life

(Ab)Normal Christianity

Photo credit: unsplash_RBenad Moving to Indonesia I thought I would learn how to live a normal Christian life, an ordinary Christian life. A lifestyle that instinctively turns to God for guidance. 

A mind-set where, above all, my heart was set on Christ in all things. This would be my default.

I thought my time in Indonesia would reprogram my brain so my natural instincts were for God, a pretty noble desire if I do say so myself.

A noble desire

Now, I am not so sure it's how things work. Of course, I think it is good, possible, and appropriate to place God above all else in our hearts and minds, and have our actions follow suit.

However, I am not convinced that Lordship and obedience are as natural or instinctive as I hoped, and I don’t think that is a bad thing.

If, indeed, there is no greater love than a man laying down his life for a friend (John 15:13), then love requires sacrifice, a non-instinctive sacrifice.

We are self-preserving creatures. To lay down our lives, to give up control, hand over the reigns, to love, all these actions are in direct opposition to our instinct of self-preservation.

If our worship is offering ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1) and loving Jesus is obeying him (John 14:15) despite what our flesh (selfish nature), our society, our instincts are leaning towards.

Maybe Christian living is never normal

Maybe Christian living is denying what is normal, despite emotions, desires, instincts, or conventional wisdom.

I see this in the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ. He pleads with God to take the "cup" of the cross away from Him (Mark 14:36). Everything in Him, including His instincts, scream for another way. 

Instead, He refuses to give in. He is obedient to the Father, not his instincts as a man.

Christ's amazing love

How much more do we feel Christ’s amazing love because of his obedience instead of giving into an alternate route?

When everything in Him said no, He said yes—yes to the Father. He said yes for us! What an amazing sacrifice!

I also believe the reciprocal is true. When we are obedient to the Lord through the Holy Spirit, though everything in us is saying no and looking for an alternative, I believe the Father receives a little bit of that same love his Son poured out on the cross 2000 years ago when we deny our self.

Maybe we should view our battle against the flesh, our instincts and our desire, more as a platform to show our gratefulness to our Saviour and to love Him in a fraction of the way he loved us.

Maybe I was defining the term normal Christian life more as an easy Christian life. Maybe such a life does not exist, because it is contradictory to our nature.

To oppose our selfish nature, our instincts, and have victory in the Holy Spirit is our way of loving God just as Christ loved us. Obviously, on a much different scale, yet, what a privilege it is to return a fraction of that amazing love.

Not by our own strength

By no means do I believe we are to oppose our flesh (selfish nature) by our own strength, that would be ridiculous!

How are we to oppose the flesh with our own strength, which is by nature selfish? It is counterproductive. Rather, our greatest weapon is surrender. Surrender to the Spirit.

Therein lies the battle. The Spirit defeating our selfish nature is the easy part. The Spirit of God conquered death—by knockout in the first round. It wasn’t even close. God beats anything and everything else, every time. He is the heavyweight champion.

The battle is surrendering our spirit and our will to Him. Yielding ourselves to God. Nothing about this is normal.

Anything but normal

Normal is popping on a pair of overalls every time I face an obstacle and going to work. If I am too weak, I go to the gym, not smart enough, I head to school. But I will overcome. Me.

Victory in Christ is completely opposite. Victory in Christ is admitting defeat in the natural, surrendering, then saying "I am incapable on my own, but with Christ the victory is mine." It is counterintuitive to our instincts, it is contrary to conventional wisdom, but it is Lordship in motion.

Surrendering our self to Jesus recognizes who our King of Kings really is and allows Him to take His rightful place in our life. This is worship and victory all rolled up into one package.

Now, I am not trying to obtain a normal instinctive Christian walk, I am allowing Christ in me to oppose the norm. Now what I see as normal Christianity is anything but normal.


This is a guest post by Cole H who is a missionary with YWAM in Indonesia.

No Longer Required

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Religion is viewed by many to be restrictive. It certainly can be. "Religion is just a bunch of do's and don'ts," people will say.

But God desires something beyond an attempt to keep a list of rights and wrongs.

Scripture

For the choir director: A psalm of David.

I waited patiently for the lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.

He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the lord.

Oh, the joys of those who trust the lord, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols.

O  lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them. [vss 1-5]

You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings. Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand— you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.

Then I said, “Look, I have come. As is written about me in the Scriptures: I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart.”

 I have told all your people about your justice. I have not been afraid to speak out, as you, O  lord, well know.

I have not kept the good news of your justice hidden in my heart; I have talked about your faithfulness and saving power. I have told everyone in the great assembly of your unfailing love and faithfulness. [vss 6-10]

Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me. Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me.

For troubles surround me—too many to count! My sins pile up so high I can’t see my way out. They outnumber the hairs on my head. I have lost all courage.

Please, lord, rescue me! Come quickly, lord, and help me.

May those who try to destroy me be humiliated and put to shame. May those who take delight in my trouble be turned back in disgrace. Let them be horrified by their shame, for they said, “Aha! We’ve got him now!”

But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “The lord is great!”

As for me, since I am poor and needy, let the Lord keep me in his thoughts. You are my helper and my savior. O my God, do not delay. [vss 11-17]

(Psalm 40:1-17 NLT) [Context– Psalm 40]

Key phrase— Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord

[bctt tweet="Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How does this psalm begin? What does the psalmist (David) rejoice about? What does he say about the Lord?

What does the Lord not take delight in or require? What does bring joy and why is this what God desires?

What specific things has David told people about the Lord?

What are David's two requests and why does he make them? What blessing is given near the ending?

Reflection...

This psalm has many different literary elements (see Psalms Study Guide). It begins with a testimony of God's rescue and declarations of God's greatness. It ends with requests for God's help and a blessing.

In the middle is a declaration by David that is prophetic. He speaks to the heart of what God desires, but in the voice of Jesus the Messiah, as noted in Hebrews 10:5-7 (also see Luke 24:44).

God isn't interested in sacrifices and offerings, though required by the Law of Moses, He desires trust and obedience from the heart.

Jesus came as the ultimate atoning sacrifice for humanity's rebellion towards God. His coming was foretold centuries before He came, but the nation of Israel did not accept it.

He will come a second time and those who've experienced His mercy and faithfulness are to proclaim the freedom found in Jesus to others until He returns.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Do you feel burdened and restricted by things you should or shouldn't do? If so, why?

Have you experienced the freedom of God's mercy and grace in your life?

If so, in what specific ways have you experienced the Lord's mercy and faithfulness in your life?

Has the Lord put a "new song" in your heart? Do you share what God's done in your life with others?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

A Whisper in the Wind

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No one wants to suffer. But suffering is a reality of life on earth, and suffering comes in many forms.

When suffering comes we all ask why—Why must this be? How long will it last?

It may be of no immediate comfort, but know this—suffering has a way of grabbing us, of getting our full attention.

Scripture

For the choir director; for Jeduthun; a psalm by David.

I said, “I will watch my ways so that I do not sin with my tongue. I will bridle my mouth while wicked people are in my presence.”

I remained totally speechless. I kept silent, although it did me no good. While I was deep in thought, my pain grew worse.

