Devotional

Spiritual Disciplines: BIBLE READING

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In a recent survey, I asked some people from our congregation to anonymously answer a few questions about their Bible reading. The results weren't too surprising:

  • 62% Read their Bibles between the hours of 5am and 9am
  • 15% Read their Bibles after 9am in the morning
  • 15% Read their Bibles in the evening
  • 8% Read their Bibles late at night
  • 54% Spend about 20-30 minutes reading
  • 31% Read for about 10-20 minutes
  • 8% Read for more than 30 minutes
  • 8% Read for less than 10 minutes

The majority of Christians are reading their Bibles daily, in the early morning, for about 30 minutes or less, but how many of them are memorizing Scripture?

We have been studying the "Spiritual Disciplines" and up until now have discussed "Fasting," "Prayer," "Confession," and what the Spiritual Disciplines are in general. We've pointed out how important it is to our walk with Christ that we’re practicing various disciplines in order to grow in the knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 1:3-11). But none of the disciplines are as effective against temptation--or in building us up in our faith--as the discipline of Scripture Reading & Memorization.

How Did Jesus Overcome Temptation?

In the wilderness, as Jesus was being tempted after 40 days of fasting, Satan came and suggested that He turn stones into bread and satiate His physical hunger. Jesus responded with Scripture. Later, Satan brings Jesus to the top of the temple in Jerusalem and encourages Him to throw Himself down (himself quoting Scripture out of context)--and Jesus' response is to defend Himself by quoting Scripture. Finally, as Satan parades all the kingdoms that have ever been established on the earth, he offers them to Jesus if only He would bow down and worship him. Jesus says, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:10).

At this point, Satan exits stage right, until another opportune time. How did Jesus defeat Satan's attacks? By quoting Scripture!

In the longest Psalm (and chapter of our Bibles for that matter!), David expresses his love, appreciation, and reverence for the Scriptures. One of the major ideas he points out in Psalm 119 is the reality of hiding God's Word in his heart:

9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.

10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!

11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Notice that the remedy for an impure lifestyle as a young man is to guard against temptation with Scripture. David implores the Lord not to let him wander from the commands of God laid out in the law. He explains that the secret to victory over sin is to "store up Your word in my heart". How do we store up God's Word in our hearts? How do we--like Jesus--readily quote Scripture depending on the temptation?

The answer is reading and memorizing the Bible.

Reading and Memorizing

One year I made it a goal to memorize the entire book of Ephesians with the aim of reciting the entire book to our students at youth group on New Year's Eve at the end of the year. Falling behind during the holidays, I went into the final week of the year with all of chapter 5 and 6 still unfinished. So I decided to print up cards that had about 5-10 verses on each of them, and at every stop light on my morning and late afternoon commute I would read through the verses until I could recite them. By the end of that week, I had succeeded! Scripture memory was not insurmountable; I simply needed a goal--even one that seemed impossible--and a daily commitment to read and commit to the task.

Is it important to pick a translation you enjoy. At Shoreline, we teach from the NKJV, but in my personal devotional time, I read the ESV. I have always liked memorizing the NIV(84), but that translation is no longer in print. So currently I am working on memorizing Romans in the ESV. There are lots of great tactics and tricks that can help you with memorization, and I employ many of these to assist me. But I also find the value in memorizing various verses throughout the Bible.

(This is a flashcard set of 365 important verses in the Bible and a great way to learn a verse a day for the next year! https://quizlet.com/16217081/flashcards)

Are you reading and memorizing Scripture? For our next blog post, we will dive into the importance of meditating on the Word, and the discipline of Bible study.

Pilgrim Benham

Spiritual Disciplines: PRAYER

Leonard Ravenhill said, "No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere.”

A Survey on Prayer

In a recent survey, people were asked some specific questions about their prayer life. This was fascinating:

  • Of those who say God exists, 70% pray daily, as do 10% of those who don't believe in God. 
  • 42% ask for material things when they pray
  • 45% of 18 to 24 year olds pray meditatively
  • 91% of women pray, as do 85% of men. 
  • 32% regularly feel a deep sense of peace: 12% never experience this. 
  • 26% regularly sense the strong presence of God: 21% never do. 
  • 15% regularly receive a definite answer to a specific prayer, 27% never have, 25% have once or twice. 

Ask the average Christian, and most of them would say they are praying daily. They may pray in one spot at a repeated time, or "reflexively" throughout the day as situations arise. Certainly Scripture exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." How does one 'pray without ceasing'? By living in a constant communion with the Lord--from the opening of the eyes each morning to the close at the end of day--you are relying on God for your daily bread and are perpetually crying out to Him in adoration, confession, and thanksgiving.

The Sermon on the Mount

The spiritual discipline of prayer is something Jesus specifically instructs us about in His sermon on the mount, In Matthew 6:5-18, Jesus says, "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full."

