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What

These "Pearls of Wisdom" pages are somewhere to share the insightful articles, podcast episodes, etc that I come across on a regular basis. I hope they are meaningful in your "with God" life as well. Of course many of these posts will include elements of all three categories of pearls.

In Dallas Willard's "Vision, Intention, and Means" model of transformation, What is the Vision of what can be. What provides the beauty and imagination of a life better lived.

There is a key point to all of this, and everything you read in the articles or podcasts on this page should be considered in reference to one thing: relationship with God and others. This life we are invited into is a relational one. It is how God exists within Himself in Trinitarian form: in a relationship of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Mankind was created as an expansion of that relationship for much the same reason that a couple with a healthy marriage decides to have children - so that they have more family with which to share their unified love.

General

General

With God Life: (General) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. In this episode James Bryan Smith defines the kingdom of God as the with God life. It is living in the power, provision, and protection of God. God wants to be intimately involved in every area of our lives and live in ongoing conversational relationship with us. This is a helpful and simple understanding of the kingdom of God.

Practicing the Way Vision Series Episode 1: (General) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast. There are several great points in this podcast but one of the main ones to highlight is how he draws a contrast between what it means in our society to be a Christian vs what it means to be a follower of Jesus. While these terms can be used interchangeably, meaning that a follower of Jesus is also a Christian, the term Christian doesn't necessarily mean a follower of Jesus. (Being a follower of Jesus is another term for being a disciple of Jesus.)

 

What you'll find on the Our God Bathed Life website are invitations to become a follower of Jesus, a disciple of His. My hope is that you will choose to be a follower of Jesus.

First Half, Second Half of Life / Naming Your Stage of Apprenticeship Episode 4: (General) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast. As all of his podcasts, there is a lot of great stuff here. But I post this to bring attention to one comment of his just after the 45 minute mark. He says, "...the invitation to let Jesus be our God, and everyone and everything else be our gift. Most of our life we have it backward. Jesus is our gift, we're really grateful for Him, but something...or someone else is our God." Jesus is certainly our gift - God is trying to make of us people in whom He can pour more of Himself. But He is also our God - the good and kind and wise and powerful God - who knows the paths of life and joy for us.

Case Study: Rachel and Leah / Naming Your Stage of Apprenticeship Episode 8: (General) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast.

I have never read the Rachel and Leah story like this before. It is incredible. The story is fascinating, but the moral of the story that John Mark provides at the end, about how to find true freedom in life and how to see all of life as a gift, is a brilliant summation. (It is too in depth to put into a few words here.) It is akin to portions of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality authored by Pete Scazzaro. Larry Crabb's Shattered Dreams is another good book on the theme as well. I highly recommend giving this a listen, as well as working through those books if you haven't read them yet.

Self-Denial in an Age of Self-Fulfillment / Fighting the World, the Flesh, and the Devil Episode 6: (General) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast. What he says in the beginning of this podcast is so true. We live in a culture of self. How many times have we heard that we should be our "authentic selves" and just to "be true to your self". When this is defined in relationship to who we are in Jesus, then this is very good. But the last thing that the shifting winds of culture wants is to define it that way. Instead, our culture tells us to believe these three things, which are all lies:

1) Nobody and nothing should be able to stand in the way of getting what I want

2) If they or it does, it is a form of oppression

3) If I can't get what I want then I can't be happy

This is especially seen in the current debates surrounding issues of sexuality.

But the path to joy, the path to real life, the path to actual fulfillment, is what Jesus said: deny your self, take up your cross, and follow Me. You can either:

Deny your self and follow Jesus

Or

Deny Jesus and follow your self

Denying Jesus and following your self results in anxiety, anger, and frustration. We do not control outcomes. But denying our selves to follow Jesus aligns our desires with His and results in thankfulness and joy, peace from knowing that He is our good shepherd and cares for us.

He makes another great point about how Jesus taught. He taught primarily through making statements about reality. So often we look for commands when He wasn't issuing commands, but was speaking as to the nature of truth. Of course a wise person will live in accordance with what is really true.

This episode is rich with truths the wise will live by.

Will Heaven be Boring?: (General) Podcast episode from Andy Miller's More to the Story podcast. We'll all float around on clouds singing hymns all day and all night, right? Ugh. I hope not. That does not sound appealing to me at all. Will we continue to learn? I hope so. I don't want my learning to cease because there is no more to know. This question about heaven being boring also points to our view of God. We know that He is good and beautiful and true, but how about fun, joyous, playful? We'll like the life to come. No, it won't be boring.

The Six Streams and Hope for a New Reformation: (General) In this link to Renovare.org essay by Nathan Foster, he provides some thoughts on what the six streams are today, the six historic expressions of the church, as well as hope for how they may integrate across the church across all denominations, providing a richer, more complete expression of the work of the Spirit in the Church today. For more on this, Richard Foster wrote a book explaining the six streams in more detail called "Streams of Living Water". I'm glad that I had to read it for my application to the Renovare Institute as it helped to re-frame and clarify what some of those traditions are.

Becoming Like Jesus: Spirit-filled Life: (General) Link to Renovare.org essay by Chris Webb. What is the Spirit-filled life? Perhaps no other stream of Christian expression has been more controversial. But it really shouldn't be. As Christ followers, our "with-God" life is empowered by the Holy Spirit. He is given to each and every believer to empower, guide, lead, teach, comfort, etc. He transforms us to make us more like Jesus. We join with Him in our transformation by practicing with.

The Surprising Power of the Holy Spirit: (General) Link to Renovare.org essay by Chris Hall. Chris Hall's What, in this article, is to remind us that the Holy Spirit does indeed still work today in surprising and supernatural ways. I include this article for a few reasons: encouragement, to agree with Chris Hall, and because this article is beautifully written. A few weeks ago I came across Genesis 1:2 again where we see the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters on the first day of creation and a thought occurred to me: I know of nowhere in the Bible where He ever left, only repeated stories of His presence and activity in His creation all the way through the book of Revelation. It is reasonable to expect the presence and activity of the Spirit amongst us.

Salvation as a Life: (General) Link to Renovare.org article by Richard Foster. What is Salvation? Ask 10 people and you are likely to get 20 answers. Just as Dallas Willard does in the Divine Conspiracy, Richard Foster answers the question from the theological right and the theological left and shows where they both tend to miss the greater point. John 17:3, John 10:10, Romans 12:1-2, John 15:5, Matthew 4:17 all point to the work of the Spirit of God active and present in the here and now, in our very lives. What is salvation? Relationship with God. And that relationship results in love for God and what He loves - people.

Experiencing Miracles with Dr JP Moreland: (General) Podcast episode from Andy Miller's More to the Story podcast. Dr Moreland is a well respected Christian philosopher and intellectual. I am glad that he wrote a book on miracles because he brings a reasoned approach and maybe a small degree of skepticism in that he doesn't just take someone's word about it. What did he find? Miracles are real. They happen today. God is at work in His creation. He works with and for us, and for His mission. As you will hear in this podcast, there are a number of reasons why miracles happen: to care for us, as attestations to the reality of His existence, to encourage and strengthen faith, etc.

Trailer for Rule of Life podcast: (General) Link to Spotify episode of the Rule of Life podcast. I know: "Really, Tim? A trailer for a podcast?" Yes. Because it says succinctly:

We need a rule of life, a structure or system or methodology by which we can order our lives. All of us have one whether we recognize it or not. This idea is simply to formalize it so that we can thrive, specifically in our relationship with God. If you feel that you have been flailing about, or that your direction in life isn't leading to the kind of life that is best for you and honors God's desire for you, then maybe it is time to change or alter the system that your life is built upon. A rightly oriented system of living with God will result in transformation in our lives.

Conversation with William Paul Young: (General) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. William Paul Young is the author of the book The Shack. I saw the movie but did not read the book. It was a fantastic movie that you will see recommended on the movie page on this website. After the introductions and the story about how the book came about, they get into the theology and thinking that went into the story, as well as why he represented the Trinity the way he did. It's well thought out. If you liked the book or the movie, then this may be an interesting listen. I never knew, for example, that the Spirit of God in Genesis 1:2, ruwach (roo'-akh), is a feminine noun, which is why the Holy Spirit is portrayed as a woman in the book and movie. That is just a bit of trivia, but there is a lot that is quite good in this podcast.

Spiritual Disciplines with Richard J Foster and Marti Ensign: (General) This link is to episode 1 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. When someone says spiritual discipline what do you think of? Like a lot of people you may think of some somber drudgery. Maybe sitting alone in a small room with no window and a lit candle as you spend hours in prayer and contemplation. If you go to certain Protestant churches you may think of prayer and Bible reading, but then would be hard pressed to come up with anything more than that. Did you know that there are an unlimited number of them? That they can often be fun exercises? That they aren't meant to be a somber drudgery? They are exercises or practices that we engage in with the purpose of spending intentional time with God. They can last for 2 minutes (or less) or two weeks (or longer) or anywhere in between. Sometimes they are engaged in as a practice to change a behavior: for example, fasting from social media for a week if it is taking up too much of your time or focus, and instead spending that time praying or even playing with your child, as long as it is done in an attitude of intentional time with God. Spiritual disciplines are relational in nature. They help us get to know God better. In this episode, Richard Foster and Marti Ensign help to define and destigmatize spiritual disciplines. 

The Goodness of Holiness with Dallas Willard: (General) This link is to episode 165 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. Say the word holiness and a lot of people think outward behavior - I was one of them. Dallas Willard, in this talk, puts that to rest. Sure, it results in good outward behavior, but it is not outward behavior. Holiness is about the heart. Dallas says holiness is simply living well (not prosperity gospel) - it is becoming the kind of person who is response-able: people able to respond to a situation in the right way, with the right attitude, at the right time - response-able. He also explains why legalism and perfectionism are enemies of holiness.

