Seeking God: Keep a soft heart

Seeking God: Keep a soft heart

Reading: Psalm 95:1-7, Isaiah 40:11

Christ: Remember that I am your place of rest and your shelter of comfort. The cares of the world are stressful and not at all aligned with the original purpose for which you were made. The symptom of a hardened heart appears when you try to make a shelter of safety for yourself. I cannot do my work or you if your heart is hardened against me.

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Think: “The seed sown on the rock never brought any fruit to perfection” – Matthew Henry. When I lie, cheat, steal, I am hardening my heart against God’s heart for me. I may justify my choice, or ignore it altogether but it is still sin.

Pray: Dear Lord, let us keep the ground of our hearts as fertile soil which grows the seed of faith to perfection in the dew of your grace. Help me to notice the moment my heart refuses to receive your wisdom. Holy Spirit, make clear to me the state of my heart so that I may never miss out on the gentle leading of Jesus.


 

Is it a sin not to go to church?

Is it a sin not to go to church?

The convenience of a streaming church service is a double-edged sword. Indispensable to those who cannot leave their bed, but a tool of temptation for the devil.

I heard that whisper this morning: Why get up so early? It’s cold and you deserve a break, and who will notice you anyway? Whether you go or stay won’t make a difference. You’re still going to watch the sermon online, it’s not a sin to miss one week…

It got me thinking about why it’s important to go to church. It doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible that it’s an outright sin not to go, nor does the Bible specifically say which day we are to worship.

So why should I go?

Tradition?

To see my friends?

Because Starbucks is on the way and I can get a treat?

Well, what does the Bible say about going to church? There are several reasons from scripture:

To encourage one another:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25

To meet with God together:

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:20

Friendship with other believers:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42

To mature in faith:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13

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As for whether it’s a sin or not, “sin” is a deliberate rebellion against God. That’s between Creature and Creator. Far be it for me to say yes or no on behalf of someone else, I’ll humbly say that in my case, I believe it would have been considered a sin. The reason being that I understand and agree with the importance of church attendance. As mere laziness, I’d be a hearer only and not a doer of the word. (James 1:22).

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I went anyway. And instead of losing comfort, energy, and time, I unexpectedly gained something even better: peace that my obedience meant something to God. I think he is proud of my response. And I can’t wait to obey again next week.

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How would you answer that question?  Bring the question of church attendance before the throne in prayer and ask God for his wisdom in the matter.

[Book Review] Not a fan. Kyle Idleman

[Book Review] Not a fan. Kyle Idleman

Fans are people who cheer someone on from the stadium, but who you’d never see out sweating on the field. They maybe own jerseys of their favorite players, know all the stats, and never miss a game. But when the team has a bad season they are quick to jump the bandwagon and support a team having a more successful season.

Sadly, it’s how we see many fellow Christians. Maybe instead of jerseys they have t-shirts that say “Jesus is my Homeboy”, or sport one of those snazzy WWJD bracelets. They might go to church but then from Monday morning to Saturday night, there’s no evidence of spiritual fruit or that Jesus is indeed their homeboy. For this type of person, it’s more of a hobby than a lifestyle.

Our church most definitely has a disease. It’s not a new one, and in fact it’s been around ever since the days that Jesus still walked around attracting large crowds. It’s called Fandom and I’m guilty as charged of it.

Up until reading this book I would have told you with proud confidence (red flag #1) that I am most certainly a devoted follower of Jesus, not just a “creaster” (which is what he calls people that only attend church on Christmas and Easter). If you are reading this, I’m guessing you consider yourself a follower of Jesus too. But just sit back and imagine with me for a moment that every assurance of your being on the right path to salvation … is wrong. Just, what if – this whole time I’ve been thinking I was right with God but really was confusing my religion for true relationship with Jesus.

That is the premise of his well-written book – centered around the section in Matthew 7 when Jesus, frustrated with the opportunist attitude of the large crowds following him tells them plainly, “Look, you’re all calling me ‘Lord, Lord’, but the day is going to come when the truth will come out and I’m going to say, I never knew you, away from me!”

