There is a phrase in the Old Testament that sets a negative tone for what is to follow. 2 Samuel 11 begins, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle…David remained at Jerusalem.” There is something about this statement that tells us all is not well.
Every time I read this I am reminded of the first day of football practice every year in high school. The athletic handbook, we were told, could be summarized “Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there.”
The reality is David wasn't where he was supposed to be when he was supposed be there, and we know that great sin and heartache were the result.
This is easy to see with David and his big public sin, but it can be harder to see in ourselves and the not so public disobediences? Where do you see the fallout of not being where you were supposed to be when you were supposed to be there? It is very possible that you haven’t missed a formal appointment to be somewhere, but you have had an inner prompting (Holy Spirit) and haven’t followed that prompting.
I have been chewing on this verse about David and these words from high school because of conviction I have felt lately. Like many (as Gary mentioned in his sermon Sunday), I have spent a large amount of time watching T.V. and browsing Facebook. However, I have been convicted for a while that this time needs to be spent in a more productive manner.
I haven’t been where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there, because I haven’t been completely faithful to follow the conviction of the Holy Spirit in me. The less than public nature of these convictions and the consequences of ignoring them make them easier to ignore than David’s. But if I am honest the consequences are very real; a weakened relationship with God from wasting time that could have been spent communing with Him and from resisting the work of His Spirit within me. The consequences are also physical as time that could have and should have been spent sleeping is spent consuming mindless nonsense. Like David, these consequences also affect our relationships with others. We like to segment and isolate the various areas of our lives, but the reality is that we are wholistic. This wholistic nature means that when our spiritual relationship suffers it spills over and our interpersonal relationships suffer.
Much like David our lack of obedience has consequences far greater than we could ever imagine. Because of his sin David’s spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational life suffered.
Where has God been calling you?
Is there something in your life God is calling you away from temporarily? Permanently?
Personally, these thoughts over the past couple weeks have prompted me to step away from T.V. And social media for a period of time. I have sensed God calling me to deeper communion with Him, this cannot be done if I am not where I’m supposed to be, when I’m suppose to be there.
Do you see where your spiritual health might be suffering from not being where you’re supposed to be?
What about your physical life? How has this affected your relationship?
Do you care enough to change?
Are you willing to make the changes necessary to be where God is calling you to be, when He is calling you to be there?
Can you hear me now? That question has been burnt into my mind because of the Verizon commercials from a few years ago. Having someone walking around, what appeared to be all over the country, to see if someone could hear him or not, did get a little annoying, however it didn’t seem to matter where he went, people could hear him. To hear someone clearly is very beneficial to both the speaker and listener. If things aren’t communicated well things can get misinterpreted pretty easily…think drive up speaker at a fast food place.
One winter, my sister and I, were driving the 4-wheeler around in the snow. We would take turns as to who was driving while out in the field messing around. During one of those times I was taking over the driving as she was getting on and I asked, through the helmet and neck scarf, if she was ready and I thought she said “go.” Soon after taking off I quickly realized she was no longer on the 4-wheeler and had fallen off. She wasn’t very happy about it! You said “go”, I explained. She said…”I said NO, not go!”
As parents we know this all to well. Speaking clearly and simply is the best way to get whatever message to our kids. It doesn’t always work but if we don’t speak clearly, kids can hear something totally different. Each parent has a set of rules for their kids and those rules are talked about as well as enforced. We try to make them as clear as possible so the kids know what they are to do. We are quick to talk about the rules around the house and especially when we are in public. We talk, sometimes threaten, when we go places so they remember what to do and what not to do. We talk about these rules because we want our kids to be the best and most polite kids they can be. The rules that we set are usually pretty good. They help keep our children safe and out of trouble. But they aren’t the only commands we are to be reminding them about.
Deuteronomy 6:1-9 is a section of Scripture that has been with me for a long time…thank you mom and dad! I knew the rules of the house but I also knew God’s commands as well. God’s commands were always talked about, and talked about, and still talked about, so that I wouldn’t forget them. As parents we need to be taking advantage of every opportunity to teach them the commands of God so they don’t forget. If they question us why, which they will, we can repeat it over and over and then simply ask…Can you hear me now?
“These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all His decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life…These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframe of your houses and on your gates.”
(Deuteronomy 6:1-2, 6-9)
Yesterday during communion Dave shared a song with us. Here are the lyrics from that song entitled "Peace (a Communion blessing from St. Joseph's Square), written by David Strasser and Rich Mullins.
