Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Safely Home

The Stauffer family is on my mind. How can anyone suffer the loss of a child? How does the Lord comfort this family? The tragedy is a high profile news story. Condolences are coming to them from all over the world, but what about condolences from heaven?

We might say that God knows what it is like to lose His Son. He understands their pain. Yet God planned the death of His Son, and I am positive the Stauffer’s did not plan or even imagine the death of their daughter.

This morning I read Hebrews 4:15. It says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Rather than try to imagine the temptations Jesus faced, I can imagine some of what a family struggles with when their loss is so devastating. For one thing, I would be tempted to say, “Where were you, God, when my child needed You?” I would be tempted to think that God was not there, or that He didn’t care, or that He was powerless to help.

My head, and certainly the Bible, says otherwise. My faith, and the faith of the Stauffer family, also tells me that this life is not all there is, that Emily and all who believe in Jesus will spend eternity with Jesus. Some go sooner, some later, but this is our destiny. In the meantime, we live here as ambassadors for our actual home, sometimes enduring great trials because of living in this place.

Jesus was God’s greatest ambassador and more. He came here with one mission in mind, to die for us. He came to receive the wrath of God for our sin so that we might be forgiven. How did He, humanly speaking, manage to do it?

Hebrews 12:2 says that He, “the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus knew the last chapter in His story and that was His focus. He endured.

We too, for the joy set before us, endure. It is in knowing this life is a mere whisper compared to the eternal bliss that is ours that keeps us going. I’m certain that the family in Edson whose daughter was murdered endures because they know they will see her again. They will laugh with her and rejoice at the feet of Jesus. They will do this because Jesus did it. He didn’t give in to despair or the temptation to just bail out. While He did say, “Let this cup pass from me,” He also said, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” This is the stuff of endurance.

Whatever tempts the child of God, Jesus knows all about it. He is intimately acquainted with our struggles. He was here. He endured. He knew that this life is not all there is, that eternal joy awaits those who trust in God.

One verse in Revelation speaks of great testing in a future time and how God’s people will respond. Chapter 14, verse 12 says, “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.

We who know Jesus and also know great sorrow and trials can survive. We hang on to what God tells us and we cling to the One who is our endurance. He will bring each of out of this sin-sick world and take us safely home. We mourn those whose departure seems much too soon, yet we know, I know, that I will see Jesus face to face, and also Emily.

Monday, September 29, 2008

No veil = great hope

Today’s Bible reading is in the middle of a passage that requires some explanation. Paul is explaining to the Christians at Corinth that the veil Moses put over his face when he spoke to the Israelites of old concealed the fact that the shine that appeared on his face every time he was in the tabernacle with God would fade away. This represented the old covenant that was also glorious, but that glory would fade away. He also compared it to the current time when the children of Israel had a veil over their minds and were unable to see truth. Then He said, “Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” He wanted them to see!

In the Old Testament place of worship, a veil served another purpose. It hung between the holy place and the “holy of holies” where only the high priest could enter. The priest did this once a year on the day of atonement to make sacrifice for the sins of the people. The veil through which he passed represented the separation between sinners and God. This also demonstrated the need for a representative who could make atonement for sin. This veil and the ministry of a high priest remained in place until Christ came.

As Jesus died on the cross to make atonement for the sins of the human race, the veil in the temple ripped from top to bottom. The old is gone as the new covenant of faith in Jesus Christ removes the veil, both the veil of unbelief and obscurity, and the veil of separation from God. Now the way to God is now open to sinners through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and through faith in Him.

Paul goes on to say, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 3:18).

This is the marvel of faith in Jesus; He not only opens the way to God for me (He even said, “I am the way”) but also changes my life. Because the veil is gone, faith in Him has put me on a journey of transformation. One day, when I see Him face to face, “I will be like Him, for I will see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

It is this hope, which is not an I-hope-so, but an I-know-so hope, that moves me forward in life. I can approach God anytime, and directly. Jesus is my high priest and because He lives in me, the veil is torn away, both from that holy of holies where I can meet God and from my face where sin had blinded me to the wonders of God.

It is this confidence in Him that sustains me and others who know Him during difficult times. This past weekend, a family lost their 14-year-old daughter. She went for a walk before supper and was attacked and murdered on a path between the bush around her town and some houses. Some younger boys saw what was happening and went for help, but it arrived too late to save her.

This girl is the daughter of a pastor whom we know. He is a good friend of our pastor and has preached in our church. Of course they (and we who know them) are in shock and I cannot imagine their pain, yet because they know Jesus, both mother and father are saying, “We know that she is with Jesus.”

The veil is removed. All questions may never be answered, but the big one was settled a long time ago. Because of Jesus, this family not only knows where their daughter is now, but knows they will join her when God calls them home. We will see her again.

The Bible says that Christians grieve, but not the same way as those who have no hope. We mourn the loss. We are outraged over the way her life was taken from her. We feel the heartache that her family feels, but deep inside, we also know that Jesus holds her. She is with Him, maybe even laughing with joy. In that reality of faith in Christ and the power of God is indescribable comfort.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Home sweet home

Every now and then I will be alone and say aloud, “I want to go home.” Every time I say it I think first of my childhood home, because that is the human side of those words, but I know that I am not longing for that place.

This morning I read Hebrews 11:16. It describes my almost impossible to describe longing. “But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

When I say these words, sometimes the stress of life is getting me down. Or I might be lonely. Or I might be fine, just longing to see Jesus. My devotional reading describes me even as the author describes the people of God that this verse is about, the Old Testament saints who loved the Lord and looked to Him for something more. (I’ve edited this a bit.)
In desiring a better country these ancient pilgrims wanted something heavenly, something that tasted of God . . . something which came from heaven and led to heaven, which gave (them) heavenly feelings, heavenly sensations, heavenly delights, and heavenly joy. (They wanted their hearts) purified from the love of sin, carnality, and worldliness by having something sweeter to taste, better to love, and more holy to enjoy.
Yes, sometimes I am just tired of being here, tired of the bad news in the headlines, tired of praying for people who couldn’t care less if anyone did, and tired of the continual battles in my own heart against selfishness and the lies of Satan.

God knows all these things. Sometimes He simply drops by in some special way to assure my heart that He knows and He cares. I presented a workshop at a writer’s conference yesterday and felt that I could have done much better. God sent one of the people who attended to tell me she is not a writer and wondered why she was there, but my workshop was the answer, the reason God had her at the conference. My devotional today goes on to say . . .
It is these heavenly visitations, droppings in the favor, goodness and mercy of God, which keep the soul alive in its many deaths, sweeten it amidst its many bitters, hold it up amidst its many sinkings, and keep it from being drowned while conflicting with many waters.
How I agree. God understands that even little things can feel like a sinking ship because none of us are very good at evaluating our own performance. He knows when we need a little of His applause to get us back on track. Yet when He makes living here a bit sweeter, that longing for a heavenly country remains. I still desire home, to be with Him all the time. Why is that?
A carnal mind has no taste for heavenly things, no sweet delight in the word of God; no delight in the Lord Jesus revealing Himself in the word; no delight in closet duties, secret meditation, searching the Scriptures, communion with God, or even in the company of God’s dear family. There must be a heavenly element in the soul to understand, realize, enjoy and delight in heavenly things. The Holy Ghost must work in us a new heart, a new nature, capable of understanding, enjoying, and delighting in heavenly realities . . . they desired, therefore, a better country, that is a heavenly, a city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.
I long for home because He lives in my heart and somehow imparts in me a taste, a hunger, a longing for more. He fully knows what that heavenly home is like and deeply desires that I know it also. He longs for me to be with Him in that perfect place, so I’m certain that this desire I feel to go home is actually some of His desire rubbing off.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

If my words could last forever?