Part 6: God of Evil: (General) Vimeo Video of Bridgetown Church sermon by Josh Porter. This is a very good theodicy argument from the point of view of spiritual warfare. We often assign blame to God when tragedy strikes or bad things happen. But are we blaming the right god?

Simplicity

Simplicity

Simplicity: Inward Then Outward with Richard Foster: (Simplicity) This link is to episode 136 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. If only for these few sentences alone, this is worth a listen. Nathan is asking Richard to tell the story of a person he was counseling that came to him concerned about having too much to do. Richard answered this person, "Say no." (pause) "I wish I could make it more complicated than that. Say no." But the episode itself is short and talks about the importance of an inner simplicity so that practicing simplicity doesn't become another deadening legalism in one's life. The idea of simplicity is for margin in one's life. Hold things lightly. Be interruptible. With that mindset, we can then simplify on the outside in order to foster that inner desire for simplicity.

Andrew Arndt - On the Desert Fathers and Mothers: (Simplicity) This link is to episode 264 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster.

This episode comes to me with nearly perfect timing as I write this on February 5th, 2024. I have been very fortunate to have some wonderful teaching in my life. I sat under the teaching of a mentor for the decade of my twenties who has a doctorate in theology. I started along the path of some very basic seminary type of teaching in starting the elder path in the Free Methodist Church, which had a wonderful online teacher who recommended some wonderful books to read for the coursework. I had a great friend recommend I read Dallas Willard and it changed my life. Simultaneously I was reading Larry Crabb, who changed my life in other ways, whom I stumbled across looking for books on small groups. My mentor in my twenties recommended Dr Neil Anderson books to teach me who I am in Christ. Henri Nouwen taught me to lean into being beloved by God, which the other aforementioned authors also tried to teach, but Henri Nouwen has a different approach (perhaps more relaxed? certainly from someone who has been through the crucible and has it settled in the depths of his soul and knows how to communicate that on a heart level). AW Tozer in trembling reverential awe exudes living on fire for God in his writing. It has taken a long time, but I've learned that I live life with God, engaged in His movements on earth, from a position of being deeply loved by God.

For the last few months God has been showing me that what I learned in my head hasn't quite made it to my heart, yet. And it needs to. I'm a recovering work-a-holic. I take after my dad in that way. Starting in my teens I worked part time during high school a few nights a week while taking AP classes and maintaining teenager friendships. My schedule was packed. As soon as I graduated high school I worked a full time job and kept my high school part time job only now I worked most nights and took on more responsibility. Then I made the part time job my full time job and left my full time job, but kept working similar hours to the two jobs combined. I worked this way, only occasionally slowing down, into age 50. When I slowed down it was usually to focus on roles at church: small group leader, mentor, young adult ministry director, etc, or to hunker down and learn/read/study for those roles. I packed my schedule to overflowing almost all of the time.

Then my family sold property and moved to North Carolina when I was 51 (I live with my brother who took care of my parents when they no longer could take care of themselves). I am now 53. For the first nearly 2 years we were dealing with all the paperwork from the sale of the PA property, transferring my parents estate into my mom's name when my dad passed away, then transferring the estate to my brother and I when she passed away one year later. A lot happened inside of a little over a year, a lot to grieve - leaving our jobs, our state, my church, my fiends, the death of my father and mother, moving to a new place, finding a new church, learning to navigate a new area, etc. After my mom's passing, my brother and I then set out to make the property in NC what we wanted it to be. All this time I was working on this website and podcast: somewhere where I could share the things I had learned and was learning. This past summer we were getting caught up and I was ready to look for work. The funds from the property sale wouldn't last forever, you know.

Just then my birth defect hip "jumped the shark". A cane would no longer suffice - I needed crutches even to go from one room of the house to the next... or simply more than a few steps for that matter. The pain would keep me from sleeping as unfortunately my hip didn't like laying in my new bed. Sleep would come in small 1-2 hour long increments in bed and some naps in my computer task chair I had rigged with a heated seat cover and a heating pad laying over the arm rest to provide some relief for my hip. The orthopedic doctor said my hip is too far gone for surgery at this point, and pain management can do little, partly because I do not want mind-altering drugs. But it turns out lack of sleep is mind altering. I spent the last 6 months in a mental fog/haze fighting just to stay awake during the day, the worst of it over the last 3+ months. Now I found myself grieving the loss of my lifestyle as I no longer went to church, went out to movies or to dinner or really much of anywhere other than to doctors.

How am I going to work? Certainly it must be from home. I didn't sign up to lead a Bible study this semester given the pain and discomfort of doing so last semester. So here I am not working, barely able to upkeep the website, doing the bare minimum of "church work" from home, not coherent enough to study, write, record, the blog and podcast. I found myself grieving something else: a loss of a sense of worth and value. "I can't do much of anything so what good am I?" If I were speaking with anyone else who said this, I "know" better and would lay out the case that being loved by God gives them immense worth. But it isn't someone else. It is me. I "know" better in my head, but I don't really "know" better at the core of my being.

Ironically, over the last several days, since I have been learning this, I can sleep more hours in bed now with less pain. I am more awake and refreshed now than I have been in months. I hope this is a sign of things changing. I want to get back to being more productive. But I also know now, that I need to lean into the Holy Spirit teaching my heart where my real sense of worth and value comes from: from God's love for me and what He has made me as a child of His.

This reminds me of something I watched in my thirties and forties. I was friends with many young parents at that time and I saw a pattern where so many of those young moms would feel like they were terrible mothers. They weren't in any way bad mothers - they were amazing mothers. But they had this vision of what a perfect mom was like and they failed to live up to that. It affected their sense of worth.

To young moms feeling like failures, to men in a situation where God is trying to show them that their worth isn't tied to what they can produce, or anyone else that needs to learn this lesson or is in the midst of being taught this lesson, there is hope before, during, and after this experience. In this episode, Andrew Arndt offers a few thoughts on this as he has gone through this and come out on the other side, his heart the wiser for it. One practical item he suggests is to rest in your own grave, which I think he means that when you see this lesson, don't run and hide from it. Rest in it. Allow your worldly idea of worth and value to die, so that you can rise again in newness of a value given to you by the immensity of God's love for you. Not what you do, but simply who you are as the beloved of God. This episode is a great listen!

A Season of Simplicity: (Simplicity) This link is to a Renovare article by Richard Foster. This article steps on toes in all the right ways. It strikes a critical tone of how our society actively and blatantly fights against simplicity, even though our souls need simplicity. He urges us to awaken from our slumber to the psychosis of our society craving ever more: "Because we lack a divine Center our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things. We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like. Where planned obsolescence leaves off, psychological obsolescence takes over. We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality. It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick. Until we see how unbalanced our culture has become at this point, we will not be able to deal with the mammon spirit within ourselves nor will we desire Christian simplicity." The Holy Spirit invites us to step off of the frantic treadmill and into a life marked by simplicity, even in a society that fights it...especially in a society that fights it. Let's be ambassadors of Christ in this way also. Ambassadors for the good and beautiful and true.

Solitude

Solitude

Contemplative Community with Carolyn Arends: (Solitude) This link is to episode 175 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. They don't really get into the community part of contemplation until about the 33-35 minute mark, but before that they take time casually discussing silence and contemplation. Carolyn points out the same thing that I noticed when Nathan was talking about prayerful silence that they practiced together for two hours at a church he worked at. He said that he was very resistant at first, however after about a year he came to love it. After a year. Silence and contemplation takes experimentation and repetition in practice. It may take time to get used to. So if you try it, don't give up right away. Pete Scazzaro does a great job of helping us to acclimate to it in his Emotionally Healthy Spirituality book when used together with its devotional.

Generational Sin / Dealing with Your Past Episode 1: (Solitude) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast.

My mentor brought the truth of generational sin to me in my twenties but I didn't really get it then. Fast forward 20+ years and I am reintroduced to it through the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality when the pastor at my church assigned it to the mentor team. But we were going quickly through the book at the pace of one chapter per week and I felt, going through that book for the first time, like I needed two or three weeks for some of the material. Some of it I had no idea what to do with. So I went through the book again, and then again.

Suffice it to say that I was skeptical about idea of generational sin, and probably in my twenties I also didn't want to go there. But as I went through the book a second and third time, it made sense to me and I did some of the work. By then my grandparents passed away, my mom had cancer, and my dad was one with whom you didn't speak about anything deeper than surface stuff and he was in the early stages of Parkinsons. So I searched the memory files and made the genogram as best as I could. And it was helpful and good. And, as John Mark Comer says, make sure that you:

1) List the good and the bad. Both are present.

2) Be honest. Intentionally leaving stuff out only hurts you. Unless you are doing this with a counselor, you do not need to share it with anyone else.

3) Seeing patterns of generational or family sin allows you to deal with it. This could be a simple prayer, it may involve spiritual warfare (see Neil Anderson's book The Bondage Breaker, or ask your pastor or leader at your church), or you may want to see a counselor. Counselors can be really great. I recommend a Christian counselor. I have one whom I see monthly. He also doubles as my spiritual director.

Anyway, generational sin is real, and if you haven't done this exercise before, it is a necessary one.

Here is the sermon as a video on Vimeo.

Empowered by God to Do What We Want: (Solitude) Link to Renovare.org book excerpt by Dallas Willard. The title of that excerpt sounds a little narcissistic, doesn't it? Using God to get what we want? But what if what we want was created by God? As we grow in our relationship with God, as we become closer friends, we find that our heart aligns with His heart. We learn that what He wants is goodness and truth and beauty, and we find ourselves wanting that, too. Have you ever considered the meaning of Psalm 37:4, "Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart." But if you are delighting in the Lord, then you will want more of Him. This verse says that God will honor that desire. So it is from these good and pure desires that God will empower what we want to do.

