God’s Ways 1

Intro

I write this blog for those who are hungering for God, longing for the moment when God returns to fulfill history. Walking with God daily and seeking Him is a journey. There will be multiple times when God’s ways don’t make sense. Clouds will obscure His light. Storms of doubt, grief, loss, and pressing trials come upon all of us. How can we understand and respond in our journeys of faith?

Lessons from Isaiah 55: Setting

The prophet Isaiah was a priest serving God during a turbulent time in history. He is the prophet who foresees and teaches about the coming Messiah. Jesus reads from Isaiah multiple times in the Gospels. For more information about Isaiah

https://www.gotquestions.org/life-Isaiah.html

https://insight.org/resources/bible/the-major-prophets/isaiah

Chapter 55 specifically addresses the Hebrews who have been exiled in Babylon. While this passage is for this historical group of people, the truths still apply to us!

Truth 1: God’s Invites us to be refreshed in Him verses 1-2

God’s Way is to Refresh

God invites the thirsty and hungry (spiritually) to come to Him. How does this relate to understanding God’s Ways? Good question! God sent His people into exile. They were unfaithful and unrepentant. God’s judgment came and they are living in a foreign land. Yet, God’s not done with them! God isn’t done with us. God’s judgment and mercy are together not separate. Realizing that we are sinners and objects of God’s righteous, holy, just wrath (Judgment) leads us to trust in His Son’s redemption (Mercy)! Isaiah clearly presents God’s Gospel in the Old Testament.

Isaiah isn’t merely referring to physical food and drink but the True, Abundant Life that comes in trusting and depending on God. What have you lost this last year? Do you have dreams and hopes that unfulfilled? What is missing in your life that keeps you from joy and peace? Perhaps God is reaching out to you! Only God can give our lives meaning and purpose because He’s Eternal and Creator! Things of this earth pass away.

Truth 2: Repent and Turn Back to God–Seeking Him verses 3-7

God’s Way is Mercy and Pardon when we turn to Him

Repentance is an ongoing process in our lives that begins in our spiritual regeneration. We don’t just repent once, it’s an attitude wherein we return to God in our life. Simply, we continue to “go astray” and sin because of our fallen nature. Paul reminds us in Romans that we have a sinful nature that leads us to rebel even when we want to do the right thing! The answer to this sinful nature is to acknowledge it and respond in turning to God when/after we sin.

God refers to His Gospel plan in these verses. Isaiah refers to the Davidic covenant. God intends to use the Hebrew people to showcase His grace and salvation. Remember that Jesus came from the line of David to fulfill this and other prophecies. The exile is part of God’s plan. God’s plan to save and redeem through His Messiah is on track!

Verses 6-7 are saturated with God’s grace and mercy. What good news! God invites us to

6 Seek the Lord while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near.

7 Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.

Isaiah 55:6-7 NKJV

The words mercy and pardon are welcome news for those struggling with sin and life’s difficulties. God is merciful and compassionate (NASB version translates mercy as compassion).

Truth 3: God’s Thoughts and Ways aren’t our ways vrs 8-9

God doesn’t act as we might desire, expect, or request. God reminds us of this truth in these verses. His thoughts and ways are infinitely beyond us! This is both comforting and terrifying. The comfort comes in knowing that God is far greater, better, and perfect that we can possibly know or understand! The terrifying part is that God is beyond us. He doesn’t need our advice or help! God exists apart from us. God is the Creator; we are the creatures. Considering the size of our solar system and visible universe, we are small creatures. God is even more vast than our visible universe.

We then ask the question: what are mere humans to God? We are His creation made to glorify and enjoy God for His glory and honor. [adapted from Westminster Confession of Faith] It’s humbling to consider that Jesus left Heaven (humbled Himself) to obey His Father and make redemption possible (Philippians 2:6-11). The God of the universe sent us His His Only Son. It’s important for us to remember our place. Our fallen natures leads us to prideful, wrong thinking. Life is about vastly more than ourselves!

Truth 4: God’s Word and Desires come to pass verses 10-13

Isaiah reminds us that God’s plans come to pass as He desires. He uses the imagery of rain and snow watering the earth and seeds to provide bread. These are significant “word pictures” for a people living in a world without Kroger. Rain and snow are vital to agriculture. No water, no seed, no bread–starvation and death. The very essentials of life are linked to God’s Spoken Word. What God says will happen! God’s Words are essential to life. Remember how Jesus rebuked Satan with this truth!

Writers and pastors like this verse because it promises that God’s Word will not be shared in vain (literally go forth). Sometimes it’s discouraging when you invest time and energy teaching God’s Word and it seems as though no one is listening or in this case reading. God reminds us that He will accomplish His plan. Our job is to be faithful in proclaiming His Word!

One of the main reasons for my blog is because I consistently read other’s works. Others have blessed me with their insights, so I want to bless you! The articles and blogs that I embed in this content are those which nourished my mind and soul. Dr. Jim Berg of Bob Jones Seminary provides an insightful devotion on Isaiah 55:

Verse 13 ends this chapter with a beautiful picture. The thorns are replaced with the beautiful and mighty cypress and myrtle trees. This blog post expounds on verse 13’s imagery:

http://myrtleandcypress.com/why-myrtle-cypress/

Applications

Isaiah is referring to God’s plans in verses 8-9. I want you to consider these verses in the context of your life. Life doesn’t go according to our plans and desires. But we can have faith that God’s Plans succeed. Isaiah 55 concludes with a glorious picture of rejoicing, restoration, and blessing that is a “memorial to the Lord.” What is God doing in your life that you can share and rejoice? What areas of your life do you need to repent and turn toward Christ?

May God bless you with His wonderful, redeeming, and encouraging truths as you seek Him in His Living Word, for His glory and your encouragement I write these words,

Good Friday

While we refer to the day of Jesus’ trial and execution as Good Friday, it was a day of horror and agony for Jesus and His disciples. Being separated from this moment for over two thousand years, it’s easy to fail to comprehend the magnitude of horrors that everyone involved experienced. Join me as we consider this event from various viewpoints of the individuals involved. My purpose here is to encourage you to reconsider this event in light of Easter and how that God works through history.

Foremost, Jesus is being obedient to His Heavenly Father’s plan of redemption. Jesus came to earth to die in order to save the lost. Jesus is fully aware that He must suffer God’s Wrath for our sins in order to complete His mission. Isaiah 53 reveals:

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. KJV Isaiah 53:4-7

Jesus speaks from the cross. I will summarize the most important items He addresses:

  1. Jesus forgives those who have executed Him. He sets us an example of forgiving others.
  2. He promises the thief on the cross next to Him that He will be with Him in paradise–His grace saves immediately!
  3. He entrusts His earthly mother to John’s care. Jesus is thinking about Mary and her needs.
  4. Jesus lets us know that His sacrifice is effective when He says it is finished.

This article and included video gives seven sayings and more details for you to study. I recommend using this article as a personal devotion:

https://www.christianity.com/god/jesus-christ/jesus-last-words.html

Good Friday is the darkest day of all of history especially when Jesus endures God’s Wrath for our sins. He was forsaken and separated from His Heavenly Father for a period of time. However, without Good Friday there could be no Easter Resurrection. We tend to focus on the victorious aspects of God, Jesus, and Christian life while not considering or minimizing the “dark” and “difficult” things.

Following Christ is far more than an emotional decision that we make at church or some evangelistic event–it’s a consistent, daily choice to die to ourselves in order to find life in Christ. Jesus commands us to “take up our cross and follow Him” Luke 14:27. Got questions explains this command and what it means

https://www.gotquestions.org/take-up-your-cross.html

Simply explained, we must die to our self in order to live in Christ. Following Christ isn’t a half-hearted decision that we make in order to please our friends, ease our consciences, or to improve our lives. Jesus gave up His life, we must do the same. Are you living for and through Him?