Last night and today I’m at a writer’s conference. How appropriate that I should read these words this morning:
Oh, that my words were written! Oh, that they were inscribed in a book! That they were engraved on a rock with an iron pen and lead, forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:23-27).
Many people come to a conference for writers because they have a story that they feel needs telling. They haven’t written much more than letters or email prior to coming, but they have something on their heart that needs expression and they hope to find out how to do it.

A few years ago at another conference the main speaker said that writing is such a challenging profession that unless your heart burns and you “must” write, don’t bother. He made some people a bit angry, but I think he was correct. Writing isn’t about getting a single story off your chest, but about a passion to communicate. For Christians, it is a passion, even an obedience, to communicate what God puts on our hearts.

Job had something on his heart and he longed for those words to be preserved forever. Yet his passion was not for ‘his’ words, but the truth that he knew. Some commentators think that Job said what he did by divine inspiration and really didn’t know the fullness of what he had written. While that could be true, I cannot underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to communicate truth to this man, even at in his time in history.

Job is likely one of the oldest books in the Bible. Statements in commentaries imply that because he lived so long ago, he couldn’t possibly know as much, or at least as much theology as we do now. However, I’ve also read that sin ruins everything, including intellectual ability. While we might have all kinds of modern inventions and technological advances, can we really think as clearly and as biblically as those who were less affected by generations and generations of sinful heritage? I wonder.

Anyway, Job’s desire was to communicate what he knew about God and redemption. He knew that his Redeemer was a living Redeemer. One day he would be vindicated by Someone who lived eternally. He also knew that this One would stand on the earth in the last days. Job himself would have been long dead by that time, yet Job knew that he would, in his flesh, see God. Job understood New Testament teaching about the resurrection of the body, of new life, of perfect eternal fellowship with his Maker, his God. His heart burned within him because he wanted others to know this truth.

I’m challenged by this. By nature, I am a consummate information-gatherer. Out of all the data in my head and heart, what do I want people to know? If I could preserve my words in a book that would last forever, what would they be?

Whatever the conference challenges me with today, God has already pushed me with a very good question!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Incredible Peace

Last night, because I was too tired to do anything else, I plunked myself in front of the television and watched an episode of ER, a show I’ve not seen for years.

In this episode, one of the hospital team members died. After the funeral, the ER staff gathered at a local bar to remember his life. They were sad and struggling. Death cast a shadow over them.

How different this scene was from the Christian funerals I’ve attended. I’ll never forget the first one. Irene was my mentor and her husband died. I was a new Christian, worried that God was going to ‘send me to Borneo’ or ask me to do something I didn’t want to do. At the funeral, I watched Irene lean over the grave, almost as if she wanted to jump in after her husband. My heart was pounding. Then she turned around.

Irene’s face shone. She was filled with joy, totally at peace with what was happening. I was astounded. At that same moment, God spoke to my heart. If I can give her joy at this moment, why are you worried about what I might ask of you? Even now as I recall this event from more than thirty-five years ago, I feel the same awe at God as I did then.

Irene explained. She knew where her husband had gone and she knew she would join him later. She even said, “The main reason for being sad is that I feel sorry for myself. If I think of him and what he is now enjoying, I cannot be sad.”

I’ve attended many funerals since then. When a Christian dies, the family is sorrowful because they miss the one who has left this earth, yet our hope is so real that we cannot help but be glad that our loved ones have been ‘promoted’ and are waiting for us in glory.

Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” Because we know that Jesus is alive, we do not grieve the same way as others who do not know Him and have the same hope.

In Luke before Jesus came, the father of John the Baptist prophesied about his son. He said, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Jesus came to give light to those who sit in the shadow of death and in the darkness of not knowing what will happen to them after death. He came to direct those in darkness into a place of peace with God. By taking the wrath of God and our punishment for sin upon Himself, we can know that God loves us; we do not have to fear His judgment.

Jesus also came to direct us into having the peace of God. This is a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), a peace that floods our hearts and minds and gives us deep joy. The light He gives opens our eyes to His love for us. We know He cares and we know that He is in control—even at funerals.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dayspring

As I read through the Bible this year, I’m noticing the difference between the Old and New Testaments, particularly the action that takes place. While the Old Testament relates history and has many passages of narrative and action, much of it is about the demands of God and what will happen to His people because they have failed to measure up. But when I started reading Matthew, the action increased and the focus changed. Instead of talking about God’s wrath and the peoples’ failures, the focus turns to Jesus.

I try to imagine what it was like for the people of Israel in those days. They had been several hundred years without a prophet, without hearing from God. Would most of them have lost hope? Would their faith be dull and without enthusiasm?

Then Zacharias and Elizabeth had a baby, unusual because they were old, and exciting because “Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied” (Luke 1:67). Those around him must have been overjoyed. At last, God was communicating with His people.

While the people observed, God gave this new father a name for the little boy. He would be called John because an angel had told them this should be his name. The crowds were certain he would be an unusual child, but Zacharias was given a preview. He spoke saying that the Lord had indeed visited His people and delivered them from their enemies that they might serve Him without fear. He spoke also of God’s covenants and the promise of a Deliverer.

Then he spoke, again under the power of the Holy Spirit, saying, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

His child, John, came to prepare the way of the Lord. Jesus would soon arrive and everything would change. Dayspring speaks of that light that floods a dark earth signaling the arrival of a new day. The Lord was coming to give light to those in spiritual darkness like dawn comes to light a world that is in physical darkness.

This morning before reading Luke, I read from Matthew 7:24 to the end of chapter 9. In those few pages, Jesus told parables, impressed the crowds with His authority, cleansed a leper, healed the servant of a roman centurion with a word, healed Peter’s mother-in-law with a touch, cast out many demons, healed all who were sick, made clear the demands expected of anyone who wanted to follow Him, calmed a storm at sea, cast demons into some pigs, healed and forgave a paralytic, called a tax collector to follow Him, enjoyed eating with tax collectors and sinners, rebuked and corrected the ignorance of the Pharisees, healed a woman who had been ill for twelve years, gave sight back to two blind men, restored the speech of a mute man and cast a demon out of him, and raised a child from the dead.

After all this, He went to all the cities and villages, “teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” He was moved with compassion for the multitudes and saw in them potential for a great harvest of souls.

Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, ends with the threat of a curse on the earth. Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, is filled with narrative about the amazing life of Jesus Christ. No wonder it is called “new.” The transformation in the working of God (and the lives of His people) is dramatic because the Dayspring has arrived, a new light has dawned. No longer do people need to be in the dark or lost in their sin. They have the Light of the Lord. He is the Dayspring from on high.

Jesus Christ amazes me. The difference He makes in history amazes me. Nothing in the world will ever be as dark and as hopeless as it was before the dawn, before He came and brought light. Read it. Be amazed too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The life of a branch

We have a fruit tree in the back yard that blossoms each spring, but it bears little fruit. It needs another tree nearby as a ‘cross pollinator’ and without it, nothing happens. The other tree does not need to be the same variety. It just needs to be there.

I’m not a horticulturist, but as I observe the behavior of my plants, I’ve noticed a few other interesting things. For instance, one lovely perennial produced incredible flowers the first two years that I had it. Then it began to spread and move. The third year it came up about a foot from where it was planted. The next year there were three plants. One of them was about five feet from the original spot and blooms were spotty. The year after that, it disappeared altogether.

Plants can be finicky, even those with a reputation for being easy to grow. Of that category, I have other perennials that grow so well that they take over the space that they are in, and if each plant is not controlled and pruned, it becomes so rampant that it begins to choke itself to death.

In John 15, Jesus uses the image of a vine and branches to describe how I am in relationship with Him. He is the vine, His Father is the vine dresser, and I am a branch. He warns that any branch that does not bear fruit will be lopped off, but if I bear fruit, I can expect to be ‘pruned’ that I might bear even more fruit.

I’ve done that to trees. I remember a crab apple on our farm that had dense branches. It never had apples, so I thinned it out according to something I read about a tree; it should look as if a bird could fly through it. The next year nothing happened, but the second year we had a bumper crop of apples.

