Burning Bush Believers

“Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?’ (Exodus 3:2-3)

“The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God — with the same grace — who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God’s persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives.”

— John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace

 

We all know a brother or sister who seems to be a target of an undue amount of suffering. It looks like they’re always in the furnace. All we can do really is to shake our heads and then give them double honor for their faith in God’s grace and providence.

Ministering to these sufferers can be a challenge.

What can we say to those who seem to be on “God’s anvil?” How can we bless those who are in pain?

Perhaps a simple word of calm encouragement is the most effective. In the midst of some awful difficulties, I once had a dear brother who gently and carefully quoted Philippians 1:6 to me over and over whenever we met and whenever we parted:

 “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:6

It was a precious thing that he did. I didn’t mind it all, as a matter of fact, I grew to like it. At first, I’ll admit it was strange, but my faith began to ‘mix’ with the Word and I began to believe it. It’s now my favorite verse in the Bible.

He refused to preach (or counsel) at me.

He had the maturity to see what God was doing and to make himself available to God on my behalf. Perhaps that patience he showed should be for us the method of choice? I look forward to seeing him someday, someway.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.”

Romans 5:3

A keyword in this verse is “rejoice.”

It is a good reminder that the pain we feel is not the end. These trials have a limited duration (although it seems far away). There is coming a day when we can navigate through these issues and come out on the other side. “We will shine like the stars” (Daniel 12:3).

Much wisdom is needed in our ministry to disproportionate sufferers. We should have a fear of intruding on the work the Lord is doing. We must be patient and humble in this matter. There is no rushing God, after all, it’s His work. Most importantly we must be very much ‘present’ for our friend.

“But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance”

Romans 5:3

A “word” spoken out of place can cause even more ‘heartache’ for the sufferer. Let us be careful. At times it’s better not to say anything, and that’s alright. Job’s friends were best sitting in the ash heap, saying no word.  

“The Lord God gives me
the right words
    to encourage the weary.
Each morning he awakens me
    eager to learn his teaching.”

Isaiah 50:4, CEB

Trust Jesus to show you how to love, and serve those who seem to struggle so. Ask the Father to give you the right words–He will if you only ask.

 

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How to Hear God Clearly

In Deuteronomy 15:12-18, slaves who are being set free by their master after six years of service, could, if they loved and were loved by their master, could choose to remain a slave to him forever.

“But if your slave says to you, “I don’t want to leave you,” because he loves you and your family and has a good life with you, stick an awl through his ear into the door; he will be your slave for life. Also, do this to a female slave.”

Deuteronomy 15:12-18, (Exodus 21:6)

This was a decision that required elders to act as witnesses.  It was significant as well as entirely binding.  I like to think of the ceremony as a cross between a wedding and circumcision. (Sounds like fun!)

The slave would be led to a doorpost and the master would take an awl, and push it through his ear lobe.  This designated the slave to be forever “owned” by a specific master.  The slave would then wear an earring to remind everyone who they were. Herein lies a picture of the consecrated Christian.

Many times in the New Testament people called themselves bondservants of Christ.

Peter, Paul, James, and Jude each referred to themselves as “bondservants of Jesus Christ” to open up their epistles. An example:

(“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”)

This is not a forced servitude. This a choice made from love!

There are many believers who have done the same, they have fallen in love with their Savior.  They do not plan on a life apart from Him. They’ve decided they won’t serve anyone else. So spiritually they have gone to the doorpost, the awl is pushed through their ear, and they are marked from that point on.

Although the ear was pierced physically in the Old Testament, a spiritual kind of piercing takes place in the New. We see glimmers of that decision,

“Surely you know that when you give yourselves like slaves to obey someone, then you are really slaves of that person. The person you obey is your master. You can follow sin, which brings spiritual death, or you can obey God, which makes you right with him.”

Romans 6:16, (NCV)

Just a thought. When the prodigal son returned home from the far country he fell before his father and humbly asked,make me your servant” (Luke 15:19, 21). He, in essence, was saying to the father, “pierce my ear.” The father made him a son, but the attitude of the son’s heart had changed into the heart of a bondservant. So it must be with us.

