Train Yourself — Winning Takes Persistence!

“…train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
1 Timothy 4:7b-8

*buzz* *buzz* *buzz*

I lay still for a moment, eyes closed, hoping that everything would just…sort of…disappear, and I could drift peacefully back to sleep.

*buzz* *buzz*

Auughhh.

Seriously? I don’t want to get up.

I cracked open one eye, to see if I could get a general feel of the weather outside. Grey. Cloudy. Windy. Probably 40 degrees.

I hate running. And if there’s one thing that could make me hate it even more…it’s wind and cold. I can’t do this. My bed is so warm and comfy.

In spite of my brain protesting every move I made, I rolled out of bed, and began donning my layers…all the while, grumbling, I can’t do this. I just…I can’t do this. I don’t want to.

I finished tying my sneakers, and cracked open the door. A blast of icy wind hit me in the face.

Oh great. It’s colder than I thought. Just perfect. I am not going to survive this run even if I DO make it outside. I shouldn’t even bother. I should just stay inside today. I won’t even be able to move out there.

And STILL, in spite my grumbling and resisting inside, a minute later I found myself jogging down the road.

Why am I doing this? I don’t like running. I just don’t. I wasn’t made to be a runner. Why do I keep doing this to myself.

*thump, thump, thump*

hmmm. I have more energy than I thought I would though. In fact…I think I have more energy than I’ve ever had for running. Weird.

*thump, thump, thump*

Maybe this whole running thing is actually paying off! Maybe…I mean…it’s unlikely…but, just maybe my body is getting stronger! Maybe I can actually do this!

[dtbaker_line type=”leaf”][/dtbaker_line]

Ok, has this ever happened to you? I hope I’m not the only one who has these kind of conversations going on in my head. Yes…yes…this is a true story. I really do hate running this much. Yes, it is slightly pathetic. But, this post isn’t actually about running (thank goodness!!).

However, I share this story because I thought it highlighted very well the internal struggles we can go through when we are trying to do *anything* worthwhile. *Especially* when it is going to keep us rooted and flourishing in godliness! Yeah. Like getting up early or staying up late to spend time reading your Bible and seeking the Lord. Like, instead of surfing the internet when you have a free moment, pulling out the Bible.

When these good intentions manage to even just sneak into our thoughts, we immediately react, just like I react when my alarm goes off, and I know it is a lousy day outside, but I still need to go running.

What?? I won’t be able to function properly if I don’t get the rest I need. I can’t get up early! I’m already sacrificing so much to spend my day working/serving my family’s needs. I *deserve* my sleep time. I certainly won’t be able to focus on the Lord if I’m groggy. Yeah. I’ll just try to fit Him in some other time that’s a little more convenient. There we go. That makes much more sense. I don’t know what I was even thinking there. Get up early? Nah. That’s ridiculous. Plus. I mean, aside from all my GOOD reasons…I just really…don’t want to.

Now, running is of some value, as it strengthens our bodies to work properly, so that we can live with more energy to do what needs to be done each day. But if we do it once, and then never do it again…the benefits won’t carry over. If we keep it up for a few weeks, and then just kind of…take a break for a week or two after we get to a point where we feel like we’ve gotten a lot better at it, we will lose all the muscle and energy we had gained from our training, and when we go back to do it again, we will find that we can barely limp through what was an easy exercise…you know…just like a month ago! BUT, if we continue to practice, day after day, week after week, month after month, we WILL get stronger, and have more energy, and we will actually get to reap the benefits of our sacrifice!

Our walk with the Lord is very similar to this, in many ways, which is why it is so often compared to running a race, or being an athlete in training. It takes the same self-denial, the same endurance, the same reckless determination to keep going no matter what “cold winds” may try to blow us off course, or cause our resolve to tremble. We can’t just spend time with the Lord on Sunday and expect it to carry us through the rest of our week. If we want to walk in the power of the Lord each day, we need to be practicing our obedience to seek the Lord each day. Whether we feel like it or not. Whether we are excited about it or not. Whether we feel “good” or “encouraged” by it one day or not.

Like the virgins in Jesus’ parable, we must be careful to keep our lamps lit, day after day, not knowing when Jesus will return, but knowing it WILL be soon…and WE want to be ready, and found prepared to meet Him when He returns. Because we MUST endure to the end; just making it most of the way through our lives and then becoming careless isn’t an option. It is the same as running for any prize — if you want to endure to the end, you have to persevere through all the training, all the practice, AND to the finish line. Otherwise, all the training and practice means nothing. You’re disqualified, even if you practiced every day for your whole life, but then give up in the last 500 feet before the finish line. And…if we can’t even make it to the practices…how can we expect to make it through the race, to the finish line?? It’s like taking a couch potato and setting them in the middle of the woods somewhere, and telling them to go run a marathon.

Each day that we seek the Lord matters. And each day that we don’t seek the Lord makes a difference…because we are not moving forward, and are in fact *losing* spiritual muscles.

Like 1 Timothy 4:15a says, we must Practice these things, immerse yourself in them…”.

When you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? I don’t even like this. Is there any point?” Just remember, yes. There is. And as you strengthen your spiritual muscles more and more, and remain faithful in seeking the Lord daily, whether you “feel” any more spiritual or not…you WILL find there is a difference in your day to day life. A difference in your actions, your words, your thoughts. And others will probably begin to notice the difference even before you do! I can’t overstate the importance of seeking the Lord each and every day.

I’m talking to myself here too. It has been an intense struggle lately to get my time with the Lord each day. But we must continually be reminding ourselves that our Bridegroom is coming soon! And we want to be alert, and made ready for His coming! 

What about you? Have you come up with a good way to get time with the Lord daily? Or is this still something you struggle with? What are you going to do TODAY, before you go to bed tonight, to get time with the Lord??

Drop us a comment below, because we’d love to connect with you!

Meek, and Riding on a Donkey

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is vindicated and victorious,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
~Zechariah 9:9

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was anything but what the world expected from a king.  By that time, the land of Israel had been occupied by Roman rulers for generations.  Many must have been familiar with illustrious Roman generals parading through the streets of conquered cities, perhaps even Jerusalem, on a high-stepping war horse, arrayed in all his glory, and followed by prisoners of war and the spoils of fallen nations.  Now here is a man who may be their hope to be on top again.  They wave patriotic palm branches, the symbol of Israel as a free nation, and cry out, “Hosanna! Free us from the Romans!”  They grew so used to trusting in the things of the world, that they forgot what the Lord had promised about His coming Son.  Even as they cried out, “Hosanna to the son of David!” they did not remember what had made David a man after God’s own heart.

