Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Mercy of God

        What is the mercy of God?  It is God's divine favor on us, to not give us what we deserve.  We often take His mercies for granted; like beautiful weather, good health and life moments.  "There’s a limit to God’s mercy because it cannot contradict His other attributes—like holiness, righteousness, and justice. Sin must be punished in order for God to remain just. And without justice, mercy and forgiveness would be meaningless. This dilemma was the reason Jesus Christ came to earth to die: He satisfied God’s justice by bearing the penalty for our sins. Yet so many think lightly of divine kindness, tolerance, and patience; they fail to realize that these blessings should draw them to repentance. These people trample underfoot His mercy and continue on their merry way, oblivious to the fact that justice, not mercy, awaits them in eternity." []
        Romans 2:4-5  "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed."
         I read the following devotional by A.W. Tozer during my recent health issues.  It humbled me to remember all that God has blessed me with and my whole dependence on Him.  
         "The mercy of God is my life and my breath. I breathe it daily. Oh, the mercy of God, that God is compassionate, that He stoops to pity and have mercy upon His people! The mercy of God is more than a theological doctrine to me. It is more than something I believe in; it is something that I experience every day of my life. What I am today is because of His mercy. The thing I most delight in with God is the fact that He sympathizes with my grief. He knows the absolute depths of my sorrow, my agony and pain. I do not know how badly off I am because I cannot fully understand my grief or my sorrow. I feel the agony of my pain, however, when I come to God. I know He knows my pain in depth more than I will ever know. As much as I know myself, I do not deserve anything from God. All I deserve is hell. That is why when I come to the mercy of God as a deer panting after the cool water brooks, nothing slakes my spiritual thirst like a fresh dose of God’s mercy. Why restless, why cast down, my soul? Hope still, and thou shalt sing The praise of Him who is thy God, Thy health’s eternal spring. Amen. "     [Tozer, A.W.. My Daily Pursuit: Devotions for Every Day]
          Charles Spurgeon says "What a mercy it is that it is not your hold of Christ that saves you, but His hold of you."
          Can we not all trace the thread of mercy from God in our own lives?  Yes, the living grace of God at work and through us.  I know my own rebellious heart has been spared time after time and I am forever grateful for His patience with me to eventually come and ask for forgiveness.  "We are all jerks in need of God’s love. That’s why Jesus Christ came into this world. And to show people grace is to remember what God has done for us." [R. Warren]  Lamentations 3:22-23  "Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." 

None of us would be where we are today without God's grace and mercy... give God the glory!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Trust in God's Promises

Psalm 16:8-11  "I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.  You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."

         Do you believe in the promises of God?  The Bible is full of His promises that are never failing, trustworthy, everlasting, indestructible, and infallible.  Do you stand firm on those promises no matter the circumstances you find yourself in or are you a fair-weather fan of God in the good times of life?        
         What about the promise in Romans 8:28  "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."  Also in Philippians 1:5-6 "because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."  Are you assured and confident of these promises on your worst day, as much as on your best day?  2 Corinthians 4:8-10  " We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body."  I believe wholeheartedly that God has purposes beyond our understanding on this side of heaven, but I still get frustrated and tired with the pains of this world.  Reassurance of Who is in control comes from Isaiah 40:28  "Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom."
       Where do we turn when we feel at the end of our rope?  Matthew 11:28  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."  Our rope is self-reliance but when we let go and let God work, then we can have peace beyond our circumstances and understanding.
       As for myself, I've been struggling with God's purpose in my circumstances lately but yet I trust in Him to finish the good work He started in me.  The formula working in me is:  Frustrated + Trust= Trustrated.  I know it sounds silly, but it's a good word for the tug-of-war going on inside me right now.  I find hope in Isaiah 40:29 "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak", because I am currently both weak and weary.  The verse above, Psalm 16:8, is in my window by my bed and encourages me daily that God is with me, that God is my focus and that God is fighting for me.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

In our helplessness, we discover His almighty power to sustain us. 

In our despair, God invites us to experience His peace and promises.

In our pain, He becomes our comforter and protector.

In our hopelessness, He lifts our eyes to see His sovereignty and goodness.

