Monday, June 30, 2008

Who lives where?

We are on our way home from a short week on the west coast. We did a lot in these past few days. Besides seeing the Tall Ships, we met some old friends, made new ones, and drifted around the island looking at various places and wondering what it would be like to live there.

It was hot the past few days too. We didn’t have air conditioning in our B&B so didn’t sleep very well on the rather lumpy mattress. We are looking forward to a cool house and our familiar bed. It seems reasonable to return from a vacation feeling rested, but I suspect we will want a nap after we get home. We will unpack first (doing it immediately is our habit), and have a bite to eat. Then I must post what God puts on my heart as we speed over the mountains and through the clouds.

On this airplane I am thinking about where we live and at the same time reading John 15. Verse 7 says, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.

Jesus says I should make my habitation in Him. He says His words should make their habitation in me. If I do that, whatever I want, I just have to ask for it and He will make it happen—an amazing promise!

Abiding seems a simple concept, but is it? Later on in this passage, Jesus says that the way to abide or dwell or make my habitation in Him is by obedience. That is, if I obey God, I am abiding in His will. I wonder if that is the same as abiding in Him? I think so, but perhaps with a subtle difference. Abiding in His will is obedience; abiding in Him is living in the fulness of who He is, being continually filled with the Spirit and letting Him totally control my life.

While I probably cannot obey without being filled, somehow being filled implies more than simple obedience. Being filled is not mere actions, but why I do them, how I think about them, and my inner attitudes toward God and others. Certainly, if I am abiding or dwelling in God, I will not be stuck in my fleshy I-wants, or wrapped up in the lies of Satan, or even much concerned about where I live in this world. All that should matter to me is that God dwells in me and I dwell in Him.

Jesus says that His words should abide in me also. That is, His words ought to be totally at home in my mind and heart so I am filled with His thoughts and ideas. My actions should be a natural result of what He says, not what I or anyone else thinks or says. His words should rule my life because I’m completely surrendered and totally comfortable with them.

If all this is happening, of course He will answer my prayers. The desires of my heart will be the desires of His heart, conformed to His will as revealed in His words. I won’t be asking for things that would bring an automatic NO because God is in charge of my thinking and therefore everything I want will be what He wants.

This is a deep level of Christian living, a total surrender. It is happily residing in God and the will of God without thinking about who is living where, or even what to do next. God speaks, I hear His words, I do what He says, and He does what I ask. We dwell in this place in perfect partnership and harmony.

As I write these words, I know that I am not there yet. Wherever I live, whether the house fits my needs doesn’t matter much compared to this wonderful dwelling place that Jesus describes, a place where I dearly want to land, unpack and settle down for the rest of my days.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

God’s justice is a mercy

The discipline and practice of intercessory prayer is difficult at the best of times. While on vacation it becomes a real struggle. Since this is a “work” that God has given me, I feel uncomfortable with the fact that I am not praying the same way I do at home.

Today’s verse is Jeremiah 10:24. “O Lord, correct me, but with justice; not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing.

My first thought after reading it is, I want mercy, not justice, yet as I think about what justice means in the economy and plan of God, I understand why the one who wrote this verse asked for justice. Justice is certainly better than God’s fury, yet it is better than any other thing that I could ask for.

Literally, justice is giving people what they deserve. That is downright scary, yet everything that I deserve from God, including judgment, wrath and death, was put on Christ at the cross. He took all of it. God’s justice against my sin has been satisfied.

Therefore, if I ask God to correct me with justice, I am asking Him to remember the cross and the blood of Christ. I am asking Him to correct me with the sacrifice Jesus made on my behalf. I’m not asking that He gives me what I deserve, but remembering that Jesus has received all of the justice that should have been mine, and because of Him, God has no wrath against me. He is on my side, wanting to help me be all I can be, not waiting for me to sin so He can jump on me and pour out His anger against me.

The devotional reading connected to this verse also says the same thing. When I sin, God is not filled with fury. Instead, He is concerned for my sake and will take steps to correct me. In doing this, I will experience conviction, which does not feel all that good, but godly conviction leads to repentance, and from there I am changed by the power of the Holy Spirit into what I should be so that doing those things that God wants me to do becomes more automatic and less of a discipline.

I’m amazed how the justice of God works. Because of Jesus, God somehow takes me out of my sinful selfishness and brings me into a godly love and care for others. Instead of being lazy or neglectful in praying for them, He makes me more like His Son—who “ever lives to intercede” for others (Hebrews 7:25).

My first prayer today is, O Lord, correct me, but with justice. . . . that I might be more like Jesus and more inclined to do the work that You have given me.

My second prayer is simply, Thank You!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Can there be too much sun?

Yesterday we walked miles in the sun, first to the harbor to tour the ships, have lunch, and see the various displays and presentations. We walked several blocks in the bright part of the day to check out the main Victoria library, then walked several more blocks to eat. After that we walked to our B&B to deposit our ‘freebies’ from the Tall Ship tours.

From there we walked the other direction to the other side of the harbor and out on the breakwater, a very long, very narrow, very high concrete buffer. The sun was still shining, and since I am a bit afraid of heights, not a great swimmer, and was having balance problems, this part of our day in the sun was not one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I did it because my husband wanted to take photos of the tall ships in a mock cannon battle. We also ran into an old friend who cajoled me to the point that I had to do it. For me, this was a big sacrifice!

I remember a young missionary who came to our church to share her vision and request prayer and financial support. She talked about the changes God was making in her life, then said, “The biggest problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.” I’m laughing because there was no way to crawl off that breakwater. It had no railings and was about fifteen feet straight down to more cement and the ocean.

When I read the verse from today’s devotional in Ears from Harvested Sheaves, I thought about her and making sacrifices, and also about the bright light that God sheds on our lives. I had to conclude that the biggest reason I back off so easily from making spiritual sacrifices is not the height of the altar, but that the fire around it is too hot and far too bright.

Today’s verse actually puts these thoughts together. It is Psalm 118:27, “God is the Lord, and He has given us light; bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.

In the light that God gives, I see who He is and I see myself as He sees me. I know that I have nothing to offer Him, only my life. Yet when I offer that, I can expect a similar response from Him as when His people offered lambs on ancient altars; fire came down from heaven to signify His acceptance of their offer. In that heat and light, the lamb was consumed.

Of course Jesus is the Lamb of God now, and His offer was accepted for all my sin. I need not put anything on a literal altar, nor do I have anything to offer anyway. His sacrifice is complete without me doing anything. At the same time, God asks that I, by the “mercies of God, present (my) body as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is (my) reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).

As I give myself to Him in obedience, I’ve noticed that He often demonstrates His acceptance of what I do with more light. This is something like walking on a dark path with a flashlight; as I step into the light I have, His light moves ahead to illuminate the next step.

Light is wonderful for seeing where I should go and even to help me realize what is true about me or about God, yet sometimes light can be uncomfortably bright. The author of today’s reading has much to say about that aspect of His light. He says that it is light about Himself and also light about myself.

I can see who He is because He impresses something of Himself upon my conscience and reveals something of His character to my soul. He also brings me, by the power of the Holy Spirit, into His presence where I can receive from Him the very life of Christ in all its fulness. As His light illuminates Him, I realize that I am meeting with a heart-searching, sin-hating God. He will not be mocked or messed with. He takes my life and my sacrifice very seriously.

Also, in His light every secret of my heart and every thought in my head is open before Him. As Isaiah said, “Woe is me, I am undone.” My pride, my picky criticism of others, my selfishness, whether expressed and visible or not, cannot be hidden in His light. I see what I am in His holy and pure eyes—a “mass of sin, filth, and corruption, without help, without strength, wisdom, or righteousness, without creature comeliness, without anything of which I can say it is spiritually good.”