My heart burned like a fire flaring up within me. Then I spoke with my tongue:

“Teach me, O Lord, about the end of my life. Teach me about the number of days I have left so that I may know how temporary my life is. Indeed, you have made the length of my days ⌊only⌋ a few inches. My life span is nothing compared to yours. Certainly, everyone alive is like a whisper in the wind. Selah [vss 1-5]

Each person who walks around is like a shadow. They are busy for no reason. They accumulate riches without knowing who will get them.”

And now, Lord, what am I waiting for? My hope is in you!

Rescue me from all my rebellious acts. Do not disgrace me in front of godless fools. I remained speechless. I did not open my mouth because you are the one who has done this.

Remove the sickness you laid upon me. My life is over because you struck me with your hand.

With stern warnings you discipline people for their crimes. Like a moth you eat away at what is dear to them. Certainly, everyone is like a whisper in the wind. Selah [vss 6-11]

Listen to my prayer, O Lord. Open your ear to my cry for help. Do not be deaf to my tears, for I am a foreign resident with you, a stranger like all my ancestors.

Look away from me so that I may smile again before I go away and am no more. [vss 12-13]

(Psalm 39:1-13 GW) [Context– Psalm 39]

Key phrase— Certainly, everyone alive is like a whisper in the wind

[bctt tweet="Everyone alive is like a whisper in the wind" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How does the psalmist begin to describe his situation?

What does he say after the pain grows worse? What does he ask God to teach him?

How is a typical life described? How is this description applied to people and their daily lives?

What is the request at the end of this prayerful psalm? What does he hope for?

Reflection...

Determining the purpose of suffering, whatever kind it is, isn't simple. C.S. Lewis' famous quote gives some insight—

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

This psalm helps us see it from a different view. Life on this earth is temporary. But life and hope in God are eternal.

No one wants to die, but every one of us will die. Even people who take their own life don't want to die, they've just given up hope.

We all need a living hope beyond the whisper of life on earth. Hope is better than cynicism, fatalism, or nihilism.

It's easy to get caught up in everyday tasks and pursuits, but there's no final, satisfying destination. Yet, when we see how short and fragile life is it humbles us. At least, it ought to humble us.

Real hope is grounded in a relationship of trust in God, the Creator of life. David knew this from experience, even in the darkest of times.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Do you ever feel life is futile, almost purposeless?

When you struggle with pain, physical or emotional, how do you cope with it?

How do you view life in general? Have you come to realize how life is precious yet fragile?

Do you take time each day to appreciate the life God gave you?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

The Desires of the Heart

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We all want life to make sense and to have purpose. Yet, many things that take place in the world and impact our life bewilder us.

We have no control over most of what goes on around us. The more out of control life seems the more we want to get things under control.

But we can't control others, nor can we set everything in order around us. And yet, we have options.

Scripture

Of David

Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. [vss 1-4]

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. [vss 5-9]

(Psalm 37:1-9 NIV) [Context– Psalm 37]

Key phrase— Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart 

[bctt tweet="Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What are we not to worry about and who should we not envy? Why is this so?

What are we to do? What are the specific things we're encouraged to do?

What are the results we can expect when we do these things?

What is the final thing we're encouraged to do? How do you think we are to do this?

Reflection...

When life around us seems overwhelming, we tend to do one of two things. We try to take actions to bring things into order, or we withdraw to hide from it all.

The first thing often leads to frustration, while the second brings a sense of hopelessness.

Looking to the Lord for what we can't control helps us gain perspective on it all. Setting our mind and heart to trust the Lord this way brings internal peace and order.

But how can we do this when we're overwhelmed? It's not something we do once and it's finished. It involves a commitment and consistency to continue doing what we know in our heart to be right and true and good.

The psalmist gives ways to do this, which are expanded on in the rest of the psalm. Each one results in some type of blessing from the Lord.

Here are those five ways to overcome what we cannot control—

  1. Trust in the Lord and do good (verse 3)
  2. Take delight in the Lord (verse 4)
  3. Commit your way to the Lord (verse 5)
  4. Be still before the Lord (verse 7)
  5. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath (verse 8)

In my next post, I'll unpack these five things a bit more, so check back!

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Are there times when you're frustrated and angry about the state of things in your life or the world around you?

When do you feel most overwhelmed? What seems to trigger this, or precede this sense of being overwhelmed?

How do you handle angry feelings, worry, frustration, or fears? Are you able to bring these feelings to the Lord in prayer?

How often do you try to settle your heart and mind by trusting your concerns with the Lord? 


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Mercy and Faithfulness

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It use to be that you could easily tell the good guys from the bad ones. In older western movies, the good guys wore white hats.

But the public image is not always the private reality. Nowadays, image and branding have become an important industry. Much emphasis is put on projecting the right public persona.

No matter how a person appears on the outside, the heart of a person reveals their true self. God is far more concerned with the heart of a person than their image. If we're wise, we ought to be as well.

Scripture

For the choir director; by David, the Lord’s servant.

There is an inspired truth about the wicked person who has rebellion in the depths of his heart: He is not terrified of God.

He flatters himself and does not hate or ⌊even⌋ recognize his guilt. The words from his mouth are ⌊nothing but⌋ trouble and deception.

He has stopped doing what is wise and good. He invents trouble while lying on his bed and chooses to go the wrong direction. He does not reject evil. [vss 1-4]

O Lord, your mercy reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God, your judgments like the deep ocean. You save people and animals, O Lord.

Your mercy is so precious, O God, that Adam’s descendants take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They are refreshed with the rich foods in your house, and you make them drink from the river of your pleasure. 

Indeed, the fountain of life is with you. In your light we see light. [vss 5-9]

Continue to show your mercy to those who know you and your righteousness to those whose motives are decent.

Do not let the feet of arrogant people step on me or the hands of wicked people push me away.  Look at the troublemakers who have fallen. They have been pushed down and are unable to stand up again. [vss 10-12]

(Psalm 36:1-12 GW) [Context– Psalm 36]

Key phrase— O Lord, your mercy reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies

[bctt tweet="O Lord, your mercy reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How is the "wicked person" characterized? What does this person do and not do?

How do all these descriptions reveal the core problem of someone who is wicked?

How is the Lord described in contrast to the wicked? How do the images used make these descriptions more vivid and memorable?

What are the benefits for those who are not in rebellion, but trust in the Lord?

Reflection...

Most people have difficulty with faith in God, because He's not readily visible. We want to see Him to believe in Him. One of Jesus' followers, Thomas, was of the same mindset (John 20:25).

Yet, many things are accepted and believed in that aren't visible, such as thoughts or gravity. Thoughts are made known through words, and we all experience the effects and impact of the earth's gravity.

Faith in God is similar. We know about God through the words and experiences of others, but also the intelligent design of the natural world (creation).

In a similar way, a person's heart is revealed by their words and actions. This is true for each of us and in relation to one another.

When we find ourselves filled with pride and deception without a sense of guilt, it's time to change the direction of our life. This often requires God helping us change our heart to make wiser choices.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

What is your typical response to flattery (of any kind), deception, and wrong-doing?

How do you handle guilt? Do you learn from it or ignore it?

Are you aware of and appreciate God's great mercy and faithfulness?