The Disciples

The disciples were horrified and terrified of what was happening. Who was present?

https://www.christianity.com/jesus/death-and-resurrection/the-crucifixion/who-was-present-at-the-cross.html

This horrible Friday was a shattering event to the disciples and followers! They were wondering how it was possible that the Messiah could be killed. They (like us many times) didn’t fully understand God’s plan(s). God’s plans aren’t our plans. It’s easy to forget this with our cultural Christianity and religious understandings of life. One of the main reasons that I ready Larry Crabb’s works is because he consistently warns about having false notions of God and His ways. He identifies this issue and gives examples in all of his works.

For example, God exists and works in history to accomplish His redemptive purposes for His glory. This means that good people who trust Him will suffer and things won’t work out as we desire. God will bring or allow difficulties and trials in our lives so that we can be a witness to others as we become more like Christ and less like our world.

We as fallen humans have a tendency to make God into an idol that we can appease with our good deeds, prayers, or other forms of manipulation in order to get the “good” things that we desire more than God. God is bigger than us and has plans beyond our capacity to understand. We can’t fully comprehend God or His ways, but we can trust and obey Him in what He clearly reveals in His Word to us.

Remember how that Peter tries to correct Jesus when He announces His suffering and death. Jesus promptly rebukes Peter’s notion as being satanic. Have you ever tried to tell God what to do? Doesn’t work very well.

Thankfully, Jesus came full of grace and truth to rescue us from our own depravity and sinful desires. I write this blog as a person who has struggled (for years) in understanding God’s calling in career and ministry. I daily struggle to fully trust and obey God myself. God disciplines and molds those He loves. Our failures and weaknesses lead us closer to Him if we allow Him to work! He shatters our frail and wrong notions about Him and life!

I write this because this is the lesson from the disciples! Remember that Peter denied Christ three times. The others (men except for John) fled and abandoned Jesus. They were slow to believe the report of His resurrection even when Jesus clearly told them how things were going to occur. We see this truth is the Gospels when the authors mention that Jesus said that He was going to killed and then rise again. The Gospel authors relate that they didn’t understand this until after it happened. Like the disciples, we need Jesus to teach us about God. Thankfully, God sends Holy Spirit and provides us with His Word to teach, convict, and guide us.

Andy Rau gracefully handles this topic in his blog post:

What about us?

I’ve written numerous blogs about disappointment and shattered dreams. They are available for you when you need encouragement or perspective. What I want to encourage you to do is to remember and live in the reality of Christ’s Redemption! No matter what setbacks and failures that come into your life, remember that Christ redeems all!

We are valuable and precious to God because of His great Grace not because of anything that we do! The hymn Because He Lives is a great reminder and encouragement that because He lives we can live in and through Him! The horrors of Good Friday gave way to the victorious Resurrection! We can live in Him through faith and hold fast until He returns to take us home or we pass into His presence!

Because He Lives

Gloria Gaither / William J. Gaither Because He Lives lyrics © Capitol CMG Publishing

May God’s grace and truth sustain you on your journey of faith, for His glory and honor I remind you of His truths with this writing,

Lee Stanfill

Delight in God: Our Purpose

I invite you to consider the following questions:

  1. What is the greatest source of joy and peace in your life? Is it a person, job, or thing that you enjoy doing?
  2. What does it mean to delight in your Lord and Savior?
  3. Can you explain God’s rest for His people? How can we rest in Christ?
  4. Why does God command us to delight ourselves in Him?

Focal Scripture Passage 1: Psalm 37:4 I recommend reading the entire Psalm for proper context

Quotes are from Larry Crabb’s When God’s Ways Make No Sense

https://biblehub.com/nasb_/psalms/37.htm

4Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. NASB

This Psalm attributed to David is titled “Security of Those who Trust in the Lord, and the Insecurity of the Wicked.” To understand God’s truth to us in verse four, we need to examine the context.

First, David was observing evil doers prospering (v. 1-2, and 35). He reminds himself to trust in God and “do good.” Focusing on the evil ones prospering can make us envious when we forget that life is short.

Second, David recognizes God’s blessing(s) on those who seek and obey His ways. The greatest blessing possible is knowing God Himself!

Third, we see that God is the judge and will execute His righteous judgement on the “wicked.” We don’t have to find justice (in this life, through our actions) because God will ultimately judge all. Verse 8 warns us to not worry/fret, but to v 7. wait patiently on God.

Fourth, God provides strength, deliverance, and saves “because they take refuge in Him. v 39-40” God provides eternal salvation for His people so we can trust in His ways even when things go badly during this life. We demonstrate trust in Him by taking refuge in Him instead of leaning our own understandings/solutions.

God desires for us to delight in Him by trusting our desires to Him

The people or things that we delight in tend to reveal the focus and desires of our hearts. We humans have an idol problem!

https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/idols-that-sneak-into-our-lives-and-how-to-resist-them.html

We also misunderstand God’s Word and His Ways too. Part 2 of verse 4 “And He will give you the desires of your heart” if often misquoted and misunderstood. This means that God will gladly give us more of Himself if we delight ourselves in Him. For a collection of scriptures and deeper explanation check out Got question’s explanation of this verse:

https://www.gotquestions.org/delight-yourself-in-the-Lord.html

In brief, God wants us to desire Him and His Good Things more that what we think is good or want Him to give us. For example, we often pray for blessings and this is scriptural so long as we are asking God for the right things from Him (see James 4:2-4). Yet, are we seeking the good things in accordance with God’s plan for us? What if God doesn’t give us what we seek because He has something else in store for us? We must remember that God’s good is often beyond our ability to understand (pertaining to our circumstances). While it seems as though our prayers are being ignored, God is working in ways that we aren’t aware of. Larry Crabb explains this extensively in his works. He reminds us that we have a tendency to desire solutions and quick fixes to our problems more than trusting in God. We must walk by faith and not by sight alone!

The Greatest Good God can Give Us Is Himself!

Everything is lacking compared to our Holy, Heavenly Father! Nothing can compare to the greatness of His presence and knowing Him! Have you ever wondered why that Paul was able to find comfort and strength is all of his many difficult trials? Paul came to realize that to know and love Jesus is the most important thing! Nothing in his life could take away that peace and joy that came from being made right with God through Jesus. Larry describes this great truth:

“Delight in the Lord. Entrust God, as Paul did, to guard our present and eternal well-being in accord with His understanding of well-being. Our eyes will then open, slowly, to recognize what our Spirit indwelt hearts most desire: to know God and to surrender to God’s ways even when they make no sense to our “this-life-is-all-there-is” way of thinking. pg 119″

God has a different definition for good that we often do

God’s ways are above ours Isaiah 55:9. Got questions really explains this concept well.

https://www.gotquestions.org/my-ways-are-higher-than-your-ways.html

I recommend that you carefully and prayerfully read through this explanation. You will find it to be both convicting and comforting when facing troubles and difficulties in your journey. Delighting in the Lord empowers us to walk with hope and trust in God’s ways even when we can’t understand or make sense of what is happening in our lives! There are so many evil and dark things that are happening all around us.

It’s easy to be like Peter when he stepped out of the boat in faith. The waves and wind seek to distract us from our Savior. And I can promise you that you will face storms in your life especially when you are seeking to walk with God. God doesn’t promise us a storm or trouble free life! He promises us that He has overcome nikao all the the world kosmos (John 16:33).

Quick word explanation follows: Nikao- to subdue, conqueror–total victory. Kosmos-refers to the world and its order/organization system–things opposed to God.

God’s Promise to Us

God assures us that we will face tribulations and trials in this life, but we won’t face them alone! Jesus sends Holy Spirit into the lives of His children so that we might be consoled and reminded of His truths (John 16:7-15). Only God can give us rest and peace! Hebrews Chapters 3-4 teaches us about His rest. I previously explored this topic:

Entering Into God’s Rest

Remember that Jesus Himself prayed that we would “may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity” John 17:22b-23a. Jesus was in effect asking God the Father to make us one with Heavenly Father as He is. Jesus is praying that we would be made together in Him to be with Heavenly Father. This process is a total transformation that redeems all parts of us–even our desires and what we seek in our lives.

