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Archive | Intimacy with God

5 Benefits of Living a Holy Life

Would you like to sit next to God and snuggle up against His side? To be so close you could hear Him breathe? There would be no distance between the two of you, no barriers to prevent you from drawing near. You could linger in His presence and rest in the circle of His embrace.

All of us desire to experience this kind of intimate relationship with our heavenly Father. Yet, we often feel disconnected. We may even sense that something blocks our path to deep, personal companionship with God.

holinessAccording to Scripture, a life of holiness can pave the way for greater intimacy in our relationship with God. King David, described as a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), understood the connection between a holy life and experiencing God’s presence.

Who may worship in your sanctuary, LORD? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts.  Psalm 15:1-2, NLT

Unholy living floods believers’ lives with the natural consequences of sin, including distance and strain in our relationships with God. But a pursuit of holiness is also a pursuit of God. As we embrace the holy life God calls us to, we are embraced by the Holy One Himself.

“Holiness” is often misunderstood. Many believers think living a holy life is just too hard. Or too boring. Or simply undesirable. They recognize the truth that God commands His children to be holy and want to please Him, but life gets in the way. Others compare themselves to the Christians around them and think they’re doing pretty good. But, God doesn’t call us to “pretty good.” His holiness is our standard (1 Peter 1:16).

Jesus died so we could be holy. If we belong to Jesus, we are a “new creation,” a “new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23-24). Holiness is for our good and God’s glory!

Sound like an overwhelming, daunting, impossible task? Humanly speaking it is. But, whatever God requires of His children, He also supplies. God requires holiness, but His Spirit provides the power to turn away from sin. God calls us to holiness and God provides what we need to be holy.

 

5 Benefits of Holiness

1. Holiness fosters intimacy with God and builds spiritual strength and stability (Psalm 15:1-6)

2. Holiness makes us useful and effective for God’s purposes (2 Timothy 2:20-26)

3. Holiness in your life causes people around you to glorify God (1 Peter 2:9-12)

4. Holiness builds peace with God (2 Peter 3:10-18)

5. Holiness pleases God and produces “fruit”(Ephesians 5:1-17)

And those 5 benefits are just the beginning of how God blesses a holy life!

God calls us to holiness so we can be set free from the bondage and consequences of our own sin. God also knows that a holy life paves the way for deep intimacy with Him (Psalm 15:1-2). Holiness sets us free and draws us close to God!

Holiness in God’s people also brings Him glory. When we live holy lives we reflect God’s character to the world. We become lights in a dark world that lead the way to the Savior.

Holiness. For our good. For God’s glory.

How have you thought about holiness in the past? Have you thought a holy life was too hard? Simply undesirable? Would love to hear your thoughts!

 

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4 Ways to Foster a Thirst for God

Do we really thirst for God? If we had to measure our desire for God, how would we rank it? Let’s try. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being hardly at all and 10 meaning you constantly desire to be in God’s presence, what number would you give yourself?

By the way, this is a personal question. Just think your answer to yourself. I simply want us to consider our level of spiritual hunger. Since we were made by God and for God (Colossians 1:16), we are at our most fulfilled and joyful when we are close to Him.

Thirst for God

In the 63rd Psalm, David the shepherd king expressed his desire for God:

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1

If I’m being honest, I can’t claim these words as my own every day. The things of life claim my attention and even sometimes my priorities. But, thankfully, I’m growing and they describe my desire for God more than they used to.

4 Ways to Foster a Thirst for God

In Psalm 63:2-8, David gives some insight on how we can foster a growing desire for God. Though I’m sure there are more, I spotted 4 specific ways.

  1. Worship with God’s People – David experienced the presence of God in His house among the people of God. And it whet his appetite. Let us not neglect gathering with other Christians to worship.
  2. Practice Praise – I know some days we don’t feel like praising God. For instance, those days when everything and more seems to be going wrong. And those days when we struggle with grief or pain or loss. But every day, we can remember God’s steadfast love. And we can praise Him.
  3. Meditate on God’s Past Provision – Sometimes our current circumstances are so difficult and heavy we can think of nothing else. We wonder if and when God will come to our aid. Reflecting on times in the past where God has intervened, helped, strengthened, or comforted will give us reason to draw close to Him.
  4. Go to Him First, Always – I don’t know about you, but sometimes when trials hit God may be my second or third or last person I run to. Probably because I’m too focused on the physical instead of the spiritual. God longs for us to go to Him first for strength, help, provision, comfort, and support. He want to help us. He is just waiting.

As we purposefully and consistently practice these things, we will experience God’s presence and provision. And as we do, our desire and longing for Him will grow. Once we taste the goodness of God we will not be able to get enough.

