Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Prayer requests

In a recent round of strong storms that ripped through the Carolinas, one of our family had a massive tree fall on their home. (That's a picture off the interwebs, not their house. I strive to keep identities safe and lives private! Besides, their tree was a LOT bigger!)

We were all dismayed at the damage, but we were so thankful to God for sparing them much worse damage and possibly physical harm - they were all in the basement area of the home when the storm came through, so no one was hurt.

In our gratitude, we were praying and reading the Word, and as the spring time is often a time for storms to rumble through, I thought I would post a few verses and share with you all my thankfulness to the Lord.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul:he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Psalm 23)
I'm praying for continued safety for all this spring. I hope that if you have a request or a praise for answered prayer that you will post here for us to share with you.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Growing in discernment, continued

This week, we'll continue and conclude our study of growing, not stagnating, in our walk with Jesus Christ.
Before our "spring break," we discussed how we need to pursue the gift or skill of discernment; this is much the same as wisdom. It's being able to prayerfully consider things and allow the Spirit to help us make judgments on whether something is good or evil, godly or ungodly, and truth or error. We discussed how we need to avoid making "snap" judgments about people's motives, and that we also need to deal with issues of sin in our own lives. Additionally, we should approach things with an attitude of humility, and seek to restore the person who is wrong to a right relationship with our Father and with other believers.

In conjunction with that humility, we need to add a liberal handful of love to the recipe. Let's say that you have observed an issue in someone's life. You have prayerfully considered it and also searched the Bible to make certain that you are looking at the issue as the Father does. Now it's time to pray, asking that God not only prepare you for what is ahead, but also to cleanse your heart from sin issues that would harm your testimony.

Then, there's one more thing. We need to examine our hearts and make sure that we counsel others with love.  You see, if we don't have a sacrificial love that seeks to provide the best for others, and seeks to nurture the best of others, then we should not bother to share our message of discernment. It won't matter what we are sensing, or how wrong something is, nor how badly it needs "fixing" -- if we can't have love for that person we're talking to, it's not going to work.

If that's the case, the solution is to get on our knees before God and ask Him to give us an undying love for that person, for that child of His. And until we have a perspective of love and compassion for that person, we need to keep our discernment to ourselves!  It's just common sense; if we share what God has given us without compassion, and without a heart of love, people's lives can be destroyed. No, I'm not kidding. It's that serious. When it comes to sharing insights that the Spirit has given us, we often make the message the highest priority; it's love that should have the highest priority.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. (I Peter 3:8)
There is probably not much that can damage a person more than a word given without love. If we can't look at a person with love, then we must keep our thoughts, our discernment, to ourselves.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:13)
When love is part of the equation, we will focus on the power of a growing relationship, not on being right, or being knowledgeable, or being someone else's conscience. The greatest of these is love.

Another thing that will help us with our growth in discernment is to be self aware. I'm not trying to delve into the realm of counselors and therapists, here, just speaking about using common sense. If we are going to help others with our wisdom and discernment, being self aware will be of great benefit.
Self awareness really means that we have a solid understanding of who we are, and of how we relate to others and to the world. Now, this means that we will be mentally and emotionally present in situations - we won't be sleep walking through life -- and we will take the time to understand how our words and actions affect others. Many of us walk around with no idea of how we "come across" or how we are perceived by those we interact with. And those interactions can affect others in either positive or negative ways! Some of the people we talk to or try to help are a bit intimidated - they don't want to start a conflict, so they don't tell us if their feelings are hurt. Some are just annoyed with us; they still don't say anything. We can go on for years having no idea of the effects we are leaving behind us, like the wake of a moving boat.

Are we able to look carefully at ourselves? Do we listen sometimes to our own voices, to see if we are comforting or critical, soothing or strident, compassionate or callous?
If, after examining ourselves, we see that there are problems, how do we improve? Take a leisurely look again, after some interactions with others. See if there are things that we did to "push someone's buttons" or to start an argument . . . or even to prolong a long-standing disagreement.
If someone blows up at us and it seems to be totally unprovoked, take a moment and see if we were insensitive, or if something we said pushed them toward resentment. Sometimes it can be simply the tone of our voice -- it can sound nagging, or perhaps condescending. That's why we must not only pay attention to our words, but to how those words sound.

