Light Bearer

“…that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life.” Philippians 2:15-16

As we prepare to send the kids back to another school year and prepare for the changing of seasons, I’ve been praying over how to pray for them. As they grow, you move into uncharted territory with these not-so-little-anymore people and prayers that once seemed enough don’t feel the same anymore.

Their world gets bigger, their circles grow, they aren’t safely sheltered anymore but very much exposed. The idea of sending them out to the world is terrifying at times. My instinct all summer was one of “prepare, prepare, prepare…” for whatever that’s worth. Prepare for the good and the bad because they both will come. And so we do. We impart what we can to them and pray some of it sticks.

And Jesus reminds me this morning that it’s not about my preparation or lack of it. It isn’t in the little verse cards they made for their lockers. It isn’t in my attempts to get it all said, because there will always be more to say. It’s in knowing who God is and who we are in relation to Him. And so I was lead to this verse in Philippians that reminds us of some basic truths;

  • It’s a crooked world. We can live holy and pure in the midst of it.
  • It’s a dark world. We are called to be the light.
  • How do we do it? We hold fast to His truth.

That’s worth more than all my well-intentioned lectures or lessons. It’s not from a fancy best-selling book of the month, it isn’t dressed up or altered in any way. It’s just God’s roadmap for us. I love the simple.

Love God. Love each other. Hold fast His words. Be the light.

 

Discerning Right from Almost Right

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“All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition… making the Word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down.” Mark 7:9/13

Traditions – beliefs, activities, etc. that are passed down and repeated. I’m a huge fan of traditions. Everyone has them, some make no sense at all other than that’s the way it’s always been done. Our biggest ones revolve around food. Whatever that says about us, I don’t know. But come Christmastime, you’d better believe the same recipes are going to be made in the same way on the same day as every other year. It’s tradition.

Jesus is challenging the Pharisees. He’s pointing out to them that they value their oral traditions and laws more than God’s commandments. They are putting something secondary in first place and negating what is most important, essentially voiding the power of God in their lives.

This has started me thinking about things we do that may be hindering our right relationship with Jesus. I’m never ever interested in tearing someone down or criticizing just for the sake of it. There’s way too much of that going around. But I AM all about recognizing truth and addressing those little ‘red flags’ that pop up from time to time in our lives.

Here’s the vague story – I’m keeping it vague because I believe it’s more important to focus on God’s intentions and desires for us than get bogged down in man’s opinions. Anyways… a marvelously popular Christian with a huge following recommends a book. Ten zillion people respond gleefully and announce, “I’m on my way to the bookstore now!” and “Downloading it now!” within minutes on social media. They know nothing of this book, it looks interesting and it must be great if so and so is recommending it, yes?

Here’s where things get weird. I’ve read this book. And it has some pretty big issues. Someone writes what I’m thinking in my head all along. “Umm… I’ve read this book and would like to say that it isn’t really Biblical. There’s a lot in here that doesn’t match up with God’s Word, so please be careful.”

DUCK AND COVER.

This poor thing was raked over the coals. The usual catchphrases came out about “who are you to judge” and “no wonder people leave the church” (I’m not joking, someone said that). Quite a few more dissenters came out and tactfully pointed out some huge problems with this book and received the same treatment. It was a fascinating, not in a good way. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Usually, I don’t engage in stuff like this, it’s like going down a rathole. But this time – it was too absurd to ignore.

Here are some things I’m taking away from this little debacle.

