June 30, 2007

Lego Lesson

Yesterday we watched an eight-year-old methodically begin building a huge Lego spaceship. He didn’t want the pieces sorted out, or everything to be set in order. He just glued his eyes to the directions and followed them step by step, finding each piece from the pile, as the directions instructed. We are amazed at his method and his patience.

Later in the day, someone insulted our generosity. My first reaction was a sense of being trapped. According to the Spirit, retaliation is not an option; according to the flesh, I felt like fighting back. According to the Spirit, letting someone sin against us is not a loving thing to allow; according to the flesh, I wanted to physically stomp on that person, without mercy.

Perplexing. How do I please God? How can I be loving yet just? How can I do what is best for that other person and honor the name of Christ? This time I have no clue.

So I prayed this morning and asked the Lord to show me. I was kind of hoping for a “thou shalt” verse that specifically told me, but He plunked me in Galatians 5 where Christian liberty is defined by a love that serves others and not ourselves.

Verses 16-18 say, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

No “thou shalt” verses in that. It just tells me that I need to sort out my motivations. I need to know what is driving me, and make sure it is not sinful flesh but the Holy Spirit. This is troubling because my mind senses a mixture of pieces in this puzzle. I know that no one can serve both God and their own selves, but some parts of my thinking seem to be from Him. So which ideas are the right ones to follow?

Perplexing. I know I can twist my reasoning and try to make it ‘spiritual.’ I can do something selfish and convince myself it is ‘for Jesus,’ but the long and short of this is that whatever I do, God wants it powered by the Holy Spirit, not by my own selfishness.

I still feel a desire to get even, to smuck that person with something to wake them up, even if it is a pile of uncommon kindness, a big dose that heaps coals of fire and heaps of guilt so they quit sinning. Isn’t this biblical? But this sin is also against us, and take makes me stressed. I want it to stop. My motives are mixed.

There, that is the issue. Knowing the difference between flesh and spirit is vital to knowing how to behave. I must know my own heart. What is sinful me? What is from the Spirit of God? Perplexing.

Hebrews 4:12 says, “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.”

When I don’t know, I need to study the Book. I can’t sort out the options and find the pieces without His help. I don’t know what to do next, or what to do in what order. Now these verses come alive. God basically tells me if I act on impulse without His instruction, that is fleshy, and about as foolish as trying to put together a 482 piece Lego toy blindfolded.

I can’t see the finished product in this relationship or what He is going to do in the life of that other person. All I can do is ask God what to do next and do it. He will show me from His Word. Today He also reminds me using the image of a patient eight-year-old who ignores what the finished model looks like to follow the hundred steps it takes to get there.

June 29, 2007

Escapism at its best

After my annual checkup, I was back at the doctor’s office to hear the results. Before she told me how healthy I am, I told her about the stresses of the past year—my husband’s CLL, our granddaughter moving in and her problems, and my husband’s recent heart attack. She asked how I was doing with all of that, and I told her that when the pressure is on, I usually don’t get emotional. Instead, I become absent-minded, forgetful.

Her response surprised me. She said, “Oh, you remove yourself from it.”

That had not occurred to me, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It sounded negative, as if I was running away from problems, but I think that is sometimes what I am doing, without really thinking about it. However, there is another way to escape, at least for a little while, that is more positive. I know this method also.

Escapism at its best is described in Psalm 91:1-2. It says, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.’”

The first kind of ‘removing myself’ is about going blank, sort of like being in shock. The second one is an active escapism with my mind fully engaged. It is thinking about God in terms of who He is and what He does. It is recognizing Him as the Most High, the Almighty One who can do all things, and who does all things well and with loving mercy toward me. It is saying, if not aloud at least mentally, that God is my refuge. He welcomes me when I run to Him and protects me when I am assaulted by events, other people, emotional stress, anything that threatens my equilibrium and peace of mind. Just knowing Him and that He is there makes all my problems and threats seem much smaller.

Yesterday I found the following story in The Necessity of Prayer by E. M. Bounds. It was told by A. C. Dixon and quoted in Bounds’ first chapter.

“A dear friend of mine who was quite a lover of the chase, told me the following story: ‘Rising early one morning,’ he said, ‘I heard the baying of a score of deerhounds in pursuit of their quarry. Looking away to a broad, open field in front of me, I saw a young fawn making its way across, and giving signs, moreover, that its race was well-nigh run. Reaching the rails of the enclosure, it leaped over and crouched within ten feet from where I stood. A moment later two of the hounds came over, when the fawn ran in my direction and pushed its head between my legs. I lifted the little thing to my breast, and, swinging round and round, fought off the dogs. I felt, just then, that all the dogs in the West could not, and should not capture that fawn after its weakness had appealed to my strength.’ So is it, when human helplessness appeals to Almighty God. Well do I remember when the hounds of sin were after my soul, until, at last, I ran into the arms of Almighty God.”

The hounds do not have to be sin. They can be life at its worst, or trials that leave me feeling helpless. Whatever is after me isn’t the point. What I must remember is that I’m like that fawn trembling with something in pursuit, and God stands waiting for me to hurry into the protection of His presence.

June 28, 2007

Symbols and Reality

Most dictionaries say that symbols are objects, characters, or some other sort of concrete representations of ideas, concepts, or other abstractions. For example, here in Canada, a red octagon is a symbol for the traffic sign meaning “STOP” and a circle with a line drawn through it means “DON’T”.

Words are symbols too. Some of them represent concrete realities. The word “dog” means the animal, but it is not the real animal.

Symbols and symbolism can get confusing because many of them have a subjective element. While a stop sign means stop for everyone (or it should), the word dog might symbolize “joyful pet” to some people and “noise nuisance” to others.

This brings up symbolates. These are real objects that have symbolic significance. Wikipedia uses the example of a royal scepter. The scepter stands for the power of the person who holds it, before that person had any power, there was no power in this rod-shaped object. It was created by its use, by becoming a symbol for power. So by the act of symbolization this object is given power it did not possess previously.

In other words, an ordinary rod has no effect on a group of people, but a scepter does. Yet the power does not reside in the scepter; some of it is in the people who honor it, some in the king who uses it. Wikipedia goes so far as to say that “every perception is symbolic.”

For me and anyone else concerned with true vs. false, I struggle to wrap my mind around this. I know that a picture of a clock and a real clock are not the same, nor is a drawing of a person and the real person anything like each other. One is a symbol and the other is not. My perception does not make them different. A real clock (if it is not broken or with dead batteries) moves, indicates time, has form and shape. A real person has life, can hear and speak, and interact with the world. Symbolic representations cannot do that, even though they may cause a response in those who observe. A picture of a clock might remind me to get moving. A picture of a person might prompts me to miss them, call them, or pray for them.

More than one religious group believes that the events described in the Bible are mere symbols, that they didn’t really happen, that Christ was not a real person only a symbol for an idea or concept. They say this “symbol” is important because it represents truths about ourselves and about life.

Thinking this way about Christ makes the response I have to Him, rather than the Person Himself, into the limelight. How I decide to let this “symbol” affect me has more significance that Jesus does, the “symbol” in itself, is like a scepter and really has no power.

Obviously this is vitally important to Christians or those seeking truth. But confusion about symbols does happen. Consider the following passage from Colossians 2:11-14. It is filled with symbolism.

“In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

The symbols here include circumcision, body of sins, baptism, dead in sin, the cross and several other thoughts and images. As already said, some thing that Christ is also a symbol, not a real person.

If all these are symbolates, that is real objects with only symbolic significance, or mere symbols of ideas and concepts but not related to concrete objects or events, then Christianity moves into the realm of subjective interpretation rather than being based on actual, historical people and events and Jesus has no power other than the power my mind gives to Him.

