Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Today, another adventure. . .

"And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death —— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 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. Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — —not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — —continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:12 NIV).

There are two "‘therefore'’s"’ in this passage. First, Jesus became human and, in obedience to His Father, died on the cross for our sin . . . therefore God exalted Him to the highest place. Second, because of what He did, eventually every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord . . . therefore work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

This passage does not say "“work for your salvation,"” or "“work at your salvation,"” or "“work up your salvation."” This is not about attaining salvation by human effort or goodness or it would contradict other plainer passages. It is about living out the inner transformation that happens when someone accepts Christ and recognizes the reasons for the therefore'’s.

In other words, because Jesus lives in me, my life ought to show it. From the context, this means acting like He acted. It means: being humble even though God has blessed me in countless ways; being human and identifying with fellow strugglers in this life; being a servant just as Christ came to serve; being obedient to God like Jesus is obedient to His Father, and being willing to pay the ultimate price if God asked for it, just as Jesus did.

My life would be no different from any pagan, unbelieving person if I did not "“work out my salvation"” by allowing Jesus who lives within to come out, to be seen. It is the outworking of His life that makes a difference. But I'’m not a puppet. My part is putting off the old (me) and putting on the new (Christ) and humbly cooperating with Him as He fulfills God'’s purposes for me.

So where will that take me today? I'’ll likely have to do my ironing and begin lesson preparations for next Sunday. Other than that, He makes today, like every other day, an adventure!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Why Resist a Free Gift?

This week a dying man was told about the grace of God and His offer of eternal life to all who will believe and receive Christ. The man said he was not interested in this free gift. He wanted to “take his chances.” Another man came to church last Sunday and heard the same offer, but he decided he is bound for hell and nothing can be done about it.

How can these two people, and thousands like them, have no interest in eternal life freely offered by God? How can they not care what happens to them after they die?

The only reason I can come up with is that sin makes people so anti-God that humble submission to Him sounds worse than hell. No wonder the Bible says that apart from the saving power of God, “There is none who seeks after God . . . there is no fear of God before their eyes.” Everyone goes their own way, lives by their own rules and laws, and has no concern about the after-life. Sin gives them an aversion to God and His glory, permeates all that they are and affects everything they do.

What about me? I know there is a God and believe there is both heaven and hell. Is that good enough? James 2:19 says not: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble.” Satan no doubt has flawless doctrine but that does not save him.

Knowing about Him is not enough. We are supposed to change our attitude and turn from sin and running our own lives and follow Him. But apart from His touch, I would never turn to Him — it is not in me to even want to do that.

When Adam and Eve first sinned, it was God who put them out of the garden and separated them from Himself. Only He could turn them around and bring them back to Himself. I’m the same. The sin in me resists God, but even if it didn’t, as a created being (like a plant or a rock), I cannot change my own nature. Only God, who created me, can remake me.

What an awesome thought that God would even consider redoing those who have said no to Him, but He does. One day He opened my eyes and shone His light into my heart. Something happened. I realized my lost and sinful condition, but at the same moment understood that He was doing something inside me, something that I could and would never do myself. In a moment He changed my sinful nature. Instead of running away I began to run to Him.

That was over thirty years ago, and I am still following after Him, still being changed, and still amazed.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

If God was fair. . .

During the past few days of being reminded that God is infinite and wonderful — but my sinful human nature could not care less — I have an answer for those who think God is unfair, for those who say they believe in Him yet have dropped hell from their belief system because God “cannot be so unloving” as to send people to such a place. I’ve also an answer for those who think the doctrine of election, clearly taught in Scripture, makes God unfair — and therefore is not true.

After reading Stephen Charnock’s discussion on practical atheism, I realize the total depravity of the human heart. Even though God has redeemed and changed me, I see the atheism in my own thinking. I know that all of humanity has fallen from any desire to seek and know God. In our natural selves we do not want to love and serve Him, and even if we do it, our service so easily springs from self-centered motives. The depth of our rejection and rebellion removes all reasons for thinking God is unjust. He has every right to avenge our resistance to His goodness, to His right to rule over His creation. He has every right to send all of us away from Him forever.

