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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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Struggling With Prayer

I struggle with prayer sometimes. I find mostly that my prayers are centered on my needs and the needs of others for the coming day. Do you have the same struggle? The Bible does clearly state, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil 4:6). However, it’s the “thanksgiving” part that I mostly struggle with and forget about.

Adversity, if we allow it to, has a way of taking our focus off of ourselves and putting it back on God, and it’s taken almost three years of unemployment to get to the bottom of this struggle with where my focus needs to be. And, I found myself struggling in the area of prayer because my needs have been my main focus–on this trial of mine. It’s not that I wasn’t thankful or grateful for the way God has provided for me during this worst trial of my life, but my focus always came back to the problem, and not to God.

Ironically, my favorite verses in the Bible are Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” The problem for me lies in the fact that I can’t seem to stop my own mind (e.g. my own understanding) from trying to figure it all out and, instead, just leave it with God. And I’ve prayed about this particular struggle numerous times. Still, my mind wants to try on its own to figure it all out. I need to get “my own understanding” out of the way in order to truly rely on God.

I tend to wake up very early, even before any alarm goes off (if it’s even set), and during the past year or so I’ve found myself praying in bed the moment I’m awake before I even climb out of bed. In the past few months I have also started listening to and singing along with praise songs early in the morning (not everyday, but fairly regularly) after my prayer time. Still, I was struggling with the focus of my prayers, but as I began to learn the real value of praise to God from listening to and singing along with praise songs, I started yearning to find words to include in my prayer time–words that expressed my growing praise to God in the midst of this very long trial. And they have been coming more frequently during my prayer time in the past two or three months.

This morning at the end of my prayer time in bed on my nightstand was my Bible, so I picked it up and opened to Psalm 145-150. These particular Psalms at the end of the book of Psalms are full of praise to God, so I added two of them, Psalm 145 and 146, to the end of my prayer time. David had an extraordinary way with words especially when it came to praising God, and his words became mine for this morning.

While I have often used the Bible, and especially the Psalms during my prayer time (and I suspect you have, too), it has usually been those heartfelt cries of need that David wrote throughout the Psalms that I mostly used, and while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, I knew I also needed to spend time focusing on God and who He is apart from my needs, and praise Him for who He is–the sovereign God of the entire universe who has everything under His control.

It’s amazing how praising God takes the focus off of ourselves and our trials. Indeed, I have found that during my times of singing praise songs or praying with a focus on God and who He is that I am able to “turn off” my own understanding and learn to rely upon Him. And, while I have always been amazed at the peace God has provided for me during this time of unemployment, I have now found the secret of really “resting” in Him–by praising Him. Not that I don’t still struggle at times, but the more I praise Him, whether it’s in song or in prayer, the more my life improves as well as my attitude towards others and the rest of the world. It has taken the blinders off and made me less angry, less critical, and, hopefully, more loving towards others (even my enemies).

Hebrews 13:15 states, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.” Praise really is a sacrifice, but the amazing thing about praise is that it changes our lives–it changes us, and it places the focus back on Jesus. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2).

And isn’t it just like God to change us in ways we couldn’t even imagine when we take the focus off of ourselves and offer a “sacrifice of praise” to Him on a continuing basis.

Psalm 145

A psalm of praise. Of David.

1 I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
2 Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.

3 Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
4 One generation will commend your works to another;
they will tell of your mighty acts.
5 They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
6 They will tell of the power of your awesome works,
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
7 They will celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

8 The LORD is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
9 The LORD is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All you have made will praise you, O LORD;
your saints will extol you.
11 They will tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might,
12 so that all men may know of your mighty acts
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.

The LORD is faithful to all his promises
and loving toward all he has made.
14 The LORD upholds all those who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and loving toward all he has made.
18 The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them.
20 The LORD watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD.
Let every creature praise his holy name
for ever and ever.

Psalm 146

1 Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.
2 I will praise the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortal men, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.

5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
6 the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
the LORD, who remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The LORD reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the LORD.

New International Version, 1984

YouTube Video: “Hail To The King” written and sung by Shannon Wexelberg (recorded on her “Faithful God” CD, 2007):

Photo credit here

The Greatest Fortress

Read this post (see reblogged post below) in my devotions online for today and thought I would share it on my blog. It’s a great reminder of where our greatest fortress is located! Prayer really is the believer’s greatest fortress and a place we can run to any time of the day or night. ~Sara’s Musings at WordPress.com

The Daily Way

Deep in the Arabian desert is a small fortress. It stands silently on the vast expanse of the ageless desert. Thomas Edward Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia, often used it. Though unpretentious, it was most efficient. Its main commendation was its security. When under attack, often by superior forces, Lawrence would retreat there for safety.

