Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The next thing

Sometimes, life is just overwhelming. Do you ever feel that way? For days, weeks, now, my prayers have been variations of "Lord, please help me. Help me just do what you want me to do, because I don't know what I'm doing or where I'm going."

Do you ever have dreams where you want to run, but you somehow feel like you're running through marshmallow? Or you have a hundred things to do, but you can't even start?

Our faith in God doesn't depend on happy families, healthy bodies and brains that work right. Our faith depends on who God is, not who or what we are. Our faith hinges on HIS character, not ours - His work, not ours - His love, not ours. When we feel like we are at the bottom of a well, and the little light that comes through is so far above that we can't reach it, God is still there. His love for us doesn't change with our feelings or our circumstances.

If you are mired in something that drags you down, holds you back - then cry out to Him for help, and believe that He will help you. KNOW that He hears you, and that He cares.

You may be one, like me, that likes to have a plan - likes to see the the path lying clearly before you. It might be a difficult path, but that's OK, as long as it's a clear path. Well, sometimes that path isn't so clear, and our brains are foggy and our bodies are tired, and if we really, really admitted what we feel deep down inside, we might just start crying and not stop.

God has a plan, dear ones. No matter where you are in your walk with Him - whether you've just started or you've been following Him a long time, He has a plan.

Jeremiah 29:11-13

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 
That was written specifically to the Jews, but spiritually, it applies to every believer. He has a plan - and it's a good one. This world is passing away. The time remaining is very short. If you are ready, that idea may fill you with joy. If you are not, it might create terror. Or, you may believe it, but you are tired and sad and confused, and life is just really too hard right now to think much about it at all. 
Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Stop trying so hard, and just be that little toddler who trusts that His daddy is there, taking care of him. Getting ready for Jesus' return is not about what you do - it's about trusting what He has already done. 

Speaking as one who likes that plan, likes to have everything mapped out - it's OK if you don't know where you're going. It's OK if you have no idea what this whole "Jesus is coming" thing is going to look like. When your children were very small, did they know what their whole day was going to contain? Of course they didn't - and they didn't worry about it. They went about their day, fairly oblivious until you scooped them up and said, "Time to go!"

It's really OK if you are like that toddler. The important thing is that your trust is strong (which you remember is not a feeling, but a DECISION based on who your savior is and all that He has done for you), and that you are depending on Jesus. 

He does have work for you to do, but it's nothing to overwhelm you: "my yoke is easy and my burden is light." It's nothing that should make you frantic, wondering how in the world you're going to get it all done. 

When my father was dying, I couldn't bear to think beyond the immediate. I couldn't deal with what came after. All I could do was ask God to help me do the next thing. And, at that moment, the next thing was just holding my daddy's hand while his body died. 

In some ways, that's still where I'm at. I want the plan - I want the clear path, the whole picture. But, you know what? God says, "No, that's not what I want for you." He might be saying something else to you, but to me, He says, "Just do the next thing - and I'll take care of it beyond that."

That's tough, you know, for a planner. If I ever appear to be spontaneous, it's only because I've planned very, very quickly. I'm not very good at winging it. But, God appears to be asking me to wing it these days. 

Jesus is coming. Time is very, very short. And, I have no plan. I have no plan, but I do have trust. I trust that my God who is my savior has a plan - and if HE has a plan, I can be that toddler who has no idea what's going on. 

Please, Lord, just keep my on that path. Keep me in the center of your will, because I have no idea where I'm going. Help me do the next thing.

If you are feeling any of these things, I'd love to hear from you. If you don't want to say it here for all to see, just send me an e-mail.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Add to your godliness, brotherly kindness

I'm sorry, anyone who is actually reading this blog. Life got busy, and I got discouraged from the apparent lack of interest and zero comments I was getting. But, I should just be faithful and let God do with this blog as He will.

The last actual blog was Add to your perseverance, Godliness. So, I will finish Peter's list, and then (hopefully tomorrow) start something new. It should be very freeing, knowing that virtually no one actually reads these. I can just write what's on my heart. But first Peter.

2 Peter 1

 1 Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
   To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:
 2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
Making One’s Calling and Election Sure
 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
 10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.
That's the full section of Peter we're working through, and now we have gotten this far:

2Peter 1:5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.

