When Truth Seekers fail to find the truth that transforms

May I depart from my usual fare today to point you to my gleanings from a thought-provoking memoir I finished this week?  It was the title that caught my attention: Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s search for the Truth about Everything

I’m always curious to hear people’s stories of finding truth and coming to faith.  This memoir did not however turn out to be that kind of story…In fact it seemed more like the frustrated musings of an older woman who since her childhood had struggled to align her upbringing as an atheist with the stirrings in her heart and  mind which intimated there must be something more.  This book seemed to me to be her valiant effort to put to rest the child of her adolescence and go bravely on as a self-declared and outspoken atheist, without regrets…

But the upshot of this reading for me has been to consider why it is that seekers after truth sometimes don’t find it?  What state of heart and mind must the seeker bring to the search? And closer to home, what are the truths I am designed to be living in that still elude me?  And why is that?  Is there an underlying heart condition that is necessary if truth is going to transform the way we live?

Paul urges believers “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing or your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” (Rom.12:2)

The writer to the Hebrews says a mark of maturity is that one’s “senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.” (Heb.5:14 HCSB)

Jesus declared Himself to be the way, the truth and the life—the only access possible to God the Father. And He told His followers that if they would abide in His Word they would know truth that would transform them, literally set them free! (Jn.14:6; 8:31,32)

Some  stuck it out when His teachings got hard to hear.  Many abandoned.
(see: Jn.6:66) Those who stayed realized there was no where else to turn for truth that gives life.  They chose to stick with Jesus even when they didn’t understand…They believed.

And here’s the sticking point where intellect can become a stumbling stone.  To the extent that we depend on our own reasoning, our own good judgment to determine the way things should be, to that extent we may be reluctant to trust the simplicity of the Gospel (There’s nothing I can do or have done that merits God’s favor apart from faith in Jesus? My goodness is not enough?).  Or, if we’re believers already, we may find it hard to keep trusting God’s Word when it seems overly ‘restrictive’ or just plain hard.  (Forgive repeatedly? Give thanks always? Submit to whom?) We are quick to judge what seems right and what is clearly mistaken (oh, it’s not that big a deal; why is God so harsh? That verse couldn’t mean what it says).  We bear a strong resemblance to Eve who was the first to reason in the face of God’s clear command (“It seems to me…”)

A humble teachable heart is requisite if the truth is going to find its home there.  In the case of the memoir I’ve just finished, this was missing.  Truth was wanted but was barred from entry by preconceived beliefs that the ‘Christian’ idea of God—all powerful and all-loving—was not an option. In fact such a God was considered a logical impossibility in light of the world we live in, a fictitious invention and unworthy of another thought.  A learned bias had created a hard heart, incapable of believing just when that trust could have allowed the truth to permeate and bring a new lease on life!

This book made for a sobering read.  It made me want to ferret out beliefs that strangle my own growth in faith, beliefs that keep me from peace and joy and reliance on Jesus for my life.  And that’s where I’m at today.

I leave you with Paul’s testimony to the Philippian believers; it resonates with me right now:

Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. Therefore, let all of us who are mature think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained. Phil. 3:12-16 CSB

And let’s hang on to our great hope as we cooperate with the Spirit to renew our minds in truth.  A great day is coming when the transformation will be complete!

… our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself. Phil. 3:20-21 CSB

Amen? May it be so!

Oh, and if you’re curious and would like to read some excerpts from a non-believer’s quest for truth, I’ve posted some quotes with corresponding Scripture notes over at my Quotes and Notes blog: Dawn’s Quotes and Notes at dictationbydawn.wordpress.com

God bless you in your quest to walk in truth.
Thanks for giving me a hearing ( :

-LS

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Pr. 3:5-6 ESV

Be strong in the Lord

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. (Eph 6:10 ESV)

I am not strong in ways I’d like to be.  I greatly admire people who plot a course for themselves and follow-through managing their time until the end result is in hand.  With dogged determination, consistency and vision they move strongly toward their goals.  I admire this single-mindedness.  I’m more of a waffler (if there is such a word), prone to double-mindedness, but praying ‘help my unbelief!’,  and trusting that God will yet work this out in me.  There’s hope for me when I see Paul’s admonition to the believers in Ephesus: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” because it makes apparent that it’s not my natural strength that is called for, but my dependence on the Lord’s strength. Self-help may be the world’s only alternative but believers in Jesus have the power that raised Him from the tomb at work in us!

