A Treasure in Heaven.

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“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6: 19-21

I have never had a difficult time understanding what this passage means by “treasures on earth”; I can easily understand what an earthy treasure might be – really any material possession at all. There are countless possibilities. But if I am honest, my mind would often go blank when I tried to picture a “heavenly” treasure. I mean, I understood the concept, but I don’t think I really “got it”. I didn’t dig in to the Word, though – I would just nod my head and go along with it.

I think this is an issue we all have at least at some point in our lives. Unconsciously, we know we are meant to value God’s Kingdom more than anything else, but deep down we don’t know for sure what that looks like. We kind of just take for granted that we value God’s Kingdom more than anything else, but really….do our lives show that we do?

About a year and a half ago, God started working on me in this area. He started to show me what he means when he talks about treasures in heaven, and I started to understand that my life reflected that I didn’t really value his Kingdom above all. Slowly (very slowly), I am beginning to loosen my grip on the things of this world, but it is very very hard. One of the ways that God has made it a bit “easier” is by breaking my heart for the things that break his.

Our God loves the human beings he has made, and he mourns over the injustice he sees all over the world. He mourns over the thousands who are suffering without food or water, the children orphaned by aids, the countless children sold into sex trafficking every day, the women who are unjustly accused and punished – even killed – simply for being women.

Our God cares about these issues, and he mourns when his sons and daughters don’t care – when we act like it’s not happening. When we are so busy chasing after treasures on earth, that we don’t see the countless treasures we could be storing up in heaven: souls saved for his glory. Isn’t that what the Kingdom of God is made up of? Human souls? Human beings who come to know His love because regular joe’s went out and obeyed God’s command to care for the least of these, and make disciples for His glory. These are treasures that we will take to Heaven with us  – literally. We can invest in material possessions, which will rot when we are gone, or we can invest in souls that will last forever. 

One way to invest in God’s Kingdom is through Gospel for Asia’s “Bridge of Hope” program. Gospel for Asia is an organization that my husband and I recently started supporting, and we are very impressed with it. Through GFA you can sponsor children, or local missionaries. We love GFA firstly because it stands with integrity upon the Word of God – the Gospel is at it’s core. Secondly, financially speaking it is trustworthy and 100% of it’s funds go to the mission field.

Through Gospel for Asia’s Bridge of Hope program, you can provide a child with an education, regular doctor check ups, a daily meal, and clean clothes – all while giving them the opportunity to learn about God’s love for them. Not only will you be telling them of God’s love, but in a tangible way you will be showing them God’s love too. You will receive a picture of your child and regular updates, and have opportunities to write to your child.

Gospel for Asia has a goal to see 2000 children sponsored by Mother’s Day. Will you consider reaching out to one of these little ones in the name of Jesus? Even if you can’t do it by Mother’s Day, perhaps this is something you and your family can consider doing. Click here to find out more.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” – Matthew 25: 34-40

 

The Root of the Problem….

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Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. – Genesis 3: 1-8

Recently I started reading through the BIble. I decided that I am going to read it from beginning to end – even if it takes years. Genesis has always been a source of conflict for me. Don’t even get me started on the problem of evil and human freedom!

This time around, I have decided not to focus on all of the questions I have, and instead focus on what I can know and understand from reading Genesis. When I was reading this passage, I was struck by how relevant the story is to me in this season in life.

So, here we have Eve. She is hanging out in a beautiful garden with her hubby – full access to God and every good thing. God had given Adam and Eve authority over everything, and there was nothing they could ever want or need. God had given them only one “restriction”, communicated to Adam earlier:

“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” – Genesis 2: 16, 17

They had everything – literally. God had made the stars, the moon, the sun, the earth, the animals, the beautiful plants and trees, the rivers – everything. The king of the universe had made all of this, and then he turned to Adam and Eve and said: “It’s yours”. The command not to eat from that one tree can barely be seen as a restriction; It was a loving command given to them from a loving father, for their good, as is always the case with God’s commands. Why couldn’t they eat from the tree? Because they would die. That is a pretty loving command.

