Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Gotta Serve Somebody Bob Dylan

Happy 75th birthday to Bob Dylan~

Monday, May 9, 2016

Condemning God to Justify Oneself

This morning, I read the following in the book of Job:

“Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm:
‘Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?’” Job 40:6-8

It struck me that discrediting and condemning God is exactly what keeps many people from Him.

This is why, more likely than not, most people must come to the end of themselves before they can accept a saving faith in Christ. Where self-justification ends, Christ's justification begins. 

I say a “saving” faith because many people may have had faith, but it didn’t save them because it was self-created, or a faith of tradition or rote church attendance. And that kind of faith is like a house built on sand: it cannot withstand the winds, rain and floods of life (Matthew 7:24-27).

"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death." Romans 8:1-2

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Prayer and Godly Obedience Go Hand in Hand

So much of prayer is our willingness to be obedient to living in God’s grace, timing and will.

As I increasingly realize, when I make God alone my portion and am not distracted by the world or my human emotions and sense of personal righteousness, I am at peace with God and my desire to meet with Him in prayer grows.

As I progressively trust God with myself, other people and situations, He mercifully blesses that trust and my intentional act of giving everyone and everything over into His care. And one of the blessings is His chipping away at my fears, which in turn allows me to live more and more in a healthy, hands-off neutrality with the world around me and in an attitude of goodwill as opposed to judgment or fretfulness.

In short, as I decrease and Christ increases, joy increases as well.

When fears threaten to creep back in (and they do), I go to God and, as much as a reminder to myself as it is a prayer, I say, simply and almost matter-of-factly,

“God, you’ve got this.”

I say it as many times as needed to eradicate fear, knowing that God will not leave me in the lurch: he will provide protection, guidance and wisdom, and be in every conversation and circumstance. 

I know it because I have lived it with God. Looking back on the protections God has afforded, the dungeon-like darkness He has held my hand through, the merciful and often surprisingly immediate answers to implorings, I marvel that God has brought me and my family this far (2 Samuel 7:18, 1 Chronicles 17:16).

My reliance on Him enables me to remain in His grace and will by keeping my mind and heart on Him, while listening to the Holy Spirit’s constant and sure counsel that reveals the state of my heart and sinful tendencies lurking under the surface. At the same time, the Holy Spirit supplies encouragement, direction and desire to follow Christ, not myself or other people and social constructs.

While I do not claim to know how God deals with every prayer of every person, I have experienced personally the fruit of His righteousness becoming righteousness in myself and others via obedience to His Holy Spirit and Word.

I, myself, if I am in my own human righteousness, trusting in that, will sin, missing out on the victorious life in Christ God so graciously desires to bless with. My ability and willingness to pray is also tarnished when I close the window to God.

Bible.org says it well:

“Prayer is not a reward for perfection, but rather is God honoring His servants who earnestly seek to please Him. James writes, "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16b). John expressed it, "Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him" (1 John 3:21-22).
God has promised to answer prayer according to His marvelous grace, according to His infinite power, and in keeping with His infinite love and faithfulness. When prayers seem to be unanswered, we must first ask ourselves if we have met the four conditions for answered prayer” (faithfulness in prayer itself, according to God’s will, to the glory of God and waiting on the proper timing of God’s answer). “Then we can continue to be faithful in prayer. Our attitude can be one of implicit confidence that He ‘is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us’ (Eph. 3:20).
As we praise Him for His faithfulness, seek His will and glory, pray faithfully, and wait patiently until God's time, He will answer us.” Bible.org

copyright Barb Harwood

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:4-9

Monday, May 2, 2016

Whatever is Lovely, True, Noble...

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think of such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put into practice. And the God of peace be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9

I believe that when it comes to making decisions about what we will allow or disallow to come over the threshold of our homes, minds, hearts and souls, this verse is an unequivocal guide.

So whatever is lovely: is laughter lovely? Yes. Therefore, comedians can be a lovely entity. But what if they are eliciting laughs from sexual innuendo, or overt and hurtful mockery? Comedic films can soothe the soul, but they can also bring us into the gutter, and the fact that we are finding it all funny doesn’t make it lovely.

We can run the constant flow of thoughts, feelings, reactions, responses, approaches, intentions and what we expose ourselves and our families to by the Philippians four verses.

Because what it comes down to is influence and condoning. And though we might believe we have a very strong filter that will allow us to participate, unaffected, in all sorts of leisure time activities, view any and all media content, and talk one way with one group and another with a different; and while we might engage with ugliness, violence, cheap shots, vulgarities, shrillness and sexual exploitation through jokes and visual excess so as not to appear prudish, or because we think it makes us authentic participants in the "human experience", we are merely justifying these things and offering them a potential foothold.

Not that we can’t or don’t balance these choices with ones of beauty, loveliness, purity, etc. But Scripture is clear: we are to focus on and practice these things listed in Philippians. Scripture is loaded with this general motif.

It doesn’t mean we shun documentaries of hunger and despair: hunger and despair are true. It doesn’t mean we ignore or turn a blind eye to the sex trade, which is very ugly, but also very true.

It means we don’t contribute to the problem by supporting an industry of visual imagery that promotes, even if in a bad light, illicit sex. It means we understand how tragic drug abuse is simply by reading the newspaper and listening to friends’ and family’s ordeals with it, without having to watch Blow and Pulp Fiction.

To justify time and money spent on violent portrayals by telling ourselves that we are coming to a greater understanding of the dead-end of drug use is, in my opinion, delusion, and only adds to the perpetuation and normalizing of drug use

I mean, has drug use been reduced with every depiction of self-destruction? Do people, so moved by watching Scarface, show up to volunteer at recovery shelters?

And while drug use continues, especially the epidemic of prescription pain killers, ironically I have never witnessed a time of such obsession with physical health and what people permit and do not permit to enter their bodies. 

Veganism, vegetarianism and organic living are at an all-time high, and increasing by the hour. People avoid GMO’s like the plague. Parents are shunning vaccines for their children. Alternative medicine has become mainstream. People are reading food product labels with a fine-tooth comb and researching the farms and countries from which their sustenance comes.

And yet. Where is this same kind of meticulous screening when it comes to what we allow in our viewing, hearing, speech and doing? Where is the impetus to be just as discerning and boldly critical when it comes to media, word choice and cultural values and trends?

I ask myself these questions, knowing that I am guilty.

I am currently following a Masterpiece Theater series which is giving me pause: why am I loyally showing up every Sunday to observe infidelity, illicit sex, heavy drinking, gambling and a father turning his back on his family? This "entertainment" depicts everything I stand against, and to which I certainly do not want to give a stamp of approval.

So I write this convicted that I have not been focusing on that which is lovely and noble and right. I am spending time every week doing the exact opposite. And it’s not enjoyable anymore. It makes me uncomfortable. And so that’s the end of it.

And that can only be a good thing.

copyright Barb Harwood

“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;” 2 Peter 1:5-6

“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19-24