Sunrise illuminating cloud behind title: Staying in Right Relation to God

 

One morning a while back, I sat for a few minutes to watch the sunrise. It was an especially brilliant one.

After a few minutes, the pinks and oranges and yellows faded away as they always do.

That particular morning, something caught my eye. Two or three clouds still glowed brightly. While all the clouds above, below, and beside these two or three clouds had lost their glorious hues, those two or three had not.

The sight left me wondering. Why didn’t they fade as well?

It took a few moments of pondering to conclude that those two or three clouds were likely closer to the earth than the ones that, from my perspective, surrounded them. The sunrise rays of the sun no longer reached the further clouds, but still lit up the lower ones.

Then I wondered if there’s a lesson to be learned from these clouds. It didn’t take long to realize that there is.

Whether or not the cloud still shone was to do with the cloud’s relation to the sun. There was no way that cloud could shine on its own. It had no light in itself. Only when it was in right relationship with the sun, could it shine.

In Matthew 5:16, I am told to shine so that people would glorify God.

How can I shine? Is it of my own accord? Do I muster up the light myself?

No. It is the light that Jesus gives. I must be in right relation to Jesus so that His light may shine through me.

Interestingly, shortly after the sun had risen, I opened my Bible for my morning devotional time. I’d been reading through Numbers recently. That morning I was at Numbers 25.

As I began reading, the theme of right relation to God, or being tuned into Him, continued.

In case you haven’t read Number 25 recently, let me re-cap the story for you.

Israel was approaching the Promised Land. God had warned them not to get too friendly with the enemy nations in the area. He knew these nations would draw the Israelites’ hearts away from Himself.

Nonetheless, in chapter 25 we find the Israelites prostituting themselves with the women of those nations and going after their idols.

God was furious! Yet again, His chosen nation had sharply turned their back on Him. The people had been so out of touch with God, that they did the very thing that most inspired His righteous jealousy!

But wait. It gets worse.

As many of the Israelites gathered to grieve what their nation had done, an Israelite man, Zimri, passed by with a woman from an enemy nation. He publicly and unashamedly took her into his tent.

Zimri’s timing was terrible. He was completely out of touch with what was going on. Why were all those people gathered at the Tabernacle? To grieve over and take action against the very sin he was publicly committing.

Zimri’s actions earned him capital punishment. 

Now, that story is an extreme example. Thankfully we are no longer under the Law but are under grace.

Regardless, as I read that story, I couldn’t help but blatantly see how very critical it is for me to be in right relation with God.

When I am walking rightly with God, not only will I be a light for Him, but I will know what pleases or angers Him. Only then can I live a life fully pleasing to God.

No, it is not that I must earn my salvation, but out of thankfulness for God’s great mercy on me, I desire to please Him. As a Christian, God has instructed me how I ought to live – in right relationship with Him. He knows that such a life is the very best possible thing for me.

So, like those two or three clouds, may I make it my goal to live in right relation to God.

“Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” Colossians 3:1-2 NASB

 

Getting ready by tying shoes behind title: "Steady Ready Stance"

 

How we stand is important. Nearly every sport has a specific ready stance – a way of standing that improves performance. Many other activities also benefit from having a steady stance. What about my walk with God? Am I standing in a steady ready stance?Boy in ready pose

Recently, as I watered the plants on my windowsills, I found myself thinking about stance. I have plants on four different windowsills in my house. As I watered them this time, I didn’t spill when watering the plants on three of the windows. On the fourth window, however, I accidentally poured some of the water onto the windowsill… again. As I wiped the spilled drops with a towel, I asked myself why it was that the plants on this particular windowsill seem to be the only ones that, when watering, I frequently spill.

The flower pots on the fourth window are identical to the flower pots on the other windows. Therefore, the type of flower pot couldn’t be the problem. I was using the same container to water them and the container was filled to a comparable level as when I watered the other plants. So what was the difference?

Then it dawned on me. My stance was different. The angle at which I approached the flower pots on the fourth window was different from the other three windows. I didn’t have a clear path to the fourth window, so my stance was unusual. My stance wasn’t steady. It forced my arm to a weird angle as I attempted to pour water into the pots.

Once I cleared the path to the windowsill, enabling a better stance, I had less problem with spilling as I watered.

