October 19, 2018

Can anyone love God?

Much of the world thinks that the way to eternal life looks like this: Do what God wants —> God gives eternal life as a reward for doing it. Some may argue that even Jesus supported it by saying:

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.’ (Luke 10:25–28)

Taken out of context, the words of Jesus seem to say that this man could earn eternal life by loving God. Yet at that point Jesus explained that loving God is showing mercy to those you dislike and disagree with, in this case Samaritans. Not good news at all!

Like others faced with the challenge of showing their love for God by showing love toward people, this lawyer was unable to do it. Keeping the Law does not earn favor with God; it simply shows me how far short I fall. My love is inadequate.
In contrast, the gospel looks like this: God gives eternal life —> with that life He puts His love into our hearts so we can obey Him, and by obedience to His commands, we are loving others.

The first thing the lawyer did was question Jesus’ definitions. He said, “And who is my neighbor?” as if he could escape this command to love by narrowing the field. Maybe the neighbor is the nice person next door, or the one who invites me for tea, or the one who fixes my fence. Maybe the person next door is nasty and that is an excuse to avoid any kindness. Like the lawyer, I can find all sorts of reasons to be picky about who to love.

The layer inadvertently makes Jesus’ point for Him. Human love is picky. We put qualifiers on it, even choose who we think earns or deserves it.

In contrast, God wants me to love Him with all that I am and have. The New Testament clearly declares that loving others is the way to demonstrate love for Him and keep that Law of loving others. Again, God’s love is not picky. He is not trying to earn brownie points nor is He choosy based on anything about us. Jesus came and died because God loves. Period.

Jesus, to love as You love means being wholly yielded to the Holy Spirit. Not that You couldn’t do it without Him, but You did it by the Spirit’s enabling power. Your love is a sacrifice, a giving of Yourself, Your very life. Without having that life, I cannot love my neighbor nor can I love You with all my heart. Thank You that salvation provides what I need — Your great love without any strings attached — only that I pass it on.

October 18, 2018

Sin is a barricade to joy

Today we have the Scriptures to inform us of God’s work in our lives. However, the first Christians did not have the New Testament or at least only bits. But they did know the commands of God. Jesus said to them:

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:10–11)

Their source of joy was the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit could freely produce that ‘fruit’ in them as they walked in obedience. Their confidence in God included confidence in answered prayer. These ingredients combined to give them a powerful awareness of truth and the need to continue in their obedience.

Tozer says that the problem today with some Christians who are not joyful is that they are ignoring the Holy Spirit. I would not put it that way. In my understanding and experience, lack of joy goes hand in hand with lack of obedience. Imagine a water hose with sand in it. The flow is stopped or diminished until that sand can be expelled from within. It may require an extra force from the water, but when it happens, it gushes through the hose as it is intended.

Joy is like that. It is there from God but impeded by disobedience. However, as soon as I get out of His way by dealing with the sand, the Spirit is able to flow producing joy and the fruit that only He can produce.

The early Christians had that same power from within. Tozer calls it the ‘inner witness’ in which the Spirit kept them informed of God’s will and God’s pleasure. As they believed, He continued to work and this ‘inner witness’ became their guide.

When the canon of Scripture was agreed upon and the full Bible came into being, this need for an ‘inner witness’ did not stop. I still need to obey the Spirit. Scripture helps me know that what I hear on the inside coincides with His will, but the same certainty is from the Spirit who says ‘Amen’ to what I am reading.

“Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:10–15)

Here is our confidence, not just in the reading but in the believing and obeying, in the asking and receiving. My assurance is diminished when I am disobedient, not because my salvation is slipping away but because my sin has blocked the flow of God’s Spirit who gives me that confidence, that inner testimony, and along with it that divine joy.

Jesus, Your joy is both a privilege and a blessing. It is the assurance that I’ve nothing coming between me and You. I know that sin happens but also know that if it blocks the flow of Your grace, it can be removed by confession and cleansing. Through the Spirit, my salvation is made known to me and through the overwhelming joy that You give, may others also see the reality of my faith because You are making it visible on my face and in my life.

October 17, 2018

My problems originate where?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7)

Read at weddings and other special occasions, the love chapter in first Corinthians is so familiar it has almost become a platitude. The problem with platitudes is that we hear them so often we forget what they really mean and usually fail to do what they really teach.

The love chapter is like this. Love is proactive yet it is easy to say I love you to family members and yet be impatient with them or unkind. It is easy to say I love my friends but I can envy them and I can boast about myself to them. I can say I love people but I can be arrogant and rude if they cut me off in traffic or talk down to me in some way.

As Tozer says, we have a problem in that we want to be known as being spiritual, close to God and walking in the Truth, but how easy to forget that “every flower and every fruit has a stalk and every stalk has a root, and long before there is any bloom there must be a careful tending of the root and the stalk.”

