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Posts Tagged ‘works’

“Have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness.”

I’m a discernment person.  Heresies are a big deal to me.  I tend to notice when teachers or authors or pastors are preaching a different gospel.  But there are other issues, too.  Focusing on tolerance and friendliness with the world – the “seeker-sensitive” movement, for example – is dangerous.  Christians are a light set on a hill, not light camouflaged to look like darkness.  Or another popular… what should I call it?  Not a heresy in the traditional sense, but a dangerous and unchristian worldview or spiritual practice?  Anyway, another one is the borderline gnosticism.  This encompasses mysticism and individualism, focusing on poetic ideas of light versus darkness, denial (or even mistreatment) of the physical, and meditation.  I see connections between seeker-sensitivity and the postmodern mysticism.  Primary in these connections are the exaltation of human effort and experience.  They are ancient perversions of the Christian life, not new, but addressed in the New Testament.

Lately it has become popular to cite “church fathers” in theological debates.  This even if the quote or position contradicts the New Testament.  Though I’m not persuaded of the “sola scriptura” of the Reformation, it did rescue us from centuries of heretical tradition enforced as the authority of the fathers.  (Jesus rebuked the same sin in the Pharisees.)  Many of those historical theologians flirted with or embraced the para-Christian spirituality mentioned above, emphasizing either their personal wisdom or their own mystical experiences as sources of truth superior to the revelation of Scripture.  They practiced this outside of the protective peer-regulation of a Spirit-led Church.  Somehow the doctrine of the indwelling Holy Spirit got exchanged for a belief in inner divinity belonging to an individual.  All of which was much more compatible with the pagan religions encountered as the ancient “Christianity” spread.

And isn’t that something to be concerned about?  Rather than being excited that the enemies of God, the spiritually dead men of planet earth, have portions of truth preserved in their religions, shouldn’t we be devastated at the subtlety of the deceits of the Evil One that has kept men captive to their sin?  (“What fellowship has light with darkness?”)  Instead of finding commonality in spiritual practices of meditation and monasticism and sacrificing to appease the gods – shouldn’t we question those practices?  If the pagans do those things, and if those things are not prescribed by our Lord in the early letters to the churches affirmed by the apostles, why not rather fear a resurgence of paganism within our faith – that the spiritual forces of wickedness have been also distracting us and leading us astray?

In our modern times we tend to disdain the primitive superstitions of pre-Christian peoples.  We think they should have been able to see through the cheap tricks of the medicine men, to rise up against the oppressive shaman and assert reason, the intelligence and ability of individuals.  But a Christian worldview suggests a different interpretation.  It teaches that the devil and demons are real, powerful, able to produce counterfeit signs and wonders to deceive men.  Demon possession is real.  And maybe those pitiable people, observing that reality, live with rituals and talismans approved by their devils – for a time – as a tax on the slaves of the Devil before they are consumed.

For us who have known only the relatively Christian Western world, it is difficult to remember the spiritual battle that is engaged even here.  We are not trained to recognize the spiritual activities of our enemy.  This may be because we have adopted it,  or excused and tolerated it…  False teaching, we believe, has been perpetrated by confused but well-meaning people.  Cultists are mostly nice people whose theology is just a little different from ours.  We wouldn’t want our children converting, but no big deal if our neighbors and coworkers believe in Jesus and good works for their salvation, God and their own divinity.  Many who identify themselves as evangelical Christians see no cause for concern when their church services begin to incorporate incense, or a ladies’ conference suggests repetitive chanting of a spiritual word or phrase as a means of getting closer to God.  Millions of us read and identify with a book that includes a manifestation of Sophia, the Gnostic “goddess” as the incarnation of wisdom.  These ideas and practices are more attractive to the unsaved world, after all (and to many inside the church).  And why shouldn’t they be; they’re familiar whispers, that we are like God, that we come to God on our own terms.

