Friday, March 31, 2006

It's different when you love him. . .

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:14 NKJV).

Last week I was at a bridal shower. One of the ladies read an “advice to the bride” item from the 1950's. The women were laughing at such things as, “Prepare yourself for your husband’s arrival home . . . put on a clean dress, tidy up the house . . . meet him at the door.”

Something inside me felt hurt. My husband loves to be met at the door, loves to come home to cleanliness, order, and a happy wife. I’m not always what I should be, but I know that expressing love to him in this way is good for our marriage. I don’t do those things because someone wrote a list of rules, but because I care about him and our relationship.

All of God’s law describes what people would act like if they kept the two major decrees: love Him and love their neighbors as themselves. These are not intended to be a ‘list of rules’ but a revelation of what God knows is important for our lives.

It was also His intention that we keep His law from the heart, not mere outward observance. When I drive the city freeway, do I keep the speed limit because I’m afraid of getting a ticket? Or do I do it because I am a law-abiding person who agrees that this is how fast I should go? Am I watching over my shoulder for a black-and-white? Or happy to drive safely?

The speaker on a recent radio sermon said that the Old Testament laws were about relationship. If a person loved God, they were happy to keep His laws, and did it without strain or resentment. If not, they would resist the law, or simply fake it, like the little boy who sat down as he was ordered, but told his father, “I’m standing up on the inside.”

Jesus said the law was good; our problem becomes clear when we try to obey it. We either cannot, or we make it an external observance. Without a love relationship with God, the law is a burden, an impossible set of rules that no human can keep.

God offers me grace, not so I can forget about law and do what I want, but so I can love Him as He loves me, purely and even sacrificially. Grace also makes it possible to love others, doing what is best for them, even if it costs some time and energy. The law says it, but without grace, I cannot do it.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Amazing Grace

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know — Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that he should be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24 NKJV).

God does not think like I think. First, He sent Jesus to die; planning it before the world began — yet His plan does not absolve the guilt of those who crucified Him! Human thinking can hardly make sense of that.

Second, Jesus was raised from the dead because He and death were totally incompatible. That doesn’t make much sense either, unless Jesus was more than mere man.

Most of us think human beings die because we get old, sick, run over by a train, or involved in wars or crime. But the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” Before Adam and Eve sinned, death was not an issue. It was introduced into existence by their disobedience to God. Now everyone dies because of sin, our own and just the fact of its permeation into everyone in the world.

I’m so aware of human sinfulness — my own! I was born with self-centered thinking, lived many years thinking I was the most important person, and if I had not accepted God’s offer of forgiveness and new life in Christ, I would die in my sins, regardless of what the doctor puts on my death certificate.

Scripture says Jesus died for sin, but not His own — He never sinned. When He was born He was not seeking attention from people, but seeking “His Father’s business.” He was tempted by Satan to show His power and take control of the world, but He refused. The religious leaders tried to trap Him in His words, but He never once said or did anything wrong. That is why they killed Him, and that is why death could not hold Him. Death is for sinners.

His promise to me is not that I won’t die physically, but that death will not hold me. He took my sin on Himself and died for it. As far as God is concerned, it is gone! I am set me free from the penalty of sin, which is not mere physical death but eternal separation from God, eternal death. Physical death will happen, but because He took away my sin, I will also rise with Him to live forever.

I'm so excited; this is utterly amazing. I’m filled with awe and gratitude. God’s plan is incredible — no human could have made it up. In fact, I cannot even make sense of it except that God opened my eyes — another amazing act of His love and grace!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Unflappable

“But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience (endurance), in tribulations, in needs, in distresses . . . .” (2 Corinthians 6:4 NKJV).

This is the first morning in weeks that I’ve not approached God with my hand out. No special problems to solve, no pressing burdens, nothing heavy on my mind. Maybe I’m not awake yet? Or the day is too young?

I’m such a pessimist. But the Apostle Paul was not. The rest of this section in 2 Corinthians offers a list of things he endured: beatings, imprisonments, hard work, sleeplessness. Yet in all of them he kept his life pure and his mind level. He was always learning, always kind, always loving others. He remained, sincere, righteous, and focused on his ministry. Although in constant danger, with lots to be sad about, and very little in regard to material possessions, Paul called himself one who “possessed all things,” “made many rich” and was “always rejoicing.”

I’m currently leading a Bible study in James. My conclusion from this book is that Christian maturity means being unflappable. Paul was an example of that kind of maturity. He was consistent, never riled. Like the pink battery bunny, he just kept on going, no matter what happened to him.

In Daily Thoughts for Disciples, author Oswald Chambers says, “One of the greatest proofs that you are drawing on the grace of God is that you can be humiliated with out manifesting the slightest trace of anything but His grace in you.” Unflappable.

God provided the grace to be fairly consistent through the multiple stresses of the past two weeks, but I’ve become so used to problems every day. I’m not sure what to do now that things have settled down. Prayers have been answered, and I’ve no deadlines or other pressures. Right now, I’ve that sense of ‘possessing all things’ — and must conclude this is a good day to be ‘always rejoicing’ — and who knows, He may give me opportunity to ‘make others rich.’

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Blessed are the persecuted?

"“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. . . . Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"” (Matthew 5:6 & 10, NKJV).

This morning'’s newspaper tells of another new book that puts Jesus'’ death and resurrection in the category of myth. The same paper shows photos of two small children killed in a fire set by a man who was angry at one of their parents. On another page is the testimony of a man who was to have flown another jet on 9/11 into the white house. The city section is mostly rants against this province'’s current leader. Not a lot of good news, mostly stories of people sorely in need some of that righteousness that Jesus offers.

I wept reading the paper. Jesus changes hearts and lives, gives hope and deals with self-centeredness and all sorts of sinful attitudes and actions. How can someone slander His name in exchange for book royalties? How can people reject His forgiveness and offer of righteousness and instead burn children, blow up people and wrangle over everything?

These two verses from the Sermon on the Mount offer an interesting juxtaposition. They say that if a person hungers for the righteousness God offers, He will give it to them, but once they have it, other people will despise them for it.