The Pharisees (to whom Jesus is referring to here as hypocrites) loved to pray in front of others.  They were expert actors in the art of religiosity.  I wonder how many Christians today are the same way--expert actors--fooling everyone that they really love God, but behind closed doors, they take off the mask and are just like the world. Jesus says they have received their reward in full.  That means the reward they get is just some guy walking by saying, “Oh, wow, he’s praying.  Cool. Man, what a guy”. But Jesus says we are to be different than the religious hypocrites who are fakes:

"But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

The Prayer Closet

Not "if" you pray. But 'when'. Jesus encourages us to go to a private place, and spend time speaking with our Father in heaven. This is what we call ‘the prayer closet’.  This is not the location where your wife's dozens of shoes are tucked away, but where you go away and get alone with God.  Do you have that place? Maybe it’s your room, or maybe a place under a tree or on the beach. For many, their prayer "closet" is simply that same chair where they sit down and seek the Lord. For others, it is the driver's seat of an empty car during a morning commute. Wherever it is, it is a place where only God sees you, and you aren’t praying simply to impress others. Notice verse 7:

"And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."

Short and Simple

For many years, I thought that the longer and more 'spiritual' a prayer, the more spiritual the person.  But this is simply not true. Sometimes people start their prayers with, “Oh God, Ruler and Master of the Universe…”  They use formal titles of respect for a God they are completely unfamiliar with.  I love prayers that are short and simple and direct.  I think that is the picture here also that Jesus is striking in our dependent, reflexive prayer life of communion with the Father.  When you read through the Psalms, you see short, simple and direct prayers that are true to David’s heart:

“Oh God, save me!”

“Help me Lord!”

“My heart is thirsty for you God!”

We often think that we need to pray long, drawn out prayers so God will stop running the universe and say, “Wow!  THAT is a prayer!  Gabriel, Michael, come here!  Listen to this!  This woman is using such eloquent speech when she prays!  I’ll definitely answer her prayers from now on!”

The pagans would pray to their false gods by babbling phrases over and over, in a sort of incantation that would invoke empathy or mercy. But Jesus says that our Father knows what we need before we even ask.  So if He knows, why do we bother asking?

Why Pray?

I believe it is to commune with Him. Jesus was equal with the Father, and yet completely dependent upon Him (John 5:30). Why did Jesus bother to pray constantly throughout His public ministry? Because it afforded time to speak with and fellowship with His heavenly Father.

A.W. Tozer said, “Sometimes I go to God and say, "God, if Thou dost never answer another prayer while I live on this earth, I will still worship Thee as long as I live and in the ages to come for what Thou hast done already. God’s already put me so far in debt that if I were to live one million millenniums I couldn’t pay Him for what He’s done for me.” 

Often God will not answer our prayers--not because He is unable or is too busy--but because we are praying with wrong intention. James said in his letter, “You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (James 4:2-3).

God simply wants us to ask.  But when we do ask, sometimes we don’t receive what we are asking for because we are asking with the wrong motives.

Have you ever prayed for something that you never got? Did you end up grateful that you didn’tget it when things turned out later?

“Lord, please let this guy propose to me and marry me!”

“Lord, please let this business deal go through!"

“God, I beseech you, by your authority in heaven and earth, please give me a new Camaro."

We ask with the wrong motives, so often God is gracious to not answer our prayers in the affirmative. We are to pray "in Jesus' name", which simply means to ask as if Jesus Himself were interceding. Ask yourself this question: Is this a prayer that is in line with what Jesus would pray? Is this a Biblical prayer? Will the answer to this prayer conform me into the image of Christ? Will it help glorify God through my life?

Keep Asking

In Matthew chapter 7, Jesus nears the conclusion of the sermon on the mount with these words:

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."

Asking is very general.  You askthe store clerk to help you find vegan pancake mix (which sounds like a mistake).  But seekingis a little more intense.  You’ve asked, but now you are vigorously seeking after it, pacing up and down the aisles at Whole Foods desperate for your breakfast. Knocking is even more persistent still: now you are pounding on the manager’s office door, saying, “I need my V-cakes!"

That's a silly example, but I wonder how many of us view prayer the way Jesus describes it in Matthew 7. Asking, seeking, knocking. The Greek tense implies a continual asking, a continual seeking, a persistent, unending knock on the door of Heaven.

We aren't to give up on God because he hasn’t answered one of your prayers.

Often I'll ask someone how many times they have prayed for this? They answer, “once.” No! We should be constantly praying, submitting our prayer requests to the Lord. Often we don't pray but talk to others about the problem rather than the One who can resolve it in an instant.

The Lord's Prayer

On one occasion, Jesus' disciples wanted to know HOW to pray.  They asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, and Jesus did.  In Matthew 6 verse 9, Jesus gives them what we call "The Lord's Prayer". It is actually more accurately known as 'the disciples' prayer": 

9 "This, then, is how you should pray: 
"'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 
10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 
11 Give us today our daily bread. 
12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.' 
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. 

Does it get more simple than that? Jesus says prayer is this:

  1. Submit your life to your heavenly Father.
  2. Give Him the honor and glory He is due.
  3. Trust His will and invite Him to do His work in His way.
  4. Ask for Him to provide for your needs today.
  5. Confess your sins and in prayer forgive others who have sinned against you.
  6. Beseech Him to protect you and direct you away from the path of evil.

