Tag Archive for New International Version

Overcoming the World: Part 10–Be Still and Know

God is our protection and our strength.  He always helps in times of trouble.  So we will not be afraid even if the earth shakes, or the mountains fall into the sea.  God says, “Be still and know that I am God.  I will be praised in all the nations;
I will be praised throughout the earth.
  The Lord All-Powerful is with us; the God of Jacob is our defender.  (Psalm 46: 1-2, 10-11 NCV)

 

Been an interesting few months, hasn’t it?  Our nation is as divided as it has been in a century and a half, and this is taking a toll on our families too.  Truth is nowhere to be found in our government, our media or our culture.  This has created an atmosphere of distrust so thick and noxious that even if this country were to somehow raise up a Truthseeker as a leader, who would even believe him or her?

 

Good news—God is still God.  It’s hard to find evidence in these troubled times that He is still on His throne, but where else would He be?  He does not change, no matter what happens down here.  When we say that the world is “out of control,” we mean that it’s out of our control.  It is never out of His.

 

However difficult this truth can be to hold onto when our lives are in turmoil, we must persevere in doing so.  Whenever our way of life is threatened because of what’s going on in the world around us, we have to remember that this way of life was never meant to last anyway.  We are looking forward to life eternal that will not pass away.  For this reason, we fix our eyes and our faith on the things that don’t move.

 

Bad days are going to happen.  Sometimes we will have seasons of life that could last months or years when we don’t feel God’s presence.  We may doubt His goodness, or even His existence.  However, whenever I find myself in such a spiritual funk, I always come back to what Peter said to Jesus in John 6:68, after Jesus asked the Twelve if they were going to desert Him, as many other disciples were doing:

 

“Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

 

I couldn’t go back to my old life if I wanted to, and there have been days where I wanted to.  There are days when it just doesn’t seem worth the effort or the sacrifice that it takes to live the Christian life, because I can’t see the reward from here.  When my fear outweighs my faith, I forget what God has already done, throughout history, and in my life personally.  Some days I just want to chuck it all, but then I always find myself face to face with the question, “OK, then what?”

 

One thing that I have done for myself, and that I highly recommend for others, is to keep a journal of some sort listing every answer to prayer, every unexpected blessing, any time you have seen scripture fulfilled, any change in your life that can only be attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit.  Keep this in an easily accessible place.  I have mine as a document on the desktop of my computer.

 

When times get difficult, or if you’re just in a dry season of doubt, open that up and read it.  Satan can’t get a foothold in your mind if you keep your memories fresh of what God has done for you.  Staying in scripture every day is a good weapon, but it can be even more effective to regularly make the personal connection of where you’ve seen God at work in your life and the lives of those close to you.

 

If you do this, expect there to be some gaps in this journal.  It is not likely that you are going to experience a bona fide miracle every day of your life.  This doesn’t mean that God’s ignoring you.  Learning to trust His timing.  A day always comes when things fall neatly into place, and you can look back and see the progress that led to that point.  You very rarely notice that progress while it’s happening, though.  So when it does, put that in your journal with a note of thanksgiving and praise that God was in control of the situation from the very beginning.  Remember, He can see the end of things long before you get there.

 

It is also critical to remember that God doesn’t always ride in and “save us” whenever we think we need saving.  Sometimes, He lets us go through things for reasons that we aren’t aware of yet.  Sometimes we never learn why in this life.  If we have faith that all of our questions will be answered in heaven, that can help our outlook somewhat.  Remember, God doesn’t come around to our way of thinking; therefore, we must do our best to learn His.

 

The only way to conquer fear is to practice faith.  It has to be exercised just like our bodies.  If you are one of the many who has bought a health club membership, but not lost any weight or inches off your midsection, then you already know that your situation might improve if you actually went to the health club.  Owning the membership doesn’t create actual change.  Owning a Bible without reading it has the same effect.  Knowing about the power of prayer without actually praying—ditto.

 

In the same way, we must keep renewing our minds by reminding ourselves constantly that God does not change.  He does not move.  He is with us and He is for us.  And He always will be.

 

Be still, and know that.

 

Overcoming the World: Part 6–Internal to Eternal

 

 

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…  Therefore we do not lose heart.  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.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  (2 Corinthians 4:7, 16-18 NIV)

 

Life can really wear you out sometimes, can’t it?  We work so hard to try to better ourselves and to make the world a better place for our families, but some days, it just looks like we aren’t making a difference at all.  It’s enough to make you wonder if it’s really worth the effort.