Interestingly, the people of Israel may have recognized that Jesus was following the example of David when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  When the Lord was instructing the Israelites in one day having a king, He told them that the king was not to have many horses (Deuteronomy 17:16).  Not only did God want His people to keep from being led astray by the influence of Egypt again, but He also knew that a king who sought to make the office of earthly kingship too lofty and glorious by means of the beauty and strength of horses would soon forget his duty as a servant to God’s people.  They would also come to trust in their own strength more than in the presence of the Lord to guide them.  During his reign, David and his sons rode donkeys and mules, and David himself, though he kept a few chariots as spoils of war, knew that the battle belonged to the Lord.

Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.
~Psalm 20:7

God meant for all of the kings of Israel to follow the example that would be set by His Son, the humble Chief Shepherd and the Lamb of God.  The fact that the religious leaders abused their position of authority to take advantage of the poor and leave the sinners without restoration grieved and angered Him.

It might not have surprised the people of Israel to see a king of the Jews riding on a donkey, but the particular donkey may have surprised them.  While the other gospels mention only a colt, Matthew 21 speaks as though the colt and the mother were both brought along.  Some scholars suggest that Jesus may then have ridden a nursing mother donkey with her foal trailing along with her.  Others suggest that the colt, having never been ridden, would not have been especially well-groomed or yet well-tempered enough to make a very good mount.  I don’t know which it was, but both would mean two things: the ride would be slow, and tongues would surely wag.  Both are also things we have seen Jesus do, and things we can learn to do ourselves.  Imagine following a King who gently nudges a mother donkey down the street, never going so quickly that her foal gets left behind.  We start to see what kind of approach we must take when we exercise pure religion.

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
~James 1:27

Or imagine following a King who is not ashamed to be seen mounted on a scruffy colt, one which is nervous of crowds, and still uncertain about having a rider.  Yet He is patient when it shies away from the shouting and from His touch.  Can we keep ourselves unstained from the world to the point that we can exercise such patience before everyone we know?

It can be so easy for me to get caught up in a mission, or a program schedule, or even my alone time with the Lord.  Yet the march of the army of the kingdom of Heaven is set at the pace of the most lowly; the most novice.  Jesus stopped for the woman with the issue of blood, stopped for the children to be blessed, stopped for the paralytic lowered through the roof, went miles out of His way to free the man possessed of a legion of demons, and stopped for the broken girl with the perfect church life and nothing to live for.

That is where He finds us all: off the beaten path.  Even so, He takes us with Him and offers us a place of honor as He enters Jerusalem.  Look at the rest of the triumphal parade.  Prisoners of war free at last from the enemy!  Look what rich spoils.  A blind beggar who received his sight, a woman from whom were cast seven demons, lepers, fishermen, tax-collectors, Gentiles!  Children as His heralds, singing in the streets!  It is the way of our Lord to be gentle and patient as He leads His children to know His ways.  His most glorious earthly moment was in the company of the most humble and lowly.  As He leads you, remember to stop and take the hands of overlooked and the unkempt, the bruised reeds and the smoldering wicks.  See what precious hearts Jesus has yet to add to His joyful family parade.

 

by Stephanie H.

Battle Prayers: Thy Tents Shall Be Our Home

 

I struggle constantly to share prayer needs with others.  I often have no trouble talking to God about various things on my mind, but I have also struggled personally to pray for my own prayer needs, and to pray without ceasing over the daily actions and routine of my life.  The biggest reason for this is that I have a hard time counting many things as needs.  It can be easy to pray wishful prayers about what I would like to see happen, but over which I have no control.  Yet there are plenty of other times that prayer just seems… impractical.  Barring an unforeseen disaster, why would I need to pray for strength to get a jar of peanut butter off of the shelf when I could just do it?  Surely praying without ceasing does not require me to be imagining that I break my arm doing the most simple tasks!  That kind of imagination also wouldn’t be very good to apply to corporate prayers, knowing now many others have serious and present needs.  It is often so much easier to see Jesus as Friend than as Lord.  These blocks have added a layer of awkwardness to my prayers for years.

I still can’t tell what sparked the process, but the Lord put me on a train of thought recently that has overwhelmed my prayer life.  It didn’t come all at once like some of God’s lessons.  It was half of a thought that sat for some time before it blossomed.  The beginning that I can remember was wondering, “What am I missing when I keep my prayers to myself?”  I know that there is power in prayer, so why do I so often isolate myself from the prayer of others, when prayer brings us into such sweet communion with our brothers and sisters, even over the small things?  That’s not to say we make the focus of prayer meetings be the strength to open pickle jars.  On the contrary.  How often do we pray for normal rather than for extraordinary?

Our entire life as disciples of Jesus is a spiritual war, and prayer is the most vital battlefield.  Yet so often we can make the focus of our prayers the desire to stay safe and to stay normal.  It is easy to see how so many of my prayers have been defensive: focusing on keeping my head down, my shield up, and hoping that my prayers add extra strength to my rock, fortress, and high tower that God promises to be in Psalm 18.

But we really have no reason to pray defensive prayers of safety from inside God’s mighty fortress.  Read Psalm 18 in its entirety, and try to imagine our hopes and thoughts being able to add any sort of power to the unyielding storm of our Heavenly Father when His children are in trouble.  It isn’t our job to keep Heaven from crumbling, or from protecting God from His enemies, and the enemies and dangers we face are so numerous, that we would be crushed just by being aware of all that God protects us from without our knowledge!  In a manner of thinking, none of our prayers are defensive, because God’s kingdom will never fall.

Battle metaphors speak to me, so I love coming back again and again to Caesarea Philippi.  Jesus takes His disciples to this pagan city, the location of a cave called “The Gates of Hades” where demons were actively and grotesquely worshiped, to give them a clear and lasting image of their role as His disciples.

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
~Matthew 16:18

Gates don’t make a habit of going out and attacking other castles.  Gates are made strong to protect their cities.  Gates can stand strong and overpower attacking forces, but those forces have to come to them first.  We are the advancing forces, not the gates.  At the same time that our treasures are stored up safely beyond the gates of Heaven, we are on the march.  When we are spiritually attacked, it is because the Lord is pressing us forward into enemy territory, and they are rightly terrified of losing.  The battle belongs to the Lord (Proverbs 21:31), and no weapon that is formed against His armies will prosper (Isaiah 54:17).

When we neglect to pray over situations we can handle ourselves-on a physical level-we are skipping over our battle training.  We are disconnecting ourselves from our fellow soldiers who will need us in the fight.  We may feel safer and more comfortable, but we won’t be useful in rescuing anyone or spurring each other on to greater effectiveness on the battlefield.

