Great Books to read this New Year

I am finding that the more I am in God’s Word and reading that which encourages my faith, the closer I am walking with my Father. Here are some great books I have been reading. I’d love to hear your suggestions as well.

1

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt

2

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan and Chris Tomlin

3.

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp

4.

Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts with Bonus Content by Jerry Bridges

5.

What Happens When Women Say Yes to God by Lysa TerKeurst

6.

Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples by Francis Chan and Mark Beuving

7.

Kisses from Katie by Katie J. Davis and Beth Clark

8.

Anything: The Prayer That Unlocked My God and My Soul by Jennie Allen

9.

Dancing with My Father: How God Leads Us into a Life of Grace and Joy by Sally Clarkson

10.

Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life by Emily P. Freeman

To know Him

What is your greatest desire? What do you want most in life? I have been studying the life of Paul lately. As I have studied I have found that Paul’s greatest desire was to know Jesus and to make Jesus known. This sums up his answer to the above questions. Which has led me to ponder my own answers. Do I desire a great job, a great education, a big house, expensive cars. Do I want a comfortable life with all my wants met? Or do I want to know Jesus and make Him known no matter what?

Recently I heard a sermon on Paul’s greatest desire. It was based on Philippians 3. Paul begins by making a list of all his accomplishments. He says, “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless (3:4-6).” He says I have the greatest family history of most. My family kept the law and followed all the rules and traditions. But not just my family line, I too was a Pharisee. I kept the law, I followed all the rules even to the point of killing Christians because this went against the Pharisees. Paul also had the best education, he was taught and trained under Gamiel the best teacher in that day. As a Pharisee of that family line, I’m sure Paul’s family was wealthy and Paul had a great position, a great job. He was known and respected by all. Until one day He saw the light and his life was radically changed forever.

In this passage Paul goes on to say,” But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith (3:7-9).”  Paul says none of this stuff matters, in fact he considered it all worthless, garbage. What was most important to him was Christ. Everything else was trivial.

He says, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead (3:10-11).

Paul wanted nothing more than to know Christ. To know Him and to make Him known. No matter what the cost. Everywhere he went he told people of Jesus, when alone he studied and mediated on Christ.

I believe Paul was real. Not only did he talk the talk, he walked the walk. Others knew what he believed and he lived it. I am convinced what the world needs now is not better programs, better preachers, etc. What the world needs now is authentic Christians who desire to know Jesus and make Him known. Christians who are real and who are willing to risk it all for the sake of Christ.

So as we get ready to start a new year, my greatest desire is to truly know Jesus. That my life would radiate Christ, that I would be a pleasing aroma of Him, that others would truly see Jesus alive and living in me and say hey there is something different about her. That my life would be contagious, leading others to truly desire to know Jesus in their lives and to make Him known.

What do you crave??

If you are like me, when I think of a craving, I tend to think of chocolate or some food I want. You hear people all the time say things like I’m craving pizza, I’m craving a good steak, or chocolate. So I looked up the definition of this word. Webster defines the word crave to want something greatly, to yearn for something, to desire intensely.

In my Bible reading yesterday, I cam across this verse, “Like newborn babies, CRAVE pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” I Peter 2:2-3 Now, I have read this verse countless times, but as usual as of late, the Lord has struck me with the deeper meaning. As I said I generally think of food when I think of the word crave. Like when I was pregnant with Andrew I would tell people I was craving sour foods. Yet, as I read this I was struck by what Peter is saying.

In the last few verses of chapter one Peter tells us of our great salvation and picks up in chapter 2 telling us because of this some things we should do. He says get rid of worldly things in verse one and “like newborn babes to crave pure spiritual milk.” When my three were babies, they indeed craved milk, when they were hungry, they let everyone know with their loud cries. You could try to rock them, pat them, soothe them, but this would not work, they would continue to cry until their craving was met. The only thing that would satisfy this longing was milk. Once they were satisfied, they would fall back to sleep content. Usually when we have a craving, we aren’t satisfied with an replacement, we want what we want and usually we want it right then. This is what I believe Peter is getting at. He is telling us that we should crave, want greatly, yearn for, desire intently pure spiritual milk.

So then what is this spiritual milk and why does it have to be pure?? I believe when the Bible mentions spiritual milk, it is referring to God’s Word. So Peter here is making a point by including the word pure. For many in that day were saying the Bible says this or it’s says that, there were many teaching false doctrines, a lot like today, so Peter says crave the truth, crave, long for God’s Word!  Then he tells us why we should do this, “so that we may grow up in our salvation.”

Like a baby grows up though and eventually wants real food, we are told in other scriptures that we are to be weaned from the milk and to desire the meat.  We can’t stay with just the milk, the basic principles of the Christian life, we are to go deeper and seek the hidden truths.

