Saturday, August 30, 2008

Vacation

We fly in about three hours. Where we are going has wireless, but just in case it does not work, I will be back and post my daily entries for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday on September 3.

With God — 24/7

God has a sense of humor. This morning we are jumping on a plane for a bit of a lark and I feel as if we are escaping the ordinary. All busyness goes on hold, no more heavy thinking, and just a small sense of putting our hands in the forbidden cookie jar. Then I open my devotional reading for today and am taken to 1 Peter 1:13-16. It says:
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
I almost laughed, then stopped myself. The commands of God are not to be taken lightly. We prayed about this little trip we are taking, and God has His purposes in permitting it. We may not know what lies in store, but we cannot put our accountability to Him on hold. Nor can we think that our enemy will pull back and let us take a vacation without throwing something at us to entice us away from the Lord.

For one thing, he is already pushing that sense of the forbidden cookie jar, which I now see as a temptation to drop back into my old way of thinking. I used to make short holidays like this all about satisfying me, but this one is not to be like that.

Instead, I must prepare my mind to do what God wants every day, even while on a holiday. I am to be self-controlled, not running around doing my own thing. I am also to remember the grace of God that has brought me this far in my life. I need to listen to the Lord no matter what I am doing. I can escape the daily pressures of home and work on a short retreat, but life itself is short. One day I will meet Jesus and I don’t want to have egg on my face when that happens.

Holiness means “set apart” and being holy signifies that I belong to God. Simply put, this passage says that I am to act like it, not just in church, not just in my daily routine, but also in this venture. Instead of obliviously doing my own thing without concern for Him, this is one more opportunity to seek the face of God and find out what He is up to in a new setting and in a different place than I have been before.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Just say the Word, Lord

For sixteen years before Christ came into my life, I read the Bible almost every day. My mother sat down each morning with her Bible, and at thirteen, I started this habit also. I couldn’t understand what it said, but I thought that this is what I was supposed to do.

Many times I am thankful to my mother for her example. After I became a Christian, daily devotions were easy for me. At times I’ve reduced this to a ritual in the same way they were for so many years, but not often. As I hear God speak to my heart and experience His work in my life, I’m eager to spend time with Him every morning.

In fact, I cannot go forward until I hear from God each day. His Word is powerful and as my father used to say, “heals whatever ails you.” Psalm 107:17-21 describes this process:
Fools, because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, were afflicted. Their soul abhorred all manner of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions. Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!
Typically a person waits until they are at the end of their rope to call out to God, and that is what the psalmist describes. How much better to call on Him every day. When He sends His Word, it not only heals whatever ails my spirit, but strengthens my heart and gives me courage to face whatever the day may bring. It also gives me energy, because as I talk back to Him, I feel all my weights and concerns lifted. I know He is in charge and He will take care of everything.

Today’s devotional reading in Ears from Harvested Sheaves is so good that I’m just going to read it again and rejoice that first thing each morning all I need to do, and all I want to do, is call on the Lord. The reading (slightly edited) says:
What an effect a word from God can produce! Be it in reading; in hearing; on the knees; or in secret meditation; when a word drops from the Lord’s mouth with any divine power into the soul, what a change it produces! And nothing but this divine power can ever bring a poor sinner out of his miserable condition. When this comes, it does the work in a moment; it heals all the wounds which sin has made, and repairs all the breaches in the conscience that folly has produced. One word from God heals them all. The Lord does not come as it were with bandages to heal first one sore and then another. He heals now as in the days of His flesh. When he healed then, he healed fully, at once, completely.
The earthly doctor heals by degrees; he puts a bandage on one sore, and liniment on another; and heals one by one. But when the Lord heals, it is done in a moment. The balm of Gilead flows over all the wounds, heals them up, and makes them perfectly whole. It is then with the soul as with the woman with the issue of blood; “she felt in her body she was healed of that plague.”
And this is healing! Any testimony from God, really from God, does it in a moment. If you can get but one word from God into your soul to make you believe you are a child of God, and interested in His pardoning love and mercy, every wound, though there be a million, yet, every wound will be healed instantaneously. This is the only healing worth having. To be healed by evidences is like being healed by bandages. You want an evidence here, and an evidence there, as a man that has his body full of sores wants a bandage upon every wound.
But one word from God is the real panacea, the true, the only “heal-all” and Jesus (who is the Living Word) the only true infallible Physician. To be healed completely, you must look to the Lord.
Amen!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Closing a Letter

Most of the time my correspondence is email, but occasionally I write a real letter. Both open with Dear . . . or Hi, or Hello and close with sincerely, or blessings, or love . . . , depending on who is getting the letter.

This morning I read 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, and while it is not quite at the end of this letter from Paul to the church at Thessalonica, it is a benediction.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.
True to his calling and his style, Paul crams Christian teaching into every line of his letters to the churches, even when he signs them.

In this benediction, he mentions the love and grace of God that gives every believer eternal encouragement and hope. He conveys his love for them too, saying he desires comfort from God in their hearts, and that God would establish or strengthen their ability to speak and work for Him. In saying these things, he makes it clear that God is the source of all they need, both personally and in their ministry to others.

As for my endings, “sincerely” says I mean it, “blessings” is a vague desire for well-being from God and “love” tells my readers that I care. After reading this ending for Paul’s letters, I’m going to try and be more specific in the way I sign my mail. I don’t know what the recipients will think, but I think I can do better.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Making a Difference

A sandy beach was covered with starfish that had washed ashore with the tide and were stranded. A young man walked along the shore, picking starfish up at random and tossing them back into the ocean. Someone approached him and laughed. “What good is that?” he said. “There are so many of them. What you are doing makes no difference at all.”

The young man picked up another starfish and threw it out to sea, saying, “It makes a difference to this one.”

This familiar story came to mind when I read a few verses from Isaiah 26 this morning. It says:
Yes, in the way of Your judgments, O Lord, we have waited for You; the desire of our soul is for Your name and for the remembrance of You. With my soul I have desired You in the night, yes, by my spirit within me I will seek You early; for when Your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.
The author describes how the people of God long for God, and how he also desires God and seeks Him. I noticed how the pronouns shifted from “we” to “me” in two sentences. Then in the next sentence he shifts to the people of the world and they become the benefactors of his desire for God.

Sometimes I think that my life doesn’t matter very much. There is more need in the world, even in my small part of the world than I can do anything about, and the little that I am able to do often seems insignificant. Yet the prophet Isaiah knew that if the people of God held up and maintained the judgements of God, the people of the world would learn righteousness.

Sometimes I long for a revival, a giant-sized moving of God’s Spirit whereby all of humanity is affected. In the history of revivals, some large and world-changing, individual beginnings are not always known. What is known is that some of them did begin with one person praying, one person desiring renewal, one person on their face before God saying, “Lord, change me.

Isaiah gives the pattern. Wait for God, don’t move ahead of Him. Desire God and seek Him early; desire Him to the point that when I wake up at night all I think about is the will of God. Uphold truth. Uphold the gospel and the judgments of God.

No person can make a revival happen; this belongs to God alone. Yet these verses tell me what my role is, and I must do what I can with the small tasks God gives me. Even if what I do has no effect on the multitudes washed up by the tide of sin and their spiritual lostness, it will make a difference in my life, and maybe to one or two others.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Choosing to be foolish

In my self-focus, I’ve sometimes concluded a passage from the Bible was all about me because I didn’t pay attention to the context. One such passage is 1 Corinthians 3 where Paul warns his readers to be careful how we build on the foundation God has given us. In thinking that meant me, I assumed that my works could be precious or useless and I needed to be careful that I didn’t deceive myself. As some sermons, these are “good thoughts, but from the wrong text.”