(Unnamed Episode): (Solitude) This link is to episode 1 of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. Smith is one of my favorite authors. In this episode he tells us where his often used phrase, "I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights." came from. And it is a delightful story.

Truly Believing the Twenty-Third Psalm: (Solitude) Link to Renovare.org book excerpt by Dallas Willard. Is it settled reality for you, the twenty-third Psalm? It can be. Life doesn't make it easy with all of its worries and distractions, but you can live as though the Lord is your shepherd, that He cares for you and watches out for your needs as you ask for your daily bread from Him. This isn't meant to be reserved for a righteous few, but it meant as the regular experience for any Christ follower. Two key passages for understanding living in confidence in a good and trustworthy God are Psalm 23 and Matthew's account of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. Spend time dwelling in these two passages. Consider what they have to say. This excerpt includes practical commentary for our lives now about each verse of Psalm 23. (And the book itself is very good!)

Forgiven to be Filled: (Solitude) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. This is another basic point but is critical. Once forgiven, we aren't just waiting for our biological death so we can live fully into eternal life. We have the very life of Christ right now. The Holy Spirit works with us in order to form us into the kind of person that He can pour more of Himself into.

Overcoming Temptation: (Solitude) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. James draws an important distinction in this podcast that we should know. Temptation is not sin. Temptation turns into sin when we take ownership of it: we act on it, we fantasize about it, we dwell on the temptation, etc. James reminds us that there is always a way out of temptation and gives a practice of one way that we can overcome temptation.

Shame: (Solitude) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. Thank God for poetry! While I am not really a fan of it myself (I prefer it in musical form or narration in film), many others have been affected by it. In fact, one woman came to faith by reading a poem written by George Herbert in which God helps a man to release the shame he feels about being in the presence of God. God wants to share a meal with him but he is too ashamed of himself to do so. But God gently invites him several times until the man eventually gets over his sense of shame and comes to the table to dine with Him. It is a beautiful poem. God feels the same way about you and I. He wants us to come to the table to be with Him, He wants to be with us. Shame acts to keep us apart. God invites us to release it so we can be with Him.

Finality of the Cross: (Solitude) This link is to episode 2 of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. A fundamentally basic point is brought up in this episode, but an especially important one. If you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior, then God does not deal with you on the basis of your sin. You have His life, and you will not lose it. Of course, just like in any good relationship, if you do something to offend God, then you should confess it and want to do better for the sake of your relationship. But your position is secure in Christ at the moment you place your trust in Him. Smith goes on to explain why this is so important to understand.

Worry: (Solitude) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. "Worry! What is it good for? Absolutely nothin'!" Okay, so that song was "War", not "worry" but the same can be said. We were never meant to try to control outcomes. We act with God in life, seeking His direction and listening for when He provides it, and often He doesn't except for general wisdom, allowing us to make decisions. When He leads, we follow. When He lets the decision up to us, we trust in His presence and provision and make a decision. Either way, we release the outcome to Him. Yes, bad things happen. But they'll happen with or without our worry. And we have reason for real hope and trust - we are children of a good and beautiful and true and powerful God, and He knows what's best, and is always working for our good. There is nothing good that comes from worry.

Act of Faith: (Solitude) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. The epistle of James, Dallas Willard, James Bryan Smith, and others describe faith as belief in action. If you believe something, then you act as if it is true. If we believe in the goodness, presence, and power of God, and believe that He actively cares for us, then we can act on that in confidence. We may have little faith to start, but as we interact with God over time, as we get to know Him better, our faith can grow so that we can act on that belief. The point in this episode is that we do not need to beat ourselves up if we are unhappy with where we are at living and acting in faith. This is something we can grow in.

Superstition: (Solitude) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. Does God punish me for my sin? Smith says no. That may be a shocking answer. But understand that sin does bring with itself a punishment  - natural consequences like friction in relationships and such. But there are other things sin does to us: interrupts our spiritual growth, reduces our ability to triumph over temptation, conviction, shame, etc.

However, be aware that there may be direct consequences to actions that God brings about - directly related to sin. For such examples we can turn to Acts 5:1-11 and the story of Ananias and Sapphira, or Acts 12:21-23 and the story of Herod. But such examples are rare exceptions, and seem to have happened as attesting miracles.

 

Another example: there may be rare exceptions that seem to deal with people groups. We see that God caused Israel to be exiled from the Promised Land due to their sin. Note also that God warned them before they entered the land, repeatedly reminded them because it was a part of their law, sent prophets over and over and over again to warn them, so they had an overwhelming number of warnings before that happened. Similarly God drove out the people that occupied the Promised Land in order to give it to Israel and that was also due to their volume of sin.

But God does not bring about unrelated misfortune for previously committed sin. The "God punishes me for my sin" narrative may have something to do with wanting a degree of control in our lives, but it isn't really a true narrative.

Be Happy for God: (Solitude) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. When you think of God, do the ideas of playful, joyful, and happy come to mind? They should, for that is what He is. Take some time to really think about this after you listen to it. God is good, He appreciates and creates beauty, and He enjoys sharing it with us.

Roots in the Future: (Solitude) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. God is good. He has set life in motion and has designed the end. How would a good God shape the end of the story other than good? We know Biblically that we have a future to look forward to. How does that mean we live? With an attitude of hope. Smith quotes John D. Zizioulas, who said, “Christians have their roots in the future, and their branches in the present.” We have permission to go forth in hope.

God's Joyous Being: (Solitude) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. At a church I went to on my early thirties, I was introduced to a practice that they had where two or three men would meet in the pastor's office during each service and pray for the service, the people of the church, the visitors, etc. I was a part of this practice and it was a good one. So when I found myself at a different church, I brought this practice with me. It was difficult to find others to do this with me with any consistency - I don't recruit well and I am not a rah-rah type of person (I very much believe in making a simple request and allowing others to choose free from pressure) - so I often did this alone. One alone day, perhaps prompted by the Holy Spirit, as I started praying, I recognized that I just started right in on my requests. I apologized to God and asked simply, "How is Your day?" I was immediately plunged into such an overwhelming sea of immense joy I felt like I would drown in it. Right away I pleaded "Turn it off! Turn it off!" and it ceased. I remembered the passage from The Divine Conspiracy that James Bryan Smith reads in this episode and had an experience to match the words, words which years previously had taught me to think of God as a joyous being. I, like James, used to think of God as stern and solemn, thinking it was a more respectful way to see God (He is about serious business, you know). But since I read that passage, I knew better - that experience giving me a deeper understanding of God's joyous being. If you see God as anything but joyous, I recommend that you give this episode a listen.

God is on Your Side: (Solitude) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. "God loves you. God is on your side. He's coming after you. He is relentless." These are the words that Eugene Peterson whispered over his young son every night after he went to sleep. These words are true, not just for Eugene Peterson's son, but also for you and me. James Bryan Smith fleshes out each phrase in Eugene's good and hopeful message in this episode.

Authentic Change: (Solitude) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. This is the core of the Christian life. The Christian life is not trying to do good. It is not trying to avoid doing bad. It is relationship with God. Through this relationship we are changed.

Masterpiece: (Solitude) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. CS Lewis, Dallas Willard and others have told us that God is a gentleman and will not overstep the boundaries that we place on Him in our lives. He can. He has come close. But He doesn't. And those times are rare exceptions. God invites us closer to Him. With our permission, He wants to form and shape us into the kinds of people that He knows will bring us the greatest joy. But that work is slow, and it requires our involvement. Many people feel like I did for a very long time - that we want to be further along in our development than we are. Some of that is us not allowing God into some areas of our lives, or keeping Him at a distance altogether (like when we try to clean ourselves up so we feel better about coming to Him), and some of that is God's slow but deep work in our lives. But He is a Master Craftsman. His shaping work in our lives leads to something magnificent. As I write this I have been thinking about 2 Corinthians 4:7 a lot lately. That verse talks about how we carry around a treasure in our bodies ("earthen vessels"). I think that part of this treasure is the ongoing work of the Spirit of God in forming and shaping us. People want to change. We can change by the work of God in us. As we spend time with God not only can we change, but it is almost assured that we will change. But we don't want others to see the "before" picture until the "after" picture is complete, and it often takes a long time for that picture to emerge. I think that we, myself included, cheat others of seeing the ongoing work of God in our lives. I think if others could see the masterpiece that God is shaping us into unfold as we take shape, it would provide real hope for them that God has the power to change lives. As for me in my life, I am trying to hide less so that God's work may be revealed more.

You Are Blessed: (Solitude) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. In this episode, James talks about adopting a dog. He talks about how fortunate the dog is to be adopted by his family: all of its needs are cared for, they invest into training the dog and taking care of it and loving it, there is an older dog in the household to teach this younger dog - it is a blessed dog. In many ways, our own adoption into the family of the Trinity is similar. God is the One who cares for us (Psalm 23, Matthew 6:25-34), the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us to train and transform us, there are other Christians further along in the way that teach us how to live in this family. We are indeed blessed.

Prayer

We Never Outgrow Asking: (Prayer) In this link to Renovare.org article by Richard Foster, he reminds us that petitionary prayer is not a lower form of prayer. Would you, as a parent, want your young children to stop coming to you for the things they need? Of course not! More than dependence, petition shows trust and expectation. Jesus taught us petitionary prayer as part of the Lord's Prayer. Yes, adoration, confession, contemplation are all life-giving forms of prayer as well, but they do not stand over and above petitionary prayer. We are invited to partake in all forms of prayer, petition and intercession included. 