Every adversity God allows in our life is designed to bring us to spiritual maturity, not to devastate us. When we yield to Him in the midst of a crisis, He enables us to trust and wait on Him with patience and hope. []

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Be There and Be Real

        Do you ever feel that the world or your own world is out of control?  Do you feel like hope is out of your reach?  Or you may have a friend who feels that way and you struggle to find words of comfort for them?  We sometimes feel like Job in 6:11, "What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient?"  
        Jesus never promised a time on this Earth free from trouble but He did promise to be with you all of your days.  John 16:33 "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.”  Whatever troubles you are having or will have, we must remember Jesus knows our pain because He suffered just as we do and worse.  We need to remind ourselves that all of this pain, suffering, sorrow, violence, injustice, and unrighteous behavior will come to an end when we reach Glory or Jesus returns.  Psalm 25:5 is where our hearts should stand firm on, "Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long."  Psalm 33:20 encourages us to hang on through the short term pain for the long term reward, "We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield."
          This world and it's troubles will all pass away but God is our everlasting hope.  Psalm 10: 16-18 "The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land.  You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror."    There is so much comfort and consolation in those verses that give inexpressible joy...I can only imagine.
         "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."  1 Thessalonians 5:11

So, how can we encourage one another when hopeless feelings take a hold?  

  1. Let them know you're sorry they are hurting and you mourn with them in their pain.
  2. Reassure them of your friendship and your availability to listen whenever needed.
  3. Just be there for them in their state of loneliness.
  4. Model a life... that shows that God is in control and your life relies on that promise throughout your own hurts and the Light for others to see Jesus through.
  5. Express that we all have questions on this side of heaven and some things we just won't know why.
  6. Express your faith in God's Word and that you trust in His control over all things...not your own.

"Break Your Heart' video posted below.. [on website, not on email version]

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Some Concerns about Jesus Calling, and Thoughts on the Sufficiency of Scripture by Randy Alcorn

       This week I'm sharing a blog by Randy Alcorn in substitution of my own.  If you read last week's blog, you know that I put in a paragraph from 'Jesus Calling'.  I did so with hesitation from my gut, because I knew there was controversy regarding 'Jesus Calling'.  The problem is I ignored my gut and didn't investigate further to know for myself or before sharing with my readers.  My friend shared with me the following blog and I want to share it with you.  With anything we read or hear, we need to be discerning of what it claims.  Randy Alcorn is fair and points out some key points in this blog that can be applied to other devotionals, as well as 'Jesus Calling'.   Please take the time to read Randy's blog regarding one of the top selling Christian books today..... thanks, angie

Some Concerns about Jesus Calling, and Thoughts on the Sufficiency of Scripture

Few Christian books have sold as well and been shared as widely as Sarah Young’s devotional Jesus Calling. It has inspired a number of spinoffs, including Jesus LivesDear JesusJesus Calling for Little OnesJesus Calling Bible StorybookJesus Calling: 365 Devotions for Kids, and Peace in His Presence. Altogether, they’ve sold more than 25 million books worldwide.
Recently the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association named Jesus Always, Sarah’s follow up to Jesus Calling, as its 2018 Christian Book of the Year. Given the widespread influence of her books, which is only growing, it seemed time to address some concerns directly on my own blog. (This blog is way longer than my normal posts. If you wish to leave a Facebook comment or send an email, please read the post in its entirety first so you have the full content.)

First Some Clarifications

Jesus CallingI’ve hesitated a long time to write about Jesus Calling, because I don’t want to send the wrong message. I’m not saying God doesn’t or can’t speak to you or others through it. He can speak through whomever He wants to, however and whenever. For example, many people have told me they learned about God’s love for them for the first time while reading The Shack. The author puts words in God’s mouth, is a universalist, and effectively denies Hell, and yet I believe God can use a book in people’s lives despite serious errors. (See my lengthy article on The Shack and my shorter blog on Paul Young’s book Lies We Believe About God.)
But how can I argue with my friends who say God used The Shack to deepen their walk with Christ? All I can say is, there are things in the book I don’t believe are true to God’s Word—and there are things in Lies We Believe About God that definitely contradict Scripture.
Now, my reservations with Jesus Calling are NOT that I believe the book is full of heresies. No doubt, there’s much that is valid and true. But I think there are still cautions that need to be shared. What concerns me is the basic premise of someone actually recording words of Jesus that they believe God has spoken to them, but which don’t appear in Scripture (even if most of them don’t contradict Scripture). That’s what I’ll focus on in this blog.

