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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

When Do You Leave A Church

When Do You Leave a Church?

It is the conversation with church members every pastor dreads but inevitably comes to every man who has shepherded a local flock: “Pastor, we need to meet with you and discuss our future at the church. We have been praying about transferring our membership to another church.” Naturally, you ask the inevitable question, “Why?” The answers are as varied as the variety found in wayfaring members, ranging from “The church up the street has more to offer my youth/children” to “We just don’t find things exciting here anymore,” or most troubling, “We love you and your preaching, pastor, but we don’t really like this church.”
There are certainly legitimate reasons to leave a church and sadly, it sometimes become necessary or even a duty to find a more biblically faithful body. Sometimes churches become theologically or morally bankrupt, leaving a sound believer no choice. But it seems in our self-intoxicated, consumer-driven evangelical culture, what is often referred to as “church hopping” seems to have reached a virtual epidemic. There are a number of reasons for this reality with biblical illiteracy, a loss of a robust ecclesiology, a distaste for authority, the disappearance of church discipline and the decay of meaningful church membership ranking high among them.
When should you leave a church? I think it is helpful to first think through a number of reasons why not to leave a church. Here are a few illegitimate reasons for leaving a church, reasons I have heard over the years:
  • Because our children want to go to another church. The most spiritually immature (presumably) members of the family should not single-handedly make the most important decision facing a family. This is perhaps the most common reason I have heard for people leaving a church, and I find it deeply troubling.
  • Because there aren’t many people here my age. The body of Christ is supposed to reflect the culture which is made up of a diversity of ages and backgrounds. The church is not a social club, but the gathering of sinners saved by grace. The world should be at odds to explain the church. It should wonder, “What is it that brings together such a diverse collection of people in such a tight bond of love?”
  • Because I don’t like the music. The contemporary/traditional question is usually wrongheaded, in my opinion. Of greater importance is the question: What is the content of the songs being sung? Is the church singing good theology? Tune and text must fit one another, but I find that this debate usually falls out along generational lines.
  • Because the pastor’s sermons are too long. Preaching is the central act of Christian worship and should receive the lion’s share of the time.
  • Because there are many sinners in the church. As Luther put it, followers of Christ are simul iustis et peccator, simultaneously a saint and a sinner. The local church is a hospital for the sick. Obviously, there is a serious sickness where open, wanton, unconfessed sin is tolerated, but that is not what I have in view here.
  • Because the pastor doesn’t do things the way we did back in 19__ (add your favorite year). Tradition can be helpful, but traditionalism is where churches go to die a thousand deaths.
  • Because they don’t have a good youth/children’s program here. Parents are the spiritual caretakers for the children. The church should merely reinforce the biblical truths taught in the home. No church program will adequately shepherd our children; that is the calling of parents, particularly fathers.
  • Because the worship/preaching is boring. The aim of worship is God’s glory, not our amusement.
  • Because they have/don’t have Sunday school. I realize many adherents of family integration will disagree with me here, but I want to argue respectfully that the Gospel and theological truth—not secondary convictions—are the proper unifying point for a local church.
Those are invalid reasons for leaving a church and there are dozens more besides. But there does come a time when seeking a new church home is a legitimate consideration. So, when should one leave a church? John MacArthur is helpful on this point. He advises (and provides biblical rationale) that you should consider leaving a church if:
  1. Heresy on some fundamental truth is being taught from the pulpit (Gal. 1:7–9).
  2. The leaders of the church tolerate seriously errant doctrine from any who are given teaching authority in the fellowship (Rom. 16:17).
  3. The church is characterized by a wanton disregard for Scripture, such as a refusal to discipline members who are sinning blatantly (1 Cor. 5:1–7).
  4. Unholy living is tolerated in the church (1 Cor. 5:9–11).
  5. The church is seriously out of step with the biblical pattern for the church (2 Thess. 3:6, 14).
  6. The church is marked by gross hypocrisy, giving lip service to biblical Christianity but refusing to acknowledge its true power (2 Tim. 3:5).
When members or friends have discussed leaving a church with me through the years, I have typically advised them to stick around and be a gracious, reforming presence and avoid exacerbating the problems in their local body. Both joining a church and leaving a church are serious business, business for which those involved will give an account before God. Even if it does become clear that leaving is best for us or our family, our attitude must be chastened and humble on the way out. In part II, I hope to look at what our attitude should be when we decide to change churches.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How to Understand the Bible

How Can We Refine Our Understanding of Biblical Theology?