  • It’s good to stand up for the truth, as long as we do so in love. If something strikes you as off, or doesn’t match up with God’s Word, speak up! Nobody is correct 100% of the time. Not my favorite author and not yours. We are human. God’s Word has to be our measuring stick, not the opinions of others. People really freak out at this and pull out the “judging” card. Discernment and judgment are not the same. I Thessalonians tells us to “test all things, examine all things” (5:21). Without discernment, we are “tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).
  • People are thirsty and desperate to hear from God. I’m not being hard on people who seek out answers in the latest Christian book or fad. They are hungry for God and seeking after Him. But in that desire to grow and change, we fall for things we shouldn’t. We may be in a desperate time in our lives where we’ll try anything to get our answer. There is always room for improvement in our prayer lives for example, but are we going to God or do we seek out a method? Our thirst needs to take us to His Word first. Books are great for filling in little areas and mixing things up, but we need to be motivated by what HE says above others.
  • When someone claims to have a “new and improved” way of praying or just doing life with Jesus or claims to have cornered some area of the Christian life… hoist up that red flag and hold it high. I’m not saying we don’t all receive revelation, we do. It comes from the Spirit and God’s word and through people and circumstances. All good things. But the Bible tells us that we already have an anointing from God and we know all things (I John 2:20), meaning what was true hundreds of years ago is still true. The pioneers didn’t have Lifeway Christian Store and they did just fine with their Bibles. God didn’t give us 21st century people new ways of hearing Him that didn’t exist for someone else. Believers have the very MIND of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16). We need not be confused or on the lookout for some magic formula to get closer to God. We already have what we need.
  • I realize that most of these writers have good hearts and want to encourage people and help them. But there is such a danger in putting our traditions and methods above what God has already provided for us. Just as the Pharisees did as they clung to their stories and fables. The particular book that started all this was drawn entirely from a story from the Jewish Talmud. The main character is never mentioned in the Bible at all. The author implicitly says that you can’t just read the Bible. It gets very murky from there, but his whole premise is about drawing circles (actual, physical circles) around yourself and praying inside them until God answers. I circle and underline promises in my Bible, but this is different. There’s more to it, and I believe his heart is good, so I’m not meaning to attack here, I’m just saying this is dangerous as it leads us away from the person we are praying TO and makes us rely on a method that is found nowhere in the Bible. A woman who had never even heard of the book replied that she was going to go sit in a hula hoop on her floor and pray for her answer. Ugh. God doesn’t care if you’re in your hula hoop or your car… He hears us when we pray. And we must pray with a pure heart, not out of a ritual.

Let’s not allow traditions and methods to get in the way of Jesus and the living Word. May we not be sidetracked by superficial things that are just empty promises based on performance. Lots of people have lots of things to say – good and bad. We are made to build one another up and encourage each other in the Word. Let’s go to that first and be discerning about what we let into our hearts and minds.

Everyday Supernatural

“The secret of a Christians life is that the supernatural becomes natural in him as a result of the grace of God, and the experience of this becomes evident in the practical everyday details of life.” Oswald Chambers

The SUPER natural becomes natural to us. God’s very best becomes the norm. What an amazing idea!

The truth is though, life teaches us something different. We don’t experience this at all. Sometimes, yes, amazing miracles or provision occur and we are shocked and thankful. Often, we put our faith into something half hoping it will work and half expecting it not to. We make excuses for why this or that happened and we move on. Well-meaning teachings or people combined with our experiences lead us down a path of resignation. We want to see supernatural things, but we certainly aren’t bold enough to expect them.

Certain false beliefs have crept their way into our hearts and minds. They’re comfortable beliefs that allow us to explain away our disappointment or confusion. We fall back on them when things don’t really work out. They are also barriers to experiencing more. Here are some that I know I have believed:

  • God is capable of (insert prayer, need, desire here) but I don’t think He’s willing to do it for me.
  • God is sovereign, if He wanted to (            ), He would just do it. He doesn’t need me.
  • I must not have prayed hard enough. My faith must not have been strong enough.
  • All things work out in the end, que sera sera!

First things first: God is no respecter of persons. (Romans 2:11). The same grace has been extended to all mankind. He doesn’t hold back blessing from some and give it to others. He extended His grace to all. We must believe and know that He loves us and is willing to do great things for us. God isn’t wishy-washy toward us!

