Paper Thin

“Do you have Netflix? My husband and I like to watch Monk together after the kids are in bed. We find it’s a nice way to relax.” My jaw dropped. For the longest time I believed my friend didn’t even own a television, let alone a service like Netflix! I can’t express how much that one sentence of transpareny helped me.

One of the lies I have believed has revolved around not being a good enough Christian. There have been certain people in my life who, when I am at their house, I assume don’t do some of the things I do. (Like watch Netflix) I make the conclusion that they must be a better Christian because they don’t allow their kids to watch T.V. like I do, allowing the cycle of inner insuffiency to continue.

The moment my friend said what she did, God spoke loud and clear, “Things are not the way you perceive them.” I was thrilled to know my friend was more human than I had imagined! (I can hear her laughing about this right now.) Last week as our kids played together she suggested they play their Wii game system. I remember thinking, “She has a game system??!!” Once again I was surprised to know her kids occasionally played video games.

It was through this second revelation that I began to understand why it’s so important not to compare myself to other people. Truthfully, I don’t know what goes on in their lives behind closed doors. I make my own assumptions and crucify myself against them.

I was also motivated to continue being transparent. I usually don’t have a problem spilling the beans about my personal struggles, but these situations encouraged me even more. Maybe someone else out there could be helped if they knew a Christian like me has struggled with eating disorders and depression. I am a new creation in Christ and I have been set free, but I’d still like others who may not be there yet to know there is hope. I want them to know things aren’t always what they seem with the people they think are perfect. I want them to know their transparency could be useful for someone else who is struggling.

God used my friend to help me get through one of the most diffuclt (and wonderful) times of my life. I am thankful she opened up to me about  personal issues that brought her off the pedastal I had placed her on. She’s normal just like me. We may struggle with different specifics, but the end result is the same. We’re both redeemed children of God on the same journey through His school of transformation.

I am also thankful she doesn’t preach at me. Even when I was deeply distressed, on the verge of suicide, she never preached to me. The only thing she did was ask to spend time with me in fellowship. Over the past 6 weeks we have grown closer as friends, but I’ve also experienced life in the family of God as it was meant to be; transparency, openness, truth, and encouragement. Through us our kids have learned what authentic relationship looks like. They pray together before lunch, play together in the sun, and worship together in church. (Mother’s Day was interesting with 4 kids ages 5 and under and 3 adults trying to mainatin order during the sermon.) I love her kids as if they were my own, and I know she feels the same about mine.

(Here she is playing with my daughter at the park.)

(Our kids: Caleb, Samantha (mine), and Micah.)

I would  urge those of you who want to put your best foot forward: while there is nothing wrong with this, consider being a little paper thin in your approach. Reveal yourself as you really are, and don’t worry about “what they’ll think”. Maybe there is someone who needs to hear that you’re a real person who does real things and has real struggles. Don’t waste your journey by keeping it a secret; allow God to use it.

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Effective

Effective

“I pray with all my heart.” Psalm 119:145 NLT

It’s impossible to talk about the word of God and not mention prayer. The Psalmist says that he will not only obey with all his heart, seek with all his heart, but also pray with all his heart. This, of course, implies that we could pray with less than our whole heart. What would that look like?

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men….But when you pray, go into your room and close the door and pray to your father, who is unseen.” Matthew 6:5-6

Jesus knew there were many people who loved to give lip service and be seen and admired by men. He strongly urged his disciples to avoid this kind of prayer at all costs. While there is nothing wrong with praying in public, we do it every Sunday in churches all over the world, there is something wrong with praying to impress others. It shows a division of heart. The intellect is involved with fancy words and long elegant speeches, but the rest of the heart (acting out the truth with the will, for example) is not on board or backing up the prayer. Jesus also warned us:

“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24

Prayer is a form of worship, just as much as singing songs, Bible study, or tithing. We are told that no gift should be offered when we are not right with our brothers and sisters in Christ. How many times have we persisted in prayer, study, and singing while knowing we were bitter against someone else or they were bitter against us? We are admonished to do all we can to keep peace and unity in order for our offerings to be accepted. We cannot change how people feel about us, but we can make every effort to make things right. 12 step programs often refer to this as “making amends”. While the person we seek to restore fellowship with may not accept our offer, we must make the effort in sincerity of heart in order for God to be honored and our gift to be accepted.  Perhaps when we pray and God is silent, it is because He is waiting for us to act in obedience to his revealed will.