Theology is not limited to the work of professors and clergy. Any serious Christian who has invested time in reading and studying Scripture is doing the work of theology, because theology (from the Greek words theos, meaning “God,” and logia, meaning “utterance, speech, reasoning”) is simply seeking ways to understand and speak about God, and all else in life as God defines it.
This is one of the enormous blessings of being a lifetime reader of Scripture. We are learning God. And learning everything God has said about everything else that really matters in life. What is a person? Why are people violent? What does a good marriage look like? What is our relationship with the animal kingdom? What happens after we die? How can we find peace and prosperity in life? Why does money become a source of tension? Where can we find justice?

What Scripture offers us, in its totality, is a comprehensive knowledge about God and life. This knowledge is not unlimited, for mysteries remain. Believers should not be frustrated by that. The Bible should never be criticized for not being what it never claims to be. It is not a comprehensive textbook of science. It does not address all areas of economics and government. The Bible is not a documentary of all the details of the historical periods it addresses, but rather, the telling of the story of God’s interaction with humanity.
So how do we, in our quest to reason about and speak about God, refine a “biblical theology”? First, we should not rely on the longstanding method of searching for verses, producing a list, and pretending that this produces a coherent and true doctrine or theology. It is easy, of course, to use a concordance or a computer program or an online lookup function to put in front of our eyeballs all of the biblical verses that use the words heaven, sin, Christ, baptism, money, or violence. While this can be a helpful exercise, creating such lists do not render overarching, rational concepts. If we are trying to figure out what the Bible says about violence, we will have to find the passages that offer major insights, and those passages may not even use the word violence at all—for instance, Cain murdering Abel (Gen. 4:8). It is helpful to do word searches, but only as part of a larger strategy of refining your understanding of biblical theology.
Theology is all about synthesis, which is to take many ideas and discover their connections, leading to an overall theory or system. We sometimes talk about our “belief system,” which is what theology leads to, and it is a wonderful thing. Biblically knowledgeable believers are not shocked when people lie, steal, and cheat. When wars break out. When people are used as slaves. We understand these harsh realities because the word of God describes the causes and development of sin—and our understanding is our “theology.” This understanding does not come from looking up the word sin online. Rather, as we read all of Scripture as a lifestyle, we discover and synthesize thousands of places where “sin” is described as transgression, stumbling, iniquity, wandering, crookedness, trespass, impiety, lawlessness, injustice, and more. The Psalms talk about brokenness. Jesus teaches about blindness. Revelation points to evil. Read Scripture as a lifestyle and you lose your naiveté—and that is a good thing.
Maturity is all about synthesis—putting together what you learned years ago, with what you learned months ago, with what you learned today. You see patterns of life. Lessons that are cumulative. So it is with refining a biblical theology. The most important thing we do is read Scripture regularly, widely (not just the parts we like), and for a lifetime. Synthesis happens in our minds automatically. You read along and your mind is picking up bits and pieces of the truth about love, and righteousness, and temptation, and angels, and God, and a thousand other ideas. In the back of your mind, connections are forming. Every time you come back to a certain biblical book, you see things you never did before, but the connections get stronger. You understand Jeremiah’s “new covenant” because you recall the prior covenants with Abraham, Moses, and others, and you remember Jesus and the book of Hebrews’ teaching about the “new covenant.” And so it is with hundreds of other big ideas.
So the main commitment we need to make for the big payoff of gaining a substantial “belief system” is the faithful and thoughtful reading of all of Scripture. The synthesis will happen in our minds. But to ensure that we are reading with understanding and effect, we need to read with concentration. Taking notes is extremely helpful. Just have pen and paper nearby when you read. Note a verse that strikes you, a question that comes to mind, a connection or contrast with another passage, something you want to remember, a thought you want to tell someone else. Do that as a lifestyle and the synthesis will go deeper. Review your notes months later, and you will make connections that are just waiting to happen.
Truth is too good to be viewed as a list. The word of God offers a faithful description of reality. The difference between a flourishing and a failing life frequently hinges on where we have made the effort to discover and live in reality. This is why we want to understand Scripture.