 

What is it that wears us out when the problems of the world overwhelm us?  Everyone’s situation is different, of course.  It seems to me, though, that the things that often trouble us the most usually aren’t even happening to us directly.  The problems that are too much for us to bear weren’t even supposed to be our own personal burdens.  We barely have enough strength to get through the trials that life hands us, but we can’t seem to keep from taking on extra baggage as well.  Why do we do this?

 

Can we just call this what it is?  It’s fear.

 

It’s fear that gives birth to worry.  You worry when you seeing angry mobs rioting on the news, but is there an angry mob outside your house right now?  (Of course, if there actually IS one outside your house, you have an actual problem, and should stop reading this blog and go take care of yourself.)

 

My point is that we worry ourselves into exhaustion and despondency about things that aren’t even happening where we are.  Yes, they are happening in the world, and they are real, but if we’re not in a position to directly solve the problem, it’s not our problem.

 

Now please don’t misunderstand what I mean by “not our problem.”  I am not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about things in the world that are wrong and need fixing.  What I am saying is that 99.99% of the time, it’s not up to us to fix it, either because we lack the resources, the ability, or we are simply too far away to have a direct and immediate impact on the situation.

 

So what can we do?  We can give the situation over to the One who can do something about it.  And while we’re at it, we can give Him our anxieties as well.

 

Yes, the world is a mess.  It’s a mess because it has people in it, and people are a mess.  And yes, you and I are people, so guess what?  We’re a mess too!  But we can be less messy.

 

A good way to start that process is to examine what you expose your mind to.  How do you start your day?  If you’re turning on the TV or rushing to social media, that’s what’s going to set your tone for the rest of the day.  Is that the tone you want?  In the same amount of time, you could meditate on a Bible verse or an inspirational quote of some sort.  You can’t control what happens out in the world, but you can control what goes into your head, which is what feeds your attitude.

 

Once you have developed the habit of being intentional about this, it will become easier for you to shift your perspective from the now to the not yet.  When things are going badly, it is easy for fear to rob us of hope, but remember this.  EVERYTHING we fear, or could possibly fear, has an ending.  We may not be able to see it from where we’re sitting, but all the troublesome things of this world will pass.

 

Instead, what we can learn to do in ALL situations is to focus on the things that won’t pass away.  Truth.  Love.  The Word of God.  Best of all, the eternal life that is given as a free gift to all those who put aside their fears, worries and the troubles of this world and trust in Jesus, who by His death and resurrection, has overcome all of them.

 

Now of course, we can’t see any of this.  We can’t see our fear, the Lord’s Spirit, the actual physical Kingdom of Heaven.  We only see this world, its problems, and our own aging faces in the mirror.

 

But as the risen Christ told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 

 

 

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 3–The Desires of our Hearts

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 NIV)

 

This is one of the more misunderstood passages in the Bible. It’s easy to see why. Who doesn’t want to get the desires of his or her heart? Who has ever watched an Aladdin movie without wondering what it would be like to be able to rub a magic lamp and have a genie pop out to grant your wishes?

Unfortunately, many people have looked at that verse above, keyed in on that last part, and subsequently transformed God in their minds to little more than a genie in a lamp.

If you’ll notice though, this verse is a conditional statement. To get the desires of our hearts, we must first “take delight in the Lord.” So maybe we should be focusing more on what that means instead of our own selfish desires?

To “take delight” obviously means, “to enjoy.” But what is it we should be enjoying exactly?

It is the relationship that we have with God as our Father.

In this life, we may have great memories of time spent with our dads. Dad can be our fishing buddy, our baseball coach, our source of worldly wisdom, etc. Many people, of course, have never been able to have a relationship like this with their fathers, but many of those wish that they had.

The relationship with our heavenly Father is different though. He is Abba, but He is also Adonai, which means, “Lord.” As Lord, we serve Him, but as Daddy, we serve Him out of grateful love, not just reverent fear.

When we realize that our service to God is not to avoid punishment but to please our Daddy, then the service itself becomes a joy. God isn’t looking for slaves to command. He wants His kids to look up to Him as if to say, “Did I do a good job, Daddy?”

To be able to hear God answer in the affirmative, we would of course have to have done what He wanted us to do. And to have doing God’s work be a delight instead of a chore, we would first have to WANT what He wants.

Looking at it this way, we begin to see that “the desires of our hearts” have little to do with our desires, but more to do with our hearts.