This morning’s Bible readings took me to both Matthew and Mark where Jesus tells His disciples:

“Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:17–20)

He was talking about roots, or to put it in technical terms, the GIGO principle is not our problem but rather the difficulty is the garbage that is already in there, the sin principle, the love of ‘I want what I want’ without paying any attention to the will of God. He says to think pure and wholesome thoughts, not immoral or mean, or false and greedy. Without those being weeded out, there is no fruit in the garden of a life, or at least none that matches the description of what God wants.

Tozer says we misunderstand thinking the flower and the fragrance and the fruit come by some kind of magic, instead of by cultivation. Another misunderstanding is thinking it will appear if I stare at it long enough, memorizing the right verses, going to the best conferences, faithfully attending worship services. All are good things but the doing of them does not remove the weeds nor make love grow in my heart. Confession is needed to clear out the junk:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Obedience to the Holy Spirit is also needed to produce the fruit:
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3–8)
The devotional for today points out the many words in the Bible that are included under the banner of caring for others in obedience to God, words like: love, charity, brotherly kindness, tenderness, meekness, longsuffering, patience, forbearance, unity, gentleness. However they are expressed, they need to be more than mere words, more than platitudes and more than nice sounding promises. If my life is going to be fruitful, I must do them.

Jesus, it is easy to find reasons to stay home, read a book, keep to myself, neglect the needs around me. I can say I don’t know how, and say that I am praying continually, but love is not passive. Love gives. I need to get off my butt and move.

October 16, 2018

Cast all your cares upon Him . . .

Christians are taught to use an acronym as an aid to prayer. Normally it is ACTS which stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. In today’s devotional, Tozer strongly states that no one can worship (adore God) without the Holy Spirit. He says, “Worship has to be in the Spirit and by the Spirit. The notion that just anybody can worship . . . (or that) we can worship without the Spirit (or) that we can . . . ignore Him, quench Him, resist Him and yet worship God acceptably is a great heresy . . . .”

The most serious thing that keeps the Spirit out of my life is willfully unconfessed sin. I know that unless I keep short accounts with God (confession) then I’ve no power from the Holy Spirit. For that reason, ACTS does not work for me. I’ve changed the prayer acronym to CAST. Adoring God is more freely and joyfully given when my junk is acknowledged and cleared out of the way.

David knew the importance of this. He wrote:

“For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah” (Psalm 32:3–5)

On any given Sunday morning, some people in our congregation do not sing. Aside from reasons like a sore throat or not knowing the song, is it possible they have not had time to clear the air between them and God? Is the load of unconfessed sin hindering their worship? I cannot judge them, but know unconfessed sin will do that to me.

Confession is important as a prelude to worship for it is releases my heart to be Spirit-filled — and I cannot freely worship without the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when I need a reminder of how to pray, CAST works for me.

“Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.” (Psalm 47:6–8)

Lord Jesus, indeed You are the King of all the earth. You are sovereign and rule the nations. You are holy, enthroned in glory. Because of You, I can come freely to Your throne knowing my sin is forgiven and that Your Spirit is enabling me to sing praises to You!

October 15, 2018

Utter dependence on Christ

The Apostle Paul met Christ and was saved while on a mission to destroy Christians. He was not an evil man in his culture but a man zealous for God and eager to serve Him according to the OT laws. He had a list of credentials that many would call high qualifications for being in God’s favor. He had been circumcised as required, born into the nation of Israel, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a true Hebrew and a Pharisee who could claim righteousness according to the Law. He also could have boasted that he was zealous as seen in his persecution of Christians who were considered a false sect by the Jews.

However, Paul put no value in these ‘credentials’ and instead counted them as loss for the sake of Christ. For him, knowing Christ had “surpassing worth” and the rest was rubbish. His righteousness came from God through faith and a personal relationship with Jesus. He knew the power of His resurrection, and what it meant to share in His sufferings. Because of this, Paul said:

“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more . . . .”(Philippians 3:2–4)

It is not biblical to suppose that becoming a Christian will result in a cushy life. We have enemies. Some are enemies in teaching falsehood about how to be saved. Some are enemies in encouraging confidence in ourselves and in our credentials. Even Christians who mean well can fall into this worldly way of evaluating the worth of others.

A few years ago my husband was on a church board interviewing people for the position of youth pastor. One young man stood out. He had no degrees, no experience, but a great attitude and an obvious close relationship with the Lord. The others on this board had to be convinced but eventually agreed to hire him. All of them later admitted this was the best choice. After a few years, this young man moved on and is now the pastor of a growing, vibrant church. His credentials were spiritual qualities and God-given attitudes, not anything else.
I’ve thought of my own list of things I could depend on and realize that while God can use our ‘credentials’ He does not need them. The Bible says:
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31)
Jesus, You tell me to beware of considering myself ‘gifted’ or ‘well-educated’ or ‘strong’ or anything else that is gained from worldly sources. Obviously, You are more interested in a heart that is yielded to You and relies on You rather than those who think they do not need to.