Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Pride? Or Humility?

Two weeks ago, an eye doctor removed a cataract from my left eye, replacing the lens and restoring vision. The procedure was painless, quick, and easy. Yesterday, he did the right eye. While that cataract was less of a problem, this time the surgery painful and my eye still hurt this morning. I want to sleep, or at least keep it closed.

The doctor recommended reading glasses from the dollar store until healing is complete. They worked last night, but not today. He said to get three pair in varying strengths. Now I know why. Blurry vision is no fun at all.

Today’s devotional reading reminded me of a story about blurry vision. A pastor once told me that in theology, some people become so focused on their ‘pet doctrine’ that it is like looking through a magnifying glass; the center might be clear and sharp, but everything else around the edges becomes blurry.

With today’s devotional reading again focusing on the author’s view that ‘only the elect will be saved’ I began to wonder about blurry vision in other matters. As I read the passage a few times, I asked the Holy Spirit to speak to me. What is this parable saying?

One Sabbath, when (Jesus) went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:1–11)

Most Bible scholars say that parables have one main meaning. This one seems to address the issue of pride and the need for humility. As I read it and was thinking about my eyes and the blurred vision of one of them, I thought about a blind man who attends our church. I’m not sure why, but I’ve found his appearance and manner very off-putting and tend to avoid him, not because he is blind. He also came to mind while the doctor worked on my eye.

The first part of the above passage is about the compassion of Jesus. He didn’t care about rules, customs, or anything else but helping those who need help. The Holy Spirit used those verses to remind me that God wants compassion shown to this man, not just because he is blind, but because he is a brother in Christ. I’m not to be like the Pharisees who were more interested in appearing godly than being godly. These verses point to their stuck-up pride and the compassion of Christ. Whose behavior am I demonstrating?

In the parable, Jesus illustrates how their attitude shows up in other ways. They assume they are special because they were invited to dine at the ruler’s house. They exalted themselves by taking a front-row seat instead of giving priority to the other guests. If they are to be exalted, it is their host that ought to do it, not themselves.

In this parable, the Holy Spirit spoke to me again. He repeated the first rebuke — that I am exalting myself over this blind fellow and need to have a different attitude. The second one is that even though God did invite me into His kingdom, there is no way that I can consider myself special. Whether the other guests are Christians or this parable is talking about being in a room full of sinners, the point is not “I was picked” but that I’m to be a humble person.

If I over-focus on what God has done for me, other people drift to the edges and get lost in my blurry vision. I’m aware how easily that can turn into pride at being “a chosen one” (just like the Pharisees did) instead of joyfully and with humility telling others the good news that “whosoever will may come”!

Jesus, forgive my pride and poor attitude, not only for this blind man, but whenever I look down my nose on anyone. Keep me from zeroing in on anything that blurs the bigger picture of Your goodness and grace. You could have decided that our sin is too repulsive and too off-putting. You could have refused to come, to seek and save the lost, to die for the sins of the world, mine included. I cannot give sight to the blind, but I can treat him and others with Your great compassion.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Where do I say NO?

God’s first ‘revelation’ of Himself is that He exists. The Bible tells how He does this: He puts eternity in our hearts; His creation reveals His glory and makes it plain:

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19–20)

This passage adds that people who refuse to acknowledge God exists are not thankful. Their hearts are darkened and their thinking becomes futile and foolish. They slide into deeper sin and are lost. At that point, what good would further revelation do if a person already rejects that He exists?

If a person believes that God does exist, this is good, but not a saving faith; even the demons believe and tremble. More revelation is required. This may involve a deeper understanding of who God is and what He does, yet eventually the most important concerns God’s high standard of righteousness and that we fall short. In this revelation, the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin. No one can get past this without agreeing with God.

Many will agree that all people sin, even that Jesus died for everyone, but when it comes to believing that “I am a sinner” and “Jesus died for my sin” there is resistance. A helpful illustration is to imagine everyone lined up on the west coast of the USA and given the task of swimming to Hawaii. Good swimmers might go several miles, but no one will make it; it is too far. So also is the high standard of God. Even the best ‘good’ people cannot reach it.