The newspaper has articles about "‘persecution"’ or at least claims of it. People rant about everything from the government to coffee shop litter, as if they are being persecuted. But how many people are persecuted for righteousness? Far more people are attacked for bad behavior rather than godliness, at least according to the newspaper.

God says that if anyone lives a godly life in Christ Jesus, they will be persecuted, yet seldom do these stories reach the news. If a "“good"” person goes berserk and kills a "“bad"” person, that is newsworthy, or if "bad" people kill "“innocent"” people that will be in the paper (except it is now politically incorrect to call anyone "bad"). But when evil people kill godly people, it usually doesn'’t warrant even a short article on the back page.

I heard a story last night on a radio sermon of a man who loved Jesus, but lived in a country where the government forbid him to talk about Christ. He did anyway and was arrested. He told the officials who interrogated him that their weapons were torture and murder, but his weapon was dying. He said his sermons were published. If they killed him, the people would consider his words were even more important because his blood was on them. He would become widely read and have greater impact for Christ dead than he would alive. I can imagine the consternation of his tormentors.

Yes, in today'’s world people are killed for their faith and their righteousness. It seldom makes the news. But there are other ways to attack godly people. One way is to write books that say what we believe is bunk. Another is committing violent actions with clenched teeth and an attitude that says godliness is for the weak. Another is to simply complain about everything — a clear message that the God we love and serve is not here to answer prayers and provide needs, and even if He is, they say, "“No thanks, I'’ll do it myself."

When I ask the Lord for a greater godliness, am I really asking for attack from those who hate righteousness? Maybe, but I am also asking for His tremendous love and patience toward those who shake their fist in His face.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Pass the salt

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses is flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (Matthew 5:13 NKJV).

Pure salt cannot lose its flavor, but the salt common in the Dead Sea area is mixed with other minerals and useful only for keeping a foot path free of weeds and plants.

I’m not a great user of salt; it makes me retain fluid. Therefore I am never quite sure how to interpret this verse. Is Jesus saying His people are supposed to make people thirsty for God? Or are we preservatives in a corrupt world? Or do we flavor life and make it more palatable?

Oswald Chambers takes another view. He says we dare not think we are the “sugar of the earth” — all sweetness and appealing. Instead we are like salt in a wound. He likens people who are not right with God to open sores, and our saltiness in that sore makes it sting. Hence we are irritants to some people and our presence “spells persecution” just as Jesus predicts in the previous verses.

I know how salt cleanses and purifies wounds, not pleasantly, but in the right solution it can be a powerful and safe disinfectant. That gives me something to think about. If I’m a weak saline solution, my presence goes unnoticed. If I’m too strong, I’m just a big pain. The only way to know how salty God wants me to be is by hearing and obeying Him in all situations.

The other point that Jesus makes is that I must not allow my ‘saltiness’ to become mixed with elements that make my life “good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” People might ignore a weak witness, or react to a strong one, but they most certainly will reject Christians who give a mixed message. Integrity not hypocrisy. Truth not fudging. Words and actions that match.

This means if I am salty I will admit my failures, behave in godly ways in private as well as in public, and be willing to say I don’t know all the answers. A crystal of pure salt is quite transparent.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Driven by fear? or faith?

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear . . . .” “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:1-10).

Fear can be a great source of strength, an emotion that drives action — fight or flight, defend myself or retreat into a crushed self-esteem, protest what people do or refuse to have anything to do with them, argue and push buttons, panic and run away.

The psalmist associates quietness and a lack of panic with God as our hiding place and source of strength. Just as James says that “the anger of man cannot accomplish the righteousness of God”, I’m convinced that the fear of man cannot do that either. As the psalmist says, when the source of strength is God, I will not fear, but be still.

A few years ago a great trial put me in a place where there was no other refuge but God. Fear, fighting, fleeing, talking, arguing, protesting, reasoning — none of that would get me out of the trouble that sent my life into a tailspin. I remember sitting on my living room floor and hearing God speak to me. “I am here. No matter where you go, I am with you. I am your refuge and strength. Hide in me.”

The trial was unbearable, but the experience was precious. I know now that God is my hiding place, my safety zone, the place I can go and be at peace. Eventually He resolved the problem, yet I remember and treasure even more the fact that God is my strong tower. I can be still and know that He is God, that He is in total control of my life. Nothing can happen to me that does not know about or that is beyond His concern and ability to handle. God can fix anything, yet just being still because I know He is God, whether He fixes it or not, is far more profound.

Lessons are easily forgotten, even lessons as deep as that. Today I am going to keep a watch on my motives and take note if any speech or actions are rooted in fear. This could be a good day to practice being still.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Deep in my heart!

“In Him (Christ) you also trusted, after heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14 NKJV).

After several verses of the wonders of what God has done for us, Paul says that because I trust in Christ, I have been sealed with the Holy Spirit.

Personal seals are not used much anymore, but I do have a seal with my initials on it. Sometimes I melt some red wax and press the seal into the wax to secure a letter and show that it came from me. Seals were once used to indicate authority,
authenticity or ownership, and occasionally still are.

God doesn’t use wax and a brass stamp, but He does mark me as His very own child. The Holy Spirit stamps me with His divine character and an inner assurance of His presence. He convicts me of sin, comforts me when I’m in need, reminds me of God’s Word, assures me when I doubt. He fills me with character traits that I otherwise don’t have, gives me wisdom in tough situations, helps me pray, and keeps pointing me toward Jesus Christ. In a multitude of ways, He affirms to me that I belong to God, not just right now but for ever.

I know and appreciate God’s ‘red wax’ — but today what I love the most is His joy. No matter how difficult life can sometimes be, His joy is inside me like a bubbling artesian spring. And I know it is from God because the flow is the strongest when I least expect it. How can a person be joyful during sickness, pain, deep sorrow, grief and loss? Joy in the tough times makes no sense, but the joy of the Lord is like a tune that gets stuck in your head. No matter what, He keeps singing — and filling me with assurance that God loves me, is in control, and I can relax and anticipate His best for my life.