Monday, June 8, 2015

3 Reasons Why the Enemy Wants You to Fear Your Feelings

Christianity.com Daily Update

3 Reasons Why the Enemy Wants You to Fear Your Feelings

Cortni Marrazzo

I found myself on the living room floor in a pile of tears, sobbing uncontrollably. 
If anyone had seen me, they might have wondered what right I had to be so upset. My life is great. I have two wonderful kids, with whom I get to stay home, an amazing husband, a roof over my head, wonderful family and friends, health... the list goes on. But on this day, my emotions overcame me and they flowed out like a raging river. In this instance, it happened to be from struggling in my role as a mom and trying to keep my sanity with my kids. On any given day, it could be a wide variety of other things. The point is, emotions can be overpowering, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 
Emotions hit us all. There are times we feel justified for being emotional (such as the death of a family member, divorce, or loss of a job) and then there are times when our emotions are triggered by things seemingly so small, but which strike a nerve in our hearts. When I feel intense emotions about something that seems trivial, it’s easy to start feeling guilty, which then in turn makes me feel even worse. It’s a vicious cycle that has the enemy’s fingerprints all over it, and we need to be aware of it. 
"Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).
The enemy uses many tactics to try to limit our effectiveness. Oftentimes, he will use our own thoughts and emotions against us in an attempt to render us useless. Guilt, which can be debilitating, is a very large weapon in his arsenal. Guilt starts a slippery slope which is followed by shame, withdrawal, inaction, and ultimately pushing God away. 
What I’ve come to realize, however, is that expressing our emotions can actually be beneficial for us. The area of emotions is one where the enemy wants to turn something potentially positive into something very negative. If we are aware of this, we can reap the benefits of our emotions instead of allowing them to bring us down. Here are three ways I believe expressing our emotions can be helpful in our lives. 
Emotions Can Bring Us Closer to God
When I feel guilty for being emotional, it’s because for some reason I feel like expressing my emotions is bad and means I am weak. In reality, the Bible says that God is close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18). If having a broken heart were a sin, then why would God be extra close to us during that time? On the contrary, our deep emotions have a strong power to draw us closer to him! It’s no wonder Satan attacks us in this area to try to draw us AWAY from God instead! Satan knows the power of intimacy that is found when we truly surrender our hurts and fears to God and let him comfort and strengthen us, and Satan will do anything he can to stop that. 
Many of my most intimate moments with God have been during periods of heartbreak (break-ups, betrayals by a friend, fights with a family member, etc.). A majority of the book of Psalms is David expressing that same reality! David went through many tough times and he poured his heart out to God each time. 
“I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears” (Psalm 6:6 NLT).
“My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me... Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice” (Psalm 55:4, 17 NIV).
David didn’t hold back in expressing his intense emotions and he grew closer to God because of it. He’s even described as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Now that’s a description of a close relationship with God!
Emotions Help Us Experience God’s Grace
God created our emotions so he’s not scared or mad when they manifest. Instead, he is there to hold and comfort us when we experience our intense emotions, which in turn helps us experience a level of his wonderful grace. Any added guilt over being emotional is from the enemy, because God (being full of grace and mercy) doesn’t make us feel guilty. 
“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Instead of condemnation, God offers us immeasurable comfort, like no human could ever give. On top of that, he showers even more grace to those around us by helping us to offer comfort to others when show them the source of the comfort we’ve received. Because God’s grace is so amazing, he ensures that his blessings extend to more than just ourselves.
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Emotions Give Us An Outlet
Perhaps the most impactful example in the Bible about intense emotions comes from Jesus. We know Jesus was sinless and yet he expressed some very intense emotions in the Garden of Gethsemane. 
“And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to show grief and distress of mind and was deeply depressed. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sad and deeply grieved, so that I am almost dying of sorrow. Stay here and keep awake and keep watch with me’” (Matthew 26:37-38, AMP).
Jesus had to go through quite a few horrific experiences in order to redeem mankind from its sin, and while we know Jesus was God’s son, it’s easy to forget his human side and what it must have been like to go through all of that. I know that whenever I am facing an impending tough situation, like preparing for my husband to leave for a few months on a work trip, or invasive surgery, the anticipation of the event beforehand seems to be the worst part. Agonizing over the both the unknown and the known and anticipating the pain is mentally exhausting. If I try to hold it all together and not express the emotions I feel, I eventually will explode and act out in an unhealthy way, but If I express my emotions in a healthy context before they become too much, it allows me to face the situation without as much baggage. 
Expressing our emotions allows us to purge those feelings somewhat and gives us an outlet for them so we have the strength to keep walking and face whatever storm we are in or headed into. Jesus needed to express his intense emotions before he walked through the crucifixion process. His emotions gave him an outlet and that allowed him to tap into God’s strength that would carry him through the most horrific experience. 
When we allow ourselves a healthy outlet for expressing our emotions, we are able to do so without sinning. For it is not the expression of our emotions that is sin, but rather the unhealthy actions as a result that tear us and those around us down. 
“Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26).
The most important thing we can do when facing our emotions is to ultimately trust God with whatever we are going through and whatever is causing our emotions. God understands our emotions, but he also wants to help us move past them into a place of healing. Let’s follow David’s example, who after pouring out his emotional heart to God, vowed to continue to trust him. 
“But as for me, I trust in you” (Psalm 55:23b NIV)

