Friday, November 30, 2012

On this blog. . .

Unless otherwise noted:  Scripture quotations taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION.®  Copyright ©  1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.  Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Do You Believe?

“Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17, NIV Bible, in all these verses, the emphasis is added)
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) 
“He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord . . .” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9) 
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already . . .” (John 3:16-18)

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)  
“if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. . . . ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’  (Romans 10:9-10, 13)  

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”  (1 John 1:9-10)
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
 (1 Corinthians 1:18)  

“since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20)
The heavens declare the glory of God . . .”  (Psalm 19:1)
“Be still, and know that I am God(Psalm 46:10)

“He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15)  

Starting Your Own Relationship With Jesus Christ (And Why We Need Him!)


             John 3: 16: “For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

            God so loved the world.  He didn’t just love the world; He so loved the world.  He so loved the world that He (Jesus) would die in our place before He would miss out on an eternal relationship with us.  He knew that we would disappoint Him and hurt Him and fail Him, but He still so wanted a relationship with us that He made a way.  He knew that there would be many, many people that would reject His gift of love and salvation, but an eternity spent with those who would choose Him was worth the price of dying on the cross.  That is some amazing love!     
 
 

            Let me ask you something:  If you were to die today or if Jesus came back today, would you be ready?  Seriously!   This life, as we know it, isn't going to go on forever.  And we are not invincible.  People die every day, in every kind of way.  Are you ready to face eternity, what comes the moment after you take your last breath?  Have you figured out who Jesus is and why He matters so much? 

            Because this will be what matters most the moment after you die.  And, quite honestly, it's what matters most in this lifetime, too.

What to Expect When You're a New Believer

            What can we expect after our conversion?  After saying that prayer to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior?  What is the Christian journey like?     
            I was thinking about my post “Starting Your Own Relationship with Jesus Christ” and about how saying a prayer to accept Jesus’ offer of grace, forgiveness, and salvation is just the beginning.  But then what?  What comes after that?  Are there any help, tips, or cautions that we can pass on to new believers, something to help them in their walk with the Lord?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why I Wrote This Blog!

            My reason for this blog:
            “. . . to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”  (Isaiah 61:1)

            The goal for all believers:
            “He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:2-4). 

            Well, hello there!  My name is Heather.  And what I have put here are some resources that I hope will encourage and inspire other Christians on their walk with the Lord.  There is a section that explores “God’s Will,” where I share how I understand His “Will” and what it means for Christians.  There is a “Bible Study” that I put together, intended for people who have been walking with the Lord for a while.  There are some random, thought-provoking posts: questions to ask God and others, and a post on why we eat what we do.  And, in the October posts, there are two books that I spent the last five years writing.  And I am inviting you to read them for free.  Yep, that’s right . . . totally free!  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Understanding God's Will (UGW) Intro

            Alright, I need to say this up front.  I am no expert in “God’s Will” or in how He works or what the Bible says.  I can only tell you what I think and believe at this point in my life.  And that could change.  There could be a Bible verse that I didn’t know about that could alter my view.  God’s ways are a mystery.  And ironically, they become more mysterious the longer I walk with Him.  But this is how I understand it now.  (And I may refer to things that I wrote about in deleted posts.  But it should still make sense.  Hopefully.) 

UGW 1-3: God's Plans, Cause vs Allow, Doing His Will

            1.  You say that we have an effect on the path that we walk in this life, that God’s “best path and best plans” don’t just happen apart from our cooperation.  Do you have Scripture to back that up?    
            Well, I’m glad you asked.  And let me ask this:  If God always did whatever He wanted to do in our lives, regardless of us, why are we told so often in the Bible to pray for wisdom, to seek it, and to be discerning?  If our choices and actions don’t matter and don’t have an effect on what He does in our lives, then it doesn’t matter if we live with wisdom or foolishness.  Whatever happens is God’s plan, right? 

UGW 4-6: Our Duties, Prayer Matters, But God Reads Minds

            4.  Is there danger in believing that God will always work His plan in our lives, regardless of what we do or any responsibility we have? 
            Definitely.  Because then we don’t think so much about what we do and about our responsibilities.  We won’t take seeking righteousness, wisdom, His kingdom, prayer, and obedience, etc., as seriously because we don’t see the effect it has over our lives.  If He’s just going to do whatever He’s going to do anyway, then it doesn’t matter what we do or don’t do. 

