A Right View of God

This is something that has been on my heart for a long time. Do we truly have a right view of God? Of who he is? Of his nature, his character? I would venture to say, that all too often, we do not. And you can be sure, a wrong view of God will lead to a distorted view of ourselves.

There is a tendency to forget just how high above us God truly is. We have brought him low in our eyes, and in conjunction with the elevation of self, we now exist on the same playing field as God, maybe even above him. At least in our perception. We emphasize his loving nature (and loving he most certainly is – he, by his very nature, is love! 1 John 4:8), but this is often done to the detriment of his other equal characteristics, such as his holiness, his just nature, his righteousness. We neglect to remind ourselves of his perfection and his perfect, holy standard. Because of that, we often fail to see how far we fall from that standard (I mean, we’re talking incredibly far – impossible to attain, in fact). We could all use a daily dose of humbling, a good reminder of our depravity and hopelessness apart from him.

We’ve become so chummy with God – calling him Abba, essentially the same as calling him Daddy. Now that is not wrong, the Bible tells us that as believers, we are adopted as God’s children and by his Holy Spirit we can cry, “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15). But I would suggest there is danger in simply calling him Abba, Daddy, without truly understanding his holiness and what that means. If you look throughout the Scripture, there is abounding evidence of God’s holy, just, wrathful, righteous nature – and when you even begin to grasp his nature even a little – you may start to view Romans 8:15 in a whole new way. The God who is Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe, the God who is perfect and set apart from sin, the God who will judge everyone with justice, the God who sits on the throne in heaven and looks down on mankind, the God who is everywhere, knows everything, and is all-powerful – this God is willing to sacrifice his only Son for your sin, give you his Holy Spirit when you confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, and through this Spirit allows you to call him Daddy! This is incredible. Perspective is everything. God is so great, and we, as believers, become his children, his heirs.

This whole idea of having a right view of God was pressed into me deeper today as I read through the first few chapters of Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 6.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts,

the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. (1-4)

Isaiah was given a vision of God in heaven, and just look at his reaction:

And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (6:5)

He saw the presence of God – the great majesty, holiness, and wonder of who God is and immediately he saw himself for who he was – a sinner! When he saw the holiness of God, he saw just how unworthy he was. He was stricken with shame. It gave him a right perspective of who he was. And this is not an isolated incident – Job (Job 42:6) and Peter (Luke 5:8) both had the same realization about themselves when confronted with the presence of the Lord.

Being in the presence of God is certainly not a common occurrence – but he has revealed himself to us through his Word, the Bible. He is not someone who cannot be known at all. Open your Bible and see! He has made himself known to us! And know that you can never form a true notion of God without the Bible. (If you want to read a book to aid you in your study of Scripture to this effect, I highly recommend Knowing God by J. I. Packer. He writes, “We must seek, in studying God, to be led to God. It was for this purpose that revelation was given, and it is to this use that we must put it” (p.23)). We are called to know God with more than just head knowledge – knowing who he is – and called to know him personally – knowing him!

I’ll close with these final words from Packer’s book, “The Christian’s instincts of trust and worship are stimulated very powerfully by knowledge of the greatness of God. But this is knowledge which Christians today largely lack: and that is one reason why our faith is so feeble and our worship so flabby. We are modern people, and modern people, though they cherish great thoughts of themselves, have as a rule small thoughts of God…He is eternal, infinite and almighty. He has us in his hands; we never have him in ours… the Bible never lets us lose sight of his majesty and his unlimited dominion over all his creatures” (83).

Humble yourself before the greatness and majesty of God, or you can be sure that he will humble you (Matthew 23:12).

Sacrificial Leftovers?

I’m currently reading through Exodus and it has brought me to the detailed instructions that God is giving to his people before they enter the Promised Land about laws and sacrifices. We know that God always required the firstborn animal, an animal without spot or blemish, or the first fruits and the best of one’s harvest. He did not ask his people to offer him whatever they had leftover, or you know, “when you’ve taken all you need or want, I’ll just take whatever you have left after that.” He required the best because he deserved the best. Everything they had was because of him anyway (though they forgot this fact all too often – something we’re guilty of as well).

