On Focus, and Ignorance, During Hard Times

I decided to take a break from the Traits of a Godly Person series for this week. There are so many things going on in our world, and I often wonder should I talk about some of the more difficult issues. I like my blog to be a place of encouragement, whether it is to dress better or to grow in your walk with Christ. However, there are people out there, some of whom might be following my blog, that need a different kind of encouragement.

Life really can be stinking hard! Relationships are complex and often the source of our deepest and darkest pain. More often than not, people who are going through great difficulty do not feel at liberty to talk about the situations they are facing, which means, they are not getting any support or encouragement. People who are going through great loss, also, don’t always feel free to talk about their grief and pain. I’m not really sure, how we got to this point. Why is it that we are afraid to let people know that we are not okay? Why do we hide our pain behind a smile and tell everyone who asks that we are doing fine? Maybe it has to do with not being able to express the deep pain and sadness we feel. Perhaps we are afraid that others will think less of us, if we show them our reality. Maybe we are just too dang tired from trying to cope, that we’d rather not put in the effort to explain all that is going on.

Image by  lisa runnels  from  Pixabay

Image by lisa runnels from Pixabay

I think there is something much deeper and darker going on when we are struggling. Obviously, I believe in a real God and a real devil. I believe that Satan is our enemy and he is out to kill and destroy.

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
— 1 Peter 5:8 (NASB)
Image by  steffenwienberg  from  Pixabay

Image by steffenwienberg from Pixabay

Our enemy is compared to a roaring lion. Why do you suppose Peter used the idea of a roaring lion, rather than that of a snake or some other creature? Obviously, lions are creatures to be respected. A lion can easily kill a man along with a host of wild creatures. Peter didn’t just make the comparison of the devil to a lion, but to a roaring lion. There is significance in the roar. Roaring commonly means, “This is my territory. Don’t get anywhere near.” Isn’t that interesting? Our enemy isn’t just trying to trip us up, he is trying to make us his own. He wants to claim us as his territory.

There are two problems that come up when we are going through difficulty that really affect our next step and our way of thinking. The first is our own focus. It is incredibly easy to focus on our pain. It is, our pain. The struggle is our struggle. Why wouldn’t we focus on it? This is made even harder when there is pain, illness, anxiety and broken relationships. Job loss is hard, but add to that a divorce and a persistent gall bladder problem and you are probably going to be feeling pretty overwhelmed.

Let your eyes look directly ahead
And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.
— Proverbs 4:25 (NASB)

Why is our focus so important? When you are walking you need to watch where you are going. This is especially important if you are walking on a narrow road, a path along a steep gorge or across a Lego filled living room. in those situations, it might be important to not be looking at your cell phone, reading a book or closing your eyes. This is also true when we are driving. The need for this straight forward, pay attention routine is even more important when things are getting chaotic, such as heavy traffic or passing pedestrians or bikers.

Image by  Free-Photos  from  Pixabay

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

When we are going through the hard bits of life, or even through the longer pits of life, we need to keep our eyes on our Savior. In fact it is even more important to focus on Him when we are faced with difficulty. I have been reading, Abide in Christ, by Andrew Murray. I started this book a while back, got about half way through and got busy, so put it aside. When I picked it up a week ago, I decided to start again at the beginning. There is so much good stuff in this book. Read these two quotes:

It is not the yoke, but the resistance to the yoke, that makes the difficulty; the whole hearted surrender to Jesus, as at once our Master and Keeper, finds and secures the rest.
— Abide in Christ - Andrew Murray - Chapter 2

Remember how Christ tells us if we are weary and heavy laden we should come to Him.

28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
— Matthew 11:28-29 (NASB)

Murray was referring to these verses when he was talking about the rest that is secured in Christ. Now look at this next piece from the same chapter in Murray’s book.

With this grace secured, we have strength for every duty, courage for every struggle, a blessing in every cross and the joy of life eternal in death itself.
— Abide in Christ - Andrew Murray - Chapter 2

Christ is to be our focus. Come hell or high water, this Warrior Prince named Jesus, has our back for every duty, every struggle and every cross we have to bear in this life. All you have to do is come to Him and believe He will do it.