I have been spurred on this week by an array of verses emphasizing His strength and my need to step out in dependence on it.

“Not by strength or by might, but by My Spirit” says the LORD of Hosts… (Zech 4:6 HCSB)

“Be strong”–this is the Lord’s declaration. “Work! For I am with you…this is the promise I made to you when you came out of Egypt, and My Spirit is present among you; don’t be afraid.” (Haggai 2:4,5 HCSB)

All the strength I need is at my disposal when I am walking in obedience. This tidbit came from Sunday’s sermon:

Christ’s strength is proportionate to our obedience in fulfilling His purposes for our lives.  Every act of obedience brings strength for the next step. (Shafer Parker)

I’m coming to recognize that this strength is not realized until I step out and start moving, start walking by faith into the thing that intimidates me… whether it be composing a blog post or saying ‘yes’ to teaching a Sunday School class or any number of other faith-stretching prospects.  Fear may taunt but it cannot withstand the tread of faith.

God has always been faithful to lead His people from fear and bondage to faith and life.  The Bible is replete with the stories of those He’s called and shaped for their callings despite their natural reticence.  Gideon and Moses come to mind.

(Gideon) “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?” Judges 6:14 NKJV

(Moses) What’s that in your hand? Throw it down and see what I can do with it!

“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode. Ex. 15:13 ESV

Fear ensnares, cripples, and paralyzes. Faith awakens to possibilities, gives courage, and makes strong.  No wonder Paul prayed as he did for the believers in Ephesus, that their hearts would be enlightened to understand “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places”(!) (Eph. 1:19-20 ESV)

This same power is already at work in us who believe.  We’ve already been raised from certain death, and made alive in Christ so that we are capable of truly good works that reflect His life in us.  And now we’re called to “pay careful attention to how [we] walk” so that our lives would reflect this faith in the God who is at work in us.

May you and I know more and more this strength that comes with walking by faith into the good works prepared for us to walk in.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. —Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.—for we walk by faith, not by sight.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Eph 2:10 ESV; Ps. 77:19 ESV; II Cor.5:7 ESV; Eph 3:20-21 ESV

–Linda

 

 

Growing up in Christ–it’s a together thing

This week I’ve been mulling over something generated from last week’s ponderings.  When the writer to the Hebrews (5:11ff) faults them for being dull of hearing he goes on to say that they should be able by now to teach others but instead still require spoon-feeding with the basics of their faith.  In contrast to this are the mature who have trained their sensibilities to discern good from evil.  These folks are ready to move on to steak!  OK so I’ll admit it, I like to think this is me (except for the bit about being able to teach others–that thought intimidates me–maybe I too have some basics of the faith to fully digest!)

I was stopped short this week in my pious imaginings by Ephesians 4 with its reminder that we’re all in this Body together, intended to support one another on the path to maturity in Christ. It is most certainly true that I too am dull of hearing in ways I don’t detect(!) and I need you to point them out to me in love, even as I bravely open my mouth to bring truth to bear in areas where you need encouragement.  This is Christ’s intention for His Body–all of us reaching maturity by that which each of us has to offer.

“I urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love…there is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Eph.4:1-4 HCSB

Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please his neighbor for his good to build him up… Therefore accept one another, just as the Messiah also accepted you, to the glory of God. Rom.15:1,2,7 HCSB

But now God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted.—From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part. I Cor.12:18; Eph.4:16 HCSB

Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor because we are members of one another…but only what is good for building up someone in need so that it gives grace to those who hear. Eph.4:25,29 HCSB

…speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ—until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Eph.4:15,13 HCSB

This weekend in Banff is the 40th annual edition of Melissa’s Road Race.  Forty-five hundred runners will swell the slushy streets to compete for prizes.  But this is not a picture of the church. We’re not running individual marathons in competition for first place.  We’re gifted and called as supporting ligaments, arms, eyes, ears and kidneys of the Bride of Christ.  And without the ‘proper working of each individual part’ there is not a functional Body!

I need the women I’d rather not be around.  I need the one who has more to say than I want to hear. And  I need to get over my complexes and be willing to speak the truth in love when it is called for, even if I fear rejection.

We’re all in this together, growing into the mature Bride of Christ, without spot or wrinkle.  And we can’t do it without each other.  That is something to ponder.

Thanks for being there, I need you.
Linda

Now Listen!

