Follow Jesus? What’s In It For Me?

followPhilippians 4:19 “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

A rich, young ruler approached Jesus and asked what everyone else wanted to know, “How do I get eternal life?” The Bible says Jesus reminded him of the Law of Moses. I imagine the young man’s eyes lit up, “I’ve done all of that!” Then Jesus added one more thing, “Sell all that you have, give the money to the poor and come, follow me.”
Usually, we focus on Jesus’ instruction to sell his belongings and give the money to the poor, but we don’t often consider what Jesus said next, “Come, follow me.”
So much blessing is buried in those three words. In that simple phrase, while instructing the man to forsake his worldly treasures, Jesus also invited him to receive all that he could ever desire or need. Jesus well could have said, “Come, and I will feed you and five thousand others. Come, and I will call you my friend and my family, you will never be alone. Come, and I will teach you. Come, and I will wash your feet. Come, and I will protect you—even when they come to arrest and kill me.

We will never give up or lose anything that God has not provided in Jesus Christ. He gave everything for us and to in His perfect Son.

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Praying Like a Sinner

[This devotional, first published in ‘Tween Girls and God is intended for youth.]

Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God … “

Trista glanced across the yard as she climbed into the backseat of her family’s minivan one Sunday morning.

“The Carlsons never go to church,” she said to no one in particular. Daddy fastened Trista’s younger sister in her carseat, opened the door for her mother and then climbed in behind the wheel. Slowly, he backed out of the drive. No one replied, so Trista turned it into a question.

“Daddy, why don’t they go to church? I mean, God says we should, I know it’s in the Bible somewhere. Does that mean they don’t believe in Jesus? If they do believe in Jesus, does that mean we are better Christians? Does that mean they are bad people? Does that mean … ”.

“Slow down, Trista,” her mom interrupted. “If you don’t stop asking so many questions, your dad can’t give you an answer. Besides, I think this is a very important conversation. The things you’re saying sound a little prideful.”

“Trista, have you heard the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector?” Daddy asked. “Jesus tells the story in Luke chapter 18.”

“No. I don’t think so,” Trista said.

“Well, Jesus was talking to some people who were pretty sure they were really good people. They believed that they were doing a good job of keeping all of God’s commandments and that God must be pretty pleased with them.”

Daddy, continued, “So the story is that there were two men who went to pray. One was a very important religious leader and the other was a tax collector. In those days, tax collectors were considered to be bad people. Sometimes they cheated people out of their money.

“The religious leader stood off to the side, far away from the tax collector. Then he started to pray out loud, ‘God, I’m so glad that you didn’t make me like that tax collector over there. I’m a really good person. I do everything you say to do.’

“But the tax collector stood off to the side and looked sadly down at the ground. He cried, ‘God, I’m so sorry for the bad things I’ve done. Please have mercy on me.’

“Jesus finished the story by saying, ‘I promise you, the humble tax collector went home forgiven, not the prideful religious man.’”

Now it was Trista’s turn to hang her head. “I think I understand, Daddy,” she said in a small voice. “God isn’t happy when I am proud of myself and think that the good things I do make Him happy with me.”

“That’s right, sweetheart,” Mom spoke up. “Jesus died for our sins—for everyone in the whole world. You and I are only saved because we believe in Him, not because we go to church or do anything good at all. Also, it is not our place to judge other people. Actually, I know Mrs. Carlson from the bank. Their family goes to a different church and they worship on Saturday nights.”

Trista turned to look out the window and watched the other cars streak past. She wondered where they were going. Quietly, she whispered a prayer:

“Jesus, thank you for forgiving me when I am prideful and when I do bad things or don’t do the things you want me to do. Thank you for parents who teach me to believe in you and to understand the Bible. Help me to be humble and to remember that I am saved because of your grace, not by anything I do.”

Listening For Footsteps

Ever feel like a spiritual ant?

