Jesus Is Someone You Can Trust – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 8

At the end of Max Lucado’s book, “GOD’S STORY, your story“, there are study questions and activities to consider that relate to each chapter.  I invite you to read the book, and look over the entire question and application section.  In my articles, I will usually only pick up on two or three questions and relate them to my own experiences.

                                          

Chapter 4: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
YOU HEAR A VOICE YOU CAN TRUST

Question #1: Create a list of the voices that compete for our attention today.  Discuss how we respond to these voices.

There are so many voices today that cry out for our attention.  There are the needs of one’s family and friends; there is the constant pressure of work; we are bombarded by advertisements to draw us in deeper into our commercial capitalism; and then there are so many voices that cry out to us hedonistically to simply sit back and enjoy the pleasures that this world has to offer.  It can be too much for some of us to bear at times.

That is why I truly believe in the need for a quiet time with God.  I read my Bible most every morning while I eat my breakfast.  I have to eat every morning, and so this helps to give me a routine for spending time in God’s Word.  I also shower just about every day.  And in those 20 minutes of alone time, I keep my eyes closed and allow God to speak to me about what I should do with this day and things I should do in the future.  If nothing else, I do these two things to stay in regular touch with God to help His voice to come through louder than the voices of the world.

Question #4: Some scholars say that Jesus never claimed to be God.  Look up Scriptures that relate to the identity of Jesus.  How do such passages influence your view of who Jesus is?

Mark 2:27-28  And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Luke 5:20  And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

John 1:1, 14  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 11:43-44  When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Philippians 2:8-11  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. ThereforeGod has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesusevery knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ isLord, to the glory of God the Father.

Hebrews 1:2-3  But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

2 Peter 1:16-17  For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”

Not only did Jesus claim to have authority over religious ritual and over the right to forgive sins, He proved himself by healing many, even bringing Lazarus back from the dead.  He then himself died and rose again from the dead (there is just too much evidence to not belief something supernatural happened at the tomb of Jesus).  And then those cowardly disciples go on to write the other New Testament books that describe Jesus’ Lordship and most of them died for that belief.  I have no other choice but to believe that Jesus really was who He said He was, the very Son of God.

Question #5: What is the best way to have constructive conversations with someone who thinks Jesus was just a good moral teacher?

It is important to help these kind of people to see that Jesus made great claims to divinity.  The verses above, plus much more will show that.  If this is true, then we cannot just say Jesus is a good moral teacher and ignore His claims.  As C.S. Lewis has so aptly pointed out (see Question #3 in the book), if this claim were not true, Jesus would have to either be a lunatic (with self deranged thoughts of grandeur), or He was a liar (and pulled the greatest deception of all time), or He is really the Lord of the Universe.

So a good moral person cannot be also a lunatic or liar.  That leaves us with Jesus being Lord.  If a person can accept what Jesus teaches as being very good for all mankind, then one must also come to the conclusion that Jesus is also able to be the Lord of all mankind.  I have accepted this, and my life has been changed positively ever since.

                                          

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

The Joy of Reading God’s Word

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life.

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Passion For The Word Of God

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Reading God’s Word is one of the simplest and the most common spiritual disciplines for connecting with God’s heart. I choose to expose myself to every verse in the Bible at least once a year. Sometimes I read an inordinate amount of God’s Word in December, but I will finish reading all of it by the end of the year. This is not my study time, nor lesson preparation time, but simply an attempt to understand the broad scope of God’s written Word.

We can have different motives for reading the Bible. One motive is to read through the Bible to accomplish something. A better motive is to read through the Bible to learn something that can glorify our incredible God. Self-glorification comes from focusing on my accomplishing a spiritual activity.

Some of the religious people in Jesus’ day had an issue of spiritual pride. They had an immense knowledge of the Bible, but not a passion for God. Their passion was for accomplishment and self-righteousness. Their Bible knowledge led to more pride in their great accomplishment. When we read the Bible with a desire to develop passion for God, our Bible knowledge will nurture that passion and not lead to pride.

–Taken from The Path toward Passion (Nine Disciplines that Connect Your Heart to God’s) by Dean Trune. (Click on the blue title for more information about this resource).

Holy Spirit, teach me as I read Your word and convict me when I read it only to accomplish rather than to know You better. May I learn how to pray through Your living word, seeking wisdom and knowledge from Your heart.

Posted 30 Aug 2011

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Reading God’s Word is a great thing to do.  Not because we “have to” but because we want to do it.  Reading God’s Word has become a natural part of my daily life.  Or if not daily, certainly it is a regular part of my week.