Circumcision. Most know what that means. In the Bible, it is used both literally and as a symbol to represent cutting off or eradication of sin from the lives of those who believe in Jesus Christ. If this is only a symbol of that, then my freedom from sin depends on how strongly I react to the symbol. Knowing my own weaknesses and inability to fight sin, I’d say I have no hope; sin will certainly defeat me.

Baptism. Lots of disagreements here, but my understanding is that Jesus actually died, was buried, and rose to new life. No symbol. This happened in history, was a real event. Another real event in history is that one day I also died to sin and my old life was put to death (God did it). Then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I was given new life, the life of Christ. This is not a symbol because I didn’t choose it, think it, wish it, or otherwise control it. It happened and God did it.

Water baptism represents or symbolizes what happened to me. It has no power in itself to change my life, but it is an act of obedience to declare what God has already done. I was dead in sin—yes, still walking around, but in the Bible, the word ‘dead’ is symbolic for separation. I was separated from God and His blessings. But God, who is real and not a symbol (more in a minute), gave me new life and made me alive with Christ. That life is very real. I could never have imagined it nor could I live it in response to a symbol.

He forgave my sin and nailed it to the cross. These words are symbolic, but tied to reality. In those days, a list of the criminal’s offenses was nailed to the cross where each offender was punished. When the criminal died, “It is finished” was written across the list.

When Jesus cried out, “It is finished” He turned a real event, the act of justice against sin, into an eternal event. In dying for my sin, “It is finished” was written across my list of sins. The punishment I deserve for all that I have done and ever will do against God is declared paid in full, symbolized by the words but very real in my life.

Is God a symbol? If so, for what? Goodness? Dig deep. Did the idea of goodness come out of my heart? Not a chance.

Is He a symbol for my deepest longings? How can I long for something without having some idea about what it is? And if I have an idea of God, where did it come from? My imagination cannot fathom anything close to the God revealed in the Bible and in Jesus Christ. I’m too self-oriented to come up with an entirely loving but just Being, One who is powerful but merciful. I cannot conceive of an Almighty God who is also sacrificial. I’m not like that and any God I could imagine by myself would have to materialize out of what I know, or at least what I long for. How can I know or long for something that does not exist?

I couldn’t go head to head with these philosophers and so-called theologians that push Christianity entirely into the realm of symbolism. I just know that God describes Himself and what He has done with symbols to help me understand what their subjective interpretation can never do.

Jesus said if I know the truth, the truth will set me free. He also said, “I am the truth.” By knowing Jesus, I am set free from sin and its damning power. Words and symbols help, but the real power behind them is a real person, Jesus Christ.

June 27, 2007

God’s Hugs

Some days I just want God to hug me. Today He did, with Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. I am here. Come, hide in Me.

Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling. No matter what happens, even to the breaking apart of the world, My presence is will My people. Because I am with you, you shall not fear.

There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. You are my tabernacle, the place where I dwell, and I pour on you the water of life to make you glad.

God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. I am here, you will not be shaken. I will help you, even right now, this morning!

The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted. Entire nations could come against you, but when I speak, even the earth will melt. Do not be afraid of anything.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Remember this: I am the Lord of multitudes, the God who kept every promise to Israel and the God who will keep all my promises to you. Hide in me; curl up in my care.

Come, behold the works of the Lord, who has made desolations in the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. Have you forgotten my power? I can stop all conflict. Don’t worry about the issues that are stressing you. They are under My control, every one of them.

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! Quit fretting. Let your heart quiet down in the knowledge of Who is holding on to you. I will be exalted in the whole earth, so let Me be exalted in your heart!

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. You are not alone in your walk with Me. These are plural pronouns; I am with all my people. Remember my faithfulness; remember that I am the God of many; remember that you can hide in Me.

June 26, 2007

The Holy Spirit Knows

Sunday’s high point of three incredible testimonies should have clued me that Monday, even Saturday, would be difficult days. After thirty some years of this, I’ve seen over and over how the blessings of God seem to be anticipated by the forces of evil, and I am tempted and tested and dumped on either before they happen, or afterwards, or both.

Satan wants to ruin and destroy everything good that God is doing. Since he can’t prevent it from happening, he works overtime to prevent God’s people from enjoying that good thing, and sometimes even from realizing that God is at work.

Saturday evening, I had a curve thrown at me. I’m still blinking and wondering what to do with it. Monday brought more of them. I came to the Lord this morning in confusion and hoping for some word about these events, something to explain them or make sense of it all.

He didn’t give me that. Instead, He sends me to a story in Acts 8. Philip, an obedient disciple of Christ, is told by the Lord to “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”

God sends Philip into the desert and Philip goes. He has no explanation, no clear directions other than this is the place he is supposed to be. “So he arose and went.”

I think about myself over the past few days. I know I was to ask three people to give a testimony of what Christ has done in their lives in the past year. I picked one, and the other two volunteered. Both of them surprised me. One is not a Christian, the other quiet and seemingly very settled in her walk with God. How would they interpret my request? What would they say?

Philip may have been similarly surprised at who popped up in the desert. There was a man in a chariot, heading home to Ethiopia from Jerusalem. He was a man of great authority and in charge of the treasury of the Ethiopian queen. This man had been in Israel “to worship” and was reading the writings of Isaiah, an Old Testament prophet, when Philip saw him.

As Philip observed the man, “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake this chariot.’” Philip ran to him, heard him reading the Scriptures, and asked if he understood. He didn’t, so Philip explained what Isaiah wrote, pointing this man to Jesus and salvation. The results of this God-directed meeting was that the man declared, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” He asked to be baptized and after Philip did that for him, “he went on his way rejoicing.”

When I first read this, I was even more confused. I wanted God to speak to the curves, make sense of the perplexing events of the past few days, but He gave me this. I didn’t get it, at least not immediately. What opened my eyes was that line where God told Philip what to do and Philip did it without any understanding of what would come of it. The Holy Spirit knew what was going to happen.

The woman from my class who is not yet a believer, shared the power of Christ in leading her this far. She wants to belong to Him, to believe and be transformed. She sees Him at work in the lives of the Christians she knows, and it has great appeal to her. But beyond that, this woman is like the Ethiopian. She is from a foreign country, struggles to speak English, and yet comes to a place of worship, and reads her Bible every day. She joins us so she can hear and understand the meaning of what she reads. Her deepest desire is to know this amazing God that she sees at work in our lives and in hers.

Last night, after a rough day and a dozen assaults to my spiritual stability, I mentioned this woman’s testimony to a few who know her but had not heard it. One of them said, “She told me that the people in (her country of origin) need to hear this” meaning the truth about God and the good news that Jesus died for their sins.

I have no idea what will happen in the future, but as I think about this man in the chariot going back home, I get a picture of another person excited about her faith and eager to share Jesus Christ with the people of their homeland. Will she go back and tell them? The Holy Spirit knows.

As for the man, he may have done just that. During the early years of the church, Ethiopia was a dark place, but by the 4th century had become one of the first ‘Christian’ nations. Even after oppression by Marxism and other turmoil, Ethiopia still experiences spiritual growth and religious freedom.

It is not so in the homeland of the woman in my class, but God is at work. He could bring her to Himself here, disciple her to maturity, and send her back to tell them all that He is doing. The Holy Spirit knows.

I didn’t do much in all this. I just asked if anyone would like to speak. God moved her to share with us what He is doing, and it had a huge ripple effect on everyone who heard it. Our spiritual enemy cannot reverse that, but now I see that in his anger at what happened, he is busily lashing out and trying to stop me from praying for her (and everyone else) and ruin for me the joy of God’s grace and power.

I still need to deal with the curves that were tossed my direction, but I’m so glad that the Holy Spirit knows where they came from, and this time, let me in on it.

June 25, 2007

Taking God Seriously

My nephew is a mature, new Christian. It sounds like an oxymoron, but I’ve come up with a new definition for spiritual maturity: spiritual maturity is taking God seriously.

