Organic Mentoring

What does mentoring mean to someone desiring to be mentored? Sometimes women have a specific area where they feel they need help. Some just want to have an older go-to person to ask questions.

Dictionary.com defines mentor as “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; an influential senior sponsor or supporter.” But how do people work mentoring out into real life? Classes? Regular meetings? Shadowing?

The word “mentor” is not in the Bible—at least, not in the KJV or ESV. Probably the closest the Bible comes to the concept is discipling. The classic passage for women disciplining women is Titus 2: 3-5:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

It’s always important to look at the context of a Bible passage, and the context here is teaching and relating life to sound doctrine (verse 1). Then the character of a teacher or mentor is addressed. Several translations describe this older woman as reverent; others use the word holy. She’s trustworthy: she doesn’t spread gossip. Your secrets are safe with her. And she’s self-controlled, not given to excess.

I’ve written before about different ways to mentor. And I shared that mentoring is more than affirmation and suggested thoughts for both mentor and mentee.

What I’d like to suggest now is that mentoring doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement. You may have one person that you go to with every question and concern. That’s fine if you have such a person. But I have found that God has sent different women across my path with just a word in season that I needed at the moment. I’d like to tell you about a few of them.

Mr. and Mrs. B. were the pastor and wife we were under in our college days and then our first few married years. They were an older couple. Mrs. B. was kind, warm, wise. But she also laid things on the line. When I was struggling with some issue and finally ready to do whatever it took to deal with it, Mrs. B. was the person I would go to. I knew she would give it to me straight, yet kindly.

Mrs. C. was a lady whose family came to our church while I was away at college. When I came home for the summer, the family invited me over for dinner several times. They soon became a second family to me. I don’t remember Mrs. C. ever specifically trying to teach me anything, but I learned so much from her example, her character, her response to her husband, her homemaking.

These two relationships were long-term, but sometimes God had an older friend say something helpful in passing. For instance, once while working in the church nursery, another lady mentioned that she had hit the highest emotional highs and the lowest lows in the context of mothering. That stopped me in my tracks, because I had thought something similar, but hadn’t quite put it into words. I don’t think we discussed it any further, but her comment let me know that my feelings were normal. Another time, I was putting up a church bulletin board with a lady who had teenagers while my children were younger. She gave me some off-the-cuff advice not to dread the teen years. She said teens don’t all go through rebellious phases, and if the relationship has been good all along, there’s no reason it can’t continue to be good. That lifted a weight and gave me a healthy perspective of my children’s upcoming teen years, and I’ll be forever grateful.

Once I was doing something in the church building while the group who ministered to the seniors at church were setting up a banquet for them. That kind of preparation can get hectic. The wife of the couple involved, a very sweet woman, came into the kitchen to look for something. While she stood there a moment, gathering her thoughts and looking at cabinets, her husband came in behind her with an urgent question. He couldn’t see her face, but I saw her close her eyes a moment and then give him a calm answer. Whether she was thinking through the answer to his question or changing gears from her own pursuit, I don’t know. But my impression was that in a moment of being overwhelmed, she took just a beat or two to gain control and answer kindly when she might have wanted to be left alone to finish her own task.

Another older lady had to retire from her loved job due to what some considered unfair circumstances. I know this woman was hurt, but I never once heard her badmouth her employers. I watched as she sought out several different new ways of ministering until she found her new niche, and her efforts continued to make a different in other people’s lives.

The one factor all of these examples have in common is that they arose naturally, in the normal course of life and ministry.

There’s nothing wrong with setting up classes and seminars. I have learned boatloads from many great and mostly unknown women teachers. I’ve sought specific counsel from older women at times.

There’s nothing wrong with a formal one-on-one relationship specifically for the purpose of mentoring.

But a mentor does not have to be a formal teacher and may not have that kind of relationship with anyone. Even if she does, we’re all called to the kind of walk where our example teaches and where we’re so yielded to and in tune with the Holy Spirit that He can work though us in the course of everyday life. I think of this as organic, natural mentoring. I don’t remember in any of these cases praying for God to send an older, godly woman my way. But He did, because He knew I needed them.

It’s fine to pray for a mentor, to work through a book or Bible study together, to have a list of questions to discuss. Sue Donaldson has some great ones here. But I also saw a list of 100 questions to ask of a mentor. Honestly, that sounds exhausting. No one wants to feel grilled interrogated. If you want to approach someone with questions, I wouldn’t bring that many. And I’d suggest questions from your own heart rather than a list, things you would like to ask an older, experienced lady about living the Christian life in a way that honors the Lord.

But beyond questions, we can learn much just by spending time with these women and observing their walk and demeanor. I know I have probably asked older women specific questions, but I don’t remember most of those conversations. For some reason, I’ve remembered these instances I shared here for years. Many of them were foundational or transitional to my thinking. And the women in question probably didn’t even know they had said something that affected me. I don’t think I knew it myself at the moment. It probably took time to process their advice, comments, or example. A guest preacher at our church years ago once said that often, when the Holy Spirit uses us, we’re unaware of it.

That’s the kind of godly, older-ish woman I want to be: one who walks closely with the Lord, filled with His Spirit and His Word and a love for others, available for His use in everyday life and conversation.

Have you had such a mentor in your life—someone who wasn’t officially a teacher, yet taught you by word or example? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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Biblical Thankfulness

We know thanksgiving is not just a day in November, but it is an activity we’re supposed to engage in year-round. But our annual thankful holiday does help turn our thoughts a more grateful direction.