Jesus clarified that pruning isn’t necessarily about sin (although it usually is). He said I am “already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” When He saved me and came into my heart, He also forgave all my sin, past, present and future. Pruning is about getting rid of those dead branches that do not produce fruit. It might be a sinful pattern or way of thinking that needs to be cut away, but it might also be some activity that simply has no value to His plan for my life. It isn’t sinful and dead, but it blocks fruit production.

Then He says (John 15:4), “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

My part is sticking close to Him. I’ve always come away from this verse with that understanding. However, this morning’s devotional reading challenges me to look again. Three little words make the difference — “I in you.”

Jesus lives in me. Without that, I could no more stay close to Him than a dead branch could produce fruit. He is my life. He is holding on to me, pouring out His love into my heart, and producing evidences of His life so that I can be like Him, my Vine. That life originates in the Vine, not the branch. I have been grafted in through the powerful work of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t jump up there myself; He put me there. I am in Christ, but more important; Christ is in me. The graft holds, not because I abide in Him, as important as that is, but because He abides in me.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Removed comments

Sometimes people comment on this blog only to promote their own blog or website. While they may have good things to say there (or not), anything about living our faith is far more welcome. For that reason, I sometimes delete comments.

A Question not asked

Like Mark Twain, I read the obituaries this morning and was happy to discover that I wasn’t there. Even though I turn first to the comics, reading the obits is a bad habit. It puts my focus on the inevitable, poking and prodding at that fear that every person has, and even though Christ died to release me from the bondage of that fear, it still niggles at me.

Winter is coming (winter is about dying), I’ve serious dental surgery coming up in November, plus a flight to Asia (there are far too many airplane crashes in the news), and every day new aches and pains remind me that I’m not the young chick I used to be.

Nevertheless, I’ve not brought this nagging to the Lord. I know the answers, at least I tell myself that I do. But there is knowing and there is knowing. Today He gives me a verse to ponder concerning my unasked question. Believe it or not, it took me nearly thirty minutes of looking at it (and related commentaries, etc.) before I realized that He is getting deeply personal with this one. Wake up girl. You have a fear and I am addressing it. Listen to me!

The verse in Revelation 1:18 is Jesus speaking. He says, “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades (literally, the unseen realm) and of Death.

My own study Bible (MacArthur, NKJV) offers this, “Death and Hades are essentially synonyms, but death is the condition, and Hades, equivalent to the OT Sheol, is the place of the dead. Christ decides who lives, who dies, and when.”

Of course He does. My life is in His hands. I know that, but do I really know that?

Another commentary says that the phrase “alive for evermore” in Greek means “living unto the ages of ages” and is not merely “I live,” but “I have life, and am the source of it to My people.” I know that too. Jesus is my life. Without Him, I am a blundering bowl of jelly. I cannot function, never mind live and breathe, without Him.

This commentary also says, “To Him belongs absolute being, as contrasted with the relative being of the creature. Others may share it, but He only has immortality. He is, in essence, not by mere participation, immortal.” It adds that because Jesus passed through death as one of us and now lives in the “infinite plenitude of life” He can reassure His people — through Him death is the gate of resurrection to eternal life.

Christ conquered death. This is the central element in Christianity, the thing that makes it utterly different from all other religions. Romans 6:9 says, “Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.

One commentator said, “A Christ that is not alive, is a Christ that cannot save.” Others worship dead leaders. The one I worship is alive. I know that. I really know that. How? I just do. He speaks to me, makes Himself known to me. Because He is alive, He has authority to unlock the grave and let its inhabitants out. His power unlocks and opens the gates to eternity so I can spend forever with Him. This promise is for all His resurrected saints.

At the same time, Scripture is clear that the living Christ will also judge and sentence His enemies to eternal damnation. Therefore, as Jesus Christ Himself warns, the greatest thing to fear is not death, but rather “He who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

My question is really not about death, but about the process of dying. His answer is not about either death or dying, but about Himself. He says that fear of death is the wrong fear. Instead of anxiety over what He has already conquered, I should be in utter awe of Him, the One who has taken care of my life all along and is quite capable of continuing to do so. Because of Him, I will live forever. Instead of thinking the worst about, or even the process of, getting from here to there, I need to think about the best about dying and put my focus on the One who makes life after death my greatest hope.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Spiritual Battles

Perseverance is a continual battle. I’m not the persevering sort. Every chore on my list requires great determination to start, never mind finish. Even the things I enjoy require perseverance. I started a quilt last week and even though I enjoy making quilts, had to push myself to finish it. Even though spending time with God is more delightful than anything else (including quilt making), pressing on in prayer is far more challenging than all other things, easy or difficult.

This morning, my read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year brought me to Malachi 3:14. God is rebuking His people. They go about as if they are sorry for sin, then complain that this religious activity has no profit. God says, “You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God; what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked as mourners before the Lord of hosts?’

My prayer burden for other people and sorrow for their sin and mine is genuine, yet at times I fall into thinking that prayer is a huge waste of time. It is useless to serve God this way. I don’t see any answers and I’ve much to do that seems more useful.

This verse rebuked me too. Whining about lack of results and thinking that something God commands me to do is useless is just as bad a sin as the hypocrisy in Malachi’s day. In fact, God has shown me the importance of prayer over and over again. In Amos 3:7, He says, “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.

That verse strongly suggests what my experience verifies; when God is going to do something, He first reveals it to those who will pray (His prophets), and does not act until that prayer is offered. It is the will and plan of God to include the prayers of His people in His activities.

Then I think, my prayers are just words, I’d rather be doing something. I read 1 Corinthians 4:20 this morning too. It says, “For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.

This is another rebuke. God’s kingdom isn’t built or established by mere talk, but it is established through the power of prayer. Prayer is not mere talk. It is communication with God. Actually, it is not so much me talking to Him, but if I am in tune, it is God speaking to my heart and out of my mouth. Prayer is God using His people to say His thoughts back to Him.

This is a stupendous truth. He will act, but first He reveals His desire and expects me to say it. As I do, He answers. Why He works this way is a mystery, but He does use prayer.

Last month I prayed every day for a man who has withdrawn from his family. Months go by with no word at all from him. This week he showed up at a family gathering. Not only that, he spent time with one person with whom there has been no communication for years and years. How can I say that it is useless to pray, to serve God this way?

A few years ago, I read (also in Malachi) that God will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children. I prayed for a certain person who had left his family. In a few months, the family was back together—the heart of the father restored to his children and to his wife also. How can I say it is useless to pray, to serve God this way?

My conclusion is that the whispered words of ‘useless’ are not my own. My enemy, the liar and father of lies, wants me to stop. I’m messing with his plans and he knows too that God does not act unless He reveals His secrets to His praying people. If he can keep me from praying, then he can thwart the plan of God.

Yet this scheme is not a secret that he can hide. God reveals it to me to encourage me to keep praying. He reminds me too that every prayer is heard and He uses every prayer to build His kingdom. Prayer is not mere words but power, not my power, but the power of God.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Practical Grace

As I read through the Bible each year, I’m amazed how several different authors writing over a period of hundreds of years arrived at such harmony. The understanding of God’s people, while incomplete at times still hangs together when looked at in total. The thinking about faith and walking in faith does not vary that much between the Old and New Testaments.

For instance, 1 Chronicles 29:15 says, “For we are aliens and pilgrims before You, as were all our fathers; our days on earth are as a shadow, and without hope.