C.S. Lewis’ becoming a little Christ

Jesus is more concerned about us becoming like Him and being unified with God than being anything else! The best things are those from God: His eternal truths as we are being transformed into becoming “little Christs.” The full quote is below:

“Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call “good infection.” Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”

― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

It’s sharing in this life, loving the Father as Jesus does, that Holy Spirit arises in us! Holy Spirit convicts and encourages us with God’s Truths in our life. He shows us how we fall short in our human, carnal nature. He leads us to repent and turn to Christ while empowering us to become new creatures.

May God increase your desire for Him! I write these words to encourage you as seek to walk with God in faith and trust!

Lee Stanfill

True Life in Christ & The Gospel

Introduction

Do you have true life? Is Christ sustaining you? What is the real meaning and purpose of abundant life? Join me as I explore this topic. Quotes will be from Larry Crabb’s Shattered Dreams and When God’s Ways Make No Sense. Our main scriptural passage for this post is John 10:10 KJV:

10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

What does Jesus mean by abundant life? How does this relate to the Gospel? What is the real, deepest meaning and application for God’s Gospel in your life?

The “Real” Good News of the Gospel:

Larry describes the good news of the gospel:

“is not that God will provide a way to make life easier. The good news of the gospel, for this life, is that He will make our lives better. We will be empowered to draw close to God and to love others well and to do both for one central purpose, to glorify God, to make Him look good to any who watch us live.” pg. 150

The Gospel is all about what God does in our hearts, how Christ mercifully and miraculously transforms us! It’s not “primarily about getting saved out of hell and into heaven. It is not primarily about living a certain way that creates fewer problems and makes us feel better about ourselves and our lives. pg 174″

Jesus’ primary concern is not self-improvement or pleasing us with things from/in this life. His primary work is to reveal Himself to us and through us to others.

Jesus’ Main Purpose for Us: John 17:3

Jesus reveals His highest dream for those of us who follow Him as He defines what “the true abundant life is: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3–Jesus’ prayer for His disciples then and now

Jesus’ greatest desire for us is

“about knowing Him as the most wonderful person there is, the very best friend anyone could ever ham. It is about glorifying God by enjoying Him more than any other source of pleasure.” pg 174

The Gospel frees us to pursue and enjoy the ONE who matters the most in life and eternity. Have you ever wondered why Jesus calls His followers to deny self and follow Him? The answer is simply that there is nothing worth pursuing in our selves (human, carnal nature). We will either worship ourselves by making self and self pleasure our idol or we will choose to follow someone or something else that seems to immediately appease our desires.

Larry describes the Gospel:

“It’s so much more but never less than forgiveness of sin, restored relationship with God, and the promise of heaven forever. It’s a call to radical discipleship, to a life of perseverance through unpredictable suffering and of joy in knowing there is no condemnation for ongoing failure. It is not an easy life. It wasn’t meant to be.” pg 35 When God Makes No Sense

The entire purpose of God’s redemptive work is to unify us with Christ. We are to become more like Christ with each passing moment of our lives. The real power of the Gospel is found in that it renews and transforms our desires and focus of life. God aligns our desire to His mercy and grace that we can only experience in and through the life and work of Jesus the Christ.

What is abundant life in Jesus all about?

Abundant life means more than we can assume with an English word understanding only. Got questions explains what abundant life means:

https://www.gotquestions.org/abundant-life.html

To summarize abundant life, it’s the life we find as we walk with Christ and come to know and resemble Him more. Jesus uses illustrations from sheep herding/care in John 10. Jesus identifies Himself as the Gate and the Good Shepherd. Jesus is contrasting Himself with the Pharisees and their dead religion. It’s important to remember that John 10 follows John 9 wherein the Pharisees reject Christ. The Pharisees were stirred up because Jesus had healed a blind man on the Sabbath.

It’s important for us to realize that religion and man made rules lead to spiritual blindness and hypocrisy. Sabbath laws (not what God actually requires in Scripture) were more important than the blind man and Jesus’ merciful healing. This is the trap of legalism wherein rules become more valued than relationship. The Pharisees were blinded by their refusal to believe. They choose their own gospel of legalism and obedience over the True Gospel. For a more detailed discussion the setting and meaning of John Chapter 10.

https://www.gotquestions.org/life-more-abundantly.html

True Gospel versus False or Distorted Gospel

The True Gospel message is summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 and Galatians 1:6-9

John Piper gives a detailed discussion on this topic in his talk and post: “How I Distinguish Between the Gospel and False Gospels”

https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/how-i-distinguish-between-the-gospel-and-false-gospels

We humans have a tendency to distort truths. We do this when we encounter God’s Word and truth and decide to modify the truth to fit our ideas or desires. The Gospel is actually offensive in nature because it requires that we admit and deal with our helplessness and sinfulness. We deal with this by trusting Jesus to save us, not by trying to earn God’s grace with our “good” deeds. Jesus gives us a new nature as He brings us from death into spiritual life with/in Him. Ephesians Chapter 2 explains what it means to be made alive in Christ!

People aren’t naturally good as modern humanists teach. We can’t find truth from within ourselves as many spiritualists claim. Our human hearts have a definite sin problem that only God can fix (Romans Chapters 1-3). However, we must remember and understand that the fix requires dying to self and trusting in God!

It’s best to know and live in accordance to God’s Gospel as revealed in His Living Word. If you hear or see anything that seems to add, subtract, or modifies in any way the Gospel then go back to the scripture passages I listed above to consider what’s being presented. Jerry Bridges has an entire chapter entitled “Preach the Gospel to Yourself” in his book: The Discipline of Grace, God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness. We need to daily remind ourselves of the truths of God!

The Way of the Redeemed: a new creature, nature, and passion!

God gives us a new identity and power for our lives! Larry describes this new reality on pg 178:

“We’re now forgiven and can draw near to God. We’re new creations whose core identity is no longer sinner but saint. We have a new appetite within us, a desire for God that is stronger than every other desire, waiting to be discovered and nourished. And we have a new power. The Spirit of God exists literally within us. His central passion is to awaken our appetite for Christ and to reveal Him to us.”

May God graciously grant you abundant life in His Son Jesus and remind you daily of His great holiness, righteousness, truth, and grace we find as we trust and walk with Him daily,

For His glory and your edification in His truth, I write these words

Lee Stanfill

The Blessing of Emptiness

How does God work through the seemingly empty times of our lives? What does it mean to feel empty in life? Why does God send emptiness to us? Join me as I consider how that God empties our lives so that He can fill us with His Glorious Presence! All quotes are from Larry Crabb’s Shattered Dreams: God’s Unexpected Path to Joy.

The Core Problem we face as pilgrims: the battle for desiring God first

The world and its fallen nature seek to distract and disorient those seeking to walk with Christ. Jesus confronts this in numerous parables. He warns us that our hearts will be where our treasures lie. He also warns us against worry and doubt with the example of the birds and lilies of the field. Jesus requires that we trust and seek Him above all else–not our education, wealth, health, government, political party, etc. The disciples struggled with the meaning and purpose of God’s coming kingdom. Remember how that they debated on who would be greater in God’s kingdom. They wanted instant triumph and victory but encountered a crucified Messiah.

When Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness after His baptism, the temptation centered on Jesus’ divine purpose. Satan unsuccessfully tries to get Jesus to take the “easy” way out and depend on Himself apart from God’s power. We face this same challenge as we navigate our lives with career, family, and other relationships. Do we seek things or people more than God? What are our greatest desires? Do we desire to please others or self more than our Creator God? What is the source of our lives: specifically our desires and joys? Whom do we abandon ourselves to?

In Christ alone can we stand!

