Reliance

To my followers – I follow this blog, and those of you from Bear Creek will find this completely in line with our four week journey into prayer. Carol

-Word- pictures by DLink

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Faith is not something tangible to be taken like medicine.  It is an attitude of trusting and believing.  But even our ability to believe is a gift from God.  No matter how much faith we have, we never reach the point of being self-sufficient.  Faith is not stored away like money in the bank.  Growing in faith is a constant process of daily renewing our trust in Jesus.

Jesus was telling the disciples that they would face difficult situations that could be resolved only through prayer.  Prayer is the key that unlocks faith in our lives.  Effective prayer needs both an attitude-complete dependence-and an action-asking.  Prayer demonstrates our reliance on God as we humbly invite God to fill us with faith and power.  There is no substitute for prayer, especially in circumstances that seem unconquerable.  

Commentary from The One Year NIV Devotional New Testament, (2003), Tyndale House Publishers…

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Transformed, Not Conformed

Sounds like our current day culture, doesn’t it?

-Word- pictures by DLink

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The Apostle Paul lived in an age when sensuality, the pursuit of pleasure, and rebellion against the Lord were prevalent.  In response, he wrote letters urging Christians not to follow in the ways of the world.  Like those early believers, we are to pursue godliness by…

Presenting our bodies to God.  Our total being-mind, will, physical body, personality, and emotions-are to be turned over to our heavenly Father (James 4:7).  Submitting ourselves to the Lord requires both a definite decision to give Him control and a daily commitment to remain under His authority.  By surrendering to Him, we position ourselves for godly living.

Becoming living sacrifices.  The Christian life is built around the concept of sacrifice.  Jesus left the perfection of heaven to dwell among a sinful people so He might reconcile us to God.  He offered up His life for our sake-to make payment for our sins…

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Nominal Religion: Legalism

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As we put aside the discussion on religiosity and hypocrisy, it’s time to uncover the scourge of legalism. Coming from the minds of Christian men and women, many supposed religious rituals, rules, and traditions border on legalism. Paul taught about the obstacle of strict adherence to the law rather than the spirit in Colossians 2:20-23:

“Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

In this context, Paul is teaching those who were authentically converted to the teachings of Christ. In today’s culture, Paul might have said, “I know it’s a hard thing to do, but you shouldn’t live “socially and politically correct,” because now you are living a new life in Christ Jesus.” When we’ve grown up keeping “correctness” at the forefront of our minds, we are walking the beaten path of doing life as others see fit. We fall back into the oft repeated phrase of “that’s what you do,” and expect others to do the same. At this point, we could call ourselves “Trump-ed up talking heads,” or false teachers (pun intended). We are not the Lawgiver.

Therefore, to expound excessively about our own version of God’s perfect law at the intersection of judge and jury is putting ourselves above the law, as if we are the judges. Typical of C. S. Lewis, he injects a bit of wit and humor when he talks about the Christian rule of chastity in his book, Mere Christianity. Comparing his Animal self to his Diabolical self, he says “That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.”

Yes, it is better to be neither.

Until next time…

 

Nominal Religion: Rebelling Against God

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Understanding hypocrisy and religiosity as they pertain to nominal religion is only the beginning. The Bible has much to add, in which the writers used metaphors and figures of speech to get a point across. In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon gives lectures:

“A troublemaker and a villain, who goes about with a corrupt mouth, who winks maliciously with his eye, signals with his feet and motions with his fingers, who plots evil with deceit in his heart— he always stirs up conflict. Therefore disaster will overtake him in an instant; he will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy (Proverbs 6:12-15).

In this passage, it seems as though Solomon is describing a naughty boy. On the other hand, he might be metaphorically depicting an adult to make a point of showing the insincerity of self-styled religion — a person who leads others astray. A person who is rebelling against God.

The hypocrisy of those who try to create God’s will and spread false doctrine is a facade. Their concern is not about true and deep faith, but about money, popularity, and a way of boosting their self-esteem. Sometimes the media covers “doomsday believers” who say they know exactly when the world will end. What better way to get free publicity than to promote oneself by distorting the power of God’s will?

Rebelling against God, we all try to guide our lives with our own hands. Many times that seems to work perfectly. However, in God’s eyes, our rebellion—no matter how small—is incorrigible. Our sin separates us from him causing the wounds of sin to decay. And yet — we have an abiding hope found in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Still, we rebel. We take a “hum ho” approach toward our rebellion and sin. Thinking our rebellion won’t matter—because we’re saved—is like slapping God about his face and leaving him with handprints of sorrow. Shouldn’t we be responding to God’s love with love?

Until next time…

Nominal Religion: Religiosity

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When I think of religious excess, I call it religiosity. Some hypocrites, pious and judgmental people suffer from religiosity. Pointing fingers, they talk about people whose values don’t fit theirs. Their motivations aren’t always pure, and their political agenda is usually far to the right. A hypocrite preaches one thing and does another. Self-righteous and obsessed with looking virtuous, pious, and judgmental people don’t usually sit at the table of reason and reality. Nevertheless, we all carry the religiosity banner at one time or another.