When we trust Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, He begins a transformation process inside us, gradually conforming us to His image. As we change, our hearts change to become more like His. As we see things more and more from His perspective, we begin to want what He wants—for ourselves, for others and for the world.

Once we get to this place, it is much easier to discern what God’s will is. THEN, when we pray, knowing that our will is in agreement with His, He gives us what we ask for, because it was what He wanted for us in the first place.

And yet, sometimes things STILL don’t go the way we expected.  So what does that mean?

 

(Come back for Part 4—(Un) answered prayers)

 

 

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 7–Saints

 

 saint n.

1. (Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) a person who after death is formally recognized by a Christian Church, esp the Roman Catholic Church, as having attained, through holy deeds or behaviour, a specially exalted place in heaven and the right to veneration

2. a person of exceptional holiness or goodness

3. (Christian Religious Writings / Bible) (plural) Bible the collective body of those who are righteous in God’s sight

vb.

(Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) (tr) to canonize; recognize formally as a saint

[from Old French, from Latin sanctus holy, from sanc?re to hallow][1]

 

The Bible refers to any believer in Jesus Christ as a “saint.”

 

But to be a “Saint,” you have to have the stamp of approval of a specific group of 123 religious leaders of the Catholic church, now known as the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, through the process called canonization,[2] which generally goes like this.

 

First, a Postulator investigates the candidate’s life at their local diocese, the district under the care of a bishop, at least five years after the candidate’s death (lately, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II have gotten the fast track, however).  At this stage, candidates are referred to as “Servants of God.”

 

The formal argument for sainthood, called the prositio, contains the Servant of God’s life story (informatio) and documents and testimonies (summarium).  After the prositio is approved, the Pope bestows the title of “Venerable.”

 

A Martyr can go directly from here to Blessed, a process known as beatification.  For others, a miracle is required, either performed by the candidate during his or her lifetime, or through posthumous intercession.

 

In the past, this “apostolic phase” involved the Postulator pleading the case again, while a Promoter General of the Faith, also known as the Devil’s Advocate (hence the term), would provide the argument against canonization.  The role of the Devil’s Advocate was done away with in 1983 when Pope Paul VI streamlined the canonization process.[3]

 

For canonization, a second miracle is required.  The most common miracles cited are medical in nature.  Other alleged supernatural events, such as visitations from the Virgin Mary, stigmata, levitation, bilocation, etc. are frowned upon by the papacy, as they are considered easy to fake.[4]

 

The canonization process is lengthy, expensive and convoluted.  In some cases, it can even take centuries.  In his book Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t, and Why, Kenneth L. Woodward estimates that Mother Katharine Drexel’s 36-year cause for canonization cost over $1 million.

 

All this to say that a great deal of time, effort and money go into the expedition of declaring someone to be officially in heaven and “entitled to public veneration and capable of interceding for people on earth.”

 

“So what’s the problem?” you may ask.

 

The problem is that none of this is necessary.  As it is written:

 

Only, as before the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; when we do not know what prayer to offer, to pray as we ought, the Spirit himself intercedes for us, with groans beyond all utterance:  and God, who can read our hearts, knows well what the Spirit’s intent is; for indeed it is according to the mind of God that he makes intercession for the saints. (Romans 8:26-27 Knox)

And also:

 

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:33-34 ESV)

In other words, your prayers to God the Father are carried by God the Holy Spirit directly to Jesus (God the Son), who intercedes DIRECTLY WITH HIS FATHER!  No gatekeeper, no secretary, no calling ahead for an appointment.  Straight into the Throne Room with no red tape!

 

So naturally, this raises the question: If all believers in Christ have a direct hotline to the living God, then why do Catholics insist on praying to dead people?  God wouldn’t even hear a prayer that was offered to someone else, would he?

 

Actually, the evidence would seem to indicate otherwise.  Here is one example to which I can personally testify.

 

A devout Catholic couple in the area where I live had been married, and childless, for seven years.  The wife was told that she was barren.  Rather than accept that fate, she and her husband prayed fervently to St. Gerard, the patron saint of unborn children, to intercede.  Fourteen kids later, one might say that their prayers were very effective indeed.

 

This would seem to imply that a prayer offered in sincere faith, the best way one knows how to pray, is honored by God.  Therefore, who am I to tell a Catholic praying to a saint that they’re “doing it wrong”?