But what does He do? He sees our sinful, selfish nature turned away from Him. He sees this atheism seated deeply in our nature and our will. He created us to serve Him but we serve ourselves. He knows, left to ourselves, we will never delight in Him and seek His face. He knows we cannot do it. He knows that if we are going to live supernatural lives, we must become supernatural people. We need a deep, inner change in those rebellious hearts that seek our own promotion instead of His glory.

So what does He do? Instead of giving us what we deserve, God poured out His justice on Jesus. Instead of the punishment that should be ours, He put it on His Son. Instead of the death that should be the result of our sin, He offers us a new life.

And that is why I worship Him!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Why I need mercy

Charnock sums up his chapter on practical atheism by saying that the natural man will push away thoughts of God. There is no natural desire for spiritual duties, not even to pray, unless we are desperate. There is no desire to be with Him either. Every human could be totally forgiven, but apart from His work in us, we would choose instead to flee from His presence, spurn His every offer. “God stands ready, but the heart stands off; grace is full of entreaties, and the soul full of excuses . . . .”

We do not want to imitate Him either, even though He is perfection. In the beginning, He created us in His image and Adam wanted to be like God; however, as soon as sin entered the picture, he turned his back on that perfection to go his own way, to be what he wanted to be, a much lesser goal.

I think of the patience and mercy of God. Millions breathe His air, live on His bounty and yet give Him little thanks or even any thought. By their rejection they deserve hell and isn’t that what they want — to be as far from Him as possible?

At the first sin, God promised to save His rebellious creatures. He opens His arms to us, bids us come to Him, gives us all good things, even sent His Son to die for us, yet we try to climb up on His throne, rob Him of His glory, spurn His advances, ignore Him to follow our own way. Even those whom He has saved know that, “when we would do good, evil is present with us.”

This harsh and revealing chapter has had a good effect on my heart. Just as a sinner needs to see their lost estate before they can be saved, I had become complacent, taking my salvation and the grace of God for granted. I needed this reminder of my fallenness and the depravity that taints every part of my being. Yet even as I realize this afresh and better understand all that God has done for me, I sense also wanting to avoid these issues, think about other things. The God who saved me and graciously forgives and cleanses my sin is not in all my thoughts, even after recognizing how much I need Him to be there.

He has shown me again that no one can be close to God by anything we do — simply because we do not wish to be close to Him. God is not in our hearts unless God puts Himself there. We will avoid Him, push Him away, seek our own way. All that Charnock says is true. God is God, and we are not — not in the same category, not even close. His mercy and grace to save is indeed a precious gift.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The great divider

Last night I was annoyed with my husband for some silly reason (I know it was silly because I can’t even remember what it was). The result? I didn’t want to be in the same room with him. Before “the sun went down” I got over it and everything was okay, but this morning’s spiritual reading spoke to what happened.

When we sin against God, or anyone else, there is a desire for distance. With God, we become afraid and ashamed to be near Him. The selfish sinfulness in me cannot endure the splendor of God. My guilt cannot stay in the presence of His glory. Sin separates me from God.

To a lesser degree, this principle is also true when we sin against others. I was selfishly angry and didn’t want to be near my husband. I tried to isolate myself because my sinfulness could not endure his presence. It was made worse by the fact that he didn’t deliberately do anything to me — was relatively innocent and certainly oblivious to my attitude. But even if he had done something that caused me to blame my sin on him (how irresponsible, but the flesh thinks like that), I would still not want to be around him. Sin separates me from other people too.

As ususal, the grace of God intervened to change my attitude. This morning as I read this, my heart fills with thanksgiving that Jesus died for sin and provids access to the throne of God. That veil of separation that forbid access to the most holy place is torn in two. The way to God is open. Anyone can come boldly to the throne of grace for forgiveness and grace, for eternal life. Anyone can have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. And anyone can live at peace with those around them, even me. Amen!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Letting God be God

Loving and serving God is easy when things go well. I can readily glorify Him when He does what pleases me, what answer my prayers. But what happens when He does not respond to the desires of my heart? Do I still find delight in serving and glorifying Him?

The perversion of sinful self shows up when I’m reluctant to honor God if there is nothing in it for me. Like Jonah, I shrink from duty that goes against my grain, that honors God alone.

This self-centeredness shows up in other ways, like calling on God only when I need Him, then putting thoughts of Him aside in prosperity. I remember Him in trials, forget Him when I am smiling. I am too often like a hitchhiker who wants a lift, using Him as if He is my servant.

