Wednesday, November 22, 2017

How Can I Be Thankful When I'm Not?

Many of us will be visiting extended family on Thursday for the supposed purpose of sharing food and camaraderie in a spirit of thankfulness.

Sadly, many of us feel only guilt that thankfulness for time spent with certain individuals never materializes.

And this is usually because every family has a fly in the ointment. Okay, maybe not every family.

But every family that I have ever encountered has the irascible relative: the critic, the mean-spirited gossip, the angry drunkard.

And if not that, then every family has the proverbial jokester, the political egger-on-er, the braggart, the loud-talking room-dominator, the coterie of drinkers, and so on.

Sometimes it’s easy to shrug our shoulders and slink away to a quiet corner. 

Sometimes we become disgruntled that nobody—including our self, is willing to confront the ne’er-do-well. 

Other times it’s necessary to actually don our coats and take our leave from the premises.

Many of us dig in our heels and weather these gatherings—battered by our apprehension in the days leading up to the festivities, and by our frustrations in the days following.

A friend--a sister-in-Christ--and I recently talked about this very thing. She said she had recently read that, instead of focusing on wishing others would change, or how others need to change, or on God needing to change them, it is better to focus on how God can change us.

God can use any situation or person to tone and condition our patience, long-suffering, compassion and discernment.

Discernment is an attribute I particularly like, finding it quite helpful in combating inner feelings because it incorporates logic and the benefit of objective thinking.

I absolutely love the online dictionary’s definition of discernment:

“(In Christian contexts) perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding.”

That is the opposite of how I have often conducted myself. In the past it was about my discomfort and my wants (which I often mistook for needs).

The new way, the Christ-way, is to see everyone from His perspective and His alone.

When we do that, we will no longer be discomfited when people who mock Christ act as they do.

We will not despair when the alcohol flows or be surprised at a dumb joke.

We will be unperturbed at someone’s admission of how they cheated the boss or Uncle Sam.

We will remain in perfect peace, steadfast in our trust in Christ, always conscious of the truth that our identity is in Christ, not the world or group of people in which we find ourselves.   

Having an ongoing knowledge of Scripture is crucial in order to practice discernment, and to be able to abide in Christ with a clear conscience before God, come what may.

This is how we stop “weathering the storm” of social get-togethers and instead go forth in Christ’s quiet, humble, strength and affirmation.

copyright Barb Harwood

“The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You support my lot.” Psalm 16:5

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3

“I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” John 17:15-19

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thinking We're a "Good" Person Doesn't Save Us

William Barclay, writing in The All-Sufficient Christ, points out that many religious people see salvation as:

"something that a man by merit can win, and not something that in grace God gives. It makes a man think of salvation as something that results from what he is, and not something that results solely from what God is."

Barclay goes on to say, 

"The very essence of Christianity is that in humble and adoring gratitude we can only accept that which God in Christ so generously offers us...
True, such a love drives us to seek to be worthy of it, but that which we do is not the cause but the consequence of our salvation. Every man is saved for works, but no man was ever saved by works." William Barclay

"But God , being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, 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 ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as 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 so that we would walk in them." Ephesians 2:4-10 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Collectivism's Obsession With Extroversion

C.S. Lewis has a great quote on how solitude, even in his day, was being squashed and discouraged:

"There is a crowd of busybodies, self-appointed masters of ceremonies, whose life is devoted to destroying solitude wherever solitude exists. They call it "taking the young people out of themselves," or "waking them up," or "overcoming their apathy." If an Augustine, a Vaughan, a Treherne, or a Wordsworth should be born in the modern world, the leaders of a youth organization would soon cure him." C.S. Lewis, p. 159, The Weight of Glory

My experiences within the Corporate Church, and how it "disciples" the youth, have born this out as well. Silence and one-on-one time with God are not prioritized, or at least, are not as highly esteemed as time spent in unison. 

Even among Evangelicals, who constantly assert the need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the lived-out attitude and expressed expectation is the total opposite: "Sign Up!" "Join a Group!" "Serve!" "Come to Bible Study!" "Be Here Every Time Church is in Session!" "Raise Your hands in Worship!" "Be Missional" "Be in Community!" "Get Out of Your Comfort Zone!" and on and on. 

C.S. Lewis goes on to say:

"We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship." C.S. Lewis, page 160, The Weight of Glory

Sometimes I feel as though, when we give our life to Christ, others now feel entitled to own us and take it upon themselves to dictate the call of God on our life. 

