That God may be Praised

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Just a quick post on a very happy day last week.  Here I am with my friend Kathy in the back halls of the Manahan Orthopedic Center at Grace College and Theological Seminary, ready to receive my Master’s Degree in Ministry Studies and Women’s Leadership Studies.  What an emotional weekend, looking back on about all I have learned and the measure of grace given to me by God to reach this point.

While back in the halls lined up for the processional we met Alex, a graduate who hadn’t been present the previous day for rehearsal because he had been attending his wife’s graduation from Columbus State in Columbus, Ohio.

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Ok, here is just a little something funny, since four graduates in a row were originally from Ohio, and two of us had received our undergraduate degrees from Ohio State.  O-H-I-O. Buckeyes do this wherever we meet. (Ha-You’ll have to read my post about the buckeyes from January 7, 2015).

Back to my topic:  Alex told me that there was a stark contrast between his wife’s graduation address and the one we would hear on our own graduation day.  You see, his wife’s graduation speaker had been Ohio State’s president, Dr Michael Drake.  I am certain Dr. Drake is both a very learned man and worthy speaker.  But as Alex explained, his message lay in stark contrast to what we have been taught through the Scriptures.  Drake’s message to the graduates of Columbus State had been a charge to the graduates to go out and use the skills they had attained to change the world. He had told them that change was other shoulders, and only through their contribution would the world become all that it could.

The Christian world view is different.  We believe that it is only by Christ working through us that real change can occur.  Change is not up to us doing, but rather it is up to us yielding to the work of Christ in our lives.  We seek not our own accomplishments, but furtherance of the name of Jesus.  Listen to two verses I studied with the ladies in my Sunday school class the very next day:  “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”  1 Peter 4:10-11.

It’s amazing how God teaches us and reminds us that our work here on earth is not about self-achievement.  It is about reaching the nations with His love and His glory.  It is indeed a different world view from that of the secular world, and I daresay a different message even from many religious organizations.  Yield to God and make Him known. I must become less and He must become more (John 3:30).  And the reason? That God may be praised.

I don’t understand

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I don’t understand

Last night I took my thirteen year old daughter and her friend to an event called Winterjam.  This was my third (or fourth) time attending Winterjam as I had gone previously with her older sisters. The event is a multi-artist Christian music show which features top recording artists, especially those that would appeal to teens.  In the middle of the event, one of it’s organizers stood up to explain the purpose:  “To worship God together.”  Included in the event was a clear gospel presentation and a testimony by a man named Tony Nolan.

Tony spoke in a way that was relevant to teens, using social media illustrations to portray how to (and not to) relate to God.  The event also included a plea for attendees to sponsor orphaned children until they can meet their “forever families.”  Volunteers from the audience were sought for training in preventing teen suicide. Youth workers attended a short session before the show. An offering was taken, some of which would go to our local rescue mission.   Finally, artists and speakers alike lifted up the name of Jesus in prayer.

The one bad apple of the night was the protesters positioned outside.  They held up signs questioning the faith of attendees (or had their children do so).  One man was yelling through a loud speaker as the crowds filed toward the door.  There were about 7 of them if I counted right, shouting bible verses and condemnations outside for about an hour as the arena was being filled.  I don’t understand.  I have seen and heard this group before when attending concerts. Their words are always that of condemnation.  I’m certain they didn’t come inside to hear the message.

What I wish they could see is that the music draws in teens (and adults) who might never set foot inside a church because they fear they might meet people like, well, THEM–the protestors!  I wish they could understand that almost no one attending the concert thinks that being a follower of Jesus is about listening to loud music.  That is certainly not the message that is given inside the arena.

You see, music is just an avenue to bring people to Christ.  In our culture people don’t often visit a church out of curiosity.  They might go to a concert.  Music is a universal language, and we can use it to influence people.  I don’t understand the need of some to condemn. I have written previously of the need to build others up in God’s kingdom rather than to tear them down.  I pray the three young boys that were present with their fathers will not learn hatred and condemnation, but will learn to reach out to people in love.

Let me leave you with one of the songs sung by Jeremy Camp last night.  Well done Jeremy!

The Simple Gospel

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I have written recently of my love for the Scriptures and of growing out of the “baby stage” of following Christ.  With that said, I would like to say that the gospel itself, the “good news” about Jesus, is not difficult to understand.  In 1 Corinthians 15 we find a quick outline of that gospel: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (vv 3-4, NASB).

All of us have stepped away from who God designed us to be. We, the created, have chosen our own way. I know because I’ve done it.  We follow our own desires, and we serve our own needs.  Yes, we also come through for others.  God has left His mark on all mankind, so that we internally know good from evil.  Still, we choose wrongly many times.  Greed, self-promotion, self-protection, jealousy–we all go there.  Some of us do so inwardly, and some of us carry it all the way through to our actions, but whether in thought or in action, we all go there.

