if we truly want to know God, we must move beyond curiosity to humility and obedience.

Satisfying our curiosity is something we do for entertainment and amusement. While God will provide entertainment and amusement, we don’t seek Him for that. We seek Him because He is worthy of our attention, praise and obedience. Curiosity is me-focused (satisfying myself); it carries a degree of arrogance in it. Seeking God is God-focused. A heart that seeks God recognizes the difference and approaches God in humility.

Let me pause here to say that there is a kind of curiosity that is truly innocent and child-like. That curiosity is filled with awe and it honors God. Curiosity in adults has been tainted by our sin and it places a distance between the one being curious and the thing being sought. It carries inside it a degree of arrogance that places the seeker above the thing being sought. Child-like curiosity is the very opposite. As we mature in Christ, He transforms our curiosity into child-like curiosity. That transformation occurs as our degree of humility grows.

The humble shall see their God at work and be glad;
And you who seek God, your hearts shall live.
Psalm 69:32 (NLT/NKJV)

The humble heart recognizes that He is the Creator and we are the created. It recognizes that we are but dust and He is all glory. It knows that He is King and we are His servants. We may not always act that way, but it is truth. If we want to know God we must seek Him with the proper attitude. He holds the power of life and death. We ought to tremble with both anticipation and fear as we approach Him; not simply with curiosity at what we might find.

As we develop a humble heart, we are being transformed into the image of Christ. Jesus described Himself as being “humble and gentle at heart” (Matthew 11:29). We not only honor God when we seek Him in humility, we become like Him.

An Obedient Heart
A heart that seeks God is a heart that desires – plans – to be obedient to Him. Samuel provides an excellent illustration of this. Samuel’s mother had been barren many years until God gave her a son whom she named Samuel. When Samuel was weaned, she gave him back to God and he grew up in the tabernacle being mentored and discipled by the priest Eli.

2One night Eli, who was almost blind by now, had gone to bed. 3The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was sleeping in the Tabernacle near the Ark of God.

4Suddenly the LORD called out, “Samuel!”

“Yes?” Samuel replied. “What is it?” 5He got up and ran to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go back to bed.” So he did.
1 Samuel 3:2-5 (NLT)

This happened two additional times. Each time God called, Samuel immediately “got up and ran to Eli.” Samuel was sleeping when this happened, but when he heard his name called, he immediately inconvenienced himself and ran to be obedient. He didn’t roll over thinking “I’ll deal with it in the morning.” He was immediately obedient. It was in his heart to be so.

A heart that seeks God – one that wants to know Him more and more each day – will have the same disposition. Samuel was new at this – he didn’t know it was the Lord calling him, but his heart was already prepared to be obedient. After this happened two additional times Eli realized that God was calling Samuel’s name. He told Samuel to respond to the Lord when he called again.

And the LORD came and called [a fourth time] as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”

And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”
1 Samuel 3:10 (NLT)

Samuel has been quickly obedient to run to Eli each time he heard his name called. He was then obedient to Eli by responding to God when he heard his name called a fourth time. What is interesting about Samuel’s response to God is the word “listening.” It is the Hebrew word shama (pronounced shaw-ma’). It means to listen or hear with an intention to obey. What Samuel really said to God was “Your servant is listening and ready to obey.”

A heart that seeks God is one that has a predisposition to obey. God rewards obedience. No, our salvation is not based on our performance – our salvation, spending eternity with God in heaven, is based on our faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross. It is based on asking His forgiveness for the sins we’ve committed and placing our trust in Jesus who already paid the penalty for those sins. Period. Yet…God rewards our obedience. The Bible is as clear about that point as it is about faith being the sole requirement for salvation.

If you want to know God more, you must be willing to be more obedient. When He calls, run to obey. You will see Him perform things through you and you will get to know Him in a deeper and more wonder-ful way. It will build in you a more humble heart. It will cause you to seek Him more with a heart filled with child-like curiosity – a heart filled with awe and wonder.

God doesn’t speak because He likes the sound of His voice! He speaks to get our attention and to teach us or give us an assignment. The Lord’s voice is precious…don’t waste it!

Fortunately, He is willing to speak to us again if we’ve ignored Him in the past (and we all have at some point or another). Repent of having “deaf ears” and “slow obedience” in the past and ask Him to speak to you again. Then listen closely for His voice and when He speaks, respond as Samuel did “Lord, your servant is shama.”