A Liturgy for a Time of Widespread Suffering: (Prayer) Link to Renovare.org book excerpt by Douglas McKelvey. This excerpt is a prayer. Despite what I have heard some say, there is nothing wrong with praying the words of others. Psalms have served as a prayer aid for children of God through thousands of years. Here, in this prayer, Douglas McKelvey asks God for His good action in times of widespread suffering. Form us to be more compassionate and loving. Help us to grieve well and rightly. Rouse Your Spirit in Your body so that we may be united in Your cause to be Your hands and Your feet and Your heart. Cause our desperate need of You to align our hearts more deeply with Yours; bring us ever closer to You. Remind us that You remain on Your throne and that there is no cause for alarm or panic among us who call ourselves by Your name.

This, Too, Is in His Hands: (Prayer) Link to Renovare.org book excerpt by Corrie Ten Boom. This book is on my Amazon Wishlist but I have yet to read it. I hope that someday I do. Excerpts and stories I have heard from the life of Corrie Ten Boom are powerful. In this short excerpt, Betsie is the hero. Living in Holland when Hitler attacks, shaken from the bombing and the night lit by the resulting fires, Corrie and Betsie pray. Betsie adds prayer for the soldiers bombing them who are caught in the grip of evil. Betsie also interprets Corrie's dream with a wisdom beyond her years. These glimpses of brilliant grace stand in opposition to the darkness moving toward them.

Connecting with God in the Here and Now: (Prayer) Link to Renovare.org book excerpt from Nathan Foster. This article is a quiet one. But there are a few nice reminders in it.

1) Nathan mentions how God's seeming "absence" to us (when we do not sense His presence, though it is there, or when He seems to be "hiding" from us) is for our own growth.

2) I've also noticed, as Nathan does, that as we grow closer to God, our love of others seems to grow (but of course!).

3) And, as the article is on prayer, he says he is learning that prayer is about listening even more than speaking. This reminds me of a person at the church I go to who said that he has had a hard time in prayer as he cannot seem to find the words to pray. As I pondered this, Romans 8:26-27 came to mind (thank You, Holy Spirit) where Paul writes that the Spirit prays with us because we do not know how to pray as we should. I suggested that he simply go to God without expectations of finding words, simply in a posture of being open to God, listening but also wanting to speak. If the words come, they come. If they don't, they don't. The Spirit is there and will pray with you in your wordlessness. There is no pressure to find the right words. Simply spend time with God.

Honest Joy, Honest Sorrow: (Prayer) Link to Renovare.org book excerpt by David Taylor. Can God handle our unbridled honesty? Larry Crabb said that God meets us where we are, not where we pretend to be. I think God wants our honesty. I think He is big enough to handle it. While I do not think it is necessary to find the right words or ways of expressing what we feel or are experiencing - the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in our prayers - sometimes it is nice to know what to say. In this piece, David Taylor, I think rightly, says that the Psalms can give us words to express ourselves to God.

Catching a Glimpse of God's Heart: (Prayer) Link to Renovare.org book excerpt by Richard Foster. Richard Foster uses much prettier language, but we agree on how we see prayer. It is relational. It is invitational, and the invitation is always open. It is wanted by God, longed for, even when I don't. If you see it differently than Richard's vision in this excerpt or than a Father welcoming His child for a conversation, if it is other than relational, then I invite you to reconsider your view of prayer in light of what Richard has written. You might find yourself wanting it, too.

The Role of Faith in Prayer - Talk by Dallas Willard: (Prayer) This link is to episode 52 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. Have you, like me, ever wondered what the prayer of faith is in James 5? In this talk, Dallas Willard defines both prayer and faith. Basically he says prayer is speaking with God about what you two are doing together and faith is believing unto acting as if something is so. He said that you may ask "But what if I pray in faith and pray for the wrong thing?" - to which he answered, "Don't worry, He'll sort it out." "But what if I don't know what to pray for?" to which he answered, after explaining that God is good and wants good, "Find something good and pray for it." Dallas offers practical advice and definitions in his talk on the intersection of prayer and faith. He says we can act in faith when we know that God is here and He is able and He is good.

Liturgy of the Ordinary with Tish Harrison Warren: (Prayer) This link is to episode 70 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. A baptism of the imagination. That is how a friend of Tish Harrison Warren described what she was doing with her book Liturgy of the Ordinary. It wasn't so much about finding transcendent beauty in the ordinary, though that is there for sure, but she says it is more about how God finds us and forms us in our mundane and ordinary lives.

Teach Us to Pray / Prayer Episode 1: (Prayer) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast.

In this episode, John Mark Comer says a few words about each line of the Lord's Prayer as presented in Luke 11:1-4. When he comments on the first line, he mentions that Matthew adds "in heaven" to the line. He then explains that Jesus' hearers at the time would have understood "in heaven" to be the air around them and the sky. It was a term of closeness (Dallas Willard offers more on this in The Divine Conspiracy).

When he talks about how we often feel like God isn't close, how He is somewhere else, he offers this observation:

"I don't think God is the issue. I think that I am the issue... This feeling that most people have of separation from God is a legitimate, valid feeling but I think it is...a mental and emotional illusion created by distraction and by disordered loves. The reality is that there is nowhere where God is not."

The sense that God isn't close is an illusion.

Then he follows that up with another important observation. The primary reason to pray is to be with, and to enjoy, the presence of God. Yes, we may have requests and concerns that we bring to Him, and they are important, but the primary reason that we pray is to spend intentional time with God. So if the words don't come, if we don't know what to say, that doesn't matter. He knows our hearts. We can simply be with Him in a posture of being open-hearted to Him.

He offers 4 of the major concepts that Jesus teaches us about prayer:

1) God is your Dad and He has good intentions toward you

2) He is close by and not far away. There is joy and love and peace awaiting you in the presence of God.

3) The main point is to enjoy God.

4) Your prayers really do make a difference.

Here is that sermon as a video on Vimeo:

Prayer Training With Tyler Staton: (Prayer) This link is to an episode of the Bridgetown Audio Podcast. The topic here is controversial in some Christian circles. I ask only that you hear him out and decide for yourself. As for me, I agree with Tyler. I do think that prophesy is for today. First a clarification on what prophecy is not: prophecy does not necessarily have to do with the future, though in some cases it might (see the books of the Bible known as the "Prophets" like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, etc). Now just a clarification as to what prophecy is, which might help alleviate some of the concern if you have any: prophecy is simply a message that God has given to someone, where He wants that someone to deliver the message to someone else, or a group of people. So, for example, God may lay something on your mind and heart to speak with me about. Let's say that it is about my obesity. You feel that God has given you a message that He sees my efforts, and applauds them, but that lately I may be losing hope and starting to let my carefulness about what I eat slip again. You tell me that God says "He loves me, and wants to remind me that He lives in my body, too (as He does with all Christians). He wants the best for us here, and wants to encourage me that there is still hope. Change not only can happen, but in relationship with Him is is virtually certain that it will. Keep hope in the Holy Spirit to empower change in my life." This is also called edification, though edification is not necessarily a message from God to you for me. Edification is simply Godly encouragement in whatever form that may take.

Now it is true that God usually speaks to us directly about us. But sometimes there may be reasons why He enlists the help of someone else:

1) What if the message benefits the one giving it as well? How encouraging would it be if God gave you a message to bring to me and I responded that it really helped me. Wouldn't that further bolster your trust in your ability to hear God speak in your life, that He is including you in His work here on earth?

2) What if the one receiving the message is at a low point and are really questioning their ability to hear God, or to hear Him well? What if they are having difficulty distinguishing His voice from so many other thoughts in their mind? Have you ever been there? I think we all have.

3) Maybe you can then tell the story to other believers, such as Tyler is doing here, leaving out the names of course (unless you get permission from the other person(s) ), leading to an increase of faith and courage to those hearing the story.

There are several reasons why God may choose to work this way.

Tyler calls this prayer. And indeed it is. Prayer is communication with God, and sometimes isn't even that in a concrete sense. Sometimes it is just being with God, in a posture of being open to Him, and allowing our spirit to communicate with the Spirit of God when we may be lacking words to speak. But prayer is essentially any kind of communication, or intentional "with-ness", with God. In the case of prophecy, God communicates a message to you for someone(s) else, then you and God bring that message to the intend party(ies) together.

A word of advice for the one(s) receiving the message: test it to see if it is true and from God. Ultimately, as a Christian, we do have the Holy Spirit living in our bodies, too, and He will provide wisdom when we ask for it. There are times when someone may truly believe that they have a message from God for us, but that they are also truly mistaken. Then there are times when others may say they have such a message but for impure motives, like to manipulate. So test it against what you know to be true from the Bible, maybe ask other trusted believers to pray for you and offer advice.

If you do decide to take the risk of acting on it when you think the Holy Spirit gives you a message for another person, expect to fail at times. Experimenting with learning to hear what is and what is not from God is a part of learning how to determine what is His voice.

Here is that sermon in video form in Vimeo:

Teach Us to Pray Series Part 4: On Earth as It Is In Heaven: (Prayer) This Spotify link is to an episode of the Bridgetown Audio Podcast. When we pray for the good of others, it is called intercessory prayer. We are asking God to act on the behalf of someone or something else, usually that He would do for them what we cannot do. This act helps us to recapture some of the co-rule of earth that God had in mind when He created the earth and then placed mankind on it. We were to rule over the earth together with God for the purpose of caring for it and each other.

When Jesus' disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray, His response was the Lord's prayer. Included in that prayer are the lines "Your kingdom come / Your will be done / On earth as it is in heaven". Inviting God into the lives and situations of others for their good is an invitation for God to act in His good will for them, and invitation to invite heaven to invade earth on their behalf. And you get to do this with Him!