Yet in this light, He also shows me the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. He even condescends to show me what I am or can be by grace. While I can now see that He is a God of perfect justice, He is also a God of mercy and grace. His light show me that I am a sinner, that He is the only true God, and that Jesus Christ, whom He hath sent, is the only way to Him.

The light of God reveals the good and the bad, yet because of light, the seed of the gospel can grow in my heart. It can also spring forth to produce fruit. For this, I am grateful and glad. While it may be at times very painful, or hot and far too bright, without light I know I would be in spiritual darkness and bondage. How much better to be here, by God’s grace, under the searing brightness of His Son.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Big Picture

As a detail person, I often need help with stepping back and seeing the big picture. My husband is just the opposite. He constantly sees the larger view and has trouble with details. Our differences can annoy us, but if we work it right, this conflict can create balance.

I notice how the Bible speaks to both viewpoints. I tend to find all the details and focus on those little things that concern God, but my husband sees the Lord’s broad plan. Between both perspectives, He intended that the details of our daily lives revolve around His eternal purposes.

My devotional reading for today is a big-picture answer to a question some Christians must have been asking about marriage. Should they or shouldn’t they? Was Christ coming soon? And if so, would they be better off to forget about being married?

Paul wrote that God had not given a command one way or another, however, he thought it would be more practical to not make any changes in their marital status because of “present distress.” That is, if a man was single, stay that way. If he was married, stay that way. Getting married was not a sin, yet in 1 Corinthians 7:29-33, he wrote:
But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away. But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife.
The big picture is that all of the things of this world will pass away. Life is but a blip in terms of eternity, and what we have here will not at all resemble what life will be like afterward. Paul’s concern was that we do things that please the Lord, and if getting married furthered that, fine. If it did not, it would be better to stay single.

Being married can take a person’s mind off serving God—if their spouse is what we sometimes call a “high maintenance” person. When my husband was not a believer, he did not understand my need for morning devotions or my desire to be with other Christians. Now that is changed. My husband loves and serves God and we can please the Lord together. We also know also that if one of us is pleasing God, then what we are should also please our spouse. In theory, there should be no conflict between pleasing Him and each other.

In theory, a big picture person and a detail person should be a team too, each filling in what the other lacks in how life is perceived. Anyone who is married knows that this is a great theory, but also knows that there is a third element that messes up the perfection of the combination. If we were not sinful creatures who like to have our own way, we would simple please God and one another all the time.

While we vacation together, I chuckle thinking about the difference between the first day out and the second. At first, I’m still in an independent mode as if he is at work all day and I am at home charting my own course. Snip, snip. All of a sudden I realize this isn’t going to work. I’ve another mind set to consider, to fit in with, and to (here comes that nasty word) submit myself to. As I get on with doing that, it isn’t long before I recognize that it actually is God that I must consider.

God wants me to be loving, helpful, kind, submissive—and a whole host of things that are not possible when I am by myself. The need to be like this comes out when I’m 24-7 with another person, particularly my husband, and particularly in a small and cramped bedroom with an odd bathroom across the hall, one sink, no hangers, and one of us is warm all the time and the other one chilly.

All these things help me understand what Paul was writing about. Of course it is easier to serve God when you don’t have to worry about pleasing a spouse, but what Paul didn’t write was that in pleasing a spouse, you learn how to please God.

The intimacy and intricacy of marriage is the perfect venue for practicing love, patience, understanding and submission. As I do these things for God first and for my husband, the challenges rub off the sharp points of my own selfishness and those sharp I-wants. If I stuck to my fleshy desires, it would ruin our vacation, never mind destroy any witness we might have as a couple to those around us.

We have an insecure and slightly annoying hostess, have met people with like interests and those with great stories to tell. We visited this morning with a couple from Scotland and because we have traveled there twice, we had much to talk about. In all of this, my husband and I need to be on the same page spiritually so that we are a blessing.

I’ve been around couples who were obviously sparring about something. With no harmony between them, they have nothing to offer anyone else. This certainly applies to us as Christians. Instead of pleasing and serving God and being a blessing to others, our ‘message’ would be useless, even harmful.

Paul was right in his view that marriage is a challenge and that it could be a distraction from pleasing God, but other Scripture and experience tell me that in facing this challenge with humility and total awareness of our need for grace and the fullness of His Spirit, we can please God, one another, and even bless those we meet.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A new mind . . .

Sometimes Christians speak of heaven in terms of what a verse in 1 Corinthians 2 says. It goes like this, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.

Today I read that verse again and realized that even though the principle is true (we can’t know what heaven is like while we are still here), in context this verse is not talking about heaven at all. Instead, it’s about the inability of natural humans to grasp the wisdom of God. Here are verses 7-10 which put light into this “eye has not seen” concept.

We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.
God hides His wisdom from sinful man, yet it is knowable. In the Bible, the word mystery is always about a secret that has been revealed, and in this case, the mystery is the glory of sending Christ to die for our sins.

These verses say that if those who crucified Christ had known what His death would accomplish—atonement, redemption, forgiveness for sinners—they would not have killed Him. While that might seem like a good thing, it would have run contrary to the plan of God, a plan that He ordained in ages past. Sinful men, including those who crucified Jesus, always want to run contrary to the plan of God.

This passage also says that ordinary people do not have a clue about what God can do for them. They cannot see it neither is it something that is in their heart. While some figure that human beings “made up” the gospel, these words say this is impossible. We don’t have the capacity for it; the entire idea of God sending His Son to die for us is beyond our sensibilities. We can’t see it, hear it, or imagine it. Only God can reveal it to us, and this Scripture says that this is what He does. In fact, verses 14-16 describe our problem of “no eye can see” and His solution.
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
When a person is given new life in Christ, we actually have Him too, His life and His mind. The Bible says it in many ways, but no matter the terminology used, a saved sinner is transformed because Jesus comes to live in his or her heart. When that happens, Jesus brings His mind with Him, and it is by His mind that we know those wonders that are otherwise hidden.

The new mind, the mind of Christ, is supposed to be fed and nurtured. Romans 12:2 says that I am “not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of (my) mind, that (I) may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” I do this by reading God’s words, thinking God’s thoughts, and doing God’s will. As I cooperate with Him, His mind begins to do the thinking for me. This is what Romans 12:2 means by renewing it, allowing it to be transformed.

In contrast, if I fill my mind with junk from books, television, and the neighborhood gossip, and if I never read my Bible or do what it says, I will have trouble understanding the will of God and will not like it if I do. I might have the mind of Christ, but I cannot push it in a closet and never use it.

Having His mind is an awesome thing that I never could have invented. It is one of those “eyes have not seen” realities that did not enter my head at all, not until Jesus came into my heart and began revealing to me His mysteries. This is simply and utterly astounding!

Yet there is conflict too, like the times my mind wants to do one thing and His, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is telling me to do something quite different. I can renew this mind of Christ by reading the Word of God, but reading is useless unless I obey what I read.

Note: This gives me much to think about (and do) in what will be a busy day. We are in Victoria, BC and as soon as I finished writing this, the Tall Ships came into the harbor just a few blocks from our Bed & Breakfast. I couldn’t post it until bedtime. We had a great day, walked for miles, and met some nice people. The ships are wonderful.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Whatever it takes . . .

The first time that I prayed “whatever it takes” was a request to God to help a person become all that He wanted him to be. The next thing I knew, that man lost his job and wound up in another one that was extremely foreign to his previous experience. He was stressed and struggling. However, after a few weeks he told me that this change in his life opened his eyes to things he needed to know.

