Does This Taste Stale to You?

I have recently finished a book that asked the question, “Does your spiritual life taste stale to you?”  I guess that question touched a responsive chord because I plopped down the $12.99 retail rather than searching on-line and bought the book.  It was difficult to walk on by after the title grabbed my attention: I became a Christian and all I got was this lousy T-shirt. 

30121_detail It was written by Vince Antonucci a man raised by a Jewish mother and abandoned by his poker-playing father.  He now pastors a church in Virginia Beach known as Forefront Church.

I found his storytelling captivatingly honest and the weaving of biblical principles through the stories fresh and inviting. It is funny and poignant and the first book in quite a while that I could not put down.

Imagine a believer suggesting that Christians should buy a bumper sticker that reads “Stop Having a Relationship with Jesus.” 

When the shock of that statement wears off you see that he is pointedly inviting you to consider whether just a relationship with Jesus is enough for you.  He helps you think about something that might be more precious.  Here is how he makes that point:

Continue reading “Does This Taste Stale to You?”

Nazarite Vows

Jesus…cried in a loud voice, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to me and drink!  He who believes in me–who cleaves to and trusts and relies on me–as the Scripture has said, ‘Out from his innermost being springs of living water shall continuously flow.'”   John 7:37-38 Amplified Bible

The real question, however is this: Where are we to find our fresh springs of life? 

Glorious things are said of you, O city of God…All my springs [of joy] are in you!”  (Psalm 87:3, 7)

water_fallb Can you or I say the same thing truthfully?  Or is it not a fact that quite without realizing it, certain forms of “recreation” have taken hold of us and hinder rather than help?

A Nazarite was one who made a special vow—the vow of one who is willing to be separated from worldly pursuits and snares—to separate himself totally so he may be put to service by the Lord.  The special vow meant total abstinence, even from certain things which were not wrong in themselves and which, to other people, might actually be beneficial.

Those of us who are God’s emissaries are to treat the world (not just its corruptions, but its legitimate joys, it privileges and blessings also), as a thing to be touched at a distance.  We must be aware at all times that, if we are caught by its spirit, or fed by its meat, we lose our sensitivity to the very breath of the Highest and will no longer receive the manna that falls from heaven to feed our souls.

Therefore, we may bind ourselves to God with the kind of vow that commits us to this: to look upon the world, in all its delights and attractions, suspecting that traps are set there for us, reserving ourselves for a higher way.

We are called to live daily in a higher Kingdom, where we are touched and our souls drink from the Spirit of God. ((Amy Carmichael, God’s Missionary,p. 4-5))

My Father, so often I feel restless.  Unsatisfied.  Wanting something more.  I try to satisfy my inner thirst for life in ways that don’t satisfy–they only leave me thirstier still.

Maybe underneath, I don’t really believe you are what you say you are: Life itself, pure-flowing.

Today, Father, help me to “cleave” to you–to embrace you fully with my trust.  To see the things that draw me for the mirage they are.  And to drink more deeply from your spring of living water. (David Hazard)

New Kind of Co-Dependence

ac-emera "Imagine flying in an airplane, look out one side of the plane and see the left wing–it reads "dependence".  On the right side is the wing of "discipline."  We need both to "fly" in the Christian life.  Discipline refers to those activities designed to train a person in a particular skill.  Dependence refers to the trust we have in God to work through us.  We mistakenly assert that the believer’s job is to trust, while God does the work."

 "God’s work does not make our efforts unnecessary but rather makes them effective." 

Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace.

While I agree with Jerry Bridge’s above conclusion, I wonder if he does not express more confidence in our "efforts" than we rightly deserve?  As I understand Scripture, both our "dependence" and our "discipline" are gifts from God ( Philippians 4:13. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)  I find believers need no more encouragement to strive or exert more effort.  In fact, we need all the help the Spirit is willing to give to trust in the God who boldly affirms, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." 

I am strengthened by the truth that I can worry less about "my part" in the mystery of union with Christ and rest more in His work accomplished and being accomplished in me! 

Anchored in Truth

anchor (Small) Our Pastors have been leading us on Wednesday nights to consider Scripture as the Authority for our lives.  It is becoming more difficult in our culture not to invest our feelings — especially if we are not in the Scriptures, with the final authority for life.  We plod along counseling with ourselves making decisions based on how we feel about this or that outcome. I find when I counsel with myself the questions I ask are aimed at what is the easiest, most convenient, most comfortable, least demanding course to take. 

Beyond that, the trouble with relying on my feelings as the anchor for my life is that they do not hold steady! They are fickle and change in a moment without good reason — or any reason!  I can “feel” disciplined and self-controlled in the morning and decide that it is right to make healthy eating choices as a way to honor the temple of the Holy Spirit.  That feeling can sustain me for awhile and then come the afternoon hours and my mind begins to bring me new counsel!  I begin to “feel” different than I did during the morning.  Now, I think it is time to reward myself and indulge my desire for junk food.  That “feels right and true” because the decision is based on the change that has occurred from morning to afternoon. 