In past years I’ve made lists of what I am thankful for throughout November, either once a day or all on Thanksgiving Day. I usually ended up with pretty much the same items on my list. That’s fine. We should continue to be thankful for what we have every year.

It’s harder to be thankful some years. Health issues cropped up, loved ones are no longer with us, finances have taken a downturn. The Bible speaks of the “sacrifice of praise”: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (Hebrews 13:15). I’ve often wondered at that wording. “Sacrifice” hearkens back to some of the OT sacrifices, but here it is applied specifically to praise. I’ve thought that perhaps it’s a sacrifice because we have to turn our attention from ourselves to God. But maybe it’s also a sacrifice because we do it whether or not we “feel” it. Joni Eareckson Tada has said, “To give thanks is not the same as ‘feeling thankful.’ To give thanks in the midst of pain and problems is to take a step of faith based on the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:18: God tells us to give thanks in all circumstances (not just those we can handle or feel on top of). For what things can you give thanks, even while you’re hurting?”

C. S. Lewis said, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is ‘good,’ because is it good, if ‘bad’ because it works in us patience, humility, and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”

One year I did a study on thanks and thanksgiving in the Bible.Just one aspect of it was noticing what people in the Bible thanked God for. It’s perfectly fine to thank God for material blessings and the people He has placed in our lives. But we can expand our thanks to include:

Attributes of God Himself

God’s goodness. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (I Chronicles 16:34; Ezra 3:11; Psalm 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136)

God’s holiness. “Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.” (Psalm 30:4, KJV)

God’s righteous judgments. At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments. (Psalm 119: 62, KJV)

God’s greatness. “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” (Psalm 95:1-3)

God’s power and reign. “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.” (Revelation 11:17)

God’s love and wonderful works. “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!” (Psalm 107:21-2)

What God gives us or does for us

Saving us. “Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:12-14)

Bearing us.Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation.” (Psalm 68:19)

Victory over death. “Death is swallowed up in victory. ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54b-57)

Deliverance from mourning. “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12)

Comfort: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Causing us to triumph, making Himself known through us. “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.” (2 Corinthians 2:14, KJV)

God’s provision, enough for ourselves plus for giving to others. “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. (2 Corinthians 9:11-12)

God’s inexpressible gift. “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Food. “. . . foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:3b-5)

Authorities. Really? Yes: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Other people.

But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you.” (2 Corinthians 8:16)

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . .” (Ephesians 1:16)

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints” (Colossians 1:3-4) (See also I Thessalonians 1:1-3; 3:9-10; II Thessalonians 2:13-14.)

Everything.

“Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 1:3)

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg! I’m sure further study would reveal even more things to be thankful for in the Bible.

I’ve been looking for a quote that I thought came from Martin Luther, but I can’t seem to find it with various searches. But it went something like this: God saved me when I didn’t deserve it. I could and should thank Him eternally for just that. Anything else He gives me or does for me after that is just extra blessings. (If you know this quote, please share in the comments. I would be so grateful.) We’re truly “loaded with benefits”: “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation.” (Psalm 68:19, KJV).

No doubt August Storm had done a thanksgiving study of his own when he composed this hymn in 1891:

Thanks to God for my Redeemer,
Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a memory,
Thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,
Thanks for dark and stormy fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten,
Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,
Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered,
Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,
Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure,
Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside,
Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,
Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,
Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,
Thanks through all eternity!

~ August L. Storm, 1891

What are you most thankful for this year?

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What I Learned from Bare Trees

Fall seemed to arrive late this year, and winter weather is already upon many of us. Thankfully, there’s still a good bit of color in many trees. But others are already bare.

I’ve written before about having trouble when the leaves are off, when the landscape is bleak and barren. I soak up fall’s beauty to sustain me through long, colorless winters.

But just recently, something I read touched off a search for the science behind why deciduous tress lose their leaves

  • The leaves wouldn’t survive the cold in many places.
  • Trees conserve water through the winter by purposefully dropping their leaves.
  • Leaves damaged by “insects, disease or general wear and tear,” according to this source, are made to fall off so they can be renewed again in the spring.
  • Some leaves provide resources for the plant before dropping off. According to this source, “A number of deciduous plants remove nitrogen and carbon from the foliage before they are shed and store them in the form of proteins in the vacuoles of parenchyma cells in the roots and the inner bark. In the spring, these proteins are used as a nitrogen source during the growth of new leaves or flowers.”
  • Dead leaves nourish soil.

I either didn’t know, or more likely had just forgotten learning these facts in school way back when. But it helps to know that there is a reason God created trees this way. Their loss of leaves actually protects them and helps them survive the winter and leaf out again in the spring.

Couldn’t God have made all the trees evergreen? He could have. But they’d all look like fir, spruce, or pine trees, made the way they are to survive the winter in a different way. Deciduous trees provide us with such rich color, beauty, and variety. Then they picture death, giving way to springtime resurrection. Some provide fruit in the summer.

It would be nice if the leaves could change into beautiful colors and then go back to green without dropping off, or at least get their green leaves back sooner. But there’s much they can teach us.

Sometimes loss is for our good. The things we want to hang on to would be harmful or prevent us from growing. “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).

Dead leaves nourish the soil which then helps the tree grow. “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

When leaves are off the trees, we can see things we couldn’t before. On our drive to church during our first fall and winter here, I discovered houses, ponds, animals, and scenery that had been hidden when the trees were leafed out.

