Archive | May 2014

Is Your Faith Stuck in the Doldrums?

Chris Hodges

 

Have you ever spent a lazy day at the beach, riding the waves and bodysurfing? I love doing this with our kids, but it’s always amazing where we find ourselves after we’ve been out in the water for an hour or two. We look back at the shore and suddenly nothing looks familiar. We can’t see our umbrella or beach chairs-sometimes we can’t even see our hotel! Without realizing it, we have drifted with the current and lost our bearings.

Without a strong direction toward a place where God is moving, without a secure anchor to keep you grounded, it’s easy to drift into a dead zone. You may be doing all the right things-at home, at work, at church-but you don’t know where your life is headed. You feel lost and disoriented from where you thought you’d be and how you thought you’d get there. But it’s almost too terrifying to acknowledge, so you just keep going with the flow day after day.

When I was reading about the Doldrums that sailors face, I was struck by the fact that this dangerous dead zone happens along the equator. When ships got trapped there, it meant they weren’t really in the Northern Hemisphere or the Southern Hemisphere; they were stuck where the two meet. I think we often get stuck in a similar manner. If we’re honest, we know we don’t want to go to hell, but yet we don’t really want to serve God, either. We want to have one foot in the world and the other in the Kingdom of God. We want to straddle the spiritual equator, so to speak.

A lot of us have drifted to this place. We’re not on fire for God, but of course we’re not living for the devil either. We’re not abandoning God and leaving the church, but we’re not fully alive and enjoying the abundant life Jesus said he came to bring. We’re in this middle zone, a spiritual no-man’s-land.

We have gotten off course, and now there’s no wind to sustain us. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Jesus tells the church at Laodicea, “Some of you are not hot [not in the Northern Hemisphere], you are not even cold [not in the Southern Hemisphere], you are lukewarm.” And the result is just as disastrous: “There is no life there. I will spit you out of my mouth [if I find you in that lukewarm zone]” (see Revelation 3:15-16).

In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul conveyed a similar message: he told them that he could not consider them spiritual, but he could not call them worldly either. They were a mixture of the two. They were carnal (see 1 Corinthians 3:1, KJV). The word carnal means that they were stuck in the flesh. The word’s root comes through in a usage you may be more familiar with: chili con carne-chili with meat. Paul basically said these Corinthian Christians were serving up a big dish of faith con carne. They were Christians but still had some flesh-based living in them.

Many of us today follow the same recipe. We want enough Jesus to get us to heaven, but we’ve got a little bit of the world in us too. We’re lukewarm, tepid, not hot or cold, not heavenly and not earthly, not sold out to God and not entirely through renting from the devil. So we drift away and get stuck in the doldrums.

 

Unforgiveness is a Roadblock

Most people do not realize it, but unforgiveness can do a number on your health and eventually kill you graveyard dead. You could not pay me to hold unforgiveness in my heart against another person. There is no amount of money that can entice me to do that. I learned long ago to forgive and forget. Vengeance belongs to the Lord, and He will repay.

I have had any number of wrongs done to me over the years. I’ve been talked about, lied on, written about in books and criticized on radio and TV broadcasts. I’ve been called everything but a child of God, but I have better sense than to let these attacks get me to a point where I stop loving and stop forgiving. I cannot have a better track record than Jesus, and they talked about Jesus, lied to Him, and eventually crucified Him. But He loved them still.

Unforgiveness will stop your faith in its tracks. If you’re standing for healing but have unforgiveness in your heart, you’re wasting your time confessing the Word. You might as well be a babbling brook or a clanging cymbal. You’re just making noise. It might be pleasant noise, but it’s just noise all the same. God cannot forgive you if you don’t forgive others. He cannot heal you if you don’t forgive.

Mark 11: 22-26 is a passage that proves my point:

So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

If you’ve been standing against symptoms for a long time, I suggest you check yourself out.  Are you holding something against someone else?  A lot of the things people harbor within themselves can allow attacks from the enemy to come in. I don’t understand it, but I have known people to be angry with another person and hold that anger for 10, 15, 20 years. How in the world can you justify holding anger that long?

As far as I can tell, the Bible doesn’t give you any more than 24 hours to hold on to your anger. Look at Ephesians 4:26:

“Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath.”