1 Corinthians 3 is about building the church, not my Christian life. In Warren Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament, his explanation sums up those conclusions:
This section is one of the most misunderstood passages in all the Bible. The Roman Catholics use it to “prove” their doctrine of purgatory, that fire will purify people in the next life and make them fit for heaven; the modernists use it to “prove” salvation by good works; and many evangelical Christians interpret this section as applying to the judgment of individual Christians rather than the building of the local church. While this passage teaches that there will be a judgment of believers’ works at the judgment seat of Christ, the basic application is to workers and pastors of the local churches. The local church is compared to a building, or a temple, and the pastor is a builder whose responsibility is to keep the materials in the temple at their very best. Paul was the builder God used to lay the foundation at Corinth, and that foundation was Christ as preached in the Gospel. Along came Apollos, who built upon that foundation, and other pastors followed him. “Each one should be careful how he builds” is Paul’s warning. He then describes three kinds of Christian workers. . . .
When Wiersbe says that the local church is compared to a building, he means that the church is not a building but the people of God. Each one of us is a brick, as it were, in God’s temple, even though each one is also an individual dwelling place of God.

In the building of the local church, some leaders will use good materials and some will attempt the work with useless methods. Others may even try to destroy the church and its work of making it grow, reproduce and become that which glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ.

Verse 18 warns about the danger of using worldly methods for church development. “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

One church-building methodology is rooted in the bigger-better-more idea. This supposition assumes that a well-built local church is large to the point of monstrous. While a large church could fit into the plan of God, size isn’t a major focus.

Other methodologies include adopting modern business procedures, sticking to only one version of the Bible, focusing on a particular doctrine to single out themselves, making their pastor a media star, using goodies as bribes to encourage attendance, and a whole host of other ideas that are not based on anything in the Bible, but are contrary to biblical principles.

This is where verse 18 comes in. One commentary says that some church members have no idea that a local church cannot be managed the same way as a business. While we need to follow good business principles, the operation is not the same. The world depends on promotion, prestige, and the influence of money and important people. These things may seem to succeed, but will eventually turn to ashes under the judgment of Christ.

In contrast, the church depends on prayer, the power of the Spirit, humility, sacrifice, and service. The early church owned no property, had no influence in government and had no treasury. Their leaders were ordinary men without special education in the accepted schools. They held no attendance contests, did not bring in celebrities, and yet they turned the world upside down. All this might seem foolish in the eyes of the world, but this is the plan of God and because it works, Christians need to be willing to carry the label of fools.

Deception can be quite basic, as in me thinking these verses were only about me. However, deception can also be gross and destructive and take entire congregations off on a fruitless tangent. Those who pick up on what only seems to be wise may flourish for a little while, but as the Bible says, worldly wisdom is futile because it never accomplishes the purposes of God.

As I think about this, these verses do say something to me personally. I have a responsibility in ministry in my local church to do the very best I can, and to uphold and encourage a high standard in my pastor and in those of my congregation. When any of us seem to be lured by the wisdom of the world, all of us need to heed the words of 2 Corinthians 3:18 and become fools that we might be wise.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Proven Principles

Like the laws of nature, God created certain spiritual principles that cannot be ignored. For everyone, God says “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That means everyone sins. He also says is that the soul that sins shall die.

These spiritual principles are “doom and gloom” apart from another one that says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

The Bible clearly makes these principles absolutes. That is, when it says “everyone” it means everyone. This does not exclude those people who do not believe them and who say “These things are true for you, but they are not true for me.” When God says everyone, He means those who listen and those who refuse to listen, those who deny Him and those who believe.

For those who believe, God sets us free from the law of sin and death because Jesus died for us; our penalty is paid. However, we still live by spiritual principles. We are saved by grace, not works, perhaps the most important of them. I cannot fall back into a works-based salvation and enjoy the power of God in my life.

For that, I put another principle right up at the top of the list. It is this: When I confess my sin, God is faithful and just to forgive my sin and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. This principle changes my life and shows me the power of God.

Last week I confessed some long held habits and found that God, as always, did His part. I began to realize a definite change, and have been somewhat overwhelmed by it.

However, this week I discover another principle, one that I didn’t think applied to me. In the New Testament, Jesus said that if a demon is cast out and the spot it left remains vacant, it will return with seven more, all worse than itself. This is usually applied literally in that if someone has a demonic problem, getting rid of the demon is one thing, but having it replaced with Jesus Christ is vital.

Christians know the replacement principle. We are to “put off the old nature” and its sin and “put on the new” life Christ has given us. In other words, when God cleaned up my act, He expected me to replace it with new behavior. When I confess pride, it needs to be replaced with humility. When I confess selfishness, it needs to be replaced with concern and action for others. When I confess lack of gratitude, God wants to see thanksgiving in its place.

What I didn’t realize is that if I don’t follow through right away, I could be a sitting duck for the enemy. Satan likes it when I defy God with sins like pride and selfishness. It puts me on his side of the fence and has me doing his will instead of God’s will. The replacement principle does the opposite. When I am humble, thankful, thinking of others, I am like Jesus. Satan hates that.

In other words, my enemy will do everything he can to keep me from being like Jesus. A Jesus kind of life is powerful and defeats his purposes, so he doesn’t want it. Therefore, this week my heart and mind have become a battleground.

I’ve been hit with all sorts of things to encourage pride. I’ve also had stuff slammed at me to make me think about myself and not others, and to encourage a return of those old “I wants” instead of being thankful for what I already have. My mind feels like a war zone.

Today I came to my Bible asking God for something like a perk. Now that I think about it, even that request was dangerously close to being selfish. However, God knows my needs better than I know them. This is what He gave me to reflect on today:
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, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6-9)
The hits from my enemy are grievous, but God is allowing them to prove that my faith is genuine and precious, that I will come through with praise and honor and glory when I see Jesus. Right now, He seems to be far away, but I can still rejoice for I know that in the end, His principles will not fail.

Someday I will experience the fullness of my salvation, even as I am experiencing a small part of what God promises right now. He said He would save me from my sin and create in me a new heart that loves and obeys Him. The tests are not the pass/fail kind of tests but more God’s way of proving to me that He sets the rules and no matter what happens, His principles never fail.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Knowing Jesus

After thirty-five years of being a child of God, I sometimes struggle with trying to remember what life was like before that. I want to understand the perspective of those who have no idea about Jesus or what He has done for them. For me, He is so familiar and entirely involved in everything I do that I can’t imagine how I thought or lived those thirty years prior to when I did not know Him.

When Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at a well, He was tired and thirsty. She came to fetch water so He asked her for a drink. She was startled. Jewish men did not speak to women in public, never mind a Samaritan. Also, anyone viewed as a rabbi or religious leader would never speak with a woman who had a bad reputation, which she had.

Jesus paid no attention to these social norms and prejudices. He knew this woman had a spiritual need so He began a conversation. When she asked Him why He was talking to her because “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans,” He replied, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10).

She didn’t know what He was talking about and she had no idea who He was. Even though news was rapidly spreading about this man, the Samaritans were out of the loop. No Jew would tell them, never mind her, about Jesus and His power to change lives.

This story intrigues me because of what Jesus did about her ignorance. He didn’t tell the disciples to witness to her, and He didn’t send a missionary to her town. Instead, He talked to her Himself and in that conversation revealed His identity to her. After He did that, she left her water pot and went into the city to share what she now knew.

I relate to this woman, not because I’d had six husbands like she did, but because Jesus revealed Himself to me too. Others had told me things about Christianity, maybe that I should attend church or do this or that, but I don’t recall anyone telling me that He is God in human flesh who came to earth to die for my sins. I guess if I heard it, it didn’t sink in.

When Jesus came into my life, He revealed Himself to me and I knew instantly who He is and what He had done. That revelation had such an impact on my life that I cannot go back and accurately remember not knowing.