The other problem that arises when people are going through hard times is the ignorance of those around them. How many of you have been struggling with a situation, only to have a friend give you advice on how to solve your problem? How did that make you feel? If you are like me, when I was going through a very difficult time in my life, the last thing I wanted was advice. What I really wanted was an arm around my shoulders, a friend who would pray with me, not tell me they would pray for me, a sincere hug and two listening ears.

Image by  Anemone123  from  Pixabay

Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

My dear friends, I can not emphasize enough how important it is to keep your mouth shut and refrain from giving advice when someone close to you is going through a hard time. Give hugs, give time, bring food, pray with them, listen to them. If they ask you for advice, then and only then, open your mouth and be sure you are speaking from the Lord, not from your own large vat of worldly knowledge. In addition to that, sincerely, truly and intensely pray for that person. You will not know all the details and that is okay. God’s bigger than you and will work it out. Just pray.

He who despises his neighbor lacks sense, But a man of understanding keeps silent.
— Proverbs 11:12 (NASB)
Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.
— Proverbs 17:28 (NASB)
Pixabay - hope

Life is difficult. Some of you are going through things that you never thought you would have to go through. Don’t give up. Keep you eyes fixed on the author and perfecter or our faith. And for those of you who are watching a friend or loved one suffer, don’t give up on them either. Pray, for and with. Love, help and even just sit in silence with them. For all of us, let’s remember this:

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence.
— Psalm 42:5 (NASB)



Traits of A Godly Person: The Choice to Abide

Before I actually get into the various Godly traits we are going to look at, I felt I needed to spend one more post leading up to the characteristics. What I have noticed, in my years of living a Christian life, is a definite disconnect between the flesh and the spirit. Obviously, this is expected. When we read, again, the passage from Galatians 5, we know that the flesh and the spirit are at odds with each other. We are commanded to walk in the spirit, not in the flesh. Yet, it is our flesh that must do the actual action of walking. How, then, do we get our flesh and our spirit to come into line with the Spirit of God?

Image by  Iván Tamás  from  Pixabay

Image by Iván Tamás from Pixabay

As I explained last week, once you accept the person and work of Jesus Christ as your Savior, His spirit comes to dwell in you. Let’s take a look at a few scriptures.

but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.
— Acts 1:8 (NASB)
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
— Acts 2:4 (NASB)
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
— Acts 2:38 (NASB)
All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.
— Acts 10:45 (NASB)

I am not going to get into a lengthy discourse on baptism in the Spirit versus filling of the Spirit and other such conundrums. My personal opinion is, we receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion. Whether we can access more of Him versus less of Him, or whether you believe in angelic tongues versus foreign tongues is not the point of this series. The point I want to make is simple, we who have been washed in the blood of Jesus have access to His authority, power and understanding, by the Holy Spirit.

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.
— John 16:13 (NASB)
The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,
— Romans 8:16 (NASB)
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;
— Romans 8:26 (NASB)

The difficulty I feel we have is maintaining a dynamic, open and moment by moment awareness of that fact. The Holy Spirt isn’t going anywhere, meaning once you have accepted Jesus, the Spirit is with you all the time, but I do think we move. We wander away from that closeness we are able to have with Jesus because we allow other things to become static in our open line to Him.

Image by  Annalise Batista  from  Pixabay

Andrew Murray was a minister in South Africa. Being of Dutch and German descent his parents send he and his brother to school in Scotland and the Netherlands, where they studied theology. Murray was a prolific writer and is best know as as a significant forerunner to the Pentecostal movement. He was a believer in healing and the continuation of the apostolic gifts. (Information taken from Wikipedia).

I am not a Pentecostal. I do however, believe that we can have a deeper, fuller, richer relationship with our God, not merely through intellect and rote memorization, but with the inclusion of our emotions and intuition. Do I believe I can hear God speak to me in His spirit? Yes. Do I think he cares what color skirt I put on today? No. I bring this up because, I have heard well intended Christians say, “God told me to do this or that….God told me to tell you….God wants you to go here, or marry that person…” I believe we can be lead by God to make choices regarding who we marry, whether we should buy a house, praying over a person who is ill and so on, but I also believe God gave us a free will. We can decide what to eat for breakfast, what movie to go see (even if it is a bad one) and who we are going to hang out with on Friday night. However, the right to choose, does not mean we will always choose right, and it is in this area of faulty decision making that we can sharpen or dull our ability to walk in the Spirit and hear God’s voice.