The word profanity is known as a synonym for cussing.  But who knows the word profane?  Who believes that there is a way God wants to be worshiped, a way He has set for people to come to Him – and any other way is so offensive to Him as to bring His righteous wrath?  What is fallen man to tell God why He should accept him?  Who is the liar and deceived to believe he has a hold of truth and wisdom apart from the deliverance and revelation of God?  How dare we think our filthy rags – our own righteousnesses – are acceptable sacrifices to pay for our trespasses against the ways of God?

But it is hard to reject these things, hard to point at those profanities and warn that they are part of the wide path to hell.  I don’t want to believe that my church leader is a false teacher.  I like to believe that my friends are going to heaven.  But how does that honor God?  Is my allegiance to Him or to men?  And how is that compassionate, to ignore the condition of my friends?  Making excuses is easy.  If a man says he believes in Jesus, is it such a big deal if he tolerates sin, if he keeps company with the world?  Also far too simple is reassuring myself that even though a person has not trusted in Jesus, he still seems to be a good influence, telling people to pray and read their Bibles and love their families and be wary of governments and religions out to destroy us.

Yet more and more I believe that those excuses and those subversive people are the biggest threats.  By them people are led from the power and truth of God, or worse – away from the gospel of the grace of God.  People are soothed into ignoring their spiritual neediness.  Those people, those false prophets, are the enemies of God.  And if they are enemies of God, they are enemies of His people.  They are not in your fellowship to encourage you or point you to God.  Though they may feign friendship, it is for diabolical purposes, and they can turn on you at any moment.

So what can we do?  Monasticism and individualism belong to the false religions.  We cannot run away from these dangerous people.  Tolerance and acceptance also correspond to the faith that exalts man over God.  So we cannot be silent or friendly.  Truth and God’s glory invite us to discern the lies and cast them down.  Holiness insists that we take our cues from God, supported by those men and women who exhibit the fruits of being His.  Love demands that we warn people of destruction.  Faith in God teaches us to hope for revival and redemption.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Whether I thought I needed it or not, the topic has continually reappeared in my life the past few months.  This summer the theme was supernaturally empowered change – the change directed by spending time with God, devoted to prayer, majoring my life on the word of God.  And now, with less change than I expected – or felt called to do, maybe God is wooing me away from my distraction and hitting this change from the other direction.  “Spend time with Me,” He says. 

 

I love my life.  Most days are wonderful.  My mind is always engaged.  I read, and write, and get things done.  Etsy has welcomed me into its world, even though I don’t have any sales yet.  Church activities fill my week, and in the spaces I get together with friends: talking or doing ministry together.  Some days are so filled with searching the Bible for answers that when I go to sleep after midnight and have energy to read only a short Psalm or less with my God, I feel that’s ok.  And I sincerely don’t believe I have to be legalistic. 

 

And then sin creeps in, little thoughts or words out of control or no energy for the priorities God has given me.  Last night, well after the second or even third lesson from the odd place about filling up one’s own spiritual life in order to pour out love and grace to others, I had just enough energy to quickly read Galatians 6, finishing my book of the week.  This was in between TV, movies, ice cream, internet articles, email…  And I felt vaguely guilty putting the Bible away. 

 

When I woke this morning, ambitiously early, instead I lay there realizing how little I’d been talking to God about my days and my life.  We had a chat, but we need more. 

 

God’s grace is amazing.  Tomorrow I’m meeting with some co-Sunday school teachers about our next series, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World (based on the book by JoAnna Weaver).  It so happens that about a year and a half ago I purchased the book for about two dollars, recognizing the title as popular with friends.  The topic didn’t really interest me that much, because I’m Mary.  I’m lazy sometimes, and love to study and be with Jesus more than to work hard and get things done.  So I was going to give the book to our church library, but never got around to it. 

 

Since I conveniently possess this book, I decided to read the first couple chapters to be up to speed with the other ladies who are teaching.  I’m on page 8, still feeling that Martha isn’t really me in general.  And then all the past weeks’ lessons and hints towards “Be still and know that I am God,” come gently back, triggered by a word or a sentence or one of the author’s testimonies. 