But Satan plants doubt in Eve’s mind. First, he causes her to doubt what God had said in the first place (vs. 1). God had not said that they must not eat of any tree in the garden, he had only said that they could not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan made God’s command seem more strict than it actually was. Then, he made God out to be a liar (vs. 4), telling Eve that she wouldn’t die. Lastly, he plants doubt in Eve’s mind about God’s motives, saying that God just didn’t want Adam and Eve to be like him (vs. 5). Satan wanted Eve to believe that God was hiding something from her, and that he was not really good.

And Eve falls for it. Having the seeds of doubt planted, she now looks at the tree with lustful eyes. She focuses in on the one thing she can’t have instead of all that she has been given. She sees that it is edible, that it looks good, and she thinks: If I eat this, I will be wise – like God! Instead of trusting in what God had said, she trusts in her own reasoning. And she eats it. And so does her husband.

It’s not about the fruit. It’s about what the fruit represented, and what their eating it said about them. They wanted to be wise – like God. Why? Wasn’t it enough that they got to walk with him intimately? God of the universe was right there any time they needed him and they could ask him anything. He had provided them with everything they needed and more. Why would they need that kind of wisdom if they trusted him? It wasn’t enough. Their identity was tied to God, and they wanted more than that. That fruit represented autonomy from God. They wanted to be “somebody” in and of themselves – not because of their connection with God.

This is human sin. At the root of every sinful act, is this very problem: we want autonomy from God. We want to be “somebody” apart from God. We want to approve of ourselves because of something in us.

I see this in my own life more and more every day. This is something God is uncovering in me  – and it’s painful, and overwhelming. The more he uncovers, the more I see how badly I need him every moment of the day. But at the same time, I see how much I don’t want to depend on him every moment of the day. In other words, I see my total inability to change myself – and how badly I need God to change me. This is, of course, a blessing, because it is only here that I can begin to heal. But it’s hard.

We can go through huge chunks of our lives living this way without realizing it. We can find our identity in: our children, our careers, our ministries, our relationships, our possessions, our reputation, the number of notifications on Facebook, etc. All of these things are fine, but they can easily become idols. The problem is, our hearts are prone to deception and we are usually blind to our idols. Sometimes though, we can identify them when they are threatened.

Maybe your child misbehaves in a way you never expected at school; now all of a sudden you feel like a failure and find yourself being paranoid about what people are thinking, or resentful toward other people whose children are behaving better. Or maybe you find out that someone doesn’t think your heart is in the right place with regard to a ministry you are involved in. Now you find you are filled with self justifying thoughts, and anxiety. It can take on many forms, but all these things show that something else has taken the place of God. These things have become a crutch – a way for us to feel good about ourselves, and to approve of ourselves. And then when something goes wrong, we feel worthless, angry, bitter etc. This is because we have not died to self; we are still concerned with our image more than we are concerned with Gods. We want to be able to approve of ourselves because of something about us. This is what Adam and Eve wanted in the Garden, and what every other human being has wanted ever since.

But it is often harder to see when things are going well. When the ministry is flourishing and people are looking up to you as a godly and generous person, or your children are well behaved, or your boss praises you at work, it’s easy to put your head on the pillow in peace at night. It’s easy to approve of yourself when everyone else approves of you and things seem to be going well. But this is dangerous because even  all of our good works are like filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6). None of the good things that we do – no matter how good – put us in better standing with God. God’s approval of us has nothing to do with anything that we have done. We bring absolutely nothing to the table. This is a freeing truth, but if we are honest, many of us don’t get peace from it in our day to day lives. For me, this is because usually it’s not God’s approval I want. Ultimately, it’s my own.

 

Search me, God, and know my heart;
Test me and know my anxious thoughts. 
See if there is any offensive way in me, 
And lead me in the way everlasting.”

- Psalm 139: 23,24
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it…”

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It’s lent and as I said last time, I decided I wanted to make it meaningful. I usually give something up just for the sake of giving it up, but this time I wanted to do something that would actually bring me closer to God.  So here are my thoughts after my first week…

I have been a little bit of a monster the past month or more. I feel overwhelmed and tired and I am not quite sure what changed. But I did notice that my mind is a bit “full”. It seems I always have something on my mind, and I am therefore always distracted and irritable. I wasn’t really aware of what my mind was full of, just that it was full. So I started thinking of ways that I can centre my thoughts more on God and I decided to take Ann Voskamp‘s Joy Dare. Basically, you start a gratitude journal in which you keep track of things you are thankful for. You learn to look for little gifts from God throughout your day, from the big things like a promotion at work, to the small things, like the way the light reflects on the bubbles as you wash the dishes. You can do this on your own, or you can use the list that Voskamp provides on her website as a way to prompt you. I printed the list just in case I was having trouble.