I heard recently a powerful preacher say that if we can spend some good devotional time in the Bible at least four times a week, then we will see our personal life grow in a positive direction, which includes our marriage, our business life, and our interpersonal relationships with others.

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Now you may have heard about the many “plans” that are out there that are meant to help you with your Bible devotional readings.  And all of them are great, in their own ways.  Having a plan for reading Scripture is a good thing for many of us who like or need to have structure to guide us in our daily lives.

The main thing, as the devotional says above, is not to get so caught up in the “plan” that we forget to worship the One who is to be found in the Scriptures.  As I reflect on Scripture passages that speak about the benefits that come from regularly reading God’s Word, the following verses come to mind, each which teach an important truth:

2 Peter 1:20-21  The Bible’s origin comes from God, not man.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Romans 10:14, 17  Salvation and Faith come from hearing Scripture.

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?…. So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

2 Timothy 3:16-17  Every part of Scripture is beneficial for us.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.

Psalm 119:11, 105  God’s Word guides us and helps us to not sin.

Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You.

Your word is a lamp to guide me
and a light for my path.

Joshua 1:8  God’s Word helps steer us to be successful in life.

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

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These are just a few of the rich promises that lay within the pages of the Bible.  And there are many ways in which we can read and learn the messages that God’s Word contains: using devotional guides, studying themes, following Bible reading plans, etc.

The main message here is not to worry so much about “how” to read the Bible, but rather that we are reading God’s Word.  This is how we learn about who God is and what He has done for us.  That is how we build our relationship with God.  And that is what the Christian faith is all about.

Pray For Your “Enemies”

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“.

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  Loving Enemies Through Prayer

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves” (Matthew 5:43-45 Message).

Ask any unbeliever unacquainted with the Bible to summarize the basic principles that Jesus taught and “love your enemies” is sure to make the short list. Everybody knows that this is something that Christ followers are supposed to do. And most of us feel like we do do it. That’s because we’ve reduced Jesus’ words to mean: tolerate your enemies, or ignore your enemies, or don’t do anything bad to your enemies. We respond to Jesus’ command with passivity.

But when we look at this command in its context, we see that Jesus will not settle for a passive response. He expects us to take action. What action? Let’s read it for ourselves: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).

Loving our enemies includes doing good to them, blessing them, and praying for them…including the guy who cut you off in traffic, the teacher who crushed your child’s self-esteem, the mechanic who “fixed” your brakes three times in the last week – and they still squeak, the politician who got elected on a platform that you oppose…and the list could go on.

As soon as we redefine enemies as “those who get under our skin,” we have a lot more people to pray for. And every time that someone does something that really makes us angry the prayer-prompter bell ought to go off in or heads.

–Adapted from Prayer Coach by James L. Nicodem.

Loving Father, You have commanded us to love our enemies…even those who simply aggravate us and “get under our skin.” Help me to lovingly respond to these people in my life by praying for them. Give me Your grace to do what doesn’t always come naturally to me. Change my heart so that I can offer this powerful gift of love rather than getting angry or upset.

Posted 7 Nov 2011

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Wow!  This devotional gives us a whole new light on the concept of our “enemies”.  In fact, for us who live in North America, there are very few of us who would be able to say that we have encountered “the enemy” in our daily lives.  When we say the word “enemy”, we have some idea in our minds of the people whom we fought against in World War 1 and World War 2.  Or bring it more up to date, we think of the terrorists who brought about the terrible disaster of 9-11, and their associates whom we call the Taliban in Afghanistan.

There is no doubt that we would consider them our enemies.  But if they are the only ones we label as “enemies”, then the Scriptures above found in Matthew 5:43-45 and Luke 6:27-28 would appear to have very little relevance to our lives today.  So that got me thinking, and I looked at some of my translator’s resources to see what it said about who, or what kind of people we could really consider to be our “enemies”.

I found that one of them was quite helpful, called Translator’s Handbook, which gave this suggestion when trying to translate Matthew 5:43.  It says, “If there is no word for enemy in a language, then translators use a phrase such as ‘the person who hates you’ or ‘who opposes you.’ “  Now Matthew does go on in the next verse to tell us to pray for “those who persecute you.”  Again, I dare say that few of us have suffered much for being a Christian in North America.  Though I think the day is coming when we actually might have to.

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So let’s just stay with this idea presented from the Translator’s Handbook.  We are to show Christ’s love and to pray for people whom we know just can’t stand us, for whatever reason, and who display hostile emotions towards us.  I think all of us can probably picture at least one person in our minds who would fit this description.  Then we know what we are supposed to do when the next time comes around that they show this animosity towards us. We are to respond with kindness and not harshness, and we are to pray for them.

