Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The best way to learn

Anyone who has been a mentor to others knows the difference between instructing someone who is teachable and someone who is not. If a person thinks they know it all, or does not want to learn, or has no respect for the teacher or the subject matter, learning does not happen.

That said, teachers must also be teachable. I remember a science teacher from high school who was ‘never wrong.’ One day he made a statement or wrote something on the board that I challenged. I can’t remember what the topic was, but I do remember how angry he was when he had to admit that he made a mistake. Pride is an enemy for a good teacher.

Another enemy is failure to check your sources. Sometimes I’m in a hurry and think that the definition from Wikipedia sounds good enough. Sometimes the source agrees with my opinion so I assume it must be correct. Either way, I should always double-check or do whatever I must do to ensure my information is correct. I don’t want to make a mistake, or worse yet, teach others something that is incorrect.

Today’s devotional reading uses Psalm 25:4-5. “Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day.

When I read those verses, I thought of how reliable the Word of God has been in my life. While people say it is archaic, not relevant, or just too difficult to understand, I find it up-to-date and far more relevant to my life than anything else I’ve ever read. As for the understanding part, that totally depends on whether or not I’m willing to learn.

The psalmist who wrote these verses (David) was obviously teachable. He wanted to know God’s ways. He’d learned that his own ideas only brought sorrow and trouble into his life. He wanted to walk as God wanted and avoid the mistakes of his past.

For Christians, becoming teachable takes time. I started out life running after the dictates of my own desires and dreams. Isaiah said we each “go our own way” and he rightly called this the very essence of sin. While my own way might not put me into the same mess that David’s own way did (adultery and murder), in the mind of God, sin is sin. My own way is contrary to God’s way and sinful. He does not measure sin by degrees as sinners tend to do.

After becoming a Christian, I began to see that my own way was not only sin but hazardous. I wanted to learn and walk in God’s way. That desire to learn, that hunger for truth became my new life, even as it takes time to overcome the habits of doing my own thing.

I’m also realizing that in spiritual matters, Christians can get stuck in a rut. Instead of being teachable, I can still drift into a my way is right attitude and stop learning and growing. This not only hinders me but hinders my ability to teach others.

There is yet another danger too for the seeking mind. I could fall into never being content with what God has already taught me, and begin seeking continual new revelations, new stuff. For this, my devotional reading offers such wonderful words that I will simply quote the last few sentences.
I want no new revelation. Day by day I seem more satisfied of this, and more established in it—that all saving truth is in the Word of God. I seek no visions, I desire no dreams, I want no airy speculations; but when my heart is brought to lie at the footstool of mercy, this seems to be the panting and breathing of my soul—to know experimentally and spiritually the blessed truths that my eyes see in the Word of God, to have them opened up to my understanding, brought into my heart, grafted into my soul, applied to my conscience, and revealed with such supernatural and heavenly power that the truth as it is in Jesus may be in me a solemn and saving reality, that it may bring with it such a divine blessing as to fill me with grace, enlarge my heart into the enjoyment of the gospel, gird up my loins with spiritual strength, give and increase faith, communicate and encourage hope, shed abroad and draw forth love, and fill me with joy and peace in believing.

I need to be teachable, but when God does give me truth, I must not too quickly look for the next new thing, but stop long enough to rejoice in what He teaches me—and let it sink in and change my life. This seems slow, but it is the best way to learn.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The crooked can be made straight

During my opportunities of teaching others how to sew, I’ve occasionally met would-be seamstresses who could not see their mistakes. The first was a young girl learning the basics. I gave her fabric, explained and showed how to sew a seam in a straight line using the guide on the bed of the sewing machine. She proceeded, but no matter how much she practiced, her seam was always crooked. The problem soon became apparent; she had no perception of “straight” vs. crooked. Each time she brought me a sample, she was certain it was okay. In her mind, the wavy line was just fine.

I’m quite puzzled about this, but when I begin to apply it to moral spiritual matters, maybe I understand. In the realm of good and evil, it’s no secret that a great many people refuse to take any responsibility for ‘crooked’ behavior. I don’t know if Freud started it with blaming your mother, but the first excuse we hear is that no matter what someone did, it is the fault of someone else. Do that often enough and repeat it often enough and after awhile, it becomes true in your own mind. Moral and spiritual blindness so easily slides over the mind and heart and the crooked lines start to seem straight.

When it comes to disobeying God, Jeremiah knew that people who sin not only blame whoever and whatever else they can think of, they become very upset if God chastens them for their sin. He wrote: “Why should any living man complain when punished for his sins? Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say: We have sinned and rebelled and you have not forgiven” (Lamentations 3:39-42).

Yet humility that quickly recognizes sin is a rare thing. Most of us will make some sort of excuse before we finally admit we have done wrong. Jesus, in just a few verses after the marvelous declaration of John 3:16, said in verse 20: “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

He knew the heart. We don’t want anyone to know that we did wrong. Jesus’ words sound to me that God knows how even the people who seem the most blind to their mistakes, errors and sins actually do realize that they have made a mistake. But their fear of having it known or having to admit it keeps them from saying so or even ‘seeing’ it.

The greatest thing about the gospel is that before God we are set free from His punishment for sin. Jesus took our punishment so we could be forgiven and our record wiped clean. Yes, humility to confess sin (agree with God about it) is required, but that price is far easier to pay than the alternative.

David wrote a wonderful psalm about God’s perfect knowledge of the people He created. God knows our sin, but He also knows the struggles and deepest longings of our hearts. He knows our successes and our failures. He also knows that our sin keeps us from becoming all that He created us to be. He knows that everyone (and I must not exclude myself), has a tendency to slip into “Who, me? What did I do?” and shift all blame for our actions to something or someone else.

At the end of that psalm, David made a request that ought always to be the prayer on my heart. He said, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bumping into Jesus

One of our pastors often visualized the Apostle Peter as “following Jesus so closely that whenever Jesus stopped, Peter bumped into the back of Him.”

I want to follow Jesus, even be that close to Him. Psalm 63:8 says, “My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me.

However, I don’t want to get ahead of Him.

Yesterday, the person that I wrote about was absent from class. It was plain that when (and if) God wants me to speak with her about the problems I described, He will provide the opportunity. Yesterday was not it, even though I thought it would be, and was prepared.

God’s timing is impeccable. If I do things without that in mind, my timing could “jump the gun” and I know that going ahead of God is never a good idea. In this situation, perhaps it was more important to first work through my own attitude and responses. Whatever His reason, when He stops moving, I must also stop.

Closely following Jesus has another side to it. Besides finding that He leads us differently that our own ideas and plans, He sometimes makes Himself difficult to find. Christians often say that they are seeking the will of God, but also that they have not yet discovered what that will is, and that God seems to be silent. Where are You, God? What do you want me to do? No answers to our questions, no sense of Him being ahead or even beside us.

Why does He do that? Could He be testing our resolve? Is He making sure we really want to know Him, be close to Him, discover Him, know His will? Whatever the answer to that, I know that it is never wise to be frustrated with God or wonder if this hide-and-seek is some sort of cruel game.

My devotional reading today likens the pursuit of God to the activity of a lover, who “in order to whet the ardent desire, to kindle to greater intensity the rising eagerness, the Lord will not suffer Himself to be overtaken till after a long and arduous pursuit.”

Before now, I’ve not thought of the Lord’s silences and seeming absence in that way. I’ve certainly experienced delayed answers to prayer and thought that meant the time was not ready or that I was not ready for the answer. Yesterday morning I thought He was preparing me to speak to one of His children about a huge need in her life. When it didn’t happen, I thought that He knows her heart and the best time for this, or perhaps I wasn’t quite ready to do it.

But there is more to this. By being put into “wait mode” I noticed that my heart was filled with a desire to be closer and to more deeply know this One who controls the events of my life. It was as today’s reading said, “But when the Lord can only be obtained by an arduous pursuit, every faculty of the soul is engaged in panting after His manifested presence . . . (as) the experience of the Psalmist when he cried, “My soul follows hard after thee.

To my recall, I’ve not sensed the presence of the Lord more in that class than yesterday. I cannot speak for the others, but I was blessed beyond all expectations. Even though the discussion was lively and hard questions were asked, His power and grace settled over us like a warm quilt. It was as if He said, “You have sought me in this other matter and I am not going to be with you for that one right now, but I am here for this moment. As you study about me, I want you to enjoy the discovery of finding me.”