Since then, I’ve been a bit nervous when I ask God to do “whatever it takes” concerning someone’s life and their relationship (or lack of) with Him. I’m not sure what will happen, and while I want the will of God, calamity is not easy experience or observe in the lives of others.

I’ve heard stories of people whose lives were turned from sin to God by terrible events like car accidents and fires. I’ve also known people whose turmoil was completely inside them, and in their distress they turned to God and found the joy and freedom of being His children. I’m always amazed at whatever it was that happened to produce the changes in peoples’ lives.

Yet God knows what to do. My reading today is from Isaiah 17:7-8. The city of Damascus was going to be destroyed. The northern tribes of Israel had joined with Syria to combat the invading Assyrians, but to no avail. After this assault, some people would be left. The Bible calls them a “remnant” and it is of those people that these verses speak.
In that day a man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will have respect for the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands; he will not respect what his fingers have made. . . .
Prior to that, God’s people may have had the idea that simply because of who they were, they were safe. They may also have thought that their own virtues or goodness would protect them. They certainly had made idols and trusted in them, but whatever their form of ignoring God, God was going to use the invasion of the Assyrians to change their hearts.

This seems extreme, but God knew what to do. He knew that they needed to realize they could not depend on anything or anyone but Him. What was a disaster in their minds became the very thing He used to make their hearts look to Him with renewed awe and respect. Note that it wasn’t that God needed their respect. He is complete without any worship from us, but we are incomplete until we acknowledge and get our lives right with the One who created us.

As I pray “whatever it takes” I can trust God to know what He is doing. He knows because He understands the hearts of every person. If someone is fearful of judgment, He knows how to show them that all judgment for sin was taken by Christ at the cross. If someone is flippant and ignoring God, He knows how to show them that He is Almighty God and in charge of every detail of their lives.

One other thing gives me confidence to pray this prayer; God also knows exactly the best way to reveal truth, particularly those things that seem so obvious to me. As His child and as part of His family, I am getting to know my Maker and my Father. I understand His love, mercy, grace, and discipline. That He is Creator and Redeemer is not only obvious, but makes perfect sense to me.

Yet I realize this is not so for everyone. Those who do not know God through saving faith in His Son have little or no valid ideas about Him. Their concept of God is either incomplete or based on rumor and lies. Satan is good at that. He knows how to convince sinners to reject what will save them from sin. He also knows how to keep people in the dark about who God is and what He can do. Many people often don’t know much about God, and cannot articulate exactly what they are rejecting.

God knows this too. He knows where their thinking about Him is in error and how to correct those errors. He knows their reasoning and excuses concerning why they don’t want to know Him and He knows how to expose that reasoning for the rebellion that it is.

All of this is too much for me. I’ve at times thought that I could “convince by words” anyone who didn’t know or accept the gospel. Now I realize that is sheer pride and ignorance on my part, even utter nonsense. The realm of “whatever it takes” belongs solely to God. He not only knows exactly what to do, but also has the ability to do it in such a way that the people who I pray for are not destroyed by His work in their lives. Instead, He can turn them from their sin and rejection to faith in Christ and the joy of knowing Him.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Passionate? Or Aimless?

Redemption isn’t a clear term for most twenty-first-century North Americans. The word could bring to mind a Goth rock band or several other bands, or more than one movie title, or a few television shows, or some software, or a term referring to the establishment of democracy in the United States, or the titles of several books and songs, or the name of a recording company.

The definitions in Wikipedia for the religious meanings of this word do not get an exact grasp on its biblical implications either. It says redemption is about “being saved from or liberated from something, such as suffering or the punishment of sin – also called deliverance.”

The Bible’s use of the word might be more accurately compared to someone being kidnaped. The kidnappers ask for money or a ransom, saying if they get it, they will release their captive, yet even that idea isn’t quite what the Bible is talking about when it uses redemption as a gospel term.

In Scripture redemption is about a payment paid to redeem or purchase someone (a slave) from bondage. This deliverance is from a taskmaster, not from suffering per se, or from punishment, or from a kidnapper. This payment is called a ransom. It may have been given to free a prisoner of war but was more often about someone purchasing a slave from another person and setting that slave free. This action is called redemption and it required a payment, a ransom. When describing the gospel and what Jesus did on the cross, redemption is about a different kind of prisoner, one who is enslaved by sin.

God says that every person has been kidnaped by sin and is held in bondage to it. However, we are not unwilling participants. We quite easily fall into sin’s rule and then become, as the Bible says, actually a slave to it. Outwardly, this bondage may be expressed in varying degrees, but nevertheless, no one can free himself from it.

Sin holds us captive because it is not an entity “out there” but part of our human condition. From Adam and Eve, every person answers the call of this internal master. Even the “good” that we think we are doing, God calls “filthy rags” because those actions are tainted by selfish motives. All this is part of what sin does to us.

Because of our inability to deliver ourselves, God sent His Son. Matthew 20:28 says, “The Son of Man (Jesus) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

Jesus came to pay the redemption price that sets sinners free from bondage to sin. Yes, He also came that we could be forgiven and delivered from sin’s punishment, but redemption is more about being delivered from the bondage or the hold that sin has over us.

After we are saved or delivered, God expects us to live in the freedom of no longer belonging to our former taskmaster. In 1 Peter 1:17-19, He says, “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

My devotional reading today says that we see most clearly what Jesus did for us when we stay at the foot of the Cross, eyes upward to the Lamb of God dying for our sin, dying so we might be set free from sin’s grip on our souls.

He is right. When I let my mind rest in this place, then I begin to remember and appreciate all the more that I am no longer a slave to sin. In fact, when in my mind’s eye I see Jesus dying for me, sin becomes more and more horrible, a nasty thing to be rejected. Any thoughts that sin is tantalizing or desirable are driven away by looking at Jesus.

Author C. J. Mahaney in The Cross Centered Life, says, “If there’s anything in life that we should be passionate about it’s the gospel. And I don’t mean passionate only about sharing it with others. I mean passionate about thinking about it, dwelling on it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to color the way that we look at the world. Only one thing can be of first importance to each of us. And only the gospel ought to be.”

The contrast is clear: sin produces an “aimless conduct” that seems reasonable only for a short while but eventually makes us its slave, while redemption means freedom from sin and its hold on us, a deep awe for God, and a life that is passionate for Him and what He has done!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Gray hair and still serving

We were at a wedding on Saturday, the union of two delightful people who had both previously lost their spouses and had known one another for many years. With the support of family and friends, they became husband and wife, and at the end of the ceremony everyone cheered and shared their joy.

While I want to write about the wedding, God calls me to Himself that I might think about and put into practice His will for me today. However, one incident from that wedding relates to the Scripture that I read this morning. I visited with two women, both widows, who believe in Jesus. I’ve always admired them and appreciated their godly example. It was good to see the fire in their eyes and hear them speak of the power of God, even though they are both in their eighties. Too often, as Christians age, that fire goes out or is replaced by the complaints of aging.

This morning I read Romans 1:16-17. It says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’

I like the phrase “from faith to faith” for it gives me a picture of God moving faith from one generation to the next. I almost felt some of that transfer on Saturday as I listened to the words and observed the lives of those two women who still trust Him and have continued to be faithful in living for Him.