When we do have an argument, we must listen closely to what our friend may be telling us. It's oh, so hard sometimes to hear negative things about ourselves, but if our friend is hurt, we may have done something without even realizing it. Listen closely to them! We need to slow down and ask our friend to share their frustration with us. Unless we are willing to do that, we may never learn. When our friend is finished speaking, be gracious and think about it for a while. Go back over the attitudes that we have had toward them, and see if perhaps we were not quite as good a friend as we thought we were....

One caveat here - self awareness is important as we learn how to share our discernment and wisdom, but we must balance it. The time spent in self-reflection should be to determine how our actions affect our friendships. We should not go so far as to act like a martyr, or to take the blame for everything.  Keep away from the far ends of the pendulum swing: one end says it's all our fault, and the other end says it's all their fault. The truth is usually somewhere in between! Understanding our role as discerning believers and acknowledging what we do wrong (and what we do correctly) will help us keep a harmonious life, and allow us to help others with our wisdom.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter Sunday and Easter week

Happy Easter to everyone! Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

I hope that this Easter Sunday will be a blessed one for all who pause here to study and pray. I am grateful for all of you, and for the opportunity to study alongside and also to pray for all of our shared requests. It's been a true blessing to me to have the chance to prepare these posts and to learn more from the Spirit as we go.

We'll be taking a brief break from our studies this week....many of us will have some extra time to spend with family, and sometimes I need a bit of rest to recharge my batteries!

I'd like to leave all of us with some questions to consider; we can consider these this week in our own prayer and study times:
       How can we show our gratitude to God for allowing His Son to endure the suffering and shame of the cross?
       How can we show our thankfulness to God for raising Christ from the dead, to assure our victory over sin?
       As we celebrate His resurrection and continued presence within each of us, are we reflecting His likeness to those around us?
       Are we following His command to tell others the gospel story, so that their lives can be changed?

“Where, O death, is your victory?    Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (I Corinthians 15:55-58)

Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday slowdown

Today is the day that we humans have set aside to meditate on the death of our Lord and Savior. We call it Good Friday.
The general definition of "Good Friday" is this:
the Friday before Easter, which is annually observed to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Not a bad definition.
But rather sparse.
It certainly doesn't tell the whole story.
Jesus knew Who He was. And He knew why He was here. That is why we "see" that glint of determination on His face when He turned to go to Jerusalem the last time....it was His death march.
He would be mocked.
Spat upon.
Nailed to a cross.
And He would say, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing."

Today, can we emulate Christ and forgive the wrongs that others do to us? Can we forgive when we are hurt, humiliated, wronged, scarred with the unkindness of another human being?
Does our forgiveness reach out and encircle those who have hurt us?
Each hurt or pain, each moment of loneliness or sorrow, each moment of hatred or of guilt -- all of these nail us to a cross by those who hurt us. But the reverse is also true; we can also use the same nails on someone else as we nail them to their cross. There is a lot of hammering of nails going on in this world.
But is there forgiveness, too?
We who say we are followers of Christ . . . do we show forgiveness?
Many powerful speakers have encouraged us to put ourselves into the place of Jesus at this moment. Think of the bitter agony He experienced - it was more than mere physical pain; it was agony of spirit. Remember that He was the Son of God and that He knew the power of God -- the almighty power that could have removed Him from that cross at any moment. Remember that it was the power of a Father watching His only Son die a slow and agonizing death. Remember that His Son felt the weight of all the sins and the punishment of all those sins, from past, present, and future generations. It's no wonder that He cried out, "My God, my God, why did You abandon Me?"

