Monday, November 30, 2009

Peace in Trials

Obedience guarantees the presence of the God of peace. When Christians do as they have learned from God and His people, we know the reality of Him being with us. That is why Paul wrote:
The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)
I don’t think I have ever been more exhausted than I was yesterday, but God was with me. Things happened that might have otherwise produced anxiety or annoyance, but neither happened. It could have been because I was too tired to be riled, but I’m certain that it was more because He was there.

The presence of someone with a strong personality affects the mood of any gathering. My brother is a natural comedian. When we had visitors and he was being his normal self, everyone was laughing and happy. I had an aunt who was always complaining and finding fault. She had an effect on a gathering too. Sometimes one person can make or break the atmosphere at a party.

Yesterday, our party consisted of mostly Christians. Each one of them brought the presence of God. He is the invisible guest when we get together, but His presence is made visible by the relaxed mood and joyful attitude of His people.

Today’s devotional reading says that the apostle Paul often called the Lord the God of peace. Some examples: “Now the God of peace be with you all” (Romans 15:33). “The God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11), and “May the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way” (2 Thessalonians  3:16).

God’s character is peace, making Him both the origin and giver of peace. My definition of peace is knowing that all of life, all events past, present and future, and in all places are all under His control. Peace is being sure that life is never haphazard and that a loving God is working out His perfect plans.

At the party yesterday we watched the Grey Cup, our Canadian football final. The game was seconds from the end when the team from the west made an unbelievable error, giving the other team opportunity to redo a missed field goal. They didn’t miss the second time and won the cup.

The feeling was something like you’d feel if you dropped your wallet or car keys off a bridge over the Grand Canyon — only ten times worst an “oops” than that. The defensive coach for that team lives across the street from us. He is a Christian and I wonder how he responded to this. I’m sure that the team, at least for a long while, did not experience peace, but more like having the rug pulled from under you.

Yet as I think about it today, the peace of God is vast enough for anything that happens. His presence never leaves His people. He helps us have godly attitudes, thoughts, and actions. He offers His supernatural peace and that peace guards our hearts. His peace provides comfort, tranquility, quietness, and confidence in the midst of any trial.

For me yesterday it was being so tired that I could barely stay awake, yet was able to take care of my guests and stay calm. For the Christian players on both teams for that game yesterday, it will involve different challenges and yet God can also give peace to their hearts, flying high or dropped off a cliff, because that is who He is.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Yes, I am whining

This has been an odd week. The house renovations went well, but we are really tired. One family birthday was supposed to happen before all the work started, but an unexpected business trip bumped that party to yesterday. It was supposed to be lunch / afternoon, but a couple of people didn’t read the emails that flew back and forth and it wound up being all afternoon / supper / evening. Lots of food, but that meant lots of cleanup.

Today we host our annual football final party with some friends. Both my husband and I teach this morning. We were up late cleaning up after birthday celebrations. I’m glad the game is later in the day because my first thought when the alarm rang was, “Oh no. I want to sleep for a week.”

This is a physical challenge, but I’m also challenged in my spiritual life. God has been pointed about the need to die to self and put others first. The changes in yesterday’s plans were not huge in themselves, but a few added elements pushed my buttons. One couple said they had been sick and did we want them to keep their germs at home because of my DH lowered immune system. Huh? I didn’t know how to respond so passed that one to hubby. Two other people have asked if they could bring friends. Huh? Normally that would not be a problem but my fatigue almost became an excuse for buying a couple of copies of Miss Manners.

So today God gives me a verse and reminds me of my mother. First the verse, written by Paul but definitely good advice from the Lord:

The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)
Paul sets an example of how to live the Christian life and tells me to follow his lead. So did my mother. She wasn’t perfect, but she did know how to do hospitality. One year she felt burdened for the teens in the community who had nothing to do on New Year’s Eve while their parents partied in the local pub. So she invited them to our house. We lived a mile out of town and they came, first a few, but by the third year, we had one hundred and twenty-five guests. We fed them pancakes, lots of pancakes. There was no alcohol as all were underage, but mom would not have tolerated it anyway. We probably gave them soda pop, a lot of soda pop.

I cannot remember much else, except that third year one boy fell on a coffee table and broke the glass. He could have been badly injured. My mother decided this was a good reason to end these parties, but the lessons of hospitality stayed. My sister finds this an easier example. For me, it is a bigger challenge. I prefer smaller groups.

No matter. My preference isn’t what God wants. He says I’m to follow the example of Paul, but also my mother. Entertain strangers. Give of myself, even when I am tired. What I have seen in others who follow Jesus I must also do.

The bottom line is that for these things, God promises . . .  peace? No, the verse says that the “God of peace” will be with me. He, who is filled with peace and the Author of peace,  promises His presence.

That’s one more guest, only this time I’ve no hesitation. He is welcome in my house and at my table. In fact, I’m positive that there is no way I can do today without Him.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

How can you be so sure?

One amazing thing about being a Christian is the assurance. I know that what God reveals is true. Sometimes my understanding of His revelation needs help, but whatever He says is sure and certain.

I’ve been asked, “How can you be so sure?” This I do not understand. I just am, but not only that, I know the difference between the self-deception that comes with disobedience and with wanting something to be true (to the point that I don’t listen). I also know the deception offered by false teachers. Yet when God speaks through His Word, He gives that amazing sense of knowing it is true. Sometimes He even affirms it in other ways as He did for the early Christians.

And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:18–19)
Every teaching or prediction made by the Old Testament prophets was for Peter and for his readers already a “sure” thing; the OT was their Bible. Yet these verses suggest that the prophecies in those writings were made even “more certain” or “confirmed” by the Transfiguration when God’s voice spoke from heaven as they were with Jesus on the mountain.

If there were any doubts concerning those prophetic teachings of God’s plans for world history, this eyewitness account would rule them out. The OT prophets wrote about both the first and second coming of God’s Messiah, as did the New Testament writers.

For me, the point of this is the second part of the verses from 2 Peter that say it is good for me to pay attention to this light that God shines into the darkness in this world. Some time in the future, the day will dawn, a reference to the return of Christ, but that has not yet happened. In the meantime, I need to walk by the light that He gives me.

The idea of “a light shining in a dark place” is a common metaphor in Jewish literature. I’m thinking of Psalm 119:105 that says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Without the Word of God, I do not know where I am going or even where I have been. Sin makes the heart dark. The Word gives it light.

Peter extends this metaphor with the idea that prophetic light is vital “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Again, in its context that “day” refers to the return of Christ who is the “morning star” spoken of in Numbers 24:17 and Revelation 22:16.

The idea of this star rising in my heart fuels my anticipation for the return of Jesus. I’m not alone. From the days of the early church until now, Christians eagerly anticipate the joy of that day. Paul wrote . . . 

For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Neither Peter nor Paul gives much attention to death when talking of Jesus’ return. While their words have created a sense that the Lord could return during the lifetime readers throughout the past two thousand years, these words also say something about my priorities.

Instead of thinking about how long I will live, when I will die, and being preoccupied with the shortness of life, I will do well to heed the Word of God and anticipate the joy of seeing Jesus. He may or may not return in my lifetime, but either way, He challenges me to spend the days I have knowing that I will spend eternity with Him, and that is His sure Word to me.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Is the sky really falling in 2012?

End of the world predictions have been happening for decades. The latest is based on the Mayan calendar which ends in the year 2012. From this comes the idea that the world will also end in that year.