Do you have a healthy respect for God's power and righteousness?


Here's a link to a favorite song of ours taken from Psalm 36– Your Love Oh Lord (but skip the ad ;-)


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Anger & Favor–Weeping & Joy

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Perspective is valuable. It provides a visual context, whether it's a mental or actual picture of something. A reference point is needed to have an accurate perspective.

If the reference point is false or inaccurate, the perspective will be distorted. So, a true perspective needs a true reference point.

Life has its ups and downs, so having a good sense of perspective is important if you don't want your life to be an emotional rollercoaster.

Scripture

A psalm by David sung at the dedication of the temple.

I will honor you highly, O Lord, because you have pulled me out ⌊of the pit⌋ and have not let my enemies rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried out to you for help, and you healed me.  O Lord, you brought me up from the grave. You called me back to life from among those who had gone into the pit. [vss 1-3]

Make music to praise the Lord, you faithful people who belong to him. Remember his holiness by giving thanks. His anger lasts only a moment. His favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping may last for the night, but there is a song of joy in the morning. [vss 4-5]

When all was well with me, I said, “I will never be shaken.” O Lord, by your favor you have made my mountain stand firm. When you hid your face, I was terrified. I will cry out to you, O Lord. I will plead to the Lord for mercy: “How will you profit if my blood is shed, if I go into the pit? Will the dust ⌊of my body⌋ give thanks to you? Will it tell about your truth?” [vss 6-9]

Hear, O Lord, and have pity on me! O Lord, be my helper! You have changed my sobbing into dancing. You have removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy so that my soul may praise you with music and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. [vss 10-12]

(Psalm 30:1-12 GW) [Context– Psalm 30]

Key phrase— Weeping may last for the night, but there is a song of joy in the morning

[bctt tweet="Weeping may last for the night, but there is a song of joy in the morning" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What are three (3) things David is thankful for?

What is the encouragement given about anger, favor, weeping, and joy?

How would you describe the prayerful dialog between David and the Lord?

What great change did the Lord bring in David's life that he's thankful for?

Reflection...

King David personally experienced God's great favor and kindness in many ways during his life. Not just when things were good, but even in times of personal failure.

David understood that God's favor was based on his relationship of trust in God. He learned to trust God in times of great trial and testing.

Because he had these real reference points of experiencing God's favor in his life, David was able to maintain a clear perspective. He knew he could trust God in all situations and circumstances.

He knew what it was like to move from sorrow and despair into a time of joy and celebration, because of God's faithfulness, not his own.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Have you experienced God pulling you out of darkness into His light and life?

Do you take time and make time to thank the Lord for His faithfulness in your life?

How has the Lord restored you after a time of failure or testing?

Have you shared with others about God's gracious work in your life?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Opposites Attract

Photo credit: lightstock.com Bless those who persecute you. Bless them, and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy. Be sad with those who are sad. 

Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be arrogant, but be friendly to humble people. Don’t think that you are smarter than you really are. (‭Romans‬ ‭12:‭14-16‬ (GW)


Life in the Kingdom of God is different from the kingdom of this world. The world around us is governed by selfish values and priorities, while Jesus calls His followers to deny themselves.

Often, our expectations of others are unrealistic. As Christian believers, we can't expect the world around us—people, companies, governments, and so on—to have the same values and worldview we do.

This sets up paradoxical situations in life, things that seem at odds with one another. This clash of values should be expected. And yet, when we live our lives in contradiction to what surrounds us each day, it creates an attractiveness to our way of life.

When we bless instead of curse others, we reflect the very nature of Jesus. When we choose humility over arrogance, it disarms people.

Expressing joy rather than jealousy when others are blessed makes us a joy to be around. Showing compassion for people at times of grief builds trust and valued relationships.

The key to harmony in life with others is often as simple as compassion, graciousness, and humility on our part. ©Word-Strong_2016

3 Simple Observations and Truths

unsplash-stainglass_maninpew_KFredrickson-compressor Something was missing. At first, I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew a significant shift took place in the fifteen years I lived overseas.

It wasn't one specific thing, but an accumulative process that brought this shift. "What happened," I wondered?

It wasn't so much what happened as what didn't happen.

Something missing

My first indicator was the general biblical ignorance that existed.

This was puzzling. More biblical teaching was available, in more ways, than when I moved overseas (1990).

Resources for biblical studies had multiplied, through books, audio, video, and online products. There was plenty to choose from and the consumer-oriented American Christian wanted more of it.

But with all that was available, something was missing.

[bctt tweet="A general biblical ignorance exists and it's not for lack of resources" username="tkbeyond"]

Was it community? Or leadership? Or commitment? Yes to all the above and more. But why?

A pattern

It finally dawned on me that what was common in the '70's and 80's was lacking in the new millennium.

Intentional, relational discipleship was a primary element of the Jesus People Movement of the late '60's into the '70's. It was a natural, organic if you will, element embedded by God.

It didn't just happen by itself, but it wasn't a well-outlined curriculum or program. That came later.

[bctt tweet="Intentional, relational discipleship was a primary element of the Jesus People Movement" username="tkbeyond"]

This seems to be a pattern with us humans.

God does something sovereign and dynamic, then we try to systematize it. We try to codify and quantify it—axioms, rules, and numbers—in order to replicate it. In doing this, we end up stifling whatever God did or is doing.

The process of replication needs to reproduce disciple-makers, not a program.

The human-effect turns a movement of God into an institution. We try to organize the spiritual dynamic or life of the movement, which quenches the river of life God sets in motion, by attempting to channel or contain it.

“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." (Jeremiah 2:13 NIV)

Not a spiritual growth program

Discipleship is not a spiritual growth program. It's not a follow-up or aftercare program for those who've said the sinner's prayer.

Discipleship is the natural progression of evangelism. They aren't synonymous, but they aren't separate either. Robert Coleman's classic book, Master Plan of Evangelism, makes this clear.

[bctt tweet="Discipleship ought to be the natural progression of evangelism" username="tkbeyond"]

This isn't rocket science, as they say. A person doesn't need a degree nor professional training to be a disciple-maker. Nor does a disciple-maker need a title or official role.

Yes, a disciple-maker needs to be grounded in the truth of God's Word and led by God's Spirit, but they don't need a certificate to make them an authorized disciple-maker.

[bctt tweet="Discipleship is not a spiritual growth program" username="tkbeyond"]

3 simple observations

  1. Discipleship is not a cognitive skill to be learned or taught—it's a way of life.
  2. Discipleship is a life with purpose—that purpose is revealed as the person is discipled.
  3. Discipleship requires some type of challenge to pursue the goal—the goal is following Jesus and being transformed by the Holy Spirit.

3 simple truths

  1. The Lord Jesus saw discipleship as an intentional, relational process. It's not a phase, but an integrated whole. Discipleship is following Jesus with a community of believers—Matt 16:24; John 8:31-32; Acts 2:42-47.
  2. Discipleship is the pastoral responsibility of the church. Not the institution or corporation, but the community of believers under the Lordship of Jesus and led by the Holy Spirit. This is made clear in Ezekiel 34:1-24, and by Jesus in John 10:7-16.
  3. Discipleship is the community-based process of sanctification. This is shared pastoral care among a community of believers. It's not relegated to one leader or a select group of leaders, although leadership is important. It is a shared commitment of each believer to one another—John 8:34-36; Acts 4:32-35; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.