The writer expresses how the people of God are not at home in this world. Then and now, those who know the Lord know this sense of feeling like strangers here. Our real home is in heaven; we are simply passing through this one. My devotional reading (edited a bit) explains this sense of being an alien here is the result of grace.
If you possess the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, you, like them, confess that you are a stranger; and your confession springs out of a believing heart and a feeling experience. You feel yourself a stranger in this ungodly world; it is not your element, it is not your home. You are in it during God’s appointed time, but you wander up and down this world a stranger to its company, a stranger to its maxims, a stranger to its fashions, a stranger to its principles, a stranger to its motives, a stranger to its lusts, its inclinations, and all in which this world moves as in its native element. Grace has separated you by God’s distinguishing power; though you are in the world, you are not of it.
This author goes on to say that anyone who feels at home in the world and feels as if this is their element, and feels akin to the world’s maxims, fashions, and principles, it is because grace has not reached their heart and the faith of God’s elect does not dwell in them.

As he says, the first effect of grace is to separate. Abraham, who is called the father of faith, was called by grace to leave the land of his fathers and go to a land that God would show him. It is the same for God’s people now. 2 Corinthians 6:17 says, “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters,” says the Lord Almighty.”

Separation from the world is the distinguishing mark of true godliness. This is not a mere separation of body (“I don’t smoke, drink or chew, nor do I run with the girls who do”) but a separation of heart. When grace touches a sinners heart, values change and the things that appeal to me change. I no longer am interested in bigger, better, more, or impressing people with what I have or do. This didn’t happen overnight, but grace is persistent. God, in His loving way, grabs hold of me every day and shows me that I am His, that my real home is not here but in heaven, and that this feeling of being an alien is completely normal for His children.

How is this practical? Yesterday, I wrote about not envying those whose lives are taken up with bigger, better and more. Today God reminds me again that grace changes those values and removes me from that realm.

As we listen to news about the current financial crisis in Wall Street and how those whose roots are in this world are fearful of losing their lifestyle, it is obvious that their sense of security is being shaken. While I care about what happens to those who are poor, grace gives me a reliable sense of security and takes away any concerns I might have for myself. My stay is temporary and I know that I am under the care of my heavenly Father. He is responsible for my well-being. Because of that, whatever happens to what I own or don’t own, or to a failing stock market is not a concern. Living without fear in days like these is extremely practical!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Slaying the Green-eyed Monster



W
ednesday evening at a quilt guild meeting I listened to senior founding members of the guild and watched them being applauded for their accomplishments. Most of them started quilting as children, but I didn’t. I made my first quilt about 10-12 years ago. I was tempted by jealousy.

God offers a wonderful cure for envy and jealousy. It isn’t to have or be all that I want to have or be, thus eliminating any desire to have what others have. That never works. I learned early in life that no matter how good I might be at something, or how much I might have of something, there would always be another person who could do better or had a bigger collection. But knowing that didn’t stop the envy.

Contentment helps. Realizing that God gives me all that I need helps. My mother’s saying, “We must need it or we wouldn’t be getting it” has that other side to it; God knows what is best for me. Contentment comes out of trusting Him.

This morning I read two more cures for envy. Proverbs 23:17-18 says, “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but be zealous for the fear of the Lord all the day; for surely there is a hereafter, and your hope will not be cut off.

The first cure is to focus my zeal about having more of anything on having more of the fear of the Lord. Can I ever have enough of the proper awe and respect for Him? The more I focus on that, the less I will notice or care about anything else.

The second one is having an eternal perspective. There is a hereafter and God has promised me life there with Him. What difference does it make what happens here in terms of bigger, better and more? If I turn my heart toward temporary accomplishments, I might achieve them, but after life is over, then what happens to all that? Can I take any medals, awards, citations, or collections of stuff with me? Of course not.

The only things that last for eternity are human souls and the commendations of God. When I concentrate on doing those things that result in a “well done” from Him, then I won’t care at all about anything else or be envious of any person who can do, has done, or has more than I do. Zeal for God and an eternal perspective offer a joyous and wonderful freedom from that green-eyed monster called envy!

Christianese

This week I had an appointment with a dental specialist who is going to fix a “failed bridge.” As I listened to him explain the procedure, I wondered if I was in a foreign country. In one case he used a term I’d never heard of and when I asked him what he meant, he said he was talking about a shadow on my x-ray. While I was impressed with his expertise, would I be less impressed if he simply said this was a shadow on my x-ray?

Like all disciplines, dentistry has its own language. Christianity does too. As a writer who is a Christian, I’ve read warnings to be careful about Christianese. People do not understand it and even some Christians fail to grasp the full meaning behind some biblical language.

This was part of my reaction to the verse from this morning’s devotional. It is Luke 19:10, Jesus speaking, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

At face value, it sounds like He was talking about a young person looking for something that is either missing or hidden. That is sort of the idea, but I know from reading through the Bible every year, studying it for many years, and having the Holy Spirit enlighten me in the process, this verse is more complex than it seems. Other Christians also agree on a deeper interpretation, but today I wonder why Jesus spoke in what we call Christianese.

The Son of Man was Jesus’ term for Himself. He used it to convey the idea that He came to earth as a man. He was not an angel taking on human form nor anything less than fully human. He ate, drank, got tired and slept, and felt emotions and pain just like everyone else.

However, He was more than that because of His job description. God the Father sent Him to earth to do something that no mere man could do. Jesus’ role was to search the hearts of all people and uncover our lost condition. Lost is not like ‘lost in the woods’ though. It is being lost from God, lost from knowing Him, lost from a relationship with Him, lost from all that He wants us to have, lost in sin and self-centered living, lost in guilt, and lost to eternal life.

I can remember when I began to realize that I was lost. It seemed that my life had no direction. I didn’t know what I was doing anymore, or why I was here. I felt alone and without purpose, empty. This (and more) is the subjective side of the lostness that Jesus spoke about, and is the condition of those He seeks.

As for Jesus coming to save, people make jokes about it. I read a billboard that said, “Jesus saves . . . so we should be thrifty too.” While I chuckle, I realize that some might think this is all that the word ‘save’ means.

In connection with ‘lost,’ save could mean ‘find’ yet Jesus does more than find lost people. It is part of His job description to rescue us from our lostness too. This means He came to introduce us to God and put us in a right and intimate relationship with Him. It means he came to bless us with all that God wants for us, rescue us from the power that sin has over us, forgive our sins and erase our guilt. He came to give us eternal life.

As fully man, Jesus knows what it is like to be human, yet He did not sin. He qualifies as one who can seek and save the lost because He Himself is not lost. He is the One who searches and knows our hearts, and the One who is able to save us from anything and everything that keeps us away from God.

All that said, I wonder if He used Christianese so I would dig deeper and discover the rich meaning behind these simple words? And I wonder if I used them too, would people do as I did at the dentist and ask about their meaning? Or would they, like I was tempted at the dentist, simply nod as if they know and walk away without understanding any of those lifesaving words?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Perfectionism

More than one person has told me that I am a perfectionist. My response is usually something like, “If I can do it well, why do it halfway?

Perfectionism can be very harmful. “Reg” admits that if he cannot do something very well, he won’t do it at all. For him, accomplishment is a pride thing and halfway is not in his vocabulary. Sadly, this choice limits his activities and narrows his enjoyment of life.

After years of trying to do my best, I realize that others often don’t care if they make that effort. Doing well is not a priority. Also some try, but halfway is the best that they can do.

Sometimes that is also true of me. In fact, the saying, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing poorly” is often motivation to just do it and let perfection go by the wayside.

Jesus talked about being perfect. He said in Matthew 5 that we are to love our enemies just as “God makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Then in verse 48, He says, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Jesus sets an impossible and unattainable standard. God’s glory is beyond us. As Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Yet God cannot lower His standard any more than He can lower His own perfection. The good news is that Christ met this standard on our behalf. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For He (God) made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Jesus is my righteousness and my perfection. He came into my life to do and be what I cannot do and be. Being a Christian involves the process of learning how to get out of His way and let Him live it for me. He teaches me through the experiences of life and through His Word.

Today’s devotional reading is from 1 Timothy 3:16-17. It says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

That word complete is the same idea as perfect. It is not so much about quality or excellence in human or worldly terms, but about being mature, like Jesus. The more I am like Jesus the more I can measure up to what God wants from me, and I become more like Jesus by letting the Word of God permeate my life. When I do, my responses come from it rather than my sinful nature.