And notice that Jesus tells us to ask for 'daily' bread? That means we need to go to Him today. And tomorrow. And every new day until we are with Him in glory. We have the privilege of seeking the Father in prayer and trusting Him to answer. No man is greater than his prayer life. So rise up, and be greater today!

Pastor Pilgrim

Spiritual Disciplines: FASTING

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Fasting: Receipt through abstention

Guest Writer: Joe Beery

Sanctify a fast...and...say, Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach...Then will the Lord...answer and say...Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things" (Joel 2:12-32) 

When I was at a music festival in high school, I heard a speaker say that, “fasting was like pouring gasoline on the fire of your prayers.” Being the 16-year-old pyromaniac that I was, this image was burned into my memory. That story jumps to my mind often, and I share it with people at least once every few months. And yet—I suck at fasting. I don’t have anything close to a schedule that I follow, and I’ll usually only remember that I should fast when I want God to give me something or when I feel like the world’s crashing down around me. 

I’m also pretty sure that I’m not alone on this one. I contend that most Christians in the West today only think of the discipline of fasting when they’re considering a fad diet. (And that’s not to let my Eastern brothers and sisters off the hook; I’m only speaking for what I know). This isn’t a dig on the health benefits of fasting—often God’s commandments prove to beneficial to our bodies and our souls. But the abandonment of such a powerful discipline is concerning: more than begrudgingly turning the discipline into a ritual (like prayer) or failing to follow the discipline but recognizing that it should be done (like giving sacrificially), fasting seems to have fallen totally off the radar. 

Scripture provides a 3-chord understanding of the practice in the form of answering 3 “W” questions. 

1. What is fasting? 

In more vivid colors, the question reads, “Is fasting purely an abstention from food, or are there other manifestations of this practice?” The typical biblical fast is certainly one from food; there are also instances where God’s people engage in absolute fasts, abstaining from food andwater. Furthermore, there are some examples of abstaining beyond food and drink; for example, Paul encourages married couples to abstain from giving their bodies to one another for a season of spiritual formation, and then to come together again.[1]

One of the most important take-aways here is that fasting is not abstaining from sin. The joining of a husband and wife, or the taking in of food for sustenance, are both high-order goods. These are gifts from God. You don’t “fast” from porn or from gluttony—you mortify these sins through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Fasting is something else entirely. In order to “discipline the flesh” and “make it a slave,” (i Cor. 9:27), we are called to spend time denying ourselves goodthings that werightlydesire for a season as a reminder that they are not ultimatethings. This discipline has been furniture in the house of Orthodoxy since the earliest days: Tertullian wrote a treatise on the subject in A.D. 210. In it, he defended fasting as a better aid to religion than feasting. Polycarp, the disciple of John, urged fasting upon the saints as a powerful aid against temptation and fleshly lusts in A.D. 110. 

2. Who should fast? 

When reading about the biblical description of fasting, it should be immediately apparent how counter-cultural this discipline is. We live in the midst of a call to hedonism— “happiness” and “pleasure” are the ultimate aims of society. Spiritual formation as counter cultural isn’t unique, though. Jesus laid out the three essential components to Christian living that likely struck the same recalcitrance in His audience that it strikes in us: prayer, alms-giving, and fasting.[2]Christ’s command is, of course, backed by his practice—before beginning his ministry, Jesus fasted forty days and nights in the desert, enduring our temptation (Matt. 4:1–11). There’s no wiggle room: both Jesus’s actions and his teaching indicate the essential nature of fasting in the Christian life. 

There are also only one circumstance that the Bible says is not a time to fast: when the incarnated Logos is bodily with you (Mk. 2:19). Jesus, then says, once He’s departed, then his disciples will fast (Mk. 2:20). Essentially every other circumstance is demonstrated to be one where fasting is warranted. Mourning? “[The Israelites] mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.”[3]Worshipping? “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”[4]In a season of preparation? “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me … When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”[5]Old? “Anna … was very old … She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.”[6]

3. Why should we fast? 

When Jesus teaches on fasting, there’s a promise linked with the commandment—as Paul reminds us in Eph. 6:1–3 (discussing obedience to parents), we should always be mindful of promises linked with commandments because God does not lie; His promises can be relied upon. Therefore, when Christ says in v. 18 that “your Father who sees [you fasting] in secret will reward you,” we can rely on that promise. 

Furthermore, we should fast for the very reason that I was told to fast at the music festival all those years ago: fasting is gasoline on the fire of our prayers. Historically, when men and women have linked fasting with prayer, they have witnessed the Shekinah glory—God’s manifest presence. From John Wesley to John Calvin, regular practices of fasting has led to revival, reconciliation, and reformation as the eyes of God’s people are lifted from the ordinary and set on the extraordinary.

