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Are We Just Having Coffee Dates with God?

Written By Ross Boone, USA

Sometimes, after a good, long time of Bible study, I go right into sinning. When I am alone at home, those sins that prey on solitude can easily sneak in. For me, it is often lust.

And sometimes I don’t stop it. It feels good so I feed it. But afterwards I tell myself, “I spent some quality time with God this morning, and I know He forgives all our sins, so I think we’re still cool.” And I continue my day without a second thought— with no regret, nor a plan to change.

But a little while ago during my quiet time, I came across Matthew 7:21 where Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven.”

That was sobering.

Growing up, the main message I got from church was that having a relationship with God was the most important thing. And I thought the right relationship mostly meant just getting quality time with Him each day.

But that verse got me thinking. Maybe I had been looking at my relationship with God in the wrong way. The messages from the pulpit made me think God was soft and happy and doesn’t care too much about little sins. The contemporary worship songs I was exposed to were mostly about God’s grace and love for us. Sermons were often about God’s love, how we should love others, and about God’s infinite forgiveness.

I learned that Jesus is “super relatable” because He has gone through everything I have gone through. I got the idea that God was my buddy. He’s cool with me just the way I am. The vague message seemed to be, “It’s okay if you sin; you can be forgiven. What’s important is relationship, relationship, relationship.” I seemed to have convinced myself that although God was super powerful, He was ultimately my nice, and infinitely forgiving, buddy.

In my nice, Christian, American culture, staying in right relationship with my “buddies” usually just means hanging out every now and then. Grabbing coffee from time to time. I think that’s what I projected onto my relationship with God. I just had to get some quality time with Him every day or so. Even if I continued in my favorite little sins, we were still pretty much in good standing.

But as I considered this verse on doing the will of the Father, I started thinking that maybe my relationship with God was meant to be more than just hanging out every now and then.

 

The true nature of relationships

I thought about how relationships were before social media was the norm, and when families and neighbors didn’t disperse across the country. I thought about societies before this independent, ever-changing, quick-in-quick-out lifestyle we live today. I thought about when communities depended on each other to survive and neighbors were neighbors for generations. Those times required deeper, more multifaceted relationships. Relationships were a lot more than just getting coffee once a month.

I think a key element of those old relationships was honoring and respecting the other’s requests. If, in a moment of weakness, I stole one of my neighbor’s sheep and ate it, that wouldn’t be cool. And if I simply didn’t care and kept stealing his sheep when he asked me to stop, I definitely wouldn’t be doing my part of the relationship very well. It would make being neighbors very hard.

This principle applies to present day relationships as well. If it were my very own father who asked me to stop something that was hurting him and I didn’t even try, I would not be honoring him.

I’m also reminded of John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commands.” And this was recorded by the disciple who called himself the “disciple whom Jesus loved” and who was such close friends that he laid his head on Jesus’ chest at the last supper. They were buddies, but this commandment-keeping-love isn’t what comes to mind when I think of hanging with my buddies. What I think this means is that a relationship with God is also about a deep respect and obedience because He is powerful and sovereign.

It can be likened to the relationship that kings had with their servants. In modern terms, it’s like getting a phone call from our most respected world leader asking something of us. Or a little closer to home: think of the relationship you have with your best teachers or your parents. I think our unique relationship with God is not just having a close friendship, but includes the most honoring elements of all of these as well.

So what do I do about these sins that I keep returning back to? Romans 7:19 recognizes this tendency: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” But it certainly isn’t saying that we can and should continue in our sins.

To me, part of the solution involves picturing God as more than just our “buddy.” When we deeply value someone and hold them in high esteem, we take their requests of us seriously. In the context of our relationship with God, that means we start to take our sins more seriously.

I’ve since started to pray for God to help change my desires, I’ve made a plan, and I’ve partnered with one of my buddies to help keep me accountable to my commitment.

Thank God, it’s helping.

 

This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.

What Missing “My Calling” Taught Me

Written By Crystal Brockington, USA

She had lost the baby.

When I heard that she was expecting, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe that this woman—whom God had revealed to me a few months prior that she would conceive this year—was already pregnant! I squealed with excitement and literally jumped up and down. I couldn’t wait to rub her belly and watch her wear motherhood like a crown.

