February 29, 2008

Never say Never

Missionaries sometimes tell how they gave their life to God with a condition; they would go anywhere He wanted except such and such a place, yet that was the very place they wound up going, and gladly. I've had that happen to me too, on a smaller scale. God isn’t mean. The issue here is how my feelings about what I want can run in strong contrast to what God wants for me.

The author of God is Enough says Christians should ignore their feelings. She says that the will rules, and if we determine to obey God apart from what we feel like, we will be successful.

My understanding is that the will, our intellect, and all emotions are to be subject to the Holy Spirit. If that is so, He will use these three faculties of the human soul to express Himself and we will be God-centered. If not, whatever we do will be an expression of the flesh and self-centered.

In other words, my decision to obey God cannot be based on reasoning or emotions, because those things may be simply an expression of my sinful flesh. 1 Corinthians 1 contrasts that which is “foolishness” to the ordinary mind with the wisdom of God. What I think is smart might be really dumb in the mind of God. 1 Corinthians 2:14 puts it like this: “But 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.

While the spiritual man “judges all things” I cannot do it without the “mind of Christ” who interprets the words of God to me. My reasoning and intellect are insufficient and unable to know what God wants, so I cannot consider my own mind as reliable in making godly decisions.

My emotions are not reliable either. I’ve been upset about things that later proved to be untrue or hadn’t happened. I’ve been blasé about issues that I later realized should have raised my hackles. And who hasn’t ‘fallen in love’ only to realize later the blindness of that emotion?

However, and this is a big however, God gave me a brain and gave me emotions. If they were entirely useless, why have them?

Intellect has value in that by it I learn to read. Without it I could not open my Bible and grasp what it says. Life is filled with many decisions based on knowledge, but the key is not merely knowing stuff but whose knowledge am I following? Where do I go for the data that I put in my head? I might use an Oxford Dictionary to look up the meaning of a word, but God wants me to use the Bible to know how to wisely use the data that I gather.

Emotions have value too. Like pain that shows me something is wrong in my body, emotions can show me something is wrong in my spirit. Guilt, conviction, shame, remorse, are emotional responses to sin, and without them I may not go to God for forgiveness and cleansing. In fact, without these feelings, I might not even know that I’ve sinned.

God also uses emotions to show me that I’m on the right track. While this isn’t entirely reliable (I need to compare them with the roadmap of His Word), obedience usually results in joy. Making decisions that fit the will of the Holy Spirit usually produce peace. Seeing the will of God violated usually brings indignation and anger. Seeing a person in pain or distress usually produces compassion.

These are examples of the Holy Spirit using a yielded soul as a vehicle for His expression. He cannot do it in someone who is wilful and stubborn, or self-focused, or full of unconfessed sin. If I want my soul to follow God, my heart needs to be yielded to Him.

Yet God can still bring change in me when I have those attitudes. Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

God can soften a hard and self-centered “I will do my own thing” attitude. I can change “I won’t” to “I will.” Not only that, He can work in me so that I actually do the very things that I’d once set my will not to do, if these things are part of His will for me.

When I gave my life to Christ, I didn’t realize at the time that He won’t let me take it back. I’m now His, and He is at work in me. My intellect, emotions, and will are not my own. He claims them for His purposes. When I resist, He might let me go my own way for a little while, but only long enough to learn that my will is foolish, painful, and selfish. However, His will is wise and joyful—and when I follow it I experience His good pleasure.

February 28, 2008

Life from the heart

While I often say that I “worked like a slave” on a project, I really have little idea of what slavery is like. Although it has been abolished in many countries for many years, online sources say that slavery is still secretly practiced in some places with as many as 27 million slaves worldwide.

The dictionary says a slave is someone deprived of personal freedom and compelled to perform labor or other services. They are treated as the property of another person, household, company, corporation or government (chattel slavery) and held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase, or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to receive any compensation for their labor.

As I read this, I better understand some of the biblical descriptions and allusions to slavery. In those days, slaves could be well-treated or not. Some were given a measure of respect and happy to be in their situation. They were fed, cared for, protected, and had meaningful work. They loved their masters and even if freedom was possible, they preferred to stay with them.

While we don’t agree with the idea of slavery, today’s version of employment is similar—not that a boss is a “slave driver” as commonly complained, but every worker does his job so he will have what it takes to be fed, cared for, protected, and have something meaningful to do with his life. Same goals, different method.

The idea of slavery is sometimes used to describe Christians. We have been redeemed or purchased (by the blood of Christ) from the bondage of sin and have a new ‘master’ who takes care of all our needs. Because we love our Master, we serve Him with all our heart.

Ephesians 6:5-8 mixes this depiction with some directions given to actual slaves. It says, “Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.

My devotional reading today picks up on the idea of doing the will of God from the heart. While the writer emphasizes the importance of our will, I say again that this is not talking about my will, but the will of God who lives in my heart. If He were not living in me, there is no way that I would want to obey Him, never mind be able to do it.

A well-known Chinese Christian named Watchman Nee taught me (from his books) that every human being has intellect, emotions, and will. These are faculties of our human nature and govern all human behavior. Even our body experiences (sickness, injury, pleasure, warmth, etc.) are responded to by these faculties. We have feelings and thoughts about them, and make decisions because of our experiences.

However, Christians are to live by the Spirit, not by our human nature or our fleshy experiences. The Spirit is the avenue by which God speaks to us, convicts us of sin, tells us what to do, enables us to hear Him, gives us spiritual discernment. These are heart issues that go beyond the normal human experience because a person without Christ knows little if anything about them.

When the Spirit controls me, my intellect, emotions and will are to fall into line with whatever He says or asks of me. If He says I must visit someone, my reasoning might say that I am too busy, or that person has had enough visitors. I may feel negative about visiting, or may want to do something else, but I’m to ignore all that and follow His direction.

It could go the other way. I might decide that I want to visit that person, but the Spirit tells me to wait, or to not go at all. That may not make sense to me, but I’m to disregard what I think or want or feel, and obey the Holy Spirit. He is my Master and I am His bondslave.

The will is not the controlling factor of my life; Jesus Christ is. Certainly I’m to yield my will, but when I do, it is not always a clear-cut case of do this or don’t do this. Often I have no idea what He will next ask, only that He asks me to trust and obey Him. In other words, my will is not about selecting the will of God and complying with it, but sitting down with a “whatever You ask” attitude, even a “whatever You ask” expectancy.

A slave sometimes anticipates the desires of his master, but even a slave never moves on that anticipation without verifying that this is indeed what his master wishes. His dedication is total. This is the same dedication Ephesians 6 asks of me to my Master. I’m to joyfully let His Spirit lead me without considering what my will, emotions or reasoning might want or say, because if I let that trio rule, all they ever do is get me in trouble!

February 27, 2008

Will power or Won’t power?

Yesterday was a tough day. I was tired (battles are not well fought when fatigued). As I cleaned up some files in my computer, I read a seven-year-old journal entry about a time when someone betrayed me. The deep hurt spilled on those pages leaped off to stab at me all over again.

This was an odd experience because it happened before, about 2-3 years ago. Both times I had forgotten all about the incident and felt sideswiped all over again by reading about it. Both times I had to work through the emotions of dismay, anger and sorrow. Both times I had to remind myself that I had forgiven the person for doing this to me.

Forgiveness is not forgetting (even though I had). Forgiveness is not the absence of pain or emotional wounds. Forgiveness is not saying “it didn’t matter” and brushing it off. None of those things bring relief. Instead, forgiveness is the choice to not hold the sin against whoever committed it. Jesus died for that sin. What more can be done? I’d made that choice.

As I talked to myself about these things, the sadness worked on me like a wrecking ball. By the end of the day I had no energy at all. I thought a good night’s sleep would help, but woke up still feeling bruised.