But why didn't God reach down and save Him? Why didn't He send His angels to help Jesus down from the cross?  Why does God allow evil to exist?
Think of the implications to those questions. What would God do? Kill all who are evil? Where does He stop? If God destroyed all who resist His will, how would you and I have come out? It might have happened before we had the chance to be saved.....

No, God has another way. It's the way of the loving Father. He meets us where we are. He suffered everything that our sins could bring upon the world, and did it all with His heart breaking. What is that loving Father like? The cross tells us that story. He lets the rejection of His Son run its full course to the cross. Since Jesus was to be the sacrifice for our sins, He had to feel all of the feelings of humankind; He had to feel and experience everything, including the bitter feeling that even God had abandoned Him. Through my tears I confess that I don't know how the cross has reconciled me to God. It's too high, too much, too overwhelming to fully grasp. I only know that it speaks of His love for me and for you.
"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!"

And He stopped breathing.
Dear God, my Savior stopped breathing.
His heart stopped beating.
This cannot be.
But Jesus knew that the Father would save. He prayed in the garden the night before, so earnestly that blood dripped from His brow. The power of that prayer, and the power of God's plan to save mankind saw Him through this agony, so that He could call out to the Father and know that He would accept Him into His mighty arms.
He took my place on the cross.
He took your place, too.
We belonged on the cross, not Jesus. He took our punishment. It's easy to say that. We can even be smug about our salvation. But when we admit to ourselves, and to God, that we belonged on that cross, all of our smugness and self-righteousness falls away as we tearfully bow our heads.

But now....
Now we look ahead. We look ahead to Easter. To Pentecost. To the power of His Spirit and His love coming to earth to be with each of us as we walk this pathway.
It's Good Friday, because we know that Easter follows.
It's Good Friday, because Christ lives!
We can look at the stark reality of the cross; it's a symbol of death that was meant for us. But we can also see the joyous reality that the cross is a symbol of hope!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Growing, not stagnating, continued

One of the signs of maturity and discernment is not actually how long we have been Christians.
A better indicator is how effectively we have worked out our own issues. How have we dealt with sin in our own lives? How have we dealt with wrong motivators?
It's really easy to deceive ourselves sometimes!
Have we allowed the Holy Spirit to probe and reveal our problems?
We focused on Hebrews 5 yesterday:
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
See that phrase, "by constant use have trained themselves"? I believe what the writer to the Hebrews is saying is that we need to spend a lot of time letting God tell us how we need to change our thinking. We have ways of thinking about things that are based on lies, or deception, or half-truths. "Constant use" and "training" are ways that God can use to reveal what is really in our hearts. You see, God knows what's in our hearts. But sometimes we'd rather not look too deeply. We might be disappointed. Embarrassed.
Constant use . . . of prayer, and of study, and of focusing our mind on Him.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.  (Ephesians 6:18)
I meditate on your precepts    and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees;    I will not neglect your word. (Psalm 119:15-16)
It's not hard to fool ourselves about our spiritual condition. To make ourselves think we are more spiritual, more mature than we are. That is why we must try very hard to work out the issues in our own lives - to deal with the sins and attitudes that hinder us. I'm remember years ago I heard Corrie Ten Boom speak at a crusade. I remember her saying this, and I was thrilled to find the quote: "Don't pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it!"

"You need milk, and not solid food!" The problem outlined in Hebrews 5 still exists today. In fact, we see this a lot in our churches nowadays. We have a church culture that forces many pastors today to keep plowing the same ground . . . to continually feed people milk. The people in their congregations have not moved into the meat phase of maturity, and it's mainly because they have not worked on the issues that God has right in front of them. If they would listen to the Spirit and work on the sins and attitudes that He points out, they could remove those sins and issues. It is He Who knows our hearts far better than we know them ourselves!
You know when I sit and when I rise;    you perceive my thoughts from afar. (Psalm 139:2)
“I the Lord search the heart    and examine the mind," (Jeremiah 17:10a)
If we will shut out the hectic noise of the world and listen to the still, small voice, we can learn how to be more than "hearers." The way would be cleared to grow and mature, growing more like Christ Jesus. They will learn how to be ready to teach and to lead. With cleansing will come maturity and discernment. Remember what the writer of Proverbs told us? "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and..." what was the next part?
"Lean not on your own understanding." Don't fool yourself about your spiritual health. Allow the Holy Spirit time. Listen quietly. Look carefully at the issues that He brings to mind.... this is the pathway to maturity and discernment.