And I did. Thank You!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Walking in the Spirit

One of the women in the Sunday Bible class that I lead has several problems including past abuse. She is hyperactive and continually does and says things to draw attention to herself. I have a burden for her and for the spiritual growth of others in the class so have been praying that God would show me how to help her, and yet not let her dominate the class and drive others away.

On Friday, the Lord reminded me that although our bodies grow old and perish, the spirit of those who know Jesus is “being renewed day by day.” That means that no matter what is happening on the outside, or has happened in the past, the spirit can be renewed. This and other places in the Bible show that Christians are responsible for living for Christ—no matter what, and no matter what—He will hold us accountable for what we do and say. We cannot blame anything or anyone else for disobedience and the sin in our lives.

This woman is a believer. She seems sincere in her desire to live the Christian life. However, her behavior is self-focused and disruptive. It is harming her own growth and that of others. I thought all day yesterday about the damage caused by living according to the flesh, and how Jesus wants us to put others first, to care about their spiritual life and growth, even to confront and restore those who are caught in sinful self-centeredness.

All of this sounds great on paper, but when I got up this morning, my heart was filled with a sort of dread about what I might have to do today concerning this lady. I sensed my own focus turning away from her great need for help. I began thinking more about myself and how I would much rather not have to do anything concerning this issue. As I sat down to read today’s devotional, God brings me back on track with this:
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:2-8).
Living by the Law is not part of the gospel. In Christ, sin is condemned by the Law and by Christ, but not conquered by the Law. Only the Spirit of Christ who lives in us can conquer sin. If we listen to Him and do what He says, our lives are pleasing to God. If we do not, we miss out on the rich life and deep peace that He wants for us.

When any Christian turns inward, becomes selfish, forgets the power of God, and does whatever they think will draw attention to themselves, they are living “according to the flesh” and this separates them from the power of God and from the people of God. It is not a good place to be. In fact, when it happens, we know it and we get upset with ourselves. We don’t want to fall back into that old pattern, yet we do. Sometimes we need help to get back on track. We need someone who loves us enough to remind us that we cannot fill the empty place in our hearts if our focus is always on me, me, me.

When I step into class this morning, I need to remember this, first for myself, but also for the lady whose carnal mind and actions are having a divisive and destructive effect on others. How I will deal with it I do not know. I only know that I cannot become self-centered in this either. If I do, I will be thinking only about me and my comfort level. Doing that will make me fleshy and unable to even hear what God wants from me, never mind do it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

God who Sees

From the comedian who often said, “God will get you for that” to the parent who uses the all-seeing eye of God as a threat to keep her child from misbehaving, God is often portrayed as that “big brother” who sees and records everything so that He might punish it.

The “eye” of God is on U.S. money because the design committee wanted to include something alluding to divine providence. An eye-like nebula also bears the name “Eye of God” and some people say if you stare at it and make a wish . . . well, this is stretching things.

Anyway, I’ve had mixed feelings about the eye of God. Psalm 90:8 says, “You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your countenance.” This means God knows every sin that I commit, even those well hidden from others. I cannot hide from God. Most of the time that is fine with me, but when I’ve dallied with a sin too pleasurable to easily dump, the fact that God is looking is disconcerting to say the very least.

Yet I’ve learned that the point of knowing that He knows is not to confuse, aggravate, or grieve me. God wants me to also see my sin the way that He sees it, look at it with His eyes as it were.

My devotional reading today says, “He will bring out these secret sins and set them in the light of His countenance; and when He lays them upon the sinner’s conscience, He will make him feel what an evil and bitter thing it is to have sinned against the Lord.

His purpose of looking into my sinful heart is to bring me to repentance so I have forgiveness, cleansing, and victory over sin. He wants me to confess (agree with Him about my sin) and turn from it. He knows that every sin hurts me and others. Sin produces no winners.

That is a great comfort about knowing that God can look into my heart and see the secret sins, yet this seeing eye of His has another value. Sometimes I do things that I know are right yet others misinterpret them, or condemn me in some way for what I have done. 1 Corinthians 4:5 offers this: “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.

When I mess up, He knows it, but when I do right and no one else seems to see it, or care, or even understand that I did well, God knows it. He knows my hidden motives and He understands those things I do that no one else sees.

While it is for me to praise God now, someday, for all my good but unseen deeds and the reasons for doing them, God will praise me. Today, the thought that I cannot only please Him but receive His praise, makes me shake my head in awe. It also deepens my determination to say no to any sin, secret or otherwise.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Simplified

As I try to simplify my life, I decided to simplify my blog, hence the changes.

A Sweet Goal

Attending seminary at my age was an oddity for the other students. Most of them were young enough to be my children, maybe even grandchildren, but they accepted me. One day one of them expressed his curiosity why I was in school. He asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

My response is that I want to be a sweet little old lady. I’ve written about this before, and how my brother, when I told him, teased me with, “You better get working on it.”

My mental picture of a sweet little old lady is a composite of several women. One is Irene, my first mentor. She was a blessing and encouragement to everyone, no matter what was happening in her own life. Even when her husband died, she comforted everyone else.

Another is Agnes. She had Lou Gehrig’s disease and showed me how to die with grace and a loving attitude toward all who helplessly watched her decline. A third is a missionary woman who scads of children and a long career, but also a perpetual cheery attitude. She told me that her secret for a sweet spirit was to be thankful all the time.

As I think about my goal today, the beginning two verses in 1 Peter add another facet to the jewel of becoming that person I envision. It says, “To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.

I wrote in the margin of my Bible, “Chosen by the Father, set apart by the Spirit—to obey the Son.” Grace and peace are for those who are called, sanctified, and obedient.

Obedience. This is God’s goal or purpose for making me His child. He wants a sweet Spirit, a gracious attitude, joy and all that I think of as belonging to a pleasing person, but these things do not happen in the life of a stubborn, unthankful, resisting rebel. The good fruit of the Holy Spirit is for those who say yes to God.

My devotional reading for today suggests that many who come to Christ are greatly excited about being selected by God and given a place in His family. We love the fact of our redemption, forgiveness, and freedom from condemnation. We sing for joy that the blood of Christ has covered all our sin. We rejoice in that He has lifted our burden of guilt and set us on a new path.

But then we realize that this new path is also filled with commands that tell us to drop our old way of life and live for Him. No longer should we do whatever we wish, but our allegiance is to Jesus Christ who died for us, and we must do whatever He asks, whatever the cost.

The author of my devotional says that until that total obedience happens, “half of the sweetness and blessedness of real religion and of salvation by grace is not felt or known, nor the liberty of the gospel thoroughly realized or enjoyed, for the gospel must be obeyed and lived, as well as received and believed, that its full, liberating, sanctifying influences may be experienced, as sweetening the narrow and rugged path of doing and suffering the whole will of God.”

There is that “sweet” word. By this statement I’m aware that the sweetness I desire for my own personality and way of life comes from facing all the hard stuff of obedience and doing it. Also, as I follow Jesus Christ, my obedience must include trust in the Father who called me to this path and total reliance on the Holy Spirit who set me apart to walk it.

Sweetness does not come from a life of ease, as illustrated by the lives of my mentors and examples. Their sweetness came from walking with God, from drawing their resources from Him, from trusting Him, but mostly from doing what He says.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Be godly? Be afraid!

The Hebrew word for fear as in “fear God” occurs 314 times in the Old Testament. One major Bible version translates this word as “fear” 188 times, “afraid” 78 times, “terrible” 23 times, “terrible thing” six times, “dreadful” five times, “reverence” three times, “fearful” twice, “terrible acts” once. There are eight miscellaneous other translations.

The meaning of this word is a bit of a challenge. It can mean to be in terror of, but is more like to revere, to stand in awe of or be awed, even to be astonished. It is the same fear a person might experience standing in close proximity to an erupting volcano, or being in a vehicle in the midst of a rampaging herd of elephants. The danger is known and yet the focus is not on running away, but on staying there and experiencing that source of utter fear.

I read Proverbs 16:6 this morning. It says, “In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; and by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.

My devotional reading says there is a very close and intimate connection between godly fear and being holy. I cannot imagine being near a volcano or wild elephants and talking about ignoble or frivolous things. That fearful emotion would restrain all levity and foolish conversation and may even shut my mouth completely. Being aware of God and having this biblical fear of Him should have that same effect.

The reading says that we drop into carnal and worldly talk whenever that godly fear is absent. However, as right thoughts of God occupy our minds, our souls are “softened into humility and love” which make a huge change in the way we talk and live.