No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
~2 Timothy 2:4

Our battle prayers do not have to be complicated to be offensive instead of defensive.  “Lord, I want to be chosen for the front lines of the battle.  Let this situation equip me for the fight.  Keep my focus on you so that I can reclaim lives for you.  I don’t know how getting a jar of peanut butter off of a shelf will be a strike against the enemy, but if it can be, make it count!  Keep my armor and my resolve strong when your enemies lash out in self-defense.”

That is not to say that we can never pray for our own protection.  Our hearts and our treasures are safe in the stronghold of Zion, but we must go out against the gates of Hell, where we will be attacked.  There is a hymn that has become a favorite of mine that paints a very good picture:

Lead on, O King eternal,
The day of march has come;
Henceforth in fields of conquest
Thy tents shall be our home:

A tent is not nearly as defensible as a castle, but it is where we find the fight.  Remember that the church is built on the very rock that was named “The Gates of Hades”, so we are in full range of the attack.  Our souls are safe with our Father, but our bodies, minds, and hearts will be wounded and broken on the battlefield.  Choosing to fight for our King will mean choosing to live in dangerous places.  It is not wrong to pray for healing and for protection here, but we cannot withdraw from the fight in order to keep ourselves safe.

Training will be hard.  The fight will be long.  The more we pray, the more we will be attacked, and the less normal life will be, because God will put us into more significant battles as we press on.  Never pass up the opportunity to become a stronger, more fierce, more devoted soldier.  As you leave normal comfort behind, the Lord will be your source of joy and peace.

Dear Sister, press on and let the enemy know your Sword, let the captive know your love, and know Who has rescued you and given you both.  Never hold back, never look back, and pray because lives depend on it.

You have been chosen for this fight.  Take your stand, choose this day whom you will serve, and do not be afraid, for the Lord your God will be with your wherever you go.

 

by Stephanie H.

Living in the VICTORY of the Holy Spirit!

 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately praying for the Lord to fill me with the strength and tools I need to be able to do His work and not lose heart. And not only to do His work…but to do it *well*. In particular, I have spent a lot of time praying for Him to fill me with JOY in all the varied situations we find ourselves in, and His LOVE for the people we meet — a love that would compel me to reach out to them, and not be content to just let them pass by on their courses to hell.

But then, one day, I stopped in the midst of my prayers. I suddenly realized that each of these things I was pleading for — joy, love, peace, faithfulness, etc. — they are all fruits of the Holy Spirit, as Galatians 5:22-25 says:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”

“Okay…” you might think, “I know those verses. I’ve sung the fruit of the Spirit song since I was three. I know all that already. What is so groundbreaking about that?”

Well, I sang that song all my life too. But here, just take a look at some more verses with me real quick…and then I’ll explain it:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13 ESV)

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 ESV)

“….and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5 ESV)

 

The Holy Spirit IS the power that we need to live victorious Christian lives, full of vibrancy and light! HE is the source of all JOY, all LOVE — all that we need for serving the Lord! Without the Holy Spirit, we do a pretty poor job trying to live righteously and godly in our own strength. We don’t need to try to manufacture these things in our own hearts — we can’t ever muster up enough faithfulness or love to live as God’s hands and feet in this world. We don’t need to spend hours and hours pleading with God to make us more loving, kind, or joyful! In fact…we need to get past our self-focused prayer times, and start using our prayer times to storm the devil’s fortresses, and set the captives free! We weren’t saved to feel good about ourselves. We were saved to serve our King…and to rescue others! And the fruits of the Spirit aren’t so people can think about how wonderful we are – they are to cause us to be better, bolder, more selfless soldiers who don’t back down from advancing the Kingdom of God! The Holy Spirit comes in to win victories for the Lord!

So…how do you get the power of the Holy Spirit then…if I just said that we need to stop our self-focused pleading every day for help to stop doing the things we know we shouldn’t, and start doing the things that we should…???

 

LET THE HOLY SPIRIT TAKE CONTROL.

Yep. That simple. Each of us has a “driver’s seat” of our lives. There is one of three chauffeurs. It’s either going to be yourself, the devil, or the Holy Spirit. Now, the devil is no gentleman. He just barges in whenever he can find a crack to squeeze through. But the Holy Spirit IS a gentleman. And He will never force His way in. He will always wait to be asked. Kinda’ vexing. 😉

So for starters, we must ask the Holy Spirit to actually not only fill us, but to take control of our lives, that we might actually BE the hands and feet of Jesus, doing HIS will, and not our own on this earth.

However, for the Holy Spirit to actually be ABLE to take control, we must be willing to surrender anything that is contrary to God’s Spirit within us; anything that would hold us back from being completely surrendered to His will and heart. In fact…any time we feel like we are lacking the power we need to serve the Lord more effectively, or when we are lacking the vibrancy and joy that we know belonged to those who have gone before us as they served — people such as Mary Slessor, Gladys Aylward, Jackie Pullinger, Jonathan Goforth, D.L. Moody, Reese Howells, etc. — it is likely that there is something we are holding onto. Something that we have not been willing to let bow before the Lord.

And this is why I was so excited to begin thinking this way. Instead of pleading with God to give me more joy in my life, I can take hold of the Holy Spirit’s power in my life in a deeper way…and it comes from surrendering my heart and life more fully to His service!

How do you receive the Holy Spirit? Well, there is much division over things of this nature. Some believe there is no more Holy Spirit (I have already seen this disproved enough in my life that I don’t even consider it a valid argument any more), some believe that you automatically receive the Holy Spirit when you become a Christian, others believe it is a separate experience. Whatever the case, if you are already a Christian, it cannot hurt to just humble yourself before the Lord and be honest with Him. Just say something like, “Holy Spirit, I desperately need you in my life. I need you to live through me, to give me victory over my flesh, and to cause me to be fruitful in the Lord’s service. I invite you to take control of my life…and I want you to live through me, to do the things that the Father needs done on this earth. I also understand that it will mean surrendering my own desires and the things in my life that are displeasing to you…and I don’t know where to start…but I want to be willing. Please come in. Please make me willing…and please show me the things that are in my life that are hindering me from serving you with total abandon, and then, root those things out so that there’s not one particle of them remaining, but only YOU.”

And that is where I, too, am at today. Eagerly expecting the Holy Spirit to begin to work through me in a deeper, more effective way; making me more one with the desires of God’s heart. I want to be His hands and feet. Do you?

 

I’m SUPPOSED to Be Afraid? Part 2


Does it feel kind of like we’re back at square one?  Fear involves punishment, so we should not be afraid if we love God, but Jesus Himself said that we should fear God because of… punishment?