If you don’t let the sun go down on your wrath, you will not hold that anger but a few hours. When you hold onto unforgiveness you open a door and give license to Satan to put something on you.  And Satan will walk through that door and take advantage of the situation. “Hello, high blood pressure. Hello, heart attack. Hello, cancer. Welcome inside.”

Critical for your well-being is if your Father can’t forgive you, neither can He heal you. That’s just the way He has designed the system to work. The Father God wants to bless you, but you won’t let Him if you’re harboring something against someone else. You’re tying His hands.

Holding something against another person can take you out of here long before you are ready to go. That is, long before you’re 70 years old, which is the least amount of time a Christian should live. When you do not forgive, you’re inviting an attack of sickness and disease. You can pray all you want and confess all you want, but if you’re harboring unforgiveness, it won’t do you any good. It’s like being on a treadmill–exerting a lot of effort, but going nowhere.

That’s exactly the way it can be with your faith. You can be saying all the right things, but you will go nowhere faith-wise. You’re just like on a treadmill if you’ve got unforgiveness in your heart. In the meantime, sickness and disease can be gaining on you, taking their toll on your health.

As the children of God, we are commanded to operate in the Fruit of the Spirit. Colossians 3:12-13 says it like this:

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”

by Dr. Frederick K.C. Price


How to Make Right Decisions

Chris Russell

I recently published a blog post called “8 Keys to Knowing God’s Will For Your Life.” That post was directed toward helping believers to figure out the big picture in regard to God’s will. For instance, those keys have much to do with God’s plan for you vocationally, in ministry, and in the important stages of life.

This post, on the other hand, lends help for the “smaller” decisions that we make from day to day.  In order to continue in the middle of God’s perfect will, it is vital that we make right decisions each day and each week. But that is not always easy. As a tool to help you make right decisions from a biblical perspective, I have pulled together 13 questions you should ask when facing a choice. Here they are:

1)  Does God already have a clear teaching about this?

Joshua 1:8
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

If God has already spoken clearly about this, you do not have to wonder any longer. Just do what he has told you.

Simple, right?

Well, the problem here seems to be that most people in our culture today seem to have a fairly low level of knowledge of the Scriptures. They are “low-information believers.”

So, I would encourage you to saturate your mind as much as possible with God’s Word. Read it. Study it. Memorize it. Learn it. Once you have done so, you will be amazed at how much better you are at making good, solid decisions in life.

2)  What do my top spiritual advisors tell me about this?

Proverbs 11:14
Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.

It is vital that you surround yourself with godly friends who will be able to speak into your life about life’s decisions. Do you realize that you are basically a composite of the five people you spend the most time with? It is crucial to choose those people carefully. If you don’t have those types of friends, I would encourage you to increase your involvement in church and small groups and ministry in order to establish those godly relationships.

3)  What do authority figures in my life have to say about this?

Titus 3:1
Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work.

(Also see Romans 13:1-7; Hebrews 13:17)

God often works through authority relationships in our lives. For instance, it would be extremely rare for the best choice to be something that is illegal. Look at this choice from the vantage point of authority figures in your life, and at least use that as an important reference point for you.

4)  How will this affect me spiritually?

1 Corinthians 10:23
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.

There is much more to this life than just earning a bigger paycheck or improving your status amongst peers. When you make choices, make sure you consider how this decision will affect your spiritual development. Will this draw you nearer to God or further from him?  Will this decision interfere with your ability to attend church, maintain godly relationships, or spend time cultivating your spiritual disciplines?  If it harms you spiritually, then I would suggest pulling the plug on that choice.

5)  How will this affect my family? Will this draw us closer to God or further from God?

1 Corinthians 8:9
But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.

Not only must you consider how this decision will affect your own spiritual development, but you must also consider the affects it will have on the spiritual state of your family. Will this help your family to grow in Christ, or will it interfere with that spiritual growth? Will this pull them away from godly friends and away from a healthy, godly church environment? Will this divide your family in any way? Be careful not to make decisions that will cause your family to pay a big price.

6)  Is this going to bring more peace or less peace to my life?

1 Thessalonians 4:11
That you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.

Did you know that God actually wants you to have a peaceful life? Of course, this is not the “American way,” but it is definitely an important consideration when it comes to making decisions. Be cautious that you are not stacking your life with more and more “stuff” that will send you over the edge with stress and anxiety. And make sure it is not going to steal the peace from your family as well.

7)  Is this consistent with the way God has wired me?