Friday, June 5, 2015

3 Steps To Live In The Now. Come To Me.

Christianity.com Daily Update

3 Steps To Live In The Now. Come to Me.

Bonnie Gray

"Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”  Mother Teresa
{scroll down to download the free printable}
I woke up tired.  It had been a tough week on my heart post-Mother's Day. But, I was looking forward to the weekend.  But, when Saturday finally came, I didn't feel like doing anything.
This happens so often: a great idea stays in my head, but when space presents itself, I don't actually enjoy the things that inspire my soul.
I think we are a generation of over-thinkers.  We often carry a mental checklist of where we are in different categories of our lives. And we become imprisoned by what's next -- or figuring out what could be, should be, or ought to be next.
We are a generation who doesn’t know how to live in the now. We drive ourselves to exhaustion, hyper-analyzing what's next, how to get there and what we can do for Jesus.
We miss out on experiencing what Jesus has for us today.
We often worry about tomorrow. But, what if our next step could only be discovered by experiencing what Jesus has for us today?
Jesus longs for us to live an inspired life. Now. As we are. As is.
Jesus whispers --
"Come to Me, You who are weary laden. And I will give you rest." Matt. 11:28
Jesus longs for us to rest and be with Him.  Right where we are on our journey.  To share our burdens with Him. The Inspired Now Life comes to us when we let go of our frantic efforts to be someone different in the future -- more loved, more perfect, more accepted, more (fill in the blank) -- and discover how God is inspiring us to live today.
God created us to be inspired by life today. That is why He is the God "I am."  Let's free our hearts free to experience God this way.  Here are 3 Steps To Live in the Now.
The Inspired NOW Life: 3 Steps
1. Just do the next thing you know -- right now -- even if it leads to what you don't know. Let go of your plans and your timing. 
One thing God is inviting me to do is to let go of my plans.  To let go of my need to know what's next. God is inviting me to be inspired to follow Him right where I am.
Now is very powerful.  It turns our face away from staring into the future, trying to divine what will happen, in order to avoid hurt and guarantee success.
Now invites us to choose who we will be today.  And align our choices to who God created us to be, right where we are.
Now gives Jesus access to the authentic-and-true me.
"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." Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring." Matt. 4:13, Prov. 27:1, 
2.  Embrace who you are now.  Let your current struggles and passions guide you to make choices to experience God's love for you, rather than do things out of fear of what others would say about you.
Now lifts our hearts away from the guilt of our past.  Now values all parts of your story.  Now gives God access to shaping your heart today.
Now gives us permission to accept who we are, instead of who we wish we could be. So we can be free to choose what moves us, heals us, brings us closer to God's beauty, peace and love.
"Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you" Gal. 5:1.
3.  Act on what God places on your heart to experience, even if you don't feel like it.  Go as you are.  Don't wait until you're better, more whole, more perfect.  Go as the Beloved and discover the gifts God longs to refresh your soul with.
"for still there are so many things that i have never seen. in every wood in every spring, there is a different green." J.R.R. Tolkien
"Wood Line" by Andy Goldsworthy, sf presidio
That Saturday morning I woke up, I decided to do something in the now.  I wanted to enjoy some spiritual whitespace.
The moment before we decided to go to the woods, I didn't want to. It was cold and gray.
But the minute we stepped out onto the path and the wind whipped around us, rustling through the eucalyptus trees, God's creative beauty refreshed us and I was so thankful we came.
What I'm learning is this:  Sometimes soul refreshment comes after we go.
I brought my er-hu chinese violin but it was too windy to play.
But I learned that even though we cannot predict what will happen on our journey, I can choose to head in the direction of what inspires me for this journey.
I can follow God "now", even though I may discover the journey may turn and change.
It didn't turn out the way I expected.  I saw beauty and felt the bite of San Francisco fog on my cheek.  And I knew my Father God was happy we were together -- now.
Just as He is longingly wrapping you in His arms this very moment -- now.
A Spiritual Whitespace Love Note For You FREE PRINTABLE
Click here to download Spiritual Whitespace - Come to Me Printable. May this hand-lettered Love Note inspire you to hear God's whispers of love. Special thanks goes to artist Kelly Ishmael for beautifully hand-lettering and photographing this print!
For more encouragement and words of rest for your soul, read Bonnie’s book Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Restwhich garnered starred review praise from Publisher’s Weekly.