Instead of trying to do that so I can better understand those who don’t know Jesus, I should concentrate more on what this woman did. She told her countrymen, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (Verse 29)

They came. They saw Him for themselves, and “many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified.” Others said, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.” (Verse 42)

Christ’s role is speaking to sinners and revealing His identity to them. My role is not so much to relate to anyone’s lack of understanding about Him as it is to simply point those who don’t know in His direction. He will do the rest.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Truth or The Lie

In my experience, nothing hurts more than a lie. When I review my own history, every low and terrible time involved a lie from someone that I trusted. Each occasion didn’t necessarily separate me from the person who lied (I’m able to forgive), but they deepened my intense feelings about lies and deception.

Jesus said, “I am . . . the truth. . . .” He is truth embodied. Every lie goes against His nature, His very being. For instance, even when not related to spiritual matters, lies are a form of manipulation and Jesus is never guilty of doing that. Lies destroy relationships and shatter trust. Jesus is not like that either.

The author of lies is Satan. Jesus said of him, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44)

The first lie was offered to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Through the serpent, Satan approached her about God’s command to leave alone the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and said to her, “Has God indeed said. . . .” casting doubt that God actually gave that command.

This lie continues today. The Bible is just a book written by men. . . . Oh it might say stuff, but who knows what it means. . . . Those parts of the Bible were for that culture, not ours. . . . It is an old book. God didn’t have anything to do with it . . . and many variations of more of the same.

I’ve talked to people that, no matter what evidence was given them that the Bible is indeed the Word of God (and there is much evidence), they would not be convinced. In some cases they acted as if they were blind and deaf.

This is a dangerous place, not that they cannot see (none of us can without revelation from the Holy Spirit), but for the reasons behind why they cannot see. 2 Thessalonians 2 describes an evil person sometimes called the Antichrist who will show up in our world and deceive many. Verses 9-11 contrasts the people he will deceive with those who love the truth.
The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice the reasons given for those who will perish. They did not receive the love of the truth, indicating that it had been offered to them. They did not believe “the truth” because they loved their sin. It is because of these things, that God (yes, God!) sends them a strong delusion so they should believe “the lie” and be condemned.

Rejecting truth in favor of the pleasure of sin puts a sinner in a bad place. Sin is bad enough, but being unable to accept truth is worse. The truth (personified in Jesus Christ) says that all are sinners, all need forgiveness, and all require the powerful work of God to change their hearts and lives. The lie (originating with Satan) says, “Oh, God didn’t really say that.”

I’ve no claim to the origin of loving truth. These verses tell me that it is a gift that has to be received. My love and deep respect for what is true is not a natural part of being human, but a supernatural gift from God. The last part of this passage says God chooses and calls people to be saved, to be set apart for Him, to believe the truth. He offers an incredible gift to every person. I’m simply amazed that He offered it to me, and deeply distressed when others reject His offer.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Spiritual Dementia

Some memory lapses are funny, but most are distressing. How frustrating when the name of a familiar person drops right out of my brain. How annoying when I cannot remember if I told a story twice (especially without my granddaughter here to remind me).

On the other hand, as I go through the day, sometimes something pops into my head that I need to do (and hadn’t written it on my to-do list), usually right at the time I need to do it. Where did that come from?

The question I have about remembering and forgetting is this: In old age, will I forget everything God taught me and only remember my old sinful way of life?

The Bible has lots to say about forgetting, even when it is very important not to. Psalm 78:9-11 says that, “The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle. They did not keep the covenant of God; they refused to walk in His law, and forgot His works and His wonders that He had shown them.

They were armed and given all they needed to conquer their enemies, but they disobeyed God and forgot all that He had done for them. Will I do that? My enemies are not physical so much as the world and its pull to lure me away from loyalty to the Lord, my fleshy old nature and its desire to please itself and not my Savior, and the devil whose lies would divert me from the truth of God. Can these enemies overcome an aging soul and cause me to turn away from God?

Paul wrote to Timothy about continuing to follow the Lord. He said in 2 Timothy 2:14-15, “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ.

This and other passages say that reading the Bible is important. Its truths counter Satan’s lies, the sinful nature’s selfishness, and the world’s magnetism. The Scriptures remind me of what God has done so I will not forget. But what if I can no longer read? I have a dear friend with macular degeneration. She isn’t able to read even large print Bibles. Or what if I lost my hearing? Even the Bible on tape would be useless to me.

My husband would never allow our children to “what if” and would likely scold me for using these words. If he didn’t say, “You worry too much,” he would be thinking it. And he is right. Instead of fussing about the future, I need to focus on the amazing power of God.

For example, recently I had been feeling deep conviction over a bad attitude that I’ve had for a long time. I confessed this was sin and asked God to remove it from my life. A few days later, I felt as if I were a different person. It was odd, and I strongly sensed something was missing. It actually took me the whole day to realize that God had answered my prayer. Even more amazing is that I cannot remember what that bad attitude even felt like.

The bottom line for me this morning is that God is in control of what I remember and what I forget. He reminded me of a sinful thing. He reminded me it needed to be brought to Him. He took care of it and put it “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), and then made me forget it too.

Spiritual dementia? My ‘senior moments’ are annoying, but this kind of forgetting is an amazing blessing. Thanks to Him, I’m also reminded that He is in charge of saving me—all of me—including what I need to remember as well as what I need to forget.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Storms make strong roots

We have a tall columnar aspen in our backyard. When first planted, any strong wind threatened to blow it sideways and yank it right out of the ground. We staked it for a little while, but after a time were told to take off the supports because they would actually make the tree weaker. The tree expert said that by being buffeted in the wind, the tree roots grow stronger.

I find it no coincidence that my Creator says the same things about the difficulties of life. When I struggle against the currents or when trials threaten to blow me off my feet, God is at work to make me stronger, even if I cannot see Him.

Hezekiah, king of Judah, knew this. He was ill and after he recovered, he recorded how helpless he felt. He also wrote about God’s response to his condition. He knew that his struggles were somehow related to his sinfulness and instead of fighting the illness (or his other trials), he learned that he must first focus on the problem of sin. Then his other problems would go away too. In Isaiah 38:16, he says, “O Lord, by these things men live; and in all these things is the life of my spirit; so You will restore me and make me live.”

Hezekiah’s “these things” are about trials and deliverance. He knew that every time he sank to the depths God would raise him up again. Like any believer in God, sometimes he felt stripped naked, and other times he knew the sweet clothing of the Lord’s righteousness. Sometimes he was empty and without strength, but at other times he knew the filling of the Holy Spirit.

It is “by these things” that the person of God lives. As my devotional reading says, this is a mystery, but also a great truth. I know that as I die to the desires of the flesh, the cares of this world, the lies of Satan, and the appeals of all things temporary, the more the life of God is strengthened in me and in my awareness.

Some of this is learned through great afflictions, yet at first it seemed they would overwhelm me, even rob me of my place before God and ruin my faith. Yet (unknown to me) as trials hit me with all their force, my roots were reaching deeper into God. Not only that, the winds of adversity were sweeping away the excess and the garbage caught in my branches. Rather than affliction overwhelming me, my faith has been strengthened by the same powers that threatened to ruin it and blow it away.

Today’s reading says, “True faith is no more destroyed by sharp trials, than the oak is destroyed by . . . a storm blowing down some of its rotten branches.” The writer adds that the more the winds blow upon the oak, the firmer its roots are in the soil. In the same way, the “storms and tempests that blow upon the soul, only cause it to take a firmer hold of the truth, and to strike its fibers more deeply into the Person, love, work, and blood of Jesus.”

It is by trial and tests that, “men (and women) live” for through them, the life of God is maintained and kept up in my heart, the Holy Ghost secretly strengthening it by the very things that seemed to threaten it with destruction.

I’m feeling blown about, not by externals but by the Holy Spirit as He works to rid my life of my bad habits. I know this is important (for by this, I live), but this storm isn’t much fun. Yet I also know that it is from God, so I am encouraged by Hezekiah’s words that He will “restore me and make me live.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Offering our best

When God gave Moses directions for building the tabernacle in the wilderness, He specified the very best materials. For instance, the ark of the testimony was to be made from acacia wood overlaid with pure gold. The value of gold we know, but acacia wood is less familiar. Apparently it was a close-grained hardwood that insects would not touch, making it perfect for furniture and other articles that would withstand time and the elements in that arid land.