And that call from within a Corporate Church is inevitably an extroverted one. And we often succumb, out of spiritual immaturity, to that false premise that to be a Christian means giving up our quiet, our time alone and our solitude. And the busyness that becomes the predominant face of "faithfulness" often becomes the very stumbling block to a personal relationship with Christ.

copyright Barb Harwood

"Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord's feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.' But the Lord answered and said to her, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.'" Luke 10:38-42

"But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray." Luke 5:16

"Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in  Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need." 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Itching Ears

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4

A.W. Tozer describes the preaching at the first church he attended after his conversion to Christ. The man that was preaching did not speak within the authority of Christ. In other words, he spoke from a human, sentimental and philosophical agnosticism:

“I remember he preached one Sunday about a harp, using the subject, ‘A Harp of a Thousand Strings.’ He didn’t say much, but he said it beautifully, and it ended up like this, ‘So I am sure that the soul of a man is the harp of a thousand strings.’
I went home—and didn’t hear any harp. I didn’t hear any authority” (A.W. Tozer).

What was missing, Tozer explains, is the authority of Christ in the pulpit.

Matthew 7:27-28 says:

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

Much of what passes as Christianity lacks the authority of Christ and His anointing via the Spirit of God.

Obviously, this lack of Biblical preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ did not become a stumbling block for A.W. Tozer. I sincerely praise God for that, and for guarding all believers who experienced the same style of milk toast leadership and teaching in the churches we either grew up in or ignorantly attended in our early days of being a Christian, not knowing any better.

And while self-serving, philosophically intellectual, Hallmark card and Reader’s Digest style preachers—and the congregations who gobble up their fictions and musings—seem harmless enough, they are actually the wolves in sheep’s clothing described in Matthew 7:15:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

And then,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Matthew 7:21-23

Jesus explains what it means to know Him:

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well” (John 14:6-7a).

Many preachers stand at the helm of a physical building and group of people called a corporate church. They may even quote Scripture as part of the liturgy and ecclesiastical tradition.

Banners decorated with doves of peace adorn the walls, and the preacher, wearing the vestment, dramatically intonates as he or she reads and speaks.

The choir sings ancient hymns and the sun streams through stained glass depictions of St. Paul, or Jesus sitting among the lambs with the children.

It’s all so spiritual and pious.

And yet many of them don’t know God because they don’t know Jesus Christ.

Without the inward submission to the Gospel—heart, mind, intellect, body, soul and spirit, wherein “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3 in part), it is a foundation built on sinking sand (Matthew 7:24-29).

“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

“In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18a).

It is by the Word of Truth—not the anecdotes and prosaic witticisms of a winsome humanist “pastor,” or a women’s liberation advocate, or a universalist troubadour—that one comes to be in the presence of, and ultimately know, God through Jesus Christ the Lord.

I have met and come to know many people who will uncomfortably say they believe in God (but don’t want to talk about it) and yet will never mention the name of Jesus Christ or admit to belief in Him.

John 3:6 explains this:

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”

“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Just because a building looks like a church, feels like a church and sounds like a church, doesn’t mean it is a church: not the church of the Triune God of Father, Son and Spirit, anyway.

The platitudes and sound of stringed instruments, the interpretive dancing, the “children’s church”—all of it, if it originates from man, to man, is nothing. It is “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).

It will look and sound like love: undefined, generic love that we are led to believe is the best kind.

But what does 1 Corinthians 13 say? This passage is all about love, as is most of Scripture. It says, in a way, the same thing that Matthew 7, quoted above, says. It says that this kind of generic love does not have the authority of Christ: Christ is not the source of it nor is He in this love at all.

What does Jesus say about love?

"A new command I give you:...As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34a, b, emphasis mine).

“If you love Me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Note that in the very next line after this, in Jesus’ own words, He tells us how we are to keep His commandments (which essentially is the keeping of the Gospel, the New Covenant. We do not get rid of the Old Testament Ten Commandments; we approach them now from the position of being in an even greater covenant, the New Covenant of Christ).

The very next line that Jesus says is this:

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).

Why then do some people fall under the spell of authors and leaders and pastors and priests who do not know God (but often act and speak as if they do, but without the authority of Jesus Christ), while others, even though exposed to these false teachers, do not succumb to their influence?

I believe the answer can be found, going back again to Matthew 7, in the words of Jesus when he says,

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” John 7:7-11.

Those who have itching ears persist in those ears because they don’t ask and seek after God through Jesus Christ. And they don’t ask and seek after God through Jesus Christ because they don’t want to.

I believe every person has moments where they begin to want to, but the parable of the seed kicks in and their inclination to Christ gets snatched by the evil one, or dies because it has no place to take root, or falls away when the going gets tough, or is choked out by worries of the world or by wealth and prosperity (Matthew 13:18-230..