While staying there, the resources of the fortress became his—the food and the water stored there were life-supporting. The strength of the fortress became the strength of its occupants. Old-time desert dwellers talked about how confident and secure Lawrence always felt when he was within the walls of the fortress.

Prayer is the believer’s greatest fortress. It is a place we can run to any time of the day or night. The strength and protection we receive in God’s presence are unmatched by this world. The name of Jesus and His blood are even…

View original post 161 more words

Gospel-Powered Humility

William Farley has written an excellent book, Gospel-Powered Humility,” (P&R Publishing, 2011) on the subject of humility. I first learned about it from a book review by Aimee Byrd written just a couple of months ago. I knew the minute I read that book review that it was a “must read” and I have not been disappointed. In fact, I have been humbled by it.

As Farley states on the back cover of his book: “Humility is not a popular concept in our world today. It is seen as a weakness in a culture that prizes self-esteem and validation. Unfortunately, these worldly attitudes about humility have leaked into and influenced the church as well.

“Far from being weakness, humility is the crucial virtue. Not only is it integral to the process of conversion and sanctification, but from its soil sprout the fruit of the Spirit. Yet many Christians are unaware of this crucial connection . . . .”

I’ve touched on the topic of pride in a previous post (see Our Default Mode); however, this book is excellent in helping us to understand the differences between real humility and pride which is most often disguised as a type of pseudo-humility. Early on in the book Farley defines humility and pride in very clear terms:

“Humility is one of the least understood spiritual fruits. It is not self-hatred or lack of self-confidence. Humility and low self-image are not the same thing. Indeed, they are polar opposites. Increasing humility brings rest with self, with God, and with life’s circumstances. It produces real lasting joy and healthy self-image. Humility is the ability to see spiritual reality, to see things as they really are. It is the capacity to see myself in God’s light, in the context of his holiness and my sinfulness. In other words, it is the ability to see self, and this world, through God’s eyes [emphasis mine]. God empowers the humble person to increasingly see himself as he really is: ‘wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked’ (Rev. 3:17). The person growing in humility sees his gifts and faults, his strengths and weaknesses, with increasing clarity. Ironically, as we will see, this humility lays the sure foundation for real contentment and healthy self-image because the humble Christian also increasingly sees and feels God’s great personal love. The truly humble believer has a low view of himself, but an increasingly high view of God and his fellow man.

“Pride is the opposite. It is spiritual blindness. It is a delusional, inflated view of self. It is unreality on steroids. And the scary part is this: The thing to which we are most blind is our pride [emphasis mine]. A demonic Catch-22, pride causes us to chase our spiritual tails. We cannot see pride—even though it is our most grievous, disabling sin—because its very nature is blindness, and the first thing to which it is blind is its own existence. Even though God was speaking to me about my arrogance through Isaiah 66:2 and I Corinthians 13:12, because pride blinded me I could not see it. Dazzled by my own self-respect, I could not see my failings. Pride is a spiritual veil blinding us to the truth about ourselves and God. The proud person has a high view of self but a low view of God and his brother.

“ ‘There is no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves,’ wrote C.S. Lewis. ‘If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed’ (quote from “Mere Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis, pp. 109, 114).

“Here is the great paradox: the proud man thinks he is humble, but the humble man thinks he is proud. The humble man sees his arrogance. He sees it clearly, and as a result he aggressively pursues a life of humility, but he doesn’t think of himself as humble. The proud man is completely unaware of his pride. Of all men he is most convinced that he is humble” (Ibid, pp.24-25).

The insidiousness of pride is what makes us think we are humble. It is, indeed, “a demonic Catch-22” as stated above. The prophet Jeremiah stated, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). That goes against everything we want to believe about ourselves. In our pride we want to believe that we can be–indeed, that we are–humble most of the time. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I love what Aimee Byrd had to say in her book review of Gospel-Powered Humility.” She starts off her review with, “I’m not perfect. Don’t we love to pithily drop that aphorism? What we really mean is, I’m pretty darn close. . . . Some of us are masters at hiding our pride—even from ourselves. We can even make it look meek.” She continues, “As he (Farley) broke down some of the symptoms of a prideful heart, like critical speech, spiritual elitism, grumbling, and avoiding confrontation, I started to see a picture of myself. I wasn’t so inspired.”