So, how did it go?

Not great. Surprise, surprise.

When you become intentional about how you think, you become aware of where your mind is prone to go. This week it was confirmed to me that my mind is chaotic – always tossing around thoughts that are not in check with God. I noticed that not only is my mind prone to wander, but when I try to be intentional, I find that I really don’t want to focus on God. I don’t want to discipline my mind to think differently. So I let myself think the way that comes naturally – and I don’t take the thoughts captive to make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). I don’t challenge my thoughts with truth. As a result I am filled with pride and/or anxiety and there really is no room for godly thoughts at all.

There are a lot of seemingly good things that I do regularly, that I realized this week are just a way for me to distract myself from the real issue. For example, I listen to sermons while I cook, or read blogs during the day. I feel good about doing that because, hey! I am filing myself up with good stuff – godly stuff. In the moment, I feel better because the blog or sermon might be encouraging and I feel like I am being fed. But what I have found out is that it really only serves to distract me, and doesn’t get to the root of the issue: I need a heart change. Sure, I might feel better as I listen to the sermon or read the blog, but transformation is only going to happen when I do the hard work of “sowing” the seed.

The other thing that I do when faced with my bad heart is come up with a 5 step plan for how I am going to “beat this” bad habit. I know that I am not in the right place, so I go to my favourite blogs and follow their Bible reading plans, or I read a bunch of books that are inspiring or give advice on how to overcome certain things.  I sit down and write out my plans for how I am going to overcome this. Now, are these things always bad? No. But again, I think I do it as a distraction. It’s easier to sit down and figure out a “plan” than it is to simply live it out. In our world of information, we have access to so many resources which is wonderful, but it is easy to become dependant on them and not even realize it. We forget that just because something is good, doesn’t mean it can’t become unhealthy. 

So, I am talking to my husband about this the other night. I am talking about my thoughts and how they are prideful, and chaotic. In the middle of my talking he simply asks me this:

Do you repent of this? When you have these thoughts, do you repent?

What a question. Repent: what a word. I don’t think we talk about repentance very much these days apart from initial conversion. The answer is very simple: no. When my thoughts go in this direction, I either passively go along with them, or do one of the two things I mentioned above. I either don’t care, or if I do I try to find a magic formula.

My husband says to me:

You don’t need a six step plan – just repent, ask God to help you, and resolve that you will not continue in that pattern. If you have to do that every hour, do it. We often think it is complicated, but really it is that simple. And it works – it really does.

Repent. Believe. That was Jesus’ message. Why am I so resistant? I see now that the reason I want a plan is because I want to feel like it is within my control to change – which is, again, prideful. Just another way of running from God. My default is always pride – and sometimes it is disguised as humility. Coming up with a plan seems humble at first glance because it admits I need to change, but in reality I want to be in control, rather than depend on God. To come to a place where I see that I need help is good, but this should humble me to the point where I cry out to God for help. If my reaction is to come up with a plan or listen to a million sermons on the issue, I have not understood the Gospel.

Conclusion:

I am a prideful/anxious human. I really just am. The resistance I feel within me to the things of God is often very strong. Even when I think about godly things, I tend to think about them in the wrong way; either in an abstract way (not really applying it), or in a prideful way (applying it to someone else). All the great resources out there have become a crutch for me; I tend to use them as a distraction, or as a way for me to affirm my own beliefs about God, leading to arrogance.

So…what to do? Well, I am no longer following any Bible reading plans. Instead, I have just decided to start in Genesis and read through the Bible, using a notebook and a pen to jot down observations/applications/questions. Other than that, I have seriously cut down on the amount of sermons I listen to; now while cooking I usually listen to music, or an audio Bible or pray. I am planning to continue with Joy Dare – I’ll do the simple but difficult task of counting gifts, and repenting and asking for God’s help when I find my mind wandering.