I’ve not thought much about this so was prompted this morning by my devotional reading to check it out. One site explains the belief system of the Mayans and their various calendars. It says that they believed in cyclical rather than linear time, and their calendars were connected to numerology, the predictions of shaman priests, the movement of the planets, superstition and the activity of evil spirits.

The Bible has a different version and different sources. It speaks of time as linear, even though many prophecies are fulfilled in stages or in overlapping times. The predictions come from godly men, not calendars or shamans, but men who listened to the Creator and wrote what He revealed to them. Although Jesus said that no man knows when the end will come, He also gave some signs of what will happen before He returns and before the world is transformed. These signs are vague enough that Christians realize we need to be ready all the time.

Mayan superstition isn’t scary, yet people are afraid. And even if some do not buy this current prediction, the end of the world is a frightening prospect. Yet Christians should not be afraid. In fact, fear is not the work of God since 2 Timothy 1:7 says that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Instead, the Bible talks about the end of the world (as we know it) in far different terms.

Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field. The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places. (Isaiah 32:16–18)
This prophecy is for those who know righteousness and live righteously, which is possible only through faith in Jesus Christ. Human sin nature, by itself, cannot attain the righteousness that God approves, but we can do it when we put our faith in Jesus and He lives in us.

Then we discover two things. First, this prophetic verse is true about a great peace in the future when Jesus returns, but it is also true right now. Righteous behavior produces spiritual peace and stability.  James wrote, “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable. . . . Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17-18).

From experience, I also know that contentment, inner calm, a quietness of heart, and tranquility are the result of godly behavior based on following God’s Word and living by the power of the Holy Spirit. Faith in Christ and doing good things overcomes evil (Romans 12:21), but faith also overcomes fear and produces sound thinking.

This is practical. God’s people need not be concerned about 2012 Mayan predictions, nor should anyone else. Our concern should be that we live righteously so that whenever the end comes, the result in our hearts will be peace, quietness and assurance that last forever.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Learning a big lesson from a small problem

For months I’ve tried to lose 5-10 lbs. The first few were easy, but this became a battle that I could not win. At the time, a book called Born Crucified and my devotions were convincing me that this was one area of my life that I was trying to control and needed to give the whole thing to Jesus.

It took a while, but finally the Lord helped me understand that the issue was not weight loss but self-control. The Bible says this quality is something given by the Holy Spirit, but I was focused on the “self” part and was not letting the Spirit do His work. I could argue that I was afraid of what might happen, but have to say it was more like I didn’t want to give up the control of eating anything I wanted whenever I wanted it.

Yet the Lord persisted and finally I gave up. I couldn’t reach my goals and told Him to do whatever He wanted about this situation. In my struggle, I did learn some good things. I now have greater sympathy for those with dozens or even hundreds of pounds to shed. This is not easy. I also learned that it is a battle of the will. No matter what my common sense says, that chocolate cake or extra slice of pizza will find its way to my plate unless I decide otherwise.

After giving this over to the Lord, an odd thing happened. It seems small and one of those “why didn’t I think of that” kinds of solutions, but for me it is huge and, no, I didn’t think of it. The Lord’s cure is that His Spirit is making me strongly aware of my choices. Instead of just eating and then later saying that I shouldn’t have, He has changed the timing of His conviction.

For instance, I can eat pizza, but if I’m about to take the next piece that will put me over what is right for my health, the Holy Spirit gives me an instant awareness that now I must decide. Because I know that He will give me the self-control that I need, my decision at that point is not so much about the eating as it is about who I will let be the boss in my life: my wants and appetites, or God.

He also gave me a verse to encourage me. It says, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified (unfit)” (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Today’s devotional reading is further encouragement to obey God. If I want to keep my life clean from any sin, I need to pay attention to that conviction about my choices. The verse says, “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word” (Psalm 119:9).

The author of my devotional book adds that any godly conduct that produces spiritual stability depends on obeying God’s Word because the Bible cultivates godly attitudes, thoughts, and actions. He offers an analogy. If a policeman sees a person about to break the law, he will arrest him. In the same way, godly thoughts produced by God’s Word are like that policemen. They arrest the sinful flesh before it commits a crime against the standards of God. Yet if these attitudes and thoughts are not on duty, they can’t make the arrest, and sinful me will easily feel free to violate the biblical commands.

The New Testament says that only spiritual weapons will help me win this battle against my sinful flesh. By using the right weapon, I can take “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4-5) because the Holy Spirit is there to give me the self-control I need to say no when the choice is presented. Of course it is better to have the crime stopped before it happens then to eat too much and be filled with regret.

However, the main lesson in all this is not about the weight loss, even though that is happening. It is about self-control and listening to His voice in all the details of life, many of which are far more important than making sure my clothes still fit.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

After or before are the same to God

New Bible software has arrived and is loaded. I quickly discover that it is well worth the investment. It gives me quick access to many study tools and reference works that I may have had in the older version, but they were not as easy to find and use.

Today, using a feature that compares versions, I found something interesting. These are two versions of the same verse, Psalm 17:5. The first is from the New King James Bible, and the second from the New American Standard Bible.

    Uphold my steps in Your paths, that my footsteps may not slip.
    My steps have held fast to Your paths. My feet have not slipped.
The first one sound like a prayer asking God to keep the psalmist on target in his walk with Him. The second one is an affirmation that God has already done it.

When I became a Christian, the King James Bible was all I had. I’ve memorized from it, and many songs sung in the church use its words. Passages like John 3:16 and Psalm 23 are familiar to non-Christians in the KJV. There are some Christians who insist that because this version is one of the first translations into English, it is the best. There are congregations who say they are KJV-only and some go so far as to say that other versions are in error.

Many English translations exist today. Some of them are “paraphrases” written in modern English using a translation. Most of them are true translations using the ancient manuscripts. However, there are two manuscript sources. The older ones are more recently discovered, so versions like the New International or the New American Standard are translated from those older and more numerous manuscripts. The KJV is from a different set, discovered earlier, but not as ancient as the others.

All this does not mean one set of manuscripts is better than the other, but differences do show up, mostly in style. The gist of a verse is generally the same. The one that I’m reading today could be considered an exception.  However, I’m thinking that it isn’t. Here is why . . .

When I pray, I am essentially saying to God that I believe He can and will do what I ask. If my prayer says, “Lord, save me” then I am asking Him to rescue me believing that He will. If I say, “Lord, you have saved me,” then the only difference is the time perspective. In either case, my prayer is an expression of what God has done or will do. The words show what side of the event I am looking at, before or after. Regardless of the viewpoint or perspective, the event is a reality to a person of faith.

This notion is not about a proper translation of the verse. That has already been done in each of the versions. It is more about getting a sense of what God is trying to tell me. If I pay attention to the differences in the two translations instead of getting in a sweat over which is the more accurate, then I see that the Bible often speaks in terms of eternity rather than time. In the mind of God, whether the psalmist is asking for help or has received help does not matter because He sees both events together. There is no linear time in eternity.

For me this is practical. When I pray, in the mind of God whatever I ask for is already done. I can pray asking, which expresses my faith that He will, or I can pray thanking Him that He has done it, even if I do not see the answer yet. This is also an expression of faith.

How cool is that!


Photo credit

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thinking God’s way changes my life

Yesterday a woman came to help me with the cleanup of powdery sawdust from our renovation project. She was upset over a family issue and although she worked steadily, her face reflected her anxiety. Sometimes tears flowed as she told me the things on her heart.