This got me thinking about how important good stances are.

Growing up, I played ringette for many years. (If you don’t know what ringette is, picture ice hockey and you’ll be close.) Early on, they taught us the ready stance. The ready stance involved keeping knees bent and hands on the ringette stick poised for action.

(For those unfamiliar with this ready stance – often refered to as the “hockey stance” – here’s a quick video example.)

   

From this stance, it is easy to skate toward the action with a burst of speed. If, on the other hand, I were to stand tall and cross my arms while I waited for the action to start, I would be caught off balance. I would likely stumble and fall. Even if I didn’t fall, I would lose valuable seconds as my opponent got to the ring first. Elite ringette or hockey players will frequently be spotted in the ready stance.

Then I began playing goalie for my ringette team. Again there was a ready stance, but this one was different. The ready stance for goalies involves keeping the blade of the goalie stick flat on the ice, and their legs ready to go down in a butterfly at a moment’s notice. Despite the difference in this particular stance, the same principles apply. The goal of the ready stance is to be able to jump into action at the blink of an eye without being caught off balance or flat-footed.

Other activities also benefit from having a good stance.

When walking on ice, having a steady stance is important. Those experienced with walking in icy conditions learn tricks in how to move their feet and legs that help them stay upright. When climbing a ladder, using a good stance keeps the person from falling or toppling the ladder. When lifting a heavy box, using the right stance protects the person from back injuries.

Stance is important in many areas of life. Stance is also important in my walk with the Lord.

The Bible talks about a steady ready stance from which to approach life. This stance is especially helpful when life gets tricky.

What is that stance? Well, first off, much of the Bible is filled with instructions and examples of what my stance ought to be (or ought not to be). Therefore, if I want to understand the full picture of the stance God desires for me to have, I must be reading the Bible – the whole Bible – regularly.

However, to keep this post short, I will focus on two aspects of the Christian stance: faith and readiness.

2 Corinthians 5:7 reminds us that: “we walk by faith, not by sight.”

What is faith? Taking God at His Word. To walk in faith is to trust and obey God. Faith gives steadiness to our stance. (For examples of what faith looks like, read Hebrews 11.)

The second aspect of my stance ought to be a readiness.

“Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear…”  (1 Peter 3:15b-16a HCSB)

My stance is to be a ready stance – ready to explain what I believe.

What does this look like? Many examples exist in the book of Acts of godly individuals using the opportunities they had to share about Jesus.

Truth be told, my stance is not always one of readiness and faith. How can I change that? By being intentional to know God and His Word.

We are told that the Bible is “able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  (2 Timothy 3:15b-17 HCSB)

Keep in mind that the Christian stance is not just about head knowledge. The closer I am walking with God, living according to His Word, the more my stance will be one of faith and readiness.

So how is my stance doing? Have I stopped to consider it recently, or am I too caught up in the busyness of life? Am I off-balance and flat-footed? Or am I steady and ready for action, walking close with my Lord?

Bible and mug by lake

Am I filling myself with the things of God or is something else taking that space?

I am a preschool teacher. As a preschool teacher, there are many tricks of the trade which help my day go smoother with happier, healthier children. 

Many of those tricks involve snack time. Using a straw for yogurt drinks cuts down on the number of catastrophic spills. Cutting grapes eliminates a choking hazard. Sending only healthy snack options results in the child choosing to eat a healthy snack rather than choosing a sugary, unhealthy option.A juice box

One classic snack item, which has its own host of tricks, is the juice box. Many of those tricks involve how to open or hold it without spilling. Not spilling a juice box is indeed a skill for preschoolers to learn!

Beyond that, a useful trick for getting some preschoolers to eat more of their snack is to not give them a juice box at all. Let me explain.

Over my years of teaching preschool, I have seen three significantly different patterns of behaviour in children who have juice boxes with their snack. 

First, many children will only drink one or two sips from the juice box before setting it aside. This leaves the vast majority of the juice wasted.

Second, some children are able to coordinate drinking their juice with eating their snack. They will drink most of the juice and eat a good portion of their snack before snack time is over.

Finally, I’ve seen a number of children who, upon seeing the juice box in their snack, get excited. They drink and drink and drink until every last drop of the juice is gone. Then, having drunk the whole juice box, they look at the rest of their snack, perhaps apple slices or bread and cheese, but aren’t the least bit interested because they already feel full.

