August 29, 2007

The same - Inside and Out!

When Jesus talked to the Jewish people about their religion, He used illustrations to help them understand the flaws of the old covenant under law. He wanted them to understand that keeping the law was not intended to be merely external; God wanted their obedience from a pure heart.

This is not a difficult concept. I’m thinking of the story of the little boy who was standing up in the car. When his father finally got him to sit down, he stuck out his lip and declared, “But I’m standing up on the inside.”

In the mind of God, my efforts to keep His laws are much like that little boy. I might look like I am doing the right things, but as He looks inside and knows the sinful self-serving behind my actions.

Jesus came to change that. He offered new life, a cleansed heart included. The people of His day, like today, either didn’t understand it or didn’t want it. He used an illustration to show them the logic of their need, and the reason behind their rejection.

“No one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved. And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’”
In those days wine was stored in animal skins. As the wine fermented, the skins were elastic enough to stretch and accommodate the increased pressure. Obviously a skin that was old and already stretched would be useless to use with a new batch of wine.

The parallel is that the new covenant Jesus brought could not be contained by the old one. The laws of God, while good in themselves, had not perfected sinners then, nor can they now. People need a new heart to live a new way—new wine and new wineskins.

The problem is that giving up the old way, “my way” of doing things is not easy. While I enjoy change and new things, I settle into ruts rather easily. Like old wine, the familiar can seem much better than accepting anything new. It took a huge shake up in my life before I was willing to listen to God and be ready for the new life Jesus offered me.

Each day, even with a new heart, it is possible to fake it, to settle into a routine of doing good things yet have an inner attitude of resistance toward God and His commands. I might look good to those watching, but God knows my heart. I can easily be standing up on the inside.

To do His will I need both the outer actions and the inner “wine” of the Holy Spirit who makes those actions meaningful. God doesn’t want me to go through the motions without my whole being involved. In other words, when my Father asks me to do a new thing, or even a familiar thing, I am challenged to not only settle into the task, but settle into it with all my heart. To do that, I have to continually accept His new covenant which includes total faith in Jesus Christ and the full power of the Holy Spirit for everything that I do, whether I am standing up or sitting down.

Forgive like God Forgives

Forgiveness is a confusing issue. At one time I thought it meant not being upset with the person who wronged me, or that I should just dismiss what they did and forget it happened. I also worried that if I forgave, they would just do it again. Since I can’t do the first two or control the third one, I wondered how forgiveness was possible.

The Bible is my instructor. It says in Ephesians 4:31-32, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

First, forgiveness means giving up hostility and the desire to get even. I’m not to lash back and do the same thing to whoever hurt me. I’m not to be bitter, filled with rage or anger, make a big hoop-de-do about it, or even speak against that person in a malicious way. No retaliation of any kind.

Romans 12:17-21 clarifies non-retaliation even further: “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Getting even is not an option. This passage offers the alternative: do good to that other person. When my children were small, I discovered if they were upset with their father and I had them shine his shoes or do something nice for him, their bad attitude vanished. God knows that by doing good to someone who has hurt us, our heart becomes more tender toward them. Initially I never feel like offering goodness. It has to be an act of the will, not motivated by my emotions.

Second, forgiveness means thinking how God forgave me. There are so many aspects to this that I hardly know where to start, but Psalm 32:1-2 is a good place. It says, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity.”

In that verse, “impute” means “charge his account with.” In other words, God does not write my sin in His ledger. He never denies that I sin, nor considers it unimportant, or wipes it from His memory, but He does not hold it against me.

He asks me to forgive others the same way. Yes, that person hurt me, and yes, their actions were wrong and painful, and yes, I cannot forget what he or she did, but whenever it comes to mind, I can choose not to hold what they did against them.

Another aspect of how God forgave me is that He put the all the sins that I committed on His Son. Jesus bore the shame and punishment of my folly. When someone sins against me, I need to remember that He did the same with their sin. Jesus has already taken that unkind word or bad deed on Himself. The punishment that person deserves was already given to Jesus, so how can I add to His pain by retaliation or being angry and resentful? Those sinful reactions are also on Jesus and become part of His pain on the cross in bearing all the sins of humanity. When I am unforgiving, I need to ask myself how much do I love Jesus?

Sometimes people think forgiveness means just looking the other way, dropping it as if it never happened, being nice in spite of it. While God put my sin on Christ and doesn’t hold it against me, He never treats sin lightly. In His great mercy and power, He also works in my life to cleanse me from sin. This is more than wiping my slate clean; it is also wiping my heart clean.

If I sin by lying, He works in me to be a truth teller. If I sin in anger, He teaches me how to properly deal with my anger and to not let the sun go down without clearing it from my heart. If I should rob someone of what does not belong to me, He teaches me to work with my hands so I can meet my own needs, and even more, give to others who are needy. If I speak with corrupt, foul, or even useless words, He works in me so my words are good, pure, gracious and positive in the ears of others, building them up by what I say.

Sin is very serious to God, so serious that He will purge me of my sinful responses before He does anything to those who sin against me. Throughout Scripture, God affirms that He will take care of those who hurt me; it is not my job. But should I try to usurp His role, I become the first in line for rebuke and correction.

Yet sometimes I am supposed to confront sinners. Galatians 6:1 says, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in a trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” However, this is not retaliation, but acting toward sin the same way God does. He confronts me when I do wrong, but not to punish or get even; His goal is restoration. When He asks me to do this, I need to be very careful that there is no sinful motive or attitude in my actions, and that I am gentle. Otherwise I will need someone to confront me, or He will do it Himself.

As I reread what I am writing, I realize how impossible godly forgiveness sounds, yet I know it is possible. The Lord Jesus Christ lives in the hearts of His people and through His loving power, I can forgive others like He forgave me. This is not just for my sake (even though it makes me feel much better) and not just for their sake (even though they need forgiveness), but in a world filled with conflict and sin, Christian forgiveness reflects and glorifies God.

August 27, 2007

The Holy Spirit as Translator

Being a Christian is an odd paradox. The weaker and more useless I feel, the more likely God is to use me; but if I figure I’m capable of turning the world around and doing great things, the more likely He is to set me on a shelf and pick someone else.

I know this doesn’t make much sense to most people. I’ve discovered that if I try to explain it to someone who does not know God, they say. “Oh, you really are talented and you are just being humble” or they look at me as if I am speaking Greek. That is because, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

What is foolishness and unexplainable does have an explanation though. The best I can come up with is that ‘speaking Greek’ idea. Suppose a person could be fitted with an electronic language module. If they only spoke and understood English, a Japanese module would suddenly make them able to speak and understand Japanese, or Greek, or whatever language the module was designed to convey.

In the spiritual realm, the natural person cannot understand or receive the ideas and words of God because He speaks a foreign language. That person needs a language module and He has provided one—the person of His Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:9,10,12 explain it, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. . . . Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” (Italics mine)

Because of the Holy Spirit, the things of God make sense to those who know and love Him, but I need to remember an important word in this explanation: freely. Freely means that I didn’t do anything to earn or deserve the Holy Spirit or to be able to grasp and understand anything that He reveals or ‘translates’ from God to me. Without Him, I am clueless.

Christians are not a special elite class who somehow gain an ‘in with God’ and thus become party to His thoughts and plans. In fact, 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 says, “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”

No matter how powerful the Spirit works through His people, it is still the Spirit. If I get on some high horse thinking I am a spiritual hot shot, my power supply is cut off. The only way to keep it is to remember the truth about myself. In the things of God, I am weak, foolish, low, and nothing, even though God tells me that “in Christ I can do all things.”