Yapping without constraint, according to James 3:6, “defiles the whole body”! I know full well that if my tongue goes out of control, I will say things that grieve and wound my own conscience, are a stumbling-block to those around me, show a bad example to other Christians, and even provide a weapon Satan can use for destruction. Not only that, if my tongue is out of control, so is the rest of me!

I know that controlling any sin, including my runaway tongue, is impossible through my own efforts. There is only one way this “unruly evil” can be tamed; it must be by the power of God.

Ephesians 4:29-32 tells how I am supposed to talk and the attitude I am to have toward others:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
This is not about self-control. Last night I heard a radio pastor say that the fear of God is so important because when a person has it, without any effort on their part they are brought into a state of peace. When I am in that state of peace, I do not talk foolishly, nor can I be bitter, angry, fighting, gossiping or malicious. This peace from God produces kindness, compassion and a forgiving heart. I cannot make it happen. It is just there—whenever I stand in awe of God.

No wonder that the psalmist repeats, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him . . . For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods . . . Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD” (Psalm 33:8; 96:4; 128:1).

Fearing God is truly the foundation of not only all wisdom, but also of all godly living.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Old Warriors

Now and then I remember the words of a younger friend who said to me, “Being a Christian must get easier as you get older.” I wish.

He does not realize several things, one of them being that he himself has not yet began to fight.

The Christian life is greatly blessed by God, but it is also a battlefield. We are surrounded by spiritual enemies that would destroy us in a minute if God were not protecting us. We wrestle with our own flesh and, even though we are “dead” to sin, that part of us thrashes about, resisting death and trying to regain rule over us. The world also throws obstacles to godliness in our path, making great effort to trip us into its clutches.

I assume my young friend thought that the older Christian will have, over time, developed spiritual muscles and keener ability to recognize and conquer these enemies. If so, he also needs to take into consideration the power of these enemies. Just because I have conquered one temptation does not guarantee that I’ll even see the next one coming. Each day is a new war, a new race, and I have no idea which enemy will swipe at me, nor how that battle will be shaped.

For this reason, 1 Peter 1:17-19 says, “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

God looks at and evaluates my work, singular. This is not each picky detail of my actions so much as it is the general character of my life. Sins are already forgiven and covered by the blood of Christ. This “work” is about a life is based on faith and how I demonstrate that faith. It is about my attitude toward sin, toward good and evil, and toward this world. Do I realize that I’m not here long and therefore should not waste my time with things that have no eternal purpose or value?

1 Corinthians 3 talks about this judgment mentioned by Peter. It is not the same as the great final judgment, but is instead the “Bema” or judgment seat of Christ. Here, all of God’s people will have their lives evaluated. Verses 11-15 say:
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 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.
I am not to fear the loss of my salvation; that is secured by Jesus Christ, but I am to consider that some things I do might be utterly worthless. Like wood, hay and straw, they will not stand this test of fire. Instead, I’m to choose those actions and attitudes that pass the test.

This means that my life here cannot be one of ease and quiet as my friend suggests. Instead, I will continually evaluate all that comes before me, not giving in to that which is sinful but also avoiding all the stuff that is useless.

What this younger person does not yet fully know, even though he is probably aware of it, is that aging brings its own particular set of temptations. While God is not against time-outs and relaxation, I’m continually facing an increasing desire to simply quit. Recording my devotional thoughts is work. Taking care of my household is work. Prayer is work. Taking care of my body is work. Preparing study materials for Sunday is work. Interaction with others, particularly those with great needs, is work. Sometimes I just want to stop it all and retreat. No more physical and mental effort, no more spiritual battles, just indulge myself and forget what God is saying. Listen more to the world and my flesh and their constant demands.

But then I hear the hiss of the enemy. Then I know that this fear that Peter writes about is not a dread of life, a dread of God or judgment, but a dread of pleasing the wrong person. If I listen to the hissing, God is not pleased nor will I be by the outcome.

Not only that, if I listen to the aches and pains, I will become a self-centered, crabby senior, and no one will listen to me. But if I listen to the Lord and do what He says, He will be pleased—and so will I. That is how obedience works.

No, getting older doesn’t make living the Christian life easier. Aging does not decrease the challenges of hearing and obeying God, but adds another dimension, one that the young have yet to experience.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Simple-minded is a Virtue!

A “simple” person in today’s vernacular is someone who is a bit dull, perhaps slow or not as intelligent as others, but this word has a far different meaning in the Bible!

“Simple” is only found in the Old Testament. It can mean someone who is a fool or inclined to being what we might call “ditzy” but most of the occurrences mean something else entirely.

My devotional reading surprised me with this. It says (and I verified it) that the word “simple” literally means something which is not folded or twisted together. The author adds that because of the deceitful heart of man, everyone by nature is in a state of being folded and twisted. By that, he means that all people, because of sin, plot and contrive for worldly profit and fleshly pleasure. Apart from the work of God in us, our hearts are tangled, complicated and continually twisting together those ideas and plans that the Bible calls carnal. We do this so we can have our own way and get what we want, without any regard for God or what He wants.

When the Holy Spirit begins to work in a person’s life, one of the things He does is untwist it. He takes the strands that we, with Satan’s encouragement, have twisted and intertwined and begins to separate them. Instead of crookedness, hypocrisy, deceit, and confusion, He makes people simple, without guile. As my reading says, “The folds and rumples of his heart are shaken out.

I’ve been praying for certain people and asking God to help them think straight. One person in particular seems continually confused, unable to articulate what is going on in her mind and frustrated with her tangled thoughts. God can untwist all of that, making this person able to understand her own self and what is going on in her mind.

I have wondered about the importance of this for an unbelieving person, but after reading this devotional this morning, I can see that becoming “simple” or untwisted is a vital step in being able to know and follow God’s truth. This definition brings out the meaning of several verses and shows very clearly what God is doing and must do in the salvation process.

Psalm 119:130 says, “The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” Only an untwisted mind can receive the words of God and understand them.

Psalm 19:7 says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” God’s words simply fly past those whose hearts are twisted and tangled by their sinful self rule, but as God untangles them and brings them to simplicity, they can be converted and made wise.

The Proverbs, in part, were written as chapter 1, verse 4 says, “To give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.” I see again from this verse that only those who are “simple” can receive prudence, knowledge and discretion.

My reading refers to Nathaniel. Jesus found him under a fig tree, the common place for prayer and Scripture reading. Then, as Jesus looked at him, something happened much like “a flash of lightning runs, in a moment, through a coil of wire.” The eye of the Lord looked into Nathaniel’s heart and He, in that “instantaneous flash, unraveled and untwisted the devices of his heart.” As John 1:47 says, Jesus then could say of Nathaniel that he had become a “simple” man—one who was “an Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile.

All through the gospels Jesus talks about His followers needing to be like little children. This adds great richness to what He meant. Children can be devious and tangled, but for the most part, a small child is “untwisted” and lacks that “folding together” that keeps him or her from hearing what God says.

From now on, if anyone ever says Christians are simple-minded or calls me a simpleton, I am not going to defend them or me. Instead, I will shout “Praise God” and hopefully have opportunity to explain why being simple is a complement and makes me so joyful!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Grace not ambition

When I was young, I wanted to be the best at whatever I did. I had lots of ambition, the support of my parents, and so many interests that I didn’t know where to start. I remember telling my mother about all the things that I wanted to do. She said, “You will lose interest in most of that.”

I wanted to prove her wrong, but she was right; I have lost interest in most of my ambitious plans. Some were frivolous. Some were too expensive. Some were beyond my talents. Most of them just fell to the bottom of my priority list.

However, a few still linger as those “I wish I had . . .” activities that perhaps fit into the category of a recent movie title, The Bucket List (about things to do before we 'kick the bucket'. In the time I have left, is it possible to fit some of these into my life? Could I tackle those projects, travel to those places?

Even as I wonder about them, I know full well that I am not in control of what happens in my life. I am very cautious about writing such a list. The Bible says:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin (James 4:13-17).
Life is relatively short. I’m not here long and the hours in the day are not long enough to do everything. From this and other passages, I believe that doing what God wants me to do will have eternal consequences, whereas if I disregard the “good” opportunities He puts before me, some sort of loss will be the result.

