Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

For this week’s photo challenge, show us abandoned. You can go literal, as I have, and share a photo of ruins, a desolate place, or your idea of a wasteland. - Cheri

“Forsaken”

Abandoned farmhouse

Cries out in silent complaint

“Why did you leave me?”

Perhaps the most distressing words in the crucifixion of Christ were “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 37:46, KJV). This cry of anguish by the Savior, the same words of the David in Psalm 22:1, have caused theological debate over the type of abandonment Jesus suffered on the Cross. To me, John MacArthur sums it up well:

There is no way to explain it. Maybe we’re helped a little bit to understand that even in His incarnation there was a separation. Did you know that? Because in John 17:5 He says, “Father, Father, return Me to the glory I had with You before the world began.” So there was some kind of relationship that He had before his incarnation that He wanted back. So in the incarnation there was some degree of separation and now in his sin-bearing death there is another degree of separation. He is separated from God. [1]

Whatever it meant for Jesus to be forsaken, His death on the cross secured salvation for those who believe in Him and who abandon themselves to His lordship, so that mankind no longer has to feel separated and alienated from God. In Jesus’ final “marching orders” to the disciples, He promised, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20, KJV), never to be abandoned again!

1. From John MacArthur’s sermon “A Closer Look at the Cross.”

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: An Unusual POV

Challenge: Go out and take photos and share a shot that reveals a new and different POV.

I have made mention of our family’s afternoon gatherings for sunsets when we are at the beach. However, sunrises are a different story! My wife loves being the first one out to see the sunrise and find shells that might have washed up overnight, but she is often solitary in that venture. Occasionally, I tag along with camera. On one such morning, I found this coconut that had washed up…not a normal sight on the section of beach we frequent.

IMG_0054As I lay on the ground, an early morning jogger came by, took a quick glance, and continued on his way. While not necessarily trying to capture his passing, these three photos in the slide show do:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As this jogger ran by what I thought was an unusual, “stop and smell the roses” moment, it reminded be that our personal POV drives us: mine – wanting to find something that was photo worthy; his – staying in shape. Our “point of view” means everything to us and often directs the focus of our day. For example, if our point of view is that we must be physically fit, it will motivate us to get up early and pound the pavement (or beach) and watch what we eat. If we have a passion for a political ideology, we will immerse ourselves in the latest news, attend Town Hall meetings and voice our opinions on everything political. Unfortunately, our POV often causes us to give passing glances at the really important things of life.

However, God calls us to have a balanced and overarching spiritual perspective on life, seeing it through a “God lens.” This POV is often seen as “unusual” in our day and time, just as it was in Jesus’ day. In fact, when asked why he spoke in parables (spiritual truths wrapped in everyday life stories), Jesus said it was to help his listeners to have a perspectives that were unique in comparison to the ones taught by their religious leaders. However, even their lack of spiritual insight into his parables was foretold in Old Testament prophecy:

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ [Isaiah 6:9-10]

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. (Matthew 13:14-16, NIV)

The disciples’ eyes and ears, however, were blessed as they began to perceive the message of Christ. Because they were “all in” with Jesus, having made the decision to follow him, they began to see the world through the “God lens.” As a result their POV shifted from selfish to selfless, from temporal to eternal, from religion to relationship. Having this new, and unusual (to the world) POV, transforms everything we see!

When in Doubt, Don’t!

We’ve all done it…the sniff test. Whether it’s the jug of milk a day or two beyond expiration date or that previously worn shirt, a quick sniff tells us if were “good to go” or should make another plan. However, sometimes we’re just not sure.

H.A. Ironside told the following story:

Sandy was a thrifty Scot who objected to needless laundry expense, so when he wore a dress shirt to a banquet, he put it away carefully for future use. On one occasion when dressing for such an event, he took a used shirt out of the drawer and examined it with care, hoping to be able to wear it that evening. Not being quite sure of its strict cleanliness, he took it to a window, where he was looking it over under a better light than the room afforded.

His wife, Jean, noticed him shaking his head as though fearful that it would not pass careful scrutiny. “Remember, Sandy,” she called to him, “if it’s doubtful, it’s dirty.”