To someone who is not a Christian, the encouragement from my Bible reading in the past few days about “do not be anxious about anything” and taking concerns to the Lord with thanksgiving sound just like that silly song, Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Without knowing the Lord, it is impossible for her to experience His supernatural peace, so for now I just listened.

As the day went by, I felt the weight of her burdens. She thanked me for listening and I told her that I would pray for her, and suggested that she try and focus on the few good things that were happening in her situation.

When she left, I had to take my own advice. I felt heavy about her situation too. I prayed about it, asking Jesus to help her and thanking Him for giving me this burden so I could pray for her. She doesn’t seem to have many friends and her family is not supportive. However, I knew that if I give much thought to the negatives in her life, I would be rehashing them just as she was.

I’ve done this before. Worry is one thing. The cure is taking it to God with thanksgiving and He gives peace, but I know that at that point I can bring back the worry if my mind dwells on the wrong things. No doubt that is why this passage on worry and prayer ends with these words:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
God knows that what happens in the mind winds its way into life. If I think lies or other ignoble things, they will affect my attitudes, the way I talk, and the things that I do. If my mind is in the gutter, or occupied with gossip, or grumbling about the flaws and failures of others, those thoughts will turn into words and actions.

The writer of my devotional gives some definitions for the words in this verse. He says that true things are what is found in God’s Word. I agree. Thinking biblically retains my peace of heart and God’s Word always builds my faith.

Noble thoughts refer to that which is worthy of awe and adoration—the sacred as opposed to the profane. Getting my mind above the bad things in life is good, but getting it above the mundane makes a huge difference in joy levels too. God is taking care of the things I prayed about. I do not need to oversee what He is doing by picking at it in my head.

Just things means my thoughts should be consistent with God’s absolute holiness. He does what is right. That kind of thinking is conducive to trust.

The meaning of pure thoughts is obvious. Keep my mind on that which is morally clean and undefiled. Some of the things that were shared yesterday as part of this woman’s burden included immoral behavior of others. Every time I think of what she said, I am weighed down with pain. God asks me to trust Him with what needs to be done. It isn’t that I run from the burden, but that I give it to Him, totally.

He wants me to think about lovely things too, things that are pleasing or acceptable, things that have a good report or are highly regarded and well thought of. At times, the only thought that fall into that category is thinking of God Himself. He is perfect while so much of what goes on in this world is far below that.

Lastly, He advises me to put my mind on that which has virtue, those praiseworthy things. What has a good reputation? My devotional suggests whatever the world considers good, such as kindness, courtesy, and respect for others.

During the day, the Holy Spirit kept reminding me to listen, not preach, and give this hurting lady as much kindness and respect that I could. I realize today the importance of thinking that way because it affected my actions toward her. It also affects me today. I can still feel compassion and concern for her, yet not let the weight of what she told me be so burdensome that I am not able to think right or hold up her needs to the Lord in my prayers.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Put it on?

Whenever someone studies the Bible, one of the first steps is making sure that they know what the words say. This is primary yet well-read people tend to take this step for granted, particularly if the words are simple. Yet this can be dangerous because even simple words can mean something other than what we think they mean.

For instance, when I read the words “put on” I tend to think of someone doing something misleading, they are acting or putting on an attitude that is not real or normal for them. Today, I looked up “put on” and found that even an ordinary dictionary lists six meanings. Three of them resemble the meaning that pops into my head.
    3. To assume affectedly: put on an English accent.
    4. Slang, to tease or mislead (another): You're putting me on!
    6. To produce; perform: put on a variety show.

The other three are more positive and do not have that sense of faking it.
    1.  To clothe oneself with; don: put on a coat; put socks on.
    2. To apply; activate: put on the brakes.
    5. To add: put on weight.

Consider these six meanings for the following verses about the way Christians are supposed to live.
 
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 3:9-10)
If any of the first three meanings are assumed, then the passage is about acting, playing a part, being misleading. That is not what the Bible is talking about, but often that is the way the Christian life is interpreted. Put on a Christian face, show a pious and spiritual attitude. Never mind what is really going on, just look good on the outside.

Definition #1 is closer to what the verses are saying. Most commentators say that putting on the new life is like putting on clothes, but even this definition misses the idea a little bit. Putting on clothes could be seen as an external action, a covering up of what someone is really like. This is not what God has in mind. The Greek word is more about “sinking into” clothes, perhaps a slight difference, but it puts to mind a deeper thing than just donning a new persona or affecting an external change.

All that being said, the context enriches the ideas in these verses. The former self was involved in sinful living, but Christians are given a new mind, the mind of Christ. With that, we have a renewed knowledge that is more like the innocence and openness of a babe yet this renewed understanding is patterned after Jesus Christ. Instead of being like we once were, we are told to dump that like an old rag, and now be like the new people He has made us.

We are to wear that newness, live by it, sink into it, let be the way we are, not a way we pretend to be. Our piety is not to be a big “put on” but genuine, from the inside out, like Jesus.

As soon as I start saying to myself, “How should I act in this situation?” then I have lost the very thing Colossians 3 is talking about. The new nature is a choice, but once it is yielded to, then the Holy Spirit does the deciding and I just am who I am. It isn’t a put on.

These are only two simple words, yet what a difference the definitions make. Without checking it out, I could think it is okay to wear a church face, or pretend I am patient, or let others see only the “good” side of me.

Renewed knowledge, and a bit of effort to activate that knowledge with some Bible study, says otherwise.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What was I thinking?

Whenever I blurt out, “What was I thinking?” I usually mean that I wasn’t, or at least not about the need of the moment. Reflecting on the past is good, as is planning for the future, but most of the time my mind needs to be in the moment. What is going on right now? Failure to do that results in all sorts of unwanted events, from little ones spilling milk on the floor because I put the glass at the edge of the table, to taking a wrong turn and winding up lost and having to backtrack.

Today’s verse is about how Christians should think, or rather, what faculties we need to use in our thinking. My old nature (now crucified with Christ and useless) thinks first and foremost very selfish thoughts. This is a reject. The alternative is much better.

For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)
When I was saved, God gave me a new mind or way of thinking. He now interjects my human thought patterns with divine and supernatural thoughts. How cool is that! For instance, a friend broke his ankle. The first thought that came to my head was buy him some special socks. Odd for me to think that, but when he opened the bag and pulled out the socks, God’s blessing was written all over his face. This was another one of God’s good ideas.

I do agree with the apostle Paul when he said that, “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6).

Because of the Spirit of God in my life, I can think on a different level. In the case of the socks, before Christ I may not have thought to get a little gift, and if I had, it would have been to impress someone with my thoughtfulness. That would be selfish and fleshly thinking. Jesus never thinks that way.

However, having the mind of Christ, or being able to think like He thinks, requires a bit more than a renewed brain. Paul also said, “Of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

God also imparts His wisdom to His people. We can think the deep thoughts of the eternal God and apply the knowledge He gives in ways that surprise even us. In fact, if someone says to me, “You are out of your mind” that could mean time to recheck my thinking, but it could also be good reason for rejoicing.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Just Do It

These days, many people allow emotions to rule over truth. For them, what feels good is more important what is right or the best action.