Knowing God’s will is vital. When Paul wrote, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect . . . ” (Philippians 3:15), he meant “We should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine . . . “ (Ephesians 4:14). That is, by immersing myself in the Word of God, I know His will. His book gives me a measure of wisdom and spiritual strength that protects me from being pulled astray. This Christian maturity is part of what it means to be perfect.

My devotional reading today says such perfection is only obtained by suffering. I wanted to argue, but I know this is usually true. I’m a tough case. I can read truth and know truth, but when it comes to living it out, it takes a few hard knocks to get that truth from my head and into my muscles.

However, one thing is certain; this perfection is all about living my life in His power instead of my own. I cannot be mature, complete or spiritually perfect without Jesus Christ. While the results He makes in me may or may not be what others consider perfect, when I obey God, then in the mind of God I am doing exactly what pleases Him.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

God’s secrets

We have a friend who is unable to keep a secret. A couple weeks ago she was included in a planned surprise anniversary party for her son. She said she kept her “lip zipped” and was so proud of herself. As her family looked back, they recalled how she dropped big hints on the way to the party with them. While they didn’t catch on, she just could not totally keep this great secret to herself.

God has secrets too. He has a secret covenant or agreement that He makes with certain people. Psalm 25:14 describes the people to whom He makes this mystery known, “The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.

Most people would say that the fear of the Lord means an awe and reverence for Him. It does mean that, but in my research, this word can also mean terror, like the healthy terror I should have if a hungry tiger walked into the room or a tornado was bearing down on my house.

Fearing the Lord, in my opinion, means recognizing His unlimited power and what He could do in my life and in this world. It means knowing that He is not to be messed with, and even though He is a loving God who cares for me more than my awareness, like the children of Narnia, I know that “He is not a tame lion.”

The fear of the Lord is important for me. If I focused only on His unconditional love, I might take that for granted and do stupid things. This holy fear keeps my choices in balance. If I focused only on His grace and forgiveness, I might sin without a thought, but fear makes me realize that God can inflict chastening and even bring great calamities to teach me that sin is my enemy; I must not fool around with it. Even the consequences of deliberate sin show me that I need to fear the Lord. While He forgives me, He may not withhold the fruit of foolishness just because He loves me.

This verse from the Psalm 25 brings out another great reason to fear the Lord. He reveals His secrets to those who do. Because I fear Him, He shows me things that I would not otherwise know, things about Him and the spiritual realm, things about myself and others, and the trusts about the covenant or solemn agreement that He has made with me.

C. S. Lewis did a great job in depicting the Lord with the lion, Aslan in his Chronicles of Narnia series. Sometimes I imagine myself with those children curled up in the fur of Aslan, knowing that He could devour me in just one bite, yet knowing that I am safe with him.

I am safe with God too. Because Jesus died for me, I am protected from God’s fury and wrath, and can instead consider this sin-hating God my refuge and hiding place. He still hates sin, but He let me in on His secret—the closer I get to Him, the less apt I am to experience His wrath and the more I know about His grace.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sweet peace

We have a Jewish friend who once told me that he thought it was impertinent that I should call myself God’s child. In his mind, this was an outrageous presumption and could not be true.

In the Old Testament, God designated that the place of worship for those who belonged to Him be divided into separate areas for the Jews and Gentiles. Anyone who was not born into a Jewish family was a Gentile, and almost all of them worshiped idols; they did not know or care about God. Anyone who wanted to believe in the God of Israel was accepted into their worship, but they were only allowed into the Court of the Gentiles. They didn’t have the same access in the temple as the Jews.

After several centuries and before Christ came, the animosity grew. The average Jewish rabbi thanked God every day that he had not been born a Gentile (or a woman). Our friend’s attitude may be a carry-over from this, and his annoyance with me is certainly mixed with the prevailing rejection by his people of Jesus as their Messiah.

In Ephesians 2, Paul writes to those who were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” He wanted them to know that this separation was over, that they were included in the family of God. Since most of those in the early church were Jewish, this news caused considerable debate.

Acts 10 tells about the conversion of a Roman centurion named Cornelius and the stir over that remarkable event, yet the problem continued so the early Christians needed instruction about this change. Paul continues in Ephesians 2:13-16 with an explanation of what was different. He says:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.
Christ changed everything by perfectly obeying the law that neither Jew nor Gentile could obey. The commandments that separated them were abolished so that both could come to God on the basis of changed lives.

In the mind of God, there is no difference between sinners. All need forgiveness and all need new life. By sending Jesus to die for us, He established a new covenant. No one comes to God through law-keeping (as if we could anyway), but through faith in His Son.

The thing about this peace is that it doesn’t just happen without both parties putting their faith in Christ. A believing Jew is not going to have this amazing peace with his brother who does not believe or with any Gentiles who do not believe, any more than a believing Gentile has this peace with non-believing people. Rather, this is a peace and a unity that happens for those who, by faith in Christ, are reconciled to God and made new by the power of Jesus Christ.

This peace is an incredible blessing. Today I plan to simply rejoice in it and praise the One who made it possible and gave it to me.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Source of Wisdom

Last week I tackled a project another person had started. She made a quilt top and wanted it sewn up as a duvet cover. I’d never made a duvet cover so essentially didn’t know what I was doing, so I prayed for wisdom.

After praying, I searched online for duvet cover instructions, and while what I found was not exactly what I was trying to do, I did get a few ideas. My biggest problem was how to close the opening. Buttons would not do because this was a baby’s duvet. Velcro didn’t seem like a good idea either. Then the idea popped into my head to use two zippers, two because it would be hard to find one lightweight zipper long enough. If I put the closed ends of the zippers toward the outside edges, they would open from the middle outward, be easy to manage, and create an uninterrupted enclosure for the opening to insert the duvet, one in which the baby could not entangle herself.

My first thought was, “Good idea, Elsie.” Immediately I corrected that. I’d prayed about this problem so needed to say, “Good idea, Lord” so I did.

My reading today is Proverbs 19:20. It says, “Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days.

Even though this verse sounds like it, the educated person is not necessarily wise. In fact, I’ve met a few people that could almost be called ‘educated idiots’ because their degrees didn’t seem to affect their ability to make sound decisions in most areas of life. Wisdom isn’t something that comes just through knowing information. It is more than that.

A few years ago we were in an adult Sunday school class of a very large church. The people were randomly seated around small tables so we could discuss the lesson material. At our table were a few men with degrees in theology and one elderly lady who had very little education. English was not her first language and her clothing indicated that she did not have much money. However, she knew her Bible. As we talked, we were immediately aware that we were in the presence of a very wise woman. She received respect from everyone at the table.

In contrast, my devotional describes how I sometimes feel about my slowness to learn spiritual truth. I was quick in school and received high marks, but . . . “O what slow learners, what dull, forgetful scholars, what ignoramuses, what stupid blockheads, what stubborn pupils! Surely no scholar at a school, old or young, could learn so little of natural things as we seem to have learned of spiritual things after so many years’ instruction, so many chapters read, so many sermons heard, so many prayers put up, so much talking about religion.”

Yet as I read this and think about the woman in that Sunday class, I remember that true wisdom and the best education is about my relationship with God, not how smart I am or how quickly I learn. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 says why:
But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
As my reading today says, if I have Him, I have everything, and if I don’t have Him I have nothing. The wisdom of this world, including any A’s I might have received in formal education, is superficial and flimsy compared to what Jesus offers. Besides, I am far too quick to glory in myself. I continually need the Lord’s reminder to get my focus off me and on Him.

Jeremiah 9:23-24 does it. “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,’ says the Lord.