1 Peter 4:10
As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

God has created you for a purpose, and He has designed you specifically to fulfill that purpose. You are a gifted individual, and His plan will be for you to function within that area of giftedness. When we veer outside of the way He has wired us, we often feel excessive stress, anxiety, and burnout very quickly.

When it comes to making decisions, make sure you evaluate the choice in light of the way that God has designed you. Are you creative? Are you detail-oriented? Are you relational? Are you task-oriented? Are you a communicator? Pay attention to how God has wired you.

8)  Am I paying attention to the risks that are associated with this?

Proverbs 27:12
A wise man foresees evil and hides himself; the simple pass on and are punished.

When making decisions, it is very important to honestly assess the risk that is involved. Sometimes we can become so mesmerized by a “golden carrot” that we overlook the risks that are associated. For this one, I would suggest that you have an outside voice speak into the situation.

In his book Entreleadership, Dave Ramsey says that anytime he has made a business decision that has gone against his wife’s advice, it has cost him at least $10,000. Sometimes others, like a spouse, can see the risks that we overlook.

It is a sign of wisdom to be cautious. Not fearful, but cautious.

9)  Do I have total peace from God about this?

Philippians 4:7
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Sometimes everything can look right on the outside when I’m making a decision, but there will still be angst within my spirit. I have learned that making a decision without that inner peace is nearly always a mistake. God gives us peace as a protection and a guide. Seek His peace, and be cautious of making decisions that move against that peace.

10)  Are the doors of circumstances clearly open here?

(See Acts 16)

God often works through obvious circumstances. For example, He did that for Paul in Acts 16. In that chapter, Paul and his entourage kept facing closed doors as they were seeking where they were to minister next. And then, one door to Asia flew open while all other doors were closing.

God often directs me more by closing doors than by opening them. But there have been times in my life when I have attempted to force open a door that was not truly open. That never ends well.

It’s always good to look at how God is opening or closing doors in front of you. And while an open door does not always mean that you are to pass through, it is often an indicator that God is at work. Pay attention to open doors, and be cautious of forcing doors open when they are closed.

11)  Is now the best time for this? Could waiting be better?

Ephesians 5:16-17
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Haste does not always produce the best decisions. Sometimes everything might seem right about a choice, but making the decision at a later time might make more sense. This isn’t always easy, because we often want to move forward quickly when we see an opportunity. But sometimes the wiser decision is to slow down, plan more, get more input, and give it more time to develop.

12)  Am I willing to let God close this door?

(Again, refer to Paul’s journey in Acts 16.)

An important element to making good decisions is to make sure that you are completely submitted to God’s ultimate plan for your life. Sometimes we get it into our heads that we want to do a certain thing, and then we struggle immensely when we begin to realize that God may not want us to move forward with that particular choice.

The disaster comes when we place our desire above God’s plan. Let me be clear here. That never turns out well. The best decision you can ever make is to submit your choices to God’s plan and be willing to give up an opportunity when you sense God does not want you to move forward with that decision.

13)  Am I willing to trust God if He asks me to step forward?

Hebrews 11:6
But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Closely related to the above question is this: Are you willing to trust God if He asks you to step forward? This is basically the flipside of question 12. It’s important to stop when God says, “Stop,” and it is equally important to move forward when He says, “Move forward.”

Are you willing to do that thing He might want you to do? What if it makes you feel uncomfortable? What if it moves you out of your comfort zone? What if it requires faith?

I can testify to you that the most exciting moments of my life have been when I have submitted to God and stepped forward with Him in faith. I hope you can experience that same joy.

Wrapping It Up

OK, so when you have a tough choice to make, I would encourage you to go over these questions before confirming your decision. Perhaps print these questions out and keep them as a reference point for the future. Talk through each of these questions with your spouse or a friend in the context of a decision you are currently making in your own life. I know of some parents who have used these with their kids to help train their children to make good decisions as well. In essence, these questions can serve as guidelines for helping you and your family make decisions that you will not regret.

* All Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible.

Prayers with Power and Punch

Stephen Altrogge
I’m convinced that one of the reasons my prayers often feel “flat” is that I don’t  incorporate God’s word into my prayers. God’s word is packed full of promises, and one of the best ways to infuse life into our prayers is by infusing God’s promises into our prayers. In John 15:7 Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” This is a crazy promise! Essentially, what Jesus is saying is that when we pray in accordance with his words, promises, or commands, whatever we ask will be done for us. When our prayers line up with his promises, crazy, incredible things will happen!