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1Later Jesus went to Jerusalem for a special Jewish feast. 2In Jerusalem there is a pool with five covered porches, which is called Bethzatha [Bethseda in NIV, Bethsaida in others] in the Jewish language. This pool is near the Sheep Gate. 3Many sick people were lying on the porches beside the pool. Some were blind, some were crippled, and some were paralyzed. 4 5A man was lying there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw the man and knew that he had been sick for such a long time, Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be well?“ 7The sick man answered, “Sir, there is no one to help me get into the pool when the water starts moving. While I am coming to the water, someone else always gets in before me.“ 8Then Jesus said, “Stand up. Pick up your mat and walk.“ 9And immediately the man was well; he picked up his mat and began to walk. The day this happened was a Sabbath day. 
John 5:1-9 (NCV)

This passage was part of our Resting at the River’s Edge readings on Monday. Ugh! It’s only January 10 and I’ve fallen behind in my reading – I didn’t read it until Wednesday and I haven’t made it much further. That’s OK. There’s plenty of time to catch up and hearing from God is more important that completing the readings. And as I read this passage, God impressed a number of things on me.

“A man was lying there who had been sick for thirty-eight years…”
My first thought was that we humans are pretty good at adjusting to our circumstances…and that can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing. It is wonderful that God has created us with that ability because if we didn’t adjust to our circumstances – or perhaps adapt to our circumstances is a better way of putting it, we would live miserable lives – we would always be discontent. (More about contentment later)

Yet when we adjust to our circumstances too much, we become complacent – satisfied where we are when God has so much more for us. There is a fine balance with being content and striving for more.

I brought up this passage in a small group I’m a part of and one woman began a discussion about being content in God. It didn’t occur to me as she talked, but as I sat to write this blog, it seems to me that she hit upon the key – we’re to be content in God while always striving to see more of His Word become alive and active in our life. Yes, we need to adapt or adjust to our circumstances, but not allow them to lull us into a shallow satisfaction.

We see in this story that the sick man had been striving for more. Verse 4 is missing from most modern translations because it is not in the earliest manuscripts. It provides context that makes the verse confusing without it. Verses 3 and 4 read like this in some manuscripts:

3Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches, waiting for a certain movement of the water, 4for an angel of the Lord came from time to time and stirred up the water. And the first person to step in after the water is stirred was healed of whatever disease he had.
John 5:3 (NLT)

The sick man was lying by the pool and tried to enter the waters when they stirred, but someone else always got in first. He had undoubtedly experienced countless disappointments over many years. Yet he continued to lie by the pool waiting for the waters to stir.

“Do you want to be well?”
We can become so content in our circumstances that our limitations become our security or our comfort. What would happen if the sick man became well? He’d have to get up and move. He’d have to earn a living. He’d have to contend with things that those who are ill often don’t have to contend with – relationship issues, chores and living.

“Sir, there is no one to help me…”
I find it interesting that the sick man doesn’t answer Jesus’ question. Jesus asked a specific question – “Do you want to be healed?” One would think an enthusiastic “Yes!” would be the immediate answer. Instead, the sick man raises objections – he gives reasons why he hasn’t been healed. So do I. As I studied this passage this week, I realized that I do the same thing. Jesus offers life and life more abundant and I give excuses why I don’t have it. Instead of saying an enthusiastic “Yes!” I mutter to myself why I can’t really have it.

When I read the question “Do you want to be well?” a specific situation came to my mind. In this case, it was a ministry that I believe God inspired and I dropped the ball. No, it’s not a healing issue, specifically, but the principle of the story applies. God was asking me “Do you want me to do this for you?” My immediate answer was “I don’t know what to do next.” I immediately felt a catch in my spirit – I realized that I wasn’t being truthful with God – I did know what to do next – I knew the next one and a half steps. I hadn’t taken any action because I wasn’t sure what the second step would be. I could see a life-giving ministry at the end and I obviously could see the ground zero that I am at now. I just couldn’t see how to get from where I am now to the life-giving ministry God had shown me. So I hadn’t done anything. God asks “Do you want to be well?” Or in my case “Do you want me to open this ministry for you?”

“Then Jesus said, ‘Stand up. Pick up your mat and walk.’”
God is compassionate. The sick man had the wrong answer and God was ready to bring healing anyway. Our healings are not dependent on us having perfect faith. In this case, though, it required the sick man’s obedience. He was to stand up and walk. And when he did, Jesus’ healing miracle was manifested.

In The Bible Expositon Commentary (New Testament, Volume 1), Warren Wiersbe wrote this:

British writer George MacDonald pointed out that John 5:17 gives us a profound insight into our Lord’s miracles. Jesus did instantly what the Father is always doing slowly. For example, in nature, as mentioned earlier, the Father is slowly turning water into wine; but Jesus did it instantly. Through the powers in nature, the Father is healing broken bodies; but Jesus healed them immediately. Nature is repeatedly multiplying bread, from sowing to harvest; but Jesus multiplied it instantly in His own hands.

