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Reflections on Christian Living – Lent 2015 Thoughts on Sin, Forgiveness, Relationship, Love and Growth – Part 5

29 Mar

Reflections on Christian Living – Lent 2015 Thoughts on Sin, Forgiveness, Relationship, Love and Growth – Part 5

BibleVerse_2Timoty2_11_13

This is the last in the series of 2015 Lenten reflections.  This is where I admit that growing in holiness to become the person God wants me to be is a challenge.  Is it a full time job?  It can be, it is best when it is.  Is it hard?  Often.  Do I consistently make living my beliefs – 100% of every day?  Not at all.  Consistently, yes.  100%, no.   [To see how I deal with that, Go back to Part 1 of this series]  Is it worth it?  Totally.

I’m human, there are times I question and doubt, I fear and I fail my Lord.  I’m so glad my God is big enough to handle my questions, and so gentle and loving that he doesn’t immediately strike me dead for daring to question Him.  If He wasn’t like that, He wouldn’t be much of a God now would He?   God does not EVER turn away any sincerely seeking humble soul.   God is always faithful, He loves me no matter what.

I cannot hide from his love, it infinitely surrounds me. God promises He will never leave me nor forsake me.  He promises that if we seek Him, we will find Him.  That perfect love and true promises are what keeps me seeking God.  After all, we are in a love relationship.  I want to meet with God.  I want to obey God and follow His desires.  I want to fulfill the highest potential He has planned for my life.  And in turn, God always wants what is best for me.  He can take the bad stuff that just happens to anyone walking on this earth and He turns it around for my good. (When I let Him).

In reflection this season, I am also reminded that we are called “to live at peace with everyone – so far as it depends upon us”.  (Romans 12:18)  Here too we are challenged to draw upon our faith in God – for to live in peace often times means setting aside our personal comforts – our fears and our prejudices.  We need to go outside our comfort zones to grow, leave the past behind in order to avoid harming others – all the while standing firm in our core faith.  Not because we are faithful, but because GOD is faithful.  Not because we are better or think we are better than anyone else – for we are not.  We are simply forgiven sinners, striving to live in love.

That – the “live at peace” verse – God really means that.  It includes some extraordinarily difficult choices and actions.  Things such as: not compromising truth, not looking the other way at evil, not being silence in the presence of wickedness, and not being prejudice.  Instead, we are called to help the weakest among us, to help those who cannot help themselves, and to put into action plans that honor and glorify God.  We are called to be the very hands and feet of Christ on this earth – in the now, in the here, in our spheres of influence.  We are called to be a visible presence of God’s Kingdom on earth through our lives, our actions, our choices, and if absolutely necessary – our words.   Sometimes, I am greatly saddened when I think that Christians are more often know for what they are “against” than for whom they stand for.  Personally, I think it is a fabulous prayer to ask God to be more visible in my life actions than in my words.  Personally, I think if we can season our lives with more love and acceptance for people and share what God has done for us, we would be a much more attractive people of God, than we oft times are now.

I believe that God has the best ability to convict of sin and convince in love.  I believe that God – through the Holy Spirit – points all hearts to Christ.  Everyone on this earth will make a choice before they die.   (Rom 14:7-10)

When asked about my faith or current issues, will I speak answers, give my position and offer my reasoning.  I can share my testimony of what God means to me and what He has done in the past, and what He is doing in my life now.  But I am not called to judge your life.

For me, at least, I think the cliche to “Love the sinner, but hate the sin” is trite.  I believe it is impossible to live out without hypocrisy.  Maybe someone else could do it, but not me.  When I love someone I love them.  I accept them where they are now, just as Christ accepted me where I was then and where I am now.  God accepts me fully – just as I am.  He requests only honesty from us, from me.  It doesn’t mean God will leave me there.  For He wants to see me grow in knowledge and grace.  Over time – that growth can include: changes in lifestyle, reading and mentoring in the Bible, the very Word of God.