These children drink so much juice, often artificially flavoured with added sugar and colour, that they are not eating the sturdy healthy food they need to grow strong. From these children, we can learn a lesson.

The other day, I was reading in Isaiah 2 the explanation of why God rejected His people at that time:

    “They are full of things from the east and of fortune-tellers …

    Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures;

    their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots.

    Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands,

    to what their own fingers have made.” Isaiah 2:6b-8 ESV

After reading these verses, I paused. I asked, “What am I full of?”

Am I filled with the things of God, or something else?

This question brought to mind another verse:

    “[God is] always on their lips but far from their hearts.” Jeremiah 12:2b NIV

Instead of “heart,” some other translations say “mind” or “conscience.”

Regardless of how much I talk about Jesus and know all the right answers, what is taking up the space inside me? Is Jesus in my thoughts? When my mind wanders, does it wander to the things of God?

Far more often than I’d like, my thoughts wander some other direction.

Is it bad to think about other things? Certainly not! There are many good things in life that require much thought. The problem comes when those other things are filling me, leaving no room for thoughts of Jesus, just like my preschoolers who drink so much juice that they aren’t the least bit interested in solid healthy food.Two babies drinking milk from bottles

In 1 Peter 2:2(NIV), Peter urges:

    “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation…”

Other translations say “desire the pure milk of the Word.”

Am I desiring the things of God? Am I seeking to be filled with Him?

While there aren’t any shortcuts to being filled with the things of God, spending time in the Bible, in prayer, with other Christians, and in worship are critical.

So for today, I’ll make it my goal to drink just a little less juice and a little more of that pure spiritual milk.

A Bump in the Page - Getting the foundation right from the start. Post by S. J. Little

Getting the foundation right from the start.

Yesterday, I picked up my Bible to continue reading where I had left off: Genesis 4. I read the first verse about how Cain was born. Imagine the excitement – the first baby ever born!

Then, as I pondered this, I ran my hand over the page, smoothing it down. I paused and touched one area again. There was a bump somewhere under the page.

I hesitated. Chasing the source of little bumps in the thin pages of a Bible can be as pointless as chasing the wind. Evidently some speck of dust or what not had become stuck on one of the previous pages. Many a time I have spent far too long trying to locate and wipe off a speck of dust and ended up not actually reading much of the Bible because of this distraction. Was now a good time to ignore this bump in the page, or should I find the source and clear it out?

Because I was only at Genesis chapter 4, and the bump was towards the front of my Bible, I decided I’d try to find the source. Surely I wouldn’t have too far to go… unless it was in the many introductory pages. Besides, it was a bigger than average bump. If I left it now, it may continue to irritate all the way to Psalms, or perhaps even into the New Testament. I should take care of it now, before I get much further.

I turned back a page and ran my hand over the spot. It was under that page as well. I’d have to go deeper.

On the next page, I felt for it again. Still further.

I turned to the next page, and then the next. I still hadn’t found the source.A Bump in the Page - Looking for the problem - Post by S. J. Little 

I’d reached the middle of Genesis chapter 1. Already, my time of Bible reading was being impeded. I was ready to give up the search, but I realized there was only one page remaining in the Bible. I may as well turn one more page. If I didn’t find it on the next page, the source would be somewhere in the many introductory pages. I didn’t have time to search those now. However, I would look all the way to Genesis 1:1.

I turned the final page and reached the beginning of the Bible. I swept my hand over the page. Bingo! I felt the offending speck of dust.

I swatted it away, and flipped back to Genesis 4. I ran my hand over the spot where the speck had been protruding. It was gone. Lovely.

I swept my hand over the rest of the page, but stopped. Further over, a bump of that same size had appeared!

Immediately I flipped back to the very beginning and felt the page. Sure enough, I hadn’t wiped the speck far enough. It was still on the page. I brushed it off, and ran my hand over the whole page again to double check. Back in Genesis 4, I ensured that it was all clear.

Yes, the protrusion was gone. Now I could continue on with my reading.

Before I continued, however, I paused to laugh at it. The speck of dust had been at the very beginning of my Bible: Genesis 1:1.

