Tag Archives: BSF

The End of Me

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Don’t you love when God hits you sideways with something He’s probably been trying to get through to you for a while and you finally get it?

I admit, I have to laugh.  Because when I do get it, I can look back and see how long He’s been after me to learn something.  I laugh because God knows I’m a dolt sometimes and loves me anyway!  He’s so good to give us space to laugh at ourselves.

In Bible Study Fellowship this week we’re studying John 16 and one of the questions asks, “What circumstances in your life test your commitment to follow Jesus?”  I thought and thought about this question because over the past 9 years the Lord has brought me to a place where I can no longer imagine not following Him.

So I considered my previous life … a time when I backslid … and answered with the situations that tested (and won over) my commitment to follow Jesus.  Namely – success in my career (which gave me prestige and popularity), health (which wasn’t that good, but wasn’t bad enough to worry about), and finances (which were so that I was frivolous and spent buying possessions to fill up the ache in my heart).

As we answered the question in leader’s group on Saturday, I looked at the words on the page: career, health, finances …

The three were the world’s interpretation of success.  I spent my time focusing on those things that were going to help me live the “good life.”  I was doing good.  I had everything I needed and then some.  I … I … I … what I didn’t see was the gulf between God and I getting wider and wider until … I lost it all.

That’s when it hit me.  I’d answered the question a couple of days prior but right in the middle of leader’s group I had an epiphany.

God had brought me to the end of myself.

Ten years ago I was ignoring God and doing my own thing – great career, decent health, super finances.  But now …

Now I have no career, no health, and no finances!!!

Why do I sound so happy?

Because I’m closer to Jesus than I’ve ever been in my whole life!  That alone fills me with so much hope and joy I’m busting at the seams.  At the end of myself my thirst was quenched, my pain was comforted, and my sorrow turned to joy.

So no, nothing can get me to go back to the world’s system.  I’m following Jesus as closely as I can and when I get a little ahead of Him … or perhaps lag too far behind … I know that He’ll pull me close to Him again.

Have you come to the end of yourself yet?

Thirsty

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Thirsty

I was honored last year to be chosen as a leader for BSF (Bible Study Fellowship).  On one hand it makes sense – leadership is one of my Spiritual Gifts.  One the other hand it makes no sense at all – how can I, Felecia Clarke, hope to lead anyone in God’s Kingdom?  I mean seriously, it’s HIS kingdom!  How can He entrust anyone into my care?  I know the only way is through His constant watch over me and whatever group I happen to be facilitating at the time.  It also helps that the Holy Spirit lives inside me.  He’s equally stopped me from saying something and prompted me to say something as an opportunity presents itself.  I’m forever thankful that He resides within.

As a BSF leader, I’m expected to perform homiletics on the material we’re going over in any particular lesson.  Homiletics (from a BSF study guide) “involves a careful analysis of a passage of Scripture with emphasis on both the content and the application.”  We go over the Scripture level by level winnowing the teaching down to one sentence of 10 words that appropriately states the meaning of the passage as well as identifies where it is in the Bible.  There’s more to it, but when I first started performing homiletics I was horrible.  Pathetic, really.  I could only adequately manage the Content (first) stage of the 5-level exercise.  With practice throughout the year I got much better at developing divisions within the passage and writing my 10-word sentence as well as the AIM (what we want the audience [or ourselves] to learn).  But I was still dreadful in developing Application questions.  You see, at BSF we don’t just want to collect knowledge about the Bible and Jesus, we want to help participants learn how to apply what they’re reading to their lives.  And when I say ‘their lives’ of course I want to learn how to apply it to my life too!

In an attempt to get better at Homiletics I joined a study group this summer to practice for the John study (beginning the week of September 12 somewhere near you!  Wherever you are in the world, go to BSFinternational.org to find a group that fits your needs and join us!)  As I opened my Bible to prepare for this week’s lesson I see that it’s about the Samaritan woman at the well.  Can I confess that sometimes my pastor or BSF or some other study mentions a particular Bible story and I roll my eyes and sigh?  Is that blasphemous?  I’ve heard the story so many times, what new nugget could I possibly extract from it?

I’m ashamed of myself.  I do realize that is a poor attitude with which to approach God’s word and I immediately ask for His forgiveness, extending a silent prayer that He help me see something new in the text before I start to read.

