Sunday, May 31, 2009

No more fatigue

This morning I’m thinking that a physical transformation, perhaps a new body, would be a good thing. I’m swacked. We had a graduation Thursday night (3000 people, a big one), went to a conference Friday and Saturday where I spoke both days (one long and one short), then a wedding after the conference that lasted much longer than we dared to stay.

I know, some people work the same hours, or battle illness, or go through calamities on a weekend, so this was mild compared to those things, but my body is still tired and my mind is more than a tad fuzzy from fatigue.

So I open my Bible and this is where I’ve been directed, a verse that tells me that my transformation is coming.
(Christ) will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:21)
When Jesus was on earth, He lived in a very human body. He ate, drank, worked and became tired. On at least one occasion, He was sleeping in a boat during a storm that was so violent that His disciples were afraid they would perish. To sleep during that upheaval means Jesus’ body was exhausted.

After He rose from the dead, Jesus stayed in a human body. That is amazing. He showed the disciples the wounds in His side and hands, and ate with them. However, I’m certain that His new body didn’t require sleep and fatigue was no longer an issue.

This verse is actually more about His power to change my body. The entire universe is under His sovereign control so He definitely has the power to raise me up and make my body like His. As Creator and Sustainer, as God in human flesh, Jesus created natural laws and miraculously overruled them. He made water so it can be steam, liquid or a solid, yet He also demonstrated His power to walk on the liquid form, even enable Peter do the same thing.

Jesus also has the power to give life and to take it, and the power to conquer the entire universe. Paul wrote, “Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:24-25).

Jesus will recapture the whole works, those who are saved and those who are His enemies, and give it all back to God. Wow! That same power is what He will use to transform my body to be like His. Some days I’m feeling really good, but this morning is one of those times when I’m thinking how nice it will be when I don’t have to fight with fatigue. Because of Jesus, I can look forward to heaven and say goodbye to waking up and feeling as if I had not slept all night.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Better than money

The prosperity gospel is not true. Television preachers and others say that if you give to God He will give back a hundredfold. God is pictured like a genie in a bottle who will grant all those who are generous with money anything they want, including financial prosperity.

Sometimes He does, but this unlimited wealth nonsense is largely a North American perversion that mocks millions of believers who live below what we would call the poverty line. The Bible is quite plain about money and about salvation. Those who come to Christ and are received into His kingdom do so to be saved from sin, not poverty. There is much in Scripture about money being a snare and a deceptive hope. We cannot serve God and money.

God lives in eternity and knows that our lives are short. We cannot take one thing from this life to the next, cash included. When we stand before Him, our hands will be empty. However, because God offers eternal life to those who trust Jesus to save them from sin, He also offers eternal blessings. Paul wrote this:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ . . . (Ephesians 1:3)
I do experience spiritual blessings on earth, but their origin is heaven and because that is true, they are eternally mine. They will follow me from this life to the next. They are fixed, secure because God made them so.

In this life, I also experience material blessings. God is generous. He cares that His people have enough and that our needs are met. He makes promises like this one from Matthew 6:31-33,
Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
I cannot explain why some Christians have more than others, nor why He allows many to suffer and struggle at or below the poverty line. But I do know this — even if He grants money as a temporal blessing, it is merely temporal. I cannot take it with me, and even if I could, it would be useless in heaven. What good is money when the very streets I walk on will be transparent gold and the city around me will have walls made of precious stones?

The true gospel is that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day. To all who believe in Him, He forgives their sin and gives eternal life. This is His very own never-ending life and it is secure. We don’t do anything to deserve it, nor can we do anything to keep it, or to get rid of it. Now that I belong to Christ, He is my security for my future on earth and for eternity. Money just cannot cut it. Whatever I have invested, or in the bank, or in my purse can fly away with wings (as the current recession proves).

In contrast, Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” He came into my life and gave me His eternal life. He stays — that life stays. The blessings are about eternity and about Jesus. Even though He takes care of me very well in regard to temporary things that could change, but the spiritual blessings He gives will never change.

I am a grateful person and glad that I can trust my God. We are attending a wedding today, and I think of the vows and compare God’s commitment to me and mine to Him. It is through thick and thin, sickness and health, richer and poorer, but not until death do us part. Rather, God loves me now and until death unites us forever. Then, in a far better place, I will experience the fullness of all that He has promised to me and to His people.

Note: Those who attended my presentation yesterday gave good feedback. I was nervous but they were gracious. I’m thankful to God that I can trust any eternal results to Him.

Friday, May 29, 2009

It is not about me

Today I am speaking about a controversial issue. This takes place at our church denomination convention. I’ve prepared, and my materials, etc. are ready, but . . .

Last night I had bad dreams, not one but two. I woke up with an aching body and a distressed mind. Prayer even before sitting up didn’t bring any peace and joy. My devotional reading doesn’t seem to be related to what is going on in my spirit either. The verse is about waiting for the Second Coming. It says,
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. . . (Philippians 3:20)
I sit here and think how some people get into a jam or have to do something unpleasant, so they hope that Jesus will return and that event will bail them out. When life is rough, I occasionally think like that. I even say aloud, “I just want to go home.” A friend with four rambunctious kids used to say, “Oh for the peace of the grave,” her humorous euphemism for “Jesus, come and get me out of this.”

The author of my devotional guide is more spiritual than either one of us. He says that anticipating Christ’s return is the greatest source of spiritual motivation, accountability, and security. With my escapist attitude, I’m having trouble relating to it.

The motivation part comes from what Jesus said about rewards. I should want to be ready when He comes and anticipate being rewarded when He says, “Well done good and faithful servant. . . . Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:23).

I have days where I feel as if I have faithfully served the Lord and enjoy the joy He gives for obedience even while we are still on earth. Those are good days, but today, so far, is not one of them. My mind is scrambled by the dreams, likely because one of them was about a past event that caused much sorrow, and the other was about an inner fear coming to pass. I’m glad that my workshop is not the first thing on today’s agenda. God is providing time where He can help me with these memories and fears, and hopefully give me better things to think about.

The accountability part is at first scarey. I want to see the face of Jesus and feel His welcome home. I rarely think about the judgment. Actually, for Christians, this is not actually scarey, so I should not think that way.

The Bible talks of two judgments; one for us who believe and one for those who have rejected Christ. The rejecters will be judged according to their sin; we will be judged according to all we have done as God’s children. I’m quite aware that some of what I have done will be rewarded, but some will be deemed useless. No one wants to be useless, and that is what scares me.

I’m not sure what the rewards will be though. Scripture indicates that it is more than the “well done” mentioned above. In either case, it is clear that, “each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). I can see myself standing there speechless.

The security part is that no matter whether I am ready or not, and no matter how much or how little my life has accomplished for Him, Jesus did say, “This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day” (John 6:39).

This is the blessing. Whether I mess up or bless those who hear me today, whether I struggle with memories or put them behind me, whether my fears come to pass or are just dreams, I belong to Jesus. Nothing can change that. I was given to Him by God the Father, am kept by the power of the Holy Spirit, and will be raised up with Jesus and by Jesus on that last day. How much or how little my life will be valued is not as amazing as the fact that I belong to God.

This is what I can think about. This day is just a day. The important day is yet to come, and that day is not about me any more than this one is. All of it is about Jesus. He is coming. He is bringing rewards and looking forward to seeing His people face to face even more than we are anticipating Him. He knows who we are and He has made us secure, a security that does not depend on what we have done. It never has.