It is in the one who perseveres in the thirst for Christ that the seed grows and flourishes. As this seed grows and flourishes, the Word is understood and bears fruit, and the seeking person does not become hoodwinked by deceivers (read Matthew 13:18-23 in its entirety).

If evil, worries, intellect, giving in to temptations, greed, idolatry of wealth and status can all kill the seed in a person, then desiring to hear the Word, understand it and bear fruit in it can, in turn, grow it.

As Jesus said, “Seek and you will find.”

And to a true seeker of God in Christ Jesus, only His Truth, in His Authority, will satisfy.

copyright Barb Harwood

“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called knowledge—which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith.” 1 Timothy 6:20-21

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Holy Spirit Fills Us With Love and Understanding of the Scriptures

A.W. Tozer, writing on the Holy Spirit in the book, The Counselor, published by Moody Publishers:

The "Word of God is sweet to the Spirit-filled person because the Spirit wrote the Scriptures. You cannot read the Scriptures with a spirit of Adam, for they were inspired by the Spirit of God. The spirit of the world does not appreciate the Scriptures--it is the Spirit of God who gives appreciation of the Scriptures. One little flash of the Holy Spirit will give you more inward, divine illumination on the meaning of the text than all the commentators that ever commented. Yes, I have commentaries--I am just trying to show you that if you have everything else and have not the fullness of the Spirit, you have nothing." A.W. Tozer

"I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you  know Him because He abides with you and will be in you." Jesus, speaking in John 14:16-17

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

We Don't Bow Down to Men

Much thinking and speaking today revolves around political leaders, or those who are the current darlings in sports, entertainment, books and music.

Christians can be tempted to cultivate--to allow to grow in dominance and importance--the actions, words, worldview and ideologies of people within our midst, or those we consistently--if not obsessively-- observe and monitor from afar. 

We, without perhaps even realizing it, absorb their mindsets and adopt their apparently accepted, if not successful, tactics and strategies. 

Whether these people are Christian or not, by choosing to follow them and desiring to become like them, we become worldly: following after men as those without Christ do.

The discipline of a Spirit-lived life is essential in countering this tendency. 

A Spirit-lived life looks on every person in the world with Godly discernment, through a Biblical grounding. Even within Christendom, we are to worship no other Christian:

"Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, 'I am of Paul,' and 'I of Apollos,' and 'I of Cephas,' and 'I of Christ'. Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" 1 Corinthians 1:12-13.

A Spirit-lived life builds on the foundation of Christ alone:

"For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." 1 Corinthians 3:11

A Spirit-filled life does not quench the Spirit but examines everything carefully (1 Thessalonians 5:19; 21).

A.W. Tozer addresses person-worship in The Counselor, published by Moody Publishers. He writes:

     "Jesus Christ stands alone, unique and supreme, self-validating, and the Holy Spirit declares Him to be God's eternal Son. Let all the presidents and all the kings and queens, the senators, and the lords and ladies of the world, along with the great athletes and great actors--let them kneel at His feet and cry, 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!' (Revelation 4:8b). 
     Only the Holy Spirit can do this, my brethren. For that reason, I don't bow down to great men. I bow down to the Great Man, and if you have learned to worship the Son of Man, you won't worship other men. 
     You see, it is the Holy Spirit or darkness. The Holy Spirit is God's imperative of life. If your faith is to be New Testament faith, if Christ is to be the Christ of God rather than the Christ of intellect, then we must enter in beyond the veil. We have to push in past the veil until the illumination of the Holy Spirit fills our heart and we are learning at the feet of Jesus--not at the feet of men." A.W. Tozer

copyright Barb Harwood

"Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you;" Deuteronomy 6:13

"Stop trusting in man,
who has but a breath in his nostrils. 
Of what account is he?" Isaiah 2:22

"Jesus answered him, 'It is written, 'YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" Luke 4:8

Friday, November 3, 2017

Conversion in a Nutshell

Isaiah 2:11

“The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled
and the pride of men brought low;
the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.”

If I could sum up what happened at the point of my conversion in Christ, it would be these words from Isaiah.

On “that day” on which Christ was exalted, my arrogance was humbled and my pride brought low.

People fight so hard to maintain and defend their pride, not understanding that they are keeping themselves in a multi-faceted prison.

God in His mercy worked all things for my good in breaking me out of my own personal San Quentin.

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

“The arrogance of man will be brought low
and the pride of men humbled;
the LORD alone will be exalted in that day,
and the idols will totally disappear.” Isaiah 2:17-18