Understanding Your Needs

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This morning, when I read Matthew 6:33-34, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble,” I understood it in a whole new light.

Whiplash

Starting in verse 25, Jesus tells us reasons to not be anxious about our lives, what we’ll eat, drink, wear, etc., and points to the birds and flowers and how God feeds and clothes them (and are we not more valuable than them). I’ve always understood those verses to mean God is faithful and will provide everything we need. So you’d think that would mean we’d always be comfortable and safe from harm or pain. But this is not so, because I then think of Christians persecuted, raped, beaten, tortured, starving, and dying around the world. Also, for those of us who are sick, who’ve experienced loss, who are striving for something and can’t seem to get anywhere, who can’t seem to “catch a break,” who can’t afford to meet rent or buy groceries, etc. What about us/them? Is this an empty promise? Is He a cruel, unfeeling, unfair and unjust God? No. God never contradicts Himself. Indeed, He promised us that if they killed him they would kill us, too (Matt. 24:9). And Paul says (paraphrased) who can separate us from the love of God? Death, famine, plague, etc.? (Romans 8:35-39)

Quick detour. Think of it this way (I don’t claim originality with this analogy; I reference Matt Chandler, lead paster at The Village Church). Imagine you’re a parent (maybe you are), and your two-year-old wants a whole can of Coca-Cola (or your dog wants your slice of chocolate cake). Would you give it to them? No. Why not? Well, you don’t want them to get sick. Do they see it that way? Of course not. You’re the mean, bad person. We all know how this goes down. The pouty lip, whiny begging and then wailing as if you’d committed the worse crime to them. They see the treat as the best thing in the world for/to them. Are you being unfair and cruel or loving and merciful? You’re giving your child (or pet) what they need.

The revelation

Back to the passage. Here’s the beautiful part. If you look back to the beginning of verse 33, “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” there’s where the answer is! God promises to gives us everything we need in order to serve and glorify Him…to further His kingdom. “…and all these things will be added to you.” So, whatever it takes, He will make sure you have it. What a glorious hope and assurance.

Isn’t that just AWESOME?!

The part of this that makes me quake is that it’s so easy to proclaim it and let type up these truths, and much harder to believe when the tribulation comes. I know how cowardly and pathetic my own heart is and how often I fail at the little tests.

Will we be able to say in those shaky, scary times, “It is well with my soul”?

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Instant Gratification vs. Eternal Satisfaction

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.” “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he. “Not because you are?” “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” – Prince Caspian (C.S. Lewis)

So often (sadly) we fail to see the big picture. Why? The simple answer is because we rely and look to our human instincts and ergo, we’re limited. Think of it this way: Ninety percent of a glacier is underwater. That’s a TON of ice you can’t see. Is it there even though you can’t see the full glacier? Absolutely.

Even in reading through Scripture we can view Bible stories and characters as individual happenings. We fail to see the overarching theme that weaves them all together and how God is continually pointing to His glory and the gospel (the cross of Christ and the coming of His eternal kingdom). We can never be guilty of giving God too much glory, but the old man in us is fighting to make God small and to fit him in a box where we can bring him down to our level of understanding.

Because we fail to acutely feel the weight of how we grieve Christ and the eternal implications of our actions, we aim for instant gratification, much like Esau who sold his birthright to Jacob to fill his belly or like the prodigal son who didn’t want to wait for his inheritance. We look at them, but do we see them in our own hearts in how we act or think? Sure, what they did seems big to our minds if we compare them to us and we might even be tempted to think, “Ha, how stupid was Esau. Seriously? I’d never do something that foolish.” In reality, your “little” failings are no less sinful than what Esau did.

That’s why I love the analogy Paul gives of the athlete. Who’s excited about the Olympics? It is right around the corner and it only happens every four years. These men and women have trained rigorously and sacrificed so much. They have a goal. “I press on toward the goal for the upward prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Phil. 3: 14-15). There’s a lot of discipline involved. If you workout, bike, run, etc. — you have to eat a certain way to get certain results, you have to push your body and there are times where you want to quit or just rest or do anything but.

So, how do we see the big picture, have the eyes of our hearts opened and grow so that Christ becomes bigger and we become smaller? The direct answer: Faith. Faith IS seeing. How do we get more faith? I’d encourage you and myself to continue to pray for more of the Holy Spirit, diligently reading His Word, hiding it in our hearts, disciplining (“beating our bodies black and blue,” as Paul the apostle says) our hearts and minds. Old habits die hard and new habits are even harder to form. Prayer, a spiritual mentor/friend and diving into the Bible are so vital in making our hearts more aware of our secret sins.