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3 Consequences of Inside-Out Faith

FaithIs your faith inside-out? If it is, you may not even be aware of it.

“Inside-out faith” happens when the doing of our faith eclipses the being connected to Jesus. It’s religion over relationship. It’s faith the way the world would do it. Packed full with stuff – works, activities, committees, and to-do lists.

The New Testament sisters Martha and Mary are perfect examples of inside-out and right-side-out faith (Luke 10:38-42). When Jesus came to the sisters’ home for a visit, Mary sat at His feet soaking up His teaching. But Martha, who frantically ran around hostessing, complained to Jesus that her sister wasn’t helping.

I can just imagine the kindness in Jesus’ response. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

Martha was “distracted” (Luke 10:40). She was “too busy, over-occupied, drawn away.” Martha wasn’t doing anything “bad.” She had simply allowed too many good things to crowd out the best. She missed sitting in the presence of God Himself.

Sadly, many of us fall victim to inside-out faith. We fill our lives too many good things, leaving no room, for the better thing, the best thing. We put the religious motions of our faith over the relationship with the Object of our faith. And the consequences can be profound.

3 Consequences of Inside-Out Faith

  1. Legalism – When the activities and work of faith overshadow the point of our faith we lose our joy! And when “serving” drives our behavior and attitude we also become critical of others. That’s exactly what happened to Martha.
  2. Busyness – Our culture perpetuates the false idea that a full calendar somehow defines our value, who we are. But when our calendars rule our lives, our families, our health, and all our relationships pay the price. The worst result is that often we are too busy for God’s purposes and plans for us.
  3. Burn out – A serious commitment to church can hinder your faith! When religious activities become the driving force of our faith, our relationship with Jesus gets pushed to the back burner. We close our ears and our hearts to the strength, guidance, and encouragement of Jesus. We end up taking on too much under our own power.

None of us purposefully choose this kind of faith. Sometimes it’s all we’ve known. Sometimes, we slowly slip into it. However it happened, it doesn’t have to be this way! Come back Thursday for some suggestions for turning your faith right-side out!

 

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9 Benefits of Praise

praise GodOne of my favorite worship songs is “Ever Be.” The lyrics, written by Kalley Heiligenthal, reflect David’s commitment to continual praise more than three millennia ago:

I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.  Psalm 34:1-3

God not only commands us to praise Him, He made us for that very purpose. We were created to worship the Creator. God made us for Himself (Colossians 3:16). He formed us for His glory (Isaiah 43:7). Our eternal purpose is to glorify and worship the Creator in relationship with Him. God hard-wired us to praise Him.

The psalmist David declared he would praise the LORD at all times, whether those times were good or bad. He cultivated a constant attitude of praise. David also urged the afflicted, the poor, the needy to join him in praising God. To rejoice in the Lord together.

What is “Praise?”

Praise is humble adoration of our Almighty God. It recognizes God’s exalted position and divine qualities. Praise voices sincere and deep gratitude for who God is and what He has done. As we praise Him, we submit ourselves to the One who is worthy and express devotion for the One whose love is unfailing.

Benefits of Praise

David’s call to praise is also for us today. Praise glorifies God, but it’s also good for us. (See Psalm 34:1-8).

  1. Praise refocuses our minds on God and connects our hearts with His.
  2. Praise fosters awareness of God’s presence with us.
  3. Praise push the worries of this life into the background.
  4. Praise reminds us of who God is and what He has done.
  5. Praise recalls God’s past provision, thus strengthening our hope in His future deliverance.
  6. Praise voices our dependence on God, relieving our fears.
  7. Praise helps develop an eternal perspective, paving the way for God’s peace.
  8. Praise opens our hearts to receive God’s joy.
  9. Praise fulfills the purpose for which we were created, bringing fulfillment.

As God’s people, we are obligated to praise Him. But this obligation is not a burden. Instead, praise ushers us into the presence of our Burden Bearer. No one who rejoices in God will ever be disappointed. He hears our praise. He is our Deliverer and our Savior.

When was the last time you purposefully praised God? God longs to bless you through regular times of worship, both individually and with other believers. Like David, will you commit to praise God in both good times and bad?

 

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Star Trek, CS Lewis, and Your Free Will

Free WillI am a Trekkie. I was a fan of the original Star Trek series, but I really loved The Next Generation. My favorite character was Lieutenant Commander Data.

Data was an android with high computational capabilities. He looked like a human and was physically fully functional. Yet one thing prevented Data from understanding and relating to humans. He lacked human emotions.