My devotional guide says that God hides His truth from the ‘strong’ so that His Word does not become a study book or that reading it becomes an intellectual or academic exercise. Instead, He uses it to speak each day to the needs of His people. His ‘language’ plus the translating power of the Holy Spirit mean that I hear from Him every day according to my particular situation and in keeping with the status of my relationship with Him. His words are sometimes a puzzle (reminding me to get connected with my ‘module’), often a surprise, never what I could predict, but always right on target.

August 26, 2007

Protection & Glory

Walls are boundaries around a space. In at least one instance, school officials found that walls around the playground give children a sense of security. Without them, they play close to the school building. With them, they play right to the parameter of the playground.

Jerusalem was a walled city. Those walls meant security from outside forces, but also suggest separation from the world. When Ezra and Nehemiah sought to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, they met with violent hostility. Putting up that wall was a difficult challenge.

In the Christian community, that wall of protection and separation is also important. As my devotional guide says, Satan doesn’t like it and would rather put walls between believers than see us live in a manner that is holy and distinct from the rest of humanity.

As for the protection of walls, if I feel threatened, I want to be within the walls of my home, or even feel safer in my car. It works the same with animals. Horses have died when their barns were on fire because they ran back inside to what they thought was a safe place.

Sometimes I’m also as foolish as those horses. I put up walls of indifference, aloofness, or just silence, or try to protect myself by being defensive, or selfishly insisting on my own way.

Today’s verse reminds me that no matter the presence or absence of walls, or the condition they are in, the Lord is my ultimate protection. Zechariah 2:5 says, “‘For I,’ says the Lord, ‘will be a wall of fire all around her (Jerusalem), and I will be the glory in her midst.”

Even though this verse is about a city, Jesus also promises to protect me. He will never leave me or forsake me. He sovereignly guards my life and promises that no matter what happens to me, He will use it for my good, to make me more like Himself (which is of course the ultimate good). He is my wall of protection; nothing can come in without His permission.

The last part of the verse is mind-boggling; Jesus is also “the glory in the midst” and, while this verse again is about Jerusalem, it also means God lives in the midst of His people, collectively as the church and individually as believers. We are His tabernacle, His dwelling place, and the glory of the Lord is in us. Wow!

Jesus prayed, “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”

No wonder Satan tries to divide Christians; God’s glory is seen in our unity. Furthermore, by that unity the world may know that God sent Jesus and that He loves them just as He loves His Son. If Satan can build a wall between me and other believers, the glory that He has given us will be hidden and those outside His wall will not know the wonder of Jesus and His love for them.

His Spirit prods me to apply this to another kind of hiding—the walls I put up to defend myself, to hide the real me, to keep others from seeing my weaknesses. These too have the power to hide the glory of Christ. If I want His glory to be seen, I cannot mask it. I must be transparent.

Today in Banff, in misty rain, I’ve a tangible reminder of how even little things like droplets of water can hide something large and incredible. Like the mountains hidden by the mist, even small and foolish sins and the building of my own walls can block the glory of Christ from those who most need to see Him.

August 25, 2007

Favorite Jasper photos

A few photo memories of a brief retreat... (and we leave for Banff today!)

The Ark of His Strength

The Old Testament narratives offer instruction, comfort and hope to Christians today. However, much of what happened hundreds of years ago in biblical history points to the Christ who had not yet come. For instance, the sacrificial system with its strict regulations points to the Perfect Lamb of God slain on a cross for our redemption. The lives of many Old Testament heroes of the faith depict in small ways the life of the Messiah that they waited for in faith.

Today’s reading is Psalm 132:8, “Arise, O Lord, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength.”

This Psalm seems to celebrate the time when David brought the ark of God and His tabernacle to Jerusalem. While the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, they worshiped in a smaller tent-tabernacle. Then, after they settled in the promised land, Solomon built a larger structure that also represented the presence of the Lord with His people, certainly in a larger way. The furnishings and interior of that second place of worship changed, became much more magnificent, more in keeping with their arrival in the land God had promised them.

But the “ark of His strength” did not change. Unlike what was depicted in the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, God was not contained in the ark. It was a special box-like object that represented His changeless character, realities that are as true today as they were in the wilderness and in the promised land.

The ark was made according to specific dimensions and materials. It was covered with gold to show great value, and fitted with rings and staves so it could be moved about without actually touching it. This is another reminder of His unapproachable holiness but also of His presence with His people. The top was a “mercy seat” that pointed to His willingness to accept and forgive them.

The ark was placed in the most holy place in their tabernacle and eventually in the same ‘Holy of Holies’ in the temple. Over it were figures of two gold angels, their wingtips touching as they ‘guarded’ the ark. It was also anointed with sacred oil, sanctified by the people, and protected as a symbol of God’s presence and glory.

This important part of Old Testament worship was also called the Ark of the Covenant. A covenant is an agreement between two parties; God and man. The ark represented God’s promises to those who trust and obey Him, promises that find their complete fullfilment in Christ.

Besides the significance of the “mercy seat” the ark contained three more objects that are also symbolic. The first was the pot of manna. God fed manna to His people in the wilderness. Later, Jesus said that bread eventually failed but, “I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”

The second was Aaron’s “rod that budded.” At one point, the people rebelled against the priestly leadership of Aaron and a test was offered. All leaders were given a rod and each rod was placed in the tabernacle. The next day, Aaron’s rod had not only sprouted, but budded, produced blossoms and ripe almonds, proving God’s choice. Aaron is gone, but if anyone has any doubt that Jesus remains as our High Priest before God, we can look at what happened when He was put to death. He rose to life, and that resurrection proves God’s declaration that He is our High Priest forever.

The third item was the tablets of stone, the commandments of God. These represent the holiness and righteousness of His character and the old covenant made with Moses concerning law. If anyone could keep this covenant, they would live. However, no one can. We "fall short of the glory of God." The commandments show us that we need a Savior, one who can offer forgiveness for our sin and failure, but also someone who can be for us what we cannot be for ourselves. Jesus is that person. He identified with us in all points, but is without sin. He kept perfectly that Law that no one else could keep. Now, the Law-giver on the throne has become the Law-keeper in our hearts!

These things are the strength of God represented by the ark. He is merciful, yet holy and unapproachable. He gave us a priest who stands between us and Himself, representing Him to us and us to Himself. That High Priest, Jesus Christ, offered His life on our behalf, an offering accepted by God and proven by His glorious resurrection. Now Jesus “ever lives to intercede for us” as our eternal High Priest.

Jesus is also our manna, the One who supplies all our needs. He takes care of us, gives us what we need to follow Him, and loves us “even as the Father loved Him.”

The movie version ended with the ark stored in a vast vault in some obscure location. It is not true. The ark disappeared. That’s a good thing considering our tendency to worship all sorts of stuff. Beside, someone might build a shrine and charge admission, and this wonderful piece of history would make a few people rich instead of pointing to Jesus and another kind of riches.

In the new covenant with God, we can experience “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich.” The old ark of God is gone, but Jesus remains forever as the ark of His strength.

August 24, 2007

Light dispels Darkness

Why are some critters attracted to light and others hide from it? Many insects are drawn to a flame or electric light, but some make a mad scramble for darkness if you lift up their rock and expose them. Could it be that those who hide are so accustomed to the dark that any light is actually painful?

People can be that way. John 3:16 is well-known, yet what Jesus said in verses 18-22 is as profound. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

This light and its power is connected to Jesus. He said, “I am the Light of the world.” He also said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus is the source of light and truth, and is the only way to God and eternal life.

People, at least most of them, will accept talk about God. They will discuss morals and values and being ‘good’ people. But mention the name of Jesus, and something happens. Like light shone into a garden, some will be drawn to Him, but others love their darkness so much that they will flee into silence, anger, or even physically move their ears as far away as they can get. They somehow sense the power behind that incredible light.

For those who “do the truth” and “come to the light” we discover something quite remarkable in Jesus’ words. It is not us who can claim credit for hating the darkness. Even my attraction to the light, the Light that is Jesus Christ, is not from me; that deed has “been done in God.”