So I pondered this. How often do we give God our leftovers instead of our best? Is there such a thing as a sacrificial leftover? This is an oxymoron, for by its very definition, a sacrifice is giving up something you would like to keep for the sake of someone else.

Leftovers are not a sacrifice. If it’s easy to give up, it’s not a sacrifice.

We give God our leftover money – after the bills are paid, our groceries are purchased, we’ve set some aside in savings, for the future, for that vacation, or we’ve purchased that nice pair of shoes we’ve had our eyes on – then after all that, if there’s anything left, we figure we can offer something to God from that.

We give God our leftover time – after we’ve slept long enough in the morning, after the house is cleaned, food is prepared, coffee is made (guilty), our exercising is done, we’ve caught up on our Instagram feed – then we can maybe set aside some time for a quick devotion or prayer.

We give him our leftover resources, energy, the list goes on and on.

This is not what he desires, and most certainly not what he deserves.

The very God who created and sustains us deserves the very best of our energy, the first of our time, the finest of our resources, our first fruits.

He would not ask for or accept less than the best from the Israelites, why would we dare try to offer less than our best? God no longer requires us to sacrifice animals, for the blood of his Son has been shed once and for all for the forgiveness of sins. So what is the sacrifice he requires of us under the new covenant? We are to offer our bodies – our entire being, everything we have and are – as a living sacrifice – this is a pleasing sacrifice, holy and acceptable to him (Romans 12:1).

He asks for no less than our whole life. Jesus told anyone who wanted to follow him that they had to deny themselves – die to themselves daily – take up their cross, and follow him. We must be willing to give up everything, if it comes to that, to follow Jesus. For it is not about us, but it is all about him. It’s a tough calling, but comes with an incredible, matchless reward – Jesus himself, for all eternity.

Lip Service or Heart Service?

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:8-9)

Thus Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah (29:13) with reference to the Pharisees who were behaving hypocritically (as they often did). He charged them with equating manmade laws and traditions with the law of God. They were so hung up on the letter of the law – laws they created – that they missed the whole point of the law. The law wasn’t about blindly following a set of rules. The law was created to help sanctify God’s people, to bring them closer to God and to set them apart from nonbelievers.

God said through the prophet Hosea, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (6:6). Jesus quotes this verse in Hosea several times in the New Testament (Matthew 9:13; 12:7; Mark 12:33). The act of sacrificing an animal was required in order to atone for sin under the Old Covenant, but it wasn’t simply about the act of sacrificing. Yes, blood had to be shed, but God was far more concerned that his people draw near to him with their hearts! He wanted their love and devotion, he wanted them to know him, more than he wanted sacrifice and burnt offerings. His concern is for our motives, not our actions… our whole heart, soul and mind, not just our bodies. When our motives are right, the actions will surely follow!

But the Pharisees missed this point entirely. And I fear that, all too often, we do too. We go through the motions. We do things for the sake of tradition. We obey laws that we don’t even realize are just manmade, not from God. I realize I’m generalizing here, I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe this is often the case.

As an example, every week, all over the world, believers gather together on Sunday morning, coming together with the main purpose of worshipping God. At least that’s what we say. Is it always what we do? Do we go to church because we are truly eager to meet with other believers, to worship our Holy God in song and through the reading and preaching of Scripture? Or do we go to church because it’s what believers should do? Now don’t misunderstand me, I believe the Bible does instruct us to meet with other believers (Hebrews 10:24-25). That is not the point in question. The question is your motive. Do you go because you’re “supposed” to go (action alone) or because you desire to go (heart + action)? Simply going through the motions, following the rituals and traditions does not bring us closer to God.

As we were singing in church yesterday, the verse above came to my mind: “this people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me.” Again, I cannot and will not judge other people’s hearts, but I can probably assume that not everyone sitting in a church on Sunday morning is honoring God fully with their hearts.

Worship on Sunday is often an emotional experience – when we are singing songs, it is easy to get carried away by the music, the repetition, the dimmed lights. But what these things do is offer an emotional experience that is not necessarily tied to knowledge. We need to be cautious that we are not feeling emotionally overwhelmed in worship because of the music and experience, but because the lyrics are speaking truth about the goodness, love and mercy of God. We should be overwhelmed because God is holy, we are sinful and can’t meet his holy standard, but he is merciful and gracious and has offered us a gift we don’t deserve: salvation though the blood of his Son Jesus Christ. When our songs are full of truth and meaning about these things, and we truly begin to understand them and are taught them, then, I believe, our worship becomes more meaningful – it begins to resonate in our hearts and becomes more than simply words from our lips. It is about praising the God who redeems us, not about catchy lyrics and instrumental arrangements.