Consider the words from Joel at the head of this blog: “Sanctify a fast...and...say, Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach...Then will the Lord...answer and say...Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things." This is an interpolation of a passage instructing the Israelites in pleading with the Lord for mercy and for the presence of God. We mustfast because we’re called to fasting; we must fast because we live in world woven through with the curses of Genesis 3, the “sin that so easily ensnares us,” with “an enemy that prowls like a hungry lion, seeking to devour us”; we must fast because the Church has been given a way to conform our hearts with the heart of our Creator, and to create immeasurable intimacy with Him. “Why should we fast?” Why wouldn’t we? 

-----

[1]i Cor. 7:5. It is debatable whether this call to abstain from intimacy is “fasting” in the purest sense of the word, however the heart motive appears to be the same—denying that which is not forbidden in order to further commit oneself to God.

[2]Matt. 6.

[3]2 Samuel 1:12.

[4]Acts 13:2.

[5]Esther 4:16.

[6]Luke 2:36–37. 

Spiritual Disciplines: CONFESSION

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The Potency of a Gracious Weapon: Practicing Confession

Guest Writer: Joe Beery

To shamelessly borrow an idea from Kathy Keller, if someone told me that there was a pill I could take that would enrich my friendships and arm me against temptation, I doubt I would hesitate to sign-up. Like many in my generation, I have found it difficult to make friends as I’ve moved out of the academic melting pot of high school and university, and I’ve also seen the staggering grip that sin has on our world. Even in the church, I’ve often found it difficult to move past awkward handshakes and a commentary on the weather with the people I think are genuinely interesting. In light of this discovery, I set out to find any common threads in the rich, deep friendships that I’ve made in my life. The answer? An earnest and frequent practice of mutually confessing our sins.

The Reformation and Confession

Confident that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way, I decided to ask around. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, I learned that confession was just as rare amongst the people I asked as in my own circles. I fear that, especially as Protestants, we threw the baby out with the bath water during the Reformation—we rejected exclusive confession to the Catholic Priests, but failed to embrace our counter argument: that we must, then, confess our sins to fellow believers in our community. When we confess our sins to one another, we forge trust. By taking off the carefully crafted masks that we show to the world, and having other people reciprocate, we are free to plumb the depths of nearly any topic because we genuinely know one another. Then, we can mutually delight in a broader range of topics. Literary genius C.S. Lewis wrote that friendship is the product of one person turning to another as they both enjoy some object or display and saying, “You too!? I thought I was the only one.” When we open our hearts to confess our sins to one another, we find the same sense of companionship in that moment of confession and in the subsequent conversations that our relationships are no longer marred by a sense of fake, or the unknown.

Confession is a Weapon!

The profound power of confession goes beyond grounding deep friendships. God reveals to us throughout the Scriptures that confession is a weapon we wield against sin, and the by-product is the refining of our hearts. Ephesians 5:11–14 (ESV) says, 

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ’Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’

When we allow our sins to remain in darkness, they fester like a wound—the infection spreads from what we thought was a discrete area of our lives out into the rest of us. However, when we confess our sins, “exposing them to light,” then, “Christ shines on us,” and our hearts are brought into conformity with the will and purposes of God. Solomon warns that “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” (Proverbs 28:13). 

Oh! If we could understand the incredible power of confession! John says in his letter, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (i John 1:9). James exhorts us to “therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (James 5:16 ). And the Psalmist, amidst war with his sin nature, writes, “I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ’I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.” (Psalm 32:5). When we feel as though we are at the mercy of our temptations, God tells us that we have been not a shield, but a weapon that the Holy Spirit, through the blood of Jesus Christ, empowers us to wield ferociously: by confessing our sins to one another, we are “cleansed of all unrighteousness,” and our prayers become the efficacious prayers of the righteous lauded in James. 

Are you willing?

Brother or sister, if you are willing to lay aside your pride and lean into the biblical practice of confessing your sins to other believers, you take a necessary step on the road toward glorification. Confession is more than mere ritual—it is the process by which you discover and uproot the “sin that so easily ensnares you.” (Heb. 12:1). You must spend time reflecting on the desires of your heart and the motivations of your actions to confess your sin and drown it in Christ’s blood. This point is important: you must confess the sins of your heart, for they are your sins. Unlike some other practices that can carried by a group, confession requires you to invert your internal walls of privacy—a solo act. 

To survive as the bride of Christ in the aftermath of Genesis 3, a world war torn by sin and temptation, we must lay claim to every weapon in our arsenal. The need to mortify sin and remain steadfast in our relationships with other believers is a primary concern in the Church, yet we have all but abandoned a spiritual discipline that directly leads to success in these areas. If we take the Bible seriously, and if we really care about holiness and our relationships, then we must seriously pursue the practice of confessing our sins. We must, quickly, seek out believers and build relationships upon the bedrock of confession to firm up our own souls, lest we abandon one of our greatest advantages out of synthetic, selfish pride. 

Hurricane Irma Relief & Recovery

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Substitutes for Good Teaching

I was in line at Starbucks the other day and ordered my standard latte that has a whole lot more milk, syrup, and whipped cream than it does coffee. I walked over to add some sugar to the already overly-sweetened drink, when I noticed they were temporarily out of sugar. #firstworldproblems

I looked for an alternative, but the options weren't that great. Instead of "real" sugar, there was Sweet 'N Low, Spenda, Truvia, and Equal. These aren't truly sugar, but are "substitutes". They mimic the "real" thing, but the differences are subtle enough to be absolutely (and sometimes diametrically) different. I wonder if we can apply this same idea to the teaching of God's Word.

