Thursday, June 22, 2017

My Rearview Mirror

We see things differently in the rearview mirror of life than over the steering wheel. Last week I finished my final module at Faith Bible Seminary before completing their MABC program (Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling). In looking backward, I am blessed by the thread of God's Word from early childhood to the present and the curiosity to learn more. God provided many people and organizations to impart the power, truth, grace and glory of His Word, the Bible. (Children are not too young to memorize God's Word--and none of us is too old.)

Before I could read, my mom signed me up for a Bible memory program. Each letter of the alphabet was associated with a Scripture verse. On Sunday evenings we went to church early so I could recite that weeks' verse(s) to an adult in a downstairs classroom. I remember clearly sitting on a wooden chair painted in primary colors as Barb Battershell leaned over to hear beyond my hesitation.

In 2nd grade our Sunday school teacher, Adeline Dalke, awarded a Bible to every student who recited Psalm 100 from memory.

At church camp as a Jr. Girl (4th-6th grade), we were allowed unlimited memory work for team points. We spurred each other on: 30 verses, 50, 75, over 100. With a young sponge brain and exposure to regular sermons and kid's classes, the repetition of familiar verses became part of my mind and heart.

As a Jr. High student our Sunday school teachers, Dave and Glo Reetz, introduced the Navigators discipleship program (now known as the 2:7 Series). I learned and relearned Scripture along with daily Bible reading, observation and application. That gift has reproduced itself and is probably the most powerful element of my personal spiritual growth.

Life came went, and with it college Bible studies, Bible Study Fellowship, AWANA, Vacation Bible School, and, later, a return to the Navigators and an opportunity to teach systematic theology.

All that to say that until we digest the Bible and becomes part of our mental, emotional and spiritual anatomy, it serves little purpose. "Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies" (1 Cor. 8:1). James says, "in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21).

The Bible communicates reality--regardless of our circumstances or geography. It introduces us to our Source, our Creator, our original design. In the Bible we discover our purpose. It is a lamp to our feet (showing us where we are) and a light to our path (revealing where to go). Most importantly, the Bible introduces us to Christ, the One who paid to free us from the slave market of sin.

This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some ideas for making God's Word part of your heart and life--digesting it and breaking it down. Until we engage with and intentionally allow it to mess with our way of seeing, thinking and doing, we cannot truly know the God it represents.

- Pray. The Word of God is foolishness in our way of thinking. We must have His help.
Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law. Psalm 119:18

- Read Scripture. Devotionals, articles, sermons, and Christian radio don't count. They aren't necessarily bad, but they're filtered through human thought and reasoning. Make time for God's Word in its purist form.
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You. Blessed are You, O Lord; Teach me Your statutes.
With my lips I have told of All the ordinances of Your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, As much as in all riches.  I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways.  I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word. (Psalm 119:9-16)

- Read the Bible the way it was given. Each book of the Bible represents a message in its entirety. Paul wrote letters, not chapters and verses. Moses recorded narrative history, not random vignettes. Challenge yourself to read a book of the Bible in one setting or multiple settings, but as a continuous book. Look for the purpose of each book and read it in that context. For instance, the book of John was "written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." John 20:31

- Engage your brain. Ask questions: Why did this come next? What came before? Why this word? How does it fit together? 
"A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel, To understand a proverb and a figure, The words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Prov. 1:5-7)

- Evaluate Scripture in the context of Jesus. He is the living Word. He is God in the flesh. So how does what you read apply to who Jesus is, what He's done, what He's doing?

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:17-18)

"And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

- Read the Bible with purpose.
  • Write out a book of the Bible by hand, word for word, and make personal observations and notes in the margin (teacher hint: the more senses you use, the better you retain information).
  • As you read your Bible, mark specific ideas: who God is, what God does, what He has called us to, how God works, etc.
  • Choose a theme and read the entire Bible with that theme in mind, then choose a different one.
  • Do a word study: choose a word or idea and write out all the verses that explain it, then prayerfully apply it to specific areas of your life.
- Determine a time, place, and plan for reading Scripture. Make an appointment with yourself (and God). Keep it. Don't be distracted by to-do's and brain squabbles--keep a pad of paper to write down random thoughts or things to remember.

God wants to be known. He will reveal Himself. He promised.

The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 16:24-31)

I love those who love me; And those who diligently seek me will find me. (Proverbs 8:17)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Got Faith?

We tend to put faith in the domain of the unknown and unseen. It has a mysterious, nebulous component. After all, how do you define faith? You can't see or feel it. Isn't faith something you hope for that hasn't even happened? Yes...and no.

When we view faith as something "out there" and distant, we are free to live life however we want. If it can't be measured or quantified, I say I have faith--or think I have faith--without obligation. In other words, I can believe (in my head). I can say I'm a Christian. I can say or think I have faith. And I can move on with my life.