That’s why I’m working on a book entitled Praying God’s Word. Each page of this book contains a section of scripture, then a prayer based off that section of scripture. My hope is that combination of God’s word and prayer will be like rocket fuel for your prayer life. What follows is a prayer based on Psalms 34, which is one of my favorite Psalms:

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (Psalms 34:8-10)

Father,

I have tasted and seen that you are good. I have tasted the finest delicacies this world can offer, and they cannot compare to you. Your presence satisfies me like nothing else. You give more joy and deeper joy than anything else in this world. One day in your courts is better than a thousand days elsewhere. One moment with you is better than a thousand lifetimes anywhere else. Please give me more tastes of your presence, more glimpses of your glory. Expand my heart to love you more, and then take me deeper into the vast ocean of your love. Your love is better than life itself.

I do not take refuge in money, people, job security, or friends. Those things are fleeting vapors that quickly dissipate. They don’t provide any true security. I take my refuge in you, the King of Kings, owner of all things, Sovereign One, and protector of the helpless. I know that you’ll care for me, provide for me, and satisfy me. I know that you’ll protect me, just as a father protects his children. Teach me what it means to fully entrust myself. Deliver me from my sinful self-sufficiency. Teach me what it means to truly, humbly fear you. Fill my heart with appropriate reverence, awe, and fear of you.

I want to seek you above all else, knowing that if I seek you, I won’t lack any good thing. You are not a stingy God who is hesitant to bless his creatures. You are an abundantly generous God. Like a constantly flowing spring, you bubble over with goodness and generosity. If you clothe the lilies in splendor and feed the ravens, you will certainly provide me with everything that I need. If something is good for me, you will give it to me. If it is not good, you will withhold it. I know that I can trust you to give me exactly what I need for every situation. Ultimately, I don’t know what I most need, but you do. I don’t trust in my own ability to meet my needs, I trust you to meet all of my needs.

 

The Inward Reality of Worship

by

Worship propels us to mission. And our mission is to go and to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). We want others to find and know the same joy and peace that we experience in Christ. We want others to come and add their voices to the prayers and praise of God’s people. We are zealous of God’s glory and desire to see the glory of God fill the earth. And so we go and we tell.

When Isaiah worshipped God, in Isaiah 6, he saw the Lord high and lifted up; he saw his own sinfulness in the face of God’s glory and holiness; he experienced the wonder and joy of God’s forgiveness for his sins; and he responded to God’s call to go and preach God’s Word.

But Isaiah was given the difficult task of preaching to a people whose hearts were hard against truth. They were stubborn and would not listen. Isaiah was willing to be God’s messenger. We hear him say, “Here am I, send me.” But he longed to see the stirrings of faith and the fruits of repentance. When God told Isaiah that the people would turn away and not listen, the cry of his heart in verse 11 was “How long, O Lord?” He wanted the darkness and coldness of men’s hearts to end.

God did not leave Isaiah without hope. In response to his cry, God gives a promise at the end of chapter 6 of a remnant that would remain. Though it looks like the tree is cut down and the promise that God had made since the fall of Adam in the garden of a holy seed is in doubt; God declares at the end of verse 13: “The holy seed is its stump.” The rest of the book of Isaiah goes on to shed more light on God’s purposes in the preservation of Israel and the coming Messiah.

As you continue reading in Isaiah, it is as if God pulls back the curtain, providing more and more light, revealing what the Messiah will be and what He will accomplish. For example, we read later in Isaiah of the day when God’s praise will fill the earth:

From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise,
of glory to the Righteous One (Isaiah 24:16).

Isaiah celebrated the day when God would shine the light of the gospel of Jesus.

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising (Isaiah 60:1–3).

He looked forward to the day when the darkness would fall away and people from every nation, tongue, and tribe would see the light of Christ. He longed for the day when the glory of God would cover the earth.

This is another inner stirring of true worship. Worship cannot be contained in the sanctuary. Its desire is to fill the earth! You will know you have worshipped, when you leave this place and worship stays with you—you can’t leave it here! It continues to burn in your heart and engage your soul—so much so that you not only remember it—you must share it—you cannot contain it.