Maybe I’m not awake enough this morning to express the significance of this light-darkness reality, but I am alert enough to appreciated and understand what David says in Psalm 36:7-9. “How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures. For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.”

Literally and because of His light, this day my eyes can see God in His creation. Figuratively and because of His light, the eyes of my heart can see the truth about Him and about me, not because I’m anything special but because by His light He has given me light. I know I am a sinner who, apart from Him, cannot crawl out from under my rock. I also know that although He pointed His revealing light at me, God has put me under the shadow of His wings and taken care of me. Otherwise I would run and hide, maybe even be destroyed by the blinding power of the Light that is Jesus Christ.


Several times the Bible describes how God’s people feel as if they are alone against a world that either hates or ignores God. Elijah, David, Paul and others cried out for deliverance from those who expressed their antagonism toward God by lashing out against His people.

The past few days I’ve seen some of that. Although no one raised their fist against me, their words and actions revealed their heart of resistance to godliness and their disdain of righteousness. Two young men wore it on their t-shirts—words about Jesus that are too awful to repeat. Others defied the signs and rules in the national park as if they were above law and could do whatever they want. We met a teacher who took pride in the fact that the school he teaches in bears the name of a Christian denomination, but he was even more proud that they no longer teach the Bible. I heard the usual blasphemy and observed other denials of the existence of God and His holiness.

I’m not sinless and haven’t the right to point fingers, but did find myself sad at what they were doing, or not doing. I felt the contrast in a few occasions God gave me to worship Him, to appreciate His creative power, to think at length about all that He has done for me, and to wake up in the morning with songs of thanksgiving in my heart.

The psalmist wrote, “Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation; Oh, deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man! For You are the God of my strength; Why do You cast me off? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? Oh, send out Your light and Your truth! Let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your tabernacle” (Psalm 43:1-3).

I understand his mourning. Even if this ungodly nation and those deceitful and unjust people are not after me directly, I still mourn. They are missing out on the most precious gift—that of knowing the Lord and the privilege of worshiping Him. They do not know light and truth, so walk in darkness as it pertains to spiritual things, and lies concerning God and their condition before Him. They seem utterly unaware of Him.

The psalmist felt cut off from God, which sometimes happens when those around are resisting Him. I don’t struggle with that today. The psalmist also felt in need of light and truth for himself so he could worship God. I don’t struggle with that either, not today. But I do feel a strong desire that God would send light and truth to the people around me, that they would realize and want what they are missing. The boys with the t-shirts need the holy and living Christ that they blaspheme. The families that ignore the rules designed to protect the precious beauty they were enjoying need eyes to see the God who gifted it. They need to see what He has done in such a way that they would think twice about defiling His gifts. The teacher needs to recognize that leaving out God's truth makes religion a mere label and teaching 'good value' a sham.

As I ponder these things, I also am amazed that God gives light and truth to anyone, to me included. I’ve not earned or deserved any of His blessings, not the ability to see His hand in all that happens, nor an understanding of how His truth conquers all lies. What a gift from God to just see the beauty of creation, to appreciate it, to worship Him for what He has made! What a gift from God to know that all of this IS a gift, that I am not a self-made person. Anything that I know and believe is because He gives light and truth. Without Him I would be blind and stumble from lie to lie, mocking God just like those who make me sad, and not caring at all what other people do and say against Him. Thank You, precious Lord.

The Creation Groans

Even in the pristine Rocky Mountains, the effects of the fall of man are evident. Pollution in the wilderness. Trash tossed on the ground within yards of a garbage can. People ignoring warning signs and defying rules meant for their safety. Yesterday a man took his son outside the guard rails and right to the edge of a tumultuous waterfall and raging rapids. Standing on slippery rocks where others have gone and plunged to their death, he grinned and waved to a mumbling crowd as if he were significant and to be admired.

I can focus on the beauty. I can look beyond the carelessness and ignorance of human beings who almost seem to be defying their Creator and His handiwork. Someday their mocking of what He has made will come to an end. At the same time, I understand Romans 8:18-22 today a bit better than before.

It says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.”

All this majesty called the Rocky Mountains suffers because of the sin of man. We cannot see with our eyes or hear with our ears, but God says there is a groaning in the earth, a hunger for the redemption of man and an eager expectation of that day when creation’s own beauty is undefiled and as it should be.

Fanciful? Maybe. Every person thinks at times what life would be like in a perfect world. No aches and pains, no sorrow, nothing out of place. As we hiked to the foot of the glacier at Mount Edith Cavell, I began to envision a perfect world from another perspective. The basin below the glacier is ugly, its devastation caused by the ice as it advanced. Now, trees try to grow but are stunted and sparse due to a lack of water as the glacier dries up. Will a perfect world have a perfect water supply? Perfect trees? Even perfect glaciers?

Revelation 22:1-3 says it will have something like that. “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.”

Perfection cannot happen until the curse of sin is removed. I’m not convinced that sin means global warming and global warming means melting glaciers, but I do know that when God takes away sin, there will be a crystal clear river, and life-giving trees. Not just individual people, but whole nations will be healed. The curse of sin will be gone, and instead of serving our own egos and that fanatical desire to be significant (no matter how silly it expresses itself), we will serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m enjoying the Rockies, but not as much as I once did. Spiritual realities seems more vivid than the crisp edges of jagged rock against blue sky. The promises of God are crystal clear; even more so than the rivers or the mountain air.

I’m looking for that day when the river of the water of life heals the nations and makes perfect the mess we have made of this world God created. I’m also looking forward to being able to perfectly serve Him.

A Bold Witness

Telling people the harsh truth about themselves is no pleasant task. Most Christians struggle with a desire to be nice when it comes to any confrontation, and try to avoid anything that looks like “fire and brimstone” in the eyes of those who need to heed the Gospel.

The Bible backs up being nice. Jesus didn’t stand on a soapbox and shout “Turn or burn” at everyone who passed. Paul was gentle with those who sought the truth. The idea that you catch more flies with honey is fairly sound.

However, harsh truth is included in the Bible. Today I’m reading about Stephen, the first martyr in the Christian church. He, “full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.” Some religious leaders began disputing him. They accused him of speaking blasphemous words against them and the law of Moses, and stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes. When they gathered against him, Stephen began his sermon.

He spoke of their history. He reminded them of the many times their ancestors turned from God and how God faithfully persisted, delivering them from one thing after another. Then he said, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”

The next verse says they were “cut to the heart” and in rage gnashed at him with their teeth. Not a surprise. These were the religious leaders. They thought themselves above reproach. Who was this nobody to tell them they were resisting God? “They cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him.”

But before they did, God did something amazing for Stephen. Verse 55 says, “But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”

Then, as the stones flew, “He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And then he “fell asleep.”

I’d not want rocks thrown at me, even verbal ones, but would I trade my fear of that happening for a vision of Jesus? Do I know enough about the power of the Holy Spirit that I’d realize no matter what people did to me, He would give me faith and power to obey Him?

Then there is the matter of telling the truth to others in such a way that when they heard it, they really heard it. Some of these religious leaders may have also stood at the foot of the cross shaking their fist at Jesus. Some of them may have sat on the council that condemned Him to death. Perhaps these were the same leaders hearing it again and shutting their ears again and again putting to death the person who dared tell them the truth.

It is little wonder that Christians tremble when we feel the Holy Spirit’s prompting to speak the truth to religious people or people in high places. People with power may not crucify us or throw actual stones, but they can make our lives uncomfortable, even miserable.

What encourages me is that not everyone in religious leadership resisted the harsh warnings of Jesus and the early Christian preachers. Acts 6:7 says many of the priests were obedient to the faith, and after Stephen died, the church expanded greatly, regardless of threats and persecution. Besides that, God gave Stephen that incredible vision of Himself and His glory.

