Laudable Linkage

I have another short but noteworthy list today:

Don’t Trust in Your Christianity, HT to Challies. “I’m afraid many find themselves in a similar predicament of pretense after growing up ‘Christian,’ developing ‘Christian’ habits, and embracing ‘Christian’ ideals—all without any real knowledge of the truly narrow road that leads to eternal life.”

Skillet’s John Cooper on Apostasy Among Young Christian Leaders. I don’t know this person, but I was fascinated by this article a friend linked to on Facebook. I think he’s right. “It is time for the church to rediscover the preeminence of the Word. And to value the teaching of the Word. We need to value truth over feeling. Truth over emotion. And what we are seeing now is the result of the church raising up influencers who did not supremely value truth who have led a generation who also do not believe in the supremacy of truth. And now those disavowed leaders are proudly still leading and influencing boldly AWAY from the truth.”

Most Growth Will be Slow Growth, HT to Challies. “We are just plain tired. Tired of daily self-denial. Tired of taking two steps forward and one step back. Tired of walking on a road that feels endless, toward a city we cannot see. Disillusioned and exhausted, many sit down on the path, not sure if they will get back up again. Why does the slowness of our sanctification come as a surprise to so many of us?” This is something I have wrestled with and very much needed to hear.

How Not to Fall Away, HT to Challies. “[Paul] mentioned Hymenaeus and Alexander who had blasphemed and ‘concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck’ (1 Tim. 1:19-20). What a terrible image. But Paul wasn’t exaggerating. He had been shipwrecked (2 Cor. 11:25). He knew that apostasy was no less tragic than the sinking of a vessel on which people’s lives depended.”

Finally, this cracked me up at first, but then seemed poignant. A lot for a short video to convey! The comments on YouTube with different people’s interpretations was interesting, too.

Happy Saturday!

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Press on toward the goal

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There is a tension in life between satisfaction with where we are and the need to grow in various areas. Coaches encourage and applaud athletes’ efforts and milestones while still pressing them to do more and do better. Parents celebrate and reward good grades and bolster their students for the next test or project. Performance reviews acknowledge an employee’s strengths and successes, but they also note areas where the employee needs to grow and improve. A wise coach, parent, teacher, supervisor, or mentor has to constantly seek balance, avoiding the stance of a slave-driving task-master who is never satisfied with anything less than perfection on one hand and that of the indulgent grandmother who never sees a fault on the other hand. And we need to seek that same balance with ourselves.

I see some of this same tension in the Bible, particularly Paul’s epistles.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, Paul writes, “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.”

Paul prays that the Philippians’ “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9).

In Colossians, Paul proclaims: “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (1:27-29). Christ is in those of us who believe in Him, yet there is a sense in which we grow in maturity in Him.

In Philippians 3, Paul acknowledges that he’s still in a state of growth and hasn’t reached perfection yet. We often use his statement in verse 13, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” as an encouragement to forget the sins and failures of the past. But what Paul is setting aside in that passage is his past laurels (verses 4-11).

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11, ESV).

Our righteousness comes by faith in Christ, not our efforts. Our own efforts could never measure up. Yet there is still a “straining forward” toward growth in maturity.

Sometimes perfectionists can be thoroughly discouraged that no matter how much progress we’ve made, we’ll never get to the point where we don’t have something to work on. But we won’t be perfect until we reach heaven. Part of Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:11 is that we may “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Galatians 5:22-23 speaks of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” That fruit comes from God. But fruit also conveys the idea of growth. And growth takes time.

On the other hand, some of us are prone to inertia. “Good enough” is sufficient for some ares of life. I once heard of someone who boasted that when she made the bed, the sheets were stretched so firm and tight that a quarter could bounce off them. And I thought, “Whatever for?” I’m all for a neatly made bed, but a good-enough made bed falls far below quarter-bouncing standards for me. But “good enough” isn’t sufficient for spiritual growth.  We need that prodding to keep pressing on.

In recent years it’s become common to read of our “mess” in an effort to be transparent and authentic. We’re not perfect and we shouldn’t try to put forth a false perfect image, so we need to pull back the curtain and let people see our flaws and failures. And there’s truth in those thoughts. We can more readily identify with someone who doesn’t seem to have it all together all the time. Yet it’s easy to go so far as to glory in our “mess” instead of progressing.

Or we can feel that the progress we’re making in most areas offsets the areas we’re struggling with. We all have our besetting sins, after all. One son once got upset that I pointed out the one area of his report card that needed attention instead of being satisfied with the rest of commendable grades. While I needed to remember to acknowledge the good grades, I couldn’t overlook the bad one.

While fruit in our lives comes from God, He also calls us to pursue wisdom (Proverbs), love (1 Corinthians 14:1), righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11), peace (2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Peter 3:11).

Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” We’re made perfect in Christ when we believe on Him for salvation. But while we live here on earth, we still have our old nature, which fights against the new one we received at salvation (Galatians 5:16-17). That process of growth toward Christlikeness is called sanctification. Romans 12:2 tells us we’re transformed by the renewing of our minds, and one way we do that is by changing our thinking, lining it up with what God’s Word says, putting specific Scriptures in our minds that the Holy Spirit can then use to remind us.

The standard the Bible continually points to is Christ. We’ll never be Christ. But we don’t rest in self-satisfaction with how we’ve grown over the past ten years or how far we are compared to others: we grow towards His likeness. Yet we will stumble and fall, and we extend grace to ourselves while still making progress. II Corinthians 3:18 says, “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.” As we behold Him in His Word, He changes us to become more like Him.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14, ESV).

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Titus 2 Wise Woman, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

Smelting the Soul

Photo courtesy of alejandro godoy at pngtree

Perhaps you’ve heard this old illustration, as I often have. When metalworkers need to refine metals, they melt them down and then have to skim off the dross, impurities, and other metals until the product is pure. The actual process has changed over the years, but it still involves smelting, separating, and removing impurities. We’re told that the way the refiner knows that his product is pure is when he can clearly see his face reflected in the liquefied metal.

All my Christian life I have heard this refining process as an illustration of God’s sanctifying us.

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts. Proverbs 17:3

Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel. Proverbs 25:4

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. Isaiah 48:10

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Malachi 3:3

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. Job 23:10

The refiner’s skill in applying just the right temperature illustrates God’s skill in adjusting our trials at just the right level. Too little “heat” might upset us but not purify us: too much might discourage or destroy us. The impurities or mixtures of other metals speaks of our need to be cleansed and purified from various sins and divided loyalties. The melting liquid shows our need to yield to the process. And since God’s goal in our sanctification is that we become like His Son, the refiner’s seeing his reflection in the melted metal is a beautiful illustration of our God’s refining and purifying us until we’re conformed to the image of His Son.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Corinthians 3:18

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. Romans 8:29a

These parallels have been a blessing in considering the process and end goal of God’s sanctifying work in my life.

But one particular aspect that I had not considered much before blessed me in a big way last week.

I’ve mentioned before that I am sometimes discouraged at my lack of love, my innate selfishness, and I often pray to be more loving. I know that the struggle between the Spirit and our flesh is a lifelong one that won’t end until we’re in heaven. Yet it seemed like, after around 45 years of being a Christian, I should be further along than I am now, and it should be less of a struggle.

But since that struggle doesn’t end until heaven, we’re going to continue to have our impurities brought to our attention. And that’s a good thing – not that we have them, but that they come to the surface so we can deal with them by confessing them to the Lord and seeking His grace to overcome them.

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Proverbs 28:13

When I first became a Christian, I was convicted of a lack of love and a need to be more unselfish in some areas. But they were probably big, obvious areas. The more I grow in the Lord, the more He makes me aware of smaller, deeper areas, like a harsh thought as well as harsh words.

The refining process is an answer to my prayer to be more Christlike and more loving. I can’t be more loving until I see the ways in which I am unloving. I can’t turn from selfishness until I see the ways my selfishness displays itself. I can’t grow more like Christ until I see the ways I am not yet fully like Him.

So instead of being discouraged that God continually shows me the ways in which I fall short, I can rejoice that He is continuing to refine me. And I praise Him for the grace that washes away all sin.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

Still a sinner though a saint

I was in an unfamiliar grocery store that happened to be on my route home, just to pick up a few things, a bit agitated trying to find what I needed in a store with an unfamiliar layout. I found the bagged salads not at an eye-level shelf like I am used to, but on a lower one, so I was bent over, head deep in the produce bins, looking for the freshest pre-made salad. All of a sudden a head appeared right next to mine and a cheery voice asked how I was doing today. I did not immediately think, “Oh, how lovely, this sweet stranger is concerned about my well-being!” Instead I thought, “How absurd!” But I mumbled, “Fine.” The head disappeared but must not have heard me: in just a second or two, it appeared again next to mine, again asking how I was doing. I muttered “Fine” in a definite “I don’t want to be bothered tone,” and the head disappeared.

I found my salad, but my conscience was smitten. Later I saw the woman who had been trying to greet me. She had a rolling cart and some kind of device in her hand, and I found other people in the store with the same apparatus, so I guessed they were doing inventory. She had her back to me, so I didn’t apologize like I should have: I scurried away, shamefaced.