Though we're strangers, still I love you
We often hear people say there is no wrong way to pray. But, what if there was a wrong way to pray? What if our prayers go unanswered because of something we have control over?
We often dismiss “unanswered” prayer. But I think that many times the prayer is unanswered because of us.
Take a moment and read James 4:2-3
Did you see what James says, you don’t have because you don’t ask. “But I do ask!” you say. James goes on to explain that that prayer is unanswered because it is a prayer of selfishness. Think of the unanswered prayers you can remember, how many of them were selfishly prayed for you to indulge your passions? We must remember that God will not go against His character or law.
Now read Ephesians 5:25 & 1 Peter 3:7.
Did you catch that husband? Love your wife how? The way Christ loved the Church. Often when we think about how Christ loved the Church we think about how He was willing to sacrificially lay down His life for her. While this thought is accurate, there is more. Christ didn’t just love the Church so much that He died for her, He lived for her, every choice He made was for the good of the Church. Yes, He lived in obedience to glorify God the Father, who is most glorified through the fulfilling of His purposes for the Church. Think about it, for Jesus to die for us, He had to live a perfect life. Had He given into temptation He couldn’t have fulfilled His mission. When He resists temptation it is both to glorify God and for us.
Husband this is the way you are called to love your wife. This is relevant to pray because of what Peter writes. Read 1 Peter 3:7.
Do you realize that maybe your prayers are ineffective because you are not treating your wife as you should?
Finally, read James 5:13-16.
I have long been confronted by this passage. Aside from its very helpful teaching on prayer, and the following verses reminding us of the power of our prayer, the last statement of verse 16 convicts me. James says, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” This leads me to ask if the opposite is also true. Could it accurately be stated that “The prayer of an unrighteous person is powerless and ineffective.”?
All of these are passages that have challenged me through the years, and continue to challenge me still. I’ll leave you with this charge from Donald Whitney, "But we must learn to examine our prayers. Are we asking for things that are outside the will of God or would not glorify him? Are we praying with selfish motives? Are we failing to deal with the kind of blatant sin that causes God to put all of our prayers on hold?”1
1 Whitney, Donald. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. pg 79
I have been reading a book, “Distortion” by Chelsen Vicari. It is a convicting book that looks at the changing outlook on life in the United States. Specifically by the church. Chelsen points out that there are those who claim to follow Christ but emphasize the social gospel at the expense of a personal relationship with Jesus. The social gospel tries to help people which is part of applying the Loving your neighbor method. Which is good, but some have shifted the emphasis from helping others to promoting their personal opinion about prolife, homosexuality, social justice, feminism, Christian persecution and the nation of Israel. It was a very insightful read and I would recommend it. It will show you how the world is trying it’s best to under mind the true gospel of the Lord. How we must involve ourselves in the battle. The future of the gospel in America may depend on our willingness to join this struggle. It is a deep read. I found it to be inspiring and motivating.
Success…What would you describe success as? Is it making it to work on time? Is it getting through the day without your kids going crazy? Is it not having to deal with that someone at work? Is it when your team wins? Our definition of success could come in many different forms. We have many things that we go through each and every day and if we make it through them, usually we consider that a success. What happens when we succeed though? We get a good feeling inside and we feel like we have accomplished something. We then work and try to make that happen again and again because it feels good. We like succeeding. No one likes the alternative. Failing isn’t even a word we like to say much because no one likes to fail. We would much rather have victory or success than fail. But to what extent do we measure whether we fail or succeed and at what cost?
If we were to ask God the same question, how would God describe success? Would His definition and ours be the same? And what about the cost? To be honest, our definitions probably wouldn't line up. Why? Because we view success more from a worldly point of view than from a Godly. We work, practice, travel, and prepare for things here and now when we should be doing all of those things for the kingdom of God. Matthew 16:24-27 says, "Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done."
What have you done? Are you living out what Jesus said in those verses? If so you are succeeding. Because success isn't truly rewarded here. For us to succeed here God is calling us to be last, to deny ourselves and to put Him first. To make yourself last probably won’t get you the bonus or promotion you wanted. So what do you do? Are you willing to sacrifice things on earth for things in heaven, or are you sacrificing things in heaven for things on earth? Jesus asks, what good is it to gain everything here, but lose everything there? That is the true definition of success. No matter what it may cost us here, we gain everything in the end by faithfully denying ourselves and following him. And if you think that cost is too high of a price to pay, just remember what price Jesus paid for you.
Have you decided to follow Jesus…if so…no turning back, no turning back.