The devotional thoughts from Ears from Harvested Sheaves touched me too. I have the same horrendous sense of weakness that it speaks of, but am reminded of those two women who are older than I am yet still living by faith. With minor editing, this is what the reading says:
A life of faith in Christ is as necessary to our present and experiential salvation as His death upon the cross was to our past and actual salvation. If you are alive to what you are as a poor fallen sinner, you will see yourself surrounded by enemies, temptations, sins, and snares. You feel yourself utterly defenseless, as weak as water, without any strength to stand against them. Pressed down by the weight of unbelief, you see a mountain of difficulty before your eyes, sometimes in providence and sometimes in grace. You find, too, that your heart is a cage of unclean birds and that in you, that is, in your flesh, there dwells no good thing. You have neither the will nor the power in yourself to fight or flee. How then shall this mountain become a plain? How shall you escape the snares and temptations spread in your path? How shall you get the better of all your enemies, external, internal, infernal, and reach heaven’s gate safely at last? If you say, “By the salvation already accomplished,” are you sure that salvation belongs to you? Where is the evidence of it if you have not a present faith in Christ? How can that past salvation profit you in your present troubles unless there be an application of it? It is this application and manifestation of salvation which being saved by His life is all about. See how it works, and what suitability is in it. You are all weakness—and He is and has all strength—which He makes perfect in your weakness. You are all helplessness against sin, temptation, and a thousand foes—but help is laid upon Christ as one that is mighty. He therefore sends you help from the sanctuary and strengthens you out of Zion that these sins and enemies may not get the better of you.
The psalmist prayed, “O God, You have taught me from my youth; and to this day I declare Your wondrous works. Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come” (Psalm 71:17-18).

I’m thankful today that God never leaves or forsakes me. I’m also thankful for His faithfulness to those who pray that same request, and then demonstrate it in their lives for my generation. This gives me encouragement and assurance that He will enable me to do the same for those who come after me.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why I should not cling to Jesus

This morning’s devotional reading from Ears from Harvested Sheaves points to a verse that has been a puzzle to me. As I try to find out what it means, I discover that it is a puzzle to others as well.

The verse describes the third day after the death of Christ. Peter and John have come to the tomb and found it empty. Then Mary Magdalene goes there and sees two angels. She is weeping and they ask here why she weeps. She tells them that “they have taken away my Lord. . . .” and then she turns around to see Jesus.

At first she does not recognize Him, but thinks He is the gardener. Then He says her name and she knows this is Jesus. He says to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’

Commentaries differ widely on what was going on here. Those who consider the tenses of the Greek verbs say that when He said this, she was already holding on to Him (perhaps His feet) in a desire to either to assure herself this was really Him or to somehow express her desire that He never leave again.

Jesus could be telling her that He would be temporarily with them and although she desperately wanted Him to stay, He could not. Or He could be saying she didn’t need to continue to touch Him since He had not yet ascended to the Father and was actually there with her. He also could be saying that she must not try to restrict him because He would soon ascend to the Father.

Some think that Jesus was telling her that physical contact would not the way He would relate now to the church, and that a new relationship would begin after His Ascension when the Holy Spirit came.

One thing is clear. Mary was given the responsibility of testifying to the disciples. He told her to tell them that He was already in that process of leaving this earth and ascending to His Father. They needed to understand that His work on earth was finished and His relationship with them was no longer a physical one.

One commentary makes a note that struck me. It says that “public service ought to be preferred before private satisfaction.” Mary wanted to stay and be with Jesus, but He wanted her to go and tell the others.

My first thought about that is not that one activity is preferred over the other, but that public service cannot happen without first spending time with Jesus. However, Jesus may have sensed that Mary never wanted to leave. She wanted to be with Him from this point forward, but He had work for her and she must not stay with Him.

I can relate to this. Spending time with Jesus is sweet. Spending time with other Christians can be great too. However, there are other things that Jesus wants me to do. I’m challenged to “go into all the world” and to “make disciples” and to “visit widows and orphans” and to “be hospitable” and to do a host of other activities that take me away from spending time at His feet.

On another occasion, another woman named Mary was commended for sitting at His feet while her sister Martha anxiously bustled about in service. The implication of what Jesus told this Mary is that sitting at His feet or even clinging to Him is not wrong, but “the most important thing.” It only becomes a problem if that is all I want to do.

Sinful hearts can make selfish indulgence out of something so spiritual as spending time with Jesus. I’ve often said that I can use my to-do list as an excuse not to have devotions, but I can also use devotions as an excuse to not get at my to-do list. If I get nothing else from this verse, I do hear Jesus saying, “Get to work.”

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sweet Hope!

Hope is a wonderful attitude. Even the ordinary idea of hope, as in “I hope it will happen” drives people forward and gives them focus. The biblical version of hope is even better.

Once I had to write a paper on biblical hope. I was stuck. How can this certainty combined with anticipation be described? Then, in the parking lot of the Bible college I was attending, I got out of my vehicle to the smell of cinnamon buns. It was lovely. My mouth watered as I thought about biting into one. As I walked to the cafeteria, I could not get my mind off what I was about to taste. The buns were there; all I needed to do was take one.

Then I realized this eagerness to possess and enjoy a delicious cinnamon bun was like hope! God promises certain things to me. The reality of them is as sure as God is faithful, and even though I do not possess or experience them at this moment, hope knows that whatever God promises, it is mine, just waiting for me like a gift, like a cinnamon bun.

The apostle Peter wrote to a group of Christians who were suffering persecution to the point they had been scattered throughout the known world. They were no doubt discouraged at times, and needed reminders about the faithfulness of God. Peter wrote many things to help them remember His care for them. In 1 Peter 1:3-6, he wrote this:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
For these downtrodden people, he reminded them that their hope was eternal life. This life would be full of trials and difficulties because they lived in a sinful world. Even though some people who rejected Jesus rejected them also, yet God would shield and protect them. They could focus on Him and His promises. Remembering their inheritance was their comfort in distress.

My study Bible lists several realities about biblical hope that show how this hope different from that “I hope so” attitude that only works for a little while. In contrast to our human hope, biblical hope is based on eternal promises made by God Himself. It is a “confident optimism” that comes from faith in God, and both hope and this faith are gifts of grace. No one can conjure up faith or hope without first knowing Jesus Christ and having eternal life.

Hope is defined by Scripture, not by what I want to happen. It is a reality that was secured by Jesus Christ when He rose from the dead. Imagine what Christianity would be without the resurrection! We would have no hope. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead is key to God’s promises concerning my eternal inheritance.

Hope is also confirmed by the Holy Spirit. In my flesh I can easily become hopeless. If I look down at my own inadequacies or out toward the world and the mess it is in, my hope flies out the window. Yet the Holy Spirit continually reminds me that this life is not all there is, and no matter what is going on here, Jesus has secured eternity for me. What He does in my heart is like that smell that told me the cinnamon bun is mine!

Hope is also my defense against Satan’s attacks. He might accuse me of many things, but since eternal life is a gift from God secured at the Cross, my hope is secure. It does not depend on me. Heaven awaits and there is nothing Satan can do or say that will change that reality.

Hope is also confirmed through trials. Suppose I was detoured on my trip from my car to the cafeteria. That would not erase the fact that the buns were there waiting for me. Suppose I fell and broke my leg. They don’t go away, nor does the small of them. The trials may actually increase my sense of hope, even though the fulfilment seems thwarted.

Whatever happens in this life, my hope will be fulfilled when Jesus returns. Titus 2:11-13 says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

These verses offer a bonus in that God instructs me how to live until that time, yet lest this sounds too “sober” and this life becomes too difficult, hope also produces joy. Psalm 146:5 says, “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God.”

It was more than twenty years ago, but I can still remember that first whiff of those cinnamon buns and the smile it put on my face. If the smell of a mere bit of sugar and spice can make me happy, so much more does whiff of eternity.

My inheritance is secure. It is a gift from my God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. He gives me great anticipation and joy while I eagerly wait and hope for the fulfilment of all that He has promised!

Friday, June 20, 2008

I need reminding . . .

Yesterday was emotionally difficult. As the Lord has instructed me, I’m clearing out most of the art supplies in my studio. I’ve not used them for a long time and after our trip to Canmore, realized that this part of my life is over.