“The righteous cry out and the Lord hears them.” Psalm 34:17

The word righteous in this passage comes from the Hebrew root word meaning “cleanse”, “clear”, or “morally right”. Thus, the believer who is pure in heart or cleansed is the just believer whose prayers are heard. I don’t know about you, but I want my prayers to be heard! This is a powerful motivation for keeping my conscience clean before God, and others. What good does it do to spend an hour in elaborate prayer when my prayers are not being heard?

A few years ago my brother in law was diagnosed with leukemia. There was a sinking feeling that it wasn’t going to turn out well, and deep down in my spirit, I knew the outcome, though I certainly believed that God could bring healing if it was His will to do so. This was a life-changing event for me. I knew God could heal, I knew God had a plan, but I also knew I was called to pray over the situation in earnest. God brought me to James 5:16b over and over again.

“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

The word righteous here is translated “holy”, “just”, or “innocent”. I realized that if I wanted God to hear me, I needed to have a clean heart before Him. Realizing that there are so many needs today for health, healing, freedom, truth, enlightenment, and wisdom (among many other things) was also a realization that praying for these things was a useless endeavor if my heart was not right with God. I was wasting my breath. I clearly remember this time of my life because God used it to motivate me to holiness, and being sold out to Him in living my faith.  Many times my prayers begin with confession as I come into the presence of a holy God and am reminded of my own ungodliness.

In order to have an undivided heart in prayer, we need to seek cleansing and purity before God. In order to be an effective prayer warrior, we need to ask God to convict us that we need a change of heart. God is the only One who can reveal to us faults we otherwise cannot see. I have experienced this truth time and again when asking God to cleanse my heart. There have been grievous sins committed on my part that I never even realized were sins until God opened my eyes to it! Once he did, I was horrified at my attitude! But unless I had asked him to search me and show me what needed fixing, I would have ignorantly gone on with an undivided heart probably wondering why my prayer life wasn’t as effective as it could be.

Just to be clear; I am not saying that the only way our prayers will be heard is if we are perfect. I am saying that God is clear in his word of what will hinder our prayers from being effective; willful disobedience, sin in ignorance, or a divided heart. I don’t want to be guilty of any of these things, and I pray you feel the same way! Let us obey, seek, and pray with a whole heart. Let us seek to be right before God in all we do, and keep a clear conscience in order to be the most effective prayer warriors that we can be!

Prayer

As I come into your presence, Lord, I ask that you reveal to me any secret sins I have hidden in my heart. I want to wholeheartedly serve you and I want to pray with a heart that is united to fear you. I want to be an effective prayer warrior; even more so I want to be right and have a clear conscience before you. Search me and cleanse me, give me a heart that understands your holiness and give me displeasure for the things that will divide my heart. Thank you for being merciful and loving to show me where I need cleansing!

Inner Sanctuary….Outer Court

Psalm 91:1 “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High.”

“The blessings here promised are not for all believers, but for those who live in close fellowship with God. Every child of God looks toward the inner sanctuary and the mercyseat, yet all do not dwell in the most holy place; they run to it at times, and enjoy occasional approaches, but they do not habitually reside in the mysterious presence. Those who through rich grace obtain unusual and continuous communion with God, so as to benefits, which are missed by those who follow afar off, and grieve the Holy Spirit of God. Into the secret place those only come who know the love of God in Christ Jesus, and those only dwell there to whom to live is Christ.