Today’s devotional reading pointed me to Jeremiah 45:5. Baruch served the prophet Jeremiah. He must have had some ambitions, but the political and spiritual circumstances in Israel were such that few people had any freedom to do anything. Jeremiah offered this assurance, “And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I will bring adversity on all flesh,” says the Lord. “But I will give your life to you as a prize in all places, wherever you go.

For Baruch, being allowed to live during those days was a gift from God! These lines to him show me that there is much I take for granted in my world. It is easy to assume that I will not only live but also have the freedom, even the right, to make plans and do whatever my heart desires.

My reading says that God, in great wisdom, refuses such plans when made by His people. He will not let us thrive in our selfishness because whatever we go after will choke our spiritual life and prevent us from living in His will. Any activity prompted by “vain ambition” is not from God, nor will He bless it. Instead, He wants me to forget about aiming at being the best in the worldly view of things. This is unprofitable because such pursuits prevent me from knowing and living out His plans.

Jeremiah also wrote these words that Christians love to quote: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11), but too often we leave off the next two verses; “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Seeking God with my whole heart does not include dabbling in my own plans on the side. Today’s devotional read points out that even if I developed my spiritual talents and gifts to the fullest extent (never mind any other abilities), and even if other people almost worshiped me for what I have done or am able to do, one day I will “lie upon a death-bed—when eternity is in view, and (my) soul has to deal with God only.”

Then, as the author says, I will want no gifts or even consider them, because the wonderful grace of God will be the only thing that can do me any good, and the only thing that I can offer back to Him.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hanging on to hope

Some people do not want anyone to rule over them, but I find it a comfort.

This past week has been full of unexpected stresses, personal and otherwise. Family issues, computer problems, spiritual war, an unexpected cold snap and dump of snow, and certainly not least, the murder in our city of an elderly man at the hand of a stranger. Many would say these, particularly the last, are random acts, random events that have no connection to each other and certainly have no reason for happening.

Thinking that way would make a basket case out of me. I’d be afraid to go outside, afraid of each day as it comes, worried about my family, anxious that this computer would quit working or crash at any time, and on and on. Even though these things must be grappled with, my heart knows that my God truly is Lord of all.

Today’s devotional reading begins with Ephesians 1:22-23. “And He (God the Father) put all things under His (God the Son’s) feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

I have a Boss, a Leader, One who rules over me in grace and wisdom. Because He does, whatever happens is His design for my life, and even when I protest or kick and fight with it, deep in my heart I know that He knows and He cares. Further, He will end it or make sense of it and certainly use all things for good in my life, helping me become more like Himself (Romans 8:28-29).

Today’s reading brings out the wonder of the union of Christ and His Body, the church. It says that He doesn’t need us to be complete for He is God, yet as the Son of man, the fullness of Jesus includes the church. We who belong to Him are His expression here on earth, the Groom’s bride, the Shepherd’s sheep, the Foundation’s building. We are the visible representation of the One who died for us, rose again, and lives forever.

The thoughts expressed in that devotional writing are almost too lofty for me today. I’m going out to teach a class, prepared yet feeling wholly inadequate. Some family members are sick or needy in other ways. The snow has stopped but the streets are treacherous. It is cold and I am sort of thinking hibernation with hot chocolate would be a good thing. My thoughts are scrambled, and I’m really hoping this next week will be better than the last one.

There is some positive news. The person suspected of killing the elderly man has been captured. Less than positive are the reports of his entries on Facebook. They leave me troubled and wondering if no one cared enough to notice that this deeply agitated young man was so dangerous, and why no one loved him enough to intervene.

Mixing all this together, my prayer today is that the church, the Body of Jesus Christ, lives out the character and grace that He has given us. May we be, may I be that to a crazy world, a place where others can run to and find hope. The One who rules over us is everything we need, and gives us everything we need. While the church may not be able to do that as perfectly for others who are in need, I’m praying that we who are members of His Body will represent Him, our Head, as clearly and mercifully as He presents Himself to us.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Blind and in the dark

Frustration almost mowed me down yesterday. We had been experiencing dropped Internet connections on the computers in our home. For me that meant not being able to load web pages at all (I’m webmaster for several), or post my blog entries to the Internet, at least not without several tries. Email was spastic, sometimes coming in and sometimes producing error messages that said I was not connected. If I could send normal email, attachments would not go at all.

For our granddaughter, it was a threat to her final university exam since it is one she takes online. What would happen to her marks if she lost connection right in the middle of it? With a deadline looming, she wasn’t keen on borrowing someone else’s computer to write the exam.

My husband doesn’t care much about email. He gets dozens of messages at work that he has no time to answer there, so why bother with the dozens he gets at home! Yet they were piling up and adding to our sense of needing to have this problem fixed asap.

I called our ISP several times and talked to as many technicians. Some obviously read a list of “steps to take” off a sheet of paper and tried to walk me through things I’d already tried. One told me this was a very mysterious problem and sent a special work order to have it investigated. He thought we probably needed a new modem, but told me to call back in a couple hours. I did (of course was on hold again for nearly an hour) and talked to yet another problem solver. He read off a list too, but in the end, offered a new suggestion.

He told me not to spend money on a new modem. He said some routers do this, and I needed to go online and download new “firmware” for my router. I did that. When I began to install it, a window told me three times “do not interrupt the install or turn off your computer” so I hit “start” and held my breath. It was nearly done when the “dropped connection” window came up. At that point, I started crying and my husband walked in the door from work. He patted my back, I took a deep breath, and we tried again.

This time I moved to his computer. I couldn’t get connected on mine. I couldn’t on his either, but gulping for air, I prayed again. Then, when I typed the router address into his browser (this is a specific number that accesses router features and setup), it opened a new window I’d not seen before, and the install proceeded. When it was done, I had to reset the router (button on the back) and then set up the router again because all the original numbers etc., for our connection to the Internet had been wiped out. Finally, it was finished.

This process took all day. I felt like I’d been run over by a big truck. Then my lovely husband took me out for supper and bought me a Dairy Queen Blizzard on the way home. We now have no Internet connection problems and I am breathing normally. End of story.

What lingers is the sense of not knowing how to fix something that was not working, and not being able to find anyone else that either cared, or knew the answers. I felt as if I were in a blackened room with a blanket over my head, plugs in my ears, and a blindfold over my eyes. This morning I opened my devotional book, Ears from Harvested Sheaves, and read:
Those that are blinded by the god of this world have no knowledge of what power and feeling and savor and dew are; they see not these things, they are blind to their reality, they are dead to their importance.
The author goes on to say that the children of God “have eyes to see what power is, and hearts too, to desire to feel its manifestation” and it is this desire that proves that we are children of God. If we did not long for more of Him, long for deeper understanding, deeply desire an even closer relationship, it would be because we didn’t have any of that in the first place.

A person without Christ cannot imagine life with Him any more than a person born blind can imagine sight. Those without a personal relationship with Jesus have no idea how wonderful that relationship is, nor can they imagine or desire it.

These ideas came from Romans 11:7. “What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded.

Those whom God brings into His “kingdom of light” can see the marvels of the kingdom. Those who are still in the “kingdom of darkness” have no idea what they are missing.

Of course I’m thinking about yesterday’s sense of being in the dark. Had I never had a proper functioning Internet connection prior to this, I may not have known that dropped signals were an abnormality. My sense of frustration proved, as it were, that I knew better things. Had I not known, I would never have spent so many hours trying to fix it.

Christians often cannot fathom the lack of interest in those who do not believe in Jesus Christ. We know the wonder of being loved unconditionally, of having our sins forgiven, of being able to commune with God, of having assurance of eternal life with Him, and so much more. We shake our heads in perplexity when someone says, “Who needs it?” or makes fun of our faith. We tell them what we know, and about the One who loves us, but they say no, and we say, “Can’t they see?”

No, they can’t.

It seems that what I went through yesterday parallels a little of that life in the dark. If it was a ploy by my enemy to keep me from praying for the lost, he lost. My own sense of frustration at being without answers had a redemptive result; it increased my burden for those who cannot see.

Friday, April 18, 2008

There will be justice

A few days ago, an elderly man and his wife walked to their car after a late lunch in a local buffet restaurant. Suddenly another man approached, drew out a knife, and began stabbing the older man. His wife tried to stop it but could not. By the time bystanders came to their aid, the attacker was gone and the victim lay in a pool of blood. He later died in hospital.

This is not from an episode of Law & Order. It happened in our city at an outdoor mall where we often shop. In fact, I was at that location about four hours after this happened and before I knew about this horrible event.