My place in the kingdom of God is solid because of what Jesus has done. When I stand before the judgment seat of Christ, my accounting will not be about me — I’ve nothing to claim. Instead, it will be about Him for He has done everything that I need to bring me into His presence with eternal joy.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

This old world is not my home

Every time we fly outside this country, I am asked to state my citizenship. I wonder what would happen if I wrote “heaven” instead of “Canada”?

The New Testament is clear; all those who belong to the family of God have their names written down in God’s book of life and belong to His country, not our own, not even this earth. Paul wrote:
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)
Apparently this word for “citizenship” is actually about a colony of foreigners, but one secular source uses the same word to describe a city that kept the names of its citizens on a register, much like God does with His citizens.

Another example is when the Israelites were taken into captivity in Babylon. They considered the Promised Land was still their home and longed to return. However, they were in Babylon for seventy years. By the time they were finally able to go back to Israel, many of them were not ready to leave. Being there was bondage, but they developed an attachment for the place.

Sometimes that happens to Christians. At least one that I know struggled with death. She knew that her time was coming but fought it as if dying was the worst thing that could happen to her. I don’t know if this world had become too comfortable like Babylon was to some of the Israelites, but thinking of her makes me wonder if I will be ready to go home when the time comes.

Leaving earth for heaven will mean leaving family and friends, all activities and things that I enjoy, but it will also mean being with God forever, with no more sorrow or pain.
Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)
Being in heaven also means having a new body. Philippians 3 says my body will be transformed to be like the body of Jesus Christ. After His resurrection, Jesus ate and drank, but He also could appear in locked rooms, apparently able to go through walls.

I wondered about that for a long time, but a science major told me that there is no reason why the molecules of one solid cannot pass through the molecules of another; there is more than enough space between the molecules. He said that some force keeps them from doing so, otherwise we could not sit on a chair or stand on anything. We would just fall through it.

In His new body, Jesus was unaffected by gravity. He rose to heaven in full view of those who reported His ascension. I’ve had fun thinking about this. Will I be able to travel the universe without any restraint?

I’ve also wondered if heaven will be a place of creativity. If my body is like Christ’s body, does that mean I can also speak worlds into existence as He did with this world? Or if not that, will I be able to paint pictures and make quilts?

It is good to think about heaven. I can have fanciful thoughts, but need to remember that my imagination is so limited; I really have little idea of what God has in store. Nevertheless, thinking about my real home puts the puny things of this earth into perspective, and that alone produces peace and anticipation.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Choosing my Master

Compared to eternity, life here is a small blip. Yet as my devotional reading today points out, heaven is virtually ignored by today’s Christians. There is hardly any preaching, teaching or books on the subject, but there are huge amounts of material available on prospering in this life.

Jesus had much to say about prosperity. To those who had nothing, He told them not to fret but to trust God who will take care of them. To those who had much, He said,
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
This passage is soon followed by “You cannot serve God and mammon” (riches, vs. 24). The idea of moths, rust and thieves make it clear that this is more than money. It is about the accumulation of stuff, but more than that, it is about priorities. Will it be serving God? Or the accumulation of stuff?

For the past two or three years, I’ve been trying to do the opposite of accumulation. We have moved many times over the years, and by being in this house for ten years, and the one before it (only a few blocks away) for six years, the stuff has accumulated. Acquiring it seems to be easier than getting rid of it. Not wanting to be wasteful, we spend considerable time looking for a good home for whatever has not yet succumbed to rust or moths. Sometimes I want to bring in a dumpster (a large trash bin) and be done with it.

One commentary says this passage could be translated as, “Do not give priority to this, but give priority to that” adding that it is not necessarily sinful to have assets such as insurance, retirement plans, and savings accounts. Proverbs 13:22 and 2 Corinthians 12:14 say that parents are to save for their children. The idea is more that we cannot take it with us, but we can invest it now in the future. However, saving those assets is still about earthly accumulation and not heaven.

Treasure in heaven is not about stuff but seems to refer to doing good for others. Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21)

Paul later wrote, “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

From these and other passages, I gather that it is not wrong to be rich or have stuff. God is more concerned with my priorities and what I do with what I have. As Jesus said, if I prioritize having stuff, I cannot be at the same time concerned about serving Him.

Perhaps the problem in North America is not the lack of teaching about heaven, but the focus of prosperity and the lack of teaching about the sin of selfishness. My sin nature wants its way all the time, and wants bigger, better, and more stuff. Without continual input from the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, I would be more concerned about accumulation than I would be about doing good and helping others.

As my reading today says, wherever I concentrate my efforts, that reveals where my treasure is. If I make all this stuff a priority, one day God and the stuff will make opposing demands. I’m very aware how habits and sin so easily result in picking the wrong master.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Expectations

Some Christians have been accused of being “so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.” Since every human being wants to be significant and accomplish things that matter, this is an accusation that cuts our hearts, and cuts my heart today.

I just read the portion in the New Testament that may be the reason we get this tossed at us.
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
After Paul became a Christian, he experienced negative treatment from those who did not like the message he preached. Instead of a life of comfort and prosperity, he was beaten, stoned, run out of town, and misrepresented. In Colossians he speaks to believers who may have struggled with the same consequence regarding their faith. He was encouraging them that the glories of heaven were worth whatever losses they might incur here, so keep on following Jesus.

When read by contemporary Christians, this could sound like a call to avoid being involved in any of the world’s activities. Since we are not like Paul and actively pressing the Gospel message, we are also not suffering any persecution as a consequence. Therefore, we really cannot relate to his words. To many, it sounds like he is saying: Don’t bother trying to right the wrongs, feed the poor, teach the masses, or comfort those who hurt. Instead, keep your mind in heaven, and don’t bother about these things on earth.

That is not what Paul is saying. Such an interpretation takes the passage out of its context. The next verses explain what “things on earth” Paul was talking about, a far different set of stuff to avoid than being of service to others. It says,
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, (Colossians 3:5-10)
Being heavenly minded, in this context, means thinking about the nature of Christ and how I will be like Him one day. Because this is true, then I need to put off all those things that are not like Him, the earthly sinful stuff listed in these five verses.

In other words, being heavenly minded means no sinful desires, no sinful attitudes, no sinful language, and no sinful actions. I’m supposed to behave like the One in heaven who gave His life for me.

Paul might have said that being of earthly good means that I start by leaving behind my selfishness. Instead of using this passage to justify hiding in my Christian circles to avoid the world’s needs, I’m to make sure my life is clean. The rest of Colossians 3 gives all sorts of things that should be true of me, things that will change the way that I relate to people, those in my church, in my family, and in the world. God is asking for the kind of heavenly mindedness that makes for dramatic changes in my life. These changes will be good for me and for everyone around me.

It is easier to just cry out against injustice, sinful practices in the marketplace, short-sighted government policies, exploitation of the helpless and so on, than it is to do something. It is easier to stay at my desk with my mind in my Bible than it is to move against evil or simply move and do good things. These thoughts challenge my selfishness.

Pioneer missionary William Carey said, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” This was in the prayer that blessed me yesterday morning, and it echos from these devotional thoughts today. Both make me realize that I have not arrived and need to be obedient and press on.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Don’t forget my belt . . .

In Roman times, the first thing a soldier put on before he went into battle was a belt around his waist. This belt had leather straps hanging from it to protect the lower part of his body. The belt was fastened as tight as possible and the corners of his tunic were pulled up through the belt. This gave the soldier total freedom of movement in hand-to-hand combat.

I’m reminded today, as if I needed reminding, that I am in a spiritual battle. For two weeks, I’ve been struggling against all sorts of things that seem aimed at my progress and freedom of movement as I prepare for a presentation later this week. While I know these are not true, the thoughts that pummel me are things like, You don’t know what you are doing. . . . You are not the right person for this job. . . . God isn’t in the ideas you are writing down. . . . You are out of touch and none of this is relevant. . . . blah, blah, blah.