Outer court worshippers little know what belongs to the inner sanctuary, or surely they would press until the place of nearness and divine familiarity became theirs. Those who are the Lord’s constant guests shall find that he will never suffer any to be injured within his gates; he has eaten the covenant salt with them, and is pledged for their protection. Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. The Omnipotent Lord will shield all those who dwell with him, they shall remain under his care as guests under the protection of their host….Those who commune with God are safe with Him, no evil can reach them, for the outstretched wings of His power and love cover them from all harm. This protection is constant- they abide under it, and it is all sufficient, for it is the shadow of the Almighty, whose omnipotence will surely screen them from all attack. No shelter can be imagined at all comparable to the protection of Jehovah’s own shadow.

The more closely we cling to our Almighty Father the more confident we may be.”

-Charles H Spurgeon, (Treasury of David, Vol 5 pp 71-72)

There is most definitely a difference in relationship amongst believers with the Almighty God. We have the choice of what our relationship with Him will look like. Will we choose to fellowship with Him in His inner sanctuary of ultimate safety, peace, and protection? This is the promise He gives to us, and what a wonderful promise it is! Yet the entanglements of the world often overtake many believers, and while they do not lose their postion as family members with Christ as their Heavenly Father, they do lose out on the special fellowship that He had planned, truly that He had designed for each and every one of them. What a disheartening thought! All of these wonderful promises He openly gives us, and yet many still choose another way. As the story of the prodigal son tells us, the “son” never ceased to be a son, his relationship and place in the family was always secure despite the fact that he did not act like the father’s son, or respect the father’s gift. Yet he always remained the son. Just the same we see here that we are safe under the protection of the Almighty’s hand, IF we choose to dwell in His secret place! This place is not something all believers choose for themselves, yet they are no less believers, and still remain a part of the kingdom, but the fellowship they have with the Father is much different then with those who have chosen to dwell in this sacred secret place and His inner sanctuary. This intimate relationship with Christ Himself truly is a special treasure that only a small portion of believers ever experience, which is why there are seperate areas of worship. The inner sanctuary for those who have chosen to dwell closely to Him, and the outer courts for those who have chosen to look on in apathy all their lives. God loves us all the same, and all who put their trust in Jesus work on the cross to cleanse their sin are truly safe forever in His hand, never to be plucked out. (Romans 8:38-39) But we see here, very clearly, that there are varying levels of relationship with Him, and as God is no respecter of persons, that means this relationship is up to us and how we decide to pursue it. He offers it all equally and freely and desires we all experience His perfect peace, and protection. How it must grieve the Spirit when we choose other gods before HIM! Do you dwell in the inner sanctuary of the Most High? Are you abdiding in that secret place with your Almighty Father? He offers it freely, He promises you safety, protection, peace, and calm amidst the many storms of life. Whether or not you abide in those promises is up to YOU.

“He wishes us to know Him, and by His Word and by His Spirit He puts Himself before us. Ah! it is not His fault if we do not know Him. It is our own carelessness.” Mary B. M. Duncan, in “Under the Shadow” 1867

Godly Friendships and the Bible

Godly Friendships and the Bible

 

What does the Bible say about Godly friendships? What does the Bible say about how we are to conduct ourselves once we have found ourselves in a Godly friendship? We can be certain that there are principles to be found in the Bible relating to this important message and how we can be sure our friendships are God-honoring, personally edifying to the glory of God, and sanctifying to both individuals.

First and most importantly we are told in Ecclesiastes 4:12 that a close Godly friendship is essential in our Christian walk. It is not really an option if we want to be successful and victorious in our Christian living.

“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back to back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken.” (NLT)

 

A Godly friend is necessary if we hope to stand firm against the Enemy’s attacks. Without that companionship we are made weaker. So, once we have found that Godly friend/s, how are we to act within that friendship? Will it always be perfect since all people involved are “Godly” and seeking Him first with their whole hearts? What happens in real life within the parameters of these friendships?