Whenever I need a slightly louder version to hammer a verse through my thick head, I turn to the MSG version. Just read Jesus in this translation:

13-14 “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.

. . .

21-23 “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

Lukewarmness in faith is actually the same as being stone cold in faith. Or as Revelation 3:16 puts it succinctly, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth”. Jesus didn’t just want people to “like” his fanpage on facebook, he isn’t interested in your memorized scripture or impressed in how many charity events you coordinate. He wants your whole heart, soul, mind and life, to transform you until you are so much like him you gleam in perfection.

Although please understand, we don’t earn our salvation. Rather, we are expected to recognize ourselves as desperate and empty-handed and wholly in need of an overhaul, and then to allow God to change us through faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to work in God’s will for our good and the good of those around us.

He offers a very helpful set of questions to diagnose fandom, and help separate it from the outward “doing” part of religion. Each section should be read thoughtfully, and soberly. I definitely want to go back with a pen and spend more time answering his questions. Not only does Mr. Idleman address the state of the lukewarm Christian today, his writing style is enjoyable and easy to read. I have to be honest, I initially picked this book up because it was on sale for $2, expecting some punchy and quick encouragement to what I already thought I knew. What I found was a response to the disease of assuming. (you know what happens…) The answer: Don’t assume you’re good to go to Heaven holding your badge collection. The process of sanctification is far sweeter and far more worth the trouble.

You can get Not a fan. at Amazon here or at his site where he has small group studies and an accompanying journal.

When is God good?

Is God good when I get what I want? Is He still good when I don’t get what I want?

At first glance, I want to say  “All the time”. But wait, is that true for me? Do I actually live my life like God is good, or do I stomp my feet and cry like a petulant child when I don’t get my way? This is a question that takes some soul-searching.

In this season of my life I just can’t seem to get over the very logical fact that I do not have the same life path as others. I have plans for myself that very obviously are not the same God has in mind for me. I know this because if they were, they would have happened already.

I’m struggling to accept it and work on myself and keep up the faith in the mean time, but my selfish childish voice inside can’t understand it. My being is absolutely divided-I want but cannot have.

Habakkuk 2:1-3

2 I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.[a]

The Lord’s Answer

Then the Lord replied:

“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald[b] may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it[c] will certainly come
and will not delay.

Battling Discontentment

I don’t hate my job, but some days I get frustrated. Like, really frustrated. After a bad day as a tech support agent, I find myself grumbling that I shouldn’t even be here. It was supposed to be an entry-level, temporary position — a placeholder until my “real life” began. Well, turns out, God had other plans.

Maybe you understand all too well what it’s like to be in a situation that doesn’t exactly knock your socks off. Sometimes we all feel like our daily lives are a boring, desert wasteland. “My job just isn’t important enough to make a difference,” I think, “Paul told us that whether we eat or drink to do everything to the glory of God, but his calling really was for the Glory of God, while mine seems to be ‘answer the phone and bear the brunt of strangers’ anger and plain meanness’. What does tech support have to do with my ultimate great commission which is to live a godly life and lead others to christ? What gives?!”

Discontentment is a judgement call on our situation. It’s a dark fog that obscures our view of God and encourages all kinds of dangerous attitudes, including doubt, envy, and grumbling. The truth becomes smaller and smaller, while evil thoughts of the heart become larger and more looming.

So what do we do when these thoughts plague us?

I understand that when these thoughts strike, it’s almost never our first instinct to cry out to God. But God’s light scatters the dark and disorderly thoughts. It helps me to methodically run through four simple truths:

  1. God is good, faithful, and true (Ps 107:1; Jn 14:6; 1 Cor 10:13)
  2. God loves me and desires to teach and correct me (Heb 12:1-13)
  3. God hates grumbling (Num 14:26-35)
  4. My appropriate response is to God is thankfulness and praise (1 Thes 5:18; Ps 106:1)

Our feelings are fleeting and a natural result of our brokenness.  David’s prayers were nothing short of human: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Ps 43:5). So don’t beat yourself up over your shortcomings, God knows. I like to think of these are life preservers that won’t let you sink while you make it to higher ground.

