Father, in the name of Jesus, if Your discernment, love, and wisdom are to be found in the words on this blog, may they be found by the reader (and writers) and kept tight in our minds and hearts. May all other words and concepts fall to the wayside and not find soil in which to grow. I take it as Your truth that we all fall short of Your glory and Your perspective of perfection. Please help us to rely upon You and Your will in not only what we all share with others but what we bring into our belief system from others. Thank You for guarding our ears, our minds, our souls, and our hearts, preserving them for You. Help us to have ears to hear and eyes to see what You are saying to Your Church.
With the global pandemic and unrest of the last year or two, some are feeling like the end times are nearer and nearer. In that position, there seems to be a lot of focus on the potential things the enemy is doing to lead the elect astray.
It is a good thing to be watchful and alert. Jesus, Himself, addressed this: “And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came up to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you! For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and they will deceive many.'” (Matthew 24:3-5 LEB)
So, there are understandable concerns. Am I going to be one of the elect that caves? Am I going to make a wrong move? Is the enemy going to pull a fast one, and I lose my footing without even realizing I was off the path?!
How do we find the narrow gate talked about in Matthew 7? How do we remain level-headed and not filled with fear? How do we have faith like Daniel in the lions’ den, hope like Moses in the wilderness, and a heart like David’s as he faced Goliath? How do we gain that confidence?
Keep our focus on our God. Prayerfully read the Bible. A lot. When we go about our day with His Word (instructions and love notes) streaming through our minds in relation to occurrences around us, I think this happens: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” (John 10:27-28, KJV)
I think our mutual enemy likes to see fear, confusion, and chaos. I do think he wants us to focus on him in the spotlight while he works subtly and quietly in a more vulnerable location. He dances before our eyes while he works around to a spot where he can stab us. We can get distracted by a big uproar in the news over there while he is sneaking his way into the churches.
So, yes, we can get deceived, as Eve was. Sometimes, we are not deceived but we still make a choice that is pleasing to our fellow rather than to God, as Adam did. Same fruit. Both sin. Same promise from God for both. Same promise for each of us.
1 John 1:5-10 — “This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (RSV)
Go on into the next chapter — “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we may be sure that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says ‘I know Him’ but disobeys His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His Word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in Him: he who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.” (1 John 2:1-6 RSV)
* * *
When I went off to college, I was new to extensive interaction with churchgoers. Thankfully, I met some fabulous people. But, then I came across those who used the Bible as a weapon against me and others.
It was a mess, and I ran. In that flight, I gave up on the Bible and who I thought were Christians.
And, I tried to run from God….heh…you know…the One talked about in Psalm 139:7-12 (ESV): “Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your Presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.”
Now, I’m back to clinging to Him. I don’t want to run or to stray again, so I’m staying in His Word and relying on Him to hold me.
Indeed, there is chaos in this world. It can get tiresome, I know. It can get confusing about what is true and what is not. It is easy to throw up one’s hands and go, “I give up on humanity. They’re all a bunch of loonies and meanies!” (chuckle)
When I feel like that, there’s a snippet of Scripture I remember that brings the whole context to mind and what I learned from it. That lesson is what reels me back in. “…let us not grow weary of doing good.” (Galatians 6) It gently says to me, “Don’t give up on humanity.”
That promise from 1 John 1:9 is great for me. It’s also great for that person who is, at the moment, behaving as the enemy. They can be forgiven, as I was. They, too, can be cleansed of all unrighteousness. God is faithful and just. I am so thankful for those who did not grow weary of being instruments of God to guide me back to Him.
I’m saying these things about people because, when I wrote most of my autobiography, it was not long after the events occurred. The upcoming posts from me about my journey through religion are extracted from that autobiography, mostly written during my 20s and early 30s.
So, although you, as the reader, are not getting the “full flavor” that would come from details, you will likely hear some of the hurt and snarky perspective from the “freshness” of the feelings that arose from the experiences described.
