Relationships

Did God Really Say That?

Photo by  Eunice Lituañas  on  Unsplash

Opinions abound... everyone has one! Here's one I liked by a former American president, "I have opinions of my own—strong opinions—but I don't always agree with them."

This brings up a couple good questions. Can all opinions be right? Can any of them be right?

"If you convinced me—And I convinced you, Would there not still be—Two points of view?" [Richard Amour]

Many people claim God told them certain things. But is this their opinion, or was it really God? How can we know one way or the other?

Figure it out

A multitude of authors and speakers claim they can teach people to know the will of God. But I wonder, is it really that hard to know?

Preschool-age children already know how to figure out their parents. As they get older, they know who to go to for a favorable response to what they want.

We learn how to discern this at an early age, and likewise, learn how to use this discernment to manipulate others.

Is it really that hard to know the will of God?

You can't manipulate God, but you can know His will. It's really not that difficult. The hard part is giving up on trying to manipulate Him to agree with what we want (our self-will).

A tell-tale sign of not hearing God's voice is when we think we have it all figured out. Then we attempt to coerce others to believe it.

When we deceive ourselves that something is true because we are banking on it, we then work on others so they will accept it. This is either an effort to deceive or leads to deception.

You can't manipulate God, but you can know His will

The value of listening

Don't get me wrong. I'm as opinionated as the next person. Sometimes, more than most. When I begin to hear my own voice sound shrill and uncompromising, I know it's time to listen, not talk.

You've heard the old expression, "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." [Epictetus]

When my voice sounds shrill and uncompromising—I need to listen not talk

Over the centuries, or should I say, millennia, people have taken the truth, twisted it to their own design, and presented it as God's truth. This happens in all areas of philosophy and religion, among individuals and within churches.

Cultural swings can influence this. It could be the current flow of a culture or opposition to it. Think hundreds of years, not decades for perspective.

The earliest example of misrepresenting what God says is found in the encounter of the crafty serpent with the first woman and man (Gen 3:1-5)

People have long taken the truth, twisted it, and presented it as God's truth

Unadulterated truth

Jesus dealt with this in His time. Experts in the Law had tweaked and twisted God's truth into their own version of it. The foremost ones were called Pharisees.

It's no different today. We have our own Pharisees. Of course, we think it's the other guys, not ourselves. We brand them with libelous labels and separate ourselves as more righteous.

But when we do this, we hide behind the shadow of Jesus—our version of Him—as if He's on our side. When we do this are we any different than the Pharisees of the Lord's time?

Pharisees exist today but we think it's the other guys, not us

How Jesus made the truth clear

How did Jesus deal with this twisting and tweaking of truth? He often restated truth in its original form, its intended meaning.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Never break your oath, but give to the Lord what you swore in an oath to give him.’

But I tell you don’t swear an oath at all. Don’t swear an oath by heaven, which is God’s throne, or by the earth, which is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, which is the city of the great King. And don’t swear an oath by your head. After all, you cannot make one hair black or white.

Simply say yes or no. Anything more than that comes from the evil one." (Matt 5:33-37 GW)

So, it's imperative that we know and understand the truth of God well. Not our view of the truth or the dogmatic views of spiritual leaders.

It's imperative that we know and understand the truth of God well

How to know the truth yourself?

Last week, I shared of the value and importance of reading and listening to God's Word. But the first priority is knowing God. Knowing Him, in a personal way.

The first priority is knowing God—knowing Him in a personal way

Reflecting Jesus

How? A simple path is looking at all the invitations Jesus gives in the gospels. Hear them. Take them to heart. Let them become life in you. 

Here are two important invitiations—

“Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest... learn from me, because I am gentle and humble." (Matt 11:28-29 GW)

“Those who want to come with me must say no to the things they want, pick up their crosses every day, and follow me." (Luke 9:23 GW)

But how will you know His will? How will you know if you're following Him in the right way?