Of all the delights God offers, His joy has to be near the top of my ten best list!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Still following. . .

Then Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17)

That’s what Jesus does. Simon and Andrew were fishermen and He changed their target; instead of fish, they would capture the hearts of men — for Him.

I can’t think of what I was before Jesus called me. A know-it-all who had all the answers — how can Jesus do anything good with that? If I let go of my pride and self-centeredness, maybe He could fill me with humble wisdom to give answers to others?

I’ve been an artist. I combine or recreate things I see and hopefully make them more pleasing to the eye. Doing that with sinners and a sin-filled world seems too lofty a task. Could Jesus make me an artist who could help Him transform messed up lives?

I’ve done some writing, putting together words to inform, inspire, entertain, but I don’t consider myself a skilled wordsmith. Could God still use that part of me?

This morning I notice that Jesus never told Simon and Andrew that key to their transformation would be their ability to fish. He first said, “Follow Me.” When they did that, He changed their lives.

But following Jesus is both an adventure and a peril. I’m never quite sure what each day will hold, never mind farther into the future. I used to be a planner with a predictable life. Now I wake up every morning and think ‘what surprises are going to hit me today?’ Monday was relatively normal, yet included teaching an evening class that left me wilted. Tuesday He had me answering the phone all day, mostly to counsel someone with a heavy load. Wednesday brought a relaxing meeting in the day and some special surprises at a baby shower after supper. Thursday included a pleasing yet unexpected result from Tuesday’s phone conversations.

Today? Who knows? Am I doing art? Using words? Trying to find answers? He’s shown me that I cannot draw on my old resources, so whatever happens, Jesus will stretch me beyond normal and it might not be fun. Yet whatever happens, I want it to be because I am following Him.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Do I forgive if they are not sorry?

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15 NKJV).

If someone sins against me, my natural tendency is to refuse to talk to that person, but the problem with giving someone the cold shoulder is that I then tend to talk to everyone else about what he or she did. Those people form opinions about that person (or about me) and might even pick sides. Should reconciliation be made later, all that heard my ‘story’ likely won’t hear about the happy ending and be left only with the damage. Jesus gives good advice.

At the root of His prescription is forgiveness. If I tell someone they have sinned against me and am not willing to forgive, I’m only retaliating, not trying to restore the relationship. It is never right to get even, or make them feel terrible for victimizing me, or lord it over them because they were wrong and I am right.

But what do you do if the person is not sorry and does not repent? The next step is to take another person who has witnessed the offense and go to the one who sinned against me. If that does not work, then the church is to hear about it. If the person still refuses to listen, they are to be treated as if they are not a believer in Christ, implying that those who believe will not be able to resist conviction for sin and a genuine offer of restoration.

This whole process is like God’s treatment of me. When I sin against Him, He comes to me in privacy and tells me what I have done. If I refuse to admit it and accept His forgiveness, He will bring alongside another Christian to speak to me about my folly, but the point is, as long as I listen, God does not embarrass me by showing everyone what I have done (unless of course I’ve sinned in a very public way and He doesn’t have to). God protects me from gossip, and He asks me to do the same for others.

Oswald Chambers says we "must not forgive someone who refuses to be sorry." His reason is that they must realize the justice of God. I don’t agree. Isaiah says God forgave Israel for His own name’s sake. Their repentance was never sufficient, and I don’t think mine is either. No matter how sorry I am for what I do, I’m apt to do it again. Repentance is simply the way back to God’s mercy.

I once offered forgiveness to a person who sinned against me big time. She did not acknowledge my offer, confess, or apologize. However, the forgiveness was more for me than for her. For one thing, it was like God to offer it. My heart needs to be like God’s heart, regardless of the response of a person who could not care less if they hurt me. God will deal with her sin and any other sin that has no repentance tied to it. Today it is up to me to forgive others and offer that forgiveness — regardless of what they do with it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Trying to get past what I can see

“Therefore we do not lose heart . . . . For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

God, my light affliction this morning seems heavy indeed. I know your promises here and in verses like Romans 8:28, that You are working all things together for my good, to make me more like Jesus, but I’m not as concerned about the outcome for me as I am for the ones I love who are in trouble and bearing their afflictions without Your help.

Yet even as I write that, I know that when I intercede, You do hear and answer my prayers. You may put them on hold until You do what You want in my life through their struggles, but You may also be using their struggles to bring them to their knees before You. This is so difficult to watch, to feel helpless and not be able to change things, to wait for Your hand in it.

The long and short of it is, I must trust You, even when I cannot see what You are doing, even when the weight of it is exceeding. Paul calls his afflictions ‘light’ compared to the glory that was coming. I cannot say that today about the issues that are on my heart. The problems seem so heavy. Will they turn out to be glory for these dear to me who are in serious trouble? I want that to be so, but wanting it does not give me peace of mind.

Today, even knowing that You promise me that ‘eternal weight of glory’ does not give me comfort. I’m too tied to the things that I can see. I’m trying to think about the many times You turned trials into triumphs, and it seems that the more difficult the trial, the greater the victory. Will that be true with this problem?

Again Lord, whatever it takes; I want to see You.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Seeing God

“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6 NKJV).

Sometimes people say they will not believe in God because they cannot believe in something they cannot see. What if they could see Him? What would happen? Job saw him and hated himself. He realized God’s majesty and might, and even though he’d protested his innocence of any specific sin, compared to God he could only abhor his own shortcomings — and repent.

Isaiah had a similar response. He was in the temple and saw, through the eyes of faith, a vision of the invisible God. He said, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

When the Old Testament patriarch Jacob saw the Lord and even wrestled with Him, he was given a limp and forever changed. The parents of Sampson saw the Lord and thought they would surely die. While that did not happen, from then on He directed their lives.

Seeing God is not for the faint-hearted. In fact, Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” God presents Himself, through the eyes of faith, only to those whose hearts are clean before Him, the pure-hearted.