Do I ask for anything from Him if I can do it myself? Do I make my plans, then tack on a prayer at the end asking His blessing on my projects? Do I become impatient if things do not turn out as I had prayed? If years of prayer for the souls of lost family and friends seem to go unheard, do I believe God knows best how to bring glory to Himself in their lives?

If I really want His will and His glory, can I leave it with Him to decide how and when He should do anything, never mind how and when I should do something? Who am I to think He must do what I dictate?

I am learning that these are tests to find out whose glory I’m really seeking. A passing mark is a response of obedience, humility and patience — no matter what God is doing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I want to see God -- but didn't expect it this way!

Charnock’s chapter on practical atheism is getting me down. It is a terrible thing to see all the ways in which I live as if there is no God. This morning I slug through another section and wonder why I decided to read this book. To what end is all this depressing news? I tried to think of God’s mercy. Even though I am this sinful person, He loves me and saved me. That didn’t help. So I closed the book and opened the Bible that I’m reading through this year. Today’s reading from Deuteronomy didn’t start out very appealing either, but one verse caught me: “But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. During the forty years that I led you though the desert, your clothes did not wear out nor did the sandals on your feet. You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.”

The people of God didn’t get it either. They were discouraged and depressed. Even though He had rescued them from bondage in Egypt, God was not showing them the deeper meaning of their journey to the promised land. All they could see was the bleakness of their situation. While He was taking care of them, they keenly felt frustration and dissatisfaction. Would this journey never end?

Yet God had a reason. They were wandering in this bleak place where everything else had been stripped away — so that they might know Him.

Ah, lights come on; I relate. As Charnock takes me apart and makes me realize that I truly am nothing and have nothing, God’s almighty greatness shines through. By seeing my own depravity, I’m better able to realize His holiness. By stripping away my self-centered underpinnings, I’m more able to see His sustaining power and grace. As He reveals my smallness and my sinful tendencies, He also opens my eyes to His immensity, to His love and power to forgive and cleanse me from sin. To better see God, He must first get me out of the way.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

My will? or His?

Some people pull away from God when they don’t like what He does. They say, “If God is a god who allows . . . then I am not interested in following Him.”

It is easier to walk with God when things go my way. When it seems that God is not humoring me, I am lured to run my own life instead of following Him. Not only that, I find it much easier to seek His affirmation than His will. I would rather He tells me what I want or expect to hear than something foreign or difficult. When His ways seem harsh or demanding, I’m tempted to find someone who will tell me an easier way.

But God, being God, is bound to say things I don’t like, make commands that I do not agree with, and do things I don’t understand. I’m a human being with a sin nature, a tendency to go my own way — not the way of God — and my understanding has severe limits. The two, God and I, are bound to clash. When it happens, I’ve two options. One is to resist the God of the universe, the Creator and Author of life, as if I know more than He and have the power to make things work the way I want them to work. The other is to yield, humbly recognizing that I do not know everything and cannot do anything apart from Him.

God is God. Compared to Him, what do any of us know? What can any of us do? I may not understand much of anything that He does, but my understanding should never be my ground for approval. If I must experience God through only that which pleases me; if I must base my allegiance to Him on His actions and not His character, then I am making my own wants and understanding greater than God. This is not only practical atheism but arrogance!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Obedience might seem unnatural!

As hard to read as this Charnock fellow is, and as old as his book is (over 300 years), God can still use Him to hit issues that are right in my lap. I’ve a problem with a bitter person. What can I do to help this person see and resolve this deep and debilitating problem?

Charnock warns that we should not act in accordance with whatever is agreeable to our natural or moral selves. His examples include people who avoid excess in drink, not because God says they should, but because it is a blemish to their reputation and hard on their health. He says someone may be generous to the poor, not because God commands it, but because it feels noble. He says if we live like this, then when a command go against our natural inclinations, we will just as easily disobey it.

When I observe someone unhappy in life my natural inclination flows out of my teaching gift. Teachers want people to think correctly. We assume that if their theology is right and they are focused on truth, then they will not be messed up by the stuff that life throws at them. For teachers, the key to happiness is knowing and thinking biblically.