Of this ark with its covering called the mercy seat, God said to Moses in Exodus 25:22, “And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.

All through the Bible, God stresses the importance of offering the very best. In the Old Testament sacrificial system, the lamb must be without blemish. This lamb represented the ultimate sacrifice that was to come, the sinless Lord Jesus Christ. The ark and its covering also point to the atonement for sin provided by the Son of God, the place and the way that we can meet with God. Hebrews 4 says Jesus opened the way and verse 16 says we can “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Our salvation was obtained through the blood of an innocent and spotless Lamb who had no sin of His own requiring atonement. This is God’s reason for stressing the use of the very best, the sacrifice of the very best. It points to Jesus, and if Jesus was not the very best, there would be no value in His sacrifice.

What about the sacrifices that I offer God, not for salvation but in service to my Savior? Do they pass the test? Romans 12:1 says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

God wants me to first present myself to Him. This is reasonable; He gave Himself for me that I might live. In this verse He specifies that my offering be a living sacrifice. Most people would assume this about being an ordinary alive person, but the rest of the New Testament says that my old nature is dead and separated from God. While it still acts as if it is alive at times, that is false. Romans 6 and other passages say that my sinful nature died with Christ and should no longer rule over me. What God wants offered to Him is that new life that He gave me in Christ, actually, the very life of Christ lived out in my body. This is the only thing in my life that is “holy, acceptable to God” and is the very best that I can offer Him.

How is this practical? I’ve heard from missionaries how ‘boxes from home’ arrive filled with donated items that are often castoffs and leftovers, almost entirely useless for their needs. Why offer junk? It is disrespectful to those who give their lives to serve the Lord in faraway places, but it is also disrespectful to God. He gave His best, why keep our best for ourselves?

I’ve been in churches where donations for the poor are new items, but also in churches where donations are old, used, and basically junk that is no longer wanted. These offerings are easy to give and cost the donating person almost nothing. Instead of being like Jesus, they miss the opportunity of showing someone God’s love and care for them.

Mercy, which is giving that which is not deserved, is missed too. The recipients of my donations may or may not be what I would consider ‘deserving’ but I know without a doubt that I have not earned or deserved any of God’s blessings. If I’m going to show His grace and mercy to others, then when I make a donation, I must also offer the very best that I can.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Poured out not the same as tipped over . . .

Lately I’ve been convicted about several bad habits. The word ‘habits’ is not an excuse. These are sinful things, but habits best describes them because they are seemingly automatic responses in certain situations that I’ve done often and for years without even thinking about them. But now God is saying ‘Enough.’

This makes me sad. I don’t know if I’m sad because I’m ashamed of myself or sad because change seems overwhelming. I know God forgives me. I know God changes me, but sometimes habits cling. These are living things that don’t want to die, and that makes me sad.

God’s part is forgiveness and cleansing. My part is spiritual discipline. When certain situations come up, and along with them those seemingly automatic responses, I have a choice and need to be aware of what is happening. Instead of habit, God asks me to consider Him and make different choices. He must rule my life instead of these foolish habits.

One of them is expressing criticism at perceived wrong. I don’t always do it; the serious stuff takes me to prayer. It is those little things, things that other people may not even notice, but I am irked. My heart tells me that I need to pray about these things too, but instead, I beak off my annoyance.

Another one is grumbling on the inside. Whatever threatens my plans and comfort zone may not show a visible reaction, but I know when my focus turns inward to ‘poor me’ instead of looking up to God for help with the challenge. That is called ‘resentment’ and is not only deadly to my immune system, but totally useless otherwise.

A wise man once told my husband that our lives are like a water glass. When we keep short accounts with God, the glass is upright and the Holy Spirit can fill it with Himself. When we sin, the glass is tipped over. Gone is all the spiritual fruit He gave us and we are empty and impossible to fill. The man added that we need to accept the fact that we will go through life tipping over and turning upright, tipping over and turning upright. He said the best we could hope for is staying upright longer between those times of tipping.

It seems there is more to this illustration. Sometimes I may think I’m upright and even look like that to others, but there is a slow leak happening. My inner attitude is like those little foxes that spoil the vine as mentioned in Song of Solomon. These little habits are actually far bigger in the mind of God than they have been in my mind. He sees what they do to my relationship with Him and how they spoil what He wants to do in my life. Instead of tipped over or a slow leak, He wants the Spirit ‘poured out’ for others in my service for Him.

I’ve been thinking of this the last couple of days, and yet am amazed at the grace of God. He hates sin and wants me to be sorry and turn from it, and He wants me filled with His Spirit, but at the same time He reminds me of His graciousness. In Psalm 103:8-14, He says:
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.
God knows that apart from Him, I am dust tipped over. Without His grace and mercy, I would be lost. However, even though my needs are great, I can rely on Him to tip me up and fill me up because His compassion is enormous.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Making Choices

Someone asked my sister how Christians could forgive those who harm them. She had a specific instance in mind and it made no sense to her. My brother thought that talking about forgiveness is easier if it is in the lap of someone else, but if the harm happened to him or one of his family, he would seek revenge.

My sister and I felt that we could not know for sure. Most Christians have little idea what Jesus will do in our hearts should something terrible happen to us. We really don’t know if we would forgive until life demands such a response. We also agreed that being able to forgive comes from the One who lives in us, not from ourselves. In the flesh, we would likely retaliate.

Today I’m reading 1 John 5. Verses 10-13 describe the essence of what it means to be a Christian and affirms our subjective witness of that reality:
He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
When Jesus Christ came into my life, He brought with Him His life. By myself, I cannot live forever, but because Jesus lives in me, I have that hope. I am in possession of His very life, but of course that life is measured by far more than its length.

The life of Christ is unique. Jesus never sinned, always obeyed God, always knew the right things to say and do and deeply cared for sinners. He also died that we might live and forgave those who crucified Him. Because He lives in me, I have the potential to be like Him.

Of course I am still me, and even though the old nature is separated from God because of sin and spiritually died on the cross with Christ, it still flops around like a chicken with its head cut off. My sinful, fleshy nature will be with me until I step into eternity. In the meantime, God gives me a choice. Will I follow it? Or Him?

After God led His people out of bondage in Egypt, Joshua challenged them to put away the gods their fathers served back in that place and serve the Lord. He said, “If it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. . . .” (Jeremiah 24:14-15). They were offered choices: serve their old religious ways and traditions, serve new religions, or serve the Lord.

Proverbs 3:5-6 say, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” In other words, I’m challenged to choose between obeying God based on faith or following my own ideas.

As a Christian, I’m told in several places in the New Testament to “put off the old” and “put on the new” life that I have in Christ. Galatians 5 says I have been called to freedom, but never to use my freedom as opportunity to live according to the flesh. Verses 16-17 say, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

My sinful nature will always want that which is contrary to God’s will. In every instance of life, He gives me choices. Will I obey Him? Or do my own thing?

The reputation of the church suffers because too many of us do our own thing. Instead of choosing to obey God, or even consulting Him on many matters, I so easily go ahead with what seems right to me. With incredible patience, God lets me find out the hard way that what seems right to me is contrary to His will—every time.

Yet the grace of God is amazing. We have times in our lives when the Spirit of God and the power of the indwelling Christ simply shove aside any fleshy responses and we do the right thing, the godly thing. Sometimes that means we will genuinely forgive someone who harmed us, just as Christ did when we sinned against Him. On our own, this would never happen, but because of Jesus, we have a different sort of life.