The Problem of Idolatry in our hearts

That’s the real issue with idolatry! We don’t carve wooden Asherah poles, set up temples to Astarte, or sacrifice our first born child to Molech like the ancients, but we desire things other/more than God. Do we seek wealth, comfort, and pleasure above Christ? That is the root of idolatry: anything that we love/desire more than God or anyone that we value more than God. Good description of modern idolatry–what it is and how it functions

https://www.gotquestions.org/idolatry-modern.html

Have you ever considering why the Hebrews struggled against idol worship? The culture(s) around them practiced idolatry in order to guarantee the god/goddesses’ favor. It was a cultural practice to ensure prosperity, success, and comfort. Even though God revealed Himself and provided His laws and precepts, the Hebrew people struggled with idolatry until they were sent into exile. By the time of Jesus, they were enslaved to religion and Roman rule. Strict rules and religion replaced the baals and asherah poles.

If we’re honest before God and with ourselves: we all have our idols, wrong ideals about God, and lesser desires that we try to “fill” up our lives with apart from God. Our world is an active evil force seeking to tempt us to worship ourselves, others, and material prosperity. For a good discussion on why idolatry is so attractive:

https://www.gotquestions.org/idol-worship.html

What is God’s solution to our problem? He convicts us leading us to turn to Him and away from the “lesser things.” God’s Mercy and Righteous Judgment works in our lives to “empty out” and “cleanse” us.

Suffering and Emptiness that lead us closer to Christ are God’s Mercy!

Suffering can take multiple forms in our lives–emotional and physical. Job is an example of a righteous man who suffers great loss. Faithful Christians get cancer, die in accidents, and struggle with unfair events in life. Suffering is an opportunity to draw closer to Christ in trust and desire and invite Him into the situation!

There is a trap that people find in trying to “explain the whys” of suffering. It’s best to not presume things that we can’t know for sure. An older lady suffering from recurring cancer and was in the terminal stage recounted a conversation from church. A fellow member admired her for her faith. She told her that she must be blessed by God because “God kept sending cancer her way.” The ailing saint wasn’t comforted by this thought and asked me for my opinion on this. She told me that she didn’t want to die but had accepted her fate. She asked me if she should keep asking God to heal her and if she should continue cancer treatments even though the outcome probably wouldn’t be successful. Here’s how I answered:

  1. God’s ways are not our ways, we don’t know why but we can trust God because He reveals Himself as being Perfectly Good, Righteous, and True. Trust in God and keep seeking Him!
  2. God’s way(s) of healing involve the ordinary and extraordinary things of life. Continue to fight the cancer with treatments and accept any additional time God gives you. Keep living for God until death comes.
  3. God is with you. He is present in your time of despair and illness. We don’t walk alone in our journey of faith when walking with God.
  4. God makes all things new in Christ including you–our hope is in being Resurrected and reunited with Christ for eternity. Your hope is in Christ not in being cancer free during your life.

This was a difficult conversation; yet an opportunity to encourage a sister in Christ facing a difficult trial. This precious saint was daily choosing to trust and depend on God even as her health faded. She was desiring God more as her life was coming to an end. Her faith sustains and encourages her as she faces death.

God desires for us to experience Joy in His Perfect Love

Thankfully, God doesn’t leave us alone in our incomplete, faulty understanding of Him! God’s gift of joy is all about His perfect love for us as demonstrated on the cross. To paraphrase Larry Crabb: we think that God should cooperate with us to make our lives “work” so we can feel joy in our earthly lives. We wrongly assume that God’s job is to make us feel completely happy and experience joy in life. Here’s the underlying problems with this mistaken view of God’s job: (pg. 136)

1.”better circumstances . . .can never produce the joy we were designed to experience. Only an intimate relationship with Perfect Love can provide that joy.”

2. In this life we can never feel what God intended us to feel, at least not in full measure. To be completely happy, we must experience perfect intimacy with Perfect Love and every “second-thing” blessing that Perfect Love can provide. In this life, we have neither. God will provide both, but not till heaven.

God’s perfect love refines us and draws us closer–Emptiness is an opportunity for God!

God fills the empty hearts. He seeks the lost and is gentle to the wayward soul. He is our Good Shepherd! IF you experience emptiness seek God and open yourself to His Presence. Larry explains the greatest opportunities of life: pg 140

“1. And life is an opportunity to live through shattered dreams and discover that we really long to abandon ourselves to the Perfect Love of God, the love revealed when Jesus died.

2. It is an opportunity to trust Him with our experience of emptiness and fear, to trust Him to forgive our resentment over bad things that happen and our determination to feel good with or without Him. . .

3. Life is an opportunity to feel pain. . .to realize that what we most deeply want is simply not available in this life, and then to trust God as He purges us of depending on the pleasures that blessings brings.”

May God encourage you through His Perfect Love! When you feel the most empty, May He graciously speak through Psalms 23 and 103 to your soul!

For His glory and your encouragement, I write these words,

Lee Stanfill

The Spiritual Journey of Life

Introduction

As we live our daily lives, we are on a journey. I want you to consider what it means to be on a spiritual journey and how this will be significantly different from a secular or worldly walk. I will be sharing quotes and paraphrasing from Larry Crabb’s Shattered Dreams: God’s Unexpected Path to Joy. I want you to consider what you are seeking in your life. What is your highest pursuit? What is your deepest desire? What is your life all about?

The Spiritual Journey Begins:

To begin walking with God, we first must be reconciled to a Holy God through Jesus’ payment for our sins. The spiritual pilgrimage begins when God saves us through His grace. Two major points to consider here:

  1. God saves us through the atonement of Jesus Christ–His Life, Death, and Resurrection. We must consider that “God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. This salvation is through His grace not because of our works or anything desirable within our human nature. For a detailed explanation read: https://www.gotquestions.org/by-grace-through-faith.html
  2. God initiates and guides our journeys of faith. God grows and sustains our faith as we daily walk with Him trusting and living in His truth and grace. There will be times of testing, trial, and disappointment as God refines and purifies our faith!
Expect trials and difficulties that leads you towards deeper peace and joy in Christ

Previously, I have written about the heroes of faith. Let me remind you that everyone in scripture faced difficulties, sorrow, and trials as they walked with God. Why are we slow to understand that we too must face doubts, broken dreams, and struggles? Perhaps it’s because we desire an easy road to faith and broad road to Christ. God’s Word makes it clear which way the broad road leads! Got questions expresses this truth and what it means below:

https://www.gotquestions.org/narrow-path.html

To walk with Christ means to deny self and humble self before a Just, Holy, Righteous, and Perfect God! The more we walk with God and better understand His Holiness and Righteousness the more we realize just how sinful, vain, and rebellious our hearts are before Him. We can choose to turn to Christ and abandon self or walk our own way. We can seek to live by our own wisdom and understanding or trust in God’s Ways.

As we walk with God facing our doubts, fears, and insecurities, we direct ourselves to Him (instead of focusing on self or our own ideas about God). God is our source of Joy and Peace! We can have peace and joy because of Jesus regardless of the difficulties and questions we encounter in life. Why is this? Because Jesus is the only True Source of Joy and Peace.

Those on a spiritual journey understand that “their primary purpose is neither to enjoy this life nor the people they meet, nor themselves; it is rather to enjoy God.” The focus of the spiritual journey is on Christ, not on earthly things. There are somethings that we will only experience later when Christ returns or we pass through death into His presence.

Recognizing and focusing on God’s Holiness and Righteousness leads us to acknowledge our need for His grace and mercy. It’s the souls who realize they are lost that admit a need for salvation and grace! On this journey of faith, we will face hard questions about life. We will wonder why God allows things to happen and evil to seem to triumph.

Often as we draw closer to Christ and seek Him earnestly, things seem to get worse instead of better. God’s Ways are far above our ability to understand!