That settled it. The shirt went into the discard and another – a fresh one – took its place. Jean’s words may well speak to every believer concerning things about which conscience raises any question whatsoever. – Illustrations of Bible Truth

In Romans 14, Paul is advising the church on how to relate to one another in areas in which the Bible give no clear instruction. In those areas we are to exercise freedom, but not judge others who don’t share our convictions. Paul says:

20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.                                              (Romans 14:20-23 NASB)

Paul affirms that the Christian life is not as burdensome as some legalistic followers were making it in his day. However, one’s freedom is sometimes set aside for the benefit of a weaker brother, whose differing conviction in a debatable area is such that your freedom may sidetrack them.

IMGP6293In the end, however, it is important to have our “own conviction before God.” If we are doubtful about a matter and we do it, then that doubt turns into guilt (the conscience condemning our action). So, when in doubt, don’t. In other words, if you don’t have a firm conviction, avoid the activity until you get some conviction on the matter. Then, stick with that conviction.

So, here is a sniff test to apply to those debatable areas of the Christian life. When something comes up that is not clearly spoken of in Scripture, put it to the test:

  1. THE WORLD TEST. Is it worldly? Will it make me worldly to do it (John 15:19; 1 John 2:15-17)
  2. THE QUALITY TEST. Is it good for me physically, emotionally, and spiritually (Romans 12:9)
  3. THE TEMPLE TEST. Can I do it when I remember my body is God’s temple and must not be marred or misused (1 Corinthians 6:19)
  4. THE GLORY TEST. Will it glorify my Lord, or will it on the other hand possibly bring shame to His name (1 Corinthians 6:20, 10:32)
  5. THE BLESSING TEST. Can I honestly ask God’s blessing on it and be sure I’ll not regret doing it (Proverbs 10:22, Romans 15:29)
  6. THE REPUTATION TEST. Is it apt to damage my testimony for the Lord (Philippians 2:15)
  7. THE CONSIDERATION TEST. Am I being considerate of others and the effect this might have on them (Romans 14:7, 21)
  8. THE APPEARANCE TEST. Will it look bad? Does it have the appearance of what is wrong or suspicious (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
  9. THE WEIGHT TEST. Could this slacken or sidetrack me in running the Christian race (Hebrews 12:1, 1 Corinthians 9:24)
  10. THE COMING OF CHRIST TEST. Would I be ashamed to be found doing this when He comes again (1 John 2:28)
  11. THE COMPANION TEST. Can I invite Christ to go with me and participate with me in this (Matthew 28:20b, Colossians 3:17)
  12. THE PEACE TEST. After having prayed about it, do I have perfect peace about doing it (Colossians 3:15a, Philippians 4:6-7)*

*Taken from Basic Bible Beliefs, Bible Baptist Church, Auburn, WA, 1975, unpublished. From Training Manual for Local Church Visitation, Eugene A. Wood, DTS, ThM Thesis, 1980.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus

Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus by Cheri Lucas Rowlands on August 23, 2013

For this challenge, get out there and take a picture demonstrating the concept of focus. 

  • Snap a photo of something or someone in focus, against a blurred background.
  • Share a panorama or landscape in sharp focus, in which you can see details far away.
IMGP5857

Shallow depth of field – corn stalks in the foreground

I live in an agricultural area with corn and soybean fields almost within a stones throw of my home. One of my church members, who sells crop insurance, recently asked me to take a few pictures of corn for his website. The scene, just down the road from my church featured a seed company’s test plots with the local grain elevator in the background.

IMGP5856

Greater depth of field – Grain Elevator in focus

Thanks for coming by to see my photographic take on “focus.”

Now let me give a spiritual take on the topic. As harvest is just around the corner, and the grain elevators will have semi-trucks lined up to store the farmers’ bounty, I think of Jesus’ parable (Luke 12:13-21) of a rich farmer who had a great harvest. He decided to build bigger barns and to selfishly live off of the fruits of his labor “for many years” with no concern for God and others (the repeated use of the pronouns “I” and “my” give evidence of his self-ward focus). The Father’s response was:

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared—whose will they be?’ 21 “That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:20-21 (HCSB)

At times, it is difficult for us to have anything other than a self-ward focus – a shallow depth of field – especially in the midst of life’s difficulties. However, we must remember the temporary nature of this life and focus on the greater depth of field – the eternal.

These green fields will soon be reduced to the rubble of decaying stalks – in the same way we see our earthly bodies deteriorate over time. However, if our focus is toward God’s call and obedience to His purposes, we will be accumulating treasure in heaven.

16 Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

So, is your life focus on a shallow depth of field (selfish) or a greater depth of field (eternal)?