Hearing from God in his Word, and learning to keep an ongoing dialogue with God are two goals that I think are OK to have. They are simple, and I think they are all God really wants from me. He just wants relationship. I don’t know what will happen, or how God will use it. I just want to be open to what he has to teach me. I want more of him – less of me.

I have started this challenge, and I have failed tremendously already. But I want to keep going. If you think of it, pray for me?

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above.”


My Challenge Failed. On to Lent.

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So, my first challenge failed before it began. Isn’t it ironic that I started a blog series about spiritual disciplines, and then did not even have the discipline to write ONE post? OK, so scrap that idea. But, hey – it is a great thought! So if you do it, let me know how it goes!

This is me, people. I like to start things. I get excited at the idea of doing something – but if I am not careful, I end up not finishing what I started. Now you know me a bit better. I don’t think I even consulted my Father before I started the last series – so no wonder I failed. Just because something is a good idea, doesn’t mean you should do it. Lesson learned (for the billionth time).

Today is the first day of Lent. So, I am continuing on with the theme “less of me, more of him”. But I am not going to start a series or make any commitments – not with respect to blogging.

I used to choose to give something up for lent. Usually it would be something like chocolate, and I always failed – the the same way the last blog series failed (I am noticing a trend here). Growing up I had no idea what Lent was about – I just knew it had something to do with Easter. On Ash Wednesday, we would go around all day long with ashes on our foreheads and I had no idea why. I understood that we were supposed to deny ourselves of something for 40 days, but I didn’t know the reason. So, I would try to deny myself of something, but because I had no idea why I was doing it, I had little motivation to stick with it. It just wasn’t worth it. Why would any sane woman want to give up chocolate for 40 whole days?! That’s crazy talk.

If you are giving something up just for the sake of giving it up, you will likely fail. At least you will if you are like me. There needs to be some deeper motivation. I now know that when you give something up for Lent, if anything, it should be for the purpose of gaining something greater – not putting yourself through some kind of torture (Jesus already suffered so we wouldn’t have to). Lent is not something you do because doing it makes you a better person. God is not impressed when we deny ourselves of certain pleasures. We don’t gain brownie points with him when we do that. Thankfully, Jesus already got all the “points”. No, if we spend the time leading up to Easter denying ourselves of anything, it is simply so that we can draw near to our Father. He fulfills our souls, and when we remove things from our lives that distract us from him, and spend more time with him, we will find nourishment for our souls. It pleases our Dad when we desire just to be with him.

So my goal for Lent is simply to allow myself to step out of my comfort zone, because that is where God is. Yes, there might be a bit of discomfort (imagine that), but I want to become more aware of my need for him. It’s easy to forget about my need for him when I continually distract myself. So, I will deny myself of small things here and there throughout the season; things like social media, sweets, caffeine – all the normal things I tend to distract/comfort myself with, so that I can feel a bit restless for a moment. But in that restlessness, I will turn to God – the only one who can actually satisfy me.

More than I want comfort in the things of this world, I want to know the Comforter.

I don’t want Easter, probably the most (or second most) important “holiday” of the Christian calendar, to go by without much thought. I want to honour God, and actually spend some intentional time reflecting upon what he did for us.

I found this link online – it’s a great guide to follow if you are looking for something to do for Lent. I will refer to it throughout the season and I may or may not let you know how it goes (learning from the past here, people).

Let’s draw near to our King this season, friends! And every season, for that matter :)

More of Him, Less of Me – *My First Challenge!!!*

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“If you deny yourself, BY yourself, you end up with MORE of yourself” – or something like that. I heard that in a sermon recently, and it resonated with me. The sermon was on denying yourself (who knew!?), and the main text was:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it – Matthew 16:24, 25.

This is actually a very difficult text when you stop to think about it. It’s one that we often read over, but it’s so familiar that it doesn’t stick. But there is nothing easy about what Jesus is saying here. He is saying that if we want to be his followers, we need to basically stop being preoccupied with ourselves, give up everything, and willingly walk into a life of suffering – maybe even death. On first glance, there really isn’t much about this that is appealing. Nothing at all, really.

I wonder if any of you are like me; you read this, and somehow don’t really take it personally. Somewhere inside you know it is talking to you, but you just put it off like it applies to someone else, or just don’t let it sink in. That is what I find I tend to do with hard verses. I read them, somewhat affirm them, and then move on like I never even read them. But this applies to me. This applies to you, as his follower.