1-Face to Face Fellowship

“The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Exodus 3:11 (NIV)

In this day and age this simple concept is quick to be overlooked. We text, we type, we email. Rarely do we meet face to face in real time fellowship with our friends. Can you imagine God texting Moses? Did you laugh? It sounds ludicrous doesn’t it? You might argue that this is the day and age we live in, and while there is truth in that statement, there is even greater truth in the words we read in Exodus. Friends see each other face to face. Let’s face it, when we can talk to each other and see each other’s facial expressions, hear each other’s tones, it lends itself to a lot less misinterpretation, misunderstanding, hurt feelings…etc. (Why didn’t she text me back? Why hasn’t she emailed me in 3 days? She hasn’t called me back, I know she must be mad, I better call so and so and talk about it!) Let’s commit to getting back to basics within our Godly friendships and just have some coffee (or tea or whatever!) and have some real fellowship, because that is how true Godly friendships are cultivated in a healthy way.

2-Influential

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Proverbs 27:17 (NLT)

It’s very clear from this simple verse that those we choose to keep company with will influence our attitudes. Whether that’s in a Godly way or in a worldly way depends on those we spend time with. Proverbs is full of wisdom written by the wisest man on the earth, and we would do well to listen to the advice given when choosing that Godly friend. If we have our radar set on someone, we should ask ourselves, is this person going to influence me towards the character of Christ? Will this person be “sharpening” me into the fruits of the Spirit or the lusts of the flesh?

3-Openly Honest and Always Sincere

“An open rebuke is better than hidden love! Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” Proverbs 27:5-6 (NLT)

Sometimes even our best intentions are hurtful. The fact of the matter is this: even in the closest and Godliest of friendships, people are going to get hurt. This proverb tells us as much. It also tells us that this “friendly fire” is better than an enemy who merely pretends to be nice to your face while speaking blasphemies behind your back. I think we all know what it feels like to be betrayed in this way. You find out this person who you know and trusted has been gossiping about you, spreading hurtful rumors about you all the while pretending to be something totally different to your face. We are warned about this person, this person is double-minded, and not to be trusted. The friend who wounds us in their sincerity is much more desirable.  You can be reminded that even this wounding is a blessing! Your Godly friend is being honest and sincere as God has designed! Not that it makes the hurt any less painful…but we will deal with that.

4-Loves at All Times

“A friend loves at all times.” Proverbs 17:17

Here we have the first solution to our issue of hurts. Love. It doesn’t say “A friend loves when it feels good”, or “A friend loves until he is hurt”, it states very clearly “all times”.  Love is an action, and it is a choice. Love is not a feeling in the context of this verse. There comes a point when the hurts are going to be so deep, perhaps the pain so intense that love will not come easily, and it may not seem possible. The most logical choice may seem to move on and be done with the whole mess. It is at this moment we are faced with a crucial choice-will we love at any cost? This is the Godly friend that you want in your life! This love has no strings attached, it is unconditional, and is not related to circumstances. It is the love that Jesus has for us, and the love He tells us to have for each other.

5-Forgives First

“This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.” Matthew 5:23-24 (The Message)

Loving through hurts must involve forgiveness. This passage could not possibly be interpreted any other way then to forgive first before bringing your worship to God. God is not interested in your lip service when you have outstanding debts of bitterness against your friends. Settle all accounts before offering your praises to God! He sees our hearts, knows our thoughts, whether or not we like it! There is no way around this one. If we are hurt by the actions or words of another, we need to speak up and be honest and sincere always of how we feel, in love. Our feelings are valid, and our friend’s feelings are valid. We need to be heard, and they need to be heard, and we need good communication in order to have Godly friendships that glorify and edify each other towards love and good works! When we fail to communicate in a timely manner we allow the hurt to fester as we turn it over in our minds, often making things bigger than they are, and further misinterpreting the situation, so by the time we do talk about it, emotions are really running high. It makes things that much harder to be made right. These are the times we are tempted by our Enemy to “end” relationships. We are whispered lies that we must give up on this friendship, that it wasn’t what we thought, it wasn’t the right person, we were wrong, we failed again, we messed up again, we better just start over with someone who agrees with us on everything we believe in or hold to so as to avoid any problems. That is when we need to hold fast to the TRUTH of God’s Word, and what He says about Godly friendships. If we have already determined that the friendship we are in is an “iron sharpening iron” friend for Godly character then we must go back to our principles laid out under such a friendship. Am I loving, am I being honest, am I forgiving. Have I laid aside all my offerings to run to this person and make things right? Have I done all I can do to bring restoration, or am I insisting on being right and is that getting in the way of peace? I think the most important question here even than all of that is: am I honoring God in my decision to end this, or would He want me to obey His own command in Matthew 5:23-24? That seems rather clear. (There are SOME exceptions where relationships do need to end because of excessive sinful lifestyles or rebellion…etc, but for the sake of our discussion, I am not referring to those specific incidences.)