The Seasons of Life

I started this blog primarily for my church members, giving some extra “points to ponder” from the previous Sunday’s message. My commitment to a weekly post has waned somewhat due to other responsibilities, but I’m sure I’ll get back to some normality and better use my time (I hope).

When setting up this blog in January of 2012, there were several immediate decisions – style, widgets and headers. I wanted the header picture to represent rural Iowa and not someone else’s stock photo. The photo that came to mind was taken on July 5, 2011, as we returned to Creston after celebrating the Fourth with our kids in Arkansas. About eleven miles east of Creston, we saw a beautiful sunset and found a little gravel road on which to turn and take a few pictures. The sunset pictures were not outstanding, but the Redwood Avenue picture with its dip and rise through the rolling hills of southern Iowa caught my attention. It captured the simple beauty of rural Iowa and a sense of the journey on which we find ourselves as Christian sojourners – with ups and downs in this life, but ultimately upward!

Redwood Ave, Rural Union Co. IA, July 5, 2011

Redwood Ave, Rural Union Co. IA, July 5, 2011

As the seasons began to change, I thought there was a need for a change in header, as well. While missing the opportunity to take a Spring picture in 2012, I remembered to get out in the Fall and capture this picture:

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA, September 28, 2012

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA, September 28, 2012

I almost let the Winter of 2012-13 slip away before I got the required snow-covered picture (little did I know that we would have snow on May 2).

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA - March 2, 2013

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA – March 2, 2013

The final piece of the four seasons of Redwood Avenue came a few weeks ago. While hoping to have a setting sun as in the other picture, I settled for an overcast evening to get this final shot:

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA - May 29, 2013

Redwood Avenue, Rural Union County, IA – May 29, 2013

After almost 19 years in Iowa, my appreciation for the unique character of the four seasons never diminishes. The cycle of life that God has programmed into His creation – from the sprouting forth of new life in Spring to the seeming cessation of life that comes in Winter – bring special blessings in every stage. Each season brings it own hardships and joys, much as every season of life.

100E0337

Catch the “Snow Wave” – December 20, 2012

As we go through each season of the year and life, we run the risk falling into one of two traps: focusing on the difficulties of the current season or longing for the joys of the next. In doing so, we fail to appreciate the unique benefits or growth opportunities found in the present moment. For instance, while I can be extremely weary of still shoveling snow in April, there is an incredible sense of wonder when you take the time to appreciate the quietness of snowfall, to look at the unique pattern of an individual snowflake or to see the unusual shapes of snow drifts.

Wild Phlox with Pentax K-x water color filter. (Spring 2013)

Wild Phlox with Pentax K-x water color filter. (Spring 2013)

While each season of life has its difficulties and disappointments, there is truth in the saying that “God never wastes a hurt.” It is important that we look for God’s grace (power) in that trial or hardship, which will in turn equip us to share that grace with a “fellow struggler” in the future.

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, HCSB)

Whether you find yourself as a single adult, wanting to be married, or a senior adult, struggling with the effects of old age, there is something in your current “season of life” to embrace that is exquisite and edifying. May we learn to live with the type of contentment the Apostle Paul expressed: “In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content” (Philippians 4:12, HCSB).

___________________________________________

YOUR RESPONSE:

What are some of the “happenings” in your stage of life that you have embraced for the good that God may have for you and others, even though it could be viewed by some as a hardship?

God often gives a verse from His Word that can be especially helpful during some of the difficult seasons of life. What is that verse for you and how did God use it?

“I Long to See You”

We don’t normally take a Spring vacation, but Myra and I took a couple of weeks off, beginning on “tax day.” Our chief aim was to “retrieve” my mother, Grace, who had landed in Richmond, Virginia, after spending almost two months visiting her four daughters and their families. Rather than make a straight trip to Virginia, however, I wanted Myra to see some parts of the country she has never seen. I had seen Niagara Falls and Cape Cod as a teenager with my parents, camping throughout the northeast, but Myra has never been to those locations.

923228_10151629837484402_625102789_n

Niagara Falls, April 17, 2013

Traveling to Virginia via those points of interest gave us the perfect opportunity to see her brother, Rowe, who lives south of Boston (a city we planned to visit, but the Marathon bombing canceled that trip). With multiple health issues, including Parkinson’s disease, Rowe’s travel is limited, not even making it to his mother’s funeral in 2006. So, we determined that we needed to travel to him! It was a wonderful visit and good to renew connections with him, his wife and three children we had met and to finally meet the four children we had never seen in the flesh, since we had not seen Rowe in over 20 years.