Data’s desire to possess human emotions – and thus become truly human – was an ongoing thread in the show’s storyline. Although Data was like the rest of the crew in many ways, this deficiency made him somewhat of an outsider, unable to form strong bonds and experience deep relationships.

This may sound strange, but I thought about Data the other day while reading “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. During the discussion of another topic, Lewis wrote this about mankind’s free will:

He (God) gave them free will because a world of mere automata could never love and therefore never know infinite happiness.

The question of our free will has come up countless times in Bible study groups I’ve led or been a part of. “If God knew we would sin, why did He give us free will? Wouldn’t it have been better if we couldn’t disobey?”

Free Will Makes Ultimate Joy Possible

No, it wouldn’t have been better. If God withheld free will we could never know true happiness. We would be like little robots, always doing the right thing, but never experiencing the joy of relating to our Creator.

Even though Data was superior to humans in some ways, he knew he lacked the best part of humanity. The ability to love and be loved.

God desires to love us and to be loved by us. And He implanted the desire to love Him back in the deepest part of our souls. And that’s where we find our purpose, our fulfillment, and our ultimate joy. In choosing to love and be loved by our God.

Have you struggled with the question of mankind’s free will? Does Lewis’ explanation help?

 

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3 Reasons for Joy in Trials

Joy

Does God’s truth ever seem just crazy to you? Like the perfect God-Man, Jesus, dying for us sinners? Well, we find more of this counter-intuitive craziness in the first chapter of James. The brother of Jesus, who was also the leader of the church in Jerusalem, wrote this to Jewish believers scattered around the world by persecution:

“Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.” James 1:2-4, NLT

Through the years, I’ve heard preachers, Bible teachers, and others say that Christians can experience joy in spite of trials and troubles. And while that is true, that’s not what James meant in this passage. Depending on the translation you’re using, at the beginning of verse 3 you may see “for,” “because of,” “when,” or “whenever.” But you won’t see “in spite of.”

As crazy as it sounds to us, James did indeed mean that believers should consider trials an opportunity to experience joy. He even tells us why.

  1. God’s Process – Trails build and grow our faith like weight training does for our muscles. Life’s difficulties, Christian persecution, and temptations all put our faith to test. God uses this process to burn away impurities, refining our faith. He builds and shapes our character to look more like Jesus.
  2. God’s Purpose – I love the way the NLT translation puts it. When our faith is fully developed, we will be “ready for anything!” God has a specific purpose for each of us Ephesians 2:10). He has a plan, a way He wants to use us for His Kingdom. But He must shape and prepare His tools (you and me) so we will be useful in His hands.
  3. God’s Presence – Throughout God’s Word, He promises to be with us always and through everything (Isaiah 43:1-2, Matthew 28:19-20). Trials provide an opportunity to experience God’s presence in ways we cannot in easy times. If we never have to rely on God, we would never experience His faithfulness. If we are never weak, we would never experience His strength. Through trials we move from merely intellectual knowledge of God to experiential knowledge. Shared times of trial fosters deep intimacy and dependence.

This truth seems crazy to us because we often move through life spiritually short-sighted. We are stuck in this physical world and fail to see the greater reality. God works on an eternal time-table with eternal purposes in mind. He’s working for the end game. Let’s join Him!

Which of these 3 P’s do you struggle with most to keep in mind? Why?

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5 Reasons to Reboot Your Quiet Time

Quiet TimeDo you have a regular “quiet time?” You won’t find this term in the Bible, but Christians use it to refer to purposeful time spent alone with God. A time to hear from God and share your heart with Him. Jesus Himself set the example for us (Luke 5:16).

I’ve heard – and made – many excuses for not setting aside time in the day to spend with God. Busyness is probably the biggest culprit. Yes, life can be overwhelmingly busy. But we have control over many of the items on our calendar. How we spend much of our time is our choice. We can choose God.

Some of you are in a season of life where you truly have very little time to yourself. Maybe you are a caregiver or the mother of young children. Many life circumstances make carving out space for a regular quiet time more difficult, but with a bit of creativity you can claim some time, even if it’s just a few moments here and there. (See this post for some examples.)

And some of us who were once devoted to our daily quiet time may have realized we slowly fell away from this spiritual discipline until it’s no longer our regular habit. An abbreviated day here and a missed day there, and the next thing we know…

Quiet Time Reboot Challenge

I’m going to be honest with you. For decades I’ve been very committed to regular time with God, but the last few months have been extremely challenging for me. I’ve been traveling a lot and my parents have been ill. And I’ve allowed those things to impact the quality of my quiet time.