As I talked to the Lord and opened God is Enough, He spoke to me from the title of today’s reading. It said, “Surrendering, not Destroying.” The rest of the reading didn’t quite line up with what the Holy Spirit told me to do with my sorrow. It was about the power of having our will line up with the will of God, but because Jesus said, “Not my will but Thine be done” I don’t think that ever happens. If Jesus had to surrender His perfect will, who am I to think mine will ever be in line with God’s will?

Besides that, my will is from the old sinful nature (something Jesus didn’t have). The will of God is worked out in the new nature, and there will always be a conflict between the two. Galatians 5:17 says, “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.

When someone hurts me, the flesh wants retaliation, but God says no to that. The flesh also wants to be pitied, and this is where God spoke to me. His Spirit told me to quit feeling sorry for myself. He knows what it is like to be betrayed and sinned against, and He doesn’t wallow in the pain of self-pity. He told me the way to conquer the pain is by surrendering to it, feeling it, and finding out that it would not destroy me.

God is utterly amazing. As soon as I gave in to the wrecking ball, it stopped battering me, or at least I stopped feeling the blows. My reaction to this old wound had been fleshy and as soon as I ‘gave in’ and said ‘not my will,’ the Holy Spirit took over. Galatians 5:16 describes what happened: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

As I sit here shaking my head in amazement, I can see how selfishness works. If I can feel enough pain, I can justify getting even. If I can be upset enough about this thing, then my fleshy desires to fix it, hurt back, or even just have a pity party will be legitimate.

God says no. He tells me that if I am going to follow Jesus, I can expect to experience the same things Jesus experienced. One of those was His friend’s kiss of betrayal. No doubt Jesus felt pain, but He never used it as an excuse to fight back or be unforgiving. 1 Peter 2:19-23 puts all this in perspective:
For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.
Surrender this to God. Suffering the pain of betrayal was His will for me. He allowed it to happen. What will I accomplish by resisting His will? Instead, I’m to commit myself to Him and let Him deal with the injustice.

What amazes me is that when I yield to Him, He also replaces the pain with peace.

February 26, 2008

Understanding Old Testament Bloodshed

Newcomers to the Bible are often horrified by the battles described in the Old Testament, even turned off by what appears to them as a bloodthirsty God. Wanting and perhaps expecting a God of love, they don’t know what to do with this God who orders His people to destroy men, women and children.

On the way home from church one day with two of our adult grandchildren, one of them asked about this. He didn’t understand why God would order death for so many people, even entire nations. But before we could answer his question, he answered it himself. “I think I know why. It is because those nations were so evil.”

God is a loving, gracious God, but that does not negate the fact that He is holy and hates sin. Deuteronomy 9:4 says, “Do not think in your heart, after the Lord your God has cast them out before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land’; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out from before you.

If I could get a grasp of His holiness and purity, then I would never ask why He destroys some because that is the wrong question. We are all sinful people. It is better to wonder why He allows any of us to live!

As I read Deuteronomy, I notice the warnings God gave His people about their own lives. While they were special and set apart for Him, He didn’t want them to forget that they were not any better than those nations He told them to conquer.

Deuteronomy 7:7-8 says, “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

This is always a good reminder for Christians too. God didn’t pick me because I am special or good or have merit or am more lovable; His choice had nothing to do with me. He picked me because He loves me. This is a humbling thought.

Verses 22-23 in that same chapter say, “And the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you little by little; you will be unable to destroy them at once, lest the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. But the Lord your God will deliver them over to you, and will inflict defeat upon them until they are destroyed.

When God brought His people to the land He gave them, that land was filled with people who were godless and evil. He told them to clean it up, and said this would take time. If they moved too fast and didn’t inhabit and fill the areas they had conquered, the wild animals would take over and become too much for them.

Christians know that when we are brought into the family of God we have a huge amount of godless things in our own lives that need to be cleaned up. He wants me to attack the sin that once controlled me and conquer it, but He also knows this will take time. I know it too.

Also, in my case, wild animals do not threaten to move in after sin goes out, but satanic forces do. Those evil spirits will attempt to control anything not under the control of the Holy Spirit. It takes time to learn how to put off sin and put on that new nature that the Spirit gave me. Spiritual growth is slow, but it must happen. Otherwise I could revert to that sinful lifestyle that once ruled “the land” that God now tells me to possess.

After any success in ridding myself of sin and becoming more like God intended me to be, I still am in danger of pride. Deuteronomy 7:7-8 are two of many verses where God reminds His people about their tendency to think too highly of themselves. The Bible is filled with such warnings, mostly because pride is at the root of evil. Whenever I think I can do anything without God, I am guilty of sin.

Deuteronomy warns me, “And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the Lord your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish. As the nations which the Lord destroys before you, so you shall perish, because you would not be obedient to the voice of the Lord your God.

The Old Testament does describe actual battles and real bloodshed, but it is also a graphic description of what God’s people must go through as we “work out our salvation.” Like those of Old Testament days, we don’t work for it—the land was a gift—but with the help of God, we strive to want His will and do His will. This striving is a spiritual battle because we have enemies that do not want us to walk with God or live as we ought.

My own old nature is my biggest enemy. The Bible tells me to watch out for the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.” If I let these ‘kingdoms’ dominate, I cannot also walk with God.

The wild beasts also threaten. Satan attacks continually, particularly after I win one of those battles against my old nature. However, his lies are thwarted by the spiritual armor God gives me. I can defeat them by the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Knowing it and using it requires great effort as I face many struggles to defeat this formidable foe. But I do not fight alone. If I did, Satan would destroy all my efforts to live for God.

Yes, the Old Testament is bloody, but when read in light of the Christian life, those battles take on great significance as parallels to the battles of Christian living described in the New Testament. The biggest difference between the two is that the blood shed in the Old is the blood of people fighting people so that godliness might rule, while the blood shed the New is the blood of Christ poured out so that God’s people might conquer sin and become godly and be holy as He is holy.

February 25, 2008

Sleeping or trusting?

My dad used to say that there were few problems that could not be solved by a good night’s sleep. I’m not sure all problems require sleep to fix them, but I do know that fatigue makes problems appear larger and more difficult. Even little things seem impossible when I’m tired.

Those little things also grow proportionate to the time they remain unresolved. I author a web page that has been moved to a new web host. After weeks of trying to find out the problems and then finding the best solution, the way the Internet works means the site is still not properly uploaded and available for everyone at its registered domain name. This takes far more time than a Google search, but isn’t the end of the world. It is only an anxious little knot that yammers at me when I try to sleep.

Stress does it too. I’ve dozens of prayer burdens, some small and others very large. Family and friends struggle with everything from overwork to lack of work. The worst (for me) is that my husband is experiencing odd health symptoms. Are these related to his CLL or his heart attack, or are they something new? He plans for life, but scary thoughts dance around our minds like fiends chanting otherwise.

Last night I felt ready for bed just after supper, yet stayed up a bit longer to watch the Oscars. I’d been better off to go for the extra sleep; I’ve not seen any of those movies and really don’t care who wins (even though it was nice to see our hockey team win as we flipped channels during the commercials). Sleep seemed to be my greater need.

Yet sleep is not all that I need for solving big or small issues. Sometimes I need to admit I cannot solve them and my only option is to place them in the hands of the Lord. Prayer is lovely, but the enemy hacks at me from a million angles to keep my from spending time with the Lord. This battle is tiresome, to say the least.

Sometimes I need to sacrifice my will for God’s will and do something about the problems that I don’t want to do. That battle also takes far too much energy and I’d be better off if I just quit procrastinating and obeyed Him.

The Bible promises good things when I choose to trust Him and do as He asks. Psalm 37:3-7 say:
Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret. . . .
Delight is a large factor in energy conservation. When I delight in doing anything, the time goes faster and my fatigue level is almost nonexistent. Sure, delight is more difficult if I’m already tired, but the delight in these verses, delighting in God, is possible, tired or not.