God doesn’t ever disappoint.  If you ask, He will give.

We meet the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, Jesus asks for a drink of water, she’s aghast because Jews don’t speak to Samaritans, and Jesus indirectly mentions He’s God and offers her living water.  But within seconds my eyes zero in on John 4: 13-14a  and I sit bolt upright in my chair.

Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this (well) water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again — ever!”

Wha?  Who is He kidding?  How can He say we will never get thirsty again?  I drink His living water and just get thirstier!  The more I get to know my Lord the hungrier I become to know more of Him.

How can I not be thirsty?  Aren’t you, Christian, thirsty for God?  Breathless to know more of Jesus?  Panting to be quenched by the Holy Spirit?

How funny that one minute I inwardly bemoan having to read what I thought was a well-worn and boring, Bible story and a few minutes later get such a kick in the pants from God.  I could just hear Him saying, “Aren’t you thirsty for me anymore, Felecia?  Can I no longer satisfy your appetite?”

LORD!  You absolutely do!

I immediately think of Jesus’ letter to the church at Ephesus and shudder:

“But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first.” ~ Revelation 2:4

Prayer

Let me never cease to be both greedy to know you and satisfied by your Word, Lord.  Pray I never lose the depth of my first love for you.  Amen!

Holy? Who Me?

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Holy?  Who Me?

Just thinking about being thought of as holy or attaining this wholly lofty ideal makes we want to say, “Holy archangels Batman!”  I can’t quite fathom it!

Days 15 and 16 in the Bible study are on holiness.  Trying to comprehend how holy God is, what it means to say we’re holy, and how to live to become holy.

“You shall be holy, for I am holy,” says God in 1 Peter 1:16b it’s a command from God Himself.

Haven’t you ever shuddered when you think of yourself as a saint?  And yet we who have found salvation in Jesus are considered saints – set apart for God.  Clearly my behavior at that gas station outlined in the last two posts was very unsaint-like!  But how can we possibly hope to be holy?  Let’s look at the entire passage from Peter though for a clue.

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance.  15 But as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; 16 for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy.  ~ 1 Peter 1:14-16

We hear echoes of verse 14 throughout the New Testament.  Don’t fall back into your old pattern of living.  When I became born again, I had the hardest time kicking myself free of my former life.  Now that I write that out – I see it was probably because I tried to do it on my own.  “I had the hardest time …”  It’s true.  I didn’t allow anyone to help me grow, I didn’t ask for help assuming I could do it on my own, nor did I ask for Jesus’ help to strengthen my resolve.  What that did is lengthen the time it took me to start living holy.

Verse 15 is pretty awe-inspiring isn’t it?  The one who called us … God.  The Almighty.  The Alpha and the Omega.  Heavenly Father.  So holy that when heavenly beings speak of His holiness they cry out three times … “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty…” ~ Revelation 4:8b  Anytime a word is used in succession like that in the Bible, it’s emphatic or superlative.  Making, in this case, God’s holiness even more so – the most most most holy.

So here is our God calling us to be holy in our conduct.  I get the meaning pure and true.  Can we do it?  I know we can try and certainly that is what God is working us toward … our holiness … our Christ-likeness.

Then, in verse 16, Peter reminds us that God Himself is our standard for Christian living.  He states, “For it is written…” and when anyone says that in Scripture I always search for where it was written.  Here I find the call to be holy uttered by God to the Israelites “For I am Yahweh your God … be holy because I am holy” in Leviticus 11:44 and in 19:2 and 20:7.

Can we ever hope to truly be holy?

I would pray that as we walk in obedience we would get closer and closer to His ideal.  While I used to dread that sick feeling when I realized I’d sinned, now I almost welcome it … not the sick feeling (!) … the identification of committed sin.  We can make ourselves more open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings to point out our sins and then confess and repent from those sins.  I’ve found that it actually becomes easier and easier and at times, I’m almost glad when the Holy Spirit pulls me up short on something.  I want to become holy like Him.  In my heart of hearts, I want to please my Father.

I like the way Kay Arthur puts it:

“We don’t have to yield to sin; we can be separate from it – holy.  It happens moment by moment, opportunity by opportunity, with a decision to walk in obedience to God in the power of the Spirit.  The Spirit dwelling within you gives you the power to resist sin.”