After days of being up, down, encouraged and terrified, this day is most interesting. A couple days ago my husband was looking through my books for something on prayer. I showed him that section on a book shelf, then pulled one of the books to put on my night stand. It is A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie.

Baillie wrote this in 1949 or earlier. The language is much like King James Bible English with many thee’s and thou’s, but the thoughts are profound and deeply comforting. I started reading it Saturday night, but this morning I woke up dreading the day (because the past few have been that bad) and opened it to this morning’s prayer.

Baillie’s words reminded me of a half dozen or so simple truths. I felt as if someone had dipped me in warm oil. Each truth addressed one of the many lies that have plagued my mind. One by one, the lies dissolved and I felt a hundred pounds lighter.

Then I came to the Bible for my personal devotions. Today’s Scripture reading says,
Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth . . . (Ephesians 6:14)
God provides spiritual armor for His soldiers. When I battle the enemy of my soul, I need to make sure that my armor is intact and in place. I thought it had been, but after praying Baillie’s prayer (in my English), I realized that my belt had slipped a few notches. Instead of holding me together so I could freely move, I was stumbling and unfocused, feeling as if my hands were tied and my feet were hobbled.

What a difference to have a strong belt of truth securely fastened. Without realizing it as I pulled that book from my shelf, Baillie’s morning and evening prayers written fifty years ago offered me just what I needed today. The spiritual principles were in his prayer and those principles defeated the tactics of my spiritual enemy as I read them. Again, I am amazed at the wisdom and power of God who knows and meets my needs and who is right here to guide me to spiritual victory.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Grave Danger

In many parts of the world the Christian church does not have a very good reputation. Some of it is because the world does not understand or accept the message of the Gospel. To them it is either foolish or offensive; no one likes hearing they are a sinner. Jesus even said that some who believe in Him will be opposed by their own family members.
Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. (Matthew 10:34-36)
However, some of the bad rap the church gets is valid, in part because Christians do not obey God, and in part because the church has been infiltrated and inundated with false teaching. When Christians disobey God and follow lies they not only offend God but eventually offend everyone else. We cannot say we haven’t been warned. Jesus said it over and over.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15)

Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. (Matthew 24:11)
Paul’s concern for the church was also repeated several times.
For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. . . (Philippians 3:18)

For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives. . . . (2 Timothy 3:6)

For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers . . . whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. (Titus 1:11)
I’m noticing that the danger is not just to the church but to “households” indicating that families are affected. This is not the same kind of division that Christ brings in which people are divided in matters of faith. Instead, this is a messing of the minds of families by false teachers who are doing it for some sort of personal gain.

Most families and most churches would not invite an obvious enemy into their company, but this is not about obvious. As Jesus said, they come disguised. False teachers may look like sheep, like one of us. They pretend to love Christ and pretend to be Christians. They might even reach positions of spiritual leadership, but eventually they bring division and rebellion into the lives of their followers.

Personally, being on guard against such things involves knowing what the Bible says, but also remembering that I have blind spots just like anyone else. In my areas of strength I might not be careful because I think I am okay, but I’ve had enough battles with evil spiritual forces just this week alone to know that I can be duped.

Besides, the real enemies are not flesh and blood, but the “principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age, and spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” spoken of in Ephesians 6. For that, God gives armor to protect me and the weapon of truth from His Word to fight back.

For my church and my family, I also need to be alert and on guard, thankful that God is our fortress and shield, but also quick to test everything we hear. Not all of it is from God. I need to remember that false teaching can sound good at first, but all teaching needs to be tested against Scripture. I need to stay in the Word of God.

If I don’t do that and follow someone’s lies, this would ruin my life and rob me of the joy of following the truth. That alone would be terrible, but such error could also make me a partner in ruining the reputation of Christianity.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Eagles and straight furrows


The boy was worried about being able to plow in a straight line. His father told him to pick a post or a tree at the far end of the field and aim for it. His furrow would be straight.

He laughed as he told the story many years later. He said, “I had such bad eyesight, and this was before my family could purchase eyeglasses for me. My furrow was terrible. I had no idea that the post I thought I was aiming for was a cow.”

My problem this morning is about goals too, only the one I have is fixed and firm not wandering about like a cow. My problem is fatigue and feeling like quitting. Days of hard work, not sleeping well last night, and being stuffed up from allergies had my head on my desk this morning asking the Lord to give me what I needed to hear today. This is what I read:
But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)
I first thought that this is for a slightly different problem. This person Jesus speaks to was hesitating about following Him, while I’ve already made that decision. However, I am looking back in a sense; I want to ease up, stop plowing. Making furrows, straight or wavy, is labor intensive and like the disciples who went back to their fishing after Jesus died, I feel like going back to the easy stuff before Christ got me into this.

Oh, I know I won’t do it. The sense of wanting to quit was worse one day this week, only that time it was spiritual war where the enemy was hard at it trying to convince me that I was useless. In the end, I simply had to ignore his thoughts and get to work. Today, my body is convincing me that I am just too tired and my head is not very clear.

The Holy Spirit reminds me of two verses, “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31).

Eagles are incredible. I once watched them soaring over the Kenai river mouth in Alaska. One was being pestered by a raven. The raven flew at him, closer and closer. At one point the eagle seemed to convulse, curling up in what looked like pain. I thought the raven had injured it, but it wasn’t the eagle that was injured. Its talons hit their mark and the raven dropped from the sky.

The memory of it plus these verses encourage me that God has strength for me that I have not yet experienced. I’m tired and sleep will help, but waiting on Him is not about having a nap. It is about having a confident expectation that He will take care of both my physical and spiritual fatigue. It is about keeping my eye on Him, tired or not, and making a straight line toward my immovable and firm goal.

These verses are more than enough, yet the first lines of today’s reading tell me that God isn’t interested in my complaining either. They say, “I have never met a successful, influential person in any realm of enterprise who was not committed to reaching goals. The people who influence the world are pursuers, competitors, and winners, preoccupied with goals rather than having their own needs met.”

Sleep will happen at the right time, but for this morning I need to press on.

Friday, May 22, 2009

United we stand

At the end of yesterday when I stood up from my computer chair, I felt bowlegged. I’ve been preparing a presentation for the end of this month. The topic is to address certain false teaching that has crept into the church and messed with the minds of Christian women.

Not only is my backside sore from sitting, but this preparation has met with opposition in the spiritual realm. For several days my spirit has been under siege and without the help of the Holy Spirit I would have tossed in the towel a long time ago.

False teaching breaks my heart. However, it is not a surprise. Paul knew it would happen.
For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. (Acts 20:29-31)
As my devotional reading today says, the basic goal of every Christian is to become more like Jesus Christ. Not only do our spiritual enemies want to stop this, but as this passage says, sometimes people within the church buy into their false teaching and begin to teach it also. This made Paul weep and it makes me cry too.

Human thinking always fits into what the Bible describes concerning the nature of sin. Sin is simply the desire to do our own thing, go our own way and ignore God and His Word. When we do that, we become our own god, exist for our own satisfaction, and do all we can to make sure our needs and desires are met. This is what sin is like. When this attitude takes over in a church, Christians assume that spiritual growth is not being like Christ, but more the process of fixing their own problems and having personal success and self-fulfillment.

This is a man-centered theology and is opposed to what the Bible teaches. Instead of looking at me, myself, and mine, my focus is to be on Jesus Christ. As I more deeply know Him and become like Him, the Spirit of God transforms me into His image. However, the more I focus on me, the more I am distracted from that goal.