But in the midst of our celebration, I felt it—the unmistakable signal from heaven that God wanted me to do something. For me, it felt like a sudden intense heat inside my body. Sometimes, it can also feel like the moment a roller coaster drops, or as though I’ve just eaten three Thanksgiving dinners.

In this case, the feeling was accompanied by a really strong desire to pray, along with the certainty that something was not right. Like so many times before, I could feel the prayer rising from deep, deep inside of me. If I had opened my mouth, the words would have fallen out without me even having to think about them.

But I held them in.

I didn’t want to make a scene and I didn’t want to seem dramatic. I told myself that I could pray for Sara’s* pregnancy longer and better in my private time with God. I told myself that I was imagining the fullness and the heat in my stomach, that the prayer which was sitting in my throat like acid reflux was just a trick my mind was playing.

But experience had taught me better. By this night, I knew that I could not ignore God when He asks me to interrupt normal life and pray for people. Sometimes, He tells me things about people and instructs me to tell them. Most times, I have no idea what I am going to say or what I am going to pray until I hear the words coming out of my mouth.

I remained speechless, still clutching Sara’s arms and looking beyond her shoulders long enough for her expression to drop.

“What?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I lied.
I asked how far along she was.
She responded.
It felt like the wind had been knocked out of me as I heard a voice from above say, “She is going to lose the baby.”
The urge to pray got stronger. I still chose not to do it.
My expression dropped. I shook my head. I hugged her and said congratulations.

I don’t know for certain whether my prayer would have changed this tragic situation. What I do know is that in that moment, I missed an opportunity to walk in my calling. Sounds dramatic, but it’s true. Our culture may have over-complicated “calling” to mean some pinnacle of our lives or something to be attained, but I am speaking of calling in its simplest definition—a strong urge towards a particular way of life.

In that moment, when I fought against the urging of the Holy Spirit to lead my friends in prayer for Sara’s pregnancy, I knew I was missing an opportunity to walk in alignment with the Holy Spirit; I was going against the strong urge to obey God.

We all have the same calling.

Although our lives and our individual purposes differ, at the core we are all called to the same thing: obedience to God (James 2:14-26; John 14:23-24). This truth is the true measure of success in our lives.

Every believer is called to this obedience for the sake of furthering the kingdom of God. We have all been commanded to love those around us (Luke 10:29-37; Matt 22:39), to set an example with our lives, and to make disciples in the process. We are called to crucify our flesh daily by laying aside every desire that hinders our devotion to Christ and His Kingdom.

We are called to be salt and light in the very places that we are now. We don’t need to wait for permission or a sermon to remind us to live for Christ and His kingdom. We simply need to respond with obedience to what the Lord is saying. For me, this realization has been quite the journey, and as you can gather from the story above, it is one that I am still on.

However, I don’t always get things right in my pursuit of the selfless obedience. Still, God lovingly, graciously and mercifully restores me when I fail and strengthens me to keep trying.

Your calling is now and later and even after that.

In Christ, we are free to run the race that God has set before each of us. We are free to grow, learn, and to be useful within the Kingdom at every stage of our development. What that looks like is obedience, regardless of the life stage we are at. We cannot put off being salt and light today as we wait to be called tomorrow.

As Christians, we are not to measure success by how much popularity or profit we attain, but by how much we accomplish our purpose: to hear what God says and do what He commands at every stage of our lives. This is the height of our calling.

Consider Noah. The humble man who found favor in the eyes of the Lord was called to be the man from whom all the inhabitants of the earth would spring. Only he and those who were connected to him were spared the judgment of God. Noah’s calling was great, but it was also realized progressively. When he was living his life righteously, he had no idea that God was going to instruct him to build an ark in the middle of the desert. He was simply doing what he could to honor God. Then, when the instructions were released to him, Noah labored faithfully in his old age to construct the boat.

Noah walked out that calling his entire life, by living in a way that honored God and by following specific instructions. We must do the same.

Bringing God glory isn’t always glamorous.

Christian culture today has a somewhat romantic view of what it means to be called by God. The phrase churns up images of powerful ministries and reaching the unreached people groups. Not everyone’s manifestation of the Great Commission looks like this, however.