Being who He is, God is completely pure and unchanged by our self-serving nature.  He is Holy, that is, “set apart.”  He is “apart” from our self-centeredness (called sin).  As much as He loves us and wants a relationship with us, our self-centeredness, our sin, keeps us from His holy nature.

So God sent His Son Jesus to die for all those things we put between us and Him.  Through Jesus all those things are put to death and the barriers between us and God are broken.  We saw God’s power when He raised Jesus from the grave.  Jesus was not just some martyr for a good cause, but Lord of everything, including our sin.

God has asked us to believe in Jesus’ work on our behalf.  He has asked us to follow Jesus’ example with our lives, and that involves getting to know who Jesus is, and allowing Him to change our lives to be more like His.  That is the simple gospel.  There are model prayers you can pray to get started, but it’s not about the prayer.  It’s about choosing to leave behind a self-centered lifestyle, and to move into a Christ-centered life.  It is a decision to follow Christ and trust in His work on the cross for your self-centeredness (sin).  The prayer asking God’s forgiveness is the starting point.  A total makeover awaits. You won’t be perfect when you commit to this journey. You will become more like Christ as you learn from Him. You will learn what pleases Him (previous post), and God will give you His Holy Spirit to help you do it (future post).

If I may end with an example, check out the book of Philippians in the Bible, chapter 3.  In verses 1-6 the Apostle Paul gives all kinds of reasons why he could brag about being an important citizen of his day.  Then he turns a corner in verses 7-11 and gives it all up for something better:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul states that he has lost everything that made him “important” so that he could be found in Christ.  Paul’s identity is in knowing Christ and in being found in Him.  That is a powerful, yet simple concept.  It is the concept that changed my life many years ago, and I am still pursuing it today.  It is the gospel lived out.

Christ is my focus.

Christ is my identity.

Everything else hinges on these two facts.  I am a follower of Him.

Since I like to post a song with my blog, here is a link to a song by my favorite band, Third Day.  The song is called “Creed,” and it expresses what Christians through the ages have believed about the Christian faith.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqpZtJYZhJU

 

My love for the Scriptures

IMG_4621 In my last post I mentioned my love for the Scriptures. That seems to be an unpopular position these days. We live in a time when the authenticity and authority of the Scriptures is in constant question.  I think it’s easy for some people to question the Scriptures because we so often see them misunderstood and misused. I know people who claim to know God but who focus totally on the “dos and don’ts” of Scripture.  They rush to judgment, making it look as if all God wants is for us to follow His list. They attack people who don’t believe the Scriptures, and worse, they attack people who do believe, if they follow differently.  This isn’t biblical. Here is what God thinks of using our knowledge to attack others:

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

I’ve also seen the Scriptures misunderstood in this way: God is love, and He told us not to judge, so we need to keep our noses out of everybody’s business.  What’s right for them is right for them.  What’s right for us is right for us.  Christians have no business determining what is right for someone else, and no right to talk about it.  In this philosophy every person determines what is right in his/her own eyes. This is also a wrong interpretation.  Without listing a hundred places in Scripture where Christians are confronted with their sins, let me quote the Apostle Paul, “What shall we say then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2 NIV). The New American Standard translation quotes it my favorite way: “May it never be!”  In today’s terms, “No. way!”

Emotionally, living according to our own consciences may sound okay, but here’s a thought to ponder:  If there is a God in heaven who created all things, shouldn’t He have the right to determine what is right and what is wrong?  Doesn’t the creator have supremacy over the created?  I’m afraid we dramatically underestimate who God is.  Who of us can even fathom a God who can create everything we know–and everything we don’t?  We so greatly underestimate His power that we live our lives as if we are great enough, wise enough, and powerful enough to make the rules.  In short, we are self-centered.

So, how are we to understand the Scriptures?

First, I recommend using a guide that will help you learn to study.  I highly recommend Living by the Book by Howard and William Hendricks.  http://www.amazon.com/Living-Book-Science-Reading-Bible/dp/0802408230/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1426284131&sr=8-1&keywords=living+by+the+book

It is practice in studying the Scriptures that helps us to understand what God has said.  People who seldom read the Scriptures only understand the easy part (the church fathers called it milk). If we don’t study the Bible, we don’t understand the meatier stuff;  We don’t understand God.  We cannot because we are still thinking like babies.

I believe part of being a baby is relying on rules to say we know God. A small child might learn not to run out in the street because she might get hit by a car, but does that mean she knows her parent?  Or does she simply know one of the ways her parent is keeping her safe?  Another part of being a baby is wanting to feel good all of the time and not do hard things like believing what God has said about Himself and His authority.  A small child always looks for his or her own needs to be met.  When he is hungry he cries for food. When she is cold, she wakes her parent up in the middle of the night to ask for a blanket.   But does this mean she knows everything about her parent?  Of course not.  She has a lot of growing to do before she can understand how the parent provides for her, the depth of parental love, or the dreams the parent has for the child’s future.

