Secret Believers

 “Oh, how great peace and quietness would he possess who should cut off all vain anxiety and place all his confidence in God.” – Thomas a’ Kempis

In some countries, Christians must be careful about sharing their faith with people they don’t know, and they often bond with other Christians and meet together secretly. Their lives may depend on staying under cover.

For most of us, though, we’re not in danger if we talk about God or claim to be a follower of Jesus. But still, many of us tend to keep our faith under wraps.

The Gospel of John tells us many Jews believed in Jesus after witnessing the raising of Lazarus. But they believed secretly because they were afraid they would be ostracized by the religious establishment. John saw through their motivation for secrecy. He said, “They loved human praise more than praise from God.” (John 12:43)

John’s implication is we can either please other humans or we can please God, and very often we can’t do both. Sometimes we have to be willing to be criticized or ridiculed if we’re going to be bold in living out our Christian faith.

Maybe we need to be more honest about who we are, more comfortable with letting our faith in Christ show, and more willing to speak the truth. Sometimes that may bring a negative response, but, if we share of ourselves with quiet confidence and grace, God will be pleased. Who do we want to please the most?

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” – 1 Peter 3:15b-16

Now’s a good time to pray.

“A man may study because his brain is hungry for knowledge, even Bible knowledge. But he prays because his soul is hungry for God.” – Leonard Ravenhill

Do you have any soul hunger going on? Wanting to know God better. Wanting to feel his presence. It’s likely he is the one putting that desire in your heart. When it comes, respond. How? By praying. When we pray, we reach out to connect, knowing he’s already reaching out to us.

Why the urgency to pray now? If you’re busy, it seems OK to wait until later to pray, right? Or if you are distressed about something, it’s hard to focus on prayer. God must surely understand that!

Here’s what David says to God in Psalm 32 “ . . . let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found” (verse 6). Personally, I don’t think God will go into hiding if I don’t pray right away. That would not be consistent with everything else we read about him in the Bible. Instead, I think the danger of not “finding” him when we pray may lie with us as the pray-ers.

Maybe we need to pray before we get distracted with the the things around us and forget to get back to him. Or before we make decisions without his guidance and find ourselves not wanting to reach out for help. Or before we get accustomed to moving through life without him. God doesn’t want that to happen to us and neither do we. So, the antidote to “losing” God through distraction, stress, mistakes, or just hard heartedness is to pray now. Now, while our hearts are drawn toward him.

Got a minute? How about using it to talk to God?

“Pray all the time.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (The Message)

Getting to Know Him

“There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on for ever.” – J. I. Packer

What does God feel when he looks at you? Approval? Frustration? Does thinking about that help you grow spiritually? Probably not. I propose that our personal and spiritual growth is not so much about what God sees when he looks at us as it is about what we see when we look at him.

If we focus on earning God’s approval, we try self-improvement schemes: looking good, behaving well, getting over bad habits, and trying to love everyone! That’s a lot of work and we’ll never be better people just by trying harder.

The first step, of course, is accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow him. After that, it’s about learning to know God – as he reveals himself in the Bible, in times of prayer, and through wise and mature Christian teachers and writers. When we see his heart, we realize he’s pleased with us already. He knows we will fail and, when we turn to him, he forgives every time. And when he does, he begins to change us. It’s his work, not ours.

So instead of anxiously trying to earn God’s approval, let’s just get to know him. Most of us have some incorrect perceptions of him that need to be fixed. So let’s put our energy into learning who he is and responding to his heart. When we know him, we will love him, and our efforts to please him will be out of love, not fear.

 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . .” – Exodus 34:4

How does God really feel about us?

God loves us not because we’re lovable, because He is love. Not because He needs to receive, because He delights to give.” C. S. Lewis

Most of us have been taught that God loves us. We hear it in children’s songs and in the earliest verses we memorize. But, do you know that he also likes us? On some days, I find it much easier to believe he loves me than that he likes me; but, look at this verse (and there are others like it in the Bible): “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 147:11).