 

Sunday evening a friend offered to loan me her apartment for a week as a place to get away quietly with God, to worship.  Friday I was remembering times in the past when I’ve worked through things with God by house-sitting for friends.  Compared to my busy, noisy house, the quiet loneliness of an empty house is enticing.  I have any number of getaways at which I can stop in the midst of errands, rebel against tyrannical schedules, and take time to pray.  The library has a walk around the outside where I do lots of energetic discussion with God.  And I have a membership to the center for evolutionary propaganda in our state, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science – which if you filter the comments about Darwin, evolution, adaptation, ancestry, etc. is a very peaceful place to focus on God’s marvelous creativity and design. 

 

But to kneel and pray, to sing out loud, to sway to the chorus of faith scarcely held silent in rocks and trees and hills, one needs to be alone.  To cry out to God about the confusion of life in the world, lifting up specific names of friends and situations – essentially to do anything sufficiently open as to derive any conclusions – privacy is important.  Time is important. 

 

Beyond that, though, there is the daily remembrance that God is there.  I need to be aware of His presence, leaning on Him for every good work that He prepared for me to do.  Where does my help come from, my peace, my joy, my attention to the needs of the world for a reason for the hope that I have – if not from Him?  Does He not deserve my every breath, all my worship? 

 

Yet again, God did not call us only to a list of works.  What we do is an overflow of our relationship with Him.  As though while walking with God, He lifts a table by own end and says, “Here, grab that end.”  When I was little I would help my sister rearrange our room.  (She still rearranges her room an average of five times a year.)  I love to help and all, but I know full well that while she was investing all her strength in her end of dressers and beds and mattresses, I was only the balance point, contributing very little strength to the operation.  This is what it’s like when I join God in work. 

 

To quote from page 5 of Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, ‘ “The better part!” I say to God in the midst of my own whirl of activity.  “You mean there’s more?  I have to do more?” 

‘No, no, comes the answer to my tired heart.  Jesus’ words in Luke 10 are incredibly freeing to those of us on the performance treadmill of life. 

‘It isn’t “more” he requires of us. 

‘In fact, it may be less.’

 

The same point was drawn out of John 6 in a sermon I heard when visiting a friend’s church plant this month.  We were in John 6, and it reminded me of a blog post I did last year, This Grace is Made for Walking. 

 

Verse 24 says the people went seeking for Jesus. 

 

Jesus reveals their true motivation in verse 26: they wanted Jesus so that he would feed them again.  Rather than eating of the bread of life, desiring Jesus Himself, which would leave them filled forevermore, they were looking for little doses of temporary food. 

 

Verse 27 says that the food that endures unto everlasting life is what the Son of man shall give unto you.  Give.  Eternal life, the satisfaction of a relationship with God, is a gift. 

 

But in verse 28, the people respond, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?”  They still haven’t gotten the point.  What shall we do?  Do?  Work? 

 

Verse 29 contains Jesus’ refutation, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”  The work is belief.  The work is a gift.  The life is a gift.  Jesus was sent.  He is near to those who would seek Him. 

 

The pastor compared this to Galatians 2:21, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” 

 

We neither come to God by works, nor follow Him by works.  The work of God is that we believe on Jesus.  This is the food that endures unto eternal life. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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It’s January, and the only reason I’m bringing this up is to immediately draw some relevance to your life.  In January the custom is to make at least one New Year’s resolution, something you’re intending to accomplish or change in the upcoming twelve months.  Have you ever made a resolution that was not fulfilled, through no fault of your own?  

“A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.” ~ Proverbs 16:9 

“There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.” ~ Proverbs 19:21 

About eight weeks ago I saw the movie Bella.   “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” ~ Proverbs 3:5-6 That day I had a list of things to do a mile long.  The theater I chose was across town, the one offering the cheapest tickets. (Even though we only broke even for gas, I like to exercise my rights as a capitalist and boycott expensive movie tickets.) By the time we got across the city, we were about ten minutes early. But being out of our neighborhood, we didn’t know where the theater was. I saw one on the left side of the street; Mom turned right.