This way of thinking also happens in Christian circles. Those who are gifted with a great deal of compassion are often drawn more to whatever will produce emotional stability or whatever is practical. They do not like confrontation or emotional stress. This is part of the gift of compassion, but it can tip too far. For instance, when faced with some decisions they show their desire for calm waters, they start asking like, “How will it make me (or us) feel?” or “Will it divide?” or “Will it offend?” instead of “Is it true?” or “Is it the will of God?

To be fair, those gifted in teaching focus on the principles of Scripture and thinking right. Those who are servers see the Bible differently than those who are gifted in leadership. Our gifting does give us the ability to see what others might miss, and we are to serve one another with those gifts. However, we are also to use them rightly and in ways that honor God.

I need compassion people and I like to feel good, but I also need to make sure of what the Bible actually says. I cannot bend it to whatever I or others might want it to say, and when I read it with an open heart, I know that life will not always feel good, even when I am obedient to God. For instance, 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

To live by what feels good could put me in direct disobedience. I need to be more concerned about what is true and right. Luke wrote the book of Acts and told of a group of Jews that were concerned to find truth. 

Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. (Acts 17:10-11)
The words “fair-minded” are literally “noble-minded” because they were interested in finding truth, not good feelings or pleasant circumstances. They did not have a “what is in this for me” attitude.

Not all people are like the people of Berea. My devotional reading points out that far too many people go to church today to get a certain feeling rather than think or weigh what is said and make sure it is true (using the Bible, of course). By letting their emotions rule instead of right thinking, their spiritual lives are certain to become unstable.


These believers in Berea received the Word of God with readiness, eagerly welcoming the truth. They also wanted to find out if what they were hearing matched up with what the Scriptures said. This is interesting because the New Testament was not yet written. All they had was the Old Testament. Many modern day Christians tend to mentally separate the two sections of the Bible, forgetting that the early Christians had nothing else but the older Scriptures. By careful study, these early Christians could compare what they were hearing (and what we can now read) with what they already had. The Scriptures were their measuring stick, not their emotions.

While that kind of Bible study takes work, I can imagine what it did for their faith. They could see the hand of God throughout their history leading up to the days they were living when Jesus walked this earth and died for their sins, all described and foretold in their sacred manuscripts.

Bible colleges offer courses in Bible Synthesis, but Christians do not have to go to Bible school to discover the harmony between the two sections of the Bible. What we need more is that noble-mindedness of the Bereans who gladly did their homework. That would help all of us, including me, better live by the Word of God and abandon this feel-good philosophy that keeps us from being lights that shine in a dark place.

Friday, November 20, 2009

God is in the fine details

Fine dust is everywhere, well, except in or on what has been sealed with sheets and duct tape. Sometimes it is almost invisible, but just knowing it is there makes me feel itchy.

We are having our main floor lino and carpet replaced. The kitchen, dining, living room and L-shaped hallway have been torn back to the sub-floor. The installer has laid about 20 square feet of the new stuff. I’m sure he did that to give me hope.

My devotional reading is about hope in far more dire circumstances. It points to Jonah, a disobedient prophet. God told him to preach and he ran the other way. God arranged a storm at sea and Jonah winds up in the belly of a great fish.

Apparently this has happened in more modern times so the issue is not the believability of the story. It is about being thankful in tough situations.

While he was still in the fish’s belly, Jonah cried out to God, not with “why” or “get me out of here” like I would do. Instead he affirmed that God hears prayer, described his situation, and expressed confidence that God could deliver him if that was His plan. Then Jonah said,

But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord. (Jonah 2:9)
During the past few days I’ve been reminded that praying with thanksgiving produces peace. This is not a magic formula though. When I am thankful, I have to mean it, not just mouth it. God knows my heart.

However, if I can be truly thankful, the peace of God settles my heart. This is because thankfulness acknowledges that God is the source of all good things, sovereign over all that happens to me, has a good purpose in even the difficulties, and is able to help me. Grumbling says all the opposites and indicates lack of faith. It also dishonors God. 

I can see myself being thankful for the new floor — after it is in. But can I be thankful for the mess and all that fine dust right now? I look ahead to taking everything out of my kitchen cupboards and pantry, washing or wiping both contents and shelving, and putting them away. Dusting has never been my favorite chore. It chokes me up, and this dust makes my skin as dry as parchment.

Yet I am challenged to be thankful in all situations. This is God’s will for me. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

So how can I be thankful in this? One question comes to mind. How long has it been since I last gave my kitchen a thorough cleaning? Mmmm. How long would I have waited to do it had the new floor not been an issue? Mmmm.

God knows what He is doing. I ask Him daily to govern my life and keep me on track. He knows how easily I avoid those daily chores. I’d rather cook, quilt, or do almost anything else than some of these small but necessary responsibilities. So, true to His plan of changing me into a better person, God is also making certain that I take care of the dusting.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Guarded

One neighbor is always guarded. He seems to have a wall of defense built up, as if he simply relaxed and was himself he would be too vulnerable or attacked and wounded.

At first, we thought he was like that because we are Christians and he’d had some sort of bad experience or prejudice against our faith or faith of any kind. (He has a scientific mind.) Now we notice that he is like that with everyone, guarded, always protecting himself against something.

Larry Crabb wrote an excellent book called Encouragement. In it, he describes how people fear rejection, and that most of us think that if others knew what we were really like, they would shun or avoid us. So people build a persona, a personality and way of behaving that they think others will accept. He called those structures walls, because they surround the real person. The big problem with them is that walls allow surface relationships only. True encouragement happens when the real people behind the walls can talk to each other.

Today’s verse comes out of yesterday’s devotional reading and continues the thoughts about peace. In the verse, the idea of being guarded is different from walls. It is something that we cannot do ourselves.

 . . . and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)
“Guard” is a military term. Yesterday I wrote that it implies that my mind is in a battle zone and needs the protection of a military guard. In war, a guard prevents hostile invasions or keeps those in a besieged city from escaping.

Applying that to the walls of self-protection, they are a human attempt to guard me from rejection by keeping people from knowing me. They also guard the “real me” from being let loose so others can see and reject who I am.

But this guarding in the Bible is not about human walls. It is about the peace of God that exceeds human understanding. It is about God taking down the walls in such a way that I do not feel any need to have them because He replaces them with something better.

He guards me with His peace. This is a supernatural calm that is bestowed when I pray with thanksgiving. I don’t have to think about my theology or fill my mind with Bible verses. God does this; I do not.

However, when I am at peace I am aware that God is protecting me. He knows what He can use for good in my life. I do not need to fear how people will respond to me because God is in charge of that.

Neither do I need to worry about the “real me” being exposed. My reason? “God demonstrated His own love toward me, in that while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me (Romans 5:8). I am accepted by God!

His peace, this supernatural, all surpassing state of calm, includes a deep awareness of His love and acceptance. I can relax, be myself, not worry if others see my shortcomings and weaknesses. Because God loves me, what can human rejection do to me?

There are two kinds of being guarded, my neighbor’s strained self-effort, and God’s way of guarding me. Sometimes I pick the self-effort and put up a wall, but it is definitely not the best guard. All it does is keep my fears and anxiety bottled inside. The better choice is the quiet assurance that God alone can give.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Peace is a practical thing

Actions follow attitude. This undergirds my idea of how to live the Christian life. Get your heart right and your hands and feet will follow. Along with this, I believe that thinking right will reduce and even eliminate anxiety and stress.

I also notice the order of things in the Bible, verses like “Yield to God, resist the devil” (James 4:7), and know that they are in this order for a reason. No one can resist Satan and fight God at the same time. These two principles came together this morning and taught me that I cannot always put God’s way of doing things in a box.