However, I struggle with it because it feels like I’m giving myself away. I know that artists identify themselves with their work, but I never realized that we also identify ourselves with all of our equipment. The books were not the worst; I can be creative without art books. The paper and canvases were fairly easy to load into a giveaway box; I can be creative without them too. I have a stash of inspirational material, mostly photos and pictures, and kept some of them to go through later. I cannot be creative without inspiration.

But the paints . . . they were a surprise. They are in that giveaway box, but I feel like my heart is in there with them. The box sits just outside my studio door and I feel like the child screaming as she clings to her mother’s leg.

This morning I asked God to reaffirm that this is really what He wants me to do and He sent me to Psalm 103. As I read it, I wondered how this could be the answer to my question, but it is.

Verses 2-5 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

My first thought was last year’s ladies Bible class in which we studied the difference Christ makes in our lives. These are incredible and obvious things so the question might be asked: Why do you have to study this topic? The answer is found in verse two. Even though this list of benefits is incomplete, the reason we need to study them is because we forget!

How often have I sinned, berated myself, felt cut off from God, worried that He would punish me for it, and forgot that I am already forgiven! Christ secured my pardon on the cross over two-thousand years ago.

How often have I had some ache or pain or germ take after me and forgot to consider all that the Bible says about the purpose of sickness? It is far too easy to get in a panic and rush off to the doctor in great anxiety. God is the healer, and if I am to be healed (some sickness is unto death), He will heal me, but I forget.

Disasters happen too, and sometimes I fear for my life or the lives of my family when I should be trusting God and looking for His help and purpose in the disaster. I forget that He can use anything, even destruction, in a redemptive way.

The psalmist affirms that God puts lovingkindness and tender mercy on me like a crown. These are regal terms. I reign in life and in death because of God’s grace. Do I always remember that? No. I need to read it over and over.

The psalmist also affirms that God satisfies my mouth with good things so my youth is renewed like an eagle. Does he mean only food? Psalm 92:14 says that “The righteous. . . . shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing.” Isaiah 40:31 says, “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

God wants me to be like an eagle. Not only do they live a long time, but one of the reasons for their longevity might be that they make use of updrafts to reach great heights. For me, aside from normal aging, the energy of the Lord is a promise to those who trust Him. I’ve seen it in others and know it myself. When people ask how I get so much done, I know it is because God is lifting me. Why flap when I can soar?

After reading this, I realize that no matter what I do with that pile of paint and all the related art materials, my life and well-being depend on my Maker, not on me making pictures. Whether I paint or not, or do anything else or not, the blessings of life are from the Lord, not from the doing of things. Not only that, my identity is not in tubes of paint or even years of applying that paint to a surface. My identity is in Jesus Christ.

Sorry, Lord. I forgot.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

My Forever Friend

The word friend has many definitions. For me, it is someone who is quick to understand, slow to condemn, not afraid to tell me when I am wrong and there when I need some help.

My husband was my friend last night. I was trying to sort out my art supplies for a giveaway and found this emotionally challenging. He could have tried to ‘fix it,’ or ignored me, or missed the fact of my distress, but as a true friend, he offered comfort and encouragement — just what I needed.

James 2:23 says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. And he was called the friend of God.” In the Bible, friendship can also mean believing in someone, in this case, trusting God makes the one who trusts a friend of God.

When someone makes friends, they usually pick others with common interests. They are often in the same age bracket, live nearby, do similar things or have something else in common. Rarely do total opposites become friends, and if they do, someone writes a book or makes a movie about their relationship!

My devotional reading today takes me to Psalm 109:31, another definition of what it means to be a friend. It says, “For He stands at the right hand of the needy one, to save his life from those who condemn him.

The difference in this description is that God is showing Himself a friend to those who are not like Him at all. What do we have in common with God! Yet He stands by those and befriends those who are needy and condemned, even though He is never needy nor can His life ever be threatened by those who condemn Him.

When I think about friendship in God’s terms, then I should be able to be a friend to people who are not like me and with whom I have nothing in common. In theory that might work, but in practice I doubt it. For most people, friendship goes both ways. I could be kind and act friendly, but even if I did all the right things, if the other person didn’t want to be my friend, then it would be a one-way relationship. I could call them my friend, but they may never call me theirs.

Today’s reading connects perfect friendship to Jesus. As I read it, I realized that only those who call Him their Friend would see and experience Him that way. To me, He is my dearest and closest friend. To those who do not believe in Him or know Him, He is nothing, no matter how good He is or what He has done for them.

In John 15:13-15, Jesus reminds me of both who He is to me and who I am to Him. (I personalized this quote.) “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friend if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friend.

I will also slightly paraphrase what the author of today’s reading says about Jesus being my best friend: “Unbelief, the sinfulness of my flesh, and the fearful suggestions of my enemy come forward to condemn me, but Christ Jesus is my Mediator who stands at the right hand of the needy and for me produces His own glorious righteousness. Am I pressed down with unbelief? He communicates faith to my heart. Is my mind sinking into despair? He breathes into it hope. Is my soul bowed down with guilt and at a distance from God where I fear I cannot approach Him because of my heavy temptations? Jesus puts His own arm under my dejected soul and lifts up my bowed head. As He does, my soul looks upward and instead of wrath sees the countenance of the Father who is beaming mercy and love toward me."

Jesus does this because He is my Friend, the One who is standing at the right hand of the needy, a description that fits me perfectly.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

No more sorrow

Her emotions are like that of a woman caught in PMS at its worst. She is joyful one day and in deep sorrow the next. As in PMS, when she is down, she cannot remember ever being happy. When reminded of it, she says she was only pretending. Medical doctors have no explanation. Psychologists cannot seem to help her. Whatever else she needs this young woman needs Jesus.

I have been praying for her for a long time. Any spiritual help has been shunned. She hates being emotional bankrupt, but does not want to trust in God whose existence makes no sense to her.

Yesterday I asked the Lord what He wants me to do. Hugs and concern only go so far. Is there anything I can say or do? His still, small voice said that I must “stand still” and while that response emphasizes my helplessness, it also reveals that He has a plan for her.

Today I asked the Lord what will happen in her life. Her search for a way out of her sorrow is not working and this emotional roller coaster has a huge impact on everything she tried to do. My reading for today is God’s answer to my question. Again, He offers a surprise and incredible hope, this time from Jeremiah 31:12-13. It says:
They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord—the grain, the new wine and the oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more. Then maidens will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.
What can I say after that? God is able to bring anyone out of the clutches of physical and spiritual bondage. He is able to turn mourning into gladness, sorrow into comfort and joy. Nothing is too difficult for God.

The hardest part for me is watching the struggle and waiting for Him to change her life. However, He has told me that while I should be here for her, I must leave her problems in His hands. He knows what to do.

This is a test for me too, but God knows that the faith He has given me can pass this test. Therefore, as I wait for Him to teach her to trust Him, I am to do the same—and trust Him myself.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

God’s promise of rest

Poetry often has layers of meaning. The poem might be about ordinary things, yet the imagery points to something deeper, a mood or a concept. I’m not much of a poet, but I see the same thing happening in Scripture.

For instance, Hebrews 4 is about God’s promise of rest. What kind of rest is He talking about? Is it physical? Is it a rest from trying to work for one’s salvation? Is it the rest I feel when I am trusting God instead of worrying about life’s problems? Or is it that final rest from all my labors when I go to heaven? In its context, this rest could mean all of those answers. It says:
Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’ ” although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.”
Physical rest is promised in places like Psalm 23. “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.” Jesus knows our need for rest as He also experienced physical exhaustion. (Anyone who could sleep in a boat during a raging storm, Matthew 8:23-27, had to be tired!) Several Scripture passages contain promises that God will grant sleep to His beloved for He knows we need it.