Paul said in Titus 2:1: “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.”

Why did he say that? Because in chapter 1 of Titus, the Apostle Paul reveals that there are many who are teaching something that is NOT in accordance with sound doctrine. He said:

10For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 

 

I confess I'm a little shocked that Paul says "MANY" are teaching what they ought not to teach, because today it's no different. There’s a few things that indeed are substitutes, replacements, of good teaching. Here's 4:

 

1. Current Thinking

This causes you to stay “relevant” and entertain rather than proclaim the glory of God. If all a pastor/teacher is doing is sharing their opinion based on man’s wisdom then they really have nothing to say. But if instead we focus on the unchanging truths of God’s Word, which doesn’t return void, we always have the opportunity to be impacted and moved because God’s word is living and active.

 

2. Therapeutic Deism

This gives great “advice” that can be packaged as "Christian" but one will never learn the truth of the Scriptures, just someone’s counsel. Sermons begin to sound like magazine article titles at the checkout line: "5 ways to love your neighbor", "3 ways to stop being angry", etc. It isn't much different than "4 ways to be a better pet owner". And the worst part is that you can apply the advice to any religion or worldview. It is just therapy that you can insert into any religious belief or practice. It doesn’t need a suffering Servant on a cross, just good ideas, like the church is Pinterest. "Oh wow, that’s cute, let’s repost that."

 

3. Easy Belief-ism

 

This is the erroneous idea that Jesus is merely your Savior, so trust in Him and do whatever you want. But the Gospel isn't that Jesus is merely our Savior; the Gospel is that Jesus is Lord. We need to stop praying Jesus "into our hearts" and begin calling people to take up their cross, follow Him, and die to themselves (Luke 9:23). Jesus actually told us to do this daily.

 

4. Temporal Blessings

 

Sadly many people emphasize living for today without a regard to eternity. There's no talk about suffering or reward, just prosperity and ambition, success and happiness. I'm hard-pressed to read the New Testament clearly with this mindset without tip-toeing or flatly ignoring large passages including the book of Acts!

 

In the end, we must teach what accords with sound doctrine. That can't happen without a slow, methodical journey through all of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. I'm so blessed to be a pastor of a church that models this and a movement that is known for it. May we "preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 5But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." (2 Tim 4:2-6)

-Pastor Pilgrim Benham

Read more content from Pastor Pilgrim's Blog by clicking here.

TRUST

There's a popular christian song that talks about trusting in God even when he doesn't move the mountains, part the waters, or give us answers. But still it repeats I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in you.

We are commanded to trust the Lord in everything, with all our heart. Not only that, but we are also told not to rely on our own wits. In the me-centered culture of the world today, it seems impossible not to fall into self-help books, manuals and wondering what we can do to make what we want to happen.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5

TRUST IN THE LORD WITH ALL YOUR HEART

Trust: firm belief in the reliability, ability, or strength of someone or something.

We are commanded to have a firm belief in the ability and strength of our God. Well of course we believe God has the power to make things happen, right? Don't we? Or, do we worry at the first sight of a storm in our life? Through worrying, we are not trusting in Him.

Instead, we should humble ourselves by handing over our anxieties to Him(1 Peter 5:6-7) The trust is, that even through the trials of life, God makes all things work together for the good of those who love him(Romans 8:28).

 

LEAN NOT ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING

Wisdom does not come from earthly sources. We cannot look into ourselves and past experiences to understand how this world works. Wisdom is the application of Godly knowledge to our lives.

Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.
Proverbs 28:26

To trust in our own understanding is foolish, as we all have sinful hearts. All of us have sinned, and fall short of God's glory(Romans 3:23). Instead of leaning on what we think we know, we should seek Godly wisdom through prayer and scripture.

 

HE WILL LEAD US

In John 14:1 Jesus tells his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled, and to trust in Him. In Matthew 6 Jesus says that we should not be anxious about our life and the needs or desires we have, because God will provide for us like He does for animals. They don't worry about food, yet the Lord provides it for them.

So in everything, we should commit ourselves to the Lord. In all that he plans for us, we should be seeking His will. When we trust Him, He will help us by making our paths straight(Proverbs 3:6, Psalms 37:5)

When it doesn't seem like God is answering our prayers, moving the mountains, or working in ways that we understand, we need to remember to seek Him. We need to place our trust in Him that He will work out the storms, and He will help us through them. 

I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in you. 

WISDOM

Proverbs 9:10

Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.”

Our culture puts a great emphasis on education. Children spend 8 hours a day in school, college campuses are only expanding, and many people pursue further education after work. Though education will give us knowledge, only God will give us wisdom.

Wisdom by definition is:

the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.

According to the dictionary, wisdom cannot be achieved without knowledge, experience or good judgment. God possesses of all these qualities.