While this smacks of idealism, there is a reality there too. However, God gives His people other gifts — for good reason. The exercise of those gifts might be more suitable in some situations. A person gifted in showing compassion person wants others to feel right, or be in right relationships. An encourager wants them to think ahead, keep their eyes on the future. So when someone is struggling with bitterness, they may not need a lesson or discussion designed to correct their thinking, but a hug, a listening ear, or help with plans to move beyond their bitterness.

While my gift (apart from any leading of God to so use it) tends to try and talk people out of their negative thought patterns, I realize these efforts have not made a dent in this person’s bitterness. She continues to rage against supposed critics. This is one situation my “natural inclination” has not resolved.

Charnock urges me to obey God. So what does God tell me to do? Right now I'm not sure if He wants me to do anything, but if He does ask for action, Charnock says that I must obey Him — even if what He asks goes against what makes sense to me.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Whose side am I on?

When Adam choose to do what Satan said rather than obey God, Satan was given enough space to become “the ruler of this world.” Charnock suggests what greater atheism can there be than to participate with or cooperated with the devil in his lies and schemes?

My first response to that is denial. Of course I don’t want to do that. How awful. Yet I must stop and think about the way he works. Satan is a liar and a deceiver. He makes suggestions to our hearts, particularly during times of stress or trial. If, at these times, Satan suggests to me that God does not really love me, and I believe his suggestions and act accordingly, I have shifted sides. God says He loves me with an unfailing love. If my heart is taken up with whining that He does not, I am not only doubting Him, even slighting Him, but making His Word inferior to the enemy’s words. This is “practical atheism.”

Satan is also called the “accuser of the brethren.“ If I go along in the same spirit toward my Christian brothers and sisters, I have switched sides. God does not accuse but blesses His people. To do otherwise is to oppose God and cooperate with the evil one.

This is a serious thing. I can easily be negative and criticize others, but God does not do that. Anytime He, through the Word and the Holy Spirit, points out sin, it is directly to the person and has the purpose of restoring and building up their faith. Satan accuses to tear down and destroy our faith, and our relationship with God and one another. If I have no other motive for being critical but to point out errors, I am siding up with the accuser.

For sure, there is a need to be discerning, to recognize sin in others so I might pray for them. God might even ask me to confront them about it, as long as I have a humble desire to help them overcome their sin. But this is not the same as an arrogant, “you are wrong” attitude, a picky critical spirit. We know the difference between fault-repairing and fault-finding. The first is a God-thing. The second is switching sides and becoming an enemy of God.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

God's Surprises

Charnock says another way we show contempt for God is by giving up on serving Him if the results of our service don’t suit us.

I can see that. If I do something He asks and don’t like the results, I’ve already decided what the results should be — as if I am as smart as He. Isaiah says that sin is essentially “going our own way” — thinking we know better. Making presumptions about how God should do things is just another way of thinking I know better than He does, a sinful exalting of myself over God.

The coolest things happen when we don’t presume and just do it. Not too long ago God asked me to speak to someone about sin in his life. I knew God wanted me to do it, and if I had any expectations it was that the other person would listen — after all, God gave me a message. Of course that natural fear of rejection was there too, but it didn’t stop me from obeying (which also surprised me). But the results surprised me even more. The person did react negatively, with not the slightest indication of conviction or desire to change his behavior. He even laughed, made excuses and refused to talk about it. That should have upset me, but God startled me. He filled me with joy and a deeper confidence in Him than I've ever had before, a confidence that has stayed with me.

The other person didn’t change, but I did. Go figure.

Friday, February 17, 2006

With all my Heart

While reading Steven Charnock, I feel exposed and undone. His chapter on practical atheism is convicting. At the same time, there is relief to realize my struggles with sin are typical of all human beings. We all fall short. At the same time, there is hope. But first the bad news.

Charnock talks about the way contempt for God shows up in being slow to volunteer. We eagerly jump at things we want to do, but when a call to obey God meets our ears, how often do we say, “I’ll do it if no one else will”?

Then, when we take on whatever it is, we are not wholehearted about it. God wants our best, yet do we give Him the same vigor and liveliness we display at sporting events? Or the same enthusiasm and zest we have for new trinkets?

Contempt for God shows in inattention too. I can be easily distracted in my duties, struggle to remain in prayer, worship, or ministry that lasts even one hour. How ready I am to do almost anything else, but fall asleep in prayer, become dull of mind during the sermon, or discontent with some aspect or other of serving Him. I can laugh and play games all evening with family and friends but cannot give God the same joyful attention for half that time.

