Monday, June 30, 2014

Seeking Him at the Crossroads


This past weekend, a verse was pointed out to me during church that I feel like I've never truly seen before. It literally JUMPED out at me and I haven't been able to get it out of my mind; I just keep mulling it over and over in my head....

Ezra 8:21 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict  (humble) ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. 22 For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him. 23 So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of (listened to) us.

When big decisions arise in our life, where do we turn? Do we google? Ask our friends? Panic alone? Pray and seek God? I'm guilty of often trying to reason my way through a situation, making the best decisions I possibly can. I pray some, I seek good counsel, and then I think....and think....and think some more. :) Add that to my natural lack of patience, and you have a very intense week or so of thinking, hard. lol Ezra 8 really caused me to stop and listen to what God was trying to teach me through this verse: when the Israelites hit a tough decision they 1. stopped and 2. sought God. 

A second thing that I found extremely important in this verse was the phrase, "and for our little ones." Though Tim and I do not have children yet, it is so important that we make good (God-directed) decisions now, because it will affect our future little ones. It's easy as a couple with no children to make decisions that seem to just affect us, but I think the Holy Spirit included this phrase in this chapter to remind us that our decisions and choices affect all areas of our lives. Our decisions matter!

This study led me to Jeremiah 6:16, which says, "Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein."

Like Ezra 8:21-23, this verse reminds us to stop and ask God what path He would have for us, and stop rushing into what we think is best. "Ask for the old paths" to me seems to suggest "seek Godly counsel." Another important step in the decision making process that we often overlook. 

My online study continued on to Acts 13 where we see the early church leaders seeking Christ's leading through fasting and prayer:

Acts 13:1 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called themAnd when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.

The leaders gathered together as fellow believers. They sought God together. They came to a decision together. If you and your spouse or you and a group are seeking a "crossroads" decision, I think the Bible is pretty clear that it should be a group decision and that means everyone is involved in the prayer, fasting, and resolution/decision. Until there is peace throughout the group about the decision, I think the Biblical examples are to just wait (as hard as that can be!) and continue seeking God.

Nothing overly profound in any of these verses, but I wish I could explain to you how they jumped out at me! :) As Tim and I encounter big decisions in our life, it is so important that we remember that first and foremost, we HAVE to seek Christ, and like the Israelites and early church leaders, we must stay put until we have clear direction from God. 

The other thing that I love about each of these passages is the resolution. In each example, we see how the groups were directed by God through their fasting and prayer to choice the "correct path." If their lives were anything like ours, it probably wasn't as quickly as they wanted, but the point is, God "came through" when the diligently sought Him. Prayer can be difficult, and fasting can be physically unpleasant, but the end result of God's clear direction on what path to take, is more than worth it!

What decision are you  facing right now? Are you tempted to just make your best choice, or are you sensing God's instruction to "Be still (cease striving) and know that He is God" and He has everything in control. Seek Christ and then....wait. He won't fail you.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Getting Serious

Getting Serious
Serious. Solemn. Somber. Not my typical countenance if you know me at all. :) My first thought when I saw this picture was, "That's not us! We are rarely serious like that." But I've realized that over the last two weeks or so I'm been contemplating something very somber...and maybe I need to stop trying to make everything happy and focus on this very serious subject: HOLINESS. 

2 Corinthians 7:1 - Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

1 Thessalonians 4:7 - For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.

2 Timothy 2:21 - If a man therefore purge himself from these (shun profane and vain babblings: worldly and empty chatter v. 16), he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, [and] prepared unto every good work.

Leviticus 19:2 - Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God [am] holy.

1 Thessalonians 4:4 - That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;

1 Thessalonians 3:13 - To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.

1 Corinthians 3:17 - If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which [temple] ye are.

1 Thessalonians 2:12 - That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.

Think the Bible might have a few things to say about the desire we should have to be holy?! I've always focused on the fact that God is holy, and I really haven't thought much about how that applies to my life. So, what is holiness?


ho·ly

  [hoh-lee]
adjective, ho·li·er, ho·li·est.
1.
specially recognized as or declared sacred by religious use or authority; consecrated: holy ground.
2.
dedicated or devoted to the service of God, the church, or religiona holy man.
3.
saintly; godly; pious; devout: a holy life.
4.
having a spiritually pure quality: a holy love.
5.
entitled to worship or veneration as or as if sacred: a holy relic.

I would like to focus on definitions 2 and 3. I love definition 2: dedicated or devoted to the service of God. Wow! Does the thought of that being said about you give you chills? It does me!

We all know people dedicated or devoted to many different things: sports, a relationship, a career, a cause; and it feels good to know that you are dedicated and diligent about following your dream to do this or be that, but do you and I have a desire to be known for a dedication to our Savior?

How can I develop this dedication to Jesus in my life?

1. Stop Comparing. We can appear awfully holy when we start looking around. For me, it's not the "I'm better than that person" but more of looking around thinking, "I must be doing pretty well, maybe I can take a breather." Rather than being haughty, I'd say my problem is more being lazy.  But that's not what the Bible teaches, at all. The Christian life is a constant journey, if we are taking a break, we aren't doing something right. I feel lately like every verse I study, every devotional I read, every message I hear is convicting ME. Am I seeking God and a life devoted to Him? The second problem with comparing is that it's discouraging. There are so many "christians" around us who are content to just "be." I'm tired of being content where I am. I'm tired of just being "ok." I'm tired of being mediocre. Mediocre may seem "great" when we look around, but when we look at Christ, we are disgusting and filthy. This song has been playing in my mind, over and over again....