Another important key to growth, and maturity as well, is to remain humble. If we are walking around telling people "I have great discernment! It's my spiritual gift," then we just don't "get it."
If we really have trained ourselves to follow the Spirit, and we've received a gift of wisdom and discernment, we will use it with meekness - with humility.
Above all else, guard your heart,    for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)
It's amazing how quickly believers that we thought were mature will "tag team" with others to tear down the reputation of another Christian. We quickly toss them to the curb, forgetting that we ourselves could easily end up in the same sin.
If we discern something in someone else, we must first maintain an humble attitude. After all, we are redeemed sinners, too, right? (Grin) Then, we must respond with thoughtfulness -- not a quick reply or a snappy retort -- but with an humble heart of love for our fellow Christian. You see, our motivation should not be merely to point out the issue and walk away. Our goal is restoration.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)
It's not our goal to punish; it's our goal to restore that person's life . . . to assist them in getting things right with our Savior. Discernment must be paired with meekness -- remember what meekness means? Strength and power under control. Surely meekness is easier when we are reminded that anyone's struggle could be our own. As Paul said in the verse above, we could become prey to the very thing we have discerned and gently pointed out in someone else.

If we want to use discernment effectively, and counsel others, we will do well to keep uppermost in our minds the fact that God's mercy saved us from our own sins. This will keep our attitude humble and our words gentle.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Growing, not stagnating

This week's study is how to grow in discernment; it's about how to avoid being stagnant, and to journey toward more Christ-like behavior.
This is an off-shoot of our II Peter study, and some helpful verses are found here:
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

Many people who feel that they have the gift of discernment do more destruction than they do building up. Instead of edifying, they are tearing down. In their cases, the concept of "pretty is as pretty does," or "walk the walk," is still a goal, and not yet achieved. Having and using the gift of discernment doesn't mean that we walk around telling everyone what they are doing wrong. It doesn't mean that we look down our noses at others who are not as "spiritual" as we are . . .

True discernment is an incredibly valuable tool in the toolkit of the body of Christ. But for every article from Christians online, we can search and find other Christians who hold opposing views. It even gets to the point where one group says "God is working!" and another says it's the work of the devil. Oy vey.
While a basic definition of discernment is simply telling the difference between truth and error, I Corinthians sheds some light on our discussion. One of the gifts listed is "discerning of spirits." This has to do with knowing the motivation of a person or group. Knowing the source of the thoughts or motivation . . . this truly takes wisdom (another synonym for discernment!).
If we want to walk in clarity and in wisdom, there are some key things that we can do. Those will be our study points for this week.

First, we need to make sure that we don't assume we know everyone's motives right-off-the-bat. As human beings, we judge the book by its cover, and we often lean toward assigning a motive that is evil. Many times we look at ourselves positively and judge others by their worst possible intentions! We can very quickly paint a lurid picture of what someone "must" have been intending to do or say. Granted, it's very easy to do this, because we had some pretty rotten motives ourselves "back in the day," before we were saved:
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:3-5)
So, it's pretty easy for us to think negatively of others, and to feel that we automatically (and instantly) know what's driving them. But even as we are standing there, judging those books by their outside covers, and by our past thoughts and sins, God is looking deeper. God is weighing, and knowing:
A person may think their own ways are right,    but the Lord weighs the heart. (Proverbs 21:2)
 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)
Our first step toward greater clarity, wisdom, and discernment will be to develop a rule for ourselves: we will not assume to know someone's motives unless they express it to us directly, or we have considered their fruits (or lack of spiritual fruit) for quite some time......no jumping to conclusions!
This will keep us from hurriedly deciding on a negative slant or motive for someone's actions or words. This will keep us from coming under suspicion or criticism ourselves.