Today’s verse is Philippians 4:7, a promise of God’s peace. However, I read and studied it in its context.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:6-9)
The devotional guide points out that the promise is for those who pray about their concerns with a thankful attitude. While it does not promise what the answer to our prayers will be, it does say that God will give a special peace, one that “surpasses all understanding.

I’ve experienced this supernatural peace. The first time it happened at the onset of a family crisis where one of our children was in grave danger. We prayed. Our prayer included an expression of thanks for His care. We were not thinking about this verse, but were surprised at the peace that flooded our hearts — before the answer came and our child was safe. This peace made no sense. According to what was happening, our intellect, analysis, and insight had no reason for it. It was simply a gift from God that guarded our hearts in the hours that followed.

This verse, in context, blows my theory about thinking right produces less stress. God took away the stress because we took our concern to Him with thanksgiving. While this may have been a good start toward thinking right, this incredible peace was not our doing and we knew it. Only God could have produced it.

With that event in mind, I’m noticing the order in this passage. Take my requests to God with thanksgiving > He gives peace > then think right and meditate. This ability to think right flows from having peace. It is not the cause of it but the result!

Christians would love to pray and have every uncomfortable circumstance eliminated from our lives. Instead, God asks us to trust Him in the midst of every situation. This is why Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

He makes this possible by offering us supernatural peace. Having this peace does require prayer with thanksgiving. Being thankful is vital because it is an expression of acceptance and trust. We live in a fallen world filled with problems and stressful events and cannot make things go away. Wishing for heaven or being upset with God for allowing all this nonsense will not bring peace, but trusting Him will.

The nature of this peace is also found in the words will guard. It is a military term that implies my mind is in a battle zone. It needs to be “protected by a military guard” which, in a wartime situation, either prevents hostile invasions or keeps those in a besieged city from escaping. This peace from God protects my mind from external influences that attack it, and keeps me focused on God’s truth rather than running around in circles.

I sit here remembering many other times when I should have been in a dither and God gave peace. It in never a calm from denial or withdrawal, or a pie in the sky escapism, but a strong inner sense of His power and that He is in control, no matter what is going on. Nothing could be more practical.


Artwork: Prince of Peace by Greg Olsen

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Prescriptions for Anxiety

One of my in-laws worries and grumbles. One Christmas I made and sent to her a thankful calendar. It is a 30-day with pages like a flip chart. Each day has a suggestion of something to be thankful for, everything from God’s care to the voice of songbirds.

Being thankful helped the in-law. I also keep a personal “gratitude” journal because I know from experience that a lifetime of being negative takes a toll on a person’s health and doesn’t do much for relationships. Besides, worry does little for the concerns and more harm than good.

That is one reason the Bible says not to worry about anything, “but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). The rest of the verse says that God will give me peace, even if He does not take away the problems that are my focus of worry.

The words in this verse are important. For instance, supplication is a special word for an imploring request. Of course anyone who is fearful easily makes those kinds of requests because they want God to avert those worrisome evils.

Another important word is “thanksgiving” which does not come out as easily as the imploring request. When I am fearful and worried, I also tend to be in a state of doubt about God wanting the best for me, or at the least, I am discontent. To approach God in a spirit of thanksgiving instead of worry is unnatural. Even being asked to do this forces me to consider what is going on that I can be thankful about. Thinking about being thankful is the first step to actually doing it.

For starters, I know that God promised not to allow anything into my life that will be too much for me to bear. He has already shown me this is true and His Word affirms it. 

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
I also know His promise to work out everything for my good, not the “feel good” kind of good, but that good of being more like Jesus. 
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:28-29)
The process of being made to conform to the image of Christ is not always fun, but there is joy in the results. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:10 that the God of all grace called me to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, and after I have suffered a while, He will perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle me.

Because I know that trials are within the sovereign power of God and that He uses them to make me a better person, then in those trials I can “cast all my care upon Him, for He cares for me” (1 Peter 5:7). I can be thankful that in His providence, nothing is wasted. He is perfecting me, and the glory He will receive from accomplishing His will is a good thing. So regardless of the trials, fears, or worries, I still can pray with thanksgiving.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Did I do it, or was it God?

In a day and culture that believe truth is relative, or that each person decides what is “true for you” but not “true for me,” discussions about the sovereignty of God are impossible. If truth sways according to opinion, there is nothing to talk about and the topic can be avoided.

From childhood, I’ve been a black and white person. Of course in some areas I need to back off. Opinions abound and I cannot say what is the nicest color or the best music or the most important topic of discussion. However, when it comes to God, it is quite clear that He is either sovereign or He is not. That is, He either has the power and does use it to control the events in time and space, or He does not. He can influence, persuade, or make things happen. Nothing is impossible for Him. Partial control is not sovereign.

If He only controls some things, then He is not God and Lord of all. Further, I could not worship a weak God or one that I defined. If God cannot do everything He wishes, then I might as well worship myself, for that puts Him into my category.

This discussion is problematic in Christian circles because theologies differ. Traditional Reformed theology, called Calvinism, emphasizes God’s sovereignty and says that no one will come to Christ apart from the work of God to initiate a call to them, drawing them to Jesus, giving them the gift of faith and new life, and then keeping them in His care by His grace and power.

On the other side of things, Arminian theology emphasizes man’s power of choice. This view says God provides spiritual help, but it is up to each person to decide if they will follow Jesus and persevere in their walk with Him. Arminians say that if they want, they can choose to not believe and lose their salvation.

Today’s reading points to a verse written to believers who are, “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: grace to you and peace be multiplied” (1 Peter 1:2).

I’ve heard every argument possible. Some say that God is not fair if He does the choosing, the electing. Others say that God loves us and gives us the choice. If we don’t want Him, He respects our decision. Still others say that God knows who will choose Him, so these are the ones He elects. Election is thus about man’s decision, not God’s.

Some of the people that I’ve known who held to this theology also believed that their life was going to be measured by their deeds. They were never sure where they stood with God and worried that they might sin and face death before they had a chance to repent. Their salvation was all about them, and while they loved Jesus, they insisted they could stop loving Him if they wanted to.

I’ve listened and studied all of it and realized that my sin nature, the person that I was without Christ, would certainly never choose Jesus, not because of desire, but because it is impossible. Romans 3:10-12 says, “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:10-12).

To love and follow Him, I must have a new nature, and I know from both the Bible and my experience that I cannot make that happen. That is a God thing. He came into my life and made all things new. In my case, there was no prayer of invitation; He just showed up. For some, there is such a prayer, but in either case, it is because He has come and offered Himself. If He did not do that, no one could be given new life.

As a Christian, there is a conflict between the old nature and the new, yet that old nature has already been declared dead in Christ and separated from God. I need to shed it like old clothes and walk in the newness of life God has given. Should I wear that old me, the new life might get covered up, but it will persist because it is of God — and God persists.

People who think salvation is about human choice cite all sorts of people who were “once Christians but changed their mind.” I tried that once. However, the Bible says I have the mind of Christ and He will never leave me or forsake me. He would not let go of me.

As for those who seem to be able to do it, I have to leave that alone. God knows if they had new life or not. God also knows if their decision was permanent or if like me, they realized the hand of God let them run to the end of their tether, but He was still there, able to save them to the uttermost.

