Monthly Archives: October 2014

Weeding Helps the “WANT TOs”

weeds choking

In my last blog, I wrote about my desire to increase the WANT TO serve God, instead of the HAVE TO.   I asked the question, “How do you help people WANT TO more?

One of the answers is: weeding helps the WANT TOs.

The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but the cares of this world and the deceitful pleasures of riches choke the word so that it can’t produce anything.  Matt 13:22

The bottom line is, there isn’t enough room in our hearts for God to really take root and grow, to transform us so that we flourish, to give us the vibrant life.

Our hearts are filled with “weeds” worries, love for other things, the need to control, fear, bitterness. All of these things LEECH our love for God.

“All weeds steal nutrients, water, and sunlight from young crops, and a carpet of weeds can seriously stunt the harvest. . . all in all, the fewer weeds, the better off garden plants will be. ”  Anna Kimble-Evans, Organic Gardening web site.

This statement about gardening is true of our hearts. The fewer weeds, the better off our hearts will be, and the more we will WANT TO serve God.

This seems like a pretty obvious statement, but as disciples, we have trouble seeing this. It’s hard to get a handle on anxieties and fears, they are so much a part of our makeup. We fill up our lives with all kinds of activities, things we say we’re doing for Christ, or things we tell ourselves we have freedom in Christ to do.

The irony is, we end up spend much of our resources on “husbanding” these things.

We succor our worries, nurse our bitterness, fertilizing our fears, indulge our comfort, and feed our pride with the pursuit of endless accomplishments.  We race from insecurity by loading our schedule.

And then when it comes time to give more to God, we find ourselves struggling.

We hate that feeling. We feel guilty. We desire to WANT TO serve God more. But we don’t realize that we won’t WANT TO serve Him more unless we weed some of the things out of our hearts and lives.

We think that if we get inspired by how awesome God is, that alone will give us the motivation to go anywhere and do anything.   And we do get jolts of momentum from time to time. But it’s not enough.

We keep waiting for our passion to increase, not realizing that passion doesn’t come from simply focusing on God, but from making room in our hearts and lives for God.

We need to carve out time for God.  We need to spend time in stillness and meditation, allowing His word to sink in deeply, to transform us. We don’t formally keep it, but there is a reason God made the Sabbath important.  There is a reason retreats are so helpful.

Also, we need to recognize and address the things that are sapping our energies during the day.

And we need help from one another.  As I said before, it is super difficult to see the tangle of our heart clearly, to know what is really getting in the way, and what is okay.

No one wants to live in the land of HAVE TOs.  God doesn’t want us to do that either, although there will be times we all need to obey even when we don’t feel like it.

Let us strive together to have a pure wholehearted joyful motivation, living out the dream that was realized in the first church —

They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  Acts 2:47

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Developing a Pure Motivation

As  a Christian, I sometimes used to do things because I felt like I had to do them.  I felt pressured.  I felt guilty. I think it was at its worst when I realized that I was dreading my weekly discipling times with my best friend.   I had lost sight of our friendship.  Instead, I would think how I HAD to confess sin.  It had all become something I HAD to do, and not something I wanted to do.  My motivations were often because I knew would have someone call me out if I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.  There was always a pressure on me to do the right things.

In 2003 there were a lot of changes in our fellowship of churches.  The “have to” was taken away.  Slowly, I started learning to do things because I WANTED to do them.  How wonderful it felt to have a more pure motivation — to only do things out of sheer inspiration.  At the apex of this time, I wrote a musical called, “My Soul is Dancing.”  This musical expressed exactly how I was feeling — deeply joyful in heart.

Obedience and fear of God are good, but there’s just something great about doing the right thing because it’s your idea.  I had to push my kids through their academics in high school, pressuring them to make good grades.  In college, it was up to them.  Each of them decided on their own to make good grades.  It was their idea.  It was much better.

For years, I wanted Ken to have make some spiritual changes in his life.  For years he heard people tell him what he should do, but the changes only happened when he was ready and it was his idea.  (I want to be sure and qualify that God was a huge part of this, as He always is.)