As Farley points out in the preface of his book (quoting Dr. Jim Edwards, p. 10): “American Christianity is suffering theological collapse. The primary commitments of church members seem to be peace, the search for personal fulfillment, and the conviction that God judges no one.” In another quote by David Wells (p. 10), he notes, “In America 45 percent (of Christians) say they are born again but only 9 percent, and maybe only 7 percent, give any evidence of Christian seriousness by way of minimal biblical knowledge for making life’s decisions.”

As Byrd points out in her review, “Our generation has done well preaching the love of God. The problem Farley points out is that we’ve stopped preaching and talking about the wrath of God. He points out the necessity of explaining the bad news so that we can even see the good news. Without the bad news of God’s wrath over our sin, we keep feeding our fantasy life steroids. Sure, we recognize that we are not perfect. But in our imagination, we aren’t too shabby. We think we’re pretty good.”

And that is the whole problem—we don’t see sin the way God’s see it. Hence, even in our sin we still think we “aren’t too shabby.” And we miss God altogether in our blindness—a blindness that comes from pride.

The final chapter of this book is on the power of a humble believer. As Byrd’s states in the last paragraph of her review, “After serving up a convicting gut check on intellectual pride, spiritual pride, selfish ambition, and pride in your giftedness, Farley offers up the most powerful part of his book: Hope for proud Christians. This is where he really brings our pride issues to the cross, to the One who was humbled in our place. He explains how Jesus atoned for our pride, that His life and death motivates us to pursue humility, how in love He helps us to grow in humility and that this good news should completely astound us! That’s gospel-powered humility.”

I highly recommend this book on a subject that is rarely preached on today—humility. It is at the heart and core of the gospel message. As Jesus humbled Himself to the will of His Father, so in like manner must we do the same to live a life centered on God, on others, and not on ourselves. From humility sprouts the fruit of the Spirit–“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). The Message Bible states those same verses like this: “But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

So if, as Farley states on the back cover of his book, you’ve been thinking of humility as a “weakness in a culture that prizes self-esteem and validation,” think again. “Far from being a weakness, humility is the crucial virtue.” This book will show you just “how much humility does matter . . . and what we can begin to do about it.”

If interested you can order the book here:
Amazon.com
Christianbook.com

Certainty In Uncertain Times

Let me ask you a question. Do you consider yourself to be Christian? If so, do you know what “will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8)? The Apostle Peter tells us clearly in his first chapter (the first of three very important chapters we need to heed) of his second letter–2 Peter. Let’s read what he had to say in 2 Peter 1:3-11:

3His (Jesus Christ) divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.

10Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Now let me ask you a second question. Do you really want to “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (I Peter 1:4b)? If you are more inclined to live life on your own terms and desires while professing a faith in Jesus Christ, you might want to stop right here and examine your true motives. If your faith is in things you can see, it is not true faith. Your faith must be anchored in Jesus Christ, the only true way to salvation.

Peter tells us several things in 2 Peter 1:5-7 that we must add to our faith in order to be effective and productive in our knowledge of Jesus Christ, and they build on each other in this order:

*to our faith, add goodness;
*to our goodness, add knowledge;
*to our knowledge, add self-control;
*to self-control, add perseverance;
*to perseverance, add godliness;
*to godliness, add brotherly kindness;
*to brotherly kindness, add love.

Of the seven attributes listed above, the first one, “goodness,” can trip us up at the outset. Goodness is often mixed up with “good works,” and a lot of folks think they can work their way to heaven by doing good works—but they can’t. We can only receive salvation through faith in Jesus Christ—not by anything that we do or accomplish on our own. While it is true that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:16-20), we must first come to Jesus Christ in faith not because of anything we have done, but because of what He did on the cross. We cannot earn our way to heaven through good works. Note also that we are to “add” goodness to our faith. Therefore, our faith in Jesus Christ must already be established. And it is our faith in Jesus Christ that propels us to do the works that He would have us to do.