The Most Troubling Issue with Jesus Calling

For those not familiar with the format of the book, each entry of the devotional has a message written as though Jesus is speaking directly to the reader, followed by a list of related Scripture references. (Some recent versions include the actual biblical text, which is definitely an improvement.)
In the introduction to Jesus Calling Sarah Young writes,
…I began to wonder if I could change my prayer times from monologue to dialogue. I had been writing in prayer journals for years, but that was one-way communication: I did all the talking. I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day. I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed He was saying. I felt awkward the first time I tried this, but I received a message. It was short, biblical, and appropriate. It addressed topics that were current in my life: trust, fear, and closeness to God. I responded by writing in my prayer journal.
My journaling had changed from monologue to dialogue. Soon, messages began to flow more freely, and I bought a special notebook to record these words. This new way of communicating with God became the high point of my day. I knew these writings were not inspired as Scripture is, but they were helping me grow closer to God.
I have continued to receive personal messages from God as I meditate on Him.
The biggest problem with Jesus Calling is very simple: Jesus did not speak these words. If these were His words, then Jesus Calling would be Scripture, which is by definition the words of God. So if it’s not (and it isn’t) on an inspired and trustworthy level like Scripture itself, then it’s making a false claim. In fact, regardless of whether it’s biblically sound, it’s an entire book built on falsehood.

The Influence of God Calling

Tim Challies addresses the fact that in the early printings of Jesus Calling, Sarah Young acknowledged her profound debt to the “Two Listeners” who wrote the book God Calling. That has now been removed from the introduction, but it doesn't change the fact that God Calling influenced her deeply. Here's one of many troubling passages from God Calling:
How often mortals rush to earthly friends who can serve them in so limited a way, when the friends who are freed from the limitations of humanity can serve them so much better, understand better, protect better, plan better, and even plead better their cause with Me.
In other words, look to dead people for guidance and help. I remember vividly the negative effect God Calling had in churches. As Tim notes, “This book [God Calling] was unorthodox both in its writing and in its content and in many ways more closely resembles the New Age movement than orthodox Christianity. Still, Young says it ‘became a treasure to me.’”
The fact that this book had such a profound impact on her is concerning.

Speaking Words “from God”

When Sarah writes, “I decided to ‘listen’ with pen in hand, writing down whatever I ‘heard’ in my mind,” she is taking her subjective sense of God speaking to her and trusting that her words to readers are actually, in some sense, God’s Words. This is putting words in His mouth, and incredibly dangerous. It’s like The Shack in that regard, where different members of the trinity are quoted as saying specific words. But while Paul Young at least acknowledged he was writing fiction, Sarah Young appears to claim that her words are given to her by Jesus.
She goes on to explain, “I have written from the perspective of Jesus speaking, to help readers feel more personally connected with Him. So the first person singular (‘I,’ ‘Me,’ ‘My,’ ‘Mine’) always refers to Christ; ‘you’ refers to you, the reader.”
Now, Sarah tries to balance this by writing, “The Bible is, of course, the only inerrant Word of God; my writings must be consistent with that unchanging standard.” I appreciate that, and of course I agree that’s true for any author, me included. We should all be like the Bereans, evaluating what we read against Scripture (Acts 17:11). So we write what we think honors God and is in keeping with His word. However, we should always know that inevitably we will say some things that are not what God would actually say. Why? Because we are flawed and imperfect and our words are not God-breathed, as Scripture is.
I’m certainly in favor of Sarah or anyone else journaling what they believe God is speaking to them as they read Scripture. But I’m not in favor of publishing it for others to believe these are words God is speaking to them. If someone wrote a book attributing their own words to Bill Gates, Tom Brady, Chuck Norris, or Julia Roberts, what would happen? In addition to the lawsuits, no one would trust the author.
If personal pronouns attributing the author's words to Jesus weren’t used, and instead Sarah said “These are thoughts God brought to my mind,” then you could evaluate what she has written in light of Scripture. But Jesus Calling is simply written from Jesus’ perspective, as if they’re direct quotations from Him, which is radically different. And when people read it, many of them actually respond, even if subconsciously, as if these ARE the words of Jesus.
I have a friend who loves Jesus Calling and says she reads it just as she would read a book by me or anyone else, realizing the words are Sarah Young’s, not the perfect words of Jesus. But of course when it is supposedly Jesus speaking the words, many readers who aren’t biblically grounded will naturally think “Jesus is speaking, and I need to believe what He’s saying.”
So yes, some people no doubt realize these are not the words of Jesus, but that’s easy to forget when the premise is (and the use of the personal pronouns indicate) that this really is Jesus speaking, not merely a flawed human author.
Very few Christian authors claim to speak words directly from God, and if they do make this claim we are right to be wary. Sure, all of us writers share our particular interpretations of what Jesus said. But Sarah appears to be making a greater claim by saying me and mine and I as though channeling Jesus, rather than quoting His words from the Bible.  
It’s fine to have teachers who say, “This is what I think the Bible means.” It can be helpful as long as we’re careful to use discernment and evaluate the teaching based on Scripture. But this is looking at something outside of the Bible as if it were the word of God, and some sort of further insight from Jesus. Hence, whatever the author’s intention, it becomes equal to God’s Word, or even a substitute for it.
God warns us sternly, “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you” (Deuteronomy 4:2, NIV).
Revelation 22:18-19 says, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.”
“Prophecy” is not merely prediction; it means “speaking words from God,” or what the speaker claims are words from God. How do we add to God’s Word? One way is by claiming that the words we say are His. No matter what else we might say, if we go beyond quoting Scripture, and say other things that we claim to be from God, then we’re equating them with Scripture, and thereby adding to God’s Word. Effectively, we’re also taking away from Scripture by denying its sufficiency and demeaning its exclusive authority.