A lot of Christians don’t. They have their fire insurance, and for them, following Christ in their daily lives is an option. If they get in trouble, they pray. If they get enough sleep Saturday night, they go to church. Otherwise, they mostly do their own thing.

Jesus had an experience in the house of a Pharisee who invited him to dinner. A prostitute showed up and began to show her adoration to the Lord. His host criticized Him for allowing this, but Jesus asked him who is the most grateful: the creditor who is forgiven a small debt or the one forgiven a large amount.

The host said that would be the one forgiven a large amount. Jesus told him he answered correctly, then added, “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

While ‘good’ people who come to Christ may eventually learn that they are totally ruined by their sinful hearts, it is those who have visible wreckage that appreciate most what Jesus has done and can do for them. These are often adults, like my nephew, whose lives have not gone the way they wanted, yet as they turn to Christ and take Him seriously, amazing things happen.

Yesterday, three ladies in my Sunday class shared “the difference Christ has made in their lives in the past year.” The first was an incredible story of the pull of God on a resisting heart. She told how the Holy Spirit, whom she called a “mysterious force”, urged her to meet some Christians, to bring her daughter to our church building to play a game, then to attend a Bible study, and then to come to worship services and eventually my class. She never thought she would identify herself with Christians, and even though she does not claim to be one of us yet, she knows that Jesus Christ is changing her life. She is taking God seriously.

The second one told how God placed things in her life that didn’t fit with her plans and taught her to trust Him anyway. She shared several stories of how Jesus turned events that didn’t look very promising into great blessing, and how she learned to have faith in Him when she can’t see what He is doing. She is taking God seriously.

The third person took several major leaps of faith, and in her obedience, God gave her great peace and joy and a surprising healing to a broken relationship. She also is taking God seriously.

When I became a Christian, my life was a shambles. I had no other place or person who could help me or understand. I’d been let down, betrayed and disappointed. I didn’t like myself and wanted to change. Jesus Christ revealed Himself to me, and when He did, I could see how much I needed Him.

He moved in, but at the time, I didn’t understand what happened. Later, perhaps through reading 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” I began to grasp the reality of God in my life, that He had become totally committed to me, totally involved in everything I did. He watches what I watch, reads what I read, goes where I go. Just like the psalmist says in Psalm 139, He is “acquainted with all my ways.

After walking with Him for over thirty years, there are many days that I still feel as if I don’t take God seriously enough. I get on a negative kick, or am grouchy and unthankful, or simply plan things without talking to Him first. Yet He is here, and reminds me that He is.

C. H. Spurgeon wrote, “ . . . there must be a hearty reliance upon God, and a childlike confidence in him. I would recommend you either believe in God up to the hilt, or not at all. Believe this Book of God, every letter of it, or else reject it. There is no logical standing-place between the two. Be satisfied with nothing less than a faith that swims in the deeps of divine revelation; a faith that paddles about the edge of the water is poor faith, and is not good for much. Oh, I pray you, do believe in God, and his omnipotence.”

To that great preacher’s thought, I humbly add a strong exhortation to myself; believe in God and His serious commitment to me, for because of that, I must also be seriously committed to Him.

June 24, 2007

Power of God vs. power of evil

Years ago a family began attending the church we attended. They were involved and gave generously. The woman was hospitable, and began inviting women in the congregation to her home. I was among the first.

She lived on an acreage in a big house hidden in the trees. When I got there, she introduced me to a friend whom I’d not seen before. They were baking bread.

For some reason, I didn’t talk much that afternoon, just listened. Perhaps they thought my silence meant that I had no objections to what I was hearing. They started out with their concept of spiritual gifts which came from the Old Testament. They told me what they thought my gift was (even though they hardly knew me), then said God had gifted them with prophecy and discernment, and their task was to divide true from false in churches.

The more they talked, the more I realized that they were determined to split congregations, and they were convinced that this was their ‘calling’ from God. Their method was directed toward the church women whom they planned to subvert away from their families and the church family.

At that time in my life, I was quite out-spoken, but I held my tongue as I listened to their plans. I was a bit fearful and thinking, “I’m not touching this with a ten-foot pole.”

At that, one of them, with a total change of tone, looked straight at me and said, “You are thinking that you will not touch this with a ten-foot pole.”

And at that, I began to shake, and excused myself. When I got home, I called our pastor and he called the elders. I don’t remember the details of it, but that family soon left the community, and the plans of these two women never came to anything.

My reading today, for some reason, reminded me of that experience. God was using Paul to do healing miracles, so some men who were not Christians decided to imitate what he was doing. However, instead of being successful using ‘the name of Jesus’ the evil spirits that they tried to exorcise turned on them and overpowered them.

This event had an electrifying effect on the church. Acts 19:17-20 says, “This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”

Evil spirits are no match for the name of Christ, but that name cannot be used by those who do not have His authority to do so. Even the evil spirits knew that, and oddly enough, because of their response, respect for Jesus Christ grew.

Not only that, the believers (note, believers) began confessing their deeds, including the practice of magic which certainly does not belong in the kingdom of God. To show that their repentance was genuine, they burned all their books, the value totaling wages for fifty thousand days’ work! These people were deeply impressed by the power of evil and didn’t want any part of it.

The bottom line of all this is that God’s work cannot be hindered by the power of evil, but Christians need to make sure they are not dabbling on the wrong side of the line between light and darkness. Those women who wanted to split churches were definitely doing that. Their theology and their plan was not from God. Their ability to read my mind was not either. They may not have been believers at all, or demonic, but whatever they were, they were in a dangerous place.

God calls his people to renounce the hidden things of darkness and any secret sins. These sins might not be obvious to others, but they interfere with hearing and obeying Him. Not only that, such things interfere with the growth of the Word of the Lord and diminish our attempts to magnify His name.

I understand a zeal to divide true from false, but without the power of God, any efforts to do this will be evil and destructive. The church is not purified with a whip but with genuine sorrow for sin and repentance, even a repentance that is costs us much.

June 23, 2007

Seeing as God sees?

It’s hard to imagine heaven. I know a little of what it is like to meet with God, and a little of intimate fellowship with Him and His people, but when I get there, how will I think? What will I enjoy? Who will I be with? And what about those who don’t make it? Will I miss them?

Once when someone was comparing “good” people with “disobedient Christians” I said, “But God looks at the heart. In the first group, He sees their resistance to Him and their desire to run their own lives without Jesus, but when He looks at Christians, because we are ‘in Christ’ all He sees is Jesus.”

That was years ago but I still think about it, especially when I wonder about those who do not make it, those who resist God and reject His offer of salvation. Here on earth, these might be dear friends or relatives, people close to me. The thought of them perishing is more than I can bear.

But should they perish, will I know it in eternity? And if I do, how will I feel about it? If I am in misery for their loss, that would ruin the “no more sorrow and tears” idea that the Bible does say about heaven.

The words that I said to that person a long time ago give me the thought that perhaps I will see them as God sees them. Psalm 52:6-8 back that up. In previous verses it talks about those who “boast in evil” and love their sin more than they love good. In verse 5, the psalmist says to them that God will “uproot you from the land of the living.”

Then He says, “The righteous also shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying, ‘Here is the man who did not make God his strength, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness.’”

Right now I cannot imagine myself laughing at those who resist God. Most of them bring me to my knees in intercession. However, the Bible says that someday I will see them as foolish and vain. Because I will more completely know His great power and holiness, I will see their resistance to Him as pitiful and futile.

Verses 8 and 9 contrast the difference between those who love sin and those who love God. “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever. I will praise You forever, because You have done it; and in the presence of Your saints I will wait on Your name, for it is good.”

If I could pluck out of danger those who reject God, I’d do it in a minute, but I know that my efforts have no power unless God’s power is also at work. Unless He works in them “to will and to do His good pleasure” it will not happen.

