Staying Connected To Jesus

In the biblical passage John 15:4-6, it urges us to stay connected to Jesus. The image of Him as the vine and believers as the branches helps us understand that apart from Him, we can do nothing. It is possible to receive His salvation yet still act out of the flesh, distracted or separated from His direction and power. All believers find their focus wandering at times, but some have strayed so far that it’s hard to see their way back.

If you discover your heart is loyal to something besides Christ, it’s vital to acknowledge that this has happened. Identify which attitudes or activities are drawing you away from Him. Then repent and get whatever help is necessary to set aside diversions, insecurity, worldly desires, or anything else that draws your attention away from the Lord.

Once the distraction is gone, refocus on Jesus by reading the Word, praying, learning from biblical messages, and spending time with godly friends who will encourage you. After living outside of God’s best for a while, it can be hard to discipline yourself to function as the Lord desires. But remember that those who abide in God will bear much fruit (John 15:5).

Don’t delay. As Hebrews 12:1 urges, “lay aside every encumbrance” so you can run with endurance the race set before you. Acknowledge anything that is keeping you from living passionately and fully for Jesus Christ. Following His plan—in His strength—is the way to peace, joy, and contentment in life. Ask for His help and commit to action. There is nothing like living fully for God.

Changing Direction In Life

Changing direction in your life is not a tragedy—but losing your passion in life is! Something happens along the way. Convictions to change the world downgrade to commitments to pay the bills. Rather than make a difference, we make a salary. Rather than look outward, we look inward. And we don’t like what we see!

But God is not finished with you yet. Oh you may think he is. You may think you’ve peaked. You may think he’s got someone else to do the job. If so, think again! The Bible says, “God began doing a good work in you, and I am sure he will continue it until it is finished when Jesus Christ comes again” (Philippians 1:6 NCV).

Do you see what God is doing? A good work in you! Do you see when he will be finished? When Jesus Christ comes again. May I spell out the message? 

God ain’t finished with you yet! You’re still under construction and God doesn’t make junk.

Christianity Is Not A Wellness Practice

[This is a great article and well worth the read. Very thought provoking. It is a reblog of a post at Samaritan’s Song blog.]

Wellness” is the big trend these days. And if you don’t know what wellness is, I can show you with a simple equation: it’s New Age thought + capitalism + our culture’s soul-deep hunger for wholeness and satisfaction.  It’s crystals and vitamin supplements and practices like “grounding” (walking barefoot!) and monitoring your aura.  It’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop brand, specializing in pseudo-scientific (read: quack) cures for all sorts of ailments imagined and unimagined.  It’s longevity diets and strange ingredients and promises of contentment, well-being, personal growth, and deep spiritual satisfaction.

If any of that sounds familiar to you from decades ago…well, it’s the old made new again.  “Wellness” is a modern re-purposing of practices and ideologies that have been around for a very long time, many of which have permeated even Christian culture in surprising ways.  (For a history of this with an emphasis on how it influences Christianity, check out L.L. Martin’s book Positively Powerless).  The difference between then and now is that wellness has become more of an economic juggernaut than ever before: hundreds of “gurus” and “thought leaders” are offering products and philosophies and making an obscene amount of money doing it.

The problem is that lately I’ve found Christianity and the wellness movement intersecting in ways I don’t expect.  I ran across an article the other day that was advocating daily Bible study as a “path to self-fullness and embracing one’s healing energy.”  And in my browsing through Pinterest recently I discovered a Pin that encouraged believers to read the Bible as a series of “affirmations meant to celebrate the divine self.”  I’ve glimpsed prayer rooms (“war rooms”) decked out like spa retreats (and, indeed, I’ve written about those before) and meant to provide a “shelter” from the harrowing day-to-day.  Art and coloring Bibles encourage believers to express themselves in marker, pencil, and crayon all over the Word with pictures and words that occasionally obscure the actual text: the Bible as therapeutic coloring book.