In church we sing a chorus that has the line, “I want to see You . . .” and while the words do not say it, I am thinking how I long “to see You in answered prayer, see You at work in the lives of my family, see You changing people.”

I sat down this morning with that on my mind. Change my family, give those who don’t know You a heart for You. Let me see You at work in this world. But, I must consider what I am asking. If I want to see God, I can also expect the light of His holiness to expose me, unravel me, change me, make demands of me. Am I really willing for that kind of vision? I hope so.

Lord, whatever it takes, I want to see You.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Just ask!

“For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:8 NKJV)

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus introduces kingdom living. He describes the radical lifestyle His followers can expect, including an expectation that they will be humble, God-fearing, God-trusting people who love their enemies, are more concerned with heavenly rewards than wealth here on earth, and who do good without a desire for personal gain. He also says they will be able to tell God their needs and He will supply them.

Of course Jesus is talking about “good” things as He says later in this passage, not selfish stuff that will harm His people. He mentions bread not stones, fish not serpents. When I pray, I’ve a responsibility to discern that some things are harmful. God promises me good things.

What amazes me is that He not only answers prayer, and loves to give His people good things, but His answers are also always a surprise. I usually believe that He will do something, provide my needs, change things, take care of problems and so on, but am never able to second-guess what He is going to do.

Nor can I guess how long it will take. Some answers come almost immediately, but not every request meets with an instant response. Sometimes events must happen or people need to be changed. Sometimes God needs to prepare me for His answer. I prayed for ten years for my husband’s salvation. Looking back now, I realize that I was not ready for the changes God would make in his life. The Lord had to work on me before I would support and respond to the “new” spouse He would give me.

My current prayers include personal priorities. I’ve a hand in many things and often feel pulled in too many directions. While I know God’s general priorities to daily love and obey Him, and to love and serve others, I need His direction with an overwhelming to-do list. Do I cut any of the major items? Do I drop some of the details? Do I relentlessly keep at it?

Whatever He tells me, Jesus assures me to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking. As long as my heart is turned toward Him with a desire to know His will, He will give me greater understanding — along with the grace to comply.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Give us this day our daily bread!

Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone; but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:3-4 NKJV).

Every now and then I get discouraged or filled with fears and doubts. Sometimes I ask God to use this or that to lift me up, get me back on track, to make bread from these stones. This morning I see why He does not answer those prayers!

Jesus intends that I get what I need from His Word. While He can use people or circumstances (like answered prayer) to rebuild my faith or spur me on, the ultimate word of encouragement comes directly from Him. Even that word used for ‘word’ says it. The normal Greek term for ‘word’ is logos, but here it is rhema. It means ‘a word fit for the need of the moment.’

Every day God wants to give me a word I need for that day. I may not look for it, or listen to Him, but His plan includes my daily bread, manna from the Book. Today I needed to hear this caution to not ask for or rely on stones, which could be anything other than Scripture. The hunger in my heart is only satisfied by food that comes from His heart, food specifically designed for the day that lies ahead. How cool is that!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Assurance lives with perplexity

“My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and You cover my iniquity. But as a mountain falls and crumbles away, and as a rock is moved from its place; as water wears away stones, and as torrents wash away the soil of the earth; so You destroy the hope of man” (Job 14:17-19 NKJV).

Job’s situation is well known. He lost almost everything, his animals, his family, his health, but according to God’s commendation at the end of the book, he never lost his integrity. He was true to himself.

These verses show that he knew, regardless of his situation, that his sins were covered. God was not punishing him for something, even though his friends accused him of hiding some secret sin. He also knew the hand of God was on him, and that God is the first cause of everything. What he did not understand was why God was allowing such tragedy without giving him some inkling of why or any hope for the future. His words alternate throughout the book between assurance and despair, between trust in Almighty God and confusion about God’s purposes.

Yesterday morning I received a phone call that let me know our family problem was fixed, done with, resolved. I was elated. A few hours later we received a phone call from a man who works with my husband. His daughter, who also works for the same company as the men, committed suicide. She had suffered depression, been treated and seemed fine, but obviously was not letting anyone know her inner thoughts. My husband is deeply affected by this tragic event, and deeply concerned for his friend and co-worker.

I can relate to Job’s conflicting emotions. Part of me holds tight to a God who answers prayer and turns bad situations into good. Part of me wonders at the same God who allows such pain and heartache as the self-inflicted death of a young woman. Couldn’t He, who repaired the one situation also not fix the other?

God never promised a perfect life in a perfect world. It started out that way, but sin ruined everything. Now we struggle, if not with our own sin, simply with the effects of sin on the human race. A depressed person who cannot stand up under this struggle tries to escape it. She could see no other options, or if she could, they held no appeal.

Job might have selected that option too. He suffered extreme loss, then harsh accusations from his friends. He wanted to die. What kept him from trying to escape it all?

The family of this young woman no doubt feel like Job, but unlike him, they don’t have faith in God or assurance of His forgiveness. Their sorrow and unanswered questions are totally unimaginable. In our numbness, we can only pray for them.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Sacrifice is an open door

“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:34-37 NKJV)

The Bible clearly teaches that a person is saved by grace through faith, not works, meaning anything we can do. It also says apart from the grace of God, no one seeks Him, or is the slightest bit interested in serving Him. So what do these words of Jesus mean? Can someone become a martyr-type and get eternal life?

Jesus was talking to “the people” and His disciples. Most if not all of them had not yet realized that they were lost and in need of saving. Their hope concerning Jesus was that He would deliver them from the oppressive rule of the Romans. They didn’t think of Him in terms of being a personal Savior who would deliver them from the eternal consequences of their sin.

This is seen in the preceding verses. Jesus just told the disciples that He would “suffer many things, be rejected, be killed, and after three days rise again.” Peter took Him aside and rebuked Him. How could He die if He was going to deliver them? As usual, none of them understood that He would also live again.

So Jesus was trying to teach them that sacrifice was the way to life. First He would take up His cross and die for their sins. Gaining political power did not profit Him — He is already sovereign! Personal gain had no appeal either. Instead, He would give up His life so that others could live forever.