The reason that soft-spoken woman was so wise had nothing to do with her education or lack of it. She was wise because she knew Jesus and she gloried in that knowledge. As she did, He gave her secrets about life and living that she didn’t learn in school, things only the wisdom of God could provide.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Saving faith vs. the temporary kind

Time after time I’ve seen people cry out to God because they are in trouble, but as soon as the trouble goes away, they lose interest in God.

This is ‘temporary faith’ operating for a short time because of a strong felt need. It is not the same as ‘saving faith’ which begins with a sense of need, but never goes away.

Temporary ‘faith’ is illustrated in the Old Testament exodus. When God put plagues on the Egyptians, they were convinced. We see this Psalm 105:28, speaking of one of the plagues. “He sent darkness, and made it dark; and they did not rebel against His word.

“They” refers to the people of Egypt. They were ready to do what God wanted, but as soon as the plague was lifted, their ‘faith’ vanished and they refused His commands.

Psalm 107 gives several examples of the temporary faith of Israel. Verses 10-14 say, “Those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, bound in affliction and irons—because they rebelled against the words of God, and despised the counsel of the Most High, therefore He brought down their heart with labor; they fell down, and there was none to help. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains in pieces.

They knew God, but because they were not obeying Him, they were in darkness, not literally as the Egyptians were in that ninth plague, but in spiritual darkness. This means they were clueless about the will and work of God and blind to their own sinful state and need.

They were also sitting “in the shadow of death” which is not about being close to dying but about their fear, and their ignorance of God’s power to deliver them from eternal death, a far greater concern than physical death.

So God sent a wake-up call in the form of hard labor. He got their attention and they cried out to Him. Then He brought them out of their trouble and lifted their burdens. For a little while, they celebrated and had ‘faith,’ but after a time went back to doing their own thing and disobeying Him. This cycle repeated itself and for centuries they alternated between trusting God and rebellion against Him.

Christians, blessed with saving faith can also struggle with the temporary kind. When things go well, it is easy to trust God, even take His blessings for granted. When troubles come (which God uses also for our good), trusting God is more difficult.

This is because of a failure to grasp the difference between that kind of trust and the kind that Ephesians 2:8 describes: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.

The faith that comes to us as a gift is not based on my human ability to trust. It is the faith that Christ brought with Him when He came into my life—His faith. While various translations differ, the New Testament has verses that reveal how saving faith originates with Him, for example, Revelation 14:12, “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.

Sometimes I have trouble trusting God. These Scriptures show me that my problem is the same old, same old. Instead of letting Him be my Savior, I’m trying to do it myself. But my ‘faith’ is like the Egyptians and the Israelites; it sticks around only when necessary. His faith is enduring and eternal; by it I can trust God all the time and for everything.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Easy Believism

During the 80's we attended a large church in southern California. The pastor often spoke out against what he called easy believism. He said far too many people figured they were saved and belonged to the family of God because they had “walked the aisle and prayed the sinner’s prayer,” but nothing had changed in their lives. He said (and I agree with him) that it is better to be a Christian and worry that you are not, than to be a pagan and convinced that you are a Christian.

In that church, we were taught that if we shared the gospel with people, we must tell them that when they become Christians, their lives will change. They will love God, His Word, and love other Christians. They will hate sin and confess it, and want to live holy lives.

We were given a brief, basic list and used it before anyone prayed that sinner’s prayer. That way, no one would “accept Jesus into their hearts” without realizing that He would make a huge difference in their lives, and if that change didn’t happen, their salvation was suspect and should be examined.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, he knew that they were genuine believers. He told them:
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.
These people experienced the power of God and their lives were changed. Their new faith, new love and vivid hope motivated them to do good and endure hardship—with joy! They received and obeyed God’s Word and became good examples of what believers should be. All this evidence produced joy and thankfulness in Paul’s heart too.

Some Christians assume that if anyone wants to be a Christian, all they need to do is tell God they are sinners and ask Jesus to forgive them and save them. While this is true, this can be that “word only” powerless event that Paul talks about. It is not enough.

For salvation and regeneration to occur, the power of the Holy Spirit also must be at work. I can chant whatever I think I should say, but without God being in it, I am only making noise.

This is not to say that God isn’t in or behind the motivation to pray such a prayer. Often He is, but He also knows the human heart. If someone wants only ‘fire insurance’ and has no sorrow for sin, no desire for repentance and change, and no longing for a relationship with Jesus Christ, God knows that. That person can say whatever they wish and claim whatever they wish, but 2 Timothy 2:19 says, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”

Being a child of God means acting like one. Oh, we might start out looking like the same brats that we were before praying that prayer, but if our hearts are right and God is in it, we will begin to grow up, and by the same power of that Spirit who saved us, we will become more and more like our Father.

Friday, September 12, 2008

So slow to get it

Some wild and crazy dreams last night reminded me how naive I can be. So did a verse I read this morning, “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished” (Proverbs 22:3).

The Bible describes some prudent people who avoided God’s wrath, like Noah who was warned by God and prepared an ark. He saved himself, his family, and two of every living creature from a great flood. Another one is Lot who was admonished by angels sent from God, fled out of Sodom and escaped fire and brimstone. These prudent people fled from God’s anger against wickedness that expressed itself in disaster for those who did not fear Him.

The Bible also speaks of His wrath yet to come. It clearly says that the only way to escape this fearful eternal, unmitigated wrath is by fleeing to Jesus. Otherwise, no one will escape, yet many are prudent and hide themselves in Christ. My devotional reading says that we do it because we feel our need of Him.

I realize that only God can make anyone feel that need. Even as a Christian, I’m very aware of my sinful nature that would totally ignore God and any warnings He might give. Without His power to get my attention, I would never flee evil.

God can also get the attention of those who are not His people. One example is the Egyptians at the time of the Exodus. God used Moses to bring plagues on them in order to persuade Pharaoh to release His people from bondage. As the seventh plague, hail, was announced, Exodus 9:19-20 says, “He who feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his livestock flee to the houses. But he who did not regard the word of the Lord left his servants and his livestock in the field.

According to these verses, some prudent Egyptian people realized the power of God and the dangers of evil. These people had already seen the devastation of six plagues. Some of them were wise and took their livestock out of the open fields and into safety. Others were “simple” or naive, or foolish, or easily duped, and did not. Because of their simple mindedness, they suffered the consequences.

What is it about human nature that it can take a long time to make a connection between cause and effect, actions and consequences? Like the teenager racing his vehicle thinking he is invincible, I’ve gone ahead and done things that I knew were stupid, but in the back of my mind supposed that ‘nothing will happen to me.’

Pride, a stubborn self-will, gullible, simple-minded. Whatever God calls it, He is right and so is whatever punishment He doles out. Every time that I ‘pass on’ rather than ‘hide myself’ God brings disaster, mild or great. From that I must learn to be prudent, to think ahead, to lean on the Lord who will help me foresee evil and flee from it.

I used to think I was a quick learner, but more and more realize that also is a simple-minded notion. Without Jesus, I would never be prudent or figure out anything.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I’m more blessed than I thought

Sometimes I put “blessings” at the end of my email. What does “blessing” mean? My dictionary says blessing is a noun that is God's favor and protection; or a prayer asking for blessing; or a beneficial thing for which one is grateful; or a person's sanction or support. It adds that a “blessing in disguise” is an apparent misfortune that eventually has good results.

My devotional guide takes me again to Isaiah 44:3. It says, “For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring.

God’s blessing is His favor and protection. Whatever the dictionary says, the Bible is clear that being blessed by God is a very positive thing. Also, this word can mean the way God speaks well of His people. I am not cursed, but blessed. God supports me and encourages me to live for Him. That is a blessing.

However, many of His blessings wear disguises. When people talk about the blessings of God, they usually mean those ‘feel good’ things that happen in their lives. Yet according to His Word, we are blessed by unpleasant things too. Affliction teaches us obedience. Trials develop patience and bring us to maturity. We are blessed when others persecute us for our faith because “great will be our reward” in heaven. Yet only rarely have I heard anyone claim God’s blessing regarding these seemingly negative things.

