Saturday, April 4, 2015

Just Show Up

This Ted Talk resonates with me in many ways. I'm passionate about ideas concerning creativity, genius, inspiration, and wisdom. Of course, as a Christian, I know what this "elusive" Source is that, rather who, defies definition by people without God, or believe only in something that can't be explained, such as an energy, or have barely a loose understanding of Him. There's much more to Him than moral rules, principles, guidelines, prophecy, and physical healing.

Ted Talk - Elizabeth Gilbert - Your Elusive Creative Genius

God wants to reveal Himself in many ways because He wants people to notice Him. Why? Is it for bragging rights? Is it merely to bring glory and honor to Himself? No. It's because He has a uniquely special and personal message for us, and He wants to capture our attention so that we'll listen.

This particular Ted Talk reminded me of the verses that describe Scripture as God-breathed or given by the inspiration of God (2 Tom 3:16-17), depending on the translation. He is not elusive, from the humble, that is. For He rewards those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6), and we are to seek Him and His righteousness before all the temporal things of this world (Matt 6:33).

What's amazing is He has blessed us with the responsibility of ambassadorship. He has privileged us with the joy of being a part of His plan. He loves us so much, by including us in the process, we see with the eyes of our hearts the power of His amazing grace. He wants us to share in the glory of His Son, to comprehend the riches of our inheritance in the saints, to rejoice with Him like the Father of the prodigal son, and sing with the angels in heaven, when even a single sinner repents and believes.

Furthermore, we are no longer children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, but rather speak the truth in love, (Eph 4:11-16) when as believers we finally come to understand what is the Father's plan and what is our role in it, and then get comfortably fitted with His armor (Eph 6:11-20). When we are fitted with His armor and use it, by application we can experience the working of His great power within us to His ends. And when we experience this power, His power working through us to His good pleasure, suffering takes on a whole new meaning, and we welcome the opportunity to share in Christ's suffering, to die to self, and to live for Him.

We are given this honor by grace, a true gift from God, working through faith when we put on the shoes of peace, and courageously carry the scroll of His will on our tongues to any who would listen, or in my case, read.

But if He is doing all these things, what is our job? To just show up. Like Mary choosing the better thing than Martha, we need to listen to God speaking. Writers like Elizabeth Gilbert might be confident in thinking this "elusive creative genius" is a "glimpse of God" and shout "Olé!" But, she seems clueless as to why God would share a glimpse of Himself. It was less about eating, praying, and loving, in the world, and more about paying attention to the burning bush in her heart. It reminds me to be intentional and diligent in seeking Him, step 1 of which is just showing up to hear Him through Scripture.

Lastly, why Scripture? Simple, John 17:17. We shall be sanctified by the truth, and His word is truth. It's everything we need. It's everything He wants to say to us. We don't get our special calling in isolation. His calling for us is already described in the word of truth. Where we show up is important. I believe that means reading and writing, Scripture and prayer, and then exercising the courage to share His desires, love, and plan.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Am I a Friend?

I may be a friend and have friends. But, do I have friends like Jesus did?

I heard this in part of a sermon weeks ago, it's still on my mind, and here it is paraphrased with additional comments... 

Jesus earned a reputation of being a friend of those whom religious leaders rejected. 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' (Matt 11:19, Luke 7:34).

Why? What did 'tax collectors and sinners' find in this friend that attracted them? For what reason did God's only Son actively seek them out and invite Himself over to their houses for dinner? How did these relationships transform lives and not simply modify behavior?

More importantly, I ask myself, if Christ is in me, would so-called 'tax collectors and sinners' be attracted to me for the same reasons? Am I ready to give a reason for the hope that is in me? Am I willing and able to be used as a privileged instrument in His hands to do His will, the work I was created to do, which is to do my part in the building up of the body of Christ?