A leafless tree “Displays a certain loveliness—The beauty of the bone (John Updike, “November”). Hebrews speaks of ” the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain (12:27). When life is stripped to its basics, we see the strength of that core of God’s truth; we see what really matters. Corrie ten Boom said, ” “You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.” Or, taken in reverse, when Christ is all you have, you find He is all you need. Thanksgiving in the midst of long nights and barren landscapes reminds us of what’s most important and what bounty we still have.

Sometimes our normal sources of provision fail us. But God provides for us through seasons of loss and barrenness. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Sometimes we have to learn to be content in doing without. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11b-13).

Seasons of rest come between seasons of fruitfulness. No one can give out incessantly without respite. Jesus told His disciples, “’Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31).

Life is transient. “Nothing gold can stay,” as Robert Frost said. Not only do seasons come and go, but life itself will fade from fruitfulness to winter. Hair and skin lose their color, limbs lose their strength. We echo the psalmist’s prayer: “Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come” (Psalm 71:18).This promise to Israel can be applied to God’s children now: “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4). “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). For those who know the Lord, life’s winter will give way to eternity’s spring.

Gone, they tell me, is youth.
Gone is the strength of my life:
Nothing remains but decline,
Nothing but age and decay.

Not so, I’m God’s little child,
Only beginning to live;
Coming the years of my prime,
Coming the strength of my life;
Coming the vision of God,
Coming my bloom and my power.

~ William Newton Clarke

After the flood in Noah’s time was over, God said, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). Thomas O’ Chisholm picked up this truth in his great hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness:

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Though seasons change,

There is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
all I have needed thy hand hath provided–
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

What do barren trees teach you?

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God’s Deadlines

If you’ve had or worked with children, you have likely faced this scenario. A child does wrong repeatedly. After much instruction and admonition, the parent or teacher says, “If you do that one more time, you are going to face this consequence.”

The child does it one more time. The adult begins to administer the promised consequence, and all of a sudden, the child starts doing whatever he was supposed to, or starts crying and pleading for mercy.

Knowing when to be firm and when to show grace was one of the hardest parts of parenting for me. But if I had promised my children a certain consequence would follow certain actions (or lack of actions), I felt I needed to follow through. They needed to know I would keep my word, plus they needed to be trained away from last-minute feigned repentance that only occurs when punishment is coming.

Our church is reading through and discussing Jeremiah together, five chapters a week. Jeremiah’s message was not a popular one. Basically he had to tell the people to get ready for the consequences of their actions. In the Israelites’ case at this time, the consequences for their continued idolatry, disobedience, and lack of repentance involved the king of Babylon conquering their city and deporting most of them to Babylon as captives.

Sometimes people accuse God of cruelty when He sends judgement on people, but they forget the years of longsuffering that led up to the judgment in question. Closing the door of the ark so no one else could get in seems drastic, but people had several decades of preaching and warning beforehand. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5) and “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence (verse 11). 1 Peter 3:20 says, “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” God was patient, but He also said His Spirit would not always strive or contend with man (Genesis 6:3). There was a deadline.

Similarly, God had sent His prophets over years to preach to the people in Jeremiah’s time. God told Jeremiah a couple of times not to pray for the people, and the ESV Study Bible notes how unusual this command was  I don’t think that meant that Jeremiah could not bring them before the Lord at all. But, if I understand it correctly, he couldn’t pray for God to turn away His judgment unless the people repented.

But the people flat out refused to repent. A few times they came to Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord for them, or they called out to God to help them, but their repentance was either not genuine or was short-lived. At one point, they responded to God’s pleas for their repentance and warnings of future consequences with “That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart” (18:12). Another time they said, “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you” (44:16). God pleaded with the people to turn away from their folly and come to Him, but they wouldn’t. So, eventually, consequences had to come.

God’s consequences are often meant to have a sanctifying effect. He chastens out of love and for our good.

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.

. . . He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-6, 10b-11)

Scattered throughout Jeremiah are God’s promise of future restoration of His people. They would spend 70 long years in exile. But among those taken captive were future heroes of the faith, like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who would take a bold but gracious stand for God and witness for Him to foreign kings. Ezekiel preached to the exiles. Ezra and Nehemiah led the people back to Israel.

But not everyone made it back. In the course of 70 years, many died.

Back in Numbers 13-14, Israel refused to advance into the land God promised them. He pledged to be with them and help them overtake it, but they refused in fear. They were condemned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until every adult who had refused to obey had died.

But God’s deadlines don’t refer just to chastening. Earlier this year it was on my heart to write to a woman who was like a second mother to me. But I put it off. I would be sending her a Mother’s Day card in a few weeks, and I planned to write a letter to send with it. But then I received word that she’d had a series of medical issues, was unresponsive, and was in her last days. I know with all the joys of heaven, she’s not thinking of not receiving a letter from me. But I have the regret that I didn’t respond to that prompting and share some words of encouragement. When my grandmother and aunt died, I also regretted that I had not kept in touch better in the last few years. A pastor’s wife told of the regret she felt when she leaned that a lady she saw regularly at some place of business had died suddenly. She realized that she had never spoken to her about the Lord. We only have so much time to do good.

Proverbs 27:1 (NASB) says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

Sometimes when we think about the limitations of time and the shortness of our days, we can get into a frenzy. But that’s not what God wants, either. Jesus only had 33 years on this earth, with only three and a half of those years involved in official ministry. Yet He was not frenzied. He didn’t heal or preach to everyone on earth at the time. He rested sometimes. But He did everything God wanted Him to do. We need to seek Him for wisdom, guidance, and the right priorities for each day.