Being the Church extends far beyond formal services and preaching engagements. We are all called to partake in ministry, but not all of us can be employed by the church. Some of us are called to be accountants, to bring Biblical wisdom to the business sectors of society. Others are called to bring encouragement to the lost or hurting as they bag their groceries at the local supermarket. Some others are called to teach, and to fervently pray for generations of children as they pass through our classrooms year after year.

At this point in my life, I am called to write and to pray. I am called to encourage those around me who seem downcast. I am called to say whatever God tells me to say to whomever He sends me. It is an unglamorous but meaningful time when I yield to His Spirit and, moment by moment, walk the path that He is setting before me.

Yes, some callings are more glamorous by the world’s standards, but none are higher or lower by God’s standards. Whether a pastor shepherding in a mega-church or a mother shepherding her children and the local Girl Scout troop, we will all stand before the Lord and have our works judged one day. I don’t know about you, but from today on, I want to build only things that can withstand the testing of God. This means taking actions that are motivated by my love for God and a desire to bring glory to His name—and not simply to make a name for myself.

Today, we can aim for victory tomorrow by wholeheartedly applying ourselves to the situations and opportunities that the Lord has set us in now. We can choose obedience over pride. We can lay down the idols that we erect in our hearts when we strive for higher callings by choosing the highest calling in every moment: obedience.

 

*Not her real name

ODJ: hard questions

February 29, 2016 

READ: Philippians 2:1-4 


Make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose (v.2).  

One Saturday afternoon, a group of teenagers gathered in a cafeteria to ask one another some hard questions based on Philippians 2:3-4. Some of the difficult queries included: On a scale of 1 to 10, how selfish are you? How often do you take an interest in others too? Would someone describe you as humble or proud? Why?

As I sat and listened intently, it was encouraging to hear group members answering the questions as honestly as possible. They noticed that Philippians 2:3-4 didn’t contain suggestions; they were imperatives: “Don’t be selfish.” “Don’t try to impress others.” “Be humble.” “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”

The group agreed that it’s difficult to live out these commands. It’s easy to acknowledge our shortcomings, but it is hard to change, or—for that matter—desire to change. As one teen uttered, “Selfishness is in my blood.”

The desire to put off our sin nature and put on Jesus’ nature can only come from one source—God Himself. The apostle Paul posed these questions: “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit?” (2:1). To paraphrase, Paul asked: Are you experiencing the wonder of being God’s child? Are your hearts being comforted by His love? Are you experiencing the Spirit’s help? If yes, then obey God’s commands.

And Philippians 2:2-4 is a great reminder for us every day: “Make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish.”

Yes, God is the reason for us to change, and only He can change us.

—Poh Fang Chia

365-day-plan: Joshua 3:1-17

MORE
Read Romans 5:1-7 to help you reflect on the encouragement from belonging to God, the comfort from His love, and the fellowship of His Spirit. 
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How will remembering the privilege of belonging to God motivate you toward obedience and change today? Where is He asking you to grow as a believer in Jesus? 

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ODB: Undigested Knowledge

February 12, 2016 

READ: John 8:39-47 

If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.

John 8:31

 

In his book on language, British diplomat Lancelot Oliphant (1881–1965) observed that many students give correct answers on tests but fail to put those lessons into practice. “Such undigested knowledge is of little use,” declared Oliphant.

Author Barnabas Piper noticed a parallel in his own life: “I thought I was close to God because I knew all the answers,” he said, “but I had fooled myself into thinking that was the same as relationship with Jesus.”

At the temple one day, Jesus encountered people who thought they had all the right answers. They were proudly proclaiming their status as Abraham’s descendants yet refused to believe in God’s Son.

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did” (John 8:39). And what was that? Abraham “believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). Still, Jesus’ hearers refused to believe. “The only Father we have is God himself,” they said (John 8:41). Jesus replied, “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (v. 47).

Piper recalls how things “fell apart” for him before he “encountered God’s grace and the person of Jesus in a profound way.” When we allow God’s truth to transform our lives, we gain much more than the right answer. We introduce the world to Jesus.

— Tim Gustafson

Father, thank You that You receive anyone who turns to You in faith.


Faith is not accepting the fact of God but of receiving the life of God.