God’s Word Is Sufficient

Sarah writes in her introduction, “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day.”
“Yearned for more” seems to indicate that what God has revealed in His inspired Word is not enough. And it’s not enough for readers either, or they wouldn’t need to go to her to hear what “Jesus” says.
But God’s Word has no substitute. It is sufficient, of a different nature than anything else. “But [Jesus] answered, ‘It is written: Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
James Montgomery Boice once said that the real battle in our times would not be the inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture, but its sufficiency—are we going to rely on the Bible or will we continually long for other revelation? In Jesus Calling we see this so clearly. Young teaches that though the Bible is inerrant and infallible, it is insufficient. It was not enough for her and, implicitly, she teaches that it cannot be enough for us. After all, it was not reading Scripture that proved her most important spiritual discipline, but this listening, this receiving of messages from the Lord. It is not Scripture she brings to us, not primarily anyway, but these messages from Jesus.
The danger with books like this is that readers could think, “Reading and studying God’s Word isn’t as dynamic or interesting or personal as reading what Sarah writes.” Yet Scripture encourages us to go deep in studying and contemplating God’s Words, and to find our greatest pleasure in them:
“Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word, so that you may grow up into your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2, CSB).
 “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight” (Jeremiah 15:16a).
Psalm 1 talks about the righteous person who delights greatly in God’s Law. Likewise, we need to make sure our primary delight is in Scripture—not a particular writer, pastor, or teacher. A good test for readers of Jesus Calling is, “Am I motivated to spend more or less time in God’s Word after reading this?” In other words, does it drive you toward Scripture in a deeper and more serious way, or does it leave you feeling as if you’ve heard what you need to from God and received all the inspiration and peace you need for your day?
To be clear—I don’t think there is anything wrong with devotionals (I’ve written a number of them myself), provided they point us back to God’s Word as our primary source of strength, encouragement, correction, and direction. There are plenty of wonderful ones out there, from classics like Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening to modern books like Joni Eareckson Tada’s A Spectacle of Glory and Tim Keller’s God's Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs. Another excellent choice is the ESV Devotional Psalter, which pairs each of the 150 psalms with devotional content written by Dane Ortlund.  
But these devotionals are distinctly different from Jesus Calling, in that they never claim to be the words of Jesus except when directly quoting Scripture. The author’s comments, like mine in all my books, are in no sense presented as the actual words of God.
In an interview with the New York Times, Sarah writes, “I agree that revelation has ceased in the sense that the Bible is complete. However, what I am doing is devotional writing, and I do so by asking Jesus to guide my mind as I spend time with Him—to help me think His thoughts.” This sounds to me like Sarah wants to affirm the Bible’s uniqueness, yet at the same time believes she is writing out the thoughts of God with such confidence that she can put her words into the mouth of Jesus.

Why Does All This Matter?