I remember a girl on one of my summer mission trips when I was just 18 years old myself who seemed to almost enjoy being nasty to me and to others.  I talked to one of my leaders and they gave me this very same answer: “You still be kind, and you pray for her every time she is mean to you.”

I followed that advice from that leader.  And by the end of the summer, I found that she and I were getting along pretty good.  Now did she change for the better?  Or did I see her more through the lens of Christian love?   Or maybe it was both.  In any case, I had found that pushing back against someone who was opposed to me was not the answer.  The answer back then, and still today, is that our best response to a negative person is to pray for them, give the situation over to God, and let Him bring about the needed transformation.

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The Blessing of Sharing

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“.

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Active in Sharing Your Faith

Paul prayed for Philemon: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ” (Philemon 1:6).

What in the world was the connection between being active in sharing his faith (the context of this passage is sharing faith with believers—not witnessing to unbelievers) and Philemon understanding all he had in Christ? When we share with others what Christ is doing in our lives (or when we hear others share the same with us) three things happen:

1. Our faith grows. We gain a deeper desire to love and serve the One who is doing all these powerful things. We gain more faith and experience more of Jesus Christ’s reality. We also keep our eyes open for things to share.

2. We discover more about who God is. The more we share or hear others share, the more we learn about God’s attributes. We come to know Him as our Provider, our Rock, our Comforter, our Peace-Giver, our Protector, our Strong Tower, our Deliverer. We learn exactly what Paul wanted Philemon to learn—what he had in Christ.

3. God’s blessings continue to flow. When we regularly share, thus giving glory to Jesus Christ, I believe that God works overtime in our lives. He wants to give us more to share, so we give more glory and fame to His Son. So it is a cycle. See God work; learn something about God; share it; see God work more; understand more of God’s nature.

[In light of what we have just read from this devotional thought above, take the prayer offered below and think of a fellow Christian whom you would want to be bold in their faith and so share the same knowledge and blessings that Paul wanted Philemon to experience.]

Father, please work mightily in ____________________’s situation. Reveal more of Your nature and character to her (or him). Father, I pray that ____________________ would understand all she has in Jesus Christ: the depth of His love; the comfort, power, and enablement of Your Holy Spirit. Let Your Spirit bubble up in her so it would overflow into others. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

–Taken from Praying like Paul (Learning to Pray the Kingdom for Those You Love) by Jonathan Graf

Posted 22 Aug 2011

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One of the wonderful paradoxes of the Christian faith is that the more you give it away, the more you have to give away.  Just talk to the person who prepares a Sunday sermon, or a Bible study, or a special song to be sung at church, and you will often hear them say, “I got so much more out of that myself as I studied/prepared to share what God had given to me.”  The simple fact is that when we seek to bless others, we in turn are also blessed by God, and in an abundant measure.

The Scriptures say this in Luke 6:38:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Let me put this in a way that I’m sure all of us can identify.  You know how when you buy popcorn at the theater, you bounce the bag on the counter to make it settle into the bag and there is room to put more in the bag?  Well, that is what “pressed down, shaken together and running over is all about.  God will put more back into our “generosity bag” every time we give from the heart to bless someone else.

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I know that I can testify to this biblical principle.  Perhaps one of the best examples I can think of was when I offered to hold a kind of “Bible School” in our village.  There is a long story behind this and I will share that on another post one day.  But suffice it to say that there was a spiritual crisis in our village after one of their leaders from the local Catholic Church died.

I had just been blessed in the previous summer to lead a 6-week Bible survey course in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.  So while I was saddened at the loss of a friend, I was eager to share the Bible knowledge I had with the people.  They enthusiastically agreed to let me hold a Bible training week once each month for six months to teach them what the Bible was all about.

It is hard to express in words the joy I experienced in sharing my knowledge of Scripture with the local people there.  And I was so blessed to see the spiritual vitality in so many of them come alive.  The translation work got a real boost as my national co-translators really dug into getting some Scriptures translated.  And I believe that the foundation for the current church revival that is happening may have come out of our Bible school program.

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So as we enter December and approach the Christmas season, let me ask you this question: is sharing your faith in some form a part of the presents you will be giving away this year?  But let’s not limit this just to Christmas.  Have you considered ways that you might be able to share of the blessings you have by being in Christ to be part of what you do in 2012?  For your sake, as well as for others, I hope that it will be so.

God Answers Our Prayers

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“Thank You God!”