Eventually, we are all going to face a final deadline. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6:2: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

It’s wise not to put off repentance and believing on Jesus as Lord and Savior, because we never know when our time will be up and we’ll hear God’s final call.

It’s wise not to put off obedience, because the consequences have to come at some point.

It’s wise not to put off doing good, because someday we’ll no longer have the opportunity.

The older I get, the more I’m aware that I have more days behind me than before me.  I want to follow God wholeheartedly until that final deadline comes.

How about you?

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When you don’t know you’re alseep

The morning after a long-ago overnight road trip, one of my sons insisted he hadn’t slept in the car. We had seen him, head down, eyes closed, a small blanket over him. But we couldn’t convince him he had, indeed, been asleep. I thought perhaps he had just dreamed he was awake, or he didn’t have a sense of the length of time before he dozed off.

Recently, I had a similar experience. I woke up in the middle of the night, went to the bathroom, and came back just a little too awake to fall right back to sleep. I set an album to play on my phone, laid down, closed my eyes, probably prayed and thought for a while. A few hours later, my alarm went off, and I was frustrated that I had spent all that time awake. “I have things to do today. I can’t afford to take a nap, and I don’t want to drag through the day like a zombie,” I chafed inwardly.

But then I realized—the album was a familiar one, and I didn’t remember hearing the latter half of it. And though I felt I had been awake for too long, I didn’t have the sense that it had actually been 3-4 hours. I didn’t feel rested. I didn’t feel like I had been asleep. But I must have been.

Of course, we’re not usually aware we’re asleep until we wake up. Too often I’ve embarrassed myself by jerking awake after dozing off in church. I remember studying my notes from college lectures only to find them increasingly illegible, tapering off into a squiggly line, evidence of forgotten naps. The dream world we’re in seems real until we wake up and recount how weird it all was.

This reminds me just a little of Samson’s situation with Delilah. A judge of Israel, Samson was renowned for his strength. His enemies bribed Delilah to find out how Samson could be defeated. She pleaded, begged, wept, “pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death” (Judges 16:16). He finally told her that he was a Nazarite from birth and had never cut his hair. “If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man“. So while he was asleep, Delilah had his head shaved. “And he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him” (verse 20). The Philistines took their advantage, captured him, gouged his eyes out, and imprisoned him.

Samson’s problem was not that he had been asleep on Delilah’s lap while she sabotaged his strength. His problem was that he had been asleep spiritually for most of his life. He was called to be a leader of his people. But he was self-willed, self-indulgent, vengeful, disobedient, immoral. Maybe Samson thought he was immune from punishment since he was a judge. God had been with him and used him, and perhaps Samson mistook God’s grace and longsuffering for approval.

God does not leave believers in our day, not since the Holy Spirit was poured forth after the death and resurrection of Jesus. But believers can certainly be sleepy spiritually, drifting off when they should be fully alert. We go forth like normal, unaware that our strength is gone. That could happen because of sin that we’re harboring rather than confessing to the Lord. Or it could happen because we’ve neglected time in prayer and the Bible. Or we’ve been lulled into cozy complacency.

God gives rest to His people. Spiritually, we rest in Him all the time. Physically, he provides rest at night and on the Lord’s day.

But then there are times to be fully awake and alert.

But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake. Mark 13:32-37.

For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 1 Peter 5:8-9.

Usually, if we’re asleep, we need something outside ourselves to wake us up: an alarm clock, another person, a wake-up call. God sends us wake-up calls in His Word:

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:11-14.

Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. 1 Corinthians 15:34.

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Revelation 3:2.

Fleeing from God’s will, Jonah slept in a boat, not realizing he was in trouble. A “mighty tempest” threatened to break up the ship. The captain found Jonah and said, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish” (Jonah 1:1-6).

We’ve all experienced sleeping through the time we should have gotten up. Then we’re late to class or work, or we’re behind all day. Some people in the Bible missed out on important things because they slept. When Jesus went to Gethsemane, just before He was arrested, he took Peter, James, and John with Him and told them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). But a short while later, “he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. The same passage in Luke says they were “sleeping for sorrow.” And Jesus said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak’” (verses 40-41). Not only did the disciples miss an opportunity to fellowship with Jesus in His lowest hour, but they weren’t fortified for the trials to come. They fled when Jesus was arrested, and Peter denied Him.

In an even worse predicament were the ten virgins in the parable of Matthew 25 (see here for more explanation and background of this parable). They were waiting for the call to go to a wedding. They all fell asleep, but five were prepared when the call came. Five others were not ready, but needed oil for their lamps. They had to go out to buy more and missed the Bridegroom’s coming. When they tried to get in to the feast, they were turned away. Jesus’ point in this parable: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (verse 13).

If you don’t know the Savior, please read what it means to know Jesus, so you’ll ready for His coming. For those who know Him, let’s be awake spiritually, doing His will, looking for His coming.

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Is It a Sin to Be Rich?

I’ve seen some sentiment recently “shaming” rich people. One said that the category of billionaires should not be allowed to exist because no one should have that much more money than anyone else.

Is it a sin to be rich? The Bible has much more to say about the subject than can be contained in one blog post, but here are a few thoughts.

Some of the patriarchs were rich: Abraham, Job, David, Solomon. Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man who took Jesus’ body from the cross and laid it in his own tomb (Matthew 27:57). There were also bad people in the Bible who were rich: Nabal in the Old Testament and the rich man at whose gate Lazarus stayed (Luke 16) as well as others. So just the fact of having riches doesn’t indicate whether one is good or bad.