Image by  Jason Gillman  from  Pixabay

Image by Jason Gillman from Pixabay

One of the books that Murray wrote is called Abide in Christ. This book is an amazing progression into the deeper layers of God. I do not believe reading this is for everyone, but it is for everyone who really wants to grow, not only wide in their walk with Christ, but deep. Let me share a few quotes.

And observe especially, it was not that He said, “Come to me and abide with me,” but, “Abide in me.” The intercourse was not only to be unbroken, but most intimate and complete. He opened his arms, to press you to His bosom; He opened His heart, to welcome you there; He opened up all His Divine fulness of life and love, and offered to take you up into its fellowship, to make you wholly one with Himself. There was a depth of meaning you cannot yet realize in His words : “Abide In Me.”
— Abide in Christ - Andrew Murray

With versus in. The word with gives you the idea of coming along side or being next to. The word in is simply that inside or within. We can describe the idea of being with someone else by discussing a person’s proximity, but it is harder to explain the word in without using the word itself. In has a sense of being contained, surrounded, and protected. In also gives us the idea of a continuous connection that never goes away. Water that is in a glass, always has a connection with the glass. As long as that water remains in that glass it will be connected to it.

Image by  rawpixel  from  Pixabay

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

When we abide in Christ, we are in HIm. We are contained, surrounded and protected. We are always connected to Him as long as we abide. It is in this ability to abide in Christ that we will be able to begin to grow in our walk as Christians. As we abide, we will come to display the traits of a Godly person.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.
5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing
— John 15:4-5 (NASB)
Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
— John 14:23 (NASB)

I especially love that last verse, because of Jesus’ absolute familiarity with us. He’s willing to make His dwelling with us and that is exactly what He does. He is with us and we are in Him. With this in mind, we will begin looking at the traits of a Godly person next week.

Have a great week everyone!



Words from the Past

Every now and then, I like to share something I have learned from someone who is no longer with us. Men such as A.W. Tozer, Andrew Murray, D.L. Moody and others, left behind a treasure chest filled with nuggets of wisdom that God gave to them. Whether it be through their preaching, writing or through others who watched them walk with God, we have access to these nuggets. 

I became a Christian at the age of twelve. Within a few years of that I began writing. I dabbled with stories and poems, but what I wrote most consistently were journals. I have been keeping my thoughts and my prayers in those little lined books for many years. Every now and then, I look back through the pages and it surprises me, how much God has used my writing to teach me about Him and about my place in His world. 

I came across this piece I wrote on September 21, 2012. Since it references fall, I thought it appropriate to publish here for you to read. I was going through a very difficult time in my life at that point and was getting counsel from a godly counselor. We talked about my vision of what I thought life would look like at this point and how in reality things didn't line up. He gently told me that in order to move on, I needed to put that vision to death. 

Pixabay

Pixabay

At the same time, I was also reading Ann VosKamp's work, One Thousand Gifts, in which she refers to those situations in life that we never wanted or expected as ugly-beautiful. It is amazing how God can bring all these scattered pieces together and give us an acutely clear perspective.

*     *     *     *     *

fall leaves

At times loss can be beautiful - ugly-beautiful.

This season, fall, trees begin a transformation of loss. Their leaves, once green and supple, change in color and become dry, even crispy. 

Gradually, they let go, both the tree and the leaf.

The tree, in its God given wisdom knows that it will bloom again; its stark branches will feel the excitement of new growth.

Does the leaf know its life is over?

Does it accept the loss of the tree and the giddiness of the wind to send it wherever it desires?

Does it breath a sigh of relief when its final resting place slowly swallows it down and it is remembered no more?

There are aspects of my life, I need to let go of. I need to quit clinging and let those leaves fall silently to the ground. 

That is the only way for new life to begin.