 

Sometimes it is so easy for us to take things apart and look at them piece by piece, and forget the big picture in the process.  Remember that fear does not exist in a vacuum.  The same God who is the God of love is also the God who judges every man according to his deeds.  He is just because He is merciful, and merciful because He is just.  So what other attributes of God do we need to remember as we consider how fearsome He is?

Omnipotence
God is all-powerful.  He created the world, and there is nothing He cannot do with it.  All throughout the Old Testament, we have pictures of the immeasurable power of God, from the creation, to the flood, to the plagues of Egypt.  The history of Israel, the Psalms, and the speeches in the book of Job all show that God is worthy to be feared.  When we think of someone wanting to be feared, it is usually a human being who wants to be in control of others, and wants everyone to know that they are in control.  They want fear to do all of the work for them so that staying in charge is easy.  God really is in control.  He doesn’t need to show off His power and use fear just to keep us in line.  Often, His shows of strength were to remind His people of how weak the enemies of God are (Exodus), and to remind those with a great deal of power that they were not to play God (Daniel).

Holiness
God is separated from all things that are evil (Psalm 5:4).  He is light, and in Him, there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).  Darkness and light cannot live in the same place.  If there is light in the room, there is no darkness.  If the light leaves the room, darkness can return.

And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.
~John 3:19

This is why we are so often afraid to enter the presence of God.  When we love evil, we can feel the darkness in us being burned away in the presence of the true light.  The devil is very good at convincing us that this means we can never be at peace with God.  We identify with darkness, but know that God is light.  We then fall into the trap of believing we are condemned to Hell whenever we discover a sin we had overlooked before.  Here is where there is hope:

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

Darkness cannot stand in God’s presence, but we can ask God to have our love of darkness surgically removed, and He is more than willing to do so!  He can take away anything in us that is at war with Him, so that we will be able to have joy in His presence rather than wanting to run and hide.  That is why there are two different responses to fearing God for the enemy of God and for the child of God.  An enemy refuses to leave his sin, and hates the thought of it being taken away.  A child fears the pain of the surgery and the unknown of the life afterward, but trusts his Father to do what is best for him.

Love
We often think of love and fear as opposites because we are used to fear and hate being so close together in our experiences.  There are so many things in this world that can cause destruction that it becomes easy to find numerous examples of evil and fallen things that we fear.  It is hard to think of things that we love as being fearsome at the same time.  Waterfalls, fire, dogs, and driving can all lose their loveliness if we personally experience the side of them that can be destructive.  Some of us like roller-coasters of skydiving because of the thrill of controlled fear, but it is very hard to find an earthly example that can do justice to fearing and loving the Lord.  The only example I can think of are the people of the Lord themselves.  There is not one godly person in the Bible who did not face great hardship.  Even Jesus’ own mother and step-father faced the most humiliating and difficult circumstances in bringing a child into the world.  Following Jesus is a terrifying thing because it mortifies our flesh.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
~Matthew 16:24

Those who follow Jesus do not face an easy life.  At times it seems that much of our lives are destroyed when we come to follow Him.  That is not only because God has enemies, but also because God allows the things He loves to be broken so that they can be glorified beyond what they ever could have been before they were broken.  Thing of how much more Job had after the Lord restored him.  Think of Jesus Himself after He became flesh and was broken before His enemies.  That refining process still scares me.  Just thinking about what the Lord might have me face next as I write this has made my stomach a little uncomfortable because I know that He always considers me ready for more than what I can handle on my own.  He’s always making me nervous!  But then He is always showing me more of Himself that I never would have seen if we were going at my pace, and He is making me more like Him the more He takes out of me.  As much as it scares me, I so much more desperately want to be with Him where He is working.

And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.”
And this expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;
for our God is a consuming
fire.
~Hebrews 12:26-29

 

Faithfulness
God is trustworthy to keep His promises, and He has not been shy in making them.  He is the God of all power, we have nothing to offer Him for a bribe, and He allows His people to meet with some of the most terrible trials imaginable.  Yet, in the midst of all of this, He has promised us joy, comfort, and peace.  That is not to say that God will give us pleasure and laughter in the midst of every circumstance.  We often expect this to be true, and that is why we so often hate fear.  Fear can be terribly unpleasant, but the Lord uses it to teach us trust.  There have been many times for me already when it seems as though everything is going the absolute opposite of the plan God has told me He will accomplish.  Those are times when I have to choose to believe what He says in His Word more than what the world around me is trying to convince me is true.  It is like a plant having all of it’s green chopped off until it is just the roots.  That pruning can ache for so long, but those roots will dig deeper while they are not focused on feeding the leaves, and deep roots are terribly difficult to pull up.  David speaks constantly in the Psalms of the painful circumstanced the Lord had him face, and yet he always fell back on the promise that God would not abandon him.  Job is a man famous for having faced more than most of us could imagine, yet he said,

Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.
~Job 13:15a

That is not to say that Job was more faithful to God than God was to him.  Quite the contrary.  But he knew God well enough to know that there must be a bigger picture that he could not yet understand.  The more time we spend with God, and the more we read of Him in His Word, the more we come to trust who He is, and believe that what He does really is best for us, and for countless others He will influence through us.

Humility
God is unbelievably humble.  I felt weak and inferior when I stood in front of that tiger in the museum, knowing that there would be no way for me to beat it at its own game if it had been living.  I cannot even imagine now insignificant I should feel in the unfiltered presence of El Elyon (God Most High).  And yet, He likes to make me laugh.  He feels my pain when I grieve, and He wants to teach me to do work that He could accomplish without so much as the snap of fingers.  When we keep in mind that God is fearsome and omnipotent, we often lose sight of just now much He wants to be involved in the lives of such insignificant people.  What scares me about tigers, landslides, and snapping turtles is that they don’t know me from anyone.  It isn’t personal, it’s just what those things do.  But the fearsome, omnipotent God is my Dad.  If I felt His presence wash over me while standing in front of a real tiger, it would be very hard for me not to grin or even laugh.  Why?  Because the powerful cat is just one of His playthings.  It may still be able to hurt me or even kill me, but only if He says so.  Moses was able to encourage the fleeing Israelites with these words:

But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Take your stand and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever.
The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.”
~Exodus 14:13,14

 

I cannot say that Moses was unafraid of the Egyptians when he spoke these words, but He feared the Lord, and there was no room for any other sort of fear to make decisions for him.  It is the same promise given in Joshua 1:9 and all throughout the Old Testament, in the Great Commission, and straight through to Revelation.

We have no reason to be afraid of fear itself.  Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the fountain of life, and keeps us untouched by evil.  In the darkest circumstances, it is like hearing the trumpet blast and the thundering hooves of a faithful king’s army.  Remember whom you have believed, and feel the thrill of His power and love.