[bctt tweet="Discipleship is following Jesus with a community of believers" username="tkbeyond"]

This is not all that can be said about the subject, far from it!

Do you need more insight on any of the 3 observations or truth above? Let me know!

But, it's my hope these simple, brief observations and truths help confirm whatever God may be stirring in your own heart.

So... What is God stirring in your heart about discipleship and following Jesus?

Let me know, and thanks for reading and sharing this post!

A Living Sacrifice

Photo credit: lightstock.com Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (‭Romans‬ ‭12:1-2‬ (NIV)


The concept of sacrifice is obscure to most people in western cultures, by choice. In a world filled with mystical images and animation, how could it be otherwise?

More and more people have a hard time distinguishing between the imaginary and real. Self image (selfies anyone?), along with physical power and beauty, is idealized and idolized. We want to escape pain, risk, and loss of any kind, not embrace such things.

In a sense, we want to be worshipped, not worship someone else.

It's no wonder that offering our bodies as a living sacrifice doesn't appeal to most people. But this exhortation points us (believers) back to Jesus, to remember His life poured out so we could have and know true life.

How can we ...offer our bodies as a living sacrifice? By swimming upstream against the flow of popular culture, not conform to it.

It's a choice—an act of free will—to choose what is pleasing to God, rather than pleasing ourselves or others. Choosing to be transformed by God's truth and Spirit, rather than conforming to what everyone else and the culture around us chooses. This results in true and proper worship of God.

Want to know God's will for your life? Consider God's great mercy, then surrender your whole life to Him. This is what He chooses for those who follow His Son. ©Word-Strong_2016

One Thing You Lack

Photo credit: unsplash.com_CStMerc We all view people and the world around us in different ways. It’s called a worldview. We see through certain filters, and these filters affect how we see things. They reflect our biases and our point of view.

For example, we size people up based on our own perceived status. We see people as richer or poorer than us, skinnier or fatter, more intelligent or less intelligent, and well, you get the idea.

A rich young man

The story of the rich young ruler who questioned Jesus about eternal life has three points of view—Jesus’, the young ruler’s, and ours.

Our view may be similar to that of the disciples or the young man. But it’s nearly impossible for us to see things from Jesus’ point of view.

“Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’”—Mark 10:21 (NKJV)

In fact, many of us grapple with what Jesus tells this young man. It hits home, especially for us Americans. We are quite wealthy compared to most of the world, and we have a lot of stuff.

Too much stuff!

How much stuff do we have?

So much that it requires more than 2.3 billion square feet in 60,000 self-storage buildings. (These are statistics from 2009.) That’s a lot of stuff!

The average American has a lot in common with the rich young ruler.

Look at what Jesus says first: “One thing you lack . . .” This young man lacked little in worldly possessions, but he didn’t have what he wanted.

So Jesus tells him to sell what he has and give it to the poor, and this would bring him treasure in Heaven.

Couldn't let go

The rich, young ruler went away sad. His possessions were too costly for him to give up.

He couldn’t let go of them—even for the one thing he really wanted—eternal life.

When Jesus looked at the young man, the Bible says He loved him. Jesus knew what He told the man to do would be hard, but He did so out of love for him.

If we believe Jesus loves us, then we need to take this to heart. When we say we’ll follow Jesus as His disciples, are we willing to exchange what we have for what He gives us?

Here are a few questions and a challenge or two—

  • How much “stuff” do you have?
  • Are you willing to part with any of it? If so, how much?
  • Take a simple inventory of what you own and ask yourself how much of it owns you?
  • Try giving something away this week, and see how difficult it is to do.
    • If it’s pretty easy, keep at it. And if it’s hard, keep at it!

This was originally published on the Daily Devo blog of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale. Here's the original post– One Thing You Lack

Humility and Trust

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Where do you go when life seems to close in on you? Who can you turn to and trust when your heart is troubled and you feel isolated and alone?

The circumstances of life may seem random, but the Lord's faithfulness is constant, continuous, and he can be trusted at all times.

He alone can make sense of what seems like chaos and randomness. When a person is willing to humble themselves and trust in the Lord, He will reveal the purpose of His ways.

Scripture

By David.

To you, O Lord, I lift my soul. I trust you, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame. Do not let my enemies triumph over me. No one who waits for you will ever be put to shame, but all who are unfaithful will be put to shame. [vss 1-3]

Make your ways known to me, O Lord, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me because you are God, my savior. I wait all day long for you. Remember, O Lord, your compassionate and merciful deeds. They have existed from eternity. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my rebellious ways. Remember me, O Lord, in keeping with your mercy and your goodness. [vss 4-7]

The Lord is good and decent. That is why he teaches sinners the way they should live. He leads humble people to do what is right, and he teaches them his way. Every path of the Lord is ⌊one of⌋ mercy and truth for those who cling to his promise and written instructions. For the sake of your name, O Lord, remove my guilt, because it is great. [vss 8-11]

Who, then, is this person that fears the Lord? He is the one whom the Lord will teach which path to choose. He will enjoy good things in life, and his descendants will inherit the land. The Lord advises those who fear him. He reveals to them the intent of his promise. My eyes are always on the Lord. He removes my feet from traps. [vss 12-15]

Turn to me, and have pity on me. I am lonely and oppressed. Relieve my troubled heart, and bring me out of my distress. Look at my misery and suffering, and forgive all my sins. See how my enemies have increased in number, how they have hated me with vicious hatred! [vss 16-19]

Protect my life, and rescue me! Do not let me be put to shame. I have taken refuge in you. Integrity and honesty will protect me because I wait for you. Rescue Israel, O God, from all its troubles! [vss 20-22]

(Psalm 25:1-22 GW) [Context– Psalm 25]

Key phrase— Make your ways known to me, O Lord, and teach me your paths

[bctt tweet="Make your ways known to me, O Lord, and teach me your paths" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How does this prayerful psalm begin? What is said in confident trust, and what is requested?

What does David ask God to remember? What does he ask God to forget, and how are these related?

What assurances are expressed for those who trust and respect (fear) the Lord?

What does David say regarding his own life situation, and what is his final request?

Reflection...

Here's a simple reality of life—at times people let us down, and at times we disappoint others. And then, we also let our selves down, especially in times of failure.

This is why our trust needs to be in the One who is ever-faithful—God.

Try as we may, we can't make everything right when we fail, nor can we stop the ripple effect of our failure from affecting others.

This is where we need God's forgiveness and God's restoration. Thankfully, He delights in extending forgiveness and restoration to all those who would trust in Him in every way and in all things.

Once restored and forgiven, we need to continue in the path of the good and right life God makes known to us. We can only do this through faith—putting complete and utter trust in God daily.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

How do you handle failure in your life, whether it's your own or someone in your life?

Do you have confidence in God's forgiveness when you've asked for it?

How have humility and trust been key to the restorative work of God in your life?

How have you seen God make His purpose clear for your life as you trusted Him beyond your life circumstances?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

How good is good?