UGW 7-8: About Prayer and Finding God's Will

            7.  But what about the verses that talk about how God knows what we need before we ask, like Matthew 6:8 and Matthew 6:32?  Doesn’t this show that we don’t really need to pray for His care, because He’ll care for us anyway, since He knows our needs?
              God knows what we need, and He can read our thoughts.  (All the more reason to make sure that we set our minds on things above and not on impure, ungodly things.)  But once again, it doesn’t say that He responds to our thoughts or that He gives us what we need just because He knows that we need it.  We can choose to live apart from God and in self-sufficiency.  We can choose to live life sitting back, putting our feet up and saying, “Ok, God, bring on the blessings. . . Look at how well He takes care of me!”  Even though we are doing nothing to draw near to Him.   

UGW 9: Understanding Prayer Better

            9.  How come some prayers don’t seem to work, even when you believe that it’s God’s Will?  And how long do you keep praying for something (especially when it’s a painful issue) when God seems to not be listening or answering?   
            Boy, I tell you, I struggle with this one all the time.  I want something so bad sometimes (even something that’s good and beneficial), and I pray earnestly for it.  And when it doesn’t happen, I struggle with why my prayers aren’t getting things done. 
            When we were considering a possible adoption (one of my relatives was possibly going to give up his newborn and ask us to take her), I was reading a book that basically taught the “name it and claim it” idea.  If I felt like I could “hear” God’s answer in prayer, then I just had to claim it and cling to it in faith, until it happened.  Despite any appearances to the contrary.  If I had enough faith to continue to cling to His “promise,” it would happen eventually.  And if it didn’t happen, it’s because I gave up too early or because I doubted. 

UGW 10-11: Bad Things Happen, Do Things Happen For a Reason

            10.  Can things happen that God doesn’t want to happen?  
            Obviously, yes!  We fell, didn’t we?  We introduced death and sin into the human race and the world.  I bring up this question because people want to know why God would allow evil if God is all-powerful and can stop it.  And the answer is because He doesn’t use His power to override our choices and the consequences of our choices.  And so bad things happen because of us and because of Satan and his kingdom.  (Funny thing is, we don’t want God’s interference when things are going good and going our way, but we sure want His “interference” when they aren’t.) 

UGW 12-15: Things Work for Good, God's Sovereignty

            12.  I used to take comfort in the fact that God does whatever He wants to do and that God causes everything to happen for a reason.  But if that’s not the case, what then?       
            I once heard about a mom and dad who were going away for vacation.  They had to leave their nearly-adult teenager at home.  They knew that he might end up making bad decisions; he might throw a party and do things that they didn’t want him to do.  And they had the power to prevent that.  They could have stayed home or sent Grandma over to watch him. 
            But in their wisdom, they knew that he was going to be an adult and on his own in college in just a year or so.  And they realized that this was a good opportunity to test him and to see what decisions he would make.  They encouraged him to choose wisely, and they hoped that he would choose wisely.  Because they knew that was the best for him. 

UGW 16-17: Changing God's Mind

            16.  Can we change God’s mind with our prayers? 
            Yes and No.  There are Old Testament examples of people who pleaded with God in prayer to not apply a punishment that He said He would do.  And as a consequence of their intercessory prayers, God relents and doesn’t do what He said He’d do.  It seems to me that the times that He has changed His mind in the Bible were almost all because of appeals to His merciful side, to spare the people the terrible consequences of their sins. 
            The thing is, I don’t think this “mind-changing” necessarily applies to whatever we want it to apply to.  I think that we can still appeal to God’s mercy in intercessory prayer, but I don’t think we can just alter God’s best path or plans for us with our prayers, whenever we want.  We can refuse to go His way, but this will take us out of His best Will for our lives. 