 

No, my problem isn’t with the praying.  My problem is the superciliousness of the church leaders in their authoritative exaltation of people to sainthood in the first place.

 

Now I suppose you could argue that it’s better to be judgmental in a positive sense, by officially declaring them to be in heaven, than the alternative—condemning them to hell.  However, in either case, you can’t avoid the reality that judgment of ANY soul’s eternal destiny and reward, or lack thereof, belongs to God alone.

 

What arrogance to think that a group of human beings is qualified to judge what rank people have in heaven and what rights and special abilities they have when no one, besides Jesus Himself, ever came down from heaven!

 

But I suppose it makes sense that a group that has declared itself “infallible[5]” would consider itself worthy to judge such matters.  It appears the Pope, the Bishops, the General Council and all the Magisterium didn’t get the memo that nobody’s perfect.

 

But back to the saints.  I find it spellbindingly ironic that the “infallible” church does not actually consider those it canonizes to be infallible.

 

Just “good enough,” I guess.

 

(So how good is “good enough?”  Stick around for Part 8–Good Works)

 

[1] Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

[2] http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/csaints/documents/rc_con_csaints_pro_20051996_en.html

[3] http://werewolf.co.nz/2010/10/saving-a-nation-of-sinners/

[4] http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2010/06/the_vatican_loves_a_good_story.single.html

[5] Vatican II explained the doctrine of infallibility as follows: “Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith” (Lumen Gentium 25).

Doubt: Part 10–Religion

 

 

 14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  19 You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.  (James 2:14-19, 26 NIV)

 

 

Even though I believed in God on that day in 1989, I had programmed myself for too long to be independent.  It was all I knew how to do.  The feeling of God’s peace, love, warmth and comfort only lasted a minute that day.  Obviously, I have never forgotten it, but a seed planted takes time to grow, longer if you don’t water it.  I didn’t.

 

Instead, I pushed forward, finished college, and entered the work force.  Full steam ahead, stick to the script.  Living the American Dream by golly!

 

Except my American Dream was a nightmare.  After failing at my first three jobs, I tried to start my own business instead, because obviously, the problem was them not me.

 

Then an interesting thing happened.

 

Many of my business contacts were Christians.  Not the robotic, going-through-the-motions churchgoers that I had observed growing up—these people lived differently, and they were like that all the time.

 

They reminded me that I really needed my Daddy, the one that my second-grade Sunday school teacher had tried so clumsily to tell me about.  Except this time, it felt genuine.

 

I heard miraculous testimonies and saw people living lives that I could not explain, except by one thing—remembering that October afternoon at the cemetery.  I had already been forced to acknowledge that God was real, but this was something new.

God was Abba, my Daddy, and he actually cared about me.  He wanted to protect me from harm, and he wanted me to lead my family.  And my spiritual maturity took a big leap forward.  But this is still not the happy ending.

 

You see, at this point I am in my mid-20s physically, but still a child spiritually.  I am cracking a Bible for the first time.  I don’t know anything about salvation except for the fact that it’s Jesus’ job.  I am going to church with my family now, and have us all baptized into the same religion, but I am still running the program of everything-depends-on-me.  I know there is a God and I know that He cares, and I am grateful for this, but I have still not acknowledged my dependence.

 

Sometimes when we won’t let go of our pride, God will use circumstances to knock us down to the point where the only place to look and move is upward.

 

Eight years later, my marriage failed.  I was going to church every week and was active in music ministry, but it was still just religion.

 

And all religion is is a churched-up way of repeating the same old pattern of trying to meet our own needs through our own efforts.

 

Sure, we wrap it all up in God-speak, but Jesus already called our bluff 2,000 years ago when He said to the Pharisees:

 

 “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”  Mark 7:6-7, (quoting Isaiah 29:13) NIV

 

(To be concluded in Part 11–The Death of Doubt)

 

Us and Them: Part 5–Nineveh

God displays his heart for the people he created very explicitly in the book of Jonah, my personal favorite in the entire Bible.

 

Most people know about Jonah being swallowed by the whale/big fish, but that’s not really the point of the story.

 

Jonah was on that ship in the first place, because he was (futilely) trying to flee from God.  He was fleeing, because God had told him to go and preach in Nineveh, the Assyrian capital.  In that time, the Ninevites were the ultimate “them” to the Israelites.

 

So after his aquatic incident, God gives Jonah a second chance to preach to Nineveh.  He gives the shortest sermon in history, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned (Jonah 3:4 NIV).”