I know that Psalm 52:9 is correct in saying, “You have done it.” Apart from Him, I would reject God as they do. I’d resist His Spirit, and say ‘no’ to Jesus Christ. But because of His great mercy, I am changed, and because God is so incredibly good, I want everyone else to see and fear and wait on His name.

June 22, 2007

Tested by Fire

I finally figured out how writing a book and knitting a sweater are alike. Both of them take more time than writing articles and knitting mitts. What does this have to do with anything? I struggle with long-term projects. Everyone says to break those bigger tasks into smaller chunks, but in my mind, they are still big tasks. I tend to pick little ones, like mitts.

I’m also pragmatic and results-orientated, and have trouble being happy with what seems useless effort, or even partial progress. I don’t like wasting time or doing things in small bits. Only recently have I been content to spend fifteen minutes a day in the garden rather than weeding and working in three hour chunks once a week. Yet, that might be because my body can’t take the three hour chunks!

This morning I’m thinking about the garden, and other ‘big’ chores that I tend to avoid unless I have a big chunk of time to do it. I’m also thinking about how frustrated I get with slowness and doing things in stages. That is not like God. In fact, if God were like that, He would have been fed up with me a long time ago. I’m a ‘long-term project’ that takes a lot of patience!

A passage in 1 Corinthians 3 has always intrigued me. It is about doing things that last. It begins by establishing the fact that only God’s people can do the work of God. Verses 9-10 say, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.”

Paul, who wrote this epistle, says that we who are God’s projects are also His workers. This is a gift of grace, not something earned by the work that we do for Him. However, our work is important. Paul tells us to pay attention to how we do it.

He explains the foundation thing: “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

In the mind of God, He is more interested in the foundation upon which things are done and the materials used, not the speed. He wants Christ to be the center of all that I do. That is, my activities should be Christ-motivated, Christ-empowered, and Christ-honoring. Everything I do needs to have Christ at the bottom of it. That is a given. Without Jesus, as He says in John 15:5, I can do nothing. It doesn’t matter if I’m tackling a big, long-term project, or doing some little thing that can be finished in one swipe. God is looking for quality and eternal value.

Yet Christians can work for the Lord and be spinning our wheels. Paul describes our output and what could happen to it: “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

My eternity is not affected by being a sloppy, ineffective worker. Nevertheless, God is going to test my efforts as a Christian on that Day, a reference to the Judgment Seat of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:10). Some of what I have done will be indestructible like gold, silver and precious stones. Other activities will not have what it takes to pass the test of fire.

If I honestly evaluate my work, and I’m not talking about mitts and pulling weeds, can I say that it is built on the proper foundation and with the right materials? Or do I do my kingdom deeds with the same attitude as those other long-term projects, like weeding?

This is convicting. God does not want me to be “obeying” Him with a pragmatic and results-orientated attitude that is never happy with what seems useless effort or partial progress. I must obey in faith, never thinking that a short prayer here and a brief witness there is a waste of time, or that things done in small bits have no value to Him.

I have no idea what fire will do to most of my activities, but I do know that God rewards faith and faithfulness and those long-term projects that never seem to produce results, and that I so often avoid, could easily fall into those categories.

June 21, 2007

Spiritual Sight

Children often play this game, but I do it too, now and then just to make sure I don’t take a precious gift for granted. I shut my eyes and try to function as if I were blind.

I usually can’t do it for long. My normal routine includes activities that require vision. However, even a short session reminds me to be extremely thankful for the ability to see, and how much my life would change if I could not.

Scripture talks about spiritual blindness. This is the inability to see the kingdom of God and understand what it is all about. In John 3:3, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” A few verses later, He says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). God’s renewing power is needed to both see it and enter it!

In compassion and the power of God, Jesus healed those who were physically blind. After the Holy Spirit came to fill the disciples of Jesus Christ and signal the beginning of the church age, the disciples also healed some who were physically blind. While this demonstrates the compassion of God on those who are sightless, it also points to the power of God to heal spiritual blindness. This came together in the conversion experience of the apostle Paul.

His name was first Saul, and he hated Christians. He thought they were enemies of the God he served so persecuted them, even to death. One day, on his way to do more of the same, he was stopped by Jesus Christ. In that encounter, he was struck physically blind.

Jesus had Saul’s (Paul’s) attention. There is nothing like being unable to see to make you feel helpless. It also sharpens your other senses. Even when I “fake” it, I’m aware of my need to hear so I pay far greater attention to every noise and voice.

Paul did too. He heard God speak and obeyed Him when sent to a man named Ananias. At the same time, God also told Ananias to meet Paul.

Acts 9:17 says, “And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’”

In Paul’s story, the symbol or illustration of spiritual blindness and actual spiritual blindness came together. This man could not see, literally and figuratively. His blindness made him stumble and fall. His spiritual blindness prevented him from realizing that God was calling people to Himself, people who, through faith in Christ, would be known as His children and His followers. They were not God’s enemies.

After receiving his sight, Paul “immediately preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. All who heard were amazed, and said, ‘Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem . . . ? But Saul (Paul) increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.”

Paul, like the blind man Jesus healed in John 9, could now also say, “One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.” He understood the plan and power of God. Not only that, he gave his life to follow Jesus and do His will.

How can I explain the kingdom of God to those who are blind? I cannot. I cannot close my eyes and pretend to be like them so as to better understand their thinking either. Spiritual blindness once removed cannot be brought back. Now that I see, I cannot ‘not see.’

In some cases, medical science can restore lost physical sight. I hope I never have to find that out first hand. However, even though I cannot ‘operate’ on those who are unable to see Christ, I am rejoicing today that God can do it. He can open the eyes of anyone who is spiritually blind. I’m also rejoicing that I too can say, Once I was blind, but now I see.

June 20, 2007

His compassion never fails

Mercy, according to my Oxford dictionary, means compassion or forgiveness shown towards an enemy or offender in one's power. This morning, I realize once again the preciousness of God’s mercy.

Yesterday was one of those days when everything seemed to irritate me. Instead of being thankful and happy, I felt whiny and crabby. It wasn’t that I didn’t try, but joy seemed far away. Worse yet, I had no reason or excuse for it. The only thing that was different is that I didn’t take my normal time to pray. Duh!

This morning’s verse is Exodus 25:22. In the verses prior, God gives precise instructions concerning the ark of the testimony. Its cover was called the “mercy seat” or the place where atonement and forgiveness took place. This “mercy seat” was between the glory of God that shone as a cloud above the ark and the tablets representing the broken Law of God inside the ark. It was sprinkled with blood from the sacrifices.

The ark and the mercy seat with its blood picture God’s covenant. Between God and the broken law of God is the sacrificial blood of His mercy. His people sinned and God offered forgiveness, but “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin.”

In those days, it was the blood of animals that covered the sins of God’s people. Those lambs represented that which was to come, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, whose blood was shed for the sins of every person.

Forgiveness and mercy was not automatic, then or now. Verse 22 says, “And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat . . . about everything I will give you . . . .”

It is never effort that overcomes acts of sin or even a sinful attitude; it is mercy. God gives me all I need, including a cheerful heart, but I have to meet with Him. His joy, His peace, His forgiveness, or anything else that God gives, cannot be taken for granted or assumed.

He offers forgiveness for my self-centered griping, not because I try harder, but because Jesus died for me, shed His blood for me. Furthermore, His mercy and compassion never fail. That is a good thing. I fail, often.

He is always there, above the mercy seat, waiting for me. I won’t neglect meeting with Him today.

June 19, 2007

Blessed are those who read this book . . .

Isolation seems to have some benefits. John Bunyan wrote his marvelous Pilgrim’s Progress while alone in prison. Being alone and without distractions is helpful for writers.

It also helps a person better hear the Lord. Many Christian leaders testify that being alone for an extended period of time brought them closer to God and more able to understand His will. Perhaps the best example is the Apostle John who was given an astounding revelation of Christ while exiled to the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea.

