A couple of weeks ago I spoke on “Praise in Prayer” at my home congregation’s Ladies’ day. The theme of the day was “On Wings of Prayer”. If you are interested in hearing my talk, as well as two other speakers, the audio can be found here. I was very nervous, because public speaking isn’t my thing, but after I got some technical issues with my Powerpoint worked out, I think it went pretty well, and I’m glad I did it.
The teacher posed a question in Bible study last night: “How close are you to God?” It’s an uncomfortable question, because one answer is always “Not close enough.”
He provided a different answer, though: “As close as I want to be”.
It was a surprising statement to me, though it made immediate sense. Sometimes I don’t feel close to God, but I have a tendency to blame God for it, like He’s playing some cosmic game of hide and seek with me.
God doesn’t play hide and seek. The sad truth is, my own flaws and sins blind me to Him. The happy truth is, He’s where He has always been, “not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:28), waiting for me to seek after Him, waiting to reciprocate any efforts I make to draw near to Him.
Psalm 63 wonderfully expresses both what it is to earnestly seek God, as well as the rewards of the search.
Verse 1 says “My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You.” Perhaps Jesus had this psalm in mind when he said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
David expresses that satisfaction in verse 5: “My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth offers praises with joyful lips“.
In verses 6, 7, and 8, he continues:
When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches,
For You have been my help,
And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to You;
Your right hand upholds me.
These three verses are the most beautiful part of the psalm, to me. Quite honestly, marrow and fat don’t sound appetizing to my modern palate, but in a world where temptations, mundane distractions, and small evils constantly pelt me like hailstones, I long to feel safe in the shadow of God’s wings. I long to have someone to cling to, to depend on. And far from shrugging me off as needy, God will hold me up and support me.
All of that, though, depends on me being willing to seek the shelter of His wings, and on me being willing to cling, to admit my need.
“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
—Ephesians 4:1-3, NASB
If I had a dollar for all the times I’ve been told some variation of “church is full of hypocrites”, I’d have a neat little stack of money. Maybe I could buy a sweet imitation leather Bible with it.
If I had a dollar for every time I didn’t feel like going to church because I didn’t want to deal with one of my sisters in Christ, or at least hoped to avoid a particular person, I’d be able to buy a really nice calfskin-bound Bible. Maybe even two.
So why do I keep trying to convince people to become Christians?
The ultimate reason is God, His righteousness and perfection. He deserves our worship and our obedience, in a way no human ever can.
It certainly isn’t because the people who make up the church are perfect. Although, if I had a dollar for every time a member of the church has said the “just right” encouraging word, offered support in a time of trial, gone out of their way to make my life easier, or just laughed with me, I’d have a stack of bills big enough to buy…I don’t know what. A Camaro, probably.
Those who follow God are always going to struggle with sin from time to time. Wait, except me. I have that problem licked, right?
Oh, how I wish I could tell myself that. Life is so much easier when all of my problems are someone else’s fault. It makes listening to the sermon a lot less uncomfortable, too, when I can think of all the ways that Sister So-and-so needs to take it to heart, instead of examining my own life.
I’m not denying that some of my Christian sisters have attitude problems. But as a follower of Jesus, my first duty is to look to myself. “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3, NASB)
It’s so easy to perceive that a log is in someone else’s eye, and so hard to believe that I have even a speck in my own eye.
We live in a world tainted by sin. How many times have you cried out to God, wishing for the rest that will be ours in heaven?
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3,4 NASB)
When I think of heaven and the new body I’ll be given (Phil. 3:21), unmarred by the effects of sin, I don’t imagine that I’ll be using my tongue to talk down to the sisters I spend eternity with.
I don’t imagine that I’ll see them coming toward me down the street of gold and quickly find an excuse to go in another direction so I won’t have to greet them.
It isn’t a new thing that women have trouble getting along sometimes. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:2, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.” (NASB)
Even women who had “shared [Paul’s] struggle in the cause of the gospel” were struggling to tolerate each other. It’s easy to imagine that their discord was a hindrance to the cause of the gospel.
As an ambassador for Christ (II Cor. 5:20) my behavior reflects on the church, and affects how other people feel about Christ. It influences them, positively or negatively. I truly pray it will not be negatively.
To that end, I need to live my life with a vision of heaven, my eternal destination, firmly in mind. Am I, now, the sort of person that God or anyone else would want to spend eternity with? If not, what do I need to change?