If you have ever experienced the glory of God and the joy of communing with Him in worship, you know that nothing else will ever satisfy your soul like God. We can never be satisfied with anything else. And we want this joy, not just for ourselves, but for others.

May God grant us a longing and a heart like Isaiah’s. May we be willing to go and to tell. And though our testimony may be to some a “fragrance from death to death” (2 Corinthians 2:16), may we never be resigned to see people turn away from God and perish in their sins. In the face of hardness and stubbornness and rejection, may the cry of our heart be: “How long O Lord?” It is God who commands light to shine out of darkness (2 Corinthians 4:6) and opens hearts (Acts 16:14). May He pour out His mercy and grace in our day.

Excerpt from a study on Isaiah 6: The Inward Reality of Worship.

The Gospel in Advance

Focus Verse of the WeekThe Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ”All nations will be blessed through you.” (Galatians 3:8)

Commentary

Christ was the first preacher of the Gospel that ever was. He first preached it to Adam and Eve in the garden, and afterwards to Abraham. It was Gospel, it was good news to Abraham because the Messiah should spring from him, and all nations be blessed in him. He rejoiced at it, and by faith saw Christ’s day and was glad—particularly of that part of the Gospel concerning justification by faith. That was preached unto him; and before his circumcision, of which that was a sign that the righteousness of faith should be upon the uncircumcised Gentiles.

This was before the law of works was given on Mount Sinai, and long before the doctrine of justification by faith was preached unto the Gentiles, and they enjoyed the comfort of it. This is the Gospel, and it is no new doctrine, nor different from what was so early taught. The sum and substance of which lies in these words, “in you shall all nations be blessed.”

(Adapted from John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible.)

A Thought to Keep

The scarlet thread of Christ’s sacrifice runs through the entire Bible. God’s plan for redemption was no afterthought. He loved us and made us His own.

 

Why Worrying is a Failure to Grasp the Gospel

Trevin Wax

 

“Don’t be a worry wart!” people say… and those of us prone to anxiety promptly begin worrying about worrying too much.

I know the feeling. I worry too. I’m not the “lie awake at night” kind of person. But I notice that when I have a lot on my plate, I give an inordinate amount of attention to little details. Worry consumes me in a variety of ways: I lose patience quickly, I snap at my wife and kids, or I lose my sense of empathy for others. Worry turns my focus to Me.

For a while, I thought that worry was caused by my failure to seek first the kingdom. If I would only fix my eyes on Jesus more, then I would stop worrying. If I would only think about the kingdom more, then anxiety wouldn’t be an issue.

Certainly, those who are seeking the kingdom above all things are not preoccupied with food, and drink, and clothing (as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount). And yes, seeking the kingdom first is a good action plan if we find ourselves worrying.

But seeking first the kingdom comes after we have been sought by the King. The root cause of worry is not misplaced priorities. It’s misplaced faith. It’s a failure to grasp the gospel of a God worthy of our trust.

So worry shows up whenever my view of God is diminished and my view of myself gets too big. I worry because my vision of God is skewed. I rest when my vision is fixed.

“Look at the birds of the air!” Jesus said. “God gives them food, even if they don’t work and earn their way.” There’s more to this parallel than a mere animal-to-human comparison about how much more God will care for us. There’s gospel here. God has given undeserved favor to the birds. He blesses them apart from their merits.

God’s grace and mercy is sustaining us too. Everything we have comes from God’s hand. Salvation belongs to the Lord. And the powerful God who saved us is the loving Father who sustains us.

When I reflect on the gospel of a priceless Savior giving his all for undeserving sinners like you and me, then I am assured that our value in the eyes of God does not shift with the economic tides. Our worth is not measured in what we do for God, but what God has done for us.

This is God the Father who sent his only Son to the cross that we deserved.

This is God the Son who willingly took on flesh, lived among us, and died in our place.

This is God the Spirit who prompts our hearts and brings us back into unending fellowship with our Maker.

It is the costly actions of God that give us our value.

In these difficult times, we – the people of God’s kingdom – need to be reminded of our true citizenship and true identity. The uneasiness of worry surfaces in our hearts when we lose sight of the gospel of God’s grace to the undeserving. Failure to grasp the gospel is what causes us to take our eyes off the kingdom and forget who we are in Christ.

United to Christ, we are part of a royal family. Our older Brother is the King of the world.

Thou art coming to a King,
large petitions with thee bring,
For his grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.

– John Newton

 

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