Simple. When your life reflects the nature of Jesus, you're on the right path.

When your life reflects the nature of Jesus, you're on the right path

Repentance—the Heart of the Matter

Photo by  Cristian Newman  on  Unsplash

"You've turned your backs, not your faces, to me" (Jeremiah 2:27 GW). This is what God says to His people through Jeremiah. It's a recurring theme in God's messages through Jeremiah to Judah—the southern kingdom of Israel.

Judah had abandoned the living God for lifeless idols. It wasn't just misplaced worship or foolish religion, it was accompanied with gross immorality and perversion of justice. The behavior of the leaders and people was atrocious. But this wasn't God's main issue.

Although God held His people responsible for their bad behavior, His great lament was how they shunned Him. God spoke through Jeremiah to tell the people they committed two evils. Number one was that they forsook God—the fountain of life-giving water.

My people have done two things wrong. They have abandoned me, the fountain of life-giving water. They have also dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that can’t hold water. (Jer 2:123 GW)

Repentance isn't about behavior

Repentance is not about behavior, but a renewed relationship. It's a matter of reconciliation. It's a matter of the heart.

It's not that bad behavior should be ignored or overlooked, but it is secondary. It should change as a result of a changed relationship, not the other way around. When changed behavior is the focus of repentance, God's intent for it is misplaced.

Relationship has always been primary to God. When Adam and Eve gave in to the serpent's temptation, God looked for them because He knew something was wrong. The entire story of redemption began there.

Repentance is a matter of reconciliation. It's a matter of the heart.

A classic picture of repentance is given in the third of three parables in Luke 15—the Lost Son. The climax is when the lost son returns to his father.

The son's focus is on his own sin, the father looks past the son's sin and filthiness to embrace him and celebrate (Luke 15:11-32).

Forgiveness and restoration

However, we still tend to focus on sin—our own or that of others, and it's lingering effect. That's the picture of the brooding elder son in the parable of Luke 15. We want forgiveness and justice, but often have difficulty accepting forgiveness, or as it's often put, forgiving ourselves

Sadly, when we focus on our own sin or how others have sinned, and the ripple effect of sin—we lose sight of the purpose of forgiveness. 

Forgiveness is granted by God to restore our relationship. It's not a means of satisfying His divine justice or wrath against us. Jesus absorbed the penalty of sin upon Himself.

Forgiveness is granted by God to restore relationship not to satisfy divine justice

Righteousness is relational

Of course, things must be made right, but righteousness itself is relational. It's not a theological concept to be understood. Why did the father celebrate the return of his son? Because— 

"My son was dead and has come back to life. He was lost but has been found" (Luke 15:24 GW).

Repentance isn't our effort to be good but the restoration of our relationship with God. As King David requested in his own prayer of repentance, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation" (Psalm 51:12).

Repentance is not about "turning over a new leaf," as if making a New Year's resolution. It's about returning to God. There are countless examples of this throughout the Bible.

Repentance isn't our effort to be good but the restoration of our relationship with God.

Unfortunately, much well-intentioned teaching and preaching focus on changed behavior as the mark of true repentance.

How about John the Baptist's rebuke at the Jordan River (Matt 3:1-12 GW), you might ask? John spoke of true repentance, not a religious or emotional expression.

Changed behavior is the fruit of genuine repentance, not its essence.

Reconciliation

Redemption is not just forgiveness, it is about reconciliation between God and people. Repentance is returning to God. As God said, "you've turned your backs, not your faces, to me" (Jer 2:27 GW)

God wants people to turn their faces to Him, not their backs. He's not interested in what we can do to make things right because He knows it will fall short and be short-lived.

What repentance is not

Repentance is not remorse, nor emotion, or promises of better behavior. It's a change of heart. A changed heart that leads us back to God, as shown by the lost son in the parable.

Repentance is not behavior modification—"changing our ways" or "making a 180º turn"—on our own, but returning to God—the Father—and receiving His mercy and grace.