Is there some aspect of your life that Jesus wants to instantly do right now? As I read this passage, Jesus made it real to me, asking “Do you want to be healed?” “Do you want me to do something extraordinary in your life?” Is he asking you the same thing? And have you been like the sick man, making excuses for not being healed? Or have you been like me, making excuses for not taking the next step? If so, perhaps God is telling you to “Stand up. Pick up your mat and walk.” It’s what He was saying to me. Since reading this email, I’ve shared what God was speaking to me with our small group (for accountability), asked another woman to pray about being involved in the ministry and sent off an email to schedule our first get together to pray about the ministry and ask God what the next step is. Because we want to stand up, pick up our mats and walk. How about you?

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When everything seems to be going wrong, we don’t like to think it might be our fault. “You did your best” a well-meaning friend might say. Or “sometimes things just happen.” Or perhaps they look at your circumstances with you and commiserate “it is what it is.” Well, yes, that’s obviously true – it is what it is. But why is it what it is? Sometimes it is what it is because we’re outside God’s will. The wise person steps back when everything seems to be going wrong and asks the Holy Spirit to lead them in examining their life.

The book of Haggai reminds us that our actions have consequences and sometimes it really is our fault.

The Israelites just couldn’t seem to get ahead:

5This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! 6You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!
Haggai 1:5-6 (NLT)

Been there, done that! Didn’t have money to buy a T-shirt.

“Let me explain further”, God says:

3Then the LORD sent this message through the prophet Haggai: 4“Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? … 7“This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! … 9You hoped for rich harvests, but they were poor. And when you brought your harvest home, I blew it away. Why? Because my house lies in ruins, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, while all of you are busy building your own fine houses. 10It’s because of you that the heavens withhold the dew and the earth produces no crops. 11I have called for a drought on your fields and hills—a drought to wither the grain and grapes and olive trees and all your other crops, a drought to starve you and your livestock and to ruin everything you have worked so hard to get.”
Haggai 1:3-4, 7, 9-11 (NLT)

God is very gracious. He doesn’t point out a problem without giving a solution.

8aNow go up in to the hills, bring down timber, and rebuild my house.
Haggai 1:8b (NLT)

He also promises blessings for obedience.

8bThen I will take pleasure in it and be honored, says the LORD. … 18“Think about this eighteenth day of December, the day when the rebuilding of the LORD’s Temple began. Think carefully. 19I am giving you a promise now while the seed is still in the barn. You have not yet harvested your grain, and your grapevines, fig trees, pomegranates, and olive trees have not yet produced their crops. But from this day onward I will bless you.”
Haggai 1:8b, 2:18-19 (NLT)

Is your life a mess because of your own actions? Maybe you’re using all your money for your own benefit and not giving to God the tithe (tenth) that belongs to Him. Or perhaps you’re using all your time to pursue your career or leisure instead of spending an appropriate amount of it to get to know God better? Or just maybe you’re allowing things into your life that you clearly know are inconsistent with God’s plan for your abundant life.

God used the prophet Haggai to point the Israelites in the right direction. The Holy Spirit will do the same in our lives. The question is “will we listen and respond.” It’s up to each of us to choose God.

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From Discouragement to Faith - FinalFaith is the confidence, assurance and substance of things hoped for – things we confidently expect to happen. It is the conviction and evidence of things not yet seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (expanded translation using NLT, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary)

The past week or two God has highlighted the word “perspective” for me – perspective in the sense of “how we choose to view things.” I want to choose to view things from a position of faith. That position is one of hope and confidence. That position is one of peace and calm. That position means living in the positive instead of the negative.

The key to living in the proper perspective is choosing to do so. My first blog in this series was all about making a decision not to camp out in discouragement but to move on to faith. I want to reiterate that important point in this last blog of the series. Faith isn’t a feeling. It is a choice.

It’s not a blind choice. It’s a choice made on evidence, experienced in both this realm and in the spiritual realm. Everything cannot and will not be explained in the physical realm in which we live. Otherwise there is no need for faith. There is, however, plenty of evidence that direct the reasonable person to choose faith. Having done so, God gives ample spiritual evidence – that is, the witness of His Spirit to our spirit.

Having chosen faith at some point – that is, having chosen to believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for our sins so that we might share eternal life with Him, let’s choose to live by faith. Let’s choose to believe the whole Word of God and act upon it. Let’s choose to believe that God’s promises are real and that they were made by a God who delivers on them.