I realize that it may seem foreign to many to think of never having met nieces and nephews or not seeing a sibling for so many years. However, circumstances sometimes necessitate that kind of physical separation. Though we have maintained communication with Rowe by phone, through mail and Facebook®, nothing beats the ability to shake hands, hug, and talk face to face.

Race Point Beach - Cape Code, April 20, 2013

Race Point Beach – Cape Code, April 20, 2013

Over the years, the nature of my vocation and the distance we are from family have limited our ability to spend time with our family. My side of the family was at one time spread out from Virginia to California. Only in recent years have we been able to gather annually in Florida, but even then we seldom see the entire extended family.

As I thought about our physical separation from family, the Apostle Paul’s desire for face to face encounters came to mind. In several letters, he expressed his intent and deep desire to visit those Christian brothers and sisters; some of whom he had personally discipled, but others with whom he had never spent “face time.” To the Romans, Paul said,

“For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11-12, NASB).

Paul’s face to face time with them was not only for their benefit; he needed it, as well!

Bruton Parish Church, Williamsburg, VA

Bruton Parish Church, Williamsburg, VA

I can honestly say that I miss the church family when I am away on vacation. I need the fellowship, worship and encouragement from God and my Crest Baptist family. We need the touch of the Christ-life that resides in each believer, and others, who may not even know they need it, must see the love that we have for one another, so they may see what they are missing.

Many of you are as regular as clockwork in your commitment to meet with the saints in worship and small groups. However, if you feel a twinge of guilt, take that as the prompting of the Holy Spirit and make some adjustments in your life to include regular face to face time with the saints.

YOUR RESPONSE:

  • Last Sunday, I preached from Romans 11:11-32. In that section, Paul said: “In view of the fact that I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if I can somehow make my own people jealous and save some of them” (vv. 13-14). His goal in his ministry to the Gentiles was that it would result in unbelieving Jews being made jealous…jealous in the sense of wanting the relationship with God that the Gentiles now had. When you think of your relationship with God and His Body (the church), is it so attractive to unbelievers that they are brought to the point of jealousy, seeing your relationship as one they long to have, too? Or put another way as one commentator said it, “Are the Jews [unbelievers] we meet provoked to jealousy or just provoked?” [1]

______________________________________________________________________

1. R. Kent Hughes, Romans – Righteousness from Heaven, 1991, Crossway, p. 197.

Radical Focus

In our church-wide study of Radical by David Platt, he asks, “Do you really believe this Book [the Bible]?” While we usually give mental assent to its truthfulness, do we always demonstrate agreement by our actions? That has been the challenge this week.

It has been interesting to hear the comments and challenges that we are encountering through this study from the Word of God. The comments run the gamut from this being a totally new teaching that is being met with skepticism to the view that “this isn’t ‘radical’… it’s ‘ordinary’ Christianity.” I think the variety of responses speaks to a couple of things.

First, we are all at differing levels of maturity or “completion.” Some need the “milk” of the Word, while others can handle the “meat” of the word (see Hebrews 5:13-14). While some may not be at a point of fully assimilating God’s truth, we must not be content to remain “bottle-fed.” Just as this would be a physical abnormality, it is a spiritual anomaly, too. Paul said:

3:1 Brothers, I was not able to speak to you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as babies in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, because you were not yet ready for it. In fact, you are still not ready, because you are still fleshly. For since there is envy and strife among you, are you not fleshly and living like unbelievers?                                                (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, HCSB).

Therefore, we need to lovingly acknowledge our different levels of spiritual maturity, but always strive for growth under the Spirit’s tutelage through our exposure to the truths we are learning.

Secondly, a healthy dose of uncertainty/curiosity/skepticism is good. You have heard me say, “Don’t take my word for it, search out the scriptures for yourself.” If you’re not sure what David Platt says is true, check it against the Bible. That’s exactly what the Bereans did:

10 As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas off to Berea. On arrival, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 The people here were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, since they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Consequently, many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women as well as men.                                                                   (Acts 17:10-12, HCSB).

I continue to be excited by what God is doing and pray that you will “hang in there” as we seek to be transformed by a radical focus on God through His Word, enabling us to be seen in a way that looks radical to the world.