In the past few weeks, there have been four significant events that cause me to pause and remember and give thanks for all that God has done for me and for my family.  November 11th is known in America as Memorial Day, but in Canada we call it Remembrance Day.  November 24th was Thanksgiving Day in the United States.  It also happened to be the 1st year Anniversary of this blog, The Listening Post.  And November 27th was my birthday.  Each of these events have given me reason to look back at the last year.

There is another reason for me pausing in my blog writing to think back and be thankful.  There are so many people who read these articles and the email updates and prayer & praise reports that we send out, that I am receiving wonderful and encouraging responses which help me to see my own life through the eyes of another person.  And one of them that I received fairly recently is worth sharing with all of you who are reading this article.

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The following message came from a good friend of ours:

Remember the first list of prayer requests you and Jill sent out when you were asking for special prayer partners? If I remember right, they have all been answered now. The condo sold, for less than you wanted, but it sold. Glen is now in the military, took time, but it happened, Eric has a job, you have been doing really well health wise most of the time, Jill is working full-time and doing well in school.

You have had good health to preach when you needed it. I don’t know how your Partnership Development has gone, but praying well, and praying that you can get some translation done for Papua New Guinea. I am praying for Jill while she is by herself. Eric and his wife live there in town don’t they, so if she needs to talk to someone, she can call him or you or if it is the right time even Glen. All in all I think that the Lord has really answered the prayer requests that your friends have been praying for you.

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In just two short paragraphs, our friend has been able to summarize well all the events that have happened in the lives of our family members over the past four months.  And in every case, we can see that the things that we were all so anxious about and fervently praying about this last summer have all been answered.  It really is amazing to step back and see from this perspective how everything we were concerned about most has been addressed, and for the most part we can say have turned out quite positively.

Now this does not mean that life is a breeze and we have nothing else to worry about.  On the contrary, we find there is plenty of things for us to get concerned about.  I am doing well physically, but it has meant being away from Jill and the family for most of the last four months.  Jill has been doing well at her schooling, but it has been a constant pressure nearly every day since June to get her assignments done, even when she wasn’t sure if she was understanding the assignment but had to do it anyway.

Yes, it is good that Eric has a job.  But as most jobs go, there are good things and some not so good aspects to the job that will drain his energy.  And it is not in the field he just got trained in, Graphic Arts Design.  And then with Glen, of course we are happy that he got into the Army after having a shut door in front of him for over a year.  But you can also believe that our prayers for Glen have increased for him since he joined the Army, not lessened.

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So what am I trying to say?  “Gee, I wish God had not answered our prayers.  Or at least not this way.”  Of course not!  As my friend has reminded me, and as I practice stepping back and looking at the big picture, I am amazed at how God has truly answered all of our prayers.  And in each of the specific answers He has given us, I can also truly say that there is definitely more good than not good in the situation.

What I am trying to say is that even when we are right in the center of God’s will and we see answers provided for the things we pray about, that there will always remain in our lives more questions and more concerns as we go through life.  That is life!  But that is not meant to be discouraging to us.  On the contrary, it provides an opportunity for us to  return to God and lay down our worries and our cares before Him and see what next He will do for us in our lives.

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And for me, that is exciting.  If every question I had was answered, if every problem had already been solved for me, then in many ways, I would not need to come to God and ask for a fresh experience of His mercy and grace.  And because He loves us, He is quite willing to have us come again and again to Him with our problems and our questions.  And then once again, as our Loving Father, He will provide just what we need, even if it might not be what we expected.

And in this life of dependence upon God, I have learned that in all things to offer back this response to all that happens, “Dear God, I give You thanks!”

Run The Christian Race

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Dumb Criminal & Christian Endurance

Probably many of us by now have heard a number of “Dumb Criminal” stories that make us chuckle as well as shake our head. Such as, did you hear about the criminal that the police were able to easily follow in the dark until they caught him? He had forgotten that he was wearing his sneakers that blink a bright red light every time you take a step. Or how about the bank robber who wrote, “This is a holdup,” on the back of a personal check that had his home address on it.

These stories sound both ridiculous and funny at the same time, don’t they? It really is amazing how some people can do the most foolish things, and also try to get away with things that ultimately will only hurt them in the end. Here is another story that illustrates this point:

David Posman 33, was arrested in Providence, R.I, after allegedly knocking out an armored car driver and stealing the closest four bags of money. It turned out they contained $800 in PENNIES, weighed 30 pounds each, and slowed him to a stagger during his getaway so that police officers easily jumped him from behind.

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Now consider what one person said after reflecting on this story:

David Posman is not the first person to make the mistake of trying to run while being weighed down. In fact, it happens spiritually all the time. The Hebrew writer talks about sin being a weight that keeps us from effectively running the Christian race. We can get bogged down with things that pull us away from God. And, by the way, as with Posman, those things that are weighing us down are not worth nearly as much as we thought they were when we grabbed hold of them.