Even though I was oblivious to the tragedy, something odd happened. As I was leaving the store I’d stopped at, I noticed a man outside the door. He was just standing there, a cigarette in one hand. I’ve not done this often, but as soon as I saw him, I prayed, “Lord, protect me.” I went to my car without incident, and the next morning learned about the stabbing.

Today, my devotional reading points me to a verse in Psalm 37, but I read the entire Psalm. It begins, “Do not fret because of evildoers. . . .”

The psalmist struggled with the age-old question, “Why do the ungodly prosper while those who trust the Lord struggle through life?” In some ways that parallels my question, “How can anyone kill another person who is absolutely no threat to them, and then walk away?”

I’ve been thinking of the elderly man’s wife who witnessed this horror, and his family who are asking these questions. I’m thinking also of the people who live and work around that area, who know that there is not only a killer in their midst, but one without any conscience or reason for doing what he did. I’m sure they are in great sorrow, but also angry and wanting justice.

While immediate justice sometimes happens, this Psalm does not offer justice in their lifetime for those who are victims of wicked people. Instead it pulls back and takes a larger look. It says “evildoers shall be cut off: but those who wait on the LORD, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; indeed, you will look carefully for his place, but it shall be no more.

I don’t know the spiritual status of the man who died, but God says, “The wicked plots against the just, and gnashes at him with his teeth. The Lord laughs at him, for He sees that his day is coming. The wicked have drawn the sword and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, to slay those who are of upright conduct. Their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.

As believers in Christ, we are never encouraged to retaliate or take matters into our own hands. This psalm says we are to “Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him” because the wicked will be “cut off” and pass away. Then the righteous will “inherit the land” and enjoy great prosperity and peace.

This promise to Israel extends to all who trust the Lord. This future utopia could be about our eternal inheritance lived out on a renewed earth. Some might call it “pie in the sky” but as I read the psalm, I was given great comfort. Regardless of whether or not this person who killed this man is caught and punished this week or this year, someday he will stand before God and answer for what he has done. I’m very certain of that judgment, even to the point that whatever our justice system does with him, it cannot compare with God’s justice nor with His eternal punishment for unrepentant evil.

Yet knowing all these things, and trusting in God to do right, I still find myself grieving for a person I never met and a family who is in pain. May God comfort them, and may this person who did this awful thing be found, captured and brought to justice.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Distractions

Nothing distracts me from my responsibilities more than computer problems. For the past couple of days, my Internet connection drops the signal. I can get online sometimes right away and sometimes after a try or two. I can post to my blogs, but may need a second attempt. However, I cannot post photographs. I can receive email, but cannot send it, or if I can, I cannot add attachments. Anything bigger than a normal transmission results in a “timeout” so uploading photos or attachments is interrupted and will not happen.

The experts can only say, “How odd” and give me a list of things to try, none of which have worked, so far. Today I’m going to purchase a new modem thinking that might be the problem.

All of this frustrates me. I have not been able to concentrate on normal chores never mind accomplish anything else. To top it off, I don’t know if my devotional reading today will be a comfort or another frustration.

The Scripture is 2 Timothy 2:3, but I read further. Verses 3-5 say, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.

Verses 1-2 are about teaching others what God has taught me. That is the most important task God gives me. I spend a few hours each week preparing for Sunday’s Bible study. Is all of this a test to see if I will stick to my priority? Or is it a plot to keep me from it? It could be both, or maybe just one of the “affairs of this life” that so easily entangles, and I need to untangle myself as quickly as possible.

After writing this, I read what the devotional had to say about those verses. It is from the book Ears from Harvested Sheaves by J. C. Philpot, and this writer certainly has a way of making me stop feeling sorry for myself.

He says, “We often get into states and frames of mind, where we need something else beside consolation. A child would not grow, if it were always fed upon sweetmeats. It must have exercise, and be exposed to the weather, and have the cold winds blow upon its face, and be hardened, so as to enable it to bear the chill winter and the nipping frosts. So the child of God is not always petted, and fed upon love-tokens.”

For the past few days, God has been reminding me how much He cares for me and protects me. I’m enjoying that, but now I read this. It seems as Philpot says, that I must learn lessons that help me be a better soldier, someone who can endure hardships without whining about my trials and troubles. Compared to some, computer problems are really not that huge.

Philpot says a solder must do things like lie all night on wet grass, be hungry and thirsty, cold and exhausted. Soldiers make long marches, hear roaring sounds including whistling bullets and human shouting. They see “the flash of the saber uplifted to cut him down, and the glitter of the bayonet at his breast” and may suffer painful wounds.

God’s soldiers also struggle. As Philpot says, some of us hunger and thirst, or suffer physical privations and calamities. All of us are shot at by the fiery darts of Satan as we make long marches into and through his territory. Only by these forays and trials do we learn to be God’s soldiers. No one learns the art of spiritual warfare unless exercised spiritually by fighting against the enemies of salvation.

As I think back over the past couple of weeks, my prayer life has become more intense. I’ve been challenged to pray in a more aggressive way for the souls of those who have ignored or rejected the grace of God. As I read Philpot and these Scriptures, perhaps it is not my Bible class teaching that my enemy wishes to put a stop to, but the praying.

Also, the part about not being entangled with the affairs of this life isn’t about hiring a cook, maid, gardener, or even a computer expert who can do all my chores for me. It is about being distracted from serving God by those things, or being distracted by the inconvenience of having to do them to the point that I forget why I am here. Ordinary stuff needs to be done, but not at the expense of that which has eternal consequences.

I’ve attention deficit problems and could blame that for my distractions, but I don’t think I am alone in my struggle with this kind of focus. From reading the warnings in Scripture, I suspect everyone who prays has the same or similar problems, ADD or not. I also realize that the answer is simple—it is in those two little words from verse 3 that are so easy to say and so difficult to do. I simply must “endure hardship” and (big sigh) keep on doing what God is telling me to do.

LATER: I phoned my ISP and the recording said customers in my city were not able to access the Internet... they were aware and working on it. It is not my problem. Whew! If this gets posted, it will be between hiccups!


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

He never changes

As a young girl, I recall pulling the petals off a flower to determine if “he loves me” or “he loves me not” — as if this would answer that unknown question and settle my heart concerning it.

Later, when I became a Christian I went through similar uncertainties. Did God love me? Or was I unloved? The question became forever settled when I realized that He’d proven His love for me at the Cross and I didn’t need to ask the question ever again.

“But what if He changed His mind . . . ?” my spiritual enemy whispered. What if the nature and character of Jesus changed? The Holy Spirit answered this with Hebrews 13:8. It says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” His love for me will not change because He does not change.

I read this verse again this morning and this time noticed the context. Verses 7-9a say, “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace. . . .”

Odd, why was this verse placed between two verses that talk about sound doctrine and its outcome, and false doctrine that does not profit anyone?

One idea popped to mind and one commentary suggested the same thing. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday before He came into the world, and today where He is in heaven. He is the same yesterday in the time of my predecessors, and the same today in the life of the church. So there is no change in Him or what He teaches. The doctrine of the Bible is the same now as was taught then. It does not vary because He is not variable. Verse 8 is the transition between how following Him works out in a person’s life and why Christians need to watch out for “various and strange” doctrines or any teaching that is not founded on grace (verse 9b).

Jesus Christ is the object of our faith. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6) and no one can come to the Father except through Him. That truth does not change because Jesus does not change. It doesn’t matter that false teachers claim they are the only religious organization with the truth, or that you must belong to their group and follow their teaching. Instead Jesus said, “I am the Way” and He did not add on any denomination name and certainly not the name of any sect or heresy that claims they are the way.

An important reality is that following Jesus produces life change, as verse 7 suggests. If a Christian leader is living for Jesus, his life is worth following because he is demonstrating true spirituality and godliness out of a heart established by grace.

The Bible is filled with descriptions of what grace does in the human heart, making examples for people to follow. Grace is primary. Some call it God’s riches at Christ’s expense. Others say it is God’ unconditional care and kindness. My favorite definition is an old one based on the meaning of the Greek word for grace and the way it is used in Scripture: grace is a revelation by God of Jesus Christ to the human heart that changes us to be like Him.

This definition fits with these verses in Hebrews. The leader whose heart is established by grace has been transformed inside and out. He lives in an exemplary manner. As he follows Jesus, the life of Christ within him makes those changes permanent in his character.