No person can be saved without agreeing that they need to be saved. Remember, God is not asking for a robot-like love. He wants our hearts engaged in saving faith. Saying no to our need of it will not produce it. Not only that, when God says I have sinned and I do not agree, I am calling Him a liar. What more can God say to convince me?

In today’s devotional reading, the author makes a difference between God’s general call to everyone, and His specific call to those who will be saved. He says the latter invitation is irresistible, but the first is not. Interesting, yet the Greek word used for ‘calling’ is the same, whether the invitation is accepted or rejected. In some mysterious way, people can resist the will of God. Jesus explained it this way:

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” ’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1–14)

Some accepted, some did not. What makes the difference? Perhaps it is that reference to a “wedding garment” required for being at the feast. In those days, it was supplied by the host, the person who sent out the invitations!

John Piper writes that salvation is a combination of two things that happen at the same time. God reveals the good news about Jesus Christ to a sinner and as that invitation is heard, He gives us the ability to believe it.

That is, the gift of faith and the gift of eternal life are God’s grace. This does not happen to those who reject His existence, or who refuse to believe that they sin and fall short. Yet for those who do go that far, it is still outside of our ability to say yes to God’s invitation. We need repentance and saving faith — both gifts from God. At that point, these gifts are irresistible because we have already agreed with God about our deepest need.

Jesus, I’m trying to balance Your sovereignty with our responsibility. My efforts may fall short because the real question is why should You save anyone? Denying that You exist blinds us to see our sinfulness and need for You. Some of us will often fall and fail and fall and fail many times before admitting we cannot reach Hawaii by our own efforts. We often try over and over to please You, totally stubborn in our attempts to establish our own righteousness. Yet You are incredibly merciful. You keep calling, inviting, revealing, patiently saying, “Come to me . . . .” What a wonder that You should be gracious and change our NO to YES and transform us from darkness into light, from self-rule into Your kingdom, from lost lambs into Your children. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

He paid my debt and now provides all I need . . .

Sometimes the simplest illustrations are the most effective. Here is one favorite: a person ahead of you at the checkout offers to pay the bill for the person behind him. It is not his order or expense, but he takes it upon Himself to pay it and you can go through without owing anything. Your bill is paid.

This is what Jesus did for me concerning sin. He took what I owed and wrote it on Himself. Even though He owed nothing, He was willing to pay for everyone else, including me.

“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
“That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)

The purpose of Jesus paying my debt is kind but not merely so. His intention was that I might be free from sin and tell others the good news — that the sinless Christ pays our debt and reconciles us to God so we can serve Him instead of sin.

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:8–12)

 The simple reality is that I’m set free from the tyranny of only one choice — “my way” — and can now live my life “His way.” Yet to do that, I must abide in Him. How can my message of reconciliation be convincing if my life does not demonstrate that what Jesus did has had an impact on me? The fact is, it cannot. Besides, that effect on me is so important that God says it is the ‘proof’ that Jesus Christ has set me free from the power of sin.

“No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:5–10)

It is not that I cannot sin, but as a redeemed person, I now have a choice. Prior to Christ, my sin nature remained my only motivation. However, with Christ I can say ‘no’ to sin because of His power given by His presence in me. Now I have two motivations: my old nature of sin (dead to God and still wanting to run my life) and that new nature that can abide in His presence and practice righteousness.  

In other words, in Christ, I am set free from sin’s grip. In myself, I am a sinner. I cannot deny this, yet I also must declare the reality that Jesus died for me to take away my sin.

Jesus, forgive me for thinking at times that I am helpless and cannot overcome, but also forgive me for failing to abide in You and trying to battle sin on my own. Just as I cannot pay the penalty for my own sin (and remain alive), I cannot overcome the power of sin without Your grace and strength. Your Word says I can do all things through You, yet so often I stop short. Instead of reaching for Your hand, abiding in You, and trusting You to graciously supply whatever is needed to tackle ‘all things.’ Your grace and goodness is incredible. You saved me from sin and You keep on interceding for me and helping me live a life that overcomes, a life that can now choose righteousness and declare the incredible reality of Your grace and power.