My devotional reading for today says, “We ‘delight’ to do the will of God, not because our piety is so exalted, but because we have the sense to see that His will is the best; and therefore what He wants we want also. This sort of delight, while it may not be as pleasing to ourselves, is far more satisfactory to Him than any amount of delight in joyous emotions or gratifying illuminations.”

Even though the author says this delight may not be pleasing to ourselves, I find it otherwise. When my delight is in the Lord and in doing the will of the Lord, the stresses of life are lifted off me as a giant crane lifts cargo off a barge. I feel rested, lighter, flushed with relief as my focus goes off the heavy, fatiguing stuff of life and unto the God who is taking care of all things. Even as I write this, my shoulders are less tense and the tightness in my throat is loosening.

God is enough. He is enough for the big and little issues of life. Sleep only helps me have more energy to face them, but giving them to God does not require energy—it requires an act of the will, something that I can do whether I am rested or bone-tired.

February 24, 2008

Saving faith is more than fire insurance

When we attended Grace Community Church in southern California, we signed up for their evangelism program. Each week we learned steps in how to make a clear gospel presentation. After instruction and a time of role-playing to practice what we learned, we went out in groups of three to visit people who had visited the church. If there were no new names on the list, we went to a local mall.

The presentation was structured around survey questions that most people didn’t mind answering. After the survey was completed, we asked if they would like to hear more and if they said yes, we shared the gospel. The presentations were designed to cover basic truth such as God created and loves us, sin separates us from Him, He planned a solution for that separation and sent His Son to die in our place, and our response is to turn from sin, believing in and receiving Jesus as Savior and Lord of our lives.

I had taken training like this before, but this church added something to the presentation that I’d not heard. They made sure we told people what would happen to them if they did become Christians. True saving faith was more than fire insurance—it would change their lives in at least five ways. One of those ways is that they would begin to hate sin and desire to overcome it.

This morning’s reading in God is Enough points out that the Scripture talks more about salvation in terms of overcoming sin in this life than it does about being saved so we can go to heaven.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream to announce the coming birth of the Savior, he said, “And thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

When Zacharias was “filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied” at the birth of his son (Luke 1:67), he declared that God had visited his people in order to fulfill the promise and the oath He had made them, “that He would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life” (verses 74–75).

When Peter was preaching in the porch of the temple to the wondering Jews, he said, “Unto you first, God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:26).

The point of Jesus’ death is not merely to give us eternal life beyond the grave, but a new life that transforms us. Salvation would be a disgrace if all it offered was a way to avoid eternal damnation, letting people to live any way they wished without a threat of punishment in the afterlife or even a slap on the wrist in this life.

Instead, God who is holy offers a way to “be holy as He is holy” by allowing sinners to invite Christ into their lives and become “partakers of His divine nature.” Because Christ lives in me, I can “Pursue . . . holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

While that pursuit does have the promise of perfection when I see Jesus (1 John 3:1-3), it is important to realize that abandoning sin is not the means to that end. I do not earn heaven by my efforts to be holy. In fact, I already have eternal life as 1 John 5:12 says, “He who has the Son has life.

Jesus is my only reason and my only hope for transformation. As the Bible says, when we have Christ, we also have His attitude toward sin and His power to defeat it. He began to change me when He came into my life at salvation and that He will finish the job when I step into eternity. Fire insurance doesn’t even come close to describing any of what He is doing!

February 23, 2008

Walking with Jesus

As I read God is Enough, I sometimes wonder what planet the author came from. She makes it sound so easy, as if trusting God will solve all problems and make life perfectly blessed. Did she not know about Job, whose trust was perfect but deeply tested? Did she not read that being like Jesus may mean we will go through some of the same trials He experienced? Did she not read Hebrews 11 with its descriptions of those who were martyred because of their faith? How about 2 Timothy 3:12 which says, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”?

If the goal of being a godly person promises trials, what about the journey to get there? I am reading the beginning of Deuteronomy where Moses reviews all that has happened to God’s people since they left Egypt and began their journey to the promised land. When they arrived, Moses sent out men to check out this new land. They came back with a good report, except the “giants” in the land terrified them and they refused to take possession of their land. God was angry with them and made them wander forty years in the wilderness until that generation died.

I can relate to their struggle. What Christian has not encountered fearful “giants” and did some wandering before dying to those self-centered fears and coming alive with a greater capacity to trust God?

Someone suggested to me that being a Christian should get easier as one gets older. In some ways it does. I know God more deeply, which I suppose means that I am farther up the mountain. I can see more of what is going on and have a history of God’s faithfulness to remember. But there are also greater dangers in lofty places. Satan still roams there, and no one, not Job, not even Jesus, is immune to his attacks. While we know he was defeated at the cross, he is still telling lies and destroying people. I find that his methods of trying to trip, sideswipe, distract, etc., become more subtle and more intense as time goes by.

Certainly there are days without spiritual war, days of great peace and joy, days of intimacy with the Lord that delight my soul beyond description, but there are also days of fierce attack, deep burdens, and even times of feeling that God has gone silent. I could never promise anyone that if they became a Christian their problems would be over.

Today’s reading says, “You have trusted Him in a few things, and He has not failed you. Trust Him now for everything and see if He does not do for you exceeding abundantly, above all that you could ever have asked or even thought, not according to your power or capacity, but according to His own mighty power, working in you all the good pleasure of His most blessed will.” This is true, based on Ephesians 3:20, but not a complete description of the Christian experience.

She adds that if I can trust the management of the universe to God, my case should not be a problem. I agree that this is true also. However, she adds, “Take your stand on the power and trustworthiness of your God and see how quickly all difficulties will vanish before a steadfast determination to believe.”

Believing in God does not erase difficulties. If that were true, not one person would stick with Him as the tests and challenges come. Instead, every professing Christian would declare faith a folly, and think that God is a liar (had He promised such a thing).

It is true that walking with Him is sometimes a stroll in the park, but it is also a leaning into the storm, a fierce battle uphill, through an unmarked path where beasts yowl, and the light is dim. In those dark and difficult times, Jesus still says, “I will never leave you or forsake you” and faithfully holds my hand—yet pressed so close to His scars, my fingers also begin to bleed.

February 22, 2008

I missed it

This blog is called “Practical Faith” which means I’m reading the Word of God and using it in everyday life. Sometimes this is easy, but there are days when I forget about faith and struggle to do something without even asking God for help. On those days I’m like the stubborn child who wants to “do it myself” without any interference from my parents. (Double-click on this clipart to see the results.)

For the past few weeks, I’ve been fighting to upload a website that I design and upgrade. The people that host the site had a hacker problem on their computers and lost some files, so this needed to be done. However, it wasn’t working. They supposedly moved what they had to a new server (a type of computer), but I could not access it. Finally, after speaking to the fourth technician, they told me their new servers do not support the software that I am using.

All this meant that I had to move the site to another web hosting company. In fear that I would botch it, I began looking, found a new one that has a good reputation, and called them. They sent me a clear explanation of what to do, but I had a bad case of the ‘what-ifs’ and my stomach still churned as I did it. What if I messed it up so badly that it could not be fixed? What if they would not help me when I got in trouble?

The Bible says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Could anything be more practical? Don’t worry about stuff. Instead, take it to God and be thankful; He is listening. Give the problems to Him and in return, He will give me that incredible peace that does not make sense in my given situation. He does this to show that He is guarding me. My heart and mind are safe in His care and resting in His sovereign power.

Only I didn’t do it. I did pray, but I forgot the thankful part. Even if I’d remembered these verses as all this was happening, I didn’t think I had much to be thankful for.