 

But then, a curious thing happens.  The Ninevites listen!  And REPENT!

 

So Jonah goes up to a high place where he will have a most excellent view of God destroying “them” down in Nineveh.  Except it doesn’t happen, because God has heard their prayers and is giving “them” a second chance.  Jonah, being one of “us” (that is, Israel), has issues with this.  But listen to God’s response:

 

“. . .  Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.  Should I not be concerned about that great city?”  (Jonah 4:11 NIV)

 

Jonah is the only book in the Bible to end with a question.  So what’s the answer?

 

Did you notice the theme in the book of Jonah?  Both Jonah AND the Ninevites get second chances.  God does not show favoritism.  Because he made all of us, to Him, there is only “us.”

 

But here’s the catch.  We have to affirm that Truth.  God is willing to include anyone as “us,” but WE have to accept the invitation.

 

We become part of “us” by laying down our pride, which is the mother of all sin, and the creator of “them.”  We become part of “us” by trusting God with our hearts, our fears, our anxieties, even our bodies.  By submitting our will to His, he responds by meeting all of our needs.

 

Now at this point, we still have a multitude of bad habits to break (Lord knows I do), but we have an example to follow in Jesus.  His perfect love drives out fear, the constant presence of His holy spirit keeps us safe from harm (if we let Him), and if we follow Him faithfully, the hope for our future will play out in front of our eyes, day by day.

 

The key word there was “faithfully.”  We do have a part to play in this transaction.  If we allow ourselves to be polluted by the world (James 1:27), and look to the things and people of this world to meet the needs that only God can, then we will become the “them” that we had despised.

 

The Bible calls “them” sinners.  Here’s the clincher—if you look at other people and see a “them,” you are one of “them.”

 

However, if you look at other people, no matter how different they are from you, and still see an “us,” or at least a potential “us,” then that is a sign that the Holy Spirit is within you, transforming you into the likeness of the Jesus, who being one with the Father, created us to be “us.”

 

Empty Glass: Part 6–Water of Life

 

For the past five posts, I’ve beaten this glass/pitcher/pouring metaphor to death (not to mention the trees and busted faces).  So what am I REALLY talking about here?

 

The world is like a desert, and life makes you thirsty.  We all need refreshment on a regular basis. 

 

What we really need, instead of a pitcher, is something more like a faucet, or perhaps a spring.  Something that can give us water whenever our glass runs empty so that we don’t have to wander in the desert, drinking out of whatever pitcher we find.

 

Fortunately, we do have one of those available to us.  As Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well:

 Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14 NIV) 

 

What is this water of life?  Later, when Jesus was alone with His disciples at the Last Supper, He explained in more detail:

 

If you love me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.  But you know Him, for he lives with you and is in you.  (John 14:15-17 NIV)

 

I have written all of this to tell you that, by the grace of God, I have found this spring of living water, the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised to be with us, and in us, until Jesus returns.

 

But the only way that this was possible was for me to take off my lid.  It wasn’t easy.  I have found that the longer the lid stays on, the harder it is to pry off.

 

I was only seven years old when I put the lid on my empty glass.  When I had questioned God’s omnipotence in Sunday school, I was condemned for doubting.

 

So the lid went on.  And on it stayed, through high school, college, and into marriage and fatherhood. 

 

In my mid-20’s, I met some people with pitchers full of living water, and I had a taste, but quickly slapped the lid back on, because by then, it was my habit. 

 

It wasn’t until the age of 33 that I finally had to admit my glass was empty.  My arrogance had destroyed my marriage and shattered my family. 

 

Alone in a church, on my knees, I finally threw my lid away once and for all, and asked God for His living water, the Holy Spirit.  And my life has never been the same. 

 

God has given me a brand new mission.  It is the same one he gives everyone who believes that Jesus was His Son, that he died on the cross as payment for our sins of pride and arrogance and was raised to life again by the power of the very same Holy Spirit that He sends to be a wellspring of life inside of every believer.

 

We are called to educate the ignorant, love the arrogant, and tolerate the stupid (leaving room for God’s wrath, of course).  We have been given the Holy Spirit, the water of life, not to keep Him to ourselves, but to pour out for the whole world.  It is not by accident that Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.” (Mark 9:41 NIV)

 

 

If you’ve stayed with me this far, your lid is definitely off.  Not only that, but you’ve got yourself a brand new pitcher.  Why not try giving it a pour?

 

 

But watch out for those lids!