My lament is that I block His life far too often with my selfishness and foolish choices, and then go through the school of hard knocks before I finally give up my way and choose His.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Qualifed to run, qualified to win

The best part of the Olympics is the comradery between the competing athletes. No matter what country they are from, many of them rejoice with those who beat them and commiserate with other losers, even in the qualifying rounds. I enjoy the hugs and high fives as much or more than the wins and medals.

One thing that bothers me is disqualifications. Sometimes the winner of a particular competition is bumped out. They must have jumped the gun or done something else wrong, but it is seldom explained; they are simply dropped to the bottom without a score.

The Bible sometimes compares the Christian life with that of an athlete. We too must exercise rigorous discipline if we are going to qualify as God’s runners in our race of godly living and ministry to others. While we do not become Christians by following rules, we must stick to them if we want to successfully serve the Lord.

For instance, if I want to teach others, I must use the Bible, not my own ideas. I must consider the learners and pray for them. If I am going to be generous with my time and money, I must seek the Lord’s guidance and direction about what to do with both; there are far too many needs for me to judge the best places to begin.

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he describes what is necessary for discipleship. He tells this young pastor that he must “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” and that “no one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life” because we are to “please Him who enlisted” us in this spiritual battle.

Then in 2 Timothy 2:5, Paul uses another metaphor. He says, “And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.

Watching the qualifying rounds and an occasional disqualification in these Beijing Olympics reminds me that even though I am not an athlete, I still must pay attention to everything God says. If I try to do things my way, it is definitely not the high way, but more like a recipe for certain disaster.

Certainly this adherence to “the rules” can bring me into conflict. One is the conflict with my own ideas about things. Unless my mind is renewed and transformed by the Lord, I will have selfish motives and personal glory in mind. God does not honor me with victory when I play by those rules.

Another conflict can be with other people. Like playing Scrabble® where it seems easier to make up words for the other person, it also can seem easier to run someone else’s life and ministry. I need to focus on what God tells me to do. I can listen to the input of godly people, but need discernment. If they are playing Scrabble and not paying attention to the Holy Spirit, I could be derailed by a simple desire to please them and do what they say instead of following the Lord’s direction.

Rules. God didn’t save me because I could keep them, but now that He has filled me with Himself, I need to listen and obey my new source of power and motivation—lest I be disqualified from serving Him.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

On the podium

In ancient times, when an army conquered a land, they took the spoils of victory and paraded them. Then they divided those spoils among the people. This is described in Psalm 68:18, “You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive; You have received gifts among men, even from the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell there.

Paul quotes this verse in his letter to the church at Ephesus. He says in Ephesians 4:7-8, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’”

In the Old Testament, the emphasis is on the leader who receives or gains ‘gifts’ from those who rebelled against him. In the New Testament this is applied to Christ who conquers sin and death and the emphasis is on the giving of gifts. My devotional reading says this applies to even the rebellious.

Actually, is there anyone who has never rebelled against God? Since only Jesus is perfectly obedient, all that God gives humanity in general and individuals in particular is given only to rebels. Not one person deserves the blessings of the Lord, and for good reason. We all fall short; we all are rebels at heart.

Sometimes I do something dumb and then ask, “Why did I do that?” because I know better. It is as if I forget that I am a sinner living in a fallen world. It is as if I think I should never fail. After all, I am a child of God. Hmm. My devotional author says,
If we were always patient, meek, holy, submissive, never harassed by the devil, and never felt the workings of corruption, we would begin to think we had some power to please God in ourselves, and would slight and neglect a precious Savior. But when taught by painful experience what a depraved nature and rebellious heart we carry in our bosom, when the Lord lets down a little mercy and grace into our soul, we then know the blessed quarter whence it comes, and learn to abhor ourselves and bless His holy name.
He is correct. The blessings of God are given in mercy. After all, a conquering king does not have to give the spoils to the people he conquered. History shows this is indeed rare. In fact, those who overpower others usually take, not give.

Not so with Jesus. He simply breaks all human rules and practices. When He won my heart and paraded His victory, He also offered me, the loser, everything that belongs to Him. By that, I stand with Him as a defeated rebel, but also as a total winner.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Hide or Seek?

When Adam and Eve sinned, they tried to hide from God. Shame and guilt are like that. However, God searched them out and covered their sin, in symbol with animal skins and in reality with grace and that animal’s shed blood. They found out that the God they were so afraid of offers forgiveness and mercy. They didn’t have to hide.

Job knew that. In one of the oldest stories from Scripture, this afflicted man was not aware of a specific sin, yet when he felt so alone and it seemed that God had abandoned him, he said, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat!” (Job 23:3)

Instead of hiding from the scrutiny of God, Job wanted to come to His judgment seat. He wanted a hearing, and he knew that God would be fair. My devotional reading today says that Job’s attitude of seeking rather than hiding is indicative of true faith.

A person who knows, believes in, and trusts God realizes not only the futility of trying to hide from Him, but the imperative of seeking His face. Who but God can forgive and cleanse sin? Who but God can help us out of the messes we get ourselves in and give us direction when we are confused?

David said, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Psalm 139:7). He knew that God is omnipresent. Who can hide from Him?

Yet in sinfulness, I’ve tried. Or at least I’ve hidden behind busyness, excuses or finger-pointing. These things are so silly. Even a to-do list a mile long will not stop God from zooming in on my heart and getting my attention. Excuses as thick as the hide of an elephant cannot prevent Him from seeing right through me. Shifting the blame for my sinful foolishness does not deflect the deep conviction produced by the Holy Spirit. Like David, I know that I cannot hide from God.

The alternative is seeking Him. Knowing that He never leaves, never forsakes me does not negate the sometimes sense that He is gone. Job felt that and said, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him. . . .” yet within a few verses, he also says this:

Look, I go forward, but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive Him; when He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him; when He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him. But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.
Odd this sense of both knowing He is here and feeling that He has abandoned me. One comes from the Holy Spirit who lives inside me to assure me of the truth; the other comes from my flesh which is determined to walk by sight and not faith. Of course these two are in conflict with one another. One is true and of God; the other is not.

Job’s sense of God was the same as all those who trust in Him. He knew that despite his current feelings, the purposes of God for his life would stand firm. God was determined that this man be restored to the image in which he was created. God would use the trials of life, including this great trial in Job’s life, to reshape and restore him, and Job knew it.

In Job’s case, there was no sin from which he felt he had to hide or conceal. Sometimes my troubles are not so innocent, yet I experience the same sense of knowing God is with me and at work in my life, even when it feels as if He has abandoned me.

In such situations, there is no use hiding. God knows the way that I take too, and when I seek His face and ask His forgiveness, His purpose for my life is back on track. Far better to hasten that process than try to hide from the God who is always with me.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Beyond the suffering


No matter who stands on that podium, I enjoy seeing Olympic athletes accept their medals and that bouquet of red roses after they have done their best and won the prize.

I wonder if any of them ever say “no pain, no gain,” or do they focus on other ways to motivate themselves? Maybe medal hopes, or surpassing their last performance, or representing their country with pride keeps them going.

Some of those things motivate me as a Christian too. The Bible promises rewards for those who “run the race” with obedient faithfulness. While I’m not sure what the reward will be, I know that it will have far more value than a gold medal and the accolades of the world. As well, hearing Christ say “Well done” is huge reward in itself.

I also want to do better. With Christ, every day is a fresh start. When I keep short accounts with Him by confessing my sin and experiencing His forgiveness and cleansing, I have a very real opportunity to do better next time so I reach toward that goal.

The Bible also says that I am an ambassador for Christ. My real home is heaven and this one is a temporary residence. However, like any ambassador, I am to represent my homeland with grace and integrity. That motivates me too.