Hidden in this paradoxical passage is a principle: if I want to be of eternal benefit in the lives of others, I must be willing to drop whatever I want for the cause of Christ. It might be a day I’d planned for myself (like yesterday — didn’t happen), or my money, my energy, even my life.

Living out the words of Jesus means being constantly on call, constantly willing to switch from what I’m doing to whatever He wants me to do. It means listening to Him, never making my plans the priority. It means talking to someone when I’d rather be writing, or it might mean writing when I’d rather be talking. It means giving up the idea of being “in control” and trusting Him with my to-do list and my time.

I’m learning that He knows what is important and must happen. I’m also learning that life with Him at the helm is not only a challenge, but even more abundant that I ever imagined.

For instance, yesterday a problem came up involving family. It also involved dozens of phone calls that chopped my day into pieces. I prayed that God would provide a perfect solution. I certainly could not think of one.

Then, while discussing the problem with a family member, my mouth opened and out came the solution. I’d not thought of it before I said it. God made my words the answer to my prayer! Was that because I was willing to be engaged in this issue for most of the day rather than doing what I’d planned? Maybe. In any case I’m even more convinced that sacrifice is a doorway, but doing my own thing closes it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Seeing in the dark

“Thus says the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held — to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings. . . I will go before you and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the Lord, who call you by your name, am the God of Israel” (Isaiah 45:1-3).

No matter which city of the world a person lives, the daily newspaper has stories about war. We live in a fractured and fighting world where tyranny and the obsession to gain power has no limits. Where is God in the car bombings and shootings? Where is God when innocents die?

Isaiah wrote his Old Testament book 150 years before Cyrus lived and became king of Persia. Through Isaiah’s writings, God wanted Cyrus to know that He would grant him victories, but even more, that He, the true God, controls human affairs.

The biblical account of this king’s life never indicates Cyrus believed in God, but it does show his sympathy and help for God’s people. Cyrus even said, “All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah” (Ezra 1:2).

Is there anyone alive today whose ‘victories’ are ordained by God? Or do most fight for personal power and glory? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know that the God who told His prophet what He would do with a king who had not yet been born is a God I can respect, trust and worship. He is not ignorant of that human greed for power, nor is He helpless when that greed acts in senseless ways.

Yet the question remains, where is God in our war-torn world?

Isaiah wrote that God would give Cyrus “the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places” so he would know “that I am the Lord.” This explains why most people think God is not there. While He “is light and in Him is no darkness at all,” we cannot plainly see Him or what He is doing. His activities and blessings seldom make headlines because He works quietly and behind the scenes, only visible to those who look for Him, and to whom He reveals Himself.

The Bible shows that God is sovereignly involved in human history. I cannot explain the death of ‘innocents’ (only know that no one is ‘innocent’ before Him), nor can I tell anyone why the bad guys sometimes win. I only know that God is God. When I look for Him I discover that He is close by, involved, working to make sense of my life, even when at first He seems hidden and I am in darkness. Such a wonder — He makes the same promise to me as He did to Cyrus — He does make the crooked places straight and gives me treasures in darkness and the hidden riches of secret places. This is not so I will always know the mysteries of what He is doing, but be certain of the mystery of who He is.

Home again

I'm back from my mountain adventure, and it was just that. The first night my Internet box would not work. I called the toll-free number and the technicial told me to turn the power switch on the box off then back on. I did, and it blew the fuses in my room. Total darkness. I had to open the door to find the phone. After the hotel replaced the box, it worked fine.

Monday was reasonably normal (I say reasonably because normal is only a setting on the dryer), but Tuesday was more like Sunday night. Just about bedtime, the fire alarm started. I was still dressed so was in the hall immediately. A man ran from another wing and was fumbling with the alarm at the end of my hall. He saw me and waved his hands saying, "It's okay, I did it."

After a few minutes, the hotel turned it off, but within moments, it went off again. I went out again and looked down the wing where the man had come from. He was there, with friends, laughing. They were obviously having a party.

Not funny. The next day the hotel staff told me a couple from another country were very frightened. Where they live, if the fire alarm goes a second time, it means there is a bomb. I don't know if the pranksters were caught or charged.

On a positive note, I met some terrific people, made new friends, was able to talk a bit about my faith. The drive home was a bit surreal — heavy fog for part of it, but I'm here, thankful and ready for whatever happens next.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Suck it up

"Therefore do not fear them. . . Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul" (Matthew 10:26-28).

I am basically a coward. I’m afraid of heights, new experiences, risks, talking to people about anything. Part of that stems from childhood. I had an illness, was not expected to live, so my parents sheltered me. I didn’t attend school until seventh grade. I was never "socialized" as a child.

The other part is a failure to trust God with everything. He promises to keep me from falling (while not literal, it could be) and to take care of me in all situations. He promises to supply all my needs, give me strength, wisdom and skill for anything He wants me to do. I know this is true and experience proves it, but up front, before I do any of it, the fear rushes in.

Last night we had a false fire alarm in the hotel. The lady across the hall was upset about that and about her checkout time. With all-day classes to attend, she didn’t know how she would manage since she came on a bus and had no place to put or pack her enormous amount of luggage. She also had chest pains and was worried she could not sleep. I told her I would pray for her.

That was not so hard to say. Why is it so much more difficult to say something like, "God controls even false alarms. He will watch over you and I during this night"? Or "Jesus knows all about your chest pains. Trust Him and He will show you what you need to do"?

Today I want to be a blessing to people. While that is a good goal, it is not as fearful as being a blessing to God. People want to hear something that encourages them; He wants me to repeat truth that He has told me. The two might not be mutually exclusive — but there is that chance that what I have to say, true as it might be, will convict them or make them angry or distressed. To this Jesus says, "Do not fear them, just tell them what I tell you."