People can go batty in isolation though. This alternative means that those who benefit from solitary confinement must have a few other things going for them. A quick read of Revelation 1:4-11 helps me see some of them, and gives me a few ideas for my own times of solitude.

In verse 4, John offers grace and peace from God to the seven churches in Asia. This shows that he is not thinking of himself, even though being in exile could do that. I might be tempted to complain and have a grand pity-party, but I can see how thinking about others and praying for them would be a very good thing to combat those tendencies.

In Verse 5, he writes of the Person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the “faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth.” John is not in exile because a Roman emperor didn’t like what he was doing; he is there by God’s design and knows it because he knows that Jesus rules over kings. As John remembers the faithfulness and sovereignty of God, he trusts that God has a plan so was not fretting about his lack of freedom. No matter what happens in my life, I need to think that way, remembering Almighty God is in control of my life.

The rest of verse 5 and verse 6 affirm that Jesus “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father . . . .”

John knew where he stood before God and was not worried about his spiritual condition. Sometimes, when things go wrong I think I’ve messed up, but don’t have a clue what I did, so I start stewing about being ‘chastened’ without knowing why. If God is not convicting me of sin, I, like John, should affirm what He has done for my salvation, and like John, also say, “to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

No doubt being in exile was a physical hardship as well as emotional and mental. Besides that, John was an old man when he wrote Revelation and often as people grow older they get stuck in the past, glory in their youthful victories and think of better days gone by. While John likely remembered those better days, verse 7-8 reveals his focus: “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,’ says the Lord, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’”

As I read that, cannot help thinking of the grand plan of God that began before He created the world, was implemented in the Garden of Eden, reached its climax at the cross of Jesus Christ and will continue and culminate at the return of Christ who will reign forever. No matter what is happening, no matter how upset, alone, dejected, discouraged, or any other negative I feel, thinking about the big picture of what God is doing, and turning my heart toward the promise of Jesus’ return fills me with a deep joy. This is the Christian hope, not a ‘hope so’ hope, but a reality that we know will happen. The Spirit of God witnesses to our spirits, and affirms that it is true. He is coming again, and the whole plan of God will be fulfilled in great victory.

John was not so future-oriented that he became a pie-in-the-sky nut case, either. He was real about what was happening to him. In verse 9, he identifies with his readers as being their “brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ” and says that he is in exile “for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” He was not out of touch or in denial.

I can easily lose my sense of the rest of the world and what is going on in the plan of God, never mind the denial stuff. Put me alone for a while, even for a few days, and my world gets smaller and smaller. John kept this from happening by remembering his place in the body of Christ and the work he was called to do. He didn’t blame those who isolated him, but knew his choice to serve God would result in persecution. He may have read Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” but he didn’t let that turn him inward.

Instead, John says in verse 10, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice . . . .”

This man, instead of letting solitude put him in a self-mode, was in a God-mode. He was in the Spirit, meaning the Spirit of God not only filled him, but in this case opened his heart and mind to a new revelation of Jesus Christ. Many theologians think this was more than a mental or spiritual vision in that John was physically transported into the realm of the Spirit and actually saw all what was to follow with his eyes.

I don’t know if this would every happen to me, however God had a purpose for it happening to John. In verse 11, Jesus gives him his orders: “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia. . . .”

John obeyed, and we have The Revelation, in which God promises, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.”

I was definitely blessed by the short portion that I read this morning and know that whenever I am in solitude, either forced or by choice, if I follow John’s example, God will bless me all over again.

June 18, 2007

In my own defense?

I’ve a book of daily writing assignments and glanced at the next one a few minutes ago. It said to list the ways I protect myself against unpleasantness and offered several options for using that in my writing.

This book is not based on a Christian world view, but it knows human nature. No one likes difficult circumstances, hurtful remarks, losses, or anything emotionally or physically painful. I’ve done things like denial, retaliation, excuse-making, and more to avoid them.

However, Christ changes that. As a new Christian over 35 years ago, one of the first things He taught me is that He would use everything that happens in my life for my good (Romans 8:28). A little later He also showed me that “good” meant He would use all things to transform me into His own image (Romans 8:29). All things. The good, bad, joyful, painful, wanted and unwanted. Those verses changed my world view, particularly about the bad stuff.

Not long after that, I read a book called Born Crucified. Through it God taught me what it means to die to selfishness, self-interests, self-rule. The old me is gone, crucified with Christ, and the new me is united with Him. Therefore, He wants me to live my Christian life under His sovereign guidance, not try to run things on my own. He began showing me that any attempts to protect myself from the tough stuff could thwart what He was trying to do with me.

This morning, I’m reading 2 Corinthians 4:8-11. Paul is suffering under many things, but he explains the same idea; God has a plan to bring forth the life of Christ in his life, even through difficulties and trials.

It says, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

If Paul wanted to avoid those hard things, he could stop preaching the gospel and run for cover. He choose to do what he was doing and he was free to choose otherwise, but he knew enough about God that he didn’t try to protect himself. He knew that God is sovereign. He also felt “compelled” to carry on, knowing that God called him to do what he was doing. Anything else would be disobedience.

He also knew the purpose of his calling. In the next chapter (2 Corinthians 5:18) he says, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”

For Paul, his life work and ministry of preaching the gospel and bringing folks to Christ included difficulties. He accepted them as part of what it means to be God’s ambassador and allowed God to use those trials as He sovereignly saw fit.

My calling isn’t as public or huge in the whole scheme of kingdom building. Nevertheless, if God is going to use me, I need to allow Him to whittle off the parts that don’t look like Jesus. He does this through His word (which convicts me of sin so I can confess and be cleansed), and through life’s tough stuff. The tough stuff shows me where I can trust Him more than I already do, but it also gives me opportunity to die to self, to the things I want, and to all that is temporary and without eternal value.

I suppose the hardest part of this is not being able to see that the life of Christ is being manifested in me, even in trials. I feel the pressures, perplexities and weight of them, and must by faith carry on, trusting God to “deliver me to death” in it all, and to somehow show the life of Christ in me to others.

I don’t clearly see that, but I do clearly see that I must let God take care of whatever happens to me. He is my Fortress and Protector. if I try to protect myself, I’d surely miss something of that amazing privilege of being transformed, the very ultimate in “good” that He has planned for me.

June 17, 2007

Eternity = Knowing God

According to an article I recently read, people believe two major lies. The first is a lie about God; the second a lie about themselves.

The writer said that these lies take various forms, but as long as a person keeps believing them, the end result is eternal separation from God. In the Bible, this is the second death.

I’ve heard people say they don’t want eternal life. They think it would be boring. I’ve heard others say they are not worried about judgment because they have been a good person, much better than Hitler or even some of their neighbors. Others think that when you die the first time, you are dead, like a dog. And still others think that they will come back and get another chance to do it better. These ideas, and many more, fit into one or the other or both of those two categories.

How can I be so sure? In myself, what do I know? I’m just going by what Jesus says. Since He claimed to be God the Son, lived a sinless life, died willingly “for the sins of the world,” then rose from the dead, and was seen by over 500 witnesses, I’m banking on His word over the notions of every other person. He has the credentials.

He says we are sinners and can neither earn or deserve eternal life, contrary to the lie that assumes we are okay without Him. He also defined eternal life in an odd way. Most people think of eternity in terms of time, that it is endless, and something that happens to only those favored by God, but Jesus says eternity belongs to everyone.

In John 5:28-29, He says, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”

For those who say, “Ah ha, it is about doing good and all good people get to go,” I must add that Jesus defined the necessary good work that pleases God in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

Scripture is clear; those who believe are able to life a life of doing what pleases God, not because we are good, but because we have Jesus. He said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

Back to the eternal life thing. It is not a description of time as much as it is a description of where each person is after they die. Everyone is resurrected. Some have eternal life, some go to an eternal death. Eternal death is similar to spiritual death; both deaths are about separation from God. Apart from God, life is merely physical. He gives it meaning, and He determines where it is spent.