Knowledge

Knowledge can exist without wisdom, but wisdom cannot exist without knowledge. Proverbs 9:10 and Proverbs 1:7 tell us that that God is the beginning of knowledge. This makes perfect sense because He knows all things(1 John 3:20). We need to look to Him for our understanding of the world. We need to understand that God is the ultimate source of knowledge. Professors, philosophers, and personal experience can only take one so far. No one is all-knowing like God is.

In other words, we need to fear the Lord to gain wisdom.

Proverbs 2:5-6

...then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.”

“Fear of the Lord doesn't mean that we need to be scared of Him. It means that we need to respect Him for who He is and acknowledge his divine qualities. This respect is better known as reverence which is: a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe or veneration.

This type of respect is similar to a child's respect for their parent. They understand that their parent is their authority figure, and that their parent knows what's best.

So to start our journey to wisdom, we need to look to God to gain knowledge.

Good judgment

Having good judgment is a big part of having wisdom. The book of Proverbs is full of examples where in the same situation, someone can make a foolish decision, and someone can make a wise decision, leading to different consequences. In these examples, the ways of the wise follow the Lord's commandments, or act in a way that will glorify God. Such as, having humility, working with diligence, or having reverence for the Lord.

God alone is good(Mark 10:18). He is righteous and His judgments are always good(Psalm 119:137). Therefore, we must certainly depend on the Lord to give us guidance for good judgment in all situations! The whole book of Proverbs shows us that living in a Godly manner will make us wise, and avoid the ways of the foolish. Putting our knowledge of God and what He expects from us into practice will result in good judgment.

Experience

We need experience in order to make wise decisions. If we've never encountered a situation before, we may not be sure how to handle it. Though we can always turn to the Lord in prayer to ask for wisdom(James 1:5) we can also gain much experience through reading the word. The book of Proverbs is probably one of the best places to seek wise advice, but the whole Bible itself is packed with information on how to live a Godly(and therefore wise) life.

Wisdom comes when we apply the knowledge of God to our lives. Jesus is the perfect example of Godly wisdom. In fact, 1 Corinthians 1:24, and 1 Corinthians 1:30, tell us that Christ is the wisdom of God. When we strive to live our lives according to Jesus's example, we will give glory to God, come to know Him more, and become better making judgments about our decisions. When we seek to be wise, we should look to God for knowledge. When we apply our knowledge, we should seek to follow the example of Jesus. And that, is wise.

Lot's Wife

I love names. Their meanings, the different spellings, famous ones, unique ones, names in books and especially biblical names. However, the woman we will be studying today is not known by her name(it remains a mystery) but how she turned back to look at a burning sinful city and turned into a pillar of salt. This woman is just simply called: Lot's wife. I wish I could call her something like Avon(Hebrew name that means “sin of lust”) or maybe something more common like Lola which means “lady of sorrows”, but whatever her real name was, there's a lot to learn from her short appearance in the book of Genesis.

The city of Sodom and Gomorrah was wicked and full of sexual immorality, pride, selfishness, and greed. They had an abundance of food and wealth but they did not care for the needy. This is where Lot and his family lived. In Genesis 18:20-21 God says

“The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

He then reveals to Abraham that he will not destroy the city if he finds ten righteous people in it(spoiler alert: there was only one).

In Genesis 19 two angels came to Sodom and Gomorrah to rescue Lot and his family. Just before God's judgment came upon the city, the angels warned his whole household to flee the city.

While most of the family was difficult to convince, eventually the angels had to drag out Lot, his wife, and two daughters by their hands to the city outskirts. There one of the angels said:

"Flee for your lives! Don't look back, and don't stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!"

I'd say that seems pretty clear. Look, the city is in sin so bad, that God must destroy it. If you stop, you'll die. Well, Mrs. Lot didn't seem to take it quite so seriously. As Lot reached the little village they were heading to the Lord “rained down fire and burning sulfur” onto the city. Just then, Lot's wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt.

Why turn around? The famous question of this story! Well, she could have tripped, or maybe she was scared, or more likely, she lacked in some qualities that Lot did.

NO REVERENCE FOR GOD

Reverence means to to have a feeling or attitude of great respect. In the Bible it is called the “fear of the Lord”. However, it doesn't mean to literally be afraid of God, but to have respect for who He is and the power he possesses. In the case of Mrs. Lot, she should have had fear of the coming judgment! She lived right there in the sinful place. Instead, she brushed it off. Proverbs 1:7 states

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

The wise choice would have been to follow the Lord's instruction, but without reverence for God, a foolish decision was made instead.

NO TRUST IN GOD

The angels clearly said that they were going to be saved from the destruction, but still, Lot's wife did not take what she was given. She didn't believe that where she was going was going to be better than where she was. All she could see literally was what she was leaving behind. If she kept her eyes focused on her future where she was following the will of God, we would know more about her today.

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

She may not have understood the gravity of the situation. She may have felt uncomfortable about leaving so quickly. But regardless, she should have put her faith in God from the beginning.