God is infinitely more wise than humans! Isaiah reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9) Nor does God explain the details and “whys” to us. Remember that God doesn’t tell Job why that he had to suffer loss. We get the reason in the prologue (Job Chapter 1) when Satan comes before God and introduces a wager about humans and faith. But Job didn’t have a prologue he could read when experiencing the loss of his family and health! Ultimately Job is proven to be faithful as he faces these terrible trials.

https://www.gotquestions.org/my-thoughts-are-higher-than-your-thoughts.html

God purifies those whom He calls to walk with Him. Remember that Isaiah upon coming before God (Isaiah 6:5-6) recognizes that “he is a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Encountering God humbles us as we realize how great God’s Holiness and just how sinful and lacking we are. God sends an angel with a flaming coal to purify Isaiah. God sent Jesus to purify us! When we make a determination to seek God, we are inviting God to transform us. Often God will challenge our wrong/lacking notions and beliefs about Him! Transformation occurs as we experience God in our daily walk.

The more we walk with God and experience His presence the more that we realize how little we really know and can understand about God’s ways. The prophets faced this as they struggled to proclaim God’s truths to the wayward people of God. Consider the horrors of the Book of Lamentations and deep sorrows of Jeremiah who had to live through his own prophecies.

God corrects our beliefs and strengthens faith through difficulties-this tends to be painful/challenging

What we believe about God, Jesus, and God’s Word is critically important! The things that we face in life will challenge our beliefs. This isn’t an evil thing. It’s grace and truth working in our lives! What happens when what we believe doesn’t match reality? This is in an invitation to deeply consider God and His Word and to realign ourselves to their truths! Are we seeking God’s truth to transform us or are we trying to transform His truth to fit our understanding?

Larry Crabb warns about how that we often believe in a false Gospel and have shallow desires. Paul writes about this in Galatians wherein false teachers are trying to deceive the Galatians into a legalistic approach to righteousness apart from Christ. Our modern false gospels tend to center around self-improvement, or self-happiness that focuses on us (what we do, have, or can obtain ourselves) instead of Christ. God mercifully convicts and leads us back to Him when we stray from His grace to self-improvement schemes. That’s why that as we draw closer to God we often find ourselves having doubts and questioning our previous misunderstandings of God!

Larry compares Spirit’s and Satan’s masterpieces: (quotes from pages 120)

Holy Spirit’s masterpieces

  1. the man or woman who much prefers to live elsewhere
  2. finds no deep joy in the good things of this life
  3. who looks closely in the mirror and yearns to see something different,
  4. whose highest dream is to be in the Presence of the grace-filled Father,
  5. the person whose life here is consumed with preparing to meet Him there:

Satan’s masterpieces:

  1. the self-sufficient person who has made life comfortable,
  2. who is adjusting well to the world and truly likes living here,
  3. a person who dreams of no better place to live,
  4. who longs only to be a little better—and a little better off–than he already is.

Which masterpiece describes you? The Spirit’s masterpieces are consumed with getting ready to meet God now and in eternity. The masterpieces of Satan are consumed with life in this world and seeking nothing better than to improve selves!

Walking the Spiritual Journey means that we abandon ourselves to pursue God first!

God allows broken dreams and difficulties so that we will abandon ourselves! While this seems harsh, it’s actually His mercy that allows us to suffer and question things so that we will (in our discontent) look up from this life and world to Him! Followers of Christ are reborn into a new nature and spirit that hungers for God more than all else.

Let’s remember that:

Our greatest joy and deepest delight is found in Christ alone! God’s not done with you or me! The next post will explore the value of emptiness and intimacy with Christ in our journeys of faith.

May God grant you discernment, courage, and hope as you forsake the worldly things in pursuit of Christ!

For His Glory and the edification of fellow pilgrims,

I, Lee Stanfill, write these words.

Abandoning Ourselves to God

I refer to the Christian life as a journey because each believer/follower of Christ is on a journey with Christ. In our journey there are moments of joy and peace but also times of darkness, discouragement, and soul crushing silence from God. So much of what I see written is all about the “good” and “happy” things. We tend to forget about our fellow pilgrims who are struggling in a dark season.

As I write these words to you, I am thinking about the souls who are experiencing a time of grief, difficulty, or loss. When I encounter someone in a fiery trial/difficulty and want to encourage them, I find simple platitudes and “feel better” advice to be lacking and insensitive to the hurting. So what can we consider ourselves and encourage others when dreams come crashing down, and life becomes difficult?

The answer centers itself in abandoning self to God. When encouraging a person facing difficulties, we can help others:

  1. Verbalize difficult emotions before God in prayer. Pick a Psalm that matches the situation or emotion(s) and use it as a prayer template, and pray together!

2. Practice active listening focusing on the present moment and feelings. Offer your time to be emotionally present.

3. This is the time to dig deep into His Word– seeking applicable truth. Share relevant truth when appropriate–read scriptures together.

4. Finally, turn focus away from this world and it’s fleeting pleasure(s) and troubles to consider God and the joys of eternity with Him! Read aloud and pray God’s promises and truths! Listen and recite words to Jesus Paid it All, My Hope is Built On Nothing less, Blessed Assurance, and other applicable hymns.

God speaks even in our grief! Think about Jesus, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. See article below about why Jesus Wept

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-jesus-wept

Here’s what Jesus was doing and revealing in this situation:

https://www.gotquestions.org/resurrection-and-life.html

We should communicate our own pain and difficulties to God. We best minister to others by walking with them through their times of grief and loss. Consider how Jesus interacted with Mary and Martha.

All quotes in this article are from Larry Crabb: Shattered Dreams: God’s Unexpected Path to Joy unless cited otherwise.

“The search to discover God requires that we (1). abandon ourselves, that (2). we give up control of what matters most, and that (3). we place our confidence in Someone we cannot manage. These requirements are vital as they are difficult”

Who are you trusting yourself to? Are you trusting in your own understanding and wisdom for life? What happens when your situation exceeds your abilities? This is an opportunity to trust and appreciate God more! We all know that it’s easier to trust and obey God when things are going well. Who is in control of your life? What is life all about?

Of all the many idols that snare mortals, self reliance is the most dangerous. When we can’t understand God and then begin to try to figure out things on our own/or make things happen apart from Him! Abraham and Moses made these mistakes. Saul lost dynastic rule because he wouldn’t wait on Samuel! God’s Word includes these narratives to show us the folly of self action apart from God.

Likewise, we err when we totally focus ourselves on our mortal lives. How much do we invest in our “earthly” life while neglecting our “spiritual” life and journey with God? Why might God send difficulties and trials? He exercises Divine Mercy in working to refocus us–to get us to look to Him for True, Abundant Life–more than natural life can possibly give us!

Confidence in God as we work through the rubble

Larry makes the point that “confidence in God is not best described as a pleasant emotional experience.” Confidence in God requires us acknowledging Him and being patient. We can’t always feel God’s presence but that doesn’t mean He isn’t near us or working behind the scenes! He adds, “the presence of God is not naturally discerned. But as we abandon ourselves more to Him. . . a confidence emerges, a sense of His Presence, that only the awakened spiritual capacities of the soul can identify.” We can be confident of God through His Holy Spirit. God uses our broken dreams and pain to alert us to the need to desire Him above all else. We have to be aware of this “deeper desire for God” in order for us open our souls to receive.

We can be encouraged in knowing that God is working in our pain and weakness(es) to cause us to “do whatever it takes to create an awareness of space in our souls that only He can fill.” Happy people fill their lives with whatever or whomever makes them happy. Difficult times shatter our false, shallow happiness and beckons us to seek Someone bigger and better than that which the world offers.

The saints of the Bible (Hebrews Chapter 11) turned away from the world and it’s fleeting pleasures/happiness because they desired God more. Being happy and content in anyone or anything apart from God is a dangerous place to dwell. Is it possible that God love for us moves Him to act when we are astray? Scripture teaches that God seeks us first and creates faith in us through working through events/setting of our lives.

What if Abraham had been content to remain in Ur? What if Moses had contented himself shepherding sheep in the desert? What if the disciples had went back to their old lives and didn’t share the Good News? The main point is that God called each of the above to Himself and none of their lives were easy, comfortable, completely successful, or appreciated!