My ponderings have been all over the place this week–ranging from the melancholy of winter’s approach to the glory of Jesus coming again.  From how-to-keep-your-brain-sharp to the  beguiling simplicity of Mormon beliefs online.  I’ve squeezed in more audio time this week than usual, listening to everything from the quiet morning  hum of the fridge to the call of a pileated woodpecker, from an exposition on the glories of having Jesus as our High Priest, to an appealingly reasoned case for re-writing God’s ordering of roles in His church to fit our times.

But as I read, listen and interact a common theme keeps pushing to the top–LISTEN!

“…Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said…you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice…” Luke 10:39,42

“Your beauty… should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes.” I Pet.3:3

It is only when we have paused in airing our own thoughts and opinions that we can hear another’s.  And it is only in knowing God’s thoughts that we can measure the validity of our own or anybody else’s thoughts.  Listening well is essential.

But hearing and listening are two quite  different things. I saw this today in reading the angel Gabriel’s message to Zechariah and Mary respectively(Lk.1).  To both he said: “Now listen!” But for Zechariah there was a scolding: ‘You will become silent and unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.’ Mary’s response was quite different, she had questions about the details (How does a virgin have a baby anyway?) but she was fully assured by Gabriel’s explanation that by His Spirit God can do the impossible, and she gladly submitted to God’s Words and purpose for her life.

“I am the Lord’s slave, may it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk.1:38)

This is the kind of listening God is looking for–listening with  humble God-confidence, willing to be or do as He chooses.

Earlier this week I was studying Hebrews 5.  These hearers were faulted with being ‘dull of hearing’ and lacking the maturity of those ‘whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil’.  Consequently, a great deal of what the writer wanted to say was too difficult for them to understand. They had become lazy listeners, needing to be spurred on to imitate those who ‘through faith and perseverance inherit the promises’.  There’s definitely an active aspect to good listening…

The writer to the Hebrews had already urged them not to harden their hearts if and when they wished to hear God’s voice.  Hard hearts, dull ears, listless faith–these seem to go together and to be a primary impediment to experiencing the life and rest that God intends for His people.

For this good news–that God has prepared this rest–has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. Heb 4:2 NLT

A wise man will listen and increase his learning, and a discerning man will obtain guidance…the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline. Prov.1:7 HCSB

Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. Is. 55:2-3 NLT

If you’ve ever tried in vain to give advice to someone you care about only to have your hard-earned wisdom ignored or passed off as irrelevant, or worse yet–untrustworthy,  you have felt the effects of a hard heart. Is there anything more frustrating?  Even when spoken in love, truth has to be met with a soft heart if it’s to take root and be life-changing.  Knowing my own human frustration with this gives me a greater sense of God’s incredible patience with me when I am less than teachable and prone to doubt.  Being of infinite love and faithfulness He just keeps on…

In the face of our striving He calls:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Mt. 11:28-29 NLT

Into the stupor of our self-sufficiency He urges:

I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.  Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” Rev 3:19,22 NLT

And all down through time He bears patiently the arrogance and independence of His creatures who reject His designs and insist on their own ways, as He waits and woos and warns, unwilling that any should perish…But not forever.  

I’ve committed lately to getting a better personal understanding of Revelation so I’ve been reading and re-reading these chapters as though they were a book intended to be read and understood, written by a God who knows exactly what I need to know…

Really this book that marks the unveiling of God’s righteous wrath is a mercy.  God could unleash His wrath with no ‘heads-up’; He has every right.  But instead He reveals what’s coming and declares the one blessed who hears and ‘keeps’ His words.  For the one who believes God to be the rightful King of all the earth this book is full of hope and encouragement–your redemption draws nigh; hang on, no matter what. It will be worth it in the end (which is really only the beginning!) For the unbeliever who reads with an ear to hear, there is terror which if combined with faith may yet result in salvation.  But for the one who reads but doesn’t care to listen, the skeptic, this ‘hear ye, hear ye’ of what is coming on the earth will only prove God’s justice in judgment.

The theme of listening is threaded all through the book of Revelation. Not only does the book begin with a blessing to those who hear and keep its message, but the message itself is full of sound effects!  Trumpet calls and thunder, the sound of roaring water, multitudes singing in worship,  rebels crying out in terror, blasphemies and Hallelujahs… All this besides the multiple admonitions to ‘hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.  And as the book concludes this invitation is extended all who hear: “Both the Spirit and the bride say “Come!”…and the one who is thirsty should come…take the living water as a gift.”(Rev.22:17)

As we were out walking this week, a friend mentioned a book she was reading.  She was having trouble telling me what exactly it was about, so I asked ‘What was your take-away’?  And now I’m asking myself that right here as I try to wrap up these reflections on the art of listening.