Bonnie Gray blogs at Faith Barista, serving up shots of faith in the daily grindShe has been named Top 6 Notable New Religion Authors by Publisher's Weekly and writes for DaySpring (in)courage, Revelant Magazine, spotlighted by Christianity Today and Catalyst Leadership.  A UCLA graduate, Bonnie served as a missionary, ministry entrepreneur, and Silicon Valley high-tech professional. She lives in California with her husband, Eric, and their two sons.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


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Bible Gateway | The Brook Network | Mel Lawrenz
How to Understand the Bible

How Should We to Apply Scripture to Life?

It is dangerous to understand the Bible better. It is all too easy for us to feel just a bit of pride about pulling out the meaning of biblical texts, as if we were beginning to master the Scriptures when, of course, exactly the opposite is the whole point. The temptation may come from the power we may feel from having “spiritual knowledge,” which can move us from insecurity to superiority. Or we may want to put ourselves over Scripture so we don’t need to obey it. As Paul says, “knowledge puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1).
Here are a few of the reasons why many biblical authors charge us with not just knowing the word of God, but practicing it.
Bible Study
God (through Moses):
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deut. 11:18-20)
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matt. 7:24-27)
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
And using a mirror for a wonderful analogy, James charges us:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22-25)
These and many other passages suggest that applying Scripture begins with assimilating its content. Reading, meditating, discussing, practicing, praying, and memorizing are all ways for the biblical text to form the spiritual muscle tissue of our lives. This is not about having a list of verses rattling around in our heads, but having the shape and motion of our lives formed by biblical truth.
Much of this series has been about personal reading and comprehension of Scripture, but this is a good place to mention the power of group or community Bible discussion. It is enormously formative to discuss the meaning and application of Scripture in some kind of group. We see new things through the eyes of other people, especially those brave enough to share how their life’s difficulties connect or clash with biblical truths.
It is possible for a Bible group to wallow in ignorance if the mode of operation is to read a biblical text and throw it open to the group with the question: “What does this mean to you?” No! A biblical text means something specific, intended by the original author. Someone in a group Bible study needs to take responsibility to study these things ahead of time and dig out the meaning.
In the group setting, the question can and should be: “How do you see this applying to your life?” A biblical text means something specific, but it may be applied in many different directions, as long as the application is really connected with the meaning.
That raises another question: Can a biblical text motivate someone, even if the meaning and application don’t seem to be connected? The story can be told many times over, for instance, of someone reading one of the great missionary texts in Acts and believing God told him, through the text, to pack his bags and go overseas. It certainly is possible that the Holy Spirit guides someone through the words or sentiment of a biblical text—even if the text isn’t properly applied to everyone in that specific way. Such experiences are not about the meaning of a biblical text, nor its typical application, but a unique guidance of the Spirit for a particular person.
So the norm is this: biblical text first, original meaning next, and finally, present-day application. In this process we learn and relearn “Your word, Lord, is eternal” (Ps. 119:89).
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About The Author - Mel Lawrenz serves as minister at large for Elmbrook Church and leads The Brook Network. Having been in pastoral ministry for thirty years, the last decade as senior pastor of Elmbrook, Mel seeks to help Christian leaders engage with each other. Mel is the author of eleven books, the most recent for church leaders, Whole Church: Leading from Fragmentation to Engagement.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How Can We Hear God's Voice In Scripture?