The path of following feelings is like being lost on the back roads of West Virginia–you wind and wind and get nowhere.  Counseling with my thoughts and feelings is disappointing because they are not unchanging absolutes as we find in Scripture.  The unchanging, sufficient Word of God is authoritative!  Soaking and submitting to God’s thoughts make for a straighter more direct path through life.

I was reminded of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ warning regarding making your feelings your god.

Avoid the mistake of concentrating overmuch upon your feelings. Above all, avoid the terrible error of making them central…for you will be doomed to be unhappy.  What we have in the Bible is Truth; it is not an emotional stimulus…and it is as we apprehend and submit ourselves to the truth that the feelings follow.  I must never ask myself in the first instance:  What do I feel about this?  The first question is, Do I believe it?”  ((D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965, reprinted 2001), 20.))

May today be the day when rather than asking myself what I feel about this or that–I ask, “Lord, based on your Word–the anchor for my life, what must I believe about this?”

How Firm a Foundation?

 Larry Crabb continues to be an author that helps me see underneath and behind some of my doubting thoughts.  In his book Finding God he asked his readers:

“Imagine what it would be like to say the following words from Habakkuk and mean them! (I’ve added a few phrases in italic to bring the passage home.)

Though the fig tree does not bud

and I am alone;

and there are no grapes on the vines,

and I can find no joy in my world right now;

though the olive crop fails

and I have nothing to soothe my open wounds;

and the fields produce no food,

and I am out of a job or hate the one I have;

though there are no sheep in the pen

and no one warms me on cold nights

and no cattle in the stalls

and I have no tangible basis for feeling secure,

yet will I rejoice in the LORD,

I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength;

he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

he enables me to go on the heights.

(Hab. 3:17-19)

S705252-Can_you_see_the_jaguar_in_the_picture-Cuscohifting our foundation from doubt to confidence, from terror to enjoyment, from rage to worship will occur only when something stirs within us that makes us long, more than anything else, to build our lives on the reality of God.  But we’re not there yet.  No one is, not fully.  With doubt, terror, and rage filling our hearts, we turn to others, not to love them, but to get from them at least a little of what we need.  Bent on relief from our pain and revenge against God, we enter into relationships with the desperate cry that seems so reasonable: “I need you!”  And that cry moves us into the first floor of the fallen structure…When we live to get from others (and everyone does who suspects that God isn’t good), the results are always the same: inevitable disappointment, temporary fulfillment, and bitter loneliness.  When we doubt God and turn away from him to cry to others, “I need you,” we never stop crying.” ((Larry Crabb, Finding God, Zondervan 1993, 108-109.))

I’ve got a new attitude!

6236864_SS When my children were little, a discipline technique I used when they began to act up was to look them in the eye and ask, “Do you need an attitude adjustment?”   Because I had laid an earlier foundation of what an attitude adjustment was, this question seemed to have a magical recuperative power.  What had moments before been bad behavior suddenly was replaced with good behavior.

I thought of this as I was considering the truth contained in the following verses:

“The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.”  (Deuteronomy 30:6)

“and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from following them, to do them good; and I will put my fear in their hearts, that they may not depart from me.”  (Jeremiah 32:40)

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

It strikes me as marvelous good news that God has implanted within us a new attitude–a new disposition that inclines toward loving Him and not wanting to depart!  This is what the Apostle Paul was referring to when he stated, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God…” (2 Corinthians 5:17)  I forget this truth and often pray asking God to give me love for others, give me a heart that desires to affirm rather than to be affirmed, give me a forgiving heart.  The restful wonder of what it means to be “in Christ” is that He already has! 

“These new inclinations for doing God’s will were given to you before the light of Scripture ever brought any aspect of God’s will to your attention.  James calls it “the implanted word,” which he tells us to receive with meekness.”  James is saying in essence, “Take hold of what you already have, that which is innate to your new nature.”  Ponder with your mind what God has already made your heart desire!

The birthright of every believer is an inner self that’s supernaturally inscribed with the whole of Christ’s teachings and commands–even to the extent that “we have the mind of Christ” as Scripture says.

Every command we come across in the Bible is therefore a vigorous reminder to do what we already desire.  The Scriptures simply clarify in our minds what we already want to do in our regenerate heart.”  ((Dwight Edwards, Revolution Within, p.112))

What an awesome truth!  How encouraging that today my task is not to plead with God to give me something to help me through the circumstances of life but to appropriate what He has already given and praise Him for His great generosity!

God of Encouragement

image I have always noticed that when God has purposes of blessing for some soul, the demon of discouragement, who is one of Satan’s most useful servants, is sure to come and whisper all sorts of sorrowful, depressing, miserable thoughts.  He drops these thoughts about, sometimes in one heart and sometimes in another.  If they take root and grow into feelings and words and deeds, he knows that a great deal has been done to hinder what our God intends to do.  Do not forget that discouragement is always from beneath; encouragement is always from above;  God is the God of Encouragement.” ((Amy Carmichael, Edges of His Ways, August 20th, p. 154))

“You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them,

and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed,

in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.”  (Psalm 10:17-18)

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us,

so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among

yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Romans 15:4-6)