Monday, September 25, 2017

Figuring out a Focus for Life

Over the years, I’ve saved a few things with the idea that I was going to use them in some way. I kept an old table leg, envisioning it as a large, freestanding candle holder. I’ve kept a box full of upholstery samples, envisioning them as tote bags to be used as gifts. I’ve kept a stack of Bible studies that I used in various classes with various ages, without a plan but hating to throw them away.

People my age are down-sizing. Some are doing it because they are moving to a smaller place or a seniors’ residence where they will not have space to keep their ‘collections’ — hoarded or sentimental. We moved six years ago and deleted loads of stuff, but now it is time to do it again. My stuff is distracting me from my focus.

The problem is deciding my focus and then sticking to it. Whether I have adult ADD or some other ‘excuse’ this interest in everything has a strong, negative side. It distracts me from any ‘main’ thing.

Paul had a similar decision to make regarding what was the most important thing in his life. After making a list of whatever could give him ‘reason for confidence’ in himself, he decided to dump it all and press on with one focus:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order 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 comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:8–11)

(Note: In this and other NT passages concerning ‘hope’ the word is not a “I hope so” uncertainty, but a sure thing. “Heaven is my hope” means I’m looking towards eternity as a certain destination. Here, Paul is not unsure about being raised from the dead. Another way to say part of this passage is: “All I want is to know Christ, namely to experience the power of his resurrection and share in his sufferings. I want to know Christ by becoming like him in death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.” Or verse 11 could be a complete sentence which could begin “In this way I can hope,” or “In view of this, I hope.” From Loh and Nida’s, “Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.”)

His focus was knowing Jesus Christ, particularly regarding his standing with God. His salvation was not about his heritage or anything else, only Christ. He gladly dumped everything that he might have counted on to make him important in anyone’s eyes, including his own.

In our culture, people value lots of things — nice home, new car, achievements, popularity, etc. As I read these verses, I need discernment. What would I write as “the loss of all things” and what would I say is my biggest gain? Paul’s list was not a list of sins, but of prestige or things that answer the question: What have you that gives you confidence in yourself? Appearance? Intelligence? Skills? An abundant life?

Paul considered everything on his list was garbage compared to gaining gain that which he valued the most of all, Jesus Christ and confidence in Him. In this time and place, what is God asking of me? What is the most valued thing, the thing which should be my focus?

Jesus, this are unexpected thoughts. I’m not certain where they will take me, but am okay with being stripped of anything that keeps You from being glorified in my life. Show me what to say YES to, and what needs to go in that give-away box.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Grace and humility

Years ago, someone wrote a book entitled, “Grace is not a Blue-eyed Blonde” with intention to clear up the meaning of biblical grace. This word does have several definitions. It is said to be ‘God’s undeserved kindness’ or ‘God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.’ My favorite is: ‘a revelation of Jesus Christ that produces a changed life.’

This definition fits my experience of salvation; God opened my heart to realize who Jesus is and what He has done in such a way that I was born anew. It also fits the daily experience of living by grace, growing more like Jesus as He reveals Himself to me through His Word and through my relationship with Him.

The book of job illustrates this definition too. Job had many troubles. He did not know that he was a battleground. Satan challenged the Lord saying if Job was not blessed by God, the faith that God gave him would crumble. God gave this evil being access to do whatever he wanted, only he was not allowed to take Job’s life.

Throughout his trial, Job had no idea what was going on in the spiritual realm. He only knew that he lost everything except his wife and his life. At first, he accepted that God’s hand was on him, but when his three friends began accusing him, things changed. They said he must have done something to deserve this treatment and was being punished. Job knew that was not true and defended himself. However, he became frustrated with their arguments and dangerously close to accusing God of wrong-doing.