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  II Cor 9:7

So my spiritual growth has been reveling in developing a pure, wonderful, organic relationship with God.

Now I feel like I am having to reevaluate.   It is becoming clear to me that I shy away from helping people with sin in their lives because I don’t want it to be a legalistic pressure like I experienced. Yet I often haven’t been able to help them develop the heart to deal with the sin themselves.  The sin goes on, weighing them down, holding them back, disrespecting God.

Do I need to just call out people’s sins more?   I do think there need to be more honest loving conversations where we can talk about what is really going on.  I need to not avoid these talks.

But how do I do this, and be sure that I am helping them have the RIGHT motivation?  This really troubles me.

There is great value in obedience for the sake of obedience.   “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples…” 

But even in raising children, the goal is not to have them make the right choices just because they are supposed to, but to help them develop the character that will make the right choices.

That is what I want for others.  That is what I want to continue in myself.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Ps 51:10

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Matt 5:8

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  Ezek. 36:26  

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The Heart of the Gospel

“…God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!”  Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”  Acts 2:36-37

Sometimes I think we can fill our life with the framework of Christianity — church, Bible studies, activities and fellowship — and still miss the heart of it all.

The heart of it all is that we messed up our relationship with God. We broke it. We created a gulf of estrangement between us and God.

Think of the times you hurt someone you cared about, how badly you felt. Maybe you can even remember a time when you damaged a relationship so badly that it was almost impossible to repair.

But we didn’t just mess up our relationship with a friend or family member, we offended our GOD. We damaged our relationship with our Creator, the Almighty, the one who has dreams for us, the one who’s given us so many good gifts, the one who loves us unconditionally.

“Against you and you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”  Ps 51:4

You think your sins haven’t been that bad to cause offense? Who has been on the throne in your life? Be honest. Has your life been about you, or about God? Do you come to the Lord on his terms or on your terms? Have you embraced Christ’s mission of seeking and saving the lost? Have you taken care of the needy? Have you lavished God with love as you would someone you dote on, or have you actively given your heart to something else – your job, looking good to others, what you want in life, your comfort and enjoyment?

All  of these areas represent sin, and sin isn’t something God just swats away and everything is fine again. Every action has a consequence, including sin.

For the wages of sin is death… Romans 3:23

The consequences here aren’t just a broken relationship. We’ve gotten ourselves in some deep doo-doo. The result is a death sentence, physically and spiritually.

“What?” you say. “That sounds totally extreme. I’m just human. I’ve just done what everyone does.”

But although God is totally merciful, he is just. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:7-8.

So how can we fix things? Actually, there isn’t ANYTHING we can do. No amount of saying we’re sorry and trying to live a good life will close the chasm we’ve opened. In Old Testament times, you could perform a sacrifice, and that would be a temporary solution.

But we need a SAVIOR.  Jesus bore the consequences of our actions. And if you think your actions weren’t that bad, look at the seriousness of the consequences – beaten and whipped to a bloody pulp, tortured with iron spikes between nerve endings, death.

God saved us and gave us a gift – eternal life. He clothed us with the righteousness of Jesus, because we never could be good enough on our own. God fixed the damage once and for all. He restored us to a place in his loving arms.

So this is the heart of Christianity. It’s being keenly aware of our estrangement from God, and ecstatically happy that this estrangement no longer exists. It’s bursting with gratitude for what God did to make things right, when we couldn’t do anything.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good.  But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.  For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.  So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.  Romans 5:6-11

There is much more to the gospel that I can talk about, but I like to keep things simple.

I totally screwed up my relationship with God. He gave up his best to fix it.  Amen.

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Our Deepest Purpose: To Be Transformed

 transformed

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what my purpose is.  Why did God create me?  So I started studying it out.  I wanted to discover that my purpose is to achieve some kind of great accomplishment.  And maybe that is true.

But maybe my deepest purpose isn’t to accomplish a great work.

Maybe it’s for a great work to be accomplished in me.