I would argue that faith is real, it's a concrete doing, not just an empty set of words. For instance, when you visited your Facebook page, sent a text or made plans for this afternoon, what motivated you? Why did you do what you did? 

One of the most common reasons for doing or not doing something is because we "feel like it." We want to do something (or we don't) and the wanting motivates our decision. My grandmother used to talk about being "in the mood." If she was in the mood, it got done. If she wasn't, it had to wait. Fortunately, she was always in the mood for MacDonald's ice cream.

Here it is: Faith is doing what God says whether I feel like it or not. It's taking God at His Word and acting on it. Period. That's real. It's concrete. It's not wishy-washy. It's not nebulous or mysterious. It's actually straight-forward and obvious. Here are a couple of simple, but hard, ways to apply faith:

- God says marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman for life (Genesis 1-3, Ephesians 5). Faith not only assents it's true, faith does it. Faith says, "No matter how I feel about this person, I am committed to this relationship. God designed marriage and He wants me to work this out." Staying married and working through difficulties requires dependence on Him. seeking help, perseverance, forgiveness, and sacrifice. It's real, walking, talking faith that lies awake at night, prays, gives, serves, and loves. Faith real, concrete acts that reflect Jesus--that believe in Jesus' death and resurrection--in everyday life through our words, actions and choices.

- God says if we abide in Him, He will abide in us (John 15). Faith spends measureable time reading the Bible, studying, listening to, meditating on and memorizing God's Word because that's where we find Him. We must know Christ and His ways to abide in Him. Faith is evident in prayer (abiding). Faith is evident as I wait on God to provide and meet my needs.

- God says He will keep Him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Him because He trusts Him (Isaiah 26:3). Faith refuses to give in to worry or despair. Faith chooses, instead, to think on the character and works of God: His faithfulness, lovingkindness and goodness expressed in Scripture and past experience. Godly faith is demonstrated by peace and steadfastness.

The opposite of faith is my way-seeking relief, comfort, pleasure--in opposition to the revealed will of God in His Word. It happens as we justify, rationalize and excuse our behavior with circumstance instead of turning to God and holding fast. When I simply don't believe God's Word is true or will "work," when I think I have a better idea, or just don't feel like doing it His way, my unbelief and disobedience result in real consequences. God's way or my way? It's that simple.

Got faith?

And 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 seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6 NASB)

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26)

Friday, June 2, 2017

So What About "Hoarders?"

We sat in a hotel room, relaxing, eating pizza--and watching an episode of "Hoarders."

Maybe you've never seen it. Maybe you've started, but just can't stomach the clutter and decay. My guess is you're fascinated or repelled. How can people not SEE the problem? And when/if they do, how can they refuse help? And why would they choose to live that way?

If we dare to think about it long enough and truthfully enough, we realize we're all like that. We have habits, stuff, hobbies, jobs, people--even ministries--we're desperate to keep. We don't see the problem. And if/when we do, we don't want help. Whatever it is, it's become a necessity--our air and breath.

What starts as an interest or casual fancy becomes an obsession, consuming our thoughts, dreams, changing our plans, removing the future, despairing the present, regretting the past. Slowly, gradually, our vision narrows until that one thing is everything. Without it, my world collapses. And in that moment I am forced to ask, "How am I loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength?" Where is God in my reality? And I must admit He is not there.

God is not there. People are peripheral. If I were to answer the question, "In this activity/obsession, how am I loving others as myself?" I'm not. I have become both the source and receiver of need. As I face myself in the mirror of Truth, there is room for only one--me.

It happens with good things: dieting, gardening, music, work, relationships. Sometimes it begins with hard things: loss, grief, failure, violation. It morphs into ugly things: eating disorders, workaholism, depression, substance abuse, hoarding. Suddenly the shore is lost, I'm overwhelmed by waves, and the shimmering shell in my hand has become a ball and chain.

"So what would a biblical counselor say about hoarders?" our daughter asked. I gave the Sunday School answer, "They need Jesus."

How does that solve the problem? Jesus fulfills us. He is the need that has been unmet. Sin no longer requires salving, ignoring, covering, or hiding. I have no debt to pay. I have no need to work for reward. "It is finished." And in taking Jesus at His Word I find freedom, forgiveness, acceptance, healing, belonging...being. And in Him I have life--a new, eternal life that starts now and never, ever ends.

NOTE: If you don't get it, or you're very lost in the ocean of self, please seek godly counsel. Talk to a pastor or friend who knows Jesus--and lives like it. Here is a list of organizations with individuals who know and use the Bible to help others: Biblical Counseling Coalition--Find a Counselor. In general, these individuals work within local churches to help, direct and connect you with God and His people who offer their services freely. "Freely you received, freely give." (Matthew 10:8)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. (John 1:1-4) many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:16-18)

His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. (1 Peter 1:3-4)