Monday, January 30, 2012

Then and Now

Barb Harwood, photos

Thinking about our past as we lived it without God can be a cringing experience. I am completely embarrassed at the words I spoke and the attitudes from which I spoke them back in my unsaved days. How long-suffering people were to put up with my know-it-allness, self-assuredness, ignorance and self-promotion! I think back now and can’t even believe I was at one time that person.

And I haven’t even gotten to the non-speaking embarrassments that came in the form of stupid and addictive behaviors, obsessions and materialism!

Some people might say, “You’ve come a long way. Don’t beat yourself up.” Well, I’m not. Although I do cringe and feel completely embarrassed as I walk down my Heathen Memory Lane, I feel awe more than anything. I mean, I sit back, shake my head and chuckle at the amazing feat of God to rescue me out of the “dominion of darkness” and “into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (Colossians 1:13). I never get over the miracle of it all. It is sobering to think how far into the light of Jesus God has brought me. I know other Christians say the same. We are sinners, ever thankful to be saved by God’s atoning grace.

And lest any of us maintain sadness about our pre-Christian past or it’s consequences, we must go forth now in Christ as the new creation we are. Others may not believe our transformation and remain skeptical or uninterested; a few will not like it. Some people will not want to give us a second chance. But we steadfastly go forth in Christ anyway: always knowing that God wipes our slate clean, even if others don’t.

"Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess any transgressions to the Lord'--and you forgave the guilt of my sin." Psalm 32:5

“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, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior,…” Titus 3:3-6

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Hebrews 8:12

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Many Ways Faith Can Be Couched

January is a great month, not only because it is symbolic of new beginnings, but also because not much goes on during these 31 days, making it a perfect time to regroup in our faith.

Over the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to be exposed to many different perspectives and claims to faith. I’ve noticed there are many ways people couch their faith, myself included. In fact, as my husband and I have been undergoing God’s winnowing process this past year, I’m seeing more clearly how much other stuff I did, and still do, instead of faith.

So I came up with a cursory list of some of the ways I, and others, fool ourselves into thinking we are walking with God when, in reality, we aren’t (or at least not in full): These are some of the entities in which faith can be couched:

Social Justice




Three-times a week church attendance

Bible studies

Service activities

Are the above categories bad? No, not necessarily. I think we all understand how anything can be insincere from a faith perspective when it replaces a reliance on God and obedience to His leading. We must keep aware that the love of knowledge, manmade traditions and works contains the risk of us falling out of God’s will.

So, for the above entities (and any others you can think of) we can test our motivations and actions by asking some questions (I wish I would have been asking myself these years ago):

*Do we think Jesus is like us instead of having the perspective that we are to be like Jesus? (Psalm 50:21; John 3:30, 1 Peter 1:15-16)

*Do seminary, Christian college or other classes take place in lieu of an intentional living out of our faith and a sincere desire to allow God to eradicate revealed sin in our life? Do we read His Word daily for our personal walk, in addition to any formal class readings? Do we think that, because we are in formal Christian training, our class readings and assignments make us spiritual, and we can “check out” from a personal relationship with God for a while?

Also, if our study of theology and the Bible is more about what other people argue about God, to the point that we are losing sight of who God says He is in His word, and if our goal is to deconstruct the Bible on one hand while thinking we can continue to live a Biblically-based life of faith on the other, we are in danger of double-mindedness. Something will have to give. The Bible says we cannot serve two masters…..(James 1:5-8, 12, Matthew 5:37; Luke 16:13, Matthew 6:24)

*Are we reading books, even those by “Christian” authors, instead of daily Bible reading (again, thinking that since we’re at least reading a “Christian” author, we’re being spiritual)?

*Do we attend public and church prayer meetings but neglect daily family and private prayer at home?

*Do we believe our three-times-a-week church attendance has us covered, and we’re good to go? The time and effort we take to dress, gather the family, drive to church and be on time: does that translate the rest of the week into intentionally living out our faith with our families? Do we “show up” every morning with God? Are we on time Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday with God as we are on Sunday mornings, evenings and Wednesday nights? Are we as committed to living faith outside of church as we are three times a week in church?

*Do we spend as much time with God in His Word and prayer and just listening for Him as we do in active service? And vice versa? Just as faith without works is dead, works without faith is dead too (James 2:14-26; Luke 10:38-42).

*Do we go to Bible study, not having prepared or done the work, nor practiced it during the week--But hey, at least we’re showing up for Bible study?

*Do we involve ourselves, mostly via conversations and handwringing, in politics and social justice, but don’t give these things sincerely to God in daily prayer, or seek how He might personally involve us in actually doing something instead of just getting verbally fired up? If we claim social justice as our cause, but aren’t actually allowing God to address specific issues through us and through our persistent prayer, then we are merely social justice posers. On another note, both social justice and politics run the risk of being our religion.

*Do we let our philosophy of God and the Bible, and how we think He and the Bible should be, affect our theology? Has philosophy replaced, misconstrued or blocked Biblical faith?

Many of you reading this are consistently in God’s will, living daily for Him, and sincerely seeking His guidance and His Word. I mean to encourage as well as pose questions that may help me and others get more in line with God. So “thank you” to those of you who are walking the talk!

I ask these questions not for admonishment but for the purpose of raising the bar for those of us who want to progress, grow and allow God to bear fruit in and through us. These are questions we can each sincerely consider as we seek the brutal truth regarding our own selves, as well as our attitude toward God and others. Because if we truly desire to be in His will, these questions won’t scare or offend us--they’ll motivate us. And we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us arrive at honest answers.

I have been and continue to be convicted in my answers to many of the above tests at one time or another, and need to re-take these tests often. God desires right motivation in us, and only He knows our hearts. So as this year unfolds, we can commit to submitting to God in order for Him to put a right heart, spirit and motivation within us so that we’re walking His path, His way, and not our path, our way.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:12