We each will have a chance to live out a “pierced ear life.

Perhaps it’s then will we’ll truly hear His voice in a new and clearer way. Maybe this is the next step we should take. It’s not demanded, or required. Sometimes hearing Him can be a challenge, but the Father delights in this. He will share with you what’s on His heart.

“Savior, I know Thou hast allowed me absolute liberty, to serve Thee, or to go my own way. I would serve Thee forever, for I love my Master. I will not go out free. Mark my ear, Lord, that it might respond only to Thy voice.”

— Jim Elliot, Missionary, and Martyr

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Are You Carrying a Heavy Burden?

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30, ESV

To be honest, this passage has yet to be fully processed by me. Sometimes I understand, but then I forget. Because of this, this post is preaching to me, and if you decide to bail on reading this that’s ok. I write because I truly believe that these things are possible. I don’t always put this passage in action. I ask for your forgiveness.

Jesus issues an invitation to His listeners that’s earth-shaking. He sets Himself is far above the rule of the Pharisees; these declarations can’t be explained away. Jesus puts Himself as the only one that brings true peace. That’s pretty arrogant, especially if it’s wrong.

But it’s really a false statement. Jesus bursts though this confusion, and life eternal is what He carries to each believer.

The Pharaeses have long ago decided the Law was the the Mosaic yoke that kept the people in line. Jesus taught otherwise.

“Come to Me.”

I suppose the operative word here is “Me.” Jesus Christ is the exclusive giver of peace and strength. He must be acknowledged as the believer’s complete focus–He is a man, not a religious set of rules and regulations. When we decide to follow Jesus it puts us at odds with legalism.

“All who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Interesting, the Greek word for labor means “exhausted or toiling.” The word for heavy laden has the idea of someone who is fully loaded, carrying a pile, it also has the implication of having spiritual anxiety.

All means everyone–not a select few, nor those who think that they’re doing all right on their own. “Labor and heavy laden”. Both words describe those who carry burdens, and who have backs that are bending because of a difficult load. I believe that they’re those who struggle with defeat and failure.

The rest He gives is profound. And notice the word “give.” His desire is to free us, and that dear one is a gift, it’s not earned or achieved. The word “rest” means to refresh or to make calm.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,

We lay down our cares, concern, and all spiritual anxiety and to receive another kind of weight–His yoke. Jesus also calls us to another burden. We are called to “learn” from Him.

In training oxen, a wise farmer has the new, weaker one to be yoked with the one who is older. They are to be trained properly pull the plow. The older one teaches the younger.

Two things I ask that you consider:

  • We are learners. A student discovers that his teacher’s lessons can be challenging. I remember trying to grasp Geometry. I went around and around trying to understand. The teacher was patient, and she made an effort to communicate. In the same way the Holy Spirit works to share heavenly truths to me. One of His titles is “Teacher.”
  • The Lord deeply desires to release me from my “spiritual anxiety.” Perhaps I offend Him everytime I pick my sinful burden up. I do this fairly often. But He promises us we’ll have we’ll have a spiritual victory if we choose to follow Him.

“For I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

“Gentle.” and “Lowly in heart.” This is how He explains Himself to us, which is pretty much opposite of what we think Jesus is. Somehow when we forget the yoke, sin and Satan muddles our thinking, and we often walk out our spiritual anxiety. This is incredibly exhausting, and our fear grows and we try hide it.

I suppose to be yoke-less opens us up to everything religious effort has to offer.

The Greek for “rest” is defined as an intermission or cessation of any activity, rest or recreation. It’s good word rhat when we become quiet; outward and inward. That seems to be opposite of what we think we must do. Often we ratchet up our activity to somehow show the Father that we deserve His love.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

What Jesus offers us is His own yoke of unconditional love. He replaces out heavy burden with His gentle weight. The yoke of Jesus replaces the burden of legalism. What He gives is of no comparison to what we think we might understand.

The yoke of Jesus is fairly easy. It’s meaning in the original is wonderful. It means something that’s mild or pleasant. Jesus’ gift of a yoke replaces our spiritual anxiety. We don’t walk in the constant fear of our failure to measure up.