Here is that sermon in video form in Vimeo:

Fasting

Scripture

Scripture

Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Why What We Believe About the Trinity Matters: (Scripture) Renovare webinar featuring Chris Hall and James Bryan Smith. Chris Hall was a professor at Eastern University and author. James Bryan Smith heads up the Apprentice Institute at Friends University and is an author. This is 88 minutes long but as I write this at the 49-minute mark (I saw the whole thing before), I feel like I could listen to these two men for several hours. The material is scholarly but understandable. They cover some of the core truths we know about the Trinity and teach us a little about various ecumenical church councils that met in church history to come to conclusions about important theological debates of their time. They explain that the conclusions of these councils help us today not to veer into heretical thought, providing a sort of guardrail against such mistakes. It is a fascinating listen, and will almost certainly teach you things you didn't know about the Trinity.

 

Carolyn Arends, the host, makes an excellent point about how all teaching is taught by analogy. We can only learn something new by comparing it against something we know already. There is nothing analogous to the Trinity so that, and the fact of God's infinite nature and our finite minds, means we will never fully grasp the mystery of the Trinity. The talk is SO GOOD!!!

Spiritual Warfare, Should it be Studied? with Dr Matt Ayars: (Scripture) Podcast episode from Andy Miller's More to the Story podcast. The spiritual realm is real. The Bible tells us that God is spirit, that God has enemies who are spirit, and that we do battle against those enemies in the power and authority of God. Part of the purpose of this podcast is to encourage people to audit Dr Ayars' class, so be aware of that going in. But I like that they bring up a few important points such as if you are looking for spiritual warfare everywhere then you will find it everywhere; not everything that could be explained as demonic activity is demonic activity - we need to be discerning. But being around it makes it more real to you - Dr Ayars spent time in Haiti. As Christians, we are saved to freedom and from slavery to sin and its forces.

Tough Questions from the Old Testament with Dr Dan Freemyer: (Scripture) This Spotify link is to episode 35 of the Wesley Seminary Podcast hosted by Dr Aaron Perry. In this episode there are a few great points of learning for me including:

1) How to handle tough questions (I love his method as it is relational and affirming to the one asking the question)

2) God repeatedly warned the inhabitants of Canaan to leave before God, through Israel, dispossessed them

3) Why Achan's family perished with him in Joshua 7.

 

It's an informative listen that helps to answer difficult questions in a way that shows forth God's goodness.

The Wisdom of Job Part 1: Suffering Well: (Scripture) This link is to The Bible Project Podcast. It is probably the best explanation of Job's suffering that I have heard.

If you are unfamiliar with the book of Job in the Old Testament, it is about a morally upright man who lives a morally righteous life before God. He prays to God, worships God, and lives by a morally high standard. Then we see God and Satan have a conversation in which God brings up Job as an exemplar of right living but Satan tells God that Job only worships Him because nothing bad ever befalls him. So God gives Satan permission to do whatever he will with Job except for taking his life. Then Satan turns Job's life into a Greek tragedy. Satan afflicts Job with painful boils all over his body and kills all of his family except for his wife, who then tells Job to curse God and die. Then we see Job's friends come to visit him in his distress. And while things go well for days as they sit with him in silence, sharing in his suffering, they then begin to speak, accusing him of having to have committed some great sin because we live in a moral universe with a moral God who would never allow this kind of suffering unless some great sin were committed. Job insists he is innocent, which we heard God tell Satan that Job was indeed innocent, but his friends insist otherwise. As for Biblical books, especially in light of Proverbs telling us that living a righteous life brings about the best life, this one is a difficult one, and leaves the reader with their own questions about God's goodness and justice, especially when we all have things in our lives that we think are unfair and we wonder if God cares at all about righting the wrongs in our lives.

Our reaction to wrongs suffered is often "God, why?!" I think that God defaults to wanting to answer us. But He has an infinite mind and we do not. When God does not answer us it doesn't mean that He is not good or that He doesn't care. It may simply mean that we cannot comprehend the answer, or cannot comprehend it at this time. The only thing left is for God to remind us that He is good and that He is actively working in the world. In this episode, they liken the level of moral wisdom between God and man to that of between a parent and small child. The parent tells their small child to never lie, but then one day witnesses the parent telling a lie, not understanding that the lie was told to save lives. The child then goes "Aha! You lied! You can't be trusted! I'm on to you." not comprehending the higher moral good of telling the lie to save lives. And, for a small child, they may not be able to comprehend the nuance of the situation yet. Anyway, this episode has much in it worth hearing.

Symbols, Myth, and the Bible with Jonathan Pageau: (Scripture) This Spotify link is to episode 167 of the Wesley Seminary Podcast hosted by Dr Aaron Perry. In this episode Jonathan Pageau makes a great point about how what God did with Israel and the story of Jesus has echoes of several other stories from ancient myths. Critics of the God of the Bible use this as a kind of argument against these stories being real. But why? Why would similar stories existing make Biblical history false? Why can't God use the existence of those stories to prove His power by actually doing them? Why can't God be meeting people where they are at by using their stories as an evangelistic tool? Jonathan Pageau says that these stories are indicators of a kind of cosmic truth, and he sees symbols and patterns everywhere in scripture.

Saved by His Life: (Scripture) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. Did you know that you are not saved by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross? If the story ended there that would just be a sad story. Yes, our sins may have been paid for, but then what? Romans 6:1-11 we hear Paul explaining that not only were we baptized into Christ's death, but that we were raised with Him into newness of life, eternal life, abundant life (John 10:10, John 17:3, John 5:24). It is through the resurrection of Jesus that we are partakers in His life. That is the name of this: Our God Bathed Life - we are baptized/immersed into His very life!

Know Your Enemy: (Scripture) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. God has an enemy, and it isn't people. The same thing is true for those who love God. That is the first important point. The second is that our enemy is Satan and his evil forces. We should know how he attacks us. But we should also know how to defend ourselves against his attacks. In this episode, James refers us to Ephesians 6 where we see the armor that God has given us to defend ourselves.

Another point, not covered in this episode, is to remember the Bible says that the gates of hell will not prevail against Jesus' church. Gates are defensive. That means the posture of the church is offensive in its battle against Satan and his forces. We both defend against his attacks in our lives, and join with other believers in being on the offensive as we are "fishers of men". That doesn't mean we are trying to be "offensive" against people - people aren't the enemy. We are for people, we are to love people and invite them into abundant life with Christ. But we are offensive against the devil in his attempts to keep people away from Jesus.

Jesus Is Lord: (Scripture) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. If you are a Christian, chances are you have heard the term "the good news of the gospel". But did you know that this term didn't originate in Christianity? It was originally a term in the Roman empire used when "good news" came from Rome, for example if the Roman empire conquered another people. Gospel actually means "good news".

 

Further, Roman emperors were often called "children of god". Why? People believed that they were favored because of power and wealth and such, and it was encouraged as part of their mythology. So the use of the terms the good news of the gospel about the Son of God, Jesus, you can understand why that would have been a bit threatening and offensive to those in Roman leadership. But in Jesus' case, He actually has "all authority". Do you remember the words Jesus spoke right before He commissioned His disciples to make disciples? "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." (Matthew 28:18) That's why we often pray "in Jesus' name". He has the authority over all things. In this episode, James expands on what it means that Jesus is Lord.

The Emotional Life: (Scripture) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. In this episode James Bryan Smith explains that as Christians, we are invited to experience the range of emotions. He references Romans 12 and how Paul encourages just that to Christ followers, and he references how Jesus experienced and showed the human range of emotions in His life and ministry.

 

When I first was involved in leadership at the church I went to in my early thirties, I thought that taking my responsibility seriously required me to set aside my emotions so that I could get to the "serious work" of leading people within a particular ministry. I was wrong. In fairness, however, I was kind-of already wired that way in part due to my upbringing. I was wrong, though. Setting aside my emotions created relational issues with my friends and those who were in leadership with me in that ministry. That started a two decade journey of learning to allow my emotions to be seen and experienced. Toward the end of those two decades the church I attended went through Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzaro. It took me a few times through the material, but it was extremely helpful. Today I am a calmer person, I bring my emotions into relationships with me (including my relationship with God), and I connect with others more easily. I am thankful I learned this valuable lesson. And I think if you are like I was, then you might want to consider that lesson also.

Be With Jesus / Practicing the Way Vision Series Episode 2: (Scripture) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast. There are a number of very good points in this podcast but I want to highlight two of them specifically:

1) In the early part of the podcast, John Mark Comer provides one of the best explanations I have heard describing what it is like to have a conversational relationship with Jesus. He gives his own description together with that of Brother Lawrence from his book The Practice of the Presence of God. If you want to get a better picture of what this means, give this a listen.

2) Then around 11 minutes or so into the podcast he begins talking about a mistake that is extremely common when we read the Bible. We want to know how to live so we begin to read commands into everything. His example is the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. These aren't commands. These verses simply list the truth of what the fruit of the Spirit is. I might also add that this is commonly done for the Beatitudes in the beginning of Matthew 5, the "blesseds". People try to turn these into commands or virtues to aspire to. Jesus was simply stating facts. If you are poor in spirit, it is okay, you are also blessed, yours is the kingdom of heaven. If you are mourning, it is okay, you are also blessed, you will be comforted. If you are meek, it is okay, you are also blessed, you will inherit the earth. Etc. They are not commands or encouragements to become poor in spirit or mourning or meek, etc. They are not conditions to become blessed. They are statement of facts about the world we live in. We should avoid trying to find commands where there are no commands.