It’s hard to willingly choose this way of life especially when “comfort” and “security” are so easy to get. We can live like God doesn’t exist quite easily. We can easily put our hope in our ability to control our lives, and we do everything we can to protect ourselves from hardships – with all the comforts we can buy, the life insurance, the full bank accounts etc. But Jesus calls us to something much higher than this. To a way of life that is open and TRULY willing to give up all of this and choose something much harder. It is a way of life that promises hardship and asks us to be open to it, even willingly enter into it. But why would we ever want to do something like that? How could we ever be persuaded to do such a thing?

Usually when I would read this I focused on the words “deny himself”. This is a bit overwhelming. Being the intensely introspective person that I am, I keep thinking “I really am not denying myself enough”, or “I haven’t died to myself”, and I think of ways that I can do this. Sell stuff, give more money away, eat less food, etc. But when I listened to this sermon, something clicked. When I focus on how I can deny myself more, and try to deny myself, I am just being even more preoccupied with myself. I start analyzing myself and rating my performance. Also, I start to try to do something that is impossible and will ultimately fail, because I act as if I have the strength to do it. And in all of my trying, I lose sight of what Jesus is really saying here. He isn’t saying “die to yourself and suffer just because that is what you do”. He is saying that when we deny ourselves and FOLLOW AFTER HIM, we GAIN real life! When we stop being so focused on preserving our own lives, and we just follow him, and nothing else we will find TRUE and LASTING life. Isn’t that what we all really want anyway? The stuff in this life are not lasting. They will be here long after we are gone, collecting dust, but what we do for him will last forever.

So my focus should not be primarily on denying myself, but on following after him. If I have my eyes on him, then denying myself will be worth it. But if I am just focused on denying myself as a rule to follow, then I will fail and be devoid of all joy and fulfilment because I will have lost sight of the goal. Denying yourself is only worth it if what you gain as a result is worth more than what you are giving up. When we deny ourselves in the way that Jesus is talking about, we get more of him – and this is real life. Because nothing can take him away from us – not even death. And he is the only one who can fulfill the longings of our soul, because he is what our soul longs for. 

But practically speaking, how do I follow after him? This trips me up a lot, to the point where I honestly just spend a lot of time philosophizing about what it would look like to follow after him. I easily get focused on the outward things, and this turns into legalism really quick. I try to look the part, without any transformation. But I need to be transformed if I am going to really see Jesus as worth losing everything for. And I cannot conjure up that transformation no matter how hard I try.

It has occurred to me in the past year or so, that following after Jesus is not easy. News flash! Literally nothing he asks of us is easy, and all of it requires the Holy Spirt and discipline. The Holy Spirit does live in us if we are believers, and the Holy Spirit will do his job – we will be changed. But this does not mean that we do not have to do anything. I wrote about this in a recent post (click here to read it). But without getting too far into it again, God works in us, but there is a part we need to play. So, I want to play my part better. I want to be changed more, and so I want to put myself in a position where God can work in me. I hear the word discipline and immediately want to run away, but maybe that is my problem. So, I have a challenge for myself, and feel free to join in!

I am going to use the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster as a guide, and I am going to go through the classic Christian spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are a way of denying ourselves, but not in the sense of changing our behaviour. Spiritual disciplines put us in a position where we are being intentional about focusing on God and relying on God. For example, I may choose to deny myself of a certain comfort in order to find my comfort in God. I don’t just deny myself that comfort, but in my longing for whatever the thing is, I seek him instead until I find him as sufficient. This is just an example, and I am not quite sure how they all work yet, but I want to find out! In my next blog post I will discuss a bit more about the book, and what the disciplines are – and introduce the first one!

Yay, for my first actual series! I pray it will be a blessing! More to come soon!

PS: You can get a free pdf of this book online. Click here if you are interested in having a look at it :) It’s considered a classic by many Christians from many different backgrounds.

Dear Church…

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Dear Church;

I am so sorry for how I have treated you – my own flesh and blood.

I am sorry for…

The cynicism. This poison that I helped to spread to others. A cynicism that is so deeply rooted in pride. 