Yet, again I go back to this word CRAVE. As I read this I thought to myself, do I crave God’s Word? Do I long for it, do I yearn for and desire it, as well as the things of God? Or do my cravings look more like the worlds? Do I desire and long for other things? As with most if I’m honest it depends on the day and circumstance of my life. However, it is my prayer for myself and family that the Lord would create a craving in our hearts for Scripture, prayer and the things not of this world, but for the eternal.

In Psalms David says it this way, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God (Ps. 42:1)?” This is my desire, that I would long for the Lord and the things of Him, that I would crave Him! How about you, what do you crave??

 

Transformation

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2

Once again I am struck by a word. The word transform. I’m sure you have all seen transformers, these toys that can be a person, a car and a plane. Each time you turn and twist it, something new is created. Well, my curious mind wanted to know what exactly does this word mean. According to Webster, the word transform means to change the appearance of, to challenge the nature of or to challenge the function or condition of. Well as you can imagine as I began to grasp what Paul is saying here, I learned so much.  Now with the definition in mind, lets look back at the verse. Paul began by telling us not to conform (act in a similar fashion) to the patterns of this world. Again I had to stop and ask myself what are the patterns of this world. If you go on to read the rest of chapter 12, you will find the instructions on how we are to live. As I looked at these verses I was amazed that the patterns of this world are in fact the opposites of what Paul tells us to do. Let’s take a look.

Patterns of the world: thinking highly of self (v 3) hypocrisy (v 9) lover of the world (v 10-11), complaining, impatient, unfaithful (v 12), greedy (v 13) anger toward those who hurt you (v 14) repaying evil for evil and doing what is right in your own eyes (v 17), unpeaceful (v 18) wanting revenge and wanting to overcome evil with evil (v 19-21).

So we are told, to not act like this world, following these examples. Instead we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Now remember the definition of transformation. Paul then is telling us to go against our natural tendencies and to challenge the condition of, to change the function of our minds. Our natural tendencies and fleshly want to’s will look like the worlds, this is what comes easy. So we must challenge these tendencies, we must change them. But how you may ask, which is a great question. We do this by renewing our minds. Again and again in Scripture we are told things concerning our minds or thinking and I believe it really is a battlefield. Let’s look at a few of these verses.

1. Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)

2. Set your minds on things above and not on earthly things. ( Col. 3:2)

3. Whatever is right, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on such things. (Phil. 4:8)

Which brings us to our conclusion. Why is Paul telling us these things, why is this important. Go with me to verse one. That “in view of God‘s mercies we may offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Him, thus our spiritual act of worship.” Why , so that we may worship the Lord with all we are, even our minds. Doing what Paul says is our spiritual act of worship. By doing this we bring glory and honor to Jesus, which is what it’s all about.

Let us then honor and worship the Lord. For we are told “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength (Luke 10:27).

From the Inside Out

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away behold                                                                    all things have become new.2 Corinthians 5:17

Jesus had much to say about the Pharisees. He went so far at one time as to call them a tomb of whitewashed bones (Mathew 23:27). Many may wonder why was Jesus so hard on these guys. I mean they were good, upstanding citizens. They did the right things, they went to church, tithed, followed the law to a T. So why was Jesus so put off by these so called good people? I believe the reason the Lord was so hard on them was because though they did the right things, said the right things and were overall good people, they did it for the wrong reasons.

I grew up in church, if the doors were open I was there. Early on I learned the lingo, don’t smoke, don’t cuss, don’t drink and don’t dance (I’m a Baptist you know). I learned that good “Christians” went to church all dressed up on Sunday, then lived for the most part like the world the rest of the week. Of course there were exceptions and some were very genuine, but I’m talking majority. Before long I had the part down. I knew when to smile and when to say amen. I was a good person doing all the right things, very similar to the above description.  Then one day I realized I was doing nothing more than going through the motions. Like the Pharisees, I did the right things for the wrong reason. While in college I did the Bible Study by Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God. As I plunged through this study, I realized like never before who the God of the Universe was and was shocked to find that He desired a personal, intimate relationship with me. Now as a child I had walked the aisle, been baptized the whole nine yards. Yet, I had never understood what it meant to make Jesus Lord. I can remember vividly a night alone by my bed crying out to Jesus to not only be my Savior but my Lord. Committing my life to Him. Wow, how things changed. No longer did I go to church, ready my Bible, do the right things because it was expected, I did all the above out of love for Jesus and because I truly wanted to.