I would absolutely love to do these things. Christ even said, "Greater works than these you will do" if I abide in Him. He wasn't talking about performing miracles; that was to show who He was. He was talking about executing the Father's eternal plan, the very reason we were created and exist on earth (Eph 2:8-10): to build on the foundation, Jesus Christ, and become a dwelling place for God (Eph 2:18-22).

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10)

For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:18-22)

My greatest desire is to delight in Him. Therefore, I will study His thoughts and His ways, expressed in His word, and...

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Tim 2:15)

Do you also long to discover the truth and grace that filled Christ? Do you honestly desire to know God's thoughts? Be teachable, humble, then ASK...

A - ask, and it will be given you.
S - seek, and you shall find.
K - knock, and the door will be opened to you.

Remember, salvation is His responsibility and doing. It is by grace through faith you are saved (Eph 2:8-9). As John MacArthur said, "If you could lose you salvation, you would."

And remember this common verse, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16)?

Sanctification, on the other hand, growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Son of God, follows salvation. It is optional and requires humility. Humility is your choice. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

God wants and expects us to grow up into Him who is the head of the body of Christ: the church. How? His word. "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth (John 17:17).

Sanctification is not about repeatedly going over and over how we are sinners and don't deserve salvation. Are we to remain infants in thinking and forever wonder about the birth process?

Growing and maturing in Christ requires cooperation with the Spirit of Truth, who's job it is to guide you into all truth. That is why Scripture says do not grieve the Spirit; because you can. The issue isn't "once saved, always saved." It is "once saved, now grow."

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Notes from a Refreshing Bible Study at In Him Counseling Services

These are notes from our last study of 2014 on Wednesday morning, 12/31/2014. That morning's focus was on John 1:11-13...

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:11-13)

Why did His own not receive Him?

1. Familiar - isn't this the carpenter's son? How is He calling God His Father?

And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?" And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household." And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:53-58)

2. They wondered about the miracles, but flat out denied He was God.

I and the Father are one." The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?" The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God." (John 10:30-33)

3. He didn't follow the traditions of men, which were taught as doctrines of God.

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, "'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.' You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men." And he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! (Mark 7:5-9)

4. How does anyone receive Him? The Holy Spirit reveals it to them.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-17)

They did not receive Him. Why not?
It's about humility, which they did not have, and arrogance, which they would not give up.

"You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you." Acts 7:51

...nor did the world know Him. Why not?
Because righteousness comes from God, not by anything man can do. Without the Spirit of God, man can do nothing.

as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12)

Contrast that with the believer...

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12)

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name... 
Who would receive Him, who would believe in His name?

1. Whoever...

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

2. Those who do not refuse to believe...

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)

He gave the right to become children of God
Many say we are all children of God already. But that was not what God said. He clearly said the right to become children of God would be given to those who believe in the name of His Son.

It's beautiful! Why mess with that? Why resist the Holy Spirit? 
People who resist the Holy Spirit want something to boast about, whether it's keeping the law, being a good person (or at least trying), or latching onto a cause for the sake of humanity. The sin nature is dying to claim it's "good enough." Some claim we don't need any standard of righteousness at all, and put down the idea that there even is a God, or that He matters. After all, we've got serious problems in this world to solve, or chances for wealth and prosperity while we're here, right?

But Scripture also tells us clearly that a) our best works are like polluted rags to God, and that b) salvation is a gift of God so that no one can boast.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.  (Isaiah 64:6a)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Lastly, we must be willing to let go of our thoughts and expectations because God has something much better for the believer now than we could ever ask or imagine, and that it was His plan all along, even before the foundation of the world. (For the mature, read 1 Cor 2:6-12.)

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 

For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 

Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (2 Corinthians 3:7-11)

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, (Ephesians 3:20)

...who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
This is where it all starts for us: being born of the Spirit. Yes, since we exist we were born of water, the flesh. But, unless we are born again, we merely remain flesh. But now, we must be born again.

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' (John 3:5-7)

At our Bible study, we looked into many verses of Scriptures and had lively discussions around these verses. The notes I wrote above, I hope, capture the essence of those discussions. There was more commentary, as well, and I do not recall it all now. It's a good thing that...