The Bible Study also lists some practical steps to getting your holy on:

  • Watch the company you keep. People can have more impact on you than you’d expect, so seek out godly friends.  You’ve probably heard Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”  For me it’s my bunch of Outrageously Christ-Filled Girlfriends and the ladies I lead with in BSF – good friends encouraging one another to grow in wisdom and godliness – even if it requires painful criticism.
  • Keep yourself sexually pure. This probably requires its own blog post, but in short, participating in sexual immorality will have the devil salivating at your door as you become one with the world and not living as one set apart for our Father.
  • You perfect holiness by living under control of the Spirit. I’ll ask again … can we hope to be holy on this ball called Earth? We can if we follow God’s call to walk by the Spirit. As Paul stresses in Galatians 5:16 “I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
  • Holiness is perfected by love. Perfect for a time such as this in our country – straight from 1 Thessalonians 3:12 (emphasis mine) “And may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow with love for one another and for everyone, just as we also do for you.” Later on in verse 13 Paul states that in loving others God will make your heart blameless in holiness.  If we will look at one another through the eyes of Jesus, I guarantee that our hearts will be broken again and again with love for people we never thought we could love.  It completely changes the way you view the world … at least it has for me.

As you think about becoming more holy this weekend, let God know that you want to be holy as He is holy.  Ask Him to show you anything in your life that mars His image in you.  Then remember that it’s love for one another that demonstrates His holiness and manifests the reality of God within us.  As we abound in love, we live out holiness.  Pick someone to love on this coming week … someone who needs it.  Let them experience God’s love through you.

And have a fantastic weekend!

God’s Attributes Follow Up

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God’s Attributes Follow Up

I thought that Monday’s post about God’s Attributes would provoke a good debate and I wasn’t wrong.  Most people email, text, FB message, or private Tweet me if they have questions about something I’ve written.  I wish they wouldn’t because lots of people have the same questions and the discussion would be much livelier if held in a public forum.  Let me take this moment to remind readers that you can reply to any post anonymously.

Firstly, we need to touch base with the person who is still very upset that I called Jesus God in the post on the Trinity.  This person has sent me video after video of two old dudes sitting at their kitchen table misreading scripture to prove that The Father is God and Jesus is God’s son (not God and no mention of the Holy Spirit) much like I described my friend’s belief in the same post.  I pointed out that we obviously do not believe in the same God (mine is Triune) and that we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.  My last word to him and everyone else is: please do not take the word of two old guys sitting around a table or even my word as absolute truth (which only comes from God).  Do more research, read smarter thinkers than me, dive into some commentaries, and read the Bible for yourself all the while asking the Holy Spirit to impart His wisdom so you can understand.  But please don’t base your beliefs on only one source … unless it’s the Bible.

One response, probably to a headline that promoted the post on Twitter and FB which was “Is God good or bad or both or neither?” was that, “God is good.  Bad is a human trait.”  To which I questioned, “Isn’t good?”  As I said in the post – we humans have an innate desire to cast human characteristics onto a God who is not human because we cannot wholly grasp our unfathomable God.

Another reader brought up an interesting question asking, “How do we know whether the bad we are facing is from God or Satan?”  I responded in part by saying, “Satan is evil, God is not.  God always has a plan and a purpose.  Satan is just evil.”  She followed up with, “If Satan is evil then that means God is good.”  Here we need to be careful of considering Satan to be the opposite of God.  He is not.  God has no opposite.

A good friend of mine said recently, “Evil happens because we serve a sovereign God who allows it, regardless of the source.  We can’t know His plan in its totality.  He deliberately created us in such a way that we are to be confounded by such questions.  Part of faith is believing with partial understanding, and trusting God to carry us through … as well as faith being the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

In a devotional from a couple of years ago, Pastor Rick Warren wrote:  “God is good, and he will not cause evil or do evil. But God can use dark and stressful times for good. He’ll use them to teach us to trust him, to show us how to help others, and to draw us closer to other believers.”  He ends with good advice, “So, what should you do when you’re going through difficult times?  First, you refuse to be discouraged. Then, you remember God is with you. Finally, you rely on God’s protection and guidance.  We all go through difficult times. The difference for those who believe in Jesus is not the absence of the shadow but the presence of the Light.”  I love that line … the presence of the Light.