Eternal life is also about who that life is spent with. Jesus also said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

Eternal life is about fully knowing God. We can know Him here through faith in His Son, but our knowledge is incomplete. Only after I die and see Him face to face will I “know even as I am known.”

As that writer suggests, we know so little now about God and ourselves. For one thing, even people who believe in God and His Word still struggle with those two big lies.

Jesus promises that I will be set free from all those struggles on that day when I am ushered into His presence. However, there is so much to God than my mind can fully grasp, even as I am finally set free from sin and the limitations of this life. Because God is so incredible, to fully know Him will require an eternity.

June 16, 2007

True Worship

The discussion was about worship. She said her people worshiped on the mountain, but his people worshiped in a building in a certain city.

Their conversation happened 2000 years ago, but it continues today. Different people, same focus. One says you have to be in church or that church to worship. Another says, “No, I worship just fine out in the woods, in nature.” Still others insist the music must be old hymns or they cannot worship, or the children have to be downstairs in ‘junior church’ so they are not a distraction to worship, or the minister must wear robes, or at least a suit and tie, and the organ must be playing, or not. Others say they cannot worship unless they lift their arms, or stomp their feet, or jump up and down, but they are opposed by those who say they cannot worship with all that distraction.

In one part of Africa, where you’d think this discussion does not happen, it does. One group says their music must be brass instruments, or they cannot worship. All over the world, worship styles vary and many insist their way is the only way.

In that discussion 2000 years ago, Jesus is talking with a Samaritan woman. Her ancestry were ethnically Jews who lived in ancient Samaria from the Babylonian Exile up to the beginning of the Christian era, but their name came from a term meaning “keepers of the law.” Their religion was based on the Torah and they claimed they had the true faith as opposed to mainstream Judaism. However, the Jews in Jesus’ day considered them no better than dogs.

Instead of getting into a Jew vs. Samaritan religious argument, Jesus said, “Believe Me, the hours is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus was clear; the place doesn’t matter. The mode or form or tradition doesn’t matter either. What matters is the spirit, the inner part of my heart where I can connect with God.

And I can connect, not because I’m in a certain building, or awed by creation, or charmed by music, or hyped by enthusiasm, but because the hour came when Jesus revealed Himself to me as the Messiah, just as He did to this Samaritan woman. He is the Savior sent by God (through the Jews) to take away the sin of the world, and He forgave and took away my sin.

Jesus set my heart free from law-keeping to please God, free from rules and regulations to please God (or are those to please other people?) and free from traditions that scold me into worshiping in this place or that, with these clothes or that, with this music or that. Because of Jesus, I can worship God sitting at my computer, while I’m washing dishes, going for a walk, taking out the garbage, anytime, anywhere.

Jesus said to worship in spirit and in truth. I know the grandeur of God. I know that I can worship while occupied in the ordinary things or places of life and not demean Him. He is greater than anything I do or don’t do so my worship style cannot possibly alter who He is, but as I worship in the truth of Jesus Christ, my spirit is joined by His Spirit in great freedom and grand Hallelujahs and He alters who I am.

June 15, 2007

Advice and teachable moments

The speaker at last night’s bridal shower called family and friends ahead of time to gather words of wisdom for the bride, then wove them into a delightful and humorous ‘advice about marriage’ presentation.

Afterwards, during lunch, I overheard a teenager say to her mother, “When I get married, I don’t want any marriage advice at my shower.”

North American culture encourages individualism and independence. While this has some merit, it tends to foster a me-first, don’t-tell-me-what-to-do attitude. This attitude is part of our sinful nature that resists putting others first, and resists wise instruction.

It is not limited to teenagers. I also tend to feel uncomfortable hearing a bride-to-be get bombarded with “this is how to do it.” I know that most people learn as issues come up. We rarely hold to a piece of advice until we actually need it. Most of those tips and hints, except perhaps the really funny ones, will be forgotten. Life is like that.

Educators know that learning best happens at a ‘teachable moment’ when a problem hits hard and the ‘student’ is most aware of their need for an answer. This is why Jesus’ method of instructing new Christians is through discipleship. Spend time together. Be there when those teachable moments occur. Advice given in advance will get tucked away somewhere, but advice given when it is needed has far more likelihood of being heard and followed.

It works the same at the point of mistakes. I know very well that I’m not supposed to do certain things. I’ve read and heard all the advice. However, nothing brings it home like the first time I mess up in one of those things, and my mistake is followed by a caring rebuke.

Giving a caring rebuke is an art though, an art not very well done by most of us. When someone sins against me (or does anything wrong), I have to curb the urge to gossip about it. Jesus says instead of talking to everyone else, I’m supposed to go to that person in private and tell him or her what they have done. He says, “If he hears you, you have gained your brother.”

Unlike gossip, this is a respectful, loving way to express concern to another person who has slipped into sin and needs help getting out of it.

Some children do believe that the stove is hot from mother saying so, but how many of us have to touch it to find out the hard way? We seem to be people who do not respond to a warning ahead of time. A warning didn’t stop Peter from denying Christ, and it doesn’t work for most hard-headed, I-can-do-it-myself people, like me. My first reaction to such advice is “I won’t have that problem, so don’t talk to me about it.” I am much like Peter who said something like that to Jesus before he crashed and learned the hard way.

After the crash, a face-to-face rebuke usually works. If not, and the person insists, “Who are you to tell me what to do?” Jesus says what to do next. “If he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church . . . .”

A group agreement to care and do something about the sin of one person in the group is so important that Jesus added, “I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father I heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Jesus is in godly, caring rebuke, even if we don’t like giving it. While He also wants us to wisely instruct one another (we did give the bride-to-be a ton of that), He knows that offering all this to her beforehand is not nearly as important as being there for her with the same respectful, loving wisdom when she messes later on—and she will; we all do.

June 14, 2007

Deal or no deal?

Years ago, a friend said to me, “I don’t know what the big deal is about believing that Jesus died for sinners. I believe that.”

I replied, “What about your sin?”

He was silent for a few moments, then said, “Oh, I see what you mean.”

Christians know the reality of sin, but instead of generalizing it, we admit it personally. In fact, when I do something that violates the will of God, I get the distinct sensation of Him turning His back. While Jesus promises that He will never leave or forsake His people, He is not pleased when we disobey Him, and I know the feeling of His displeasure. It is like He has left me.

Actually, it is me that has left. Every time I say ‘no’ to God, I am turning my back on Him. That is why it is up to me to turn around and come back.

Over and over Scripture affirms God’s invitation to sinners to do just that. He says, “Repent” which means to turn around, go a new way, God’s way.

In Luke 13, Jesus said that unless sinners repent, they will perish. In 1 John 1:9, Christians are told, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” but verses 8 and 10 say, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” and “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”

Instead of going along with it, God’s people have always struggled against sin, and sometimes lose. In the Old Testament, when Moses was up on the mountain receiving the Commandments, the Israelites were caught up in idolatry with a golden calf. He came down, confronted their sin with judgment, and after those who were guilty were slain by the sword, he said, “Consecrate yourselves today to the Lord, that He may bestow on you a blessing this day, for every man has opposed his son and his brother.”

Consecrate yourselves. Turn back. Give your lives back to the Lord. Set yourselves aside for Him and not for sin. Do it so He can bless you.

Sinners are blessed in many ways; life, sunshine, abilities, opportunities, pleasures. However the blessings of God go far beyond the ordinary things of life. They include forgiveness of sin, a clean heart and fresh start, and sweet fellowship with Him, and so much more.

Believing Jesus died for sinners is a big deal, but a far bigger deal is believing that He died for me.

June 13, 2007

Two Roots

I have a split personality. Not in the clinical, psychological sense though. A shrink would never diagnose me so, but the Scriptures do. According to God, and in line with my experience, there is the life of a sinful nature, and the life of Christ living in me. Two natures.