It occurs to me that God is our role model.  He listens well.  And as the Son He has modeled well the voice that is heard.

Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard [to hear with assent] because of his reverence  Heb.5:7 ESV

What this passage goes on to say is that Jesus has become  “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey [listen obediently]  him.” (Heb.5:9 ESV)

When I looked up the different forms of the word ‘to hear’ in these verses I found this sweet tidbit. The word translated here as obey literally means ‘to hear under’ (as a subordinate).  It is the attentive listening used of a doorkeeper who watches at the door, waiting for a knock in order to come and listen to see who it is.

May we be that kind of listener, discerning who knocks, welcoming truth with soft hearts, ready to believe and to act at Jesus’ bidding.

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.–Jesus (Rev.3:20 NLT)

Speak Lord, your servant is listening.

–LS

The Audience that Matters is watching you!

In my Bible reading this week some lines from Job really jumped out at me: “What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him…you watcher of mankind?” (Job 7:17, 20 ESV) In the context Job was actually complaining, wishing God wouldn’t look so closely at him, and would be pleased to let him die; he was miserable. This got me to noticing other passages that refer to God watching mankind.  They’re everywhere, from beginning to end.  In the Garden, He spotted Adam and Eve hiding in their shame. And in Revelation Jesus is depicted with ‘eyes like a fiery flame’ (Rev.1:13-14)

Nothing escapes His notice…

No creature is hidden from him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account. 

Heb.4:13 CSB

Then all the churches will know that I am the one who examines minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

Rev.2:23 CSB

As one who has alwayed struggled with self-consciousness and people-pleasing these passages are a little uncomfortable. I still feel, for instance, the intimidation I felt as a young teen Candy-striping at a big hospital.  I must have volunteered to please my mom; she thought it a great opportunity.  But I hated being in the public eye, and those elevator rides up and down and those long hallways going to and fro with mail and lab samples–Shudder! This was not for me!  My experience lasted only as long as it took me to get the nerve up to disappoint my Mom and to get myself to the Head Office and quit!  But that sense of being ‘watched’ still dogs my steps some days when I’m out and about. 

I care too much what people think of me (despite my mom’s long-imbedded quip: “Who cares what thinkle peop?!”) despite my perceptive husband’s reminder that the whole thing is a delusion which assumes others even notice me, when likely most of them are thinking of themselves, not me!  But shaking this has been a matter of prayer lately and in the Word this week I see this hopeful truth– God is watching, and His is the only watchful eye that counts!  For there is a world of difference between being critically surveilled based on appearances and being protectively watched over by One who has your best interests at heart.  That difference is in the eye and the heart of the Beholder.

“For the eyes of the LORD roam throughout the earth to show himself strong for those who are wholeheartedly devoted to him.

II Chron.16:9 CSB

Though I may look at others with snap judgments,  measuring them up based on my own insecurities, as though the comparison could somehow boost my own ego…God does not see this way.  His assessment isn’t based on any agenda other than my good for His Glory.  The two are inseparable.  He is unruffled by appearances but cares crucially about my heart.  And even there He doesn’t look in order to shame, but in order to bring to light, in order that I can be freed to walk in that light with an eye only to pleasing Him.

Someone has coined the phrase ‘an audience of one’.  This One in whom ‘we live and move and have our being’ is the only One whose opinion of us ultimately matters.

I am my Father’s dearly loved child.  He watches over me to do me good.  To protect, to correct, to direct, to perfect, all on His loving timetable.  He is the guardian of my soul. 

For you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

I Pet.2:25 CSB

How vast is this difference between being watched and being watched over!

Because our God is both omniscient and all-loving we can trust Him with our hearts.  We can pour them out before Him. We can request that He search them and show to us what we most need to see, and the truth to counter it!  And we can walk with confidence knowing that He will accomplish His transforming work in us.

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Ps.138:8 ESV

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Ps.139:23-24 ESV

If you’ve come by and shared this counseling session with me, I thank you and hope that you too have been encouraged to look to an Audience of One and find there a radiant smile. Oh how He cares for us.

–LS