Romans 8:28 says God uses “all things for good” in the lives of those who love Him. This isn’t that He ‘can use’ all things, but that He ‘does use’ all things. The good He has in mind is that I become more like Jesus, and He orchestrates the events in my life so that I am shaped and transformed into His image.

This ought to make me view life differently from how I normally see things. I should see all events, all situations and circumstances as a blessing from God, and because of that perspective, be rejoicing and thankful no matter what rather than whining that He should change what I don’t like or enjoy.

Instead, I should be asking Him to change me, and while I’m at it, asking Him how I can be more cooperative in the process!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Quickly to my rescue

Every year I read through the Bible. Right now I am reading Hosea, written by that prophet who was told by God to illustrate the unfaithfulness of His people by marrying a harlot. Hosea did what God told him to do.

I started thinking of the things God has asked me to do, none of them even close to being that difficult. Then my mind wandered from the text for a few minutes and I began feeling heavy for all the times I have disobeyed Him. I feel as if I didn’t teach my family as I should have, nor interceded for them nearly as much as I ought.

Then I read Hosea 4:6: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.

Only someone with wayward kids would know the effect that verse slammed on me. With a lump of sorrow for a past I cannot change, I turned to my devotional guide and discovered that the reading for today is the same as yesterday based on Isaiah 44:3, “For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring.

The first verse from Hosea is what God can do against those who disobey Him. I know that is true, yet immediately the enemy began telling me all was lost. Because I failed, God would never bless me or my family. My situation is hopeless. Yet very quickly, the God who can do all things did not let that hopelessness take hold. He immediately gave me the second verse to remind me that when I am deficient, when I fail and cannot do anything the way I should, He is able to do all that I long for and He can bless whoever He wants to bless.

The reading from the devotional in Ears from Harvested Sheaves blesses me also. With a bit of editing to personalize it (and because it is written in a very wordy manner), here is what it says:
How often does my soul, born and taught of God, feel that I am “dry ground!” I desire to be adorned with every grace of the Spirit within and with every good and godly fruit without. There is nothing too holy, too heavenly, too spiritual, or too gracious but that I long to experience and produce it in my life. But I know I cannot by any exertion of my own produce this fruitfulness. Just as a barren field cannot convert itself into a fruitful garden without being tilled by human hand or without rain from the sky, I know the barrenness produced by my own exertions.
Yet the Lord knows the desire of my heart and my mourning over this barrenness. He gives me this sweet and gracious promise, “I will pour floods upon the dry ground.”
A partial shower would not be enough; dry ground quickly absorbs a few drops of summer rain. Floods must come, either from the skies or from the streams of that “river which makes glad the city of God” to produce this mighty change. These floods are the promises poured into my soul along with the love of God shed abroad in my heart.
God speaks to me with reassurance that when my heart is not fearful or defensive but instead honest and contrite, Christ will manifest Himself and the power of His atoning blood in my life. From Him and from His Word come an inflow of grace and truth that washes away the guilt and crud of sin and flows like a river of peace into my heart.

Not only that, my family is not under His curse. He is powerful and able to pour out His Spirit on them as well, doing in their lives that which they are far too barren to do for themselves.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Thirsty?

When things converge in a delightful way, most people call it coincidence. For those of us who know God, we see His divine providence at work.

I’m continually praying for my children, which is one item of the five that converge this morning. The second is reading the prayer of Daniel in Daniel 9:3ff which is how I have been praying lately. The third is that I have been wondering if God is listening, yet filled with the sense that my only appeal is in His mercy. The fourth is last week’s evidence of answered prayer for one of them, which was a great encouragement. Now today, my devotional guide takes me to Isaiah 44:3, which says, “For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, and My blessing on your offspring.


That is one blessing for today—the reminder that God is hearing my prayers and He will pour out His Spirit on my family. Every time I read this passage from Isaiah, I am surprised by the blessing in it. My heart rejoices that God knows the heart of a mother that cares about the spiritual well-being of her family.


However, the reading for today offers another blessing. It focuses on being thirsty for God and the author writes that this does not happen to those who are spiritually dead. The unsaved person desires God about the same way a corpse wants a drink of water. This spiritual thirst is for those who have been made alive, those upon whom God has poured out His Spirit.


Some of my family knows Christ. Some do not. All of them have heard of Him. All have seen Him in creation. The starry sky, roaring sea, and bountiful earth declare Him. All have read of Him in the Bible and learned about Him in either church or Sunday school at some point in their lives, but I cannot see evidence of this thirst to which Isaiah refers. It may be there, but I’m not aware of it.


Of course there are many obstacles to feeling thirst. The author of my devotional says that before God gave him new life in Christ, he “loved the world too dearly to look to Him who made it, and myself too warmly and affectionately to seek Him who would bid me crucify and mortify it.”


That is the rub. The world is lovely. The things of the world (selfish desires, pride, stuff, etc.) can look lovely too, and it is this, not the starry skies, that keep us from thirsting after God. That thirst for bigger, better, and more does it. That is why, for some, God must take away worldly things before a soul begins to thirst after Him.

The other thing that can be an obstacle to trusting God is the threat of loss. The old nature and all that it wants must be denied. Without knowing the blessedness of living with a new nature, this is terribly frightening.
Will God rob me of everything I enjoy? Will He send me to the mission field? Will I have to give up all my friends?

The psalmist knew that God gives far more. That is why he wrote, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalm 42:1-3). The remainder of the psalm indicates that he felt that God had abandoned him, hence his strong desire or thirst.


Only someone who has known the taste of clear, cool water longs for it. Only someone who knows the fellowship and power of God misses it when He seems absent. Those who don’t know God have no thirst. Only the Spirit of God can generate it in our barren hearts.


To those who sense this need, Jesus gives an invitation and a promise. He says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37). He also said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). When someone thirsts for God, Proverbs 10:24 also promises that, “The desire of the righteous shall be granted.


As I pray today, I must first allow myself to feel that emptiness and thirst for God, not try to fill it with other things. Then, as He satisfies me, I will continue to pray that He pours out His Spirit and gives that same godly thirst to those who are oblivious to their need for Him.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Identifying with others

Elections are coming up in both Canada and the United States. Some of the candidates are making an effort to show how they know and identify with voters. For instance, Sarah Palin has a child with Down’s Syndrome and tells voters if any of them have children with special needs, she understands their situation and will hear their voice.

In the political realm, reaching voters can be out of genuine concern, or it can be out of that desire for power which is only possible if people vote for you. In the spiritual realm, God calls me to serve people with His compassion and love for them, and in Christ He demonstrates to me that identification with the people I serve is important.

I’ve learned this from experience. One Bible class that I teach was attended by a woman with fetal alcohol syndrome. At mid-life, she has the problems of a young child in knowing her boundaries. I’ve never had that and not worked with anyone who has it. Yet I have been a self-centered child and understand the human tendency to make everything about me, so can relate to her at that level. God has shown me how to help her even thought I have not suffered from the same condition. However, if I had suffered from FAS and overcame those same problems, my input into her life would likely be stronger.

As for Jesus, Hebrews 2:10-11 says, “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.

All three members of the Godhead are perfect, complete. They have not known the guilt of sin, the agonies of regret, or the pain of being human in a sinful world. These verses say that it was fitting or consistent with His sovereign creative power to put Jesus into this world in a human body that He might suffer the same things as we do. God deliberately chose to identify with us, to know our struggles and pain. While Jesus never sinned, He does know about temptation and pain, humiliation and sorrow. He was acquainted with grief, hungry, shed tears, and became angry.

Does that make a difference in my response to Him? I think so. If Bill Gates saw a person in poverty and gave them a healthy financial donation, it could be out of guilt, for personal reward, or perhaps pity. The recipient might be thankful but Bill would not be accessible. He would not likely feel much kinship with that poor person.