Many Christians make establishing a regular quiet time a New Year’s resolution. January 1st is always a good time to get back on track. But often, by this time of year, many of us have let that resolution slowly fall by the wayside. But we don’t have to wait for the New Year. We can reboot our quiet time now!

Not sure you’re ready to get back on track? Maybe we need some incentive to make regular quiet time a priority. Let’s remind ourselves of a few of the benefits of spending time with God.

5 Reasons to Reboot Your Quiet Time

  1. Spending regular time with God helps us know Him better, which fosters a deeper intimacy in our relationship.
  2. Listening to God through His Word and prayer helps us better understand His will in general and discover His specific direction for our lives.
  3. Time spent submitted and vulnerable before God gives Him an opportunity to accomplish His refining work in us.
  4. Sitting in God’s presence enables us to more fully experience the comfort, encouragement, peace, and joy He longs to give us.
  5. Purposeful time each day focused solely on God helps us keep our mind and heart on Him all day long.

November 1st Reboot

No time like NOW to start fresh on a commitment to spend time with God. Will you join me for a November 1st resolution? Let’s make a fresh commitment to regularly spend time with God and end 2016 with a spiritual bang instead of a whimper. Here are a couple of things you may find helpful in establishing or re-establishing a regular quiet time:

So… will you reboot with me? I’d love to hear from you about how your quiet time is going right now… if you need a reboot and why… and if you’ll reboot with me!

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My Southern-Fried Faith

In the south, we fry anything and everything. If it walks, runs, jumps, swims, or flies we will roll it in flour or cornmeal and drop it in a skillet or Fry Daddy. In addition to the commonly known fare, I’ve also eaten fried alligator, squirrel, dove, rabbit, and crawfish.

Side note for context: I was born and raised in northern Louisiana. And yes, watching Duck Dynasty is like attending a family reunion.

FaithIn many places in the south, “fry” is the default method of cooking. Unless otherwise requested, your meat or vegetable and sometimes even your bread and dessert get baptized in boiling oil. It’s simply assumed. After all, everything is better when it’s fried.

When I was growing up, I internalized the “fry principle” and a host of other southern assumptions. For instance, tea is always iced, right hands go over hearts when a flag passes by, pick-up trucks are perfectly acceptable prom night transportation, and good people go to church.

From infancy my parents faithfully took me to Sunday School, worship service, Vacation Bible School, and Wednesday night prayer meeting. I memorized Bible verses, earned high attendance pins, and wore wire hanger angel wings covered with gold garland in the Christmas pageant.

Church service and attendance wove through the fabric of our family. The question of whether or not we would go on any given Sunday was never raised because we were a “church family.” This faithful commitment to church hindered my faith.

Please don’t misunderstand me here. The family my husband and I raised could be described as a “church family.” And I would not want it any other way. But while both might look the same on the surface, a drastic difference exists between my childhood church attendance and my adult faith.

Inside-Out Christianity

During the first half of my life, I attended church because I was what a “good Christian girl.” To me, Christianity meant saying the right things and doing what everyone expected. And that’s exactly what I did. In fact, my brother sarcastically dubbed me “Sister Mary Kathryn.” And although Mary Kathryn is indeed my given name, I’m sure my parents never meant it to be used as a synonym for Miss Goody Two-shoes.

Although I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was eight, I experienced little to no spiritual growth. The rich relationship I wanted with Christ eluded me. Something vital was missing. Connected to church, I still felt disconnected from God. I had no real sense of God’s presence. I could see the kind of passionate, dynamic faith I longed to have in other’s lives.

But despite many weak attempts to pump up my own faith, it remained dry and flat. Even though I had been taught differently, I had internalized that faith was what you do. I missed the part about it being all about Who you know.

Relationship of Faith Over Religion

“Doing” is a human’s default setting. We like to make lists and check off the items, proving to ourselves that we have accomplished something. We can perform the outward motions of faith without actively pursuing the object of our faith.

Religion cannot satisfy. Unless our works of faith flow naturally out of a vital relationship with our Maker it is merely religious ritual. We were created for relationship, not outward trappings of religion. Faith that does not produce these kinds of works is dead and useless (James 1:20). But religious works performed from a sense of duty or habit only sap our spiritual strength, leaving our faith dry, weak, and flat.

Setting Assumptions Aside

 Over the years, I’ve learned that some southern assumptions of my childhood were accurate and some needed a bit of adjustment. For instance, while a few things are indeed glorious fried, the flavor of most food is best appreciated when it is grilled, sautéed, or baked, and a mug of hot herbal tea soothes a sore throat on a cold day. But, I still cover my heart in respect for the flag and my son took his date to the prom in his pick-up.

