Monday, August 29, 2016

Faith is not about making assumptions

God whispered to me, “Pray for her and I will heal her.” I believed Him and prayed, thinking she would overcome her illness. She deteriorated. I wondered about God’s words, yet continued to pray for her, not for healing as much as for comfort. She died last week. My first thought was, “He did it; now she is healed.”

Chambers says our faith must be tested. One of those tests concerns what we actually believe. How do I interpret God’s promises? For my friend, first I thought He would make her physically well in this life. Now I realize that He planned perfect healing for her in His presence. She without illness for eternity, never to struggle and suffer again.

Jesus’ friend Lazarus was sick and died. Jesus wept, but not because Lazarus was dead; He knew that would not last . . .

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:38–40)

Martha and her sister, Mary, experienced a test of their faith. In this case, Jesus told them, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said she believed he would “rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (verse 23-24), but that was not what Jesus meant by His promise. He brought Lazarus back to life on that very day.

Many of God’s promises could mean at least a couple of things. Another example is this one:

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11)

If I am praying for an unsaved person, I could call on God to fulfill this in that person’s life, but does He mean that ‘every tongue confess’ in their life on this planet? I know that all will be resurrected, some to eternal life and others to eternal damnation. All will recognize the Lordship of Jesus Christ, but not all of them will do it willingly. I can pray that a person will bow the knee to Jesus and confess He is Lord because that is a great prayer, but I cannot claim that He will do it this week or even in their lifetime.

One thing I most like about being a Christian is that God continually surprises me. I have no idea what He is going to do next, and I’ve never been able to second-guess Him. His ways are loftier than mine; His thinking is far greater and wiser, above all that I can ask or imagine.

For that reason, I need to be wary of assumptions. Even though I have faith, my faith is in Him and in His choices and decisions, not in events or actions that I want or predict. Tested faith eventually realizes that whatever happens next is up to the Lord.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Prayer changes . . .

Watchman Nee, a Chinese Christian martyred for his faith, was asked what it was like to be a Christian. He said it was like having two dogs fighting inside of him. When the other person asked which dog was winning, Nee said, “Whichever one I feed the most.”

Jesus said strange things about ‘eating His flesh’ and ‘drinking His blood’ as metaphors for relying on Him for our very lives. He also said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” (Matthew 4:4)

Oddly enough, the Word of God written (the Bible) has a way of nourishing the Word of God living (Jesus). That is, the saving power of Lord Jesus Christ who lives in the hearts of His people seems to increase in strength as we spend time ‘feeding’ on Him. We do that by reading the Bible and prayer, putting our focus on Him. In that process, our spiritual lives thrive. If these spiritual disciplines are neglected, then that other ‘dog’ begins to take control.

When the disciples observed Jesus in prayer, they realized that His spiritual life was superior to theirs and put the two together. They wanted to know how to pray . . .

“Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ ” (Luke 11:1)

The New Testament way of praying is not the same as how most people pray. We tend to bring God our complaints or our list of ‘I wants.’ In contrast, the examples in the Bible include worship, requests concerning His kingdom, asking for forgiveness of sin, thanksgiving, and declarations of who God is and what He alone can do. Prayer can include lament, even complaining (see the Psalms) but those are given in an expression of faith that God is in charge and cares about those needs also.

I’ve noticed that prayer makes me more aware of His presence and opens my head and heart to His way of thinking. The Bible says that the more I think like Him, the more like Jesus I become. That means prayer does as much or more to change me as it does to answer my requests.

Prayer is a humble activity. By it I am expressing that I know God is greater and more powerful, and that I need Him. The danger of not praying is that when I slack off, it usually means I do not feel needy — but that is a total delusion. Besides, if I am not spending time with God, I miss out on the marvel of seeing Him answer my prayers. I also miss the experience of Him changing my life as I pray.

The disciples were wise to ask Jesus to teach them to pray. At the time, they probably didn’t realize what prayer would do, but history shows that these men learned to pray, then went out into the world sharing what He told them as they prayed. Because of their intimacy with God, the world has never been the same!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Eyes on context = eyes on Jesus

Context is important. Consider the words, “Rise up and protest!” and how they would words affect a crowd who did not want a certain law passed, or a group of seniors in wheel chairs who didn’t like the dessert served in their retirement home, or a few teens who hate their math teacher, or a little child trying to tie his shoes.

Context is particularly important when reading the Bible. In the following verses, Jesus is talking to a crowd of people who do not know who He is. He is not talking to His disciples or even to the religious Pharisees . . .

So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. (John 12:34–36)

Chambers applies this warning to Christians. Sorry sir, but Jesus has other words about light and darkness for those who believe in Him. He shone His light in our hearts. We have been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. His light has changed our lives. We need to walk in the light and believe it, but we already are the “sons of light” and we know who Jesus is.

“For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.” (1 Thessalonians 5:5)

The Apostle Paul testified to King Agrippa — that he had been delivered from his people and the Gentiles . . .  “to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:17–18)

Darkness is not going to overtake Christians. That said, how does the Christian apply these words that Jesus said? For one thing, they describe how to talk to those who have little understanding about Jesus or spiritual matters. They have heard something about God’s law and something about Jesus. They have a bit of light in their life, only a small knowledge, but they need to be encouraged to pursue it.

For example, I met a woman from a religious background that shunned her because she had been divorced. She knew that I was writing a biblical column for the local newspaper and as we talked, I told her I had been divorced also. She was surprised and delighted, almost shedding tears. I’d already observed that she was a gracious lady and thankful for everything. I told her that the Bible (Romans 1) says that creation shows us who God is, and being thankful is an important part of learning more about Him. She was overwhelmed to recognize that her thankfulness is something God wants and that she was on a good path. Her divorce could not keep her from knowing God.