The attribute of “goodness” is  internal—it is who we are at the core of our being that makes itself evident outwardly in how we respond to others—it is genuine; whereas “good works” is external–what we “do”–which could come from selfish motives such as trying to impress others or earning a place in heaven (which cannot be done). Genuine “goodness” comes after faith, and instills in us kindness, benevolence; it builds good character and makes us trustworthy, and we become generous with others—treating others well (even our enemies). It is the very character of Jesus Christ living in us that produces these qualities of goodness. We cannot produce them on our own. We may try, but we’ll fall woefully short.

To goodness we are to add “knowledge.” Because our faith is grounded in Jesus Christ, our knowledge also comes from Him. And the source of that knowledge comes from the Bible. We must be grounded and established in the Bible on a daily basis. That is where we learn how to live wisely and not be tossed “to and fro” by all the temptations in the world. We learn to stand up for what is right, even if we end up standing alone. We don’t follow the crowd, but stick close the Source of our strength (Jesus Christ). There are all kinds of “knowledge” out there, but the knowledge to live a life that is pleasing to God is found in the Bible.

To knowledge we are to add “self-control.” I think most of us are aware of our shortcomings in this area. For example, America ranks #1 in the world for obesity. Our excesses are killing us, whether those excesses are in food, alcohol, drugs, illicit sex, and that list goes on and on. Now remember we are building on faith, and we’ve already added knowledge. It’s that knowledge that will help us in the area of “self-control.” Just saying “no” is not enough. Start by putting on the armor of God every morning (Eph. 6:10-18) to be armed for the battle you will face throughout your day.

To self-control we are to add “perseverance.” Ah, “there’s the rub,” as Hamlet said in his soliloquy, “To Be or Not To Be” (Shakespeare). Perseverance—enduring—is where we fall flat on our faces many times. It’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s where the fainthearted turn back. It’s where, as the Newsboys sang in their song, Stay Strong,” “sin becomes cliché” (YouTube Video is at the end of this post). It’s where we make excuses for our behaviors (read that as “sins”) that we just don’t want to give up. It’s where the truth of our convictions become evidently clear to a watching world. As Heb. 12:1-3 clearly states: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (listed in Hebrews 11), let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance [emphasis mine] the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart [emphasis mine].

To perseverance add “godliness.” If you’ve made it this far, you’ll know that your perseverance will add godliness because it is Jesus Christ who has brought you this far, and the only godliness we will ever have comes from him and not anything in ourselves.

To godliness add “brotherly kindness.” Can you see now how this walk of faith builds itself up—one building block after another? First we started with faith at the very core, then added goodness, then knowledge, then self-control, and if you’ve stuck with it that far, perseverance which in turn gives you the godliness that only comes from Jesus. With all of that being built up in you, you can now express genuine brotherly kindness to others, including your enemies, because the focus has been taken off of yourself and you’re clearly running the race as Jesus intended.

And to brotherly kindness, we are to add the most important attribute on this list—“love.” I Corinthians 13, known as the “Love” chapter, states at the end, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” We started out with “faith” and ended up with “love”—the kind of love that is from God which we are now able to extend to others–in fact, to the rest of world. It’s the kind of love that sent Jesus to the cross on our behalf—true, genuine, sacrificial love.

Peter concluded this section by stating, “But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:9-11).

“For if you do these things, you will never fall . . . .”

So let’s go out there and run this race.

YouTube Video:  “Stay Strong” by the Newsboys

Photo credit here

Rest For The Weary

There’s an invitation that Jesus gave to a crowd in Matthew 11 and while I don’t know where you are at right now I know where I’m at, and I’m going to take Him up on it. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

In another month I will be “celebrating” (and I use that term loosely) the third anniversary of when I lost my job in Houston. Three long years have passed since that day, and a whole lot of stuff has happened along the way. On that fateful day I immediately lost my $52,000/yr salary along with the job, and it took a month of waiting for approval and processing for me to receive my first unemployment check from Florida–$275/wk before taxes (that’s the maximum a person can receive from Florida). I had not been working in Texas long enough to collect unemployment from Texas (which, I think at the time, was $392/wk). Being new to Houston and Texas just a scant seven months earlier I did not have time yet to build a network of professional colleagues or friends, and I didn’t know anyone in Houston before I moved there. I came for the job.

At the time my apartment rent was $845/mo., and I still had six months left of car payments, plus the other assorted bills that come from living—electric, phone, internet, water, and the necessities of living—gas for the car, food, all the other necessities (you know, like toilet paper, dish soap, deodorant, toothpaste, and that list is endless). If you do the math, my unemployment checks didn’t cover all the costs and I immediately had to dip into my savings, which was not substantial by any means. And, I still had five months left on my apartment lease so I couldn’t move. Talk about a double bind.