Now, certainly not all of these things are negative in specific contexts.  I like to pray in pretty rooms full of my favorite things.  And I’ve written in my Bible before and I’ve even seen examples of Bible “doodling”/coloring helping people to understand and emphasize the text. But in other contexts, these practices can at times resemble what you see in the wellness movement, and here is why:

The “wellness” movement places a fundamental emphasis on self and the fulfillment of the self through “holistic” and “spiritual” means.

In other words, wellness is about you.  Everything that happens is to benefit you.  Every practice, every crystal, every coloring book, every affirmation, every supplement: they all exist because you are special and sacred and you deserve everything wonderful.  You are your own god/goddess.  The result is that at least theoretically, in the wellness movement, everything is a means to an end: the betterment and deification of you.

Any time we take a Christian spiritual practice and make it solely about our own benefit – any time we use a Christian practice to deify ourselves as sacred and holy – we’ve dipped into the wellness pool.  More simply put: any time we use God as a means to our own end, any time we make God a “tool” that serves the same purpose as a crystal or a supplement or a coloring book – we’ve lost the plot.

Because Christianity is not about self.  It is actually a faith about setting yourself aside in order to love others because you’ve come to understand the love of Christ.  As Christians we believe that Jesus is special and sacred and the embodiment of love, and so we set ourselves aside to serve Him.  In Christianity, everything we do is a means to an end, and that end is Christ – not the self.  Yes, we are the ultimate beneficiaries of a relationship with God – and, in the end, our relationship with Him is what offers the fulfillment, joy, and replenishment that the wellness movement purports to offer.  But our satisfaction, our desires, and the glorification of our selves is not the end goal.  It is not the highest good nor the inviolable sacred.  It can’t be, or God isn’t God.

So if coloring on a page of the Bible is getting you closer to God, you color.  If that spa-bedecked prayer room is where your relationship is growing and evolving with Christ, get on in there.  Meditations and affirmations from the Bible can be really useful if they keep you focused on living in Christ.  But if you’re using Christianity in the same way that you’d use yoga or herbal tea or reading your aura – if you are making it a means to the end of glorifying and fulfilling yourself – then you’re changing the fundamental nature of what the Gospel is about.

In his books, Timothy Keller frequently reminds readers that a great deal of sin and separation from God stems from our desire to control God – to make God something that is ours, that we use, that we control in order to please ourselves.  The problem, Keller points out, is that a relationship with God is antithetical to that way of thinking: the triune and dynamic God has invited believers to join into His great dance of love on His terms.  He is not there to submit to us; we are there to submit to Him.  The danger of the wellness movement is that it can encourage us, if we are not careful, to do exactly the opposite: to embrace God not as a deity, but as a neat and helpful technique to make our lives better.  To deify ourselves rather than Christ.

So feel free to go have some herbal tea or spend some time in your candle-lit “quiet space.”  I might even join you.  But in the process, don’t get suckered into the great lie of the wellness movement: that with enough time and energy (and boatloads of money), you can save yourself.

Christianity is not a wellness practice.  It was never meant to be.

God Are You Listening?

Have you ever wondered whether God is listening when you pray? I suspect all of us, which includes me, at one time or another have had our doubts. Having doubts is not such a bad thing because we are human and prone to listen to the enemy.

Yesterday, I was in severe pain in my back near my left kidney. The pain was almost unbearable. I could hardly move without being racked with pain. Of course, in the beginning, I did what any reasonable person would do, I took some Tylenol and went to bed early. I found that laying flat on the bed was the least painful position to be in.

Before I drifted off to sleep I said my prayers. But, this time it was different. I talked to God and reminded him that I am his child and as his child I know he doesn’t want to see me in pain. So, I asked God to remove or lessen the pain so I could sleep. I also told him that if he didn’t heal me to please give me the strength, physically and emotionally, to deal with my situation.

During the night I shifted in to different positions and kept experiencing pain. I kept telling myself that God is either going to heal me or give me the strength to go through this. As the night progressed I began to feel less and less pain. When I got up this morning the pain was all but gone. I have a few minor twinges but nothing compared to yesterday.