Today’s church could use more of that fire and certainly some of that vision, but I cannot condemn anyone else for remaining silent if I am not willing myself to speak the truth, even speak it forcefully and with blunt words. The only thing I need to remember is that those blunt words are reserved for only those who have heard and rejected gentler messages about their sin and their need for the Savior. Hard words are for those with hard hearts.

August 21, 2007

In the Rockies

Today I am in the Rocky Mountains. The scenery is wonderful, the company good, but our B&B does not have an Internet connection. So we stopped by the local library where I'm typing a short note to say I will post today's thoughts, and those of the next two days, amd some photographs, on Thursday (after we golf 18 holes) when we arrive home.

August 20, 2007

Choices today helped by remembering history

God is teaching me that it is good to reflect and review the past. A couple days ago, someone asked about our granddaughter and I described the events during the last year of her stay with us. When I was finished, both my listener and I were worshiping God.

In one year, and because of the powerful name of Jesus, she has changed from being silent, severely depressed and suicidal to a confident and happy person. She has a job that she likes. She is registered to re-enter university next month for her teaching certificate. She is keeping her space clean, doing her chores, keeping us up to date with her plans and schedule, and engaging us in lively conversation. Last week she went through her belongings and tossed things no longer useful (this is a gal who would not throw away a gum wrapper). She also saved some money and planned a trip, and is now part way to a Texas destination. She will be flying home in a few weeks.

This morning I read Joshua 24. Verse two begins with Joshua giving a history review: “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Your fathers . . . dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. . . .’” He reminded them of all God had done in their lives to that point, including His call to Abraham, their deliverance from Egypt, and blessing upon blessing as they journeyed to the promised land.

God also reminded them of their present situation: “I have given you a land for which you did not labor, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.”

I feel as if He is speaking to me too. Our journey has been challenging. June 2006 brought my husband’s diagnosis of CLL. Our granddaughter moved in last August, overdosed on stolen pills in December, and continued to concern us. My otherwise healthy husband had a surprise heart attack in May. Yet in it all, God keeps amazing us. My husband’s latest CLL blood work shows his numbers have dropped almost into the ‘normal’ range. He is doing all that the heart specialists have told him, and is fitter and feeling better than ever. Then there are the changes in our grandchild.

Earlier in the year, a ‘word for the year’ popped into my mind: unflappable. I knew that God wants me to trust Him to the point that whatever happens I barely blink. From CLL to suicide threats to heart attack, unflappable is what He has done in me. Even though I’ve had a few times of feeling feel like giving up, quitting, or running away from home, He is faithful and provides whatever I need to keep going, keep trusting.

Toward the middle of Joshua 24, he offers this challenge to the people: “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

If I had been wavering on Saturday, like the Israelites were so prone to do throughout most of the Old Testament, reviewing the past year was enough to answer the challenge. Who could turn away from a God who gives us abundance which we do not deserve, good health for which we have little control, and changed lives that seemed impossible? How can I not trust Him? As the people answered Joshua, so also do I say, “The Lord our God I will serve, and His voice I will obey!”

August 19, 2007

Praise has great purposes

The psalmist says, “Praise the name of the Lord; praise Him, O you servants of the Lord! You who stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God” (Psalm 135:1-2).

Yesterday someone praised me. It was for a suggestion I’d given her years ago. She acted on it and it changed her life. Of course I didn’t remember doing it, but my delight was more for her than for me. She made the decision, she ran with it, and she was happy and grateful about it.

The Bible, particularly the psalms, call God’s servants to praise Him. As John Piper explains in his wonderful book, The Pleasures of God, praise is fitting because God alone is worthy of it. Piper also points out that God knows that. He has an incredible delight in His own sense of who He is, but not like our sinful version. We exalt in ourselves because our egos need it; God exalts in Himself because He has absolutely no needs.

For now, I’ll leave a far better explanation of this concept to Piper. What I am thinking about this morning is how praise benefits those who offer it. My friend who praised me brought the thing full circle. I could see her delight in having opportunity to tell me how the words I gave her moved her to action. As I watched her relaxed smile, I thought of God, and realized that when we praise Him for the things He has done for us, He is pleased for us also. He sees what praise does in our lives as we bring back to Him the ‘rest of the story’ making whatever it is come full circle.

Besides that delight of ‘icing the cake,’ praise offered to God slows me down. My heart cannot be occupied with the concerns of my life or my to-do list while I am focused on the glory of God. Praise reminds me that He is in control, and that He loves me, gave Himself for me, and will work all things together for my good—making me more like Jesus Christ.

Praise restores my eternal perspective. I remember why I am here, the priorities I should have and where I am going. Praise puts my too-busy life in perspective. Everything that looms large starts to shrink. I begin to see what needs attention and what can be deleted.

Praise also makes a day of rest apply to more than my body. As I reflect on the wonders of God, my mind relaxes too. All negative emotions fade and His joy bubbles up, filling me with a gratitude and delight that only God can give.

Yes, God rightfully delights in praise, but His delight is never selfish. He sees what it does for His children and His heart is made glad, simply because praising Him makes our heart glad and gives body, mind, soul and emotions a rest.

All that being said, praise is too often tagged to the music part of a Sunday service. I’ve heard people say, “The praise was good” or “I liked the worship today” totally in reference to the singing. Maybe because I’m a person who loves words and working with words, or maybe because my singing voice is not that great, I hope that Christians recognize that praise doesn’t have to be just music. We can praise God in words without whole notes, sharps and flats. We can praise Him without words in the silence. We can praise Him with our lives, our actions. But however we do it, God is blessed by our praise, and because of His amazing grace, we are too!

August 18, 2007

What does God look for on a resume?

1 Samuel 22 tells how David, who knew he would be king even though Saul was still on the throne, was joined by hundreds of men who became his army. It starts with, “David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. So when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented (or ‘bitter of soul’) gathered to him. So he became captain over them.”

It seems to me the logical way to form an army would involve recruiting fighters who were strong, skilled and with a zeal for battle. Not so with this group. They were united by adverse circumstances, had little going for them, and in modern terms might be called a motley crew. However, they did believe in David and looked for his support. They were also willing to stand with him, no matter what came against them.

This reminds me of a description of God’s people from 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base (insignificant or lowly) things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”

Just as the army has tests for soldiers, the world also measures the skills and value of people by all sorts of evaluation and IQ tests. If someone scores high in intellect, education, aptitude and experience, they are given more respect, authority and usually more money.

The church measures skills too. We use spiritual gift tests and their track record to put people in the most appropriate ministry for them. If they are able, they are put to work.

But what if people without skill, training or previous experience step up and say, “I’ve a burden from God to get involved in this . . . ”? Do we tell them they can’t? Do we say they would be better in another area? Do we give them tests first to see if they can do it?

David didn’t send any of that motley crew away. Some of them became his “mighty men” and were willing to die for him. A few became skilled leaders. They were united in their discontent, but moreso in their loyalty.

I’m thinking the church needs to consider David’s motley crew when we gather our ‘army’ to do the Lord’s work. We know how worldliness creeps in, but worldliness is more than materialism. It includes adopting the way the world does things like recruiting. If the world looks for well-educated visionaries who can communicate well, have the abilities to ‘make things happen’ and all the skills necessary to stand out, should the church do the same?

And what about me? I’m startled how often God picks what most might call losers to do great tasks for Him. I need to watch that I don’t toss unassuming, even backward people into the ‘maybe’ pool or reject them for their lack of polish. A motley crew can become a mighty army.

In fact, it seems that God would rather start with nothing. Consider the disciples Jesus picked. None of them were educated, and most were rough around the edges. Yet these men impacted the world as no other ‘motley crew’ before or since.