I love what Matt Chandler, head pastor at the Village Church says in his recent book on the gospel:

The gospel of Jesus is epic. When Jesus says he saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky, he is saying that the gospel is about the overthrow of evil itself, not just about our sinful behavior. When Jesus casts out demons, he is saying that the gospel is about his authority and God’s sovereignty. When Jesus heals the sick and the lame, he is saying that the gospel is about the eradication of physical brokenness. When Jesus feeds the five thousand, he is saying that the gospel is about God’s abundant provision through Christ to a world of hunger. When Jesus walks on water or calms the storm, he is saying that the gospel is about his lordship over the chaos of fallen creation. When Jesus confounds the religious leaders, overturns table, tells rich people it will be hard for them, renders unto Caesar, enters the city on a jackass, predicts the temple’s destruction, and stands silent before the political rulers, he is saying the gospel has profound effects on our systems. When Jesus forgives sin and raises the dead, he is saying the gospel is about individuals being born again, but he’s also saying that the gospel is about his conquest of sin and death.

– Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel

Do we see the bigger overarching theme? As Chandler pointed out, there’s a deeper more poignant theme running through what often we treat as individual stories or messages. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they’re powerful and God-glorifying in themselves, but how much more so when we realize what they all point to and are about: the cross and his kingdom. In both the chaos and tragedy, the victories and laughter, he is in and glorified through it all. As John Piper says, God is not an ambulance. Nothing takes him by surprise. The shooting in Aurora, Colorado didn’t. Was he grieved? Absolutely. Was he glorified? Absolutely. You might have this question at the back of your head: Why does God allow bad things to happen? (click the hyperlink to go to my blog on this topic). Tim Keller also has a fabulous sermon on that very question: Suffering: If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world?

Let me end with these closing questions. Which perspective do you look at your circumstances and base your decisions? Temporal or eternal? Which do you find infinitely more gratifying and full of hope and peace?

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke

Bible Intake: 5 Components

“You have to try. Because if you haven’t tried, you haven’t lived.” – Bill Parrish (Meet Joe Black)

The topic I’m about to address has been very heavy on my heart and pointed out to me a lot lately. Reading the Bible on a daily basis is something most of us wrestle with (myself included). And even if we “read” it, it’s often merely the action of reading without attempting to dig deeper. At times our heart isn’t even in it but we feel a sense of obligation or we feel manipulated, “If I don’t do this I’m a terrible Christian and something bad will happen.” Well there’s truth in that ::smiling gently:: Matthew 5:6 says it best: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Pray for that desire in your heart. That you will have this urgency to read God’s Word because your soul needs to be enriched, comforted, convicted, loved and fed. It’s all a matter of the heart.

Below I’ve written out what I’ve been taught are five key components to reading the Bible. Please, don’t view this as a “to do” or “1,2, 3” sort of list.

Reading: Read through the Bible every year. This doesn’t mean you HAVE to start January 1st or you’re screwed. September to September is still 12 months last time I checked. Start now and you’ll still end a year from now. Heartlight’s Search God’s Word is a great resource to start off with, both with a daily Bible reading plan and other commentaries.

Hearing: Listen to good, doctrinal preaching. This doesn’t have to happen just once a week or reserved to just your home church pastor. I’d strongly encourage you to download some sermon podcasts and listen to them while going to work, sitting in rush hour traffic, during your lunch break, at night as your winding down, or even, if you’re daring, during a nice hot bubble bath. Some of the men I’d recommend off the top of my head that the Lord has richly used to show me more of Himself: John Piper, JR Vassar, Tim Keller, and Matt Chandler.

Hearing and knowing (not just with head knowledge but earnestly praying for and desiring heart knowledge) are huge components to the process of sanctification (becoming more Christ-like). I say these two things in reference merely in regards to INTAKING God’s Word. This is not the whole picture of Christian faith. Let me remind you of James 1: 19 – 27. Our intaking rightly and effectively God’s Word has a lot to do with being given the right heart, “eyes” to see, and action: “…receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only deceiving yourselves.”

Studying: Pick a book of the Bible. With pen and paper in hand, go through verse by verse. Yes, it sounds tediously daunting, but what’s that popular saying….”No pain, no gain.” Yeah. Use a good commentary by a theologian on that particular book you’re studying BUT (huge “but”) only after you have prayerfully wrestled with it.

Memorization: Memorize entire books (like James, 1 John, etc.) or large sections. I’d recommend starting with Romans 3:19 – Romans 8:39. You don’t have to memorize alone. Grab a friend and commit to and push each other to memorize Scripture together. This is also a great way to start doing the 5th component I’m about to mention: meditation. Wonderful discussions can stem through memorization and wrestling with verses. If you notice, all these components complement and intertwine with each other.