This rest in Hebrews 4 is also a rest from trying to earn salvation. Verse 2 brings out the connection by saying that those who enter this rest must do so by faith. An intense desire to please God by doing what we think will please Him can put us into the tyranny of never being certain we have done enough. Jesus took care of that on the Cross. We don’t earn God’s favor because no matter how much we do, we fall short. Jesus offers forgiveness and new life as a gift. We obtain it by faith and by accepting His gift, not by working for it.

This rest in Hebrews 4 can also mean the rest of trusting God instead of worrying. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and mind through Christ Jesus.

When I take my anxious thoughts and concerns to Him and am thankful because I know that He hears and answers prayer, He gives me a peace that goes beyond logic. This peace is the most restful frame of mind that I’ve ever experienced.

Of course the final rest is heaven. One day my work here will be over. Yes, I have stopped working for my salvation, but there is still the issue of working out my salvation as I cooperate with God who is transforming my life. There is still the work of ordinary chores like making beds, washing floors, and scrubbing toilets. There is still the work of writing and preparing lesson materials to teach them. There is the work of relationship building, and the work of helping those in need. When God calls me home, I will enter into a rest from all these things, a rest that will last for eternity.

Before he became a Christian, my husband used to say that heaven would be boring, that there would be nothing to do. As we get older (and more tired!) the prospect of eternal rest sounds less like boredom and more like a wonderful reward. However, other than our human ideas and hopes about eternity, God says we cannot fully imagine what heaven will be like—and He does not tell us. All we know is that we will be with Him—and that will be enough.

I am tired today, still recuperating from playing nine holes of golf on Sunday afternoon using a pull cart. The physical rest of nightly sleep is a blessing from God. So is that rest from all anxiety about where I stand with Him. I am secure in Christ and not anxious about sin, guilt, or where I will go when I die. Some days I get anxious about things around me, but am glad that I can take those to the Lord and be at peace. What I am anticipating is that final rest, where at last I can cease from all my labors and just enjoy being with Jesus.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Why Trials?

Last week my color printer was acting up. After changing the cartridges and updating the software, I put it through a series of tests to make sure it would perform the way it was supposed to and print perfect copies.

This morning I think about other things we test and want perfection from. Every new car we’ve ever bought was first taken for a test drive. We didn’t want any surprises after we brought it home. We test mattresses and sofas by sitting or stretching out on them. I’ve bought a few things without testing them and been disappointed in their performance.

I’m not surprised that God tests me. Even though I don’t like it, it makes sense that He wants to make sure I’m going to perform the way He expects. He has blessed me in so many ways and from those blessings, I should respond by honoring Him. The Bible describes it in 1 Peter 1:3-7.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. . . .
In Christ I have the assurance of eternal life and the promise of God to keep me in His care until that day that I leave this earth to spend forever with Him. Yet while I am here and as God sees necessary, life is somewhat less than heaven on earth! Life is one big test that should prove my faith will result in praise and honor when Jesus Christ shows up.

What would be the alternative? I suppose I could be totally unprepared for the return of Christ, not wanting that to happen because He will interfere with my plans. I suppose if God didn’t test me, I could settle into a complacency in His perfect care for me and the delights of providential blessing. If life were like heaven, why would I even think of going there? If I had no trials at all, my faith would be in a God who pampered me, indulged me, paid heed to my fleshy I-wants. God is not like that!

My devotional reading for today gives a good description of what God is doing when He brings trials into my life. It says that “manifold trials and temptations bring us out of those things which are opposed to the grace of God, and conform us to the image of His dear Son.”

He is right. I need trials and temptations “to cure” me of my worldly spirit, carnality and carelessness, light, vague or empty profession, and any form of godliness that is just that—only a form and not the real thing. Trials tend to erase all pride and self-righteousness. Only trials can keep me from “resting short of divine teachings and heavenly blessings.” Trials keep me seeking the face of God.

Otherwise I settle for being at ease and missing out on the secrets of a powerful relationship with the One who can carry me through the worst that life could deal me. Otherwise I would settle for a false, or deceptive, or hypocritical, or presumptuous faith, maybe even unsound in doctrine and without substance. Trials teach me to be “simple and sincere, honest and upright, tender and teachable” and to know by experience what a broken and contrite spirit is all about.

Oh, I will yelp and moan and feel sorry for myself, but deep in my heart, I know the value of trials. James writes that we should rejoice when they come because God is using them, not only to test my faith, but build perfection in me.

Actually, there is something almost humorous here. I’ve occasionally been criticized for being a perfectionist, as if trying to do something to the best of my ability is some sort of negative goal. But perfection is God’s goal! I might resist the trials that God uses as tools in the process, even pick the wrong things to make perfect, yet perfection is His idea and His promise. He wants me to be like Jesus, who is perfect. It seems like a good idea to make that my goal too.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Two Dogs Fighting


Chinese Christian Watchman Nee once wrote, “Being a Christian is like having two dogs fighting inside you.” When asked which one wins, he replied, “The one I feed the most.”

The battle is between the flesh and the Spirit. Galatians 5:16-17 says, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

The flesh wants to veg out in front of the television; the Spirit wants me to pray, preferable while I go for a long walk. The flesh wants to munch all day; the Spirit wants me to “discipline my body and bring it into subjection” (1 Corinthians 9:27). The flesh wants to linger over lunch; the Spirit wants me to get at my responsibilities.

Sometimes the Spirit wants me to sit and rest, or have lunch and take my time. The point is that there is always a conflict. Like a contrary child, whatever God wants, the flesh protests. Every day is a war of choices. At least by this I know that I am spiritually alive!

Those spiritual disciplines that I’ve written about: Bible study, prayer, worship, fellowship, and so on are the means whereby I feed the right “dog.” By diligently doing these things, obedience to the Spirit sometimes is easier, but mostly I am better able to recognize which is which. Without the Scriptures, I could confuse my “I-wants” with those “God-wants” that often seem foolish, or at least contrary to reason.

Prayer fuels my spiritual life. By praying, which is a two-way communication, I learn to discern when God is speaking and when I am merely listening to my sinful self. It also puts my focus on God and His power instead of me and my concerns.

Worship has a similar effect. It is nearly impossible to be fleshy while earnestly praising God. When I am in awe of Him, I cannot think about my I-wants. Instead I want what He wants and His will becomes clearer and makes more sense.

Today, my devotional guide repeats yesterday’s verses from Philippians 2:12-13. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

The author writes of God’s power to change both our mind and our actions. He says, “When God has worked in a man to will . . . then He has made him willing to flee from the wrath to come; willing to be saved by the atoning blood and justifying righteousness of Jesus; willing to be saved by sovereign grace as a sinner undone without hope, and glad to be saved in whatever way God is pleased to save him; willing to pass through the fire, to undergo affliction, and to walk in the strait and narrow path, willing to take up the cross and follow Jesus, willing to bear all the troubles which may come upon him, and all the slanders which may be heaped upon his name; when God has made him willing to be nothing, and to have nothing” then God is also able to work in that person to do, to obey His commands from the heart.

He describes the doing part as “faith to believe, hope whereby he anchors in the finished work of Christ, and love whereby he cleaves to him with purpose of heart” and goes on to say that all this will be with “with fear and trembling, not rushing heedlessly on in daring presumption, not buoyed up by the good opinion of others, not taking up his religion from ministers and books; but by a real genuine work of the Holy Ghost in the conscience.”

This is salvation. It is that amazing power of God to work in my sinful heart so that despite the subtle lies and temptations of the enemy, and the pull and influence of the world, and the demands of my sinful flesh, I can say Yes to Him, even when wanting what He wants and doing what He wants makes very little sense. In the experience of Him changing my will so that I choose the Spirit over the flesh, I am working out, with fear and trembling, what God has worked in.

Then, as my reading today says, I have “got at salvation; at salvation from wrath to come, from the power of sin, from an empty profession.” I am saved “from the flesh, from the delusions of Satan, from the blindness and ignorance” of my own heart. And this is God’s salvation, because God has worked in me to will and to do of His good pleasure—both of which have the power to starve that one “dog” and let the other one win the battle.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Clay in the Potter’s Hands


Communication is difficult. I’m always concerned that I use the right words, words that most accurately say what I want to say. Was it Mark Twain that pointed this out with saying there is a vast difference between lightning and a lightning bug?

Today’s devotional is about a small word in Philippians 2:12-13, a little word that is very important. Had the writer, Paul, used a different word, he would have changed the means by which a person is saved from the penalty of sin.

These verses say, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

The word is “out.” Had Paul written “for” I would have given up a long time ago. I know that God’s salvation is a gift, a mercy, and by grace He saved me through faith. If I had to work for it, by now I would have stopped for I’d have realized the impossibility of doing such a thing.

Verse 13 explains that it is God who does the work, and explains why. However, the reading today from Ears from Harvested Sheaves, begins with this startling statement: “None but God’s people under the teachings of the Spirit know what it is to ‘work out their own salvation.’”

He is right. I’ve tried to explain this to others. They do not understand unless they already have experienced God’s saving grace. This verse is about our part, which without God is useless, and our need to obey Him as He puts in us everything that we need to be what He wants us to be.

The reading goes on to say that all who work out their own salvation will work it out “with fear and trembling.” It is in salvation that God teaches me who I am. I know that my heart is deceitful. I know the “snares, temptations, and corruptions” that continually surround me. I knew by grace what a “ruined wretch” I am and know that apart from grace, I would be totally condemned. That alone causes me to fear and tremble.

I also, by grace, know that I need to keep my heart open and willing before God. Grace shows me that even though salvation puts me in a “wide place,” the way of salvation is “narrow and few there are that find it.

God brings me and each of His children to the place of realizing how rare and sacred it is to be saved. He also shows me that He Himself is the author and finisher of my salvation and that I cannot be any more spiritual than God is pleased to make me. I cannot produce a single godly thought in my own soul. I cannot say godly words nor do godly deeds apart from His input. No wonder Paul says that anything that I do toward cooperating with God will always be “with fear and trembling.

The fear involves a concern of me deceiving my own self. I know my heart, and I thank Jesus Christ for the assurance that He changes my heart, and that He leads me and teaches me and guides me into all truth. I tremble, both with that fear and with the knowledge and awe of God’s presence and care for me.

This is no light thing to be His child and to work out what He is doing in my life. Even as I do, I know that He does all the work and I am merely a clay pot in His hands.

Friday, June 13, 2008

God’s surprising comfort

Yesterday I talked with a friend who, like me, prays daily for her children who are not walking with the Lord. She told me how diligently she taught them of Jesus, yet to no avail.

This morning I thought about God, the perfect Father who provided all their needs and put Adam and Eve in perfect surroundings. If anyone had done it all right, God did, yet these two ‘children’ rebelled against Him and walked away from all He gave them.

My friend was an encouragement to me, yet my heart still feels heavy as I plead with God to work in the hearts of those I love. I cannot see that He is doing anything, yet I know He can and I know that, as difficult as it is, I’m not supposed to stop praying.

All week I’d been asking God to give me opportunity to say something to one family member, and to give me the right words. The opportunity came yesterday, but the conversation didn’t seem too positive. I wanted to share the goodness of God but the words that came out were not what I expected. Instead of hope and an urging to turn to Him, I drew a line in the sand and gave a challenge. If you will not trust the One who created you, and can’t trust the other people He created, then all you have left is you. So quit feeling sorry for yourself and bite the bullet. Something like that.

This morning with a heavy heart I was praying again for my family before I opened my Bible. My devotional reading sent me to Jeremiah 31 and God stopped me at verses 15-18.
Thus says the Lord: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”
Thus says the Lord: “Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope in your future, says the Lord, that your children shall come back to their own border. I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself: ‘You have chastised me, and I was chastised, like an untrained bull; restore me, and I will return, for You are the Lord my God.’”
The context is the rebellion of Israel against God and these verse are about the distress of the mothers who lost their children when Babylon invaded the land and took them captive. God tells them that He hears their cries and to refrain from weeping, for He will bring them back. His people are being chastened, but God will restore them.

These verses are not mothers in this century who see their children captive to sin and in the clutches of our spiritual enemy. However, they are about a God who knows the sorrow of such mothers. He hears our cries and knows that nothing will comfort us but a full restoration of our families to the kingdom of God.

It is also about a God who knows what to do and has the power to do it. He might be chastening us for our failures as mothers, or our failure to trust Him, or our failure to be patient with Him, or what He is doing might not have anything to do with our failures — remember, He is a perfect parent yet Adam and Eve still went over to the other side.

It is also about surprise and comfort. Many times I’ve been in distress about family, more so than usual, and God takes me to verses like this, verses that promise what He will do with the children of those who believe in Him.

There is hope, despite what my eyes see and my ears hear. God is able to turn even the most rebellious child from their sin into the glorious liberty of being His children and members of His family. He may be leading them in darkness now, but He is fully able to bring them into light.

I will keep praying.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Spiritual disciplines

The saying goes that money cannot buy happiness. Some retort that it may not, but it can put you in places that are closer to it. I agree with the first thought and not the second; happiness isn’t generated by places or stuff outside of me.

A parallel thought is the practice of spiritual disciplines. These are activities like prayer, Bible study, celebration, worship, etc. Spiritual disciplines do not earn God’s grace, because grace is not something generated by anything that I do, but practicing spiritual disciplines puts me in places where I am more apt to find God’s blessing.

Grace is something like the view outside my window. I cannot see it unless I go there. The memory of it doesn’t do it. Grace is also like a gift. I cannot enjoy it unless I unwrap it.

I’ve been feeling discouraged and depressed for a few weeks. This morning I read 1 Timothy 6:11-12 and know that even though Paul wrote this to a man, the words also apply to Christian women, me included.

It says, “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

The “these things” Timothy is supposed to flee have to do with the love of money and greed, yet fleeing them and any other selfish pursuits is not enough. The person of God is to fill the void with good things. They will not fall into the vacancy left by sin all by themselves, but must be pursued and fought for, even though they are gifts from God that I cannot earn or deserve.

How does that work? If God gives me the righteousness of Christ, godliness, and the fruit of the Spirit which includes faith, love patience and gentleness, why to I have to pursue it? If God gives me eternal life, why do I have to lay hold of it?

More metaphors. Grace is like marriage; if we take it for granted, it slides into routine, then loses its vitality. Grace is like a garden; unless it is tended, weeds soon take over. Grace is like a wonderful meal; I need to sit down at it and participate. Merely looking at it doesn’t do it.

The second law of thermodynamics applies to almost everything. While eternal life never goes away, and grace is always there for me, life shows me that my experience and enjoyment of any of God’s gifts will deteriorate unless I pursue and fight for them.

This helps me understand the difference between Christians who age gracefully and those who become sour. The former are fighters while the latter give in to the stress and fatigue of the battle. I don’t want to do that, but the temptation is often there.

So also are the results. If I give up on the pursuit even just a little, the vitality of my union with Jesus Christ becomes routine and stale. I find myself pulling weeds instead of picking flowers. Without actively pursuing spiritual disciplines, I find myself longing for the delights that I know that God provides for those who seek His face.