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Until next week, praise be to God, the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

In Him Counseling Services is a Christian Counseling center located in Raritan, NJ.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Word of the Day: Harmony

Word of the day: HARMONY.  I first understood this word to be a musical term when I was young. Then, I thought it was just an analogy for things that worked well together.  Then, I understood it to represent the melodic highlight in the symphony of life, where the crescendo of labor and the staccato of interruptions complement each other, as do the legato of routine and the forte of demands. What made it a symphony? Love, the secret ingredient that bound all these things together perfectly.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:14)

But, then I discovered the final movement was still yet to come.  Not only that, it was to be played in my lifetime.  I stood back from the podium and took in the beauty of the original score that gave no sound in itself. Yet, here was the plan for the masterpiece to follow.

With fresh eyes opened in my softened heart, I could see that, not only was there consonance to resolve the dissonance, there was coda closely trailing recapitulation bringing the entire composition to closure, ending in even greater perfection and celebration.

My ears perked to catch every note that would sound as one in a full and unifying chord of glorious hallelujah, knowing that each note and rest was chosen by the score's Creator before the foundation of the world for my glory, for our glory, written with love.

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7)

Please, enter the great halls and enjoy the concert. The Composer promises to fill your heart and mind with everything for which they were designed. Something which no ear has ever heard, or eye has ever seen.

[May our] hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:2-3)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Life's (not so) Little Lessons, #1: Church Myths

I was reminded this weekend, perhaps more personally and profoundly, that many people still equate man's religion with Christianity, and that's very sad. It means the devil is winning this spiritual battle on Earth by distorting and diluting God's truth found in scripture.

What is popular about Christianity as portrayed in media, Christian worldview, the 'Prosperity Gospel', and even church history, such as The Crusades, screams so loudly that it is assumed to be an accurate representation, at least to some degree, and is therefore held tightly by those who believe it, or a joke to those who question it.

Not only that, but whatever people have come to believe, through these channels plus whatever religion they grew up with or whatever inspired them (be it music, an emotional experience, a physical miracle, creation appreciation, academics, literature, etc.), is deeply ingrained in their hearts; they truly believe these things to be absolutely correct and provide ultimate meaning. Even if they admit to only having a partial picture, they will often either defend their personal beliefs fiercely (sometimes without realizing that's what they are doing), or they will refuse to discuss another opinion.

Once in a while, someone will be open to discussing scripture. When that happens, I love it. I love them! I'm motivated by love, and grateful for the opportunity, to share with all gentleness the reason for the hope that is in me. "And they will know the truth, and the truth will set them free."

Here are some common myths that need to be dispelled by scripture:

1. The Church is just an extension of Israel.
Actually, the Church, which is also called the body of Christ, is so different that the Ten Commandments given to Israel are considered "the ministry of death" compared to "the ministry of the Spirit".

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (2 Cor 3:7-11)

2. It's all about salvation and/or behavior modification.
Rather, salvation is the entry way to a higher calling, and behavior modification is the result, not the cause, of understanding spiritual truth. Interestingly, behavior modification is not required for salvation.

It is by grace people are saved, and that is a gift of God, not of any action on the person's part. Simply believe, yes, but make sure you know what you're believing in.

3. Do as you're told and don't ask questions.
This is bad, and can be an indication of a cult. When a human leader claims such authority as to be obeyed blindly, or such respect as to be unquestionable, there's a problem.

Scripture, on the other hand, is open to inspection and can gently answer your skeptical questions quite well. Bring them on! But also bring a teachable attitude, one of humility, not of arrogance. Even the best college professor can teach a student who is convinced they already know it all.

God rewards those who diligently seek Him when His Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God. Diligently seeking Him inevitably means asking questions. The object is not just to 'do or die', but to increase the quality of the questions and to keep searching until you really understand the answers.