Why doesn’t God just eliminate all suffering and make things “right” immediately

God has something better for us than an easy, trouble-free existence! God works to draw us closer to Himself and to work through our lives to love and serve others. We truly don’t desire God properly when we are focused and content on lesser things. God’s desire is for us to desire Him above all else. God doesn’t leave us contented on the lesser things!

May God increase your desire for Him! The best thing that can ever happen to us is anything that causes us to long for Him more! Remember that God doesn’t waste our pain! David Mathis describes this in his blog post:

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/none-of-your-pain-will-be-wasted

For Christ’s glory and to encourage you to desire Him more, I write these words

Lee Stanfill

A Journey to Joy

What are you seeking in this life? Many are mistakenly seeking happiness and a pleasant journey instead of God’s best. Join me in considering how God graciously disrupts our temporary happiness in order to draw us into greater joy and hope in Him. All quotes are from Larry Crabb’s Shattered Dreams: God’s Unexpected Path to Joy: Chapter 5: The Rhythm of Hope unless indicated otherwise.

There’s a crucial difference in happiness and joy. Meg Bucher explains this concept in the article embedded below.

https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/the-beauty-of-seeking-both-joy-and-happiness-in-christ.html

Trap of Happiness

Larry discusses a cycle “from happiness through despair to joy.” He uses the example of Naomi in the book of Ruth. He reminds us that “our lives move again from feeling pretty good to hurting terribly to deeper hope, different and richer.” If we are honest about our journey with God, we will admit that we focus on the happy and pleasant while avoiding the difficult and painful things. We will talk about past victories and good times while keeping quiet about the present difficulties and trials. Larry makes the argument that happy people (pg. 54)

  1. do not love well–Joyful people do. That’s why happiness, the pleasant feeling that pleasant circumstances generate, must be taken away and replaced by joy;
  2. rarely look for joy-content with what currently possess-foundation of life consists of the blessings they enjoy, instead of looking to Christ and finding joy,
  3. central concern is to keep what they have,
  4. haven’t been freed to pursue a greater dream. That’s why they cannot love well.

Happiness and contentment with life keeps a person trapped in a cycle of desire that leads to pleasure instead of lasting joy in God’s best. How does God respond?

God’s Mercifully removes the good

“In his severe mercy, God takes away the good to create an appetite for the better, and then, eventually, He satisfies the new appetite, liberating them to love. It comes down to this: God’s best is available only to those who sacrifice, or who are willing to sacrifice, the merely good. If we are satisfied with good health, responsible children, enjoyable marriages, close friendships, interesting jobs, and successful ministries, we will never hunger for God’s best. We will never worship. I’ve come to believe that only broken people truly worship. Unbroken people–happy folks who enjoy their blessings more than the Blesser–say thanks to God the way a shopper thanks a clerk.”

As humans we have a tendency to love the good and blessings more than the Giver of all Good. God loves us enough to send tribulations, failures, and other difficult things to awaken us. We don’t know how desperate we are for God until things get hard in our lives and shatters the shallow veil of happiness. When all is good, we’re content to enjoy and savor the good times instead of seeking God’s best.

Example of Naomi: Despair before Joy

God shows us this in the story of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi was happy with her husband and sons until they all died. She returned to Bethlehem broken and bitter. Naomi renamed herself “Mara.” Yet God had something much greater in store for her and Ruth. Naomi had to lose the happiness to find the true joy in her God after first walking through intense despair. God moves us in a similar way in our journeys as well. Larry describes three characteristics of people in despair (pages 56-57)

  1. “You’re better off without me.” Naomi told her daughter in laws to leave her and find other men to marry. She displayed her loss of hope in having any descendants.
  2. “Happiness is only a memory, never to be experienced again.” Remember that Naomi remained 10 years after the deaths. “Yet Ruth sensed there was more. Her dreams were tied up with the virtues of relationship, virtues such as loyalty and persevering devotion.” Ruth wanted more than happiness! Naomi gave up on ever being “happy” again.
  3. “Naomi admitted that God does want He wants.” She refers to God as El Shaddai: the Almighty One–meaning “the force that can’t be resisted.”

This is a hard truth to accept. God works in miraculous ways! However, He doesn’t heal every sick person. God could prevent all wars and suffering, but He doesn’t! God could wipe out every despot and evil ruler. Yet, He doesn’t. Prior to the Russian invasion against the Ukrainian people, many fervently prayed that God would bring peace. Some have been praying for years! See article below for account:

https://wordandway.org/2019/10/14/ukrainian-believers-standing-on-our-knees/

God allowed Putin to attack. War has been ongoing for years with nearly 14,000 killed before the most recent invasion. God’s ways aren’t our ways! We don’t know why God allows things to happen (if we are honest with ourselves and others). We are often mistaken when we try to explain the unknown causing grief to others. We minimize and reduce others’ suffering instead of walking with them through the darkness. See how Ukrainian Pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko (Mauripol, Donetsk ) helped his teens cope with their fears prior to war:

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/disadvantaged-teens-dig-trenches-ukraine-26233423

Let’s pray for Pastor Mokhnenko, Mykhailo Anopa, and the other youth caught in a war. You can google search the above names for pictures and information on them.

The Charity Fund “ Pilgrim”

Pastor Mokhenko illustrates the words of Larry Crabb:

We need “the courage to not quit, to not settle for immediate pleasure that brings happiness back for only a moment, often depends on our conviction that God is moving, that we are being taken to an experience of ecstasy along a path of suffering, that there is no other way to get there.” All quotes from page 57.

What we believe about God and His nature is critical to our ability to endure and persevere. There will be times when you doubt God’s goodness. Any honest follower encounters things that just don’t make sense and we wonder “why.” There will be “whys” that we will never understand completely on this side of eternity. See my previous blog

But we can seek refuge in God and trust Him, seeking Him in His Word, and longing for His return.

Journey from Despair to Joy

Naomi’s journey toward joy begins as she returns home to Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning. “The darkest night precedes the brightest dawn. That is not cliche’; it’s how God works.” The next step comes when Ruth goes out into Boaz’s fields to get some grain to eat. It’s amazing to note that “deliverance from despair always comes through a person.” It is Ruth’s desire to collect food to sustain her and Naomi that leads her to Boaz. God is working! Do you think it was an accident that she encounters Boaz?

God uses His Word to reveal Himself. Boaz represents God’s redemption. Naomi and Ruth are both in a bad situation, yet all of this is about to change. “It is true that deliverance comes through a person, but it is also true that the person who delivers us must earnestly long to bring us joy.” Boaz meets Ruth and loves her. Christ is our Boaz! He meets us lost in our sins with truth, grace, love. He then redeems us, bringing us new life through His death and resurrection. We are born again into new life through Him!

Later in Ruth, we see that Noami is holding Obed on her lap. Larry reminds us:

“Her dream of growing old with her husband and enjoying her sons as adults was gone, but God created within Naomi an appetite for a better dream. The writer intends for us to see Naomi at the end of the story as a deeply content old woman, aware of a higher purpose than for things to go well in her life, experiencing a joy that more than replaced the happiness she had lost.” Naomi’s story is a story of loss and God graciously giving new life! Obed is the father of Jesse the father of David. Let’s remember these four things (paraphrased/adapted from pg 59):

  1. When life seems most barren, God is beginning His harvest as the sun rises over our darkness,
  2. God is present and working, moving as He sets the stage,
  3. Our deliverer is “eagerly preparing to bless, unable to rest till He does.”
  4. Holy Spirit is “able to conceive whatever fruit we have long been destined to bear.”

Conclusion

Remember that we don’t walk this journey alone! God is faithful and true. He never forgets or forsakes us. His love endures! God is near to the broken hearts. He isn’t done with you! Despair is just a stage for deeper joy in Christ!

Join me in fervently praying for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine that God will sustain and encourage them in their difficult situation(s). May God grant them courage to continue to endure, minister, and find peace in His presence!