Problems and dangers of riches

There are some who gain riches unjustly, and they are certainly wrong, grasping for more than God intended for them and oppressing others to do so. Some put all rich people in this category, but not all fit.

Yet God does warn that “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). Notice it doesn’t say money is the root of all kinds of evil, but the love of money is.

There are certainly dangers to being rich. One of the worst is trusting riches instead of God.

See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction! Psalm 52:7

  If riches increase, set not your heart on them. Psalm 62:10b

Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf. Proverbs 11:28

Another danger is that “the deceitfulness of riches” can choke the Word of God from taking root in the soul (Matthew 13:18-23). Jeremiah told Jehoiakim:  “I spoke to you in your prosperity, but you said, ‘I will not listen’” (Jeremiah 22:21). Jesus warned “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). He told of a rich man who increased in goods and built bigger barns but neglected his soul, concluding:

But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:13-21).

Jesus told His disciples:

Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:16-26).

Lady Selina Shirley Huntingdon used to say she was “saved by an M,” pointing out that 1 Corinthians 1:26 did not say “not any noble,” but rather that “not many noble” after the flesh are called. She rejoiced to be counted among those called and used her wealth and influence to further the cause of Christ.

Not all rich people are oppressive, but the Bible warns those who are:

Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty. Proverbs 22:16

Like the partridge that gathers a brood that she did not hatch, so is he who gets riches but not by justice; in the midst of his days they will leave him, and at his end he will be a fool. Jeremiah 17:11 (see also Micah 6:10-16).

Righteous poor are better than evil rich:

Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked (Psalm 37:16).

Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice (Proverbs 16:8).

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways. Proverbs 28:6

Riches are not reliable. The Bible warns in many places of the fleeting, temporary nature of riches (James 1:9-11). Proverbs 23:4-5 says of wealth: “suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.

Right perspectives

In Psalm 73, Asaph is troubled over the prosperity of the wicked until he goes to the sanctuary and is reminded of their end. He encourages himself that God is with him and will take care of him.

David had the right perspective in 1 Chronicles 29. The people had just given tremendously toward the building of the temple. Overwhelmed and grateful, David prayed, “Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all” (verse 12). He went on to say, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (verse 14). He acknowledged that everything he had came from God and was His in the first place.We’re only stewards of what God has entrusted us with.

Both riches and poverty have their own problems and temptations. I have often felt like Agur in Proverbs 30: 7-9, desiring to be somewhere between the two:

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

Jeremiah 9:22-24 clarifies: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.’”

After Timothy warns about the love of money, mentioned above, he says a few verses later:

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

He also encourages contentment: “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

James warns against partiality towards the rich (James 2:1-13) and has harsh words for those who “have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence” (James 5:1-6).

On the other hand we have the “prosperity gospel,” which promises believers that God will shower His followers with riches. Those who preach and follow this somehow miss all that the Bible says about trials, persecutions, contentment, and warnings about riches. But that’s another post for another day.

I have no problem with the person at the top receiving more money. After all, if you received a promotion that called for more responsibility, would you be nearly as excited about it if you didn’t also receive more compensation? However, the CEO shouldn’t be living in luxury while the lowest workers are living in poverty.

Practically speaking, it’s often the rich who provide jobs and put money into the economy. In one article I saw, a man who had come from a rich family wanted to turn his back on the lifestyle. Among the things he wanted to do away with was the yacht industry. But what about all the people who work in that industry, who would lose their jobs if that industry shut down?

Some rich people also begin and sustain charities.

A Sunday School teacher once commented that God needs and uses people at all economic levels, all classes, all types, to reach those within their influence.Wealthy people have a platform as well as money, and many use that influence for good.

We’re all richer than someone. If you’ve ever traveled to a third world country, you know that most Americans seem rich by comparison. Before we condemn the rich and advocate stringent measures towards them, we need to stop and evaluate our own position.

Lawbreaking, corrupt rich should be taken to court, of course. But is being rich in itself a sin? It depends. We need to seek God’s wisdom for making the best use of the resources He has allowed. In Christian history, some, like Lady Huntingdon, have used their wealth and position to help others and further the gospel. Others, like missionary C. T. Studd, have given almost everything away. Our ultimate example is Christ: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Not rich with worldly goods: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).

We don’t need to worry that some have more than others. We’re all accountable to God for what we do with what He gave us. When we know Him, we can be content, trusting Him to supply our needs. We’re not to covet or envy what others have; we’re to be generous and giving towards others.

I like how the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” (7:14). If God gives us plenty, we can enjoy it, being careful to do what Timothy said above by being generous towards others. If God allows adversity, we lean on Him and learn what He has for us.

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Look Up

I don’t know how to type correctly. Somehow I never had a typing or keyboarding class. Over the years I have developed my own “hunt and peck” method, which is slow and riddled with mistakes.

Since I’m not trained to know which keys are what direction, I have to look down at the keyboard. You’d think, after typing for 40 years, that I’d know the keyboard by now. Because I’m looking down, I don’t realize what mistakes I’ve made until I look up again. Sometimes I don’t realize I accidentally hit the “Caps Lock” button until I look up and see a sentence or two capitalized. Sometimes I highlight something to delete or move, and when I look up again, I can’t even recognize my paragraph because somehow my highlighting shifted and caught more words than I meant for it to. I’m abundantly thankful for Control+Alt+Z to undo my last action! Other times, I miss a prompt that would have saved me a few keystrokes.

I may not be able to help looking down at a keyboard: my (bad) habits have been ingrained for so long, I don’t know if a typing class could help me now.