So although we are living in our own historical time and place, just as Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, he also spoke to us: “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds” (Matthew 23:27-28, The Message).

The term “religiosity” applies to people who shift their faith away from God in favor of religion. Driven by individual beliefs, many focus on religious acts, while God takes a subordinate role in the person’s life, which is the opposite of what God wants from us. He wants us to follow him, not promote religion – to engage in a new life, not a new religion.

In his Letters and Papers from Prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer questioned human religiosity as a point of contact for the gospel. After reading Bonhoeffer’s views, I concluded that our point of contact for the gospel is the God-man Jesus Christ who lived among us and suffered at the hands of those people whose claims to religion were false.

Do we want our faith to be about religious rules and rituals, human ideology, and self-appointed beliefs? Or would we prefer to immerse ourselves in a life-giving relationship with our creator who changes us and makes us new? Baptism, being a good person and citizen, obeying the law, and sharing our resources with the poor do not make a relationship with the living God. When we make a decision for God, we don’t just become a Christian—we become a child of God.

Until next time…

Nominal Religion: Extremism is Nothing New

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As a visitor on The Today Show, the violinist Isaac Stern spoke about his good friend, Irving Berlin shortly after Berlin passed away. Talking about the songwriter’s philosophy of life, Stern described it as simplistic, comprised of three existential phrases: life and death, loneliness and love, hope and defeat. At first glance, we might see two opposite lives, best described as either savory or bitter. One or the other. However, our lives are complex and filled with conflicting experiences, emotions, and uncertainty. So I question Stern’s assessment of Berlin’s supposed outlook on life. Perceptions about life—our own or another’s—depend greatly on our view of ourselves, culture and its changes, the world, and subsequent consequences.

From the moment we are born, we snuggle into our mother’s breast as she feeds us. Feeling the warmth and comfort of human connection, we want it to last forever. However, once we reach adulthood, life can be either satisfying or a mundane existence for some, while others long for more than the world can give. Our everyday existence has periods of loneliness and defeat, no matter who we are. Illness, divorce, loss of a loved one, financial stress, and distrust of the government take their toll. Nevertheless, and in spite of what we may think—these hardships are nothing new.

In some ways, the events in the evolution of Christianity, such as violence, tyranny, and ignorance to the teachings of Christ are similar to today’s woes. In ancient times, extremism over differing opinions about interpretations of the Bible brought chaos into a graceless society. Furthermore, there were times when Christian scholars’ suffered from ridicule, and in some cases, lost their lives. So as we look at the disconnect between nominal religion and authentic faith, let’s not forget what we’ve learned about Christian history, ourselves, human nature, and the world around us.

Until next time…

 

God’s Attribute of Will

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God’s will determines and causes certain activities and actions, in accordance with and for the benefit of humanity and his purposes. God created us according to his will, for his pleasure, for his purposes, and for eternity. Therefore, when our circumstances change, positively or adversely, we can faithfully abide in whatever comes our way, because we know from God’s other attributes, that his will knows truthfully what is best for us and what he has purposed for us to accomplish. By looking at God’s will as a constant and eternal tool—we evaluate ourselves through the eyes of God—and we let him use us within the context of the world, and all its problems.

Jesus’ brother James encourages us to see all the events of our lives as subject to God’s will. In his letter to first-century Jewish Christians, he wrote, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ To those who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain,’ James says, ‘You do not know about tomorrow… Instead you ought to say, ‘if the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that'” (James 4:13-15).

How many times do we make plans for the future, only to have them disintegrate before our eyes? God’s will doesn’t lead us astray, but don’t get the wrong idea. For example, someone might say, “Well it’s up to God, so I will wait on him to send me a job.” This is silly and shortsighted. God expects us to be active in his will for us. A job doesn’t materialize from God’s will—we have to apply for a job.

Further, in our response to tragic events, such as 911, we should not say, “Well … it must have been God’s will for that to happen.” The blame for the tragic events of 911 does not fall on God or God’s will—these increasing random acts of violence are the result of sin.

God’s will, like everything else about him, is a bit more complex than what we think. It constitutes a “variety of wills” all rolled in to one. For example, God’s necessary will evolves from and includes all that he must cause according to his nature—while his free will has no such prerequisite obligations. He chooses according to his pleasure and purposes. In addition to necessary and free will, God also has secret will and revealed will.

Think about the times you will yourself to do something, such as get more exercise, or quit smoking—but choose not to tell anyone beforehand. Or you may will yourself to further your education or search for a different job and tell your family and friends. Knowing that these examples aren’t consistent with God’s secret and revealed will, they do help us understand.

Furthermore, Scripture speaks to God’s secret and revealed wills. For example, in Deuteronomy 29:29 we read, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” From this passage, we glean two things: (1) God has every right to keep secret whatever he chooses to keep secret, and (2) God is sympathetic to our need for guidance. Therefore, he reveals those things needed to live within his will.

It’s not so surprising that God’s will is comprised of many different aspects. On the other hand, in spite of his complexities, he presents us with straightforward guidance in the Bible, and we respond through our faith.

Until next time…