Walking in the light that God gives is like walking a dim path with a flashlight. Each step takes me forward and with it, the light also moves forward. God illuminates the next step in the path, then the next step. If I do not move into the light I have, I won’t get very far. However, the darkness does not remove my understanding of where I am going or that I believe in the Giver of light. He is there with me, in light or darkness, and promises that He will never leave me or forsake me. Psalm 139 says light and darkness are both alike to Him.

Without considering the context, my focus today could have turned to my spiritual condition and raised questions about whether or not I am walking in the light. Such inward thinking without the conviction of the Holy Spirit takes my eyes off Jesus. Instead of moving forward, I stand still in confusion and fear rather than letting Him show me if I’m off the path.

What delight (and light) to consider the context of Jesus’ words. He reveals to me a need some people have, and one way to help them consider the light God has given them. This results in both of us turning our eyes on Jesus and moving toward Him.

Friday, August 26, 2016

How to have peace . . .

Today Chambers says, “There are times when our peace is based upon ignorance . . . .” because we are oblivious to the stuff that we are doing against the will of God.

This reminds of those who ask me if or when I’m going to go after a doctorate degree. My most recent response was, “I am not ready to learn more —I haven’t caught up to what I know now.”

Ignorance can be bliss. A pastor friend used to say, “What I don’t know won’t convict me.” This was tongue in cheek, but it is true. If God had shown me all the sin in my life when I was first saved, I may have committed suicide!

Being convicted of sin is painful for those of us who love Jesus and want to reflect His goodness and purity. We are not proud of our sinful old nature. However, there is a cure for the pain of guilt. Besides confessing, repenting, and cleansing God speaks of in 1 John 1:9, Jesus offers an inner peace that is beyond understanding and does not rely on ignorance.
In fact, this peace is for those who have awakened to the facts of life. Our ignorance has been chased away by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. God has used the experiences of to increase our awareness of reality as well. Regarding His peace, two passages come to mind:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6–7)

The interesting thing about this wonderful peace is that it no one can snap their fingers and create this wonderful peace. It is an amazing sense of God being in control — and because that is true, then we do not have to be anxious or fearful about anything. This peace comes from Jesus Christ and is put into my heart and mind — yet at the same time, it requires my cooperation.

Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled . . .  or afraid.” Some people actually enjoy being in a dither. It is their lifestyle. I’ve experienced this in a small measure and if my memory is right, I was in that state as an attention-getting device. Others may do it for different reasons, but regardless of the motivation, Jesus says I need to be willing to let go of worries and fears, rather than allowing them to fuel me up with distress.

The other requirement is prayer. Worry does not go away by itself. I must pass on to God the things that upset me, trusting Him to take care of them and expressing that trust in thanksgiving. Then He pours His amazing peace into me, amazing because it does not make sense to have peace when life is full of so many anxiety-creating circumstances. But it does make sense because Jesus also said:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

The peace of the world depends on being in an ideal situation. The peace of Jesus Christ depends on abiding in Him, full of faith and being filled with His Spirit — who graciously gives His children His almost unexplainable peace.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Spiritual fruit and serving God

My mother often told me, “You are never happier than when you do things for others.”

For a time, I wondered if that was a selfish reason. We had a neighbor who said, “I love doing things for others because it makes me feel good.” I realize now that is not what my mother meant.

Loving others is how Christians show their love for God. It is also tied to being filled with the Holy Spirit and bearing fruit. Like a tree does not bear fruit for itself to eat, so also do Christians not bear fruit for themselves. His “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23) is for others.

While bearing fruit does feel good, biblical love is a sacrificial love; I don’t do it for myself just as Jesus sacrificed His own life for the sake of humanity. That means that bearing fruit has an element of sacrifice in it and is closely tied to loving other people. These verses show that connection:

“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:15–17)

Yet, as Jesus points out, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit is not about serving God as a servant (the Greek word is bond-servants or slaves), but as His friend. Fruit-bearing and loving others are about relationships of love, not servitude.

I remember getting up in the middle of the night to take care of one of my children who just threw up in his bed. That is not the action of a servant! I was motivated by my love for that child. As Jesus indicates, we love and serve others because we love and serve Him — as friends who love each other, not as ‘me master, you slave’ with emphasis on making a sacrifice to do the serving.

Actually, if I’m feeling like what I’m doing is a sacrifice, I’m very likely not filled with the Spirit and bearing spiritual fruit. From what I know about it, Spirit-filled fruitfulness is not a chore, not something I would ever resent or consider difficult, or measure by how much I had to give up to do it.

This is why Chambers can talk about “the joy of self-sacrifice” and why it happens to those who absolutely abandon themselves in devotion to the Lord. “The final aim of self-sacrifice is laying down our lives for our Friend. When the Holy Ghost comes in, the great desire is to lay down the life for Jesus; the thought of sacrifice never touches us because sacrifice is the love passion of the Holy Ghost.”

Jesus delighted to do the will of His Father. What He did for God the Father was never about slavery or servant-hood, but about their relationship. This is how it should be for me too, that I walk with Jesus as my friend, the One that I love and the One who knows and loves me more than any other.

Chambers rightly says that this friendship is based on the new life created in us and has no affinity with our old life. It is humble, pure and absolutely devoted to God — because it comes through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in me.

If it is not there, then I am walking in the flesh and need to repent.