I remember a line from one of Watchman Nee’s books that I read years ago. It said that natural talent can be an impediment in the kingdom of God because if a person is a good talker, God has to teach that person to shut up before they will learn how to speak for Him, but if someone is ‘slow of speech’ they are already halfway to becoming a good servant.

This is a smack on the side of the head for some of my opinions about Christians in ministry positions. I can be critical of what looks like a square peg in a round hole and wonder why God didn’t pick a person more suited to the job. Today, Scripture shows me that I really don’t know anything about who should do what. If God says “You” to someone, I’d better keep my mouth shut, trust His choice, and then support them with all my heart!

August 17, 2007

Love makes no demands

While my devotional guide is about Saul, the man Samuel anointed to be king, I am still thinking about Samuel, Hannah’s little boy that she “lent to the Lord for the rest of his life.”

As a mother who knows the reality of giving my children over to the Lord, I recognize from this story that my expectations have been unrealistic. I’d hoped God would take them and make them perfect. However, in taking Samuel, perfection didn’t happen.

Samuel had his moments, in fact many of them. He was an ‘anointer of kings’ and gave direction to men who would lead the nation. He said to Saul, “You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and surely I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and make sacrifices of peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, till I come to you and show you what you should do.”

Later, he would anoint David to replace Saul, showing great discernment in his choice. But his life had a flaw; he was not a strong parent and seemed to have no discernment regarding his own sons. 1 Samuel 8:1 says he made his sons judges over Israel even though verse three says, “But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice.”

I’ve had trouble with wanting to see the best in others, and being content with partial progress, particularly with my children. Lately I’ve been asking God to change me because I know He has the first goal, but He is much more patient than I am when someone takes a long time to get there. As I read about Samuel this morning, I wonder what Hannah was thinking as she watched her son grow. Maybe she died before these things happened, but if not, I’m sure she was proud of him.

One of my commentaries says, “During all these dreary years Samuel was a spiritual power in the land. From Ramah, his native place, where he resided, his influence went forth on every side among the people. With unwearied zeal he went up and down from place to place, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting the people, endeavoring to awaken in them a sense of their sinfulness, and to lead them to repentance. His labors were so far successful that ‘all the house of Israel lamented after the Lord.’” [1.

Even though her son was important to her, I’m sure her grandsons were too. How did she feel when she realized her son was making mistakes with them? Did she blame herself for not being around to teach him parenting by her example? Did she yearn for a greater role in the life of these grandsons so they would love God and become men of integrity?

Giving up Samuel to the Lord did not mean he would become a perfect man. Maybe she had to give up her grandchildren too, knowing they would not be perfect.

Giving up my children to the Lord is the same. They are not perfect, and as I watch them be human, make mistakes, but also do amazingly good things, again I need to remember Hannah. She didn’t give God any criteria of what to do with her little boy. She just gave him over, willing to allow God to do with Samuel whatever He pleased. I need that same trust in Him for the lives of my children and my grandchildren.

[1. M.G. Easton, Easton's Bible Dictionary (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897).

August 16, 2007

Love must let go, let God . . .

I finished reading The Truth Teller last night. It’s powerful ending left me weeping and thinking how difficult it is to give up someone that you love.

It happens. Parents die. Children move away from home. Loved ones reject your love. Whatever form the loss takes, I thought how much easier it would be to never love at all. Then the pain would not happen.

This morning my devotional guide plunks me right into the story of Hannah and her strong desire for a child, not unlike the woman in Angela Hunt’s book. She prayed and God granted her a child, but before her son was born she’d vowed, “I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life.”

Hannah loved Samuel, but when he was weaned, she took him to the house of the Lord and “lent him to the Lord as long as he lives.” Then she and her husband “worshiped the Lord.”

Their sense of loss must have been huge, but the Bible reveals an incredible attitude as they gave their son into the hands of God. 1 Samuel 2 begins with her lengthy prayer of joy. She praised God for His salvation, uttered a warning to those who proudly resist Him, affirmed the Lord’s care for His people, and ended the prayer with an affirmation that God will judge the world, and “He will give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.” In the Old Testament, “His anointed” can refer to King David (not yet born), but more often to the promised Savior, the Messiah.

As I read this prayer, I can see how Hannah did it. Her deepest joy was in the Lord. Her focus was on truth and righteousness, and Him. She knew the salvation of God and His holiness. She knew the end of the wicked and the power of God to do right, and to take care of her. She also knew that nothing could thwart the plans of God. His anointed King would be powerful and eventually rule over all.

Yes, she loved her little boy, but she could see the bigger picture. God was in charge and she joyfully celebrated that she could entrust the life of this small child to her large God. He had created him and He would take care of him.

Hunt’s book and Hannah’s story plainly show that love cannot prevent loss. Even God knows that. He loves His own Son, yet sent Him to live among us and to die. God “so loves the world” also, meaning He loves every person that He created, every person ever born. That is a huge amount of love. But when He came to His own, He was despised and rejected. Even though His love is greater than Hannah’s, greater than any other love, He lost us. His love did not stop us from pushing Him away.

Of course, only His love can bring us back to Him. In love He “gave His only begotten Son” and “whosoever believes” are restored to an amazing love relationship with Him, a relationship where “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts. . . .” (Romans 5:5)

Every day I pray for the people close to my heart, and every day I realize that no matter how much I love them, I do not control their lives. Instead, I must place them into the hands of God, and like Hannah, lend them to Him for as long as they live. The sense of loss comes when I realize that I cannot, even by loving them, produce a willing acceptance of the love of God. That is between them and God. What I can do is pray like Hannah, knowing that nothing can thwart the plans of God, and asking that His anointed King be powerful and eventually, in love, rule their hearts.

August 15, 2007

Truth in a Person

In Angela Hunt’s book, The Truth Teller (links in yesterday's post), a child is born through the desire of a widow to have her dead husband’s child and the manipulations of a wealthy schemer who bribes her doctor to replace the husband’s DNA with that of a well-preserved ‘early’ man.

Instead of a normal child, the rich man hopes for a near perfect child, the doctor hopes he doesn’t get caught, and the woman hasn’t a clue what is going on. Just before the baby is born, she finds out what was done to her, and helped by her husband’s best friend, she goes into hiding. When the boy is five, she realized he is “normal in every way,” but he has an incredible ability to know when someone is lying. He also never lies himself.

Fiction of course, but an intriguing idea. It is based on the idea that the farther humanity gets from those first created, the more corrupt we become. DNA from an ancient donor would produce a child less corrupt.

Unfortunately, it could not work. Sin corrupts totally, 5000 years ago or today. Besides, in a real world, such a child could not be “normal in every way.” The author says that this little boy “disobeys sometimes” and disobedience is tied directly to believing a lie.

It has taken me a long time to realize that. The Liar is subtle. Yet most of what he feeds me can be lumped into a few large categories. One is, “God doesn’t really want the best for you.” When I fall for that one, I take charge of my own life without consulting Him. That is disobedience.

Another is, “Everyone else is doing it.” I know, that sounds like a typical teen trying to convince his parent to allow something he wants, but the enemy who lies to me uses it to make me resist any restraints the Lord might put on me. That spells disobedience.

Another, and perhaps a form of the first, is, “You will never have what you want unless you fight for it.” When I believe that one, I stop trusting God and start trusting myself. More disobedience soon follows. The list goes on.

But what I am saying is that anyone who could detect all lies would immediately spot the subtle reasoning of Satan, who is the Liar. As a Christian, if I had that ability, I would never disobey God. Or would I? Maybe I’d also need a perfectly pure heart.

Jesus once said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” I’ve wondered what that means. My heart has been cleansed by His blood through faith, but could I claim to be pure of heart? Or does that describe my standing or position before God rather than an actual possession? Would I have to be like this little boy and know all lies? Or would I also have to resist all of them and never sin?