I don’t know if this woman was just extra friendly or if she was trying to be an enthusiastic employee by greeting customers in odd places. I think some stores have tried to put forth a more friendly atmosphere by requiring their employees to cheerily greet any customers within ten feet of them. I don’t mind that in a natural setting, like when I enter the store, or when we pass each other in an aisle. But I have been called to across a large expanse of the store, or interrupted while intently reading a label by someone behind me asking if I am finding everything, or greeted at odd times or in awkward situations by someone inserting themselves unnaturally. I know it’s better to have too much help than not being able to find a salesperson when you need one, and it’s better to have cheerful help than grumpy help. But it’s possible to overdo it.

Some time back a friend shared about how smiling in response to someone at a store led to a nice conversation and a brightened day for all involved. My snippy reaction, unfortunately, probably had the opposite effect.

I have been convicted again and again about my innate selfishness, my preference to withdraw into an introvert bubble rather than to extend myself, my too-quick tendency to irritability, my need to be more loving. I have been a Christian for over 40 years. Shouldn’t there be more progress by now? Shouldn’t I have gotten past some of this by now?

A passage from Conscience: What It Is, How To Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley (linked to my review) helped me in this regard:

Once you come to Christ and receive that cleansing of conscience, does conscience now fall silent? Quite the opposite! Christians are surprised and sometimes discouraged to find that the condemnations of conscience are even stronger after becoming a child of God. Perhaps you, too, have had thoughts like this: “If I am making progress towards holiness with the help of the Holy Spirit, why do I keep feeling like a worse sinner than before? Becoming a Christian was supposed to relieve my conscience. What’s going on?”

We shouldn’t be surprised when this happens. The moment God accepts you as his child, he gives you the greatest gift he could ever give a child of God: his Holy Spirit to dwell in you. The Holy Spirit comes in to encourage you, comfort you, and be your dearest friend. But he also comes in to reveal to you any sin that is robbing you of joy and to lead you into mortal combat against that sin (Rom. 8:13-14).

When the Holy Spirit comes in, he supercharges your consciousness of sin by writing his laws on your heart (Jer. 31:33-34). He opens your eyes to see sins that you didn’t even know were sins, like pride, greed, and covetousness. He reveals to you all the little idols in your heart’s idol factory. As you read the Bible every day, you see more and more how good and holy God is and how filthy you are.

Don’t expect this struggle to get any easier as you mature in your faith. The war against indwelling sin only grows stronger…

There is generally a proportional relationship between how mature you are as a Christian and how aware you are of your sinfulness. The more you grow by means of grace, the more sensitive you become to your sinfulness. Paul himself increasingly realized his sinfulness: he referred to himself as “the least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9), then “the very least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8), and finally, the “foremost” of “sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Like Paul, you are growing in holiness every day. But you may not feel like it! You’re a saint and a sinner at the same time.

That explains why a Christian often feels so wretched. But then what? If the gap between what we should be and what we really are keeps growing, how can we possibly escape complete despair in the Christian life?…

Only an ever-increasing trust in Christ’s work on the cross can fill this ever-widening gap and keep us from despair. God’s solution for us to have a clean conscience throughout our lives is simple and profound: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)…

Now we can confidently approach God on the basis of Jesus’s definitive work on the cross. Now we can have a “clear conscience” (Heb. 13:18) (pp. 47-51).

None of us is a saint via sinless perfection or exalted religious experience, but the New Testament calls all true believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior saints. Most of the epistles are addressed to the saints at particular locations. My sin nature won’t be completely eradicated until I get to heaven. That doesn’t mean I can sit back and relax about it or excuse my bad conduct: quite the opposite. I’m to daily seek God’s help and grace to fight against it. As I am in His Word and continue to grow in Him, He will point out more and more of my sinfulness that I am unaware of. So I confess that to Him, and then seek Him for more grace to grow more. I look forward to the time when all sin will be put away, but until then, my sin nature will keep reminding me of my need of Him, and hopefully I will continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Writer Wednesday, Coffee For Your Heart, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)

Help for Changing Thought Patterns

Have you ever found yourself stuck in thought patterns? Fear, worry, and anxiety can easily set up camp in our minds, but so also can selfishness, greed, hatred, discontent, covetousness, jealousy, lust, and others. Many times we don’t even realize just how entangled our thoughts have become; sometimes we’ve just gotten so used to them that we have forgotten any other way.

Some years ago I shared reasons to read the Bible. One reason among the many is that we’re told in Romans 12:2 to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” According to BibleStudyTools.com, the Greek word for “renew” there means, “renovation, complete change for the better.” God changes us when we are saved but it takes the rest of our lives, continually spending time with Him in His Word, to “renovate” our thinking and make it more in line with His.

Part of that transformation comes through regular time in the Bible personally and with other believers in church. In a blog post titled “‘You Have Cancer’: When Theology Meets Your Fears,” Tina Walker wrote:

Soon I discovered that cancer was not the enemy – my flesh and Satan were. I wasn’t fighting breast cancer so much as I was fighting myself. And, although I wouldn’t have articulated it this way at the time, my theology was going to determine the outcome.