But this continual looking down reminds me of a character in the second half of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Part 1 of the story focuses on Christian; Part 2 features his wife, Christiana. In one scene, the Interpreter takes Christiana to a room “where was a man that could look no way but downwards, with a Muckrake in his hand. There stood also one over his head with a Celestial Crown in his Hand, and proffered to give him that Crown for his Muck-rake ; but the man did neither look up, nor regard; but raked to himself the Straws, the small Sticks, and Dust of the Floor.”

Then said Christiana, “I persuade myself that I know somewhat the meaning of this: For this is a Figure of a man of this World : Is it not, good Sir?”

“Thou hast said the right,” said he, “and his Muck-rake, doth shew his Carnal mind. And whereas thou seest him rather give heed to rake up Straws and Sticks, and the
Dust of the Floor, than to what he says that calls to him from above with the Celestial Crown in his Hand ; it is to show, that Heaven is but as a Fable to some, and that things here are counted the only things substantial. Now whereas it was also shewed thee, that the man could look no way but downwards, it is to let thee know that earthly things when they are with Power upon Men’s minds, quite carry their hearts away from God.”

Then said Christiana, “O! deliver me from this Muck-rake.”

“That Prayer,” said the Interpreter, “has lain by till ’tis almost rusty: Give me not Riches, is scarce the Prayer of Prov. 30. 8. One of ten thousand. Straws, and Sticks, and Dust, with most, are the great things now looked after.”

With that Mercy and Christiana wept, and said, “It is alas! too true.”

I assume this was in the days of dirt floors, so this man’s task was a necessary one. But it wasn’t the only thing in life that needed his attention. He was so caught up in the everyday tasks that he missed the most important things.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus described some “who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”

We can get so caught up with the cares of this word, can’t we? Floors have to be cleaned, as well as the rest of the house, errands run, meals cooked, laundry washed, dried, and folded, family tended to, and so on, and so on, and so on. And then the desire for other things distracts our thoughts.

But we need to take time to look up.

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. (Isaiah 40:26, ESV).

All our tasks and pursuits here are only temporary. There’s a greater reality beyond our muckraking.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished (Isaiah 51:6).

And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh (Luke 21:28).

The muckraker didn’t believe in anything higher to look up to. Let’s not follow his mistake.

They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son (Zechariah 12:10b).

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else (Isaiah 45:22).

And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12:32).

Even after salvation, we have to continually remind ourselves to keep the right perspective, to put God first, to seek His ways.

My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up (Psalm 5:3).

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:1-2, ESV).

We look up to acknowledge our need for the only One who can help:

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2, ESV).

And we need to look from our pursuits to minister to others:

Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest (John 4:35b).

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:4-5a, ESV).

God has given us good work to do, but He never meant for those tasks to eclipse Him. Much of our life and ministry is in the mundane, everyday moments of life. But that work and those moments are given meaning by the time we look up to Him. It’s vital to spend time with Him, and then carry those thoughts we gain from His Word back into our everyday lives.

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. ~ Hebrews 12:2a

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Helen H. Lemmel, 1922

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Do you want to be near God?

The October 11th Daily Light on the Daily Path reading touched off a quick study of the word “near” in the ESV. There are many passages that talk about drawing near to God without using that exact word. But what I found in this search was rich food for thought. I wanted to share just a portion from this study.

Writers and bloggers are advised these days not to just list a bunch of verses because people skip over them. And I agree, good teaching and writing is not just listing verses. But the meat of this topic is in the Word itself, so I hope you’ll follow the progression here and read the verses for themselves.

God is omniscient. He’s everywhere all the time.

“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 23:23-24).

He has promised never to leave and forsake His own.

He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

After Jesus ascended back to heaven, the Holy Spirit was given to live with believers. Can’t get much closer than that!

Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6).

You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (Romans 8:9).

So in one sense He is always near. But it’s possible to be right next to someone and be miles apart in heart.

All through the Bible, God calls people to draw near:

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)

In the Old Testament, people could not approach God except through the sacrificial system. They could pray at any time, of course, and their relationship with God was based on faith rather than rituals. Nevertheless, God required them to draw near in various ways through a sacrifice which served as a picture and a foretelling of the sacrifice Christ would make on their behalf. Strict rules allowed that only the priests could offer the sacrifices, and even the high priest could only go into the Holy of Holies once a year. God’s holiness and the people’s sinfulness kept them separated until their sins had been atoned for.

In the New Testament, God is still just as holy and people are still just as sinful. But we don’t have that sacrificial system any more. Through Jesus, “a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God‘ (Hebrews 7:19).  Ephesians 2 explains:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

I don’t usually quote whole chapters here, but this passage is so marvelous and so perfectly expresses how we’re ale to draw near to God, I didn’t feel I could leave much out. As the Getty’s hymn, Beneath the Cross of Jesus, says, “hands that should discard me
hold wounds which tell me, ‘Come.'”

Because of Jesus’ holiness, because He is the Son of God, and also because of His eternality, He can save: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” Hebrews 7:25).

After Jesus’ atonement for us, the next requirement to draw near to God is faith:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6).

It’s possible to draw near hypocritically. God often remarked that Israel “[drew] near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13). Judas “drew near to Jesus to kiss him” in betrayal (Luke 22:47).

By contrast:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22).

The Lord is near to all who call on him . . .  truth (Psalm 145:18).

Drawing near to God also requires humility and forsaking of sin:

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.(James 4:6-8).

We can draw near for grace and help:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16).