It isn’t just the women who struggle with various me-centered ideas; all of us do. This is part of what it means to be sinful human beings. We are to turn from that. Paul wrote about the correct way to think:
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus . . . (Philippians 2:1-5)
When false teaching creeps in, along with it comes a self-centered attitude that cares little for others. This destroys the unity of the church. Instead, we need think with the mind of Christ on matters and care for the concerns of one another. Without this, and without unity, the church is in grave danger. So is each of its members.

My hope and prayer is that God will restore to the women that will be in my audience a sense of God’s goal for their lives and that they will be able to refocus on that goal and stop worrying about themselves. We don’t have to. Our Savior and Lord is big enough and cares enough to take care of everything else as we concentrate on following Him and becoming like Him.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Pattern for Leadership

Most would define leadership as the function or ability of standing out in front and getting followers to do what they do or at least do what they tell them to do. It is associated with setting goals and reaching them, getting people on board to do the work and supervising that work.

Lately I’ve been studying this topic in the Bible. Scripture’s definition of leadership is not quite like that. Instead, it is not about the leader being followed but the challenge of serving others so that they can better follow Jesus Christ.

My devotional reading today is about the lack of good leadership in the modern church. At the end, the author says that “the church is sick and distorted because we’ve lost sight of Christ, His Word, and the Spirit. . . . and tolerated a lower standard for leadership than the Bible allows. The essence of Christianity is becoming more like Christ. . . .”

When a person is growing in Christlikeness, they are also growing in works of service. Their relationships improve. They share the Word of God and reach out to the needy. A Christlike person cares about the needs of others.

Perhaps the church has always struggled with a shortage of godly leaders. While Paul may have used some hyperbole here, he did write,
But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:19-21)
Paul discipled Timothy well, yet this younger man had a good start. His mother and grandmother taught him the Scriptures when he was just a child. He knew what God required and had a heart for following the Lord Jesus. He was sometimes timid and needed encouragement from Paul. Nevertheless, Timothy loved others more than himself and cared about their needs more than his own.

I’ve been disappointed at the scarcity of godly mentors. Those who have had faith longer than I have are not always mature in their faith. In this me-first culture, the church suffers from the same disease. Paul’s description of Timothy will ring in my ears today, instructing me as a good mentor might, telling me to stop being so concerned about me, my and mine, and sincerely care for others, seeking the things of Jesus Christ while I’m at it.

Thank You Lord for giving us Paul and Timothy who are both clear patterns for the rest of us to follow.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

No pattern? Be one!

Details are my forte. I can fill in an outline with no problem, but coming up with the outline is more difficult because it asks for big-picture thinking. Backing up and taking that long look at something, or seeing it in an overview is a challenge. When I need to speak or write on a topic, I often go through books on the same topic looking for a logical outline. I fill in with my own thoughts once I get it (no plagiarism allowed) because with an outline to guide me, the details are easy.

Today’s devotional is again about having a pattern to follow. It and other verses remind me that having long-term goals and an overall plan for reaching them is a good thing. I do have a purpose statement and set objectives to fulfill it, but I so often get caught up in the details. I need constant reminding to keep the big picture in mind.

Paul wrote, “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern” (Philippians 3:17).

Mentors can be part of the goal-setting process in that they can show the way, help me over the rough spots, and get me past the unknowns. As I wrote yesterday, the problem is finding them. I can have heros (heroines) in books and in the Bible, but Paul is talking about people with skin on, people who care about godliness and Christian growth as much or more than I do.

With or without mentors, the Bible does offer big-picture instructions. Here is what Paul told Timothy:
Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:12-16)
In those days “youth” could be anyone up to forty, so that encourages me, but also challenges me. If these things are required of youth, how much more an older person like me?

This passage is telling this “youth” to be a mentor and how to do it. Paul had been his mentor and now Paul tells him to be that pattern of conversation, behavior, Christian love, spiritual life, faith and purity that the people around him needed. Yes, I hear you, Paul. Yes, I hear You, Lord.

Paul says that the way to do it is by personal preparation and diligence. Read the Scripture, not just for myself but read it to others. Exhort or encourage them to walk with Christ. Teach them doctrinal truth. Use my spiritual gifts (that have been affirmed by my church leadership). Get with it.

I’m also to think about what I have learned, and this is one area where I have regrets. Over the past forty years of being a believer, God has shown me many things. Some of them stuck but others I’ve let slip and had to relearn and relearn. Meditation would remedy some of that, and perhaps that has been missing because I’ve not given myself entirely to them as this passage says.

But rather than beat up myself, I know that I have grown and that some progress is visible. Paul says to be diligent. The words used are “keep on keeping on” words. He says to pay attention to my own spiritual life and the teaching of the Bible, continue to follow those things, and by doing this, I will become more like Jesus (which is the ultimate goal of salvation). Not only that, I will have an influence on those who hear me and who watch my progress.

This is incredibly practical. Yesterday I lamented about not having a mentor and today God quickly addresses my lament. He says, “Quit complaining. Just be one yourself — and here is how to do it.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Paul is okay, but . . .

Lately I’ve been reading sewing magazines from the library. I’m looking for ways to alter patterns so they fit my body. This morning, God reminds me that I’m also to be looking for patterns that require me to alter, not the pattern, but myself.

Paul was a model Christian. He had been given grace to rise to that position, grace that did not include pride. Paul knew God had blessed him to be a leader, and this was not his own doing. Therefore, he was not pushing it by asking others to follow his example.
Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame — who set their mind on earthly things. (Philippians 3:17-19)
When I think of Paul, I imagine this zealous evangelist and church planter who had strong Christian character and always sought the will of God. I know that God wants me to follow his example, yet there are parts of who Paul was that I cannot be. For one thing, God is not calling me to leave all my present relationships and bounce around the world planting churches.

The problem with Paul as my example is that he doesn’t offer me as clear a pattern when it comes to things pertaining to being a wife and mother. I don’t think he had a chauvinistic streak as some think of him (in regard to some of his words about women), but I sometimes wish the New Testament had more detailed descriptions of the lives of godly women, women who struggled with the same things I struggle with.

In this passage, Paul contrasts his life and those who live for Christ with “enemies of the cross” who are more interested in satisfying their own appetites than in serving others. They lived for temporal, earthly things and did not have Paul’s dedication to serving Christ, nor his eternal perspective. I can relate those things to my own life, but I still wish there were more biblical examples of godly women and how they handled daily problems.

Part of my perplexity is cultural. In those days, women were generally at home where their responsibilities took all their time and skills. They didn’t have time on their hands like I do, nor have to make decisions about using that time wisely like I do. They also had the close company of other like-minded women, so finding role models was not difficult. However, I’ve lived in cities where all my neighbors went to work during the day and I was the only person at home for blocks around me. I can talk with others on the phone, interact through Face Book, etc., but this does not have the same value as live, nearby role models and mentors.

Part of it is also purely physical. The Bible tells husbands to honor and care for their wives as the weaker sex, but what about the women without a husband? Or the women whose husband doesn’t give two figs what the Bible says? Some women struggle with being weaker physically and must figure out appropriate ways to even ask for help without winding up with more than they asked for. Other weaknesses include the hormone thing and the struggle to love our families without being a nag or a worry wart.