Meditation: As I was saying above, the other four contribute to and enable this. You will find this difficult (I do) in a loud and busy world. But, it is essential to abiding in Jesus and bearing fruits of the Holy Spirit. John 15: 1-8.

Dear reader, don’t go to extremes or let yourself become overwhelmed or crippled by what you perceive to be “impossible” to do. It’s not an instantaneous thing, so don’t be discouraged. Take steps toward it. A tree doesn’t blossom or bear fruit overnight. It’s good and means the Holy Spirit is at work in your heart if you feel inadequate (hint: you are…we all are…you’re in good company).

As the Nike motto goes, “Just Do It.”

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke

 

Remember and Rejoice: The Gospel Rhythm of Habakkuk

You know those moments you look back on part(s) of your life, whether it be a few years or a few months ago, where you both grimace in remembering the pain and guilt but where you see the beautiful, awesome, faithfulness and grace of the Spirit working in you and through that time?

I don’t know about you, but those are the moments that both humble me (because I see the Trinity at its strongest when I am at my weakest) and cause me to rejoice.

Reminds me of when God gives Paul a “thorn in the flesh.” After begging the Lord three times to remove it, He gently tells Paul that He is disciplining him and inflicting this pain on him because He loves him THAT much – He is keen to have Paul near to him. We lean most heavily on Christ when we realize how weak and inadequate we are in ourselves. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

WOW! Ok, how many of us can honestly say we’ve got that mindset perfected? Yeah, thought so. Our hardships are microscopic compared to his. We live in America, people. We’re not even persecuted. I feel more than a little pathetic right now.

The Apostle Paul blows my mind all the time. He is this incredible, Spirit-filled, untouchable man. No matter what came at him, he never wavered. Think about it. He was thrown in jail and he just sang praises to God loudly and converted the whole place. Paul was shipwrecked and after surviving the shipwreck was bitten by a snake while preaching to a crowd of people. He had to be like, “COME ON! Seriously, God?!”

But don’t you see how Christ is made much of and glorified as He is shaping us by our pain and hurt for our eternal good?! How great is His love towards undeserving wretches like you and me.

Yet I marvel and am repulsed at my own heart when in the midst of a dark time of hurt when all shreds of hope seem bleak that I once again doubt or am tempted to doubt the sovereignty of Christ. Those are the moments where I have to look back and remember and rejoice. He is my Rock and Fortress (Psalm 16 – read it!). His Word (Truth) is my solid foundation and sword. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, not things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

Ok, so that was just me leading up to telling you that all of what I shared above was prompted by Matt Chandler’s message on Habakkuk 3:4-16 this past Saturday night. These are also thoughts that have been rolling about and festering in my mind and heart.

Side note: I would strongly encourage you to listen to his Habakkuk series.

As a writer, you quickly realize writing is not only an art form but that words have rhythm. Sorry, music, you’re not THAT special.

Which is why, when Chandler mentioned how the book of Habakkuk had a gospel rhythm to it, a Shakespearean moment happened where I felt totally attuned and the text was made even richer because this was my lingo. I gained a whole new level of understanding and appreciation for the text. I got giddy as I praised God for revealing this to my heart.

Yes, ok, I know you’re not truly following me because you have no idea where I’m going with this – ok – bringing it home here – random Rachel moment. Bear with me.

The gospel rhythm of Habakkuk is REMEMBER and REJOICE in all circumstances. Three components of that are remember and rejoice that:

1)   God saved you. (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 2:4-9)

2)   God is sovereign over all things.

3)   God started this and He will most definitely finish it. (Phil. 1:6)

You really have to read all of Habakkuk to truly appreciate the message and to get the proper context. Earlier in Habakkuk, God told him that He was going to discipline the Israelites but pour out His wrath on the Chaldeans; two different things entirely. Habakkuk was singing and rejoicing and remembering God’s faithfulness to His people from Moses to Joshua to Gideon to David. How God was made much of and His glory made manifest.

I want to close merely by saying that I pray that you and I will remember and rejoice even when it appears all hope is lost or we don’t understand why God allows certain things to happen in our lives. Remember that being a Christian doesn’t mean you’re free from tribulations, storms or pain. No, instead you should rejoice and find hope in that because it means the Holy Spirit is at work in you and that He loves you. What parent who loves their child doesn’t disciplines them? As Matt Chandler is fond of saying: “Discipline is a vision for the future that enacts things today.”

This all ties into my blog on Time: So That Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once.

Love you all!

Peace out,

Rachel B. Duke