Photo credit: unsplash.com_LMichael

Ask people if they'll go to heaven after they die and many will say, "Yes." If asked why, they often say something like, "Because I'm a good person, and I try to do good."

It's just possible that, much of the time, a person may look pretty good in comparison to some others. But other comparisons are not so favorable.

Ask Christians how to please God, and you're likely to get a similar answer. But how good is good?

The problem of comparisons

Comparing ourselves to others is an inherently weak and futile effort. Though you may find favorable ones, unfavorable comparisons are inevitable.

[bctt tweet=" Comparing ourselves to others is an inherently weak and futile effort" username="tkbeyond"]

Of course, when we compare ourselves with God, we lose every time. Think not? Try comparing yourself to Jesus, the Son of God. It shouldn't take long to see your dilemma.

A common Christian test is inserting your name in place of "love" in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

We're told by the Bible, mentors, psychologists, and talk-show hosts, not to compare ourselves with others. But try as we may, we still make comparisons to see how we measure up.

"Am I better looking than... smarter than... thinner than... kinder than...?" And on it goes. We seem powerless to stop it. As the apostle points out, it's an unwise thing to do.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. (2 Co 10:12 NIV)

Trying to measure up

Not long ago, I did a home inspection that had height measurements marked off with dates on a wall. This helps answer the question, "Am I growing taller?"

But how do we measure ourselves when it comes to spiritual growth? If we compare ourselves to others, it's only a matter of time before we don't measure up in some way.

Trying to measure ourselves on the basis of behavior or habits, or any similar metric, is also futile. Why? Because we're using the wrong metric.

Evaluating a person's moral behavior is not a measurement of their spiritual growth. As the common saying goes—it's like comparing apples to oranges. Morality is based on performance, while spiritual growth can only be measured by eternal qualities.

So, how do we determine spiritual growth? Perhaps a better question is, why do we need to measure it at all?

[bctt tweet=" Why do we need to measure spiritual growth at all?" username="tkbeyond"]

Beyond our reach

A young, wealthy man came to Jesus with a question about how to inherit eternal life. He addressed Jesus as, "Good teacher (rabbi)..." (Mark 10:17-25).

Jesus asked back, "Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone" (Mark 10:18 NIV).

True goodness is out of reach for us mere mortals. It is an eternal quality.

So, should we just give up on all of this? Yes and no.

We need to give up measuring and comparing ourselves when it comes to spiritual growth. But we need spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is the indicator we have that spiritual life is going on within us, but how do we gauge it?

In the story with the young wealthy man, Jesus instructs him to leave all his wealth to become one of His followers. This young man claimed to have kept the Mosaic Law since childhood.

Jesus didn't debate Him on this, but went to the core of what the man trusted in—himself and his wealth.

Even if we claim to be righteous in a moral sense, we still fall short of God's goodness (Rom 3:10-12).

Some good news

Thankfully, no one needs to obtain moral perfection to gain entrance into God's presence. Jesus did this with His life on earth and through the cross—His death and resurrection (Matt 5:17; Rom 10:4; Heb 9:11-14; 10:10). This message of redemption (the gospel) is echoed throughout the Scriptures.

But... how do we know if we're growing spiritually?

As pointed out before, we don't need to measure spiritual growth, but we need to grow spiritually. But, how can we tell if it's happening?

The answer is pretty simple. If we go back to the story of the young rich man (Mark 10:17-25), we see what Jesus said to him—to sell all he had and follow Jesus.

Many messages based on this story focus on what the man was to give up, but this misses the main point. Jesus was inviting this young man into relationship.

When we enter into a genuine relationship with God, spiritual growth comes naturally (John 15:5-8).

[bctt tweet="When we are in relationship with God it will be obvious to others" username="tkbeyond"]

We don't need to make comparisons, we need to continue in a personal, fruitful relationship with Jesus—the Vine (John 15:1). Then our spiritual growth will be natural and evident, even to others.


This is a revision of an earlier post a couple of years ago, as a follow-up to last week's post—What Does It Mean to Flourish?

The King of Glory

Photo credit: lightstock.com

What is the focus of your life? What are you best equipped to do? Think beyond natural abilities and learned skills, and beyond the routine of everyday life.

If you have a hard time seeing what that optimal thing is, it's because we all tend to drift from the simple, most basic reason we exist.

Every artist, builder, or designer has a purpose in mind for what they create. It is, in someway, an extension of who they are internally.

Scripture

A psalm by David.

The earth and everything it contains are the Lord’s. The world and all who live in it are his. He laid its foundation on the seas and set it firmly on the rivers.

Who may go up the Lord’s mountain? Who may stand in his holy place? ⌊The one who⌋ has clean hands and a pure heart and does not long for what is false or lie when he is under oath.

⌊This person⌋ will receive a blessing from the Lord and righteousness from God, his savior. This is the person who seeks him, who searches for the face of the God of Jacob. Selah [vss 1-4]

Lift your heads, you gates. Be lifted, you ancient doors, so that the king of glory may come in. Who is this king of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty! The Lord, heroic in battle!

Lift your heads, you gates. Be lifted, you ancient doors, so that the king of glory may come in. Who, then, is this king of glory? The Lord of Armies is the king of glory! Selah [vss 7-10]

(Psalm 24:1-10 GW) [Context– Psalm 24]

Key phrase— The earth and everything it contains are the Lord’s

[bctt tweet="The earth and everything it contains are the Lord’s" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What are two things we're told about the Lord and the world we live in on earth?

Who is able to approach God and stand in His presence? What are four things said about them?

What does this person seek and how are they rewarded for doing this?

Who is spoken of in the last half of this psalm? How do you see the beginning and end of this psalm connected (beyond who they describe)?

Reflection...

Every human bears the image of their Creator, whether they acknowledge it or not. Each of us is best equipped to be in relationship with our Creator—God.

Of course, not everyone chooses this, nor seems to want this. But each person has the capacity and need for a relationship with God. It is embedded in us (Gen 1:27).

Instead of asking, "Why are there so many different religions?" Consider that an indicator of the innate desire all humanity has for a relationship with God—the sovereign Creator of all.

But how can we do this? This psalm reminds us of what's required to be in the presence of God, and we all fall short of this every day.

The last half of this psalm reminds us that God would make Himself known and approachable—

Be lifted, you ancient doors, so that the king of glory may come in.

God did this through His Son Jesus (John 1:1, 14)—the Lord, the King of Glory and grace. Relationship with God is available by trusting in Jesus, not in ourselves or our efforts to please God.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Are you aware of your innate need to have a relationship with God?

If you have a relationship with God—how did you come into this relationship? What led to it?

If you don't have a relationship with God—what causes you to be in awe or say "wow"?

Are you willing to question the purpose of your life in an honest, open way, and to see what God's purpose is for your life?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

Lacking Nothing

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What's the most well-known and popular psalm in the Bible? Hands down, it's Psalm 23. A favorite at funerals because of its comforting words, it's short and descriptive, making it a memorable favorite.

It is a calming and reassuring prayer that's brought comfort and hope to POW's and millions of other through the centuries.

Psalm 23 could very well be called the Lord's psalm. It's a very personal expression of trust in God. Short, compact, yet richly filled with deep language.