Do you go to church on Sunday honoring God with your entire being, praising him with lips that pour out praises from a heart close to God? Or do you worship him in vain, simply reciting lyrics with a heart far from him? Examine yourself. Allow the Holy Spirit to reveal your heart to you. I cannot judge where you are, I can only judge my own heart and be sure that it is in the right place on Sunday morning. I’ll be the first to admit that mine isn’t always in the right place (often Sunday mornings are the most stressful mornings of the week!).

And by the way, this isn’t just true for Sunday mornings, this is true for each day of the week. God doesn’t just want our outward behavior. Our lip service. He wants our heart. He wants it fully. He wants it always.

The Process of Sanctification

I’m starting to appreciate the process of sanctification more and more. I mean, most days I wish I could say I’m fully sanctified. You probably know what I mean. I wish I could be at the pinnacle of spiritual maturity, wisdom, fully walking daily in God’s truth and finally have it all figured out. But does anyone actually ever get there in this life? Is there actually a point on earth where a person can feel the process of sanctification is complete? I should think not. And the moment we would ever feel that the process is complete is the point at which we will most likely be humbled and shown that just that thought alone shows how much more growing we need.

I guess I should put forth some form of a definition here – sanctification is one of those both immediate, ongoing, and future realities. Believers are sanctified immediately upon becoming believers in the sense that we are set apart for God, and set free from the bondage of sin, and declared holy because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; Heb. 10:10; Acts 13:39). But there is also a type of sanctification that will only fully be completed in eternity (Phil. 1:6) because even though we are set free from sin, we still sin (1 John 10:10). In the meantime, between becoming a believer and the redemption of our earthly bodies, we should be undergoing the process of sanctification, for this is God’s will for us (1 Thess. 4:13). We should be becoming sanctified in truth (John 17:17-19), continually growing to become more Christ-like everyday. It’s this ongoing sanctification that I’m addressing in this post.

(For a more thorough explanation of sanctification, I suggest reading “What is Sanctification?” at http://www.gotquestions.org/sanctification.html )

Lately, I have been looking back on my life – where I have come from, how far I have come, and how much I have learned and grown. It’s actually quite an incredible thing. I take no credit for my growth. I am eternally grateful to the Holy Spirit for teaching me, stretching me, molding me, and illuminating truths to me.

When I first began looking back on my life, I would get discouraged: how could I have ever believed that? How could I have been so easily led astray? How did I ever read that book? Attend that class? Believe that lie! There was even a point recently where I doubted that I was saved during those times of my life – high school, university– yes, even seminary. If I was truly saved, how could I have believed the way I did? And read my Bible so little? And prayed so rarely? But I see know that it was just earlier parts of my journey in Christ. I was just a babe. For so very long, just a young believer. And I could either be discouraged about that, or I can be grateful that I’ve come such a long way since then.

Over the past two years, I feel have come so far that I’m certain I must have spiritual stretch marks! In all seriousness though, I can’t explain my love for the Scriptures, my strong desire to be fed from the Word of God daily, my ability to wake up at 6:30 every morning to spend time with God in the Bible and in prayer – except that the Holy Spirit is sanctifying me and doing a mighty work in me.

And yet I recognize that there is still so much I don’t know. I’m excited to see where I’ll be in another year or two from now. Thanks be to God for his gift of the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13)!

So why am I writing this post now?

I recently pulled out some old boxes from my basement filled with books. I have almost a dozen boxes full. Many are from my post-secondary education days. My first thought was “how much money have I spent on books?!” Before I could get too discouraged about that, I quickly moved on. I began looking at the books – trying to determine which ones to keep and which to donate. Textbooks on a variety of subjects filled many boxes: Roman art and architecture, English literature, grammar, child development, abnormal psychology… and even a whole box full of Sigmund Freud! And then I found some from Seminary that shocked me. I hardly even remember reading some of these books. Books on spiritual development that included so many new age concepts and were written and endorsed by people with whose teachings I don’t agree. And some I can’t even blame on Seminary – I purchased them all on my own (like Sarah Young’s devotional – Jesus Calling). I was surprised by how I could have allowed myself to read these things (and that the Seminary was teaching those things), but again I reminded myself of the journey, the process. And again, grateful that I am no longer at that same place in my process.