Here is how it works for me:  unless a person has given me permission to help you see your blind-spots, and only when I know you very well indeed  – and vice versa – I have been given you permission to point out my blind spots – only then do I think that it is helpful to share areas where another person cannot or does not have the ability to see how you (or me) can improve.  Only then, do I think it is acceptable for others to point out areas where anyone needs improvement and growth.  Mutual accountability.  Mutual accountability means mutual love, guaranteed acceptance and forgiveness. *I do have one exception*

Living out my faith, or as James (Jesus brother said) – “working out my own salvation with fear and trembling…” can mean being in accountability relationships, in love sharing our lives with others, not to put down, criticize or critique, but to share honestly our lives and “bleeding edges” in confidentiality with one another.  It can, and hopeful also does,  include corporate as well as private worship time.  It can mean meditation and study in the Bible to learn what God expects from us and of us.

God nurtures us to “ever grow”.   Kind of like an “evergreen” in nature.  Some periods have greater growth, some have lessor growth.  Unless there is a draught or uprooting, there should be growth. We, (I’m including me too) should not be the same people today that we were a year ago.  Along that time, we would be growing, budding, blooming and becoming more like Christ.

Bible-ScripturesRoses

So how are we to show one another the love of Christ?  Jesus told His disciples flat out – rule #1 – LOVE ONE ANOTHER. How can we do that?  Live in alignment with God, and fulfill His purpose for our lives?  One method I have been a part of in the past was being within a prayer community for several years that encouraged small accountability groups of 3 to 5 people to meet every week and answer the following 3 questions:

1.  What have you done to nourish your relationship with Christ this week?  (One of the reasons I included the mp3 song above is because I use music in my private worship to nourish my relationship with God – I have not tried this before, but I believe if you click on the notes, the track will play for you to enjoy.)

2.  How have you studied to improve your knowledge of God and of His creation?  (Including your fellowman)

3.  What actions have you taken to share Christ in your spheres of influence?

Let me tell you, participating in those groups (3 over the course of 20 years), was one of the best tools I have honestly ever been introduced to as a method for encouraging personal spiritual growth.  What was said in the group meeting – stayed confidential between only the participants.   This time was growing, fun, and fantastic fellowship.  It was gaining a foothold in a tough place with friends to help you along the way if you fell.  It was great.  I hope to find new prayer partners to meet with regularly very soon.  (Pray with me if you will for this to happen soon)

We are commanded to seek out and spend time with others of same faith.  The purpose is to help our spiritual growth.  God doesn’t expect us to have all the answers and be a “Lone Ranger” Christian.  Trust me, we don’t have all the answers.  Again, if we did, I would think God is too small.  I trust him and have faith – even when I don’t understand all that is happening in my life or the lives of those I love.

Instead, we are encouraged to learn from one another and to keep each other accountable to hold onto integrity, to avoid hypocrisy.  The Bible says:  “steel sharpens steel”…Reflections on this truth, also keep me seeking God as part of a local community of believers.  It is in fellowship with like minded people that we can gain wisdom to have others help us see our own blind spots and to gain strength from each other as we seek to serve the Lord together.

This is part of the beauty of Easter.  Living a resurrection life.  Jesus appeared after His resurrection to over 500 of His disciples (The book of Acts).  Why do you think He did this?  I think He did it to encourage them to stay together, to stand firm, to keep the faith, and to help them realize His resurrection was a REAL HISTORICAL EVENT.  An event that continues to this day.  Now that, my friends, THAT, is worth celebrating.

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Please leave a comment if you want more information or have questions.  Thank you for reading.