I’ve been swimming in theology lately, neck-deep in books by historical and modern spiritual greats: A.W. Tozer, Dallas Willard and Brother Lawrence. And I’m learning, I’m learning just how far I’ve yet to go, or better said, how deep I’ve yet to fall into Jesus.

Though I’ve called Jesus “Savior” for 28 years and spent time in His Word, attended church, even taught and written Bible studies, apparently, there are infinitely more levels of relationship with this, our Awesome, Amazing, Unparalleled, Personal God. “Who on earth is a god like you?” (Exodus 15:11)

Brother Lawrence’s book, Practicing His Presence, is the most revealing title of the books I’m reading. It sums up the monstrous concept I’m trying to grasp, the overwhelming experience I’m desperate to have.

We’ve had an unusually white winter here in Tennessee and just in the last 48 hours has the sun decided not only to grace us with her light and warmth, but to evoke gratitude in the hearts of us People of the Cross.

“He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.” Psalm 147:16-18

As I tip-toed over the rivers of melting snow in the church parking lot, I suddenly caught a momentary glimpse of His presence. It was in the world around me, in the collision of His Word in my heart during morning devotions and His beauty in the world around me—His own Word melting the snow, creating the wind, sweeping away the puddles.

It was glorious! In a split second, I knew that I wanted to dwell in this presence constantly. I wondered, “What must I do to feel this all the time?”

I would say this presence lingered, but more accurately, I was rapt. I could not, or would not, walk away. In meditation, and digesting the wisdom of the aforementioned authors, I’m coming to understand how my prayers must change, my reading of God’s Word must change. If I want this new and deeper relationship with my Father, I must approach Him differently, meet Him in a different way and be prepared to walk with Him farther—out of my comfort zone and familiar disciplines.

I want to feel Jesus. I am tired of mere intellectual study and measured application of His Word. I am tired of praying: “Show me what you want me to do! Let me see what you have to say to me in your Word! How does this apply to me? Help me to see myself as you see me!”

I want to ask different questions. I want hear more than an answer, and enough about me already! I need this relationship to go beyond long-distance communication. I want to go beyond words, beyond hearing, to engaging God with all my senses—experiencing, practicing His presence.

I hear Jesus asking me: “What if you look into my eyes and not simply out from them? What if you pray and read the Bible not only for instruction on life and solution to problems, but instead you look into it to see me—stop looking for what I have to say to you and start looking at me personally?

If you listen for me and not only to me, perhaps you will hear me walking right beside you. Instead of only hearing my voice, you will hear my footsteps. “

A Book Review of “The Mapmaker’s Children”

map maker“Six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world … “ http://www.wikipedia.com.

Perhaps this is true in a wider sense than we ever imagined. Perhaps we are more connected and our lives more similar to the past than we ever realized. Perhaps progress has not made us so different …

The Mapmaker’s Children is an peerless book by Sarah McCoy; intertwining the lives of two women a century-and-a-half apart. What’s even more admirable, is that McCoy reveals the inseparable stitches binding these two lives together, and to the reader, without ever fully allowing her characters to intersect.

It’s a subversive commentary, painful truth scarcely concealed by a riveting story, on some of the most prolific ills of modern life. McCoy examines a brittle marriage, deception between spouses, broken hearts, infertility, abortion, child abandonment and more.

Alternately, she glances backward at the broken aspects of an earlier society—slavery, injustice, murder, loss, bitterness between siblings, loveless marriages and the ravages of war.

Finally, just as her well-developed characters remain only vaguely aware of each other, she loops the reader into the story allowing them to glimpse themselves, their world, in the light of these two women. She reveals to the reader his or her own weaknesses, needs and vulnerability without harshly pointing fingers or even losing the interest of one rapt in the story.

On top of all of this, McCoy expertly weaves in history. It’s another unsuspected tact, evidence of her mastery of the craft of story. The reader gets a lesson in civil rights, the history of the Civil War and the very tangible lives behind the Underground Railroad. There we meet the Mapmaker and her children.