Does God listen to our prayers? In a word, yes! I think the difference in whether you get an answer to your prayer is how you approach the throne of grace. Be bold. Be confident. Just know that God loves you and wants the best for you but in those times when you really need him, you have to ask. Don’t beat around the bush but be straight up with God and let him know how you feel and what you need.

In the end, you’ll be praising God for his love, kindness, caring, and compassion because you know that he is listening to your prayers. Yes! Amen!

Our God Is Able. Every Day. All the Time.

Jesus knew firsthand what it meant to have limited financial resources, to have those closest to Him question His actions, and to be rejected by those He sought to serve (Matt. 8:20; Mark 3:21; John 6:66). However, He never allowed such circumstances to control His emotions or dictate His actions. Instead, He chose to trust that the Father was able to carry out His Word.

We are called to follow Christ’s example and believe that God is able to do what He has said. For example, the Bible promises eternal salvation for everyone who requests forgiveness in Jesus’ name (Heb. 7:25). The Son satisfied His Father’s justice by dying on the cross for all of mankind’s sins—from white lies to vile acts. God will pardon everyone who has genuine faith in Jesus, and He makes each believer a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). Regardless of the trouble we have caused or the mistakes we have made, He invites us to draw near in faith and receive the gift of everlasting life.

Having saved us, God says He will establish us in truth (Rom. 16:25); after giving us a firm foundation in Christ, He builds us up in righteousness. Through the ministry of His Spirit and the Word, we start to see things as the Father does and learn what pleases Him (Rom. 12:2).

By believing that God keeps His promises, we will become stronger in our faith and more at peace. Hardships that once would have thrown us off course will lose their power to shake us. Hope will replace discouragement, and trust will overcome doubt. Each time trouble comes, focus your attention on your loving heavenly Father and His ability to care for you.

(reblogged from In Touch | Charles Stanley | 8.5.2017)

He Knows Your Name.

When you see a flock of sheep what do you see? Exactly—a flock. A rabble of wool…all alike. But not so with the good shepherd. To him every sheep is different. Every face is special. Every sheep has a name, and that includes you! The Shepherd knows your name and he will never forget it.

He says in Isaiah 49:16, “I have written your name on my hand.” Your name is on God’s hand. Your name is on God’s lips. Perhaps you’ve never seen your name honored, or heard it spoken with kindness. If so, it may be more difficult for you to believe that God knows your name. But he does! Written on his hand. Spoken by his mouth. Your name! Keep listening…be sure to hear when God whispers your name.

God is there for you. Night and day He is watching over you just like the shepherd described above. Let the fact of God’s presence in your life be fully embraced by you. It is never ending. He loves you very much.

How do I know? He knows your name.

The Shadow Of Death. . .No Fear

I think it is safe to say that everyone at some time or other has thought about their own death. I know I have. When we think about death we do so with a limited knowledge of what awaits us on the other side of that veil. I’ve been reading a book titled, “Imagine Heaven” and in it, people, who’ve had near death experiences and came back to life, share their experiences.

After reading about their experiences I had a sense of relief that death was no longer something I should be afraid of because of what awaits me after. Look at it more closely through God’s eyes and what He did to give us a sense of hope about death.

What God did was to give us Jesus Christ. The reason Christ became human was to die. As preincarnate God, he could not die for sinners. But united to flesh and blood, he could. His aim was to die. Therefore, he had to be born human.

In dying, Christ defanged the devil. How? By covering all our sin (Hebrews 10:12). This means that Satan has no legitimate grounds to accuse us before God. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). On what grounds does he justify? Through the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:14; Romans 5:9).

Satan’s ultimate weapon against us is our own sin. If the death of Jesus takes it away, the chief weapon the devil has is taken out of his hand. In that sense he is rendered powerless.

So we are free from the fear of death. God has justified us. There is only future grace in front of us and a heaven that is beyond description.