It is like that with God.  If we remain babies we focus on the rules and on our feelings.  We miss the benefit of growing wiser and knowing our Father more fully.  We remain self-focused, narrow-minded, and shallow in our relationship with God. May I encourage you to get to know Him?  By practice you will have your senses trained to discern what He is like.

Hebrews 5:12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.13For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

If you question the authenticity of Scripture, following are some resources to look up. The authors/speakers have devoted their lives to teaching about the reliability of Scriptures. They both began as skeptics and atheists and came to believe the Bible is reliable and true. Check them out:

Google YouTube, Lee Strobel: He has some great long and short discussions about the Scriptures.  Here is a short one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-1zO7fz1OA website: http://www.desiringgod.org/seminars/why-we-believe-the-bible-part-1

Josh McDowell has a great website with wonderful resources:

http://www.josh.org/video-2/is-the-bible-reliable/

Is the Bible True . . . Really?: A Dialogue on Skepticism, Evidence, and Truth (The Coffee House Chronicles) Josh McDowell

It’s not what you know, but who you know

IMG_0717 It’s not what you know, but Who you know

I’ve done more reading in the last two years than I’ve done in the past 25 years put together.  At least it seems that way.  I’ve never been an avid reader, never gotten hooked on romance or adventure novels, and always found my relaxation in active things such as hiking or gardening. But this reading has been different. Wonderful. The reading has been part of my Master’s program in Ministry Studies and Women’s Leadership. I’ve been learning theology and ministry skills. I’m not in it for the academics, or to win contests in Bible Trivia.  I’m certainly not in it to impress others with my knowledge. I’m in it to know the God who has calls me His own.

I’ve read the philosophies and perspectives of people from many different walks of life.  It helps me to see how people think, and why.  In the end however, I come back to one thing: God has given us a wonderful book we call the Bible.  Its purpose is to show us who God is and what He is like.  It is the story of Him creating and cultivating a relationship with us.  Often we are rebellious, proud, self-focused and unthankful for all He has given us.  And still, He pursues us.

What’s my point here?

There are many opinions on how to approach Scripture, truth, morality, and human liberties.  I plan to continue that topic in another post.  But for now I want to say, “It’s not what you know, it’s Who you know.”  The Scriptures were written primarily for us to know who God is and How we may know Him.  Volumes and volumes have been written by men and women who have dedicated their lives to knowing God through His Scriptures.  It is a pursuit that is both the most satisfying thing a person can do, and the most intriguing. There is always more to discover because the Word of God is living and active.  It is able to weigh our thoughts and intentions, and it is able to lead us to know God.  In fact, I find that the more I study Him the more I want to study Him.  He is the ultimate pursuit.  The book of Hebrews tells us that we train ourselves to understand God by constantly using His Word (chapter 5:11-14).

I am ever thankful for the opportunity to know my Creator.  How?  Because He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures.  They have taught me that someone is higher than me, and is my authority.  Yet beautifully, someone is higher than me, and calls me to be His own. That’s the most fulfilling thing I know.  It’s why I value not what I know, but who I am getting to know better every day.  It’s why Christians say we have a “relationship with God.”  We have been trained to read His love letter to us.  And when we do (when we really do) we know Him even more.

I’ll leave you with a song by Steven Curtis Chapman that has meant a lot to me for a number of years:

Thanks for reading 🙂

 

Lift Each Other Up

My last post was about building each other up. That topic and this one tug at my heart. As God’s children, we not only need to build each other up, we need to LIFT each other up. 

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Great leaders don’t rise to the top by stepping on the backs of others.  Great leaders are lifted to the top on the shoulders of those who follow them.  

Jesus’ theory was that whoever wants to be great must be a servant of others rather than promoting himself (Mark 9:35).  Of course, any theory held by Jesus wasn’t exactly theory; it was (& is) the very Word of truth.  In fact, Jesus demonstrated his theory in action when he humbled Himself to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2:8).

We will never grow to be who God wants us to be by holding others back. We are at our best when we allow others to be at their best.  The family of God is placed together to create a strong body, and without every part of the body, we cannot function properly. God has put us together, “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:25-26).    Mutual concern for each other makes us strong.

It’s on my heart to say this: Christian brother or sister I need you.  You are important and you are needed.  I cannot be at my best unless you are at yours.  How can I lift you up on my shoulders so that you shine as brightly as you can with the love of Christ? How can I celebrate the way God is using you as part of His kingdom? How can I step out of the way so that your light can be clearly seen?

Should we want to be used by God? Absolutely. But it’s deadly when we need to be. Being loved by God sets us free to celebrate whomever God uses.                                   –Mike Donehey,                    Tenth Avenue North

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Celebrating the achievements of others makes us all stronger.

Lord, Help me to celebrate others, their gifts and their achievements.  Show me how to give every opportunity for them to shine in your kingdom.  Like a forest set on fire with your truth, may our mutual flame be inextinguishable. May we bring glory to You together!