As I said in my last blog, the reason we were CREATED was to be holy and righteous.  (Eph 4:24)

Through Christ we are enabled to fulfill this destiny:  “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.”  Eph 1:4-5

But the creation isn’t finished.  Yes, there in no condemnation for those in Christ, yes, Jesus gives us his righteousness, but God’s also at work in us, molding and chiseling us into what His dream is for us to be.

  • for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
  • Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  Eph 3:20
  • God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.  Heb. 12:10
  • He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  John 15:2

Romans 8:29 says, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”  The Greek word here for “conformed” is “symmorphos” which means to change to become like something.   God is transforming us to become like his son.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  II Cor 3:18

The process of my transformation is epic.  With God as the craftsman, it is a meticulous beautiful process.

I see it as chaotic and painful.  Things go wrong.  I have health challenges.  I have mood challenges.

BUT– “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  II Cor 4:17

Every day, I am being transformed.  WITH GOD, I am working out, fulfilling, my purpose.  I am being pruned.  I am being refined. I am being shaped into something multifaceted and wonderful.

scupture

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart.  Luke 6:45

Jesus was concerned, first and foremost, with the inside.  He told the Pharisees to first clean the inside of the cup, and then the outside of the cup would be clean.  The most important thing in life is to work on your heart.

So if there are any worthy accomplishments I hope to achieve, they can only come from a heart that God has transformed.  This must be my focus — to trust and submit, and embrace my greatest purpose.

Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?  Is 45:9

God wanted his people throughout the world to know the glorious riches of this mystery-which is Christ living in you, giving you the hope of glory  Col 1:27

 

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Working Out Relationship Through Prayer

relationship with God

One of the most important things about prayer is working out my relationship with God.  Sometimes I shy away from praying about myself.  “Others are more important,” I tell myself.  “I need to focus on their needs.”  And it’s true we don’t want prayer to be a self absorbed exercise.

But I am realizing how vital it is to talk to God about myself, where I am, and wrestle things through WITH HIM.

At house church this week we each shared what personal weaknesses we thought others had to bear with in us.  We all have characteristics that can be an obstacle to our relationships.  The same is true with God.  Prayer can be the time when I get in touch with the weaknesses — my fears, my selfishness, my worries, and so on — that are impediments in my relationship with Him.  It’s a time to open my heart and be honest.  I tell God I want to change, but I’m not sure how.

There is always a response from God, a sense of peace.  There is often insight and guidance. There is definitely a feeling of clearing the air and connection.

If I pray through the Lord’s prayer, one of the hardest parts for me has been the confession of sin.  Usually I can’t think of what to say.  I know I’ve been selfish and prideful, but it’s sort of a large amorphous feeling.  I know I should tell God I’m sorry for what I’ve done wrong, but it doesn’t feel sincere.

Learning to have a conversation with God about what’s going on inside of me is a breakthrough for me.  It’s more organic.  It feels right.

So in prayer, petition is good.  Praise is good.  But it is also the time for me and Him to get stuff straight.  I can’t keep going on without resolving what’s inside.  I need to bring it in the open and talk about it.  I need to find ways to deal with it.  I need to ask for help with it.

This is the stuff of relationships — that real, vulnerable conversation where you find your footing with one another.  I’ve been hiding behind walls.  The more I open myself up, the more things work, and the more my eyes are opened that this is the way they’re supposed to work.

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I know what I want, but what does God want?

I realized this week that I have been too focused on what I’m doing — how much I’m praying, how much I’m reaching out, what my attitude should be, what my heart should be.  I’m intent on my schedule and my list of things to do.

Instead I should be focused on what God is doing.  I’ve started writing down what I see Him doing.  In any situation, instead of thinking what I should be doing, I’ve started looking for what God is doing.  I think, “God brought that person to me.  How is God working in their life?”  Or, “This didn’t go as expected.  What could God be doing here?”

This has been SUPER helpful in having the right outlook.  It feels much better.

In the same way, I started thinking about why God wants people to be saved.  From my perspective, I want them to have all that I have —  a vibrant life with God, and hope of eternal life.  But what does God want?

