Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Feeding the right nature . . .



Chinese Christian Watchman Nee described the Christian experience of flesh vs. spirit as like having two dogs fighting inside of him. When asked which one was winning, he replied, “The one that I feed the most.”

Christian people ought to avoid certain activities when we know they will feed the wrong dog. Sometimes this is easy to figure out. If I had been an alcoholic (I wasn’t’) I would avoid bars and liquor cabinets. If I had once idolized particular sports or certain people, I would stay away, at least until that was no longer a problem, or in other words, until those activities stopped feeding that dog.

Another person described sin and temptation like having a wolf on a tether. It was always there, but stay beyond the length of the tether and for goodness’ sake, don’t pet the wolf!

Paul wrote about the battle of trying to do the will of God and how our sinful nature resists that. He knew that sin has been defeated by faith in Christ, but he also knew that it stubbornly does not go away and leave us alone. (Read these verses slowly!) . . .

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:14–25)

I can especially echo the middle part of this passage: I also desire to do what is right, but in myself have no ability to carry it out. I cannot do the good I want to, but find sin very easy to do. Yet the Bible says that by faith in God I have been made a new creature. So if I am a new creature, why then am I plagued by that old sinful nature? Paul says, “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

In the beginning, it was easy to see those areas of “feeding the wrong dog” and turn away from them. However, as time goes by, the Holy Spirit reveals to me how easily I can toss a few crumbs that way and often not realize it, but always wind up in trouble. Sin is like standing on that proverbial slippery slope. Just desiring to go that direction puts me at the top of the slope and if I don’t cry out to Jesus, I’m certain to slide into trouble. To use the wolf metaphor, I cannot pet the beast without getting bitten.

It seems to me that when the Bible talks about maturity such as the way God spoke of Job, it may include the ability to ‘feed the right dog’ but perfection isn’t the same as being sinless . . .

“And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’” (Job 1:8)

Job hated evil, but his story reveals he was not sinless (no one is). He experienced calamity after calamity and did not curse God, but he also said that had he sinned to deserve all this, he would have known it. In other words, this man was in touch with his own spiritual life. If he fed the wrong dog and fell into sin, he knew it, but he also knew what to do about it. This is the secret of being mature. It is summed up in one short New Testament verse:

“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)

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Jesus, until my sin nature is eradicated, the possibility and danger of sin remains. Yet You are faithful in teaching me how to do battle. Every day I’m becoming more aware of Your power and protection, but also how to wear spiritual armor and fight evil distractions. Some days, particularly when I am tired or experience set-backs and disappointments, that wrong dog begs to be fed, as if petting it will put him away from me. But that is not true. My only defense is clear in James 4:7: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Bless me today with the Spirit of submission to You so I am feeding that new nature that You gave me.


Monday, February 20, 2017

No one can keep God’s Law . . .



A young woman said she did not want to be a Christian because she was aware that Christians live according to the will of God and she didn’t want to do that because “it would not be fun.” Her understanding, however incomplete, did reveal one thing: she knew that living by God’s ‘rules’ would make her feel bad. She just didn’t know why.

Unfortunately, this perception about keeping the ‘rules’ has kept even Christians from realizing the purpose of God’s Law. Keeping it cannot make anyone holy or righteous because no one can keep it! Instead, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20)

Trying to keep those rules is not fun because taking that route only makes people feel guilty. They realize they fall short and as a consequence must either stop trying and be left in their guilt, or seek mercy from the God they are trying to appease or please.
The second option is a good one because the God who demands righteousness also provides it . . .

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3–5)

Those who put their faith in Jesus Christ are forgiven and the righteousness of Christ is imputed on them by a merciful God. That makes them His people, Christians who can live to please God. Yet everyone knows that Christians still break God’s laws and shock others, even themselves by their sin. How can that be explained? They have the righteousness of Christ, even the mind of Christ. What is the meaning of sin in the life of someone so blessed by the mercy of God?

In the above passage, there is an explanation, a qualifier for fulfilling the Law of God. It talks of those, “who live according to the flesh” and those “who live according to the Spirit.”

We know about people who suffer from double-mindedness, or mental illness like schizophrenia, which is not a good illustration, but enough to explain what is going on. Those who walk by the flesh are doing their own thing, seeking their own comfort and benefit, even using religious activities to do it. Those who live by the Spirit are listening to God and carefully following His direction. Their lives are governed by Him, not by their own desires. When that happens, through the Spirit of God a Christian is fulfilling His Law. It may seem weird at times, and not understood by others, but this is how I can live the way God wants me to live.

Paul rebuked the Galatians for trying to live righteously apart from this. He said, “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  . . . . Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’?  . . . . For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ But the law is not of faith . . . .” (Galatians 3:1–13)

Rule-keeping is evidence that I am trusting me. The law of God is holy, just and good, but only pride makes me think I can keep it. But that is not true . . . . “by the deeds of the law no flesh can be justified.” Instead, I need to walk in the Spirit. This is always a challenge (my flesh and my pride resists it), however humility and faith make it possible. Becoming consistent in both is a life-time challenge.