Another adventure. Just ignore the knot in the stomach and do what He says.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Tested faith

"But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully. . . we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord. . . . For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:2-6)

In a recent discussion on the topic of earning eternal life by being a good person, it became clear to me that those who think this is possible have not only missed the point of salvation being "by grace through faith," but also have not understood the impossible standard of God's goodness. Faith is rightly measured by goodness and a changed life, but faith comes first. Salvation cannot be earned. It is a free gift, given by God through faith, which is also a gift. This saving faith changes people's lives.

In fact, the Bible offers some tests that determine whether or not someone has this saving faith. One of those tests is being joyful in difficult circumstances. (Would anyone try to earn their salvation by picking that as a good deed?) Another test is a deep love for other Christians. Most people would not pick that as a "good deed" either.

The Bible lists other characteristics, but even James (the writer who says "faith without works is dead") uses these qualitites to describe people who truly know God through faith in His Son. They never describe anyone who is trying to be good enough for heaven.

This passage from 1 Corinthians offers another test. Christians must renounce shameful behavior and craftiness, and we are never to twist the Word of God or toot our own horn. We are not to think or say, "Look at what a good person I am. My goodness surely pleases God."

We who belong to Christ know better, or we ought to. We did not turn the lights on in our own hearts. We did not discover for ourselves that the glory of God is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Until God opened our eyes, we could not see the truth. Even with Jesus living in us and supplying the power, goodness as God wants goodness often seems impossible. The reality of His saving grace and forgiveness ought to humble us and make us thankful. It should never make us boast, nor should it give us license to put down anyone else who does not measuring up to God's lofty standards.

Too often I'm guilty of boasting about myself or condemning others, or both. When I do it, the Holy Spirit convicts me of my sinful behavior. As I ask again for forgiveness, I'm thankful that God is patient, but also ashamed that He should have to put up with me, especially when I'm critical of others. Who am I to do such a thing when I know that Jesus died for their sins as well as mine?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Saving faith is not about what you do

"The young man said to Him, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?’" (Matthew 19:20 NKJV)

Jesus was talking to a man who had kept the laws of God, a clean living fellow who most would never classify as a sinner. Jesus knew otherwise. He knew that he was fond of his money and would not give it up. He brought the man to that issue by telling him that if he wanted to be perfect, he had to give everything he had to the poor and follow Him.

Of course the young man could not do it. No one could unless they recognized who it is they are following. Jesus was no mere man. He is the Creator God, sovereign over the universe, over all humanity, even over the ebb and flow of money. If a person cannot trust Him to take care of all their needs, there is no way they will abandon their own resources to follow Him.

The real issue here is not whether the man would give up his money, but whether he understood who he was talking to, who was inviting him on an adventure. The man failed the test. He didn’t have a clue that Jesus could take care of him, not just because he would not give up the stuff that he thought his life depended on — his money, but because he could not acknowledge that Jesus is God in human flesh.

Every day God asks me to abandon something I trust and instead trust Him. Sometimes it is money, but more often it is just my own judgment about things. When I remember who He is, this is not as difficult as it sounds. Besides, there is a huge appeal in adventure!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Life is an adventure!

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.” (John 8:28 NKJV)

Jesus had to die before most people recognized who He was and that the words He spoke were from the Father. What was so revealing about His death? Perhaps it was proof that He was not just another power-hungry, self-appointed Messiah. They already had some of those. More likely it was His resurrection that convinced them.

Aside from that, what catches me this morning is that Jesus spoke what the Father taught Him. I lead a ladies Bible class on Sunday mornings, and this is the most important principle I’ve learned about teaching Bible; if God taught me, share it, but if I don’t know, say so. Don’t speculate. Don’t try to impress anyone. Just tell them what He says.

The past couple of days He has impressed on me that I’m to base my decisions on what He says, not my wants or fears or excuses, the weather report, or even my better (?) judgment. Just listen to Him. This is difficult because His will goes against my grain. Not only that, the things Jesus taught sometimes blessed His hearers, but eventually enraged them to crucify Him. It’s possible others will not listen or agree.

I’ve no idea where listening to Him will eventually take me, but this morning it will be to tell others what He has taught me, and right after that, I’m headed for the mountains. If nothing else, listening to Him makes life an adventure!

(I’m taking my laptop, but if for some reason I cannot get online, this blog will have to wait until Thursday.)

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Is God making sense?

“But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called . . .’” (Genesis 21:12 NKJV).

My first thought was it takes the voice of God to make a man listen to his wife! Heehee. However, it is little wonder Abraham didn’t want to do what Sarah asked him. It was against the current laws of their society, against his sense of rightness, and against his love for Ishmael, his first son through Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar. Why would God want to send them away?

As the story unfolds, Hagar and Ishmael were sent into the wilderness. After they ran out of water and were crying out in need, they had an encounter with “the angel of the Lord,” who is considered by many a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. He provided water and “was with the lad” and his mother. Later, Ishmael’s descendants became the Arab nations that are now the enemies of Israel.

This and other Scripture show me that the Lord Jesus Christ controls history. The Arab nations may not realize His influence and presence in their beginnings, just as they do not honor Him today, but He was there ensuring Ishmael’s survival and keeping His promise to “multiply him exceedingly” and “make him a great nation.”

On a more personal level, I’m often like Abraham in that I am displeased with what is happening around me. I don’t see the hand of God in it, partly because I’m not looking. I’m more interested in how things affect me right now, not His bigger plan.

In the past couple of days He has been telling me to not let emotions, personal desires, fears and so on motivate me. Instead I am to listen to Him and do what He says. This is a challenge. It is snowing again today. Tomorrow I am supposed to drive 400 km into the mountains for classes that cost me large fees that are not refundable. I’m basically a coward driving alone, particularly in bad weather, and basically Scottish about spending money. Both crowd my mind. What do I do?

God keeps telling me to listen to Him. I don’t like what I see out there, but I don’t want to lose that money. He says, "Don’t listen to your fears and your concerns, listen to Me. Be like Abraham. Just do what I say because I have a bigger plan than what you can see."

Friday, March 10, 2006

Think first, even if I'm right!