UGW 18-19: Our Responsibilities, Praying for Wrong Things

            18.  You keep saying that we have responsibilities in getting God’s Will done?  What kinds of responsibilities? 
            I’ve already gone through many of them, but if you read the Bible, you’ll find lots more.  Because His Will is more like a verb; it's about living an obedient life.  He says to seek wisdom.  Do we?  He tells us things that He wants us to do in His Word, things that are always His Will for us, like loving our neighbor, tithing, not gossiping, etc.  Do we obey?  Are we guarding our tongues and building others up, instead of tearing them down?  Are we honoring our marriage vows, and putting up strong protective boundaries around our marriage?  Do we pray or do we think it’s good enough that He can read our minds?  Do we forgive or harbor bitterness?  Do we rationalize the first bit of flirting with temptation that we do?  After the first unintentional glimpse, do we look again?  Do we search the Scriptures and meditate on them as we are called to, or do we just pick the Bible up every now and then for a little boost?  Do we seek godly counsel or go off in our own wisdom?  Are we honest and transparent with ourselves and with Him, or are we hoping He doesn’t notice the “sins” we are covering up and the distance between us and Him?  Have we learned to be thankful, even in the hard times?

UGW 20-22: God's Leading, What is His Will

            20.  What if I missed the path that God wanted me to take? 
            Get on the new path!  I think that it is indeed possible to miss the first and best path that God wants us to take, by our refusing to obey and follow Him or by our negligence.  And I think this happens more than we realize.  But God is a wise, sovereign God and He can see how any situation can be turned into good.  And He’s always opening up new paths.  So I would say that if you feel that you’ve missed an opportunity or a path that you knew God wanted you to take, don’t dwell on it.  This prevents you from being of further use to Him. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

"Iron Sharpens Iron" (ISI) Bible Study: Intro

[Updated November 2016.  I made some minor changes, added a bunch of new questions, and I added two new topics: “Is Depression a Sin?” and “Atheism and World Religions.”]
            [FYI: This Bible study is posted in three places: sweetlybrokengirl.blogspot.com and myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com and ironsharpensironbiblestudy.blogspot.com. 
            At Sweetly Broken Girl, I did not include my own answers to the questions and I did not allow comments to be posted.  This way, people can have the study as it is, without input from others.
            At My Impressionistic Life and Iron Sharpens Iron Bible Study, I added some of my own answers and allowed comments from you, so that you can give your own thoughts and answers to the questions.  The only difference between the two blogs is that the Bible study is the only thing at ironsharpensironbiblestudy.blogspot.com, whereas there are lots of other posts at myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com.  At the last minute, I decided to post the Bible study on its own blog to make it easier for people to access.]
 

Friday, November 23, 2012

ISI 1: A Full, Abundant Life

Icebreaker Question:
Briefly describe your life/spiritual life up to now.  And what are some of the most exciting or memorable times in your life so far?   
 
Have someone open the meeting with prayer
 
Read Lesson:
            In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
 
            We hear all different kinds of things today about the kind of life God wants for us.  I have heard preachers say that God wants us to wear fine clothes and live in big homes because we are the “children of the King.”  And so we shouldn’t be living like paupers.  [And this notion probably appeals to a lot of us because we would love to believe that we should be getting all we want on this side of eternity.  Isn’t that what life is about, after all?  Rack up as many toys and as much happiness as you can before the final trumpet blows?  (Note the sarcasm.)]
            But I have also read that we should basically live as paupers, giving no thought to our needs while we take care of God’s Kingdom and the poor.  [And while this thought appeals to very few people, these “sacrificial givers” are the ones that we admire the most.  They are the ones that make us say, “I wish I could be more like them.  They are so inspiring.”  But then we get back in our fancy cars, sipping our $5 coffee, and go back to our full homes and play with our many toys.]  And we shouldn’t do anything special for ourselves or worry at all about our appearance or happiness because that stems from vanity, pride, and self-centeredness.  
            So which is it?  What kind of a life does God want for us?  What does Jesus mean when He says that He wants to give us a “full life”?  Should we be living fancy or plain lives?  Does the “full life” even relate to physical life on this earth, or is it talking about our spiritual lives and eternity?  Or is it both?  And what does all of this mean for how we live our lives today?  Do Christians today even look any different from the world, or are we pursuing the same things they are?

ISI 2: In the World, Not of the World

Icebreaker Question:
What are some of your all-time favorite movies or books, and why?  Which have made you cry?  And what are some that you dislike the most, and why? 


Open With Prayer


Read Lesson:

Philippians 3:18-20:  “. . . many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.  Their mind is on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven. . . .”