An employee who grows weary of his work is also quick to be weary of the authority that gave him his employment. Am I like that with the God who gives me life and breath? If I really love God I would serve Him with great zeal, not be as those Isaiah 43:22 describes: “But you have not called upon Me, O Jacob; And you have been weary of Me, O Israel.”

Distracted is my middle name. The older I get the more quickly I tire of doing things. But I should never be distracted away from loving God or get tired of serving Him. He wants my best — and I must give Him nothing less. Yet as Charnock says, the tendency to do otherwise is there, and I must reckon with it. The only way I know how is to bring this ugly part of me to God, ask His forgiveness, trust Him to cleanse me and continue to work in me, and keep my eyes on Jesus — who was never was guilty of half-hearted devotion. This is my goal, and God’s goal for me, to be like Jesus.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Resisting What Honors God?

Stephen Charnock says people show contempt for God by slighting those things that give Him the most honor. When the Romans conquered people groups they built temples for their idols, but Christianity did not get that reception. Instead, that which is the purest and most precious to God was met with great opposition and persecution. When God is honored, those who do so are often mocked.

However, even the ‘converted’ struggle to give honor to that which most honors God. Some examples: We give “curious” observation to the fringes of the law and ignore the greater concerns. We fiddle around with ritual and ceremony and brush off mercy and sacrifice. As Charnock says, we will cut off the branch but not dig out the root.

Years ago I taught a class in which one of the students often praised the Lord during the sessions. Later, another class member mentioned her and her “God- talk” in a ridiculing way. While it pleases God to have His name honored, the human heart resists.

Christians talk a great deal about giving God the glory, yet even if we manage to do it, how often are the words tacked on? How often do we give lip service to God as ‘our duty’ or in an attempt to be modest about our successes? How often do we really stand in awe of God and want His glory only, with no reflection on ourselves? Or is our praise mixed with a desire for “look how she praises God” recognition?

Lately I’m noticing that I best glorify God when something ‘miraculous’ happens, when there is no other recourse but to glorify Him — because this could not have happened otherwise. That is not quite right. Do I have to be backed into a corner where there is no other explanation but “God did it” before I will give Him the honor He deserves?

The Bible says “In Him we live and move and have our being.” That means even the next breath I take depends on God. I’m thinking I’d hate to be on a respirator before I would honor Him for His power in my life!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The problem with my witness. . .

But when they (the Jews in Corinth) opposed him (Paul) and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6).

Paul did this to let them know that they were responsible for their own decision. He had done all he could to inform them that Christ had died for their sins and rose again to give them eternal life, but they refused this good news. What more could he do? Their current lost state was no longer his responsibility.

This is sobering. Who does God call me to share the good news with, but I have not? Is the eternal damnation of anyone on my head because I’ve not given them the good news? An even more difficult question is how do I know when I’ve said all I could say? Does my prayer for the salvation of others include an obligation on my part to say something more to them? Or do I wait for a clear opening and indication from the Holy Spirit before I say anything?

And what about the guilt that I feel about others who do not yet believe? Is that real guilt or false? If false, is it Satan trying to push me to push them and further turn them off? If true, then does it indicate that I should be doing something about it, or just confess my huge sense of inadequacy in this department?

Even as I read this God shows me that so much of what I think regarding evangelism is very me-centered. No wonder I waffle so much over it. This is not about me. And that gives me the first thing to deal with.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Giving from my Heart

At first read, some things Jesus says don’t seem to make sense. Luke 11:41 is one: “But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you” (NKJV).

So what does giving have to do with all things being clean? In context, Jesus is talking about their rituals that were supposed to protect them from being defiled. He says they are washing only the outside of the cups but leave the inside full of greed and wickedness. But how does that connect with alms giving?

The NIV helps: “But give what is inside the dishOne of my study Bibles explains that literally this says, “Give that which is within as your alms.”

Jesus wanted the Pharisees to understand that true giving, like every other facet of their lives, was a matter of the heart. Giving was not about the size of their gift or even the fact that they gave. If their gift came from a sinful heart, it was not acceptable. If they were giving just to impress someone, earn points with God, or gain a tax deduction, their hearts were not right. He wanted their hearts clean, their motives pure.