If my attitude towards my fellow Christians is wrong, how can I change it? If I reach out in friendship to a sister I feel has wronged me and I forgive her, is it possible that her attitude towards me will change as well?
It may be true that a sister needs to hear the truth spoken in love to help her correct her behavior, but first I need to remove the log from my eye to see her clearly and with love.
Some people are unwilling to change. I can only change myself, and only to the extent and in the ways God demands. But I can always look on others in the church and remember that they are fellow saints as well as fellow sinners, because we do all still sin, and have compassion in my dealings with them.
“What have you to offer?”
“Nothing. I thought I had part of the Book of Ecclesiastes and maybe a little of Revelation, but I haven’t even that now.”
“The Book of Ecclesiastes would be fine. Where was it?”
“Here,” Montag touched his head.
“Ah,” Granger smiled and nodded.
“What’s wrong? Isn’t that all right?” said Montag.
“Better than all right; perfect!” Granger turned to the Reverend. “Do we have a Book of Ecclesiastes?”
“One. A man named Harris in Youngtown.”
—–from Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian science fiction classic. This is from the scene in which Montag, a man on the run for the possession of banned books (that is any book; they are all banned), finds and joins a loose organization of book people, who live on the fringes of society and keep the flame of literature alive in their minds, waiting for the political climate to change so that they can print the books they have memorized (which include Gulliver’s Travels, Plato’s Republic, Darwin, and many more).
This particular scene came to my mind Saturday during the second half of our ladies day at church. The speaker, Monalea Micham, was talking about the importance of Bible study and Bible memorization.
Farenheit 451 is science fiction, but there are plenty of real-life examples of times and places where the Bible was illegal, and difficult or impossible to obtain acess to. The example Monalee brought up was the Nazi concentration camps, but there are countries today where the Bible is still illegal.
It’s easy for me to be physically well-fed. I hardly ever skip a meal, much less a whole day of meals.
It should be equally easy to be spiritually well-fed and yet how many times has the whole week slipped by without me picking up a Bible?. Bibles abound around me, in print and online, as well as sermon podcasts and Christian blogs and websites.
Establishing a daily study routine has been a challenge, though I’ve done well lately. Yet there is a clear hierarchy in the Bible of the spiritual versus the physical, and it isn’t the physical that gets top billing.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work”
If all my Bibles were gone, tomorrow, and I couldn’t get another one, would I have enough Scripture available in my memory to keep me from starving? It’s an interesting question, but I think there are less-theoretical reasons to study and internalize a knowledge of the Bible.
There usually isn’t time to whip out a pocket Bible and start flipping pages in moments of crisis and decision. The more Scripture you have committed to memory, the more it will be available in times of temptation and trouble, so that the Holy Spirit can bring it to mind and use it to help strengthen you from within
The more you have read and studied your Bible, the more you see the connections between the Old Testament and the New, and the different books within each, and the more sense the whole makes. I think there’s value in having your own personal cross-references to connect the dots. I try to note such cross-references in my Bible when I can.
Most simply and importantly, the more time you spend reading your Bible, the better you will come to know God and His will, to really know what it says, and not just what someone has told you it says. Nearly every time I read the Bible I come across things I didn’t remember, or hadn’t thought about a certain way before.
Shared at: R16:16 Blog Hop
Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
–Proverbs 9:9-10 (NASB)
Using a sourdough starter in a dough often imparts a certain distinctive flavor to the finished bread. Often, but not always. Starter that is not used in sufficient quantities, or given sufficient time to ferment will not impart much flavor. The composition of the dough matters, too.
In my experience, adding a lot of sugar, butter, milk or eggs may cover the flavor of the starter. Adding a pinch of baking soda to a dough is supposed to neutralize some of the acids in the starter and thus decrease the “sour” flavor of the bread.
In the same way, simply reading the Bible, or having it present in your home, isn’t going to impart the distinctive qualities of Christ to your life.
In the Peace Corps we had a lot of time on our hands sometimes. Reading was a good way to fill that time, and many of us used it as a chance to read some of the classics we’d never gotten around to.
Many volunteers, Christian and otherwise, including me, were reading through the Bible, which led to the following sorts of conversations:
“Dude, did you get to Samson yet?”
“Yeah, that guy was crazy!”
But all of that reading didn’t do most of us any good. We didn’t live lives that reflected knowledge of God.