I had several interviews during those five months and while I think I came close at least once to being offered a job, nothing materialized before my lease ended, and I couldn’t afford to stay in Texas. A friend in Florida offered her spare bedroom to me, and while I really wanted to stay in Houston, I couldn’t afford to stay financially. Unfortunately, I could not afford to move most of my possessions including all of my furniture and between 600-1000 books back to Florida so I lost almost all of it. I’ve talked about this in previous posts so I don’t want to repeat myself. But I lost more than I’ve ever lost in my entire life when I lost that job in Houston.

A lot has happened in these past three years and my previous posts have touched on different things that I’ve learned along the way. I’ve lost a good friend and rarely hear from some others I knew before I lost my job. I guess after a while folks don’t know what to say. I’ve networked with enough other unemployed people to know that what you hear in the news is a bunch of hogwash when it comes to reporting the “real” unemployment figures in America. But then it’s an election year and what else can we expect? Everybody’s wearing rose-colored glasses to hide the carnage.

As I approach that third anniversary mark, I am growing weary. I’ve had a few friends who have told me that I’ve held up remarkably well considering all that has happened during this time. Since my unemployment benefits ran out at the end of May 2011 after collecting 99 weeks I have had no income and have been living on my savings.

The “seasonal rental” I’ve been living in (a completely furnished efficiency apartment in the upstairs of an old house) has been my home for the past two years and three months. When I moved in I told the landlady that I might be here at the most six months—just until I found a job and moved on. We laughed after the first year passed and I still had no job. Now it’s over two years since I moved in here and it’s no longer funny. And, the house was sold to new owners effective March 1st. Change is in the air. But I can’t see where it’s taking me and I have no place to go yet.

Did I mention I’ve applied for close to 500 jobs, mostly in my profession, since April 2009? Weary? Yes. Bone weary, actually.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29-30).

During this time I have spent considerable time pouring over the words of Jesus as well as those of the Apostle Paul and many of the Old Testament saints, like David, Esther, Job, the Prophets, and others. The Bible has come alive to me in a way that I’ve never experienced before, and this has been one of the biggest highlights of these past three years. And I’ve learned to understand just what Jesus was saying when He said that He was “gentle and humble in heart.”

However, when Jesus said that we should take His yoke upon us because His yoke is easy and His burden is light, I have to admit that I was a bit confused. The yoke and burden that He bore on His road to Calvary was neither easy nor light. Indeed, the persecution that He suffered during His ministry (mainly from the Pharisees—the “religious folks” of His day although even the Roman soldiers got into the act at the time of His crucifixion) was exceedingly intense and ended with His crucifixion. However, His mission while on earth was not just that of a mere man, but the very Son of God, who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world on that cross and rose again on the third day.

The yoke that is easy and the burden that is light therefore must refer to the fact that He was and is “gentle and humble in heart,” and that is the yoke that He wants us to take and learn from, and it is in that yoke where we will find rest for our souls, no matter what the external circumstances look like. The “rest” is from Him and in Him.

Lately, when I find that I am just too weary from trying to figure out why this very long time of unemployment just keeps going on with no end in sight, and I have absolutely no idea what’s up ahead or what direction I should be taking, I put on some praise and worship music (like the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir or Shannon Wexelberg and others) and start singing along, and as I sing with a focus on Him I am lifted beyond my circumstances and gain a strength for that day to see it through, and that strength is from Him. And I become more gentle and humble, too (hopefully. . . humility is not easy for any of us). I begin to see the world from His perspective instead of through the weary lens of my own.

I believe God moves in our circumstances when we praise Him with heartfelt praise that centers our gaze and our hearts on Him. I may not know what to pray about (sometimes the words just aren’t there), but praise comes from the heart and takes the focus off of me.

Four days ago I was in an email exchange with a professional colleague in higher education I met in July 2009 during an interview I had for a job while I was still in Houston. While I didn’t get the job (they needed someone with a P/L Business background and my background is in student services), we are connected through a professional networking website. He posted an article last week that I responded to, and in his response he asked me how things were going (he knows I’ve been unemployed for a long time). I mentioned that it was hard for me to believe that I’m still unemployed after almost three years. His last statement to me was “Your journey has been difficult. We should discuss.”