I desire that all believers can move from spiritual milk and be ready for solid food – solid, meaty biblical teaching (1 Cor. 3:2). And why were the Corinthians not ready for solid food yet? Paul tells them there are still living in the flesh (verse 3). They were living like the world, not as filled with the Spirit. We must be filled with the Spirit – separating ourselves from the world, not looking like the world does, not quarreling the way the world does. We were not called to blend in – we were called to be set apart, holy – sanctified.

My encouragement to you is to get into your Bible daily (read the Bible far more often than books by human authors about the Bible and spirituality). Crave solid food. Allow the Holy Spirit to fill you and lead you into all truth. And always look back and marvel on how far you’ve come in your process of sanctification. Don’t be discouraged. Just continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

 

If you’re wondering what I did with those books… my boys and I had a bonfire that evening 😉

I Just Couldn’t Help Myself

Have you ever been so overwhelmed by the greatness of God that you just couldn’t help but praise Him? Words were just there, spilling out of you, so that you could not contain them? And sometimes it comes out in tears and not words. A heart so overflowing with awe and wonder that it pours out of your soul and spills onto your face.

This morning the boys woke me up a little earlier than usual and I’ll be honest, my first thought was not gratitude. But then stumbling into the kitchen for a cup of coffee, I noticed the most miraculous sunrise. The colours were indescribable, the blending of the reds, yellows, oranges, pinks, and purples. I think of how often we see the sun rise and set and don’t fully pay attention. We get used to it, desensitized almost, so that it no longer takes our breath away. Just like those who live near mountains – most people will tell you that after a while “you don’t really notice them anymore.” And yet any time I’m near the mountains I am in complete awe, since I live in the prairies!

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)

The beauty of creation is actually quite overwhelmingly detailed and directly points to its Creator (Romans 1:20, Psalm 19:1). But we miss it far too often. We’re just too used to seeing it that we “don’t really notice it anymore.” What a shame.

You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they were created
    and have their being. (Revelation 4:11)

God is worthy to receive glory, honor and power – He alone is worthy of our praise! How dare we not praise Him with our entire being! Every moment you have breath is an opportunity to praise God. And no matter what you are going through, there is always something for which you can be thankful.

Think about this: when the Winnipeg Jets do well, we can’t help but talk about it and praise the team for how well they are playing. When our children reach a new milestone or clean up their toys without being asked, we can’t help but praise them. When someone sings a song so beautifully, we can’t help but tell them how wonderful they did. Why is this? John Piper writes, “we praise what we enjoy because the delight is incomplete until it is expressed in praise.” This is exactly how I felt this morning. I just couldn’t help myself. And it was a wonderful opportunity to talk with my children about how great God truly is! So I suppose I should thank them for waking me up a little earlier this morning!

Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise! (Psalm 145:3)

A Different Perspective on Those who do Evil

I’ve been pondering for a long time on what my perspective should be toward those who do evil in the world. With the increasing issues and debates in the world over things like abortion and same sex marriage (to barely scratch the surface), I have been pondering what my response, as a follower of Christ should be. I realize the response of many Christians has been less than helpful. We are angry, and justify our anger as righteous – the things that people are doing go against everything we believe in. But here’s the issue: they don’t believe as we do! They don’t possess the same moral compass as we do. They don’t have the Holy Spirit. They are a part of the world, controlled by the evil one, children of the devil, children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3; 1 John 5:19). They’re just doing what comes naturally! They can’t do better simply because they don’t know better.

The old acronym, WWJD, still resonates in my ears in times like this. What would Jesus do? How would he respond? Well, fortunately, the Bible answers to this question… numerous times in fact. Contrast Jesus’ response to someone like Judas (the man who would betray Jesus and ultimately lead to his crucifixion) with his response to the Pharisees and scribes (those who were extremely religious and followed the law impeccably). Jesus was patient and gracious toward Judas. But toward those who believed themselves to be so righteous and holy, Jesus called them a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34, 23:33) and likened them to “white-washed tombs” (Matthew 23:27-28; they looked righteous on the outside, but dead and decaying on the inside; their hearts and motives were evil despite how great they appeared to be to others. When people claim to follow Christ but their actions don’t align, then we have cause for righteous anger, for this slanders the name of Christ… but that’s another post for a different time).