...they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Act s17:11)

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (Romans 8:16)

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

4. Christianity is just another religious set of beliefs and rituals.
Fortunately, not at all. A person becomes a "new creation" in Christ when they are born again, born of the Spirit. It is at this point they can grow spiritually.

Beliefs without spiritual rebirth are simply guidelines and principles and, yes, they can look like other religions, or deemed shallow by atheists. Spiritual truths cannot be understood by someone who is not spiritual.

In our natural states, before being born again, we can only begin to see that there are spiritual truths to learn. That is why Jesus spoke in parables; He could speak to both natural man and spiritual man at the same time, yet each would hear what could benefit them, if they believed it.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:16-17)

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. (Romans 8:7)

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:14)

5. It's basically the same as all other religions, "Do unto others..." and other rules or principles of morality.
Not at all! A deeper study of scripture soon reveals that the Church is a very special and unique plan of the God the Father, made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit that indwells a Christian, and attainable through Jesus Christ. 

The Christian life is all about growing into Him who is the Head, that is Christ. These rules and principles will be useful to us as we fight this spiritual battle for truth. But, to understand the Father's plan is to understand the manifold wisdom of God, if we turn in faith toward Him. The Father's plan itself is so much more, exceedingly abundantly more, than just performing 'random acts of kindness'. 

Rather, let's seek to improve our relationship with God once we know what the Father's plan is. It's along that path we'll begin to discover immeasurable riches of His grace, unsearchable treasures hidden in Christ, etc.

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8-10)

6. Yeah, but the Pastor/Minister/Reverend/Priest/Leader said...
Ultimately, we are responsible for listening to God through His word (scripture). The leader may be trying his best to interpret and teach God's truth, but we cannot answer to God with, "But the guy/gal with the mic at the front of the church building said..." Instead, we should search the scriptures to see if what they are saying is true.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

If you have any questions about the above, please contact me or leave a comment. 

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

Thank you!

Friday, June 6, 2014

I Believe in God, But Does He Believe in Me?

I tried an experiment. How would scripture sound if I substituted my name in place of pronouns where Paul was addressing the church? Personally, I love it!  It let's me know with more certainty that where the church is referenced, God is also speaking to me.  Try it!  Does it fit?

Here's my personalized result (And capitalized pronouns that refer to God) from Ephesians 1:1-23 ESV...

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To Dwight who is in New Jersey, and is faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to Dwight and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed Dwight in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose Dwight in Him before the foundation of the world, that Dwight should be holy and blameless before Him.

In love He predestined Dwight for adoption as a son through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed Dwight in the Beloved.

In Him, Dwight has redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of his trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon Dwight, in all wisdom and insight making known to Dwight the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In Him, Dwight has obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory.

In Him, Dwight also, when he heard the word of truth, the gospel of his salvation, and believed in Him, was sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of Dwight's inheritance until he acquires possession of it, to the praise of His glory.

For this reason, because I have heard of Dwight's faith in the Lord Jesus and Dwight's love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for Dwight, remembering Dwight in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give Dwight the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of his heart enlightened, that Dwight may know what is the hope to which He has called Dwight, what are the riches of Dwight's glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward Dwight who believes, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

(Eph 1:1-23, ESV, personalized)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Special Announcement! Are You Listening?

If Almighty God, Creator of the Universe, who precisely inserted time into eternity, gently and warmly approached a soothed you and calmly whispered, "My precious child, I have something uniquely special to tell you that will light up your heart and strengthen your soul. Actually, I formed this loving message in detail long before I even created the world, and planned this precise day that I would offer to begin my story, if you would have me."

Would you lean forward, captivated, and laser focus your attention on His every next breathed words? If so, sink into His bosom beyond the surface and soak in His deeply profound thoughts of exquisite expression -hidden from the wise of this world, yet revealed to babes- with such an excited response of expectation. For He rewards those who, by faith, would diligently seek Him, and He wants so much for you to come to the full knowledge of the truth; here, now. Read, for it is in His word that He reveals Himself and unfolds this message.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)