I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Thy works,
And my soul know it very well.
~Psalm 139:14

 

by Stephanie H.

I’m SUPPOSED to Be Afraid? Part 1

 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
~Proverbs 9:10

 

If you have grown up in the church, perhaps you have heard this verse often enough to be thinking already, “It’s not really fear though.  We’re supposed to have a healthy respect for God, but we’re not supposed to run away screaming at the thought of Him.”

Well, there is a bit more to it than that.

True, we aren’t meant to dash out of the room when we start praying because we felt the presence of God (though I have been in the place of feeling that way, as well I should have at the time), but we cannot simply treat God the same way we would a tame fire in the fireplace.  We know not to touch the fire because of its power, but having that casual respect is not the relationship God wants with us either.

Here is an example that may help to shed some light on the topic.  I love animals, and am often very good with them.  I have never been afraid of dogs because, since I was a kid, even the big hyper ones listened to me when I told them what to do.  None of the local wildlife scares me, because I know enough about them to know how to react to them to make the most of the situation.  Deer won’t hurt you unless they’re cornered, coyotes get timid if you make loud noises and wave a stick, black bear will charge you if they’re really scared, but if you hold your ground, they lose their nerve.  All of these creatures have their own comfort zones, and I respect that and don’t go out of my way to bother them, but none of them have ever really scared me.

However, I was at a museum recently, and met a creature that made me feel rather differently from my relationship with the locals.  It was a tiger with paws the size of my head and a head four times bigger.  The fact that it was stuffed did not keep my stomach from dropping.  As I stood in front of a hunter that was all muscle in life, and as long as a small car, I knew I had no tricks that could save me.  I just stood there a moment and thought that if I had met this tiger in life, there would be nothing I could do to be in charge of the situation.  I like knowing that I have a way to be in control of things, but I wouldn’t have in that case.  If I were to survive, it would have to be his choice, not mine.

The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom,
And before honor comes humility.
~Proverbs 15:33

That tiger gave me a very small hint of what it is like to fear the Lord.  Still, admitting that we are not in control is only scratching the surface.

I was curious to see if there were different words used in the Greek and Hebrew for fearing God than there were for fearing other things.  Often the original languages add so many helpful visuals because of how specific words can be in their original context.  There are dozens of words for fear in the Bible.  Here are a few that I found most interesting: (If you’re a nerd like me, I hope you enjoy these, but if things like this overwhelm you, just meet me at the bottom of the list.)

‘arats: fear, oppression, to break (Joshua 1:9)

Charadah: take care of, dread, extreme anxiety, trembling (Proverbs 29:25)

Chuwl: dance, writhe, wait anxiously, suffer torture, pain of childbirth

Dechal (Aramaic): fear, make afraid, awesome, dreadful (used only in the book of Daniel [which was Aramaic in part] to refer to the greatness of the king, the statue, terrible dreams, and fear of God)

Giyl: rejoice, be glad, tremble with fear (Psalm 2:11; Psalm 51:8)

Guwr: be a stranger, sojourn, dwell, stir up trouble, dread, stand in awe

Zachal: to shrink, crawl away (sometimes used as a word for reptiles [called crawling things])

Did any of those give you a picture of different kinds of fear?  It was hard for me to keep the list short…  Now, I’m not a Hebrew scholar (yet), but every word I found but one was used to refer to fearing God as well as to fearing other things. ‘arats is used in a positive way when fearing the Lord, even though it is a horrible thing when fearing man.  The words that mean “reverence” are also used to mean being utterly terrified, even in the Greek, where we get words like Phobeo.  Yare’ is a form of the most common word for fearing the Lord.  It literally translates as a feeling in the pit of your stomach.  It is the word used in Proverbs 31:30.

Charm is deceitful, and beauty if vain,
But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.

 

The only word that I found which did not refer to fearing the Lord was chath.  It is only used twice in Scripture.  Once in Genesis 9:2, speaking of how all creatures will be afraid of mankind, and in Job 41:33, to refer to fear that God does not have.  Every other word seems to be used to refer to being afraid of God Himself.  Now, sometimes that is the difference between enemies being afraid of God, and God’s people being afraid of Him.  The creeping away describe in zachal is not used in the same way as the fearful joy of giyl.  Neither is deilia, the Greek word used in 2 Timothy 1:7 used in a positive light.  We are not meant to flee the presence of God, but if we are pursuing sin, we will want to hide when He is in the room.  Even that fear is a gift to remind us that we must become right with Him again.

One last thought before we leave the linguistic discussion.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
~1 John 4:18

This is a verse where we love to take comfort, but it can also be tricky.  To help understand how it fits in with fearing the Lord, remember that it uses the same words as this next passage, phobos and phobeo.

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
~Matthew 10:28

 

Does it feel kind of like we’re back at square one?  Fear involves punishment, so we should not be afraid if we love God, but Jesus Himself said that we should fear God because of… punishment?

by Stephanie H.

Why Clothing?


 

Guest post by M. L. Detwiler

 

Have you ever stopped to wonder why humans even wear clothes at all? I mean, there is literally no other living creature on the planet that takes so much time and expense just to cover their bodies. Of course, there’s no other creature that can compare to humankind at all. The differences between us and animals are really too huge to grasp fully.

But what is the reason behind clothing? We are relatively hairless and unprotected compared to most other land-bound mammals. So is the primary purpose of clothing to serve as a protective layer from the elements?

Or what about the fact that we are sexual beings? Is the primary purpose of clothing to serve as a protection against lust and sexual immorality?

The answer to both of those questions is, I believe, a firm negative. Although protection against the elements and against sexual immorality are two significant reasons for clothing that cannot be ignored, both of them tie back into the primary reason for clothing. If you think about it, the only reason that there is any weather or thorns or destructive sun-rays to protect against in the first place is because of the fall. In addition, the only reason that lust and sexual immorality are problems is also because of the fall. In a perfect world, there would have been no need for protection from anything at all, and indeed, the Scripture states at the end of Genesis 2 that, “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

In a perfect world, there is no need for clothing. But when the fall comes, and with it the shame and separation that sin brings between us and God and between one another, the first and most obvious ramification is… you guessed it: clothing. Or, more properly speaking, a faulty, hurried attempt at covering nakedness. Genesis 3:7: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.”