“Easy” and “light” is the very nature of His yoke of discipleship.

Following Him shouldn’t be grueling or hard, and yet we stilldon’t grasp this .What Jesus offers is our chance to become real. He wants us to share His yoke, but it’s not hard. Yes, we must forsake everything to be one of His followers, but Jesus offers us far more than we ever dreamed.

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God’s Night Shift, Psalm 134:1-3

A song of ascents.

“Now bless the Lord,
all you servants of the Lord
who stand in the Lord’s house at night!
Lift up your hands in the holy place
and bless the Lord!

 May the Lord,
Maker of heaven and earth,
bless you from Zion.

Psalm 134:1-3

Not every Levite labored during the day. The night shift continued their work. Granted, no sacrifices were offered, but the “night priests” stood to protect the Ark, gather wood, and keep the incense burning and cleaned up the blood. But most importantly they must worship and pray for Israel.

“Servants of the Lord” is a phrase that resonates in my heart. Those words are both a comfort and a responsibility and that seems to open this passage up. We’ve got a Master, and we serve Him only. And I know and believe that worship was the main responsibility of the night watch!

“Christians believe that true worship is the highest and noblest activity of which man, by the grace of God, is capable.”

-John Stott

Worship is the central work of the disciple, it’s what we’re called to do. Evangelism, missions, and preaching are fine. But prayer and intercession must be the heartbeat of each believer. It’s the holy calling of the Church. When does the church service end? Never!

The service really gets going Monday through Saturday!

In this short Psalm, (just 3 verses!) we’re introduced to a group of Levites who are working the night shift. What they do is hidden–it’s not seen by others. They keep the fires stoked, gather wood, and patrol the walls. But more importantly, they stand and worship and intercede for Jerusalem.

No real recognition is given, and the spotlight is rarely shined on them.

They serve at night, vitally essential but seldom seen. And yet they intercede for the nation. They “bless” the Lord and the people of God. That’s their place and position. They must do this. Israel must be blessed. These night shift workers insist on it!

The church needs nursery workers and Sunday school teachers. So many are working behind the scenes. Often the deacons and elders of a church are rarely seen and seldom acknowledged. So much is concealed. Their work is a hidden one. But the Father sees.

In a church, someone has to clean the bathrooms and take out the garbage, and others will make coffee or shovel snow. They vacuum and straightened the chairs. They are the ones who collect the mail and prepare the overheads. There’s always something to do. And it’s a hidden work carried out with no one watching. No one, but God.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
    to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
    and your faithfulness by night,

Psalm 92:1-2

Serving at night can be a challenge, not all can lead worship or preach the sermon on Sunday morning. Those called to do those tasks serve in the day. But those who serve the Lord at night also labor, and sometimes that hiddenness behind the scenes has its own special challenges.

This may come as a surprise, but it takes as much of the Spirit to work the night shift as it does to stand behind the podium and preach the Word. I believe that this is true! These hidden ones carry out much of the ministry of the Church. Few notice, but God Himself sees them.

“They [Levites] are exhorted to fill the night with prayer and watchfulness and to let their hearts go up in blessing to Jehovah. The voice of praise should echo through the silent night and float over the sleeping city.”

Alexander MacLaren

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Listening to Brennan Manning

Here are several quotes written by Brennan Manning. They’re definitely thought-provoking and should be prayed through. I think they’re worth considering. If you like them great, if not that’s ok too.

“The gospel declares that no matter how dutiful or prayerful we are, we can’t save ourselves. What Jesus did was sufficient.”

When we wallow in guilt, remorse, and shame over real or imagined sins of the past, we are disdaining God’s gift of grace.”

“God loves you unconditionally, as you are, and not as you should be because nobody is as they should be.”

“I could more easily contain Niagara Falls in a teacup than I can comprehend the wild, uncontainable love of God.”

In my experience, self-hatred is the dominant malaise crippling Christians and stifling their growth in the Holy Spirit.”

