Monday, November 20, 2017

Being on the winning team . . .

We watched the western Canadian semi-final football game yesterday. Our team didn’t win, yet it interests me how sports teams are picked. The owners and team managers do not put the entire world on their roster. They narrow their options by location, skill at the game, and what they can afford to pay them. Using that and other criteria, they select those whom they think would be able to win and then play against the eastern finalist team in the game called the Grey Cup.

God makes choices too, but He has a bigger prize in mind. He sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. This Son would be born to a virgin, but who would be that woman? God narrowed His choice to Israel, a relatively small group, to be His people for that task. While they were given other responsibilities, it was through them the Savior would enter this world. God would also use the Israelites and their history to illustrate redemption, and to set on them His special love. He explains:

 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7:6–8)

Most of Israel loved to be considered the people of God. Most of them still do. In biblical days, their musicians praised the Lord for what He had done:

“Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing to his name, for it is pleasant! For the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession.” (Psalm 135:3–4)

While some of the Jewish people remained true to their calling, not all of them did. However, it was out of this people of God that their Messiah would be born. When He came, God again narrowed His choices. Through Jesus and faith in Him, the people of God are now called Christians. These have become His blessed people, chosen to be holy and blameless, God’s adopted children:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3–6)

Even though these words speak highly of this ‘team’ that God blesses, it isn’t because we are large, lofty, or mighty. God even says otherwise and explains why:

“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)

If a football team was selected in the same way, the players would be light-weight weaklings without any skills or track records. Imagine that team in the Grey Cup. It would be the laughing stock of the league and appear totally helpless. If they won, it would not be because they had what it takes but because God produced a miracle in their efforts and their lives. Oh my . . .

Jesus, that image spells out what it means to be called as Your child. I have no qualifications to be here or to do Your will. I fall far short. The only way I can accomplish anything is by grace through faith, truly a gift from You — that I might not boast. Blessed be Your holy name!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sharing Christ

During dinner, one of our guests, a young Buddhist, mentioned that she was born on a certain day. My husband’s face lit up and he said that day was special to him too. He went on to explain how he decided to take the family to a nearby church, and at that church he responded to the Lord and became a Christian.

Earlier in the evening, the same person noticed the hearts on our calendar. We use them to mark the days we join with others to pray for our children. She asked about the hearts, thinking they were ‘date nights’ or something like that. He explained why they were there, and I added that we called our prayer group “Soft Hearts.”

She offered no visible or verbal response. A few months ago, when first sharing a meal with us, she asked another person at the table why we prayed before we ate. He said that was what Christians do; we thank God for providing for us.

This morning’s devotional reminds me of the importance of not only sharing our testimony of the Lord, but also using sound words to do that. My hubby is particularly good at that. I tend to get ‘theological’ but he is more apt to explain the Gospel in simple terms that anyone can understand.

Another important part of sharing Jesus with others is being bold, being unafraid to do it. This fear can come from pride (how silly is that?) and a sense of shame that I am a needy sinner (also silly). Sometimes I think the response will be angry or strong resistance (and sometimes it is). However, God tells me to do it anyway:

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:8–14)

Paul, who wrote this, was convinced of his calling. He was confident in his knowledge of God, never ashamed or fearful in his faith. He said to use those sound words, words that God can use to bring spiritual well-being to those who hear them — because faith does come from hearing the Word of Christ. People cannot believe unless Jesus speaks to their heart and He often uses the mouth of those in whom He dwells.

Not only must these sound words be biblical, they must be spoken in faith and love; faith that God will use them, and love that expresses a desire for the spiritual well-being of those who hear them. This is not giving an argument or a defense of the faith, nor a rebuke, or promoted by pride, haughtiness, or arrogance. it is speaking for the good of someone else.

These sound words are also given to us by the Holy Spirit and spoken out loud in the same manner that He speaks. Anyone who hears Him speak knows exactly what that means — the Holy Spirit has this wonderful way of being able to give our hearts a wake-up call and a hug at the same time!

Jesus, I have no idea of Your plans for our Buddhist friend, but do thank You for the grace You give to my hubby in the way he shares his testimony. My prayer is that You continue to speak through him, and that You use what he says in the lives of those who hear. Of course, this is for me too, that I will never hesitate to speak out what You have put in my heart, and never be ashamed or fearful of negative responses. I never know what You will do with those sound words You give us to share with others and for that reason, they must be shared.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Faith, the gift that comes from hearing . . .

In reading through the New Testament, Hebrews 11 was my portion for today. It is about faith and those who are sometimes called the ‘heroes of faith’ because they illustrate what faith in God is like. This passage shows that all those who put their faith in God did so because they heard Him speak to them.

Today’s devotional reading came from another passage that parallels this. It says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” This sent me back to Hebrews 11 for a closer look and then a reread of Romans 10 and I noticed something about the interaction between God speaking and those who hear Him. This English word “BUT” is a “marker of emphatic contrast and shows how God works and how people respond to Him. The Romans passage says:

 “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.
“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
“But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
“But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for ‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’
“But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, ‘I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.’ Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, ‘I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.’
“But of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.’” (Romans 10:11–21)

Faith is a gift from God. This is not like ordinary trust, such as believing the sun will rise every day because it always has, or that my toaster will work because there is electric power in the outlet, or even trusting another person because they have proved themselves reliable. God is reliable and has a positive track record, but that is not the basis for faith. He speaks and in hearing Him speak, either through Scripture or through someone preaching or speaking of Jesus Christ, faith is bestowed. Believers simply know it is God and know what He said is true — and they demonstrate their faith by doing what God tells them.

Noah heard God tell him to build an ark. Abraham heard God telling him to leave his home and go elsewhere. Sarah heard God promise her a child (she laughed, but she had a baby). Going through the list that includes Moses, Gideon, and many others, the pattern is there. Faith is initiated by hearing God, then doing what He says.

However, the above passage says everyone hears, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” That does not mean that everyone follows through. This passage from Romans also says, “But they have not all obeyed the gospel.”

In God’s sovereign will, He speaks but does not force people to listen and obey. He held out His hands to Israel, then calls them “a disobedient and contrary people” because they rejected His way and decided to live their way. Did they not understand Him? Odd, but understanding isn’t necessary for faith. Think of Noah building an ark when it had never rained and Abraham having a son when he and Sarah were far too old to bear children. God told them to do what seemed odd, but they did it.

Certainly, salvation is of God. Without the gospel and what Christ has done, there is no hope for any of us. Can God make us believe or force us to understand? I’m sure He could, but personal experience tells me this is not how He works. There is a mystery in this faith thing; He bestows it and the ability to believe it, even to people who do not seek Him or ask for Him, and yet there is also a heart ready to hear and obey it. If not, salvation does not happen, and this faith-gift fails to take root.

Verse 13 says, “Everyone who calls upon the Lord will be saved” and the next verses say they need to hear the gospel so they can call out to God and believe him, but right after that, verse 18 says, “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” I cannot completely comprehend this, but one thing I do know, if anyone hears God speak, faith will pick the right option, whereas disobedience will not.

Jesus, thank You for giving faith substance, for accepting the task of making the invisible God visible and for taking our sin on Yourself so we can be forgiven. You have done all we need to give us reason to trust us, and yet we are not saved by reason, but by faith. Oh, what a wonder You are —  and what a wonder is this grand plan of God to save those who call upon You. Thank You for speaking to me and for the grace needed to hear and believe You!