Although the Bible Belt culture of my north Louisiana childhood is less influential today, religiosity can still hinder true relationship with Jesus. I had to set religion aside and embrace relationship with the One who died to save me. Religion alone is as dry as yesterday’s toast. But relationship with the living Savior is exciting, satisfying, and yes, passionate.

Have you ever struggled to move past religion into a real relationship with Jesus? If so, how did that go??

This post is an excerpt from Kathy’s book “Fed Up with Flat Faith: 10 Attitudes and Actions to Pump Up Your Faith.”

 

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Lasting Joy DOES Depend on Your Circumstances

joyI’ve heard it said that, unlike happiness, Christian joy has nothing to do with our circumstances. Makes sense right? Jesus both assured us we would have trouble in the world (John 16:33) and promised us that no one would take away our joy (John 16:22).

Difficult circumstances and lasting joy. So surely, Christian joy has nothing to do with our circumstances. Circumstantial “happiness” and lasting joy have to be different. Right?

But wait just a second… when I looked up the meaning for the Hebrew and Greek words most often translated as “joy” they have essentially the same meaning as “happiness.” Biblical joy can be defined this way:

Joy, gladness, pleasure, happiness; the opposite of grief and sorrow; feelings that result from circumstances

 The difference in fleeting joy/happiness and the joy no one can take away is the circumstances on which we base it. If we look to our temporary, earthly circumstances for joy, it will be stolen from us time and again. But if we rely on our eternal circumstances, our joy will be firm and secure.

3 Circumstances for Lasting Joy

Although I know my list could be longer, here are three reasons for lasting joy God gives us in His Word:

  1. Salvation (1 Peter 1:5-9) – Peter beautifully shows how rejoicing in our eternal salvation far outweighs the grief of our temporary earthly trials. In the midst of our trials we are “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
  2. God’s Love (Romans 8:35-39) – Paul experienced great hardships and persecutions in this life. In spite of these things he experienced the joy of Christ (Philippians 1:18). How? No matter what he suffered, nothing could separate him from the love of God.
  3. Intimate Fellowship with Christ (John 15:5-11) – On the night He was betrayed and arrested, Jesus wanted to make sure His followers knew how to find their joy in Him. As we “abide” in Christ – stay closely and vitally connected to Him in obedient relationship – our joy will “be complete.”

Are you experiencing this kind of joy? You can! Read these Scripture passages and ask God to show you how to find joy in your eternal circumstances!

What other “reasons for joy” do you see in Scripture? Let’s share them with each other today!

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Juggling Joy and Pain

joy and painLately, my life has been joyfully full. Full hands. Full heart.

Our oldest daughter had her second son in April. I had the blessing of staying with them almost three weeks to help with the baby and my 4-year-old grandson.

Our second daughter had her first child last week! Little Josiah is 8 days old today. In fact, I am with them now – days are filled with cooking, diapers, rocking, and loving.

Next month our family adds a daughter. Our son is getting married to a wonderful young woman we already love.

Full, happy times. Joyful times.

But life has also been hard recently. Death and grief. Struggle and sadness.

My father-in-law, who lived with us for the last five years, passed away at home on March 1st after weeks of severe health issues, hospital stays, and rehab.

My own parents currently face significant health struggles of their own. Life is changing dramatically for them. Hard, difficult decisions lie ahead.

The last few months have been an emotional roller coaster. Rejoicing one moment, grieving the next. Some days these feelings overlap. Cries of joy mingle with tears of pain.

Joy and pain. Loss and gain.

I’ve wondered what to do with this. How do I handle these contradictions? How do I move with this weird ebb and flow? I want to understand this from God’s point of view.

First, I recognize that everything precious and wonderful in my life comes from God. He is the generous Giver of all good gifts.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17, NIV

Second, I realize that pain is part of life. God does not promise us good times. He never said our lives would be pain free. In fact, His Word tells us we will have trouble in this world. On the night Jesus was arrested, He told His disciples – and us:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33, NIV

We live in a world broken by sin. Until Jesus returns, illness, death, and evil still impact our lives. We also suffer the consequences of our own sin. Yet even when God does not choose to remove our trials and sufferings, He promises to walk with us through them.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:1-2, NIV

In the joyful times I thankfully acknowledge God’s good gifts and in the painful times I am more keenly aware of God’s gracious, comforting presence. My life must be a constant mingling of gratitude and grasping. Thankful for His gifts and His presence, yet ever reaching for more of Him. Leaning into His strength and grace in the joyful times and the painful times.

Gratitude and grasping. Juggling joy and pain. Hallelujah!

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