We know that we can draw near to God to have our sins forgiven and to bring Him our requests. But when we’re undergoing some kind of trouble, often God seems far away. However:

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:17-18).

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

However, nearness to God is not a feeling. Nothing surpasses those moments of feeling close to God, but it’s possible sometimes to have faith, to have confessed every sin, and yet lose that sense of God’s nearness. Darlene Deibler Rose experienced this while in a POW camp in the Philippines during WWII. That closeness to God was what got her through her severe trials, and she was troubled when she didn’t feel it. She shares in her book, Evidence Not Seen:

“Lord, I believe all that the Bible says. I do walk by faith and not by sight. I do not need to feel You near, because Your Word says You will never leave me nor forsake me. Lord, I confirm my faith; I believe.” The words of Hebrews 11:1 welled up, unbeckoned, to fill my mind: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The evidence of things not seen. Evidence not seen — that was what I put my trust in — not in feelings or moments of ecstasy, but in the unchanging Person of Jesus Christ. Suddenly I realized that I was singing:

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

I was assured that my faith rested not on feelings, not on moments of ecstasy, but on the Person of my matchless, changeless Savior, in Whom is no shadow caused by turning. In a measure I felt I understood what Job meant when he declared, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (13:35). Job knew that he could trust God, because Job knew the character of the One in Whom he had put his trust. It was faith stripped of feelings, faith without trappings. More than ever before, I knew that I could ever and always put my trust, my faith, in my glorious Lord. I encouraged myself in the Lord and His Word.

We can also encourage ourselves in the Lord and His Word. We were born far from a holy God who can’t tolerate or overlook sin. Our sin separated us from Him. Jesus took our sins and their penalty on Himself, providing access to God. We can draw near to Him in any need in truth through faith, repentance, humility. God wants us near. Will you come?

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. (Psalm 73:27-28).

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

Refrain:
O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God;
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

Cleland B. McAfee, 1903

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Making the Bible Come Alive

“He really makes the Bible come alive!”

Have you ever heard that about a preacher, speaker, teacher, or writer?

People could mean several different things by that statement. Perhaps they mean the teacher is exciting. They have a dynamic presentation. Or maybe they make the Scriptures seem particularly relevant. Maybe they help us understand things from the Scripture that we hadn’t before. They use a lot of eye-opening illustrations.

Those are all good traits. Years ago, at a former location, a Christian radio station ran a program from a local pastor who spoke in a monotone. I used to turn off the radio when his program came on. I actually got angry at him and thought, “Doesn’t the Bible deserve better treatment than that?” Then I got convicted of a wrong attitude. The man had been a pastor and had this program for years, so he obviously had listeners. Maybe some people like monotones, who knows.

But here’s the thing: we don’t make the Bible come alive. It IS alive.

Jesus said “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63, ESV).

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, ESV).

We’re the ones that need to be made alive. And what enlivens us? I like the King James word “Quicken,” which sometimes means to make alive, sometimes revive. God quickens us with His Word:

My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word. (Psalm 119:25)

This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me. (Psalm 119:50)

I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me. (Psalm 119:93)

God making us alive through His Word is not surprising, really. He created the universe and everything in it with His Word.

God’s Word can enliven us even if it’s read in a monotone.

That doesn’t mean we should be careless when we read, explain, or teach from it. There’s no virtue in reading the Bible in a monotone or presenting it in a dull way if we know better and can help it. We should try to present it in as understandable and winsome a way as possible.

Each of the Bible writers has a style about them: the Holy Spirit gave them the words, yet worked through each of their personalities to express truth.

But we should be careful of our tendencies to follow “exciting” teachers. If they can be exciting and Scripturally accurate, great. But too often, people gravitate towards excitement rather than truth.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4, ESV).

The Bible is so full of good truth that convicts, comforts, enlightens, teaches, rejoices our hearts, builds us up. We don’t need to dress it up or manipulate it to make it “interesting.” We just need to show people what it says. And we need to know it well enough to seek teachers who do the same.

Your words were found, and I ate them,
    and your words became to me a joy
    and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
    O Lord, God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16, ESV)

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“That’s just the way God made me”

When my youngest son was small, he was a chatty little guy. In fact, sometimes he could talk too much. I didn’t want to squelch his openness with people or his ability to strike up a conversation, as those are valuable traits (which don’t come naturally to me!) But no one wants to be around someone who talks incessantly. Once he was talking to the wife of a visiting missionary family at church who was trying to soothe a fussy baby and graciously step away from him. He kept chatting merrily on, unaware that she was trying to escape. When I tried to suggest that perhaps he was talking a little too much, he flashed his bright smile and said, “That’s just the way God made me.”

“Well,” I thought, “What do I say to that?”

After a while the Lord did bring to mind a few principles to share with him, such as the fact that God made us to eat, yet it is wrong to eat too much or the wrong things; God made us to sleep, but warns against loving sleep too much and being lazy, etc. He gives us responsibility to use our natural bent and inclinations in the right way. We talked about the warning signs that you’re talking too much — when other people look bored, sleepy, or glazed, or when they’re trying to step away or start another conversation with someone else, etc.

It’s good to know how God made us. The preponderance of books and articles about personality tests and frameworks shows just how interested people are in this topic. Some of us have experienced major frustration trying to fit in a task or even ministry, only to realize later that we weren’t gifted for that position.

I participated in a particular ministry for years without really enjoying it. I thought I was guilty of a bad attitude and needed to pray more. When I was asked to take a different position within that ministry, I suddenly felt as if I had found my niche, and my attitude changed completely. That was one of my first inklings that the way we’re wired has a lot to do with what ministries and tasks we’re best suited for.