Who knows? Maybe a change is in the air. However, the biggest change for me is learning the real value of praise.

YouTube video: “Total Praise” by The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir (on “High & Lifted Up” CD, 1999)

Photo credit here

The Day I Died

I have reblogged this blog post (see below) from Dr. Michael Youssef at The Church of the Apostles. This particular daily devotion (above) gets to the heart of what is wrong with us. It is the focus on “self.” If we who call ourselves Christian learned the lesson in George Müller’s words we literally could transform our world. Until we learn to die to self, we will continue to live in defeat, in bondage, in pride. May we heed these words today, and every day hereafter. It’s time to break out of our bondage to “self.” ~Sara’s Musings at WordPress.com

The Daily Way

George Müller, an esteemed evangelist and prayer warrior of the nineteenth century, was once asked, “What is the secret of your victorious life?”

His answer was simple. “It was the day I died, utterly died.”

As he spoke, Müller bent down until he reached the floor and then continued:

Died to George Müller—his opinions, preferences, tastes, and will. Died to the world—its approval or censure. Died to approval or blame—even of my brethren and friends. Since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.

Until you learn to die to self, you will live your Christian life in defeat. Until you learn to die to sin, you will live in bondage. Until you learn to die to pride, you will live in slavery and servitude.

If any believer feels defeated, it is because he has bought into the lie of believing that Satan has invincible power over…

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Porn: The Vile Invisible Elephant in the Church

no_porn_zoneThe blog post I’ve reblogged below post is from a male blogger, Bryan Daniels, at Chief of the least,” who has stated the problem much better than I can. Tim Challies at Challies.com has another excellent article on the subject. Porn is a huge problem inside and outside of the Church and both of these authors come from a Christian perspective. Naomi Wolf has written an excellent article from a secular point of view titled The Porn Myth and states, “In the end, porn doesn’t whet men’s appetites—it turns them off the real thing.” They can tell the story much better than I can.

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Chief of the least

[For the sake of time, sanity and honestly laziness, I have some previously used material I’d like to share from time to time: let’s call them “regurgitations.” I have a few saved posts I wrote that were previously shared on the late great blog “Enabled by God” (shout out to Kyle if you’re reading). These were mainly devotional in type, and I believe they may be beneficial to someone somewhere in the E-World. Enjoy.] 

There is a giant elephant in our church sanctuaries. He sits in the back. Vile and unassuming. The deacons, choir, congregation, and even the pastor knows he’s there, yet they all try to ignore him. Meanwhile, he discreetly wreaks havoc on the soul of the church.

This lurking elephant’s name is porn.

It’s estimated a solid majority of young men (18-30) in the church view sexually pornographic images at least once a month.  Even a disturbing amount of young women are becoming more…

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Two Kinds Of Wisdom

Dictionary.com defines wisdom as “the quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.”

In his introduction to the book of James in The Message Bible, Eugene Peterson states, “Wisdom is not primarily knowing the truth, although it certainly includes that; it is skill in living. For what good is a truth if we don’t know how to live it? What good is an intention if we can’t sustain it?” This book (James) is a the letter James wrote to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations (hence, to all the followers of Jesus Christ in his day), and it packs a lot of instruction on dealing with trials and temptations, listening and doing, favoritism forbidden, faith and deeds, taming the tongue, two kinds of wisdom, submitting yourselves to God, boasting about tomorrow, a warning to rich oppressors, having patience in suffering, and the prayer of faith in five chapters. The focus for this post in on the two kinds of wisdom found in James 3:13-18. Let’s look at those verses:

13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”

The Message Bible states these verses like this: 13-16Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.

 17-18Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”

The first kind of wisdom we find is “earthly, unspiritual, of the devil” (James 3:15)– harboring bitter envy; selfish and mean-spirited ambition; boasting and twisting the truth to make ourselves look better than others–which causes disorder and “every evil practice” where everyone ends up at each others’ throats. Essentially, it’s all about looking out for ourselves above and beyond anyone else including God, and we are all very capable of doing this. And it comes in all kinds of disguises–like gossip, passive-aggressive behavior, pride and arrogance, and any type of behavior that is “me first.”

And yes, it’s pretty ugly. And we all do it from time to time in it’s various forms because it is a focus on self, and not on others and on God. And we all know people who have turned some of these behaviors into an art form. ‘Nough said. We all do it. Ugly, ugly, ugly . . .