And here is the verse in Hebrews that the person was thinking of:

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

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As we look at this verse in Hebrews, we will notice that there are three important aspects in this verse. First, there are the “witnesses” that surround us. Secondly, there are the things that weigh us down and the sins that ensnare us and hinder us from running a good race. And then finally, there is the aspect that we need to run our Christian race with endurance.

So who are these “witnesses” who are watching us as we live out our Christian lives? Many have felt that this is a spiritual reference to God and all the angels who are watching us here on earth. Textually, these witnesses could refer back to all of the “heroes of the faith” of whom we read about throughout Chapter 11 of Hebrews. Others have thought that this could simply refer to the people around us.

In any case, whichever interpretation we might agree with, there is one more imagery aspect that I want to highlight at this point. The idea of others watching as we run our race creates the image for us that we are in an Olympic type event surrounded by many spectators who were cheering us on to cross the finish line. That image helps us to understand the powerful point that the writer is trying to make here.

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Imagine an Olympic marathon runner wearing heavy shoes, extra layers of clothes, and carrying a heavy backpack. There is no way that runner could ever win the race, let alone even finish the race. And that is what our spiritual lives are being compared to if we allow sin or otherworldly distractions to keep us from focusing on our goal of winning the prize of being called to be children of God here, and inheritors of eternal life in the hereafter.

But not only are we called to live godly Christian lives, Scripture tells us that we are to run this race with endurance. That implies that it will be hard work, there will be sweat, and there very likely will be some pain and sacrifice involved. We must remember, that godliness is pursued and grown over an entire lifetime. The Christian life truly is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Personally, I have some great memories of being a long-distance runner when I was in school. I loved the feeling of being in good physical shape, and being able to run very long distances. And I also enjoyed the thrill of the competition of running against other athletes. As I said above, it did take a lot of work, dedication, and sacrifice to get to those competitions.

And even when we experience great pain or trials in life, we are called to keep pressing on. I still remember how that in grade 9, the night before the big competition, I sprained my ankle. The next day, I convinced my coach that if he put a tensor bandage tightly around my ankle I would still be able to run the race. And so I ran. And it hurt terribly. But I still came in third across the finish line. The next year, I won the inter-school competition of the 800 m run and was able to go all the way to the Calgary city finals.

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And so my friend, how are you doing in your Christian life today? Is there anything weighing you down in your spiritual life? Do you realize that other believers, God and all the heavenly angels, and perhaps even the “heroes of the faith” may be watching you and cheering you on to run this race.  May you have the strength and the courage to lay aside whatever it is that is keeping you from running this race well.

Worshiping God Is Good For You

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Worship On The Way – Part 1

Do you remember when you were young and you were told, “Okay, it’s time for church.” Did you ever respond with, “I don’t want to go today.” Or perhaps you just thought these words. For those of you who are reading this and are parents, perhaps you hear these words from your children today. If we are honest though, I think that all of us have had many Sunday mornings we just don’t feel like going to church.

But is that bad? Is that wrong? Can’t we worship God by ourselves at home? Actually, we may be on the wrong track of thinking altogether. Let me back up and ask the question, “What is worship?” Answering that question could take pages and pages to answer. And it is true that we can and should worship God individually, but I want to talk in this article about the importance of our corporate worship of God.

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We are starting chapter 10 of our book study of “Walking with God on the Road You Never Wanted To Travel” by Mark Atterberry. Mark has been a preacher for many years, and so it would seem quite natural for him to advise people that it is important to come to church and worship corporately with other believers. After all, isn’t that the “normal practice” of Christians?

To think like that is to misunderstand the purpose of corporate worship. Going to church is not about attendance and ritual, but is about experiencing God. There is something powerful in the gathering together of believers to jointly lift up the name of God in praise, and there is something very humbling to bow together as a corporate body in prayer, recognizing Christ’s Lordship over all of our lives.

Now back to where we started, the idea that sometimes we do not “feel” like going to church to worship God, have you considered that it is in these exact moments when we feel the worst and life is difficult that we should make the extra effort to get out to our local church? Even with all its warts and wrinkles and problems, the church is the place where we can receive the help that we need. Atterberry gives us some good points in his book why we should continue to gather for corporate worship.

1.  Worship Nourishes Your Relationship with God

Think for a minute what it would be like if we never gathered with other Christians and worshiped God together. Do you think that we would be strong enough to be able to resist the temptations that are in the world around us? Would we get in the practice of setting aside some time every week to put our full attention and focus upon God?