Yesterday I bit the bullet and tried following the instructions. First I uploaded all my files to a new temporary address. Thrilled that this worked, then I went online and to the place where the domain names are managed. The window told me that if I removed the DNS (numbers that tell the Internet where to find my files), I could not put them back (or something like that). It felt like jumping off a cliff blindfolded. But I did it. Then I put in the new numbers from the new web hosting company. Would it work?

I typed in the temporary address, and the web pages I’d uploaded appeared on my screen. I was jubilant. The anxiety was gone. The problem was fixed. I was almost dancing around my house. I called the old hosting company and told them to remove the DNS numbers from their computers. All this will take a few days, but I’m no longer anxious and thanking God for hearing my request of “make this work.”

This morning He gently reminds me that I’m still a child. The reading from God is Enough says this, “Who is the best cared for in every household? Isn’t it the children? And doesn’t the least of all, the helpless baby, receive the largest share? The baby doesn’t toil or spin, yet he is fed, clothed, loved, and rejoiced in more tenderly than the hardest worker.

“The life of faith, then, consists in just this—being a child in the Father’s house. This is enough to transform every weary, burdened life into one of blessedness and rest. Leaving yourselves in His hands, learn to be literally ‘careful for nothing,’ and you will find that the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep (as within a garrison) your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

I spent all that time and energy in anxiety and found peace only after it worked, but I could have spent all that time without anxiety had I took the issue to God in the first place, thanking Him and trusting Him, allowing Him to give me His peace so I could actually enjoy the process that He put me through. It was a learning curve, not a trial. It was an opportunity to grow, not an annoying circumstance.

God was trying to make my faith practical and I missed it.

February 21, 2008

Love: a Show and Tell opportunity

Last night’s rerun of Criminal Minds had a shocking ending. One of the female characters was asked out for dinner by an attractive man she met in a restaurant when she helped him with a computer problem. He talked nicely, smiled, seemed genuine, but at the last moment of the show, he said, “I’ve been thinking about doing this all night,” then pulled out a gun and shot her.

The more cynical of us quickly think she had to be naive. What person in their right mind would fall for mere words? Yet most of us have done it. Words are a main communication tool. In fact, a chart in an article about communication shows that the deepest levels of communication happen in the closest relationships and involve telling one another how much we care about them.

Yet close relationships involve more than words. The deepest relationships involve actions, even sacrifices. The more my husband and I give of ourselves to one another, the closer we become. This cannot be one-sided, neither should it be wordless, at least as long as we are able to use words. However, even if I were mute, I’m sure actions speak louder.

When I apply this to my relationship with God, I am both convicted and overjoyed. The conviction regards my slowness to tell God how much I love Him. I’m like a taciturn spouse, or maybe like Peter in John 21:17 when Jesus “said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved . . . and he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’” As in any relationship, expressing feelings deepens it, while assumptions put in wedges. God wants us to tell Him how we feel.

But Jesus also said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments. . . . He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will by loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:15, 21). Obedience, which often involves sacrifice of some kind or another, is my other expression of love for God. I’m not always quick to do that either.

The other side of this is the joy of hearing God say and show how much He loves me. One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 31:3, “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.’” He repeats this over and over throughout Scripture.

Also, while I fit into the larger picture of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world. . . .” the last part of that verse is His sacrificial proof. He sent His Son to die for me so I will not perish but have eternal life. Romans 8:31-39 again declares loud and clear this great demonstration of His love:
“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
God says so and proves that He loves me. My reading today from God is Enough ends with this: “Love gives all and must have all in return. The wishes of one become binding obligations to the other, and the deepest desire of each heart is that it may know every secret wish or longing of the other, in order that it may fly on the wings of the wind to gratify it.”

Again, conviction and joy. I fall short in reciprocation, but as I realize that God gives all and deeply desires to gratify every longing of my heart, I am drawn closer to Him.

The next logical thing is to tell Him— and show Him—how I feel.

February 20, 2008

Facts then faith, and then feelings—maybe

Lately I’ve struggled with trusting God concerning other people. This morning He speaks to me about the alternatives. Psalm 16:4 says, “Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god.

Duh! Who or what else will I trust? When I think that someone’s hardness of heart is too strong for God to break, who am I saying is in charge of things? When I compare what my eyes see with who God says He is, and become unsure of God, who am I declaring is more reliable?

Sometimes God challenges my silliness with the smallest things. While no one should base their life on slogans and pithy little sayings, occasionally He uses one to jolt me, particularly when it’s read in context of biblical truth. This morning it is one written in the back of a Bible and can’t even find, but I remember what it says: “God said it; I believe it; that settles it.

Facts, I’m supposed to base my faith on facts, not feelings. Duh, oh slow of heart is me.

My devotional reading nailed me again with this: “If, for instance, we feel a glow of love toward Him, then we can say heartily that He is enough; but when this glow fails, as sooner or later it is almost sure to do, then we no longer feel that we have found our all in Him. The truth is that what satisfies us is not the Lord but our own feelings about the Lord. But we are not conscious of this, and consequently when our feelings fail, we think it is the Lord who has failed, and we are plunged into darkness.”

Years ago I went round and round like this concerning the presence of the Lord. Sometimes He seemed near and sometimes He seemed far away, but no one had moved. It was only my fickle feelings. An author wrote about the all-permeating presence of God and likened Him to the air around us. That worked for me. Now, whether I feel the presence of God or not, I know He is right here, as close as the air I breathe.

Facts then faith. David wrote, again in Psalm 16, “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will rest in hope.

The fact of God’s continual presence is my stability too. So many times the certainty of His nearness gave me all I needed to overcome all sorts of issues. I understand how it works. It is not about feelings.

However, I also know that the “therefore” part that David added needs further explanation. Knowing God’s nearness produced overwhelming joy for David, but this is not necessarily a given. Sometimes joy bubbles, but sometimes it simmers and stays inside because the situation may be grave, terrible even, and one that does not call for rejoicing. When my mother died, the presence of the Lord gave me a deep peace that sustained me through her funeral, but it was not the same giddy joy I felt when my forty-year-old nephew gave his life to Christ. The presence of the Lord produces joy, but the Holy Spirit knows appropriate levels!

Now to today’s issue. Faith follows facts. God is sovereign over all life. No matter how the heathen rage, He will deal with all those who raise their fist against Him. No matter how deep the darkness surrounding some of those I pray for, His light can melt it in an instant. These are facts. Faith follows them, or it should.

When I watch a person from my prayer list flounder in darkness and guilt and sin and all sorts of things that Christ can fix, my heart fills with a burden that often overwhelms me. I get my eyes off the facts and let my feelings of sorrow and despair take leadership. Once that happens, faith falls off the rails and crashes into a blank wall. Ouch.

I’ve been here before, and God bailed me out each time. Now He takes me to another kind of wall and reminds me that He is in charge of everyone, always. He reminds me that just as I may not feel His presence all the time but still know that He is here, I can also know He is in charge, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Faith follows facts, not feelings. Feelings usually derail the train. Facts keep me going on my faith journey. Facts are the things God says. Faith is me believing it, feelings or not, and I’m thinking that ought to settle it.

How is this practical? When I pray, instead of focusing on the huge problems in front of me, I will say affirming words from His Word about God’s great power and mercy above me. I will remind myself that just as He is always here, He is also always enough.

February 19, 2008

Will an “I promise” deepen my faith?

Two young girls were talking, and one said she had ten pennies. The other girl looked at her hand and only saw five. She said, “You only have five pennies.” The first girl replied, “I have five and my father told me he would give me five more tonight. So I have ten.”

She understood that her father’s promise was as good as done.

I cannot remember my children ever pleading with me using, “Promise?” to add additional assurance to what I already said I would do. I guess that is a good thing. Even though promises are important, they believed in me whether I made them a promise or not.