Radical Grace

We are into our second week of the church-wide study of Radical by David Platt. This week we have been considering the radical nature of grace. If you’ve been in church for any time you have heard the word used in relationship with salvation – “God’s saving grace.”  We might say it this way: God’s Riches AChrist’s Expense. Ephesians 2:1-10 is perhaps the best, condensed passage that describes our need, God’s work and our response to God’s grace:

2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient.We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10, HCSB)

Ray Pritchard suggests that the whole gospel message can be seen in just six words in this passage: You were— 2:1; But God— 2:4; Through faith—2:8. 1 [1]

“You were” dead in trespasses and sins. Because in Adam all have deviated from living according to what was revealed as the proper way of living and have failed to reach the mark of the true purpose of our lives, we all were (or still are) spiritually dead. A Scottish expositor related the event of a stranger in the county of Ayrshire dying and being buried in the church parish’s graveyard. It so greatly distressed the people of the parish that they posted a sign outside the cemetery that read:

“This graveyard is reserved exclusively for the dead who are living in this parish.” [2]

There are dead people walking all around you today (and you don’t have to have a “sixth sense” to see them.) Just as Adam was physically alive after he had sinned, yet spiritually dead, many around you are alive physically but dead spiritually. Note Paul says “you were.” Every individual must personally acknowledge his own sin and rebelliousness before God…admit that he is dead in his trespasses and sins. However, the “were” is good news for those who have come into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Our spiritual deadness is a thing of the past only because of the next phrase.

Thus, “But God” made us alive with Christ. Never has such a conjunction meant so much. When I looked up the conjunction “but,” I found this definition: a conjunction is a joiner, a word that connects parts of a sentence. There is no truer definition than this, in that God connected us with Him through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are joined with Him as together with Christ we have been raised and seated in the heavens! And why… that for all eternity we might be on display as evidence of the immeasurable riches of His grace shown through the kindness of Christ Jesus’ substitutionary atonement. Nothing we did or could do merited such favor…it is all because of His mercy, love and grace.

Finally, “Through faith”  speaks of our response. Saving faith has been explained as “trust in Jesus Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life with God.” [3]   It is not merely belief in facts but personal trust in Jesus to save.

Chuck Swindoll gives an excellent illustration to point out the difference between belief in facts and personal trust. Ann Seward, a resident of Portland, Oregon, was asked to co-star with high-wire artist Philippe Petit, who gained fame by crossing between the World Trade Center buildings. Petit was to walk on an eighty-foot wire between the Portland Center for the Performing Arts and the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall with Seward on his back. High above the street, Seward placed her ninety-one pound life on the back of Petit and he successfully performed his high-wire act. Seward said that her performance had a lesson for those who watched from the street. “I think that one of the most beautiful things about the performance was that it took a lot of trust—absolute trust—to do that. I think in the world that is a very profound issue….Here it is—I’m putting my life in someone else’s hands and trusting the whole crowd not to do anything to distract him.” Swindoll gives this closing application:

Many of those who witnessed the performance “believed” that Petit could successfully complete the performance with someone on his back. But their belief was merely intellectual and did not feature the absolute trust and total commitment exhibited by Ann Seward. She expressed her belief by placing her very life in the hands of the artist. This is the kind of “belief” referred to in the words of Paul, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). This belief is not merely head knowledge; it is the response of a heart to the person of Christ saying, “I trust Your redeeming work to deliver me from sin and carry me safely to heaven.” [4]

What about you? Are you able to say with certainty that you were, but God and as a result of His grace, through faith you have placed your very life in Him? God’s amazing grace has the ability to take the deadest of sinners and make them alive for all eternity!

YOUR RESPONSE:

  • Have you trusted in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross to take the penalty you deserved to pay?
  • As you consider your daily sphere of life, who do you know who is currently walking in spiritual deadness? Pray that God will give you opportunities to share the Good News of salvation with them, so that through faith they can experience salvation from sin and the certainty of eternal life with God.

________________________________________________________

1  Pritchard, Ray from sermon “Amazing Grace”

2  Johnson, S. Lewis, from sermon “His Power, Our Salvation”

3  Grudem, W.A., Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan Publishing House, 1994. p. 710.

4  Swindoll, Charles, Zuck, Roy, Understanding Christian Theology, Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2003, p. 240-241.