Finally I explained I saw the sign across the street, so we made it over there. Like a theater ashamed of its existence there was no marquis. We parked and went in, but did not see Bella listed. Sighing, I asked the cashier, “There’s another theater across the street in the mall, isn’t there?”

Back in the car, we returned to the exact spot we had accidentally visited earlier, but still there was no theater in sight. You know how malls work, though; you can start anywhere and get anywhere, especially in this one, which has a shortcut through the food court. So we parked. I hurried in and analyzed the map while Mom followed. At this point the listed start time of the movie was already upon us. I found the theater on the directory and took off in the direction, hoping my recent venture into map-reading would pay off.

The whole race I was coaching myself, “God knows what He’s doing, Lisa. This is for a reason. Relax.” Finally through the mall and across a little drive, we entered the theater, bought our tickets, and were at last standing just inside the door for screen 12. And everything was pitch black. The movie was just starting. Once there was a little more light, we found our seats and heard the line, “…tell God your plans.”

Hang with me, I’m not done. About twenty minutes into the movie the entire screen went black. Small fluorescent emergency lights began to flash and a calm voice informed us that an emergency had been reported in the building; everyone should move toward the exit. Outside we moved back across the little drive.

My brother has this laugh and dance he does when life is so unbelievable. Rosalee on Win a Date with Tad Hamilton says, “Yikesabee.” I sit down and watch with a smile ready to burst into a laugh. Some people say, “You just can’t make stuff like this up.”

In the end we got free movie passes for anytime, any in the family of theaters, with no expiration date or restriction – and we got to finish our movie after a mere 15 minute intermission. I would have been fine if they carried sodas and popcorn to us on trays, but then they were already over the top on customer service.

That day God was driving home a point.  Maybe I needed to lighten up, to laugh at surprises, to recognize that He is in control and I’m not, to trust that He is in control, and to be at rest with that.  In fact, that is pretty much the way I’ve learned to live life.  I learned because the Bible teaches all those things; in fact I’d say it emphasizes the need to submit our plans to God.     

Look at the parable Jesus told in Luke 12:16-33.  Remember, it’s a story.  Pretend you’re reading what happened to your uncle last week.  What reactions do you have to the word “fool”?   

Mark Schultz wrote in a song, “I’ve dreamed my dreams; I made my plans.  But all I’ve built here is an empty man.”  The word fool, that God used in the parable, makes me think of emptiness.  The rich man was only an empty man.  Jesus called His disciples to something better.  What was it?   

How many of your decisions are made based on the concerns Jesus said to give no thought?  Do you encourage your husband, or your kids, or your friends and family to gauge their decisions by those things?  What does Jesus teach about God in this passage?  

Next time you find yourself thinking about those things, ask yourself what part of God’s character you’re doubting.  Is He unable to take care of you?  Does He love sparrows and lilies more than you?  Does He not know your needs?  Does He not want to take care of you?  Does He want you to make those decisions?  Now?   

“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.” ~ Psalm 32:8-11  

Psalm 32:8-11 compares the kind of faith God is looking for with a life of utter dependency.  God is not expecting us to never think of the future; He wants us to make decisions.  But He wants them made by His wisdom, even when we have ideas of our own.  What is possible when we trust God?   

James brings up a twin aspect of the foolishness from which Jesus taught about faith: James talks about pride, assuming like the foolish man that we know what will happen and can control our futures.   

“Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:  Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.  For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.  But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.  Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” ~ James 4:13-17  

What happens when we spend so much time planning our future?  Is there something else we should be doing?  

I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing this lesson everywhere I look.  God’s plans, not our plans.  Again and again.  Not only am I seeing the truth of this; I’m seeing the vastness of God’s plans.   

“Rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright. Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings. Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise. For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth. He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD. By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. The LORD looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men. From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works. There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength. Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name. Let thy mercy, O LORD, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.” ~ Psalms 33:1-22 

Also these past few weeks I’ve been reading a book on chess.  Do we have any math geniuses in the room?  Has anyone heard the legend of the chess board and the rice grains?  Does anyone know how many board positions are possible on the 64-square, 32-piece chess board?  I guessed you wouldn’t.  I’m not sure I can even read it properly, but I’m going to try.  This is from The Immortal Game p.68-70:

“It all starts out so simply: in the first move, White is limited to twenty options…  Black has the same twenty possible moves with his first response…  there ar eactually 400 possible board positions in herent in those moves.  That’s because for every one of White’s twenty moves, Black’s response can lead to twenty separate positions…

“…the total number of distinct board positions after the second complete move (two moves per player) is – you’ll have to trust the number crunchers o nthis – 71,852.  

“…After three moves each, the players have settled on one of approximately nine million possible board positions.

“Four moves each raises it to more than 315 billion…

“The total number of unique chess games is… in scientific notation, 10120 

“… In conversational English, it is a thousand trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion games.”   

I read that passage and something struck me.  God is working on a board the size of the universe, and He has billions of pieces at any given moment.  I don’t think we have numbers to express all the possible combinations that entails.  But God knows when each sparrow falls; He has a plan for every individual.  Out of all the possibilities, there is one that will happen.  Wow.  How great is our indescribable God!   

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith 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. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” ~ Isaiah 55:8-11 

God doesn’t give us problems in which there is insufficient information to find an answer or make a decision.  He likes us to know how the world works.  One good Law of the Universe to keep in mind is in Isaiah 55:6-11.  What is the difference, according to this passage, between our thoughts/plans/ways, and God’s?  I would say the difference is that God’s plans always happen  

Jeremiah 29:11 was preached originally to the Israelites.  What does it tell us about God’s plans?  “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11  

Is God out to get us?   

We all remember Romans 8:28, that all things will work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose.  Again: God works things out.  God wants good.  God called us.  God will accomplish His purposes.  When God makes a resolution, it cannot fail to be kept.   

So how should we live?  Luke and James warn us against worrying about and planning over our futures.  Psalms forbids us from being like animals, which are so dumb that they need to be dragged wherever their master wants them to go.  There must be another way to live.  All of the books mentioned it.   

“Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.”  ~ Proverbs 16:3 

John records Jesus’ words to Nicodemus about this different sort of life.  Chapter 3 verse 8 says, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”   

2 Corinthians 5 is not alone when it commands Christians to walk by faith.   

“Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:  (For we walk by faith, not by sight)  We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.  Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:6-9  

What is the motivating factor of the life Paul describes?  Where does a Christian’s confidence come from, if he never knows where he is going (as in John 3)?  Did Paul plan to live his life walking by faith?  What did Paul plan as a young man?   

What did you plan?   

By the end of Paul’s life, he had discipled successors, spread the gospel, led churches, written part of the Bible, and stood before kings.  How did Paul get from what he planned to those things?   

When Paul was saved after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, did he understand: we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians), or God works all things together for good (Romans), or God shall supply all your need (Philippians)?  

Philippians, perhaps one of Paul’s most personal and mature letters, contains Paul’s confessions that he learned.  (Philippians 4:11) He didn’t hit perfection and run on through life without any problems.  But he pressed forward.  (Philippians 3:12-13)  He learned in whatever state he was, to be content.  And because he knew who God was, and believed those things, Paul could rejoice.   

How has God taught you to walk by faith?   

Are you empty?   

I am overwhelmed by the possibilities for my life, for one piece, and the implications for those around me.  No wonder people go crazy.  No wonder humans end their own lives, especially if they don’t acknowledge that God is directing this world.  A philosopher once said, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe, or we are not.  Both are equally terrifying.”  The terrifying God of power and wrath and holiness relates to us in grace proportional to His awesome understanding and might.  He is a God worth trusting in a life that cannot be peacefully lived any other way.  

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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