Heady questions. The Bible talks about the purity of the saints as our standing before God. He looks at us and sees the pure simplicity of His Son, Jesus Christ. It also challenges us to be pure, to grow toward purity. In other words, we are to become what He says we already are.

As for seeing God, another perplexity. How can I see someone who is without a body, a Spirit? Certainly through the eyes of faith, and someday in glory, but I have no clue how that will happen or with what faculties I will see Him.

More important, and the bottom line is that He makes a connection between my ability to experience Him and my purity. The less deceit and corruption within my heart, the more I will know of Him and the wonders of who He is. Junk covers up His glory. Get rid of the junk and He will shine through.

How I perceive Him may not be with my eyes, but I will see Him, because Jesus promised I will. It will not be the fulness of His glory (reserved for that day I see Him in heaven), but it will be glimpses. I already see Him in friends who give up their comfortable lives in Canada to take the Gospel to others who live in darkness and poverty. I see Him in the kindness of His people. I see Him in the glory of His creation. And I see Him in a fictional character who never lies, yet instantly recognizes when someone else strays from the truth.

My conclusion is that God is far too much to put all of who He is into any one way of seeing, except, marvel of marvels, He did do it—once.

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son . . . who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person . . . .”

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

August 14, 2007

Truth Telling

I’m reading The Truth Teller by Angela Hunt. She will be at a writer’s conference I’m involved in next month, about ten minutes from my house, and I want to experience her skills beforehand. She writes well, which is not a surprise. What surprises me is that God used this book of fiction to show me a reality in my own life.

Usually He uses truth to change people. My Bible reading today is the story of Peter going to the home of a Gentile, Cornelius, and telling him and his household about the life of Christ. As Peter spoke the truth about Jesus, that story changed their lives.

Acts 10:44 says, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.” It goes on to say that these people not only heard it, but believed it, were filled with the Spirit, and immediately baptized. For those conversions, and for perhaps millions like them, the Holy Spirit used the true story of Jesus to show people their need and open their hearts to His solution.

Last night, in the middle of a suspense-filled action scene in Hunt’s book, God used something in this fiction story to show me my need. I’ve been struggling with prayer. After years of praying for certain people, nothing is happening. I’ve started to lose motivation and yet the burden for these requests remains. As I read Hunt’s book, I realized how many of my prayers are more like twisting God’s arm than simply asking in faith.

This morning, my devotional book points out that God was always interrupting Peter. The man had ideas but God had better ideas. In a way, I suppose this is what He did with this book. Hunt’s story is exciting, inspirational, and captivating, yet pure fiction. God interrupted it and made it something she very likely did not intend. The story is not about instructions for prayer, yet God jumped in and used it to make a correction in my prayer life.

Responding is easy. I gave Him the concerns on my heart, but first confessed how I had been foolishly thinking that His work depended solely on my faithful, dutiful labor in prayer. I had made prayer more about what I was doing than what God is doing.

Sure, I’m supposed to pray, even work hard at it, but my praying is not coercing God. If I’m battling anyone, it is the Liar who holds people in sin and darkness. I’m to go to war against spiritual wickedness, not strong-arm God. The Holy Spirit reminds me that of the fine line between believing God answers prayer and assuming His answers depend on my prayers.

I’ll have to thank Angela Hunt when I meet her, but right now I’m thanking God. I feel twenty pounds lighter and much more eager to talk to Him today.

August 13, 2007

Splitting hairs?

The author of my devotional guide makes a distinction between soul and spirit. The author of the notes in my study Bible does not. I, being a person who prefers accurate word definitions, prefer the first point of view, but should I split hairs?

Watchman Nee says the spirit is the inner part of humans that is capable of being conscious of sin, of knowing God by faith, and of connecting with Him. Apart from Christ, these capacities are inactive and the spirit is said to be ‘dead in sin’ and separated from God.

In Nee’s descriptions, the soul is the inner part of humans where our intellect, emotions and volition function. He says the soulish man lives independently of God, and while that man may have an understanding of right and wrong and believe in the existence of God, this capacity is not the same as that of a person whose spirit has been made alive.

These distinctions are not clear in Scripture, but some verses seem to make them. For instance, Hebrews 4:12 talks about the power of God’s Word. It says, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

The notes in my study Bible say that these terms do not describe two separate entities any more than “thoughts and intents” do, but I’m not sure about that. My thoughts may include my intentions, but not all of those thoughts involve intentions. The two words are not identical any more than “living and powerful” or “joints and marrow” are the same thing.

What difference does it make? Isn’t it enough to recognize the Bible can discover or reveal our inner condition? Do these words need defining?

I think so. As I study the Bible I notice that what my intellect grasps is often in contrast to what faith tells me. While this can be frustrating, God confirms it. He says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).

These are two separate functions. My own understanding, seated in my intellect, is not as reliable as the knowledge of God which is received by faith. The Bible also says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . . .” in Romans 12:2. This tells me that my mind is not functioning the way God intends. This includes “thoughts and intents” which need to be renewed, transformed.

However, another amazing verse says, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Of course His mind and mine do not think the same. God wants me to allow His Word to reveal to me the distinctions between the two, and live by “transformed” thoughts and motives, not by my own understanding.

None of this could happen when my spirit was “dead to God.” Before Jesus came into my life, I not interested, nor did I have the capacity to know Him. I could not see or understand the things of God. This is exactly what Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3. “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

“Born again” is another way of expressing how God makes alive the spirits of those who live physically (have soul-life), but are dead to God. When His Spirit regenerated my spirit, the things of God became real to me. There was a connection with God, a sense of my own sin, but also the ability to believe by faith, none of which I could do with my own intelligence, feelings, or by choice.

Imagining a set of concentric circles with the spirit as the core and the soul as the next circle, and the body as the outer, visible part, helps me to remember that what happens inside me has a huge effect on my entire person.

For instance, when God challenges me about my sin, my spirit knows He is right, but my mind grapples with what I should do. My emotions feel guilt, shame, or perhaps annoyance. I’ve now a choice to make. If I choose to resist Him, my emotions are affected and my body can become tense, even ill because of that inner battle. My spirit becomes suppressed, and if I say no long enough, it begins to atrophy.

However, if I yield to God with my whole being, my mind is engaged with praise and creative thoughts, my emotions overflow with peace and joy, and there is no resistance in my will power giving me freedom from stress. My body is relaxed and ready to obey. Under that and inside all of that is an assurance that I’m on the right track and I have a deep awareness of the presence of God.

Nee may go too far in his separation of soul and spirit because you cannot cut them apart; one affects the other. My Bible study notes may go too far the other way and miss the marvels of God’s handiwork in the way He created us.

But by splitting hairs, I’m helped to see that the Bible is just right. It challenges me to keep reading because it is alive and powerful and has an amazing ability to reveal to me what I need to know so every part of me can quit resisting God and live wholly for Jesus Christ.

August 12, 2007

Subjective Assurance

When Christ came into my life more than 35 years ago, I sat on the step of my front porch and marveled at the change in the way I felt about people. Before, I didn’t care much for anyone, but that attitude was gone. Loving others, at least with His kind of love, was a huge assurance that Jesus actually was at work in me.

As I read Romans 5:1-5 this morning, I could see the various ways God gives assurance to His people, and I marveled all over again. I am so unworthy of His grace and care and am so grateful that none of this depends on me. God does it because of His Son.

This passage says, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith in 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.”

Most of the time faith is solidly based on objective truth, on what God has said and done. If I base what I believe on my feelings, I sway like a blade of grass in the wind. One day I feel close to God, the next He seems far away. Instead, His Word says, “I am with you always” and grabbing hold of that truth keeps me from swaying.