HELD ON TO SIN

Sodom and Gomorrah was a sinful place. They must have had wild parties, feasts, plenty of wine, and generally comfortable lives. Lot's wife likely had a life of luxury. The angels had to drag them all out by their hands. She didn't want to leave! Her material possessions, social status and wealth all stayed in Sodom and Gomorrah. It looks as though Mrs. Lot was willing to die for her lifestyle. In Matthew 16:24-25 Jesus says

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.”

To truly find life is to give our lives to God. Lot's wife held on to her life of sin and in that, she lost it. In our life, we need to give up our sins to follow Jesus.

He is calling us away from Sodom and Gomorrah, will we take His grace and have eternal life with Jesus, or will we look back?

Prayer, Patience and Joy (Romans 12:12)

Romans 12:12
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

This is easily one of my favorite verses of the Bible. I have it tabbed in my bible, it's framed near my bed, and I've had it as my lock-screen on my phone. I catch myself reading it over and over again. Though it seems so basic, I find that it's applicable to just about anything I'm going through.

Recently I skimmed the verse backwards and it gave new life to the verse I already love.

FAITHFUL IN PRAYER

Prayer basically means to talk to God. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In all things we should seek God through prayer. We don't need to be anxious, worried, or in doubt. He is always available to listen and give us peace.

Not only are we asked to pray, but pray faithfully. Faithful by definition is to have a long-continued and steadfast devotion. So we are to be devoted to prayer, and another translation tells us to be constant in prayer. Imagine being in a constant conversation with God throughout your entire day. Through every stumble we look to Him to guide us. That's what He wants, and that's what we need. A healthy relationship will always require communication.

PATIENT IN AFFLICTION

Patience is the ability to tolerate delay without getting angry or upset. I've heard a lot of people say “don't pray for patience, God will give it to you!” As in, you'll end up in a situation that will require patience.

But, the truth is we will all have afflictions or something that causes us pain and suffering in this life. Whether it's financial hardships, chronic pain, emotional struggles, or even persecution, we need Godly patience to help us along the way. When we face times like these, we can seek God through prayer and lean on Him to give us patience to endure our trials.

JOYFUL IN HOPE

We will spend eternity in the presence of the creator of the universe.

Our hope is in Jesus and eternal life spent with Him! This truth should be radiating from us!

Whatever trials come our way, we can always be joyful in the fact that we will have a future with Jesus. In the meantime, through faithful prayer and patience, we can continue to look at Him until that day has come.

In John 16:33 after Jesus tells the disciples the future troubles they were going to face he says:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Through faithfulness in prayer, we receive patience to wait upon Jesus in whom we find our joyful hope.

Is Our Worship Full?

In church we usually sing three or so songs, raise our hands, pray, and then we move on with the message. We call this time “worship”. We sing worship songs that are written by worship bands, and lead by worship leaders. We all are worshipers. As Christians, our entire lives are supposed to be worship. Worship isn't the song we sing, and how we sing it; it's our life and how we live it; living it for God.

Mark 14:3-9 shows us a beautiful example of what our worship should look like.

And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply.

But Jesus said,“Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”

This woman stepped out in bold faith. She knew who Jesus was, and didn't care what it took to honor him the best way she could.

Looking closer we can see that her worship was:

1. COSTLY

The oil was costly and worth over three hundred denarii. That's a year's worth of wages. The average single American income is around $50,000. Imagine giving that all at once. She risked being criticized by the people around her. She didn't let what others thought hold her back. What will our worship cost us? Our reputation, time, effort, energy, or talents?

2. SACRIFICIAL

To pour the oil, she had to break the jar so that it would never be used on someone of lesser importance. In one simple move she gave him all the hard work of her family, as it was likely a family investment or even part of her dowry. She lessened her value as a bride to bring glory to Jesus as she honored him in it. The disciples sacrificed their fishing nets, a tax collector's booth, even a desire to overthrow the government. What have we sacrificed to follow Jesus?

3. FRAGRANT

When she poured the oil, it's aroma filled the air. As the smell of an exotic perfume traveled the room, heads may have turned to see where it was coming from. To see this woman pour such a costly oil on Jesus brought light to his worthiness. Jesus corrected the critics from the group, and stated his appreciation for her good deed. Her act affected everyone in the room. The fragrance of the oil filled their noses, and they noticed what she had done for Jesus. In the same way our worship should be fragrant. It should be noticeable to those around us.

4. INTIMATE

As she walked up to Jesus she was focused on what she was going to do. She had the boldness to break the jar above his head and John 12 tells us that she moved down to his feet and wiped them with her hair. To have a level of comfort to spontaneously pour oil on someone's head requires an intimate relationship. Jesus says that she was preparing him for burial; she understood who he was. She became a servant as she used her hair to wipe his feet. Literally, she was serving Jesus at his feet. Our worship needs to be an intimate relationship.

Though she initially received criticism from the people around her, Jesus knew her heart and used her to teach the others that what she did was good and pleasing to him. She gave Jesus the best she could. Jesus gives us everything. His perfect life takes the place of ours, and we are given eternal life with him. In response we worship, and give him praise through our lives. Let's worship him for all that he is, with all that we have.