However, 20+ years later, the bitterness has faded into forgiveness. The hurt has been transformed into prayerful understanding. As I read through these writings now, I can look back and realize I have the real potential to behave just as hurtfully toward others. I often need a note floating in front of my eyeballs that says, “Be gentle and loving. Chill!”
That said, there’s a reason I’m sharing here. As I run the course, I am not to be mute about the hazards and traps! I’m to be helpful to my fellow runners. Brief video on this: https://youtu.be/2Pmhs6aVezo
I don’t know whether you caught my earlier allusion to being fairly isolated from the body of Christ up until my college years. There were some lessons I learned after longer exposure. (grin) I think the most useful lesson for me was the first one on this list:
- People are just people, whether they go to church or not. Most have the same motivation. Most just want to be respected and loved. We just have different ways of trying to gain that love and respect.
- Because of this motivation, we all have moments of thinking the world revolves around us.
- Regardless of our beliefs, people can be a poor representation of who God is. Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV) — “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
- Not all who say they are Christians are fully trustworthy.
- Not all who are leery of churches are untrustworthy.
- We are made in His image; not the other way around. To me, this is one of the many reasons why we are to make Him #1 in our lives.
- We all seem to go through distinct places in our Christian journey, and we aren’t all in the same place at the same time.
In a Christian’s walk, there are deserts. There are oases. There are quagmires. There are high points above the tar pits. There are places where you stand and wait, a place where He will take care of the fight and reveal Himself as the LORD, as in Exodus 14.
It SEEMS to me like I’m in a better location than I was because I’ve been studying the map so much more than I had. Yet, pride goes before the fall, right? I need to lean heavily on the One who created the map. Otherwise, in thinking “I’ve got this” and running out ahead of Him, I could easily land myself in the very next tar pit. I know this because I’ve done it. No matter how hard I try on my own, that’s where I can end up.
Again, I must remind myself to be drenched in His Word and have an ongoing communication stream with Him.
I strayed from Him. Yet, God is good. Our ever faithful Shepherd will listen to the cries of His sheep. I can be there, up to my armpits in muck or even floundering in deep waters, but He is able to rescue. He’s made promises about this.
Psalm 40:1-2 (RSV) — “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”
Psalm 18:16 (RSV) — “He reached from on high, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.”
The whole of Psalm 40 is good. All of Psalm 18 is worth reading, too, for it shows the quick and mighty delivery method He can enact for us. Boom! Smoke is rolling from His nostrils, and He means business, people! He’s saying, “Step aside! That’s My Child!” Whoa! You can see in Psalm 18 that, unmistakably, the Rescuing Steam Engine is a’comin’!
Both psalms were favorites as a kid, and I leaned on the promises there a lot. I saw Him work just like He promised He would. I still do, when I’m actually stopping long enough to watch (eye roll at myself), which I’m trying to do.
In upcoming posts, I am going to write about my journey in “religion.” Sometimes, it was a walk with Him. Sometimes, I strayed. Looking back, I know He was always near and listening for my cry.
Psalm 23 was a source of comfort in my childhood. So, now, as I ponder the act of sharing with you about my road, I think of Psalm 23:4 (RSV) — “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”
One last thing I want us all to keep in mind:
We sheep are not dumb. I honestly don’t think that’s why we are called “sheep.” I think it is because we are small and defenseless on our own. We need the Shepherd. I personally am comforted to know that He can prod me back into His fold with His staff. I personally am comforted to know that He can roar in and combat the predators away with His rod.
When I willfully and/or pridefully go astray, thinking I can handle life on my own, that’s when I get into trouble. This sheep is an adult with free will, but I need Him in order to live in this world. I am not wise and discerning on my own, nor am I gentle and loving on my own. May it be that I turn to Him for both.
Matthew 10:16 (ESV) — “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
** On a side note, I tend to quote my favorites in RSV because that’s the Bible version I had access to when I was little. Its cadence and melody is what resonates for me, giving me the “down home with God” comfort I experienced in Him.