The last part of the verse is the punch line. If their hearts were clean, then everything was clean. Whatever they gave was acceptable because God doesn’t count giving by dollars.

This calls for a heart-exam. I will give when I hear a clear call to do so, but cannot say I am lavish about giving away anything. Measuring my giving by my generosity (rather than by dollar signs) is closer to the right way to measure it; however, this puzzling verse shows me that my heart needs a fresh touch from the Lord.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Is the Gospel too simple?

An Old Testament pagan king had leprosy. His wife’s Jewish servant girl told him he should go see Elisha, the prophet. Naaman expected his cure would be costly or require some great act. Imagine his surprise when Elisha sent a messenger saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” (2 Kings 5:10)

This simple solution was beneath Naaman. He was furious. However, his servants gave wise counsel: “If the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”

Looking back, it was not necessarily washing in the Jordan that made the man clean; but believing that God spoke through this prophet, believing that whatever God said would be the right thing to do, believing that this cure would work, even if it seems foolish or small. Naaman could not be saved from his leprosy by paying big bucks nor by doing grand things. He could only be saved by faith in what the man of God told him — wash in the Jordan seven times.

Christians know we are “saved by faith, not by works” or by anything else we can do, but we must remember that genuine faith is not a passive thing. It always asks us to do something. God might say jump in a river, or sit waiting on the bank. Faith does whatever God commands because faith believes what He says is the thing to do, no matter what it is.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” Is that too simple? For many people it is. They want to do some great thing to earn or deserve their salvation, but God says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

It might not be a great thing that God asks, just some little thing, but if He asks it, faith says it is the right thing, and obedience is faith's automatic and correct response.

Friday, February 10, 2006

God's Bull’s-eye

While reading the last part of Revelation, I stop at 21:18,21 and 22:1 and ponder this description: The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.

Think of it — the destination of those who believe in Jesus is incredible. I will inhabit a city of pure gold, I will drink pure water, and I will live forever.

Thinking about that hope and about who I am in the mind of God is the greatest motivation to be that every day. The Bible says that because I believe in Jesus, I am a child of God, a saint no less. The things that I struggle with are, in a sense, beneath me. Of course I’m not to be proud or vain, or forget that I am a sinner who constantly needs my Savior, but I must also recognize that God created me for loftier things, eternal concerns — not the stupid stuff that tries to drag me down.

He says I’m to set my mind on “things above” where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. I am to set my mind on those things, not on things on the earth. He says I died, and my life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is my life appears, then I also will appear with Him in glory. That is my destiny, not anything less and certainly not anything unholy or wicked.

We tend to become that which holds our focus? It may not work in the realm of “I want to be rich and famous” but according to the Word of God, focus on Christ — and God will transform me into His image.

Thursday, February 9, 2006

Through the Eyes of Jesus

Sometimes it seems to me everyone has ulterior motives, everyone is sinning in some way. Yet there are other times when all I can see is virtue and goodness — in the same people.

Today I see how Titus 1:15 has a bearing on my experience. It says, “To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.”

The only totally pure person is Jesus Christ. When He looks at me and anyone else who believes in Him, what does He see? Not our sinfulness, for He has covered it with His own blood. We are forgiven and clean in His sight. In contrast, the most wicked people see Christians as foul hypocrites with ulterior motives and impure lives.

Applying that to my tendency to see people two ways, I realize the problem is not with others but with me. If my heart is right, I will see people as Jesus does. Their sins will be under the blood, and even if I notice, I will be praying for them, not condemning them. If my heart is not right, then I will see people only in their fleshy, sinful nature.

Yikes, what an awful realization. A pure heart is not blind but tender and merciful, looking for goodness in others, but my heart is too often impure. I see that in how I get angry or frustrated with others instead of seeing them as people struggling with the same things as myself. What right do I have to become annoyed at anyone for ‘inconveniencing’ me by their failures. That is so unkind, and so unlike Jesus.

Any impurity in my own heart clearly indicates that I am not in the Spirit but in the flesh, controlled by my sin nature instead of the Lord. From that low vantage point I cannot see the true spirituality of others, only their sinful nature. It goes farther — when I’m filled with myself, I am selfish, picky, vindictive, critical, etc.