In April 9, 2007, I wrote, “Because many people fail to keep their word, saying ‘I promise . . .’ has become almost a joke. Politicians who renege, exaggerated retail claims, broken wedding vows, and the like have destroyed the reputation of a promise. Does anyone expect them to be kept?

“I wonder if our crumbling expectation concerning promises has anything to do with Satan’s constant attack on our spiritual lives. Are broken promises part of his attempt to stop us from trusting God? Certainly, God makes hundreds of promises. If everyone else fails me, can I still believe He will not?”

I ended this article with, “‘We walk by faith, not by sight’—which means that if I can be confident of a heaven that I’ve never seen just because God promised it to me, I ought to be just as confident in that same promise-giving God for answers that haven’t yet happened.”

This morning my devotional book brings together those thoughts and the confidence of a child. The first sentence grabbed me: “We say sometimes, ‘If I could only find a promise to fit my case, I could then be at rest.’”

I can relate to this because in my prayers for people, and in my desires for certain things to happen, I think that if I could just find a promise in the Bible regarding this thing, I would not be so anxious about it. I would have assurance that God will do it, and that promise will be enough.

The reading goes on to point out that promises can be misunderstood or misapplied. Instead of placing all my confidence in a promise, I need to think about the person behind them. Who is God? And am I one of those children who nags Him with “Promise?” or one of those children who knows His character so well that I simply trust Him to do the right thing?

It isn’t that God resists making promises. He loves to declare what He will do for us. Willmington’s Book of Lists offers forty-one verses that use the word “promise” yet there are dozens, even hundreds more where God says He will do something for His children.

The reading challenges me with, “Should every promise be wiped out of the Bible, we would still have God left, and God would be enough.” Do I think of God in those terms? Or am I like a child who is not confident that her father will come through so asks, “Promise?”

When I read through that list of forty-one things, I realized that most of them are easy to believe. For instance, where God promises abundant life (John 10:10), a crown of life (Revelation 2:10), a heavenly home (John 14:1-3), or a new name (Isaiah 62:1-2), I have no problem. In fact, forty of the list are great assurances that I never question. These are promises that regard me, my spiritual life, my relationship with God and my salvation.

One of them is, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

I know God has given me Himself and all that I need. He will take care of me. The only one on that list that I struggle with is the promise that relates to other people. It is found in 1 John 5:14-15. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

Why am I so sure about God’s care for me, and so not sure about Him taking care of others? Why are His promises toward me so easy to believe? Maybe when it comes to me, I am determined to cooperate with God, but that’s silly. It is God who has worked that spirit of being yielded into me; I didn’t do it. Why then do I doubt that He will do the same in the lives of those I pray for? Is it because I have no control over their cooperation?

After reading these things and thinking about it, I’m feeling as if always looking for a Bible promise about other people is not the right thing to do—at least if it expresses that I am not sure God loves them too (how arrogant), or that I’m trying to tell God what to do (more arrogance), or just that I want Him to take away my burden for people so that I don’t have to pray for them or talk to them about Him, which is more selfishness oozing out of my heart.

Whatever it is, the title of God is Enough now turns into a challenge. If am so certain that He is enough, then why am I not so certain that for others He isn’t?

(photo from Moments)

February 18, 2008

My bottomless God

Today’s reading from God is Enough challenges me. While I often express wonder at those who wait until all their resources are exhausted before they call on the Lord, the Holy Spirit says to me to pay more attention to myself. I do it too.

In Psalm 62:5, the psalmist says, “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.” Today’s reading narrows that expectation. It says Christians may assume they are relying on God, but are really relying on something about God or related to God, not God Himself.

This isn’t hairsplitting. God asks me to put all my expectations on Him, not on what I know about Him or how I feel about Him. My trust is not in His goodness in giving me things to do, nor in my prayers or their fervency, nor in what I think He will do in response to my problems. Trusting in God alone is just that—depending on Him without any caveats attached to my expectations.

I’m aware that many people reach out on every side for something to depend on, and not until everything else fails will they put their trust in God alone. However, while I look down on those who trust themselves, other people, books, and so on, I’ve trusted other things too, more subtle perhaps, but things that are outside of that “God alone” definition.

It is only the failure of these more subtle resources that make me realize what I am doing. I pray for things based on the truths I know from Scripture. God is silent. I pray with deep emotion and desire. God is silent. I pray when I’m filled with His Spirit. God is silent. I pray when I feel that He is close and listening to me. God is silent. I pray when I am sure of His will, and again, God is silent.

All this happens to teach me to quit dancing around the perimeters of God. As I realize what I am doing, I also realize how much this challenges what I think about God. Even the image of dancing around Him brings out another image—I’ve been thinking of God as a great and unknown abyss. If I get too close, I will fall into a depth that has no bottom. No matter how much I know about Him, there is still that sense of not knowing Him at all. Each problem or situation requiring that I totally trust God means a leap into that unknown.

I argue that I do know God, but do I? If my knowledge is based only on my experiences of Him, then I’m back to what I’ve claimed and won from the Bible, or to those high points when He did answer prayer, or did great things for me that I could see. Would I trust Him if I could not see truth about Him, or He never answered my prayers, or did anything visible for me? I’ve already learned that while He is “unchanging” the things He does in answer to prayer are not at all repetitious. Each response is new and unexpected. While His past faithfulness should encourage me to take the plunge, that sense of never being totally certain becomes a waltz or a two-step. Part of me wants to feel the safety of knowing what comes next.

Instead, this bottomless God, who makes no certain guarantees to those who dance around His edges, asks me to just trust Him, nothing else. Can I plunge right into that abyss leaving my edges behind me and do that? Can I trust only Him, the Him that I cannot fathom or see or understand with the onslaughts of life?

Now I understand those who run to a friend, or a psychologist, or a doctor, or a how-to book, or to all sorts of other resources before they run to God. Our edges may not be the same, but our dance is, and our fears are. We are not sure about this God who asks us to simply trust Him, put all our expectations in Him. We don’t have a clue what will happen next and in that fear of the black unknown, we put our faith in whatever worked before because that seems easier than jumping into an abyss.

February 17, 2008

He will finish

A few years ago a few people wore T-shirts with PBPGINFWMY on the front. These letters stand for “Please be patient; God is not finished with me yet.” When I’m impatient with my own spiritual progress, I need to remind myself that God will do it.

The reading for today in God is Enough reminds me again. It begins: “No longer is it truth about Christ that must fill our hearts, but it is Himself, the living, loving, glorious Christ. If we let Him, He will make us His dwelling place, to reign and rule within us and “subdue all things unto Himself” (Philippians 3:21).

That verse in Philippians is about God transforming our bodies. One of my commentaries says that God will not only make the body like His own, but “subdue all things,” even death itself, as well as Satan and sin. My body isn’t there yet, but I do know a little of the glory of being subdued to Christ. This is not bondage but great freedom, since the alternative is being subjected by sin and Satan. Been there, done that, and it isn’t good.

The commentary goes on to say that the transformation of believers “is not a change of identity, but of fashion or form” and as “Christ’s glorified body was essentially identical with His body of humiliation; so our resurrection bodies as believers, since they shall be like His, shall be identical essentially with our present bodies, and yet ‘spiritual bodies’” (1 Corinthians 15:42–44).

This is why Jesus could say to His disciples, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Being transformed into His image is not only a bodily transformation but one in which my character and way of thinking will be changed.

This is a God-thing. The Bible is filled with encouraging words that He will do it. Hebrews 13:20-21, for instance, says, “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will; working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Again, I’m not there yet. I’ve been a Christian for nearly forty years and am still learning things so simple that I’m humbled because it took so long. Those also remind me that my Maker is not finished making me—yet.