The very first reaction that Adam and Eve had after sinning against God was putting up a barrier. This was a barrier between them as individuals and also between them and God. Before sin, there were no barriers, and no need for any symbols of separation. But with guilt, fear, and blame comes shame and a desire for separation. Sin builds walls. No longer did Adam and Eve feel unashamed around one another. No longer could they feel unashamed before God. The safe atmosphere of complete openness had been shattered by sin, and for the first time, their shared experience and joy was splintered into egotistical shame – an immediate change of focus from outward to inward. They both became more concerned with the shame that they had to hide from one another than with the joy and love that they could bring and show to one another, and the worship that they were to bring to their Creator. For the first time, they set out on individual paths of fear and sin and doubt, instead of continuing to share a common path of holiness and happiness. As those who walk in darkness do not want their deeds to be brought to the light, so they did not want their most intimate body parts to remain any longer in the open. The parts of themselves that most revealed their vulnerability, trust, and openness with one another were the very first to be covered up.

The significance of this is huge. It tells us that the primary reason and purpose of man’s desire and instinct for clothing is to provide a tangible symbol of the separation that sin brings. Clothing exists to cut ourselves off from one another in a visible way, a physical outworking of the massive separation that sin causes between each and every one of us.

However, I believe it is key to our understanding of God’s design for clothing that we don’t stop here. The second time that clothing is mentioned in the Scriptures comes several verses later in Genesis 3:21: “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”

In the single act of God providing Adam and Eve clothing, we can glean three very important truths. First of all, God reaffirms that clothing is right and needed now that the fall has come. He ordains and requires it by giving clothing to our first parents. Instead of rebuking Adam and Eve for attempting to cover their shame, God provides them with even better clothing. He affirms the truth that sin does indeed bring separation and shame between us – even between those in a marriage relationship, like Adam and Eve – and that that separation properly shows itself in clothing. Covering ourselves is not simply the natural response to the shame and division that sin brings, it is also the right response.

Secondly, more than simply affirming clothing, God improves it. Adam and Eve did the best they knew how and in their fallen state covered only their sexual organs. They made themselves loincloths. Out of fig leaves. God, however, made “garments of skins and clothed them.” Doing a word study of “garments of skin” reveals that the Hebrew word in the text here refers to a tunic – a long shirt-like piece of clothing that extended from the shoulders to the knees or toes. In any event, regardless of the exact length, these garments of skin were far more extensive than the fig leaves that Adam and Even made for themselves. God presents quite clearly that the need for clothing is more extensive than a few fig leaves thrown together. The garments He presented Adam and Eve with extended from the shoulders down to the knee or longer. Although Adam and Eve had the right idea in covering themselves, they did not understand just how much they needed to cover. God, however, quite clearly revealed how we are to cover our bodies.

There is a clear distinction here being made between the inadequacy of man’s efforts, and the full sufficiency of God’s gracious provision. This extends all the way from the area of good works to the area of proper clothing. Man’s works will always fall short, but God’s provision (in Christ!) is more than enough. Man’s clothing only covers the genitals, but God’s clothing covers the whole body.

In which clothing, therefore, ought we to walk? The kind of clothing that Adam and Eve mistakenly created for themselves out of fear and shame? Or the kind of clothing that God provided for us out of love and grace?

In the third and last place, we see an affirmation of the assertion I made at the beginning, that the prevention of lust/sexual immorality is not the primary purpose of clothing. God gave clothing to Adam and Eve, who lived in the context of marriage. There were no other individuals present who could lust after either of them, so it becomes clear from this that the primary purpose of clothing is to serve as a reminder of the fall.

In light of the truths that we learn from God’s gift of clothing to Adam and Eve, we have a firm basis on which to understand the theological significance of nakedness in a post-fall world. To begin formulating this understanding, we need to recap that the primary purpose of clothing is to serve as an effect of the fall – a necessary and God-ordained result that is a practical and symbolic representation of the separation and shame that sin creates.

What then is the significance of nakedness – the opposite of being clothed? Nakedness represents the curse being lifted, the separation removed, the walls torn down, and complete unity and harmony being restored once again. In short, the theological significance of nakedness is that it is an expression of the reversal of the fall. Now where things really get amazing is when you ask the question: In what context is nakedness (and the accompanying activity) blessed? Marriage. The only context in which nakedness is considered a good thing is in the context of marriage. Why?

Because marriage is a picture of the reversal of the fall: the union between Christ and the church! See Ephesians 5 for proof of this. Marriage is a full-color painting of the complete and total lifting of the curse. The interconnectedness of all of these truths blows me away every time I think about it.

Clothing reflects the fall and nakedness reflects restoration, so nakedness is only proper when it points directly towards that final restoration.

Nakedness only does that within the context of marriage.

Outside of marriage, full or even partial nakedness represents a blasphemous rebellion against the God-ordained effects of the fall. It is, in essence, saying that sin and the fall have no effect on us and we can regain the communion and intimacy that we had before sin separated us apart from the redemption that Christ brings. In essence, nakedness outside of the context of marriage is a rejection of Christ as the one who lifts the curse brought upon us because of sin. It is a rejection of Christ and His sacrifice, saying that we don’t need Him, that we can bridge the gap on our own.

To the degree that we are naked/less-than-fully-clothed, then, is the degree to which we have symbolically rejected Christ’s salvation! My point in saying that is not to hold guilt over anyone, but to show just how important and necessary it is that we get this right.

I have approached this topic of clothing in the way I have because I believe that the truths in the above paragraphs form the necessary foundation which absolutely must be firmly in place before we even dare to have a conversation about modesty in clothing. It is these truths – primarily theological in nature rather than practical, pulled directly (I trust) from the Scriptures, which give the proper shape and character to our beliefs and standards.

Beginning this discussion with an understanding of the Scriptural and theological context keeps us from creating our own individual standards and attempting to impose them upon one another as less or more holy depending on how far the hems of skirts and shorts are from God’s good earth. We will steer clear of trying to find the exact letter of the law, obsessing over inches and appearances and personal ideas of ‘legality’ and propriety. And on the other hand, we will not be left with the mushy, Scripture-less, tasteless conclusion to let every man do as his conscience bids.

The bottom line that I’m trying to make here is that we have not been left without a standard. We don’t have to create our own personal standard because God already gave us one.

God clothed Adam and Eve with tunic-like garments made of animal skins. Therefore, underwear are sinful, wearing anything other than leather is sinful, and we must never wear anything that isn’t a tunic.

Obviously. (Please understand my sarcasm…)

On the contrary, the simple and unadorned truth is that God clothed his people – fallen but still beloved – with an article of clothing that (according to the meaning of the original word as it is understood by Hebrew scholars) extended from the shoulders to the knees or lower. As the second mention of clothing in the entire Scriptures, and in direct contrast to the loincloths that Adam and Eve crafted for themselves, I believe that it is safe to say that we can take that as our standard – as we do with much of what is found in the first chapters of Genesis. Marriage, procreation, gender roles, earthly dominion, work… we trace our beliefs in all of these areas back to the first chapters and verses in Genesis.