(Written by Amy D. Christensen - 9/21, 2012)

*     *     *     *     *

Even though I am at a different point in my life than I was when I wrote that, I believe it still holds true. Don't we all have leaves in our life that we are clinging to, challenging the wind to tear them from us? Yet, each season has a purpose and we need to know when that season has passed and we must let God create newness in our lives. I know it is hard, but God knows what is best and how very much He cares for you.

The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.
— Jeremiah 31:3 (NASB)
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus
— Philippians 1:6 (NASB)

 

 

Mulling It over - Part 5

If you follow my faith page on the blog, you know that I have been doing a series on Ephesians 6:10-18. I have been going very slowly as we look at the armor of God, endeavoring to savor and fully understand each verse and even words within each verse. (To see the original posts click on the links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4) Let's review. 

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
— Ephesians 6:10-13 (NASB)
Pixabay

Pixabay

A quick review of the first four verse reveals Paul's encouragement to be strong in the Lord. We are told to put on the full armor of God, so we might be able to stand against the schemes of our enemy, the devil. Paul reminds us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood armies, but against rulers, powers, world forces of this darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. If we just stopped there we could get pretty discouraged. Life is hard enough without throwing in all those forces and battles we can't even see. Again, we are encouraged to take up the full armor of God so that we can stand firm.

Last month, I looked at the first part of verse 14.

Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
— Ephesians 6:14 (NASB)

In last month's post I talked specifically about having our loins girded with truth. Truth is the foundation for our ability to protect what God has established in our lives, through His word and His Spirit. If we are not listening to truth and seeking truth, we will be weak and defenseless when it comes to the assaults of the enemy.

Pixabay

Pixabay

This week I want to look at the second piece of armor that we are to put on.

Piece #2 - Righteousness

What is righteousness? Webster's defines it as "acting in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt or sin." Okay, so those of us who are Christ followers, know, without a doubt that we are not righteous. Doesn't God's word say:  

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
— Isaiah 64:6 (NASB)

It also states:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
— Romans 3:23 (NASB)

Where does that leave us? How do we put on righteousness if we are, indeed, unrighteous? If you have been a Christian for a while, or you have had some Bible training, you may have heard of the term, imputed righteousness. Simply put, Christ, who is the Righteous one, gives us His righteousness when we believe in Him by faith. If we believe that, then how is it that we have to put on, righteousness, as part of our armor?

Just as with so many things in our Christian walk, we have to make a choice. Putting on truth, is choosing to seek truth, adhere to the truth and love truth. Putting on righteousness is a choice to do the following three things.

1. Admit - Admit that Christ is your righteousness. Being a good person, does not, in fact, a Christian make. Christ and belief in Him, is what makes a Christian. Following Him and believing all that He did in His life, death and resurrection are what make us righteous. 

he saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit,
— Titus 3:5 (New English Translation)
Pixabay - cross

2. Allow - Allow Christ to be your righteousness. Too often we are trying to play this spiritual game on our own and we have no business doing that. Sure you might be a very strong person, but strength in our own might is a hindrance, not a help. God has been working in my life on this very point. It is His goal to make us Christ like, not more human like. I don't know about you, but I have always liked to think of myself as a strong person, able to get through difficulties and still appear to have it all together, at least on the outside. Let me tell you, in the long run, that will do nothing, but produce sleepless nights and plenty of anxiety! 

I am beginning to embrace this idea that when I am weak He is strong....oh what a glorious and wonderful thing to know. 

3. Abide - Andrew Murray is a preacher/teacher of yesteryear and has many good things to say in his writing. Right now I am trying to get through his book called, Abide in Christ, and have learned so much. In fact, I had gotten away from it, because it is not a book I can just breeze through. I have to take notes and ruminate on it. I recently thought, I need to get back to it, because I need to abide in Christ. 

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.
— John 15:4 (NASB)

This is one of the red letter sections of scripture. I have always thought, it is particularly important to pay attention when the letters are red, because that is when Jesus is talking. He says we cannot bear fruit apart from Him. If I am going to put on righteousness, I need to be abiding in Him. 

Pixabay - grapes

Abiding is simply doing all those things we know we need to do anyway. Read the Bible, go to church, fellowship with other believers, be thankful, pray without ceasing, rejoice always, spend time with God speaking to Him and listening for Him. 

I hope you will think about putting on righteousness today. Just like truth, we need to put it on, even before we get out of bed every day. 