Paul wrote to the Philippians that he was “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6), so when my confidence lags, I’m glad for this reminder, and for all of God’s promises. Someday the work God began in me will be finished, just as the work He began in Genesis will be finished in Revelation. Romans 8:21 says that on that day, the whole creation, including me, will be “delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” In the meantime, I must keep telling myself PBPGINFWMY.

February 16, 2008

He’s the hand—I’m only a glove

The teacher of a quilt design class asked us to do something I’ve never done before with any artwork—she had us formulate a purpose statement for the piece we designed. She called it a concept. She wanted us to think through why we were making it and what we wanted it to do for the people who looked at it. She said the difference between a regular piece of art (quilt or otherwise) and art that begins with a concept is how long the viewer stands in front of the piece. She suggested that a well-thought out and well-executed concept could make a greater impact than we could imagine.

I think of purpose statements each week when I write Bible study material for my Sunday class. Without one, the study and discussion could go all over the map and never come to any conclusions or even raise important questions. It helps me and the class stay focused.

Purpose statements are vital for Christians who want to make an impact for Christ on this world. While some might confuse their purpose with a profession or some sort of calling into a ministry, I don’t think this is the intent. A purpose statement is broader than being a pastor or going to Timbuktu to reach its natives.

Once, because my spiritual gift is teaching, I’d formulated a purpose statement in line with that: to learn all I can about God and His kingdom and teach others what God has taught me. I figured that I could do that in any setting, at least as long as I can read the Bible and speak! However, the speaker at last fall’s InScribe Christian Writers’ Conference challenged me. She said the Bible offers no other calling that we must love God and do what He says. I could be writing (or teaching) today, but tomorrow God could ask me to do something else.

While I’ve given my teaching its own purpose statement, I now have a broader statement for all of life based on God’s purpose for me. He wants me to become increasingly like His Son, Jesus Christ. Romans 8:28-29 and 1 John 3:1-3 make this clear. Another way to say it is that He wants me to be a “partaker of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

Partaking in the nature of Christ is the same as living the way He lives. My likes, wants and goals are abandoned for Christ’s likes, wants and goals. No matter what I am doing, He wants me to see things the way He sees them. This is so much a part of Christian living that my devotional guide says that if a person does not display something that is like Jesus, no matter how loud his profession of faith, he is not yet a partaker of the divine nature. Christianity is not measured by words or even deeds, but by Jesus Christ. If I am not like Him, it doesn’t matter what I say or do.

The question is how? How can a person who is used to living according to their own desires and goals change that drastically? Believe me, no one can without the power of the Holy Spirit at work in them. This is definitely a God-thing.

Yet I have a part in it. I need to cease from my own efforts and by faith let Christ work in me “to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). When I abandon my own wants and goals and leave myself in His hands, He actually keeps His promises and begins to motivate me with His wants and goals.

This is astounding. I cannot count the times that I have tried and tried to do what I thought God wanted me to do, yet failed and failed, and finally dropped all self-effort only to discover that Jesus was waiting for just that. When I put off that fleshy old nature (even though I seemed to have good intentions) and abandoned all my wants and efforts to Him, He became my life. My thoughts, words and actions changed. More often than not, that good thing that I really wanted to do suddenly was happening, but I knew it was not from my striving. Living in the power of Christ’s nature is utterly different from struggling in my own power.

The Bible says things like: “Put off the old man” and “put on the new man” (Colossians 3:9–10). It says I must reckon myself “dead unto sin and alive unto God” (Romans 6:11). These and other passages describe this idea of dropping my efforts, my own works, and realizing that even my daily life is all about Christ living in me. This is not about a ministry only, or a role only, or a ‘calling’ of some kind, but about learning how to love God and obey Him no matter what I am doing. Having that as a purpose statement has helped me to realize that the only way I can love and obey Him is to let my Savior, who lives in me, do it for me.

February 15, 2008

He’s the Savior, not me

For my birthday, my son gave me a subscription to National Geographic Magazine. Since I’ve not read it for many years, and since it will not be in my mailbox for a few weeks, I picked up a couple copies at the library to ‘get up to speed.’ In reading one issue, I observed the reality of Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:14, “For many are called, but few are chosen.

That particular issue had several articles about spirituality and religious practices around the world. Most of them were pagan ceremonies involving idols and based on fear and superstition. What surprised me is that these were not taking place in remote jungles but in areas I would consider the civilized world.

I remembered Jesus also said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

As I thought about these articles and Jesus words, I marveled at both the ease and difficulty of faith. It seems easy to me to believe in a God who has revealed Himself as loving, gracious, merciful, and forgiving. But I sometimes forget about Job.

Job was a man whom God applauded for his faith, but Satan challenged God. He said that if Job were put to the test, his faith would fail. God allowed the test, and it was severe. Yet as much as Job complained and argued that he’d done nothing to deserve this, his faith in God remained firm. He said, “Why do I take my flesh in my teeth, and put my life in my hands? Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him. He also shall be my salvation, for a hypocrite could not come before Him” (Job 13:14-16).

Job’s statements show his faith that God knew all about him. Sure, he didn’t like what was happening but he also did not piously pretend otherwise. He openly said what was on his heart because He believed God knew anyway.

What is more important, Job trusted God no matter what He allowed to happen to him. This is why I think the “way is narrow” and “few there be that find it.” The way is also sometimes extremely difficult!

In a parable about seed sowed in various types of soils, Jesus tells why many are called but few are chosen. The seed represents the word of God and the various soils represent the hearts of those that hear it.

In the parable, some of the seed came up, but it didn’t produce fruit for two reasons. The first was the seed sown on stony places. Jesus said this represented a person who hears the Word of God and receives it with joy, “yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles” (Matthew 13:20-21).

Those who cannot take the heat get out of the kitchen. Those who cannot stand loss of friends or admiration or respect, because they believe in Jesus Christ, will bail out. Those who cannot deal with the trials of living for God will run the other way.

The other reason for lack of fruit and perseverance in faith is illustrated by the seed sown among thorns. Jesus says in verse 22 that “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.

Those who are more interested in this life and what it has to offer will not go through that narrow gate. They might get close enough to see what is the kingdom of God on the other side, but are repelled by it so pull back to the comforts and hopes of what they want in this kingdom.

Job endured. He was a rich man and was distressed and grieving at the loss of his wealth, and his family, and even his health, but he hung onto God. For him, faith was the only indestructible thing he had. Few there be that find that.

The articles and photos about many people on that broad road made me wonder at the grace of God. I’m no different from they are, except that God called me and chose me. Perhaps the difference is that He also taught me very early that I cannot go through that narrow gate by myself, nor can I believe in Him by myself, nor even keep believing by myself. My devotional reading today says, “We must trust Him to keep us trusting.”

I wholeheartedly agree. My faith is like a mustard seed. It sometimes winds up on the rocks or amid the thistles, and without Him to rescue me, I’m sure my face would be in the crowds in that magazine article, joining them in their contemporary pagan worship.

February 14, 2008

Will Power or Won’t Power?

A young woman I know has a theory. She says that people who want to lose weight and cannot do it, are simply not motivated. They may genuinely want a svelte shape, but they also like eating, and that desire is stronger than the one to get thin so they will never be what they say they want to be.

As a child of God, I struggle with how much my will power (or won’t power) has to do with controlling my behavior. I’m very aware of having a fleshy old nature that wants to control everything and a spiritual nature that yields to the will and control of the Holy Spirit. On the outside, it might appear that I am making the choices and carrying out the decisions, but when the Spirit is in control, it isn’t the same as when the flesh has taken charge.

My devotional reading today is about doubt. The author says that there is only one way to put an end to a wavering faith. She says to simply “give it up,” that wavering is caused by doubting and if you give up doubting, your wavering will stop. She adds, “The whole matter is as simple as day and night; and the choice is in your own hands” then says, “You must treat the temptation to doubt exactly as an alcoholic must treat the temptation to drink: you must take a pledge against it.”

