Monday, February 29, 2016

The Enemy Within

My biggest enemy is me. Your biggest enemy is you. I agree with The Enemy Within by Adam McClendon
How do spiritual disciplines help the spiritual life? Up front, it must be admitted that in today’s society anything with the word “discipline” in it sounds unappealing. Nevertheless, historically, spiritual disciplines (such as reading the Bible, prayer, fasting, worship, etc.) have been practiced by the church as a means to reveal sin and grow in godliness.

This post is not about five profound and practical points pontificating the poignant purpose spiritual disciplines serve in proliferating godliness in the believer’s life. Okay, that was ridiculous. No, this post is just an honest assessment of how I’m so easily drawn into sin, my daily struggle against my sinful tendencies, and how basic personal spiritual disciplines help me walk in greater faithfulness and experience greater intimacy with God. So, here goes…
I am my biggest enemy. No really. Day to day, my biggest struggle lies within. Emotions of complacency flow to internal explosions of anger, laziness, lust, impatience, worry, and frustration. Throw in a little envy and voilĂ , a perfect dish of self-pity, self-justification, and self-condemnation all rolled up in one.

As a believer, I still live within a fallen context, and so long as I live in this world, I will have desires that battle for my attention and affection. These desires seek to lure me, like a bass chasing a spinner bait, right into self-fulfilling sin (James 1:14). Sinful thoughts will invade my mind and desires will bring shock and awe to my heart: not because I am inherently evil as a believer, but because I am inherently human and live in a fallen world (that sentence really deserves another post by itself).

The Bible warns that these sinful thoughts and desires will come. 2 Corinthians 10:5 states that I am to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” and Galatians 5:16 commands me as a believer to “walk in the Spirit,” so that I “will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The implication is that ungodly thoughts and desires will bombard me. These desires in and of themselves are not sin; rather, it is the entertainment of these thoughts and desires that results in sin.

As a believer when emotions seek to burst forth unrestrained, when sinful thoughts come calling, when fleshly desires dangle their lures, I am to bring them in submission to the will of the Spirit (Gal 5:16). I am to submit to him. This act of the will is critical in walking in obedience.
Unfortunately, too often, I don’t recognize the will of the Spirit and the attacks of the enemy until it is too late. That’s where certain spiritual disciplines help me. Reading, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture, prayer, confession, fasting, etc. all work together to continue to reveal areas in which I need to live in greater submission to the Spirit. The Lord faithfully uses these disciplines and others to constantly show me a distinction between fleshly desires and godly ones, his will versus competing ones. Thus, I find that God is so faithful in bring passages to mind, fanning the affections of my heart, and guiding my soul to him in the midst of the chaos of life through these basic disciplines.
So, that’s my encouragement and reminder. I don’t “have to” read my Bible every day, I need to. I don’t have to pray, meditate on Scripture, fast, etc., but I need to. I need to seek him, and the spiritual disciplines are means by which God helps train his children to be godly (1 Tim 4:7). Spiritual disciplines then are not something I do to check proudly off my list as if something has been accomplished. No! They are not a cure-all. They are not magic bullets, but they are tools that help bring perspective and balance to life. They steady the ship so that the horizon can be seen and the course can be set. They are means to draw me close to Christ so that I might be ready for the battle ahead and choose to serve him this day versus myself. For, I am my greatest enemy.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Wrestling For The Blessing