“I pondered them in my mind . . . .” (Nehemiah 5:7 NIV)

The Old Testament people of God were taking advantage of one another. Some brought their complaints to Nehemiah, a leader who was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem after Cyrus, king of Persia, allowed the Jews to return home. (They had been exiled to Persia many years earlier.)

Nehemiah knew some of them were breaking God’s laws. They were selling one another into slavery and seeking profit at the expense of their fellow Jews. Although Nehemiah was angry (verse 6), he did not explode. He ‘pondered’ the situation before acting.

Oswald Chambers says pondering or meditation is getting to the middle of things, the heart of the matter. In this case, Nehemiah took time and did the work of thinking before he acted. Anyone can ponder or meditate, however, those who believe in God will include principles from Him in their thinking, as Nehemiah did. How does this situation compare to what the Bible says? What does God have to say about it?

Yesterday God showed me not to let my fears or human reasoning determine whether I should go or stay, but wait to hear from Him. (I went, because He so directed.) First find out what He wants. Today He is telling me not to let my emotions rule what I do, even if my emotions are in line with His Word, as Nehemiah’s were. Instead, stop and think about it. Get the whole picture. Be driven by careful meditation and a full understanding of the situation, not a gut reaction.

I’ve no particular situation to apply this to — but the day is young!

Thursday, March 9, 2006

A simple decision?


“If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Luke 12:26-28 NKJV)

Today’s plans include a shopping trip, but big, puffy snowflakes falling on slushy streets that froze last night before the snow started this morning have transformed into slippery, even worse, slippery — and you cannot see where it is — slippery. I’m basically a coward when it comes to walking on that stuff. Driving is a little easier since my vehicle is built for winter conditions, but I am not.

Basic translation: I’m worried about going out in this spring squall. Amazing how a few verses written nearly two thousand years ago address an ordinary person’s situation in March 2006. Jesus says that I cannot take care of even the very least of my needs apart from the sovereign grace of God, so why should I be worried about anything? He watches out for sparrows, lilies, even grass, will He not watch out for me?

I could argue that He gave me the common sense to stay home when it is snowing, but I don’t think that is His point here. While there are occasions that require a judgment call, those calls are best made when anxiety and lack of faith are not interfering. My judgment needs to be based on trusting God’s love and power to care for me. If I’m fearful, doubting Him, or motivated by my natural distaste for any sort of discomfort or risk, then any decision I make is not based on input from God but on my personal bias.

So do I go out? Or stay home? I’m confident that if I abandon my own preferences I will hear from the Lord, even on such a simple decision as this!

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Sin Prevention

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know” (John 14:1-4).

Jesus had just told Peter that he would betray him. I’m trying to imagine myself hearing Him say those words. It is not that I’ve never turned my back on Jesus, but wonder if it would make a difference had He warned me before I did it that I was going to do it? It didn’t for Peter. As upset as he was about hearing the warning, in the crunch he still denied Christ.

However, Jesus did not assure Peter that after he messed up he would be forgiven. Too many of us use that excuse for our disobedience. Instead, Jesus reminds Peter that no matter what he does or does not do, he must trust the Father and the Son, and he has a heavenly reward coming.

For some, the idea of being forgiven no matter what might deter them from sin. Others might need to be reminded of their heavenly hope. For Peter, neither worked. He still denied Christ even though afterwards repented, “weeping bitterly.”

What enables me to say no to sin, yes to obedience? I think it boils down to the pure beauty of Jesus Christ. Yes, He loves me, forgives me, ensures me a place in heaven with Him, but none of that affects me as much as the simple loveliness of Him. He is patient, kind, gracious, compassionate, understanding, but He also hates sin and defends holiness, sometimes with great zeal. The majesty of His person and character awe and delight me. He is the Word made flesh, God in human skin, worthy of all power, glory and worship.

He could demand much more, yet all He asks of me is to just trust Him, hold His hand and go with Him where He takes me. Because He is so incredible, I am drawn to this God-man, and want to stay as close as I can.

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

The Most Difficult Job

“I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (Isaiah 62:6-7 NKJV ).

The verses before these describe God’s promise that He will restore His people and make them and their city a place of praise. Here He says He has established prayer warriors who will pray for those same promises.

Prayer is a mystery. God makes a promise. Is that not a sure thing? Then why does He ask us to pray for that sure thing to happen? Do our prayers add some kind of extra insurance? Or does the praying simply unite us with Him in the work He is doing?

In the New Testament Jesus tells His disciples that the harvest of souls is ready and they need to pray asking the Lord to send workers into His harvest. In the following chapters, the men who prayed became the workers that they requested!

When I pray for anything that faith tells me God will do, it puts me in a place where my heart is drawn to His interests, His plans. He may not use me to fulfill those plans but it makes sense that He would be more likely to pick workers who are already somewhat involved, at least thinking about the task at hand.

This gives me some new insights into why prayer is important, but also why it is so difficult. Prayer is like standing at the gates of heaven with my work clothes on and asking for a job. However, no matter how much experience I might have in taking on something He asks, every new task is a challenge — I cannot accomplish anything apart from His grace.

Isaiah says not to give God any rest? Never mind whatever else He has in mind, just praying calls for a twenty-four hour day, seven days a week commitment. Hard work. It is eased by the knowledge He hears and answers, yet there is that possibility that He will ask me to be part of the answer.

Monday, March 6, 2006

Conviction proves God is true

“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me . . .” (John 16:8-9 NKJV).

This is how I know the Bible is true. This happened to me. The Holy Spirit convicted me of sin, the sin of not believing in Jesus. And He continues to convict me whenever I fail to trust Him.

This unbelief is His main concern, but the Holy Spirit also convicts of other kinds of sin, sin being defined as going my own way, doing things contrary to the will of God. Conviction is a deep realization that I am guilty of displeasing God. Conviction will not go away. It nudges and nags, and I just know that God is asking for a change.