"Brotherly kindness" is the seventh trait that Peter talks about. You'll remember that seven is the number of completeness. And, yet, this full list has eight - the number of resurrection and new beginning. Interesting, huh?

7. Brotherly kindness: philadelphia {fil-ad-el-fee'-ah}
1) love of brothers or sisters, brotherly love 2) in the NT the love which Christians cherish for each other as brethren

The verb form is phileo.

1 John 3:11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.

1 Peter 1:21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart

1 Thessalonians 4:9 Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other

Brotherly kindness or phileo love seems to come with salvation. It is evidence that we have been saved. Why does Peter command us to add it, then? Again, I believe this means to practice using it. It comes fairly late in the list, so I think this will grow as the others do.

The eighth trait is agape love:

8. Love: (KJ - charity) agape {ag-ah'-pay}
the love of God, the way God loves us, to love completely without thought of recompense, abundant, overflowing, unconditional love

 The verb form is agapao {ag-ap-ah'-o}. There is no way that anyone can have agape love without being saved. Only through the Spirit can you have this kind of love. It's last on the list because it is the hardest. Peter thought he had agape love:

John 13:37 Peter asked, "Lord, why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." 38 Then Jesus answered, "Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

But, as we know, he didn't really have agape love. He did disown Jesus, just as Jesus predicted. Later, after Jesus' resurrection, they had a little conversation after a fish breakfast on the shore. We miss what really was going on in the English:

John 21:15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me agapao more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love phileo you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." 
16 Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love agapao me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love phileo you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." 
17 The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love phileo me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love phileo you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.

In the end, Jesus is saying that phileo is enough to start with. Peter can feed the sheep with phileo love. Is it any wonder that Peter listed agape love last? And, yet, that is what Jesus commands:

John 13:34 "A new command I give you: Love agapao one another. As I have loved agapao you, so you must love agapao one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Mark 12:28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" 29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." 32 "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
Luke 10:25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" 27 He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" 28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

So, how is it possible? Only through the Holy Spirit. That is the only way. It is simply not possible through human will.

      The Greek Language has five words for love. Eros is sensual love between the sexes. Phileo is friendship among friends -- kind feelings and natural affection. We think of Phileo love being brotherly love. Storge love is love within a family. Love for your kids, parents, and so on. Agapao love is to be totally given over to someone or something. Agape love is lavished on others without any thought of whether they deserve or are worthy of the love. It is totally unconditional love. It proceeds from the one giving the love and not from the attractiveness of the beloved. It is a commitment, not a feeling.

So, make every effort to add those eight traits, and you will be ready for Jesus' coming. (still intrigued by the fact there are eight). BUT, you need to remember, to live as God expects - to be truly holy - to do the works that God desires - is impossible in our human strength. We all want to be Christ-like, but no one gets that way by just deciding to. It ISN'T a matter of figuring out what Jesus would do and then doing it.

Ladies, have you ever read Proverbs 31 and wanted to be a wife of noble character? You could make a list in your head - up before dawn, prepare the food, make clothes for the family, run the household, bring in extra money, give to the poor, dole out wisdom. . . Are you up for it? That's what God wants, right? How long before you give up in utter exhaustion, a complete failure? That's what happens when you try to do it in your own strength.

OR - you can seek God every day, in His word and in your prayer. Trust Him. Depend on Him. And, someday, when you look back, you'll realize that you're a lot more of that Proverbs 31 woman than you used to be. It was in God's time and in God's strength. That's what it means to walk in the Spirit. It's God working in you - not anything you did yourself.

It is possible to do what appears to be good works and commanded of God and have it turn out to be works of the flesh. Remember this verse?

1 Corinthians 3: 9 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. 10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work.

The work here was the work of believers - God's fellow workers - and yet some of it may burn up when tested in the fire. Work directed by the Spirit is pleasing to God. Work done in the flesh (in your own strength and will) is not pleasing, even if it appears righteous to us.

What you do in the Spirit will not burn you out (and will not burn up). There is time enough in every day to do what God wants you to do in that day. If it appears that there is not, then you are trying to go beyond what the Spirit wants for you.

That's part of the problem with many, many things on the Christian scene these days. Their basic message is, "This is what you were created for. Get out there and do it - spread the good news, make disciples, help the poor. Find out what your spiritual gift is and put it to work!"