Or think about the times when Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors (Mark 2:15-17; tax collectors were the most hated of all people at that time!) He dined with them and was kind to them. Contrast this with the time that Jesus ate at a Pharisees house in Luke 7:36-50. A “sinful woman” comes and washes Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and the Pharisee is upset at the perceived waste of money – but Jesus confronts him saying, you didn’t even offer me water to wash my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears. Jesus then forgave the woman’s sins.

But probably the best example of Jesus’ response to sin is found in John 8:1-11. The Pharisees found a woman committing adultery and brought her before Jesus, condemning her to be stoned, according to the law of Moses. They wanted to trick Jesus into either going against the law of Moses or into going against his attitude of kindness and compassion. But with a wisdom only Christ himself could possess, Jesus writes in the sand and answers, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one they drop their stones and walk away. No one met those qualifications. Jesus asks the woman then, “has no one condemned you?” She responds, “no one, Lord.” Then Jesus tells her, “neither do I condemn you, go, and from now on sin no more.”

Jesus did not condone her sin, but he did not condemn her for it either.

The woman’s response is not recorded, but one can imagine how her encounter with Jesus impacted her. No doubt, Jesus made an impression. The Pharisees would have had an impression on her as well, however. But which response would have been more likely to have drawn her to saving faith? To a changed, renewed life? To following Christ?

The old cliche is, you attract more flies with honey than vinegar. In this case, we will win more people to Christ with love and grace than with condemnation and judging. This does not mean we must compromise our values, however – we can still stand for the truth, as Jesus did, while loving those who are lost, who are only doing what comes naturally. With this changed perspective, we can change our response to those who do evil.

John MacArthur poses the question: as a believer in Christ, are you influencing the world for good, and for God? Is your attitude one of love and compassion, or one of condemnation?

What Happens When A Nation Turns Its Back on God?

What happens when people turn their backs on God? When they seek the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh over God? When they desire money and worship fame, and refuse to worship God. When they desire to serve created things over the great Creator himself? When they refuse to listen to God and desire to be their own gods? When they desire a ruling authority who does not submit to the authority of God?

To answer this question, we first need to establish that all people know God because “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). Every person has witnessed God through general revelation: sunsets and sunrises, the majesty of the mountains, the wonder and awe of new life, the laws of nature he set in motion. No person will stand before him with the excuse: “I didn’t know about you! I didn’t think there was a God!”

However, even though people know God, many do not “honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they become futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts [are] darkened. Claiming to be wise, they become fools, and exchange the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23). People continually reject God and refuse to honor him or give him credit for what they have been given – instead they choose to give glory to things like money, fame, power, prestige! They serve their bank accounts, their stomachs, their material possessions (Philippians 3:18-19).

So what happens to these people who have turned their backs on God?

“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator… For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions” (Romans 1:24-26).

What does this mean? Canada has spoken. People want change. (Although I suspect many don’t really understand what they actually want, or what they actually think the Liberals are going to do, they just know they want things to be “different”). And God has allowed this change to happen. He is going to give Canadians over to their desires. And things are not going to get better. They will get worse. (Just look at what has happened over the last few years especially in the United States, a nation united under a man who does not serve God).

So what does this mean for Christians?

John MacArthur describes the separation of church and state as essentially the separation between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. It’s the church versus the world. The church are God’s people, his children. And the world—unbelievers—are under the control and dominion of Satan (1 John 5:19).

So now the church is going to have to step up and confront the culture! We have to be faithful to God and to His Word. Persecution may well be on its way in an increasingly depraved culture being given over to its sinful passions and desires. And this persecution will purify the church, because, as MacArthur says, fake Christians won’t be persecuted. The time is coming when the wheat will be separated from the chaff (Matthew 3:12). Christian complacency will come to an end. People will be forced to stand, or otherwise join the world.