In Christ alone we find true joy and peace during the storms of life, for His glory and to encourage others I write,

Lee Stanfill

The Fight Against Unbelief

Introduction: Post Purpose

Writing (for me ) requires both introspection and timing. I’m writing this post for the individual who struggles against unbelief in his or her journey of faith with God. I want to encourage you by exposing a dangerous “mis”belief (faith is easy) and consider how trials come to faithful followers of Christ. This post asserts that true faith and walking with God involves facing your unbelief, doubts, and uncertainties. Thankfully God graciously provides time of consolation as well as trials!

Deconstruction and abandoning God

A topic trending on Youtube and other social media forms is the deconstruction of a person’s faith. These videos typically feature a person who once considered themselves to be Christians. After studying multiple deconstruction stories to examine the circumstances and reasons for this decision of unbelief, I want to illuminate several common features:

  1. the individual experienced a significant loss that they couldn’t accept and reconcile to what he/she believed about God wrong theological understanding of God’s Nature
  2. someone used religion to manipulate, and/or deceive them-spiritual abuse,
  3. unable to reconcile historical or scientific facts to God’s Word theistic worldview v. materialistic view
  4. became a believer at a young age, was involved in church but didn’t question the truths of God or His nature until later in life when facing crisis crisis of faith,
  5. and finally, a sense of God’s silence and abandonment when facing trials and difficult life situations God’s Perceived Absence.

The people giving these accounts were originally certain of his/her faith. They testified that they had regularly attended church, lived in a manner honoring God, and read the Bible daily. They came from various conservative evangelical denominations. But when relationships faltered, careers/jobs collapsed, a brother died from cancer, they found it easier to accept atheism than to continue to believe. They describe being happy and finding peace in no longer believing. Why did this happen?

Trusting God Is Difficult : There is no “easy” true faith

God’s Word presents several general truths about faith and walking with God:

  1. God transforms those who encounter His Presence. Consider how God changes the lives of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Peter, and Saul! They weren’t the same after encountering God. God changes us when we experience Him! No change, then we haven’t truly encountered God. God’s call is difficult to live out. The great “heroes” of faith had questions and doubts too.
  2. Walking with God involves faith–specifically trusting His revealed truth(s) even when His truths or promises go against human reasoning. For example, Abraham and Sarah were both aware of the impossibility of an heir in their old age (according to human means). Moses had to trust that God would deliver the Hebrews from the most powerful nation in the region. Faith isn’t only about logic or reason–it’s about trust and relationship with God especially when faith doesn’t make logical sense. Hebrews Chapter 11 gives plenty of examples here!
  3. Walking with God brings about questions, trials, and difficulties. Can you find any example of a person in the Old or New Testament who had a smooth, easy journey?
  4. When a person responds in faith/trust and obeys God life often becomes more difficult from a human perspective. Please carefully consider Hebrews 11. Jesus (Gospel accounts) is clear that as He was despised so would His followers. Following God costs!

The following article provides some helpful insights into feeling God’s absence and how that this is actually God’s presence!

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/when-god-isnt-there

The Emmaus Encounter: A Glimpse at How Jesus Responds

Luke 24:13-31

Our experiences and beliefs impact how we view God. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were disappointed and perplexed. They were longing for God’s Kingdom to come. They had seen Christ’s miracles and walked with him. Then the Messiah had been brutally murdered. All hopes for God’s coming kingdom seemed dead to them. Then they had heard that the tomb was empty and burial linens were found inside.

Things didn’t make sense for them. We too will face times when things don’t make sense. Until our carefully planned dreams and lofty ideas about life come crashing down, we don’t understand what these disciples experienced. They had left jobs and dedicated their lives to following the Messiah who is dead and seemingly missing! It’s obvious from their conversation with the stranger that they don’t comprehend what God is doing.

Luke indicates that “they were kept” from recognizing Jesus. Luke uses the Greek verb krateo which means “force, strength” and “great strength or dominion/demonstrated power.” This tells us that God uses a great strength to me (not) epiginosko (perceive, recognize) Jesus by their eyes. Jesus is cloaked from recognition as He asks them what it is they are talking about. The text indicates that “they stood still looking sad.” He stopped them with his question.

Cleopas responds to the question by asking Jesus if he was the “only one visiting Jerusalem” who isn’t aware of what has happened. Imagine the irony of this statement! Cleopas is speaking to the central character and hero of all that happened completely unaware!

Point 1: our thoughts about God can get confused and distorted when we can’t feel His presence or understand the whys of life! Does God perceive all of our thoughts about Him even when we keep it to ourselves? Disappointment with God “clouds” our perception of Him. That’s why that we can’t walk by sight (perception) but have to walk by faith! And our faith needs to be informed by God’s Word properly interpreted. Incorrect belief(s) about God leads to serious problems.

Jesus then asks him “what things?” Verses 20-24 retell what the disciples have experienced. In verse 25, Jesus confronts their “foolish” and “slow of heart to believe” all that “the prophets spoke.” Jesus gives them a proper interpretation of Scripture beginning with “Moses and from all the Prophets.” The disciples didn’t understand the necessity of the Messiah suffering (vr 26). It wasn’t a lack of knowledge but an improper interpretation.

They had bought into the Messiah militant concept–that Messiah would crush Romans and return Davidic (heir of King David) political rule to Israel. They desired God’s Kingdom to come and so should we! But we need to understand that things will not be right until Christ returns. No political party, philosophy, or social improvement plan can solve our human sin condition! God had bigger plans than routing the Romans!

Point 2: Jesus engages and teaches. He provides a “correct” interpretation for them. Jesus doesn’t abandon them. He walks with them and explains. God provides Holy Spirit, His Word, and other believers to encourage and teach us. When facing perplexing and difficult situations, are you seeking God in His Word? Are you making assumptions about Him because of what you have experienced in life? How do you know God? What is your source of information about Him?

We can’t accurately base our beliefs about God’s nature from our life experiences. Considering the deconstructed faith accounts, this is one of the most critical mistakes. Life is grossly unfair and terrible things happen to people that we can’t understand or explain. Often we don’t know why that God allows things to happen and are wrong in our assumptions. Job reminds us that God doesn’t explain Himself! Nor should we try to explain things that we don’t understand. That’s where Job’s friends went astray and misrepresented God’s actions.

God doesn’t promise anywhere in His Word that we won’t suffer or experience hardship! Careers and relationships end. Dreams die. People will mock, betray, and slander us. Loved ones will die and leave us grieving. A faith that is built on hoping for (or demanding) an easy life will not stand the storms of life. Nor is such faith presented anywhere in God’s Word.

Point 3: What if God is walking closer to us than we realize? Have you invited Christ to abide with you? The two disciples don’t recognize Jesus until they invite Him to dinner with them! The literal Greek translation includes the words “constrained” and “abide.” They urged Him to stay with them. Jesus “reclines” with them and takes the bread, blesses it, and breaks the bread apart giving it to them.

Point 4: Jesus is recognized in daily activity of relationship. The breaking of bread is a form of communion wherein people share a meal. Consider the Last Supper and what Jesus reveals about Himself at this meal! Was it an accident that they recognized Him at this point? Their eyes are then opened [literally translated] “to open up completely.” They then “know” or “find out” Him and He disappears. Remember that Luke [and all Gospel authors] includes scenes, events, and conversations for a purpose. We primarily commune with God through Bible reading, prayer, as well as personal/communal worship.

Point 5: After encountering Jesus they told others

After experiencing Jesus the two disciples immediately return to Jerusalem and gave testimony. Verse 36 indicates that Jesus makes His appearance as they are telling what happened. Should we keep Jesus to ourselves? When He moves in our lives and draws us to Himself this is an opportunity to witness to others. Who can you encourage?

Excellent summary of this entire event below:

https://www.gotquestions.org/road-to-Emmaus.html

Responding to the deconstruction of others’ faith

Before condemning or preaching at/to others, I believe that we should actively listen! Listen for clues to what this person is really saying. Most people talk about deconstructing their faith in stages. This is crucial to consider! This is typically a process not a one time decision. Unfortunately, judgmental and hypocritical responses from Christians make this worse. A kind ear and hug can go a long way for a hurting person! We don’t know who may be observing us and how we respond to our trials or care for others.