My guess is that it would not take very long before God became less and less a part of our lives. Atteberry cautions us on this very point as he shares from his experiences over the years by saying this:

I’ve heard all the arguments from the I-can-be-a-Christian-without-going-to-church crowd, but I’ve never seen any evidence that their claims are true in my experience, every time a Christian drops out of church and abandons corporate worship, he starts sinking spiritually. Maybe not the first day or the first week, but eventually. I can’t recall a single exception.  (pg. 130)

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The best analogy that I can think of that points to the truth of what Atteberry talks about is that of a small cooking fire, such as they use in the villages of Papua New Guinea. They take little twigs and sticks and work up a fire, but they only put the tips of each stick into the center of the fire. Slowly they push the burning sticks into the center to keep the flame on the tips of each stick at a constant height and temperature.

But as soon as they pull out one stick from the fire, the small flame at the tip of the stick almost immediately goes out. Now they can swing the stick to keep the red ember at the tip still hot, and if they just laid the stick to the side even the ember would burn out. But as soon as they put the stick back into the fire, a flame will again immediately burst forth at the tip of the stick.

The church can and should be our place to keep the flame of our spiritual lives alive. When we go back out into the world from our place of corporate worship it is up to us to keep our spiritual embers alive throughout the week. Then when we come back to worship together with our fellow believers we infuse some more spiritual vitality in our “fire” for the Lord.

2.  Worship Guarantees Your Protection

Consider Ezra 8:22 which says, “Our God protects all those who worship Him, but His fierce anger rages against those who abandon Him.” This was spoken by Ezra to the king of Persia just before Ezra and many other of the exiled Jews began their five-month journey through dangerous territories on their way back to Jerusalem. And we know from Scripture that they in fact did make it safely there.

In a similar way, when we worship God corporately there is a spiritual reality to the idea that we are drawn in under His over arching protective care. Some would suggest that we simply gain psychological and emotional strength from our gathering together with others. But it is my belief, that when we gather together in worship we do not just add to one another’s spiritual strength and vitality, but we multiply our spiritual strength through the bonds of our Christian unity.

I think I will tie off this article at this point and pick this up in two weeks with part 2 where Atteberry gives us two more good reasons to worship God.  This article has meant to be an encouragement to you in your Christian walk, and I hope that I have been able to do that.

A Hunger For God

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Everyone knows that the human body needs food and water to survive.  And the body has its own natural ways to signal us that it is in need of sustenance.  You know what I am referring to: the stomach growls, the throat is parched, and we feel weak and light-headed. And just like the physical body needs physical nourishment, so also our spirits need spiritual nourishment.

Actually, it is not quite as straightforward or simple as that. We do not stay healthy by simply eating any foods, but rather, we must have balanced or healthy meals for our bodies to be healthy. In the same way, we must be concerned about what we feed our souls, making good choices regarding what we say “yes” and what we say “no” to in our lives.

Consider what is written in this devotion which comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“.

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Relentless Pursuit

It is no accident that one of the great spiritual disciplines of the Church is to fast. When we fast, we become acutely aware of our physical hunger. That physical hunger can lead to a spiritual hunger as well. Christians today are returning to fasting and prayer as a means of waking us up to our great need for the presence of God. It may be that we will need to fast from other things than food in order to restore our spiritual hunger.

There may need to be a slowing of our hectic lifestyles that are crowding out our time with the Father. We may need to fast from some forms of entertainment to devote time to seeking the Lord. Those heavily involved in ministry may need to say “no” to that which is good, in order to seek that which is best. We may even need to reevaluate our family schedules.

Tommy Tenney, in his devotional, Experiencing His Presence; Devotions for God Chasers, prays a prayer that we all may need to use daily to build our hunger for God:

“Lord Jesus, my soul aches at the mere mention of Your name. My heart leaps for every rumor of Your coming, and each possibility that You will manifest Your presence. I’m not satisfied with mere spiritual dainties. I’m ravenously hungry for You in Your fullness. I’m desperate to feast on the bread of Your presence and quench my thirst with the wine of Your Spirit.”

May hungering and thirsting for God drive us to a passionate, relentless pursuit of Him.

–Taken from the article Hungering and Thirsting for God by Dave Butts.        Posted 21 Aug 2011

The idea of fasting from physical food in order to be able to concentrate one’s attention upon God is not a new idea. It is a very biblical idea. In fact, this practice of abstaining from food in order to commune with God goes back at least as far as to the time of Moses. While receiving the commandments from God on Mount Sinai, Moses very likely went without food or water for 40 days.