So now is the time to take a firm stand on what you believe. Spread the gospel and teach people about Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20). Pray for our country and its leadership (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

And remember that God is with you (Matthew 28:20) and he works all things together for God for those he loves (Romans 8:28).

HIS Kingdom will stand and one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10-11).

Remember to Remember!

“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I commanded you today, lest when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up and you forget the LORD your God… Beware, lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth’” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17)

Let’s start things off with some context (since context is everything when studying the Bible):

After being freed from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. During that time, they had to rely fully on God for basic provisions (like manna from heaven in Deuteronomy 8:3); and God also kept their clothing from wearing out and their feet from swelling (8:4). God did this to humble them and to test them, to know what was in their hearts (8:2). He was preparing them to enter into the Promised Land and wanted to ensure they would remember their provider, their rescuer.

God was about to bring them into this wonderful land, a place where they would “lack nothing” (8:9), and it was his gift to them, his promise. He asked only that they remember that it was He who gave it to them, and thank Him for it (8:10), walk in his ways (8:6), and keep his commandments (8:11).

Living in North America, specifically in Canada, growing up in a middle-class home, I have always felt blessed. I mean, I could have been born into poverty, in a third world country, into a home in which it was a struggle to make basic ends meet. I don’t know what it is like to have to go without basic necessities. Or to struggle to meet the most basic needs of the family such as food, clean water, shelter. I’ve always had these things, and so much more. When I need something or even when I simply just want something, I typically have the means to go and purchase it.

In pondering this lately, I realize this blessing is also a huge stumbling block. Especially as it pertains to my relationship with God.

First of all, do I recognize that all that I have has been given to me – that these things are truly gifts, blessings from God? Or have I lifted up my own heart and said “my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth”? Yes, my husband and I have worked hard at our jobs and earned money, but God has provided us with good jobs, he has granted us good health so that we are able to perform our jobs, and God has made it possible for me to stay home and raise our boys and still have plenty even on one income.

I imagine the modern day reading of this passage in Deuteronomy 8 would go something like this: “Be careful not to forget God when you have lots of good food to eat, a beautiful house to live in, when your job is going well and you have money in the bank and some set aside for retirement, when your stocks do well, when you have vehicles in the driveway, and a closet full of clothes. Beware, because you may start to think that all of this came from yourself – thinking, ‘I worked hard and earned all this!’ Don’t forget that God is the one who has provided all of this for you.”

Secondly, do I trust in God to provide for me? I would say yes, but do I? Do I really? The person who has enough does not have need to trust in someone or something else to provide for them. The person who has essentially nothing has no choice but to trust that God will provide. Imagine being told by Jesus, as the disciples were when he sent them out to spread the gospel, “acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff” (Matthew 10:9-10). He told them to simply go, to take nothing with them but the clothes on their back, and trust in God to meet their basic provisions. Can you imagine?

But God promises in his Word that he will provide for us. I’m talking basics here – I don’t believe God is a genie sitting in heaven waiting to grant our every wish for health and wealth. That’s not the God of the Bible. (Not that he will never bless us with these things, but those are never guaranteed promises in this life.) But God does promise to meet our needs! Earlier in Matthew, chapter 6, Jesus tells the disciples not to be anxious about things like what they will eat, drink, or wear (basic necessities) – the birds don’t sow, reap, or gather, and yet they always have food; the flowers don’t work at looking beautiful and yet look at how beautiful they are! God cares more about his children than the birds and the flowers, and so we can be assured he will meet our needs – WHEN we seek HIS kingdom and HIS righteousness FIRST (Matthew 6:33).

But I know this is easier said than done. To truly depend on God to meet these needs would be to completely step out in faith and believe that God will do as he says. It means to give up control and surrender these worries to God. And maybe this will only happen step by step as you slowly learn to relinquish control to God.

Whether we live in want or if we have plenty, we, like Paul, can learn to rely on Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). We can learn to be content regardless of whatever situation we find ourselves in.

Let’s not be like the Israelites who did exactly what they were warned against – they quickly forgot that it was God that provided for them and saved them and turned to other gods and idols. They foolishly believed they somehow were the ones who provided all these good things for themselves. Remember how God has blessed you – thank him and obey his commands! It’s the least you could do for all he has done for you!