Once our relationship is restored—yes, through forgiveness on God's behalf—then true repentance results in a changed life.

Repentance needs to start from the inside—our heart—first. External change—changed behavior—follows our heart change.

When our face is turned to God, our back is turned on sin.

Repentance and redemption

There is no true redemption without genuine repentance. But the essence of repentance is returning to God regardless of any personal cost.

The good news is this—God has covered the cost of failure and sin on the Cross. Our work is to turn our face and trust back to God. Trying to change your behavior on your own is a futile effort and doomed for failure.

There is no true redemption without genuine repentance.

True repentance brings freedom

If you're trying to be a good Christian—stop it! But if you want to turn towards God—go for it!

My wife and I saw the power of repentance and reconciliation in the process of disciplining our young children. First, they needed to realize they did something wrong.

Once it was made clear what they did was wrong, our children's heads dropped and their faces turned sad. They were at a point of repentance.

When a form of correction was applied and a new path of behavior and change of heart was discussed, things were settled and the result was freedom. They were reconciled.

True repentance ought to bring freedom, not brooding or depression.

Going back to the parable in Luke, the father celebrated with the restored son, while the elder son brooded. The elder brother couldn't look past his own expectation of justice and his self-righteousness (Luke 15:28-30).

It's your choice to brood or to rejoice. I prefer joy over whining any day of the week and so does God. How about you?

Go! Get Out of the Bubble!

Bubbles_Juneau
Bubbles_Juneau

No doubt you've heard the phrase, living in a bubble or something similar. It was coined a few decades ago, based on the movie of a boy with an underdeveloped immune system who had to live in a bubble-like environment.

This made-for-TV movie came out in 1976 (The Boy in the Plastic Bubble), combining the life stories of two boys with rare diseases. Of course, the movie dramatized the story (added some fiction) and a romantic theme far from reality.

But the concept of living in a bubble—like an incubator—caught hold as a cultural expression. In real life, these boys were unable to venture out of their bubble-like environments without fatal consequences. And yet, their great desire was to live outside the bubble.

Imagine what it would be like to live in a sterile environment without physical human contact. 

Living in a bubble

It wasn't long before people applied the phrase living in a bubble to other situations and people. For example, the office of the U.S. presidency is bubble-like, with the 24/7 Secret Service guard, and screening of people with whom the president will come in contact.

Today it could apply to people focused on their cell phones, gaming, and social media in a virtual bubble. The phrase came to describe anyone isolated from the world around them.

Living in a bubble can describe anyone isolated from the world around them

Sadly, this describes many Christian believers.

Many Christians live in an insulated Christian world surrounded by other Christians and locked into Christian-oriented media and music. And, many Christians like it this way. They don't want to leave this protective bubble—their faith bubble.

And so, the world around them is untouched by their Christian beliefs and values. Why? Intentionally or not, we've constructed an ivory tower of faith.

Not as Jesus intended

This is not what Jesus had in mind when He spoke of the Kingdom of God on earth. Not at all.

This bubble-like isolation isn't reflected in Jesus' teaching about the kingdom of God. What Jesus intended for His followers is seen in several parables and other teachings.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sent out twelve disciples to "preach the kingdom and to heal the sick" (Luke 9:1-6). Later, in the last year of the Lord's ministry on earth, Jesus sent out seventy others in the same way (Luke 10:1-12).

Here are His final instructions to those who would lead the church after His departure—

But the Holy Spirit will come on you and give you power. You will be my witnesses. You will tell people everywhere about me—in Jerusalem, in the rest of Judea, in Samaria, and in every part of the world. (Acts 1:8 ERV)

This is echoed in all four of the gospels and termed the Great Commission. Jesus intended for His followers to be empowered and go out with His message to the world around them.