More ammo:

  • Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature… and put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Col 3:5,9)
  • Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord (James 1:23)
  • Do everything without complaining or arguing (Phil 2:14)
  • The LORD leads with unfailing love and faithfulness all those who keep his covenant and obey his decrees (Psalm 25:10)
  • Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4)
  • For the word of the LORD holds true, and everything he does is worthy of our trust (Ps 33:4)
  • O Lord, Your loving-kindness goes to the heavens. You are as faithful as the sky is high (Psalm 36:5)

Whatever your brand of discontent may be, I’m praying for you, friends. Remember to cast everyone on Him because He cares for you!

Morning devotions

I’m a big believer in morning devotions.

Until about 2 months ago, I had been waking up just as the sun was coming up and going for long leisurely walks through the neighborhood. Getting fresh air and exercise, rediscovering and re-committing myself to Jesus… by the time I got home I was ready to work with a re-calibrated attitude toward my savior and purpose.

I experienced a huge difference when my work schedule changed. I stopped doing my morning devotions because  I was now forced to wake up at 4 am. Get up and take a prayer walk at 3:30 am? Not so practical I daresay.

Yup, this pretty much sums it up

Not only had I stopped reading my bible before work, but several situational changes came at me fast. These were things I had no control over like moving into a new place, having a relationship become long-distance, and commuting to the office (I had worked from home before).

The shift seemed subtle to me; the last thing devil wants us to realize is that we are slipping. We want to believe we are doing just fine and are in no need of help. The fact is, God was no longer a top priority in my day. I was slipping back into old patterns of depression and isolation.

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1-2). I was certainly giving in to my inclination to giving up. But by God’s grace, and a little bit of nudging, my dear friends who know who they are helped me out of my hole.

And I know that this is the truth: that desire for God does not come from myself. It is impossible for me to want Him unless the Holy Spirit gives it to me to want Him. The fact that I’m sitting here now reflecting and praising is proof of God’s faithfulness and goodness. He has already begun giving me what he promised he would!

I know I must content myself with a max of 15 minutes before I leave for work. I can read a little chunk of scripture and spend my commute meditating on it. It’s not much but it’s God-given so who could complain about that?

The “getting” is good

…or something like that

I scoffed when I saw this on a cheap decorative canvas at Ross. It’s the kind of thing that gets passed over at department stores so long that they have to send it to…Ross. How incredibly cliche, and yet – how incredibly true. If the destination is Heaven with Jesus, then the journey should surely not be taken lightly.

From the time I wake up to the time I lay in bed trying to will myself to sleep, I’ve got my eye on the clock – constantly – timing my arrival “getting there”. It’s always about the “there”, never about the “getting,” and it makes me sad that each day I ask Jesus to “carry” me through the morning, afternoon, and night for the very reason that I don’t want to have to live through it myself.

He always does get me through, but that’s not the point. It’s all well and good to pray for God’s guidance and company in daily life. What I have been doing is wishing my life away, as if it was some boring commercial I could fast-forward through. To be sure, there are tons of times I’d rather not live through, like large gatherings of people, or the 4:15 am alarm. However, that sort of thinking does become a slippery slope for me. I begin to dread having to answer calls at my job, the chores I must do at home, the conversations I must have with people, the period of waiting before my boyfriend proposes already, and the ominous question of “where do you want to be in 5 years?”