Yesterday I read verses in Romans 8 about my inheritance. It includes the above, but also suffering like Christ suffered. Life here may be a rose garden, but that garden also has thorns, some of which cannot be avoided. In fact, God uses the thorns to make my life more like that of His Son. Those verses from yesterday continue with that idea. Romans 8:16-18 say:
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Some day all that God is doing in me through the struggles and difficulties in this race called life will be made known. I’ve no idea the full impact of what He is doing, but am trusting Him. The Rose of Sharon (as He is alluded to in the Old Testament) will bring me into His likeness. Most of the time that seems so impossible, yet He promises that one day all thorns will be gone and everything about me will be like a rose, like Him. For that I press on.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Two sides to an inheritance

In real life as well as the movies, some people do have rich uncles who die and leave large inheritances. People who struggle with money and many who don’t would be overjoyed if someone knocked on their door and told them that a long lost uncle left them a fortune.

The thing about inheritances is that they carry responsibility with them. Imagine being the heir of a castle or large estate. At first there is jubilation, but reality eventually sinks in; someone has to clean all 54 toilets and mow those six acres of grass. Even a windfall of cash can be a horror in disguise. Those who have trouble handling the little money they have discover the same problems with the responsibility of much larger amounts.

As a child of God, when Christ died, I was given an inheritance; I have His eternal life. He also put much more into His last will and testament. 1 Peter 1:3-4 says, “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

I am an heir to all the promises of God, which is responsibility enough, but these verses also say that He has given me everything I need to live a godly life. I’m responsible for handling that inheritance with grace and wisdom, using it to glorify God. Trying to be godly, even with God’s help, is not a walk in the park.

But there is more. 1 Corinthians 3:21-22 says, “For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come—all are yours.

I am an heir of all things, so when God tells me that I can call on Him for everything I need, this is another way of saying that He has put the resources of all creation at my disposal. Of course He will withhold something if I’m going to be foolish or selfish with it, but I have no needs that God has not already promised to take care of—because everything is mine. Like a small child in a candy store, I’ve no idea how to handle that.

I read Romans 8:16-17 this morning and realized how I linger over the first part and largely ignore the second part. It says, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

I love the fact that the Holy Spirit continually assures me of my relationship with God and of my inheritance. However, I don’t like to think about this other reality: whatever I inherit, it fits with what belongs to Jesus, and Jesus was given the whole human experience, not just the “good” stuff. He felt every temptation, went through every struggle that every human being experiences. He was misunderstood, ridiculed, abandoned by His friends, abused beyond belief. And then He died, not an ordinary old-age, sick-in-bed death, but by inhumane and cruel torture. This also is my inheritance.

By His grace, I may not experience all that He did, but the Bible is clear that I will suffer with Him in some ways. This is part of what it means to follow Him and to be a child of God.

Sometimes when I hear people say that Christianity is a crutch or Christians are weak and hiding from the world, I want to sit them down and tell them what it was like for Jesus to be tortured on a cross, but I know they would not see the relevance. Would it be different if they knew how some of His people suffer with Him? Or would they say that is no inheritance—we just brought it on ourselves?

Following Jesus is a joy and delight, but it is also a sorrow and difficult. I cannot read only the good parts of His Word and leave out those that are difficult and that seriously challenge my comfort zone. When Jesus gave Himself to me, I got all of who He is and what He experienced. This is my inheritance.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Salvation is like a new car . . .

Buying a new car bears some resemblance to the Christian experience. The decision is made that a new car is needed, so we take a look at the model we want in the showroom or on the lot, taste what it will be like with a test drive, put down our money in exchange for a bill of sale, then wait until we can take delivery. In anticipation, we keep looking at that piece of paper, for in it our new car is fully described. Not only that, the paper says that it is ours; we just don’t have it fully in our possession yet, but our hope is secure until that day.

I thought of this reading Psalm 119:18 this morning. The verse says, “My soul faints for Your salvation, but I hope in Your word.

Salvation is mine in three parts; I am saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved. God has forgiven my sin and removed its penalty from me. I have a whole book that tells me eternal life is mine, just like the car that I’ve not yet parked in my garage.

I’m still in the test drive stage though, discovering that He is giving me victory from the power of sin even in this life. The future looks sweeter and sweeter as those tests help me realize His ability to give victory over sin in my present experience of driving along the roads of this life.

However, that book, His Word, says that one day salvation will take me totally out of the presence of sin. Then full salvation will be fully mine. Until then, I look to the paper, the Word of God which assures me of this fact.

This is what the psalmist is talking about. He knows the past tense of salvation—that he is saved from its penalty. He knows the present tense and this verse might express his longing for more of that experience of being saved from sin’s power. He hopes in God’s Word because it contains the promises of God. From the Word, he knows that God will work in his life and give him victory over sin.

But he also longs for that future salvation where sin is no longer a present issue but past tense. He longs for the time when God has removed sin totally and he is saved out of its presence and into the presence of God.

Every time I am overcome by my sinfulness, I experience the same longing. When I confess my sin to God, I enjoy the sense of being forgiven and His promise to cleanse me from that sin (1 John 1:9), but I also look forward to that day where this sin/confess/sin/confess cycle will no longer be part of my life. Because this is written in His Word, I can be certain that this “hope” is a sure thing. I just cannot take delivery yet.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Truth hurts but lies destroy

As long as I can remember, honesty has been the character trait that to me is the most important. Lies make my body tense and my teeth clench. If I suspect someone is lying to me, or if I know that it is so, I either pull back from them or am immediately confronting them about it. Lies can destroy relationships. Believing a lie could destroy me. Besides, and I’ve said it more than once, truth, however bad it might be, is far easier to deal with than lies.

When it comes right down to it though, I’ve lied, and everyone I know has lied, either to me or someone. Scripture says, “Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: ‘So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge’” (Romans 3:4).

We fall short in the truth department because our sin nature basically tries to disguise itself. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they covered themselves with fig leaves, the first attempt to hide their shame, a shame over something that wasn’t a problem until they disobeyed God. Humanity has done similar hiding and disguising ever since. We want to look better than we are, and we want our sin to be hidden too.

Sin essentially comes from a word that means to fall short. I once saw a movie where archers aimed at targets and when their arrows fell to the ground without reaching the target, bystanders shouted “Sinner, sinner.” In this case, their judgment had nothing to do with morality or disobeying God. It was about the arrows.

By falling short, shame is often produced. A few might seem to brag that they missed the mark, but whether boasting or covering it up, we don’t like the feeling of failure. When I do it, I might make excuses or shift the blame, but if I am honest, I need to acknowledge my falling short. By doing that, I can be forgiven and move on.

The model for honesty is God. He never fudges with the truth, even though truth can be painful or difficult for us. Hebrews 6:17-19 says,
Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
It is the nature of God to be totally honest. He cannot lie, and as I realize this in my experience, instead of it being an enemy and difficult on my pride, more and more I find that relying on Him to tell me the truth is an anchor for me. Others might lie, but God never will.

If I am unsure about any decision or course of action, people often offer advice that suits their agenda or their idea of what is best. If I want advice about a dress that I think makes me look fat, even those close to me might not say what they really think. They don’t want to lie, but neither do they want to offend me with truth.

God is not like that. I can be sure that I will get straight answers from Him. He does not soften it with artificial flattery or weasel words, nor does He have ulterior motives. He says it like it is and I know exactly where I stand with Him. While it might be painful, I’d like that same honesty from everyone.

The best part of knowing the truth, even though the truth about my spiritual life is often dismal and disappointing, along with showing me that about myself, God also reveals the truth about Himself at the same time. When I confess my sin (falling short), He is right here to forgive me and cleanse me, which is the truth about Him. It is in that truth that I am firm and secure.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Pressures produce godliness

One of my husband’s aunts once said to us, “I’m amazed at you two; you have been through so much.”

At that time in our lives, we looked at each other and had no idea what she was talking about. What appeared to her as “so much” didn’t seem like much at all to us.

My devotional reading today takes another look at the same verse as yesterday, 1 Timothy 4:8, but with a different emphasis. The verse says, “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

The author reminds me of something experience has taught me also. At one time, I felt that as long as things were going well I could handle life without Jesus. However, if affliction came, I was quickly on my knees asking for help. This seems almost an hypocrisy, but it is during those times that I learned how the Lord “is pleased to bring a little godliness into the soul.”