On anxiety and peace…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

This verse has always been a go-to reference for me when I am feeling anxious or worried. It has reminded me to pray about the things that are making me feel anxious. God is in control and I’ve always needed to remember this.

However, I was recently pondering the words of these two verses more deeply as my husband and I have been dealing with buying and selling our house and feeling anxious about the future. I have quite a few thoughts, so sit tight as I go through them with you. Hopefully at least some of my thoughts will resonate with you during moments of anxiety and worry…

1. “Do not be anxious…” We are not asked to “try” to not be anxious, or do our very best to worry as little as possible. We are simply told to just not be anxious. Ok, easier said than done. But we must remember why we are called to not be anxious – In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus tells us not to worry about our lives, because we are greatly valued by God and he cares for us. Just as you would care for your own child and give them what is best for them, God will take care of us and give us what is best for us! (However, what is best is not always what we want…. I’ll come back to that thought…) Each day has enough trouble all its own so we should not worry about the future – it’s not in our control anyway, it’s in God’s control – and that is such a good thing!

2. “…but in every situation, by prayer and petition…” Pray, pray, pray! Always. Good times. Bad times. Hard times. Sad times. Wonderful times. Always, always pray. And petition God for what you want. Ask him!!!! How often do we just think about what we want but never ask? Just because he knows our every thought doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ask for what we desire.

3. “…with thanksgiving…” Don’t miss this step! We are called to be thankful – and it really shouldn’t be that hard! Despite what you may be going through – there is always something you can find to be thankful for. Always. Focusing on what you have and what is going well, instead of focusing on what you don’t have and what is not going well, can change your perspective in ways you may not have imagined. Give it a try. I dare you!

4. “…present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” When you bring your request to God, know that you will be given peace. Peace of God – which really does transcend all understanding. Imagine a person who has just been given a diagnosis of cancer, and yet they have found peace. Most people will be unable to understand and fathom just how he can find peace among a potentially terminal illness. Or the parents who have lost a child. How on earth could they possibly have peace? Only because of God. The peace He gives us is a gift and it is so great that we may be even unable to understand ourselves how we can find peace in difficult circumstances. God’s peace will surround you. Envelope you. In ways you and others will be unable to understand. But peace is what is promised to you if you follow the steps in verse 6 – do not be anxious, pray, petition God, be thankful, present your requests before Him.

5. Now notice what is not said in this verse… we are not promised that we will get what we want when we pray and petition God. Yes, we absolutely may get what we want. But we are not promised what we want. As I alluded to in my first point, sometimes what we want is not what is best for us. And I know it is hard to actually believe that when there is something we want so badly and it really may seem like it is what’s best for us. But keep in mind that God has a perspective so much greater than ours and knows the future. He knows things that we do not know and therefore is a better judge of what is best for us than we are. And God does not sit in heaven and simply choose not to give us something because He is cruel or finds humor or satisfaction in not giving us what we want. He truly does desire what is best for us and wants to give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). But again, only if it is what is best for us.

If you are feeling anxious, nervous, or worried about anything in your life, just bring it before God. And know that regardless of what the outcome is, you will be given peace from God if you give him your worries. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you! (1 Peter 5:7).

We may not always get what we want, but we will be given peace.

That’s a promise!phil4-6-2560x1440

On sunshine and rain…

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What does it take to make things grow? A little bit of sunshine and a whole lot of rain.

What if it never rained? Plants would never grow. They need both sun and rain to thrive.

So do we.

We can’t thrive in life without sun and rain. Without both good times and trials. Without laughter and tears.

When we are in the midst of a rainy season in our lives – or perhaps a full-out thunderstorm – it is easy to become downcast and discouraged. Life is hard and we all face struggles and difficulties. It really isn’t the place we want to be – but consider the flowers who cannot grow without the rain. We need both in our lives to truly thrive and grow!

We need to find a way to grow and learn from the difficult times we face. Trials are intended to strengthen us and teach us, but we must persevere through them.

And we can pray.

Pray in all circumstances (not just when things are going bad, and not just when things are going well!)

And gather up your support system to help you through.

We were created for community and that is where we will thrive, not on our own!

Enjoy the sunshine while you are in the midst of it, but grow through the rain and storms. And remember, the sun always comes back.