So when someone screws up and it brings out the worst in me, I’ve no right to be critical. Instead, I must be filled with the Spirit and take an entirely different view — looking at them and what they are doing through the eyes of Jesus.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Praying is Hard Work

I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day . . . (2 Timothy 1:3).

No one can pray without ceasing unless their heart is pure, their conscience clear of any conviction. This is why spiritual warfare is so difficult. Keeping myself unspotted is one thing, but should that be the case, the enemy is right there with false accusations and other harassments to keep me from bringing pure prayer before the Lord. Most of the time I feel my prayers are so hopelessly inadequate anyway, so that adds to the pressure to cut them short or just not bother.

Paul says he thanks God that he remembers to pray night and day. As I battle with the world, the flesh and the devil to stay in “praying mode” I can identify with his gratitude. Unless the Lord helps me, this work is far too difficult. I would never pray.

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Finger Pointing

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy and said, “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22).

This verse is a caution about ordination — don’t put someone into public ministry without a thorough examination of their qualifications. Should that unqualified person mislead people, you will share in their guilt. Keep your own life clean.

I don’t ordain leaders, but do see a principle for my own life: Don’t do the same things as those whose lives I disapprove — keep my own life clean. I can think of dozens of ways to apply this. If people are gossiping, telling crude jokes, griping about something, engaged in any doubtful activities, or disobeying God in any way, I’m not to share in that, approve of that, even stand around and let it happen.

Instead, I’m to speak the truth in love, rebuke those who need rebuking with the attitude that they become pure and clean also, and keep my life clean while I’m doing it. That is, I cannot confront a gossip and then gossip about them. I cannot tell someone to be thankful and then gripe about their griping. I cannot challenge someone’s lifestyle and turn around and do the same, or talk about them behind their backs, or grumble that no one cares about purity but me.

The standards and demands of Christian living are very high. No way but by the grace of God can I ever be this kind of person. I need forgiveness for trying to help others live purer lives when I myself need help, sometimes with the very same thing that I have criticized in them.

Monday, February 6, 2006

Distractions when Praying

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things (Philippians 4:8).

Meditation is tough, and concentration seems more difficult the older I get. For the past few months I thought it was my aging brain, but the other night we were playing cranium and I aced every category. God thoroughly convinced me that there is nothing wrong with the speed of my brain or my memory. How liberating!

So I’m rethinking my difficulties with prayer. Could it be that as I grow older I am learning more about how to pray, and I am praying with a greater understanding of God and His will? While I often have no clue how to pray for some things, the Lord has taught me about prayer, and does that make me a threat? I can picture the enemy of our souls watching me get ready to pray. He knows my greatest strengths and weaknesses. He knows just how to draw me away from this most important activity.

My spiritual gift is teaching, which requires the ability to be interested in many things. The downside of that is being easily distracted. I know only too well that I must pray with my eyes closed, and if not closed, focused on a list!

I find meditation on the truth, on lofty and just things, pure and lovely, or simply good news is difficult. My mind wanders too easily. I know only too well that I must pray out loud.

My hands and body does not do well being idle. I fidget, wanting to ‘do something’ — so have learned that the best way for me to pray is while I am walking, preferably briskly. That way I am free to focus on the prayer list in my hand.

Now I imagine this granny marching down the street with a piece of paper in hand, lips moving and sometimes muttering, moaning and sometimes rejoicing out loud. The neighbors are lenient, but someday they might call the cops! I’ve also learned that while going outdoors for a prayer walk is simply the best way for me to pray, sometimes it might be better to use my stationary bike or treadmill!