But knowing how we’re wired is only half the battle. Here are a few other considerations concerning our personalities and giftings:

We can’t insist on our own way.

I know I am an introvert. For many years introversion was considered negative, but books like Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power on Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking helped demonstrate that introverts have valuable and needful traits. That book helped me feel at home in my own skin.

But I can’t sit in my corner with a book as much as I’d like to. I can’t always leave greeting visitors at church to others who are better at it. I have to depend on God’s grace when I don’t get what I think I need.

Sometimes we have to extend ourselves outside our comfort zones. Our pastor has said that he’s very spontaneous, but he has learned that his wife and son need a bit of time to mentally change gears from what they’re doing to what he suggests. When we love, live, and work with others who are wired differently, sometimes we have to yield to them or meet them halfway.

When my middle son was in the 6th or 7th grade, he lamented that he studied for spelling tests and yet still received disappointing grades. A classmate hardly studied at all and yet made A’s. I explained that everyone has an aptitude for certain areas, and this friend obviously had an aptitude for spelling. My son brightened, thinking that since he didn’t have a natural aptitude for spelling, he didn’t have to worry about it. I had to say, no, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to work on your spelling: in fact, in means you have to work harder!

We have weaknesses directly related to our gifts.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, every strength has an offsetting weakness. An acquaintance is very much a take-charge person. When there’s a crisis, when no one know what to do first, this man is great to have around. He knows just what to do, how to organize tasks and people. But not every situation calls for leadership. When he tries to use those same skills when they’re not needed, he just comes across as controlling.

I used to really struggle under the leadership of someone who was an “idea guy.” When he overlooked something that caused problems, frustrations, more work, etc., for the people under him, he’d just smile and say, “You’ll have to forgive me, I’m not good with details. I’m just not wired that way.” I’ve heard someone apologize for an angry outburst by saying, “I’m sorry, I just have a bad temper.” I’ve known people who think they have the spirituals gifts of prophesy or exhortation to harshly lambast a person or movement (and take great pleasure in doing so), forgetting that “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (II Timothy 2:24-25).

We need to keep growing

No matter what our gifts are, we’re still tainted by a sin nature. We’re not perfect yet. God needs to keep refining us and developing us. We rest in Christ for our righteousness and salvation. But we can’t rest on past laurels or victories or even our gifts. The devil doesn’t rest in trying to trip us up or distract us. To keep growing, we need to keep abiding and keep letting God cultivate us and prune us.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, (Philippians 1:9)

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 9-10)

Sometimes God calls us to a task outside our natural gifts.

Moses felt he could not lead or speak, yet God did not accept any of his excuses. Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said unto me, ‘Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak’” (Jeremiah 1:6-7). We think of the apostle Paul as bold and wise, yet he said, “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom.” But he goes on to say he ministered “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:3-5).

Sometimes God uses people in the ways they seem to be bent, but other times He calls them to do something that doesn’t come naturally to them to show His power and His grace through them. While taking care of my mother-in-law a few years ago, I wrote in Rethinking Spiritual Gifts:

Someone I knew said of their daughter, who was training to be a nurse, that she was a “natural caregiver.” Another friend who is a nurse spoke of loving to use the talents God had given her to minister to people in that way—another natural caregiver. That’s not me. I want people to be cared for, particularly my mother-in-law. But I have never been good with or felt inclined to the hands-on type of caregiving she is in need of now, except with my own children.

Yet here we are. Do I tell God, “There must be some mistake. Not only am I not gifted for this, but it’s keeping me from what I feel I am gifted for.” Probably not a good idea. Spiritual gift tests can sometimes foster a “That’s not my job” syndrome when we’re asked to do something outside of our comfort zone.

Though we need to rely on God’s help, grace, and strength even for those areas where we feel He has gifted us, there’s nothing like being totally out of our element to make us lean on Him and plea for His enabling like never before. And though the main point of caregiving isn’t about me, but rather about showing love and ministering to my mother-in-law, perhaps one reason He has allowed this opportunity is to teach me lessons about my own selfishness as well as serving and loving others in the way they most need it, not in the way I am “comfortable” showing it.

The person who is not good with details is not excused from having to deal with them; in fact, he may have to work harder to handle them, or hire an assistant to help him. The person with a bad temper is not allowed to give it free reign because he can’t help himself. The shy or introverted person has to extend herself sometimes, even though it’s uncomfortable. Even spiritual gifts such as exhortation or mercy or giving have to be kept in balance. A person whose gift is giving for example, can’t run his family into debt or neglect their needs to give to others. He is responsible to exercise that gift in conjunction with other Scriptural instruction under God’s leadership. Scripture contains several passages of instruction concerning how to exercise spiritual gifts.

Understanding they way we’re “wired” does help us to know what direction to go in life, what ministries or vocations to choose, etc. For instance, I am not good with numbers: I can add the same list of numbers up three times and get three different answers—even with a calculator. So I would not look for a job as an accountant. I get rattled in a busy, noisy environment, so I wouldn’t likely work best there—as a teen I lasted working for a fast-food place for only a week.

Whether dealing with a sin issue, a personality bent, or even a spiritual gift, “That’s just the way I am” is not a good excuse. God wants us to seek Him for deliverance from the power of sin, for power and grace to maintain right balances and to be diligent even in areas where we don’t have natural gifts, and for help to grow continually more Christlike every day we live. He does not want us to remain “just the way we are.” “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). We’re changed by beholding Him.

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(Revised from the archives)

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