I’m thinking this author has not personally experienced alcoholism or been close to those who do. Simply deciding to quit does not work. An alcoholic cannot keep such a pledge, just as a person who overeats cannot simply decide to stop. There is more to it than a decision of the will. Behind this indulgence are lifetime experiences and attitudes that contribute to the problem. These do not change simply by changing the outward behavior, and for that reason, the problem recurs.

The reasons for over indulging in food and drink are far too complex for my mind to unravel. However, the Bible offers a bit of a surprise in overcoming these or any other out-workings in a life controlled by the fleshy nature. The first one, whatever the indulgence might be, is recognizing that it is selfish, sinful and against the will of God—and saying so. God considers my body a “temple of the Holy Spirit” and I am responsible for taking good care of it. So quit making excuses, like I overeat because I am very tired or I need that big gob of chocolate because it makes me feel good when I’m so discouraged.

Second, go deeper. Ask myself why I’m avoiding God’s solution to these things. He says if I give my life to Him, He will work in me “both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). He gives me the resources to live above my sinful desires. Why am I not using them? (Note: I realize that those without Christ do not have the same resources, and can rely only on their own will / won’t power, so may or may not be able to stop indulging.)

Resisting the resources of God is a form of wavering and doubt. When I don’t rely on Him, it is sometimes habit, or sometimes me thinking that I know better, but mostly me evaluating my situation without His input and coming up with a solution that is also without His input, like the overeating / chocolate thing.

As I read this devotional about wavering, I think of James 1:2-8, which makes an interesting connection between the wavering of doubt and a general perspective on the issues of life:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”
Here the problem of doubt and wavering is clear; such unstable faith is connected to a failure to recognize the sovereign purposes of God. He says all my trials are faith-builders. When seen that way, I will meet them head-on, looking to God to get me through. But if I see trials as random interruptions to the comfort I thought God was going to give me, my faith will waver.

How about applying this to the problems of self-indulgence? Is not overeating or, in the case of the alcoholic, drinking too much, a human attempt to solve a perceived problem? Are not all addictions or compulsions a way of coping with seems to be a bad thing, a trial?

I’m thinking of a lady who shared that she has problems with indulgence because she was abused in her youth. She does realize God is sovereign for she struggles to understand why He allowed the abuse to happen. She may never be able to “count it all joy” (I know, in some cases that seems like a cruel command), yet she is beginning to see that she would not rely on God at all if it were not for the abuse she has experienced. She hasn’t yet made that connection to the indulgences, but I’m sure she will.

I’m like that too. In my pride and sinful desire to ‘do it my way’ I will live in the power of the flesh—until something comes along that is too much for me and my will / won’t power cannot overcome it. Instead of trusting God up front, I wait until I’m at the end of my rope before I pray and admit my helplessness.

This too is a form of wavering and doubt. It is not overcome by the will (my apologies to the devotional writer; I do not agree with her), but by confession and faith. God put these problems in my life to test and stretch my faith, not to destroy me or make me grit my teeth and be determined.

He wants me to see that He is in all that happens, and He will carry me through all trials, big and small. He wants me to realize that I can safely say, “Not my will but Thine be done” because I agree that my will is insufficient. When I waver in trials, I can live in the power of the Holy Spirit rather than in the power of my wilful flesh because God is more than enough.

February 13, 2008

He is enough—tell Him so!

Because I can’t see it, I tend to forget how much events in the spiritual realm affect my sense of well-being. When I’m sad for no reason, or have a negative attitude for no reason, it is almost always because God was or is doing something special and my spiritual enemy does not like it, so goes after me. Often, the worse I feel, the more important the event.

Sunday was a great day. My Bible class studied and discussed how Jesus shared the salvation message with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21). Out of that study, we saw many principles that apply to our own sharing of the gospel. Then, right after the class was over, God gave me an opportunity to actually do what we had been talking about. One of the women (who does not know Him) lingered behind to talk. To top that off, in the service that followed, the sermon topic was exactly the same thing that I had shared with her, so she heard it twice.

Monday brought unbelievable fatigue. I’d had a good night’s sleep so should not have felt so tired, but I did. I the usual tasks as well as several with deadlines, so I couldn’t loaf. I dreaded doing everything on my list, as if these ordinary chores were the most difficult in the world. In the evening, our church hosted a farewell for one special person. Attending that perked me up a bit. At the end of the evening, I took a few minutes to give a few ladies a brief quilting lesson (the same room had been double-booked with the party, so we compromised). That perked me up a bit more.

After another good sleep, Tuesday was worse than Monday. My feet dragged. My chore list was not my own as it involved taking up the slack for a couple of people unable to do their normal part toward a large mailing. I spent most of the afternoon in my car going from place to place and while not rude or impatient with others, it seemed as if the day was black and difficult.

This morning’s Bible readings were not much help. God is silent. Usually when that happens it is because I already know what He wants from me. This time, I remembered some verses from Monday, Habakkuk 3:17–19.
“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.”
When the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer offer no encouragement, when life and my attitude seem to be out of sorts, with or without a reason, God still asks me to praise Him. He is the delight of my life, not the highs of Sunday (highs are always followed by lows unless I pray myself down off that mountain), nor the normally pleasing routines of life on Monday or Tuesday.

Besides that, the joy of sharing His good news on Sunday created ripples in the spiritual world. I cannot see them, but I felt them. The enemy of all souls does not like it when God’s people exalt the Lord Jesus Christ. He does not like it when one of his captives hears the good news and responds with delight in her eyes and heart. He is unhappy with God’s people when any of us share the power of God with someone who does not yet know it. He fights back.

This same enemy is also a joy thief. He sneaks in and makes ordinary things seem like unsurmountable mountains. He whacks at ‘enough rest’ until it feels as if it never happened. He magnifies challenges totally out of proportion. If I let him, he gives me a huge case of the I-don’t-want-tos, so that even the easy things have giant minus signs painted on them.

Even though merely doing what I had to do made all his lies moot points, my accomplishments didn’t restore the joy and sense of well-being that God normally gives. The only exceptions were being with His people (fellowship), and teaching the quilting group (exercising my spiritual gift).

Sometimes I feel like such a dummy. One day without praise is sad. Two days without praise is depressing. I’m thankful that today, the third day, He gave me a small kick in the behind and reminded me that though all my normal sources of physical nourishment (like olive trees, fields and livestock) come up empty, I can still rejoice in Him. He is the God of my salvation and, regardless of other ups and downs, that never changes. The Lord God is my strength, and that never changes either.

While the Lord can make my feet like deer’s feet, and make me walk on my high hills and conquer all challenges, large or small, even if He doesn’t, I can still rejoice. I have Him, and He is enough.

February 12, 2008

Sitting in a garage does not mean I am a car!

This morning I’m reading a passage in Numbers that says those who were defiled by sin or in any way were ceremonially unclean were not allowed in the camp with God’s people. Sin isolated a person from God’s people, and until that sin was confessed and the proper sacrifices made, that person could not join with the others in worship.

This made me think of Acts 5:12-14, “And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. . . .

Other places in the New Testament indicate that unsaved people did not attend Christian worship assemblies. It was only after the Lord “added” them to Himself that they joined with believers in worship, prayer, and other Christian activities.

I’ve often wondered why so many Christians today are eager to get their unsaved loved ones to “come to church” when the Bible seems to indicate that worship is for God’s people, not the general population. In the Old Testament, anyone with unconfessed sin in their life was forbidden to join in, and in the New Testament, they didn’t want to, nor does it seem their attendance was encouraged.