When Uriah started talking about wanting to get baptized Lindsay and I decided to get him a gift to commemorate the occasion. It didn’t take long for me to decide that we would get him a pocket knife. I also wanted to get it engraved with a passage that could be especially significant given the decision he was going to make. To our excitement he made this decision sooner than we expected and told us on December 22, that he was ready and wanted to get baptized and make a commitment to be a disciple of Jesus. I had the amazing privilege of baptizing him on Christmas Eve.
When his knife came in the next week, Uriah and I went for a drive. I explained to him that we wanted to get him something special for his decision and decided to get him a knife. I told him that there were people who probably wouldn’t approve of this gift. He knew why, because it can be dangerous. However, he also knew that there were benefits to having a knife, one can protect themselves, get food, and help people to name a few that he mentioned.
Affirming that he was correct, knives are great tools that have unending uses, they also carry a level of danger which requires responsibility. It didn’t take long for him to explain to me numerous ways that people could get hurt by his knife if he was careless with it. Because of these dangers I explained that he had to be responsible to make sure that he wasn’t careless with his knife, whether it be leaving it lay where his sisters could get it or using it in a way that was potentially harmful. I went on to explain that it was his knife, therefore he is the one responsible for what happens with it at all times.
You may be wondering why I am recounting this conversation with you, this is why—our spiritual life is like this knife. We have been given an incredible gift (far better than any knife). This gift gives us not only the ability but the obligation to help people (Matthew 28:18-20). How much more can we protect somebody than with the gift of grace from God and eternity with the Father, Son, & Spirit?
However, like the knife people are often hurt by Christians who are careless with their lives. Maybe you leave your “spiritual life” laying at the church building when you leave. Brennan Manning comments, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyles, that is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” The biggest reason people reject Christ is Christians who leave their “spiritual life” at the church building. The apostle Paul addresses this in Romans 1:18-2:24. Other Christians cause damage when they are careless with how they use their faith, think Westboro Baptist and people like them.
As a result of the way a knife illustrates the Christian life. And since the decision to accept Jesus, get baptized, and commit to a life of discipleship is the beginning of becoming a man (in the spiritual sense), we had the knife engraved with “1 Kings 2:1-4.”
My prayer is that from reading this you may never look at a knife the same way. I pray that every time you see a knife it would be a reminder to you of the power and responsibility it carries. It is my prayer that this reminder would change the way we live. May we be people who are helpful, life giving, and responsible with our faith. May we live in such a way that people are drawn closer to God, not pushed away from Him.
This is the time of year where people often begin to think about things they want to change in coming years. One change I often hear Christians mention is their desire to read the Bible more. It is a desire that I think is very healthy.
I want to spend a moment to encourage you to think on your Bible reading habits. How often do you read? When was the last time you read through the entire Bible? How much do you remember about your last reading?
I don’t want these questions or thoughts to shame you, but I do want them to challenge you. There are numerous ways in which we can read Scripture, but the tendency we often gravitate to is as little as possible, and frequently passages we are comfortable with reading.
I want to encourage you to be stretched this year. Maybe your current approach is to meditate on one verse a day, which can be fruitful. However, this approach is very limited and can create problems with certain verses. One big issue is that this approach provides no context. Maybe you could start reading a little larger chunk of Scripture, and meditate on that passage the rest of the day.
Maybe you read through the entire Bible cover to cover regularly, but it is disjointed and disconnected for you. I would suggest finding a way to be more intentional about connecting with the Scriptures.
In order to aid in this endeavor we are providing a host of options to choose from as far as Bible reading plans are concerned. From a month in the Gospels to the entire Bible in 90 days, and everything in between.
Before you say that this is too lofty consider a few things. We live in a culture that reads a fair amount. Yet we watch T.V. and play a fair amount of video games, and other activities that are mindless.
However, when there is something we are excited about we read. We devour. We wait in expectation until we can read some more. Here are a few statistics of some popular works.
In the first 4 books of the Harry Potter series there are 1,850 pages.
In the classic The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit the four books accumulate a total 1,516 pages.
Finally, in the recent (past handful of years) the popular Twilight saga amass over 2,500 pages.
These are books people dive into and don’t want to leave. I’ve known people who will binge read and finish one or more of these volumes in a week.
Yet, The Bible, the book we say gives us the guide to living and tells us of the God we serve and claim to love, we have trouble getting into. I just reached up and pulled a copy of the Bible off of my shelf. It is a simple copy, no study notes, not a lot of extras, just the text, some translation footnotes, and short introductions (one paragraph) to each book. This copy of the Bible is merely 895 pages long. You could read this Bible just shy of a full three times to reach the same page count as the Twilight saga.