However, if Bill abandoned all his riches and lived a few years by the skin of his teeth in poverty and genuine struggle, then made that donation, the recipient would be drawn to him and Bill would also feel as if they were brothers of a kind because they both knew what it was like to be poor.

In a similar fashion, the Bible says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.

It also says that because of Jesus’ sacrifice for me, I am an heir of all things and what Jesus has becomes mine. That means I know His poverty and suffering, His grief over sin and pain, and His humiliation and sorrow, but I also experience God supplying “all my need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Scripture also says that everything that is the Lord’s is mine and that His riches are far greater than anything this world offers.

As for this matter of identification with others, I can do this in the same way that Jesus did it. He allowed God to put Him through the unimaginable suffering of leaving perfection to live in this world and experience what ordinary people experience. I also must surrender my life to whatever God has in mind for me. The things that I suffer ought to bring me closer to others and help me realize that it is by suffering God equips me to serve others.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

His Spirit with my spirit

Today I’m again reminded how Paul signed his letters to the churches with statements rich in spiritual truth. “Yours truly” doesn’t quite do the same for me as, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

This benediction is given at the end of Galatians, 2 Timothy and Philemon. It reminds me that when Jesus Christ came into my life, He took hold of the part of me that had been dead in sin, separated from God and unable to function as it was intended, and then transformed it.

Watchman Nee, a martyred Chinese Christian, taught that man is a triune being. The body is our physical person, but we also are soul and spirit. He said the soul houses our intellect, emotions, and volition or will power, and the spirit is our innermost heart. In the natural man, our decisions, emotions and thoughts are rooted in or governed by the desires of our body, but that is not what God intended.

Nee taught, as does the Bible, that the spirit was supposed to be the source of what we do. This innermost faculty is our human ability to be deeply aware and convicted of sin, to know and understand God, to communicate with Him, and to have faith. However, because of sin, the spirit does not function. It can only work as it should when Christ gives us His life. When He is “with our spirit” then our spirit is made alive and starts working as God intended.

In John 3:6-7, Jesus talked to a religious man named Nicodemus. He said to him, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

Nicodemus knew all the religious laws of his Jewish heritage, but because his spirit was dead, he could only interpret them with his natural mind. The Bible says over and over that the natural mind, or the carnal mind cannot understand the things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:14 puts it this way, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

While the idea of “born again” gets a bad rap these days, it is an important truth, and totally misunderstood by those with ‘dead’ spirits. Without the regenerating power of God to make alive the human spirit, no one can know the things of God. As Jesus said, we cannot see or enter His kingdom unless we are given new life and our spirits are reborn.

Jesus also said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). There is an amazing power in the Word of God combined with the Spirit of God. When someone reads Scripture, God is able to produce new life in that person’s dead spirit.

This is not automatic. I read the Bible for sixteen years without anything happening. My spirit remained dead as a stone for that entire time. Yet one day, without any action on my part, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ joined with my spirit and I became a new person. Even though it happened more than thirty-five years ago, I still weep with joy when I think about this event.

I learned that God works from the inside out. He speaks to the inner person, the spirit, and the spirit directs the soul. This enables a Christian to know and choose God’s way, think God’s thoughts (the Bible even says, “We have the mind of Christ”) and feel God’s emotions. As the Spirit of God governs my spirit and soul, my body is to submit to this new order of things and stop running my life. If I get things backwards, I will make decisions “according to the flesh” and they will be sinful.

As my devotional reading today says, this is not a subtle distinction, but a very important truth. Unless I know the difference between the two natures, the spirit and the flesh and the way the Lord works from the heart, I will be in bondage looking for holiness in the flesh. It will not, and cannot, happen.

The grace of my Lord Jesus Christ is with my spirit. He breathes from time to time upon that inner part of me, moving and acting in such a way that there is a gracious and spiritual union between the two. I can “no more live without the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ than the earth can live without the sun.” When He shines, I have light. Because He lives, I have eternal life. Because He lives in me, I am being changed to be like Him.

What a wonder that the grace of God can actually be with the spirit of a sinner like me so I can praise Him, enjoy Him in this life, and be with Him forever in eternity.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Christians in politics

In a rousing conversation yesterday with my son, we did agree on several things in the two hot topics we discussed: religion and politics.

One of them was that it is easy to be deceived, both by religion and by politics. Far too many people either believe everything they hear (and thus sway back and forth without solid commitment to anything), or their decisions about what to believe are strongly colored by their personal “I-wants.” Either way, decision-making becomes dangerous.

My devotional reading today points to a verse that offers one way to keep on track. 1 Timothy 4:7 says, “Reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness.

This verse tells Christians to concentrate on being godly, and turn from that which is profane or secular, that is, anything disrespectful of religious practice. For most of us, avoiding the profane is not difficult, yet even Christians will say that religion has no place in politics. Think about that for a minute. . . .

Jesus said that He is “the way, the truth and the life” and that “no one can come to the Father except through Him.” If I truly believe that, then it will affect everything I do. This will be my focus in my role as a mother, a teacher, an artist or a member of my community. If, in any area of my life, I deny or push aside the fact that Christ is the only way to God, then I am secularizing that part of life. If I say religion and politics don’t mix, then I am saying that God does not belong in the lives or decision-making of those in public leadership positions.

Yesterday’s discussion also concerned the law about separation of church and state. I believe this goes both ways. The church cannot be ruled by the government any more than the government is the responsibility of the church. Yet if a Christian is part of the ‘secular’ legislative body, they are compelled by God to live as Christians in that position. Not only that, they will bring their perspective of leadership and community need into the church.

If a Christian who is part of the church moves into a political position, the commands to love God and love your neighbor cannot be set on the shelf when that person walks into his or her office. Their Christian faith will affect their leadership role just as their leadership role will affect their church activities.

Regardless of role or position, Christians must not use religious beliefs for personal gain, nor even personal comfort. Christ saved me so that I might glorify Him, not so I could ask Him to swing the vote my way, or give me power to pass laws that would sanction my lifestyle or that of my friends. He did not save me so I could be comfortable and ignore what is going on in the rest of the world either. In other words, and in this my son and I agreed, Christians are just as responsible, and perhaps even more responsible than anyone else to put “God and country” first.

Yet being in the public eye brings public scrutiny. Those who call themselves Christian make the same mistakes as those who do not have faith in Christ. For some reason, those mistakes are more glaring, and certainly deserve the hypocrisy label. We who call on the name of Jesus are expected to live godly lives.

But sometimes we don’t.

It may not matter to the world that deep in our hearts we want to make a difference and we want others to live in peace, enjoy freedom, be treated with dignity and given opportunities to make their own choices without fear. Yet in that desire, we also struggle with our sinful human nature. Sometimes we want those things for ourselves even more, and in that desire, we lose perspective of who comes first.

When I do it, the world doesn’t shake its fist at me because I’m not in a position where most of the world even notices, but when a president or a governor or a candidate who professes the same faith as I do makes a fleshy blunder, the uproar is deafening. This makes me wonder if Christians should go into politics.

It seems that mixing faith into government is a recipe for becoming a target at the very least, but as my son and I discussed, what about the alternatives? Those who are not Christians also bring their belief system to their position of power. When their belief system is just a subtle ‘me first’ hidden behind a lot of high-sounding rhetoric, then what? If their belief system says there is no God, or if there is He doesn’t matter or enter their decision making, then what?

It seems to me that ‘no faith’ is far more fearful than bumbling faith. The secular mind makes truth relative and puts self first. They cannot help it as this is the human condition without the transforming power of Christ. Because of that, without absolutes and objective truth, a secular person will rule their corner of the world whatever way their whim goes.

My son and I also agreed on one other issue. When ordinary people are self-seeking, other ordinary people consider this normal and seldom offer strict judgment, but when Christians disobey God and become self-seeking, it is considered a terrible thing and harshly judged. We both felt great concern that the ordinary person has been lulled into thinking that they will escape the wrath of God for doing the same thing.