In my mind, this discussion can only be evaluated by one question: Which view glorifies God as sovereign, almighty, and true to His promises? It is not glory but blasphemy to even think that I could, by an act of my own will, do or undo all that He has done in my life.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hiding mean dying

Little birds are smart enough to know that when danger threatens, they need to seek refuge under their mother’s wings. This is the image that the word “trust” refers to in this psalm of David. 
In You, O Lord, I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Your righteousness. Bow down Your ear to me, deliver me speedily; be my rock of refuge, a fortress of defense to save me. For You are my rock and my fortress; therefore, for Your name’s sake, lead me and guide me. Pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me, for You are my strength. Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth. (Psalm 31:1-5)
David had been anointed King of Israel, but the current king, Saul, was not about to give up his throne. Instead, he hunted David like a wild animal. Many times David had opportunity to retaliate, but refused. He trusted God and when he was in danger, he depended on God to keep him safe.

His appeal wasn’t based on his merit. He never asked God to be fair or to consider him because he was supposed to be the king. He didn’t appeal to God on the basis of Saul being mean to him either. Instead, he asked God to deliver him “for Your name’s sake.”

God promises to protect, lead, and guide His people. If I am in trouble, I can go to Him and rely on Him to take care of me because He said that He would. My appeal ought to be based on His character and integrity, His name and reputation. He will do it because He is God and because He acts according to who He is.

This seems a simple concept, yet many times I’ve come to God with requests based on my own supposed worth or need. Instead of exalting God in my prayers, I’m trying to persuade Him to do what I want because my name or reputation is at stake, or because someone or something has threatened me and I don’t like it. David had it right. I often do not.

Appealing to God on the basis of self is futile, yet I persist. However, the power of selfishness can only be broken by delivering it to the Cross. The Bible affirms that there I have been crucified with Christ. I know that is true, but it often seems that I take a long time to die.


Photo: Nature-ly Speaking

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Why worry?

There are no chapters, verse numbers, or even punctuation in Scripture’s original manuscripts. These were put in later to facilitate referring to and remembering where to find things. Sometimes these added features create a break in thought that limit my view of the context.

For instance, in the following two verses, I’ve associated the presence of the Lord with the prior command to let my gentleness (or forbearance) be visible.

Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:5-6)
Today’s devotional reading suggests that it also applies to the next sentence. In other words, the Lord is near, so don’t worry about anything.

Whether He is “felt” or not, God is always present. Not only does He promise to never leave me or forsake me, it is His nature to be here. He is omnipresent. There is nowhere where God is not, and for me this is a huge comfort. The Bible says over and over that God is close and that He knows all about me. When I think, He reads my mind. When I pray, He is not just hearing, but helping me do it. He gives me strength when I am weary and lives in me to provide all that I need. I cannot be godly or even interested in spiritual things without Him.

Today I am reminded that being aware of His presence should also keep me from worry. Because He is near, then it’s possible to be “be anxious for nothing.” What could I worry about that God cannot handle? And why worry if He is right beside me?

Today’s reading says that anyone who stews or worries is not trusting God. I have to admit that I was worrying when I got out of bed this morning. I was thinking about unsaved family members and fearful for their eternal well-being. I was not trusting God to do what is right in their lives. Today, that worry was like a big stone in my heart.

The reading says worry and trust are incompatible and that lack of trust in God can indicate I’ve created another god who cannot help me, or that I believe God could help me but He will not — and that means I am questioning His integrity and Word. Oh, that bites.

Instead, I am to be like the psalmist who wrote, “Blessed is the man whose . . . delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).

That means that I need to think about the Word of God and connect it to my daily life. I need to acknowledge and believe that what God says is true and also practical — because I know who He is and how He acts. When I do that, the heaviness goes away and I can say, “The Lord is near, so I’m not going to worry.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

About saying NO

Selfishness is a powerful foe. Ask anyone who battles a bad habit. For me, it is that extra helping when I don’t need it, or that bit of sweet dessert when I am already full. My body would be better off if I were only ten or even five pounds lighter, but my selfishness means I’m having trouble saying no.

It used to be that vanity was my reason for getting a bit thinner. I want to look better in my clothes. Then my reason was about energy. Fewer pounds and I have more pep to do the things I need to do. I can say yes to needed exercise every day, but still have trouble saying no to the extra calories that are not needed.

I have also recognized another truth. The apostle Paul wrote a long passage on the subject of self-denial and personal discipline. He said,

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
He is not talking about losing his salvation, but about rewards and about being useful in the kingdom of God. An undisciplined person who cannot control their body’s demands is disqualified when it comes to being a servant of the Lord. I cannot serve God well as long as I insist on serving my own appetites.

Lately, as I have been reading Born Crucified by L. E. Maxwell, I’ve been deeply convicted about self-effort. I already know how futile it is. Maxwell points out that I died with Christ. Therefore I am no longer in charge of my life and yet still have to learn how to live that way. It means being yielded totally to Jesus, but it also means saying no to self at every opportunity. That means that while I cannot control my selfishness apart from Jesus, I do have responsibility in the effort. This is not easy to sort out and put into practice.

Yesterday, while working on a paper about setting objectives, I came across something about the purpose of objectives. It said that measurable objectives are a good way to measure spiritual progress. That is, if I want to know how I am doing spiritually, having a visible measurement can be helpful.

I am thinking literally here, a literal tape measure, a literal weigh scale. How am I doing in saying no to those things my body demands? The best way to tell is by what my bathroom scales tell me, or by what my tape measure tells me.

Also, today’s devotional reading says about inner attitude. People who eat when they are full are simply not content with what they have. Paul wrote about that too:

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
The sinful mind set says that every person has the right to do whatever makes him feel good. It’s the selfish person who says, “If it makes you feel good but hurts me, you can’t do it. But if it makes me feel good but hurts you, I can do it anyway.”

I cannot deceive myself into thinking my sinful selfishness doesn’t matter and that a few extra pounds do not matter. Sin always ends up hurting someone, and in this case, it hurts me physically and spiritually. Thinking otherwise is foolish, but thinking otherwise is also self-centered pride.

In contrast, Paul’s words show humility and an unselfish love for others. While he is willing to extend mercy toward those who stumble repeatedly, he knows that he must be firm with himself. The KJV of the Bible says that he “buffets” his body and brings it into subjection.

Today’s reading says humility enabled Paul to be content in any circumstances. He had the humble attitude that no matter what happened, Jesus would give him what he could not do himself. His contentment was from his Savior.

To make all this practical for me, I first need to confess both my pride and my foolishness. My choices in front of the frig are important, but they are not my source of contentment. Eating too much never does for me what I want it to do. Only Christ can do that and that extra bit of food has now become an idol.

Also, contentment is not about having all I want. Instead, it is about knowing how to be full or hungry and not letting either one dictate to me. My Lord is not my wants or what I have or do not have. My Lord is Jesus Christ, nothing or no one else.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Passing the tests

One of two tests (that I know will happen) starts today. My household is going to be totally disrupted. Everything in the main floor has to be moved somewhere else. I may not be able to get in the kitchen to make meals. There will be dust; I have allergies. It will be messy; I don’t do well in chaos.

The new flooring will be delivered today and installed next week. It goes on the hallway, kitchen, living room and dining room. Chaos will reign until it is finished. Will humility and grace rule in my heart?

The next test also asks for humility and grace. Visitors arrive for several days. Will that test my spirituality? No doubt. Selfish me must be selfless, a good hostess. I know I cannot do that apart from the Holy Spirit.