Friday, February 3, 2006

Weep with those who weep

Compassion is not my strong suit. I don’t do well comforting suffering people. I’m a teacher and would rather figure out why a person is suffering, then recommend what they need to do about it.
Intellectually, I know this is not very kind. I try to put myself in their shoes, feel their confusion and pain, but even if I have “been there, done that” pain is easy to forget. God made us that way, and who really wants to remember it anyway?
Compassion is difficult for me. I also have to watch that I’m not like Job’s friends. Poor Job knew that his calamities were not punishment for some sin, but he did not understand (and God was not telling him) the actual reason all those things were happening to him. His so-called friends were also perplexed, but rather than wrestle the question with Job or comfort him, they came up with answers that made sense to them. They assumed Job was lying about his spiritual state and must be covering up some sin. After all, God does not do things without reason.
I can also approach sufferers from the position of one who is not suffering and proud that God has ‘blessed’ me. I can be like Elihu, who claimed, “My words come from my upright heart; my lips utter pure knowledge. . . . I am pure, without transgression; I am innocent, and there is no iniquity in me.” He put words in Job’s mouth and thought if he would just repent, everything would be okay. This is pure arrogance.
God often reminds me that I cannot make assumptions about His actions by reminding me of His greatness. Whenever someone suffers (myself included) I can simply trust Him. Like Job, I may never know His reasons for suffering, but this God who has saved me is also worthy of my trust, no matter what is going on. That is what I need to tell others who are in pain: God is in charge. He loves us — and already proved it by sending His Son to die for us. His ways are not our ways, He is working things together for good to those who love Him back. During the storms of life, rather than lash out at Him with “why,” we can cling to Him for comfort and strength.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Seeing God

One of my favorite modern songs has the line, “I want to see You . . . “ expressing the yearning of my heart to see God. When we sing it, I’m thinking about that day when I will see Him face to face, but also thinking of now, how I want to see Him now — at work in my life, in the lives of those I pray for, and in the sin-sick world around us. I want ‘evidence of God’ that is visible, not to prove to me that He exists, but a display of His power and glory, a show of the wonder of our God. I want to see Him high and lifted up, on the throne, sovereign and full of grace.
This morning I read two verses that bring home my part is in seeing God. 2 Samuel 22:27 says, “With the pure You will show Yourself pure. . . .” and Matthew 5:8 echos it, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
The invisible God makes Himself known to those whose hearts are pure before Him. Purity means clean, but also set apart for Him, sanctified, wholly dedicated to Him. It means thinking of Him, wanting His name known, hating and rejecting sin and temptation. It means exalting Him even if I don’t see Him, but when I do, giving Him glory, pointing to Him. All attention is on God, none on me or anyone or anything else.
The glimpses I have of God whet my appetite. Lord, how I long to see You. May I long with the same intensity for that purity that will allow me to see You with greater breadth and clarity.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Avoiding Legalism

In Acts 10, God confronted Peter with a vision of all sorts of creatures and told him to eat. Peter was horrified and responded, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”
God had a big lesson for Peter. This man knew Jewish law forbid certain foods. However, their law also forbid them to intermarry with or be involved in the religions of the nations around them. Instead, they were to take the good news of the glory of God to others.
Through the years, their attitude toward these neighbor nations had become the same as their attitude toward forbidden food — they were unclean, and all contact was forbidden. Peter even said, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation.”
God used this vision to show Peter that his thinking about clean and unclean needed to change before he could share the Gospel with the Gentiles. Peter learned his lesson. He said, “But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”

As I read this, I wondered how much of that type of transfer happens in the church? God tells us that gambling is a sin. We stop all gambling, but then some refuse to play a card game with their children because that too is a sin. God tells us that sex outside marriage is a sin, but some think sex within marriage is also dirty or unclean and refuse to enjoy it with their spouse. God teaches us that drunkenness is sin, but some refuse to lift a toast to the bride at a wedding.

There are two sides to this. Romans 14:14 says, I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
What about the person whose conscience is bothered by doing something that I consider not sinful? God says for them it is unclean. Perhaps they are not sure where to draw the line, so instead of trying to figure out what might be okay and what is sinful, they refuse to involve themselves in any part of it. For example, all games are sinful, all sex is sinful, or all drinking is sinful.
While I must respect a tender conscience, I know this “all ... is sin” attitude can lead to legalism. This is that attitude that assumes, “because I feel guilty about doing this, then you too are guilty if you do it.”
How can a person whose tender conscience forbids something deal with those who are not bothered by doing the same thing? An older woman was visiting us. When our young granddaughter asked if she wanted to play a game, she said yes. Our granddaughter brought a deck of cards. This woman gently said, “Oh, I don’t do well with cards. Can you find another game that we can play?”
She later shared with me that her family history included gambling via card playing which led to great strife and loss. To her, it was a sin, but she didn’t dump that on others.
Our freedom in Christ is precious, but so are the souls around us. Before I flaunt the freedom I have, I need to be cautious about those with tender conscience. On the other hand, before I am quick to judge others in activities that my conscience forbids, I need to remember that God restricts me for good reason.