Here is the sermon as a video on Vimeo:

A Community of Orthodoxy in a Culture of Ideological Idolatry: Future Church Part 3: (Scripture) Link to Spotify episode of the Bridgetown Audio podcast. This sermon is given by John Mark Comer. There is a lot to think about in this episode. Be warned, he is making a point in the beginning of the sermon and says things that the political right won't be happy with, and then says things that the political left won't be happy with. He is showing how for many, our politics has crept into our religion, and is causing division within the church. In fact, some ideological viewpoints have adopted a Christian twist and have replaced our orthodox faith (orthodoxy means right belief). Then, further, he reads from an editorial in a newspaper where the author, not a religious man, says that it seems to him that Christians are seeking to be more like him, when it seems like we should seek to have him want to live more like us. Ouch! But often true.

He gets into topics like the popular practice of deconstructing our faith, but also how many do that in such a way that leads them away from the faith. He encourages those who are reconsidering their faith to do so with others of the faith that can help with doubts and questions. I'll add that God is not threatened by our doubts and questions, and has compassion for a hurting, confused, questioning person. When I went through my own serious questioning of my faith, I had other strong Christians around me to challenge my thinking, and I thank God that I did.

He points out that we do not live by the standards of this world but by a better Way, a way of righteousness, compassion, joy, goodness, and love.

He closes by explaining that a practice of engaging with the Bible will help to connect us to Jesus, help our understanding, and help to keep us on the right Way, the better Way.

Here is that sermon in video form on Vimeo:

The Differentness of God

 

God is Dead. You're Next.

 

Come and See: (Scripture) Links to Spotify episodes of the Bridgetown Audio podcast. These three sermons share a few things in common. Each are on Matthew's account of the crucifixion of Jesus.

The first deals with the emotional weight of facing what really happened to Jesus, and then the emotional weight of what that means about the depths of God's love for us.

The second looks at the death of Jesus and recall Jesus' own invitation for us to die to ourselves and follow Him, and how this is not an invitation to misery and deprivation but to fullness of joy in all of what God has for us in this life. There are also included a few comments on reasons to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Be aware: while this is good and important to hear, some of the details of the crucifixion may be a little much for young or very sensitive ears.

The third covers how Jesus' blood courses through our spiritual veins making all who place their trust in Him part of His family. As such, those who are ashamed of things in their lives need not be. They, too, are lifted up with Jesus and seated at the same table as all other believers. He also includes further reasons to believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

Here is that sermon in video form on Vimeo:

The Heart of a Disciple: (Scripture) Link to Podbean episode of the Bridgetown Audio podcast (it was removed from Spotify and this is where I could find it). In the first few minutes of this podcast I thought I knew where the speaker was going. I was wrong. There is some truly great stuff in this episode. Among it:

1) He speaks about John 15:1-8:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples."

(NASB)

And then makes the comment, referencing the final sentence, that God has tied his glory to our flourishing / bearing much fruit. He gives other examples of what fruit is, but we also know what it includes from Galatians 5:22-23:
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."
(NASB)

God is glorified when we exhibit much fruit. This fruit is borne from the excess life that passes from the vine (Jesus, whom we are invited to abide in) through the branches (us). However, for a branch to bear much fruit it must be pruned, it must be cut. We know from James that trials and hardships build our character. James 1:2-4:
"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
(NASB)

We abide in Jesus, we bear fruit, we encounter hardship, so we may bear much fruit, resulting in God's glory and our flourishing. But through it all is the comforting and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The speaker uses an excellent example describing why our flourishing is God's desire.

2) Jesus said that we must deny our selves (referring to dying to the desires of the world, the flesh, and the devil within us; in other words the things that are counter to God) so that we may follow Him. In this we will find true life and joy. If you don't believe Him, just look around and see the levels of anxiety, fear, and depression in our society that is determined to follow its "authentic self", which it fails to see as the desires within them set against God. This shows us  how the alternative works out. The speaker says, citing that it was the Father that raised Jesus from the dead, that it is our job to die to those passions set against God, and God's job to bring life and joy out of the dying to self.

3) He also makes a point about introspection. He is distrusting of it. I, personally, do not think it is a bad thing as long as you do not get stuck in it, and as long as you are looking to God to shine the light on what He wants to work on. I think that God does not show us all of our character flaws at one time because it might crush us. Let God show you what He wants you to know, and ask Him to work on it. I think that is a better way of introspection. Think Psalm 139:23-24:

"Search me, O God, and know my heart;
        Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
        And lead me in the everlasting way."
(NASB)

The Heart is a Sewer: (Scripture) Link to Podbean episode of the Bridgetown Audio podcast (it was removed from Spotify and this is where I could find it). This episode is thick. You may need to listen to it a few times. I did. But there is a wealth of great explanation in it. See point 2 below, though, for a brief explanation on the heart, and the fact that the idea of the heart being a sewer is referring to an unredeemed and/or untransformed heart. Among the items covered:

1) One of the best explanations I have heard explaining the progressive revelation we see in the Bible. Progressive revelation can be important to understand because without understanding this, sometimes people get tripped up by what, on the surface, appear to be contradictions in how God tells people to live. What is Biblical progressive revelation? Adam was given one command, that command was expanded for Noah after the flood, Moses was given an entire Law to help Israel flourish and to bear the name of God well to the nations around them at that time in that culture, Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic Law rendering much of it irrelevant to us today but then provided further explanation as He dug into God's heart for human flourishing, then the writers of Scripture developed that theme in what we call the New Testament. The speaker in this episode uses the example of changing rules that grew more restrictive for his children as he tried to keep them safe as they played. The Baker encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics offers perhaps an even better example that takes into account the growth of children to metaphorically explain progressive revelation:

"An example of progressive revelation can be seen in every family with growing children. When they are very small, the parent allows children to eat with their fingers. Later, the parents insist on the use of a spoon. Finally, as the child progresses, the parent commands use of a fork. These commands are temporary, progressive, and appropriate to the situation."
Norman L. Geisler, “Progressive Revelation,” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 609.

2) The speaker (his name is Josh Porter) alludes to this, but I don't recall him spelling it out specifically so it can get confusing. I've heard the Biblical reference to the "heart" explained many different ways, but for simplicity, think of it as our core, our central beliefs and world-view., Entwined with this would be our emotions because often our emotions are reactions to how we interpret events in our life: our circumstances, how others treat us, etc. The heart is formed by all kinds of things internal and external - how God wired our personalities and how we are raised by our parents, for example. But just as our heart is formed, it can also be transformed. This is the work the Holy Spirit does in us with our cooperation. Our hearts can be transformed more into the likeness of the heart of God. The more intentional time we spend with God, the more He works on transforming our hearts to be more like His. So when he refers to the filth or sewage in our hearts, he is referring to our unredeemed and untransformed hearts, hearts that got messed up from being formed by the world around us. Hearts that look more like the heart of God can be trusted - the Holy Spirit's work of a redeemed and transformed heart is good to follow because that heart follows God.

3) I think that his observation of how we are being "infantilized" in our culture by being taught to be offended and outraged is a good one. The picture he paints about what our culture seeks to do with us is decidedly not at all following in the footsteps of Jesus. We are to be sober of thought and discernment, understanding that there are often nuances to the stories and news that we hear.

4) At one point he is describing those who are theologically liberal. While I am theologically conservative / orthodox, the sarcasm used to describe the theologically liberal seems unkind to me. He was likely poking sarcasm at the thoughts and ideas, the viewpoint as opposed to the people, but if you find that a little off putting like I did, I would invite you to extend grace. There are times when I am less than graceful myself. I do agree with the point he is making, however. This includes when he points out that there are extreme literalists who fail to take interpretation and context into account on the conservative side. I have often seen verses taken out of context or misinterpreted. For example, the Holy Spirit is given to us as a seal when we trust in Jesus Christ. Therefore David's request to God in Psalm 51:11 for God not to remove the Holy Spirit from him does not apply to us today. However, we can quench the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives or become calloused to His leading and work by choosing to willingly walk in sin. But He is never removed from us, and contrite confession will restore the relationship with Him.

The Bible as Spiritual Authority: (Scripture) Link to Podbean episode of the Bridgetown Audio podcast (it was removed from Spotify and this is where I found it). This sermon is given by John Mark Comer. I lean a little more literal in the story of the serpent in the Garden of Eden than he does, but that's okay, he still sees the story as meaningfully true. As always, there is much goodness in a John Mark Comer teaching. This one includes:

1) The essence of sin is trust. Oooooo. So good! Ignatius of Loyola defines sin as "unwillingness to trust that what God wants for me is my deepest happiness." When we seek happiness in things we know that God does not approve of, it is sin.

2) Notice as John Mark Comer is reading the account of the temptation of Jesus, that Jesus wielded scripture well in His battle with Satan. The Bible is authoritative for our lives, and so is important to know well. If you aren't well versed, you can learn the Bible better than you know it today. Ask your pastor or Bible study leader or small group leader to help you get better at knowing and understanding the Bible. There are several resources to help you.

Eternal Life Now: (Scripture) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. Eternal life is now in session for all who trust in Jesus. John 17:3 defines eternal life as relationship with God. And that is what God intends for all people. That is the point of our lives - relationship with God.

Things Above Conversation with John Ortberg: Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. Eternal Life is Now in Session is the name of a John Ortberg book. As I write this I have yet to read it but I have read other Ortberg books and I trust this one is very good as well. But in this episode, Ortberg says that many people, including an earlier version of himself, believe that salvation is what you need to believe for the minimal entrance requirements to go to heaven when you die. He likens it to the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where they are trying to cross a bridge and the bridge keeper will only let them pass if they answer three questions correctly. But eternal life starts now (John 5:24 & John 17:3) and it is relational. For the believer, heaven starts now. In a very real sense, when we die, it is simply a continuation of the life that we now have, albeit free of this body where sin dwells.