That means choosing to step away from discouragement. Discouragement hits everyone. It’s what we experience when what we were hoping for isn’t being immediately experienced. That happens. A lot. And it’s not fun. But we don’t have to react the way the world does. We can choose to respond by believing that God is good (He is, He really is!) and that He has our good in mind. Then we choose to wait expectantly for those good things to come.

Discouragement is a slippery place to be. It’s like a small plateau from which we can so easily slip over the edge and slide down into the valley, or we can purposefully look toward the hill and climb up to the next resting place. The valley will take your discouragement and turn it into depression. It’s not the place God wants you to settle. His desire is for you to dig deep and begin climbing up. Just as it does in the natural, climbing takes purposeful action and it takes energy. Sliding into the valley will happen on its own. If we want God’s best, we must make the choice to pursue it.

When you find yourself on that plateau of discouragement, don’t let yourself slip into the valley. Be purposeful in returning to a strong faith by taking these actions:

It’s time to go hiking! Let’s climb higher!

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Ask God for His Strategy - Then Implement ItFaith is the confidence, assurance and substance of things hoped for – things we confidently expect to happen. It is the conviction and evidence of things not yet seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (expanded translation using NLT, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary)

This series is about moving from discouragement to faith. We’ve discussed three faith building actions that each of us can take to move our journey forward:

Let’s move on to the exciting, two-part fourth action.

Faith Building Action 4 – Ask God for His Strategy – Then Implement It!
Discouragement can come from many sources. Logically, then, Rebuilding our faith might take the shape of any of a number of different strategies. Here are some examples:

Rest – If your discouragement came from overdoing, you need rest. If you’re a fan of the Bourne Trilogy by Robert Ludlum you’ll recognize the quote “Rest is a weapon.” It is a true statement.

Becoming overtired or overworked, opens a door that the enemy loves to run through. Often, havoc comes into our life and in our condition of being overtired, we can’t stand against it and we become discouraged. So if you’ve just finished a season of extraordinary effort for the Kingdom (whether from obeying God or simply taken more than He required upon yourself), a period of rest may be the best strategy to return to full faith strength.

Change – Sometimes discouragement comes simply because we’ve become bored with our routine. God can use such a time to nudge us into starting something new. Faith, by definition, means moving before we see God’s whole plan laid out before us. God’s strategy to rebuild your strength may be to point you in a new direction, giving you opportunities to trust Him. Experiencing the result of that trust builds your faith to trust Him more.

Persevere – There are faith lessons to be learned when we are required to simply persevere – which basically means to gut it out! Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines persevere as “to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement.” Perseverance is defined as “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” Despite failures, opposition and difficulties, sometimes we’re called simply to persevere.

Paul speaks of persevering in many different ways, but most notably as finishing well.

6As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. 8And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return.
2 Timothy 4:6-8a (NLT)

Persevere, friends – a crown of righteousness awaits you!

Seek healing in some other way – God’s plan for healing often takes us on a path to deal with past hurts and woundedness and He often uses others to help in our healing. His strategy for you might be to see a Christian counselor or sit under the teaching of a specific minister for a period of time or attend a specific conference. He might have you get involved in a small group outside your church. Or he may take you on a more personal journey to wholeness by having you write a book, create an art series or pursue one or more spiritual discipline more intentionally.

Our God is a creative God and He knows you better than you know yourself. Seek God for His strategy during this time. Once you have a hint at the first step in His strategy, implement it! Don’t wait around until you have the whole plan. Many, many people get stuck in this stage of their healing. All that accomplishes is the prolonging of their discouragement. You won’t fully see God move in your life until you begin to move as He directs.

Let me add that if you have fallen from discouragement into depression, you may not hear God speak. Your emotions are so overshadowing your ability to hear God that you may need to rely on someone else to hear God for you! I am not saying that God is not able to speak to you. I am saying that no matter how loudly God speaks you may not hear Him. If you stubbornly wait until you hear Him, you may hinder your own healing. So when a trusted advisor or friend suggests something that makes no sense to you but is witnessed to by another trusted advisor or friend – do it! (By the way, stubbornly waiting until you hear God is the equivalent of requiring that God speak to you in the way you want Him to. That’s called placing your own wisdom/desires above God’s. That’s called pride. That’s called sin and it’s putting yourself in opposition to God. Don’t go there!)

To stagnate in the place of discouragement as you wait to hear new things from God puts you perilously close to becoming lukewarm. God is not pleased with those who are lukewarm (Revelation 3:16). So don’t get stuck – step out in faith!

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