One of them is supposed to be dead, but not dead like a critter run flat by a car. In the Bible, dead means separation, and in this case, separation from God. That old sinful nature cannot respond in a positive way to God or trust Him. Instead, it resists all things spiritual, all things right and true. It is dead.

The other life, that of Christ, is responsible for all things good and godly. I cannot claim them apart from acknowledging their source. Apart from Him, I cannot do anything that pleases God. It is Jesus in me that accounts for any goodness, any obedience to the Lord.

It’s not that the old nature isn’t capable of doing things that look good, it’s just that behind every such action is some sort of self-serving motivation. I either want to defend or protect myself, promote myself, or look good, or feel good, or make people think I am good.

It seems logical that someone with two natures would pick the best one to live by. After all, having the Son of God in charge of your life sounds absolutely wonderful. Such grace, such power. I could do all things, be the most irresistible person, heal the sick, move mountains. Why not let Him have total control of my life? It makes sense.

All that reasoning comes from the old nature, because the truth is, living under the control of Christ means I have no control over what He does with me. I can say ‘no’ to it, but I cannot tell Him what comes next. Instead, I have to trust Him and do what He says, without any of my grand and self-serving ideas popping in to shape my words and actions.

Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

I get an odd picture of a tree with two root systems. One goes down into a mud puddle, the other goes into living water. The branches come up out of those two root systems and intertwine at the top, making one tree—me. Sometimes an observer cannot tell which branch comes from which root, but God can. He knows the part that is dead to Him, and the part that is Christ living in me. And He knows how to make one sit down and shut up and the other get to work.

The key word in that verse is faith. It is something like the recruit who hands his life over to his commander officer to be trained and serve in the armed forces. His life is no longer his own. It is something like a servant who gives himself totally to his master. His life is no longer his own. The recruit and the servant may or may not trust the one in authority over them though, and have other reasons for obeying.

Not so with those who have Christ living in them. I must obey because I trust Him. I have no idea what He is going to ask me to do, no idea what will happen next under His control and direction, and certainly no idea of the outcome. I cannot control any of that. It is His decision and under His will.

It seems illogical to have doubts about the will and power of God. He has proven His power and goodness. Why not trust Him? Why not let Him run things? (Truth be known, He does anyway.)

After examining my own heart, and listening to a zillion excuses made by those who don’t, I’ve concluded doubt and resistance isn’t about trust. It is a control thing, a decision about power. The Jews in Jesus day said, “We will not have this man rule over us” and that is the crux of the matter, both for them and for me.

The Bible also says that “it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). He is able to make me willing when my old nature jumps in to resist Him. He is able to produce in me the ability to carry out His commands. He is able to make that confusing and intertwining tree produce the fruit of the Spirit.

Apart from Him, I could not and would not. So today I am celebrating the reality of Jesus in my life. These past couple weeks side-swiped our family, yet He has and is taking care of us, and His presence keeps the wind of change and the storms of uncertainty from blowing that odd tree over.

Actually, the storm seems to blow just enough to pull and loosen one of the root systems and deepen and strengthen the other. He does know what He is doing.

June 12, 2007

A “Can’t Woman”

While I was growing up, a certain fellow earned a title from my dad; he called him a “Can’t Man.” I don’t remember much about the man, except that he worked for dad for a time and no matter what he was asked to do, he responded with reasons why it could not be done.

I thought of him, and that title, this morning reading Luke 9. It’s the familiar story of Jesus feeding five thousand people. Verse 12-13 says, “When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, ‘Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.’

“But He said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’

“And they said, ‘We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.’”

Sometimes I feel like God has set me up. I had breakfast this morning before devotions, and while glancing through the newspaper skimmed several articles about senior care in our city and province. Because my mother and father received excellent care, I know it is possible, yet the news stories were about negative conditions, numerous complaints, and the great need of seniors in our society.

I felt burdened. Often the elderly are without proper care in facilities where they pay big bucks to get it. Lack of staff is one issue and funding may play a part. I instantly wanted to do something to make it better. I thought about the huge needs compared to my resources and decided that I don’t have enough of what it would take to make a difference. I’m only one person and I am not rich.

Then I read Luke 9.

Humanly, a first response to need is a check of our bank account or our calendar to see if we can do it. The disciples did the same thing. “We have no more than five loaves and two fish,” they said. “I have no experience or knowledge. I wouldn’t know even where to start,” I said, and now realize I’ve earned my dad’s label.

I don’t know if this burden was from the Lord or just my own emotional reaction to the newspaper stories. I was deeply involved in the care of my parents during their last years, and would associate them with the current issues. This blurs my ability to recognize who is talking to me. I do know that if this burden is from the Lord, He will persist and He will call me to do something.

The point is, at least right now, that when God does point me to a need, His desire is that I automatically respond thinking about His supply. What can He do to change this? How am I to be involved? What will He give me so I can do His will in this situation?

The last thing He wants me to do is go check my bank balance, current to-do list, or job resume. If He wants me to do anything, He promises to supply all that I need to do it. Reading this passage this morning reveals to me that I am still very much like my dad’s “Can’t Man” and like those twelve guys on the hill who also didn’t have a clue how to help a needy multitude.

June 11, 2007

Stop—and Listen

Just the idea of not eating for an extended period of time is almost as bad as the headache I get if I try it. Fasting is not easy for me. However, I do know the alertness that comes when a person is closer to ‘running on empty’ than on ‘stuffed to the eyeballs’ with food.

The Bible says a bit about fasting. Christians have written books about how to do it. In my understanding, the intention is to have your focus off food and other bodily demands so you can concentrate on the Lord and on hearing His voice.

I’m told that the headaches happen to some people and drinking lots of water will help keep them away. Doesn’t work for me. What does work is eating far less than normal, just enough to quell hunger pangs. My mind becomes sharper and more alert.

Another aid to concentration is having my body doing something that requires little or no thought, like riding a stationery bike or walking. I can pray and concentrate on God far better when I’m pounding the sidewalk than I can when sitting in a chair or kneeling (my back interrupts all the time and yells at me).

Some of the most creative ideas come to me when I walk and pray. God explains perplexities, offers solutions to problems, and pops into my head innovative ways to do things. Instead of letting people think I’m so creative, I can tell them that it is God who gives me new ideas, and most of them come as a total surprise to me.

In the early church, the leaders knew how to focus so they could hear God. They too were often surprised by His input. As they gathered in Antioch and “while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’”

Their minds were focused in worship and made keen by ignoring the demands of their stomachs. They were in a position to hear what God wanted and He didn’t disappoint them. He asked that they send two men, named specifically, out to do a job for Him.

I wonder if they were stunned that He wanted them to send two of their most prominent leaders. Would they have listened had the idea come through either one of them? If Paul told them he wanted to go on this work, would they have been as willing to let him go?

Maybe they would. In our church, our pastor heard the call of God to leave our congregation for a time and go to another country where he would teach and do other tasks in a missionary school. He was shocked. He had a job. He didn’t know what to say to the rest of us. God kept nudging so he did make this known to the elders of the church, and they prayed and gave their immediate support. When it came to the congregation, we prayed seeking God’s will, realizing He wanted our best, our main leader to leave us for a few months. His answer came back and when we voted, the result was 100% yes to allow him to go. That was months ago. (Our pastor returns this week.)

I could record dozens of times, maybe hundreds, where God spoke and I heard Him because I was listening, particularly in a mind-set to listen. It doesn’t happen on a full belly that just wants to curl up and have a nap. It doesn’t happen to a mind dulled by too much television, or reading too many (and the wrong kind of) novels. I can’t hear God if the radio or tapes blare all day long, or if I’m talking on the phone, or doing the e-mail.

Oh, maybe. He can speak through the noises and interruptions and especially the people in my life, but when I focus on Him, face to face, eyes on Him, ears tuned it, stomach, TV, and the radio turned off, I am almost certain that His voice will touch me and tell me what He wants from me. Sometimes He makes no demands; He tells me just that He loves me and asks that I simply enjoy being with Him.