Scripture

A psalm by David.The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. [vss 1-3] 

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. [vss 4-5] 

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. [vs 6] 

(Psalm 23:1-6 NIV) [Context– Psalm 23]

Key phrase— The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing

[bctt tweet="The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing" username="tkbeyond"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What is the confident statement made by King David at the beginning? How does this first line reveal how personal this psalm is?

What are the ways David sees the Lord personally involved in his life?

Which statements express great assurances and express David's confidence in the Lord?

If you're familiar with King David's life (1 & 2 Samuel), how are all these confident statements reflective of the journey of his life?

Reflection...

King David was a shepherd before he was a warrior and king (1 Sam 16:11-13; 17:34-37). He understood the responsibility of a shepherd caring for his sheep from personal experience.

This psalm expresses confident statements and assurances of God's provision, guidance, restoration, protection, and presence. It's intensely personal.

Perhaps this is why it's such a popular psalm. Anyone can lean into this comforting prayer and profession of trust. It expresses the personal and hope-filled nature of faith (Heb 11:6).

This psalm encourages a person as they repeat it's simple, confident statements, no matter what adversity they may face.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Do you currently have a similar confident trust in God as King David expresses in this psalm?

How have you experienced the Lord's personal guidance and protection in your life?

Are there any of these assuring and confirming statements that are hard for you to accept now?

Are you willing to trust God for His provision, guidance, restoration, protection, and presence in your life?

Some final thoughts...

To gain this level of confidence and trust, the Lord needs to be your personal Shepherd. This is an intimate and personal trust relationship between yourself and God.

This week, especially if you're going through discouraging, challenging times—read and pray through this psalm morning and evening for a week. At the end of the week, reflect on how your view of things changes and how God has made His presence known to you.


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

On the Right Path

unsplash-paths_forest_JLelie A favorite memory from our life in the Philippines is snorkeling at Apo Island—drifting across the colorful beds of coral reefs and watching a kaleidoscope of tropical fish darting in and out. It’s a tranquil and yet stunning setting.

Apo Island sits out in a shipping channel and has deceptively strong currents. Divers have been lost because of those currents and snorkelers have drifted far from where they started.

It’s easy to get caught in a current when your attention is fixed on the lovely, lively scene below the water’s surface. Life in this world is like that. We get so absorbed in what captures our attention that we don’t realize the drift in our life. It doesn’t take long before we’re trapped in the cultural tide swirling around us.

Resisting the cultural pull

When our relationship with God is spiritually healthy, we can resist the cultural pull around us. But this requires diligence on our part. We must be alert and aware.

[bctt tweet="A spiritually healthy relationship with God helps us resist cultural pull" username="tkbeyond"]

Psalm 1:1 reminds us of the slippery slope of the world’s culture. We can see a word picture in the text—a literal progression from walking to standing to sitting. How does it happen? It’s seductive. It’s subtle, yet strong.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.—Psalm 1:1 (NKJV)

When we look to the advice of others, the still small voice of God can be drowned out. He calls us away from the crowd to Himself. He doesn’t demand our attention, nor does He shout at us.

The path of deception

When we listen to the world’s wisdom, faith may seem illogical. God’s words of truth may appear weak compared to the brash opinions of others. Soon, we may find ourselves on the wrong path.

Not too far down that path, cynicism grips our heart. We find ourselves seated among those who scoff at what we once held dear . . . and what once held us secure.

[bctt tweet="When we listen to the world’s wisdom, faith may seem illogical" username="tkbeyond"]

Be careful what you listen to, it doesn’t take much to get sidetracked. Watch where you’re going. The way may seem right at first, but it could lead you in the wrong direction.

Finally, take time to consider your closest companions. As the apostle Paul reminds us, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV).

Digging deeper for a personal application in your life—

  1. Who and what has the most influence in your life? This is easily determined by what grabs and holds your attention.
  2. How much time per day do you spend listening to the opinion of others? Does the Lord get equal or greater time?
  3. Make a commitment to track what most often captures your attention. Then, be willing to make changes as needed.

This was originally posted as a guest post on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog. You can read it here— On the Right Path

How I Got Theology– Part 2

Photo credit: unsplash.com_JErondu Leadership is often described as influence. Several heavyweight leaders say these terms are interchangeable. I don't see it that way.

Yes, leaders can be quite influential in both good and bad ways, but this is not a given. I've seen people in leadership roles with little to no influence. The net effect of their leadership is nil.

On the other hand, I've known and witnessed influential leaders who've had great impact.

Leadership and influence

I ran across an excellent article on the difference between influence and leadership by Steve Graves. He makes a good case for the distinction between leadership and influence.

[bctt tweet="There is a distinction between leadership and influence" username="tkbeyond"]

Plenty of people have been good leaders with good influence, such as, Abraham Lincoln, Florence Nightingale, and Billy Graham.

Leaders with evil influence? Sadly, it's not a short list, but men like Adolph Hitler come to mind.

Then there are many leaders who have a somewhat sketchy influence. A cursory look at political personalities could produce a lengthy list.

What about spiritual leaders where character and integrity are essential? Among them we can find good, bad, and even sketchy examples.

[bctt tweet="Spiritual leaders can have good, bad or sketchy influence in people's lives" username="tkbeyond"]

Another question

Last week, I answered the first of three questions I posed in a challenge in a previous post.

This week I want to look at the second question and give my personal answer. Here's the question—

Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?

Three leaders were influential in the early development of my spiritual life and theology.

Two are now with the Lord, but their leadership and influence are still embedded in my life. One is my age, alive, and still influencing others for good as a leader.

[bctt tweet="Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life and in what way?" username="tkbeyond"]

My first pastor

I came to faith during the Jesus People Movement of the late '60's and early '70's. I mentioned some of this in last week's post.

Ironically, the church I was thrown out of for asking the wrong question is where I got grounded in the truth of God's Word. It's also where I began serving the Lord in full-time ministry under my first pastor, Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.

It was under him that I developed an appreciation for the grace of God and studying God's Word. Pastor Chuck was known for these two distinct things, not only in my life, but for thousands of others.

Both the grace of God and God's Word became foundational in my spiritual growth and my theology through his ministry. He was a living example of their importance and value, and a strong pastoral leader with great, enduring influence. Chuck went to be with His Lord in October of 2013.

[bctt tweet="God's grace and Word were foundational in my spiritual growth and theology" username="tkbeyond"]

A sage and a mentor

As my wife and I grew in our spiritual lives, we became more involved at the ground level of ministry while serving at a church and retreat center near Desert Hot Springs, CA.

When we arrived in 1973, it was a small church and retreat ministry in a sparsely settled area of the low desert of southern California. Susan and I learned so much about serving in every way imaginable.

Although it was remote, many significant spiritual leaders of the 1970's visited this little spiritual oasis. One of them was Rev PHP Gutteridge, known to us as "Percy". He was much older than us and also much wiser, a true sage.

Percy's teaching had spiritual depth and often centered on the cross of Christ, and the need for Christian believers to walk the way of the cross. Originally from England, he pastored this church in its infancy. In our time there, he visited on a regular basis, especially when we held large holiday retreats.