PRAYER 2

25 Mar
     Prayer is relationship driven.  If you love someone don’t you want to speak with them regularly?  You want to learn as much about them as you can do.  You want to know what gives them joy.  Do you?   I do.  Knowing God is critical to my relationship with Him.  Both in my speaking to God through prayer and in listening for His reply, (most often through reading and studying His Word, the Bible), and also through fellowship within a body of like fellow believers in Christ.
     Continuing the series on prayer, I want to share with you one of my favorite Bible prayers.  It is found in the book of Ephesians, one of my favorite books.  It is written by the apostle Paul.  To give a very brief synopsis of Ephesians, the first 3 chapters tell us who we are in Christ.  If you ever struggle with your self-image, studying this book is a great place to start to see yourself as God sees you.  The last 3 chapters tells us, now that we are in Christ, how we want to live to show off God’s glory and keep His reputation spotless.
     The prayer for today’s reflection is one of Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians.  I don’t know about you, but I think he was well practiced in prayer.  Scripture does not tell us how Paul learned to pray, but it is clear from his writings, that not only did he know how to pray, he believed in the power of prayer.
     I’m no theologian, but I dare say all of Paul’s letters contain at least one prayer.  I don’t believe he did this as a mere formality of letter writing in his day.  I believe this was done to encourage other believers –  then and now.  I believe it was his enthusiasm and love for Christ that made Paul love to pray.
     In speaking about this passage, the Asbury Commentary says: “Paul hopes that the Ephesians will know God not only as the Father who legally adopted them but also as the Father who loves them. More than legal heirs, they are also children; …. they are members of God’s household”    As such, I believe Paul hopes they will want to know God more intimately.  As such, hopefully WE also want to know God more intimately.
     One reason I love this particular prayer in Ephesians is because reminds me, not only that God cares about my personal and detailed concerns, but with this prayer it brings in an understanding that we need to take seriously the call to pray for the spiritual needs of others.
     This is a big responsibility, particularly when I often feel inadequate about living my own spiritual life with consistency.  (*Tip: Go back and read Eph. chapters 1-3)  I chose to emphasize that it is also an incredible privilege to pray for other’s growth along their spiritual journey.  There are few things more satisfying than seeing spiritual growth in a person you pray for and care about.  This is what Paul asks for the people of Ephesus:

 

*********     Ephesians 1:17-20  (NIV)     ***********

17 “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is the same as the mighty strength,20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…”

      As I look at this prayer, the first observation is Paul saying:  “I keep asking”.  He perseveres even if he does not hear an immediate answer, he continues to pray for the believers in Ephesians.  News traveled slow, but He did not stop because the need was always present.  It is still a need today.  Are we consistent in praying for the spiritual needs of others?
     Second observation is that Paul recognizes and hallows to whom he is praying.  He first asks God, (as God Almighty), then he further mentions God in Trinitarian context, as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ (a title I love), and his next mention and first request is that the Holy Spirit would take particular action to benefit the Ephesian believers.
     Third, I notice what action Paul requests.  He specifically asks the Spirit to provide wisdom and revelation to the believers.  Without the revelation of the Holy Spirit, we are unable to know God.  Without the assistance of the Holy Spirit we are unable to understand anything God wants to communicate with us.  It is only through the leading of the Holy Spirit we are even able to want to know God.
     Fourth observation – Paul includes the reasons for the requests within the prayer, “so that” and “in order to”…I love that.  Do we carefully craft our prayers to know what and why we are praying for a need?   Or do we just blurt out something without understanding the reason?  I encourage you to go deeper in prayer as Paul did, and think about the reason for your request.  Why are you asking for God’s assistance in the matter?  Be specific, what is the outcome you are hoping for?  What is the “so that” and the “in order to” for your requests?  In other words, if God grants your prayer, what result would you see?
      The first reason Paul gives is for the people to know God better.  “If Paul’s prayer is answered, God will show himself to the Gentiles in particular and give them insight to understand the divine mystery of grace.” (ibit)