In contrast, those who follow strange doctrines almost always wind up using some sort of “do it yourself kit” and depend on their own efforts for change. Grace is abandoned in favor of “you must do this . . . to be saved” even though the unchanging Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Jesus didn’t say that we get to God by doing good deeds, giving money to the church, attending church, belonging to this or that religious group, or any other way or method. Jesus is the Way and because He doesn’t change, that Way (and His great love for me) will never change either.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Three kinds of courage

This morning another Christian told me about a friend of hers who professes faith in Christ yet is afraid to open his mouth and tell anyone. As I think about his fearfulness, which I’m sure many of us have experienced, I notice that the Bible talks about three kinds of boldness.

The first is a brash, I-don’t-care-about-anyone kind of boldness. 2 Peter 2:10 talks about the judgment reserved for those who “follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority.” It adds that they are “bold and arrogant” and not afraid to slander anyone, even angels. This is a bravado that flies in the face of any threat, but is often a front.

I’ve tried being brave, putting on a courageous face when it was not in my heart, but this boldness lets me down. It has no foundation, only my own determination.

The second kind of courage is what God gives to those who ask Him for boldness. It is what all Christians need so we can speak about Him, even in the face of ridicule and persecution. In Acts 4:29, the disciples prayed, “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word.

This kind of boldness is not natural, but it is contagious. When Paul was in jail for speaking about Christ, he continued to share the Gospel with his guards and anyone else he encountered. Because of this, he wrote, “Most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:14).

However, there is a third kind of boldness that probably has much to do with the other two, even though we seldom see any connection. Without this one, a person who does not know the Lord might fake being brave, or those who do know Jesus might be too afraid to speak about Him. Yet with this courage, everything changes.

It is described in Hebrews 4:16. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

God tells me to fear Him, but this is not the kind of fear that makes me terrified to come near or approach Him. He wants me to know that a fear of sin and of being judged for sin is a good thing, but I must be aware that I can come to Him anytime and with anything, any sin, any guilt, any problem or need, and He will receive me and take care of my need.

This boldness is described in the Old Testament book of Esther. A pagan king had taken this Jewish woman to be his queen. Then he was duped into a plan to kill all the Jews in his kingdom. Further, no one could approach this king unless they had been summoned. To do so meant death. Everyone feared him.

Esther could have destroyed herself and all her nation had she given in to this fear, yet, as her uncle Mordecai told her, she alone was in a position to do something about this plot. Instead of giving in to any weakness of the flesh, Esther sent word back to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!” (Esther 4:15-16).

While prayer isn’t mentioned here, it no doubt was part of what she asked. After three days, she boldly went into the king. When he held forth the scepter as acceptance of her presence, Esther touched it, and she and her people were saved.

The application for me today is never to let fear, guilt, sin, shame, discouragement or any other thing keep me from drawing near to my King. The Bible is clear that the Holy Spirit not only encourages me to do so, but also enables me to approach Him. When I do, I am blessed. I enjoy the liberty of access to God, a great freedom, and even experience a spirit of prayer and a renewed power to take hold of God. I might wrestle for a blessing, and sometimes agonize with sighs and groans, but in that place where I am invited to boldly come, I am given a holy boldness that overcomes every negative thing. Not only that, by boldly talking to God, I don’t need to fake courage; He gives me His boldness to talk to everyone else.

Monday, April 14, 2008

All that I need

When I turned on my computer this morning, a notice popped up that a new version is available of one of my favorite software suites. I’ve used this particular program since version one and now they offer version X4 (or 14). After reviewing the features and noticing that early orders qualify for a bonus plus free shipping, I ordered it.

Then I sat here with a thankful heart. I’m thankful that I can easily order online this software that is such a helpful tool to some of the work that I do. I’m thankful for enough income that I didn’t hesitate over whether I could afford it. I’m also thankful that upgrading over the years makes the learning curve not nearly so steep as it would be if I started with version 14, and I’m thankful that I know how to use a computer in the first place.

God is good to His people. Not everyone is in the same income bracket. Not everyone needs or uses the same things. Not everyone needs or uses a computer or cares about new software, yet because God loves His people, and because we have Jesus Christ, we have everything that we need, whoever we are.

Today’s reading in Ears from Harvested Sheaves is about God’s provision. The verse mentioned comes from a larger passage that shows the realities of living for Christ. Just because God supplies all that we need does not mean a cushy life, yet no matter the challenges and difficulties, He is with us. He gives His people both inner strength and the outer resources. This is how the Apostle Paul describes the wonder of God’s care in a life filled with negative and positive elements:
But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things (2 Corinthians 6:4-10).
Probable because I’d never been put in jail or persecuted, I used to think that these verses described experiences in Christian service only. I separated ministry from my daily life which is mostly about taking care of my home and family. However, I now realize that there is no distinction. I serve God whatever I am doing, and God supplies all my needs, whether I am involved in church work, editing a book, designing a brochure, planning a Bible study lesson, or cleaning sinks.

The devotional today says, “We shall have in providence things sufficient to carry us to the grave. He will give us everything that is for our good, and keep back nothing that is for our benefit. If we possess Him, what have we not in Him?”

The author also contrasts that with others who do not have Christ. For them, “when death comes . . . (they have) nothing to look to but the anger of God, and a fearful judgment.” On the other hand, God assures me over and over that when death comes to me, I can look for “a crown of life, a mansion in the skies, a smiling God, and a blessed assurance that I shall sit down at the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

As rich as it is, His provision for this life is only a small taste of that which is to come. Even if I had nothing now, certainly nothing can go into eternity with me. Yet in Christ I possess all things. What more could I want? Or need? Or could God possibly give me than what I have because of Jesus?

For this, I give thanks!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Thinking about harvest

The Old Testament people of God practiced ceremonies that make little sense to us. For instance, before the grain harvest, they were to take some of the ripe grain and wave it before the Lord. In that ceremony, they were dedicating the entire crop to God and pledging that the fields were fully ripe and ready for the reaper’s sickle.

I grew up on a farm. When I was young, my father was not yet a Christian, but he had a good attitude about harvest. He believed that if he faithfully planted the seeds, God would make them grow. He also believed that no matter the yield, the family would have enough.

However, the only harvest ceremonies that I can remember were the rituals of testing the grain to make sure it was ripe enough and dry enough to harvest. If not, we waited, then tested it again. I also remember the sights and sounds of the grain as it was separated from the plants by the combine and flowed into the grain hopper. It went from there into the waiting truck box, then from the truck to the grain bins near our home.

The word “firstfruits” was never used on our farm, so when I saw it in the Bible, it was a new term for me, even though the idea or concept of firstfruits is thousands of years old. The wave offering presented by the Israelites seemed at first a gesture of thanksgiving and appreciation to God for what was to come. However, it was more than mere gesture. This ceremony was designed by God to point to a New Testament reality fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15 is about the risen Christ and how He conquered the grave so that those who believe in Him would also have victory over this last enemy, death. Verse 20 says, “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

My devotional reading begins with this glorious thought: “Christ risen is the firstfruits of that mighty crop of buried dead whose remains still sleep in the silent dust, and who will be joined by successive ranks of those who die in Him, till all are together wakened up in the resurrection morn.”

The sheaf of the firstfruits which was waved before the Lord at harvest time is a figure or type of Christ. The wave sheaf represented the entire crop. By waving it, the whole crop was dedicated to the Lord. In the same way Christ is our representative. His offering is a dedication to His Father of that which is still not reaped, a great harvest of souls yet to be lifted from the earth.

When Christ rose from the dead and presented Himself before the Lord as the firstfruits, He represented that grand harvest not yet reaped. He presented Himself as the firstfruits of those who believe in Him, consecrating and dedicating us, the whole harvest. This is my assurance; all who sleep (die) in Him will rise from the dead at the last day. His wave offering is my future. I will be part of that harvest and experience resurrection also.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

My Hiding Place

I read and watch too many mysteries. This morning while getting ready for the day, this thought crossed my mind, Where would I hide if someone broke into my house? Since I was in the walk-in closet, I wondered if anyone would find me if I stood behind the longer garments in the closet? Soon after, I began my quiet time with the Lord and was directed by Ears from Harvested Sheaves to read this:
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” (Psalm 91:1-2).
Last night we talked with friends about how easily we are distracted from trusting God, how just the smallest thing can be a slippery slope. My response to that was, “God knows our hearts. If we truly want to follow Him, whenever we slide off the course, He will bring us back.”