My laughter quickly sobered as I thought further.

In the past few days, as I slowly worked my way through the first chapters of the Bible, I had been reminded how utterly foundational they are to everything we believe as Christians. Indeed, I even listened to a sermon on Genesis 1:1 in which Pastor Glenn Nudd mentioned that if we reject the truth presented to us even in that very first verse so much of our worldview would be rendered foundationless.

A Bump in the Page - Do you believe Genesis 1:1? - Post by S. J. Little

If we do not accept and believe the Bible straight from the very start, we will find, when reading later parts, that something isn’t quite right. Just like that speck of dust would have continued to disrupt me had I not gone back to the beginning and straightened it out, so any misunderstanding or lack of accepting God’s Word at its foundation will greatly disrupt our understanding of other passages and our life of faith as a whole.

Am I saying that we need to understand every single bit of the Bible? No. There will always be more to learn. Yet there are certain utterly critical base beliefs that must be understood and accepted for the rest of God’s Word to be understood the way God intended it to be.

What are these core beliefs? Here are a couple of verses to get you started, but then I encourage you to read the Bible for yourself. You’ll quickly spot more.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” 1 Cor. 15:3-4 NASB

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Gen. 1:1

Want to learn more of the foundational truths of the Bible? The first few chapters of Genesis are packed with them. I encourage you to read through the book, and perhaps listen to a few sermons or find other resources related to them. I recommend Pastor Glen Nudd’s sermons and David Guzik’s commentary as they teach verse by verse through the book.

Sometimes I think I know someone well, only to discover that there is so much more to know about them. The missionary Jim Elliot is one of those people for me.

Brushing the Surface

During my growing up years, my Mom initiated a pattern of having family devotions prior to getting to our schoolwork (my siblings and I were homeschooled).

Among others, one of the devotional books I recall enjoying was Hero Tales by Dave and Neta Jackson. It’s a collection of short stories about various Christians throughout history. Listening to my Mom read it, I was introduced to men and women who committed their entire lives to following Jesus. The missionary, Jim Elliot, was one of those individuals. Hearing his story, I felt intrigued and awestruck. I wanted to live for Jesus too!

Getting Acquainted

Later, I began reading the Trailblazer Books by the same authors. Each Trailblazer book tells the story of a historic Christian from the viewpoint of a fictional 8-12 year old. One of the books I read was about Nate Saint, a missionary who worked closely with Jim Elliot. Through it, I began to catch some insight into the challenges Jim Elliot and his team faced. I learned how they followed God’s call to attempt to share the hope of Jesus with the Aucas, a hostile primitive tribe. In this book, I also read a watered down version of Jim’s death as a martyr in the hands of the very people he sought to serve, and of the tremendous impact of his death in drawing many Aucas to Jesus. It seemed to me I had become acquainted with this man.

Reading a book

Going Deeper

Fast forward several years to my time in Bible school. When presented with a list of biographies to read, I chose Through Gates of Splendor written by Jim Elliot’s wife, Elisabeth. In it, I got to know Jim Elliot and his team on a deeper level. Prior to reading this book, I viewed Jim as super-human, untouched by any hardships of life. This book, however, spoke of trials and discouragements along the way. The book included various quotes from Jim Elliot’s journals and letters. One of my favourites is: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”* Having read this book, I felt I had a fairly good understanding of who Jim Elliot was.

Journal Reading

Then, at my Bible School, I found a massive green book on the top shelf of the library. It contained the journals of Jim Elliot! On more than one occasion I randomly opened the large book and read entry after entry. I felt intrusive reading his musings. How much more intimately I came to know him! I saw that he was a human, no different from me. I skimmed through his random observations about the unfamiliar culture he lived in. I read his joyous recounting of mountaintop days, and his musings on gloomy days. Most of all, I saw a deep unwavering passion to follow God. I did not get very far through his journals as it was a massive book and my time was so limited. Still, what bits I read shed a beautifully honest light on the personal life of this man who chose to put Jesus first.

Despite having read all these books about Jim Elliot and parts of his journal, I still don’t know him super well. I would not recognize his voice, nor spot him among a crowd. If we were at the same restaurant, I would not be able to pick out his laughter among the murmur of conversation.

How Well Do I Know God?