In the end, God spoke to him. Here is part of the conversation:

And the Lord said to Job: “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:1–5)

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1–6)

Job’s attitude of humility came when his eyes saw God, a sovereign act of grace. This ‘seeing’ was not necessarily literal, but the presence of God was so real to him that he used those words. This revelation of God changed Job and moved him to humility.
David experienced the same thing after his sin was uncovered and forgiven. He described the change of heart and said: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

For us, the ultimate revelation of God comes through Jesus Christ. The New Testament says things like:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17–18)

Being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ is the destiny of those who believe in Him. As we gaze upon His glory and worship His holy name, we are both humbled and exalted, humbled because we realize who He is and that we are unworthy of His love. Yet we are exalted because we are brought close to Him in that humble state: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

God’s prophets foretell this grace will happen when Jesus comes the second time —in seeing Him, people will be broken and transformed:

“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:10)

Brokenness isn’t the best feeling in the world. Having a contrite heart runs contrary to pride and that ‘self-confidence’ that is supposed to characterize ‘successful’ people. However, it is in this condition that God changes lives. The wisest man said, “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.” (Ecclesiastes 7:3)

Jesus, I’ve not been fond of feeling broken or contrite, but I realize why these attitudes are necessary to faith. When I think I am important, or self-sufficient, or have merit in myself, I immediately stop trusting You and stop the process of being transformed into Your likeness. Being humble and sorry for my sin keeps me in the right attitude before You.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Peace, be still . . .

After reading another argument for ‘limited atonement’ in today’s devotional, I searched several commentaries and theology books to see if there is a reasonable way to think about this issue. I didn’t expect much because theologians have debated it for years, but I did find two very satisfactory articles that put my mind to rest.

First, the Bible gives verses that support all views, but all agree that Christ died to reconcile us to God and sinners must accept what He has done and put their faith in Jesus Christ. One viewpoint assumes that if Christ died for all but some do not believe, then His death was not sufficient. This means their sin is punished twice. , once on Christ and again on the person who perishes. (Hang in there, the second article is a sigh of relief.)

To this assumption, one article asks this question: Did the Israelite who refused to apply the Passover blood to the door of his house have his sins paid for twice? When the Passover Lamb was killed, sins were covered, but if he did not put the blood on the door, death came to that house. Was this a second payment for his sins? Of course not. The first and sufficient payment was simply not applied to that house. Death after failure to apply the blood was a just retribution for not appropriating the sufficient sacrifice. Then this author says the atonement of Christ paid for the sins of the whole world, but the individual must appropriate that payment through faith. He quotes these verses:

“In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)

Briefly, it says ‘the world was reconciled to God, but those reconciled people need to be reconciled to God.’ The death of Christ pays for all the sins of all people. However, no individual has his account settled with God until he believes. If he never believes, then even though the price has been fully paid, he cannot enter into the glory of forgiveness. The death of Christ is like a wealthy benefactor paying the tuitions of all students in all schools everywhere. If that happened, what should we be telling students? The good news that their tuitions are paid. Christ died for all. Then what should we be telling the world?

Not everyone accepts that approach, but the second article settles this in my mind. I’ve slightly edited it just to shorten it a little. The author says:

“Finally, we may ask why this matter is so important after all . . . it would be healthy to realize that Scripture itself never singles this out as a doctrine of major importance, nor does it once make it the subject of any explicit theological discussion. Our knowledge of the issue comes only from incidental references to it in passages whose concern is with other doctrinal or practical matters . . . A balanced pastoral perspective would seem to be to say that this teaching of particular (limited) redemption seems to us to be true, that it gives logical consistency to our theological system, and that it can be helpful in assuring people of Christ’s love for them individually and of the completeness of his redemptive work for them; but that it also is a subject that almost inevitably leads to some confusion, some misunderstanding, and often some wrongful argumentativeness and divisiveness among God’s people—all of which are negative pastoral considerations. Perhaps that is why the apostles such as John and Peter and Paul, in their wisdom, placed almost no emphasis on this question at all. And perhaps we would do well to ponder their example.” (Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.)

There are biblical truths that are revealed yet other issues that are unclear and best left until God chooses to make them plain. He does exhort us to unity and to love one another, not argue issues that we don’t understand or cannot reconcile. As the first author quoted put it, what are we supposed to be telling people, that ‘Christ only died for some people’ or that ‘Christ died for your sins’?

Jesus, today’s devotional does not give me anything that helps me in a practical sense other than I love You because You died for my sin and saved me, and that I need to stop reacting to the idea of limited atonement and get on with sharing the good news of what You have done, and rejoicing in the fact that You are God and You know what You are doing!