How to Understand the Bible

How Can We Hear God’s Voice in Scripture?

Some years back, I did a survey of our church’s congregation with the simple question: “If you could ask God one thing, what would it be?” I was not surprised that the most frequent response had to do with the problem of evil in the world, but I was struck by the next most common question: “How can I hear the voice of God?” The various wording people used indicated some were facing important decisions, others wanted to know if their lives were “on track” with God, some were in crisis, and still others expressed feelings of spiritual isolation and just wanted to “hear” from God.
There is a long history and many debates about how God “speaks” to us. Our concern in this chapter is how God speaks in and through Holy Scripture. This must be the believer’s major conviction, that we find the voice of God in Scripture, and that the authority of the Bible trumps all other claims about hearing God. Throughout Scripture, God is talking. Creation took place at the verbal command of God. The Hebrews became a nation when they met their God at Mount Sinai and he spoke to them through Moses. The prophets’ oracles often began with: “This is what the Lord says.”
Man Praying
And the Gospels proclaim a whole new form of the voice of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Or, as the opening words of the book of Hebrews puts it: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2).
Whenever we find ourselves longing to hear the voice of God—wanting to know if we’re doing the right thing, or yearning to know that we are not alone—we must remember this: We have in Scripture thousands and thousands of expressions of the will and the ways of God. We have an analysis of life that is complex and refined, giving us concrete moral instruction and wisdom-based ethics. We have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). We have the “wisdom from above” (James 3:17 ESV). We have “Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13). Do you want to hear God’s voice? Then take in what he says in his Word. Drink deeply. Study well. Meditate slowly. Keep starting over.
It may be that the most relevant question for us is not “Where can we find the voice of God?” but “What prevents us from taking in the voice of God?” Many biblical passages speak to that.
Listening to the voice of God is risky. At Mount Sinai the people said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die” (Ex. 20:19). Moses replied that the fear of God would be good for them; it would keep them from sinning, although it will sting at times.
There are many passages that say we resist listening to God because we know obedience is the next step. In the parable of the soils, Jesus analyzes why the word of God (the seed) does not take root. Shallow acceptance (the rocky ground), and the competition of worries and money (the thorny soil) get in the way. But simple lack of understanding (the path) thwarts a person’s spiritual life.
How can we hear God’s voice in Scripture? It isn’t really complicated. We need to read it. We need to do the work to understand it (which is the point of this whole book). And we need to have the right heart attitude, which is more challenging than anything else. We have to honestly admit that we will resist being obedient to God, and that we will be tempted to make the Bible mean what we want it to mean. That prospect should terrify us. Putting our words into the mouth of God is the height of arrogance.
Here is a caution. For years I sat in Bible studies where the leader read a passage and then asked the group: “What does this mean to you?” Only much later did I learn (and it made perfect sense when I did) that the meaning of Scripture does not flow from the subjective experience of the believer. The question is not “What does this mean to me?” but rather “What does this mean?”
When the apostle Paul said, “I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25), he meant something specific. It is our obligation to dig and dig until we learn what he meant, and then talk about how it applies to us.
There is only one way to receive the pure and powerful truth of God—and that is to seek to understand what the Bible meant so we can apply what it means to our lives today.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How God Uses Stress For Our Good and His Glory