Praying Your Way Through Psalm 139

I’ve always loved Psalm 139. Who wouldn’t? While God’s word is entirely God-centric, it’s easy to understand how clearly He sees us in this chapter. And humanly, it’s so normal to want to find ourselves in the center of the picture.

“How precious are your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!”

God thinks of us and shares His thoughts with us.

“In your book were written every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

He’s been counting our days for longer than we can rehearse.

But this time, I’ve found myself in dialogue with God through David’s voice here. I’ve been turning these words back into prayer. I think this chapter was written specifically for this purpose.

The chapter begins with David acknowledging what God does of His own accord:

“You have searched me and known me … You discern my thoughts from afar … your hand shall lead me.”

Then, after an interlude of intimacy–the realization that He forms each of us from nothing, sculpts us in the womb, knows every secret crevice and plans our “unscripted” future–David returns to ask God something. Something he already knows the answer to.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my anxious thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

“Search me, O God”–examine and explore me. David already knows that God does this, but here he’s asking God to show him the results. He’s admitting that it’s good for God to see all the hidden places, to light up all the darkness and reveal all shadowed things.

It might be seen as the equivalent to inviting the land lord into your home. Sure, he has complete authority to walk in unannounced and open every closet, but a tenant who welcomes him, throws the door open wide, will enjoy a better relationship and indeed even a better time of residence.

“Try me and know my anxious thoughts”–David wants God to understand his fears. Though even throughout the Old Testament believers were instructed to “fear not,” God knows the fragile state of our hearts. And while fear is disobedience at its core, God does not despise nor judge us for it. Instead, He knows it and David understands that is safe and good.

The Hebrew word here actually means “to prove”. As we allow God to test our fears, He will prove to you and me that they really have no power over us. 

“See if there be any grievous way in me” God sees our sin. He sees the sin of fearful unbelief. He sees the sins hidden in our darkened corners. This phrase actually means: see if there is any “pain, sorrow or idol”.

Our sin and idolatry will always cause us pain. Though we attempt to fool ourselves, the path of sin leads only to death. (Romans 6:23)

But the final conclusion of David’s prayer is a deep sigh of relief. Even as he asks God to “lead me in the way everlasting,” he said only a few verses before: “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”

 

Book Review: Fixing Our Eyes on God

Do your prayers always start with, “Dear God … ” or, “Our Father in heaven … “? “Fixing Our Eyes on God: An A-Z Journey Through The Names of God”, will broaden your understanding of the God who calls you His own, will strengthen your faith showing you how God applies Himself to every aspect of your life and deepen your prayer life.

Maybe you see God kind of one dimensionally. I mean, even when we think hard to give our children meaningful names that represent the person or personality we want them to honor or express, we still only give them one name. And for the rest of their lives we call them by that descriptive. Often, they grow to fulfill that name.

So have you ever wondered why God introduces Himself throughout Scripture using many names?

In her book, “Fixing Our Eyes on God,” Billie Jo Youmans will take you on a simple, daily experience of God as you’ve never known Him before. She identifies names and descriptions of God that perhaps you’ve never heard or thought of before. Can you think of God as your Guide and Guard? What about your Intercessor? She even includes some of God’s names in the original language such as the Omega.

I say that Youmans’ devotional book is simple in that you can enjoy its riches even if you don’t have extensive biblical knowledge or hours to devote to Bible study every day. As the title indicates, there are 26 entries, one for each letter of the alphabet. Each includes a short devotion delving into the name of God highlighted that day. Youmans includes scripture, anecdotes and biblical research to explain each name. Then, a page is provided for journaling.

This book called to mind an old hymn, “He’s Everything to Me.” One line that has always touched me from that song says, “Then I knew that He was more than just a God who didn’t care, who lives away up there … “. Youmans’ book has done just that for me. I understand now, better than before, more of this wonderful, indescribable God who loves me.