Here's a powerful question - Will You Wrestle With God? (by Jon Bloom at Desiring God)
What do you really need from God right now? What blessing do you want from him? How badly do you want it?
There are times when God only releases his blessings on us after a season of prolonged and even painful wrestling with him.
The Strangest Wrestling Match in History
In Genesis 32, Jacob is on his way back home to Canaan with his small tribe of wives and children after a 20-year sojourn in Paddan-aram. And he is scared to death, because his estranged brother, Esau, is coming to meet him — with 400 men (Genesis 32:6). This is no welcome party; it’s an army.
So after splitting up his household into two camps to try and avoid complete annihilation, Jacob, understandably suffering insomnia, intends to spend the night alone — no doubt in desperate prayer.
But a strange man who shows up and wrestles Jacob till daybreak rudely interrupts his plans. At some point during this weird contest Jacob realizes that he is wrestling God. And when God decides it’s time to end the match, he dislocates Jacob’s hip and demands to be released. And Jacob, in significant pain, replies, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26).
This response clearly pleases God, who pronounces this blessing on Jacob: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob [deceiver], but Israel [strives with God], for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28).
Jacob then limps toward his tense reunion with Esau with a weakened body and a strengthened faith. Having wrestled with God, he knows his prayers regarding Esau will be answered.
Multiple Blessings Came Through the Wrestling
Take note of what God did when he wrestled Jacob. Jacob began the night dreading Esau’s arrival. He was full of fear and desperation. But he ended the night of struggle with God’s blessing and a renewed faith. All of our struggling with God in faith leads to peace.
And isn’t it interesting that God did not simply speak to Jacob in a dream or vision as he had at other times (Genesis 31:13) and reiterate his promise and speak comforting words? This time God addressed Jacob’s fear by requiring him to wrestle all night. This probably felt to Jacob like a badly timed hassle when he just wanted comfort and assurance. But later he realized just how comforting it was. Sometimes when we want God’s comfort, he sends it in unexpected and even unwanted packages.
God even afflicted Jacob with a debilitating injury. This had the effect of making Jacob even more vulnerable to Esau, forcing Jacob’s faith to more fully rest on God and not himself. If necessary, God will cause us to limp to increase our faith.
Lastly, wrestling with God changed Jacob’s identity. He was no longer to be known as one who received his blessing by deception. This time he received God’s blessing by prevailing with God by faith. This struggle turned out to be a profoundly gracious gift of restoration that God gave Jacob, not unlike the gift Jesus gave Peter by letting Peter affirm his love for Jesus as many times as he had denied it (John 21:15–17). Jacob’s tenacious faith pleased God and he rewarded Jacob’s request (Hebrews 11:6). When God calls us to wrestle with him, there’s always more going on than we first understand and God always uses it to transform us for good.
God Is Not Reluctant to Bless You
When God makes us wrestle him for some blessing(s), it is not because God is reluctant to bless us, even if that’s how it first feels. It is because he has more blessings for us in the wrestling than without it.
Remember, God pursued Jacob for this match. God was the initiator. Jacob was stewing in his own anxiety over Esau and his approaching slaughter squad when God showed up. And the wrestling drew Jacob out of his fearful preoccupation and forced him to focus on God.
I doubt at first that Jacob wanted this forced focus or even believed he needed it. It wouldn’t surprise me if at the beginning Jacob had prayed, “God would you get rid of this guy? This is the last thing I need right now.” But what he discovered was that the wrestling was a means of God’s grace, a channel for God’s blessing on him.
The same is true for us.
Do Not Let God Go Until He Blesses You!
So I’ll ask again. What do you really need from God right now? What blessing do you want from him? How badly do you want it?
God will meet you in your anguish, fear, and uncertainty. But he may not meet you in the way you expect or desire. Your greatest ally may show up looking at first like your adversary, inciting you to wrestle with him.
If so, remember Jacob. There are multiple blessings in the wrestling. You may not need soft words of comfort, you may not need to be left alone with your thoughts, you may not need sleep, you may not even need a healthy hip! What you need is God’s blessing!
So when God calls you to wrestle with him in prayer, it is an invitation to receive his blessing. Stay with him and don’t give up. Do not let him go until he blesses you! He loves to bless that kind of tenacious faith and you will come out transformed.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