Jesus wanted His followers empowered to go into all the world with His message

Getting out of the Christian bubble

For the "Boy in the Bubble," leaving the bubble put him at risk for his life. But it's different for us followers of Christ. Our spiritual life is at risk if we don't get outside the Christian bubble!

We need to engage people who have different values and beliefs than our own. Here's a blog post by Pastor Cary Nieuwhof that addresses this— The Evangelism Conversation No One Is Having.

I've posted similar or related articles related to sharing your faith without being aggressive or overbearing. But, we still need to get out of our faith bubble to engage people who don't share our faith. How will they know if we don't share God's redemptive message with them?

Our spiritual life is at risk if we don't get outside the Christian bubble!

One simple question— 

Are you willing to get out of your own faith-bubble to engage people about faith?


What the World Needs Now!

Photo by  Mayur Gala  on  Unsplash

Photo by Mayur Gala on Unsplash

"What the world needs now—is love, sweet love..." is how a popular song in the mid-sixties went. It was sung by Jackie DeShannon and is still one of my favorite songs from the sixties. This YouTube video link of the song captures the innocent hope of the 60's for a universal love.

Another favorite song by the Youngbloods called "Get Together" became somewhat of an anthem for the peace movement of the 60's—"Come on people now—smile on your brother—everybody get together—try to love one another right now."

The 60's were a tumultuous time of expectant hope and, at first, altruistic belief in the goodness of humanity. It was a decade with a divergent mix of protests and campus unrest, an unpopular war overseas, economic change, and a moral and spiritual vacuum.

Lost innocence

A naive hope seemed to die with the close of the decade and the beginning of the "Me Generation" of the 70's. Today we're in a similar era with a divergent clash of expectations but without innocence or hope.

In fact, there's a whole lot of mud-slinging and name-calling, but it's not just political. It permeates our culture in so many ways. What the world needs now is love with humility. At the very least, some civility.

When you look into the heart of God—who is love (1 John 4:7-8, 16)—the nature of His love is humility. Out of His great love, He gave His Son for the whole world (John 3:16).

God is love and the nature of His love is humility

Jesus—love personified

Looking at Jesus we see humility. The apostle Paul pointed this out when he exhorted the church in Philippi to be unified through humility towards one another (Philippians 2:1-4). Then he points them to Jesus as our example—

Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality.
Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance. 
He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8 GW)

Jesus—the personification of God's love—said this about Himself—

Place my yoke over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves (Matthew 11:29 GW)

Looking at Jesus we see humility and love personified

Wrong emphasis

We in the American church, including evangelicals, are too often caught up in being right—doctrinally and morally. The focus of teaching and how we are to live is more on upholding moral standards and protecting our rights and freedoms.

Having good moral standards is honorable, and the great privilege of living in America is that we enjoy certain rights and freedoms (see US Constitution for more details).

But with privilege and freedom comes responsibility and true morality is not based on human goodness, but the nature of God.

Genuine morality is not based on human goodness, but the nature of God

Wrong direction

I fear we—the church—are moving faster and faster in the direction of becoming modern-day Pharisees—self-righteous and hypocritical and lacking in mercy, grace, and humility.

The Jewish leaders who longed for their messiah to come deliver Israel missed Him when He did come. They condemned Him and found a way of putting Him to death.

They were too caught up in themselves and maintaining their own sense of rightness to see that the Messiah they had waited centuries for was Jesus.

Are we—the church—moving in the direction of becoming modern-day Pharisees?

Changing direction

How can this be reversed? Can it be? If it can't, we are hopeless. Ah, but a solution exists.

Change comes one life at a time, one heart at a time. Then, and only then, lasting significant change will take place in our churches, our nation, and our world.

Jesus said, "Come learn of Me..." and called all believers—all true followers—to deny their selfish ambitions and desires, pride, and self-centeredness, die to themselves—take up their cross and then follow Him (Matt 16:24).

Change comes one life at a time, one heart at a time

The solution to world peace

He calls us into a simple, intentional, relational, and intimately personal life of discipleship. When disciples are disciple makers and people's lives are changed one at a time, the peace of God extends throughout the world exponentially.