Who would do that to themselves? Not me. I’m too proud. Me do the wrong thing? Never. But the Holy Spirit marches through my pride and right up to the throne where I sit in supposed control of my life and tells me I don’t belong there. Thirty some years ago, when I first heard Him say it, I knew He was right. While my rule was not working, I also realized that running my own life was against the plan of God. I was rebelling against my Creator. When He convicted me of that fact, He also showed me the grace of God in coming to earth and paying my penalty for sin. At that moment I knew the only thing to do was hand my life over to Jesus Christ.

It didn’t take long to find out that part of being a sinful creature is the failure to keep commitments. Ever since that day I’ve had to repeat that surrender in some area of life. The Holy Spirit continues to convict me when I fail to trust Him, and am disobedient to His will, trying to run my own life.

Conviction of sin is not a human trait. Apart from God, I might feel bad if I get caught, change my ways if things are not working, stop doing something if the results hurt me, all selfish reasons. God’s power to convict stands in sharp contrast to my selfishness. I would never call myself a sinner. The fact that He convinces me otherwise proves to me that God is real and what Jesus said is true.

Sunday, March 5, 2006

Faith or saving faith?

“Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).

When I pray for someone to be saved, I know Jesus must change their hearts and lives. No one can do that themselves. In fact, no one will even seek God unless He draws them. Yet there is a part of me that cannot understand that. Why would someone not want to know Jesus? Not want eternal life? I’ve read the Bible for years, read theologians like Stephan Charnock who clearly explain the atheistic heart of human beings, even seen the resistance in my own heart at times to the will of God, yet this still makes no sense.

People will “believe” if Jesus does something amazing. But this is not saving faith. People will “believe” if they are desperate and have no other resources. But this is not saving faith either. Saving faith never includes wanting something from Him in return. Saving faith realizes that we are nothing and have nothing that God needs.

Therein lies the explanation, the reason I and everyone else resists the will of God. Who needs Him when I can do it by myself? For some of us it takes a lifetime to learn that I cannot.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Choosing patience - not this morning - :-(

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:1-5 NKJV).

I got up this morning on what some would say the wrong side of the bed. As I sat down for devotions my husband called me from the back door, but he didn’t wait for my answer. I went downstairs and opened the door to the garage just in time to see the overhead door close. I pushed the button to open it. He was in our vehicle with the engine running, but when he saw me, he got out and told me what he’d said. I was angry. Why didn’t he wait until I answered him instead of taking off?

This passage shouted at me. Foolish woman, don’t you know that tribulations (even little ones like being interrupted) are supposed to produce cheerful patience? (I looked up that “perseverance” word.)

This small tribulation was supposed to bring out patience. I flunked. I also missed out on the opportunity to experience the character of God, because the patience He wants is from Christ who lives in me. He will give me His character, including patience. By choosing cheerful endurance I would have known the grace of God and enjoyed the hope that comes when His love is poured out or shed abroad (toward others) in my heart. I missed it. Instead of His love, out came my self-centeredness. No wonder I felt irritated. I did it to myself.

Friday, March 3, 2006

Load too heavy?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV).

In this passage, the first word for burden is Greek for "a heavy shipment of freight." The second word, describing the burden Jesus gives, is Greek for "the invoice"!

I know that if I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, that is not the load God intends; His load is light. However, today I noticed that only those who learn His meekness and humility can find rest from that heavy burden and share in His light load.

This implies that when I take on something that becomes a heavy load, I’ve likely signed on with pride and somewhat of a God-resisting attitude. Instead of meekly accepting His sovereignty in my life, I am fighting it, even thinking I have the wherewithal to do it. Jesus’ invitation comes to me only when I start feeling the fatigue of working hard without Him — and am ready to listen.

How do I know when that happens? A meek person accepts what life hands them, knowing God is in control and able to use all of it for their good. Am I fighting circumstances instead of trusting God?

A humble person knows they cannot earn or deserve anything from God. They accept His commands without fuss or resistance, even if they look too easy. Am I, in arrogance, taking on difficult tasks instead of accepting whatever God gives me?

The Lord might give me challenging tasks, but none of them will wear me to the bone like heavy loads taken on out of pride and resistance to Him. Humble submission means life and service becomes far lighter — simply because He is sharing that yoke with me.

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Light that never goes Out

"Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them" (Mark 9:2 NKJV).

Oswald Chambers says we will be judged by what we do after those moments in which we have seen the light of God. If this is true, I am dismayed.

When I first believed in Christ, my sister told me to read the Bible each day “until God stops you” and then write down what He is saying. I’ve done that and am now transcribing some of that material into electronic files. My original reason for doing this is to make them searchable, but God had another reason. He is reminding me over and over of all the things He has taught me. Some of them are deeply incorporated into my life. Some, sadly, are a surprise and I read them again as if for the first time.

Moments of light, like the flame of a candle. Over thirty-five years, those moments add up to days, weeks, maybe even years of intimacy with God. That intimacy changes a person. The Bible says when I see Him, I become like Him — as long as don’t blow out the candle and refuse the light.

Now I’m thankful for that stack of notebooks. I may not live long enough to transcribe all that is in them, but as I read and review what is there, God relights those candles and blesses me all over again.

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Praying in the Dark

“Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles” (Luke 6:12-13, NKJV).

When Jesus faced this important decision He spent the night finding the will of His Father. I’ve never prayed all night for anything, partly because I’ve never had such monumental choices like selecting twelve apostles for earth-changing roles.

With no big decisions in my life right now, what is God saying to me today? The devotional book that sends me to this passage is Daily Thoughts for Disciples by Oswald Chambers. His comments on this passage concern how prayer develops the life of Christ in those who pray. It makes us more like Him.

I must admit some resistance to prayer. It is hard work! But I do want to be like Him. One of His main roles is intercessor; I can intercede for others. He is still selecting disciples; I can pray for that. He prays with persistence; I can be persistent.

Also, this passage shows that when daylight came, Jesus acted on the answers God gave Him in the night. Because Jesus lives in me, I can also pray during those dark times when I cannot see, when I don’t know what to do. I can seek His will and be certain that He will show me what He wants. Then, after He brings light to me, by His grace I can follow His leading and do His will.