I’ve heard preaching about God’s timing and waiting with hope and patience, but still my heart clamors against the bars of time to be free. I haven’t had anything significant to write about and barely any time to myself over the past few weeks. Ok, I just (sort of) lied. The truth is that I’ve got the wrong motivation and my attitude stinks, therefore no writing has occurred. I’m turned in towards myself again, as if the writing was for me, and I’m acting as though God isn’t with me and doesn’t help me. By the grace of God, I don’t have to do all that work by myself. If I had to accomplish everything I thought I had to, with all my own power, then there would be no God, and Jesus needn’t have died on the cross. Thankfully however, He did and I don’t. In fact, God has promised to take care of me and remain on my side:

 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. ~Joshua 1:5

In the Catholic Church the year is organized around something called the liturgical calendar. The year is split up into different seasons that celebrate Christ’s life and resurrection. It’s from the season that mass readings and prayers are chosen, working through the Bible in a 3-year cycle. It’s one of my favorite things about the Catholic church, that on any given day, in any given place in the whole world, everyone is reading and meditating upon the same passages from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms.

The green part is called Ordinary time, but we shouldn’t be deceived by the word. It’s the time between Easter and Christmas, and Christmas and Easter. This “ordinary time” is necessary time. It gives us the time to prepare our hearts and work on ourselves, over and over, year after year. The normal days are the ones that decide how we react in trial or triumph.

God, in our difficulty give us the courage and strength to hold fast to your promises, that even if I forget all you have taught me so far, I never forget that you are wholly trustworthy and good. Help me to cultivate a love and respect for the ordinary and what seem like boring times of my life. Help us all to remember that you purposely chose to give us this day in particular; you did not have to. No matter our situation there is a purpose and a plan for every minute.

If you, dear reader, have an attitude like mine sometimes, please know you are definitely not alone, more than that, remember our feelings are fickle and fleeting. And nothing else in the world can correctly re-route your thoughts like the Holy Spirit. I pray that whatever is on your heart today, you can gather the courage to lay it at the foot of the cross. And might I recommend this sermon? It comforted me, and I hope it does no end of good for you too!

Submitting My Desires to Him

 

All the Psalms are wonderful because they are so honest and perfectly applicable to human experience in any day and age. But one of my favorites is Psalm 73 because it describes something that I encounter almost daily: unbelievers who “don’t need” God.

It’s the challenge of a lifetime to live “in the world, but not of it”. I’m still a regular girl who wants all the normal things: a husband, children, a home. But how do I act when I see others with the the very things I desire so much? Why does it seem like everyone else gets whatever they want, especially the people who lead lives contrary to God’s purpose? And why do I have to fight against my selfish thoughts all day everyday — and be happy about it?

They do everything that I daily fight against doing, and they get away with it. From barely noticeable lies and cheating, to the “larger” things like stealing and killing. Sure, I would love to devote my life to writing whatever I want, or traveling everywhere under the sun, or spending tons of money and time on makeup and fashion. But I don’t.

I can’t, not with the thought of Jesus on the cross. Since He has made me a new creation I know that I have a higher standard to live to (2 Corinthians 5:17). Knowing what I know, my conscience is sensitive to every single move and decision I make.

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. ~Philippians 1:27

I have to constantly reprimand desires that don’t fit with God’s Word. From the things we put in and on our bodies, to the things we allow to seep into our minds, to the desires of our hearts, we can’t help it, but the world provides a gleaming array of temptations. When I can’t have something, I feel sorry for myself and whine at God like a toddler who’s been denied candy before dinner. Just like the speaker in Psalm 73:21-22, “My heart was grieved and my spirit was embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you”.

But I have something that these people don’t have – through my faith in Jesus, I know that I am clean before God. I have to bring myself again to a place of submission in my heart, so that I understand once again who God is: Good, Holy, Wise, Perfect Planner of My Life. If only I can get back to this knowledge as soon as possible I know that I will never spend too much time in this sinful attitude of envy.

Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ~1 Corinthians 6:11

Today, I pray in a special way for you who ache over things you can’t have because it’s simply not in God’s plan for you right now. I pray that you will seek peace by submitting your heart’s desires to Him. Come close to Him and he will comfort you.