It’s hard to understand how the God of the Universe could take pleasure in a mere human. And what exactly pleases him? According to this verse, that this human is in an appropriate and loving relationship with him. Apparently God likes that. I think of him as a doting parent who smiles at every advance we make, cringes at our mistakes, aches over our sins, and protects us from going too far outside his loving boundaries. He loves us because he created us, and he likes us because we are all unique beings with our own personalities, quirks, and ways of relating to him.

He is our teacher, our guide, our heavenly parent. He delights when we respond to his instruction. He smiles when we return his perfect love with our human, less-than-perfect, version. He rejoices when we do the right things and is saddened when we take a wrong turn. He loves us completely and, on most days at least, he likes us, too!

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16:11

Come closer.

“A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is he himself we have.” – D. L. Moody

When God wanted to give Moses the law, he told him to climb a mountain, maybe so he could separate himself from the activity around him and get as close to God as possible while still having his feet planted on earth (Exodus 19:20). On that mountain, he learned God’s ways, received his commandments, and saw his glory.

When Jesus saw a woman who was bent over because of an evil spirit’s influence for eighteen years, he called her to come over to him. He could have healed her from a distance. He could have gone to her himself. But, he stopped walking and invited her to come closer. She did, and she was healed (Luke 13:10-13).

When Jesus went throughout Galilee in his early ministry, he invited people to come to him so they could have rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28).

We see the pattern, don’t we? God does not want to be distant from us. He sent Jesus to bridge that gap and now both the Father and the Son say, in essence, “Come closer. Don’t hide from me. Don’t stand at a distance and call out to me. Just come. Sit at my feet. Listen to my voice. Tell me what you need. Let me love you. I’m waiting for you to move from your place of stress and anxiety and get close enough to me to know me, to trust me, and to receive peace and joy from my hand.”

What are we waiting for?

 “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” – James 4:8a

Countercultural

“Often a work of God comes with two edges, great joy and great pain, and in that matter-of-fact response Mary embraced both. She was the first person to accept Jesus on His own terms, regardless of the personal cost.”– Philip Yancey

During this Advent season, we think about Jesus coming to this earth to walk among humans in a world that was unsettled at best. What do we learn by observing his sojourn on our planet?

In a world whose leaders were angry at him for doing good, he was angry at sin.

In a world filled with selfishness, he served with kindness.

In a world of competing voices, he spoke confidently and quietly – often to just a few.

In a world of bullies, he was gentle.

In a world of crowds and chaos, he invited his disciples to come away with him to rest.

In a world that demanded retribution, he was forgiving.

In a world that valued silver and gold, he took pleasure in the sparrows.

In a world of hurry, noise, and threats, he said not to be anxious about anything.

In a world of disparity, he advised a man to sell his possessions and give to the poor.

In a world of homes and families, he had no place to lay his head.

Jesus came to show us how to live in an upside-down world. A world that doesn’t know him or his ways. In a world of despair and depression, he challenges us to live with expectancy and hope and, by doing so, our countercultural lives will point others to him. What better time to do that than when we celebrate his birth?

We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14b

Stretching Our Minds

“We are in a time when thinking rightly is more important than ever. The prospering of God’s cause on earth depends upon his people thinking well.” – Dallas Willard

When is the last time you read or watched something that stretched you? That challenged your thinking? Getting out of our comfort zone can be good for us. If we agree with what we read or see, our faith is confirmed. If we disagree, we grow stronger by thinking through the why’s of the beliefs we have.

For example, I’m not Catholic, but I listen to a Catholic radio station. There is much I can learn from my Catholic brothers and sisters. The programming helps me recognize my points of view and, at times, causes me to modify my long-held perspectives.

A couple of years ago my husband read the Koran from cover to cover. He wasn’t thinking about converting to Islam, but he wanted to have a first-hand knowledge of the teachings Muslims believe and follow. His commitment to learning about others’ beliefs opens doors of conversation he hadn’t had before.