6-Sacrifices

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13 (NIV)

Jesus as our Friend made the ultimate sacrifice for our sin, the price we could never pay. He gave His life, so we could have eternal life with Him. With this He modeled His idea of the Godly friendship for us. The true Godly friend is one who sacrifices without question. I’m not just talking about the sacrifice of taking a bullet for your friend in some “what if” scenario that will likely never occur. I am talking about the much smaller things, but perhaps more difficult. The sacrifices of time: the middle of the night phone calls, the house calls, the food delivered when sick, the trips to the hospitals, the sleepless nights, the hours of Bible study when your friend has a crisis and needs an answer, calloused knees from hours of earnest prayer….on and on it goes. These are the sacrifices of life that the true Godly friend gives without a blink of an eye. This person is selfless, and giving, and authentic. This is the person you want as your Godly friend, helping you on your journey of sanctification. If you have this person in your life, thank them, and pray for them! Because you have an Enemy who wants to destroy the beautiful relationship that God has joined together. Satan knows you are stronger together, and it scares him!

Remember to keep up the face to face contact with your dear friend to avoid that confusion and misinterpretation of email and text that may occur, especially in the early stages of a growing relationship. Ask God to help you have the Christ-like influence on your friend that you desire them to have on you, and commit to always being openly honest and sincere no matter how difficult that may be. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in speaking the truth in love at all times. Face to face is best! Throughout everything, choose to love and forgive quickly. As you reflect on building your own character, ask God to help you continue to become the sacrificial friend that He modeled for us in His Word. Putting the needs of our friend first, and truly esteeming each other better than ourselves. In this way we can cultivate our Godly friendship deeper and draw closer to our Creator in unity.

A Godly You+ Your Godly Friend+God Himself=A Triple Braided Cord Not Easily Broken!

Delight, Desire…Worship

Delight, Desire….Worship

 “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in My name.

Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

John 16:13 (NIV)

 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 37:4 (NIV)

 “Whom have I in heaven but You?

I desire You more than anything.”

Psalm 73:25 (NLT)

“Only as we truly delight in God is it safe to give us our desires, for then they are not likely to become idols. And by our delighting in God, He heals our false desires as our souls come true in light of their Maker. Worship becomes the means by which we most deeply heal our desire.

Worship is the act of the abandoned heart adoring its God.

Simply showing up for church on Sunday is not even close to worship. Neither does singing songs with religious content pass for worship. What counts is the posture of the soul involved, the open heart pouring forth its love toward God and communing with Him. It is a question of desire.

Worship occurs when we say to God, from the bottom of our hearts, ‘You are the One whom I desire.'”

John Eldredge (Desire)

As we come together week after week to bring “worship” to the congregation I believe it becomes imperative that we must first ask God to search our own hearts and motives and show us our inner most desires. Can we say to God, in all honesty that He is our only desire, above all else? How can we express true worship to our brothers and sisters in the congregation if our own hearts are not in the right place? It becomes clearer that just showing up on Sunday (and Wednesday) with our “talents” is not enough. The people need to see us fully abandoned before God, every Sunday. The only way we can do that is if we are delighting in Him every other day of the week.