When I am sewing, I can easily compare what I make to commercial garments and know if my work passes muster. When I quilt, I can have a look at what others are doing and see where my own work could be improved. Godly examples of Christian women are important. They can help me see better ways to deal with everyday issues and encourage me to walk more closely to Jesus. I’m thankful for my friends and the people in my church, yet are times that I just wish I had more female godly examples to follow.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Climbing the mountain

When I took quilting lessons, one of my first teachers was a perfectionist. She told the class the importance of consistent 1/4" seams. If we were out a thread that wasn’t a problem, but she insisted that the seam could not be out 2-3 threads. That would spoil the entire quilt because the pieces would not fit together as they should.

Some of the other beginners thought she was overdoing it, but I am thankful for her. She epitomizes a saying, “Better to aim for the stars and hit the woodpile than aim for the woodpile and hit your foot.” Besides that, because of her emphasis on perfection, the seams on my quilts match and my quilts are never lumpy.

In living my Christian life, I also have a perfectionist as my teacher, one who never makes mistakes, Jesus Christ. For me, this is more like aiming for the entire universe, not just stars. How can I copy someone who has never sinned? The gap from here to there is far too wide and sometimes seems a universe away.

Jesus does do something about my imperfections. He died for them so they are forgiven. He changes my attitude so I don’t want to keep on living with them. He gives me a sense of what is wrong and what needs to change. But He knows about the gap; He also gives His people a great way to get from here to Him — a mentoring program . . .
Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. (1 Corinthians 4:16-17)
The church often uses the word mentor, but the Bible calls it discipleship. One of the last things Jesus said before leaving this earth was, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

In this command, the verb is make disciples. Part of that process is going, part is baptizing, and part is teaching each one what Jesus has taught me. While He stands with us as our goal and the top of this mountain we are to climb, He is also with us and gives us guides to get us to that goal. More and more I’m realizing that one of my most important assets for spiritual growth is other Christians.

The verses from 1 Corinthians show how Paul taught Timothy who became his “beloved and faithful son in the Lord.” Timothy was a good student; Paul sent him to the Corinthians as an example of how to live like Paul lived in his Christian life.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul again said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” knowing that these Christians needed a human example of how to overcome sin. For that, my devotional guide offers this illustration:
Suppose I decide to embark on a dangerous mountain climbing expedition. A helicopter drops a leader on top of the mountain, and he looks down on me and says, “This is the top. Just climb up here—this is where you want to be.” He would not be as much help as someone climbing up the path ahead of me, saying, “Follow me. I know the way up.” (From Truth for Today, by John MacArthur)
Jesus overcame temptation to sin and I must have His help with temptation, but Paul battled sin that once controlled his life. I need the help of someone like Paul also. Godly human examples show me how to deal with all of the struggles with my sinful nature. None of these examples are perfect like Christ is perfect, but I am so grateful of the lessons that I am learning from my brothers and sisters in the family of God. These are also my mentors and teachers, my guides in reaching the top of that mountain.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Disposing of liabilities

Last night I dreamed about something that I’d wanted years ago, but never possessed. I woke up wondering what my life would have been like had I obtained that one thing. When I came to my devotions this morning, it seemed God had used the dream to set me up!

The verses and the reading are about the sufficiency of Christ, and more personally, a challenge to me as to whether or not I value Him above all other things. Jesus said,
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)
He also compares the kingdom of heaven with a pearl of great price hidden in a field, a pearl which a merchant will sell all he has in order to obtain (verses 45-46). The idea of both descriptions is that His realm is hidden to most people, but when it is revealed to anyone, they are willing to give up all they have to possess it.

This is the stuff of a movie plot. It happens in life too. A person becomes obsessed with something they want and spend all their time, energy and resources trying to get it. For some, it might be an achievement, like climbing a mountain or getting into Fortune 500's list. For others, it might be a person who holds their fascination, or a certain car, or a villa in Italy. In their drive to possess whatever it might be, the driven person often loses everything else.

When it comes to having what Jesus talks about, the Bible is positive about the pursuit, not negative. The gain of knowing Christ is far greater than the value of anything it might cost those who seek Him.
I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)
Yet the stuff of this life only lasts for this life. His treasure is an eternal one. I know that and Paul did too. As my devotional reading reminds me, he lived a driven life before he became a Christian. He worked hard to keep all the laws and traditions of Judaism and to accomplish something he hoped would please God. However, he was seeking something he couldn’t find. He didn’t know it at the time because the treasure was hidden.

Then one day Paul was confronted by the living Christ and this zealous man realized that Jesus was everything he had been looking for. He describes the results:
What things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7–8).
Paul is using accounting terms. He clearly saw that everything in his asset column was actually a liability and that Christ was all he needed.

This is what God wants me to do also. Whether it is a new thing or something from the foggy past that I thought I’d forgotten, I need to decide where everything fits in my account books. As Paul decided, I too must consider those things that I might have once put in the asset column and place it in ‘liabilities’ where it belongs.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

When my appetite is dull . . .

Milk is not one of my favorite beverages, probably because it makes my teeth and the inside of my mouth feel coated. I drink it for the calcium but would rather drink water. I’m sure I’ve not always felt this way. As a baby, I must have been like all babies and craved milk. For a time, it would have been my only sustenance.

For this reason, milk makes a good illustration for how a Christian should feel about reading the Bible. Peter wrote about the power of God’s Word and how it endures. Then he said,
Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby. (1 Peter 2:1-2)
He makes an arresting connection. While a newborn is not going to stop craving milk for any reason, growing Christians can stop craving the Bible if we are acting in sinful ways. Knowing the appeal of sin makes the reason obvious; if I am doing the wrong thing it is because I want to, and therefore I will not read the book that is going to condemn those things that I want to do.

Sin is insidious. It keeps trying to rule my life and my appetites. Note that this list is not for those who don’t know Christ; it is directed to God’s people, me included, and includes some really rotten behavior.


With a peek into a Greek dictionary, I found that malice is a general term. It is about being wicked or evil and not even ashamed of breaking God’s laws. It covers both evil thoughts and actions. That is, malice does harm but also is the idea of wanting to do harm to someone else even if I don’t do it. Every time the notion of getting even with someone who has hurt me, or even thinking nasty thoughts toward someone who thwarts my plans can be called malice. Malice destroys my appetite for God’s Word.

Deceit is another general term for sin. The root is to “decoy” and this suggests a deliberate use of guile, treachery, or some sort of falseness in order to mislead another person. Thankfully, I’m not into games like that, but have been tempted. People may not like my straightforward style, and to be more popular I’ve wondered about being subtle or sly when trying to say what I want to say. All my Greek dictionaries use subtlety in their definitions of this word deceit. Going along with this sort of nonsense kills my desire to read the Bible.

Hypocrisy is a common criticism of Christians. I don’t want to be labeled with this either. The word that Peter uses is a plural noun that indicates how any act of hiding evil intentions toward another behind a mask of piety is wrong. The word comes from the practice of actors holding a mask over their face to indicate the role they were playing. Because of this, I see hypocrisy from two angles. I’m not to be evil and pretend to be good, but I’m also not to be God’s child and pretend I am just like those who are not. Faking who I am will dull my appetite for God too. He wants the opposite — integrity, being the same on the inside and the outside.

Envy is a plural noun that represents feelings of ill will or jealousy against someone else because of a real or perceived advantage that they have. Some will say envy is worse than jealousy because it is not only wants what others have, it also doesn’t want the other person to have it. Either one says I am not content with His provision, and takes my eyes (and hunger) off God and on something else.

The last one says evil speaking. The actual word is more like defamation or slander, saying words that are designed to ruin another person’s reputation or position. It is one thing to alert someone about their sinful behavior and want it fixed, and quite another to talk about that sin behind the person’s back to make myself look better and that person look worse. This is so shameful, and it also ruins my appetite for the Bible.