It is possible that the reason Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness before he began his ministry was that it was meant to be a parallel to Moses. Both Moses and Jesus had been sent by God to declare the truths of God to the people and to form a new people for God. If that is the case, we must consider a 40 day fast to be the limit for these two very unique and specially called men of God.

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There is not enough room in this short article to go into detail about the biblical practice of fasting. But let me just say this one thing that I feel does need to be mentioned. You may recall in the book of Matthew that Jesus does refer to fasting in his famous “Sermon on the Mount”. What is most interesting in Matthew 6:16 – 18, is that Jesus did not say “if you fast…” He said, “When you fast…”

Now I wish that I could say that I have been able to develop the spiritual discipline of fasting from food so that I could then devote more time to communing with God. And perhaps I may still be able to achieve that. One of the reasons that fasting has been very difficult for me to consider is that during my teen years and 20s, I struggled with hypoglycemia. God has cured me from that (and you can read about the story here) but I still have to watch my eating habits carefully.

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But take a look again at what is suggested in the devotional reading above. There are many other things that we can “fast” from. There may be other areas of our lives that are controlling us too much, or at least are diverting our attention away from God more than they ought to. I would challenge all of us to examine our lives  to see where this would be true.

Pray to God about this, and you may be surprised at what God reveals about your life and what He might ask you to give up and give over to Him. I was very proud of my son who told me at one point that he felt his Xbox was controlling him too much, and he put it away for over a week. I’ve heard of others who will go on a “fasting” period from Facebook.

These are just a couple of examples to consider. So how about you? After praying, has God shown you one area perhaps that you may need to take a “break” from? You may think that this would be too difficult to do. But I believe that if God has shown you an area of your life to give over to Him, He will also give you the strength to be able to do so. May God bless you richly in your hunger and pursuit after God.

Where Does Faith Come From

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What Is Faith – Part 4

Here is a short summary of what we have learned so far about Faith in our little miniseries of articles. First of all, we know that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) As an individual is exposed to the truth of God’s Word, a seed of faith is planted within the heart of that individual and by the grace of God and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, that faith will grow and ultimately bloom when that individual makes an act of their will to choose to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The second thing that we learned, which almost seems too obvious, is that all believers then possess faith within themselves. But in a previous article we talked about how faith is like a muscle and needs to be exercised to stay healthy and grow stronger. So it is not a question of whether believers have faith or God, but whether or not they are exercising that faith.

A third thing that we have talked about with regards to faith, is that when we are truly exercising our faith, according to Mark 11:23, when we encounter major obstacles (i.e. mountains) in our life, we can speak out against that and have assurance that God will provide the means or the way for that mountain to be removed. Read last week’s article to see how God answered a major prayer request in our son’s life.

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Now I want to talk about where our faith actually resides. Pastor Leon Fontaine from Springs Church (Calgary) is right on when he says that “Faith is of the heart, and not the head.” To me, this is a crucial point since most of us in North America and Europe (and also now in some developing countries) have grown up in a highly technological age and exist in an evidence-based society. In other words, most people today would say, “Seeing is believing!” instead of “Believing is seeing!”

In our Western culture, it is very easy for us to try to deal with the many challenges and difficulties we face in life from a rational perspective. If it’s a financial issue we are dealing with, we try to work hard, spend wisely, and invest carefully. If it’s a medical or physical issue we are facing, we visit the doctor, take medications, and perhaps change our diet. Whatever the issue is we may be facing, more often than not, we try to deal with the situation first in our own strength.

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But that is not the way of Faith. Romans 1:17 tells us that “the righteous shall live by faith.” And I believe that here, and in other places in Scripture, when it talks about “living”, it is not just referring to our future eternal life with God, but also includes the idea of a full life here on earth. In John 10:10, in the Amplified Bible, Jesus says, ” I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).”

I think what happens for many people when things continually seem to go poorly in their lives, is that they see the obstacles that are there and decide that 1) the obstacles are too difficult to be removed, or 2) they don’t deserve God’s help, or 3) God would not care enough about them to help. But all of these are just excuses to not “live by faith” and are results of people thinking from their heads rather than believing from the hearts.

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You see, from a biblical perspective, the “heart” is the central core and the place of true existence for us as humans. And that is why Scripture tells us in Proverbs 4:23, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” And Jesus says in Luke 6:45, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

The picture that I get from these verses is that our hearts are like gardens, which when taken care of well will produce beautiful growing flowers and plants and allows a sparkling and bubbling stream to flow out of it. But if we do not tend to our gardens well, and allow thorns, thistles, and weeds to overgrow it, then nothing good can come out of it. As the saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out!”