Our reading wasn’t about searching out the will of God but checking things off a list of “Classic Literary Works” or “Important Cultural Influences”.
Some of the seeds that were planted may have born fruit later, and in my case I know that was true, but by and large we didn’t allow the words that passed through our minds to penetrate our hearts.
I think this can happen even with sincere believers. If we read our Bible every day but don’t let our preconceptions of who Yahweh is and what He wants from us be challenged, we won’t benefit from it as much as we will if we approach study prayerfully and with an attitude of humility and willingness to be taught.
We need to take the time it may require to properly address questions the text raises, and put them into the context of what God’s word says as a whole. We need to look at our lives with honesty to see where we can apply God’s word and make changes.
The fear of the Lord is the instruction for Wisdom, and before honor comes humility.
–Proverbs 15:33 (NASB)
I remember more about the circumstances under which I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig than I do about the book itself. It was during Peace Corps training in coastal Ecuador, under a tin roof and mosquito net.
I think about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and I see that tin roof.
I wrote down a quote that stuck with me, though. “But if you’re a sloppy thinker six days a week and you really try to be sharp on the seventh, then maybe the next six days aren’t going to be so sloppy as the preceding six.”
He wasn’t talking about church. He was talking about motorcycle maintenance, breaking his bike down and cleaning it once a week (if my fuzzy memory is right). But I applied it to going to church.
I wasn’t going to church at the time. The reasons aren’t important now,. But I knew God expected more of me than I was offering Him in my life. So the quote stuck with me.
We don’t go to church because we are perfect. We go to church because we aren’t. We go to church to get encouragement to go out into a corrupted world and live lives that glorify God. We go to church to praise God and worship Him and remind ourselves why we are called to be different. We go to church to remind ourselves of Jesus’ sacrifice, to remember it “until He comes”.
We go to church because it is hard, even impossible, to be the church alone.
If we are tempted to skip church services because of sin in our lives, it isn’t because God doesn’t want to see us there. It’s because we don’t want to face our need for change.
Ironically, it is when we most need God that we are most inclined to avoid Him.
But we must let the teaching and the worship we encounter there touch our minds and hearts. Sitting in a pew isn’t worship. We worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). If we aren’t worshipping in spirit, and taking God’s will and word to heart, we might as well be sitting in front of the TV.
I encourage you to really try to “be a sharp thinker” when you attend worship services this week. Try to make it the day that will positively affect the rest of your week.
We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (NASB)
But with very few exceptions, these ugly loaves of bread have been edible and even delicious. They’ve done a good bread’s job of both pleasing the palate and nourishing the body.
Sometimes I can get over-focused on how “pretty” my bread looks, whether it meets some arbitrary criteria of visual perfection, instead of being appreciative of the taste and nutrition it delivers.
We live in a looks-obsessed culture. We have more opportunities than ever to see what the media, and thus our society at large, views as desirable. Especially as a woman, it can be hard to put aside these arbitrary and unrealistic views of what I should look like.
I can start to judge myself by what someone else, not one someone or someone I know, but a sort of cultural hive-mind, has decided I “should” look like and be like, or how much money I should have. Worse, I begin to judge others by the same standards.
I can begin to think that if someone looks good or is financially successful, they are good, and more desirable to God.
But God sees not as man sees. (I Samuel 16:7) God looks at the heart. He sees not only the hidden virtues that lie beneath our external facades, but also the hidden sins and ugliness.
The truth is, we are all valuable and beautiful to God, because we were created in His image (Genesis 1:27). The truth is, we are also all poor, crippled, blind, and lame – disfigured by the sins we’ve committed. (Luke 14:15-23)
Jesus, though the sacrifice of His blood on the cross, makes us whole again, spiritually. No matter what physical defects we possess, or how we compare with the world’s standard of beauty, when we accept the offer of grace through baptism, His beauty becomes our own in the eyes of God.
As I deal with others, of varying ages, stations in life, and levels of physical attractiveness and ability, I need to look at both them and myself with the eyes of God. They are as valuable to Him as I am, and possibly more useful in His kingdom.
Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
Colossians 4:6 (NASB)
One of the great blessings of being a Christian is the community of fellow believers. We support each other in times of trial and offer friendship and someone to rejoice with in happy times. But one of the greatest challenges can be maintaining that community despite all of our flaws and selfishness.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sisterhood and what it really means. God didn’t use the metaphor of family randomly. He chose it as something we can all relate to, that expresses the deep nature of the connections forged by a shared faith.