Secondly, we need to soberly consider our own issues. What do we mean?  Well, we alluded earlier to past sins and problems in our own lives . . . sometimes those can cause us to project to others. In other words, if someone thinks they see sexual sin in every single person they speak to, it could be that they are struggling (or struggled in the past) with that issue. If they feel that everyone in church is speaking critically and harshly, perhaps they are projecting that to other people because of their own struggles to tame their tongue.  We can think others are motivated by things that stem from our own hurts, weaknesses, and sins.
"Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:24)
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." (Matthew 7:1-5)
We need to be careful to avoid this kind of thinking. If we first truly and soberly consider our own issues, we may be better able to see (discern) others' motives more clearly.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Verses that inspire

Recently as I studied, this verse stood out to me:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7)
There are many sermons and analogies about Christian growth....I guess they make a lot of sense to folks like me who never strayed far from the countryside!

We've talked before about being rooted in Christ Jesus; taking strength and nourishment from Him each day, and growing stronger daily. Just like in the parable of the sower, we want to be the plants from seed sown on "good ground." No shallow roots here! No sprouting up and then falling away!
“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away.Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty-fold and sixty-fold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:3-9)
I notice in Colossians that there is a "proof" of our being rooted, being strengthened, and growing.....it's overflowing. Specifically, overflowing with thankfulness!

I enjoy transplanting "volunteer" plants from my borders and garden. Some of these are from plants that propagate by dropping a stem to the ground, and then forming roots where the stem touches the soil. I must be careful which ones I decide to dig up: if I don't choose new plants that have a good root system, they will look fine for a week or two, but then their foliage will wither and turn brown. I know I've made a good choice when the plants put out beautiful green foliage in their new location.

Like the lush green leaves of a plant that is growing strong with a great root system, our lives should be lush with gratitude.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;    his love endures forever. (I Chronicles 16:34)
And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

Monday, April 15, 2019

Grandma always said . . .

At the close of our study last week, we mentioned the old saying, "Pretty is as pretty does." We drew the application there, that if we are going to be growing, maturing, discerning believers, we must work at it. We must walk the walk.

How do we work at being vibrant? At growing?
How do we avoid being stagnant?
How do we encourage and experience personal growth?
Years ago, this study blog was started by a wonderful Christian lady named Tonya. She handed the baton to me, and since that time, I've learned that the best way to grow as a Christian is to teach. (Grin) There's nothing that can compare to our spiritual fire inside being fueled!

I don't want to be a "stick in the mud," do you? I don't want to be neglecting my faith and growth, like an old house that I used to drive past. I don't guess there had been anyone in it for fifteen years or more . . . the floor was buckling, and there was a hole in the roof letting the weather in. The porch swing had fallen down and a couple of windows were broken. The car in the front yard could barely be seen through the kudzu and weeds that were valiantly trying to hide it from passers-by. How does a house stay ready to live in? By someone being there and caring for it, maintaining it. How does a car stay ready to start and run? Again, by someone diligently caring for it, not neglecting it.

I truly believe that Jesus desires for us to continue and to grow in our faith until death. He spoke to believers in Smyrna and in Sardis:
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. (Revelation 2:10b)
The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. (Revelation 3:5) 
We should do all we can to avoid being a "stagnant" Christian. Our physical bodies will die if they do not get the proper and needed nourishment on a routine basis.....so why would we do that to our Christian selves, to our spiritual bodies? The flame of God's love within us should stay bright and glowing (and growing!). If we have lost our flame, we need to do as Paul told Timothy:
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (II Timothy 1:6-7)
If we have allowed that flame to flicker and almost go out, it will affect us in many ways.... do we long to understand more of the Word? If we have not grown in our faith the way He desires us to, we cannot hope to grow in our understanding. Obviously, there are some parts of the Bible that are more difficult than others to understand. We must graduate from the "milk" stage of our faith to the "solid meat" part:
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  (Hebrews 5:11-14)
As Christians, we should always be students of the Word. We will still need spiritual milk from time to time, but as we grow we will be taking in solid meat and understanding more and more as the Spirit teaches us.