The Motions

This might hurt, it's not safe

But I know that I've gotta make a change
I don't care if I break
At least I'll be feeling something

‘Cause just okay is not enough
Help me fight through the nothingness of life

I don't wanna go through the motions
I don't wanna go one more day
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me

I don't wanna spend my whole life asking
What if I had given everything 
Instead of going through the motions?

No regrets, not this time
I'm gonna let my heart defeat my mind 
Let Your love make me whole
I think I'm finally feeling something

Take me all the way
I don't wanna go through the motions

2. Seek Christ. Seek Him in every aspect of every moment of the day. Why should we do this? Well, first of all, it's our responsibility and calling from God. (1Thes 4:7; Lev 19:2; 1 Thes 4:3-4; 1 Cor 3:17) So often we say that we don't know what to do, but God has given us some pretty clear directions in His word that we just don't obey. If we would start with the absolutes that we know, like seek holiness, I think we would be amazed at what else would become clear in our lives. Secondly, Paul writes that we should be seeking holiness in the fear of God. (2 Cor 7:1) God our Father deserves the respect and obedience of His children. He expects us to seek holiness, and we should be in reverential fear of doing anything but that.

So maybe you are like me, and you're just kinda stumped on the how of seeking holiness. Here are a few things that have spoken to my heart. There are a ton more, but these are a few that I'd like to share. (I would love to have you share some of your ideas at the end of this post! :)) For starters, we need to fill our minds with things that are pure, honest, just, true, lovely, etc. (Phil 4:8; 2 Tim 2:21) Squashing out the evil with good thoughts! 

Next, discard the garbage. There's absolutely no way that we can live a holy life when we are embracing sin or compromising our convictions. Notice I added to "just" sin. There are clear rights and wrongs in the Bible, and following those rules should be a no-brainer in our desire for holiness, but I think it's much deeper than that. James 4:17 says, "Therefore to him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin." As we seek Christ, and ignore the desire to compare ourselves with those around us, there are going to be issues in our life that "just don't feel right." Is it a spelled out as a sin in the Bible? Perhaps not, but you aren't quite easy inside with doing the action. These are what we call convictions, they are derived from Biblical principles and convictions will vary from believer to believer. Now, if someone says, "Well I don't have a conviction about this or that..." and that action is a sin....then that's not an "optional conviction." Does that make sense? When it comes to convictions, what is right for you, may not be right for me, based on where each of us is at in our walk with God, our past, our marriage partner, our family, etc. Doesn't matter what convictions others around us have, what convictions and standards has God given you? Maybe God has called you to be radically different than the person sitting in the next pew over. Maybe God has a calling for you that you can't begin to fathom, one that he hasn't given to anyone else.

Seek God through prayer and reading His Word. If I want to get to know someone, I mean really know them, what do I do? I spend time with them. I talk with them. I try to please them. I ask them questions and eagerly await their response because that response will help me know them better. That's what happened when Tim and I were dating. We literally spent hours and hours at Subway, King's, or one of our homes, just talking for hours at a time about anything and everything. We wanted to get to know each other, so we did! Same thing in our relationship with Christ: spending time by reading the Bible and talking with God through prayer; making choices that please Him to show our love, interest, and devotion to Him; asking Him to guide us and then searching for His answers of direction in His Word.

Finally, fellowship with believers who are on the same path (seeking holiness). If you've been in church any length of time, you are aware that many people say they are a believer, but their actions speak otherwise. "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:20) This passage is specifically advising against false, anti-Biblical teachings, but the opposite principle of knowing true faith by seeing Godly fruit is an easy application for all of our lives. Our journey of holiness will be enhanced by surrounding ourselves with others who are striving for the same goal. We can come alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ and encourage and uplift each other as we daily fight the enemy~the world around us, our sinful, selfish flesh, and the devil. It is important to realize that fellowship with a "believer" who does not have a life that produces Godly fruit, is not sufficient. A journey to holiness requires fellowship with others who are serious about the things of God, not those who are on the fence. Should we love, be friendly to, and encourage those who aren't exemplifying a life that follows Christ? ABSOLUTELY! But, they should probably not be our closest friends in this endeavor. For example, if I am trying to condition myself to be a long distance swimmer, I'm probably not going to practice with someone who can barely dog-paddle (that's me! haha). Same idea here; as we seek to go out into the deeper waters of our relationship with Christ, we need training and companionship from others who are seeking a similar goal.

A desire for holiness isn't popular in today's world; sometimes, it's not even popular in our churches, but God has clearly spoken through His Word, and He demands we strive to "be holy as I am holy." I don't know where you're at today....are you unconcerned about your need to be holy? Are you striving and failing as you look around and get discouraged? Are you desiring to be holy, but like myself, feeling pretty "okay" as you look around and realize that there's not a huge desire for holiness around you, so what you're doing is pretty awesome? Are you on the journey and just need the encouragement that you're not alone? I pray that God would help us to 1. see our need for holiness, 2. honestly evaluate where we are at (which is far from holiness I'm pretty sure! :)), 3. increase our desire to be holy, and 4. persevere on our journey by providing us with His matchless grace, patience, and guidance.

I don't wanna spend my whole life asking what if I had given everything instead of going through the motions?

Do you?