Sabbath

Sabbath: Rest, An Act of Resistance: (Sabbath) Link to Spotify episode of the Rule of Life podcast. This episode brings up a great point about internal and external resistance that you will encounter when you begin a new practice. New spiritual exercises won't come easily or smoothly. You will make mistakes, your mind will wander, you may feel guilty like you should be producing instead of resting (like in this example), or others may want the time you have set aside. Remember that it isn't a hard and fast rule so use your best judgment, but you may need to fight through all this until you find a rhythm that works in your new exercise.

Here it is on YouTube:

Sabbath: Delight, The Joy of Sabbath in Community: (Sabbath) Link to Spotify episode of the Rule of Life podcast. In this episode they look at sabbath as an act of joy. Do you think of God as the most joyous Being in (or out) of the universe? That is true, and it is important. If you see God as stern or mean or vengeful, a cosmic Policeman waiting to hit the smite button, then chances are good that you won't want to spend a 24-hour period with Him. It is also important to realize that God is a Person, not human, but personal. We are made in His image. 

The hosts also mention that sabbath, as most of the spiritual exercises, is a yes/no situation. The reality is any time we say yes to something in our lives, we are necessarily saying no to something else. We all only have so much time to spend. Conversely, saying no to something necessarily means we are saying yes to something else. If we are to keep a sabbath day, it will mean saying no to something(s) else. I don't know what that will be for you. Pray about that.

Here it is on YouTube:

Community

Community

Sabbath as Rhythm / Sabbath Episode 2: (Sabbath) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast.

In this episode, John Mark Comer explains why he thinks that the Sabbath is still for us today. There are many interesting points in this teaching that make for a solid argument, including the Biblical viewpoint, but even in addition to that, the physical, mental, emotional, and relational benefits of observing a day of Sabbath rest and delight. Here are a few points that stood out:

1) He quotes HH Farmer, "If you go against the grain of the universe, you get splinters." A Sabbath rhythm is built into creation and we are a part of that creation. If we fail to take a Sabbath, running ourselves ragged, it will catch up to us in the form of illness. Personally, I wish I would have listened to this decades earlier than I did.

2) While I haven't practiced this yet, I think I will. He brings up the idea of preparing for Sabbath. Prepare food ahead of time to be cooked, finish up odds and ends that need to be done, etc. In other words, do what you need to do to make sure that the Sabbath is a day of rest and delight.

3) There will never be a better season of life that will allow you to practice Sabbath than this one right now. Sure, it will look different for the single professional, the working mom, the student, the retiree, etc, but life stage does not determine whether or not you can Sabbath. Along that line, the working mom may only be able to find four hours or so. That's okay, start where you are and keep practicing until you find a rhythm that works.

Here is that sermon as a video on Vimeo:

Defining the Incarnational Tradition: The Sacramental Life: (Community) Link to Renovare.org book excerpt by Richard Foster. I had to read this book to apply to the Renovare Institute. It is a very good book that describes the six traditions/expressions of the church. This excerpt from that book describes the incarnational tradition. This is an important one because it is very common for us to compartmentalize our "spiritual lives" from our "secular lives". But that is a falsehood. All of our life is meant to be permeated by our relationship with God: family, work, social and cultural, as well as "spiritual". This article helps to explain that.

Desert, Cell, and Tomb: (Community) In this link to Renovare.org article, there are a number of quotes from the Desert Fathers and Mothers. I especially like the final one, which is more of a story than a quote, but the final quote nails home the point. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful forces in the universe. The larger benefit isn't always for the one being forgiven. The forgiving party often receives the larger benefit. This is the story of a Desert Father who helped others see the heart of forgiveness in a particular situation:

"A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him, ​‘Come, for everyone is waiting for you.’ So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug, filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said to him, ​‘What is this, Father?’ The old man said to them, ​‘My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.’ When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him."

(See John 8:1-11)

Generational Blessing / Dealing with Your Past Episode 2: (Community) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast.

Generational influence on our lives, as mentioned above, is not just the bad stuff. In fact, there very well may be more good than bad.

In this episode, John Mark Comer explores the Biblical view of a father blessing a son. Blessing is at its most powerful when you look for what the Holy Spirit is doing in the life of the one being blessed, and agree with it. Blessing, in this context, is essentially speaking a vision of good into the life of another. If you are unsure how to do this, I recommend reading Larry Crabb's Soul Talk. What that book is speaking to is along the same idea.

John Mark Comer explains that a blessing involves (and ideally is from the father, which he explains):

1) Meaningful and appropriate touch. Ancient Hebrew patriarchs would lay their hands on the one being blessed. (He explains this as well)

2) A spoken message

3) Letting the one being blessed know that they are valued

4) Picturing a special future and naming it

5) Follow up with an active commitment to fulfill the promise (and, if possible, providing that or a seed of it right away)

He makes an important point that your children will live up or down to the words that parents (or parental figures) speak over them.

One note: there isn't always a father in the picture. Another father figure can do this as well. And, while it was the father who did this, if a father figure isn't present, or isn't willing, I see no reason why a mother, or mother figure, could not do this.

He also reminds us that we can speak a good vision into the life of other loved ones, too. The book Soul Talk by Larry Crabb, mentioned above, deals with this.

This is good. This is powerful. And this is needed.

In many ways, this is what Jesus did with His twelve chosen disciples. They weren't the best of the best, as evidenced by the fact that they weren't already following a rabbi, and weren't rabbis themselves. Nevertheless, these were the people that, with the power of the Holy Spirit, literally changed the world by spreading the good news of Jesus Christ and the availability of the kingdom of heaven (Jesus Christ's own gospel, Matthew 4:17). Jesus spoke a vision into them (see John 14-17), and they helped change the world.

Here is that sermon as a video on Vimeo:

Bridling Theological Pride: (Community) Link to Renovare.org article by Chris Hall. There are a few non-negotiables in the Christian faith, these referred to as the fundamentals of the faith. However, these are few in number. A vast array of what many consider non-negotiables are actually things open to Biblical interpretation. I have been guilty of the type of theological pride that Chris Hall speaks of. But I am recovering. Recovering, not recovered. I don't know that one "denomination" in Protestantism is better than another, or that one (order?) in Catholicism is better than another. I have read and listened to, and so have been taught and influenced by authors, speakers, and teachers from these traditions: Baptist, Quaker, Mennonite, Free Methodist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, United Methodist, and the list goes on. I have thought I was sure about how some things worked theologically but then my mind changed on the subject(s) years later. Today I hold to a few core fundamentals and have learned to see our life with Christ and with each other through a relational life-with-God lens... and I have seen that God tends to meet us where we are at. He does that with me, too, even on things I get wrong.

Unexpected Lessons from the Pilgrim Trail: (Community) Link to Renovare.org article by Ted Harro. I think humility is powerful. Someone living a life of trust and dependence upon God is empowered by the very strength and presence of God. This is difficult for those who can trust in their resources instead. Not impossible, but difficult. And that is where we find the middle class and the wealthy that make up most of America. We need to learn humility in other ways. Ted Harro, in this article, shows a way that he learned humility. God's wisdom is always present to teach us if we listen.

Light Enough to Live By: (Community) Link to Renovare.org article by Jean Nevills. I debated whether to include this article. It doesn't have a focused What or Why, though both are included. What it does have is beauty. Jean gives glimpses into her parents' earlier years as she was growing up - they provided rituals and rhythms that were meaningful to her. She gives glimpses of the beautiful way that her parents served each other in their advanced ages when their capabilities declined. She mentions the story of when monks who had a history of chanting daily were forced to stop. Their physical health declined. When allowed to return to chanting, their physical health improved again. Both mysterious and believable. And she ends the article with the advice her mom gave to a young bride and why those words carried weight. "Say thank you. Say please. Say I'm sorry. And when you can't say I'm sorry you can still say I love you. There are seventy-three years of practice folded into that advice, and Light enough to live by." That advice need not be limited to a spouse. I remember Dallas Willard musing that he wonders how much family strife would be averted if we simply treated each other with the courtesy and respect that we treat those that are mere acquaintances.

Will My Dog be in Heaven?: (Community) Podcast episode from Andy Miller's More to the Story podcast. The reality is we do not really know the answer to that question, but we know that God is good. I like to think that our pets will live in eternity with us. In this podcast, Andy Miller gives us some Biblical evidence that we may actually be reunited with our pets in "the next life".

Brighter Than the Sun: (Community) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. "Dad, are you happy about me?" Smith's son asked him this question when he was little. I heard another parent tell a similar story where her daughter asked if she "smiles about her" (or something to that effect). Does this question we hear from children to their parents echo the same question we want to ask God? "God, are You happy about me?" In the movie The Shack, Papa (God the Father) tells the main character that God is "especially fond" of him. He asks back to God, is there anyone You aren't "especially fond" of? "No, I suppose not." John 3:17, Galatians 2:20, Romans 5:8 all say that God came to save us. John 15:5 Jesus invites us to abide in Him. With us all the time? I don't even want to be around myself all the time. Yet God seems to delight in it. Dallas Willard says "God does not love you without liking you." It is true. He is good.

Asking Questions While Holding the Faith with Dr Josh McNall: (Community) This Spotify link is to episode 229 of the Wesley Seminary Podcast hosted by Dr Aaron Perry. Ever since my early twenties when I first started thinking about it, and really going back to childhood when it was just assumed, I have believed in a "young earth" theory of creation. This means that I think that the earth is roughly 6000-ish years old. I know that not every Christian thinks that way. Some believe in evolution and some believe in a kind of hybrid where maybe the earth was formed over hundreds of thousands, or maybe millions, of years. They say animals appeared through evolution, but that humanity was created about 6000-ish years ago. There are several reasons why I believe in a young earth theory, and maybe I'll get into that on a podcast someday, but this episode of Wesley Seminary podcast reported on Darwin's excellent question about animal death prior to the fall of man. Darwin, of course, assumed that it was true that animals suffered and died for long before humanity, and that caused him to doubt the goodness of God. With the young earth theory, animals did not die prior to the fall because it was a literal six-day creation.