Now let’s look at the second form of wisdom–wisdom that comes from God (James 3:17-18). This form of wisdom is:

–Pure
–Peace-loving
–Considerate
–Submissive
–Full of mercy and good fruit
–Impartial
–Sincere
–Produces a harvest of righteousness

It is “gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced” and it “treats each other with dignity and honor” (James 3:17-18 MSG). It is not totally absorbed in self!

This second form of wisdom, God’s wisdom, is far superior then any wisdom we think we have, but how do we get there and stay there without our “self” taking over and causing all kinds of trouble in our relationships with others? The key is found in verse 13: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”

“Humility that comes from wisdom . . . .” I’m currently reading one of the best books on the subject of humility by William Farley titled Gospel-Powered Humility (P&R Publishing, 2011). Humility is not something that we hear about very much in Christian circles today nor has it been for the past few decades. But it is at the core of our problem–the problem of pride and self. Here’s a quote from the back cover of the book:

“Humility is not a popular concept in our world today. It is seen as weakness in a culture that prizes self-esteem and validation. Unfortunately, these worldly attitudes about humility have leaked into and influenced the church as well.

“Far from being a weakness, humility is the crucial virtue. Not only is it integral to the processes of conversion and sanctification, but from it’s soil sprout the fruit of the Spirit. Yet many Christians are unaware of this crucial connection and do not see the implications of humility in witnessing, counseling, and preaching.”

Most people do not understand the connection between humility and truly living this life as God intended for us to live it. Pride blinds us and keeps us from God and truly serving others. While the author states that the primary target audience for this book is for “everyone doing Christian ministry,” it is an excellent resource for all of us in the moment-by-moment living out of our lives as “living witnesses” in everything we think, do, and say every single day. And, this book gets to the core of the issue of humility that is at the core of our relationship with Jesus Christ that is so vitally needed in the Church today.

For decades now the Church has focused on issues of “self-esteem” and forgotten about the subject of humility. The author states that “faith that does not provoke humility, causing it to sprout and grow, is unlikely to be a saving faith” (Ibid, p. 12) and that ought to cause us great concern in our “me” centered church environments where the focus has shifted to us and what we can get or expect from God.

In the past few decades the Church at large in America has been so focused on the culture that we have become friends with the world and all that it offers. No wonder the subject of humility has lost favor in the Church. James has some very hard-hitting words for us about this very topic in James 4:4-10:

4You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

   God opposes the proud 
   but gives grace to the humble.’

7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Ouch!!! When was the last time we heard a sermon on that topic, yet it is absolutely vital to our relationship with God and others and ourselves. As William Farley notes, “Spiritual pride is the great temptation of religious people.” He continues, “Here’s the bottom line. Since God’s activity always humbles, and since spiritual pride hates to be humbled, it resists God’s work” (Ibid, p. 34). The Pharisees were a prime example of this.

“Biblical faith always initiates a humbling process” (Ibid, p. 29). So let us remember:

“For the LORD takes delight in his people; 
   he crowns the humble with salvation” (Psalm 149:4).

Photo credit here

Amazing Grace

The blog post and video below are reblogged from “Gracefully50.com” who lost her mother to cancer. “Amazing Grace” was one of my mother’s favorite hymns, also, and this blogger included a YouTube video rendition of “Amazing Grace” performed by Il Divo which is exactly as she said–stirring and powerful. My own mother lost her battle with diabetes 29 years ago, and she, too, was strong and faithful to the end. My sentiments match this blogger’s sentiments regarding her own mother who lost her battle with cancer. Please enjoy this post and the video compliments of “Gracefully50.”  ~Sara’s Musings at WordPress.com

gracefully50

“Amazing Grace” is one of my favorite hymn as it reminds me of my mother’s love and her humble spirit. It was also her beloved hymn as she sang it often.

This beautiful rendition by Il Divo is stirring and powerful. I was overcome and moved to tears as it opened a floodgate of memories of my mother’s suffering with her battle with cancer. She was so strong and faithful till the very end…

I love you and miss you so much… until we meet again.

Only by His Grace…

Thank you Lord for Your Grace in my life.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me….
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

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Hail To The King

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) so states the very first verse of the Bible. Let’s think about that for a moment. There is nothing in existence on earth or in our universe that God did not create. NOTHING!