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So what does this all have to do with faith and our minds and our hearts? Our true existence is in our heart, but the things that we process and hold within our minds will eventually sink down to take root inside our hearts. Therefore, if we allow negative thoughts and ideas to continually be in our minds, or if we hold on to negative attitudes like bitterness, anger, critical judgments, etc., then over time, we condition our hearts to be a seed bed of negativity and doubt and unbelief.

Now that we know that faith comes from the heart and that the head influences the heart, we need to do like what Paul says in Romans 12:1-2, to renew our minds so that we are not conformed to the ways of this world. Then, we are free to allow our garden within our heart to grow faith. But as with most things in the Christian life, this is not meant to be a one time event. Rather, this is meant to be an ongoing way of life for us.

God’s Little Detours – Part 1

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Expect Detours – Part 1

The last two articles in this series on “Hard Road Journey” gave us some hope and showed that we can expect some periods or moments of refreshment, even through the most difficult experiences of life.  I’ve touched a little on the difficulties we experienced when our oldest son went through the 30 moths of chemotherapy for his leukemia, in the article “It’s Not My Fault“.  But when I get to writing more about that period, you will also see that those three years also contained many moments of blessings from God.

We must treasure those good moments and count them as blessings.  That does not negate the fact though that life has thrown us a curve-ball.  We find at those moments that whereas we may have been counting on having a smooth, straight road, instead, we find that we have all of a sudden found ourselves on a major detour and we don’t know what to expect ahead of us.

Now if a detour was simply that, a detour off of the main course we have charted for our lives, then all we need to do is to get back as quickly as we can to the main path of our lives.  But what if that detour happens to come while we are slowly making our way through a difficult period.  Now that can really get us discouraged.

The book we have been following on this series is called “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel“.  Our author, Mark Atteberry, has this to say about detours on page 114:

Few experiences are more disheartening, especially when you’re already growing weary.  Just the thought of a longer road with even more challenges can break your spirit.

I would compare it to the idea of having a major paper cut on your hand, and then just before it heals, you get another paper cut right on top of it.  Yowwee!  The first cut was bad enough, but the second one is even worse and  makes the healing process take that much longer.  Atteberry recognizes the danger of this.  But he advises us to expect detours.  They are a part of life.  And so to help us, he gives us four facts to think about that will help us when we encounter a detour in life.

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1.  Detours Can Trick Us

Probably the most dangerous aspect about a detour in life when we hit one, is that they can trick us into thinking either one of two possible incorrect conclusions.  We may think that we have done something wrong and God is punishing us for our bad behaviors, our “sins”.  Or we might think that God has abandoned us, which really says we believe that God does not care about us.

The first conclusion may have some truth in it seeing as it is also true that there are always consequences to sin.  But to assume automatically that when something goes wrong that it must be because we have done something wrong, is to assume the wrong thing about the character of God.  God is not a vindictive God who sits up there somewhere with a big stick in His hand, just ready to hit us and punish us if we step out of line.  If you believe this, then you have not understood the Good News of His great love which is written all through the pages of the New Testament.

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And as far as the second conclusion goes, the idea that God has abandoned us, I think is often the result of us not waiting long enough to let God move and work out a wonderful solution to our situation.  Or put it another way, I believe that there is always something else going on, and maybe many things going on, that we are not aware of, and so because we cannot see the bigger picture, we start to lose our faith in God.

I think that Atteberry has a very good point when he says on page 116:

Isn’t it interesting how quickly we can go from blaming God to praising Him?  One little fact–one little nugget of truth suddenly revealed–is all it takes to completely transform our feelings and show us how wrong we were to assume the worst.

Don’t let your circumstances fool you into believing the wrong things about God.

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2.  Detours Can Teach Us

It follows then, that if the detours we encounter are not mistakes or punishments from God, that there must be some purpose to them.  It is quite true to say about me that I am an optimist.  And so I embrace a verse like Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  This does not say that all things are good (because bad things do in fact happen), but it does say that God can bring good out of every situation,

The question here is: do you believe this or not?  Actually, I can be even more bold as to say “Do you believe the Bible to be true?  Do you believe God to be a good and loving God as presented by the New Testament passages or not?”  If you say yes to these two questions, then you will have to also believe that God can teach you something very important in life, and often it is through detours that He can teach us the most.

If you are still not sure about all this, then I ask you to go back and read my last two articles about my personal journey in life.  The first one is “Humbled by God” and the second one is “God Restores My Passion For Missions“.  Talk about a major detour.  But also, talk about God’s tender care to teach me something important.

The next two facts about detours will be in two weeks from now.  So stay tuned.

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