The slander. I might have affected the way people saw you because of my careless words. I tore you down, instead of building you up. I used the mouth God gave me to speak my mind, rather than speak His mind. I sometimes don’t even known His mind, because I’ve been too obsessed with myself.

The critical spirit. I criticized you for your fear of nose piercings. Your fear of emotion. Your obsession with emotion. Your lack of order. Your tendency to stick your nose in a theology book and stay there. Your dislike of theology. Your charismatic worship. Your boring, dull worship. Your lack of obedience. Your stick in the mud attitude.

The arrogance. I assumed I was right without really studying God’s Word on the subject. I assumed I knew what you were all about, just because of one or two things you said. I felt superior to you.

The divisive attitude. I saw our differences as something that divided us, rather than an opportunity for us to converse and wrestle together. I was so slow to listen. Way too quick to speak. I argued too much. I didn’t know when to shut up.

The lack of forgiveness. I held grudges. I wrote you off. I avoided you.

The hypocrisy. I have had such a plank in my eye. I have corrected you, not out of love for Christ and for you, but out of a desire for you to agree with me. I said we need to love each other, but I didn’t love you. I have judged you for judging. Then judged you for judging those who judge.

My selfishness. You are dying. All over this globe. You – your children, dyeing of hunger, while I sit here under my cozy blanket drinking tea and stuffing myself with too much food.

I don’t want to be part of the problem anymore. I still will be part of the problem, I am sure, but I vow to love you better. I will, by God’s grace, tame my tongue. I will go to God, instead of blurting out every single thing I think. I will ask God continually to humble me so that I can see clearly my own issues. I will be generous. I will ask God to help me to love you like he loves you – how he loves us – his bride. 

And, oh, how he loves us – all of us. Enough to intercede on our behalf all the time. Enough to chase us down over and over and over again. Enough to take us back every time we have been unfaithful. Enough to embrace us – our dirty, bruised, rebellious, diseased selves. Enough to prevent us from staying in the same pit our entire lives. Enough to die a brutal, humiliating death in our place.

He loves us out of blindness. He loves us out of bondage. He loves us to life.

Jesus loves his bride, perfectly. And so, by his grace and by his Spirit, I vow to love his bride, too.

The Gap – Part 2

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So recently, God gave me a kick in the pants. He has been doing that  a lot lately, but it seems that the message now is – “OK, Amanda. Wake up. You know a lot, but you aren’t doing anything with what you know.”

So, here I am processing what this looks like. Forgive me if the post isn’t the most eloquent, but I have decided that I need to just get it done. I know what I want to say, it’s the way of saying it I have been struggling with. It’s been sitting here unpublished for months. You probably don’t even remember what Part 1 was about, so click here to refresh your memory.

So, as I was saying before, I have been feeling a bit overwhelmed and frustrated by the gap between what I know to be true, and where my heart actually is. Helpless, even. Right from our conversion, it is drilled into our head: You are not saved by anything you do. You are saved by grace, not works. And I think somewhere in there it is easy to become confused, and get the impression that this means that we do not have to work at all. So then we end up with all kinds of issues. Like me. I have so many “things”. My friend and I were laughing recently because we were talking and probably 5 times I said “that’s my thing…”

I think the “things” that I have felt for years are keeping me from a close relationship with God, are the very things God wants to use to bring me close to him. For example, my unbelief; I have always felt that this keeps me from him, and it can, but I can also go to him with it and say “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!”. Or, if I open my Bible and have no desire to read it, instead of closing it up, I can pray “God, forgive me for my unbelieving heart! Open my heart to receive what you have to say to me!”. Or, when I am really angry with someone, instead of rehearsing an argument in my head, I can go to God and say “Lord, forgive me for this bitterness in my heart. Please help me to love this person like you have loved me”. Instead of fleeing, which is what feels natural, I can lean into it. This brings me to a place of dependance. I am acknowledging that I need him to change my heart and putting myself in a place of surrender. I think often the reason we don’t do this is because we simply don’t want to, or because we doubt it will actually make a difference. But again, the same principle applies. This is a heart issue – and we need to go to God with it.