If my over-imaginative thoughts about the best place to hide from danger were the beginnings of a slide, God certainly proved true what I said as He reminds me today (almost humorously) about His protective care. Because I trust Him, I don’t need to think about hiding anywhere else. He is my refuge and He protects me from all harm.

Today’s devotional reading describes this trust by focusing on the idea of a “secret place,” a place known only to those whom God, “with His own mysterious hand, opens up . . . a part in it, sets them down in it, and sweetly blesses them in it.” It is a place of fellowship and communion with God, but even more, it is being hand in hand with Him, having my cares taken from me. It is being God’s child—secure in my Father’s arms.

This is the place where God opens up to me the riches of His grace and mercy, where He communicates to me His love, power and wisdom. It is called a “secret” place because it is known only to those whom God brings there through faith in Jesus Christ. No one can get in, or even want to be in this place, until they acknowledge their need of salvation. Then God Himself fills them with a desire to be close to Him.

When we trust the Lord, this secret place may not be obvious to others, but in it, nothing can touch us unless God allows it. His care is more secure than having body guards or a home alarm system. It is more secure than any of my own efforts to protect myself.

I was told about a girl who was raised in a Christian home but decided to run from faith and her family. Her parents tried but could not bring her back home. They began to pray.

This girl linked up with an older girl and the two of them began attending music concerts. They knew if they presented themselves backstage after the concert, they could become special to the entertainers, even become involved in illicit relationships with them.

So they tried, but the first time they went through a backstage door, a much older woman was blocking the way. They explained that they were ‘fans’ and asked if they could meet the musicians. This doorkeeper looked at them, then let the older one pass. With eyes full of fear, she said to the young girl, “No, you cannot go back there. You must go home.”

Not long after that, this girl did go home, much to the delight of her praying parents. When their daughter told them what had happened, they asked if the woman had given a reason for not allowing her backstage. She told them that the woman said, “I cannot let you pass for I see angels all around you.”

Without her knowing it, her loving parents prayed this daughter into a secret place of refuge and protection. God then revealed it to one person and that doorkeeper, tough as she was, knew that she could not let anything harm this girl.

This story encourages me to pray for spiritual protection for those who have strayed from faith and family. Yet the deeper longing of my heart is that they willingly seek that secret place themselves. From my own experience, it is great to be protected, even when I don’t realize it. Yet how much better to know without any doubt that I am in that place of refuge, that strong tower. Then I know that Almighty God is there with me, and even more, I know that my hiding place is not really a place but God Himself.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The purpose of knowing truth

An episode of CSI involved a great deal of evidence sifting. As the characters in the show examined everything from ashes to bits of broken glass, my husband remarked, “What a lot of tedious work.”

I responded, “Not for someone who loves research, who loves collecting information. For that person, this is fascinating work.”

I’m the information-gatherer in our family. If anyone wants to know something, often I’m the search engine they turn to, even though they could easily find it themselves. Occasionally I show them how to do just that, but because I like looking up answers and solving problems, I can spend a lot of time gathering all the facts about a topic of interest to someone else.

My sleuthing tendencies make Bible study a delight, but I realize not everyone enjoys it as much as I do. God created us with differing interests, skill and strengths. A few short verses in 1 Thessalonians capture my attention in this regard.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (5:19-22).

Compliant people have less trouble heeding the Holy Spirit than do those adventurous, I’ll do it my way kinds of people. This command about not quenching the Spirit needs to be there.

So does the next one. Those who hunger for truth from God’s Word will listen to anyone who prophecies (this means “forth-telling” so can refer to preaching). Such people will give attention to every preacher, even be tolerant of those less-talented, because they have an insatiable appetite for spiritually significant declarations.

This is me. I cannot imagine anyone despising a prophecy, or not listening to the sermon on Sunday. God might speak! Who would want to miss that?

But some do. Some stumble over the noise of the children in the seats behind them, or some ineptness in the preacher, or they had a spat with their spouse on the way to the service and fume throughout. Whatever the reason, they miss whatever words God may have put in their pastor’s mouth.

However, those of us who listen to every word have a different problem to deal with. These verses say to “test all things” which of course refers to the forth-telling in the previous verse. We are to pay close attention, but not buy all we hear. We are to test it and make sure it is good, not evil.

That might seem like a no-brainer, but a brief reflection on history shows that many people have been led astray by false teaching and “forth-telling” that is not biblical. A twist of Scripture by a winsome, charismatic leader has led far too many people down the wrong path, some to total destruction.

God gave me this huge inquisitive and curious mind, but along with it, He also gave me a huge love for truth and a reluctance to believe everything I hear. I’m always listening to make sure it matches what I know from the Bible, and if it does not ring true, I will check the Scriptures for myself.

Last week our worship team introduced a new song. A line in it said something about “Jesus taking our sin to be His own.” I winched. The man sitting in front of me, also an information-gatherer and with the same desire to check things out if they don’t sound right, winched at exactly the same time.

After the service, we talked. I’d looked up 2 Corinthians 5:21. It says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us. . . .” The words in italics are not in the original Greek, so it actually says, “He made Him who knew no sin, sin for us. . . .”

Together we tested this declaration from the song and agreed that it was not evil, and not worth making a fuss about. Besides, the intent of both verses is that we cling to the good, cling to the truth. The truth is that Jesus did not sin, but God put my sin on Him. Then Jesus bore it and the wrath of God on it—so I could be forgiven and set free from the penalty for my sin.

In this case, testing those words was good, but making a fuss over the words of a song would not be good.

As I think about my appetite for truth and the warning to test what I find, I’m glad that the ultimate goal is not that I know a whole lot of stuff, or that I am an expert on my collection of information. Instead, God wants me to discern good from evil so I can apply it in the way that I live. God doesn’t care if I know everything; He cares that I simply obey what I do know, remembering that all I have comes from Him.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

His Joy

Most Christians I know are happy people. Any thoughts I might have had that this joy comes only because we are blessed in our circumstances was banished when we traveled to China. In a city of more than four million souls, the only joyful faces I saw were on those who are Christians.

The joy of the Lord is a strange thing. It is not the same as the happiness that the world gives. That happiness depends on circumstances, but the joy of the Lord depends on nothing but Him.

The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk knew this joy. He had prayed for God’s intervention because His people were living in sin, but was startled when God told him His solution; He would use an evil nation to bring them to their senses. Habakkuk questioned God using a nation to punish “those more righteous than themselves,” yet expressed his faith that God would do the right thing. His book ends with this declaration of faith:
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. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
Notice that for Habakkuk (and countless other people who trust God), the joy of the Lord does not depend on circumstances.

I can remember the first time I discovered this. I had a terrible backache and couldn’t get out of bed. As I rested, I began praising God. As I did, I was filled with an almost unbearable joy, a joy without description. My back still ached. No miraculous healing, nothing else happened, but that joy sustained me through my pain, even lifted me above it. To this day, I cannot remember how long the pain lasted or when it left me, but I do remember that amazing and surprising joy.

We were given the same joy during a crisis with one of our children. An early morning call informed us that our daughter and her friend and the company van were all missing. These girls were only thirteen and we lived in a city where child predators were known. The other girl’s parents were frantic, but Bob and I were filled with joy—right from the moment the telephone rang and woke us up. It was absolutely weird, yet we were calm and calmed the other parents.

It turned out that the girls were only a few blocks away. They could not drive that big van and their adventure turned into a long, cold night sitting in a huge vehicle parked by a curb. They were afraid to walk home and terribly chagrined when they arrived. Sustaining joy remains in our memory as a tribute to the power of God.

This joy is not my own doing. It bubbles up when I least expect it. How else could I feel joyful in pain or joy with a child in peril? (And, no, I was not on drugs!) That joy comes from Jesus Christ, not from me trying to put on a happy face or making an effort to be strong or cheerful. It is just there.

Actually, it has a foundation. It is based on a deep knowing that God is in control, yet I sometimes forget that He is, or am distracted by tragic circumstances. When that happens, the One who lives in my heart gives joy to me anyway, and that is beyond my comprehension.

There are times when expressing this joy is not appropriate. Imagine the reaction of others if the joy of the Lord became a big smile on my face when talking with them about terrible things. I may know that God is in control (because Jesus in me knows), but others may not. If it bubbled over, my joy over that assurance would be totally misinterpreted.