Today’s devotional reading gives attention to a single word: forbearance. It is in one verse, but the context helps me understand it better, not so much the meaning of the word, but how to have forbearance in my life.

Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7, ASV)
First the meaning. Apparently one English word fails to cover all that is behind this Greek word. Most modern Bible versions translate it as gentleness, but the meaning includes contentment, generosity, and goodwill toward others, perhaps even mercy or leniency toward their faults and failures. Forbearance can also describe patience in the sense of not retaliating or being bitter toward injustice or mistreatment. Graciousness works too, at least in the Christian sense of the word.

Forbearance is about humility. That means that I am not to resent or hold a grudge. Instead, I am to trust God whenever life seems unfair. (This is not about new floors or visitors — yet). A humble person does not demand her rights. (Now it gets closer to home.) Forbearance is being gracious to people even when their presence, pleasant or otherwise, keeps me from doing other things that I want to do.

With these tests, humility and graciousness should be easy. I’m excited to have new floors. I’m excited about my visitors. But I also know myself and how I like to run my own life. These two events will not let me do that. What attitudes will rule my heart?

In Philippians, Paul wrote the solution to this little issue (and to much bigger tests). He says to rejoice in the Lord always. All I have to do is think about Jesus and my heart fills with joy. Nothing bugs me when joy rules, nothing. Rejoicing in Him is the greatest way to overcome any kind of “poor me” thinking.

Paul also says that the Lord is at hand. When I allow myself to remember the presence of the Lord, who promised to never leave me or forsake me, how can I be anything but overwhelmed and happy? He is so wonderful, so kind and gracious. In His presence there is gladness and contentment. He will be here when the flooring installers disrupt my home, and when my visitors require my time and energy.

He tells me not to worry. Instead, I need to pray about my concerns, ask for His grace, and be thankful about these opportunities. I know, to many people, this is nothing to be anxious about, but already my schedule is packed. Adding more means the stress of juggling responsibilities. It would be a worry if I do not pray.

Paul also writes that when I make my requests known to God, His peace which passes all understanding will guard my hearts and my thoughts. This peace is never selfishness and wanting all this to be over, and is not even about the delights of having both things happen. Instead, God guards my heart in Christ Jesus. He is the source of the humility and grace that I need, no matter the size, shape, or duration of the tests that come my way. I can count on Him. Big or small, tests come and go, because Jesus is here and He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 


Cartoon source

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I talk to myself

My husband constantly talks to himself. Sometimes I hear him and think he said something to me, but he is oblivious to his own self-talk and usually replies that he didn’t say anything! Now, unless I hear my name called, I’ve learned not to pay attention.

Self-talk is powerful though. I’ve read books about it. People who say negative things to themselves can build a deficit that shows up in the way they respond to life. If I continually call myself “stupid” or “lazy” I’m reinforcing a self-concept that will pull me down.

Another form of self-talk picks up on what I think other people think. This could be positive, but even when it is, I am setting myself up for disappointment. The thoughts of others are seldom consistent and eventually their opinions will discourage me.

The self-help gurus tell me to think positively, to tell myself that I am a successful person, etc. and eventually I will become what I say that I am. This philosophy has been called everything from psychocybernetics to ‘the secret’ and is highly popular. As I once told my dad, I can positively think all I want about becoming an opera singer, but it isn’t going to happen! He heard me sing and had to agree that self-talk needs to be based on reality.

God offers just that. Instead of meditation on me, or on what others think of me, I am supposed to think about and talk to myself about Him and what He thinks about everything.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)
In this passage, “meditate” means to mumble, or to talk to myself. When I am bombarded with all sorts of ideas and thoughts, I’m to respond by mumbling the Word of God. To do that, I need to know it, memorize it, and be adept at applying it correctly in whatever situations I find myself in.

For instance, in temptation, I can say to myself, “I am a born again person with new life in Christ. I do not need to give in to this temptation. Instead, in Christ I have overcome sin.”

When I am hurt by others I can say, “God is in control. He is sovereign over the affairs of life. He will use this for good in my life and has given me all that I need to respond in a Christlike manner.”

The psalmist refused to listen or walk in the counsel of ungodly people. They may not look like sinners, but unless they are indwelt by Jesus Christ and walking according to His Word, they are ungodly. That means I must pick carefully whose words I will repeat to myself.

The psalmist refuses to go along with sinners, doing the same things as they do. I have also learned that nothing is more deadly to healthy self-talk than the guilt that accompanies sin.

The psalmist also refuses to sit in the seat of the scornful. This means he will not mock, look down on, or insult and disrespect anyone. A scornful person is proud and thinks he knows it all. If my self-talk is going to be healthy, it cannot include a hint of thinking I am above others.

Long lists have been made for those seeking a healthy thought life and what truths to include in their self-talk. I’ve learned to be careful with such things. For instance, it does me no good to repeat, “I am forgiven by the blood of Christ” if I keep on sinning. It is useless to say, “I am a child of God” if I am fighting with His other children.

That said, self-talk based on the Bible is supposed to affirm what is true and also challenge and correct what is contrary. It is not a magic bullet to feel good. Instead, it is God speaking, and when He speaks I’m not only to repeat what He says but be careful to obey it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

So lock me up

In a chick flick, a young person has an “invisible” friend who eventually tries to take her life. Adults with invisible friends are usually locked up or at least given medication. Such “fantasies” are harmful and keep people from living normal and productive lives.

That being said, I have an invisible friend who does just the opposite. He gives me life in abundance, keeps me safe, and allows me to live abundantly above what I once did. On top of that, He gives me joy that will not quit. 

Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory . . . (1 Peter 1:8)
Today’s devotional reading offers several reasons why this invisible Friend is so valuable, and why I have every reason to be joyful.

The first reason is that He is sovereign. Nothing is outside of His control. He even works out everything for my good (Romans 8:28). He is changing me into the image of His Son, and the more time I spend with Him, the more influence He has on me. Good friends are like that.

He also totally understands me too. I agree wholeheartedly with the psalmist who wrote, “You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether” (Psalm 139:2-4)

Because He exercises His understanding in perfect wisdom, the advice and direction He gives to me are always bang on. Believing in such a wonderful Friend like that easily gives me inexpressible and glorious joy.

Included in my reasons for joy are the facts that He saved me, adopted me into His family, and promises me an inheritance in His Son. When He comes back to earth and becomes visible again, I will enjoy His presence and the heavenly place that He has prepared for me.

I also have joy because He promised to supply all my needs and I daily experience Him doing just that. He gives me the privilege of serving Him, of telling others about Him (even though some think I should be on medication), and of encouraging other Christians to grow in their relationship with Him because He is their invisible Friend too. We rejoice together knowing that we can rely on Him and talk with Him at any time.

If such a relationship made me withdraw from normal life instead of embracing it, or made me wear funny clothes, or never comb my hair, or do weird things, then there would be reason to wonder about my sanity. Instead, the most visible result of having this One as my invisible Friend is that He also gives me unstoppable joy.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Changeless happiness

The only thing certain about life is change. I cannot find the quote, but whoever first said it realized an important truth. Nothing stays the same and for a person who tends to be pessimistic and dwells on the negative, inconsistency can easily ruin my happiness.

For instance, I could be happy that I am healthy, but occasionally my bones ache. I could be happy that my family loves me, but then remember the rough spots. I could be happy that my life is comfortable, but I know that the comforts of life are fleeting. Besides, I remember those days of being very poor and the difficulties that went with them. I could also be happy about my talents, but there are flub-ups and failures too. Also, as I age, those abilities will lose their power.