How God Uses Stress for Our Good and His Glory

Randy Alcorn | Eternal Perspective Ministries
How God Uses Stress for Our Good and His Glory Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Ever been to a football game at half time when the band forms words or pictures in the middle of the field? They look great from up in the stands. But have you thought about what they look like from the sidelines? Pointless, confusing, apparently meaningless. We see life from the sidelines. God sees it from the stands. As we gain perspective, we leave the sidelines and start working our way up.
G.K. Chesterton’s character, Father Brown, said “We are on the wrong side of the tapestry.” How true. We see the knots, the snarls, and the frayed underside. But God is on the right side of the tapestry—the side He is weaving into a beautiful work of art. We may not always know what the Master Artist is doing in our lives. But the important thing is, He does.
When we see the all-powerful God on the throne of the universe—God our Father committed to our good—we are relieved of much stress. And the stress we must still experience leaves us far richer.
Having a biblical perspective is seeing life through God’s eyes. It is seeing order in chaos, use in the useless, and good in the bad. If we are to develop eyes to see God’s hand in everything, we must believe (not necessarily understand) what Scripture says about the purpose of stress. Stress is an effective tool in the hands of our God, a tool that is intended both for His glory and our good. In this article we will look at some ways God uses stress.
God uses stress to get our attention. God created our bodies. He designed them to send us messages. If I stick my hand in fire, my body will send me a message, quickly and clearly. If I ignore it, I’ll pay the price.
C.S. Lewis said “pain is God’s megaphone.” Some of us are hard of hearing. We ignore physical, mental, and spiritual warning signs. God wants us to tune our ears to the messages He sends us through our minds and bodies.
God uses stress to help us redefine or rediscover our priorities. Bill and Evelyn’s marriage relationship was a distant one. They had drifted apart over many years, pouring themselves into their jobs and shortchanging their family. But when their son Jason was found in possession of heroin, the months that followed brought unprecedented crisis… and also the desire to pull their marriage back together.
Everyone has priorities. Some have never chosen or experienced the right ones and need to redefine them. Others of us have long known the right priorities and merely need to rediscover them: we’ve tasted right priorities, but we’ve allowed ourselves to drift away from them; we’ve replaced fellowship with entertainment, giving with buying, and family time with the television, the lawn, the remodeling job, the causes, and the committees.
By abandoning our God-given priorities we set ourselves up to learn a hard lesson. In essence we do what the Israelites did: lived in paneled houses while God’s house became a ruin (Haggai 1:4). In response, God sent lack of fulfillment, disillusionment, and failure as His messengers. He withheld His blessing till His people rediscovered their priorities.
Twice in Haggai 1:5-11, God’s people are admonished to “Give careful thought to your ways.” Stress should take us back to the basics. It is an opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities and bring them in line with God’s.
God uses stress to draw us to Himself. Time and again it was said of the people of Israel, “But in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them” (2 Chronicles 15:4). It was in Jonah’s darkest hour, in his most stressful circumstances that he said this: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me” (Jonah 2:2). The Psalms are full of references of turning to God, seeking Him and finding Him in times of intense stress.
In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears (Psalms 18:6).
I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me (Psalms 120:1).
When our lives are comfortable and stress-free, too often we withdraw from the Lord into our own worlds of spiritual independence and isolation. Smug and self-satisfied, we forget what life is really all about. But as the thirsty seek for water, those under stress often seek God. Many non-believers have come to Christ and many believers have returned to Him in times of stress.
God uses stress to discipline us. Quoting Solomon’s words to his son, the writer of Hebrews offers what he calls a word of encouragement:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons (Hebrews 12:5-7).
(The word son, of course, is generic for “child,” and applies equally to God's daughters.)
To some of us, this doesn’t sound so encouraging. But we fail to realize how essential discipline is. Scripture says that to withhold discipline from a child is, in essence, child abuse: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24). Discipline is corrective. It is remedial, not revengeful. God sends stresses not to get back at us for doing wrong, but to deepen our dependence on Him in order to do right. Though the stressful experience may seem excruciating at the time, it is ultimately all for good:
God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:10-11).
God uses stress to strengthen our faith. 1 Peter 1:7 tells us: “These [trials] have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
There is only one way a muscle grows—through stress. A muscle that is rarely exercised atrophies; it shrinks into uselessness. A muscle seldom stretched beyond its usual limits can only maintain itself. It cannot grow. To grow, a muscle must be taxed. Unusual demands must be placed upon it.
Stress is a demand placed upon our faith. Without it our faith will not, cannot, grow.
Ever seen grass grow through asphalt? It’s amazing if you think about it. How does grass, pressed flat and robbed of light, persevere and break through hard ground? Yet we’ve seen it. Somehow God made those tiny blades of grass to rise to the greatest challenge.
In the crucible of stress, as we draw on our resources in Christ, He gives us faith and strength to crack through and rise above the asphalt coat of life under the curse.