You can find Billie Jo’s book here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1518725821?keywords=billie%20jo%20youmans&qid=1455152904&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1#customerReviews

What I Thought God Wanted

A man stood before God listening intently; he wanted to catch every single word of instruction.

“Do you see that boulder there?” God asked. “The one on the very edge of the precipice. I created it and placed it exactly there with you in mind. This is your mission, your calling. I want you to push that boulder.”

“That’s all God?” The man glanced down at his puny physique and felt a flush of shame redden his cheeks. It doesn’t seem like a very important job, he thought. At the same time, doubt clashed with his indignation. What if I’m not strong enough to move that huge rock, he wondered.

“That is exactly what I made you to do,” God affirmed. “I will always be with you. Don’t worry, you can do all things through my strength.”

So the man set his shoulder against the stone. Day in and day out, night after long night, he pressed on. Over time, his shoulders broadened with sinewy muscle. His skin grew dark and tan at first, then weathered and ruddy. His shoulder bruised. Once or twice, he pulled back and looked at the massive rock. It hadn’t moved a millimeter.

The voice of doubt reached a fevered pitch in his mind: I’m failing. The one, seemingly insignificant thing God gave me to do and I can’t even manage that. And where is God? I thought He was going to help me—be my strength! Maybe I didn’t hear Him right. Maybe He’s not even pleased with all my work. I only wanted to be obedient. I’m sure someone else could do a better job.

Just then, he felt a presence behind him. His Lord stood there, quietly assessing the tired man and the stone. “I’m sorry, God,” the man whispered. “I couldn’t move it even one tiny bit.”

Jesus reached out a scarred hand and tipped the man’s face up to look Him in the eyes. “What are you talking about?” He asked gently. “I never asked you to move the stone. I only asked you to push it.”

My pastor told that story in a message about finishing well. He quoted Paul in 1 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

My hearted perked up with his words. I’ve felt like that! In particular, I have prayed and prayed and prayed for my husband to love the Lord with all his heart and to lead our family spiritually. (I’ve also employed some unsuccessful tactics like pleading and bribing.) Now, 15 years later, I’m tired, I feel like a failure and I want to quit.

As a Christian wife, I know that my most important assignment on earth is to help my husband become the man God created him to be. God brought us together; He created me to be my husband’s helpmate. Sometimes this appointment seems mundane and unimportant compared to world-wide evangelism and other lofty callings. Other times, it seems like much more than I can handle; it feels like I have sweated and struggled to no avail.

As I listened to the sermon, I felt Jesus’ presence. I turned my heart to listen.

“Daughter,” He said. “I never told you to change your husband. I assigned you to be his helpmate. You put a great burden on yourself when you expect a specific outcome or result. You are only to obey me—be his helpmate. I will be the one to move and change him in my time. But, do you see what good has come of your labor? You, yourself have grown strong. When you were tired and weary, you learned to rest in me. You’ve gained some calluses and bruises, but now you are wiser, too.”

Whether it be our hopes and dreams for a certain type of marriage or something else, our lives and sanity depend on understanding specifically what God has called us to do. He has not called us to bring about an outcome, only to allow Him to use us in the process.

“So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.” Colossians 1:28-29 (emphasis added)

Reasons for Seasons and Rain

Heavy rain

Sometimes, when we go through difficult times, we call them “storms”. If you ever watched Winnie the Pooh, gloomy old Eeyore was often pictured with a storm cloud hovering over his head. We say things like, “I’ve got the blues” or “He’s under the weather”, or we try to encourage people by saying, “The sun will come out again soon.” These are called “figures of speech”, ways to describe something that have become so common that everyone understands.

You can think of figures of speech as tiny parables. The dictionary says that a parable is, “a story or phrase that uses familiar things to explain something.” Jesus told many parables in the Bible. He used things that his listeners understood to teach them about God whom they could not see.