 

I also appreciate, and this is important, that he says that we should not shame or put down people for having serious questions or doubt about their faith. We should foster an environment where it is okay, even invited, to ask serious questions and voice doubts.

The Heart of Worship with Dallas Willard and John Ortberg: (Community) This link is to episode 87 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. Have you wondered what worship is? I have. Even after it is explained to me, I don't always remember. Maybe we think of music: "worship service" means a church gathering where we are going to be singing most of the time, right? Even though it can include music it doesn't need to. Worship is simply ascribing to God great things that are true about God, and usually includes an attitude of thankfulness, wonder, and awe. 

Also included is a rephrasing of the Lord's Prayer, which Dallas reminds us is really our prayer, because it was Jesus teaching His disciples how to pray. It is a great rephrasing that I often use myself (having read it in The Divine Conspiracy). I encourage you to give it a careful listen and consideration.

In another topic, Dallas discusses confession to God. He simplifies it. He reminds us of the parable of the prodigal and how the son was the one who was rehearsing his confession and getting up the courage to speak to his father. But that wasn't needed. The father was accepting and loving at simply the son's confession - he cut the son off before he could speak the rest. Relationship was restored to its former intimacy. He goes on to talk about the power of confession to other believers. He humorously says that it is great for the soul but bad for the reputation. True. ***But it is great for the soul.***

Conversation with Marlena Graves: (Community) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. (This is the podcast referenced above) "Mom...why are you looking so happy at me?" 3 year old Valentina caught her mom looking at her with a blissful look. She wasn't doing anything spectacular or out of the ordinary, Marlena was just admiring her person, her interests, so thankful that Valentina is her daughter. James' son once asked his dad when he caught him looking at him similarly, "Are you happy about me?" These are longings of our souls. We don't need to look far in our society to see people who are desperately asking the same question, "are you happy about me?" Adults posting on social media checking every ten minutes for likes, teenagers posting on TikTok looking for (whatever the equivalent to likes are on TikTok), YouTube posters looking for views, young women showing a lot of skin, young men doing dangerous stunts, "Are you happy about me?" God is looking at you with a smile. He is happy about you. Sometimes what we do breaks His heart, but He is happy about us. If you have children then you probably understand. We all need to know this. As Christians we are, each one of us, ones "in whom Christ dwells, and delights." If you do not know Jesus, He is not far from you at all. Simply pray. If you don't know how, that's okay, He'll hear you anyway. Tell Him that you want Him to be in your life, and that you want to be a part of His. The rest of the content on this website will provide ways that you can get to know Him better.

Conversation with Bruce McNicol and Robby Angle: (Community) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. The early part of this podcast deals with an extremely important topic: no one works to gain approval or acceptance from God - He offers approval and acceptance through Jesus Christ. Paul in Ephesians calls it grace through faith, Martin Luther calls it faith alone, but God offers us His gift of life not at all on merit. It is freely offered, freely received, to any and all who would accept. But that runs counter to our natural instincts. There is a reason why every other religious belief system on earth runs on merit - it is how our imperfect fallen selves are oriented and our culture reinforces the idea. So we think that to be loved and accepted by God we must earn it. Grace doesn't work that way. We start with the grace of being loved and accepted by God while still separated from Him, are made new and given life and the Holy Spirit when we trust in Him, and from that new life we do good with the Holy Spirit who works with and empowers us. We do from our being, not be from our doing.

The latter part of the podcast deals with small groups and the necessity of community, which is another critically important part of the life of the Christian.

How We Change: Community / Practicing the Way Vision Series Episode 7: (Community) Link to Spotify episode of the John Mark Comer Teachings podcast.

Are you in community? Our definition of this term may have eroded over the last several years with the introduction of social media and zoom meetings and church online. In our culture people feel alone and isolated. Men (and presumably women also) are waiting longer and longer to get married, if they get married at all. We count our friends by the number of them we have on Facebook, or how many people follow us on Twitter or Instagram. We work remotely, go to church online, facetime with our friends (and family). We even text back and forth with the person we are having dinner with at the same table. I ask again, are you in community?

In this episode, John Mark Comer helps to define what is meant by our community in Biblical terms. These are people we would do life with who know us well enough to know if something is off about us, if we are having a bad day or a bad season, and are bold enough to ask us about it. And then they care enough to listen to us if we speak about it. And we trust them enough to speak about it. I ask again, are you in community?

Community is a vital spiritual practice if we want to become like Jesus. It is something that we must seek out. And God wants us to be a part of one. If you aren't in one, pray for it. And keep praying for it until you find one. God will guide you and provide for you.

Here is that sermon as a video on Vimeo:

You Are Called: (Community) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. We all have a calling on our lives. It can change over time, and it can be more than one calling at once, in different contexts for example: like a calling for your role in your family, and a calling for your role in your career, or a calling to a certain career. James gives an interesting way to tell your calling - where does your deep gladness meet the world's great hunger? That may be where God is calling you. Another thought: invite the input of other godly people to help you determine if taking a bold step is right for you. For example, I thought that I might be sensing a call into some kind of pastoral role within the Free Methodist Church. So I prayed about it and seemed to be getting a green light. Then I asked a couple of friends who were excited and supportive. Then I asked my pastor, and she thought it was a great idea. I pursued it, starting the required classes and pathway, and got nearly halfway when some successive life curve balls occurred, and I ended up switching paths. I still minister, but it looks different. I learned, though, that what I really wanted is to help the relationship between God and people grow stronger. God, because it is His deep desire, and people, because they need it. I learned that I have a dislike for almost everything else involved in the role of pastor. But taking that step helped me discover that and find the role I have now. And I am thankful for that role. 

Generosity

Generosiy

Engagement of the Heart: (Generosity) Link to Renovare.org book excerpt by Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards makes the case that our emotions are a primary motivating factor in anything in our with-God life. I think that there is a lot of truth in this. He rightly makes the case that "In noth­ing is the state of our heart so cru­cial as in reli­gion, and in noth­ing is luke­warm­ness so odious." This is a great read. I would like to add one word of caution taught to me by a Christian counselor once, though: some people aren't as emotional, or do not show it as well, as most people. So, like most rules, there are some exceptions.

Hospitality

Hospitality

Pauses for Advent: Welcoming: (Hospitality) Link to Renovare.org book excerpt from Trevor Hudson. What does it mean to be welcoming? Why is being welcoming important? Jesus Himself modeled being welcoming. He often allowed interruptions to His day. As for me, I am far less graceful when I encounter interruptions to my day. Yet things like a simple welcoming smile to a cashier, inviting a co-worker that you do not know well to lunch, or inviting a client having a rough time to sit down and speak with you can mean a lot. Further, what if we become the kind of people that others can trust enough to be free to be themselves and let down their guard around us? What if we invite others to share their stories with us? So many people are hurting, and empathetic listening can often make a real difference. For a long time now I have decided that I want to be the kind of customer that businesses want.  It is important to me to model Jesus in being patient when businesses or doctors offices are running behind, to tip generously whenever I can, and to offer a smile and a thank you and/or compliment for a job done well. It is about seeking to become a welcoming kind of person.

Compassion Starts Near and Small (Streams: Social Jusice) with Richard Foster: (Hospitality) This link is to episode 169 of the Renovare Podcast hosted by Nathan Foster. Here is another stream that, due to its being politically hijacked, makes me hesitate a little: social justice. But here social justice means simply the idea of doing right by all people and people groups. I like the idea that this is about compassion, and it starts small. Richard and Nathan also point out that well meaning people can, in an attitude of compassion, come to different conclusions on issues, and they encourage us not to condemn others when they come to a different conclusion than our own. They imply that we ought to act in love, then, with those that disagree; not to lay down our beliefs - we can stand firm - but to act in love and hope. They also advise that we release legalism and judgmentalism in this regard. They also add a warning that acting in compassion can become overwhelming and we can work at it so hard that we neglect our own soul care - be aware and avoid that.

Magnificent Mission: (Hospitality) Episode of the Things Above Podcast hosted by James Bryan Smith. Dallas Willard wrote a book called The Great Omission. In it, he talks about how the church is either working for their idea of social justice on one side, or making converts on the other side. But both have forgotten the mission - make disciples of Jesus. He says that when Jesus adds to making disciples baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, He is referring to immersing people into the Trinitarian reality of our God-bathed world.

Are You Really Following Jesus?: (Hospitality) This link is to an episode or the Become New podcast hosted by John Ortberg on BecomeNew.com.

The early church after Jesus' ascension faced terrible persecution. Early Christians often would lose their lives because of worshiping Jesus and because of the different lifestyle that they led.

It is also true that the early church grew like wildfire. Under such persecution, why did so many flock to Jesus? One big reason is because of that different lifestyle. When Jesus told His followers to take up their cross and follow Him, for many of them it literally meant their death. But their living example of the way of Jesus was appealing, demonstrating values that were attractive to many.

In Matthew 4:17, we see Jesus' message was that the kingdom of heaven was here and available. The chapters of Matthew that follow, Matthew 5-7, are a sermon by Jesus known as the Sermon on the Mount. In it, He explains the heart of the person living in the kingdom of heaven. He wraps up with a call to heed His words and follow Him. His path led to a cross. In some ways, so does the path of His followers. Today we may not face physical death to follow Jesus, but Christianity is falling out of vogue in the western world. It may cost us reputation, friendships, career, social standing, who knows what.

Do we follow? Or are we simply admiring Jesus?

Again, right now there may not be a severe cost, but that could be coming. It is something to consider now. I don't like to step on toes, including my own, but I want us to be aware that this is something we should talk over with God and with our spouse. Are we following, or are we admiring?

Here is that podcast on Youtube:

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