After I planted a church in 1978, he would come to preach to our little growing congregation in the upper desert area of Yucca Valley, CA. When he died in October of 1998, we were missionaries in the Philippines.

His life and ministry continue to influence us both to this day. Percy stirred my heart to further plumb the depths of the Scriptures and the essential simplicity of the way of the cross (Matt 16:24).

[bctt tweet="I was stirred to plumb the depths of the Scriptures and the way of the cross" username="tkbeyond"]

My friend and mentor

My involvement in ministry at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa came at the invitation of a young man my age, but with much greater experience.

Bruce's wife, Joni, was pregnant and found it difficult to hold her guitar to lead praise for children's church. I and a couple others jumped in to help and this began a long term friendship in ministry.

Bruce opened the door for me to serve in many ways. When he and his young family moved out to the church and retreat ministry I mentioned earlier, we joined them and the ministry about a year later. We served their for five years, and it was of great value in so many ways.

Through Bruce's pastoral guidance, I learned how to preach, teach, counsel and lead as an assistant pastor. This was the foundation for my stepping out to plant a church and to develop a Bible College in the Philippines. It was practical, hands-on training.

[bctt tweet="I received practical, hands-on training that became a foundation for pastoral ministry" username="tkbeyond"]

But he was more than a pastoral mentor to me, he was a true friend. Bruce has a clear grasp on the immense, far-reaching love of God, which was infectious. His influence continues to reach around the world in a ministry he founded while pastoring in southern California—He Intends Victory.

Who for you?

So, now that you know who were important spiritual influences in my life and theology, how about you?

Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far?

And what is their influence in your life?

How I Got Theology– Part 1

Photo credit: unsplash.com_APokusin The truth of God is not relative. That is, it doesn't change to adapt and conform to changes in the culture and beliefs of people.

Much is made of the idea of relativism and a post-modern mindset. The concept that what's true for you isn't necessarily true for me, isn't truth.

Personal, philosophical beliefs don't become reality just because they're thought out. The natural laws of the earth and universe illustrate and reflect the unchanging nature of God, its creator, and His truth.

Clichés aren't sufficient

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled, "Got Theology?" The gist of it is that theology can become highly personalized. And yet, the truth of God remains unchanged. It's based on who He is, not opinions or a belief system.

[bctt tweet="God's truth remains is based on who He is, not personal opinions or beliefs " username="tkbeyond"]

Christian believers need to be clear on why they believe what they believe. The trite saying—God said it, I believe it, that settles it—isn't sufficient, it's a cliché.

Arriving at why we believe what we do—our theology—can be understood by seeing how we arrive at that belief. I won't backtrack through what is shared in the previous post, but I do want to look at a challenge I posed in that post.

[bctt tweet="Christian believers need to be clear on why they believe what they believe" username="tkbeyond"]

The challenge—3 questions

The challenge involved 3 questions that help determine how our personal theology develops. As an example, I'll answer these questions for my own life. I'll do this over the next three weeks.

Hopefully, this will serve as a guide for you. Here are the 3 questions—

  1. Review your own life as a believer in Jesus—What stands out as most important and why?
  2. Who is the most influential spiritual leader in your life, so far? Why?
  3. What’s been most helpful to you in your pursuit to know God?

My learning curve

I'm a visual and kinetic (experiential) learner. I tend to learn best by watching, then doing. I'm also a reader.

My search for truth and faith included the study of various philosophies and eastern religions. I attempted to live these out to a certain extent, as I read about them. Music and hitchhiking were also part of the process.

I also read the Bible each day for at least two years, yet without understanding it. I talk about this in my book, some of it in the first chapter.

My life reflected the times of that search—the mid to late 60's in America. I was immersed in the turbulent counter-culture that marked those years. This carried over to my faith search.

A turning point

I'm a rebel at heart when it comes to learning. I don't just accept things, I question, challenge, then process it all. Of course, this doesn't go over well with authoritarian teacher-types. It even got me thrown out of a church when I kept pressing for answers.

[bctt tweet="When learning, I don't just accept things, I question, challenge, then process it all" username="tkbeyond"]

In the midst of my search, I came to a turning point in my life. I went up into the mountains, where I lived at the time, and challenged God to reveal Himself to me in some way. I was expecting something like a sign in the sky, a burning bush, or audible voice, but none of that happened. Discouraged, I headed back to my trailer.

Still wanting to hear from God, I opened my Good News for Modern Man version of the Bible to read. It's then I came across Matthew 7:13-14 and realized I was on the wrong path.

Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it. But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it. (Matt 7:13-14 GNT)

I took this as a challenge, but I refused to pray the ("sinners") prayer or write down the date, as the notes in my Bible suggested. Like I said, I don't just accept things without question. I did have an assurance in my heart that my faith search was settled. Jesus and the Bible were central to my faith, the foundation of my theology.

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What about you?

So, what about you? Have you had a turning point in your life, come to a crossroads, or other cathartic experience that settled your faith and brought assurance?

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This is an important first step in developing a personal theology. It's called a lot of things—coming to faith, conversion, getting saved. Whatever you call it, it needs to happen. It's the starting point of a settled faith, a personal trust relationship with God.

I'd love to hear from you on this—

What stands out as most important in your life as a believer?

Why is this so important to you?


Next week, I plan to continue this series of posts and look at the influential spiritual leaders in my life.

Life Reflections

IMG_0819 What significance do life events have? Are they just random, or is there a distinct meaning and purpose for every life event that takes place?

These types of questions keep philosophers and theologians in business, so to speak. All people tend to wonder about such things.

I'm sure some events and situations have a purpose in our lives that have significance to us, but I admit, many life events can seem pretty random or insignificant.

Planned events and purposes

This past month, my wife and I spent time with our youngest daughter, husband, and now, two daughters. Our purpose in spending a month with them had two primary goals—being present for the arrival of our fifth grandchild and be of some help to our daughter and son-in-law.

We enjoyed our time immensely and fulfilled those two primary goals. But other life events took place while we were there.

I won't enumerate them all, but I want to note a few of them, then consider whether they are random, planned, or if their timing matters.

Random or planned?

Two births

The week we arrived, our granddaughter did not. If fact, it was the beginning of week three when she arrived.

The week we arrived, the pastor where my daughter fellowships announced his wife was pregnant. He shared with the church on the next Sunday about their miscarriage. It was a bittersweet morning, but the pastor handled it well.

But still, we awaited the arrival of our granddaughter, our daughter was overdue by a week or so. We were waiting with expectant joy and the pastor and his wife were grieving.

A death and a birth

Soon after our arrival in Germany, I heard of the passing of a dear friend in the US. I had been praying for her for several years, now I would pray for comfort for her husband and their three grown children.

They were a significant family in the life of the church we planted in the late 70's. They are good friends of ours and were some of our supporters while we were missionaries in the Philippines.

Over a week later, we welcomed little Brielle into the world and into our family. One person leaves this life, while another comes into it.

Timing

It's not so much the events, but the timing of these things. Is there significance to this timing, or is it just random?

Just before we left Germany to return to the US, I heard about a long time friend receiving a devastating diagnosis, and another friend passed away.