Tips for Refreshment

Last week I wrote on the importance of refreshment and maintaining a regular time with God in honest recognition of His reign over your life.  Jesus found it necessary to withdraw to the lake, to the mountain, or beside the road to be alone with God. He needed rest and renewal in order to go back among the throngs of people. If he needed it, we need to make sure that we incorporate a time of refreshment into our busy lives. That doesn’t mean just laying around all day (although it may mean sleeping until you wake up on your own instead of by an alarm clock). But, we should purposefully center our rest and renewal around these suggested areas:

1)  A time to stay at home: Families are going in so many different directions today. Finding some time to recoup as a family by doing something special on a weekly basis helps to reconnect and refresh. You also model to your children the value of family time and the life-long, vital connections that are made early in life (remember the message of Cats in the Cradle).

2)  A time to read, study and write: I talked to someone the other day, who, in the process of writing out her Christian testimony, has been reminded of all the ways in which God was working in her life when she didn’t even realize it. This revelation brought a sense of excitement and joy. Reading Christian biographies and inspirational books will also buoy your spirit. Additionally, with life and societal changes always happening, there is the need to stay current and retool. Do you carve a niche in your schedule for reading, studying, writing, and concentrating on new subjects and new interests?

3)  A time to play and serve: Some playtime should be a part of renewal and rest. Playtime might include long hikes, participation in an enjoyable sport, unstructured playtime with the family, and trips to historic locations. It could also include an outreach work project, such as an emergency disaster project. Serving in ways out of our normal area of ministry is surprisingly energizing.

4)  A time to enjoy the beauty of life: Beauty in nature offers many benefits. Very beautiful scenes are often in quiet places. Beauty stimulates the senses. In such a setting, it is easy to get in tune with the Creator.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour out speech;
night after night they communicate knowledge

(Psalm 19:1-2, HCSB)

5)  A time for Bible study and prayer: This is a very important part of restoration. It can take place along with some of the other experiences at times (as in nature). This is a time to read those things that focus on praising God through inspirational books, poems, and hymns, including meditation and reflection.

These are only a few suggestions, but don’t neglect this vital area of your life. Medical science has demonstrated that the effects of rest are significant, indicating the great role that rest can play in our physical and emotional well-being.

Points to Ponder:

  • If you have a family at home, what are (or have been) your suggestions for ways in which your family has found refreshment together (board games, outdoor activities, camping, etc.) Leave comments!
  • What have you found to be the best way for you to find replenishment for body, soul and spirit?

Conforming to Christ

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.     

Romans 8:28-29

As one of the top five online “most searched” verses [1],  Romans 8:28 is often taken out of context. There are several things it doesn’t mean.

First, this doesn’t say that all things are “good.” The Bible never implies that war, disease, divorce, abuse, injustice, tragedy, immorality, and on and on are good things.  Second, it doesn’t say our definition of “good” matches God’s definition of “good.”  Our preference would be not to go through any difficulty in life, and we define “good” as what is most pleasant at the time. Third, this is not a universal truth. Good is not ultimately experienced by all, but only those who love God (i.e, Christians). Fourth, this promise does not say that we will always see or understand the good that God is doing.  Whether it is the death of a child, a divorce, or a tornado destroying your home, we may never understand the “why” this side of eternity. But, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean these things are not being used for God’s purposes.

The surrounding verses are key (as in all scripture interpretation) to understanding its meaning. In the context of Chapter 8, Paul earlier says, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18, NIV). Then, as a consequence of the Fall of mankind into sin, he speaks of the resulting groans of creation, believers and even the Holy Spirit as we look forward – through the sufferings – to the glory to come in Christ’s return. Our present wait is much like the labor of childbirth, though painful and difficult at the time, it results in the blessed arrival of a child. When Christ in glory returns, all suffering will be over for the children of God and creation. (Revelation 21:1-4)

We may never fully realize the “good” God is working this side of glory. However, if we know that God is working in all our circumstances, including our present sufferings, to conform us to the likeness of Christ, we can approach the joys and sorrows of life with a different attitude. We are better able to endure those difficulties when we know that God is preparing us for glory through the sanctifying process of conforming us to more completely resemble Christ.

Your Response:

Instead of having a “pity party” next time things don’t seem to go your way, pause to consider:

  • What is my normal, natural, fleshly response in this circumstance?
  • While a seemingly trite phrase, take seriously the question, “What would Jesus do?”
  • What fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control) is lacking in you that God may be using this circumstance to conform you into the likeness of Christ?
________________________________________________________________________

1 Romans 8:28 was #5 in 2011, down from #3 in 2010 on the Five Most Popular Verses at the Bible Gateway website