     What a wonderful request each of us can make for ourselves, our families, our friends, and our communities.  If we, as believers, want to grow, we need to hunger to know God better.  We need to dive deep into God’s grace.  Go all in.  When I can’t think of any other prayer, I ask God to give me deeper understanding of His grace, and an unending hunger for His word.  What I want most is to know Him better.  I ask the same for my family, my friends, my pastors, and my community.
     Fifth,  I notice in His second sentence Paul moves straight to the heart of the matter.  “Heart” in this passages is considered the very center and core of life.  Prayer is a matter of the heart.  Loving God is a matter of the heart.  Knowing God is a matter of the heart.  Having Hope is a matter of the heart.  So, when Paul asks God to open the eyes of their hearts, that they may be enlightened, Paul is asking the best thing he can think of for his friends in Ephesus.  Again, Paul tells us why:  “in order” that you (the Ephesians) may know the hope to which God has called you (the Ephesians).
     Today, is it just as important to know the hope to which God has called us.  Knowing Whom our hope is, in Whom our hope is placed, knowing to Whom we belong, is a matter of the heart.  It is in our heart that we experience God’s light and life.  Through His Holy Spirit dwelling in us, that enlightenment comes from God.
     Sixth, Knowing hope and knowing our calling from God is absolutely essential in living a Christian life.  As I reflect upon this, I realize knowing the hope of our inheritance is part of a deepening appreciation of God’s plan for our lives as we journey with Him.  I also think of the many times in my journey past, when I did not have a clear vision of what God called me to do, nor why he called me.  Now days, I always come back to the same answer,  He called me because He loves me.
     God loves all His children.  He offers reconciliation to all His children, but not all people are willing.  We have free choice.  God is a gentleman and will never force himself upon us.  We and we alone are responsible for our choices and the consequences of those choices.  Let me say this a different way – I don’t want to offend anyone – but man are you missing out if you pass up God’s offer of reconciliation in Jesus Christ.
     Seventh observation, Here in the prayer for the Ephesians, Paul expands not only are we called of God, but Paul’s desire is that they realize the extent of the riches to be found in His glorious inheritance in His holy people.  Wow.  Can we ever wrap our head around that concept?  Can we ever exhaust God’s glorious riches?  Can we even take in that He is our inheritance and we are part of His?  Us?  Really?   Doesn’t that just blow your mind?  It does mine.  It calls me further into prayer, it calls me deeper, it calls me to ask the Spirit to again further enlighten my heart so I may know God better, and to be holy, even as God is holy.
      Eighth:  This prayer calls me to realize that I can’t be holy,  without God’s provision and power.  Paul continues with the request for the enlightened heart to understand God’s incomparably great power for the Ephesians who believe.  (Some translations say “toward us that believe”.)   Then he explains in vs 20, that the same power, is what God used when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him (Christ) at His (the Father’s) right hand in the heavenly realms.
     Now I admit, I’m not a theological scholar, but it certainly seems to me that Paul is saying we have access through prayer, to the same power of God used when Christ was raised from the dead.  That is incredible power.  Simply by praying.  Again Wow.  There is no need for us to fail when we have such power available to help us along our spiritual journey.
Think on this, reflect on exactly what Paul is asking God.  Said another way, God is for us.  The surprassing greatness of God’s power is toward us who believe.  Again, Wow.
     When I’m discouraged or wondering what to pray, I know I can count on the Holy Spirit to intercede for us because the Bible says so, (Rom 8:26-27) yet I also know that when I can’t think of how to pray or what to pray for myself or others, I often turn to a prayer such as this one which shows me a practical way to prioritize prayer needs.  It is another model prayer,  one way to pray for others on their spiritual journey.  To me, that is one of the greatest privileges of all.  To intercede on behalf of others.  To ask God to work in their life.  And it is rare that I can think of something better to pray than that the eyes of someone’s heart be opened to all that God has in store for them:  All the Good, all the richness of God, all  the power to in faith ask and believe.  Have expectant hope, the knowledge of a sure thing God has promised for us.
     So I ask you, when you can’t think how to pray, where do you start?
Please let me know your thoughts about prayer and about this prayer and this reflection in particular.
*******       For further reflection or diving deeper study try looking up these verses and
                     consider what they have to say in relation to the prayer above…..                              ***********
Surrounding context:  Start at Ephesians (Eph.) 1: 15-16
     Also see
Eph. 1:3, 1:7+8, 1:11+12, Eph. 3:14-20, Eph. 4:4+5
John 14:16+17; 23-26, John 20:17
Acts 2:24, 7:2, 9:13, 26:14-18
Rom. 1:8+9, Rom 15:6, Rom. 11:29
I Cor. 2:5-10, 14:6
2 Cor. 4:6+7
Heb. 6:4
Phil. 3:21
Col. 1:9-14, 1:29

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