God also wants us to have a vibrant life.  I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  John 10:10

God wants to be loved, and revered as the MOST HIGH. Jesus said the most important commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  Mark 12:30

God wants us to spend time with Him. I love spending time with my kids.  God loves for us to talk with Him, worship with Him, include Him in whatever we are doing. “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  Micah 6:8

God wants us to make good choices and be obedient.  He cares about us enough to not want us to make destructive choices that will ruin our lives, and the lives of those around them“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”  Deut 30:19

BUT MOST OF ALL, I THINK GOD WANTS US TO BE HIS VERY OWN HOLY PEOPLE, HIS CHILDREN, HIS BELOVED BRIDE.

  • As it says in Eph 4:24.  We were created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 
  • In Ephesians 1, “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ.”
  • Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, . . .  to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  Eph 5:26-27

As His people, God wants us to be PRODUCTIVE for GOOD. This is what we were created to do.  It is our innate purpose.  We are to leaven the world with good works.

  • For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Eph 2:10
  • Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.  II Tim 2:21
  • who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.  Titus 2:14
  • Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives. Titus 3:14
  • Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Matt 7:9

And then God will be glorified.  This is the natural order of things, that the sovereign, merciful, all-powerful Creator God would be glorified through us.

  • In him we were also chosen . . .  in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.  Eph 1:11, 12.
  • everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.  Is 43:7
  • In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matt 5:16

And then God can have his cherished children with him forever.

  • Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory,  John 17:24. 
  • Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  Matt 25:34 
  • And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  John 6:39 

Father, may we not just focus on what we should do, or what we want, but understand what YOU want.

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. Col 1:9-12

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Who would have thought? Repentance is a blessing!

IMG_4914

We cut down a couple of trees in our back yard today, and do you know what happened? I saw the sun shining on a barren part of our yard that had been in the shade for years. It was an amazing feeling to see warm rays streaming on the sparsely covered earth.

Cutting trees down doesn’t make the grass grow, but it does get rid of the obstacles that keep it from thriving. In the same way, repentance doesn’t save us, but it does get rid of the obstacles that keep us from living the life we’re meant to live.

I was astounded to discover a great verse on repentance this week:

And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’  When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”  Acts 3:25-26

Peter said in the verse that repentance is a BLESSING.  More than that, it is the way that ALL people on earth can be blessed!   And even more, it is the fulfillment of one of the greatest promises in the Bible.

Wow.  I always thought repentance was sort of a grungy chore, like cleaning the sink.  It’s not fun to do, but the finished product feels great.

But now I am realizing that repentance is a SUPER TREASURE of a gift from God, a long-awaited manifestation of His grace.

And it is a gift.  Sure, we put in the effort of denying ourselves.  But the Bible says that God grants repentance.  (II Tim 2:25,  Acts 5:31)  When people are saved it is seen as the evidence of God’s grace.  (Acts 11:23)

Repentance is a gift that keeps me from ruining my life with grumpiness, bitterness, lust, selfishness, and so on.

It’s a gift that allows God to bless me.  If I obey God I will be like the wise man who built his house on the rock.  (Matt 7:24)  If I seek the kingdom first God will take care of me.  (Matt 6:33)

You know, Jesus didn’t just come into the world.   John the Baptist came first, to call people to repent, to remove the obstacles. “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

But while John the Baptist called people to repentance, Jesus came to facilitate repentance.  “God exalted (Christ) to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.”  Acts 5:31

Right now I have these big lumps of grumpiness in my heart.  I’m not sure where they come from, I wake up with them.  I try to work on them but they are unwieldy.  They’re with me all day like a canker sore.  And it’s so hard to keep them from affecting my behavior.

It is helpful to see the resulting sin as obstacles standing in the way of the life I should have, trees blocking out the light God wants to shine in my life.  God wants there to be more blessings in my life!  I have to remove the obstacles.

So I have to struggle and strive for repentance.  More importantly, I have to pray that God will grant me repentance, show me the way, because right now I’m not sure exactly how to do this.

And then the light will shine in.  I’ve been working on opening up the closed fist of my heart.  Repentance is the blessing that opens up my heart, exposing new vistas of inner soil that can thrive through God.

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