Tag Archives: Christian Living

The Cost of Mere, Dull Existence

I am reading Radical by David Platt again as a part of my morning reading and devotion time.  I finished the first chapter this morning.  In that chapter, he wrote a section about the cost of non-discipleship.  I think it could accurately be called the cost of mere, dull existence.

Honestly, I don’t know how one could live with the monotony of working toward goals of a bigger house, a nicer car and career promotion, only to reach those goals and make new goals that involve a bigger house, a nicer car and a career promotion. I can’t imagine the disappointment of stepping into eternity and looking about to see that none of those accomplishments came with me after I died.

Living for God with eternity in mind is so much more exciting.  For us it has meant living in different places in different parts of the world.  When I am in the USA, some react to our lifestyle by expressing regret that we have lost out on so much.  But we would have never have gained what we have by living merely for ourselves in the American rat race for bigger and better.  And what we have isn’t measured materially.  There is a certain happiness and adventure found simply in travel and being exposed to other cultures, but when God and His glory is the focus of doing it, the happiness becomes joy and the life of adventure becomes a life of meaning.

Not every follower of Jesus can or should do what we do.  Doing what we do is not a requirement for eternal significance. As long as the glory of God is the focus of your life, you can find joy and meaning in whatever place God has placed you.  And if you are a Christian and that joy and meaning is still missing, there are some things that you can do, and really, they aren’t very radical or at least shouldn’t be. One is be an active part a church that teaches the Bible as God’s Word and focuses on the needs of the world and not just the felt needs of the people nearby.  A church that is truly global in its concern to spread God’s glory will be local in that concern as well.  Second, truly get into God’s Word and learn how to read it and to study it to find God’s meaning behind it.  There are many resources out there to help you learn to do that.  Third, be a person of prayer, and disciplined prayer at that. If you pray only when the urge hits or ‘the Spirit leads’, you are likely not to have the urge and not to take time the hear the Spirit leading.  And finally, read books such as Radical by David Platt, Desiring God by John Piper and Heaven by Randy Alcorn to help you see further down the road and to encourage you to live with God’s glory and eternity in mind.

When Under Pressure

This year I have been reading the Bible chronologically.  This is the first time that I have done that. It has proven especially enlightening as I have read the Psalms closer to the historical context in which they were written.  In my journal one morning, I wrote, “The Psalms were written in real life situations.  They were not arbitrary poetic thoughts.  They flowed from trials and triumphs, despair and deliverance, doubt and hope.”

David wrote Psalm 141 during a time of intense pressure.  Those who want to do him harm and evil surround him.  For context, you can read 1 Samuel 21-24.  It is interesting that though David wanted justice and deliverance, this Psalm is more about his concern for his own conduct during that time.  He is trusting God with justice, and he is depending on God to help him to do the right thing.

“Lord, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips.” (v.3) He was concerned about His words.  He wanted God to control His speech.

“Do not let my heart turn to any evil thing or perform wicked acts with men who commit sin. Do not let me feast on their delicacies.” (v. 4) David’ concern was that his heart might turn to evil and that he might resort to evil.  From 1 Samuel, we know that several rough, disgruntled people who joined with him during these trials. On different occasions, they encouraged him to avenge himself on King Saul. He prayed to be able to stay righteous in wicked company.

“Let the righteous one strike me— it is an act of faithful love; let him rebuke me— it is oil for my head; let me not refuse it. Even now my prayer is against the evil acts of the wicked.” (v. 5) David prayed for accountability. He valued those who would correct him when necessary. One of the glaring differences between Saul and David was how they handled correction. When Samuel corrected Saul, he clung to power and went mad. When Nathan corrected David, he repented and endured the Lord’s discipline. Correction is an act of love, and it should be given and received as such.

What I learn from David’s life is that when the pressure is on, I need to lean on God even more than before.  It is too easy to crack under the pressure and try to excuse it. It is when the pressure is on that I need to be most disciplined in my words and actions and seek out even more accountability to others.

Mother of Samson

Recently, I read through the book of Judges, which a very interesting book of the Bible, depicting when everyone does what is right in their own eyes.  One of the common criticisms of the Bible is its depiction of women.  According to some views, the Bible depicts women in two extremes, Jezebel or the Virgin Mary.  There is not room for the “real woman.” Jezebel and Mary were both real, and there are many other depictions of real women facing life’s challenges as well.

I found one such depiction in the story of Samson.    The story of Samson begins in Judges 13.  Samson’s mother was not named.  She was Manoah’s wife.  They lived in a time when the people of Israel had sinned again and God had handed them over to be ruled by the Philistines.  They had no children.  Scripture says that she was barren.  An angel appears to her, not to her husband, and tells her that she will have a child who will be a Nazirite.

And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
(Judges 13:3-5 ESV)

She tells her husband, Manoah, who asked the “man of the Lord” come back and explain what they are to do again.  Apparently, he has to hear it for himself.  The angel does so, but once again, he appeared to the wife, not the husband.  She went to get him and when he returned, he asked the angel once again, what they are to do?  The angel basically tells Manoah the same thing he said before, but twice, he emphasizes ‘let her.’  The bearing of the child is the wife’s mission, not Manoah’s, and he is to support her in it.  The rest of the story is interesting, and it is where the wife stands our strongly as a woman of faith, and a faith based logically on whom God has revealed Himself to be.

Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Please let us detain you and prepare a young goat for you.” And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.) And Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to the one who works wonders, and Manoah and his wife were watching. And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground.

The angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.” And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him.
(Judges 13:15-24 ESV)

Notice Manoah’s reaction compared to her reaction.  He was the one who overreacted.  She was the one who spoke with the calm assurance of faith.  It was because her faith was strong that God could use her for the task.  Being Samson’s mother would be no small task.

Sometimes being the husband means being man enough to admit at any given moment that my faith or understanding of God’s will is weak, and that I need to listen to my wife.  It also means that I should be supportive of her as she seeks to fulfill God’s purposes for her life, just as she is supportive of me in my endeavors.  I don’t see this view as opposed to complementarianism, which I think is the most Biblical understanding of the roles of men and women in the Bible.  I see it as a realistic application of what the Bible demonstrates about those roles in different situations.

Self-Love and Loving Others

Image

Recently, I got into an online forum discussion (a dangerous place to be sometimes) about the question of if it is necessary to love ourselves to be able to love others?  Related to that was a discussion of self-esteem.

One position, and one that I once believed strongly, is that, yes, it is.  We must love ourselves and take care of ourselves to be able to love others.  Here is my problem with that.  When Jesus said, “love others as you love yourself,” I believe that he was assuming self-love, not commanding it.  Most of us have some sense of self-preservation and take care of our own needs.  What Jesus was saying was to put the needs of others on that same level.  As Paul, would later say, we are to love others by considering their needs above our own.

Regarding self-esteem, most Scripture is interested that we do not esteem ourselves too highly.  We shouldn’t be bugs pretending to be gods.  I could be wrong, but I do not see much in Scripture that warns us against low self-esteem.  If anything, scripture teaches us to lose ourselves and to sacrifice ourselves.  In a rare moment of online lucidity, here is what I wrote:

Only a person struggling with suicidal thoughts would probably see themselves as completely worthless. Most people have a good sense of self-preservation that flows from some sense of self-worth. Taking care of ourselves physically and mentally is one thing. I have no problem with this or else I wouldn’t be watching my weight and jogging three times a week.

My problem is the order that things are put. “I love myself, then I can love others” does not ring true when put beside Scripture. It is a cultural understanding of where love comes from, not a Biblical one. The type of love that Scripture teaches in not the natural love that our culture describes. It is supernatural. It is unconditional. It begins with the self-sacrificing love of God that fills me and loves through me. Jesus did not say, “Love yourselves and then you can love others.” When He talked about self, He said ‘crucify yourself’, ‘take up your cross’ and ‘deny yourself’. All those things imply that to truly follow Christ and to love as He loved, I have to get self out of the way, and as Paul said, ‘put on the new self, created to be like God’.

My worth comes not from me, but from Christ in me. My ability to love does not come from loving me but from loving God supremely. It comes from an absolute surrender of self to God and walking in His spirit. God calls on us to love others with His love, not our self-love. Jesus said, “No man has greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” In other words, even self-preservation is laid aside for the sake of loving others. That is how Jesus loved, and that is how we are recognized as His disciples. I don’t give love because I have worth. I give love because He is supremely worthy and made me His own. Love does not spring from within us. If it did, it would be tainted by sin and selfishness. It begins with God and as we grown in likeness to Christ, it flows out from us to others.

Reading the Gospels for Devotions

This year rather than read the Bible through as I had done for several years, I have read the gospels over and over.  I have tried to find ways to keep from letting it become too familiar or too legalistic to be of value to my spiritual growth.  Also, I have been teaching the study, Reading the Bible for Life by George H. Guthrie, at church.  I have tried to join some of the ideas from that study into my devotional life.  This morning, I came up with four questions to guide my meditation and journal writing as I read the gospels.  I usually read one chapter per day.

  1. What do I learn about Jesus from this chapter?  Here, I am focusing on who Jesus is by meditating on His nature and character.  I am looking at how the Gospel writer explains Jesus’ humanity and divinity.  I am also looking at how His fulfills prophecies and how He is revealed as Messiah, Savior, and Lord.
  2. What does Jesus teach by His words or by His example?  I am looking for what I must obey.  As my Lord, what does Jesus want me to do?  In Luke 2, which I read this morning, it says in a couple of places that Jesus grew in wisdom.  This is an example to follow, and I began to consider how I might focus on growing in godly wisdom.
  3. How do people respond to Jesus in ways that I should emulate?  In the text, how do I see others obey Jesus.  For example, as I read Luke 2, I noticed how Simeon waited for God’s promise and rejoiced with praise as he saw it fulfilled.
  4. How do I apply what I have observed to my life? After meditating upon or writing down the things that I have observed, I look back and try to think of specific ways that I need to apply.  For example, this morning I decided that to grow in godly wisdom, I need to read a chapter of Proverbs each day.
I hope that this will be helpful to those of you seeking to go deeper in looking at the life of Jesus and in reading the Gospels.  If you have found other questions, books or methods that help you to think about a passage of Scripture, feel free to suggests them in the comments.