And in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible, Revelation 22, Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13) and “I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16). And the last words He states in the second to the last verse of the Bible is this, “Yes, I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:20). And when He comes He will forever reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Even now, for those of us who know Him, He should be reigning over our hearts and our lives as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

But do we really believe this? Does the way we live our lives on a moment by moment, daily basis with ourselves and other people project this truth? I know I fail more times then I’d like to think about. We live in a fallen world, yet as the Apostle Paul–with his eyes and heart always fixed on the One who had redeemed him from his former way of  life–wrote in Romans 1:16-25:

16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse [emphasis mine].

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen[emphasis mine].

Over the past several decades the culture has invaded so much of what we call “Christianity” here in America that, as I’ve noted in previous posts, many times our daily lives don’t look any different from the rest of our culture other then we’ve learned to throw in a lot of “God talk” that supposedly shows that we are different. But our actions are rarely any different from the rest of the world. For example, do you really love your enemies, and do you pray for those who spitefully use you (see Matt 5:44)? This has been a struggle of mine as I am about to end Year Number Three (on April 21) of being unemployed caused by the worst boss I have ever had in my life. And what about all the disagreeable people we run into on a regular basis (however, we rarely see ourselves as disagreeable, but then what is “wanting our own way” all the time all about if we aren’t being disagreeable with someone else in order to get our own way)?

You might be saying at this point, “So, what does that have to do with “Hail To the King”? Well, I’ve come to believe that how we treat others is exactly how our personal view of God is translated to those “others.” We can sing all the great “worship” songs on Sunday morning or at other services during the week but the minute we exit those buildings and face the reality of the world we fall flat on our faces. Our “worship” never sinks in where it can make a difference in this world–in our hearts and in our actions towards others and towards God. We’ve lost our reverence for who God is and we’ve essentially worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” just as Paul stated in Rom. 1:25. We end up “having a form of godliness, but denying it’s power (2 Tim. 3:5).” Let’s look at that particular passage (written by Paul) in context:

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them (2 Tim. 3:1-5).”

Usually when we read those verses we think of all of the “others” out there in the culture but do not include ourselves in that list. However, go through that list again–with open eyes and an open heart. Does any of it speak to areas in your own life?

With all of the “worship” that takes place in our churches all over this country and in contemporary Christian music, does any of it really sink in once the songs have been sung and we head back out into the world? Do we really understand that we are singing to the Creator of our entire universe, to the Lamb that was slain FOR US, to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who will one day reign forever and is seated on the Throne? And does our worship CHANGE the way we live our lives during the rest of the week? Does it CHANGE US?

One of the things I am learning is just how much praising God changes us and glorifies Him, especially when it’s the last thing on our minds or in our hearts to do. And it is something we need to do on a regular, daily basis, even when we are all alone. We can have an attitude of praise and a song in our heart to God. Sometimes when I’m beyond weary with the struggles of life and wondering if this very long trial of mine will ever end, I’ll put on a worship CD and start singing along and before I know it I will gain a strength I didn’t have before and the oppressing thoughts will vanish and I’m elevated to where God dwells–in the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3).

I want to close this post with a song that I find absolutely exhilarating (YouTube video below). It is titled “Hail To The King” and is on the “Faithful God” CD (2007) by Shannon Wexelberg, and I think this entire CD is one of the greatest worship CD’s out there today. You may have your favorites, too. I can’t tell you how many times when I’ve been really down that I’ve popped it into my CD player at home or in my car and been lifted beyond my current circumstances to see Jesus seated on the Throne and be reminded again that regardless of what I’m going through, He is still in total control.

May we all learn, more and more, to praise Him at all times and take our eyes off of ourselves. After all, He said He’d never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). So let’s start acting like we really believe that and the best way to do that is to praise Him. Here’s the words to “Hail To The King”:

Bright Morning Star
King of all days
Reign in our hearts
Ride on our praise
You are crowned in majesty

Awaken us now
Set us ablaze
Let Your kingdom come
Let Your name be raised

Hear the song of the redeemed
Be exalted as we sing!

Hail to the King!
Hail to the Living Word!
Let praise arise
Heaven and earth
Sing praise to the Lamb
Seated on the throne
Power and strength
Are Yours alone
Hail to the King!

YouTube Video: “Hail To The King” written and sung by Shannon Wexelberg (recorded on her “Faithful God” CD, 2007):

Photo credit here

natsab

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