Well, that's all well and good. It IS what the Bible says. But - they leave out the whole part about it being fruit of the Spirit. You go and do all that in your strength and will, and not only will you fail to please God, you will wind up feeling like an utter and complete failure. They call it being "purpose driven." Really, it's being "law-driven." We want to be led by the Spirit, not driven by the law.

So, what do we do? Go sit in a dark room until we FEEL the Spirit? No, that's not the way it works. (Don't you wish it was sometimes?)

Ephesians 5:15 Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

How can we be filled with the Spirit? How can we actually walk by the Spirit, live by the Spirit?

Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.

These two passages suggest two things. The first is simply to ask, as Jesus tells us:

Luke 11:9 "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

The second is to "feed" your new man and "starve" your old man. Stay away from things of the world. Instead, drink deeply, daily of God's word, as the many, many passages we've gone through in the past say. Speak and sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Be thankful for all things and keep your mind on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. 
And, my favorite verse of all:
Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

I believe that's the key right there - trust. We always want to make things complicated. We seem to always stray one way or the other. Either we try to do things in our own strength and wind up exhausted and burned out, feeling far from the very One we wanted to serve -- or, we go too far the other way and find ourselves paralyzed because we don't hear or FEEL God telling us what to do. It's not supposed to be that hard.

Matthew 11:28 "Come to me , all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

We need to just trust God to lead us, and He will! It's that simple. (I know - I know. While it's simple in truth, we are feeling creatures, and too often we confuse trust with feeling. Our feelings so often mislead us). Just remember, we are to bear fruit, yes, but we are neither the gardener nor the vine:

John 15:5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

The branches do not strain to produce fruit. They simply soak up the "Son" and the fruit grows!

One last - very important! - point: The "law" (all those expectations of God) does a number of things, but most importantly, it shows us our sin as we fail to live up to it. Only Jesus could keep it all perfectly. We will never be without sin on this earth. We will never walk perfectly in the Spirit. We will never be perfectly obedient. You can do everything we discussed here, and you will still screw up. We all do, no matter how long we've been Christians. When we acknowledge our sin, we remember again our need for our savior. The gospel is not something you believe and are done with. The gospel is an entire way of life. We need to remember that because of what Jesus did for us, we are already right with God. We are His dearly loved children, not because of ANYTHING we do, but because when the Father looks at us, He sees the righteousness of Jesus instead of our sin.

It's easy to know that in your head - that we're never trying to "earn points" by our works, but very hard to remember it in your heart. Our feelings are deceptive, and sometimes they will trip us up. We start to feel like God is not pleased with us, and He begins to feel very, very far away. Or, we start to feel like God IS pleased with us, because of the good things we've done. Neither is right thinking. God is already perfectly pleased with you, not because of what you've done or not done, but because when He looks at you, He sees His dear child, bought with the blood of Jesus.

God did everything in your salvation - and He will do everything in your sanctification, too. Just trust Him to lead you, and He will! (Remembering that He can use even your screw-ups for your eternal good!)

To summarize this whole study:
As Walter Martin had said," Now, we don't begin our day saying, "Today I am going to make the effort to keep the Ten Commandments." We begin our day saying, "Lord Jesus, give me the grace that I may walk with you." Because if I am going to walk with Christ, I'll be obeying the will of God and the law of God."

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

More Bible studies loaded

Hello to anyone who actually sees this blog! I've been spending some spare time working on orders for my shop (EvenTheStones at Etsy) and getting some Bible studies updated and back online. Should you be interested, you may find several more new ones here: Berean Bible Study Gospel of John. Those include John 7, about the Feast of Tabernacles, John 8, about the eighth day of the feast, and the events that happened on that day, John 9 with the man born blind and John 10, about the Good Shepherd and the Good Shepherd in contrast to that coming worthless shepherd, that most people call the antichrist.

If you are reading this, I really would like very much to know what you'd like to see here. This blog can go pretty much any direction that you would find helpful. Since I'm just getting started, there are very few readers, so if you are one of them, you represent a very large proportion of my audience! What do you want to read more about? Please let me know. Thanks!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Back soon!

My daughter has been home from college this week, so I haven't been posting. I will get back to it shortly.