Pinning my sense of well-being and joy on almost anything brings with it negatives that can creep in or crash in, robbing me of the pleasures those things give. But one thing never changes. In Malachi 3:6, God says, “For I am the Lord, I do not change.”

James 1:17 puts it this way, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

God does not change. He always was and always is. His nature is constant. He does not grow or diminish, nor does He vacillate. My human mind cannot grasp that kind of consistency, yet by faith I know it is true. Everything else changes, decays, comes and goes, but God is always God.

The Bible also says the same of Jesus Christ. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). This affirms His deity and gives me more reasons to trust Him. He is my permanent and reliable reason to be happy. There are no negatives in Him. He is perfect, a perfect friend who loves me without any hesitation or conditions. There are no flaws or bumps in His care. His grace and strength are perfect, consistent and always available.

Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) and I can say YES, because the one thing I am certain about Him is that He never changes.

When I think about Jesus Christ, every part of me must smile and nothing about Him that ruins my happiness. That kind of delight is beyond the normal idea of happy and worthy of being called that simple and deeper word — joy, pure joy.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My merciful God

Every now and then I have a dream that shows me some sinful attitude in my life. I wake up with conviction about my sinfulness, but also a huge sense of relief that God didn’t put me through a similar and shameful experience in real life to show me the same thing.

Today’s devotional points to two women who were experiencing sinful attitudes in real life, enough to provoke a rebuke from the apostle Paul and to have their names forever recorded in the Word of God. 

I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. (Philippians 4:2)
Occasionally preachers call these two, Odious and Soon Touchy, but the next verse shows that they were co-laborers with Paul in the gospel. That tells me that the division between them was not a constant attitude or their general temperament. Instead, they had given in to a selfish temptation, inner pride, some form of demanding their own way. Their division may have been part of a greater division that was behind Paul’s admonition to the whole church about unity (2:2), or it may have been a disagreement between the two of them that dropped them out of usefulness in their service to the Lord.

Verse three says, “I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life” (Philippians 4:3).

This verse tells me that even with the imploring public request to these women, they needed help to recover the unity they had in Christ Jesus. It was there for them, but whatever caused the upset, Paul knew that the recipient of this letter (not named) and perhaps the entire church needed to be involved. Unity was too important to allow even two people in a congregation to be at odds with one another.

Two people who did not agree brought a rebuke that remains visible for more than two thousand years. This says volumes about the importance of getting along, of being of one mind with others in the church. When I think about the congregations that fight over everything from ‘is the pastor any good’ to ‘how many dishes are needed in the kitchen,’ I wonder what would happen if those of us who get into such spats and disagreements knew God would write our names in a book that will stand forever.

God could expose my every sinful thought and selfish idea to everyone. He could expose the smallest lack of harmony and human pride that causes trouble in a church. He did it concerning these two women. But He is also kind in His rebukes and often gives them privately. He graciously offers His people a chance to repent and change without the shame of public exposure. I don’t know what else to say. He is good and I do not deserve such grace.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sibling spats

My mother used to distract us. Other parents yell. Some separate their children. Whatever the remedy, mothers and fathers all over the world do not like seeing or hearing their children fight. It is the subject in cartoons, but a distressing and universal issue in families.

The apostle Paul didn’t like seeing God’s children fight either. I’ve not done the math, but most of his letters to the churches (now become books in the New Testament) contain admonitions to get along. Fighting is easy.  Unity requires more effort. To the church in Philippi he wrote:

Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. (Philippians 1:27)
The world knows that Christians ought not to fight. Jesus gave them the criteria for judging our genuineness when He said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

As Paul indicated, we are able to “stand fast in one spirit” because we have the Holy Spirit. We can also think “with one mind” because we have been given the mind of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2:16). We also have one purpose, to “strive together for the faith.” Add this up and we have no excuse for fighting and many reasons for unity.

At the time Paul wrote Philippians, he was in prison for his faith. This church had been founded by him years earlier. He had visited them several times. Now he was letting them know what was happening in his life and encouraging them that he was okay, even joyful. His letter showed them that the God they served was able to sustain His people even in the most dire circumstances. He didn’t say it, but as I read Philippians, I hear the Holy Spirit saying, “If I can keep my child joyful in prison, what is bugging you so much that you have to fight with one another?”

Paul is more concerned about them. He wants them to represent Christ well. The closest he comes to mentioning his own needs is when he asks these Christians to add to the joy he is already experiencing. He says to them:

Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. (Philippians 2:2)
Again, he reminds them that all of them possess the love of God in Christ Jesus. They can have unity because they have the same purpose and the same mind of Christ. Because believers have one Spirit living within us, there is no reason for fighting and all the help we need to get along.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Two kinds of war

It is easier to fight than get along. As Veterans Day and Remembrance Day in Canada approach, I’m reminded of global scale spats. Wars go on almost at every point in the world’s history. Every time I read or watch the news, conflict almost always makes the headlines. People want their own way and are willing to be wounded or worse to make it happen.

This propensity to fight comes partly from our propensity to sin. Sin is thinking I know better than God and sin is simply going my own way in defiance of God’s way. I want what I want and sin will make me push others out of my way.

But God’s way includes fighting too. The Old Testament is filled with physical battles, and God is often misunderstood because of these literal skirmishes where thousands were slaughtered. Why did God want war, and does He still endorse “religious” wars?

We took two of our grandchildren to church one Sunday. Old Testament battles were the topic in their class. On the way home, one of them asked about God’s reasoning in asking His people to kill so many people. We didn’t answer, waiting to see what he would come up with on his own. After a few moments of silence, he said, “Oh, I understand. It was because those nations were so evil.”

Generally people ask the wrong question. Instead of wondering why God had people killed, we need to recognize the sinfulness of sin and wonder why God allows anyone to live!

Besides that, it seems to me that the Old Testament battles were literal representations of the spiritual struggles described in the New Testament. For Christians, we are clearly told that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness and evil forces in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 6). For this, we need to fight, not with each other (shame on us), but against the enemies who would ruin our walk with Christ and destroy our testimony of His grace.

Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. (Philippians 1:27-29)
Fighting that is worthy of the gospel of Christ does not mean fighting with other Christians over correct doctrine or what color the church carpets should be. It means that we stand together on what we believe, agreeing that Jesus died for our sin, was buried and rose again the third day. It means we know who the enemy is, and it is not us.

Fighting that is worthy of the gospel might also mean standing against people who teach otherwise. This is not about a physical altercation, but about taking all sorts of abuse for what we believe rather than backing down or arguing. Yet this passage is mostly about getting along with other Christians.

Such spiritual harmony requires work. It is easier to fight that to love others unconditionally, even when they like blue and we like green. It is easier to fight than support and sustain people, especially if we don’t see eye to eye on every issue, major or minor.

When Christians do not agree and sin like criticism, bitterness, unforgiveness, partiality and pride spread through the church, we are not to go to war but to our knees. Only the God of peace can restore to us that loving attitude that is rooted in the heart of Christ — who lives in our hearts.

With Jesus in control, we can care and pray for each other, support the weak, lift the fallen, restore the broken, and stand together against spiritual wickedness and the forces that threaten to destroy us. We need to fight, not with each other but the evil forces that work to maintain their stranglehold against the people in the world by holding them in darkness and sin and encouraging them to be always at war with one another.