Instead I’m supposed to desire it like a baby desires milk. Desire means not merely to want something, but to long for it with all of my being. It is a constant hunger like any person has for food — which not only brings health, but is necessary for life. Peter says “that you may grow” and I know that without the Word of God, my spiritual life will atrophy. I’ve seen it in others and felt it at times in my own life.

I can make myself drink a glass or two of milk every day so that I will be healthy. I’ve no excuse for not craving the milk of the Word. Peter spells it out quite clearly — if I’m not hungry for God’s Word, then I need to check and see what is happening to kill my appetite, then get rid of it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

WWJD?

Charles Sheldon wrote a book called In His Steps which was subtitled “What Would Jesus Do?” and spawned a small industry of jewelry and other items labeled WWJD. No doubt profits have been made, but this may also have prompted more people to think about Jesus and asking WWJD? as they made decisions.

It is a good question. I’m asking it this morning
as I read today’s verse. It says:
He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (1 John 2:6)
By claiming to love and follow with Jesus, I ought to back up my claim by behaving or walking as He did. This means I mus
t know how He behaved. I have to study His life, be close to Him in my spirit, and rely on Him for guidance and the resources to follow through on His direction.

Sometimes I’ve no clue what Jesus would do. His story took place two thousand years ago in a different culture with different norms. While I know His principles are timeless, sometime my brain cannot figure them out.

This week I did something with good motives and am being challenged on the results. I’ve had no rebukes from God about my motives, and the results are positive, but some people didn’t appreciate my efforts. I’m confused.

In the past, I’ve done things with selfish motives that turned out okay. No one challenged them except God. He wasn’t interested in the consequences, only the motives. This is confusing too, at least today. As I read the above verse and its context, I’m still not sure what God is saying to me, and in this situation, I’ve no idea what Jesus would do or would have done.


My commentary has something to say about motives. It uses several examples to make a good point. For instance, slaves must follow the commands of their masters or they will be punished. Employees need to do their work or they will get fired. In these cases, they are motivated by consequences and this motivation fits with the thinking today’s world.

However, the commentary goes on to say that a Christian is a child of God and ought to obey Him because of a sincere desire to do so. This is obedience because I love Him. I ought to follow Him because He died for me and obey to show my response to His love for me.

That doesn’t mean that the consequences will be pleasant. The so-called “prosperity gospel” says that God loves me and has a
wonderful plan for my life, which is true, but it stops there. The Father loved the Son, yet His wonderful plan included persecution and death. That could happen to any of His children. Following Him in love could include nasty results, so my motivations cannot be consequence-based, at least not totally. Otherwise, I will be disappointed and maybe deeply tempted to stop walking with Jesus. Being a Christian is not always “wonderful.”


Is this the answer to my confusion? It would be if I was positive that what I did was in obedience to Jesus, even though I am not aware of rebellion, or self-serving, or any personal reasons, I thought that I was abiding. I am also thinking that if God was not in it, He would have poked me in the heart and said, “Don’t” but He didn’t.

It’s possible my error was in the realm of protocol. I have a certain amount of authority in the area of my actions, but there are others with authority in that same area. They were not happy because they didn’t have a part in it? Perhaps. This is not for me to determine.

In all this musing, I’ve learned something about myself and about God. I really depend too much on immediate outcomes to tell me if something was successful. Had Jesus done that, He would have decided he’d failed as He hung on that cross. Instead, I need to listen, obey, perhaps make sure I keep others in the loop, but also not be too hasty with my evaluations.

There is a story in Acts about a group of Jewish officials who wanted to kill the apostles for refusing to stop teaching about Jesus. In the dispute, a respected Pharisee calmed them down by giving some examples of others who had “claimed to be somebody” and their cause didn’t amount to anything. Then he said, “Now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it — lest you even be found to fight against God” (Acts 5:38-39).

This is God’s answer to my confusion. If what I did was from Him, He will see it through. If not, it will come to nothing. Either way is fine with me because I know that following Jesus also means being able to say, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hang on to progress

The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that everything tends toward deterioration. My desk proves it. No matter how often I tidy it usually looks like an explosion in a paper factory. If I’m not vigilant, the devotional verse for today says that my spiritual life could go the same way.

It is a simple verse. Paul has been writing about the importance of pressing on toward the goal, of striving to mature and be like Christ. He knows that even though God produces the growth, this is not automatic, so after saying I need to press on and be mature, he writes,
Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:16)
As a child of God, I need spiritual food, drink, exercise and cooperation with my Father. While I am saved by grace and grow in grace, spiritual disciplines put me in places where God can work. These disciplines include reading and studying the Bible, prayer, celebration, confession and about a dozen more.

I would not lose my relationship with God if I didn’t do these things. Actually, they seem more of an evidence that I have that relationship. Why else would I do them? Yet even as I write that question, I know of religious people who practice spiritual disciplines but have no personal relationship with God. For them, it is duty and their way of trying to please Him. However, they stay the same. Spiritual discipline without the life of Christ is stagnant ritual.

I know this, because I did it. Before I was saved, I practiced two of those rituals. I read my Bible and said a prayer every day for sixteen years. I didn’t understand what I was reading, and my prayer was rote. I kept a diary and noted RMB/SMP in the corner for each day. Nothing happened to me. I was the same, maybe even declining in moral behavior and certainly not alive in my spirit.

After Christ came into my life that changed. His very presence changed me, and He keeps on changing me. Things that upset me last week are not a problem this week. Many sinful attitudes are gone. I’ve a sense of being free from stuff that used to hold me hostage.

At the same time, I know I have not arrived. I’m told to press on, and as this verse says, I’m also told to avoid going backwards. Coasting or resting on a spiritual plateau soon leads to reversals. Without spiritual discipline, I’d stop growing and start sliding. Without Christ, there would be no spiritual disciplines.

Yesterday I experienced a strange incident in a store. The clerk became angry with me because I let the lady behind me (who had one item) go ahead of me (because I was exchanging something). He said jumping the queue made the customers at the front of the line angry. I said I was the only one ahead of her and it was fine with me to let her go first. He then proceeded to deal with my exchange in slow-motion, muttering and fussing to the point that I almost laughed out loud. At the same time, I was very aware that I needed to trust God with this and that patience is a choice.

I’ve thought about this and how easy it would be to natter on and on about the whole thing rather than remember that God gave me patience during that incident. I don’t need to lose what He gave me by talking or thinking about it with annoyance. I need to live up to what I have attained, just as this verse says. God tells me to keep at it. Keep being patient. Keep following Jesus. Don’t lose the progress I’ve made. While it is even better to press on to greater obedience, I must at least remain in this place of trust and patience.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tackling the right to-do list

Surveys say that more than half of Bible-believing Christians seldom read it. Personally, I know many Christians who are content with their spiritual lives and not interested in seeking spiritual maturity. They settle into a routine of church on Sunday and giving thanks for meals (sometimes) each day, but exhibit little desire to serve God or be involved in church ministries.

Today’s devotional guide points me to a verse that speaks to my frustration (maybe). It says,
Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. (Philippians 3:15)
The commentary says that Paul might be speaking sarcastically to those that think they are mature and do not need to “press on” toward spiritual completion. He is telling then that they need to think differently . . .

Or he could be telling me (if I am mature) that I should be trusting God with those who seem lackadaisical in their attitude toward His Word and their own growth. If that is what this means, he is talking to me.

The pastor who wrote this guide says, “I pour my heart out in my messages, but I realize that some of my listeners will continue to live uncommitted lives. When you reach that point with someone you’re ministering to, you just have to ask God to reveal Himself to that individual.”