It's normal, maybe typical, for us to wonder about the timing of certain life events. But do we need to know or understand everything? Do we need to have a definitive answer and insight into it all?

Faith, randomness, and destiny

Some people see everything in life as random. I'm pretty sure that most believers in God, regardless of religion or theology, don't hold that opinion.

Still others see every event in life as part of a grand plan, even destiny. I suppose this can include people who are into conspiracy theories (I'm not one of those people, btw). The idea here is that every single thing is preordained (predestined) and has a meaning.

I don't doubt that life events have significance, but I've stopped trying to figure out how it all fits together, or whether certain events even do.

It's not because I don't care or don't think about all of this. I do. But I accept that some things are just beyond my capacity to figure out, and I've realized I don't need to know everything about all life events—mine, yours, or anyone else's.

Faith and reflection

An inherent quality of faith is trust. Not theological belief, but an implicit trust in God (Hebrews 11:6).

In 1997, a tragic fire took the lives of five children under our care, and nearly took the life of our youngest daughter. Everything we had in the orphanage building was reduced to rubble and ashes.

Remarkably, God sustained us in the aftermath. That's a long story all its own, but not for now. So many things didn't make sense, and yet it all made sense somehow.

Indeed, our family was in shock for quite a while, something like PTSD. All I know is this. God sustained us in ways we can't explain, through many people and a series of events that's followed that tragedy.

Why do we need to know?

People reached out to us, prayed for us, and cared for us. We, along with many, had the usual questions summed up in, "Why God?"

We don't have a clear answer to it all, but we clearly saw the hand of God upon us and the ministry for years afterwards.

I needed to come to a place of trust more than understanding. I accepted that I didn't need to know why.

It was a lesson in faith, in trust. Either God is God, or He's not. I believe God is sovereign and living and personal. I also believe in free will. I choose to exercise my free will to trust in the Lord without having to figure everything out.

That's faith. It's what Abraham was recognized for that brought him friendship with God (James 2:23). The Bible is full of similar people of faith, and I choose to be among them.

How about you?

Have you learned to trust God this way, or do you think you need to understand it all? 

(Please feel free to comment!)

Is God Unfair?

Photo credit: lightstock.com Now it is not as though God’s word has failed. Clearly, not everyone descended from Israel is part of Israel or a descendant of Abraham. However, ⌊as Scripture says,⌋ “Through Isaac your descendants will carry on your name.”

This means that children born by natural descent ⌊from Abraham⌋ are not necessarily God’s children. Instead, children born by the promise are considered Abraham’s descendants.

For example, this is what the promise said, “I will come back at the right time, and Sarah will have a son.” The same thing happened to Rebekah. Rebekah became pregnant by our ancestor Isaac. Before the children had been born or had done anything good or bad, Rebekah was told that the older child would serve the younger one.

This was said to Rebekah so that God’s plan would remain a matter of his choice, a choice based on God’s call and not on anything people do. The Scriptures say, “I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau.”

What can we say—that God is unfair? That’s unthinkable! For example, God said to Moses, “I will be kind to anyone I want to. I will be merciful to anyone I want to.” Therefore, God’s choice does not depend on a person’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. (‭Romans‬ ‭9:‭6-16‬ (GW)


"Who says life is fair?" That's the response a parent might say when a child complains about something. Of course, it doesn't set well with the child and it's not a helpful answer.

Fairness is something we all tend to expect, but it's not a realistic expectation. Too many variables exist in everyday life, especially when it comes to the collision of free wills of billions of humans in the world.

Still, when things seem unfair we often wonder why it's so. Then, God becomes an easy target for blame. I think this is not only because of our selfish free will, but our penchant for reducing relationship with God to a set of laws.

When people construct clever legal reasoning to explain what God does and why He does it, they've reduced God to a set of rules and expectations. But God cannot and will not fit into any box of laws, rules, or expectations we might construct.

God is far more merciful than we can comprehend, and far more just than we like to accept. God is not unfair, but our expectations of Him and others often are. ©Word-Strong_2016

The Apple of His Eye

Photo credit: lightstock.com

A life of faith is a life of trust. Trust becomes real when it becomes necessary. I can say, "I trust God," but those are mere words until I choose to show it by my actions.

David was slandered and persecuted before he was a king by King Saul, and while he was king by his son Absalom. Yet, he continued to trust God rather than take matters into his own hands.

Prayer is an act of faith. It's not mere words spoken into air, it's a commitment of the soul.

Scripture

A prayer by David.

Hear my plea for justice, O Lord. Pay attention to my cry. Open your ears to my prayer, ⌊which comes⌋ from lips free from deceit. Let the verdict of my innocence come directly from you. Let your eyes observe what is fair. [vss 1-2]

You have probed my heart. You have confronted me at night. You have tested me like silver, but you found nothing wrong. I have determined that my mouth will not sin. I have avoided cruelty because of your word. In spite of what others have done, my steps have remained firmly in your paths. My feet have not slipped. [vss 3-5]

I have called on you because you answer me, O God. Turn your ear toward me. Hear what I have to say. Reveal your miraculous deeds of mercy, O Savior of those who find refuge by your side from those who attack them. Guard me as if I were the pupil in your eye. Hide me in the shadow of your wings. Hide me from wicked people who violently attack me, from my deadly enemies who surround me. [vss 6-9]

They have shut out all feeling. Their mouths have spoken arrogantly. They have tracked me down. They have surrounded me. They have focused their attention on throwing me to the ground. Each one of them is like a lion eager to tear ⌊its prey⌋ apart and like a young lion crouching in hiding places. [vss 10-12]

Arise, O Lord; confront them! Bring them to their knees! With your sword rescue my life from wicked people. With your power rescue me from mortals, O Lord, from mortals who enjoy their inheritance only in this life. You fill their bellies with your treasure. Their children are satisfied ⌊with it⌋, and they leave what remains to their children.

I will see your face when I am declared innocent. When I wake up, I will be satisfied ⌊with seeing⌋ you. [vss 13-15]

(Psalm 17:1-15 GW) [Context– Psalm 17]

Key phrase— I have called on you because you answer me, O God

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Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

How does King David begin his appeal to the Lord? Why does he say he's confident in prayer?

In what way does he speak of his relationship with the Lord? Do you think this is boasting?

What and from who is David asking to be protected from? Why?

What is King David's final declaration of confidence? When will this happen?

Reflection...

Corrie Ten Boom, made famous by her book (and movie) The Hiding Place, knew Hitler's Germany would face God's judgment. Why? Because of their genocide upon the Jews, the apple of God's eye.

She knew Israel was the nation God raised up and chose as His people. King David appealed to God for His protection when he said, "Guard me as if I were the pupil [apple] in your eye."

The pupil [apple] is the center of our eye. This speaks of an acknowledgment of need and vulnerability. King David understood that no matter who his enemy was, God was greater.

He even had this assurance beyond life on this earth. As he says, "I will see your face... when I wake up." This shows His trust in God—a genuine faith. Even when surrounded by enemies and the possibility of death, he still trusted God.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Do you trust in God more than your self or others?

Have you learned to trust God in a deeper way through times of trials and testing?

How has God answered prayer for you? How has this increased your faith?

Are you confident in God's care and protection over you and the lives of your family?


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