Pray for these individuals and invest time in loving him/her. Love them as they are not as you want them to be! Don’t try to explain the “unexplainable” whys of life. If they ask you, share how you have faced difficulties and trials in your journey. Sometimes people need to be reminded that it’s okay to have questions and even doubts about God. This is an opportunity to listen and for someone to voice their thoughts without judgment.

It’s honorable to be authentic in not having an answer to someone’s question! For example, we don’t really know why that God allows a young child to suffer with cancer. Telling people that God does this for His glory or that God has some special plan for this family misrepresents God. Be cautious in using Romans 8:28 and other verses with hurting people. Ever faced a painful trial? How do you feel when someone says: this is for the best because God has something greater? These sayings and others like it minimize the person’s experience and doesn’t recognize or empathize with the hurt. Perhaps the best way to handle this is to be present in other’s lives actively listening and praying for and with them.

Personal Account on this topic:

An fellow student sought me out to tell me that he couldn’t “pretend” to follow Christ any longer. He couldn’t be good enough for Jesus. He was choosing to live a life that included behaviors that he knew wouldn’t please God. He was done trying to be good enough. He would rather enjoy sin than pretend to love God.

He didn’t ask for a theology lesson, he wanted me to listen. This allowed me to respond to him with grace and truth after he asked me what I thought. Listen first then speak if requested! I told him that he was closer to Christ than he realized. He was aware that he was lost and that’s the first step in coming to Christ. He was done pretending. That’s when God’s grace appears.

The prodigal son returns home but it’s the older brother who remains lost! Let’s remember that it’s not our knowledge about God that attracts people. It’s God’s truth, grace, love, mercy, and kindness present in our lives and actions that shines forth!

May God encourage and strengthen your faith as you face the trials of life,

For His glory and honor, I write.

Lee Stanfill

Resting in God: When God Seems Silent

In writing this particular post, I credit Randy Alcorn’s excellent article about God’s silence for the main ideas/concepts of this post. I recommend that you read this article and glean from it! My desire is to further explore items he mentions.

Article Credit: Randy Alcorn: Waiting When God Seems Silent as posted on desiringgod.org

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/waiting-when-god-seems-silent?fbclid=IwAR2IpA4TwtxpDcxsnm5_Ujef5Wr6WuQfKffTTKyeh34LMtpXAd8goIkRH50

All quotes labeled as Randy Alcorn comes from the above article

Is God Really Silent in our Lives?

This is an important question that we need to consider! How often do we complain that God isn’t present, we don’t know what to do or say, and other similar complaints? I find myself doing this when I lose focus and spend more time worrying than I do trusting in God. Is God’s Word ever silent? Open the Bible anywhere and you will hear God’s voice as you read. If you are like me, you may wonder how what you read applies to your own life and situation.

Read Exodus and see God’s mighty miraculous deeds. Yet, it’s also apparent considering God’s redemptive actions, His people still don’t trust Him when pressured. Are we any different? We want to see and experience God in mighty ways without the confusing and chronic difficulties that come in life. Is it possible that God seems silent because there is so much “noise” in our lives and “busy-ness” that we don’t recognize Him when He speaks?

My old testament professor reminded me that God’s grace is present and visible in every book of the Bible–not just the New Testament Gospels! The historical narratives of God’s people (Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, and Judges) shows that time after time they failed yet God intervenes to save and deliver them. God even sends His prophets–Samuel, Nathan, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others to deliver His word. Sometimes the people respond and repent, but as a whole they don’t. That’s why Hebrews warns us about not entering God’s rest (see my previous blog about entering God’s rest).

When we can’t hear or discern God

There are also those times where we are daily reading God’s Word, praying for guidance, and practicing spiritual discernment/disciplines. Yet, God doesn’t seem to be answering us or giving us the answers we need or want. Does that mean that we are sinning or not seeking God? No, it may mean that God wants us to keep seeking Him, hungering for Him in an increasing manner even when we can’t feel or discern that He’s there.

How much do we really desire God? How can we know how much we desire God? This becomes apparent when the confusing and trying times of life come upon us. Our reaction and thoughts often give us clues to our situation. Do we love God’s many blessings and our self-fulfilling dreams more than God Himself? Do we live our lives for ourselves or others more than seeking to live for God? These are important questions to ask yourself!

Perhaps God brings times of difficulty and silence to draw us even closer! Remember the story about young Samuel when God speaks to him and he thinks that it’s Eli. God had to speak multiple times before Samuel (at Eli’s prompting) finally asks God if it’s Him. Samuel had to learn to hear God’s voice!

God loves us perfectly and desires to perfect our desire for Him

Randy Alcorn writes:

“Waiting on God involves learning to lay our questions before him. It means that there is something better than knowing all the answers: knowing and trusting the only One who does know and will never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).”

This is a lesson that God has taught me during my “dark night.” God graciously allowed me the privilege of attending Bible College (Union University) and a full year of seminary studies (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). I’ve studied theology for the past fifteen years by reading books, articles, listening to sermons, etc. But it’s when the confusion and disappointments of life come that we really understand just how little we understand and know about God! It’s how we face and deal with our deepest wounds that really matters. Do we draw closer to God in humility or turn away in bitter disappointment?

Seeing others suffer and face perplexing difficulties in their lives led me to question God and His goodness. I was like Job’s friends who saw others hurting and found myself unable to provide any understanding or help. Thankfully, God brought some wise authors into my life. Jon Bloom, Phillip Yancey, Larry Crabb, and Randy Alcorn have helped me to grow and expand in my understanding of why God often seems hidden and uninvolved.

Hurting people don’t need our insights or theology. They need to be heard and understood. Listening and walking with them is more important than answering questions (unless specifically asked). A hug or shared concern is more precious than wise sayings or try fixing the problems (which we can’t)!

God increases our faith and purifies us

Randy reminds us:

“Trusting God when we don’t hear him ultimately strengthens and purifies us. If our faith is based on lack of struggle and affliction and absence of doubt and questions, that’s a foundation of sand. Such faith is only one frightening diagnosis or shattering phone call away from collapse. Token faith will not survive the dark night of the soul. When we think God is silent or absent, God may show us that our faith is false or superficial. Upon its ruin, we can learn to rebuild on God our Rock, the only foundation that can bear the weight of our trust.”

What is your faith based on? Recall Jesus’ parable about the man who builds his house on the rock. The storms of life will reveal our foundation! God’s silence as the waves crash upon us can be deeply unsettling! But if this unsettling leads you to trust and depend on Him more is that not ultimately an act of mercy? Now might be a good time to revisit “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” and “Rock of Ages”. A good hymn reminds us of God’s truths!

Applications for the time(s) of silence

  1. Randy explains that “His silence is a matter of perspective.” Randy then provides multiple scriptures to remind us that God is speaking in other ways. He reminds us that God whispers to “bring us to the end of ourselves. To prompt us to be still and seek him. And to build our faith and eventually speak more clearly or heal our hearing problem.”
  2. “If we lean on him while we wait, God will give us the grace to wait and to listen carefully as we pray, go to trusted Christ-followers for encouragement, and keep opening his word and asking him to help us hear him.” Faith is ultimately victorious!
  3. As explained in previous blogs, God draws us to Himself by denying us things that we desire more than Him! Sometimes hearing and understanding God keep us from God as we have “selective” hearing. Are we being obedient to what He has already revealed to us?
  4. No matter how difficult and taxing, keep reading and seeking God in His Word. Go deep in your study–asking questions and seeking to understand God’s message.
  5. Worship with fellow believers. Often when I least desire to attend and participate in church is when I need to be present and involved the most! Fight the tendency to separate ourselves from others when hurting. True worship flows from broken, humble, and contrite hearts!

May God’s mighty grace and passion for you sustain you during the times of silence!

For His glory and honor I write,

Lee Stanfill