Also, I’m not sure I can say with Habakkuk that I would be joyful if everything good was gone, but I do know that even if that happened, joy is possible because God gives that joy, not circumstances. Joy is a by-product of faith and has very practical results. As Nehemiah 8:10 says, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Joy might be a bit easier when life is going well, but God made us so that when we feel joy, we can handle almost anything. For that, He gives me His joy and that joy carries me through my trials and challenges as I “rejoice in the Lord . . . and joy in the God of my salvation.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Save me and I shall be saved

How can a writer pen words more than a hundred years ago and still be up-to-date? How can his words speak to my heart when these years have brought so much change in the way people think and live?

People say that the Word of God is outdated and not relevant today. They fail to recognize that some things are timeless. People of all cultures and all generations know joy and delight. They also suffer loneliness, guilt, sorrow, and longing for a better life.

The Bible touches those experiences. If I let it, it exposes my heart. God made humanity. He knows what we are like and He knows what we need. As I read His Word this morning, and the reading from today’s devotional, I felt His sword slicing through to the very core of my disappointments with myself, and bringing with it great encouragement and blessing.

J.C. Philpot’s book, Ears from Harvested Sheaves, is older than copyright laws and has nothing in the front of it about reproducing what it says. Therefore, I am going to put the entire reading here, with the Scripture that prompted it, just this one time. One verse and three sentences—yet they say so much about my heart and very likely the heart of many others.

Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for You are my praise” (Jeremiah 17:14).
If we feel that we have ruined our own souls, that no human arm can save us, that we cannot bring salvation into our own consciences, nor of ourselves see any beauty, glory, sweetness, or suitability in the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet are striving with prayer and supplication to touch the hem of His garment, to taste the sweetness of His dying love, to feel the efficacy of His atoning blood, to be wrapped up in His glorious robe of righteousness, and to know Him in the sweet manifestations of His grace, we too can say, “Save me, and I shall be saved.” Here is this sin! save me from it: here is this snare! break it to pieces; here is this lust! Lord, subdue it; here is this temptation! deliver me out of it; here is my proud heart! Lord, humble it; my unbelieving heart! take it away, and give me faith; give me submission to Thy mind and will; take me as I am with all my sin and shame and work in me everything well-pleasing in thy sight, for “Thou art my praise.” If ever I have blessed Thee, it has been for Thy goodness to my soul; if ever my heart has been tuned to Thy praise, if ever my lips have thanked Thee, it has been for the riches of Thy grace, and the manifestations of Thy mercy. I am nothing, and never shall be anything but a poor guilty sinner in Thy eyes; but I have to praise Thee for all that is past, and to hope in Thee for all that is to come; “for thou,” and Thou alone, O Lord, “art my praise.”
Amen!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

If they hated Him . . .

Most of my interaction with the secular world is casual, such as small talk with clerks and a few neighbors. Some relationships go a bit deeper. We socialize with a few neighbors and spend time with family members who do not include God in their lives.

Having friendships with non-Christians is a challenge for me. I’m aware that I’m not to be worldly in the sense that all I care about are temporal things. Christ has other priorities for me. I’m also aware that I cannot make these people feel as if they are a “project” and my only reason for spending time with them is to convert them to faith in Christ.

I’m also aware of where they are coming from. Because they do not know Jesus, my spiritual life is either hidden to them or a perplexity. They may be polite only because we live in a society that is terribly polite, but they could intensely dislike me and what I believe.

Jesus told His disciples, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19).

In today’s reading from Ears from Harvested Sheaves, the author explains this by reminding me of what happened in Eden after Adam and Eve sinned. God covered them, and told them that their sin brought various curses on the world, including difficulties in life, childbearing, making a living, and fighting evil. The reading says, “God Himself has put enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent; and nothing will secure you from the manifestation of this enmity if you are on Christ’s side.

In other words, because I belong to Jesus, the enemy is out to get me. Satan will use whatever is under his power to do it, and it does not matter if I have position in this world, own a great deal of property, have a marvelous education, display an amiable personality, am lavishly generous, and genuinely upright in the way I live. If I am following Jesus, who is “the seed of the woman,” then there will be that same enmity between me and the seed of the serpent as God said.

Time doesn’t permit a full study into the activities of Satan, but Ephesians 2:2-3 says that I also “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.

Satan is at work in this secular (godless) world, even in ordinary people who may not be excessively sinful in our eyes. Because of his power, he is able to use anyone to heap scorn, abuse, contempt or whatever he can on those who love and follow Jesus. He hates Him, and he hates us.

I could try to avoid all this. I could choose worldliness too. I might not be blind to spiritual truth, or hate those who love Jesus, but I could try a form of worldliness that puts one foot on the same side of the fence as those who do not love Jesus. Maybe then they would accept me and not hate me? Not at all; then they would call me a hypocrite—and rightly so.

Still, this is a temptation. When I was a child, I spent several years at home with an illness. I missed growing-up time with others and when I went back to school in seventh grade, I felt ‘left out’ to say the least. Since then, I’ve moved twenty-eight times, making long-term friendships difficult. Now that I believe in Jesus, He tells me that other Christian will care (and they do), but most of the people living around me, and most of my family are not Christians. Of these, He says they will hate me, even persecute me.

As a Christian, I see God’s people as wonderful, friendly, easy to love, but tend to forget that by following the Lord Jesus Christ and by living out in practice what we believe in principle, being hated is part of the package.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Knowing truth is not enough

This morning I decided that while the devotional book, God is Enough has some wonderful entries, too often the readings and ideas either lack scriptural support, or are off-base. I prayed about it and decided that if this morning’s reading was another rant about the importance of the human will I would switch. It was, and I did.

At first I thought to use a book by John MacArthur whose scholarship amazes me, but then realized that I’ve sat under his teaching long enough that our thoughts are too much alike. I need something that challenges me, a writer that looks at things in fresh ways. I selected a title called Ears from Harvested Sheaves. This is unknown to me, but when I Googled the author, J.C. Philpot, I found that this man, born in 1802 and died in 1869 is greatly revered. One site says that his teaching is “deeply soul-humbling, richly Christ-exalting.” His life purpose is quoted: “My desire is to exalt the grace of God; to proclaim salvation alone through Jesus Christ; to declare the sinfulness, helplessness and hopelessness of man in a state of nature; to describe the living experience of the children of God in their trials, temptations, sorrows, consolations and blessings.”

Every sample of his writing touched me, so Ears from Harvested Sheaves will be my devotional challenge for the next while.

Today’s reading is about the difference between receiving the truth and receiving a love of the truth. He says that thousands receive the truth into their judgment, and adopt the plan of salvation as their creed, but are neither saved nor sanctified by merely receiving the truth. Using 2 Thessalonians 2:10, he describes them as “those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

To these, “the message of the cross is foolishness”; however, to receive the love of the truth results in “Jesus being made sweet and precious to the soul” and in this, the gospel is made the “power of God unto salvation” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

When I read it, I wondered if even a genuine Christian might lose or not have a love for the truth? Sometimes it seems so. I hear many people who follow the Lord offer a host of excuses for not listening to the truth or obeying it. It is as if truth is not as important as their own opinion. Yet as I read this, I know that God wishes to speak to me about me, not about others. What am I doing with truth?

The reading says, that “sometimes the Lord, without applying His word with any very great and distinguishing power to the heart, makes ‘his truth to drop’ with a measure of sweetness into the soul,” just as God says in Deuteronomy 32:2, “Let My teaching drop as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, as raindrops on the tender herb, and as showers on the grass.

When the Word of God comes to me as described here, it cannot help but work in my heart a love for the truth. The gentleness of His words, the wonder of who He is and what He has done are a great blessing and fill me with joy.

Yet sometimes the Word of God strikes me as described in Hebrews 4:12-13: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Instead of sweetness, I’m hit with conviction about sin or sinful attitudes. When that happens, I am challenged to measure my love for the Word of God against my love for the sin this Word has discerned and exposed. Would I rather not admit that I’ve disobeyed God and instead save face? Would I rather be right than righteous? Would I rather be exalted than humbled? Would I rather being well-thought of in the eyes of others instead of give glory to Jesus Christ?

This whole idea of loving the truth is vital. That verse from 2 Thessalonians 2 says that people perish because “they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved.” Receiving it might bring salvation, but unless I also love it, Scripture challenges the reality of my salvation.

Further, I cannot judge the spiritual status of others by what they do or do not do with the truth, but I’d better keep an eye on myself. I know that I cannot lose the eternal life God has given me in Christ, but my life will certainly not be effective for His purposes if I decide that what I want (and love) is more important than loving what He wants for me.