Have you sacrificed anything to follow Jesus?

Is your relationship with Him intimate?

Is your worship full?

Are We Being a Light?

I had a friend in high school who was different. She didn't listen to popular music, didn't use swear words and she didn't like gossip. I knew she was a Christian before she even told me. Her attitude was clear: she was serious about her faith, and lived it too. She made an impact on me. I always knew that she was good company and I felt safe with her. But one day, I thought further than that. I wondered if maybe there was more to her faith than just not watching R-rated movies or cutting class. I began to toy with the idea that maybe I wanted to know more about why she lived the way she did.

In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus says

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

My friend was directly following the words of Jesus. She understood that being “light of the world” means that she must act like Jesus, as he calls himself “light of the world” in John 8:12. So as a representative of Him on this Earth, she made it a point to live her life according to his example to make an impact on those around her. And it worked!

What are some ways we can be a light to others?

  • Put it out there

    My friend wasn't afraid to let the world know that she followed Jesus. She took her day-to-day routine as an opportunity to evangelize. We too should be looking for opportunities daily to share our faith. In the office, in class, to the barista, the cab driver, or the homeless man who approaches you for money.

  • Watch our surroundings

James 1:21 tells us to “get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives “ and in Ephesians 5:17-19 Paul tells us not to act thoughtlessly, or get drunk on wine. Instead, he tells us to sing psalms and hymns among each other praising the Lord together. We need to be watchful of the things we surround ourselves with. My friend was very conscious to listen to only praise and worship to keep her heart right throughout the day. We also should consider what influences us throughout our day.

  • Follow the Holy Spirit

    As believers, we all possess the Holy Spirit in us. He is our guide, counselor, and he gives strength and wisdom. He will help us recall scripture in a time of need(John 14:26) and will never prompt us to do anything against it. He needs to be the leader in all that we do. So we need to be mindful of the Holy Spirit's leading. Pay attention to the nudges that tell you to approach someone and invite them to church, or ask a friend if they need prayer. The Holy Spirit's leading will keep us walking in the light.

Living our lives as “light of the world” not only has the potential to bring more lives to Christ, but it is also glorifying to God. Matthew 5:16 says “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” When we follow God's commandments and live our lives according to Jesus' example, we show others the greatness of God through us. 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells that no matter what it is we do “do all to the glory of God.” All that we do. Our lives need to be a light in this world of darkness to shine light on others so that they see the glory of God within us and give him praise.

 

“Don't shine so others can see you. Shine so that through you, others can see Him.”
-C.S. Lewis
 

Are you being a light in this world?

Is your faith as bold as it could be?

Is there anything that negatively influences you?

Do you feel that you are attentive to the Holy Spirit?

 

Are We Seeking God? (Psalm 42)

I love water. I drink it ice cold, lukewarm, hot; it doesn't matter. I wasn't always a water drinker though. Just a few years ago I drank everything but! Soda, coffee, tea, energy drinks just as long as it didn't taste like water. It took me a long time to realize that water alone is what my body craves. Pure water is what really satisfies my physical thirst.

It was my father who encouraged me to change my habits and make an effort to drink only water. It was tough at first but, after a few months I felt much better! I couldn't believe how obvious it was that all I need is water. 

In the same way, I find that in Psalm 42 the psalmist craves the presence God more than anything else. 

Psalms 42

1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Imagine a deer wandering in the woods longing only for water to keep it alive. Are we desiring God in the same way? Often we find ourselves looking to other things to satisfy our needs. We look to friends, family and spouses for attention. We keep track of our popularity on social media. We follow sports, fashion, and politics. Sometimes we can find temporary solutions to our needs. 

Psalms 42

8 But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.

Every day we have the opportunity to experience unfailing love from our God. The kind of attention,  love, and satisfaction we desire by nature is only quenched by His presence in our lives. He is the water our souls thirst for. 

How are some ways we can seek God's presence?

  • Read and pray daily

Set aside time each day to focus on your relationship with God. Whether it's morning, night or your lunch break at work, make time to meet with God daily. Pray, read the scriptures, or follow a daily devotional plan. I like to read one book at a time, and take notes in a journal. Find what works for you, and stick to it!

  • Look to Him in tough times

In Mark 14:32-36 Jesus was “deeply troubled, and distressed” before the crucifixion. We can only imagine how He felt. He was so stressed that He literally sweat blood (Luke 22:44). In midst of all this, he fell to the ground and prayed (Mark 14:36). Jesus pressed on closer to the Father in a time where He must have felt the most human He ever did. In the same way, we need to press closer to God in our troubles for strength.

  • Praise Him in times of joy

James 1:17 tells us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father”. So let's praise Him for the gifts He gives us! Let's give Him thanks for the good things we receive. Giving Him our first in praise and thankfulness will draw us nearer to Him.

The closer we draw to God, the closer He will draw to us (James 4:8). Not only will we enjoy a relationship with our creator, but He will also satisfy the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4). 

What's the “soda” in your life? 

What are you seeking to fill the needs in your life?