He is right. Nobody can make another person see God or want God. Only God can draw people to Himself, and although I have experienced it, I have no idea how He does it. When I talk about the glory of God, others might agree enthusiastically, or their eyes just might glaze over. They don’t get it unless God opens their heart to it.

This pastor says that when anyone pursues Christ, they need to depend on divine resources. This includes me. As he says, there are times in my race toward the completion line when I don’t have the proper attitude, and God reveals it to me so I can move on. Otherwise, I cannot see it and am no different from those who concern me because they cannot see it.

Many of the burdens of my heart would not be there if I always remembered what I know. Years ago, I was taking a walk and praying. I was concerned about many things and mulling them over as I prayed. Then God spoke to me, not in an audible voice, but I knew what came into my head was from Him. He said, “Get out of my to-do list.”

At the time, I burst into laughter. He nailed it. I was struggling to figure out ways to do things that only God can do. When it comes to spiritual maturity, I cannot make that happen in myself, much less anyone else.

My concerns are valid and I know I need to pray for those who are not growing, but at the same time, they are God’s children and it is His job to raise them, not mine. Again, I need to make sure I’m not in His to-do list; my own is enough of a challenge!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Waiting as I Run

Most pastors take Monday as their day off, their day of rest. After years of teaching a Sunday Bible class, I understand why; I’m tired both physically and spiritually, and the enemy seems to hit harder that day. Besides, Sunday often serves up an emotional high. If I don’t take a bit of time to come down, I will crash down. For those reasons, Monday is the logical day to wait on the Lord and renew my strength.

It didn’t happen quite like that yesterday. I’ve an important presentation in less than three weeks and spent most of the afternoon working on it. This was mentally taxing, which added to the normal Monday fatigue. I was so tired last night that I feared sleep would not come, but thankfully it did. This morning, my devotional guide serves me an encouraging verse. Paul writes:
I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14)
The goal refers to the marker at the end of a race. Runners intently fix their eyes on this goal. To look one side or another, or worse, backwards, will slow them down, even cause them to stumble or fall. I need to keep my eyes on that goal, not on my current situation, not on my to-do list, not on next week’s meetings, or the even the presentation at the end of the month.

My goal is ultimately to be like Jesus Christ. In this life, I want to think, talk and act like Him. Sometimes it seems impossible. I fall far short. My legs get wobbly and I lose heart. My body wants to quit because I am exhausted. My spirit slumps and I’m tempted to look away from that ridiculously lofty goal and “get real” — aim for something that is more attainable.

However, this is God’s goal for me too. While I will not reach it in this life, it will happen. One day, when I cross that finish line, my marker will be standing there in plain sight. Then I will not only reach my goal, but also receive my prize.
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2).
The goal or marker I run toward is Jesus. The prize is my reward for victory. While the upward call speaks of my call from God to a complete salvation, and while this prize could refer to the rewards offered at the judgment seat of Christ, the ultimate reward is the Lord Himself, and that I will at last be like Him.

Note that Paul does not say that he is pressing on for the call of God but rather for the prize of that call. He is not working for his salvation but rather for a reward. He also says in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “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.”

Run indeed. Don’t sit here. Press on. Don’t even think about complaining. That is not what Jesus would do, and because He lives in me, I don’t need to do it either.

Yet Jesus also took time away from the pressures and joys of ministry to be with His Father. When He was tired, He slept. When He needed a break, He went into the mountains to pray and be alone with God. Obviously, He knew this important truth:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31)
I’m encouraged by important progress made yesterday in my work on that presentation. I’m encouraged by these words to press on. However, I’m also encouraged by a good night of rest. I do have an awesome God and an awesome goal. He calls me to keep my eyes on Him; He is my future reward. Yet He also is my daily portion, the source of all I need to keep going. I need to keep plugged in, moving forward, and remembering that waiting is also a vital part of running.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Is forgetting good? Or not?


Mother’s Day included dinner at our daughter’s house with one son, several calls from the other one, and a game of Trivial Pursuit Pop Culture. Pop culture has not been a great interest of mine, so I wasn’t surprised that I couldn’t remember much or even grasp the idea behind some of the questions. We had fun and team play saved me from being totally skunked.

What bothered me regarding memories were a couple of incidents described by my family that I could not remember. They were long ago (35-40 years) but not trivial. I should have been able to recall them, but my mind was blank. One story included a mild accusation, but I could not deny it, defend myself, or apologize because I had no idea what they were talking about. This is upsetting.

This morning, my devotions are still in those verses in Philippians where Paul is talking about his past and his present efforts to become a mature Christian. He says,
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead . . . (Philippians 3:13)
I know what he means and why he says this. He doesn’t want anything to keep him from growing, from being like Jesus. I know that every time I fail, the memories of it could cause me to focus on my poor performance and pull me down. That focus keeps me from moving forward. While I know that I need to confess sin and apologize to others my sin might involve, I’m not to let that failure hang on me like a ball and chain.

I also know that I cannot let success do the same. Resting on my laurels keeps me from growing and changing. I’m so busy patting myself on the back that I trip over the next things that come up. I can rest in Christ, but when I rest on a success, it can rapidly turn into a plateau and a parking lot.

My commentary says that Paul could not obliterate the past from his memory, but the idea is to move on and not park in it. He refused to let his past obstruct his progress toward his goal. This included his self-righteous, worldly successes (in verses 4–7), but because he used the present tense for forgetting, this indicates an ongoing process. He didn’t want to rest on his current successes in Christ either. The verb about reaching forward means “fully extended” and is used to describe a race horse stretched to its limits as it strains to win a race.

I’m still a bit upset that I could not remember the childhood things my family talked about yesterday. I’m also unsure if I should say I’m sorry about the one thing they thought that I had done that they didn’t like when I cannot even remember doing it. Is their memory reliable, or were these childhood impressions based on the limited knowledge of a child?

However, this verse from Philippians encourages me. Not all “forgetting” is distressing. God tells me (through Paul) that it is a good idea to put the past behind and forget about many things. Instead of parking there, I’m to press on toward my goal. I might need to do something in this instance (God will show me), but I ought to be thankful that the past is one ball and chain that I’m not inclined to carry around.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pressing on, part two!


When my alarm rang this morning, my husband put his arm around me and said, “Happy Mother’s Day.” I told him that I felt more like a great-grandmother this morning (I actually am a great-grandmother). Even though the calendar says I’m still in my sixties, some days I feel totally aged, tired and ready to quit. But I don’t. I got up and am ready for whatever this day brings.

However, for years I’ve noticed that many senior Christians seem to lose their enthusiasm for Christian growth in their own life. They stop accepting positions of leadership and seem to stop serving others, content to sit back and let the younger people do everything.

This morning and other days when the physical problems of ‘too many birthdays’ bother me, I’m more inclined to sympathize, but generally want to fight that tendency in my own life. Retirement isn’t a Bible word nor does it seem to be a spiritual concept.

Instead, Scripture urges me to not only start well, run well, but also finish well. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34), which of course He did.

Jesus was given a very short time and didn’t become an old man, but Paul also talked about finishing well. He said, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Later, he was able to declare, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

I want to be able to say that too. I am not sure if God will call me away from being involved, but unless He does, I intend to keep at it. I not only want to be busy in the work of serving Him and others, but busy in the race of becoming more like Jesus. I want to keep pressing on.

My verse for today is again in Philippians 3. It says:
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)
In verse 11, Paul said he had not arrived at his goal. In this verse, he uses a different word. Instead of “arriving” he talks about “attaining” in the sense that he has not yet “gained possession of” or “laid hold of” all that he seeks to be. He knows the goal line. It is maturity and being like Christ, and he also knows that he isn’t there yet.