I believe we ought to do the same with regard to our standards of clothing.

To my mind, it really makes everything simpler – as following God’s Word almost always does.

I know countless girls who have expressed frustration because they simply don’t know what is appropriate to wear in what context, because everyone seems to have different standards, every guy has a different level of maturity, and on and on…

I have been confused by those who seem to have very different modesty standards depending on who they are with, seemingly cow-towing their clothing standards to the most conservative of those around them to avoid giving offense or causing a stumbling block, and then demonstrating very different standards in other situations.

I have seen the damaging effects of creating an artificial standard of inches and lines and applying that standard to others in a judgmental fashion.

I have seen the discussion of modesty be completely taken over by whether or not it’s the guy or the girl who bears the greater responsibility: …whose fault is it if a guy lusts? …how short is too short? …how low is too low? …and many other largely irrelevant questions like that.

I have almost universally seen the discussion dominated by the belief that clothing is really only there to prevent lust and sexual immorality – instead of primarily an effect and reminder of the fall.

I have heard the complaint that guys have it easy and can basically wear what they want, while girls are held back by social stigmas wherever they turn.

I have seen, heard, and experienced all these things. But really, when you look at the issue from the perspective I outlined above, it’s not a complicated issue at all. God gave both Adam and Eve the same type of clothing: shoulder to knee (or lower). That is the divinely sanctioned standard. We have no reason to deviate from that. We have no reason to change that standard depending on who we are with, or where we are – because we can be confident that God is pleased. We have no reason to ask if we’re going to be a problem to some people, because we are doing all that God expects of us. We have no reason to judge others by any standard other than clear Scripture. We have no reason to ask complicated questions of responsibility in the case of lust – quite obviously, it is a sign of immaturity on the part of the guy. We have no reason to complain that guys have it easier. God didn’t give Eve a burka and Adam a pair of jean shorts.

He gave them both tunics because His standard is the same for everyone, regardless of gender, age, race, time period, activity, or location.

It’s simple. It really is.

Fifty Thousand Pieces of Silver

 

Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices.
And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of all; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.
So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.
~Acts 19:18-20

 

 Can you imagine the scene?  Somewhere in the midst of Paul’s two year sojourn in Ephesus, the Holy Spirit so convicted the hearts of the people, Jews and Greeks, that they repented of many things, not least of which was their secret practice of witchcraft.  They were so eager to follow the Lord with all of their lives, that they burned the evil that had most consumed them.  The footnotes in my Bible identify the piece of silver as the Greek drachma: a day’s wage of a laborer.  I don’t know how many people were burning magic books, or how much each one had cost, but it would take an average person of that day one hundred and thirty-seven years to earn that much money (with only five days off in that time).

These people have been freed from the curse of their wickedness, and yet, so many times when I have read this passage in the past, it has caused me to… hesitate.  I know that they were devoting their lives to the Lord, and that burning the magic books was very important to their following the Lord, but it took me a long time before I truly understood, beyond the textbook answer, why it was so vital.  A part of me would read it and think as the disciples did in Matthew twenty-six: “Why this waste?”  Of course, I knew it would be wrong for them to sell the books to others, and lead others into sin in so doing, but isn’t their some way that money could have been redeemed?  One hundred and thirty-seven years wages!  It’s bothered me that I think of it, but I would still think of it.

In my last read-through of Acts, it struck me in a different way, and it does even more now that I am reading this chapter for the sake of this post.  The first thing that I came to realize is that these people were not just burning fifty thousand paychecks they had received that morning.  This bonfire was built on one hundred and thirty-seven years of bondage.  It was fifty thousand days of trudging through muck under a heavy burden that only gets heavier the further you go all washed clean and healed by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Suddenly, this is all such a precious scene.  None of us alive today is old enough to have sinned for fifty thousand days.  But even if we had, Jesus would still be able and eager to cleanse us and give us His joy and a sparkling white robe the moment we will surrender our chains to Him.  None of us has small sins, but look at how vast the forgiveness of our Lord is when we come to Him and repent of all of the times in our lives that we have devoted to evil.  What and sweet and humble God we serve!

The other aspect of this scene that stands out to me now begins earlier in the chapter.

“And God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul,
so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.
But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying ‘I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches’
And seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.
And the evil spirit answered and said to them, ‘I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’
And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
And this became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified.”
~Acts 19:11-17

 

This is the rest of the story.  Whenever we think that we can purify and redeem ourselves by “repurposing” our sins and the things that pull us away from Jesus, it is like this new believers trying to get rid of their sin by selling their books of witchcraft, or leaving them on a shelf and “promising” not to look at them again.  Left to ourselves, we cannot cleanse a single day of our lives, no matter how Christian we try to look, or how hard we honestly try.  Like the Jewish exorcists, we will try to do good, but will only end up being beaten down by the evil we face, and those who are enslaved to evil will also be worse off when we try to help them!  From the time of Adam and Eve’s first sin, the devil’s play was to say, “you can be God, and you can do it yourself.” “Don’t burn the magic books; just leave them on the shelf.” “Giving up that hobby? What a waste!  You could use that to glorify the Lord once you get famous and people start noticing you!”

That is why it is so vital that we always be as willing to give up what we love in this world as Jesus is to give up Himself for us.  Fifty thousand days devoted to serving the devil, all just a shadow in the past when we kneel before Jesus today.  And we can’t claim a single day of credit for it, thank God!  As with Paul, after He pays our one hundred and thirty-seven year debt, Jesus will give us His Holy Spirit, so that we will be able to help others who are still slaving to pay the debt themselves.  Do not hesitate to surrender your chains to Jesus.

by Stephanie H.

Lord, Will I Be Remembered?

 

I’m off like a shot again as soon as I get the inkling that there is something more I can do for the Lord.  Whenever I get antsy, I want to do all of the things that have brought me close to Him before.  I hate to waste a moment, so let me read one of the thickest books in the Bible all in one sitting, or let me fast for a day or two, or pray for someone for a few hours so that they can know the peace and joy of the Lord.  And that does not even cover active ministry.  Let me give everything I have to offer to care for others.  Let me spend all of my free time sharing with everyone the truth of the gospel.

And I get to the end, and I fall apart.

There are so many people around me that need Jesus.  There are so many which He has entrusted to me.  My heart has ached to see how much suffering there is in my small corner of the world.  And yet I can see no fruit…  I have done what I know the Lord has asked of me.  What have I missed?  I know that I get more busy than I should when the Lord would have me be still; He has to remind me so often to be patient and to wait on Him.  He also has my failures and shortcomings with which to work.  I know that I have so much to learn, and that He is used to working through the most broken of people.  It hurts to accept that I have failed, but I know that my God is bigger than that.