He Wants Our Hearts

God Wants Our Hearts, Brokenness and Sin, a prayer by Scotty Ward Smith
That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. Joel 2:12-13 (NLT)
Dear heavenly Father, yet again, your love has fueled our grief, and your kindness now leads us to repentance. Because the gospel it true, we hate our sin, not ourselves; and we groan in grace, rather than groveling in contempt. There is no other god like you—so holy and so merciful, so welcoming and so eager to redeem, so patient and so filled with unfailing love. Hear our confession.
  • We confess that we under-believe the gospel and over-trust in ourselves
  • We confess binging on fear and worry, rather than feasting on your grace and sovereignty
  • We confess thinking more about how people disappoint and fail us, than how we might love and serve them
  • We confess hoarding our brokenness and weakness, rather than letting friends enter our pain and suffering.
  • We confess indulging irritation and justifying our resentment, rather than forbearing with others and forgiving as Jesus has forgiven us.
Have mercy on us, Father, have mercy on me. If you dealt with us according to our sins, we could not stand. If you repaid us for all our transgressions, we would despair forever.
But our hope is sure; for it is built on nothing less, nothing more, and nothing other than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. We bless you, Father, for the gift of Jesus—for his perfect life lived for us, and his judgment-exhausting death on the cross. Though we remain broken, we cannot be more beloved. You will finish the work you began in us. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ merciful and mighty name.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Happily Wounded

O Lord Jesus Christ,
draw our hearts to You;
join them together in inseparable love,
that we may abide in You and You in us,
and that the everlasting covenant between us
may stand sure for ever.
Let the fiery darts of Your love pierce through
all our slothful members and inward powers,
that we, being happily wounded,
may so become whole and sound.
Let us have no lover but Yourself alone;
let us seek no joy nor comfort except in You.
Miles Coverdale, 1488-1569 (HT – Trevin Wax,  Marc Cortez)

Friday, February 5, 2016

Overwhelmed

How To Be Overwhelmed Today in A Good Way by Justin Buzzard
Life is hard. Problems are many. The to-do list is long. Curve balls keep coming. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by your circumstances and the load you’re carrying.

OVERWHELM verb (used with object)
1.to overcome completely in mind or feeling.
2.to overpower or overcome, especially with superior forces; destroy; crush.
Before you know it, you find yourself overwhelmed, your mind and heart can’t seem to do anything other than obsess on the hard and stressful things going on around you. I often find myself in this place. BUT, you and I don’t have to live this way. Instead of being overwhelmed in a bad way, you can be overwhelmed in a good way.
What if instead of being overwhelmed by your problems you were overwhelmed by God: his presence, his bigness, his goodness, his grace and gifts to you?
What if instead of obsessing on your difficulties you obsessed on your graces, all the good things in your life that you don’t deserve?
What if instead of obsessing on what’s going wrong you obsessed on what’s going right?
What if instead of fixating on what makes you frown, you fixate on what makes you and others smile?
Each day is a choice to be overwhelmed in a bad way, or a good way. Each day is a choice to obsess on your problems or obsess on your great God and his great grace. The decisions we make at this daily crossroads will deeply shape our day, will negatively or positively impact those around us, and will determine the type of people we become over time. I want to be a man known for my obsession with God and my joy and hope in him, not my obsession with my problems and pain.
God knows that life in our broken world can be difficult, overwhelming, and full of tough surprises. And God has taught us how to navigate this: To fixate our eyes on him, not the stormy waves around us. May the old words of a man beaten up by life, but rescued by a God/grace-centered perspective on life, guide us:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” -Paul, Thessalonians 5:16-18
As we overwhelm ourselves with rest, and faith, and joy, and gratitude in God, we’ll find our problems shrinking in size and in their sway over us diminished. This is the journey of the Christian life: a continual fresh discovering of how God is so much bigger than all of our fears, so much better than all of our worries. You know God’s will for you today: Rejoice, pray, give thanks in all circumstances. Keep your focus here today, and you’ll find yourself overwhelmed in a good way.