Fast forward 5 years. Now I have been to Seminary and am a pastor’s wife. Suddenly the trap of the outward behavior and desire to perform for others returned. Before long I found myself going through the motions, doing what was expected of me, not always out of love for Jesus, but often to please everyone watching. Grant it there were times when the Lord would rebuke me of this and drive me to my knees but the tendency to perform was always there. Years back the Lord took our family through a heartache with the church we were serving and we walked away broken and hurt. It was a painful time I’d not wish on anyone, but looking back how thankful I am for such a time. For through such time the Lord took me and mended my heart and drew me closer and closer. It wasn’t long before our family was called to serve the Lord in Korea, where we lived for two years. Even now looking back over that time, I can see times when I fell into this rut. Times when the Lord would have to refocus my attentions and devotions upon Himself.

I’m convinced this is a trap the enemy sets before us each and every day. A trap I have even found myself falling into with my kids. Wanting them to act a certain way and do the right thing. Punishing them when they don’t but changing only outward behavior without an understanding on the inside.  The Lord has convicted me of this and though my natural want is to try to shape their behavior, He has given me a desire to change their hearts through His Word. Sure punishment is involved but I want them to understand why based on Scripture.

I’ve been on a journey of sorts lately, a journey to know Him more. The problem is the deeper I go, the more uglys I see. How easy it is to be a Pharisee, to judge others, to criticize, to just go through the motions of doing the right thing. Yet, I’m finding the answer to this problem is of course Jesus. Yet, more than that it is an every growing love of Him. For the more you love Him, the more you want to serve Him. And not just to look good, but out of a heart to please Him.

I’m sure I will fail and that my desire to please others will interfere because I am by no means perfect, but I desire to be changed not from the outside in, but truly from the inside out. How about you, why do you serve, why do you do the right things? I believe we should constantly checking our motions to see why and who we are serving. For we can only serve one Master, who then are you serving?

Contamination!

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. 2 Cor. 7:1

I read this verse on Sunday and it struck a chord in me and I have been thinking on it all week. The word that sticks out is contaminate. What do you think of when you hear contaminate? You may laugh, but I think of raw chicken. When cutting up chicken you have to be careful or it can contaminate the rest of your food and then make all who eat such food, very sick. The word contaminate means to soil, stain, corrupt, or infect by contact or association. What a striking word! So I began to think about what Paul is meaning with this verse. He began by referring to the promises we have as Christians from God. We have the promise of eternal life, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the power of God to name a few. He goes on to say because we have such great promises that we should purify (To rid of impurities; cleanse) ourselves of EVERYTHING that stains, corrupts or makes unclean both our body and spirit! This is pretty strong when you think about it. So I began to think and ask myself and the Lord what things in my life are contaminating my body and spirit? It took no time for the Lord to begin revealing such things to me. Such as t.v., books,eating unhealthy junk, pride, selfishness, greed and the list could go on. I’ve come to find that when you really ask the Lord to reveal sin and to search your heart, He will do this so you got to be ready to deal with such things. Well as you can imagine I was quick to justify some of these things. I mean I don’t watch trashy stuff, I don’t read unclean books, I don’t eat a bunch of junk etc. Yet, the Lord began asking me, do the shows I watch, books I read etc. help me grow closer to Him? Do such things make me think about eternal things or worldly things. And if I was going to be truthful, I had to answer no. I think we all need to take inventory of our lives from time to time and examine our walks. the things that contaminate me will not be the same for everyone and if we are really seeking and asking Him, then He will show us these things.

I just finished reading the book Radical by David Platt and it shook my world. As I read this book and began to see this guy’s passion for the Lord I was blown away. Another book by Katie Davis, Kisses from Katie and Jennie Allen’s Anything, also made me realize my own walk with the Lord was not all it should be. So, I began to seek out why. You see, I am convinced that we can be as close to the Lord as we want. We can have as much of His power as we desire. The question is not is He willing, the question is what am I willing to do. To what lengths am I ready to go. See when you get serious about following the Lord, and began getting rid of things the Lord ask the stronger the intimacy is.

Here in this verse, Paul tells us to rid ourselves of all things that corrupt our body (the temple He has given us) and the Spirit. Why so that we can perfect(without defect or blemish) holiness out of our reverence (fear, respect) for God. Now if you are like me your thinking me be holy, I can’t do that. Yet that is what is awesome, your right you can’t but He can and He will. Yet it goes back to how far are you willing to go? How close do you want to be?

I will tell you it has been difficult to realize the amount of work needed, but you know what. I’m really tired of pretend, of half heartedness. I truly want to walk close to Him and though I know it won’t be easy, I’m willing to do what needs to be done. Why because I’m someone special? No way, because He is worthy and the passion I see in these others lives is contagious. I’m not willing to settle anymore, how about you? Join me on this journey would you? Let’s encourage each other as we strive to know Him more and to make Him known.