Then I stop and think about my relationship with God. How well do I know Him?

Since childhood, I have read books written about God. Many of these books were watered down or contained fictional characters alongside real ones.

Even now, in my adult years, I read blog posts and books and listen to sermons teaching about who God is. Many of these include direct quotes from the Bible. These are good, but if I stop there, I will not know God well. Just as the children’s books portrayed only the surface of who Jim Elliot was, I risk knowing only a watered-down version of who God is when I rely on what others have said about Him.

Glasses sitting on open Bible

Reading the Bible for Myself

What a wonderful gift God gave me in His Word, the Bible! Much like Jim Elliot’s journals, reading the Bible gives me incredible insight into who God is. Some parts of the Bible tell the story of what God has done, while other areas reveal the very thoughts of God.  I see how He was jealous for Israel and grieved at their rebellion. I learn of His incomprehensibly great love for me. I read of His desire to be known. All sixty-six books of the Bible were given to me that I might know God and thus know how to live a life pleasing to Him. How critical it is for me to read and study the Bible, being mindful to keep each part in context.  

Speaking of studying God’s Word, I love how the Bible describes those in Berea when Paul began teaching them about Jesus.

“The people here were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, since they received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”  (Acts 17:11 CSB)

Seeking to Know God

Yet even here I cannot stop if I truly want to know God.

Jesus criticized some people, saying:

“You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about Me. But you are not willing to come to Me so that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40 CSB)

While I must value the Bible, and indeed I read from it practically every day, it is not the sitting down and reading the verses that save me. It is Jesus who saves me.

Man thinking or praying while holding BibleBut how do I get to know Jesus? By reading the Bible I learn the truth of who Jesus is and about His power to save me. Then I must take Him at His Word and believe what He says. I must take time to talk with God, to share my heart with Him, and – through His Word and prayer – to learn to know His heart.

But then the question comes. How much do I really want to know God? I am privileged to live in a house with several Bibles, and through the internet, I have free access to more translations than I can count, yet do I take the time to really dig in? Is knowing Jesus a priority in my life?

 

Since Then

Writing this post has been a challenge for me, not just because of the weightiness of the topic, but also because of how it convicts me. Some days I read my Bible simply to check it off my to-do list and move on. I don’t always take time to stop and reflect on what God would have me learn about Him through the passage.

Since writing the draft of this post, I did make time to randomly sit down and prayerfully read the first chapter of Colossians. The very next day, when I felt discouraged, God used one of those verses to encourage me by reminding me that He has given me the help I need. Yes, taking time to seek God through His Word and prayer is incredibly valuable.

Will you join me in seeking to be men and women who know God deeply?

 

*Quote from Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot (2012), Page 155

References:

Elliot, Elisabeth (2012). Through Gates of Splendor. Authentic Media Limited.

A powerful but easy to read book. I highly recommend this biography to any adult who takes their relationship with Jesus seriously! (For further reading on Jim Elliot, I recommend reading Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot. It is a slower read. It follows Jim Elliot’s life more closely with more direct quotes from his journal entries and letters.)

Elliot, Jim (1978). The Journals of Jim Elliot (E. Elliot, Ed.). Fleming H. Revell Company.

(I believe this is the book I read, however, I don’t know the publisher or year of the copy I read.) Reading this incredibly thick book is slow and it is sometimes challenging to understand, however, there is incredible richness in being able to step into the mind of a man of faith who has gone before us. Note, this book contains mature subject matter.

Jackson, Dave, & Jackson, Neta (1997). Hero Tales: A Family Treasury of True Stories from the Lives of Christian Heroes(Vol. II). Bethany House.

A beautiful devotional book which shares an intro and three short stories about various Christians from distant past to modern day and from missionaries to everyday Christians. Excellent for reading as a family. I highly recommend it!

Jackson, Dave, & Jackson, Neta (1997). Fate of the Yellow Woodbee: Nate Saint (Vol. 24, Trailblazer Books). Bethany House.

I highly recommend the Trailblazer Books for children aged 10-12. A few of the books contain somewhat more mature subject matter than others, so having a parent pre-read the books for more sensitive children may be recommended. If you are older than 12, but have never heard of these historic Christians, then I recommend them to you as a light easy intro to these men and women of faith.