My verse for this year is Psalm 27:8, “When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You, ‘Your face, LORD, I will seek.’” Now I understand why this verse is so important for me this year, and for the rest of my days.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A super-sized challenge . . .


God uses metaphors to describe spiritual realities that are not visible. A metaphor is a figure of speech that says something is something else. For instance, the church is the body of Christ of which He is the head. This gives readers a picture of how the people of God are an extension of the Son and under His leadership.

Besides the human body as metaphor, God uses architectural terms to describe how He builds the church. In this case, He wants readers to have a picture of the fact that He lives inside His people. Ephesians 2:19-22 is a good example:
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
In the last part of this passage, the word “dwelling” connotes a permanent home. That is, God the Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence in His sanctuary on earth, the church. Since this is true, Scripture continual exhorts us to act like it. God lives in us and His presence makes a difference in everything that we do.

While most of the time the word “you” is plural, it is also true that this metaphor applies to individual believers. We put our faith in Christ on our own, not in groups. Therefore, each believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit. That means that by His Spirit God lives in me.

This makes a difference in how I live, or it certainly ought to. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

I’m to be careful not to defile my body; it is a place where the Holy Spirit lives. I’m to be careful not to defile my eyes by greedily looking after things, nor my ears by listening to worldly and carnal conversation, nor my lips by speaking guile, or indulging in silly or foolish speech, nor my hands by using them for anything that is evil, nor my feet by going places and doing things that are vain and useless.

A few weeks ago I decided that this also means that I need to watch what I stuff into the mouth of this temple. Does my eating honor and glorify the One who lives in me? Remembering who lives in me is easy when it comes to turning off an X-rated television show, or saying no to activities that belong to darkness and folly, but remembering Him when I open the refrigerator door or have a snack attack is much more difficult.

Sadly, many Christians seem to think their eating habits have nothing to do with serving God, but 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 has this to say: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

Paul knew that if he let his body run his life, he was in danger of ruining his ministry. This issue can include many things, but certainly covers overeating. It is mostly about who is in control. When it is me, I indulge; when it is God, He goes for moderation. The One who lives in me wants me to be healthy, physically and spiritually. My part is to discipline my body so that He rules me totally, body, soul and spirit.

Today’s world has most restaurants overfilling each plate and super-sizing each order. Eating at home means doing the opposite. While it sounds easy, for me self-discipline and moderation are super-sized challenges!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The hardest lessons . . .

Last night something woke me. It was silence. We have an air filter in our bedroom that battles allergens with ultraviolet light. It makes a hum and it wasn’t humming. When I couldn’t turn it back on, I thought it had burned out. This morning, after fixing several flashing clocks, I realized that the power had been off, a rare occurrence in our part of the city.

This morning I started thinking about all the things I depend on. My car to get me places, the lights to turn on at the flick of a switch, clean water from the taps, even the sunshine and the seasons. After reading the newspaper, I’m reminded that not everyone in the world can depend on even these simple things. For some, the stability of the ground under their feet is iffy, air quality is dangerous, and severe weather is killing them.

Psalm 62:5 talks about what I ought to depend on. It says, “My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him.

Is it? And if I really think that it is, is my soul silent? Or am I hoping that this person will come through for me, and that person will meet my needs? And if I am waiting on God, how much noise do I make about the fact that what I hope for is not happening yet? Do I grumble when I should be thanking God that He hears and answers prayer? I may not see answers to my prayers, but if my expectation is in Him, why be anxious and complain? Isn’t God dependable?

Today’s devotional reading contrasts my needy condition and the dependability of God who meets all my needs. It says that God will bring me into a great sense of my own poverty, inability and destitution before He communicates the greatest of His blessings. The author says that my soul cannot be truly satisfied until I experience and enjoy the union of my helplessness and His almighty strength. It is in feeling the greatest need that I will experience the greatest blessing.

This is why the Apostle Paul could say he took pleasure in being needy. He had learned this lesson that, for me, seems so hard to learn. In his case, he’d experienced more “highs” with God than any believer, yet he also had serious troubles. In 2 Corinthians 17:7-10, he says:
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
The lesson is spelled out by Psalm 62:5 also. Both Paul and the psalmist could say that they waited for God alone because their “expectation is from Him.

I’m not sure a great blessing awaits me, but I do know a sense of inability and weakness that seems to increase. I’ve not yet learned to take pleasure in it, which is what God wants me to do, nor have I learned to be silent while I’m waiting for this hard lesson to take hold.

Monday, June 9, 2008

In a Fog


For the past few days I’ve been reading about Job, a man who loudly defended himself saying that the terrible calamities in his life were not happening because God was punishing him for some sin that he had not acknowledged.

At the end of the book, God talks to Job about his attempts to try and figure out what God was doing and about his declarations concerning himself. Essentially He says to this man, “Who do you think you are? You really know nothing.”

Job responded with, “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. . . . Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:2-3).

Job flopped around in unknown territory. He didn’t know what God was doing with his life and it seems that God never revealed it to him. However, God does make it known to us now, partly so we might learn and profit. For one thing, this man’s life shows what God can do with me and what He can allow Satan to do with me as well.

As I’ve read this, I’ve had this vague sense of not being right with God, but without any idea what I’d done that might need confessing. In my understanding, that vagueness is often Satan trying to produce false guilt and prevent me from moving on with the Lord. I’ve asked God to show me what is going on, but am not getting anything from Him.

Today I asked again and the verses He directed me to are these from 1 John 1:8-10. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

Suddenly I feel a bit like Job. It is possible that God is not pointing at my conscience with anything specific, but at the same time I cannot declare my innocence. No person is without sin. It might not be that I’ve done something that gives me a sense of guilt, but I cannot say that my life is clean and clear. Can anyone?

Even with an effort to keep short accounts with God, I’m aware of that shortfall; I am not like Jesus Christ. Therefore, my life must have selfish and sinful elements in it. Like Job, if I protest my innocence, I really don’t know what I’m talking about.

1 John 1:9 has always been a verse that I consider most important. What can I do about my sin? I cannot stop it, fix it, make it right or get rid of it. Only God can forgive and cleanse it, and my part is to simply agree with Him that sin is in my life. I am to confess that I’ve sinned, am a sinner, and sometimes even that I love my sin and do not hate it as He hates it.

My devotional reading offers a perspective I’d not thought about. It says that confessing sin is a mark of divine light in my life. If I can confess any sin, it shows the work of grace in my heart. That is, if I possess his life, if I have received grace, if I am a child of God, then Jesus has obeyed for me. He suffered for me, died for me and has put away my sin.

The author goes on to say that because I am a child of God and Jesus has done all things for me, God is now “faithful” to this promise. He will receive a confessing sinner; He is “just” to His own character and in justice and mercy, faithfulness and compassion, He will pardon me and blot out every iniquity and every transgression—as I confess my sin, that is, as I agree with His assessment of me and say so to Him.

Sometimes this vague sense of sin means I need to go to Him with the general stuff I am aware of and He then brings to mind the specifics. Sometimes it means that I need to review the facts of the gospel, that Jesus died for me and I am forgiven because of His sacrifice, and then rejoice in the power of God to pardon and save. Sometimes it means that Satan is after me, trying to keep me from praying (which guilt often does) and therefore I need to pray all the more.

One thing I do know—God hears and answers. If I’m willing to come to Him, like Job who never made the mistake of giving up on God, He will speak and tell me exactly what He wants me to hear. I may never find out what is causing this sense of separation, but because of His promise never to leave or forsake me, I know that the separation part is only an illusion. Guilty or not, I’m still in His presence and eventually His light will drive away my fog.