Some of God’s promises are for here and now. He says He will support me and give me the strength, comfort, consolation, and peace that the world knows nothing about. He is my Lord and Savior from sin, but He is also the blessing and joy of my life, a Friend who is with me when I need Him and when I think I do not. He is a power and reality that I can hardly describe, in both good times and bad.

When trouble comes and I am pushed into a corner, as He is pleased to be with me in that trial as He is in the good times. Not only that, He is able to give me a godly response to whatever is happening. It is in those trials that I experience His “promise of the life that now is.” It shows up as faith, hope, love, repentance, prayerfulness, humility, contrition, long-suffering, peace that passes understanding, even joy. These are gifts from Him that can be exercised even when I am deeply afflicted, but without the affliction, I would not know it.

By drawing forth godliness in the tough times, I learn that He is faithful to save me, faithful to keep His promises. I also am able to look at what He does for me in the here and now and realize how that bit of godliness in my own life is a “promise of the life that is to come.” I am more aware that this amazing life of Jesus that supports me now will surely take me through death and into a blessed eternity where, as my devotional says, “grace will end in glory; faith in sight; hope in fruition.”

What I have learned about Jesus and His faithfulness to me in the trials of life all point to the reality of eternal bliss. One day I will see Him as He is. The godliness that He produces in me under the pressures in this life is just a small taste of that day when eternal peace will be mine; no more sorrow and all tears wiped away, and I will be like Jesus.

James wrote, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).

From the words and thoughts related to 1 Timothy, I could substitute any of the fruits of the Spirit for ‘patience’ because it is in trials where I have the wonderful opportunity to find out what Christ will do for me. Yet as my aunt demonstrated, sometimes only those observing my life can see ‘how much’ is happening to me. In great grace, Jesus does it and I am sometimes totally oblivious, both to the trials He uses and the godliness He is producing.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Winning the Gold

We stayed up late last night and watched about half of the 2008 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies. What an impressive show! I read this morning that Beijing spent 43 billion dollars to put this all together and I’m sure the opening was a large part of that incredible budget.

Today the cameras are on the sport events. As we watch the athletes in their efforts to do their best, and perhaps win a medal, I’m amazed at the incredible timing of today’s devotional reading. While the world focuses on and applauds athletes and physical prowess, God says this: “ . . . exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

The Bible often uses figures of speech related to the body, even to athletics. In the days it was written, they didn’t have HD television or the Internet to broadcast them, but sports events were nonetheless very popular. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul uses the metaphor of athleticism to say more about developing godliness. He points out how what he does with his body affects his determination to follow the Lord.
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.
Exercise is important to me. I’m no athlete, but if I don’t get my body moving at least five times a week, I gain weight, feel sluggish and do not have the energy to do things more important. My body needs this discipline, yet my spiritual life profits from it as well. When I can discipline my body, it seems much easier to allow God to discipline the rest of me.

On those days when I don’t feel like walking, biking, lifting weights or anything else, I remind myself that my goal is godliness. At the same time, I know there is no value in being fit with abs of steel if I cannot be kind to my neighbors or love my family. A gold medal is useless if God is not pleased with the way I treat others. Why exercise my body if I am not willing to exercise my will in obedience to Him? The reading for today focuses on the value of exercising godliness. It says (and I’ve edited a bit):
What is “profitable”? It is that which does the soul good. Godliness is profitable for all things in that it does the soul good in all circumstances. Here it stands apart and separate from everything of a worldly nature. In this verse, it is distinguished from “bodily exercise that profits a little” by instead being “profitable for all things.
In sickness, in health, in sunshine, in storms, upon the mount, in the valley, under whatever circumstances the child of God may be, godliness or the exercise of godliness is profitable. These circumstances will even draw it out. It lives in the face of trials, is strengthened by opposition, becomes victorious through defeat, gains the day in spite of every foe.
Godliness does not die away like bodily exercise. It does not bloom and fade away in an hour. It is not like Jonah’s gourd that grew and withered in a night. It does not leave the soul in the horrors of despair when it most needs comfort, nor is it fickle, a false friend that turns its back in the dark and cloudy days of adversity. Godliness is “a friend that loves at all times” because the Author of godliness “sticks closer than a brother.
Godliness can come to a bed of sickness when the body is racked with pain. It can enter a dungeon as it did with Paul and Silas when their feet were in the stocks. It can go, and has gone, with martyrs to the stake. It soothes the pillow of death, takes the soul into eternity, and therefore is profitable for all things. It is a firm friend, a blessed companion, the life of the soul, the health of the heart. It is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” and God’s own work, grace, Spirit, life, and power, and ends in God’s own happiness. Therefore it is profitable for all things.
Some of the athletes competing in the Olympics may know these verses about bodily exercise. Some may realize that their sport and the disciple it requires has some profit, and that discipline can carry over into their spiritual lives. If they know that, they will also know that the real gold medal winner is not the best physical performance but the exercise of godliness as they compete, the godliness made possible by their relationship with Jesus Christ.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Why I pray for mercy

Last night I read a paragraph that sent me immediately to intercessory prayer. This paragraph is from a book by Allen P. Ross called Recalling the Hope of Glory. It is about biblical worship from the garden of Eden until the church was formed, and shows the adoration that God deserves and how easily even His own people fall away from true worship. The paragraph says:
The prophetic denunciation of idolatry (by Old Testament prophets) was important because of the serious consequences of rejecting the sovereign God to embrace idolatry. It was not merely a sanctuary matter, but affected every aspect of society. If there were no sovereign God, then there was not absolute law to obey. (Starting to sound familiar?) The breakdown of morality and ethics and the neglect of social justice . . . is the result of refusing to entrust oneself to the sovereign, loving, and just God. . . . When people believe that the cosmic order is uninterested in human welfare and that those who succeed are those who know how to capture these forces for their own purposes—which is the underlying attitude of idolatry—the more helpless and vulnerable in society are crushed.
In essence, those who refuse God will worship something, in this case, their own ability to manipulate whatever they can to get whatever they want, at any cost. Instead of God, the great “I want” is put on the throne and, as a result, all of society suffers.

As I read this, I thought how our nation, even the entire world, is captured by idolatry. I began asking God for forgiveness and mercy, for me, for everyone.

This morning, my devotional reading from another book is about that very request. The Scripture is Psalm 51, and it begins with these four verses:
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight—that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge.
There are two players in this prayer. God is responsible for being merciful, loving, kind, and to blot out sin and wash it from my life. I am responsible for acknowledging my sin, realizing that God sees it and that it offends Him, and agreeing with His assessment of it. God is correct when He says that I have sinned, and He is just in His condemnation of it.

What is so difficult about that? The first time I noticed the power of confessing sin was as a new Christian and a single mother. I couldn’t stop screaming at my children and finally confessed this to God as sinful. A few weeks later, I realized that I wasn’t doing it anymore.

Over many years, when I do my part, I have seen that He will do His part. This week, I noticed I had a bad attitude toward my husband. I confessed this to God as sin, and it was gone, replaced by the right one.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Christianity is very practical. When we do what God says, He does what He promises to do as a result.

The rub is having to admit sin. Most people are not like the psalmist. He acknowledged his sins and realized he was accountable to God for them. Most people, myself included, have a lot of trouble doing this. We either don’t notice when we sin, or if we do, we make excuses, shift the blame, or dismiss what we’ve done as “not as bad as so-and-so.”

The paragraph from Ross’s book puts idolatry at the root of things. Instead of worshiping God, who is worthy of our worship, we put anything and everything else at the top of our awe-list. When I assume my sin is nothing, or shift the blame, I’m putting my own opinion above that of Almighty God. When I make excuses, I am saying that God’s ideas about sin are not worthy of my consideration and again am putting me above God and making myself my idol. Once I do that, what else will go to the bottom of the priority list? Everything. If my opinion and ideas are the most valued, anyone or anything else will take second place, unless of course giving them value is to my advantage.