Sin separates people from God. Attending a gathering of forgiven people might convict an unsaved person of their sin. What he or she hears at church might encourage confession, but I wonder if we have put too much stock in church attendance. I’ve met people who hang their salvation on it. They claim that because they go to church, they are right with God.

My devotional reading talks about salvation by faith, not by good deeds or anything else that we can do. The author says, “God’s salvation is not a purchase to be made, nor wages to be earned, nor a summit to be climbed, nor a task to be accomplished; it is simply and only a gift to be accepted and can only be accepted by faith. . . . My friends may put their gifts on my table or even place them in my lap, but unless I believe in their friendliness and honesty of purpose enough to accept their gifts, the gifts can never become really mine.”

Even as a Christian who knows this to be true, I’ve found myself anxious that if I don’t do this or perform in a certain way, God will be angry with me. I may not fear the loss of my salvation, but fearing the loss of God’s favor is almost the same thing. When that happens, it reveals that my faith is more in me and in what I do, than it is in Him. This includes church attendance.

However, giving money, teaching Sunday School, studying the Bible, praying, and going to church do not mean I am a Christian, no more than standing in a garage means I am a car. I am a Christian because Jesus died for my sins, offered me eternal life, and I took Him up on His offer. While it could have, this didn’t happen in a church building. The issue is not whether I attend worship services or not; it was about whether I listen to and obey God.

Of course, if I am listening, He is telling me to “not forsake the assembling of yourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25) and a host of other things that could be classified as “good deeds,” yet none of those saved me or keep me. They are just evidence that God has already done that and I believe Him and am doing as He asks. This is not to earn His favor, but because I already have it. He has changed my life so that my “I wants” are now His wants.

If I ask someone without faith and without Jesus Christ in their life to come to church, I need to think about what I am asking. In the past, God would not accept worship from someone whose life was out of His will. If my church taught that “God loves and accepts you” would they get the idea that means they are welcome, sin included? Or would they realize that their sin made them feel out of place, and like the people in Acts, they would not dare join themselves to us without dealing first with their sin?

Another option is that rather than invite them to set foot inside my church without having faith, I live and interact with them in such a way that they know I’m obeying God. Perhaps they might “esteemed me highly” for this, but more to the point, perhaps the Lord would use my life and my words as part of their faith journey. Perhaps He would bring them to saving faith and add them to our number, giving them a heart to attend worship along with us.

I’m still not sure about asking the unsaved to church. I know if someone wanted to come, I would not say no, but I’d certainly want to make it clear that being in church is not equal to being a child of God.

February 11, 2008

The way to measure His love

n yesterday’s Bible class, one of the women shared how she was taught in the country of her birth that there is no God. She also said that it was hard to believe in God when their lives back in that country were filled with so many difficulties.

Today’s devotional reading begins with, “Some people can never believe that God loves them when their circumstances are contrary.”

How true. The other women in the class quickly responded saying that they also had trouble trusting God in adversity. It is not cultural, but a universal struggle. Besides, the first lie suggested by Satan in the garden of Eden was something like, If God really wants the best for you, He would not withhold good things from you. He knows that if you eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, you will be like Him. If God really loved you, He would want you to have it, not forbid you from eating it.

When this young woman shared her faith barrier, my mind quickly went to verses in the Bible that say the proof of God’s love is not in life’s circumstances, but the fact that He sent His Son to die for our sin. If we assume His love is shown only by the comfort He gives us, then base our faith in Him on that, such faith will turn off and on continually. Even if things do go well, life on this earth is affected by of the sinfulness of man. We will always have difficulties because of sin, so in love, God first offers us the remedy for sin.

God the Son came to earth and died that we might be forgiven and transformed. After we accept His redemption, He works to change us. He might even use difficult circumstances to do it, but if we measure His love by those, we will never be sure if He cares. But if we measure it by the Cross and the sacrifice of His life so we could be set free from sin, then we know.

God is Enough says the same thing. “If we rely on circumstances, in the slightest degree, as the groundwork of our confidence or our joy, we are sure to come to grief.” Yet if we remember that He saved us and let that be the gauge of His love, then we can “say with the prophet, ‘Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stall: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation’ (Habakkuk 3:17–18).”

Why then does this God who loves us so much allow difficulties, disappointment and failure in the lives of those who follow Him? My devotional writer suggests that because my soul is made for rejoicing in God alone and “can never find rest short of it,” then all of His dealings with me are shaped to that end. If necessary, I will be deprived of all joy in everything else—that I might discover He is enough and that my greatest joy is only in God.

I’m not sure the woman in my class understood our responses to her. She says she is not a Christian, yet she faithfully attends so she can study the Bible with us. As I watch her puzzle over the ideas presented to her, I’m impressed as she honestly shares her difficulties and progress with believing in God. I’m also impressed with God as He draws her back again and again, each week giving her something to consider about Himself. May His love for her become clearer and may we be faithful to lift up Christ as the measurement.

February 10, 2008

Comfort for those who mourn

Last week in Sunday morning Bible study, we talked about the things that make us angry, not personally or selfishly, but stuff that happens in the world that concern us deeply. The women shared their passion against child abuse, lying, lack of personal responsibility, the abuse of women and other sinful behavior.

Then we looked at God’s anger. All of His wrath is against sin. As we discussed the differences between righteous indignation and our selfish anger and ways we could “be angry and do not sin” (see Ephesians 4:26), it came out that our passions could be God’s way of giving us a ministry. In fact, one person had turned her deep anger against abuse into an outreach and was helping abuse victims.

What about God? In His wrath against sinners, He did that also. John 3:16 is so familiar, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The passion of God against sin became His mission, but this mission was driven by love, the other side of anger.

Just as our anger can lash out and destroy, God could have let His anger concerning sin be a reason to wipe out the human race. He did it once when He flooded the earth saving only Noah and his family. But in John 3:16, we find that mercy and love overruled wrath. God knows our frame and our weakness. The next verse says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

If I am honest about my sinfulness, this verse should bring me to my knees in gratitude. God did not have to forgive me and give me new life, but He did. His mercy is overwhelming. But there is more. Isaiah spoke the following words that Jesus later quoted, words that show the mission of God in sending His Son.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3)
Jesus came with good news, healing, the offering of freedom to those caught in the trap of sin and bound in the prison of their own selfishness. He proclaimed that today is the day of salvation, now is the time to consider the options: believe in Him and have eternal life, or perish.

But God, who is “angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11), offers compassion that makes no sense to me. He who has every right to take vengeance on those who rebel against Him also offered me a righteousness that will glorify Himself as it comforts and gives joy and praise to those who mourn.

While this could include all kinds of mourning and grief (because God is compassionate and able to comfort us in sorrow), Jesus said it is specifically for those who mourn over their sin (Matthew 5). Any person who is sorry and in heaviness about the selfish or evil things they have done, can come to this same God who is “angry every day” and receive a “garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”

Jesus gives this comfort by giving us Himself. With Him, not only do I know His grace and mercy toward me, but also experience a different attitude toward others. This was the first thing I noticed when I became a Christian more than thirty-five years ago. I remember sitting on my front step in the sunshine and thinking I don’t hate everyone like I used to!

Jesus was sent to save sinners. His life offers many examples of passion for those trapped in sin. When His disciples asked Him to call down fire from heaven to consume some people who refused to receive Him, He rebuked them instead. He welcomed Mary Magdalene when all others turned from her. He told the woman caught in adultery and about to be stoned to death to go and sin no more. He welcomed the thief on the cross next to Him into His kingdom.

His gives His people that same passion. In other words, the comfort God gives is not just for me. He says I must pass it on. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 tells me, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.”

Jesus’ mission was to save sinners because God hated sin. He is showing me that instead of letting it be a mere emotion and hot spot in my heart, I also must turn my angry passion against sin into a ministry that reaches out to comfort those who mourn and share with them the good news of God’s love.