However, these verses from Romans offer a subjective basis for faith. When I first believed, I felt love from God poured in my heart. It was so powerful and abundant that I knew I hadn’t conjured it up. It came from outside me, and it had to overflow toward others.

These verses say that Jesus gives peace with God too. At salvation, I knew my war with God was over. I cannot describe the feeling to anyone who does not know it except to say that the weight of guilt, the fear of judgment, the anxiety that my life was not the way it should be, all of that and more was lifted off me. God replaced it with a deep realization that I now stood before Him by grace, a totally unmerited privilege. In that reality I could approach Him without fear. This peace with God is an objective truth (Jesus died to secure it), but another side of it, the peace of God, is subjective, felt, enjoyed. This is an amazing peace that goes beyond my comprehension.

Throughout my Christian experience, the other things from these verses have happened. Tribulation has made me stronger, not weaker, more able to persevere. Sure, sometimes I feel like quitting, but something (Someone) inside me pushes on no matter how uphill life seems. Furthermore, this perseverance assures me. I know that if Jesus were not with me, I’d wear out and fold up.

Perseverance also produces character. This word “character” is actually “proof” and some say “proven character,” but I like the idea of proof, for proof is what it does for me. Because I can press on, God proves the reality of His presence and care for me. That proof deepens my faith and gives me hope.

The New Testament word for hope is not the same as our English word. When most people talk about hope, they are wishing, wanting, but not sure it will happen. In the Bible, hope refers to something that is certain, but not yet realized. It is like the smell of cinnamon buns when you walk into the kitchen. They are there for you, ready to eat, but you haven’t yet had one. Hope is the smell of the reality that you are going to enjoy.

I often think about this hope. In my heart, I know I will be with Jesus when I die. From that day more than 35 years ago until now, that knowing has never left me, never wavered in the slightest. It offers me amazing assurance, subjective—yes, but by its persistent nature I know it is not a mere wish in my heart, but an amazing gift from God and a subjective assurance of my salvation.

August 11, 2007

“I am with you always”

This morning I asked for a simple word, something that would help me as I wrestle with God for a blessing in my prayers for people who don’t know Him, and as I go about the tasks of the day.

He sent me to Exodus 4:31. Moses had tried in his own strength to deliver God’s people from bondage in Egypt. It didn’t work. God took him into the wilderness and after forty years ‘in training’ he was ready to go back and begin the long process of persuading Pharaoh to “let my people go.”

But first he needed to talk to the people. They had been slaves for a long time. Some of them certainly had given up hope that God cared about their situation. When Moses came to them and showed them all the signs and wonders that God enabled him to perform, “The people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped.”

Sometimes I pray “whatever it takes” for those who are hardened by their slavery to sin and unbelief, but am never quite sure “whatever it takes” might be. This verse offers one clue. If someone is struggling, whether in bondage to sin or with added afflictions like illness or calamity, they need to know that God does visit His people, and that He is aware and cares about what is happening to them. These folks hadn’t been delivered yet, but for a start, it was enough to know God was still there. They humbly bowed and worshiped Him.

The people on my prayer list are in mixed circumstances. I know that some of them fear that God has abandoned them. How can anyone worship a God who doesn’t seem to care? Others have abandoned God, and in doing that are caught up in a sinful lifestyle. Sinners worship their sin and cannot worship God. However, if that sin isn’t a ball in chain yet, it will become one, and in that bondage they will cry out to Him.

No matter what anyone is experiencing, they need to know that God is not ‘out there’ with His back turned, but right here, watching them, caring about them. How can they know that?

Moses showed the Israelites extraordinary powers from God and they were convinced, but I’m not given those abilities. Instead, God gives me the power to visit His people and to be there for them in their affliction, a power that seems insignificant to me, but for anyone who is suffering, it might be a revelation from Him that He has not left them alone.

August 10, 2007

One Accord

The joke goes, “What kind of car will be driven in heaven?” Answer: “A Honda, because the Christians will be in one accord.”

This is a double entendre. Besides the pun, Christians are often jibed for not getting along, and some assume heaven is the only place that unity will happen.

Not so. The joke actually comes from verses like Acts 2:1 which says, “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.”

This was just after Jesus had died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. His followers were in an “upper room” doing what Jesus told them to do. They waited until they were “baptized with the Holy Spirit.” While together, Acts 1:24 says they also “all continued with one accord in prayer . . . .”

We assume our unity comes from the Holy Spirit, and that is generally true, but in this situation, the Spirit had not yet come to fill these believers, yet they still were driving that Honda—in one accord. My curious mind wonders what united them.

The Bible says those who believe in Jesus receive new life from Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Historically, the Spirit’s indwelling happened in two distinct events (Pentecost and for the Gentile believers in Acts 10) after they believed. While some believers think this is still the way these things happen, it seems to me that since then, new life and the Spirit are given at the same time. Rather that get out of the Honda and argue about it, one thing is clear; these people described as being in one accord were believers before the Spirit came. They had at least some kind of unity.

Some of their ‘oneness’ is described in Ephesians 4:1-4 where Paul tells us to “walk worthy of our calling . . . in humility and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

All believers have one hope; we know we are going to heaven when we die.

All believers have one Lord; Jesus is our Lord and King, the one that we believed in and follow.

All believers have one faith; we all believe that Jesus died and rose again. For those in Acts, most had seen Him and some had observed Him ascend into heaven.

All believers trust one God, unlike the Greeks, Gentile nations and pagans who worship a plethora of gods.

All believers know one Father and that they we are adopted into one family as His children. These in Acts knew that He was in all of them; they could see it in the way their lives had been transformed.

So why the disunity now? Why the joke that needles the well-known inability for Christians to get along?

Jesus said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” Paul, Peter and John repeated His warning. False teachers who would come in and spread lies. These lies could ruin unity.

Besides that, we have our own sin nature to battle, our sinful, “I want what I want when I want it” or “My way is better than God’s way.” Both motivations ruin unity.

Instead of fretting over Christians driving off in their separate directions, I’m encouraged by the unity we do have. I’ve served on various committees and been in Bible studies that involved people from many Christian denominations, and even though our background and approach to problems varies, God has given us amazing unity.

Today I will remember our unity, praise God for our unity, and when I talk to anyone whose ideas are contrary to mine, instead of wrangling about our differences, I will jump in that Honda and seek common ground. In that one car we have one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all.

August 9, 2007

No Pat Answers

When Isaac attempted to bless his sons, he was tricked into blessing the younger over the older—contrary to custom and to what he intended. When that younger son, Jacob, blessed his grandsons, he chose the younger over the older too, but he knew exactly what he was doing. What was the difference between these two men? Did Jacob do it because that is what happened to him? Or did he have another reason?

This ‘blessing’ was no mere ‘nice’ ceremony. It held prophetic significance and was a very serious family matter. The eldest was given the ‘birthright’ which included becoming the priest of the family, a double portion of the inheritance, and any judicial authority the father may have.

As my devotional book points out, Isaac easily came into his blessing. It was promised long before he was born and even with a half-brother in the picture, there was never any real threat to the inheritance that was promised to him. He was a person of faith—without a huge battle with himself to get there.

Faith came much harder for his son, Jacob. First, he fought for his blessing. His mother favored him and wanted him to trick his older brother out of it, so he did, but then spent much of his life fearing brother Esau’s retaliation. Finally Jacob came to the point of wrestling with the Angel of the Lord and persisting because he wanted God to bless him. (Note: most theologians think this Angel was a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ.)

Some think Jacob reversed the order when he blessed Joseph’s sons because that is what worked for him. That isn’t what I see. Both Jacob and Joseph, like most of us, expected God to work in certain ways. Through difficult circumstances, both found that God is not limited to convention, that God’s ways are not man’s ways. They learned the hard way to listen to God, not to what ‘everyone else is doing.’