I don’t want this to be a shame article. I hope this spurs you (as it does me) on to a greater commitment to The Word of God.
Here’s my challenge, find a plan that works for you this year. Maybe it is through the Bible in a year, maybe it is the 90 day plan, whatever it is, find a plan and work it. There will be times that you get behind. Don’t stress about catching up, just keep working your plan. If you have free time and can catch-up that’s great, but working the plan is what makes a difference.
For instance you get ambitious and decide to complete the 90 day plan, and you continue to find yourself behind, and it ends up taking you 180 days to finish…when was the last time you read the whole Bible in 6 months?!
My prayer is that the plans we provide will help you to better love and devour The Word of God. I pray that as you love and devour His Word that He continues to transform you by the renewing of your mind. Conforming you to the image of Christ for the sake of others and the glory of God. Living a life in tune with the Holy Spirit living in you.
I have nothing to offer you, for all I have is from your hand. You gave me my life at no cost to me. You number my days, you began them and you will end them. Yet you have given me dominion over every day in between. You have relinquished a piece of eternity into my hands, to see what I would do with it. My soul, my thoughts, the intent of my heart, and my actions are all a gift from you at my discretion and disposal. In many of these areas I have made a mess... thoughts that I despise, memories of actions not honorable, a heart that can be deceitful, and a soul that is bruised and broken. You gave me these gifts and I squandered them, and then you gave me yourself to redeem what I broke. You gave me "me", and then you gave me "you" to fix the me I ruined. All you ask in return is that I give me back to you. The once perfect now broken me, the disfigured reflection of you that I have made. I am only giving back what you gave to me, and only because you have enabled me to give it. And now through the image of Jesus you offered to iron out my wrinkles, cut out the bad spots, file off the rough edges and make me look more like you. It's an unbelievable offer... I'll take it!!! It's all yours, do with this story what you can, use it for your glory and the good of my brothers and sisters, your children.
Excuses are annoying. I had a football coach tell me his opinion on excuses in high school, but I don’t think this is the time or the place to discuss that philosophy. Nevertheless, most everyone hates excuses and the irony is that we all use them. However, I find it very humorous that most of the time our excuses don’t fool anyone, yet the one we give the most excuses to is the One who knows the motivations of our heart. What are some of the most famous excuses of all time? How about: but I’m too young, or …but I can’t, or …but I’m not good enough, or …but I’m afraid.
I’m sure you have studied many characters and narratives in the bible, but there is no other that best illustrates the no-excuse life than Numbers 13 and 14. God tells Moses to choose one leader from each tribe of Israel to explore the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. So Moses sends 12 men to explore the land and bring back a report to give to the entire Israelite community. The men leave on a forty day journey to scout the land of Canaan. After the forty days are over they come back to give their report and boy did they like the land they saw. It was a land that flows with milk and honey, which means that it was a land that could sustain their animals as well as cultivate a bountiful crop. They even brought back some fruit from the land for the people to taste and it was amazing. BUT! Numbers 13:28 says it all, “But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.” Did you notice the first word of that verse? Then Caleb interrupted, “’We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’ But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’ And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored” (Numbers 13:30b-32). After that the people started to say things like… “If we had only died in Egypt. We should choose a leader and go back.” This is the part where a fire burns within me as I read. I get so mad at the Israelites. They are clueless. They have just witnessed the plagues that God issued on Egypt, not to mention the parting of the Red Sea. God didn’t just deliver them from their enemy, He completely crushed their enemy. God singlehandedly defeated the armed forces of the most powerful nation in the world at that time and the Israelites didn’t have to lift a finger. But they don’t get it. Here they are faithless, spineless and whining all over again. I get so mad I want to scream.
Then I realize that I am the same way. I face an obstacle and I am spineless, faithless, and I whine to God. He wants me to do something and I make excuses as to why I shouldn’t or can’t. I can’t imagine how fed up He gets dealing with the same things over and over in my life. I am sure you can relate, and the thing that scares me is the “but” found in
Go back and look at Numbers 13:1-2 “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites.’” That should have been enough for the Israelites. God said he was giving the land to them. If there is one thing you can take from this, here it is: When the LORD gives a promise, you can take it to the bank. Or that our prayer would be the same as Paul’s to the Ephesians, “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen —Ephesians 3:20-21
I would like for you to join me in this endeavor to live a no-excuse life. We all need accountability. I would like to challenge you to keep your…but out of the way.
Blog posts from the Sterling staff, and maybe even the occasional guest blogger.