If we diligently fan the flicker into a flame, we will be more useful and fruitful in His kingdom.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (II Peter 1:5-8)
Growing in our faith will help us to produce fruit for Christ. But we must also remember that "every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit." (John 15:2)  Many of us are very happy to bear fruit for God, but are we also ready for God to prune us?  We know (head knowledge) that sometimes the only way to grow is to persevere through difficulties, but our hearts cry out, wishing to do without the "pruning" times.

If our goal is to become more like Christ, we will want to grow in wisdom, in knowledge, and in the fear of the Lord. If we take a good look at ourselves and realize that we've fallen short, let's pray with David:
Restore to me the joy of your salvation    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51:12)
We will be doing a "deep dive" this week into becoming discerning, growing believers -- living holy, godly lives, and looking forward to His coming.
I hope that we will all receive blessings from our study (without too many bruised toes).

Friday, April 12, 2019

Friday slowdown

This song has been one that inspired me in the past; recently it meant a great deal to me again. I hope this is a blessing to someone who pauses here:

Thursday, April 11, 2019

How to become a discerning believer

We've seen this week that our lives as believers are those of building, always building. Laying more on the foundations and moving upward. Last time, we spoke about the advantages of growing in discernment, and I thought a brief post on the "how to" angle would be beneficial....

How do we grow into discerning believers?
First of all, we need to establish (and then keep at it!) a routine for reading, studying, and meditating on scripture. Not a hurry-up-and-get-it-done-because-I-have-so-much-to-do-today kind of reading, but a really meditative type of study. What do we mean by meditate?
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,Nor stand in the path of sinners,Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord,And in His law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)
Ironically, the word "meditation" in Hebrew basically means to speak or to mutter. If it's done in our heart, it's called musing or meditation. So we are talking about speaking the Word of God to ourselves day and night. We're talking about memorization, so that God can use His word to guide us each and every day.
How in the world can I do that, you ask? I'm TOO busy!!!
I generally eschew the constant use of cell phones - I get so tired of seeing people who don't raise their heads to interact with other people, or even to look before they cross the street..... however, there are some apps that can really be helpful with this. After all, we take 'em with us everywhere, right? (Grin)  One that I like, myself, is called "Fighter Verse," and offers several translations for your preference, as well as helpful memory devices so that memorization will be easier. There's even a kids' section that is useful for us old folks who are just getting started.

Next, we should make prayer more than just a once-a-day habit. Make it a continuous conversation! If we depend upon the Lord in all things, our hearts will remain ready to accept His commands and His guidance.
Seek the Lord and His strength;Seek His face continually. (I Chronicles 16:11)
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:18)
Find good books to read and study. Look for books that will build up our understanding of the truth. We can even develop a reading plan, and keep a log of the books and some of the significant concepts in them.  I can recommend a couple -- Everyone's a Theologian by R. C. Sproul is a good one, since many of us equate theology with "dry," but it's not a dry book!  Another is Five Minute Apologetics for Today by Ron Rhodes; this one will equip us to speak persuasively but humbly about our faith.

Next, learn how to witness for Jesus and then make it a part of our everyday lives to talk to others about our Lord. How many of us have walked away from an opportunity and regretted that we didn't bring up the subject? That the conversation "never got around to it." Think up some ice-breaker things to say, that will allow us to follow up with our testimony of our faith. Make sure that we know the verses to help a person understand the love of God, the gift of Christ, and the beginning of a new life in Him. Pray that God will show us chances to share with others.
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,    and the one who is wise saves lives. Proverbs 11:30)
All of these will help us to be discerning, growing, maturing Christians.
As grandma used to say, "pretty is as pretty does." Meaning, of course, that we can't just talk about doing these things..... we must actually do them!
I'm thinking that next week we will do a deeper dive on this subject.
Hope you will join us!!