I know that I am young.  I do have so much to learn.  The Lord will grow me into the roles and ministries He has prepared for me, and open them to me when His time comes, but for now, I have none of it figured out.  I don’t regret anything I’ve given to the Lord, but I know that He fed over five thousand with a boy’s five loaves and two fish.  Sometimes I wonder if what I have given Him has even fed five.

Retrospect can make it so difficult to relate to the stories in the Bible.  I can quickly read through to see how they end if I do not know already.  The outcome of my own actions lacks that handy feature, so it is easy to forget or simply not understand what it was for patriarchs and disciples to have faith in the moment, because from my side of history, they are all great historic figures and heroes already.  I can hope to be remembered the same way, but how can I know how to live so that I will be when so much that I do seems to come to nothing?

“Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her.”
~Matthew 26:13

Can you imagine how this woman must have felt, to hear Jesus say this of her?  My heart yearns to know that what I do for the Lord can have that lasting impact.  So how did this woman do to gain this priceless recognition from the Son of God?

If we start back at verse seven, we read the story of a woman who comes to Jesus and anoints Him with perfume.  The book of Mark adds that this perfume could easily have been sold for three hundred day’s wages.  This perfume, worth almost a year’s labor, was her life savings.

It makes me ashamed to admit that when I give as generously to the Lord as she did, and do not see the results I expect, a large part of me comes to Jesus with His other indignant disciples and wants to demand “Why this waste?”  Nearly a year’s labor, and no one is fed, no one is clothed, and no one seems to love You any more than the day I started!  I don’t mean to blame Jesus for what I perceive as failures, but that is what I often end up doing.

How we measure success is everything.  This woman’s main goal was to show Jesus how much she loved Him.  Is it any surprise that John chapter twelve identifies her as Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha?  I still have so much to learn from her example.  When all is said and done, I want to know that I did what I did to show Jesus how much I love Him.  It is a struggle, but I want to give to Him unreservedly, regardless of what I or the world see because of it.  He sees, and He understands that same struggle.  When there were five thousand people following Him, He fed them with abundance.  They followed Him after that so that they could see more miracles and eat more food.  Instead, He began to feed them with the truth of salvation, and many of them left because it would cost them too much.

That success I have desired is not as valuable or long term as I would have thought.  The Lord has promised that His people will be fruitful, but I’m not always sure what that fruit is.  When I think I know, I often end up chasing the results rather than my Jesus.  I still have much to learn, but I want to spend my time sitting at His feet, giving Him all that I have, and seeking no more than seeing the love in His eyes, whatever may come.

by Stephanie H.

Following Jesus Like Crazy

 

I was speaking to my mother recently about some of the reactions I received from friends and peers when I first stopped watching television, and her observations led me to do a lot of thinking.

When I stopped watching movies and TV shows, and stopped reading books and listening to music that I knew were not honoring Jesus, my social circles didn’t take it very well.  Some of my friends really listened.  A few were even excited to see where the Lord would lead me.  I lost some friends who were very dear to me.  Most, however, turned it into a debate on theological and cultural relevance.  The arguments were generally the same; they talked about how important it is to have common ground with the rest of the world, how Jesus has called us to be very “in the world” people, and how cowardly or deceived they themselves had been when thinking the same way as I now did.  When they could see that I meant to follow Jesus without popular media and wouldn’t change my mind, the discussion would end with the promise that they would pray for me—in the way that indicated they would ask Jesus to make me normal again.

As I was recounting this to my mother, she tacked on an interesting thought.

“If you had told them that you had been reading way too much of the Bible lately, and that you were going to take a break–”

I was baffled at the truth of the thought before she even finished saying it.

They probably would have been fine with it.

Some probably would even have been curious and interested in it.  I don’t say that simply because any of them disagreed with my either.  I know there would have been some who would have at least cautioned me not to take it too far.  Others would probably give me the conversational equivalent of a tackle, or hold an intervention.  Still, most of those to whom I spoke about giving up television—knowing me to be a theology nerd—would have been at least curious, if not in full support of me cutting back on my time with Jesus.

I had to think on it for a while after that conversation.  I thought of the fact that most Christians probably wouldn’t notice the difference in a fellow believer’s life if they stopped reading their Bible.  As long as they are still involved in church, and do their best to be nice, would you or I know the difference?  Would they even seem more normal and pleasant?  Do we even know how much the Christians around us spend time with Jesus?

I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the path of recent Christian history, it became embarrassing for Christians (the people who name themselves after Jesus) to know Him, talk about Him, spend time with Him, obey Him, and love Him more than life, limb, family, and the world around us.  It is hardly even spoken of if a Christian is acting in a way that pulls them away from Jesus, because “we shouldn’t judge them” and “we don’t know what is in their hearts.”  So we all label ourselves as “Christians”, but we identify with sports, or characters in movies, or celebrities, our our favorite hobbies, or what school we attend.  That is why so many became offended when I stopped watching television.  In many ways, Christianity is a label, but popular culture is a lifestyle.

Does that make your heart weep?

It all reminds me of what C.S. Lewis wrote in The Last Battle.  All of the talking animals were afraid to speak up when there was a fake lion pretending to be the real Aslan.  They had always been told that Aslan was “not a tame lion,” so how could they argue if He was not the way they thought He would be?  They didn’t know Him.

The real devil has done this in the real world so long, that we are afraid to imagine that there is a true Jesus who can be seen, and heard, and touched, and known.  What if we offend Him be presuming to know Him when we do not?  Best to leave Him as a symbol, and Christianity a label, and focus on things in the “real” world, like celebrities and long novels.

So then, the very reason that Christians are offended when I give up popular culture, and when I talk too much about Jesus and read my Bible more than is natural in someone my age, is exactly why I must talk about Jesus even more and read my Bible more than anyone ever has, if I can.

Because Jesus is real.  I know Him.  True, I don’t know Him much when compared with how infinitely more I can know Him, but how can that mean that I should never try?  It would offend Him to presume that He lies when He says that He wants us to know Him more than anything else in the world.

My dear Sister, never compromise your relationship with Jesus in order to be trendy or culturally relevant.  Trust Him.  Trust Him, and when your friends, family, and peers push you to be normal again, push harder into His presence.  Push like crazy, because crazy is all that the world will see.  Pray.  Seek Him, know Him, obey Him, and watch all that He will show you along the way.  The adventure of knowing Him is without compare.  After all, He isn’t safe, but He is good.
He’s not a tame lion.  We cannot be docile Christians.
by Stephanie H.