            As Christians, we are citizens of two different worlds – the world (including our own country and society) and God’s Kingdom.  Oftentimes, these worlds are in conflict, such as when it comes to their purposes and goals, what they rely on and consider important, how they define “success,” and how they value people.  So given all of this conflict and difference, how can we as Christians best live out this verse about being in the world but not of it?     

            Let’s break down some of the challenges and differences we face.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

ISI 3: Humble Like a Child

Icebreaker Question:
If you had one weekend to spend any way you wanted and money was not an issue, how would you spend your weekend? 
 
Open With Prayer

Read Lesson:
            Matthew 18:2-4:  “He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And he said:  ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” 
            Whoever humbles himself like a child!  This, I believe, should be the ultimate goal of every believer.  Humility.  Brokenness.  Now, everyone might define humility a little differently, but here’s my attempt at it: 
            Humility is recognizing and freely admitting that we are needy, helpless, and dependent.  It’s knowing that we need our Heavenly Father desperately, that we are helpless to do anything without Him, and that we are fully dependent on Him daily.  It’s resting in and so completely trusting His goodness and love that no matter what happens, we can still say, “Father, I trust You.”  And it’s knowing that everything is by His power and for His glory, and wanting nothing more than to see Him glorified in our lives.  To me, this is what it means to be humbled, to be “sweetly broken” (as the song by Jeremy Riddle calls it – listen to it if you can.  It’s wonderful). 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

ISI 4: Transparency and Tearing Down Walls

Icebreaker Question: What movie or show would you love to have been a part of?  And why?  What real event?

Open With Prayer (specifically that God opens your eyes to the truth about yourself, that He reveals to you if there are any walls around your heart that are blocking Him.)

Read Lesson:
            Matthew 5:8:  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”    
            Pure.  Being free from impurities.  Impurities are those things that pollute what is true and genuine and good.  And what pollutes our hearts is falsehood, hiding from the truth or hiding the truth.  Deliberately living a lie or unconsciously agreeing with one.  Sin.  These keep us from being able to really experience, see, and know God.  But if we will live authentic, transparent lives before God, we will know Him (and ourselves) in a way we never could before.
            I already talked a bit about how self-sufficiency is the opposite of humility.  But I want to dive a little deeper into another very critical part of humility: transparency.  As I said last lesson, I think many of us would rather put on a “good Christian performance” than open up our hearts completely to God.  We have been hurt before.  We have spent our lives protecting the broken parts of our heart.  And it doesn’t feel right to let God see all of the ugly stuff inside of us when we want so much to please Him and do right by Him.
              But God doesn’t want our performance as much as He wants our hearts.  Jesus didn’t come to earth and die for us so that we would put on a good Christian performance for Him.  He died for us so that we could have a genuine, close relationship with Him.  He wants our hearts, full access to our hearts.  And this requires transparency on our parts, a willingness to open up ourselves to Him completely: our thoughts, fears, doubts, past pains, broken hearts, hidden sins, expectations, misconceptions, etc.
              He wants us to come to Him as we really are, to need Him and to let Him care for us, love us, and heal us.  We can’t fool Him anyway, so I don’t know why we keep trying to act like we can do it all on our own.  It is only when we open up our hearts to Him in all vulnerability and honesty that He can come in and correct misconceptions, heal old wounds, forgive sins, fix doubts, etc.
            But it’s up to us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

ISI 5: A Proper Balance

Icebreaker Question:
What three things would you love to do before you leave this planet?

Open With Prayer
 
Read Lesson:
            1 John 4:15-18: “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  . . . There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
 
            The truth in this verse never really stood out to me until I took down the walls that were around my heart and let God flood my heart with His love and heal the old wounds.  When the walls were up, I was relating to Him out of fear.  I did love Him and knew in my head that He loved me – because the Bible told me so – but I didn’t live out of His love.  I lived out of fear that I would pray wrong, speak wrong, displease Him, let Him down, fail Him, etc.  I feared His wrath.  I feared being abandoned.  I feared everything because I wasn’t able to really know and rely on His love.  Not until the walls came down. 
            As the passage says, “The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”  Fear in our hearts shows that we haven’t yet fully grasped His love, that we don’t really trust it and haven’t really let it fully into our hearts.  There are still walls there somewhere, hurts that make us shrink back from God, make us do our best to take care of ourselves, or make us feel worthless, like He really couldn’t love us.  And where there are walls, there is distance. 
            As we just explored last lesson, oftentimes we relate to Him out of the faulty ways we see Him.  And in order for us to truly be able to open our hearts up to Him, we need to understand (as much as humanly possible) who He really is.  And I think that one thing we really need to have is a balanced view of His love and His Holiness/Justness (including His wrath).  An unbalanced view leads to misunderstanding. 
            God’s holiness, His justness, is what demands a payment for our sins.  But God’s love is what paid it.  God’s holiness is what makes us properly fear Him and fall down on our faces at His feet in humility.  But God’s love is what picks us up, draws us close to Him and makes us fall into His arms.