Faith seemed handed on a platter to Isaac, but it took Jacob a lifetime of trials and discipline to learn how to trust God. But he did learn. Just before he blessed Joseph’s younger son over the elder, he said, “God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has fed me all my life long to this day, the Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads. . . .”

Joseph protested that he had his hands on the boys in the wrong order, but Jacob said, “I know, my son, I know.” He was very aware that God wanted the younger boy to receive the blessing. This was not a plot out of favoritism or a wrestling match with God. Jacob learned to listen and to obey. He also learned that he could not put God in a box.

One of the biggest threats to walking with God is the idea that, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” God is not limited to a procedure or set pattern. If I have a problem or a challenge, He has a solution that will fit it perfectly. He is far more creative than I ever can imagine. Besides that, He wants me to come to Him with each problem, not use old methods.

I’ve stopped reading what I call “Christian how-to” books. While I need encouragement that God is able, and reminders of general principles in how He works, if I copy specific applications that He gave someone else, I will miss the blessing of experiencing His unique guidance in my own situation.

I also identify with Jacob in that I’ve had to learn the hard way that God’s answers are far better than mine, and with each problem they are even better than His previous answer!

August 8, 2007

His staff — my comfort

My brief experience with sheep explains why they are often used as a metaphor for God’s people. Sheep scare easily, seem to act without thinking (do they even think?), and require constant and watchful care.

In Psalm 23, David says the Lord is his shepherd. Further along, he says, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

The shepherd used his rod to correct the sheep and his staff to move them in the right direction. These instruments worked far better than if he used his hands or something bigger to shoo them and send them into a frightened frenzy. David, himself a shepherd, knew the correcting and directing power of a rod and staff. He also knew that God used exactly the right situations to guide and correct him. God’s care was always suited to his temperament and his needs.

Yesterday I read about Jacob wrestling with God. Even though a winner was not declared, Jacob came out of it with a limp and a different attitude. For him, and for the rest of the flock of God, such a wrestling match proves that we are like crippled, even dysfunctional, sheep who need the correction and guidance of the Lord.

Today, my Scripture reading is still about Jacob. Hebrews 11:21 says, “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.”

This tells me two more things about Jacob that are helpful for my own life. First, he never stopped needing his ‘crutch.’ He had a staff to lean on, but not only that, into his old age this man also worshiped God. Only those who are humbly depending on Him can do that.

Second, he learned the same thing as David; the staff of God was a blessing. When God encountered him many years prior, He gave this stubborn, self-seeking man a lesson in guidance. Later, as he neared the end of his life and it was time to bless his grandsons, he was still relying on what God told him to do. Genesis 48 tells how, instead of going with tradition and blessing the eldest first and with the most, Jacob reversed that. Even when Joseph tried to correct him, he insisted and gave the greater blessing to the younger one. He had learned to listen to God, not tradition or human advice.

No one knows when they are near the end of their life, but right now is a good time to start the attitudes and life that I want to be characterized by when I am very old. Like Jacob, I know that I limp. I need both rod and staff to correct and direct me, but also to lean on, rely on that care from the Lord. I don’t want to get caught in the trap of following tradition, nor do I want to rely on people to tell me what to do.

My mother and father both succumbed to dementia as they aged. However I could see that they, particularly my mother, still heard the voice of the Lord. They allowed His rod and His staff to correct and guide them. His care was their comfort. By forming this spiritual discipline of being disciplined, the weaknesses of aging (which is the final form of ‘limping’ and needing a crutch) became their testimony to the grace of God.

I still fight my unwillingness to be weak or admit weakness, but this wrestling match cannot be won. Weaknesses will win—unless I learn the lesson of Jacob and David. The Lord’s rod and His staff, even though His use of them may not feel good all the time, eventually will become my comfort and just one more reason to worship Him.

August 7, 2007

So who isn’t limping?

Christians have been mocked as people who use “religion” as a crutch. The implication is that we have something wrong with us and cannot live our lives without some kind of outside support. Duh!

Lest any of us try to defend ourselves against that notion, the best defense is, “Yes, you are exactly right. I do have something wrong with me. It is called sin, and I cannot live my life before God without dealing with it. My crutch is shaped like a cross and because of Jesus who died there, my sin is forgiven and I can walk in His righteousness, rely on His mercy, but also His strength, direction, and so much more. He is my total support, the One I rely on for everything—and what is wrong with that?”

However, I have to admit that the part I struggle with is those three words, “You are right.” I don’t want to be a needy person who has to cry out for help in even the simplest issues of life. In myself, I will do all I can to be independent, but that attitude alone is the basic description of sin. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way. . . .” (Italics are mine.)

To my own way gets me in trouble because my sinful nature is selfish, inconsiderate, determined to look out for me even at the expense of others, and certainly not interested in glorifying God or paying any attention to what He wants from me.

Yes, I have lived my own way without it seeming like I was limping. A lot of people do this. Some of them will say they do not need God; they are doing just fine without Him. In their eyes, and in the eyes of the world, they may be correct, at least for a while.

Jacob was one of those people who did his own thing. He made a bit of a show about being a religious man, but for the most part didn’t ask God about much. However, God knows what to do with folks who are determined to walk without crutches and will not acknowledge their sinful resistance to God.

Jacob found himself in a situation where he didn’t know if he would live or die, or if his family would perish. He was alone and, in one long night, found himself wrestling with “a Man” not specifically identified in the Bible passage.

This Man persevered, and so did Jacob. During the struggle, when the Man saw that He could not prevail against Jacob, “He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him.”

After the sun came up and after Jacob refused to let go until this Man blessed him, He did bless him and gave him a new name. He said, “You have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed . . . and He blessed him there.”

Jacob rose up and this passage (Genesis 32) says, ‘“I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.’ Just as he crossed over Penuel the sun rose on him, and he limped on his hip.”

Jacob learned a whole lot that long night. He learned that God will not give up on the most stubborn resistance because He wants to give us His very best, Yet He will not bless us unless we want it. Jacob also learned that blessings from God are not always what we think they should be. In this case, he was given a new name (a special significance to a Jew for to them a name indicated the direction of a person’s life). His old name, Jacob, meant “heel catcher” or “deceiver” but this new name means “He struggled with God” or “God’s fighter.”

He was also given a limp, and this is no small thing. From that point on, Jacob, now called Israel, stopped fighting to have his own way and yielded his life to the Lord. He realized he was needy, not just physically, and needed a crutch.

Along the way, I’ve had many wrestling matches with God. Strangely, every time God wins, I do too. He is not against me, but for me. If I persist and seem to win by having my own way, I wind up losing, partly because my own way never works the way I think it will.

God knows best. He even knows that by letting me “win” I will wind up realizing once again how crippled I really am, and how much I need His grace and wisdom. Without Him, my life may look okay to others, but at best I am merely limping along. Compared to my experiences of leaning on Jesus, and no matter how others might ridicule that, I prefer using my crutch.

August 6, 2007

Picking up my weapons

LATER: I found my five smooth stones.

1. God is sovereign. Nothing happens outside of His control. He rules which prayers get answered right away, and if I don’t like it, I am fighting God.

2. God is omnipotent. He can do whatever pleases Him. He can answer my prayers in a moment. Nothing is too hard for God.

3. God is wise. He knows what He is doing. He knows the best time, the best way, and even if He does not do what I ask, that response has wisdom behind it that I know nothing about.

4. God is love. He gave His Son so that we might have eternal life. The Bible says how then shall He not freely give us all things? If He withholds anything, it is certainly not because He hates me.

5. God is just. He has every right to send everyone to eternal damnation, but because of Jesus who took our punishment, He is also merciful and will save who He saves.

In my impotent foolishness, I have no idea what God is doing or why. All I know is when the enemy comes at me with mocking accusations, I have to use the weapons the Lord gives me and I was reminded today that, if nothing else, mine don’t work.