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Jesus, I know that by faith in You, I fulfill the law’s requirement of perfect righteousness. I have no righteousness of my own. Faith in You does not ignore or defile or lessen the law, or make it void. Instead, because of Your grand salvation plan, by faith and grace, walking in Your Spirit is the only way I can honor Your Law.



Sunday, February 19, 2017

Wrestling

Last night, after making the decision to go ahead with what God is telling me, I had a wrestling match with my willingness. Satan distracted me with his fiery darts and between trying to put out the fire and arguing with God, I didn’t sleep very well.

Ironic that today’s devotional is entitled, ‘If thou wouldest believe.’ It comes from this verse uttered to Martha, Lazarus’ sister, just before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead:
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40)
Martha was not alone. Raising the dead was not a common experience. On another occasion, a ruler of the synagogue named Jairus implored Jesus to come to his home and heal his dying daughter . . .
“While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”
He took Peter, James and John to Jairus’ house and saw the mourners. He said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.”
They laughed at him, but he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.
On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief . . . . (Mark 5:35–6:6)
This is a rebuke to both my reluctance and the trouble I’m having believing that God could/would ask me to do something far larger than I feel capable of doing. Maybe the real question is: how badly do I want to see the glory of God? I pray for it, sing songs like, “I want to see Jesus” yet I waffle and wrestle.

If Martha had simply believed she would have seen the glory of God in her brother’s sickness and death, as well as in his resurrection. If I trusted him in all things, as I say I do, I should see his glory in all things.

Faith sees the glory of God in the gospel, His wisdom, justice, mercy, righteousness and grace in saving sinners by the doing and dying of the Lord Jesus. Faith sees the glory of God in providence, in all that he does, (creation, redemption, providence and salvation) and in the resurrection.

Yet as today’s devotional says, the Lord’s reproof is this: if I did believe I should see the glory of God working in my life. John Trapp writes, “Unbelief is so vile and venomous an evil that it transfuseth a kind of dead palsy into the hands of omnipotency.” For me, this makes my failure to trust God with what I cannot see a very foolish choice.

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Jesus, You can do all things because of Your omnipotent power. In this incident with Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter, You raised the dead despite their doubts, perhaps because that doubt was like mine. I believe in You as my Savior, but this particular thing is beyond me. I’m thinking “Your strength in my weakness” is beyond You because my focus is on me instead of You.

In contrast, You do no mighty work in the lives of those who are offended by You and do not believe You  at all. You are able, but they are denying Your power completely.
I don’t know what to say. The “Who, me?” part of my excuses and reasoning goes unanswered because You want me to trust You, not worrying about my limitations. I believe; help my unbelief!


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Do all things through Christ . . .



Months ago, the Lord gave me an idea, or at least I thought it was from Him. As the weeks went by, I became less certain. What if it was merely my idea, a way to bring attention to myself instead of a way to glorify God?

On the other hand, if God was in this, why was so little happening? Is Satan messing with me? How can I be sure that God is in this? Is God’s silence telling me to drop it? I’ve been praying that He would reaffirm this idea was from Him, or tell me otherwise.

This morning’s homework for our weekly Bible study had several challenges to this conundrum. As I went through the questions, I realized that my problem is not with God but with me. The idea calls me to do things that I’ve little experience with, to be willing to learn (and make mistakes), and to not be fearful but trusting Him at every step of the way.

I’m thinking my faith isn’t big enough, but the study material reminded me that this isn’t about my faith, but about my perception of God. Is He faithful to bring about the idea that He put in my heart (or that I think He put in my heart)? I was directed to this verse:

“But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3)

The word ‘establish’ means “marked by a firm determination or resolution.” I have to admit that I’ve been waffling. Instead of seeking the Lord concerning what to do next, I’ve felt like folding, giving up, neglecting the reality that if this is from God, it cannot fail; He will accomplish it.

With the issue still on my heart, I turned to the devotional reading for today which points to the reigning power of God. Like a series of exclamation marks, it emphasized the answer to my questions and those  excuses.

Who am I to question the power of God? “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?”

Why be afraid of anything or anyone? “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.”

Dare I limit God’s creative powers? “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing.”

My age and strength are barriers?  “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:12–31)

Am I limiting the power of God? “He gives up nations before him, so that he tramples kings underfoot; he makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow. He pursues them and passes on safely, by paths his feet have not trod. Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.”

Why me? “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:1–10) 

There is more, but for now I’ll refer to two lines from this reading . . . The first: In myself I am nothing, only what God allows me to be.

Second: God governs all things and all beings . . . In Christ, I can accomplish His eternal purpose.

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Jesus, may Your will be done in this idea. Do make me willing and also make me able — by Your power and grace — that I will wholeheartedly do as You say and You will be glorified!