“The splendor of a human heart that trusts it is loved unconditionally gives God more pleasure than Westminster Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony”, Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, the sight of 10,000 butterflies in flight, or the scent of a million orchids in bloom. Trust is our gift back to God, and he finds it so enchanting that Jesus died for love of it.”

“Those who have the disease called Jesus will never be cured.”

“The men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their own imperfect existence.”

“God loves us as we are…not as we ought to be, because we are never going to be as we ought to be.”

“The ragamuffin gospel reveals that Jesus forgives sins, including the sins of the flesh; that He is comfortable with sinners who remember how to show compassion; but that He cannot and will not have a relationship with pretenders in the Spirit.”

“The North American Church is at a critical juncture. The gospel of grace is being confused and compromised by silence, seduction, and outright subversion. The vitality of the faith is being jeopardized. The lying slogans of the fixers who carry religion like a sword of judgment pile up with impunity. Let ragamuffins everywhere gather as a confessing Church to cry out in protest. Revoke the licenses of religious leaders who falsify the idea of God. Sentence them to three years in solitude with the Bible as their only companion.”

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.”

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Listening to A.W. Tozer

I believe that these quotes by A.W Tozer will really touch your heart. I’ve tremendous respect for him and his ministry. His is a voice that we really don’t hear too often anymore–but we should.

― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine

“Between the scribe who has read and the prophet who has seen there is a difference as wide as the sea. We are today overrun with orthodox scribes, but the prophets, where are they? The hard voice of the scribe sounds over evangelicalism, but the Church waits for the tender voice of the saint who has penetrated the veil and has gazed with an inward eye upon the Wonder that is God. And yet, thus to penetrate, to push in sensitive living experience into the holy Presence, is a privilege open to every child of God.”

“Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.”

“To men and women everywhere Jesus says, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” The rest He offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend.”

“Whoever defends himself will have himself for defense, and he will have no other. But let him come defenseless before the Lord and he will have for his defender no less than God Himself.”

“How tragic that we in this dark day have had our seeking done for us by our teachers.”

“Lord, make me childlike. Deliver me from the urge to compete with another for place or prestige or position. I would be simple and artless as a little child. Deliver me from pose and pretense. Forgive me for thinking of myself. Help me to forget myself and find my true peace in beholding Thee. That Thou mayest answer this prayer I humble myself before Thee. Lay upon me Thy easy yoke of self-forgetfulness that through it I may find rest. Amen.”

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Jumpstarting a Prayer Life

We must (MUST!) pray as believers in Jesus.

Prayer is the oxygen of our spiritual life. We must breathe, or else. When I go to my doctor she puts an oximeter on my finger so she can assess how my lungs are using oxygen.

I suppose if we would put it on our “spiritual finger,” might it reveal something?

We don’t know exactly know how to pray, and I don’t think communicating with God isn’t easy for us. We must be taught. The desperate disciples wanted to learn how to pray–they didn’t know how, (Luke 11:1-2). We also need to have Jesus teach us.

We can only learn how if the Spirit teaches us.

Also, we must practice praying. We may do it terribly rotten, but we shouldn’t give up–it’s not natural–I suppose it’s supernatural. We will learn by doing. We may get discouraged but we must keep at it. Even if you’re a pro, the Holy Spirit will make sure you keep learning new things. Our walk should always grow deeper. If you’re a good student He is happy to teach you.

For me praying the Psalms is good practice, and there are 150 of them. The Jewish people have a 4000-year start on us–they’ve used the Psalms as their prayer/praise book. My sense is that this covers every human need–the entirety of our spiritual walk!

I think that Psalms 103 might be a great place to get started.

I’ve been told by some that the “Lord’s Prayer” is quite useful as well. I guess if you honestly take it phrase by phrase, something good will happen. I’m still learning (and I suspect I still will).

Below we find a way to jumpstart our prayer life. I hope you can use it.

One more thought.Conversational Prayer” has been a good thing for me lately. Talk with Jesus as if He was in the same room with you (He is) and just converse. I once heard of a man who put an empty chair in his prayer closet, it helped him understand that Jesus was right there with him. He said it really helped.