A woman I ran into a couple of days ago talked about the way I was ‘dealing with’ my cancer and asked why I was always so danged cheerful?  I’m dealing with it cheerfully because I depend on a God who is in charge of the universe and still personal enough to walk with me through it.

Early on (a little over a year ago) I placed the burdens I was facing squarely on His immense shoulders and have lived in a state of divine security and absolute peace since that time.  But I think her real question was why did I end up with stage 4b uterine cancer that traveled into my ovaries and into my pelvic lymph nodes and despite all the prayer I received, why didn’t God stop it?  She referenced Romans 8:28a which reads: “all things work together for the good of those who love God …” She knows I love God so how was cancer working for my good?

I could probably answer reams about this question, but in a nutshell, I’m not done yet.  As long as I’m drawing breath on this earth I have work to do for the Kingdom and I believe God is using this for my good as well as for the good of others.  My good because my faith has grown so wide and so deep and has been strengthened to depths I never even knew existed.

God decided that I walk through this trial.  I accept that because He is Sovereign.  A constant prayer of mine is that He uses my cancer for good and I do know that other people’s faith has been simultaneously strengthened.  I have had such great encouragement and support from my fellow leaders in BSF, and many of them have told me that I’ve been an inspiration.  To this though I can only smile because I know any strength and determination I have is not from me, but is God’s work in and through me.  ALL the glory goes to Him.

Thanks for all your thoughts and questions!

Until next time!

He is Holy

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We’ve just finished up the study of Revelation through BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) and I can’t really contain myself.  Firstly, if you’ve never been to a BSF study, and you find yourself a quart low on studying the Bible, get yourself to one (a study of John will begin on September 12)!  BSF headquarters are based in Texas but the study is offered worldwide and over 500,000 people participated in Revelation at the same time.  You can find out more, and where there is a study in your area, here: http://www.bsfinternational.org

I found BSF through a friend who fortunately invited me last year for the study of Moses.  It came at the right time when my educational options were limited in my church and I was desperate for some comprehensive Bible study.  I got just what I needed in BSF.  It’s a long and detailed study that is perfect for delving in deep and hearing volumes from God.  He has taken the time to speak to me in each of the two studies I’ve been involved in and I’ve been thrilled.  You really can’t go wrong when you hear God speak.

This past year God has really been working on me to understand His sanctity and studying Revelation just brought everything to a head.  I was really struck by His unfathomable holiness.  It’s led me to examine how I think about Him and whether I fear Him like I should.  I think it’s easy for us to put God in a human-sized box.  Partly due to our general humanness – He is so vast, we just don’t know how to comprehend Him so we bring Him down to something we can latch onto; and partly due to the songs we sing these days … the Jesus is my pal – type songs.  Well, Jesus may be friendly toward me, but He’s not my pal and I don’t wish to think of Him like that.  He’s my Savior.  My King.  My Lord.  My Judge.  Putting Jesus on a friend level does Him a disservice … it limits him, cheapens Him.  None of my friends can die for my sins.  None of my friends can heal me.  None of my friends can facilitate my eternal life with the Almighty Father.  And, I hate to say this, but sometimes I’m not a very good friend.  I know, hard to believe, right?

God is so far above what we can imagine.

Chip Ingram asked recently on his program ‘Living on the Edge’, “Which Jesus are you worshiping?”  I probably screwed up my face when I heard that line … thinking “wha?”  But as he started explaining I found myself nodding vigorously in agreement.  He asked a pointed question (my paraphrase), “Do you worship the Jesus that walked around Judea with 12 other guys doing miracles here and there, or do you worship the Jesus that was arrested and crucified on a cross, or do you worship Jesus as He is today?”

You see, Jesus as He is today is explained very beautifully in Revelation 1:13-16.  He wears a long robe with a gold sash and has hair white as snow, His eyes are like fire, His feet like burnished bronze, His voice like cascading waters, His face shines like the noon-day sun, and His mouth yields a sharp two-edged sword.  Friends, our Lord Jesus is no longer the God-man who roamed the countryside for three years and He no longer hangs bruised and bloody on a cross.  He is a warrior!  Our warrior!  The Ancient of Days, the Almighty, holy, faithful, true, and the victorious conqueror over evil.

History is good to know to complete the picture of Jesus, but we need to worship Him as He is … today.