Are you stuck in a rut with your thinking? Venture out a bit! Read a book, watch a YouTube video, or follow a blog that comes from a point of view different from yours. Then talk about it with someone else to explore new ideas and see how they fit with your own. If you’re like me, these experiences will drive you to the Bible, our source of truth, and will probably foster new relationships. Our minds are gifts from our Creator are meant to be used for his purposes in this world. He made them stretchable for a reason!

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, “ – 2 Corinthians 10:5

When Discouragement Hits

“Faith sees the invisible, believes the unbelievable, and receives the impossible.” — Corrie ten Boom

I know a lot of people who are discouraged, some even depressed, stressing over financial setbacks, health issues, or relationships. Others have a more general anxiety about the world – political unrest, environmental issues, global conflicts.

Paul’s writings helped me to think more clearly about these things recently.

He begins by warning his spiritual son Timothy that things are going to get difficult, and people are going to continue to behave in sinful, ugly ways (2 Timothy 3:1-5). He then gives Timothy some instruction.

First, he says not to get caught up in the horrible condition of the world around him. Be aware, but not obsessed. Instead, he says Timothy should follow Paul’s example:  You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness . . .” (2 Timothy 3:10). Maybe we all need to look for those who are living God-centered lives in difficult times and follow their examples. They may be people we know personally or authors we read or teachers we listen to. Let’s find people with one foot planted in this world and the other in Scripture and listen to them.

Second, Paul tells Timothy to keep following what he knows to be truth: “. . . continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Essentially, Paul says, turn your eyes to good role models and your heart to God’s truth. That advice will preserve us from discouragement when times are tough. I’m working on that. You, too?

May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.” – Psalm 25:21

The Backward Look

“Remember the wondrous works that he has done.” – Psalm 105:5

Many of us try to live in the present moment. After all, the present is the only time we have, right? The only chance we have to make a difference, to experience God’s presence, to interact with those around us.

That is a good mindset, but once in awhile we are wise if we stop to realize that where and who we are in this present moment is the result of many things that have happened along the way.

As I paused today to think back on my own life, I realized how God took me into and out of situations that molded me; how he brought me spiritual friends who encouraged my faith, how he gave me ways to serve him, how he drew me closer to himself. Even in circumstances I didn’t like, he was always faithful, always loving, and always looking out for me.

What about you? Whether you’ve lived a few years or many, take some time and let God show you where he’s been involved even when you didn’t realize it. You may be surprised at what he brings to mind. You have never been alone!

Why look back? So we can thank God for his active participation in our lives. So we can share with others who may be struggling in the day-to-day that there is a long view, a plan that God is working out one day at a time. So our faith can be renewed and our hearts encouraged. It’s worth a backward look.

“If you believe in a God who controls the big things, you have to believe in a God who controls the little things. It is we, of course, to whom things look ‘little’ or ‘big’.” – Elisabeth Elliot

Truth in Context

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18

When a witness is on the stand and is told to answer only “yes” or “no,” you know you’re not getting the full story, and a yes or no answer could actually be misleading. Truth, to be understood as truth, has to have context. The witness has to be able to tell his story.

There are those who object to Jesus saying “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” But he made that claim after several years of public ministry in which he showed in other ways who he was. For Jesus the concept of “way, truth, and life” included his compassion for those in need, healing those who were lame or sick, teaching about his Father, and moving lovingly toward those who were sinful. For him, saying he was the “way, truth, and life” was a summary of what he had exampled among the people already. The statement was set in the context of his life.

There is a lot of skepticism these days about truth in just about every arena of life. If Christians want to be seen as people of truth in a world gone sideways on the subject, we need to remember Jesus’ model: live it first, then tell it. Intellectual truth is important, but it doesn’t have the impact of truth contextualized in a well-lived life. Live truth.

The people of God are not merely to mark time, waiting for God to step in and set right all that is wrong. Rather, they are to model the new heaven and new earth, and by so doing awaken longings for what God will someday bring to pass.” – Philip Yancey