In Matthew 7, Jesus tells the story about a wise man who built his house on a rock. Another man, a foolish one, built his house on the sand. Then, mighty storms came. The wind blew and the rain pounded on both homes. The wise man’s house stood firm. But when the storms came and the water washed away the sandy foundation, the foolish man’s house collapsed.

Jesus used this story to explain that when we build our lives on Him, on the truth of His Word, we can stand strong and the sad and difficult things in life will not destroy us. However, if we set our hopes, dreams and future on a worthless foundation—like wealth, popularity or faith in a false god, when the storms of life come, we will fall apart.

Storms are usually used to describe the bad times, but there is value in the storms and rain, too. Another phrase we often hear is, “April showers bring May flowers.” We know flowers, plants and trees need rain to grow. Streams, rivers, lakes, ponds and oceans need rain. We depend on the rain to fill these bodies of water so that we have water to drink, shower and swim in.

When it comes to the storms of life, there is a benefit in them too. When storm passed, and the wise man’s house was still standing, he knew that he had built in the right place. He knew that foundation on which he built his house was strong.

It’s the same way for us in life. When we go through sad and hard times, God proves Himself to us. He proves that He is strong, faithful, wise and loving.

Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs him down, but a good word lifts him up.” The word for “weighs down” actually means “to bow down to someone greater”. When bad times come and we are sad or anxious, they cause us to bow down before God and seek His help in our troubles.

Just like in nature, we face seasons in our lives. There will be sunny days and rainy seasons; times of happiness and joy as well of times of discouragement and sadness. Remembering the purpose of rain in nature can help us look for God’s goodness and purpose in the hard times of our lives. Our struggles help us to see God’s faithfulness and strength for us and they help us to remember to bow down and trust God.

The Universal Battle Plan for Anything You’re Facing

What’s your battle?

I’m the first one to admit I’ve fought the same battles over and over–be they marriage struggles, remnants of eating disordered habits and behaviors, jealousy of others, bitterness, boredom in my walk with the Lord … simple frustration. These aren’t characteristics that describe a thriving believer in the one true God–one who has firmly grasped the Gospel and is influenced by nothing more than the Gospel.

So this morning, after a perfect Thanksgiving holiday with family, I sat back down before the Lord for my usual morning quiet time–the sanity of routine returned. But the luster was gone.

I got the best kind of answer. Guess what? I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m simply doing when I should be waiting, listening, leaning …

Walk with me through Jehoshaphat’s problems. He was facing the ancient enemies of Israel. The Moabites and Ammonites were chronic irritations for the Israelites–generational plagues. It might have been tempting to look back and see what he’d done before to hold them at bay. Or, to muster all the armies of Israel in “the name of the Lord” and go out to do battle against this horde of evil. After all, doesn’t God want us to valiantly resist at all times?

That would have been a safe assumption–I think: I’ve got a nation here to protect, a nation called by the name of the Lord! Surely, God would have me take up arms and do diligent battle!

Instead, Jehoshaphat was admittedly afraid. The Bible makes no effort to hide this “weakness”. And, “he set his face to seek the Lord.”

Jehoshaphat’s next words are stunning:

“Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying,  ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’

“But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:6-12

Can you imagine? Have you ever just looked at God and said, “Guess what? I don’t know what to do, so I’m just going to sit right here in front of you, shut up and look at you.”

Rather than have you go look up the battle plans God gave to Jehoshaphat, I’ll outline here what happened next:

  1. God told Jehoshaphat to not be afraid. He told him exactly where the enemy would be, what they would do and that he didn’t need to do a thing: “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf … “
  2. Jehoshaphat bowed
  3. All Israel fell down and worshipped
  4. The priests stood up and praised loudly
  5. Jehoshaphat stood and commanded everyone to hear and believe the Lord
  6. He told them to give thanks — even before the battle was fought or won

So, I ask again: What’s your battle? How are you fighting? Have you drawn up your battle plans yet? Have you told God that you really need to be involved a bit more?

What would happen if you said: “I don’t know what to do, so I’m just going to sit right here in front of you, shut up and look at you.”?