Share with Him your ups and downs, and it’s okay if you feel like you’re screwing it up. Relax. He’s your Father. He loves you.

He wants to be with you so much. He has many things to show you.

alaskabibleteacher.com

A Burning Bush, or Blackberries?

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

In some odd way, our lives seem to be always getting interrupted by God. And it can happen a lot. We need to see the invisible. When we can, it can be quite amazing. Our night sky here in Alaska is wonderful. If it’s clear out, it’s amazing what you can see.

Probably the most phenomenal night skies were in Mexico though, while camping on the beach. As I lay there I looked and the Milky Way was on full display. It really was as good as it could be. It seemed there were 10x more stars than ever before.

Once as I gazed up, a weird sort of fear gripped me, it was almost a panic.

I started to tremble and shake. I got up and ran to our tent. I just couldn’t handle the incredible universe with no buffer. I was completely undone and reduced to a quivering speck of dust. I tried to tell my wife Lynn what had just happened to me, but I couldn’t. I was too scrambled. I couldn’t speak.

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Reflecting on this, I now realize I had experienced “awe.” It was something much more common a few generations ago. There is a kind of existential crisis which we side-step in these more modern times. We rarely contemplate the night sky. We seldom, if ever, have seen fire in a bush.

It seems we have traded our awareness of a truly Almighty God, and in turn, we get to pick all blackberries we can haul.

We reason it out, and we feel that we have made a better bargain. But when we extricate this from our souls, don’t be surprised if we suddenly find that we have become spiritual paupers.

Maybe we should learn to see through things; each of us has the opportunity now to see the spiritual world that swirls around us. Why wait for heaven? Ask our Father to reveal His glory now in this present moment. Learn to see that which can’t be seen, but by faith.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies announce what his hands have made.”

Psalms 19:1, NCV

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Our Father is in Control

Tapestry: Front and Back

 “Thus says the Lord, You shall not go up or fight against your relatives the people of Israel. Every man return to his home, for this thing is from me.’ So they listened to the word of the Lord and went home again, according to the word of the Lord.”  

 1 Kings 12:24, KJV

You can never accuse the Lord of being cold and distant and aloof.  He doesn’t detach Himself from the needs of His people.  He doesn’t ever disconnect and isolate Himself from you.  On the contrary, He is constantly thinking and acting on your behalf.  He is a proactive God, and that’s impressive.

The God of the Bible is always intensively involved in the affairs and concerns of His covenant people.

What we see as a muddled-up mess is actually His work. Perhaps in eternity we’ll see and understand. We see the backside of the tapestry now but (I assure you) we’ll know the beauty of His handiwork.

“For this thing is from Me.” 

God directs a confused king who has significant issues.  (Sound familiar?) God decides that the civil war between Judah and Israel is wrong.  In 1 Kings 12, He sends His prophet Shemaiah to stand before the king of Judah, and speak out a word to the nation.  The Lord is involved, and it is He who is actively enmeshed in this issue.

“For this thing is from Me.” 

There is something here that can mystify and perplex the best of us.  He begins to weave and guide His active presence into the confusing issues of that time.  He is not a “landlord God,”  but He is intensely involved in our affairs.  He initiates and directs the very things that concern us.

“For this thing is from Me.” 

The text clearly opens up this ugly situation.  In the midst of this bizarre issue, God has assumed control.  His prophet Shemaiah carries this a Word of power into a room of possibly explosive personalities.  Now the arrogance of the king can be a strong and strange thing.  But God decides and moves wherever He wills. Kings are never an issue when God enters in. They must serve now, like anyone else.

Dear one, He is incredibly involved in your affairs. 

He draws you and He has engaged to be intricately focused on your situation.  “For this thing is from Me.”  and that truth opens up His purposes to our desperate poverty.  We may try very hard to try to maintain control and direction.  But God directs and superintends. 

He is big enough to touch and direct my small heart.  We will come into confusion if we try to sidestep His lordship.

 “The Lord can control a king’s mind as he controls a river;  he can direct it as he pleases.” 

Proverbs 21:1

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