We live in a day when biblical literacy is at an all-time low. The next book that fans of Jesus Calling read which claims to be words from Jesus may be mostly false, not true. Some will probably have the discernment to see where it contradicts the word of God, but many or even most people won’t.  Sadly, very few people today are deeply immersed in Scripture. That’s the reason for my concern.
Another concern is that the “Jesus” Sarah presents in her book frequently has a very one-sided message. That can leave readers with a lopsided view of Jesus, one which doesn’t fully appreciate the depths of His character. And whether consciously or subconsciously, the messages we read in books do shape our view of God and our worldview. 
In her response to the book, Kathy Keller, wife of pastor and author Tim Keller, writes,
Ms. Young says near the end of her introduction: “I have found themes of His Peace becoming more prominent in my writing. I’m sure this tendency reflects my personal need. However, when I get to know people, I find that most of them also desire the balm of Jesus’ Peace.” No doubt.

But is that all that God wants us to hear from him? Only messages of peace and comfort? Ms. Young thinks so (and says so, in the introduction), and her messages are consistently filled with that theme. Yet if you take even a very simple read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, like the one devised by Robert Murray M’Cheyne, you will find yourself encountering a complex, transcendent God, one who is holy, mysterious, righteous—not a tame God. He does promise his peace, deeply and profoundly, but there are many other things that God has said that we need to hear, or he wouldn’t have given us the whole Bible. 
We should believe all that Scripture says about Jesus—whether it is palatable and makes sense to our finite little minds or not. He’s all the things the Bible reveals Him to be, including judge, friend, shepherd, and master. His attributes aren’t a smorgasbord for us to choose what we want and leave the rest untouched.
Jesus spoke some of the harshest words of condemnation in Scripture. The gentle, compassionate Jesus is also the Jesus who drove the merchant-thieves from the temple and spoke condemnation against self-righteous religious leaders. His less popular qualities so outraged people that they nailed Him to a cross.
We must look at the complete Jesus revealed in Scripture, lest we remake Him in our image, with His only attribute love or peace. By seeing Him in His holiness and love, His truth and His grace, we’ll learn to see the fullness of His beauty.
So whether or not you agree there are shortcomings and dangers with the Jesus Calling books, let’s all agree to dig deep into Scripture, making it our primary source of delight, joy, strength, encouragement, and yes, peace. Then, and only then, will we have the discernment to read other books as secondary and fallible, and only God’s Word as primary and infallible. If you’re going to quote Jesus (and I hope you do!), use the words He actually said, not the words He is portrayed as saying in Jesus Calling, or any other book. 

Further Reading

Here are some articles that offer what I think are some valid cautions. I don’t agree with everything every one of them says (and some of them overlap with others), but as a whole I think most of their concerns are noteworthy:

Follow-up Comments

Some commenters on Facebook have wondered if I don’t think God still speaks to us today. I absolutely believe God speaks to His people. I believe He speaks to me daily, though it is never with an audible voice. First, He speaks to me through His Word. He also speaks to me through other people. He speaks to me through His creation which testifies to His attributes. And though He’s never done so, He’s certainly capable of speaking to me audibly, with a voice from Heaven.
But none of this is my issue with Jesus Calling. I am not saying at all that God never speaks to His people today. What I am saying is that I and other people are flawed, and our understanding of what God is really speaking to us through His Word and other people and creation and life circumstances can be quite different than what God actually says in his word. The Bible is inspired in ways that “inspirational books and sermons” are not. It is utterly unique. And I am arguing that we should remind ourselves of that.
Several people mentioned that pastors when they preach are using words to teach people what God thinks and says. That is true to a degree, but they are or should be basing their arguments on the very words of God revealed in the biblical text they are preaching. Their words interpreting Scripture are distinctly different than the Word of God itself.
So that we are comparing apples with apples instead of oranges when it comes to sermons and the book Jesus Calling, suppose your pastor said, “Every word I say to you is from Jesus, so it is absolutely true and infallible.” Wouldn’t we rightly challenge that premise? If pastors said, as some (though thankfully few) actually do, after sharing their opinions, “Thus saith the Lord,” we would likewise object.
Suppose your pastor said, “For the next 40 minutes everything I say is actually not from me, but these will be the words of Jesus He revealed to me this week. So when I speak to you I am giving you Christ’s own words. I will speak in the first person on behalf of Jesus, starting now: ‘I love you, forgive you, and accept you. I am not here to judge you, but embrace you. I…’”
How would you respond?
I think if you understand this you will realize there’s really no comparison between pastors and writers giving their interpretations and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling. 99% of pastors and writers are speaking on behalf of themselves in regard to Jesus. Sarah Young is speaking on behalf of Jesus Himself.
Related books by Randy Alcorn: Truth: A Bigger View of God’s Word and The Grace and Truth Paradox 
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
Randy Alcorn, founder of EPM
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over fifty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries