Ready for change?

 

“. . . wash me and I will be whiter than snow.” – Psalm 51:7b

I remember beginning my prayer time that day with praise. Then I began confessing sins, naming ways in which I felt I was failing God: areas of self-control, worry, lack of compassion, not sharing his message with others. I was about to go on when he stopped me with something like this:

“You have one underlying problem: Not loving me with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Forget the list. Focus instead on knowing and loving me. All else will flow from that. Over time, the list of sins won’t be as important to you, but I will become most important. That’s what I want and what you need – for me to be your everything.”

We all have sins that need to be forgiven. The Bible does tell us to confess our sins. But on that day, God wanted me to take my eyes off my own failings and look at him instead. The ultimate goal, after all, is to become like Jesus. If we keep looking at ourselves, we’ll miss what he wants us to become. Over time, as I continue gazing at him, I begin to realize I am becoming calmer. I feel more concern for others. I am more self-controlled, and more likely to tell someone else about him and what he means to me.

It’s not that we don’t have to change – but God’s way of changing us is more effective than ours. And he does it by loving us, dirt and all, and inviting us into relationship with him. It seems our first step toward change is doing our best to love him with everything we’ve got!

“Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other needs.” – George MacDonald

 

What do you want?

“It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.” – 2 Samuel 22:33

Are you satisfied with your life? Too often, we live with general discontent without stopping identify what its cause may be. One day, two men began to follow Jesus, when he turned around and asked, “What do you want?” (John 1:38). He was challenging them to think about what they were doing!

If life is not all you want it to be right now, maybe Jesus’ question is for you today. What do you want?  What  is your deepest need? Maybe you, too, need to think about what you’re doing day by day.

In a quiet place, evaluate how you spend your time, then ask: What kind of activities, interactions, or thoughts make me feel

  • happy?
  • anxious?
  • secure?
  • stressed?
  • confident?
  • loved?
  • that my life is making a difference?

Do your answers to these questions give you some hints as to your true needs? If your greatest desires are for wealth, fame, or influence, Jesus is not your answer. But, if you want love, peace, security, joy, or purpose, you’ll find it all in him. God is love. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the Holy Spirit brings joy and contentment, and following God’s path gives meaning and purpose we cannot find without him.

As you gain insight into the greatest needs or wants in your life,  ask God to show you how those desires can be fulfilled. By striving, working harder, looking for approval from others? Or by resting in the love and mercy of our Father in Heaven? By following the teachings and example of Jesus? Once you know what you really want, he makes the way clear.

“I’m learning the importance of pressing God for more. I want all he has to give.” – Margaret Feinberg

Unfinished

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” – Mark 6:31b

Have you set goals for 2018? Many of us have. We want to set our sights on what we can accomplish before another new year dawns. All the self-help books tell us to set goals that will challenge us – “dream big”, they say.  I think it’s good to keep reaching, to want to achieve, but most of us will get to the end of 2018 with some goals that are unfinished, unreached. What do we do with that?

Maybe we need a little balance: Striving and achieving, yes. But, maybe more importantly, being and becoming. Here’s why: Some year, we’ll set our goals for the last time and we don’t know when that will be. So wisdom tells me that part of our planning this year should include becoming. Becoming more peaceful and less anxious, more loving and more generous, quieter and wiser, becoming more like Jesus. There will always be goals and plans that are unfinished! If we wait to get them all done before we focus on our personal and spiritual growth, we will never give ourselves permission or opportunity to become.

Let’s  go for it with goals for 2018. We can work hard, achieve, and glorify God in the process. But, at some time each day and for longer times on non-work days, let’s stop doing to spend time with God: talking to him, walking with him, reading his book, singing him songs, listening for his voice. These will open the door to becoming who God created us to be. Then we’ll know that it may be OK if lesser goals remain unfinished.

“To fail to see the value of simply being with God and ‘doing nothing’ is to miss the heart of Christianity.” – Peter Scazzero

 

Can you believe? Just a little bit?

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:9

I have a friend who was skeptical about the Bible. He’d read it, then question it. He tried to explain away miracles and dismissed any possibility of Jesus’ divinity. He looked at commands as cultural suggestions, to be revised at will.

But some of his rationalizations didn’t make sense – even to him. Eventually, he came to an intellectual impasse. One day he simply said to himself that, if the Bible were true, he’d be willing to believe. The next day, as he read the Bible, everything seemed to fall into place. His willingness to believe resulted in actual belief.

Sometimes we just don’t want to believe. We are not open to having our minds changed. If you are in that place, I would encourage you to take a step, just a small step toward the possibility of belief.

God is not like us. He thinks differently. He communicates differently. He has capacities and powers we cannot begin to understand. But He loves humans. He sent Jesus to reveal Himself to us. One of my favorite Jesus stories is when a father came asking for his son’s release from demonic powers. Jesus responded “Anything is possible for the one who believes”. The father, in complete honesty, answered, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

I have prayed that prayer many times. “I believe, Lord, but just a little. Help my little bit of belief to grow so I can know You as you truly are and trust You with my life.” Are you ready to pray that prayer, too?

“The one you are looking for is the one who is looking.” – Francis of Assisi

 

Note: In my discussions with this person and many others, I’ve had a chance to hear and explore the questions skeptics often ask. If you want to know more, you may be helped by my recent book, The Bible for Skeptics: A Conversation for Thinking People.   https://beverlyvankampen.com/resources/
#bible
#god

I don’t like self-denial!

” . . . the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” – Psalm 84:11b

I don’t like self-denial. It may relate to how I use time, spend money, or express opinions, but most of the time I want to have what I want, when I want it.

So when I read Jesus’ words, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), I cringed inside. I wanted to follow Him, but daily self-denial just sounded hard.

Then I read John Piper’s teaching in his book Desiring God, and my view about self-denial began to change dramatically.  According to Piper, the biblical concept of self-denial is letting go of the lesser good so we can grab onto the greater good. When I started to look at it that way, I realized Jesus’ demand for self-denial was for my benefit, not His! I understood that I deny myself, not to make Him happy with me, but to allow Him to do greater things with me. Greater than I can do if I follow my natural instincts.

It makes sense in other areas of life: I choose to workout, denying myself an hour on the couch, because I value health more than rest. I deny myself a frivolous expense because I am saving for something really special later. Spiritually, it makes sense, too. We deny ourselves what we want humanly so we can receive what God wants for us supernaturally – things that are better for us than whatever we give up. Maybe it’s not self-denial at all!

 “To become like Christ is the only thing in the world worth caring for, the thing before which every ambition is folly, and all lower achievements vain.” – Henry Drummond

 

 

There’s a better way.

“. . . by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Hebrews 10:14

How are you doing on your quest for perfection? Have you overcome that bad habit? Are your praying enough? Are your relationships in order? Are you eating only healthy foods? Do you do enough to help those in need?

Stop! There’s a better way.

Over many years, I’ve learned that, in spite of almost-heroic efforts, I’m not able to perfect myself. That will come as no surprise to those of you who know me! Along the way, though, God reminds me He’s the one who brought me into His family in the first place. He’s the one slowly changing my character to reflect His. Transformation is His work, not mine. My job is to relate to Him: talking, listening, learning, cooperating, submitting. That’s what He expects of you, too. When we do that, His message back to us is something like this:

When I called you, I knew who you would become. I also knew the mistakes you would make along the way – sinfulness, rebellion, bad habits, weaknesses. I never expected you to be perfect, so stop believing you can be. And never forget that My love for you does not depend on you. I love you just because you are Mine – even on your worst days.

God looks on His children with merciful eyes. We are weaker than we want to be. We will fail. When we do, He responds to our cry for forgiveness, cleans us up, and sets us back on the path. He will make us holy, but it’s going to take awhile yet!

“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen

He’s not hard to please!

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10b

Have you ever thought about what you can do to make God happy? I asked Him that question once and here are the things that came to my mind as I sat in His presence:

• Enjoy My creation.
• Support the weak.
• Encourage someone’s faith.
• Have a grateful heart.
• Listen for My direction.
• Take care of your body.
• Nurture your soul.

Then I realized all these things have been shown to us in His Word. We find commands there,  of course, and our obedience pleases Him. The Bible also reveals God’s heart and gives us glimpses into what brings Him joy. Some of those things are on my list above, but we find others as we read the prophets or the psalms, or see Jesus at work in the Gospels.

When we grow to know Him more intimately, we begin to see Him as a loving Father. It is then we discover He is not hard to please. What He wants most from us is relationship. Loving connection with us is such a deep desire for Him that He sent Jesus to make it possible for us to be adopted as children into His family.

Just as a caring father expresses enthusiasm when his child presents him with an undecipherable crayon drawing, our Father in heaven is delighted with our sincere, but less-than-perfect, efforts to please Him. If we just tell Him, honestly, we want to make Him happy, He will show us how. Our efforts will bring Him joy. And I guarantee God’s joy will make us happy, too!

“The truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings and His service one of unspeakable pleasure.” – A.W. Tozer