June 10, 2007

Two kingdoms

There is a parallel universe. I live in one, but belong to the other.

Both are illustrated by two books that I read this week. One is State of Fear by Michael Crichton, about the contemporary concern over global warming. It was spellbinding and I could hardly put it down. The author says that the book is fiction, but his footnotes are facts. He did a great deal of research to support the storyline that global warming has been invented for financial ends.

Before I go off on that tangent, the other book is Deadlock by James Scott Bell, a Christian author who spins a yarn about a woman appointed to Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. While she resists the faith of her mother and the pull of circumstances that continually draw her to think about God, the rest of her world reacts to rumors that she is being drawn away from her liberal view of abortion and other issues. The story is about her entering that other universe, the goings on in the kingdom of God, and the strain of what it means to live in one world and belong to the other.

When I started reading Bell’s book, I was still heady with the great writing ability and plot of Crichton’s book. Not having read much Christian fiction, I wondered how Bell could be convincing. I’ve never been able to predict what God will do. Writing a book about His activity in today’s world seemed almost presumptuous. I admit that I was skeptical and feared that it would be one of those predictable stories with a Cinderella ending.

However, Bell did a great job of describing the parallel universe, or rather the kingdom of God as it meshes with the kingdom of this world.

The Bible passage that I read this morning is Paul’s version from Ephesians 2:1-7. It fits in a nutshell and says, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

One universe is filled with those live their lives apart from God. They assume they are doing their own thing as they follow the dictates of their hearts and minds, but they do have one who rules their kingdom, a realm the Bible calls the kingdom of darkness.

The other universe or kingdom is a spiritual realm but just as real. In that realm are those who have been saved by grace from their self-serving dictates of the heart, and who have been given a new life, the life of Christ. These people are objects of the grace of God and live in the kingdom of light.

God clearly sees both realms. He sees the true ruler of the first one, His opponent Satan (who has already been defeated), and those held in bondage by their determination to do their own thing. That determination actually makes them inadvertently serve the prince of their world who uses their selfishness to his own ends.

God also sees those in His kingdom, the parallel universe. We are, in the mind of God, already seated with Christ in heavenly places. Our destiny is that certain. He also sees our battles as we try to abide in His kingdom while our bodies are actually in the other one. The dichotomy is a continual struggle, yet by the help of His Word and the Holy Spirit, we press on to a guaranteed victory.

My hat is off to writers like James Scott Bell who can present the spiritual reality of a parallel universe that is hidden in this one, hidden at least from the average person who is not walking with God and has no idea (or a false idea) of what it is all about. While I heartily recommend State of Fear to any reader and found it read like a “real” story, Bell’s book goes beyond a yarn based on well-researched facts. It presents an account, even if it is fiction, that tells how the God of truth, the God of that parallel universe, invades this one (because it also is His, was created by Him, and belongs to Him) to grab hold of human hearts and turn them from their self-serving and sinful ways.

As God translates sinners from this darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son, He also uses the struggles and challenges of living in this universe to fit us for an eternal and glorified existence in that parallel reality that we are also already living in.

One day I will leave this world, but because my heart is already in the other one and I have a taste of what is mine in Christ, I anticipate winning all my battles and making that transition, leaving behind the sorrow and struggles to take my seat with Christ, a place where I am already sitting.

June 9, 2007

Under His gaze

Last night I blew it. One of my library books went missing and after thirty minutes of searching for it (when I had lots of more important things to do), I started to rant, accuse everyone in the house and out of the house of stealing it, and then slamming things in frustration.

When I found it (not where it belonged), I started to feel foolish. After yesterday’s beautiful call to “go higher” I dropped a few notches lower and felt the Lord’s gaze on me, probably like Peter did after he denied Him three times.

This morning takes me to Revelation 1:14. It describes John’s vision of Jesus, “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire.”

The typical understanding of that first glimpse of Jesus is not at all like the one John had. Most of us think of the Jesus in a Greg Olsen painting, a mild face, a smile, a welcoming hand reaching out to take ours, and a shoulder to lean on. Jesus is all that, but He also is blazing holiness with eyes like lasers that penetrate our sinful hearts.

After praying about being such a ninny, I realized the supposed loss of that book was a symbol of the other losses I am experiencing during this unexpected change in our lives. Instead of grieving those, I poured all my frustration into an innocent book and at anyone who happened to be within earshot.

This morning I think about the glowing white light of the glory of God, of His fire that burns away impurities, of the grandeur of who He is. He has called me closer to that, closer to His greatness, His holiness. I know today that getting there means letting His eyes examine me, letting His fire at me.

Hebrews 12:11 says, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

This isn’t fun, yet Hebrews 12 also tells me to keep my eyes on Him, the One with the laser eyes who is the Author and Finisher of my faith, because He loves those He chastens. He also promises me that “kingdom which cannot be shaken” and encourages me to serve Him "with reverence and godly fear."

Pressing on . . .

June 8, 2007

Come up higher

Yesterday my husband went to an “after your heart attack” session at the hospital. It was about emotions, and he came home with some wisdom for me. He said that spouses might have strong responses too, one of them being grief over the losses that this brings.

I’d not felt much before that. Under stress, I seldom get emotional, usually absent-minded. However, after we talked about it, I was swept with great sorrow. It wasn’t just the heart attack that has produced loss in our lives. Things changed when he was diagnosed with CLL last June. Things changed in August when our granddaughter moved in. Now things change again.

With CLL, the immune system must be guarded. To have a healthy heart, we must follow the Mediterranean food plan, get enough exercise. With another person in the house (who still has a particular set of problems) we must guard other areas of our lives, and hers. Before, the calendar was filled and we were busy. Now the calendar is still full and we must add more things.

No one can add without subtracting, and subtracting means loss, sometimes loss of things held dear, or at least greatly enjoyed. This isn’t for just one month while healing happens; these are changes that have no end, no going back to ‘normal’ — which is only a setting on the dryer anyway! But unlike that setting that we can control, we didn’t ask for these events, nor expect them. While I have done my best to accept what God has ordained, at the same time, there is a huge sense of being grossly inadequate to settle into this new ‘normal.’

This morning Psalm 42 sounds a bit like I feel. The writer is thirsty for God and for what used to be. He is cast down, disquieted, remembering the best of the past. He feels that God has forgotten him and says, “Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and billows have gone over me” (Psalm 42:7).

While this is an expression of drowning in trials, I got a picture in my mind of what God’s waterfall would be like. I’m looking up at a torrent coming over a precipice and think, He is up there letting all this come down on me. Then I thought, If I was up there too, I wouldn’t feel as if I were under this, but above it.

At that, I hear a still, small voice saying, “Come up higher” and suddenly my understanding changes. I’ve been sitting in the back row like the man commended by Jesus in Luke 14:7-11, and God is asking me to move from what I’ve known to a new place, a place closer to Him. Yes, it means leaving the old and comfortable, but how can I fear changing where I am if it means being nearer to Him? Isn’t that what I want anyway?

In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers says, “If in the externals of your life you live up to the highest you know, God will continually say—‘Friend, go up higher.’ The golden rule in temptation is—‘Go higher.’ When you get higher up, you face other temptations and characteristics. Satan uses the strategy of elevation in temptation, and God does the same, but the effect is different. When the devil puts you into an elevated place, he makes you screw your idea of holiness beyond what flesh and blood could ever bear. It is a spiritual acrobatic performance, you are just poised and dare not move; but when God elevates you by His grace into the heavenly places, instead of finding a pinnacle to cling to, you find a great table-land where it is easy to move.” (March 27).

Deep calls to deep. In the calling, I can see beyond this flooded and drowning sensation to a glassy clear and very deep lake, a place to rest and enjoy—before He again calls me to go upstream.