Oswald Chambers said this supernatural life becomes natural to us “as a result of the grace of God.” Ten thousand AMENS to that truth! His grace was and is totally independent of us. It is a gift. Nothing we did. So… if all these supernatural blessings, healings and provisions are the result of His grace toward us… why don’t we experience more? Why don’t they happen more often?

We Have A Role To Play!

If His grace alone made all these things happen, the world would be problem-free. Everyone would be saved. There would be no need to pray about anything. We know that isn’t true. The Bible says that Israel limited God (Psalm 78:41). Even Jesus was limited in what He could do because of the unbelief in His home town (Mark 6:5). We humans limit what God can do through our unbelief. He does need us. Our faith is a conductor that directs the supernatural power of God and makes it work! It is what moves things from the spirit world to the physical world. Faith is just our response to His grace! When the two meet up, amazing things happen! The idea that “God will just work everything out” while we sit by and hope for the best is dangerous.

I often see many well-meaning Christian-isms that promote this kind of thinking: “Let go and let God!” “Nothing can stop God!” “What is meant to be will be!”… Not true.

So we have a part to play. Our faith is important. But oh the pressure of having enough faith! Now we swing in the other direction. “I have to have big faith! I have to get better faith!” What does that even mean? I don’t know, but I know we tell ourselves things like this all the time. If something doesn’t work out – and if we know that God isn’t the variable in all this – we blame ourselves. My faith must have been weak. God is disappointed in me. Maybe next time.

Our faith is a gift. It isn’t wishful thinking and it isn’t false hope. Solid faith doesn’t create something out of nothing. It’s just coming into agreement with what God has already done. In the same way He provided forgiveness for our sins, He provided for supernatural things. Faith is just our acceptance of what He has done and our releasing it into being. The pressure is off! We aren’t failing God or disappointing Him, we are sometimes just ignorant of how His kingdom works.

We Give Up Too Easily

In Daniel chapter 9, the Lord showed up with an answer as Daniel was still in prayer. The angel Gabriel assured him that “at the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved” (v. 22-23).  How encouraging! The minute he set out to pray, the heavens heard and responded! But in the next chapter, things didn’t go as well. Daniel prayed for three weeks with no result. Verses 2-3 show us that he was a mess. He was mourning. Not eating. Finally, something happened. A visitor showed up with a message. “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days.” (Daniel 10:12-13)

Twenty one days between the time Daniel prayed to when the answer manifested. It’s clear that the Lord heard both of his prayers immediately. He sent out His answer immediately. But there are things going on that we are unaware of. Spiritual battles in the heavens. What if Daniel had compared this prayer with the previous one and said “well, the answer isn’t coming, I give up.” Yikes! The answer was coming, it just needed to be prayed through! So praying once and throwing up our arms if things don’t work out isn’t a good idea. It isn’t wrong to keep praying about a matter. This reveals that our prayers can be answered but not necessarily manifested. It is so important that we do not get discouraged if the answer doesn’t come immediately! People often get disappointed and say “oh well, sometimes God just says no.” More often, we have given up and resigned ourselves that the answer isn’t coming.

The Bible is clear, God is for us and has fantastic, supernatural provision for those who are in Christ. His arms aren’t crossed and He isn’t mad. We don’t have to convince Him of our needs. He already knows and is ready to move on our behalf! Most Christians don’t really believe that though. We live with a kind of fatalistic attitude that “it is what it is” and we hope for the best while preparing for the worst. But New Testament believers have the very power and authority of Christ at our disposal. He commanded us to use it! Instead of spending our time begging God and trying to make Him answer us, we need to join Him and receive from Him. We should be expecting supernatural things in our lives. We should be operating in the very power that Jesus used. We are not beggars any longer. The supernatural isn’t for super-saints, it’s for everyone. Jesus said true believers would operate in this way and that messages would be confirmed with signs and wonders. (Mark 16:17-20). It’s for everyday life. What amazing things would happen if us Christians really believed what the Word says about us???

It’s not the what the world teaches. It isn’t even what most churches teach. But it is what God Himself desires for us!