Isn’t that the state of our world? Hasn’t humanity, in general, dropped God as “old-fashioned nonsense” in favor of running their own lives? While not every activity of every person seems totally selfish, God (who knows the heart) says it is. In our smug assessment that we know better, we lose the only opportunity we have to be rid of that self-centered sinfulness.

Until I honestly face the facts of my sins and agree with what God says about what I do, I am stuck with what I have decided is right and stuck with the consequences. This is foolishness.

However, multiply that foolishness by billions of souls. No wonder much of the news is bad. God says our sinful self-worship is as a dark, idolatrous thing that binds individuals, societies, and the entire world in a trap. He says that those who are unwilling to see or confess this as sin cannot experience His forgiveness and cleansing, and without God’s mercy, the eventual outcome is His wrath.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Awake and alive

Sandy* writes her prayers on paper and puts them in a jar. Then she places the jar at the highest point she can find in her house. She didn’t fully explain her reasoning to me, yet what she did say made it obvious that she is hoping a lofty physical position for those prayers will somehow put them closer to God and more likely to be answered. (*not her real name)

I don’t know how to respond to Sandy. She is naively religious, knowing very little about what the Bible says, either about prayer or salvation. She thinks she is okay with God because she was taught by a mainline, liberal denomination that everyone is okay with God. She is a gentle person in some ways, but not innocent.

This morning I am reading from Ephesians and amazed at Paul’s long sentences. I’m also amazed that God gives me insight from verses 18-20 about how to pray for Sandy. They say,
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. . . .
Sandy has no idea that God has called her, at least not yet, but I can pray that He will open the eyes of her heart so that she knows about eternal life and about the inheritance secured for her by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I can also pray that He gives her new life and the recognition of how wonderful it is that Jesus came here in human flesh and is now exalted to rule at the Father’s right hand.

My devotional reading expresses these thoughts about the wonder of Jesus’ rule, not so much that He is Lord and God, but that He is fully human even now as He reigns from heaven. With slight editing, this is what the reading says:
It is no great mystery that the Son of God should be exalted to the throne of power for it is only a step from the bosom of the Father to His right hand. However, that anyone with our (human) nature should be exalted to that seat of preeminence and power; that the Mediator between God and man should be the man Christ Jesus; that the hands which once were nailed to the cross should now hold the scepter, and that the feet which once walked on Lake Gennesaret and were weary and dust-soiled at Jacob’s well, and were washed with a sinful woman’s tears and kissed in penitential grief and love with polluted lips—that these very feet should now have all things put under them both in heaven and earth, there is the mystery. What food for faith!
The living family of God wants a living Savior, one who can hear and answer prayer, deliver out of soul-trouble, speak a word with power to the heart when bowed down with grief and sorrow, sympathize with us under powerful temptations, support us under the trials and afflictions of life, and maintain under a thousand discouragements His own life in our soul. We want One who can sustain under bereavements the mourning widow, and be a father to her fatherless children, appear again and again in providence as a friend that loves us at all times, be our brother ‘born for adversity’, smile upon us in death, and comforts us with His rod and staff as we walk through the valley of its dark shadow, and land us at last safely in a happy eternity.
Paul wrote about how God has put all things under the feet of Jesus, and made Him head over all things, yet some are still “dead in trespasses and sins” and need the power of His deliverance. They have no idea about a happy eternity nor how to get there. Sandy things she is okay, but instead of life and power, her prayers and words about her faith reveal empty
ritual and superstition.

I’m told that a sleepwalker who thinks they are awake needs to be awakened very carefully. God is showing me how to pray for Sandy, and I’m certain that if He wants me to do more than that, He will also show me. I’m hoping to see her wake up and realize the wonder of Jesus and the life that He alone can offer her.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The issue of the Trinity

The first truth that God put into my heart when He made me a “new creation” is that Jesus is God the Son. I may have been told this by others; I may have read it, but until that moment, the idea was not part of my conscious thinking. I knew that God was the Father, and Jesus was the Son, but in that light-filled day, I knew instantly that Jesus is God in the flesh, God who pulled on humanity and made Himself like us, God-visible, and God-subject to hunger and thirst and fatigue, that He might die for our sins.

The trinity is one of the most argued Christian teachings. The critics say it is “opposed to nature, sense, and reason” and they all rise up in rebellion against it. They ask how can three be one or one be three? Yet if the doctrine of the Trinity is not true, then all that Christians believe and hope is gone. I have nothing and Christianity is a lie.

I firmly believe that the trinity is a ‘revealed’ truth, and because of that, no one can adequately explain it to someone who has not had it revealed to them. They will not get it, and the fact is, most Christians cannot explain it anyway. We know it is true, but there are no words that make it reasonable.

Some Bible translators tried. A passage in 1 John 5 shows one effort. Verses 7 and 8 in one modern version says: “For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.

However, in the margin of this Bible a note explains that most of verse 7 was not in the oldest Scripture manuscripts, and some of verse 8. Another modern version says it should read more like this: “For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

Those who like to criticize the Bible and say that it is full of errors jump on this passage to prove their point. However, I found an explanation that helps me understand what happened when these extra words were added in. This is from a commentary, and I will try to leave out the parts that are not essential (commentaries can be wordy!). It says:
Two or three witnesses were required by law to constitute adequate testimony. The only Greek manuscripts in any form which support the words, “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one; and there are three that bear witness in earth,” (the text names three obscure manuscript names). All the old versions omit these words. The oldest manuscripts of the Vulgate omit them too. . . . A scholium quoted in Matthaei, shows that the words did not arise from fraud; for in all Greek manuscripts “there are three that bear record,” the word “three” is masculine . . . because the three things (the Spirit, the water, and the blood) are symbols of the Trinity. Cyprian (AD 196) refers, “Of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it is written, ‘And these three are one’ (a unity).”
There must be some mystical truth implied in using “three” (Greek) in the masculine, though the antecedents, “Spirit, water, and blood,” are neuter. That the Trinity was the truth meant is a natural inference. . . . It was therefore first written as a marginal comment to complete the sense of the text, and then, as early at least as the eighth century, was introduced into the text of the Latin Vulgate.
The testimony, however, could only be borne on earth to men, not in heaven. The marginal comment that inserted “in heaven,” was inappropriate. It is on earth that the context evidently requires the witness of the three, the Spirit, the water, and the blood.
This commentary goes on to explain how John never uses “the Father” and “the Word” as correlates and shows other ways to indicate that John intended these verses as a description of a triune God.

Interpretation of any passage should take into account the whole book and other books (if any) written by the same author. John used the reality and the symbols of water and blood in connection with His descriptions of Jesus as God in the flesh. In his mind, the Spirit, the water, and the blood, unite as the threefold witness to verify the divine Messiahship of Jesus Christ.

Like we are prone to do, some who copied the ancient manuscripts thought that an explanation would help, forgetting that this kind of explanation would be easily understood by those who know Jesus, but misinterpreted and considered a textual error by those to whom Jesus has never been revealed.

So what? What does this have to do with me? I’m aware of those who dismiss the Scripture as old fashioned, out-of-date, and non-relevant. I’m wondering if it matters whether or not I can explain it. Will it matter if I tell them that the trinity is everywhere in creation, for instance, God created matter in three forms, such as H2O? It may be water, ice or steam, but it is all the same H2O. Why can’t God be triune and still be one God? Will they get it?

I suspect that the issue is not really that God is One yet three, but more like this: if the God who created the universe decided to become a man and come to earth, and if He willingly died for the sins of all mankind, and if His Spirit keeps nagging at people about their sin and their responsibility to God, which is easier—to listen and say yes to this triune God? Or to insist that the whole thing is impossible?