Get Out the Gardening Tools!

This month I have been talking about the idea of growth; growth in our faith, families, friendships and our diets. As we draw near to the end of the month I'd like to look at tools that we can use to help grow the gardens that we tend called life. When I decide to do some work in my flower beds I get out my gardening tools. I put on gloves, pull out my kneeling pad and gather my pocket pruners, trowel and cultivator. For bigger jobs I might need a shovel or a full sized rake. I pick the tools according to the job I am going to do. Our faith needs to be tended in the same way and we need to seek God's wisdom for the appropriate tools to bring growth in our lives. The following are just a few of the tools I use to grow my faith.

gardening

1. Bible study. In my belief system the Bible is God's written word to humanity. I go to His word to learn about His character and to read the history of the nation of Israel and the church. Often people are intimidated by the Bible saying it is too difficult to understand. Others believe the Bible to be full of contradictions and fairy tales. Still others feel that the "religion" that is based on Biblical belief to be harsh and legalistic. I feel that in order to have a better understanding of something or someone I must do research myself. If I want to cook, I don't just watch cooking shows. I have to actually buy the ingredients, get out the tools, mix it together, turn on the stove and put it in. Growth in any area requires a genuine interest in learning and having an open mind about the subject in question. When I go to God's word, I want to learn. I want to know Him more. I want to delve into His deeper layers. If I want to know more about my azalea bushes I need to read about them. If I want to help them to grow and flourish I will learn what is best for them. If I want to grow and flourish in my Christian faith, I go to the source. He knows what is best for me and He wants to see me flourish.

2. Other authors. There are many good authors who write about topics that can help us grow. Many of these authors have educational and experiential backgrounds that have given them knowledge of life and how to live it responsibly. They also have the Holy Spirit who has given them Godly wisdom and insight.

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
— 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 (NASB)

Sometimes I will choose a book based on a study of the Bible such as Oswald Chambers' Our Ultimate Refuge: Job and the Problem of Suffering. Or I might choose a book based on the author's reputation for biblical teaching, like Ravi Zacharias' The Grand Weaver. I have also heard of books through my friends including One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala. My other personal favorites include authors from years ago such as A.W. Tozer's The Crucified Life: How to Live Out a Deeper Christian Experience or Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray. Any of these books or other books by these authors and many others provide added wisdom and knowledge about God and the Christian life that will help us to grow.

3. Fellowship. Webster's dictionary defines fellowship as "a community of interest, activity, feeling or experience." My husband and I currently do not attend a church regularly. We had been regular attenders at a local evangelical church for many years. We enjoyed the community of people who had interests in faith like our own and we raised our girls within that community. Unfortunately last year we learned a devastating piece of news which caused us to leave that fellowship. Having been without regular interaction with others who share our faith we feel a sense of sorrow and loss that watching preachers on Youtube cannot fill. While we do intend to eventually find a fellowship again, this experience has caused me to realize just how important a community of believers is to the regular growth of our faith. We know that no fellowship where people are involved will be without difficulty, but community is what God desires for us as we walk in this world. We can learn from each other and we are also supposed to be there to help others in their pain and difficulties.

4. Circumstances. I shared with you earlier this month one of my own personal stories of growth. I believe that God uses the circumstances in our lives to mold us, teach us and help us to grow. That being said we do have a choice as to whether we do grow or not. God isn't going to force us. Part of growing is taking ownership, not only of my beliefs, but of my thoughts, actions and reactions to the circumstances I find myself in. I have found in my own life that obedience is key to growth. When I am struggling with something, say my relationship with my spouse and God shows me an area I need to bring under His authority, I pray that He will help me to make the better choice. When I do make that choice (and I don't always) then it seems as though God opens up a deeper layer of Himself to my spiritual understanding. Growth happens when the choice is made to obey what God is speaking into our lives at the moment. That doesn't mean you won't struggle with the same thing again tomorrow, but it does mean that today you made the choice to grow.

God is capable of causing us to grow in many ways and the ways I mentioned above are a few of the things He has used in my life to bring about growth in my faith. In the comments section below I would love to hear your stories of growth, or some of the tools God has used to bring growth to your garden.