Instead of feeling hopeless, I can confess my sin to him, and ask him for help. I may have to do this most of the day –  in fact, we are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) – I just never took it literally. He may not answer right away, or in the way that I want, but he will answer and he will use it to form me into the likeness of Jesus . Instead of being defeated, I can continually go to the foot of the cross – even when I don’t desire to – ESPECIALLY when I don’t desire to. We ARE HOPELESS in and of ourselves, but the Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ has overcome all of the things that keep us from him: the doubt, the boredom, the lack of desire, the many other sins. The fight we fight, is not one that we can’t overcome – it is one that he has already fought and won, and now wants to use to make us more like him! 

This is really Good News.

And this news is not just for conversion. It is a daily thing. I know that when I became a Disciple of Christ I turned from my sin, and turned to Christ – that is what being a Christian is by definition. But living a life that reflects the Gospel means doing this every day after too. Now when I see the gap between where I know I should be, and where I actually am, I realize that I can’t merely hope I will wake up tomorrow and feel differently. And I don’t want to be satisfied to continue on that way. I need to confess it to Jesus, and continue to do that until I see change. So this results in a lot of wrestling, but I refuse to let him go until he blesses me. This thing is a fight. Somewhere along the way I unconsciously (sometimes consciously) got the impression that this was meant to be so easy, but it isn’t. Where did I ever get the idea that it would be easy? Certainly not from Scripture! No, I need to fight for faith, joy, hope – whatever it is that I am struggling with. Believing God, and finding our identity, joy, hope etc. in him is not just going to happen.

For example, Paul says:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in EVERY situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4: 4-9). 

What a rich section. It has always been one of my favourites, but there are certain things that I am only now noticing. First of all, Paul commands us to rejoice. He even goes out of his way to say it twice. Why would we need to be commanded to do something if it was going to come naturally? Notice he tells us to pray, give thanks, and give our anxieties to God in every situation – not just sometimes. Why would we need to be instructed not to be anxious, and to give our anxieties to God? Why would we need to be instructed to be thankful? Why would we need to be instructed to think this way? The very strong obvious point is that we have to be intentional and put what we know into practice. THEN, we will experience God’s peace and presence. Another obvious point: How will I know what to put into practice if I am not in the Word? And when he instructs us how to think, he doesn’t say “think this way sometimes, or when you are in the mood, or when you have time” – no. He is saying this is how we ought to be in general. And the fact that he is even giving these instructions shows that we need to be instructed. We need to be encouraged and reminded to direct our hearts and our thoughts toward godly things. This is only one example from God’s Word that deals with this sort of thing. The entire Bible is filled with INSTRUCTION. Oh dear, how could I be so blind as to think that this was just going to happen?

It’s going to be hard. The Bible refers to this Christian life as a fight on a regular basis (see 1Timothy 1:18, 1 Timothy 6: 12, 2 Timothy 4: 6-8). But this is where Jesus is – in the hard struggles we face. This is where he wants to meet us; in the lack of desire, in the doubt, in the difficult circumstances, in the mundane. But we can miss him if we don’t look at these struggles as opportunities to meet God. Then we just end up tired, worn out people who say we believe God, but don’t get any relief from that faith. But if we confess every shortcoming and pray continuously for a changed heart, and then walk in what we know to be true, we will experience his grace like never before. This is where an authentic relationship with Jesus begins. Isn’t that what we really ache for?

So after reading this you probably feel really tired out. I have used the word “work” a lot. But here is the secret: if you are a follower of Christ, work kind of has the opposite effect. When we as Spirit filled people commune with God, even when we don’t want to, and DO what he says, we find REST for our souls. We get to see him come through for us. We get to experience his presence, even in the mundane things of life. We get to see what it is like to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. We get to watch as God takes us and makes us into something different – something better. After a little while we will see progress, and we will look more like our God – and best of all, we will be closer to him.

Christian, don’t ever believe the lie that this sort of thing doesn’t matter. It matters to God because we are meant to reflect his Gospel and when we live defeated, we are not displaying Christ’s power to the world. How are we to make disciples of all nations and teach people to obey all that Christ has commanded, if we don’t actually live like we believe him, and obey Him ourselves? And don’t ever believe that you can’t change. You can change because the Spirit of God lives in you. That same Spirit raised Christ from the dead. Meditate on that power! With this in mind, let’s start living. Really living.

“…Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” – Philippians 2: 12,13.