My earthly sister is the person I trust to honestly answer the questions “Are these jeans too tight?” My dear husband has declared all clothing fit topics off-limits, but my sister will give me an honest opinion when asked, and sometimes an honest opinion when she hasn’t been asked, but can see I need it.
I won’t lie, sometimes those opinions smart. We all know that some things are easier to hear than others, and unasked for opinions sting the worst. But whatever I feel in the moment, I love my sister and I know she loves me and has my best interest at heart. I may come to agree with her, or I may continue to disagree, but I won’t stop showing up at family get-togethers because of it. I’ll get over whatever anger or hurt it causes, because the bond of family is deeper than my momentary upset.
But too often I think we go to church and we focus on superficial interactions and “being nice” to our sisters in Christ instead of being honest and offering them true sisterhood. We nod and smile when we should ask a well-thought out question to make our sister reconsider her choices (and if they were just fashion choices, life would be so much easier) instead. We shy away from the kind of closeness that requires that uncomfortable truths sometimes be spoken.
There is good reason for this; the chances are, our family bonds with our Christian sisters aren’t strong enough to withstand many uncomfortable truths. I would like to encourage all of us to consider how to build up our relationships within the church.
Community and a feeling of family isn’t built in a few minutes after the sermon each week. The early church offers us an example: “…breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.” (Acts 4:46b, NASB)
Look for ways to work together, play together, and eat together. Offer your hospitality instead of waiting for invitations from others.
What are your suggestions for building sisterhood?
Cinnamon rolls are a special treat at my house, something that only happens a few times a year. This is not only because they’re a little labor intensive, but also because they aren’t very good for you, even if made with whole wheat, which I often do.
The bread part is as nutritious as any other bread, but the extra sugar in the filling and glaze only adds empty calories, and even the cinnamon, though flavorful, doesn’t add to the nutritional value of the rolls.
Cinnamon and sugar taste good, they’re fun to eat, but put them on a plate by themselves and they don’t make much of a breakfast. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus reminds us that most of the things we get caught up in chasing in our lives are basically cinnamon and sugar.
“For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:32-33, NASB)
God is the bread in our lives that will sustain us. Everything else, even food and clothing, the “things” Jesus spoke about, is just topping.
I’m a grownup now. I could buy a whole tub of frosting and eat it for breakfast if I wanted to. When I was a kid, that’s exactly what I dreamed of doing. But I never do it, because I know it would lead to a huge sugar crash and a day of feeling rotten.
Sometimes I forget that about other things, though. It’s easy to get caught up in being busy with the things of the world and forget to seek God. In the New Year, I need to remember that God, His righteousness, and His kingdom are my top priorities, not frosting.
There is also a promise here: “and all these things will be added to you”. Not all of the sugar-coated candy shop dreams we could desire, but all that we need will be provided if we seek the Bread first.
“For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.”
Bread can be a thing of beauty. But no matter how nice it is to look at a loaf of bread, I never put a fresh loaf of bread into a bag and set it on the counter just to admire. The purpose of bread is not to look pretty. Bread fulfills its purpose when I take it out of the bag, cut it up, and use it to feed myself and my family.
All of that cutting and consuming doesn’t do much for the bread’s looks, of course. Pretty soon all that is left is a dry heel. But in the end, staying in the bag won’t do anything for the bread’s looks. Over a period of days, it will change and decay. Mold will cover it, and it will have to be thrown out, having nourished no one. What a waste.
God didn’t call me to sit in church looking pretty, either. I’ve got to get out of the bag and exercise my spiritual muscles, or I’m not fulfilling my purpose as a Chrisitian. This means self-sacrifice. This means being consumed. But I can be consumed in the process of serving and nurturing others, or I can be consumed by the mold of spiritual decay.
Jesus, the Bread of Life, did not shrink from giving of Himself. He went without eating to spend time teaching the crowds that flocked to him. (Mark 3:20) He paid the ultimate price, His life, to forgive our sins.
Giving ourselves will probably not take the form of physical martyrdom. More likely, it will consist of the accumulation of daily choices to seek God first and put others before ourselves. There’s no glory, and little appreciation at times. In the end, the reward will be to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23), and know that we have accomplished our purpose.
Scriptures quoted from Matthew 25 are part of the Parable of the Talents, found in verses 14-30.