Monday, November 19, 2012

ISI 6: Forgiveness

Icebreaker Question:
Who in your life, in the world, or in history do you most admire?  (Besides Jesus.)  Why?  Who in the Bible (besides Jesus) do you most admire, relate to, or find intriguing?   


Open With Prayer


Read Lesson and Bible Verses:
            Okay, so we looked at our relationship with the Lord and how our past and our fears affect it.  Now let’s turn our attention outward, to other people.  As humans, we all hurt others and are hurt by others.  And the world’s way to deal with this is to hold grudges or to punish others.  But God has a lot to say about forgiveness – His forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others.  And these have major impacts on our relationship with Him and our standing before Him. 
            Mark 11:25:  “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  
            Matthew 6:14-15:  “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” 
            Psalm 66:18:  “. . . If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened”

Sunday, November 18, 2012

ISI 7: Wisdom and Fearing God

Icebreaker Question:
What are the best pieces of advice you have ever heard or the top mottos you try to live by?  If you could go back and offer your "younger self" some advice, what would it be?
 
Open With Prayer
 
Read Lesson:
            How many of us would like to be wise?  I’m sure all hands just went up.  Yet how many of us really know what it takes to be wise?  Here’s a hint: it’s not going to school longer or getting a better degree or reading more.  All of that is about finding more information, more knowledge. 
            But if we want to find real wisdom, there is a prerequisite, according to the Bible. 
            Psalm 111:10 says that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  If we want wisdom, we need to fear Him.  Yet how easy is it to have more fear of everything else than of Him?  At least it is for me.  I fear losing control, failing, losing our health, missing God’s Will for my life, making mistakes, etc.  I fear everything sometimes . . . except Him!
 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

ISI 8: Bringing God Glory

Icebreaker Question:
What are some things that you are passionate about in life, that really spark your enthusiasm?  What are some of your “soapbox” issues, the issues that get you fired up, that you have strong feelings and opinions about?
 
Open With Prayer
 
Read Lesson and Verses:
            Psalm 96:4, 8:  “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise . . . Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name . . .”
            John 14:13:  “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.”
            1 Corinthians 10:31:  “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
           
            God is worthy of praise and glory!  Jesus’s goal was to bring glory to the Father!  We need to do everything for God’s glory! 
            But do we really esteem God’s glory as much as we are supposed to?  As much as God does?  (Or do we just say that we do?)   

Friday, November 16, 2012

ISI 9: Predestination vs Free Will

Icebreaker Question:
What are three things most people don’t know about you?  And what are three “quirky” things about you?

Open With Prayer


Read Lesson:
             (Oh, this is gonna be fun!)  I know that this is a “hot button” topic, and it can get people really worked up.  So let’s not let this issue become divisive.  Scholars and theologians through the centuries have not come to an agreement on this topic, and I do not think that we will be able to figure it all out either.  But let’s at least explore it and try to figure out what we believe, why we believe it, and why it matters. 
            I am going to present to you my view on this issue, but it doesn’t mean that I am necessarily right.  I am giving it to you as a starting point and as food-for-thought, to give you things to consider and talk about and disagree with.  I am not a Bible teacher or scholar, so remember that this is just my opinion.  If you disagree, discuss with others why you disagree and what you think Scripture really says. 
            [And I will be honest, I am going to do my best to show why I really do believe that we have free-will.  Even the questions at the end are written from that bias.  So if you are a strong believer in predestination, challenge what I believe, bring up your own Bible verses, and ask your own questions.  We should all be able to present our view on this and still feel respected, because this is not an issue that’s super clear-cut in the Bible.  And so we need to approach it with humility.]