This idea of being perfected is not moral or sinless perfection. It is reaching a state of completion as a Christian. At this point, I don’t think that can happen to any of us until we are in heaven. For that reason, I must press on. Until death, there is no excuse or reason to quit.

My commentary says that Paul “pursues with all deliberate speed” the goal that was before him. This verb form indicates that he is doing this continually; he does not quit. He never allowed internal or external circumstances to stop him, and he faced far greater threats to his life and well-being than I ever will.

The idea of laying hold of his goal adds the idea of overtaking by surprise in the sense of seizing his objective. Paul urgently wanted to “grab hold of” God in the same way that God had grabbed hold of him. This is described in Acts 9:1–22 where Christ dramatically and suddenly seized Paul on the road to Damascus, and his life was never the same after that.

I can relate. Christ did the same thing to me while I was reading a book that was taking me on the wrong road also. He suddenly seized my heart and set me in a different direction.

Now I want to seize His life, His character, all that He is, that I might be like Him. Even though I know I will not arrive in this life, that is the last excuse I can think of for giving up.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pressing on

One common recurring dream was trying to catch the school bus. But I was running in mud and my feet would not work. I kept dropping my books and the bus seemed to always be moving farther and farther into the distance.

I haven’t dreamed this slow-motion frustration for a long time, but remembered it this morning. I’m thinking about the spiritual race that I’m in, a race toward the goals that God has set for me. One of them is being free from what hinders me. As Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

The only way to be rid of those sins that ensnare me is to confess each one as God brings them to my attention. On this matter, I’ve noticed that if I natter on about anything after confessing it, if I say to myself things like, “Boy, am I ever stupid” or bemoan any angst about what I did, then my confession is somehow incomplete and the snare is still grabbing at me.

How do I know that? Because when confession is complete, the snare is gone. Case in point. Someone I knew years ago offended me on the day we met. She assumed I was just like her, didn’t consider that we had different personalities and interests, and talked to me as if my thoughts and motives were the same as hers. From that first meeting, the same thing happened nearly every time we were together. I felt like a nonperson, and even after years of never seeing her, I became annoyed whenever I thought about her.

This week, God asked me to deal with my attitude. Even though I hadn’t thought about her for years, He uncovered this snare and wanted me to get rid it. This wasn’t about what she did; she is oblivious and didn’t do it on purpose. He was more concerned about my responses, but it took me several hours to understand exactly what the snare was and what I was supposed to confess.

Back then, I was vulnerable about my own identity. As the Holy Spirit gave me light on what was going on, I realized the root of it was that I wasn’t relying on Him for my understanding of who I am. Instead, I let someone else trip me up by their assessment, a false assessment. As I confessed to Him my lack of trust, and all sinful thoughts and responses, all that anger and offense and tension vanished. No more snare. It was gone.

Snares are any weights that keep Christians from moving forward. Confession that gets to the root of them removes the snares. I am amazed. Now when I think about that person and the many things she said and did that hurt me, none of my pain, anger or annoyance come back. I suspect that things other people do and say will not affect me in the same way either.

I feel like a bird let out of a cage, yet God, bless Him, reminds me this morning that I cannot think that I have now arrived! Paul wrote,
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14, NIV)
Spiritual maturity is a goal that is always out there. Like a runner in a race, I know where the finish line is, but I also know that I’m not there yet. The Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon. I’ve leaped over many hurdles, stumbled many times, and in both, God is there to encourage and lift me higher, but I’m not at the finish line, yet.

Instead, He tells me to keep going. Don’t spend time or energy looking back at those places where I dropped in my tracks, or the places where He took me over a tall or wide jump. Instead, keep my eyes on the goal and press on.

The prize is not a reward for running the race. I am not earning or deserving it. Rather, it is the prize that God gives to all whom His Son has “taken hold of” and put into this marathon. We race toward being mature, toward being like Him. The prize is not heaven, which is more like the winner’s circle at the Kentucky Derby where the winner is recognized. Instead, the prize is perfection, spiritual maturity, being like Jesus.

My great reward is being complete in Him. He wants me to run toward that goal without past failures clutching at my feet or the pride of past successes keeping my eyes off the finish line. Part of that prize also is being able to run the race without that terrible sense that He is moving the goal farther and farther from me, or that I am running in mud and continually dropping my resources. This race is not a bad dream but a glorious reality, and I press on.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Honest IS the best policy

Years ago, an older man stood up in church and told everyone that he had no sin. He said Jesus cleansed him from all that and therefore he didn’t sin anymore. He added that any Christian who sinned was making a mockery of the power of God’s salvation.

At the time, I was a new Christian and didn’t know the Bible very well. Later I found these words:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)
Verse 8 makes this man’s claim false. Salvation does gives us the power to avoid sin, but a Christian cannot claim that their sin nature is gone. I know how easily I can cover or deny my sin. I also know the possibility of deceiving myself. Besides that, I’m often simply oblivious to what I’m doing wrong. However, just because I cannot see it does not mean it isn’t there. I’ve had God reveal my sin to me and even bemoaned, “Why couldn’t I see that? Why was I so blind?”

Verse 10 makes this man’s claim false also. Even if he admitted that his sin nature was still with him, he still tried to claim that he never sinned. To say such a thing is a contradiction to God’s Word and to the Holy Spirit who convicts both Christians and non-Christians of sin.

In this verse, the Greek verb translated “we have not sinned” indicates a denial in the past that continues to the present. While verse 8 is about the guilt of sin or a sinful nature, this verse is about the denial of particular sins. To make this denial is the same as calling God a liar because God’s Word says I sin, and it even gets specific about it.

A pastor friend once joked that “What I don’t’ know won’t convict me.” The only way anyone can deny sin is by totally ignoring the Word of God and refusing to read it or let it change their life. Leave out the Word and sin will certainly come in.

My all-time favorite Bible verse is plunked right in the middle. Verse 9 is the way to grow, the way to be free from guilt and shame, the way to avail myself of the power of God to save me from my sinful behavior.

This verse is directed to all believers. God says that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. To confess is to agree with Him, to admit and acknowledge that He is right. This verse says if I confess my specific sins to God, He will cleanse all unrighteousness from me.

This isn’t about my initial salvation where I was justified before God because of the death of His Son at Calvary. This is about my ongoing need to be forgiven and cleansed from the sins that I commit since I was saved, sins that happen because I yield to that old sin nature.

In the original Greek, this verse does not really say “our” sins, as is indicated by the italics in the English text. Literally it reads, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us the sins.” From personal experience, I know “the sins” means those I confess, not just any or every sin I commit.

For instance, if I get angry and say something harsh to a person, then confess it to them and to God, God forgives and cleanses me. What happens if I do it again the next day? Does that mean that He didn’t cleanse me? Not at all. He washed that one episode away, but my sinful tendencies are still there. To get rid of the repeating anger, I need to get to the bottom of it. I need to ask God to show me the root. It might be that I am jealous of the other person and by realizing that, I also realize that I am not trusting God to meet my needs. When I confess those things, then my anger against that person is more apt to permanently disappear.

God is faithful. He provided a just salvation in which Jesus interceded for me by taking my place and paying my penalty for sin. He can justly offer me forgiveness too because Jesus lives forever to intercede for me. 1 John 2:1 says, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

If I deny that my sin nature exists, or deny that I sin, I miss out on the amazing work of God. He wants to transform my life and clean up my act. For that to happen, all I need is to be honest.