This has always been the Lord's solution to world peace. It requires no degree or certificate or special training. It's a matter of sharing the life we have in Jesus with others. 

Really, it's that simple. But, it's an investment of life and time in the lives of others. It requires self-discipline and commitment and humility.

Are you ready for a change? Submit yourself to Jesus—the humble personification of love and the Lord of Lords.

Are you ready for a change of direction in the world around you?

It starts with you and me.

Connecting Your Story with God's Story

Photo by  Phil Coffman  on  Unsplash

Photo by Phil Coffman on Unsplash

I heard many dramatic testimonies of God's work when I was a young believer. It was the early days of the Jesus People Movement, an exciting, dynamic time.

Story after story recounted how God set people free from dark deeds and lost lives. Each time I heard these stories, my own life story paled in comparison.

I wondered if my story had much value.

How about you? Have you ever wondered if you have much of a Christian testimony?

The tale of the Christian testimony

I wasn't raised in an evangelical Christian home, but I did have a belief in God. I went through confirmation classes in an Episcopal church but soon questioned the church and Christiin general.

As the 60's rolled in, I rolled with them. But still, I was never in a gang, nor strung out on heroin, and never went to jail. In short, my life before following Jesus wasn't dramatic or sensational.

Don't get me wrong, I was no saint, and my life was not exemplary of any virtues. But my pre-Jesus life wouldn't be featured in magazines or on any talk shows.

Your life story doesn't have to be dramatic or exciting to be worth sharing

The value of our life story

I've thought about this over the years. My four children grew up in church—from the nursery to youth group. They don't have exciting testimonies. Neither does my wife and I, but we all have valuable life stories.

It's time to put aside stereotypes and unnecessary expectations when it comes to sharing our life stories. It doesn't have to be dramatic, nor difficult.

Each person's life story has value because each person has value. You and I have value in other people's lives, and that's not just positive spin.

Ok, so you're not an evangelist nor a rock star. Neither am I. But how your life story connects with God's story is worth hearing. It's real and genuine because it's true.

Each person's life story has value. It's real and genuine, because it's true.

Connected stories

So, how can you share your life story so it connects with God's story, to connect others with Him?

Here's some simple guidance to do this—

God's story

Look for stories in the Bible you can relate to and that resonate with your own life. They could be in the Old or New Testament, a parable, or part of a larger story.

It's helpful when stories have an element of redemption in them.

Then, learn these stories by heart and in your own words (IYOW). These biblical stories should flow out of your heart in a natural way.

Your story

Keep it short and simple. You can always share more details when people ask for them. Going on and on with details turns people off, and shuts down discussion.

Keep your life story short and simple. You don't need to be the center of attention.

Write out a brief outline, reduce it down, and focus on how you started following Jesus.

Here's a guide to help you— Guidelines-LifeStory

Life story of other people

You need to ask people for their life story. Then, you need to listen, really listen.

We can be so focused on what we want to say that we ignore the person instead of connecting with them. Listening well is important!

People will share their story, and be open to hearing ours when they know we care about them.

People will be open to hear our life story when they know we care about them.

When we gain people's respect and trust we can share God's story with them.

How to connect

  • Pay attention to who you come in contact with in daily life
  • Consider people with whom you have some influence in everyday life
  • Be attentive to what's going on in other people's lives
  • Be considerate and compassionate with others
  • Look for an opportunity to connect God's story to another person's story
  • When you've made a connection it opens the door to share your story
  • Let God make the connection by His Spirit—don't force it!

What's your experience in sharing God's story and your story with others?


When you do make a connection with someone and want to share your story of faith and the gospel with them—remember to explain Christian terms and Bible verses in your own words (IYOW)! Here are a couple of posts related to how and why to do that—

IYOW—a Useful Acronym

The Illusion of Obscure Language