By theology, I mean the type of practical theology that doesn’t always take the form of a chapter and verse memorized just for the time of need. I’m referring to the accumulation of things learned about God over time. It’s the impression, the viewpoint we have about our God.   It frames the way we think and the way we react to everything that happens around us and to us.

We also need to ask Him to “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). We need for Him to alert us to our blind spots and make us aware of wrong thinking.

But what do we do when we are plagued with thoughts we know are wrong, and even prayed for deliverance and victory over certain wrong thought patterns? I used to pray, “Lord, change my thoughts.” That’s not entirely wrong, because we can’t do anything without Him (John 15:5); however, He has given us tools in His Word to help us combat wrong thoughts. II Corinthians 10:4-5 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

Someone once said that the best way to deal with a wrong thought is to replace it with another thought. If we just chant to ourselves, “Don’t think that, don’t think that, don’t think that,” we’re going to be stuck. Erwin Lutzer, in his book How to Say No to a Stubborn Habit, says that if someone tells you not to think of the number 8, then suddenly that’s all you’ll be able to think of. So rather than passively wishing and hoping our thoughts would be different, we need to actively turn our minds to right thoughts.

Sometimes that will happen during the regular course of our Bible reading: I don’t know how many times God has led me to help right when I needed it at that time. But sometimes it does take “chapter and verse for a time of need.” It helps to take a concordance and look up verses related to the problem we’re having. I’ve had the experience of angry feelings just melting away after reading verse after verse about anger. It helps to write them out, both so that they can work themselves into our minds while we’re writing them, and also so we can have a handy list to refer back to. Sometimes it helps to look up a number of verses; sometimes it helps to just take one especially helpful verse, write it out on a small card, and take with us everywhere to refer to often, pray through it, soak ourselves in it until it becomes a part of us. The more we are in God’s Word, the more the Holy Spirit can “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).

It helps, too, to concentrate not just on the negative thought you’re trying to change or eliminate, but also on the positive one that needs to take its place. Ephesians 4:28 says don’t steal any more, but rather labor. Verse 29 says don’t let corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but rather that which is edifying. Verses 31-32 say, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” So when I am angry, I need to focus on love, forgiveness, and forbearing instead. When I am anxious, I need to remind myself of God’s sufficiency for whatever I am anxious about.

A few other considerations help in transforming our thinking. Recently I was talking with someone about a matter weighty on their heart, but they didn’t really want to listen (evidenced by their interrupting me in mid-sentence). I know at times I have experienced anxious thoughts frothing and spilling over like bubbles in a fountain. Jesus said to His disciples once, ” I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. (John 16:12). Sometimes we need to ” Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a) before we can even hear or receive what He is trying to tell us. There are many verses about inclining our ears or heart to Him. One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 30:15a: “For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” The more time we spend in His Word, the more we learn of Him and trust in Him, the more we rest in Him and quiet ourselves before Him, the more we can receive the ministry of His Spirit conveying His truth to our hearts.

I don’t mean by any of this that our sanctification or victory over sin is all in our hands. As I said earlier, we can only accomplish anything for God through His grace and power. But He has instructed us to read and meditate on His Word for this and many other reasons.

The ultimate means of change comes from beholding Christ: II Corinthians 3:18: 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.

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. II Peter 1:3-4

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(Sharing with Literacy Musing Mondays, Inspire Me Mondays, Me, Coffee, and Jesus, Soul Survival, Testimony Tuesdays, #TellHisStory)

God’s Messengers

I’ve been going through some old posts lately and came across this, from when I used to host “The Week in Words.” It was originally posted August 9, 2010, and it convicted me again today:

From the Elisabeth Elliot e-mail devotionals, this taken from her book A Lamp For My Feet:

How can this person who so annoys or offends me be God’s messenger? Is God so unkind as to send that sort across my path? Insofar as his treatment of me requires more kindness than I can find in my own heart, demands love of a quality I do not possess, asks of me patience which only the Spirit of God can produce in me, he is God’s messenger. God sends him in order that he may send me running to God for help.

Sometimes the very circumstance in our lives that we’re chafing against is the one God is using to work something necessary into our hearts and characters that we would not learn or develop any other way.

That goes along with something I read at Washing the Feet of the Saints:

In a recent conversation with a delightful young friend, we considered what it means to die to self, particularly in the ordinary tasks of every day life, and to live sacrificially in our home and community to the glory of Christ.

The “dying” this young lady referenced was a simple household chore that had nothing to do with family/elderly caregiving, but it’s application was obvious. My friend lamented that it should be easier to put her desires and contentment aside for the benefit of other. “But then it wouldn’t be dying,” I countered.